High Fibre Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: April 2023

That was a disappointing month. I more or less shut down for the duration and managed to cope mainly by losing myself in a succession of interesting books, drinking large amounts of tea, and spending as large a portion of it as I could manage fast asleep. I remain extremely thankful that I do not have to work for a living any more, because if I still had to hold down a job I would have lost the last remnants of my sanity by now.

I make music. These days, I make lots of music. My latest release on Bandcamp is the twenty-first full length album I've recorded since I rebuilt my bedroom studio back in 2020. It's called Continuous Fiction. and this time around you get fifty-eight minutes of starkly angular, kinetic music that will provide a feast for your ears. Once again I'm making this release a pay-what-you-want deal, so you can get it for free. Go get some!


So that's April done. It's been a slog to get through, if I'm honest. The weather has been predominantly cold and wet, and for the last few weeks I've been suffering from an attack of lethargy and a general malaise of can't-be-botheredness that has come as a surprise. If this is another episode of depression, it doesn't feel like the ones I've experienced before. For one thing, it seems to have come too late to be my regular post-FAWM crash. The end result has been much the same, though: my creative engines have been mostly stalled since the end of February.

The house is a mess; it's been over a month since I last used the vacuum cleaner, and the floors in the kitchen and the conservatory are both badly in need of a session with my mop and bucket. But household chores, along with pretty much everything else, have felt like too much to deal with lately. Yesterday, I didn't get out of bed until noon, and it's been a long time since I took a lie-in that late. When I did finally surface, I didn't really feel any better for the extra time in bed, so today I got up somewhat earlier; it wasn't easy. I suspect that this isn't an episode of the regular-type depression I've suffered from over the last thirty years, though. Instead, I think it's my current ill health that's at the root of things. I'm in quite a bit of discomfort these days; if I move the wrong way, I end up yelping in pain and that's not the sort of condition to be in if you're hoping to get a decent night's sleep. Today I resolved to increase my levels of physical activity and cut out the junk food I've been eating too much of over the last month (when you're wallowing, eating too much is as much the cause of how you feel as it is the remedy.)

Staying in bed until noon was the moment when I realised enough is enough. That afternoon, I went round the house making a first pass for clearing things up and trying to get things back on track. I'm not going to go full Marie Kondo, but I did fill an entire black bin liner with stuff that's been lying around gathering dust for years, and while a casual visitor to this place wouldn't notice any difference at all, I definitely can. The dining room table has been cleared and even polished and once I've finished writing this blog, I'm going to work through the stack of ironing that's been sitting on a chair in the lounge for the past fortnight. After that, I'll get the vacuum cleaner out.

And after that, I'll head back into my bedroom studio and work some more on the piece of music that I finally seemed to be getting somewhere with yesterday afternoon. I'm nowhere near having another album ready for Bandcamp Friday this week, but it's a start.

Hmm. Maybe that lie-in was what I needed after all...


The airflow over the UK is coming from the north at the moment and even though the cherry tree in the back garden is covered in blossom, it was just -2°C in there last night. The birds have been queueing up to get at the bird feeders this morning (I've just topped them up) and I even spotted the local robin and a greenfinch in the middle of the action. I haven't seen a greenfinch in the garden for weeks, so that was a nice surprise, as is the jackdaw that is perched on the bird table as I type this.

But I'm done with cold weather. I thought things were looking up after two days of blue skies and warm sunshine earlier this week, but it's been dull and grey since then and it's rained every day (and it's just started to rain once again). I'd much rather we actually moved on properly into spring, please.


I made a return visit to John Nicholson's excellent songwriting podcast back in February, and the episode has just gone live. John and I have very similar musical backgrounds and we'll happily natter away for hours about music (and have done several times; fortunately for you, John edited down our latest discussion to a more accessible length). It was great fun. Cheers, John!

You can listen to the latest episode of Songwriters and Original Songs here.


Listening to John's podcast makes me think that it's about time I got back to making some new music of my own. I think I'm sufficiently recovered from January and February to exercise my creative muscles once again. I've been playing guitar a little bit already, so it feels like the urge to make new music of my own iw beginning to come back.

Which is a relief; I was beginning to think it wasn't going to do so.


I was talking to one of my neighbours this morning and he asked me if I had seen any of the recent news articles about an X-class solar flare which took place back on March 28th. I hadn't, which—if you've been reading the blog for any length of time—will come as a bit of a surprise, because space weather is very much my sort of thing. Solar flares happen when the Sun's magnetic field gets itself tied up in knots; these build great loops of field lines which arch over the star's surface, and then suddenly snap back to normal, flinging millions of tons of charged particles out into space and emitting electromagnetic radiation across pretty much the entire EM spectrum from radio waves to X-rays and gamma rays. Flares are categorised by how much energy that snap creates (as you're about to ask, they're judged in terms of watts per square metre) with X-class flares being the most powerful. The flare in March barely scraped in to this top category, as it was rated as an X1.2. As I explained back in 2013, X-class flares aren't particularly uncommon; as I write this, there have already been seven so far this year (the Sun is nearing its solar maximum, which will occur in 2025) and the largest was an X2.2 which happened on February 17th.

Why do I take such an interest in solar flares like this, and space weather in general? Well, it's because weather out in space can have significant effects down here on Earth. Back in March 1989, all of Quebec's electricity network was thrown offline for 12 hours as the result of two coronal mass ejections and a large solar flare which had taken place a day or so earlier. That flare was subsequently classed as an X15. On the 4th November 2003 there was an even bigger solar flare, and when I blogged about it the following day it had been rated as an X20. By March 2004 it had been reassessed as an X45, which means it produced an x-ray flux of 45 x 10-4 watts/m2. Fortunately for us, the Earth wasn't directly in the path of all that energy. The last time a flare that size did hit us head on, we had barely developed any technology which could be affected by it but all the same, I bet you've heard of The Carrington Event which took place in 1859, because the currents that were induced in telegraph wires were so strong that operators had to contend with their equipment emitting sparks and starting fires; telegraphers could still exchange messages after disconnecting the batteries used to power the system! Today, induced currents like that would wreak havoc on equipment that, up until very recently at least, has not been designed or hardened against such phenomena. The 1989 power outage in Canada was a bit of a wake-up call, but awareness of the problems that space weather can cause is still relatively poor.


After a month where it's rained every day or so, yesterday was bright and sunny and the back garden had dried out enough for me to retrieve the Flymo from the farthest recesses of the garage and give the lawn its first cut of the year. I also made a start on weeding and trimmed back some of the more unruly shrubs which had evidently had a very good winter. Gardens are always a work in progress, but I want to finish this year with things looking a lot better than they did at the end of last year's gardening season. That's going to include getting some proper landscaping work done, as—rather like I do—the patio at the back of the garden needs a complete overhaul. The local bird population descended on the lawn as soon as I'd put the lawnmower away and the tame robin and blackbird didn't even wait until I'd gone back inside before they were darting back and forth across the grass to see what tasty treats I'd turned up for them. After I went back indoors, I was delighted to see a small gathering of dunnocks had arrived; they've been noticeably absent from the garden over the winter. They were also making extensive use of the bird baths, which I'd rinsed out and filled with fresh water. It was lovely to see. The mild and fine weather has continued today, and I've even been over to the supermarket to do my fortnightly shop.

Right now I've got the windows open both upstairs and down to give the house the thorough airing that it badly needed (I had kedgeree earlier in the week and if you cook fish every so often, you'll already know the importance of supplying fresh air to the inside of your dwelling place afterwards...) Aside from the occasional train, the only noise I can hear is being made by those dunnocks, the local robin, blackbirds, and the boisterous flock of house sparrows that monopolises the bird feeders these days. Even then, it's still quiet enough for me to hear the ticking of the clock on the wall above my desk.

But after all the activity of the past couple of days, even the large mug of tea which I've just finished drinking hasn't been enough to perk me up, not even a little bit. I still feel very run-down and I just can't seem to ditch this state of being permanently tired. Maybe the improvement in the weather will benefit my health. It would be nice if it did. Right now, my plans for the rest of the afternoon don't really extend beyond staring passively at screens. I'm toast.


I have given up using the Instagram app for doing anything other than posting new photographs, as it now inserts an advert into my feed after every two photographs I look at. That's a shocking overreach, as far as I'm concerned, and I have therefore started blocking every advertiser that Instagram's algorithm feeds me.

I have a number of browser plugins that remove the ads on desktop; if those ever stop working, I'll abandon the platform altogether. I'm done with being "the product" for software that ostensibly offers itself as a service but in reality does nothing of the sort.


Although many of the people I follow are still posting on Twitter, the platform has gained a distinctly "last days" atmosphere and I swear, you can almost hear strains of the brass band playing on the deck of the Titanic as it sank; several of the authors I follow there have recently moved to Substack, so this morning I decided to follow suit. You can find me here.

My initial thoughts are that it's an interesting way for writers to monetise their blogs; I will be sticking with the free tier for the moment, as that gives me access to the thing that piqued my interest: their version of Twitter, called Notes, which launched this week. My first impression is that it is *very* Twitter-ish in its appearance, although it currently has far less Nazis. Which is nice.

Will I stick with it? It's difficult to tell at the moment, but the fact that I'd set up two-factor authentication for my account before I'd even looked around the site says a lot about the state of things these days...


Allan Holdsworth died six years ago today. His astonishing album Atavachron is currently playing very loudly in my living room on the big system which I've set to 9-channel stereo mode, and it sounds great. I bought the LP the week it came out, way back in 1986. One lunchtime at work I headed over to the Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street, where I paid the princely sum of £7.99 for it; I know this, because the price sticker is still attached to my copy. Right now, though, I'm listening to the CD.

Allan used the way-too-ahead-of-its-time guitar MIDI controller the Synthaxe for the first time on this album, and he continued to use it, off and on, for the rest of his career (from later photographs of him in the studio, it looks like his ended up being held together with duct tape). Less than a hundred of the things were made, and Allan owned more than one of them. Hearing his trademark legato playing translated into the sounds of analog and digital synthesizers still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. It's quite possibly my all-time favourite album.

I wish Allan was still with us, and that he was still making the sort of music that never failed to leave me with my jaw on the floor. He was very much one of a kind and sadly missed.


I've been taking things very easy indeed for the last week and a half. I have been drinking copious amounts of tea. I've done a lot of catching up on my reading list, as you can see on the what I'm reading page on this website. And as you'll read below, I've also been listening to a lot of music from other people. And I've been watching The Mandalorian on Disney Plus, and enjoying it a lot.

However, I'm still in a lot of discomfort and as a result I still feel very tired. As my alarm clock doesn't go off at the weekends, I sleep in. This morning I didn't wake up until about twenty past ten. Over the past week I've done a few bits of consulting work, but I haven't worked on any new music since my last Twitch stream. I'm not quite at the point where I feel like I'm ready to fire up Ableton and record something new quite yet, but I can feel the urge to make new music beginning to come back. That's a good feeling.


Music has been the most significant contributor to my overall quality of life since I was very small and these days it's more important to me than ever. This is why in the last week I caved in and bought myself another portable mp3 player to replace the Agptek one that died on me last year. It was only yesterday, when I was able to do so once again, that I realised how badly I had been missing being able to just pop on some headphones and chill out to the music of some of my favourite artists for an hour or so. Music plays such a huge role in my life, and the easier it is for me to access my library of recordings, the happier I am.

I have been sifting through adverts on eBay for a few months, looking specifically for a portable player that could support the 256 gigabyte micro-SD card that I used with my old one. Sadly, the file-handling capabilities of my new player I ended up choosing have turned out to be nowhere near as good as the Agptek's were. I expected much more, given that the new player was nearly twice as expensive as the Agptek was. Despite the fact that it's running Android 8.1, the OS on the new player is locked down so hard that not only can I not install a better music player app than the one that came preinstalled, I can't install any other apps on it at all. It's "not compatible" with Google Play and trying to run any apk file I'd downloaded was ignored. Funny how that important information wasn't shown on the advertising copy for it, isn't it?

While we're on the subject of advertising, although the promotional materials say that the player supports 256 Gb cards, it's clear that the word "supports" means very different things to different people. The player really struggles with handling so much data. The file manager is rudimentary and only plays one file at once. Although I eventually got it to read the card from my old player and play more than one track consecutively off it, I had to put all my music files into a top-level directory called MUSIC on the card for the player's software to see it. The dedicated music player crashes a lot and choosing what I want to listen to is painfully slow because the screen takes ages to respond to any user interaction at all. I also discovered this morning that "setting up" the card in the new player (which it insisted I do) sets the card to read only, which is very annoying when you've popped the card back into your PC so you can add another album on it (I had to enable the player's "developer mode" so that I could transfer files via a USB cable instead).

Most bizarre of all, I quickly discovered that the headphone socket has been wired the wrong way round, so that the left channel plays on the right and the right channel plays on the left. Just how rubbish does a manufacturer have to be to get something as fundamental as that wrong?

If I'm honest about it, this shiny new gadget has been a profound disappointment. I was expecting its performance to be at least on a par with my last player. Instead, it's been a big step backwards. It does the absolute bare minimum of what I need it to do—so I won't be asking for my money back. But I was this close to doing so.

The era of the personal mp3 player seems to be over, in fact; there are far fewer new models around these days. I guess the ubiquity of the smartphone has rendered them obsolete, but smartphones these days no longer have headphone sockets and while I have a set of Bluetooth ear buds, their audio quality is nowhere near as good as the proper sets of cans which I own (and I have very many) can deliver.

Maybe this is why I have moved a lot of my music listening back to the big system downstairs. After giving my surround copy of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon a spin in honour of its recent 50th anniversary, I have returned to my teenage habit of sitting quietly and devoting all of my attention to listening to a whole album from start to finish as it plays over loudspeakers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is still as enjoyable a way of spending an hour or so as it ever was for me.

I had a new album to give this treatment to this week. My copy of the Deep Listening Band's debut album finally arrived yesterday. I ended up ordering it directly from the Deep Listening Institute's own website after HMV drew a blank, and it made its way from the US in less than a week, which was a very pleasant surprise. I gave that a proper listen yesterday evening while I sat on the sofa with a glass of wine. It's an amazing recording; I'm sure that you wouldn't immediately associate the accordion with a groundbreaking work of ambient music, but that is what you get here. The Fort Wordern Cistern's 45-second reverb tail does glorious things to the sound. It's a beautiful album, and I'll be giving it another spin later on today.


The FAA have finally given approval for Space X's first test flight of a fully stacked Starship, and the company have announced that the first launch attempt is likely to take place on Monday. I might not be a fan of Musk, particularly after what he's done to Twitter, but I will still be very excited to see Starship (the most powerful rocket that has ever been built) soaring into the sky.

Or exploding into a million tiny pieces; spaceflight is hard, and success is by no means guaranteed.


I just looked at my blog entry for this week last year and it pretty much sums up how I feel this week, although when I went to the supermarket yesterday I couldn't hear any chiffchaffs; some migratory birds are less keen to head north than others when the weather is changeable as it usually is around the equinox.

On my Twitch stream this evening I released my latest album, ready for tomorrow's Bandcamp Friday (details are at the top of this page) but since I put the finishing touches to the last track, I haven't worked on anything creative. For the moment, the well is dry, and I'm done. As I said on the show, I'm not going to stream just for the sake of streaming; the show isn't that kind of show. I need to have something to share that I've done, which I can get enthused about, and at the moment I'm finding it very difficult to get enthused about anything.

I need to look after myself better than I've been doing lately. So I'm going to take a break from Twitch for a few weeks and get myself some much-needed R&R. I'll still be running the blog, but I might not be particularly posty here.


It's the first of April, and that means everyone has been making stuff up and putting it on the Internet where people can believe it's true.

So how, exactly, is this different from any other day of the year these days? Last month the AI-generated "photograph" of the Pope in an oversized Puffa jacket went viral because it was convincing enough for most people to believe it was true. This week I've seen multiple people sharing images from a CGI company called Drift who make 3D models of old ruined buildings like Whitby Abbey in Blender and then add coloured dots to show what they might look like if a swarm of drones was used to show the lines of the original building using coloured lights. Note the use of the word "might" there. This is a computer render, an artist's impression, a concept drawing. Unfortunately these graphics are so realistic that when they are shared without attribution to the image creators, the context is lost and it's very easy to persuade people that they are looking at photographs of something that has happened in real life. That is not the case. And sadly, a lot of the misinformation out there is not as benign as a photograph of an old man in a rap star coat; some of it can cost lives.

There's a specific sort of idiot on the Internet these days who gets his kicks from purposely sharing images with misinformation attached in the hope that it will go as viral as the Pope in his white coat did. I have lost count of the number of badly-photoshopped images made by replacing the sky in landscape photographs with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. On April Fools' Day people are a little more alert to the possibility that they're being taken for a ride by stuff like this; we need to be just as sceptical on every other day of the year.

It used to make me angry. Now I just find it sad that people know so little about the world around and above us that they can be taken in by things like this. We live in an amazing place. It doesn't have to be augmented by silly computer effects to be breathtaking.


I began last month with a sense of optimism and the feeling that things were going to change. As you can see I've regained my usual, bleak, pessimistic world view.

So it goes.