Blog and Learn

Chris's Blog Archive: May 2021

Permalink entries for Chris's blog from May 2021.

I continue to release albums on Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want deals, (and that continues to include free, because I know times are still hard for a lot of people right now.) The latest is a collection of music written during April for the Fifty/Ninety: The Prequel songwriting challenge, and as the results were—in my humble opinion—rather good, I've called it A Decent Harvest. I hope you enjoy listening to this one.

My most recent commercial album Oneiric Tulpas is available on Bandcamp! You can also check it out on Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal and all your other favourite streaming services. My previous album Beyond is also on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal and the rest as well.

My earlier albums Generator and Fort are also available at Bandcamp, together with a large collection of other music from me.

TRYING TO GET IT TOGETHER

From being extremely down in the dumps last weekend I have improved somewhat this week. I'm still pretty low; I'm still physically not in a good way at all, to the point that just getting out of bed in the morning hurts, but at least I am back to being up and dressed by ten in the morning. Yesterday, I quadrupled my recent average step count by walking to the polling station and back (local government elections took place across the UK yesterday.) And this week I've been using my weights to try and build up my core strength, which I have really let slide over the past eighteen months or so. Just doing basic lifts with them—or rather, discovering that I couldn't—was a bit of a wake-up call, so I'm going to be working on improving my physical fitness somewhat harder than I have been of late.

And who doesn't want a nice rush of endorphins from getting the blood flowing again? In a restrained, low-impact fashion, I hasten to add; I'm not going to go nuts. I've heard too many stories of people taking up keep fit later in life, working out at the gym, and dying from a heart attack shortly afterwards, including the writer Douglas Adams and my cousin Peter. I do not want to end my days in such a fashion.

The theme of mortality cropped up during last night's show, because one of the pieces of music that I wrote this week was an examination of what we will be remembered for after we're gone. Yes, that's the kind of frame of mind I've been in this week. Like I said, I'm still feeling rather low.

And yet, if you were to judge my professionalism solely by the vastly reduced number of edits that I had to make for the version of the show I have just uploaded to YouTube, last night's effort on my Twitch channel was bordering on slick. When two people asked me (without prompting) where they could get hold of the music that I was playing, it was very satisfying to be able to launch the album, right there and then, on my Bandcamp page. I was able to stay focused, stay on topic, and (I hope) give out a few tips about how I get my music to sound the way I want it to. And once the sunlight stopped shining through my window, the lights I use looked pretty spiffy, too.

I'm always more confident in front of the camera when I have plenty of new music to share on the stream, particularly when it's some of my better work. That was definitely the case last night—in my humble opinion, at least.

Besides, launching a new album is always going to give me a buzz:

NEW ALBUM

I have amended the album information at the top of the page to reflect my latest release, so you've probably already seen the link, but here it is as an "official" launch announcement: my brand-new album, A Decent Harvest was released during my show on Twitch last night.

A Decent Harvest

I've taken more time with these tracks than is the case during the frenzy of songwriting that takes place turing FAWM and Fifty/Ninety. Most of the tracks on the album (and there are fifteen of them, giving you an hour and 49 seconds of music) have been tweaked, rewritten, edited, and generally buffed up in a way that I thought would leave me well behind schedule for writing fifty songs in the ninety days between April 4th and July 3rd, but strangely enough that has not turned out to be the case.

There's a lesson to be learned there, I think. I'm just not sure what it might be yet.

After listening to the closing track on the album a few times, I have realised that I have somehow finally figured out how to get that lush, quintessentially "prog" bass guitar tone. The secret, it turns out, is hefty dollops of chorus and very little top end. And I'm so proud of the piece that I have taken the unprecedented step of embedding it right here in the blog, so you can listen to it right now, at the click of a mouse. Enjoy!

JUST HOW DODGY IS YOUTUBE?

Remember how I said last month that I'd got a copyright notice from YouTube over an original piece of music I'd written and then played on my Twitch show, which I'd archived on my YouTube account? The music that my song was supposed to sound like was an instrumental blues shuffle. Last night I played the same track on my show again, but this time with the vocals removed (so now my track is an instrumental, too.) I've just uploaded last night's show to YouTube, and guess what?

Yep: the show passed the same algorithmic checks with "no issues found." YouTube is broken. I know a bunch of people who have videos where they've performed content that is in the public domain, including compositions like Christmas carols that are hundreds of years old and not only had them flagged for copyright infringement, they've also had their appeals against the flag dismissed. But what makes me really angry is that I'm getting my own work flagged as infringing someone else's copyright and, as the notification email I got from YouTube tells me, this spurious claim gives the claimant the right to monetise my content (an opportunity that I'm denied because I don't have a large enough following, incidentally) by dropping adverts into it. This, in my view, is racketeering, plain and simple. And alarmingly, there is no higher authority to whom I can appeal for sanity. Nobody appears to have the power to tell them to fix things. As a creator, that's ringing alarm bells for me. A LOT of alarm bells. Telling me that other people can make money off my work but at the same time saying I can't is, frankly, like waving a red rag at a bull. I'm not having it.

So: I've decided that after archiving livestream #52 next week, I will be taking a break from uploading any further content to YouTube. I haven't decided yet whether that will be a permanent decision, but if it is, I will remove all my existing content from the site.

So, for the moment, here is last night's show. Watch it while you can.

PLAYING ABOUT

Yesterday's brain fog didn't lift, so I ended up spending a couple of hours in the evening dusting off an old favourite: Age of Empires III: The Asian Dynasties and playing the Delhi home city for a couple of hours. Setting a horde of battle elephants loose across the map was very satisfying and not too intellectually challenging.

I wouldn't consider myself a master strategist by any stretch of the imagination but I know that walling off most of the map for my purposes and letting the other seven civs rapidly burn through the resources that are left to them is a reliable way of ensuring military superiority, because in every iteration of the AOE franchise, the secret to success is to prioritise your economy. Some of the player AIs are smart enough to attack the wall and let their gatherers through the breach to collect wood (they never seem to bother with food or minerals), but oddly, only two or three of them ever seem to do this during any given game. Having a couple of groups of rapid response military units positioned by the wall is enough to ward them off; that leaves fewer enemies to engage when I start the final push and use my main force (which includes as many native allies as I can muster with every upgrade I can give them combined with heavy artillery mounted on elephants, oh yes) to wipe the other players off the map. Most satisfying.

But AOE III is an old game. The base pack was released way back in 2005 and even The Asian Dynasties expansion came out in 2007. Although the game runs in native 4K resolution on my system, the look and feel is showing its age. It's still great fun to play, but when I play it these days it does leave me wondering what a new version of the game would be like. With the demise of Ensemble Games many years ago, I'd given up any hope of ever seeing a version of the game able to use the processing power and graphics abilities of modern systems, but a couple of months ago I stumbled across a trailer online for Age of Empires IV.

Somewhat predictably, the new game abandons the static, hovering camera view of the earlier games in favour of something a lot more dynamic (I really hope that the option to revert to the old view is available, because it's such a signature feature of the game.) Units are much more detailed, but to show off all those extra polygons the developers have changed the camera behaviour and made it get in a lot closer to the action. That reduces your ability to see the wider state of battles (kind of an important ability in a real time strategy game) or of your home city as an integrated unit. As a result, the gameplay—in the trailer on the game's website, at least—looks more reminiscent of games such as The Elder Scrolls than its predecessors in the AOE franchise. It might say AOE on the box, but it doesn't look like it on the screen. I haven't decided yet whether I like this or not.

But will I be getting myself a copy? You bet I will!

NOT IMAGINING IT

The Met Office confirmed yesterday that last month saw the lowest minimum temperatures for the UK in April since 1922 and the third lowest since their records began, way back in 1884. And that trend is continuing: last night the temperature in my back garden dropped to -2°C once again.

As the Met Office article in the link explains, this was caused by a series of regions of high pressure sitting over the UK during the month. High pressure means clear skies, and clear skies mean that temperatures fall quickly at night. Clear skies also mean dry weather, and April saw many parts of the country getting less than 25% of average rainfall for the month.

As our climate changes, the weather gets increasingly weird. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) has had vast amounts of fresh water from ice melt added to it in the last five years, and that is changing the way that one of the largest processes for distributing temperature from the equator to the poles operates. Part of that process is the Gulf Stream, which is now flowing more weakly than it has done for more than a thousand years. The UK owes its mild climate to the heat brought here from the equator by the Gulf Stream. If it gets disrupted (and some climate models predict that it could become unstable or even shut down entirely by the year 2100), our weather may change in significant ways. Frosty nights in May could end up being the least of our worries...

YOU SHOULD READ MORE

I have just finished reading Tony Wilson's "Twenty Four Hour Party People" and my goodness me, what an objectionable man he seems to have been. As a character study of a quite grotesquely overinflated ego, it's hard to beat. I've known a few narcissists in my time, and the book is riddled with many depressingly familiar traits. Few narcissists I've met have had much by way of business acumen or good judgment, despite considering themselves to be uniquely talented geniuses. Wilson had a notorious talent for turning every victory into a resounding defeat (although to his credit, he does acknowledge the fact that every copy of New Order's massive smash hit Blue Monday cost Factory Records more money to make than they got back from selling it). In the fashion of a truly first-rate chancer, Wilson took the existing screenplay for the film of the same name that starred Steve Coogan as him (which was written by Frank Cottrell Boyce), added a few details, and passed it off as his autobiography. Let some other poor sod do the hard work, eh To? Wilson just loves to remind the reader that he was a Cambridge graduate, although he had a less-than-distinguished academic career. But all through the book, he mocks the reader's presumed inferior knowledge of literature. If he had a mantra, I'm sure he would have liked us to think that it was "You should read more."

But that is exactly what I have been doing this year. With a third of the year behind us, I am half-way to hitting my target of reading sixty books as my Goodreads challenge. As of today, that puts me eleven books ahead of schedule. Last year I struggled to keep on target, but that was because I'd rather foolishly embarked on the misguided and protracted enterprise of reading James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and make sense of it. This year my choices have, on the whole, been considerably more lightweight.

I've got one or two weightier books lined up, though. My current lead is unlikely to persist through the summer.

DRAINED

But I really need to force myself to be more physically active. Over the last month or so I feel like I've been in a bit of a decline and not even the prospect of the UK beginning to come out of lockdown is lifting my spirits; rather, it's just making me anxious. I'm stressed, and it's really affecting me both physically and mentally. Just going for a walk feels like a much bigger challenge than sitting in a chair and reading a lot of books at the moment. I have little to no energy and this weekend I am really not feeling great at all. I know I need to be more resilient, but right now everything's feeling a bit fragile.

I hate feeling like this. It's not who I am, or at least it's not who I want to be.

Even thinking seems like too much work at the moment. This morning I sat in my bedroom studio for nearly an hour thinking about recording some music, but I haven't got beyond the thinking stage so far today. My enthusiasm levels are at rock bottom, although somehow I managed to muster up enough energy to change the bedclothes and do some laundry.

NOT SUMMER JUST YET

I will be sticking with the winter duvet for at least another month, though. And keeping the heavy fleece blanket on top of it as well. We're still getting frosts overnight here (the temperature fell to -2°C last night) and although there's some warmth in the sunshine, when it appears—it's a rather nice 20°C in the conservatory right now—the temperatures rapidly drop back down after dark.

Even so, the cherry tree in the back garden and the Virginia creeper on the house came into leaf over the last few days. And the magnolia appears to be following suit despite all its blossoms getting destroyed by frost last month. I hope that's a sign that the weather will soon start getting kinder.