Full-on Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: July 2020

My live streaming activities went into overdrive this month. It's not something I'd anticipated doing before lockdown started, but I've really enjoyed both the appearing on camera part and the protracted sessions of video editing afterwards polishing things up and uploading them to YouTube.

My new album Oneiric Tulpas is now 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.


I'm continuing my run of Sunday night live streams for Fifty/Ninety and FAWM participants with a string of videos about different aspects of mixing. Sunday's show was about equalisation (or equalization, if you follow the original spelling...) and ended up being my slickest yet, although I'm speaking very comparatively, and the version in the link below has had more than seven and a half minutes of umming and erring cut out of it. And believe me, nobody is more surprised by that figure than I am. I thought I'd improved in recent streams. When I just did the calculation to see exactly how much I'd cut it down just now, I wasn't expecting it to be more than five minutes...

Things went well, though. I love how the new Røde microphone arm fits in to the studio and makes it much easier for the mic to pick up my voice (and, as it turned out, the coughing, sneezing and sniffling that I have attempted to edit out as much as possible.) As you can see, I'd reconfigured it so that the SM7B now sits above it rather than below it, and that meant the arm is much less obtrusive. By Sunday I had also finally figured out the finer points of running a slide show into OBS, and the studio equipment behaved itself properly for the first time in a couple of weeks, which meant that I was a lot happier—and as a result I was a lot more relaxed on camera.

The training profession has a saying that if you want to understand a subject, you should teach it. It's sage advice. I learnt a lot from putting this week's slides together and demonstrating things with Ableton Live. I haven't decided what I'm going to talk about on next Sunday's show, but I'm sure that will be an educational experience too.


I was very nervous going in to Saturday night's live stream performance as the opening act for V-EM2.0, but once I clicked on the "Go Live" button on YouTube I was too busy trying to remember what I had planned to do for the nerves to take hold.

That's the first time I'd performed for a virtual audience, and the first time that I've played live for people for more than four years, so I was very rusty—more than I'd hoped, if I'm honest about it. Things didn't feel like they were coming together until the third and final section of the piece when I picked up the guitar again. The most challenging aspect of the whole performance was to synchronise the guitar loop live on the first attempt, but I nailed it - and from that point onwards I could start to just play and enjoy the moment.

I've been friends with the organisers for a while, but they've never seen me do the full Ableton, keys and live-looping guitar routine before (which shouldn't be that much of a surprise, because nobody else has either). The strong Mike Oldfield influence in the piece was noticed, and they're now calling me Tubular Chris.

And I'm delighted to be able to announce that I'll be part of V-EM3.0 when it takes place in a few weeks' time. Details of how you can watch that show will be forthcoming soon, so stay tuned!


In the last week I've been in front of the cameras, appearing live on Twitch or YouTube for nearly four hours. Even when I edited things down to get rid of some of the most obvious hesitation and repetition, I've ended up with more than three and a half hours of archived material. Quite how I've ended up being a YouTube junkie escapes me; I really didn't see that one coming.

I still have to work on my on-camera technique, and let's face it, I don't exactly have the sort of looks that are going to set the screen on fire. But an interesting shirt and half-decent material can go a fair way to compensate, and practice is what carries us along the road to mastery. Even as tired as I was as I started on Thursday night, I still managed to deliver a better show than I could have managed when I started out eleven weeks ago.

I'd discovered after last Sunday's show that the cheap microphone arm that I'd bought from Amazon in the middle of June was knackered; the metal peg that secured it to the base was worn almost all the way through. I should have realised that I'd ignored my current mantra of "get good, not good enough" when I bought it, and inevitably this turned round to bite me; my initial purchase was a stand aimed at the newbie podcaster market, and it cost less than twenty quid; as such I should have realised that it wouldn't be able to cope with supporting a Shure SM7B in daily use. So I went for a "proper" replacement. The Røde arm that I picked is much more substantial than the original arm I was using and when it arrived I discovered that its reach is much longer, too (at three times the price of the first stand, I would have been most disappointed if that hadn't turned out to be the case.) It arrived about 45 minutes before Thursday's show and was hurriedly pressed into service without worrying about the aesthetics it presented on camera; as it was configured for a microphone hanging underneath it, that's how I used it—but as you can see, it was really getting in the way. I switched the Shure mic to sit above the arm for Saturday and Sunday's streams (which involved unscrewing the bracket on the mic itself and putting it back on the other way up, a fiddly process that took me three attempts to get right—but it does mean that the Shure logo is the right way up on camera!) It's now set up perfectly, getting the mic where it needs to be without blocking the camera's view of me or the rest of the room.

Little by little, the streams I'm creating are getting better. At this rate I might actually look like I know what I'm doing by 2035 or so...


Last night I ran Windows Update on my 2012 Dell XPS laptop; I try to keep all my devices as up-to-date as I can and running Update regularly is part of that regime. Once again (and this is the fourth time now) it told me that it was ready to download and install the "2004 feature update" to Windows 10 that came out back in May. Two and a half hours later, it restarted twice to finish off the update. At this point it BSOD'd, restarted, had another go, BSOD'd again, gave up, and rolled back the update to the older version.

Which is exactly what it did the last three times the laptop has attempted to install the update. What a waste of time that turned out to be. I honestly thought that as Microsoft were offering me the update again, they'd managed to iron out the bugs in it. You'd think I would know better by now, wouldn't you?

At the same time as Windows was flailing around on the laptop's SSD, I dug out my 2008 ASUS Eeee netbook, downloaded an ISO image of Linux Mint xfce version 19.3 (which isn't the latest version, but it is the last distro of theirs to support 32-bit processors, and the machine in the photograph in that blog post is exactly the same Atom processor-based netbook as mine), flashed a USB stick with the image, installed the new OS, swapped mirrors to some that were nice and close and fast, and downloaded and installed all the updates to the OS that I could find. Oh, and I even changed the background to a spiffy image that the desktop manager found for me and set up a calendar widget and a clock widget for good measure. All without seeing a single error message, or retry, or unrecoverable system fault. On a machine that is twelve years old.

And I'd done all that before the Windows 10 update had crashed for the first time. In fact I checked to see how far Windows had got when I finished my Linux adventuring, powered off the netbook, and put it away. Windows 10 was 93% done with its "install".

During my recent home recording studio reorganization, I found the laptop's original Windows 7 install disc. I was seriously tempted to reformat the hard drive in it and roll it back to the OS that it originally worked with, end-of-life support for the OS be damned. That should show you just how much of a fan of Windows 10 I most emphatically am not.


During lockdown—and as far as I'm concerned, I am still following strict lockdown protocols and despite what the government claims to the contrary, I think you'd be much safer if you did too—I have only been going food shopping every ten days or so. It's meant that I've been managing my diet by eating whatever in the fridge is closest to its use-by date and that has resulted in the occasional weird combination. Last nignt's tea consisted of half a haggis with pilau rice and it worked well enough that I think I'll probably end up having that one again...


Man, that Voltarol cream is the good stuff. After three separate people told me how good it was for joint pain, I ordered some at the weekend and I've been using it for the past couple of days. It's working. Last night I was in bed by 10 pm, slept for nearly ten hours straight followed by a couple more hours of pleasant dozing, and my fitness tracker has elevated my sleep quality to "average" for the first time in nearly a fortnight.

I have laid off both DIY and guitar playing so far this week (one of these was a lot harder to do than the other, strangely enough) and that also seems to be helping. I'm not in anywhere near as much pain as I was, and I feel more like my old self.

Now if we can just finish hayfever season, that would be really great.



Much as I enjoy making my livestream shows on Twitch every Thursday and Sunday night, my obsessive tendencies tend to want the edited versions on YouTube to look and sound as good as they possibly can. Apart from anything else, I wouldn't want to sit through some old bloke saying "Um..." a lot and waiting for him to resume after pauses for inspiration, and I'm him, so I'm pretty sure nobody else would put up with it. The edited shows end up being considerably shorter after all of the waffle has been edited out—in one case by more than a quarter of an hour. But polishing up the end results takes time, and there are only so many days in the week. Before I began last night's show I'd decided that (a) I was going to keep the duration down to around an hour and (b) I was going to have the end result edited and uploaded to YouTube before I went to bed. Otherwise I knew that I'd end up writing off the best part of a day getting the show ready to upload.

Editing the shows down for YouTube means that I get a chance to watch and listen to what I did and analyse my performance. What went well? What do I need to make sure that I never do on camera ever again? As someone who has soent nearly forty years working in Learning and Development (or L&D to my colleagues) I know the value of what is called reflective practice; it's how you learn to master a subject. Even though I have a long, long way to go before I achieve mastery, the shows are looking pretty good these days—which I guess isn't that surprising given that I'm adding about three hours of new material to my YouTube channel every week (and as I mentioned a few days ago, YouTube themselves have evidently noticed the uptick in views as a result of my increased productivity.) I'm getting a lot of practice using the video editing software that I use and I am also beginning to have a better understanding of the capabilities as well as the limitations of OBS Studio. Last night's show was a case in point...

Yes, I'd rehearsed the show (I worked in L&D long enough to know that!) I'd checked that OBS could capture and stream a slide show from monitor #1. I'd turned off Libre Impress's presenter console so that I could still use OBS on monitor #2. What I hadn't checked—which therefore turned out to be the thing that didn't work—was how OBS reacted to me using animated builds on a particular slide. It didn't, as it turned out; instead the stream output turned black. OBS then began to do strange things that bore no relation to what was appearing on the monitor that it was supposed to be capturing, switching slides, hiding highlights, or progressing through my slide deck even when I didn't have my hand on the mouse at all. (I have fixed most of the most horrendous examples of this in the video above.) I eventually twigged that OBS was happier if I avoided using the mouse completely, so I ran through the rest of the presentation using the arrow keys on my keyboard and the rest of the show went smoothly.

I was really annoyed by the slide show glitch, as it messed up what would otherwise have been one of my best streams to date. I was so annoyed, in fact, that there was no way that I was going to go to bed until I had tracked down the bug and fixed things so that it would never happen during one of my streams ever again. A trawl of results from Google gave me half a dozen plausible causes and fixes, and absolutely none of them had the slightest effect on what OBS did to my slides. But eventually, I found out what the problem was: OBS does not like LibreOffice's implementation of OpenGL. In fact it hates it. Any slide in LibreOffice Impress that included an animation or a slide build triggered the black screen in OBS when the checkbox for "Use OpenGL for all rendering" was ticked, but worked perfectly when it wasn't (and if you're suffering from the same problem, the setting can be found in Tools / Options / LibreOffice / View / Graphics Output. You will need to restart LibreOffice for the change to take effect.)

So that editing the show won't take a chunk out of another day of the week, I had it tidied up and uploaded to YouTube before I went to bed last night. All this meant that I had a very late night, getting to bed just after 1:30 am, but I fell asleep feeling pleased that I'd got the show uploaded and the bugs solved. I'm now a lot happier about using slide decks in future shows, too.


I treated myself to an elbow support brace this week. It seems to be helping, slightly; I'm not being woken up as often during the night by the pain I get when I roll over onto my left arm. My sleep quality is still poor, but it's not as bad as it was earlier in the week. But I feel utterly exhausted, all the same. I've been very tempted in the last few days to just stay in bed, although I know that would almost certainly make things worse rather than better.

With the brace on I managed to play some guitar yesterday, but it was a struggle. I was very glad when I'd finished recording the very limited number of guitar tracks I have in my latest song and could switch back to using synthesizers. My elbow still hurts this morning, so I don't think I will be playing any more guitar for a couple of days. I will see if the brace helps me to recover; I hope it does. My work rate on Fifty/Ninety is nowhere what it should be for someone who can work on music whenever he feels like it, and last night I was so tired that just sitting and working on lyrics ended up being too much of a challenge, so I went to bed.

While I step back from music making slightly, I've gone back to the low-impact activity of reading. I set myself the target of reading at least sixty books this year in the Goodreads Challenge and I am even further behind schedule there than I am with Fifty/Ninety, so I need to pick up the pace. At least I am not short of reading material to tackle; besides the e-books I have waiting for me on my Kindle, almost every room in the house contains at least one stack of books waiting for me to read.

I'm hoping the break from music will have me back to match fitness by Saturday; I will be performing in a live online concert on Saturday night called V-EMS2.0. I'll be giving more details about how you can watch later this week.


After calling a halt on my DIY activities for the time being, my aches and pains have subsided a little and my sleep has begun to improve. I am still not getting enough deep sleep, but at least the amount I got last night was the right side of 30% for the first time in a week. And hoo boy, the dreams I've been having in light sleep have been deeply weird, full-on cinematic productions. Last night's would have been a good basis for a Netflix television series, except I doubt they'd have been able to afford the budget as it involved superhero villains, flooding, and a train crash. I should write this sort of stuff down when I wake up, I really should.

But although I have put the screwdrivers and power tools away for the time being, while I'm awake I'm still managing to be productive. Yesterday I ended up editing nearly 90 minutes' worth of video for my YouTube channel. To start with, I decided that Thursday night's stream still counted for something as it was conducted entirely in Twitch's "chat" function. After I'd made and uploaded this very silly placeholder to YouTube I realised afterwards that I'd used animated effects and keyframing for the first time. It was so intuitively obvious that at the time I didn't notice that I was doing something I hadn't done before.

Less intuitive—to the point of seemingly wilful opacity—is Movie Studio Platinum's "Pan And Crop" tool. I've been trying to figure its interface out since the software called itself Sony Vegas, and while I can get the result I'm looking for some of the time, I still have absolutely no idea what the paradigm that they base their controls on looks like. It's infuriating. Searching for "how to"videos on YouTube doesn't help much either, as most of the people making them seem to have even less idea about what Vegas is doing than I do (and I burst out laughing at one video because one poor soul had obviously spent a fortune on professional acoustic treatment for the entire wall in shot behind him, but he still sounded like he was talking in a very reverberant bathroom). As I worked on the video for Sunday night's Fifty/Ninety show I eventually gave up and just resized all the graphics I wanted to use so that they were 16:9 format before they were imported and that way I could avoid using the wretched pan and crop tool altogether.

I was VERY tired on Sunday. The edited-down version shown above that I uploaded to YouTube this morning ended up being a full nineteen minutes shorter than the recording that I made at the time, and I managed that feat by removing as many of the times that I said "um..." or lapsed into befuddled silence as I could without making the video look silly. And in putting everything back together after the studio's recent refit and reorganisation I had somehow neglected to re-enable the clever kludge on the Mackie Big Knob that I was using to get sound from Ableton Live into the software that I use for live streaming, so Ableton's output was only being picked up from the monitors by my Shure SM7B. Oh boy, what a microphone that is. I love the Super 55 which I've used for vocals for the past couple of years, but the SM7B makes me sound like I could make a living doing professional voiceovers.

I've always loved working with video but I am particularly enjoying making these shows. The fact that I'm now posting new content at least twice a week has boosted my analytics on YouTube to such a degree that they emailed me this week and—I kid you not, they literally used the expression "OMG!" in the message. I'll be back on Twitch TV on Thursday night, and I hope that this time absolutely everything will be working properly. I've plenty of stuff to cover!


I'm a bit of a physical wreck at the moment; more about that shortly. Last night I lay awake in bed for so long without falling asleep that I eventually gave up and went to the bathroom to wash my face. While I was there, on a whim I opened the window to see if I could spot Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE in the northern pre-dawn sky. It turned out that I could; in fact I spotted it immediately. There was much excitement. Fifteen minutes later, I was fully dressed and standing at the top of the road with my EOS 50D on its tripod, all thoughts of sleep forgotten. I eventually realised that I was still wearing my slippers, which might give you an idea of just how much excitement there was (or how befuddled I had become through lack of sleep).

C/2020 F3 NEOWISE over the Tyndale Monument

Today I'm so tired that I can barely string two words together, but the fatigue was totally worth it for a shot like this.


I've decided to bring my latest manic phase of DIY to a halt for the time being. Or, more accurately, my body has called time on the idea of me becoming a do-it-yourself nut, and it has not been subtle about the matter.

Over the weekend, I'd dug out some old bits of MDF and pine battens and knocked up a set of shelves for the studio—not because I'd run out of space for books (although I had, and the more storage space I can add to the walls here the better; it's all most welcome and very quickly filled up) but because I wanted a better place to mount one of my video cameras for live stream work. I'd been using it clamped to the bed frame for the past couple of weeks, and I kept looking at the field of view it was giving and tutting sternly (because it was less than aesthetically pleasing but also because the gear closest to the camera was really obtrusive in the shot.) After finishing off the shelves with an extra "just in case" set of brackets for them (because apart from anything else they're directly above my guitar rack, and I don't believe in not taking optional preventive measures when it comes to home improvements) I spent Sunday afternoon soldering a bunch of duff guitar leads back together, with varying degrees of success. As ever, I need to work on my soldering skills...

In doing all of this, I had to lift my extremely heavy toolkit out of its resting place under the stairs and then carry it from one room to another. I repeatedly lugged it, and assorted power tools, shelves, stepladders, and the vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs all day on Saturday and Sunday without it once occurring to me that I might be pushing things a little bit too far after a year of almost total inactivity. Nor did it occur to me that although I have a cordless drill that doubles as a very useful screwdriver, finishing off each job by using a manual screwdriver to make sure that everything was fitted nice and firmly together might be putting more stress on my shoulders and elbows than they've been accustomed to for the past year.

By Sunday evening, I had become well aware of my misjudgment as well as my increasing decrepitude. When I finished live streaming at 10:30 I could barely get out of the chair I'd been sitting in for the past 90 minutes. When I went to bed at around 12:30 just about every joint in my body was very loudly protesting at the abuse I've been inflicting on them of late, and I realised that it was about time that I stopped being an idiot and started taking things easy. I though that by taking a couple of Paracetamol tablets I could shut them up and try to start recovering. No such luck; I was in so much pain last night that my sleep tracker hasn't registered anything that remotely resembles slumber at all. Getting up at two in the morning to observe Comet NEOWISE probably wasn't helpful either but when I look at that shot above, I tell myself that it was totally worth it.

All the same, I'm going to take things VERY slowly for the next few days. No more home improvement projects for the time being. And now I'm off to take another couple of Paracetamol tablets...


I am still completely obsessed with optimising the back room for my live stream work. Since I last broadcast on Sunday, I've changed things around even more. The cheap camera tripod which I bought for under £30 on the Internet turned out to be much too good to leave permanently set up next to the Marshall stack, so I bought another of the action camera handlebar mounts that I got for the Zoom Q2n-4K, clamped it to the bed, and set up the Zoom Q8 on that instead. You'll see on Thursday's show that the camera angle is slightly different as a result, but it shows off the full stack nicely.

Last night I was in the studio until after ten thirty at night working on a new track for Fifty/Ninety. I completely lost track of the passing of time, which was lovely, but I need to look after myself and make sure that I'm in bed before midnight rather than afterwards.

But as I was talking with fellow synth nerds this morning about how I control my stream using OBS Studio, it got me thinking about dusting off my old mark 1 Novation Launchpad and using its buttons to control OBS instead of clicking on things with a mouse or assigning hot keys. I decided to make finding out whether it was possible or not my project for the rest of this week. I love a good challenge like this as I usually learn a lot about the ins and outs of the tools I use and more often than not I discover things that the kit can do that I wasn't previously aware of.

But that's not what happened this time around, because after a quick visit to a famous Internet search engine followed by fifteen minutes of playing about in the studio, the job was done and I was sitting in front of the cameras switching the camera view without touching any of OBS's controls at all. It was ridiculously easy, thanks to a free piece of software called MIDIKey2Key. Once I'd got it installed (it's tiny) I ran it and told it to start monitoring MIDI for signals on the channel I'd assigned to the Launchpad. That told me what MIDI signal was generated by each pad on the Launchpad. Once I knew that, I used the same program to assign each MIDI signal (or, more specifically, the NOTE ON signal for that pad) to a hotkey combination on my PC's keyboard. Then the last step was to switch to OBS Studio and assign the same hotkey combination to a particular scene (or other action) within OBS. Much to my surprise, it worked first time, and it controlled my setup flawlessly. I made sure to donate and say thanks to the developer, because it's been a huge help in simplifying my live stream setup. If only sorting out the world's larger problems was that simple.

(nerdiness increases)"

As you can imagine, I am therefore feeling extremely smug and pleased with myself today. And why not?


Today's the day when pubs and restaurants in the UK reopen for the first time since lockdown restrictions were imposed back in March as a result or the Covid-19 pandemic. It's too soon; there are still too many new cases appearing, and—sadly, most importantly—people here have no common sense. I'm expecting a second wave to start kicking in later this month as a result of people returning to normal behaviour, and that is not going to be pleasant. But it should be apparent by now that the government's priority isn't to protect the public, and it never has been; at every stage of the pandemic, their response has been to do the absolute bare minimum they can get away with before the resulting fatalities prompt national outrage. It's always been all about minimising the disruption to big business (who, after all, are the source of the Tory party's funds).

I haven't left the house since Friday last week. Going shopping, or in fact being present in any public space and having to take responsibility not just for my own actions in reducing the likelihood of transmitting the disease, but also having to shoulder the burden of compensating for the deeply inconsiderate behaviour of people who clearly don't think that contagion is anything they should be bothering their tiny little minds with, has become physically exhausting. I had no idea that it would be so utterly draining. So the idea of voluntarily putting myself through that ordeal more often, in even more situations, is—quite frankly—something that has about as much attraction as an attack of amoebic dysentery.

Right now I don't have the energy to face going out, even if I wanted to. While I'm feeling much more chipper mentally this week, physically I am a wreck. I am very run down, and after doing another batch of DIY yesterday which involved climbing up and down step ladders for a couple of hours, I hurt all over. I also discovered this morning that I now have a bunch of verrucas on both feet, which I often suffer from when I'm not taking enough care of my physical health. When I edited Thursday night's live stream—my eighth—before I uploaded it to YouTube, it was painfully obvious just how tired I looked, even when I was trying to present an energetic and peppy performance for the benefit of the cameras. And oh boy, I really started to fade out in the second half of the show; editing all the moments where I paused to gather my thoughts or just sat there saying "um" a lot shortened the recording by several minutes. At least there's a lava lamp to watch this week during the really boring moments. But I'll let you be the judge: here's the edited down version. I think I look like a bloke running on an empty tank. Do you?

Nevertheless, getting the work that I've done over the last month out of the way has given me a desperately needed and very important psychological boost. I've been feeling really guilty about not achieving much of anything this year even though I have an excellent excuse thanks to my current state of health, so I hope that will carry through to my energy levels. I guess we'll see if that's apparent in my next appearance on Twitch.

So I now have a venetian blind in my bedroom, and with less light in the room this morning, I didn't wake up until six am. If I can manage to sustain longer periods of sleep for a few days, I should start to bounce back. All the same, I think I need to take things easy for a while after all the heavy lifting I've been doing for the past couple of weeks. I've been in quite a lot of pain this week, which I hope has been caused by my recent physical exertions rather than anything more serious, and I am rather hoping the pain will wear off after a few days of taking things easy. So I shall be staying at home, and hiding away in my studio. Because...


It's the 4th of July, which means that Fifty/Ninety is under way once again, and for the eighth year in a row I will be attempting to write fifty new pieces of music in the ninety days between today and the 1st of October. I've had great fun taking part every time I've done so, and I fully intend doing so again this year.

So I've decided to run a second weekly livestream on my Twitch channel. This one will be on Sunday nights at 21:00 BST (22:00 CET, 16:00 EDT) and it will focus on helping people who want to record their own music for the first time, and on the show I'll try to provide tips and tricks and a bunch of general advice for getting it things sounding as good as they possibly can.

And hopefully I can do all of the above without keeling over. Tune in tomorrow night at nine to find out!


This is an interesting mystery that I discovered thanks to the Fortean Times group I'm in on Facebook: how did a humble Peugeot 206 with a number plate from a garage in Snetterton in Norfolk end up, abandoned, at a beauty spot in the mountains just outside Tromsø, in Norway, inside the Arctic Circle?

Most odd.


Yesterday I said here on the blog that I hadn't gone back to the track I'd worked on after finishing the upgrades to my home recording setup, so in the evening I fired everything up and had a listen. It still sounded pretty good. With Ableton running I decided to check the relative levels of everything, and after ten minutes of tweaking things I've got them pretty close. In doing so, I decided that I needed to tilt the JX-3P and the Juno 106 towards me more so that I could see what patch was loaded and reach controls without having to stand up. So out came the allen key again, although the adjustment process this time only took a couple of minutes. After tightening everything back up again, I sat down on the piano stool, loaded one of the Korg's combi programs, and started playing along to it to see if sitting and playing was practical...

...and forty-five minutes later I sat back with a big smile on my face. I think that means I'm good to go.

When I was a very small child (I must have been four or five years old) I was allowed to play the piano at my Grandmother's house in Lytham St. Anne's. I was fascinated by the discovery that music was something that I could make, rather than just being a thing that came out of the radio or my father's tape recorder. My fascination with reverb probably stems from the revelation—when I got a bit older, and my legs were long enough to reach the pedals—that the loud pedal did amazing things to the piano's sound, letting the strings ring out as the sound died away much more slowly. It was a better magic trick than anything I'd seen David Nixon do on the television. And I would spend hours sitting at that piano, lost in the sounds that I was making.

More than half a century later, I still get that feeling when I play keys. I hope I never lose it.


I have lost no time in adding samples from Spitfire Audio's BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover VST to the tracks I've been recording for my new album of dark ambient music called The Geometry of Sleep. The more I play with it, the more I tumble down the rabbit hole of orchestral arrangement, and I have been savouring every moment of that journey.

I never thought I'd be adding highly convincing horns, strings, or woodwinds to anything I recorded in the back bedroom, but with Spitfire's Discover template loaded in to Ableton, it has become ridiculously easy to do. After warming up with my 45-minute session on the keys last night, I decided I'd have a quick play for ten minutes or so with the track I mentioned in my last blog, which used the Juno 106 in a rather unconventional way. Two hours later, I noticed the clock for the first time. It was well past my bedtime.

This week I have spent more time in what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls the creative flow state than I have in the rest of the year so far. And in creating orchestral arrangements for tracks I'm recording, I'm working as a musician in territories that I never thought I would get to explore. The results sound pretty amazing to me and I hope that when you get to hear them, you'll think so too.