I completed another couple of tracks for Fifty/Ninety yesterday. The most challenging aspect of the writing was deciding whether to spell the title of one track "Impostor Syndrome" or "Imposter Syndrome". Google was little help; "either's fine" seems to be the general opinion among people who worry about this sort of thing. In the end, I went with the latter spelling.
I started out by recording the stabby guitar riff dry, because I was going for an Andy Summers feel for the playing. The whole arrangement - with the exception of my decidedly un-Sting-like vocals - was recorded as homage to the Police, as it's just one track each for drums, bass, and the rhythm guitar with a guitar solo dropped in. There were no additional instruments or embellishments at all. But dropping a fast delay onto the guitar track seems to remind people of Pink Floyd instead. I can live with that. But I only got two songs recorded yesterday after I was diverted by the discovery that Live 10 now monitors the packs that I've installed and shows a little icon next to any that have updates available. I had more than fifteen gigs of files waiting to be downloaded and installed, which I did before I stopped for tea. In the evening, I was thrown by hardware problems (as you'll see below) which put a stop to any further recording.
But before I start writing stuff today, I need to give the house a trim. The virginia creeper has reached the roof again, even though I cut it back at the beginning of July. It's also started growing across the doors, making the house look as if it's been abandoned. The weather today is dry and occasionally sunny, so it's time to get the ladder out and go fill the green wheely bin again.
The studio PC has been acting up again. I thought I'd fixed the problems I'd been having by upgrading its power supply, but since the recent hot weather began, it's been randomly shutting itself down from time to time. Last night it was doing it every time it started booting up, even before it got to the Windows lock screen, so I switched it off, sighed heavily and opened up the case. I couldn't find any loose connections, but one of the main power cables was almost touching one of the RAM DIMMs on the motherboard. I shuffled the cables around a bit, put the lid back on, and switched it on again. It booted up fine. I hope that means that I've fixed the problem...
I like to check my Twitter analytics from time to time just to see if what I tweet about is more or less interesting to people than the things I was tweeting about the month before. Yesterday I checked for the first time in a while and was staggered to see that in the last 28 days, my tweets had got 152,000 impressions. This morning the figure had leapt to 173,000. While I have absolutely no idea why things have taken off like this in terms of content, my follower count has grown a fair bit this month. Perhaps I've just crossed a boundary where my engagement count is simply being boosted because more people are seeing my tweets, regardless of any particular subject I might be tweeting about. Whatever the reason, it's rather nice to see such big numbers cropping up in my analytics feed.
I had a new cold water tank installed in the loft on Wednesday. That tank feeds the hot water cistern, so I no longer have to heat a pan on the stove or boil the kettle if I want to do the washing up or take a bath. Instead, I just turn the tap and out comes hot water. What luxury! I have been taking full advantage of this wondrous technology by having a bath every evening, where I can lie back in hot soapy water and read a book. It feels like I've arrived back from a sojourn in the early nineteenth century.
Returning to the habit of taking regular baths has made me realise just how much of my reading I do there. As I do every year, I'm taking part in the Goodreads Challenge; I set myself the challenge of reading fifty books this year, and until the water tank started leaking, I was nine books ahead of schedule, but after I stopped taking baths my regular reading timeslot disappeared, and I'm now down to just four books in advance of my planned progress. The good news is that I am not lacking in reading material. I have the latest two editions of Clarkesworld Magazine waiting for me, unread, on my Kindle. I have also succumbed to quite a few of the recent Kindle Daily Deal eBooks-for-99p offers, so I have a significant amount of catching up to do. More baths, then.
Once or twice this week it felt like I ought to be switching the boiler back to heating the house as well as the water supply. The heatwave the UK was experiencing at the beginning of the month is now a distant memory and the overnight temperature here on Thursday night dropped to just 5°C. The weather today is playing to type for a bank holiday weekend, as it's been raining for most of the morning and the wind has been rattling the letterbox. Outside it's dark and gloomy and I think I'll be staying in and recording some more music for this year's Fifty/Ninety challenge...
Fifty/Ninety is going well for me. I've got thirty two tracks under my belt so far - which leaves me just 18 songs to write before the 2018 challenge ends on October 1st. Taking the day off on Friday helped me to push forwards with progress, and having a lie-in until nearly 8am also did wonders for my creative energy levels.
I didn't spend too long taking my lie-in on Friday because I was keen to take part in the weekly #LDInsight chat on Twitter. It's a very active community, and this week our chat hashtag was the number one trending topic on the platform in the UK! The question for Learning and Development practitioners this week was a fascinating one: "What do you do for your creative process?" The message I was keen to deliver was that creativity should not be seen as a magical thing that only shows up when you're struck by sudden inspiration. It's more like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the better and stronger it gets. And that's really been brought home to me this week by my musical experiences.
I'm probably tempting fate by saying this, but something unexpected has happened to the way I'm writing music at the moment. I can play back the last five or six things that I've recorded and listen to them all without cringing. In past years, I might have achieved a run of two or three tracks where I could do this, but a run where six of the last ten tracks I've done are things I'm really chuffed with is outside my creative experience. A couple of pieces from this run are probably the best things that I've done in the last ten years (and you can listen to one of them in the link that's embedded at the bottom of this post). I feel as if I've managed to reach the next level of the creative process, even if I'm not entirely sure which bit of the process has improved (I'm well aware that I might be jinxing things by making such a bold claim, even if I don't know what it is I'm making the claim about; it's difficult to put a finger on exactly what it might be.) It might have something to do with the way that the mix coheres. The music I'm making sounds like it's getting closer to being right, if that makes any sense at all. One reason for this is that I think I'm beginning to learn how to produce my stuff properly; there's less mud to wade through to get at the sound I imagined the music should have. While that has a lot to do with reaching a basic level of understanding of techniques such as equalization and compression, and having a set of "proper" mixing and mastering tools that have shown me how to use them correctly for the first time (because iZotope's production bundles are worth every penny - particularly if you get them when they're on special offer!) it also has a lot to do with me simply sitting and listening to the music I'm making as I'm working on it.
I've always involved an element of reflection in my creative process. Much as I never write this blog and upload it to my ISP's FTP server without going over what it is I think I just wrote (I've learned over the years that all sorts of things can creep in or disappear on the journey from brain to keyboard), I've always played back each new song and imagined what I'd think to myself if I was someone else, hearing it for the first time. The difference is, I think, that recently I've decided that I would be much less impressed than my ego used to insist would be the case. I started asking myself whether I thought the music I was hearing was good enough. And I surprised myself there, because I've been answering that question with "no" much more often than my ego expected. I've been discarding things that, in days gone by, I would have listened to, muttered something along the lines of "that'll do" and accepted as what I had to work with, mistakes or wrong turns and all. Now, I've recognised that, actually, those things won't do - and I've been going back to the source and recording them again. Not always, I'll grant you, but far more frequently than I ever did in the past. Once or twice recently, I've even found myself clicking "delete" and starting over from scratch.
A second question I've started asking myself - and once again I surprised myself by doing so - is "what would be the really cool thing to do here?" It's led to some interesting creative choices in my writing and playing, and the tracks I've been proudest of recently have been the ones that ended up sounding nothing like what I originally had in mind, because I stopped and listened to what I'd recorded so far and heard the potential for something completely different lurking inside them. And even though FAWM and Fifty/Ninety focus on getting ideas down and moving on without stressing too much about quality levels (the whole point of both challenges is to bypass your tendency to critique what you're doing; rather than making round after round of revisions and editing to get something closer to its ideal state, you're encouraged to make the bold leap of deciding that your track is done, releasing it, and moving on) I've started to spend much more time putting together the components of a track than I did in the past.
I have to be realistic for a moment here and point out that all the tracks I link to on the blog are what I can come up with when I'm huddled under the bunk bed in my back bedroom, which is where my "studio" is located. I'm a hobbyist musician; everything I make is, by definition, a home demo recording rather than a professional production, but these days I get a lot closer to having something ready for radio than I have ever managed before.
So for the guitar solo in the track Moths, for example, I set Ableton to repeat the bridge section and then sat down and played various guitar parts over it for about twenty minutes until I had something that sounded cool enough to keep on the track. The result is, in my humble opinion, one of the most tasteful guitar solos that I've ever recorded. The fact that the gear I have these days enables me to get a guitar sound I love also goes a long way to helping the creative process roll along smoothly.
This afternoon, having put myself under considerable pressure to perform by writing something so grandiose about my process, I will have to deliver the goods once again. We shall see how I get on...
I'm having a quiet weekend this weekend. It's the first for a month. No visits; no visitors, no trips to interesting events, no birthday bash. It feels like I needed it, too. On two nights this week, I've had seven hours of uninterrupted sleep, and that is so unusual that it warrants this mention in the blog. For the moment, I appear to have rediscovered the joys of deep sleep and weird, vivid dreams, and this morning it was very tempting to just roll over and go back to sleep and dream some more. I didn't get out of bed until ten o'clock.
I've been spending my time at home this weekend making music, of course. Yesterday I recorded two more instrumentals, which takes my Fifty/Ninety song count to 26. I'm just ahead of schedule to reach my target of writing 50 songs by the first of October.
I ended up buying a new software synth last week as Native Instruments are currently offering their Massive wavetable synth at half price, and I couldn't resist an offer like that. Massive built its reputation as a tool for creating earth-shaking basslines, and after playing with it for a week I can't argue with that at all (at least, once I'd realised that in doing the tidying up last week I'd rolled off the bass on the subwoofer connected to the PC in the living room, that is - I was wondering where all the guts of the sound I could hear upstairs had gone...) But it's also full of interesting rhythmical patches that I've been having great fun with, as you can hear here.
In one of those occasional flashes of the blindingly obvious that I get, I've made a significant switch to how I link to my music here, as this is the first time I've embedded a link to play one of my tracks from Bandcamp, rather than Soundcloud. I dropped my Pro account with Soundcloud a couple of years ago because of their complete inaction over the "buy listeners" spam that is rampant on their site. Any new track I uploaded to Soundcloud would get a comment within a couple of minutes despite its play count remaining at zero, telling me how much the poster enjoyed my track (that they obviously hadn't listened to) and how such-and-such a record label would really help me out in my quest to get wider exposure for my music - for a fee, of course. This morning I noticed that the minimal embedded Soundcloud player that I've used for linking to my music from this site for years is now only available with their premium accounts, so not only have they driven me away from being a paid user, they've now even driven me away from using their free service. I removed the track above from Soundcloud entirely and put it up on Bandcamp instead. In doing so, I noticed that Soundcloud's embed code throws up multiple code errors in Netbeans, but the Bandcamp code doesn't trigger a single warning.
And I like hosting my music on Bandcamp. Apart from anything else, I do occasionally make money from the tracks I have available there. If anyone was making money from my music over at Soundcloud, it certainly wasn't me.
I'm on holiday for a couple of days, so I've been sleeping in. This morning instead of being dragged from my slumbers by the sounds of Radio 3 on the clock radio, I woke up to hear the gentle sound of rain outside. It's the first time it's rained here for more than ten minutes in six or seven weeks, and by the looks of the Met Office's rainfall radar web page it looks like it'll be raining here for a while longer yet. We need the rain; the countryside across Europe this summer has become a crispy yellow brown instead of its normal verdant green, and while archaeologists are literally having a field day thanks to the marks made by ancient earthworks on heavily-stressed crops, it's not been so great for wildlife or agriculture. I haven't seen my family of hedgehogs recently, so I hope they're managing to cope. I've been leaving water out for them. At least things here haven't been as bad as they are in California, where a good proportion of the state is currently on fire.
The weather is changing on a global scale. Back in 1976, our heatwave was an outlier when compared with the rest of the world; this year, things are very different. If you haven't started thinking that the climate situation is cause for alarm yet, you aren't paying enough attention to what's going on. Without immediate and drastic action, the next century is going to be very bad indeed for us. We need intelligent and thoughtful leaders around the world who can focus on global issues and take that action for the good of everyone...
Oh yeah, I forgot.
We're all doomed...
To take my mind off things I have continued to hone my songwriting chops by taking part in Fifty/Ninety again and so far I've written and recorded 21 pieces of music for the challenge since July 4th. That leaves me twenty nine songs to complete by October 1st. I was particularly pleased with the first song I finished yesterday, which was number 20. My G&L S-500 guitar (which I still think of as a Mark 2 Stratocaster) sounded very twangy after I'd put a fresh set of Super Slinkys on it last week; sometimes a fresh set of strings is all the inspiration you need.
I had a visit from the plumber again today. Do you remember how, back in 2016 my hot water tank burst? Well, this week the cold water tank in the loft started to leak. I was very lucky that I was in when it did, rather than at work, because things could have turned out very badly. Instead I was able to take action as soon as I realised that there was a smell of damp upstairs, and apart from an LP-sized damp patch on the ceiling in the back bedroom (which was directly over all my precious recording equipment!) I was able to limit the damage.
But to fix things, I had to turn the water off at the mains and since Tuesday night I haven't had any running water in the house at all. I drained the loft tank into the bath, and I've been using that as my water supply for the last three days. Once again I found myself appreciating the luxury of having access to clean, fresh running water.
And the outcome of the plumber's visit? The tank needs replacing, as it's got a hole in the bottom. The slight logistical hitch is that the sort of tank I have now was added to the house by crane before the roof was put on, and it's too big to fit through the hatch into the loft. So, measurements have been taken, and they've gone off to find a tank that will fit through the hatch. But in the meantime, the cold water feed to the loft has been stopped, which means that I have cold water from the mains again. Ah, the joy of having toilet cisterns that fill up automatically when you flush them. It's just that, once again, I don't have any hot water other than what I heat up on the hob or in the kettle...
Good grief, it's August? Where has this year gone?
A couple of days ago I was wondering whether I should have used this month's blog banner in July, but the temperature is creeping up again despite the fact that today there's actually some cloud cover outside. It's been very muggy today, that sort of heat that saps all your energy. The relative humidity's up around the 60% mark, even though it hasn't rained since the weekend's storms. My front lawn is still a toasted yellow colour, although this has meant that I haven't needed to get the lawnmower out for about six weeks. Maybe it'll rain later.
Once again I'm glad I was working at home this Friday, as my journey home would have taken in a long delay on the A34 thanks to a lorry that was on fire, and heavy traffic on the M4 westbound because it's a Friday afternoon in the school holidays. Travel is pretty grim in such circumstances, even if you have got a decent collection of science podcasts to listen to in the car. My latest favourite - and I have now listened to every episode - is The Curious Cases of Rutherford and Fry, which has equipped me with a whole new array of impressive and even bewildering facts that I can drop into conversations with erudite glee. Their neurological explanation of the process by which you can rid yourself of an earworm (that irritating song that gets stuck in your head) was downright fascinating.
I'm pretty sure those moustaches are fake, though.