The composer and musician Patrick Grant was born in Detroit in 1963 and lives and works in New York City. He's an alumnus of Robert Fripp's Guitar Circle and founded the Tilted Axes Project, which took electric guitarists (and the occasional Chapman Stick player) out of the studio and on to the streets of the city. He's a friend of several of my friends in the United States, and today we'll all be celebrating the event that he founded that takes place every year on August 24th: International Strange Music Day. Patrick's message for the day is simple and laudable: he wants people to play and listen to types of music they have never experienced before. The definition of what constitutes "strange" is left to the player or listener—which maximises the opportunity for fresh discoveries and having fun. It's a wonderful idea. Push your musical boundaries!
So what am I going to do today that I've not done musically before? I'm glad you asked. While I was helping to clear my father's house earlier this month, I rescued a couple of battered old Hohner harmonicas that are older than I am. They had been sitting in a drawer, untouched, for decades; the last time I can remember my father ever playing them was back in the 60s. Right now they're sitting on a chair in the studio, waiting for me. I've never used a harmonica on a track before. In fact, I've hardly ever played one. Today is therefore going to be about changing that fact.
I've finished my course of antibiotics and I'm happy to report that they did what they were supposed to do; the test results I got back yesterday say everything's cleared up. I'm still pretty wiped out, but I'm feeling a little better each day and I'm looking forward to being back at 100% in the not-too-distant future.
When I read the information leaflet that came with the antibiotics I'm taking at the moment, I began to wonder whether I'd be better off just sticking with the kidney infection I'd picked up. The leaflet cautions against possible liver problems (jaundice), lung irritation, cyanosis, a reduced blood cell count, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, issues with the nerves around the spinal column, loss of consciousness, and a whole raft of other delights. In the end, the only side effects that I've noticed have been the "dizziness, drowsiness" mentioned in the "other side effects" section but hoo boy, they weren't kidding there; I've spent the last couple of afternoons fast asleep. This is the first course of antibiotics that I've been on for at least a decade, possibly two, and I don't remember them laying me this flat the last time. One reason for this is that these days, doctors tend not to prescribe the "friendlier" antibiotics that some bacteria are becoming resistant to—my doctor explained that this was why she was giving me the particular drug that I'm on.
Although I don't feel that great this week, I'm happy to say that the aches and pains and other symptoms seem to have subsided. I'll leave reporting on whether I'm actually better or not until the test results come back next week, though.
In the meantime, my progress on Fifty/Ninety has pretty much stalled. I've only written and recorded one new track in the last week, although I have been jotting down lyrics every now and then if something springs to mind while I'm dozing. I always keep a notebook close by for just that eventuality.
I'm glad of the buffer I built up at the beginning of the month, as it means that despite the lack of progress I'm still ahead of the game. I have twenty-eight songs uploaded to the site so far. You can listen to all of them by clicking on the links on my Fifty/Ninety profile page.
So this year for my birthday I got a kidney infection. I can think of nicer presents I'd rather have received, to be honest. I saw the doctor yesterday and she agreed that it was probably brought on by dehydration and not taking more breaks on Sunday's four-and-a-half-hour drive over to Norfolk. I'm now on a week-long course of antibiotics, but I'm still feeling less than stellar. I'm looking after myself and making sure that I drink lots of fluids, but I really shouldn't go to the supermarket when I'm feeling sorry for myself; I had a bit of a diet failure and came back with bakewell tarts, chocolate biscuits, liquorice allsorts and mini Cheddars in addition to the healthy stuff...
It was my birthday on Sunday. Yes, I'm another year older, so I've given my Home Page its annual refresh.
It was a quiet day, for the most part. I had the day to myself, and I spent it recording another piece of music for Fifty/Ninety and tidying up the house. In the evening I drove across to Dad's house in Norfolk. It was the first really long drive I've made in the Lexus, and the car averaged 65 mpg on the trip—rather better than the 29 mpg or so that I used to get out of the 350Z or even the 45 to 50 mpg I got from the Juke. As a matter of fact, with this car I could drive to Dad's and back on a single tank of petrol. I don't think I've ever owned a car that could manage that before.
I was visiting Norfolk to help my sister to clear out Dad's house, which has finally been sold. I'd arranged for a skip to be delivered on Monday morning, and it had been dropped off (with some very impressive manoeuvring by the driver) by eight o'clock. Annabelle, Ed and Zoe arrived later and we set about filling up the skip. Selling, giving away or throwing away artefacts that have been in the family for as long as I can remember is tough to do and at times I found myself really struggling. Initially I thought that it was the emotional weight of the task that was getting to me, but as the day progressed I started to feel physically ill. I'll spare you the gory details, but it became evident that I wasn't just suffering from an upset stomach. I suspect that my symptoms were triggered by sitting in the car for over four hours, as I'd only taken one break to stretch my legs and back in Chatteris, when I stopped to get petrol. By mid-afternoon I felt so bad (and was sufficiently worried) that I decided that the most sensible thing to do was to go home and see a doctor.
So on Monday evening I drove all the way back home again. It wasn't the best of journeys. Stretches of the A14 and the M6 were closed and it took me nearly six hours to get home. By the time I'd finished unloading the car (I'd brought a bunch of sentimental stuff home with me and as a result the car was absolutely full) it was 2am so Tuesday was pretty much a write-off. My symptoms were easing off, but I was still in quite a lot of pain. I booked an appointment with my doctor, but other than that all I managed to do yesterday was watch the television or listen to music.
Today I feel a little better and most of my symptoms have gone away, but I'm still wiped out. I'm going to take things easy for the rest of the day and I'm seeing the doctor tomorrow.
Paleontologists in New Zealand have discovered the fossil remains of an unknown species of penguin that lived there 66 to 56 million years ago. It's... Well, it was a bit bigger than the penguins we're used to seeing today.
So much bigger, in fact, that I'm not sure whether to be overwhelmed with cuteness or just plain terrified.
I think it's darker outside now than it was when I got up at 7am this morning. It's been raining steadily all day so far, and it doesn't look very nice out there at all. It's quite a contrast to yesterday, which was fine and sunny.
The weather over the last week has been very changeable. Strong winds (the gusts here reached 47 kts, or 54 mph) and heavy rain meant that last weekend's 41st Bristol Ballon Fiesta ended up being a bit of a washout.
It's a shame. I'd have loved to see that Darth Vader balloon in the air.
I see from last month's Twitter analytics that my tweets got a total of 2.78 million impressions in July. That's an order of magnitude more than I've ever achieved before. Unfortunately this was not a sign that my musical career is taking off; the blip was caused by a single post, a reply that I made to this tweet from the singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.
Elliptical references to 1970s hit records? I'm yer man, obviously.
It's been a productive few days for me, at least as far as music is concerned. Five days after my last blog entry, I've posted a further five songs on the Fifty/Ninety Challenge website and I have another two sets of lyrics written and ready to record. This puts me comfortably ahead of my target this year, and I have also listened to and commented on more than a hundred songs from other participants. As ever, taking part is turning out to be a pleasant and creatively rewarding experience. I'm really enjoying myself this year.
This time around I've been working on getting my guitar sound to the next level. Tonally, I think I'm finally pretty close to what I want to hear. Part of that is because, over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of guitar effects pedals. A fair number of them are currently set up on the studio floor in two separate effects chains. Another part of the solution is that I have a couple of amps that have effects modelling built in; my Blackstar ID:15 produces an extremely satisfying crunch even when it's just DI'd into my desk. But mainly it's just very satisfying to have an arsenal of different guitars to choose from that all have very different sounds; my palette ranges from the mellow P90s on my Squier Telecaster through the Les Paul-like humbuckers on the Godin to the shouty excess of the Ibanez. I've used every guitar in my collection so far apart from my original Aria.
With hundreds of recorded songs under my belt, I have to be careful not to fall into melodic habits when I play, particularly if I'm recording a guitar solo. This time around, I've gone back to record lead lines again because I found myself following habitual patterns. That's a sign I need to practise more, I think. Nevertheless, I don't feel like I'm running out of steam yet. We'll see where this week takes me.
Congratulations to the Planetary Society, whose latest spacecraft Lightsail 2 has successfully fulfilled its mission objective by moving to a higher orbit around the Earth using nothing more than sunlight reflected off its sail, an ultra-thin mylar film that is supported by four alloy booms. The sail has an area of 32 m2, or 340 square feet. That is all you need to push you through outer space.
I've been fascinated by the solar sailer concept ever since I first read about it in Arthur C Clarke's 1964 short story Sunjammer, but my favourite reference to the design in popular culture dates from 1982. If you've seen the Disney film TRON you may remember that Jeff Bridges escapes from the MCP on a simulation of a solar sailer; the craft was designed by legendary French comics artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud. Don't imagine that solar sailers can only be slow, stately things, either—the physicist (and science fiction author) Robert Forward wrote a design proposal for a miniaturised solar sailer called Starwisp that would have used massive banks of Earth-based microwave lasers to give the spacecraft its initial launch boost. As the spacecraft would only weigh twenty grams, this would be enough to accelerate it to around a fifth of the speed of light in just over a week, making it possible to explore the neighbouring star systems of Alpha Centauri or Epsilon Eridani within the scale of a human lifetime. We're nowhere near this level of capability yet, but Lightsail 2 is an important step on the way.
With all the awful goings-on down here at the moment it's rather nice to know that there are still people out there trying to build a better future for us all.
I haven't written any new music for the Fifty/Ninety Challenge for a couple of days now, as I switched over to listening and commenting on songs written by other participants. This activity is just as important as writing your own songs. Listening to other people's tracks and analysing how you respond to them and why is a powerful way to learn what makes a great song. It also helps to support and build the creative community of the site and keep it positive and helpful. There are some great songs out there, too.
But I'm getting twitchy, so I think it's probably about time I wrote something new. I'll be heading back into the studio later today to see what I can come up with.