I joined a few friends for drinks in the village pub last night. They were determined not to let the start of the Bank Holiday Weekend pass without commemorating it somehow. But torrential rain meant that we had to sit indoors rather than enjoying sunshine in the beer garden. It felt really, really claustrophobic; I've not been in a room with that many people in it since February, and I was surprised just how uncomfortable it made me feel.
And as the alcohol flowed, and people got louder and louder, I had to admit to myself that I really wasn't enjoying things. I have a feeling that my drinking days are behind me, and that's not a bad thing.
I was back on Twitch on Thursday evening, and I had a bumper crop of new pieces to share—but none of them is finished, because I'm still abstaining from guitar playing in an attempt to heal my left elbow. And yeah, that really sucks.
But imposing such a big constraint on my compositional style seems to have resulted in a real purple patch for me this week. As I explained during the show, I came up with two of my better songs in the space of six hours on Tuesday. I'm not sure why, or how, but I'm delighted with the results.
I tried installing the 2004 feature update to Windows 10 on my venerable old Dell laptop again this week, and as before, it took a couple of hours to download and install everything before BSODing twice when it rebooted and rolling everything back to the previous version. The Windows event logs and error codes that were generated have been absolutely no help at all in determining which part of the laptop is causing the problem. I think I'm just going to have to admit that it's not going to take the update.
I actually left the house on Saturday and drove to the other side of the country to meet up with two of my three siblings and their families for a joint birthday celebration. We had a couple of major milestones to celebrate, as my sister Annabelle was fifty on Thursday and I turned sixty the week before. I left plenty of time for the drive over to our chosen rendezvous point, as not only is it the middle of the summer holidays but also unseasonably stormy at the moment. I found myself driving through several extremely heavy downpours with the windscreen wipers going as fast as they could go. And I was driving with my elbow smeared with Ibuprofen gel and strapped up to give it as much support as I could; I really didn't fancy exacerbating the problems I'm already having with it.
It was the first time that I'd seen any of my close family since well before Christmas, so I had a boot full of presents in the car. We spent the day sitting in a pub garden catching up with events and went for an appropriately socially distanced walk in the adjacent countryside just south of Duxford aerodrome (and we were treated to an impromptu display over the pub car park by a Spitfire as we arrived.) It was lovely to see everybody—and marvel at how much the youngest members of the family have grown in the past year!
But driving there and back in a day meant that I spent more than nine hours of Saturday sitting in the car, which wasn't so great. When I got home on Saturday night I went to bed almost immediately and slept for more than twelve hours. I was still stupidly tired on Sunday, which gave me a heavy case of brain fog that didn't help the quality of my live stream much...
Note to self: a couple of glasses of wine are not a good idea when you're already so fatigued that you can't think straight. I won't be doing that again if I can help it. Nevertheless, the final version of the movie trailer score parody that I was worked on turned out pretty well.
In stark comparison to Sunday's effort, I spent most of Thursday night's live stream putting a track together from scratch, and I ended up in the Flow state once I'd got the bones of the thing in place. Apparently this means that I mutter quietly to myself while I'm working.
As I commented on Sunday night's stream, the track I ended up with on Thursday (and then hacked about quite a bit on Friday) sounds rather too slow to me, and my vocals for the verse sound like I was on heavy tranquilizers; it needs to be at least 10 bpm faster and I need to be much more animated in my vocal delivery. One thing that I've learned over the course of this summer with my singing is that you have to go big or go home; the chorus vocals, where I did exactly that, sounded much better to me—but you can judge for yourself.
Today my elbow feels a bit better, but I'm going to be abstaining from playing the guitar or the bass for a while longer. And I'm still very tired, so I will be getting an early night tonight in an effort to catch up on sleep.
The feedback on last weekend's live streams has been very positive, and many thanks to Oklahoma's very own dzd for explaining what was causing Audacity's behaviour on Sunday night; I now know what I was doing wrong, but I'm not exactly seized with the desire to try recording with Audacity again just yet...
One side effect of working with video a lot more than I've been used to is that I'm burning through disk space on the machine I use for live streaming. The drive that I save my streams to has warned me a couple of times recently that I was running out of room. Given that it's an old 500Gb drive from the last-studio-PC-but-one (and the smallest—and sixth—hard disk drive in the current studio PC) I was expecting it, but I'd been holding off upgrading for the last couple of months. Yesterday, its replacement arrived and I spent the evening installing it, rationalising where I stored different resources on my system, and combining a few sets of backed-up data into a single, workable repository.
I had a lucky escape while I was moving gigabytes of files around, though: while I was deciding what I needed to move next, the lights flickered and then all the power to the house went out. It came back after less than thirty seconds (something had exploded in spectacular fashion in the local substation on the other side of the railway line, judging by the very excited comments that appeared shortly afterwards in the village's Facebook group) but it could have seriously messed things up if I'd been moving files at the time. Maybe it's time I considered getting myself a UPS for the studio.
By the time I'd finished wrangling files, I had freed up more space on the system than there was on the old hard drive that I'd replaced (and there's a lesson to be learned there, somewhere) but I now have a comfortable amount of spare capacity for video, even if I decide at some point that I should stream at a higher resolution than I do at present: the new drive still has more than three terabytes of free space on it. Even though I only stream at 720p (which means I don't stress my Internet connection too hard and—touch wood—give my viewers decent audio quality and greatly increase the likelihood of a glitch-free programme into the bargain) a streaming session that lasts a couple of hours will run to six or seven gigabytes.
As a side note to that: I used the Zoom Q2n-4K to record some of last week's thunderstorms and was gobsmacked to discover just how fast a 128Gb microSD card fills up when you're shooting at 4K. I don't think I'll be creating too many 4K videos for my YouTube channel any time soon, because I don't have enough storage space available in that format to shoot enough material!
I don't know if you're the sort of person who likes a nice, neatly ordered directory structure for your documents, but I am. With the amount of content I have stored, it's the only way I can stand any chance of finding stuff again. I hadn't taken the time to rationalise the disks from my last studio PC when I bought the new one last year, so there was a fair amount of duplication. In fact, there was a lot of duplication. And a lot of junk, too: I even found a Ghost backup of the original C: drive from my Dell laptop languishing at the bottom of one drive, and the laptop's been updated to a hybrid drive and then on to a full SSD since then. Now not only do I have things organised more sensibly, I have a separate drive for photos, a separate drive for music, a separate drive for my Ableton sets, a drive for Ableton's temp data, and I really need to get out more...
I spent a couple of hours yesterday updating my music page to reflect the changes that I've made to my studio setup since I started live streaming. The main addition was my Shure SM7B, but there have been a number of other less visible changes and additions (which ranged from the new, very visible synthesizer stand to a dinky little rest for my headphones, as well as extra disk storage, more USB 3.0 ports, and a card reader for the Monolith PC) that weren't worth mentioning there. In the process of updating the page, I finally got round to changing how the CSS template that I use for this site handles bullet points, a trivial irritation that for some reason had suddenly started to really bug me. I'm much happier with how they look now and because the site is formatted using CSS, I only had to change a couple of lines in one file for the revision to be rolled out to the entire site (which now has a whopping 278 separate pages, so I really wasn't about to change each individual instance of a list manually.)
This morning I've been measuring the studio again. I wanted to see if a revision to the next phase of my studio upgrade plan would work, and it looks like it will. Which is good, because it means that I won't need to move the set of shelves that I put up last month.
This revision is going to be part of the largest change I've made to the room yet, and it should turn the place into something that looks like a proper studio at last. I am finally going to get rid of the Argos desk-and-bunk-bed which has housed my recording gear for more than a decade. It'll be free to a good home at the end of September, if you're looking for one; the bed part has hardly been used.
This week I ordered the most serious-looking piece of furniture that I have ever bought, a custom-built desk made out of reclaimed wood by a supplier who is just down the road in Somerset. I wanted to equip the room sustainably, and the desk I've ordered fits the bill perfectly. It outclasses any of the factory-produced desks I could find online that in some cases were three times as expensive. And it wasn't just the sustainability of the materials I was considering, but also the carbon impact of getting a bulky item like this shipped from Europe or even from the US. The final clincher was that this desk is being built precisely to my specs.
My measuring session this morning was to see if I could change the orientation of the room by 180° which would allow me to look out of the window while I'm mixing instead of having my back to it and staring at the wall, which is what I do at present. It looks like I can, and I'm already excited by the prospect of having a view while I work. The new arrangement has other advantages, too: it will make the room lighter in the daytime, because the window is currently more or less hidden behind my synths; it should also make my live streams easier to watch because the main camera won't be trying to pick me out against the glare that does manage to make it through the window. Needless to say there will be much more on this studio upgrade in the next couple of months.
My live streaming career continues to develop, and this weekend I ended up performing live a couple of times during the FAWMStock online festival organised by Sean McGaughey, a.k.a. ductapeguy in FAWM and Fifty/Ninety (and he did a splendid job corralling a global gathering of songwriters into a coherent and fluid series of events.) I even had my own session, where I attempted to create a fully produced track in just 60 minutes using Ableton Live. I ended up hosting the largest audience I've had to date on Twitch, which unlocked another achievement that gets me a little closer to affiliate status (and I've now set myself an informal goal of getting to that point by Christmas.) Things turned out rather well musically, too:
I had a whale of a time, and was so focused on the task that the hour seemed to be over in seconds. I thought it was interesting how the time constraint changed my creative decisions in a way that led me down a very different path to the one I suspect I would have followed if I'd allowed myself more time. Having said that, on Sunday morning I fired up Ableton and finished things off, spending another two or three hours filling in the missing pieces, finishing off the lyrics, and adding a guitar solo or two. You can hear the final version at the end of the video above. I stayed up until nearly 3 am taking part in later FAWMStock sessions and was given lots of very useful advice for monetising what I do (at some point in the future).
Sunday night's seventh Fifty/Ninety Show was... Less successful.
I'd been challenged to produce a track using Audacity instead of my usual DAW, Ableton Live. Even though I'd got as much time as I needed to take and I'd rehearsed what I was going to do (and got a song for Fifty/Ninety out of it in the process of doing so), when it came to repeating the process on camera, Audacity was having none of it. I don't know if it was just because I was tired from having stayed up until three in the morning, but Audacity seemed to behave differently when it was running simultaneously with OBS. And when I tested what I had been doing after I'd finished the live stream, with OBS shut down Audacity worked exactly how I expected it to.
Nevertheless, the lesson that I took away from the attempt (and from reading the chat afterwards, a fair few members of my audience did too) is that there are much better ways to record your music than to use Audacity (and if you're looking for something that's free, Bandlab's Cakewalk is the DAW that I'll be recommending from this point on.)
Yellow warnings of thunderstorms remain in place here until the end of Monday. Last night it started to rain again, although there was no thunder. This morning it's been grey and overcast with just a couple of rumbles off in the distance somewhere. The change in the outside temperature has been quite dramatic. It dropped to just 17°C overnight—quite a change from the 34°C that it reached inside my studio during last night's live stream on Twitch.
The fresher feel to the weather and the return of proper cloud cover meant that my bedroom stayed nice and dark, and I didn't wake up until after 8 am this morning. Despite waking up briefly once or twice (maybe I was woken by thunder? I don't know...) I slept like a log, getting a sleep score of 90 from my fitness app for the first time since the 30th of June.
The fact that my limbs aren't hurting as much had a lot to do with the improvement in the quality of my sleep, I suspect. Helen bought me a lavender scented microwaveable pad full of wheat (it has bunnies on it!) that I have been wrapping around my elbow, and it has made a big difference to my comfort levels. I hope this continues...
As I mentioned on Monday, the old desk fan that I keep in the bedroom has disintegrated, so this week I replaced it with a 16" model and it's been helping me stay cool at night (and that's quite likely to be a big reason why I've been sleeping better.) But it's been so hot upstairs that I caved in and bought a 12-inch desk fan for the studio this week as well. It was an Amazon purchase that was on promotion, so it wasn't expensive at all, and I thought it would be okay as it had a lot of four- and five-star reviews. Silly me. It was made in China, and turned out to be pretty rubbish quality (it wasn't even supplied with enough screws to secure its base to the motor unit) and had been branded by a graphic designer who clearly had no idea that umlauts are only used with vowels (they'd put one over the "c" in "Schallen", a name that to me comes perilously close to passing the product off as German engineering). Judging by the graphics on the box, the designer didn't understand that bullet points are supposed to line up with the beginning of a sentence, either.
After pulling it apart (ahh, the joys of owning a set of screwdriver heads that are made for security screws) I dug out my reel of proper 13-amp cable and replaced the "generous" mains lead with one that was actually long enough to reach a mains socket (perhaps the word "generous" means something different in China?) I also wrapped insulation tape round the termination blocks I'd used and set the cable in the base properly.
I installed it in the studio, and last night it got a pretty thorough soak test. I had it running on low speed and pointed directly at me for the whole of the latest live stream on my Twitch channel. And it was just as well; the temperature under the bed hit 34°C after I'd been going for an hour or so. It performed all right, and it was quiet enough not to be particularly obtrusive while I was on mic.
I had great fun chatting with my friends who had showed up, and Mel and I look like we'll be collaborating on our daftest song yet. If you haven't followed me on Twitch yet, please do—I'd like to make Twitch's "Affiliate" status by the end of the year, and to do that I need to reach fifty followers.
And please subscribe to my channel on YouTube and click on the like button for the video too, if you can. I hit 39 subscribers this week, and my viewing stats have grown by a further 140%, which triggered another batch of nice messages from YouTube telling me to keep it up. I totally intend to do so!
It was my birthday on Tuesday and I reached a major milestone: I am now sixty years old. As landmark birthdays go, it was one of my less traumatic ones. I think the worst happened when I hit thirty; I'm still in denial about reaching that age. These days, my body is definitely showing signs of wear and tear, but mentally I still think of myself as being in my mid-twenties. And as the card I got from Ruth said, "I'm not 60, I'm 50 plus VAT."
I wrote, recorded and released a single on Bandcamp to commemorate the day, which you can listen to here:
I had a lovely time. There were many phone calls from my friends and family and delivery vans kept arriving with a bunch of cool presents. Helen came over for the afternoon and we sat in the back garden, drank coffee, and ate cupcakes (and many thanks to Mel and David for that particular care package!) I really shouldn't have drunk all that coffee, though. I did not sleep well at all...
Yesterday I tried making some more music in the studio, but even with a fan running full tilt and pointed right at me, the temperature in there hit 34°C by 3pm and eventually I had to give up and head downstairs to cool off, as it was six degrees cooler. Even so, it was just too hot to focus on anything. I'm really glad I'm not working at the moment and can just relax and gently melt inside the house somewhere out of the sunshine.
At about quarter to six, my phone pinged with a Met Office amber warning of thunderstorms in the area. Half an hour later, the sky had clouded over and the weather had become very squally, with the wind blowing leaves around in circles in the cul-de-sac. Twenty minutes after that, it all kicked off. Continuous rolling thunder for over an hour, and a couple of torrential downpours which were, thankfully, too short to create any risk of flooding. Finally, the heatwave has broken.
Overnight the temperature dropped below 20°C for the first time in days, and right now it's only 21°C outside. Inside it's a perfectly manageable 24°C. And we still have warnings in place for further thunderstorms until Monday, which I am really looking forward to.
We've been having a run of extremely warm weather again. On Saturday I tried to record some more music in the afternoon, but it was so hot in my home studio with all the gear running that I gave up, telling myself that I'd try later when things had cooled down a bit.
When I finished working on a track it was after midnight on Sunday morning, and things had become rather toasty in there:
Before I streamed the sixth edition of the Fifty/Ninety Show yesterday, I left the windows open in the studio for a couple of hours and stood my battered old electric fan on the laundry basket on the landing, with it aimed through the open door straight at my mixing desk. That had the desired effect, and the temperature in the room didn't rise above a mere 30°C despite the fact that I'd switched all my gear and all my lights on. The show went okay, too—I have no major equipment faults to report.
I think I need to retire my fan, though. It's lived on the windowsill in my bedroom during every summer for the last couple of decades and the plastic is disintegrating from all the exposure to UV light that it's had as a result. As I carried it out of the bedroom yesterday, bits of the casing were falling off it. You can now watch the motor working inside, which I suspect is not entirely compliant with current regulations for small electrical appliances...
Even though I have managed to get the venetian blind back on the wall in the bedroom (and even more surprisingly, managed to keep it on the wall for over a week), I'm still struggling to get a decent night's sleep at the moment. Wednesday night was particularly bad, and I was all over the place by early evening, when I went live with my latest Twitch stream...
Somehow I'd switched back to my old monitoring settings, so the first five minutes of the show featured me speaking through a blizzard of echo effects. In my befuddled state it took me a while to remember how I'd stopped things last time. It really wasn't one of my best streams. To cap it all I'd knocked the Zoom Q8 while I was adjusting its field of view and turned the gain on one audio input to zero. So this week's show ended up being in mono. I'm not sure what happened at the end, though; for the first time in thirteen weeks, the stream fell over and OBS took a couple of minutes to reconnect. I edited the worst of my ramblings and technical issues out of the YouTube version, but it took four attempts before Magix Studio could render out a file that VLC would play. I have no idea what caused that particular problem but as you can see from the thumbnail above, I have my suspicions.
I also ended up in a peculiarly nostalgic mood for the latter part of the show. Maybe that's because I'll be sixty on Tuesday, or maybe it was just because I was tired and feeling a bit maudlin; I'm not sure. But I believe that Thursday's show has value, and when it came to the important content, I think I did a good job of being helpful. I talked about the causes of writer's block, and shared some tips and tricks for getting past it that I know are effective, because I have used them myself. Aside from my own considerable experience of suffering from the condition, it's something I've done a fair bit of reading about over the years. It's not pleasant, and I sympathise with anyone who is unable to create in their chosen medium at the moment. One big cause of writer's block is stress, and there's more than enough of that to go around as it is right now.
So right now I'm downstairs, having abandoned working in the studio because with all my gear switched on the temperature was gradually climbing into the low thirties. Here in the living room, with the conservatory doors wide open, it's six degrees cooler than it is upstairs. So I think I'll stay here for a while. Instead of working on music, I shall draw up plans for the next phase of my studio upgrade, which I talked about on Thursday's show. Since then I think I have found a local supplier who can provide just the sort of desk that I'm looking for. I'm getting excited, and I haven't even placed an order yet; I just want to get rid of the wretched bed that I've smacked my head on once too often. And after more than two decades of making music in there, I think it's about time that the room actually looked like a "proper" space for producing music in.
I'm really struggling to get a decent night's sleep at the moment. I can fall asleep fine, which is a marked improvement on the state I was in a couple of months ago, and I definitely feel less tired—I put together a new opening credits sequence for my Sunday night Fifty/Ninety Show live stream yesterday, and I used several clips of me from earlier episodes. In the earliest extracts that I've used, I look utterly exhausted (if you watch the show next Sunday, you'll see what I mean.) The problem I have now is getting comfortable enough to drop into deep, restorative sleep. At the moment my fitness tracker has been giving me a "bad" rating for sleep quality continuously for at least a fortnight. At least these days I can have a lie-in if I've had a particularly bad night, but it would be good if I could spring out of bed in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day that lies ahead of me. You know, like I used to do, way back never.
The problem is more to do with the aches and pains I've been suffering from lately. I foolishly tried to play fretless bass yesterday after giving my left arm a break for a couple of days, but it very soon became clear that whatever the problem is, it hasn't gone away. I could barely extend my arm when I'd finished recording to put the bass back in its rack. After finally getting around to Googling the symptoms this morning, I'm now pretty sure that my increased levels of guitar playing since I fixed up the studio have given me tennis elbow, as the symptoms I have are exactly as described by the NHS. While I haven't resorted to the bag of frozen peas that they suggest yet (a remedy which Sir Terry Pratchett used to use for his wrists during signing tours), this morning I'm trying a couple of ice cubes wrapped in a face cloth, added to the inside of the brace I bought last month. The results are rather clunky and damp and messy but it is bringing me some relief. The bit that concerns me, though, is the statement at the bottom of the NHS page in that link which says that most cases of tennis elbow last between six months and two years...
I was asked if I could make the audio of my opening performance from last month's V-EM2.0 Festival available as a download, so I've added it to my Bandcamp page as a "pay what you want" release.
I wrote the three-movement piece specially for the show, and people have definitely picked up on the strong Mike Oldfield influence that comes to the fore, particularly in the third movement. It was fun, but I need to perform it again and not make such a hash of things; all I can hear when I listen to it are the mistakes.
The temperature outside today hasn't hit 20°C yet, and it's gone noon. It's heavily overcast with a stiff breeze blowing, but I'm not at the point where I'll be popping upstairs to get a jumper just yet, despite the fact that I currently have a couple of lumps of ice strapped to my arm. The weather is quite a contrast from the heat of last Friday, but I see from today's weather forecast that the hot weather will be making a return towards the end of this week.
Several of the meteorology accounts that I follow on Twitter are already talking about the possibility of the UK temperature being broken again by next weekend. This is becoming an alarmingly regular event, but I still see the occasional climate change denier out there claiming it's nothing to worry about.
I do worry. This house does not have air-conditioning and I really don't enjoy the weather when things get above 30°C. As this becomes a more common occurrence, I might have to look about getting something installed, although the virginia creeper on the outside of the house definitely helps to keep things manageable indoors.
...provided that I don't switch on the studio gear or the lights I use for live streaming, that is. If I do that, I can easily push the temperature upstairs into the mid thirties. And in those conditions I don't get any sleep at all.
And here we are in August once again. The garden has exploded with growth over the last four weeks or so and this week I finally felt well enough to tackle the task of bringing it back under control. I've been up the ladder to cut back the virginia creeper, which had reached the roof and was becoming alarmingly well-established on areas of brickwork that were previously plant-free. That filled the green bin up for the first time this week. After it was emptied on Thursday, I was able to tackle phase 2, which involved mowing the lawn and cutting back most of the shrubs and small trees in the back garden, some of which had also become alarmingly overgrown. I finished off by taking the cover of the garden bench and cleaning up the patio area in the back corner of the garden, something that I haven't got round to doing for two or three years. It's amazing how different the garden looks now compared to what it looked like last week.
Yesterday's efforts were rewarded by a brilliant flash of sky-blue as a male emperor dragonfly made a few circuits of the garden on the hunt for something to eat.
The garden looks lovely now, but perhaps I should have left my efforts until today; yesterday the temperature outside here hit 32°C and although I wore a hat, applied plenty of SPF30 before starting and had plenty of ice-cold drinks on hand for the entire afternoon (I ended up drinking at least three litres of squash), by five o'clock I was toast. I had a cup of tea (because I'm British; what else are you going to drink in a heatwave?) and then sat in the bath for half an hour, which made me feel a lot better. After watching a couple of lovely live streams (my regular hang with Fish on Friday, and then a very enjoyable Penfriend concert direct from Laura's studio bedroom which ended up featuring a storm of courgette puns—Laura had been gardening too), I went out into the garden and sat on the bench to savour the fruits of this week's labours. It had cooled off a lot from earlier on, and it felt really good.
This afternoon I spent quarter of an hour or so cleaning, staining, and polishing the garden bench as it was looking a bit fusty after spending winter underneath its cover. Now it looks as good as new. If the weather permits, I intend making much more use of it this year than I did last year.
I was back in the studio for another live stream on my Twitch channel on Thursday night, and apart from triggering my "intermission" scene when I kicked over the Novation Launchpad that I use for remotely controlling OBS, it was a passably decent affair. I was nerding out over Arturia's collection of classic synth emulations. I've been using their Mellotron a fair bit on some new songs for Fifty/Ninety, which have take on a much more grandiose progressive rock flavour since I got a copy of Spitfire Audio's BBC Symphony Orchestra Discover package.
I have no idea where the time went on Thursday. Even edited down to make the show flow better (and remove the inadvertent intermission) there's nearly an hour and three-quarters of video for you to watch. I'm beginning to rate my efforts as "worth your time" so please swing by and give my YouTube analytics a boost!
Best wishes and much mojo heading in the direction of my buddy Rich, who is currently in the ICU. I'm hoping that you make a full and speedy recovery, mate.