Tremulous Blog

Chris's Blog Archive: September 2020

This month was mainly taken up with making music and live streaming on Twitch (where, I'm pleased to say, things are running rather more smoothly than they were when I started out.) Even so, the blog covers a few interesting news items which range from a real-life Buzz Lightyear buzzing jets in L.A. to a scientific paper that appears to suggest that free will is illusory...

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.


The blog has become rather focused on my music and livestream activities in recent months, and if that's not really your thing I do apologise. You will be pleased to hear that the end is nearly in sight, as the Fifty/Ninety challenge draws to a close at the end of October 1st (to be precise, people who are taking part will be able to add new songs to their profiles on the site until it is no longer October 1st anywhere on the planet, which for me is noon on October 2nd.)

I've set myself the target of writing 65 songs this year, and I intend doing so by writing two songs today and another two tomorrow.

And then I'll probably just collapse in a heap for a couple of days. I've been unusually focused on music this summer and my songwriting chops have noticeably improved over the last three months or so (in my not-so-humble opinion) but I really need to decompress and return to a less-obsessed frame of mind once the challenge draws to a close. That usually takes the best part of a week. I get twitchy. I will almost certainly record a few more tracks even after the 2nd, just to keep my hand in. After all, you've got to ease out of this level of obsession slowly.


You may have seen reports over the last few days about a physics paper published last week by Germain Tobar and Fabio Costa from the University of Queensland titled "Reversible dynamics with closed time-like curves and freedom of choice" because it's caused a bit of a stir. The gist of the paper is that the authors believe that, contrary to what is predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity, time travel is is possible after all; the Universe will accommodate the actions of any reckless time travellers who go back and change the past in such a way that nothing much will really change back in the present. To quote the paper,

"there is a broad range of communication scenarios which still allow freedom of choice for observers in each region without the development of a logical inconsistency such as a grandfather paradox."

This is a big deal, and not just because it asserts that Einstein's theory might have loopholes. It returns attention to some uncomfortable questions about determinism and free will that have been kicking around in neuroscience circles for several years. If the future will always play out in the same way regardless of what we do in the here and now, what does that say about our belief that we possess free will?

If you want to get really bleak, read up on eternalism, the block universe theory of time which plays a central role in the plot of Alan Moore's enormous novel Jerusalem. Or perhaps just try not to think about such things; you'll probably be happier if you don't. Look at it this way: whatever you've just read doesn't look like it will have any effect on what you actually decide to do. And that's kind of the point.


I found myself wide awake at half-past seven this morning—not something that happens very often these days. I couldn't get back to sleep so I got up and made breakfast. While I was waiting for the coffee machine to warm up, I checked the overnight temperature on the max/min thermometer in the conservatory; if you've read more than a couple of entries on the blog you'll know that this is one of my daily rituals (the gradual changes of the seasons keep me grounded in these uncertain times.) I was rather surprised to discover that it was just 1.3°C outside and the temperature had dropped to zero overnight: the first frost of autumn. Could I cope with the excitement?

Well, yes I could, obviously. But I could do without the fact that the house is getting distinctly on the chilly side today. I said on Saturday's blog that I hadn't needed to grab a fleece out of the wardrobe just yet, but right now I'm thinking perhaps I need to reconsider that statement...


Last night I streamed the last Fifty/Ninety Show that will take place while this year's challenge is still running. The site closes to new uploads at noon GMT on October 2nd (which is the moment at which it is no longer October 1st anywhere in the world.)

Once again thanks to drinking a chilled latté before I started the stream I was more focused and on point than in recent weeks. I'm extremely chuffed to have a group of regular viewers showing up each week to watch (and heckle me) and there was plenty of interaction in the chat last night. I've edited out the worst diversions and other distractions and the coughs and sniffles that punctuated my delivery on a regular basis (I am definitely feeling the change in the weather at the moment) but I enjoyed making the show and playing some of my latest pieces of music for everyone.


I think I've finally found something that will radically curtail the amount of time I spend on Facebook: Facebook itself. Last night they took away the option to switch back to the old interface (which, while it was ugly, was at least usable.)

From a UI perspective, new FB is a trainwreck. Many of the actions that I used to be able to make with a single mouse click now take two or three. Many of the indications of activity that used to be immediately visible are now buried, a mouse-click or two away from the landing page. There are loads of other problems and irritations, too, but I have just realised that I can't be bothered to waste the effort writing about them, so I will simply say this:

I hate it.


As if to confirm what I was saying on my last blog post about the equinox, this morning I woke up to discover that autumn has very definitely arrived. Last night it dropped to just 3°C in the back garden, a temperature I haven't seen here for months. Although the sun is shining in a lovely blue sky outside—I can't see a single cloud—it's only 10°C out there and the house is a good couple of degrees colder than it was yesterday.

Which means, sadly, that I have brought my practice of working in here with the windows open to a close for another year. And while I haven't dug out any fleeces from the wardrobe just yet, I'm back to wearing a hoodie inside the house again.

Autumn has always been my favourite time of year. These days I love the way that the increasing hours of darkness improve the quality of the sleep I get, but I also love the quiet stillness of the evenings and the quality of the light when a comforting blanket of fog descends on the village.

Provided that I don't have to go out in it, that is. Given the way that the Covid-19 situation is continuing, that is looking increasingly unlikely.


I've now been live streaming on Twitch on Thursday evenings for twenty weeks on the trot. I'm not running out of things to cover, either. Even after I had edited this week's show down to make things run a bit more smoothly, it still comes in at three hours! If you're a musician who makes recordings at home with a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW, I think you'll find some interesting bits of information scattered throughout. For the rest of you, marvel at me dropping into The Zone as I play through some of the presets on a free virtual synthesizer and cheer as I finally figure out how to play "Jump" on my Mk1 Ableton Push...

Watching the show back as I edited it down (and added the subtitles and text comments that have become a feature of the YouTube version of the show) I noticed how much more animated I was compared to my performances in recent weeks. The secret? Drinking one of those 250 ml cans of cold cafe latté half an hour before showtime...

Sunday will see me streaming the last episode of the Fifty/Ninety Show to take place this year while the challenge of writing Fifty songs in the Ninety days between July 4th and October 1st is still running. I'll be making a retrospective show about the challenge the following week and then the show will be changing its name to the "Is it FAWM yet?" show as suggested by Atitlan. I will be live on Twitch from 21:00 BST.


It was the autumnal equinox at 14:30 yesterday, marking the beginning of astronomical autumn, although meteorological autumn started on September 1st and according to Christian tradition autumn began over a month and a half ago on August 1st, or Lammas Day (which traditionally marked the beginning of the harvest). Although it is now unequivocally autumn here in the northern hemisphere, things are still growing enthusiastically enough outside. Yesterday I mowed the lawn for the second time in a fortnight, as the nights haven't been cold enough yet to stop the grass growing. It dropped to 5°C once a week or so ago, which was cold enough for the Virginia creeper on the house to turn into a riot of scarlet and red.

I knew that it would be raining today, and tomorrow is bin day, so I had a deadline for getting the lawn cut if I wanted the cuttings taken away this week. Having a deadline like that helps to get me motivated. Last year I wasn't well enough to keep the back garden under control; the year before I was just too worn out from my job to have the energy to do anything more than getting the lawn cut; this year I have slowly been restoring things to their former state, driven more by a sense of guilt about how untidy the garden has become than anything else. But yesterday I realised that actually felt energised enough to tackle the flowerbed by the bird feeders in the back garden as well. It's hardly been touched for the last few years and was badly overgrown, with the buddleia and holly looking particularly scruffy. Brambles and ivy had taken hold from one end to the other. It was a mess.

Not any more; I spent yesterday afternoon on my hands and knees in the dirt and wielding a pair of secateurs with abandon. I filled my green bin to the brim with the foliage I removed, but as a result the garden now looks like somebody still lives here. And when I'd finished, I felt better than I have done for months. I read a few years ago that one species or bacteria that lives in soil, mycobacterium vaccae, acts as a natural antidepressant which may also improve cognitive function, and after yesterday's session grubbing about in the dirt I can easily believe it. It also elevated my mood by making the view out of the back windows nicer to look at, so I allowed myself a small sigh of satisfaction when I opened the curtains this morning and looked out at my handiwork.

Yesterday, when I came back indoors for a large mug of restorative tea I realised that I'd also done the local birds a huge favour by removing the principal piece of ambush cover that was being used by the local cats. With the coast visibly clear, nearly two dozen sparrows descended on the feeders and were enthusiastically tucking in less than five minutes after I'd come back inside. Last year I would have been lucky to see more than a couple of sparrows in the garden at the same time. I hope they'll make full use of the feeders over the winter.

100% THERE

Last night one of the "exquisite corpses" that I contributed to for Fifty/Ninety was uploaded to the site, and that took me across the finish line for this year's challenge. Just for good measure after I finished last night's live stream I went back to one of the sketches I'd saved from an earlier show and turned that into a three-minute guitar instrumental, so I currently have fifty-one songs uploaded.

I've now successfully participated in Fifty/Ninety for eight years running. I'm not done yet, either; I have quite a few other tracks that I'm working on which I should be able to finish this week without pushing myself to the point of making myself ill (that's a mistake that I made in previous years which I have no intention of repeating.) All the same, I'm sitting here wondering if I can hit sixty songs with ten days of the challenge remaining. I'm not going to beat my all-time record by any stretch of the imagination, but I will at the very least be able to post a decent showing.

You may be wondering just what an "exquisite corpse" is at this point. It's nothing nasty; it's a collaboration where the first participant writes a minute of music and sends the last ten seconds to the second participant, who continues what they heard with another minute of music, and then sends their last ten seconds to participant number three, and so on and so on until you run out of people taking part. Rather like the party game Chinese Whispers, the final part of the piece usually sounds very different to the first. They're great fun to do and I always try to make my section fit as closely in character to the previous piece as I can; for Corpse H which was completed yesterday, that involved obsessively trawling through my drum MIDI patterns to find something that would match and then develop the drums which Stephan had used for his section. And then I went crazy and recorded a dozen separate guitar tracks...

As I commented in last night's show, next Sunday's Fifty/Ninety Show will be the last while the challenge is still running, although most people taking part stick around to record a bunch of cover versions in the part of the challenge that we know as Rocktober. I'll have to come up with a new show theme for Sunday nights, and at present it's looking like I might live stream me drawing for Inktober, which begins next week (more on that next month.) Last night's show was a little more organised and there were fewer technical problems, so maybe I'm beginning to get the hang of this live streaming malarkey...

I'll be back on Thursday with another of my regular shows on Twitch, and this week I will be demoing yet another free synth VST that I've found on my recent travels around the Internet. Please come and say hello in the chat over on my Twitch channel!


Stupid people are why we can't have nice things.

I stocked up at the supermarket on Friday so I won't be leaving the house this week at all. When I do have to go out, I wear a mask when I'm indoors at all times. But the woman on the till at Sainsbury's said that quite a few customers had told her as they were checking out their shopping that "Wearing a mask means we don't have to observe social distancing" and because of idiots like them we are now looking at the beginning of a second wave of infections. People have largely abandoned those behaviours that were helping to keep the virus's reproduction number down. So now the R number is hovering around 1.4 and reports today suggest that there could be a surge of as many as 50,000 new cases a day by the middle of next month.

Which means that the odds of the country having to go back into a full lockdown are decreasing rapidly with each day that passes. It doesn't help that the folk in Government who are attempting to run the country's response to the disease include chancers who used false names to run companies and folk who are so monumentally dim that they believe everyone can be above average (see question 98 in that link). Boris's "whack-a-mole" approach to only dealing with the things that are at risk of causing him personal embarrassment is not going to produce a coherent strategy for controlling a second wave. And anyway, right now he's much too busy denying reports that he bunked off to Italy a couple of weeks ago to bother with trivial things like running the country which he was, unbelievably, elected to lead.

We are so screwed...


My live streaming adventures continue. Thursday night's show was quite a long one, but I've edited out the worst pauses and less-interesting diversions for an improved (ha!) viewing experience over at YouTube:

Going by the numbers, I've been doing this for nineteen weeks, now. It amazes me that after that length of time, I can still find enough stuff to talk about on camera for over a couple of hours—although it has to be said that I am now notorious for straying wildly off-topic every week. But I hope that those diversions are all about stuff that you'll find of interest. For example if you're a musician, this week you'll hear me raving about a new free monophonic synthesiser VST plugin that you can download from Eventide that is well worth your time. I have been noodling with it until the small hours of the morning more than once this week.


It'll soon be Halloween. Every year I have the idea of assembling some form of costume that I can wear when I answer the door to the local kids trick or treating, and every year I only think of doing so much too late to do anything about it, when all the bits and pieces I need are out of stock (because they've been bought by other folks with the same idea but who are considerably more organised than I am.) But this year I remembered my idea in good time and I've already started making my preparations; I've already collected most of the bits I need. The end result is going to be very silly, but I think it will look cool. Then again, I'm an inveterate nerd, so what do I know?

When Halloween rolls around I'll post photos in the blog so you can see the end results.


As I've done every summer since 2013, I've been taking part in the engaging and highly addictive song writing challenge of Fifty/Ninety. As it does every summer, this means that I've been spending far too much time sitting in a chair in front of my DAW. As I'm not working at the moment, I enthusiastically seized the opportunity to do little else over the last three months or so. I'm now more than 90% of the way to my target of writing fifty new songs or instrumental pieces in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st (which is how the challenge got its name). As of yesterday I have forty-six songs listed (and available for you to listen to) on my 50/90 Profile, and I've also contributed to another song that has yet to be uploaded. Crunching the numbers, I can see that I'm five tracks ahead of where I should be by now. Although this means that I can take the home stretch of the challenge at a comfortable pace, I (very predictably) haven't been doing so, and I can tell that my body is beginning to rebel.

To be honest, it's rebelling quite strongly and for the last few days I've been feeling both bloated and utterly exhausted. This hasn't been that much of a surprise considering that I've been mixing and mastering until the small hours of the morning and as a result I've been going to bed later and later, but enough is very definitely enough. Last night I decided that it was time I reversed the trend of increasingly late nights, so I ran the bath early, spent more than half an hour in it just soaking and reading (I'm currently working my way through Carl Jung's "Psychological Types" and I leave it up to the reader to decide whether that had a soporific effect or not) and then headed off to bed.

I slept for nearly twelve hours.

It wasn't exactly quality sleep and I had a fitful night, waking up at least three times. My fitness app really wasn't impressed, because by going to bed almost four hours earlier than my recent average bedtime of 00:41 am, my "regularity" score dropped through the floor. But I managed to get a couple of decent periods of deep, non-REM sleep, one of which lasted for an astonishing hour and fifteen minutes. This morning, for the first time this week I managed to get out of bed before 10 am, so even if I'm not being very active during the day, at least I'm up and about more.

I've also been paying more attention to my calorie intake this week and since Saturday I've lost three and a half pounds. This morning I don't feel quite as bloated as I was at the end of last week, but I still have a considerable way to go to recover the ground I lost during August, when I was much too self-indulgent for my own good.

The final piece in the puzzle will be to shake myself out of my current state of profound lethargy and get more exercise. If my fitness app could sneer at me, it would have been doing so this month because I haven't even come close to achieving my daily step target of 10,000. On days when I've been feeling particularly under the weather recently I haven't even managed a tenth of that, and that's about as inactive as I've ever been (again, sitting in a chair in front of a mixer does not count as exercise). The temptation to just sit in the studio shouldn't be as strong after Fifty/Ninety draws to a close, but I'm sure that when the new studio desk arrives in a few weeks I will have to spend some time bedding it in and getting used to my new setup. To that end, I took delivery of a bunch of 19" rack accessories yesterday which were the missing parts of the new desk puzzle.

I suspect that the biggest logistical challenge will be to get rid of the Argos bed-and desk combo that I'm currently using. Know anyone who wants one? The bed part has hardly been used...


Over the last decade I've been increasingly concerned by the decline in the numbers of birds I've seen in the back garden. The recent news of the shocking decline of animal species globally has made me intensely aware of the need for me to do my bit to reverse things at a local level and I'm pleased to say that since I opened up the back garden by having the leylandii hedge removed (it's an invasive species, which means that few native animals or birds can benefit from it other than as ground cover), the amount of wildlife that I see out of my back windows has increased. A few years ago it would be unusual to see more than a couple of sparrows outside; looking at the bird feeders right now I can see more than a dozen making the most of the free food. I recently changed the seed that I use in the bird feeders closest to the house, and the current brand is clearly a big hit with sparrows. Before they started visiting in numbers I wasn't aware just what fussy eaters they are and most of what I was putting out before was ending up on the floor. None of the "No Mess" bird feed brands fully lives up to its name, but this stuff has a much better proportion of eat to discard than any of the other feeds I've tried. I reckon the sparrows get through about 5 Kg of it in a month.

The local starlings now arrive en masse; when I put out a few scoops of mealworms for them they turn up in a flock that I estimate to be around fifty strong. Unfortunately this has also got the attention of the local cats, and I've seen one or two close calls recently. The jackdaws that nest in the chimneys of the flats at the back now also turn up mob-handed, and the spectacle of five or six of them trying to fit inside the bird table at the same time is hilarious.

It would be nice to see some more unusual birds at the bird table, though. As winter approaches I will be experimenting by putting out other types of food to see what shows up. I'll let you know what I see.


I just updated Apache NetBeans to version 12.1, which was released on September 1st. I'm beginning to get quite adept at upgrading NetBeans without too much flailing about, but I was disappointed to see that the default install of the latest version is still not autodetecting when it's being run on HiDPI monitors and the splash screen when it launches is still barely bigger than a postage stamp on this system. Luckily the Darcula plugin from my previous install returned everything to the way I like it without any faffing about.


And just like that, I've gone from wondering whether it's time to break out the winter duvet to wandering around the house in jeans and a t-shirt again. It's 24°C outside at the moment as a plume of hot air has arrived from the tropics and the temperatures have reversed their decline of the last couple of weeks. The temperature in the studio last night was back up in the thirties, although thankfully none of my equipment decided to give up the ghost in protest. And that was a nice change!


Last night's stream was one of my better efforts, I think. For one thing, it was much more concise than my Sunday night shows have been so far, clocking in at just 69 minutes after editing. For another, there was plenty of interaction in the chat, and some great ideas and comments from viewers. That encouraged me to up my game, and while the topic of conversation did get derailed once or twice (and let's face it, it wouldn't be one of my shows if it didn't) everything gelled together and parts of it were even making a fair bit of sense to me as I edited the show down this morning before I uploaded it to YouTube.

Yesterday's show spawned another challenge for viewers taking part in Fifty/Ninety, too: the Nonet challenge. I was delighted to discover this morning that quite a few people have already written and recorded songs that follow the required lyrical form. If you want to get your lyrics flowing, or are just looking to create something a little further off the beaten track than usual, you should find some ideas in the show so please give it a watch!


Atitlan's contribution to the nonet challenge was how I found out about today's big science announcement regarding the discovery of the gas phosphine in the upper atmosphere of Venus. Phosphine is a stinky and very toxic gas (it smells of rotting fish, or garlic, and you wouldn't need to breathe much of it in to end up dead) but while it has been detected in the atmosphere of Saturn (where the processes that generate it are explained by the gas giant's dense and turbulent atmosphere) its presence in Venus's upper atmosphere is much more interesting, because the geological processes that we know about that exist on rocky planets don't create it in large quantities, certainly not in the amounts which seem to be present on Venus.

Anaerobic bacteria, on the other hand, are extremely good at producing phosphine. Anaerobic bacteria are species of bacteria that don't metabolise oxygen—that is, they don't need oxygen in order to live, and they were one of the earliest forms of life on Earth. As a result of this, phosphine has long been classed as a biosignature marker by scientists searching for extraterrestrial life. In other words, if you looked at a rocky planet (note: not a gas giant) and saw phosphine in its atmosphere, you'd have good reason to suspect that life existed there.

The paper in Nature by Jane Greaves et al is suitably cautious. In their conclusions, the authors state:

"The detection of PH3 is not robust evidence for life, only for anomalous and unexplained chemistry."

Nevertheless, the data indicate that something very unusual is taking place and the existence of bacteria in the upper atmosphere is a strong candidate as an explanation.

I wish Carl Sagan was still around to hear the news. As always he was several steps ahead of the game and together with Harold Morowitz he wrote a paper with the title Life in the clouds of Venus? that was published in Nature fifty-three years ago on Wednesday.


As autumn progresses, the temperature in my bedroom studio has dropped to more manageable levels, so yesterday I decided to try running a webcam from the shelf in front of me; when I'd last tried that in the middle of the August heatwave, the webcam rapidly overheated and stopped working. Yesterday I got to the end of the stream without any trouble from my cameras at all.

I have already returned the Zoom Q2N-4K to its traditional position as my main webcam, though. I prefer the much wider view that it gives of my workspace, and the picture quality is far superior—which is hardly surprising, as it was more than ten times as expensive. I really noticed the lower picture quality that the webcam had. Even after adding some colour correction in OBS, it really doesn't cut it for close-up work. It'll be fine if I stick with it as a secondary camera (or more accurately a quaternary one) for wide views, though.

I just wish webcams came with longer USB cables. It would have been very helpful if I could have shown closeups of the Korg M3's controls as I was creating the track for last night's stream. And it became very clear that even with my new spectacles, I need to tweak the spacing of the synths on my stand, because if I don't do something about improving the visibility of the M3's X-Y control pad, I am going to turn into a hunchback.

Although it didn't affect the stream, my Mackie Big Knob was playing up a fair amount yesterday. I suspect I may eventually have to send it off to be serviced, as it's never been quite right since I dropped a mic stand on top of it. Yesterday it sent me into a panic by completely cutting the feed to my monitors...


And I know I said on Sunday's stream that I'd sworn off buying new books for a while (this house could be used to illustrate the Japanese concept of tsundoku and I'm not proud of the fact) but it turns out that there's a new novel on the way from Suzanna Clarke called Piranesi and she is one of very few authors whose work I will automatically buy because I've loved their work so much. It's published on September 15th and I already have my copy preordered from Hive. I can't wait!


Sunday night's Fifty/Ninety Show asked the big question: where do you get your ideas from? Surprisingly enough, I had what is (in my humble opinion) a reasonably satisfying answer as well as a whole bunch of tips on how you can get on better terms with your muse, whichever of the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne she happens to be...

I had a fun time making the show this week, although trying to peer at the chat window while I was presenting meant that I was trailing off into silence even more frequently than I normally do. However, please rest assured that I've edited all that out of the show in the link above, which reduced its run time by more than ten minutes! I see that I'm still peering down my nose at the monitor whenever I need to read stuff on screen, although not for very much longer. I'll be picking up my new glasses later this week—my first new pair of prescription lenses in more than four years.

Once the new desk has been installed in the studio, I may well update the monitors that I'm using with the studio PC, too. They're both quite old and they don't match in resolution, size, or even brand, which most people probably wouldn't even notice, but it drives me up the wall.


On Saturday night my elbow felt so much better that I decided not to wear the arm brace I've been sleeping in for most of the past month. That turned out to be a very bad move, as I woke up in agony. My arm now hurts as much as it did a couple of weeks ago and last night I had another dreadful night's sleep. I'm beginning to think that it's not a simple sprain but rather an attack of tennis elbow, which means no more guitar playing for the moment, and that sucks.

Not being able to play doesn't seem to be affecting my creative output much, though. At the moment I'm working on my 42nd piece for 50/90 and I'm also waiting for the final section of an exquisite corpse to come in that I've contributed to (and I've been stitching the different sections together in Ableton, which is tremendous fun and creatively very satisfying.) I've been delving more deeply into the behaviours of the Max For Live Probability Pack that I mentioned in my last blog post and I can now get reasonably authentic-sounding performances out of it instead of the overcaffeinated robot playing I started out with. I'll have to be content with guitar-free pieces for a while longer, it seems. It's a shame, but I don't want to further mess up my elbow.


I've had a very productive time making music so far this September. Today I uploaded my fortieth track to Fifty/Ninety, so I'm four-fifths of the way to my goal of writing fifty songs before October 1st. Track #40 is a collaboration with my very talented buddy Ryako, a.k.a. Mel, who (it turns out) can wheel out a terrifyingly accurate impersonation of a certain Icelandic chanteuse on demand and write (and record) perfect and appropriate-sounding songs, in character, at the drop of a hat. It's called Björk and Kirk in Outer Space and it was an absolute hoot to do.

And congratulations are in order, because Mel has just reached affiliate level on Twitch. Wooo!

I'll be busy making more music next week, and I have several other pieces in the pipeline at the moment. I've been having lots of fun with the Max For Live tools in Sonic Faction's Probability Pack over the last week. It's a free download for registered Ableton users and well worth the investment in time required to figure out how to get good results out of all five of the plugins in the pack. Coupling the Doctor Chaos tool with Waves's Bass Slapper MIDI bass guitar plugin results in utterly bonkers bass lines, but I think the Melodic Probability tool is going to come in more useful for quickly generating stuff that sounds like it was being played by a real human being.


Did I say that I intended to keep the distractions and diversions to a minimum in my live streams this month? Well, needless to say that my plans didn't go according to, er, plan. Last Thursday's show took in a ridiculous array of tangents—even for me—before I finally got around to the point of the proceedings, which was to chronicle my musical adventures over the past week...

I'm clearly enjoying doing these shows, as two and a half hours went by in what seemed like twenty minutes. As I said at the beginning of the show I must be doing something right, as I've started to attract the attention of comment spammers who have been posting comments in my YouTube archive of past shows. These have all consisted of what appear to be randomly-chosen single words. There might be an attractive young lady in the profile picture of the accounts posting the comments, but you and I both know it's the work of a Russian bot, don't we?

I am plagued by bots on social media at the moment. Soundcloud have had a problem with them for years, and it got so bad I cancelled my Pro subscription and stopped using the platform altogether. Facebook and Instagram are now just as bad as Soundcloud both in terms of numbers of uncontrolled spammers and fake accounts liking my stuff or wanting to be my friend, and in terms of not doing anything to fix things. I guess that as the US election approaches, Russian bots will be even more active on social media; however, they're clearly not run by people bright enough to realise that actually, I don't have a vote in any US elections...

But I will be back with another live stream on Twitch tomorrow night at 21:00 BST, when I'll be talking about how to inspire yourself when you can't think of what to write, play or sing.

And today I ordered a few bits and pieces that should make sure that my forthcoming studio upgrade is a more ergonomically satisfying workspace, including some 19" rack shelves, an eight-way 19" power strip, and some miscellaneous fixtures and fittings to integrate my existing gear into the new desk. It shouldn't be that long before it arrives now, and I am already very excited at the prospect of working in a studio that doesn't induce an attack of claustrophobia every time I sit down at my desk or result in head injuries when I stand up again. I'll probably chronicle the upgrade here, so stay tuned.


Yesterday I added the thirty-fifth song to my profile page for this year's Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge. That means I'm seventy percent of the way towards my target of writing fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st, and it puts me a couple of songs ahead of the work rate I need to match if I'm going to make my goal.

This year has been a bit more of a challenge than I expected, because I have done something to my left elbow which makes playing the guitar very painful. For the last three weeks I've been recording tracks with little or no guitar or bass guitar on them at all (luckily I have enough toys in the studio that means that this hasn't slowed me down much.) I even have a passable virtual bass guitar VST that I've used on most tracks I've put together in the last fortnight. But for most of this summer, my Mk1 Ableton Push has been my primary compositional tool. I really didn't see that coming when I bought it as a 54th birthday present to myself, way back in 2014. It sits on the studio desk in front of me, permanently plugged in to the PC, and it's the work of a moment to switch it on and start playing. Unlike the Korg M3, it's ready to go instantly (I've never timed how long the M3 takes to boot up, but it's easily a good couple of minutes.) The new studio desk I've ordered has a dedicated shelf for a proper MIDI controller keyboard, so the Push may get less use once I've acquired a suitable model, but somehow I doubt it'll be relegated back to its box.

But yesterday my arms were feeling good enough for me to take a stab at playing a real guitar or two, and although my playing was very rusty, I made it to the end of the track without having to give up and go back to alternative instruments. I'm still not out of the woods yet though; I could feel the soreness when I put my Parker Fly back in the rack. I'll be focusing on synth-based music for a couple more weeks, I think.


I was going to give the lawn a cut this afternoon as it's looking a bit scruffy at the moment, but before I'd finished drinking my breakfast coffee the sky had clouded over and it's been raining, off and on, for the past hour. More rain is forecast for tomorrow, too. There's no longer enough energy in the atmosphere to trigger the thunderstorms we were getting last month, so the weather's not got the entertainment value it has in the middle of summer. Instead, it's just grey and wet outside.

I guess that means I'll just have to head back upstairs and record some more music, then.


And just like that, August is over and the year has started to fade into autumn. The heat of a few weeks ago is well behind us and I'm sitting here at my keyboard wearing a hoodie. I know friends who have even switched their central heating on over the Bank Holiday Weekend. The temperature in the back garden dropped to just 5°C last night. Sunrise was at 06:23 this morning and sunset is at 19:55, so the bedroom is noticeably darker at night than it was in July, and as dawn now breaks a couple of hours later than it did in June, I'm beginning to sleep much more soundly once again. The sleep tracker app on my phone reckoned I experienced periods of deep, properly restorative sleep that lasted more than an hour twice last night. As I'm not working, I've turned the alarm clock off this week and I wake up when I'm ready to wake up.

I feel much less tired than I did last month. As a result of indulging myself a bit since my birthday, I've put on weight recently, but now that September has rolled around it's time to start losing it again.

That means becoming more active—and I'm hoping that the fact I feel much less lethargic than I was a few months ago will help.


I'm still streaming live from the studio twice each week, and on Sunday it was my ninth Fifty/Ninety show. This week I was talking about how to prevent that nasty 50- or 60-Hz hum that can crop up in your recordings, and discussed a tool that can remove it from any recordings that you've already made.

Running for just over ninety minutes, this week's show was a little more streamlined than in previous weeks, and I intend keeping the proportion of distractions to usable content lower than it has been. There were still plenty of asides and diversions cropping up from the chat, but as this has been a result of more people tuning in, I'm more than happy to follow the road where it takes me. If you've not tuned in yet, please swing by and join in the fun—and if you could follow me on Twitch, that would be absolutely awesome.


LAX, the international airport that serves Los Angeles, is one of the busiest in the world. The idea that someone would strap on a jetpack and spend the weekend flying around in the airport's airspace at around 3,000 feet seems implausible at best, but apparently that's what someone did on Sunday afternoon.

It's not exactly the same as seeing a UFO, but I spent a happy half an hour reading the other breathlessly-written stories on the same website linked to by that article, which range from an audio recording of an FAA operator dealing with multiple reports from aircraft flying across Arizona seeing something in the sky above them at high altitude (at least forty thousand feet), to reports of mystery aircraft, possibly equipped with stealth technology, possibly involved in drug running, flying rapidly over Oregon at thirty-seven thousand feet and being chased (without success) by Air National Guard F-15s back in 2017, to stories of a mysterious glowing object sighted over Long Island and an encounter between an airliner and fast-moving bright light over Ireland, both of which took place in 2018. I remember the Irish sighting making the news here at the time (and being explained as a particularly bright bolide, or meteor).

I've amused myself reading UFO reports for five decades, but these days I tend to view the most likely explanation to be the many processes by which witnesses can misperceive and misidentify what they're looking at, and my entertainment is provided chiefly by the credulity of the writers of the subsequent reports, not by the likelihood that the sightings were records of encounters with extraterrestrial craft. Human vision is nowhere near as reliable as we used to think it was; the human brain is quite capable of making stuff up that was not there, or simply editing phenomena out of our experience that an attentive bystander would consider utterly impossible to miss; we can quite literally stare at something and not notice it's there. We can become distracted and forget commonplace actions that lead to us losing our phone, or our car keys, or our car; or we can put treasured items in special places so we don't lose them, and lose them forever.

Did the guy in the jetpack exist? Possibly. But it's just as likely that the budding Rocketeer might actually have been a model aircraft, or a kite, or even a bird. Dr. J. Allen Hynek's most famous and notorious explanation of a 1960s UFO sighting that took place over a large area of Ohio and southern Michigan may have been off the mark, but it wasn't by much.