Still just a blog

Chris's Blog Archive: September 2021

While I started the month with the news that the NHS had quite literally forgotten about me and no progress has been made on getting my health problems sorted out, September turned out to be fairly decent, all things considered.

I'm still releasing albums on Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want deals, (and that continues to include free, because I know times are still hard for a lot of people right now.) The latest—my sixth album this year—is a collection of music written during August 2021 for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge. It's called False Starts, Decisive Endings. This time around you get an hour of music ranging across fifteen very varied tracks as I explored another wide selection of genres. I hope you'll enjoy listening to it.

My most recent commercial album Oneiric Tulpas is 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 Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge draws to a close tomorrow, and after that the blog may return to a more balanced selection of subject matter, although I'm not promising anything. I've had the best summer that I have ever had for making music, and I feel like celebrating it.

As you can see on my Fifty/Ninety profile page, I've been racking up the tracks at a crazy rate. As of right now I have ninety songs uploaded, so I've already achieved my goal of doing a Ninety/Ninety this year. I still have a couple of other pieces of music in the pipeline, but I don't think I'm going to have time to reach 100 songs by Saturday.

Maybe that's something I can try next year.


Sadly Eric has taken the hard decision to skip Rocktober this year, so I won't be spending the next month recording cover versions of other people's songs. In these days of DMCA takedowns and over-zealous record companies claiming other people's work as their own (that happened to me, remember?), it's probably a wise idea but it's a shame, because nothing will teach you more about how a song is put together than pulling it apart and trying to create your own version of it.


I've given up trying to establish what it is that lets me get a good night's sleep. One day my watch tells me I spent nearly half the time I was asleep in deep, restorative non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep, but the next day, after following exactly the same patterns before going to bed, that figure has dropped to less than thirty-five per cent. Last night it had dropped to thirty-one, not helped by a vivid nightmare involving flying saucers (of all things) which woke me up at quarter past two in the morning with my heart pounding. I feel rather rough right now, but I'm sure this giant mug of coffee will help matters.

At least I'm not having too many nights where that percentage was stuck in the low twenties any more. Back in 2019 that was my nightly average. Since then, I have had the luxury of being able to stay in bed until I feel ready to get up. All right, the reason I can do this is that I don't have a job at the moment, but I realised back in 2019 that I need to prioritise my long-term mental and physical health over my long-term employment. I have not regretted abandoning the days when I was trying (and failing) to function on five or six hours' sleep every weeknight for even a single second. What has surprised me most was that it has taken more than eighteen months for the effects of all that sleep deprivation—at least the effects which I could keep track of—to wear off. If that's an indicator of the amount of damage it was doing to me, there is no way in hell that I'm ever going to resume that sort of lifestyle, no matter how well it might pay.

Because those effects are a matter of considerable concern to my future wellbeing. If you haven't read Matthew Walker's book Why We Sleep yet, I recommend you do so, particularly if you're not regularly getting eight hours of quality sleep on a regular basis because it may well make you examine your priorities. Walker observes that both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher regularly claimed that they only needed three or four hours of sleep every night to operate effectively, but both of them ended their days suffering from Alzheimer's disease and Walker makes a strong case in his book for linking those two facts.

What might that link be? Well, thinking is hard work. Our brains need fuel, and when that fuel is turned into energy, it leaves by-products behind. One of the functions of NREM sleep is that it allows the brain's glymphatic system to literally flush out all of the waste products that have built up during the day with cerebro-spinal fluid; chemicals such as the amyloid beta and tau proteins which are connected with the development of Alzheimer's. I'd really rather not suffer the same fate as Thatcher or Reagan and if I can do something to lessen that risk, then I'm going to do so.

NREM sleep is also important in memory consolidation, and although my experience is entirely anecdotal, I do think that my recall is better now than it was a couple of years ago.

I still have a lot of work to do on my physical health, I know. But even with the problems I've got at the moment, I still think I'm in better physical shape than I have been for a couple of decades. And that's not something to be sniffed at.


A couple of my friends have online concerts taking place later today, so if you feel like tuning in to watch some live music being performed, why not check out the following events?

First of all, my fellow synth enthusiast Martyn Greenwood will be streaming live on Facebook from The Orangery in Ingestre. Martyn's doing something a little different with this event, so I'll let him explain what's involved:

"On Saturday 25th September 2021, The Orangery, Ingestre will play host to a video production and live stream event of music by Martyn Greenwood. This is a free to watch on line event, detailing the process involved in setting up for an event of this kind, culminating in a video production and livestream of approximately 1 hour from 7:30pm UK time. The intention is to record a video of our arrival and then add it to the Live Stream offering some outside views of the venue and grounds, the setting up process and sound check, and finally the performance. There will be no PA system being used and sound levels will be at a lower volume, but enough for personal monitoring and for video/livestream requirements."

Martyn's live stream is expected to start at 15:00 BST this afternoon.

Than at midnight UK time (7 pm EST, 5 pm Pacific), my pal Mel, a.k.a. Ryako will be taking part in Virtua Ongaku 11 live on Ongaku Overdrive's Twitch channel. This online concert also features Trash Burger, Ben Briggs, and Ohm-1, with Vancouver's very own The Runaway Four following Ryako to close the show. It should be a lot of fun, with a very diverse set of acts and once again it's free to watch, although as OO say, donations will be very welcome.

I'll probably be sitting in the studio for both events so that I can watch and listen on my audio monitoring setup.

Ah, who am I kidding? Of course I'll be watching from the studio. I've barely left the room for the past couple of months. It's the weekend. Fifty/Ninety is still happening. I'll be spending the next week in there making even more music, too.


Last night I uploaded my 80th track for the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge to my Fifty/Ninety profile page, so I am still producing music at an astonishing rate. I am really surprised by how prolific I've become since I rebuilt my studio setup from the ground up nearly a year ago. The joy of being able to walk in there and start making music is still there, every time I open the door. And the buzz of being able to work properly rather than being squashed under a bunk bed has yet to wear off. If anything, it's getting stronger.

This morning I found myself wondering how long it would take to listen to every track I've made so far since July 4th from start to finish and a quick check with the file properties function in Windows file explorer revealed that listening to all eighty songs would take just over six hours. That absolutely smashes my previous record for Fifty/Ninety by more than an hour. If an album comes in at around the forty minute mark, that's enough material for a good nine albums.

As I said on my stream on Thursday night, I have no idea where all of the ideas I'm getting are coming from. It's all I can do to keep up. As usual, I'll be sharing my latest compositions on my Sunday night show on Twitch, which starts at 19:30 BST.

I hope you'll be able to join me there.


The driver update for my Komplete Audio 6 Mk II interface has—to absolutely nobody's surprise—not stopped it crashing. I'm still experiencing crashes with it every day, and I still have absolutely no idea what is causing the problem.

It's clearly been a big week for software updates, as my studio PC got updates to a whole slew of Kontakt's "Play" series instruments (the fix that was made for a bug in Modular Icons last January finally got rolled out) and Live updated to version 11.0.10 (which has an impressively large selection of bugfixes, feature updates, and changes to behaviour listed in the release notes.)

I even updated the studio PC's BIOS to make it compatible with the system requirements for Windows 11, although I will not be diving in to the new OS for the foreseeable future. I learned my lesson there when I moved away from Windows 7, which I still see as a mistake. I also lost a whole bunch of files in the process of updating to Windows 10, which has made me view claims by Microsoft that this won't happen this time with considerable scepticism. But none of these updates prevented my audio interface from continuing to crash on me.

I guess I'll have to put up with it doing so, though. I see the delivery date for the M4 has slipped back another twelve days and at this point I'm going to be very surprised if it arrives this side of Christmas.


Shiver me timbers, landlubbers; it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day once again. In past years I've blathered on about Bristol's connections with piracy and smuggling, noting that according to local legend, the pub the Llandoger Trow was the inspiration for the drinking tavern The Admiral Benbow in Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island, but it turns out that the real Admiral Benbow tavern still exists; it's in Penzance, a town with far greater claims to piratic legend than Bristol.

That hasn't stopped the Trow's Wikipedia page perpetuating the myth, though it should be noted that the page is very out of date and claims that the pub is currently closed. This, too, is not true. Now restored to its former glory after decades of neglect (its interior was gutted in the 1960s to turn it into a Berni Inn) and a two-year closure following its sale by Brewers Fayre pub chain Whitbread, the pub is in new hands and reopened on the 19th of June.

The new owners are clearly on the right track, as they're holding a special event today to celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day! Arrrrr!


My predictions that my MOTU M4 would not arrive on Friday and that the delivery date for it would shift to October were both bang on the money. I hate being right when I'm at my most pessimistic, but that's where we are these days.

So I will have struggled through the whole of Fifty/Ninety with my current Native Instruments audio interface (a Komplete Audio 6 Mk2) crashing on a depressingly regular basis. I'm still no closer to discovering what is causing the problems I've been having with it, but I discovered this morning that an updated driver was released for it on Friday, so I'll be off upstairs in a moment to download and install it.

The change notes for the driver don't suggest that the problems I've been having have been identified, let alone fixed, so my pessimism will continue...


My MOTU M4 audio interface has been delayed again. As I write this blog post, the delivery date I've been told to expect is this Friday, but this does not agree with the delivery date quoted on the product page for it on my supplier's website, so I fully expect to get another email in the next couple of days telling me that it's not arrived from the manufacturer and it won't arrive until next month. And so I go around the loop once again. I placed my order back in May, but a combination of things (which I've discussed in this blog before) mean that the global supply chain has collapsed and nobody has any in stock.

I am making do with the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 MkII that I've been using for the past year, so I'm prepared to wait. But the NI interface continues to be extremely unreliable and it falls over at least once during each recording session I use it on and it will suddenly start outputting mangled, bitcrushed audio that is horrible to listen to. I can reset it by changing the buffer size in its ASIO driver, but it's incredibly frustrating.

This is just one symptom of a much wider supply chain collapse here in the UK thanks to Brexit. When I go to the supermarket to do my shopping, there are plenty of shelves with no products on them at all these days. Seeing how a combination of greed and xenophobia has wrecked this country leaves me angry and very, very sad. But hey, blue passports!


I noticed last month that my BOINC screensaver seemed to have run out of work units for Rosetta@Home (RAH), which is the project that I've been supporting since the SETI@Home project went into hibernation. Today I checked BOINC again and this was still the case, so I decided that I ought to find out why. I discovered that RAH started using Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to transfer data back in May, which meant that the project's URL had changed; it now begins with https instead of http. I hadn't seen the notification.

So this morning I attached to the project with the updated URL and my computer has now resumed protein folding once again. Hooray!


With half of September still to go, I'm on track to turn in my best-ever performance for Fifty/Ninety (the songwriting challenge that sets you the goal of writing fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st). I've worked on seventy tracks so far, although as one is part of a massive collaborative effort it's not been posted on the site yet.

But every year I also set myself a challenge over at Goodreads, where I commit to reading a certain number of books by the end of the year. My target this year is to read sixty books (and I've written a review for almost every book I've read so far). As of yesterday afternoon I'm ten books ahead of where I should be; so far this year I've read fifty-two books. If you want to know what they were, have a look at my progress. As you can see, I've been working my way through a pretty eclectic selection of titles.

I was so burned out after I left my last job that maintaining sufficient focus to sit down and read a book for more than a few minutes at a time was completely beyond me. I'd been worrying that I'd permanently lost the inclination to just sit somewhere and read for the afternoon, but that has not turned out to be the case. This year I feel like I've managed to regain some sort of mental equilibrium and I've returned to the reading of books with a vengeance. Once again I've discovered the pleasure of losing myself in a book for hours at a time, and several of the books that you can see on the web page above took me less than a day to read.

I have plenty more titles left in my "to read" stacks too (yes, the use of the plural is intentional) so I am planning on smashing my target at Goodreads by a similar margin to Fifty/Ninety.


Now the schools are open again, the weather is much improved (because of course it is) and there wasn't a cloud in the sky this morning as I went for a walk around the back of the village to hit my daily step count target. Temperatures in the UK today are expected to reach 30°C before thunderstorms move in (and yeah, I've heard that one before. It probably won't even rain here.)

I've switched from going for a walk in the evenings because it's getting dark here by 8 pm as we approach the autumn equinox. Last Tuesday's walk was concluded in near darkness, although it was very entertaining to be buzzed by more than a dozen bats in the narrower country lanes. Some of them came close enough that you could hear the flap of their wings. It made me wish that I had a bat detector so I could find out which species they were, but as most of them were quite small, I suspect that they were pipistrelles.

The garden looks much better in the sunshine than it did yesterday, and so it should after the mammoth gardening session I put in yesterday afternoon. I think I got as much of a cardio workout yesterday as I did from climbing hills this morning. I've got the scars to prove it, too; I noticed just now as I had a shower that I must have caught my head on a laurel branch when I cut the foliage back on the patio, which had slowly been disappearing under rampant growth.

But the reason that this tale of domesticity has made it to the blog is because it means that I've managed to put in two days of considerable physical activity in a row without needing to spend a day recovering. While it might be a mundane thing for you lot, for me this is a sign that my fitness levels are much higher than they were at this time last year. There are days when I need to remind myself that, actually, I've started to look after myself more than I used to do. That's good news, and I think it's worth celebrating.


Children return to school here today. Some grown-ups could do with going with them, by the looks of things. In the space of ten minutes' browsing online this morning I encountered the use of "case & point" instead of "case in point", "ect" instead of "etc.", "etal" instead of "et al.", "arial" instead of "aerial", "your" instead of "you're" and more instances of using "it's" as a possessive than is good for my blood pressure.

"It's" means "it is" or "it has", as any schoolkid should be able to tell you. Okay, I understand that these days Latin is not as popular a subject as it used to be, as it's no longer a requirement for getting in to university, but in general use, "et cetera" is a very common phrase and most people know it. And you're typing stuff online, the device you're using really ought to be picking up mistakes as basic as the ones above. If I see people making mistakes like this, it's very hard not to be judgmental.

I know, I know. It's Monday. Even after a good night's sleep, I'm clearly rather grumpy this morning.


I completed the Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge on Friday. Somehow over the course of the weekend I became obsessed with making ambient tracks with my Digitech JamMan Express XT looper pedal (a great little pedal that was discontinued in 2019 after a production run that lasted just five years; compare that with a guitar effects pedal like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which is still being made 42 years after it first went on sale.)

On Friday I was talking about how prolific I've become this year, but it turns out that was nothing compared to the rate at which I managed to produce material over the last forty-eight hours. By Sunday evening I'd got another ten tracks uploaded to my Fifty/Ninety page, making a total of sixty since the challenge began on July 4th. I have enough ambient music—more than seventy minutes' worth, in fact—for an entire album of soothing vibes. I'll be releasing that in a couple of weeks.

I will continue to write and record more "traditional" songs for the rest of the month, as Fifty/Ninety has more than three weeks left to run and I will need fresh material for next month's Bandcamp Friday. I'm having fun recording music, and it's more or less the only thing that is keeping me (relatively) sane in these trying times.


And you know what that means. A new album from me!

False Starts, Decisive Endings

This is the sixth album I've released this year, and I released two albums in December 2020. Believe me, nobody is more bewildered by how prolific I've become since I completely refitted my home studio than I am. I have become manically, unbelievably productive. And in the process of making all this music I have confirmed my belief that the best way to improve your ability to do something creative is, quite simply, to do as much of it as you possibly can. I know I say this every time I bring out a new album, but I can hear how much I've improved in every track that's on it; I simply wouldn't have been capable of making an album like this even a couple of years ago. What makes me really excited is that I'm still improving. I know that the next album I make will be even better than this one.

You should still give this one a listen, though. It's good.


At least I got a song—even if it was full of seething, barely suppressed rage—out of yesterday's phone call. That means I have just one more song to write to reach my target of writing and recording fifty songs in the ninety days between July 4th and October 1st. I think this might be the earliest I've ever reached my target (and I will reach it today, because when I've finished updating the blog I'll be heading straight into the studio to do just that). I'm sure I'll be making music right up until the October deadline arrives, but I don't know if I'll beat my best ever song count of 75, which I managed to do in 2019. I'm determined to beat last year's total of 66 songs, though.

It's been fun. I've listened to a lot of great music posted by other people on the Fifty/Ninety site this summer and so far I've left over 500 comments. I learn as much from listening and commenting on other people's music as I do from making my own stuff, because it makes me examine what it is that makes a song appealing; what makes it work, what makes it catchy. There's no scientific formula that guarantees a song will resonate with other people, but there are a few tricks that you can use that will improve the odds. Repetition is one of the most basic, and I used it shamelessly in this track from the album linked above, called Sick and Tired:

I do love being able to embed a Bandcamp track in the blog like this. It just works, and unlike Soundcloud there's no chance of some numpty leaving a comment plugging their dodgy "buy more listens" scam. At some point I'll probably go back through the blog archive and switch out all the links which still point to my Soundcloud page. Soundcloud have still done absolutely nothing to address their endemic spam problem, so I have given up on them completely.


This morning I had a phone consultation with my doctor. Although it was intended as a review of my mental health, I was much more interested in pushing for some form of resolution for my physical health problems. And when she checked my case notes, we discovered that (a) I have stones in both kidneys and (b) I was supposed to have a follow-up consultation with the nephrologist eight months after the last phone call I had, back in March 2020. That never happened.

It is now ten months overdue. I'd fallen through a crack in the system, somehow; I'd clearly been completely forgotten about.

The doctor is going to write to the consultant and give him a nudge. I hope that means that I might be able to get some sort of treatment in the not-too-distant future. But it's kind of upsetting to discover that I wasn't just way down on the list of the NHS's priorities; I'd actually fallen off the bottom. It sucks, and I am not happy.