The live streaming gremlins were out in force last night...
I got enough gear working to finish the stream, although it wasn't up to even my usual low standard of presentation. I spent an hour or so afterwards figuring out what had happened. Wobbie's suggestion that I shouldn't plug the cameras into adjacent USB sockets pointed me in the right direction, because after plugging the misbehaving cameras into different sockets and distributing them evenly between the two 10-port hubs that I use, I discovered that by setting each scene to use a different device in the "properties" page in OBS and then reselecting the original device I was able to get everything working again. Thanks to the fact that I'm now embedding scenes in other scenes, I only needed to do this once for each camera. That saved me an awful lot of cursing and faffing about.
I might wear the Halloween costume again on Sunday night's show, because I was way too hot and flustered to keep it on for most of last night's stream. I'll see what state I'm in after I've finished putting together all the sets of shelves that are being delivered on Sunday morning...
That whole "early night" lark meant that I was remarkably active yesterday. It was time to clear up after the studio refit, so I clambered up in the loft to stow the boxes that the larger items of studio gear came in. I tend to hang on to boxes for a while in case an item needs to be returned. While I was in the roof, I had a bit of a clearout of older boxes I'd stored up there and there is now a very large pile of cardboard and paper waiting for the recycling truck that will be coming round later this morning. I also got around to doing chores like laundry and changing bed linen, which have been on hold because music-related activities are far more fun. And I no longer look like I was dragged through a hedge backwards, as I gave myself another lockdown haircut—at the end of which my trimmer promptly expired; I guess I'll have to switch to using the beard maintenance set I bought back in 2014, which went in the cupboard because I didn't like the results I got with it at the time.
The evening was spent watching Mel, aka Ryako on Twitch continuing her scoring of Fritz Lang's classic 1927 silent movie Metropolis. She's made an amazing job of it, and has already created over two hours of original music in a staggering variety of styles to accompany the action. She's taking a break next week, but you should totally tune in to see how she's getting on!
All of this meant that I hadn't worked on music at all during the day, and I wasn't about to go to bed without getting at least something done in the studio, so I fired up Ableton and did a little more work on another cover version that I'm doing for Rocktober.
I say "a little," but by the time I got to bed it was a quarter to one in the morning. So much for those early nights...
I think I can safely say that I've got the studio up and running. I've already recorded some music in it and everything seems to be happy with the exception of my venerable old Roland JX3-P, which has taken to making the occasional mournful "squonk" noise and resetting its patch selection to the first patch of the first bank. I suspect its power supply may be at fault and I may have to take it to the synth doctor before too much longer.
The first track I uploaded yesterday was something that I used to play along to an awful lot when I first got an electric guitar and bought myself volume and distortion pedals: The Steppes from Steve Hackett's album "Defector", because prog rock. As I said in the liner notes on the Fifty/Ninety site, I thought I knew the track very well, but I didn't notice that it occasionally switches from 4/4 to 3/4 until I tried programming the drums on my version and was left scratching my head over why they sounded so off. I followed that up with a favourite They Might Be Giants song off their album "Why"—although my recreation of Oh You Did was much further from the original than the recreation of Steve Hackett's instrumental track, not least because Robin Goldwasser wasn't available to sing the lyrics.
I'm having fun doing these. I think I'll probably find myself back upstairs today to see if I can break my record of tracks submitted for the month, which I've already equalled this year.
The clocks went back at 2 am last Sunday morning and I really should have been asleep when they did, but I wasn't. Now that we're back on GMT it's getting dark by 5 pm and I am going to use that fact to start going to bed earlier. I was in bed before midnight last night, which is a good start. I just need to sustain things rather than doing OK for a couple of days and then lapsing again.
The problem I have is that I'm in quite a lot of discomfort at the moment, and I'm finding it very difficult to get into a position where I'm comfortable enough to fall asleep. Painkillers help, as does a hot water bottle, but it's been too warm recently to use a hot water bottle and I'm trying to avoid using painkillers unless it's absolutely necessary. Last night I caved in and took two 12-hour Ibuprofen capsules, and managed a half-decent night's sleep. I'm really glad that I'm not having to get up early any more though, because the most restorative phase of sleep I got last night only started at quarter to seven this morning...
As always when we return to GMT I get a little shot of happiness from the fact that I don't have to fudge the time on my feed.xml file any more. As I have observed many times already in this blog, RFC822 doesn't do British Summer Time, which means I have to take an hour off the timestamp for any post I make while it's in place. As from Sunday morning, I won't have to do that again until the last Sunday in March next year.
I made so much progress with the studio refit yesterday that I decided to do a stream on Twitch in the evening after all. It was a bit of a shambles (no surprises there, then) and I looked like I'd been dragged through a hedge backwards because I'd been so busy getting things in the back room sorted out that I hadn't shaved for three days, but after a few wrinkles had been ironed out with the audio, HFO TV was off and running once again...
I am really impressed with the LG 4K monitors that I've bought for the studio. All that extra screen real estate makes using Ableton a joy, and the panels use IPS technology instead of the TN that's in the Samsung monitors I bought back in 2016, which means more vivid colours and a much brighter (and—to my eyes, at least—sharper) image. Best of all, the twin LG rig cost me a hundred quid less than the Samsungs did!
Once I've finished updating the blog, I'll be heading upstairs to start using the studio to record music in; Rocktober doesn't finish until Saturday, and I want to upload at least a couple of songs more before then. I'm really buzzed to be able to work somewhere where I don't have to worry about cutting my head open when I stand up!
I have been very, very, very, VERY, VERY busy. Yesterday was such a full-on day that I needed a pint of lager, a Chinese takeaway and a couple of Ibuprofen tablets to recover by the time I'd finished. It was eight o'clock at night, to be fair. I'd spent a twelve-hour day putting my new home recording setup together. There are still a lot of things to do before I'm finished—it will be the middle of November before I can say that I've completely realised the plan that was just a set of "if only" wishes back in February when I was taking part in FAWM this year—but it's happening. It's really happening.
In fact a lot of it has already happened. Look!
A big shout out to Guy Mitson of Chunky Studio Furniture for helping me to turn the image of my ideal workspace from a pipe dream into something with real physical heft. SO much heft; the desk is built like a tank. There is none of your mass produced particle board here, that's for sure.
After I'd finished my takeaway last night I couldn't resist firing everything up and listening to some of my music in the new environment. I can safely say that my tracks sound better when you're not listening to them with a double mattress a foot over your head.
Funny, that. Who'd have thought it?
You may have noticed in the photograph above that although the desk has a roll-out shelf, my mouse and keyboard are on top along with the Ableton Push. You may be asking yourselves why I'd do such a thing.
I'm not going to tell you. I'm just going to leave this here instead:
Blog entries have been (and will probably continue to be) noticeably thinner on the ground this week, as I've been very busy and mostly away from the keyboard for the last few days. The studio refit is well under way.
Yesterday the car had its annual service and MOT, so after dropping it off at the dealership in Brislington I walked along the footpath on the north bank of the River Avon all the way into Bristol. The tide was coming in rapidly as I headed towards the city and flowing out just as quickly when I made my way back in the afternoon. I was amused to spot several of the same large pieces of flotsam that I'd noticed being carried upstream with the tide as I walked into Bristol heading in the opposite direction on my return journey, including a six-foot square piece of foam insulation that must have fallen in the river from a building site somewhere. The weather could have been better but the frequent showers meant that it wasn't particularly warm, so I was able to keep up a decent pace as I walked around almost all of the Bristol harbourside walk out to the Harbourmaster's Office and Underfall Yard before looping back to the city centre via Hotwells. When my watch synched with my fitness app last night I'd done more than 22,000 steps, walked more than ten miles, and burned more than 2,000 calories. I could feel it, too—but this morning I'm fine and feeling more energetic than I have done recently. I'm going to need all the energy I can get over the next couple of days, though: the new studio desk arrives tomorrow.
I've revised my plans for the new studio layout slightly. Rather than risking wearing myself out by adding a big DIY project to the refit (I had the idea, now abandoned, of fixing the room's existing shelves on to the external wall), I decided yesterday that it would be far more sensible (and much less effort) to just buy some floor-standing shelves and junk the home-made ones I currently use; I originally built them for my last house, so they don't owe me anything. The small set of shelves that I put together in the summer from scrap bits of wood and MDF I had lying around in the garage will also be junked. I've ordered some floor-standing units which will go either side of the desk and bring a bit of symmetry into the setup (and they should look a whole lot nicer than the wonky shelves I'm currently using). If I've done my maths right, I should even be able to shelve my collection of science fiction novels on them, and they've been stored in cardboard boxes since I moved out of my last house twenty-five years ago! The new shelf units won't be arriving until the beginning of next month, but even if the studio won't be in its finished state by October 29th, I'm still planning on resuming streaming then. It's a week on Thursday, so mark your diaries.
Today, the back bedroom is almost completely empty. Once the bunk bed had been taken apart and I'd stowed the pieces in the conservatory, I was surprised by what a large room it actually is. It's nearly two decades since it last looked that empty and I'd become used to the bunk bed taking up almost all the available space. Now, the room is much less claustrophobic and by using floor-standing shelves instead of wall-mounted shelves I'm hoping that sense of airiness will be preserved even when everything is back in place. Things are definitely going to look very different.
Yesterday I ordered some bigger displays for the studio PC, aka the Monolith. The monitors have already been delivered, although I was disappointed to discover that even though I paid for next-day delivery, eBuyer have yet to ship the double stand for them. Since I added a second display to the studio PC last year (I'd bought a monitor & arm for my office laptop at my last job, and when I left I brought it home with me), I've been very taken with how much more adjustable monitor arms are compared with conventional stands and it was a no-brainer to decide that I would use VESA mounts with the new desk. Hopefully the double monitor mounting system will arrive soon. This does mean that I probably won't be using the old Samsung 2048 x 1152 display any more, though. For some idiotic reason Samsung decided back then that they weren't going to adopt the VESA standard (even today, they do so only grudgingly and if they do add mounting threads, they're in ridiculous places like right at the top of the unit.) I'll hold off on making the final decision on monitor configuration until I see how much room I have on the desk between the monitor speakers that will stand on each end of the desk bridge, but I'm tempted to push for a four-monitor setup, just because I can...
Once the desk is in place, my music-making activities should be back up and running in a couple of days. I'm really looking forward to working in a tidier, more streamlined, much more ergonomically sensible (and therefore satisfying) workspace. I still need to give some thought to where I'm going to put the cameras and lights for my streaming setup, but I can leave that decision until I can see the room in its new configuration. The show on the 29th will be a test to iron out any remaining niggles so I can make changes and fixes before the first show in the "final" arrangement of the studio happens at 9 pm GMT (because&md—hooray for an extra hour in bed!—the clocks will be going back an hour this weekend) on November 1st.
Sunday night's show featured four tracks from me, which might be a record for my live streams—I'm not sure, because after doing at least one show a week for twenty-three weeks, it has all become a bit of a blur. Two of them were brand new and two were older tracks that have had major surgery after I realised that the music I've been making in recent weeks sounds rather more accomplished (to my ears, at least) and the difference in quality and style was a little too obvious for the tracks to fit together on the same album. Clearly, I've levelled up this summer. That means that the old tracks have been pulled apart for a refresh. As I commented during the show, I think some of the overdriven guitar needs redoing, as the lower-gain tone I used seemed a much better fit with the mood of the album.
Then again, I might just keep the titles of the existing pieces and record entirely new compositions instead. As I've been listening to the tracks on my headphones over the last couple of days, I've started to hear themes emerging with different instruments playing the part of different emotional contexts of the piece. Guitar, piano, synth bass and cello seem to have emerged as the different characters involved in the plot (whatever the plot might be). I think I'm going to explore that theme further, as it feels like the right thing to do even if it will mean throwing away a lot of the work I've already done for the album. I don't care; I have the time available to do things properly, and—as with the studio rebuild—my approach to music this year is to not settle for "good enough" if I can push towards something better.
And with a new setup ready to use, I have a feeling that November is going to be an inspiring month for me when it comes to making music.
I'm still a bit run down at the moment, so last night's Twitch live stream was even more distracted than it usually is, but I had great fun playing with Google's new Tone Transfer application that they developed in collaboration with Magenta.
As I said during the show, I expect this type of synthesis to be available in a stomp box in five years or so. Even at the stage of development it's at now, it's fun seeing what craziness it generates. I'll be playing with it more deeply once the studio is back up and running with the new desk installed. And that's going to be pretty soon, by the looks of things...
My new studio desk is pretty much built; the oil finish will be drying over the weekend and then after some finishing touches it'll be shipped out to me! And that means that it's time to tear down the existing setup to make room. I've already taken the mattress off the high-level bed and desk combo that has been home to all my gear for the last decade or so. I'm hoping that manhandling it out of the bedroom and down the stairs will be the most complicated and taxing part of the entire project, because I've already done that. It probably won't be, but I live in hope...
I'll be doing the "Is It FAWM Yet?" Show as usual on Sunday night, but there won't be an episode of HFO TV next Thursday and there probably won't be a show on the following Sunday either. After Sunday's show I will be very busy tearing down my current setup so that I can dismantle the bed and move it downstairs into the conservatory, prior to finding it a new home. Once the bed's been moved I'll also have to shunt the keyboards, amps, and guitar racks into new positions and even though I have the logistics of it all sorted out in my head, it's going to keep me busy for a few days. You know those little toys where you have to slide tiles up and down and from side to side to assemble a picture? Scale that up, and that's what my life will be like for the next week or so.
The desk will have its own power strip, and I have to make up new power leads for essential items like the PC, displays, mixer, the Korg digital recorder, and my near-field monitors which will all need Schwabe-style plugs (needless to say I already have all the components I need to put those together.)
I won't be running the new setup in its final form straight away, though. I'll be swapping out some of my existing gear for new stuff in the next few months, including upgrading the PC's displays. The monitor that I use for running Ableton is a Samsung with a 2048 x 1152 resolution that I bought way, way back in 2009 and the second monitor is a Benq HD monitor that I bought back in 2013 that cost me around £80. The plan is to get two matching 4K monitors and if there's room, the Samsung will be put at one side in portrait mode. If there's space for it, I might even put the Benq up on top, as it's currently mounted on an arm that sticks out off the right-hand end of the current desk. The graphics card in my studio PC has four outputs, so I'm very tempted to do this. Hey, the screens I have still work and as you've probably realised I don't buy computer gear very often—I try to make it last as long as possible.
Much as I love my Mk 1 Push as a compositional tool, I've decided to treat myself to a new MIDI keyboard. The studio desk has a pull-out shelf that has been specially built to accommodate it (I plan these things a long way in advance, believe me.) Even though I know what I'm going to get, it's not a cheap item of kit so I won't be ordering it for a few weeks yet. Rest assured there will be plenty about it in the blog when it arrives.
But I don't want to rush into getting my setup put together in its new configuration and mess things up in any way that will cause more work for me further down the line. Assembling everything is going to be a slow and deliberate process. I'm going to take a break from streaming for a week or so because I don't want to be rushing things to meet a deadline; that's how mistakes happen and things get broken. And I'm also taking a break because I think I need to just veg out and recharge my creative batteries for a few days. I know that once the desk is bedded in and back up and running, I will be inspired (because new gear always has that effect on me) but I'll probably need a few days to recover after the physical work of rebuilding the studio is done.
In the meantime, do you know anyone who wants a double bed/desk for free? If you do, I've got one for you right here.
I think I've finally remembered how to get a good night's sleep. Over the last few days the proportion of deep, non-REM sleep that I get has risen from the steady 28% or so I was managing during the summer to more than 40% last night. Today I feel rested, and relaxed.
Since I no longer have to get up before dawn and commute to work, I've been getting at least another three hours' sleep each night. This week I decided that I should try staying in bed until I'm ready to get up, and as a result I've been averaging closer to five hours extra sleep every night compared to when I was working. It's no wonder that I used to feel knackered all the time if my sleep deficit was that big.
But the biggest reason why I've been able to sleep so well this week is because it's no longer getting light at four o'clock in the morning. Civil twilight didn't begin until after 7am today and sunrise was at 07:34 BST. With blackout curtains and a venetian blind on the window (yes, the second time I attached it to the wall seems to have worked and it's still there), the bedroom stays dark and I am able to stay soundly asleep. This week I've really started to see the difference that makes and the brain fog that I wrote about a couple of days ago finally seems to be lifting.
I've been suffering from brain fog for the last few days. On several occasions I've fired up the studio in the back bedroom to record something for Rocktober (the last part of the Fifty/Ninety challenge for the year, which involves recording cover versions) and found myself sitting at the computer with a guitar in my lap and a blank Ableton set in front of me, gazing at the wall as I slowly realised that I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. It's not a state that I get into very often, I'm happy to say. When it strikes, though, there's not a lot I can do about it other than switch everything off and go and read a book instead.
Creativity is like a muscle; you need to use the ability regularly in order for it to develop properly. I've realised since doing FAWM and Fifty/Ninety that the idea of being "seized by the muse" is a bit of a myth and the really productive artists are the ones who know that you have to sit down and just Do. The. Work. But to continue with the muscle metaphor, it's also possible to strain things. Writing sixty-five songs since July 4th and recording a complex cover version of a Hans Zimmer track in a couple of days last week means that I've been in creative high gear for the past fourteen weeks and I think my brain has had enough of doing music for a while. It's downed tools.
I can't say I blame it. It's done some good work this summer. But as I said on Sunday night's live stream, you shouldn't expect yourself to be operating in top gear all the time. To mix metaphors, you have to let your fields lie fallow every once in a while, and I think my present state is a sign that I need to do exactly that. I really didn't want to get out of bed this morning, particularly as the house had become noticeably colder—it was just 13°C in the living room when I started fixing breakfast and the temperature outside had dropped to 3°C overnight. Blipping the heating on for an hour and drinking a large mug of coffee has helped, but I suspect that today is not going to be one of my more productive days...
One thing I won't be doing this year (or probably ever again, I suspect) is take part in the October drawing challenge run by Jake Parker. The challenge has been discussed rather more widely than usual this year, and unfortunately the reasons why it's become such a hot topic are not good ones.
I'm not a fan of cancel culture but after reading about the ways in which Parker has conducted himself over the past couple of years, he's not someone I feel I can support. I've unsubscribed from his mailing list and if his book does ever get released (it's currently shown as "unavailable" on Amazon here in the UK), I won't be buying it.
Don't be a dick, kids.
After drawing the Fifty/Ninety Show to a close on my Sunday night live streams on Twitch last week, yesterday I introduced its successor: the "Is It FAWM Yet?" Show.
There were plenty of diversions in the show (which will come as a surprise to exactly zero people) and despite telling myself that I'd just do an hour and then get an early night and go to bed, the unedited version of the show ran for more than two hours. I took out the parts of the show where I was particularly distracted before uploading it to YouTube, which meant the uploaded version is just under twenty minutes shorter. I have a good idea of the shape the new shows will have now, and Mel gave me a great suggestion for a topic to cover in an upcoming episode. At the moment I don't know when the new studio desk will arrive so programming is a bit fluid, but once I have the new layout in place I am really looking forward to taking the shows to a new level.
Now that I'm not spending almost every waking hour working on hitting my songwriting target for the summer, I've resolved to take better care of myself, and yesterday I went out for the first decent walk I've been on this year, covering just under two and a half miles through the lovely countryside that surrounds the village where I live.
I felt much better once I'd been out in the sunshine for a while. I took a camera with me and ended up with one or two fairly decent shots. The one above is probably the best of the day's haul. The old ash tree at the top of Elbury Hill is an old friend, and I've been chronicling its life (and, sadly, its slow decline) for fifteen years, now.
I had a half-decent night's sleep last night. Unfortunately the weather today is grey and wet, so I'm not particularly tempted to go for a similar walk this afternoon.
Ugh. Ten days after this year's Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge drew to a close, the inevitable comedown has turned up, and it's not been subtle about the matter. Despite finishing the summer with another sixty-five songs under my belt, I got clobbered yesterday by a triple whammy of tiredness, depression, and a major attack of imposter syndrome. I was expecting to crash a little bit, because I always spend the summer on a high from being creative, but yesterday the withdrawal symptoms arrived and they arrived hard.
"Why do I do this," I asked myself (even though I know that the answer is "Because it's fun!") And I'd soon moved on to the follow-up of "My music is terrible and I've just been making a fool of myself by sharing it with the outside world..." because that's the sort of thing that depression does to you. The irony of the fact that this hit home on World Mental Health Day was not lost on me.
Don't worry folks. This is only a temporary blip, and I am sure that it's been brought on by habitually staying up until the small hours of the morning in the studio and not looking after my physical (or indeed my mental) health. I've let myself get very run-down and out of sorts. I have been taking steps over the last couple of days to fix things, and that has started with going to bed a good two hours earlier than I was doing back in September. My replacement fitness tracker has already arrived and this one also continuously checks my heart rate, so I will be able to keep a much closer eye on my fitness from now on (I am already relieved to discover that my heart rate when I'm asleep is nicely stable and averages well below 60 bpm!) Having something to keep me occupied will also help to stop me ruminating too much, and believe me: when the new studio desk arrives I will have plenty to keep me occupied...
The twins are celebrating their birthdays today as best they can in these crazy times. So please join me in wishing a very happy birthday to Ruth and Rob!
I don't often find myself updating the blog after nine o'clock on a Friday night, particularly after I've had a couple of glasses of wine, but I opened NetBeans to check on a couple of things just now and noticed that I'd somehow managed to mangle the site's feed.xml file when I last updated the blog. As I'm me, I couldn't let that wait until tomorrow morning before I fixed it (like this site gets so much traffic that people would have been writing me furious emails about the fact before midnight) and when I'd disentangled the code, one thing led to another, and here we are.
I'm somewhat peeved at the moment, as I just racked up the largest step count that I've managed in about a month by walking to the post office to post birthday cards for the twins—and that would easily have been a good four thousand steps—but when I got home and attempted to synch my watch with the fitness tracker app on my phone, I discovered to my disgust that my watch's battery had died, and it had reset today's step count to zero. Bah!
I fitted a replacement CR2025 coin cell, because when I bought the last replacement battery last year it was in a twin pack and yes I have a set of watch case tools, because doesn't everybody these days? But I discovered that the watch now no longer tracks movement (or, presumably sleep.) It still tells the time, but I already have a watch that does that. Bah again! Time to get a replacement, then...
But at least it is now all systems go on the studio. I got an email today from Guy at Chunky Studio Furniture letting me know that my desk is scheduled to be built next week. I am very excited, but it does mean that I'm going to have to strip out all my gear from the back bedroom to make room for it, and believe me, that is not going to be a trivial task. But the desk will give my music production facilities the biggest boost they've had since I bought the Korg D3200 all those years ago and switched overnight from making songs with a second-hand, worn out four track Fostex X-15 to a digital 32-track hard disk recorder with built-in mastering and disc burning...
Needless to say there will be plenty of updates here on the blog, and probably on my Twitch channel too, although I may take a break from live streaming for a week so that I can get everything bedded in...
I hit a slight bump with the stream this week as I wasn't able to share any of the music that I've been making, because what I've been up to is either (a) a surprise or (b) a cover version of someone else's music. Why am I doing cover versions? Because it's October, and that means it's also Rocktober, when the folks who have taken part in Fifty/Ninety all summer unwind by recording versions of other people's songs. I've been joining in the fun. But Twitch are—quite rightly—very hot on protecting the intellectual property of copyright holders and that means they only allow cover versions of songs to be included in a stream if you perform them live. I don't think that playing what I've done in Ableton counts as a live performance (I could be wrong, but I wasn't prepared to risk getting thrown off the platform).
Learning how to craft a good song by pulling a great song apart and then putting it all back together again to see how all the parts fit together is a surprisingly powerful approach to learning. It's also a really good way of improving your chops. If I record a cover, I tend to stick faithfully to the original version of a track for the simple reason that my main goal is not to come up with a listenable song at all. Instead, my goal is to replicate the sounds that someone else made (probably in a much more expensively decked-out workspace than mine) and get as close as possible to the original sound. As I explained on the show, I got rather carried away trying to do this with Hans Zimmer's track "Time" from Christopher Nolan's 2010 film Inception and quite frankly, I have run myself into the ground this week as a result (Zimmer's score is rumoured to have cost a million dollars to record. Trust me on this: my version did not have that kind of money thrown at it.) So by Thursday evening I was knackered and as a result there were many, many diversions in last night's show. As I was editing it this morning ready to upload it to YouTube I realised that I am obviously really very interested indeed in fountain pens, as are many of my friends...
Today I fired up the studio just long enough to copy the recording of the stream on to a USB stick so I could take it downstairs for editing down and uploading to YouTube. I'm kind of burned out at the moment with music, so tomorrow I will be focusing on putting together the opening titles for my new show, which will be going live over on Twitch on Sunday night at 21:00 BST.
But if I wasn't already toast after staying up much too late making music this week, I certainly am after traipsing around the supermarket over in Dursley this afternoon. It's been nearly two weeks since I last did a shop of any kind, so I had a trolley full of stuff by the time I got back to the car. I'm pretty sure I never used to be so averse to going shopping, but these days I try to avoid it as much as possible. By the time I got home I was flagging; I had to have a tuna sandwich and some Twiglets before I had enough energy to get the compressor out of the boot and blow the car's tyres up before putting it back in the garage (I discovered on the way back from the shops that my car has a "low tyre pressure" indicator which I didn't know about. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first car I've ever owned to have such a thing.) The wine earlier definitely helped restore my equilibrium somewhat, but I think it's time I grabbed an early (for me) night and headed off to bed.
Shocking news today: the cinema chain Cineworld is closing all its UK and US cinemas with the loss of 45,000 jobs as Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing rules see their audiences disappear. It's heartbreaking, and I feel very sorry for all the members of staff affected. The closures are a sobering reminder of the staggering impact the epidemic is having on the global economy.
Last night I streamed the last Fifty/Ninety Show of the year. The annual songwriting challenge ended on Friday, and I had a great time taking part. It seems like only yesterday when I first signed up for February Album Writing Month's sister event, but this is the eighth year in a row in which I've participated. I'd been celebrating earlier in the day and let's say that I was "comfortably relaxed" after three glasses of wine, but I remained coherent enough to give the challenge a suitable sendoff. There were plenty of folks swinging by in the chat to keep me company, too, which was lovely (and very much appreciated).
So now I have to come up with a theme tune and a new opening credits sequence for next Sunday's "Is It FAWM Yet?" show. Time to fire up the studio again, then...
It's a day late (and I'll explain why in a moment), but here is the edited-down version of last Thursday's Twitch live stream. Despite saying I was tired and probably wouldn't stream for very long at the beginning of the show, I was on air for just over two hours.
It usually takes me about as long as the show runs to edit out all the pauses, flubs and mistakes, look up URLs for more information about stuff that I mention, and add captions to correct myself when I get stuff wrong (which, I am sure you will be shocked to discover, does happen from time to time.) This week's show came in at under two hours by the time I'd removed the lengthier pauses (I really was very tired) and tightened up the shorter ones. You don't need to see all that stuff.
I'm trying to make these recordings watchable after the fact, and I do quite a lot of work to keep viewers engaged by making watching the show a pleasurable experience. In recent weeks I've been upping the ante on the audio side of the YouTube videos. I started doing so when I'd inadvertently mismatched the volume levels from different sources in OBS Studio, but then I started eq-ing the audio track in the recording and adding a bit of compression to tame the occasional peak signal. That has led to the audio clipping very occasionally, so this week I added a limiter, using Sonic Anomaly's free VST plugin Unlimited.
And that was when it all went horribly wrong. Movie Studio kept crashing every time I tried to render the edited version of the show. So I tried rebooting the PC. Then I tried saving the edit file with a different filename. The render still crashed. I replaced the section of video where the crashes were happening (the opening credits) with the original version of the video. I even uninstalled Movie Studio, downloaded a new installer from the Magix website, and got it to install the software all over again (I was hoping that there had been a new build of version 15 since I last installed it, but no such luck.) Eventually, after watching the progress of the render intently and noting exactly where Movie Studio fell over, I realised that the crashes happened as soon as the audio started and after that it was easy to deduce that as the only change I'd made to my audio signal chain recently was to add a VST plugin for the first time, that was almost certainly the likely cause of the problem. I removed Unlimited from the audio track's processing chain and gave the render another go for the seventh time.
Everything worked perfectly. Now, I'm sure that Unlimited wouldn't get the long string of five-star reviews that it has on the VST4Free website if it crashed every time it was used, and my recent experience with Movie Studio is that it's unstable at the best of times and is very prone to crashing (it really doesn't like me using Firefox at the same time, for example), so I'm laying the blame for all this firmly at the feet of Movie Studio Platinum 15. It might be very cheap compared to Adobe Premiere, but as the maxim goes, you get what you pay for. Although it offers almost all the functionality I need to edit my shows, why offer the option to use third-party VST plugins if your software crashes as soon as you start using one?
During Thursday night's live stream, Wobbie asked me if I'd mind doing some "late night radio" voiceover work for a song she was writing for Fifty/Ninety, so of course I said yes. Wobbie pointed me in the direction of BBC Radio London's Jim Davis and said, "Sound like him" so I fired up my trusty Shure SM7B (which has become the mic I use for pretty much everything these days, particularly when I'm recording my voice), dropped a Neutron 3 noise gate and an instance of my current favourite vocal compressor on the track in Ableton, and got up close and personal so that I could milk the SM7B's glorious proximity effect for all it was worth and give it my best shot. Wobbie was happy with the results and used them without asking for any retakes (yay me!), which means that with Overnight Radio my final tally for this summer's song writing challenge is a more than adequate 66 songs.
People have been saying nice things about my speaking voice in the chat during my live stream sessions in recent weeks and it's always nice to receive compliments like that. I used to be extremely insecure about my voice, particularly if I had to sing. For the first few years I took part in FAWM, I was much happier recording instrumentals because my vocals didn't sound like I could hear them in my head. Disappointingly, they sounded much worse. I'm not alone in this; when someone hears a recording of their voice for the first time, their reaction is almost always, "That's not what I sound like!" We hear the sound of our own voice not just as variations in air pressure reaching our ears but also as it's conducted directly from the vocal chords through our skulls to our eardrums. Sound travelling through a denser medium like bone gets smeared out, and this spreading out lowers the frequency of the vibrations that arrive at our eardrums. This means that anything we hear via bone conduction is going to sound deeper to us than it does to everyone else. I hated what I sounded like the first time someone played back a recording of my voice to me. But last night I realised that with doing FAWM for over a decade and Fifty/Ninety for the last eight years, I have heard my own, "authentic" voice so often that my brain has learned what I really sound like and adjusted the sound of my thoughts accordingly. These days, the voice I use for my internal monologues sounds like my "real" voice, probably because I've had to listen to myself so much. I have learned to embrace what I actually sound like and play to my strengths when I sing. That's given me more confidence in singing and that means I get better results, and that boosts my confidence still more, and onwards and upwards we go. So people have been making very flattering comments about my voice this summer, particularly when I use the lower registers. One comment of "Gorgeous deep dark voice from the sex abyss" that I received back in July still makes me chuckle, as does Sean's description of me during FAWMStock as "The Bob Ross of prog metal."
But the icing on the cake arrived this morning, after Wobbie had sent Jim Davis a tweet to let him know about her song. With this tweet he's made my entire month...
I said yesterday that I wanted to write 65 songs by the time the annual Fifty/Ninety songwriting challenge draws to a close tomorrow. I had planned on recording two songs yesterday and two today to reach my target, but in the end I'd got three pieces of music written and uploaded to my profile page by the time I went to bed last night which leaves me just one song to do today. I've gone from being behind schedule in the middle of August to overachieving things by nearly thirty percent. I am, as is no doubt obvious to anyone who has been reading the blog over the last few months, obsessed with being as musically productive as I can be.
But I was still working on that last piece well after midnight and I didn't get to bed until nearly one in the morning. That's not a healthy lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination. And I'm paying for it, make no mistake. I'm hurting quite a bit at the moment. I'm a confused jumble of aches and pains all the way from my neck and shoulders down to my ankles. I have been neglecting my physical well-being recently, and my physical self really isn't happy about it. This week I've had to resort to sleeping with a hot water bottle held on my side to mitigate the aches in my kidneys, and although it seems to be helping a little, the depth of my sleep almost always gets a "bad" rating from the app on my phone when I sync my watch with it. This morning I felt really groggy when I eventually woke up. I was sorely tempted to just pull the covers over my head and try to get a little more sleep, but I know that would only have made matters worse. So I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled downstairs to switch the coffee machine on. Today I will record one last piece of music for Fifty/Ninety and then that will be it for me for another year. At least I've had a very good summer, creatively speaking. Some of the songs I've written are fairly decent, I think—even if I can't be objective about my own output. Several of them are no-brainers for inclusion on the Christmas CD I make for my friends and family every year.
But (much though it pains me to say it) I need to stop. Once I've stopped sitting in the back bedroom all day and the urge to write more stuff for the challenge has started to wear off, I intend to go out for some long walks and getting plenty of much-needed fresh air. If we get more weather like we got yesterday, though, I will need to give my Barbour a fresh coating of wax. It chucked it down for most of the day.
And I'm having second thoughts about doing Inktober again this year. Although drawing something takes me far less time than creating a new piece of music, the idea of plunging straight into another creative challenge and getting obsessed with that one as well is probably not a good idea for my physical well-being at the moment. I need to look after myself rather more carefully than I've been doing for the last couple of months.
Who am I kidding? I might start a few days late, but it's too good a challenge not to take up...
So here we are in October. Sunrise here this morning was at 07:11 am and it'll set tonight at 18:46 pm. The evenings are rapidly getting shorter and I need the lights on in my living room a good two hours earlier than I did just a month ago, particularly when it's pouring with rain outside like it was yesterday.
October is usually the last month of the year when you're likely to find me doing a spot of gardening. This morning I checked the Virginia creeper on the house to see if I could get away without having to cut it back again before winter arrives, and I was pleased to discover that I won't need to go up the ladder again this year: it still looks nice and tidy. This week's frost should sort out the weeds in the back garden, although I have a bed of nettles in the far corner that wasn't there a couple of months ago, and that needs sorting out. While the lawn hasn't entirely stopped growing yet, it's noticeably slowed down and I won't need to give it another cut until next week.
Sedentary habit though it is, reading is the pastime that replaces my gardening activities during winter. I really need to knuckle down and work through the multiple stacks of unread books lying around the place which are patiently waiting for me to read them. I set myself the goal of reading sixty books this year (as you can see, I navigate the year by various online challenges that I set myself) but when I checked my Goodreads profile page yesterday I discovered that although I've read 36 books so far this year, I am woefully behind schedule—a whole eight books behind schedule—at the moment.
So when I've been out for my long walks, my favourite armchair awaits. Everything else can go on the back burner for a while. That's my kind of October.