The life of a solo songwriter/programmer/producer is not an easy one - many times I wish I could lose the ability and urge to create and perform, and just veg out in front of the TV instead. But something keeps me going…

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Braving Bliss - September 2017

“Bliss” is a musical idea that’s been going through my head for a long time. I always like to upload my tracks with some video, so recording video at the same time as the audio made sense, but I realised it wasn’t going to be easy.

For a start, it’s an improvised piece, so I can’t do a separate video shoot - you’d soon spot I was playing different notes. But the recording involves a number of audio takes, so I can’t do it all at once - I had to find a way to synchronise the audio, and also get a studio-quality audio recording.

Lastly, what I like about this fairly simple tune is that bass line hits lots of different notes. I wanted to double up the piano bass line with a bass sound, but how could I remember what notes I’d played?

Here’s the technique:

  1. Whilst filming the performance I simultaneously recorded the piano and Roland JV1010 pad sound and a metronome onto the video camera’s audio input, the piano’s direct audio out onto my computer, the JV1010’s audio out into a Tascam DR100 digital recorder and the MIDI output from the piano onto computer.
  2. I loaded the audio tracks (excepting the metronome one from the camera) into my sequencer and synched them up with the MIDI recording. Unfortunately, something went wrong at this stage and I ended up stretching the audio to make it fit.
  3. Next was a painstaking process of deleting most of the MIDI notes I recorded from the live piano perfromance (I was using the digital audio of the piano) so only the left hand bass notes remained. I now had a bass line that perfectly matched my left hand in the video, and I routed this to a bass sound on my JV1010 and recorded this as audio.
  4. I recorded the two whistle tracks (videoing just the Clarkes C whistle one) to the multi-track performance. I also recorded vocals and the drum track (in a bathroom to get a “live” feel). Vocals are something that don’t match up with the video.
  5. I put all the tracks together, mixed and mastered and output them, then combined them with the audio master in a video editor. Here’s where I hit a big problem: The original keyboard video should have been in perfect time, but the time-stretch I’d accidentally done in the sequencer meant it wasn’t. Worse, the audio speed seemed to be a different rate again when I’d shot the whistle video, so I had three different speed pieces of media to match up!

Thankfully, I got on top of it, and the rest is history!

Remixing a carol - December 2016

I've been sharing my one and only Christmas carol every year since 2013. Rather than trying to write something even better (I’m still expecting Something Still Remains to knock Fairytale of New York off the “best xmas song” pedestal) I thought I’d do a new version from scratch, but keep the tune and lyrics.

I started off by putting the song into a 4:4 time signature with quite a jump up in speed, then laid down a track of slow drums made from a sample of the metal from the back of a broken microwave oven (I sampled a clang from The Blue Nile’s “Over The Hillside” many years ago, but I couldn’t find the file - so I went DIY, which is better every time!) I made evolving variations to echo feedback, quality and EQ to add a bit of variety to it, then laid down a couple of tracks of backing on dreamlike pads from my Roland JV1010. These went through Destroy FX’s MIDI gater for some syncopation.

A fair bit of effort went into programming the drums, but there are only a few tracks of other instruments, carefully programmed and scattered around to keep boredom at bay. The bass has some distortion adjustments to give it some growl at the right places, and there's ring modulation on the bells continually varying through the track and all the sounds (from the Albino synth) have LFOs on several parameters which means the sounds never stay the same for long!

I recorded the vocals and a couple of tracks of harmonies and it was done, though all of that makes it sound a lot quicker than it was. I prefer it to the original now, which sounds very slow to me!

The video is the bottom half of the candle video I made for the original 2013 song, with some patterns I generated in After Effects, synched up with the song. The whole lot was put back into After Effects for a key-framed kaleidoscope effect. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas.

The Time! The Time! - October 2015

Colin Grainge and Amanda Headley-White
Thanks to my video crew!

It feels like this song's been  a g e s  in the making. I think I wrote it in 2011, recorded it in 2013, and have been waiting for the right road on which to make the video before releasing.

The song is all about ageing and might have been inspired partly by David Malone's excellent BBC documentary "The Secret Life of Waves", in which he likens the furious crash of a wave on the shore to the end of a life that has no time left in which to live.

I had the idea of making a video in which I'm running along “the road of life” and, being a bit of a video techy type, I wanted to stylise it a bit by shooting it at 30 frames per second and playing back the video at 25 frames per second. This would have the effect of me running slightly in slow motion, giving the video a bit more of a dreamlike and metaphorical feel.

But how to move the camera? I have a hand-held camera stabiliser, but didn't know anyone who'd be keen to run along next to me (probably backwards) filming, and carrying my most expensive camera. An experiment with bicycles wasn't practical, so I had the idea of using our car to carry the camera.

Next task was to find the road. I didn't want a busy public road, or to go through an expensive, time-consuming or interfering rigmarole in order to shoot a no-budget video. I looked at toll roads, National Trust homes, even a graveyard, but no one was being very enthusiastic.

Finally, I thought of the long wooded drive to a community which my partner is a trustee for - there was a place where I could get some insider influence. And she could double up with the driver. So now I just needed a cameraman.

I'd received promises from several potential camera operators, but having got to know a proper pro film-maker (he actually makes a living from it!) with some time to spare, it was too good a chance to pass up!

A sunny Sunday saw us trundling up and down the drive - me jogging, singing along with a speeded-up version of the song on my phone, and cameraman Colin Grainge filming out of the back of our car, driven by Amanda Headley-White. Four takes was all I could manage (running and singing simultaneously is tiring work, folks!) but we had two good ones in the can. We went on to the nearby graveyard for some just-in-case cutaways, then home for pizza.

Looking back at the footage revealed a spot on the lens, so Colin did a sterling job of retouching work to hide it (if you look carefully, you can see a few signs of the repair near the end of the video). Then I had to do a final mix-down of the song, do the edit and upload the song. In keeping with my original plan for a simple video, I just used two cutaways. I've also tinted the video from a morning light blueish to an evening orange, which gives a (hopefully) subtle hint of change.

Watch the video here. I hope you like it!

What makes a bad poem bad? - February 2015

A page of Paddy's notebook
My muesli-free reclaimed notebook

In one of my (many) other lives, I recently filmed a performance and interview by Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie.

I particularly enjoyed her opinions of notebooks. “Ye know those notebooks you get with that lovely thick paper, all pressed flowers and muesli? Really beautiful and absolutely useless because ye cannae bear te sully them with yer awful scrawlings…” (That’s not verbatim, but poetically that’s what she said, and went on to tell us about her collection of old envelopes which she keeps specially for those “awful scrawlings”, some of which she later turns into wonderful poems.)

I fully understand her reluctance to sully those beautiful notepads - they also play havoc with my fountain pens. My notepads are home-made out of a massive stash of obsolete letterheads, so I’m able to commit my awful scrawlings to 100gsm coated paper and still feel like I’m doing a good deed by using up unwanted material. No muesli though!

There was more to her talk than notebooks (the film of the talk will be available on the Bristol Festival of Ideas web site later in Spring) and it got me thinking about poetry.

What makes a poem good or bad?

I consider myself at least a half decent song writer, and I’ve written a poem or two in my time. I think I’m able to recognise a good song, but can I tell a good poem (like one by a professional poet like Kathleen) from a rubbish one? In one particular year, Kathleen wrote only six poems, carefully crafting each into balanced four-line stanzas that looked perfect on the page. When I heard that I thought, “I could probably knock out six poems in a day!”

Shortly afterwards I heard part of a poem written by a man for his dying wife, whose Alzheimer’s meant she didn’t recognise him or even remember his visits. Such a desperate situation, but the poem was that kind that goes “I’ll be so sad when you have gone, For you always my love was strong…”. This is what I call a “Level One Poem”, following the first rule, that poems have to have a rhythm and the last word has to rhyme. I’ve used my mild headache to write my own Level One Poem:

I’ve got an aching in my head,
I’d rather have a bruise instead.
It’s not too bad but it’s unpleasant.
And the ache remains, incessant.

I’ve heard so many of these kind of poems (Pam Ayres is particularly famous for them, as is the accidentally hilarious William Mcgonagall) that I find them hard to listen to, even those coming from a place of extreme emotion. Has my learning spoilt my enjoyment, like my English Lit student friend who could no longer enjoy fiction because she’d spent too long analysing it? I’m still able to enjoy “simple” music though - like Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” - so simple, and so easy to produce, but it works so well.

Level Two

A “Level Two” poet knows that rhythm and rhyme are not required, and are often undesirable. Instead, a good poem must use metaphors and similes and extra adjectives to explain the subject and feeling of the poem in new ways and open up the reader’s imagination.

Here’s my headache subjected to Level Two:

My crown is pierced by stretched and tangled threads,
Dragging through the crushed and squeezing passageways.
Hidden and fathomless reels wind the filaments ever inward,
From some unknown source of pain.

Pompous, yes. Good? Well I don’t like it, but it was meant to be bad. The more you know, the harder it gets to be creative: I heard a poem once that said that there will be no more poems once we have run out of metaphors, so I’ve become wary of them. Along with the obvious rhymes and desperate rearranging of words found in Level One, I must now rule out excessive metaphor and those cliches like “my crown” and “ever inward” and “filaments” (or, even worse “filagree") which have been used to death.

Level Three

So what is a Level Three Poem, and how many levels are there? Well this is where I start to get poetry vertigo. Level Three (in my book) is all about references for well-read readers to smugly spot, wordplay (like “smugly spot” for example) and new cliches. Old favourites like “My heart was in my mouth” or “mind in turmoil” or even “scared shitless” were works of genius, and describe those feelings so well (for those unlucky to have been to such extremes) that they have been used (and mis-used) over and over, and so have become cliches, and traps for unwary Level Two poets.

I know something of “purple prose” (PARODY WARNING!) and gleefully mock the excessive and laughably foolish words, like the stones on the road to hell, that mis-led and over-keen amateur poetry writers carefully insert dutifully betwixt and between unnecessarily slow and awkward plodding words, like a flock of birds of a feather, flocking together, woefully and incautiously gleaned from thick red dusty stacked printed thesauri…

So, to my Level Three poem. “The Ache” is a reference to Burns’ “Address To the Toothache” - look how well-read I am! And also how ironic and parodying. Wallow in the multiple layers!!!! Marvel at the miasma of marks (exclamation).

The Ache

An elastic band (blue),
Is stretched across the pins of my head and down,
My neck.
Water and cups of coffee fail to dislodge,
The tightened blue rubber.

I stretch and breathe deep,
And wait for a time,
When the punishing band,
Will snap,
And spring off.

There it is: Ripe for a ribbing from a Level Four (whatever that is) Poet. In my (imaginary) poetry festival interviews, I explain about the blue elastic bands that come with beetroot from the local veg shop and how I save them in a stuffed kitchen drawer for some unknown future use, and how I’ve gone through a lot of chiropractic treatment for a chronic constant headache. And maybe I talk about those two short lines, and how “neck” and “snap” reference the cracks and pops of a chiropractic treatment. But I only thought of that after writing it, so does that count?

Enjoy your poetry, but don’t take yourself too seriously! Send comments to me at paddy@creativemedia.org.uk and I may add them to this page.

Still here, fighting Chinese invaders? - December 2014

I’ve not been blogging, thanks to a change of job and a lack of new videos. But I have two songs ready for videos, and an idea for one, and a semi-idea for the other, and I’ve written several pieces of music in the year. Today, however, I’m working on my website: I’m seeings thousands of visitors from China to my site every month, whom I suspect to be automated hacking “bots” rather than music fans. To test this theory, I’m going to turn off the commenting on this page and see if they’re still visiting.

A Grimey Christmas! - November 2013

For several years I’ve been writing the music for and editing together a trailer for Watershed’s ElectricDecember.org online video showcase / advent calendar.

This year I was challenged to write a 90 second piece in the “grime” style! So I listened to the likes of Chase and Status, Tinchy stryder, etc and tried to get some sense of how it differed from Dub Step (which was the style I was asked to do for 2012!) Being me, I decided to make it waltz-time Grime...

I programmed it all in the Reaper DAW, using the Albino softsynth and a few of my favourite soundfonts.

I started off with the idea of a robot voice saying “e-lec-tric” and considered installing a vocoder and trying out various “roboticising” techniques, but in the end I just recorded the voice in a monotone, applied a band-pass filter, a short delay, then used ReaPitch to shift it down a bit, and that sounded sufficiently robotic for me.

Grime involves lots of shouting, it seems. I’m not much of a shouter, but my best success was to turn up my headphones and stomp around, yelling, DR100 recorder in hand.

Even so, my shouty voice is embarassing, so I pitched it up a bit into a yelling gnome. I used SampleOmatic for the first time too, chopping up a few bits of the shout. I’d originally planned to cut up the “electric” shout into “e”, “lec” and “tric” and trigger them in various places, but the “tric” sounded like “shit”, which I really didn’t want to be triggering over a clip of a film someone had worked so hard on.

The little arpeggio is doubled up; I wanted it to be a bit “messed up” and bounce around the stereo a bit, so I copied it to left and right channels, and spent a while moving notes around in the MIDI editor, adding a few rolls, removing a few notes. It’s an Albino sound, and I’ve used random LFOs in the Matrix to make it alter through time, so the left and right should sound slightly different from each other.

The “computer music” lead line is off the Albino synth too; it struck me that Grime is all about silly synth noises with a dubstep monster bass underneath. And then the middle bit, following my usual formula of a scary middle part and a joyful end: I put an old sample soundfont through a ring modulator for the main body, and the high pitch sound is a Albino sound with a bit of tweaking to make it vary more.

The end just took over: I’d put in a similar piece to the start, then thought I’d jam a bit of piano over the top, and I just couldn’t resist the mushy schmaltzy chord sequence. The pad was the hardest bit - I love choppy-sounding pads, but the Albino Gater was doing something horrible to the sound, and the sync seemed to be the wrong speed to. I reached for my trusty Destroy FX MIDI Gater, though applying it to a MIDI track was a bit of a challenge because I couldn’t add the MIDI gating info without playing the MIDI instrument itself.

The solution was to route the output of the MIDI track through a new gating track. Success.

My favourite bit is towards the end, where the gate goes less and more choppy.

Remedy Remix Rapture! - May 2013

I first heard Laurence Made Me Cry (aka Jo Whitby) perform this song at Electrosonica (hear the album verion or watch the live performance), the electro/acoustic night we run in Bristol. I really liked it, but wanted to hear it with a stomping load of house behind it, so I asked Jo for some tracks to work with.

This is my first proper remix, rather than messing around with bits yanked out of commercial songs and trying to filter out the bits I don’t want. I accept that no one else is going to like it as much as me (I absolutely adore it and keep playing it again!) but I hope you feel some of the emotion that I get from it - that last “forget” animated text in the video was going to be another of the lyrics, but when I pasted in the forget word, I really felt it so it had to stay! And there’s nothing about “true names” in the song, but it makes me think how stories can reveal the Truth (the word in its original meaning of “essence”) and it reminds me of my favourite Jeanette Winterson’s quote “On a wild night who can call you home - only the one who knows your name.”

First, I sped up and repitched the voice to make it faster (140BPM), then waited for ideas for the verse. Drums and some of the pads (and the wobble bass) are soundfonts, and the rest is from my trusty Albino virtual synth. Some of the arpeggios are arpeggiators, but some I create quicker manually than trying to programme in - and you get scope for variation in the arpeggios that way too. I love the complexity of intersecting staccato notes with long pads and complex drums - I always programme long drum sequences; even if they end up turning out pretty looplike, I don’t like drums to just be 4 bars stretched across the whole song. I think that is what people hate about electronic drums, rather than the perfect timing (actually I didn’t do 100% quantise, so timing is slightly variable too.)

I’ve chopped up the vocal quite a bit - it’s not faithful to the original song (but what remix ever is?!), but I think it gets across the idea of the song, about the magical immersive feeling one can get in a cinema screening. The video I made hopefully helps with that - I learnt a lot more about After Effects in a short time! I used photoshop layers and 3D camera movements for the intro, and Expressions to make the motion graphics move in time with the beat; thanks to the person who shared the sine wave formula online - I was at a bit of a loss with the maths, so a cut, paste and tweak was really helpful!

Songwriting secrets and Radio Recital - February 2013

My latest YouTube upload is a “how to” giving away the secrets behind a few of my songs. Capos are useful for changing the pitch of yur guitar, but what if a capo could just retune a few strings? Open tunings like DADGAD are popular but a bit tired, and all that retuning on stage takes time and risk the embarrassing SNAPPED STRING!

My customised capos idea is easy and cheap, and lets you do tunings that would be impossible using the pegs.

Enjoy the video, featuring songs “Truth”, “The Time” and “A Whole New Universe” (which you can find on the Music page of this site.

In Other News, I’ll be playing on Bristol Radio this week, supporting songwriter Chandra Moon, and of course Electrosonica is coming up soon if you’re in Bristol.

Monster music - October 2012

I’ve had a kind of Klezma violin tune and rhythm somewhere in my head for years; a 7:8 rhythm which I’d tap out on my hips whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. It wouldn’t go away, but was very resistant to turning into a song.

Finally I managed to connect it to the thoughts behind a poem I wrote many years ago, speculating on the tabloid “monsters” who are paraded in front of us; the cold killers, child abusers, hit’n’run drivers, fraudsters, abusers of trust... it’s not very hard for a small slip of morals or even some bad luck to turn anyone into another monster.

Writing computer sequences in varying time signatures is not the most computer-friendly of things, but I decided to set the sequence to one beat in the bar, which made quantising interesting. Even the high hats are quantised to minims or maybe crotchets.

The music wasn’t thickening up in the way I’d hoped, until I idly browsed my sound effects page and found the perfect sound, one I’d written for an unused song and forgotten about.

Once that was added, and some MIDI gates added to it, I didn’t feel it needed much more.

I was going to look for a police siren sound, then I thought “Isn’t it just a modulated sound wave?” I experimented in Albino (virtual synth) and came up with such a good one that my partner in another room asked if there was an ambulance in the street. Yes!

It’ll get its debut at Electrosonica on the 15th October.

Red carpet treatment at StarMaker! - April 2012

The latest pop video is complete, this time starring some friends too, and a video launch party! Watch All Fall Down video here and you can download the MP3 from my audio page.

The idea for the video and song comes from the feeling that for every person with any kind of creative ability, there are a whole collection of less-than-creative people trying to get their hands on their cash. Sometimes this works well, but often it has little to do with the best art being promoted.

At its worse, it means people who are only destined to be minor players on the creative scene (I include myself in this number) being tempted into gambling more and more money by companies like the ficticious StarMaker Ltd in the video, who grow fat by taking fees and promising to put demos in front of “big name record industry pros”. I actually had a email from one of these companies while making the video!

Of course, if you do “make it big” with the help of one of these expensive companies, will you ever know if your success is a result of your talent, or of their blagging skills? The logical conclusion is to pay actors to be adoring fans and follow you around and come to all your gigs. But you’ll never know if your work is any good. Yes, I’m too far the other way - I grew up with the punk idea that if you really mean it, it’s worthwhile, and if it’s good enough, it will be appreciated. But I don’t want to go down the slippery slope of believing the seducers - actually I don’t really want to be famous anyway, though I’d like the songs to be…

(This rant is mainly because it’s a tall picture, and the page layout goes wrong if there’s too little text!)

All the stars made it to the party, where we had cake and bubbly (paid for by StarMakers’ receivers - the company is being investigated by the Office of Fair Trading) and walked down the red carpet. The boss of StarMaker is being asked awkward questions by legal people!

Making the video and song

This has been my biggest video project to date. The trusty Kodak Zi8 camera were out in force again, with the help of a battery powered LED light. I did two 3-camera shoots of me in the kitchen, 2-camera shoots for Klaus (who manfully danced through the whole song!) and Sue, and single camera shoots for Davide, Amanda and Lucinda.

The delivery man was shot with a Kodak zi8 on my ingenious camera clamps, including some on-bike shots, at 60fps and slowed down to half speed.

The StarMaker boss thumb was animated using Photohop and After Effects. The rest of the video editing and grading was done in Premiere Pro.

The song was my first use of my new Roland JV1010, which turned up just in time to do the main piano track. The song was created in Reaper again, using soundfonts and Albino virtual synth sounds. It behaved very well with the Edirol FA66 sound interface - it’s still exciting to be able to open up the studio software and write/record music without having to do a load of troubleshooting and tracking down hums, buzzes and hiss. Final mastering was done with Apple’s sadly discontinued Soundtrack Pro.

Sinking Ship Survivors and Picky Paddy’s Piano Problem - April 2012

I’ve finally done the mammoth task of moving out of one computer and in to another in studio terms. The good old (but sadly faulty) Roland U220 is for sale, to be followed soon by the excellent Yamaha SW1000XG; I’ve been through the disk, rescuing music from what feels like a bit of a sinking ship (the disk vanished for a while during the process!), and am keeping fingers crossed that this laptop doesn’t die suddenly… I’ve got too used to low-budget computing.

Missing the piano

The one thing I miss is the piano: Most of my songs have a piano line which needs recording at some stage, and it’s nice to be able to record it as a MIDI track so I can perfect it in the sequencer. I never thought I was particularly picky about pianos – I was quite happy with the Roland U220 one, and the SW1000XG was quite OK, as are the two on my Roland EP7 digital piano (despite a little kink in the waveform and a rather grungy tail-off). But can I find any virtual piano that I can deal with? Some are hundreds of megabytes with damper pedal thumps and “sympathetic resonance”, dozens of parameters, hundreds of multisamples from a 12 foot concert Steinway from a dozen hi-end studio mics… others are smaller home-made affairs but nothing sounded right to me… I even tried making my own, multi-sampling the SW1000XG and spending a day running up and down stairs between a PC with Soundblaster AWE card (bought second hand entirely so that I could run the excellent Vienna soundfont editing software) and the laptop where I could preview the sounds: Getting the tuning and samples in the right place was horrible and it sounded muddy or jangly.

Death of a card

A few weeks later, the AWE card died so I had another go using “Polyphontics” on the Mac, fighting against a rapidly diminishing export limit on the free demo (but less stair climbing), and I learnt a valuable lesson about making piano soundfonts – that when you change the pitch of a piano sample more than a few notes, it goes muffled (down) or harpsichord-like (up).

Keep it hardware

So… rather than trusting the vagueries of software pianos, I decided to hunt for something solid (and cheap!), purely to be a decent piano on recordings. A browse of eBay found me an old Roland JV-1010 for around £100 – I have a soft spot for Roland, and the half-rack nature of the box seemed an improvement on the rackmount U220, whose large size and sharp rack “ears” were a menace for live use and transportation. Some alarming online rants about the signal-to-noise ratio (and someone who said he’d advise “Expanding this heap of junk to the trash”) didn’t put me off, so I’ll wait and see if it’s the piano for me. And a simple-but-usable front panel mean it might replace the laptop as a sound-expander for gigs with Chandra. Here’s hoping it will turn up!

What else is going on?

The All Fall Down video is progressing nicely; one more “contestant” to film – in “life imatating art”, I received an email promising something very similar to the storyline of the video, and some online software called “Starmaker”. All will be revealed when the video is released before long.

And Electrosonica.org.uk is back! A partnership with Chandra has turned it into an acoustic and electronic songwriters’ night.

Pop Promo Pretender - March 2012

I thought All Fall Down was going to be the next video, but a new video has snuck in and claimed the title of First Video Of 2012! “The Same As All Of The Rest” started off as a song written after a lonely night watching a gig at The Cube, then turned even darker during a visit to Norwich, with a helping of neurosis, loneliness and those morbid thoughts about strange sounds at night and how it would feel to have almost been a witness to something terrible.

So, for the video… the cemetery, obviously! Arnos Vale is a beautiful tumble-down graveyard (by day – probably terrifying at night!) Back to my gothic teens (well, twenties for me!) for a few hours wandering around the stones, trying not to disrespect the memories of the people below, then dropping into Fabric Land for a large piece of swimsuit fabric (it was the right colour and seemed the most suitable kind of fabric) to use for “colour keying” in the video. I don’t know who the staff thought I was making swimming trunks for!

The song features an experiment with some live looping, so to film the performance I had to play the piano and sing on video, which adds a lot more pressure! After twenty minutes of mistakes and tantrums on camera, I had a complete version, but an unplugged wire meant I didn’t have the sound I wanted. A further ordeal resulted in a good enough performance, but the sound still wasn’t right, so I had to cheat with the vocal and piano after all that. So, all that looking down in the video is because I really was playing the piano, though it’s not what you hear in the recording.

The final bit was the video edit; the “keyed” part has a colour changing background, in contrast with the straight cemetery footage. My favourite part is the “multi camera” feature which enables me to select between the keyboard, cemetery and singing footage live as the track plays.

Video was all shot on tiny Kodak zi8 cameras which, after being a bit snobby about, I’ve come to love. The cemetery footage is all shot at double speed and slowed down. I used a Flycam 5000 steadying unit too for the moving shots.

I hope you enjoy the song and video it in all its dark and moody splendour. The song is available to download on the music page.

More Video Vigour - February 2012

I’ve been making instruments! I’ve made two new low whistles, in E and F (both being tunings that are hard or impossible to buy). The leftover parts of a useless clothes rail turned useful at last by being just the right diameter to fit the head from my beloved Howard Low D Whistle. See the video on YouTube.com.

It was meant to be a quick Saturday morning videoing project, but it took around five takes, with tantrums on camera (I must clear the memories before anyone sees them!) as batteries failed, levels were set wrong, my phone turned itself on and pinged at me, equipment slid off the sofa… And then the editing stage somehow set itself to the wrong frame rate so I had to start again, and the final exports screwed up in a variety of ways! I hope to have less trouble with the All Fall Down video - maybe I should have spent Saturday recording vocal harmonies for that instead?

Video Vigour - January 2012

picture of kitchen with cameras and lights
The kitchen setup - lights, camera and action!

I’ve just begun production of the next Pop Video! All Fall Down is about the industry that drives musicians to seek super-stardom and makes money out of people’s dreams, not caring whether they’re actually any good, or even want to be a superstar. And there’s a whole industry that gets us to gloat over the demise of the lucky few, and laugh at the wannabes who fail before they’ve even begun.

I took a day off to start making the video, but then figured I was too tired to do any filming. “At least I’ll copy the track onto a music player.” I thought, and after a listen I was ready to dance! Yes, this one will feature Dancing, which I’m usually too embarrassed to do on stage. I’m seeking volunteers to also dance and sing in the video.

It will take the form of a “Search For A Star” competition and practices what it preaches by having a pretty much zero budget; I may have the caption “No performers were fleeced in the making of this video”!

I went with the trusty Kodak Zi8 cameras again, to do multicamera shoots which I’ll edit in Premiere Pro. It’s sad that Kodak is in trouble financial trouble, though I think they’ve stopped making the Zi8 some time ago.

Youtube seems to be a good place to release music publicly but, of course, I’ve got to think up of and film a video for every one!

Whilst making this, I saw a competition to “win a £1000 video”; I’m sounding a bit “big society”, but I’d rather do it myself - when cash gets involved, I find creativity and control slipping away.

Other musical things: After the huge success of some of my sound effects at FreeSound.org, I’m considering selling some royalty free music via a stock site. You can download my sound effects and instrumental music from “windchimes samples” (not just windchimes samples!)

11am, 11th November 2011 - Armistice Day

The new song and video are here! A Royal British Legion charity mailshot pointed out that Armistice Day this year is 11am on 11/11/11. All those elevens reminded me of my remembrance day song 11th Hour 11th Day that was a fave back in Plymouth with our band Taradiddle. The challenge was on to record the song and make a video in time for 11am 11/11/11.

I was pleased to find I'd already written (and forgotten about) a drum track and recorded guitar and bass, so this was moved over to Reaper, my new sequencer. I went through and tidied up the drum programming and replaced the guitar. Having heard Jacques a Robin’s lush arrangements on his recent album, I wanted to see if I could do the same and went mad with violins, vocals and my low-D whistle. I learnt plenty about Reaper in the process, and on the whole declared it Good (compared to my old Cubase 3.7 sequencer on Windows 98!)

I was in a bit of a panic about getting enough footage for the video and completing it in time, but a morning in the loft and a November evening lying on wet grass in the back garden put me off grand plans for further shoots - and once I put what I had into the editor, it seemed like I had enough. A pair of Kodak Zi8s and Adobe Premiere’s multi-cam mode spared me multiple shoots, and a collection of photoflood bulbs and DIY lights took the edge off the cold (and the dark).

Archive.org provided public domain documentary footage, which I blue-blanketed (oh for a proper blue-screen!) behind the guitar and I even resorted to some minor cosmetic surgery in After Effects.

A chance meeting with an artist in Gloucester Road saw me invited to play at the Bristol Pierian Centre’s 11/11/11 event.

I wrote the song many years ago. Rather than another song about me and my thoughts and opinions, I wanted to write a ballad about a made up (gasp!) everyman who had to go to war and was there at one of the famous Christmas Day events which saw German and British soldiers meeting each other in friendship between the trenches. It’s an anti-war song that is pro-people.

To learn more about “Poppy Day” go to The Royal British Legion - while I am against a lot of the warfare our country has been involved with, I also apreciate the sacrifice of people who protect our country and way of life.

The rest is history, stupid history yeah…

August 2011#2 - Rainy Recital!

The Balloon Fiesta gig went well, despite rain almost reaching my trusty Roland! You can see brave musicians Davide (Jacques A Robin) and Damian (We Are Yours) stoicly and soggily sitting solid through the set. See the YouTube videos (including brand new song All Fall Down): All Fall Down, All Along the Watchtower, The Man Who Planted Trees and Shine.

August 2011 - Retreat, Robins, Reaper and a Rare Recital


Playing percussion at Jacques, A Robin album launch

Sadly I’ve had to leave my position in The Silva Temple; I discovered that either playing backing or solo is my thing. Very sorry to go - a nice bunch of people and some interesting music - keep your eyes open for them in the Bristol area.

Speaking of playing backing, I played percussion for Davide Ariasso aka Jacques A Robin as part of his nine-piece ensemble. You can see me in the background with my home-made breadboard bass drum and the incredible “tambouruka”. You may also recognise songwriter Suzi Condrad swaying and singing backing on stage. Check out David’s album Statuettes for the full sumptuous (and better recorded!) experience.

There are 13 songs to see on YouTube, filmed and edited by me in my CreativeMedia.org.uk guise.

I’m working in the studio a bit more than usual this month, on both old and new: the old is my big crowd-pleaser 11th Hour 11th Day from Taradiddle days in Plymouth, on which (inspired by Davide’s string arrangements) I’m doing some violin and vocal loveliness, and the new is All Fall Down a brand new song from my electronica stable, and the first to be done on the Mac laptop with Reaper software,

I’m hoping I”ll keep up the momentum on it this week, because I’m opening the music stage at the Bristol Balloon Fiesta at 3pm on Thursday August 11th with a 45 minute set, my first solo gig for many moons, and at least 2 songs that have never been performed.

April 2011 - Lights, Daleks, Gigs and Disasters


A little artsy piece for you!

Oooh, computers are jealous (skip this to later on if you don’t “do” techy blogs). Don’t ever tell me they’re not sentient! All I did was install the temptingly-priced Reaper sequencer from Cockos onto my Mac, and then next time I switched on my music PC, it just sat there in a cursor-flashing sulk.

I diagnosed a disk faulure and reached for my boot floppy, fdisk and the wonderful Ghost, late-nineties DOS disk imaging software from Symnatec, which has saved my bacon many times and prevented lots of work over the years.

Unfortunately, not this time, as the new hard disk wasn’t being recognised properly, and a search on the much-more-modern web revealed that my trusty(ish) Windows 98SE really doesn’t get on with disk drives bigger than 64GB; in fact, it downsizes them by 64GB. So the hunt was on for a small hard disk.

It’s hard not to be superstitious when, only the other day, I said to a colleague, “It’s a shame to throw out these old 20GB and 40GB hard drives. Theoretically they’re still useful, but when you’ve got a pile of 120 and 200GB ones lying around, there’s not much point keeping them.” Hmmm…

And, since our disks sit in credit card servers, or computers of unknown heritage, a secure delete is appropriate. And if they’re destined for the bin, the quickest form of secure delete is a cold chisel and a 2.5lb lump hammer (it’s great on glass-platter drives - you can hear the shattered platters rattling around inside!).

Fortunately, I found a new 40GB drive and, even though I’d made the stupid mistake of putting my disk images in another partition of the drive that failed (STUPID! I was trying to save space on my main music drive… as if I’m going to fill up 120GB in the near future!) I managed to rescue an older disk image and my studio is back!

I’d almost given up and was planning to move to an Apple laptop and abandon 15 years of compositions. I even almost won a bid on a Macbook the hour before; I think I’m glad I didn’t now, though a laptop may be on the cards anyway; All these virtual instruments and effects are tempting, and my 2.66Ghz PC has a bit of trouble keeping up with more than one track of LinnPlug’s Albino if I’m using one of the more extravagant sounds.

But it’s all about the Yamaha SW1000XG. I’d miss that, with its hardware effects and hundreds of instruments, and enough basic tweakability (through Greg Gregson’s XGEdit software) to keep me interested without getting lost in FM generators and the like.

Moving away from the tech-ness, just one more equipment name-drop, an Edirol FA-66 has moved in, and my troublesome Lexicon Omega has been kicked out, via eBay, to someone who reckons they can persuade it to improve its behaviour. The FA-66 is a (so far) lovely sound interface which will work with my studio mic over the much better Firewire interface and, best of all, has a hardware “limiter”, which prevents the horrible crackling of digital distortion when I inevitably sing or play too loud, which has caused the demise of many a fine recording session.

I’m recording for The Silva Temple’s new album, sending files to our main studio via Microsoft’s “sky drive” online storage. We’ve now played the Fleece, and a number of videos from the event can be seen on YouTube. I’m invisible behind everyone else in most of them, but I can be heard on percussion, violin and low-D whistle (not all at once). Look for “the silva temple”.

Coming up is some informal playing at Chandra’s “hand-fasting” to her fella, more gigs with Silva Temple, and Chandra soon I hope, and I’m working on a new song which is coming together more easily than “Monster” (still unfinished). Also I’m either trying to revive Electrosonica.org, or arrange some support slots for myself to perform somewhere.

I’ve been doing some community work too: recording and processing samples for the Thornleigh Road Dalek in Bishopston. Maybe I’ll get a video of that up some time. [I DID! HERE IT IS!]

Lastly, the Lights video above: I sold some old light bulbs on eBay, and liked the pictures so much that I though they deserved some music. The photos were animated in After FX, which I’ve long wanted to learn, but rarely have a good excuse to use. And for the music, it’s nice to know I can still knock out a throwaway piece without too much effort or trauma. It’s a reverbed Strat played in reverse, SW1000XG and an Albino arpeggiator sound. Enjoy the summer!

February 2011 - Musical Reviewer and forthcoming gig

My latest scheme! For ages I’ve been meaning to review some of my favourite and not-so-favourite pieces of musical (and other) equipment. At last I’ve done it, at Random Reviews, one of the many arms of my Creative Media enterprises. Good pictures, independant opinion and no… actually there is advertising. But this isn’t one of those fake pages that shows up on Google as a review but is really a page of adverts. Take a look. If you like it, pop over to one of the advertiser’s links and it’ll help fund my endeavours.

And I’m playing violin, whistle and percussion with new band The SIlva Temple on the 15th February at the Louisiana. Do come if you can.

January 2011 - Temple trees

EDIT: How could I forget my latest Jumping Cats music and video (this time in glorious HD)?! An homage to Eddie VH, featuring Yamaha SW1000XG, Albino virtual synth and Korg EA1.

I’m a drummer! Well, drummer/violinist/whistlist actually, with a new band called The Silva Temple. Patrick Thornhill leads on acoustic guiter and vox, with Ralph on electric guitar with a BILLION pedals, and Jeanette on a brand new electric cello. I’ve customised my darabuka into an electro-acoustic one, which gives scope for a few unnatural sounds.

Our first gig will be on 15th February at the Lousiana in Bristol, but I’m also planning to play more with Chandra Moon, other musicians, and maybe even on my own in 2011.

September 2010 # 2 - Linx and loops

African Linx logo

A recommendation! Rather than buy an expensive looping pedal, use a laptop. But looping forays have been a bit hit and miss - doing some research for Jacques, a Robin had me trying to work out how I’d ever got Super Looper and Jack Pilot to work, and I couldn’t get a peep out of it. So I had a go at Livid Looper, which ran like a slug (on an old 667Mhz OS X 10.4 Titanium laptop, to be fair) and all I could get was monitoring of the input - preference windows took so long to appear that it took ages to try out different settings.

So some more online searching brought me to Mobius, available in Windows and OS X flavours, and as VST plugin and “audio unit” for OS X. Runs nice and quick, and I was up and looping fairly soon without the need of a manual. No built in FX that I could see, but 8 channels each with 4 loop options, keyboard control, sensible interface (not full of impractical shaded knobs, sliders and fake 7 segment displays…!). And runs nice and quick. It makes you wonder how other programmes that pretty much do the same thing are so sluggish.

Speaking of such, I’m just back from the African Linx festival I mentioned earlier, raising funds for a music festival in Kartong, Gambia. I’ve been using the “Fisher Price” Garageband as a sound source to embelish the piano sounds. It overheated the poor old Mac a couple of times in rehearsals, but care taken with sleeping the laptop before the set meant it kept its cool and worked very nicely. A great set with Chandra at the Brasenose Arms, as well as some stunning other musicians outside in the field earlier on.

September 2010 - A proper blog at last!

Chandra’s been repeatedly demanding the ability to comment on my posts. So this morning, at last, I’ve been busy programming at 6am, ignoring our cat’s demands for food and writing my commenting function! (php, for those interested).

Other than that, I rode up Troopers Hill in the rain with a guitar on my back last week to play an enjoyable Songwriters’ Showcase with Mark Darkside (thanks Mark for organising), Jacques a Robin, Damian Polley, Jason Mince, Karl Stewart and Sue Mara. And I’m playing a fund-raiser in Cropredy with Chandra on the 25th September, trying out some laptop enhancement to the piano sounds on my Roland. When I tell people I’ve played Cropredy Folk Festival, I’ll just hope they don’t ask if it’s the Cropredy Folk Festival!

Also, some of my songs may feature on the playlist at an artists’ event: thestrangerattheparty.co.uk.

July 2010 - New pop video… at last!

2 years in the making, 2 countries, four counties and four cameras, “The Man Who Planted Trees” video is finally here!

The idea began during a day as a camera operator in a park, nabbing some nice tree pictures and thinking “I could use these for a pop video”, so I nabbed a few more.

Time passed. I gradually collected some extra footage together, some useless, and some disastrous (where the camera failed to work). Klaus Huber agreed to be the “man on a journey”, but plans to incorporate an actor to play The Man himself were dropped. A holiday in France provided lots of material, from Mt Aigoual in the Cevennes, where, in the late 19th century, there was a real “Man Who Planted Trees”; Georges Fabre, who led a team reforesting the area with millions of trees.

Some of the “old” footage is shot on a real Super 8 film camera courtesy of Charlie Blackfield, and other parts use a stills-camera-with-video, re-graded for a cine look.

Most of the tree shots use a Canon XM2 DV camera, and the singing is shot with a Canon 550D. Footage was conformed to 25 fps using QuickTime Pro and the edit was done in a 2 and 5 hour editing session in Premiere Pro.

Even with so much footage, it felt like a struggle getting a good edit, and maybe choosing my longest song was a mistake for my first video (and “All Along The Watchtower” managed to sneak in and get released first.

But I’m glad it’s over! I hope you like it.

June 2010 - Sacrilegious String Scavenging

Violin scroll with guitar machine heads attached
The customised violin.

I’ve become tired of my violin sproinging out of tune every time it gets moved around or knocked on stage (or even when it gets too hot or cold). So, thanks to the generous Elodie and Bristol FreeCycle, I’ve acquired a set of guitar machine heads which I customised with drill and saw to (almost) perfectly fit my violin. It might be sacrilegious to wooden-pegged violin traditionalists, and not exactly pretty, but it works for me!

I can even (proper string players shut your ears) detune the violin easily to play in those hard-to-reach keys without having to forgo those beloved open strings!

The customised violin has its first outing tonight (9th June), playing backing for Mark Gartside at Tantrika, Porter Cellar Bar, Bath.

February 2010 #2 - New MP3 with a cats (sic) of thousands

As promised earlier this month, I’ve got the mix of the new song completed, and it’s ready to download for your listening pleasure!

Believe employed the use of two hands (palms, two thumbs and four fingers), a CD case, crinkly plastic, a frying pan screen, a wine glass and fish slice, a violin × 4, Paddy × 8, a metal tray and a cat, plus all the usual electronic bits and pieces. See November 08 blog below for a bit more about the early recording session.

I’ve been putting off the hated mixing session for ages, but a few sessions recording the vocals, harmonies, more instruments, tweaking, adding and subtracting got me to an end that I’m happy with. I hope you’ll like it too.

The picture embedded in the mp3 is one that I made as a Christmas card, but I thought it appropriate for this song. And the song’s about whether believing in goodness, fairy tale happy endings, fate, and heaven is a good idea, or whether we’ve all been deluded by some evil evil people…

February 2010 - Hoover music and more writing and recording

Here’s some silliness for you! On Burns Night I decided that Henry Hoover looked too much like bagpipes to not be made into a bagpiping video. So I tuned up to the hoover drone and recorded some Juno 1 in mono mode to simulate the monophonic constantly-sounding bagpipe (it’s hard to play without letting any gaps in!) and recorded some violin and synth and drums to go with them. I did the video (in my Creative Media guise) with After FX and Premiere Pro. Lots of fun!

On the more serious side, I spent a snowy day at home writing some horror sounds (a bit distorted but will be ok when they’re down in the mix) and a “happy tune” for a film called “The Box” by the young people at eShed.net.

I’ve also written three backing tracks for songs I’ll be doing live with Mark Darkside. And I’m currently doing the final mix for Believe, which should be available on the music page before the end of the month.

Also this month, I’ll be having a jam in Reading for a 40th birthday, and recording some music with Jacques - A Robin.

December 09 - A pop video!

I’ve wanted for ages to make a pop video, and I’ve been shooting bits and pieces for a couple of years, but not got anything finished yet (yes, I know I’ve been promising The Man Who Planted Trees for ages now!). So, one morning in September I went up to the BT tower at Pur Down with a perculiar mirror and a DV camera and wandered (and even danced!) around. After capturing the video onto computer, it was split up into individual images, converted from perculiar-mirror-shape to ultra-wide, cropped, contrasted and effected, then re-combined into a movie format. Lots of editing later, it’s done! See it on the music page, along with my extra verse.

In the studio, I’ve got fed up with getting neck-ache every time I do any music work (thanks to bad ergonomics). So I found a monitor stand in a charity shop, built a new trestle for my makeshift Giant Desk (made out of a door), took out all the long leads I installed a while back, and moved the computer. The room somehow feels longer.

And I’ve been using it! I recorded a backing track for one of Mark Darkside’s songs, and have started work on a second.

On the live side, I’ve played violin and tambourine with Jacques (a Robin) in Bath. On the web side, I’ve at last made this into a proper blog that you can subscribe to.

November 09 - Small soiree vs sizable screen success!

Electrosonica 2 went ahead eventually in the cosy Café Kino. Cosy was good, because I was unable to summon many people to watch, but a good time was had, I think. I filled the first slot, unable to find any more electronic musicians, then Alex H performed a nice set of chilled funkiness, followed by We Are Your’s, who clearly needed more room for their dark techno!

Working where I do, I was asked to provide music for a trailer for Watershed’s ElectricDecember.org, which I did at short notice - I only wish I could record my own songs with such motivation! I used two capos on the guitar (one upside-down to cover only certain strings) for the almost-"DADGAD" (the folk guitar tuning) tuning, one of my Susato whistles, 4 tracks of violin, my “fake drums” kit and some synths.

I used the wonderful free Audacity software and a laptop (instead of Cubase) for all the audio recording this time, and it was wonderfully trouble-free and buzz/click/hum free too. Everything went across to Cubase on the PC later for the drums, mixing and MIDI stuff. Will remember that for next time!

Not only is it on YouTube, but (apparently) it’s going on the BBC’s big outdoor screen in Millennium Square here in Bristol for a month. I should be sending off the DVD to them today.

Other news is that I did do film footage for All Along the Watchtower (as promised last month), and I’ve got about ¾ through the editing, though I’m worried I’m running out of useful footage now. It will be on youtube (and here) when it’s done.

September 09 - French films, failed fixtures and filming forecasts

Hmmm - so much for Electrosonica #2: a mixup at the venue meant it was cancelled. But I did have a good chat to We Are Yours and Miriam, and we’re keen to continue hatching plans for more live electronica in Bristol. And they’re all keen to re-schedule the gig.

I’m still working on pop videos, and have even filmed some footage in France this month for The Man Who Planted Trees, and I will (I will!) do a speedy shoot for All Along The Watchtower tomorrow, which will entirely be carried by the clever video technique I’m going to use (and the great song too, of course!)

Also I’ve acquired some harmonising technology, which might make the recording end of things a bit quicker.

July 09 - Jumpin’ Cats!

I’ve got a few songs floating around, clamouring to be written. I listened to a load of progressive house and a Dave Seaman set yesterday on last.fm, and was woken up by the bleep-bleep-bleep alarm of an off-the-hook phone this morning; I was dreaming about being visited by one of my musician heroes and playing a riff on an old upright piano, and the alarm was kind of in the background, so I got up and put it into Cubase before I forget it. I might consider it to be dull on the next listen, but it might turn into something…

A riff I’ve probably been humming for years might finally be turning into a song: I’m going all pretentious with 6/8 and 7/8 time, and the song’s starting to find lyrics about all those metaphors about life being a battle etc being misunderstood by people who want to make it more physical. I’ve done a test version, unsaved apart from the final audio (big risk during the process… will it crash?) and have used it on a short video of our cat Lucinda doing some jumping (see this YouTube video). She already appears in the audio for Believe. And the purring at the end is the ring tone I made of her for my partner’s phone.

Electrosonica #2 is coming, but it won’t be until September. I’ll set a date soon, and decide whether to hog one of the sets for me again, or find some other musicians. We Are Yours should be playing.

May 2009 - Two blogs in one month!

Electrosonica was a success! And Café Delight are up for us doing another one. A few technical hitches, but the audience enjoyed it, and I met Simon the Lunarian and the guys from We Are Yours, both of whom I hope will appear in Electrosonica #2 or #3. Big thank-yous to Amias and Mark Darkside for performing for a pittance at ES #1

A painstakingly slow chunk of work on American Movies the night before almost had me giving up the idea of getting it ready to perform, but I made some loops to throw together and cut‘n’paste through the song, then thought “sod the noise - I’ll just record it as it comes, mains hum and all, else I’ll never get it ready…”. I did a chunk of work in the evening, then some more at around 6am, and a low-tech record into Audacity on the laptop at 7.30 gave a beautiful noise-free recording (unless you count -50db as noise). I was amazed!

May 2009 - Electrosonica!

Playing a ladder
“African drums”!

So much has happened since the last blog! I’ve finally arranged a music night for music I like, and I’m playing at the first one next week. Electrosonica will hopefully continue as an occasional night, featuring 3 electronica artists performing a decent length of set.

I’ve also helped do the soundtrack for “Popping to the Shop”, by German maker of quirky super 8 films, Charlie Blackfield. I’m about to record an African-style drum track for Mark Darkside using, amongst other things, a wooden ladder.

American Movies has come together lyrically, and several failed musical attempts (where I loved it the first time, then hated it the second) have ended up as a bearable start to a backing. Sadly my attempts at scary music always seem to end up sounding fairly benign.

I’m also getting ideas to “electrolise” an old guitar song. And of course, at least two other songs are floating around, demanding attention…


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March 2009 - Things in Spring

Slow progress (as usual), but a few things are planted. Firstly, I’ve increased my store of musical devices: At the sublime end is an Akai Headrush pedal, which gives me toe-tip control over live echo effects, and also allows me to build loops live on stage, which I’m planning to use for my new song American Movies. American Movies has been regularly tapping me on the mental shoulder for months and I’ve recently grabbed it and forced-fed lyrics into it to shut it up!

At the ridiculous end is a Cajon (“Ka Honn”), Spanish for “crate”: these are wooden boxes with wires attached that sound like a bass and snare drum on the cheap. Well, I’ve really gone on the cheap by making one out of an old microwave!

Chandra is gradually leaving Bristol, so I’m looking for different music projects to make sure I keep playing live: I’ve done a gig with Suzy Condrad (watch footage), and am jamming with Mark Darkside and Amias Channer.

And, most exciting thing last, I’m planning to start up Electrosonica, a night especially for electronic music performers. For more information, see Electrosonica.org.uk.


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January 2009 - The Flu!

I’ve been ill ill ill with the flu… twice, and have done very little musically over the winter. But I’ve finally got my cover of Fever onto the AUDIO&LYRICS music page (I was up early this morning with a big bottle of meths doing a photoshoot for the mp3 album art!), and I’m planning some days off to do some recording.

Chandra’s running off to Africa for a while, so I’m putting out feelers for gigs.

Oh, and happy new year!


Comments

“So looking forward to doing more gigs in 2011 if we can!”

December 2008 - A lilac-er shade of white

Not any music to report this time, in fact my piano is still in its bag since the last gig! But a request from a site visitor with Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome has led to the site being changed to a very pale lilac. Hopefully that’ll help.

I’ve also found a “VST MIDI Chopper plugin”. For those not in the know, Cubase (the “sequencer” that I use to programme music into my synths) allows extra features (“plugins”) to be added: The chopper enables me to record a sound, then use the keyboard to rhythmically mute the sound, previously a long-winded process requiring plugging wires into an external piece of euipment, unplugging other things, and getting a pretty bad recording at the end.

I’m going to a “musicians’ party” next week - hopefully I’ll pick up some tips and contacts for getting gigs.

November 2008 - A not-very-busy winter

A cat
My latest instrument!

A web design project is taking up lots of my spare early morning time and energy, so I’ve not been overly busy on the music. But Fever is close to being released; the mix isn’t absolutely perfect, but gremlins have struck again, and I’d have to re-record chunks of it to fix any of the problems, and then I’ never get it out!

I’ve written a new song - Believe - all about my fairy-story outlook on life; how kind people deserve happy endings, etc. Inspired by the like of Imogen Heap, I did most of the percussion with finger clicks and hand claps, a frying pan fat-guard and a CD case. Other sounds were from smashing a posh Habitat wine glass with a Prestige fish slice (only the best “instruments” for me - actually, the glass had a broken stem, and my repair attempts had failed), some crinkly plastic and our cat Lucinda.

I’ve had a gig too, at Mr Wolf’s: backing Chandra Moon, and also three songs of my own - Believe, Hanging in the Air, and Fever. You can see the live video on the audio page and there will be some photos on the picture page too.

I may be playing once more this year with Chandra, and I’m also down to play something festive at the office party. And some wassailing might be on the cards at an orchard in Street. All very acoustic and traditional!

September 2008 - Trials, Triubulations and Tiny Triumphs

Paddy Uglow in the studio
6AM in the studio…

I had a big chunk of the weekend to myself: ‘An ideal opportunity to make some progress on the music’, I thought. But some niggly Technical Troubles took up a lot of my time and emotional energy and had me shouting and yelling like a proper tortured artist! In my cover of Fever, everything I recorded would vanish when I tried to edit it, though the sound file would still be there, so I’ve taken up residence in the forum of a good sound technology magazine to look for help. I also recorded a ‘beatbox’ style test track, partly inspired by a Bristolian performer I saw the other day, to try to find the problem. It might even find its way onto this site!

Fortunately, the problem’s only happening in Fever, and my Man Who Planted Trees work had more success: I found I’d already recorded a vocal and Clarke’s C whistle track, and my D whistles slowed down (by precisely -10.91% - see my last blog) perfectly. I like it a lot, and… I’m planning a pop video for it! Listen to the audio version on the AUDIO&LYRICS page.

On the web site front, I need to sort out audio on the music page. Hopefully I’ll have that done soon; I’ve got some ideas on how to do it (did I mention I’m also a web designer? See www.creativemedia.org.uk) so that page will go through some changes.

Take care y’all!

September 2008 - Slow progress

Tin whistle collection
The Penny / Tin / ? whistle collection

Argh! I wish I could motivate myself better: I end up just spending only an hour or two a week recording or writing, often very early in the morning. I’m adding some Low D whistle to The Man Who Planted Trees, which I’m intending to make a pop video for. Musos amongst you might notice that ‘Trees’ is actually in C, not D. So I’ve speeded up the backing track to pitch it in D, recorded the whistle, and when I’ve finished doing the mixing on the whistles track, I’ll slow it back down to C. A test recording sounded good, so I hope my efforts aren’t wasted!

I’m also planning to film a “studio tour”, though all this web stuff on top of the music feels a bit overwhelming!

August 2008 - New studio, bassist, a gig(!) and becoming a “fan”

I’m still working with Chandra Moon, and now we also have Barry on an interesting electro-acoustic stand-up bass. And I’ve done my first set of my own material, with flute and guitar from Chandra, at a gig in the Café Delight. It went well enough for me to plan for more.

Sound reduction system
Take your noises and get out of the studio!

The studio has had a massive re-arrangement, involving some scavenging and my only (so far) IKEA trip: I got tired of trying to get the PC quiet enough to enable me to use a microphone in the same room, other techniques using different recording devices seemed too time-consuming and complicated, as did moving myself and the mic out of the room in order to record. So, a fortuitous find of a thrown-away TV/video unit on wheels saw me splashing out on a mile of wires, and now the PC rolls out of the room whenever I need to record. And a new bed to put it under.

The first time I used it, I found the vital MIDI connection between the computer and the instruments had failed, and I totally despaired! After a bit of screaming and shouting (and double-checking) I found where the wires had come unplugged, and everything was fine!

I’ve also converted my spare bed, with the help of an IKEA unit and a thrown-away bedstead from across the road, into a dizzying 6 foot high platform bed with lots of storage space for equipment boxes underneath. When I sleep on it, I’m always afraid it’s going to crack and I’ll plummet to my doom!

Musically, I've discovered the band Frou Frou and Imogen Heap. After initially assuming it was a musician-plus-girl type of setup, I was impressed to find that she, like me, is a do-everything-yourself type of musician, writing music in a similar genre to mine. Part of me wonders whether I could have done what she has if I’d taken the risk of being a full time musician, but I think it wouldn’t have suited me and I’m probably best off doing what I do. I am very envious of her sound-making/tweaking skills and patience, which I’ve given up trying to emulate. The talents aren’t wasted on her, and I’ll just stick with doing what I’m good at!

November 2007 - A new start

The rest of summer 2007 was spent on a project that didn’t work out, but now I’ve got in touch with singer-songwriter Chandra Moon. A long-time drummer and flautist, she’s discovered she can write songs and has decided to make a full-on album! For the launch, she needed a guitarist, but I persuaded her a keyboardist would be better. So I’m going to be doing some gigs and the big launch event with her. She’s also interested in playing some backing on some of the material I wrote for LittleMy.

June 2007 - Bad news!

Bad news! Menekse’s had to drop out because of work pressure. So I’m looking for someone to work with again, ideally a singer/songwriter. If you like what you hear on AUDIO&LYRICS, can remember the 80s, can sing in tune and have some ideas for songs, get in touch!

May 2007 - Online

We’ve got a website! You’re on it! I’ve just had a bit of a battle making the music player work, but I think I’ve got it. When I finally got it to play something, it came out at twice the speed, but I’ve sorted that out now. We’ll have to decide whether to make full songs available on the music page, or whether to be all commercial and sell them on CDs. Quite often, people want CDs anyway, while others (like me) have huge collections of mp3 files.

Speaking of music, yes, it’s getting there. We’ve had two recording sessions so far (3 vocal tracks recorded each time!) and then me taking a few weeks before I’ve got them all put together with the music. We’re also sorting out some audio backing tracks so I don’t have to lug a pile of temperamental (and heavy) computer gear around to gigs. So is it cheating to use a backing track? I say “no!” Not only have I written the lyrics and music, I’ve played all the instruments, done the recording and mixing, and am playing the piano bit live. That’s a lot more work than when I’m in singer-songwriter mode, strumming away at a solo guitar. When people say “Ahh, the computer does it all…” I reply “No it bloody well doesn’t!”.

(Rant over).

April 2007 - New songs

We’ve added another cover to our repertoire: Fever, which I’ve pushed into four-on-the-floor techno. I’ve been inspired by groups like Starecase to put more effort into effects and tweaks, so am spending hours on the drum tracks, adding little echoes and reverses. We’ve also got a name! I’m very into children’s books, and I thought something from The Moomins would be nice. Little My is a mischievous character who has lots of fun without getting all stressed about things. I guess we’d all like to be a bit like that – the archetypal iconoclast.

With all this “mySpace” and “My Computer” and such going on right now, having a little-er “my” might not be such a bad idea; I’m sure I can find some more meaning in this name, but I can’t quite wring it out…

March 2007 - A new house

The studio
The new studio in situ

I’ve moved house: there used to be a very bad (and very loud) drummer living next to my music room (even the people across the road are complaining about him!). Now I’ve got a lovely end-of-terrace with thick curtains, so home-recording is a lot more feasible. I’m using Cubase 3.7 on Windows 98 (retro all the way!) and have just bought a software synth (Albino 3 VST synth from Linplug, for those interested) which is great for making the squeaky noises without me having to fiddle around with external equipment, and it’s got nice effects and other things that automatically line up with the music speed. I’ve used the demo for a while, but put off buying the full version: since my last band fell through shortly after buying a new keyboard, I’m a bit superstitious about buying new stuff!

I also use a Roland Juno1 and U220, Korg EA1 (which I very nearly sold, but decided to keep whilst recording a demo mp3 for the eBay advert!), Giga Studio (another old version) and a Yamaha SW1000XG card.

January 2007

It’s going well, and looks like this duo will be a goer, though we still don’t have a name yet. In previous bands I’ve often been the singer, so have forgotten how hard it is to teach singing, particularly harmonies. I’ve worked out a few of my songs that we can do, and a few covers too: Fake Plastic Trees and All Along The Watchtower. Of course, I’ll be doing these a good bit different than the originals!

December 2006 - Musical connections

Someone’s got in touch with me! I met Menekse at Watershed and it turns out we almost know each other: she works in film (which I work on the fringes of) and organises the Cineformations events at Watershed. She demonstrated her singing by doing karaoke to a Lamb track off their website! We’re having a go at a rehearsal in January.

July 2006 - Dumped!

I’m without a band again; never a good situation for a musician, and it’s hard to find people that want to do the same kind of thing as me, as well as being people I can get on with.

Having done “indie eclectic”, punk, singer-songwriter and so on, I want to go back to the eighties and some of those great keyboard bands, Depeche Mode, Soft Cell, Everything But The Girl (really liked their Walking Wounded album). Most of the electronic stuff these days seems to be mass-produced pop or dance music that’s great at a club, but not something you’d want to go and watch.

I’d like to be performing real songs but with some of that techno energy. I’m currently hunting around on Musofinder.com, a kind of “dating agency for musicians”. It’s all a bit scary: what if I meet someone and we don’t get on (or who can’t play) and have to tell them “don’t call us…”? I don’t want to let just anyone loose on my “masterpieces”!