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Here you can find links to free music, videos and literature by Mike Dickson, Systems Theory, Greg Amov and the Ashley-Dickson Immersive Experience.


Journal

14th November 2021: That's the basic tracks for Libra more or less mapped out now. So much to do in review, though. It has a LOT of rough edges to it.

Nice one from this guy:

Returning once again to The King In Yellow. Utterly extraordinary stuff.

9th November 2021: Wallowing in favourites last night. One in particular stuck out. Anyone who can write this gets a prize from me: "The Bard of my birth with his ballet / Walked the wild worlds in the chase / For the black chested canary / Who as a moose can sing bass." I mean come on...that is something else.

5th November 2021: Libra bashing ahead apace. Up to 08 now, this one being the strongest of them all. However, listening to the unbalanced version of the track nearly blew my head off. I've dusted off the microKorg again and recorded some of this, only to find that the levels were pushed to levels which, whilst not exactly poking at distortion, were certainly hinting at fractured eardrums. To be rebalanced. Also some monster white noise/whining from the Mellotron again...

Enjoying today's release of this very much indeed right now...

Extraordinary playing. Some of these songs are stupidly powerful. I don't think you can write a better song than Pyramid Song.

Also revisiting these brutes...

I wish I wish I wish they had stuck at this, rather than treat it as research and development for the greater Crim as I think they outstrip anything they did. There is a degree of wit and invention here that most bands would slay for. For them to turn out this kind of thing, then come at us as The Greater Crim with something at weak as The Construkction of Light was really such a deep disappointment.

This one may be even better.

26th September 2021: Libra 03 fell off the keyboard last night. Weird. This one needs some work, though.

Very much enjoying The Daily Doug where a 'proper' composer gets to break down various bits of rock music. He has scarily accurate pitch, but I suppose that should be less of a surprise than it is. A good place to start is his breakdown of Close to the Edge by Yes. Those with less patience should skip to the pipe organ section where his reaction is priceless.

25th September 2021: Libra 02 fell off the keyboard last night. For some reason, it felt exceptional.

Today's pet peeve: places that not only make you sign up to give you free software (which I can understand) but who also want to invade your ground by installing absurdly complicated installers that you need to be able to pull the software down. Why can't I just download the MSI/EXE/ZIP whatever and do it myself? Because you're twats, that's why.

(I excuse the rather wonderful Spitfire Audio Labs from this criticism because (a) I can see why they do it, and (b) they are not twats)

'I don't have pet peeves - I have major psychotic fucking hatreds.' ? George Carlin

19th September 2021: Mandala is released. Listening to it all through makes it sound far more coherent than I had previously thought.

Got to the of Libra 01 to my (eventual) satisfaction. This one has about four sets of eyebrows on it, and a heap of balancing to keep down the distortion... It also feature two samples (suitably Spleetered and transformed beyond all recognition) from a band that I would happily say I loathe on a near-subatomic level.

18th September 2021: How in the name of all that is unholy have I never heard this until today...? This is real singing.

16th September 2021: I had a bus journey today, so I listened to Mellotronworks II and was pretty dismayed by it.

Frankly, it sounds like it was mixed by a tone deaf chimp. Lots of it are FAR too loud, some is very imbalanced, some is simply out of tune and a lot sounds monstrously overcrowded because I somehow felt the need to include every orchestral part in the arrangements. It's simply overdone and underdone at the same time. I'm seriously thinking of removing it completely from the web site. It's that bad. It didn't help that I was recording some pieces that I was familiar with only in part and not (as was the case with its far better predecessor) familiar with all the way from one end to the other.

Some parts work. Other parts fail. A lot sounds rushed. Some parts sounds just so wrong they are not worthy of release.

This bit still works, though...

Review conducted. They are not that bad after all, but some are awful and tend to bring the rest of the album down. These are:

Ride of the Valkyries: Terrible mix, terrible voicing.

Fanfare for the Common Man: Appalling mix, volume far too loud.

Cantus in Memory of Britten: Just sounds like a mush.

Pomp & Circumstance: Bad voicing. Erratic volumes.

All removed pending review....

12th September 2021: Two men for whose music I would die on the barricades: Arvo Part and Anton Bruckner.

Maybe more about Anton later. He's a polarising chap. Mahler once referred to Bruckner as 'Half simpleton; half god.' Also no idea who said this but it's apt: 'Bruckner symphonies are a lot like the pyramids - if they weren't so damn big, no one would give a shit'. Those in any doubt should check out his eighth symphony...My beloved Bruckner.

10th September 2021: Outstanding one from Mr Beato, helped along by a certain Dr. May as well...

9th September 2021: New one planned out and everything. Working title is Libra. Mandala still not yet finished, but this one has a different feel entirely.

8th September 2021: Going to try and devote some time to listening to Feel Flows now. It's fairly dense listening, though probably nowhere near as dense as listening to an entire CD of them being dragged through to take 67 of a four second phrase heard in the middle of Heroes and Villains, an experience I only recommend for the hardcore, and then only once.

Absolutely love the cover art for these session collections:

Yes...I do remember what I said about them previously...

Three more instruments that I have an ambition to acquire somehow...all of which look like works of art, frankly. And all of which are likely some distance from my bank balance or (more likely) my ambition to locate and house.

Mandala just about done. Ninth track sneaked in thanks to the Ondes. In all moments of doubt, use the Ondes or cellos -- Sun Tzu.

7th September 2021: Live albums, I hear you say?

But there is always one I come back to...

It's so viciously mixed, and so brutally loud that it might be the greatest rock album ever, let alone the greatest live rock album. I remember this (and Live and Dangerous) being acceptable albums to play in 1977 when it looked like another faddish movement was sweeping everything out of its way. Not this one, though. The bigger/longer/fixed up versions are great too, but the original had six tracks, half of which were covers. I think I like the punch of that one better.

6th September 2021: My next adventure around the star we call home begins.

Cannot possibly get sick of this video....

Also went to see these masterpieces again...

'Poussin painted two sets of the Seven Sacraments, the first for Cassiano dal Pozzo, his scholarly and benevolent and patron in Rome, the second for his faithful friend, Paul Freart de Chantelou. The dates of execution for this first set are unknown, but they were not completed until 1642, when the final one was sent by Poussin from Paris to Rome. The paintings of the second series were executed between 1644 and 1648. They belong to the paintings produced during the ten years after Poussin's return to Rome, which were regarded in his own time as his most perfect, and which are now considered to be among the purest embodiments of French classicism.

'The Sacraments, a microcosm of Poussin's art, reveal his working methods. It is known that he kept a small box rather like a miniature theatre, in which he arranged wax models and altered the lighting in order to help him with the layout of his complex compositions. He then made numerous rough drawings, trying out the compositions until the final solution was reached. It is easy to see that all the interior scenes of the Sacraments are arranged like a theatrical tableau, which gives them their curiously static quality and enhances their gravity.' (from the Web Gallery of Art)

2nd September 2021: Having a look at OCS-45 today, which comes from the same stable as yesterday's Pancz:

Again, from their web site: 'OCS-45 Cassette Simulation by Oversampled. This plugin simulates real life cassette tapes. It's been designed to add lo-fi, vintage feel to your sound. It's rich set of controls allow you to tweak settings exactly the way you need to achieve that low fidelity sound. Predefined presets make it easy to find a perfect setting for your sound'

This really does sound like one of those I never knew I even wanted this stuff... moments. Are we nearing the end of the plug-in market at long last? What this is offering you is distortion, wow/flutter, hiss (!) and dropouts. When I got rid of cassettes I gave the sort of sigh of relief that usually accompanies (to draw upon that old comparison again) Scotland finally being kicked out of a major football tournament and not torturing us any longer with arithmetical improbabilities. So why do I even want it back again?

Those who have followed my exploits know that I keep one of these handy for moments of tape compression necessity:

Bounce the digital sounds off the computer, onto tape and back onto computer again == tape compression. As far as I can tell (and I have looked) there is no way on earth to emulate that, and if the tape behaves itself then the job gets done and sounds great. It's not some cutesy way of wobbling the mechanism or giving it that old retro feel - it's a tool to make things sound 'better', at least to my ears. So why on earth subject your work to the weird vagaries of an audio cassette emulation? That makes zero sense to me, unless you really want to do that...and then I have to wonder about the rest of your senses.

(Yes, I know all about the Freakshow plug-ins from before, but they are not emulators of anything...their purpose is to mash up and destroy...ain't the same thing)

1st September 2021:

Having a look at Pancz today:

From their web site: 'Pancz is an audio plugin equipped with a powerful multiband transient shaper, clipping tool, precise waveform analyzer and additional tone manipulation effects. It uses complex audio processing to directly control the shape of the sound. With its convenient waveform window and a 'cut line' you are able to visually manipulate the sound making it look and sound the way you want it to. Additional sets of controls will bring your sounds to life making them feel polished and professional.'

No demo of the software available as far as I can see though, but the demos of the sounds on the web site do sound pretty compelling. This one may end up on the latest project.

31st August 2021: Another inspiring day. Mandala 08 just fell off the keys today.

30th August 2021: A day of inspiration. Mandala 06 and Mandala 07 have fallen into shape at long last and both are now exactly where I want them to be. Sometimes it just takes a re-listen, or a re-think. Other times it just takes a load of cellos.

Also having a look at Ubuntu Studio which certainly shows some amount of promise. More about this later, I think...

The only down side so far - and I grant you, it's pretty major - is that I cannot get it to recognise the audio hardware that Virtualbox sets up, but there are VB Ubuntu Studio images out there for download so I may have a bash at one of them instead...

Update: Of course, you cannot use VSTs directly in Linux as these are Windows code libraries. Thinking that there must be something I could do I did a bit of research and found that there exists something called LinVST which will bridge the gap between the two. Awesome. Off to Github to see about this where I am greeted with the following: '32 bit vst's running under the 64bit LinVst versions need a distros multiarch to be enabled (sudo apt-get install gcc-multilib g++-multilib for Ubuntu/Debian)'. And this, dear reader, is why this wonderful venture has about as much chance of success as Scotland at the next World Cup Finals. Binned with sadness.

Update: As if confirmation was even needed....

29th August 2021: Goodbye to another fabulous guy.

From Popbitch: Heart of Stone - Charlie Watts: a tribute

P writes:

"I invited some family to see the Stones on their Bigger Bang Tour. Charlie Watts used to eat in Crew Catering and would just chum around with whomever, so I warned my family not to freak out if he walked in (and also not to eat any of the food, as that's the crew's only chance to eat).

"They were sitting quietly when Charlie Watts walked in. He clocked they were someone's family and asked would they mind if he sat down with them. He chatted with them and asked if they wanted any food. They explained they understood it was for working crew only etc. 'Oh,' he said, 'but there's plenty. There's always leftovers, and the desserts are exceptional.'

"He got up, filled a few plates and served it to them. He then excused himself and said 'I've got to get to work,' then smiled, '...you know'...pointing to the direction of the stage."

Excellent spot on Charlie Watts detailed here.

21st August 2021: I will likely be the 25 millionth person to report on this, but...I have just been playing with Spleeter and am, frankly...blown away.

What does it do? Well...it unbakes the cake. Take the following example of one of my favourite ever songs from Berlin by Lou Reed:

Spleeter then applied to the audio track allows you to separate out the vocals, drums, bass, piano and everything else. Find that hard to believe? So did I. So here is what happened when I applied Lou Reed's song to Spleeter and hauled out the vocal track:

Clean it up a bit using Izotope RX5...

And put it through an EQ and a light compressor plugin...

Holy jumping shitballs....

17th August 2021: Mandala 06 is one of those tracks that is very very hard to stop tinkering with. here is also an oboe passage on it which is half improvised and half...well...another tune which 'fell under my fingers' as I was playing. It's staying for now. That may change, of course.

Re-reading The Trial by Franz Kafka for the second time since I was about 15. It's like reading about everyday life as it is now. And he meant it as a satire on the civil service where he worked. These days we are all Josef K.

14th August 2021: Mandala coming along nicely after some initial stuttering and complete lack of ideas and zero progress. Once again, Dune rides to the rescue...

I am also thinking of putting these stupidly amusing VSTs into action for the first time...

12th July 2021: Sorry, but screams of laughter aimed at the England pundits...

But to clarify - nothing to do with the players (and who the hell ever asks a 19 year old to take a must-score or we are out penalty in front of millions of people?) and everything to do with the braying voices, the boot boys, the presumptuous pundits and the press who have nowhere left to turn to.

8th July 2021: Mandala 01 probably close to completion. It reminds me of some things I did with voices during the Waves project. It sounds properly atmospheric. Mandala 02 currently in the throes of birth. The plan for this one is serious discord.

Also been pissing around with Acid Pro 9.x again, just out of a sense of curiosity. The interface is good and the control over plug-ins is excellent: far less fiddly than with Reaper. The problem is that the plug-ins don't always work, load or report issues. Their answer is to buy Acid 10. They must be joking. A sense of humour drove me to their support web site. The first thing I see is entitled What Have They Done Now?: I'm in the middle of 3 projects and accepted the update for ACID 10 this morning. Now I can't even use the software, either it freezes, crashes or simply won't play the tracks that are loaded. Oh the super loud buzz that accompanies the crashes is just the icing on the cake. You got to be kidding me...and now there is no option to send support a ticket? I entered one and got a message saying it couldn't be saved? What a steaming pile of garbage this turned out to be.

The response is superb: I don't have or use ACID so cannot comment on your experiences with it, however one route to raise a support ticket is via this page. HTH. Jeff, Forum Moderator

5th July 2021: Mandala 01 taking forcible shape. Not sure if this is simply re-fishing old waters though.

27th June 2021: I start up Reaper with a blank canvas. I have no ideas at all. I close it down.

26th June 2021: Microsoft Windows is presently annoying the living piss out of me. If you are doing background shit and I tell you to do something then you should realise that you're taking your orders from me, not some overpaid, coked-up, swivel-eyed son-of-a masturbation stain in Redmond who thinks he knows what I need and want better than I do. Windows 10 started out promisingly enough, but it lapsed into dreadful shittery when I least needed it to. 100% CPU? No problem. 100% disk battering? Hold my beer.

I run everything on an i3 processor, via an Acer Aspire E15. It used to be great. Now every W10 update demands more and more resources to do what I can only detect as doing next to no good to my system at all. Why should I have to keep updating my hardware simply because MicroFuckingSoft cannot get it right? If I could get Reaper and all my VSTs working efficiently on Linux then I would move to it tomorrow. The problem here is that Linux is about as user-friendly to me as Norman Bates was kind to his paying guests.

Reaper does now run pretty well on Linux, which I am surprised about. The bad news is that I have yet to work out how to use plug-ins with this, as all mine are DLLs installed via Windows and I refuse to have to put Wine on something because the whole effing purpose of the exercise is to rid myself of Windows forever, and I know that it's unlikely to happen. This is just another occasion when we have to put up with mediocrity because mediocrity is all we have.

Update: You can use LinVst to load VSTs in Linux it seems. All sounds promising until you see something like this:

If a GLXBadFBConfig error occurs (check daw errors, it may happen with Kontakt and maybe with other plugins and certain video and mesa systems) add MESA_GL_VERSION_OVERRIDE=4.5 to ~/.pam_environment (create the file if it doesn't exist) and then log out and in or by entering into a terminal export MESA_GL_VERSION_OVERRIDE=4.5 and then start the daw from that terminal.

and then my head melts. It's not that I cannot understand what it's saying. It's that it's all the more effort to get anything to work. The major problem with Linux is that Windows can be used by just about anyone as the OS protects the user from this sort of applied geekery. Linux, on the other hand, seems to revel in shovelling his nonsense your way as though you're in an adventure game. I don't have hours to spare, sadly.

No issues with Reaper, though. It's incredibly compact, very fast and seems to just work. I am still getting e-mails from Magixx about ACID Pro 10 though. It seems to be down to about a third of its full price, which says a lot.

24th June 2021: The very depth of grief. Goodbye, Cottage Cat.

20th June 2021: Next one up is going to be called Mandala. The artwork is quite nice, even if I say so myself.

9th June 2021: On 8th February 2018 I said that what I had done on Oriole was that I had made music that I had never actually heard and never will. I was of course wrong. Ninety percent of what was put together for Oddzial was actually the same. In the sense that this was Music for the Primes what I did for (say) the first movement as to take thirteen primes starting from 29 (29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, and 79) and create individual loops each of which was [n] seconds long, where [n] is one of the preceding primes, each of which was used only once. So (say) track one is bass sequence 29 seconds long, track 2 is a field recording that is 31 seconds long, track 3 is a Mellotron choir loop 37 seconds long, and so on, and obviously keeping all the tuned parts in the same key or a relative key. Then, by looping these all together you will get to a non-repeating pattern which I edited down to 50 minutes exactly, with minute fade in and minute fade out. The recording process took maybe an hour. Maybe twenty minutes to stitch it all together and apply balances, and maybe five minutes to render to WAV and then to high quality MP3. To date, I have never heard it all the way through. The same probably goes for a lot of the other in that project there too. So why do it? Why not?

Also, get this. I like his style in analysis, but the music here is just beyond words. What skill.

6th June 2021: Listening to Music in a Doll's House by Family, an album I have meant to get around to hearing now for years now, but never actually managed to do. I'm actually shocked by how good this is, melodically. I'm still not certain about what the singer is up to ('His vibrato sounded like he was driving a tractor over a ploughed field with weights tied to his scrotum.') but it's certainly musically interesting, if a tad dated. It's trying to sound melodramatic without actually being melodramatic. Strange stuff.

3rd June 2021: Far from discussing the day the music died, let's talk about the day it was born, for me at least.

It was 1980. Those of a certain age will probably remember Sounds magazine, and in particular the back pages which were littered with adverts from sellers of records eager to offload their stocks onto the public by mail order. Masses of pictureless boxed advertising, all in tiny letters which we'd scour to see if the record we had heard of but never actually found during our weekend record shop scourings was actually for sale somewhere. (Those not of the certain age will find it hard to believe the amount of walking and searching one did to find something, but that is another story).

I remember one schoolmate eagerly scanning everything to see if he could get Showdown by ELO, a record that was only seemingly a legend and not just the single of the same name. I was every bit as motivated to find it: not because I really wanted it, but because I fucking hated him. But that's also another story.

I recall being 16, bored, and sitting in an empty car waiting for someone in pouring rain near North Berwick. To amuse myself, I carried on where I had left off the night before, scanning these tiny words in search of that King Crimson record no one else had ever heard of. And then the words caught my eye.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART: TROUT MASK REPLICA - WORDS STILL FAIL US!

Words certain to stir the heart. I made a mental note. I already thought I liked some weird stuff, but the truth is that what I was listening to was only mildly imaginative, with only a few notable exceptions. So the following Saturday I went up town specifically to look for this item. I just had to see it to see just how many words might actually fail me. After trailing through HMV, Phoenix, and GI Records I found it in The Other Record Shop, filed unhelpfully under 'B' (like it was his surname or something). My girlfriend took one look at it and decided that the cover was repellant. And she has a point.

Anything that bizarre had to have something going for it. I opened the gatefold. Frank Zappa's name was on it too. My cousin liked Zappa, and I saw him as some sort of keeper of the weird, so I knew I was onto something. I bought if for about four pounds and carried it home in anticipation on the bus. We got back inside, went straight to the quaintly named sitting room and put it on the record player, turning it up so we could hear it.

My girlfriend liked the Mamas and the Papas and was about to forsake taste for Duran Duran. What came out of the speakers made her think that I had lost all my reason and had joined the forces of darkness.

I adored it. So much so that I played it all the way through and didn't notice she had left the room to talk to my mum who was probably sharing her concerns. After she had gone I played it again. Then again. Then I got up the next morning to remind myself that the record really existed and played it again. I think that weekend I played it all the way through maybe seven or eight times. Not even King Crimson had done that for me. This was a revelation. But there was one flaw: I had no idea what he was saying. None at all. The album had no printed lyrics and only came with plain inner bags. Bugger. No way of finding out either.

Until the next weekend. Back in the record shop I lingered over their books...and there was something I had to get. I just had to....THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

And it had the lyrics inside. Now I could read all about Pena, her little head clinking Like a barrel of red velvet balls full past noise Treats filled her eyes Turning them yellow like enamel-coated tacks. Oh Christ almighty, this made it even better! Interviews too. Some photographs. Some great artwork (as above). Reviews. Yes, it was essentially a step up from a lazily photocopied fanzine in a cover, but it was perfect. And it also contained an advert from some people named Recommended Records who seemed to specialise in the outlandish and the weird. I had to go there. I just had to.

And so I wrote off to them and got back the weirdest stuff I have ever seen. It was a catalogue unlike any other I had seen. It was tiny (A6 size), photocopied, and handwritten. And it seemed to reach into a musical vocabulary that I knew the square root of nothing about. Names of bands that read like another planet had arrived: VAN DYKE PARKS (I thought that was a band) RIO (I thought that was a band too) HENRY COW (I knew they were a band as I had actually sort of heard of them) FRANK ZAPPA (who I had heard of, but then they said that Uncle Meat was the last great album of his 'before the fall'), UNIVERS ZERO, HECTOR ZAZOU, JOHN OSWALD, MAGMA...the list went on. And there was nothing there that I had heard. Not one thing. There was an 'archive recordings' section which featured Trout Mask Replica along with (I was amazed to find) Smiley Smile but there were none of the usual progressive rock touchstones that we have all come to like, lie about to friends, and hide their records when inviting guests round. The records cost a fortune, I have to admit. But then, I wasn't spending it on anything else.

First stop was the second hand market again. Not one of the names on the catalogue were here aside from one band called FAUST. I thought they were named after the play by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. And wow. There was one of their records! The Faust Tapes. That came home with me. I was destroyed with excitement from the first play. It make no sense at all. They could obviously play (kind of) but it was all collages and recordings of telephones and power tools and some stunning piano work and then lyrics that sound like they were written by a Jon Anderson who couldn't speak a word of English. I couldn't get enough of it. No one else I knew got anything of it for a second. Yes! At last! A record to clear the room. Back to the second hand shop a few days later and...there was their first album (ReR pressing, clear vinyl sleeve, inserts, bag and record) and - incredibly - So Far which also had all the inserts and seemed to be completely black. And these were even better! And still no one liked them. Brilliant. This was 'my field'. Mine.

And the lyrics!

  Slow goes the goose

  You see me shoes in your mirror mind

  Quick goes the trick

  I ask your sick sailing sailors blind

  I travel into the tongue

  Ready to drop ding dong is handsome top

  I ask your sick sailing sailors blind

  I travel into the tongue

  Ready to drop ding dong is handsome top

And then it was their ReR subscriptions. Their new recordings. (News from Babel is still a favourite) November Books. The ReR Quarterly, writing to every band in the book and asking them God only knows what (and getting stuff back from them too). And there was of course Steve Moore.

And from there came all of this.

1st June 2021: A seriously weird moment. Not only was I listening (for the first time in ages) to Cabaret 03 for the first time in ages, but (a) I realised I had forgotten huge chunks of it already and, in doing so, (b) listened to it all over again with 'fresh ears'. And I had to check two or three times that it was actually me doing this stuff. Objectively, I thought it was terrific.

None of the movements in it are named, but the one near the middle with the loud string line is something else. Where does this stuff come from?

23rd May 2021: A note on being fabulous:

16th May 2021: A note on style and process:

If a musical point can be made in a more entertaining way by saying a word than by singing a word, the spoken word will win out in the arrangement -- unless a nonword or a mouth noise gets the point across faster.

This frequently occurs when the stage arrangements of old songs get modified to accommodate each new band. The body of the song, the melody line, the words, and the chords remain the same, but all aspects of 'the clothing,' or the orchestration, are up for grabs, based on the musical resources at hand.

With the 1988 band (twelve pieces, including myself), the orchestration was far more luxuriant for some of the older songs than when they were originally recorded, simply because I didn't want to have eleven guys standing around onstage with nothing to do.

Songs written with one idea in mind have been known to mutate into something completely different if I hear an 'optional vocal inflection' during rehearsal. I'll hear a 'hint' of something (often a mistake) and pursue it to its most absurd extreme.

The 'technical expression' we use in the band to describe this process is: "PUTTING THE EYEBROWS ON IT." This usually refers to vocal parts, although you can put the eyebrows on just about anything.

After "the eyebrows," the ultimate tweeze inflicted on the composition is determining The Attitude with which the piece is to be performed. The player is expected to comprehend The Attitude, and perform the material with The Attitude AND The Eyebrows, consistently, otherwise, to me, the piece sounds 'wrong.'

Since most Americans use a personal version of eyebrowsage in their conversational speech, why not include the technique as a 'nuance' in a composition?

A musician may give the 'illusion' during rehearsal that he knows what I want on a certain passage, but the hard part is getting him to do it correctly, night after night on the road -- because after a while, most musicians forget why I told them to do it that way in the first place

-- The Real Frank Zappa Book

I admit to taking a lot of my cues from this man's way of thinking, mostly because it makes a good deal of coherent sense. Incidentally, I am also one of those who think he did his best work up to and including Uncle Meat and then lost the plot in a world of increasing silliness and Flo and Eddie schoolboy sniggering which hardly befits the austere composer he sometimes styles himself as being. That said, the above book is hugely recommended. His taxonomy of the orchestra is just genius.

15th May 2021: Atmospheres 04 is released. Time for a halt.

9th May 2021: Atmospheres 04 fifth movement shaped up very nicely. Eagle-eared (?) listeners will detect the conceptual continuity of the work.

That'll do nicely.

7th May 2021: Atmospheres 04 starting up nicely - almost too easily. The first tune is a typical slow tempo overlaid thing with something that sounds vaguely like The Underworld mixed with minor key noodlings on the flute, dressed up with various electrical burbles, and then bursts into new-found life with a swift kick up to double tempo and percussion that propels it into something else entirely. To separate all this out, I consciously went through every track and identified the sonic ranges they inhabited keeping them apart from one another so they can stand out individually, unless I didn;t want them to. Lots of decisions have to be made doing this sort of thing - a lot more than the listener might expect. I hear eyebrows all over this one though.

The second effort sounds like a chord wash that never really moves anywhere and then promptly does. It comes from a place I seldom visit.

The third is an arpeggiated/Mellotron frenzy that probably stops when the modulations and note sequences hit the on/off beat for the fifteenth time and would maybe drive the audience crazy if kept up any longer. It shows restraint, which is maybe not the first word that occurs when you hear it.

The fourth has that wash again, with that Mellotron oboe. A mate told me it sounded like a cross between a duck and a car horn. I like it. Sounds like Rubicon.

Watching the election results in Scotland. Quiet confidence has given way to a far greater sense of delight.

6th May 2021: Following on from yesterday....

Utterly brilliant. I first heard this in my parents' sitting room in Musselburgh sometime on or around 1976. It was the last of their albums I acquired before A Day at the Races came out. Those were the days of having to search for a record at loads of shops until you found the one you were after. I think this one came from Phoenix Records in the Royal Mile, which was one of the most mysteriously fantastic shops I was ever in: tiny, dark and filled with the most enticing stacked records and hilarious little notes and cartoons and stuff all over the place - it was like going to your mates. My Dad ventured into this place with me and I picked it out straight from the Q rack (which always had records by Quicksilver) and got him to pay for it. Back in the car, studying the lyric sheet, preparing myself for songs I had heard about but never heard.

All the way home to the record player with the home-made amp my cousin Bobby had built and the Wharfedales on their little shelves parked up high near the 16ft ceilings. The needle drops onto the first grooves of the ludicrously named 'side white' and into Procession, then onto the howling ecstasy that is Father to Son.

It was these moments that made me wonder about the power of this stuff. The ability to make me forget about homework.

It was also the time of fabulous album covers, especially when on vinyl:

And then they produced Jazz and everything fell apart. Ho hum.

5th May 2021: Atmospheres 03 has been finished now. I'm not gloriously happy with it, but not as unhappy as I was formerly. A couple of new synths do wonders for the creative powers, you know. More about that later, a promised before. One thing that I have noticed though is the typical synth now that doesn't just let you play it, but seems to play for you. Hit one key: symphony. And I'm not overly fond of that. There are a couple of notable offenders, the worst of which is Genesis Pro which seems to delight in doing a million things under one key whilst at the same time flattening your CPU. I'm not a fan.

Also been rediscovering this garden of earthy delights. I have grown to re-like the opening track, but still dislike everything else on side one with quite a passion. That said, as long as you ignore Prince Rupert silliness at the start of the other side, the music is just breathtaking at times. The Bolero is as glorious now as it was when I first played it in my bedroom when I was seventeen, and the rackety battle sounds are textbook Mellotron, for me.

Doubtless I will come to dislike it again soon, but that day isn't here yet. What I will say though, is that you ought to avoid the Steven Wilson remix. It's an abomination.

Incidentally, anyone with a real interest in where madness lies should look no further than this place where fandom, obsession and a knowledge of the arcane and impressive all seem to collide in what resembles a spectacular mush of despair. Honest to god, it's crazy but so beautiful it's sometimes hard to fault it completely.

The biggest problem with it is that it doesn't make the least particle of sense. (It's also full of busted links elsewhere, which pointed to other former obsessives who either died, grew up or got the help they so badly needed)

Talking of which, in the halcyon days of co-running Elephant Talk with Dan and Toby we got our fair share of special people, but none more special than this sort:

  IT IS THE NUDENESS AND I AM DANNCING LIKE I CRAZY LOON BEING

  HEARING NOW IS VECTOR PATROL AND I AM DANNCING NUDE LIKE I

  CRAZY LOON BEING WITH THIS MEMBER FLAPPING TELLS THIS TIME

  THAT I HAVE NO CLUES STOP NOW TO RELEIVE AND PRAY FORGIVES ME

Makes the rest of it seem refreshingly normal, really.

Back to all things progressive. Has there ever been a more iconic band photograph?

Perhaps, but I doubt there has ever been a more dizzyingly accomplished second album from any band ever. Rediscovering this one all over again. Just utterly and completely sensational stuff.

25th April 2021: And now I just bought this gorgeous beast too.

Lordy, these people make some outstanding stuff. Again, more on this later.

20th April 2021: Atmospheres 03 probably finished. Not sure I like some of it.

On a happier note, I just bought this beauty

More on this later...

18th April 2021: Atmospheres 03 still being examined. Still hugely unsure about it. Some parts of it seem OK, others terrible, others derivative. The most terrible thing about this is that it's derivative of myself.

15th April 2021: Still hammering through Atmospheres. I am actually thinking of halting #3 and revising it completely, perhaps even scrapping the album outright. There is even the possibility that I am going to shelf the project and limit it to two releases. It's wandering off course so much that it's finding its own voice, and in an effort to pull it back on course makes the whole business such a weird hybrid, and not in a good way either.

I'm finding the struggle getting worse and worse. Everything is a trial to pull together and inspiration tends to come in absurd bursts which mean there are great long periods of inactivity and noodling followed by some frantic periods of throwing everything together at once. It's not a great way of working, but without another person to refer to I have no idea if it's common or not.

New album by Godspeed You! Black Emperor which I am still deeply unsure about. Since their hiatus I am deeply unsure if I like them any more, although I probably like this one more than the others. It's all a rackety racket to me now, though. Maybe they are getting out of ideas. Maybe I am getting old. Maybe they are playing to a new audience.

On that note, I am seeing the following live soon:

 

7th March 2021: Atmospheres 02 is now done. Investigating other HTML5 players for the site. Any advice welcomed.

10th February 2021: Atmospheres 01 is done, with the second volume now being composed on the hoof. As I type this I am reminded of the rather damning words '[her writing was unplanned and sprang largely from her unconscious mind: she typed her stories as events unfolded before her' which might apply to me as well, although with far less commercial potential than that of the original subject.

One more day until Adam Curtis' new one is released. Fibrillating. Very good interview with him here.

These films are incredible, following the restoration (and preservation) of an organ in a fabulous rotunda church in the USA. They are a real testament to the fact we still have craftsmen and women among us:

Jump to the last half of the second film for a tour round all the stops. Also, 10/10 for the prize moustache.

Last thing for today: another shoutout for a terrific VST I have just found called YouLean Loudness Meter which promises to be the best loudness meter on the market. There is a lite version which can be had for free:

Something to keep your mixes at reasonable levels and avoid clipping, etc.

30th January 2021: Substantial progress is being made on the Atmospheres front. I have four pieces more or less completed with a fifth hovering in the balance. Also, some ideas are abounding about a literary project. It's all go.

Listening to more Wes Montgomery recently, along with Coltrane and Mingus. Jazz is a weird thing to me. It's like a form of expression that I cannot grasp but somehow manage to follow. I'll never be one of those in the audience marvelling at the sharpened fourths or the wonderful inversions in the augmented fifths, but I sort of get it now. More than that I cannot really say. (I am acutely aware that to talk of jazz as an homogeneous whole is a mistake many make and which I will avoid) I'm afraid of becoming that person who says they don't understand XYZ but they know what they like when they see (or hear) it. That always sounds like someone completely unwilling to learn or even take the least risk. In some ways I prefer people who just flat-out say they tried XYZ and simply don't like it. It's tiring hedging your bets all the time like this, I assume.

Talking of which...

What a time to be alive. I'm sure there will be fuck all coming out of it, but still...

28th January 2021: The development of Atmospheres is raising questions of colour and texture. When is something suitable and when is something an idea to be developed at another time, or in another project? How important is it to group ideas thematically, or should we document the here and now with whatever occurs to us at that time and no other? Is a delayed idea really valid if it has no currency? Cracking through the first section of Atmospheres anyway, mostly because I am back at the Mellotron again and find that it gives me a facility I don't have with any other instrument. There is a Faculty X about the creature that is simply missing from anything else I play. For other instruments, you play them and given them a voice: with this I find it plays me and it gives me that voice.

I had another of those did I really play that moments which are fewer and further between than ever now. One of those moments when everything just happens and you get a chance to watch it happening. For that moment, it took me into its confidence. (That explains the title of one of my favourite pieces from Domus where the same thing happened) The moments may be growing fewer and further between, but they are still worth the pursuit.

23rd January 2021: Well this is a cause for some excitement...

As is this, for different reasons...

17th January 2021: The next round is likely to be called atmospheres. Doing my research now...

Thinking of revising a couple of things around Cabaret 02 now. There is one fairly indulgent section which could be reduced, plus an additional (removed) section added to the end. All speculative for now. Funny how this stuff never makes itself apparent until after you release it. Oh well.

Politics remains an amusing debacle. I'm enjoying the mayhem while it lasts.

Also enjoying the novelty of this:

10th January 2021: Plus ca change and all that. I've just spent some time correcting a dreadful edit on Cabaret 01.

Hilarious to see it all unravelling in Washington DC. Most of us with even a modicum of foresight saw this happening some time ago, but to hear that this shit still has his followers is something that I find hard to comprehend. He is going down hard, I hope.

Shoutout to the latest little free VST I have acquired: Four EP by SampleScience which is pretty much exactly as it describes itself: "a collection of 4 electric piano sounds created using additive and FM synthesis. The sounds have been sampled at multiple velocities and embedded in a VST plugin instrument. The plugin is as simple as possible and comes with simple parameters to shape your sound. The tones the plugin produces sounds like a digital piano." And it does!

I wish more VSTs had an interface as clean as this one

3rd January 2021: Cabaret released.

1st January 2021: A new year again. It's just over an hour old so not much can have possibly gone wrong so far? Then I remembered that this was the first day of Brexit. Nice to be remembered as the first nation to vote for recession on the basis of some stupid ideas about foreigners and our ability to rule ourselves, when it's patently obvious we are being ruled by a shower of liars.

The eyebrows process illustrated. Note the marginalia.

Cabaret 02 at work. Feeling stuck. I've seen others' screenshots of Reaper and feel that mine is almost orderly.

Archived Journals

Journal 2020

Journal 2019

Journal 2018