27.3.13

Spring?


Although it’s Spring the world here still has its Winter clothes on. It feels like time for a change.

Recently I bought an album of songs by a rock/pop singer who I have great regard for and whose albums I’ve loved. Her new album is very good but somehow it feels like a disappointment. Perhaps it’s an age thing but I don’t feel moved by these songs, I’ve heard the form and content too much to get any thrill from them.

On BBC Radio 3 they’ve been having a Baroque season and because of this I heard some of Pergolessi’s Stabat Mater while decorating the kitchen last week. Now, this held me spellbound. I’m a sucker for a good counter-tenor voice anyway but the pairing of music and musicians gave me goose bumps.

13.3.13

Live


There is a lovely piece of music creation software called Ableton Live which is as much about performance as recording. I love it as it gives you the chance to do all the things I’ve ever wanted to do with sound, let alone music. It’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

Saying that, I haven’t used my computer to make any music in a long time. When I have been playing or recording it’s been with actual musicians, not just me and the laptop.

On my birthday Ableton released the latest upgrade to their software (thanks) and I have been finding my way with this newly enhanced sonic toy-box.

One thing which pleasantly surprised me was a digital re-creation of the Roland TR-606, an analogue drum machine that I once owned. It was my first drum machine and helped me learn a lot about the placement of beats. I can still remember the thrill of thinking up a beat and building it on the 606. Having one live in my laptop is great fun.

Also available is a library of well sampled orchestral sounds. When I was playing around with these on the computer I had to admit that, as well recorded as they were, no one would believe there was, say, a real cellist playing when I played the cello patch. Just out of interest I tried re-creating a section of a string quartet I had written, long ago.

Days later I was in the car and heard a real string quartet playing. Except it wasn’t. It was me from a few nights before, messing about on the laptop.

Watching my fingers press keys on a keyboard and generating a ‘cello’ sound automatically creates a sensation that ‘this isn’t real’. Separating myself from the creation of the sound, improves the illusion.

I may be having some more fun with this.

12.3.13

Into the Light


Recently I’ve been posting about a band I play in called the Eclipse Trio. It’s a little unusual in that the instrumentation is piano, guitar and bass. Not having a drummer makes for some challenges when feeling the pulse of a piece of music, but it also means setting up for gigs or recording sessions takes virtually no time at all.

The trio has been recording an album at the rate of one song every two weeks. This is very slow, obviously, but it’s all we could manage given the limited amount of time available to us. While the current album is nearing completion it’s become apparent that we’ve accumulated another three albums worth of songs. Many of these songs were written and played at gigs, although some of them go way back.

So, our beloved guitarist/singer/songwriter came up with a plan. He’s has persuaded us take four consecutive days out of our lives and move in to the pianist’s home studio. This, if  we do it right, means the next album can be finished in days, rather than years.

This is such a positive step that we’ve decided to make a video diary and try to get the band’s small but ever growing fan base involved. My main issue, as bassist, producer and buyer of cakes is to make sure I bring the espresso maker.

11.3.13

DNA 61


Douglas Adams would have been 61 today. He is an important person to me for three reasons.

Firstly, he created the Hitchhikers’ Guide to The Galaxy. The radio series of this helped drag me out of some miserable years at school. It gave me something to laugh at, to think about and to learn from. The story, the interplay of the characters and the sheer silliness of it made me glad to be alive. Neither the books, the TV series, the play, the Hollywood movie or even the spin-off towels made much of an impact, but the radio series helped define a different way of looking at the world.

Secondly, Douglas Adams made science, reason and thoughtfulness subjects worth pursuing. Being brought up (pretty unsuccessfully) to believe that life rested on a religious superstructure it was Adams who made me aware that there was more to do than just reject the superstitious insanity of religion. He gave me tools to believe in what was already all around me. This, amazing universe, these incredible brain things we carry around. There was more wonder and delight in a reasoned and scientific understanding of a rainbow or the workings of an eye, than anything the church might offer me.

Thirdly, and rather sadly, Douglas Adams died in a gym. So I tend to stay away from them.

4.3.13

Fun with Big Business, part II


I had a problem with a cashpoint card at my bank.

Not being at home I went to the nearest branch and asked if they could help. They couldn’t, so I asked for the direct line number of my branch. They couldn’t give me that so they gave me the bank’s general purpose number.

I called the number and after five minutes of working through options I got to a human being. I explained everything to them and they put me through to my branch. Except the line went dead and I was left back at square one again.

I called the bank’s general purpose telephone number and tried again. This meant repeating all the above steps except, instead of being put through I was now given a number for the branch. Interestingly, I was asked which of the town’s two branches I wanted despite there only being one. The other branch had shut down over five years before. I called the number but it didn’t connect and here I was at square one again.

I called the bank’s general purpose telephone number and asked to be put through to my branch in such a way that the previous problems wouldn’t leave me stranded again. This time it worked and I talked to a very helpful lady who explained the problem I originally had was now sorted out.

I went back to the nearby branch and tried to use the cash card again. It still didn’t work. They told me to call the bank’s fraud department.

I called the bank’s fraud department and was told I would need to call my branch.

Feeling just the tiniest hint of having been here before, I called my own branch and explained, again, what had happened. The helpful lady from the previous call sorted out the problem. At least I think she has since I now have no time to try the cashpoint card again.

All the bank employees were courteous and as efficient as their system allowed them to be. But what could have been dealt with in less than five minutes took over an hour, robbed me of my lunch break and meant I didn’t complete the fairly simple transaction I had set out to do.

Llyods TSB scores no points.

1.3.13

Recording (follow up on the last post)


This week’s recording session for the piano, guitar and bass trio (The Eclipse Trio) went well, considering how little time we had, how tired we all were and how tricky parts of the song were. My car had broken down on the way to the studio and the pianist had been through a very long day at his day job, with an early start to look forward to the next day. It was suggested we just rehearse the piece but I saw no harm in running the tape while we played.

We gave ourselves one hour to play once the levels were set. The piece began well and tightened up over a few more plays. But, a pesky three note phrase resisted being played precisely by all of us at the same time. Timing was crucial.  The difference between right and wrong timing was so subtle that you would have found it hard to notate. However, when it wasn’t right, it wasn’t right and we couldn’t be happy unless we nailed it.

Just over the hour it was evident that any more takes would result in inferior version of the song. A bit of computer editing could have saved the song but, pretentious as it might sound, we wanted to play it right. So, we had two choices: drink a gallon of coffee and keep going, or  pack up and try again next time. We went with the latter.