WN17 2020 in Music

2020 in three songs

Gig of the Year

Amigo the Devil

We did actually make it to a gig this year! And it was a good one.

Albums of the Year

Sevdeliza – Eden

HMLTD – The West is Dead

Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts

Best Ghosts to date, IMO

Sessões Selo Sesc #6: Rakta + Deafkids

Ben Frost – Dark Soundtrack

We watched all three seasons of Dark this year. It’s gorgeous and well put together. A soundtrack by Ben Frost was icing on the cake.

Grimes – Miss Anthropocene

Apocalyptic album of the year goes to

Still Listening to


HIDE – Hell is Here

Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want

Random Throwback

I remember clubbing… A mate’s band from way back. Simpler times

WN16 Six of Swords (2020 in Review)

Wasn’t going to do a year in review post. But since Christmas plans are officially cancelled. Here’s what I’ve got.

I have been experimenting with tarot, and at other ways of approaching the world. Trying to balance the analytical and intuitive sides of myself. I’ve also fallen into the into the orbit of Gordon White. His his discussions with Austin Coppeck introduced me to longer cycle astrology.

In The Chaos Protocols, Gordon White describes a process of planning. Check your calendar and what you consciously know about what’s to come. But, also consult the space weather (your horoscope), and the cards. What are you missing? What is the terrain going to be like?

If it wasn’t for this openness to framing, this year could have been very different for me.

As far back as January. I had heard the astrological space weather being a “meat grinder”. Sophia and I also did a tarot spread for the year. We did a large spread. And the cards that stood out to me were The High Priestess and the Six of Swords.

The High Priestess is a card of internal contemplation and receptivity. It was in a position for the personal realm. And it aligned with where I had come where I was. The Six of Swords represented conditions in the world.

The deck we used was the True Black Tarot. And it is gorgeous. Each card is a thick, matte, black card stock. Each with a full colour image that pops against the background. The glossy black detailing plays with the light in the room. I have had some particularly striking reads with it. Pulling a card with a clam on it when we visited The Shell Grotto in Margate in January was apt and fun. Pulling a bloodied white wolf the day that I found a little old lady bleeding in the street freaked me out. (She was well looked after.)

The Six of Swords depicts a caravan of boats in the fog. Which, as an analogy, maps well to 2020. Supply chain disruption. Cancellation of travel. Stagnation. Isolation. Even an awareness to the quality of air.

And this has been in my wider awareness since January. It surprised me how good the month had been to us. We saw family. We got to spend time by the sea in Margate. We visited galleries and roamed vintage shops.

In February, I was busy doing FAWM. In the middle where we got to see some friends for a long night of drinks in London, starting in the Black Hart. One of my best friends had recently returned home from an extended stay abroad. Another was talking about buying a house and moving in the summer. This did not happen. But they are now looking to move the beginning of next year.

On the weekend of the 14th of March, went to an event in London, and then followed it up with drinks for a family birthday. And everybody had the feeling like this was the last moment that we had together for a while. Two days later, measures were announced, and lockdown began the week after. But, it was already on the tip of our tongues.

I have a confession to make. I wanted to work from home more. When the early stories were coming about China, then Italy I was thinking “no, it can’t be that serious”. I also thought back to the cues from the cards and space weather. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I was prepared to flip to “this is how I live now”. If it lasted a day over a month, I was prepared for the storm to last eighteen. I embraced it with a knowing of what was out my control. An opportunity for The High Priestess to shine.

That first lockdown was announced for one month. Then extended three weeks. I was hearing the statement we’d be back in the office by summer, then in September, then Christmas, now Easter. My sympathies for that not coming to pass. For me, there is a dissonance between the claim for extreme measures and an optimistic timeline.

That last night out in March was fantastic. Host knows how to put on an event. We had a live band, a dancer, and drum ‘n’ bass. When our hired venue closed, we then went on a bar crawl with parents, cousins and aunt in tow. We stayed out as late as we could. It was a rare night with everyone on the same wavelength, up for enjoying it, as full as we can.

March into April was a month of great shifts. The lockdown brought Sophia and me into our home, and devastated our plans for the year. We had intended to go to Roadburn. The Netherlands was not yet at the point on its timeline where things were closing. And there was a lots of uncertainty. If everything did blow over perhaps we would still be able to go from the UK to the Netherlands. This did not come to pass. They cancelled the event as late as they could, with the intention to reschedule for 2021. At this point, that is not happening, either. The event is now pushed yet another year.

During this time, Spain was having a more extreme moment, compared to what was going on in the UK. In May, friends were due to wed in Madrid, and to emigrate there. And over April, there would have been a stag do. The planning stalled as we knew that we would be unable to see each other. With heartache, the wedding was postponed for a year. We shared our condolences about the personal impact.

The summer is a blur of a groundhog day. Roll out of bed. Commute one room to an improvised desk. Both of us working in the same room, ignoring each other, on video calls to different people. It took me too long to find a desk I liked, and to move my working space into another room. My back is still suffering for it, but improving.

It was a jarring and disembodied time. A breakdown of communication ensued. She was hit harder by the disruption to our routine. And the removal of travel, live music, and casual drinks. Not only from the present, but the plannable future. We were stripped of our usual coping mechanisms.

We did have a high point of seeing the family during the summer between stricter lockdowns. We had more candid and reflective conversations. We all had stuff to deal with, and have had the time to think.

We went to emptier and emptier cinemas. And, other than the Cyberpunk campaign, summer felt like undifferentiated time. Even though we could, maybe, see people, nobody was organising. We had been catching up with friends online, but this came in waves too. The need for the change of pace was why we went to Wales, before the opportunity was taken away from us.

The more recent months have been documented in Weeknotes. Internal work has allowed public writing, as a response to the conditions forced upon us. It provides a pulse and definition to the week that was otherwise lacking.

In many ways, I’ve had an easy year of it. The company and my work was able to adapt. I do not live alone. I live near green space in a less affected area. My family are in good health. For which I am grateful. But this was not hermiting by choice. Returning to The High Priestess, it has been a process of coming to terms with a stolen year and sundering of expectations. As it has been for us all.

And since the middle of the year, in small ways, each month has been better and better. The removal of all travel has shown how much of a drain it can be. And, it’s made space to put some of the fundamentals in better order. And, it’s made time to think, and read, and make music (sadly without company). We’ve gone from binge watching old TV shows, to putting our energy into things that interest us.

I don’t know what next year holds. But consulting wider sources has served me well. Some thing will need focus, and others to be accepted. I intend to do the same for next year.

This interregnum must come to an end. And it will. The timeline is just out of our individual control.

Have your best Christmas. It’s all you can do. x

WN15 Deluge

I’ve had the Synthstrom Deluge for a little under a week. I’ve got to say, I love it. It’s feature packed beast in a small footprint. It’s a multitrack sequencer, sampler, polyphonic synthesizer, drum machine, groove box extraordinare. It has an incredibly cohesive design, and a ton of music making potential just in this one box. It’s simple to pick up, but to take full advantage it’s got a learning curve.

It’s only very slightly larger than my old 11 inch MacBook Air. A bit thicker. It is very hands on. It’s got dedicated knobs for navigation and effects. And the entire 144 buttons that control the setup step sequencer acts as a secondary display, and access to the modulation matrix. Even though it’s got a four character display, you do not have to do much menu diving.

I was looking for a way to produce and demo some songs that doesn’t feel like working with a mouse and keyboard. I think I’ve found it. The grid of buttons feels very different to working with a touch screen.

While trying to learn the features of the Deluge, I’ve been doing a rework of an old song of mine that I know like the back of my hand. And I realised the song is ten years old! And so is the band. That time was tinged with trepidation about the working world, and the great shifts that moving and a fixed work schedule brought.

The rock band I was in at uni was winding down, and a couple of us were looking to do something different. It was an intense period of time, and we put together about 20 minutes of material over that month.

This year had a similar sundering of expectations. There are restrictions on movement, and being able to see friends. And, undifferentiated time in front of a screen. It’s not too surprising that I’ve wanted to return music, my old friend. And, in a way that isn’t spending more time in front of a computer.

In general, my creative output has been lumpy. And this is fine. Yet, I’m hoping having a dedicated device with an integrated workflow is going to make it easier to do a small bit here and there, between those focused periods.

Baba is You

And, I’ve also put 10 hours into Baba is You this week. Considering I spent zero hours playing computer games last week this is a step change. It’s a cute, but challenging puzzler. You push blocks around and change the rules of the game, which had made for serious head-scratching and lateral thinking.

WN14 Digital Garden as Homepage?

If everything never stops happening, then it must become impossible to get a proper sense of when anything in particular started, or ended, or was going on, or whatever.

This is context collapse all over again. Tom Whyman explores how feeds are distorting our perception of time. He concludes that we should clock to the feed, which is absurd. Evolutionary biology disagrees, thanks.

I’ve considered checking Wikipedia for my news. Attempting to be a coherent canonical source is useful. Much more than stating this person talked to that person, but policy won’t be decided for six months.

But really, today I want to talk about blogs. Personal websites and online presences also exist on a continuum between drip feed to static content.

Amy Hoy laments about the death of the homepage:

A well-organized homepage was a sign of personal and professional pride — even if it was nothing but a collection of fun gifs, or instructions on how to make the best potato guns, or homebrew research on gerbil genetics.

Dates didn’t matter all that much. Content lasted longer; there was less of it. Older content remained in view, too, because the dominant metaphor was table of contents rather than diary entry.

And that there were very few blogs. Until Moveable Type, the first popular CMS, defaulted to reverse chronological order.

Oh, sure, you could customize your Movable Type site. All you had to do was program the templates. It was more difficult than HTML, but not hugely so for someone who already maintained their own site. And if you couldn’t program yourself, well, you could copy and paste snippets. It seemed like the whole (tiny) blogosphere was sharing their favorites. Calendar sidebars for everyone!

There was just one problem…

It was a trap.

Those little sidebar calendars were bait.

But once you are given a tool that operates effortlessly — but only in a certain way — every choice that deviates from the standard represents a major cost.

And the damn reverse chronology bias — once called into creation, it hungers eternally — sought its next victim. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest, of all things. Today these social publishing tools are beginning to buck reverse chronological sort; they’re introducing algorithm sort, to surface content not by time posted but by popularity, or expected interactions, based on individual and group history. There is even less control than ever before.

There are no more quirky homepages.

There are no more amateur research librarians.

All thanks to a quirky bit of software produced to alleviate the pain of a tiny subset of a very small audience.

That’s not cool at all.

This seems quite antithetical to Weeknotes, doesn’t it. Amy’s writing comes from an "evergreen content marketing" standpoint. If you’re sharing something, why not make it important. And, if it’s important then it should be easy to find.

Weeknotes falls into a category of thinking in public. Rather than presenting a conclusion, it’s showing your working and seeking collaboration in progressing an idea. "Everything I know about X" is useful, but so is "What I’ve Just Learned About X". The timeliness is an invitation for dialog.

Tom Critchlow makes a distinction between feeds, campfires and gardens. Twitter gives you the feed. It’s all you get. Traditional blogging, and Weeknotes, provides a campfire. It’s a social object around which things can emerge. It’ll always be there, and you can find it again, but it represents a point in time. And then there’s the digital garden. Which is a tended space that accumulates bits and pieces that are useful. It’s not a homepage for everything, but a web for anything.

The site where I discovered Amy’s piece refers to itself as a Digital Garden:

The phrase "digital garden" is a metaphor for thinking about writing and creating that focuses less on the resulting showpiece and more on the process, care, and craft it takes to get there.

If you visit the root of this site you’ll notice that you are welcomed with a small "best of" selection and a few other topics that I wanted to surface for you because they are interesting to me and I’d like to share them with you.

Curation comes before a chronological list. The chronological list is still there, but when you click "all articles" instead of numbered pages, all of the articles on that page are visible. If I had thousands of posts that might be a problem, but with my fairly small catalog the pages loads fast and you can scroll through it easily.

Tom Critchlow references Robin Sloan and the idea of turning Flow into Stock

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

There’s something in this, and I’ve been seeing them all over the place. (I think I’ve found the scene, if such a thing exists.) Andy Matuschak’s notes are the canonical example right now. The page flow, of seeing multiple notes side by side blew my mind.

The one thing that many of the dedicated sites are lacking, imo, is RSS. If I miss them talking about it on the feed, then the edge of their thinking is lost. And so is the opportunity for the shared experience.

Weeknotes for flow, Digital Garden for stock?

I’m thinking of rebuilding this site in a format that’s Digital Garden native. Alongside point in time updates and more polished articles. There’s a raft of innovation and a buzz of curiosity about this at the moment. I lurked on the Interhackt hackathon this week. I didn’t have the opportunity to get my hands dirty, but a modest markdown to web project could be on the horizon.

📍 A Point on the Timeline

We’re reorganising some of our space. Particularly for work, but that’s having a cascading effect. The new desk takes up more space than the old one, and I’ve moved my one downstairs.

The second smaller delivery happened this week. Putting that desk in the back room has reminded me how much stuff we need to get out of there.

There’s a couple charity shop runs to come. This week I managed to freecycle some of our stuff. It’s much getter to get things to a good home than to refuse.

Shape as well as size matters with furniture. We’ve replace a couple of tall items with ones that are waist height but wide. It really opens up the space. Removing the tall bookshelf from the living room has made way more of a difference than I expected. Even though there’s a desk in that space.