WN26 Superskirmish Finish

That’s it February Album Writing Month over! In the end I published eight tracks, and 18 minutes of demos. Not bad considering how patchy my time commitment was, and that I started a week late.

On Sunday, I did a superskirmish for half that track count. In FAWM parlance, a skirmish is a one hour challenge with a prompt. It’s a tight timeline, but it’s possible to get a sketch down in that time. The community sometimes runs them back to back, an hour on an hour off, pick and choose.

I’m feeling much better about my output after that, and I might experiment with the format in the future. Having a prompt and a time-box helped a lot with inertia.

Now to keep going

After the last two years, I burnt myself out in FAWM. My creative output basically stopped. Last year, less so but I didn’t keep any sort of focus or output.

Without the arbitrary constraint of a community project, what now? Specifically, what next?

Writing quick and getting a collection of demos might be the thing to do. Genres to explore, sounds to design. But there a satisfaction to getting something done, maybe showing it to a friend. Like weeknotes, cadence may be the place to start.

I signed up to Beeminder, after reading Andy Matuschak on the granularity of habit tracking. I have a modest songwriting time goal, which I exceeded in February. And, I have a time block in my calendar for it.

Of course, I’ll be tracking the time I spend, rather than the time I plan. I’m also collecting some ideas of things I may like to write about that have more of a personal flavour to them. Ship a thing a week? Could do, but I’m not going to get that specific right now.

Ayurveda and diet

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks sorting out our diet. I mentioned that cooking was one of the things that slipped over January. And, there were bad habits we carried over from last year. Now, I’ve put my secret cookie addiction to the side and we’ve cooked some good meals from scratch.

And I’ve sort of fallen down a rabbit hole with how Ayurveda thinks about diet. There’s much more to the practice than diet alone, but its a foundational part of health in the system. Different constitutional types lead to different favourable foods for different people. And how you’re feeling right now plays a huge part.

So, I spent time that I could have spent songwriting reading. Oh no! And, cooking good meals has rewarded me with higher energy levels. Along with less snacking, and keeping more consistent hours, which is also suggested. Yoga too, and it’s a reminder to get back on the wagon for meditation.

Here are some of the things we’ve cooked:

We’ve had more vegetarian meals as a by-product, which has been nice. We’re not being strict about the principles. Considering whether a dish is better or worse has been interesting.

I feel like we’re at an inflection point of novelty. Going to stick at this experiment a couple weeks longer. Growing a pool of good recipes is always nice.

WN25 Refinding my Fluency

Less to show for FAWM than I hoped this week, but I do have three ideas in progress that I’m going to revisit. Two of them felt like pulling teeth, but the third idea’s first cut came down cleanly. Seems like I need to have a piano keyboard in front of me to write effectively. Riptide was demoed on piano before being arranged. Being reminded where my fluency lies isn’t a bad thing.

I have been listening to some classic albums, old favorites of mine, that I haven’t listened to in years.

Relationship of Command – At the Drive-in

I miss being in a rock band and having access to a rehearsal room. I watched the Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great for One Armed Scissor. The key thing is vibe. It’s just the band rocking out in the studio. And it’s great! It doesn’t matter that the guitars are out of tune. The performance is just fantastic.

Their performance on Later… with Jools Holland is immensely chaotic. By the end of the song, Omar’s thrown his guitar away. And then they’re followed by by Robbie Williams. The video seems to have been purged from the web, but you can see a screen grab of Robbie’s face here.

The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails

The Needle Drop did a classic album review of it recently. So I went back for a relisten. It is so detailed and textured, there are so many different sounds. I just marvel at the ability to I create that with 1994 gear. As Anthony points out, that Closer got club play is a feat of balancing the weirdness with production slick.

When the Pawn… – Fiona Apple

I can’t remember the last time I listened to this. Nice to reminded recently. A lot more laid back than the other two. The lyrics touch on some dark topics, but with a personable vulnerable tone. The albums also has the longest full title of any I know:

When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right

WN24 Don’t Rollback, Update!

It feels like last chewed me up and spat me out. It’s not been the best past couple of weeks. I’ve spent way more time than expected battling a configuration change that would not die. But, along the way I learned a few things.

February Album Writing Month didn’t get much progress until the weekend either. But, I practice some productive procrastination. I’m trialing a different note taking approach, and I’ve started collecting song ideas. The FAWM forum has been some help there. I did manage to get a couple quick ideas down.

AWS Lambdas using Docker Containers

AWS have recently added support for Docker containers in Lambda. But the web is pretty sparse on information about these things. There’s some official documentation, which seems to be missing a couple of bits. And that’s about it. Searching “docker lambda” gets you how to run the AWS CLI from Docker, which is not what I’m looking for.

One of the sources of confusion is the difference between ROLLBACK_COMPLETE and UPDATE_ROLLBACK_COMPLETE when creating a Cloudformation Stack. With the latter, you can just retry. But if you have an error with the initial setup call the Stack ends up in a bad state and it needs to get cleaned up. These commands can clean it up.

aws cloudformation list-stacks
aws cloudformation delete-stack --stack-name $stack-name

FAWM and Process

JDO posted a couple blog posts on the writing process recently. One saying a book needs 70 ideas. Just collect them. And when you have the core of the book, you can write an investigative draft. Which is non-linear and impressionistic, but something you can edit and rewrite from.

I’ve posted two tracks for FAWM so far, and the first felt like pulling teeth. But a few hours coming up with ideas (and borrowing them from the forum), I’m looking forward to trying out a few things.

WN23 Riptide

So, here it is track number three; Riptide.

Three tracks in one month. What a wild ride. Three tracks brought to you by a time box and peer accountability. I’m amazed at the number of hours that I managed to find. A few too many ready-meals and too much evening screen-time, though.

Now the time sprint is over, there’s flood of ideas that have returned. After final submission last Tuesday I’ve, put the tools down and let the divergent thinking back in. I’ve picked up a book I was putting off.

I pre-committed myself to doing February Album Writing Month again. When I did I hadn’t expected to spent so much focused time in January. It’s very much a how you play is what you win scenario. The first year I had zero expectations, and hit the 14 things target. Some were instrumentals and some were only lyrics. Last year, I tried towards a coherent album and flamed out. I have pages of notes, but mixing ideation and editing really stifled me.

This year, I’m still ruminating on what a personal metric of success is. Ultimately, something that keeps me creating in March. I’ve learnt how much of my process is in an “I hate this” or “I don’t know where this is going” phase. It’s a lot. Yet, I can push through all the way to something shareable, if I put the time in.

And that’s the crux; putting the time in, regularly. And, working towards finishing a specific song. My meta-goal for FAWM is process, and I’ll hang out in the community while I’m at it.

Of course, I spent my downtime reading about working styles. Which if I keep it up is a failure mode all on its own. So, I’ll spare you details this week, but Andy Matuschak’s thoughts on satisfaction and progress, and ratcheting habits are relevant here.

WN21 No Buttery Biscuit

Song two from Andrew Huang’s Monthly course done! Here it is. Some retro drum ‘n’ bass action. The theme of the second part of the course is sampling. No drums samples were used in the production of this track. All the percussion are sounds from my kitchen. Some of them have been pitched and tweaked. The bell sound and bass at the beginning also come out of the kitchen. There’s some synths in the middle.

The initial idea for this track came together quite a bit faster than the first one. Turning my microwave into a fuzzy bass is definitely a thing. But it was still a slog in places. I didn’t have nearly as much energy or motivation this week. And the time constraint was a bit shorter. So, I’m really pleased that I managed to get this into the finished the state I have.

Now we’re on to part three, looking at lyric writing, and having a vocal-lead song. I did all the arranging and mixing on the Deluge for track two (only sample chopping and mastering it in Logic), but for this one I expect I’m going to be more on the computer because of the editing involved when working with vocals.

WN20 Fly By Night

Finished Song: Fly By Night

Track one done! And I’m pleased with this. I’ve learnt a lot about how to put the pieces together into a usable workflow.

Don’t begin, Finish by starting

I spent a lot of hours working on this track. Having the timebox and peer commitment really helped with my follow-through. Almost every time I’ve sat down to write without a collaborator the track has died at the ideation stage. Looking back, this is the first 10-20% of the process. And I didn’t see how those first ideas would fit together into a coherent song until I was about half the way through. I played Sophia what I had about half the way through and she said it could work. At that point all I could hear was what was wrong and what needed working on.

It was only at 70-80% through that I started to like what I had again. And those final touches, mixing and mastering made a huge difference. Even though the song as a whole was done and recognisable at that point. One of my review peers started a new song half way through. I was tempted, but I saw this was a trap. They had a song, but it was quite raw after that lost time.

When this is over, I’m going to have to practice this focus without external constraints. I now know that if I don’t like what I have it merely shows that I need to put more hours into it.

On My Process

Almost all the songwriting, sound design and arranging was done on the Synthstrom Deluge. Which was really tactile and hands on. It also limited me to one synth engine and 600MB of samples to choose from. Presets were starting points, but I did tweak things and use the internal effects. This removed a lot of potential distractions. The tools are good enough.

I then bounced things a track at a time into Logic. This ended up with my drums mostly pre-mixed, and some reverb, delay and distortion printed on some tracks. I had to fix volume levels between sections before mixing proper. Printing effects wasn’t ideal, but meant I didn’t spend time redoing the sound design I’d done during writing. I added a tiny bit more percussion, the filter automation in the middle section, as well as the rain samples.

Adding effects was pretty minimal; one track had another delay on it, another distortion. Other than that is was EQ, compression and stereo imaging. I used a couple plugins I had for the master fader, but everything else was bundled with Logic.

Time for games

Despite spending the time songwriting around work, I still found the time to catch-up with friends and family. I found the threshold of enough. By focusing on the craft hard, taking the time to detach was both needed and available. I spent a few evening on group chats this week. They always seem to come in waves. It was a really nice balance to find

Lately we’ve been playing Letter Tycoon on Board Game Arena with family. The patent buying mechanic is like Monopoly without the bad blood or grind. And the word building is like Scrabble without the frustration over the state of the board (but sometimes your hand of all vowels). It’s gone down well. We’ve had a physical copy for ages, so good to see it having a wider audience.

I’ve introduced a couple friends to untap.in and we’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering there. Everything you need is free, but the feature-set is stripped down compared to the MTGO. You need to do everything manually, which is quite a lot like playing on paper. Playing over voice chat works well for complex stuff. No idea what playing with randoms is like.

None of us have played MtG in a while, so it’s been nice to get some casual play in. My friends have started building decks again, so I can see us doing more of this in the future. So far I’ve only used online decks listings, and done draft.

Kitchari

I think I’ve found a new staple food. It’s not quick, but it’s simple. It can go into long rotation of things to make when I don’t have time to make something with lots of hands on time.

Kitchari is a mix of two things, typically rice and lentils or beans. In Ayurvedic health it’s often used as a mono-food for cleansing. I tried it for its simplicity alone. The recipe I followed is based on this one.

  • 1 part rice, 2 parts mung beans, 12 parts water
  • Coriander and cumin seeds, turmeric, ginger
  • Veggies to taste

Wash the rice and beans, add the water and boil. Yes, that’s a lot of water but the beans need it. Simmer until it’s mush. The recipe above says 20 minutes, but it took me a lot longer since I didn’t add enough water at the start. Cook the veggies for an addition 10 minutes.

Separately, fry the spices and stir them in at the end. Serve as-is, or with yoghurt.