Writing three tracks to a releasable standard has been an intense month. And the pressure of having not-terrible lyrics for the third track has been a time drain. Much thoughts, but after the final submission for peer feedback tomorrow.
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.
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.
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.
I’m a week into Andrew Huang’s Monthly Course, which is a songwriting/producing workshop. Over 30 days, we’re writing three songs. Which means at this point, I should be most of the way to having having the first song. I think I am, but I’ve been pushing on the “everything sucks” phase.
Thinking back, it’s been a while since I last spent a solid week looking at a single song. Simply having pacing and a comparison from the course has been useful. It’s been an opportunity to look critically at process.
The course so far is good. There’s a lot of material, and Andrew moves quite quickly. I find myself nodding along quite a bit. I do know this. Best I actually do it too. It would be a lot for a new producer to take in at once. The guideline is 1-2 hours of producing a day, which seems about right but I’ve found myself spending more when I feel stuck and having fun. But it really depends on how fast you work, and what your learning objectives are. There’s lots to try out and think with.
The course also says there’s about 15 minutes of video a day. On average, maybe. Day 5 dropped 3 hours of videos. The averages belie the details here!
Andrew steps through many examples, all in the context of the one song. The process is highly iterative. He jumps from notes, to sound design, to interplay between instruments and the bigger picture regularly. Showing how many variations on an idea he goes through, he’ll settle on something good enough and move on.
While the details will fade, and the confidence of familiarity will grow slowly, here’s the lesson worth taking so far. Many previous attempts at songwriting have focused on getting all the notes in, then getting all the sounds, then working on the transitions. Mostly, in a linear fashion. Here, we’re being shown everything is provisional. We need to be happy enough to commit, but there’s always an opportunity to revisit.
Move fast. Move on. Revisit.
Back when writing Brave New World, I would bounce ideas off my writing partner. This naturally lead to stopping and reorienting. When I did FAWM, the time pressure meant that demos were often made in one writing session. Which forced moving fast, and accepting good enough. I’ve found it harder without these constraints to keep enough structure to keep momentum.
At each moment, what we have should sound like half a song. Not, half the parts of a song.
Having had a solid twelve days off has been really nice. I haven’t had the opportunity to chill and sleep in like that for a while. Spent plenty of time reading, playing games and catching up with people. As well as doing nothing in particular!
New Years Eve was spent playing games online with a few friends, and dropping in on a larger group on a different Discord server. It’s nice to have been able to do that. Not the same as doing it in person. At least I didn’t have to be split between two cities.
Back to work today, somewhat refreshed. Nights and mornings have slowly been getting later. So I’ve counter-acted that with a couple early mornings and a cup of coffee. We tidied up a bunch of loose ends before Christmas, which was nice. Time to get back on with the re-platform project.
I’ve signed up to Andrew Huang’s Monthly course, which I’ll report back on. I didn’t spend as much time as I thought I might making music over the break. But, knowing this was coming I spent a chunk of time rearranging the keyboard and music area upstairs. With luck, everything I need will be in arms reach and ready to go.
We’ve sunk hours into Quern (which is still on sale on Steam and GOG). It’s a first-person puzzle game in the tradition of Myst. The game takes place on a single world, and the areas are slowly revealed. There’s a good level of item reuse and holding items for a while. Some head-scratching for where to go next, but the puzzles do make sense. Overall, thumbs-up if you like that type of game.
There’s always the question of why the world-builders made their worlds like that. If you were living there, would you really hide doors behind a puzzle where you have to bounce a beam of light five times or counter-balance three sets of weights? Quern’s backstory has a nice solve for this, at least with my reading of it. The guiding narrator was just so damn bored. Quern is a world without time. One of the later puzzles is set up like a roulette wheel, because… what else are you going to do with infinite time? You have to entertain your guests.
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
HEALTH – VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR
HIDE – Hell is Here
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
I remember clubbing… A mate’s band from way back. Simpler times
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
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.
It’s the end of the month. So I thought I would take the opportunity to do a little reflection on NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 43,000 words, I have a story. With the beginning, middle and an end. There are scenes missing. The characters could do with more development and the world being bit more fleshing out. Still, I’ve gotten from zero words to a draft that I can edit.
This happened is because of focus. I spent an entire month writing almost daily with a target of 1667 words. There are days that I exceeded that and there are days that I didn’t not match it.
And having this focus pulled me back to the keyboard on days that I was feeling less enthusiastic. But, I could have been more focused. On that second week, my mind rebelled and I started researching desks, and gadgets and music gear. I could have spent this time researching the setting, or writing technique.
But I had a clear target, which allowed me to know when I’m done. And if I had either hit my word count, or my limit, the rest of my time was free to do with as I choose. By focusing, it allowed me to relax in without a nagging guilt. In theory, at least. There have been days where it’s challenging to strike the right balance. Especially, when I’ve had other commitment, or limited capacity.
Drafting is not Editing
There are many things that we call writing. And what we see is the end product of it; a blog post or a book, or even a scrawl in a notebook. Writing does not happen in isolation. And the artefact is not the process.
I continued to do iterative outlining and make notes on what to write next. I could have done more of this. Based on these notes, I wrote scenes. What I did not spend a lot of time doing is editing. Writing Weeknotes and the ScaleSummit talk was a good counter-point. They needed a tight loop of idea to draft to redraft to publish.
If we remove that from the workflow, writing is the act of putting pen to paper or digits to keyboard. But I found that there was also a lot of micro-editing, correcting typos and so on. There are apps that will delete your work if you stop typing. It’s extreme constraint, but an interesting drafting strategy. Being distracted by a typo takes focus away from the conveying the message. Those words that can be tightened up later.
Dictation while Walking
I’m already spending much of my time in front of a computer. Being able to work on the novel away from a computer definitely aided my word count. It’s been more effective than I expected. 30-50% of my word count was by dictation.
I’ve been using a tool called Otter.ai while walking around the green space near home. Walking, by itself, freshens the mind. Simply getting out of the house and seeing natural light has been good.
The transcript levels are not perfect, but are usable. My ability to form a narrative through dictation surprised me. The outlining and prep definitely helped keep me focused.
Show don’t Tell, but Don’t Sweat It
There are some scenes that have a good level of description. And there are others where it felt like I was writing the notes for the story. Which is enough. This as this allows later editing. Using those cues to put more texture to the narrative. But it has been a good balance to strike whilst remaining in flow.
I’ve done most of my writing with headphones on and the length of an album is a good writing session. For writing, I find lyrics distracting. And things that are complex work well.
📯 From the World
Last week, thejaymo paid a homage to the internet genre Witch House, after Salem released their second album after 10 yeas. I wasn’t big into Which House as a scene, but it did like some acts. White Ring was my jam. He goes on to talk about the feeling of potential through the early 2010s had and body memories of traveling. That sound definitely evokes a time and place for me.
Twelve weeks of Weeknotes! That was my initial commitment. And actually I’ve really enjoyed this. There has been some weeks where I felt like I’ve had something to say going in. And there are other weeks where I’ve been having to search. After NaNoWriMo, I have some projects that I’d like to look into over the new year. And I think this would be a good place to share. I might mix up the format, and feel a bit freer and looser. A milestone and an update at the end of the week is a practice I’d like to take forward.
🔥 Alchemy of Creation
This week of NaNoWriMo has been harder than I expected. I knew that as I got further into my word count, my outline would be less relevant, and that the energy of a fresh start would wear off. But I’ve been more exhausted than I expected, and finding the time and energy to put more than 500 words down at a time has been difficult. And I’ve been fighting diminishing returns.
There have been some strong days, but this last leg might have to take a different tack, with me taking a less linear approach to the progression, and focusing on getting some key scenes on paper. I wrote a vignette of the backstory that has potential to be a book in its own right. And I have a specific sticking point that could do with some research. That’s best done outside of November. So, not throwing in the towel, but I am paying attention to the conditions of the road.
📍 A Point on the Timeline
Got a new desk. Built some furniture. Upstairs has been a mess all wekeend, as a result.
An anticlimactic end to the scenario, except for maybe D311B0i.
We spent time brainstorming how to take the drug lab from the gang. We tooled up with guns and looked to hire some mercs. In the meantime, we wanted to play it cool. We had a working economic arrangement. We give cash, get drugs and sell them at a markup. D311B0i didn’t see a reason to throw that away. Under the premise of recon, D311B0i set up another drop, and we could hit them when some people were off site.
We had spotted that Alex and Apogee had wanted posters of them, stuck around the area. But what we had forgotten, is that D311B0i had been seen with Apogee going into the gang’s clubhouse. So when he went in. He was immediately apprehended and questioned.
They were gonna take his cyber eyes as collateral. He fought. But there were too many of them, and they were too strong. He was taken to their on site surgery. Camden was in the car, oblivious to one of the brothers he doesn’t talk to setting explosives. Apogee and Alex were sorting out some disguises and D311B0i had a building collapse on top of him. That leaves the three of them with a landlord in critical condition.
And that’s the end of the jumpstart.