09 Feb 2022

Late Night Letters – New EP

Late Night Letters is an EP that forms the first volume of my next (as yet untitled) album.

The full album will cover a range of topics, which can be broadly categorised into three themes: how we interact with each other, how we interact with the digital world, and how we interact with the physical world (although there is of course always a degree of overlap between them).

While I want the full album to contain all of these elements muddled in together, as they are in life, I also like the idea of distilling them a little more, to form themed EPs, so the songs might ultimately be presented in these two different contexts.

The other – rather more practical – reason is that doing it this way enables me to break down the recording process into smaller, more focused tasks, and lets me share more finished songs sooner, as recording a full album is quite a daunting and lengthy process for me.

This first volume is the one that focuses on relationships between people. These four songs were written in late 2018 and early 2019, just after the release of my first album, Roll as a Hexagon. The musical influences within them reflect three of the other musical activities I was involved in around that time.

The first was a return to playing Javanese gamelan, after a break of six years. The second was a summer spent immersing myself in the sound world of Reason Breeds Monsters, a band I’d long admired, who had been dormant for some years, partly on account of two members, including the violinist, taking a four-year cycling trip (coincidentally, to Java, in order to play and study gamelan music). They re-formed for a special event playing for the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service, and I was delighted to be assigned violin duty. The music was more jazz influenced than anything I’d ever done before, which was a steep learning curve that energised me almost as much as getting to play brilliant songs with such wonderful musicians and people.

Following the NHS gig, three of us who had played in it formed the Berry Tree Band, a folk trio with a focus on harmony singing – a new area for me, as my background in traditional folk beforehand had been almost entirely instrumental.

The Songs

“Easier to Write” is fairly standard piano-based singer-songwriter fare, although with the slightly less standard addition of an EWI. (For those not familiar with this instrument – a group which included me until 2020 – it stands for Electronic Wind Instrument, and it’s a synth controller in a wind paradigm. Some people refer to it as a Space Clarinet, though I think this is a bit speculative. We don’t know what the clarinets from space are like. They may even be sentient.)

“Molecule” has a bit of jazz-influenced harmony, and a few slightly gamelanesque melodies, and leads into “Constellation” which uses actual gamelan samples amongst piano and strings, and a few structural elements adapted from gamelan forms within its composition too.

“Hymn of the Orbital” is modelled on folk hymns, with a Hammond organ in quarter-comma meantone tuning thrown in for good measure (incidentally, while persuading the software Hammond organ plugin to go into meantone, we found out that in the physical world this is completely impossible due to the way that Hammond organs work, but that’s probably more than you needed to know).

You can download the EP from Bandcamp.

28 Dec 2021

Work in Progress

Yesterday I made this little video of the synth being added to a new track which will be on the next album.

We're playing some pre-recorded midi out of the computer into the modular synthesizer to make it into a good noise, which then comes back into the computer again where it gets recorded. Woo!

(Sound and picture quality in this video are not of a high standard because they were recorded using a telephone.)

27 Oct 2021

New Release – Invisible Threads EP

Here is a new release of three songs. They were originally intended for my next album – until I realised that the album was becoming too big and unwieldy and unfocused, and that if I took these three songs out, they would make a nice EP, and it would leave the album more cohesive as a result. The album isn’t ready yet, but these tracks are, so... here they are.

The first track, ‘Invisible Threads’, now sounds to me like a song that should be written after the pandemic. However, it was written in early 2019. As well as the full arrangement, I've also included the original demo, which was just voice and piano, as a bonus track with the download.

The second, ‘Bright Underwing’, is the only song I wrote during 2020. I didn’t write any songs during the majority of lockdown, as at that point I felt that I’d already written all of the things I wanted to say about the pandemic in earlier songs, and had zero ideas for anything new. Also, my songwriting process depends on talking to people in real time, and group conversations with lots of ideas being generated – both trivial and serious – some of which turn out to be the last jigsaw piece in something I've been trying to write.

The song is about several things: the way time went all weird during lockdown, exploring the outdoors and noticing little things that might have gone unnoticed before, and staying connected to friends while physically separated. Most of the imagery comes from conversations with my friends about their own experiences in nature. I have come to associate particular plants, animals, birds, rocks, mushrooms, etc. with people who’ve talked to me about them, so when I see that thing I think of that person, and it’s a nice thing to have happening in my head when I’m wandering about.

Septemberlight’ is a song about seasonal sense memory, and was written after a conversation with a family member who noticed echoes of intense emotions she’d experienced the previous year turning up as the season changed to match the time of year they’d happened in. And I’ve noticed the same thing happening to me, sometimes. I don’t think we can be the only two people in the world who experience this. However, we've both just recently observed that we aren't experiencing it at the moment – perhaps as a result of the pandemic's time-flattening effect.

This track is based on a single live vocal and piano performance, so it is a little bit rougher than the other two. But I liked something about the energy of it, so I wanted to release this version, even if I re-record a different version in the future.

The lyrics for all three songs can be found on the Bandcamp page or on my website here.

You can download the EP from Bandcamp.

09 Sep 2021

The Farm [Demo]

This is a demo of a song that I wrote in early 2019, although the ideas in it had been brewing for some five years beforehand.

It's about corporate social media companies, mainly one in particular.

One of the main ideas came from the "shadow profiles" allegedly created by Facebook -- data collection on people who have never had a Facebook account -- ensuring that if and when these people do open accounts, there's a lovely welcoming creepfest of a website that already knows what you like and how your face looks in pixels and who you know, and isn't that nice?

I also wanted to contrast the patronising everything-is-lovely-we-care-about-you-blah tone in which social media companies address their users with the way that e.g. Facebook talks about its users (although maybe I'm basing this too much on that presumably unverifiable famous quotation from 19-year-old Zuckerberg's IM conversation).

And of course the main idea in it is that the algorithms of such companies are written in order to maximise engagement (which, naturally, turns out to mean maximising heightened emotions, primarily those based around outrage and identity) so as to encourage users to spend more time on the site, generating more data to be harvested and sold. To me this has felt for a long time like the social media companies ultimately want their platforms to become the primary mode of operation in the user's mind, not only creating a "walled garden" within the web itself, but with even the physical world rendered a secondary medium which merely provides nutrients to sustain the user, while that user is mostly thinking about their operations within the platform. Although to complicate the metaphor in the song, the "meat" the companies are harvesting is currently made of data, not human flesh. So far, anyway.

Anyhow, I have meant to make a more proper recording of this for a couple of years but I'm releasing the demo now because Facebook's further travel along that particular road has recently been indicated: apparently the plan now is for it to become a "metaverse company". (All I can personally say about this at the moment is: hmm. Multiple flavours of hmm.)


Now come on in, we’ve been expecting you
Your shadow’s been preparing things a year or two
Through keeping tabs on you
We’ve made a place for you
Come in, there’s so much time to waste
You’re free to go, but you should know the woods are scary
You don’t know what kind of predators you’ll meet out there
Here we make the predators register with the robot
And match their metabolisms with what you’ve shared about your taste

You like it here, you like it here, you like it here

The meat tastes sweeter when the brain in the jar
Can be convinced that it’s having a good time

Your friends are here, they’ll be protecting you
Our sponsors have requested that you do not change
Pick one identity
From the identi-tree
And everyone will like it as long as it’s not wrong
And through the window you will see the other ones
Who don’t agree on anything with any of your friends or you
They’re good at hating you
You’d better hate them too
According to our calculations if you do you’ll feel like you belong

You like it here, you like it here, you like it here

The meat lasts longer when the brain in the jar
Can be convinced that there’s something to scream at

Some people have started saying we’re a menace
A societal macro-infection
But that’s not the kind of news you like to read
Sit still, it’s time for your next dopamine injection

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