Fragments of thought

It’s November, and like a lot of other people I’m attempting to write 50,000 words. At least 40,000 of those are going to be fiction (hopefully more), but I thought it was also worth trying to write down the other things in my head – the things that don’t really belong in a piece of fiction. I have no intention of posting them all here, but I thought a few fragments based on the sort of things I usually write in this blog wouldn’t hurt.

Things I have done this week have involved writing, a small bit of housework, and a few hours in front of the TV (watching Hemlock Grove, a bit of Once Upon a Time and all of Mr. Robot). The latter has some themes that are quite close to what I’m writing, which made me consider stopping what I was working on (I didn’t). I also answered some questions (via email) for a website related to the movement. I should probably update my /now page to say that answering questions about things like this is generally something I’m willing to do (I love being interviewed).

I’m listening a lot to old Cardiacs records this week. I’ve also found some complete concerts on YouTube which I’m enjoying very much.

My Rough Trade album of the month is Elaenia by Floating Points. I love it, and it sounds a lot better than the description. I like discovering new artists in this way, although I’m a little miffed that the vinyl version won’t arrive until after I’m back at work, and will therefore involve a trip to the post office.

I’m now watching this recording of the Masada String Trio from 1999 – time to catch up on the hundreds of hours of concert footage I’ve downloaded from YouTube over the last few months. The software I use is called youtube-dl (you can get it for Linux or OS X).

One day I’ll get round to writing a blog post about my musical heroes; people I’ll buy/listen to everything they have ever done. Joy Division/New Order, The Cure, British Sea Power, Cardiacs, Red House Painters/SunKil Moon, Jim O’Rourke and John Zorn. Maybe a few others as well, but these will probably have to be the main ones. I suspect this would be a very long piece of writing (10 pages +). I might want to talk about my teenage Felt fixation, and probably throw in a bit of House of Love/Wedding Present related writing as well. I also suspect people will realise exactly how much music I own if I write this post, and also how much some of it is worth (I have New Order and Cardiacs CDs/cassettes that I could sell for above £50 each right now).

Also a post about my vinyl buying experiments, and what you get for your £20 (which varies greatly depending on the artist/record company). Also some of them are a lot less than £20 now which pleases me (I’m waiting for my 1st sub-£10 record purchase in many years to arrive – a re-pressing of Joy Division’s Closer).

I think John Grant wins the “what you get for your £20” competition right now. Double album, CD version included, plus a bonus CD and an insert containing a load of really nice artwork.

Closer arrived, and it’s gorgeous. An exact replica of the 1980 vinyl, with sound from the 2007 remaster. Best of both worlds. Ian Curtis hung himself just after making this record, but listening to it always fills me with hope.

I’m listening to Felt’s The Splendour of Fear. One of the first records I ever bought, and something I love, but would probably never recommend to another human being. Six tracks, four of them instrumentals, clocking in a little over 30 minutes.

I am not sure I’m going to write anything today apart from this. The story I’m writing has hit a brick wall in that I’ve written a whole load of fragments, edited them together into three sections, and now I can see the narrative and chronology starting to form. I’m not sure what else to do though – it’s not clear enough for other people to understand, and so many sections need fleshing out more and rewriting in a more descriptive style. I’ve also got whole chapters that are just dialogue – probably more dialogue than other people write. I think I’ve probably written something that needs to exist in a variety of formats – novel, poem, play, movie, interactive adventure. But I also think it’s not original enough, and that I’ve managed to drag a few things into the chronology that I wasn’t expecting (like the way it’s turned out to be a Grail quest, like everything I write does, it seems).

My process for creating art (of any kind) is largely the same. Improvise fragments, juxtapose the fragments until their context to other fragments gives them meaning, and then take that as a starting point to flesh it out into a finished piece. It’s what I do with music, and writing, and pretty much everything I create. The finished product is just a synthesis of distinct parts that work due to their proximity to other parts. Also known as “there is no perfect chord” (sorry Leonard).

I’m listening to the new Grimes album on Spotify. I’ve read a few reviews of this record, and thought I’d have to actually listen to it as the reviews are really not that helpful (in that no-one can agree whether it’s a good record, whether they like it, what sort of music it’s meant to be). I’ve only listened to it once, but my first impression is that I like it, I’ll listen to it again, and that it’s intelligent pop music that utilises a really varied sonic palate. It’a also on 4AD, who have a habit of never releasing bad records (I may be a little biased as many of my favourite musicians have some sort of link with 4AD). I think the Quietus review does the best job (as it often does), although some of the comments are horrible.

My profile page went live last night. I should get round to writing something about this movement soon, because I think it’s really important.

New Music : October 2015

October saw the release of a few records that will probably make my end of year list. It also saw the release of records by some of my favourite artists.

I’d been looking forward to the new John Grant record for a while, and it ended up being Rough Trade’s album of the month (as well as coming with a CD version, so I have 2 copies). Grey Tickles, Black Pressures sounds like the best bits of his first two records re-imaged, which is just fine by me, and even the pink and orange vinyl didn’t put me off too much. I suspect this is a record that needs repeated listens, and I also think that the variety of musical styles makes it the sort of record that would work on a random playlist.

At the same time I picked up a record by Protomartyr (about who I know very little). The reviews mentioned Joy Division, and it came on green marbled vinyl with a small pamphlet of lyrics and other artwork. The Agent Intellect is a classic 45 minute 12 song album that doesn’t stick around too long but is a perfect example of what it is trying to be.

I’m not going to write too much about The Twilight Sad, Joanna Newsom or British Sea Power. I own every album that each of these artists has made (and a fair few other things as well), so I’m certainly writing from the perspective of a fan. The Twilight Sad record is well worth a listen; the songs are familiar but the arrangements are more stripped down and intimate, and it acts as a nice companion to their last album (from which most of the songs are taken). Likewise, the BSP album is re-workings of old songs, with the addition of a brass band, which adds additional texture and a whole new twist on songs I’ve listened to many times before. Joanna Newsom’s record is all new, took 5 years to make, and is one to listen to on repeat and try and work out what it all means.

The full list is:

Eliza Rickman – Footnotes for the Spring
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressures
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
Youth Lagoon – Savage Hills Ballroom
The Twilight Sad – Oran Mor
Yacht – I Thought the Future Would be Cooler
The Decemberists – Florasongs
Joanna Newsom – Divers (not on Spotify playlist)
British Sea Power – Sea of Brass (2nd disk not on Spotify playlist)

Probably the best single month of music so far in 2015 I think.

A short account of a three-day break

I’ve been off work for three days this week. I had some leave from last year that I needed to use, and this was the first opportunity to take it. I didn’t have much of a plan apart from to listen to some music, read a book or two, and catch up on the episodes of Doctor Who that I’ve been ripping from DVD to my NAS over the last few weeks.

So far I’ve made fairly decent leaps towards achieving those goals (although I’ve only watched a few hours of Doctor Who due to American Horror Story hitting Netflix on the first day of my break), but I’ve also been dabbling with various bits of technology that are probably worth a mention.

Mac OS X 10.11.1 hit on Wednesday, along with iOS 9.1. AS I have a few Macs and iOS devices, I spent an evening making sure everything was up to date, and also checking the integrity of my backups. iOS 9.1 saw the introduction of Apple News, which I browsed for an hour or so, closed down, and have not looked at again. This is probably something I’ll come back to, but at the moment I’m happy with the news I get through my RSS reader and probably don’t need any more.

Wednesday was also the day that I had a serious look at Pancake which combines Markdown and Dropbox (two things I love) and allows the hosting of decent looking websites with little more than a Dropbox account and a text editor. I made something with this that I’m fairly happy with, but that probably deserves a separate post.

Yesterday was Ubuntu release day. A few years ago I’d always take this day off work to install the new version (if I wasn’t running it already) and sit on irc and on various forums to deal with support questions. I did some of that yesterday, and also seeded torrents of the installation media for a few hours seeing as I wasn’t doing much else with my bandwidth.

Today I’ve done nothing technical at all, but did head in to town for an hour or so to pick up the new records from Joanna Newsom and The Twilight Sad. I figured that seeing as I’m off work I might as well go and collect them rather than having to listen out for the doorbell.

Building a budget computer

I’ve been meaning to set up a low-powered Linux machine for a while, but developing a new Ubuntu-based service at work made me realise that having something at home to experiment with would be useful. I wanted something with real hardware, but also something that wouldn’t use too much power or cost me too much money.

After a bit of research, I settled on a Gigabyte Brix BXBT-2807, which is a bare bones solution that requires a hard drive, memory, and an OS to complete. Amazon says that this model now costs £94.98, although with my Prime Now discount and another voucher it cost me just over £60. I chose this model because it’s got a USB3 port (as well as 2 USB 2 ports), and it outputs to both HDMI and VGA meaning I can use it with both my existing monitor and my TV. Size-wise it’s a roughly square black box that doesn’t look big enough to be a real computer, and which takes up about the same space as a Mac Mini (being much narrower but slightly taller).

I decided to make this machine as powerful as it could be, just in case I ever needed to use it to do anything more taxing than web development and a little light browsing. I already had a 128gb SSD (which would have added about £40 to the cost), but neither of the sticks of memory I had were suitable (one was too higher voltage, the other was only 2Gb and I wanted more than that). I ended up buying an 8gb stick for around £30, which maxes out this particular case as it only has one memory slot.

Assembly was straightforward, and just required a phillips screwdriver. Once I’d fitted the hard drive and memory I connected the computer to my existing monitor, plugged in a keyboard and mouse and booted it from an Ubuntu installation USB. It booted from the USB fine, and installation didn’t take too long at all. I went with 14.04 LTS because it’s what the machine at work is running, and I do enough software updates on my other machines without having something else that was on the bleeding edge.

All in all this machine is working well (and very well for the price). I needed to add a bluetooth adaptor to get my solar powered keyboard working (but I carry a couple of these with me anyway), and this computer seems incapable of connecting to a 5MHz wireless network, but these are the only two things that are sub-optimal, and are easily fixed with a bluetooth adaptor and an ethernet cable. I’m also very impressed with how fast this machine is, and even how quickly it will perform processor-intensive tasks like ripping DVDs.

So far I’ve set up a minimal Plex server on it, plus a LAMP development environment and the tools for making Ubuntu live USB installers. I’ve also used it for a couple of days for email/web browsing, and didn’t really notice that I was on a much less powerful machine.

I’m very pleased with how quick this was to set up, and it’s good to see that it’s possible to have a fully functional computer for under £150.

New Music : September 2015

September was a month where I spent a lot of time at work and not a lot of time listening to music. Many evenings I found myself listening to Max Richter’s From Sleep as a way of winding down from a long and busy day, but I also watched a lot of TV (Lie to Me and a fair bit of sport), and well as being pleasantly surprised by New Order’s new record which arrived right at the end of the month. I think this review sums up my thoughts fairly well. The rest of these I’ve listened to a few times whilst commuting, but have not spent the time with them that I would have liked.

Widowspeak – All Yours
Max Richter – From Sleep
Royal Headache – High
Yo La Tengo – Stuff Like That There
Beirut – No No No
Ben Folds – So There
Chvrches – Every Open Eye
New Order – Music Complete
Ought – Sun Coming Down
The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness