20210227 - Gardening & music
20210224 - Streamlining & audio dilemmas
20210219 - Mastodon & weather
20210217 - Website change & technical pen inconsistences
20210214 - Website & audio recorder
20210207 - Audacity & field recording
20210131 - Creative inspiration & projects
In the UK we seem to have gone from the depths of winter to mid-spring in the space of two weeks. Last year we had talked about growing vegetables this spring. So we have started work today on digging out a section of lawn and turning the soil. We are lucky here. The soil is fairly rich. There is some clay, but not so much as it gets water logged. In the interests of reducing waste, we are only planning on growing what we are going to use. So it might not be particularly exciting or exotic, but I think potatoes will be going in first; followed by carrots and cauliflower. It was nice to spend some time outside today. Although the temperature was around 10 degrees C, it was warm in the sun. The birdsong has been particularly noticable too, so I will try and get out to do some field recording in the next few weeks.
The refurbished Korg Microkey2 25 keys MIDI keyboard arrived yesterday. I would have been happy to buy one second hand, but couldn't spot on on eBay. However there was a music retailer selling a 'refurbished' (i.e. customer return). I don't know why some people are so insistant that items have to be in a factory sealed box. The Korg was as new, all the parts present. It didn't even look like it had been unwrapped, and was around 25% cheaper than a sealed one. Earlier this week I installed a minimal 'Ubuntu MATE', on my laptop, with the view of adding the 'studio tools' which basically lets you add elements of the full 'Ubuntu Studio'. It was fine, but was offensive to my minimalist sensibilities. So I put 'Debian' with the 'Cinnamon' desktop back on. I really, really like Cinnamon. It feels almost as lightweight as XFCE and MATE, but is just a bit more up to date. It looks nicer and responds well. Anyway, I got the Korg talking to 'Yoshimi' which is a really nice synth program. I did this via ALSA, and it was fairly straightforward. Great! (I thought), until I tried to get it talking to 'Ardour'. I know linux is not the first (or second) choice for music production, but I am hopeful that I can sort this out. MIDI is new to me, and I just need to get my head around it. It seems that 'Jack' and associated software is the way forward, but I must start studying for the NIE, booked for September. So I might just visit 'LinuxMusicians' on Reddit, and see if someone can help.
Well having two instances on Mastodon isn't really compatible with the notion of 'down-sizing' and being more creative. On reflection I don't really subscribe to the idea of having different accounts (on different instances), for different interests or aspects of my life. I don't want to just post artwork and photography, and posts on FOSS or gardening might not be of interest to an art centric instance. As such I have binned the art account and just kept the general one. I like Mastodon. I really do. I think once you cut through the initial chaff and start blocking some instances to filter the content; it is quite a nice space. It reminds me of the 'MySpace' days in some ways. But I suppose some of that experience is based on the relatively low user count (by social media standards). Having held an account of some sort or other on Twitter since 2008; I have onvce again retreated into a full 'lurking' mode. I had a huge cull of users I was following, and I don't post on there. I realised that I only really follow artists, news, and fact-checking feeds. I binned of a lot of the companies I used to follow, as at the end of the day it is just advertising, however they decided to dress it up. I didn't think I would say this, as Twitter has long been my favourite social media platform; but I think I can see the day ahead when I just let it fall be the wayside. Associated Press, Deutsche Welle, and the BBC all have (albeit bots) feeds on Mastodon. Cory Doctorow also posts there. So that only really leaves the artists I follow. Which if I am honest with myself, I don't generally aspire to be like, as their subject matter/style is completely different from what I want to acheive. On the other hand I find it sad that I am writing about this, because at the end of the day. It just isn't important. The world won't stop if social media does. In fact it might be a better place without it.
An afternoon at the digital piano, over the weekend, made me realise that I try and court too many interests. No one can be good at everything. I don't have the luxury of time to waste, as I work a fulltime job and have a family. Looking back at my post on 20210131, I had set out a list of projects to acheive this year. Having reviewed this list I think I can safetly scratch a few of those off. The pomodoro timer stood out immediately. The idea of taking this on was to teach myself some basic coding. But really I'm not sure I would gain anything other than something else to compete with other interests. As a lifelong photographer, I don't need to invest time in learning how to take pictures or digitally process them. I've been there and done that. This makes it an easy activity to duck in and out of. As does my renewed interest in drawing. It doesn't require a huge amount of cerebal processing power. Hell I can do it while watching a movie. This is where audio/sound/music production/recording may be a good fit for me. I first picked up a musical instrument when I was a round 10, when I dabbled with a keyboard for a few years. Then it was the (fretless) bass for around 15 years, followed by a Yamaha sequencer and Apple's 'Garageband'. I don't profess to being any kind of musician, as I am completely self-taught. But I think I have a good ear for music. I have a musical creative itch, but need to find a way to scratch it, whilst still being able to produce something. I have had a look at the limited range of DAWs available to linux, and there seems to be some scope there for further exploration. In the story of my life I have already looked at some potential 25key midi controllers, and my mother-in-law is potentially interested in my digital piano, which is all good. There are quite a few compact keyboard controllers out there, at various price (and quality) points. Initially my decision was whether I wanted a straight keyboard, or something with additional pads and pots. Fortunately, due to limited support for linux, the list of known compatible controllers is quite short. Less controls seems to equal less trouble with potential control mapping issues. This has really reduced the viable models down to around 4, made by Akai, Korg and Nektar. I am most drawn to the Korg, but I think need to tap into the 'linuxmusicians' brain trust on Reddit, to make sure there aren't any known issues. All the models I am considering are readily available on eBay, so hopefully I can give one a good home. I think the idea of going down this route can also work with the field recordings I want to make this year. Any music I produce is likely to be minimal, and more of a soundscape anyway, and could be complimented by nature samples.
I suppose like many people these days I have a love/hate relationship with social media. I was an early adopter and early dumper of FB. I am proud to say I have been FB clean (with only one minor relapse) for near on 6 years now. Twitter and I have been friends since 2008. I go through phases of posting then lurking, with the latter being my default position these days. Around two years ago I had a look at Mastodon. I think I lasted a week before closing my account. Then this year I decided to revisit. It has a much larger user base now and is a better experience, in places. It is a strange place. The more interesting instances are generally closed for sign up. Depending which instance you join dictates your expereince on Mastodon to a certain extent. The administrator of that instance controls filters which may hide other instances and by extension the users of those spaces. As a result I have taken my Linux distro hopping skills over to Mastodon and have joined and left several instances in the last few months. It's difficult to find a single instance that ticks all my boxes. Ideally I would like to belong to one, where I feel I can post art, photography, and comments amongst like minded individuals. It seems you can choose art or photography. Anyway I digress. As it stands at the moment, I have accounts on Mas.to and mastodon.art. I have declared 2021 a year of creativity. So I'll see how this Mastodon experiment goes longer term.
In other news I am glad to see that the snow has finally gone. At risk of sounding old and miserable. Snow and ice is something I realy deplore. It has a significant impact on what I do at work, and it fills me with dread. We are just not set up for it in England. It was an all round poor show by local government. There was no suprises that there was going to be (heavy) snowfall. We had pretty much a weeks notice. Yet there was no sign of gritting lorries going out. Gritting bins were not refilled. Just standard service levels these days sadly. I imagine that once the COVID panademic dissipates, we'll be left with a national debt the likes of which we have never seen. Meaning more and more cuts to public services. Concerning times ahead.
I think I am a bit OCD, as I can't seem to stop fiddling with the layout of this page. Much was the same when I built my first website almost 20 years ago. I always wanted this to be a single page site. I think if the momentum continues, I might consider an 'archive' page to move the previous years content to. Anyway I decided to make it lean, with little content; relying more on links. I previously referenced creating a Gemini blog, which is easy to amend and add to on the move. But in hindsight I think maintaining this page will lead more considered content. I am also hoping that this ticks the accessibility boxes.
I have used fineliners for over a year now. With the Staedtler pigment liners and UniPin fine line being my go to. As most of my work is isometric I wondered whether there was mileage in investing in a metal tip technical pen. New the choices are Staedtler or Rotring, but in the interests of reusing I went to eBay. I found a Staedtler Marsmatic 700 in a 0.25 sized tip, for a reasonable price. Unfortunately the listing was somewhat inaccurate, and the 'unused' description didn't marry up with the 'chewed end' and 'non-functional' item I actually received. No drama, I got a refund. What was interesting though, seems to be the difference in tip size with fine liners. 0.05 to 0.2 are generally my tips of choice, but the metal 0.25 tip appears to be closer to the 0.05 tip of the UniPin. These technical pens are not cheap new. Best prices online are around £30 GBP for the Marsmatic. So getting the tip size wrong could prove to be costly. There must be something online about these differences, but I am yet to find it.
Having seen Thomasorus's excellent article on the use of CSS grid in websites. I made some changes to the code on this page to eradicate all tables. This definitley fits with my want to keep web code light and simple. Also this week I created a simple Gemini blog (glog?). Ideal for quick simple posts on the go. Ultimately I think that will serve as a daily, unstructured, rough notes platform. Whilst I will (hopefully) continue this page on perhaps a weekly basis.
I have also now received a new "other" (i.e.battered unsellable box), Olympus LS-P4 digital recorder. I was looking at the Tascam and Zoom options, but I can't imagine myself investing in shot-gun microphones and other specialised kit bar the deadcat. A few of the Tascam models were appealing (DR-05X and DR-07X), but both apparently suffer with chronic electrical interference issues, which could be problematic in some of the areas I was planning on doing field recordings. The slightly more expensive DR-40X doesn't, but I was put off by the fact that it takes 3 batteries. Which since I will use rechargeables, is frankly a faff. The P4 has the added bonus of a metal casing and being powered by a single AAA cell, which can be charged either in the recorder, or removed and charged externally. Whilst the Sony IC UX560 is a lovely little recorder. It was bought for use at work, exclusively as a voice recorder. For this purpose it is ideal, but I may consider listing it on eBay now, as 2021 is the year of reducing belongings.
Experimented with 'Audacity' for the first time. Seems to be fairly intuitive. The only sound recordings I have so far are a few samples taken today and one from summer 2019, when I bought the Sony IC UX560, which I have uploaded in 'field recordings' below. The sensitivity of the microphones is outstanding for something so small, but I can see why 'voice' recorders are not appropriate for field recording. The recording I did today is harsh, due to the deafening wind noise.
I made a recording when I got the Sony in June 2019 1906151909, which was clearly a light wind day. I'm not sure what species the song birds are, but suspect they are blackbirds.
So far in 2021 I have found inspiration from the following artists:
- Jean 'Moebius' GIRAUD
- Katsuhiro OTOMO
- Georges Prosper REMI aka Hergé
- Rob TURPIN aka 'This Northern Boy'
- 'Ava Waves' by Ava Waves
- 'Kiasmos' by Kiasmos (aka Ólafur Arnalds & Janus Rasmussen)
- 'The Path' by Show of Hands
- 'The Blue Notebooks' by Max RICHTER
- 'The Undivided Five' by A Winged Victory for the Sullen
- 'Archipelago' by Hidden Orchestra
All of the above listed music is instrumental, and as served as a fantastic soundtrack whilst I have been working.
I have made a list of projects I would like to make some progress on this year:
1) WRITTEN - 'untitled' (in progress)
Skeleton of a writing idea I have had kicking around for a few years. Basic outline is done, and I have a fairly good idea of the direction the story will take. The challenge is to steer the narrative in the right way. There are aspects of the story that inter-weave from both a time and place perspective. This is a long-term project. I am not a writer, and suspect some of my other (short)story ideas will come to fruition first.
2) ILLUSTRATED - 'untitled' (in progress)
Although not intentional, I began drawing some of the characters and scenes from the 'novel' I had begun planning. As I started sketching, it created further ideas for the story. I think I would like to incorporate illustrations in the story. Maybe some sort of homage to the days of books gone by, when in paperback fiction there were often 'plates' to accompany the text.
3) CODE/CRAFT - 'Pomodoro timer' (unstarted)
Yes I know they are a dime a dozen. But pomodoro timers are an absolutely great idea. As an olympic standard procrastinator, I have found employing one in my day job has been
career life saving. Whilst they work fine in software form. There is just something nice about tactile objects. I would like to look at some Arduino/Pi small board options, as the brains. With a view to designing/configuring a simplistic, yet effective lighting system. I would then look to construct a wooden case to hold it all. I feel my woodwork skills are up to standard, I have zero experience with single processor boards. I think Python is probably the coding language to explore, but there may be other options. Time will (quite literallly) tell.
4) AUDIO - 'Wind-Down Wednesday' (started)
I'm looking at creating some 'soundscape' field recordings. Just 5 minutes of ambient (hopefully peaceful) sounds. I have every Wednesday off work, as part of a compressed hours working pattern. As such this is the ideal opportunity to get out and about and do some recording. Two-fold benefit for me. My job is mega-stressful, with PTSE the usual reason for people quitting. So a weekly timeout where I get to take 5, and also do something creative is a win-win. Also for most people working a 9-5, Wednesday is 'hump' day (the mid-point of the week). So if taking 5 in the office and listening to one of these recordings helps to take a breath, then all good.
5) AUDIO - 'Audio loops' (unstarted)
I love podcasts. I've been listening for years, and think they are a fantastic platform for drama. As part of my 'creative' drive, and inspired by the backing music on 'TANIS'. I thought it would be a nice challenge to compose a few 30 - 90 second long instrumental loops. I've got a reasonable digital piano and an initial web search suggest that there are some open-source DAWs out there.
6) PHOTOGRAPHY - 'IR City/land/sea/sky-scapes' (unstarted)
I have long had an interest in infra-red monochrome photography. I first experimented with it in around 2002, when I took a series of landscapes, on 35mm infra-red. Last year I picked up a Lumix GF1 which had been sensor converted to 720nm. I coupled this body with the Olympus 9mm fixed f8 body cap lens, and took some images last summer. I loved the results. The lens is an 18mm equivalent, so gives a virtual 'fish-eye' effect, making the IR scapes even more alien looking. I would like to develop this further with a body of work.