A Window into the Future

A Window into the Future
Ashley Road, Bristol – Age 29

This entry is taken from a work in progress collection of memoirs:

The old Cybertown welcome banner

During the period of Spring to Summer 2001, I had become well ensconced in web-culture. I’d learnt a lot of new computer skills by virtue of being generally addicted to being on the web most of the time.
This had been fine by me, I’d been made redundant from my call centre battery-hen job, working for B.T, the prospect of getting lost in some other low skilled, mind-numbing role held little appeal to me.

I’d been doing call centre work for a couple years, which had felt like a small eternity.
Instead, I celebrated my freedom to have no agenda other than get up in the morning, sit at my computer and (to my mind) learn some valuable new skills for the coming millennium.

As I didn’t have sufficient finances to go out and meet up with actual normal people, the web became an easy portal to talk with strangers, especially ones who shared my technological and musical interests. With hindsight, this was both a good and bad thing, but more on that in another entry!

Someone (probably Dave) introduced me to a new browser based experience called Cybertown. This was, at the time, a revolutionary glimpse of the future of the web.
Cybertown offered simple citizen accounts allowing users to log in, choose a 3D avatar, then choose a 3D location to talk with other users in.
When I say talk, I mean, there was a window showing a virtual world and played somewhat like a game, minus guns, violence and beneath it was a chat window where users could type messenger style to each other, which was then converted into a strange robotic voice which resembled what I would have imagined the late professor Stephen Hawking would have sounded like, if someone had slipped him a Mickey.
Under the hood of all this 3D content was a computer language called VRML (Virtual Reality Modelling Language) I won’t bore you with the techie stuff, but it wasn’t a million miles away from the script that runs all web pages, it was just that this one had 3D space programmed into the code.

Given the state of connectivity and download speeds of the era, Cybertown was by modern standards a fairly low-res affair, prone to the occasional crash as servers overheated due to its massive popularity with geeks and other net-newbies wanting a piece of the cutting edge. Upon reflection, this was my first experience of social media before the term had been coined.

I wasn’t content with just visiting. I made it a mission to learn how to make my own chat environments and content. The main tool for achieving this was probably the worst software title to ever grace the world of apps; Spazz 3D, It had to be an American software developer, someone who’d never watched Blue Peter or been present in a 1980’s UK school playground.
Shitty title aside, once I’d learnt how to get around its UI and manipulate objects, I began a feverish spell of generating content for 3D web. My designs had the added benefit of being something I could bolt onto my website, so for a year or two, hiab-x.com contained quite a bit of my technological imagination in the form of models and environments that allowed for interaction and communication.

I wrote in a diary at the time “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life”
It is now the year 2020, my Oculus Quest wireless VR headset has conjured up the same kind of excitement that I felt nearly twenty years ago. I cannot deny that I recently said to my wife, “This is how I want to spend the rest of my creative life” It’s impossible for me to not draw parallels

Rewinding back to 2001, It transpired that I had become something of a visionary champion of flogging dead horses.
For example, I pitched the idea of The Sandman VR to Neil Gaiman, who was doing a book signing tour for his new book American Gods and happened to be in Bristol. He seemed to like the idea, but mentioned that as he didn’t own the rights to his own work The Sandman, I was better off pitching it to the owners, who were DC Vertigo comics. He gave me an industry contact to get in touch with, which I did, but found that there was little interest in developing it further. The web was still quite a niche market and I don’t think that Vertigo could see a suitable way of developing one of their top-selling titles into a ‘Chat room?’ This was partly where my pitch had failed, I had the models, I had an environment or two but how did this make use of the story? Cosmetically, it was good, from a functionality perspective, it was ill-conceived. VRML wasn’t sophisticated enough to tell stories in a meaningful way. I had some notion that events could be organised where particular key characters from the anthology could make an appearance as a for of fan service, beyond this, i didn’t really have a clue as to how the idea could sustain itself.

My next project was making 3D musical chat environments inspired by the band The Shamen. On a plus side, they’d waxed lyrical about the future of VR and the web, so seemed likely to embrace some bespoke content that might underline their psychedelic visionary ideas. On the downside, the band had just announced their retirement, which meant as far as anything new was concerned, music or otherwise…nothing was going to happen. NOTHING!

Animated Shamen virtual record sleeves with musical remix abilities.

This was a pity, as I’d made some interactive musical objects based on some of their records, these were translucent cubes which had animated versions of their sleeve art. When the user rotated the boxes in various directions, it would allow the song to play different sections in a crude kind of virtual dj remix. I made a chat space inspired by the art for the track Boss Drum, which really pushed the boat out in terms of being a fairly faithful version of the original artwork, moving around in the space allowed a visitor to remix by simply being in various locations within that space. It was all quite pointless given that nobody was going to get me to develop it further. Band break-ups tend to dampen all enthusiasm for reprisals in any form, especially when the time frame from disbandment can be measured in months. At the time of writing in 2020, I still think that the ideas I explored would have been fully suitable for use on their website Nemeton.com, It was unfortunately a case of the right idea at precisely the wrong time.

Look at the lovely speedboat you could’ve won.

I decided to try another avenue of fandom tie-ins. I created some content for the TV series Twin Peaks. I really enjoyed recreating locations as seen in the series. The only problem here, was that it had ended on a sour note for its creators; David Lynch and Mark Frost, who saw their show pulled after two seasons in 1991.

The room above the convenience store
No actors lost revenue in the making of this scene.

I don’t remember how, but I somehow got into dialogue with a budding new film director called Eli Roth*, who was interested in my work and said that he’d show it to David Lynch. I pitched Twin Peaks VR* in an email conversation with Eli, who in turn took it to Lynch, who apparently had zero interest in the project.

[Don’t bother trying to type the URL, it has been dead for a long time]

By the time I got to 2002, having had several bubbles popped, I began withdrawing from attempts to pitch VRML content to people I admired. Every door I knocked on seemed nonplussed by my offerings. I piddled around with a few of my own creations for entertainment purposes but found that the combination of rejections, a limited technological audience, limited technology etc just took the proverbial wind out of my sails.

VRML slowly died a death over the next couple of years*. It didn’t catch on or evolve, setting it up for inexperienced computer users was a perpetual headache. Cybertown saw its user population slowly decrease, by the mid-naughties, web 3D content barely had anything resembling a pulse.

I’ve been inspired to write about these past creative cup-de-sacs now as I’ve witnessed a new technological wave begin to swell in the digisphere. Having recently acquired the Oculus Quest VR headset, I’ve witnessed first-hand, a recalibration of old ideas resurface and present themselves as just the sorts of things that my younger twenty eight year old self was dreaming of. I knew that this day would come but I had no idea what technology would enable it.

The Shamen never reformed

Twin Peaks VR became salt on an old wound because the creators of the show somehow managed to revive their old series and in doing so, generated enough fan interest in its new incarnation that some software was released and it was called ‘Twin Peaks VR’, which allows VR users to enter locations from the show in virtual reality and play a game based on the narrative surounding it.

*Eli Roth went on to be an infamous film director for movies such as Cabin Fever and Hostel.

**VRML -Died a death, transforming into a newer format called Web3D, which also never caught on.

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics have yet to debut as any kind of virtual reality project, though I note that in the modern age, the parent company have outsourced a few of their I.P’s to software developers, who in turn have begun delivering immersive, story-driven VR content such as Batman Arkham VR. It is quite conceivable that one day, VR users will be able to enter the ‘Virtual Dreaming’ because the tech has found a respectable sweet-spot where immersive experiences are achievable within the digital domain.

The most modern equivalent of Cybertown is now a platform known as AltspaceVR. Headset owners can now occupy a virtual meeting space and see each other’s avatars as they did before, but now with this wonderful technology, have the sense of presence when interacting with each other, because In VR, If someone from Scotland is talking with you to your left, whilst someone from New York is part of the conversation and in front of you, simplified avatars aside, this feels like a genuine human to human interaction, to a point where you forget that you are looking at a headset embedded screen. My younger self would have been delighted.

As for me in the present?

Well, I have the hardware necessary for VR immersion. I have yet to nail down the path In which I can begin creating and sharing content again. A strong contender for an all-in-one package would be Media Molecule’s marvellous Dreams software, which debuted on the PS4 earlier this year. I’m still ver much at the beginner stage of skills in using it and am keenly awaiting its much anticipated VR capabilities to be launched; Due July 22nd 2020.

Lesson’s learnt from past misadventures means that I’ll be very sure to avoid working on any creative project that isn’t inspired by my own imagination, even if I get a tempting idea about developing someone else’s creations. It just isn’t worth the investments of time and effort. Fortunately, I’ve built up a legacy of my own creations to draw upon. Preliminary experiments in VR have proven to be a blast. Recently, I found a sketch in the back of a diary from around the time I was teaching myself VRML. The sketch was a doodle, but I liked it enough to cut it off the piece of paper it was drawn on and stick it in the back of my book as part of a bank of undeveloped ideas.

Recently, I recreated the sketch in some excellent software called SculptVR. This allowed me to make a 3D model of the sketch with the unexpected benefit of being able to treat the model as a kind of environment that I could then wander around and explore. The power of VR is that it can allow an artist to do this. You can fashion an object, which may have elements that could translate into a kind of scene or environment. You can then shrink yourself down to a minuscule size, which in turn makes your creation become unbelievably massive. This allows a user to be able to sculpt or illustrate at a microscopic scale, even if that hadn’t been the original intention.

To me, this sets a standard for an infinite potential for future artworks. What would the great artistic masters have created if they’d had access to such tools?! The time for a reimagining of what art, sculpture and music can be is finally here.

The time is now.

Website Coma

Uh, wassat? How long have I been out?

I know, I know, the last entry was a maudlin meditation on the death of an admired one, then silence.

The truth is, my website has been put at the back of the queue as far as creative output goes. There’s a new lady in town, her name is ‘Day One App’

I’ve been having an affair with it while neglecting to add reflections and news on these pages. Guilty! The thing is, just because there is no news, it doesn’t mean that there is no news

2020 has got off to a racy start of my own creativity. I use Day One to compile and collate many previous works in terms of journal entries, autobiographical gap-filling reflections of the life I’ve lived, dreams dreamt, people, places. The project of digitising old battered diaries has been quite an adventure and I’ve barely made a dent in transcribing the volumes and tomes.

And for what reason? I think it has partly been a growing sense that life is short and uncertain, if my writings and works form part of a creative legacy, then how would I like it to be presented when It gets handed over to my daughter or other friends and family members? The original works are fairly fragile, the grammar in places was terrible, the art has faded etc.

I admired the small series of web-documentaries called “Everything is a remix”. The title alone got me thinking of remixing my own works and to try and consolidate them into a central chunky narrative. I also thought of the time I used to lose when I was a Windows 98 user, attempting to breathe life into my spluttering machine. I’d run a script called ‘Defragmentation’ and watch the visual representation of the computer reshuffling its hard drive contents into some form of order. This project has been the human attempt at performing the same task with my own mind.

Day One App is a marvellous bit of journalling software, I’ll link it below. I’ve been using it since September 2017. I was on holiday taking a much-needed break. During the brief and beautiful period of having nothing to do and nowhere to go, I decided to take up an old habit and start journaling again. Thanks to the multitude of distractions that the web had provided in terms of blogging and social media, I’d dropped out of keeping a written record of my life events and feelings sometime in early 2004. Given that from 2004 onwards, the best years of my life had begun, I had a growing sense of shame that I’d never stopped to write about them. So at some future point, I intend to put this historic wrong to right and compile them into a retrospective journal.

This is all very well for you, the reader of the blog, you’ll probably never get to see any of what I’m describing? What? You think I should share it online? Give it all up for the great algorithm? Come on! I have got some dignity.

At best, I may select certain entries and artworks and ‘might’ post edited versions here.

Well, there is a middle ground…

Earlier this month (Feb 20) I decided to take a small break from the practice of mental defragging , I decided to get my head around some other new software called ‘Affinity designer‘. A very splendid company called Serif have decided to take on the digitally ancient company Adobe, and offer software that not only competes with the likes of Photoshop and Illustrator, it also offers a very attractive point of entry pricing model which confidently urinates all over the Adobe cloud-based pricing plan.

Like many digital artists out there, I create for the pleasure of art. “Art for art’s sake” I haven’t attempted to sell any of my works for a long time, so It seemed like a kick in the balls when Creative Cloud was unleashed into the world and Adobe wanted at least £20+ per month for the privilege of using its software. The team at Serif clearly found this an objectionable business model too and decided to take on the Adobe behemoth with their own alternatives. Cue Affinity Photo/Designer and Publisher. All three programs offer similar functionality with a superb interface, brilliant tools, cross-program compatibility and (Cherry on top) a one-off flat fee for the experience. Their pricing is very reasonable, to me, switching over to the Serif way of doing things seemed a ‘no-brainer’ I’m delighted with the software and what It can do.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve put some of my fairly limited break time into learning Affinity Designer and have fallen in love with what it allows me to do. I’ve returned to the slowly simmering Umpquamadic Peel project as it suits the software perfectly (or is it the other way around?)

I’m delighted with the results, which is a point of creative glee for me personally, as I know I haven’t fully tapped into the power of the software yet.

One suspects that they know how you feel…” – Lord Pointy Head

Keeping things creative, I’ve also spent a combination of Birthday and Christmas money given to me by my mother, on a bloody brilliant little device called an Instax SP-3. (Thanks Mum!)

The device prints slightly smaller than Polaroid format, Polaroid-style photographs. During the history of my dreaming, I’ve often dreamt of taking photos in my dreams of subconscious weirdness that has caught my eye. I’ve lost count of the mornings I’d woken up with an instant disappointment that photos taken in dreamland have stayed in dreamland. I’ve ended up resorting to recreating what I’d seen using photo editing software, then making a digital dream photo. All very well, but a jpeg is a jpeg, It looks nice on screen, but like a dream-photo, it doesn’t necessarily exist.

The Instax SP-3 has helped me overcome the problem with something tangible. I can now print dream photographs and the format more or less makes the imagery seem a little more credible.

Photographs taken in Dreamland.

There is a grander vision to all of this, but If I told you what it was, I’d have to kill you. Given the limited readership this blog receives, I’m afraid that this is where we have to leave things for today. No, I don’t blog often, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not doing things in Actual Reality. The most faithful of my subscribers here will eventually benefit from the fruits of my everso secret projects…you are just having to sit it out while I focus on ‘the long game’


Affinity Software

Day One App https://dayoneapp.com

Everything is a Remix

Instax SP-3

Death of a Musical Hero

Will Sinnot news clipping from NME May 1991

(The following text is an excerpt from a collection of memoirs I am currently writing. 1st draft)

The news that William Sinnott of the band the Shamen, had drowned in a tragic swimming accident off the shores of La Gomera in the Canary Islands, hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was sitting on the top deck of a bus travelling through Norwich at the time, reading through the latest issue of the NME and there it was: The photo of my musical hero, and the sickening headline ‘Will Shamen Drowns’.

I remember thinking that this must have been some kind of sarcastic, sick joke. It wouldn’t have been uncommon for the music press of the era to come out with a dramatic sounding headline, only to then say ‘Drowned in a sea of adoring ravers’ or ‘drowned in his own shame after an appalling gig in Manchester’. Unfortunately, the article had all the sickening gravitas of a genuine mini obituary. It wasn’t a joke.

Up until this moment, The Shamen had been one of the best musical acts I’d ever heard. I won’t go too much into the reasons why, here, as I’ve no doubt that I’ll write something more about them elsewhere in this collection of memoirs. One of the primary reasons I was so in awe of the group was William Sinnott aka Will Sin aka Will Shamen. Superficially, he resembled a be-dreadlocked bird of prey inhabiting human form, I think that he was a decent six foot something in stature, played the bass like a demon, was a dab hand at dancing and playing two synths simultaneously, wrote amazingly distinctive dance tunes, was extremely charismatic in interviews with an added razor blade of sharp intellect and wit. It was hard not to be impressed. 

During the time I’d been following the group as an avid fan, I devoured Will’s words and observations with every music press magazine feature and interview. The man had attitude and style. I was perfectly poised to absorb this older man’s outlook on the world, he advocated the culture I had become ensconced in, he gave intelligent insights into music, society, politics and psychedelic drug use. I didn’t know that I was seeking a role model at the time, but there he was.

In late 1990 the band released the eternally cherished album En-Tact. The music press heaped well deserved praise upon the album, noting its grown-up sound, its hypnotic and futuristic sonic palette, the positive potential of the kind of music that it delivered in spades. It was clear that the band were in their ascent and to me, thank god I was riding that wave. 

The Shamen’s En-Tact was a constant companion on my personal stereo. Will’s touch could be heard throughout, there was something edgy and cool in the sequencing, certain playfully dark samples, certain bass grooves. He’d been credited for his own solo compositions Lightspan and the monumentally cool Evil Is Even, which were instrumental tracks, given that in the months preceding its release, I’d fallen in love equally with his B-Side efforts In The Bag and Something Wonderful, another two incredibly excellent instrumentals. There was a death vibe to all of them though…

Lightspan – a play on the term ‘Lifespan’ containing the sample ‘Life is never enough…and It’s all you get’

Evil Is Even – Just sounded like a shamanic out-of-body experience with an enigmatic title …why was evil even? I know this is a tenuous observation but something about the track connects on a gut level.

Something Wonderful – for its samples taken from the movie 2010, Dr Heywood Floyd has an unexpected conversation with dead astronaut Dave Bowman.

In The Bag – retrospectively, hard not to think of the first place a dead body goes. The track sounded like a beautiful death trip, so dark and otherworldly. I found myself feeling that this was underlined when the posthumous release of the Peel Sessions ‘On Air’ appeared. The live track featured samples from Will’s earlier compositions, playing almost like a strange sampled obituary in the opening sequence.

Think I’m reading too much into it? How about the twelve-inch demo that he recorded as a side project, shortly before he drowned. U Make Me Feel has the lyric “Come on in, take a swim, don’t wait to be invited”  or the very rare Portastudio demo he recorded in 1987 called U Bury Me.

I find it impossible to not connect these dots with a sense of wonder, the immortal rhetorical question: “Did he somehow, just know…?”

When it became clear that his drowning was absolutely a fact of reality, I felt stunned, then consumed by an immense sadness that I’ve never forgotten. In the immediate weeks after his death, I felt a deep sense of loss, almost as if someone very close to me had passed. I think retrospectively, I recognised the tragedy as the collapsing of a wave of so many potentials diminishing so very quickly and violently off the shores of some foreign land. Will’s star should have continued to ascend, not burn out into nothingness in the way that it had. How rarely does death offer second chances?

My diary entries at the time failed to adequately convey the deep wound that Will’s drowning inflicted on my soul, which is why I’ve chosen to write this entry as it appears now.

In 2018 I was lucky enough to venture to the Canaries and stay in Tenerife, a location where much of the Progen 91 video was filmed. I took the opportunity to take a ferry to La Gomera as I wished to know the place where Will spent his final days. I had felt frustrated that people I’ve maintained contact with, people who one would suppose as ‘being in the know’ didn’t seem to know where in La Gomera Will took his final swim. This meant that my pilgrimage ended up being a scattershot affair of exploring the island (Which is by far the most beautiful of all the Canaries I’ve been lucky to visit)

I had to conclude that, if one is going to die on a beautiful Island, terrible as the event may be, La Gomera is a stunning place to end life’s path. I felt a draw toward the west coastal town of Valle Gran Rey, my intuition seemed to be pulling me in that direction, but I wasn’t certain.

This year, 2019, I went there again and felt the same pull towards that location. In one of the final interviews with the band in 1991, just before the tragic sequence of events unfolded, vocalist Richard West had been noted for mentioning that Will and his girlfriend Julie were to stay on in La Gomera, staying in a cave by the sea. It turns out that a likely spot fits that description in Valle Gran Rey, so my second visit seemed to have a certain sense of validation when I returned there. I still cannot be sure though, but that was the place that my second pilgrimage took me back to.

I doubt that this will be the final visit to the island. I’m not intending to make a tradition of it by any means, I just feel on some level that I have unfinished business there, I feel that I need to perform some kind of ritual action that hasn’t fully formed within me yet…NO, It won’t involve going for a swim!

Decades down the timeline of this personal story, I have never lost the feeling that I have mourned a brother from my own tribe, it is so hard to put into words exactly why that is, all I know is that I’ve carried a genuine sense of loss for all of these years and It is possible that a subsequent visit to La Gomera may yield something of a catharsis, in finally letting go of the ghost of this amazing man that I never had the pleasure to meet in person.

Funnily, I had for a moment, come close to meeting him in November 1990. The Shamen hosted an event called Synergy at the London venue once known as The Rocket. The event will be discussed in more detail in another entry. For now, I’ll mention that as I was queuing with my friend outside before the venue doors opened, Will walked past. I was so gobsmacked in the moment, that I just gawped. Later in the evening, I was dancing with a young lady with a Scottish accent and long blonde dreadlocks who happened to say proudly “That’s my boyfriend up there” pointing to Will as he was dancing around and playing bass during the Shamen part of the gig. I had no reason to doubt her.

Later, I found myself somewhere in residential London, at a party that was at the band’s residence. It was a squat building with a skateboard half-pipe in the back yard. Colin Angus, (The other half of the dynamic duo) was there. Heavy dub was blasting from the basement of the building, I’d hoped that I’d get an opportunity to meet Will but it turned out that he was somewhere else that night.

I have often wondered what would have become of him had he not died, how would he have evolved? What musical direction would he have taken? What if, what if?  This impossible line of questioning has occasionally manifested an answer in dreams. I’ve been leafing through records in a synaptic record shop or neurological vinyl stall on the edge of a Yesod market…I discover a Shamen pile of twelve-inch records, tunes I’ve never heard of, I examine the sleeves (all designed by Me Company) They have really upped the ante with their techno-psychedelic design work, I can see on the back sleeve, ghostly images of Will and Colin fused with the sublime patterns and colours. My excitement ramps up considerably, what year is this? Oh my god! I have to buy the lot! Will is still with us! and then…and then I shift back to this ‘Universe A’ state of consciousness with its own personal unique hole in my spacetime.

Node 303

I have to be careful how I word the following entry as I would like to talk about what I’m up to creatively but not give away too much at the same time. So, expect cryptic but no spoilers.

Node 303: It’s the working title of a gradually evolving assembly of audio works I create on a day to day basis in my very limited free time. Often, it will begin on my commute, stop when I reach work, resume during my tea and lunch breaks, then continue on my ride back home.

I’ve been noodling away at audio production for a few years now. If you follow what I do via this blog or my other channels, I know it would seem like I produce little and infrequently. This isn’t actually the case at all. I’m just the kind of individual who likes to keep my creative cards close to my chest, especially while I consider myself to still be in a state of research and development or learning.

As the lights of civilisation have slowly been flickering out over the last few years, for example: the rise of ugly nationalism in various countries, the apparent political cluster-fucks of Brexit and the horrendous catastrophe that is the Trump administration, Syria, a dying biosphere etc etc, I have found at times that my creativity has suffered from a slump, particularly in making music.

I recognised that this wasn’t a mentally healthy state to be in so, as mentioned before in an earlier post, I’ve either jumped onto technical problem solving such as working out how other artists do certain things, or I’ve switched to avenues such as writing or playing with graphics as ‘gap fillers’ until I get into a better frame of mind.

Something I had always shied away from was the use of my voice. I’ve no vocal training, have never thought of myself as a singer or song writer. As I love music, and have learnt how to make my own, it always felt like a chink in my metaphoric armour.

Over the last few months, I’ve had a happy accident in my creativity, I’ve begun taking elements from certain journals that I’ve written, recording my reading of my works, then adding a soundtrack that I’ve created. I found that even though the vocals are spoken, they have served very well to act as a skeleton on which to hang the flesh of rhythm, melody and various other sonic embellishments. So far so good…

All works to date can be considered as part of a larger body of work that will eventually be grouped together as a collection called ‘Node 303’ I’d like to think that this will be an indefinitely ongoing project while I’m alive.

It may take a few more months before I share what I’ve begun creating, but I’m excited by what I’ve produced so far, even though I know when the time comes to unify the various strands, I will need to add a lot of polish to the current collection of vignettes.

There are other plus points to this current paradigm of working. The music that forms the soundtracks is personally satisfying for me to listen to, If I mute the vocal elements, I find that everything else has a certain musical flow that I’m happy with. Not necessarily following the structure of a song: opening, verse, chorus, middle eight etc but as a soundtrack, the music has a logic to it. In this light, I may well use the soundtracks as another creative point to spring from. (I said that I’d have to be cryptic, didn’t I.)

At the conclusion of this brief update, I’ve told you ‘all and nothing’ at the same time, which in turn gives me a sense of success in achieving my slippery aims as stated at the start of the post. 

As an aside:

I’ve only a limited number of subscribers to my blog here, at the time of all the GDPR mayhem, I abstained from pinging out yet another mail asking you to consent and change your privacy settings, however, I did enable some extra privacy functionality to this website to allow users to manage privacy, should anyone wish to do something out of character and actually leave a comment beneath a post. If you no longer wish to receive copies of the infrequent blog entries such as this one, just click the ‘unsubscribe’ link at the bottom of the mail. There won’t be any hard feelings if you do, I’m very much at ease with being unpopular on the web. If you don’t change anything, well, st some point soon, you’ll probably get a mail with a link to something weird and musical…

Shamanic Revival

taken from private journal

There’s a certain fine connective tissue between my creative projects. I know I’m partly guilty of flitting between proects rather than nailing down and ploughing through one idea with sustained focus.
I said in an earlier entry that I’d attempt to not do this, but I have to admit that chopping and changing tends to work quite well for me, I am retaining creativity daily after all.

I tend to find when I reach a creative block, especially when it’s music related, my mind tends to do one of two things. I either completely shift gears to another method of self expression or I return to something earlier where I got stuck. In the most recent case, it has been returning to a little project I’ve gradually evolved over the last couple of years.

Here’s a brief back story: For about thirty years I’ve been a fan of the former band ‘The Shamen’. The road got a bit bumpy in their later years after their bassist,(my first musical hero) Will Sinnott died, so my main point of  admiration tends to focus on the era between 1988-91 where the band, in my opinion, transited through their *golden age*.

When I lived in Norwich, the city centre market used to have a stall that sold bootleg recordings of gigs. I’d make a weekly visit there on the look out for stuff I was into, one one occasion I spotted a Shamen bootleg of them playing in Bournemouth doing a ‘Synergy’ club night. Because Synergy was a type of show that was part rave, part concert with a seamless transition between DJ sets and live acts, whoever had bootlegged the show also made a point of recording about half an hour’s worth of the DJ set. Most of the tunes in that section of the recording were old club classics of the day, elements of What time is Love by the KLF, Renegade Soundwave’s ‘The Phantom’. To my mind the standout track was the unexpected and fucking brilliant instrumental remix of Shamen track ‘Oxygen Restriction’

This version was unique to my collection as it appeared to have never been released… I had the tape for quite a few years, complete with poor quality cassette hiss, peoples voices forming a background ambience. I always felt frustrated that I had such an amazing recording so badly recorded. Sometime around 2003-2004, I found myself no longer owning a tape machine and it seemed that tape was dead in general. I clearly recall sizing up the tape, during a clear out and thinking ‘ah, I suppose I’ll never play this again’ and throwing it out with other rubbish. I have learnt to bitterly regret that choice over the years since then. Here’s why:

1. There are a small number Shamen Bootleg recordings online, none of which are the Bournemouth show.
2. I have since learnt that the reason the version of Oxygen Restriction is so obscure, Is probably because it was an on the fly live mix performed by Will and another DJ, ergo it was unique.
3. It looks like I was the only owner of the bootleg of the concert. If anyone else had it, they’ve never made it publicly available.

4. Since disposing of the aforementioned cassette, I have been haunted by the memory of the tune and remember it vividly enough to now be able to do something about it…nearly.

Needles to say, as I’ve gradually progressed with my ability to sequence and play music (Mainly on Nanostudio) I’ve made attempts to recreate the music I remember. I guess because I’m a perfectionist, I’ve felt frustrated at the things I know don’t sound quite right, or true to how I remember them.

Nanostudio sadly became a defunct DAW after having survived a few years and several iOS updates and phone iterations. The developer Blip Interactive decided to retire the app in the advent of the iPhone X and cease updating the software, consequently any Apple devices running the latest operating system could no longer open the old music production software.

For me, this meant that every piece of music I’d created and learnt from over the last four years had to be relegated to a digital graveyard. I still have my old phone with a working copy of my first DAW, including early attempts at Oxygen Restriction.

Musical creativity has shifted to the excellent and very portable GarageBand for iOS, where I’ve put focus into updating the more successful music projects from my earlier efforts. I know I’ve appeared to digress but bear with me on this.

The beauty of working on GarageBand whilst on commutes and work breaks is that nearly everything I create can be exported and built upon in Logic X for a more professional and polished sound.
Recently I’ve returned to the quest to faithfully recreate that long lost bootleg mix of Oxygen Restriction, and its definitely progressing along in leaps and bounds. Call me an anorak, but I felt a sense of glee when I spotted an old Shamen video of Colin Angus playing a Yamaha DX7 ; “A clue!” I thought. I found an app that was free and claimed to be a faithful emulator of the old DX sounds. Sure enough, one of the settings had a synth noise incredibly similar to the opening chords of Hyperreal. Coincidentally, the same sound was used in that obscure Oxygen Restriction version, so that’s another box I can tick.

Revisiting the Shamen as I do, I have found my imagination wandering around on other things I have always admired but felt haunted by for various reasons. For example, it transpires from various other publicly available bootlegs that the band evolved ideas for their tracks over the course of a live tour. The track Phorward played live was a significant departure from the version on the album of the same name. Elements of the Pro-gen rap can be heard in Colin’s singing. I’m particularly fond of the Bootleg ‘Shamen Live at Suberrania’ as it sounds like Colin and Will were on fire with energy. The songs were incredibly punchy and performed with precision. Once again, I have the nagging spectre of dissatisfaction with audio quality.

On the one hand, I could think ‘it was of the moment- should’ve been there’. On the other hand I think ‘I could probably make a close approximation of these tunes and make snappy instrumental versions of them’ The creative drive dictates the outcome, the lack of perfection of my musical ability remains the only hindrance …but I’m working on that and confident that I’ll get to where I need to.

Contender tracks are:

Phorward: current obstacles are sourcing the opening samples.
“and they can’t find it? Then we’ll find it! We all know damn well they won’t. They haven’t been able to for 50.000 years looking at it that way. It requires an alteration, a change…”

*Update: Source located*

War Prayer:

*Awaiting bass recording from session bassist*


*Vast collection of modern equivalent samples currently amassing*

You, Me and Everything (Evil Ed live Subterrania ‘Funky’ version)

*Original samples hard to identify: If you know the gaps to the following problem, I’d love to hear from you “Yaaaaah (Got) Here it is (Unknown) ???????? Hit it (Got) cold rock stuff (Got)”

Splash 2/What’s Going Down?

*Sequencing started, having trouble with the main synth riff which is a 6/8 loop the notes are correct, the synth sounds are just wrong.

I don’t mind taking on the challenge of recreating and experimenting with the works of another long respected artist. I personally feel that an attempted copy will teach me where my strengths and weaknesses are, it will allow me greater insight into the creative processes of arrangement as the original tracks provide a template. Given that I sometimes struggle with my own arrangements, having a form of replica will provide insights into how Colin and Will worked back in the day, as I’ve learnt from my attempted recreation of Hyperreal last year, seeing a track laid out on the piano roll of a Daw is an insight that almost everyone lacks when they hear a tune that they love. It can be quite an education.

Umpsquamadic Vector

I stumbled into generating Scalable Vector Graphics by accident as I was experimenting with the Wacom pen.
I began with an app called ‘Assembly’ and it turned out that using fingers was more effective anyhow. I’ve spent most of my breaks this week having a go at making a test Umpsquamadic Peel image.

This took a bit of time and developed into the following graphic

Just for shits’n giggles. I’m encouraged that the digital files are so easy to manipulate and add quick variations to.
In Assembly, certain limitations became apparent. The repetition of dots around the perimeter involved a lot of copy/paste operations and scaling down. The end result being an object of somewhere around one thousand components. The iPad seemed to deal with this fairly well, however, once I’d attempted to duplicate the object within Assembly, adding another thousand or so components, the device went painfully slow, clearly suffering from insufficient RAM . Once again, the case for upgrading hardware becomes a consideration.

Saturday became a day of creative exploration in the visual domain. I carried on with experimental imagery based upon the fateful day in 1992 using a collection of graphics programs mainly for the iPad. These had been apps that I’d previously downloaded but found little in the way of use for as I had no particular plan in mind. Today however, I went to town messing around with all of them (as they suggest and link to each other) the following images are from those experiments.

As it turns out, I can produce artwork on the fly and quickly. Yes, it’s a little rough around the edges but I’m rediscovering how to express imagery that has been kicking around in the back of my brain for years. I think the digital medium is an excellent way of expressing it. I tried with pen and ink back in the 90’s.

Back then it was the best I could do, and as any artist will agree, when a person has a photographic image in their head, although traditional mediums are a useful way of expressing the seed idea, there is always a compromise that the image is an approximation of the idea, rather than a vivid capture of what is seen in the mind’s eye.


Track Change

For a moment’s pause, I’ve stepped away from the audio I was working on recently. There’s only so far I can go in my break times, coupled with the infuriating inability of iOS to not be capable of downloading sound files like Wavs when away from the computer.

The glue that will tie my various experiments together will be a narrative track. That in itself requires being written again as I have looked back at what I wrote in 2002 and feel that it largely needs improvement.

Whilst I’ve been working on sound, I’ve been considering the visual elements of the project. I purchased a test stylus for iPad drawing; A Wacom Bamboo Sketch and downloaded a few drawing apps to see how sketching on a tablet may work for me. I’m undecided yet but in my heart, I know it’s probably that I’m slowly coming round to the idea of upgrading to iPad Pro and trying my luck with the pencil that was designed for it.

I think this has sprung from the often used statement

‘I don’t draw any more because I don’t have time’

It leaves me with a hollow feeling as I know it is partly an excuse. If it really is a matter of time, then maybe so need to reassess those elements that I feel are time consuming and find a more efficient solution.

Technological inks and paints appear to have made giant leaps in the last decade, and I’m witnessing some wonderful digital art by other creators. In this light, I need to remove the excuses and just explore new approaches. Expect to see some tests here soon.

Strum & Bass

Strum and Bass

Yesterday in some respects was a slow day in creative terms. I did experiment with GarageBand IOS.
I’d seen a video on my newsfeed in the morning showing how to expand the sound of the native ‘smart guitar’. (Basically midi guitar ) output, to extend the limited pallet of sonics available.

Much of my break time noodling revolves around noodling with that. While the smart guitar can fake the physical instrument it is trying to emulate fairly well, the ear still knows that no strings are vibrating.

I messaged another user briefly on Facebook and enquire whether the virtual amp software comes into its own if one plugs a real guitar into the program? The person indicated that it does indeed, so I may well invest in a small interface called an iRig.

In the evening, I went to the cabin and picked up my acoustic out of a partial sense of guilt, having neglected to play with regularity over the last month. I tried some finger picking exercises set by John G, my tutor. That was a somewhat frustrating experience. I then tried some things I enjoy and know how to play, this was an improvement. I then loaded up Robin Finck’s interview where he talks about guitar strings and plays a little variation on a Nine Inch Nails rhythm.

(Skip to 8:33)

I studied his fretboard positioning and tried to copy it. Without the same effects pedals or electric guitar, my version sounded plodding by contrast but I was quite pleased that I’d picked up the tune, then rounded off the small session by finding a rhythm from the song Demon Seed.

As with all my guitar work so far, small steps lead to small victories. I remain grateful for even those.

Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Umpsquamadic Peel Song: Pt 2

Last night I put guitar practice aside to nudge the Umpsquamadic Peel song along a bit further.

I lined up four vocal variations of me singing the song as an overdub, in Logic. I then experimented with some plug-ins for vocal transformation, space designer (reverb) I was particularly pleased with the vocal transform as it managed to create a female tone amongst the masculine ones.
At some point during the noodling, I added another distortion effect to make the piece a little less human sounding. It worked very well but at the cost of losing the female sounding voicing . I’m not 100% committed to using this experiment in the final piece but it has emboldened me to know that I’m now getting better at taking sounds from my mind and have a basic enough knowledge to do a fairly accurate reproduction of them.

I took the loop I’d created and dropped it into the project ‘Walk of fear’ (working title) I was pleasantly surprised that it fit the composition without my need to time stretch or chop up in anyway. So now I know that the Umpsquamadic Peels sing somewhere around 110bpm

It occurred to me whilst singing the loop , that I could add a variation. It’s a gut feeling that my idea is faithful to the nature of the incident.
I’m thinking of a line that goes:

I’ve always known I’ve felt like this before, and I always knew that I was born before.

Two before’s …I might have to think about tweaking the first line.

(Later )

During the day I had a play around with the Umpsquamadic vocal track combining it with a copy of the ‘Walk of fear ‘ track. Rhythmically, they don’t quite line up and I’m going to have to resolve this somehow without compromising either in a significant way. It’s only the last two bars that present the issue.

When I got home I played around with a couple of other connected ideas belonging to the overall arc of what will he the entire piece. Firstly I recorded a paragraph of dialogue along the lines of

“There is a word. If you find yourself in a terrible place and you are no longer able to cope, if the world becomes mad and you need a way out, then say _________ and an exit will appear”

I inserted a high pitch tone into the blank space, added some vocal butchery to the dialogue and found that the result was a pleasing approximation of this baffling memory.

I played it back to Tanya later and she immediately picked up on errors in delivery and cadence, giving me some tips on how to deliver the vocal more commandingly. This was useful to know, besides, this recorded dialogue was only an experiment.

Down the studio later, I spent around twenty minutes recording another element I’ll refer to here as ‘supersonic bionic
A weird memory of an acid drenched flight of fancy, the amuse bouche before the main course of horror.