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*

Misinformation:

*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.

 

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.

Back From the Dead

Shucks. Does anyone still visit? Well, I’ve reconciled a difficult issue I felt myself facing whenever I’ve updated this blog, namely age+experience+doubts=No posting

Age: Less need for having my ego fed by having a ‘Look at me’ website

Experience: The recognition that the web has mutated into a deformed monster version of its sweet little baby younger self, it is angry, full of wicked lies and crooks. If I have a personal blog, how do I know that it won’t be used against me? 

Doubts: Who gives a monkeys if I blog and have a website?

No posts: see above.

Yet I pay for my domain name every year. Well, that’s stupid If I’m not doing anything with it.

Solution: I’ve been keeping journals again using a fabulous app called ‘Day One‘ I admit that I love it as it helps organise my thoughts. I’ve subdivided the journal into Life, Dreams, Questions asked by users of (and answered by me) on Quora. Lastly, a creative journal.

In the case of the later, I’ve found that it helps and motivates me to keep a track of what I do, why I do it and how i do it. I began to think, this journal in particular would be a candidate for blogging. In this spirit, I will copy entries from my personal journal and post them here on my site for my ever invisible, somewhat limited audience. Having said that, as my SEO metadata may be picked up by search engines and attract new viewers. If what I’m doing interests you or if you feel that I could be doing it better and you know how I could, then I will always welcome correspondence from interested, creative parties.

 

 

Winter Is Coming…

Here’s an update of sorts. Busy seems to remain the flavour of this part of life’s seasons. So, being rather ensconced in my career as I am, I still fill the pockets of free time that I can snatch, with musical creativity. I compose tunes in break times, always gunning for a development in my style and ability to arrange. An hour a night at meddling with my electric guitar is starting to pay off. I’ve been (according to my Instagram page) been practicing for thirty seven weeks. That’s two hundred and fifty nine hours based upon my hour a day regimen. “The path is long” as I’ve been told, I can believe it, but on the whole as each week passes, I gain a little confidence and have found on certain occasions, I have a magic hour where my hands seem to intuitively glide around the fretboard and satisfying metallic shreds occur. Given a little more time, I’ll post something for your anonymous curiosity.

Halloween 2015 has just passed. It got me thinking that I should mark the occasion in some way so I delved into my music files and dug up the first piece of music I created back in 2013. I added a simple visual from the opening sequence of Halloween 3 (An old horror favourite) and uploaded it to Youtube. The piece, as with most of my noodlings, is thought of as a work in progress, as I intend to return to it at some future point and flesh it out a little more. It was always intended to be a track with spoken narrative, mainly inspired by the Bauhaus  tracks ‘Departure’ and ‘Of Lillies and Remains’

In the mean time, I’m refining my ability to 1. Play the guitar parts myself. 2. Develop the guitar melody so that it builds and evolves more throughout the track. That said, I’m still pleased that this first version was the main reason I began this musical adventure, I found that I’d proved an old daydream to be something that would eventually find some substance. So, here’s ‘The Summoning’ a working title that may become something else eventually.

As mentioned, life is busy and it seems all available space is filled perpetually. I’m working in Bristol currently, helping restore an old Victorian hospital so that wealthy people can live there in luxury apartments. There’s a certain irony that the site is immediately adjacent to a massive, crammed block of flats inhabited mainly by the impoverished. As a partial remedy to this juxtaposition of fortunes, a new building is due to be erected that will serve as a visual barrier between to the two classes. One can almost imagine the kind of neighbourly dynamic that may present itself if civilisation reaches the kind of societal boiling point that it sometimes seems we are heading into.

I’ve digressed, what I had intended to mention is that my wife has provided me with access to her Audible – audio books account and recommended gems within. Whilst I perform architectural conservation tasks by numbers, my mind and ears are often operating in a different sphere altogether. Recently I have listened to a magnificent anthology of spooky stories by John Connolly called ‘Night Music -Nocturnes Volume 2’

I’d adored his earlier book ‘The Book of Lost Things’ and subsequently found that the aforementioned audio book was equally, if not more gripping that the previous offering. I highly recommend it and the narration is superb. I found particular delight in a section of stories around the middle of the recording under the heading ‘The Fractured Atlas’ If like me, you enjoy the spooky old yarns of M.R James, H.P Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, then you’ll find your spine suitably tingled by these stories.

Available here.

The next audio book I listened to was ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett. A most enchanting love story about two people, Jim and Eva who meet in Cambridge during the nineteen fifties. One of the things I really loved about this beautifully written story was, the way the narrative branched out into different timelines, allowing pivotal plot points to unfold in entirely different directions to each other. It digs deep into the questions I think all of us sometimes wonder “What if I’d chosen to _________ (Insert hypothetical tangent universe question here) Instead of _____________ ? (What you actually did here) What you are left with is a rich tapestry of three vivid narratives of the same couple living their lives through seven decades with all the love, heartbreaks and loss in three entirely different universes to each other. The book saves the reader from the complications of  the ‘why?’, it isn’t necessary. Each story is so luminous with believable characters, dialogue and situations, one just easily accepts the three versions of events as they unfold. It also made me snivel repeatedly during solitary moments on my scaffolding, I don’t mind admitting it.

Available here

Once I’d regained my manly composure, I moved on to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. In a strangely similar vein to The Versions of Us, this story follows the multiple lives and deaths of Ursula Todd, beginning in the early 1900’s. A very effective plot device takes the reader/listener through a fractal maze of the protagonist’s existence as she lives the same life over and over again branching off at various narrative points to discover the paths that never were or what might have been. She never fully recognises all the other versions of herself that had been before and we never really need to know why. In an age where concepts like the Multiverse and Parallel Universes are fairly well understood constructs, I think Atkinson makes the assumption that the reader will bear these things in mind whilst enjoying the stories. Once again, I was entranced by the richness of the narrative and the growing beauty of the characters as they are slowly revealed throughout their various subtle iterations. As the story takes place over several decades and passes through the Spanish Flu pandemic and two world wars, it creates an often harrowing account of life in both Germany and Britain, particularly during the later war, where we see through the eyes of Ursula as a young woman and consequently see the carnage from an adult perspective. It is both a wonderful story and history lesson.

Available here.

By now, I’ve learnt to carry robust tissues in my pocket whilst listening to these stories. It is a credit to the authors, and narrators that they can reduce a man to a snivelling wreck when he should be focussing on the job at hand.

Listening to the last two stories prompted me to think about life’s ‘What if?’ a little, quickly realising the futility of such lines of enquiry. It did make me ponder however, the recognition  of the transient nature of things and people; our lives in general. I thought of the passage of time and that curious knowledge that comes with having lived a few decades, that there are people you know, that you meet up with for one last time without either party realising that you will probably never see each other again in this life. School friends, ex lovers, occasional family members. Its a funny thing, you say  your goodbyes in such a casual manner, perhaps even say something like ‘see you soon’ and then it never happens. Its like a little death of sorts and I have pondered if we would all act very differently if we were armed with the knowledge of these fateful last encounters?

And then there are those you know you’ll never see again if you can help it, and you’re glad. Good riddance you fucker!

It’s a funny thing, this life…

Said to nobody in particular.

2015

RADIO HIAB-X 2013: Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality 2013 from hiabex303 on 8tracks Radio.

Two thousand and thirteen had its own musical flavour, I seemed to gravitate towards electronic grooves and music that, in my mind, would be the perfect soundtrack for floating around in Virtual Reality to. My enthusiasm for the Oculus Rift VR headset was constantly in the back of my mind, perhaps because I’ve been keen as a gamer to see a true paradigm shift away from monitors and screens into a realm of infinite creative possibilities, something totally immersive. The music from that I discovered in this year stoked my imagination. Enjoy this mix.

HIAB-X Headquarters.

I’ve tried a couple of times to write about how I spent the majority of my free time during the last six months of last year. It was the reason blogging and much of my other digital activity fell into a deep and procrastination-free coma.  Rather than post out of date info that was sketchy at best, I’ve just decided to write a new post and start over.

As a little bit of background, here’s how the project began. In 2007 when my career path took a U-turn and ventured into the world of stone masonry, my wife and I had also just been through a year  of minor upheaval as we’d decided that rather than moving house, we would refurbish our existing abode and extend it. Our original plan was to add some extra room onto our kitchen by buying a small plot of our neighbour’s garden that was immediately adjacent to it. When this didn’t go through, we decided instead to buy two wooden cabins to use as extended spaces away from the main property. A ‘his’n hers’ kind of arrangement of outbuildings, If you like.

Time passed and the buildings became functional, I used mine as a workshop for man jobs, and because the cabin was a respectable size with two small annex rooms, we put in a sofa bed, should we need to put up guests. It was an ok setup, damp and cold in the winter. I never felt satisfied that as a usable space, that it worked as well as I wanted it to.

In the meanwhile, my career in stone masonry fully blossomed and the cabin became a place I infrequently visited. Sometime earlier last year, It occurred to me that both cabins would benefit from some retrofitted internal insulation. The materials were ordered, arranged to be delivered at a future date after I’d had time to prepare the spaces, then promptly delivered on the non agreed date one week after ordering. A large palette of styrene backed plaster board, probably twenty large sheets of the stuff arrived one rainy Friday afternoon. Plasterboard doesn’t do rain very well, so I was forced to throw my plans out of the proverbial window and fill my cabin as quickly as possible with the sheets of board, I hadn’t been in a position to clear the place out and now I was filling it up, and taking up half of the available floor space in the process.

What do you do? Well, due to the unpredictable British climate and the desire to not have to keep shifting twenty sheets of giant plasterboard back and forth between cabin and garden, I decided to start work by working around it. “It’ll take a couple of weekends” I told myself, and the gods of D.I.Y had a good laugh.

A couple of months later both cabins were insulated.

So, close to tears, sitting in the chaotic midden of quadruple handled personal belongings plonked over to one side of my cabin, I began thinking. It had been my intention to return to business as usual, I had a work bench area in the main room and a designated guest area in one of the smaller rooms. At the time, I was considering how to decorate over the plasterboard to give the spaces a more welcoming finish for both myself and a wouldbe guest. In addition to that, I’d spent much of last year feeling frustrated that my artistic creativity had been the victim of ‘too much going on’ and no appropriate space to occupy, where my creative juices could flourish. You see, on any given week day evening or weekend, when not working down the cabin, I’d fallen into a trap of sitting at my kitchen table and zoning out in front of my computer. We live in a small terraced cottage, each room is functional but there isn’t a suitable room to bang on a stereo and get out the creative arsenal without encroaching on someone else’s plans for vegging out at the end of the day. I’d long accepted this, but felt creative inertia chewing away at my soul like an angry malnourished rat.

Sitting in my personal midden, an idea popped up rather innocently…”What if, I shifted my work bench over to the small guest area, and what if I turned the main room into a more comfortable recreational area?” followed by “What if, that area was decorated to look a little ‘Bohemian’?”  At the time, I’d recently seen an image on Tumblr that I’d felt a wistful bit of affection for:

boho

Although not entirely to my tastes, it seemed like the person whose room this was, had made themselves a little nest of comforts and stimulations that harkened back to another era. I liked that, and the seeds were sewn in my own imagination. I set to work moving my work bench, then cursing the fact that, having built plasterboard insulation around it, I now had a bloody great gap to sort out, which I did.

The following months saw a flurry of intense activity during my evenings and weekends, sometimes that activity just involved going down the cabin and taking a perch then staring intently into the contents of my own skull. I was working out problems, imagining things that hadn’t materialised yet, just basically building the space in my own mind. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d borrow from earlier ideas I’d tried out in my early twenties, where I’d cheered up dismal bedsits with strategically placed Indian bed sheets to hide flaking, lumpen ceilings and cracked plaster walls.

My wife had been banned from entering the cabin since about June, I’d sold her the idea of there now being a second living room, come reading room, and I wanted her to see the final product without worrying about the gigantic mess leading up to it. During my working days on a large construction site, I’d noted that a fair amount of useable timber was being skipped; off cuts from roof joists and the like, so began rescuing bits and pieces to recycle and repurpose them. My original idea had been to make storage using old scaffold boards, but with my bohemian direction starting to take shape, the idea upgraded to using joist offcuts to fashion shelves that would start in one room, turn corners and continue into another room. Silly ideas began floating up.

  • It needed flocked, damask wallpaper.
  • It needed skirting board
  • It needed to have a bank of shelving areas to store various house cluttering artefacts, like ornaments, movies and books.
  • It needed to look fucking cool with some alternative lighting methods…just in case the need to dance around should occur.
  • It needed a much comfier and welcoming sofa bed than the shitty Ikea one I’d kept down there.
  • OK, the cabin needed to be multi functional because of the above and more.

These aims and ambitions kept me busy all the way through until December the 31st, by which point, if it hadn’t been the Christmas break, I’d have seriously burnt myself out. It’s pretty hard being a stonemason by day and an interior mover and shaker at any other given moment of free time.

Finishing touches and a grand scale tidy up took place and completed around five p.m on New Years Eve 2013, later that evening I escorted my wife down the garden to see the fruits of my labours over the last six months. I must admit, I felt very uneasy about the prospect as her former banishment from entering the cabin had potentially conjured up ideas of some kind of palatial den, that may or may not have lived up to expectation.

She was thoroughly delighted with her visit, so much so, we spent the rest of the evening celebrating in there. You know you’ve done a good job when your wife is happy to spend her evening in the shed!

Slideshow of the cabin so far: Hover over an image to skip back and forth.

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As it stands, the cabin will remain a work in progress, it needs to be lived in and added to, I may well add images of its development here as I go along. Needless to say, it’s now a great little place to be creative, or just read and listen to music.

 

 

World’s End

The actual playlist on my computer was 20+ tracks covering my favourite tunes from 2012, when it came to creating this compilation I had to strip it down to twenty of my favourites for the year where Terence McKenna’s ‘Timewave’ was supposed to reach it’s Omega Point. Needless to say, it didn’t, you get another musical compilation and I in turn can look at the empty playlist for 2013 and wonder what audio delights the next year will bring. Enjoy my 2012.

World’s End from hiabex303 on 8tracks Radio.