Summing up summer.

Maybe it actually was Covid? This blog came to a grinding halt right before Midsummer as I turned sick. I got better, but the energy wasn’t there. The cough stayed on and it took me quite a few weeks before I felt “normal”.

As a result my ambitious plans of daily music during my vacation didn’t quite work out. I just never found the time. But I did keep playing with my Op-1 and now have a collection of half-finished tracks that could become a small EP of Holiday house. I better not jinx it.

Summer wasn’t a bummer, but maybe I’ve been spoilt with great weather the last two years. It didn’t really live up to yesteryear’s.

Now, I’m excited to be back in town, to get back into routines and get some creative work done. I’m also excited about the Way out west music festival that starts tomorrow. I’ll kick it all off with Bonny Light Horseman. Overall though I feel underprepared and underresearched, or just old. I don’t know half the bands and I haven’t had the chance/time to look them up.

The reason for this is Otis, a soon 9-week old poodle puppy that arrived to the family last Sunday. I think he might influence the content on this blog going forward.

Sick leave.

You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry. I haven’t been sick for a long time, so catching a cold was probably needed to get me grounded and appreciative of how great life is when you’re feeling well.

I’m not that miserable, and nobody needs to pity me, but it’s awfully slow being home from work and too tired to use the “spare time”. All I could think of was binge-watching tutorials on music production.

A cold is a blessing compared to what people my age come down with these days. Today I spoke to my oldest friend and found that he might have a nasty chronic lung disease, and that’s if he’s lucky.

It’s a tired metaphor to think of life as a lottery, I feel tired and sick writing it. Nevertheless, it’s humbling. And even though we’ll never know until we know, we might be bigger winners than we once thought.

Every song needs a gremlin?

Time flies out the window when the foundation is shaken. Good habits lost. Bad habits forming fast. Summer starting, kids out of school and there is very little time for keeping focus. And when family members are sad, you get sad too. (Nothing serious). Very little music gets made, very little anything gets made in fact. I bake bread. It’s a comforting thing.

I was thinking about tools. My first little synth was the Arturia Microbrute. They got the name right. It’s small and it’s pretty brutal. It’s not a synth for making soft, sweet sounds – like plucked harp or mellow marimba. It’s good for mayhem, raising hell and piercing eardrums. It’s also a very good synth for learners figuring out how a synth works (lots of knobs!).

In my collection of instruments it’s become an ugly duckling of sorts. My taste for sounds in general is probably quite mellow. I favour clean guitars over distorted ones, I prefer Fender Rhodes and old muffled upright pianos over crispy grand pianos. But just combining warm, mellow muffled instrument sounds might not make for a very interesting mix.

There’s a need for sounds with more edge and bite too. A saxophone is something else than a flugel horn. And this might be how I need to view my Microbrute. It offers a different flavour, a different hue than my other instruments.

I listened to yet another Tape Notes podcast episode, this time with Flume. And I realized I’m a wimp when it comes to sounds. I seem to have very tender ears.

I’m not sure I’m the professor Higgins to turn Microbrute into a fair lady, but maybe I can accept it as a black swan. (Or a gremlin. it’s definitely no mogwai).

Recent music podcast listening

As mentioned in a few recent posts, I’ve taken quite a liking to the Tape Notes podcast. The host John Kennedy is an interested and dedicated interviewer and has a voice that rings with the BBC-tone of quality content. So far I’ve listened to the episodes featuring Jon Hopkins, Caribou and Disclosure. There’s quite a few to choose from, so I guess the ones I chose first says something about me. The greatest thing about all episodes is how generous the interviewees are, sharing tips and tricks like in a masterclass.

The podcast Broken record is another favourite. Always good, often great. The latest episode featured Rick Rubin talking to author Dan Charnas whose book about J Dilla is now in my online shopping basket, as a result of listening to the show.

The backdrop can’t be the main attraction

Summer coming on and all my habits go out the window. Streaks are broken. And suddenly I find myself disoriented, having lost my compass. I seem unable to take the first step in finishing a song. I lack the heart and energy to do it.

I’ve been taught writer’s block is a myth. There are just days when work is harder to get started, as for any plumber. Well, yes. It might be a little more difficult when you’re working on your own.

This blog was started because I could. I never intended for it to be my main output, rather to have it as a kind of backdrop to my music and lyrics. Well, since the upload of my first song to Spotify it seems that knitting the backdrop has become my main activity. That’s not right. I need to change things up.

An idea could be to share the process of recording a new song from scratch. Sound design, recordings etc. Maybe this could put me back on the hook? Last night I started sampling percussive noises from a synth. I’ll see if I can share some sounds later tonight.

What if an upgrade is a downer?

In my home the microwave oven is a time saver. It’s a fast way to heat, reheat or defrost foods. Used right, it’s a smart tool with little need for bells and whistles. That’s my perspective. Engineers and marketing staff at microwave oven manufacturers think differently. They see a need to differentiate, to offer more features for a premium price.

At a company I worked for, there was a lunchroom built with 8-10 microwave ovens for the staff to heat their lunch. Naturally the ovens were new and fancy with digital displays and a control panel with many buttons. The ovens could probably do a lot. But the users were puzzled on how to set the basic parameters, time and effect level.Every time I went there all clocks on the microwaves were showing different times. Everyone of them wrong.

In the music studio there are tools that can be Swiss army knives, with lots of features. But whenever I read interviews with experienced pros it seems to me they use each tool for a specific purpose. They often have a lot of gear, but they use each piece for a specific task. It gets the job done and it’s a fast way to work.

In the last year I’ve seen a few famous boxes get significant updates, the Roland SP-404mkII sampler and the Teenage Engineering Op-1f. I wouldn’t say no to any of them. But it’s interesting that each box has become updated with ever more features to turn them into more capable digital audio workstations. That is, each box is a studio in itself.

And I wonder if that actually is a good thing. Despite an initial onset of gear-lust I feel pretty good with my old boxes. And they still have more features than I have CPU upstairs to remember.

Winging it

For Caribou’s latest album Suddenly, Dan Snaith created 900 different projects (livesets). That is, he more or less started the recording of a new song every day for three years. The figure can look impressive or unimpressive depending on your perspective.

I take some comfort in realizing that even an admired artist obviously hasn’t got a clear plan for what he is doing. He just shows up throwing spagetti on the walls to see what will stick.

I also realize I spend too much time looking for the right place to start, instead of just starting. Winging it, might be winning it.

Phantom pains

A family is a complex fabric of many interwoven threads. Love, trust, loyalties and responsibilities. Both within the core of the closest relatives but also other relations, friendships and acquaintances. History and memories with threads that go long back. Some thick, some thin.

A family can be torn apart in many ways due to different things. Sometimes the rift in the fabric is beyond repair. There’s nothing to patch up and sewing up a metaphor to explain it seems daft. But here goes.

Even though the torn up family isn’t mine and I’m just a thread among many I still feel frayed. We were many that met up to celebrate a graduation last night. There were joy, love as well as hidden feelings of uncertainty. Inside we were many loose ends experiencing the phantom pain of something amputated.

Chaos can be a great foundation.

If you step into a messy old barn, with centuries of old tools and discarded junk, but where each square foot has a story to tell and the atmosphere has a certain personality and mystique. It probably doesn’t take a lot to make it into a cool place for a party, or a summertime café. Just sweep the floors, get rid of the crappiest crap and hang up some lights.

To arrive in a neat and tidy hotel room and think I’m going to make this more homely by throwing your stuff around, tearing up the made bed and rehanging the art. Well, it doesn’t really work.

To turn chaos into something more orderly is the right way to go.

I’m writing about this to present an analogy for music production. I spend quite a lot of time thinking about workflows and how songs get produced.

It seems to me that it’s a lot more interesting to throw together some loops and chopped up grooves into something funky and uncontrollable – and to see what it inspires. You can always turn down the chaos, add some structure. If I instead start recording a perfectly written song with a few clean backing tracks, it’s a lot harder to add chaos and charm afterwards. It just feels as if I’m messing it up. Which I am, but the result is not what I intended. The charm needs to be built in, otherwise it just feels fake and impersonal. Like a hotel room.

The point of being on the edge

If you’re a freelance press photographer covering big events you have a choice. Either you hang with the other photographers and shoot what happens from more or less the same angle, or you go to the side to find a fresh perspective.

If you’re lucky this may lead to unique pictures from the event. On the other hand, there might be lower risk hanging with the competition.

Having an alternative perspective, a different point of view is often what makes us interesting. It can also be what makes uncomfortable, provoking and unwelcome. We might be the chafing friction. But friction creates heat and inside an oyster the grain of sand becomes the pearl.

Find your own voice, then exaggerate it says Jerry Saltz. It’s our idiosyncrasy that makes us interesting argues Seth Godin. I know all this. So I better not sand off any edges, especially when I’m not sure that I’m edgy enough. Being too nice is the worry of the gentle kind.