The Smith's Journal - October 2005

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George Bush is going down

George Bush is going down. Influence the course of democracy using your computer mouse. A nudge here, a flick there and a neat backflip are often useful to guide your policy makers in key issues such as climate change, pollution and Middle East diplomacy.


[ Sony SRP-L200, CLM DB8000s, Funk Logic Palindrometer ]Sony SRP-L200 compressor

A good day for my studio: in the post came the Sony SRP-L200 stereo compressor / limiter / expander / gate I'd won on eBay for a mere £30. I racked it up in between TC2240HS and dbx 166, and she fitted right in in such fine company. Lovely front panel, *balanced i/o* and colourful knobs to match TC+dbx ;-) A quick test drive - all works great!

Roland JX-3P synthesiser

Later today I bought a Roland JX-3P analogue polysynth *at last* after 20 years of longing! Not to mention 2+ years of stalking eBay and Sound On Sound to find one locally - this one was near Bedford, and came complete with the original Roland flightcase, but no PG200 programmer. I'd wanted one of these since my teens, having seen one in our local music shop in about 1985. I'll never forget the salesman showing me into the back room and demonstrating the funky sounds - these experiences run deep in such formative years. In the end I realised that £600 was a lot of cash (all I had) just to play one sound at a time (this was even before I had a proper tape recorder, let alone multitrack!), and so I bought a Yamaha CX5M music computer instead, which was a wise move and led to many years of music. Yet this memory lived on...

...So the next day I set her up and played for the first time in 20 years! :-) Filter Flow! Planet! Sync Wah! Juicy Funk! All the greats! That old Roland Chorus rocks! Lovely sounds.

Roland JX-3P programmable preset polyphonic synthesiser ] [ Roland JX-3P with red+black friends |[UPDATE: 2005-10-18 Bought a Roland PG200 programmer - the Masterplan is complete... :-]

Some internet research discovered more info on the JX-3P and PG200 and discussions of a brilliant JX-3P MIDI Expansion Kit not unlike the Europa upgrade for my Jupiter-6 and the Roland MKS-30 Midi upgrade. I've since had both of the former installed by Delatronics in Milton Keynes (great service, sadly now moved to Brazil!) and these upgrades are AMAZING, giving these classic synths tons of new 'modern' features.

[UPDATE: 2010-09-09 There's now also another new JX-3P upgrade giving more sound parameters but it doesn't work with the PG200 so I won't bother with that. Meanwhile, enjoy these recent photos...]

[UPDATE: 2011-05-10 Now it does work with PG200 so maybe I will...! :-]

[ Roland JX-3P portrait | Roland JX-3P with matching red+blue+green rack gear | Roland JX-3P with Sony DPS-R7, dbx 363X, Lexicon Vortex | Roland JX-3P with PG200 programmer | Roland JX-3P and PG200 with Spock above rack | Spock portrait above Roland JX-3P and rack on Tech computer desk from Habitat | Roland JX-3P under Spock portrait on Tech computer desk ]


Tonka Trucks are go!

This morning I was walking along a village high street, and came to a pedestrian crossing. An SUV monstrosity was slowly approaching, but since pedestrians have right of way on a zebra crossing, I walked out in front of the beast. (I tend to call these SUVs Tonka Trucks, after the clunky-chunky indestructible toy cars we had as kids - you could smash anything against them and they would survive.) Instead of braking, the monster kept coming, albeit at low speed, such that I was forced to veer left pushed along by its ugly bonnet, until I cleared its path and the idiot finally stopped. I pointed out to the typical SUV-owning dick at the wheel that he was supposed to give way, but of course he was adamant that I should look where I was going. Of course, I must have been forgetting that he actually owned this road, and I was indeed privileged to be hit by his shiny bumper. Resisting the temptation to reach for the screwdriver in my pocket to see if his paintwork was as unchippable as my old Tonka trucks, I rapped on his bonnet a few times, yelling after him to "Take your stupid SUV out of here!", before continuing on my way.

In Britain, besides a few enlightened folks, we seem foolishly tolerant of this invasion of bad design polluting our streets. Luckily that is changing. On the continent people are up in arms; over there it is quite common for tyres to be let down, etc. I'm not advocating going out and wilfully damaging such vehicles, however ugly, although I was intrigued by comedian Jeremy Hardy's comment on The News Quiz: "I've yet to make a full study of the subject of SUVs - I've only really scratched the surface." :-) But if someone you know or somebody on your street buys one (unless they are a farmer or really need one for work), you could always ostracise them, although most of the brutish pigs that own these things don't tend to have many friends anyway. The second-hand market is becoming flooded with these gas-guzzlers now that people are seeing how unpopular they are, not to mention uneconomic with the spiralling cost of oil (and Gordon's new taxes). But it's important that fewer new models are made; luckily, U.S. sales of SUVs fell by 30% last month - hopefully they're getting a clue and the trend will spread over here.

[UPDATE: Of course, there are places where 4x4's are essential.]

[UPDATE: Green Hummer Project ;-]


OVM Conga workshop

[ One Voice Music conga workshop ]Bill and I went into London to attend the One Voice Music workshop "For Congas Only". It was going to be taught by Dudu Tucci, who I'd first studied congas with at Tribe Of Doris back in 1998, but sadly he was indisposed, so Raz took over instead. It was held at Hannah Bee's Studios, Elsmore Street, Islington, which is a cosy place to make music, complete with Bata drums hanging on the wall. Some of the UK's finest had travelled from as far as Edinburgh to be here. Many of the ten or so participants were lucky enough to own Bauer Classic congas, and indeed the room was quite a beautiful sight with them all forming a lovely arc, complementing the stylish wooden floors and decor - the conga:human ratio was delightfully high ;-)

I borrowed a nice pair of Supercussion congas, a very low tumba and a lovely crisp high quinto, so I was easily heard amongst the sound of us all - not always a good thing when I made mistakes (lots!). I was quite out of my depth here, as most people had been specialising in conga technique for years. Some of it I could pick up, but some of the repeated-hand movements were torture for a djembe-player like me, used to hand-to-hand co-ordination. I sort of decided during one particularly impossible hour, that although I love congas, I'm never going to be good enough unless I devote myself to them alone. You can't beat good solid practice, but unless someone pays me to do so, I'll never have the massive amounts of time needed. And besides, I have so much else to do.

As well as traditional Cuban and Brazilian conga techniques, we covered some Angolan-Brazilian folkloric music called Candomble, using one stick and one hand, which was powerful and quite unique.

Oh how I wish I'd had the courage to tell the lovely Helen from Stoke-On-Trent sitting next to me with her three equally lovely Bauers that she looks like Joyce c.1972 - maybe she'll read this one day... :-) During a break, we had a great jam session and I played some nice agogo-style stereo Guinean bells along with her on congas (my dun dun bells suspended on a drumstick = new invention, with maximum subsonic sustain!)


[ Beautiful Bauer congas ]Day 2 of Raz's conga workshop; this time I recorded 4 hours' of rhythms during the session, and photographed the lovely arc of Bauer Classic congas. At lunchtime we chilled out in the sunshine outside, filling the street with grooves from Dudu's "Orixas" CD of folkloric music, featuring the Angolan stick+hand music called Candomble that we'd been learning.


On the way home, despite having most definitely and defiantly given up smoking eight years ago, I bought some Drum tobacco that I used to smoke, not for me, but for the Spirit Guides, on instructions from Grizzly - at a Guided Vision Journey workshop at this year's FSDD, he'd suggested I bury some tobacco in the Earth and then take note of my dreams for signs of what animal forms my Spirit Guides might take. Sniffing that comforting old aroma, I deftly sidestepped a dangerous moment of temptation as to whether to buy cigarette papers as well... (!) The tobacco was later utilised in a future-seeding ritual.


Casio VZ1 synthesiser

Telefunken TD26 mic, APS Aeon, synths ] APS Aeon, Fostex PM0.5, Casio VZ1, Philip Rees C16, DELL keyboard | Fostex PM0.5, Eizo L685s, Casio VZ1, Philip Rees C16 | [ Main studio workstation |Another good day for my studio began with me heading out to Boston in Lincolnshire to buy a second-hand Casio VZ1 Interactive Phase Distortion digital polysynth, in A1 condition, boxed with manual and RC100 ROM card. This will become my MIDI master keyboard, since my other synths aren't touch sensitive; the VZ1 also sports not two but three assignable pitch/modulation wheels. This is now my newest synth, albeit from 1988!

[UPDATE: Here are some pictures taken in my studio in 2009.]

Boston Stump

While out in the Fens, I looked around the town of Boston, and was immediately drawn to the impressive church in the centre. It features a huge tower called Boston Stump which dominates the entire landscape and can be seen for literally miles across the totally flat Fens. I imagined the people of the region all getting together to build this majestic monument to their Faith, a beacon to navigate by, both geographically and spiritually.

The town of Boston seen from up the tower ] River seen from up the tower | Boston Stump | St. Botolph's Church in Boston | [ Boston Stump lit up at night |These pictures fail to convey the sheer scale of this structure; my 28mm wide-angle lens could only fit the tower in the frame when seen behind the church itself. I ascended the seemingly infinite stone spiral staircase to the viewing platform and photographed the flat-earth panorama, reminding me that yes, I do suffer from vertigo, especially when it's windy and my knees are still wobbling from climbing up hundreds of steps!

Thoroughly invigorated after that, I drove out to Freiston Shore Bird Reserve by the sea, and took my camera, DAT recorder and fluffy mic to record some Russian geese, but RAF jet noise (plus mic suspension wobbling noise) made these recordings unusable: too much hiss => a lesson next time to get closer and stay still (and bring an anti-aircraft gun :-)

ETA Systems PD11LVIEC-CE power conditioner

Returned home via Mansfield to collect the ETA Systems PD11LVIEC-CE power conditioner and some mic-stands that I'd won on eBay. The seller was a most entertaining chap who knew the pro audio business inside out, and related some amusing anecdotes. His home/castle was an amazing treasure trove of gear in addition to his considerable warehouse space elsewhere, which made my own place seem a lot less cluttered. So now I'll be able to power my rack up from a nice green power button :-)


Holiday in Yorkshire

Wensleydale underwater Flooded WensleydaleDrove to a very rainy Yorkshire with Mama for a short autumnal holiday. Photographed flooded Wensleydale, and then arrived at Hawes to find that our stone cottage with piano we'd booked in the remote 12-house hamlet of Cotterdale is not available as the only road into the village is flooded and totally blocked! Offered Pike Hill instead, a detached cottage in Hawes - no piano, but a lovely view of submerged fields. Spent the night unpacking my hordes of equipment - DAT recorder, mics, djembe, camera - brought for just our three day break (!) and reading up on where to go walking. In the cottage was an inspiring book - Walt Unsworth's "Classic Walks In The Yorkshire Dales" [Oxford Illustrated Press, ISBN 1-85648-207-3] - which described the walk around Malham which I'd made two years ago and longed to repeat, as well as some other epic voyages way beyond my capabilities.



[ Ribblehead Viaduct near Ingleborough seen here on a sunny day ]The rain ceaseth not, so we drove past Ribblehead Viaduct (map) to White Scar Cave near Ingleton, as a possible poor-weather alternative, only to find that they were also closed due to flooding! So instead we headed over to Clapham to visit Ingleborough Cave, and luckily the rain stopped. We walked up and photographed the enchanting valley of Clapdale as far as Trow Gill, a barren rock gorge of alien landscape. Brown flood water was streaming down the hills and once calm waterfalls were raging torrents. I went up Trow Gill and met some folk coming down from Ingleborough mountain who said they'd turned back due to adverse weather up there; I had neither time nor energy to make such a voyage today.

Rust red leaves above raging river Clapdale with storm approaching Floodwater falling off the moors Dare you enter the Valley of Shadows? The worrying precipices of Trow Gill Looking down Trow Gill (note size of people)

Flowstone curtains in Ingleborough Cave ] Flowstone in Ingleborough Cave | [ The Gothic Arch in Ingleborough Cave |Into the show caves instead, which were wet and full of the sound of rushing water, over which the guide had to yell. Before we left I sneaked off alone to photograph The Gothic Arch, a splendid sculpture of gleaming white flowstone which stands above an inviting pool in which one would expect goddesses and fairies to bathe when the humans weren't around. On the way out, I talked with the guide about the winch rides at nearby Gaping Gill offered by Bradford Pothole Club and Craven Pothole Club. Sounds quite good.

Raining again outside, so back to the car and we drove through Settle up the crazy High Hill Lane over the moors to Malham and beyond the Tarn along the death-defyingly steep valley of Cowside Beck along Brootes Lane (opposite The Monk's Road) to Arncliffe. They just don't make roads like this any more - and how they ever managed to without modern technology is beyond me. Then we returned via Kettlewell and took a chance on the Langstrothdale road from Hubberholme to Hawes marked as "Blocked by floods", winding across some real wilderness as night fell... ...luckily we made it down the exhilerating slopes of the aptly named Sleddale in time for tea.



This time we headed north up Buttertubs Pass, making sure not to go over the edge; I'd made a similarly scary journey last year with Mark. We stopped to photograph the sun-drenched cliff edge of Cotterby Scar above the River Swale's picturesque waterfall at [ Cotterby Scar photographed on an earlier trip ] [ Floodwaters falling over Wain Wath Force ] Wain Wath Force beyond Keld, then drove up the evil 1:4 hairpins of Silver Hill up through West Stonesdale. Wandering out onto the windy moor, I recorded some bubbling mountain streams at Little Bridge near Keld with my trusty Rycote rig.

Continuing further up into wilderness, we stopped for a drink at Tan Hill Inn, the highest inn in Great Britain at 528 metres where the Pennine Way crosses miles upon miles of complete nothingness up to the Roman Road at Bowes, visible ten miles away over Sleightholme Moor. During our brief visit we didn't see any naked ramblers though. From this bleak place we drove east along Long Causeway, noting the poles planted beside the road so that you can find the road when the snowdrifts cover the place. Back down Arkengarthdale and Swaledale, through Gunnerside and Satron and then up another entertaining climb on the west side of Oxmop Gill, through some very alien landscapes that I must go back and photograph. Over Askrigg Common we were greeted with a splendid view of Wensleydale all lit up green in sunshine while above the sky was thick with dark clouds. Back to Hawes to listen back to and edit my geese and waterfalls recordings. That evening I fixed my djembe strap and fired up some intense drumming, obviously in sync with Vitae Drum Circle at Wendover.



[ A hill near Gordale | Another hill near Gordale | Malham Cove seen from the road ]Today we had to leave The Dales, but luckily the weather was a glorious summer's day: 18'C and a cloudless blue sky! I had been saving the best until last, my return trip to Malham to catch up on some unfinished business and visit my favourite place in England.

[ Torrents of floodwaters at Janet's Foss waterfall ]On arriving, the car parks were overflowing with people making the most of the amazing weather after all the rain. Mama and I set off on the walk from Malham to Janet's Foss which was now a raging torrent with all the floodwater compared to how it usually is. [ A lethal torrent threatens any false move ]This was a clue to what lay ahead... I left Mama at Gordale, where I went up Gordale Scar, the *very* hard way and met her later on the moors.

Once up the tricky bit, I rejoiced to be totally alone in this splendid scenery, a deep ravine cutting the moors in two. I wandered ecstatically over the moor up towards Malham Tarn, and photographed some strange orange mushrooms growing there (which I believe are known as Scarlet Hood).

[ Gordale Beck cutting a deep ravine | Low Stony Bank above Gordale Scar | A natural limestone pavement leading to Malham Tarn | High Stony Bank far in the distance above Gordale | Low Stony Bank above Gordale ]

[ Scarlet Hood fungi on the moors above Gordale | Various fungi on the moors above Gordale | A large mushroom on the moors above Gordale | Sign warning of 'Steep and difficult descent' where I'd just climbed up Gordale Scar | Malham Tarn ]

After catching sight of the Tarn, I headed back down to Malham Cove and then up the wondrous Dry Valley to the amphitheatre in which I plan to stage a musical event one day.

Looking over the edge of Malham Cove | Humans discovering the limestone pavement at Malham Cove | The limestone pavement atop Malham Cove | Ewe Moor, albeit pictured here with a ram | The dry valley above Malham Cove | Sun setting over the dry valley |

Bird of prey

This morning I had dreamed very vividly of an eagle flying towards me. Having brought the tobacco with me with the sole purpose of burying it in the Earth as an offering for the Spirit Guides, I was wondering quite how and where to do so, as I had no spade and the ground was all tough grass and rock. Two men were shouting up ahead, so I took a different path and went uphill towards the road back to meet Mama, my journey nearly at an end. Suddenly I heard a small bell ringing and looked over to see a huge bird of prey taking off and flying right towards me, exactly as in my dream! It came swooping in and perched on the dry stone wall just two metres away! Reality had just left the building and I had moved to another place entirely. I was in shock and not even sure if this vast creature would attack a human as it was clearly not frightened of me. It looked like what I imagined an eagle to look like, with a wingspan of about 2m.

[ A hawk on the moors above Malham ] [ A hawk posing for a photograph ]Realising my camera was itching badly, I slowly switched it on and focused on the beast, catching its good side perfectly lit by the sun behind me. I didn't dare breathe for fear of disturbing it, but he seemed to be enjoying the limelight. The shouting could be heard again, and it turned out that one of the men had a hawker's glove on, and was calling to his bird like a pet dog! A stillness came over the place as I came to my senses and waited for the bird to make a move, in the hope that I could capture a take-off image too. Once he was sure I'd got a few perfect pictures, the bird turned and flew off (sadly too quickly for me to compose in a shot) back to his master.

[I subsequently asked a friend of mine who knows about birds, and she reckons the photo looks like a cross-breed of a Harris Hawk and a Red Tailed Hawk, both native of the Americas.]

The dry valley at dusk |Now you can't get a much more direct message from the spirit world than that! They were supposed to wait for me to bury the offering, and then appear in a dream, but had anticipated my plan of action, so I took this as a blatant sign to scatter the tobacco right here, in and around the wall; this spot, beside the Dry Valley will make a fine place to play music, and is only 100m from the road.

[ Autumnal parkland departing from Malham ]Finally I wandered back, elated with my photographic exploits and the universe's blessing for my future musical dreams, to meet Mama at the upper layby and eat lunch before we departed from Yorkshire back to Nottingham.


Justine's drum class at The Strawbale Studio

I stayed in Nottingham for my uncle's entertaining (SURPRISE!) 60th birthday party, and then returned to Hertfordshire. On Sunday I went to The Strawbale Studio early to meet Justine from Vitae Drum Circle and set up my DAT recorder and drums. Before everyone else arrived we worked on (and recorded) new dun dun patterns for: Djole, Sanja, Limbanjitoho, Soli, Kuku, Yankadi/Makru. Then Justine led the drum class with Bizia, Jane, Jayne, Caroline+daughter Amelia, Ian, Tony and Andy Cox. We played Djagbe, Limbanjitoho, Yankadi/Makru, and Soli.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Licence © The right to copy is left with the user copyleft Malcolm Smith 2005-10-17 - last updated 2011-10-08