The Smith's Journal - June 2007

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Kismet perform at Holywell Music Room

Kismet played a stunning concert in the splendid Holywell Music Room in Oxford, to celebrate the release of their debut CD "Growing" that has been two years in the making. This fine trio of goddesses of song are always a pleasure to hear, and tonight was made even more special in the lavish acoustic of this ancient building, the oldest concert hall in Europe. Inside it is very tall, and the area behind the performers is semicircular, creating interesting acoustics to focus the sound to the audience sat on steeply raked wooden benches at the sides and back.

They began with some acapella singing, spellbinding as ever, before taking up their instruments (accordion, violin and clarinet) for some lively Greek and Macedonian folk dances. I particularly liked the last one, which they made swing even though it was in 11/8 time :-) Another high point for me was Melissa's composition "Growing", in which her accordion soared through the space sounding like a full orchestra in the lush acoustic, the music somehow reminding me of Robert Schroeder's epic Harmonic Ascendant combined with the more medieval sounding parts of Univers Zero.

Then they declared it was our turn, and proceeded to teach the audience a song in three-parts that Katherine had written specially for the occasion. Initally daunted once we heard what we had to sing (!), the subdivided audience gradually managed to pick it up (luckily there were a lot of singers present) and soon sublime harmonies were joyously echoing around the hall. I was just sad that I wasn't recording this special event!

During the last song of the first half, a man appeared wheeling in a wheelbarrow full of organic vegetables which he parked on the stage (!?). Within was a fresh crop of new CDs, hot off the vine and ready to sign. The lavish artwork is a joy to behold, and so in the interval, I bought a few copies for absent friends, and chatted to Melissa and Jackie who I'd not seen for ages.

The second half featured more wonderful pieces of folk music and their own compositions, as well as a daring improvisation that explored many musical territories, and had Jackie wandering down to the back of the hall as her gypsy violin danced a distant duet with the clarinet on stage.

At one point in another piece, a tango, I envisaged the ecstatic energy currently vibrating in this building to rise up and out of the roof, and, recalling a 3-dimensional tourist map of Oxford that had guided me here, disperse in many directions over the town. The most powerful currents continued out in cardinal directions, one travelling east-north-east to be amplified by the spiritual beacon that is Sharpenhoe Clappers and from here, the energy was propelled by huge geomantic forces out over the globe just like it had been at an earlier time. It carried me at immense velocity over vast oceans, to greet my great friend Craig in Sydney, before returning via its ancestral home of tango in Buenos Aires. All this astral travel seemed to take its toll, and the band looked noticeably tired yet exhilerated by the end of the song.

Melissa also played her sublime koto (Japanese harp), and Jackie doubled on mandola. To end with, by our request, we once again all sang the song we'd learnt, as a fitting encore to this magical event.

Afterwards, Bizia, Jeannie, Paul, Sarah and I accompanied Jackie, Katherine and Melissa to wind down at the Turf Tavern, a real old-style drinking den amidst magnificent medieval high-rise buildings of olde Oxford. An awesome night!


A Day in the Country at Little Berkhamsted

The people of the nearby village had kindly invited our drumming group to play at their fete called 'A Day in the Country'. This was a lovely day out with everything from Open Gardens (including Michael's Folly) to a Farmer's Market, Hog Roast, Treasure Hunt and many stalls arranged around the village green, with the gentle applause and sounds of a cricket match in the background. How wonderfully English :-)

A stall was set up promoting ecological awareness, so I made a point of explaining to the audience that our instruments were organic, made by hand of simple wood, goat/cow skins and rope. I also mentioned The Strawbale Studio where we play, to which some five hundred people walked on the trail of Open Gardens - our Secret Base is now no longer secret.

Secret Bass perform at Little Berkhamsted

We had been rehearsing like mad for what was for some players their first gig (ever!). The final Away Team was Bizia, Ian, Steve, Kevin, Susanna, Marjolein, Jayne and myself. In our desire to be colourful, a high proportion of us were wearing red shirts, but luckily we all made it back to the Mothership unscathed. We set up under the shade of trees and I introduced us to the village folk, explaining that we were the cause of the sounds they'd no doubt heard drifting over on Sunday afternoons.

[ Secret Bass at Little Berkhamsted, photo by David Cory | Ian and Marjolein playing Kuku on dun duns and Kevin on djembe, photo by Peter Groefsema | Jayne playing shekere and Malc playing djembe, photo by Peter Groefsema | Malc with djembe, photo by David Cory | Bizia dancing Yankadi, photos by Peter Groefsema | Secret Bass playing Kuku, photos by Peter Groefsema animated by Malc ]

[ Secret Bass singing Suley Maniye, photo by Peter Groefsema | Fabrizia dances to Yankadi, photo by Peter Groefsema | Fabrizia dancing to Yankadi, photo by Peter Groefsema | Malc talking to the audience, photo by Peter Groefsema | Secret Bass playing Kuku at Little Berkhamsted, photo by Peter Groefsema ]

We began by singing the Senegalese song of praise to the great tribal leader Suley Maniye with percussion accompaniment, then took up our drums for Yankadi/Makru, which Fabrizia danced to. Next I persuaded the audience to join us in singing a call-and-response song called "Ajomase" ('We must do things together') that Ade had taught us. Next came the Gambian rhythm followed by Kuku and AfroCubanites. We ended with David Oladunni's lilting song "Anye", and were well received by the gathered crowd.

[ Newspaper article featuring Secret Bass at Little Berkhamsted ]At the end we even got ourselves photographed together as a group for the local press :-) Many thanks to David Cory and Peter Groefsema for taking these pictures; Steve put some more online.

Little Berks drumming workshop

[ Djembes and dun duns before drum workshop - just add people, photo by Peter Groefsema ]Afterwards it was the chance for everyone to have a go in a drumming workshop. The original workshop leader had cancelled at the last minute, but had recommended someone to stand in. That person was, by complete coincidence, non other than Justine Hart :-) You couldn't make this stuff up! I had no idea about this until she told me the night before, and I happily agreed to accompany her on dun duns. We had much fun teaching rhythms to beginners aged from 5 to 75, although some needed a little encouragement to overcome their typically English shyness at being seen doing anything slightly new and different in public; they soon found how enjoyable it was and hopefully came away with new eyes and ears.

Down with the kids

It was the eyes of the children which affected me most. Seeing them at first nervous, then joyous when it clicked for them and they realised here was something they could enjoy and succeed at, was very moving. Having something to be proud of is crucial in developing self-esteem, particularly for kids who may be bullied or otherwise taunted for being somehow different, and it allows them to break free of their torment. Out there in the sunshine, I realised that here I was doing something real and this was indeed my calling, not the banal day-job I've for some reason tolerated all these years. Afterwards this idea has only confirmed my need to go for it and become a professional teacher of music. As Spock himself said: "My father was a teacher." In fact both of my parents were, so it is no wonder I'm following this path.

The first plan is to establish a children's drumclass for the growing number of youngsters who are eager to learn. This will be particularly rewarding, because besides the fact that they learn so much faster than us adults, it will be a great journey watching them grow in knowledge and stature into fully-formed percussion heads :-)


Storming The Castle*

[ Hertford Castle ] Our drumming group's next mission was to infiltrate an enemy fortress and take the castle. Early in the morning, Steve drove me into the grounds in his Trojan horse, managing to slip in the back way while the guards' eyes were diverted by some passing dancers. We unloaded our deadly cargo of dun duns and djembes, setting up an armoury in the conservatory. Meanwhile other Agents of Secret Bass, highly trained operatives in the art of stealth and Bassai, had breached the main gate and proceeded to repel the defending hordes armed with staffs, poleaxes, swords and bows. Their weapons were no match for our determined courage and despite being enormously outnumbered, we turned their attacks on each other and deftly sidestepped out of their way, deflecting their blows and using their own momentum to take them out. Once these obstructions had been removed, and we were armed with drums, the castle was ours, and we raised our flag with pride.

[ Archers lining up to rain down death on the attacking forces | Warrior wielding poleaxe | Let the battle commence! | Outnumbered in close combat | Unable to repel the invaders ]

* "Storming The Castle" is the name of a kata in karate, that is, a set of moves practised by the initiate as a pseudo-meditative exercise; the idea is that imaginary assailants are coming at you from all sides as you singlehandedly storm a heavily fortified castle in ninja mode. Your graceful speed and elite skill at deflecting their attacks keep you perilously but confidently alive. The resulting swift moves all form an amazing dance which is beautiful to watch - I remember Craig showing me this years ago on the banks of Rutland Water.

Secret Bass perform at Hertford Fun Day

[ Secret Bass storming Hertford Castle | Secret Bass at Hertford Castle | Secret Bass in the doorway of Hertford Castle ]Bizia, Susanna, Jayne, Tina, Marjolein and Steve accompanied me in two performances to a large crowd out enjoying the sunshine and many stalls set up throughout the lovely grounds of Hertford Castle for their annual Hertford Fun Day. The central arena was paved with a chessboard dancefloor in front of a small stage, so we set up our drums in an arc on the floor. Our set of songs was the same as our last gig at Little Berks, and despite my usual mistakes of starting some things too fast, or in the wrong key (or both!), we pulled through well with only a few unsteady moments. It's always difficult playing outdoors in a completely different setting, as the acoustics make it difficult to hear one another, especially battling against the hum of generators. The sweltering heat was also threatening me with sunstroke and made running about with a djembe strapped to me rather exhausting. Our efforts paid off though, as the audience respected our music and seemed to enjoy seeing something new. They were most vocal in joining in the call and response song 'Ajomase' (just point a mic at a crowd and they'll give it some :-) In hindsight I wish I'd made some clever use of the fact that we were playing on a chessboard, perhaps moving along diagonals during my solos or even 3-across-1-up like a knight, but I forgot. There was one brief pitch invasion by a huge inflatable football which I promptly passed to Tina, deciding it probably best that I don't just boot it back into the audience in case it hits some young child and knocks them down!

[ Secret Bass singing at Hertford Fun Day | Secret Bass drummers at Hertford Fun Day | Secret Bass performing at Hertford Castle | Secret Bass at Hertford Castle | Malc gets down at Hertford Castle | Malc playing lead djembe at Hertford Castle, photo by Tony ]

[ Malc playing djembe solo at Hertford Castle, photo by Tony | Marjolein playing dun duns at Hertford Castle, photo by Tony | Secret Bass djembe players | Fabrizia playing djembe at Hertford Castle, photo by Tony | Secret Bass photographed by Tony | Susanna playing shekere at Hertford Castle, photo by Tony | Susanna and Tina playing djembe, photographed by Tony ]

Interspersed between our two performances were Morris Men, clog dancers, young musicians and maypole dancing by some supercute little children - when they came on everyone just stopped mid-sentence and said "Ahhhh." We relaxed in the shade and I bought a lovely wooden whistle carved by a local craftsman, something useful to always have the correct pitch around my neck. A man with a very large sword even let us explore the castle dungeons, where there was a decaying corpse and a few live prisoners along with exhibits of coin striking and other traditional arts.

Secret Bass gathered round mics on stage, photo by Tony ] Secret Bass singing | [ Secret Bass on stage at Hertford Castle |Our second set benefitted from the experience gained from the first, and so this time we sang our opening song using microphones on the stage so as to be heard more clearly. Our playing had more ease and confidence this time and the twenty minutes flew by enjoyably. The even larger crowd sang along enthusiastically and afterwards some folk came up seeking to join our merry band of drummers. A storming day out! (Thanks very much to Tony and others who took these lovely photographs :-)

[UPDATE: They invited us back next year.]



After work I was very tired, and a thunderstorm prevented computing, my usual resting activity, since I'm too paranoid about power-cuts taking out my only partially backed-up machine which I've still got to buy a UPS for. Today being Thursday, the thunder god Thor was determined I should get some studio time instead, so I went to read some equipment manuals. I soon fell asleep lying on the studio floor, only to awaken later with surreal head and newfound vigour. Connecting up my Roland synthesisers to a reverb and echo and switching on the Jupiter's arpeggiator brought instant analogue nirvana, leading me to play synthesisers for 7 hours! Sadly the keyboards are too far apart to reach both, so I need to redesign the studio layout with this in mind. Once I'd got some basic ideas worked out, I recorded a 48-minute improvisation entitled "Thor" in honour of the deity who had got me into this, which will eventually be worked into a new piece.

[UPDATE: I see that one of my mentors Klaus Schulze has also written a piece called Thor on his latest album Kontinuum :-]


Vitae Drum Circle perform at Thame

Vitae played at Thame festival to celebrate 1000 years of history in Oxfordshire. Sadly the hopeless British weather was hurling buckets, but thankfully we had a covered stage (a container lorry with one side open) to shelter our drums from the rain. Not so lucky were the multitudes of children in a procession through the town; as they entered the festival site, the downpour intensified, but they carried on regardless. To rally them on we started playing a big drum roll which morphed into a big groove, after which the rain stopped! :-)

By this time the field was full of hundreds of people, many kids dressed in historic and novelty costumes, including some elaborately made boats showing the Oxford vs. Cambridge Boat Race. Many stalls lined the edge of the arena, and people wandered around with a sign saying "Free hugs" :-) We played two sets of music with dancing and luckily the rains held out until we started to pack up.

That evening Ruth came over to practise for our upcoming gig at the Triangle Festival.


Set up studio vocal booth

I spent Saturday preparing the studio for Tina's spoken word recordings tomorrow. Employing Sound On Sound's favourite technique of low-tech sound absorption, I set up my studio as a makeshift vocal booth with mics surrounded by duvets and blankets hanging everywhere to deaden the acoustic. Since I can't hang things from the walls, I used high overhead mic stands to suspend the duvets and hung blankets from shelves. In the absence of bass traps that I need to make, I filled corners of the room with cushions. A very snug and cosy vibe :-) Thor was rumbling again, so I switched off the computer and stayed in the studio, safe behind a mains power conditioner, spending the night recording some poems and texts I've written for my Tunnel Visions album. This was the first proper session using my Sontronics Helios and Sigma microphones side by side, and they sound sweet, with a much improved bass sound and nice tube warmth. In the stillness of the night I also recorded other sounds for the album: the cuckoo clock chiming and ticking, as well as my sister's funky talking doll:


Spoken word recording

Tina came over to the studio to recite some poems and record the texts for Tunnel Visions in her charming Scots voice, some whispered, some shouted ;-) This was great fun and she is a natural, obviously a BBC presenter in a past life. Her departure to the Highlands has kicked me into action and set things in motion for my second album to begin, after 3 years of "the world not being ready for it yet" ;-) First Tape Rolling on a new project is always a happy event! My life is not really complete unless I am immersed in a creative work like this. My Tone Control album took eighteen months to make, while I was working in an RAF base during the war (eight years ago - yikes!). The music was what kept me alive through it: knowing that once I got home, I could continue my real work, layering instruments, practising parts, mixing, etc. So now I have a new impetus to carry me ever upward on life's journey. And it's all her fault! I'll never forgive/forget her for that :-)

After dinner we said farewell and I zoomed off to the Secret Bass for a big drumming session with lots of folk including more newcomers. We managed to get Kuku off the ground and rocking: 3 djembe parts + 2 dun duns + the break = big energy! Back home I composed a nice melody and descending/ascending chord progression on piano and worked out the chords for Stereolab's awesome song "PACK YR ROMANTIC MIND" Playing it on my new Hohner Organetta 3, another hour slid past locked into four joyous chords and a whole lot of wailing vocals :-)

This fabulously musical day continued into the next when Ruth came over to rehearse and record some songs.


News Blackout

Growing ever more tired of the same old death-and-destruction worship by the media, and going along with Rob Brezsny's suggestions in his book Pronoia, I have given up The News in practically all forms. For years I've not used television nor newspapers (unless I'm on or in them), but I'm now careful to shield my radio ears from every news bulletin and avoid every cheap headline. This is sometimes difficult when they cut in suddenly - one minute you're roaring hysterically to the hilarious Danny Baker show, the next minute those brave speakers of doom and gloom are describing decapitated body parts. The trick is to sing VERY LOUDLY until you can reach the OFF switch or get out of the building bombarding you with unwanted trauma. At first I missed my old Radio 4 favourites whose satirical outlook I was beginning to admire, but I now realise that I don't care about half the boring stuff they drone on about. Instead I get to listen to much more music, or even to silence.

I've been news-free for about two months now, and I feel so much better for it, without the daily dose of negativity we all persuade ourselves is "our duty" to swallow, as if it will do any good to be "well-informed". When you open your eyes and see it for what it is - a means of control and subjugation - it loses its allure and authority.

I should point out that I'm not averse to news per se, but just the mind-numbing depression we get fed by the mainstream media. Good News is always welcome and I shall be looking to new places to build my future pronoiac worldview. Even my own depressing page of gloom has been silenced in the pursuit of more positive things. I'm bored of Slashdot, and have let my subscription to Audio Media magazine lapse to reduce my GAS levels (I don't want any shiny new gear thanks, just a few more old boxes that I need, some cables and time to use them).

In another universe, The News At Thirteen would consist of a series of the day's success stories, such as how well the world is actually adopting renewable energy technology, how people are helping each other and building new lives in the face of adversity. The advert breaks could be massively funded by sponsors who wished to be associated with such positive outlooks, and this funding would go directly to make the stories happen: self-creating journalism-in-reverse.

This infomercial about a radical new cure for bone cancer was brought to you in conjunction with Nice trainers.
Tomorrow we'll be looking at the new low-energy sustainable housing development built by Hell Oil to house its executives at their new Texas headquarters.

From now on, my only sources of news of the external world we pretend is real will be:

I need to focus on creating and nurturing my own Reality which is now starting to blossom. Until further notice, if it's got nothing to do with music, studios, or Free Software, then I'm not interested.

[UPDATE 2010-04-18: I maintained news-free status until mid-2009, which was actually quite difficult in our "modern" age. I now listen occasionally to The News but am careful to decode its propaganda. The thing that got me back was missing my favourite Radio 4 presenters (like Charlotte Green ;-) and PM and stuff ;-]



Something that most definitely ticks all of those boxes was my next mission to attend the Folly Summer School of Sound in Lancaster. The programme of three days of intensive study of all aspects of music production using solely Free Software audio tools was more than enough to justify travelling hundreds of miles, so I strapped on my huge rucksack and walked over the fields, onto a bus, a coach and a train and soon I was en route to a new digital domain.

I spent the journey listening to music and notating drumming recordings, as well as drawing up yet more plans for a new studio desk. My first time on a superfast Virgin Pendolino train was good, but it wasn't easy walking up the narrow aisle with such a huge backpack, searching for a seat. The weight forced me to lean forwards, not ideal in my MBT boots, and going through an automatic door I got stuck, the doors slowly closing around my head ready to guillotine my outstretched neck until a quick punch put them right. Having not heard about the floods on the News, I was surprised to see car parks, roads and fields underwater as the train went through Stafford. It was nice to be hurtling along beside M6, leaving the slow cars behind and showing that this is the most effective way to travel.

Arriving at Lancaster a mere two hours later I jumped onto a bus direct to Saint Martin's College and checked into the halls of residence - happy to be a student again! My diet dictates self-catering instead of expensive hotels, so here I was lucky to have use of a kitchen and bathroom all for half the price of a Bed and Breakfast.


I walked across this pleasant human-sized town which shows its pride for its heritage with the stylish riverside redevelopment and elegant footbridge over the river, and found a supermarket to buy some supplies, making the mistake of being starving hungry and buying way too much food to even carry, let alone eat within three days. In Sainsbury's car park, I received a phone call from my boss, saying there will have to be another redundancy on the team at work, since the company is going under. So I seized my opportunity and asked that it be me. AT LAST, MY PRAYERS ARE ANSWERED! :-) BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR, IT MIGHT JUST COME TRUE! I've been longing for this for months now, ever since Justine suggested I work with her teaching drumming. Hopefully my redundancy package will buy me a car and set me on track for REAL LIFE as a 'professional' musician :-) I know this is a major step leaving the safe clutches of an easy but dead-end job with its regular (not large) salary and stressful disorganisation, and hurling myself into a whirlpool of hard graft and uncertainty going it alone, but if I don't jump now I might never do it. I have lots of avenues opening up and am putting together a business plan. If it doesn't pan out, I can always get another (part-time) job in the autumn, and consider this an extended summer vacation ;-)

Overjoyed, I staggered back with heavy bags carving through my hands. Later I managed to cut my finger on the super-sharp new vegetable knife I'd bought (by mistake I should add, not through depression at being made redundant :-) I'm not used to a real blade after my old blunt one, and the oozing blood prevented me from cooking in a communal kitchen. But I went to sleep happy and ready for another new chapter to unfold...


Folly Summer School of Sound

The Folly Summer School of Sound was given by sound artists Marloes de Valk (Holland) and Aymeric Mansoux (France) from goto10 at St. Martin's College in Lancaster. It was unfortunately undersubscribed, but participants came from Manchester, and as far away as Southend and even Georgia, USA.

Day 1 began with an introduction to the pure:dyne operating system, which is a remarkably portable Live CD (based on Linux From Scratch) which boots from CD or USB, but can have a 'dock' stored as a big compressed file on the hard disk (of even a Windows partition). In addition you can create a 'nest' of personal files and configurations on a USB stick, tailoring the distribution to include extra programs you require, and your look and feel, as well as data. In this way, the system can travel with you from computer to computer, without the worry of whether it will work - sound card detection is performed on bootup. It also makes workshops like this simple to set up, because there's no need to install anything on the venue's machines; it all runs from CD/USB, but having the 'dock' file on the hard disk avoids slow program loading associated with Live CDs. All in all, this was a very elegant solution that we could each take home to our own machines.

In the afternoon, we learned about ALSA and JACK, the glue which seamlessly allows any software to patch audio/MIDI into another program. Using this concept, we played sound files using XMMS and processed them with LADSPA plugins using JackRack, and recorded the results in Audacity (a great easy-to-use sound editor which runs on Linux, Mac and Windows). I had the great pleasure of running Cathy Berberian singing The Beatles' "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" through Barry's Satan Maximizer ;-)

This afternoon brought beautiful weather for a change (after the incessant intermittent rain that spoiled the whole of June), and lovely views from our building out over Morecambe Bay to the mountains beyond, calling me... I went home for dinner, but was too shattered to enjoy the weather, plus my shins were burning from the strain of walking non-upright with 50kg rucksack yesterday. I cut my finger, again(!) and decided there was nothing left to do but sleep.


Folly Day 2: Recording, editing and mixing with Ardour

This morning's session discussed Linux audio distros. I'll most likely end up using 64Studio on my main workstation and pure:dyne on other machines. Next we used the nicely intuitive soft synth ZynAddSubFX and controlled it using the MIDI sequencer Seq24 in sync with the funky drum machine Hydrogen. All of these programs are optimized for hands-on use, enabling live edits and tweaks to be made easily on the fly. I made a simple set of patterns that could be brought to life by muting and mixing various parts; I like this way of working where you set up lots of options and then trigger them live as if playing a mixing desk - no performance is the same twice.

The day culminated in a dizzying crescendo using Ardour to record, edit and mix our creations. I'd played with an earlier version before, but having experts to walk us through various operations of the program helped immensely, and I'm now confident to dive in and start producing music.

Back home I managed to cook without injury this time, before heading out for the evening.

GOTO10 performances at The Dukes Theatre

In conjunction with the Summer School, Folly had arranged some performances at The Dukes Theatre. First up was a piece by Marloes de Valk using biological algorithms derived from plant growth, along with projected graphics of branches forming. Next came the duet 0xa (Chun Lee and Aymeric Mansoux) who played a long suite of boundary-crossing music of many genres from surreal electronics via abstract ambient to early electro and kitsch synth-pop, recalling at times Stockhausen, Throbbing Gristle, Kraftwerk and Nobukazu Takemura, as well as the broken beats and lo-fi glitching of modern dance music. I particularly enjoyed one section near the middle with minimalist melodies in crazy triplet rhythms. Without visuals nor much clue as to what they were actually doing (all of the performers were using Pure Data), this kind of performance can sometimes lack the feeling of a live gig; it needed something dynamic to involve the audience and get beyond the laptop gazing, but the music was good. Klaus Schulze used to perform with a large mirror above him angled at 45' so the audience could see what he was up to (but our stupid Health & Safety laws probably wouldn't allow jeopardising the performers in this way); the modern equivalent would be to project the desktop showing how the pd patches were being used - I'm sure they've done that a million times already though.

Frenchman Claude Heiland-Allen aka ClaudiusMaximus ended the concert with a set of banging robotic techno and spellbinding graphics. The piece featured a set of rotating 3D shapes constructed of bang symbols in Pure Data which grew in size and structure, the various colours representing the different sounds of the techno orchestra - 909, 808, 606, 303, etc. - resynthesised in pd and morphed and twisted by algorithmic adjustments into new noises. This reminded me of the old demo scene where people would make cool graphical demos with music to showcase the capabilities of early computers.

[UPDATE: You can watch videos of this event.]

Afterwards Rob and I went for a drink and discussed our electronic music backgrounds, and back at Halls he showed me his nice compact mobile setup: 606 + DX200 + DT770s :-)


Folly Day 3: Pure Data

On Friday Marloes taught us how to patch in Pure Data. Then Aymeric showed us just how amazingly easy it is to make simple kick drum sounds, and then went on to demonstrate how to build an FM synthesiser and control it via MIDI. This was eye-opening stuff, and suddenly the sounds of many of my records were at my fingertips with infinite control. The great thing about pd is that it is so flexible, and pushes the boundaries of the human brain's ingenuity. We like stuff that evolves the mind :-)

After lunch there was a brief discussion about building a digital audio workstation, mainly focusing on hardware considerations. I'd hoped for more detail here, as this is my area of current bafflement, after years of fruitless searching for the ultimate music computer.

The course ended with a demonstration of streaming with Icecast and Darkice, not without a few technical hitches as is usual with anything involving live networking, but as I learned, when riding the bleeding edge, you tend to cut yourself sometimes.

Linux Audio ready for primetime

The thing that struck me most about the whole three days was that Linux Audio has finally arrived. Every music professor and studio owner needs to see it in action. SAE is now sponsoring Ardour (as am I) and support from console makers SSL and Harrison will see it move further into the pro audio world. It was great to see all this amazing software in action, and available for free! There really is no need to pay for closed software any more, unless you have the misfortune to be locked into proprietary hardware.

Returning home from Lancaster on the train, I started to draw up my business plan and website ideas now that I am a Free man, and the sun shone and everything glowed with joy. On the coach back to Bedford I listened to Magma's epic Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh - a joyous finale to a life-changing three days.



"Nameless" perform at Triangle Festival

Ruth and I had been asked to perform at Hitchin's Triangle Festival. This was such a disorganised affair that it was surprising that any music happened at all. The event was cancelled the week before, and then uncancelled a few days later. Luckily we didn't have much attachment to whether or not we got to play, nor had a lot of equipment to bring, so we just turned up on the day hoping that the Universe would get it arranged for us to play within the time we were available. We'd not been told when we'd be playing, so we couldn't bring our screaming fans, and the tepee we were due to perform in wasn't there, but in the end we got a slot on the main stage in a bar.

[ Malc playing djembe accompanying Ruth singing ] [ Malc drumming with Ruth singing at Triangle Festival ]Our old band name of The Naked Truth is getting a bit old and has the wrong connotations, so today our group was called "Nameless". The venue was not ideal for quiet reflective music, with the bar and noisy drinkers frantically smoking their last gasps of fags, but we were properly mic'ed up and the small audience were keen to listen. I accompanied Ruth's guitar and singing with djembe, shakers and cowbells, plus a bit of surprise flamenco clapping. It was nice to only have a drum and a few pocket percussion instruments to carry, but I do miss the lovely sounds of the singing bowls, and the magical songs Ruth sings with them - it's unfortunate that they are so hard to mic up in a concert situation; they'll just have to live on recordings and at very special venues. While Ruth tuned her guitar, I introduced my sister's talking doll to the audience as the third member of our group, and got her to say a few words by beheading her.

We were well received, and afterwards stuck around to hear a fun set by The Singletons before having to dash off.

Vitae Drummers perform for visiting Kenyans

Next I headed over to Steve's for a party for school exchange visitors from Kenya and Wylie Memorial School in Northern India. His barn and gardens were an ideal venue, and despite the drizzle more than fifty people were there to watch some North Indian folk dancers bedecked in stunningly vivid coloured traditional costumes. Afterwards we set up our drums in the barn and gave a performance of West African rhythms which got the crowd dancing, including some fabulous shoulder-shaking from the Kenyans and high-spirited participation from others.

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 2007-06-02 - last updated 2007-08-11