The Smith's Journal - July 2007

Home / Words / Journal / July 2007


What is Pronoia?

Awakening at 5:15am, I decided that:

Pronoia = Pronoia reveals occult niceities occurring in abundance
Pronoia = Pronoia rejuvenates optimism naturally occurring in abundance

There are countless other definitions, but the simplest way to get a grasp of it is to read Rob Brezsny's amazing book. Oh, and don't forget to take your medicine!


Sound Talk at HertsLUG

David Honour gave a fine talk at HertsLUG about using Ardour and other free audio software to record and edit music. He had valiantly carted all his gear to our meeting venue and set up his DAW and a host of instruments to play. I assisted by bringing my pre-amps and some mics. Amazingly things just worked and he showed the basics of what is capable with this incredible audio software, the likes of which is now way beyond what state-of-the-art studios were capable of even just ten years ago. I chipped in with a few things I'd learned on last month's course, and recorded him laying down some guitar and keyboard tracks.

To end with we set up room mics and gave out percussion for everyone to groove along with my djembe, and then overdubbed guitars and keyboards, to make a finished track.



OK, it's finally happening. I have accepted voluntary redundancy and am now a Free Man as of last Monday! In the old world of pain, I have been declared obsolete :-) I am no longer needed there, and shall move into other realms.

My first week of freedom is proving a challenging time, quite out of control on an emotional rollercoaster, unable to believe what is going on. Having the company mobile phone amputated from my ear has been a welcome relief, with no-one to answer to except myself, although I can sometimes be the hardest taskmaster if I'm not careful. I feel like I have been released from prison, after ten years locked in small rooms and cramped into a van like a criminal. But with my release comes a whole new set of issues: what shall I do today? The temptation to just do whatever I want all the time is trying to storm my sense defences, who are well aware of this threat to productivity and long-term goals, and are negotiating a truce. I have lots of admin stuff to figure out regarding self-employment, but at the same time I must counter this with some serious fun and relaxation to unwind. The last few days have been a whirlwind, with some amazing developments unfolding before me, but I really cannot sustain this velocity, so am taking a few days easy to calm down before I hit a wall. I need to tinker with the parameters a little, and find an optimum balance now that I call the shots.

I'll spend this time trying to catch up, and see you on the other side. ...before my ToDo list goes off the scale...

Professional Happy Person

Basically what I will be doing from now on is becoming a Professional Happy Person. People will pay me money to be happy and do the good things I enjoy (such as music) and since well-being is infectious, it will rub off onto them as well. Of course, being happy requires hard work and corresponding downtime, otherwise life would be too simple. For example, a musician needs to practise, compose, etc., which all takes time and energy. I've proved that I'm not averse to hard graft, by keeping all my various plates spinning whilst holding down a full-time job. Now that I'm free from that, I can dedicate more time to my higher goals.

This will require me to maintain a positive outlook and good health, do my utmost to avoid Troughs, and try to inspire others to look on the bright side too. It's not an easy task, but not impossible with the right modern tools available.

Pronoia for a Happy Planet

As pronoia spreads into the farthest corners of the globe, society will slowly realise that it has been misled and that contentment does not hang out on the shopping channel, nor in retail parks, and that a higher salary generally brings more stress. My aim is to subsist on as little money as possible, just enough to pay the rent and bills and buy things I need, and to use time creatively in pursuits which help others and spread joy.


Higher Self-employment

I have signed a contract with my Higher Self, and decided to employ him as my new boss. From now on, I will use his guidance to determine my actions. In return for his divine wisdom, I will pay him a salary of 1000 Thanks per annum, tax-free :-) I will also receive the benefits of working in such successful company, such as an Angelic Insurance policy, 24/7 tech support from countless Galactic Helpers, and guaranteed Next Life resettlement package.


New studio desk (sort of)

Having picked myself up off the floor, it was time for my studio to follow suit, and so I raided the loft for some large sturdy cardboard boxes on which to build a prototype studio desk. I need to make a mock-up first before building the thing properly to try it for size and make sure it meets all the criteria: ergonomics, aesthetics, cable-length, ease of access. I've come up with many designs over the past months, trying to fit lots of gear into a room that is sadly just too small, but this layout is the simplest and most ergonomic. Simple is good, and my intuition tells me that keeping things as flexible as possible is wise for something so changeable. I'd love some angled rack mountings set into the desktop and keyboards that slide away when not in use, but it is too much work and would inevitably end up needing to be different. That can wait until I have new premises with a larger treated room.

After a lot of experimentation and heavy lifting (the mixer weighs 26kg, the racks even more!), it all just sits right. I'll post some photos one day once the last rackmount units have been acquired and added. It currently looks very neat without any cables; the next phase is to measure and draw up a comprehensive cabling diagram for mains, audio, digital and MIDI cables, i.e., a nightmare :-)

Vitae Drummers perform at Astonbury

They must like us, because we were invited back to perform at Astonbury Festival where we'd played last year. Luckily the weather held out (largely because I brought my anti-rain device: a gazebo - rain is likely unless you take the trouble to set it up :-) and the turnout was again massive for such a tiny place. As we later discussed, you'd never get such an event off the ground in a town or city, but these villagers are up for it and so it happens.

Nine of us played a half-hour set of West African rhythms that got the crowd into party mode. Justine, Ani, Ella and Tasha danced brilliantly despite the stage being crammed with mic stands and keyboards from the other acts; they inspired some of the gospel singers to join them in joyous dance. As we finished, the sky smiled a stunning red sunset as night fell. The revelry continued until 11pm when a massive fireworks display brought the evening to a close.


[ TC D2 delay (and M1-XL reverb) underneath dbx 160A compressor at the bottom of this rack ]TC Electronic D*Two digital delay

At last, after years of scouring Sound on Sound adverts and eBay, I found a TC Electronic D*Two digital delay for sale second hand not too far away. This is a great unit, as simple to use and well thought out as their M*One effects unit which I also use, yet one of the most powerful delays available, with some unique features such as rhythm delays (echoes which you can change the rhythm of) and a whole host of flexible routing configurations.

dbx 160A compressor

An added bonus was that the seller was also selling a dbx 160A for a very good price. I'd always wanted one of these but they cost too much new to justify. This offer was too good to miss, so I came away a doubly happy chap.

[ Akai rack under studio desktop - the ME80P is third one down in this rack ]Akai ME80P MIDI patchbay

I also acquired an Akai ME80P MIDI patchbay from eBay to enable all devices to speak to each other without repatching.

As a result, the outboard racks have again divided from two into three, and are nearing complete. There are just a few more things to add, and then there will be no more room for more, GAS or no GAS :-)


Fire The Grid

Thanks to everyone who took part in the global project to Fire The Grid (archive). This was a vast effort by countless people worldwide to meditate/pray/wish for a better world, by combining energies at a predefined time.

Since I'm not yet versed in the way of meditation, I chose to use another method of connection to higher planes, namely by spending the hour playing my Tibetan bowls and focusing their healing powers on Mother Earth herself. I was a few minutes late entering the Zone (after preparing my Bowl Room all morning), but as soon as I did so, I felt bathed in a wondrous energy.

I played quiet sounds to begin with, to tune into the pure tones and silence thought. Then other things suggested themselves and I used most of my antique bowls in various settings, creating some newfound melodies and other more serene spacious passages. Slowly stroking around the rim of a large bowl, I envisaged the rotation of the planet: ancient, ceaseless, but tired, wounded. Outside, tears fell as rain. At one point the large gong was used, conjuring up images of the impending destruction of our world unless we take measures to stop it - I hope this didn't cause power fluctuations in The Grid when things got rather loud, but the warning was clearly needed.

I have no idea whether this event of mass positivity had any effects on a global scale, as I don't listen to The News, but the most important factor in changing the world is change on a personal level. For everyone that took part, however insignificantly that may have been, they will be richer in spirit. There is no immediate enlightment. Nirvana comes in steps, each day different from the past.

The next phase of this work, called Project Cause will come in the autumn. Stay tuned.


Vitae Drummers vs. Towersey Morris vs. Barefoot Belly Dancers

Back at The Polish Club last year, we'd met the fine gents of Towersey Morris who had challenged us to a duel on their home turf. We gathered a strong team of drummers and turned up at their local pub, The Three Horsehoes in Towersey. Our courageous knights braved the Oxfordshire floods and were undeterred by tales of headless horsemen riding o'er the village green, as depicted in the Morris Men's costumes and logo. Apparently it is said that "It never rains on The Morris", and sure enough, the clouds above us mysteriously parted and dispersed as we set up in the car park.

[ Barefoot Belly Dancers from Aylesbury ]The event was being held in aid of some children visiting from Chernobyl, who took part in the Morris dancing, although with slightly less skill than their teachers. Also present were some Egyptian Barefoot Belly Dancers from Aylesbury, who gave some captivating performances accompanied by musicians playing violin, snake-charming arabic flutes and percussion. Only two of their drummers turned up, so the call went out to the audience: "Are there any drummers in the house?" ;-) We gladly joined in providing full-bodied accompaniments, although I kept getting entranced by the hypnotic dance and mesmeric music!

We played three sets each of three songs during the evening, and pulled out the stops with some high energy performances which enticed the belly dancers to join in. We also got roped into a Morris Dance which was hilarious fun. As darkness fell, The Morris welcomed on one of their star 'guests', strongman Boris 'from Russia'! He was pining for his mother country, and reluctant to perform, until someone brought on a stepladder labelled "Made in USSR" to which Boris exclaimed, "Ah, the Russian Steppes!" and was happy again :-) After some fire-eating and boasting of his brute strength he laid between two chairs while a paving slab was laid on his bare chest. We provided a drum roll as the sledgehammer was raised and brought down, smashing the paving slab!

After a barbecue in the garden, the merriment continued indoors when everyone gathered to sing. It's hard to keep these Morris Men quiet, and they weren't shy to launch into song. Many of the lyrics were quite obscene and/or hilarious, such as: (something like this)

Oh a man named Van Gogh
he was rather cheesed off.
He cut off his right ear
and it fell in his beer

They were accompanied by accordions and percussion including shakers, drums and a hilarious device called "Despicable Henry": this was a 2m pole covered in jingle bells with a tambourine mounted in the middle and a boot on the end! It made a fine noise when stomped on the floor with vigour by its creator, who next donned another hat to become Bruce, a visiting Ozzie, singing a rather raucous song about 'Christmas in Australia' being "really bloody nice!". We joined in with gestures and choruses and had a jolly time. There was a great spirit here, proper musick-making in the olde English tradition, aided and abetted tonight by the traditions of Africa, Egypt and Russia, which was nice.


Corporate Backlash

Today I caught Radio 3's broadcast of a BBC Proms concert featuring the European premiere of Brett Dean's thoroughly entertaining piece "Vexations and Devotions". This large orchestral work has many parallels with my current project Tunnel Visions, albeit in a different field of music, dealing as it does with the frustrations we all experience with corporate mumbo jumbo and buck-passing call centres. A surrealist lullaby features a distantly ringing (but unanswered) telephone and a disembodied computer voice declaiming a song we all know too well:

Thank-you for holding.
We are sorry to keep you waiting -
All of our lines are busy;
Your call has been placed in a queue.
Please hold for the next available operator...

The voice becomes more bizarre and starts to question itself philosophically as the choir and orchestral backing becomes more distraught. We all know this feeling. Just when you want a simple answer, you are led around a maze of unanswered phone systems which lead round in circles. All you want is to speak to someone. THEY ARE NOT LISTENING.

Time is running out for big companies. Our patience has reached breaking point. There will soon be a large-scale popular revolt against anything linked to the large unfriendly dinosaur corporations, and all they embody: glossy ManagementSpeak, Fat Cat bonuses, unnecessarily obstructory Customer HellDesks. Companies will either return to a focus on the human touch or be boycotted in droves. Campaigns of public disapproval will begin targeting firms who enjoy the sound of their own marketing drivel. Company executives and merchant bankers will be accosted in the street by pin-striped warriors wielding custard pies. Hopefully the pointy-haired bosses will read the writing on the wall and evolve before things get nasty.



After packing half of my music room's gear, Justine and I drove up to Scotland on a mission. Taking the scenic route at dusk over the hills on the splendid A701 to Edinburgh, we listened to Stephan Micus' enchanting "Twilight Fields", and later sang along loudly with Khatchaturian's "Spartacus" ;-) Crossing the Forth Bridge, I made a mental note to finish cabling up my studio, and eventually we arrived at Glenisla at 1am, to find a sleeping campsite. I struggled to put up my tent in the cold, dark, Scottish night and collapsed into slumber.

>>> Photos of Glen Isla


African Drum Village

Dance class outdoors ] A colourful banner welcomes you to African Drum Village | [ The African Drum Village campsite at Glenisla |Our reason for driving so far (466 miles!) was to come to African Drum Village, Scotland's only drumming camp, which features some of the finest teachers and specialises in purely African styles. It's a small-scale event limited to only 140 people, camping in a remote Scottish glen beside a river, with the added benefit of using the large village hall for concerts and workshops, together with its facilities (showers and toilets). The atmosphere is wonderfully friendly, and you soon get to know everyone due to the African way of greeting whoever you meet. I already knew quite a few folk here from the Rhythm'n'Grooves festival at Hebden Bridge; the UK djembe scene is a small world.

I'd pitched my tent right beside the river (out of flood range though) for the soothing sounds of rushing water to mask noise at night. I enjoyed washing up in the river (without detergents), although the water wasn't clear enough to drink, and too cold to bathe in except for on really hot days, of which we only had one. I also used the river as a fridge, storing plastic containers of food wedged between rocks at the riverbank. However, I'd neglected to take into account the fact that the water level would change, and one morning found that it had risen and carried off a litre carton of Rice Dream and a (glass!) jar of olives - my apologies, environment :-(

There was a gas-heated shower beside the river, but most people used the luxury indoor ones, even if they did constantly change temperature.

Mockoulo's mixed djembe class

I'd attended Mockoulo's entertaining workshops before, so this seemed an ideal place to start. In this Mixed Djembe class, he taught Soko with his usual flair, including a djembe solo and some dun dun parts I didn't know.

Nansady Keita's dun dun class

After lunch I went to a dun dun class taught by none other than Nansady Keita, who I'd first met while out in Senegal. We played a rhythm called Sofa Salikenebo ('Sofa rhythm played at a morning festival') (sali=fete, kenebo=morning). This was a great session, not just because of Nansady's laid-back and friendly attitude, but because of his straightforward way of teaching: he showed us the dun dun parts individually and got us to copy them and then play them repeatedly until they sank in, adding alternative fill-ins and embellishments. The sound of forty people all pounding away on duns out in the open air was something to behold :-)

Famoudou Konate

At one point, I looked over to see Nansady's uncle, the master himself, Famoudou Konate dancing alone around the campsite with his arm raised in a Nelson Mandela-style power salute. This was his first visit to the UK, and he was obviously elated to hear the music of his culture being so joyously celebrated here. This magic moment marked the establishment of a new African state temporarily here within Scotland's borders, authentic in every way except for the weather.

[ Famoudou Konate driving a room of drummers ]Next we went into the village hall for Famoudou's djembe class. He taught two groups of 50 people each day, such was the demand to study with this man regarded as the greatest living exponent of Guinean djembe culture; people had travelled from as faraway as France, Sweden and America.

The beauty, style and grace of this man's playing is what we had come for, and we weren't disappointed. He was not a speed-freak, trying to play as many notes as fast as possible; no, he had gone way beyond that decades ago. His charisma manifested itself in his inventive and joyous approach to soloing, a child-like quality of fun that pervaded everything he did. His hilarious hand gestures and dancing included some comical animal impressions. Even when we were playing incorrectly, he still chastised us with jollity :-) The vigour and power of the man is truly remarkable, especially given that he is 67 years old! Imagine a Guinean version of James Brown, sans afro :-)

I played dun duns for some of his classes and djembe for others to get a balanced education. He spoke very little English, so most of his directions were in French, sometimes translated by French-speakers. Of course, so much wisdom is transmitted directly by eye-contact; language is a secondary medium just used to clarify things.

Ali Bangoura and musicians

In the evening we went over to Louise and Simon's colourfully decorated gazebo. Ali Bangoura arrived on comical form, so I gave him my chair; he went off to fetch some African dudes and instruments: bolon, gongoma (bass thumb piano) and shakers :-) They then proceeded to bewitch us with amazing music which brought us right into The Now and made up for me missing WOMAD. This is Real Music and these guys are so serious that you cannot ignore their mighty presence - they just open up The Grid of SpaceTime and reveal the sounds within. A singer will often mention friends and people present as a mark of respect; Ali sang a verse about me, and also his old friend Ian who I'd chatted to him about :-)

>>> Pictures of Ali singing...

Drumzkool performance

Later we went into the hall to watch Drumzkool raise the roof. This amazing group of children led by their teacher Hassan had most of us adult players worried: here was a bunch of 6-12 year-olds who played wonderfully, with inventive choreography and colourful costumes. I also photographed their beautifully designed dun dun stands.

[ Drumzkool take the stage at African Drum Village | Drumzkool clapping the beat | Drumzkool: the Next Generation of drummers | Drumzkool djembe soloist ]

[ Drumzkool's cool kenkeni stand | Drumzkool's elegant stands for sangbans | Drumzkool's elegant dun dun stands | Drumzkool players on djembe and dun duns | Drumzkool rocking the house ]

They were a hard act to follow, but many more bands played, including some lively performances by djembe comedians Druminaboot from Aberdeen and Drummed Up from Newcastle (these may have been on other nights).

>>> The funk continued into August...

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 2007-07-02 - last updated 2007-10-06