Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Poetry Watercolours

I've been busy over the past few days painting over 60 watercolours to illustrate a book of poems I'm formatting. I write a poem a day in 2010 and I'm finally getting round to putting a book together. The paintings are often splotty and abstracted. About half have been rejected so far so I'll repaint those; my criteria has been speed, but that's led to some good ones as well as bad. The picture above is for a poem called My Mind is Full of Weeds.

Here is Artemis Dream, a rather abstract and surreal poem in itself.

Lots more to do. I've run out of paper at the moment. Here is the image for The Italian Bedroom with the poem below.

The Italian Bedroom

There's nothing he can do but lie awake
as yellow light in beams envelops all.
Slow spiral-turning water on the lake.
The cracks and mould upon the plaster wall.
His voice is silent waiting for the call
from love afar, in English winter's breath.
She writes the lines as sunlight starts to fall,
soft violet words of his Elizabeth.
The scented lines that dance towards a crawling death.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lots

Lots has happened in the past week or so.

The Love Symphony is just about complete but I've continued to tinker. I extended the "Sonata For Self-Pitying Piano" to good effect. I also spent a long time adding more feeling to that track, adding a degree of random amplitude variation to the lead piano and lots of tempo slides, which is easy in my software (hard only because I need an 8ghz PC to run it at full speed; and, unlike my prediction from 2002, they don't exist at this date!)

I'm pleased with the album, although the emotion on the first track isn't as evident as it could be, working best on the simpler melody. I like the ending though. I've added a better ending to "Loneliness And Divine Love" too, and re-rendered that a few times to eliminate digital click, a problem with Noise Station II until recently when I added a new plug-in to fix it, which fades in and out instruments by a fixed degree, amazingly it takes a huge 6-8ms to fix this.

Here's the final track listing.

1. There Is No Love, And The More I Search The Less I Find (9:52)
2. Sunset (1:50)
3. The Dream (5:54)

4. Sonata For Self-Pitying Piano (5:21)
5. Encounter With The Believers (0:37)
6. Loneliness And Divine Love (6:37)

7. Stroking The Harp (0:59)
8. Awakening Sonata For Oneristic Harp (1:39)
9. The Eventual Attainment Of Love (9:40)

Here's the final cover...

I've ordered 20 copies to be printed, which is costing nearly £3 a print from a company called Noisegate Studios. I've ordered from Noisegate before and the quality is very good, and for me a higher price top quality product is more important than cutting budgets. People could buy the FLAC version and print their own if they wanted to save money, but those who like and want a CD jewel case with good full colour printing will be willing to pay for it. I've already sold one copy.

In other news I've completed a few programming updates, including a major revision of my game Flatspace, to make a new release; FlatspaceIIk.

The main reason I did this is lack of support from by current publisher Impulse, so I wrestled control back and decided to release an upgraded version of my most popular game myself. I took the opportunity to update a few other games too; Taskforce and Gunstorm II. I like Taskforce a lot but perhaps liked it too much to tweak it as much as it needed.

Finally my, yes! my reliquary is just about finished. It looks rather ropey on the outside. The veneer became stained with PVA glue, a curse which reveals itself only when varnished (yet epoxy soaks through, leaving a gloss finish, the wood glue problem must be solved). I painted the leading edges with ink spots, which hides the worst of this and adds artistic content. The veneering is also uneven, and the gold wrinkled and blotchy. In fact there's lots wrong with it, most of which I'm sure I could fix if I made another box, which of course I'm itching to do! I've made two pieces of silverwork, the first was just too awful. The second half-awful but passable. It's held in place with a powerful magnet to keep it in place but easily removable if needed. I covered the hinges with acrylic moulding paste and then gilded them, which looks like the hinges are scones (yes, scones not stones).

Golden reliquary secrets and lessons will be shared later. This post is long enough!

Next; to finish my book of poetry. I'm to host and arrange a poetry night in April. Everything at the moment is exciting. Never let obscurity limit your expression. Assume greatness. Assume brilliance. Keep working and assume success because to work is to succeed. As an artist everything you do is art, everything, and the more you do the better artist you are. Try everything and you will succeed at everything!

Qapla!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Love Symphony Lumbers Towards Completion

More work on the music today and yes I have a first draft!

For ages I wondered if there was too much bass on the opening track, it was louder than on the others. I examined other music in my CD collection and found a wide variation. The "loudness war" might not be something you've heard of before but it's a real phenomenon in which music has been getting "louder" as it's put on to CD. In practise this is a product of marketing and technology; the latter allowing loudness without obvious distortion. In effect though, the loudness is just reducing dynamics, the difference between the loudest and quietest bits of a piece of music. This kills drama, and it's one reason why modern music sounds the same. It's a constant volume and constant pace.

My old Karajan Beethoven CD, one of the first pressed to the new format in the 1980's is wonderful. In the whole 76 mins, only ONE single sample touches peak, a perfect peak. It's a perfect recording. Everyone knows that anyway; it's got a five star review on Amazon and every review is rightfully glowing. It was downhill from there regarding recording quality. The 1986 Kate Bush Wuthering Heights is still very dynamic, but less than Karajan. Things got gradually worse, and the 2010 Vintage by Jean-Michel Jarre looks like a breeze-block of distortion.

All of that made be rebel somewhat and I seriously considered copying the Karajan model, however my music is so well put together in terms of production that less than 1000 samples peak throughout the whole ablum, despite a good volume. Remember, there are 44,100 per second of those!

In terms of equalisation I decided to boost the frequencies over 4khz by 4dB. I rarely do things like that. In fact I don't think I've equalised anything since The Spiral Staircase re-recording in 2008, but I thought I would because the upper frequencies are always a little absent unless you push them. This was visible in my spectrum analyser. I prefer to balance by ear when composing, then by visual spectrum analyser. I have good accurate studio "monitors" (Resolv 65s) but a visual bobbing spectrum and looking at the waveform is on balance a better guide.

The best tip for that sort of balancing I can give is to avoid filters in the song itself. If your bass instrument needs more oomph you might be tempted to apply a low shelf filter, tweak the bass knob on an equaliser, but that's a bad idea because it'll make lower notes get louder than high ones, then you'll have to apply a compressor to set the volume back to "equal" and you've lost quality and resolution, and added complexity, and in practice it never works unless you distort everything. The best way to do it would be to add a sine wave to the instrument itself, tune it down an octave or two, and voila, more bass. I avoid filters of any sort if possible, and anything complex like a "sweeping" lead creates it's own problems for all of the same reasons outlined. Keep things simple and mixing isn't usually needed, no matter how many layers you add.

My main task of the day was finalising the artwork, so here's the rear. I wondered whether I should make the text white or black. I liked black best in the end. Also I couldn't decided between "Love Symphony" or "The Love Symphony". It was always "The" while I was working on it but I dropped it to fit bigger writing on the cover. In the end though it needed the "The" so I put it back in a flash of shame.

I must get this done. Next task; silver soldering for my reliquary, then publishing my poetry book. Tick tick. This must be my best year. Better than five of the great William Blake!

Olé!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Love Symphony Update 2

Lots done! Lots to do! I'd better blog this for the sake of history for it's palpably struck me that history and myriad millions of people will read this blog in the infinity of time to come, far more than will today or in my lifetime, and history deserves at least a detailed and informative and inspirational read!

When the last track was completed I had to revisit the others to make sure they all fitted. Things had changed so much since the first that the album sounded a little disjointed. In particular the first track I wrote, "Loneliness and Divine Love", had more electronic sounds than the others. To combat that I added a small pre-track that introduced it, that represented an encounter with (rather sepcifically in my imagination) some Latter Day Saints missionaries, whom, in their electronic way convinced the main melody to become religious.

At the present moment that track ends happily, which doesn't quite suit my feelings because the lack of "satisfaction" should be apparent when leading into the final movement. That track is very regular. It pulses, and regularity is in this case meditative, any changes in passion being in volume or timbre.

The conversion part happened just before that. There are a few conversations here, and in the third part a harp (the most oneristic intrument due to all of that plucking between the legs) meets a flute and the melody transforms into the love theme of the finale. Today I expanded that part by adding a third track, thus there are now nine tracks divided into three distinct sections. The third track is called "Masturbating Harp" and it's a simple sequence of plucks in triplets (triplets are the reocurring musical motif of the whole album) that accelerate into a glissando. I also revisted track three, The Dream, and made some pizzicato strings there harp strings instead because it sounded more quiet, more gentle and definitely a very light sky blue, which is the exact colour that part of that track needs.

This has been a complex work for me and I've put in more time and thought into it than perhaps any album, certainly as much as The Spiral Staircase. I'm not really sure about large sections of it! and I see as many flaws in each part as I do in my paintings, which for music is rare for me, but perhaps that's because I don't think about or care about the music I write very often. Usually I don't have time, and I rarely push myself to write new music with new feelings. These feelings are all positive signs. I must promote this album well.

The next step for this project is to design the artwork. Hardly anybody seems to use compact discs nowadays but I like the look and feel of the physical case, and so I try to make each one very pretty. My downloads now include lots of artwork too, often the same amount as in each CD, although never exactly the same because I make the download art all square.

Mastering should be easy. For a long time I spent many insecure years tweaking the EQ this way and that, endlessly comparing and trying music out on different systems, but it came to an end when I listened to some really old music on bad speakers and it sounded fine. I simply don't have the time for endless tiny tweaks. Things can be made easier in that regard though and I'll post some of my EQ tips sooner or later.

Meanwhile, the cover art is changing and refining a bit. Here is the latest draft; the portrait waterfall is better defined and some awkward blurry edges have been confidented with a silver hammer. Parts that are grainy upon closer inspection have been cleaned up too. The full image is 3072x3072 pixels (and there's a 20mm bleed with that too) so there's a lot of resolution here, which demands good quality source images.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Love Symphony Update

I've been working on my new album Love Symphony since the start of the year. It's largely complete now after lots of struggles. The problem of the old opening was intractable; originally I had one track which I disliked so added a second, then incoporated elements of the first into that and added a third but even those weren't up to scratch. I got rid of all of them and wrote a completely new opening.

The inspiration came from the baroque. I'll never surpass Beethoven, and nobody could, but by referencing Bach and Handel someone might produce some alternative Beethoven-universes. I much prefer melodic music, and I like complexity too, multiple melodies playing at once, but not so much that an average listener can't pick out and remember each melody. In some ways the antithesis of Mahler, although he often touches Bach full circle. Music exposes all of the elements of psychology. The opening needs to be good, and the ending because those parts stick in the memory most. The middle needs some jarring to wake people up. I've often wondered about the third movement of Beethoven's 9th symphony because I often drift off during it, waking up at about the twelve minute mark when a sudden stab of pain occurs. I wonder if that was the very idea.

I can't help but stir things up. No relaxation. No old person pleasant watercolours. No Eno. In my painting as well my music I can't help but add little bits here and there, and not produce a mood to encourage the zombie-state of "ambience". Ambient music is not art any more than old person dog paintings. Music should make you feel and demand attention. That's why I like Beethoven. It was impossible, impossible! For that 3rd movement to exclude stab.

So, to avoid the traps of electronic music I've had to vary pacing. The mind responds to the new. Originality is usually more highly praised in art than self-expression or skill or beauty, and this is partly because the mind responds to the new, to changes, and in music the pitch can change. Also the key can change, and this music includes more key changes than I normally add. In fact, I've hardly added any in the past. Music can also change in volume and power, in timbre, and in tempo. Tempo variation is the thing that music computers have rigorously and violently genocided in the last twenty years, and yet it can add so much. Lack of tempo changes and electronic drummers are explicit reasons why modern pop music isn't as good as music used to be.

For my last track then, which is ironically the first on the album, I began with a chord change sequence, like the growing parts in Vivaldi's Four Seasons. I crafted a melody and a counter melody over the top. I feel much better at doing this now, after a month of struggles, than I was at first. It's typical that just as I'm getting the hang of it that I'll have to swtich back to painting! The melody ended at a higher key than it began, and so the melody can chain and ascend forever, thus expressing searching. The track is called "There is no love, and the more I search the less I find."

At one point the melody tried to cresendo on A, for an F-major, but that expected chord isn't there, also representing the search. At the end of a few iterations with increase in intensity, the tune collapses in failure and falldown. A second, much simpler, tune appears and the same thing happens, and after a few explorations of trying different combinations, the tune gives up in failure. All of this is very melodic and pretty, but it's the changes in tempo and collapses, essential artistic components, that rise it above composers like Vangellis, a very passionless composer.

I'd better stop before this becomes an essay. More later... Meanwhile, here is a glimpse of the cover art so far.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Artwork

Today I added artwork files to all of my downloadable music orders. Each of my mp3 and FLAC format albums now includes large (1536x1536 pixel) artwork, at least one cover image, but usually more like a track listing, credits, other information and artwork to accompany the music.

My latest music project has hit a wall because I'm unhappy with the opening track. I must attack this and complete it soon because I'm entering that dangerous phase of losing interest in it and finding a new interest in painting. If I don't finish this within a week it might take months.

I think the only solution is to write a new track that embodies everything I want to say, but what DO I want to say? Should I start with a standard melody as always? Should I capture a mood? What mood? The lovelessness that is supposed to enrobe the start of the album is inappropriately unbeautiful for an opening. Perhaps longing is inappropriately early. How do you start from nothingness, and yet start impressively, and conclusively, and substantially, and greatly? So many conundra.