Saturday, January 23, 2021

Infinite Forest 2021 Artwork

Mostly working on the album artwork today. I generally design 8 pages of 600dpi artwork. Here are some of the pages so far:

Infinite Forest 2021 Poetry

I toyed with the idea of writing some words and including lyrics, spoken or sung, for the new Infinite Forest. In the end words didn't fit and I wrote only unfinished fragments of ideas. However raw and fragmentory, I like to file and keep these notes. I thought I'd put them here.

Ronnie (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

He is dying in silence.
Sparks fly from his mouth
and nobody can see him,
on the concrete floor as he leaks black ink and weeps.
The cars cough by and shoes tread,
and he is dying in silence,
on a stupid street.

Ghost Cows (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

All the cows are ghosts.
The cows are asleep, and transparent blue.
They love me with the love of angels.
They look at me with love;
they awaken and look.

A Henge Of Giant Fingers (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

The trees are climbing in on me,
a henge of giant fingers.
He screams and I run in panic
through warm's flesh, through the forest,
to the hill,
and the circle of stone,
where she left her symbol for me,
crystal blue, and alive.

The Mome Raths Weep (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

I am above the maze, laid out like a mind,
and she is beyond it.
The bronze sun dips low
in autumn's blood.
There are friends here, but they cannot help.
The mome raths weep, I must go alone
and with solemn soul.
I step into the corridors.

The Sad Butterfly Collector (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

He collects butterflies, sad,
dried things made from copper's dust and child's wings.
He was never loved, he has never loved.

The shadows dance in the grazing yellow light,
and are happy, as if alive.

The moon floats.

The Wood Crumbles In Rust Flakes (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

The wood crumbles in rust flakes, like her memory
beneath his hard fingers;
the memory of the moon;
its yellow ball warms the forest,
the lakes of love,
tendrils of the mind
and broken time
to be ran along
when young;
young like the fox.

What Is There, Inside (fragment for The Infinite Forest)

What is there, inside?
Along the flakes of run.
What is there, inside?
Under the bark,
rust of leaf
station
electric
brokengold
the infinite forest
the infinite expanse
of self.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Final Checks on Infinite Forest

I slept badly, awake with an interminable cough and bad chest which feels like asthma or an allergy, and a nightmare about being chased through the woods by robot dogs, first K-9 from Dr Who, then anthropomorphic cyborg bulldogs, perhaps inspired by the 'Cyberdog' in the Wallace and Gromit animation. I think this dream, and my general weakness is related to stress and isolation.

A very slow but steady day, stoic and productive at the best pace I could manage. These last few check on the album, 'quality control', take a lot of time and produce few results. I made some small tweaks to The Knight, checking it about five or six times. There was the tiniest of clicks at one point, this was down to some drums which were times in beats (rather than seconds) being squished by my fancy timing changes. I also needed to add unique plug-in called simple 'Anticlick Fade' which fades out every note and fades in the next one, this can smooth out tiny, tiny digital 'pops' which might happen at the start of some notes depending on the type of instrument.

I listened to the whole album again, then tweaked Lost Friends again. Each of these changes affects the whole album timing because it's all inter-linked so every change means moving all of the other tracks about; and I have two versions of this album, 'CD' and 'Stream' versions, so even a tiny change to the length of one track seems to create a lot of work. At 4pm or so, I made a final change to Victory, removing lots of the dramatic start, bells, church-bells and all sorts of things. Those weren't in the first version of the album anyway and didn't seem to work here.

I also created a lot of artwork for it. A good way to do this is to create lots of speculative art; lots of pages not worrying about quality so much, then evolving the best looking ones. Here's an example:

I also filed my recent Prometheus plug-ins. I wish this super-rare bug would appear so that I can trap it. I expect I'm the only full time musician/artist in the world who makes music entirely using software they designed.

As the computer worked on its music I read bits of The Annotated Alice (in Wonderland), a fascinating book. Curiously, Carroll noted initial chess pieces and characters for Through the Looking-Glass but, despite many manufacturers making 'Alice' chess sets, it doesn't look like any use Carroll's actual designations.

Generally, a day obsessing over tiny details and listening to the same music over and over again to check and re-check it. These are the final finishes that my other work didn't used to have. I'm starting to want to move on now, the first amorous glances at a future project and away from this one.

The Covid-19 news is bleak and worrysome and I feel anxious about the situation; yet I remain generally positive. We're doing the best we can, and are, after all, guided by the immovable river of fate, and fate is a force I consider to be a friend. My initial prediction of things not feeling like 'normal' until 2024 or so still seems reasonable. It still amazes me that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were delayed by one year rather than four.

Enough of such wastes of thought! Next immediate project is getting back to Sisyphus, then something new... it's most efficient to work on many things at once.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Monotone Derez, Album Tweaks

First job of fun today was designing another plug-in, Monotone Derez. This simply destroys the resolution of a sample at a fixed intensity (fixed, meaning irrespective of the pitch of the note, hence 'Monotone'). An ancient (over 10 years old) version of this effect simply used an integer amount to duplicate a sample, so if the number was '4' it would repeat the same sample 4 times in a row, then grab the next. Simple, crude, and harsh sounding. The new version adds optional noise, a smoothing parameter, and works on fractional basis (in millisecs) so is better in every way, yet can emulate the old one exactly for any old songs that used it. This effect is useful for grunging down sounds that are too clean. I haven't used it that much; I recall I did apply it to a voice sample to give it the effect of being spoken over a distorted military radio.

Then some work on the album art. At 4pm, some focused listening to the entire album, in the dark with headphones, to work on the final tweaks which can take a lot of time. In this case I only had a few changes. Lost Friends needed some very subtle changes to tempo to enhance the sad parts. One environment sample needed some tiny changes to the looping.

The biggest changes were to the first track, The Knight, the most complex and most epic track. I've doubled up the woodwind sounds which helps a lot. One other change is a slight tempo change. It's a 5/4 tune but sounded a little flat. It needed some 'punch' so I shorted the last beat, just a fraction, so the first beat comes in a little early each time. This gives the tune more drive. Timing like this is very subtle yet really affects the mood a lot. You only need to listen to a song by Free to feel the importance of these slight timing changes.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Hypernoise

A long day spent doing a small and simple thing. I wanted to make a new sound for the opening of The Infinite Forest and wanted something gritty and organic and noisy, something deep and mysterious with a technologcal edge. I started with some of the noise effects I've programmed but realised that I could combine three of these effects into one, so I've created a new audio effect called Hypernoise:

This generates random noise, not every sample (that would be simple white noise) but every so-many samples, initially at the same rate as one wavelength (eg. 261.63hz when the note is middle C). This noise is created in solid blocks of this length. The 'Input' parameter also allows you to use data from the existing sound, so the effect can be used to quantise a sample, destroy its resolution. With this noise you can either play it (Add) or use it to modulate (Multiply) the current sound, and you can fade away the current sound (with Dry) to keep only the modulated or raw noise. Of course, it's pitched so you can play a tune with it. The 'Fq. Ratio' parameter is tuning; you can set it to 2 or 4 or 8 to turn it up an octave or three. You get some really interesting effects with very low numbers (it will actually go to zero, which means it generates one initial sample of 'noise' and keeps it at that level).

The 'Smooth' parameter interpolates between these harsh castellations of sound, so smoothing everything along.

I couldn't decide if mono or stereo (well, mono or hexio, Prometheus uses six channels natively) would be better, I expect mono will be most useful, but I've made two versions.

Once that was made I created my sound. In the end I didn't use the white noise I'd anticipated, but used a reversed diesel train and some wind chimes, both heavilty distorted and filtered and slowed down (and noised). The result sounds like a war torn post-apocalyptic landscape.

Prometheus crashed again with an old bug. It's so rare that for a year it didn't crash at all, a perhaps 1 in 1000 chance. I've coded in a few traps for it. I'm feeling very anxious and stressed. My body feels like knots of high pressure which I must try to dissipate. Have just been for a nice walk in the heavy rain of Storm Christoph and did some outdoor singing practice while doing so. When I returned, my gloves were so soaked that I rang out about a cup or water from them before entering the house. No other romantic geniuses were walking in the storm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Infinite Forest 2021

Draft 1 of the album is complete! A dangerous time because it can lead to a slow down, there is still so much to do on it. I made 4 A4 sides of lyrics and story notes, exploring lots of possibilities. To some extent the album is about a knight questing for love (or an angel, the holy grail) because the track names and moods of the music overtly suggest this. I decided against words, however, and painted pictures for each scene.

We start in a strange, alien, technological, wind, then running or on horseback, the pace and pounding rhythm of the music suggests this. This heroic theme quietens to gentle flowing water, so we rest by a lake or river. The Angel theme appears, then this breaks into harsh wind and rain. This is a raw recording of the weather which is quite unusual. Usually 'wind' recordings are made fake and high pitch like a winding whistle. Putting a real mic to the wind results in a massive and normally unwelcome boom, but I've stuck with it, filtering out only the most bassy and troublesome frequencies. The stereo recording has rain in the left ear, but even that is so realistic is sounds like a Geiger counter, a pitter-patter of strange dots, not liquid, and something like the sound of being stuck in the rain when wearing a cagoule. This gives this whole sound an unusual environmental realism.

The next track, Dark Forces, keeps this wind flowing throughout and introduces the antagonist theme. It's somewhat mechanical, as the 'iron animals' name (later) indicates, and was originally inspired (back in 2008 when I composed it) by the evil forces in Princess Mononoke.

The next track explodes into a bright rainforest filled with life. It's called Lost Friends and there is a strong mood of reminiscence. This lights a narrative of remembering nature. I can't help but think of the end scenes of Soylent Green, the death of Sol Roth, when listening to this. Of all tributes to that wonderful film, the most unwelcome is probably 'prophetic'.

Next we re-visit the Iron Animals again and this ends in suburban garden with car and aircraft noise. The next track seems to shift indoors and the album narrative switches here. I had the idea of the listener transforming into a moth or butterfly, then captured by a Victorian naturalist, man's classification of nature, though considered more like an exploitation or mechanisation of it. Orb Of Prophesy ends with a moth fluttering.

Then we waltz a happy tune, the free butterfly perhaps, but we end fluttering in a jar, trapped. The next track starts with the moth sound robotized and we enter the Victorian collection room. There's not much audio to suggest this scene, I might think of something and yet add more. After this, the waltz melody reappears as a happy polka-like tune. The butterfly is captured and pinned in a glass box, trapped, awaiting death. The Iron Graveyard, next, is a tune full of doubt and worry, the march of fate, and at the end a great church bell rings, and a flame stutters into life, then the glass of the box is smashed dramatically and we are freed.

The flying 'knight' theme from the start reappears, and dawn appears with beautiful birds to accompany the beautiful angel theme, the happy ending. A dawn chorus of birds end the album.

I felt somewhat sad at the end. The dawn chorus sample was recorded in July 2003 from my bedroom window, here, as I type, to my left. Of course the birds are all dead now (probably, some may have been long lived, perhaps) but almost all of the species and mix of birds here are gone too. The dawn chorus is still here today, but different. It also made me think of the birds who sing for their song to be lost forever. In some ways the live recordings of nature on here are, then, a memorial, and do evoke something like that suicide scene in Soylent Green. The old Infinite Forest was a mix of themes of heroes, friends, and villains, arranged in a pretty pattern, but the new album contains a lot of nature vs. mankind, and this is, ultimately, what the album is about.

The old album will be deleted today from the internet and its fickle shop-window. No CD copies, or digital downloads, were ever sold. The new album contains almost everything the old one did and more. For the record, almost all of the actual music is the same - I don't think I added or deleted any patterns or structural elements, although I've added more variation to the more repetitive sub-melodies. The harpsichords on The Photograph, for example, were all simply ascending chords in the original album; now they mimic the melody a little, and I made similar changes to most of the other tracks. The tempo (and volume of each note) was rigidly fixed in the old version, so the new one is a lot more expressive; the instruments now at least try to swell, grow, attack, etc. with the mood.

Here is the new cover.

Monday, January 18, 2021

The Forest, Butterflies

Back to The Infinite Forest these two days. Little done yesterday, I slept so badly and awoke late, tired and unmotivated, but managed to complete the stereo panning and balancing of all tracks, and start on the process of adding scenes, a journey narrative to it all. Awake again for most of last night, from 2am to almost 7am, but woke today with enthused, partly due to reading my beloved Beethoven book in the night. It's no exaggeration to say that the gift of this book in Christmas 2014 changed my life; I read and refer to it so often for pleasure.

Good progress on the music, though these things always take more time nowadays. Even if the music was instantly finished it will take a week or so just to check everything, divide and prepare the tracks, file everything, develop the artwork etcetera.

One challenge of the day was creating the sound of a moth or butterfly flapping in the air, and in a jar. This involved heavily filtered white noise with a triangle wave wah-effect with only a tiny range of modulation and very fast, then a mix of panning. The first half of the album is about nature and scenes from the forest itself, but then the listener/protagonist is transformed into a butterfly and captured by a Victorian scientist, before finding freedom at the end.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Prometheus Update, Jabberwock Dream

Updated my music software Prometheus today, to version 2.65, that's 65 updates since the first release. I tend to accumulate possible improvements or changes, and when I encounter a bug or need an essential new feature, I go through the list. Most of these changes were bug fixes.

It's possible to change, say, the tempo programmatically in a song, so that a song that starts at 120 B.P.M. might switch to 60 halfway through. It used to, for some reason, switch itself to 60 and forget that it was initially 120 at the start. I finally worked out why, so this was one bug to fix. Another was the time calculation. That tempo can be manipulated and modulated in any way - modulators are actually wav files, so can be very complex. I have a feature to calculate the exact timing (and exact sample) of the song at any point, which is useful sometimes. This had a little bug in it so that's fixed too.

It also felt good to switch jobs. My music seemed to have ground to a halt so I needed to pause and reflect. A walk at 3pm was hugely energising too although the park was packed with dog walkers, generally getting in the way. Almost nobody wore masks, perhaps 10%.

Last nights dreams were vivid. I had something like a virtual reality headset that allowed me to peer into a parallel universe; a sunny, spring-like vision of Crewe. It was deserted and I found myself peering into the empty British Home Stores shop. Somehow I stepped though this aperture, like the windows in His Dark Materials. Outside the shop, in the bright sun, was a huge red Jabberwock, its head the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. It sidled its head from side to side, seeking prey, and occasionally breathing fire. A second Jabberwock was there too. I darted outside and round a corner, then exited that world.

In a second dream, I found myself chatting to Queen Elizabeth II on Instagram, she was bored with palace life and has set up a new secret account. She sent a photo of her feet, then deleted it as inappropriate to share. I told Deb about our chat and she doubted it was really the queen, but I showed her that it was. The queen gave me a gift for my friendship, I think a bar or club or something like it, to be designed how I like, and she supplied a designer and lots of workmen. I spent some time wandering around the huge construction site, which was something like a Doom level.

Generally I found both dreams positive.