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So much for regular blogging, eh? Things have been afoot, and I am being creative musically and otherwise, but it’s been such an odd year that I haven’t really been good at being regular about blogging. Still, I hope this will change, and in the spirit of that, here is something I created. It’s been a little while since I wrote any short stories, so it’s a little rusty, but it seems in keeping with the world at the moment, or at least my less favourable feelings about the world at the moment, so I present:

Workhouse V2.0 

The 6am Klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying mashed potato and gravy. She had never eaten mashed potato and gravy, but from the books she had read – when there had been books – she imagined it to be salty, buttery, warm. Comforting. It had always struck her, how authors had been obsessed with describing food. Midnight feasts fuelled by lashings of ginger beer. Hot, steaming slices of juicy roast meat served with flavourful vegetables and spicy punch. Creamy hot chocolate. It amazed her that there could ever have been a time when chocolate had ever been available to anyone other than the Overseers.

Another day, another dollar. Wasn’t that the saying? Only there were no dollars here. You worked for Nutritabs (TM) and water, a cot to sleep in and your continued existence.

It hadn’t always been like this. People spoke in whispers of a time in the late 2030’s when work was exchanged for money, and people had some measure of freedom. Advanced automation techniques had forever changed the face of capitalism – now only the Overseers could go Outside. They owned the factories and the machines, which at first had been a wonderful, labour-saving development. However, when the crisis hit, in 2041, there were no jobs for ordinary people any more. Debt had spiralled out of control, and without employment millions were soon destitute.

It was felt that the people would only experience satisfaction if they worked. Work was the tool to greater motivation, self esteem and worth. So, the WorkFarm was born. Of course all of the necessary tasks to keep society running were already taken care of by the AIs but it was simple enough to find mundane tasks that the Workers could do that, while not actually productive, would keep their hands busy and their minds numb.

Of course, some found it harder than others. The former doctors, lawyers, nurses, firemen and women, teachers – many of them chose to SelfPurge before being rounded up into the WorkFarm. And some were not deemed suitable for the program. It would have been a cruelty to expect the infirm and disabled to cope. The deviants would not have been safe to be in the confines of the Farm – how, after all, could you protect someone from sexual attack from members of their own sex? The resultant drop in population size was seen by many as a blessing. Now there would be more food, more medicine and more resources to go around.

The canteen was silent as Tav and the others shuffled in in a line. Each was given a Nutritab (TM) and a cup of water, each sat on a sterile metal bench to consume it. The benches were not designed for comfort – you would not sit there for long. Time wasted is time lost forever, as the slogans on the wall said. Breakfast generally took less than 5 minutes from joining the queue to dropping one’s cup in the disposal chute. If a Worker was not on the Floor by 6:15am ready to start work, they risked solitary confinement, loss of rations or the Sting.

Tav’s work, like that of the other women, involved twisting bolts onto screws. Minute after minute, hour after hour, she plucked a bolt from one box, and a screw from the other, and twisted them together. Oftentimes the screws or the bolts were so worn that they were too stiff to work together, or the threads were gone. But a non-assembled screw and bolt would earn the Sting. More than one would elicit removal of rations. Tav’s hands were scarred from forcing bolts unto screws until her fingers bled.

The conjoined bolt/screw arrangements were fed onto a belt, and transported to the Men’s section. The men’s job was simple enough. To unscrew the bolts from the screws and load them into boxes – one full of screws and one full of bolts. It was the perfect system, a closed cycle, where resources were neither wasted nor thrown away.

Two tables away from Tav, there was a sudden commotion as an older woman quietly, and without any fuss, slid to the floor. Tav did not know her name – friendships and interactions were actively discouraged – but she recalled this same woman had been coughing throughout the night at the far end of the dormitory from Tav’s own narrow cot. The woman slumped, pale and lifeless, her threaded screw on the floor an inch from her still fingers. Two Overseers briskly appeared, picking her up as though she were a sack of grain, and carried her away. She would not be seen again.

The other Workers simply closed the gap, like water rushing into a hole, and continued their work silently.

The lunchtime Klaxon sounded at 1pm, signalling another Nutritab and, this time, a reading from the Book. There were no pages in this Book, no ink. It was held on a tablet by Head Overseer, and pronounced from. Themes included the benevolence of the government, the folly of laziness, the danger of grandiose thinking, the perils of academia and the fruitlessness of religion. The only thing good about the 30 minute midday break, thought Tav, as she shifted uncomfortably on the edge of the ridged bench, was that one could sit down, even if it was more of a perch than a sit.

The afternoon followed the same pattern as the morning. Pick up a bolt. Pick up a screw. Thread them together. Place on the belt. Tav winced on reopening a cut on her palm while working on a particularly tight screw, but was careful not to lose pace or let an Overseer see she was bleeding. She wiped her hand down her overalls, and continued on.

Evening Klaxon sounded at 8pm, and the Workers downed tools and filed silently back into the canteen for the last Nutritab (TM) of the day. This time, one wall of the canteen was completely filled with a black screen. There were Purges daily – political criminals mostly, Deviants, academics and liberals. These were shown in the WorkFarms to instil gratitude in the Workers that they were spared from living in the world with these monsters. When the last Purgee had finished kicking and squirming, there was another short reading from the Book, and the Workers filed back to their cots. Tav stripped out of her overalls and dropped them into the chute at the bottom of the dormitory, took a clean one from the stacks, shrugged it on and climbed wearily into her cot.

The 6am Klaxon jolted Tav into a bleary, muddled wakefulness, yanking her from a dream in which she had been enjoying roast beef and yorkshire pudding.

And there it is. My first go at writing something that isn’t a song lyric in a long time. I’m hoping that it will help, as I have been churning out melodies and hooks like a machine but the lyrics have been eluding me. So this is my prose offensive!

See you next blog post!

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I’ve been terrible at posting on time, haven’t I? I debated spending tonight on the naughty step but then I thought that would only make my post later, so here it is, an update on what I have been up to, since I haven’t updated things in a little while.

1. The Day Job.

I’ve just finished a five week assignment temping at the University. Well, technically I finish tomorrow, because of item number 2 on my list, Being Ill, but in any case, it’s about to be over. I’m still looking for something in that sort of area for three days a week on a more permanent basis, so keep your digits crossed. A regular income would make the whole making music thing so much easier!

2. Being Ill.

Oh yes, dear friends, if it’s circulating, I’ve picked it up. The University is currently infested with Freshers, with all their germs and whatnot, and I seem to have caught anything and everything going. The latest varient has been an exciting excursion into the contents of my sinuses. I’ll not say any more than that. Needless to say, I think I’m buggered when Ebola makes landfall, as it’s certain to do (the Daily Mail said so, it’s going to be brought by Giant Muslim Spiders in Burqas And Their Lesbian Friends or something…)

3. Recording My Next Release.

If you’ve been waiting for the long-promised electronica EP/LP Quantum Ghostlands, this is news you’ll want to hear. I’m in the process of putting it all together. It could still take months, but at this stage it’s months rather than years. Why has it taken me so long? Well, a combination of factors, really. Firstly, electronica takes me longer to write, much longer in fact, than acoustic piano tracks do. Secondly, I’ve been scared. I have only just learned how to mix songs that have only a few tracks (some piano, some vocals, maybe a bit of bass and some harmonies) so mixing something with 30-50 tracks is daunting to say the least. And thirdly, I wanted to master an easier release before I did an electronica release. Mastering Tales From The Undertow was really REALLY good for me, because it taught me a load about how to do it.

Like Tales… Quantum Ghostlands is coming out on a budget, but I hope that won’t matter too much. I’ll probably get a very limited CD run, and I suspect I’ll do a pre-order for that. They won’t be glass masters, because I can’t justify getting 500 made, but I’ll look at doing 100 or so. These will be very limited edition.

So here’s a sneak preview. These are not finished or mixed properly yet, but these are some of the things I’ve been writing/remixing for the release 🙂 (plus I like playing with crossfade….)

Before I go, one of my friends suggested that I write about independent Rap artists from southern USA. So. Check out my buddy G Slade, seen here in his natural environment on Bandcamp…  I think he’s awesome 🙂 That’s all for this week. Take care out there!

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Yes, yes, just call me Tardy McTardypants. I came home from work yesterday and fell into a tired, headachy heap under the duvet, surfacing several hours later only for food and the final episode of Orange is the New Black.

Anyway.

I’ve been working on the EP and it’s nearing completion. Five out of six songs are basically done and the sixth now has lyrics, I just need a window of time large enough to do the recording which is unlikely to happen before the weekend.

As I was finishing off Leave a Light On recently I was thinking about how it has evolved, which I thought I’d talk about here.

Leave a Light On started as a track written for February Album Writing Month this year. You can listen to the original incarnation here.

The original demo has only piano, vocals and harmonies in it. I double-tracked the vocals on the chorus to give it more impact, and wrote in some harmonies to add interest, but ultimately kept it simple, and as a demo, it more than did the trick as a way of testing out the song idea.

I thought about doing a neater version of that for the EP, but it didn’t feel like I was challenging myself particularly. In terms of the EP, I decided early on that I wanted to try to achieve a more raw, live sound. I wanted to feel more exposed as a musician, to stop hiding behind effects and piles of harmonies and produce something more meaningful and real. Sometimes it’s felt to me like I use those things as a safety net, and I wanted to remove that protection.

That’s not to say there aren’t harmonies anywhere on Tales from the Undertow, just that they’re used with more restraint than on previous releases, I’ve tried to return to basics and keep my vocals as the central focus. My voice is, after all, my primary instrument. As an example of how strongly I feel about this, Eyes Like Summer, another track off of Tales… hasn’t been re-recorded in any way. The original demo worked so well that I have kept it, in its raw form, the only thing I have done is mastered it.

Back to Leave a Light On, or LALO as I’m fond of calling it… The second version to emerge was what I have been jokingly calling the “No Frills” mix. It was recorded live – with piano and vocals recorded simultaneously, in one take. No harmonies, no extra instrumentation, just me and the piano. You can have a listen to that version here: Leave a Light On (No Frills Mix)

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like it. But it’s intended to be the opening track on the EP and it just felt like it wasn’t meaty enough as an opener. I want something that thunders through the listener and sets the tone for the rest of the EP.

So, this is the final version, the one that will open the EP:

 

I could hear, in my head, the build up on that last repeat of the chorus, the drum particularly. I’m not a fan of Logic’s strings, alas, they’re the only ones I have, but buried under vocals as a sound bed they do work, and their shortcomings as synth strings are much less obvious. Because I was using orchestra instruments, I decided that an orchestral drum was the best type to use, and I layered two, with slightly different timbres, to give the drum some texture. Ultimately I wanted it to pulse under the rest of the music. I could, I realise, have side-chained it, to make it more obvious and punchy, but actually, I like that it’s messy, it sounds more like the vocals are being shrieked over the top, which is right for the feeling of the song. And for the first time ever in my song-writing career, it sounds EXACTLY like what I could hear in my head.

Something I’m learning as I work through these is that it’s good to take an established track and rework it a few times. I’m preaching to the choir here, I’m sure. This is probably not really news to any established musicians out there. But no-one gives you a guidebook when you start out, and sometimes one take/version is THE take/version. What I’m learning is that if it’s not feeling right, it might not be the song, it might be the arrangement. More importantly, having more than one version is fun. I’m already planning a b-side remix EP to accompany Tales…

So there you have it. Some thoughts as I’ve been working my way through the EP 🙂 Have a lovely week!

 

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Hello, hello! Firstly I must apologise, because I did something totally shocking last Thursday – I failed to blog at all. Not even an apologetic animation from Simon’s Cat to make up for it.

In my defence, on Thursday, I had 7 out of 14 songs up for FAWM, leaving me 7 to do in just over 24 hours in order to complete the challenge. I’d also had some other bad news and was in the process of many long and complicated phone calls to try to sort things out. In short, life took a bit of a wonky turn down the side streets of “oh crap!” and I had to stop and deal with it all.

Things were back on a more even keel Friday afternoon, and I started to tackle the seven songs. The FAWM site doesn’t officially close to submissions until mid-day on the 1st of March, but my rule every year is that all fourteen have to be written between midnight on the 1st February UK time and midnight 1st March, so I had to be done Friday midnight for it to count for me. I also wanted to have as many as possible with demos. Writing this many songs in what turned out to be a ten hour period is what’s known by FAWMers as a “feast”, so, Friday’s feast went a bit like this:

Song 8 – Fearless

The first one up on Friday, posted at about 4:30-5pm (I forget – the day passed in such a blur once I got started!), was a song about the emotional and physical challenge that was Trailtrekker. I already had a fairly good idea about the piano part –  it was something that I’d been kicking around all month. Something about the electric piano sound I’d used was making me think of dark hills for some reason and one thing led to another. I called it Fearless. Like all of the songs posted on Friday, it was essentially one take – no redos on vocals or pianos, and given the short space of time, nothing was terribly well rehearsed, (but don’t let that put you off any of the songs!).

Song 9 – Coffee and Conversation

About an hour later, Coffee and Conversation went up. This one didn’t take too long because I’d already drafted both the lyrics and the piano backing, so I just needed to tie it together and record it. I think it’s an ok song, it’s not one of my favourites, but we’ll see what happens later this month when I go back over these. Another one take wonder – like just about everything done Friday! The chorus is too slow to my mind, I’d used a metronome and recorded the piano independently of the vocals which meant it didn’t flow as well as I wanted it to, but that’s nothing rehearsal and re-recording won’t fix. I prefer recording vocals and piano together but that needs more muscle memory, which means rehearsal, and I just didn’t have the time!

Song 10 – Being Gay Makes It Rain

One of my absolute favourites this FAWM, the concept had been rattling around since the first week of FAWM, but I was a little intimidated because what I could hear in my head and what I felt I could reasonable produce with just me and a piano and some synths wasn’t really matching up. I still want a massive gospel choir to kick in on the chorus. In fact, what I really, really want is to see this as a musical theatre number. With dancing, and flamboyance, and pretty fabrics, damnit! Instead, it was me and a piano against the ticking clock. But close your eyes and listen for the gospel choir. They’re there in spirit. I had fun recording this, especially the ending 🙂

Song 11 – Eyes Like Summer

Written for my long-suffering better half, the piano part on this took me by surprise. I wanted to write something beautiful, mellow and expressive, and I struggled, as I often do, with finding lyrics that weren’t too twee. I hope I succeeded. I have some fondness for this one, not sure if it’ll ever make an album, but it’s got a lot of potential, I think.

Song 12 – Go **** Yourself

After a break for some dinner, I cracked on with this one. I had some help from friends on Facebook with the lyrics, again, it had been a concept that I’d been letting trundle about in my hindbrain for a while, and it was cemented by unpleasant events earlier in the week, so I asked Facebook friends to brainstorm other ways of effectively telling someone to cock off. I didn’t actually want to write an overtly offensive song, I thought it would be much more effective to write something that seethed, but very politely. Despite the NSFW warning, it probably is, really. Whether you think “go blow a goat” is too filthy for young children to hear is a matter of preference and morality, I think, but it really doesn’t get any worse than that, and the f-word, although implied very strongly, is never actually used. The piano was the hardest part of writing and recording this and as a result, I definitely want to re-visit it this month and fix it.

Song 13 – Darkest Timeline

It’s rather appropriate that this is song 13, as anyone who has watched Community will probably agree. This was a co-write with my better half, she wrote the lyrics and I wrote and performed the music. I use “performed” loosely at this point. It was 11pm Friday night and I was seriously up against the clock. This is officially the fastest piece of electronica writing I have ever done. It took 20 minutes. I already had the bassline, thank goodness, so I added a basic drum placeholder, an intro, and some seriously warped vocals. And then uploaded it. The base idea is there though, and again I think this could potentially be a strong track, once I’ve done some serious work on it. I do mean serious.

Song 14 – Here All Along

So I had a little over half an hour left at this point and no idea what on earth my final song was going to be about. I do like writing a-capella songs, so I thought maybe that would be a fun way to finish FAWM, but in the time I had, it couldn’t be anything too intricate. So I started scribbling lyrics about, well, writing. The first verse still feels a little clunky to me, but it works well enough and I can always revise it later. Ran a melody a few times, then hit record. I got the lyrics posted at 5 to midnight, and I finished recording at midnight on the dot, the whole thing plus demo was live on the site by 5 past, but that was fine as the writing and recording had been finished within the time limit.

And then I went and poured myself a large serving of alcohol. Yes indeed. I won FAWM. Fourteen songs with thirteen demos in 28 days.

I should probably explain the lack of a demo for Ode to Housework. It being a comedy track, the piano is fast, twinkly, and technically a total pig to play. Because I couldn’t play it well enough to get a demo down, I haven’t done it yet. I will never understand my propensity for writing things I can’t actually play yet. I do plan to get a demo up before the end of March, and I’ll certainly yet you know when it’s live 🙂

Overall, FAWM was a total blast this year, even around stressful life events and all that jazz. Gemma and I were even lucky enough to get one of our co-writes featured on the final FAWMcast (a regular podcast which ran all month showcasing tracks people had written). So if you are interested and short of time, Clockwork Ballerina  was played an hour (1:00:40ish) into this:

If you aren’t short of time, the whole show is, of course, awesome and worth checking out, the hosts review each track on air and the tracks are handpicked for their very awesomeness 🙂

Now I’ve waffled at you all to death, I shall leave you until Thursday 😉 . Have a fantastic week out there!

FAWM writing is over, but FAWM listening has begun. There are 9894 songs on the site, so it’s well worth having a look! http://fawm.org/songs/

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Ah, Thursday again. As I understand it, a very squelchy Thursday for much of the country, I hope wherever you are you are warm, dry and happy. FAWM is progressing slowly for me at this end, I have another demo up, of new song Leave a Light On – enjoy!

I had a very happy walk to work the other day, as I’d downloaded an album that I hadn’t listened to in ages – Erasure’s Wild. This album came out when I had just turned 14, and I remember buying one of the singles, “Star” on vinyl. So I lost myself in nostalgia as I wandered through York, and I pondered which other albums had had an influence on me during my formative years.

The first album I ever bought was The Stranger, by Billy Joel. I saved my allowance for this one, at 50 cents a week (I was in the US at the time). It came out in 1977, when I was two, and I doubt very much, given my young age, that I bought it at the time of it’s release. But I do remember, vividly, going into our local record store with my parents, and handing over a grubby pile of half dollars, and going home with the vinyl LP, which I loved, and played on repeat for many years after it’s acquisition. The net result of an early love of this album was an early love of the piano, and I was determined to learn to play. However, my parents could not afford a full size piano, and instead got me a small electronic keyboard. This was enough to start me on my long journey as a songwriter! (The other, more unfortunate side effect of this album was a determination to marry Billy Joel… in hindsight I’m rather glad I got over that one!)

Billy Joel – Scenes From An Italian Restaurant – Live at the Tokyo Dome 2006

Next up, although these aren’t in chronological order, Wild, by Erasure. I’d already heard and loved “The Innocents” , but “Wild” was the first Erasure album I bought, this time on cassette. At this time in my life, I was 14/15, and I was obsessed with this synth driven joy I was hearing. It’s hard not to feel happy when listening to Erasure, even with the occasional sadder song, and while the Pet Shop Boys had never quite managed to suck me in, Erasure managed to completely convert me to the cause of synthpop. My favourite song off the album is “Star”, although honourable mentions go also to “Blue Savannah” (that piano!) and “You Surround Me”. Several of Erasure’s B-sides are also superb from this album, “Dreamlike State” being the B-side for “Star”. I miss B-sides…

Erasure – Star

The next one isn’t an album, but it’s important for understanding my burgeoning synth obsession. Future Sound of London’s  Cascade, an EP, or mini-album. I was in 6th form when a school friend introduced me to this and I loved it. I’ve long since lost my cassette copy of it, and for a long time was unable to track down the whole thing. The power of the internet returned it to me recently however:

iTunes: “Would you like to download Cascade?”

Me: “Shut up and take my money, why isn’t it here already??!”

Here’s the first track, Cascade part 1.

A run down of albums that shaped me would not be complete without Tori Amos, and her fantastic album, Little Earthquakes.  I remember, one damp, long summer at my dad’s house in Lancashire, lying on the floor listening to “Crucify” and feeling like no-one could possibly understand how I felt, except maybe this woman, with her piano, her crazy lyrics and cracked, heartfelt vocals. She solidified my need to write, although it took another decade or two before I found the courage.

Tori Amos – Crucify (Live at Montreux, 1991)

Last but not least, the album that contains my favourite song of all time, Hounds of Love, by Kate Bush. My parents had this album in their music collection, and I remember hearing it repeatedly growing up. It wasn’t until I became an older teenager that I really rediscovered it, and learned to love it myself, I suspect I was a bit too young before. Something about the anthemic “Cloudbusting” always stayed with me, and it occupies the rare position of being my absolutely favourite song, it has never faded or become too familiar, and punches me in the gut every time I hear it. In a good way.

Kate Bush – Cloudbusting

That’s some of the music that has had an influence on me. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s a pretty good starting point. Thanks for reading/listening and I hope you enjoyed this journey through my past!

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Ah the joys of the new year. Although I haven’t been fulfilling any “resolutions” as per my last post, I have been taking part in “Plankuary”, and performing the abdominal “plank” exercise for increasing periods of time on a daily basis. I hope to be experiencing abs of steel any day now.

But you didn’t come here to read about my attempts to hold my body in a rigid position while the cat wanders around underneath me wondering what the strange human is doing and tickling my abs with her tail. No. What you REALLY want to know about is why and how I came to write “Waiting for the Sky to Fall”. Well, at least one of you does, and made that request this morning, and as ever, your wish is my command.

I’ve said before that some songs are very quick to write while others take weeks. This was a quick one. One afternoon last summer, I was noodling at the piano  – I often do this: set up a Logic track recording, and then just play about with riffs and chord progressions to see if something fun comes up. One of the great advantages to this is that I don’t worry too hard about things that make sense or follow any rules, I just play around and improvise and often as a result, I’ll end up with a full progression that just needs a vocal line to be a song. Those recordings get stored away if no lyrics immediately present themselves, and I return to them periodically to see if anything fits.

On this occasion, the lyrics happened almost immediately. The first part that formed was the chorus, as the verses were slightly more complex and change structurally between the first verse and the second, while the chorus tends to simply repeat in terms of its scanning and structure.

Lyrics

On the outside looking in
I’ve played the watching game for someone else’s dream
Now it’s time to stand alone
I’m tired of waiting for something to call my own

Oh I’m waiting for the sky to fall and I’m praying I don’t lose it all
So I throw the dice and trust the gods, waiting for the sky to fall

With the turning of the tide
I’m letting out the things I fought to keep inside
Bide my time and take a chance, on something real, a hope that lasts
Cause all I need is to be here

And I’m waiting for the sky to fall and I’m praying I don’t lose it all
So I risk it all to beat the odds, waiting for the sky to fall

I’m waiting for the sky, I need to feel alive,
I’m waiting for the sky cause it’s time to feel alive

Oh I’m waiting for the sky to fall and I’m praying I don’t lose it all
so I throw the dice and trust the gods, waiting for the sky to fall

Yes, I’m waiting for the sky to fall and I’m praying I don’t lose it all
and I risk it all to beat the odds, waiting for the sky to fall

The original recording only has one repeat of the chorus at the end but when I started to play this one live, it felt like it ended a bit too suddenly so I changed it to repeat the chorus. I never seem to do it the same way twice lyrically, but it’s still a very new song and I suspect it will settle into the configuration shown above. Eventually.

Ideally, I felt this song would have benefited from a full band on it – drums, and guitars and soaring vocals with harmonies supplied by a bevy of wonderful backing singers, but since I didn’t have most of those things, production on this was quite sparse. A bit of bassline to underpin the track and hold it all together, and some backing vocals, supplied by..erm… me, to fill out the vocals on the choruses.

Waiting for the Sky to Fall tracks

Waiting for the Sky to Fall tracks

Waiting for the Sky to Fall mix window

Waiting for the Sky to Fall mix window

And that was it. It was basically a bit accidental, a good example of one of those days when there was a song there just waiting to happen. Usually my muse is a damn sight more fickle, so it makes a nice change to have occasional days like that one! Here is a video of the live version 🙂

Thanks for reading, I hope you are all staying safe and dry out there in all that weather! Until next time…

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