A voice crying in the wilderness

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Learning to keep my mouth shut

Cross posted from Josyf
I have a bad habit of speaking before I think, or perhaps thinking with my mouth. Only once the idea is out in the world and exposed do I realise that it is a stupid idea and I’ve just managed to offend a great number of people.

In the same way, I have a habit of announcing big ideas before I’ve thought them through properly – or that I won’t carry out in any time frame deemed relevant to normal people. Be it a music demo that has been in planning for 21 years now (and is still in “vague concept” stage), drum lessons or a plan to move 400km to be closer to my parents.

I have other ambitious plans but I’m going to keep them a secret so I stop embarrassing myself. Such as opening a hipster café and a small community church.


One idea that has been sitting quietly in the background for the last 7 years is setting up a multimedia company that could permit me to earn a living out of my diverse range of hobbies – my music, writing, photography and even my limited artistic skills. Two years ago I took a break from playing guitar and bass at church in the lead up to my wedding. A change in logistics and increase in volunteers mean that other people took over and my assistance was no longer required when I returned. Consequently, I put my instruments aside and stopped playing altogether until recently. A burst of creativity has inspired me to not just start playing guitar again but also get those drum lessons I’ve been talking about for ages.

I’ve been spending a lot of time writing this year, mainly editorials like this but also working on stories as well. I’m adapting a manga I developed into a novel and am resuming work on another that I was endeavouring to release chapter by chapter but was disappointed by the lack of response after I showed it to my test audience. I feel the need to continue and complete the story now and challenge myself a little. My argument when I stop writing is that I get frustrated because I write like a 12 year old but I still write like a 12 year old because I get frustrated and stop writing. I’m not allowing my style to mature.

Learning to draw again is scarier since after a long break, my style changes – sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Again, its a matter of sitting down and practising, challenging myself again and again. I’ve tried to engage other artists to work on my stories only to have them attempt to hijack the story. All the main characters turned into artist proxies. They’re supposed to be author proxies!

Another small task I’m trying is getting my graphics tablets working under Linux – I bought a couple some ten years ago but they came only with Windows drivers, but there are ways of making them cooperate – sometimes not very elegant or practical ways, but workable. When I started developing an interest in art during my high school years, I became fascinated with surrealist art. I found a certain joy in the abstract style as well. I’m not much of a painter as I don’t have a very good eye for colour so I usually work in pencil alone. Rather than wasting paper and water colours, if I can learn to work with my tablet all I am really wasting is my time.

Maybe on my next day off, I should dig out my paints and revisit some old skills from high school. If the weather is up to the task.

But I’m going to take my time in all these things. I write during my lunch break and during flights, I practice my music when I’m home by myself. I review restaurants and hotels during the evening and practice my photography whenever the opportunity arises. There’s no hurry or pressure.

Its not like I have any other deadline than the one God sets. I work for Him.

Content, not the container

I’ve decided to do away with my collection of records and cassettes. Truth be told, I haven’t listened to them in years or I’ve obtained CD or MP3 versions that I play through computer, media centre or mobile phones.

I used to be fascinated by all the old formats but reached a point where I started running out of space for them. Sorting through my cassettes last night I realised that have digital versions of three quarters of them and most of the rest I likely never will listen to again.

I find the same with my collection of video games and books. There are a few books I will like to keep in a physical form but many I will only have as an ebook, particularly one I will only read now and again, or reference books.

As there are only handful of games on each platform that I enjoy, I don’t want to have consoles upon consoles around the house.

Emulation of these systems is an ideal solution – the original games can be played on one system pretending to be another. The controllers may not be “authentic” but the experience is largely the same.

I frequently play games from my childhood using Commodore 64 and Amiga emulators, sometimes arcade machine emulators as well. On occasion, I will acquire a remake for a more recent system (in the hope that the remake is faithful to the original and not a “reimagining”). The original is often crafted to create an atmosphere that makes the best use of the host system, remakes often are a mechanical imitation that copies the look without recapturing the feel.

There is further justification for emulation as well – as equipment gets older, it starts to fail. ROMs develop what is known as “bit rot”, the chips losing or corrupting the information stored on them.

With eBooks, it pays to shop around if you are using a tablet rather than a dedicated ebook reader – even then you may be able to access books from different purveyours. Try, if you can, to source your books in an unprotected epub format. With the apparent exception of the Kindle, all readers are able to read these, along with PDF. The concern with eBooks is that the publisher may remove books from your collection without warning, apology or compensation. Of if they cease trading, as has happened a lot in Japan recently, you may lose your books when your devices stop functioning.

There’s a hipster in my attic eating kale

“The thing about hipsters is that they don’t like to be called a hipster. By that logic, nobody is a hipster. But by that logic again, maybe everyone is a hipster.

“But what would I know, I’m not a hipster.”

– Levni Yilmaz

Therein lies an idea that if you think you are a hipster, you aren’t.

I often tell people that I was a hipster before they were cool.

In many respects, I could be a hipster. In many respects, I could be the thinking hipster’s hipster. I wear stylish glasses – but I’m actually short sighted. I reject popular fashion, but I have limited finances. I listen to a lot of obscure music, but I grew up in the Seventies.

I’ve written a song about it.

I’m a counter-cultural Christian Socialist thinking hipster’s thinking hipster.

But my pipe is broken and my wife doesn’t like it when I try to grow a beard.

A beard made of recycled, single origin, viably sourced, cold filtered vintage kale.

Hipster coffee sounds like too much hard work – I think I will stick to my plunger and FairTrade ground coffee. Usually I buy Oxfam coffee so I can donate a little more to charity but this week I’ve been on a tighter than normal budget so I brought a packet of Supermarket C brand FairTrade coffee instead since it is close to half price.

I had a little crisis on conscience afterwards though – would Oxfam suffer without my indirect donation? I resolved that the next time I passed an Oxfam shop, I would pay the difference to them. I get my FairTrade coffee, they get a bigger donation. If I get a receipt, I can claim it on tax. Everybody wins.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hipsters recently – psychoanalyzing perhaps – trying to understand them and get into their mindset. We have quite a lot in common.

We listen to obscure bands, though I’m not inclined towards the one-upmanship of “I know of more obscure bands than you”. If I find an obscure band I like, I want them to become better known.

But isn’t strange how your music tastes change as you get older? All the bands that I loved in my childhood and teenage years have lost their appeal. My collection of “chiptunes” (I do dislike that title) seem painful and annoying now yet 10 years ago they never left my CD player in the car.

Imagine my amusement when my parents rediscovered Queen? I recall them hammering on my bedroom walls demanding that we “turn that bloody poofter music down!” One day I walk into my parent’s house to find “A night at the opera” blasting out of the media centre.

We reject popular fashion – more because I dress for comfort and mobility and I don’t have a big wardrobe budget. I don’t mind looking in thrift stores but I also like to donate to them as well.

We appreciate retro – but not retro for the sake of retro. I play a lot of video games that I grew up with and find modern games too complicated and too demanding to be fun. I had speculated that hipsters would properly use an 8bit PC running CP/M and storing all their documents on 5.25 inch floppy disks but I’ve since learned that I was wrong – hipsters have discovered typewriters.

I’ve known people who have worked with film cameras – no, thank you. Once good quality digital cameras became affordable, I’ve not looked back. I do still have three film cameras here but they’ve not been taken out of storage for years – one still has a film in it from 25 years ago which I’ve been scared to get developed in case the processor loses one of the wooden rollers.

I like aviator-style sunglasses – part of my love of Electric Light Orchestra – but my prescription glasses have been dictated by what I can get that is covered by my health insurance. So instead I have Agent Smith sunglasses.

I buy all my music digitally for the most part – I’ll still buy a CD if its on special or I find it cheap enough second hand but most of my newly discovered bands publish online via iTunes or Google Play. I do have a large collection of records and tapes but nowhere to set up a turntable – indeed, I gave away my good turntable to my brother and even he isn’t very interested in vinyl anymore.

I’m not one for obscure beers as such – I’m quite happy to support microbreweries and I’ll drink whatever they have on tap but I’ll be just as happy if someone hands me an Emu Export.

And don’t get me started on tattoos – I still dislike them intensely. Besides, they’re soooo MAINSTREAM…these days you are a rebel for not getting one.

I view hipsters as a kind of “anti yuppie”, though a similar kind of snobbery and social hierarchy still exists. The mantra of “He who dies with the most toys wins” has been superseded by “He who dies with the most vintage and obscure collection wins”.
Whatever. You’re still dead and you can’t take it with you.

Unless your idea of heaven is the world’s largest vintage market…

Who, or what, inspires you?

Whilst driving back from our church bible study group last night, I began to ponder my various creative exercises over the last 25 years and why I came to partake of them.

I started drawing, composing and writing poetry in high school – started with purpose that is, rather than just random scribbles and singing during my childhood. I would go through stages of each, move on to another and then forget about it until years later.

I began to compose music on my computer in late 1991 when I joined a demo group known as “The Solution”, later we were all inducted into Chrome. Though I drew a series of comic strips in high school, I wouldn’t pick up a pencil with any great enthusiasm until 2003. I wrote a lot of song lyrics and poems in high school and again in my college years, but didn’t write again until 2007.


All of these abilities would lay dormant until someone gave me cause to try again. Always it was a woman.

S1 caused me much heartache, alternating regularly between flirtation and rejection, that the only way I could express and release my pain and anguish was through music – she became the inspiration for many a sad, melancholy but often beautiful tune.

S2 inspired me to start drawing again, though I knew she loved a friend of mine – I was not in her league of talent but I had the energy and motivation to start writing stories and comic strips again, many of which were published in a local fanzine and on their website.

L got me into writing poems again – though I knew she was a bad influence, I was quite fascinated by her. She had a Steve Jobs style “reality distortion field” around her – you knew that she was using you and yet you did what she wanted anyway. I was a secret admirer who watched her from the shadows and took inspiration from her actions.

And then there was J, who taught me about blogging, maintaining websites and encouraged me to journal and write essays – this website itself was through her encouragement. Though I had my own site before and wrote articles on a semi-regular basis, all the code was manually updated, untidy and disorganised. With a better system at the back end, I could concentrate on content rather than form.

When all of these relationships and associations ended, for the most part I stopped indulging in these activities. I haven’t drawn anything regularly for ten years, I’ve written only a couple of songs in the last 15, and little poetry has sprouted forth in the last five. Even my blogs stopped appearing for a few years.

Then I met M.

In a way, all these activities and all of these people culminated in bring us together – mutual friends and shared interests. Though M and I spent a lot of time together, it was clear that we only had a future together if I were a Christian. I had considered myself one but I rejected church due to so many unfortunate experiences over the years – elitist “holier than thou” types, corruption in the church and some occasionally terrifying “head in a bucket” displays of ignorance. M made it clear that my concept of faith was misguided, not entirely wrong but close enough, and that I should visit her church to learn more.
In that respect, I was very fortunate – the church she attended was lead by a pastor who taught well, and taught enthusiastically. More importantly, he was extremely well read so could teach us proper historical context, important background information and even address translation errors from the original Greek, Hebrew, Latin and Aramaic texts. I was fascinated.

After church, M and I would often go out to lunch together to discuss what we had learned that morning – I would go home and read my bible afterwards, taking time out every lunch time and bedtime to read more. I started with a disintegrating Good News bible that my brother had from primary school, later investing in an English Standard Version and later a New International Version as I read more.

In time, we grew closer together – later in the year, M and I started dating officially (though many of our friends had thought we had already been dating for a couple of years by this time, we fit together so well). In time, we got engaged and then a year ago, we married. All brought together through our mutual love of Christ.

But what of the creative tasks that I wrote of earlier – where was the inspiration that M brought me?

I wrote only one song during this time, recycling an older tune that I could not think what to do with and wrote some new lyrics about wrestling (of all things). I tried my hand at drawing again, sketching abstract images during the evening services after the congregation had shared a meal together, but after a few attempts, I stopped. Very little poetry came forth, even though M herself was a poet. I still wrote journals and essays from time to time, but only when I was alone.

Was my wife draining all of my creative energy?

Then thinking about it last night, I realised that my wife inspired me in a different fashion – creative energy doesn’t always manifest itself in an outward fashion. Sometimes it motivates you to absorb knowledge, art, music and literature around you to turn it into something new, different or fresh.

Previously, my journal entries were primarily about computers, sometimes about gardening, photography or politics, and sometimes just rants and frustrations – a way of exorcising my demons that instead entrapped them and held them up to remind me of their existence constantly. Many of those older posts are still here but removed from view.

Instead now, I write about Christ – something I had never done before. I write to raise people up rather than putting them down. I write to provoke though and consideration, instead of argument.

In time, my music, my art, my poetry and storytelling, my photography skills will be called on again, but not until God requires them of me. They are on standby until then. Not forgotten or lost, merely resting.

Think different – Actually, just try thinking all at

I made a decision a few weeks ago to reformat my Mac Mini and, later, my Time Capsule and sell them.

It probably seems strange that eight months ago I was in in full Apple/Steve Jobs fanaticism mode, watching documentaries about Jobs and reading his biography with great enthusiasm. I had my Mac set up more or less the way I wanted it and, following a hernia repair surgery, I had two weeks off work and an abundance of energy due to a bad reaction to the pain management medication I was prescribed.

I took the time to review some of the documentaries I had accumulated in recent months, including three about Steve Jobs. One portrayed him as a genius, a visionary, one who computer enthusiasts owe a great deal to. The other painted him as an unbalanced, obsessive control freak who stole unashamedly from everyone else. The third took sections from each and came to no clear conclusion.

My reading of Jobs’ biography was mostly honest, frequently unflattering and still slightly unhinged; I began to see why so many Christians seem to favour Apple products – there seems an almost religious awe to the way they market their products. There seems to be an appeal to those who aren’t seeking God as such, but someone to tell them how they should live their lives. The public face of Jobs was a most charismatic pastor to the Apple faithful.

When I was still working at The Unnamed Computer Shop, they had finally gained an Apple dealership after several years of unsuccessful applications, though the reasons given for declining were apparently always vague and inconclusive. We had a training session with a representative from our main wholesaler – the session took some time and demonstrated some of the amazing things that the Mac and its software was capable of, but also a clear indication that the Mac was no longer the tool of the free thinking, counter culture artists but now a fashion accessory that you could not live without.

I remember being both impressed and horrified by what I saw. I walked out of the training session and back to my desk suddenly sporting a Van Dyke, beret and a placard proclaiming “Linux power!” At least, that’s how it felt. My inner Socialist was enraged.

It became clear that Apple made use of some very persuasive people – even knowing that Apple was promoted as a lifestyle choice, I managed to get caught up in the hype. I purchased a second hand Mac Mini through the local classified adverts, upgraded the memory to 4GB and spent some time tooling it up until it became my main system for everyday use. My Windows notebook, my primary system for the last six years was relegated to the machine I took with me to LAN parties, programming meetings and when travelling. And yet I was left with a continuous niggling doubt…

One things that struck about Apple is how closed they are – they provide the hardware, the operating system and many of the applications we use. Everything worked together in an impressively seamless and consistent fashion. When comparing with Windows, the latter offers much the same functionality (after a fashion) but everything seemed cobbled together – a collective product by people who had a particular goal in mind but who made no effort to communicate with each other during development. Or sometimes software purchased or licensed from third parties and just dropped into place.

The closed nature of Apple has its benefits but once you try thinking outside of that glass box, you start to run into trouble – like Microsoft, Apple like to keep external developers at arm’s length. Its not that they prevent third party developers, but you will be frowned upon in you don’t follow very specific guidelines. Whilst I found a lot of useful, free tools for everyday general use, some of the software I needed for specific tasks (such as writing DVDs with verification) required some quite expensive software – having purchased this software for Windows, I didn’t want to have to buy it again for the Mac at twice the price.

Whilst I was recovering from surgery in late September and early October, I took some time to tinker again with Linux – my notebook has a rather obscure video controller and few operating systems seem to recognise or support it properly. Various flavours of Linux would operate but I would encounter odd problems like being unable to play streaming video at full screen or the audio stalling, crackling and popping like someone burping underwater. Previously, I had worked with Ubuntu 9.04 which worked pretty well for the most part, improving somewhat under 9.10 but when I upgraded to 10.04, the whole system went to pieces. Fresh installations of successive editions never seemed to work satisfactorily.

Having acquired a three year old Hewlett Packard desktop from a friend, I thought to try again – the same issue of not having the video controller supported properly reoccured, but the issue wasn’t as bad as before; streaming video would sometimes struggle but media systems like VLC could play full screen 720p video without any trouble.

Tweaking, refining and a little bit of research allowed me to get the system up and running to my satisfaction, even to the point of taking over from the Mac as my regular day to day machine. With more memory and something like 12 times the hard disk space, I could keep all my music and photos on the same machine. Features like Ubuntu One cloud storage and the built in backup software make sure that nothing goes astray. WINE had improved enough that Windows specific tools like Irfanview operated perfectly well but if I needed to run some software that demanded something more, I could run a virtual machine loaded with Windows XP for software like iTunes (more for purchasing music than configuring my archaic iPod).

In a way, both my inner Socialist and my outer Christian selves were satisfied with the arrangement. When my brother acquired an old PC from his local technical college, I put Ubuntu 12.04 LTS on it as I felt it would be easier for him to use and safer in his inexperience). Eventually, I want to install it on my parent’s PC as well – I just need to figure out remote desktop access for them should they get into any trouble.

Show the past a clenched fist

Since I obtained my classical guitar a few months back, I’ve tended to carry it around with me rather a lot, usually taking it with me when I go to JAFWA on a Saturday night – there’s quite often shows on that don’t capture my interest.

Out of curiosity, I decided to play some songs I used to perform back in the early Nineties when I was in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”. The band didn’t last long but it showed a lot of potential.

Or so I thought.

As a four piece band – Barry on drums, Steve of lead guitar, Jason on bass and myself on rhythm guitar (though we often swapped instruments for certain songs) and we preferred to do mostly original material. If we did a cover, we played it how we thought it should be done – never mind what the original artist thought. We also split in to two songwriting teams – Barry writing the lyrics and I composed the core melody, whilst Jason and Steve would share duties. Arranging was generally a group effort.

When the band split after six months, I took my songs with me and wrote new lyrics for them. As Barry had ambitions of being lead singer as well, he had a tendency to keep his lyrics to himself. I usually had little idea how they went. Though I did do several instrumental arrangements as well (you’ll find a couple of them under the High Voltage SID Collection).

So as I sat outside JAFWA one evening fighting off the mosquitoes, I tried to recall some of the material written by the other band members, such as “Mother” or “Dove”. My parts were generally pretty easy, usually only three or four chords. Steve wrote songs to demonstrate his guitar technique, not mine. Easy but dull, so I developed a more intricate playing style incorporating different techniques that I’d picked up over the years – arpeggios, tapping, slapping and plucking (usually used on bass guitars), four note chords (when most people would use three) and using my little finger to play a melody around the chord. All of this designed to make my part of the music sound much bigger and more interesting.

I struggled to recall the arrangement of the music, but it came to me after a while, along with some of the lyrics. Its funny how the mind sometimes distorts experiences, exaggerating certain points. What I recalled as powerful, soulful imagery proved to be a whiny, immature and incoherent tirade as told by a spoiled, bratty teenager. Seriously – cheer up, emo kid.

I had a similar experience many years ago when playing back some of our recordings made at the Fremantle Music Centre – I wanted to show some of the material to the lead guitarist from my then current band (we never really settled on a name, though we had narrowed it down to “Electric hooligans”, “Hooligans with guitars” and “Fastidious rabble”). I remember playing some of my best guitar ever during that recording and yet we ended up with a ghastly cacophony of twangs, out of time drumming and squeaky, pained vocals – I only retain the tapes to stop them falling into the wrong hands (they are hidden away with my collection of Ringo Starr LPs).

So I’m thinking it might be time to walk away from the older material – put the worthy material down on disc and recycle the rest before it pollutes the environment. Whilst I still want to get a band together again, I have two main projects on the go now – the folky (or filky) concept album inspired by BlackSylph and a new electronic suite inspired by a conversation with a friend the other night (for those of you wondering what “Ybeq Rexl” was all about). And that game soundtrack I’ve been promising since 1993.

Three! Three mains projects. And that music demo that I formed Project: Synthesis for.


I’ll go sit in the corner now…with the soft cushion…

Leo Kottke looked at my guitar!

I’ve had my first out of body experience.

February 23rd, 2008, Leo Kottke performed at the Perth Concert Hall. My brother and I had been waiting for this concert for some four months, having purchased tickets in November as soon as we had heard news of Kottke’s impending arrival.

We were a little bewildered at first when two people walked out of stage – Bridget Pross and her bass player. I hadn’t been aware of a support act so I was a little surprised – first thinking that he had a support band, and then wondering if the concert had been cancelled and this was Kottke’s substitute.

Pross, a folk singer and guitarist from Tasmania had been touring with Kottke for the last couple of weeks. Six songs from her new album, “I wanted to” were performed. Now it must be said that Pross has an amazing voice, powerful and resonant, and it quite a capable guitarist. Her songwriting, however, leaves something to be desired. The melodies were quite well devised, if overfamilar (one of the last songs she played had a melody disturbingly like a song I had written back in 1992 when playing in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”), but the construct was repetitive and her lyrics were very weak. Although she might have been writing from life experiences, she hadn’t put a lot of consideration into how she was communicating the idea – and once you’ve heard her sing the chorus six times in a row, it starts to grate.

Her inexperience as a live act showed clearly as well, she hadn’t created any kind of script for introducing her songs or explaining the origins, and didn’t seem at all comfortable talking with the audience, her speech pausing often and hesitant. The word “Umm” seemed to make up the greater part of her vocabulary. Hopefully she will grow as a songwriter and entertainer in time. The CD was for sale in the foyer after the show.

After an intermission of 20 minutes for the audience to empty their bladder, or refill it at the bar, Kottke finally came out on stage at 9:30. A six string guitar in one hand, 12 string in the other. With nary a pause for introduction, he started of into three instrumental pieces on the 12 string.

It was halfway through the second piece that I suddenly realised that I was floating some distance above my own body, what felt like 15 to 20cm above the seat, so enthralling was the music. It appears that I was not the only person to have been carried away so. Amusingly, around halfway through the show, Kottke was playing a slow, moody and deeply atmospheric piece that seemed to suddenly taper off two thirds of the way through. A pause, then Kottke said “Sorry, its supposed to end more like this…” and started playing it again from the middle. Kottke had gotten so caught up in the music that he’d forgotten that he was the one performing it.

Kottke certainly puts on an entertaining and enchanting show – during the forty or more years he has been perfoming, he’d not only honed his guitar playing techniques but also his manner of communicating the audience, explaining origins of the song and telling anecdotes about the authors and artists he has worked with. Many of the songs performed required different, often very unconventional tunings and a 12 string guitar often takes some time to retune – Kottke would joke and tell stories in a manner not dissimilar to Steven Wright, even in the same, deep, dry, husky voice.

Kottke has released over thirty albums since 1969 so there was a lot of material to choose from each show, many of them previously unknown to much of the audience, although when one of the more famous and familar songs (such as “Louise”) started, the cheer rising from the audience was deafening.

The concert itself lasted a little over an hour but seemed to go on for ages. After 10:30, the concert ended and Kottke left the stage to a well earned standing ovation – the applause and cheering seemed like it was never going to end. Kottke returned to the stage for an encore, performing one more song before retiring for the evening.

I’m not sure how soon he will return to Perth but I’ll certainly be looking out for him. After the show, our group of attendees filed out of the hall into the car park, each of us with a dazed but very happy expression on our face.

Bridget Pross was still promoting her CDs in the foyer – I wonder how many she sold?

Leo Kottke official website and Wikipædia entry

Bridget Pross official website