Thursday, April 12, 2007

Absolutely stupid! Sigh, shake of head. Ab-so-lut-ely stupid.... Histrionics repeated.

I haven't played guitar (except once, and that was a mistake) for about a month. I can't. Ulnar nerve compression. How stupid. That behaviour is usually reserved for the young and those who do not believe in consequences. I have always (always? was I not once young? did I not recently hurt myself?) prided myself on my relaxed technique when playing guitar. Both hands/arms playing with just enough pressure for notes to ring. Conscious relaxation as I play. If I had a problem it was tension in my picking arm when playing very fast, I had to concentrate as I played to relax that arm. The arm that pressed strings was rarely a problem.

Constant vigilance is required as we age. We must re-evaluate what we can (still) do if we hope to remain injury free. If tiredness sets in then we need to rest or we run unacceptable risks of injury. I thought I knew that. I did know that. I forgot.

I had recently purchased a book of some of Django Reinhardt's music/solos. Out of interest, not as a new career. I was surprised that some of them caused me difficulty, even when I transposed them to make it easier for a four fingered guitarist. How did a guy with two fingers play that? Anyway, I embarked on a journey to play them at Django speed. I practiced too much, playing too quickly, too soon. After a few weeks I woke one morning with the, well known, symptoms of ulnar nerve compression.

Did I mention how stupid I am? I rested and when the symptoms had reduced (i.e. NOT gone) I had a 'free jazz' session with Mr Bashford. This is where I usually play too quickly, for too long, and get quite excited so that I forget to relax while playing. Obviously, I don't practice enough in a correct manner...

Next morning woke to even worse symptoms. Recovery progresses slowly. Serves an old guy right.

Farm work does not help. But that is not stupidity, that is necessary.

The "beautiful" weather continues. "Beautiful" if you're on holiday, "beautiful" if you have no requirements for water. By mid-April, often, some rain would have arrived. Not so far.

The view from the veranda should include water...

This lake has NEVER been empty since it was created decades ago. However...

View back to the house...

This should be green stuff (lots of it by now) and water views...

Instead of the diariser nodding his head sagely while looking over green pastures to animals that require little maintenance thus freeing him up for guitar practice (except for the aforesaid injury) he is busy feeding and maintaining...

The forecast for the next week is more 25 degree weather, sunny days, cool nights. Absolutely perfect weather. Sigh!

Friday, March 09, 2007

It's too hard! It's all too hard...

No, it's not. If you wait to post blog entries until you think you have something earth-shattering or important to say then you will post nothing. Which is (possibly) as it should be. However, for those of us unlucky enough to be ordinary and not-genius we only have trivia and minutiae.

There are always excuses. Some are valid and when you're busy anyway then they can even be true but they are still, only, excuses.

Endsongs 2 had a gig in February. A local (ie 30 mins drive) cafe that was hoping (in vain) some of the summer crowds would still be around. They weren't. We played one set (we set up in a corner) of String Machine (long version... ie it was the set). The audience doubled during the set... from 2 to 4. We were an annoyance, I think. We had a small rest and then began a second set (Space Choir was to be the whole set). The audience left as we began. Vincent and I didn't mind and set to some serious improvising. The owner wandered over and said he was going close. Now! We stopped. We packed up (not a small job). We went our separate ways home. We had fun. Audience enjoyment = 0%, Performer enjoyment = 90%. At least someone had fun.

The improvised ambient thing is (possibly) too hard to get off the ground when the musicians are not well known. However, that's what I want to play. Mmmmm, compromise seems to be brewing.

Vincent and I have decided (in the meantime) to try and get gigs playing a different type of improvised music, so we can piggy-back the ambient stuff on top of it. Had our first rehearsal last week. Played for 100 minutes and I was impressed. Very difficult playing with no "big" sounds to fall back on and cover mistakes when playing semi-quavers at 150bpm (I have a strain ie RSI, in my left hand from playing with too much intensity - I will need to focus on minimal effort when playing - I do normally but was taken away by the excitement of it all. I also use heavier strings - Jazz Medium 13-56 - but the sound is worth the injury possibilities). Vincent plays acoustic drums and various percussiony things and I play my ES-137 through a clean 30 watt Carlsbro amp. No distortion, no effects. Except for the odd (controlled - mostly) feedback.

I would have to describe this new venture (endsongs 3?) as a mixture of Derek Bailey, John McLaughlin and The Necks (but with only drums and guitar). I think it sounds good. Most would not and (possibly - probably) call it noise, not-music. I'm hoping the more obscure jazz clubs will give us the opportunity to play. And then we can introduce the improvised ambient as well. (Sneaky, eh?)

The book proposal, that has been gathering dust on the hard drive these last (many) months has finally been sent out. In the back of my mind I have thought that if I have not yet received a rejection letter from all publishers then I have not failed. The easy way to not receive a rejection letter is to not send out a book proposal (this proves my earlier point about not-genius). I have come to my senses and sent out the book proposals. Failure awaits me via the services of Australia Post.

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Doubt is normal but it is a problem. Had a very ordinary rehearsal with Mr Bashford last week. All my fault, nothing to do with him. I had been spending time on the business of music and not on music. I had not practiced for awhile and as we played my mind was on incomplete tasks and not on the moment. The notes I played were correct but... that was all, there was nothing else but notes. Music is more than notes, either in tune or intentionally not in tune.

After that I rehearsal doubt arose. Again. The problem with playing "new" music is that it is always unpopular. People prefer to be popular. Most people will not like endsongs 2 music. There is a problem here. There is always the option of not doing live musical performances. Merely producing the music for my own, private, consumption. No problems then, it is just a hobby. No embarassment when (fellow) musicians offer suggestions on how to play music just like them, since I (must) aspire to being a rock musician and merely need instruction on back-beats and 4/4 timing and restricting myself to pentatonic scales.

Ambient music is more difficult than it appears. I am surprised. Since that bad rehearsal with Mr Bashford, I practiced and then did a solo improv of StringMachine. A new version. I prepared fully and followed the muse. I thought it skipped along and was quite short. It was over 50 minutes. (no! nothing stronger than coffee was consumed...) A gentle bike ride on the bike path the next day while I listened to this improv again confirmed that I can produce music I like to hear myself. This is no wonder at my own dexterity, my god no, the lack of notes attests to that. Simply, the music is able to re-transmit emotion. I love listening to this music, it is not me playing, it could be anyone. The music itself is enjoyable.

However, doubt in my own judgement resurfaces. I like this music. However, that (possibly) ensures that most people will not. Perhaps some people will think of it in the same league as those bland relaxation CD's of nothing music and banal melodies. Perhaps that is what it is. I don't know. I think not. I hope not.

People prefer to be popular. I will never be. Is that a problem? If it is then I can do nothing about it. Am I ready (again!) for the audiences who will not like and not understand this music? Why do live performances again? I can't answer that yet. Perhaps I don't want to answer or think too closely about the search for approval. If I am searching for approval than I am choosing a strange profession.

Doubt continues. It will always continue.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reflections on last Sunday. I still haven't got into the swing of the online diary yet, doing it in a timely fashion. Perhaps it's a function of aging but it often takes me a few days of mulling things over before I have something to say, other than merely reporting what happened.

My son had a golf tournament that was a long way from the farm but was to not too distant from the city (about 40 minutes each way). We stayed in the apartment on Saturday night and then drove through (relatively) empty streets before 6am so he could arrive early and do what he does before tournaments (I'm not a golfer - I deliver him to the carpark and say my goodbyes and good lucks). It was a 36 hole tournament so I had all day before I had to return to pick him up. I had thought ahead and packed a guitar (a beloved ES137) so I returned to the apartment looking forward to a day of practice.

When we are in our normal place of residence or work (both the same place in my case) it is too easy to be distracted by other tasks. The distracting tasks are often more important than practicing, so we feel guilty indulging ourselves. Even if the business is music I feel I should be working on the "business", at least there are tangible results at the end of a task. Practicing is maintenance (often) and feels too good to be work. However, on Sunday my "work" was waiting for my son to finish golf, I did not take any other work with me so I only had my guitar and some music theory reading (No matter how much music theory you know or think you do know it is always important, from time to time, to refresh the basics. More so as you get older e.g. "There are 12 tones in an octave, now? I never!"). I spent the whole day practicing basics. Again. (You can't get enough basic practice!). Simple chromatic scales and then all the major scales in all positions. That was a whole days work. It was fun reinforcing the things I already knew but even with simple major scales new (or old but forgotten) relationships present themselves, as long as the guitarist is concentrating.

As an example, take the "lowly" (or most august) C major scale. The (arguably) starting point of western music. I find that when I am investigating a new piece of music and I am playing with combinations of sounds to see what works, I often am not consciously thinking of notes but of sounds and feelings. When this happens I usually fall into playing in the C major scale (this often changes once I think about how I want the piece to develop), it is the first one we learn and I tend to it when my conscious mind is not involved. I know this scale over all the fretboard as well as I think it can be known but... when I consciously practice this scale I (still) find interesting relationships that I had not been aware of (after nearly 40 years of playing this scale!). I think, "Oh!, if I move 3/4/5 strings across and 1/2/3/4+ frets up/down then that interval is {whatever}. Mmm, that could be useful in {piece of music}."

No matter how many centuries a guitarist has been playing then returning to basics can yield results (even the C major scale in the first position... try it for an hour and see what you can learn).

A point of clarification. When I say I do scales, I don't just do the up and down ones. I do those for a long time when I begin practicing but then, of course, my fingers "solo" over the scale I am practicing. I play mind games to see how I can make restricted intervals interesting. eg, no dominant allowed for x notes, one note every ten has to be more than an octave leap, etc, etc. Often it sounds like crap but that is probably why we shut the door to practice on our own.

By the way, my son came third. Not bad for a 16 year old in a senior tournament. I don't know where his choice of a sensible and financially rewarding passion came from. Not from me, obviously.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A strange thing happened yesterday. One of the results of this unusual occurrence was...

Yes, it rained. Not much, only 10mm but it has been months since even that sort of amount has fallen. At this time of year (November - end of Spring) our paddocks should have grass between knee and waist high, if no animals or machinery have been in them. The picture below is the paddock near the house... it has had no animals or machinery in it for over six months.

It has also had little water in it over the same period.

The business of music progresses. The web site ( is pretty much done, I have begun a photo library where I will put the images from this blog (and others eg from performances, etc). I have used the JAlbum software, it is pretty much how I like software - spend 10 seconds on familiarization then be able to get 90% of your work done. I don't like wasting time finessing and stuffing around. I always use the example of a washing machine when I meet computer and/or software geeks - we don't spend time getting the extra 1% performance out of the washing machine, it is just a machine to get the task done. Computers and software should be like that (it's the reason I changed everything to Apple over a year ago).

I have put together a rudimentary sample CD with 10-20 second snippets of music from our rehearsals. Pretty cool (and easy) to make them fade in and out. I have done samples because I know how busy and uninterested venue owners are. They can listen to the CD, quickly know that we can play our instruments and get an overview of all the music styles we play. Much better than words when you don't play within a single musical style. I have spent too long on a brochure but the results are not too bad. (If you are in business - which I am - then it is important to project the image that you are in business to people who will be impressed by said image).

Some actual music playing has been happening as well. Started work on the new piece "Wagner would know". Basically, it's Eflat for 10+ minutes... Mmm, might need a few more notes than that...

I took some promotional shots and the results of my rudimentary camera skills are:

1. Ensemble (note the lack of connections between boxes - the tangle of chords looked too ugly)

2. Mr Bashfords rudimentary set up (he is very much looking forward to leaving his (large) drum set at home when we perform)

3. And the guitar guys stuff...

Nearly time to start work on the web site, dedicated to literary pursuits. It says something about the person that the two major endeavours of my life are in things that (almost) nobody makes any money. Mmm...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

No matter how we want to rank the important things in our lives (family excluded, of course) sometimes our responsibility for the care of others makes us stop doing what we think we should be doing. My current number one priority (family excluded, of course) is getting the musical performances of endsongs up and running but that task has been little progressed in the last week due to rural responsibilities. There have been additions on the farm. The well being of others is paramount.

The latest (born today) and the last for a few weeks....

Music can wait (it has been waiting for so long that a little longer makes no difference - well, it makes no difference, really, any way!) but the care of others that need immediate attention cannot wait. The bucolic life can be rewarding but it has some responsibilities that cannot be ignored. Some work can be put off (the fertilising can wait for a few weeks, fences can be temporarily mended to last a short time until more time is available, etc) when music needs to be organised but when the lives of others is affected by whether you can be bothered or would rather be practicing guitar then.... there is no choice.

I had to cancel rehearsals earlier in the week but Friday beckons with Mr Bashford...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Two days of excellent rehearsals. With Mr Bashford. We have now "completed" (completed = run through a few times, figured out all the sounds we want to make, recorded a few drum loops, half-thought of a few melodic ideas) four pieces of music that total to around an hour. On the night they could be anywhere from 4 minutes to two hours, depending on how we feel!

I should not play the music down that much... While it is improvised, to get to an hours worth of music has taken us a couple of months of regular work, a few times a week for a number of hours each time. As with most things, it is easier to decide what you don't want than to come up with something you do like. Alot of our musical creativity has been throwing out and rejecting stuff that we thought was working but when repeated or listened to, is not working.

Yesterday was especially pleasant as we rifled through my bank of Mellotron sounds. Pleasant = nostalgic. Mr Bashford was looking for sounds to invoke from his machine as he struck its rubber pads. I would change the sound bank and play a few notes while Mr Bashford would either nod his head sagely or screw his face up in pain or simply say things like, 'No. Too Moody Blues or too Yes.' He selected a few choirs and a few string sounds. I played a few simple chords or a 2 or 3 note slow melody, transferred the resultant file to his machine and Mr Bashford now plays the mellotron. We use it in only one piece, so far, the StringMachine song. The name says it all, although in nearly 20 minutes of music there are one or two moments when a guitar sound is almost recognizable.

The names I choose for the music indicate the amount of time I spend over those things. One is called, "Twelve tones to Locrian" and another is called "Alocrian". A new piece is called "In Sen" and another is called "White notes". At least, I will not be confused as to which key/mode to play each piece in...

Also, we even went through a few mini-moog sounds until I felt we had wasted too much time. Nostalgia not withstanding. The Moog sounds will be for some other time although careful choice will be required. The days of Mr Emerson are no longer here, and together with his erstwhile companion in music Mr Wakeman (perhaps they still are companions, I don't know), they have made alot of the moog sounds so distinctive as to be unusable by anyone else. Except, perhaps, if they are invoked by a drummer...

I have a task to complete that I have been putting off for a long time. There is a mess of cables and connections in the study, and the rack-able items need to be, well..., put into a rack. I have had the case sitting around for a month or two. It's, yet another, music related task that has nothing to do with producing or playing music. Immediately. The items must be racked since I cannot play live carrying around those items singly but, I will have to spend quite some time unconnecting, fitting (using tools like a screwdriver - I hope the hammer will not be required), re-connecting, trying to remember where the connections went, and then testing/sound checking it all. I will then be back to exactly where I am now, able to play and produce music. I'm sure you can see the reason for my reticence.

The floor in the study before...

The empty rack case... (and the wonderful doona in the spare room)

Been distracted by various rural pursuits. Some friends needed attention...

And others simply needed mum...

As I was outside in this early summer weather, much too early and much too summery - even if these last years are not directly caused by global warming then these years (and much worse) are what we can expect in the years and decades to come. I have no grandchildren yet but when I do I will have to apologise to them on behalf of all of us - thinking about how much time and effort there is in music without playing music. It seems most of time is spent organising. For example, doing the web sites (on this blog I thought about putting my interests as "having completed web sites"), preparing documentation, even down to an afternoon trying to work out a template for endsongs business letters, another whole day went by trying to prepare music samples from some of the music we have recorded so far. I have taken a few 5 or so second snippets and faded them in and then out and then joined them together. Ohh! It sounds so easy when I write it like that. A day was spent working out how to do that - it's easy now.... Of course, once I have no further use for that skill. Covering letters have been written, drum samples for Mr Bashford have been stretched and altered (often the mistakes caused by my ineptitude in all things musical technician-wise have been quite interesting - I could not reproduce them of course, so they have been quickly rendered to disk before I made further mistakes that removed the music all together), also various tiny business-tidying thingys that are inconsequential but lead to a day being over and a guitar not being touched.

And our farm needs attention from time to time - although that is "real" work. I sound not say that, I don't mean it. In the scheme of things everything is "real" work, even sitting on your bum reflecting - perhaps that is the only real work there is. We all need more time for that.

The work so far is only preparation, and there is (some) optimism since I have not come up against the real world of venue owners and audiences that care not for the music. I have no current contacts, I do not know any venue owners, so I will have to do what I did 30 years ago and: find venues that may be suitable and will accept our music (even if only on Monday at 5pm), then approach said venues with what has been prepared including music samples and try to convince them that we are worth employing (even though we have a following of zero and can guarantee no audience). Somehow I need to convince people that "new" music is worth it (it isn't - but I need to convince them otherwise).

Why bother? Mmm. Well, it will be fun and very little of what we do needs to be productive.

Times moves on. Perhaps the rack case packing will be done tomorrow.