Category Archives: Video

Poetry readings and original music

Flywheel – Remix

Hi folks, time for a new song and video – also long past time for a brand new love song for my beautiful Catherine. Not conventional, of course (am I ever?) but I had a pretty good sense I was onto true feeling from the way the final verse took twenty tries to sing without my voice cracking (lyrics being by then well enough memorized to discount my also teary eyes).

I try to mention inspirations whenever I do a piece (my favourite art is art that makes me want to do some art). In this case Catherine is of course the primary one, but I also ended up thinking about Cab Calloway rather helpfully. For sublime melancholy listening I’ll go for Billie Holliday every time, and for technical wonder (not just genius phrasing but stunning diction) I’m very partial to Ella Fitzgerald. But after a few years of intense club kid silliness, I discarded all elitism and high fashion ideas many years ago, so I also love many who are considered to this day to have been too commercial to be artistically excellent – including the great early creators of popular music.

There is no way to listen to Cab Calloway singing “St James Infirmary Blues” without recognizing one of the greatest vocal talents of all time. That number is also especially good for showing one of his most useful ideas. Just as Lucille Ball was remarkably nervy in her time for being willing to make herself look grotesque and un-feminine for a joke, Calloway was a thousand times more cool because he never limited himself to parts of his vocal range which were self-evidently cool. He could be silly, overdramatic, mocking, barking, moaning, keening, or even running you a patter line for a street-corner con.

Please don’t think I’m trying to call myself a musician or singer of any stature whatsoever (never have, and would not). But I always think about his daring choices when I’m on my second or third vocal take, and use that boost to try some outside stuff that might be completely nuts, or might just be a genuine timbral find (growl-yodel?)

And now – without further ado, here is the tune and video.
Go big screen and Turn It Up! (lots of layers of silly/pretty). ;o)

(or you can click the “Watch on youtube” button for the direct hi-resolution link)

Once again I have immense gratitude for the lovely folks who contribute their superb video work to the public domain on Pixabay.com

If I ever manage to get some money together, I already have an international team of camera people I am eager to engage. And in the meantime, their beauty adds to mine – and the world can always use more of that, no?

Grazie friends, Danke, Merci, Xie-xie and all of the other sincere appreciation which I am as yet too ignorant to more precisely target.

Final technical note on instrumentation – not a clarinet or a sax, but a xaphoon! I admit I was skeptical about the price when I bought it, but when every other beast in the house is out of commission with leaky pads, this wee beastie with a ten year old reed, wrinkled-up like a crinkle-chip will still give me almost an octave of sweetness. Finger pads only! (a reed like a plumbers recorder – yes, a great idea)

And to be really honest, the xaphoon was only in the right key by purest luck, I actually built the whole piece off my wonky tuning of the drums! (the universe sure loves an idiot-tryer, don’t it?)
¯\(ツ)

Simple Simple

Hi friends – time for a brand new song and video!

I swear I keep thinking of Bill Withers when I start these free-form songs – simple, heartfelt and compelling are my picks for the strongest virtues a song can have (Woody Guthrie scored a ten on the same metrics). But as a lifelong autodidact, I have a weird and eccentric mix of influences and shall we say ‘mixed discipline’ at best.

So while in mid attempted Wither, I found myself lifting a smidge from Gary Numan, a bit from Pete Townshend, I pulled a half Mussorgsky (always my best wrestling move) added faux french horn for thickening and banjo for spice, and finished the whole pretty thing off with comically overdriven fretless bass and ragged vocals.

Now along with my seemingly un-keepable Withers resolution, I should probably add a second receding insight. As a young creator I was always interested in the gem I heard from so many older artists, that when they were young they tried to be fancy and impressive, but when they gained deeper mastery of both technique and intention, they tried instead to be effective.

This thought did keep me “Simple Simple” in some senses – purpose driven, but it also made me once again surprise myself with my vocals. I don’t know why I sung it like that, trust me – but I tried the lyric a few ways, and making it sound like I was bellowing into an SM58 while drunk at two in the morning just worked! ;o)

The freakiest thing is that trying to write a song about coming back out of our shells and feeling fully alive again, brought me back to some ideas I know from traditional black spirituals and from old Christian hymns. This will surprise some of my younger readers, but the black music which underpins the blues and jazz (and all American pop since) was taught to school-kids way back in the sixties and seventies. I know this for a fact, because my dad was a music teacher at the time and he often brought home the books, so we could learn those extraordinary and inspiring songs too (even though we didn’t really do the ‘school’ thing).

It is a very weird time when you feel a little bit nervous insisting on love and goodness, but this is a very weird time, and I figure the nerves are just a sign that it needs to be said even more than it usually (always) does.

So here is my Simple Simple hymn, toe-tapper, heartfelt heretical thing.
I hope it gives you a smile, and pray it brings a heart-lift as well.

Go full-screen (‘watch on Youtube’ will give more resolution) and crank up those ‘cans’ (headphones) to avail yourself of the full rich clash of saccharine, hoarse and ring-modulation (accept no substitutes).  And no, a saccharine horse is not like a marzipan pig, just click play, will you?  (̲̅ ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°̲̅ )̲̅

I wish I could also take credit for the lovely video – but for that you will have to go have a look on the inspiring Pixabay.com website, where they offer some public domain stuff for zero budget creators like me (and you?) and also earn some money licensing footage for professional productions.

My sincere thanks to the camera-people (I listed all that I used in the end credits, and also a few I did not, because they were just so inspiring), and I also have to offer my sincere wonder gratitude and love for the billions of animals who are supposed to be entitled to share our planet. Several of them gave especially funky subtle and compelling performances in the video!

The things we do to one another are very often heartbreaking. But the things we do to our fellow planetary citizens, are not only heartless, ruthless and unrecoverable, but also entirely beneath our notice by long social habit.

We can do better. We’ve all had a nice long think. Let’s act like it!
¯\(ツ)

My Friend

Hello my friends!

One of the curious things about the way covid has overturned everyone’s normalcy, all at once, is that many of us have been reminded about the value of pleasure and creativity, as a mentally and emotionally positive and stabilizing force. The news keeps banging-on endlessly about the trouble retail business is having attracting workers, but the fact is that workers have had benefits and dignities stripped away from them for decades, and now that we have all been forced to think again about our lives and values, many have decided that the old deal just wasn’t worth it. Quite rightly, too (there is a vast and often unappreciated difference between humble hard work old-style – and modern industrial-scale sadism toward tens of thousands directed not even by a madman, but by cold vampire mathematics).

I know several friends who have, like me, rediscovered the fantastic fun to be had making art – not for a market, client or goal, but in order to learn a little more than we knew the day before, and prove to ourselves we are still capable of novelty.

With the crazy speed and pressure of the world, it isn’t hard for us to grind away in harness for so long we actually forget that challenge doesn’t have to come from outside, along with threats and inducements – and the challenges we set ourselves – without any external draw or pressure – can often bring us special levels of growth and satisfaction.

Go Big Screen and CRANK IT!

As an old analog guy and a lapsed technician (still have six different analog and two digital tape systems in the house), I have a strong bias toward the smell of warm transistors and the special unpredictable wonkiness of physical components. And just for the record – when you train up and read that sticker “Warning, No User Serviceable Parts – Authorized Repair Technicians Only” and realize you ARE authorized, your imaginative involvement with ‘gear’ does get deeper – in a funny way, you almost empathize with it, rather like the way a doctor sometimes winces when they see an athlete pushing their capability – because they know.

My primary job is caregiver – and it’s a job I am very pleased to do, to be sure – but it isn’t terribly compatible with gigantic tangled messes of wires, trip hazard instruments and mic-stands that take over the bedroom for days. On the other hand, the years since I have been away from the bench have seen astounding transformations in the world of audio and recording. Not only have many of the old complaints about the harsh sonic qualities of digital been overcome, a whole generation of software technology which was once professional quality (and frighteningly expensive) is now cheap and easily available, options and price points ranging all the way from completely free to the latest pro grade stuff, which still (somehow) manages to be ruinously expensive.

By watching for sales and saving my treat money, I have put together software versions of several electronic instruments I always hoped to be able to try, but could never afford (or find space to deploy) physically. This means that rather than missing my old setup, I’m excited to play with a whole new studio in the digital realm. But this also means tons of new learning for codger-boy (additional pleasure, to me). You know what computers are like – you are sure that the thing you want is in there someplace – but where have they hidden it, and what on earth did they call it? ;o)

I swear I had no intention to get back into writing screwball pop songs, the way I did as a teenager, and again for awhile in my late thirties. But as I get older, I’m also beginning to laugh at myself, for my funny attitudes toward my own working output. I study and swoon over fine art, but draw at least twice as many silly cartoons as ‘serious’ drawings. I read the finest literature and then write crazy doggerel verse and eccentric short stories.

I especially adore music with the deepest artistic intentions and purposes. But though I love making art music with my friends – when I’m alone, experimenting in my studio – analog or digital – I almost always end up making screwy offbeat pop. Then again, have we actually seen it proven that toe-tapping is déclassé – or do we simply accept this as an inherited condescension?  ;o)

This is my eighth finished piece since covid hit – all of which came from sitting down to learn something new, and then letting myself get carried away in the fun of it. Finally recording with the theremin Graham leant me was a distinct and overdue pleasure, and I was very happy with the swing of the lyrics as they came together. But I was most surprised to find myself singing in a whole new way for this song, just by changing the angle of my spine, my breathing was different, and my vocal production outright surprised me. Not the prettiest vocals I’ve ever done – but some of the most heartfelt, I think (your call, really).

Anyhow – what I really mean to say to you isn’t anything nearly so specific – but just – grant yourself permission to play! Whether it is popsicle sticks construction paper and mucilage, a dusty Stradivarius in the corner, a sketchbook you always meant to fill, or a journal which calls to you.

The boss, the landlord, the taxman, the teacher, mom and dad – whichever combination of authorities we carry around on our back, emotionally – can sometimes get us caught up feeling we are bad, and don’t deserve that joy. DUTY FIRST! YOU HAVE TO EARN ANY PAUSE FROM SUFFERING!

I’m not going to lie – yes we are all a little bit bad – humans are like that – but we need our joy all the more, so we can remember why and how to do better.

There is some stuff here for my most rigorous ecological and political friends, and also some for my dear friends of deep and abiding faith. I’m tired of waiting for the emergence of a culture around which we can all gather as family again. Figure I’ll just start making some of it myself!

Love to all. Sincerely hope you enjoy this latest offering.

  • Paul

=================

The visuals are all from Pixaby.com – which lets people from around the world contribute some material to the public domain, and offer other material for sale. I was overjoyed to be able to make this video so international, and did my best to credit every clip used (though this is not obligatory) and even a few I cut at the last minute, because they were still so very inspiring (and I’ll probably end up using them for my next video, anyhow).

For fellow recording geeks – a few things of particular excellence. From Waves – the Abbey Road NX mixing plug-in is INSANELY helpful. Using psychoacoustics, they simulate the mixing room at Abbey Road studio, with Near Mid and Far speakers, to check your stereo image. Just as with my last tune, this mix was a complete hair-pulling mess by the time I had it all cut and arranged. Finding a place for everything can really drive you nuts, when you have so many timbres in the same general tonal space. This room is imaginary, but the value is extreme (for 30 bucks, and works great even with thirty year old ‘cans’).

I also just got the Schepps Omni channel – which is what I used to track the vocals for this piece. Superb all-in-one – with saturation and de-essing, as well as three kinds of compression and a flexible EQ section. Nice big VU meters are a plus for a fogey like me – even better, you can magnify it for your aging eyes!

And yes – after years of favouring clean vocals (as an arbitrarily chosen difficulty and false-purity aesthetic), I finally decided to get a vocal synth (so cheap and powerful now – and so freakin’ cool). Ovox is recent – loaded down with options and stupidly fun. Get it and you won’t stop giggling for days.

Cherry Audio makes my favourite soft-synths. Their version of the MS-20, the 2600 and the Juno (all cheap, great sounding and very easy to voice), all feature prominently on this track (along with several of the free synths I mentioned in my write up about my song “One Won Family”).

Finally, I am so grateful that I have to mention the Frontier Adaptive Limiter again – because it is free, I have had it supervising my master output bus since the day I downloaded it, and you can pretty much slam anything at it – and it somehow finds a way to crunch the whole mess down to go under the limbo bar, while still preserving astonishing levels of detail – almost a harmonic/saturation sweetness. Try “Potent Mastering” mode. Seriously – you will never turn it off again!
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Only Way We Can Keep Losing

Image from the brilliant game artists at Ubisoft Montreal
(the startlingly beautiful – Assassin’s Creed: Origins – to be specific)


There are a few tough themes which I have been working on steadily ever since I was a teenager, but I have to say it is more than a little heartbreaking to see standing up for the recognition of universal humanity and the excellence of embracing love become so controversial.

Anger is very understandable in the moment – but always absolute poison as fuel to run on. As much for a movement, as for any individual human being. This isn’t even a moral assertion, this is a repeatedly proven human reality.

We always do our worst evil when we begin from the assumption that the other is evil, and we become less so in our hatred of them – and our anger compounds this error (and all too often horror) by drawing that circle of other wider and wider, until we feel we have absolutely great reasons to hate, all day long.

Twenty years ago, when “W” announced the “War on Terror” there were a huge number of intellectuals who stood up immediately and said – that is dangerously meaningless.

Of course terrorism is always wrong – but you can’t have a war on a generality. What you can achieve this way is declare a new reason to celebrate collective hatred, and lead with suspicion. Reduce the quality of life for everyone.

Now I know I’ll make a bunch of people grumpy pointing this out but fighting the patriarchy makes no more sense – we either confront individual people who do wrong, or we are entering into another fabulous new form of bigotry.

I don’t object to critical race theory because it insults white people – but because the effects of this idiocy will do incalculable and lasting damage to young black kids, most of all – and all kids in general. Trust me – kids aren’t the ones who screwed this planet up – and frankly, we’ve already screwed their whole lives enough, without making them feel individually responsible for, or victims of, the sins of centuries. This is a catharsis at their expense, not a curriculum for their empowerment, and we’ll regret it greatly, (and also quite directly, in both psychiatric billings and increased youth suicide).

The simple fact is that there are a few thousand incredibly powerful and evil people who are screwing up the works – not just making profit from death and poison on a staggering scale, but corrupting our political process in a way that hurts everyone, and keeps all kinds of citizens from feeling well represented – because they really aren’t.

If we save all our fighting energy for fighting them, we could actually win – save the planet, finally do something courageous and honourable for our kids future – it could be our real and practical way out – not via any grandiose untested fantasy, but through proven relationships and a lot of hard work.

Or we can try to defeat entire genders, or cisgenders, or races, or whatever.
Draw battle-lines so broad and absurd that we guarantee we’ll lose. Like now.

I wrote a poem about this kind of feeling not thinking a couple of years ago, that says it in a funnier way. I’ll include that below – but I think this new video (my most complex ever mix) says it rather more toe-tappingly.

Full Screen and Full Volume please (anyhow, we should all be dancing more, get the blood (and joy) circulating). The visuals celebrate two of the most artistic and under-appreciated game studios in the world – the proven and fabulous Ubisoft Montreal and the promising upstart Ubisoft Toronto.


Here’s the poem – If Only We Could Hate Our Way


Bonus (surprisingly helpful) Psychoacoustic Weirdness

A small note for my fellow electronic musicians. I still think in terms of analog studios, and sometimes get frustrated with the few but still very important technical limits of computer music. Mixing with headphones is one of the weirdest sins there is – but you really can’t ever get a properly resolved stereo image that way – it’s not just elitist sneering – it is also true! Or at least, it always was.

Have you tried an NX plug in yet? I was seduced by WAVES offer of a full recreation of the acoustics of the mixing room at Abbey Road studios – inside headphones (even uses the camera to track your head movements). Their Near Field (roughly – car mix), Mid Field (how will it sound on a good home stereo?) and Far Monitors (How will it sound in a club?) are all super useful. What really freaked me out about it was that I could hear all kind of imaging problems right away (in far especially), which were impossible to detect in a headphone mix – but when I switched back into the headphone mix, the improvements in clarity were obvious and dramatic!

Anyhow – if you are tempted, there are several on the market, and the Abbey Road one I like comes on sale for thirty or forty bucks pretty regularly. Well worth it just for the time saved and clarity gained. (And I mean that – at one point, this mix was such a mess I almost threw the whole darned song out).
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Listen First

Hello my friends. This one is more of a short film than a music video – and for that I have to thank and apologize-to many inspiring chums who gave me innumerable clever ideas for it, and are also much better at making images and movies.

This is my first time using the instrumentation involved, and also my first time using my new (wonderfully inexpensive) graphics tablet – so you will I hope pardon the inexpert use of both. On the other hand, managing to say something philosophically true and important clearly in any medium is always a good result – so thank you infinitely for all your enablements!

I especially want to thank Joe Salina and Jennifer Linton – I was fortunate to sit for them both as a model as they taught their students hard won wisdom about visual storytelling, storyboarding and animation, (and soaked up many lovely insights from my position on the stand, as the day’s sentient bowl of fruit) – and also the joyously unstoppable Andrew (Rewfoe) Foerster, whose output (every bit loaded with wit, authentic humour and great heart) ceaselessly amazes, instructs and inspires me.

The (three and a half minute) film will speak for itself, despite my embarrassingly clunky technique. The tools used are described below (and there are links so you can get them for yourself, free – yay!)

Enjoy! (And yes, full screen and volume are once again mandatory)

I mentioned the joy of free virtual instruments with my last music video – but I wasn’t able to share the sound or fun of the coolest plug-in of all, because it arrived too late for me to be able to use it in the last tune.

The BBC Symphony orchestra and Spitfire Audio labs have a whole series of really superb symphony packages, all sampled from professional instrumentalists at the top of their craft, and recorded beautifully with the ambiance of a real concert hall.

The professional version of this digital orchestra is a thousand dollars – but they also have a basic version – Discover – which is available for either $49, if you want it right the heck now, or absolutely free if you can wait two weeks for your authorization code. Kids, students, starving artists – rejoice!

I knew the upper balcony of Massey Hall very well as a kid, at the end of the tenure of Victor Felbrill, and the very start of Andrew Davis’ long career with the TSO – and listened to superb classical on penny weighted record players also (and I’ll still trade monophonic for Sir Malcolm Sargent conducting, any day – though Deutsche Gramophone microphones are also a distinct pleasure).

As a crazy adult, I enjoy clumsily playing instruments from the percussion, woodwind, brass and plucked string families, but though I’ve often dreamed of rendering my musical ideas with the tone colours of an orchestra, I never thought I’d get a chance – and really not that someone would make it feel almost easy to do so. The instruments are arranged visually by sections, just as they are traditionally seated on stage – there are very nifty options for expression and the sonic images are in most cases superb (though I’ll admit I could find no satisfaction in the clarinet – I love the subtlety of expression of the real beast too much). All the same – this one is insanely fun and empowering.

Also – up near the top of the list of super-cool imaginary and yet very useful synthesizers is ODIN2 – which appears in the upper register in this tune, and can be yours for free from the folks at WaveWarden (open source).

Odin2 will be especially fun for fans of modular and old analog beasts – you can swap out modules and patch like a madman – whee!

Enjoy the pleasure of creation, my friends. As frustrating as an art problem can be (very) – we must never forget that it is a great human blessing to be capable of such frustration!
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

One Won Family – Remix

Hello my friends – I have something truly nifty to share with you today – a product of play and learning both. Some of you already know that I spent a quarter of a century as an expert audio technician for both audiophile and studio recording gear. This makes me about as relevant to the modern economy as a steam-engine mechanic, but only because we as consumers have insisted we prefer disposable everything. I rather look forward to a late surge of usefulness as a geriatric, when increasing numbers of my aging chums are fitted with robotic prostheses! Someone has to fix Mrs McGillicuddy’s intermittent solenoid – might as well be me.

The thing that happened to the music industry from top to bottom over the last few decades was a vast hollowing-out of dignified paid work in general. Musicians don’t make money the way they used to – nor do clubs, or independent recording companies. Some people point to vast piles which are still accumulated in very small corporate circles and suggest musical types are complaining about nothing but their own exclusion – but the absolute fact is that many thousands used to have good steady skilled and dignity providing work who now do not. We are all incredibly fortunate that so many decide to keep contributing to culture anyhow – even without that most basic form of social respect – renumeration – but it isn’t cool.

Catherine’s father Neville was a busy session guitarist starting in the 1950s, doing recordings for commercials by day, and playing musical shows (which ALWAYS had full live orchestras) in the evening – and while he was especially good and successful, he was one of plenty who were able to buy houses and put kids through school adding musical richness to the world as their sole form of work. I have many musical friends in the generation after him, who benefitted from the sacrifices and solidarity of that older group of union musicians, but also gradually undercut the gains they had made – working for “the door” (whatever some friend of the band with a fold-up chair could collect as people entered) rather than an agreed (and rent-paying) minimum guaranteed by ‘the house.’

I came in with the next cohort – the first to play with synthesizers, MIDI and samplers – which together have taken all that well paid live recording work for commercials, television and movies by real expert instrumentalists, and made it instead the project of a clever nerd with a laptop. My dream was to be a producer – the guy that collaborated with a band to help make their good songs sound utterly fantastic. Supertramp, Rush, Alan Parsons – producing was an exciting and fast growing art when I was young. But of course – producers went along with recording studios, and over the course of my technical career I watched many of the great studios go bankrupt or turn into teaching institutions, with the fast growth of many smaller project studios, which then also died out in their turn, as musical people began increasingly to record at home with whatever gear they could put together themselves. Cheaper than the old recording studio experience, to be sure – but a lot of energy excitement and urgency is lost – not to mention technical quality. We moderns often forget this – but limits are good for us, they force decisions so that you can maintain group momentum. Some forms of stress can be extremely productive.

So – can I be mad as a musician? Or a recordist, or a technician? Well sure, I could choose to be a grumpy old bugger and just snarl at all of the displacing novelties – but there is another way to metabolize change. Humility is the start-point – I have been recording music with whatever cheap gear I could get my hands on since I was sixteen years old (mostly cassette until the turn of the century), so I can’t complain about home recording – I don’t just do it, I LOVE it. I also love a lot of music which isn’t popular enough to get any stage time, if the owner had to pay union scale – so I can’t be mad about working the door and competing downward that way either. Honestly, my technician self has the hardest time with it (and yes, he was by-far the best paid of these three inner minds). I really enjoyed that work a lot – there was usually a detective puzzle to solve with the complex faults, and a subtle communication balance with the customer also (retail teaches you a whole lot of interesting psychological truth, whether or not you want to learn it).

After a few years away from recording, I decided to attempt a podcast. Since I had no audience and money was tight, I hunted for a free DAW (an ‘app’ which gives you the basic functions of a recording studio). I enjoyed using it, so I upgraded to their hundred dollar version (Studio One Artist) so I could use more advanced tools. That was when I discovered the current state of “plug-ins” including virtual instruments and simulations of the specialized audio gear I used to make a living fixing. Suddenly I was reminded how much I love brilliant, imaginative and creatively enabling tools!

A few years ago I was recording with Logic Audio – which was great, but also obscenely expensive and complicated, and required a fancy computer and a lot of finicky tinkering to perfect. There were virtual instruments available (based on recorded samples of real instruments), but they were pretty expensive. A nice electric piano (program, not physical) would set you back a few hundred dollars. But the digital world moves fast.

When I started digging this time – into free stuff that would run on a ten year old machine, I was amazed by the wealth of powerful and highly musical tools that people were now offering to others. Some of them are to demonstrate design excellence, in the hope you will buy something else they make, but many are offered simply to make the world a more musical place, and give poor recordist and musician kids like I once was more ‘voices’ with which to speak. Absolutely lovely stuff – and unbelievably fun to play with, too.

As I experimented with this nifty new no-charge toolbox, I really enjoyed the thought that any kid in any part of the world who could get their hands on a computer and an internet connection could have been making the very same song I was!

I got carried away on the recording – definitely the most complicated mixing and arranging problem I’ve ever tried to solve, but I learned tons along the way. I even finally solved the question of how best to use a sequencer – DON’T – even stuff that sounds very computery and artificial benefits from the feel of live-playing.

The result called for a video – so again I started learning some stuff about public domain sources, so I could assemble this – my most complicated ever song, with my most complicated ever video – and for all that, what I really hope is that you come away thinking “That may have been complicated to make – but the message is simple and powerful, and that freaky groove is an outright toe-tapper!”

Cheers beautiful people and members of my extended family. Really hope you enjoy this one.
For the musical/geek brigade, see below for links to every virtual voice I used to make this tune!

Please go full-screen and Crank it up – Trust me, this one is real pretty (and pretty swingin’) ;o)

Turn On, Plug-In, Tune Out

Is it idiots stressing me? Covid? Governments? Idiots again? (yes, probably that). In any case, I am confident that I am not alone in needing something to sink a great deal of my attention into, which is not crowded over by imbeciles and wreckers.

If you can download and play with a few of these (Free) virtual instruments without giggling with pleasure, you will be entitled to a full refund – no questions asked!

Just a note for the less experienced/cynical – yes, you’ll have to leave a valid email for several of these – but that’s what free mail services are for. Just make a new email account that only ever gets these special offers and seductions they will send you, and then you’ll know exactly what part of your inbox to (try to) ignore. Very entertaining junk-mail on the scale of such things, though.

And for those even more cynical than I – no, I’m not making a cent for mentioning any of these folks, I’m just a genuine enthusiast, and I want you to have fun too. They really are free things, and will run well on ten year old hardware, with pretty much any current DAW (digital audio workstation) software, and any simple audio interface, Mac or PC.

As an old-school synth geek, I have to start with U-he
From them you NEED Tyrell N6 – the most satisfying analog feeling digital instrument I’ve ever found. Podolski, Zebralette and Triple Cheese (as OTT as it sounds) are also fabulous. Playing with the Tyrell N6 in particular has convinced me to save up to buy one of their commercial synths in the near future. You can feel the musicality and their love of the sound.

After the Tyrell N6, the most exciting new synth I discovered is Pendulate, which the folks at Eventide will give you This is absolutely not a simulation of analog, traditional digital FM or sample based approaches. It feels like someone found a brand new piece of very musical math – but the bold voices will make you sit upright in your seat, and cut to the front of the mix ahead of even the most obnoxious “Weedley” electric guitar player. ;o)

The TAL noisemaker is also great – gritty and sonically interesting, analog but harder and cleaner than the vintage beasts – it is also structured so as to suggest unusual layered voicing capability.

Surge isn’t pretty to look at – but it is full of really lovely ‘pads’ (soft ambient type voices), and uses very little CPU horsepower.

You have to be just about exactly my age to remember the original, this synth copies beautifully. A collaboration between Moog himself and Radio Shack! Something of a rebuke to the obsessive fetishist/elitists – the man was definitely trying to bring his synth sounds to the masses, the whole time. It is simple, corny, but in a good way. Cherry audio also impressed me by copying the ARP2600. Their Juno tribute DC106 is the one exception to my free-only rule in this song – but it was still inexpensive and is way-fun.

MT Power DrumKit2 – There are few areas with more heated argument than the drummer/drum machine question. I love drummers and admire their abilities hugely – but I’m also a broke guy who couldn’t even afford to buy a drummer a decent lunch, so I’ve alternated between hand-percussion and drum machines for many years now. But if you want the thing to sound like actual drums – a kit simulator like this makes a huge difference. You see what is being hit, when, and you can’t play as if you have six hands and three feet, you are limited to what a real player could play, and therefore even an idiot like me can lay down a reasonably decent sounding groove. I like this one very much – sounds great, super easy to use.

I really adore the people behind “Lost in 70s” audio. You absolutely need “Keys of the seventies” – a great Rhodes, Wurli and Clav with nice cabinet and effects built in. And while you’re there, you also have to grab “Hanon B70” Their tribute to the great Hammond Organ, complete with an excellent “Leslie” (rotary speaker) simulation – sooooo tasty!

Like the people at U-he and Cherry Audio, the team at Ample Sound have a bunch of superb looking commercial products they want to sell you. But in the meantime, they very generously offer simple versions to anyone who wants them, just to prove how well conceived and excellent sounding they are. I do not play guitar at all, so the way their Ample Guitar created convincing strums and picking from my chaotic playing was wonderful to me. But I do play bass – and the idea of a digital simulation of a bass which I have in the other room, was sort of blasphemous – still, for the purposes of the experiment, I had to give it a try. OMG Ample Bass P lite is ridiculously fun, and sounds fantastic. All the bass grooves on this track come from this instrument – best of all, you can watch the strings vibrate and the neck being fretted as you play notes on your keyboard! Whee! You need these.

I am sort of too old to be entitled to this one – but I’m also a rule-breaker, so why not pile on the (technical) blasphemies? “Subdivine lite” gives you access to a class of musical voices which didn’t even exist when I started – but boy is it fun to be able to come in UNDER your bass part. Wild stuff.

The last three very distinctive voices in the mix were all created by the same company – Reflekt Audio. Nothing boring about their sounds or approach – total mix-makers!

The banjo you hear is “YoJo” which allows you to adjust the relative sound mix of bridge neck and skin. You do have to experiment to find a line that sound banjo-like before it works properly (took me a couple of takes) but once you do, this thing sounds fantastic.

The concert grand in a huge hall sound is made by a plug in called Tuxedo. There are definitely more flexible pianos out there, but I really loved the OTT fullness of this one. Not only are you buried in great hall reverb, the dynamics are also exaggerated, to give everything an almost maudlin effect of heightened emotion. Way fun!

And finally, the toy xylophone sound was made by “Xylo Toy”, which again includes a surprising range of timbral adjustments, as well as a zany sonic character. Thanks folks!

Naturally, as a recordist as well as a musician – I also downloaded a few dozen pieces of funky outboard gear, but the only one I ended up using on this was the “Frontier self-adaptive limiter” – an absolutely gorgeous and super musical device which managed to squash all thirty five tracks of action down to fit under the limbo-rod, without losing the presence space or musicality of any of them. You’ll want this on your output buss. (Feels like something eventinde would have made in the late eighties – all the sweeter for being free!)

Enjoy, my friends – and do drop me a link if they draw a tune out of you too!

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Dance Monkey

Hey folks. Time for a serious dose of SILLY! (Insofar as I am eptified for same).

I can honestly say that I haven’t got the slightest idea where this stuff comes from – but since I am lucky enough that it does come easily and often, it feels like it would be ungrateful were I not to share, especially when the whole thing comes out as OTT fun and funky as this one!

Major thanks to Graham. Inspirational credit to Little Big (Check out Skibidi – romantic version) a Russian band who make their own fabulous videos for their own crazy songs.

Now, I am a very sweet guy (as you all know already of course)
but this time I absolutely demand that you go full-screen and CRANK IT!
(glowsticks, sprung dance floors, piercings, hair-gel and smoke-machines
will all be considered optional – for the time being)

I have always found identity a particularly fascinating topic, because at no time in my life have I ever had just one. I was a dance club fanatic back in the early eighties (as a teenager) and like many of my friends wore makeup and outlandish costumes and stayed out dancing until dawn every single weekend without fail. I even had one favourite club which featured all the latest European releases (tuned on the Manchester wavelength) and another which brought fresh offerings and even live breakdancing crews from the New York scene, which made for a fun diversity (and indeed, already forty years ago, dance music was becoming so specialized that there were very few tracks and bands popular in one subculture, which crossed over to the other – weird perhaps, but great fun for connoisseurs of the obscure).

The funny thing was – at the exact same time as I was a dance club fanatic in what would now be classed “Goth” style (then, more properly New Romantic), I was also making my lifetime best attempt to learn and master the intricacies of business culture – from the traditional bottom of the pile position as the mailroom and shipping clerk for a major commercial computer software firm. (Yes, the legends are true – legions of people really were once lavishly paid to clunk around in COBOL). ;o)

Not only that, but I had just broken out of an insane cult environment which was horrible, but also a super competitive intellectual pressure-cooker. Every part of my basic acculturation was different from everyone I knew in every world I moved in (and I’ve felt like that ever since – but minded it much less over time, as the advantages of an outsider view have presented themselves). If I started talking too enthusiastically about science or philosophy to my club-kid pals, they’d either think I was trying to compete and show off, or else judge me a snob and walk away. I have never had the patience (or knowledge base) for a discussion about television (with the exception of some classic Sci Fi).

Later I learned a trick that has worked well for years. If I wanted to drop “fifty dollar words” and introduce intellectual concepts (always with enthusiasm, and to share), all I had to do was spice up my dialogue with some countervailing expletives and genuine working class street insights. Not everyone wants to learn (which I have to remind myself – because I do, always and in every case), but a far wider proportion of any group are pleased to be entertained. If you can find a working line which blends both – bingo – you get heard and get to introduce new ideas to the discussion. If you fail the entertainment test – you are asking for something from them (attention) which you aren’t earning. No matter how great your point, or how much you think it would benefit others to hear it, you’ve failed to find the shape which will carry it all the way into their hearts – so far.

I am one of those who thinks analyzing creativity too much comes close to ingratitude – and I am blessed with shit-tons of the stuff for some reason, fortune indeed – duty also. “Why” does one create is a particularly foolhardy question – especially if asked without any goal. Don’t screw with the goose!  “What for” is a lot more productive, at least in my case. All these years later, I’m still trying to wrap up a bunch of fifty dollar ideas in street wisdom and fast-dancing, because I think those ideas might do some good. It really is amazing how passionate our arguments are these days – and how very little we say, learn, discuss or explore. Challenge used to mean overcoming the limits of the self and growing, not focussing hatred proudly outward. 

My poems do the same work as my songs, stories, podcasts, books, essays and cartoons – though I have definitely found particular forms work much better for some parts of my greater argument than others. My books carry gratitude kindness and wisdom especially well – the podcasts are a whole lot more soapbox feisty!

Rediscovering spontaneous songwriting is the nicest thing that’s happened to me since Covid hit – it has been years since I’ve had this much fun with music, and while I desperately crave a courageous and emotionally intimate improvisatory expedition with my musical friends, it is still joyous to get the fingers moving and brain tune-ing in the meantime – warming up the engine again, big-time.

This particular song was last Sunday’s “You can’t do any work today” project. My initial goal was just to learn about the sequencing capabilities of the audio software I’m using, so that I can do something super groovy synthy and instrumental with a few tuneful items my friend Graham leant me (you have to love a friend who feels bad because they traded-in cool audio gear without letting you have some fun with it first – and so brings over a toybox of small analog goodies – cheers, man – superb uplift!)

The song is actually all manually played (even the drumtracks) with some looping – because I still stumble into catchy ideas too fast to sit down and screw around with a grid! Just as well – I will trade wonky imprecision for increased swing any day. My feckless bass becomes ultra juicy thanks to Graham’s fat analog phaser, and my tiny mooglet cuts right through the wall of soft-synths. Still, even as a technician and an ‘old school analog’ guy in every way I have to tell you – soft-synths have come a long way – pretty freakin’ great now – and so many that you can add new voices free or very cheap, any time you get an urge. (The main synth sequence is a $25 Juno simulator!)

The lyrics? Well – you know how it is – there are two components in every human individual. There are the basic things which we share with many others in the animal kingdom – primates especially – and then there is the special thing of advanced culture and post-animal humanity – a still highly fragmented and incomplete project. One reason I keep arguing that there is always more than one viewpoint is simply to defend the right to seek enlightenment of this sort – not for ego, but in order to escape from it.

The other reason is even simpler – it is our animal side which can be tamed and leashed – and for many, especially the cleverest folks, we are so far into denial that we even have an essential and always active animal side that all we feel is the invisible irresistible tug – and all we know is that somehow we always wind up at the master’s feet.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Treasure Your Pleasure

Why do we so often say “here’s what I think” – when we know that we all have several kinds of thinking going on inside us, and are therefore capable of a whole range of different responses to any one particular idea or situation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we often represent ourselves (even to ourselves) as only one part of our thinking. I think this is a form of self-harm, not only because I love human quirks, contradictions and eccentricities, but also because for many in the modern world, one part of ourselves which is often silenced is the spiritual. And we wonder why we’re so unhappy!

This song-in-a-day came to me without any planning – wrote the lyrics bit by bit in between synth takes – but when it was done I was surprised to see that it reflected the way we can sustain two different currents of awareness at the same time. Might even suggest they can be harmonized! (though I assert no warranty as to the practical ease with which this might be achieved). ;o)

Time away from pleasure and normalcy, extended isolation, and stress without a predictable end-point is a traditional recipe for torturing individuals, going back quite a way in history. Knowing that everyone else is experiencing some variation of the mix does change the experience – we all know we haven’t actually been singled-out for punishment – but on low days, it’s not hard for our minds to begin to wonder in a way that damages our ability to conjure or locate happiness.

Toughening-up is one natural reaction, turning into a rock to survive a trial – softness can return when the storm has passed. But we give up a lot when all the hatches get sealed.

I talk about politics, philosophy and spirit in strong terms, and inevitably I offend some people who are dear to me. Some even mistake my strong talk for a fundamental disagreeable streak, a form of ego, or some sort of play for dominance. Electronic media do support a great deal of this sort of thing – which is why I avoided them for so long, trying instead to engage people with slower paced more thoughtful and considered essays. Problem is – no one reads anymore. If I want a chance to have and encourage a broader conversation, I have to engage with people in ways that their lifestyle allows – hence, podcasting, photo-essays, art-rambles and songs like this.

There are quite a few things which I could say to explain how I can do something that takes such a familiar form, with very different goals and motivations – but the absolute clearest way to convey the truth of it, is in a two-fold statement that seems at first, to contradict itself.

  • I am truly joyous – filled with wonder and sometimes ecstasy over the whirling potentials, even those which will never be realized
  • and I am already dead.

Weirder still, I could not have achieved the first (along with a profound release of creative energy and clarity) without finding myself faced with and ultimately embracing the second.

Consciousness is a very complicated subject, so is ego and self-image – but there are some things about both which most of us have noticed in others, and sometimes even been startled to see in the mirror. Consciousness frequently gets locked into patterns of words and how they relate, and forgets that those words first stood for complex realities in the world. Ego has all sorts of needs – one of which is validation, one popularity, and another competitive victory. When the two of these get combined with strong emotions, we can get trapped by word ideas and feelings which are both absolutely imperative and utterly impossible. Our brains are damaging our hearts and souls, by fantasizing a power they have never had.

We’ve all seen this. People who we know are good, interested, caring and sincere, whose caring turns to worry, while their compassion turns to bitterness and anger. Who feel helpless, because they can’t personally see how to solve problems on a scale that would also challenge a deity. Who judge themselves wanting, for being unable to accomplish the impossible.

I’ve always been a cerebral person – I love books, essays and scientific papers – radio talks and lectures – I devour news and history, science and philosophy. I read spirit and religion, anarchy, economics. I want to understand. But a couple of decades ago now, that clever word-manipulator part of me completely hit the wall. Before that point I was able to construct functional hope from my intellectual ideas. I mean hope of human survival, rich culture and much greater justice.

This was always a very small odds hope, to be sure – because I have always tried to realistically factor-in war, economics, the environment and our many shifting cultural ideas. But then I was forced to recalculate my view with a new and much greater value for the power and inertia of human foolishness. That small hope collapsed and my reason – which I had long considered the chief power source for my industrious, curious and optimistic approach to life – failed.

Since that time I have been running on my firm conviction that my reason is very poorly informed and is probably not using the right frame for best understanding anyhow. I must rigorously reject the very best conclusions of my rational thought as incorrect. And I should add that I include my psychological and philosophical understanding in ‘rational’. HG Wells was incredibly close – but it turns out that the way the future looks is that every one of us is both Morlock AND Eloi. So foolish and dreamy we are incapable of the practical work of rebuilding or even maintaining that which we inhabit – and yet deadened alienated helpless wage-slaves also. Spirits broken – emotional cannibals. Nothing pleases a wide crowd more than an auto da fe – even now – though we generally prefer an electronic pile-on pyre in the modern era.

And yet and yet – what do we see whenever we walk? We see new hope, new families, new students, young workers, thinkers, builders, teachers, scientists and artists who all want to add understanding and compassion the world. Spirit keeps moving all who will be moved. Reason never was the driver for that, it only pretends to be.

I have to say that at first it was very uncomfortable for me, to surrender the idea of the dominance of my ‘rationator’ – but as I have adjusted to working from gratitude and wondering, instead of adversarial and egotistical insisting, a whole lot of things about my reasoning have improved considerably. I see (and also laugh at) flaws in my own reasoning more easily, and no longer defend them, but instead embrace the new learning being offered by any correction (and make many friends who might once have been forced into being adversaries – simply by my intransigent attitude). I also reject flattering ideas wholesale, with the greatest of ease – that part of my ego just isn’t in the ring anymore – and those plays are so close to universally deceptive/exploitative as to make a blanket rejection efficient, even if there is some small loss of potential uplift.

Being much more willing to be wrong – and without righteous justification, or any external faceless force to blame, happens to make my estimations and projections correct a lot more often – but that’s a happy bonus, the point is really not tactics or winning.

The most unexpected intellectual value I’ve found, since putting most of my weight on my spiritual foot, is that as soon as I became okay with the idea of not-knowing a much greater range of things, I found myself able to mentally interrogate a far more subtle constellation of ideas.

Not just looking for adversarial hard truths, but also seeking important partial or as yet undigested truths which add nuance, witness and the texture of experience into what are all too often taken as oversimplified and ‘purer’ word-ideas – even when we all know on some level that human beings somewhere are forever being tested by our notions. Offstage victims.

And with the embrace of not knowing and weighted doubt – the surrender of the idea that I was supposed to personally fix the world – I have also come to understand a few things which are profoundly true in ways which are more important than our chattering symbol (tool) addicted monkey brains ever slow down enough to acknowledge.

However we get there, and however it is framed inside us – the constant heartbeat of gratitude and wonder (which is really just another way of saying genuine humility before the unknowable gifts of universe) adds joy and humour to our lives – deepens friendship and love – and even adds layers of meaning to our struggles and grief, which can help us transform them into new motivation, learning and caring.

There is no legal proof of this – and Camus showed that even philosophers trip themselves up and get hurt along this path. The proof is experiential – or perhaps I should say experimental – as in – try it, you’ll like it!

On the other hand, if you are feeling the weight of injustice on your own shoulders, and need personally and urgently to do something to divert the incoming asteroid, don’t feel bad if this state is still inaccessible to you for now.

Way too many gurus talk about their discoveries about enlightenment without emphasizing the extremities which drove them to the point where they NEEDED that new learning. Very few people grow in big ways through willpower alone, let alone mere preference (why so much self-help is a con). Almost always, life faces us with something we haven’t ever learned to cope with, and we have to decide – do I retreat in fear and take the pain inside – or do I learn something new and grow?

We shouldn’t even feel bad when we make the fear and pain choice there – sometimes we’re just not ready to step into something new and challenging – and as much as we want our friends to feel better, we can’t force them into that state. As perhaps my all time favourite Sufi line says “Affection does not produce capacity.”

What we can do for our friends is remind them that pleasure and joy are still there for anyone who will have them (not ceaselessly, but regularly) – so are friends and fun – love and play – art and music – connection, striving and discovery.

We can also demonstrate that surrendering impossible and ultimately masochistic concepts of duty to instead take on our own infinitesimal and yet unique role in the all-giving play of universe is not a betrayal of principle, but it’s full realization. We aren’t here to be robots, warriors, or earning units – we are here to LIVE – and that means trying to show respect for our potential, and also helping our friends reach and develop their potential. Making the world better, most humanely and directly.

Thinking is great too – don’t get me wrong – and I remain a junkie for all sources of understanding. I even still have foolish and vain ideas about the (yes, still crushing) weight of my duty. Just, like that old joke about can you read music? – yeah, but not so much that it gets in the way of my being!

Let’s face it folks, the intellectual reductionist analytical adversarial model has many strengths – and one can indeed learn an awful lot from a well-conducted autopsy and dissection. But absolutely nothing whatsoever in that fantastic trove of ‘rational’ discovery is about life.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The End of the World is Nigh (on Irresistible)

Hello my friends – time for a new song! I wrote this one a couple of years ago, and I’ve been playing with the arrangement in my head (mentally multi-tracking it) ever since, but it wasn’t until Catherine ordered me not to do any writing work for our entire thanksgiving long weekend, that I realized I not only had enough time to attempt a recording, but also a rather sweet (albeit small) window into which to speak my message.

Just as with my blog-title, “Hard Truth and a Big Hug” I’m always operating on the principle that we can’t ever show genuine compassion when we’re lying. For a very difficult moment, this means finding our hope (hugs) in new insights, ways of understanding, and overlooked signs of good spirit and humane potential – of which there are still quite a few.

I am a little bit of a bugger about one particular point – we can’t just scream upward about how we’re being badly treated. Honesty demands we also acknowledge the costs of our consumption on others with far less voice and power than even the least powerful and heard among us.

Solidarity means with everyone – not just our local downtrodden, but those of the whole darned world, or we’re still playing a team versus team game. To be clear, as Buckminster Fuller so brilliantly observed, technology has made humans so powerful that the choice before us now is between utopia or oblivion – there simply isn’t a muddle-through mediocrity plan in which any of our grandchildren survive.

As stark and frightening as that split is, there is a ton of hope in there as well. If we can respond to the unravelling of old patterns by engaging our intelligence and humane spirit together, we might transform our civilization into something which can richly endow and inform the ages, instead of consuming and then finally ending every last project of human culture conclusively (the suicide-pact track that we’re all on now – and still accelerating, inconveniences and truths notwithstanding).

We all know humans have both hopes and fears. I honestly believe that the potential for gathering and harnessing our hope has yet to be tapped. Sure, I’m also afraid that we’ll wake up and find that unified spirit too late, but I know it’s out there in resolute hearts across the world, and for now, that’s just enough to make asteroid conclusions as yet premature.

On a technical note – I’m sorry the video is so basic. The lyrics here are simply too specific to be easily addressed by my photo-ramblings. It would have taken me weeks, and that seemed like much too long.

For my fellow zero-budget recordists, I’m especially chuffed about my rich kick-drum noise here, produced by double-miking a heavy duty shipping box – one mic on the grip-hole (perfect ‘port’) and one on the top surface (perpendicular to that being struck). As for the striker, even a rubber-ball mallet proved much too sharp to find the box’s optimal ‘boom’ – but a cheap dollar store croc provided optimal force and surface. I did also use my favourite plastic salad-bowl drum (buy a diameter a bit bigger than the rim of a drumhead, then cut a notch in the side, to give it tension), but the brushes ended up sounding liveliest on the also double-miked bongos (which accidentally gave me fun stereo separation on the heads, too!)

And yes of course it took longer to edit and mix than it did to record – by a factor of somewhere between two and three – but as much of a head-strain as that giant jigsaw puzzle can be (nothing but computer programming comes close, in terms of interrelated moving parts held in dynamic suspension) I am happy to report that the hard work involved a great deal of giggling. For a fogey of my age, the crazy power of cheap digital recording tech feels almost indecent – like you’re getting away with something.

Or at very least (one sincerely hopes) pulling it off.
¯_(ツ)_/¯

Before you go, I should mention my MP3 Bonus for Patreon peeps.

If you sign up as my Patreon backer (at any level) you will instantly get the (320k) MP3 of this new tune (a full CD quality version will soon follow). And you will also have my official permission to share it with a couple of friends – no pirate hat required! (unless you need the pirate practise for halloween, in which case, you’re welcome!) ;o)

Please note – you can point everyone you know to this post and the public video on YouTube anyhow, I’m not burying the song in any way, just adding the respect deliberation and value factors of making something a little more of a choice than just another thoughtless click.

I won’t con you and say there is a ton of exclusive content on my Patreon site so far (though these treats will build steadily, just as my website has), but you will be notified about all my new stories, podcasts, history pieces and photo essays, and you will also enjoy the (perhaps dubious) satisfaction of helping me create, research, write, enthuse, study, photograph, illustrate and explain – in short to work my soapbox, refine my message, and keep speaking truth to power and powerless alike!

There’s just one family here, folks – and all our hopes and fears together.
¯_(ツ)_/¯

This is Not a Song – Fresh 2022 Re-mix

HEY WOW – COOL NEW SUPER-CLEAR REMIX As of July 2022!

(OMG do I ever wish I’d replaced my ancient ‘cans’ sooner)  ;o)


So, funny thing, my back is twisted into a pretzel, my time-tapping foot was twitching in my sleep last night (and may be in spasm by tonight), every one of my fingertips is raw, and the associated muscles along my forearms ache like they haven’t done in years. Add all of that up together and what do you get? I feel like I’m twenty years old again – seriously!

Don’t mean to say that my body would have been showing these standard mileage complaints – back then I did a ton of yoga every day, and I played some of something musical daily also – often several of several.

The reason I find myself weirdly buoyed is the result, not the collaterals – I wrote and recorded a new song from a standing start in a day! This may sound like an odd thing to be so delighted about, four minutes of crooning ought not to take ten years to plan (though sometimes…). What’s cool is that it’s been years since I accessed this skill-set so effectively, I was starting to think I’d lost it.

 

Go big-screen and crank the headphones, if you got ’em.

This one looks purdy and sounz sweeter!

Back in the 80s, starting with an old top-loader and a steno machine, moving to the immortal “Blaster bounce” and finally four-track cassette, I loved to record in my literal basement studio, and had friends old and new over all the time to play something that neither one of us had played before, and wouldn’t ever have tried, except for the way our ideas combined. I also had the world’s coolest landlady in those days – she didn’t just not mind the noise, she opened a bottle of wine for my Friday night free improv sessions and took a comfy seat near the air vent, where she could best enjoy her own private concert.

The music did not absolutely always work – and even when it did, some of the prettiest results were wild and very far-out, rather than songlike in structure. But the days when I had a pal over and they wrote lyrics (or sometimes hunted them from Bartlett’s familiar quotations), while I programmed a drum pattern and set up a few nifty sequences for us to play around atop, and we finished the day with a brand new (and often surprisingly catchy) recorded song, are some of my lifelong favourite creative sharings. Also good to know I can still tap this rich vein solo, when Murphy so allows.

I do have much weirder stuff (to be sure) and also much more deliberate stuff (this is just a ‘systems check’ for a far more complex tune that I hoped might be half as peppy as this one turned out to be spontaneously), but I’m always especially delighted when the thing just seems to click. Best to bow and smile and say thanks universe!

My dear feckless bass was especially forgiving, considering my years of cruel absence (and much as I do like cowbell, I say more ocarina on everything!), fun to get the xaphoon out again too. Clarinet and trumpet call next – much overdue. Time for another proper tilt (and fun with mutes, to be kind to sheltering neighbours). Fretting the bass didn’t hurt while I was doing it, but covering all the holes on the tenor recorder afterward (with swollen fingertips) outright hurt! (first ever hunt for an award of machismo-points for recorder playing – you have to give me that much, at least). ;o)

Most important of all though was Catherine, who listened to an early mix and called me on what I thought were “emotionally compelling” (raw and overstrained) vocals, and had the nerve to throw a bucket of cold water on my initial excitement, so I’d go back and do the groove and the surprisingly bright lyrics far better justice.

One day (and a half an hour of extra vocal tracking later, in case anyone wants to accuse me of cheating) and the whole thing is utterly transformed. There are my old sweet harmonies again! Huzzah!

I feel like dancing – and once I’ve fully recovered, may just do exactly that! Or more likely, I’ll get straight into even more trouble with sound, and build those musicles calluses and embrouchures back up into shape again.  Life is too weird not to drink deeply!

Cheers folks – sincerely hope you enjoy the not-song in good spirit and good health. Lots of love from our groundhog bolt-hole (which a woodchuck definitely would) to your warm nest and family.

Paul Snyders

Toronto – 2020

My valentine – your smile

I decided to take this week off from podcasting (back next week, fear not) so that I could put together a silly little video for my true love (and wife) Catherine. The video is for a song I wrote for her and recorded almost twenty years ago, when she was at a different, also-difficult point in her life.

It can be very hard to watch someone you love, struggle with their response to new challenges. We can easily be tempted to try to use emotional pressure to make them do whatever we think (hope?) will best solve their dilemma.

But no matter how much you love someone, you cannot ever be the captain for their central life-quest – it has to come from them, in order to really work. (there’s more about this idea, in my book Structural Happiness)

Thing is, even if we can’t actually steer, and shouldn’t press (adding stress) – what we spouses really can do when our loved ones are facing a daunting challenge, is support, encourage, nourish, affirm, hug, kiss, challenge, stimulate, assist and cooperate.

Faithful sidekick is a good, practical and honourable role – and one which challenges and enables our partner to rise to their best, and also relieves us of the emotional burden of solving a thing which we, by definition, cannot.

It’s not easy, but it is complete and robust in a way that reservations and secrets do not allow.  We’ve always been that way – all-in – each doing our best to be a steady and reliable Sancho Panza for the other’s Quixote – no matter what sort of challenges have presented, by the hour, the year or the decade.

Still can’t imagine any other way to do it – or any other, I could do it with.

I’m also still very pleased about the basic message of the song:

Yes, it’s a bit of a tough patch – but we’re in it together, so it’s the best tough-patch in the world.

A small note about the images for the video. I have been taking much sharper photographs recently, but each of the images in this video is of a place which meant a lot to us. Sometimes a grand adventure, sometimes just a really great day. Plenty of memorable animal friends, too.

I wasn’t sure whether the images would have any resonance for others, until I realized that these snippets of warmth are exactly the common elements of every long-arc relationship – and that their specificity itself had a universality to it. In potentia, at any rate – I’ll let you judge the results yourself.

Cheers my friends – sincerely hope you enjoy it

PS – my sincere apologies to guitar players everywhere, (I just didn’t happen to have one of you handy).

PPS – I wrote this tune soon after taking up the bass (this is a P-Bass copy), and Bass is a truly wonderful instrumental perspective to write songs from. Unfortunately, there are physical demands and adaptations required, also – and as so often in the past, my enthusiasm FAR outstripped my acclimation. On this recording, every finger had a band-aid protecting a friction blister. Calluses began soon after.
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Solstice Seasonal Book Sale!

Hi Folks – firstly, I’d like to wish everyone a funky solstice.  Seems like a perfect time for a solstice book sale (special pricing for the chill months of Winter).  If you’re curious about the books, and what sort of themes I write about, please do check out the video below, in which I explain that clearly, and then read a little section from each of the books.

And while I’m mentioning the video – I’d love to know how many of my friends are into podcasts and audiobooks. I can produce higher quality pure-audio material, faster and more easily than video – plus, reactivating those dormant chops will also bring me closer to radio-worthiness, a skill-set (and high honour) that I’m trying to actively cultivate.

I love my wonderfully wide range of readers and listeners, and I don’t want to start leaving anyone out, who might or does enjoy what I have to offer.  If you find you listen to these readings and political standup vids while puttering, that would also be great to know – I can easily post FB and Youtube versions of audio programs to maintain full reach in all formats, use a simple image to front the audio “show” – but still save the bother (and bandwidth) of live video.

Honestly, I just keep thinking of the much-missed Mike Schnieder – the heart moving power of his smiling face and very personal readings.  I guess I feel a lingering duty of gratitude, to try to put some honest warmth into the big mix for others, as he did – if I can figure out how to mesh my own particular skills and insights with a correctly-calibrated megaphone (and/or kazoo).  ;o)

If you just want the facts of the sale – each of the individual books is discounted by five or six bucks Canadian – “Night Song for Cigar-Box Banjo” is on sale for 9.99 instead of 14.99, “Structural Happiness” is on sale for 11.99 instead of 16.99, “The Kind of Friend You Need” is on sale for 12.99 instead of 18.99 – and the set of all three books is discounted especially much – 29.99 – as compared to 50.97 at regular individual price, and even a full ten bucks discount, compared to the previous all-three books, special ‘bundle’ price.

Now I know my stand-ups tend to be political, my songs zany, and many of my posts and essays take a philosophical perspective of one sort or another – but my books all have one cluster of related themes at their root. There really should be one single word which covers every part of this big and important subject, but if there is, I don’t know it.

The parts are: compassion, love, gratitude, friendship, respect, curiosity, sincerity, sacrifice, humility and principle – doing well and caring. Finding strong principled reasons to grow our strength of heart – and keep up the life-long struggle to maximize our humane capacity. Standing still on this stuff is losing ground – surrendering to the cold grey lonely.

This essentially spiritual approach is also political, in a way – because we’ll need strong hearts and big compassion to face the huge ecological and economic challenges ahead. But aside from learning more kindness as we go, standing up for underdogs, wanting us humans to make it, and remembering that humility is as useful as willpower (the necessary balance, in fact) I am essentially agenda-free. These volumes can be read and enjoyed as stories of funny historical and creative eccentrics, for clues to individual happiness, or even for lessons about effective service to others, inspiration and art, and the costs of reckless vanity.

I’d have a much easier time explaining my books if I had a spiritual or cultural faction – but not only am I from a lost civilization, I am also determined to open communication wider as I go – which means helping people who don’t often see common understanding and priorities with others, realize that they’ve actually shared many values and feelings, all along.

There are definitely some hard-knocks lessons in the books – demanded by my own foolishness, almost always – much wisdom from a range of teachers official and otherwise – but most of all I’ve tried to capture an interesting selection of those difficult to define situations, from which we emerge forever changed.
Whether subtle, sublime or pithy in form, there’s still no better word for this life-quality than grace.

Cheers and a truly funky solstice to all my friends, old and new – and thanks so much for stopping by.

Hope you find light and delight in these Large Ess volumes (and the many more, yet to come).
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Absolut(ists) and Brutal(ities)

Here’s another bit of political stand-up, this time with the gloves off, because big lies really are not ever helpful, and memory almost always is.  And also because it’s important to recognize the seriousness of the challenges before us – life or death, no less – and humane freedom itself, always in the balance – even if it is more often taken as a mere bargaining chip, than the main stakes of the deal.

So many of the most crucial qualities of life really ain’t about what you do, but have always been dependent on “the way that you do it” – far more subtle understandings and balances – almost western Wu-wei, in a weird way – that fundamental and most oft-admired property, coolth.

You will notice that I do challenge dishonest and especially sneering propaganda head-on, but I’m doing it because of the bullying built into the lies, many just causes silenced, and victims erased – not for mere amusement or sport.

The things that bother us most, are a lot like those objects which can famously appear much larger in the side-mirror, than they actually are – but being rational is about establishing the most objective and valid ratios of importance between things and ideas around us.

Plenty of ideas that are emotionally appealing to one group of people (especially an aroused domestic political audience), cause outsize harm elsewhere – (especially to people who have long suffered great damage in silence, and were hoping they might finally be listened-to, and considered with respect).

No FB compression here – true 720/60 HZ – full-screen it, by all means

(or just listen in the background as you putter, I really do have a face for radio)

Ratios of importance are critical to all things rational (including the derivation of the word itself) – and as beautiful a domestic football as “Evil Russia” has been and remains for the American political audience – going all the way back to Kennedy versus Nixon, and Ike before him – to have to watch both the Democrats AND Republicans deliberately and actively increasing the likelihood of conflict with all their might, for no other reason than to excite their base, is absolutely grotesque.

Play the puppet-show how you must – if you must – but leave the planet-killers in the damned silos, if you please (and resist every temptation closer to that precipice as if it was, what it actually is – a very serious risk of ending everything humane and good on the planet, all at once, forever).

An incomparably ruder approach than the billion-camera instalment-plan destruction-show that we’ve all worked so hard over the last few decades to create, and then analyzed and scheduled with such wonderfully teasing and yet altogether terrifying dynamics – truly, the ultimate we-done-it.

Never can tell what freaky thing will happen next, these days – but you can be sure someone will be mad about it on your behalf – no matter what you think.

As a guy who has been actively studying and sacrificing for the environment for forty years now, the way it looks to me is – either we all of us make it, or else none of us will – and so far I’m for the team that says yes, why not at least try to survive – just as long as we can save friendship, love, loyalty, principle, sacrifice and creativity.

And if we can’t preserve our greatest gifts and strengths?

Maybe it is time to let something less destructive have a go.
Just to prove that we really meant it about fitness and fairness, all along.
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The thin man speaks

Sorry it’s been so long, folks. Thanks to a medical emergency, life got extremely frightening there for a few weeks, and Catherine and I are only just beginning to recover our normal selves, from dire emergency mode.

I’m working hard in two directions at once just now. Trying to develop a bit more income, so Catherine can concentrate on long term recovery, and also preparing a show – not for vanity or fancy purposes, but out of clear and inescapable duty.

Each of us has a unique experience of life, and we are presented with opportunities to learn, as we go. Some of the hardest things I’ve had to endure, and some of the sweetest things I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, have taught me a combination of lessons I don’t see reflected anywhere.

This means I can’t just be a fan, or buy a T-shirt. If I want these humane truths to be recognized and do useful work in the world, I have to demonstrate them myself – and then also stick around long enough to answer questions, afterward – clarify defend and extend the ideas, until they gain momentum.

Very simply – I can’t stand how many victims are created by righteous talk which is not powered by knowledge, humility, sensitivity or awareness, but instead by fury-justifying ego.

The walking wounded are everywhere now – some physically, and many more still with psychological wounds, far harder to see. In a very real way, it is everyone else – the health and wealth fortunate, but indignant – who are the modern zombies – because the thing the wounded all have in common, is that they have been forced into learning about compassion, because of limits they didn’t choose.

“Why should I?” – “Why don’t they?” –  “We should make them, or else” – all of these very popular and common feelings are expressions of severe and harmful mental disease and grotesque ingratitude. Both infantile, and highly poisonous to others.

“How can I help?” – “When do you need me?” – “Why can’t we do more?”
These are things a truly strong and responsible adult says, to those around them who are struggling.

Being angry about what is wrong is understandable – but solving it is our job – and that means getting way past the tantrum throwing, and doing the real work.

Not the most popular message I could choose, I will grant – but that just makes my duty even greater. I’m good at unpopular on principle, and at carrying the difficult load for the long haul – not just because my tough childhood taught me endurance, but because my studies have taught me about overcoming what I once thought were hard limits, on behalf of those who need me.

I do hope that some of what I have to say resonates for you right away – but even more, I hope that the parts of my message that bug you, stay with you – the same way radical musicians like Varese, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman once bothered me greatly, until I finally realized that the lessons they had to offer me, were the ones I needed most.

Love and strength to you all – connection too – and not for some sappy pollyanna feel-good reason – I’m being rigorously practical here.

We cannot possibly work our way out of this mess without shared purpose – and we cannot possibly find that, with our heads stuck so very far up our…. well, you know.

Thin man, signing out – Asta la vista, folks!
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The Magic Trick

Here’s a stand-up both gentle and fierce, in which I try to make a few big challenging points that some of my friends will no doubt find irritating. Hopefully stimulating and funny also, and above all, may they ultimately prove productive and useful.

Politics is incredibly frustrating – there’s no question about that. But rather than rehearsing our justifications for anger, it’s worth asking – what are we still not seeing – and what might have greater effect than tribalist anger?

As a writer, a mister-curious, a lover of human-striving and a man from a lost civilization, I cultivate an unusual range of friends. Being a writer alone obligates me to extend fair understanding even to the ideas I disagree with, because otherwise it is impossible to tell any deep truth about people at all. But my other qualities of weird openness have proven something else to me. Every faction enjoys a few treasured delusions, and also has some insight others lack. Humour too, and culture the hostile never get to see.

I know leftists and rightists, authoritarian statists and fierce libertarians, people from near and far, also – but most importantly, I know people who are in their seventies and eighties, and people who are in their teens and twenties – and the difference between their insights and illusions isn’t just stark (and frankly, painful) it’s also blocking crucial progress.

The older folks do have a lot of analog humane insights with real value – and my own curious X-er cohort has the strange perspective of the blend – we saw where digital came from, and still remember what came before.

But I have to say, the most blindingly obvious thing to young people actually is far more important than all of the things we grey-hairs obsess about so self-importantly, put together.

How do we prevent near-term and never ending global catastrophe, produced by our own freedom to be ignorant, multiplied on scales too vast for us individuals to comprehend – without giving up on freedom altogether, as a tried and failed experiment?

A lethal footprint out of all proportion to any transitory value created.

Seriously folks – if we ever had any duty to honour at all – that answer is it.
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Special Exemption for Tricycles

“Paint the town green” (from a story by the author, age 8)

Hello friends, grab a coffee – it’s story time!

Today I have a full early chapter from my newest book – “The Kind of Friend You Need” – which is a collection of mostly-funny short stories from a child’s point of view, about heart, mind and soul saving friendships, in very strange times indeed (growing up in a 60s and 70s commune).

I do strive for eccentric colour, gratitude, practical wisdom and uplift in all of my books – because I think everyone has enough of their own trouble nowadays – but these tales together are also a (hopefully useful) reflection on some of the ways that wishful thinking in groups, can end up going very wrong indeed.

This particular story moves through play over many years – and it covers a place, rather than people – but it was a place that hosted considerable shared warmth and had saving value for many – so in a curious way, though unlike the other tales in style, it still makes a perfect overture for all.

Hope you enjoy – and do please pardon the stumblings. I am still working on my rhetoric – meter and diction, especially (and yes, I promise I’ll have the tin-can reverb adjusted by pixies, just as soon as I assemble the appropriate and adequate tribute to so induce them).
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What doesn’t, makes me stronger

Hello folks, time for me to do another stand-up. I was planning to do some funny (and perhaps in places even inspiring) readings about teaching, but those plans were pre-empted by events.

So instead, I have a heavy one for you today – some insights into questions of suicide, self-worth, self-definition and forgiveness. There are four poems in here also, which bear directly on these matters – especially the idea-traps that well-meaning people can get caught in, which can sometimes utterly destroy their hope and spirit.

I don’t want to make anyone sad, by identifying as someone who struggles with big questions which ought to be more easily settled. But I have to be honest and say this, because to some I seem confident, cheerful excited, enthusiastic and funny. All of these are entirely sincere expressions and interactions, I’m not faking or play-acting, but they can still be the outward signs of someone who is also struggling with serious turmoil, on levels much deeper down.

The very last time I saw a dear friend who took her own life, I went away from the encounter (and hug) thinking – she seems happier than she has in ages.

Now is the time we have for kindness and love – and every creative possibility.

Only now.

I sincerely hope the insights within are helpful and healing to some of my struggling and compassionate friends. No darkness here for mere sport – light-seeking, always – and hard won lessons, only.

Worth the weight (fingers crossed)
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Magic Days

Here’s something that I’ve been intending for awhile – a reading of “Magic Days” which is the introduction to my book, “Structural Happiness.” It tells the story of the night I wrote my first love song for Catherine, and I even managed to dig up the original 1983 song itself (very silly, but entirely heartfelt) – so you can enjoy that bit of analog whimsy, right after the reading.

I have a funny challenge, when it comes to explaining my books. My articles range so widely, and I know I can seem awfully serious and overly intellectual sometimes, and then also too playful or opinionated at other moments – but I do actually have a very clear primary focus for my larger works.

It just happens to be a rare one, so it’s harder than it should be to describe.

I am serious – about love, respect, gratitude, curiosity, compassion, heart-saving humour, understanding, helping others, and learning new ways to approach the world which add new potentials for us all.

I am very serious about being entirely silly sometimes, too – because life isn’t an essay or an exam. We may imagine time any way we want, but we experience it in just one direction. We don’t get to have a practise-run first, and then go back for a perfect do-over afterward, because we forgot to enjoy ourselves.

The only time to dance, play, love, connect, try, laugh create and help is now.

To me, true intelligence isn’t used as a weapon for competing or defeating others – but taken up as a natural and inescapable – even joyous – duty.

To the heart first – from which all honour and purpose radiate.

Whoops, being too serious again, right? – but just wait ’till you hear the song at the end of the story – you may never stop chuckling (or toe-tapping) ;o)
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Three Books

Hey folks – thanks for stopping by again – here’s part two of my getting over my shyness project, entitled “Three Books” in which the publisher discusses his various splendid offerings.

Not exactly industrial light and magic (four bucks worth of green card and four of blue from the dollar store – lighting package provided by our nearest star), but I’m enjoying myself – and it’s great to be able to show people the fun inside the covers at last.

Went a bit silly with my costume – but the books are all real and available now from this very website – just click (SHOP) above – not only that, they’re excellent and entirely original in every way (great presents for the creatives, eccentrics and empaths on your list – and for any reader who judges curiosity love and compassion our greatest treasures, duties and joys).

I am also bound as technician and zero-budget creator to note the very first Lambert which I have ever had occasion to regret making! Even the finest rule requires exceptions for circumstance – which is itself an excellent clue to which of ‘ego and will’ versus ‘reality on the day’ is more important in the final analysis!

More on the overlooked importance of Lamberts soon – the uninitiated will be wonderstruck!
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Getting over my shyness

My third book is just about here, and that means it’s time for me to build up some of the complimentary skills that pair well with being creatively relentless.

You know how much fun I have playing with the written word for educational, humorous and dramatic purposes? Well my next challenge is to set aside what I’m comfortable with, and do a bit of stand-up.

Not comedy (Catherine rules the house on that front, in any case, by miles) but reading some of my work aloud – which makes me feel shy, and also activates all of my old hunger to polish visual audio and video things, and make them as slick as I can.

But of course – the production rhythm of a creative piece isn’t the same as a casual chat with a friend – and it’s the second of these I need to do much more of, and hopefully get comfortable with.

So here is my first completely unpolished shyness-confronting video. Many more to come (so this will hopefully look more and more ridiculous, over time, as I become marginally less so, by gradual degrees).

Thanks for stopping by, folks. Lots more fun inbound.

The story of the first love song I wrote for my super-cool wife – next time!
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