On newer beginnings…

August already: it’s been a while since I posted something other than news of new releases here, and in the last week I’ve taken the opportunity to merge my previously separate blog (‘Hundreds of Things’) into this site: it seemed to make sense to do that, given that I’m not good at the whole split personality thing. It’s tidier too, I suspect.

One reason for this post is to announce that I’m starting work on a series of limited releases, which have yet to take form, but which will I think be entirely guitar-borne pieces; attempts to distill what I normally do, which is labour-intensive, multi-layered and, ultimately, the source of much metaphorical wringing-of-hands, into something more immediate. I’d also like to do more with the physical form of these releases, which are likely to be fairly limited in nature, but which should be on CDR. I’ve been inspired to do more with packaging recently and I’m hoping these items will be a little more special than what has gone before. More on this as the project takes form, but if you’re interested in getting hold of these releases, let me know.

I’m also glad to report that work is gathering pace on a trio of connected releases which are made up only of live Theremin and effects, with no subsequent processing, layering or overdubs. This trilogy is called Aegean Sea Blue and I like to think it will be finished shortly. If others don’t feel keen to release these discs, they will come out on Dust, Unsettled. Again: more soon.

Also, my first ever LP, Magdalena, which is again a guitar-only album should be out this Autumn on my good friend Kyle Wright’s excellent label, Diophantine Discs. I’m very excited and honoured that Kyle wants to put this out as an LP; it was written for that format and I hope it works over two sides of vinyl. (Having said that, Supernaturalist was originally intended as a double LP set, but the financial implications of that were, shall we say, a steep climb…)

The first Space Weather album has got some very nice comments from people and seems to be doing well. Of course, it’s still available from me (and from Alistair and Paz) if you’d like to get a copy. Although I have difficulty sometimes with the intent behind the write-ups on the Volcanic Tongue site, David Keenan was kind enough to name-drop Popul Vuh when describing the album, which made me smile.

That’s all for now, but I’ll have more news very soon including details of two new releases (not by me, I should say!) on Dust, Unsettled. Keep listening; and thank you for lending your ears thus far.

A Dedication to my Wife

To whom I owe the leaping delight
That quickens my senses in our wakingtime
And the rhythm that governs the repose of our sleepingtime,
The breathing in unison

Of lovers whose bodies smell of each other
Who think the same thoughts without need of speech
And babble the same speech without need of meaning.

No peevish winter wind shall chill
No sullen tropic sun shall wither
The roses in the rose-garden which is ours and ours only

But this dedication is for others to read:
These are private words addressed to you in public.

—T.S. Eliot, A Dedication to my Wife

Bliadhna mhath ùr

Sunset over Findhorn Bay
I’d like to wish a happy and healthy new year to all my family and friends, and to everyone else who stumbles upon this blog. One of my resolutions for 2009 (one of many…) is to post more often, and to post more often on tea.

It’s a big year for us: Jill and I will be married on 21 March, the vernal equinox, and I’m a month into a new job which is going very well.

Hope to see you all in 2009!

The fruits of friendship

Space Weather album cover
I’ve been listening to the Weather tonight, and for a large part of this week in fact.

By that I mean I’ve been listening to the fruits of the Space Weather recording session last Saturday in Glasgow. The line-up was as it is now and ever shall be, amen: Alistair Crosbie (electric guitar), me (synthesizer) and Andrew Paine (electric bass guitar).

It was another excellent session, full of laughter and joyous camaraderie, and it makes me think that for all we strive to do our solo recordings on our own to the best of our abilities, there is nothing like playing good music with good friends. I begin to see why certain people hate all the faff of studio work and live to play live together, whether that’s in front of an audience or not. There are some moments and extended passages of real beauty in what we did at the weekend, and that’s down to the three of us doing more or less with what we have in front of us.

There were pieces from the session which were just beautiful: understated and contemplative, but slowly burning with that strange SW magic that infects the first album we’ve already done (the cover is image at the top of this post).

There are also moments of pure wonderment at how these tracks come across in their recorded form, when compared to how I remember us playing them. Did we actually do this? It seems hard to believe. But the actuality of the smiles on our faces as we played them, and the memory of those smiles now, are the greater rewards in all of this.

One of the pieces essayed on Saturday was a long floating instrumental, which reminds me quite a bit of the work of a US group called Alien Planetscapes, who were stalwarts of the 80s home taper scene. They worked in a few experimental styles, but this kind of eerie space rock, with brilliant free floating bass (courtesy of Mr. P), was the kind of thing they did best I think.

One more session like last Saturday’s and we will have a second album to contend with before the first is even out. It makes you think…

The passage of time

We stood by a pond that winter day,
And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,
And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,
–They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove
Over tedious riddles solved years ago;
And some words played between us to and fro–
On which lost the more by our love.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing
Alive enough to have strength to die;
And a grin of bitterness swept thereby
Like an ominous bird a-wing….

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,
And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me
Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,
And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

At school, I had a fundamental difficulty with Robert Hardy’s work. I read Return of the Native in my last year, and I recall not enjoying it at all. Worse than that, Hardy’s Wessex was colourless, plodding and its denizens devoid of hope, at least as far as I could tell from my limited reading of that novel twenty years ago.

The poem above (‘Neutral Tones’) is from the 1898 volume Wessex Poems And Other Verses and I was amazed to drink in its bleak outlook. It rejoices in its lack of colour and now that seems to me to be an integral part of its beauty.

Our tastes changes over time; what was once dull for me because it seemed colourless is now emotionally effecting precisely because of that colourlessness. I should try Hardy again in longer form. Perhaps twenty years later I’ll be able to take some pleasure from its joyless panoply.

First FED-2 photographs

Here are my first efforts with this camera. The film is Ilford Delta 400 and these are scanned from prints, which were developed locally. They’re straight scans, without any processing or cleaning.

I’m not sure I like the tints which the developing process has added to some, although not all, of the five I’ve posted here. I’ll need to investigate developing at home!

There were quite a few of the photographs I wasn’t happy with; I certainly need more practice with the camera, but these five at least confirmed my FED-2 seems to work well enough and the FED 50 lens is clear. More soon.

Passing through fire and frost

I’ve just received a beautiful new (well, really quite old) FED-2 rangefinder camera made in the former Soviet Union some time in the 1950s. The FED-2 was the first and very successful attempt by Soviet camera makers to improve upon the original and vastly more expensive Leica II and IIIg designs.

The camera above is unusual because it’s finished in black enamel, so this is an opportunity to see how the FED-2 would have looked if that finish had ever been available on a camera out of the FED factory. It never was, and this finish is in fact the detailed modern enamelling work of a skilled restorer from Odessa in Ukraine.

The story of the FED factory is an interesting if unpalatable one. The factory (???) in Kharkov was an orphanage-turned-work-commune named for Felix E. Dzerzhinsky, founder of the original Soviet Secret Police, the Cheka (later the NKVD).

And the origin of the title of this post? It’s from an old Soviet song about war journalism:

With Leica and with notepad
And sometimes with machine gun
We passed through fire and frost.

Stephen Rothery has a controversial conspiracy theory that the early Leica I and II models were clones of the first FED rangefinder (the FED-1 or Fedka). He posits that the Leica in the song was simply a genericised trademark and that, for some time in the 1920s to the early 1940s, Leica in Russian was a synonym for a 35mm camera. I’m not sure about this, but it’s a good story…

Anyway, these are rugged, inexpensive machines that take great photographs, on good old fashioned film. I plan to use this pretty much exclusively for black and white photography; perhaps I’ll post some shots here after I’ve used it for a bit.

[Edit: 23 June 2008: I worked out the camera is from 1955 and is the type ‘a’ version of the FED-2. I’ve added a wonderful little wrist strap from Gordy’s Camera Straps. Elegant, simple and rugged. And very reasonably priced too! The camera, which is heavy enough, feels safe hanging on it. Highly recommended.]