progress report 2

We’re over three-quarters of the way through 2016: A Creative Year, and it’s been a long time since my last progress report so here goes:

In March, I increased my working hours so I’ve less time and energy to devote to creative activities.

I recently spent a weekend sorting through the accumulation of stuff in my garden office. It was desperately in need of a clean, but in doing so I found a lot of stuff that I’ve never used so it was time to send it somewhere it could be utilised. I found it hard to get rid of things like sketch pads and paint brushes, that I’d acquired in the hope of achieving some creative dreams, and it was an effort to remind myself that getting rid of them isn’t the same as abandoning those dreams.  Anyway the space is more usable now, even if I’ve still to set up all the equipment again, so that’s a benefit.


In May, I took part in the Duxford Saturday Workshop’s members’ concert. It was an enjoyable day, with several hundred people of all ages performing in their groups, so the primary school corridors were full of people waiting their turn, practicing nervously. The mixed abilities ukulele group played Brain Damage from Dark Side of the  Moon. I’d been careful to practice in good time to warm my fingers up but unfortunately the knuckles of my left hand locked as they sometimes do, so I could only pretend to play along, which was frustrating.

Shortly after the concert, I started attending weekly music therapy sessions at Anglia Ruskin University through Cambridgeshire Music.  This is a fantastic safe environment to explore and experiment, so I’ve tried playing guitar, saxophone, piano accordion, and piano, sometimes solo but sometimes Susan accompanies me on guitar or piano. She’s very talented and can improvise effectively around whatever sounds I’m producing.

As a result of her patience and encouragement I finally bought a guitar, an electro-acoustic Washburn which I practice on at every opportunity. I particularly enjoy it when Susan and I make music together.

With the onset of the new school year, the Duxford Saturday workshops resumed, and adjustments to the timetable meant that I was able to join the beginners’  guitar group as well as return to the mixed abilities ukulele group.

The structure provided by weekly music therapy sessions and Saturday workshops  provides very helpful encouragement to practice, though I find that I’m neglecting the ukulele in favour of the guitar.


I’ve sketched a few times at lunchtime at work. It’s been pleasant but during the summer I spent too long sitting in the direct sun, and fainted on my return to the office.  no painting


I’ve still to complete the god’s view labyrinth sketch but I’ve devoted a lot of time trying to develop a path-following algorithm. I’m tempted to hard-code the sketch by running it once and saving the co-ordinates for the ‘people’ to follow, but that would lose the ability to pick randomly from a set of vector paths representing different labyrinths, so I’m loathe to take that route.


In what I now think of as ‘my ‘other’ job, I’ve been training other people on setting up websites using WordPress, but it’s not creative.


I’ve made several After Dark photography expeditions, exploring the streets of Cambridge city centre at night, which reminds me: I’ve still to post the shots from what I call the Dark Rain expedition.

I still haven’t done any light painting, and I have several other projects I want to try but I’ll keep those to myself for now. Off-camera flash offers a lot of interesting potential.

Friday, October 21st, 2016 coding, creativity, music, photography No Comments

progress report

We’re over half-way through February, so it seems high time for a progress report on 2016: a creative year, so I’ll take a brief look at each area:

Ukulele, guitar

I’ve attended all four sessions of the Duxford community music group in the first half of the spring term, and the list of pieces to practice has grown each week. During this current half-term break, I’m concentrating on Frere Jaques, Everything Stops For Tea, Messing About on the River, 12 Bar Blues, and Brain Damage (yes, the Pink Floyd track from Dark Side of the Moon). It’s good to have a variety of numbers to focus on, but this has distracted me from  following the programme of exercises in Ukulele Aerobics by Johnson Chad.

On a more practical and slightly more public note, I’ve accepted an offer from one of the volunteers in the Cambourne Timebank scheme to help me develop my ukulele and guitar playing. We’ve provisionally arranged to hold our first session one evening this week.


The nights are still long so it’s a good time of year for low-light photography, but, although it’s been a relatively mild winter so far, I find it too cold to go out taking photographs without a specific event to reach, so I keep postponing my tentatively-planned expeditions. I got as far as buying two small torches for light painting but haven’t used them yet. Instead, I’ve read two of my photography books on using off-camera flash guns: Studio Lighting Unplugged by Rod and Robin Deutschman and Speedliter’s Handbook by Syl Arena. Yes, I know that reading about something isn’t the same as actually doing it, but I’ve hardly used my flash gun and feel very unprepared to start using this versatile piece of equipment without a lot of guided practice and experiment.


I seem to be bombarded with ideas for coding projects. Everywhere I go, I want to create a code version. The latest two ideas are: a drawing programme with a kaleidoscope feature, based on an exhibit at the Camera Obscura World of Illusions in Edinburgh that Mandy and I visited last week. Mandy found it very therapeutic, so a browser-based sketch written in p5.js seemed a perfect way to create one for her.

The second recent idea is a representation of a visual metaphor used in The Brain with Brian Eagleman, a documentary series currently showing on BBC. The metaphor was to illustrate the impact of multiple minute differences, and consisted of a box with several rows of mousetraps, each primed with a table tennis ball. Brian dropped another table tennis ball into the box which triggered a mousetrap into releasing its ball which then flew up then landed on another trap which then released its ball. Within seconds the box was full of colliding balls all landing on traps and releasing yet more balls. It seemed a perfect opportunity for some OOPs coding, but I’m daunted by the idea of trying to simulate the physics of spinning balls. This calls for a simplification.

Drawing and painting

No activity to report.


I’ve offered to help Laura, the organiser of Cambourne Timebank to set up a website for the scheme, and to illustrate the scheme by taking photographs and editing a video of activities.

In conclusion, I have achieved little finished output for the first seven weeks of 2016, but I have plenty of material to work on in the coming weeks. To keep myself on track, I need a thorough review and overhaul of my Trello board dedicated to 2016: a creative year.


Saturday, February 20th, 2016 coding, creativity, music, photography 2 Comments

thirstquenchin’ acetastin’ motivatin’ goodbuzzin’ cooltalkin’ finger-pickin’ g-chords

This morning saw the first major step of 2016-a creative year: I went to my first Saturday music workshop in Duxford. The ukulele section was a small friendly bunch, led by Martyn who also leads the guitar group. There was a small bit of chord theory, playing groups of chords in particular keys, followed by introductory finger-picking which revealed my poor technique of holding chord shapes whereby my fingers are resting on other strings. So, as a result, and as I  suspected, I now have a lot to focus on in my practice.

But I will press on, undaunted, and keep pickin’ those fingers and honin’ those 12 bar blues as well as jumpin’ Jack Flash which are my first targets.


Saturday, January 9th, 2016 music No Comments

a creative year

I’m giving 2016 a theme: a creative year. My focus for the year is to: develop creative skills.

I’n recent months, I’ve posted the results of my night photography expeditions, and I plan to continue these, branching into experiments with light painting.  In addition to photography, I’m keen to extend my ukulele playing, and I’ve arranged to start in a community music workshop that meets on Saturday mornings in Duxford. I’m also looking at other creative skills: drawing, painting and coding.

Prompted by a post on the Trello blog, I’ve created a Trello board for specific goals and tasks to help me focus on developing these creative skills.

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Thursday, January 7th, 2016 coding, creativity, drawing, music, photography 1 Comment

penguin cafe (nee cafe orchestra)

“Eccentric, charming, accommodating, surprising, seductive, warm, reliable, modest and unforgettable”

Brian Eno

That’s what Brian thinks about Penguin Cafe, according to their publicity material and I certainly wouldn’t disagree. They performed a rare concert last night in the impressive new concert hall at Saffron Hall, and played live on Radio 3 in the run up to the concert.

Arthur Jeffes (son of Simon Jeffes, founder of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra) is in a difficult position. The group, now called Penguin Cafe, opened their concert in Saffron Walden last night with ‘Telephone and Rubber Band’, which never fails to make me smile, and closed their encore with the joyous ‘Music for a Found Harmonium’.

Between these two numbers, they performed a mixture of old (‘Southern Jukebox’, ‘Perpetuum Mobile’, Bean Fields’, ‘In the Back of a Taxi’) and new pieces mainly from ‘The Red Book’ (‘1420’, ‘Black Hibiscus’, ‘Bluejay’, ‘Odeon’). Arthur introduced them all, often with fond reference to his father’s work, and sometimes mentioning his childhood memories of them. The older pieces, usually involved a wider range of instruments, such as a melodica, are still quirky, lively and eccentric, and obviously pleased the crowd.

His enthusiasm for ‘1420’ was obvious, but he appeared slightly nervous when introducing two pieces as ‘world premieres’. He described a new piece called ‘Birdwatching’ as a reworking of a favourite tune by Cornelius, who is, apparently, a “Japanese Brian Eno”, which for me is a good introduction that made me warm to it in advance, and it rewarded my openness with the lively passion and quirkiness I expect of PCO.

For the first encore piece, Arthur played solo piano for Harry Piers (sp?), a piece he wrote for his father’s memorial.  It, too, had emotion, presumably from the memories it evoked, despite its repetitive minimalist style, and was played with passion.

In contrast, the newer work generally lacked the energy and eccentricity of the older pieces, which is why I described Arthur as being in a difficult position. The choice of encore was clearly justified as they finished to an almost unanimous standing ovation. Can Penguin Cafe create new work that meets the expectations of fans of the older music, and continue to perform the older pieces with the required freshness and vitality? On the basis of last night’s concert, they most definitely can, providing they don’t let it slide into bland niceness.


Sunday, February 8th, 2015 music 1 Comment

keep music live

In my younger days, I went to many live music concerts, and have fond memories in particular of seeing both Laurie Anderson and Kraftwerk on several occasions.

In more recent years I’ve been to very few concerts. Indeed, the most recent live music I’ve experienced was hearing guitarist Steve Bean play at my wedding in July this year. I really enjoyed that experience. He is highly talented with a wide repertoire (from Rodriguez’ Caravan d’Aranjuez to Bohemian Rhapsody) and has played with Rodrigo y Gabriela.

A recent quick perusal, however, of the What’s On section of the website for the Cambridge Corn Exchange, revealed two must-see performances.  As a result, I now have tickets to see Philip Glass perform Koyanisqaatsi there on 14 November and the afore-mentioned Rodrigo y Gabriela on 1st December. Exciting! It almost makes up for missing Steve Reich and Kraftwerk perform in a double bill at the Manchester International Festival around 2009.

Monday, October 6th, 2014 music No Comments

from fingerboard to fretboard

It’s been a good day for music. First of all, I stumbled across Brian Eno and Karl Hyde performing tracks from their new album Someday World live on BBC Radio 6. And tonight I received advance notice of a new release next week of music by Philip Glass’ String Quartets performed by The Dublin Guitar Quartet.

To quote the WXQR website:

“String Quartet No. 5 is full of plucked and bowed chords that sound like wild strumming even on violins, but the cool, restrained interpretations of the Dublin Guitar Quartet speak more like a virginal harpsichord with an unusually sweet voice—a glowing tone, not a flashy one. And of course, it helps that their flawless rhythmic unison and tonal blend makes the four instruments sound like one.”

The transposition to guitar is beautiful, almost as striking as The Balanescu Quartet performing Kraftwerk. Someone has helpfully posted the Quartet’s version of  The Model on YouTube, not my favourite track, either of the Quartet’s covers or of Kraftwerk’s, but the whole Possessed album is worth a listen. I’ve taken back my iMac from the repair shop so I can now listen to music while I work. And now I have two more albums on my list to buy.

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Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 music No Comments


I’ve invested in two Kickstarter projects so far: The Nature of Code by Daniel Shiffman and  B Squares by Jordan McRae.  Of these two, I’ve had and will have more use for the former. I’m not a musician, but I’m seriously considering investing in the Motion Synth by AUUG, a device and app to “transform your iPhone or iPod touch into an intuitive and expressive motion-controlled musical instrument.”

The AUUG app converts your iOS device’s motion sensor data into signals for shaping sound, and transfers these signals to other iOS sound apps or external devices. The AUUG app does not produce its own sounds, but instead acts to control other iOS audio apps running on the same device (as well as external devices), thereby giving the user the freedom and flexibility to choose from a much larger range of sounds than a single app could provide.

The AUUG app can be installed on iPhones (4S and up) and iPod touch devices (5th generation and up). It:

  • Lets you play notes and alter their sound through motion.
  • Is simple to use and can be set-up within seconds.
  • Can expressively control a vast array of sounds on your iPhone or iPod touch by ‘playing’ other audio apps.
  • Allows you to intuitively shape vocal harmonies and effects in real time by controlling harmonizer hardware devices or effect apps.
  • Can wirelessly control software on a laptop or desktop computer.
  • Can control non-wireless music hardware via MIDI cable.
  • Will allow you to design your own forms of motion-based sound control, and share them with others.

I’ve long been a fan of Laurie Anderson with her vocal pitch adjustments, and body percussion. I don’t know what she uses these days but the sight of her playing back the recording tape on her violin bow was very striking. and this seems to be an excellent opportunity to have a digital equivalent tool.


Sunday, November 24th, 2013 hardware, music No Comments

4 bits good, 8 bits better

D’Log posted a Spotify playlist recently, of Kraftwerk tracks covered by 8-bit artists. I’d never heard these before, but really like them. Kraftwerk’s recent re-workings of their old tracks are fascinating, but these cover versions, in some ways, are truer to the spirit of the original versions.

The 8-bit style isn’t always successful (such as the irritating track by the otherwise ingeniously inventive Penguin Cafe Orchestra), but it’s fascinating to see other people interpret Kraftwerk, and I don’t just mean re-mixes. The Balanescue Quartet covered five Kraftwerk tracks on Possessed in their contemporary string quartet approach.

Talking of old fashioned drum machines and synthesisers – Au Revoir Simone played live on the Radcliffe and Marconie Show last Monday on Radio 2, described by Mark Radcliffe as having overtones of Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass and Steve Reich. So that’s why I like them? Fair enough, except that description omits any reference to their vocals, which is surely a huge part of their style. Anyway, their first album is much better than their second (IMHO).

Saturday, August 1st, 2009 music No Comments