2021 week four

January is done.

As I’ve seen a couple of people say, though, this is merely a calendar page-turn, and doesn’t really help much. On the one hand, woo, progress. But on the other, progress to what? A twelfth of another year has slinked by, barely noticed? Not sure how celebratory a mood this leaves me in.

Nonetheless! This week I have enjoyed a few silly hobbies, including more tinkering with Garageband and the Minimoog Model D iOS app, which was kindly made available for free back in the first lockdown. I had only dabbled with the latter before this week, but I’m now seeing how incredibly feature packed it is, and how it can be worked into a Garageband workflow more successfully.

There’s a process by which you can jump out of Garageband into a supported app, noodle around in there – with a tiny Garageband record/play button superimposed – then jump back into Garageband to place the track you just recorded in the other app. It’s very clever. And yet another surprise that my old iPad mini still happily handles this kind of abuse on its RAM and CPU.

I was running low on storage which initially caused problems, but once I’d had a tidy up it worked surprisingly smoothly. I didn’t make anything worthwhile of course – I mostly just spent an hour or two trying out the different presets and twiddling the knobs to see what effect they have. I tend to go for the bassy ones, holding down a low note, and getting lost in warbling, flanging bass notes turned up a little too high in my headphones. Precisely what I would do with a real synth, I’m sure. It’s a lot of fun.

I’ve hit a stumbling block in the shape of not being able to envisage actually making a song with a proper structure. Or, not quite knowing how to achieve that in Garageband. I know about building sections and being able to rearrange them. But I’m not quite into a proper flow state where I can do so successfully. I’m getting close though, and I imagine the two crucial missing pieces are 1) jotting down some notes and having a structure planned out to begin with, and 2) devoting enough time in one sitting to seeing an entire project through.

Until then I’ll just bung the headphones on and hit a bass note and just low it go BWAAAAHHHHHH in my ears for a while.

Other sounds that my ears have been delighted by this week are from the other end of the scale: church bells. Having successfully captured one church a few days earlier striking 12 o’clock, I noticed that a nearby catholic chapel struck the hour a minute or two later, so I went to capture that this week. The results are over at /audio of course.

Two notes on the newer recording: it unfortunately contains some unpleasant construction sounds – which I don’t mind as it is a true representation of the sounds of church bells in an urban environment. And the striking of this church bell was odd – I had expected 12 single strikes for the hour, but what I got was three groups of three, and then nine. I don’t believe I’ve heard bells do that pattern before. Possibly it has some significance relating to its… catholicness? Anyway, it was actually a pleasant surprise.

I think now that I have two in the bag, my quest is now to record all the striking church bells within a set area; NW3 seems reasonable, particularly as I once started and failed to finish a project to sketch all the extant pubs in NW3.

The return the other week of a robin has now become two robins, which is fantastic. They are feisty, territorial birds, so I am fairly sure that seeing two birds happily feeding near one another must mean they are a breeding pair. I really hope we see babies later in the year. I’d love to spot an identifying feature on these birds that pointed to one being one of last year’s babies (if that timeline even stacks up). Either way, it’s a delight seeing and hearing them at close quarters again.

This weekend’s main sporting entertainment was the cyclo-cross world championships at Ostend, Belgium. I love watching cycling, but cyclo-cross is just on another level. This course contained muddy slopes, steps, long 21% ramps, and a couple of sections on the beach – both through thick, dry sand and along the wet, harder sand, with some riders edging into the surf. Amazing.

The men’s and women’s elite championships were shown by BBC, and we enjoyed them both, though it has to be said the women’s round was a bit more interesting as it was a shorter, closer race. The men’s race felt a lap or two too long – towards the end, the podium was basically assured and the main players just plugged on to the bitter end. The men’s was a showdown between two previous title holders which had its moments. It’s just such an impressive sport to watch as you can just feel how their legs must burn as they come off a rutted, deep patch of sand and immediately have to dig in to power up a steep ramp.

I’d love to go and see a cyclo-cross event some day. By all accounts it is growing in popularity here.

After having a little moan last week about missing the freedom to go and do as I please during lockdown, I’m pleased to report that over the last few days I was able to… well, basically go and do as I please. Within reason / guidelines.

Long walks on Saturday and then Sunday morning took me to some familiar places, albeit (on Sunday) seen at a much earlier hour and with very few other people around. It was just what I needed, to be surrounded by interesting sights and trees and birdsong, and to have a few options for my next part of the route.

And finally, bitten by the bug of the Pottery Throwdown show on Channel 4, we bought some clay and had a bash at making some stuff. It’s really not very easy at all, though it is a nicely tactile process. I ended up making a tealight holder and trying to make a tortoise. Pictures when they’re good and done, I promise. 

Afterwards I felt a little unsure if I want to continue with pottery. I will try one or two new things just to see. But the abiding feeling was one I’ve had before when doing analogue art type things. The imprecision (not to mention my own lack of skill) is often what I find so disappointing about using tools in the physical world to make things, whether that’s pen and paper, paints, model-making, or now clay. I like clean likes and precision, and it’s hard to achieve those in the physical world. Or at least I find it hard.

And so all this made me realise something: that’s what I like about digital creative forms.

Photography, editing audio, and even writing and web design to a degree. It can all be done with pixel-sharp precision. The tools are infinitely precise. I love that about digital media. There are elements I love for analogue’s roughness – the decay of a delay effect on an audio sample, the somewhat unpredictable element of film photography, or the imperfections left in something screen printed, for example. But I think what I seek most of all in creative output is sharpness and accuracy. God knows I don’t always achieve it. But that’s what I’m chasing, and it’s good to acknowledge that.