HDR Photos (Greenfield, MOSI, Media City)

I’ve been experimenting recently with High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography, which is taking 3 (or more) photos at different exposures and combining them to get the best exposure range across the picture.  I’ve been using some software called Photomatix which came free with a magazine and has a few “painting” type settings which with various tweaking seem to give a surreal effect.  I really like the output, but i’m going to struggle to take a “normal” photo again!  So….. here they are…..

First up (and probably my favourite of the bunch) a couple taken around media city in Manchester, home to the BBC and ITV:

Media City Bridge

BBC Building

These ones were taken at Greenfield just a short train journey from Manchester on the edge of the Peak District (bottom one edited by Mat to get a better composition):

Greenfield view2

Greenfield view5

2016-04-10-22-45-56

Finally, on a wander round the city, I visited the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) and popped into the Cathereral:

MOSI1

CHURCH

I really like how most of these turned out and the almost strange effect that can be achieved.  I think it maybe works better on more “human built” things than the natural world, but lots of future experimenting to do!

Race Report: Canalathon and Lyme Park

Canalathon 50km

Last July, I entered an “Ultramarathon”.  I must’ve been on a running high because the furthest I’d run was a half marathon, but it seemed like a suitable challenge!  The race was the “Canalathon”, the course starting close to my flat in Manchester City and weaving its way along the canal to Soweby Bridge in Yorkshire, a total of 50km.  Clearly that wasn’t enough for some people who took the 75km and 100km options, but 50 was enough for me!

Time rolled around and suddenly it was 27th March 2016 and I was up at stupid-o’clock (not helped by the clock going forward) loitering in a retail estate car park on the outskirts of Manchester along with a few hundred other runners.

After a quick race briefing (run 50km that way *points*) we were off.  I know these canals well and knew they would soon get clogged so got myself in a good starting position and settled in to a comfortable (although faster than planned) pace.  I’m not going to etch out every detail so I’ll try and summarise in blocks: –

  • 0-10km – What the hell time is it? When did I agree to this? 50km seems an awful long way.
  • 10-20km – This is awesome, I’m a hero!!!!
  • 20-30km – Past half-way, and I’ve got to do that again!!!?
  • 30-40km – “Only” 20km left.  Eating anything anyone is offering you and that I can find in my bag.
  • 40-50km – Everything hurts.

There was great support all round the course and it really helps to get some cheering when you’re at a low-point.  I really do appreciate the organisers/volunteers who give up their time to make these things happen – standing out in the cold on a canal by Rochdale all day really does take some dedication!

Then suddenly it was over. I didn’t actually realise I was at the finish point so had to be told to stop! And that was that, after many months of tough training, endless talking about it to anyone who would listen, it was all over.

I definitely wanted to finish under 5 hours but I ended in position 15 of 166 finishers with a time of 4:26:35, so a great result for me! Link to Results

BeforeandAfetr.jpg

Before and After (for some reason I seem to have to lean to the right)

 

Lyme Park Night Run 6km

I wrote most of this back in January after the race but didn’t get round to posting, so here it is.

Lyme Park…….. A glorious escape from city centre life, perfect for a summers day picnic or a cheek flushing stroll to try and catch a view of some deer.  That’s why I was there on a cold, dark, wet Saturday night along with 300 or so others excitedly strapping on a head torch.

This was part of the National Trust night run series, with both a 3km and 6km route available. The former mainly consisting of family/younger entries with the big boys and girls braving the longer distance. We lined up cautiously quite far from the start line which I instantly regretted when we started as it took quite some effort to get over the line, around the crowds and into some kind of position where I could get up to a proper pace. This was a squelchy mud bath with 3-4 punishing hills. The biggest difference I noticed with night running in muddy conditions is that in the light you subconsciously plan the optimum clearer path. With just the extent of torch light there is no such luxury so any wrong choice can take you deeper into the mud.

It was all over some 31 mins later with the last km being pretty much completely on my own, no one snapping at my heels and no chance of catching anyone in front so came in with no idea where i was in the ranking. The results came up on Sunday showing is placed 6th, but then having another look on Monday and five people were suddenly added in front of me, so 11th it was…. Slightly gutting (especially as I excitedly posted by best ever race position to FB!) but such is life.  My running buddy, Michelle, came in first female by over a minute, which is a fantastic result. So we got drunk after and talked about any other fun challenges that may be loitering out there! Post run recovery real-ale of course :-S

IMG_2361

 

Ancoats

Ancoats

Since my Lumix GX1 suffered a heat stroke in Gran Canaria and I replaced with a GX7 back in Sept/Oct I barely seem to have used it.  When I’m out running I see so many things I’d love to photograph, but the two hobbies are very incompatible! I finally took a local stroll without my shorts and trainers instead armed with a camera and thought I’d focus on one particular area – the southern part of Ancoats close to Manchester City Centre.

Before I even knew I was destined to become a Manchester resident I visited here back in 2013 with work so spent some eerie time in the deserted/derelict Morning Star hostel and school which I mentioned in THIS POST.  Its a strange area on the fringe of the city, clearly industrial, but lots of deserted/derelict buildings with pockets of nice flats, kind of like the Northern Quarter has burst its seams and some hipsters have spilled over Great Ancoats Street clutching their Macbooks and little dogs.  I’ve not gone for beautiful photos here (ability problems) so just tried to capture the vibe of the area.  So, without further ado, here are a few snaps!.

Anita street

Anita Street, very clean and well presented considering the surrounding area!

Coffee

Nestled inside an old Mill, a coffee shop serving Ancoats Coffee.  A true hispter hangout.

barbed wire

I wouldn’t try getting in here….

 

Car

The hawk-eyed amongst you will be screaming “That’s not Ancoats!!!” and you’d be right.  I wanted to try out keeping some colour in a B&W photo so here is my first effort.  This car is in the NQ right by Cord bar and hasn’t moved since I began living here.

George Leigh Street

George Leigh Street

wall

I too, wish I knew the way.

Smiths

Swift half down Smith’s?

So there you go.  It was good to get out with the camera again and also try out a few different editing techniques on the pics above.  Until next time…..

 

Ectopic Beats

WALL

I’ve had an idea in my head for years about doing some kind of big doom metal track with crunching guitars and blast beats. I’ve finally got round to extracting the idea from brain to airwaves. Not content with keeping it straight “doom”, I’ve snuck in some 80s synth pop/rock, dark metal screaming, middle eastern twangs and some other synth warblings.

Not for the faint hearted or anyone with sensitive eardrums, here is ……. Ectopic Beats.

Techy stuff: All drums manually programmed on EZDrummer using the Drumkit from Hell kits, but I also managed to include a short section using the classic TR8 drum machine. For the first time I’ve also programmed all of the guitar lines (played through a Korg Kross) and most of the lead lines as well, using the in-built Cubase synth Halion Sonic. Its a totally different way of working and its been great to try something different and be able to change sounds after you’ve laid a part down, but then I don’t think you quite get the same vibe as “normal” recording.  Great to give it a try though, and that’s what the music is about on the site, trying out different stuff! The Arturia Microbrute also features here, leaving programming at the door, that’s just big dirty analogue sounds and live tweaking.

On other subjects, running is becoming all time-consuming now with the next few weeks dedicated to building up my fitness to achieve a 50km run at the end of March. Followed by the Manchester Marathon two weeks later. It may be my legs that end up in a bucket rather than the tentacles after that. I’m doing the run for sponsorship, so if any kind souls out there want to sponsor me, please visit my JustGiving page HERE

 

Piano Recital

It was time to attempt to play piano again in front of real people!  My piano teacher, Daria, had arranged a student recital at her house.  Bring nibbles and ‘performance enhancing’ alcohol!  The last time I did this was June 2014 at the Royal Northern College of Music.  I’ve been at this piano lark for quite some time now, almost 4 years and lessons for 3.5 so should be getting to some kind of believable standard. I almost certainly haven’t practiced pure piano as much as I should have as quite a lot of time has been dedicated to composing the tracks on this blog.  A difficult balance which I’ll get to later.

On the day of the recital, I recorded the pieces I was planning to play warts and all so here they are!  The first three are from the ABRSM Jazz Piano Grade 3 book (Sombrero Sam, Sails and Birks Works) and the final piece was a Christmas song, a quickly pulled together Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer:)

Six of us shuffled into the house all probably a bit worried about performing in front of others, but a few sniffs of red wine and there was a bit more relaxation in the air.  It was really interesting to hear others play from relatively new players to people who had far more experience.  When it came to my performance itself I messed up quite a few times but managed to get through it.  The improvisation sections were perhaps the most challenging as I found this quite hard to improvise with performance nerves going on. I’ve played plenty of gigs on drums and had mostly got over the nerves of playing and during later stages got to the point where I was reasonably comfortable playing. Let’s just say I’m not there with piano yet……

It got me thinking about how long I’ve been playing and how ‘good’ I should be. As odd as it may seem, I didn’t start piano because I wanted to learn piano. I started because being a long term drummer with an interest in recording music and pushing what you can do with sound I thought I needed to try a solo project. Very difficult on drums, so a keyboard which can produce a vast array of sounds seemed a great option.  Piano lessons have been great to develop musical groundwork and I’ve put a lot of that into the Bucket of Tentacles pieces, with certainly more musicality and development within the tracks from the first pieces I recorded for this blog.

I feel at a crossroads of sorts to decide where I want to take things, partly because I know that piano performance is never going to be ‘my thing’ and isn’t why I started this.  I’ve always liked the extreme of things, for example I don’t want to listen to something that’s a bit metal, I want it as fast, as dark and as extreme as it gets. Or as genre-hopping discordant and weird as it gets. This is where I get my love for bands like the Secret Chiefs 3 or earlier Mr Bungle who turned my thoughts of what you can do with music upside down.  I’ve had a similar experience with running, doing 5km, 10km doesn’t feel enough so I’m pushing to achieve a (short) ultramarathon 50km.

Its difficult to know where to focus my attention at the moment, my various hobbies need significant time spent practicing pure piano pieces, scales, arpeggios, technique, sight reading, music theory, feel, sound crafting on synths, drum programming, recording techniques, Cubase, applying effects, EQ, compression, listening, composing, writing music, blending sounds, mixing.  Then running, long distance runs, intervals, tempo runs, all round fitness with cross training, weights. What about my other passion photography? Huge range of skills and practice needed there including familiarity with editing software on top of what you take camera side.

I am obviously very lucky to be able to even attempt to do that much “stuff”  but its more slow development on all, rather than leaps and bounds in any one subject.

So the Bucket of Tentacles will continue into 2016 and will continue to be a record of the artistic or physical achievements that I do.  Here is to 2016 which could include a grade 3 piano exam, some extreme running and potentially a fourth ‘release’ of collections of tracks. If there is time of course!

Have a slithering Christmas and New Year.

Hutamah

Starlight

Depending on which resource you consult, in Islam, Hutamah is the 7th lowest and worst level of hell reserved for the religious hypocrites. Whilst I don’t believe in hell (or heaven for that matter), I would hope that this place would be reserved for those that use these ancient texts as justification for evil and murderous plots.

Given that we are just a microscopic dot in both physical space and in the history of time I believe the universe is pretty much apathetic to the goings on of humans.

Here is a short noisy piece dedicated to Hutamah, purely on the basis it sounds a bit nasty.  I took a different approach here and improvised a basic TR8 drum track with heavy on-board effects which gave some kind of weird feedback loop to it all and then just played several synth tracks over the top and just tried to trim and piece it all together at the end (which actually meant deleting most of what I’d played).  So its just ended up as a bit of a noisy bodge-job, careful song writing all the way.  Here it is:

Another, more planned (i.e. its been written) and much nicer track on the go, just waiting for a collaboration with some bass lines from Mat.  Get on it!

Race Report: Birmingham Half Marathon and Helvellyn Trail Race

The tentacles have continued pounding the pavement/trail for quite some time so I thought i’d put up a couple of reviews of two very different races I’ve entered recently, the Morrisons Birmingham Half Marathon and the Lakeland trails Helveyllyn 15km race.

First up, Victoria and myself eagerly got the train from Manchester to Brum and had a relaxed night with the folks, a hearty pre-race dinner, a couple of Erdinger Alcohol-Freis and then off to the city first thing in the morning.  The Square Peg Wetherspoons didn’t know what had hit it as the race masses decended for somewhere to stay warm and to get a bit of caffeine.  Even the resident chavs getting an early Carling looked somewhat surprised that their early morning waterhole was chock full of people “wiv numberz stuk on em”.

It was soon time to be shepherded to the start zones.  I’d somehow persuaded my sister to do this one so we both went off to our separate zones to limber up for the run ahead.  Whilst i’m reasonably familiar with BHam I was mainly focused on keeping my pace up so kind of lost track of where I was. A really great atmosphere and I definitely enjoyed the jazz bands, the thumping raves, the people who’d set up their speakers out side their house and the great cheering support all the way round the route.  I even managed to muster up a sprint for the last 200m along Broad Street to try and make it look easy (it wasn’t) but came across the line in 1:36:26 which was just over 5 minutes faster than my last half marathon so I was very pleased.  Followed by Guiness, Sunday Lunch, Lager and Pizza (in that order) and it made for a great day.

IMG_1719

Post Race Bling

Whilst the big city races are fun, I can’t help preferring smaller events with fantastic views, fresh air, and chunky trainers with grips on them.  A wet Saturday in Glenridding and I’m limbering up (hanging around) for the 15km Helveylln trail race.  I’d put in quite a bit of training for the Birmingham half marathon, so my plan was to take this one easier with a gentle jog round the Lakes and a handful of golden ales snuck in afterwards.  Based on the continuous rain throughout the morning and squelching up to the start line, I began to realise this was going to be tough.  The first 3-4km seemed to be a continuous “up”, which exactly matched my heart rate, and for the first time ever I walked in a race.  It was a particularly steep section, and most people round me were walking too (excuse alert) but I don’t think I’d have been any faster had I carried on running.

The rest of the race was pretty much a mudbath, ankle deep running through overflowing streams across the paths, muddy bogs, slippy rocks and patches of heavy rain.  People were dropping like flies with any slight slip potentially leading to a tumble to the ground.  I did manage to stay upright but probably looked like a drunken giraffe on ice several occasions.  Any thoughts of taking in the misty views were forgotten as I discovered a major part of trail running is the continuous concentration on foot placement whilst maintaining some kind of pace.  It almost gave me brain ache.  I came in with some kind of squelching sprint finish over the line in 1:15:42 (82nd out of 256).  I learnt a lot about my own ability here and how punishing ascents can be, along with the mental concentration needed to keep things moving.

DS Runner

In an astonishing twist, Victoria actually got me in a photo (previous attempts include my foot only)

HV Map

The trail map

Should be back to some nasty synth noises or camera mangling soon!:)

Private Show (and some piano)

Private Show

I spotted this whilst out and about and had to get a picture.  The homeless man perhaps trying to enjoy a rare nice moment of life with a good read accompanied by some violin.  At least it gave me the title to this post: Private Show.

On to the point of the post, its been ages since I’ve recorded any piano, so here are a few pieces I’ve been playing in my lessons.  First up, is the start of Sarabande in D minor by Handel.  I played it a few times on piano and then switched to the strings setting and thought  it sounded better, so I recorded it like that.

Sarabande in D minor (Handel)

Here is the piano version too.

Next up is a piece I started learning over two years ago, but then gave up on it.  I picked it up again recently so thought I’d record it.  It is Bach, Prelude in C.  This has been difficult, firsty to keep up the consistency of the continuous rhythm, but then also inject some feeling into it because of its continuous rhythm, but here it is as a record of my progress.  The piece is fantastic, with some amazing chord progressions throughout.

Prelude in C (Bach)

Finally, a piece from Jazz Piano Pieces – Grade 2.  I bought the book because I wanted to try and do a few pieces that I can learn relatively quickly.  I’ve still found them tough though!

Contemplation (Tyner arr. Iles)

Just to finish off with a random picture, here is the outside of Victoria Station in Manchester City Centre.  Its an air-filled ETFE roof and looks great in the right light.  These couple of pics were from my new Lumix GX7, now at bargain price due to the release of the GX8.  I’ve not had much chance to try it out yet other than one quick wander round the city and I didn’t manage to capture much….

DStinton Victoria Station

Sun, sea and creatures lurking

Here’s a few photos from a recent trip to Gran Canaria.  I finally did some scuba diving which I’ve wanted to do for ages.  I had the fortune to see an octopus propelling himself away from me as quickly as he could, and also a type of ray going around his daily business sweeping gracefully through the diving group and disappearing into the vast ocean beyond.  Even the scuba instructors were impressed. Beautiful.

Rocks again

Clearly a natural creation of perfectly square rocks

Crab

I now realise crabs have incredible perception to danger.  The slightest movement and they scuttle into the nearest crevice waiting for another chance to come out and forage for food.  This pic took quite a bit of patience sitting still and getting sore legs just waiting for him to creep out from under the rocks.  Respect to any wildlife photographers out there.

Clownfish

A clownfish at the Palmitos Park aquarium

Sea view

Some more strange cubes

Rocks

This was an experiment trying out a different type of photography – High Dynamic Range (HDR).  It involves taking shots at different exposures and then blending them together so that you can see everything in the photo.  I know its not the greatest scene, but this is definitely a technique I’ll be trying out again.

Night view

The view from our hotel balcony (HDR photo again).

There is plenty of fish in the sea. I didn’t dip my Lumix in the big blue for this one.  I have (or had because its sold now) a cheapo underwater “action” cam.  It was good fun for a bit but you couldn’t really see what you were taking photos of so it was a bit of random point and shoot!

Hopefully a few piano pieces will be recorded soon to keep the blog slithering along.

The Illicium Lure (EP#3)

The difficult third album….. From what started as uploading a couple of sound snippets has turned into three years of music or noise uploads, loads of photos, and somehow a third EP.  Here is the latest offering of tracks recorded and uploaded over the last year, this time with some extras and a couple of minor remixes.  For the first time, this also includes a collaboration. Track 5 “Thalassa” features vocals written and performed by long term friend and band mate, Alistair Davies. Thanks Al!

The Illicium Lure

1. Lost (Self Inflicted Desolation)

2. Fleuve Parasseux

3. Streetwork

4. Interlude (Tango)

5. Thalassa

6. Cenotes

7. Interlude (Donkey Kong)

8. Number stations

9. Reload

How have “the tentacles” changed since the last collection of tracks “Analogue” in July 2014….?  I’ve continued piano lessons, learnt lots and hopefully added more musicality to some these tracks, certainly in Thalassa and Fleuve Parasseux.  Listening back, several of the tracks contain improvised synth editing.  I’ve always tried to maintain an element of improvisation on several of my tracks but listening back I have no idea how, or what I did in some of the parts.  It would be unrepeatable which I think is great but also slightly frustrating!

So another year goes by, Life goes on… some tough moments at work, got married, some great experiences along the way, and a whole new passion for running. Long live the tentacles!

Get a printed copy from THE SHOP

For the copyright purists, for (nearly) the first time I’ve ‘stolen’ a couple of bits and pieces, so here are the details: –

Track 1 – A mere use of a pre-set sequence from the Arturia microbrute, bite me.
Track 3 – The very premise of this track was recording artists from the streets.  I actually tried to make contact to ask permission but received no response.  Some drums and beat boxing parts are recorded on an iPhone in Manchester City Centre.  The radio intro/outros are pretty much all live street recordings.
Track 4 – A very short piece from a piano magazine introducing the style of tango. I enjoyed playing it so recorded it and solo’d over it!
Track 7 – The beeps and boops are recorded from me playing my 1982 Nintendo Game and Watch Donkey Kong, still working today, move over PlayStation!
Track 8 – Voices and number stations stolen from web postings on the subject. The whole track came together from listening to parts on the web and adding some random synth warblings and a beat… getting it done off the cuff.

 

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