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.

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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.

 

Fleuve Parasseux

Time to get back to the roots of this blog and get some music up! Here is my latest offering – “Fleuve Parasseux”

River

Fleuve Parasseux:

What’s that rubbish picture I hear you say?  Its a river of course, but I have taken the liberty of inconveniencing a few electrons and altered it using the free image “glitching” website available HERE

I love that we have access to fantastic technology, but then try and mess things up so that pictures look old, retro, faded and “glitched” or produce music then distort it to make it sound like its on tape, or add record scratches etc. Why do we strive for perfection and then try and quickly get away from it?

The track itself started as a piano piece which I recorded and then developed all the other parts around it.  Whilst uncharacteristically “nice” for the most part, I tried to add my own “glitch”.

New EP coming very soon including a collection of tracks from this blog, a couple of new “interludes” and an older track with new vocals all over it (not by me thankfully!)

 

Adidas Thunder Run

All it took was a quick email to “Men’s Running” magazine saying how I needed a night off the beer, and somehow I was in their team for the Adidas Thunder Run and had won a load of free running gear from Adidas! Needless to say I am now a walking advert for them – you’d see less stripes on a tiger!  For the uninitiated, the Thunder Run is a 24 hour trail running event where you compete either solo(!), pairs, or other combinations to run continuous 10km laps around Catton Park in Derbyshire.  Our team consisted four men and four women, three of each competition winners and two experienced ultra runners (Gary and Anne-Marie) to make it seem like it was a run round the park.  Which in effect, it was.

I rolled up early on Saturday morning to a bustling campsite and managed to find our team with a well established campsite, a kettle on the go and a selection of muffins and flapjacks baked by some of the ladies.  Gender stereotype alert, but as you would probably expect, the men’s baking contribution was ….. er…. nothing.  Although I did bring some teabags.

Here’s the team:

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Laura, Dan (me), Paul, Anne-Marie, Gary, Jade, Steve, Alexy.

Noon soon rolls along and Paul had jumped forward to do the first lap which he completed in a mud-busting 38:50 which was a fantastic time for the course.  The lap was followed by some frantic shouting for Jade who had a remarkable skill of not being found during changeover :)  I was next up and set off in the warm sunshine.  Gently jogging along the first field, it was all looking very comfortable but a sudden sharp right straight up a steep woodland path left any thoughts of this being an easy run right there at the bottom.  I’m a relatively new runner so this was actually one of the tougher routes I’ve done with lots of twists and turns, mud, narrow woodland paths and short sharp hills.  Defying the laws of physics I am convinced there was far more “up” than there was “down”.  I came in under 50 mins which I was pleased with considering the terrain.  I passed on to Laura, followed by Gary, Anne-Marrie, Steve then Alexy.  And so it went on.

Purely for reasons of me having a camera, I soon became the official team photographer.  We soon got into a routine with Paul being chief ‘spotter’ which meant standing a bit further up from the finish line then frantically waving when one of our team came in. This was a cue for me to stop thinking about bacon sandwiches and sleeping and to quickly get my camera ready to get a picture of the incoming runner.

My second lap kicked off around 9:30pm, so it was time for the head torches as by the time I finished the woods were pretty black.  This was my favourite lap and best time too (49:03), it just all came together and I got a nice comfortable rhythm going.  Shower, food and time for a quick sleep as I was up again at 4am in preparation for my final lap which started around 5:30am, but I still somehow managed a smile:

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The weather was kind to us apart from the final couple of laps for Alexy and Paul when it was completely tipping it down.  We finished up doing 25 laps (3 each and 4 for Paul), and it seemed everyone had a great time, each of us with our own level of experience and personal goals for running, from the ultra runners to …..er …… me.

Here’s us with our medals!

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Thanks to Men’s Running mag and Adidas for the opportunity to do this along with the free gear, it’s all great stuff. Thanks of course to all my team mates (and Stephen, our support crew) who were all a pleasure to do this with and made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience all round!

Check out my running page HERE on this blog for my running history.

The girls were busy posing for a photo, but it was front camera on all the time, sorry ladies:

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The plan:

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The Results:

RESULTS

Lake District Snaps

I had a nice break in Windermere recently, and whilst of course I took all the “usual” photos of normal stuff with people in, that’s not what this blog about, so here is a few I took of the more arty-farty type!

Orest head

Moody view from Orrest Head (lots of running training up and down this “hill” over the week!)

Coniston

A beautiful little spot where I could crawl all over the place trying out long exposure

Capri1

Back when cars were great

Engine1

A bit of an engine with some close depth of field – arty or what!

Engine2

Down with the ozone layer!

Oscar

A perfectly in focus Oscar from the Lakeside aquarium. I loved his colours.

… and that’s the lot.  Musically, I have a piano track bubbling away so just need to sort out some time to record it.  Its leading up to the third Bucket of Tentacles EP, which will hopefully include a collaboration piece with some actual singing by Al over Thalassa (posted here previously).

 

Reload

A sudden productivity spasm, here are a couple of new tracks.  First up “Reload”, an erratic junglist noise-fest with some eastern vibes.

This was an initial try-out of the Roland JD-Xi synth, a crossover digital/analogue synth.  Almost all of the track, including drums, are played/programmed on this synth.  I even used the vocoder :o) Loving the dirty analogue vibes.

circuit

Next up is “Number Stations”.  A number station is a mysterious coded shortwave radio broadcast known to be used during World War I and through to the Cold War to send messages to agents in the field….  These broadcasts sound really sinister so that’s the vibe I went with, this was quick, play some of the number station and throw some synth/drum improvisation over it.  No icing here.

The picture? I actually hacked apart Victoria’s (old) computer, shone some green and blue lights at the circuit board and snapped away!

I have another new piece on the way, almost a proper piano track.  Building up to EP#3 me’thinks.

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