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Race Report: Wendover Woods 50 Mile

“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.” Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

You could be accused of being over dramatic if you replaced the word “space” above with “Wendover Woods 50” but for those who did it, at times it felt like it.  But anyway, I’m jumping ahead of myself…..

The wait was over, the training was done, the miles were in the bank and there was no more time for worrying.  The Wendover woods 50 mile race was here and I started brilliantly by stepping out of my car, in a cold field in Tring at 7am, into a giant poo.  Undeterred, I squelched my way to the start line and looked around for the other Project Trail guys.  Soon meeting up with Nic and Jon, we were a mixture of excitement, compression gear and fear.  Glancing around the field I could tell this was for the big boys, with the Centurion Running Grand Slam title at stake some people were going to be flying round this.

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Project Trail 2016: Daniel Stinton, Nic Porter, Jon Gurney

The Wendover Woods 50 is, as the name suggests, “a 50 mile foot race consisting of 5 x 10 mile loops on forest trails, entirely within Wendover Woods”.  Just for fun though, nestled within those beautiful sounding woodland trail laps was 2,900m of climbing.  Which, I can now tell you from experience, is a lot.  The race organisers, Centurion Running, had tactfully named some of the sections; “Hell’s Road”, “The Snake” and “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” presumably to somehow keep the spirits up!

Since winning a place in this race from Men’s Running and their Project Trail feature, the pressure was on.  We’d been featured in the last five issues of the magazine to report on our progress and had training plans devised by Robbie Britton (Team GB Ultrarunner) to get us all ready for the day ahead.  I’d trained hard, and had some great races and running experiences along the way, but nevertheless earlier in the week did have quite a flap about my ability to actually run 50 miles.  By the time race day arrived, I’d decided to put those worries behind me and thought the best tactic was to just get on with it.  I had a proper “plan” for this one; eat as much as I possibly can, drink as much as I possibly can, take it easy at the start and finish strong. 

I knew that the first couple of laps just needed ticking off, and the Project Trail guys and I had suggested we start together.  This was great to take it reasonable easy, have a chat, keep the spirits up and get used to the course.  During the start of the third lap I slowly peeled away and realised it was time to go this alone.  The laps consisted of magnificent forest trails, some mud and numerous short(ish) sharp climbs. 

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All very happy because we’re going downhill

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I took the opportunity to have 30 seconds rest by pretending I needed to take some photos

Somewhere around the third lap I saw Gary Dalton, an ultrarunner I’d met the previous year at the Adidas Thunder Run.  He was doing a couple of laps in reverse as moral support for the runners and our exchange went something along the lines of……

“Hi Dan, how you feeling?” said the self-confessed moany trail runner.  I gave an honest reply saying that I was feeling pretty good.

“Well why are you walking then!?” came the response.  I processed this for a few moments and came to the conclusion it was a very good question, so run I did.

… and so the day went on, taking each section as it came.  At one point during the “Power Line” segment I emerged into a large open field.  This is a brief pleasant change to the woodland trails and due to the time of day, the sun was coming down bathing the woodland surroundings in a beautiful light.  I actually outstretched my arms and leant my head back, either praying to the Great Running God, or to take in as much vitamin D as I possibly could.  As I crossed the field I bumped into my number-neighbour (284), a young lady who I can see from the results was Rachel Dench.  We had a quick chat and I started wittering on about what a fantastic moment this was and hopefully sharing some of my current positivity.  A short while later, re-entering the woods, we shared some jelly beans and and I was on my way. 

In a bizzare mind-game I was actually looking forward to lap four.  Well past the halfway point I’d already decided this was going to be a self-indulgent lap so I put my headphones on some to blast out some of my favourite songs and really started gritting my teeth to get round.  I had a couple of moments of euphoria during this lap as I knew I was well on my way to complete it, and nothing was going to stop me.  I was doing my two favourite things, running in the woods and listening to some crushing metal and hip hop, I had a few moments of dancing and punching the air – sorry to anyone who saw that and thought I’d gone barking mad but in some ways I think I probably had. 

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Ten miles to go.  Feeling the burn.

Finally I was at the business end of the race and strapping on a headtorch for the final lap.  This one needed a bit of focus as tiredness was setting in and you really had to concentrate to stay on track through the winding woodland paths, but it has to be said the course markings by Centurion Running were excellent.  I started the lap with a nice chap called Mick and we had a good chat but I soon pushed along and ended up running most of this lap alone. The field had really spread out by now so other humans were few and far between.  After a final push during the viciously steep last 2km, suddenly (well, more accurately, 11 hours, 2 minutes and 15 seconds later) I was over the finish line.  My friend, and top-running buddy Michelle, had come along to the end for moral support and was probably twice as cold as I was, so massive thanks for making an appearance!  Immediately people were thrusting medals, t-shirts and minestrone soup at me, which was a great way to finish.  The whole Project Trail experience has been fantastic, its magnificent to have completed it, but of course I’m slightly sad its over.  Not one to mope, I can now enjoy a little relax and look forward to the ultras I already have booked for next year.  Game on!

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Cold and needing a beer……  I was a bit chilly as well.

A few of the details and stats below for the true running geeks:

I finished in 43rd place with the laps times below:

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I think the main thing I’m pleased with (other than finishing!) is that my laps were reasonably consistent. OK, I slowed down a bit for the fourth lap but then somehow negative split the last one in the dark with a head torch.  Despite the inevitable tiredness I just wanted to get this lap done.

Not that I’m an expert at these things but I definitely learnt a few things during this race and got great advice from Robbie Britton.  Here’s some summary thoughts, a mixture of my own experience and advice given:

  • De-hydration will shut you down.  Drink, drink and drink some more.  I added electrolytes to my pack at every lap when I filled up.
  • Lack of nutrition will shut you down.  Eat, eat and eat some more.  Right from the start.  I really followed points one and two even when I didn’t feel like it, and have to say I felt as energised as could be expected.
  • Stay positive.  People had talked to me about “dark times” on these long ultra runs but I decided I was having none of that.  I tried to stay happy, be positive, talk to people, have a laugh at the aid stations (which were great)and just keeping moving and enjoy each lap.  Its what we’ve been working towards and looking forward to for so long, so why not enjoy it!?
  • Get everything right during training.  I had a definite plan on the type of foods that agree with me and had a load of it with me on this run.  However, I caved in to a ham sandwich on white bread at one of the aid stations that sat uncomfortably somewhere in my digestive system for at least an hour.  Know what you can eat.  And eat it.
  • A more personal one, but I discovered one of the best things about my running is my walking.  I realised I can get a really good march on, even on the steep sections which probably helped me climb from 84th place on lap 1 to 43rd at the end.
  • I’m going to go all Matrix on you, but you have to believe Neo!!! ūüôā ūüôā ūüôā

Finally, a quick shout-out to all the people and gear that have helped me along this; Men’s Running Magazine, Rick Pearson, Isaac Williams, Robbie Britton, TrainAsONE, Centurion Running (the organisation, marshals, aid stations and route markings were brilliant), Michelle Edye for the solid running training and chat, Johnny Fuller (Sporting Therapy), Columbia Montrail, TomTom, Adidas Eyewear, Petzl head torches and High5 nutrition.

And to the other project trail guys, Nic Porter and Jon Gurney (and support and photographs from Chris) – fantastic effort all round and achievement for us all! And of course Vicky Stinton for putting up with my continuous training and talking about running!

 

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The Grand Hotel, and running from Croatia into Bosnia.

I’ve been posting lots about running recently, and whilst this will descend into my tale of taking a steep run from Mlini into Bosnia, I’m going to start off with some very “Bucket of Tentacles” style pictures of the Kupari resort in Croatia. Not your typical holiday photos, Kupari is a derelict hotel complex located to the south of Dubrovnik.

Back in the early 90’s, when I was mainly trying to step into teenagedom, there was a war going on to which I paid very little attention. It was the break up of Yugoslavia and during the early part, the luxury Kupari resort was captured by the Serbs and ended up being mostly ruined.  Now, standing awkwardly against a beautiful mountain/sea backdrop it is an urban-explorers dream.  Its completely open to the public and unlike the UK, not a warning sign or barricade in sight leaving you free to roam. So roam I did, camera in hand and visions of a post apocalyptic world in mind.  Here are a few of the pictures.

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Derelict building? Lets go through on our mopeds!

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Another holiday-snap taken from the Dubrovnik City Walls

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Not your typical holiday picture, but I liked the collection of people, particularly the gent on the left clearly worried about calf-sunburn.

Post-apocalyptic world out of the way, earlier that day I’d had another rather larger dose of adrenaline after planning to run up Malastica, a local summit rising steeply from the hotel we were staying in.

I made my way out of the quiet tourist areas and into “real” Croatia. Receiving occasional odd glances as an Adidas-clad runner pranced through the usually quiet roads, I carried on up the steep ascent as a thunderstorm blew it’s way in from the Adriatic. It wasn’t long before I was sodden, t-shirt clinging to me and looking up at what seemed like an endless stream of zig-zag paths leading to the summit.

This soon changed though as the cloud curtain opened up revealing the magnificent views ahead.

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A further trudge along the path and I arrived at the following sign:

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It didn’t look like too much of a warning sign (and I later translated this as “State Border”), so I stepped past it into another country.

Only a few metres in and everything felt more Bosnian. Embarrassingly not knowing much about the country other than there had been a war I wondered what life was like for people on the outskirts of this remote landscape.  I reached some kind of peak and took in the view. The glistening Adriatic Sea on one side, the coast populated with hotels and bars but circling round to a rolling mountain range. I sensed a wilderness I’ve never felt before. An unknown landscape staring at me menacingly/beautifully and me staring back:

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The path abruptly ended.  Looking ahead I saw a distant road and some buildings nestled in amongst the hills. I wanted to get there, but could see it would be a tough jaunt, no signs of any paths or trails, just natural grass, clumps of trees/brambles and sharp rock formations. Without my own full consent I clambered off the path anyway and headed towards the distant road.  This was tough terrain and very slow-going, and the reality dawned that I had only just dried out, I hadn’t seen any humans since the start of my ascent sometime ago and I was clambering over sharp rocks somewhere in Bosnia.  Common sense was restored and I decided to turn back. The kilometre I travelled off-track took me about 25 minutes and that was moving as fast as I could, such was the terrain.

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I carried on along another ridge which must have been the border between Croatia and Bosnia, regular abandoned outposts and walls reduced to rubble lined the edges of the paths high up in the hills.

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It was around about then that I introduced myself to a snake. Midnight black and about a metre long dryly slithering across the trail.  Realising we were both completely terrified of each other we parted company as quickly as we could going our respective ways with a nod of encouragement. Now running low on water and energy I reluctantly knew I needed to head back so weaved my way back down the rocky paths.  What a fantastic descent it was.

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Finally reaching a road I stumbled into a bakery selling chocolate milk and very large slices of pizza which truly was a dream come true!!

Later, I found out about the land mines….. warnings on wiki travel to not venture off any roads or investigate any derelict buildings.  Ignorance is bliss as clearly this would have added a new element of fear to the whole journey. As if I needed to worry about a little snake! Its hard to know how “real” the danger was and if there were any land mines in the vicinity – wouldn’t a country’s border be the “perfect” spot?  In any case, I made it back alive, with a wonderful life experience tucked under my belt!

All hail the trail!

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Coniston (Photos and Marathon Running)

I spent some time in Coniston in the Lake District last weekend, predominantly to run a marathon (which I report on below), but first up are a few photos I took over the few days.

A Gate

First up a lowly gate combined with the fantastic evening sky

A Coniston Lake

The beautiful calm of Coniston

A Grange

This is Grange-over-sands where we stopped off on the way.¬† I initially wasn’t too taken with this shot, but the more I look at it the more I like it.¬† Nice sky, great brickwork and a summery girl at the bottom to bring in a bit of colour.

A Coniston view

A field, a couple of hills and some drama

Race Report: On to the run itself.  Having recently run the 50km Canalathon followed swiftly by Manchester marathon, I was reasonably confident for getting round the Lakeland Trails Coniston Marathon.  Its only a few extra hills isn’t it?  In my head I’m already a long distance trail runner, but the reality is quite different.  I’ve ran a marathon distance three times (all during 2016) and done plenty of trail running but never actually combined the two, so this was my chance to get out there and prove it!  I had about 8 weeks since Manchester marathon so no sooner had I recovered and started getting the distances up it was time to start ramping down again, my longest run being a hilly 30km in the Peak District.  Was I going to be ready for this??  Well here I am ready to go, 8am with a lovely stroll down to race HQ where it’s a hive of activity.  Its worth noting now that even pre-9am it was already looking to be a scorcher of a day.

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Living in Manchester I‚Äôm an expert at rain running, point me along a canal towpath and I‚Äôll splash along for as long as I need to, but running‚Ķ‚Ķ. in this heat?! We were off around 9am and I got into a reasonably comfortable pace but¬†as we¬†entered the first climb many shifted into a “power-hike” and I shortly followed suit (with hindsight I’d have taken it a lot easier at the start).¬† It was tough running, mainly as very little of the route was shaded so the sunshine¬†was quite relentless,¬†but things were going reasonably well and I got to halfway around 2 hours.

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The picture above was taken from near enough the highest point in the race at around 15 miles, so whilst there was a reasonable amount of climbing¬†(my watch said 920m) it was pretty much several “ups and downs” rather than one large climb, but the views up here were fantastic and make this type of running so much more rewarding than pounding the pavement.¬† I really had begun to tire by this point and knowing there was another 10+ miles to go in 25 degree+ heat was quite a challenge on the mind.¬† I’m a stubborn bastard though so I kept repeating my mantra “The finish line doesn’t move, you do!” to get me through it.¬† I also put some music on (hip hop of course) but that did kind of ruin the natural vibe of the run.

Five or so miles later I found myself approaching a dead body face down in some “scrubland”.¬† I was quite unsurprised given the heat but thought I had better investigate just to make sure that they were either dead or doing the finest “planking” session in the north-west.¬† Rather than death, the unfortunate runner had got something worse – cramp.¬†¬†Planking seemed to be his cure for it and he assured me he was ok, so given it was nearly lunchtime and all I continued on into the heat.

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The view above, whilst fantastic in it own right, I found quite soul destroying.  I had around five miles to go and running had become almost optional with the vast majority of people around me resorting to trekking along feeling sorry for themselves, and what could we see? Mainly nothing but a long dry path, not a water station or shady forest in sight.  But as I mentioned above, the marathon organisers were hardly likely to bring the finish line up here to me so jog on I did.  I did come across a small stream so I filled up my hat and poured the lot over my head which did seem to invigorate me somewhat!

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An hour or so later and this is me in the last 50m, incredibly relieved!! Wind-on about 2 minutes¬†later and I was in the lake, oh the lovely cool lake.¬† I finished in a time of 4:42:21 which to put into perspective is a whopping increase from my Manchester marathon time of 3:27:37, which goes to show what the hills and heat can do to you!¬† A fantastic organised race with a really good crowd.¬† “Interestingly” I finished 62nd, which was also my race number so clearly I carefully¬†planned my time and finishing position ūüôā

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Its done, dunno what all the fuss was about!

I learnt a lot about pacing (slow slow slow) and a lot about my own abilities.  I know I have loads to work on to build up for some long races later this year and all being well some even longer ones next year!

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Soothing marathon feet!

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Goodbye for a while Coniston.

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):

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

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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!

Ancoats

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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!.

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

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

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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

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I too, wish I knew the way.

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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…..

 

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….

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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.

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A clownfish at the Palmitos Park aquarium

Sea view

Some more strange cubes

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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.

Fleuve Parasseux

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

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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!)

 

Lake District Snaps

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

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Moody view from Orrest Head (lots of running training up and down this ‚Äúhill‚ÄĚ over the week!)

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

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Back when cars were great

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

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Down with the ozone layer!

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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.

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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.