Food and music
Going from Iceland to Greece in a day gave me a mild bit of currency exchange culture shock. Iceland is crazy expensive, especially given the self-immolation of the pound right now. Greece is remarkably cheap. You can eat like a king for unreasonably reasonable prices.
For me, food is one of the great pleasures in life. Trying new kinds of food is one of my primary motivators for travelling. It’s fascinating to me to see the differences—and similarities—across cultures. In many ways, food is like a universal language, but a language that we all speak in different dialects.
It’s a similar story with music. There’s a fundamental universality in music across cultures, but there’s also a vast gulf of differences.
On my first night in Reykjavik, I wound up at an Irish music session. I know, I know—I sound like such a cliché, going to a foreign country and immediately seeking out something familiar. But I had been invited along by a kind soul who got in touch through The Session after I posted my travel plans there. Luckily for me, there was a brand new session starting that very evening. I didn’t have an instrument, but someone very kindly lent me their banjo and I had a thoroughly enjoyable time playing along with the jigs and reels.
A few nights later I was in a quiet, somewhat smokey tavern in Thessaloniki. There was no Irish music to be found, but the rembetika music played on gorgeous bouzoukis and baglamas was in full flow.
Audio I listened to in 2017
I huffduffed 290 pieces of audio in 2017. I’ve still got a bit of a backlog of items I haven’t listened to yet, but I thought I’d share some of my favourite items from the past year. Here are twelve pieces of audio, one for each month of 2017…
Donald Hoffman’s TED talk, Do we see reality as it really is?. TED talks are supposed to blow your mind, right? (22:15)
How to Become Batman on Invisibilia. Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller challenge you to think of blindness as social construct. Hear ‘em out. (58:02)
Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive on Public Radio International. I just love hearing Brewster Kahle’s enthusiasm and excitement. (42:43)
Every Tuesday At Nine on Irish Music Stories. I’ve been really enjoying Shannon Heaton’s podcast this year. This one digs into that certain something that happens at an Irish music session. (40:50)
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Kreative Kontrol. This was far more revealing than I expected: genuine and unpretentious. (57:07)
Paul Lloyd at Patterns Day. All the talks at Patterns Day were brilliant. Paul’s really stuck with me. (28:21)
Long Distance on Reply All. It all starts with a simple phone call. (47:27)
The King of Tears on Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s style suits podcasting very well. I liked this episode about country songwriter Bobby Braddock. Related: Jon’s Troika episode on tearjerkers. (42:14)
Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle. This was easily my favourite podcast episode of 2017. It’s on the User Defenders podcast but it’s not about UX. Instead, host Jason Ogle interviews his father, a rocket scientist who worked on everything from Apollo to every space shuttle mission. His story is fascinating. (2:38:21)
R.E.M. on Song Exploder. Breaking down the song Try Not To Breathe from Automatic For The People. (16:15)
I’ve gone back and added the tag “2017roundup” to each of these items. So if you’d like to subscribe to a podcast of just these episodes, here are the links:
100 word 096
It was another beautiful day in Sussex and the other Clearlefties made full use of it by going on a cross-country hike culminating with a well-earned beer’n’food stop in a pub.
I couldn’t join them though because I had band practice: three hours of hammering out Salter Cane songs. This time though, the hammering was a touch lighter. We’ve got a gig in The Greys pub coming up on Saturday, July 11th—come along!—and it’s not the most spacious of venues (to put it mildly) so we tried practicing a bit quieter than we normally would.
Still sounded great.
100 words 084
Cobh really has become quite the tourist town. Today we—myself, Jessica, and my mother—took a boat over to Spike Island and enjoyed strolling around the fort and taking in the magnificent views. Then we went back across to town and had lunch where the White Star Line office used to be, sitting right next to the pier used to load goods and passengers for the Titanic.
We finished the evening in a pub listening to some great tunes (once the bodhrán player got the hint and left). Plenty of sunshine and plenty of pints. A really nice day.
100 words 075
Today was a Salter Cane practice day. It was a good one. We tried throwing some old songs at our new drummer, Emily. They stuck surprisingly well. Anomie, Long Gone, John Hope …they all sounded pretty damn good. To be honest, Emily was probably playing them better than the rest of us.
It was an energetic band practice so by the time I got home, I was really tired. I kicked back and relaxed with the latest copy of Spaceflight magazine from the British Interplanetary Society.
Then I went outside and watched the International Space Station fly over my house.
100 words 063
We travelled out to Lewes yesterday evening to partake in Jamie’s birthday celebrations. There followed a night of dancing to a wonderfully fun punk covers band, complete with guest vocal appearances from the extended Freeman family: Jamie doing Elvis Costello, his brother Tim doing The Sex Pistols, his other brother Martin doing The Jam, and his cousin Ben doing The Stranglers.
Ah, so much nostalgia and revisited youth!
100 words 061
I had band practice with Salter Cane today. It’s been ages since the last rehearsal. Our drummer, Emily, has been recovering from surgery on her foot, hence the hiatus.
I was sure that this practice would be a hard slog. Not only had we not played together for a long time, but we’re trying out a new rehearsal space too. Sure enough, there were plenty of technical difficulties that arose from trying to get things working in the new space. But I was pleasantly surprised by how the songs sounded. We were pretty tight. One might even say we rocked.
100 words 009
The Session trad tune machine
I’ve never had much exposure to this world of hacking electronics. I remember getting excited about the possibilities at a Brighton BarCamp back in 2008:
I now have my own little arduino kit, a bread board and a lucky bag of LEDs. Alas, know next to nothing about basic electronics so I’m really going to have to brush up on this stuff.
I never did do any brushing up. But that all changed last week.
Seb is doing a new two-day workshop. He doesn’t call it Internet Of Things. He doesn’t call it Geocities Of Things. He calls it Stuff That Talks To The Interwebs, or STTTTI, or ST4I. He needed some guinea pigs to test his workshop material on, so Clearleft volunteered as tribute.
In short, it was great! And this time, I didn’t stop hacking when I got home.
First off, every workshop attendee gets a hand-picked box of goodies to play with and keep: an arduino mega, a wifi shield, sensors, screens, motors, lights, you name it. That’s the hardware side of things. There are also code samples and libraries that Seb has prepared in advance.
Now, remember, I lack even the most basic knowledge of electronics, but after two days of fiddling with this stuff, it started to click.
On the first workshop day, we all did the same exercises, connected things up, getting them to talk to the internet, that kind of thing. For the second workshop day, Seb encouraged us to think about what we might each like to build.
I was quite taken with the ability of the piezo buzzer to play rudimentary music. I started to wonder if there was a way to hook it up to The Session and have it play the latest jigs, reels, and hornpipes that have been submitted to the site in ABC notation. A little bit of googling revealed that someone had already taken a stab at writing an ABC parser for arduino. I didn’t end up using that code, but it convinced me that what I was trying to do wasn’t crazy.
So I built a machine that plays Irish traditional music from the internet.
The hardware has a piezo buzzer, an “on” button, an “off” button, a knob for controlling the speed of the tune, and an obligatory LED.
The software has a countdown timer that polls a URL every minute or so. The URL is http://tune.adactio.com/. That in turn uses The Session’s read-only API to grab the latest tune activity and then get the ABC notation for whichever tune is at the top of that list. Then it does some cleaning up—removing some of the more advanced ABC stuff—and outputs a single line of notes to be played. I’m fudging things a bit: the device has the range of a tin whistle, and expects tunes to be in the key of D or G, but seeing as that’s at least 90% of Irish traditional music, it’s good enough.
Whenever there’s a new tune, it plays it. Or you can hit the satisfying “on” button to manually play back the latest tune (and yes, you can hit the equally satisfying “off” button to stop it). Being able to adjust the playback speed with a twiddly knob turns out to be particularly handy if you decide to learn the tune.
I added one more lo-fi modification. I rolled up a piece of paper and placed it over the piezo buzzer to amplify the sound. It works surprisingly well. It’s loud!
I’ll keep tinkering with it. It’s fun. I realise I’m coming to this whole hardware-hacking thing very late, but I get it now: it really does feel similar to that feeling you would get when you first figured out how to make a web page back in the days of Geocities. I’ve built something that’s completely pointless for most people, but has special meaning for me. It’s ugly, and it’s inefficient, but it works. And that’s a great feeling.
(P.S. Seb will be running his workshop again on the 3rd and 4th of February, and there will a limited amount of early-bird tickets available for one hour, between 11am and midday this Thursday. I highly recommend you grab one.)
When I finally unveiled the redesigned and overhauled version of The Session at the end of 2012, it was the culmination of a lot of late nights and weekends. It was also a really great learning experience, one that I subsequently drew on to inform my An Event Apart presentation, The Long Web.
As part of that presentation, I give a little backstory on the ABC format. It’s a way of notating music using nothing more than ASCII text. It begins with some JSON-like metadata about the tune—its title, time signature, and key—followed by the notes of the tune itself—uppercase and lowercase letters denote different octaves, and numbers can be used to denote length:
X: 1 T: Cooley's R: reel M: 4/4 L: 1/8 K: Edor |:D2|EBBA B2 EB|B2 AB dBAG|FDAD BDAD|FDAD dAFD| EBBA B2 EB|B2 AB defg|afec dBAF|DEFD E2:| |:gf|eB B2 efge|eB B2 gedB|A2 FA DAFA|A2 FA defg| eB B2 eBgB|eB B2 defg|afec dBAF|DEFD E2:|
ABC notation dates back to the early nineties, a time of very limited bandwidth. Exchanging audio files or even images would have been prohibitively expensive. Having software installed on your machine that could convert ABC into sheet music or audio meant that people could share and exchange tunes through email, BBS, or even the then-fledgling World Wide Web.
In today’s world of relatively fast connections, ABC’s usefulness might seemed lessened. But in fact, it’s just as popular as it ever was. People have become used to writing (and even sight-reading) the format, and it has all the resilience that comes with being a text format; easily editable, and human-readable. It’s still the format that people use to submit new tune settings to The Session.
A little while back, I came upon another advantage of the ABC format, one that I had never previously thought of…
The Session has a wide range of users, of all ages, from all over the world, from all walks of life, using all sorts of browsers. I do my best to make sure that the site works for just about any kind of user-agent (while still providing plenty of enhancements for the most modern browsers). That includes screen readers. Some active members of The Session happen to be blind.
One of those screen-reader users got in touch with me shortly after joining to ask me to explain what ABC was all about. I pointed them at some explanatory links. Once the format “clicked” with them, they got quite enthused. They pointed out that if the sheet music were only available as an image, it would mean very little to them. But by providing the ABC notation alongside the sheet music, they could read the music note-for-note.
That’s when it struck me that ABC notation is effectively
alt text for sheet music!
There’s one little thing that slightly irks me though. The ABC notation should be read out one letter at a time. But screen readers use a kind of fuzzy logic to figure out whether a set of characters should be spoken as a word:
Screen readers try to pronounce acronyms and nonsensical words if they have sufficient vowels/consonants to be pronounceable; otherwise, they spell out the letters. For example, NASA is pronounced as a word, whereas NSF is pronounced as “N. S. F.” The acronym URL is pronounced “earl,” even though most humans say “U. R. L.” The acronym SQL is not pronounced “sequel” by screen readers even though some humans pronounce it that way; screen readers say “S. Q. L.”
It’s not a big deal, and the screen reader user can explicitly request that a word be spoken letter by letter:
Screen reader users can pause if they didn’t understand a word, and go back to listen to it; they can even have the screen reader read words letter by letter. When reading words letter by letter, JAWS distinguishes between upper case and lower case letters by shouting/emphasizing the upper case letters.
But still …I wish there were some way that I could mark up the ABC notation so that a screen reader would know that it should be read letter by letter. I’ve looked into using
abbr, but that offers no guarantees: if the string looks like a word, it will still be spoken as a word. It doesn’t look there’s any ARIA settings for this use-case either.
So if any accessibility experts out there know of something I’m missing, please let me know.
Update: I’ve added an aural CSS declaration of
speak: spell-out (thanks to Martijn van der Ven for the tip), although I think the browser support is still pretty non-existent. Any other ideas?
That was my jam
Looking back through my jams, I thought that they made for nice little snapshots of the year.
- : Meat Abstract by Therapy? …because apparently I had a dream about Therapy?
- : Jubilee Street by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds …because I had just been to the gig/rehearsal that Jessica earned us tickets to. That evening was definitely a musical highlight of the year.
- : Atlanta Lie Low by Robert Forster …because I was in Atlanta for An Event Apart.
- : Larsen B by British Sea Power …because I had just seen them play a gig (on their Brighton home turf) and this was the song they left us with.
- : Tramp The Dirt Down by Elvis Costello …because it was either this or Ding Dong, The Witch Is Dead! (or maybe Margaret In A Guillotine). I had previously “jammed” it in August 2012, saying “Elvis Costello (Davy Spillane, Donal Lunny, and Steve Wickham) in 1989. Still waiting.”
- : It’s A Shame About Ray by The Lemonheads …because Ray Harryhausen died.
- : Summertime In England by Van Morrison …because it was a glorious Summer’s day and this was playing on the stereo in the coffee shop I popped into for my morning flat white.
- : Spaceteam by 100 Robots …because Jim borrowed my space helmet for the video.
- : Higgs Boson Blues by Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds …because this was stuck in my head the whole time I was at hacking at CERN (most definitely a highlight of 2013).
- : Hey, Manhattan by Prefab Sprout …because I was in New York.
- : Pulsar by Vangelis …because I was writing about Jocelyn Bell Burnell.
- : Romeo Had Juliette by Lou Reed …because Lou Reed died, and also: this song is pure poetry.
I like This Is My Jam. On the one hand, it’s a low-maintenance little snippet of what’s happening right now. On the other hand, it makes for a lovely collage over time.
Or, as Matt put it back in 2010:
We’ve all been so distracted by The Now that we’ve hardly noticed the beautiful comet tails of personal history trailing in our wake.
Without deliberate planning, we have created amazing new tools for remembering. The real-time web might just be the most elaborate and widely-adopted architecture for self-archival ever created.
Radio Free Earth
Back at the first San Francisco Science Hack Day I wanted to do some kind of mashup involving the speed of light and the distance of stars:
I wanted to build a visualisation based on Matt’s brilliant light cone idea, but I found it far too daunting to try to find data in a usable format and come up with a way of drawing a customisable geocentric starmap of our corner of the galaxy. So I put that idea on the back burner…
At this year’s San Francisco Science Hack Day, I came back to that idea. I wanted some kind of mashup that demonstrated the connection between the time that light has travelled from distant stars, and the events that would have been happening on this planet at that moment. So, for example, a star would be labelled with “the battle of Hastings” or “the sack of Rome” or “Columbus’s voyage to America”. To do that, I’d need two datasets; the distance of stars, and the dates of historical events (leaving aside any Gregorian/Julian fuzziness).
For wont of a better hack, Chloe agreed to help me out. We set to work finding a good dataset of stellar objects. It turned out that a lot of the best datasets from NASA were either about our local solar neighbourhood, or else really distant galaxies and stars that are emitting prehistoric light.
The best dataset we could find was the Near Star Catalogue from Uranometria but the most distant star in that collection was only 70 or 80 light years away. That meant that we could only mash it up with historical events from the twentieth century. We figured we could maybe choose important scientific dates from the past 70 or 80 years, but to be honest, we really weren’t feeling it.
We had reached this impasse when it was time for the Science Hack Day planetarium show. It was terrific: we were treated to a panoramic tour of space, beginning with low Earth orbit and expanding all the way out to the cosmic microwave background radiation. At one point, the presenter outlined the reach of Earth’s radiosphere. That’s the distance that ionosphere-penetrating radio and television signals from Earth, travelling at the speed of light, have reached. “It extends about 70 light years out”, said the presenter.
This was perfect! That was exactly the dataset of stars that we had. It was a time for a pivot. Instead of the lofty goal of mapping historical events to the night sky, what if we tried to do something more trivial and fun? We could demonstrate how far classic television shows have travelled. Has Star Trek reached Altair? Is Sirius receiving I Love Lucy yet?
No, not TV shows …music! Now we were onto something. We would show how far the songs of planet Earth had travelled through space and which stars were currently receiving which hits.
Chloe remembered there being an API from Billboard, who have collected data on chart-topping songs since the 1940s. But that API appears to be gone, and the Echonest API doesn’t have chart dates. So instead, Chloe set to work screen-scraping Wikipedia for number one hits of the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s …you get the picture. It was a lot of finding and replacing, but in the end we had a JSON file with every number one for the past 70 years.
Meanwhile, I was putting together the logic. Our list of stars had the distances in parsecs. So I needed to convert the date of a number one hit song into the number of parsecs that song had travelled, and then find the last star that it has passed.
By the end of the first day, the functionality was in place: you could enter a date, and find out what was number one on that date, and which star is just now receiving that song.
After the sleepover (more like a wakeover) in the aquarium, we started to style the interface. I say “we” …Chloe wrote the CSS while I made unhelpful remarks.
For the icing on the cake, Chloe used her previous experience with the Rdio API to add playback of short snippets of each song (when it’s available).
Here’s the (more or less) finished hack:
Basically, it’s a simple mashup of music and space …which is why I spent the whole time thinking “What would Matt do?”
Just keep hitting that button to hear a hit from planet Earth and see which lucky star is currently receiving the signal.*
*I know, I know: the inverse-square law means it’s practically impossible that the signal would be in any state to be received, but hey, it’s a hack.
- Novia En Venus by The Satellite
- Melting Sky by Kaminishi
- Safe and Sound (Loon Calls) by Daughters and Orchids
- Fabula by Ghost Orchid
- …I No Longer Know What I Say by ANOA
- A-5 by Elipsys
- Sorrow by Salter Cane
Yes, that last one is from my band—a little bit of audio nepotism.
August in America, day twenty-five
Today was the second day of An Event Apart Chicago and I kicked things off with my talk The Long Web. But this time I introduced a new variable into the mix—I played a bit of mandolin.
It was relevant …honest. I was talking about the redesign and relaunch of The Session, which involved giving a bit of background on traditional Irish music, so it seemed appropriate to demonstrate with a hornpipe. I screwed it up a little bit, but people didn’t seem to mind.
Once I was done with my talk, I was able to relax and enjoy an excellent presentation by Adrian on interface details; lots of great food for thought in there.
Once the day was done, myself, Jessica, Jason, Ethan, Brad, Kristina, and Karen made our way to The Purple Pig, where we proceeded to eat all the food. Excellent food and excellent company; a good way to spend my last night in Chicago …and indeed, the United States.
Tomorrow I begin the journey home.
When I was travelling back from Webstock in New Zealand at the start of this year, I had a brief stopover in Sydney. It coincided with one of John and Maxine’s What Do I Know? events so I did a little stint on five things I learned from the internet.
It was a fun evening and I had a chance to chat with many lovely Aussie web geeks. There was this one guy, Christian, that I was chatting with for quite a bit about all sorts of web-related stuff. But I could tell he wasn’t Australian. The Northern Ireland accent was a bit of a giveaway.
“You’re not from ‘round these parts, then?” I asked.
“Actually,” he said, “we’ve met before.”
I started racking my brains. Which geeky gathering could it have been?
“In Freiburg” he said.
Freiburg? But that was where I lived in the ’90s, before I was even making websites. I was drawing a complete blank. Then he said his name.
“Christian!” I cried, “Kerry and Christian!”
With a sudden shift of context, it all fit into place. We had met on the streets of Freiburg when I was a busker. Christian and his companion Kerry were travelling through Europe and they found themselves in Freiburg, also busking. Christian played guitar. Kerry played fiddle.
I listened to them playing some great Irish tunes and then got chatting with them. They didn’t have a place to stay so I offered to put them up. We had a good few days of hanging out and playing music together.
And now, all these years later, here was Christian …in Sydney, Australia …at a web event! Worlds were colliding. But it was a really great feeling to have that connection between my past and my present; between my life in Germany and my life now; between the world of Irish traditional music and the world of the web.
One of the other things that connects those two worlds is The Session. I’ve been running that website for about twelve or thirteen years now. It’s the thing I’m simultaneously most proud of and most ashamed of.
I’m proud of it because it has genuinely managed to contribute something back to the tradition: it’s handy resource for trad players around the world.
I’m ashamed of it because it has been languishing for so long. It has so much potential and I haven’t been devoting enough time or energy into meeting that potential.
At the end of 2009, I wrote:
I’m not going to make a new year’s resolution—that would just give me another deadline to stress out about—but I’m making a personal commitment to do whatever I can for The Session in 2010.
Well, it only took me another two years but I’ve finally done it.
I’ve spent a considerable portion of my spare time this year overhauling the site from the ground up, completely refactoring the code, putting together a new mobile-first design, adding much more location-based functionality and generally tilting at my own personal windmills. Trying to rewrite a site that’s been up and running for over a decade is considerably more challenging than creating a new site from scratch.
Luckily I had some help. Christian, for example, helped geocode all the sessions and events that had been added to the site over the years.
That’s one thing that the worlds of Irish music and the web have in common: people getting together to share and collaborate.
It was only when I got home that I realised that I had no device that could play Compact Discs. I play all my music on my iPod or iPhone connected to a speaker dock. And my computer is a Macbook Air …no disc drive. So I had to bring the CD into work with me, stick into my iMac and rip the songs from there.
It’s funny how format (or storage medium) obsolescence creeps up on you like that. I wonder how long it will be until I’m not using any kind of magnetic medium at all.
The Lost Lemonworld
When the always-excellent Radiolab podcast turned its attention to the subject of creativity and motivation in an episode called ‘Help?’, they spoke to Elizabeth Gilbert who reminisced about interviewing Tom Waits on this topic:
He was talking about how every song has a distinctive identity that it comes into the world with, and it needs to be taken in different ways. He said there are songs that you have to sneak up on like you’re hunting for a rare bird, and there are songs that come fully intact like a dream taken through a straw. There are songs that you find little bits of like pieces of gum you find underneath the desk, and you scrape them off and you put them together and you make something out of it.
And there are songs, he said, that need to be bullied. He said he’s been in the studio working on a song and the whole album is done and this one song won’t give itself over and — everyone’s gotten used to seeing him do things like this — he’ll march up and down the studio talking to the song, saying “The rest of the family is in the car! We’re all going on vacation! You coming along or not? You’ve got 10 minutes or else you’re getting left behind!”
Last year the New York Times ran a profile of The National, written while they were still recording the wonderful High Violet—my favourite album of last year. The piece circles around the ongoing problems the band were having trying to tame the song Lemonworld:
Since January they’d done it bright, done it drowsy, done it with violin parts overnighted from Australia by Padma Newsome, done it so many ways Bryce despaired, “It’s a riddle we can’t solve.”
This is exactly what we’ve been going through with Salter Cane. For about a year we had a song that had been defying us, stubbornly refusing to reach that breakthrough moment where it all seems to come together. We took a break from the song for a while and when we came back to it, we tried approaching it as a new piece. That seems to be working. It’s finally coming together.
In the end we realised that we trying to make the song into something bigger than it needed to be. Sometimes it’s okay for a song to be small and simple. That seems to be the case with Lemonworld:
Matt said afterward, “we tried so hard and it always seemed to fail as a rock song. It lost the charm of the ugly little demo. Now it’s the ugliest, worst-mixed, least-polished song on the record, and it took the longest to get there.”
I think that Lemonworld is a strong song. It even stands up to be being butchered by me on the bouzouki.
The sound of song
I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness, and a better sense of humor.
He may be overselling it but I think he’s onto something, as I noted last time I sang karaoke in Brighton. And it’s not just karaoke—singing in a church choir, playing Rock Band, performing in a cheesy covers band …none of these activities really have anything to do with virtuosity and everything to do with opening up the lungs and passing air over the vocal cords in an uninhibited way.
I used to sing all the time. Before I had a “real” job it was how I made ends meet, busking my way ‘round Europe.
These days when I reach for my bouzouki or mandolin, it’s usually to play some tunes—jigs and reels. But lately, with Grant McLennan on my mind, I’ve been rediscovering the songs of The Go-Betweens. As well as listening to their back catalogue, I’ve been recalling their songs I used to sing and I’ve started singing them again.
It feels good. Eno describes it thusly:
You use your lungs in a way that you probably don’t for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness.
It feels especially good in combination with the plucking of strings …or as Shakespeare put it:
Is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hale souls out of men’s bodies?
For no particular reason, I’ve been recording some of those Go-Betweens songs. They’re very rough. They’re very lo-fi. But playing and singing them …well, it just feels good.
Bye, bye pride
It was an evening flight out of Boston. The fasten seatbelt sign was switched off as the plane rose above the clouds and I was greeted with the sight of a gorgeous sunset to the west as I reached for my noise-cancelling headphones.
Normally I’d spend the time catching up on my podcasts but I felt like hearing some music. Specifically, I wanted to hear The Go-Betweens, having spent the day hanging out Chloe, fellow web developer and Go-Betweens fan. I listened to Bachelor Kisses as the last rays of sun streamed across the clouds and into the cabin.
Don’t believe what you’ve heard,
Faithful’s not a bad word.
Have you ever noticed the way that your emotional reactions can be heightened when you’re on an airplane? Like when you watch a sappy movie that would normally evoke a cynical sneer but you find yourself blinking away tears instead. Maybe it’s something to do with the amount of oxygen, or maybe it’s something to do with the cabin pressure. Or maybe it’s the feeling that your soul is trailing behind you, as William Gibson described in Pattern Recognition:
She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien’s theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.
Admittedly, Bachelor Kisses is such a beautiful song that it could make me tear up at the best of times.
Exactly five years ago to the day I found out via text message that Grant McLellan had died. He will never write any more songs.
Maybe it was that thought that was bringing tears to my eyes. Maybe.