Enlightened Blog

Chris Harris's Blog

Hi there! Welcome to Chris's latest blog.

Last update: July 2024

Blog Archive
What I'm Reading
Chris's Music Page
Chris's Home Page
HFO Home Page

RSS feed Subscribe!

Comments? Feedback? Cool link? Send me an email at headfirstonly (at) gmail.com!

The older I get, the more I realise that the only sensible response to an increasingly irrational world is to try and make nice things for people. And so I make music. Lots of it.

You can stream or buy my latest album Unknown Territory at Bandcamp, where you can also explore my extensive discography of older material.

Looking for social media? Here's my Facebook Artist Page and Instagram. You can also follow me on Mastodon.

SECRET WORLD

The blog has been quiet, because I've been away. I actually treated myself to a special adventure, which is not something I do very often (the last time was well before Covid happened). I don't do cruises, or trips abroad. I used to do so much travelling for work that it ceased to hold any attraction for me. These days I'm more concerned with undoing the amount all those flights contributed to anthropogenic climate change. But when I was offered the opportunity to make one of my dreams come true I wasn't going to pass it up. And as treats go, this one was sitting right at the top of my list: I've spent the last few days at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios in Box, just east of Bath (and five miles down the road from Solsbury Hill). Yes, honestly. I'm not making this up. I didn't dream it. I've even got documentary evidence to prove it, as you will see in a second!

What a quite extraordinary place it is. And what a lovely collection of supremely creative people had gathered there for the event. It was a delight and a privilege to be able to join them for a few days.

The event was the first of a planned series of "Masterclasses" organised by the studio. The idea is simple: pitch up on the Thursday evening, then spend four days learning about music production from a selection of some of the industry's leading professionals. And by "leading" I mean "legendary", as you'll see.

That's me!

Once all the delegates had arrived on the Thursday evening we were given a guided tour by Katy, who is Real World's chief engineer. She took one look at me (somewhat portly, shaved head, white goatee) and drily observed, "you have a look..." (In my defence I've looked like this for nearly thirty years now; it was only when photos started appearing of Peter sporting exactly the same style that my friends started taking the mickey out of me for being such a fanboy. They weren't wrong, to be honest; that's why I kept it!)

The Big Room from outside

So on Thursday evening I found myself standing in the actual, one and only Big Room at Real World. I took a photo and posted it to Instagram and Facebook and my socials (as I believe the kids say these days) went absolutely ballistic. And rightly so; the place is legendary among the muso community.

The Big Room hadn't even been built when I first read about Peter's studio, which is set in beautiful countryside to the east of Bath. Back then, recordings were made in a shed at the bottom of the garden there. But what that shed transformed into is the be-all and end-all of sonic wizardry as far as I'm concerned. I was immediately fascinated by the place and of all the world's first division premier recording studios, Real World is the one I've always wanted to visit—far more so than more well known places such as Abbey Road, Sunset Sound, or Air Lyndhurst. I never imagined that one day I'd be staying there, but that's what I've just done.

Not only is the studio legendary, so is all its equipment. Look at this treasure trove: a Roland Dimension D and two Eventide H3000 Ultra Harmonizers in the left hand rack and a boatload of Lexicon delay and effects processors in the right (in their distinctive blue livery)! And one down from the top of the right-hand rack, do you see the AMS RMX16? I've been obsessed with that particular item of equipment ever since I first heard what it could do. When it arrived in the 1980s, its reverb treatment was suddenly on every hit record; it would not be exaggerating to say that it was responsible for making the music of the 80s sound like it did. Make a note to remember it, because I'll be coming back to it....

Big Room rack, left side

While the RMX16 was rather out of my price range, it was very reassuring to spot a few items of gear that I do own. I spotted a Mackie Big Knob monitor controller and a Korg Wavestate Mk 1 in Peter's writing room, and I was delighted to discover this vintage Juno-60, ready and waiting in the Big Room...

A piece of gear I use, too...

Dinner on Thursday night was when we all started to get to know each other. Any feelings of impostor syndrome melted away in face of such an enthusiastic crowd of fellow nerds. Everyone wanted to know what everyone else did and it felt like we'd all been cast from the same mould. I was astonished to discover that one delegate who had flown there from California lives down the road from my brother in San Carlos and used to have band rehearsals on the same street, possibly even in Andy's house before he bought it!

Things started off for me with a session on Friday morning in Peter's private writing room (so no photography was allowed!) with Cam, a.k.a. Swindle, who has a CV that is absolutely full of incredible work. He focused on how to mix a piece so that it directs the attention of the listener where it ought to go, and he completely changed my approach to equalization after the guitar I played for the demonstration we recorded pushed the mix into clipping by more than 0.8 dB. My first response would have been to turn down the gain, but Cam said "you don't need to do that..." and just by applying a low cut, then moving the guitar slightly to one side he brought the peak down to 0.6 dB, and after going through the same process with the bass and piano the rest disappeared as well. I was completely gobsmacked. I got my money's worth from the event just from that one session.

Next up was a session with a guy I've actually seen on stage. I saw him a few years ago playing bass with Periphery supporting the Devin Townsend Project at the O2 in Bristol: Nolly Getgood had a drum kit set up for us in Real World's Wood Room and spent two hours giving us a crash course in how to prepare drums for a recording session: tuning, mic selection, mic placement, the whole nine yards. I took copious notes and it was huge fun!

Nolly in the Wood Room

I might be a rubbish vocalist, but after spending two hours with Cameron Gower-Poole on Friday afternoon I had a notebook full of great advice about how to get the best out of other singers, how to not suck as badly when you sing yourself, and a shopping list of his go-to plugins for vocal production. Again, it was a session that made the weekend worth every penny.

Then it was time to watch Ali Chant doing his thing in the Big Room as he recorded overdubs on a demo which had been made in the previous session. This felt like the least participatory event of the weekend, as our role was principally to sit around not making any noise and watch how he got the musicians (and several members of the Real World crew he'd roped in) to find something that fitted the mood of the rest of the recording. It was fascinating to watch, and seeing how attentive Ben was at the SSL desk was a real eye-opener. By the time Ali had finished explaining to the musician what he wanted him to try doing, Ben had the DAW (Pro Tools in this case, although a lot of systems also used Logic) cued up at exactly the right point to start recording.

After a fab dinner cooked by the studio's resident chef Jerome we were all back in the Big Room for a talk by David Wrench who is one of the UK's leading producers and who specialises in producing mixes that will "land" in the club environment. I hadn't realised just how different that approach is, and I was surprised when he listed the things that he does to a mix; there was hardly anything apart from a bit of eq and compression—but when he produces a rap track, the automation he applies is done at the level of individual syllables.

After a brief sojurn to the Queen's Head up the road (thanks for that, GG) it was time for bed. Could I sleep? Hell no. I was buzzing!

After breakfast on Saturday morning I discovered that I had suddenly discovered movie nerd heaven when I sat down in the Red Room (which has an insane 7.1.4 immersive audio setup) in the company of Pete Cobbin and Kirsty Whalley to hear some of the film scores they've been responsible for recording during their long and glittering careers working together on a truly awe-inspiring set of films including what Kirsty referred to as "the pink movie." They're my new best friends now. When they played back Alan Silvestri's rather familiar closing theme from a moderately successful film that came out a few years back, the hair on the back of my neck was standing on end, because it was a piece that I know extremely well and the frequency and dynamic ranges I was hearing coming out of the Red Room's system made my fairly decent home cinema system sound like a cheap transistor radio. There was a subwoofer lurking on the floor behind the desk that took up half the room and the LFE (that's the Low Frequency Environment) that it created was visceral.

Pete and Kirsty and a VERY happy film nerd.

The most personally inspiring session of the whole event for me was when I returned to the Wood Room on Saturday morning and got to geek out with Portishead's very own Adrian Utley and listen to him explain his unique approach to creating music with his guitar and any other technology he can get his hands on (which included a paintbrush and a lobster fork!) Adrian is such a nice guy (we have a few mutual friends) and he was a delight to talk to.

Mr. Utley

After that I spent two hours in the company of one half of Perfecto, the one and only Mr Steve Osborne (and I'm sure you remember their remix of U2's "Even Better Than The Real Thing" don't you?) who did an extremely deep dive into the process of taking a song from demo to mastering. As the song he had chosen to illustrate his talk was Suddenly I See by K T Tunstall, I was in heaven. And the first thing I did when I got home was go online and order a tambourine...

I've been receiving Peter's New Moon emails as work on the i/o album progressed over the past year and about five minutes into Hans-Martin Buff's talk about the In-Side Atmos mix of the album, I suddenly realised who I was sitting next to (I'd only managed to sleep for about an hour the previous night, so whatever filters I usually have were just little piles of ash in the corner of the bedroom) so I suddenly blurted out, "Wait, you're Buff Buff!" Fortunately for me, he thought that this was funny. He's a great guy. And hearing the In-side mix playing on the actual system it was mixed on was an astonishing experience. Oh, and please note: we were told most emphatically that we should not refer to Dolby Atmos as "surround sound". The correct term is immersive audio!

Wait, you're *BUFF* Buff!

Just in case you didn't know, Buff was Prince's personal recording engineer at Paisley Park for four years. I wasn't kidding when I said the folks who were teaching us are musical legends.

And talking of which:

Just over ten years ago I went to a talk given by the legendary producer and recording engineer Ken Scott. Ken is the guy who mixed the White Album. He produced Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust for Bowie. He's worked with Elton John and Jeff Beck, he helped Frank Zappa set up the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen in Los Angeles after his wife discovered that Frank and Gail lived across the street from their new home, and I've been a fan of his work since I read the sleeve notes on the Dixie Dregs album What If (which I bought in 1979) and found out that it was a KoMoS production. And Ken name-checked the Dixie Dregs as being his favourite band to work with. He also mentioned that he had been an obsessive reader of album sleeve notes since he was twelve, so he's very definitely one of us.

That talk of Ken's back in 2014 was what gave me the push that I desperately needed. It took me from having a shelf under the cabin bed in the back bedroom (where I would make music a few times a year for FAWM and 50/90—and I would cut my head open at least once a month on the bed frame when I stood up too fast) to emptying the room completely and then ordering a bespoke desk, together with a big mixer and a couple of big screen displays to sit on top of it. The room has turned into a place I want to make music in, 365 days a year. So I do. Ken didn't just inspire me; he lit a fire under my backside which has never gone out.

During Saturday night's talk he was extremely self-effacing and said that he didn't think he'd personally had any effect on the world of popular music; he'd just been very fortunate to work with some incredibly talented people. After his talk, I made sure he knew that I didn't think that this was true at all. He was the reason why I felt confident enough to book a place on this event. He has brought me much joy over many decades. And he very kindly posed for this photo and signed my copy of his book, which I had brought along specially, because of course I did!

Catch-up

The following morning I was treated to a session in the Red Room where Ken played us a selection of outtakes from the Ziggy Stardust recording sessions (Rick Wakeman featured prominently) and then he gave us the great privilege of playing us three tracks from the Dolby Atmos release which comes out on September 6th.

Holy moly. It was like being given a new set of ears.

Real World's very own Cameron Jenkins and Bob Leadbeater finished off the morning by showing us how they wrangle one of the Studio's Studer 24-track tape recorders (a reel of tape for it will set you back a cool £500) into creating magic. And it really was magic; the A and B comparison between the tape playback and what Pro Tools had made of the same thing was ridiculous. Tape at 30 ips just sparkles! And you can't beat the smell of hot tape, you know what I mean?

After another splendid lunch courtesy of Jerome (I put on four pounds over the weekend and I regret nothing) we all convened in the Big Room for the final masterclass session, which was presented by a long-time colleague of Peter's, Hugh Padgham. Remember that AMS reverb that I mentioned earlier? I was obsessed by its extremely weird non-linear reverb settings. The first is known as NON-LIN but guess who helped out with the development of the even weirder sounding NONLIN2 preset? Yup, it was Mr Padgham. My hero! And yes, we learned the full story of how the gated drum sound that sent Phil Collins's career into the stratosphere came about. We also heard his tales of working with The Police making Ghost in the Machine at Montserrat (as well as Le Studio in Quebec) and then returning for Synchronicity.

He was occasionally upstaged by one of Real World's swans, which kept floating past the picture window behind him and flapping its wings!

After the talk, I managed to get a few moments to thank him for explaining the best way to record Chapman Stick (the answer is a Pultec set at between 80 to 100 Hz with the Q wide open, and a Gates Sta-Level compressor limiter, which "somehow magically makes everything sound better" but which costs rather more than I can justify spending at the moment!) And I asked him if he'd mind posing for a photo with me, explaining that I wanted to send it to the band whom I'd just recorded performing their version of Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic and he happily obliged!

Mr. Padgham

About twenty minutes later I got a Whatsapp message from the band. It just consisted of an animated gif of Wayne and Garth in Wayne's World making the "we're not worthy" gesture.

And then it was almost all over. Almost.

My studio has a Herman Miller chair in it, because Peter's studio is equipped with them. I love sitting in mine, and I couldn't resist the temptation to try out Peter's seat at the SSL 9000 desk (which at one point was the largest mixing desk on the planet):

"The Cat Who Got The Cream"

After I put that photo on social media, Helen simply commented that I looked like "the cat who got the cream" and you know what? She was absolutely right. Several of my friends told me that they have never seen photographs of me looking so happy.

After dinner, most people stuck around. Katy and her team had rigged up the most enormous screen I've ever seen in the Big Room so we could all watch the Euros final together (Spain beat England 2-1). Yeah, didn't ever think I'd get to do that, that's for sure. The score didn't really matter; I was hanging out with some of the most incredible people I have ever met and every single one of them is passionate about what they do. So rather than go to bed, we all trooped up the road to the Queen's Head again and stayed there until we were thrown out in the small hours of the morning.

Real World is a magical place. I've already booked to go back for another event. But the icing on the cake happened when I woke up on Monday morning knowing that I would have to be going home in a few hours. When I opened the blinds in the bedroom, this was the view from my window. Can you see that little spot of blue on the pipe over the mill race?

Sky Blue

It was a kingfisher. I'd also seen long-tailed tits, a jay, rooks, jackdaws, and magpies and I was enthusing about what a sanctuary for wildlife the place obviously was over breakfast with Bob Leadbeater, the studio tech, when he wandered in to the dining room for a coffee at breakfast time. He just smiled and said, "Yes, but have you seen the otters?"

See what I mean?

REDUCING MY FOOTPRINT

Now that I'm exporting electricity, I've switched to a different tariff with my energy supplier which hands over control of my inverter and the storage battery to them so that they can optimise my energy usage and minimise my net energy costs. And oh boy, I can already see the difference. I import electricity—if I need to, that is—when it's cheap, then let my energy provider pull it back off the battery (or directly from my panels) when it's pricey so I'm effectively renting out my system as grid storage. And every time I check my status using their app on my phone, I've been surprised by how fast the money mounts up.

I can't remember the last time I had to fill up the petrol tank on my car, which is a self-charging hybrid. It was several months ago, I know that much. While the car can manage a range of nearly 600 miles on one tank, according to my Google timeline I drove just 17 miles during the whole of June. My fitness tracker reckons I walked just under double that distance, at 29 miles. Given that I used to drive more than 30,000 miles each year this is an extraordinary change in my carbon footprint. If you've read the blog for any length of time you'll be aware of my concern about anthropogenic climate change, and believe me, the changes I've been making recently aren't just a result of being retired; all this work to reduce my carbon footprint is something I've been planning for many years now.

If you're reading this and muttering (as my father used to do) that I'm wrong and there is no such thing as climate change, then I have to tell you that you've been misinformed. And no, no "discussion" is necessary; there's simply no doubt that it's real, at least among the scientific community. If you persist in believing otherwise, please remember that the scientific community doesn't include Piers Corbyn, anyone on Fox News, or your mate down the pub and I'm not in the slightest bit interested in hearing why you think it's not you but me who is being deluded. If you're not scared about how things are likely to go for the rest of this century, you just haven't found out enough about the subject yet.

For a start, the warmer the climate gets, the more water vapour the atmosphere can hold, which means that rainstorms are getting more severe and flash flooding is becoming more likely. People have been warning that this would happen since the 1980s, but once again this summer it's been happening across Europe and sadly, people have been losing their lives as a result. Then there are those terrifying stories about baseball-sized hailstones causing millions of dollars of damage; those are going to get more and more common, because a warmer climate means that cumulonimbus clouds are becoming much better at making larger hail, and more of it, too.

Please don't be part of the problem; we should all be helping to be part of the solution. So go off and read some information from credible sources for a change. And if you see any research which appears to go against consensus, you should pay very close attention to who sponsored it, because organizations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo are quite prepared to flat-out lie about how bad things are going to get in order to delay any mitigating action and protect their profits for as long as possible. Current predictions are, quite frankly, on the terrifying side and I've detected a fairly obvious (and alarming) trend in many recent research papers that have all been saying that things are going to be even worse than earlier predictions indicated because the climate is a lot more complicated than the earlier computer models took into account. Governments aren't doing enough. It's taken less than a decade to show that the measures to limit the global temperature rise to just 1.5°C ratified in the 2015 Paris Agreement have been completely ineffective (and that threshold wasn't expected to be broken until 2030, further reinforcing the point I just made about "worst case" scenarios in climate science being nothing of the sort).

If you live in Florida, I wish you the best of luck, because you're going to need it. The fact that your governor has declared that the problem doesn't exist isn't going to change the outcome or help matters at all. I recommend having a play with the NOAA's interactive sea level rise viewer, because you'll discover that it only takes the mean levels to rise a couple of feet for most of South Florida (and Louisiana) to completely disappear under water. Remember, in some places the mean sea lavel has risen as much as eight inches since 1993 and the rate of that rise has accelerated since then. The most pessimistic (and sadly, as we just saw, these are therefore likely to prove the most accurate) predictions of sea level rise are currently that it will reach more than 5.25 feet (1.6 m) by the year 2100. Try plugging that into the NOAA's visualiser; Miami Beach will be under water as will Rockaway Beach further north. Cape Kennedy will be mostly gone (and Elon Musk won't fare any better, because the Texas coast will have moved inland and he'll be looking for a new Starbase). The Florida Keys will be hanging on by the most precarious of threads. On the other side of the US, San Francisco and Oakland are both going to need new airports, for starters. If you live in Redwood City, I'd think about moving to higher ground.

So, yeah. That's why I'm trying to do my bit. Because if action isn't taken, things are going to be in a real mess in a few decades. Even if I'm not around then, a lot of people I know and care about will be. I'm doing what I can do as much for them as much as I'm doing it so I can sleep more easily at night.

FEEL PRODUCTIVE, FEEL GOOD

At end of the third day of 50-90 yesterday, I already had three songs uploaded to the challenge's site. My work rate will take a hit next week because there is other stuff going on, so I'm trying to build up a bit of a buffer. When I get a chance to work on music again, I don't want to have fallen behind. I'm doing the same thing with listening to other people's stuff and leaving comments, too.

After publishing Friday's blog entry I headed upstairs to write a song about the election result, and by the time I'd fired up the studio PC, Rishi Sunak announced that he was not only resigning as Prime Minister, he'd also stepped down as leader of the Tory party. Although I'm disappointed I won't get to watch him get humiliated during (the new) Prime Minister's questions session in Parliament, the schadenfreude was delicious. And the news also meant that I got a decent song out of the events, I reckon.

Once again, my experience is that when I feel good about the music I'm making, I feel good about myself (or maybe it's the other way around). I've been seeing all sorts of nice side effects as a result. When I weighed myself this morning I was the lightest I've been since back in 2020. So far this year I've lost five pounds and I suspect that the weight will come off more easily now that I'm taking a break from alcohol and pizza and there are no crisps, biscuits, or ice cream in the house. I had a really good night's sleep last night, too. 41% of it was spent in restorative NREM sleep, and that's another sort of figure that makes me happy. It'd be nice to not be in quite as much pain as I've been in lately, but I think I'm even beginning to see an improvement there as well. And that is a very strong motivator for working harder at losing weight, all by itself. Trust me on this.

LANDSLIDE

This morning the country is waking up to the news of a significant shift in political power, as—pretty much as expected—the Tories got a severe kicking in yesterday's general election. With almost all of the results now in, the Conservative Party has lost 251 seats and the Labour Party have gained 214. As I type this, Labour will have a majority of at least 86 in the House of Commons. It was the worst result for the Tories in the party's history, and they thoroughly deserved it. In Wales, they lost every seat they contested.

Many of the Tory party's most abhorrent characters had already chosen not to stand for re-election, but quite a few of them (who were clearly either too arrogant or too dim to see the writing on the wall) got nasty surprises last night. Grant Shapps, a.k.a. the notorious "get rich quick" chancer Michael Green, (and he pretended to be Corinne Stockheath and Sebastian Fox, too, don't forget) lost his seat. So did Victorian cosplayer Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ludicrous Michael Fabricant, and Liz Truss (which came as a surprise to absolutely nobody else, given that as Prime Minister she lost out to a lettuce).

I'm actually rather pleased that Rishi Sunak retained his seat, because it means that rather than being able to take his family and bugger off to California (which I'm certain was what he intended to do) he will have to endure the humiliation of presiding over what's left of his party as Leader of the Opposition. At least, he will if he's able to hold on to his role as party leader; have no doubt that Britain's answer to Sarah Palin, Suella Braverman will already be weighing her chances of ousting him for the top job in the party.

I have yet to be convinced that we'll see any real change as a result of yesterday's vote. Keir Starmer has already said that Brexit will not be reversed in his lifetime. The fact that the stock markets have barely reacted at all today should tell you how much of a change in economic or diplomatic policy there's likely to be. But I'd love to be proved wrong.

NEW ALBUM

Yesterday I released the twenty-ninth full length album I've recorded since I rebuilt my bedroom studio at the end of 2020. It's called Unknown Territory and you can see its cover at the top of this page. That's my Trey Gunn Signature Series Warr guitar on the cover, and it's featured heavily throught the album.

NEW MUSIC

And I'm off the blocks over at 50-90 after finishing a track yesterday evening. I think I'll probably go back to it at some point, because the bridge and the final guitar solo don't fit the mood of the lyrics which I subsequently wrote. I must remember that I get my best results when I write the lyrics first, not the music.

So it's back into the studio for me this morning. Time to write song #2!

EMPOWERED AND ENRICHED

The garden is getting some much-needed rain as I type this. It's dull and overcast outside and the house's storage battery (which is normally fully charged by lunchtime) is sitting at just 60% full. But that's okay; it just means I'll miss a day exporting power back to the grid, which is what I've been doing for more than a week now. Yes, my paperwork has all gone through and I am now one of the nation's energy suppliers—and that is not part of any vision of the future I had back when I was a kid, that's for sure. But earning real money without having to do anything other than let the sun shine on my roof is rather nice. I'm not gonna turn that down.

ENGROSSED

Yesterday I spent the whole afternoon making music; I didn't stop until after 6 pm. It's the first time I've become so deeply involved in what I was doing since back in February, and it was a nice feeling.

I've noticed over the years that there's an odd threshold lurking in the subconscious when you engage in creative work. If you do enough of it, you suddenly start getting ideas for further work at all hours of the day and night. It's as if your brain suddenly recognises what's going on, thinks "Oh, we're doing this again, are we?", cracks its metaphorical knuckles, and fires up the creative engines once again. I seem to have crossed that threshold this morning, because I've already had a couple of ideas for song titles and decided on the album I'm going to record in the post-50-90 run up to Christmas.

Today I'll be finishing off my latest album. I'll release that tomorrow and then get on with the immediate task in hand, which is to write fifty songs in the ninety days from July 4th to October 1st for the 50-90 Challenge. I'm looking forward to that. If you're a musician, or a lyricist, you really ought to consider signing up for it. It's huge fun!

TRANSCENDENT

I drove in to Bristol last night for a gig at the Bristol Beacon. I was there to see an event titled "Music For Bristol" performed by the extraordinary Nils Frahm.

Frahm in Full Flow

I missed Nils the last time he played Bristol, back when the Beacon was still the Colston Hall. It looks (and sounds) very different now, and even though I was right up in the gods on the highest balcony, I had a perfect view (as you can see from the photo). "It feels like they've replaced every brick," he commented. He was extremely complimentary about the new hall's acoustics, describing them as "Astonishing; it's like being in a giant studio."

And he made full use of them, too, moving from the barest whisper of sound on his upright piano to a raging bass from a Minimoog Model D that you didn't so much hear as feel.

The concert began with Nils donning a pair of felt gloves, placing his hands in a bowl of water, and then sprinkling the excess over the front rows of the stalls like a benediction. He needed them to play the first piece. Frahm has a reputation for using old gear (almost every synth in that photo is between forty and fifty years old) and getting extraordinary results out of it, but including an instrument that was invented by Benjamin Franklin back in the 18th Century in his rig is pretty hardcore! He was playing a glass armonica, which has a set of glass bowls fitted on a central spindle (the woman sitting next to me commented that it looked like a crystal kebab, and I will never think of the thing as anything else from now on). To get a note out of it, the player must run a dampened finger on the edge of the bowl. This creates a truly haunting, ethereal sound. The models of the original version of the instrument which gave the best tone used lead-glass bowls, which gradually drove players mad from lead poisoning. These days, fused-silica glass is used instead (and yes, you can buy a modern version of the instrument) so I hope the gloves Nils was using were so that he could get a consistent tone rather than being essential items of health and safety equipment. Nils segued from the armonica to the harmonium it was resting on, and played a beautiful version of Harmonium in the well. The rest of the set list favoured tracks from his album Spaces (he closed the main set with Hammers, which is one of my favourites) but at one point he adopted the approach he took in recording the most recent album of his that I have, Music For Animals of sampling the audience making animal noises and then improvising to the results (which he had pitched down, to make them more interesting).

I sat, spellbound and barely moving, for the entire concert. It was a really special evening and I felt privileged to have been there (and that's not a vibe I've got from many concerts recently). If you have the ARTE player installed on your smart TV, you should be able to stream Nils's recent Music For Paris concert which features the same material. It's worth watching, believe me.

SELF-AWARENESS

I think I'm beginning to get my act together.

I was reading an article in The Atlantic yesterday written by Arthur Brooks, who argues that the best cure for depression is to be creative. Make something, he says, and you will gain a sense of well-being for having done so. In support of this argument he cites the testimony of the Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky and the actor Rainn Wilson. That's a thought-provoking combination for a start, and the article is an interesting read. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout.

It's six months since I came off medication for depression. Last week I had a few nights where I suffered badly from insomnia; this is a common side effect, and I experienced the same thing when I tried stopping taking antidepressants a few years ago. But this time around, I decided that I was going to take a deep dive into what was driving my behaviour and try to do something about it. Intrusive, ruminatory thoughts are the engine which drives the experience, just as they are with depression itself, so they were my first target. Clearly, I needed to go beyond the mindfulness exercises I learned during Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Lying in bed isn't normally somewhere I've practised meditation, but after a run of nights of very poor sleep, I decided to give it a go. And I was asleep in less than twenty minutes. That didn't necessarily prove anything, of course, so the following night I didn't meditate, and had another rough night. That was enough to get me thinking that I might be on to something here.

But to return to the article I mentioned above, I spent a couple of very productive days this weekend in my home studio. I ended up with a couple of pieces that—once again—made me think that I might be getting my act together. Last night before I went to sleep I gave both pieces a listen on headphones, and when they finished I realised I was feeling the warm, fuzzy glow of deep satisfaction that I'd made something that I was really happy with. Once again, within twenty minutes of emptying my mind and meditating, I was fast asleep.

Today, my watch gave me a sleep score of 98. I spent 49% of my sleep in deep, dreamless NREM sleep (the restorative kind). Back when I was working in my last job, I'd be lucky to get a score in the 70s and if I managed to spend 25% of what little sleep I got in NREM sleep, I'd count that as a good night. So my experience seems to concur with that of Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Rainn Wilson. Not feeling any need to go back on meds is a definite bonus, too.

USEFUL IDIOTS

So now you know why I picked this month's blog banner.

One of the most widely-used synonyms for enlightenment these days is the word "woke", of course. The expression gained popularity as a result of people explaining their experiences of becoming aware of the prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry present in modern society. To "be woke" is to demonstrate empathy, compassion, and tolerance. It signifies an awareness and understanding of privilege and its abuses.

I realised this week that I no longer have any problem at all with those people who use the word as a pejorative. Why? Because it identifies them as the sort of folk who are themselves prejudiced, discriminatory bigots and in my experience it does so reliably (if not infallibly). They're the sort of people who like to use (and abuse) the privileges that they have, because you will also reliably (if not infallibly) discover that they are white, ostensibly hetero males who get very uncomfortable indeed when anyone points out their privileged status. This shouldn't come as a surprise, because they're terrified that someone might treat them the same way that they've been treating minorities their whole lives. And who needs people like that in your social media? Unfriend, block, and move on. Because life's too short.