Vocation, relocation, aspiration and faith…

A great deal has happened in my life since I last posted here three years ago.

Since August 2010, I have moved house, changed my daytime employment, gained a new girlfriend (subsequently fiancee and now wife and life partner) and bought a house of my own.

You could say that my viewpoint on the world has changed quite a bit. I’ve gone from being burnt out and depressed, actively (though unenthusiastically) seeking my own self destruction to finding new life in Jesus and beginning all over again.

Recently married, and more recently turned 40 years of age, I find my life settling into a comfortable rhythm where I can learn to be myself again and renew my interests and hobbies. Five years ago, I was actively involved in photography and the local cosplay scene. Ten years ago, I used to draw comics and sketch frequently. Twenty years ago, I would skip classes in college to stay home and compose music (often staying up to four or five AM to work on an idea). I used to write poetry and short stories. I used to blog and journal regularly.

The time has come to start all these activities again.

The difference with the approach I am taking now though, is that rather than trying to squeeze the inspiration into prescribed moulds and follow convention, I would to give inspiration a free reign and let it come forth as it will.

The challenge of rejecting convention is that you will invariably frustrate, irritate or offend people, including those dear to you.

Since I’m contemplating writing on topics more than just music, art and photography – delving into politics, philosophy and theology, I’ve thought it best to move the majority of my musings to this site. Even if you don’t agree with what I write, I hope it will inspire you to think more intently about what you do believe.

Thank you for your time.

Show the past a clenched fist

Since I obtained my classical guitar a few months back, I’ve tended to carry it around with me rather a lot, usually taking it with me when I go to JAFWA on a Saturday night – there’s quite often shows on that don’t capture my interest.

Out of curiosity, I decided to play some songs I used to perform back in the early Nineties when I was in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”. The band didn’t last long but it showed a lot of potential.

Or so I thought.

As a four piece band – Barry on drums, Steve of lead guitar, Jason on bass and myself on rhythm guitar (though we often swapped instruments for certain songs) and we preferred to do mostly original material. If we did a cover, we played it how we thought it should be done – never mind what the original artist thought. We also split in to two songwriting teams – Barry writing the lyrics and I composed the core melody, whilst Jason and Steve would share duties. Arranging was generally a group effort.

When the band split after six months, I took my songs with me and wrote new lyrics for them. As Barry had ambitions of being lead singer as well, he had a tendency to keep his lyrics to himself. I usually had little idea how they went. Though I did do several instrumental arrangements as well (you’ll find a couple of them under the High Voltage SID Collection).

So as I sat outside JAFWA one evening fighting off the mosquitoes, I tried to recall some of the material written by the other band members, such as “Mother” or “Dove”. My parts were generally pretty easy, usually only three or four chords. Steve wrote songs to demonstrate his guitar technique, not mine. Easy but dull, so I developed a more intricate playing style incorporating different techniques that I’d picked up over the years – arpeggios, tapping, slapping and plucking (usually used on bass guitars), four note chords (when most people would use three) and using my little finger to play a melody around the chord. All of this designed to make my part of the music sound much bigger and more interesting.

I struggled to recall the arrangement of the music, but it came to me after a while, along with some of the lyrics. Its funny how the mind sometimes distorts experiences, exaggerating certain points. What I recalled as powerful, soulful imagery proved to be a whiny, immature and incoherent tirade as told by a spoiled, bratty teenager. Seriously – cheer up, emo kid.

I had a similar experience many years ago when playing back some of our recordings made at the Fremantle Music Centre – I wanted to show some of the material to the lead guitarist from my then current band (we never really settled on a name, though we had narrowed it down to “Electric hooligans”, “Hooligans with guitars” and “Fastidious rabble”). I remember playing some of my best guitar ever during that recording and yet we ended up with a ghastly cacophony of twangs, out of time drumming and squeaky, pained vocals – I only retain the tapes to stop them falling into the wrong hands (they are hidden away with my collection of Ringo Starr LPs).

So I’m thinking it might be time to walk away from the older material – put the worthy material down on disc and recycle the rest before it pollutes the environment. Whilst I still want to get a band together again, I have two main projects on the go now – the folky (or filky) concept album inspired by BlackSylph and a new electronic suite inspired by a conversation with a friend the other night (for those of you wondering what “Ybeq Rexl” was all about). And that game soundtrack I’ve been promising since 1993.

Three! Three mains projects. And that music demo that I formed Project: Synthesis for.

Four!

I’ll go sit in the corner now…with the soft cushion…

You can’t be a Linux user, you haven’t got a beard!

I have taken a step along the road to enlightenment. That is to say I have started experimenting with Linux. Again.

Not that one is obligated to look like Richard Stallman in order to use Linux or open source software but it appears to help – if most of the Linux users I’ve met are anything to go by. I grant you that the rebellious part of my nature has sprouted a goatee beard and a beret and has taken to carrying a placard and waving its philosophical fist in the air.

I’ve been using Windows as my primary operating system since May 1997 though I have trialled various alternatives over the years – FreeDOS, BeOS, early incarnations of Linux and OS/2, all with mixed success. Outside of SCO or BSD Unix at TAFE, my first proper taste of a Linux-like operating system was playing with Red Hat 5.0 way back in 1999. Though it looked impressive, getting anything useful done required much delving around in the Land of the Big Scary Command Line and editing scripts. It all seemed like too much hard work. More recent attempts tried to make use of some older hardware that I had lying around – mainly my Celeron 600 – and conservative installations such as Xubuntu. The software would install nicely but refuse to talk to my internet connection. I could use the operating system but couldn’t update or hunt for new software.

On my current system, I use Vista Home Premium on my notebook (and primary workstation) and XP Pro on my file and print server – Home Server being far from suitable for my requirements due to the strange “may corrupt your really important information without warning or apology” bug that I believe still hasn’t been fixed as I write this (at least, when I started writing back in July 2008).

Microsoft has received a great deal of criticism regarding their rather restrictive licensing schemes, questionable security and debatable stability – I’ve always seen it as “You don’t have to buy it, you know – you can always use an alternative system.” Other people have taken the attitude of “We want to use it, we just don’t want to have to pay for it. Repeatedly.” What really irritated me recently was Service Pack 1 for Vista was released earlier this year and the update manager has been nagging me for weeks to install it. I’d heard whispers that the upgrade often failed and ended up corrupting people’s installations so I made a point of doing a complete backup first. This was a very wise move as two thirds of the way through the upgrade, the system balked and refused to boot again. Six hours of frustration and restoration later and I’m back to where I was previously. And the update manager is still bugging me to upgrade.

So out of sheer irritation, I thought I’d have another go at Linux – this time on reasonably up to date hardware. I’d recently built myself a new server and so I had a spare system lying around looking for something useful to do. I’d been getting regular copies of Kubuntu since June 2006 and version 8.04 seemed to be mature enough to warrant a second look. Friend Style has been using Linux in various forms for as long as I can recall, dedicated enough to even have had Tux the Penguin tattooed on his arm, and has been an advocate for Ubuntu for some time.

Kubuntu seemed the logical choice since it came with a comprehensive install base (the only distribution of the primary three that came on DVD) and a familiar user environment. So where to start? I took the install DVD, started up my decommissioned server and waited for the system to start installing.

Since I started investigating Linux again, one thing has come to cause me a great detail of annoyance – the Linux Evangelist. Such people will talk endlessly about how much better Linux is than Windows at absolutely everything, often with such fanaticism that even seasoned Linux enthusiasts shudder at the mention of their name. Most people just walk away – this doesn’t seem to bother the Evangelist as they will quite happily continue talking, with or without an audience. If you can bring yourself to endure their incessant waffling, you will note that they often contradict themselves several times and bring their knowledge of their subject matter into doubt.

So after several practice installations and configuration sessions, I started to become familiar with the quirks and idiosyncrasies of Gnome and KDE, and their associated foundations – to the point of migrating a number of my daily tasks over the Linux system, and even to the point of installing Windows versions of some of the applications on my Vista notebook (notably OpenOffice, Firefox and Thunderbird since I had being using Lotus Smart Suite for over ten years and Opera web browser for the last eight).

Out of the box or – more accurately – from the base installation, Ubuntu does around 80% of the tasks I need. With around an hour’s tweaking, downloading and configuring, it can do about 95%. I figure that the remaining 5% has mostly to do with my inexperience or simply not having found an application that will do the task I require.

The environment reminds me rather a lot of the days spent working on my Amiga 500 and later the A1200. Much of the software is a little unpolished, a little rough around the edges, but include most of the features needed. As I continue to become familiarised with Gnome, I’ll likely find better programs, or new ones that do old things in a better way.

So where to from here? Whilst it nice to not have to spend money buying applications to perform the tasks I require, I now find myself pondering upgrading my hardware again. Having wasted yet another morning attempting to configure my Vista notebook for dual booting with Ubuntu – and failing miserably – I ponder upgrading my spare notebook with additional memory to improve performance. For some odd reason, 512MB doesn’t quite seem to be enough and the older video controller doesn’t want to recognise an external monitor (which may or may not be related to the limited memory). And you can understand my reluctance to spend $135 on upgrade parts for a six year old notebook that might die tomorrow.

Playing with Fedora Core 10 on another system implies that that would be a better solution, up until the point of not being able to access my Windows network. Does everything nicely until that point – though I have yet to test it accessing another Linux system on the same network.

As I write, I’m testing an installation of Xubuntu 8.10 downloaded this morning (Xubuntu tends to be a later release than Ubuntu or Kubuntu) – I’ll let you know how that goes.

It would be nice to be free of Windows though – maybe I ought to upgrade the hard disk of the Vista notebook just for a test…

What a waste of an afternoon

I finally made time to try and install Vista Service Pack 1 on my notebook. Not because there was something specific in there that I wanted but because I got fed up with the update manager prompting me to install it everytime I turned on the system.

I’d read a lot of reports that people had been having problems with the upgrade, usually managing to corrupt their installation instead. I’m not one for taking unnecessary risks so I made a backup of all my data first (I work in IT so I have to lead by example). After an hour of backing up, I shut down the virus scanner and let the update manager do its work – expecting it to take an hour, I wandered off to watch some videos that had been piling up on the media centre.

An hour later, I come back to find that the notebook had reset itself two thirds of the way through the upgrade and that Windows could no longer boot. An attempt by Windows to fix itself was unsuccessful. In the end, I gave up and booted the backup CD to start the restoration process – not realising that the restoration is all done in legacy mode and as a consequence would take about three hours.

So finally 6pm comes and the restoration is complete – I restart and Windows goes all sulky again because some of the boot information is different (I backed up using Acronis TrueImage 10 but could only find my boot CD for version 9, released about 9 months before Vista came out). A diagnostic screen and attempted repair later, and I’m back up and running again – albeit without the Service Pack, accordingly the update manager is prompting me to install it again.

I’m going to have to look into this again at a later date but for now, I’ll wait until I absolutely have to upgrade.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend a little more time in the company of my newly assembled Linux box, trying out Kubuntu 8.04 for size and waiting for ReactOS to reach a usuable state.

Well done Microsoft, you’re the only corporation I know of that uses a sniper scope to shoot yourself in the foot.

Leo Kottke looked at my guitar!

I’ve had my first out of body experience.

February 23rd, 2008, Leo Kottke performed at the Perth Concert Hall. My brother and I had been waiting for this concert for some four months, having purchased tickets in November as soon as we had heard news of Kottke’s impending arrival.

We were a little bewildered at first when two people walked out of stage – Bridget Pross and her bass player. I hadn’t been aware of a support act so I was a little surprised – first thinking that he had a support band, and then wondering if the concert had been cancelled and this was Kottke’s substitute.

Pross, a folk singer and guitarist from Tasmania had been touring with Kottke for the last couple of weeks. Six songs from her new album, “I wanted to” were performed. Now it must be said that Pross has an amazing voice, powerful and resonant, and it quite a capable guitarist. Her songwriting, however, leaves something to be desired. The melodies were quite well devised, if overfamilar (one of the last songs she played had a melody disturbingly like a song I had written back in 1992 when playing in a band called “Cerebral Nomad”), but the construct was repetitive and her lyrics were very weak. Although she might have been writing from life experiences, she hadn’t put a lot of consideration into how she was communicating the idea – and once you’ve heard her sing the chorus six times in a row, it starts to grate.

Her inexperience as a live act showed clearly as well, she hadn’t created any kind of script for introducing her songs or explaining the origins, and didn’t seem at all comfortable talking with the audience, her speech pausing often and hesitant. The word “Umm” seemed to make up the greater part of her vocabulary. Hopefully she will grow as a songwriter and entertainer in time. The CD was for sale in the foyer after the show.

After an intermission of 20 minutes for the audience to empty their bladder, or refill it at the bar, Kottke finally came out on stage at 9:30. A six string guitar in one hand, 12 string in the other. With nary a pause for introduction, he started of into three instrumental pieces on the 12 string.

It was halfway through the second piece that I suddenly realised that I was floating some distance above my own body, what felt like 15 to 20cm above the seat, so enthralling was the music. It appears that I was not the only person to have been carried away so. Amusingly, around halfway through the show, Kottke was playing a slow, moody and deeply atmospheric piece that seemed to suddenly taper off two thirds of the way through. A pause, then Kottke said “Sorry, its supposed to end more like this…” and started playing it again from the middle. Kottke had gotten so caught up in the music that he’d forgotten that he was the one performing it.

Kottke certainly puts on an entertaining and enchanting show – during the forty or more years he has been perfoming, he’d not only honed his guitar playing techniques but also his manner of communicating the audience, explaining origins of the song and telling anecdotes about the authors and artists he has worked with. Many of the songs performed required different, often very unconventional tunings and a 12 string guitar often takes some time to retune – Kottke would joke and tell stories in a manner not dissimilar to Steven Wright, even in the same, deep, dry, husky voice.

Kottke has released over thirty albums since 1969 so there was a lot of material to choose from each show, many of them previously unknown to much of the audience, although when one of the more famous and familar songs (such as “Louise”) started, the cheer rising from the audience was deafening.

The concert itself lasted a little over an hour but seemed to go on for ages. After 10:30, the concert ended and Kottke left the stage to a well earned standing ovation – the applause and cheering seemed like it was never going to end. Kottke returned to the stage for an encore, performing one more song before retiring for the evening.

I’m not sure how soon he will return to Perth but I’ll certainly be looking out for him. After the show, our group of attendees filed out of the hall into the car park, each of us with a dazed but very happy expression on our face.

Bridget Pross was still promoting her CDs in the foyer – I wonder how many she sold?

Leo Kottke official website and Wikipædia entry

Bridget Pross official website