Month: January 2012

Rescued this little fella a few days ago

Hi.

Saw him squatting on the floor in the corridor and couldn’t quite make out what he was at first, perhaps a peanut or something else that had fallen? Leant down and immediately recognised his distinctly frog-like demeanour.

After a few attempts to get him to climb onto a piece of paper (at which point he started running, er… hopping away), mum got an empty tin can and coaxed him into it, then released him into the garden.

My dad then took this awesome picture.

Oh, hi again.

So, today I learned that my dad is a much better photographer than me, and my mum is the frog whisperer.

Announcement time!

I have an announcement to make, and it’s pretty amazing.

…No, it’s not about the direction I swing.

Before I make this groundbreaking announcement, I should probably tell you a little something about myself.

There’s a tendency that I have to plunge headlong into activities which I have no prior experience in with an inconquerable feeling of invincibility and absolutely no concept that I could possibly fail, which seems to be based in the fact that no one has ever said I couldn’t do such a thing. I hope it’s something you can all identify with.

This tendency surfaces on a regular basis when it comes to my current level of ability (or perhaps inability) to sing.

And the crushing feeling of despair I feel when it blows up in my face is somewhat akin to being slammed into the ground by a Monty Python-esque 16-ton weight.

I progress through four stages of increasingly intense self-loathing whenever I get an inkling of hope in my mind that I might be able to sing and fire up Propellerhead Reason so that I can unleash my godlike singing talent.

  • Stage 0. I listen to a vocal line or hook from a song – and I feel good, because the song is either my own (which means that it should be piss-easy), or a really good one by another artist that I’m listening to. At this stage I am fully ready to plunge headlong into the task – my voice is already priming itself for what will undoubtably be an absolutely stellar performance. The melody is in my head. I can already see that the end result is going to be completely awesome. I’m absolutely undaunted.
  • Stage 1. I warm my body up for the task ahead of me. I’ve got a clear head, a clear throat, and… hang on, where’s my breath gone? I’m suddenly incredibly short of breath and my diaphragm seems to now have a mind of its own. I inhale repeatedly but can’t quite get in “the zone”. My lungs now seem to only be able to hold the amount of air you might find in a pouch of Capri-Sun. Oh, well – no point in getting wound up about things like breathing at this stage… I’m still gonna give it my all! (Providing I don’t suffocate before then, of course.)
  • Stage 2. With what little breath I actually can muster at this stage, I actually start singing. The moment the first note comes out of my mouth I realise I might have been a little bit overoptimistic in my earlier predictions – I’m singing in some kind of otherworldly octave which would only seem in place if I were doing some kind of cover album of all of the works of Michael Jackson in reverse. I notice this almost immediately, and with the speed of a roadrunner but with all the grace and elegance of a coyote, I attempt to reconfigure my voice into a tone that actually makes sense, but clearly the damage has already been done. No matter – maybe I can just cut that bit out, and the rest of the take will be fine! …maybe?
  • Stage 3. I’m now suddenly drained of all of my previous vigour, and with a trembling hand and shaken faith, I press the “play” button and hear back what I’ve just recorded. When the ensuing racket assails my eardrums, I curl up in the fetal position on my bedroom floor, trying my best to stave off a cascade of shameful tears and the notion that I have all the musicianship of a depressed elephant.

I am usually not one to doubt my self-worth by any means – some might even say that my ego could use a break once in a while – but this crushing feeling of inadequacy bites down into my very soul and sends me into a spiral of depression. I actually feel physical pain and sickness, as though someone has shot me in the spine with a crossbow bolt covered in some kind of liquid worthlessness toxin, whenever I have to present my god-awful wailings to other people. The breathlessness, the lack of vocal experience, the years and years of dairy product consumption (which I’m told ruins a voice), all scream out, and I feel like just writing instrumentals for the rest of my life and never, ever, trying to sing covers.

Recently I wrote a set of lyrics on a particularly heartfelt subject, which I was fairly pleased with, and then wrote a song to go along with it – which turned into a kind of sombre, ballady kind of pop song – not something I was particularly used to writing, but something I was nonetheless satisfied with.

Then I tried to sing it.

My reaction.

…After the psychotherapy session I needed immediately after hearing the less-than-amazing results back and having to show them to my dad because I honestly couldn’t identify, let alone crush, the cause of my voice being so unforgivably terrible, he suggested that I’m just not confident enough. Which was unfortunate, because that meant that the process was in fact a vicious cycle – I was singing terribly because I wasn’t confident enough in my own ability, and I wasn’t confident enough in my own ability because I was singing terribly.

The situation was now at a point of desperation – I was sick of this disappointment happening to me so frequently, and I eventually turned to my younger brother for help, who’d had a bit of singing tuition in the short time he spent at Sixth Form. As it turned out, he was better at singing my own vocal melodies than I was. By quite a long way. In fact, all I had to do was sing the whole song to him once, and he was somehow able to not only sing it better, but also improve on the existing melodies.

So… I decided I would instead rely on him for all future vocal endeavours.

Okay – all that out of the way, time for the announcement! 😀

Hold onto your butts. Are you ready?


My brother and I are going to pull our collective creativity together and write a sod-buggering EP.

It’s not something I’ve always wanted to undertake, having never been the least bit confident in my vocal abilities, and also having never been keen on having to rely on someone else to sing over my stuff – but seeing how I’ve been learning how music works for the last six or seven years, I figured it was about time I started learning how to control my voice properly. I’ve been seriously composing (that is, writing with the intent to publicly release my work) since about 2008, and only recently has the idea of attaching vocals to my music really resonated with me. Up until now, I’ve written purely instrumental tracks. (And, just so we’re clear on this, I will continue to do so, purely because they’re easier and more fun for me to write – I certainly won’t be orienting all of my future songs on having vocals put on them.)

But now, with the help of my brother, I’m starting to write some proper songs with actual words, like I’m an actual songwriter instead of some bedroom-dwelling mook who sits all day programming individual notes manually into MIDI editors. He and I are together writing the lyrics, doing a bit of jamming to come up with some decent riffs, and messing around with the vocal melodies that he will eventually be singing over. (What with him having the better voice out of the two of us.)

What kind of music am I now dabbling in, you ask? Oh ho, all will be revealed soon. 😛 (Okay, I’ll narrow it down. It’s not death metal. Or hip-hop.)

That’s not to say my self-confidence struggles are over, of course. My brother and I have proven that we still struggle with some aspects of singing (and as the songwriter in this new duo that he and I have formed, I’ve tried not to write anything too demanding for either of us to perform in a live setting). We are, as of today, now attending weekly vocal lessons with the lovely Rachel at the Joondalup School of Music. She has even said that she will provide us with feedback on the existing vocal tracks. However, in order for her to do so, I’m first going to have to overcome my morbid fear of presenting my work to other people.

Hmm… might take some work, that.

(Ack, I spent way too long on this one post. D:

Also, BY GUM IT IS STILL ENTIRELY TOO HOT.)

New subscription widget!

Just added a little orange “subscribe” button to the right-hand side of the blog. Now you can be notified by e-mail when you can be bugged by my inane drivel. 😛

I’m a little surprised to discover that I apparently have 285 followers. I’ve never really encountered that great a number before when it comes to people who willingly read/watch what I do… so I’m betting a lot of them are probably spambots (because I do get spam comments from time to time) – I definitely don’t get actual comments from a figure of people anywhere close to 200.

Still, the actual number of followers I have isn’t important to me. I don’t blog for the fame. 😛

(Also just to make sure I don’t forget, I’m going to clear up the menu bar again so it’s all drop-down menus.)

Just posting to say screw SOPA

Stop it now, Congress. Stop it now or you get the smack.

(Fun fact: Google Image Search for “sopa” and prepare to get hungry.)

TotalBiscuit goes some way to explaining just how dumb this whole mess of a bill is – way better than I possibly could.

I want you guys to know that even though I’m very doubtful that this bill will actually pass, I am entirely against everything it stands for. I stand to suffer at the hands of it – I myself have had several (pretty much all of them erroneous) copyright claims on my uploaded YouTube material, so I guess technically I’m an internet terrorist and a pirate. Well, poke me in the eye, carve me a peg-leg and call me Hook.

It reminds me of the debacle that is the UK’s libel system. It’s the sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut technique that the bureaucrats love to use on the public in order to rile them up into a frenzy. Except this bill will effectively turn the internet into a warground, the likes of which have not been seen since David Starkey appeared on Newsnight and dared to mention the words “white” and “black” in the same sentence. (Okay, that blew over pretty quickly.)

I only wish I could make some kind of impact. Most of the response to SOPA/PIPA seems to be US-exclusive – letters to Congress and suchlike – i.e. the people who are behind this bill but clearly don’t even know what it will do. It’s definitely good to hear that Google and Microsoft are (apparently) against it.

Screw you, SOPA!

Finally have a new mouse

It’s a lovely little wireless Logitech Anywhere MX and quite frankly craps on my old one from a substantial height.

Awwwww. It's almost cute.

Advantages to using this one over the old one:

  • It’s not plugged full of my dead skin (yet).
  • No wire to trail and snag on absolutely everything.
  • The mousewheel doesn’t scroll up or down of its own accord.
  • The middle button doesn’t click twice or even three times.
  • Click-and-drag operations are no longer a nightmare.
  • Apparently it can be used on any work surface. It even works smoothly on my left arm.
  • It’s smaller, so when I have to place it on my laptop, it doesn’t obscure the entire right-hand side of the keyboard.
  • It’s about the same size as my old laser mouse that came with this laptop. I loved that little thing – shame it died so suddenly.
  • The side buttons are less prone to being accidentally clicked by me.
  • It’s more sensitive. Fiercely so. I had to turn the overall sensitivity down.
  • It’s not a Mac mouse.

The only complaint I have at the moment is that the mousewheel being clicked doesn’t register as the middle button. There’s a separate, smaller button just below the wheel which I have to use instead. This I can get used to, I guess – though I do wonder if there’s a setting I can change. Clicking the mousewheel currently doesn’t do anything, so it must be configurable.

(EDIT: I’ve since discovered that clicking the mousewheel actually toggles its scrolling behavior – in the default mode, the wheel scrolls up/down in “steps”, making the scrolling seem nice and “rigid” – in the other mode, the wheel rotates completely freely, and it feels a bit slippery to use. I’ve also investigated into configuring the whole “middle button” thing, but it I’ve drawn a blank – looks like I’ll just have to get used to clicking that little button to open new tabs in Firefox, instead of clicking the wheel itself.)

Anyway, a happy bunny I am.

YouTube update 04/01/12

Hi, 2012! Here’s a new track for the new year – suitably different and epic (in my humblest opinion, of course), a bit like the first one I uploaded last year (Economy of Truth). That one was a tad late for the new year, though – it wasn’t until February that I uploaded anything to my channel that year. Hurr.

Made this in Reason. It’s probably badly mixed and has a couple of misplaced notes, but whatever – I got sick of going back and tweaking it, so please try and enjoy it as it is. 😛

“Time Dilation”

It feels good to be right for once (though it was mostly a fluke)

Well, I’d like to think it was my open letter to old featherbrain that finally knocked some sense into him, because he wasn’t in the tree this morning. It wasn’t my letter that removed him from his usual perch, of course – it was probably the fact that even he has the sense to steer clear of trees when there’s an epic lightning storm going on.

Take that, you squawking bastard.

Unfortunate, then, that I was instead awoken by an absolute din in the room adjacent to me when a man came round the house at about 8am to install a washing machine. Which broke within the first cycle anyway.

The workers of fate are clearly out in full force to ensure I stay in a state of perpetual and unnecessary tiredness. And to make sure we have no washing machine.

The storm was awesome to watch, and I tried to get some footage of the lightning flashes, but it’s probably only worth extracting a couple of seconds from each 3-minute video and that’s roughly more effort than I can be bothered to go to. Oddly enough, the lightning storm, like the few previous that we’ve had here, came with absolutely zero rain. Even the bad weather is dry over here. (Speaking of which, I’m currently bathing in a pool of my own rancid sweat. It’s nearly 10 o’clock in the evening, and I have the electric fan on and the window open. Why must it be this hot.)

Anyway…

As you may be aware, we have a nice house now. We’re paying a fairly low sum of money to stay in a rather spacious bungalow – a deal that our previous situation (living in a tiny cabin in a trailer park for almost twice the weekly rate) just couldn’t compare to in any shape or form.

But we’re still not done with house-hunting.

(Well, we weren’t until today, it seems.)

My parents, after seeing the demand for rented properties in some of the other suburbs we’d been to, decided (pretty early on into the process) that they would rent a house to live in, and then buy a second house and rent that one out, with a view to establishing the groundwork for a vast property empire that would reach all across Western Australia.

All the properties we’d seen were quite cheap considering their colossal size and immaculate living conditions (when you compare them to the UK’s equivalent properties, that is really the only way you can describe them) – although since we’d made such a loss on our previous house and sold it for a comparatively paltry sum, it was going to take virtually all the money we owned in the world to buy just one property.

I think it was the moment I heard this fact, that the PROBABLY-A-BAD-IDEA ALARM went off in my head. (Yes, I have one of those. It seems to be an in-built and oddly prophetic feeling of uneasiness that gets triggered every now and then – and so far it’s proven effective.)

Only today did I voice my doubts to my mum, while on another one of our property-viewing outings. We were on a stroll around the property’s suburb’s shopping centre, and I basically said that I didn’t want to throw a spanner in the works or anything, but I was really not keen on blowing everything we had in our UK bank accounts on what was essentially a giant empty box.

There were a number of reasons for this:

  1. We’re currently paying $400 a week to live in a lovely rented property of our own. That’s about in the middle, insofar as how much the rest of the rented properties we’ve seen are going for. We won’t be making much of a financial gain on top of our own rental payments – about $50 a week, or maybe $100 if we were very lucky.
  2. As already mentioned, buying the property would suck up all of our wealth (including everything we have overseas in the UK accounts) and essentially bleed us completely bone-dry, therefore placing more pressure on all of us to go out and get work, or start selling tons of the stuff we owned to avoid bankruptcy.
  3. We’d have to maintain the property between tenancies – that would mean more money out of our pockets. And if our clients made a royal mess of things then that would mean quite a bit of money. And also lots of manual labour.
  4. Surely it would make much more sense to keep what we’ve got and spend that on living the dream out here in Oz. I would keep writing music, Ben would keep up his animating, Dad could put together that album of his (yes Dad, the album), and we could all pitch in on writing that musical we’ve had on hold for about five years, as a family project.
  5. Frankly, I was sick of house-hunting, and I could plainly see that my parents were getting exasperated about the process, too. It confused me because we’d seen a few that had all taken our fancy in different ways and it was virtually impossible to choose. All the while we debated and deliberated as to which one to place an offer for… other people were placing offers.

I pitched this all to my mum and I think she forwarded my query to my dad, who did a quick number crunch in a spreadsheet, and concluded that I might actually have been right. The amount of money we would receive on an annual basis from all of our UK money being deposited in an Australian savings account (earning 5.5% interest a year – compared to a pitiful .5% in the UK) was just in excess of the amount we’d earn from having tenants paying us rent in a second property all the year through. The exchange rate isn’t great at the moment – in fact it seems to be spiralling down, so I think my Dad is going to make it a priority to change our GBP into AUD as soon as possible.

Now, with all of these reasons listed, it probably looks as though my parents didn’t think the whole thing through enough. They did, they really did – at the time of its conception, the idea seemed like the only possible way to avoid total financial disaster. But circumstances which were not in our favour continued to arise as we searched for more and more houses, and it was just getting hard to contend with the stress of the process and the indecision that came along with it.

For the time being, it looks like we’re not going to be buying a second property after all. And I’m very glad we’re not.

I hate cleaning houses.

Dear annoying bird

As in, these bastards. Except a thousand times worse.

I have a simple question for you: How the fuck have you not been shot yet?

Why in the everloving mother of hell is it a necessity for you, at half-past-four in the goddamn morning, for you to make that unbridled racket?

I am not a heavy sleeper. Lots of things wake me up from what appears to be a very deep sleep – my phone going off when it’s low on charge nearly gives me a heart attack (although it is a particularly loud and sharp beep). I can only sleep easy if there’s very little background noise – maybe some wind, or perhap the whirr of an electric fan can help to add some kind of soothing ambience that allows me to get my much-needed beauty sleep. Imagine, then, my chagrin when you turn up in the wee hours of the morning, just outside my window and vociferate your ear-plundering cries on an unyielding, constant basis.

I know you’re doing it just to ensure I don’t get any sleep past that point. I’ve carefully analysed your circumstances and I can honestly say that you have no other excuse.

First off, why four-thirty in the morning? Virtually no other birds are even awake at that time. Who could you possibly be talking to? Is it your job to wake every other bird in the neighbourhood up? I can’t speak for the avian community but I imagine their internal clocks work far better than my own. I require a noise to wake me up in the morning, whether it’s an ordinary alarm, a blistering progressive thrash metal song blasted through the tinny speaker on my iPod/radio clock, or a goddamn chainsaw. Importantly, I need it at a specific time – the hours of 12:00am to 8:00am I should not even be conscious throughout. Birds, I imagine, do not need that kind of strictly-scheduled stimulation to wake themselves up from an otherwise unshiftable stupor because they don’t stay up until two o’clock in the morning playing Doom.

Secondly, you stick to just one noise. Why? What could possibly be so important that you need to iterate it in birdspeak several hundred times a night? “This is my tree”? Well it’s not your tree, to start off with – it’s our neighbours’. You are proclaiming something that’s not your own as your own – and in the human world that is frowned upon and could possibly be followed up by legal proceedings against you. Speaking of which, you’re clearly violating some kind of noise limitation law, which I’m reliably informed is taken quite seriously here in Oz (a shame, then, that it seems to only deal with human neighbours).

Of course, the musical notes in this image are used very loosely.

Thirdly, the moment you make that first call, you set off everyone else in your wretched neighbourhood of avian daylight terrorists doing exactly the same thing. Your first squawk is followed by a pause of about five seconds before one of your kin, perched in a tree about a hundred or so metres away, returns it almost verbatim. You then reiterate the same irritating noise-polluting cry and the process repeats unstoppably. There’s no reason for it. If what I believed about your call translating to something along the lines of “this is my tree” is correct, then all I’m basically hearing between the two or three of your equally annoying brethren is exactly the same goddamn thing every single time.

It is utterly unnecessary – even if we assume that you’re attempting to say “this is my tree”, and, furthermore, even if that phrase immediately grants you complete and total ownership of the tree. You stay in exactly the same tree and call from exactly the same spot on a nightly basis. It’s pretty obvious that your “friends” (this is a very loosely-used term) do the same. You’ve established loudly and clearly that this is your tree, and they’ve done the same. What more needs to be said? You’re staying in your tree, and they’re staying in their trees. I’m pretty sure your method of defense has worked swimmingly. You are in absolutely zero danger of having that precious tree taken away from you.

Fourthly (and this is perhaps the most aggravating aspect of your behaviour), you are completely absent from said tree for the rest of the day, or at least appear to be from the sounds of things (or lack of sounds, more like). For somebird who is unyieldingly committed to the possession of a single tree you sure don’t seem to do a lot of living in it. For God’s sake, you can have it. No one’s going to question it as your own. Not other birds. Especially not other humans. The human world couldn’t give half a shit what you’re up to (and it turns out it’s not much anyway). Just stay perched on the same branch forever, please, because that would at least show some sort of commitment to the tree. Or shut up about it. Please shut up. SHUT UP.

Finally, I know I’m not alone in how annoyed I am by your very existence. The other night, all the while you were blathering on about how you own a big tree in your trademark “keep-James-awake-at-all-expense” fashion, there was a clamour of other birds all around you – crows, magpies, parrots, larks, bee-eaters – it seemed every bird in Western Australia turned up at exactly the same time and place to tell you to shut the fuck up. I think I might have even heard some other bird attacking you in its outrage at how you seemed utterly oblivious to the amount of purely unnecessary noise you were making. How much is it going to take before you leave us in peace.

[Blog readers: imagine if you will, a perfectly serene and quiet neighbourhood. People keep to themselves and make virtually no noise whatsoever during the daylight hours. It’s a peaceful, idyllic estate. However, one particular home-owner feels it a necessity to open up his window at the crack of dawn every day, and bellow through a megaphone “I OWN THIS HOUSE” every ten seconds for hours on end. And he does not relent when told to shut his stupid, ugly mouth.

This is what I’m going through, except instead of a noisy neighbour who can be chastised by the authorities, it’s a freakin’ bird that no one can do anything about. And it’s hell.]

So, Mr. F. A. Bird, please respond in writing (don’t bother with a voicemail) with your answer to my question. It boggles the mind how, in a neighbourhood so full and compact, that you can stay perched at the height of a tree right in the centre of it and not get something fatal (like a javelin or a bus) thrown at you for your abysmal behaviour.

Sincerely,
– James