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Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a gigantic mosquito? Because that's what it sounds like...

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July 2020

Okay so I bought a drone

I don’t know how much of the last few months has been me justifying this expensive purchase to the real Hannah or the one in my mind (i.e. actually justifying it to myself). But I’ve lusted after a drone for ages, to film footage for music videos. Well, partly. Eventually, the reason why I cracked and splurged was because, even if I do nothing with the footage, I really want to see what the places that I love look like from on high.

I did the first test flight on Tuesday, which was strangely terrifying (the only spot fit to land was right next to the river), but also exhilarating. You can actually see the second test flight footage below.

And… in a way, I feel like this sort of frivolity is a good indication of how my life has returned to normal now. Not the normal. Not the normal of 2019. But a normal. A new normal.

And I feel I’m not alone in this. There is still a great deal of suffering happening all around us, but now we have a lot more information about what we can do that might make the situation better and what might make it worse.

In fact, I think this might be the first time in a while that none of my monthly cultural recommendations have anything to do with COVID-19. (Well, Ben Folds’s song alludes to it, but I think that’s all.)

So with that in mind, what is in store this month? Well, we’ll be taking a walking tour past some South East Asian cinema, some computer game soundtracks, some Star Wars (again, sorry!) and a great anecdote by one jazz legend about an even bigger jazz legend.

But first, we must go into ‘jiggle mode’.

I’ll explain…

Recommendation

JIGGLE MODE

Down DEEP below the surface...

Okay, this is probably the silliest recommendation I’ve ever made.

But Apple has an annual conference called WWDC where they unveil new products. And this year, what with coronavirus, they couldn’t hold an event in a physical venue, so they did it online.

Lots of new products and upgrades were announced, but the thing that really hit the news was when presenter (and Apple Vice President) Craig Federighi mentioned in passing about putting the screen into ‘jiggle mode’. And, because The Internet, someone turned that comment into the chorus of a song. And then, for the verses, he sung tweets about the conference.

You know when a song is just so random that it sticks in your head for weeks? Yeah. That.

Recommendation

2020 BY BEN FOLDS
What The Actual?

I’ve been a fan of Ben Folds since the 90s, so it's nice to hear he hasn’t lost his touch.

This song (with lyric video) begins with him asking you to remember New Year’s Eve. “2019, back when life was slow…”

How long ago does that feel?

Lots of people have dashed off songs about the cluster-fudge that is the year of our lord 2020, but this one doesn’t feel like it’s cashing in: it’s just a nicely understated song about how “we’re not repeating History – just the parts that sucked…”

Recommendation

ACCENTED CINEMA
This episode is about posters and it's great.

Do you remember, even further back than NYE, in another newsletter I recommended a YouTube channel called Every Frame A Painting?

Actually, if I recall correctly, I recommended it on a pretty much monthly basis, as it defined the modern video essay and is one of the best things on YouTube.

Anyway, the EFAP team wound up a few years ago, and there hasn’t really been anyone stepping in to fill that gap of “making you fall in love with cinema all over again in just under 8 minutes”.

But I think the closest contender might be Yang Zhang, a Chinese filmmaker living in the US, whose channel – Accented Cinema – profiles non-English language films. It’s really good! Especially if you have a taste for Chinese, Japanese and South Korean films, which I very much do. But also if you just love art generally.

The video essay above is just about movie posters: what makes them good, bad and ugly.

And for me at least it's a fascinating inside into a vast cultural landscape where I know hardly any of the landmarks.

Recommendation

WOMEN OF SOUNDTRACKS

I’ve been listening to more and more movie soundtracks on Spotify as background music while I work. (I am literally listening to this playlist as I type this.)

And yeah, this title can seem like an element of “Imagine movie soundtracks, but with a twist… the composers are all women!!” If anything, perhaps it just illustrates how much of a boys club the film composer world is.

But regardless of its social context, this Spotify playlist is a really eclectic mix of beautiful and innovative music.

Quite a few tracks are for computer games, and they’re some of the best.

If nothing else, check out a track called ‘Legion of Dawn’. I love it, and I’ve never heard any other piece of music like it.

Recommendation

THE CLONE WARS

Drinking game: every time a Kiwi accent makes 'clone' sound like 'clown'

Yep, it’s the space wizards again.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a spin-off cartoon of Star Wars intended mainly for kids.

But then again, Star Wars was always intended mainly for kids.

And post-millennial Star Wars began as a tug of war between George Lucas, who wanted to make new stories for a new generation of kids, and the fans my age and older who wanted him to keep making those stories for us adults. In the end Lucas gave up, and handed over the franchise, and the entire company he’d built around it, to Disney.

Except… maybe he secretly didn’t. Because he started to become more and more involved with this Clone Wars cartoon, which has always felt to me more in the spirit of the flashy, trashy, fun and optimistic original movie. The angry adult fans generally ignored it, because it was a kids’ cartoon, and that gave him and showrunner Dave Filoni the freedom to really play around with it.

Anyway. When 2020 starts getting a bit much, I do like to dip my feet back into a world of space wizards, because it really is such imaginative, expertly-crafted escapist fun.

Recommendation

HERBIE HANCOCK REMEMBERS MILES DAVIS

Miles Davis famously had a temper – so what happens when you fuck up his tune?

A little anecdote for you.

If I had to name the four most influential people in Jazz, I think they would be: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. To my mind, Miles Davis is the last giant of jazz.

This is an interview with Herbie Hancock, who is a legend in his own right but was also playing piano for Davis in the 1960s.

One night, when they were playing their best ever gigs, Hancock played a chord so wrong that he couldn’t play another note for a minute afterwards.

But Miles Davis’s reaction to that wrong chord… is a perfect illustration of what I consider true genius to be.

New Video Experiment Thingy

Digital Album Track draft idea

As I mentioned last month, I’m getting more and more interested in YouTube as a space for musicians. I feel like it’s not just a platform: it’s a community. (Perhaps because I feel its video recommendations work really well.)

For a while now, I’ve had this idea about making a kind of enhanced album out of a YouTube playlist. More than just a static album cover shot, but not quite as distracting as a lyric video. Something to have on in the background (as so many people do with music), but that is actually visually interesting.

What would make this work? Drone footage!

I love the experience of listening to music while walking in the countryside or in a car or on a plane. Particularly on a train.

For me, the kind of footage you get from a drone is very similar: that feeling of moving through a landscape.

This video is a very rough draft of what I was thinking. The footage is my second ever drone flight, and it’s of South Oxford from Iffley Meadows. (If you live nearby then you can play the Spot Where I Live game.)

I think in the next iteration the text on the right will be better arranged, and will probably change a few times throughout. The track I chose here is an instrumental, but I think I might try scrolling lyrics. In the end I was kind of hoping the drone footage would be a bit more visible, but then again my original intention was that it should really be background. A subtle but gradual progression.

Anyway, I’m going to mull on this, but I thought I’d share a first look. If I end up with a style that I like then I might well put all my current music up there like that.

Upcoming Events

Friday 6th & Friday 20th August

Every other Friday. Goats now a fixture.

This is an online version of the Bastard English Session which has haunted the Isis Farmhouse Pub in Oxford for over a decade now.

And a reminder of the story so far: a couple of sessions ago Hannah hired a goat to crash the session. This ingenious 'Goats on Film' enterprise was provided by Cronkshaw Fold Farm in Lancashire, and was such a success that there was talk of of moving it away from the folk music and more towards the farmyard animals.

But for as long as it's still folk music based, here is how you log in.

You simply click this link:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

And a reminder of the New Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you want to perform something, click on 'Raise your Hand'.
  2. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  3. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  4. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  5. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.

All my recorded music thus far...

Oh... yeah. It occurs to me that, since I've stripped the newsletter format down for lockdown, I don't actually have any links to the website. So I thought I might as well just chuck this in here.

Click on the image above for a link to my (now... kinda old) music. (I mean, even the stuff that wasn't old when I recorded it is now kinda old.)

Dear Diary...

My sense is that, in the national cultural conversation, coronavirus is now in the background rather than the foreground. What do you think – does that ring true for you?

I mean, for many people it’s still right up close, the elephant in the foreground. But it’s been going on for long enough now that, culturally, it doesn’t feel alien anymore.

And something I’ve realised from chatting with friends is that I am becoming progressively less cautious in some very specific areas. Socialising outside, in summer, does seem to be relatively safe, even if it’s quite a few people (so long as distance is easy to maintain).

I’ve been very big on caution up to now, but I also recognise that getting through this pandemic is a marathon not a sprint, and it’s not possible, practical or even healthy to be locked in your home the whole time. And we’ll have a cold, dark winter before too long, so it makes sense to enjoy the summer as much as we can.

One other indicator that we’re all a bit more back to normal is that it seems like we’re all busy again! We don’t make the joke about “Zoom chat on Saturday? Well, I’ll have to check that I’m in!” anymore. People might be out, people might even be in shops. And those that are lucky enough to have work might well have a lot more of it than they did before.

It’s only in the last week or so that I’ve realised I haven’t been this busy in at least a year. On top of the full-time job, I’m starting to tentatively push my library music to a business that is beginning to open up again.

I’m also a fair bit of the way into a new album of my own, and I know I’ve been saying that for ages: for a couple of years it’s been a stop-start thing, where I feel like I’m making progress and then I bin it all and start again. Now I have a schedule, and I’ve been keeping to it for months now. Making albums is a slow process, particularly on top of two other jobs, but I’ll get there.

Which reminds me, a funny thing happened on the way to the MOT garage the other day. You might find this interesting.

I decided to walk the 3ish miles, and to give myself something to do on the way I decided to apply everything I was learning from the current day job to my music making projects. I pretended that I was hiring myself as a consultant, to look at how I do my music (for business and pleasure). I started talking to myself in my phone’s voice memos app, as I sometimes do, and I thought I’d give this consultant a name: Harry.

So I asked Harry: is there anything obvious that I’m doing wrong?

What I find so fascinating is that, just by playing this role-playing game, I was able to immediately see this project in a totally different way. Here are some of the things that Harry said:

“So you have your ‘art’ music and your ‘business’ music – I see no problem with that, and I can see how the two might complement each other. The business side you seem to seem to be comfortable with, even if it’s very much ups and downs still. So… you’re really asking about the art side, right?

“I do think you have a problem, and it’s not the one you think. You talk a lot about how to get your music heard, and you think a lot about promotion, but I don’t think you don’t have a promotion problem: I think you have a product problem. I know you’re not expecting the art music to be a full-time income, but it needs to at least pay its way. Yet you make music so slowly that it cannot possibly be anything other than an expensive hobby.

“I think you might be able to find ways to combine the art and the business music, but you need to actively decide if you want that. And if you do, you need to acknowledge that writing and recording albums is not going to be your fun escape anymore – it’s going to be like the business music: something you do with deadlines and targets. And something that you compromise on – much less so than the business music, sure. But it can’t all about the fun of the process: it needs urgency.

“And I understand that, until recently, urgency wasn’t possible, because you were stuck. But now you’re not, right? So yes, it’s time for urgency, and if you need another purely fun project, choose something else. Because without more recordings, you’re not actually a recording artist, on any level.”

That was hugely helpful to me. Because when I was a teenager I had it absolutely drilled into me that musicians make very little money, and that there’s zero money to be made from your own music – in fact, there’s less than zero: there is actually debt! But I now know this not to be true. There are lots of ways to monetise your music, and how well you do it really depends on how committed you are to it. And I’ve been dimly aware for a while now that I have been cautious – no, timid even – about doing this.

So, yeah. I think this is a fun game to try, and you might want to try it at home. Pick an area where you need help, and pretend to be your own consultant.

What would you say, based on what you know, to someone else in exactly the same situation as you?

So What Have We Learnt?

We didn’t learn anything this month.

Here’s some Sierra Hull.

This is delightful and she has an unruly rhythm section.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the folk session. About life. About the universe. About how to exit the settings window on the drone phone app. Because by heaven I will find out, even if I have to scrape through every godforsaken forum on the internet to do it...

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PHOTO CREDITS:
  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
Copyright © 2020 House of Lyra, All rights reserved.


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