I purchased a MIDI keyboard about a year ago—handy little gadget, plugs into my Garageband software, no problem, offering me a new range of bloops and blips to play with.
Whenever my writing process starts to feel stale or contrived, I haul out my MIDI and noodle about for a week or two…or I’ll descend to our low-ceilinged basement to slap and flick and scrape paint onto canvas. Anything to break the cycle of futility.
I’ve uploaded one of my recent pieces, a short, two-minute number that will give you an idea of where my musical instincts lie. Just click on the link below and away you go. Feel feel to download and share it, as well.
This kind of music is not for everyone, but it’ll definitely get your attention.
Hope you enjoy “Paint the Sky Transparent”:
My current iMac is six years old and hasn’t received a software update in ages. My operating system is, apparently, so old and slow that Skype and Dropbox no longer want anything to do with me and I have to run an old version of Yahoo mail because the Safari browser I use can no longer keep up. Worse yet, my BBC iPlayer has started cutting out on me—and, I’m sorry, but I can’t live without BBC World Service. Those terrific features and radio dramas.
So, with the help of our young pal Sean, knowledgeable in all things relating to the Apple brand and close personal friend of Tim Cook, I ordered a brand, spanking new iMac, with an operating system so fast, it comes precariously close to artificial intelligence. 27″ monitor, tons of memory…with Final Cut Pro installed.
Some of you may have seen my odd movies. Usually accompanied by my odd music. Well, thanks to Final Cut Pro, I can up my game, utilize various effects and get a more polished look. That’s the intention anyway. To improve, to get better, to develop as a creative person.
Disloyal Son is my tenth book and at this point in my career I’d like to take some time to explore other interests, like film-making and abstract, electronic music (I ordered a MIDI keyboard/synthesizer last week too). Writing will always be front and center in my life but I also have a hankering to express myself in other mediums, beyond the constraints of the printed word. I hope the end result will always be interesting but, I’ll tell you one thing, I guarantee it will be unique.
I’m not sure if I would call this an attempt to re-invent myself but I know that since my 50th birthday I’ve felt an increasing sense of urgency to spread my wings, expose myself to new experience. Change my wardrobe, put away some childish things.
The new iMac arrives tomorrow, the keyboard soon after. There will be a learning curve, especially since I’m something of a technophobe. Will my files transfer from my old machine without a glitch? Will anything be lost? Will this wipe hours of music from iTunes? Etc. etc.
But for the most part I’m excited to have the opportunity to employ all that fantastic technology: new tools to paint visual and aural pictures, strange narratives that haunt and bedevil, manifestations of my mischievous mind.
More to come...
Recently, I wrote a series of prose poems to accompany six visual pieces I’d created.
The marriage of words and images worked wonderfully and I’m delighted with the result. I’ve always loved collage, combining text and illos, loved staring at a photo or painting and riffing on it, writing off the top of my head, no pre-planning, just letting ‘er rip. “Automatic writing”, the surrealists used to call it.
Here’s one of the prose poems, just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about (click on the image below to enlarge for reading):
Years ago I composed a series of prose bits* on the back of eight postcards I found, some of them based on famous art works, others historical photographs. Again, all I did was glance at the front, grab a mood or thought, flip the card over and commence scribbling. Worked like a charm (and a cool way to break an intractable writer’s block, hmmm?).
Just a little tip, o fellow suffering wordsmiths.
…and since I’m feeling especially cheerful and generous these days, how about some new music, an ambient number I call “Atmospheric Disturbance”:
- You can find these “postcard stories” in my Stromata collection, available from my virtual “Bookstore“…or you can order it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.
Update, March, 2017: The Oleander Review, a literary journal affiliated with the University of Michigan, has accepted “A Personal Cosmology” for publication in their Spring, 2017 issue.
Our youngest kid has now flown the coop and we are, officially, empty nesters. The house seems damn strange without our boys pounding up and down the steps, blasting music or bellowing at their video games in their basement hidey-hole. The silence, as they say, is deafening. But they’re both ready to be out in the world, anxious to be on their own. They’ll have their tough days, intervals when it seems like the whole universe has lined up against them. But they’ll make it. They’re tough and resourceful and bloody smart. Which gives them a leg up in any society.
So we begin 2014, Sherron and I, somewhat sorrowful, missing the lads but eager to get on with the next phase of our lives; back to being a couple again, exploring the world together, seeing where our dreams take us.
I’m fifty years old, as of last October, and that’s also made a difference. I thought any change or transformation would be largely symbolic but turning fifty combined with our sons’ departure has put a whole new slant on things. I feel like another man.
To start with, I realize that more than half my life is gone and if I’m lucky I could have twenty or twenty-five healthy years ahead of me (with my genetics, that might be pushing it). That’s not a lot of time. As a result, I’m not going to waste any of it on stupid discussions, movies, books, music, feuds or anything that doesn’t further my pursuit of wisdom, joy and matters relating to the spirit.
I did a considerable amount of writing in 2013 (not unexpected) but I also found myself exploring other media, employing a variety of means to express myself. As a result, I created more visual pieces than ever before: acrylic paintings, charcoal drawings, lots of photographs, ambient soundscapes, even a short film. Will this trend continue in 2014 or were all these non-literary ventures merely an aberration? Experiments, nothing more.
We shall see.
I know that for some time I’ve occasionally experienced a certain amount of frustration with the limits of language and wish to communicate via non-narrative, non-linear means. Abstraction invites collaboration, interpretation, input from the audience/viewer. The vast majority of my visual work frustrates literal-mindedness—the equivalent of Rorschach Tests, shapes demanding speculation and discussion.
Not for everyone.
Obviously, one of the high points of 2013 was the release of my short story collection Exceptions and Deceptions. The book features what I think is our best cover thus far and includes a batch of stories drawn from the past fifteen years, a couple of them previously unpublished and available nowhere else. Every time I glance up and see it on my shelf, I get a tingle. Fans of Philip K. Dick, Harlan Ellison, Jonathan Carroll, Neil Gaiman take note: this one’ll rock your socks off. Trust me.
Another fun experience was collaborating with my son Sam on an instrumental number which he then incorporated into a short film for Sherron’s “Agassiz” mask/puppet production, debuting later this month. Sam’s film is a gem and as soon as he uploads it to YouTube or Vimeo, I’ll post a link.
Let’s see, what else…in November I was astonished to learn my volume New & Selected Poems (1984-2011) was shortlisted for a ReLit independent press award. My bizarre verse? Really?
Managed to read one hundred books in 2013, though at one point I didn’t think I’d make it to #80. A big surge in November-December put me over the top. The 100th book, completed December 30th? Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun. What a way to finish off the year.
I’ve been noticing how much my reading tastes have changed over the past number of years—hardly any genre stuff these days, except for a bit of SF and the odd mystery/thriller by LeHane or Philip Kerr. Much less fiction, overall. Gimme a fat, juicy history book any day.
We don’t have cable, so we don’t watch television. Have no idea what shows are popular on the boob tube and couldn’t care less. Ditto with movies. By far the best movie I saw last year was Peter Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio”. Haven’t heard of it? Tsk, tsk. Grab it off NetFlix, buy or rent it from Amazon, do not miss this flick.
Music? The new Queens of the Stone Age, as well as Nine Inch Nails (live), Steven Wilson, Mogwai, Benjamin Britten and Gene Autry’s Greatest Hits. Keepin’ it diverse.
Looking ahead: I’ll be working on my new novel, as well as prepping…ah, well, mustn’t give too much away. Let’s just say that Black Dog Press has a number of releases pending in the next eighteen months and there will be further information announced in the days to come.
All the best in 2014.
Thanks, as always, for dropping by and hanging out awhile.
Three hundred blog posts…and counting.
And the credit all belongs to…you. D’you think I’d keep this up for 300 posts I didn’t feel like I was getting through, if this site wasn’t an invaluable line of communication to friends, colleagues and readers from, well, from everywhere? You’ve commented and you’ve written, hundreds of you, and I love it. Some really smart people hang out at my place, ideal readers every one. These are the individuals I’m thinking of when I start a new poem, short story, novel. I want to constantly surprise and amaze them, show them something unexpected. Never let them down, never take them for granted.
Thanks, folks. Thanks, so much.
Not only am I celebrating #300, there’s other news:
Yesterday I completed the first draft of what appears to be a short novel. Worked on it for nineteen (19) consecutive days, 2500 words a day. The experience left me drained, exhilarated…now I have to take a few days and try to figure out what the hell I’m going to do with it. I have another manuscript waiting for revision, an older effort I’m hoping to resurrect, but think I’ll stick with this new one for awhile. It’s in really rough shape—still, I think there’s a polished gem in there somewhere. It’ll take work, tons o’ research too. Ah, well, I should be used to that.
A surprisingly pain-free draft—not assailed by the usual demons of self-doubt and I tried to take breaks, the occasional walk, get away from the keyboard. Is this the beginning of a new trend? Will I (gasp) stop punishing my body/mind/spirit in the name of art?
To add to the positive vibes around here, my wife has returned from Yellowknife, so our little family unit is intact once more. Sherron spent ten days up there with a troupe of professional artists, rehearsing and performing a dramatic presentation recreating events from the life of a longtime local character, Tom Doornbos. They used a variety of puppets and employed a number of locales around Yellowknife to tell their story and their play was a great hit. Now there’s talk of touring it…stay tuned.
After picking Sherron up at the airport, we drove to the Broadway Theater and took in a showing of “Berberian Sound Studio”, which I thought would be good…and turned out to be the best movie I’ve seen this year. You can find the review over at my film blog.
And, finally…I promised you a treat, didn’t I?
Well, how about an entire CD of free music, over forty-seven minutes worth of catchy, mind-warping “chillout” tunes? I’ve just released “Ambient i-viii” in its entirety over on Bandcamp. Here a link to the site—enjoy, download, share.
I’ll start you off with a sample track, one of my favorites, titled “Ambient vi”:
One last time: THANKS.
And keep those comments and e-mails coming.
Love to hear from you…
Taking a break from writing, concocted and edited a new short film.
“Exoplanet”…a love letter to science fiction.
Dedicated to Ian Sales and other bringers of wonder: