I’m got a brand new book on the way, the most important people in my life are healthy and reasonably happy…oh, and I mustn’t forget that the fifth anniversary of this blog is rolling around. St. Patrick’s Day marks the unofficial birthday of Beautiful Desolation—raise a pint of Guinness in honor of a site that’s managed to beat the odds. Five years and still going strong. Surely that’s worth a toast or two, innit?
Today I put the finishing touches on a CD’s worth of ambient material and added it to my Audio page. Forty-six minutes of my oddball offerings; “Emanations” features some genuinely whacked out and trippy music. I’ve posted a 3-song sampler below. Check out my audio page for several hours of music and spoken word pieces, all of it available for FREE listening:
And while I’ve been waiting for the proof of The Last Hunt, I’ve been cleaning up my office, prepping it for the next project on my plate. Finally settling down and doing some reading as well, including a novelette by the great Jim Shepard.
Attended “Silence is Golden” at the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon and posted about it on my film blog. I’ve vowed to go on a reading and movie watching binge now that my book is done. My wife and kids are skeptical but I truly intend to ease up on the workload for awhile. Kick back and relax. Surely a few hours of leisure won’t kill me…will it?
Bit of sad news today as I was trolling through headlines. Ralph McQuarrie has passed away. Serious “Star Wars” fans will know exactly who I’m talking about. I remember seeing some of his production paintings in science fiction magazines like Starlog long before the film came out. George Lucas gives McQuarrie a good deal of the credit for the eventual look of his movie. Let’s hear it for ol’ Ralph. He helped imagineer a whole franchise. There aren’t many who can say that…
When words no longer suffice, I click on Garageband and commence work on some atmospheric, ambient melange, usually employing at least a dozen tracks before I’m satisfied the result is sufficiently whacked out and spacey. I’ve posted the best stuff on my Audio page and you’re welcome to listen to it, download…have at it.
A couple of years ago I got it into my head to write a murder ballad. I was raised on Johnny Cash and Hank Snow—one of the first tunes I can remember hearing is Johnny’s spooky version of “The Long Black Veil”.
I think I had that song in the back of my head as I sat down and wrote out the words to “Poor Mary”. The song wrote itself very quickly—I recall there were only two or three drafts. But once I finished, it was head-scratching time. What in the name of God was I going to do with the bloody thing now? I can’t read or write music, can’t play an instrument.
Ah, but I’m fortunate enough to have a pal who can pick and strum and carry a tune. So I handed the lyric sheet over to Laird Brittin and asked him if it was possible to create an actual song out of the few lines of poetry I’d composed. He liked the lyrics and came back with an arrangement that is nothing less than stunning. If you like “Poor Mary”, the vast majority of the credit goes to Laird, who truly found the perfect “sound” for the piece.
To give the tune a listen (it’s only three minutes and some long), click on the following link:
This happens to be my 200th blog post and I can think of no better way of commemorating that milestone than releasing “Poor Mary”.
Special thanks to Laird for recording, arranging and mixing this version.
My appreciation, as well, to the many, many folks who still make a regular habit of stopping by this blog and checking out my take on “the writing life”. It ain’t a particularly rewarding or empowering existence/vocation, but I’ve never regretted my decision to go the “indie” route.
It takes its toll but if this approach allows me to fully express myself as an artist, as someone with a unique perspective on the multiverse, I’ll accept the consequences, come what may.
And, hey, if I get to occasionally turn my hand to songwriting, come up with something as fun and enjoyable (and good) as “Poor Mary”, then all I can say is fucking bring it on.
“Poor Mary” © Copyright, 2010 by Laird Brittin & Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
No commercial use of this song is permitted.
Here are a few snaps of your humble author, hard at work shooting footage “on location” as it were. An overgrown lot in small town Saskatchewan, old farm buildings that we spotted alongside the highway. Whenever we identified something that might fit our overall concept of “abandonment and desolation”, we’d pull over and do our thing.
I handled a DV camera we bought off the internet a number of years ago. Very creaky, the technology practically obsolete. I can still find tapes for it at places like London Drugs in Saskatoon but I wonder how long that will be the case.
Sherron, meanwhile, was using her iPod, employing a number of settings and filters to grab some neat effects. We’ll load all the footage onto my computer and I’ll get to work trying to compose something out of what we’ve compiled.
The reason for this flurry of cinematic activity is that I’ve created a delightful seven and a half minute piece with Garageband and it’s so evocative and interesting to me that I thought it deserved some visual accompaniment.
If anything comes of this grand experiment, I will, of course, add it to the blog for your perusal and analysis.
Many thanks to Sherron for her collaboration and input. It’s a thrill to work with someone as creative and visually attuned as she is. I’m quite confident her footage will be the best we shoot—the combination of my ancient camera and ineptitude pretty much works against my ever becoming a proficient DP (director of photography).
I’d better get back to work.
Happy Labour Day to my fellow Canucks…and I dearly hope the Saskatchewan Roughriders get their asses kicked later today.
God, I hate that team and its moronic, watery-brained fans…
As a tool of communication, it can’t be beat. It’s far-reaching, ubiquitous and interactive. A couple of posts ago I mentioned an obscure kids’ TV program from the late 1960’s called “Robot Boy”. My little essay was a nostalgia piece and the last thing I expected was that it would provoke a flurry of notes from folks who shared my warm (if vague) memories of the show.
And then I received a communication from Wes Chambliss, whose step-father used to work at the Yorkton TV station where “Robot Boy” was filmed. Mr. Chambliss inherited a box of reels, Super 8mm footage his father shot…and included in those many feet of celluloid is a few snippets filmed on the set of “Robot Boy”! Mr. Chambliss also confirmed that the original tapes were indeed lost, alas, so those fragments are all that remain of “Robot Boy”.
Wes has graciously allowed me to share that footage with you…augmented with an audio clip from the show’s intro.
It’s a thrill to re-introduce Robot Boy to the world after a 40 year absence. Long live Robot Boy!
In between stints of editing my novel Of the Night, I’ve put together another l’il musical offering, this one called (ironically, methinks) “Verisimilitude”.
Some cool layering of sound here and occasionally I manage that “3-D” effect I love, where the music seems to be hovering in the air all around the listener.
Click on the link below, close your eyes and let this piece wash over you:
The latest communication from Lightning Source indicates the proof of my novel So Dark the Night will be printed tomorrow (Tuesday, April 20th) and, if there are no obvious glitches, sent off to me a short time afterward.
(Sound FX: Fingers drumming anxiously on desk top.)
In the meantime, I’ve decided to post more of my strange, ambient music—it’s on my “Audio” page, just scroll down past the spoken word stuff and you’ll get there. Really love these pieces, which I’m calling (collectively) Intervals. There’s been a big progression since my first offering and one tune from this latest batch in particular stands out for me: can you guess which it is?
Busy days around here: Sam, Liam and a number of their friends (shout out to Sean, Dylan, Jess and the rest of the crew) are deeply involved in a short film project that keeps getting bigger and bigger. I applaud their ambition. Sherron has her own film on the go, an abstract bit of business for which I’ll be supplying music. But the deadline for the local, library-sponsored film short film competition is looming, so I hope their post-production efforts go well or they’re gonna be scrambling.
Meanwhile, I’m fretting over the impending arrival of the proof, beating my brains out trying to find ways to better promote and distribute my independently produced books. I welcome your input and advice on both these points.
Let me know what you think of Intervals too. And keep watching these pages for more info on the release of So Dark the Night, a supernatural thriller with a heart of gold. Your summer reading is on its way. And I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
I’ve met some smart, funny, terrific people, thanks to “Beautiful Desolation”, and it’s always a particular thrill to read a comment or receive an e-mail from one of you. Writing is a lonely business and those missives, brief as they are, remind me why I keep putting pen to paper, year after year after year. And let’s have a rousing cheer for the internet, without which none of this would be possible. I mean, jeez, from halfway around the world you can wave or send regards or blow a kiss…or a raspberry (whatever floats your boat).
I spent perhaps an unhealthy amount of time trying to come up with ways to say “thanks” for your support and patronage for the past three years. There are a good number of you who take great pains to keep in touch and pass the word to other folks out there who are fed up with the tepid fare offered by traditional publishing sources: the books and magazines we buy and yawn our way through.
For the past six months or so the e-Reader crowd have been coming by in droves. Welcome, welcome. Dive right in and enjoy my stories, poems and radio dramas. There are dozens of offerings on this site, hundreds of thousands of words. Works that will astonish, amaze or, at least, entertain. And it’s all FREE. Download it, peruse it on your Kindles and iPads and Sonys (what the hell, a book is a book) and God bless ya.
I have to say there are certain, ah, special circumstances that give this anniversary more significance.
The impending release of my novel So Dark the Night is a super-big deal around Casa Burns. The cover nears completion and then it’s a case of loading the book onto Lightning Source’s template, crossing our fingers…and zipping it off. Looks like a late-April release. Will give you a peek at the cover soon–it’s a beauty. Wait’ll you see it, kids, it’ll knock your socks off. Christ, I love this book. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m practically vibrating in anticipation.
2010 marks my 25th year as a professional writer. That’s a helluva long time, a helluva lot of words on paper. Too many to ponder without suffering some kind of brain seizure. So we’ve got the third anniversary of the blog, my silver anniversary as an author and a new book coming out. That’s gotta call for something a little something extra, a bonus item or two…
How about an hour of free music? This is music I recorded with my iMac’s Garageband software. Space tunes, all instrumentals, totally trippy and out there. Some of my friends have downloaded these oddities on to their iPods or their computer hard drives. Go for it. Knock yourselves out. And above all else, enjoy the music. With my compliments and thanks.
I call my project Soundtrack For a Science Fiction Film Never Made and if you’d like to give it a listen, pop over to my “Audio” page, scroll down, past the spoken word section and you’re sure to find it.
Ah, but I’m not done.
I also want to unveil my new blog, Cinema Arrete. After literature, film is my great passion and for ages I’ve wanted a site where I could talk about some of my favorites and steer people toward flicks that aren’t on prominent display at their neighborhood movie store. I think that with places like YouTube now renting movies, there might be an increased demand and a wider assortment of movies to choose from–after all, cyberspace is like an endless virtual store and titles are always in stock. It might be the perfect time to re-introduce film fans to the work of auteurs like Henri-Georges Clouzot and Carl Theodor Dreyer.
But it’s not just a one-way street. I want cinephiles to steer me toward works and creative individuals that I’ve missed or neglected for some reason. I want to re-watch classic movies, research them and write essays based on my impressions and speculations. Sometimes I’ll re-examine a work and discover I’ve been dead wrong and will be forced to backtrack. The downside of being an honest critic is that you have to learn to like the taste of crow.
My refusal to bestow any respect on CGI fests like “Avatar” and the latest comic book adaptation will enrage those of you who (shudder) go to movies purely for fun, for the eye candy and escapist fluff. Sorry, if that’s the sum total of your aesthetic, Cinema Arete likely isn’t for you.
Pop over, give it a look-see and let me know what you think.
Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m feeling kind of misty-eyed at the moment and it might be that extra shot or two of scotch I’ve had. Or it could be an indication of emotions lurking closer to the surface than usual as I ponder this blog and what it has meant for my writing. Most importantly, it’s given me access to you, o wise and discerning readers, a venue to display my odd wares.
Thanks so much for spending some of your precious time here. Visiting and browsing this…repository of my poor words.
You’ll find it by looking to the right hand side, under the “Stories” widget. Just click on “Audio” and you’ll discover a large selection of my stories, poems, commentaries, even an excerpt from my novel So Dark the Night. All available for free listening and downloading onto whatever device (iPod or cell phone) you currently favour. Many of these pieces are accompanied by music, which provides dramatic highlights, a soundtrack that is either pleasing or provocative (or both).
The most recent offering is a six-minute chat about “indie” writing I recorded because I’ve received a host of questions, both here and in various forums where I hang out. People want to know what it means to be an independent writer…and I want to do what I can to dispel this notion that one goes the indie/self-publishing route because your work can’t cut it with traditional publishers. Hey, kids, I chose to go my own way because after 20+ years of dealing with inept, sociopathic, moronic editors, I’d had enough. New technologies like blogs, podcasts and print-on-demand put more control into authors’ hands, a situation I welcome with open arms.
For the record, here’s what I said–
–and after giving it a listen, I hope you’ll have a clearer understanding of what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And please check out the rest of my audio releases, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the production values and the power and intensity of the work.
Theatre of and for the mind…
I’ve been in a somewhat grim state of mind of late, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into. So I was sitting down today, nursing a blue funk, pondering the imminent arrival of All Hallow’s Eve. I turned on Garageband and started playing around; came up with some wacky tracks of music and thought about adding a few words, flipped through my notebook for something appropriate…and for some reason recalled “Darkness”, a poem Lord Byron wrote wayyy back in the early 19th Century. Dug out an old Norton poetry anthology, found the poem in question…and my face split into a nasty grin. It was perfect. Went with the music I’d laid down so nicely it sent a chill through me.
Here it is, a little something for the ghoul that resides in each of us, the darkness beyond the edge of town, as Mr. Springsteen would put it.
My tunes have no shape, they flow and twist enigmatically, illogically. Mood music for troubled minds. Score for a science fiction film never made. Shimmering in the air around you, disappearing without leaving behind so much as a sprinkle of fairy dust.
There’s a strange dichotomy at work here: I’m using this advanced, amazing computer to simulate and record almost any instrument known to humankind…and flubbing and screwing up and patching and improvising…and ending up with some in-teresting stuff.
I’ve got over an hour of music stored in an iTunes folder. Every note of it selected, struck, plucked, bowed, strummed or sampled by yours truly. Using virtual instruments, of course, since I’d be virtually useless if you gave me a real one. Sue me, I’m an eejit savant.
So far this one is our favorite. Hand’s down. A bit of spoken word but just about all instrumental.
I call it “The Departed” and dedicate it to absent friends.
And awayyyyy we go…