The Blog

06-Nov-21 : A Message for Facebook Visitors

SkinMechanix would like to say a quick word of thanks to those of you who are here because you followed a link to this page from Facebook.

I'd like to say thank you but, really, you should be thanking yourself. You're being smart. You're thinking outside of Facebook. Zuckerberg's parasitic soul-sucker isn't at the centre of your life. Good for you.

I'm posting this because I tried a little experiment the other day. I compared the number of people who Liked my Facebook link against the number of actual visitors to this page and, sad to say, only about one tenth of those Facebookers actually followed the link and bothered to read the related programme listings or our blog entries.

That's more than a little depressing, actually.

What this means is that a lot of Facebook users think it's okay to just Like a Facebook link but they're not sufficiently motivated to leave the safe, secure and thoroughly sanitised environment that is social media to check out something new and different. Worse, they're patting you on the back and saying "Hey! Well done! You posted a link. Good for you.". However, they're also thinking. "But my time is so scarce that I just can't be bothered to go read your link". Well, I guess those kitten pictures aren't going to look at themselves, are they?

So, Dear Facebook User, thanks for taking the time to check out this blog. I really DO appreciate your time, and perhaps far more than you may realise.

The Engineer's Victory Dance

These babies turned up on Saturday. They're our long lost front panels and they've been stuck on a Quayside in China for a month, awaiting ... Lord knows what but, finally, they're here and the last remaining barrier to full production neatly falls to one side.

I've been designing electronic gizmos for the last twenty five years although they were mostly digital systems built around or heavily influenced by someone else's designs largely because I forgot everything I knew about analogue devices as soon as I left University.

Analogue systems have always been something of a dark art. I just didn't get them. Still don't sometimes but that's half the fun of it, I guess.

I made the decision to get into Eurorack at the start of the year, partly because I sensed that there might just be a whole new world of creative possibilities out there and partly because it's an area that has seen enormous growth in recent years and, indeed, shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down. Hence, I started to learn all about analogue electronics, or at least remember everything I'd forgotten about Op-Amps all over again.

It's been a slow, patient journey involving a lot of breadboarding, even more Veroboard, and quite a bit of experimentation. Some of the early designs were just copied from someone else's work and I've tried to reflect that wherever possible. For instance, the A004 Low Frequency Oscillator is a direct copy of the David Haillant's design. I've credited David fully throughout. I chose this design over all of the others because it was one of the few that worked first time and continues to work in my little test rig. It's super-stable and very reliable.

I also cloned a couple of Voltage Sources and a CV / Audio Mixer from DinSync because they too were super-reliable and worked first time.

Right now, I'm starting to design my own stuff based on ideas I've had kicking around for years. Some of these actually featured on our ZEIT Step Sequencer all those years ago. Other ideas have come from friends and fellow musicians.

The end result is the first of our range of analogue Eurorack modules. The big stumbling block has been the front panels, essentially just a thin aluminium plate with some screen-printed graphics. To make a good panel, you need a decent CNC machine, a good silk screen system and a lot of time to learn how to use them. Time and money are, as ever, in short supply so this was never, ever going to be easy.

However, our PCB fabrication plant, JLCPCB, recently introduced a new service - aluminium front panels - and these are the result. The quality is excellent (not superb) and they can deliver them at a price we can't match (or even come close to).

I'm super-pleased with these. I'd be more than happy to add them to my new and rapidly expanding Euroack modular. We think you will too.

Bridges #17 : The Tough One

Bridges Episode 17 went out on Saturday night, 23rd October 2021, on Radio Northumberland and I don't mind admitting that this one was a tough nut to crack.

The initial premise, a show based around the soundtrack to the movie Tomb Raider sounded good when the idea first popped into my head. It even looked pretty good when I wrote the idea down in my Giant List of Possible Radio Shows but, in reality, I just sucked. At the time, I didn't know why. Something about the mix of tracks was just wrong. Something just didn't gell. It didn't seem at all genuine, as if my tiny inner voice was screaming No! No! No! No! It does that. You get used to it in the end.

I spent a long time - about a day I think - fiddling and faffing on with the running order but just couldn't get it right. The arrangement just didn't speak to me. There was no real pleasure in the mix. In the end, I decided that the idea was beyond redemption and so I just walked away and wondered what I could do instead. Re-run an earlier show? Re-run an earlier show but with an updated running order? Mix up two past shows to create something new? I wasn't out of options but... it was a bit scary because deadlines are deadlines for a reason.

A wise old Sage once said that Lidl (the Supermarket) is a good place to think through some of your loftier philosophical problems so that's what I did. I piled Christopher into his buggy and we took a walk up to the grocery-centric leviathan. Whilst cruising the middle of Lidl, something of a highway to spiritual enlightenment, I figured out the problem. Or problems. They were, in order:

It struck me that all of the above reasons where entirely consistent with my opinion of the album when I first heard it twenty years ago. I don't learn, do I?

So... I dropped half a dozen tracks and replaced them with something completely different - two pieces by Bowie, one by Landscape and a few others - and then I was happy. Or at least happier. I also walked away from the problem for a couple of hours. That did the trick. It's marvellous what a fresh pair of eyes can achieve. Working with your nose too close to the anvil means you can't see what you're doing with that big old hammer you're weilding and, similarly, you're just as likely to get your nose smashed flat.

The next problem were my vocals. Our housing estate is rarely quiet but on this occasion, I was wrestling with a whole new kettle of doorknobs - the neighbour's new Ring doorbell and the Council resurfacing the road through the Churchyard not to mention the mystery pensioner couple who like to drive up and down, up and down our estate for no apparent reason. Finding time to record the commentary was difficult but I did it in around two hours.

Mastering and general faffing about with levels always takes twice as long as you think so even if you budget, say, two hours to complete the operation, it will run to around four hours and rarely less.

And, of course, all the while, there's the constant tick, tick, tick of that clock running in the background. Periodically, a small Demon in a red cape who looks astonishly like the Station Manager, Keith, appears on my shoulder and jams a tiny pitch fork into my ear, whilst whispering 'get a f*cking move on, you arse...'.

In the end, the show was done on time and under budget, which is just what our financial manager likes to hear.

Listening back, I still heard all of the flaws and I was very obviously on a HUGE caffiene rush throughout the second half but, despite all of the foregoing, I enjoyed it. I hope you do, too.

You can listen to Bridges #17 again on Thursday 28th October, Saturday 30th October and Thursday 4th November. Alternatively, you can check out our programme archive here.

Welcome to the New Blog

Okay, so this isn’t a serious blog or it is, take your pick. I haven’t decided myself.

I’m here largely because I want more visitors to visit this site. I want to offer more in the way of news and feedback than social media is currently able to provide.

Do I have anything worth saying or worth listening to? That’s for you to decide.

What will this blog provide in terms of content?

Now that this whole COVID bollocks is fast becoming a distant memory, I plan on visiting as many galleries and installations, concerts and events as I can accommodate. We’re reasonably mobile plus we have an inquisitive two and half year old to entertain and educate, and trips out are an essential part of his learning process.

I have another reason for filling in this blog. I’m here because I have committed myself to fully purging the evil that is Facebook from my life.

I’ve been a Facebook fan for more than thirteen years. I say fan although I would class the relationship as definitely love/hate. I’d say that addiction is perhaps too strong a word but, you know. It fits, sad to say.

Anyway, I’ve been working on this major purge for the better part of a year, slowly decoupling myself from a significant number of pages and groups, and that operation has proved highly successful. I’ve reduced the frequency of posts significantly too - down from three or four updates daily to just one a week. More so, I no longer spend ages trawling through mountains of rubbish just to get to a few choice nuggets. I have largely removed myself from Zuckerberg’s monstrous parasite and good riddance, matey.

With facebook rapidly receeding into the distance, I now have a lot more time and energy on my hands and I’ve put that time and energy into something else. Another novel.

I completed my first full length novel a year ago although I still haven’t found the courage to dive into the editing process. It scares me. I have a guide stapled to the wall of my studio. It details the length of various written works in terms of word count. A short story is anything under 7000 words. A novelette is between 7,500 and 17500 words. A Novella clocks in at around 40000 words and a full length novel is anything over 40000 words. The small corollary added to the bottom of this list is that the average word count for a fantasy or science fiction novel is between 100000 and 115000 words. The Prisoner of Azkaban by KJ. K. Rowling was a monster tome that clocked in at 106000 words. Ender’s game by Orson Scott Card clocks in at 100000 words. My first novel. 168000 words. So maybe you can see why I’m reluctant to go wading into that one.

My second novel? It’s set in the same Universe, more or less, but the events detailed therein take place two hundred years ago. Beyond that, I’m not saying any more other than I’m having fun and looking forward to finding out what happens next. I have no idea. It’s a constant surprise. I don’t plan these novels. I just start with an initial premise and see where they go after that. They literally do write themselves.

As for music, we started heading out to gigs again last month, starting with Blancmange at the Riverside and followed up a week or so later with Tunnel Club at the Little Buildings. I’ll review those gigs shortly.

What else can you expect? We're working on video blogs, instructionals, live performances, a Patreon page and a whole lot more. I cannot wait to get started.

So, that’s it. The first entry in the new blog. I’ll try to update it at least once a week, perhaps more. I don’t know yet.