Every cloud…


It’s frankly been a horrid week or two. A trip to Aberdeen seemed to go wrong at every turn, starting with having a ticket in the wrong name, and ending with the return flight being cancelled because the incoming plane couldn’t land. The automatic landing system had been struck by lightning, the pilot, trying to land manually, overshot the runway three times, gave up and landed at Inverness instead. I took a deep breath, swallowed hard and bought a painfully expensive ticket to London on a later plane, only to enter the arrivals lounge by mistake one minute before the plane was due to take-off. I made it through security again, got back at midnight, complete with a newly acquired Scottish cold from which I’m still suffering.

The thick damp mass of unbroken grey cloud that completely eclipsed Aberdeen for three days contributed to and symbolised the relentless low-level misery and annoyance of nearly everything. I tried to console myself by reasoning that once you were in a plane, you could rise above the clouds and see the world from a different, sunnier perspective. Perspective is everything, I began to formulate in the self-help department of my brain, and indeed for a few moments (helped by some Pringles and 250ml of airline red wine) things did look sunnier (see picture, above left, taken from the plane).

But from the moment I landed, just about every plan I made for the following days got changed or screwed by someone else, and then when I finally had a chance to sleep it all off, I couldn’t, and ended up, by Sunday night, feeling as if I hadn’t slept for a week.

It’s no thanks to any cloud, silver-lined or otherwise, but there was a pin-prick of joy in this mess. Turning out his old flat, Chris came across a pile of cassettes (remember them?) which, when I connected my trusty TEAC to my Mac via my even trustier Apogee Duet yesterday evening, turned out to contain a recording from 1993 that we both believed to have disappeared for ever, and whose loss we have mourned intermittently ever since.

The material is unprintable and of no interest to anyone much except us, but I’m overjoyed to have found it again after 15 years. Also in the pile were a few other things dating from the same period, including a skit on a Raymonda solo that I threw together in 5 minutes which became a TBA, equally hurriedly thrown-together by Chris in the unlikely ‘studio’ of the music room at ENB, for Maria Teresa del Real.

All the equipment it was made on has long gone, and it’s very rough and ready, but sometimes sketches contain more of an idea than an eventual working-out might do, so for all its messiness, I’m pleased to have it back again. Indeed, it’s the very messiness of it, together with the grain (in the Barthesian sense) of an old cassette that’s been in a dusty cupboard for years that reminds me so effectively of 1993.

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6 thoughts on “Every cloud…

  1. rudy

    “…a skit on a Raymonda solo that I threw together in 5 minutes which became a TBA, equally hurriedly thrown-together by Chris in the unlikely ‘studio’ of the music room at ENB, for Maria Teresa del Real.”

    this stuff is an absolute joy, jonathan–i can well imagine (from reading your blog) that you don’t have time to unearth more of these parodies, much less start creating new ones, but i hope you can at least put such a project on a fantasy agenda “If I Had The Time”–i’m starting a list of my own: “If Jonathan Still Had The Time”

    1. Jonathan Still Post author

      Haha, I indeed have a whole folder full of fantasy projects like that! I’d actually forgotten that I’d posted this file, so it was a kind of funny pleasure to hear it again. It does seem like the dark ages of MIDI now, though.

  2. rudy

    jonathan, for me 1993 was prehistoric: i got my first computer and used it primarily as a word processor and to play solitaire–i didn’t know anything about midi until around 2000–among many fascinations that trigger as i read upstream into your blog is learning what the recording possibilities were for musicians with deep tech-savvy at the very beginning–the special appeal for me is the parody and comic manipulation of repertory in the little bit of that work of yours i’ve heard so far, and the rather stupefying thing is that it was 1993 and you must have been one of the few and first to make the tech your own, to make it a tool for very individual, personal work

    if you’ll excuse me being personal i’ll tell you i’ve just turned 71 and i believe i’m 5-10 years older than you, and discovering this special vein of your work from the 90’s i’m thinking what a bright shining terror you must have been in your early 30’s learning and using all that tech before anyone else and having so much fun and spreading so much fun

    1. Jonathan Still Post author

      So interesting to read your comment, because it’s set me off down memory lane. I’m not even sure how my life in MIDI started, but I think it was when I bought a floppy disk recorder for my Yamaha clavinova. It cost something like £750 at the time, which was a fortune, but it had 16 channels, and a bank of sounds, and I thought it was pure magic. That was probably early 1991, I think. Then in the summer of that year, I took on a job sequencing a newly commissioned contemporary orchestral score of about 25 minutes. Looking back, I was completely crazy to think I could do it, given that I’d only just learned what MIDI was, but I guess that’s what happens when you don’t know what you don’t know.

      So for about 7 weeks, I spent 12 or more hours a day playing and inputting the score, teaching myself MIDI, ringing up helplines and having to explain the crazy thing I was doing, and see if anyone had an idea how to help me out. I was very lucky that there was a dancer in ENB at the time, Tomasz Kaczynski, who was a computer expert, and he guided me through the process of buying an Atari, getting Logic (at that time, it fitted on a 1.44MB floppy disk, the computer had 256k of RAM, and I had to buy a MASSIVE (!) hard external hard drive of 90MB to store the data). Tomasz and I would compare notes about working with music on an Atari after class, or in between exercises. I owe him a lot. A couple of years later, when I moved from Atari to PC, and got started using the WWW, I learned a lot from working on music with another dancer, Harald Krytinar, and got technical help from Victor Alvarez and Paul who were both computer experts. Without them, I doubt that I would have learned as much as I did.The commissioning company that they’d buy me a Yamaha SY35 in compensation. Anyone who remembers the arrange window on Logic from back then (which resembles the event list—it wasn’t graphic), will imagine that 25 minutes of music, with multiple tempo and time signature changes, was a nightmare.

      I didn’t have enough MIDI channels or polyphony to record the 50 staves of music at once, so I took it to a sound studio, having first bought the C-Lab Unitor SMTPE to synch the Atari to an 8-track tape machine so we could overdub the outputs of the Yamaha machine, the SY35 and a Proteus II to tape (there was no such thing as internal sounds then, it was all on outboard synths controlled via MIDI). The sound engineer and I were both teaching ourselves to use the Unitor, but miraculously, it worked like a dream.

      It was the most complex job I’ve ever done, but ironically it was also the first! It still amazes me that the tiny (by modern standards) Atari was capable of synching via time code perfectly to a multi track machine, and to send and receive instructions (it was amazing to watch the computer make the tape return to a precise location, and vice versa). I am still also thrilled by MIDI, since it remains such a consistent, simple and universal standard while other peripherals and sockets etc. for computers change so fast, five years is a generation. Ataris were such great computers, too—so sophisticated, hard-wearing, and with built in MIDI-ports. I love being called a term “bright shining terror,” even if it’s probably not true!


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