Stories of my disappearance are greatly exaggerated.
I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer, so now looking forward to playlists such as “Now that’s what I call Chemo!” followed by the hotly anticipated “Last Night a Surgeon Saved my Life” slated for release in the new year. *
I’ll still present and perform occasionally when going through treatment. We’ll play it by ear, depending on how everything progresses and energy levels. Short Notice bookingsmight work. I’m optimistic that normal service will slowly resume if the results are encouraging.
To those of you unlucky enough to have some experience of the disease (either yourself, or someone you know) I send positivity and love.
My mum died of cancer when I was a child – details of her medical treatment were whispered in hushed tones in separate rooms, out of earshot and in secrecy. Yet attempts to conceal her terminal diagnosis were pointless as I knew what was going on. With nobody to ask, I felt powerless.
It’s why this very personal post exists: to try the opposite track. Knowledge (and Music) has always been a great comfort, and my curiosity to learn has helped me overcome so many obstacles, achieve so much and connect with frankly extraordinary people while performing or presenting. I’ve explained as openly and as age appropriately as possible to my toddler. Telling children early on is advised by Macmillan and other cancer charities -such a difficult experience to do but it was taken well and felt like the best decision for him.
I may be dealing with cancer now, but as anyone different has always known, there’s simply so much more to us than how we look, our personal struggles, or what equipment we use to access the world. We are still artists, engineers, writers, thinkers, comics, poets, AI magicians, coders, hackers, lockpickers, DJs, storytellers. We laugh at great jokes, cry at terrible movies on planes (well, OK, I do) and enjoy connecting with others through our love of creativity, unconventional thinking. Best of all we love to collaborate with those who challenge and excite us. We crave pure connections which at their best transcend physical and mental capabilities, creating that elusive and magical experience of flow for audiences and performers to share.
In short, you are welcome to ask cancer questions, which I will answer if I feel up to it…. or, we can talk about stuff I still really love, like music, technology and performing. Any great, fun audio books with happy endings? Wholesome comedy video clips and podcasts? let me know!
Want to lend me some Interesting VR/Immersive kit for a day to try out during or after a chemo treatment in London? I’m down for any entertaining tech distractions during my many medically enhanced hours over the next weeks and months. Some things feel rather unpleasant, so if you think it might be fun to see how creative tech could help make procedures more palatable – that sounds kind of awesome to me too. Interested? Do click here to contact.
Finally, to everyone reading this far, thank you so much for our connection – whether it’s IRL or online – however brief, however close, through TV, presenting or hacker / music circles, please know that many of you have been responsible for so many of my happiest thoughts. Your impact has been so positive in helping me want to be better – authentic, inspiring, thoughtful, uplifting – and kind. I wish you all the very best.
P.S *These playlists don’t exist – yet. Want me to make some?
Date: Mon 23 March 2015: Event: My first ever full-length musical !
I’m super-excited to call myself a London Theatre Impresario! A date, a venue, a show, tickets on sale!
Scary as I’m currently only about 70% of the way through writing every single note of the upcoming musical adventure that will be held in conjunction with the inimitable Hack Circus in exactly one month’s time.
We’ve written a story to go with some expert talks and some rather spiffing tunes as well even if I say so myself. Leila happens to be a genius librettist in my opinion and I’m hoping my tunes and orchestration will do those fantastic lyrics justice. She and I have hatched a musical monster of a night out… What a nerve-wracking but satisfying experience this is!
I need to finish building the scores and orchestration
we need to finalise the order of songs and talks and audience interactive bits
I’ll have to learn and sing pretty much all the songs on the night
Leila and I have to pre-record some short bits of audio to give on-stage a break
I’m trying to build a home-made instrument that may or may not work on the night
Eek I need to do all the audio show control while performing (Ableton I’m looking at you)
people are actually buying tickets so it has to be good because we have a paying audience.
ONE NIGHT ONLY
Talking of which, if you’re in London that evening AND want to be the first to see this quite peculiar and creative take on the musical genre. From the HC site:
We will be travelling in a unique sound-powered tunnelling vessel, currently under development. Please bear in mind: we really don’t know what we will find. We need a strong healthy team. It might be worth getting down to the gym now if you can.
Bring a torch. This is very important. We are expecting it to be dark.
We will be guided on our journey by three experts: monster afictionado sci-fi author Chris Farnell, historian and volcano enthusiast Ralph Harrington and shark-mad comics legend Steve White – but who knows who (or what) else we might encounter?
I was asked to take part in the Tech Tent annual quiz all about the tech news of 2014, pitted against none other than the people who actually make the news – the BBC Technology website team. Sounded to me like a guaranteed failure – these people know everything about the stories of the year – not only would they have written the articles, they would also have researched the stories thoroughly and (worse!) know background and periphery information.
How could I game the system without cheating? My plan below actually worked…
1. UNDERSTANDING THE FORMAT – where the scoring happens The email came through with the rules: there will be “12 questions each relating to a big tech news story during 2014 – there’s one question for each month BUT they will not come in order. The order was selected by random draw. Most questions are in two parts offering two points, with an extra bonus point available for guessing which in which month the story happened. FWIW, I doubt we’ll get through all 12 questions in the limited time we have. If one team fails to answer a question or part of a question correctly, that q or part of question will be offered to the other team.”It made sense to memorise the news stories and their months as according to the format knowing these represented 12 points straight away.
2. CREATE DATA SET A
I gleaned the main events in technology from Wikipedia by month with a definite nod towards business and consumer electronics. I based the emphasis on quizmaster Rory’s preferences and my knowledge of the stories producer Jat tends to choose for the Tech Tent podcast.
3. CREATE DATA SET B AND SEE WHAT STORIES APPEAR IN BOTH A AND B
The click news scripts from the whole of 2014 were cut and pasted – all the click newsbelts together by month made it really easy to work out the most likely questions in each segment. I amalgamated this with the Wikipedia and The Verge year in review and other sources, then applied weighting depending on information available to ask deeper questions around a topic.
4. FURTHER ANALYSIS TO PINPOINT MOST LIKELY STORIES
Based on my analysis, some stories were more likely than others to work as questions for a quiz –for example Twitch and Apple buying beats were big stories in otherwise quiet months so it made sense to drill down into those. Flappy Bird was also pretty much guaranteed to be a question based on the analysis – and it helped that Rory did rather a few spots on flappy bird in 2014, so again, a likely candidate.
5. EDITORIAL CONSIDERATION
I could also discount any stories that weren’t appropriate for a Christmas quiz tone, which reduced the viable stories further.
6. EXPERT AREAS
It made sense to look at key stories like the Apple launch, top tech mergers and acquisitions and crypto-currency as big stories of 2014. So I memorised as many numbers and month/story combos as possible to maximise those easy points. Knowing about the business of tech meant that I could at least make informed guesses when I wasn’t sure of an answer – which sometimes paid off and sometimes didn’t (Google nearly bought Twitch = correct, The tablet-sized device launch was the Nokia tablet not Microsoft’s Surface pro tablet – nearly)
7. A BIT OF LUCK
As soon as I realised the last question (Number of World Cup Tweets) was directed at the Tech Website team first, it was easy to make an N+1 or N-1 call which would automatically cover more ground than the first guess, which led to eventual (if messy) victory!(It made up for correctly stating the flappy bird developer was making £32,000 per week ($50,000) which was not picked up!)
Yes! Emerged Victorious! Dave and Zoe from the BBC Tech Website team were worthy adversaries – because of the calibre of opponents, I had to up my game in order to even stand a chance against them. Thus I learned that when the odds aren’t great, it’s still worth doing the best you can, a great lesson to bring in 2015. Hurrah! and Happy New Year!
I recently gave a talk atTedXTokyo 2014about a musical device I built with the aim of giving other people the chance to hear the world as musically as I do. To date, around fifty people have tried my mobile composing inspiration rig with me – mostly with very enthusiastic responses afterwards, and in the more musical/auditory types there’s also a degree of joyful disorientation.
Some of the background to what I think is going on: Around twenty years ago, psychology professor Diana Deutsch discovered what she called the Speech to Song illusion. Essentially, a spoken phrase repeated often enough starts to take on musical qualities. There’s a great Radiolab episode which explains the phenomenon.
For me, I don’t require repetition in order to hear spoken phrases as musical. Speech is intrinsically musical for me, and so is the rest of the world – from cars passing to people typing. I really wanted to share my experience as I find it very beautiful.
The idea of adjusting auditory experience or adding a ‘Glitch’ to reality – at least in aural terms – is not a new process. But glitching with modern tech sounded like a great way to reveal the music I hear all the time – plus I wanted to add a more musical classical compositional element to the practice.
Sean Manton and CJ Carr (who was familiar with glitching) were two other music hackers I met at the Hackathon. They were instrumental in my sleep-deprived electronic inspiration.
So, grabbing my iPad and headphone splitters, I built the first iteration of a device that messed with the ambient sound in the room in real time in a pleasurable manner. Raw audio is changed in real-time and enhanced with sound effects, and crucially, I added basic musical elements and phrases that would play simultaneously. A while later, I got the thing working in a way I liked and emerged from my room, eager to try it on other musical / technical people. My ideal system would allow for me to sing and play melody and harmony but I was nowhere near doing that yet.
So, extra headphones bought, splitter in, time to try my rudimentary iPad device on CJ and Sean in a quiet teahouse. It was so much fun! The sounds of tea being made, the door opening, teaspoons hitting cups, amplified and enhanced by repetition! Those sounds were unexpected, made musical and wonderfully tingly. I sang along to the notes in the cafe to accentuate them. The staff at the teahouse got interested, all they could hear was us singing and hitting teaspoons and laughing. So we asked if they wanted to try it then wired them in to see their response – they liked it – a lot.
Going mobile was more interesting – we were physically connected by our headphone cables, so it took a while to maneuver through the door but together we emerged, wired up out into the wild. And, once our headphones were in, we pretty much stayed ‘glitched in’ for at least 5 hours straight. I could hear the music I normally hear but amplified! Wow! I sang in joyous harmony with the world for my cohorts, who joyously joined in. An ear-opening experience indeed, and I expect we were a strange sight, connected together by cables, singing and swaying – especially as only we could hear the glorious harmonic results of our musical musings.
What followed: glitching around a bookshop, glitching through a delicious dinner at a noodle restaurant until we got chucked out at closing time – and (my favourite) glitching on public transport all over Boston. Some time during the evening, I added a recorded drum loop to the experience – an albeit low-tech but incredibly effective way to turn the world into a very funky soundtrack – rhythm along with harmony generated by reality transcended a run-of-the-mill walk through a city, making it a musical recital!
Now, without our headphones in, the world seemed dry and desolate. And, after trying this on six other people with the persuasive line ‘Hey, you wanna do some digital drugs, guys?’ to gratifying results, it didn’t take long for us to ascertain this was indeed a pleasurable and slightly psychedelic auditory experience – not only as a participant, but also as a listener. The three of us decided to take modern glitching further with a bit more technological clout.
A quick stop on the way back to the hacker apartment meant we now had extra kit. And, by 0100, Sean had plugged his Raspberry Pi computer into the TV – programming on the Pi with PureData. We made some tea and ate bread with the most delicious honey (the honey was in Bb major 6th) and kept working. By then it was 0300 and my taxi was due to arrive at 0615, we only had a few hours left!
We all wanted to add fine-grain control to this strange and wonderful auditory experience. CJ had brought his FM transmitter and binaural microphone/headphones and we plugged everything into my Mac. I wanted to do more than just sing the city, I wanted to play it too. That meant configuring something that could take multiple inputs – MIDI and Audio at the same time.
Finally at 0400, and full of incredible quantities of tea, bread and honey, we were now running a glitching instance on Ableton Live, with a binaural microphone / headphone setup and my iRig Keys midi controller hooked up. I started building musical stems right then and there.
The latest version has more than just repetition, my new glitching device can harmonise and play with the world in a much deeper way – and I walk around a city first to get what key its in and compose something beautiful that goes with the natural sounds around me. Then I load those sounds up – I can then trigger them when I hear something in the right key, so a motorbike going past in B flat will mean I trigger my ‘B flat, traffic’ piano composition. The main problem is that the laptop gets really hot, also I’m covered in wires so it looks a little strange.
And this is what glitching sounds like – some of these examples have music in, others don’t.
The tech is still very much hacked together, but there’s more documented in the talk.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
CJ, Sean and I are all enthusiastic about sharing the joys of glitching – and we’re all working on versions of glitching devices. We’re hoping to create a resource online for anyone interested to play with the idea in their own way. I’m going to list everything I use in my hacked-together inelegant solution in another post.
I want an app that does this! I want to create a glitchpad! Beautiful musical stems that trigger automatically when friends walk through that city with this app! I want to be invited to perform ‘glitching’ concerts in cities around the world!
(for reference, I’ve reposted the TEDxTokyo video here)
I gave a presentation for the London Girl Geek Dinners 6th Anniversary event. For a brilliant blog post all about the event – along with an unfortunate picture of me and an angry bird, click here.
Meanwhile, my aim for the presentation was to use some of what I’ve learned from my experiences as a TV presenter and producer to help other people get their voices heard, whatever their walks of life.
During my talk, I repurposed some of the techniques in telling a story for television for use in real-world situations.
I used an example of one of my most recent features for BBC News as a way to illustrate the core elements of presenting ideas in an easily accessible manner.
I was incredibly flattered that the original Girl Geek asked for my last slide to remain up so she could communicate her ideas to our audience using this technique!
After the speaking was done, something amazing happened – quite a few people came up to me after the speech to tell me that they were inspired! Inspired to pitch something at work that they knew they could do, or to try again to present an idea they had faith in but didn’t quite manage to convey it the first time.
Before I gave the speech, I remember thinking that if I could encourage just one person to have more confidence in their abilities, and act positively, I would feel like the presentation was a success – so this result was even more gratifying.
I had a few requests to stick the slides up online, so here they are – and GirlGeekDinners, thanks very much for having me!
If you see me out at night, the chances are I’ll have 2 big blue things in my ears, my beloved protectors of unwelcome noise, my USA-imported saviours, the humble hearos ear-plug. Since my previous life as a 4-times-a week musical performer, I’ve always made sure to wear hearing protection when gigging – a lot of the time, the monitors in front of the stage pointing at the band would be as loud, if not louder, than the speakers pointing at the audience. Whilst it looks a little unconventional, wearing my most treasured possession is worth all the good-natured pointing and laughing I get for the moment I step outside.
I pull out my earplugs and my hearing is crystalline, compared to my companions, who are shouting incoherently at each other over the ringing in their own ears. I generally put my earplugs back in at this point until they have calmed down.
The most painful thought for me is that if I lose my ability to hear, I won’t be able to navigate my world anymore. I spent such a long time getting used to the many dissonances of daily life, vexed by the microtones in each new scenario until I was taught how to process those sounds as music. It turns out that if you use the appropriate scale, then your audio landscape can become a wonderful, if chaotic, symphony*.
I would be devastated if I could no longer use this method to interact with the world. I recognise people more easily by the sound of their voices than their physical appearance, which is another source of great amusement to those I see regularly.
If I lost my sense of hearing, I fear I will lose the friends I can’t recognise by sight alone. Even sitting on the tube, as I write this, I can hear someone’s headphones at an ear-splitting volume. I wonder momentarily why we seem so relaxed about protecting something that’s fundamentally irreplaceable, before replacing my earplugs, letting the sounds of the Jubilee line recede to a blissfully tolerable volume.
NB *Within reason, of course – I’m not counting the downstairs flat’s questionable and mystifying 125dB musical interludes at 1am on a Monday morning.
Wow, I can’t believe it! I’m holding in my hands my FIRST grown-up looking CD! Here it is:
I am soooooo excited
This CD “wot I wrote” has 4 meditation tracks on it, I think the style is formally described as “new-age” or “extremely chilled”. Each track has been composed, produced, and mastered in my lovely new studio!_
I’ve also uploaded a sample of the tracks on to myspace – if anyone knows a sexier way to get an MP3 file to talk to wordpress, please let me know, I’m still relatively new to all this blogging lark, and quite happy to benefit from someone else’s experience and/or knowledge.
Actually, there’s another, deeper, reason I’m really excited by this, because it’s only a small (some might say very small) step on the musical ladder in the big scheme of things. I think this CD (and showing it to you in public) symbolises an acceptance of the musical part of me, which for a long time (and for very complicated reasons) I rejected for a while. I think there is also a big helping of nerves involved in actually going for it, creating a product and placing it in the market place. What’s very odd to me is that I’m quite comfortable standing on stage / on TV chatting to a bunch of people I don’t know, but this blog post makes me feel incredibly strange, vulnerable and exposed.
Oh well. Too late for that now. The next step is for me to put the envelope with 5 CDs in the post to CDbaby, who will then hold the copies for purchase, and convert tracks to MP3 for digital download.
inside the Jewel Case
...and the back
… right, I’ve been brave. Now to self-medicate with chocolate and tea.
I recently devoured a great book called “Quirkology” by Prof Richard Wiseman, whose experiment measuring how fast people walk in different cities around the world showed (unsurprisingly) that the pace of walking has got faster (to find out which cities were faster than others, and other weird and wonderful experiments, buy the book!)
This increase in pace mirrors an increase in musical pitch over the last few centuries – as the pace of life gets faster, Middle C gets higher! In Baroque times, (around 1700) Middle C was a full semitone lower – this is why I have to transpose in my head when I play baroque-pitch harpsichords.
When I’d go dancing, it would distress me musically as the sound systems would regularly play music at about 5-6Hz higher than it should have been – I wondered whether this pitch-shift was intentional, and people would unwittingly dance more / drink more as a consequence of this increase, or whether the sound systems were just rubbish, no-one was experimenting, and only freaks like me would suffer?
My freakiness is Perfect Pitch, a strange affliction/gift that means I can correctly identify notes, chords etc., and tell someone what key they are speaking in – where it starts to get a little strange is that I’ve found that people who speak in, say, F major, appear to be quite persuasive and good at motivating, whereas people who speak in B minor appear to be quite negative in their outlook – I’ll go out on a further limb here, and mention that everyone seems to have a key they normally speak in, and others that they modulate to depending on their situation/company/mood – this is something I’ve done since I was a kid, but last weekend at the Food 2.0 wrap party, I mentioned that someone was speaking in Bb major, which resulted in strange looks and a request to blog about it, hence the post.
…but one digresses (as usual). Continuing the pacing theme, in the 90s, music at 135bpm was considered ridiculously fast, however, in the noughties, we happily imbibe 160bpm without missing a beat (no pun intended) – there’s not that much more room in terms of tempo, (before it becomes pitch) so what happens next?
How fascinating that music affects us so deeply! During (and after) my music degree, I performed some (very) empirical research. As a lifelong insomniac, I wanted to find out a way to get to sleep easily. The relaxation tapes I purchased were fine in terms of the NLP-type hypnotic language used etc, however, the background music kept me awake! After reading all kinds of weird and wonderful research that music at 60bpm, the average resting heart rate, can sometimes have a calming effect on the body, I decided to test that out by composing – and engineered music that would relax me by using this tempo and also choosing the keys that I personally found calming. Well, it worked on me, because I fell asleep writing it, and had to compose some of the stuff in double time (how frustrating). What was even stranger was that it appeared to work on other people, too…
I’d be very interested to hear any thoughts on music and how it affects humans (or other animals – I remember New Scientist running a piece about chickens listening to Pink Floyd) – and I’ll put some samples up online soon (will blog with link) so you can have a listen. LJ x
If you’re a component, it’s easy, you just shut down until someone comes and fixes you, or that’s it, game over. If you’re more carbon-based than silicon-based, it appears to be a little more complicated.
You see, I’m currently suffering from life overload, and as usual I’m writing a blog with the perverse mindset that trying to make enough sense of the stuff I have to do by sharing with the internet will help in the real world, as I’ll be left with a blog of how to handle overload at the end of this post.
Am I making any sense? Of course not. My brain needs some serious defragmenting. Perhaps some down-time would be in order….
Things I have to do #1 I really have to tell you about Forgetting Sarah Marshall, perhaps one of the best films I’ve seen in a long while. Actual laugh-out-loud funny, along with some very geek-friendly in-jokes that kept the (in this case, geek-filled) cinema in stitches.
What’s odd about this movie is that I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to see this, even though I enjoyed “Knocked Up” and “40-year-old Virgin” from the same stable. It’s described as a “romantic disaster movie” in the press kit, which hints at something more than your run-of-the-mill schmooze-fest.
A lot of the time, I’ll walk out of a movie theatre and think “well, that’s another 2 hours out of my life, oh well”, but this was different – my companions and I were rather surprised at just how good the movie was, and even talked about the funny bits over sushi at Satsuma afterward.
The premise is simple: Bloke gets dumped by TV star girlfriend, Bloke gets back on horse (to know which horse, you’ll have to see the film). Underlying that premise is one thing that’s left out of so many movies these days – a real sense of humour and characters that feel authentic and sincere. Russell Brand puts on a great performance, and the script is satisfyingly tight – all killer, no filler, boys and girls. Watch out for some admirably geeky Tshirts too. In short, I’m quite the evangelist for this one.
Things I don’t have to do #1
Here’s my moo card – I threatened to upload the pic in a previous post. The back says something about me being from Outer Space, to see if anyone actually reads it…
Other things I have to do involve editing up Qype‘s chocolate tasting video at Melt and Firebox‘s mini-movie about some of their gadgets, getting a Virgin gadget project going (hush hush at the mo), and going on QVC this weekend amongst others.
I’ve decided (in my infinite lack of wisdom), to do a Quentin and make this a mini-series of “do’s” instead of one long hard slog. Dinner is calling, and I made fairy cakes for dessert. I’m no closer to making sense of my quest to handle overload, but I do think it will be easier to manage on a full stomach.
Happy Days! I have ordered a seriously ridiculous music studio which is currently in the post – it’s been a good few years since I’ve upgraded my then-state-of-the-art steam- and pedal-powered music computer, so I can’t wait for my Mac Pro, stuffed with Logic 8 to play with. I’m going to be in a pleasurable compositional vortex once this baby arrives, so it’s now a race to get everything else sorted in advance of my delivery! My first system was at the time, a top specced PC system, however my friend and LBC Radio host Anthony Davis would be delighted to see I’ve gone over to the dark side.
I must confess, it seems like I should have bitten the bullet a long time ago and bought my dream system, but I think part of it is having enough faith to put your money where your mouse is, which is what I’ve just done – incredibly frightening, but necessary. Thinking about it, the other part of it was not spending on anything frivolous for a year to save up enough dosh. I’ll keep you posted on the spec, as the nice people at absolute music in the UK are hopefully taking pics of the machine as they are customising it, so I can post the piccies here.