Observations of a night out listening to trance or whatever it has become

Been drinking. The familiar smell of Red Bull, vodka, and yes, kahlua in there somewhere. I’m a little drunk and lamenting my lost youth. No I’m not. Music is wonderful and amazing. Been making me cry since nineteen seventy whenever – in minor key. I recall seeing Above and Beyond – 2005 – Los Angeles. Drunk too. What a night. That simple base line, and the smell of kahlua. And meeting random people. And for the first time being ok with that. Common ground. The power of chemicals.

But I’m old. I honestly don’t belong here. But I still come. Because this is my temple. This is where I cry. This is where I am free. All the pain goes. I need explain to no one. My wife, my friends, the universe. They all understand. And I love them for this. They let me be.

But I have to let go of this. I can’t be here for much longer. But I don’t want to let go. I found freedom here. I found unconditional love here. How can I let go? I can I let you understand? But bye bye. It was good, in that totally understated Australian way of things being ‘go d’. Thank you. All I wanted was freedom and freedom to feel gratitude. And I have it. From time to time. It will do.

Wow – life is a ride.

Peace, love and mugi tea.

Old fart – young at heart – for ever.

Another Polypore Mushroom (Daedaleopsis confragosa)

I know I’ve been coming thick and fast with the mushroom updates but this weekend I solved a mystery that has been bothering me for a while. There seem to be two major, large, polypore mushrooms that I see attached to tree trunks in my area – the first was identified as the Birth polypore (Fomitopsis betulina) and A Blog Post here.  But I would see another type, more flat and with rings of colour and generally larger and encircling the trunk… see below.

This is about 20 cm across (8 or so inches). The underside is also not with simple pores.. it is more maze-like. See below:

My books and exhaustive web search failed to really identify it. Eventually I think I found it. It is the  thin walled maze polypore or blushing bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa)  and seems very common in this area.

Here is a large community of them here:

It doesn’t seem to have any very interesting properties. Apparently the flesh is tough and not very edible, but not poisonous, so it’s considered ‘inedible’. Its just surprising that was is a very common fungus in the Middlesex Fells didn’t rate a mention in many books or forums.


In Search Of Turkey Tail Mushrooms – Failure – but found something else!

Wild mushroom literature is obsessed with a few types of mushroom species – usually for their flavour or medicinal value. When it comes to medicinal, none seems to be more prized than the Turkey Tail Mushroom (Trametes versicolor). This polypore mushroom (think pores, not gills, on the underside) is saprotrophic (grows on dead wood) and extracts have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents.

I haven’t looked at those studies myself and I’m pretty skeptical about claims like this. The excitement for me is not in making a tea and treating some inflammatory issue I might have. The mushrooms themselves apparently aren’t very tasty either. No, I just like the thrill of the case and so this fairly warm weekend I decided to go in-search-of the Turkey Tail mushroom. Long story short, I failed. It’s the dead of winter and maybe not a great time, instead I came across some lookalikes and went about trying to identify them instead.

Exhibit A is below:

To start, this mushroom is not really the right coloring expected of turkey tail – it’s a little too dull. A sample of it dried out pretty quick and turned pretty much grey. The cap was, however, velvety, which apparently is correct. The underside (not shown, sorry 😒) did have a pore like structure and definitely not gills, but the texture was more like fibers or teeth, not pores. This is just not adding up for Turkey Tail but it does seem to match Trichaptum biforme. This fungus has similar ecology to the Turkey Tail, but it’s underside is apparently more tooth like. T. Biforme is also noted to have a purple edge to it but alas this does fade so it’s not surprising it was absent. Another look about elsewhere uncovered this patch below, looking very old and wet and possibly discolored by green algae.

Exhibit B:It’s underside structure was similarly tooth-like. This specimen was also just looking very old and abused by winter.

The purple thing did trigger a memory so I looked through some old photographs I had and low and behold in September or October last year I uncovered a mass of these little guys, complete with subtle purple edging. Look below.

So it seems that Trichaptum biforme is common in the Middlesex Fells and is acting as a major decomposer of dead wood in the area. And it survives into the winter quite well. I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for Turkey Tail once it’s season comes in though.

Mushrooms in the Middlesex Fells – Identifications!

We recently had some warm weather often extremely frigid conditions between Christmas 2017 and the first week and a half of 2018. Well, it warmed up to about 13 °C / 55 °F on Saturday so I hit up the Middlesex Fells with the dog.

Over Christmas I’ve been reading more and more about fungus and mushrooms and I really wanted to go to a few locations where I had seen mushrooms during the summer and  autumn season last year. So the first place I went was a silver birch tree very close to the east side of Bellevue Pond on South Border Rd, Medford, MA, USA. I had seen these really curious white balls on this live tree in early September and at the time I really didn’t know what they were. They certainly looked fungal/mushroomy but I was expecting to see a more typical mushroom shape and was surprised that if this was a mushroom that it could push through the bark. See the images below:

Fast forward to now and after significant snow melt, the same tree looks like this:

Cool, they did turn into a more typical ‘mushroom’ shape. After some web searches and reference mushroom books I identified this mushroom as the birch polypore (Fomitopsis betulina). One of the lobes/caps had fallen off and was on the ground nearby so I picked it up and flipped it over.

You can see the underside doesn’t have gills but pores. The margin (edge) of the cap rolls over and under the underside, exactly matching the birch polypore description. (I took this sample home!) Below is a closeup on the cap that formed at the bottom of the tree – it was still attached.

It turns out this mushroom is edible but doesn’t taste very good. I didn’t eat this one. It contains a number of compounds that are suppose to be good at killing some intestinal worms and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Well, research continues.

Another fungus I encountered was as an odd looking jelly-like mushroom. See below:

I wasn’t even sure this thing was a fungus. Some research showed that, yeap it is! And a well known fungus that comes out this time on year (deep winter). Its the amber jelly roll or willow rain (Exidia recisa). Apparently it is edible but does not have an interesting taste, nor is it fowl or bitter.

I have many more photos from last Summer and I may get into some more identifications of those as well. It is amazing how many different kinds of mushrooms are out there, even in the dead of winter.

Mathematical Vindication!

Some time ago I blogged here about the absurdity of the infinite sum 1+2+3+4… = -1/12. I did a partial analysis here but I never really completed my thoughts. I’m lazy.

Anyway I noticed today a great explanation by Mathologer on youtube. I wont explain here his logic but it closely matches what I was thinking at the time. Go see his video. Basically the idea that the infinite series 1-1+1-1+1-1… is a number at all is simply wrong. So using it to determine the sum 1+2+3+4… is wrong. As I said at the time, maths getting derailed.

What is curious is how we can use numbers and operations on numbers to construct something that is not a number. There is no problem with this. Most agree that 1/0 is not a number. Some would argue the ‘number’ is infinity. OK.. but does 1/0 + 1/0 = 2 x infinity? No. Regular numeric operators (+, -, *, /) don’t apply. So if you sum s = 1-1+1-1+1… doesn’t equal a number, you can’t expect adding and subtracting other infinite series from it makes sense.

’nuff said.

A completely new bass-line, in every track!

I wanted to blog about this back in the beginning of November when I saw something at the American Music Awards that really bugged me, but was only just reminded of it now, so here goes.

TL;DR: Electronic music producers create novel sounds and have performances that move an audience continuously over a period of time greater than an hour and in a way a ‘rock band’ can only dream of – except they don’t have the creative forethought to dream it – too busy sounding like everyone else. It’s shitty to dismiss electronic music producers as cheating with computers – everyone is using new music production methods (based on computers and digital technology). I don’t include Pauly D in the group of electronic music producers. I compare ‘Portugal. The Man’ to Nickelback. This is long. Even the TL;DR is long. You have been warned. 

Music is a funny thing. Ever since reading ‘This is your brain on music’ I’ve become fascinated with music, way beyond its personal hedonistic value. Music, for most people, has an amazing power to tap into and alter our emotional state. How? Well it’s a bit of a mystery. Is it a side-product of language? Is it proto-language? Is it its own thing in its own right? I tend towards the later and maybe one day I’ll write up why.

One thing is for sure and that is, music is personal. What moves you will not move another person. There is a lot of cognition and emotion attached to this. We tend to like what we hear. My mum loved classical music and English church hymns. This is what she listened to as a youngster and learnt to play on piano. Not-so-strangely enough, so do I. Do I listen to classical music a lot? Not really. Do I like English church services? That’s a big no. Am I even a patriotic English boy? Not on your life. But, ‘I vow to thee my country’, will make me cry tears of joy? sadness? I don’t even know. But, Every. Fucking. Time. It’s in me.

I also grew up listening to 80’s new wave and synth-pop. The analog synthesizer, as an instrument, modulated my brain and became in many respects what music is. Certainly a big part of it. The precise saw-wave and square-wave tone with their rich overtones, filtered in imaginative ways, can create sounds and therefore mood in a plethora of ways that simply exceeds what mechanical construction of string (guitar etc) and woodwind (saxophone etc) instruments can. And yet, no matter the source, so long as a sound is composed of even (woodwind) or odd (string) harmonics, the rules of harmony still apply. Major and minor chords and keys still work with electronic sounds.

So what’s the deal with the AMAs 2017? Well, see below:

This flashed up during a performance by ‘Portugal. The Man’. Lets unpack this…

Firstly, let’s go with the obvious. Ummmm, the projection is clearly computer driven. And no matter what you think, the visuals are a big part of a performance. I’d say a massive part of what they were trying to express at this moment. This ought to fling the least sensitive and most mis-calibrated irony meter into orbit. But let’s keep going. The instruments were designed/constructed/built without any aid from computers? Their amplification was entirely driven by analog electronics? The mastering and propagation of their sounds, all done with transistors biased for analog, not digital response? Have they not honed their sound in response to how they sound, using digital circuits? Of course they have. Their sound would not be what it is without them using computers and digital technology. They would sound different without it. No musician, immersed in a modern technology world, is immune to the influence of the digitization of sound and how that informs their sound. I’m not saying they would sound worse without the digital influence, but they would have a different sound. A sound that might even irk some of their fan base. Lastly on this point, I guess their music teachers weren’t up there either so they had no music teachers? Of course they did and I’m sure they would acknowledge that. Ugh, but they show no appreciation for their source of musical inspiration – or they aren’t aware of it.

But lets get a bit deeper and controversial. What really got under my skin is the hubris and arrogance of that computer-generated screen projection. Clearly, what ‘Portugal. The Man’ are saying is that they have real skill in music and performance because they don’t need computers – DJs suck. DJs cheat. DJs don’t have talent.

Ok, lets go over this.

First, lets make a distinction between DJs and Dj/Producers. DJing is beatmixing and paying a little attention to matching and moving between keys. You can teach a misbehaving macaque monkey to DJ. Some talent – presumably beyond what a macaque can handle – goes into making a set move the listener through a 2+hour period of time. So lets put aside that local club DJ who spins tracks between lines of coke and most likely will never grow up – like that macaque. Think DJ Pauly D. Pauly D might compose some tracks, but they are largely panned as shit. He doesn’t have a following beyond girls who want to root him.

DJ/Producers (just producers or electronic producers from now on) on the other hand are musicians that compose predominantly, although not exclusively, in the medium of computers and entirely synthetic sounds or samples. It should be noted that producers will use ‘conventional’ instruments, particularly guitars, piano and vocalists, from time to time. I assert that electronic producers are far more open to the potential of instruments and novel sounds than any other musician, by many orders of magnitude. And this is what I love about the medium. I’m never bored. Every new track (from a talented producer – the kind I listen to) has so many new elements to its sound. You just have to be open to it to hear it all.

Let me explain all this by example – not even a good example – just what I have at hand this minute. Right now I’m listening to a set by Oliver Smith from ABGT250 (I was there live for the performance!) . Its an hour long set with 11 different songs in it. The transition from ‘Solina’ to ‘On the Moon’ introduces a completely different base-line sound. He jumps from E major to B minor through a percussive part (otherwise the keys would clash). Whats so impressive? Well for starters, new base-line sound!!! Im sorry but your typical 4 string bass guitar sounds the fucking same in every track. Its boring. F-G-C-C-F-G-C-C chords over and over. But the availability of different bass sounds, not the chords, it’s timbre, tailored to the different chord pattern of each of the tracks in Oliver Smiths set is genuinely creative. There is a completely new-sounding bass-line in every track! Now if you don’t follow all that or it just doesn’t make sense to you or you don’t care, I don’t hate you. I get it. You haven’t trained your brain to understand the complexity. I doubt the complexity of northern Australian didgeridoo music means as much to you as, well, the natives of northern Australia. But that doesn’t mean there is no talent or intricate detail in their music. The creative elements that go into Oliver Smiths performance were put down when crafting the bass line for each song, along with all other elements from melody to percussion through to the decision to mix these two tracks together (after production of each track), knowing full well how to transition would work and what mood it would produce.

And to be completely honest now, a computer/robot could play a bass guitar in a rock band. An electronic producer plays a computer. Who is the well trained macaque?

None of this is to say that electronic music and producers work in a fantastic world without its own limitations and problems. Certainly, live improvisation is a problem. I’d love to see it, and I think it is possible. But to be honest I don’t think most people want it, which is a bit of a shame. Most people want their band to sound like they do on their phone. Part of the emotional aspect of music is the understanding and recognition of what you are listening to – its why modern western music for the last 500 years has been using the same chords and key signatures and largely the same kind of instruments. A poorly appreciated element of music is the element of surprise but I haven’t had a rock band surprise me musically either. Well, not since Nirvana. I was about 18 then and all music was still new to my developing brain. ‘Portugal. The Man’ sound like a piss weak Nirvana – couldn’t quite make it to the bottom of the bottle so they sound just like everyone else who couldn’t go all out. No edge. I’ve heard it before.

So fuck that ‘no computers up here’ message. It’s arrogant and dismissive – and simply wrong. Would ‘Portugal. The Man’ be so dismissive of Kabuki or Carnatic (south Indian) music? I doubt it. But do they understand it? I doubt it. Do they understand how much they sound like Nickelback? I hope they never find out.