This song I wrote in around 1996 - it has evolved very little since then. I composed this back then on a 61-key Ensoniq SQ-1+ synth.

There have been a few iterations of this track over the years, with the somewhat undecided track title originating from my high school nickname of Wombler (long story) and the fact that I played in a metal band with some friends in which we wrote lyrics to this song and fully "orchestrated" it, titling it "The Sweetest Lullaby" in that incarnation. 

I love that this is a very "linear" song, there are no repeating sections, but an adventure from start to finish through various tempos and time signatures. Enjoy...
"Music Appreciation" - the art of Steve Hanks
For some time now, Friday night has been "music appreciation night" in our home. 

It can be all too easy to let a television be a distraction. Some time ago my wife suggested we make Friday night a night for turning off the TV, putting on some great music, and just listening and talking. Our young son loves it also. So much to discover... 

Whenever my little guy wants to play Daddy's piano, I need to remind myself that I have also grown up with a love of music, surrounded by people who supported me, and encouraged me to stick with piano lessons as a boy even when I felt I was being "forced" to learn. With eager young ears reaching out to hear new things, it would be cruel to not indulge him.

I love the picture accompanying this post, of a young boy fascinated by the strings of a guitar. So new, so intriguing, such a source of fascination. 

This fascination is something to be indulged, and never forgotten. 

You can now download the free Flutter app for Mac or Windows and be able to control playback of your iTunes library with just a hand gesture. Really. And it's not just iTunes you can control - you can also play and pause Spotify, VLC, Quicktime and there will surely be more on the way. 

When I first read about this I thought it all sounded a bit gimmicky and geeky, but it's actually not. As the Flutter website suggests, there are times when being able to play and pause your music via a hand gesture is handy. e.g. when you have many windows open. With just a wave of the hand in the air you can pause or start playback, regardless of what you're working with on-screen at the time. Truly handier in practise than it may sound. 

Before checking the app out myself I wanted to read more about it or see a quick demo on YouTube. Then I realised the app is free and very quick to download. Within a minute I was using it and posting this!

One thing I'm sure will be on the developers' minds already - it brings a "touchscreen" like experience to controlling your audio and you naturally want to be able to swipe your hand left or right to skip tracks, maybe even shake your hand to shuffle tracks. Perhaps in future you could just throw up a maloik and immediate hear a metal track... the sky's the limit with this one. 

I'm enjoying it and look forward to seeing it developed further. Hope you enjoy too. 

This is a performance I've always loved. The particular version I listen to most often is the Mandolin Rain / Black Muddy River Medley performed on the "Here Come The Noise Makers" (Live Disc 2) album. A sample of a recent live performance of the medley from YouTube appears below.

Why do I love this track? To begin with - Mandolin Rain. I love the simple melodic intro to this track, piano, organ, followed by stripped back pad synths and simple piano as the first verse begins.

There's something about the longingness in the voice and the feeling behind the lines "Listen to the tears roll down my face as she turns to go" and "Listen to my heart break every time she runs away" that get me every time. Simple and heartfelt.

The references to the rain will always hold a special place for me. The rain is one of those sounds and atmospheres that I just love.

In this medley the feeling winds down after around 5 minutes in, as the segway to Black Muddy River kicks in around 5:48. The response from the crowd is testament to the feeling this segway creates.

Black Muddy River was originally performed by The Grateful Dead. Perhaps this will lose me kudos with some, however I prefer Bruce Hornsby's particular take on this track. It is more stripped back and emotionally bare which for me seems to work better with the lyric.

"When I can't hear that song for the singer
And I can't tell a pillow from a stone"...

"I will walk alone by the black muddy river
Sing me a song of my own..."

It is just such a reflective, bare, and heartfelt performance. The clip below provides a glimpse, however the live version on "Here Come The Noise Makers" (Live Disc 2) is the version which really moves me. Enjoy.

I recently read an article questioning "Does The Digital Album Have A Future?". This is a great question and one which only time will tell... In this article the author was referencing the range of "immersive" (read "screen-based"...) technologies used to spread music these days, as physical music sales continue to decline from their former heights.

Within the comments I posted that I believe music listening needs to be increasingly separated from screen-based "immersion" on "devices". It's music after all. The enjoyment and immersion should come in via the ears.

In the same week I read the article "Young listeners opting to stream, not own music" on CNN. A notable comment in this article was from Sean Wilson, 21, of Atlanta, Georgia who is quoted as saying "Ninety percent of my friends stream music. To be honest, I haven't seen someone use iTunes in a really long time". The times sure are changing, and changing fast.

Of course, good music should be discovered via as broad a range of means as possible, something which I encourage and do myself. For more on this see my previous posts "Don't Let Inconvenience Stop Your Discovery of New Music" and "Listen All The Time, Not Just When You're Logged In".

I do lament however that there is an increasing lack of separation of music listening from a screen-based environment. It seems that music consumption is becoming increasingly secondary to visual stimulation. This is not a recent phenomenon of course - live performances are as old as performance itself is, and in more recent years the explosion of video clips in the 70s and 80s has just continued with increasing strength.

However the consumption of music from screen-based listening environments leads to a likely increase in distractions from the music also. The experience of listening to music becomes increasingly secondary to what is going on before the eyes.

What do you think - is music now just background for your eyes?

Earlier today a friend asked me how to set up a wireless audio system in his house. I'm sure he's not alone in asking the question, and while there are many resources providing information on how to do this online, the options and conflicting opinions can be pretty daunting at first. So here's a little overview from me to you.

It is pretty simple to set up actually - pretty low tech from a user's perspective and easy to set up once the initial purchases have been made.

There are also a few ways to do this. I'm not an Apple Fanboy but have found that the following Apple-based system is reliable, as long as your WiFi signal is strong enough. Other than your computer, the following two pieces of hardware are all that is needed:

1. An Airport Extreme, used as a wireless router. This is what will stream the music from your computer to other parts of your house. I have previously used non-Apple routers (e.g. Belkin) with varying levels of success. But Apple talking to Apple tends to be much easier to set up and save you hours of fruitless head-scratching and Googling.

2. An Airport Express, used to receive the audio signal streamed from your machine / router. This little unit just plugs into a power point, and has a headphone jack on the bottom. This unit receives the audio sent from your computer (via the wireless router e.g. Airport Extreme), and using the headphones jack you can just plug the output into the stereo / speakers of your choice.

Out of the box you'll be able to set up iTunes to stream audio from your computer to your remote speakers i.e. whatever speakers you have which are plugged into the headphones jack of the Airport Express.

iTunes will do the work to make sure the audio stays in synch, so if you walk away from your computer playing music into another room which is remotely streaming the music, it will all be in synch. Nice.

With these couple of bits of hardware, you will be streaming music from iTunes. If you want to go one step further, you can stream ANY audio from your computer to your remote speakers. e.g. stream online radio, YouTube, system sounds, you name it. This is great if iTunes is not the only program you wish to be tied to when listening to music or audio. To stream any audio, get the brilliant AirFoil from Rogue Amoeba.

Once set up, you can then ready my other tips on optimising the quality of your WiFi signal. More iTunes related audio tips can be found in the iTunes section of my blog.

Hope that helps! Happy listening.

This is a recount of two of the coolest places to listen to music I've ever been to.

Years ago I was in a band with a guitarist who, for a short time, had a girlfriend whose parents were quite well off, living in a huge house in a suburb by the lake. Miraculously her parents never seemed to be home. Great times...

Due to the size of the place and the type of people we were back then, this home made for a great party venue. At the end of one of many wild nights, I found myself falling asleep in a very large downstairs room, a very wide open space only interrupted by a couple of plush, single-seat, white leather recliners.

The walls of the room held rows of stylish CD racks. The kind you used to find in record stores where they displayed the top selling CDs - stored in horizontal rows showing the full face of the CD artwork. Very cool.

Of course, this room was replete with a gorgeous surround sound system which was just perfect to listen to as the night drew to a close and sleep set in...

The other room I remember vividly was a completely different experience. Some friends of mine a couple of years back were in the process of house-hunting. On one of their explorations, I joined them for a brief inspection of a rather old home, adjacent to thick bushland, with none of the opulence of the aforementioned property.

One room in this place could only be described as a "listening room". It was a fair sized room, not overly large, but certainly not cramped. In the middle of the room was an old, single-seat, dark green leather chair. The chair was perfectly placed among the surround speakers of a magnificent stereo system. There were no other decorations or distractions in the room. No coffee table, no vases, no other chairs. Just a seat among the speakers.

This place has stayed in my mind for several years now, though I was only in the room for a minute at most. The scarcity of objects in the room highlighted a dedication to its purpose - listening, without distraction.

It was not a "media room", a "cinema room" or a "home theatre". It was just a seat among the speakers. And I loved it.

Some time ago I posted a few articles on LinkedIn groups asking for people's feedback to the question - what's the perfect soundtrack to a rainy day? As I type, I can hear rain falling on the tin roof of the sunroom outside my studio door. It's an awesome and relaxing sound.

Public access isn't available to most of the LinkedIn posts which provided feedback to this question, so I'll list the feedback I received here.

I must preface this by saying that these are the opinions of people who shared their thoughts with me. I am in turn sharing this with you, appreciating that music is very much about personal experience and taste. I would not wish to filter this list to exclude something you may also enjoy when the rain is falling around you.

So, in no particular order, here we go - 10 songs to listen to on a rainy day:

1. Sketches of Spain - Miles Davis
2. The Fountain soundtrack - Clint Mansell
3. Beneath An Evening Sky - Ralph Towner, Slava Grigoryan, Wolfgang Muthspiel
4. Summertime - George Gershwin
5. Pink Moon - Nick Drake
6. Rainy Nights In Georgia - Brook Benton
7. Monument - KiloWatts
8. Ommadawn - Mike Oldfield
9. It Feels Like Rain - Aaron Neville (composed by John Hiatt)
10. Cumulus Rising - Alex De Grassi


Download an mp3 of this blog here (right click and Save As) or click the play button on the right to stream audio.

For many years now, Apple have been selling the Airport Express, a small portable unit which can plug into a power point to create a simple wireless network.

One of the most popular uses of this device is to stream an iTunes library wirelessly from a desktop or laptop to a home stereo (potentially at the other end of the house / building).

This is a setup I enjoy at home myself, but getting it to work correctly is not always as "plug and play" as you would hope. My stable setup these days is the result of many bleary-eyed, late night Google searches for ways to improve signal strength and decrease dropouts.

If you are reading this post with similar trouble, hoping for some guiding light, I won't even begin to cover off all the potential solutions that have been offered over time (which you would likely have read to exhaustion already!).

However, other than the usual suspects of improving line of sight between your sending and receiving devices (minimizing distance and walls between the two), checking you have followed correct setup procedure, ensuring security settings are consistent between sending and receiving devices, not having your microwave running or any other electrical / magnetic interference nearby, etc etc, there are less hit and miss opportunities to improve your streaming results...

Check the cleanliness of your selected channel
The Channel your WiFi connection is transmitting on can be easily crowded by other communications nearby, including neighbour's WiFi networks and other equipment. The good news is, free tools are available to help check which WiFi channels provide greatest strength and least noise in your area. I have successfully used iStumbler for Mac though there are several other options including Windows-based solutions such as NetStumbler.

Ensure IPv6 is turned OFF in your network settings

On Mac (I'm not sure if this is relevant to PC users?) you need to turn off IPv6 for both Wi-Fi and Ethernet networks. This procedure is referenced in many posts relating to reducing iTunes streaming dropouts. The process is as follows:

  1. Open System Preferences→Network and select the Ethernet service in the sidebar.
  2. Click on the Advanced button, then select the TCP/IP tab.
  3. The Configure IPv6 field should be set to Off. 
  4. Click OK, then Apply.
  5. Repeat this process for the Wi-Fi service.
  6. Open Airport Utility and restart the Airport station that is running AirPlay.

Hope this helps you keep the music flowing nice and cleanly from your desktop / laptop to your remote speakers. Nothing is more frustrating than wireless audio dropouts!

Last weekend I recorded a performance of my composition "Before April". In a strange coincidence, a few days later I read this post about the "Out Back Project", a 15-minute audio piece to be composed from the memories contributors have of their backyard. I immediately contacted the talent behind the project and am pleased to contribute my track as the score.

The title "Before April" refers to the time shortly before the arrival of my first child. At the time I was living in Sydney, in a unit, with a tiny grassed area flanked by a very tall graffitied concrete wall, the only thing separating us from the Gore Hill Freeway into Sydney.

I composed this track thinking of the complete unknown that lay ahead for us with the pending arrival, as I looked out to our very limited living space outdoors. That April we moved to Newcastle, returning to our roots, closer to family, in our first home with a large and varied outdoor environment for our little guy to explore. We have not looked back since, and the concrete wall I once saw from the window of my studio has been replaced with the top of citrus trees, rooves and an expanse of sky.

With that, please enjoy the track via the YouTube clip above. If it connects with you, you can download the track in the format of your choice from here. Enjoy.