Work went crazy as I began writing Sirius. Every week, scores of Japanese articles (2,000-4,000 words each, on average), a couple of tourism articles, written in English from Japanese notes and interviews (1,500 words each, plus research), another ongoing project which I can’t really describe without coming dangerously close to non-disclosure breaches, and a slow, steady trickle of smaller tasks (20 minutes here, half an hour there) had become the norm. Still, despite a workload that felt superhuman at times, I was managing it. I had a couple of days to recover between batches of work every ten days or so, and I used them to sleep. The house was a mess, the yard was out of control, and my creativity in cooking had plummeted. Onigirazu (made in batches and stored in plastic wrap in the fridge), cheese sandwiches with bread-and-butter pickles… jam on toast. Cheese on toast… toast. Salad. With toast. Considering that I used to be a chef and enjoy cooking very much, this was a sad, embarrassing state of affairs.
On top of this, just as spring was unfolding into a glorious summer, I got a project to translate 6,000 (fairly short) Chinese phrases into English, to be done (thank you!) within 3 days or sooner, on top of the normal workload. I think, for my trouble, I took in €370 that month. It wasn’t really a life.
I felt burnt out and tired. And yet, hot on the heels of Horus Tweets and the chucking out of the “family problems” plate altogether, there was also a current of creative joy welling up and pouring out in the moments I made to create music. I took my laptop outside onto the porch to enjoy the weather, and despite the glare of the sun on my screen making work a little bit more headachey than normal, I enjoyed at least being able to be outside sometimes. Although it still didn’t feel that I was actually living and participating in my actual life, I was trying to make it all work.
I already knew that I wanted this album to be space-themed. I’d been experimenting with an idea about writing a song for each planet in the solar system (and the sun), taking the Nasa recordings of the planetary vibrations of each planet, tuned to human hearing range for the key and, to some extent, the structure of each song, with additional musical exposition inspired by the mythological associations for which these planets were named. And a grand symphony with motifs from each of these combined, for a “solar system” grand finale.
When I was a kid, I had a floppy plastic vinyl record that came with a wonderful book I had (and still have), the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe by Roy A. Gallant. One whole side of it was given over to a strange and utterly delightful (to me, at least) recording of the planets in the solar system “turned into music” with a corny voice-over explaining it all. My heart still leaps a little to remember it: “...Swift little Mercury….phweee-ooo, phweeeeeee-ooo” , and Saturn sounding like a weird flappy slowed-down helicopter being joined a moment later by a deeply sonorous and serious-sounding Uranus — totally charming and exciting to 5-year-old me. I wanted to be a planet-exploring astronaut until I was about 8 years old, and I’m still very fond of stargazing. I get excited about eclipses, comets, meteor showers, sunspots, solar storms — all of it. When I pursued a discipline of sitting meditation 4 times a day for a year (at dawn, noon, sunset, and midnight), it was a profound feeling, to sense the tilt of the axis and the movement of our planet in its orbit around the sun in that space and time, just by the manner in which I had timed my meditations. I really enjoy being a space-dork. When I’ve finished writing this, I’ll go out and look at the night sky. You can’t stop me.
Anyway, It felt natural, as I was slowly being persuaded to leave my job and do music full time, to turn again towards space — to rediscover the passions I’ve had since childhood, my general relationship with space, and to express a little something of the experience of moving through life on this moving little planet, through music. And in a way that wasn’t Holst (whose “Planets” I also love). I suppose weighty decisions make us reflect on such things, sometimes.
I wound up writing “stubs” for Mars, Venus and Jupiter before I shelved the idea. Sol, which made it onto Sirius, was also part of this. I’m still attracted to the idea, though, and I may well do it one day.
Meanwhile, people in the office in Tokyo started to resign. It seems I wasn’t the only one being overworked and underpaid. Group projects began to be overseen by a… different type of supervisor. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, and other work friends working off-site like me whispered about getting other jobs, any jobs. The quality of work being turned in for group projects suffered, and I was often asked to “fix things up” for submission to clients, for a very nominal top-up to my fee. I think I was one of the very last of the “old guard” to finally throw in the towel.
The main trouble, in a nutshell…. was robots. Or rather AI algorithms. The pay for translation work had bottomed out because many of the jobs coming in were to “check” computer-translated documents. Since these were considered to be already translated, checking the work was paid at half the rate (or often, less) of actual translation work. We were given the feeling that our work was “extremely helpful” because it would be of service in training the algorithms to do better, and to ultimately end our jobs altogether. This was the future. As these “correction” jobs started to take over, many translators left, on principle.
In practice, the computer translations ranged from terrible to absolute gobbledegook. Google Translate could probably do a better job. Even the very worst, indecipherable fansubbed anime subtitles I’ve seen were better than the stuff pouring in. So “checking” typically involved completely re-translating what the computer had done. More work, less pay. This was the future.
And because computer translation algorithms were “high-tech” “streamlined” and “cost-effective”, the downward pressure on our “correcting fees” was very heavy, indeed. Enthusiasm (or cost-justifying denial, perhaps) for the new technology seemed to cloud clients’ clear judgement about the quality of work being done, and our role in making it all look good was not really something they were permitted to understand. We were increasingly seen as expendable and “not technically necessary”; our skills, and the value of our experience went increasingly unrecognised and unappreciated. This was the future.
By the time my partner finally convinced me, pleaded with me, demanded for me to leave, the going rate for new jobs was about 40-50 Yen for 500-word piece work (with research). 100 Yen if you were lucky. That’s about 30 cents on average, 80 cents with luck — those were the “good” jobs. They were thin on the ground, and often involved weekly schedules that, more often than not, got messed up and delayed. Work that was supposed to come in for someone else on a Monday and earn them their 80 cents for the week would come in on a Thursday for somebody else, along with Wednesday’s — that lucky Thursday person would earn a whopping €2.10 for the unexpected two hours extra work. If the Thursday person hadn’t done the work by a certain time, it would fall to me to drop whatever else I was working on to get it done in time for submission (delays from clients were ok, delays from us, not at all). I realised that I would have to lay my loyalty aside at some point, and despite the ridiculous pay and working conditions, that was the tough part. Management had opted for a change towards quantity over quality jobs, and this was the result. I held out until I became quite physically ill with it all. My partner convinced me to take a week off.
I tried to return after that, but…. my work seemed to take longer and longer and tire me out more and more. I was waking up tired and demoralised and, well, zombie-ish, and dragging myself through the days, one character at a time. I was quite fond of one of my clients in particular, and it made leaving really difficult for me. I knew they’d be assigned someone else, but I regretted leaving the friendly relationship we’d built up over the years. My health had worsened steadily to a point where it was only a matter of time before it came to “crisis”, and so I finally allowed my stubborn self to be convinced. I turned in the work I had finished, apologised profusely, and left my job.
The relief! The freedom! The time! The summer! The sun! I could visit friends if I wanted, and feel like I was living in the place where I live. I could make good meals, I could sleep late sometimes if I needed to. I could keep more human hours, and spend time with my partner. I could exercise more, stretch, breathe, enjoy the days and have time for my music. A huge fucking weight lifted, literally, lifted off my chest.
I’d privately decided (or realised), around the time of Babylon, that music, The Lowest of Low, was my “real job”. And now, finally, my life reflected this. My income, to this day (a year on) still doesn’t come anywhere near paying the bills, but suddenly, I was able to wake up early. I had a spring in my step and a sparkle in my eye. My partner was happier because I was happier. Life became enjoyable, and I was returning to myself. I could plan my projects and expand on what I was already doing. Such a relief.
I started designing t-shirts and other things, I started painting in oils. And I got serious about my music. This was Sirius.
I suddenly had the time I really needed to devote to writing, recording and mixing. I took up my guitars again. I bought a crappy little toy electronic drum kit from Lidl in jubilant foolishness (in retrospect, it maybe would have been better, for what I do, to go for the toy rhythm kit, which had a cool triangle, among other things). I got myself a nice bass guitar, at last, too.
And I had a wellspring of ideas…
Sirius is a fun album, and probably stands as one of my favourites of the ones I’ve done so far. I feel like the music was finally maturing into something, well, serious. With better rest and growing confidence, there’s some great humour and really enjoyable songs on this one. I really want to make videos for a couple of them, and I hope to be able to do that sometime soon, even if this is an “old” album now.
Lizard Overlords, Trapezoid Planet, and the 1980’s simulator were all partly inspired by life events. Namely, the bag of sawdust we call my partner’s stepfather — the one who thought I should try writing “serious” music like Rave, at the very beginning — intimated that I “could be a lizard overlord” as well as a Freemason, Satanist, practitioner of human sacrifice, etc., etc. I think really it’s just that if you’re motivated by fear, ignorance and control, and when you take in lies that also serve your purposes from your narcissistic ex-wife, you’ll form them into what makes sense to you, I guess. None of what that guy came out with had anything remotely to do with me, but his illusions seem to support him in his cracked and diminutive worldview, so that’s just fine.
I’m pretty sure he’s a flat Earther, too, incidentally, and his concept of the way the world works got stuck sometime in a rose-coloured glasses version of the 1980’s… so that little musical triptych was kind of inspired by being able to laugh now that we were rid of hearing from, or about, this guy). He did send a text to my phone to let my partner know that, despite sharing his life with an evil lizard overlord, he thought he was “still a good man”. It was written in such a manipulative, self-important and arrogantly judgemental way, it still annoys my partner enough to laugh and joke about it at odd times. He floats on these waves of shit like a duck on the Dead Sea, I tellya.
Anyway! Also around this time, my partner got fascinated, maybe even a little obsessed, by watching Flat Earth videos on Youtube. He made me watch some of the worst of them, and the glimpse into… whatever that is… still kind of astounds me. I’d wanted to try creating a “Trap” style song for a while (still trying to figure out, occasionally, if what I make goes anywhere near any kind of genre), so the idea, in this Solar System of songs, that there’s this Trapezoid Planet in amongst everything else really amused me. I think this was really the beginning of developing different “realities”, points of view, and ultimately characters in the songs. For instance, I think using Coming To Earth as a “trick”, in which the listener thinks it’s about space travel, only to discover at the end that it’s really about souls transmigrating through the cosmos to find rebirth as humans, and Kometes, basically the experience of a comet hurtling through deep space on its orbit around some star or other, both mark the beginnings of “playing around with viewpoints”.
Buckyballs came from an idea I had of creating a musical structure that emulated the shape and … kind of springy behaviour of Buckminsterfullerene (named for Buckminster Fuller) carbon structures (C20, which is why the song is in C, etc., etc.,) which occur naturally in things like soot, and have also been detected in deep space, in the interstellar medium spaces between stars. They are the largest objects that have been *observed* to exhibit wave-particle duality. When I first watched Eureka Seven, I was really taken by the music when the characters would do “lifting”, so out of homage to this, and because of the space theme, I called it the GekkoState Mix.
I mention these things because I think people tend to think my ideas are really just “out there”, but every single one of my songs has a backstory of some sort.
My newfound love of oil paint made me decide to paint the cover this time. It kind of painted itself in one evening, and depicts a most beautiful and beloved creature, the border collie Lyuba, a loving, tough, and magical little creature who brought joy to me and to my ex-husband, for 16 years. A bright little star, indeed. Sirius is, of course, the Dog Star. The bright (1.4 apparent magnitude) twinkly eye of Canis Major, faithful companion to Orion (Osiris). It is also one of my favourite stars (The “Summer Triangle” of Deneb, Vega and Altair, the Pleiades, and the look-away-to-see-it-better Orion Nebula are my other favourites).
I like this album and its cover very much. Like the ancient Egyptians who looked for the appearance of Sirius in the night sky to signify the time of planting, I found that as I was wrapping up the Sirius album, the seeds of the next album were already germinating strongly. And it was BIG! Like, Mecha big!
Released 11 July 2018
DK UPC: 840091415136