Letting my mind go with music…

I have a long and wonderful history with music. It really started while I was growing up listening to whatever my dad was playing on his HiFi. The “whatever” portion is important, as my father listens to a huge variety of music. I won’t go so far as to call him a fan of everything, but he is the ultimate musical experimenter. He’d read HiFi magazines with reviews of newly released music, compiling a list that then results in a shopping trip. I am too young to remember my Dad buying vinyl, but the CD shopping trips are the stuff of legend for me. My father owned a retail pharmacy and Mom worked with him in the business. The hours were long, leaving only Sundays for any real family time. So, once in a while, my Dad would get all four of us (me, my sister, Mom and him) in his gloriously metallic blue Jaguar XJ6 and drive to his favourite CD shop in Rosebank. We’d spend the morning, browsing for new music, tracking down stuff from his lists and ultimately end up going home with a ton of CD’s. The next few weeks would then be spent listening to all the new stuff. The genres included pop, classical, rock, female vocals etc. As I grew up, we’d spend hours discussing music and all other matters, with music on the HiFi. As I grew older, I’d also get to taste the red wine my Dad loved (resulting in my huge love for red wine today), all in front of the HiFi. This set the scene for my ongoing love affair with music, wine, electronics and cars. My dad is also a firm believer in owning a “proper” HiFi. He selected an amplifier, CD player, record player and speakers after endless reviews and auditions. The result is a system that sounds bloody brilliant, to this day.

I grew up playing piano and classical guitar as instruments. I sang in a regional youth choir, resulting in my first trip overseas when I was 17. Music and its associated equipment and activities shaped my life in a big way. When in love, I’d spend hours on the thick carpet in the HiFi room, on my back, Sennheiser headphones on while listening to soppy love songs. In times of turmoil, Nirvana would be in the CD tray. To this day, my mood can be expressed or set by music. While a man of mediocre playing and vocal talent, my love for music never faded. As I sit here, I am in front of my own HiFi, listening to a variety of classical music on the Deutsche Grammophon label, all conducted by Herbert von Karajan. My dual 10″ Tannoy’s are singing, driven by a bi-amped and bi-wired setup.

Today my love for music is as strong as ever. My instrument playing is limited to the occasional tickle of my Stratocaster guitar, and I rarely sing these days. But listening to music while thinking, writing, reading etc consumes vast amounts of my time. The way my brain can make all sorts of weird and wonderful connections, stimulated by music, is amazing. I use this to stimulate the creative side of my day job. Music transports me to a place where my mind roams freely, unencumbered by the constraints of daily life, accessing the deep regions where weird and wonderful things happen.

The way I access music has certainly changed too. With a background in electronic/computer systems engineering, I love the electronics as much as the music reproduced with them. My vinyl collection has grown at a steady pace, especially after I took over my dad’s turntable and vinyl collection. The NAD 533 turntable (an OEM version of the famous Rega Planar 2) was serviced, fitted with a new motor, cartridge and properly set-up on a heavy plinth. A Rega Phono stage connects the turntable to the rest of my HiFi. Because of the ease of access with digital music, I bought a dedicated headphone amplifier with built in Digital to Analogue converter, driven through a vintage vacuum tube (to soften the hard digital edge a bit). This is used at my desk, powering a variety of Sennheiser, Grado and JBL headphones (selected based on what I am listening too). Spotify, iTunes, Linn Records and HDTracks.com are all places where I buy my digital, high-resolution music. Finally, bringing the music to lif at home, is a set of Tannoy Saturn S10 Dual Concentric speakers. Their ability to reach low and deep is amazing. You need that ability when you listen to Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for Organ and Strings in G minor, else the bottom registers of the organ simply disappear.

Today I lament the state of live music in South Africa. It seems to me that the days of being able to go and listen to a full scale, live symphony orchestra are gone. I cannot even remember the last time that I saw a symphonic orchestra live, playing pieces by Dvorak, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven and Mozart. Luckily I have vivid memories of doing that with my parents. I’ll never forget my first time, hearing the full orchestra in full cry, experiencing the full stereophonic effect with the strings and percussion bringing the music to life.

My own musical journey has brought me closer to certain types of music. As I started listening to older, classic rock bands, I moved closer and closer to Blues. As I moved closer to Blues, I started discovering Jazz (still not a favourite) and other genres. Today I firmly believe that the best stuff is not what plays to mainstream audiences via mainstream media. There is a world of music far removed from the mainstream, where true art lives and thrives. But to experience this world you need an open mind, the drive to discover and the ability to open yourself completely to new experiences. Do that and a wonderful journey of musical discovery awaits!

Thank you dad, for introducing me to this amazing world.

Feel like giving up? Then watch this…

The past few weeks in my life has been hectic. But, while that is the case, I have also been learning new things, connecting with business mentors, completing many tasks, making tough choices and taking steps every day to get my cloud platform up and running. It is easy to start feeling overwhelmed and even easier to feel like quitting, because a project like this is not for the faint hearted.  All the long hours, lack of sleep, hours of intense concentration, overcoming obstacles etc, can really get to you. So, I decided to take the weekend off, not touch my computer and just chill out and catch up with life a bit.

To start my week, I decided to complete a few other tasks, before I get stuck into my work and cloud project. As it happens, I run a Plex Media Server at my home office, and while firing up the app to get some good tunes on, I accidentally stumbled in to my “channels” section, and then saw my TED Talks app. Thought I’d have a quick look to see what was new, and then stumbled across this talk by David Blaine. He’s well know as a magician, illusionist and stuntman. This honest, low-key, talk on him learning how to hold his breath for 17 minutes fascinated me. The talk is not about how awesome he is, all the media attention, his successes or anything like that. He does a short intro, just to set the scene of who he is and what he does, and then he describes his admiration of legendary magicians and escape artists. This admiration pushes him to attempt a stunt, to emulate the great Houdini. What follows is a story of all the ways he explored, all the ways he failed, almost dying and how he finally succeeded, setting a Guinness World record by holding his breath for more than 17 minutes. It is a great talk that shows us how we can fail many times, in many ways (including publicly!) before we finally achieve success.

Quite an inspiring video to watch on a Monday morning. What is true is that, as we learn to overcome obstacles, we train ourselves to be mentally tougher. I can already see this with my two young sons. They are quick to quit, but mom and dad pushes them to try. When they try and succeed, they suddenly realize that it was not so hard as it initially seemed, and they want to tackle an even bigger task. There is a valuable lesson in there for us, we do not get born with perseverance, we learn it my failing, trying and overcoming.

Getting emotional…over Skype

People say that technology makes the world smaller, and several tech brands have emotionally charged ads with loved ones interacting via technology. I am no stranger to using technology to shrink my world, my arsenal includes GotoMeeting, Google Hangouts and of course Skype. However, during the past two weeks, Skype has been pivotal in my family.

Mari and I are blessed in our businesses, but sometimes the cost is counted in a loss of family time when we travel. Usually it is only a day or two, here or there, but the past few weeks have been brutal, especially since a portion of it fell smack in the middle of the kids’ school holiday.

First I had a day full of meetings that clashed with my youngest’s (he’s 5) swimming medal presentation, but Mom was on hand to capture high definition video on her mobile, and I got to see the results. Next day I was up, as Mari was away for the day, and this time I was the videographer at my oldest’s (he’s 7) swimming medal presentation.

Then came the humdinger. School holiday is on, Mari has to be away for 9 days, and I am piled under a self created workload for my latest project. The first day with the oldest’s music session was easy, a small group of kids doing a small concert for maybe 10 people. Skype to the rescue! As Jason was performing, I hooked up a Skype call to his mom, who was on the road (she was a passenger) on the way back home. She did not miss a beat. Mobile-to-mobile Skype over LTE/3G networks worked great.

Granny wanted to spend some quality time with the kids, so they went with granny to her place, around 45 minutes away from where we stay. Gave Granny an iPad 3 with camera and 3G sim card, so all week, Mari and I could communicate not only with each other, but also grab the kids and granny over Skype.

But tonight was the killer. The kids are back home with dad after a week with granny, and tomorrow night mom is back from her trip. So after bath time, we quickly hooked up a Skype call to catch up with mom. It all went great, right up to the point where my youngest, Eli looked at his mom, got teary eyed and told her how much he missed her. The floodgates opened. Jason followed suit, in close succession with mom. 9 days apart will do that.

Even though we miss Mari, and cannot wait to have her back home after 10 days, I am thankful for WiFi, 3G/LTE, tables, mobile phones and Skype. It did shrink my world, and kept us connected, even emotionally.