Under No Illusions, Electronic Music Micro Album

Under No Illusions cover artworkWhen I’m not busy studying and writing about astrology, I divert myself with creative projects. The latest is producing music using apps on my android phone.

Last week, I downloaded a bunch of different instrument
apps. Old synthesizers, drums, horns, and strings, as well as a bunch of other weird and interesting stuff.

Using a multi-track recorder app, I experimented with these “instruments”, and came up with a few short pieces of music. Then it occurred to me that I had stored up a collection of digital photos taken with the same phone, and found that each piece of music fit nicely when juxtaposed with a given image.

Although it hadn’t been my intention when I started tinkering around, I decided to assemble this work into a proper digital “album”. I chose this picture at the top right for “cover” artwork, and without thinking about it for more than a few seconds, decided to title it Under No Illusions.

Tympani Alley

Tympani Alley artwork

The first track on the album was actually recorded last March-April, and is the only one that was not done using my phone to record or play sounds. The track is called Tympani Alley, a pun reference to the legendary songwriting factory “Tin Pan Alley”, and might be recognizable to some as the theme music for the I Love Astrology podcast.

The track was recorded using my MacBook Pro laptop, my Blue Snowball microphone, and Audacity multi-track recording software. I went to my friend Andrew Sylte’s house to use his electric drums, and recorded myself playing the tympani/kettle drum setting for about twenty minutes (thanks for putting up with that, Andrew!).

When I got home, I extracted a short nine or ten second clip from that recording and looped it. Then I got really creative, and recorded myself whacking my wooden kitchen counter a few times. I added some effects to that sound, and presto, I got that sonic cracking sound that is not only used in the music, but also became my signature sound effect on the podcast.

Finally, I threw in a sample of a backward cymbal to fill out the piece. It was fun to do, and I promptly forgot all about it, until I started work on the podcast the following June, and suddenly needed theme music. The rest is history.

The photo I used for this track is the gate for this industrial overpass near New Brighton Park in Vancouver, a short walk from my place, which I shot on June 4th. The percussive crashes in the piece make me think of iron doors being slammed.


Portal artworkThe second track on the album is really where the phone concept kicks off. From here on, every sound was made using apps on my smart phone.

This track is called Portal, but was initially called “Experiment 1″, as it was in the making of this track that I figured everything out. This was my first attempt at doing a multi-track recording using an app called Audio Evolution Mobile 4.0.4.

The first sound you hear is something called a “space theremin”, although it sounds nothing like a theremin to me. It is super fun to play, though, and I regularly play it whenever I’m in the mood for a quick distraction. Better than any video game!

Next, the beeping noises you hear come from an “instrument” called a sonorox, which is a sequencer that you program by adding or subtracting little digital cubes. It’s not unlike playing Tetris, but again, more fun!

Finally, I added a cello sound from another app on my phone. I couldn’t play a real cello to save my life, but I can’t squeeze a few notes out of this app with little problem.

The accompanying photo is a shot I took of an office complex called Complexe Desjardins in downtown Montreal, my hometown, while I was visiting on May 8th. The towers have nothing to do with the track, per se, but I thought the angle and cropping makes them look like giant sentinels.

The Swarm

The Swarm artwork

Track 3 is called The Swarm, and it was actually the last thing recorded for this album. I started work on it by recording the rapid tabla drums, again from an app, which allows me to manipulate the speed and pitch of the pre-programmed rhythm.

Then I added sounds from an app called “common analog synthesizer”, one of these old school machines from the 1970s with a lot of knobs. Great fun pulling these pulsating sounds from it.

Finally, I added noise from an app cleverly titled a “noise machine”. Lots of wild sound manipulations available there, too.

I happened to have this striking photo of a mural near my place in Vancouver, which I took on July 4th. Since the music sounded like a swarm of bees, it only made sense to use this particular image.


Hastings-Sunrise artwork

Next up is a gorgeous sounding track named for my neighbourhood in Vancouver, Hastings-Sunrise. It is a duet for a pair of apps called the “etherpad” and “ethereal dialpad”.

I moved to Vancouver just a year ago, on October 17, 2014, and then into this apartment at the beginning of January 2015. I love it here, with the ocean being across the street, and lots of interesting hiking destinations in walking distance.

The music makes a perfect companion for this snapshot I took on February 22nd, while out for a morning walk to get coffee. That is indeed a picture of a sunrise.

Don’t Wanna Die at the Superhospital

Don't Wanna Die at the Superhospital artwork

The fifth and final track on the micro album, is this bizarre and ominous piece called Don’t Wanna Die at the Superhospital. An explanation is in order.

First, I recorded new tracks using the sonorox, space theremin, and tabla drums. This was actually the second thing I recorded, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, so I put it aside and moved on.

On returning to the piece, which at this point was called “Symmetry 1″, I arbitrarily used a photo I had taken on April 19th, of a new hospital opening in Montreal at that time. It is commonly referred to as the “superhospital”, since they are closing down a bunch of existing hospitals and consolidating them into this one, big complex.

Construction of the hospital has been disastrous, for numerous reasons that I won’t go into details about here. Suffice to say, it is poorly conceived, designed, and built, and the man in charge of the contract ran off with a huge sum of public money.

While I didn’t intend the piece to be about the hospital, as with the track “Hastings-Sunrise,” the music took on the identity of its corresponding photo.

I added the somber cello track, and bingo, I had created something that really does evoke the anxious sensation of dying in a horrible place. It is an admittedly dismal way to end the album, but hey, there will likely be more.

Under No Illusions is available for free download at Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Enjoy!

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley: Death and Venus Retrograde

All Blues

Miles Davis dies September 28 1991Trumpet legend Miles Davis died twenty-four years ago today, fifteen days following a Venus direct station in Leo. The cause of death was pneumonia, followed by a stroke.

Earlier that summer, the usually forward-looking Davis had performed a one-off concert of his old 1950s material, using musicians from his past bands. Given that he died fairly suddenly so shortly after this rare musical look backward, in hindsight it almost seems like it is what killed him.

Venus Retrograde in Virgo

Venus stations retrograde in Virgo-to-Leo on a regular eight-year interval. With every successive eight-year passage, the retrograde and direct stations occur two-to-three calendar days earlier, and two-to-three zodiacal degrees earlier than the previous one.

The retrograde period itself lasts about 40 days, however in examining the overall retrograde phase, astrologers often include what are sometimes referred to as “shadow periods”. This refers to periods occurring thirty days prior to and following the actual retrograde period, during which Venus transits back and forth through the same zodiacal degrees.

We are talking about a total of about 100 days that occur once every eight years. Relative to total time, this is a ratio of about one-in-twenty-nine. Quite a small window of time.

Kind of Blue

Miles Davis Kind of Blue album releasedDavis’ classic LP, Kind of Blue, the biggest selling jazz album of all time by a long shot, was released on August 17, 1959, when Venus was retrograde in Virgo.

The record featured a band that included tenor saxophone player John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly (on one cut), bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Evans would later describe this short-lived group as being “composed of superhumans.”

Assault at Birdland

Miles Davis assaulted August 1959Just over a week after the record’s release, Davis was involved in an incident with a New York police officer outside the Birdland club, where his band was completing a two-week headlining stint.

After seeing Davis help a white woman into a taxi cab, the officer told Davis to move along, to which Davis replied that he was performing at the club they were standing in front of, and he wasn’t going anywhere. It was then that the policeman struck Davis with his nightstick, causing a wound that required stitches.

The assault, as with the release of Kind of Blue the previous week, occurred while transiting Venus was still retrograde in Virgo.

Coltrane and Adderley

John Coltrane dies, July 1967Interestingly, Davis and his two horn players on the record, Coltrane and Adderley, all died during the Venus retrograde in Virgo-to-Leo phase.

Cannonball Adderley dies August 1975Coltrane died of liver cancer 22 days prior to Venus‘ retrograde station in Virgo, on July 17, 1967. Adderley died from a stroke on August 8, 1975, while Venus was retrograde in Virgo.

The chances of all three horn soloists dying during the same Venus retrograde phase as the release of their most memorable collective recorded work, and Davis’ subsequent headline-grabbing assault, are staggering. But then again, we are talking about superhumans.

1965: James Brown Records I Got You (I Feel Good)

James Brown white cartoon sketch on green stucco background.Astrology and Breakthrough

Thirty-two year-old singer James Brown records a new song, I Got You (I Feel Good), in Miami. He is re-recording the single, because the existing version was withdrawn due to a legal dispute with King Records. It will become his highest charting hit, reaching number three on the Billboard 100. His previous single, Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, is presently number one on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart.

The transiting Sun and Venus are conjunct in Taurus, resonating with Brown’s natal Sun-Venus conjunction in Taurus, while transiting Mars is post-retrograde in Virgo, resonating with natal Mars post-retrograde in Virgo, reflecting an energetic performance by an extraordinary entertainer. Transiting Pluto is conjunct natal Jupiter in Virgo, signifying a rise in fortune.

Mars post-retrograde in Virgo

James Brown astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for the recording of I Got You (I Feel Good)

Transiting Sun and Venus (outer wheel, lower left) and natal Sun and Venus (inner wheel, lower left) conjunct in Taurus. Transiting Mars post-retrograde (outer wheel, lower right) and natal Mars post-retrograde in Virgo (inner wheel, lower right). Transiting Pluto (outer wheel, lower right) conjunct natal Jupiter in Virgo (inner wheel, lower right)

1991: Jeff Buckley Performs at Father’s Tribute Show

Jeff Buckley white cartoon sketch on red glitter backgroundAstrology and Legacy

Twenty-four year-old singer Jeff Buckley sings a few songs at a tribute concert to his estranged father, singer/songwriter Tim Buckley, who died of a drug overdose when Jeff was seven. He opens with I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain, a song his dad wrote to his mother when Jeff was an infant, about leaving them to pursue a music career.

Transiting Jupiter is conjunct natal Jupiter in Leo, opposite transiting Saturn and natal Moon in Aquarius, square the transiting Sun in Taurus, reflecting a conjuring of childhood trauma over the breakup between a carefree father and abandoned mother.

Saturn conjunct Moon

Jeff Buckley astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for his father's tribute concert in 1991.

Transiting Jupiter (outer wheel, left) conjunct natal Jupiter in Leo (inner wheel, left), opposite transiting Saturn (outer wheel, right) and natal Moon in Aquarius (inner wheel, right), square transiting Sun in Taurus (outer wheel, top)

1970: Grace Slick Denied Entry Into White House

Grace Slick white cartoon sketch on purple stucco background.Astrology and Scheming

Thirty year-old Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick is refused entry into the White House with her date, Abbie Hoffman. She was invited to a reception hosted by Tricia Nixon, the President’s daughter, on account that they are both alumnae of Finch College. She later claims that had they succeeded, she and Hoffman would have dosed the President’s tea with LSD.

Transiting Mars is conjunct Slick’s natal Moon in Gemini, indicating the initiation of an act of mischief. Transiting Mercury is about to station retrograde conjunct natal Uranus in Taurus, opposite her natal Ascendant and Venus in Scorpio, signifying the dismissal of a diabolical escort.

Mars conjunct Moon

Grace Slick astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for her White House encounter.

Transiting Mars (outer wheel, upper right) conjunct natal Moon in Gemini (inner wheel, upper right). Transiting Mercury pre-retrograde (outer wheel, center right) conjunct natal Uranus in Taurus (inner wheel, center right), opposite natal Ascendant and Venus in Scorpio (inner wheel, center left)

1939: Billie Holiday Records Strange Fruit

Billie Holiday white cartoon sketch on red stucco background.Astrology and Protest

Twenty-four year-old singer Billie Holiday records Strange Fruit, a haunting song about lynching. Her record company, Columbia, has no interest in releasing it, fearing negative reaction in the South. Instead, they have allowed her a one-session release from her contract to produce the record with another label. It will sell one million copies.

Transiting Venus and Jupiter are conjunct natal Mars and Mercury in Pisces, square natal Saturn in Gemini, signifying Holiday’s inspired delivery of the song’s sombre metaphoric lyrics. Transiting Mars in Capricorn is square the natal Sun in Aries, while transiting Saturn in Aries is square the natal Moon in Capricorn, reflecting a fearless champion stirred to sing against injustice.

Venus-Jupiter conjunct Mars-Mercury

Billie Holiday astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for the recording of Strange Fruit.

Transiting Venus and Jupiter (outer wheel, lower left) conjunct natal Mars and Mercury in Pisces (inner wheel, lower left), square natal Saturn in Gemini (inner wheel, lower right). Transiting Mars in Capricorn (outer wheel, upper left) square natal Sun in Aries (inner wheel, bottom center). Transiting Saturn in Aries (outer wheel, bottom center) square natal Moon in Capricorn (inner wheel, left center).

1971: Marc Bolan Records Get It On (Bang A Gong)

Marc Bolan white cartoon sketch on yellow stucco background.Astrology and Glitter

Twenty-three year-old singer/guitarist Marc Bolan of T. Rex records Get It On (Bang A Gong), a song that will define the nascent “glam rock” phenomenon. Bolan recently shortened the band’s name from Tyrannosaurus Rex, changed its flighty acoustic sound to hard rock, and started wearing makeup, feather boas and glitter. Their first a hit single, Ride a White Swan, reached no. 2 on the British pop charts three months ago.

Transiting Neptune and Jupiter retrograde are conjunct Bolan’s natal Ascendant in Sagittarius, reflecting a shift in presentation and aesthetic. The transiting Sun and Mercury retrograde in Aries are opposite natal Mercury in Libra, square natal Mars in Cancer, indicating a new harder edge.

Neptune-Jupiter conjunct Ascendant

Marc Bolan astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for the recording of Get It On (Bang a Gong)

Transiting Neptune and Jupiter (outer wheel, left center) conjunct natal Ascendant in Sagittarius (inner wheel, left center). Transiting Sun and Mercury retrograde in Aries (outer wheel, lower right) opposite natal Mercury in Libra (inner wheel, upper left), square natal Mars in Cancer (inner wheel, upper right).

1993: David Lee Roth Arrested in Pot Bust

David Lee Roth white cartoon sketch on red stucco backgroundAstrology and Ambushes

Thirty-eight year-old former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth is arrested alongside twenty-four other people, for purchasing a small quantity of marijuana from a dealer in Washington Square Park. The bust is part of a routine police narcotics sweep. He is given a summons ordering him to appear in court, where he will pay a fine.

The transiting Sun in Aries is opposite Roth’s natal Neptune in Libra, indicating vulnerability to ambush. This opposition is square transiting Mars and natal Uranus and Jupiter in Cancer, and transiting Neptune and Uranus and natal Mars in Capricorn, forming a grand cardinal cross, signifying a show of defiance.

Sun opposite Neptune

David Lee Roth astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for drug bust.

Transiting Sun in Aries (outer wheel, upper right) opposite natal Neptune in Libra (inner wheel, lower left). Both are square transiting Mars (outer wheel, upper left) and natal Uranus and Jupiter in Cancer (inner wheel, upper left), and transiting Neptune and Uranus (outer wheel, lower right) and natal Mars in Capricorn (inner wheel, lower right).

1950: Hank Williams Accidentally Sets Hotel Room on Fire

Hank Williams white cartoon sketch on blue stucco backgroundAstrology and Fire

Twenty-six year-old singer/songwriter Hank Williams accidentally set his Nashville hotel room on fire. He checked in after a fight with his wife, Audrey, and fell asleep with a lit cigarette in his hand. Also, today his song, My Son Calls Another Man Daddy, reaches the Billboard charts, where it will peak at no. 9.

Transiting Mars retrograde is conjunct Williams’ natal Sun and Venus in Virgo, signifying the growing fracture in his marriage and family life. Transiting Saturn retrograde is headed to conjunct natal Mars in Virgo, opposite transiting Venus and natal Uranus in Pisces, indicating potential for accidents and destruction.

Mars retrograde conjunct Sun and Venus

Hank Williams astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for hotel fire

Transiting Mars retrograde (outer wheel, lower left) conjunct natal Sun and Venus in Virgo (inner wheel, lower left). Transiting Saturn retrograde (outer wheel, lower left) conjunct natal Mars in Virgo (inner wheel, lower left), opposite transiting Venus (outer wheel, upper right) and natal Uranus in Pisces (inner wheel, upper right).

1954: Bill Haley Records Rock Around The Clock

Bill Haley white cartoon sketch on grey stucco background.Astrology and Pioneers

Twenty-eight year-old singer Bill Haley records a new song, Rock Around The Clock, with his band, The Comets. Upon release, the record spends just one week on the Billboard pop chart at number 23. However, next year, when it is featured in the teen movie, Blackboard Jungle, it will spend eight weeks in the number one spot, heralding a new era in popular music.

Transiting Saturn is conjunct Haley’s natal Saturn in Scorpio, square natal Mars in Leo, signifying self-definition through a break with the past. Transiting Uranus in Cancer is conjunct natal Jupiter and Moon in Capricorn, indicating an adult’s adoption of a buoyant teenage spirit.

Saturn return

Bill Haley astrology bi-wheel chart for Rock Around The Clock recording session

Transiting Saturn (outer wheel, left center) conjunct natal Saturn in Scorpio (inner wheel, left center), square natal Mars in Leo (inner wheel, top left). Transiting Uranus in Cancer (outer wheel, top right) opposite natal Jupiter and Moon in Capricorn (inner wheel, bottom left)

1980: Michael Stipe’s First Gig with New Band

Michael Stipe white cartoon sketch on blue stucco background.Astrology and Stagefright

Twenty year-old student Michael Stipe makes his live debut singing with his new band at a friend’s birthday party held in an abandoned church in Athens, Georgia, where he and guitar player Peter Buck also presently live. The unnamed band plays a bunch of covers for about two hours. When they perform their next gig two weeks from now, they adopt the name “R.E.M.”

The transiting Moon and Neptune are conjunct Stipe’s natal Jupiter and Mars in Sagittarius, indicating an overcoming of natural shyness to perform before people. Transiting Jupiter retrograde in Virgo is square transiting Venus in Gemini and natal Venus in Sagittarius, signifying an artist’s initiation into a new creative circle.

Moon-Neptune conjunct Jupiter-Mars

Michael Stipe astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for 1st R.E.M. performance.

Transiting Moon and Neptune (outer wheel, lower left) conjunct natal Jupiter and Mars in Sagittarius (inner wheel, lower left). Transiting Jupiter retrograde in Virgo (outer wheel, top left), square transiting Venus in Gemini (outer wheel, top right) and natal Venus in Sagittarius (inner wheel, lower left).

1964: Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys Record I Get Around

Brian Wilson white cartoon sketch on brown stucco background.Astrology and Harmony

Twenty-one year-old Beach Boys songwriter/bassist Brian Wilson records I Get Around, which will become the group’s first number one single in the US, and its first top ten in the UK. During the session, an argument with his father, Murry Wilson, who is also the group’s manager, results in the elder Wilson’s dismissal.

Transiting Venus is conjunct Wilson’s natal Ascendant in Taurus, signifying creative inspiration and the application of a winning formula. Transiting Pluto is conjunct the natal Moon in Virgo, indicating the sensitive artist’s growing need for artistic control, and familial strife. Transiting Saturn in Pisces is opposite transiting Uranus in Virgo, both square natal Uranus and Saturn in Gemini, reflecting the blossoming talents of a youthful musical mastermind.

Venus conjunct Ascendant

Brian Wilson astrology bi-wheel chart with transits for the recording of I Get Around.

Transiting Venus (outer wheel, middle left) conjunct natal Ascendant in Taurus (inner wheel, middle left). Transiting Pluto (outer wheel, bottom right) conjunct natal Moon in Virgo (inner wheel, bottom right). Transiting Saturn in Pisces (outer wheel, top center) opposite transiting Uranus in Virgo (outer wheel, bottom center), square natal Uranus and Saturn in Gemini (inner wheel, middle left).

1966: Roy Orbison Injured in Motorcycle Accident

Roy Orbison white cartoon sketch on yellow stucco background.Astrology and Accidents

Twenty-nine year-old singer Roy Orbison breaks his ankle in a motorcycle accident, as he rides around a Shropshire, England racetrack. His estranged wife, Claudette, rushes from the U.S. to be by his side. Ten weeks from now, she will be killed on a Tennessee road while riding on a motorcycle next to his.

Transiting Mars is conjunct Orbison’s natal Venus in Aries, signifying reconciliation through crisis. Transiting Saturn is conjunct natal Saturn in Pisces, square both transiting Jupiter in Gemini and natal Jupiter in Sagittarius, opposite transiting Pluto and Uranus in Virgo, signifying a devastating combination of good and bad fortune.

Saturn square Jupiter

Roy Orbison Astrology Bi-Wheel Chart depicting transits for his 1966 motorcycle accident.

Transiting Saturn (outer wheel, center right) conjunct natal Saturn in Pisces (inner wheel, center right), square natal Jupiter in Sagittarius (inner wheel, center bottom) and transiting Jupiter in Gemini (outer wheel, center top), opposite transiting Pluto and Uranus in Virgo (outer wheel, center left). Transiting Mars (outer wheel, upper right) conjunct natal Venus in Aries (inner wheel, upper right).

1965: Frank Zappa Arrested for Making Pornography

Frank Zappa white cartoon sketch on blue stucco background.Astrology and Corruption

Twenty-four year-old recording studio owner Frank Zappa is arrested for making a pornographic audio recording in San Bernardino, after an undercover policeman hires him to do so. Facing a maximum sentence of twenty years, he serves ten days in jail and is given three years probation. The setup opens his eyes to the corrupt ploys of local law enforcement.

Transiting Uranus and Mars retrograde in Virgo are opposite transiting Saturn in Pisces, resonating with Zappa’s natal Mars-Uranus opposition in Scorpio-Taurus, signifying a politically awakening experience. Transiting Neptune is conjunct natal Mars in Scorpio, opposite transiting Jupiter and natal Uranus in Taurus, indicating his being targeted by misguided authority.

Saturn opposite Uranus-Mars

Frank Zappa astrology bi-wheel chart depicting transits for his arrest.

Transiting Saturn in Pisces (outer wheel, bottom) opposite transiting Uranus and Mars retrograde in Virgo (outer wheel, top), resonating with natal Mars in Scorpio (inner wheel, left center) opposite natal Uranus in Taurus (inner wheel, right center). Transiting Neptune (outer wheel, left center) conjunct natal Mars in Scorpio (inner wheel, left center), opposite transiting Jupiter (outer wheel, right center) conjunct natal Uranus in Taurus (inner wheel, right center).

1985: Billy Joel Marries Christie Brinkley

Billy Joel white cartoon stamp Christie Brinkley green stucco backgroundAstrology Uptown

Thirty-five year-old singer/songwriter Billy Joel marries supermodel Christie Brinkley, 31, before 175 guests on a 147-foot yacht sailing around New York Harbor on a cold, drizzly day. It is the second marriage for both celebrities. The couple will conceive their only child, daughter Alexa Rae, later tonight.

Transiting Saturn in Scorpio is opposite Joel’s natal Venus in Taurus, square natal Saturn in Leo, indicating a solemn union with an attractive partner. Transiting Mars is conjunct natal Mars in Taurus, opposite transiting Pluto in Scorpio, square transiting Jupiter in Aquarius, signifying potency, and the creation of new life.

Mars conjunct Mars

Billy Joel astrology bi-wheel chart for wedding to Christie Brinkley.

Transiting Saturn in Scorpio (outer wheel, bottom right) opposite natal Venus in Taurus (inner wheel, top left), square natal Saturn in Leo (outer wheel, bottom left). Transiting Mars (outer wheel, top left) conjunct natal Mars in Taurus (inner wheel, top left), opposite transiting Pluto in Scorpio (outer wheel, bottom right), square transiting Jupiter in Aquarius (outer wheel, top right)