Thursday, December 31, 2009

fun with string


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

my nineties

Was I alive in the early 1990s? I'm sure I was, but I'm watching one of those TV shows about the decade, and a bit mystified at how out of step I apparently was. The show is 'Electric Dreams', where a family are stripped of their modern technology and then given the appropriate tools for each decade, getting the technology of a new year for each new day.

So far, we're up to something like 1994, and my record so far is pretty poor. We've been introudced to:

Sonic The Hedgehog (I've never played Sonic The Hedgehog)
Super Mario (I've never played Super Mario)
Nintendo Gameboys (I never had a Nintendo Gameboy)
Satellite TV (I never had satellite TV)
Pagers (I never had a pager)
Mortal Combat (I've never played Mortal Combat)

My nineties were very different indeed - can't see this program getting much more accurate for my experience. I didn't use the internet until 1996, or have a mobile until 1999. Oh dear.

changing opinions

Julie Bindel is easy to admire - a courageous, dogged fighter for women's rights and relentless campaigner against men who abuse women - but rather hard to like. The Guardian has been running a series of columns recently which describe the things its respective authors have changed their mind over during the 2000s. Bindel's contribution reveals that she, over the last decade, has learned that it's possible to be friends with men. It's really rather shocking that this realisation has come so late, and while I'm glad for her, it's hard not to wonder if the problem is not that, as she suggests, men are intimidated by her sexual politics, but rather that she's not a very friendly person. Towards the end of the article she reveals that she's even had a male friend over for dinner, as if this represents incredible progress. It's a world-view I don't recognise.

As often happens, she gets a bit of a kicking in the comments, which probably just confirms her distrustful attitude towards men. Nevertheless, the following comment made me laugh out loud.

strange curations

This blog - Stevie's Curiosity Cabinet - is the kind of thing that I love about blogging - the way that 'content' is democratized to the extent that esoteric interests can be published freely and accessed with as much ease as mainstream ones. If I'd never have stumbled onto Stevie's blog, I would never have needed to know about ANYTHING he writes about. But as it is, his posts regularly have me sitting up, interested, alert. Here he is on Dolly Parton.

Possibly the best known of all Dolly's compositions, Jolene is the lead track on a seven-inch maxi-single (RCA Victor RCA 2675) which was her breakthrough hit in the British market in 1976, reaching number seven in June of that year. Whilst there's nothing remotely unusual about this disc in itself, either musically or as an object (unless one views the value-for-money three-track maxi as a curious product of the 'seventies, like Dynaflex, say), it merits inclusion in this journal because of how Dolly was manipulated by John Oswald (link : - it's number 13).

"Dolly Parton gets a sex change by slowing down the speed of one of her singles...", wrote Andrew Jones in his book Plunderphonics, 'Pataphysics + Pop Mechanics, which includes this quote from Oswald : "Although the idea of slowing down Dolly Parton was my idea, two separate Dolly Parton fans told me on two separate occasions that I should listen to Dolly Parton 45s at 33 RPM, because she sounded really great at that speed. And it's true."

From "Pretender (based on 'The Great Pretender' written by Buck Ram) features the opportunity for a dramatic gender change, suggesting a hypothesis concerning the singer, Ms.Parton, perhaps worthy of headlines in the National Enquirer. The first inklings of this story came from fans of Ms.Parton's earlier hit single 'Jolene'. As many consumers have inadvertently discovered, especially since the reemergence of 12' 45rpm records of which this present disc is a peculiar subset, it is not uncommon to find oneself playing 45rpm sides at the LP standard speed of 331/3. In this transposed tempo 'Jolene' reveals the singer to be a handsome tenor. Additional layers of homosexual longing, convoluted ménages à trois and double identities are revealed in a vortex of androgyny as one switches, verse to verse, between the two standard playback speeds."

Whilst to my ears the backing music does work extremely well, the reduced pace darkening the mood of the track wonderfully, I'm not sure I'm totally convinced that Dolly's voice resembles that of a male when heard at twelve revs fewer per minute - but if disbelief can be suspended briefly, one gets a whole new intriguing perspective on her lyric : a man worrying about losing his man to the song's female subject; the vulnerability of a male capable of being moved to tears by the potential situation.
Fantastic, odd, stuff.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

craigie aitchison

Oh, I always miss news at Christmas - too focused on all the adornments of the festive season to trawl through the paper, and days behind as a consequence. Just flicked through the papers and seen that Craigie Aitchison has died. Now, when I was first beginning to express an interest in art, but struggling to really work out what I liked (as opposed to what I thought I should like), some of Aitchison's paintings were amongst the first to really get through to me. So I'm sad about this. Here's some examples of his work - and here's the Guardian obituary.

dealing with camera loss

This is quite sweet - a pictorial guide to avoiding camera loss. Really not a bad idea at all. Thinking back, given the many things I've mislaid over the years, I don't think I've lost a camera yet. Give it time.

eccentricity and spotify

I've been playing with Spotify a lot more recently, and naturally it's a dazzling tool - it's clearly going to revolutionise how we listen to music. As I get to grips with it, I've started playing with playlists - so here is one of my first attempts - a big, messy, odds and sods concoction.

It's drawn largely from releases on Trunk, Finders Keepers and Honest Jons, so what we have is (deep breath): Kids TV music (Clangers, Ivor The Engine), weird library music, found sounds, Sci-Fi soundtracks, eccentric funk interpretations of Christian hymns, unsettling Satanic folk music, Free Jazz & 1920s Afro 78s. The goal is basically ti cover all bases from 'The Wicker Man' to 'Bagpuss' through to Hammer Horror.

Odd things, basically. Here you go:

Monday, December 28, 2009

meat after moral certainty

Sitting having breakfast in Billie's Cafe in Brighton this morning, Alba, Lyndsey, Dan, and I discussed foods that we can't - or rather, won't, eat. I was a horribly fussy eater as a child, forcing my poor mother to serve me up all sorts of deeply indulgent dinners as a way of encouraging me to eat. Like a lot of kids, the number of foodstuffs I rolled my eyes at was embarrassingly great - eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes etc. The one constant component of my diet was always meat, although I'm proud to say that I have eliminated practically all of my food-phobias in adulthood. There's pretty much nothing I won't eat now, with the exception of grapefruit (I know, weird). I like just about everything, including things I would have had a cheerful tantrum over when I was a kid - brussel sprouts, frog's legs, olives, avocados. I still eat an awful lot of meat though - too much to make ever becoming a vegetarian absolutely unthinkable.

Still - this article, by Neel Mukherjee, is pretty much beyond reproach. He's absolutely right to say that the intellectual and moral argument over the eating of meat is settled, and that vegetarians are on the right side of the debate. That I can admit this and at the same time admit that I'm still not tempted to abandon meat is evidence, I guess, of a certain moral cowardice. But it's tempered by the suspicion that attempting to live one's life by virtue of rational, intellectual moral arguments alone is ultimately fruitless; a never-ending quest. There will be many painful decisions still to be made once animal welfare issues are resolved.

And anyway, I'm much too thin as it is, so I need the sustenance. So there.

Back to the article - it's hardly an in-depth study of the subject, but I like Neel's candour, and his own admission of inadequacy at the end. Worth reading.

"To understand intellectually is one thing, to put it into practice quite another, a whole untraversable territory away. I still haven't been able to stop eating meat. In any restaurant, my eyes alight first, as if by an atavistic pull, on the meat dishes on the menu. In any dinner party I throw, I think of the non-vegetarian dish as central. I view this as a combination of weakness, greed and moral failure. Someone please help."
No need to help me - but I'm roasting a chicken tomorrow, so let me know if you fancy lunch.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Saturday, December 26, 2009

xmas high-jinks

Had a totally brilliant Xmas in Brighton so far; it's been great. Some random highlights:

- Managing to actually cook my contribution to the Christmas lunch well; somewhat of a surprise. Almost messed up the chicken by accidentally putting it at too high a heat, which meant it was browning with alarming speed after just twenty five minutes. Some frenzied adjustments ensured it was a success. Yay!
- Watching Lyndsey getting really angry as it became apparent that she wasn't going to win the first party game of Christmas. She settled down once it became apparent that I'd come last.
- A glorious wine and spirits contribution from Sam and Laura, which ensured that the food was never for a moment unaccompanied by fortifying alcohol.
- Singing and dancing in the small hours; sorry, Brighton, if we made an unforgivable amount of noise.
- Just being able to spend the day with my lovely friends is a real treat. Had a brill time.

Our soundtrack for the day was a Xmas CD courtesy of local label One Inch Badge - fittingly, then, the video below, which shows us tucking into Christmas lunch, comes courtesy of one of its contributors; 'Christmas Song' by The Hornblower Brothers.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

taking heart

This week lots of the bloggers I read regularly seem to be preoccupied with relationships, ineractions; how we get on, and why. It would be nice to report that everyone is filing success stories - but original thoughts, confidential whisperings and admissions of failure are just as welcome. Wendy is dredging up the past over at her Wendy House; I don't think she's the only person with a story like this in her past:

We laughed together at his assertion. It was one of the most honest expressions of closeness I’d heard then or since.

After two weeks of dating that involved lots of

  • laughter,
  • sleeplessness,
  • loud singing after dark,
  • passionate debating of the relative efficacies of pychological theories,
  • burning of incence, nicotene and canabis

He dumped me.

Easing the suprise with the phrase ‘you’re the only girl for me’ and explaining that he preferred boys. With hindsight, this explained the dearth in exchanges of bodily fluids.

20 years later. He’s still passionate, humourful, debating, smoking, prefering boys and I’m still the only girl for him. Only now there is even less excahniging of bodily fluids because the boy’s grown into a christian priest.

Over at his Potentially Eventually Funny blog, our eponymous author has been told he is a good listener. Instead of taking heart, he is coming to terms with some home truths. Honesty compels me to admit that I know exactly the instinct that he describes in this passage, and the truthfulness of it makes me feel ashamed. Still, it's good to know that I'm not the only one (and - disclaimer - it isn't all the time).
Anyway, my point is that I'm not a good listener - whether to females or males - I am simply quite good at finding something with which to agree on about their position and focusing on it. Or, alternatively, I am good at finding a positive in a situation and exploiting it to make it seem that the overall impression that the person I'm speaking to has is that 'everything is, or will be, alright'. I caught myself doing it automatically the other day. A friend (not you) started to tell me about an issue that he/she had in a work relationship the other day. Immediately I discovered that I was scouring his/her testimony for anything to alight upon as a positive or as a signal misinterpreted. I was simply looking for the most simple way of getting from A to B; from concerned / depressed / upset, to at ease / positive / happy. That is not being a good listening: at best it's prostituting my ability to rationalise interpersonal dilemmas in return for friendship, and at worst it's a technique to change the topic of conversation from something boring - other people's problems - to something interesting - my problems.
Perhaps because I've just been reading about the slow train crash which is the Copenhagen summit - a meeting beset by the failure of disperate communities to find a compromise for the greater good, Matt's observation over at his Zen Bullets Blog rings true today. Why Can't We Just Get Along, he asks?
Atoms work together to make cells. Cells work together to form organisms. Organisms work together to form societies, and societies work together to make cultures.

Getting cultures to work together seems to be the tricky one.
Agh. Yep.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

mystical animals

For reasons I don't understand, I just seem to be getting an enormous amount of spam comments at the moment - it's really annoying. If I snap and turn on the comment verification thing soon you'll have to forgive me. In the meantime, some - some - of the spam is charming enough to let slip through the net.

Monday, December 14, 2009

to be or not to be

Perhaps I'm softening in my old age - not sure I'd have spent much time watching youtube videos of cute kids a few years ago - but this is just lovely. The actor Brian Cox coaches a 30 month year old toddler to recite Shakespeare. Extremely sweet.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

the lyrical genius of luke haines

I'm getting in a right muddle listening back to this year's records and trying to pick my favourites - increasingly I find that when I can't decide between a few LPs I end up plumping for the one with the best lyrics. Not really clear on what my top ten will be. Might have to be a top 15.

Anyway, talking of lyrics - there are some moments on Luke Haines' intermittently terrific 21st Century Man which are just sublime. I'm in raptures over 'Love Letter To London' at the moment:

"I'm not frightened, I'm no longer tired of life,
but the grass is greener in the English countryside.
A voice in the wilderness cries out from time to time,
and says "I'm off the dial, in my country pile".

Young couples with children leave the big city,
we'll not see them again.
It's just like the blitz. The countryside groans
with the stress and the strain.

So don't send us a postcard.
We like it here now that you're gone
They said that they loved you, but they used you as a playground,
when they were young".

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

early blur footage

Some early footage of Blur has turned up out of nowhere - brilliant. Unfortunately the embedding is turned off for this video, but it's essential viewing anyway, so you'll just have to follow the link below. Not quite sure where it came from all of a sudden - perhaps it was uncovered during the research for the new Blur documentary - but it's amazing - this is Seymour (the band that would become Blur) playing 'Superman' in Harlow, Essex in December 1989. Twenty years ago. God.

Wish the first Blur album had sounded all fuzzy and frenetic like this - we'd have realised how wonderful they were that bit earlier...

Seymour - Superman

UPDATE: Ah, Scimmy has obliged by sticking the mp3 version on divshare - great; still - you'll probably want to watch the vid, too.

the lists descend

What with it being both the end of the year and the end of decade, it's LISTMANIA on the internet, obviously. I've been reading lots of lists and, so far, disagreeing with lots of them. It seems to me that lots of very good albums are being overlooked in favour of a lot of pretty average ones (I'm looking at you, The Low Anthem, you, The Big Pink, and you, The Mountain Goats). But until I unveil my own list, I shan't moan too much - and I readily admit I look forward to the gnashing of teeth.

The Music Fix list isn't one I was looking out for, and sure enough it mixes the sublime (Darren Hayman's Pram Town) with a bunch of records I'd cross the road to avoid (The Airborne Toxic Event, Biffy Clyro, that surprisingly bad Florence & The Machine LP).

Anyway - one happy consequence of their list is that they've scrambled a set of mini-interviews with some of the winners, which provokes some interesting thoughts from the couple of artists on the list I'm interested in...

Luke Haines

Dear Music Fix, My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will on my inclusion in your list thingy. My heart brims with joy and seasonal good will anyway. You lot deserve my salutations because frankly I don't know how you found 40 albums of the year. Man, I can just about think of 40 albums from the last 40 years that get the old five star treatment. By the way is my 'record' in the Sounds best of the year list? Melody Maker? Who cares, I'm more of a Zig Zag man. BTW, what number am I? Actually it doesn't matter because I operate under a different numerical system to you lot. Anyway; to lists and my inclusion in them. Thank you.

For Xmas I would like a chisel.

Next year I intend to commence work on my replica scale model of the world.
Darren Hayman

Lists are infuriating, especially when you're not in them. But that's what they are there for, to encourage debate, to make people disagree. I'm not used to flattery. People say very nice things about my records and I know some people like them a lot but I don't usually find myself in end of year lists.

But I'll take a compliment! It's been a strange couple of years, the Hefner re-issues and related shows have made me aware how much my old band means to people but the honest truth is that I think I'm currently writing the best songs of my life. I tried hard to make Pram Town unusual, beautiful and intelligent. I hope I half succeeded.

I have no idea of how good I am compared to my contemporaries. I guess if you had to push me on it I would say I'm better then the guy out of Snow Patrol but not as good as Emmy the Great. If you say I wrote one of the 40 best albums of the year I'll think you're taking the piss.

But it does make me very happy.

I'm hoping for the Big Star box set in my Xmas stocking. I think I have dropped enough hints to my wife. I think I have a reasonable chance.

It looks like Pram Town may be part of a loose trilogy of albums about Essex. The second Essex Arms is another folk opera about love in the lawless countryside. We hope to have it out by the summer. There is talk of a Hefner Peel Sessions album.
Both Luke and Darren will be pleased to hear, I'm sure, that both are in the running for my top ten.

joy diversion


Sunday, December 06, 2009

more video experiments

This afternoon myself and Dan went and had a burger and a beer at Brighton's lovely The Eagle. While we were eating, I set up my camera to do a time-lapse recording; which is presented here accompanied by some pleasing beeps and squiggles courtesy of Andrew - the track is his 'Succour & Liquor', credited to Bedsit Bomber.

the london perambulator

A couple of weeks ago myself, Vic, Dan, Ant and Alec went down to the Sallis Benney Theatre to see the screening, as part of the Cinecity Brighton Film Festival, of John Rogers’ new film, London Perambulator, a wonderfully affectionate portrait of Nick Papadimitriou, a writer who lives in North London – in my old haunting ground of Barnet, no less - who dedicates his life to the pursuit of what he calls ‘deep topography’; what you and I might have heard described as ‘pyscho-geography’ – urban exploration through the medium of walking, enacted not through pre-researched routes but by chance and happenstance, working on the assumption that the mysteries of the landscape will be revealed through being ‘found’.

As that muddled definition implies, the practice of deep topography is an inexact thing, occupying a vague, semi-mystical space between geography, anthropology, philosophy, art and science. What Nick Papadimitriou does, essentially, is walk through the overlooked corners of cities, and writes about his experience. His preoccupation is not with finding conventional beauty, whether ancient or modern, but rather in examining the functional areas where mankind, nature, and necessity overlap. In the process of this obsession, which sees him undertaking long ruminative walks, creating a kind of philosophical mind-map of the city, he has carried out research – and acted as somewhat of a poetic muse – for the likes of Will Self and Iain Sinclair (whose own book, ‘London Orbital’, sparked my interest in this area).

Papadimitriou is self-evidently an idiosyncratic individual, pursuing with admirable single-mindedness a line of enquiry which many would dismiss as eccentric. Rogers’ film cannot help but play on this, observing its protagonist in reveries of post-industrial romanticism, waxing lyrical over water treatment plants and manhole covers, standing rapt on brownfield sites transfixed by concrete posts. As one might expect of a close confidante of Will Self, Papadimitriou is not only incredibly literate but also extremely funny. So it’s easy for the film to poke affectionate fun at him, not least because a contributor like Russell Brand – who is insightful throughout – can’t resist sending him up.

Speaking after the film – which is only 45 minutes long – Papadimitriou expressed a little wry frustration at the fact. And that is understandable; there is something innately comic about the intensity of his passion for, say, Mogdon Water Treatment Plant – but the film plays up his eccentricity without sacrificing the opportunity to include many thought provoking and poetic displays of language and thought. And the more involved with his subject matter he gets the more profoundly interesting he becomes. It’s in Middlesex, that absent county at the top of London that was folded into Hertfordshire, Surrey and Greater London but which retains a geographical presence of its own, that his most fervent interest resides, and for a period in the film I found myself transported back to the vocabulary of my youth – Barnet, Southgate, Potters Bar, Finchley, Hendon. Papadimitriou is not myopic in his interests – he has a long term plan to walk across the Ukraine – but it’s obvious where his heart resides. He tells us:

“My ambition is to hold my region in my mind… so that I am the region. So that when I die I literally do become Middlesex in some way. For me that is my highest spiritual aspiration, I will be the tarmac that you race along on the A41-T, I’ll be absorbed into the mildewed lintels hidden in overgrown knotweed by the side of the Hendon way…”

My own youth was spent mapping out this part of the world; rambling through Hadley Wood, waiting for tubes into the city at Oakwood station, tracing cycle paths through Totteridge, scrabbling over high fences to let off firecrackers behind the Sainsbury’s car-park in New Barnet. I’m not especially nostalgic for those years, but Papadimitriou’s enthusiasm is infectious. I understood him best, I think, when he stopped suddenly between two semi-detached houses in a glum suburb, and pointed out the contour of the ageless landscape through the gap; where a river once flowed. These buildings, he pointed out, could be destroyed in moments, but it would take something immense to change the shape of land which has held its form for thousands of years.

I’m not sure I fully understand to what end his infectious, limitless enthusiasm can be taken, but in his current role, mid way between philosopher and naturalist, urban historian and dreamer, it strikes me that Nick Papadimitriou is doing something terribly important – chronicling parts of the city which are all around but rarely seen; liminal, overgrown, ambiguous places where mankind has made marks on nature which we would do well not to forget. Their unsystematic, unresolved, chaotic distribution seems to have some significance when counterbalanced against our own unsystematic, unresolved, chaotic lives.

You can watch a short clip of John Rogers’ incredibly enjoyable film below, visit his website here, or download the regular podcasts (“Ventures and Adventures in Topography”) which he and Nick make for Resonance FM here. Nick’s own website, misleadingly named Middlesex County Council, and as chaotic a site as you might expect, is essential reading. Here’s the link.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

ellie goulding, roscoe (midlake cover)

With the best will in the world, regardless of the fact that her stuff is pretty good, I'd kind of written Ellie Goulding off as superfluous; the kind of pop star we'd need if we didn't already have Bat For Lashes, and who is targeting a position in an intolerably crowded market. Well - that might well still be what I think. But I got a real surprise when I heard this, on Siobhan's recommendation - here's Ellie tackling, with very fine voice indeed, Midlake's wonderful 'Roscoe'. Vid courtesy of Dan.