Archive for March, 2007|Monthly archive page

Mashist Groove Thang, or 14 Things I was Inspired by yesterday

Big Art Mob

Spoke at a really fun event last night – Quickfire organised by Katz Kiely’s Just B (which puts on the bTween interactive media conference every year in Yorkshire). It was a formatted event, Petchakutcha style – 14 slides for 30 seconds each, moving on automatically whether you’re ready or not. There’s something about this kind of format for speaking events which has made the ones I’ve experienced truly inspirational, at the very least very interesting and entertaining – and last night was no exception. I think it’s the combination of concision and parlour game.

Last night’s event was focused on the 13 areas which make up the Creative Industries in governmentspeak. There was one speaker for each area (with just a couple doubled up and with me as Television). The theme across the whole breadth was the impact of connectivity on the discipline in question.

So here are the 14 Things which Inspired me.

1. Advertising – Richard Adams / Chemistry

Not the Watership Down Richard Adams but an imposter who knows a lot about the way brands need to approach interactive media. I liked the term he used – “Mecast” – to capture the shift from broadcasting to active engagement with creative material (including advertising).

2. Architecture – Armand Terulli & Ghislaine Boddington / Body Data Space

I was taken with the glass roof they’d designed for a school in Kingston(?), London which detects light changes and alters the opacity accordingly – not in a uniform way but in a digitally designed pattern to cast a natural feeling pattern of shadows which looked like leaves in sunshine.

3/4. Television & Radio - Yours truly / Channel 4

I really got a buzz from the challenge of speaking in conjunction with an out-of-(my)-control automated set of images (as is my wont with Powerpoint, I only used pictures, no words). It appealed in its semi-improvised nature to the wannabe jazzer in me.

5/6. Art & Antiques - Fiddian Warman / Soda

Fiddian showed off the breadth of Soda’s work across pretty much all of the 13 sub-sectors (he struggled by his own admission with Fashion and had to make do with the sweat-shirts they sell bearing their designs). The huge Energy Ring in the Science Museum (which I haven’t yet seen in real-life) was impressive, as was the digital light display on the side of a tower in a North London school (Stoke Newington?) – I had no idea they had done this kind of work. I’m more familiar with the likes of the Irrepressible project they did for Amnesty which is one of the most purposeful mash-ups I’ve come across).

7. Computer Games - Charles Cecil / Revolution

Charming Charles, decendent of Robert of Elizabethan fame, gave a fantastic overview of the Games industry in a mere 840 seconds. I liked the look of Broken Sword 1 which I’ve never played but reminded me of retro bandes-desinees like Yves Chaland. Pictures of Charles’ juvenalia from the era of the ZX Spectrum were particularly inspirational – the man’s been living Games for a long time now.

8. Crafts – James Boardwell / Rattle

The interface between digital technology and crafts I know nothing about so this was a great (global) trip. One image showed craft creations inspired by some Manga-style PlayStation game ranging from ear muffs to a pink cake! You gotta love it.
There were some convincing reflections on the contrast between the speed of the digital age and the slowness of Craft – there’s no doubt we can all use some Slow Time. I’ve noticed that a significant proportion of people who leave the new media industry go off to do stuff like horticulture and carpentry.

9. Design – Kristina Nyzell / Lego

This one just reminded me of happy hours playing Lego in my room in Selvage Lane – although apparently “it’s not a toy” – brands, dontcha just love ‘em?

10. Film – Matt Hanson / Swarm of Angels

An interesting attempt to create a user-generated feature film based on subscriptions from participants. Apparently though “there has to be a head chef in the kitchen and that’s me!” Can’t beat benign dictatorship to get stuff done. Reminds me of the scene in Channel 4′s documentary about Findhorn a couple of years ago where the hippies were trying to design a leaflet collectively – never happened til the designer took the law in his own hands. Swarm makes an interesting comparison with the current MyMovieMashup project from FilmFour, MySpace and Vertigo Films. Also with Michaela Ledwidge’s Sanctuary project at Mod Films. So my inspiration here was the memory of the last movie I watched, last weekend, Walk on Water which was a good entertaining and moving film made in pretty much the normal way without that much cash.

11. Music – Martyn Ware / Illustrious

Who’d have thought when I went in to buy that 7″ of Fascist Groove Thang all those years ago that one day I’d be sharing a stage with the cuddly Martyn Ware, founder member of the Human League, Heaven 17er, and unflagging champion of interactive audio. We used to do the BAFTA Interactive Entertainment committee together when we were young&foolish. He gave me the low-down on that Bruce Nauman sonic installation at Tate Modern – sounds like it was pretty much the audio equivalent of Jeff Koons, most of it made (very badly in Martyn’s ears) by the hired help. You can catch Mr Ware on his Future of Sound tour on 12th April out East at Queen Mary, University of London. Hoping to include some of his work as the first example of sonic public art in my Big Art Mob mobile blogging project launching next month. [test design above]

12. Performing Arts - Kelli Dipple / Tate

This speaker didn’t play the game because she had had to step into the breach at the eleventh hour – there was no synchronisation between words and pictures. So the pleasure in this one lay in the energy of the performance, which was as it should be for the subject.

13. Publishing – Mike Butcher / Mbites

Mike gave a quickfire history of publishing from an aboriginal cave painting via the Gutenberg bible and sufragette pamphleteering (which he likened to this very act of blogging) to Marconi and Logie Baird, to whom I suppose I owe more than the occasional admiring reflection as I walk past the John Baird public house. I enjoyed the link to the lost art of pamphleteering and will think further on it.

And my fourteenth inspiration to round off? The enjoyment of analogue connectivity in a big room with wine and cake. The room where I first came across Alfie Dennen, setting off the chain of connection which has resulted in the Big Art Mob. The room where I talked acoustics with Martyn Ware (including of the Whispering Gallery in Saint Paul’s where I proposed) and where I talked swing bands with Katz who is paying me for the gig in music.

Starless and Bible-Black

Dylan Thomas

Came across an astonishingly beautiful piece of music this week thanks to my friend – writer, music-lover, and fellow enthusiast for creative thinking – Doug Miller. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK is a tune inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, from an eponymous record of 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet. The Quartet was a British jazz outfit right there on the front line, “one of Britain’s few genuinely original contributions to world jazz”. The tenor saxophonist on Starless is a Glaswegian called Bobby Wellins whose performance is Something Special. I really, really love the title.

STARLESS AND BIBLE-BLACK.

It’s just one of those perfect phrases. It comes from the very beginning of Under Milk Wood: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black”

I once started a novel (inspired by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) and took the rather over-reaching step of starting it “In the beginning…”. Proved a bit too much to live up to.

Tracey worked outwards from the titles which I really love as a working method – titles can be key and inspiring. “I settled down with the book and the album [original performance of Dylan Thomas' play], and as I was going through I jotted down ideas for titles. By the time I’d got to the end of the play I’d got all the titles worked out and just went on from there – writing for the titles”.

The phrase immediately brought to mind my favourite sentence from my favourite book:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

It’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses (page 619 in my trusty old Penguin Modern Classics copy). It’s from when Bloom and Stephen go back to Bloom’s house after a wandering night on the lash and go out into the back garden for a piss.

Which brings us round to the Simple Pleasures – an outdoor piss after a great night out; an inspirational read; and a musical surprise. Total cost: about a fiver.

Seeing the Light

Snake Charmer

Went to the First Light Awards the other morning, the UK Film Council initiative championed by the charming Barbara Brocolli (daughter of Cubby of Bond fame) which gives young people from 5 to 18 the opportunity to make films, with the guidance of local professionals where wanted. In the five years it has been running some 10,000 young people have been involved in the process of making about 650 films.Every year there’s something which really makes you sit up. A few years ago I saw Joe Magee’s Gearhead at it and got it acquired as a result by Channel 4 along with the other two films in his trilogy. Recently I’ve been trying to get Joe hooked in with the writing team of Skins. Talking of Skins, Cassie, Jal, Sid and Anwar were among the award presenters who also included Sean Bean (my first professional link to him was via Roger Deakins on Mike Figgis’ Stormy Monday), Sanjeev Bhaskhar (my only link to him was sleeping in a bed with Meera Syal’s brother Raj at my bro’s stag weekend in Brighton – totally platonic of course, “See the Bears game last night? Hell of a game!”), Imelda Staunton (who i saw a couple of weeks ago in Frank McGuiness’ Here Came a GipsyRiding at the Almeida).Imelda presented the lovely (literally) glowing award (each had a different coloured light inside) to one of the two stand out productions this year – a sihouetted animation entitled The Princess and The Pendant by Hartside primary school, really beautiful, resonant of Douanier Rousseau’s snake charmer and Indonesian shadow puppets, the earliest of cinema.

The other stand-out was 23 Pieces which won the Best Screenplay award, written by a group of young writers from PVA Medialab in Bridport.

The awards were energetically presented by Popworld presenter Alex Zane who reflected the warmth, enthusiasm, excitement and total absence of cynicism which characerise these awards, due of course to the children at their heart. Had a good chat with Alex afterwards over lunch, hearing about his latest Balls of Steel exploits in the Big Apple, where fake gameshows are all the better to pull off.

Looking at the pros around in the audience you can’t help feeling that it’s difficult to keep in touch with that vibe – Duncan Kenworthy of BAFTA looked tired (mind you it was only 10.30, a bit on the early side for film awards) and Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s producer, despite looking innocent enough trailed behind her a distinctly serpent-in-the-garden reputation like toilet paper stuck to her shoe. By contrast the 4Talent West Midlands crew – Dan Jones, Jonnie Turpie and Nick Carson of Maverick – were is their usual bubbly form before retiring to a pub before the noon watershed for a ‘meeting’.

So here’s to keeping in touch with child enthusiam, energy, creativity and innocent joy.

Ives of March

iPhone

Great article in Ten4 magazine from Channel 4′s 4Talent about Brit product designer Jonathan Ives of Apple fame. Written by Nick Carson from 4Talent West Midlands based at Maverick TV and designed by Jonny Costello of Fluid Design in Brum (you need to see the hard copy mag for Jonny’s response to a ‘challenging’ design task). As I write this on my britewhite new iMac (just across the room from my old Bondi iMac) I send out vibes of love&thanks to Jonathan and put him up there in my Hall of Design Fame with Richard Seymour & Dick Powell, Eric Gill and Abram Games.

****

“The design we practice isn’t about self expression. I don’t want to see a designer wagging his tail in my face. I want to see a problem solved, and in a way that acknowledges its context,” states the man behind some of the most understated yet revered designs of the last decade – from iMac to iPod to iPhone, his mass-market consumer products are as sculptural as they are purposeful.

Gentle curves and translucent fruity shades may have made his name, but it’s the technical minutiae that really animate Jonathan Ive. Hours of sweat and head-scratching are channeled into the finest of functional details – innovations that could set the tail of the most reserved designer flapping furiously. But instead they’re carefully smoothed over in soothing white for that cool and effortless je ne sais quoi.

Reaching for one of any number of examples at his fingertips, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Industrial Design turns to the latest iMac. “The stand is a simple piece of aluminium which has been stamped and then rolled,” he begins, allowing himself a chuckle that – refreshingly – his British pronunciation of ‘aluminum’ isn’t met by raised eyebrows. “One of the problems we encountered was that you could adjust it, but the screen would wobble slightly. It was really frustrating.”

“We architected an entire system to try and iron this wobble out.” Ive’s notoriously self-effacing nature allows a flicker of pride to shine through. “We developed a horseshoe foot that went below the stand. In between that and the stand was a cunning material designed to absorb the energy of the wobble.”

“We try to solve very complicated problems without letting people know how complicated the problem was,” he shrugs. “That’s the appropriate thing.” And this deep-rooted – and very British – notion of what is right and proper carries through into his resolute refusal to bask in individual glory. Rather like that horseshoe foot, he sees himself as one of many essential components meshed together beneath a polished and professional exterior.”

Bask in the rest here

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