Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Bright Sparks (Day 28)

Finger spark

The day was focused on meeting the head of a London art school for advice on Design candidates and also to explore whether this project and the subject of catalysing creativity through openness, generosity, sharing and altruism is of interest to his institution and how that interface might work. We had lunch in Kipferl at The Angel, an Austrian restaurant which we’re both fond of. He felt it would be useful to have a term for the type of person I’m writing about. I did have one I was trying on for size at the outset – Bright Sparks – but I felt the phrase has too much baggage. It’s derived from a passage in the Surrealist Manifesto by Andre Breton which talks about the creative spark which happens when things that don’t normally belong together are combined in an innovative way.

The rest of the day I spent reading about the scientific/evolutionary explanation for Altruism and Co-operation.

ORF idents

 

London Lineage

From being born at one of London’s highest points to tapping these very words beside one of its secret oases, my whole life has rolled out along the Northern Line so this evening I had a stab at mapping it…

My Northern Line

4 differences between a podcast and a radio programme

At the one day Future:Content conference put on this week by London design outfit It’s Nice That the medium of Audio was covered by Francesca Panetta of The Guardian (podcasts) and (in her spare time) Hackney Podcast. Listening to a recent podcast of hers capturing Hackney at night I was reflecting – being a huge lover of radio (I listen to over 20 hours a week) – on what’s the difference between a podcast and a radio programme…

  1. A podcast does not have to fill airtime or a specific slot length – that means the subject-matter can define the shape of the content
  2. It does not have to appear with the exact regularity of, say, a weekly slot – so you could make more of an event of its appearance
  3. You have deliberately chosen to listen to a podcast, it’s not background or encountered by chance
  4. One that Francesca placed great emphasis on, a podcast is usually right in your ears (i.e. often they are consumed on earphones) – so sound design is that much more important and impactful.

I’ve made some radio in my time, some arts and music stuff for BBC World Service and Radio 2 with a variety of inspiring people from John Peel (on vinyl/records) to Jonathan Miller (on mirrors in the arts), loved the experience of that very special medium, and really want to carve out some time to do a bit of podcasting this coming year. I also want to pick up again on my Songlines project from next month.

I was covering Future:TV on the day. I focused on the re-socialising of TV through social media. It was an honour to be sandwiched between designer Neville Brody and Deyan Sudjic, Director of The Design Museum. I’ve had Deyan’s book Cult Objects on my bookshelf since 1987 and taking it out again on the eve of the conference it looked very much like a product of the 80s with its watches and pens, Filofaxes and objects of sleek matt blackness. My beloved Olympus XA2 pocket camera features on page 63, a happy matt black blast from the past, haven’t seen it around the house in a dog’s age. (Nor for that matter have I seen my copies of issues 1 to 10 of The Face, but they’re bound to be in the attic.)

Neville Brody arrived fresh from the student cuts demo in and around Westminster. He showed photos he’d just taken, including a placard saying “I still hate Thatcher” (also very 80s) which brought a smile to the lips. He reflected on how the current student generation has forgotten how to get angry and protest, how the day’s events felt like some kind of reawakening, and he brought with him an old school energy and rage at the assault on the Future:Contentmakers, the designers and artists of tomorrow. There’s something not right, was my first thought of the day as I walked down to the tube heading for the gathering at Shoreditch Studios for a day of interesting reflections on where Content is going, not right at all about addressing a problem of excessive debt by starting people out in life with excessive debt. The student fees question has brought out the worst in the LibDems (speaking as one who helped vote them in, in as much as they were voted in). It came out yesterday that, as Chief of Staff, Danny Alexander wrote about putting “clear yellow water” between the LibDems and the other parties on the issue of student fees – did he forget that clear yellow water is otherwise known as a streak of piss?

 

Future:Content summarised on It’s Nice That design blog

MindGym

Hooked up the other day, after a dog’s age, with designmeister Jason Loader (who has just set up on his own as Yeah Love). We made MindGym together way back when – a game about creative thinking. Jason has been kind (and patient) enough over the weekend to dig out some of the old design assets from a moribund machine…

MindGym: The Changing Room

MindGym: The Changing Room

MindGym: The Pool of Ideas

MindGym: The Pool of Ideas

MindGym: The Pool of Ideas - Deep End

MindGym: The Pool of Ideas - Deep End

MindGym: The Think Tank

MindGym: The Think Tank

MindGym: The Games Room

MindGym: The Games Room

MindGym: Spy sim

MindGym: Spy sim

There are some more here

All these 3D environments were designed by Jason Loader (at a time when they typically took over 18 hours to render, so a bit on the frustrating side if you didn’t get it right first time).  MindGym was a concept I came up with at Melrose Film Productions in the wake of making a series of films about Creativity.  I nicked the title from Lenin or one of those Ruskies, who used the term with reference to chess. So Jason and I started work on it, then the pair of us hooked up with NoHo Digital to realise a bastard creation of great energy. Rob Bevan (now at XPT) did the interface design and programming, skilfully combining this kind of rich 3D with elegant 2D inspired by You Don’t Know Jack. His creative partner Tim Wright led the writing team – him, Ben Miller and me – it was a comic script with serious stuff underlying the gags. I couldn’t help chuckling recently when I heard someone refer to Rob & Tim as the Jagger & Richards of new media. Talking of which, Nigel Harris did the music and sound design – excellent audio was one of our explicit creative goals, again inspired by YDK Jack. And talking of Jack the lads, Paul Canty (now of Preloaded) and Mike Saunders (Kew Digital), who were just starting out, were also among the production team. The studio was infested with red ants (possibly flesh-eating), but it didn’t distract us from the task at hand…

Day 1 – US / UK remix

A formula for the future:

US Optimism and Can-Do

+

British Pluck and Make-Do

Poster from WW2

Poster from WW2

= a +ve, progressive way forward

A good place to start (this side of the water): www.landshare.net

What’s pumping the nads of the telly industry?

Here’s a nice little piece from the new issue of the cracking 4Talent magazine. It’s come along way over the 9 issues to date, evolving out of Ten4 magazine based in the West Midlands to become the nationwide contender it is now. This issue’s gorgeous cover in Burne-Jones colours is designed by London-based Slovakian designer Petra Stefankova, one of the winners of last year’s 4Talent Awards (for which I had the honour of presenting the New Media award).

cover of 4Talent magazine

Adam Gee: New Media Factual

“I have an upcoming project, codename Sam I Am. I’m busting to tell you about it but I can’t yet [Update SP4 readers: it soft launched today, hence the link]; it’s necessarily under wraps. It’s a very entertaining concept and interactive experience which still manages to convey a substantial meaning – in this case about the diversity of Islamic culture, and the narrowness of most of our experience and understanding of it.

The commission I’m most proud of: The Big Art Mob. It applies new technology and media behaviours to a worthwhile public task: mapping the best of Public Art (from bronze geezers on horses to Banksys) across the UK. Interested people from all around the country and beyond (we’re big in Brazil) are photographing artworks on their mobiles and uploading them to the map, having a good online natter about arty stuff along the way. You can interact wherever you are – I’m particularly proud of the WAP (mobile) site at bigartmob.com/mobile. It’s been nominated for 3 Baftas alongside the likes of the iPlayer and Dr Who, so it’s punching above its weight in true C4 stylee.

In the way that Big Art Mob finds a worthwhile purpose for moblogging (mobile blogging) I want to find missions and purposes for other emerging interactive tools and technologies like, say, Twitter – in itself geek masturbation and possibly the end of civilisation as we know it, with a creatively conceived context perhaps something exceedingly good.

I’ve spent the last 5 years at Channel 4 exploring what public service means in a digital world – from Big Dig to Big Art Project, and one or two projects that don’t even have ‘Big’ in the title like Picture This and Empire’s Children. But Big is important: ambition, scale and impact are all vital.

Cross-platform and interactive media is what’s pumping the nads* of the telly industry right now, and it’s vital to its future. All the creative and entrepreneurial energy is welling up in these areas and Channel 4 is ready for action.”

* [John Bender is absently tearing up books]
Andrew Clark: That’s real intelligent.
John Bender: You’re right. It’s wrong to destroy literature. It’s such fun to read. And…
[examines title] …Moe-Lay really pumps my nads.
Claire Standish: Moliere!

Human Footprint

Calculate your human footprint now

Skin Up

The Big 4

The blue wrap came off. The Big 4 saw the light of day. A real buzz was released into the air around the Channel. Big Art, bold creativity.

The Minister for Culture Margaret Hodge unveiled the 40’ high figure four based on those much admired idents on Channel 4. On the approach to the Channel’s Richard Rogers designed headquarters in Horseferry Road (London SW1), the 4 stands three and a bit storeys high. The structure forms a figure four only from a particular angle, just like the on-screen idents masterminded by Brett Foraker. The concept of the TV graphics is that the four only comes together for a fleeting moment. So, strictly speaking, the Big 4 should be viewed walking by, no stopping.

The structure has been skinned by leading British photographer Nick Knight. He is the first of four artists to tackle the task over the coming year. His approach: skin the figure with images of people’s hearts – from the outside. White skin, black skin, brown skin, the patchwork that is modern Britain. Stand in the middle and you can hear the beating of a heart.

In three months it will be the turn of Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui, and then the marvellous Mark Titchner. The last skinner will be the winner of a competition run in conjunction with the Saatchi Gallery.

The Big 4 celebrates 25 years of Channel 4 Arts and the launch of the Big Art Project – an innovative, bold cross-platform initiative involving a 4 part documentary series from Carbon Media, the commissioning of 6 new works of public art across the UK – from Beckton to the Isle of Mull, and the first comprehensive map of public art in the UK in the form of the Big Art Mob – a mobile blogging initiative where people photograph public art they know and love and send it from their camera phone into a visually led blog and a Google Map mash-up, the Big Art Map.

Today I had a meeting at the Public Monuments & Sculpture Association with its Chief Executive Jo Darke to make sure the Big Art Mob complements what the Courtauld Institute-based research project has been doing. We (Jo, me and sculptor Nick Pearson) had a fabulous chat in a tranquil corner of Somerset House animated with passion for public art. What I so love about this interactive commission is it’s so adaptable to partnership initiatives. From arts & disability groups to the Arts Council, from Kew to specific creations like Aluna, Big Art Mob is an easy, accessible way to record, explore, enjoy, engage with public art in all its forms.

The day before the unveiling Montreal-based Mexican-Canadian multimedia artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer revealed his idea for the Big Art piece in Cardigan on the Welsh coast to the local community. Home of the first Eisteddfod, hub of the oral tradition; point of departure for America in the 19th and early 20th centuries; Lozano-Hemmer has really got under the skin of the place and distilled in a work based on buoys floating just off the river bank, collecting and projecting back the voices of the local population and interested people beyond.

There’s 2,800 job cuts being discussed at the BBC today. That’s over three times the size of Channel 4. What the Channel lacks in bulk, it makes up for in size of ambition, degree of creativity and scale of idea. Sometimes it’s good to be the underdog. Between Saturday’s unbelievable England rugby match in Paris and yesterday’s unveiling of the Big 4, I’m totally c!h!a!r!g!e!d.

Known Pleasures

Control

Walked down the road last night to the Phoenix Cinema to a preview screening of Anton Corbijn’s new film Control about Ian Curtis and Joy Division. Corbijn came to England from the backwaters of the Netherlands in the late 70s as a photographer and spent his first 14 days here tracking down the band Joy Division to take their picture. He went on to direct videos for them and others of that generation like U2. He re-mortgaged his house to finance this film so it’s a real labour of love from a person with a first-hand perspective of the characters and events.

One of the characters showed up after the screening for a Q&A chaired by journalist and producer Paul Morley (who also has a first-hand perspective of the post-punk scene in Manchester – including having stood Joy Division up for an early recording session) – the character in question was the bassist Pete Hook.

Unlike today, as Hooky explained, not much of that classic era was recorded for posterity. People didn’t have the cash to film stuff so there’s hardly any footage from the early years after Warsaw evolved into Joy Division or when Joy Division disappeared off the scene for a while for a Robert Johnson-like moment and reappeared transformed with magical qualities.

The band didn’t even have the facilities to record the songs they composed in a matter of hours at Wednesday (2 hours) and Sunday (3 hours) rehearsals. Those great songs only existed in the heads of those four individuals until they got into the studio together, where laying them down was to a large degree an act of memory.

Morley pointed out the key role played by legendary producer Martin Hannett – not just in adding depth to the music but recording it in a timeless way so that Unknown Pleasures shows none of the aging signs of many other records of that era.

The scene that best captured the brilliance of Joy Division for me was the recording of Isolation with Hannett sitting at the mixing desk, fag in mouth and mad hair a go go, with Curtis behind him, alone in the glass booth, singing with sweet intensity.

I also liked the sequence where Curtis crosses the line from his epileptic dancing – which I saw for myself at the Lyceum in London when Joy Division supported fellow Mancs the Buzzcocks in around 1978/9, frankly an embarrassing spectacle at the time – from his epileptic dancing into an on-stage seizure as if brought on by his own intensity.

I know to use the word ‘seizure’ not ‘fit’ because I made a film for the British Epilepsy Association at a location in the very same high street as the Phoenix – entitled The Right Stuff. It was a drama and I had to accurately recreate a seizure with an actress from Byker Grove (who strangely enough I later came across working at the ticket office of the Phoenix when her thesp work was thin on the ground). My title graphics – like Corbijn’s – took their cue from the idea of electrical disruption.

In the same high street I bought, only last year, the copy of Atmosphere whose Pete Saville designed cover Hooky signed for me last night.

When asked which scene was most poignant for him Pete Hook said it was the one in the pub after Ian’s wake – he said it was the most true-to-life scene in the film. All the friends sitting around the table in shock, sorrow, anger and a discordant medley of emotions was very resonant for me too as it had strong echoes of the pub me, Stuart, Carol and co. visited in Southgate after the funeral of our friend Steve. Should we have spotted something? How come he was so up on the phone just hours before, making plans for the not too distant future? Hooky said: We should have known, just looking at the lyrics alone – but you choose not to, don’t you?

Now I’m a huge fan of Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People and, for all the love that’s gone into this and the very impressive performances (the cast play many of the tracks), it’s not in the same class. This is mainly down to the script which hardly has a scene longer than a half-dozen lines of dialogue, which precludes it having much depth. The romance between Ian and Annik, for example, hasn’t much fire – although I liked the detail that when Debbie Curtis finds her rival’s phone number it’s scribbled on the gatefold sleeve of Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Join Hands. Icon is the great track on that top record and the Icon award is what Pete had just picked up at the Diesel music or some such awards before this cinema session. In the audience had been Debbie Curtis, Paddy Considine (24 Hour Party People), Sam Riley (Control) and various other real and fictitious characters from the Joy Division story. According to Hooky, something of a headfuck (he’s a Shameless curser). But a reflection of the dynamic where a largely unrecorded-at-the-time story is gradually pieced together as people work out what went down, an amalgamation of individual perspectives. Pete mentioned how interesting he’d found it watching the recent Joy Division documentary as he heard Bernard and Steve’s interviews – they’d never spoken toegther in that way. It was clear from the emotion in the auditorium last night that Ian’s suicide cast a long shadow.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Steve Simmons, with whom I shared some great adventures

Hacienda of an era

unknown pleasures

I was called to the TV in a hotel room in Lahinch, Co. Clare, to hear about the sad departure of Tony Wilson to the Big Gig in the Sky. My memories and associations of him?…

Only encountered him once in the flesh – introducing the In The City conference three years ago at the ICA, London. It had all the classic Factory ingredients of music cross-fertilising with other arts and media; waving the Manchester music flag; and all being a bit on the chaotic side, too many ingredients to fully bake. On the new media meets music front, he was quick to spot the iTunes imperative and back early commercial music download services.

The Lyceum, London: Joy Division supporting The Buzzcocks – one of the most embarrassing performances I’ve ever witnessed (only just behind Matt Lucas at the Comedy Store) – but embarrassing in a truly original way – little did I know…

It was Atmosphere which really enlightened me with regard to Tony’s Factory – so here’s a good juncture to tip the hat to Martin Hannett. The scene with the drum kit on the roof of the studio in ‘24 Hour Party People‘ captured his contribution fabulously.

Buying Pete Saville 12″ covers in that little oasis in East Finchley, Alan’s Records. Tony drew in and nurtured some wonderful creative talent around the big boys of Joy Division and Happy Mondays. His consistently extravagant praise of Shaun Ryder’s lyric writing was admirable in its loyalty and provocation …and, of course, passion.

And that pretty much summarises the fella – loyal (to his native town, to his Factoryfolk – like humouring Saville with his post-gig tickets to be proud of); provocative (the clip on Newsnight the other evening in Lahinch paying homage to The Third Man in a ferris wheel [or was it the London Eye?] “And what did London produce? …Chas and Dave!”); and passionate – a man who makes records where the beautiful sleeve costs more than the retail price of the record does indeed wear his heart on his sleeve. Enjoy the unknown pleasures, Tony, you deserve them.

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