Archive for the ‘monkeys’ Tag

4 things I love about Peter Gabriel

On Friday I bumped into an old colleague at BAFTA, Tom Dolan of the Government Digital Service, who said he’d spotted me coming out of a Peter Gabriel event the other day. Which reminded me I’d been meaning to write this, it was majorly inspiring. The event was set up by The School of Life and centred on Peter Gabriel being interviewed by philosopher (and bit of a fanboy) Alain de Botton. PG came across as humble and connecting. The setting was The Emmanuel Centre in Marsham Street, just behind Channel 4 yet I’d never suspected that behind the modest door lay a massive, magnificent circular church auditorium. In the queue I bumped into an old C4 colleague & friend, Jan Younghusband, then Commissioning Editor for Arts & Music at C4, now Com Ed for Music & Events at the Beeb. Also Mike Christie, director, whose work includes one of my favourite shows during my time at the Channel, Jump London. (My other favourite is one of Jan’s, The Cost of Living featuring the DV8 dance company.) Mike’s a one for interesting buildings – I recently watched his modernist architecture series From Here to Modernity which inspired me to go back and look at the Isokon building in Hampstead.

 

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1. He’s ever curious

This video was shown which blew my mind. It’s an ape learning to play the keyboard through its own exploration. At c.1’48” you can see it discovering the octave. PG is just a few feet away harmonising in the background.

 

You can see the set-up here:

 

Now (a) I love monkeys and (b) I reckon we’re just bald ones so this was guaranteed to appeal: the notion of communicating with our simian cousins through music which, as PG pointed out (a PG Tip) is the most direct and non-rational of art forms. As Walter Pater put it:

All art aspires to the condition of music

i.e. to that direct to the heart&soul unmediated non-material nature.

 

2. He’s a great collaborator

Kate Bush & Sinead O’Connor are two that particularly stick in my mind…

The Don’t Give Up video by Godley & Creme.

Blood of Eden

 

3. He was great looking

Captured particularly well by Robert Mapplethorpe – I remember this shot jumping out at me at a Mapplethorpe exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery (?) because of that white V and the downward eyes.

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Peter Gabriel by Robert Mapplethorpe

 

4. He has an open mind

Whether it’s his championing of world music through his Realworld label and WOMAD festival or his embracing of interactive digital technology (and apes) he has a most admirable and inspiring openness. When I won the very first Interactive Entertainment BAFTA Award in 1997 with the MindGym team the main nominee we beat was Peter Gabriel’s Starship Titanic game made with Douglas (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe) Adams. It felt very much like the young upstart had triumphed. His work with Amnesty International. His campaigning for South Africa in the wake of Steve Biko’s murder. His wide-ranging interests and boundless enthusiasm remain an inspiration to young upstarts across the globe.

 

 

Picture of the Month: Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)

Self-portrait with monkey and parrot frida kahlo 1942

I’ve never written a Picture of the Month in situ before but it’s a rainy Spring afternoon in Buenos Aires and I feel so inspired by this painting in the Malba gallery that I feel compelled to get a bit of energy out of the system. I’m dedicating this one to Una who would love this painting.

Worth making the trip to Buenos Aires for this alone

Worth making the trip to Buenos Aires for this alone

What’s unusual is that in many ways it’s a very simple painting, not much to work with – the artist, a monkey, a parrot and a background of wheat. Usually I pick images with more complexity to focus on in Picture of the Month.

I’m about 20 inches away from it now, phone in hand to jot this on.

It draws people to it

It draws people to it

The eyes (woman, monkey, bird) make an equilateral triangle which is the heart of the composition. Frida’s look slightly left like she doesn’t give a monkey’s about the viewer. Her lips are tight. Her cheeks red. There’s a bit of anger or disdain or probably defiance there.

The parrot looks straight out with both of its side-mounted eyes looking directly at the viewer – the only one of the three doing so. I saw a green parrot like this yesterday up in the trees at the bird sanctuary across town by the port, the Costanera Sur ecological reserve at Puerto Madero. Incongruously some distant relatives, also bright green, hang out occasionally in the allotments beside my house.

The monkey is looking out of the frame to the artist’s left – only one black eye visible like a Jack of spades.

Frida’s hairband is green and yellow like the parrot. Her hair is black like the monkey. She is integrated with them. Are they two aspects of her? Talking and thinking or feeling? Her parents? Her children? Two people she knows? Two aspects of Mexico? No clues really – maybe they are just two animals or familiars.

The parrot sits on her shoulder. Not much sense of its weight. The yellow and maroon dress she is wearing is flat and unruffled, making the parrot not quite of this world.

The monkey is embracing her, an arm behind her back and one on her shoulder. They look close whoever he/she is. It’s got a little quiff. Its face is at once baby-like and old, more the latter.

His (why do I keep thinking it’s a male?) fur links to her amazing gull-shaped monobrow through the shared colour and her unflinchingly portrayed moustache. She has black eye-liner echoing those eyebrows. The lip hair reflects them. So some strong X-shaped geometry is the focus of her face.

The background of wheat reminds me of Van Gogh. The yellow is related to his sunflowers. The tendrils at the top suggest growth and something of the jungle. The shapes also remind me of Rousseau’s vegetation.

…on reflection, I don’t think it’s wheat. I think it’s some kind of exotic jungle plant. So we’re in a Latin-American jungle world albeit of a light and limited kind, no sense of enclosure by trees.

frida kahlo painting artist painter

After 20 minutes standing here what do I take away about this beautiful picture? It’s more for Frida than for us – or at least she’s giving us only so much. The rest is hers.

A touch of defiance?

A touch of defiance?

Never looking directly at you

Never looking directly at you

What's with the monkeys?

What’s with the monkeys?

...And the feathered friends?

…And the feathered friends?

self-portrait-with-monkey-by-Frida-Kahlo

frida kahlo painting monkeys

self-portrait-with-necklace-of-thorns-1940

Here’s the last Picture of the Month – as you can see the series title has a touch of irony about it.

Music and Writing (Day 26)

Jim-Morrison-the-doors

Wordsmith and Lizard King

A much more productive day than yesterday though still a tester of resilience with various things going wrong from hardware to software to children to somehow having gotten myself involved in a speaking engagement with some very daunting people on the panel (one of whom recently referred to Channel 4 commissioning editors as wanking monkeys – that should make for a fun encounter).  But I set up five interviews with people connected to Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop. And had a good writing burst in the afternoon fuelled by a rather good playlist I made for a party recently.

It’s funny that thing of writing or working to music. I was listening to Daniel Kahneman (the Israeli-American psychologist, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Economics) on a Desert Island Discs podcast when jogging the other morning and he was saying how he only discovered in recent years that he worked much better without music, after a lifetime of writing with music playing in the background. In the morning I worked with some tranquil classical music which is the half-way house for me between silence and working to Music – I don’t resort to it often. I generally play non-Classical instrumental music when writing. For years I worked to Kind of Blue on a daily basis when I had my own non-open plan office. Never tired of it, often inspired by it. So yesterday’s session did hit that ‘flow’ state a couple of times on the back of some 60s soul and the like, one of my rarer non-instrumental sessions. This morning I’m going non-instrumental too – Strange Days by The Doors (carefully skipping Horse Latitudes which only a maniac could write to).  Let’s see where the spirit of Jim takes us…

In the meantime, any suggestions for music conducive to writing, favourites that work for you?

Miles Davis Quartet

Tunesmith and Jazz Prince

4 things I learnt from The Story

tim wright and rob bevan

Tim Wright tests his sense of balance

Today I spent at the excellent The Story conference at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, organised by my fellow Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, Matt Locke (a labour of love on his part). The theme was stories and story-telling – little theory, no money talk, just narrative and tales about tales. So what I learnt…

1) The best conferences (like this one) have only two outputs – Inspiration and catalysing Connections between people.

2) The best comic books have a layer of history, a layer of mythology and a layer of contemporary relevance as evinced by Sydney Padua‘s Lovelace & Babbidge. She showed the development of  their new adventure Vs The Organist which combines Victoriana with Orpheus & Eurydice with proto-geekage. Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a similar combo, a bit more literary, and it’s top of the tree for me. (Talking of trees, the frames in the new story where a band of monkeys break into Babbidge’s office and drag him off to the underworld gave me a sudden flashback to a game we played as children with plastic monkeys, something I hadn’t thought of for decades- there’s so much buried in these memories and imaginations of ours, and connection, especially surprising connection, is the key to creativity.)

3) The best stories combine profound emotion and humour. My old friend and colleague Tim Wright stole the show with his Harrison Fraud story. It’s about a mad time when he tried to convince his business/creative partner, Rob Bevan, that Harrison Ford wanted to work with them. The comic story of facial hair and faked letters was punctuated with insights into Tim’s marital struggles, recounted with an unflinching honesty. That willingness to confront difficult themes head on – as demonstrated equally in Tim’s wonderful In Search of Oldton project which has its roots in his father’s tragic death – is what raises his stories to special heights. Tim and I worked together on the writing of MindGym back in 1996, a game about creativity, Rob worked on it too programming and designing  – it was a landmark project for me, drawing me into the world of non-linear story-telling and interactivity, and I learned a wealth from Tim’s methodical approach to scripting. I remember sitting with Tim in a bar in Clapham Old Town, asserting my dedication to film-making and that I’d be giving up this interactive thing before too long, not really my bag. 14 years down the line and here I still am.

4) The best fiction is less strange than truth. The day was rounded off in style by a besuited David Hepworth, he of The Word and Smash Hits, who told a lovely circular tale of the passage of wisdom from father to son to grandson via a bespoke tailor’s in the Yorkshire village he grew up in. It involved the coincidence of a suit being made for him unknowingly by the tailor who had made his father’s suits. It reminded me of my wedding ring. I wear two rings – the wedding ring my wife gave me in the top O of the OXO Tower by the Thames when the O X and O were all floor-to-ceiling windows and the tower was still a building site, and a plain silver ring I bought from a stall in Camden market several years before. To cut a long Irish story short it turned out that the posh jeweler in Gabriel’s Wharf and the Camden stall holder were one and the same person from Inishowen in Donegal (where my wedding ended, 60 miles down the road from its start point in Derry). This stranger than fiction coincidence came to light one day when I was chucking out old chequebook stubs and I found the £10 cheque I’d bought the silver ring with. Recently I’ve had another such experience where I came across the same person (Pippa Harris of Neal St Films, Sam Mendes’ business partner) through two totally different routes – one starting off in a novel I was reading, The Great Lover by Jill Dawson; the other through judging the RTS Single Drama Award for work – the true-life story weaving through all manner of themes from Rupert Brooke to Wikipedia. It’s coincidences and dynamics like those that make life worth living.

I had a quick chat with David Hepworth on the way out about the merits of The Word podcast (very good for jogging I said, great for repetitive domestic tasks he countered) – it’s the very best on the Web, a chat with friends over the kitchen table. Leaving the period lobby, it felt great to have spent the day in Conway Hall with its radical, left-wing vibe. It was here that I took my first published photograph – one of  Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone that appeared in An Phoblacht, the Irish Republican newspaper. But that’s another story…

barrel of monkeys

Monkeys test your sense of balance

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