Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Votes For Women Plese

I found this written on a tiny yellow piece of paper on my daughter's bed this morning. The children's mother in Mary Poppins was a Suffragette and this has led to an obsession with the movement bordering on insanity. I refused to buy a long paperback on the subject a few weeks ago and was met with a sulk which went so far as to include a refusal to leave the shop and a sit down protest; all that was missing was some railings and a chain. It was a pity that the only related TV programme about the subject was a Mark Steel Lecture on Sylvia Pankhurst which going on previous shows would not have been suitable. We did let her stay up for the Mitchell and Kenyon programme on Friday and she was glued.

Why is it that waking up in the middle of the night can leave you worrying about things which seem inconsequential in the morning? I was woken by the standard "I'm thirsty" request at about 4 O'clock this morning and then lay awake with all sorts of nightmare scenarios running around my head. Now they are like so much mist on the horizon rapidly being burnt off by the sun. Oddly enough the shuffle on Media player has just played a couple of Blues tracks (Currently I'm So Excited by John Lee Hooker).

Nice to See Sanjeev has married his Granny.

Read this right through to the end.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Albert Haddock Who Discovered Fish

Listening to Triple Quartet by Steve Reich

Mr Reich has been on TV and Radio a lot recently and seems to have won the competition for the Greatest Living Composer in the USA. Much as he is my favourite American composer I would really have given that to John Adams.

I transferred all the VB note generator software to the new PC over the weekend and found that the new midi instruments sound more genuine than those of the old set. The vibraphone and marimba especially, sound as real as possible. I set up the program to not only change the melody by one note in each 32 played but to add and remove notes in the same time frame. This means that with starting keys and instruments set for each of the four channels you can start with no notes on the board at all and leave the machine to run creating a completely random construction. After a while it begins to get a bit muddy so I need to keep a count of the total number of notes in each bar and weight the removal of filled in notes after this point to keep a general level of 'filled-in-ness'. Changing key randomly is also an option but has to be done sparingly as you have to have a few bars to get used to the new key.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Different Trains

Different Trains was originally released with Electric Counterpoint which at the time was my favourite piece of the two. However, over the years the beautiful melodies of Different Trains together with poignancy and driving rhythms have worked their way up to be rather special. Different Trains is being used in a programme about the music of Auschwitz. Steve Reich was on In Tune and seemed so touched that his music is being played at Auschwitz. Anyway, watch the programme if you can cope. Different Trains is powerful and beautiful and righteous. Listen to it.

All this makes me remember something I was thinking about last night. The poem I put up yesterday was about something pretty horrific and yet the act of writing it seemed to differ emotionally only slightly from when writing a poem about summer solstices past or flowers and trees and skies. There is of course the outrage and anger but poetry all boils down to a form of entertainment. So much poetry is about things gone wrong, the negative aspects of life. Maybe art should be separated from entertainment. So much of TV and other popular culture these days seems to be about pure entertainment, with no challenges. When most people's lives have so little real danger about them, then shouldn't they look to challenging and serious stuff for answers? Freud said something about wars being needed to remove certain desires from society but do we really need wars every few years just to stop the kids smashing up bus shelters?

Sometimes I wonder why I bother with all this. Self-doubt is always the best form of doubt. Doubting someone else always has the possibility that you are wrong. With self-doubt you are starting from a position of knowledge - as Adrian Mole would say.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Could be the worst day ever!

Thinking Too Much

A throwaway this morning,
a dark shake of the earth around me.
It is a dead night nearly done,
and he wind whispers the names
of all the drowned against the windows,
with the whole sea atomised and airborne.

Love has no place outside,
will all those dead eyes
and sleeping trees
but is warm with sleep
and fog of troubled nights,
the dreams of children

left behind by arguments
that made you miss the shouts
so they have to take you out.
You feel for faceless shadows,
the dusky darkness of the tyranny,
that fed you, had you calm.

They show us some bad men,
the black and white of lists,
a retreat into technology
and all the comfort of their figures.
Here's a figure for you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A big, Huge Fish in the Ocean

Listening to It's My Life by Talk Talk

The trouble with this song for me is that I couldn't really tell when DJs stopped playing Talk Talk's version and started playing No Doubt's. There didn’t seem to be any time between one and the next.

Important book you should have - The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language by David Crystal. Strangely readable and good for dipping into.

Strange coincidental story on the BBC today.

I hope that all this stuff about language has made you realise that I finished the Genie book last night. The story of Genie is one which seems to require a resolution of a high order to leave the reader feeling that her treatment was not in vain. There is no resolution of this nature. The main players sometimes seem like ogres and sometimes like saints. In the end you like them all despite the fact that at least some of them caused the problems which had Genie retreat back into the shady world of US welfare. Forgive my obsession but now I find myself wondering what Genie is doing now. Is she in that institutionalised state glimpsed in the last pictures described in the book or has her celebrity and residual desire to help of the various scientists lifted her to some sort of normality. It was nice to see that the Riglers, a psychiatrist and his wife who took Genie in have seen her after many years and were greeted by name. I also read that Susan Curtiss who worked with Genie ('experimented on' if you want to be less charitable) has hopes of seeing her friend again.

There is a point towards the end of the book when the author sits with Curtiss at her home while her husband entertains the kids. After the technical talk, Curtiss remembers enthusing about Genie to her husband who replied that no person could ever live up to the descriptions she gave. On meeting Genie he said, "Why didn't you tell me?" Genie sometimes seems like a modern day spirit, an adept with no ability to structure language but an infinite ability to make her ideas, beliefs and feelings known to other people. The old cliché of non-verbal communication is an apt one here. I thought about this lack of syntax and it came to be that we could all speak with no syntax, just use a stream of nouns and verbs with inflection and we could probably make ourselves just as understood. Who needs well-formed sentences anyway? Not Me. No Way!

I finished the book well before lights out and was about to restart Big Bang by Simon Singh. However the dry facts of this field seemed inappropriate straight after the emotional demolition of another area of the scientific world.

Wherever Genie is I hope she is happy.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Let's go back

Wishing I was listening to :-

More Adventurous by Rilo Kiley

(Not out yet)

The Mitchell and Kenyon collection

Long sentence alert

Dab-hand Dan Cruickshank was at the helm of a wonderful serious of programmes about some 800 rolls of film from the turn of the last Century. These were purely commercial films made to make money from people leaving factories or walking in the park. Maybe we would not be so interested in corresponding film of these things today but from 100+ years ago they are fascinating. This was 35 years before The Road To Wigan Pier and yet so many issues were the same showing that it is really only the last 50 years or so where the difference has been made to the living conditions of most people. For years I have thought about how the life expectancy of the average person was until 100 years ago so low compared to the 80 years or so you can expect today and yet saw that all the famous people from those ages, if they died of natural causes, were so much older than this average. It is clear that living conditions make so much difference. My Dad saw a store in the black-and-white film of Nottingham that he recognised from when he was younger - still before the last war I think though.

Half-way through Genie at the moment. Report on completion.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

As Hard as Chinese Algebra

Listening to Spooky by Lush

There is an excellent article on Tom Waits in Word this month. Now I don't actually have any Tom Waits albums; I maybe have a few tracks on compilations or SoundTracks (Dead Man Walking - of which more another day) but over the years many people have raved about him to me. Some very unlikely fans he has. A mate of mine (who may or may not be a high-up in Mean Fiddler) who didn't look like he would be into any music beyond Bon Jovi or Bruce Springsteen, suddenly came out as a fan or smoky bar stuff and went into a monologue about the various personality traits of each of the band members. Weird in the extreme. I did once lend him Drumming by Steve Reich but I think that was to impress someone at a Job Interview.

Anyway, the Word article has reminded me that Tom Waits was on the soundtrack to One From the Heart which I saw some years ago though only from about half-way through. It was like watching one of your own dreams. It reminded me a bit of Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach (Yes I read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull as well).

Enough of your early-eighties noodling. What goes on in this century? Loud post-punk from half-girl, half-boy band, a realisation (sparked by reading Walden) that age does not always mean wisdom - wish I'd found that out before I got old, annoyance at being interrupted a lot which makes me feel like important points I just have to make are being ignored for the sake of putting a tick in a box. Good Byshe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Ricecar - In Good Faith

All of this is just a story, a wire fiction to keep us all amused or otherwise. I was listening to Norah Jones just then but the next random selection in My Bloody Valentine. Just wait 'til I get that Ipod.

Maybe I should just put up a few sonnets here and be done with it. Trouble is that sonnets take ages to do even if you only bother with the rhymes and not the scanning. I never bother with them any more.

Anyway to the real reason for an early morning post. We got Talk To Her out of the library and managed to watch it last night. It has been a major omission not to have watched any films by Almodóvar and this was a very good film. The IMDB message boards seem to have a lot of quibbling over 'plot holes' though I saw them mostly as brave attempts at a giant, Hardyesque coincidence (If I can't get at least one overblown, literary illusion into each day, I get twitchy). It was a bit like A Prayer for Owen Meany, where seemingly ludicrous and unconnected absurdity suddenly comes together in one big blow-out. The resolution was not quite as sudden in Talk to Me; rather it crept up gradually as little bits fell into place. I am afraid some reviewers take film making too literally. I bet they loved Pulp Fiction though. There were some beautiful shots but then again, the film has a gentle reality about the way it was put together. It reminds me of my rant yesterday about evolved design opposed to designed design. I can imagine that this film was completed automatically as soon as the first shots were made. Maybe that needs explaining but I have to start work so work it out for yourself..

By the way, my wife had to read the subtitles for this one as her Spanish isn't as good as her French.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Hesitation is Dangerous and Distance is Brilliant

City of Ghosts is an article about the state of Falluja after the massive assault by US and Iraqi forces last year. I read it feeling like I was pushing my way through some ludicrous, surreal town filled with a viscous and horrible liquid. I seem to have joined the rest of the world in trying to ignore the fact that Iraq is in no state to hold elections and just waiting for things to fade away.

Having said all this, I was just as insensed by various interviewees in Radio 4's Beyond Belief programme about various beliefs about the end of the world. One person in particular stated her belief that we are living in the 'end times' as witnessed by all the signs listed in that old fallback for religious-minded conspiracy theorists - The Book of Revelation. The world is apparently becoming a worse place than it ever was and this means that God's judgement is about to be visited on us. Oh and as well, we scoffers are proof that this is true because scoffing is listed as one of the symptoms. Can't win that one can we. Well in the long run I suppose but who will be here to say I told you so? The real world is stranger than any religious image of it. I argued with my wife about the ability to appreciate beauty in such things as chemical reactions or mathematical equations. If you are a coder of any sort then I am sure you can appreciate the beauty in a simple elegant way of doing things as opposed to the usual mess of flags and if statements. You could apply this to the argument between design and evolution though of course the analogy breaks down at some point because all code is currently 'designed'. What I mean is that functionality that simply 'falls out' of a process because that process was well designed is always better than the heuristic approach. Maybe one day, we will have code that simply arrives after some form of business rule is input. But then again, what will be the machine code level be?

I suppose that living things are a mess at the equivalent to the machine code level. But they are a working mess after all.

And now for something completely different. Gang of Four. GO4 never came on my radar at the time, apart from the name and maybe a few looks up when they were on the Peel show. Too much music, so little time. This depresses me like everything else. So I have reached the fracture for today. I was so hoping to keep going for ages today but coding beckons.

Monday, January 10, 2005

He's Got A Halo. Is That OK?

We actually started to watch Jerry Springer - The Opera and even my wife said it didn't offend her that much. After a while the sheer weight of swearwords became boring for me and slightly upsetting for my wife though I am sure there are far more offensive things on TV that go completely un-complained about. On a procedural note I was expecting David Soul to sing and was wondering if he was no longer up to the job when the reason became clear. From the few times I have seen anything of the real Jerry Springer he has seemed to be the one bit of reality in all the strangeness. By having the guests and audiences sing they were shown as flawed and awful while Jerry Springer flits around teasing out the things which up the viewing figures. He's a bit like Loius Theroux - to the subjects of the show a concerned and friendly participant but to the watchers an artisan, the creator of the whole thing. Not sure what the Valkyrie was all about though. Should have watched the whole thing.

After a quick listing of all the books I have to read, I have been sidetracked by one I got at the library this weekend. It is Genie: A Scientific Tragedy, a book about a 13-year-old girl who had been kept harnessed to a potty or cot for her whole life, with little visual or aural stimulation. In 1970 she was brought to the attention of the authorities who allowed her to be tested in a similar manner to the King who ordered that two babies be kept in isolation without hearing speech to see which was the first or divine language. I did see a Horizon programme about Genie some years ago. It is clear that the girl was abused by the scientific community as well as her parents. And for all that, the two schools of thought on whether language is learned or innate still cannot agree.

This is a transcript of a PBS programme about Genie.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A Good Day After All

Listening to Crooning On Venus

Today started out as one of those days where every small thing takes longer than normal because of slight under-estimations or simple perverse luck. Tea bags on the floor, laces which have knotted, Traffic lights all at red etc. After such a long run of these events I was convinced that the day was going to one long string of them. And then Radio 3 played Nagoya Marimbas which made me stop in the car in the car park until it had finished. There is something very satisfying about the sound of a Marimba, a deep sound which seems to resonate exactly with the human body. I know that sounds kinky but its more akin to a sense of tremendous well-being (the same sense you get when you feed the pigeons and sparrows apparently). And guess what? The day got better!

Lunchtime seems to be getting away from me here. I am trying not to think too much like Jim in Empire of the Sun but things keep suggesting themselves as good things to do and so go on the list. I still haven't managed to do anything about the programmable In C though I did have both the score and my How to Read Music book in the same hand at one point. Someone here keeps raving on about Half-Life 2 and how I should play it but I know that apart from kicking a few cans to check out how wonderful the physics engine is, I would have no time for it. At least a book is easy to pick up and read. This is just rambling isn't it? I look back at some of the archives and it is hard to see that I wrote them.

Och! Avey!

The 8000 swear words in Jerry Springer - The Opera (warning - site has a warning so .. er .. be warned.) are calculated by multiplying each use by 27 when an instance is sung by the chorus. With a rough bit of estimation that makes about 4 per minute not 1 per second.

The Producers Again

Listening to Reich Remixed

I am not usually bothered by the mutterings of Mary Whitehouse's new crew. Mediawatch is their new name which seems to suggest that they are an official organisation but they are just the normal get-together of concerned though slightly fuzzy old-women - the men too sometimes. However, despite being intrigued by the BBC's decision to show Jerry Springer - The opera, after having heard that it contains over 8000 swear words in its two hours, I began to wonder if the creators had not simply been drunk in a pub one night and one of them said I bet you I can get 8000 swear words on TV. The Jerry Springer Show itself cannot have that many swear words - that is one a second.

Compare this with the wonderful The Little Prince.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

New State Of Mind

Listening to Happiness by Lisa Germano

G'day from all here at Grey-matter central. Well it would be if anyone would talk about anything other than football. I suppose I can't expect a long discussion of the relevance of the hundred years since Einstein's annum mirabilis though of course it's only a hundred years for us here at rest relative to him.

Yesterday I had more thoughts about Feynman's idea about there being only one photon in the whole universe. As photons travel at the speed of light because they are ... er .. light, then relative to anything else, they have no time at all. This makes it possible for one photon to carry all light at once. I'm not sure that this suggestion was entirely serious but it is the trigger for a lot of stuff. What if you could trap the photon? I see the whole universe going suddenly dark and cold. It would be like the sudden creation of a black hole in a lab here on earth - a big deal - indeed, the biggest deal ever.

I shouldn’t read science books just after Christmas.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

And This Is Me

Much reading over the holiday though no work on In C despite taking home a print of the score. The new PC arrives next week so I may wait until then.

To the books.

Presents were :-

Big Bang by Simon Singh

A great book. At first I thought it was just going to be a re-hash of all the history of Astronomy which I already knew but it actually takes it all to a new level of detail without there being too much irrelevant science. I have just re-read the Dead Famous book about Einstein which actually goes into more detail about the time/length/mass transformation equations are derived than Singh's book (it's Pythagoras stupid) but I will let you know the final opinion when I have finished it.

The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins.

This is a bit daunting but looks wonderful. I have it waiting by the bed.

Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction by Sue Townsend

Read this in less than 24 hours - Number One Son stayed asleep for three hours on my watch one-day. Excellent, Cringe-worthy, heart-breaking, nail-biting, wonderful. Not so much poetry which is not nice bearing in mind that I should admit that it was Adrian Mole and not TS Eliot who really started me writing my own poetry.

Final cultural entry :-

My daughter and I went to the Liverpool Phil's Christmas concert to see Carl Davis conducting a range of Christmas Classics from Swan Lake, Lt. Kije etc all topped off with the film of The Snowman with live orchestra. Beautiful; a party Dress and Suit day - all very Radio-Four. I never thought I would see Carl Davis in a bright-red flashy jacket though. More trips are a must.

Too disjointed.