Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Wanted To Believe

They don't want to think about this; they just want to sit, half-asleep and blurry-eyed , in front of the TV while the city carries on outside. Some of us never leave here, fearing that which beats upon our doors every day, frightened even of the gentle stream of warm sea air that falls on our windows and so we keep them closed, our homes sealed against the growing collection of conspiracies and evil-doers. I sit and think of distant places, uninhabited forests and empty grasslands, untouched since the Romans ruled us. Each night I hear the gentle patter of rain on leaves and see through my closed eyelids the not-quite-black of late summer midnight as I put myself in these places. They have always been here, direct links back from now to those ancient times, as clearly a part of history as the trail of DNA that links how we look to those ancient invaders. It's all poetry, rhyme and excited writers, imagining things and places that never will exist and knowing how important it is to keep these things alive in our minds.

From up here, this city is just gentle ambience, a distant thrum of traffic and air-conditioning, sounds which fill this tastefully-lit space between skyscrapers. They keep our rent down and somehow seem to want to look after us and yet we think of them as enemies. We turn to notes to refresh our memories which fail more and more now, broken to fragments of images and sounds by the invisible vapours that filter up from the ground. And so I still dream of the clear, cool night air in those imagined places. And while we fade from childhood to those last days in forgotten corners of white-tiled institutions, we steal the strength of our society, forming bands, arguing points we know we cannot win, inhaling things to make us forget, training our minds to make us remember and failing in everything we want to start. We were a band - we ARE a band, not because of our jabbering, spiky sounds but because we are together and behave like a band, sitting in this van believing in our own futures and that of the world we know we will make better. And all the rest is made of short, meaningless sentences that mirror our music with pertinent observation and deep felt pleas for fairness. And of course lots of money and all that goes with it. I sometimes cannot tell how many of us there are because, to be honest, it all still seems so undefined, that I cannot believe that any of us really exist. Oh - you are thinking that maybe with the money comes drink and drugs and distracting objects of desire and maybe you are right. Certainly I remember forgetting things and feeling as if I had missed important events in my own life. But looking back on everything that has happened since I can first remember things, it is still clear that they really happened and have not just been seeded, planted, forced into my head by shady therapy that reverse bootstraps its way out of memory, leaving me with memories of things that just didn't happen.

It all seems to fall into place too easily though doesn't it? It's like a huge piece of music or writing which must, for balance and euphony, end on particular note or key, or a stressed or unstressed syllable. And then someone comes along and takes out your carefully-crafted ending and it all falls apart - becomes run-of-the-mill - a piece of Hicksville journalism, made so by a single crass use of blue pen. All is poetry - rhyme and rhythm broken down to meaning and beauty and then killed in a single ejection. The world is full of such things. And yet, taken overall, our lives have a train of meaning that no bad ending can destroy. We are a band and we will break up, blown apart by the wind that makes the rain or other meteorological misfortunes - split by the everyday that gets into our idealistic drives and promises and makes us into unresponsive adults, forgetting that we were young and always happy no matter what happened to us.

A single indefinite article too many or too few, and the whole piece fails, leading to foul-mouthed recrimination and the forgetting of all else. Under the feet of marching Romans, in the waters taken in spa towns, between the pages of Doctor Johnson's opinionated manuscripts - in all these and everything else we can imagine existing at any time - we may find fragments of the bones of the people we came from. Remember those links and remember those forests in your visualizations and whatever else your 200-dollar-an-hour shrink recommends to stop the voices and the fears. The air gets into the house no matter what you do, no matter how much you block up the gaps to stop the gas. Today is colder than before, one more day gone. But in a universe without time, you are no older today than you were yesterday. Colder but not older.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Happy birthday Kate!

I know that makes me sound like a teenage blogger but I don't do it often so there. Margaret Mead would be proud of me.

First link of the day is to this site on which you need to keep your eye. It is the home of the Orwell Diaries, the entries of which will be put up on the days corresponding to when they were written starting in 1938 - like Pepys Diary here. To keep your interest until they start, here is the BBC article on same. I have to confess that I don't remember hearing the phrase "gramophone mind" before but it describes current spin and business-speak beautifully.

We had a wonderful thunderstorm last night - mostly just flashes above the clouds rather than any defined forks to the ground which greatly disappointed daughter but son and fried were happy enough to stand in the porch squealing at every prolonged rumble and sudden increase in rain. It left the air an awful lot cooler and fresher as well which has been very welcome after several nights of airless semi-sleep. The closest it got to use was about two kilometres if you want to use the "bastard French system" which is the extremely uncharitable way of describing metric measurements I read recently. I know all the arguments about Imperial units being tied to human experience and how the break-down makes for east division but when we all have calculators, it is so obviously sensible to use factors of ten rather than the old arbitrary divisions. I know as well that most of us oldies understand height in terms of feet and distance in terms of miles but, in a nice link, we are back to the "gramophone mind" where we only understand the figures because we have used them so much. I see human height in terms of feet and inches but short distances are always in centimetres in my head. This is obviously a bad thing but don't Britons always use Centigrade for cold figures and Fahrenheit for hot ones?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Canonicity is in Dispute

Listening to Limbo by Throwing Muses

At last some real rain!

Did you know that the first commercial fax service was set up in Paris in 1865? I seem to remember some urban myth about the very first fax message getting lost in the wires somewhere and suddenly reappearing decades later. In these days where computers inhabit every stage of the transmission lines it would probably be possible for this to happen but as the first faxes were set up across telegraph wires with no storage capability in between the only possible way for such a delay to occur would be for the signals to keep bouncing around the various lines without ever reaching a destination. Reminds me a bit of the Delay Line Memory used in early computers where the various bits representing a value were pulsed through a slow propagation medium such as Mercury before being sent back to the beginning again after being boosted a bit.

In turn I am reminded of an afternoon radio play about an academic who, after a mysterious tip-off, discovered what look like the original manuscripts for Shakespeare's plays addressed to him care of a remote railway station. He arranged for a small piece of the paper to be tested to prove its authenticity and had the rest sent on to him. However, it never arrived being sent, apparently mistakenly, to someone else. The implication was that somebody, possibly Shakespeare himself, had started the bundle of papers on its way all those years ago and rather like the idea of it being safer to send diamonds through the post than via security van, the manuscripts were kept safe and on the move.

Now in the spirit of James Burke a further connection is that a special Afternoon Play featuring Torchwood at CERN is due to be broadcast this summer - no details of date yet but should be worth a download. We can only hope that CERN does not start spitting out black holes and swallowing us all before it is transmitted. As if! Exciting though isn't it? And of course a collider is sending particles through a medium at high speed and measuring the results in a a manner rather similar to a Delay Line Memory which brings us back in a circle to where we started, rather like a collider itself. The world is full of these arbitrary links and coincidences which while intriguing to pattern-seeking humans are meaningless and not significant at all. For instance, the first page I read last night featured a description of the Pier at Weston-Super-Mare. Spooky or not? Definitley Not!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Do Octal as Well!

Our house reverberates with Tardis noises at present - though last week we were treated to three over-flights by a Lancaster as well, which is beginning to make me wonder if the toy Tardis has become slightly functional. Of course not - we are all rational here - no way could the Tardis tow the Earth. It's just not possible is it?

Talking of weirdness, I was looking at some code the other day which for some reason began to seem as if it was hanging from the top of the screen. This is probably the third time I have had some strange idea of the position of text on the VDU - it has in the past been the first indicator of a painless migraine which culminates in a series of zig-zag rings in my field of vision - but it didn't progress as far this time. Luckily I never get the headaches.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Specific and Strange Routines

Reading page 69 of a novel to see if you'll like it being one of them. Trying track 7 on any album being another. Let us see what that last one throws up hey?

A great start -

Another Green World from ... err ... Another Green World by Brian Eno
Flower from Beautiful Freak by Eels
Taut from Dance Hall at Louse Point by John Parrish and Polly Jean Harvey
A&E from Seventh Tree by Goldfrapp
The Open Window from Victory Gardens by John and Mary

Of course I have ignored all the uncool stuff. I don't have any novels with me so I can't try that and I'm not sure it applies to Java for Dummies.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Precipitational Nomenclature

I had a wide-ranging conversation with someone the other day - it went from various nuclear issues to different types of rain (wonder how that topic started). It made we wonder if there was a web-page detailing the various types of rain run by someone like the Rob McKenna the Quasi Supernormal Incremental Precipitation Inducer in So Long and Thanks For All the Fish. I don't mean the three or four specific and scientific types of rain but the various different feelings - the experience that the rain gives people on the ground. I realise that trying to divide rain up into types is like trying to determine how many colours there are in a rainbow but we shall have a go. The Cloud Appreciation Society would seem like a good starting point but they don't seem to have anything other than the rain CD. So today I am starting with Medium-heavy rain mixed with squally, medium-to-heavy winds - rain that can occasionally, with help from the wind, get inside the house under the doors and will sometimes get across the room inside if the window has been left open. Days like these are quite cold but often refreshing after long periods of stifling heat. This sort of rain smell specifically like a corner of the garden from many years ago before we started using chemicals to help it out.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Infinite or Billions - one or the other!

Youngest has a number of cuddly toys though his naming choices are slightly bizarre. Well Lego as the name of a dog is OK - witty even but not particularly strange. However he has called one of the cuddly dogs "Engines of the Little Railway" probably after a Thomas the Tank Engine Poster. I suppose it was a name of least resistance - look up for inspiration and there it is on the wall. I am vaguely aware of a bad joke along these lines.

I am still listening to the rain CD. Rain has no connotations - no associations - it just swallows up the background thoughts that clamour for attention over whatever primary processing is going on. It is like the cusp of catastrophe theory - it stops the negatives building up to overwhelm the neutrals and the positives. Each track fades out and that leaves me back in the room - wondering at the silence, though like 4'33'' it often makes me acutely aware of the sounds that normally fill the air without getting anywhere near consciousness - the hum of the air-conditioning - the general hiss that is the sum of all technologies in an office such as this. It seems that the computers, printers, phones etc on their own produce no audible sound but together build up into a sort of silicon big-bang whisper that comes from all directions - the inside equivalent of the distant traffic hum that fills every city or the vaguely natural sound of an absolutely still rural setting.

I go through phases of wanting to listen to either CDs or the radio while I am driving home - it seems to fit with how happy I am at the time with the radio being the background to the negative moods. This is talk radio of course and to be absolutely specific Radio 4. Tuning "in to some friendly voices" as Kate Bush has it. I am not sure what the detractors of the BBC want to replace it or what level of culture they would actually like to see in this country. What I am sure about is that it would be possible to distract them either with a nice line in tank-tops or a few angels and nice shiny pin. Of course the BBC is flawed - biased in its coverage at times - but a discussion of bias should not in itself be biased let alone a magnet for racists, homophobes and all manor of ineloquent commenters. I suspect the bottom line is that people do not like having to pay for something they don't choose to watch though I am sure that there are very few people who refuse absolutely to watch anything on the BBC for that reason. As we hear rumblings of a change to the allowed number of advert breaks in commercial TV, what can we expect of the future?

I realise of course that, like the (possibly legendary) idea that all insurance breaks down if you drive around l'arc de triomphe, all bets are off for Bonekickers which is so truly awful that it has looped around through the torus-shaped universe of culture and come back on itself as unmissable. The most intriguing issue about why this might be is that the writers responsible for this Sixth-Form idea on liberalism and equivocation of the past, are the same as those who wrote Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes. Has the script been got at by someone?

Friday, July 18, 2008

If Hugh Bonneville Wants To Know, Then No I'm Not!

I was called sad last week for knowing that Delia Derbyshire "realised" the original Doctor Who theme so it was interesting to see this article today. The experimental track - which she goes to pains to explain is "for interest only" - sounds remarkably like a track from The Aphex Twin's first collection of Ambient works. The Hamlet soliloquy is also excellent. I've been thinking a lot recently, about how I always said I would rather go blind than deaf and nothing has happened to make me change my mind - the thought of not being able to hear musical gems and trinkets such as these is just impossible to contemplate. I have also been thinking that I need to just start recording ambiance but I do not really have anything to do that with. I want one of these.

I have also managed to create a simple program for phasing two identical sound loops in the style of Come Out though from trying to find a suitable phrase to loop I have realised that the skill of the piece is selecting the right segment - technically my version is perfect and I have trimmed the sounds to fit a simple march/waltz time exactly - they just seem flat and uninteresting which is very disappointing.

However, thinking about this and the Delia Derbyshire tapes has made me realise how simple such manipulation has become. The early Radiophonic Workshop team did not use synthesisers, as I am sure you know. They instead, recorded natural sounds and re-recorded them at different speeds to create "hard-samples" of each note, re-recording them again in correct sequence to produce melody. The length of time that this must have taken is frightening but produced some extremely memorable sounds which probably exist somewhere in your subconscious today. It wasn't as if keyboard sounds didn't exist at the time - it was just that either they were unaware of or unable to afford them. This reminds me of my Sixth-form attempt to link two school rooms with an intercom we made ourselves (Stop me if you've heard this before). This failed because our soldering and general electronics ability was v. poor. The link was eventually made using two World War I field telephones which we found in cupboards at the back of the Chemistry Lab. Simple use of pre-existing technology is always cheaper than bespoke creation though always a lot less fun. The bottom line of this rambling is that I am aiming to produce something recognisable as music - melody and rhythm without using midi notes or any keyboard input to the computer - all based on cut-up sound phrases through a VB program. Watch this space.

I think I might try and make weather the theme of this piece what with the rain effects and not actually spending as much time as I should on the Cloud Appreciation Society website what with being a member and all. I may need help.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pip Pip to Pip

Listening to Rain, Glorious Rain from the Cloud Appreciation Society

This contains deep, sustained booming sounds which I am sure are not allowed before 09:30 but whatever. It is actually raining here at the moment though not quite as strongly as in these recordings and without any thunder. However, the emergency lighting test in the office has resulted in a few flashes which I have mistaken for lightning. There is also a remote spaceship-type hum in the office which for some reason is made more noticeable by a continuous stream of white noise in my ear.

Daughter is apparently trying to write a novel with five of her classmates. They only have a few minutes each day to collaborate so she has asked if they can come round to work on this story-by-committee. I'm not sure I ever wanted to work with other people on a novel but I did once request and get my dad's typewriter on which I tried to write a play. I am afraid that simple spelling mistakes frustrated me so much that I gave up after the Dramatis Personae. Should have kept a notebook then I suppose. Thinking about it, it was around then that I started carrying small police-style notebooks though looking back on them the single word reminders I put down in them fail entirely to remind me of anything at all.

I so love Transformational Grammar! It seeps into my mind at night and soothes me to sleep. I seem to have worked out what it actually is without any formal training - not even reading that Wikipedia article up there. It is simply an accompaniment to this wonderful music. We have moved on from the rain to Kristin Hersh and other free music. The rain still falls outside, sideways slanted in gusty wind and no summer slouch but rather autumnal and getting into any slight gap in these inappropriate summer clothes. Did you hear about Pip Davenport and how he invented the Carousel? I'm not sure if Pip is real but he seems to exist on myspace. If it was not for having seen the actual handwriting of the two essays I would be thinking that the whole furore was a hoax. Of course it just makes me realise that all this rubbish which I write is not quite as bad as I think. I sleep it seems while the world turns round under me - like the Earth being snatched away as we stand her protected in space by our own thoughts. There ain't no medication is there. Oh that I was Christopher Wren or that there Newton who couldn't really understand the science bit that comes in the middle. Not sure I would like to be Robert Hooke though. Easily bored.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Hammershøi Paradox

I've just finished the Eno Biography which was marvellous in the first two thirds which concentrated on music but seemed to falter a little as soon as Bono and Co. started to feature. The last decade seems to have been skipped over at high speed maybe with a view to getting the book out in under 500 pages. Still, very fine on the pieces that matter like My Life in the Bush of Ghosts and classic Fripp and Eno. Now, as you can see, I am on to what looks like a glorious and intelligent investigation into certain aspects of language by Steven Pinker who has already made me think deeply about the meaning of the word "learned" (single syllable there) and promises to talk about what the meaning of "is" is. Which is quite funny because I am just listening to World Service by Man Jumping on which is a track called The Trouble Is Is. It is obviously to be stored in the Clintonian Institute. In a nice bit of circularity, Brian Eno did once say that Man Jumping were "the most important band in the world." Bet you haven't heard of them.

I managed to stifle a snigger at reading this article about the use of Babylon by David Gray as a form of torture. Because Gray is of course right - compare and contrast the use of this track in a dark, damp room, played over and over until it sticks in the mind for ever and it quietly played in a comforting environment where you have the volume control and the stop button within reach. As Gray says all we see is the novelty value of this story and not the deeper issues. And in the same week we have Christopher Hitchens insisting that water-boarding is torture after having gone through it himself, albeit with a pre-arranged signal if it got too much. You need to read the Vanity Fair article to tease out whether Hitchens actually suports the use of water boarding - I still have trouble working out which Hitchens is which - they seem to be some sort of Schroedinger's Neo-conservative/Liberal or maybe a tangled pair of sub-atomic particles where as soon as you determine the spin of one the other one immediately spins in the opposite direction.