Archive for February, 2010

Martyn Ware talking at Leeds College of Art

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Mr Ware’s opening slide after his intro flashed up a long list of black and white text with bullet points. Just then, a huge man dressed in combat fatigues, stood up at the back of the lecture theatre, produced an AK47 from under his jacket and commenced blasting Mr Ware with machine gun fire whilst screaming in a thick guttural Austrian accent, “Vot do you tink of deez bullet points!”

Then I woke up from my fantasy and realised that yes, Mr Ware was actually reading out the list from his slide and that no intended irony was being employed whatsoever by him doing so.

Jumping ahead somewhat, one of Mr Ware’s criticisms of our current culture, is that it just doesn’t ‘get’ his product when he tries to sell it to them (his main product is sound as an emotional and physical experience). Part of the problem, he maintains, is that the language of sound simply isn’t in place yet. Let me offer a rival theory.

In our current culture, the visual language is well established. It is so well established and so overused in fact,  that only the strongest visual signals register on our consciousness. That means if you have a particular message that you want to get across, you cannot afford to have a weak signal. The language of PowerPoint has been well documented and developed. Bullet-points are visual equivalents of profanity. Perhaps if Mr Ware applied some of his thinking around the language of sound and applied it to his visuals, he might get a better response to his message about his sound product.

OK, rant over, what is this language of sound? Mr Ware described a particular installation he did in some city square. A large number of speakers were placed around the square at different heights and a computer program controlled the projection of sounds and moved them around the square. Thus, the sound of a helicopter could be made to ‘appear’ overhead and move the sound across the square, or the sound of traffic could be channelled down certain avenues. I must admit, this particular example had me amused with its irony. Surely such effects could be achieved by simply sitting in the middle of a city square? A similar irony was raised when he talked about electric cars.

Electric cars make no noise when they move at low speeds and so pedestrians are particularly vulnerable to the danger of walking out in front of them. New legislation would require all silent cars to emit a noise when moving. The question is, what sort of noise should they emit? The obvious solution is to make them sound like cars but this demonstrates an enormous poverty of imagination. Anyone who lives by the side of a busy road will testify to the nuisance noise caused by traffic (that is if they can be overhead). If the opportunity is there to have silence, it should be investigated thoroughly – is there some other way of alerting pedestrians of the presence of cars? If silence is not an option then a more pleasing sound should be considered than that of a clapped out diesel engine. What about using the sound of a woman having an orgasm, or one of children laughing? What about natural sounds – a swarm of bees or the sound of a stream? Running water would be a good choice as an increase in traffic volume, such as on a motorway, would result in a roar similar to a giant waterfall.

To my mind, the one area of real interest regarding the soundscape idea lies in the direction of evoking emotional states. It would be intriguing to experience the movement and texture of sounds from the past, for example, but a large part of me is not convinced that it can ever be more than just a novelty in the same way that 3D cinema currently is (although some people are claiming we are on the verge of a new age of cinema).

It could have been a fascinating evening if Mr Ware had dispensed with his slides and instead rigged up a small demonstration of the soundscape in the lecture theatre so that the speakers could have done the speaking instead. We could have even had some fun. Incidentally, I am available if anyone needs the power of their slides boosting to a stronger signal.

Avatar film review, Bradford Imax

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Gather round people and let me tell you a story. It is a very old story, passed down from generation to generation. It tells of the human condition, of good and evil and how things never change. But more importantly, it tells of the American people and their irresistible ways…

As this film is so BIG in terms of money and award nominations, I thought I would let it give me its best shot on its home turf – five stories of glorious Imax screen, jigawatts of audio power and wrap-around 3D – come on big boy, show me what you got.. aw, you’re just a pussy cat..

And that was pretty much the tone of the entire film; gung ho, macho posturing contrasting with a lot of touchy-feely stuff. Mr Cameron, the writer and director of Avatar, has seen a whole bunch of films in his lifetime, I know this because he referenced so many of them in his film. The list is huge – Matrix, Starship Trooper, Apocalypto, Star Wars, Braveheart, Alien, Princess Mononoke… at one point in the film one of the characters said, “Feel the Force, Luke!” Okay, not those exact words, but it might as well have been. It is impossible to give any spoilers away about this film because if you haven’t seen it already, you will know its story off by heart. It is cliché after goddamn cliché telling the tale about the ‘primitive’ Na’vi people who are at one with nature. Credit where it is due though for Mr Cameron is such an experienced film maker that he makes sure that they are the best goddamn clichés that you will ever feel manipulating your gullible emotions. Well, at least until his next blockbuster.

So what is the fuss about? Well, by far the best worked character in the film is the forest. It is sumptuous, an absolute feast for the eyes. The Enchanted Forest never looked so good. Actually, it did and sometimes it looked a bit too good, rather like photo’s of Barbie on her wedding day which have been airbrushed to a comical level. Although I have to admit the flora and fauna inventions of this gravity defying world kept me entertained for long stretches of the film. Some back room boys somewhere deserve a huge pat on the back for their magnificent achievement.

What disturbed me the most however is the disingenuousness of the story. Ostensibly it is about the American Military-Industrial complex, dispossessing indigenous peoples and slaughtering them because they sit on top of oil (or its equivalent) which is something that the Americans crave and will stop at nothing to own. One of the Americans is ordered to infiltrate these people and discover their weaknesses, except he goes native and discovers their strengths instead (as well as their sexual potency – boy, I bet you didn’t see that coming!). He becomes their hero by flying some big red dragon (only five people in the history of the Na’vi have ever flown the red dragon, we are told) and leads them into war against the Military-Industrial complex (the Americans are particularly good at leading people into war). A fight ensues, our hero asks the god of his adopted planet to help in this fight, which it agrees to do (so now the Na’vi are fighting a just war with god on their side.., hmm, where have I heard that before?), the Military-Industrial complex gets beat and its minions are summarily despatched back home. The End.

Except it is not about that, it is about the American ideology of Imperialism presented in a disguised way. Our sympathy is on the side of the Na’vi who are at one with nature (although we have to ask in what way do the big red dragons – and the other flighted people carriers – benefit, especially as they are killed in the fighting?) but they need the help of the clever American to organise them, to lead them, the clever American who also rode the fearsome red dragon, the clever American who stole the heart of their princess with his acts of daring and cunning…

This is propaganda of the highest order. We think the friendly Americans come in peace and they understand us and want to be our friends but secretly they just want to screw us over and screw our women too. Ha! I’m not that stupid, Mr Cameron.

But something more sinister is at play here. As I watched the exquisite detail swarm across the acres of projection screen I was cowed by the sheer, intimidating processing power involved in the creation of every frame of that film. The implied might of their CGI is far more powerful than any of their napalm or helicopter gun ships. ‘What men created this?’ I gasped. I sat in its shadow and trembled.

To paraphrase a line from the film;

“Run! goddamn you, run! These people and their ideology will kill you!”

Then the light came on…

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

wall light with picture

Sometimes it becomes obvious why you should use a professional.

When we were having our living room refurbished, we wanted to put a couple of picture lights in the wall. The electrician came to price up the job and when it came to the wall lights he asked us from which direction we wanted the wiring – from the ceiling or from the floor? We asked which direction would cause least disruption. He said, as we were having extra sockets put in, we might as well have the wiring for the lights coming from the floor as well. Then he told us to mark on the plaster where we wanted to position the lights and he would come in a few days time to cut the channels and lay the wiring.

As I was trying to save labour costs with the refurbishment and had done most of the preparation work, I considered cutting the channels myself for the wiring. It was within my skill set and didn’t need any specialist tools. I thought the job through.. draw a vertical line from the point of the light straight down to the floor, then cut a channel in the plaster about three centimetres wide using a cold chisel.. dust everywhere..

On reflection, I decided that it was going to save very little in terms of cost as it would take the electrician only minutes to cut the channel because he would be practised at it. I passed on doing the job myself.

The day arrived when the electrician was going to complete the job. I left him to it as he gazed upon the plaster wall with a practised eye. I too gazed at the wall and imagined the new gleaming picture lights before going into my office to do some work.

An hour or two later I came downstairs again to check on progress. The room was littered with wire, tools and lifted floor boards. Then I looked at the wall and had a moment of puzzlement. The electrician had cut the channels for the wiring but they were fifteen centimetres to the left of where I would have cut them. Also at about thirty centimetres from where the wall light was supposed to emerge from the wall, the channel took a deviation from the vertical and bent to meet that point.

In a flash, I realised why he had cut the channels like that.

I envisioned the moment when I would eventually want to hang a picture. Chances are, I will only use one nail to hang it and, more than likely, I will want the picture to be placed centrally underneath the wall light. If the wiring had been laid exactly vertically as I had imagined it, then the nail would have interfered with the wiring. By shifting the wiring to one side then bending it in, the electrician had avoided this problem.

Had I cut the channels without thinking the whole thing through, I would have been achieving the exact opposite of what I intended – incurring costs instead of saving them.
This is the  reason we hire professionals; they know more than us (usually) and they are good at what they do (usually).

So if you ever need to refurbish your creativity space, don’t try and do it yourself with any ‘obvious’ short cuts but hire me to advise you with some ‘off the wall’ hints and tips that give you solutions that come at you from a different angle (see what I did there? You could do the same with a little help).

You’ll either get this or you won’t

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

You’ll either get this or you won’t. There is no normal anymore.

All the old models are breaking, one by one. The financial crisis was a wake up call for everyone in society who thought that asking dumb questions was a dumb thing to do. It forced some of us to ask, “Where are we going? What is the ultimate consequence of this path?”

You are reading this because, in one way or another, you have asked these questions yourself and discovered that any sort of answer is hard to find in mainstream media. In which case, I invite you to join our growing caravan of freethinkers on the World Wide Web. This caravan seeks knowledge, for knowledge is power. Unfortunately, to many people, that means knowledge should be patented, restricted, modified, charged for… But this is to misunderstand how knowledge works; when added together, knowledge becomes greater than the sum of its parts. That is its power. Cooperation triumphs over competition. You’ll either get this or you won’t.

I have kept a record of the journey so far and gathered together my experiences and insights into a video presentation called SatNav for the Soul®. It is a story of great adventure.

You may be familiar with adventurers who talk about their exploits in climbing mountains. Mine is a similar story except my mountains are metaphorical. They are the big ideas that shape our very lives but which very few of us ever consider. I have explored them as best I can and now I would like to share some of my discoveries with you – some may empower you and some may surprise you.

You’re probably asking yourself, ‘How can SatNav for the Soul® help me?’ This is a tough one to answer because most people value those things that are the least useful to them. So if I said, “It can empower you”, a lot of people would want to interpret that as, ‘it can increase my income,’ which has the whole thing backward. Don’t get me wrong, money is useful but increasing your income begs many questions that need to be answered first. You’ll either get this or you won’t.