back in december 2012 i blogged about the postcards that dutch church community blossom030 had made, based loosely on my smallritual set. recently a couple of the community visited grace with some visitors from the pkn, and left a set of the postcards for me:
it's great to have the physical set. part of the reason i made postcards was that there's a certain appeal about something you can actually hold, and put on the desk in front of you or pin on the wall. and the keepability gives the idea a chance to sink in and do its work. so thanks again to blossom030.
i'm now working on a second church set, and i produced a workspace set to cause a reaction and open up some conversations on my return to work this month. of course, the church and workplace sets can be shuffled together :)
painjerk is wearing a t-shirt that reads 'anal aunt morbid florist' except that the a in the second word is a c. the music he is making sounds like satanic clangers torturing the soup dragon to death. after he finishes, a slim woman in sunglasses comes on and demonstrates the screams of the tortured soup dragon, without ceasing, for 15 minutes.
multiple tap was a two-evening event presenting japanese noise and experimental music. by a novel mechanism the event would only go ahead if enough 'early bird' tickets were sold - the ticket would then be a 'reward' for co-funding the event. it sold out.
17 performers worked in various combinations over the two nights [the second night's combinations worked notably better than the first]. most of the music was intense freeform improvised noise from hacked electronic devices and processed guitars. watch out for your ears when listening to the following clips.
atsuhiro ito played a modified fluorescent lighting batten. you want one. i want one. he is waving the right-hand end of the light over a proximity-sensing sonic device working like a theremin. the sharp eyed among you may notice a woman removing her clothes in the first clip - more of her shortly.
and this is what an all-female group can be. mouri, on the left, is playing modified electronic devices. the intense spotlight has left ms wakabayashi rather, um, over-exposed. obviously we had a more detailed view in real life.
on a much quieter note, takahiro kawaguchi and makoto oshiro improvised ambient sound installations out of various ticking and vibrating mechanisms, plus metal objects thrown onto upturned speakers to bounce and clatter, plus assemblages of found objects and furniture.
also quiet, ko ishikawa played the sho, a small mouth organ of bamboo pipes, soft harmonics like a church organ breathing in and out. also traditional, yumiko tanaka looked like your mother in a kimono, sat down demurely with traditional japanese instruments and proceeded to do improvised violence to them, while reciting spoken/sung lyrics for which i would love to have the translation. her performances were powerfully expressive and musical - it takes great musicianship to deliberately play instruments 'wrongly' and yet so well. it was worth the price of admission just to see her.
for the second evening the audience demographic was somewhat different. at least a quarter were what i can best describe as fat bearded middle-aged musos. all became clear when jojo hiroshige took the stage with makoto kawabata for a session of guitar-scrubbing freakout. the musos worshipped. it was the japanoise equivalent of hendrix and clapton jamming.
after that the climax, a performance by original japanese noise band hijokaidan. bear in mind that the clip below is excerpts from a continuous 20 minute performance. after the initial response of horror or laughter, the only option is to immerse yourself in the torrent of sound.
this year the beer festival was in the modern beurshalle instead of the market halls under the belfort. apparently it had outgrown the old location - it was still pretty crowded in the new one. saturday was like a difficult day on the tube. on sunday there were less foreigners and more locals. we spent four hours or so there each afternoon. it works like this: your entry fee buys you a festival glass and some beer tokens, each of which is exchanged for 15cl [about half a glass] of beer. you can buy more tokens. you also get a catalogue.
this year there were 367 beers available, so there are plenty of descriptions to pore over while sipping your current choice. it's hard to scratch more than the surface, so we tried to cover the range of types, white to dark, fruity to bitter, and tasted one another's choices. it was also advisable to balance the strong beers with weaker ones. the most essential thing, of course, was to get our taste of westvleteren 12, its quality exceeded only by its scarcity. it was also necessary to try the 26% double black, the strongest beer by a factor of two. they only gave half-portions of that. after that we could experiment, based on half-understood catalogue descriptions in dutch, or in everett's case whether the logo was cool. obviously it was forbidden to try anything we could get anywhere else. i wish i'd bought bottles of one or two things at the festival now.
there were nine of us, eight in a very nice house right in the middle of bruges and one billeted elsewhere. this made things easy - five minutes walk from Onze Lieve Vrouwekirk and the museums, ten minutes from Markt or the beer festival. the weather was cold, but sunny at least half the time - perfect for exploring. we bought museum passes and visited most of the major attractions in the centre of town, aided by not having to leave until mid monday afternoon.
of course bruges is beautiful, both in extravagant set-pieces and the winding cobbled streets. i am intrigued by the madonna and child statues everywhere, in niches on houses or on street corners. add in other religious street furniture - the scallop shell, the blessed sacrament image etc - and it begins to look like an old catholic version of my musings around shoreditch urban golf [or vice versa]. i wonder what story or pilgrimage ties these items together, or could do? marian devotions, certainly. are they linked into the procession of the relic of the holy blood? urban fabric as story field.
spent friday at the first alpha-ville exchange, a one-day conference bringing together key practitioners in the digital arts and media. it's hard to summarise such an immersive and inspiring event, which i will be digesting for a while to come. one is supposed to tweet a continuous stream of half-baked snippets from the auditorium, but the real connections revealed themselves over the whole day and on reflection.
all the speakers operate in the ill-defined territory where art, technology, coding, interactivity, design, advertising, animation, environments etc meet. everyone in the room, audience included [no clear boundary of course], was a hyphenate, doing multiple overlapping things as paid employment and as personal projects. nobody knew quite how to describe themselves [people's tags on their badges were almost comically unrevealing], and one of the underlying messages of the day was about finding self-definition and identity outside of the boxes of job or genre. shantell martin's apartment door is covered with stickers saying 'who are you'. stephanie posavec settled on the term 'data artisan' to capture her love of physical craft and labour in presenting complex data.
all the speakers were seeking ways to balance human and digital inputs and processes, often in novel and unexpected ways. kokoro & moi use crowdsourcing methods as a generative device for randomness - in effect, the world as computer. eno henze hacks lasers to produce drawings on photo paper that look like hand drawings. henze, hellicar & lewis and onformative have worked with dancers as a tool to translate human interpretations of music into digital processes. posavec turned the raw data of facebook posts between couples into dance steps marked on the floor. someone, i forget who, spoke of using people and machines for what they are best at. posavec's data mining of literature cannot be done by computers, which cannot understand the contextual nuances of language in the texts she uses. conversely, shantell martin and sougwen chung produce drawings in the kind of generative, iterative way that one associates with computers, and then use them as the basis for digital art in relation to music.
the event was a superb piece of curation in that the speakers and their work spoke to one another in many ways, with themes in common yet divergent approaches and emphases. sometimes the conversation was literal, as an audience question to field about honest presentation of data became something that every speaker felt they had to address.
some disconnected notes:
the importance and use of [hand] drawing, as tool to generate and explore. i should take my drawing seriously.
drawing as an iterative process. draw again and again.
there are no mistakes if you don't know where you are going. use what happens.
the process of making the work is the work.
the format of the medium creates the work. shantell martin began by drawing in a concertina-fold notebook using a very fine pen. her whole subsequent work was generated by this happenstance - the 'endlessness' of the concertina-fold page and the complexity of the fine lines.
good interactive stuff is immediately legible and usable to people who don't know what it is.
all of your practice is important, is who you are. don't accept that one part [eg that can be defined as 'commercial' or 'art' or 'design'] is privileged over the rest.
[23.01.14 first link now points to the event summary on alpha-ville's site]
star cops was a 1987 BBC scifi series, set in 2027, about a nascent police force for the space stations, moonbase and mars colony. at the time it got a poor critical reception, and few viewers due to bad scheduling, and was cancelled after nine episodes. these days it's regarded quite highly, on account of the witty scripts and the relative realism of the settings.
however, there is another layer of charm that was not available to viewers in 1987, from our ability to compare the 'star cops' vision of the near future to the real thing. as you might expect, the space technology is well in advance of where we are - it extrapolates the shuttle era very plausibly, but we will not get there by 2027 even if the commercial shuttle market succeeds. on the other hand, the information technology is far behind where we are now, let alone 2027. the hero has a PDA called 'box', with which he converses like siri. it's the size of a brick, and it's the only one, made by his father. nobody knows what it is, because this is a future without mobile phones or small networked computers. in the first minutes of this episode, below, the characters suffer a familiar mobile phone embarrassment - but the device is a new thing they've never seen before. however, the curvaceous space plane they are travelling to the moon on is still beyond our abilities.
'realistic' near-futures without mobile phones now seem very strange - there's kind of a gap where you think "why don't they phone someone?". this absence, coupled with the post-1980s computers and vaguely pomo interiors make 'star cops' look less like a vision of 2027 and more like an alternative 1990s, where moore's law had applied to space technology while information technology plodded along in a linear fashion. it's the past, but not as we knew it, jim.
i came to star cops via moonbase 3, an equally unsuccessful BBC scifi series from 1973. dirty realism and claustrophobia, yes, but it's set in 2003... which makes an interestingly pessimistic comparison with space: 1999, filming at the same time. the sensible scientific BBC view versus the andersons! perversely i find the latter more 'believable' in a way, perhaps because it conforms to my idea of 'the future', perhaps because it does display more realistic levels of technological progress, albeit in different directions to what actually happened.
part of the pleasure of watching these series is that it reveals the science fiction qualities of our real life in 'the future' - because our everyday technology is way in advance of what was expected in 1973 or even 1987. after watching moonbase 3 i could see how miraculous youtube was, and the machine i was watching it on. shame about the space stuff though.
meanwhile, this photo clocked up over 6000 views in the 24 hours after it was uploaded, and has had another 1700 today and counting. wtf?
i have noticed that my photos are getting significantly more views since the flickr makeover, with occasional viral moments like this one, but the stats give frustratingly little information for the really interesting surges.
another moral might be, seek out the particular rather than the [would-be] universal so that you can work with it in mutual understanding.
but then again, facebook was once very niche...
and the last entry reminds me of flickr, which was doing just fine through years of benign neglect until yahoo acquired tumblr. and flickr was immediately subjected to a flashy makeover that was at once superficial and damaging, all so that yahoo could capitalise on the publicity splash around tumblr and say, hey, we're totally new and happening and competing with instagram etc etc. aside from displaying photos badly and making it hard work to load and scroll through, the reskin badly damaged the social aspects of the site by hiding descriptions, comment threads etc from easy perusal. given the elegance of the flickr app it was bewildering, but it probably looked great as a screenshot in the CEO's powerpoint presentation.
this was a salutary reminder that placing your content on other people's platforms subjects it to their business plans and visions which may not align with your own. flickr was originally created for family and personal snapshots, but was squatted by professional and serious amateur photographers and designers who set up a thriving network of special interest groups. when yahoo suddenly decided to repurpose flickr for teenagers with smartphones, that entire ecosystem was disenfranchised and placed under notice. one long term solution would be a photo-sharing site specifically dedicated to serious photography and design, on a subscriber model. another solution would be site owners who nurture what they have in its uniqueness rather than chasing the next me-too must-have gold-rush thing.
this xkcd post resonates with me. btinternet.com/~smallritual operated quite happily for six or seven years in a 'forgotten' server space, which i only discovered when i ran out of room and couldn't find out how to get more through any official channel. i learned about the actual situation via a fuss in a bt support forum - people who had suffered outages found that the current generation of support staff didn't know that the server existed. unfortunately this alerted bt to the fact that they had a legacy to maintain that wasn't part of their current business plan, so they finally pulled the plug on 31st october 2012. smallritual.org jumped ship in october 2010 to a space generously donated by daniel miller, but even he had forgotten he had it by october 2013 ;)
i like the idea that things can exist for an indefinite time in peace outside of mainstream or commercial attention. maybe it's a reminder of the early internet where, as xkcd says, there were no video ads, or other intrusive monetarisation [because people paid for things].
as of now i'm on sabbatical until 31st march.
the last time i had as much as a month off [apart from being ill] was july 2004. the last few years in particular have been very hard work, long hours, big responsibilities, high pressure, complicated by said illness and then by a year of leg injuries. 2013 was meant to be a year of work-life balance and recovering my well-being, but then our workloads spiralled out of control in an unavoidable way. we just had to ride the tiger. again.
however, i could see that my projects had a clean end at the end of the year. this is very unusual in architecture, because once one project is under construction you are already working on the design phase of the next - which is why the pressure never lets up. seeing the clean end coming i knew i had the possibility of a month off, employer permitting. but when i spoke to my boss i said, actually i really need three months off - a month goes quite quickly [old age!] and three months is more the scale of the recovery needed. and he said, ok make a proposal, but the next time i saw him he said, i've already factored in that you won't be here from christmas until easter. so what could i do but take it? it will be ten years before i'm given another such chance.
in fact i'm not stretching to easter, because it's late in 2014 and my finances would be depleted more than i'm comfortable with.
i will still dip in and out of work a little, because ironically the year's hard work has born amazing and successful fruit, and i want to keep in touch with certain developments. for many years i have been trialling workplace-inspired ideas in a church setting, because employers or clients gave me no chance to do these things in a workplace. this year that changed. i have been able to be highly creative, albeit under crazy pressure, and work is more fun right now. the doors have opened. i was going to develop various workplace ideas anyway in this sabbatical, for myself and smallritual.org, but now i will be able to take them back to an interested audience.
if this sabbatical had happened a year ago, my chief wish would have been to close the door on work and forget all about it for the duration. now i see it as more of a chance to reposition and grow myself and what i do, outside of the day-to-day constraints of project running.
it will of course be great to wake up on 2nd january and know that i don't have to go to work :)
last night's grace may have been revolutionary. 'christmas by numbers' was a christmas-themed version of an old favourite 'communion by numbers'. in the original format the congregation sit in small groups around tables, and each table has nine big envelopes containing instructions/liturgy/stuff to do. when a bell rings, people open the next envelope and do whatever is in it. at a certain point this involves bread and wine.
this time we dispensed with the envelopes. the stuff was in a box, and all instructions and liturgy came via twitter to the devices of people at the tables, mostly without other announcements. the running order and tweet sheet is here. because twitter is public, friends in other places could observe and join in, and all participants could tweet their comments, reactions, and photos in real time during the service, in effect as part of the rolling liturgy. see #XmasByNos on twitter. the playlist for each section was also being tweeted, jonny has published the whole thing here.
i'm not sure if this has been done before. we used sms for the confession and absolution of the original 'communion by numbers' in 2006 [at the very time that twitter was being invented], but this has taken the idea to an entirely different level. the first time we did the sms confession, there was a long delay in the reply and the absolution texts all arrived noisily in the silence before the eucharistic prayer. seven years later we can stream the whole thing live and global.
there is one boundary we haven't yet crossed. dean did the consecration by saying it. but we've been discussing the possibility of consecration by mobile phone since the 90s. it's time to tweet it.
last weekend began with late at tate britain: warp x tate - 'a free evening of performance and installations from warp records and jeremy deller, inspired by deller's work 'the history of the world' [also below].
the event was almost wrecked by the thousands that attempted to get in, in what i suspect to be a cascade effect of social media. it appeared that every hipster in town [or at least in shoreditch] had got word that this was the place to be that evening, probably encouraged by the words 'free', 'warp records', and the way that it wasn't entirely clear from the publicity whether certain artists would be personally performing, when in fact they had created sound art installations and were not present themselves, or at least were anonymous.
i was the only one of my friends to get in, because i arrived early. the queue was already two blocks long, but moved suprisingly swiftly. i then had text conversations with disappointed friends who arrived 15 or 20 minutes later to find thousands outside the gallery and no more admitted. inside, the gallery was uncomfortably crowded, full of people roaming around in search of the party that wasn't quite there.
i didn't see everything due to queues, crowds and sore legs. rustie had filled the turner galleries with rustie-ish ambient sounds booming at high volume - ok but no connection with the art at all. 'summers of love' by hudson mohawke was much more fun - reimagining the chapman brothers' 'chapman family collection' as an acid house party. the people laughed at the art, and the art laughed at the people.
somehow i stayed until 9pm to catch what turned out to be the highlight of the evening: the fairey brass band playing jeremy deller's 'acid brass'. deller had challenged a brass band to perform classic acid house tracks, and the transcription from one form of music to a very different one is a triumph of the arranger's art. as the audience warmed up, the event showed signs of being the rave/party that it perhaps should have been all along.
i have filled my limit on vimeo until monday: still to come, one more brass band clip and the room called 303/808 which presented said synthesisers on plinths and making their characteristic noises. most disturbing artwork of the evening: a movie of middle aged men dressed as ravers and performing a morris dance.
it struck me as curious that most of the people there were only just being born at the time of acid house in the late 80s. i can't imagine an event celebrating the music of my own birth year  drawing roadblock crowds of my contemporaries - because it's less epochal, but mostly because we have our own musical culture from much later. during the late 20th century music was constantly swept aside by newer music. in 1988 we didn't gather to celebrate 1963. in 1977 we buried 1952 [god save the queen!]. but the cultural revolution that remakes society again and again in its own image is no longer in music, but in technology.
at 9am saturday morning i was onsite at canary wharf to help direct the professional photoshoot in my just-completed project. in fact there are still a few things to be done, and the inhabitants are moving in with crates and possessions, so there was a lot of tidying and shifting to get the shots as nick hufton wanted to see them through his lens. am looking forward to the results, after seeing their shots of the last major project i saw through to completion.
so, blogging last weekend in reverse chronological order:
3pm-8pm saturday: with some Grace friends in the church, taping out a new labyrinth cloth for feltham young offenders institution. they kept the original installation kit from st. pauls cathedral after the cathedral tour finished in 2003, and have been running it several times a year for the inmates ever since. we have heard humbling stories of its impact on the young men there, who are in a very low place in their lives - the labyrinth offers a space and time to reflect on their lives and direction in a gentle and beautiful way, and it's sometimes the first chance they have had to do this. it's a great honour to have had a part in that ministry, by however strange a route.
at the start of this year they asked us if we could help replace some of the kit, which of course we were glad to do. this will be the third cloth, but they were still using the original cd players from 2000 - antiques! i'm amazed they lasted that long. now they will have ipod shuffles. and also new LED tvs to replace the CRT ones which were second hand even back then. the VHS video tapes have been replaced by DVDs, and the low res space movie for the planet station has been upgraded to current ISS footage, which gives new life to the original meditation: "you are out in space...", and some people always are, nowadays.
feltham have one of the few spaces capable of taking the original cloth, which was sized to fit the south transept of st pauls cathedral. this is around twice the size of the nave of st mary's ealing, so we could only make half of the labyrinth at once. this of course added an hour or two to the whole arduous process.
i haven't taped a labyrinth for ten years and already had very sore legs after the morning's photoshoot at canary wharf, the previous night at tate britain and several weeks of constant walking around a construction site. after we had finished we went across the road for a much needed curry. i could barely move the next day. today i heaved the folded cloth to work and sent it by courier to the jail.
thanks to richard baker for the 'historic' photos ;) whole set here
When I get home from work I can only handle communication in small manageable doses. Equally i don't want to write loads, which has crippled this blog. What I mostly want to do to restore my soul is play wordlessly with colours and images. Hence the web redesigns which are as much therapeutic exercises in colour as anything else. If I could blog using colours not words I would blog more.
it started as it would go on.
colour is content, right? i changed the colour, so i blogged.
facebook keeps pestering me to 'complete my profile' with information such as my hometown, university etc. there's an apparent assumption that you are defined by your past. but the internet when i joined it was a place where you left your past behind and became whoever you now wanted to be.
facebook offers me strange and random possibilities for my hometown and university, which given how much of this information is openly online is reassuring evidence that the panoptical software doesn't join up [yet]. it compiles from my friends, leading to amusing suggestions that i work for the church of england or went to school in Australia. it doesn't notice that my age makes my hometown and university of little relevance. it doesn't notice that i came to facebook from the internet, not to the internet from facebook. it doesn't account for social mobility.
maybe facebook is being true to its roots as a college-age networking tool where these things still [potentially] matter. and if it wants to advertise effectively to me, it should be asking my favourite brand of shoe, or what i listen to, or where i shop for food. all of these things seem to go unnoticed, in spite of all those online purchases. apparently it takes a human to read a pair of shoes correctly, or to know that shoes are there to be read.
this is what the first few Grace flyers looked like:
and this is what nic hughes did for 1996:
i wonder about the effect of this redesign on Grace's self-image. it told us what we were going to be. that logo, typography and strapline were a template of cool but friendly modernity that still shapes our output and self-understanding 19 years on. identity through design. thanks nic.
that Grace began, but i wasn't going to be there for another three and a half years.
in november 1993 i was one year into a two year unemployment, because the early 90s recession hit architecture very hard. i was living in surrey, not in london, and attending the local methodist church. i was aware of the nine oclock service, but hadn't yet formulated a definite wish to be involved with anything like that. it didn't seem to be an option, as far as i knew there was nothing similar in the southeast [though i wondered why not]. after some boom years in the 80s there weren't many people of my age group left in my church.
my hearing was still recovering after a rave-induced collapse in 1991. i was having twice-yearly hearing tests and had to carry earplugs everwhere [which i do to this day, though they're not used outside very loud environments]. so i couldn't go out, but i couldn't afford to. music was mostly cassettes. having no money, i made mixtapes off the radio. i've been digitising them recently - some are good, some make me wonder at my tastes back then. but you can't delete a track from the middle of a cassette if it isn't so good. or you can, but you get a silence. the world was still mostly analogue then.
i had taken a desktop publishing course - how odd that phrase now sounds! so i could put quark express on my CV, and i had started reading macworld to get a grasp of the field with an eye to buying a mac when i could afford it. 44MHz was considered fast, but PowerPC was just around the corner. i was publishing the church magazine on a real desktop, using a typewriter, letraset, clip art and a photocopier.
I was well aware of the internet but hadn't seen it. i can't remember if i knew about the world wide web yet, but version 1.0 of mosaic was released a few days after the first grace service. so grace and the popular internet are the same age, but only one grew exponentially ;)
when i finally got to Grace in 1997, jonny baker asked me if i had an email address - it was already how the community liked to communicate, and Grace already had a website [here on the wayback machine!]. i had my mac by then - a 7200/90 which at 90MHz was a ferrari compared to my 66Mhz work PC! but i didn't have email yet, because i was renting a room and using a shared phone line. there was of course only one, landline, phone. i had to negotiate usage of the line - generally late at night when no-one was expecting phone calls, via a 15ft cable down the hall to my modem. i still have my first email address, though i have a few more now.
but all that was a little later. in november 1993 my world was analogue, local, and small. it was a quiet period, a dead of winter moment when the branches are bare and the new life can't yet be discerned. and then came the thaw, and a technological revolution that would give me a platform, and Grace and alt worship to give me something to do with it, and a network of friends across the globe... not an easy thing to get without being very rich, in 1993.
sitting here, typing in this blog window, 'online' as usual - what was it like to not be connected to anywhere, anytime? as i've said before, lack of connectivity spooks me. i must try to remember what it felt like to not even know.
** a couple more things:
in 1993 i had no tattoos or piercings.
i notice i've discussed 1993-2013 in terms of technological change. whereas 1973-1993 would have been about social and political change - punk, thatcherism, the end of the cold war, for example.
sitting by me on the central line this evening: thirtysomething man with brand new santa cruz skateboard, the pointy 70s sort with kicktail, white with blue jelly wheels. his new ride?
and a guy with piercings pulls out his knitting, three kinds of wool, complicated. once people had got over their concealed amusement they watched mesmerised by the difficult motion. it probably helps to be tough and handsome if you're going to knit on the tube.