Getting back in the groove

Well, here goes nothing!

Having been to various galleries and museums and so on over the past few months, I can feel the long-dormant drawing bug stirring in the back of my head. I might even have a go at some comic stylee panels as initially mooted (I guess) some three years back.

With the winter slowly drawing to a close and more daylight available, I shall be able to use the conservatory without freezing too much. I hope.

Anyway, the position is this: I came up with the basic two or three pages THREE years ago, after discussions with a number of friends, but it all kind of stalled. Since then, my already rusty drawing skills have seized up a little more, but I can work on that to get them back up to some sort of level where a bit of illustration is feasible again. My main problem is that while I can draw figures (when the muscle memory is coaxed), they tend to be stiff and lifeless: I am hopeless at realistic poses unless I copy something. It was always thus, even when I drew copiously and regularly.

I sourced some Bandai/SH Figuarts figures on Amazon (I have a wooden mannequin, but that’s not as posable as I’d like), which look to fit the bill. The trouble is, they are horribly expensive, particularly as they are only about 15cm tall.

So, despite my overall wariness of all things eBay – at least when things look as though they are likely to be sent from long distance, I went there. I am uncertain that these are actually located in Aberdeen, as the listing suggests. I have a feeling that they are actually deep in some unpronounceable Chinese province. But they are much cheaper than anything listed by Amazon. Cheap enough to convince me to chance my luck.

They don’t need to be perfect, but I need something posable and reasonably robust. I don’t care that they have a slightly manga feel to them, I can work around that, but something that doesn’t look wooden and I can use for perspective is essential.

The Future of Live Entertainment (or not)…

 

It occurred to me the other day, after reading the phrase somewhere (probably the BBC website), that “Smartphone Zombies” would be a great name for a band.

 

Since then, the concept has clearly been bubbling away deep in my subconscious and it popped out again this morning, while I was on my commute in to the office, as a rather more formed idea. Smartphone Zombies would be okay as a band name, but I think, much better for a different type of performance format.

 

Imagine, if you will, two young people – probably blokes – on a small raised platform stage, raised by no more than six inches above the general floor, at once end of the bar in an old East-End pub. They are half sitting on tall bar stools and have a couple of half empty glasses on a table between them. The pair are dressed in trainers, scruffy jeans and hoodies and are obsessively fiddling with their smartphones. They have ear buds in and seem, to all intents and purposes, to be oblivious to their surroundings. Behind them on a low table  is a netbook open with the screen facing into the main pub bar. If you can get close enough to read the wallpaper, it reads Smartphone Zombies in a particularly gaudily rendered comic sans font.

 

In the rest of the pub bar, aside from the chatting regulars, middle-aged and older patrons, propping up the bar, or inhabiting the alcoves around the walls, drinking and chatting, there are groups of younger customers in jeans and tee-shirts (and maybe hoodies) sitting huddled around tables clustered near the ‘stage’. Each person is intently staring at and fiddling with a smartphone and each is wearing earphones or ear buds.  

 

They are here for, and (possibly) enjoying, the gig.

 

On stage, the Smartphone Zombies are ‘curating’ the music with their smartphones. The music is on the netbook and is being continually sampled, spliced, segued and mixed by the two players wirelessly from their phones. Their audience, meantime, having paired with the netbook over Bluetooth are streaming the music in the order they want it seconds after it has been arranged, assembled and edited by the performers. They are streaming, downloading and forwarding music, feeding back comments and general banter over social media and messaging friends (and each other) without ever ignoring their smartphones.  

 

The entire performance is immersive, interactive and almost entirely silent, except for the ‘tish-tish-tish’ emanating tinnily from the headphones.

 

 

Thank you for peeking with me into the future of live pub entertainment and the first (and only) outing of the “Smartphone Zombies”. Thank you.

 

Fripperies

It being almost exactly a year since we went to see King Crimson play in Hackney, I am pleased to have acquired a copy of the tour box set, the snappily named, “Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind” – three CDs and one Blu-Ray of a ‘virtual gig’ from the Japanese leg of the tour. By virtual gig, it seems that it is essentially one performance, but where a particular number was adjudged to have ben performed better another night, they have substituted that instead. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see for myself, but apparently the use of clever camera set ups among the band do much to hide the trickery.

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Again, time has not allowed me to do any more with the box set than salivate over it and peruse the booklet, but it looks to be a tour de force. They didn’t perform every track at every gig, but they are all on the CD set.
There are some excellent pieces on here and I assume there is a fair amount of improv between times, too. I mean it wouldn’t be a Crimso performance otherwise, right?

Threshold Soundscape,
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part One
Pictures of a City, Peace
Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown,
Radical Action II
Level Five,
Epitaph
The Hell Hounds of Krim
The ConstruKction of Light
Scarcity of Miracles
Red,
VROOOM
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
Easy Money, Interlude
The Letters, Sailor’s Tale
The Light of Day
The Talking Drum
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two
Starless
Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row
In the Court of the Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man
Suitable Grounds for the Blues
One More Red Nightmare

Some of these pieces haven’t been played by a King Crimson line up in about 40 years (although one or two featured in the gigs played in the mid 2000s by the 21st Century Schizoid Band, of whom every member except Jakko Jakszyk was previously in one incarnation of KC or another, and since then Jakko has joined the latest Crimson line up, anyway!).

The CDs are presented as ‘virtual studio albums’ with any discernible audience noise edited off. The technology might be better now, but I think I’m right in saying that Fripp has done this before: clumsily with ‘Earthbound’ back in about 1972 and rather more skilfully with ‘Red’ in 1974 (?), which for years I didn’t know was essentially recorded live with studio overdubs.

I am looking forward to giving this album the time it deserves, which means that it will be at least a week to ten days before I am able sit down and give it a listen. In the meantime I will just have to admire the box artwork.
Fripp does need to work on a more snappy titling system, though. I mean “Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind” is pretentious guff even by the standards of the mighty King Crimson.

Lest this become nothing more than a music blog, I promise to try and vent on something else next time. I avoided talking about Brexit and then kind of avoided blogging at all. Must do better.

But now, I must do some work.
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I Should DO Some Work

I’ve just listened to Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ on my iPod. It’s the first time I’ve listened to it from start to finish for many years.

It is a very interesting experience: I’d forgotten so much of it that it might as well have been the first time I’ve concentrated on it. I’m not really that familiar with Floyd’s output before 1971’s ‘Meddle’ and while it’s years since I listened to that album (I find that I don’t currently own a copy), my memory puts it firmly in their early Prog catalogue, which developed through ‘Dark side of the Moon’ in 1973 through to their final album, ‘The Endless River’ in 2014 (which itself was more of a musical goodbye to the late Rick Wright, than anything truly new).

I don’t quite know what to make of ‘Atom’. I guess I’ll take one step further back and listen to ‘Ummagumma’, to try and place it in some kind of musical perspective. I am almost entirely ignorant of any Floyd music prior to that, with the sole exception of the song ‘See Emily Play’ which is interesting (it doesn’t seem to have been on any of the UK albums – certainly not before the 40th anniversary re-releases), but what little I know of the Barratt era leaves me cold. Other bands did psychedelia rather better than the Floyd.

‘Atom Heart Mother’ is late-period psychedia, and to sound suitably pretentious, sounds like music from two years earlier (one of the tracks references 1968) struggling to emerge from its cocoon as early prog. It’s an interesting, but not fully engaging listen. The band have yet to leave dittyville at this point, and the extended use of brass and flutes feels like they took flower power, took it off the hallucinogens and swapped them with steroids.

I am pondering, after ‘Ummagumma’, whether it’s worth investing in ‘More’ (but that’s a movie soundtrack), or even the first two albums, despite my reservations. I must buy a copy of ‘Meddle’ though – and I am thinking about re-examining my 37 year dislike of ‘The Wall’

I should do some work!

The fermented apple: a cautionary tale

A fortnight or so ago, I went out on the booze with my good friend, Mr Townsend.

The pub was packed, but he had discovered that the upstairs sitting room was both unlocked and its small bar staffed. We decided very quickly that paying through the nose for organic bottled cider was infinitely more preferable to traipsing up and down the stairs trying not to spill from pint glasses and hoping that no-one realised that there was additional seating to be had. It worked and we became expensively and extensively blootered over the course of the evening.

It was only during the early hours that I realised just how bladdered I’d contrived to get. I woke up sometime around 4am with a thumping headache and a full bladder. I scooted, as one does, to the bathroom and shortly thereafter I was suddenly and remarkably ill. I think my stomach attempted a complete escape – certainly it ejected its coronal layer. I wobbled back to bed and got up again, feeling ghastly, when my alarm went off at seven.

It was, as I recall, the work of but a moment to decide that actually, if it’s all the same to anyone else, I was going to go back to bed. Furtle was fully supportive of my ability to barely stand and think, so I emailed the office with the news that I was feeling awful, having consumed something the night before that had disagreed with me.

Which was, of course, true: I simply omitted any mention of alcohol; I felt it wise. I then went back to bed and failed to wake up again until gone midday, when I felt better, but not recovered.

Of course, taking a Thursday off sick looks suspicious in isolation, so I was forced to keep my head below the parapets on Friday, too. An unexpected 3½ day weekend had something of a transformative affect, I must say, but I should have preferred not to preface it with the worst hangover I’d had for over ten years.

Last night we met up again and this time Furtle popped along. We managed to avoid the excessive refreshment of the earlier escapade, but nonetheless managed to get a little frazzled around the edges. We wandered home in due course, getting back to the Gin Palace around midnight. A cup of tea and some toast, then bed. All was well.
Except that at 5am I awoke radiating heat like a furnace and with indigestion and a full bladder. There followed a minor, scaled down repeat of the previous escapade and I wobbled back to bed, re set the alarm for 8.30 and crammed in an extra 90 minutes of sleep. I made work, albeit half an hour late, but I’m still not fully recovered. Were it not for the fact that I have the rest of the week off legitimately, I might have sent THE EMAIL.

I don’t think cider and I are on quite the chummy terms we once were.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

In one of those odd sychronicities life likes to cough up, my copy of Guido Crepax‘s Valentina’ arrived this morning. It has a foreword written by the recently deceased Umberto Eco.

Sadly, owing to a misunderstanding on my part, it’s all in German, a language that is almost entirely a mystery to me.

By complete accident then, that is one more piece of writing by Eco that will pass me by. I tried and failed (four times) to read Name of the Rose each time foundering on the interminable description of the bloody door in the monastery. I attempted Baudolino, and thoroughly enjoyed the opening sequence that pretended to reproduce the sequence written on parchment. Then it started up properly and once again, I found myself bored by the prose. I should have enjoyed this book dealing as it does with a mediaeval knight in Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Crusade – a collision of several of my particular interests – Byzantium, the Crusades and wider mediaeval European history. But…

Having learnt my lesson, I never even picked up Foucault’s Pendulum or any of his other works.

It’s a shame to lose a novelist/philosopher of Eco’s standing, but I can’t pretend that I’ll ever read any of his work.

This same few days sees the loss of Nelle Harper Lee, another giant of twentieth century literature, a reputation based upon a single novel and a handful of published articles. I’ve never read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and probably never will. I’m even less likely to read ‘Go Set a Watchman’, a novel that according to many reports might best have been left unpublished, or issued solely as an academic curiosity in the development of written ideas.

Despite the unlikeliness that I’ll ever read her work, I find it sad that she’s passed, too (not least because it transpires that she was a big fan of Opus the Penguin).

There remains, however, the remote possibility that I shall one day read something written by Umberto Eco, though that possibility is, indeed, very remote and receding. One of my favourite authors is Alexandre Dumas (pere): I love the Musketeers books and venture that I am one of the few people of my age who has read the entire sequence. The thing is, though, that you have to find then right translation. There are many translations out there that make the prose remarkably turgid. I particularly dislike that used for the old Penguin paperback (- I was going to link, but I see that it was republished in 2008 with what might be a new translation). My favourite is that published by Collins Pocket Classics, with a translation from about 1935. Again, I would have linked to that, but I’m not sure it hasn’t been retranslated, too.

The point is, though, that to read a book by Umberto Eco, I think I need a more readable and engaging translation. Given that I shall be deep in my dotage when his works go out of copyright and that they sell well enough as they are, I very much doubt that I shall ever find an edition that I find palatable.

That said, I am tempted to try to break my duck with ‘The Prague Cemetery‘, which covers other areas I find interesting, being ‘… the story of a secret agent who “weaves plots, conspiracies, intrigues and attacks, and helps determine the historical and political fate of the European Continent.”‘

Maybe I haven’t learnt my lesson after all. But I’m in no hurry.

 

Oh no, not me: I never lost control

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Anyone who is even partially conscious will know by now that this morning, Duncan Jones announced that his father, David Bowie had died quietly in the presence of his family after an eighteen month fight against lung cancer. Years of chain smoking Marlboros had caught up with the Thin White Duke at last.

But I’ve got to think of myself as the luckiest guy. Robert Johnson only had one album’s worth of work as his legacy. That’s all that life allowed him.

I can’t honestly remember the first time I became aware of him, but it was certainly in and around the Ziggy Stardust glam rock period when he was first hitting the big time. As I typed that it occurred to me that my first exposure to him was Jean Genie, though initially I don’t think I connected the person performing that song with the person performing Life on Mars. There was a point in my life where I’d never heard of David Bowie and a point in my life where it felt as though I’d always known about David Bowie. It’s the transition from a-b that I can’t recall.

One minute I didn’t know him, next minute I’d heard everything.

As it was, I missed the switch from his Ziggy Stardust persona to Aladdin Sane. Even now, they look pretty much alike to me as characters on a stage, but the music did show a movement away from glam rock and it was the latter persona that launched him in North America.

I didn’t and don’t care for much of Diamond Dogs, and I found both Low and Heroes boring, overall except for the song, Sound and Vision and the title track on Heroes itself. For the remainder of the 70s, I can’t think of anything he put out that I liked, but suddenly he was back in the early 80s writing and playing good stuff. Then he faded away around 1987 (as far as I’m concerned), and stayed off my radar for many years before popping up again with Heathen in 2002. That and Reality a couple of years later, seemed to be it until suddenly he was back again with The Next Day in 2013 and now, right at the end, Blackstar (which I haven’t yet heard).

Bowie was always a force, even if he was a force I was out of tune with for much of the second half of his career. But the beauty of his work was that if you didn’t like what he was recording and performing, you only had to wait and he would move on. He would move on to something else and it would be different and daring and imaginative and breath-taking and you might even like it. Eventually he would produce something you would like and to prove it wasn’t a fluke, he’d do a couple of albums like that to make the point, before moving on to something else.

And then, finally, Blackstar. As I say, I haven’t heard any of it yet, but it began cropping up: a track, or an advert, or a rumour at a time and then suddenly as an album. This developed over a number of months and everyone knew something was coming.

In typical Bowie style, when it arrived it was by sleight of hand. He knew he was dying and he was saying goodbye, we just weren’t listening to the announcement: we were distracted by the magic and if we didn’t like it we thought ‘Never mind, we might like the next one’, because that was David Bowie: inventive, imaginative, indomitable and often mercurial.

But this time there will not be a next time.

He was saying goodbye and like many a good host, he put on a great show and then left quietly while we were still enjoying the party.