Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I am grateful to James Blue Cat for alerting us to the existence of Irkafirka, which every day aims to pluck one likely phrase from “the massive data deluge that Twitter has become”, and turn it into a deliciously peculiar work of art, along the lines of the one above. Well, I say I’m grateful to James, but to be honest he was hardly going to keep quiet about it, since his was one of the tweets that got plucked.

Aside from the batty greatness of the pictures, there’s a smart marketing idea here; the person whose phrase is selected will inevitably want to shout about it in all available media. It doesn’t feel like bragging, because Nick Hilditch, the pencil-wielding one within the Irkafirka team, is the one doing the real work; it’s like showing off a picture that one’s child has done of “mi mumy”, except that it’s not rubbish.

Moreover, prints of the images are available to buy, and I’m sure that many of the original tweeters will be first in the queue to purchase several. Another comparison; it’s like when you’re on holiday, coming off a boat trip or elephant ride and being presented with a photograph of you enjoying yourself; except that in this instance, the photographer has managed to capture an image from within the deepest recesses of your mind.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Absent friends

Anyone know what’s up with ¡Oye Billy!? That’s some hiatus...

Windfalls and tinned sardines

With the tributes to Alan Plater still echoing, news comes in that another jazz-loving adopted son of Hull is to be commemorated, with a city-wide shindig called Larkin25. Events include Larkin With Toads, a public art event that is intended to “brighten up working days and holidays alike for Hull visitors and residents alike”; a novel response to a poem that sees employment in a rather less flattering light:
Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
That’s out of proportion.
Maybe they should also stage a Larkinesque celebration of parenthood.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I wanna be loved

John Cage, explaining how he became a composer:
The people who heard my music had better things to say about it than the people who looked at my paintings had to say about my paintings.

And for another combination of clanky music and gnomic utterances, from a man who did actually look rather gnome-like, you could do worse than take this for a spin:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Capitalist piglet

A lasting memory from my days at university – one of the few actually connected with my studies – was a tutorial about William Blake which gradually turned into a discussion of the last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner. Our tutor, a man who died far too soon, elucidated Blake’s notions of Innocence and Experience in terms of Christopher Robin’s attempt to explain his own Going Away to his friend Pooh:
“I’m not going to do nothing anymore.”
“Never again?”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Which had quite a resonance for a bunch of fresh-faced 18-year-olds, many grappling for the first time with overdrafts and washing machines, but not quite yet in the real world. At least we were still allowed to do nothing. We were studying English after all.

Many miles and years from the 100 Aker Wood, I happen upon a piece about the bloody iPad. The schtick is that the author, Peter Bregman, wants to give his back because “any free moment becomes a potential iPad moment.” And that’s the problem:
But something – more than just sleep, though that’s critical too – is lost in the busyness. Something too valuable to lose.
Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises.
The funny thing is, Bregman isn’t some eternal student, a balding soixante-huitard who still deploys Christopher Robin and Blake and Alice and Syd Barrett and The Wind In The Willows and The Magic Roundabout in an effort to destabilise the military-industrial complex and justify the fact that he never irons his trousers. He’s writing for the Harvard Business Review, for crying out loud. This is work he’s talking about. So the next time your boss catches you staring into the middle distance when you’re meant to be doing something even less interesting, just tell her that you’re brainstorming with yourself, and she can run that one up the flagpole and see who plays Poohsticks with it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Who ate all the fans?

The news that the North Korean barmy army is in fact made up of Chinese actors, and that the Chinese are entirely open about the fact, shouldn’t really surprise us, especially after the gloriously brazen stage management of the Beijing Olympics. But it does raise the question of what purpose the fans – the ones who actually show up to the World Cup stadiums – actually serve.

Clearly, at this exalted level at least, the revenue from ticket sales is pretty much negligible when compared with TV and sponsorship money. Look at the case of the 36 orange-clad lovelies who were ejected from the Netherlands-Denmark match; the objection was that they appeared to be indulging in a spot of ambush marketing on behalf of a beer brand that wasn’t one of FIFA’s approved ‘partners’. The fact that they got in thanks to Robbie Earle’s ticket allocation seems to have been little more than a minor irritation to the tournament’s organisers, and it was down to his employers at ITV to discipline him. Surely we can infer from this that FIFA is more concerned about upsetting Budweiser than any legitimate Dutch or Danish fans who couldn’t get in?

And yet, at one level, FIFA needs fans at the grounds. They provide the atmosphere, the noise, the excitement that enhances what has, for the most part, been a pretty uninspiring tournament so far. And the TV viewers tend to agree; they refuse to dampen those vuvuzelas with the mute button, not because they’ll miss the inanities of the commentators (see here for a particularly savage indictment of the sheer crapness of TV pundits) but because they feel there’s something weirdly sterile about watching millionaires playing badly in silence.

This doesn’t just apply to sporting events, of course. With a few exceptions, most comedy and game shows on TV and radio are still recorded in front of a live audience; supposedly, it makes the armchair viewer feel more involved in what’s going in the studio. And yet, anybody who’s been in the studio while one of these programmes is made knows that the experience can be deeply frustrating and tedious, with constant glitches, hold-ups and retakes. The most enjoyable bit is often the warm-up person who’s sent out to distract the punters from thoughts of mutiny during these pauses; and the TV audience doesn’t know he even exists. Moreover, if the show being made isn’t particularly established or popular, it’s quite feasible that a large chunk of the audience has no idea what it’s about or who’s involved until they’ve taken their seats. Several American sitcoms used to be prefaced with the boast that they were “recorded in front of a live audience” because that reassured TV viewers that they weren’t listening to canned laughter. But the live audience is prompted and chivvied and prodded to give the desired response; and if they don’t come up with the goods, the producer can always tweak the recording afterwards, to make them sound more enthusiastic than they really were.

Which takes us back to those TV viewers, who almost feel as if they’re there because of the ooh-ing and aah-ing and paaaaaaaaaaarp-ing coming from the flatscreen. But if they know that a good proportion of the noise comes, not from diehard supporters of the teams involved, but from actors hired by the Chinese authorities, or models hired by a Dutch brewery, or friends of friends of a bloke who used to play for Port Vale, will they still want to play along?

PS: Well, this guy’s already decided:

PPS: And then of course there’s:

Monday, June 14, 2010

Problem solved

I just watched two matches with the sound off. OK, now for the oil spill, then the economy.

PS: Nice piece by Daniel Trilling in the New Statesman, comparing the maligned plastic bugles with some rather more respectable uses of drone, including Penderecki’s De Natura Sonoris. (Loyal fans might recall that in Chapter 11 of my OK Computer book, I point out that the string arrangement for ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, in all its waspy, unnverving magnificence, was inspired by Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960), which was also sampled on ‘You Love Us’ by the Manic Street Preachers.) But if vuvuzelas are appropriated by the musical avant garde – I can see Ornette Coleman getting into them, for example – will the armchair grouches stop complaining?

PPS: And more on the subject from the excellent Robin Tomens.

PPPS: And following on from that – vuvuzelas shit all over my adolescence.

I don’t know much about art but...

Lev Grossman in Time, on allowing technology to make our artistic choices:
Recommendation engines introduce a new voice into the cultural conversation, one that speaks to us when we’re at our most vulnerable, which is to say at the point of purchase. What is that voice saying? Recommendation engines aren’t designed to give us what we want. They’re designed to give us what they think we want, based on what we and other people like us have wanted in the past. Which means they don’t surprise us. They don’t take us out of our comfort zone. A recommendation engine isn’t the spouse who drags you to an art film you wouldn't have been caught dead at but then unexpectedly love. It won’t force you to read the 18th century canon. It’s no substitute for stumbling onto a great CD just because it has cool cover art. Recommendation engines are the enemy of serendipity and Great Books and the avant-garde. A 19th century recommendation engine would never have said, If you liked Monet, you’ll love Van Gogh! Impressionism would have lasted forever.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Play your cards right

Philip Larkin on his teenage years:

I had grown up to regard sexual recreation as a socially remote thing, like baccarat or clog dancing.

(And check out some Larkin cartoons at themanwhofellasleep.)

Friday, June 11, 2010

I was adored once too

Putting the notion of the death of blogging into context (see previous post), here’s Something Awful on how, just as Proper Music Journalism was ultimately responsible for its own demise (see Chris Weingarten’s Music is Math speech), music blogging has nobody else to blame when punters get bored and walk away:
Blogs showed up because people got sick of listening to the bullshit these magazines were throwing around, and when people get tired of clicking links, watching videos, and then not saying anything about them, they'll find something else. And by then, we'll have the editor of Stereogum up on stage at some new Twitter conference, sputtering and pointing to his favorite videos, frowning for the loss of his glorious link-delivery system.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Whatever happened to Matt Belgrano?

Chris Bowers at OpenLeft describes how “the progressive political blogosphere” has been swallowed up by the professionals:
Only five years ago, the progressive political blogosphere was still predominately a gathering place for amateur (that is, unpaid or barely paid) journalists and activists unattached to existing media companies and advocacy organizations. Those days are almost completely over... It was, really, inevitable. Avant-garde, “outsider” developments which prove to have real support are invariably co-opted by any successful, institutional establishment. At the same time, these avant-garde movements are often willing to be co-opted, since established institutions usually have vastly greater resources than the independent, shoestring distribution networks of the avant-garde... RIP to the amateur progressive blogosphere. It provided a regular feeling of revolutionary ecstasy while it lasted, but there was no way it could last very long. It was a transitional period into a new media and political paradigm, not a new paradigm unto itself.
Bowers is talking about the US, and specifically political bloggers in the US, and more specifically still, left-wing political bloggers in the US. But I think he’s articulated quite nicely what’s happened to blogging as a whole since I started (nearly half a decade ago). Like punk rock, blogging managed to change the old order, but effectively burned itself out in the process, with old media’s embrace of the idea being something akin to John Lydon selling butter. OK, some of us old farts are still keeping the faith (Look! Patroclus is back!) but for the most part we’re just hanging around the King’s Road, charging American tourists to take photos of our preposterous haircuts.

PS: Vaguely relevant ponderings from the defiantly un-progressive Iain Dale.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Blogular Post-It

Christopher Hitchens once described one of those dinner parties that you’d really only want to attend if you hadn’t been invited:

...somebody was complaining not just about the epic badness of the novels of Robert Ludlum but also about the badness of their titles. (You know the sort of pretentiousness: The Bourne Supremacy, The Aquitaine Progression, The Ludlum Impersonation, and so forth.) Then it happily occurred to another guest to wonder aloud what a Shakespeare play might be called if named in the Ludlum manner. At which point Salman Rushdie perked up and started to sniff the air like a retriever. “O.K. then, Salman, what would Hamlet’s title be if submitted to the Ludlum treatment?” “The Elsinore Vacillation,” he replied – and I find I must stress this – in no more time than I have given you. Think it was a fluke? Macbeth? “The Dunsinane Reforestation.” To persist and to come up with The Rialto Sanction and The Kerchief Implication was the work of not too many more moments.

Which is clearly a challenge to the rest of us: Shakespeare plays, or other classics, in whatever medium, relabelled as if written by the King of Epic Badness. Coleridge’s Kubla Khan could be The Mongoloid Truncation; and any of Thomas Hardy’s novels might qualify as The Dorset Mishap. Paradise Lost is inevitably The Eden Project. Your turn; and double points if, as in the case of Rushdie’s later efforts, you’re confident enough not to tell us what the original work is.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Chalk of the town

A cartoon that appears to refer to the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square has been printed in a Chinese newspaper. The image, in the Southern Metropolitan Daily, shows a boy drawing a person standing in front of three tanks. Online commentators have likened the image to the photograph of “tank man”, the protester who stopped a column of tanks during the demonstrations...
Full-ish story here.

PS: thanks to Agatha Slugg for the pic.

Que dividir!

Jonathan Coe, on his responsibility to his global readership:
I don’t put in as much punning and wordplay as I used to. I remember getting the Portuguese edition of What a Carve Up!, and noticing that not only was it full of footnotes but every footnote said the same thing. I found out from my translator that the words meant ‘this joke cannot easily be translated into Portuguese.’