Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Music and the environment

Let's celebrate. Let's shout out loud those times when the music we're listening to in our heads or physically chimes with our environment. 

Share the joy of when the beat of the track is mimicked by the external sound of a forklift truck reversing. Tell someone, any one, everyone, when the heavy rain starts just as the cymbal is hit.

Just as the echo chamber is released.

Just as synthesiser goes through seventeen shades of the chord A-Minor.

Or that beat you're moving to, the sound of the chain of a skip-truck making out the tink, tink, tink of a cowbell or triangle in your head.

Loop in, in your head, that is your music and the environment.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Balancing branches

It is fairly reasonable to say that Emperor Palpatine is an untrustworthy fellow. He is Gollum without the calming influence of Smeagol, Sauron and Melkor[1] combined, Vorgons if they were evil, a Bond villain that manages to triumph. Palpatine ain't no friend of yours or mine[2].

I mention this because I've read some of the 'journey to Force Awakens' comic books and Chuck Wendig's Star Wars Aftermath in preparation of the forthcoming film. I am a little excited, it is a film I'm looking forward too, and the comic books and book appeal to what I think is Star Wars, my expectations and experience.

The chance to speculate on possible themes also appeals. Upon finishing the fourth issue of Shattered Empire it occurred to me I had seen the tending to a garden training method elsewhere. In fact, it's in one of my favourite comic books, Usagi Yojimbo, in which our hero confesses to his training master that he couldn't tend his garden. His master then says the test wasn't about gardening, the seeds had been boiled, but to see whether Usagi would cheat or confess his weakness.

Shattered Empire climaxes with a high-security laboratory being broken into by Luke Skywalker and Shara Bey[3] to recover trees Palpatine had stolen from the Jedi. Luke is surprised there are two trees, and they agree to look after one tree each. Bey gets to keep one because "it should go to a good *home*." Fairly simple instruction, and yet...

The massive narrative[4] of Star Wars up until now has been binary. Jedi and Sith, light side and dark side[5], "do or do not", even when the films have touched the muddy grey-area that is closer to life it has been on good/bad terms. Binary does not work if one eliminates 1 or 0.

So, what if the two trees are binary. What if Luke knows, through the 'magical powers afforded to him through the Force', that one tree is tainted, like Usagi's seeds, never to grow properly? If Shara Bey is given a tree because her future, her home, is good; by extension Luke's future, Luke's home, is bad. And bad in this binary universe means Sith.

Aftermath deals with the Empire's 'long game' and doesn't feature any gardening (sadly). What it does feature is interesting characters that Chuck Wendig has put a lot of care into. The characters are believable, they hurt and make mistakes, they drink to forget. And not 'shoot the wrong being' mistakes, mistakes in interpersonal relationships. In this universe relationships happen, and they go wrong, just like human relationships.

There is a line in The Big Bang Theory's theme about how we attempt to unravel all the mystery with mathematics, science, and history. Culture helps us solve these mysteries; when the boy dies at the end of the book, when the singer sings about architecture, when nuclear war results in a comic book about law and order in overcrowded mega cities, all of these narratives create space for us to examine more than just what is in front of us.

A science fiction western movie, heavily based on an earlier Japanese film allows this space, just in the same way and to the same extent that a restoration comedy does. To deny one over the other is to give into the dark side.

That mystery is simple to ask and so, so complex to answer. Are my seeds tainted, or will they grow, and how can I know for certain before I plant them?

1 - I will now paraphrase Kent Brockman, 'it's in the Silmarillion, people.'
2 - 'BB-8's going to be one of the greats, it's a fact he buys rounds for all of his mates', I could keep up the Star Wars themed rhyming couplets until Arthur Dent gets his cup of tea.
3 - Bey being mother to Poe Dameron.
4 - That was a typo but I might stick with it, expect micro narrative and macro narrative to appear some time. Soon.
5 - 'You make me cry,' to paraphrase Glasgow's Urusei Yatsura.

Grand Tour Of Forfar

Before setting off on holiday I learnt my hairdresser was also going away at the same time. While she was heading to Mexico on a long haul flight, I would be heading to Forfar. For our own individual reasons we've both worked long summers, so agreed that we needed a holiday[3].

There is a lot to do in this part of Scotland, and rather than give you a break down of the top ten activities to put in your Dundee bucket list I thought I'd stick with what I normally do: write about books, music and things with 'pop culture' references and footnotes.

Info Freako. During my first trip to Dundee I found Groucho's Records tucked away. We'd visited the Discovery Centre and had been on the lookout for something to eat and there it was. This time round the plan had been to eat in Madigan's Food Emporium amongst the bountiful book supply (they do cakes as well), though they were shut for a private occasion[1].

No such problem with Groucho. I had a good look through the records and CDs and came away with Liquidizer by Jesus Jones. I've never owned this before, I've had copies and streamed versions, and there was a nice, takes-me-back-to-1990s-shopping-at-CEX offer for me to inspect my disc. I checked and it looked nothing like Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation.

Sadly I didn't bring my record player with me to listen, I'll wait until returning home. Next month is my birthday and I will be taking my player, along with a selection of lps[2].

Luckily the holiday cottage has a DVD player and I've been able to watch Star Wars Episodes IV- VI. I've also watched the final, official trailer. I am excited, though possibly I am embracing the dark side of caution too. My ticket for the big show is for Friday morning, enough time to comfort myself against any possibility of it being a dud film[4].

It was a galaxy far, far away. Both Star Wars and Hitchhikers' Guide To The Galaxy put forward the idea of there being a duality of bright centre and dull to a galaxy. Both also forward the concept of a drive that could propel a craft across the width of the galaxy, though in H2G2 this is considerably more difficult that in Star Wars[5]. I will be spending more time considering galaxies as I bought John Gribbin's A Very Short Introduction: Galaxies in St Andrews's Topping & Co.

St Andrews is the birthplace for Scotland, though it is unlikely there will be a feature film featuring Jet Li extolling this fact. On a late October Monday university students were engaged in RAG activities, which involved foam and literary costumes (well, Lewis Carol playing cards and wizards of the Potter world). St Andrews is an interesting, university town overseeing the North Sea. There is history here, not the recent, coffee shop comings-and-goings of coming-of-age princelings[6], but longer, further back in time history. The coast around here, Northumbria northwards, is carved by the last ice age, the rise and fall of hill and mountain caressed and stroked by the movement of a retreating ice sheet. There is a tender seduction by the ice sheet, enveloping the landscape with a lingering embrace that leaves everyone changed afterwards.

From Toppings I also purchased Frank Furedi's The Power of Reading. This is part of a wider Ilkley Literature Festival experiment, with The Art of Asking also purchased (this one from Dundee).

Another ongoing experiment is examining intercontextualisations with Monkey: Journey To The East. Hermann Hesse wrote Journey To The East (purchased Bouquineste, Aberdeen), and having read Siddhartha and noticing similarities with Monkey, there's high hopes for Journey. Alongside these book versions, there's also the Enslaved: Journey to the East video game, Damon Alban's 'rock opera'. Where do these text diverge and where do they align? Aside from the central theme, what do they include?

Television is a visual medium where a lot of information has to be delivered quickly. It wasn't until I read a story featuring Jessica Fletcher that I realised her late husband was called Frank. I have two Jessica Fletcher books now, the first novel in the series and the sixteenth (my latest purchase). Unlike other series where I get a little (slightly impossibly over-the-top) obsessed about reading in order, because of the random nature I watch Murder, She Wrote I don't mind so much reading the books out of order.

Out there in a different universe there is a lot of disorder because of chaos. Sorry, because of the powers of Chaos. Warhammer 41k is universe of war, the playground for strategy games and stage for role-playing. I've never really played Warhammer, mostly because I am not great at miniature figure painting and because I don't know many gamers around Leeds. My engagement with it comes through books, and the books I enjoy the most have been written by Dan Abnett. I think this is more Abnett than Warhammer, having read his stuff in comic books, other stories, and 2000AD, there is a noticeable style to his writing. One almost wonders if, like the Pixar films that are self-referential, do Abnett's books across all universes interconnect? Would Eisenhorn come save the inhabitants of Wild's End[7]? Either way, I have a new Dan Abnett book (Xenos).

1 - If I lived up near Dundee I would not hesitate to have my private functions here as often as possible.
2 - I will be thirty nine, and plan to mark this birthday with a copy of the Beatles's White Album.
3 - There is a Franz Ferdinand lyric off their first album, one that I think is imprinted in my mind as a way to approach a healthy work/non-work balance. Also, my hairdresser had a few suggestions on how I could achieve a plan to dye my hair after my birthday.
4 - This is the same reason I am not seeing Spectre straight away, and (whisper it so the fanboys don't hear) why I've still not seen Avengers Age of Ultron.
5 - There is a very well-known instance in Star Wars where distance and time were mangled. I won't talk about that, I will though highlight scene in Episodes IV (where Han Solo discusses 'travelling the length of the galaxy' as a significant distance) and V (where a short period of time is said to have passed for the Millennium Falcon to be 'the other side of the galaxy by now').
6 - Princelings, next to younglings, all slaughtered by Vader's fair hand when he carried out Order 66. Of course in reality there is no way we would herald in a republic by trusting the generals of an elite of clones coming from the Eton system.
7 - As I have been waiting patiently to finish reading the first part of Wild's End, this eventuality might happen, and I so hope it comes about.

Date night for shop assistants

There is a shopping assistant in Dundee who had a date on Saturday night. There is two colleagues in Forfar who have experienced the same nuisance caller in their shop. There's lots of these kinds of things happening between shop assistants across the country because shop assistants are human and have human relationships[1].

Anticipation of Saturday's date was high, though expressed in a non-committal way. She will 'see what happens,' 'not expecting much to happen' though can't decide what she will accept as acceptable activities. This was all relayed to me as I wandered around the charity bookshop she worked.

So, where might it have gone? I'd roll a D12 and check out the results against the Date Outcome Table. If you score 13 it will be an amazing date.

While I was in Dundee I spent a lot of time pondering whether to buy the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Pack. I've often thought about doing this, just don't really know a great deal of people[2] who might be interested in learning/playing.

Most of my role-playing has been a singular activity via books and video games. On my Android Hudl I have some chose-my-own adventures, and I've play a lot of rpgs on so many consoles (I rather like Zelda games, but my favourites would have to be Golden Sun and FFVII[3]), but physical, game master and players around a table has alluded me.

What do I think I am missing out on? During the question and answer for Frank Furedi there was (rather reactionary) questioner who suggested 'books good, video games bad' to which Furedi replied that video game play was not wholly bad as it was play. For me I think it is the social aspect of role-playing that I have missed, as I have quite an active imagination[4] already.

1 - There is a shop assistant in _ whose primary relationship is with their PDA, but she doesn't talk about it much as she's catching up "on some things."
2 - I could end the sentence there.
3 - There is not much chance of me completing FFVII without the help of my brothers. There's not much chance of me ever completing most video games without their advice.
4 - Very imaginative at three in the morning listening to the noises of a creaking house move as it cools and reacts to the weather outside and the wind alongside the exterior walls.

The art of handling talking about books

I have to be careful about how I talk about books, there are certain ways one has to discuss reading. Likewise, music is a subject that requires considerable thought, listening is similarly to be revered. It is only by turning these activities into something "splendid and worthwhile"[2] that you, me and everyone can discuss books. Only those who read worthwhile books, listen to only pre-approved 'good' music, whose reading elevates their daily life, whose collection contains absolutely no 'guilty pleasures', they are the only people who are privileged to talk about books and music.

What poppycock, what utter nonsense peddled by the lazy and those who wish to keep a sense of us and them. As much as I try to be progressive in my life there is nothing that "just gives me the impulse to be complete reactionary"[3] more than the person who says there is a worthwhile book or record, by extension there are unworthy books and records.

I will try to refrain from writing this only a handful of times in this but THERE ARE ONLY BOOKS AND MUSIC AND HOW PEOPLE INTERACT WITH THEM.

On Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 October I attended two more events at the Ilkley Literature Festival, Frank Furedi: The History of the Remember, and Treasures of the Brotherton Library. Three events in total[4], my first proper convention (though three out of everything Ilkley has to offer is not that much). My overwhelming desire is to do more next time, and take the opportunity to ask questions and talk with the other bloggers and commentators there.

The three events managed to take me through all the aspects of books that I love and dislike, from celebration to dismay, with the discussion of the panelists or guests to the questions of the audience. There is a discourse happening here, which is to be encouraged, though generalised, lazy, disingenuous discourse should be avoided.

There were some aspects of Frank Furedi's talk that impressed me considerably, and there were other aspects that drove me up the wall. Furedi has written a book on the power of reading, and I need to read that before properly being able to comment on it.

That said, there were the occasional comments that I'd like to pick up. Furedi discussed his own reading experience as well as those that lead him to start his book[5], which appeared to be a number of students at the university he teaches at not reading handouts or recommended text. This lead to a lot of research as to the role of reading thorough history.

Reading is good, books are one of the most amazing things humans have ever created. And not just book as in two covers and paper between them, book as in document that represents fact or non-fact, fiction or fictionalized. All that which can be at one's finger tips.

Yet there is a tendency to be negative about books and reading, from society at large and from booksellers in particular. Jen Campbell mentioned that booksellers could be doomsayers even when book sales were up for the first time since 2007[6]. Furedi discussed how reading seemed diminished as something that people enjoy, making suggestions about how reading is taught and the decline of public libraries.

And underneath it all, that spark of people reading, enjoying, sharing the connections between books. There is an issue with reduced library number but it is not solely a reading issue, libraries have always had a central role in communities, once they are removed, closed, shut, they remove, close, shut a community hub[7].

There is an issue in how people talk about books, and I think this is where I need to read Frank Furedi's book before commenting. I do not think there is an unworthy book, and we should celebrate that there is fanfiction just as much as there is Milton[8]. If someone enjoys any given text let's celebrate rather than berate their choice.

It is possible to construct a way to talk about worthwhile and splendid books. How, you ask? Really, you need me to show you, oh, you do?

Well, firstly, I suggest there is a value for every book. Every book, taking note of what I said earlier. Now, if one takes all the differing values everyone places on books, it's quite hard to correlate them. One needs easily definable values, such as monetary or rarity. The bonus of using these these kinds of values is that it replaces the conservatives' 'good/unworthy' equation with one that they really like showing off, money. This book X and Y like, you see, Y likes it more because they bought a rare first edition copy that cost more than reasonable because every other third word is misspelt.

The value of books is in the reading. Value can be found in how reading then spurs on to further reading and connecting with other readers. Money plays a part, either in the transaction to purchase a book or the financial underpinning of public libraries, but monetary value is not reading. A first edition of The Hobbit is still just an edition of The Hobbit if it is untouched.

1 - The title had originally been a quote from a book about reading.
2 - Starting early with the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy quotes, this one from the very first radio episode from the 1970s.
3 - Super Furry Animals, The International Language of Screaming, 1997
4 - Reading And Writing In The Digital Age being the first, or third, if this were a list.
5 - It all started after a comment piece in the London Times, that home of free press behind a pay wall online.
6 - Is this the triumph of print? The Bookseller, 26/09/2015 
7 - Hub is not a bad word, and it is a useful way of describing those places were communities gather.
8 - Both Paradise Lost and Fifty Shades Of Grey were mentioned during Furedi's talk, one 'good' and one 'bad' example of books.


Let's talk about expectation, let's talk about you and me, let's talk about all the good things and the bad things that can be, let's talk about it[1]. Expectation lies at the heart of almost every interaction, and it can go wrong as much as it has the tendency to go right.

In mid-September I was asked to give a presentation at work, and I had been tempted to discuss managing expectations in terms of customer service. Customer service is one of those falsely negative phrases that can be used badly to make a point; if one wants to ignore customer service they will raise issues of cost, value, expenditure.

Customer service goes wrong if one approaches it with the view 'computer says no', or argue that customer service is only needed in shops. Customer service goes well when one explains their actions with transparency[2], when one listens to the end of the sentence, when one focuses on the other.

Across Leeds there are a number of shops where good customer service can be found. This isn't about the best price (lowest financial transaction usually leads to the lowest level of customer service), more about the care those organisations show to their users. Got a question, seeking a recommendation, ask and talk, it's easy.

My expectations are different from other service users. And that is the real issue, if one's expectation is to treat all customer the same or give them what they want the organisation will become unstuck. If one's expectation is to listen, give customers what they need, it is more likely to work.

1 - Let's talk about sex, Abe Simpson-style: "I first had sex in the April of 1925, when the autumnal colours were strong and Fall was known as Decline in reverence to Edward Gibbon, we would all go running about with our tongues out trying to catch snow flakes and wondering why we never propagated, though we all behaved properly..."
2 - One doesn't have to reveal the whole process or the magician's secret to explain an action that has happened.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Bears! Wood! News! Bears In The Wood News

In a surprising development it has been revealed that the forthcoming Star Wars The Force Awakens movie will feature a start, middle, and a climactic end. This pays a blow to fan speculation that one element might have been missing, said one fan of no fixed abode: "I was expecting there to be no ending, that the movie would go on continuously like a film by Andy Warhol. It is not very well known but Warhol was a big fan of The Force Awakens source material, though it is not known if he was cannon or non-cannon."

Bears! Woods! News! Bears In The Woods News

After promising early results the team at SETI have announced that there were too many celestial bodies after only one thing. "Sure, they start out all nice but pretty soon they want you to send images of our valleys and wide open spaces, and asking if the Sun has any sisters," said one disappointed but romantic scientist.

Bears! Woods! News! Bears In The Woods News

Launching the 'No-Hope Back Of A Soggy Cigarette Packet Economic Plan', the Chancellor called on opposition Members of Parliament to vote for his plans as his own party had disowned the policy. A senior economist explained the 'No-Hope Plan' to Bears In The Woods News after he stopped laughing.

Bears! Woods! News! Bears In The Woods News

A recent academic study has found that academics study. There has been rumour of a real-world application of the results, though it was further found that further research needed to be undertaken to further the links between real-world scenarios and academics who study.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Bears! Woods! News! Bears In The Woods News

A Special Bears In the Woods Special Feature: Inspired by getting one or sometimes more questions right when watching the BBC's Mastermind, University Challenge, and Only Connect, Mr Shelley Surely Shirley has announced they will be entering round one of Mastermind with what they hope is masterful specialist subject. "I am spending my time learning the answers in the subject 'questions where the answer is the greatest defeat in naval history'," Surely Shirley said. On test runs of ten questions, the record for Surely Shirley has been five correct answers, two passes and four incorrect responses.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Bridging gaps between things: Reading And Writing In The Digital Age (Ilkley Literature Festival)

It must be fair to say that given the title of my blog I'm probably going to be talking about music in all its forms and books in all their genre. Even when I try discussing something else those two things shoehorn themselves in, though most of the time I'm already there, keeping the door open for them to sneak in.

I give quite a lot of thought to writing. I am a writer in the same way a person with a camera on their phone is a photographer[1], capturing things that catch my interest for a limited audience of one, myself. My interaction with the books and music I write about is essentially just an attempt to capture that joy of knowing and sharing that looked.

Ilkley has a literature festival[2], and at the weekend I attended a session on reading and writing in the digital age. The Chair was Claire Malcolm[3], and Jen Campbell[4], Rachel Kerr[5], and Simon Savidge[6] were the panelists. There were some very interesting points made by all three panelists and the Chair, and given the interested parties in the audience (I have to assume there were other writers, bloggers, vloggers, podcast creators and curators in the Playhouse) all of these will be picked over elsewhere[7]. I shall write about the things that pricked my ears and led to conversations on the way home.

Instead of getting all Dickens-esque on you by stating there is nothing new, there is everything new, I noticed that the Chair and the panelists all discussed the internet in terms of making it easier to bridge the gap between different things. Online one can find groups with similar interests, similar desires, and therefore share similar tastes.

Interestingly, the power of bloggers and all also came up. Partly in how they help the conversations and partly in how authors can (again) bridge the gap between themselves and their audience. Rachel Kerr gave quite a few examples of how Unbound helps make this happen commercially; Jen Campbell and Simon Savidge gave the reviewer/commentator/interviewer/bookseller side of this interaction. Simon, who is always fantastic to listen too, gave the view as one of the many, us book addicts. Actually, all of them did.

I digress. At the end of the session there was a questions from the audience section. One writer asked how they could use the internet to market their work more effectively without "getting bogged down with Facebook and Twitter." The advice was that 'getting bogged down' is exactly what they should be doing, making connections with groups with similar interests and tastes. Jen Campbell had the best suggestion in that the writer should sell by not selling their work but selling themselves. 

Internet reviewers' responsibility when writing about older work was raised. It was generally agreed that when discussing such books one should mention the age at which it was written. Sat at home later it occurred to me that there is another side to this question, that of how historical novelists handled the times they write about.

Indulgent booksellers engaging in their favourite pastime of being negative. I had never seen Jen Campbell speak live[8] though knew of the vlogs and Twitter account, so it was good to hear her input as a bookseller. Possibly because I spend my time in record shops but I didn't know digital sales for ebooks had plateaued. Jen managed to conjure up an image of a typical bookseller singing the Frazer refrain of "we're doomed, doomed" while also selling more children's books. Jen celebrated the state of book sales and reading.

Imagine my incredulity when there was something a panel member discussed something I disagreed with. Luckily everyone was sat down and there was strong spirits available nearby.

Immense numbers of books are published ever year. Rachel Kerr suggested this was upwards of 200,000 and may be 'a bad thing'; Jen Campbell raised "Super Thursday"; and Simon Savidge and Jen both discussed the number of review copies they are sent both solicited and unsolicited[9]. Volume is a difficult thing, one can't encourage readers to find connections between books and authors whilst also calling for the number of books and authors to be restricted.

Individual taste also plays a part. Simon Savidge mentioned the individualistic nature of books (and ultimately book reviewing), and here there should be celebration. Celebrate all reading, from ghost written celebrities to writing about ghosts.

If volume is a problem show where and how it is a problem. All those books have a market, it might not be the size the publisher wants, but it's there, people want to read it. Eventually everything finds itself on the backlist, waiting patiently to be found and cherished somewhere, somewhen, by someone. 

In Ilkley there is Grove Books and Grove Music. Even though I was there for the literature festival I didn't buy a book. Instead I found a collection of Modern Jazz Quartet albums on CD. While I had one vinyl lp before the flood[10], and had heard other tracks by MJQ before, this was a bit of a find.

Precisely for the same reason that all but one paragraph in this entry starts with the letter 'i', one should always take a trip downstairs, through cupboards to Narnia, ask to take a look out in the back, or demand to see the special stuff. It might not look special to begin with...

1 - Here is a challenge for you, at what point is something a Something? Acknowledgement of one's work by others, receipt of payment for one's work, or actually doing something?
2 - Actually, since living in Yorkshire I've grown evermore impressed with the total amount of stuff that is on. Morley was the first literature festival I went too, there's crime in Harrogate, and books in Huddersfield, Halifax, Headingley, all over.
3 - chief executive of New Writing North, a great regional resource, twitter
4 - Booktuber, bookseller and book writer, twitter
5 - Unbound, twitter
6 - Blogger and organiser for the Green Carnation Prize
7 - I shall now attempt to bring as many of these posts together here, adding over time:
Simon Savidge - A Weekend in Ilkley (and Ilkley Book Festival!)
Jacqueline Saville on The Tip-Tap Of Monkey Keyboards
8 - I had seen Simon Savidge previously in Leeds, discussing his work and the Green Carnation Prize.
9 - Encouragingly, either collectively or individual of each other, they had good coping mechanisms.
10 - Lonely Woman, and yep, that flood.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Covered but not everything covered/"Call Me Doctor, Doctor Sleeves"

I had an anxiety dream on Saturday night. Familiar ordinary items had been rearranged to make an extraordinary version of my office space. Worse still, the total work space was empty except for my still-to-be-packed belongings and files. All the signs in the office had been converted to drawings in blue pen ink. The new signs were mostly skull and cross bones, thin blue lined skull and cross bones 'as if from a secret secretary school' as my dream brain narrator put it.

Anxiety dreams are not unusual, and moving office is likely to contribute toward me having them. However, I moved on Friday, I had know about the move proper for a year and a half, improperly for nearly four years. I had not had a single dream about it in all that time and all my packing was complete.

I mention this because the move gave my colleagues and I a morning away from our work[1], which was spent eating donuts and buying records.

The first place I visited was Relic Records. Here over two levels are CDs, DVDs, and vinyl, lots and lots of vinyl. On previous visits I've been lucky to find what I was looking for, not so this time. 

Relic Records sometimes frustrates me, it sells a lot of good music, stuff that I like and listen to and will buy eventually, but when I'm in the mood for something out of the ordinary I don't see to find it here.

So, what was my mood on Friday morning? Well, brothers, sisters, have you heard it on the news? You know, "about this fascist groove thang, evil men with racist views, spreading all across the land". That's right, I now have a twelve inch version of Heaven 17's (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang purchased from Wall of Sound underneath Crash Records.

I learnt about Brownian Motion from watching Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn't tell you the exact theory but it's enough to give me an understanding. And so it is the same I learnt about politics, equality and society through music. Ideas expressed in songs I listened to as a teenager formed my outlook on life. For example, Government Walls by James opened my eyes to the need for transparency in oversight of secret services. Likewise, Sepultura's Biotech Is Godzilla gave me the desire for technology to be for all and not the few. There's many more songs where I could link an idea to a lyric. 

Music alone will not change ideas but it is a good starting point. A little like conditional pacifism, who is going to listen to Heaven 17 and say "that is a good song, I'm now going to go out and spread racism and fascism"?[2]

Herbert Read planted[3] an idea in my head that music was unique among creative endeavours in that it could convey emotion in a more concise fashion. What hope does a portrait have against a minor scale in portraying sadness? Urusei Yatsura planted the idea that music was a noise to be joyfully created, and their records came out on Ché Records.

Fuxa also had records released on Ché. In the mid-to-late 1990s I had seen little bits about they, heard a little on the radio, but hadn't gone as far as buying any of their stuff. In my head I retained a memory of sound, and when I found a double disc in Wall of Sound I asked for a listen. Yep, that's the noise I heard, that's the record I will buy.

I do not know much about Fuxa and have purposefully not searched the internet to do research prior to writing. There is something of a discovery in buying music physically, flicking through discs, rather than going through a long list as part of an online retailer's portal. There is nothing wrong with online, or download only, or storing music digitally to listen to on a mobile phone or Playstation 3[4], just purchasing for me is best physical. 

And physically I was attracted to the Fuxa, the cover is alluring, the sleeve notes hinting at something else. Data Bass? You better, Fuxa, or else.

This had been a much more enjoyable experience for me. Not bound by a collection of the 'canon of rock' (for want of a better description) I was able to find alternatives and potential, the undertone and counter melody offering a counterpoint to the twelve bar blues. 

On to Jumbo Records. Prior to starting my book on Krautrock[5] I probably knew three or four, six at the limit, definite bands that were of that era. I have Can, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream records but did not know anything about how these and others were interconnected. 

Neu! were a band I knew by sight but not anything about. My shopping trip today was expressly to find Neu! in some form, even a CD would do. Future Days sets out a description of a band that I very much liked, their approach to music and to motorik very appealing. Payday was two days ago, I had a mission and Jumbo would be my supplier. I now have a lovely reissue of Neu! by Neu!, and the knowledge that they and Harmonia were being rereleased over the coming year. 

The music of Can and fellow German bands of the 1960s and 1970s was in part born out of a reactionary response to "the Americanisation of German popular music, particularly the blues derivations so popular in Europe" (Future Days, p112)[6]. As much as I like early Pink Floyd, beyond the lyrical content where is the innovation? The drum beat, guitar scale? How about the production, the panning left-to-right and back at speed on Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. It is a fabulous record but it is just the sum of the musicians' experience.

I almost added "and limitation" to that last sentence but there is no limitation in music. If there was a finite number of combinations of beats and notes we would reach it quickly. It is improbable that all music will ever be known, an infinite improbability so to speak. There was a scientist who successfully reasoned that infinite improbabilities could be worked out with a really strong cup of tea. And thus I learnt about Brownian Motion[7].

Relic Records, New Briggate, Leeds
Wall of Sound, Headrow, Leeds
Crash Records, Headrow, Leeds
Jumbo Records, St John's Centre, Leeds

Title - Yep, aiming for the 1970s, prog-rock, dual-title title angle.
1- To paraphrase Ysabell in Mort by Terry Pratchett, 'how about this? Let's pretend I've accurately summarised the academic year and the appropriate time for resource relocation. See? It saves a lot of effort'.
2 - It's been a month since I read a book on Ethnomusicology, and I have about fifty pages to go to finish Future Days, but I find myself thoroughly increasingly fascinated by the interrelation between communities, the culture they create, and their politics.
3 - In the introduction to The Meaning of Art (1931).
4 - Today, for the first time ever, I listened to the Divine Comedy while gazing on the planet Earth. The visuals were rather engaging when Neil Hannon sings "I'm the darkness in the light" as Antarctica rotates in to view.
5 - Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs (Faber & Faber, 2014) contains many useful passages about Germany and music in the 1960s and 1970s, but the one I feel the most need to impart when talking about Krautrock is that the word is a misnomer. Aside from the horrible stereotyping of all German music under one umbrella, it means "herbrock".
6 - I am going to attempt to get a doctorate by writing and publishing more than 100,000 words, backed up by my own research. I have peer review, in the form of you, dear Reader, so that title is mine, you might as well start calling me Doctor Sleeves.
7 - Social media can appear a little Brownian Motion, the way ideas spread and collide as interconnected groups of people talk. I didn't know about recent changes at XFM or the NME except for social media. That is not to say the news was not important just that it it didn't crop up in the normal channels I check news for. I learnt about the 'first free edition' of the NME through Crash Records's Twitter feed as they had been left off the NME's list of distribution points.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Take A Bath With Bubbles

Like Author Dent trying to link the words 'yellow' and 'bulldozer' together, or a festival goer weighing the difference between Metallica and Mumford & Sons, I find myself with ideas I cannot easily resolve.

At the moment I have a couple of ideas and thoughts that I'd like to resolve but for time and knowledge I can't.

For example, wouldn't The History of Interpersonal Relationships As Told By Discarded Clothing Items be an interesting book. Or Sour Soya Coffee might be an extended mystery thriller poem set in and around the coffee houses of Leeds. And how about the Timon of Athens Guide to PFI Schemes?

One such thought was bubble tea. Some know, some don't know, some come to know. I didn't know, and at Wickerman Festival there was the physical representation of it. Bubble Tea had a stall offering, well, tea and bubble tea.

While wanting to find out but not wanting to commit to ordering bubble tea, it was left well alone. What makes the bubbles? Who handles the tea? Why bubble tea and not tea bubble? Will it be possible to separate the two, or are the two elements forever connected like a overly-romanticized account of a pair of swans?

The answers to this and other questions take time. Time, and distance, time, distance and space. Mm, stay on target, James.

In the Grand Arcade, Leeds, there is Zaap Thai, purveyors of Thai street food. And sellers of bubble tea, a mixture of green tea, milk and balls of chewy tapioca. When I am in again I think I will try it. Zaap Thai is an interesting and very good, tasty food.

Street food is an odd phenomenon for me. It is very 'now' and 'new', a shiny badge that a food retailer has to display. This is 2015 and 'authentic' street food has arrived.

At the moment I am reading Future Days and A Very Short Introduction To Ethnomusicology. In both books there is a conflict taking place, Tim Rice discusses how the field of ethnomusicology started with seemingly hard, fast ideas about which music was worthy of study and that which was not. Nowadays the field has expanded to all music, thankfully disregarding the notion of good and bad music.

In David Stubbs's book, a fantastically detailed retelling of German music focusing on bands like Can and Faust, there are many discussions of how Krautrock intersected with high and low German culture. Krautrock is the handy if almost completely useless means that these kinds of acts were described as, though 'herbrock' doesn't really cover it. Kraftwerk to Nue! covered in one word?

Another theme of both books is that of authenticity. Which brings us back to street food. In Camden, London, there is an amazing array of street food, from around the world. Only I visited in 1996, it must be amazingly fresh and modern now.

Music is open to interpretation, the receiver receiving a different message to use one the creator creates. Does it matter if the creator uses electronica where once an electric guitar would be expected?

And there is the real issue. Expectation, both individual and collective. What is the receiver expecting when listening to Autobahn as opposed to (Get Your Kicks) On Route 66? Why do some listeners react negatively against one while celebrating the other, what are the real differences in the songs beyond the guitar and the electronics?

When I run my own record shop I think I shall just two sections. The first is 'All Music', which should be quite self explanatory and allows all sorts of stock to rub shoulders. The second section of selected singles will 'Get Over It', which I shall stock with versions of OK Go!'s early release.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

'Getting high on the random association vide'

The Marvel universe is the universe of outsiders. Alexander Trocchi's Young Adam is perhaps purposefully an outsider. Adam is the first man according to Christianity. Adam and Eve were the first mutants in Scottish literature.

I make associations with everything[1], mostly at random but not at random. These things are in my head, along with everything else.

There are a lot of things I find confusing, both inside and outside my head, so associations kind of help make sense out of nonsense. I tried making a list[2] but that itself became a massively branching interconnected tree.

The main problem I faced was where to start, as I was listening to Pavement earlier we'll start there, yes we shall.

I associate teenage heartbreak with the Pavement l.p. Wowee Zowee. It happened in my first year at university, after I had turned twenty, but you know, those three sides of vinyl are connected to my first-not-first love. Grave Architecture and Serpentine Pad are for me two of the best tracks on the album which sings from track two onwards (I have mixed feelings about We Dance).

First-not-first-love will have two associations. Tim Booth and James covering Sunday Morning by Lou Reed takes me back to standing in a school corridor aged 14 whistling this and the girl I fancied asking why I was so cheerful[7]. Well, because she was talking to me, I don't know... The other association with first-not-first-love is the female name Clare[8] spelt that way. Just seeing that word will make that melody skip into my head. Do-day-dah, de-di-dah, do-day-dah, de-di-dah.

Breakups are another thing. Here it is It's The End Of The World As We Know It by REM. I know the lyrics are about earthquakes and the rest, but deep in my heart it is about losing one's partner and that feeling that even if it is the end of the world it might be okay. Eventually. After a bucket load of trouble, simply nothing to be done but get on[3].

Feedback. I love screaming guitars, tube screaming effects are the best. Fifteen minutes of feedback and e-bows, hell yes[4]. But, whenever feedback crops in thoughts and conversations it is I Feel Fine by the Beatles. No screaming, more restraint, but feedback nonetheless.

Feedback comes in loops, cycles. Jane's Addiction[5]'s Been Caught Stealing is my bicycling song. It's mostly that lyric, "it's mine, mine oh mine, and I don't have to pay for it", that gets me. The open road, cycle path, they're mine (and yours if you want).

Though I think about music when running I don't associate any music with running. Running is clouds, freedom, floating, with a beat but not a beat I can disclose.

Petanque is suspicion. Messenger bags are Justin's. Bricks sleep and don't hang in the air same way spaceship do. Starship trooper boots. It is more hygienic in bottles. Central reservations broke our gardens. 'Potato on a radiator gonna let it remain in a locket'. The mind gets dirty as it gets closer to thirty, she's flirty and thirty, about the age when women get dirty, it's dirty story about a dirty man[9].

To paraphrase one of my favourite bands (of all time) talking about their shared appreciation of "Stephen Malkmus and the magic of Pavement", I do this all the time. And if I could do it all over again I would do it all over you. And by you I mean me, and isn't that the real truth. No[6].

1- Almost. Well, depending on my mood. Just watched Great British Bake Off and thought 'and this is my shooting hand' when Sue Perkins asked a contender to show their hand.
2- The Mikado can teach the reader a lot about political cronyism (Lord High Everything-Else), ageism (that song about elbows), and the daily routines of school girls. It also demonstrates the use of demonizing language when describing the other, the unfortunates, and the poor (or was that Peter Lilley?).
3- I am not too proud to say I'm okay that I associate the Pastels with a girl I once knew called Aggi. And that sentence starts with a Belle and Sebastian lyric.
4- Beck, and not the guitarist Jeff Beck.
5- That well-known international source of addiction news.
6- One reference and lots of connections. The Simpsons, the X Files, Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek, the list goes on.
7- Have you heard the lyrics?

8- The girl in the corridor wasn't called Clare. I don't know where Clare came from, it might have been a film or book for all I can remember.
9- All of that because I was thinking about ants while watching a fly.

Summer babe (winter version)

While watching some TV live I was subjected to an advert for TLC's not-in-any-way-similar-to-bear-baiting If Katie Hopkins Ruled The World a though struck me what it would be like to be ruled by music.Governed by lyrics, our laws created in tune to melodies and backbeats.

Would the media be working themselves into a 1930s-style hysteria if the could blame it on the boogie instead? Would members of parliament agree to give themselves considerable remuneration packages if someone in the corner was singing Watching The Detectives? What would environmental laws be like if written under the umbrella of Sepultura's Biotech Is Godzilla[1]?

The decision was mine. I'll stop that line of thought.

Katie Hopkins is far from a critic. There is no ability in her to evaluate two sides of an argument, instead the reader gets a hyperactive, 'straight-talking[2]', straight-misinformation, straight-misleading. I wonder what her reaction would be to reading Slaughter House-Five? Animal Farm? Miffy At The Gallery or Dear Grandma Bunny?

Reading leads to learning, read wide enough and one's learning goes far. Don't read, or allow your learning to be filtered through an other's lenses, and one's learning will be exposed for the short-terminalism it represents.

At the moment I think I would prefer to be governed by the music of Pavement and the lyrics (with harmonies) of the Beach Boys. Though I'm always going to be a Furry Friend at heart[3].

1- This song has a strong argument for technological equality.
2- Go on, explain that to me.
3- .I'm loose and committing a crime.

Friday, 31 July 2015

Bears! Woods! News! Bears in the Woods News

Government minister admits that the use of derogatory language to describe groups of people is on the increase, but added: "You have to understand these people are not like you and me, these voters - I am not sorry that I have to use that term, Mx - have values contrary to our values, they want equality, they want fairness, I, and my fellow ministers, will not these voters swarm ordinary, exploited people with these ideals, the government in which I am a minister will continue to keep its foot pressed hard on the faces of everyone in this land." The minister was later found to be on transmit rather than receive.

Bears! Woods! News! Bears in the Woods News

Road safety tells us that the man who can't obey speed limits in built-up areas or simple traffic signage is the most trustable man around. Follow that man, folks, as Homer said, he ain't never going home.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Technical issues

As I passed the three kilometre point I was not comfortable. I was struggling, a considerable part of my being was directed not at my feet pounding the treadmill below me but at two points of pain.

Two sensitive, delicate points of pain.

It is with no exaggeration that the level of pain had almost increased to that point where I am flung backward in time to the 1950s. There was no avoiding, I had to stop. Twenty minutes in and I was done for.

Those explorers in century-old pictures, who managed their way across relatively unknown landscapes, would not admit to suffering this, would probably not suffer this. In their woolly jumpers and fur coats, when will they get the chance to develop conditions like runners' nipples?[1]

Tuesday's early morning rain did me in. I have running clothes but some of my t-shirts are more scratchy than others[2]. In this sense I am doing better than Tengo Kawana creating a routine around writing, reading to his father, and walking along the sea front[3].

Fiction seems to search for answers in the worlds[4] they explore without coming to a conclusion. Yossarian implied escape in Catch-22 is reinforced by Closing Time[5]. Even when there is a definite end, such as Sombrero Fallout, there is not an end; the sombrero just sits there, waiting, the writer continues on his lonely search for discarded hair. Mysteries might present a solution though deliver it with further questions.

[Poirot, Curtain, spoiler alert, one paragraph]

In Poirot's last case Agatha Christie presents the reader with a murderer so devious the majority of their crimes cannot be linked to them. Poirot highlights a number of cases that bare the murderer's mark yet can only catch the murderer by feigning his own illness, by lying. What evidence do we have other than Poirot's word? And given this, what can the reader deduce about Poirot's suitability? In Curtain Poirot effectively becomes Joseph Dredd without the legal framework of Mega City-One.

[Spoiler end]

There is a clash between fiction and life, a dysfunction between fictional and reality. Fahrenheit 451 exposes this and exaggerates with the power of a nuclear explosion. I need to check the weather and my gym kits to avoid the unpleasurable burn.

1- This is a rhetorical question. Rhetorical questions aren't meant to be answered, but if you'd like to try there's an administration fee.
2- They fight and fight and fight, fight, fight.
3- Still eighty pages in.
4- I avoided using the phrase universes in case I offended anyone by blurring the boundaries of how to talk about fiction and genre, even though fiction is genre and genre is fiction (to paraphrase a poem).
5- That Heller, always expanding the universe.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

'I am Akira to your Tetsuo'

'I am Akira to your Tetsuo' - Quote from a poet at Wickerman Festival 2015

Unfortunately there is a piece of music that I have heard that you will never hear. It's just not possible, you needed to be there. You needed to be at Wickerman.

It happened like this. You stand by the main stage, with your back to the dance tent and open air dj booth. To your left, there's three noisy stages, two for up-and-coming acts and a third stage for the nearlies and the just-unders and so on. 

Main stage kicks off, a melody of a singer from 'way back when', with the two dance areas providing a Korg backbeat. Then those three stages join in, guitars full and low with a distortion that might have emerged from the depths of the most deepest and active volcano. 

It shouldn't work. They're not keeping the same tempo, not even in the same key. Main stage is singing about addiction, those guitars sound like they are the basis of several of the unhealthiest addictions yet to be discovered. And yet...

This is Wickerman Festival as I found it. There were good sounds from the stages and performers but part of the beauty of this festival is the mixture. A poem about pies accompanied guitar, a comedian buying viagra for his dad, a band from Sunderland with a l.p. currently at one million and umpteenth in the album chart. And at the end of it all a giant wickerman goes up in flames.

So, who did I see? Well, does it matter, there was so much on. I could have spent endless time in the performance tent alone, the Phoenix, Solus, and Scooter tents had such varied acts, and the main stage had massive crowd pleasers.

At the end of it though it comes down to that poet, a stand in for someone who couldn't make it, talking about generations and revolutions, tucking in a reference to Akira.

Penrith of Eden

In the centre of the world there is a theatre where all the colour of behaviour explodes. I could expect different reactions from readers, from it makes sense to words are misspelt, from meh to I saw what you did there, Mr Dustjacket, and it is/is not clever.

My sentence was deliberate to prove a point. If one puts in the effort there is a reward, and this is true of messing around with words[1] as it is to promoting towns and businesses. And interesting towns and businesses need promoting to provide an alternative to bland, generic high streets and retail destinations.

Penrith is a destination. I've passed it so many times without stopping[2], but on the way back from Wickerman Festival we decided to call in. The rain was falling, we had no idea what was in Penrith, but there must be at least lunch.

There was, in a small cafe overlooking the corn exchange, soup and a refreshing cup of coffee. Highly recommended if you can find it[3]. Along Penrith's streets and roads were lots of flowers and pavement furniture (provided by Greening Penrith, though I wonder if they'd also be Penrith In Bloom). The independent retailers matched this with their own guide to cafes and shops, helping you enjoy their town even in the rain.

Of all the shops I found two bookshops. Hedgehog Books serves up new books and scones, with quite a lot of recommendations and signed first edition. Beckside Books also had signed first editions, though of the older, secondhand variety. Both are worth checking out, just like Penrith as a whole.

And if you're staying the night and go to the cinema, would you tell me about it?

1- What are you doing in that boat, Ratty? Just messing about, also stop calling me ratty, I'm quite happy most of the time.
2- In my head it might have been full of tigers, like those old maps that show land masses with dragons and seas full of kracken-like seamonsters.
3- The cafe would please all those who spell their sins syns.

The Future In Very Real Terms

It is a time of galactic unrest, of uncertainty and of high anxiety. It is a time of rumour and the absence of fact. It is the period of time between academic years and it is flux.

When I meet someone who doesn't work in higher education and I tell them what I do for a living they usually reply along the lines of 'you must have long summer holidays'. Not really, my summer is spent chasing elusive information, activities that I could have used dead time in January doing except that would not be possible[1].

This is also the time when every one of my colleagues, both support staff and academics alike, start to think of the future in very real terms[2]. And when we all end up in familiar literary scenarios.

Catch-22: We need X to do this, but we can't force X to do it and they might not get around it to themselves.
Dracula: They only come out at night[3].
Fahrenheit 451: It was a pleasure to burn, and emerge again as Lionel Hurtz's alterego.
Peanuts[4]: I will end up being the Charlie Browniest of HEI administrators, and the red head girl won't speak to me.
Sombrero Fallout: Correct all the information in this document and it will be left in a drawer taking on a life of its own.
Trainspotting: Choose mid-semester formatives and online submission, choose a presentations and interview skills set, choose professionalism (film version, obviously).

It isn't of course. Like so much of life, there is no way a fictional HEI could present the realities of working in one. Sure, science fiction makes the ordinary extraordinary, and erotic fiction delivers the thick, trusty thwack of leather on a leaning laid-bare behind, but these are the tips of the iceberg of all experience.

Fiction is great at tips, it doesn't do the endless, continuously interconnected, continuously expanding life below the sea level. Fiction isn't life.

As for me, my work is kind of like that done in Cambridge Circus, yep, I feel like a lamplighter most of the time.

Postscript. Actually, all the questioning, the desires, the need for acceptance and striking out for individuality, life is exactly like a book. The book is Fly Fishing by JRR Hartley.

1- That stop clock in Harry Potter would be useful, or Bill and Ted's phonebooth would be my office furniture of choice. That, and a Delorean in the underground car park.
2- At the time of writing I am eighty pages into book three of 1Q84, which is where I stole the idea for this blog post's title.
3- It has been difficult to fit in Smashing Pumpkins into a piece about academic years, and yet it came about so easily. Despite all my rage I am still just very easily amused by word play and paraphrasing.
4- What, sequential art not literary enough for you? Should I stick with eighteenth century and mediaeval poetry instead, no I don't think so myself.
X- 'In the modern world the mace is your only hope'.