silent (and absent) partners

Silent Partners, the exhibition at The Fitzwilliam Museum about mannequins, is simultaneously fascinating and disturbing, the latter effect hinted at by the exhibition’s subtitle: from function to fetish. The exhibition is certainly wide-ranging in content, starting with the changing role of mannequins from implicit and unacknowledged artists’ models to arty jokes acknowledging their use to criticisms of the formality and rigidity they lead to. In the third and final room, the exhibition covers the introduction of children’s dolls and the development of shop window dummies, which leads neatly into their portrayal in surrealist art and finally in contemporary work by The Chapman Brothers. Given the inclusion of such recent activities, I expected to see mention of other recent uses of mannequins, such as Dr Who storylines from the 1970’s where shop window dummies came to life. That could link to the repeated appearance  of Showroom Dummies and robots in the music and visual imagery of Kraftwerk, and from there to animatronics in entertainment, and then the use of armatures in stop motion animation. The creations of Mackinnon and Saunders for films such as Corpse Bride are fascinating in their miniature mechanical precision, with eye movements adjusted by controls inside the ears.  Lest you think this last point too far removed from the theme of the exhibition, I draw your attention to the large images projected onto the wall of the stairwell leading to the gallery. They include one of these armatures but I saw no reference to it in the exhibition.

Monday, October 27th, 2014 art, Exhibitions No Comments

keep music live

In my younger days, I went to many live music concerts, and have fond memories in particular of seeing both Laurie Anderson and Kraftwerk on several occasions.

In more recent years I’ve been to very few concerts. Indeed, the most recent live music I’ve experienced was hearing guitarist Steve Bean play at my wedding in July this year. I really enjoyed that experience. He is highly talented with a wide repertoire (from Rodriguez’ Caravan d’Aranjuez to Bohemian Rhapsody) and has played with Rodrigo y Gabriela.

A recent quick perusal, however, of the What’s On section of the website for the Cambridge Corn Exchange, revealed two must-see performances.  As a result, I now have tickets to see Philip Glass perform Koyanisqaatsi there on 14 November and the afore-mentioned Rodrigo y Gabriela on 1st December. Exciting! It almost makes up for missing Steve Reich and Kraftwerk perform in a double bill at the Manchester International Festival around 2009.

Monday, October 6th, 2014 music No Comments

sci fi sfx in shock revelation!

So, it turns out that all those Sci-Fi films and their SFX were right after all! With a bit of manipulation, there’s an amazing ultra high-definition time-lapse video of Earth from the orbiting International Space Station, made from photographs  taken by ESA astronaut Alex Gerst. Hat tip to Twisted Sifter. (So, if the SFX are right, does that mean that there are blue Na’vi on planet Pandora? Perhaps unobtainium exists too. Maybe all the stories we thought were just stories were really documentaries after all. Maybe there really is a Force with light and dark sides.)


Monday, September 15th, 2014 photography No Comments

confessions of a first time web developer

I’ve made my first foray into the murky world of web development. It started oh so innocently when I embedded a Google map into an .html page, creating a marker on the map that was centred slightly away from the venue location, and zoomed at an appropriate level. Then it suddenly escalated firstly to creating a Twitter follow button, then creating a Twitter timeline which I then embedded in another .html page. I blame Twitter for making it so easy and tempting me in. All I had to was cut and paste the code into the correct <div>. Now that I’ve started down this slippery slope, where will it all end?


Friday, August 15th, 2014 coding, Uncategorized No Comments

one down, three to go…

At 22:19 tonight I was out in the back garden equipped with camera, tripod and shutter cable release, waiting for the first of four passes tonight by the International Space Station over the UK. The sky was almost completely clear of cloud apart from a few wisps, and there was no breeze so it was a perfect evening for long exposure shots of of the night sky. I didn’t see the station, however, because I was busy setting up the camera kit. It had been a last minute decision to try to capture the ISS. I’d just been reading Twitter feeds and saw a message from Virtual Astronomer retweeted by Prof Brian Cox, alerting the world to the bright passes tonight. It will be pass overhead several times again over the next few days but the weather forecast is bad, especially for Saturday.

Still, according to Meteor Watch, there will be  many more passes over the UK  during June, and it will return in August evenings during the Perseid Meteor shower, but perhaps my best chance of photographing it will be to wait for the second pass tonight at 23:55. I’d better go and make sure the kit is ready in time, because although I might be around to capture the third pass at 01:32, I definitely won’t be awake for the final pass at 03:08.

Update at 23:59. The pass was definitely “overhead” as described on Meteor Watch, so much so that my tripod head couldn’t cope. Ah well, it was still a splendid sight in a clear night sky.

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 photography No Comments

not so much a glass ceiling but glass walls…

I’ve negotiated hedge mazes, maize mazes, mirror mazes, turf mazes and brick mazes, but never one made from glass. But that’s exactly what sculptor, Robert Morris has made: the-glass-labyrinth-by-robert-morris-at-the-donald-j-hall-sculpture-park-1 It’s in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park in Kansas City, whose website seems to suggest that they use the term ‘interactive’ to mean that you can get up close and personal with it rather than a pathway that changes in response to your actions like the game Labyrinth. The park is part of the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, whose website also lists, in its modern and contemporary collection, work by an amazing list of artists, including Sol LeWitt, who featured in Week 1 of the Creative Coding course I wrote about yesterday. I like Twisted Sifter‘s analysis:

“In spirit, Glass Labyrinth acknowledges similar prehistoric markings on stones and cave walls, ancient Greek myths, and Christian metaphors for pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. Thus, it transcends time and space to remind us of the power of deeply felt archetypes. In form and material, however, this labyrinth is a departure from the more familiar circular and rectangular labyrinths of old. Triangulated and constructed of glass plate walls capped with bronze, it speaks to this moment in the language of modern architecture and design–streamlined, dynamic, transparent, and elegant.”

The whole sculpture park  looks a wonderful place, but, for me, the labyrinth is the jewel in the crown, so I shall:

  • add a visit there to my (unwritten) bucket list
  • resume my visits to mazes and photographing them
  • recreate (with improvements) my very first website for which I bought the domain

(Hat tip to Twisted Sifter.)


Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 art No Comments

changing horses mid-stream

Yesterday was the first day of Week 1 of Creative Coding offered by Monash University through Future Learn. The free course introduces complete beginners to Processing, taking a fascinating visual and philosophical approach to the subject. It offers great resources as supporting material, so although I’ve already completed the tasks for week 1, I’m already impatient to get started on the remaining five weeks.

Coincidentally, yesterday was also Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, where the company announced a new language for creating apps: Swift.

On first inspection, Swift appears, at least to an innocent like me, to be far more approachable, like Processing, than Objective C, on which it’s built. I can see that while battle-weary developers may groan at yet another proprietary language, this could be a good time for a beginner to get to grips with Swift.  I’ve looked round to investigate some of the options for creating apps such as Appcelerator , but I remain unconvinced.  I’m still keen to learn more about Processing, but perhaps I’ll hop on board Swift, though it feels like I would be committing myself to a life-changing decision, like someone deciding which football team to support.


Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 coding No Comments

“like cities built on hills…”

Brian Eno has again proved his status as a Renaissance Man. He and Karl Hyde have  created, with a little help from Holo Decks,  a free interactive Augmented Reality App for iOS, to accompany their new album Someday World. If you point your camera phone at the vinyl version of the album or at the online version you see abstract graphics described as outsider architecture that you interact with by double tapping the screen. It seems more specific than his generative app Bloom. If you point the camera elsewhere, you merely see the camera view with no graphics.


Wednesday, May 21st, 2014 art, generative art No Comments

museums at night

This is the weekend of Museums at Night 2014.  Most of the Cambridge University museums arranged something for the evening. I had imagined moody atmospheric lighting with dramatic shadows, so I was keen to take photographic advantage of the unusual light, not appreciating that we have, in fact, moved on from the dark evenings of winter to longer summer days. Indeed, we’re only a month away from the longest day!

So I was fortunate that my museum of choice, the Museum of Classical Archaeology, is relaxed about photography (though not tripods) and has collections that are far less sensitive to atmospheric conditions than many museums. It can therefore allow in far more daylight than most. As a result, I spent a very enjoyable few hours yesterday taking photographs in the gentle light of the setting sun as it entered the said museum at a shallow angle. The Roman, Greek and Egyptian sculptures, casts and especially the friezes looked amazing with just a hint of light bringing out the shapes, as though it had all been carefully planned. And who am I to suggest that it hadn’t?

With all of the historical objects around me, it was reminiscent of the stunning Neolithic cairn at Maes Howe on Orkney where the entrance tunnel to the tomb lines up with the setting sun on the winter Solstice, thus illuminating the rear wall of the central chamber. I’m certainly not suggesting that the museum’s architect aligned the entire building and roof light purely for the setting sun on Museums at Night night, but it would be impressive if s/he had.

It seems fitting to end with a quote from Historic Scotland about the significance of Maes Howe and the nearby sites of Skara Brae:

“The monuments at the heart of Neolithic Orkney and Skara Brae proclaim the triumphs of the human spirit in early ages and isolated places. They were approximately contemporary with the mastabas of the archaic period of Egypt (first and second dynasties), the brick temples of Sumeria, and the first cities of the Harappa culture in India, and a century or two earlier than the Golden Age of China. Unusually fine for their early date, and with a remarkably rich survival of evidence, these sites stand as a visible symbol of the achievements of early peoples away from the traditional centres of civilisation … Maes Howe is a masterpiece of Neolithic peoples. It is an exceptionally early architectural accomplishment. With its almost classical strength and simplicity it is a unique survival from 5000 years ago. It is an expression of genius within a group of people whose other tombs were claustrophobic chambers in smaller mounds.”

museumsatnight-2  museumsatnight-1 museumsatnight-4 museumsatnight-5

Sunday, May 18th, 2014 event, museum, sculpture No Comments

from fingerboard to fretboard

It’s been a good day for music. First of all, I stumbled across Brian Eno and Karl Hyde performing tracks from their new album Someday World live on BBC Radio 6. And tonight I received advance notice of a new release next week of music by Philip Glass’ String Quartets performed by The Dublin Guitar Quartet.

To quote the WXQR website:

“String Quartet No. 5 is full of plucked and bowed chords that sound like wild strumming even on violins, but the cool, restrained interpretations of the Dublin Guitar Quartet speak more like a virginal harpsichord with an unusually sweet voice—a glowing tone, not a flashy one. And of course, it helps that their flawless rhythmic unison and tonal blend makes the four instruments sound like one.”

The transposition to guitar is beautiful, almost as striking as The Balanescu Quartet performing Kraftwerk. Someone has helpfully posted the Quartet’s version of  The Model on YouTube, not my favourite track, either of the Quartet’s covers or of Kraftwerk’s, but the whole Possessed album is worth a listen. I’ve taken back my iMac from the repair shop so I can now listen to music while I work. And now I have two more albums on my list to buy.

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Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 music No Comments