filmed in supermarionation

It’s going to be a puppet-filled few days: firstly ‘The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer‘ at Cambridge Junction tomorrow, then the National Theatre Encore Broadcast (As Live) of ‘War Horse‘ at The Picturehouse on Tuesday. I’ve been waiting to see the stage version of War Horse since 2011.

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 film, theatre No Comments

pacman pianos

After I recently wrote  about Monomania’s solitary obsessions, Prosthetic Knowledge has posted with what seems like perfect synchronicity about Six Pacmen by Tacit Group in South Korea. The audio visual performance of a multiplayer version of Pacman, combined with ‘Six Pianos’ by Steve Reich  smacks of the relentless obsession involved in Monomania. OK, neither the Pacman element nor the piano playing is solitary, but the obsessively intense and repetitive nature of each, combining to form visual and audio patterns  seems appropriate for Monomania and is an example of the generative art that has been fascinating me recently, as well as an example of someone else mining of the 1970s as a source of rich material because ‘Six Pianos’ was released in 1973.) ’Structural‘, Tacit’s work based on Tetris, is slow but equally fascinating, with a soundtrack closer to 1970s Kraftwerk than to modernist classical music.


Friday, March 7th, 2014 games, generative art No Comments

monomania at cambridge junction

I’m looking forward to Saturday’s Monomania Festival at Cambridge Junction, though that’s almost despite the advance publicity, which describes the festival as “a one-day international festival of solitary and obsessive creativity…” making it sound unfortunately like unhealthy teenage bedroom practices. The publicity goes on to add:

“…from meticulousness, self-sufficiency and DIY enthusiasm to all-consuming compulsions, rituals and isolation, solo artists across live art, live music, installations and sound explore the ways our personal obsessions and fixations pervade art and everyday life.”

which isn’t necessarily much better. But then it lists:

“See robots, balancing rocks, listen to pins drop, house music on Casio keyboards, indoor bamboo, Super 8 films, light controlled speakers, a telescope, crafted folk, experimental noise, and everything in between…”

So all in all, I’m still glad I’ve already bought my ticket.  I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this after the event.

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 art, digital art, event, Exhibitions, Uncategorized No Comments

blasts from the past and into the future

There was an interesting combination of programmes on BBC2 on Monday, firstly ‘Horizon: Man on Mars – Mission to the Red Planet’, followed by ‘The Culture Show: Lego – the Building Blocks of Architecture’.  Catch them on iPlayer while you can!

Horizon discussed the difficulties in transporting people to Mars, in terms of logistics (fuel, water, and recycling human waste) and safety: the effects on their bodies of radiation and the lack of gravity, as well as the psychological effects of boredom and confinement over a year-long journey.  It also considered  improvements in spacesuit design, and the difficulty in slowing down sufficiently for landing and what to do once there to survive the dust storms. The distance between Earth and Mars  means that a lot of new technology will be required so the solutions used in the Apollo moon missions are no longer applicable, which means the old assumptions of recruiting astronauts from the ranks of test pilots  no longer apply. It’s therefore perfectly possible, despite the sexist title of the programme that some of the crew may be female (if they can be safely injected with testosterone!)

What the programme didn’t consider explicitly was the reason for sending humans to Mars, other than general curiosity. There appeared to be an assumption that a launch date might be 2033, assuming all the engineering issues could be resolved.  I’l be 72 then, so it’s feasible that I’ll see it take place, just as I did the first moon landing when my father woke me up in the middle of the night to make sure I saw such a historic event. Collecting the set is a possibility! New engines are currently being tested in the United States, but the programme concluded that the scale of the mission is beyond any single country or private company, so a partnership of some form will be required.  Step forward Mr Branson and Mr Gates.

It’s exciting to think that the space exploration I used to read about as a child is once more a possibility.Which leads neatly to the second programme I mentioned.  Like many children  in the 1960s I enjoyed playing with Meccano and Lego, so I was intrigued by the idea of the plastic brick’s influence on architecture.  But the programme turned out to be so much more than that. Starting at the time of post war reconstruction, when playing with Meccano and Lego was a positive, hopeful and non-destructive outlook, the programme moved from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water through 1970s prefabricated system buildings to post-Post-Modernism.

It looked at some of the more futuristic styles of architecture, but most interesting,  at least to me, was the artist using vast piles of white Lego in Albania to start collaborative discussion about how to rebuild the country after the fall of Communism. From there, the programme suddenly moved to the use of Minecraft, both as a game for young children and as a tool for public consultation in town planning circles. When I was a town planner, Sim City was considered adventurous but not particularly useful.

With appropriate timing, given the Culture Show’s topic,  I saw the Kelpies this weekend, two enormous steel horses heads currently nearing completion near Falkirk and Grangemouth.  I say ‘with appropriate timing’ because the Kelpies look like they’re made from tiny futuristic silver Lego, forming yet another leap from our pasts into the future.


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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 art, sculpture No Comments

an infinite loop of mutual invasion

After posting recently about ‘A Woman without Secrets‘ , the Louise Bourgeois exhibition at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art,  I returned yesterday to ‘I Give it All Away‘, the simultaneous, and therefore potentially the companion, exhibition of Bourgeois’ work at The Fruitmarket Gallery.  The accompanying book ‘Insomnia in the Work of Louise Bourgeois’ by Frances Morris and Philip Larrat-Smith has a quote from Bourgeois on the cover: ‘Has the day invaded the night or the night invaded the day?’ One of the essays in the book states:

‘Water is a metaphor for the passage of time and the confluence of past, present, and future in the incessant flow of her thoughts. It serves as a counterpoint to the recurring motif of the clock. These twin symbols of time function metaphorically to convey the disjuncture between rational time and lived time, between ‘objective’ time divided into days, hours, minutes, and seconds, and ‘subjective’ time where past, present and future merge in memories, veilles*, fears, and desires.

The first time I went to the exhibition, the biro drawings seemed like scribbles, but today they looked closer to finished pieces. Perhaps that’s because in the interim I saw ‘A Woman Without Secrets’, so that my understanding has been informed first by one exhibition then a second, and now by a second viewing of the first. Now I feel that the second exhibition invaded the first which in turn invaded the other, which takes us back to day invading night or vice versa, leading me to ‘see’ the following angular version of the Yin Yang symbol:


Which, although it’s not quite how I imagined it, still has its infinite loops, like the quote from Bourgeois at the start of this post,  is reminiscent of many of the drawings by M.C. Escher, such as Day and Night.

In a further looping connection, the music system in the gallery cafe was playing ‘Love Is the Drug’ by Roxy Music,  which in turn reminded me of Brian Eno, whom I also wrote about recently, although as far as I’m aware, he’d left the group by that stage. And all this reminds me of my current read: ‘Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid’ by Douglas R Hofstadter, with its recurring Strange Loops, and to quote Wikipedia, its ‘interweaving narratives about how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of “meaningless” elements.’

And according to Hofstadter,

“The genius of Escher was that he could not only concoct, but actually portray, dozens of  half-real, half-mythical worlds,  worlds filled with Strange Loops, which he seems to be inviting his viewers to enter.”

To quote again from and to paraphrase from the exhibition book: “Water also represents the unimaginable experience of death that is experienced once only, and then alone.” “Insomnia while others sleep is like being in the world of the dead. Hell (pace Sartre) is the absence of others, especially the absence of the Other.” Bourgeois said: “I am ashamed / to be a lone wolf downstairs.” (I wonder what she thought of  ’Steppenwolf’ by Herman Hesse, or even ‘Born to be Wild’ by Steppenwolf.)

All this material from and about Bourgeois conveys a nightmarish blur of loneliness, abandonment and tangled time. So lets finish by focussing instead on the joyfulness of Fergusson’s ‘Les Eus‘, currently at The Scottish Gallery of Modern Art, with figures dancing round and round, like the workmen in the opening scene of A Dance to the Music of Time, who are, in turn, based on the figures in the painting of the same name by Poussin.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling dizzy!


* from the French veiller: which apparently means to stay up or sit up at night, to look after or watch over someone.


Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 art, Exhibitions No Comments

oh no! yet another cool kickstarter project!

I’m still waiting to receive my AUUG motion controller, but regular progress reports show that everything is on track. If I had more ready cash I’d be tempted to invest in this 3D controller for modelling software. Unfortunately, it requires a significant commitment to obtain the modelling software, and then there’s the time commitment after that to become familiar with the system, and then there’s the whole 3D printing aspect… So, sadly,  I think I’ll  have to let this opportunity pass. But I wish the makers well. It looks a great idea.


Monday, February 10th, 2014 3D, hardware No Comments

anxiety vs the joy of life

This afternoon I went to the wonderful exhibition of work by JD Fergusson, the Scottish Colourist, at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, which, in its joyous celebration of colour, shape, health and life, was a complete contrast to A Woman Without Secrets, the equally interesting exhibition of Louise Bourgeois’ work full of pain and anxiety. Having seen I Give It All Away in the Fruitmarket Gallery shortly before Christmas, it was interesting  to spot the links with this one, the recurring themes of anxiety, motherhood and potential loss.

While looking at Fergusson’s paintings, I kept seeing links with characters in ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ which gave this blog its name, particularly in Portrait of Jean. Could this be the Jean Templar with whom the narrator Nick Jenkins fell so completely in love that it never quite left him? Paintings of scenes in Paris might have been witnessed by Nick when in France. I was also filled with the urge to recreate some of the paintings with flat panels of colour like silkscreen prints. A stimulating afternoon all round.

Saturday, February 8th, 2014 art, Exhibitions No Comments

‘i’ve been a miner for a heart of gold’ – neil young

After yesterday’s post about my version of the 1975 work ‘Shutter Interface’ by Paul Sharits, I’ve been inspired to resume work on another generative piece I started last year, and thinking about it last night kept me awake for several hours. Eventually I had to get up to make some notes before I forgot my solution to the problem I was struggling with.  i remember this pattern of disturbed sleep from the days of my coding sessions with Ollie Glass, which, in turn, reminded me of my genetic algorithm coding. Food for future projects perhaps.  To keep me awake today I’m listening to ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’ and ‘Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy’ by Brian Eno, no doubt the consequence of reading ‘Brian Eno: Visual Music’ by Christopher Scoates. Ah the 1970s, derided by many for their excesses, but I see them as a rich mine of inspiration.

i can’t remember when I first visited the turf maze at Saffron Walden, but it may well have been the 1980s. Anyway, no matter which decade it was,  it’s still part of the relatively distant past to be mined,  because it was on that first visit that I ‘saw’ the image of the pattern that would be created by people traversing the different sections of  concentric loops when seen from above. And that’s the starting point for my latest project: blobs revealing a pattern by following an otherwise invisible path. It’s been lurking at the back of my head ever since. Which means devising a path-following algorithm, and that’s where I stumbled when I worked on it before. I’m convinced the solution is within my grasp. Last night I struggled with the code to control the ‘release’ of blobs at random intervals but I have an idea how to do it now.  So simple once inspiration strikes! A mere matter of interpreting my late-night scribbles and testing them. I’ve also thought of ways to test a path-following algorithm. So much to do, but fun. Now, on with the digging!


Thursday, February 6th, 2014 coding, generative art No Comments


Yay! It’s complete!

I’ve finished writing my first piece of generative art for a long time.  I wrote about my plans recently.

Not surprisingly, I used Processing, and took an OOP approach (Object Oriented Programming), to represent four loops of film, each projecting a square of colour, slightly overlapping with the next one,on a blank wall, and with each loop containing only plain coloured frames, but with one frame in each loop a pure black to create a flickering effect.

I call it Flicker, and it’s based on the 1975 work ‘Shutter Interface‘ by Paul Sharits, as described in ‘Brian Eno: Visual Music’ by Christopher Scoates:

The films are all out of phase/sync and therefore a multitude of variational states of interactions between them is set in (potentially perpetual) motion. For Sharits, the fades and dissolves were “‘active’ punctuation for the ‘sentences’ being visually enunciated” and in their variable syntax recall a Chomskyan notion of grammar.”

I’d like to post the sketch so you can see it running, but it doesn’t work in Javascript mode, so here’s a still from my sketch, though, being a still image, it entirely misses the point of the flickering. You’ll just have to image a brief interruption of each square at random intervals:



Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 generative art No Comments


I don’t normally write here about my work, but things are so exciting that I want to record and share what’s going on.

This year, being the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War is getting everyone in the museum world  thinking about how to commemorate the events. So it’s not just Michael Gove’s little tizzy about ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’. There’s going to be a lot more discussion of the subject everywhere.

St Neots Museum is planning an exhibition and associated activities, including building a mock-up trench, making simple periscopes like the ones used by soldiers in the trenches, and some more stop motion animation. This time, however, instead of holding specific workshops for animation, which result in a lot of separate, very short animations, we’re going to leave a set, laptop and camera in place, so that visitors can add a sequence to an ever-expanding film.  Bruce, one of the museum volunteers, has built three sets which can be swapped out at any time. One is a seascape, complete with waves and deep Atlantic rollers, incorporating slots for ships and submarines to glide along and capacity for plumes of water caused by torpedo explosions. Another scene comprises an intricate trench complex with anti-tank defences, removable slabs for craters caused by bomb explosions to appear and simple paper tanks for children to colour, cut out and and assemble then animate.  The third set is for aerial warfare with cut-out biplanes ready for dog fights.  My next task is to draw up a storyboard to suggest ideas for sequences.

We spent last Friday testing the sets, which was a useful experience because Bruce could make some minor modifications over the weekend. We’ll shoot another series of tests tomorrow. Some people think I get paid to play, but I call it Research and Development. And yes, I enjoy it, but there’s nothing wrong with that!


Monday, January 13th, 2014 animation No Comments