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

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