Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Cambridge Film Festival – Site Report

These pictures were taken late on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the front court and chapel at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, just across St Andrew’s Road from the Arts Picturehouse Cinema, where the festival screenings were scheduled. They show US underground filmmaker Mark Boswell and James Mackay, who produced some of Derek Jarman’s mid-eighties movies during a photo shoot organized by the festival. That afternoon Mark was showing his Nova-Kino show reel as part of a programme of events that James had put together for that day. There had already been a screening of work by Danny Lyon earlier in the day and Gina Birch was also due to show a rough cut of the film she is making about her time with The Raincoats. The Q&A with Mark was a really lively affair ranging over a number of topics with the audience participating enthusiastically. The session was also recorded so I’ll post a link to any online documentation that might appear on the CFF website in due course.

Pictured above from top to bottom: Mark Boswell squares up; KH under the lens (photo by Mark Boswell); James Mackay under the arch; Mark and James in Emmanuel College chapel.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Mark Boswell – Le Weekend

American filmmaker Mark Boswell is returning to the UK once more, despite all our best efforts to keep the cultural parasite from ever darkening our shores again – and I for one welcome our Novakino overlord back into our midst. Mark is on a flying visit to this year’s Cambridge Film Festival, and I’ll be joining him onstage at the Arts Picturehouse for a Q&A session after a screening of his short films on Saturday September 26. Click here for more details on the programme.

Then on Monday September 28 Mark and I will be sharing the bill at the Horse Hospital: on offer will be a special UK showing of his 2003 feature film The Subversion Agency. I’ll also be reading from Welcome To Mars, so expect an evening of Modern History as you’ve never seen it before...and there’s likely to be another Q&A as well. Do try and come along to at least one of these events as they offer a wonderful opportunity to encounter some really fascinating work. For more details see the Google Calendar entries opposite.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Biting Tongues Live At The Moon Landing

Just posted on YouTube is this video cutup of ‘Glorious Stranger’, the opening number from the Biting Tongues performance at the Moon Landing Party in July this summer. The band performed against NASA mission footage back-projected onto a five-panel cyclorama that had been specially constructed around the stage area: to get the full wide-screen effect you should probably try watching the movie on its YouTube page. The dry ice and lasers give the whole thing the correct retro feel. Disco was really all we had left after the Apollo programme was cancelled – and it shows.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Confessions of a Crap Artist

‘It should be a binding clause that when you find God you get to keep Him.’

It wasn’t Philip K. Dick’s fault that God started talking to him in 1974. Confessions of a Crap Artist, my programme on PKD’s twisted exegesis, has recently been posted as an MP3 on the Speechification site. A strange tale of madness, machines and attempted suicide, it features contributions from Kim Stanley Robinson, Ray Nelson, Brian Aldiss, Tim Powers, James Blaylock and, for the first – and last – time on British radio, the Philip K. Dick Android, who went missing right after the show was first broadcast.

This amazing robotic replica (pictured above) used to be a life-size fixture inside the ‘Valis Lounge’, a recreation of PKD’s old Orange County front room, where he would sit on a couch and talk with visitors. The skin was lifelike flubber, his facial features could communicate a comprehensive range of emotions, and his memory housed the complete transcripts of all Dick’s recorded interviews, plus a wide selection of his written works – ask him a question, and he’d draw up this huge recourse to craft a reply.

For the programme, we had the Philip K Android recite relevant extracts from his books and give information about himself – my favourite part of the programme is where my voice and the his are cut together to recreate Dick’s own account of the original moment of divine invasion back in 1974. The android has been missing now for over three years and the makers have already stated that they won’t be building a replacement anytime soon – so I guess the only thing to do is to wish him well, wherever he may be, and to hope he is happy and well cared for. The guy was a pro, after all, and a pleasure to work with.

Confessions of a Crap Artist
Written and presented by Ken Hollings
Produced by Mark Burman
Mixed by John Calver
Monday, January 16, 2006, 8.30-9.00 pm on BBC Radio 4
Find out what happened when a Californian science fiction writer went in search of the divine with a typewriter and a tape recorder by clicking here.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Ghost Box 12: The Transactional Dharma of Roj

One of the projects I have been engaged upon over the summer is composing the booklet text to go with Ghost Box’s latest release: The Transactional Dharma of Roj. As is usual with Ghost Box, the concept dictates the content. Jim Jupp and Julian House share a strong feel for context: there is always the feeling that some strange new narrative is unfolding just outside the established ranges of human perception.

From the Ghost Box Press Release:

Ghost Box is very excited to release what we believe to be one of the most original and unique albums of electronic music for many years. The Transactional Dharma is haunting and immersive experience. That Roj lectures in electronic music is clear in the signs of academic rigour that emerge in this album but it also channels the wild eyed outsiders of the genre, like Angus Maclise or Bruce Haack but with an oddly British twist.

Roj's work is the culmination of a long period of painstaking work, the results of experimentation in both sound and consciousness. A very personal and spiritual work for which Roj was eager to find exactly the right sound and home.

Always an important part of any Ghost Box release, the album artwork by Julian House features text by Ken Hollings. Hollings collaborated extensively in the concept and hit upon the perfect textual environment of snappy, far out, aphorisms. As if the reality-tampering tape experiments of Burroughs and Gysin were neatly delivered by Marshall McLuhan. This album imagines a kind of cultural and psychic revolution exploding in the rigid confines of a small English town.

The CD is also available via the label’s own small distribution network which includes the following stores: Monorail (Glasgow), Analogue (Edinburgh), Jumbo Records (Leeds), Resident (Brighton) Tower Records (Dublin), A-Musik (Köln), Ananana (Lisbon), Get Real (Amsterdam), Cheap Thrills (Montreal), Other Music (New York), and from a growing number of download vendors including, iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic.

Ghost Box 12, The Transactional Dharma of Roj, by Roj is available on CD and download from the Ghost Box
shop on 28th September or you can pre-order it right now. Roj, a former member of Broadcast, executes psychedelic tone paintings with a battery of exotic percussion, analogue electronics and tape. Beautiful booklet design by Julian House and text by Ken Hollings, journalist, broadcaster and author of Welcome to Mars . You can hear some album clips here.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Interesting 2009 – Site Report

One of the better ways to give a comprehensive account of this year’s Interesting, which took place at the Conway Hall on Saturday September 12, might be to tag it. With over 30 speakers taking part, plus all the usual sidelines and distractions, this is perhaps the only way to suggest the diverse range of subjects covered. So even a less than comprehensive set of tags would have to include: yachts, robots, Sir Francis Galton, sunsets, Morse code, conducting an orchestra, Stan Laurel’s dad, frivolity, the colour violet, being a gentleman, videogame cheats, girls’ comics, sound apps, bacteria, nuclear power, education, ponies, homemade merchandising, guerrilla gardening, drinking, monopoly, waterwheels, technological doping and (most likely) cake.

Also worth a mention – although not strictly on the roster of speakers – are Adrian McEwen’s Bubblino, a robot that responds to feeds on Twitter by blowing bubbles, and Matt Jones’s chilling revelation that the day after Interesting, Sunday September 13, would mark the tenth anniversary of that fateful day when a massive nuclear explosion on the moon hurled it out of earth orbit and sent it careering across the universe. You may not have needed to attend Interesting 09 to enjoy this particular pop culture factoid, but it’s the only event in town where you’d have been encouraged to commemorate the occasion by getting to your feet and dancing wildly to Barry Gray’s disco-tastic Space: 1999 main title theme. Now that’s what I call edutainment. Thanks again, Russell. See you all next year.

Pictured above from Top to Bottom: Adrian McEwen feeds Bubblino more bubble mixture at the end of the morning session; Matt Ward viewed from backstage, comparing semiautomatic assault rifles; Matt Jones works the crowd while Commander John Koenig looks on; the Inevitable Outcome.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Interesting 2009 Running Order

The above is the index card Russell Davies handed me at the start of Interesting 2009 after I had elected to compeer the last session of the day. The number in red next to each name indicates how many minutes each speaker was allotted to speak on their chosen topic. As you can see from my spidery scribble, most of them showed remarkable self-discipline: the late start times are only indicative of the degree of AED or 'accumulated event drift' (otherwise known as 'gig time') that inevitably occurs on occasions such as these. My sincere thanks are therefore due to Robert Thomas, Gem Spear, Paul Hammond, David Smith, Richard Reynolds, Claire Margetts, Matt Ward, Dan Germain and the ...uh... ‘Herdmeister’ for making my job easier yesterday. I’ll post an Interesting 09 site report with some actual photographs once I’ve sorted them out: as usual there are far too many long shots of people onstage leaning anxiously over laptops.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Interesting 09

This Saturday, September 12, I shall be doing my bit for Interesting 09 with a spot of MC-ing for one of the sessions during the course of the day. Organizer Russell Davies hasn’t quite figured what my slot might be, but it will fun waiting to find out. 'Interesting' is pretty much what Saturdays were invented for, especially since they don’t show The Powerpuff Girls on terrestrial television anymore, so I’m really looking forward to it. A full report with pictures will undoubtedly follow in due course. In the meantime I hope to see you at the Conway Hall bright and early – and don’t forget the Chemical X.

Pictured above: as the screens are lifted, a ghostly light floods the secret laboratory

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Catching Up With the Bernese Alps

The best place to see technology in all its naked splendour is in some of the more remote and inaccessible corners of the human terrain. Examined from this perspective, the glaciers, mountains and valleys of the Bernese Alps seem less spectacular than the cable car stations, communications towers and panoptic architecture that have been constructed to help us appreciate them. Nature is suddenly revealed as a technological theme park – its most breathtaking aspects are the views we have engineered for ourselves of these particular vistas.

Pictured above from Top to Bottom: cable car station with communications tower at Männlichen, 2227 metres above sea level; hydraulic freight lift in operation at the Lauterbrunnen cable car station, 796 metres above sea level; cable pylon between Brig and the Schilthorn, approximately 2600 metres above sea level; multi-screen projection at the Schilthorn tourist centre, showing an external panoramic view of the Schiltorn’s 360° revolving restaurant in winter, 2960 metres above sea level.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

The How Not To Cookbook

Word reaches me from my old friend Aleksandra Mir that her latest publication, The How Not To Cookbook: Lessons Learned the Hard Way, is now available. Containing 1,000 entries, offering really useful information on what not to do in and around the kitchen, this is available either as a free PDF download or as a limited edition volume, which you can order directly from Jenny Richards at the Collective Gallery in Edinburgh – but it’ll cost you.

I’ve worked with Aleksandra in the past, most notably supplying catalogue texts for her 2006 exhibition Switzerland and Other Islands, and the 2008 calendar Gravity: The Eternal Countdown, so it was a real pleasure to contribute something to her dangerously useful cookbook. All the entries are listed anonymously so it would be churlish for me to point out which warning to the curious is mine – suffice to say that it was a less than life-enhancing experience. There is talk of further expanded and revised editions, so more on this as it comes up. Bon appetit.