2020 weeknote 3

I feel like if I try and write these things quickly I might – just might – end up at weeknotes zero (as in, up to date, not going back in time). So, here she is: week three of 2020.


I noticed recently that my listening habits have tipped the balance from being mainly podcasts and some radio to mainly radio and some podcasts. This happens from time to time. I go through phases where I care more about what middle-class white guys have to say about the world of consumer technology, to caring more about music, current affairs and experimental radio and sound art. Thus, lately my ears have been mostly full of the latter.

An average day might look like this (thank me later, RAJAR):

Centreforce is not my usual cup of tea in terms of music. BUT it has the energy and pep of a breakfast show that I can’t help but enjoy at that time of the morning. But what really seals the deal for me are the shout outs. The radio nerd in me wants to call them QSL reports as listeners-in from Kent and Luton and Kilburn and south London chime in, with the deejay reading out the reports a few at a time every few minutes.

Out to Danny! Out to easy Dee, how are you fella? Out to Sam. Out to the 198.* Out to Bob the chippy – large cod and chips for me please mate – ah just kidding, not that kind of chippy are ya?! Out to Razzer. Biggin’ up Sara in Dagenham. Outs to the Cheshunt crew – oi, bring us a bacon butty yeah?

And so on. With deft use of the faders between each announcement for a brief burst of music.

* I believe this is a reference to the last digits of a phone number when used to identify an otherwise unnamed correspondent, rather than, say, Centreforce masquerading as a numbers station.

And it’s brilliant. It makes you feel like you’re on this big map of London and the home counties, where Centreforce, which started life as a pirate station, now broadcasts legitimately on DAB in glorious* 32kbps DAB+.

* listenable, but entirely not glorious. The state of Britain’s approach to DAB broadcasts is a bit of a shitshow, with the majority of stations still being in old-school DAB, and those that are in DAB+ having to squeeze as much juice as possible out of the fact that the more efficient codec allows for lower bitrates. As an example, Belgium broadcasts all its stations via DAB+ almost entirely at 96kbps, whereas most experimental British DAB+ streams seem to top out at 64kbps. ANYWAY.

Sure, the shout outs might be inflated or manipulated somehow but…. I bet they’re not. It just gives a lovely warm interactive edge to listening in, particularly on a breakfast show, as we are all variously on our way to work, on our way home, getting the kids off to school, or rejoicing in the sweet kiss of a day off.

The ‘OS’ show on BBC World Service is a funny one. It’s broadcast live from the middle of the newsroom at Broadcasting House, and sounds like it too. It’s one of the least good-sounding radio shows I listen to at the moment as there is a lot of background noise, and frequent delays when patching in correspondents from around the globe.

But, as with all good radio, this doesn’t get in the way of the content itself being great. It’s a refreshing take on the day’s news – and as with most BBC World Service shows versus BBC Radio 4, it knows it has a global audience, so you get the impression you’re hearing the news that actually matters on a global level rather than a bias towards events nearer to home.

Whilst I’m on the subject of radio, I saw this great visualisation of American FM stations from Erin Davis (via Robin Sloan) recently, which I loved:

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Source: https://erdavis.com/2020/01/04/visualizing-the-geography-of-fm-radio/

Unnnf. Love it. Click through for how/why, and some other visualisations of similar data.


We also went to see Rose Matafeo performing her Horndog show at the Ambassadors Theatre which was great. She’s so funny and full of energy. I hadn’t actually seen her do full stand-up before, but she is great on Taskmaster and other things we’ve seen her in. Her show was great. The one we went to was a sort of technical rehearsal for a filming the next day, so it’ll be available somehow, soon.

It also meant that through a stroke of extreme luck, I managed to book seats dead centre of the middle of a row in stalls, right behind a space where some seats had been removed to place a camera for the filming the next day.

If only all London theatres had this kind of legroom.


On Saturday I went to a Field Recording workshop in Bethnal Green which was run by the label nonclassical and hosted by sound artist Kate Carr, whose Field Recording Show has recently just finished a run on Resonance FM and which I absolutely loved.

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It was a really great session – inclusive, interesting and a great opportunity to understand different takes on the same medium, and to try out new techniques and equipment in an encouraging and helpful environment.

For me, it was cool to try out a pick-up coil mic to record electronic noises which are not normally audible, and it was great to be encouraged to explore the immediate vicinity – a busy high street and a London park – looking for interesting sounds to do… something…with. (More on that in another post to follow.)

It was also an opportunity for me to chat with other like-minded people and find out about their motivations and projects. I struggled a bit with that aspect, but only through my own anxieties and weirdnesses. It was, as I say, a really inclusive, lovely crowd.

They’re running more workshops and I’d highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in field recording, regardless of background or prior knowledge.


And on Sunday we started the day off seeing Princess Mononoke at the Kiln – which was more batshit than I’d remembered, but no less beautiful.

I then decided to go for a longish run. Longish actually turned into 22km or so, which was perhaps a bit overlong given my lack of preparation. But the weather was lovely, I had good snacks and music (Gerling’s In the City came on at a really well-timed moment), and I met some fun animals.

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2020 weeknote 2

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Turning over the rubber date stamp to see a fresh, un-inked ‘2020’ is a good visual metaphor

The first proper ‘work week’ of 2020, and quite a landmark as we said goodbye to our manager who is destined for pastures (or estates) new. Lots of things to sort out, inevitably, even with a longish notice period. There’s never enough time. Cue bouts of hysteria around loss of years of knowledge and experience, and colleagues and I running around like headless chickens. Of course with hindsight we’ll have been fine. But it’s felt like quite the upheaval.

Thursday and Friday were taken up by the aforementioned leaving do, and then the final day proper. The former went very well – not a foregone conclusion, given the number and variety of attendees – and the latter was pleasant enough, though marred slightly by some very last-minute srs bsns.

Spent a few minutes watching a blackbird in the garden attacking a holly tree, retrieving berries. And the rest of any free time my brain allowed me was spent daydreaming about some of the highlights of our trip to Bruges the previous week. I have a feeling Bruges will stay with me. One of those very special places.

Not an awful lot else to report – a quiet weekend was had, as it was the first proper weekend in a few weeks of no plans. I know I spent some of it just pottering, and a lengthy session on Sunday which took me back ten years or so. Now and then I find myself browsing Flickr and Tumblr and other personal blogs and it’s similar to the kind of web browsing I did in 2010 and earlier.

The very particular aesthetic of certain photographers and bloggers that I just find so comforting and, a little, inspiring. Film photographers, studyblrs, and curators (YES!) of all kind of niche interests.

And just the very act of using Flickr and Tumblr themselves, though being aware of how they are increasingly becoming dinosaurs of another era. I think I know in my gut now that they – at least in their present forms – aren’t long for this world. But I still find comfort in them.

Onwards.

2020 weeknote 1

The Belfry seen from the Groenerei / Quai Verte

The first week of 2020 began with a four-day trip to Bruges, which was fabulous and not a bad way at all to kick off a new year.

I’ve been editing the photographs (I took a lot) and I still can’t quite believe how lovely Bruges is. I had expected it to be lovely, and assumed there would be nice bits dotted around, but I was surprised by how consistently pretty it is, and how much I enjoyed walking around.

As well as how the place looked, I was also struck by how Bruges sounds. Traffic level are low, which has is a big help. And there are horses and carriages around every corner. Their hooves make a lovely noise on the cobbled streets. But the icing on the cake is the amount of church bells one hears all throughout the day. The bells mark the hours and quarter hours, and also call people to services. They reverberate around the town wonderfully.

The Belfry

The highlight of this auditory experience of Bruges was going up the Belfry, which houses an array of bells (obviously), but also (less obviously), a carillon, which enables the array of bells to be played as though it were an organ or similar keyboard instrument.

We somewhat accidentally chose Saturday morning for our climb up the tower of the Belfry, and it coincided perfectly with a carillon performance – as we neared the top, we passed the small room inside which was a man happily sat at his keyboard, just starting to perform using the bells meters above his head.

Nothing could have prepared us for the experience of being inside the belfry as the bells played out. I had foolishly assumed that the viewing area of the belfry would be different to the bit where the bells are, otherwise how could mere mortals occupy a space in which loud bells are rung every quarter of an hour?

Wrong. And, indeed, bong.

The viewing area is very much where all the bells are housed, and the noise of their clanging is, quite literally, cacophonous. It was also a unique opportunity to get out my Tascam recorder and – after a massive correction of the input levels in such a loud environment – try and capture some of the incredible noise we were experiencing.

Bruges was wonderful. We were there for almost four full days thanks to the convenience of Eurostar and I’d happily go back again some time to see some of the things we missed, and perhaps see the place in a different season.

Moving too fast

Something Phil Gyford wrote in his latest weeknotes struck a chord with me. Talking about the recent documentary about the Jonestown massacre, he said:

Unfortunately one mystery went entirely unexamined: why did the documentary makers stretch all the archive footage to the wrong aspect ratio? Maybe we’ll never know. Future generations will not only wonder why the people filmed in silent movies could move so quickly but why all the people filmed in the second half of the 20th century were so fat.

A good point. And it reminded me of something I was thinking recently watching whichever is the most recent big budget BBC nature documentary series. It featured (or if it didn’t, it made me think of it) footage of the Aurora (whether Australis or Borealis, I know not).

Footage of the aurora is usually sped up – I think. Certainly you often get weird swooshy effects when the shot contains humans or if there is any camera movement. I think it tends to be made up of multiple long exposures. As far as I know, the lights change and move quite slowly, and we are more used to seeing them move quite quickly.

I don’t think I always knew this was the case. I’ve never actually seen the aurora, so I can’t say for sure either way. But as far as I know, this is the case.

This is the same sort of phenomena as Phil mentioned above, where old footage is often herky-jerky or just plain too-fast, usually down to the way the camera was hand-cranked.

I’ve also never seen people from the first part of the 20th century walking around all fast and jerky, so I can’t say for sure etc. etc.

Anyway, it occurred to me, watching the BBC wildlife film, that some shots of animals are, inevitably, slowed down. Usually because what you’re seeing would happen far too quickly to see in real time. But it’s never really explained.

There must be a gland buried in our brains that tells us, usually due to contextual cues like other stuff in the frame: “That footage is slowed down because it must be.” Seeing foliage or water move similarly slowly nearby would be a hint. But it struck me that it’s never actually explained. We just sort of know it is. Unless some of us don’t.

Weeknote? Late November 2019 edition

I sat down to watch something on YouTube the other day, and instead of a brief ad for Squarespace, I was shown a 5-minute music video. At no point did it present itself like an ad – apart from the little thing that told me it was an ad (and it was a skippable ad, thankfully).

But after about twenty seconds, I didn’t want to skip this ad/music video. I was transfixed. I kept watching. I had no idea what I was watching. And I ended up watching the whole thing.

I think initially it was the striking opening shots that left me wondering what it was going to be about. And then once it became apparent it was, essentially, a music video (or live performance video), I kind of kept watching just to see where it was going. Would it turn into an ad for something? The track itself was kind of downbeat compared to the gravity of the images alongside it. And then of course the barriers presented by the cultural and language differences meant that I hadn’t got the foggiest idea what was going on.

It was a riot. Almost literally, at points.

I guess I’ve not watched any live performance videos filmed at stadiums lately – especially in this age of tiny high definition cameras and drones (Christ, I feel old) – so maybe they all look this good and dramatic. But particularly the aerial shots of the circle pits were just so dramatic. It was just… fascinating.

Anyway the video itself is viewable on YouTube so you don’t need to play, ahem, Russian roulette with YT’s ad algorithms to see it for yourself.

Anyway, I think it’s basically just a live performance video by a Belarusian musician called Макс Корж. Why I was shown it on YouTube as an ad I’ll never quite understand. There was a little note that explained that I’ve turned off targeted ads in YouTube, which goes some way to explaining why it was so random. Maybe not quite this random… But if turning off suggested ads occasionally presents me with something quite as unusual and compelling as this, then it was clearly a worthwhile change.

Bring on the crazy stuff from outside my YouTube echo chamber, please…

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Speaking of YouTube algorithms that are rather more in my wheelhouse, I was shown a lovely film recently of a chap called Beau Miles running the 46km length of a disused railway line in rural Australia. It was an unexpected delight, and I look forward to seeing more of Beau’s films.

It should be no surprise to me that YouTube algorithmically showed me a beautifully-shot film (with added drones) about an eccentric runner with a strong connection to railways and beautiful countryside – my YouTube is basically either that, or videogames and tech.

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On a not unrelated note, there’s something weird about our broadband at home. Having done some googling it appears to be a common issue related to our ISP, and not one that causes any actual problems, so I’m happy to let it slide. But basically, when we use the web at home, some websites think we’re based in India.

Fortunately, we haven’t come across any sites for which this would be a problem – stuff like iPlayer and Netflix is all fine. It’s just that some ad networks get confused, so when I’m at home, Twitter serves me ads meant for audiences based in India. Curious. I get a lot of stuff about Bollywood movie stars and I recently saw trending topics relating to whether the ‘real’ Indian man should be bearded or clean-shaven.

(Interestingly, our service provider claims it’s not them at fault for routing traffic via India; rather it’s that they’re using IPs that have had an association with India previously, and it’s down to the third parties to update the fact that these IPs are now UK-based. Or something. I think I understand.)

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Over the weekend I had a bash at making a crystal radio using whatever parts I could salvage around the house. Not having any spare wire, I ended up dismantling a pair of disused power bricks from old laptops to strip the wire from the transformers which was… fiddly. But very satisfying.

Anyway, the radio was a total failure. I identified at least three areas for improvement and I will try again with better components. I’ve never made a crystal radio and the prospect still charms me.

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I recently restarted my Flickr subscription having lost interest around the time SmugMug took over.

I’ve been using Flickr since August 2005 which seems like a really long time now. Definitely in internet years. And I was a paid-up member of Flickr for probably 10+ years of that. I just found myself using it less and less, and then when the subscriptions increased in price (and then something to do with the amount of ‘free’ space users were given), I just lost interest.

But in recent months I’ve found myself browsing Flickr as much as ever, and I miss posting to it. I’ll stop short of saying I’ve missed contributing to it, but I suppose that’s what it feels like.

And I find that the stuff I see on Flickr is just so damn inspiring that it inevitably makes me want to do a better job of editing my own images, and uploading things to Flickr still feels inherently very different to putting things on Instagram.

I’m going to keep my Flickr subscription as a rolling monthly thing for a while to see if I enjoy being back using it properly.

Are you still using Flickr? Hopefully we’re already friends. If not, why not add me, or let me know where to find you. Here’s me: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcapewell/

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Finally, this newfound active use of Flickr has led to me revisit hundreds (or even thousands) of photographs I took in the fallow period where I stopped uploading things there. And that meant that pictures I’ve taken have just sat in Lightroom without even being given a second look. Which is madness. I just needed a reason to return to them, and using Flickr again has offered me such a reason.

I don’t mind editing in Lightroom on the desktop, but I thought it was time I revisited Lightroom on iOS and Android, and I’m glad I did as the applications have improved massively.

And it’s meant that I’ve really had fun editing old photographs, and been reasonably pleased at what I’ve found. It has breathed new life into photos taken on trips that would otherwise just be forgotten. So I feel like it’s time well spent. It’s also nice to spend these dark winter days editing photos taken on interesting trips.

It’s been especially nice revisiting the pictures I took in Rothenburg – but that’s hardly fair, as it’s probably quite difficult to take a bad photograph of that place.

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That’s all for now.