It’s the first of July, and apparently one hundred days since lockdown began. Truly a Lost Year.
Except, my mornings lately start like this: I stir to some indie classic (or soon-to-be classic) on BBC 6Music, and feel comforted by the familiar warmth of Chris Hawkins’s voice.
A short while later I am stirred by just enough motivation to swing my legs out of bed and head upstairs, where another radio is playing the same station. Crucially they are both DAB and so there is no syncopation as I move up the stairs.
In the kitchen I boil the kettle. I’ve filled it the night before, so that my very first action in the kitchen is flicking the switch and not trying to carefully decant a litre of water from one vessel into another. As the sound of boiling water rises, I get out the things I need to make breakfast and – if I didn’t make it the night before – a packed lunch for M.
Today it’s granola, yogurt, coffee, rocket leaves, tomatoes, mozzarella, and some Tupperware boxes.
I assemble all of this and then take breakfast and coffee downstairs, where I spend the next 30-40 minutes sipping coffee, chewing mouthfuls of yogurty granola, scrolling Twitter, occasionally noting down the name of a song on the radio, and chatting on and off to M as she gets ready.
She leaves at 7.30 or so and I spend another half an hour scrolling or reading or sipping coffee until I decide I have the motivation, like this morning, to go out for a run.
When I went to sleep last night my legs had a warm ache from running in VivoBarefoot shoes that morning. Not pain, just a dull acknowledgement of having used muscles I don’t use every day. I am trying to acclimatise to these new shoes and my muscles and tendons are slowly adjusting.
When I woke this morning, the dull tiredness remained, and I just caught myself before saying out loud to M that I didn’t think I had a run in me this morning. “Wait until you’ve had your coffee. Woken up a bit,” I told myself.
Sure enough, not long after 8am, I am out the door and putting the pavements of West Hampstead and Hampstead under my shoes. My ASICS this morning – my muscles and feet thankful for the added support, such to the degree that they propel me faster and more smoothly along the roads than I could have hoped for this early in the day, even as we ascend Arkwright Road towards Hampstead high street.
The weather is good for a morning run. The sun peeks out from fluffy, fast-moving clouds. There is a light breeze, and an attendant freshness to the air.
Someone on the podcast I am listening to, an American, uses the word clique in a sentence, but he pronounces it ‘click’ as Americans do. I spend the next twenty seconds thinking that the words cheque and clique must have a kinship, and then I find myself unable to remember if Americans spell clique as click. Surely not, I think, but then, cheque/check?
I stop occasionally, to cross roads, to allow pedestrians a wide berth, or to catch my breath. But my legs need less time to recover, and this morning I discover that, pushing off, I don’t so much limp and lurch forward as slightly bounce back into my jogging, and then running, pace.
This small, unexpected burst carries me forward a few steps further and I settle into a decent rhythm. I am later told by my running apps that my pace was decent. Very much so for a morning run, when my muscles aren’t fully warmed up, or my joints sufficiently oiled.
I sit in the park by my house to massage my calf muscles. A couple and another woman pass each other and catch up. They are familiar with one another. They ask each other how things are going. The unspoken implication is “…during all of this,” as so many questions are at the moment.
They talk of webcams and Zoom meetings. One of the ladies is newly pregnant. Congratulations are given and received. They stand in the middle of the path and other park users edge around them, or pause just long enough for one of this triangle of conversing humans to notice and they all move, as one, to the side.
My calf muscles are feeling better for being massaged for a few minutes. I rise, relieved that my legs feel warm and used, but not sore or tight. I walk the short distance home.
I lock the door behind me, remove my running belt, earpiece and phone to the counter, and wash my hands. I pour myself the last of the coffee and I come to sit on the patio to drink it. Dappled sunlight falls on the patio, the sunflowers, and on me.
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.
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.
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.
This week’s “run to a museum in town” saw M and I run down to Tate Britain, which I’d never visited before. Oddly enough, on a previous run into town I had passed the gallery and made a note to visit again this way. Lo and behold it’s almost bang-on 10km door to door, so it was a satisfying achievement.
I liked the gallery itself. It’s a lovely building, and there was a variety of things I hadn’t known to expect.
We primarily went to see Steve McQueen’s Year 3 photography display – class photos of all (most?) of the 1,500 or so year 3 classes in London, taken in the previous school year.
The visual impact is staggering – those pictures take up a huge amount of wall-space.The above shows a small section of the main gallery where the images are displayed.
If you’re like me and went to school a long time ago, and very much not in the city, you might be surprised to learn that even in primary school, year groups can be – and often are – split into two and three and sometimes even more forms. So in this display there is often more than photograph per school just for year three alone.
Each photograph naturally contains anywhere from 2 to 30 or so school kids plus teachers and assistants. You quickly spot the similarities in the photos – the reds, greens and blues of the majority of school uniforms. The layout of school halls – generally wooden floors with climbing apparatus on the rear wall. The arrangement of the subjects – along wooden benches, children of varying heights, flanked by adults (of varying heights).
And once those similarities have bedded themselves in, it’s the differences you being to notice. Along with mainstream schools, the project naturally includes special schools which tend to have fewer pupils, or a greater adult-to-child ratio.
The rooms used for the photographs also vary: not all schools have vast halls, it seems. And any variation to the generic school hall you conjure up in your head suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb: the one with the “live, laugh, love” variant daubed on the wall in metre-high script was one such surprise.
There are, therefore, a shit-ton of photos lining Tate Britain’s walls. By the time you’ve circumnavigated the gallery a few times taking in the whole spectacle, you’ve seen the faces of 76,000 children. That’s a lot.
I came away feeling impressed by the scale of the project’s achievements – from the photography to the framing and mounting, to what that size of project even looks like all laid out on the wall like that, to the sheer audacity that such a thing could even be pulled off in the first place.
But I also came away thinking, “Bloody hell, there might just be too many people.” And I don’t think that was the intended outcome at all.
Away from the grinning faces of tens of thousands of children – I really did need a break after that – I found myself in the Turner rooms. I was pleased to learn that Tate Britain had so many Turners on show, but ultimately it made me realise that perhaps I’m not such a fan. Or perhaps it was the number of his works in close proximity that I quickly grew tired of.
Seeing that many Turners in one space is quite a lot to take in.
In small doses I love his deft use of light and texture to show a scene in such a unique and unmistakable way. But before too long I was actually quite excited to see a crisply-rendered architectural study by Canaletto or, in the next room, paintings by any number of mid- to late-18th century artists whose names I feverishly jotted down in my phone’s notes app for future reference.
When I showed M this painting she commented how dark it looks. Looking again at it now, she’s right.
But when stood almost with my nose pressed against it – and it’s a large painting – I couldn’t help but be taken by the life and movement present in the details of the image.
The boy taking a drink. The man’s hand lightly carressing the lady’s hip at the bottom left. The raised glasses with extended pinkies. And the way the light falls on the sailor’s uniform.
It was all very real. And somehow it struck me as uncannily photographic.
What this made me realise is how much I love paintings which reveal the influence of photography on artists of that era. And I think that just comes down to me enjoying reflections of a scene in as realistic a way as possible. I love city scenes from historic periods. I love interior ‘snapshots’ of a family or other group surrounded by their worldly goods. I love portraits which capture a subject’s skin, and life, and glint in the eye. And I love the ability an artist can have to capture light in a way that almost makes the painting glow.
So anyway. That’s what I re-realised on this latest visit to a gallery. It also reminded me that I have often found myself scribbling down the names of artists and paintings I enjoy whenever I visit galleries, and I should spend twenty minutes sometime adding those various paintings to my TV’s screensaver or something.
I remain immensely grateful to be surrounded by institutions of the calibre of Tate Britain, the Science Museum, and the British Museum, and so on. And I also remain grateful that I am able to get up and run to these places – not to mention relieved that no one seems to mind seeing me in my running gear as I peer at paintings and other artifacts.
For those of you considering running to it: Tate Britain does a great, stodgy flapjack packed with goodies, which goes down nicely with a flat white.
I’ve done ten of these now, so I guess it’s A Thing? Admittedly I’ll need to do another 42 to make it official, and that seems like a bewildering number, but it feels like A Thing, so long may that continue.
After the previous week’s snow, it was back to business as usual at work, for the most part. There’s a lot of seasonal admin going on at the moment – some big mailouts. My office has a very cyclical nature to it, which I enjoy, as you can usually tell what’s happening, or predict busy periods and lulls, and organise your work accordingly. It also provides semi-artificial deadline, and lord knows I need a good deadline. Amongst very estate-y tasks was spray-painting potholes on one of our private roads, which was rather satisfying.
I also made some more progress on the two websites I’m working on in my own time. They’re close to being ready now, which I’m pleased about. Both clients are very helpful in their feedback and vision for how they want things to look and feel. It’s been a very positive experience so far.
After the NY Times piece I found myself nodding along with most of it, and was pleased to find that Phil Gyford‘s ace Guardian Daily is still working well. It strips out the content of each day’s paper into just clean text and some images, and makes the whole thing swipeable in a browser. Crucially it allows the reader to focus only on the story (not easy on the full Guardian website), and it provides the sense of a finite, finishable object that the likes of Craig Mod and others so often hail. It also had me reaching for stockists of the Guardian’s excellent Weekly edition, but I can’t seem to find any; it only seems to be available by post in the UK. I might try a trial. It made more sense when keeping up with news while in, say, New Zealand. But actually the weekly round-up nature of it – the slow news aspect – seems more appealing than ever in this current age of breaking news.
And the Atlantic piece about retweets made some sense. I quite like some retweets. They’re a nice way to diversify your feed (only a little, mind you – the echo chamber is a persistent issue), and they often bring items of interest. But they also provide items of little interest – and worse, they often come without comment. My friend retweeted this thing, but what do they feel about it? It’s not as simple as just assuming they agree 100%. It might be promotion of a serious issue, or just a quick meme that made them chuckle. Context is important.
As the piece mentions, there’s no easy way to turn off retweets globally, although my third party app of choice Flamingo has such a feature. And even better, it allows quoted tweets to show – and these are the ones I want to see. They provide the all-important context.
My plan is to go retweet-free for the rest of the week, and then turn them back on globally, turning RTs off on a per-account basis until I reach a happy medium.
M and I watched series one of Spaced this weekend, and it’s the kind of show I can virtually quote word-for-word. It’s been some years since we both watched it, and although elements still cut deep as they’re so well written or edited, other stick out like a bizarre anachronism: ringing someone’s landline from a payphone in the pub? Smoking in a nightclub?! But it’s reassuring how much of this 1999 TV series remains hilarious and ‘cutting edge’, nearly twenty years on. Series two next.
I made more progress in Banished, you’ll be pleased to hear. I’ve got my community up to 150 or so adults, with plenty more children and students on their way. The game still occasionally feels like a grind, but the realism of the mechanics of the town’s expansion – oh no, the cemetery is full, I’d better build a new one – are engaging. I’m concerned that the game is a bit too open-ended. There’s no narrative or end-game (that I know of). So at some stage I will just have a steadily increasing town. There’s also no development of eras like some games have – where you’ll transition through styles of architecture or technology, say. Still, I’m still some hours away from the first perceived achievement level of 300 citizens, although I did get some cute awards for having a very happy town, and a very healthy town.
I was bored on a train platform this week, so I was tuning round on my handheld DAB radio and stumbled on Forces Radio BFBS at a time when they were playing classic rock and indie. It provided a nice distraction, and I was a little stunned to see that the DAB+ station was streaming at a paltry 24kbps! I’ve seen other stations just scraping by on 32kbps, and they tend to be predominantly spoken word. But here was a music show sounding pretty decent on very little bandwidth.
In fact, the only audio glitch I could discern was the intro of the Clash’s Should I Stay or Should I Go which has some stereo separation which wasn’t being properly played out.
A brief scan of Wohnort tells me that this is the lowest bitrate of any DAB station, certainly nationally (apart from data services), and it’s very promising to hear such efficient compression sounding so reasonable.
On Thursday I went back to Oxford for the second time in recent weeks. This time I had tickets to see the wonderful Youthmovies play their first gig in eight years, and I was thrilled to see the Audiograft festival was taking place while I would be visiting, so I made some plans to enjoy some of the installations and performances from the audio/noise festival.
Now that I know the layout of Oxford a bit better, and I’ve scoped out a few good pubs and eateries, it’s a nice little city to wander round.
I made sure to visit the Natural History and Pitt Rivers museum(s?) this time, and loved them both. The former is well-lit under a glass roof, and has a classical, elegant display of animal skeletons inside a gorgeous neo-Gothic building. And the latter is a vast collection of antique display cases of various items from around the world. It’s a darker space, and has the air of rooting around a closed museum or even a particularly well-stocked attic space.
Unlike other museums with similar ethnographic collections, the Pitt Rivers lumps items of a kind together in one area. So here you’ll have writing instruments, or there you’ll find timepieces. Or, more specifically, you might find Treatment of Dead Enemies, or Charms and Amulets. It makes for a fascinating selection, particularly seeing such contrasting objects cheek by jowl across cultures.
After the museums and a much-needed pint – outside in the Spring sunshine! – I headed to OVADA, an exhibition space in an old industrial building. Inside I found installations of sound experiments, including vinyl records playing a Morse code version of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale which was then received by a device that attempted to decode and display the words. It did this through a thin veil of recordings of birdsong and other ‘interruptions’, causing small glitches in the text. I was pleased to find that the artist Kathy Hinde was around to explain a little more about her installation Twittering Machines.
Elsewhere I also found Sally Ann MacIntyre’s Study for a Data Deficient Species (Grey Ghost Transmission). It was a necessarily small (portable!) installation, with an enchanting recording I had also encountered via the recent Radiophrenia broadcasts. I’ve followed Sally Ann’s blog radio cegeste for a number of years, so it was nice to come into contact with her work at OVADA thanks to Audiograft.
The space at OVADA affords a number of opportunities for installations like this one, but also some compromises. On the one hand it is a large space and allows for a number of installations to co-exist without feeling too crammed in. On the other hand, as some of these works are by their very nature audible, they compete for attention as they reverberate around. This worked quite nicely for the most part: hearing birdsong interrupted by music, impersonated birdsong, and the staccato human-spoken binary of Simon Blackmore’s How We Communicate made for quite a mixture of sounds and audio textures quite in line with the other textures on show, whether part of an installation or the fabric of the building itself.
An example of the aural environment on my visit to OVADA can be heard below:
Later, I made my way to the beautiful Holywell Music Room where I was pleased to catch three of the evening’s four pieces.
It’s a gorgeous space, I’m sure, for any type of music and performance. But the three pieces I caught were all experimental in their own different ways. First was a wordless exploration of human vocal sounds in response to external stimuli – thought not strictly to my taste, I enjoyed the fact that such a performance found a home in such a space; they suited each other in their own unusual ways.
Next was an interesting cross section of nerdy audio experimentation and sheer noise. A series of four cymbals was placed upon individual speakers, through which sound was passed, causing the cymbals to reverberate. This was then, I believe, fed back into the speakers. It was essentially twenty minutes of feedback, but finely tuned, and the aural equivalent of seeing coloured dye dropped into clear water and watching as it swirled slowly, forming organic or pseudo-random patterns.
The last piece I caught was, I think, an interpretation of a simple narrative of house and the stories it held, told through spoken word, projected video, and overhead transparencies.
It caused me a little amusement that all three pieces suffered from the “It’s not finished!…. It’s finished!” issue as parodied in Spaced. But I was so glad to have caught such a diverse set of performances. And all as a ‘pay what you decide’ format, with anonymous donations upon leaving.
I would’ve been more sad to miss the last act, were I not headed to the Bullingdon for the Youthmovies show.
It’s hard to summarise the show, really, as the band take up so much emotional space in my head, having soundtracked significant episodes in my life, some wonderful and some less so. But seeing a band play for the first time in eight years – in honour of a departed friend of theirs – was as emotional and uncanny and yet familiar as I had hoped. Fittingly, it wasn’t a perfect performance. They played songs they hadn’t played together in years, and most of them feature quite unusual time signatures. But it felt like a 100% positive and uplifting experience for all present.
As expected, I had forgotten over the years some of the magic of their live performance that made them such a favourite in the first place. Their recorded output will remain a bewilderingly impressive and imaginative selection of tracks. But it’s their immense joy at playing these special songs, and the modesty and passion they display when onstage that makes them a truly special band. It was an honour to have the opportunity to step back into those shoes for one night.
And then this weekend, with nothing much planned, M and I went for a nice walk along the canal on Saturday afternoon. And on Sunday I felt the urge to go for a little run, and ended up covering 22km.
I had intended to head as far as I could towards the Thames, and to turn back for home whenever I felt like I was flagging. But as Foo Fighters’ My Hero hit its climactic chorus on Whitehall, and Strava announced that I’d hit the 10km mark, I knew I had to continue.
I treat these kind of cross-city runs as something of a sightseeing exercise – people-watching in motion, with some London landmarks thrown in for free.
I’m suffering some aches and pains a day later, but it’s reassuring to know I can still pull that out of the bag every now and then. As Spring comes, I intend to get a little bit of consistency into my running and walking.