Archive — Culture

The woman whose teapots were destroyed on Changing RoomsAmelia TaitThe Waiting Room

Illustration of Clodagh, victim of a Changing Rooms disaster

The rumours were true — Changing Rooms is coming back, 20 years on from its heyday. I don’t really remember watching it very much, but I have been struck by how much people have been talking about it recently.

The TV show clearly struck a chord. And why not, when you can reminisce about stories like the prized £6,000 teapot collection that was destroyed by one of the programme’s ludicrous interior design ideas?

What I love about this story is the stiff upper lip displayed by the victim of this design disaster, which is really a paper-thin disguise for seething anger that brings out a gem of a quote like this:

“I still feel that she’s got what she deserved, which is really being dropped by everybody,” Clodagh says of Linda Barker [the interior designer]. “I still don’t feel very good about her. On the very rare occasion she’s on television now, when I do see her, she’s still very bouncy, and I just don’t think she earned the bounce,” she laughs.

So. Much. Shade.

Comment

LovefingersSilver Apples

Silver Apples album cover

Silver Apples synth pioneer Simeon Coxe dies aged 82

It’s probably a bit inaccurate to describe Simeon Coxe as a synth pioneer. A pioneer he was, but his musical inventions predated the widespread use of synthesisers. They in fact involved a set-up known as the simeon machine, consisting of “more than a dozen” oscillators.

When he introduced the first oscillator to the rock band he was part of in 1967, all three guitarists quit, leaving just him and the drummer, Dan Taylor. The result was a new band — Silver Apples, a prototypical electronic band, but with a rock sensibility secured by the equally experimental drumming.

They predated Kraftwerk, and their music lacks the polish that developed in electronic music over the subsequent decades. The primitive but complex set-up produced an abrasive and raw, yet repetitive and hypnotic sound.

Perhaps Silver Apples were the first post-rock band. Maybe they were even the first electronic pop music band. Their first two albums even predate 1969’s An Electric Storm by White Noise, which enlisted the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson to help realise David Vorhaus’s futuristic electronic vision of pop.

Like White Noise, Silver Apples were met with limited commercial success in their time, only to be discovered as cult favourites decades down the line. The public just had to get used to the idea of electronic music.

Comment

Rave in the cave: Jarvis Cocker interviewedJeanie FinlayThe Quietus

Jarvis Cocker and Jeanie FInlay

In the middle of this conversation between Jarvis Cocker and Jeanie Finlay, I really enjoyed this description of how it feels to crowdsurf:

The feeling is amazing actually because you just give yourself over to it, you lie there and the audience are supporting you and you’re really just trusting them to not just let you fall on the ground. I kind of just laid there for a bit looking at the roof of the tent we were in, travelling out into the audience. And then it suddenly occurred to me that I couldn’t stay there too long because the rest of the band would get bored. And then, it was really magical because I just raised my head a little bit and looked towards the stage and as I did that it was like they just knew and I got transported right back to the crowd barrier again.

Comment

Groundbreaking report reveals racial bias in English football commentarySachin NakraniThe Guardian

Footballers' legs of different colours

A very interesting-sounding study has analysed English language football commentary from seven broadcasters and 80 live matches.

RunRepeat ratio-adjusted its numbers to account for the fact there were 1,361 comments about lighter-skinned players and 713 about darker-skinned players and found the former group more widely praised for intelligence (62.60%), hard work (60.40%) and quality (62.79%). Commentators are also 6.59 times more likely to talk about the power of a player if he has darker skin and 3.38 times more likely to reference his pace.

The study also found that 63.33% of criticism from commentators in regards to the intelligence of a player is aimed at those with darker skin, while the figure for quality is 67.57%.

Comment

Microsoft’s robot editor confuses mixed-race Little Mix singersJim WatersonThe Guardian

Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix

How about this for dystopia? MSN have replaced human news editors with a robot powered by Microsoft artificial intelligence technology. The problem is, it has already begun making racist decisions.

And then, in case you thought the story wasn’t already absurd enough, this:

In advance of the publication of this article, staff at MSN were told to expect a negative article in the Guardian about alleged racist bias in the artificial intelligence software that will soon take their jobs.

Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again.

Then the article ends on a delicious snippet — that Microsoft itself is concerned about the reputational damage this scheme will cause to its AI technology.

I’m immediately reminded of Microsoft’s disastrous Tay experiment.

Comment

There will be no “back to normal”Nesta

Faded out aerial view of an urban area taken on a fisheye lens

This is more than a month old. In terms of the coronavirus outbreak, that’s an eternity. But I still found this list of possible future scenarios interesting and thought-provoking.

It also comes with the major caveat that predicting the future is a mug’s game at the best of times, never mind during these times. This is inherently recognised in the fact that some of the predictions are contradictory.

I was particularly interested in the political, economic and sociocultural predictions. For instance, I have wondered if in the coming decades society will prioritise getting the basics right more over relentless innovation. This article suggests that may be the case, but that the shift may not last long.

The crisis may prompt a reappraisal of what society cares about most, with short-term attention focusing on the bottom of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. (This may have the effect of, for example, boosting relative status of health workers and farmers, and diminishing ‘luxury’ industries, including leisure, gaming, arts – although history suggests that this will be short-lived, and the luxury status of some goods and services may ultimately be reinforced.)

Comment

Inside the 46-year journey to bring Aretha Franklin’s ‘Amazing Grace’ doc to lifeDavid BrowneRolling Stone

Still of Aretha Franklin singing from Amazing Grace

This film took almost 50 years to hit the cinema screens because the filmmakers inexplicably failed to use a clapperboard, making it impossible to edit until digital technology arrived.

The director was Sydney Pollack, who won 11 Oscars throughout his career.

“There were thousands of pieces of film with no edit points, and they were trying to sync it up to a tape recorder.” Hence the incomplete VHS and Hamilton’s invoice: He had been hired to match up footage to music by reading people’s lips.

Eventually, Pollack gave up and the hours of footage were relegated to vaults. “Sydney couldn’t really explain it to me,” Elliott says of when he brought it up to the late director. “He was a proud man.”

It seems like knowledge of this film was limited until recently, but a lot of people must have been seething at the calamity. I guess it’s a reminder that even the most successful people can make catastrophic mistakes in their field of expertise.

Comment

SunCaribou

Swim cover

A few weeks ago, in the early stages of lockdown, Caribou’s album Swim played on shuffle. “This is a recent album,” I thought, “but it reminds me of happier times.

It turns out this album is in fact ten years old today. Time flies, I guess.

It was a time before covid-19. A time before DRS was introduced to Formula 1. A time when (briefly) people agreed with Nick Clegg.

Then I watched the video to Sun, one of the singles from the album. Extraordinarily, it seems made for today’s social distancing.

It features a group of mostly unhappy-looking people stuck in a dark room, dancing at a ceiling lamp as if it’s replacing the sun, and all studiously avoiding touching each other.

Comment

Note — 2020-04-16

A drama about coughing ought to be super-triggering during this era. But I really enjoyed Quiz. It took my mind off everything.

An amazing story told in a hilarious way and with a geeky attention to detail. It’s crazy to think this all happened 19 years ago.

A great balancing act from Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant — somehow taking the piss, while simultaneously being note-perfect.

Comment

Autechre live in Glasgow, 15 April 2005

Autechre have recently released long-anticipated official recordings from their 2016 and 2018 tours, which I am currently (slowly) working my way through.

But on this day 15 years ago in Glasgow, Autechre performed perhaps their mightiest live set ever. I love this almost as much as any of their albums.

A lot of IDM-heads celebrate Avril 14th for the Aphex Twin tune, but that was yesterday. I enjoyed Kelly Moran’s cover.

Comment

Treefingers (Extended Version)Radiohead

Treefingers (Extended Version) cover

Radiohead there, just casually adding an extra minute to a legendary 20-year-old track.

They may have declared that they are taking a “year away” from music, but they still manage to find ways of keeping fans going.

The recent launch of the Radiohead Public Library generously provides free access to a vast amount of archive material from throughout their career. The addition of this extended version of Treefingers is among the content that has been added even since the launch.

Who needs new Radiohead when you can have new old Radiohead?

Comment

Coding is for everyone — as long as you speak EnglishGretchen McCullochWired

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, so there’s been a lot of pixels spilled on “the initial promises of the web”—one of which was the idea that you could select “view source” on any page and easily teach yourself what went into making it display like that.

This article makes a great point about how this promise only truly works if you can speak English.

The process described above is exactly how I learned HTML. The fact that I would have to use “color” instead of “colour” is a mildly amusing inconvenience. I hadn’t really considered before how it must feel if you don’t speak any English.

I don’t speak Russian, and assuming you don’t either, does <заголовок> and <заглавие> and <тело> and <п> still feel like something you want to tinker with?

Comment

PricksGescom

MiniDisc artwork (CD version)

In 1998, Gescom released MiniDisc, said to be the first ever MiniDisc-only release. (I believe the CD artwork, shown here, is a photo of a Sony bigwig showing it off at an event.)

A mere eight years later, MiniDisc was already obsolete, at least in the home. The music was given a CD release, and that is the version I have.

MiniDisc original artwork

The music was specifically designed to take advantage of MiniDisc features that weren’t available on CDs. The original release even included a running time that was precise to a hundredth of a second, something not possible with CDs. Also unlike CDs, MiniDiscs could handle gapless shuffle.

The music on Gescom’s MiniDisc consisted of 45 pieces divided over 88 tracks. So, for example, Pricks actually consisted of four different tracks varying in length from 5 seconds to 3:55.

The idea was that the listener could shuffle for a new experience every time. Or, they could create their own loops and experiments by playing tracks in different orders.

Gescom is a collective of experimental electronic musicians, presumed to be centred around Autechre’s Sean Booth and Rob Brown, but also said to include up to 30 others. In addition to Booth\Brown, MiniDisc was made by Russell Haswell.

The music itself is ceaselessly experimental. Even in the context of Autechre’s work, this was pretty out there.

But listening today, it’s striking how MiniDisc seems to have laid the groundwork for some of Autechre’s most recent music, particularly on NTS Sessions.

Comment

Journalism and design: Building solutions to our greatest challengesCatherine WoodiwissModernist Studio

A person looking at a sea creature in an aquarium

An exploration of the similarities and differences between journalism and design, and how the two disciplines can support each other.

Like journalists, designers research human behaviour, through interview and observation, in an attempt to understand complex problems…

But where journalists focus on content, designers focus on experience — what and who the content is for, how it’s delivered, and how behaviour may change as a result. And where journalists synthesise these insights to tell stories, designers push into making solutions.

See also: The journalism and user research relationship — Gregg Bernstein — Vox Product

Comment

Dutch “singing road” silenced after villagers complain: “I’m going nuts”Palko Karasz and Yonette JosephThe New York Times

A car driving over the musical rumble strips

This must be the most spurious “road safety” feature ever conceived.

A Dutch town decided to install rumble strips that are set at certain frequencies so that cars “play” the regional anthem as they drive over them.

This article focuses on the fact that this feature is driving residents crazy as they repeatedly have to hear this raspy version of the same melody all day (and night) long.

But surely the spurious justification is more deserving of ire.

Local officials hoped the strips would encourage drivers to stick to the speed limit.

Because, apparently, the melody would only play when drivers are driving at the right speed. Except, as officials concede later in the article, that’s not even true. If you drive at a different speed, the melody still plays — just at a different speed. Perhaps drivers may even speed up just to end the din more quickly.

What a terrible idea!

This article also contains a brilliant video from Tom Scott demonstrating an even more disastrous version of the same idea, in California.

1 comment

Balwearie High School opening (BBC archive)

This video is apparently footage from a 1964 BBC interview from the opening of my old high school, Balwearie in Kirkcaldy. It’s fascinating to see how much of it looked exactly the same when I went to school between 1998 and 2004 — and how much of it was totally different.

For example, it is a revelation to see what the roof was originally like. The attractive and useful rooftop garden and astronomical equipment was gone, replaced with a plain felt roof with a haphazard walkway of paving slabs.

The school was also about twice as big by the time I went there. No-one confused it for a luxury hotel. But then again, that’s what 30 years will do to a building.

I wonder what it’s like now, 20 more years on.

Via Rich Gordon

Comment

Vortrack [Fracture Remix]Squarepusher

Vortrack cover

This tune has disturbed me.

Since I heard it, a distressing sentence has floated around in my head:

“This is the best Squarepusher track in 14 years.”

14 years. Count it up.

I think I was 15 years old when I first discovered Squarepusher. To the young Squarepusher fan I was, it’s been almost a lifetime since he has released music like this.

I was a big fan of 2003’s Ultravisitor, where Squarepusher created an otherworldly environment somewhere between stadium prog-rock concert and IDM basement. It was genre-defying — a unique sound. But it felt perfect. It was a brilliant, successful album.

But it seemed to send Squarepusher down a strange rabbit hole, tenuously exploring the boundaries between live and studio-based music with ever-diminishing returns.

Time to change direction then. An email I received from Warp Records in November said:

‘Be Up A Hello’ sees Tom Jenkinson (Squarepusher) return to using a bewildering array of vintage analogue and digital hardware, the same equipment that first helped him develop his sound in the early ’90s.

By the way, the 14-year-old tune I’m referring to is Planetarium:

Comment

Week ending 2 January 2020James MastertonChart Watch UK

How Amazon appear to have had undue influence on the music charts. River by Ellie Goulding is this week’s number one, seemingly because Amazon have added it to their Christmas music playlists. So whenever anyone asked their new Alexa to play Christmas music, this new single got played — propelling it to number one.

This article also contains some interesting details about the pros and cons of different ways of compiling music charts in the streaming era.

If the voices of those clamouring for the charts to discriminate between “lean in” and “lean back” streams — i.e. those which the user has actively chosen to hear rather than simply being served up in a playlist — grow ever louder in the new year, then River will be held up as a shining example of why that needs to happen.

1 comment

Love Without SoundWhite Noise

An Electric Storm cover

It’s Delia Derbyshire Day, which this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of An Electric Storm by White Noise.

Delia Derbyshire may be best known for her part in the realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune — and her wider work with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But her involvement with the White Noise project saw her dabbling with a futuristic vision of pop music.

It was both way ahead of its time, and also resolutely of its time. Synthesisers weren’t yet affordable, so these boundary-pushing sounds were made with complex tape manipulation and other engineering techniques. I think this is among her best work.

Comment

Photo — 2019-10-29

We did it. We ordered BrewDog hybrid burgers.

Not bad! Tastier than they look. The vegan cheese is impressively good. The matcha buns don’t taste much like matcha. Wouldn’t get it again, but fun once.

Comment