Monthly Archives: March 2010

Thinking of something to write is harder than you might think

In the absence of any particularly interesting thoughts I’ve had over the past week (I was vaguely thinking about writing about BBC4’s Women documentary, but others have written about it better than I could have, and it’s more than a little suspect for a man to start criticising documentaries for not being feminist enough. Relatedly, you should obviously read Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman, and this. The plight of women today is intimately connected to the capitalist society we live in, and the BBC documentary didn’t seem to have any intention of even acknowledging that), here’s some interesting bits and pieces from what I did seen this week.

Firstly, if you’ve not seen the Merton chatroulette videos, may I direct you to John Walker’s post here? My favourite’s the Ben Folds one, where he (and his entire audience) sing songs to random people who were connected to them. There’s something really heart-warming about a whole group of people just singing to random people; a kind of I love you to a complete stranger. There needs to be more of that kind of thing.

Next, I can’t actually remember where I found this, but here’s a short documentary about Le Corbusier, Varese, and Xenakis’ Poème électronique.

I’d heard the music before, but never seen what the pavilion actually looked like. And it looks fantastic. And 2 million people went there to experience it! There’s a distinctly odd sensation seeing the pictures of the pavilion as it was. In many ways it seems incredibly similar to certain recent buildings, and yet it possesses something that the work of Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid lacks. Maybe it’s the sense that when it was built, it was a vision of the future, and yet now that the future’s come to pass, there’s the distinct feeling that we’ve been cheated. Superficially it looks the same, but the wider modernist project (to create a better future) that the original pavilion was a part of has been all but abandoned (as I understand it, when schoolchildren are asked to imagine the future, they now nearly always imagine dystopian, apocalyptic scenarios), and all that’s left is a clumsy facsimile (I think this is what Fredric Jameson means by pastiche?). Again, see Owen Hatherley’s Militant Modernism. The VR stuff at the end seems completely pointless and again, little more than a poor facsimile of something that disappeared long ago. Surely one of the fundamental properties of architecture is that it is physical, and tangible?

Finally, via Coilhouse, a short piece of visual music:

Very simple, but effective. I’d like to do something similar, but in the absence of any useful software I’d probably have to code it all by hand in C++. Which would take a while, and really I only want to do a couple of quick sketches.

You wrote me a love letter

I know! Two posts in a week!

I just wanted to share Digital: A Love Story, a gorgeous game about a relationship developed over the internet back in 1988. Everything about it is just pitched perfectly, from the Amiga*-style GUI, to the way you interact with everyone via email and BBSes… And if you’re anything like me, it’ll leave you with a serious lump in your throat and distinctly moist eyes. The reason it works so well is because everything works towards the same goal; the story is intimately linked to the setting, which is linked to the method of interaction, which is linked to the visual style… It’s extremely rare to come across something that is so complete, without a single wrong note.

You will get stuck, and frustrated, but crucially only in ways that are specific to the setting. The game never falters or gets in the way of the depiction of its world. You’re stuck in the same way you would have been, trawling through BBSes back in 1988. I’ll give you a couple of hints though; make sure you’ve PMed and replied to everyone; and think about what people have told you.

It’s available for Windows, OSX and Linux. Go get it!

Also, Craig and I are planning on doing a video for Swings, and I’ve been taking even more of an interest in music video than usual as a result. The next post will probably be about Gorillaz’ Stylo video, but in the meantime, here’s some really clever videos via the occasionally brilliant Create Digital Motion:

Naturally, our video won’t be anything like as clever as these ones…

* – First computer I ever had. I still miss it.

Hasn’t rained in 15 years

There’s a fantastic long-form essay on The Triffids over at Popular Demand. I wasn’t really aware of the band prior to reading it, and I suspect from the essay (and from tracking them down on youtube) that they might be too specific to the experience of living in exile and of longing for Australia for me to really get it, but I love this kind of writing more than anything. The way art and artists get tangled up in your life, altering your world in all sorts of unexpected ways. That’s what I want to read about. I’ve never understood it when your hear musicians claim (along the lines of) “of course I don’t believe that music can change the world, I’m not stupid“, when it’s blatantly obvious that music does change the world, continually. How could it not?

Anyway, Raining Pleasure is the only Triffids song I’ve fallen in love with, probably as much for its Nico-isms as for anything. But it is gorgeous.

Also, along the lines of writing about art tangling up with life, Rock Paper Shotgun have just finished a similarly fantastic diary of a game of Neptune’s Pride. It starts off fascinating, with each player manoeuvring to screw each other over and grab as much of the galaxy as possible, veers off on a hilarious tangent when Tom Francis forgets to log on (resulting in the computer taking over and going on an insane killing spree), and ends on an unexpectedly moving note as the grind and constant back-stabbing takes its toll on the remaining players. Definitely worth reading. It’s a perfect example of why games matter; it’s not about high scores or increasingly realistic graphics (and it’s not – despite the daily mail’s assurances otherwise – about killing hookers); it’s about stories. Games create stories. I don’t mean they tell you stories (though many do), I mean the way stories arise out of your interactions with the game, the AI, the other players. For me it’s probably the original Stalker that does this best, but everyone’s got their own examples.

You can see the diary here (start with part 1, obv.).

I wish I still had that photo

These posts are getting later and later. I’m sorry… I’ll try and do better.

The record label is now up and running, and you can buy my album from the website, though I’ve yet to do any marketing, so no-one’s bought it yet. As well as the album there’s also a wiki, which is the thing I’m most proud of – I plan on making it a huge sprawling mess of a thing, providing a kind of context and mythology for all the label’s music. There’s also some mp3s in there if you’re willing to look around.

The link’s

I’m going to finish with this video, via RPS. Shades of the Langley Schools Music Project here – it’s the way the kids clearly feel it, without our seemingly all-pervasive irony or detachment:

Something about the sight/sound of a massed choir too*. You can see why christianity makes such use of hymns and singing. There’s something very powerful about a group of people singing together. And rare too, as capitalism alienates us ever more, only ever praising the individual.

* – Especially one not wearing matching uniforms – I think that kind of uniformity works against the choir. The point is that the singers are not homogeneous, replaceable – they’re singing the same thing, but with identical voices the effect would be vastly reduced. Each one is vital to the end result, they’re not simple cogs in a machine. I can’t help seeing it as kind of utopian; a collective of individuals.

she wants to be flowers and you make her owls

Just finished Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, which is fantastic. I should probably track down the TV version too.

It’s exactly what I want fantasy to be – old magic and stories bleeding into our world, fierce and wild and uncanny – as opposed to what fantasy apparently means these days* – Tolkien’s curiously bloodless tales of orcs and elves and humans, repeated ad nauseum with each repetition a dilution of an already weak ancestor. The endless noble battles and last stands just feel like an inability to deal with our world. Reality is more complex, and stranger, and you don’t get absolute good and evil here. I want stories that understand this, that try and deal with it, that push in odd directions, that haunt the present, not some antiseptic imaginary world where no-one can ever get hurt and nothing is at stake.

I sometimes get the feeling that most of the events in our world are set in motion by people who buy into that fantastic good vs. evil narrative, and that kind of thinking will only ever cause suffering.

“He is hurt too much she wants to be flowers and you make her owls and she is at the hunting”

* – Tbh, I’m basing this claim on my knowledge of videogames more than fiction, given that I haven’t read any recent fantasy in a long while.