Object of the Day… Whitefriars Concentric TV Vase

August 20, 2014 Leave a comment

The first in an occasional series of posts with a single image and a short explanation…

Concentric TV

This beautiful grey vase was designed by Geoffrey Baxter and first manufactured in the last 1960s by Whitefriars Glass. Known as the concentric TV vase, it stands about 18cm/ 7″ high and weighs considerably more than you would think it might.

Baxter’s technique for producing the textured surfaces of his pieces derived from the timber moulds he made in his spare time, moulds he lined with anything he thought would make in interesting finish including bark, old nails and wire.

Unfortunately due primarily to the downturn of the mid/ late 1970’s, Whitefriars closed its doors in the 1980’s but it’s generally accepted that the final 20 years or so of the company’s existence was almost solely down to the designs of Geoffrey Baxter.

A huge thanks to R&S for rescuing this wonderful thing from the shop (and then deciding to give it to me…)

The Crazy world of Cook Records…

August 13, 2014 Leave a comment

cover_4One of those accidental finds today that has opened up a whole world of strangeness and intrigue…

Cook Records was founded in the early 1950’s in the USA by Emory Cook, an inventor, sound engineer and all round one off, from what I can tell. In the 14 years the company existed, Cook, under the names of either Sounds of Our Times or Cook Laboratories released more than 140 vinyl LP’s, covering everything from Calypso, spoken word, classical, folk music and sound effects to the just plain weird…

Cook Records is possibly most famous for releasing the very first stereo record in 1952. Cook developed a system he called binaural that involved two separate grooves and double headed needles, the full details of which are explained in minute detail here on Wikipedia should you be interested.

BuckminsterTo me though, the interest is more in the rather fine sleeve designs and the content of the records themselves. There is one on which the architect Buckminster Fuller “speaks his mind”… All well and good, but Fuller’s mind is so full of complex ideas, that only a fellow mathematical genius will be able to follow the conversation.

Or how about Speed the Parting Guest, which consists of difficult to listen to percussive tunes designed to clear your house of stragglers at the end of the night… Or maybe 16 minutes of Thunder and rain over Hells Half Acre is more your thing as can be found on Voice of the Storm from 1957. There are also some wonderful sound effects records with everything from machines to animals to people sawing and one Voices of the Sky is devoted to the sounds of an airport…

cover_5But the best, most bonkers thing I think I’ve ever heard committed to record is the second side of A Double Barrel Blast. Entitled Listening in on Computer Conversations, I have honestly no idea what it’s about, if it’s serious and who it was aimed at. Originally released in 1962 at a time when computers were in their infancy, there was obviously some leeway as to what might be covered in such conversations, and Emory Cook took full advantage of this opportunity…

One final, serious aspect to this unique individual is his contribution to Reggae, Jamaican, Calypso and Caribbean music generally. Emory Cook’s pressing process for vinyl was compact and low volume and as such, lent itself to the use of individual machines in shops, rather than mass production at a plant, and by the late 1950’s Cook had sent out machines to many of the Caribbean Islands. Local musicians and labels then sent their master tapes to Cook in the USA, where a metal master was made, sent back to the shop and from which could be pressed up as many copies of the records as required, helping to spread the sounds and keep the costs and outside interference to a minimum…

The Cook collection was bequeathed to the Smithsonian Institute in the 1990’s where you can find a catalogue of these wonderful gems.

Many of these records are also on Spotify (where I found them) and can be found be typing or pasting  label:Cook  into the search bar, top right, hitting return and then clicking on the words “see all” also top right on the following page. Enjoy the madness…

   cover_11      sound_2

   Kilts       cover_14

   cover_6       cover_15

   planet      cover_12

   cover_8      cover_2

 

 

 

 

Anna Airy: Official WW1 Artist.

August 11, 2014 Leave a comment

I visited the newly reopened Imperial War Museum (IWM) last week (post to follow), where I discovered a truly stunning painting and was introduced to a name that I’m disappointed I’ve not come across before now…

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Anna Airy was born in Greenwich, London at the end of the 19th Century and after graduating from The Slade School in 1903, became one of Britain’s most highly regarded female war artists. The Daughter of an engineer and granddaughter of an Astronomer Royal, a love of detail and technology were very obviously in her blood from the off.

Anna-AiryThroughout most of  the 20th Century it was not considered proper for women to experience war first hand (a situation that shockingly didn’t change until 1982 when Linda Kitson accompanied Troops to The Falklands). As a result female war artists work generally records activities well away from the front line, in hospitals, factories and farms and often of women themselves working hard for the war effort.

Towards the end of the First World War in 1918, Airy was commissioned by the Munitions Committee of the Imperial War Museum to produce a series of paintings recording day to day life in munitions and manufacturing factories across the country.

The painting that caught my attention at the IWM is the one above. Called Shop for Machining 15-inch Shells: Singer Manufacturing Company, Clydebank, Glasgow, it’s a large canvas painted in a slightly impressionistic style using a muted palette of colours. It depicts a huge timber and glass roofed shed from which hang seemingly endless pulleys and chains. The workers, all of whom appear to be women, occupy the center ground and are dwarfed by the massive shell casings which it is their task to produce in what can only be described as a state of organised chaos…

This wonderful image was one of at least five that Anna produced during 1918, the others being, A Shell Forge at a National Projectile Factory, Hackney Marshes, London (where according to Wikipedia “the ground became so hot that her shoes were burnt off her feet”)

Airy,_Anna_-_A_Shell_Forge_at_a_National_Projectile_Factory,_Hackney_Marshes,_London,_1918_-_Google_Art_Project

An Aircraft Assembly Shop, Hendon

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Women Working in a Gas Retort House: South Metropolitan Gas Company, London”

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and The ‘L’ Press: Forging the Jacket of an 18-Inch Gun, Armstrong-Whitworth Works, Openshaw

(c) IWM (Imperial War Museums); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

All of these powerful and evocative images convey the noise, confusion and determined effort that the war so obviously brought out in people during those difficult times. The attention to detail is particularly impressive and it would appear that Anna particularly enjoyed painting roof structures.

As an aside, it’s fair to say that the role of female war artists has been pretty much overlooked until fairly recently, a combination no doubt of a general sexism and that the more harrowing pictures of human carnage and destruction from the front lines painted by the men, generally grabbed all the headlines. Thankfully this is now being redressed and there is a particularly good piece here by Arifa Akbar for the Independent,  if you care to read further.

After the War, Airy concentrated her abilities more on portraiture and images that, like the munitions series above, still captured the day to day, but with a perhaps understandably more halcyon air. Blackberry Harvest (1937) below, is a typically fine and evocative example.

Anna-Airy_blackberry harvest

Lazy Post No. 20: Google Chromecast & The BBC Post-War Architecture Collection…

August 7, 2014 Leave a comment

imagesWe bought a Google Chromecast recently which means we can now spend even more time staring at the idiotbox…

Slow off the mark as usual (as I’m sure my younger, more tech savvy friends would agree) it’s actually been something of a revelation in the few days we’ve been using it, once you get over the “do we really need more things to watch/ surely we watch too much TV already” conundrum… No more sitting in uncomfy chairs at the dining table, trying to make out images by changing the angle of the laptop screen…

Chromecast plugs into the back of the TV and then, via an app downloaded onto our Nexus 7, you choose what you want to watch and “cast” it over to the TV with a simple touch of the symbol on screen. 21st Century magic in full effect, and all for £30…

And yes the internet is built on seemingly endless hours of pointless crap, but if you’re selective and look hard enough, there’s untold gold out there beyond the cats, fail compilation’s and celebrity tittle tattle… And moreover, watching the videos on a big TV makes it seem less like time wasting somehow… Hmmm

Anyway, my current favorite sources are this random collection of videos on YouTube, and the BBC’s wondrous Post-War Architecture Collection on iPlayer, which you can get to by clicking the screen grab below…

iplayer screen grab

Underworld Redux….

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

dubnobasswithmyheadman-4fd89d8eda22bToday’s top music news is that Underworld have at last put all their records back up on Spotify…

They disappeared many months ago and I was starting to worry… It’s not that I couldn’t listen to Rez and Cowgirl whenever I wanted to as I’ve got most of their stuff on either CD and vinyl anyway (and in some cases both…) so it was only a process of ripping and copying it to my phone..

But even still, I’m happy to have Dubnobasswithmyheadman back online and available to listen to at any time of the day or night..

Talking of which, we’ve managed to get tickets for Underworld’s first ever performance of this timeless and inspiring record from start to finish, when they play at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank in a couple of months time in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

Twenty years, January 1994.. I remember going out and buying the damn thing on the weekend after it was released. Anyway to say I’m excited would be something of an understatement…

It’ll be the 7th or maybe 8th time I’ve seen them, possibly the coolest of which was in New York with Danny Kudos at the Irving Plaza back in 1996 (“yeah, I know who you are…”) and the oddest probably Creamfields up in Liverpool in 2002… tucked away in a corner of the field by the bogs with not very good sound and feeling sick as a dog…

Happy memories…

underworld

 

Louis Khan at the Design Museum

July 30, 2014 1 comment

We went to the Design Museum over the weekend to see the new Louis Khan exhibition.

The architecture of Khan is an acquired taste. His work is not immediately beautiful nor classically elegant whilst the scale and simplicity of his best works gives them an almost intimidating air. His later drawings and sketches are somewhat rudimentary and if you’ve seen the film made by his son My Architect, his personal life was complicated especially his attitude to non architectural people.

But without doubt he had something. Moving on from the stylistic limitations of modernism, Khan defined a new monumentality, developing theories around “servant and served” spaces and producing visually unforgettable buildings that seem to take inspiration from some future civilisation, echoing the ruins of forgotten megastructures adrift in alien landscapes…

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Khan was a huge fan of geometry (although not necessarily symmetry), finding an innate satisfaction in it’s rigor and ordered structure. He was also something of a philosopher. When I was learning to be an architect, I was quite taken with Khan’s writing. He used words like no other architect I’ve come across either then or since. Sometimes naively suggesting a conversation between himself and a brick as to what the brick wanted to be, or making bold statements about how the sun was nothing until it had a building to shine on…

Often he would make statements that on the face of it were simple, yet had a profound effect if you thought about them for any length of time.. “Consider the momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and the column became” or “Architecture is what nature cannot make”  or “Design is not making beauty (it is) the reaching out for the truth”…

Although Khan was a natural artist and got the calling to become an architect whilst at college, it wasn’t until he was into his 50’s that his first major building, the Yale University Art Gallery in 1951 was completed. And with that, his style was set: a preference for solid planes rather than glass panes, expressed structural elements, simplicity of and truth to, materials and above all an innate understanding of natural light and how large spaces would be experienced once complete.

Over the next 20 years or so, until his death in 1973, Khan completed some truly inspiring buildings. I’ve never managed to experience any of them first hand, but after seeing this exhibition, the desire to do so has certainly been rekindled…

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KAM southwestview

Arch2O_Louis_Kahn_Trent-Bell

There’s one final twist to the Louis Khan story, and that is his death. Khan died of a heart attack in a New York City train station toilet in 1974, and like that great eccentric Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, his body lay unrecognised and unclaimed for several days. It was later found that despite his apparent success and status as one of America’s most respected and influential post war architects and academicians, his architectural practice was over half a million dollars in debt (and that’s 1970’s dollars…)

Well worth a visit if you’ve any interest in understanding where the spirit of architecture might be found and what it must be like to be gifted and driven. There are images, ideas and photos here that have stayed with me long after I left the gift shop…

A huge thanks to SB for making it happen, much appreciated.

Lazy Post No. 19: A New Bridge Please…

July 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Gallions Reach Bridge_trimI’ve been sent an email from Transport for London inviting me to the next round of consultation for the new East London Thames crossing options…

Without doubt my favourite has to be the possibility of a new bridge at Gallions Reach. How amazing would that be?

I’m a big fan of modern bridges, especially concrete ones. Think of Fosters Milau Viaduct in France or The Oresund Crossing between Denmark and Sweden. Obviously the Gallions Reach bridge would not be anywhere near their scale, but it would still be a wonderful opportunity to create an elegant and timeless structure, right on my doorstep…

It’s not at all clear from the blurb if it will end up being a toll bridge, but I suspect that has to be a possibility. However on the assumption that a replacement ferry service would have to remain free for it to be used, arguably (and hopefully) the new bridge would be free also. We shall see.

The land is already owned, so it could potentially be open by 2025 and the whole project would cost around £600m. Cheap at half the price, especially when you think of the Billions that train projects seem to cost these days…

Do it I say. London can never have too many bridges…

milau viaduct

Oresund-Bridge-Linking-Denm

 

 

 

 

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