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Archive for March, 2011

The Armoury Show (& John McGeoch…)

March 30, 2011 1 comment

I came across this site recently. You can click on the tree at the top if you want to go back to the explanatory home page, but in essence it is a virtual recreation of one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential art exhibitions, certainly in America and arguably the world…

If you had been in New York City nearly 100 years ago in 1913, then between February 17th and March 13th you would have had the opportunity to visit what has come to be known as The Armoury Show.

Spread out across 18 galleries in the US Army’s 69th Infantry Armoury building at 25th and Lexington were over 1250 works of art by over 300 artists, the names of which read like a who’s who of Modern Art: Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Brancusi, Cezanne, Duchamp, Gauguin, Epstein, Van Gogh, Monet, Munch…. virtually every key Contemporary European painter and sculptor from the early Twentieth Century was there…

The exhibition was organised by the newly formed Association of American Painters and Sculptors, and its intention was to showcase some of the big names of American Art against the rising stars of Europe, men and women who were at the forefront of what would come to be known as Modernism. With a roughly equal share of gallery space, the rather academic and stayed realist and impressionistic works of the Americans however looked dated and out of step with the more cutting edge European trends, and although not to everyone’s taste (President Roosevelt famously said of the contents “that’s not art”) the impact of the show on the US cannot be underestimated, influencing as it did many of the following generation(s) of American Modern painters.

What I find amazing is that although the exhibition was held only 7 years after Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (often cited as the first truly modernist painting) the variety, diversity and quality of work on show was staggering: from the early Cubist work of Braque, to the stylised Futurist dynamics of Picabia and from the sensual sculptures of Brancussi through to the wholly abstract colours of Kandinsky. An unbelievable collection of work, with many of the next decades key ideas and styles already in evidence.

If I only had a time machine etc. etc. etc…

By the way, this post shouldn’t be confused with the other Armoury Show, Richard Jobson’s follow on band from The Skids. I saw The Armoury Show play in Leeds (at The Warehouse I think) in the mid Eighties, and although I went because I was a Skids fan, it was the mighty John McGeoch who left the biggest impression.

Sadly he died a few years ago, but he was one of the most influential (if criminally underrated) guitarists ever. As well as being the backbone of The Armoury Show, his instantly recognisable big guitar sound can be heard gracing the likes of Magazine, Public Image Limited and of course Siouxsie and the Banshees.

Check out Ju Ju if you don’t believe me…. Spellbound (obviously), but Monitor still sounds pretty good.

That’s John below, with the shades on to the right of Richard Jobson, Mr Skids himself)

THE ARMOURY SHOW in Berlin, Germany (November 27th, 1985)

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Tremaen Lamp Base

March 21, 2011 Leave a comment

We went to the Mid Century Modern Show at Dulwich College yesterday and although we couldn’t find the sideboard we were after, we did finally manage to get a large ceramic lamp base. We’ve wanted one for ages now (see previous post) and it seems our waiting has paid off…

Whilst it may not be to everyones tastes, we think it’s a fine object. It was made by Tremaen Pottery sometime between 1972 and 1978 and is from their Sculptural series, with this style known as Bowjey. The Bowjey style came in a variety of colours with ours being cream with greeny blue highlighting.

It stands about 16″ or 45cm high and is in perfect condition. We paid a bit over the odds for it I think, but then it was at a show and it was still a bargain, being exactly what we wanted… Now all we have to do is find a big shade to go with it.

We also ended up with this rather wonderful teak fish tray. A fell in love with him on sight and he just had to come and live on our living room wall, keeping all the other animals company.

The Super Moon & The Mamalluca Observatory, Chile

March 21, 2011 1 comment

Last Saturday evening, me and A were standing on the river bank at 6.24pm, looking due east, shivering slightly and waiting for…. The Super Moon.

A Super Moon occurs when a full moon coincides with it being at its closet to the Earth. The Moon orbits the Earth in a slightly elliptical orbit, at its closet (known as the perigree) it is about 220,000 miles away, stretching to about 254,000 miles when the Moon is at its furthest (the apogee). A perigree Moon is about 14% bigger and 30% brighter than an apogee Moon.

This weekend the moon was the closest it’s been for 18 years and its overly large appearance was boosted by another phenomena known as the Moon Illusion. This effect occurs when the evening sky is very clear and, as the Moon rises up over the horizon, it is seen against familiar objects such as buildings and trees, making  it appear relatively much larger than it is.

In the weekend papers and online, I’d also been reading about Moonageddon… a series of conspiracy theories linking the disastrous earthquakes and Tsunamis in Indonesia, Haiti, New Zealand and Japan to the Super Moon and its actions on our tides and gravity…. some interesting ideas, but ultimately misguided by all scientific accounts.

Annoyingly, as we ran out to make sure we didn’t miss the spectacle, I forgot to take the tripod, so my photos are a bit shaky. Still it was a pretty impressive sight, watching a huge Moon rising up over the Thames..

Seeing the moon this clearly reminded me of when we were in Northern Chile at the end of 2009. We went on an amazing trip to the Mamalluca Observatory high up in the Andes near Vicuna, and for about 3 hours looked up at an almost impossibly clear sky.

For me, it was one of the standout experiences of our entire trip, watching, over the time we were there, whole constellations of stars climbing up from behind the surrounding mountains into the perfect night sky. It’s the only time I’ve ever been aware of the Earth actually moving through space in realtime. Made my head spin…

Our guide was a young Chilean guy whose knowledge of the Cosmos was unbelievable. He showed us an untold number of stars, Jupiter and its moons, the Magellan clouds (which are the galaxies beyond our own) satellites (small bright specs moving slowly through the starfield) shooting stars (small bright specs moving very quickly through the starfield) and of course the Moon. The photo to the left is one I took with my camera through the 12″ telescope at the observatory, and does not do the experience of seeing the Moon as big as a beach ball, any justice whatsoever (but it’s the only image we have of that night, stars don’t photograph well with a pocket digital camera….)

The Mystery of the Isle of Dogs Lighthouse

March 20, 2011 4 comments

On my way to the DLR I walk past a piece of land that has been vacant for many years and has consequently always been very overgrown. Recently however (and for reasons unknown) the site was cleared and when it was, an intriguing object appeared from out of the undergrowth….

It looks to me like a small lighthouse or a beacon of some sort but located more than 100m from the river’s edge. It’s a roughly conical structure about 3m high which appears to be made of rendered brickwork, much of which is now falling away with age. On the top of the brickwork are a series of timber and glass windows that go all the way around the tower and then the whole thing is covered by a rather interesting, almost onion shaped, shingle covered roof.

Being me, I thought it might be interesting to try and find out more about this structure, so I set about scouring the internet for some clues. Sadly on this occasion, and despite putting some effort into the task, I’ve had to admit defeat. The internet has been unusually and uncharacteristically unhelpful.

From online historical maps, all I have really been able to deduce with any certainty, is that in 1862 there didn’t appear to be anything that would suggest the need for such a lighthouse, the land being shown as a large vacant site owned by W. Cubitt & Co. As an aside, William Cubitt was an interesting man who became Lord Mayor of London in 1860 and who between about 1840 and 1860 was responsible for much of the development of this area, ultimately taking his name, Cubitt Town.

In Booth’s Poverty map of 1899, a shipbuilding yard is now clearly marked, stretching from the shoreline, right through to the approximate position of the lighthouse. It seems not unrealistic to think, that the lighthouse might have been constructed sometime during this 40 year period, as part of the navigation system for getting ships into the dock.

The 1951 map extract then describes this structure as a dry dock (known as Poplar Dry Dock), and I would imagine that the lighthouse might still have been in use up until at least this time. By the mid 1970’s however, the dock feature has completely disappeared, and the site has been renamed Empire Wharf, the name that the road still has today.

So an interesting if not wholly succesful exercise based mostly on guesswork, and if anyone coming across this post can shed anymore light on the Isle of Dogs Lighthouse, I would be very grateful to hear from them.

Alan Partridge (Slight Return)

March 17, 2011 Leave a comment

One of Steve Coogan’s greatest comedy creations, sadly absent from our screens for some time now, has been making something of a comeback over on North Norfolk Digital…

In a series of 10 minute episdoes (which can all be found here) a fly on the wall camera catches Alan and Sidekick Simon (the very funny Tim Key) fill time on the Mid Morning Matters show, with amusing, aimless and more often than not awkward banter (and sometimes with guests…)

There have been 12 episodes so far and they’re all very funny. Episode 6 above gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect…..

Thanks to Dan and Ninja Simon for bringing these to my attention…

A Play on the A…. Adobe Creative Juices Competition

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

I have just uploaded my entry for the current Adobe competition to design a logo for a new product of theirs called Creative Juices. Entries have to be submitted via Facebook and can be found here.. (you will probably have to log in to Facebook to see them)

This is my effort though…..

Thinking about it on the tube coming home this evening, I was quite pleased when I struck upon the simple idea of adapting the familiar A of the Adobe logo to create a C and a J and then suggesting a palette of strong primary colours to move the logo away from the recognisable red of Adobe, creating something familiar but at the same time fresh. I’ve included some possible variations to the logo which might include outlines or no outlines and coloured backgrounds. Not bad for two hours work eh?

If I’m honest with myself though, I suspect they might be looking for a more independent, stand alone kind of logo for the product, rather than one that reflects their company image.

Still, all entries will be posted on the Facebook page and the general public then get to vote for their favourites, whittling it down to 30 finalists, from which Adobe will choose a winner.

So you never know, I might be in with a chance, especially if everyone who reads this post votes for me…

PS. The competition doesn’t close till 5pm Monday 21st March, so why not have a go yourself?

The Dying Art of Vinyl Mastering

March 14, 2011 Leave a comment

On Friday afternoon of last week, I got the opportunity to watch the process of mastering a 12″ vinyl record. And what a fascinating thing it is…

I must start off though with a huge thanks to Danny Ryan of Freestyle Records and Kudos Records who organised the whole thing and also to Pete Norman, Mastering Engineer extraordinaire at Finyl Tweek for taking the time out to share with us his obvious love and huge knowledge of the dying art of vinyl mastering.

The undoubted star of the show is this wonderful piece of kit which is a Georg Neumann Cutting lathe from the 1980’s, and it’s sole function is to transfer the digital music files into something tangible and physical.

The track we were cutting today was an excellent new tune on Freestyle Records by Randa and the Soul Kingdon called The Things, and once Pete had listened to it all the way through to make sure the sound file was OK, that levels were correctly adjusted, and to make any minor tweaks to enhance the sound for vinyl, he placed a 14″ aluminium disc coated in cellulose nitrate (nail polish basically) onto the vacuum suctioned central plate of the lathe.

This disc is called the Master Lacquer and is 2″ wider than required to allow a short test run of the track on the outside inch of the coating. This is then removed at the processing plant to create the familiar 12″ we all know and love.

The cutting element of the lathe has a tip made of corundum, an artificial sapphire which is phenomenally hard (harder than diamonds apparently). Pete told us that the cutting mechanism is heated via an electric charge, and then cooled down with Helium. I didn’t quite catch why both processes were required, but I think the heating helps the cut strand of lacquer form into a single thread (making it easier to collect and remove) and the helium cools the disc once it has been cut, helping to avoid any distortion.

Once the test run had finished, the groove was inspected under the microscope to ensure it looked like it should, and magnified it is an amazing thing to see. It almost seems to wander all over the place, without the consistency it has with the naked eye. (Trivia: the flat bit between the grooves is called land). I have to admit though, despite Pete’s patient explanations, I am still in the dark as to how this trench actually makes music… (its all down to vibrations somehow I think)

The lathe also has its own built in stylus, and Pete showed us how different the same tune can sound by playing the test run on both the lathe and a nearby Technics 1210. Via the lathe (which is a technically “better” piece of kit) the record sounded too clean and bright, whilst on the Technics it had a lovely, warm analogue sound. Once Pete was happy, the lathe was reset, the file restarted and off it went, all in real time, all nice and loud, and all sounding pretty good….

Once finished, the disc was removed from the lathe, put into a box and sent off to the manufacturing plant in France, where it would be be matched up with the master lacquer of the flip side track, and then combined to become a single vinyl 12″ record.

After the mastering process, there are belive it or not, 3 further processes to go through.. a mould is made from the master lacquer, then another mould from that before the final metal stamper is produced from that (the final stamper is effectively a negative of the track of course with ridges rather than grooves). I’m pretty sure coatings of silver nitrate and tin were involved somewhere along the line, but I can’t remember all the details… It occurred to us however, that with all these physical transfer processes, there was potential for a serious loss of sound quality, but Pete reassured us that as long as the groove itself didn’t get damaged, loss of sound quality was negligible.

We also asked Pete about how the old cutting lathes managed to keep going, and he told us that it wasn’t reliability that was the problem (these German made machines are famously durable apparently) it was getting them mended when they did break that was getting difficult. Hardly anyone can fix these wonderful things anymore, and spare parts are also getting more and more expensive to source. (Finyl Tweek’s preferred engineer is actually based in Italy!)

So a really fascinating couple of hours especially for an old school vinyl junkie like me… Interestingly, one of our party was the 17 year old son of a friend of mine and although as a musician himself, he was undoubtably interested in the process as a whole, we could tell that it obviously all seemed rather laboured and arcane; Vinyl records to him were like something out of the Victorian Age, all steam powered and horse drawn…

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