Archive for April, 2011

Simon Baker – Traces

April 29, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m really enjoying this record at the moment (click the link, right click the play symbol, copy the link location and paste into the Spotify search field)

Simon Baker has been responsible for some excellent music over the last few years, Plastik and The Trick being two that really stand out.

This, I belive is his first studio production album and what a rich and varied collection it is, ranging from the outright dancey (L Train) to the more interestingly vocalled (think  Matthew Dear) Let Me In (my current favourite). There’s even some jazz piano in there….

As part of the ever excellent Ralph Lawson’s 2020Vision label, we’ve seen Mr. Baker DJ several times now (most recently at the sadly under attended album launch at the mUmU night at Liverpool’s CUC a few weeks ago) and very good he is too.

I’m sure we’ll allow him to entertain us again, especially if he plays his own tracks.

Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map

April 21, 2011 5 comments

As I was looking through the RIBA Journal recently, I came across an article about a new Energy Report from the WWF. This beautiful looking document outlines an argument for a carbon free world by 2050 and was produced and designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his company OMA.

Apart from the obvious and rather worrying energy related issues, what caught my attention was the use of an unusual world projection to illustrate  the various statistics and findings of the report.

Designed by another architect, the American genius Richard Buckminster Fuller, and patented as long ago as 1946, the Dymaxion or Fuller Projection map, was his attempt to portray the spherical nature of our planet as a two dimensional flat projection, whilst retaining as much of the relative proportional integrity of the original globe.

The striking upshot of this approach is illustrated in the image above and in the animated clip below, where the land masses are arranged as you may never have thought of them before. Buckminster Fuller developed the concept of opening the globe out into a regular icosahedron (a regular solid with 20 identical equilateral triangular faces) as a means of addressing what he saw as the limitations of the majority of maps, which included only having one way up, the distortion of the actual shape of the land masses and the altering of their basic relationship to each other.

Most familiar world projections, such as the Mercator or Peters are always presented in the same way, with north to the top and south at the bottom (which interestingly Fuller argued was primarily the result of cultural bias, as the more developed society’s were generally on top). The Dymaxion map not only allowed the viewer to rotate the projection to best suit their purpose, but by opening the triangles of the icosahedron in different ways it was possible to produce any number of different arrangements, possibly the most useful being one in which the seas dominate rather than the land masses.

Koolhaas’s decision to use the projections in the WWF report not only look good and sit well on an A4 sheet (notice how they are turned through 90° from the images above) but they show the information in a completely convincing way. Consider this image of the Global Energy Networks from page 52. The lines linking the land masses have a tension and dynamicism that would be very difficult to convey using a more conventional projection.

So another striking idea from a brilliant man. Buckminster Fuller (who almost certainly deserves a post all to himself) spent most of his adult life thinking about DYnamic MAXimum tensION, the idea that rational action in a rational world demands the most efficient overall performance per unit of input and most of his life’s work relates back to this concept in some way.

If you’re interested, you can check out some of his ideas here and also on Wikipedia. The one I will mention is his Dymaxion car, if only to note that yet another architect, Norman Foster (who worked with Bucky Fuller in the last years of his life) had a working model built last year as part of an exhibition that he curated in Madrid, and here is the great man proudly standing next to it….  more (including a video of him driving it) here.

Peter Saville & New Order’s Colour Code

April 19, 2011 22 comments

In the spring of 1983, I, like thousands of others across the country, rushed down to my local record shop to buy one of the most amazing tunes that I had ever heard, Blue Monday by New Order.

This record has become such an intrinsic part of our culture, that it really needs no further comment from me, but this cover and a couple of other connected sleeves are possibly worthy of another look. As well as the now famously expensive die cut shapes making them look like an old fashioned floppy disc, they contain an obscure code that many people didn’t notice at first or if they did, how it worked.

The in-house graphic designer for Factory records was the great Peter Saville, and his distinctive and iconic work had already set Factory Records apart as a company that believed strongly in design, seeing it as a key aspect in cultivating the labels overall  image (much like Vaughan Oliver at 23 Envelope who was a direct contemporary of Saville)

Saville was primarily interested in juxtapositions: historical and modern, technological and natural and in a wider sense, how history is perceived when seen through contemporary eyes. His colour code was a way of juxtaposing as he said “the hieroglyphics of technology with historical classicism”. Although the code first appeared on Blue Monday, it was with the release a few months later of the Power Corruption and Lies (PC&L) album, that any sense of what it might all mean began to surface.

The cover of this brilliant album is a reproduction of the 1890 painting A Basket of Roses by the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour, and apart from some coloured squares in the top right, that’s it, there’s no band name and no album title. The seven squares however are a continuation of the Blue Monday code and it’s only when you turn the sleeve over to find a coloured wheel that it becomes possible to try work it all out.

The two diagrams below set it all out.

The first clue is that the circle is made up of 26 segments around its outer rim. The wheel is decoded using only the outer two rings, which are either a single colour or a doubled up colour (with either green or yellow). The inner segments as far I can tell are to complete the device and for decoration only.

The alphabet starts with the double depth green at the top and works round clockwise. The numbers 1 to 9 also start at the doubled green which means they are effectively identical to the first 9 letters of the alphabet (context is everything for Mr. Saville). The key below the wheel sets it all out.

So the coloured squares on PC&L are its catalogue number FACT75 (I have no idea why numbers always seem to read upwards) and the colours down the front of Blue Monday read “FAC73 Blue Monday an” with “d The Beach New Order” on the back.

The last new Order sleeve to feature the code was Confusion released in August 1983 and which again had the catalogue number in the top right (FAC93)

fac_90_lgThere was one final appearance for the code, and that was on the front cover of Fact 90, a 1984 album by the band Section 25, where a series of coloured poles on a Welsh mountainside spell out the album’s title “From The Hip”. Bernard Sumner had produced the record and he and Saville both saw this as an appropriate final use for the colour code…

And that was it. All that thought and effort for four record sleeves… In many ways this epitomises the genius of Peter Saville. He had so many brilliant ideas, that it seems he couldn’t and didn’t want to stick with any one thing for too long.

Bill Hicks

April 16, 2011 5 comments

Without doubt my favourite stand up comedian of all time, Bill Hicks’s untimely death in 1994 at the ridiculously young age of 32, robbed the world of one of the most incisive wits ever.

His abrasive and mocking style in which he attacked amongst other things popular culture, authority, organised religion and politics, was delivered with a conviction and style that I think is sadly lacking in many of the current comedians of today, who seem to have found success telling tedious stories about growing up in their home town, the funny things their kids do and/or looneys on the bus.

Bill on the other hand was different. I have one set where he opens by thanking the audience for their kind welcome, and says that he hopes he can fill their empty lives with stuff they couldn’t possibly think of themselves, straight to the point, sarcastic and funny…

My take on Bill Hicks is that he not only wanted to entertain, but was also keen to get his audience to open their eyes and question the accepted truth of things: i.e. untaxed drugs are not always bad for you, the Government is not always right, and parents don’t always know what they’re talking about. His big thing was smoking, and how all the cool people in popular culture smoked. He was hardly ever seen on stage without a cigarette in hand, having a go at anyone who objected, the sad irony being of course that it was smoking related cancer that killed him (so he was not always right…)

I first came across his work on an album by Hull’s finest Fila Brazillia. Tucked away on the end of a track called 6ft Wasp on 1995’s excellent Maim that Tune, was a brilliant sketch about marketing, which thanks to YouTube you can watch below…. (or listen to it on the Spotify link above with Fila’s wonderful washes of sound as a backdrop)

The other thing that always strikes me whenever I listen to his stuff now is how relevant it all is. Considering he’s been gone for nearly twenty years, his rants about drugs, war and artistic credibility were amazingly prescient and still ring true to this day. Listen to any of the many YouTube clips in which Hicks talks about the 1990/91 Gulf War, and the echoes to the Iraq war and the current situations in Libya and North Africa are scary…

The Seattle Space Needle

April 15, 2011 Leave a comment

DailyIcon have just sent me some wonderful contemporary images of this amazing structure.

Designed for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair Exhibition and located on the only bit of land not owned by the city, the 37 x 37m site was unaffected by the height restrictions of other exhibits and pavilions at the fair.

Standing 605 feet (184 meters) in the air on massive steel beams that form its slender legs, the Space Needle was completed in December 1961 and has since become the internationally recognized symbol of Seattle.

Although there is much contention surrounding who came up with the final design, John Graham is widely acknowledged as its primary architect.

The whole DailyIcon article can be found here

A year ago today…

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

It was exactly one year ago today that me and my little A got back from our travels after what was possibly the most challenging day of our whole trip…

We’d had an unbelieveable time travelling, and done and seen some truly amazing things, but I think it was fair to say that our final city, Shanghai had dampened our spirits somewhat. Whether it was the continually grey and overcast skies, the expectation of going home or the general tiredness after nearly 9 months on the road, I don’t know, but we were both ready to come home.

After travelling at over 430kmh on the amazing Maglev Train to Shanghai Airport, we went to check-in only to find out that it had closed, as unbeknown to us, our flight time had been move forward by 2 hours. To add insult to injury, our plane was not actually due to take off for another 30 minutes and was still waiting at the departure gate, but despite our best pleading and a few tears…. they wouldn’t let us on.

Anyway, to cut a very, very stressful couple of hours short, we both decided we wanted to be at home so we handed over a huge amount of money, got 2 of the last 5 seats left on a Chinese Airways flight leaving for Heathrow later that morning, and finally managed to get home about 3 hours after we should have done.

With the benefit of hindsight though, this was the best move we could have made. There was another BA flight a week after ours which we might have been able to get on without extra cost, but we were at Shanghai airport at 9am in the morning and we would have to have waited about 6 or 7 hours until our UK travel agent opened to confirm if this was possible. We would also have to find somewhere to stay for a week and things like that are not easy to do in China, the internet is not as easily available as it is elsewhere in the world and independent tourism (i.e. doing it yourself) can be pretty tough. So we took the plunge and got ourselves home on our emergency money.

The final punchline to this story (and the reason that we now know we did the right thing) is that it was a year ago tomorrow that the Icelandic volcanic ash clouds came over Britain, grounding all incoming and outgoing flights. We literally made it back just in time.

So a memorable (if for not the best of reasons) end to our amazing journey…

Yuri Gagarin

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

50 years ago today (12th April 1961) the Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was the first human to make it past our planet’s atmosphere and out into open space.

His entire journey in the Vostock 1 Rocket lasted 108 minutes (less than 2 hours) during which time he took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Southern deserts of Kazakhstan, orbited once around the Earth and landed safely back on land in Northern Russia.

It was a huge political coup for the Russians, taking the Americans almost completely by surprise. Nikita Khrushchev proudly claimed the superiority of Russian technology over their arch rivals, and it was no coincidence that less than 6 weeks later on May 25th 1961, J F Kennedy gave his now famous “American on the moon by the end of the decade” speech to the US Congress.

Although both countries had been working on Space Programmes for a number of years, the Russians were in fact lucky to win the prize. The US Mercury Programme had originally been scheduled to take off from Earth in October 1960, but concerns over safety and which engine type to use, had caused several scheduled take off’s to be delayed, resulting in Alan Shepard being the first American to reach space on 5th May 1961, nealry fouyr weeks after Gagarin

Interestingly Shepard’s journey was only a sub-orbital flight (effectively straight up and down) and the Americans didn’t in fact get an astronaut to orbit the Earth until March 1965, almost 4 years after Gagarin’s heroic flight. And when you consider the levels of technology available in the early 1960’s, his achievement is made even more remarkable. There is a short, edited highlights film of the events on the BBC website here and you only have to see the quality of the first ever live broadcast from Moscow and listen to Richard Dimbleby’s commentary to realise what a monumental achievement getting a man into space and back must have been.

Once Gagarin got back to earth, celebrity and fame awaited. He visited Europe (including the UK) Japan, Brazil and Finland promoting both himself and the Soviet Union’s success. Sadly though his time in the limelight was short lived, as in March 1968 he died when a routine flight crashed on route between Russian airbases, and a whole world of Conspiracy Theories were imagined into life…

There is also a feature length film of the whole event here, if you have the time and inclination…

The Welsh 3000 Challenge

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Some very good friends of mine are planning to do the Welsh 3000 Challenge later this year, and as keen walkers, me and A invited ourselves along to one of their practice walks this weekend.

There are 15 peaks over 3000 ft (about 915m) in Snowdonia, North Wales, and the challenge is to walk up and down (or traverse) all of them within a 24 hour period.

The usual route is to start with Snowdon itself (the tallest peak at 3560ft/1085m) and then head northwards ticking off dangerous Crib Goch and difficult Tryfan before crossing the A5 road, scrambling up the seemingly endless Pen yr Ole Wen and then heading off through the undulating Carnedd range to the final peak Foel Fras.

This weekend, as 3 of our group of 5 had no intention of doing the whole thing later on in June, we opted for the easier second half and were rewarded with fantastic weather, brilliant views and an exhilarating 7 hours of pretty tough, but very enjoyable walking. This photo was taken by me from somewhere up our second peak looking back towards Tryfan, with the A5 skirting Llyn Ogwen lake below and Snowdon just visible in the distance.

Enjoyable though our day was though, I don’t think I’d be able to do the whole 15 peaks. Our “easy” walk took us just under 7 hours and I for one was glad to reach the finish. My friends are hoping to do it all in less than 16 hours, during which time they’ll walk more than 30 miles, start (and possibly finish) in darkness and if I know them, wear an increasingly bizarre range of head gear….

I wish them both well.

Liverpool Metropolitan Cathederal & William George Mitchell

April 11, 2011 3 comments

We were in Liverpool a couple of weekends ago and we took the opportunity to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Designed in the early 1960’s by Frederick Gibberd, this stunning building was the result of a competition to design a replacement for the partially finished design of Sir Edwin Lutyens. Lutyen’s proposal was begun in 1933 and upon completion would have been the second largest Cathedral in the world, with the worlds largest dome. Unfortunately for Mr. Lutyens, WWII happened and what with one thing and another, the post war Catholic Community of Liverpool found it could no longer afford such a grand gesture.

A reduced (and much derided) design was produced by Adrian Gilbert Scott (the brother of Giles, the man famous for giving us the red K2 phone boxes and Battersea Power Station) and its rejection at the end of 1950’s paved the way for a completely new approach. The new proposal had to incorporate the completed crypt of Lutyen’s design, and had to allow over 2000 people to be able to see the altar at any one time. The Catholic Diocese of Liverpool had been much impressed with Coventry’s new Cathedral (consecrated in 1962) and appointed its architect Basil Spence to the board of judges. As such, Gibberd’s throughly modern proposal found a receptive audience and work began in 1962.

When we were there I was taken not only with the wonderful interior (which even for a complete non believer like me, really is amazing, full of colour and space ) but also by the external sculptural works of William Mitchell.

At either side of the main entrance to the building are two huge panels. They look as if they are made from some form of cast or wrought copper or bronze, but are in fact made from glass reinforced plastic (GRP).

The inspiration for these fantastic works is taken from Revelation 4 which describes the animals John saw looking up into heaven…

“And round the throne were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
And the first beast was like a lion and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man and the fourth beast was as a flying eagle.
And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him and they were full of eyes within.”

Whilst the idea of organised religion leaves me totally cold, I do think this wonderful work sums up the rather bizarre biblical descriptions with immense success… there are eyes and wings everywhere, and the face of the man is breathtaking (especially close up)

Mitchell also designed and executed the stone carving on the huge bell tower that rises above the Cathedrals entrance pavilion.

If you get the time to have a look at some of the other works on his web site, it’s surprising  to me that Mitchell is not more widely known and respected. His work has a very strong sense of style which not only incorporates large, bold images and shapes but is then beautifully executed through the use of unusual materials and techniques.

I particularly like “The Story of Wool” bas relief on the International Wool Secretariat building (although this black and white, presumably contemporary, image is the only one I can find and as such I can’t actually confirm if it still exists)

I think I can feel the need for some futher research…

Ronchamp & Six posters by Andrea Gallo

April 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Archdaily sent me a link to these rather beautiful posters yesterday.

Designed by one Andrea Gallo, there are six in the series: Corb, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Khan, Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius and each one captures with an impressive simplicity, the essence of an iconic building by each of these great architects.

This one of Ronchamp by Le Corbusier is my favourite with its highly distinctive window openings.

It reminds me of my trip there back in the early 90’s when I toured France and Spain with two friends on an homage to the great modernist. We arrived at Ronchamp very late at night and ended up pitching our tent in some grass at the edge of the car park… The night was bitterly cold as I remember which on the one hand meant we didn’t get much sleep, but on the other hand meant that we were wide awake when the doors were opened at 6.30am and we had the whole place  to ourselves for the best part of two hours…

A truly unforgettable experience.

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