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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.

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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 20 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…

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