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The Android Invasion: William Mitchell & Doctor Who…

April 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Don’t ask me why, but I started watching an old Doctor Who the other evening. I’d scanned the TV page looking for something to watch as I ate my tea, and as I read the title “The Andrid Invasion”, a vague recollection of a faceless, robot version of the lovely Sarah Jane (Elizabeth Sladen) popped into my head…

Elizabeth SladenDating from the mid 1970’s and starring my personal favorite Doctor, Tom Baker, it is to be honest, a rather shonky affair that probably would have been better left as a memory.

The acting, the sets, the story, the effects, all conspire to produce something so frighteningly low key (even for the 70’s) that I’m amazed we all watched these shows so avidly at the time. And as for the androids and their alien masters … men in white boiler suits and crash helmets with guns built into their pointing finger, and little trolls. Hmmm…

Anyway, about half an hour in I was just about to give up when what should the Doctor walk out from behind, but something that looked remarkably like a sculpture my friend Bill Mitchell might have made…

A couple of screen photos and an email to Bill and sure enough, a genuine Mitchell it turns out to be…

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Bill tells me this work dates from the early 1970’s and was created using his sand blasting technique to carve away at solid lumps of brickwork. It’s located at the Harwell Atomic Center near Oxford and at the time was a very hush hush commission for him, due to the nature of the atomic research and the secrecy of the Cold War. he sent me this photo he took after it was finished. Bill also did some work inside the building apparently, but that didn’t appear in the show…

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The building itself looks quite interesting to my eyes. Beautifully made precast concrete panels clad the walls and as for the cantilevered entrance canopy above, very stylish…

Bill tells me the commission came from the War Office, for whom he also did work at a “secret tank factory”. I think I’ll have to ask him to tell me more about that one..

Sadly like many of his external sculptural works from this period, Bill doesn’t know if it’s still there and from online aerial sites it’s difficult to tell, as the greenery has matured considerably since the BBC set up their cameras to film a man in a long scarf running past.

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Having looked at aerial photos trying to work out where Bill’s work might be on the campus, I couldn’t help but notice the massive, doughnut shaped building that goes by the intriguing name of The Diamond Light Source. And so the seed of another post is planted…

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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…

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Lazy Post No. 18 : Lego, cables & Sugru…

July 1, 2014 1 comment

Lego-and-Sugru-wire-holders_dezeen_468_8Today’s intriguing fact of the day is that Lego minifigures gripping hands are just the right size to hold charger cables and headphone jacks…

A fine discovery that I will help my Star Wars minifigures put into effect as soon as I get home tonight…

Sugru is a new thing to me as well.. It appears to be a self setting silicone rubber compound that can be moulded like Play Doh, then stuck to or formed around any number of shapes and surfaces, where it cures overnight forming a strong, waterproof bond that still retains its flexibility. Definitely sounds like something you didn’t know you could live without…

The original story is here on Dezeen

Happy New Year from Mars…

January 3, 2014 2 comments

On January 1, the Curiosity Rover celebrated its 500th Martian day (otherwise known as a sol) on the surface of the Red Planet.

Curiosity-Sol-494_3Aa_Ken-KremerA few days earlier, it had taken this wonderful photo of the 18,000ft (5500m) foot Aeolis Mons (more commonly known as Mt. Sharp), created by combining several different images taken by the mastcam on December 26th 2013 (Sol 494).

In celebration of this momentous achievement, the Curiosity Rover posted this Tweet: “500 sols of Mars: While Earth celebrates #NewYear2014, midnight on Mars marks my 500th day of operations.”

You can find & follow the Curiosity Twitter feed here (if such a thing appeals…)

Since its spectacular landing in the Aeolis Palus region of the Gale Crater in early August 2011, Curiosity has driven nearly 3 miles across the floor of this massive 100 mile diameter feature, heading slowly and inexorably towards the centre. An extraordinary achievement, especially if you watch the proposed landing video again and marvel that the third “powered descent” stage and the subsequent “skycrane manoeuvre” actually worked…

I rather like this photo montage of the Curiosity Rover doing it’s lonley thing, all those millions of miles away from home (although, unless a boom has been Photoshopped away, I have no idea how it managed to take such excellent selfies…)

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Curiosity’s landing site was within the blue ellipse…

3D Mapping onto moving surfaces & Ultimae Records…

September 30, 2013 3 comments

My friend Rob sent me a link to this amazing video this morning…

I have to admit that I’m struggling to work out exactly what it is I’m watching, because as the description on Vimeo states, this is a “live performance, captured entirely in camera…” with no added post production or CGI…

If I were to guess though, I’d say that the two robot arms are moving the screens around, providing the accuracy needed for the mapping, the man is initially pretending to move the screens around before he gets digitised towards the end and the 3D digital mapping programme/ presentation is a thing of such complexity and impressive creation that having watched it 3 times now, I’ve given up trying to work out what it’s doing…

There are some very clever touches throughout the film; the sound of the robots moving and the use of the floor for the text being two, but I especially like the very end where the robot arms appear as line drawings behind the screens… The final quote from Arthur C Clarke has never been more apposite. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

I love all this digital visual trickery, and I’ve written about it previously after we’d seen Amon Tobin’s mind blowing ISAM show at last year’s otherwise lamentable Bloc Festival, and this new development where the background onto which the projections are mapped is moving around, seems like a huge leap forward and definitely something worth keeping an eye on…

The music is pretty excellent too. It reminds me of the sounds I’ve been finding recently on the French label Ultimae Records.. Bands with rather Sci-Fi names like AES Dana, Solar Fields, Asura, HUVA Network and Carbon Based Lifeforms.

If like me, you enjoy machine made electronica that’s rich, layered and unbelievably well produced, you might care to check them all out on Spotify…

Delia Derbyshire & the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

May 7, 2013 2 comments

Delia Derbyshire Last Saturday (May 5th) would have been the 76th birthday of the pioneering electronic musician Delia Derbyshire, a name that may be unfamiliar if you are not my side of 40, British or a bit of a geek.

There is however at least one of her tunes that you will recognise, as Delia was responsible for generating the futuristic bleeps, whooshes and synthetic sounds that combined to make the original Dr. Who Theme, which despite being made 50 years ago in 1963, is well worth a quick listen now, to remind yourself how good it still sounds…

Although credited to Ron Grainer, who wrote the basic melody, it was Delia who after three weeks of hard work recording noises and splicing together bits of magnetic tape, created the sounds and atmosphere that continue to make the tune as memorable today as it was then…

Delia (who sadly died in 2001 of alcoholism related problems, just as renewed interest in her work was beginning to pick up) was a key member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, a name synonymous with the sonic and musical experimentation of the 1960’s and 70’s.

Formed in 1958 the Workshop’s original brief was to provide incidental sounds for radio and TV shows although this was quickly expanded and the team (which included Daphne Oram, Brian Hodgson and Paddy Kingsland) was soon creating theme tunes and other impressively futuristic sounds not only for The Doctor but also for The Goon Show, Quatermass & the Pit, Blakes 7 and The Hitchhikers Guide to name just a few.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop - early 1960sEach of the members was also a composer in their own right and Delia wrote and recorded many original compositions, one of her most well known (and strangest) of which is Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO-OO from 1967. If you think it sounds odd today, imagine what it sounded like back when everyone looked like this….

Delia was also involved in two offshoot groups in the mid 1960’s: the brilliantly named Unit Delta Plus (with Peter Zinovieff, inventor of the first British portable synthesizer the EMS VCS 3) and Kaleidophon (with David Vorhaus), neither of which had great musical success at the time, but both of which have since been the subject of much reassessment by musicians who see in their experimental electronic recordings, the beginnings of today’s digital soundscapes…

There a number of videos on YouTube about Delia & the Radiophonic Workshop, and the ones below I think are the most interesting. It’s fascinating to watch how sounds were created by speeding up and slowing down tapes, playing them backwards and then chopping everything up and making loops…. It must have taken hours and hours to do what any self respecting sampler can do in seconds today…

(I’ve no idea what the ghostly chap in the background is all about…)

There’s also an excellent 1 hour audio mix here put together by Soundhog, which through a mix of spoken word and music, gives a pretty good oversight of what they got up to over in their Maida Vale studio…

As a final aside and if you’re interested in this kind of music like me, I’ve also come across this BBC TV programme from 1979. Called The New Sound of Music and presented by Michael Rodd, it’s a wonder of optimism, science and massively complex technology. I especially enjoyed seeing David Vorhaus in the last section (Part 4) who at about 7.40 mins seemingly invents Goa Trance at least 15 years before anyone knew what to call it…

Truly Impressive…

One final excellent BBC TV programme of related interest can also be found here… (noted more for my records than anything else)

Divine Retribution or Science in action…

February 13, 2013 2 comments

170433-lightning-hits-vaticanWhen I saw this rather excellent photo in yesterday’s papers, I wondered if I should rethink my position on organised religion…

The bolt of lightning that hit the Dome of St Peters Basilica in Rome not long after the Pope announced he was stepping down, was interpreted by many of the faithful as a sign from their God, quoting Psalm 29 which reminds them that “The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning”…

Indeed…

Meanwhile in the real world, science reminds me that lighting is caused when positively and negatively charged particles within a cloud separate to the top and bottom respectively, thereby creating a build up of charge that is best neutralised via contact with, amongst other things, the nearest bit of the earth it can find.

In this instance, St Peters was the tallest building in the area when the storm passed over Rome. Unusual and coincidental perhaps, but nothing more than that…

So actually no, I don’t need to rethink my position. I know exactly where I stand…

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