Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas reading and listening, 2009 edition

It's that time of year when the pace slows and it becomes possible to step back a little. This blog has been exceptionally quiet, partly because I've been busy elsewhere, trying to build up stuff over at UWS - and the UWS tweetstream will give you an idea of the kinds of things we're doing. Lots of interesting developments planned for 2010, but we'll save announcing them until January in case they get lost in the festive haze.

In the meantime, here's a quick roundup of some of the books, music and film and other media that I'm consuming at the moment (in no particular order)...

Art School (propositions for the 21st century): a pedagogic compendium/manifesto for the changing face of art schools in this new millennium

Lots of bits of Bourdieu - including The Logic of Practice and Michael Grenfell's very useful edited primer Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts; this is in preparation for various streams of thinking, including the revival of a proposed series of events around 'Art and Money' and some workshops exploring the ramifications of so-called practice-based research> (oh, no, I'm beginning to give away some of the info I said I'd hold back until January...but there's plenty more to come...)

And I'm looking forward to getting stuck into ex-UEL colleague Tim Lawrence's biography of NYC musician Arthur Russell - Hold on to Your Dreams; which explores the connection between individual creativity and the networks/rhizomes of the NYC downtown music 'scene' in the 70s and early 80s. Russell was one of those technological pioneers and individual musical visionaries who worked across forms and genres long before this became routine...

Michael Sorkin's "Twenty Minutes in Manhattan" - a minor masterpiece of microscopic cultural studies, in the form of a series of essays exploring the twenty minute walk from his apartment in Greenwich Village to his studio in Tribeca, with plenty of detours, literary, historic and geographic. Great little book in a tradition of street-level urban studies with lots of eclectic and illuminating insights - ultimately humorous, playful and optimistic set of proposals about how to live in cities better..

Experimental Geography: radical approaches to landscape, cartography and urbanism; this excellent and provocative book accompanies a travelling exhibition over in the US. Partly a manifesto for a slightly more practical and, dare I suggest, socially useful, form of cultural/artistic intervention in the situationist tradition.

I'm interested in the conversations going on over at Art Work: a conversation about art, labor and economics; and I've yet to properly digest the various media outputs from the Institute for Distributed Creativity's conference on The Internet as Playground and Factory. Holiday reading? Not sure where the line between work and leisure/pleasure is there too...

On the music front, the generalpraxis page at has various bits and bobs. Planning to catch up with a bit of composing over the next couple of weeks - working on the music for another Anton Califano documentary - about the slightly surreal Glenrothes by-election.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Solitary Life of Cranes

Here's a film I wish I had been involved in making. Excellent. Very polished. Great sound, effective music, superb editing, wonderful cinematography. Very thoughtful. Absolutely makes you look at the city in a new way - and makes me nostalgic for London!

Here's the director Eva Weber talking about the film. And the whole film is available to watch (I don't know for how long) on 4OD.

All somewhat in the same vein as The Seafront. A nice clean stream of that film has popped up on the BBC Film Network here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Keith Floyd

I'm sad about the death of Keith Floyd. Not that it was particularly unexpected - it was easy to see that he'd been in a slow unravelling process for years - but because he was one of the great iconoclasts of British cookery. I grew into cooking watching his programmes with my culinary mentor, my aunt Clare Jeffery, in the late 1980s. His chaotic, passionate approach (which, despite the buffonery, was always underpinned by a rigorous attention to detail in ingredients and processes) opened up a world of possibilities. Gastronomy didn't have to be stuffy, and it didn't have to be difficult; Floyd made it popular and fun.

After Floyd, television cookery could never be the same again. The collaboration with producer and cameraman created an almost Brechtian approach which meant that all the joins, snips and tricks of the trade were laid bare. Floyd artfully and wittily mocked the pretentions and conventions of food TV. The tributes from his successors make it pretty clear that he built the foundations - the informality, the documentary approach, getting out of the studio and into the open air and 'ordinary' kitchens - on which their own towering careers rest. And he worked fast - bashing together the dishes with ebullience and humour, his confidence inspiring the same risk-taking extravagance in others. In that sense perhaps he also embodied the 'live now, pay later' ethic (if it can be called that) that has come somewhat unstuck over the last couple of years. He was flawed, he was rude and difficult, but he was also a brilliant, inspiring cook: a culinary artist.

In the '80s, food taste was changing fast, fuelled by the ever-widening availability of ingredients from across the globe, rising affluence, and the consumerism that Mrs Thatcher unleashed on UK society. Floyd stood for decent ingredients, the pleasure of cooking and good company. He changed the way food was talked about on television, and he played the bon viveur in a way that secretly perhaps many wanted to emulate, despite the destruction that it caused in his life away from the cameras. His shows and his story contain all the seeds of the media forms that have come to dominate the next two decades - he became the apotheosis of the celebrity chef, with books, personal appearances, and all the other paraphenalia of fame - without Floyd there would be no Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Gordon Ramsay and the rest. And to his shows he brought a postmodern wit that appealed directly to the viewer, inviting the audience to help to unpick the processes of documenting how to cook, even as it celebrated them.

Here he is, cooking with a family in France, in a clip which captures all that was great about his approach. The Keith Meets Keith documentary is pretty compulsive viewing too but I guess this is how most people will prefer to remember him.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On the road again

Two events coming up which Graham is involved in; both look pretty worthwhile (in our opinion):

Sensescapes: Day of workshops/talks at the British Music Experience, 02 (formerly Millennium Dome!), London
1st October 2009

Cape UK Conference: Creativity: Luxury or Lifeline? National Media Museum, Bradford
30th September 2009

Click the links - more details to follow

Friday, July 03, 2009

Creative Media Practice at UWS

In my day-job at the University of the West of Scotland, we've just launched our new MA Creative Media Practice, starting this September. It's is new and innovative programme focusing on the development of knowledge, understanding and creative and technical skills in the fast-moving areas of screen and broadcast, digital content creation and the wider creative industries, including audio, performance and digital arts.

Although based primarily at our Ayr Campus – which has some of Scottish higher education’s finest media, broadcasting, and recording facilities – parts of the programme may also be delivered at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay, and it's also likely that we'll be doing some projects and workshops at Glasgow's CCA, where UWS has just become a Cultural Tenant. Some of the intensive workshops, such as screenwriting and creative documentary, may also be offered as residential 2-3 day or one week events.

Aimed at graduates from a wide range of disciplines, and industry professionals seeking to enhance or diversify their skills, the programme has been designed with industry input, including consultation with Scottish Screen and Skillset. We think that the programme will appeal to experienced professionals looking to consolidate their work or even thinking about a change of direction. We're hoping to build a dynamic learning community and encourage lots of collaboration across the programme.

And we're very pleased to say that under a new initiative from the Scottish Funding Council, just announced, a number of funded places are available for part-time postgraduate diploma study of this programme (which covers the first half of the course).

There's more information here and you can contact the programme leader, Tony Grace, directly at

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Information Harvesting

It's very easy to harvest information these days - and I'm an avid delicious user as those familiar with this blog will know, which I've now combined with getting stuff from Twitter. Together with all my RSS feeds, that's more than enough information to process per day, quite apart from trying to do my work properly.

So to badly paraphrase Marx, the point is not to have lots of information, but to do more with it. Not only harvesting and interpreting information, but hopefully changing the world with it. There's no point having knowledge at your fingertips if you're not resolved to make something with it. Social media makes possible plenty of sharing, tagging, tweeting and repeating, but that's just the start. The real issue is how to construct new knowledge and useful ideas out of this enormous information flow. Which takes concentration and the avoidance of distractions. It's easy for the information ecology to just become a parade of diversions.

And the second point, which I'm very conscious of, typing with soil under my fingernails from digging in the garden for most of the afternoon, is that screen and web is only one small source of information. There are just as significant news feeds and inputs to be had from face to face, person to person, place to place, person to planet interaction. The web is one part of the knowledge ecology, but there's a bigger and wider social web that underpins it. What's important is to get a balance, and to make real time for considered thought and action. So an afternoon of potting up tomato plants and beginning to cut back the overgrown branches will also, hopefully, provide a decent harvest further down the line.

There's something very satisfying about aching muscles and dirty hands. It's not particularly healthy to live in a cleansed, sanitised, polished and endlessly mediatised world week in, week out. And so I think I'm going to try to weed out my information flow a bit and try to improve the signal to noise ratio, rather like need to cut back the brambles in the garden.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Semantic web, and other searchbots

Amidst the hype about Wolfram Alpha I stumbled on this site at MIT - the "START natural language question answering system". So I thought I'd warm it up with an easy question:

Does God exist?

And I got this response:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Teacher Artist Partnership: a new resource

We're about to publish the resource pack for the TAPP (Teacher Artist Partnership Programme). In the meantime (complete with dodgy fonts created by the conversion process to Flash in slideshare) here's the presentation that Anna Ledgard and I made for the Creative Partnerships professional learning network back in March.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I've been struggling to stay optimistic, putting it mildly, over the last few months. I've also been deluged by deadlines, many of which I've not met. But this post isn't really about my state of mind, it's more about the state of the world. As any good ecopsychologist would suggest, there's always a connection between the two. And I've been trying to get to grips with the implications of the financial crisis. It's hit our household hard - even with two decent jobs we've been struggling to maintain our overleveraged lifestyle and it's limited my mobility a lot - starting a new job, not having much spare money and trying to keep on top of a massive mortage and household maintenance bill hasn't left me with much time, cash or, frankly, inclination to 'get out there' and keep my networks going. So I've found myself in a very introspective frame of mind - which is one of the reasons this blog has been so quiet.

Which is interesting. One realisation is how much my work over the last ten years has depended on maintaining networks, and the huge hidden subsidy the family and the household has put into the maintenance of those networks - whether that's fronting up travel expenses and increasing the headroom on credit cards, days and nights time spent away from home, and the way the frenetic pace of work has taken away time from other, perhaps more important concerns, like making sure that that family and friendships are well looked after and the garden isn't full of weeds. As I wrote in 'The Creative College', a huge amount of invisible labour and hidden transaction costs get attached to collaborative ways of working, which the rhetoric of 'partnership', especially when promoted by the powerful, tends to ignore or marginalise... So I've been slowing down and trying to work out the most important things, but like most other people, have been transfixed and horrified by the scale and speed at which the economy - both globally and very personally - has unravelled.

Man on Wire was one of the films of the year for me. It's hard to say exactly why but I liked the small pun and massive metaphor of a tiny man tightrope walking between two massive phallic symbols of capitalist ambition; I liked the way the film invoked the experimental spirit of the 1970s in which demanding the impossible was still a realistic dream; and I liked the moving meditation that was necessary to keep Philippe Petit alive and on the wire.

It's an example to everyone: find the wire you want to walk, and focus your attention on it; and nothing is impossible.

But at the same time the film was sad - Petit's single minded, obesessive focus on making that monstrous journey destroyed his relationships, his friendships and left everyone around him bereft. A huge spectacle, a huge achievement, but ultimately an existential contract between life and death, an individual and the abyss. And the word 'poignancy' is too weak to describe the symbolic power of that playful act of cultural terrorism that Petit and his co-conspirators achieved in the more utopian days of the early 1970s, especially in the light of subsequent events.

So there's always a balancing act between work and play. It's one which is hard to get right, especially when the flow of money dries up as a social lubricant. And I've been as guilty as anyone else at single-mindedly persuing my various obsessions, wth the result that I"ve burnt up far too much cash trying to keep it all going. So we're having to live differently - as one lucid commentator put it - it's like the restaurant bill has to be paid after the party's over. Ultimately that restriction on money may be a good thing: it's a cleansing process that is forcing everyone to face up to what really matters, and leave other things behind. (But I'm aware that this is an easy thing for me to say, especially as even despite the economic strictures, our household has plenty of options and opportunities - and that's not true for a lot of people who, unlike Sir Fred Goodwin, have been left behind on the breadline in places like Ferguslie Park.)

Living in an overleveraged economy turns us all into tightrope walkers. Another friend, who understands money much better than me, had this to say in a recent blog post about debt:

"Minsky said that debt narrows your opportunity – it limits your future. It took me a while to work out why he was right. If you think about debt as a liability – whether personal, corporate, or national – for every dollar of debt you need an asset on the other side of the balance sheet. For an individual that asset may be your house, or it may be a portion of your future earnings. The key point is that you become beholden to the value of that asset. If it goes down, because house prices fall, or the job market sours – you’re in a pickle. However lean and mean you are. If, on the other hand you’ve got plenty of cash – a lot of fat – on the asset side of your balance sheet – that gives you a great opportunity – in a sense it’s a potential future income stream. You might choose to be lazy – work short hours and commune with your couch – or you might start a business or write a book."

So, when you're carrying debt (in my case an overextended mortgage and rather too much other debt) the tightrope strung between risk and opportunity is very taut indeed. Like a lot of people of my generation, I've been leveraging my skills and abilities but haven't been so clever at preserving cash and watching the bottom line. And now the bill has come in.

And I"ve turned back to William Basinski's incredible piece The Disintegration Loops, the story of which (especially with its 9/11 postscript) so aptly sums up this decade:

"In the process of archiving and digitizing analog tape loops from work I had done in 1982, I discovered some wonderful sweeping pastoral pieces I had forgotten about. Beautiful, lush cinematic truly American pastoral landscapes swept before my ears and eyes. With excitement I began recording the first one to CD, mixing a new piece with a subtle random arpeggiated countermelody from the Voyetra. To my shock and surprise, I soon realized that the tape loop itself was disintegrating: as it played round and round, the iron oxide particles were gradually turning to dust and dropping into the tape machine, leaving bare plastic spots on the tape, and silence in these corresponding sections of the new recording. I had heard about this happening, and frankly was very afraid of this happening to me since so much of my early work was precariously near the end of its shelf life. Still, I had never actually seen it happen, yet here it was happening. The music was dying. I was recording the death of this sweeping melody. It was very emotional for me, and mystical as well. Tied up in these melodies were my youth, my paradise lost, the American pastoral landscape, all dying gently,gracefully, beautifully. Life and death were being recorded here as a whole: death as simply a part of life: a cosmic change, a transformation. When the disintegration was complete,the body was simply a little strip of clear plastic with a few clinging chords, the music had turned to dust and was scattered along the tape path in little piles and clumps. Yet the essence and memory of the life and death of this music had been saved: recorded to a new media, remembered"

Perhaps some of the economic carnage will lead to some more radicalisation and even political polarisation, which might be a good thing. The political landscape suddenly seems much more like the 1980s, which is strange to behold in the months I approach my 40th birthday. We seemed to have left those days of less fuzzy politics behind in the Blair bubble - (now there's someone who managed to flee the crime scene at the top of the market and leave his aides to pick up the pieces!- a bit like the trickster Petit!), and the smug parade of bankers walking off into the sunset with multimillion pound pensions while the towers of capital crumble, makes the dividing lines seem much more sharply drawn. But there are some interesting emerging ideas floating around about opportunities to rethink how we live in the wake of this disaster. I'll try to chronicle some of them here and over at Creative Crunch.