Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Morsels part two

I think this actually may be a bit more focused, as predicted last month. Fewer very short bits, anyway. And I wondered: should I have mentioned the Deluge specifically? I don’t want this to be about the gear used to make it. It’s also a bit unfair on the Loupé looping pedal. On the one hand, they’re great bits of kit; on the other, who cares how?

Monday, May 01, 2023


I haven’t been writing much the last few years, but have been trying to make music quite a bit of the time, without really finishing anything, so here’s a thing I might do: gather the fragments as I go, and put them online. Last month I got my Synthstrom Deluge back from its screen-fitting, which is what caused this particular burst of activity, and is I think why there are so many different techniques in use here. I worked out how to record guitar loops on it, synchronised to my looper pedal. I tried using a volume pedal for the first time, to fade notes in, à la early Tenniscoats. There’s some cacophonous FM synthesis, and a harpsichord. There’s all sorts. Future installments may (possibly) be more focused. Drums crackle a bit as they’re from the lovely Vinyl Drums From Mars sample pack.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

2020 hindsight

As I barely wrote anything here last year, I thought I’d go through my diary to check what might have been. It’s not a long list (I’m a slow reader, writing here encourages me to read more, when I do it), but for what it’s worth, with a quotation from each:

John McPhee, ‘Oranges’

No-one worried much about freezes. For one thing, it was an era of scientific advances in which triumph over nature seemed not only possible but inevitable. A cannon had been fired in the streets of Jacksonville in 1888 in the belief that the concussion would kill all the yellow-fever microbes in the air of the city. (pp. 94-5)

Émile Zola, ‘Au Bonheur des Dames’

        ‘I want her, I’ll have her! And if she does escape me, just you see what a place I’ll build to recover from her. Oh, it’ll be magnificent, it really will! You don’t understand what I’m talking about, old chap. If you did, you would realise that action is its own reward. Doing, creating, struggling against harsh realities and either defeating them or being defeated – all of human joy and health are there!’
        ‘It’s just another way to drug oneself,’ the other man murmured. (p. 317)

Dava Sobel, ‘Longitude’

John ‘Longitude’ Harrison was born March 24, 1693, in the county of Yorkshire, the eldest of five children. His family, in keeping with the custom of the time, dealt out names so parsimoniously that it is impossible to keep track of all the Henrys, Johns and Elizabeths without pencil and paper. To wit, John Harrison served as the son, grandson, brother, and uncle of one Henry Harrison or another, while his mother, his sister, both his wives, his only daughter, and two of his three daughters-in-law all answered to the name Elizabeth. (p. 62)

Adam Rutherford, ‘How to Argue with a Racist’

It is therefore possible that you are genetically unrelated to people from whom you are actually descended as recently as the middle of the eighteenth century. (Ebook, ch. 2)

Isabel Wilkerson, ‘The Warmth of Other Suns’

Both sides were made up of rural and small-town people who had travelled far in search of the American Dream, both relegated to the worst jobs by industrialists who pitted one group against the other. Each side was struggling to raise its families in a cold, fast, alien place far from their homelands and looked down upon by earlier, more sophisticated arrivals. They were essentially the same people except for the color of their skin (p. 273)

He brought his crushed velvet, jitterbug demeanor to the gray, humorless bureaucracy of a government hospital. (p. 460)

Kristin Hersh, ‘Don’t Suck, Don’t Die: Giving Up Vic Chesnutt’

        ‘He loves you, I can tell,’ you threw out, bored.
        ‘Sometimes I think he doesn’t even like me.’
        ‘Nobody likes you.’
        ‘Fair enough.’
        You: ‘We’re never gonna be okay cuz we got fucked-up egos.’
        ‘I don’t have a fucked up ego,’ I told you, defensive. ‘I don’t have an ego at all.’
        ‘Well, that’s fucked up.’
        Pitching your magazine back in the bin, you grabbed another. ‘Every hurt heals with scar tissue.’
        ‘That’s what you said about painkillers.’
        Pointing at our loved ones: ‘Whaddyou think they are?’
        ‘Oh.’ (p. 50)

James M. Russell, ‘The Forking Trolley: An Ethical Journey to The Good Place’

Some of Eleanor’s previous bad acts also point to the snares of anonymous and remote interaction with other people. She once posted her sister’s credit card details on Reddit, simply because she had told Eleanor she looked tired. (p. 52)

John Wyndham, ‘The Kraken Wakes’

        ‘But they are trying, you know, Phyl-’
        ‘Are they? I think they’re balancing things all the time. What is the minimum cost at which the political set-up can be preserved in present condition? How much loss of life will the people put up with before they become dangerous about it? Would it be wise or unwise to declare martial law, and at what stage? On and on, instead of admitting the danger and getting to work.’ (Ebook)

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Secret Barrister – ‘Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken’

Meanwhile at the National Probation Service, inexperienced, inadequately trained staff are monitoring ever-increasing caseloads of high-risk offenders in the community. One employee reported that the target culture had reduced him from seeing his offenders weekly for an hour to holding appointments once a month for an average of twenty minutes. These are the institutions we entrust to supervise and rehabilitate the most damaged and dangerous among us. At twenty fucking minutes a month. (p. 327)

It’s not why I read the book, but I worked for the Probation Service once, for about six months. Just temping, typing up Pre-Sentence Reports mostly, from Dictaphone tapes or handwritten notes, or (this seemed to be a new thing at the time) copying text that a Probation Officer had typed herself from a document on a floppy disk to the template, proof-reading as I went. There’s a job that probably doesn’t exist anymore. It’s interesting, if not surprising, to discover what happened to the service in the intervening two decades: ‘low- and medium-risk offenders’ got farmed out to private companies, in the wearyingly familiar privatisation narrative, to save the taxpayer money by sweeping the work under the carpet and ensuring it was done as badly as possible while still hitting those targets. There are plenty of other examples of this kind of corrosive neglect in the book, and it’s to the Secret Barrister’s credit that it doesn’t get overwhelming or overly repetitive: there’s always enough human interest alongside the institutional failures, not to mention a stout defence of the principles on which the criminal justice system in England and Wales rests. In a section which feels rather like being led on by a barrister’s speech in court must do, this ‘adversarial’ system is compared with the ‘inquisitorial’ one which is used widely in continental Europe. Adversarialism pits prosecution against defence in court, in front of a jury, and cross questioning is used to undermine the other side’s version of events. Which does sound a bit juvenile: the fiercest (most eloquent / devious / best prepared) cock will win the fight. Surely the inquisitorial system, where the aim of the state’s investigation is to establish the truth, rather than peck its eye out, is the more mature, responsible, balanced practice? Doesn’t this just highlight everything we know is bad about UK individualism and good about EU (relatively speaking) socialism?

Then comes a stunning about-face. Haven’t you been listening to how bad I’ve been telling you the state is? At following its own guidelines, gathering evidence, disclosing evidence, acting impartially under government pressure for certain types of conviction? Do you really want all that to go unchallenged? Yes, but you said all that about the UK state, which you’ve just spent a couple of hundred pages showing how badly it funds all those things. Surely in a grown-up country like Germany or France… You’ve seen Spiral, right? Oh, I see what you mean. If falsely accused, the Secret Barrister imagines asking themselves,

would I have faith in an inquisitorial jurisdiction where the state, with its variable competence and political vulnerability, controlled my fate throughout? Or would I trust the presentation of my case to an independent solicitor and advocate, and hope that twelve ordinary people, shown evidence that is relevant, reliable and fairly adduced, would find the prosecution insufficient to convict me?
        Every time the answer is the same. (p. 277)

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Alan Strachan – ‘Secret Dreams: A Biography of Michael Redgrave’

Michael Redgrave as Ernest Worthing clattering his teacup against its saucer as he proposes to Joan Greenwood’s Gwendoline Fairfax in Anthony Asquith’s The Importance of Being Earnest has long been one of my favourite moments in film. It’s so nervous, and so perfectly controlled. Gwendoline, of course, is not nervous at all: she has been expecting this, and encourages the moment to its crisis with austere amusement. Ernest (if we leave aside immense wealth, which for these purposes I think we’d better) has only feeling and sincerity on his side and, as will soon become apparent, his birth is wanting. If he is not quite the gentleman he seems, neither is Redgrave’s acting as English as it seems, as Strachan argues in the epilogue of his biography:
despite the brilliant technical sheen of its acting the British theatre of the mid twentieth century was fashioned from theatre itself rather than from reality. In effect, at that time life was used rather than created in the acting on British stages and screens.
        However, at the very core of Michael’s being as an actor […] was the impulse to start from the living natural processes of which the actor must be conscious. This almost sacerdotal belief, which led showmen such as [Tony] Guthrie or actors schooled and happy in the easy West End world’s attitude of ‘just say the lines and don’t bump into the furniture’ to describe Michael at times as ‘difficult’ or over-serious, was grounded in what he took from Stanislavsky and Saint-Denis, based on the latter’s insistence that in all acting the key question should always be ‘Why?’ rather than ‘How?’. The base conviction was that the starting point and development of any part in any play was never the individual role in isolation but the unfolding of a whole course of events and the evolving relationship of each role to the others within the course of the actions in the play, taking place at a specific time and under particular conditions. (pp. 543-4)
He goes on to quote Vanessa Redgrave on working with her father:
At each and every moment he would be listening to and looking at the other actors on the stage, as if for the first time, and allow the events, what they did and said, to activate his actions, thoughts and words. (p. 544)
This is a theatre-centric biography by a theatre director (who directed Redgrave in The Old Boys in 1971), which I found more absorbing as it progressed; possibly because of its subject’s struggles in later life, with anxiety following horrendous treatment by Laurence Olivier during the first season of the National Theatre in 1963 (Olivier plays villain twice in this book, as he also spikes the guns of Redgrave’s planned film of Antony and Cleopatra by pretending to be about to film it himself), and after that with Parkinson’s Disease. It navigates his sex life well, treating a string of extra-marital relationships with men as manifestations of his bisexuality, about which he was honest with his wife, Rachel Kempson, before they got married. It doesn’t claim that this had no effect on their own relationship, or that it didn’t cause considerable pain to Kempson, but it is clear that their marriage was no sham, and that this arrangement worked, for the most part. He didn’t tell her until decades later about a serious relationship during their marriage with another woman, Edith Evans (Lady Bracknell in the 1952 film of Earnest, though the affair was in the 1930s), and it feels much more appropriate to call that an affair. There is a vast quantity of cameos, and it’s the kind of book which enriches and is enriched by other histories of the period, I think. Orson Welles and Fritz Lang are both skewered: the former for the laziness of the Mr Arkadin script; the latter for being a prima donna director trading on his own myth (although the importance of his 1920s films to a young Michael is also stressed). Having recently read Micheál MacLiammóir’s amazing Put Money in thy Purse, an account taken from his diaries of the filming of Welles’ Othello, it was interesting to read of the (I’d always assumed) Irishman:
A genuine spellbinder, MacLiammóir – originally Alfred Wilmore from Kensal Rise – had arrived in Ireland at twenty-eight where he fell in love with [Hilton] Edwards and all the seductiveness of the Celtic Twilight, staying on to reinvent himself and to reject England. (p. 434)
Sensible fellow.

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