Archive: art

There is something quite fascinating about the announcements made on trains. Is there any form of public speaking that varies in quality more.

Sometimes the announcements can be delivered in an unbelievably apathetic tone, like it’s the last thing the train guard ever wants to do. A lot of it just sounds plain rotten. Sometimes they are so slapdash that you wouldn’t guess that making these announcements was something these people did as a job, several times a day.

Other guards take the other extreme, taking a bit too much pride in the announcement. A lot of them try to talk posh, with sometimes disastrous consequences. Then you get the ones that think they are stand-up comedians.

I recently bought a CD that revels in this all. The MMs Bar Recordings, by Sandra Cross, is a collection of recordings of conductors making various announcements about the buffet bar situated on Coach F of Midlands Mainline trains running between London and Leicester.

The sound quality is variable, and the quality of the announcements even more so. But this is, of course, the whole point.

Listening to this record, which lasts almost 30 minutes, I found myself asking questions like, “who ever says ‘bottle of pop’ these days?” And, “why do they always say ‘for the price of £3.50’ rather than just ‘for £3.50’?”

There is a comedian who tells a joke, but delivers it in the most bored tone. Countless conductors say ‘expresso’, with a phantom ‘x’. There are mis-steps, slip-ups and technical glitches. There are real laugh-out-loud moments.

I just love the concept of this CD. It takes something ostensibly mundane, but asks you to analyse it carefully. It reveals so much. I am reminded of the John Cage quote about noise: “When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.”

These announcements are designed to be ephemeral. Most conductors treat it as such. Most people on the train will avoid listening to it. But put it on a CD and it becomes essential listening. 30 minutes’ worth of announcements made between 2006 and 2007 are now immortalised.

The MMs Bar Recordings is possibly the most bonkers album I have ever bought. And I love it.

This is part 1 of 4 in the series London trip (February 2012)

Last weekend I took a trip to London for the weekend. I arrived on the afternoon of Friday 10 February, and left on the afternoon of Monday 13 February. London is the sort of place I could keep going to. I go about once every two years, and every time I go away feeling like I needed much more time.

Typically, whenever I go to London, it is normally a last-minute deal — something I’m squeezing in around something else. This time round, it was still similarly last-minute, but I took the time to schedule everything in advance. Unfortunately, I was too optimistic and would have needed at least twice as much time to do everything I wanted to.

Day 1 map:

London day one map

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

My first stop was in fact the last addition to my itinerary. But as I kept refining the schedule up until the moment I arrived in London, I ended up deciding to come here first. It was the most out-of-the-way place and I couldn’t check in to my hotel yet, so I thought I’d get this done first.

Being an observatory, it is reasonably high up. So you get some pretty cool views of the area, which I wasn’t expecting.

London panorama

THAT photo on the prime meridian

I stood on the prime meridian line, which is something I wanted to do as a child. I took that picture. I guess you have to.

The Meridian Courtyard itself is surprisingly small. But not to worry, because the main action is to be found in the time galleries. It’s a good place to visit if you’re a time geek or interested in astronomy.

It charts the development of timekeeping over the years. There are lots of early experimental clocks on display. At the other extreme, there are modern-day atomic clocks and GPSs. In between, there are displays about the BBC’s pips generator and the speaking clock.

The nearby astronomy centre, which is free to enter, was a bit of a let down in comparison. But I suppose you get what you pay for.

Cutty Sark

On my way back I decided to take a quick look at the Cutty Sark. But there is a lot of work going on there at the moment, so it’s almost impossible to get a good look at it. But the photo I took of it is reasonably good, considering.

All photos from Royal Observatory, Greenwich:

Tate Modern

The Friday night was the one evening of the weekend in which I didn’t have prior plans. Tate Modern is open until 10pm, and is within walking distance of my hotel. So it came together quite nicely.

I think it’s really great that a place like this is open so late and free. If I lived in London I would probably go quite a lot!

Modern art is controversial, but at least it is interesting. Of course some of it is toss, and there is no way you will like everything on display. But to expect to like everything surely misses the point. Good art should be challenging and thought-provoking, and inevitably that means hating some of the stuff along the way.

It’s the same with experimental music, which I love. If you liked it all, there wouldn’t be much point.

I much prefer to visit a gallery like Tate Modern than a gallery of traditional art containing portrait after portrait after portrait.

I was disappointed that the Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals are no longer on display. I was looking forward to seeing them, and it turns out they were removed from display in October.

Among my personal highlights was the display Architecture and Power, which explores modernist and brutalist architecture. It offered a lot of the social and political commentary that I found was lacking in the Brutalism book. Very thought-provoking.

I also enjoyed the Dark Humour display.

But my favourite individual piece was Fall by Bridget Riley. I have not been particularly struck by op-art before, and nor was I particularly keen on the other Bridget Riley paintings on display. But physically standing in front of Fall was a real experience. It is very eye-catching, almost literally, as the waves appear to pop and fizz when they are in fact clearly stationary.

I ended up buying a print of Fall in the shop, although when I got home I wondered where it would put it, because looking at it all the time would surely drive me mad. It is now hanging up behind the sofa.

The shop was brilliant, with loads of books about art and design. My wallet was partially destroyed here.

This is possibly my favourite fan-made video of all time, for plyPhon by Autechre.

It is similar in concept to the official video for Gantz Graf, with the visuals synchronised to the music. Like Gantz Graf, this video made me hear parts of the music that I hadn’t heard before. It has transformed my perspective on plyPhon.

Here is the video to Gantz Graf. Amazingly, this is now ten years old.