Archive: music

I’ve decided I need a new hobby. I haven’t embarked on anything new for a while. Now feels like the right time to try and change that.

2008, 2009 and 2010 were fast-moving times for me. I graduated from university. After a shaky year or so, I got a proper job, which I feel lucky to have got. Then I bought my first car. Soon afterwards I moved to my own flat — the first time I hadn’t lived with my parents. Following a miserable and pessimistic youth, I had done a lot of growing up in a short space of time.

In 2011, the pace of change slowed. There was the odd flash of something exciting happening last year, but it never came together.

I am busy now that I work full time and live by myself. But it’s more boring now. My social life in Dundee isn’t as good as I had hoped it would be. Now I feel the need to be proactive and do something new; get new skills; meet new people.

The trouble is, what? I have a few ideas — none of which I’m sure about.

One idea is to take some sort of evening class. What in, I have no idea. Although I am told most people take evening classes for the social side of it, I would probably have to learn something I was actually interested in.

The typical thing to do, so I’m told, is to learn a language. But, rightly or wrongly, my motivation to learn a language is low.

One other idea is to learn photography. I’m not sure if you can get lessons or groups, or if it’s the sort of thing where you just have to buy some books and practice lots.

I like the idea of photography, but I am put off a bit because it feels lazy of me to think of it. Does the world really need another average photographer uploading his photos to Flickr, despite the fact that he is clearly not as good as he wishes he was?

You could say I already do that. But if I were to start taking it seriously, would it add much to the world? I doubt it.

The real clincher is that photography could be very expensive if I started getting too heavily into it. I don’t see much point in taking it seriously unless I take it seriously seriously. In that sense, I feel like I can’t commit myself to learning photography.

Another option is to rekindle an old hobby — playing music. This, too, could be expensive. Moreover, it would probably be a solitary pursuit — unless I joined a band, which I don’t see myself doing.

On the plus side, I know I can do it. I have a passion for music, and I had some talent for playing musical instruments when I was younger.

But my relationship with playing music has been tricky. At times it was even traumatic. That will be the subject of a post to be published later this week.

In the meantime, I am no further forward in deciding what to do with myself in Dundee. There must be ways to stop yourself from going round the bend if you feel like life is slowing down, mustn’t there?

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.

The pop group Devo and Max Headroom

This is part 1 of 3 in the series The iPodless experiment

iPod earphones jack

I have long struggled with my use of portable music devices. The appeal to listen to audio on the go is strong. It probably started off as a novelty, or as something to keep me occupied on long train journeys.

Back then it was a relatively cumbersome personal CD player. Then MP3 players came and made it easier to listen on the move.

Not just music — podcasts too. Like emails or RSS feeds, podcasts have a tendency to overwhelm you. They oppress as you try to listen to them all. Must… reach… zero.

The habit to listen to things on the move then seeped its way through. Often it feels as if practically every last spare moment is spent listening to something.


Maybe it’s my age. But I am increasingly feeling as though this behaviour is antisocial. I feel aware that I am disconnected from the world around me.

I sail right past people in the street without noticing them, because I am so transfixed by whatever I am listening to. How rude.

Sometimes I see people, and I may smile or wave or say ‘hi’. But I can’t always hear what they are saying. What if they want a stop and chat? What if they have something really important to say? Tough; I’ve just walked past them!

It’s difficult enough trying to gauge if someone wants to have a chat or not. But the awkwardness is multiplied by ten if you have earphones in. I need to make a decision whether to remove my earphones. If I do, it’s a bit embarrassing if the other person didn’t want to chat. “I was just scratching my head! The earphones fell out! Hahahaha!!

Blocking out the world

If I’m in a quieter part of town, listening to my iPod means I am blocking out the sounds of the world. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first. But the sounds of the world can be so interesting, and I don’t hear them as often as I perhaps should.

What is also absurd is the fact that often I find that I am not paying attention to the podcast at all. I am lost in my own thoughts.

I go for a walk every day. Part of the idea behind that is to give me space to think. But then I deliberately go out to inhibit that by listening to podcasts instead. I carry a notepad around with me at all times, but it is years since I wrote down any ideas while I was out and about. I am too busy listening to a podcast to be creative myself.

The experiment

So, in the spirit of self-improvement, I have decided to experiment. I will not listen to the iPod at all while I’m out and about during February. I will still listen to podcasts at home and in the car. I will still listen to music in the office and at home. But if I am outdoors, I will refrain from listening to the iPod completely.

It will be interesting to see what happens. Will I feel an improvement? Will I have more nice chit-chats with people? Will I hear new sounds and learn new things about my environment? Will I be happier? Will I come up with new ideas? Will I be sent round the bend with nothing but my own thoughts to occupy myself?

I plan to report back.