I am slowly making my way through a list of ~12,500 things I’ve previously noted as seeming potentially interesting and worth finding out more about (see the spreadsheet below!). Some of these things are brilliant and become a subject of an article, lesson or some other outcome, and some are not really worth pursuing. I want to publicise both the good and the bad because these evaluations are totally subjective and, because of a lack of time, usually pretty uninformed, and I don’t want to hide any part of this flawed process. If you’d like to help look stuff up, or notice any mistakes, please send me an e-mail. More information here.
1977 book on principles of architectural design identified by Christopher Alexander and the school of architecture at University of California, Berkeley. The idea is to provide tools to allow anyone, and any group of people, to create beautiful, functional, meaningful places. Alexander’s description from the first volume in this series states: “There is one timeless way of building. It is a thousand years old, and the same today as it has ever been. The great traditional buildings of the past, the villages and tents and temples in which man feels at home, have always been made by people who were very close to the center of this way. It is not possible to make great buildings, or great towns, beautiful places, places where you feel yourself, places where you feel alive, except by following this way. And, as you will see, this way will lead anyone who looks for it to buildings which are themselves as ancient in their form, as the trees and hills, and as our faces are.” The idea moves away from the mathematics-based training of modern architects and towards identifying “the quality without a name” that makes some places feel better than others. Although vague, preferences around this property have been identified in studies conducted by the school (for example, asking “which of these doorway designs is closer to god” etc.) and seem to have some shared acceptance. Pattern languages have since been used in a variety of other fields – most notably computer programming. Essentially, this is a reframing of the design process to be more inhabitant-centred and “bottom-up”. It gets away from trends and parochialisms towards, as Alexander calls it, “a timeless way of building”. Ambitious and humanistic, it is written with sense and intelligence, prioritising the users of the space, in contrast to a lot of post-war architecture. The structure of the pattern language is itself of importance and provides a tool for decision-making around design in almost any other context too. Personally, the discussion around these projects and photographs of the results give me a deep sense of hope and homeliness and the principles seem to bear out for me in real life too – since reading the book I have been identifying these design patterns in spaces that feel good to me.
English production duo of DJs ex-art teacher Jonathan More and computer programmer Matt Black. Influenced by golden-age hip hop, the two pioneered the ’90s “bigbeat” style of sample-based dance music. They have also worked in pop and house music and done many remixes for various artists. They were signed to the major label Arista but found this too limiting, so they set up their own label, Ninja Tune, through which they released lots of music under different names and in different configurations. They DJd regularly on Kiss FM as Solid Steel, made video games (as Hex), invented VJing and the software to do so (VJamm) and incorporated more and more multimedia elements into their musical releases. They have continued to incorporate new technologies into their practice, recently releasing an app called Ninja Jamm, and collaborate with artists and organisations of all sorts. Being so on top of whatever musical and technological trends are happening at the time means that quite a lot of their output sounds quite dated now, though at the time it must have been far more exciting and innovative, and that datedness is probably a testament to the accuracy of their predictions about the trends of the future. I will include their Global Chaos CDTV, which is probably the best example of their media-spanning practice, released in 1992 on the very-new CD-ROM medium.
Bolivian city known as “the first city of capitalism” for its history as a major supplier of Silver for the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. Founded as an Incan mining town on the world’s largest silver deposit, the Cerro Rico, the Spanish Empire exploited Native American and African slavery to mint “pieces of eight” in the Casa de la Moneda. This was distributed around the world and “changed the economic complexion of the world”. The town exploded into the fourth largest city in the Christian world in a disordered and chaotic boom. By the early 1620s, the silver had been almost exhausted, the sudden influx of currency had caused inflation and devalued silver, and the city shrank back into a shell of “affliction and anguish, weeping and sighing”. Now poor and dilapidated, it has sustained itself as a small mining town since Bolivian independence in 1825, mainly for zinc and tin. This is a fascinating analogue for the process of unfettered capitalism – uncontrolled exploitation preceding environmental destruction – and should be included as such. I will include ‘The Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith, which discusses Potosí, and use reference to “potosí” as a figure of speech, as it is used in Spanish, to imply value.
The first true German-language rock band, whose political lyrics gained them a wide fanbase among German and West Berlin left-wing and squatting activists, for whose causes they played many concerts. When they moved away from overtly political to more personal lyrical content, this fanbase rejected them. They moved to a small town in North Germany and lived collectively on a farm, eventually disbanding in 1985. They released all their records through their own record company, David Volksmund-Produktion. They were active in the German gay rights movement and their manager became co-chairwoman o the German Green Party. Their iconic singer Rio Reiser had a solo career before his death in 1996. After his death, the band reunited a few times. Although their earliest output is most historically interesting, the band’s sound and ideas matured over time and I feel that including ‘IV’ which, though a bit hit-and-miss, it best representative of their ideas – a little more exploratory than the sloganeering of earlier releases, composed through imaginative collective methods on their farm in Fresenhagen. I will also look at including Rio Reiser individually.
Boston inventor, lecturer and engineer known for his kinetic sculptures, many of which are presented at the MIT Museum, where he also hosts the Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction, , a community event in which families and students of all ages assemble a giant chain reaction. He has invented children’s toys like the ‘Toobers & Zots’ foam construction set and Cat-a-pult chain reaction toys. There are many kinetic sculptors now but Ganson is set apart for the way he frames his machines, with a balance of fun and philosophy, and filmed as choreography. They are a rare example of an object that balances maths, sculpture, play, humour, a unique aesthetic and philosophy in a way that fascinates people of all different ages, from all sorts of backgrounds. There seems to be something essentially fascinating about these sorts of structures, and Ganson’s particular approach seems to elevate this even further. He explains: “I like to think of the machines as the intersection of my eternal consciousness and a viewer’s eternal consciousness. The physical object is just the in-between point that allows for the infinite in both me and the viewer to meet.” I will include the DVD ‘Arthur Ganson Presents A Few Machines’.
Recently not included:
Robert W Paul is justly celebrated as the leading pioneer of British film and one of the founders of world cinema. Concentrating first on actuality films, he soon branched out, pioneering almost every kind of film from documentary to fiction and fantasy. Paul produced what is arguably the first British narrative film, A Soldier’s Courtship (1896, now lost), and in 1898 became the first man to edit two scenes together in Come Along, Do!. With the help of former magician Walter Booth, he created elaborate fantasies in the mould of George Méliès such as The ‘?’ Motorist (1906), in which an animated motorcar drives off into space and round the rings of Saturn. These early films are fascinating but also obviously dated, in a way that sometimes may alienate the modern viewer (for example, one comedy’s joke is based around a man in a gallery spending too long looking at a nude statue. I didn’t clock that this was happening at all). The trick shot films have an enduring appeal though, so I will look at including some of his work with Walter Booth.
Omaha alt-country project led by Dan McCarthy. McCarthy’s songs are slow-paced and deliberate, with the usual lyrical themes of drinking, outcasts and failed relationships. The music is nostalgic to the point of being derivative, but with enough modernity to make me feel baffled how we can keep making these mistakes and making and supporting art about them.
Bavarian aristocrat, army officer, and member of the German resistance who led the Operation Valkyrie attempted assassination of Hitler from within the Wehrmacht. After this failed, he was executed by firing squad in 1944. Though there is some debate about Stauffenberg’s motivations for instigating the plot, there is general agreement that he was a racist and a Nazi sympathiser.
New York self-publishing songwriter who writes a range of music for children, country musicians and music hall acts. He was included in Irwin Chusid’s outsider music reference, ‘Songs in the Key of Z’. Devore is a self promoter keen to emphasize his own talents – “Much more than your average songwriter, Dixon DeVore II is so versatile, he can come up with the goods whether you are looking for country music, songs for special occasion’s (his 21 track CD, “Songs For A Wedding” is sure to provide a song for that very special occasion) or music and stories to keep the kids entertained (“Mortimer The Very Rich Mouse” succeeded in keeping my 5 year old Granddaughter quiet for ages, so it must be good!!!).” . The songs veer from the formulaic and predictable to absolutely bizarre / sleazy / novelty. I can imagine that being in Chusid’s book would have a been a bummer for him, but I can understand why he’s there… (I couldn’t find his birth date so have just put 1950.)
English grime (or “eski”) crew founded by Wiley out of the UK garage collective Pay As U Go Cartel. Former members include Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Strider, Skepta and Jammer. They had some crossover success with more pop-oriented efforts in their Number One singles ‘Good Times’ and ‘Green Light’ in 2010. Flowdan confirmed their hiatus in 2014 on Rinse FM. The group seemed torn between streetz grime and mainstream pop and r’n’b, and I feel like they ended up falling between the two in a pretty disorientating way. Despite their high profile, there’s a lot of filler and the lyrics are pretty derivative.