Anonymous stories near the Level

One of the things I love most about Brighton is the strange pieces of anonymous art you find about the place. Maybe such things happen elsewhere, but I don't remember much of it in Hastings, Norwich or Coventry.

I saw the first story below on Wednesday night when I was escorting Ellen to the Skiff. I saw the one below on a run earlier that day, but thought it was a strange notice rather than a story. I was pleased to find they were both still there when I went to work on Thursday morning.


Why music needs to be hard to find

I'm fascinated by the Internet's effect on counter-culture. For example, at the end of London Calling, his history of London's underground scenes, Barry Miles argues:

"With the coming of the Internet, underground publication has effectively disappeared. There can be no avant-garde unless there is a time delay before the general public knows what you are doing… Whereas artists in the Sixties could work for years with no media coverage, the hardest thing now is to not have thousands of hits on Google or an entry on Wikipedia."

The Internet has also produced subtle changes in the way artists innovate. A recent article in Slate by Bill Wyman, Lester Bangs' Basement, remembers the days before we could take the Internet cultural treasure-house for granted:

"The music you wanted to hear wasn't played on the radio and you couldn't find the records you wanted to buy. You couldn't even find the magazines that told you what records you should want to buy. It was almost impossible to see filmed footage of the artists you wanted to see. And movie fans? We scurried like rats after what could be, for all we knew, once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunities to see this or that film at movie theaters or in unexpected showings on television.

He quotes a review of the recent Keith Richard's autobiography that discusses what it was like to make music when other music was scarce:

"Mick had seen Buddy Holly play, and played the Buddy Holly songs he heard—if he didn’t play them, he wouldn’t hear them—in bars around Dartford. Anyone reading this review can go to YouTube now and experience Muddy Waters, or Chuck Berry, or Buddy Holly… the experience of making and taking in culture is now, for the first time in human history, a condition of almost paralyzing overabundance. For millennia it was a condition of scarcity… The Rolling Stones do not happen in any other context: they were a band based on craving, impersonation, tribute: white guys from England who worshiped black blues… The early Stones were in a constant huddle, dissecting blues songs in front of the speakers and playing them back for each other and then for their few fans. They thought of themselves, not even as a band, really, but as a way of distributing music the radio never played.

This idea of making music inspired by music you love but have little access to has turned up a few times in my reading. Most recently in Days in the Life by Jonathan Green, during an interview with Peter Jenner:

 "At [Pink Floyd's] finest, it was very extra-ordinary free improvisation, in the purest psychedelic sense… We thought we were doing what was happening on the West Coast, which we'd never heard. And it was totally different. Attempting to imitate when you don't know what you're imitating leads to genuine creativity, and I think that's what happened with the Floyd."

Earlier in the book there is another interview with Peter Jenner, talking about rhythm and blues:

"Eric Clapton would never have seen Muddy Waters playing live; the Stones would never have heard Bo Diddley live. You'd have heard a couple of records and just tried to get the spirit. In fact they'd have been rather brought down if they'd seen them. I saw Muddy Waters live in America in 1960 and he played sitting down. That would have really upset the Stones."

Another example: Kurt Cobain spoke of his discovery of punk rock in Aberdeen, Washington, through reading about the Sex Pistols:

"My first exposure to punk rock came when Creem started covering the Sex Pistols' U.S. tour. I would read about them and just fantasize about how amazing it would be to hear their music and to be a part of it… After that, I was always trying to find punk rock, but of course they didn't have it in our record shop in Aberdeen. The first punk rock I was able to buy was probably Devo and Oingo Boingo and stuff like that; that stuff finally leaked into Aberdeen many years after the fact. Then, finally, in 1984 a friend of mine named Buzz Osborne [Melvins singer/guitarist] made me a couple of compilation tapes with Black Flag and Flipper everything… I'd already been playing guitar by then for a couple of years, and I was trying to play my own style of punk rock, or what I imagined that it was, I knew it was fast and had a lot of distortion. Punk expressed the way I felt socially and politically."

Sometimes glimpses of a culture are more inspiring than access to the full resources of that culture. There are many obvious advantages of the Internet's cultural treasure horde, but some things are lost too. Is there any way to regain the benefits of cultural scarcity?

The Blue Boar

One of the books about the 60's that I'm currently reading is Days in the Life by Jonathon Green. It's a fascinating series of interviews with people involved in the counterculture.

From an interview with June Bolan:

"You always went home after a gig because you couldn't afford to stay anywhere! You'd do Newcastle and back in a night. There were no motorways to speak of. They loved the Floyd out in the sticks… The highlight of the evening if you'd been to Newcastle and were coming back was  to go to the Blue Boar, the service station. You'd see people like the Small Faces, Spencer Davies, the Soft Machine."

The Blue Boar is one of those things that turns up incidentally in a lot of books about the sixties. Now Watford Gap Services, it's well remembered for the people who passed through. From a post on a motorway services blog: "Jimi Hendrix is reputed to have been under the false impression that the “Blue Boar Cafe” was some trendy nightclub, because his British contemporaries mentioned it so often"

A four legged goat

In February, I visited Southern India with my Dad. We went to Kanyakumari, a town at the country's southern tip. We paid £1.30 each to visit a museum that the Lonely Planet described as "overpriced and underwhelming":

"There's a blah display of archeological finds and temple artefacts and some freakshow paraphenalia, like the foetus of a four-legged goat and (gasp!) a three-chambered coconut

I can never resist freakshow paraphenalia. It turned out that the four-legged goat's foetus was one of the Lonely Planet's rare errors. It was, in fact, an eight-legged foetus: 


Here is a photograph of a three-chambered coconut:


Miscellany: small publishers, red squares, hitch-hiking

What can we learn from Hitler and Hume?

In his talk on Algorithmic Art, Tom discussed the sales on his Hitler and Hume project. Tom used Mein Kampf as an input to music generation software and has put it for sale on Amazon and iTunes. Tom openly admits that ambient marimba and woodblock music is not a great musical innovation. However, he surprised me when he announced, "I'm selling nearly £25 a month of this rubbish at the moment. Vast majority EU, then the US. Grossed about £250… I have friends with actual musical talent who've sold less."

The interesting question here is: what are people buying when they buy a record from HItler and Hume?

Tom's discussion of his project made me think of some interesting posts I've read lately:

Which is not to compare Hitler and Hume to scammy ebook publications. But, what's interesting is that 

  1. Amazon is such a low-friction way of selling content
  2. People who want to buy the Hitler and Hume EP are finding it (even if there are only a small number of potential fans out there)

I think this is, potentially, incredibly exciting.

Holy Shit, I Ran a marathon

It's been a couple of days since the Brighton marathon and I can barely believe it happened. For many years, the idea of me running a marathon was laughable. I've worked towards this for three and a half years. Injuries have beaten me a couple of times, but last weekend I finally made it to the start line and beyond.

Tom Roper recently wrote a post about running and memory, in which he mentioned how quickly memories of a run can fade. Late on Sunday afternoon I passed parts of the route and couldn't remember seeing them earlier in the day. Now, the day seems something like a dream.

Most of the course is spent travelling back and forth between Shoreham and Rottingdean, with various detours to make up the distance. While it was good to see people running in the opposite direction, some of the errands, particularly the hill after Ovingdean, seemed gratuitous. 

Here are my feelings during the marathon, as best I can remember.

It took about 10 minutes to reach the start line, but we got to see the race leaders come by. Mile 1 was a lap of Preston Park, with an early uphill section. I started out running as slowly as I could. My legs didn't feel strong and with 26.2 miles ahead I had to be patient. Miles 2-4 went around the center of town then we headed out towards Ovingdean. Most of my training was along the seafront so this was familiar ground. At mile 8 I realised the remaining distance was longer than I had ever run before, and could feel the distance already done. Mile 9 I took a pit stop at the toilets at the Orpington fete, Mr. Punch squawking in the distance. Saw the saddest gorilla in the world. I walked most of the hills, stingily reserving my energy for later miles. At 13 miles I felt OK – I'd comfortably managed 10.5 minute miles – but I was definitely tiring. Through the center of town towards Aldrington, which felt a slightly pointless detour, running towards a stage then back again. Grateful for the spectator who sprayed me with a hose. Talked briefly with a friend was suffering from a busted knee. At about 17 miles I felt good for a couple of miles. Smiled, kept going. 18 miles – only 8 miles to go, I thought, I've run 8 miles before. 19 miles, the pain intensified, and I knew I would be walking much of the remaining distance. As I hit 20 miles the distance really hit and I was in a great deal of pain. It was hard to keep going when all I had to do was sit down and the pain would stop. Shoreham harbour was a weird section, few spectators or landmarks. I didn't mind it, as I've enjoyed running it in training. Passed a transport ship where silent spectators lined the rail. At 21 miles I almost burst into tears when I realised how close I was to completing a marathon, how unbelievable this would have seemed as a teenager. 23.5 miles, I passed an old flat so I was on familiar ground. I knew whatever happened, I would finish the marathon. The only question was whether or not I could do it within the 5 hours I'd set for myself. 24 miles, I stopped to hug a friend. Kept forcing myself to run sections, sometimes managing as few as 100 steps. On to Kings Road, the last mile, then the 800-meters-to-go marker. Determined to run the last section, buoyed by another friend's greeting. Then over the line and it was done. I'd run a marathon.

I'm signed up for the 2012 marathon and am also hoping to do one in the Autumn. I'm delighted that I've run a marathon but now I want to reduce my time. The discomfort is fading and I'm hoping to manage a very short run tomorrow. 1 year and three days until the 3rd Brighton marathon.

Some other recent marathon blog posts:

Dead drops in Brighton

I'm rubbish at getting around to things. Back in January, adactio linked to a video about making dead-drops saying "I should get out there and make a few drops in Brighton". A few days later he posted a flickr set, dead drops in Brighton, showing him with wordridden and briansuda setting up some USB dead-drops. There was also a map to the locations. (For more information, there is some background/discussion of USB dead-drops on metafilter, as well as a catalogue website).

This weekend, about 2 months later, I finally got round to checking the dead drops with Vicky Matthews (who took the photo below). It was a sad story.

The drop in Kensington Street was unreadable. We couldn't find the one in Ship Street Gardens, only a couple of places where it might have been. The town hall drop was destroyed:

We only found the location of one of the two seafront drops. As Pier-to-pier complained frequently, salt air is no good for hardware, and the drive was too corroded to read:

I wonder what was on the drives. It's a shame our expedition didn't achieve its goal, but we did enjoy a beautiful misty day on Brighton seafront.


Brighton Marathon

I'm only a few days away from the Brighton marathon. My training has not gone particularly well with holidays, injury, illness and work all conspiring against me. I've managed to do little more than the long runs, and those have not gone well. Last week's 17 mile run was excellent for the first 13 miles but I then faded quickly. Which does not bode well for running 26 miles.

I'm still hoping to manage to complete the course in 5 hours, but I'm aware that anything beyond 3 hours is unknown territory. I suspect that it will come down to not getting carried away and running too quickly at the beginning. I don't expect the last hour or two to be particularly pleasant, but I hope I enjoy the day despite any physical discomfort.

Anyway, if you're spectating, give me a wave. I will certainly appreciate the encouragement.