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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Kosmos revisited

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31 July

* Contains spoilers – do not read, if you want to watch the film for the first time *

Kosmos (2010) has passed my Does it Bear Watching Again? test (DIBWA) (or whatever I call it). If I had had a chance to watch it again at Cambridge Film Festival, it would have been to check on detail that I felt that I had missed first time around.

As it is, ten months later, it had me in tears at the end, after having been weighing in the balance whether knowing what was to happen (although getting the sequence wrong several times, not, I think, because it had been re-edited*) mattered to my appreciation for all but the last few minutes. For I was watching it through the more critical lens of scrutinizing it to see whether it worked, but the cumulative impact still hit me, even if (partly because of reading TAKE ONE’s review) I had been more aware of the way in which the soundtrack, including electronic and natural sounds, played its part.

Some things that I had remembered aright:

* Someone who reviewed the film on IMDb wrongly thought that the woman with the crutch (reminiscent of Lady Archer) kills herself, not the teacher - as if there were any doubt, the former is still around at the end

* That Neptün and Kosmos both counter gravity, and, with the paperwork that litters the place, fly around his lodging

* The role of the falling star / spacecraft in healing the boy who was not speaking

* Kosmos irritating those who think that he should conform to what living a proper life consists in, having a job and doing work

Some things I had not weighed properly:

* How Neptün is jealous of the teacher, because of her relations with Kosmos, and we are twice shown her throwing stones at the other woman's window (and that she had given herself this name, then Kosmos his own in response)

* Just how ambiguous it is whether she has sex with Kosmos at the conclusion of the scene referred to above (and / or an earlier scenes at his lodgings, where they behave like wolves)

* The coherence of the scenes with the cattle and the geese, and of the views of the civic clock

* The way in which popular opinion turns against Kosmos at the end, despite his grief at what happens to the teacher and the boy

* How raids against the cheese-shop, pharmacy and other premises influences residents against campaigning to re-open the border

* The use of CGI in making the snow and effects with the wind happen, as clearly no one could wait for it to be snowing to film a scene - once I became aware of this artificiality, I could not easily shut it out

As to the impression that the film left me with, it is an abiding and powerful one of a film-maker thoughtfully presenting a series of images and not insisting that any one way of looking at them is correct. This is as it should be with the best films, and this one compares very well with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011).


* Although some things that I could have sworn were to come never happened: a follow-up to the brush that Kosmos has with the tip of a lighted cigarette, in showing his immunity to cold, though I forget what, although I thought that it involved the stove.

The usual deal in the trailer for The Hunter

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31 July

If you did believe the trailer, you would expect a fast-paced experience from watching the feature. However, it will not materialize, because the trailer is not remotely representative: almost all the action has been squeezed together in a few minutes, and put with the sort of pounding music that makes me feel very unpleasantly anxious.

Imagine, instead, more and more of the glimpses that you have of Martin David (Willem Dafoe) exploring and setting his traps, cut occasionally with the rightly praised photography of the scenery, and you have a better measure of the ratio of what we call ‘action’ to his everyday hunting activities, because this is really not, unless you excite easily, one that will have you on the edge of your seat.

And I wonder how many of these trailers there are: is this the let's-extract-the-last-iota-of-momentum version? Has it mystifyingly attracted attention away from anyone who might have seen In Your Hands (2012), though a film in French with subtitles is a tricky proposition?

Sunday, 29 July 2012

'Trends' for New Zealand on Pratter

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29 July

Why is it ridiculous that these are items 6 to 10 in that list?

6. Aussies

7. Brazil

8. Australia

9. Sky

10. Kiwis

My 'favourite' browser (3)

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29 July

Following on from where I left off, I spot three new browsers:

* Konqueror (sounds a wee bit aggressive (and martial)),

* CriOS (the dead bones enchanted by The Witch of Endor), and

* Namoroka (some bloody weirdo film-director)

Others that I'd like to see:

* Brendel (makes faces at you when playing music-clips)

* Ashkenazy (the same, but makes less amusing, more pained, faces)

* SuperDry (despite its name, it drenches you with a bucket of water for fun occasionally)

* Texugenbag (just complete crap, but someone would choose the name)

* Brodsky (specially programmed to display weird pairings, yoking Kim Kardashian's image in peach with text about salt-beef and prune salad)

* BJ69XXX (a mind-blowing browsing experience that makes sex seem rather inadequate)

* Sarah/Michael (a way of displaying content that takes something from the different ways of viewing the world of these most famous Palins - also known as S&M)

* Carrot (nothing exciting, unless you like orange immensely, as the colour-bias is that what inclined - perfect for saving celebrities money on tans)

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Explore the natural beauty of Caledonia (according to AOL®)

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28 July

What is this? Bloody cornering the market in a fanciful form of what Fowler dubbed Elegant Variation?

Just so that you can refer to it as Scotland below?

And why not Hibernia, whilst you're at it?!


A back-hander?

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28 July

Is what follows a strange thing to write, or is it just a clumsy compliment?

I honestly don't know, but the assumption seems to be 'You might be able to write this at Level 1, but could you present it to an audience any better than Level 2 (or 3)?'. I might have bridled myself, so this seems quite a good retort as a put-down:


Melvyn Tan and Bach

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28 July

As soon as Melvyn Tan sat at the keyboard and was satisfied with the height of the stool, he was ready to play, and began the second of the so-called English Suites (in A Minor, BWV 807) so definitely that I was straight into Bach and knew that he was, too: the fluency and confidence were there right from the first notes of the Prélude, along with tremendous energy and equal restraint and grace.

One knew that this was playing out of conviction, and the deftness with which the trills and other ornaments were executed assured of Tan's mastery of his craft, and the interpretation that he brought that the music is a living thing in and for him. The first three movements in the Suite led up to an audacious tempo in the Sarabande, in which Tan was most persuasive, and so provided a vivid contrast with what followed. Altogether, an interpretation that was evidently as well received generally as it was by me, and of which he could have been left in no doubt.

However, although I am no expert on piano-lids and Steinways, when the audience is not exactly large for a recital in a hall that holds around 400, I don’t know if it needs to be open so much: at any rate, in the rendition of this Suite and a later one, I found a brightness at times in the octaves just above Middle C, which, when there was a rich texture, meant that the chords as a whole wanted for clarity. (It could equally have been something about the acoustic itself (given fewer bodies in the hall), or not pedalling suitably (as there did not seem to be much use of the pedal).)

Otherwise, the only surprise, other than being reminded how joyous Bach is in his depth and invention, his compassion and humanity, was the seemingly hesitant cæsuræ – I can think of nothing else by which to describe them – with which, I suspect, Tan (and not the score) punctuated some movements, seemingly to break up the flow of phrases in some movements.

These little pauses had the effect of catching this listener unawares, but they did not, for all that, initially seem deliberate, more as if the pianist were unsure (Tan played them from memory) what came next - or, maybe, how to speak it in the syntax of its context. In the first Suite played, I came to accept them, whereas they frankly began to jar in the other one (No. 5 in E Minor, BWV 810).

They did so partly because, in between the Suites, I had had to concentrate quite hard to follow eleven different composers’ works in Variations for Judith - I know the Bach Suites from CD (with Glenn), but I found it taxing to listen to this collection of ‘reflections’ on (or of) Bist du bei mir?, the Bach aria from the Anna Magdalena note-book (BWV 508). The title calls them variations, but they were more like versions, since there could be no sense that the variations developed from one contribution to the next (even though Tan chose an order of his own from the score).

Apart from two which Tan, in his introduction, said did not meet the stipulation when the contributors were asked to take part of 'easy' to play, what the pieces broadly seemed to have in common was that they stated the theme, although one deliberately chopped it up, putting interjections from the latter part in the right hand after utterances from the first part in the bass.

Sadly, even if I had had the score, my ability for reading one is so limited that I would not have been able to work out whose contribution was which by following it, so I was left with rather shadowy speculations as to the voice behind each little piece. Perhaps that is the vanity that the writer of the Book of Ecclesiastes complains of, of trying to catch a figure such as Sir Richard Rodney Bennett in his participation - and yet what else is asking all these people to contribute for?

As Tan suggested, the collection is interesting to hear, but it necessarily lacks the coherence of something like the Diabelli Variations or the Goldbergs, as, with every one, it is a reversion to the original, not a progression, not a development. Whereas, if one of these composers had taken the aria for a ride 'properly', who knows!

As I had been taxed in this way, getting back to Bach was not, although I had expected that it would be, a restorative move, but one that simply left me aware that music was being played, but unable to listen to it (although I do also think that, of these six Suites, No. 5 was not the best one to have chosen).

If the recital were to have worked for me, maybe it would have been better like this, ending with the Variations:

1. Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue (BWV 903)

2. English Suite No. 2 in A Minor (BWV 807)

3. Variations for Judith (BWV 508 + 11 others)

My rationale being that the desire to contrast Bach with compositions based on Bach's work would not have wanted a sandwich, or the two Suites, as played, merely to precede the new work(s), but that the Fantasy and Fugue would show a contrasting and more contemplative side to Bach's virtuosic writing in the Suite. Maybe it would'nt work, but this seemed the obvious 'solution' to the problem that I, at least, had faced with the programme.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Nocturnes or Why the hell did I write that? (1)

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26 July

This book is subtitled (or captioned) Five Stories of Music and Nightfall

A question that both the narrator of the middle story*, ‘Malvern Hills’, might usefully have asked about his inconsequential (self-)revelation (if we weren’t supposed to see him as blind to his hypocrisy and selfishness – the biggest act of which must be boring us with his tale!), and his creator, Ishiguro, about cobbling this and four other offerings together to make some sort of five-part whole.

I say some sort […] of whole, because, under the pretext that we have different narrators (who, in their own ways, engage with the title-theme), we are actually being peddled inferior (and probably previously rejected) attempts at short-story writing. One (i.e. ‘Cellists’) cannot even manage to tell a quite lame narrative without giving the game away: if you tell your reader that your friends have already said something about a woman (even if it is part of the story is that you ignored their warning), he or she will not be amazed when that suggestion turns out to be the truth. It doesn’t work, because this is pap, not Henry James.

As for the other stories, amateur critics have been impressed that a minor, if necessary, character** in the first story (‘Crooner’) appears later in ‘Nocturne’ (the fourth), itself a fairly feeble attempt to portray the behaviour of the rich and / or (once) famous through the eyes of a session musician who is about as convincing as John Smith’s is a bitter. The prism for the narration is coming in contact with a celebrity whose claim to fame has not weighed on her fellow inmate at a private health clinic.

Steve, too, is supposed to be an instrumentalist, though I detect no knack on Ishiguro’s part for making him sound (in words, thought or nature) like a sax-playing session musician, with his own studio at home. For someone who supposedly does not think that his appearance need not ‘improved’ to make him more of a success in his career (which his partner urges), he (cringingly) keeps alluding to himself and ‘my loser’s face’.

His ambivalence about why he at the clinic is matched only by that towards the celebrity, who, when she shows him attention, is a nuisance, but then grows on him (though not he on her, because an incident with the cavity of a cooked turkey [sic] does not help). (There is also something about a game of chess, but probably best forgotten.)

The story has what, if generous, one could call a wistfulness about it, but, in truth, it is that does not go – and never was going – anywhere, since the real story-teller (Ishiguro) cannot deliver, through his substitute (the musician Steve), any more than one of those rambling accounts that someone gives to an unwilling listeners in the pub: the strings are seen and heard pulled, and the puppet delivers a monologue, largely devoid of significant content (as it is no more discerning than the pub drunk about what to leave in, what leave out), as well as of style, consistency, conviction.

We know that there is no such thing as the character whom a writer creates, but this one does such a poor job of depicting Steve credibly through his attributed spoken words that we do not care about him, are not interested in the truth or otherwise of what he records, and are left wondering (again) why any of us bothered with it – Steve for consenting to be in it (what union is he in??), and writer and reader for spending any time on it.

This criticism applies alike to all five stories, that they are not really musings on what happened, what might have been, what maybe was, but tiresome excursions into ineptly giving rise to a plausible authorial voice (i.e. one which, at the least, does not repeatedly draw attention to its own inadequacies of tone, syntax and diction). At bottom, do we care that a showbiz couple might separate because his career needs him to have another wife? Do we care how a brother irritates his sister, brother-in-law and, vicariously, someone whom he hates even more?

And then there’s ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, a piece so stupid in its detail that, even more so than any game of chess, one simply cannot imagine that anyone would embark on telling a tale (Ishiguro or the narrator Ray(mond)) that relies on it. Either shut up (as the phrase has it) or put up – put up a better pretence for developing an idea.

As my friend said in her
review on Amazon, much mileage can be had with reading out Tony Gardner’s every utterance with a slur, and ridiculing this entire collection (between guffaws, when one has to suspend reading), but it does not merit its author’s reputation. I do believe that he can write, but he should never have published this:

The links (which, in any case, are pretty tenuous) were obviously invented after the event, because nothing connects the celebrity with the singer in ‘Crooner’, and making people musicians (who actually betray no evidence of ever having played) is a simple editorial task.

Click here for a full exposé of Ishiguro's plots...


* He is supposedly a musician (sure some after-thought: please see below in the main piece), whose name I do not believe ever appears, even when his long-suffering sister Maggie is trying to appeal to him.

** With no character, because insufficiently drawn to seem more than someone who, in one of the world’s loveliest cities, is only interested in the least-interesting type of shopping.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

128 page-views to-day!

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26 July

If the so-called Stats told me more, I'd be able to understand what has been looked at - the old piece about Bel Ami (2011?) is a bit of a surprise, at 8 page-views, but they don't (what I'm shown) add up to 128 :

64 x 2

32 x 2 x 2

16 x 2 x 2 x 2

8 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2

4 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2

2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2

And Hello, China!, with to-day's reported audience of 12...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Smetana's String Quartet No. 1 (in E Minor) - given The Proms 'treatment'

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26 July

This was played last night, in the Prom's first half, for the first time there.

I have no idea why. (Or why applause was needed after every movement*.)

I am now less resentful of what Mahler did to orchestrate Schubert's String Quartet No. 14, Death and The Maiden, because it still sounded like Schubert:

This orchestration, the work of George Szell, had little identifiable connection with the original, and used brass, amongst its textures. Perhaps the composer's intentions in writing a quartet, which we were repeatedly told contained a motif at the end that represented his blindness (or was it, after all, deafness?), were as dispensable as good employee relations in Ohio.
If you had asked me what I was listening to (without the benefit of whoever's wisdom it was beforehand, or to schedule), I would have had no idea, although I like this string quartet. All grist to the orchestral mill, I s'pose.

* Unless it was shocked, grieving applause in embarrassment by those who knew the original.

Horrified tourists watch as man falls from sixth floor of Tate Modern (according to AOL®)

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25 July

So how many things make this reporting imbecilic?

OK, factually it was at Tate Modern, but :

* Was it only tourists who watched (others assumed it to be just a happening, and ignored it)?

* And it was a special sub-set of the tourists, the ones who were alread horrified, who watched?

* Did the choice of floor have some effect on them, or was it just the falling?

* Everyone else (all the other tourists) watched the man fall from a different floor - or, somehow knowing that it had been the sixth, were uncomprehending about the choice of floor

Better stop there...

Here's to you, Dmitri S. !

Here's to you, Dmitri S. !

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25 July

Here's to you, Dmitri S. !

Not even knocking it back in one, but drinking it cold from the freezer with enthusiatic company (and on top of other drink), I know that there is a state of regretting having had so much vodka.

The existence of such enthusiastic company would offer support for the notion Any excuse for a drink ! being a current one, of course, which takes me back to this old old topic of anniversaries :

Is Myaskovsky - or are his works - suddenly more interesting because (as last year) it was 130 years since his birth ?

Or 200 years :

* Since his death

* Since he first vomited after too much vodka

* After he
stubbed his toe on Poulenc in Montmartre (which he may have done), and so experienced an unexpected orgasm (which he may have done*) ?


* But Twitter doesn't tell me...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

What does the word 'stigma' tell anyone ?

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25 July

These are some further thoughts about what meaningful message, if any, is given to the public by talking about the stigma of mental ill-health*.

I suspect little more (and who judges a book by its cover - don't we all?) than titles of texts such as, being quite random, The Tao of Pooh, The Road to Wigan Pier, The Dancing Wu Li Masters or Lady Windermere's Fan.

Yes, they identify something, and not always exclusively: for example, film convention is to write Psycho (1960), not least as it was re-made**.

Do titles / names do any more than identify***? Only, I feel, if they are apt, rather than arbitrary (remember the times when no one knew what counselling was, and everyone had to explain that they weren't seeing a counsellor to get advice?): as my footnote says, the titles that Breton gave to Gorky's paintings seem apt, as does The Canterbury Tales.

Contrast that with The Merchant of Venice, because many people (we have probably all still heard of Shylock) would be pressed to say who the person is to whom the title relates. Do we want that sort of confusion, if we are talking about the very real effects that other people's attitudes (not always conscious) have on almost every detail of the lives of people with an experience of mental ill-health?

For those attitudes get translated into a behaviour with as many points on it as most spectra, from which, maybe:

* funny looks

* crossing the road to avoid

* suddenly halting a lively conversation

* name-calling

* telling stories to councils, the Department for Work and Pensions, social services, TV Licensing, the RSPCA, etc.

* excrement on the car / through the door / over the fence

* damage to property, pets, plants, etc.

* putting burning paper through the door

* personal physical attack

* arson (burning paper through the door that 'works')

* murder (where death is not the result of the arson)

That's for the home-life of that person - home, or feeling that one has one, being much of what is left. Since the chances are that, if he or she had a job, an enforced hospital stay led to another spectrum of behaviours, ending in dismissal or resignation. (Home, that is, if an arsonist - or a violent partner - left any home remaining, other than the streets.)

A grim picture? Not an exaggerated one, though, because all of these things do happen, and one thing can lead to another - after all, who is an expert in responding non-provocatively to that sort of attack on who one is and what one has?

No worse considering it than the fact that the mental-health community shudders every time some violent or fatal crime is associated with the perpetrator's mental ill-health, because a backlash is feared. I come back to that phrase:

Who one is and what one has

That is what we want to protect****:

Who one is can so easily and so subtly be under attack, a stealthy attrition that is upon one before one is aware of it, just as is what one has, mentally or, in physical / emotional terms, the little that one calls a home, family, or friends, all of which have a tendency to slip away, if they did not already at whatever breakdown is (the Peer Support Workers call it psychiatric challenge).

Stopping a world continuing to exist where these things happen and are casually - or callously - taken for granted is what combating stigma should work for:

The verbs to traumatize and to stigmatize (both from Greek, so they have a similar ring) are closer than we realize, and using the word 'stigma' - to me - says not nearly as much.

We are stigmatizing people for things that they did not choose to happen. They are not weak, they do not deserve it - if it meant anything to our society any more to say it, we would know that There (but for the grace of God) go I.

This is the significance of talking about one in four people - not that one gets into a four where there already 'a mad person', so that one is magically safe, but that the former slogan of The National Lottery applies: it's not you yet, but how do you know that it won't be?

We must not traumatize people further for what has already left them traumatized - if we were human beings in any real sense, we would stay with them while they seek to tell their stories, weep with them over what has happened already, and help them to heal, and to feel healed, not judged, criticized, abused, spat out and scapegoated.

And, above all, we would burn that stupid slogan out of our hearts, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.


* Or whatever one's preferred term, as, sadly (in a way), there is no agreement even on that: e.g. mental distress (Mind), mental health difficulty (One in Four magazine), mental illness (NHS), etc., etc.

** Re-made, apparently, unhelpfully faithfully, according to one person who could not see the point of re-enacting the old screenplay.

*** Hesitating to dilate on what is added (or lost) when a visual artist calls every work Untitled, although I will recount how a symbiosis occurred between a painter and a poet:

André Breton, spokesman for the Surrealist movement and a poet and novelist, came to know Arshile Gorky and his works. The two men had a good relationship, such that Breton wrote about and gave rise to titles of many of Gorky's later works

With a good (i.e. apt) title (like The Canterbury Tales), can it be separated from the work, because it is now part of it (and of its meaning)?

**** Even if the dismissive (and damning) ways of some consultant psychiatrists can make the job harder, right at the outset, of that person believing that he or she will not always be like this, always need medication, never get back to work, because it is too stressful.

Jude's Law

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25 July

Jude is pretty obscure - as a book of the Bible, that is, and some might (wrongly) imagine that he fitted in with Ezekiel and Jeremiah, in the prophets.

His law is little known, but it predicted that someone would be named after it, and that this man would do great things in waistcoats (best way to do it, if they don't make you sweat uncontrollably, as well as feeling highly constricted - and to play several frames of snooker wearing one of those, rather than having been shampooed in quick-drying concrete?!).

Myself, I think that Jude had an eye to tipping someone off to taking a share in the business of a gentleman's outfitters, but what do I know!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Naming no names (not even Wilkie Collins)

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22 July

If I have a falling-out with a pharmaceuticals company, for whom I have been - whatever that means - a spokesman, does not that then introduce an element of what may be 'individual bias', if I wage a very personal campaign against one of that company's products, asserting that it 'kills'?

We all know what the anti-phrase gamekeeper turned poacher is used as a touchstone for, but wouldn't anyone want to know, before heeding this speaker's negative campaign (or, perhaps, even suggesting that someone without those connections is better placed to wage it), what the nature of the connections were in the honeymoon period first, and, more importantly, what exactly went wrong - and why?

On another front altogether, Andy Behrman‏ @electroboyusa took exception when it was claimed that lithium, too, could result in coma and death:

Not true and I'll argue to the end if you're up for it, buddy.

Whether he was 'up for it' remains unclear, as, although Mr Boy suggests that he has taken more than twenty medications, he did not back down or apologize for what might be thought an aggressive attitude. However, maybe he did heed a follower of The Agent, who concurred, pointing out the need for regular blood-tests when taking lithium.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Russell Brand Jokes About His Sex Life With Ex-Wife Katy Perry (according to AOL®)

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21 July

I looked at the headline, and thought - until I remembered that this was Russell Brand - that I wanted to hear what this really witty guy had to say about his ex-wife.

Sorry, I must have blinked and so missed the joke. (I had been drinking, y'r'onour.) As this was a report of a radio broadcast, it might have been 'nice' - rights issues permitting - to hear what Brand said, rather than reading it described. (That said, the photo of him with a semi-transparent top left me wanting to know less, not more.)

As I try to be Celebrity Deaf, I have no idea what the wheelchair references meant, but I simply found myself thinking which, visually, was more of a catch, Katy for Russell, or vice versa: just look out that one with the top, if you need to, to answer the question. A story about nothing, but I should have guessed...

And as for that 'film' Take Me - I'm a Geek, that really says it all, doesn't it?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Mental health and sport

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21 July

Soon, the time of the Orimpiques will be on us, with their little sequinned costumes, redolent of a prawn - no, I'm thinking of Friday night at the Chinese take-away, and the special fried rice!

There is proof both ways that a beloved sports personality - no, on second thoughts, sportsman or -woman - could be forgiven anything. Someone may remember what Victoria was called before Beckham, but, even so, did his marriage to this one-time Spice Girl* do him any real harm? That said, mistakes on the pitch or in the stadium have been held as grudges for a very long time, and some failed penalty-takers may still receive daily hate-mail years later.

So what is it that makes those who think that they understand the British mentality (in general), and the prejudices that are held about mental ill-health, that mean that it is necessarily and always a good thing to talk about those bad times in one's mental life, and for a whole team to open up?

If it's the Beckham, so what if he married her and she makes him wear her thongs, then one ends up no better off - one just knows more than one wanted about David's underwear. If, though, it's the unforgivable sin, then that team is written off in favour of another that isn't just a load of pathetic pussycats, and no positive benefit accrues to anyone else who may, say, experience depression.

Bob Hoskins used to say in the advertisements It's good to talk, but is it?


* And what part did she contribute to the vocal texture?

Never judge a crook by his brother

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20 July

As like as peas in a pod, they say, so maybe it was true in the case of Ronnie and Reggie...

Spice Girls to reform for Olympics (according to AOL®)

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20 July

Some people don't realize that one can distinguish between verbs - with a hyphen.

Or maybe they did mean reform...?

Thursday, 19 July 2012

It must drive the medics mad!

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20 July

By which I mean the well-known, supposedly for comic effect, tendency to call some imaginary medical condition Little Red Riding-Hood Syndrome, or Bust-a-Gut Syndrome. (Not that I am linking the two, although I do see a lupine connection...)

All the medics are tutting, if not tee-heeing, at the misuse of one of their trademark dead languages by people who have never read The Comedy of Errors, been to Ephesus, or known a Greek prefix when they saw one*. (Just like the lawyers, jibbing at the allegedly interesting question of knowingly representing someone who's guilty when, in their mind at least, they don't do criminal law - and all these bond deals for which they are providing the late-night know-how are all perfectly innocent.)

As to what planet the makers of the probably wittily titled Synecdoche, New York (2008) transmitted it from, I didn't stay around to find out**. Thank God it didn't infect the UK, giving us Metonymy in Dagenham!

I gather it's the first of a series of iconic new takes on some damn' thing or another, so I'm watching out for Dïaresis Beijing next.


* One hopes that everyone's ability to choose to do those things - or ignore them - can continue unabated.

** Courtesy of explanations such as this, no one is danger of finding out what it meant: A synecdoche is a type of trope, which is a figure of speech. When used in literature, a synecdoche will add to the visual imagery of the passage and enhance the reader’s experience.

Yes, so will having a narrator who knows sod all about nothing!

Sainsbury or Sainsbury's?

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20 July

Who cares?

But this is supposed to make sense, as it is their advert:

Live well for less this

Forget what the second line is, but who can really believe that the phrase 'this summer' is best broken in half - so that we are faced with this meaningless jumble of for less this? (Even 'Living' would be better than all these monosyllables.)

The whole caption would begin better with what is in the second line:

Summer with Sainsbury's -

Living well for less

And, if they choose to donate a large amount of money to me in thanks, I might not say anything about the image that they used...

Interview with Mark Brown: The New Mental Health (2)

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
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20 July

If you have followed a link, it should have brought you here: to an interview with Mark Brown about The New Mental Health

1. Mark, you've called this The New Mental Health - what are you hoping for from that choice of name?

I think that is often really difficult to discuss broader shifts in thinking without giving them a name. Giving something a name allows you to discuss what fits in under that name and what doesn't, who is doing it and who isn't, whether the name fits a particular thing or not. Without a name that brings things together what you get is lots and lots of disconnected things happening, with no way of bringing them together so that people can discuss them.

At the moment we have 'mental health' as a category that covers everything from forensic inpatient wards to national funded-to-the-tune-of-millions campaigns like Time to Change to you and a couple of mates sitting around your dining table trying to work out how to run a local advocacy or arts group. Beyond telling us who you're aiming at – people with mental health difficulties – it doesn't reallly tell us much else.

What I've noticed is that there has been a shift in mental health or at least a shift in the way some people look at doing 'mental health stuff'. See, we run into the problem of not having a name for things that means that 'mental health stuff' is the only way I can describe the wide variety of projects, activities and services that people are carrying out directed towards making life with mental health difficulties better or more fulfilling.

I started from recognising the broad similarities that I saw between these people, projects and services, because they're actually there. There has been a shift both on the part of some organisations and services and on the part of some people with mental health difficulties related mainly to two things: the idea of people with mental health difficulties actually being in control and in people with mental health difficulties not accepting the idea that only others can do things on their behalf to make life more viable and liveable.

From recognising what was already happening, it seemed sensible to give that a name as a way of bringing this shift together into a form that people could actually debate, discuss and put into action.

I think choosing a name like 'The New Mental Health' gives us a way to talk about this change by escaping from older ideas like the division between 'professionals' and 'people with mental health difficulties' or the idea that the only way to bring about mental health change is to become a campaigning activist.

So, instead of saying 'we're talking about lots of different projects and people across the country (and the world) that don't have a connection with each other' we can say 'we're talking about organisations, people and projects that we can recognise as sharing these New Mental Health ideas to a lesser or greater extent'. It opens up a space for discussion.

I think, more broadly, we're moving into a period where people have far greater access to ideas (Hello, Internet!). If you look at where large numbers of people are coming together to make stuff happen, they tend to be people choosing to arrange themselves around ideas rather than people joining organisations then being mobilised and regimented by hierarchies. The stress is less on whether people believe entirely the same things as each other (see things like the Tea Party movement on the US right of centre or UKUncut on the UK left of centre) and more on whether they can come together at specific times to do specific things.

Defining an idea and then setting that idea free lets other people come across it and use it as a way of understanding what they're already doing or as an inspiration to do something that they aren't already doing.

When you're doing things and making change happen, or wishing for change to happen, it can be hard to see where what you're doing fits in with what other people are doing.

I'm hoping that The New Mental Health will help people to see where others have been thinking similar thoughts to themselves about the next step for people with mental health difficulties taking control of our services and where people have already been doing just that.

To me, that seems like a pretty clear statement of what using the name can do.

2. Was launching this new approach in your mind before your strong speech in Perth, Australia?

Was there a flow of energy, in both directions, with writing the speech itself and gauging how people related to you and to you giving it?

The speech in Perth was really an attempt to distil about two years' worth of work, talking to people and thinking into one snappy easy-to-respond-to package.

A lot of the time, if you're suggesting anything a bit different in mental health you have the problem that no one will give you a public opportunity to speak about it until you've proved that what you're saying is useful, which obviously means that there aren't that many opportunities to get anything new out in public!

I originally pitched an article called 'The New Mental Health' to a magazine about two and half years ago where I'd already spotted the shifts in thinking and practice based on organisations and people I'd already met then doing mental health projects. Over 2011, I co-wrote 'Better mental health in a bigger society?', a pamphlet initially commissioned in the final months of the National Mental Health Development Unit, which came about from me trying to work out what 'Big Society' and austerity policies might mean for people with mental health difficulties and what non-NHS mental health services and projects might need to keep going through a period of public spending reduction.

So, the speech itself was the upshot of hundreds of conversations, much reading and lots of research and head scratching.

It went down fantastically in Perth. I hadn't quite realised what giving a keynote speech actually meant, so it was an amazingly odd experience to find myself addressing about 300 people, with three people after me giving speeches in response.

Two of those were psychiatrists and the third was a young woman who is a mental health worker who also hears voices. What was most heartening for me was that her speech started with the words 'that's exactly how I feel'.

After giving the speech, I went from conversation to conversation with people who wanted to tell me how they were making community-based mental health stuff happen and telling me that I'd definitely put my finger on something, namely the idea that traditionally run medical mental health services, in Western Australia at least, still held most of the power, but didn't manage to answer all of the problems.

What was also heartening was that a number of world-famous mental health campaigners told me that there was something about the idea of The New Mental Health and moving from an oppositional model to a pragmatic doing model was the right way forwards.

From talking to people in Western Australia, as I have with some people in the UK, I got the strong feeling that people were glad that someone had finally managed to bring together the threads of what they'd already been thinking and, importantly, doing.

3. Your magazine, One in Four, seems to distance itself from whether 'mental health difficulties' arise from - and are the field of - medicine by using those words.

For you, will that still be the preferred term in talking about The New Mental Health?

For me, if you're not providing actual medical services, the question of where mental health difficulties come from isn't as useful as 'what are we going to do today that makes it less shit having one?'

I think
mental health difficulties
is a good way of phrasing things because it escapes the trap of arguing about diagnosis and validity of diagnosis and just gets the nitty-gritty of 'do things exist that happen in our heads that get in the way of doing stuff?'

You can have difficulties with your mental health for years before you have a diagnosed condition and a diagnosis in a lot of ways is only a means by which you are allowed to access certain forms of support.

Even if we came up with a definitive 'cause' for mental health difficulties, that wouldn't reduce the challenges they can pose to getting on with your everyday life.

There are lots of vigorous and exciting debates to be had about the causes of mental health difficulties but they're not ones I have time to get involved in. Having lots of problems in your life, your living situation, your relationships and your economic circumstances might result from mental health difficulties or might be the cause of them, but that isn't as interesting to me as trying to do stuff that removes or reduces the effect of those problems.

4. Providers of services in 'old' mental health are usually hospital trusts, and, although separately set up, are part of the NHS.

Do you think that the NHS links bring with them a tendency towards being averse to risk or to a truly creative input into services from those who receive them?

I think you've put your finger on one of the fundamental challenges for anyone wanting different stuff to happen in mental health from what is already happening.

I think that the reduction and management of risk is absolutely vital in the provision of medical treatment. But I think that a lot of things that are done in mental health aren't actually medical, even if they are being provided by medically trained staff. There's a kind of weird idea that if you fall under the heading of 'someone with a mental health condition' then you need to be treated at all times as if you are a patient and somehow 'under the care' of mental health service providers.

One of the ideas agreed on by most people who like the social model of recovery in mental health – the idea that you don't necessarily just get cured by medical intervention – is that one of the important things about getting your life back is finding an identity that isn't defined by your condition. If this is correct, then it's a bit odd to think that services run on a medical model, that only have dealings with you because you are defined by a condition, could be the ones that best support you to think beyond that condition. In other words, it's a bit weird that the service that defines you as a service user will be the one that helps you not to think of yourself as a service user.

So what I see is a lot of non-medical services continuing to be delivered by medical-oriented thinking, which makes it very, very difficult to get them to try things that don't have a huge evidence base. It does happen, though, and sometimes the NHS does take brilliant risks. I’m
interested in how it decides to take them, who is involved and what happens because of them.

What I will say is that it's incredibly hard to get NHS commissioners to commission things that look different to things that have gone before because they aren't just thinking about risk in terms of people's welfare but also in terms of financial risk, too. Again there are places in the UK where great mental health stuff has been commissioned by trusts. The question is, I suppose, why some commissioners feel able to take risks and other don't?

5. Conversely, and maybe potentially, how might The New Mental Health differ, and what innovations in services and how, where and when they are available are likely?

I think The New Mental Health will look different in different places and for different people.
The New Mental Health spots gaps and then finds ways to fill them. What people in rural Cumbria need or want or are interested in setting up for themselves might be very different from what people want to do in Bristol. This is where the principles set out in the launch speech (
available on the website : come into play. I think what we'll see is services that meet a specific need or which come about from a certain set of people having a certain set of interests.

The thing is: The New Mental Health is already here, it's just not evenly distributed yet.

Some result from the difficult demise of existing services who have had their funding cut. Others come into being to meet a particular gap in a particular area.

What they share is a proper partnership between people who have direct experience of mental health difficulty and those that don't and, I think, they'll be more likely to find ways doing either new things that are different from traditional services or new ways of doing things that services have been doing in the past.

They might even have been doing The New Mental Health for decades without anyone really noticing.

I think you get a very different answer if you ask the question 'What do you need?' rather than 'What do you think of our existing service?' I think what we'll see is more projects based on what people with mental health difficulties want to do and more that actually try to solve some of the real-life problems and challenges that we face. Direct experience gives you a very different perspective on what the needs of people with mental health difficulties actually are, doesn't it?

I believe that it does (even if some organizations do exploit being able to say that they have that perspective, without actually allowing the people with that perspective to influence how things are run in any significant way).

6. Other than money, and enthusiastic participants, what else do you think
that The New Mental Health will need to thrive?

I think one of the things that is needed for The New Mental Health to move forwards is an active and equal partnership between people who have experienced mental health difficulties and those trying to do stuff that helps.

I think there's more people who are in both categories at once then there ever have been before.

This is where pragmatism rather than opposition comes in – we need a strategic and practical relationship between people who want to make having a mental health difficulty less challenging and awful, regardless of where they come from on the professional/patient/policy maker axis. I think a coalition of people who work in mental health services and people who don't but who all agree that what we have now isn’t quite right and ask 'why can't we have something else?' is vital.

In The New Mental Health, people and knowledge are the biggest assets. There are currently so many people in the public sector who have brilliant ideas and are fed up with doing the same old stuff that they know isn't really working. Similarly, there are so many people slugging it out in the community with brilliant ideas and who are struggling from day to day for money and resources. If we can come together and ask 'why can't we do something else instead?' then we'll be a strong force to reckon with.

One of the things that will need to happen is people being prepared to just give things a go – the principle of FIJD – with the leanest way of doing so. So people will need to be starting small and cheap and making things happen with what's to hand. But there will need to be more money available to be risked on just giving things a go. The biggest danger is that sources of funding will continue their move away from looking at ways to make things happen in different ways or with different people and just get funnelled toward front-line medical services aimed at more severe instances of mental health difficulty. As this will reduce the cash available to things that might make it less likely that someone becomes severely ill over a long period of times it risks constituting a self-confirming situation.

It's an uncomfortable fact that for The New Mental Health to happen for everyone who wants it there's going to need to be money. At the moment the NHS gets the huge amount of mental health money. For new things to happen, the NHS is going to have to decide to spend some of its money on things that are different from what has come before, so in some senses it's going to have to 'step aside' and recognise there there are lots of mental-health-related things that it is not best placed to provide.

7. Do you also expect any opposition from entrenched old approaches, and, if so, do you yet know how to challenge it?

I think The New Mental Health has always been in thorny territory with this. For a long time, we've had the conception of mental health in the UK as being on one side people who use services and on the other side organisations that provide them. The belief has been that the traditionally funded public sector staffed by traditionally trained professionals is the only way to provide mental-health-related services. In some ways, this is true; medically trained staff are the best people to provide medical services. However, it's also true that more people with direct experience of mental health difficulties now work in mental health already, so even that division is gradually breaking down.

What we have been seeing is a growth in different kinds of services and different kinds of organisation outside of those medical services. This is challenging.

It's challenging to campaigners who see the role of the mental health voluntary sector as being, in part, to campaign for the improvement of publicly funded services. Someone once asked me: 'why would you campaign to keep bad services?'. I think, often, because we're afraid that any loss of services will not be replaced with something else, we can work very hard to try to keep a hold of services that we don't, in fact, find useful or which don't fit with our wishes and ideas. Suggesting that the answer might be to create alternatives is hugely challenging, I think, even if people have based all of their activities on opposing worst aspects of existing mental health services.

It can be very challenging for some already involved in delivering mental health services because people doing The New Mental Health ask the question very directly 'is your service the best way to meet this need?'.

I think it's really challenging to a lot of people because it asks 'what do people with mental health difficulties want and need?' rather than 'how can we modify what's there to bring it more in line with the changing wishes and needs of people with mental health difficulties?'.

I also think it can be a little bit challenging for people in general when we're used to 'take what you're given and think yourself lucky' services.

8. Yes, the dreaded question, but let's make it three years: what do you believe the place of The New Mental Health will be in providing services by then, and why?

I think it can sometimes be really hard to see mental health services as anything other than what we have at the moment. Often when we think about the future of mental health services, we think of the future as being the services we have more, but run by different people or run in slightly different ways. When we look toward the future it always seems to look more like now than it does like anything else.

Three years will take us up to the next general election. Make no mistake, there will be changes to mental health services by then. For many of us they're already happening with cuts to local charities and voluntary organisations reducing the amount of stuff that's available in our communities. Add to that changes in the way that the NHS is run and what we're looking at is going to be different, at least on the level that there might be less of it.

What there is will probably be quite like what we have now, I think. There'll still be hospitals, crisis teams, community psychiatric nurses, and all of the other things that we recognise as 'mental health services'. And, the chances are, they way in which they are provided will probably look much like the way they're provided now.

What a lot of us have wanted in mental health for ages is more choice about what services we use to help us and more control over what those services actually are.

I see The New Mental Health helping to fill that gap. What I see is lots of little projects, organisations and even social enterprises across the country providing good mental health stuff that people actually want in ways that they actually want them.

I think the nature of The New Mental Health is to be pragmatic and to find gaps in what is already available or new ways of doing things that people want. This, for me at least, suggests that The New Mental Health will be about starting small but thinking big.

I think what we'll see is people giving things a go and trying to make them work and other people recognising that a small thing that helps a small thing might find out something that might be the basis of making a big thing that helps a lot of people.

If we are going to see increasing pressure on traditional mental health services, I want to see as many other things as possible to help people with mental health difficulties get on with what they want and need to do.

Some things will succeed and grow, others will find their natural level and other things will fail with good grace and good honour.

If you subscribe to the idea that only medical services can provide the answer to challenges that people with mental health difficulties face, then you're never going to be happy with anything less than total medical coverage. I'd suggest that medical services are good at providing medical care and treatment, a vital element to be sure, but not the entire story. I'd comment that, very often, medical mental health services just aren't that good at helping with the challenges that you have in your life or with the things that you want to do. They have waiting-lists, they're difficult to contact, they see everything through the prism of your condition. Not all do this, but the ones that don't often recognise that there are limits to what they can do and look to people and organisations outside of themselves to provide additional support and services.

I think that The New Mental Health, that is organisations and groups led by people with mental health difficulties, will be providing those outside services in some places.

In some senses, I think the people doing things that could be called The New Mental Health now are laying the foundations for a fundamental shift in the way that we think about mental health, because they're the first professional generation to completely reject the idea that having a mental health difficulty will always lead to you being inferior to someone who does not have one.

I also think that, in some ways, the organisations and groups of people trying to do things now with limited resources and by meeting the wishes of people with mental health difficulties more closely are doing the job of keeping the flame of hope going and also laying the ground for a shift in the way we do services.

People in the voluntary sector often complain that they are filling in for the public sector where the public sector isn't providing services or where services don't work properly, but that's exactly where I think The New Mental Health flourishes.

I think, at least in some areas of England at least, we'll see the public sector recognising that this isn’t a nice optional add-on, but a valuable contributing force in helping to make sure that people's mental health difficulties don't completely interrupt or de-rail their lives.

9. Finally, what message have you, both for those excited by The New Mental Health, and for the sceptically minded, who might be mindful of the tale of the monarch and his fresh wardrobe?

I think that thing about the New Mental Health is that it's just putting a name to a shift that's already happening and spotting some common themes and common concerns.

I think that, in some ways, the brilliant stuff that has been happening that has put people with mental health difficulties in control of services, and the brilliant stuff people have been doing to develop services and projects for ourselves, is being put at risk hugely in the current policy and economic environment.

The thing is, The New Mental Health, and this is why it's 'new', doesn't quite fit with either the traditional models of service delivery, or the traditional campaigning quality of other mental health organisations. Nor does it naturally fit well with the agenda of larger charities. Coupled with the fact that, without a natural 'home', people are often working away in isolation, ploughing their own lonely furrow, individual projects, organisations and people who make things happen are really vulnerable to wider forces.

The people already doing The New Mental Health run the risk of being washed away, almost before it's started. If The New Mental Health can be a way of bringing those people into contact with each other while being able to advocate for the vital nature of what they're doing, especially to those that have some money to invest, who can provide support or who can find ways of working with them, then it'll be doing what it's meant to.

If that helps people to feel less like they're soldiering on in the darkness, in isolation, then it'll have served its purpose.

Thanks to Mark Brown, Editor of One in Four magazine, for answering those questions and giving a full measure in doing so - it is good to end on an honest note of encouragement for those who can support, by no means just financially, people just getting to know each other, what is going on elsewhere, and maybe learning what helped them when the situation that they faced was grim!

If you want to leave a comment here, please do, and I will pass it on to One in Four, but I am sure that Mark would welcome receiving your enthusiasm about this interview directly, after he spent time giving what I found very clear and instructive answers to some difficult questions.

For those who haven't yet read his keynote speech at the Asia Pacific Conference on Mental Health (in Perth, Western Australia) last month, here is another link to it.

And, if you want to read through the questions in this mammoth session on their own, they can be found here...

Things that art keeps secret from me... (2)

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20 July

Continued from Things that art keeps secret from me... (1)

With the ten Medicine Cabinets (1989), as with Pharmacy (1992), if you know what the former contents of the packets, bottles and pill-boxes were used for, there is no pharmaceutical rationale behind how they have been arranged: for example, three different styles of labelling of Senokot bottles (god, E.M.I. and Anarchy), and two of Gaviscon, (Seventeen and E.M.I.), appear in unrelated cabinets (each one named, in order, after the tracks of the Sex Pistols' album Never Mind the Bollocks... .).

For all that is said about Hirst’s curatorship, the fact that an anti-psychotic or an anti-depressant is seen side by side with something quite unrelated such as a pain-killer leads me believe that it is the aesthetic appearance that has influenced the arrangement within the display-units. (This cannot as easily be seen from what the Tate’s catalogue features for Pharmacy, as it does it a relative disservice in depicting it, compared with the earlier works.) The lower shelf of Seventeen, at the right, contains a whole jumble, and, at the far left, a big brown glass bottle obscured by an item in front (as in other cabinets, e.g. No Feelings, Pretty Vacant and Bodies).

If then, as with Lullaby, the Seasons (2002), it is the overall effect that it is important, not the pills, tablets and capsules themselves, but their effect against their mirrored background, then anyone looking at these old containers of medication without thinking how they have been put on the shelf is missing a major element.
But what do people who profess to like Hirst's work see when they look at such things? No one seems to look at the so-called spot paintings (I have been to the show severeal times), and people seem to wander around the spaces created by Pharmacy (1992), and by the Medicine Cabinets (1989) as if what is there is a reverential re-creation of a curated store for medication.
But, if so, what are the four bowls with honeycomb and honey, each on top of a podium of a kind intended for reaching things down from upper shelves?
Do they normally occupy the otherwise placid evocation of a pharmacy, complete with those four sinuous vessels full, each one, of a coloured liquid? (Which one looks most like it would be fun to drink?)
It's normal in this installation, because it was previously so at Tate Britain, something about the self-styled Young British Artists (how young is young, Damien?).

Things that art keeps secret from me... (1)

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20 July

With reference to Damien Hirst's exhibition at the Tate* (not an exhaustive list):

* A dozen or so of these so-called spot paintings exist, and I think that the claim is that they are all on the walls of TM

* Their titles, as TM has a mania for keeping them separated far right or far left with a long line of works in between, can therefore no longer be the jokes that Hirst must have intended for them

* For example: the link for
Anthraquinonone-1-Diazonium Chloride takes you to the actual and relatively modest compound, supposedly depicted in a fairly large canvas of some 35 of these circles by 25

* Artistic uncomposition no. 7 is, perhaps, just as meaningful, but, if people could easily see these titles (rather than shuttling to the end of the room and back), would they make people believe that, in colour, Hirst has portrayed a chemical structure? (Not, I suspect, anyone who knew even a bit about chemistry...)

* And, with the two that are painted onto the wall of Rooms 2 and 3 of TM, what is their status? Do they cease to exist when scrubbed off to make room for the next show - and do we believe that, if there is a known design for them, Hirst himself painted all of the circles, and that, until he does so again (somewhere else) they won't exist?

* I call them 'circles', because they are circles, and often too big to be spots

* It is also not an illusion - the cicles are not 'equal to the size of the spaces between each [circle]'**, but the inter-circle spaces are often appreciably bigger

* Not to mention Iodomethane - 13c, foolishly represented by a fold-out in the catalogue, when the original must be around 15 metres long, with many a circle, and no meaningful connection (unless Hirst was high on this substance during its creation) with the scale of the painting

* The room steward whom I asked, although very friendly and helpful, had to suggest asking the curators by filling in a form: had it been Hirst's intention, I wondered, to ensure that - because the dissected cow in her two halves was in the way - it was not possible to see the whole painting, except by standing at either end and looking across, which then introduced effects of patterning caused by bunching, the nearer that the circles were to the other end

Continued in Things that art keep secret from me... (2)


* Or, rather, the exhibition at Tate Modern of works by DH.

** Circles separated by a distance equal to their circumference.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A poem - in parts - on Pritter

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18 July

This poem...

This poem is the work of Abbott,
Adams, Davies and O'Neill

More people's time it took to write
Who were with us, up all night,

The metre was Brian O'Brien's
(The man they fed to the lions)

This poem is not about socialism,
Fascism or communism - or any
Combination of the three

Expand? No, contract!

© Copywright Belston Night Works 2012

Monday, 16 July 2012

Performance anxiety

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17 July

These words are sometimes thought of in another connection.

In the context of
Richard Sennett's lecture at The Aldeburgh Festival, although he did not ever seem to suggest (in addressing his topic) how a well-designed place for the performance of music or theatre could lessen it, it meant the fear on the part of either some of the performers or members of the audience that something would go wrong with the performance, a necessarily inhibiting feeling.

When listening to The Menuhin School Orchestra play Mendelssohn's Sinfonia No. 1, the fears were lesser than when they started to play the more rhythmically and dynamically varied Apollon musagète by Igor Stravinsky, but they need not have been present in either case: the pupils' musicianship, as conducted by Malcolm Singer, never appeared to be in doubt, and they brought off this second work to great acclaim.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Watch out for Louisa-Rose Staples!

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14 July

Malcolm Singer, who introduced the performance by The Yehudi Menuhin School Orchestra of the so-called Four Seasons (one violin soloist per season), told me afterwards that each player had had the concerto in question allocated to him or her – it had not been, as I imagined, a selection made between the younger musicians themselves, and, as Malcolm was at pains to stress, there had been group work by the orchestra and the teachers, as well as by him, in shaping what we heard for each season.

That said, the allocation had been, as he suggested, on the basis of what would suit the individual violinist, and the result in this first half was a varied quartet of concerti, whose character had not just been directed by an unchanging soloist. (A contrast, for me, with Adrian Chandler giving a unified performance with La Serenissima, this work’s last outing.)

Quite a clever approach, because, although we all know that recordings of this famous work differ enormously, we do not think, say, to mix and match Mutter’s Spring with Heifetz’s Summer, and so on. We were asked to applaud each departing soloist, and greet the new one, with all four taking to the stage at the end. To hear the same string orchestra (plus harpsichord) sound so differently nicely brought out the instrumentalists’ adaptability as an ensemble, as well the variation that came from each soloist’s interpretation.

Although there was not one of the soloists whom I did not enjoy hearing, I have singled out Louisa-Rose Staples, because she played the second concerto (Summer) with great poise, and, though I might have guessed from her stature that she was the youngest (she was born in 2000), it was not evident from the expressiveness of her violin-playing: it gave me shudders down the spine, because her tone was so good, and she phrased everything so well.

Otoha Tabata, playing Spring, seemed more integrated into the sound of the orchestra, to be emerging from it and then falling back into it, than Tanja Roos, who, as Winter, came last: Tanja seemed to make more of her concerto as a virtuoso piece, and to feel apart from the rest of texture, whereas Otoha used her fluency and technique within a different range. With such relatively new performers, although many of them have been playing since three, it is necessarily hard to know how much was direction from Malcolm and the other staff.

For example, the well-known opening of Winter (I believe that I am thinking of Winter, not Autumn) had a spiky angularity to the orchestral string-playing, which I do not recall having heard before, and which transformed not only the impression, but how the notes within the chords appeared to interrelate. In Autumn, which Sao Soulez-Lariviere seemed to have moulded into another different sound-world, not least in a central movement in a quite slow tempo, it was the overall shape of the concerto that was laid bare, in a way that many a recording might not dare to do.

I have no idea what is ahead of all of these musicians (we had the benefit of four double-basses, and there must be competition), but, if she maintains her self-assurance as a performer with age and puberty, I would still tip Louisa-Rose as a star for the future, though not to suggest that her fellow soloists might not be ones, too.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Poem for a Vixen

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

13 July

Poem for a Vixen

Regarding IKEA
(Not a native Idea),
I have some respect.

But I choose to reject
Going out on a date
Mixed with humping a crate.

© Belston Night Works 2012

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Music in London in the eighteenth century

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2012
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

11 July

Thanks to talking to Nia Lewis, one of the Compagnia d'Istrumenti (who direct the University of York Baroque Ensemble), I now have a greater understanding of the potential for gut-strings to react to atmospheric influences during the course of a piece. As she observed, professional players are more used to the problem, and can more easily adjust for it.

This factor may momentarily have caught out some of the members of the ensemble, but, despite it, they did a very good job of creating a distinctive sound for each of the five composers whose music they featured in their hour-long programme. So, for example, the Symphony by William Boyce with which they opened was not only played very confidently, and with a solid bass-line*, but also sounded to be in its own world, a contrast with the different, and more extrovert, one of the Concerto Grosso by Handel that followed.

That ability is not something to be underestimated, as there are groups who are prone to bring everything down to the lowest common demoninator, so that what pieces have in common, rather than what sets them apart, comes to the fore. Then, everything tends to sound pretty much the same, and does not have its particular life - and joy (or sorrow).

In the Handel, the divided strings (led, respectively, by Daniel Edgar and Nia Lewis) brought the antiphonal nature of this music vividly into both visual and aural appreciation, and the programme notes (by Nia) usefully drew attention to Corelli's influence on the structure of the work. One could also believe that Handel, when in Italy, had learnt something significant from hearing music in St Mark's Basilica, and there was a real depth of feeling in the playing in this Concerto.

Nothing to do with the performance, but I am uncertain whether choosing a selection from King Arthur necessarily showed Henry Purcell to his best effect, but there were, of course, the limitations of a one-hour concert (rather than, say, two halves of forty-five minutes). Nevertheless, I particularly enjoyed the closing Chaconne, and was left wanting to hear more of Purcell's compositional intricacies.

The so-called London Bach, J. C., was amply represented by a Grand Overture, with strong forces in both parts of a double orchestra, twin flutes on one side (with the second violins), and a pair of oboeists with the first violins.

If my memory serves me correctly, there were also two horns in this piece, and, at times, their effect was reminiscent of the rich tones that Mr Handel has in the three Suites that make up his Water Music. As Nia observed in the programme, this member of the Bach dynasty favoured a 'steady harmonic rhythm', and the Ensemble, once again, brought out the individual colours and textures of his music.

We ended - and there would not have been time for more - with a piece by Arne that had, in a little act of disguise, been described as A Rousing Tune. And so was brought to a close an enjoyable time with these very good young musicians, showing the ensemble technique that, one hopes, may stand them in good stead, wherever the future gives them opportunities to make music.


* Provided by instruments from double bass (Vanessa McWilliam) to cellos (Tim Smedley and Lucy Curzon), and, though I wouldn't now swear as to their involvement at this stage in the concert, bassoons (Ian Hoggart and Elspeth Piggott). (Other important textures were provided by Andrew Passmore and Masumi Yamamoto, both on harpsichord.)