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30 Oct 2005

Cinema Phonic - Berlin - Symphony of a Great City

An interesting documentary film at the MAC on 1920's Berlin, with live accompaniment from Reflektor. I have to admit now that it wasn't really my taste in music - a kind of abstract, repetative jazz. The film followed a day in the life of Berlin, starting with dawn and empty streets, for quite a while no people were seen, then, a man walking his dog, the journey to work, the crowds, work, work, work, work, lunch - relax, work, work, finish, eat, play, relax, dance, sleep. That's what I remember anyway! smile

Oh yes, and the wonderful clothes, the 1920's hats, the flapper dresses, the mannequins in shop windows, the machines to make anything and everything... all so modern.

And the people, the child hugging its mother, the children playing who would be killed in '39-45. Did they make it, the children we saw? Did they? Who do I ask? Who can tell me the end of this story, which they didn't even know they were in?

29 Oct 2005

The Life Of Galileo

First the bad news:

Timothy West plays the lead in "The Life of Galileo" at The Rep, and unfortunately, seemed to have a lot of problems remembering his lines. Intially, I thought that the stumbling and the re-starting of sentances was part of the character, then, as the number of errors grew, I wondered if the actor had been drinking, or was ill. It's not like it was every line, or every speech, but my guess is that it occurred maybe 30 or 40 times during the performance. Now maybe I'm wrong, maybe it was intentional, but as a friend said to me: "If there's any doubt then there's a problem with the direction".

Now the good news:

West's occasional problems didn't detract from what is a fantastic play, highly relevent to many of the debates going on in science, academia and society in general. Galileo lived from 1564 to 1642 and finally had his "edict of inquisition" lifted by the Catholic church in 1992. His crime? Denying that the sun went round the earth. As portrayed in the play, Galileo lived a life similar to that of many modern academics: underpayed, lacking time to do research and required to produce inventions of direct commercial benefit ( wink ), and anyone working at a University should go and see it if only for the scenes in the first half where Galileo is trying to get a pay raise from his chancellor.

However, the main subject matter is Galileo's relationship with the Church. He has the evidence of his own eyes (though the telescope) that the traditional, Ptolemaic, view of the universe, with stars and planets sitting on crystal spheres around the earth, is untrue. Galileo champions the scientific view, that you start by doubting, you test hypothesis and from these tests, construct theories, and that, each of these theories should be testable and capable of falsification. Galileo believes that the world is on the threshold of a new era of rationality, where the scientific technique will lead to discoveries which improve the lives of the people. No longer will we continue to do things in the same way because "that's the way it's always been done".

The Church, however, has other views. (Again, as presented in the play) they argue that:
  • Galileo's theories disagree with respected authorities (the Bible, Aristotle, Ptolemy etc) and are therefore false.
  • The common people give meaning to their life through simple faith and that Galileo's theories (which can be interpreted as dis-proving parts of the bible) will destroy that.
  • That the social order is a reflection of God's natural order, and that by removing the earth (and man) from the centre of the Universe, we risk removing popes and kings from their divinely granted thrones.

These same arguments are those which are, in varying levels of explicitness, expounded by those who currently believe in "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" It's easy to see the play as a metaphor for these current issues.

Now we in Europe generally believe that rationality won. The vast majority believe that the Earth goes round the Sun, and that we share a common descent from apes. However, although I don't have figures to hand, we are often reminded that in the USA and many other parts of the world, many don't believe in evolution, though the figures for belief in the Ptolomaic system are harder to come by. Galileo's battles are still being fought today.

Wikipedia references: Galileo, Ptolomaic model.

28 Oct 2005

Another Brummie Blogger

Added Viggy La Q's Stirchley based "Running in Treacle" blog ( ) to my list of Birmingham Bloggers.

27 Oct 2005

Astro Black Morphologies

Visited Vivid for the opening of Astro Black Morphologies, complete with "Astro Dub performance". The performance space was a room had been constructed from fabric, hanging from scafolding, and was pretty dark. Abstract computer generated forms were projected on the floor and walls. The music was spacey, and "dub-ey", the sort of sounds which you wouldn't be supprised to hear in a sci-fi movie. The info sheet handed out was full of information and good quotes from John Coltrane, and discussions with Sun Ra, as well as the gen on what the black-hole radio telescope data driving the things was!

26 Oct 2005

Stewart Lee

Saw Stuart Lee, author of Jerry Springer the Musical and formally of Lee and Herring (free MP3 downloads), at the MAC. He did a very interesting, and funny set. I say interesting for two reasons: firstly, I seem to be getting into examining the technical side of comedy performance; secondly as he's a man full of ideas and comments about society and particularly about religious beliefs. I can't (and don't want to) run through his whole set here, but I'll make some observations.

It was very personal, with discussion of his recent illness, the hounding he had after it was announced that Jerry Springer was to be shown on TV, what sounded a bit like a drink problem (though was this just "sketch"?).... Hmmm, hard to tell really, as one of his key features is his dry presentation of slightly naive but patently untrue views or occurances.

He performed one of the most audaciously religiously offensive sketches I've heard. He mentioned that he'd had a few walk outs, but I was genuinely supprised that no-one left - the Mac gets quite a mixed audience, not always "hardened" to the ways of modern comedy.

The subjects, and particularly the approach and presentation was very diverse, with "Stu" at one point coming to sit in the audience.

Spoilers follow, so read at your own risk

At one point, in a section about terrorism, he attempted to get the (Birmingham) audience to give the IRA a round of applause, as they were "gentleman terrorists" always giving a warning, unlike the more modern approach. OK, now no-one would believe that this was his real view, or that any sane audience would do this. However, I wonder if this was a good approach in Birmingham, site of the Birmingham pub bombings which were, I believe, done without warning. Now, of course, the audience don't laugh. There's a silence. I'm waiting for someone to point out his faux-par, but no-one does. Stuart Lee is from Solihull near to Birmingham, very intelligent, and he's surely aware of all this, and now I'm expecting him to make a point, to break the tension, but no, he does what we all know no comedian should do... he blames the audience. Well, he doesn't blame the whole audience, he blames about a third of it, labelling it Group F, and the remainder Group A. So now I'm wondering if it's a setup, surely he's making a point about group dynamics, about how when you label people they behave like their stereotype. Phew! I don't know. I do know he's a highly talented and incisive comedian, as well as being technically skilled.

I think this performance has left me with more questions than anything else I've seen this year! Can comedy be art? Yes, I'd say so.

22 Oct 2005 is one of the most useful sites on the web. There's two main things it does which I like:

Firstly, it allows you to access previous versions of webpages, even those where the site doesn't exist any more. To try this, drag this link (WayBack)to your browser's toolbar. Then when you run across a page which no longer exists, or want to see a previous version click on "Wayback" to access the archive.

Secondly, it has a great archive of films. I'm a particular fan of the Prelinger Archive's collection of "Social Guidance" films, unintentionally hillarious in their coverage of topics such as Are You Popular? (1947) and _Habit Patterns (1954). Full versions of all the films can be downloaded, and the site shows thumbnail versions of the movies on the search pages (but you can switch these off to speed things up).

Jesus Mysteries

A friend asked me about the origins of the Bible, as I've done some work on determining the authorship of "The letters of Paul", so I went looking for the website of "The Jesus Mysteries", which deals with the historical origins of the Jesus story, only to find the website didn't exist any more. No fear, to the rescue.

There's also a useful chapter summary of the book at:

21 Oct 2005

More Birmingham Bloggers

Added Sarah's "Just another false alarm..." blog at to my list of Birmingham Bloggers.

Church of the Virus

Since an early age, I've been interested in why people believe what they believe. Today I ran across the Church of the Virus, an religion like meme specifically engineered to be (i) infective and (ii) effective. It has a nice lexicon which provides definitions of many memetic terms.

20 Oct 2005

BBC Question Time

I made a brief appearance on BBC's Question Time program, making a point about how my vote didn't count, and the government ignores what people actually want. If you're minded to look it up, I'm just over 14 minutes in, though I won't post a link wink

16 Oct 2005

Bookshed and Pride and Prejudice

With Bookshed, you basically get what it says on the cover. It's a shed with books in... but the books are strange. Mine was a modified version of Winnie the Pooh, with pictures and text overlayed with semi transparent paper, the pictures being partially re-used. From talking to other people who read books in the shed, they seem to have all been fairytales with sad endings.

Pride and Prejudice

I'm afraid I must admit that I've not read the book, seen the TV version or the previous film, so I came to this afresh. I found it warm, funny and (dare I say) moving. I don't normally see a lot of period drama, and I found the whole setting and presentation of everyday life engaging. It has, (and I'm not giving away the plot here), a happy ending, which left some of the audience in "wedding tears" smile

13 Oct 2005

John Peel Day

So, today was John Peel day apparently the anniversary of his last broadcast (hopefully it was on R1 not the maddening Home Truths on R4). I went down to the Jug of Ale, and saw Mike in Mono, who played a number of songs I knew, with extra samples and overlays, plus good stuff I hadn't heard with vocoder'd vocals. I did also heard part of the set by the Harpies, who had an amazing screaming vocalist - I was impressed they managed to keep going without losing their voice smile There were various accoustic sets (which I missed), lovely looking cakes (which I was too full to eat), and DJ sets by a number of well known locals. The place sold out, and the bar was so packed that I saw people waiting for 30 minutes to get served! Luckily, due to a certain secret technique, I never had to wait more than 5, and didn't queue jump either. Nice night, lots of nice people. Wonder how Misty's stuff down in London went...

Influenza Pandemic

The BBC's "Have your say" (website) published my comments on the coming Flu Epidemic.

Their question was Are you worried by 'deadly' bird flu? and my answer was
The UK influenza contingency plan assumes a mortality rate of 0.37%. Yep. That's not a typo, nought point three seven percent. That's around 140 times lower than the observed figure of 52%. Based on a UK population of 58Million, the WHO estimate of an infection rate of 25% (14.5 million people) and the current mortality rate of 52%, you get around 7.5 million UK deaths. I'm worried.

I've also got a whole page with more flu facts and figures.

11 Oct 2005

A Different Kettle of Fish

A Different Kettle of Fish (website) at the Flapper and Firkin. Got there early this time, before the 1st band ( smile ), The Graham Parsnip Liquidiser Torture Think-tank (Project) ([website]]) who were for me the best band of the night - witty and fun, their best tracks were Tractor Love, Scrabble, and one about the earthquake centered in Rowley Regis (though some, not me, might say it was potentially in bad taste given "current events").

When Bears Attack have been gigging in Brum for quite a while, and I think I've seen them before, perhaps at the Moseley Festival. Again, there was a strong vein of humour, this time mixed with angst, in tracks such as Evil women, Flying Ant Day, and No!!!!!!!!!. In one or two of the other songs, the vocals were lost under the guitar, which is a pity when the lyrics seems so interesting.

51 Breaks stepped in to replace Hooker, and though the members of the band had wildly different appearances (Guitar from a country band, keyboards and vocals from an Aha look-a-like, and a cool-looking dancing bassist + hidden drummer), there's a lot of musical talent there. Initially, they seemed a little nervous, but relaxed later in the set and did their best work there. I'd liked to have heard a couple more solos - at one point I thought we were about to get a drum solo, which could definately have sustained, but it didn't happen.

All in all, a strong line up, with 3 quality bands. Not bad for a rainy Tuesday night!

9 Oct 2005

What are the odds

Messing about with the "Just Curious" website at , I thought I'd ask a question. So I asked "When is a door not a door?" only to find that the same question had been asked by someone from the UK on my birthday this year!

What are the odds of that?

8 Oct 2005

Missed Misty's

Went to see Misty's Big Adventure at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton, supporting the Magic Numbers. Although the website and tickets billed it as "The Magic Numbers + Misty's Big Adventure", Misty's were on as 1st support at 7.30. As I didn't get there till 8:45, I totally missed them! :-0 Still, I did get to hear the Magic Numbers live, and was probably the only person in the room who didn't know any of their songs! The sound quality was bad - it seemed like the balance was set for heavy rock, which worked for a couple of the songs, but really squashed the vocals and guitar. The best song they did was actually a cover of "Woman in You" by Neil Young. The others which seemed particularly popular, and I guess were hits or on their CD were (something like) "don't let the sun change you", "(never thought I'd) fall in love again" plus something which is the theme for a TV program.

My lack of knowledge of popular culture is part of my training to be a high court judge. I want to be able to engage in the dialogue:

Me (in Judges Wig and Robes): What is this "Magic Number" of which you speak?
Clerk of the court: A popular beat combo, m'lud

Alternatively, I need to take Dead Kenny along with me to each blog in order to give his "Parallax View" and a host of relevent comparisons to other bands (who I also don't know) smile

Homing Instinct

H.I. is a performance piece for an audience of 1. We were sent into the space, or rather, up the stairs of the Foyle Gallery, at 6 minute intervals and told to "follow the trail of breadcrumbs, and the instructions on the post-it notes". There you encountered your mum, driving you home from the station as you return home. She chats away to you, has a subdued arguement with your dad on the mobile phone, and asks you the awkward questions such as "How's your job going, has your promotion come through yet?" or "Will you be coming at Christmas with your new girlfriend?".

The thing I love about performances for small audiences is the uniqueness of the experience. Unlike a film or tv show, or even a traditional theatre play, in which you share your audience experience with many others. In the case of recorded entertainments, the experience becomes mass produced, something which can be called up at the flick of a switch, rather than a hand crafted one off.

Artist Talk at Vivid

My first visit to this exhibition at Vivid by a Czech artist. The pieces include: a film, shot in Birmingham, revealing the thoughts of people who walk past a homeless person sleeping on the street; A consumer device which allows the emotionally impaired to record and replay the sounds associated with a particular emotion; Gagarin's Thing - a myth about an object found in the capsule of the first space mission; various "bungs" which looked like little mp3 players, and have written on them phrases describing "blocks" in our everyday life.

Opening at Mailbox

Photos of people who live in the UK, but experienced the 2nd World War in India, Africa and the UK. The photos are big - maybe 1.5 or 2 meters square, and very close up - just heads. There's an accompanying audio CD of interviews (which I didn't get to listen to) and an interactive soundtrack which mixes according to how people move about the space.

7 Oct 2005

Strange Time at Scruffy Murphy's

Saw Strange Time at Scruffy Murphy's - their 3rd gig and the 3rd time I've seen them. The sound quality was a bit muffled on a couple of songs but some others shone out. Strong lyrics are a big part of their offering.

Find Strange Time gigs and listen to tracks at:

6 Oct 2005

Natalie Haynes at The Mac. I first saw Natalie Haynes at the Comedy Kav almost exactly three years ago, and she made an impression with her high-brow humour including references to Alan Turing and the periodic table. I saw her again at the Edinburgh Festival in August, and found out she was visiting Brum. It's strange seeing comedians multiple times, as generally the material is the same, but then again, often it works... in the way that some people never tire of the "parrot sketch". To be honest, the Mac hadn't out done itself set wise - the curtains at the back of the stage looked like they were about to collapse, but this didn't effect the comedy. Natalie is a kind of "Radio 4" comedian, not in that you'd hear her there (though you might), but that you can tell she's a regular listener and in fact she admits as much in her set.

1 Oct 2005

Howl's Moving Castle

Saw Howl's Moving Castle at the Electric. In the same animation style as Spirited Away, it features a lot of the same motifs - flying sorcerers turning into birds, secret lands, redemption of characters previously perceived to be evil. I enjoyed it, though I did find the plot a little confusing, and to be honest it is quite a long film! The Electric was very busy (by Electric standards), which suprised me for a Saturday night - I've never thought of it as a cinema night myself... I'd assumed most people would rather be talking to each other sitting in the dark! Nice to see it so full though.

Kings Heath Charity Shop Crawl

Took part in the Charity Shop Crawl through the charity shops of King's Heath. The ideas is that you buy an item in each shop... and wear it! I was talked into the blue jacket, honest smile

Transfering large files

Ran across this site: which allows you to upload large files rather than emailing them. They stay there for 7 days (or up to 25 downloads). Sounds good.

Prev: Blog September 2005 1 Year Ago: Blog October 2004 Next: Blog November 2005

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See Also: Web Changes for other recent updates, All Blog Pages for previous blogs. You might also want to read other Birmingham Bloggers

This is my blogchalk: United Kingdom, West Midlands, Birmingham, Moseley
Topic revision: r19 - 31 Dec 2005, andyp
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