One Coffee, Every Sound

I spend a lot of time listening to music. At home, in the office, walking around, running. Constantly, other people’s thoughts and voices or created sounds in my head. It’s cosseting; good and bad.

I cut myself from much of the outside world: partly because I’m a broken romantic and music is a form of role play; partly because conversations on buses are only ever going to be slightly depressing.

Things occurred to me as I blithely looked at a tired man wait for the lights to turn red:

  1. Sean O’Casey, JM Synge — or another of those Irish Realism playwrights I read and forgot about as soon as possible — claimed to never have written anything new, only assembling what he overheard into drama. Eavesdropping as creative practice.
  2. Matt’s Bureau of Small Observation is a great thing. It’s enjoyable to read, and it’s an enjoyable practice to do. Picking one thing to notice and taking the time to notice it, occasionally using $5 words to do so.
  3. John Waters’ anecdote about Edith Massey as a car passenger. “Car, house, lawn, pretty lady, red car, telephone pole, lawn, lawn, lawn.”

I decided to note every benign sound that I encountered on the short journey to and from collecting this morning’s coffee. No music, no other voices – only the moment and sounds of the Real World.

Here is a live documented, fiction-free practice of noticing every sound:

Distant hum of the dual carriageway.
Wheels grinding gravel as van turns a circle.
A stalled engine.
Rippling doppler down the gennel.
Electricity running through the pedestrian crossing.
A heavy door clunks to.
To my right: a stifled cough, a spit.
Dragging feet, tired Tuesday feet dusting the pavement.
Rattling double decker.
The gravel under me, scratching as I go.
Extractor fan whirring against the constant bacon fat fry in the builders’ cafe.
Leaves gently scratching leaves.
A pigeon flaps away, ungracefully slapping its wings against fat body.
Thin, tinny drone of electricity at a substation.
The gears of a bike, pushed along, clicking quietly.
Carrier bags rubbing against denim.
Lock clipping the wooden door frame. A brittle scrape.
Hissing steamer; gurgling milk.
Anonymous Motown-type music underneath a wall of chatter.
Beeps and coins, chinking against each other.
Grinding, grits flying against metal.
Slam of metal against metal; dull thuds with a ringing end.
A posh voice, high pitched and resonant, cutting through the noise.
Potwasher’s spray hissing out from the back.
Dropped pipes reverb from the construction site.
A yell, somewhere over there.
Whirring of a pulley.
The click-click-click of a dying gas lighter.
Small rope whipping a metal frame.
Shuffle of letters.
A football, bouncing on the floor, echoing the street.
Indistinguishable bass from a Subaru’s boot.
Beepbeepbeepbeep from the pelican crossing.
Door insulation softly brushing the frame.
The stilted thud of the automatic lock surrendering.
Slow padding up the stairs; occasional clink of shoe on metal edging.
Dragging hiss of wedding ring on bannister.
The dry, circular drone of the lift.
A sniff from the room next door, organs.
Keys chiming.

I’m not sure if it conjures a sense of space or environment, or even the journey. It’s not poetic, or supposed to be. It’s the thing.

A year in pictures.

I’ve now pretty much left Instagram, bar for commenting/liking, and have moved my day-to-day photos towards Flickr.

For a while, I’ve had a feeling of wanting to take longer-lasting photographs, of better quality, that actually stand-up to time  — something which Matt well articulates. This post-Instagram, post-filter landscape has been accelerated by Instagram’s recent behaviour that has undermined its value to me and sullied the gentle social: the main reason I loved their service.

It is still a good record of the bits and pieces that I’ve experienced over the past year — including getting married, a handful of trips to Mitteleuropa and more Copenhagen — but next year I’d like to get better at photography, with a better camera.

EXPAND POST

Jumping 23 miles and landing on your feet.

Today, we watched a man jump from the edge of space, 23 miles above the surface of the planet. He landed on his feet.

We watched it live on a social network video sharing site, via wifi and 3G, whilst sharing our collective anxieties with everyone in the world on our handheld super computers. Live.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the future isn’t what it was supposed to be.

Duck & Cover.

One of my long-standing hobbies is watching for discarded notes. Most notably over at Other People’s Shopping Lists, but I keep my eyes peeled for any kind of abandoned writing or photographs – fragments of people’s lives – mostly hoping for treasure maps or Dear John letters in amongst the lichen and chip papers.

Such as this torn beauty:

A document of a holiday fling that ended sourly, found on the street in Liverpool one summer many years ago.

Yesterday, I spotted a square of paper that looked like more than a lost to-do list or B&Q inventory. I kicked it down the road a bit before picking it up. This is what I found:

This is the kind of thing that you keep an eye on the discarded and the mundane for. Folding it out, there is a whole page of name ideas for the Nuclear Winter Menu, with a side section for Kruschev Cocktails:

Some decent pun work – including People In Blankets and Garlic Mushroom Cloud on the meal side, and Berlin Wallbanger and Sex On The Bunker cocktails – is let down by some pretty shit ones (Holocaust Halibut).

I can’t quite see that the anonymous, slightly racist, fantasy landlord will ever quite achieve their dreams of drinking a Sexed Up On The Beach at their less inspired franchise idea: The Baghdad Bistro.

In search of the Sublime.

This might be my second post about Instagram. About its worth to me, personally. It’s quick and superficial — looking at the “the continuous partial everywhere” of Cerveny and Juha, but maybe in terms of Coleridge and Wordsworth. I think I’m coming to find the opposite of Juha’s experience; a continuous partial nowhere.

The constant awareness of other people’s locations – thanks to foursquare, twitter, instagram – is causing a small sense of dislocation. I am not really a part of those locations. It’s wonderful, of course, precisely because of that. It’s cause for fantasy. Of escapism.

I’ve found the photographs I’ve actively liked on Instagram are pretty much a straight split between food/drink, brutal/urban, and pastoral/remote; the rest made up of moments and (what would once have been) noticings.

It’s pastoral/remote images like this:

This:

This:

and this:


I think I’m increasingly drawn to them because they’re over there. Not here, part of my daily routine. They’re a foreign bit, and they are very definitely somewhere. I find myself following people from Finland, Portland, Norway, adventurers and people near lands of tall pines, mountains, fjords. I follow them to escape briefly from the urban, suburban, bricks, mortar and railway tracks.

This is the nearest I have to a contemporary Romanticism; to reconnect with landscapes I haven’t known. Finding moments of the Sublime in amongst the bus rides in the city.

It’s the pastoral companion to Bridle’s Robot Flâneur. It’s post-industrial escapism delivered by the ultra-modern super-computer in my pocket.

(Images by Anne Holiday, Jez Burrows, Graeme Douglas & Jørn Knutsen, respectively)

Mærsk Fleet: live.

This is nice.

A visualisation of how many Mærsk ships are out to sea at any given moment.

Image

Growing up in Merseyside, with a grandfather who was a captain in the merchant navy, I think it’s always important to remember the reality of the world, the role of ships and docks in our culture, past and present.

Thanks to Frankie Roberto for spotting it.

Finished. It’s finished. Nearly finished. It must be nearly finished.

Last week, Marie and I posted the last entry to Playlist Club, a 51-track compilation featuring an appearance from all the contributors of the last year. It was the end of a year-long project, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do. As I said over on PC:

Hopefully, you’ve found one or two new songs or artists that you hadn’t heard before, or rediscovered some forgotten gems, and that we’ve done our bit.

Our time is up now, kids. These 12 months — and the shedload of songs, stories and elevenses they have brought — have been a lot of fun, but it’s time to move on. A year seemed about right, and there are lots of excellent new ways of discovering music that have popped up since we started (a favourite of which is This Is My Jam, say hello & hai! ), and perhaps our purpose is served.

The other side of that, is that it got a bit tiring. I have endless respect and admiration for the people behind the 365, curating a person to contribute every day, needs full-time editors. Marie and I jumped in head-first without really thinking it through. I’m glad that we did it, after calling her on a flippant comment, but harrying people every week — with occasional anxiety about missing our set publication time — came to be a bit of a drag. When people are dead into it, they are dead into it; when they’re a bit lackadaisical, it’s a bit frustrating. Of all the weeks, we only missed one day (cheers, Brandon) and had a couple of late shows. Not bad, I think.

Anyway, so the ending of it. We’d got tired early December, but decided we would stick with it until there was a natural moment to break it up. A whole year, 52-weeks, seemed as arbitrary as it did good, so we decided that mid-February would see the end of Playlist Club.

It seemed so final. We’ve got a real URL, a proper logo (thanks Kipi), shiny badges (shout if you want one) and a massive stack of people who still wanted to contribute (sorry, pals). We’ve put in many hours to this thing, often with minimal reward, but it was a fun thing.

Importantly, it was a thing, but its life had run and we put it to bed. I thought that maybe we could just tweak it, make it a monthly thing and lighten the burden on us, but it would just slowly diminish and lose any lustre that it had. This way, it may be a bit disappointing to a few people now — but we’re not disappointing everyone for a long time.

It was good to do. I’ve been thinking about endings, off and on, for a while now. There seems to be a disjunct between ending Real things and Digital things, even if they’re not that different. In the ‘real world’, it is easy to put things to an end. Artists end their own stylistic periods, musicians kill off personae/bands (“Mount Eerie is a new project. The Microphones was completed, or at least at a good stopping point. I did it because I am ready for new things. I am new.“), narratives are drawn to a close (Gold Blend couple) and we all sup the last of the tea.

I’ve noticed an odd trend of the concept of time in Digital. In ‘the past’, time has been planned, forward. Things plotted against and things made to arrive on a certain date, for a certain reason. An ad campaign would have its lifespan for as long as it could afford screenspace, newspaper ads, or billboards, or backs of buses. The product was locked into time and – because of that – had to end. Digital has given the illusion that time is some how more real now. Things are always on and always available, Day V Lately from the Yellow Pages campaign could be, right now, looking for his record in Vinyl Tap — so he will tell you about it, right now.

But what happens when he definitely is not?

He gets busy, doesn’t have time for us any more. Takes a break. Or goes on holiday:

It might be a bit facile to pick two fictional characters from ad campaigns, but they’re indicative of the difficulty in letting go. There’s the illusion that they could always come back, but there’s a slight hint of desperation — if what we’ve got lined up doesn’t work out, we’ll be back.

There’s no desire to sever the ties, but I think that’s important for getting on with new things.