Thursday, 23 June 2011

Enter Night

I've been up to a few things recently. Most of all, my little boy had chicken pox. Which is horrible, and I sympathise with all parents who have to see their littleuns go through it.

I've decided I need to get fit. After being told last year that my blood pressure is high (and hitting 13 and a half stone at one point) I've got back on the exercise bike and got my sweat on. So far so good (it's been a week or two only. I also tried running, but bugger me sideways if that's not the most ridiculously difficult way to keep fit… I'll keep at it though. As a teenager I was hellaciously fit, playing tennis, basketball, football, rugby and so on. Then I stopped and aside from the odd weights session, and a year going to the gym, I've not kept at it. I will though, and you should hold me to it right here if I don't…

I've been reading Enter Night, the Metallica biography by Mick Wall. It's no secret that I'm a huge Metallica fan. I've seen them play five times, own all the albums, numerous bootlegs, and have played in tribute bands, having at one point or another learnt how to play all their songs (apart from Blackened. The main riff is a complete fucker). It's a fascinating book and I've learnt tons more than I knew before about the band who shaped my teenage years. If you are in any way interested in the band, or the music business, I would highly, highly recommend this book.

And finally, being as it's disclosure time, I'm an enormous Lord of the Rings geek. Like big time. I know all the names of the characters, who they're related to, their lineage and so on. I've read the Silmarillion… Twice.  So of course I'm enormously excited about Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit. Not released until December 2012, they've just released the first photos, and bugger me if I didn't have a complete nerdgasm over Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and the first glimpse of Thorin Oakenshield.

Until next time peeps, keep it frosty.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The kings of loving it

I’m a keen musician, and as long as I can remember I’ve loved music. I remember recording songs into my nan and grandad’s stereo. I’ve played guitar for the last 15 years, and I’ve got fairly good at it, I think…

I remember the pure joy of working out songs and playing along to them all night on a cheap guitar while I was at uni. The neighbours must have hated me!

I’ve not really done anything truly creative for a while though. Recently I recorded a couple of tunes that I played as an acoustic solo artist from around 2005-2007. They were pretty good and I want to do some more, but creatively there just didn’t seem to be the time to do it.

But I found another place to release my musical passion. A friend, Mr Simon Ball, arranges a regular tribute band night, the Allstars. Now, a few years back the very concept of tribute bands would have turned my stomach, but there’s something about this. It brings together some of the most talented musicians in Leicester to play songs that they love.

Over the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to play with some incredibly gifted musicians, and indulge some of my rockstar fantasies. I’ve covered Nirvana, Velvet Revolver, Feeder, Terrorvision, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam. It’s made me realize how many sickeningly talented people there are out there, who can come together and put together a pretty damn good ‘tribute’ (gah! Hate the phrase) band in less than four practices.

I’ve also realized a couple of personal ‘do it before you dies’, in playing a full hours worth of Metallica, which plain rocked out. A friend coined us “the kings of loving it” due to the sheer joy we seemed to have being onstage. 

I also helped organize and played a full tribute to Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age, which though it was at the other end of the scale technically, for the sheer unadulterated blast of noise, it almost surpassed the Metallica one.

I think the reason these nights work so well, is that there’s no pretence, no bullshit. Other tribute bands might get paid. We don’t. We do it for the sheer love of music, and the enjoyment of performing to people who want to rock out. Think of it as a live jukebox. Oh… And it’s free.

I guess the thing is, that it’s the closest thing I’ve found to the childish fun of recording nursery rhymes on your nan and grandad’s stereo. And that’s what ‘loving it’ is all about.

All watched over by machines of loving grace

Well, this is my blog. So hello. I don't really do introductions, so let's just say, I enjoy writing, I enjoy sports (especially rugby), I'm a gamer, a musician, and a dad. I work in HE, and I'm probably not going to mention that any more unless I'm promoting myself. So, on to interestingness…

Last night I watched the final part of All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, the three part documentary by Adam Curtis.

I'm trying to digest what it was that he was trying to do with the whole thing, each part seemed to have a distinct theme, the first  looking at how Ayn Rand's 'selfish' philosophy of objectivism was embraced by capitalists of the late 20th century, and how it led to the decimation of world money markets thanks to an over-reliance on technology, the humans believing it infallible.

The second programme looked at the ecosystem and the dangers of using technology and 'machine think' to tackle natural systems. The problem being that natural systems are too chaotic and have far too many parts to them to ever be able to effectively simulate.

The third went further by looking at how humans have applied these systems and technologies to their own behaviour. Through the prism of Africa, we saw how mining companies exploited the resources, and western governments stirred up tensions in order to exploit weak leadership. In the background was the idea of the 'selfish gene', that we are controlled by an in-built 'computer program' which cares for nothing expect self-replication, at the expense of us.

It was easy to see the conceit, that we have ceded our own responsibility to systems and machines. They are the 'genes' that drive us, and we are controlled by them, because we no longer think of something we can control. From the reliance on the computers controlling the money markets in the first programme, through the trust in computer systems modelling natural systems and behaviour, later shown to be wrong, through to our latest ideas about genes and control, with the open ended question, is this another system we're putting too much trust in?

The lack of responsibility is given greater resonance by showing the damage our reliance on technology causes. It's hard not to feel moved by the fact that wars in Africa, and the problems in Zaire/The Congo appear to be caused by the mineral deposits there, and the control of that land that our addiction to technology requires. With images of the Rwandan genocide and war in the Congo, it was chilling stuff… But nothing was as chilling as the company man at the start of the programme reassuring his shareholder that the genocide would not affect profits, stating "we don't care about it".

I can see why technologists hate this programme, criticism on Twitter has been vehement, it takes aim at many of their sacred cows, and gives them both barrels. I've not even gone into the criticism of commodification of the self that is inherent in online publishing (and see the irony of expounding on it here!) It's not necessarily always on target, but Curtis makes excellent links, and leaves pretty much everything open ended. It's the sort of documentary to make you think, and one that needs much more discussion.