Thursday, December 15, 2011

Language as a virus

Reading The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language - an overview on the current theories of language evolution - and felt very amused to find the model of language as a virus now having some currency among 'serious researchers' - given that the title of this blog comes from such a disreputable source as William S. Burroughs, based on his studies with Korzybski.

Perhaps his texts full of taboo subjects, grotesque and diseased images elicited an ugly association of the word 'virus' which hid the fact that he meant to indicate the method by which language appeared to replicate itself (something like what we now call 'memes').

You can find WSB discussing it in one of his less scary texts - The Job: interviews with William S. Burroughs - in the section called Playback from Eden to Watergate.
WSB and the Word Virus collection

"My basic theory is that the written word was actually a virus that made the spoken word possible. The word has not been recognised as a virus because it has achieved a state of symbiosis with the host, though this symbiotic realationship is now breaking down, for reasons I will suggest later."

So anyway, without getting too technical, I flipped open p. 234 of the paperback edition of The First Word, to read:

"Kirby and a number of other researcers find one metaphor especiallly useful for thinking about language: imagine that it is a virus, a nonconscious life-form that evolves independently of the animals infected by it. Just as a standard virus adapts to survival in its physical environment, the language virus adapts to survival in its environment - a complicated landscape that includes the semi-linguistic mind of the infant, the individual mind of the speaking adult, and the collective mind of communicating humans.

According to Terence Deacon, language and its human host are parasitic upon each other. 'Modern humans need the language parasite in order to flourish and reproduce just as much as it needs humans to reproduce.' "

Indeed do artists get there first.

So anyway, Korzysbski had lots to say about 'language hygiene' (or thinking clearly) just as Burroughs adopted the cut-up method to reveal underlying assumptions, prejudices and styles.

Count Alfred Koyrzybski - a marginalized, ignored or forgotten person in the main - offered a set of tools for eliminating sources of error in thinking and speaking, which would have not made him popular with the kind of people who fund research, or politicians and leaders, or advertising execs, or religious types, or... Well, you get the idea. I happen to think he had a point, and quite a few of his tools have become adopted by people without awareness of the source (perhaps).

We use 'air quotes' for dubiously used words; many scientific studies now have started to merge with the use of the hyphen (neuro-linguistic studies, socio-biological) etc, etc. The whole area of study now called NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) - whatever your reaction to those words - remains a study of how words affect us and our belief systems, and how we might need to change the words we use to think about things, to produce real change in the world. And so does the movement called Political Correctness.

Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain Terence Deacon

This review on Language Miniatures had a useful brief summary:
Copyright © 2001 by William Z. Shetter

"But is this perception really all that wide of the mark? Suppose we compare a language with something that really does have animate existence. Let's choose viruses:

  1. Like a virus, a language is an adaptive entity evolving with respect to its human hosts.

  2. Modern humans need this language parasite in order to flourish and reproduce.

  3. Humans ensure that languages, like viruses, are successfully replicated and passed on from host to host.

  4. The earlier the age at which a language or virus is acquired, the more success it will have (given the simple fact of human mortality) in reproducing from generation to generation. So language infects young children.

  5. Languages/viruses are highly organized and passed on as a complete, integrated working system, not as a collection of words/genes."
And here - at On Memetics - you will find a brief commentary on a video by Simon Kirby

“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.” AK

Too many words, too little time. In terms of 'mental hygiene', of course, most forms of meditation seem aimed at quietening the chattering monkey mind - because when that compulsive inner voice stops we might just catch a glimpse of the world...

“Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word. “ WSB

Monday, December 12, 2011

Maps and Models and Meta-languages

I just read a quirky and entertaining book about maps and how they affect how we perceive the world around us - by a self-confessed "Map Addict"- Mike Parker.

It's an excellent read, and very stimulating to thought and further exploraration. He has a particular fondness for Ordnance Survey maps of the UK, but also covers local maps, rude street names, etc - and all the way out to world maps.

I felt sorry that in discussing world maps, where he pointed out the limitations of both the Mercator projection (with which we all feel familiar, in spite of its distortions of land size) and the Peters projection (which gets areas right, but appears downright ugly, and distorts the shapes of the landmasses - terribly PC and all that, but horrible). We traditionally draw these with The Atlantic in the middle, which emphasises the apparent importance of Europe and the USA, and with North at the 'top', which also has political implications. The Upside Down map created by someone from OZ certainly exercises the mind.

Upside Down World
Of course, it perpetuates the misleading idea of 'up and down' which Bucky so disliked (in Cosmos you only find 'in' (coming in to land on a planet) and 'out' (he suggests you should think of looking out at the stars, not 'up').

Bucky Fuller's Dymaxion map may look very unfamiliar (and seeing things afresh might prove important in itself) but it does not distort landmass area or shape, it does not have any up or down, north, south, east or west, and it can actually be folded to make a good simulation of a globe (unlike any other flat map).

As Bucky disliked the idea of nation states, he preferred that his map of Spaceship Earth not get divided with national or political lines, and so, for all its value, it has not been adopted by the United Nations...or many people, indeed, who still prefer the misleading map they grew up with.

Similar discussions could follow, on how resistant we can all prove to any kind of change to the models and maps we use to simplify and understand the world. Changes in language can perhaps align us better with the world out there, as Bucky suggested (teaching your children about sunrise and sunset continues the incorrect perception of the sun going around the Earth, for instance, so he suggested sunsight and sunclipse...and how about 'going outstairs' and 'instairs'! :-)
Not sure if animated GIFs work in Blogger, so here you will find the link to bring this pic alive!

However weird some of his suggestions, they seem clearer than people in the Northern Hemisphere thinking of Australians as 'being upside down'. But hey, I don't hold my breath waiting for such quirky uses of language to catch on. Not until we have spent some time in space stations, at least.

Bucky artefacts at Artsy   [updated Oct 2016]

Friday, October 21, 2011

Voodoo Economics

I am all for the various Occupy groups drawing attention to greed and corruption, etc - but I am still waiting to hear what solutions would satisfy them.

OK, taxing the rich, capping the maximum salaries, doing something about unearned bonuses, etc. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, as far as I can see, people have also maxed out their own credit, and seem to prefer the model of 'living well' - resisting the idea of frugality, tightening yer belt, rationing - sounds like 'socialism', maybe.

However, I still have confidence in Bucky Fuller's calculations that we already have enough resources for everyone to live comfortably and well, but the resources need redistribution.

 Bill Hicks put it clearly:

I had a vision of a way we could have no enemies ever again, if you're interested in this. Anybody interested in hearing this? It's kind of an interesting theory, and all we have to do is make one decisive act and we can rid the world of all our enemies at once. Here's what we do. You know all that money we spend on nuclear weapons and defense every year? Trillions of dollars. Instead, if we spent that money feeding and clothing the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded ... not one ... we could as one race explore inner and outer space together in peace, forever.

So I guess we need to tackle more than the money men. When I was a kid in the UK I thought it would have seemed like a great and bold move for the UK to unilaterally disarm, and join the small nations who do not spend huge sums on nuclear weapons that no-one was ever going to use. It took a couple of decades for the USSR to collapse. We spent unmentionable amounts of money making arms that would never ever get used - meanwhile dismantling the National Health Service and other great supports for all citizens.

The stupidity of all that still appals me.

I think we need something drastic. If we really did consist of 99% of the people, then the Permanent Universal Rent Strike would work. We all just stop paying mortgages and rent. What can do 'They' do, evict us all?

Then we have the Permanent Universal Tax Strike, until governments begin spending what they collect on the stuff we actually want.

Alternative currencies and LETS schemes, etc - trading skills and materials without them passing through money channels.

We might consider forgiving ourselves our debts, just as we write off Third World Debt. We just all declare ourselves bankrupt, and the debts unreclaimable.

Just riffing, you understand.   I don't really expect 99% of the people to act together, sadly.

'They', the 1%, after all, carry on playing the 'print more money' model (in electronic versions) knowing full well that devalues what remains in circulation. They play at Voodoo Economics and convince us that money 'is' finite, resources are too limited, and all that.

[Update]    Here's food for thought (thanks to Vincent for the alert): Revealed, the capitalist network that runs the world, from the New Scientist.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Pyramid selling

I have no idea how one goes about 'monetizing' a blog. Most of what I read sounds like pyramid schemes, multi-level marketing, chain letters, etc. Not something I want to get involved in.

I guess if I could find some content that I thought might actually appeal to a wider audience then I would feel OK about attempting it. I suspect my own interests remain too obscure.

One Point

Anyway, for now I decided to set up a new blog which would work as a nodal point for all my scattered material. I won't completely stop posting to the specialized ones, but I think it might be time for a new 'generalist' blog.

I have set up Time Piece (it may still change its name) as a place where I can have links out to all the old experiments, defunct blogs, bits and pieces scattered about - for my own convenience - and try out the new Blogger interface (who knew that Blogger had such a small share of the market place now?)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Prurient interest

Can you imagine how the NoTW would have reported on this case?

It seemed odd to hear Rupert Murdoch proclaim his love of ‘investigative journalism’ when exactly that has exposed the flaws in the media he supported.

I must admit, one thing that struck me was how polite we all seem to be, us and our liberal society, with all our politeness and political correctness. Many of us appear restrained from comment by our ideas of ageism, sexism and racism, for instance – but his paper never was.

They’d probably have kicked off with asking how an ugly old rich man ends up with a beautiful, intelligent, feisty, oriental wife young enough to be his grand-daughter. They were proud of their campaigns against known paedophiles so they could surely not have resisted pointing out that he would have been about 50 when she reached puberty.

Don’t give me that “they love each other” crap. That wouldn't play.

I bet the NoTW didn’t say “leave them alone in peace” when John Lennon decided to divorce his English wife and marry an oriental woman older than himself.

Or when Woody Allen married his (much younger) oriental adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn – which the NoTW could probably pitch to the prurient reader as both incest and paedophilia.

The bottom line for me, in my disgust at this situation, remains the hypocrisy of pandering to people’s lowest interests (because, yes, the people who regularly bought the paper do certainly have some responsibility in the matter).

The big difference to me remains the one between a panderer (the flatterer who tells people what they want to hear, without actually believing it themselves – a two-faced person) and someone with sincere, strongly-held, even if (to you and me) misguided beliefs. I have no desire to drag people into my value systems, so if you think Jesus lives on a flat earth (or voted Conservative) it has little interest to me.

What I seriously dislike remains the hypocrisy of pandering...writing invasive, unpleasant crap - low-brow, shit-stirring, gossip - and appealing to people’s lowest instincts, just to sell papers (get rich) and feel influential, while sneering (secretly) at how dumb your punters are.

In a free society (whatever that means) I think anyone retains the right to campaign for their strongly-held beliefs, even as part of a small minority...but to urge the crowd into hysterical mob behaviour and beliefs (while yourself not personally sharing those beliefs) still seems outrageous.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Passing the Hat

Covent Garden Hat Fairs in 1973-4
Steel Band
Macrame crafts stall

Bemused crowd
Dragon Breath

The queues outside the theatres and cinemas in London attracted street performers back in the 50s, mostly musicians, some dancers. A younger crowd started to appear, as the singer-songwriter thing started to happen in the early 60s - people like Don Partridge doing one-man band, Don Crown and his busking budgies, etc.
The Raree Show
I don't quite know when the street life turned in the direction of magicians and jugglers and clowns. Myself, I had partied in the park in the late Sixties, but then went travelling for a couple of years. When I returned I had evolved a little comedy juggling and magic show, and quickly added some tumbling and slapstick, but there were no real venues for such a thing, and the street markets found me a little weird, so I was delighted when Mike Dean organised a community street festival in the embattled Covent Garden area, and negotiated with the authorities that anyone could (for the two days) arrive, put down a hat, and offer their act or display.

I was part of a commedia/clown troupe called The Raree Show, and we did quite a lot of community and street work, so we were comfortable with the idea. I also did my solo show, and (in the second year of The Covent Garden Hat Fair) a duo with Justin Case called Foolproof. It was an invitation to experiment.

In addition to music, you could have found crafts people, poets, and people like me starting out the trend to New Variety and New Circus. One of The Barrow Poets was there, and wrote a charming piece for the New Statesman, about the experience of taking part in this seminal event.

Hats in the Air

'The last week was lost a Merkin in the Coven-Garden,' reads a scurrilous little item in a 1660 news sheet. This week I saw not merkins, alas, but practically everything else was in evidence, as a vast assembly of people enjoyed a neighbourhood festival and hat fair to mark the gradual but inevitable extinction of Covent Garden. It was as a hat fair entertainer that I attended, a simple matter of performing free, and then collecting money in a hat. It's an exhilarating experience. My first taste of street busking came on Saturday, with a fellow Barrow poet, Susan Baker. We had planned some material; she had brought her violin, and I a topper decorated with balloons. Gerard and Susan
We wandered, lonely as a couple of clouds, in and out of the jazz bands and pop groups seeking a good site. There didn't seem to be one. Wherever we were, there always seemed to be some reason for not starting.

At last we diagnosed this reluctance as sheer terror, and dumped our gear on the pavement in James Street, where we stood. Susan tuned up and played a reel. When she had finished we had a crowd. I said a comic poem; we did a piece together, very jokey. They laughed. More jokes, more laughter. Bigger crowd. The adrenalin is going. Susan plays very boldly. I speak our as if addressing a large meeting. But it was getting too easy. So Susan played a Vivaldi movement. The crowd grew. I said Blake's London (How the chimney sweep's cry/Every blackening church appals). They listened, applauded. A Barrow colleague appeared down the street and spontaneously joined in.
Toby solo
A few more pieces and we signed off and took the hat round. They paid and drifted off to find Toby, the acrobatic juggler, or my brother Julian Chagrin, doing his hilarious mime, or food, drink, the children's street, the belly dancer. Later, we did another street gig. I teamed up with my brother and did a two-man minishow with him, indoors. And in the evening the full Barrow team did a rumbustious programme at the White Swan in New Row.

By late evening megalomania had set in and I determined to make real an old fantasy of mine, and tell The Miller's Tale: in public, in full, and in the original. I arranged a pitch and a time and on Sunday afternoon carried my vast paperback to the King Street piazza. To my astonishment there were people there, waiting to hear it. I opened my book, introduced myself, and started. A drunk or drugged heckler inquired the colour of the miller's pubic hair. I told him red, and he drifted off, apparently satisfied. I read the story, and most of my smallish but gradually growing crowd stayed the full 40-minute course. Half way through, a band started up. I spoke louder, hammering out those magnificent words. The listeners crowded closer. The comic climax arrived, and yet again, Geoffrey Chaucer, deceased long before the birth of the now dying Covent Garden, made us laugh. The topper, now devoid of balloons, went round and supper was assured.

From then on events seemed to kaleidoscope. I did a one-man indoor programme, carried the hat for other performers, did a spot at a music hall, and was offered a pick through boxes of old theatre costumes, was given left-over food and booze to take home. I watched the organisers sweeping the streets, saw a member of Recreation Ground moving her motor-bike to allow space to a gigantic fruit lorry that crept like a fictional monster through the narrow streets.

Near midnight, I walked along Shaftesbury Avenue anachronistically attired in bell-bottom cords, 18th-century gentleman's jacket, and topper. Some French tourists asked me the way. A white balloon blew slowly past the shop fronts and lifted out into the traffic, breathtakingly avoiding destruction. As in a mirage a huge red bus came into view. And it was going my way! Gathering my packages I chased it, caught it at the lights and jumped aboard. The hat fair was over. But no. My neighbour spoke to me. 'Thought it was you. Glad you got on. Saw you doing your poetry. How was the White Swan? I'm in the theatre too. I do costumes.' She fingered my brocade sleeve. 'That's a lovely bit of cloth. Bet you didn't get that for nothing. Well, goodbye.' She got off. The festival was over.

© Gerard Benson 1974 New Statesman 13 September 1974
Crissie and Toby take a break from The Rarees
Some kind of sculptural event?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Morning

It is this morning.
We sit across the table from each other
breakfast over
the coffee steaming in the china mugs
as you read from the magazine
and I work on the crossword puzzle
sections of the news paper spread everywhere.

You look up, smile at me
and lean across the table for a kiss,
happy for no reason but it is Sunday,
we have all day to do with as we choose.

You are so sure of me
I am afraid enough for both of us.
In my life I never imagined
a morning like this morning;
the bed unmade
me in this ragged robe
all my senses singing:
This is what we share with one another.
This is the place I keep my promises.

Jaimes Alsop

Time Past

The internet still surprises me. I went looking for some more of my old friend Jaimes Alsop's poems, as he doesn't appear to have collected them anywhere, and I found him writing on a board/forum about something I did all those decades ago!

"Years ago (late sixties) someone handed me a packet of Rizla cigarette papers (a popular brand in England). Inside was a folded cigarette paper on which was typed "Autumn Poem". When I unfolded the cigarette paper inside was the little slip that Rizla put in all the packets near the bottom as a warning the packet was getting low: "Only Five Leaves Left"

Thirty years later and I still smile over that one."

Only Five leaves left Rizla reminder
Of course, Nick Drake had also noticed that poetic phrase, and name his album Five Leaves Left.

When I returned to the UK (after a couple of years away) the little coloured slip popped up as I removed three cigarette papers. It read "Time to buy another packet" and I knew The Sixties were finally over.
Time to buy another packet

Friday, June 24, 2011

Something to do with visions

Jaimes in 1975 I had a good friend called Jaimes, in the mid-Sixties, who let me sleep on his sofa, inspired me with pranks and poetry, and made me laugh a lot.

It was the era of the singer/songwriter, and he was a poet, but he didn't make a living as a musician.
Later he went to the USA and a couple of years later, when I got my own adventure legs under me, I decided to drop in for coffee (in Palo Alto) without warning him I was on the way. He dealt with a hippie ghost turning up from a previous life really graciously, and again sheltered me until I got my second wind - then launched me out.

He just died a couple of days ago. We had made some internet contact in the last year or two, through his daughter.

I found this poem of his from 1969, in an old folder of writings...

Something to do with visions

It was something I had to tell you
Diane, it was all caught up with the morning
Something to do with visions

There were no visions today
I noticed particularly
There were no visions today, Diane
Perhaps they had all gone home

Today I was not deceived by your arteries
And though I searched your shoes and comb
I found no traces of gold
Even when I investigated my fingernails
There was no gold
Today love, you must have walked upon the ground

It was something to do with me
Today I was older than my generation
I refused to protect you from your virtue
There are too many, I said, too many already
in chains of flowers and April

They didn’t know about your perfume
They thought I was talking about seasons

It was something I had to tell you
I wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget
Something to do with visions
My eyes are rimmed with a fine and precious dust.

Monday, May 23, 2011

(May You Stay) Forever Young

Dylan at the piano To wish His Bobness a happy 70th birthday seems more or less like holding up a lighter in a crowd of thousands. To get rid of the old shibboleth about his singing voice, if you don’t like it then just think of his records as rough demos sent in by a songwriter – for you to grab and interpret.

His back catalogue of about 450 songs must include something you like, even if you didn’t know he wrote it! Watch Ab Fab, and that ‘Wheels On Fire’ song (The Julie Driscoll version), for instance, or Jimi Hendrix pouncing on ‘All Along The Watchtower’.
On the road
At one time or another he plundered, enhanced, transformed and re-created most genres of American music – both the cool and the (at the time) uncool. From Rock to Blues, Country to Folk and Gospel (even Punk) he inspired just about everyone to re-investigate their roots, and then bring them into the NOW.

He encouraged The Beatles to give up pop music and cover versions and write their own stuff; his example must have helped The Stones get away from reproducing ‘old Blues Men’ and write modern blues; he made Johnny Cash cool; even his Christian ‘phase’ gave the gospel crew some great songs.

He broke the three minute song taboo; he created maybe the first video to go with a song.

In most tribute shows people still forage through the ‘folk era’ (with those great, timeless, mythical and archetypal images) and the social conscience songs of the ‘protest’ period. They miss the jokes. It’s hard to do jokes.

A notable exception (for me) was K T Tunstall, closing an otherwise rather mournful 'tribute show' with fresh, life-enhancing versions of the first two songs on Blood on the Tracks. (I'd have happily listened to her recreate the whole album!
Live onstage
Very few people seem to tackle his output of the last twenty years, even if he continues to write prolifically, and occasionally astound us with something unique that doesn’t belong to any of the previous music categories. Perhaps these songs are so personal that they work best through his unique delivery, his actor’s expressiveness, breath control and sense for story-telling – the words on the page often don’t capture his particular use of the voice and images.

Instead of vacuous love songs, cheating songs and breaking up songs, Dylan gave us a whole adult range of love and hurt and regret, bitterness, sadness, reconciliation, acceptance, and forgiveness. He expanded the vocabulary of song-writing.

But hey, if you still don’t like the voice (and he’s actually been through several styles) listen to some of the hundreds of cover versions, and you will find not just amazing words but great tunes. He can do stadium singalong anthems, or simple, cheerful versions, even of the same song – for instance, the two versions of Forever Young on ‘Planet Waves'. He famously doesn’t like sounding like the album, or even like last night’s live version, or doing too many takes in a studio. He remains a spontaneous performer, who likes surrounding himself with great musicians, and playing live.
His recent outing as a DJ on XM Radio, that the BBC bought for the UK (even if he was assisted by researchers) demonstrated the range of music he loves, appreciates and understands – as well as displaying his rueful and deadpan sense of humour (that so many people miss).

Happy birthday, Bob!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fossil Poetry

By virtue of this science the poet is the Namer, or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence, and giving to every one its own name and not another's, thereby rejoicing the intellect, which delights in detachment or boundary.

The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses for, though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at a stroke of genius, and obtained currency, because for the moment it symbolizes the world to the first speaker and to the hearer.

The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry. As the limestone of the continent consists of infinite masses of the shells of animalcules, so language is made up of images, or tropes, which now, in their secondary use, have long ceased to remind us of their poetic origin. But the poet names the thing because he sees it, or comes one step nearer to it than any other. This expression, or naming, is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree.

What we call nature, is a certain self-regulated motion, or change; and nature does all things by her own hands, and does not leave another to baptise her, but baptises herself; and this through the metamorphosis again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson: Essays: Second Series [1844] The Poet

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Mind Maps, WebBrains, creative thinking...

A couple of years ago I took an online course studying to work as a Net Trainer. Like most qualifications I ever studied for, it has not proved directly relevant to anything I actually do to earn my bio-survival tickets and tokens.

Study does seem to stimulate the brain, though - and when the bodymind improves, the quality of life seems to improve, too. And, indirectly, most things I learn prove relevant in some way. So I have stumbled over the Personal Brain software, that I investigated back then, when looking at mind-mapping software. I couldn't work out if it was just a gimmick, or potentially so much more. It's certainly expensive once you move beyond the free personal brain trial level. Maybe it suits business models better?

Anyway, while procrastinating about writing, I work on projects - Beta Scrivener for Windows, learning Windows 7, looking back at my studies, getting into a Ning social networking and study group with some friends, collating my circus history stuff, using a free Wikispaces space.

And I reactivated the rather dull blog I created at the time of my Net Trainers study - when I was trying to deadpan the formal 'tutor' look. It really doesn't suit me very well, as my bohemian self seems to have emerged again as I turn retirement age and find my self playing Grandfather.

I have also taken a look at the old website, to see whether I should demolish it (it still serves a purpose) or give it a make-over. Currently just tweaking a few pages.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yolande Philpott - Aromatherapist

I am glad my daughter has put up a website, so you can now contact her easily. Yolande Philpott - Aromatherapist and Holistic Massage Practitioner

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Act Without Words

I just went to see one of NoFit State's new projects - still in development, and preparing to launch further afield, I hope. Mundo Paralelo (parallel world)

I loved it!

I've seen a lot of shows in my life, more in my youth (when live shows were more or less the only option) and less recently (when I can use YouTube to catch acts I missed in the past, or simply want to see again, like the wonderful George Carl.)

Live shows remain quite different from recordings of any kind. So to see a live show in a small and intimate theatre remains a treat.

To put this in context - if you don't follow my life, my stream of thought, my previous experiences, etc - I worked in an area which people tend to call 'circus skills' but which seem just as at home in the theatre world when called Music Hall, Variety and Vaudeville, or even on the street.

Traditional 'circus' focused entirely around these kind of acts, whereas theatre-based shows merely used them as filler between comedians and singers, and other 'top of the bill' acts. The performers of specialty acts had to keep moving on, as they had spent years honing these brief but strenuous displays and always had to seek out new audiences. Singers could learn new songs and come back next week, just as comedians could get some new jokes.

I always had a love for these acts that specialized and dedicated insane hours to perfecting something out of the ordinary - but they almost got killed by television, which would show those perfect five minutes (a life's work) to a few million people and then ask "what else do you do, for next week?"

At least they could travel outside of their language zones, as non-verbal acts work almost anywhere in the world. So they traveled endlessly.

In the second half of the twentieth century new acts didn't have places to hone and polish their routines (like the old Variety and Vaudeville circuits) and circus and variety were 'dying out' (although rumours of their death were perhaps premature). A whole new world emerged from fringe and experimental theatre actors and cabaret artistes mingling with performance artists, seeking new venues, reviving and combining old skills, and creating new audiences.

'New circus' (so-called) opened opportunities for supporting and developing this very popular aspect of the performing arts. It created mutant performers - part variety, part actor, part dancer...

NoFit State (in 25 years) has always experimented - moving from alittle Big Top with family-oriented shows, to warehouse-based community-involvement shows all the way up to an international touring show in their unique venue (the UFO tent), drawing on many influences, and creating a distinct company profile which has attracted a range of international performers, designers and directors to work with them.

The recent ambient shows, aimed at young adults, have felt more like being in a club with wonderful stuff happening all around you.

Now NoFit State have begun work on creating a show that could work within the traditional proscenium arch theatre, but not in the form of a play. Many theatre buildings started out filled with the dramatic effects possible within the frame of the stage - trapdoors, revolving scenery, and other special effects - but once film took over they stopped competing in that magical realm, and reverted to some kind of 'flat' realism.

Mundo Paralelo returns to the magical roots of theatre, using all the resources of the hidden spaces in the wings, below the stage, and up in the flies.

The child giggling through the first ten minutes felt like the audience to work for - as the performers exploited all the tricks possible in a theatre, that touring circus is deprived of.
Circus has always been a sculpture, something seen in three dimensions, with very few 'secrets'.

In a theatre it is possible to play with the hidden areas, flying things in and out. We had a music soundtrack (supplemented by live musicians on stage) but no language as such - just humans entering and leaving the stage every which way. I don't intend to break down the show into individual parts, just yet, simply to exclaim at what fun it is to see such a show. Something that doesn't rely on language to be enjoyed. Something full of glee.

A show that makes a child giggle, as well as an adult smile.

It seems worth remembering that the Surrealists loved Circus and Variety (as opposed to the literary, bourgeois theatre of the Academy Francais, etc.) References to Beckett might seem pretentious, but Waiting For Godot works best performed by great clowns like Max Wall (the bowler hat business comes straight from Laurel and Hardy). In Act Without Words I Beckett experimented with an empty stage; a bewildered protagonist teased by ropes lowering objects down from the flies, some simple stage props like cubic boxes; the performer like a rat in a maze, trapped might be very deadpan, but Beckett really should make you laugh and sigh (he, like Joyce and many other funny writers got claimed by the po-faced intelligensia).

I loved the emotion in this Mundo Paralelo show, and the laughs, the gasps and sighs. When the performers don't voice an opinion about what you are witnessing it becomes essential that the audience create a soundtrack (I don't mean canned laughter) just as they had to when challenged by the silence of the wonderful (wonder full)mime of Marcel Marceau in his prime alone on stage, or (for instance) the unique Mummenshanz - who defied all categories of mime, mask, puppet, dance and comedy - transfixing a worldwide audience with a unique show, in which the audience formed the only soundtrack.

Mundo Parelelo seems full of possibilities to me. In this, its first week, it achieved a magical level of universal theatre - something that works outside of language limitations. I so look forward to its development and evolution.

My thanks to all the company and crew that provided the show this evening, and I wish you luck in pitching it to the wider world. Either way, and whatever your fate, thank you for a magical evening that reminded me of the best shows I saw as a child, all of which made me want to play in the arts in the first place. Recommended! Delightful!

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Back Story

Work on the autobiography has slowed down...some of it has been computer problems (but those are excuses, while I still have pen and paper), some (as ever) technical problems with writing, itself.

How much do I remember? How much old archive stuff can I find to refer to? What can one safely say about people still living (in terms of their privacy, not in terms of being rude about them!)

I don't bear any grudges, to speak of (a few scars, maybe). As one get older it becomes possible to take a wider view of experiences...when I became an adult and an incompetent parent I became much more forgiving of my own parents (I realise they did they best in the circumstances they found themselves in).

Forgiveness feels so much better, anyway - forget the religious advice, or the moral stance. Forgiveness (even if only one-sided and not mutual) drops a whole burden of resentment, guilt, and other negative emotions.

I don't write this in expectation that many people outside my intimate circle would necessarily find it interesting (although I guess I have a pool of Star Wars fans who might find some of it interesting - and even people who wonder how New Circus emerged in the second half of the Twentieth Century. But I don't kid myself.

If no-one else, I would like my descendants to have a few clues to follow, as my own dad's early life seem wreathed in mystery to me. So for Yolande Philpott, my daughter from The Sixties, and her daughter Matilda (who thinks of me as Grandpa Toby, a role I love); for Keili Jorge Philpott (my son from The Seventies, now living in Oz) and for Finlay Pearl (who will reach the age of 16 this year) I want to put down at least a little of what I experienced, why I acted as I did, and made the decisions I did, etc.

It has been a fun life to live, maybe I can turn some of it into an interesting read.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Easy Come, Easy Go

A parable from the Sufi as retold by Robert Anton Wilson

A man who had studied much in the schools of wisdom
finally died in the fullness of time and found himself
at the Gates of Eternity.

An angel of light approached him and said, "Go no further,
O mortal, until you have proven to me your worthiness
to enter into Paradise!"

But the man answered, "Just a minute now. First of all, can
you prove to me this is a real Heaven, and not just
the wild fantasy of my disordered mind undergoing death?"

Before the angel could reply, a voice from inside the gates
"Let him in - he's one of us!"

Sunday, February 06, 2011

To buy, or not to buy? That is the question.

I have to entirely rethink my online life right now. The big hard drive (onto which I had put data from a couple of old HDs) died, but it never got on with the old motherboard, and Microsoft don't like to support XP Home any more, and so on.

It seems pretty symbolic that this PC base should pretty well die on me, as I approach 65.

I have enjoyed getting under the hood for a decade, but I have switched to wanting to write (or 'create content' as we now say) and not have to tinker with the software/hardware all the time.

The first clue was Scrivener Beta not installing, then updates not working, and the whole pack of cards slowly collapsed as I chased the bug.

I now have the choice to carry on cannibalising old machines, and bodging together bits and pieces from the cupboard, forcing them to work together and all that. Or just finally let it go (like the boxes of cassettes, old videos, and other stuff that lies around - data untranslated, probably never to be accessed again).

Beyond a couple of little panics, do I care about what was on that big hard drive? It was mostly stuff imported from older drives, and I have some backup on a 250Gb external drive, and some USB sticks, and such, so I doubt very much is missing...

I may clear my workstation, and just plug the netbook into the monitor, etc, when I get home, and use that. Or buy a new base, probably with Windows 7 - and have to go through all that re-installing of bought software, compatibility issues, finding old license numbers, etc. Or even skip the whole base thing, and go for a simple laptop to complement the netbook.

Meanwhile, this post is coming from an old HD dropped into the base and stumbling on...

I'll make the choice this week.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Lack of Resolve

I don't make resolutions for the 'New Year', myself, and not just because I hate making empty promises to myself, or don't buy an arbitrary change in date as the start of a cycle.

Most resolutions look (to me) like remorseful hangover promises along the lines of "I'll never do that again" - although usually tempered to something more achievable like eating less, drinking less, spending less, stopping smoking and getting more exercise.

I suspect it would work better if people made those resolutions on December 1st, so they didn't get themselves physically damaged and in financial difficulties in the first place, during the holiday period.

But hey, it's easy for me to say.

And people make further attempts after their summer holidays (having lazed around and over-indulged). Still, a tan can hide a multitude of unhealthy pastimes.

So, no, I don't make promises I can't keep... As Yoda says - in a voice pitched somewhere between Fozzy Bear and Miss Piggy (sorry Frank) "Do, or not do. There is no 'try'."
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