Brian Micklethwait's Blog

In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Monday April 27 2015

One of my favourite buildings that I’ve never seen is the recently completed (quite recently completed - 2008) Oslo Opera House, which looks like this:

image

Sooner or later, some big public building was bound to be built like this, with a roof that doubles up as a big public open space, where you can walk to the highest spot on the building’s roof, without once having to go indoors.

Oslo Opera has become a new landmark for the city and proved an instant success with both locals and tourists.

And of course, that roof doesn’t have to be the bland and featureless desert that this one is, in this picture.  Sooner or later, it will acquire roof clutter!  Perhaps it already has.

As entire cities compete with one another for tourists, buildings like this, with walkabout roofs, will surely become ever more common, as ever more tourists search, as I search, for places up in the sky from which to take tourist snaps.  It is no accident that I found the above picture and quote at a site called Visit Norway.  (Although sadly, this Visit Norway site fucks with the links and causes them not to work, and these fucked links also fuck with subsequent links which are none of Visit Norway’s damn business. This caused me major problems, until I just stripped out all Visit Norway linkage, at which point sanity was restored.  So if you care, you’ll have to find the damn place for yourself.  I think Visit Norway was trying to help. It failed.  Norway, sort this out.)

Even as I praise this building, I make no judgement about what goes on inside it.  The point of these “iconic” buildings - horizontal Big Things - you might say, is that they are fun to visit, regardless of their mere indoor contents.  See also: Tate Modern.  After all, one of the advantages of a roof like this is that the roof can be enjoyed even as the inside of the building can be entirely ignored.

What got me writing about this Oslo building was a recent posting at Dezeen, featuring another proposed building by the same architects, Snohetta (which has a forward slash through the “o") which uses the same trick, of people being able to walk up to the top in a big zig zag.  This time it is a museum in Budapest:

image

And oh look, I went to the Sn o-with-forward-slash hetta website, and here is another Snohetta proposal, using the same trick, for another opera house, this time in Busan, South Korea:

image

With the design of the Busan Opera, the opera is no longer a passive playground for the elite but becomes interactive, democratic space, responding to the public’s ambitions and interests.

This is architect speak for:

People can walk about on the roof and take photos without having to sit through some stupid damn opera.

And oh look, again.  Snohetta have also proposed that a new media centre in Vienna should look like this:

image

London awaits you, Snohettans.

I find writing about music very difficult, because … why bother?  I like what I like and you like what you like.  Either this is a music blog, in which case we can all agree about how right I am to like the music which I like (which you like also), or it is not.  And, it is not.

Nevertheless, here is a blog posting which is sort of about music, except that really it is about how the mind works, which this blog is often about.

On Saturday morning, I was woken by my alarm clock to make sure that I started the recorder on my radio to record CD Review, which I duly did, very dozily.  I then, dozily, heard the announcer telling me that I was about to listen to Beethoven’s First Symphony, first movement, and I duly listened.

Beethoven’s First Symphony has a very particular start which is, if you know the piece, instantly recognisable.  However, I have not known it, in the sense of hearing it and knowing with certainty that this was Beethoven’s First Symphony, until last Saturday morning.  I could recognise the tune and hum and conduct along with it, but I was unable to tell you which piece it was with complete confidence, the way I could and can with all Beethoven symphonies from Third to Ninth.  I might well have guessed it right, but it would still have been a guess.  But this time, I am pretty sure that hearing that very recognisable opening of Beethoven’s First together with being told immediately before it began that this was what it was may actually have stuck in my head, as a twinned pair of facts.

This was because I was half awake, but not fully awake, I think.  I was, I surmise, in a highly “suggestible” state.  I think that’s the word the psychologists use.

The reason that all of this matters to me is that, as I get older, I find that getting to “know” a piece of music, as in: going from knowing it as a piece of music to knowing it as a piece of music and also being able to identify it, going from knowing it to knowing what it is, is becoming a rather rare experience.  There is lots of music that I know in the sense of being able to hum along with it and of knowing approximately what is about to happen next, but as the decades roll by, I still can’t identify these pieces.  The pieces I got to know well when I was young are like a fixed catalogue of pieces I know and can identify, rather than something that is expanding steadily.  The catalogue is only expanding very slowly.

You may say: But merely knowing or not knowing the mere label of something is rather a superficial matter.  Well yes, that may be.  But I don’t think knowing the label of a piece of music prevents me from getting to know it more in all the deeper and more meaningful senses.  Rather the reverse.  Knowing what the music “is” frees my mind to concentrate on all of the more interesting things about what the music “is”, as opposed to the superficiality of what its mere label is.

Sunday April 26 2015

Three exclamation marks in the title there, because this is the third time I’ve had cause to mention this strange habit, of writing about newly designed houses (in this case a newly adapted house) where there are lots of Wires in all the outside pictures, but The Wires never get a mention.

Here:

image

But at least, what with this house being yellow instead of white, we see an architect thinking in colour.  Soon, soon I tell you, the floodgates of architectural colour will open.

Saturday April 25 2015

Brians plural?  Yes, it looks like both the driver and his mate are Brians.

Incoming from Goddaughter 2:

image

Reproduced here with the permission of Goddaughter 2’s glamorous friend.

I like the extra three front headlights.

I don’t like all the creepy stuffed animals in the window.

Friday April 24 2015

I’d been meaning to check out that big Shiny Thing outside in the courtyard of the Royal Academy in Piccadilly, ever since Mick Hartley gave it a mention at his blog, with a photo, way back on April 8th.  Earlier this week I finally got around to doing this, and I took lots of the usual photographs that you would expect me to have taken, of which these are two:

imageimage

Click on the left, and that shows what this Shiny Thing is like, in its present context.  I loved the Shiny Thing itself, as my picture on the right illustrates.  In there I see things like Darth Vader.  And, rather smaller, I think I also see a naked woman there.  Also, there is something vaguely feline about this shape, with its pointing ear-like attachments.  Endless photographic fun, especially with the evening light warming up the colours of the surrounding courtyard buildings.

But, I found the rest of this agglomeration rather less interesting.  If the idea was to create some interesting reflections, then blander shapes next to the Shiny Thing would have worked better.  As it is, the wooden pointy thing, in itself nice enough, is by comparison rather mundane and the black frame that the wooden pointy thing and the Shiny Thing are held up by is ungainly, obtrusive and, to me, when I actually saw it, downright ugly.  I mean, did the creator of the equally shiny Chicago Bean feel the need to stick a lot of other crap right next to it to be reflected in it, given that there was already a city there?  No he did not.

But I guess if you are Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, you feel the need to do something arbitrary.  Mere Platonic symmetry doesn’t do it.  A merely beautiful Shiny Thing won’t serve your purpose.  It would dilute your brand.  Anyone could have done that.  There had to be something there which would get people saying: Why did he do that?  Come to that, who the hell is he?  So that they can be told that it was done by Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, and so that Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, can supply an answer about what he thought he was doing when he, Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, did what he did, like this:

The contrasting materials employed in the sculpture, the natural wood against the highly finished metal, the differing treatments of space in the line-drawn star and the round curves of the solid star, create a tension and sense of the works being both repelled and attracted to each other at a fixed distance by an invisible force field.

Maybe if I go back and take some more snaps of this Shiny Thing, I will decide that I find the other crap next to it not so crappy after all.  The other crap certainly looks better in the shots at the other end of the link above than it did to me, on the spot. And, if it was necessary for Frank Stella Hon RA to ponder the contrasts between a wooden thing and a shiny thing and black metal stuff to get Frank Stella Hon RA, one of the most important living American artists, to have made a very entertaining Shiny Thing, then fine. Whatever it took.

Thursday April 23 2015

I am reading In Defence of History by Richard J. Evans.  The attackers are the post-modernists.  In Chapter 3 ("Historians and their facts"), Evans writes about how evidence considered insignificant in one era can become highly significant in a later era:

The traces left by the past, as Dominick LaCapra has observed, do not provide an even coverage of it.  Archives are the product of the chance survival of some documents and the corresponding chance loss or deliberate destruction of others.  They are also the products of the professional activities of archivists, which therefore shape the record of the past and with it the interpretations of historians.  Archivists have often weeded out records they consider unimportant, while retaining those they consider of lasting value.  This might mean for example destroying vast and therefore bulky personnel files on low-ranking state employees such as ordinary soldiers and seamen, manual workers and so on, while keeping room on the crowded shelves for personnel files on high state officials.  Yet such a policy would reflect a view that many historians would now find outmoded, a view which considered ‘history’ only as the history of the elites.  Documents which seem worthless to one age, and hence ripe for the shredder, can seem extremely valuable to another.

Let me give an example from my personal experience.  During research in the Hamburg state archives in the I98os, I became aware that the police had been sending plain-clothes agents into the city’s pubs and bars during the two decades or so before the First World War to gather and later write down secret reports of what was being said in them bysocialist workers.  The reports I saw were part of larger files on the various organizations to which these workers belonged.  Thinking it might be interesting to look at a wider sample, I went through a typewritten list of the police files with the archivist, and among the headings we came across was one which read: ‘Worthless Reports’. Going down into the muniment room, we found under the relevant call-number a mass of over 20,000 reports which had been judged of insufficient interest by the police authorities of the day to be taken up into the thematic files where I had first encountered this material. It was only by a lucky chance that they had not already been destroyed. They turned out to contain graphic and illuminating accounts of what rank-and-file socialist workers thought about almost every conceivable issue of the day, from the Dreyfus affair in France to the state of the traffic on Hamburg’s busy streets. Nobody had ever looked at them before. Historians of the labour movement had only been interested in organization and ideology.  But by the time I came to inspect them, interest had shifted to the history of everyday life, and workers’ views on the family, crime and the law, food, drink and leisure pursuits, had become significant objects of historical research.  It seemed worth transcribing and publishing a selection, therefore, which I did after a couple of years’ work on them.  The resulting collection showed how rank-and-file Social Democrats and labour activists often had views that cut right across the Marxist ideology in which previous historians thought the party had indoctrinated them, because previous historians had lacked the sources to go down beyond the level of official pronouncements in the way the Hamburg police reports made it possible to do. Thus from ‘worthless reports’ there emerged a useful corrective to earlier historical interpretations. This wonderful material, which had survived by chance, had to wait for discovery and exploitation until the historiographical climate had changed. 

Wednesday April 22 2015

Another of those pictures from the archives that gets better with age.  Can you see why?

image

Well, let me tell you.  In the foreground (perhaps that should be “forewater") is the Thames Barrier, looking as it always did, and looking as it does now.  But right in the middle, in the distance there, between the two nearer buildings, is the Shard.  But not the Shard as we know it.  The Shard when it was big enough to be hugely impressive, but when it was still under construction.

Taken in January 2011.

Tuesday April 21 2015

Yesterday, while walking along the sharp right kink at the top end of Horseferry Road, which I do a lot, I looked up into the bright blue sky and beheld things of colourful beauty.  What do you suppose it is?:

image

Does this make it any clearer?:

image

Clear for those to whom it is now clear, but still not very clear for most, is my guess.

Try this:

image

Yes, it’s a Big 4.  And if you still don’t know what it is, apart from it being a Big 4, it is the Big 4 outside the fantastically over-the-top front door of Channel 4 TV HQ.

This Big 4 has changed a lot over the years.  (You can see a few of those changes in among all this google-search-imagery.) Different artists and designers have taken it in turns to adorn its metal skeleton in a succession of different colours and costumes.  The above is merely the latest iteration of this process.  And definitely one of the better ones, I think.

I like how the colours all vanish once you get straight in front of the 4, and all you get is a relatively bland white 4.  The effect is calculated to resemble the fleeting glimpse of the 4 that you get in the various intros you see just before Channel 4 shows on the telly.  Note also how the sun at that particular later afternoon time of day picked out the white bits of the Big 4, while leaving the stuff behind it in relative darkness.  I still don’t really understand how this happened, but I definitely like it.

The bad news, however, is that to get that particular Big 4 picture from the exact right place, you need to be standing in the middle of the road that turns south off Horseferry Road, past the left hand side of C4HQ, as we look at it, and at exactly the spot where the pavement would have been, right next to Horseferry Road itself.

So, finally, what we now see is the exact moment when a car came up right behind me and honked loudly, anxious to get past me and out of Horseferry Road instead of being stuck right in it, and honked at in its turn by angry cars behind it. 

image

I immediately jumped out of the car’s way, and it politely waved thankyou as soon as it had made its slightly relieved way past me.

A lot of cars deliver and collect a lot of people to and from that exact spot, and they must get this a lot.

Monday April 20 2015

It is more important to me that I get to bed at a sensible hour than it is that I do some sensible blogging before getting to bed.  So, another sign:

image

But this time, instead of them doing something a bit strange, it’s me doing something very silly.

Photographed by me in Walthamstow, yesterday.

Good night, and I’ll try to do better tomorrow.

Sunday April 19 2015

I took this snap of a sign, in Chinatown (London manifestation of), just off Charing Cross Road:

image

What I like about it is how they had to add the English language explanation of what hair “magic” actually involves.  Presumably the oriental characters make it clear to orientals what’s on sale here.  But at first, the English weren’t buying.  I mean, “magic”?  Could be anything or nothing.  Hypnosis?  Pills?  Herbalism?  Magic mud of some sort?  Clearly the English needed further elaboration, however much it spoiled the original splendour of the original sign.

But alas, the nature of the service on offer, once explained, descended in one word from the transcendental to the commonplace.

Saturday April 18 2015

At the point where the east end of Oxford Street connects to the south end of Tottenham Court Road, marked by Centre Point, there is now much building activity.  Centre Point itself is being turned from offices into swanky apartments.  And at the bottom of Centre Point there is to be a new Crossrail station which is being attached at vast expense to what is already a complicated tube junction stroke station.

Urban building activity is often described as being like a wound.  But for me, such a temporary space is a photo-opportunity.  It opens up unfamiliar views of clutter clusters, of entertaining comings together of and alignments of the temporary and the permanent, the ancient and the modern, the mechanical or the eletrical and the architectural.

Here are a few shots I recently took just to the south of Centre Point:

image image imageimage image image

Mostly quite (to me) anonymous stuff, but with a couple of bits of favourite modern architecture in there, the BT Tower and that colourful Piano clump.

Soon, most if not all of these views will be gone.

Friday April 17 2015

Here, having had pride (which I think you will agree is appropriate for a big cat) of place in David Thompson’s latest collection of ephemera:

image

Originally, I think, here.  I also found more here

The catification of the internet continues.

This big cat head isn’t now for sale, apparently.  But I bet that it, or something a lot like it, soon will be.

Abusive internet comments are usually very tedious.  But, having never heard this gag before, I liked this one.

Following the alleged threat by US politician John McCain to kick the s*** out of another US politician, Harry Reid, a commenter commented (April 16 12:43am):

(Harry Reid) – s*** = 0

Here in the UK, our politicians seldom issue such threats to one another.  They are, alas, almost all of them on the same side.

Thursday April 16 2015

Around ten days ago, I took lots of rest (the medical term for sleeping) during the day, and then couldn’t sleep properly at night. Since then the lurgy has persisted and I haven’t really got back to sane hours.

In the meantime, what did not help - did not help at all - was the latest from Madame Harry Potter, who now, some of the time, goes by the name of Robert Galbraith.  I read the first Cormoran Strike tale when it came out, and a few days back I was awake all night reading number two.  It was daylight when I finished it.

One of the many things I like about Cormoran Strike is that he operates in London.  His lair is a flat on top of one of the shops in Denmark Street, which is London’s pop musical instrument street.

Here is a clutch of Denmark Street photos I took recently:

image image imageimage image image

Lots of amateurish reflections there, in among the occasional deliberate ones, but what the hell?  I am an amateur.  (Spot the selfie.)

That grey-blue front door (on the right of the picture bottom middle) is how I imagine/presume Strike’s front door to look.

Having kept up with all the Rebus books, I found it much more fun actually knowing a lot of the places haunted by The Detective.  And with this in mind, I have now started on this first crime novel by Tony Parsons.  All this searching has just told me that it is the first of three.  This is (these are) also set in London.  This morning I was reading about The Detective visiting something called Westminster Public Mortuary in Horseferry Road, which is a five minute walk away from where I live.  (The Tony Parsons detective is called DC “Max Wolfe”.  Why can’t fictional detectives ever be called something like Colin Snail or Brian Sludge or John Watson?)

“Robert Galbraith“‘s Cormoran Strike is a freelance, but Max Wolfe is regular police, so he often visits New Scotland Yard, which is not much further away from me than that Mortuary, another five minutes walk in the same direction.  Here is a photo I took of New Scotland Yard from the roof of my block, in 2006:

image

London possesses roof clutter arrays that are denser and more voluminous, but none that I know of is more elegant.

Wednesday April 15 2015

In an earlier posting I mentioned that I had ordered Marc Morris’s book about The Norman Conquest, and I have now started reading this.  (Although for some reason the version of it that I have seems to be the American one.)

Morris takes the Bayeux Tapestry as his starting point (as already discussed here in this and (because of its elongated shape) in this).

The events depicted in the Tapestry are of course highly dramatic, but as Morris relates, so too was the subsequent history of the Tapestry:

By any law of averages, the Tapestry ought not to exist.  We know that such elaborate wall-hangings, while hardly commonplace in the eleventh century, were popular enough with the elite that could afford them, because we have descriptions in contemporary documents.  What we don’t have are other surviving examples: all that comes down to us in other cases are a few sorry-looking scraps.  That the Tapestry is still with us almost I ,000 years after it was sewn is astonishing, especially when one considers its later history. It first appears in the written record four centuries after its creation, in 1476, when it is described in an inventory of the treasury at Bayeux Cathedral, from which we learn that the clergy were in the habit of hanging it around the nave every year during the first week of July (an annual airing that would have aided its conservation).  Its survival through those four medieval centuries, escaping the major hazards of war, fire and flood, as well as the more mundane menaces of rodents, insects and damp, is wondrous enough; that it successfully avoided destruction during the modern era is nothing short of miraculous.  When the cathedral’s treasury was looted during the French Revolution, the Tapestry came within a hair’s breadth of being cut up and used to cover military wagons.  Carted to Paris for exhibition by Napoleon, it was eventually returned to Bayeux, where for several years during the early nineteenth century it was indifferently stored in the town hall on a giant spindle, so that curious visitors could unroll it (and occasionally cut bits off). During the Second World War it had yet more adventures: taken again to Paris by the Nazis, it narrowly escaped being sent to Berlin, and somehow managed to emerge unscathed from the flames and the bombs.  The Tapestry’s post-medieval history is a book in itself - one which, happily, has already been written.

What next for it, I wonder?