On making a Zine, or ‘My use of collage’

About 10-12 years ago a friend of mine (who for now shall remain nameless, but lets call him Zane) used to make zines. Sometimes he made a single copy which had a few duplicates (by photocopy) and it was exceptionally low quality. They were folded pages cut in a certain way to allow for multiple pages of a smaller size and were taped together. Many of these zines were for a quick laugh and at first I ridiculed him very harshly about what I saw as the asinine nature of these zines.

 

Skip forward about 10 years and a friend of mine (not the same zine guy) told me that he was clearing through the house and saw one of the zines. Not just any of the zines, but the final one ever made Zane ever made. It was a swan song of zines in the sense that it was the best one he ever made but also consciously knowing it would be his last. It compiled many of the techniques and jokes and idioms of the previous zines but distilled into bottled lightning.

 

Zane used to do zines about the comedian Harry Hill, perhaps the real humour about it was that it evoked the low budget and DIY ethic that Harry Hill’s early comedy used to have. It was not an artistic statement to make this zine as he was just a teenager at the time and we would pass it around during French class and trying not to giggle and get caught with it. As it happens we did get caught with it a few times and the teacher was either impressed at the ingenuity of it or found it exceptionally funny that he simply gave it back to us.

 

When the ‘final issue’ of ‘Harry Hill Magazine’ was rediscovered, I felt as if it was a part of a collective memory among my friends. The zine was just scraps of paper taped together but the last edition contained newspaper cut outs. Cue to 2014.

 

Sometimes after I’ve done my ‘fundamentals’/pedagogical exercises in my piano practice or with the clarinet, I just play freely, I just think and play, or sometimes not think at all and follow a certain idea or feeling and see where it takes me. I kind of see it as a creativity, where I draw from things and make decisions about what allusions I’m making or which allusions I use too much (I focus too much on the mixolydian mode, for example).

 

As an exercise in improvisation, I sometimes just follow a hunch or instinct and see where it goes, to exercise creativity for its own sake if you will. I have recently taken an interest in notebooks (which I’ve written about recently) and the next progression of that was…Harry Hill Magazine?

 

Well…not Zane’s self-made publication, but the idea of making my own scrapbook from newspaper clippings or magazines or brochures and adverts. In an age where newspapers and magazines are so easily available in metropolitan London (Shortlist, Timeout, Evening Standard, Metro, Sport, Stylist…) and there are endless amounts of fliers and junk mail, I thought I would put them together somehow.

 

I could give the hack intellectualisation of how this is postmodern to cut things apart from modern culture and put it together in my own little way (bricolage, hyper-reality), but maybe I won’t. For me, it feels like the same intellectual practice that I do when I sit in front of my piano and do some improvising, or when I’m jamming with my friends.

 

When I look at newspapers I look to cut out things that say something about who we are as people in 2014. As people we are confused about whether we love celebrities, or whether we hate how much weight they’ve gained or whatever scandal they were recently in. We are confused about how we hate certain kinds of criminals and yet we love to hear stories about them to get riled up and angry. The Metro is only a few steps away from being 4Chan or Spacedicks (if you don’t know what spacedicks is, it’s not for you). We have stories about big scientific discoveries and at the back pages have horoscopes and adverts for culturally appropriate mystics.

 

I often feel like we do not say enough that the emperor has no clothes when it comes to our culture and fixations with the news today. I feel that the application of collage is a powerful way of expressing this, by hitting us on the head with a pillow, we transfix the things that we take for granted in our culture, physically cut them out and place them alongside the things we do not wish to acknowledge about ourselves.

 

There’s also a more mundane way in which I use collage. As well as juxtaposition and contradition, I put together stories and images of the same narratives so that they are emphasised and overblown, put to full volume so that its deafening to see all together. News stories such as House Prices, the disadvantages of women and ethnic minorities, I have a small yet growing selection of cutouts about trans* identity and gender nonconformity.

 

For me it is a bit of a craft hobby, especially because it helps me wind down and use my mind in a way I don’t normally do outside of sitting in front of a piano. I’ve started another scrapbook in honour of my friend Zane, I’ve begun to make my own zine from newspaper collage as both an art project and something for friends only. I’m surprised at myself at how much expression I have had through cutting things out of junk mail and outdated Metro issues.

 

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Goodbye Camden Crawl

So it has turned out that the Camden Crawl has gone into liquidation. I’m a little sad, although I didn’t go this year, which is perhaps a bit telling.

 

The Camden Crawl has for maybe the past 4-5 years (basically since I started living in London again) been a tradition to visit every year. Do it once and it’s a one-shot activity. Did it twice and it’s a thing that has to be done again. Did it more times and it’s a ritual. I love Camden, for the utterly personal and self indulgent reason that it’s one of the few places this side of the Channel to hear some really neat European metal bands that I like, particularly the black metal side of things. Of course there are lots of other kinds of music and subcultures there.

 

I once referred to Camden semi-jokingly as the place where subcultures go and they don’t die. One of the things I loved about the Camden Crawl (CC as it came to be called in recent years) was that it was in the most sincerest sense, eclectic. I hate using the word eclectic because to me it suggests somebody who thinks they like a wide variety of music for the sake of appearing diverse, and has little familiarity or depth with the things they apparently like – all artifice.

 

When I went to the Camden Crawl I loved how I had no idea who the bands were, what anything meant. If a band was described as shoegaze-dreampop meets DIY Fugazi fem-punk), it was in its purest sense just about the music. I loved how I had no expectations at first and went to see music just on the basis of its name, and talking to other gig-goers about where the hype is.

 

I loved how there were a few established acts who peeked about from time to time. One year I saw Ms. Dynamite [ed. teee-heee!] and another Tinchy Stryder and everybody was having an awesome time. There are the absolutely eccentric moments like the Elvis impersonator who would dance to anything. I loved seeing acts that I never heard about before and then finding out they later got a big amount of recognition. King Charles played Glastonbury this year, I remember seeing them around 2010 (?).

 

The Camden Crawl was fundamentally a hipster pursuit, yeah, I said it! I loved how different and strange much of the music was, some of which would in a couple of years eventually feed into the mainstream, or in one case, a Carlsberg advert! (Alice Gold – fabulous performance in KoKo 2012).

 

In a way I’ll definitely miss the CC. In another way there’s an extent to which I wouldn’t have gone in future festivals anyway.

 

For me the Camden Crawl was about meeting up with my friend Phil. Phil is one of my oldest friends and one of those folks that even if you don’t see for years it is like not a day has passed when you see them again. Lately life has gotten in the way of a lot of our free time. Or to put it simply, doing the Crawl was our early-20s thing and I am definitely out of that period of my life. Now we have expanding families, non-overlapping working hours, long distance relationships and all other things that prevent us. This year we couldn’t go, I’ve been working weekends and Phil’s visiting his new little nephew in North America.

 

In a sense the personal memories between myself and Phil are not communicable being a long series of ‘in jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’s. But the one thing I will miss the most about the Camden Crawl is being able to claim some cultural cred and say: I was there. I was there when Ghostpoet was an obscure artist above the Barfly; I was there when Eliza Doolittle did a set and I was more focussed on having a Magners and feeling awkward about someone chatting me up; I was right in the front when Saint Etienne did a set and I happened to be on a roof of the Roundhouse playing obsessing over a gum brand’s promotional freebies (I can’t remember their name) while a certain Dry the River were playing in the background and handing out cards and demo CDs (I really should have bloody kept them).

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl. Thanks for the memories

 

Remembering James Avery

I found out that actor James Avery died today. Avery’s death is one of those people who actually I feel sad about when I follow celebrity news stories. Most people knew him as ‘Uncle Phil’ from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a television show that was ubiquitous during the time I was becoming a teenager and through most of my teens. The many plot lines and gags were carried through with great pathos and humour in its various proportions. Uncle Phil represented a paternal figure to protagonist Will Smith’s character, yet at the same time was a father figure for the audience, too.

I have particular fondness for James Avery in two other roles. One, as Shredder in the Teenaged Mutant Hero Turtles animated series, which fewer people are aware of his role. Shredder’s voice was unforgettable and part of the zeitgeist of a generation of a certain age.

Perhaps among these it is even lesser known that James Avery voiced the character of ‘James Rhodes/War Machine’ in the 1994 first season of Iron Man, long before the greater popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe existed. Avery’s ‘War Machine’ provided a contrast to Tony Stark’s rashness and risk-taking dispositions, with a forceful sense of disagreement at times to tones of concern. My personal favourite for representations of the War Machine character would always go to Avery’s animated incarnation.

With these fond characters remembered, I say that James Avery will be missed; a character of many in my nerdy upbringing.

Remembering Paul Walker

I woke up today with a whatsapp text message, and from a different friend, a link to a news story: both relating to the event of actor Paul Walker’s unfortunate death. I don’t normally feel much about people in the entertainment industry but for a lot of fans of action films, this death has come to hit particularly hard.

 

This has been the year for when my friends and I have gotten into the Fast and the Furious (F&F) franchise. I remember cynically saying how the introduction of Dwayne Johnson was a bizarre way of revitalising a set of films that went on for too many sequels, by the time I finished watching F&F6 I knew two things: I MUST watch the sequel F&F7 (it was evident there was going to be a sequel – both in terms of the post-credits scene and the success of F&F6), and the other thing was: I’m going to watch this twice.

 

The film may not be cinematic gold like say, Empire Strikes Back or the Wizard of Oz, but for me there were personal moments for the film. There were comedic moments where watching with friends we bonded over the unbelievable and physically impossible stunts and set pieces. I saw the film twice in the cinema and the first time was with my friend who was writing up his Doctoral thesis and needed some time away from writing up for some comic relief; the second time was with my more ‘bro’ type friends. We laughed at the rapport between Walker’s ‘O’Connor’ and Diesel’s ‘Toretto’ characters, with lines like ‘I always preferred American Muscle’ (a reference to a type of car and obvious homo erotic undertone).

 

I have another fond memory of watching F&F2 with another friend of mine, it was a night when we were watching all action films, and when we made the bad decision of ordering fish and chips as well as a seperate chinese takeaway simultaneously. We laughed uncontrollably at the troll physics stunt at the end of F&F2 performed by Walker’s ‘O’Connor’.

 

There are many things painful about his death. The F&F films have given me a lot of joy in recent months, and its created a lot of bonding and humour among many of my friends, with some of the phrases in the films repeated in our common parlance (‘you’re going down, Torretto!’, or ‘why do I smell baby oil?’). The film made a lot of money and its kneejerk brand of action is made in a way that knows its audience. The way in which Walker died casts a shadow on what his film character represented and did. It makes the disclaimer at the end of F&F6 all the more poignant: that the stunts should not be replicated.

 

I feel very sad about Walker’s death, and my thoughts are with the friends and family. Those Fast and Furious films have given a lot of happiness to people around the world, and made the studios a lot of money. It should also be said that Walker’s last whereabouts were at a fundraiser for the victims of the Philippine Typhoon Haiyan, reflecting his real-life philanthropy. As a fan of the F&F films, I’ll remember him with fondness, and will continue to constantly re-watch the films. I had a plan to watch Fast 5 and 6 over Christmas Day. I think that I definitely will now.

 

Michael

K457: Mozart as a metaphor

After my solo performance last month I have been thinking about continuing with my piano practice. I have also thought about picking up exactly at the point where I left off with my late piano teacher. Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C minor. That’s sonata 14 K. 457. The last few pieces that I worked on with my piano teacher in the final few weeks were scary. In some ways the represent something analogous to old relationships, old romances.

 

There is something unresolved about those pieces. Those pieces represent something unresolved in me. There’s a Rachmaninov piece where I just couldn’t get some of the speeds right, or just didn’t put the elements together in a performance worthy way. With the Mozart piece, I am reminded of the fact and semi-insult of my music teacher ‘Bob’, that I work very much on showy vignette short pieces. Could I ever work on an extended piece, such as a whole Sonata? I did perform Coleridge-Taylor’s Petit Suite de la Concert. But I never felt that I had performed or learned a piece that was part of a deeper pianistic canon.

 

So lately I’ve been trying to resolve this. IT feels like an internal journey going through the Mozart piece. There are different movements, a fast one, a slow one and a recapitulation one. Typical Sonata form. There’s something about Mozart that I find terrifying. Most of the other pieces of music I’ve worked on can be often clever, but there’s something continually insightful in the fingerings, the harmonies and the structure of Mozart’s music. There’s something beautiful about it that is not as obvious as the actual sonic experience of the music. I enjoy playing fun stuff like Scott Joplin or jazzing it up with friends, but usually there is not much intellectual depth to it. The pedagogical issues in Mozart are such that one cannot cheat with practicing and good technique.

 

This Mozart sonata is more than a piano piece to me, but reflects a form of philosophising, a form of introspection, a form of therapy. I fear it, therefore I must face it. There are many things in life that we fear that seem to become bigger as a fear object if we avoid it. This is one demon I wish to face.

 

There are other kinds of morals as well when practicing Mozart. The vision of music (and the world) as a variety of nuances: Forte vs. piano, legato vs. staccato, left hand vs. right hand. In music as in life, we can’t be overly one of these things all the time, doing so would be a flaw of character and a lack of depth and diversity. I tend to go for pieces that fulfill certain tendencies, but Mozart reflects and emotionally tempered and varied outlook, much more than say, Beethoven or Chopin after him. Often playing piano or legato can go against one’s present mindset, and so playing Mozart requires one to forcibly summon the mindset for smooth legati or piano volumes when the piece needs it.

 

One the thing I especially like about practicing Mozart is how it stays with me after I play it. It stays with me in the harmonic vocabulary when I’m improvising something else or even in a different style. It stays with me in life, knowing when my behaviour needs a staccato or a forte volume. It stays with me from the very careful passages I go through in a microscopic way, if I see it in another piece that requires say, an arpeggiation. It’s quite intimidating how much level of detail is in the Mozart sonata. Its exactly because it is daunting that I am so drawn to it. That has become an aspect of my outlook, to know that the daunting things often are most rewarding

Remembering LucasArts

On April 3rd, one of the consequences of Disney’s takeover of the Lucasfilm empire is that LucasArts, the publisher and developer of games, is going to be shut down. One of the most notable announcements related to this was that the Star Wars: 1313 game project will not continue, and was considered to be the great white hope for the future of Star Wars gaming.

 

Some people have spoken of the non-Star Wars games that Lucasarts was well known for, particularly the way that games such as Secret of Monkey Island or Sam and Max challenged our assumptions about games. I thought I’d give an highlight of the things I really loved about LucasArts that were definitive to my growing up. If LucasArts will no longer continue I will be sympathetic to the fact that some of the later games were sub-par, but I will miss what LucasArts meant for me during my formative years. I thought I’d talk about some of my highlights.

 

Dark Forces/Jedi Knight/the Kyle Katarn games 

 

Whenever one is having a night in with my crew, one of the staples alongside blues-based jamming, ordering unhealthy takeaway and watching bad action movies is to play a first person shooter. One of the cliches I say at this point is ‘guys I should let you know I have motion sickness, but I’m happy to watch you play’. This is the legacy of me playing Dark Forces!

 

Dark Forces was a shooter in a Star Wars setting, addressing stories that were sideways to the main films. I especially liked the original story, and how it created a new situation within a universe that I already knew and loved. Then came Jedi Knight (the Sequel) and this was one of the defining games of my early teens! I absolutely loved the multiplayer and it indulged my fantasy of having lightsaber battles in the most interesting of settings, over walkways with a massive pit underneath. I also was introduced to modding through Jedi Knight. Modding was one of the most awesome things about gaming in the late 90s in my view, plus I learned a few skills from the community. One of my first email addresses was from a server that hosted Jedi Knigth Mods (Massassitemple.net).

 

Then came the sequels to Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and and Jedi Academy, which are games which had a big impact on my late teens. I absolutely loved the way that those games engaged my imagination, and gave me the satisfying indulgence of being part of a science fiction world. Although in that world most people were trying to kill my almost all of the time. That’s probably not a good life lesson.

 

Rebel Assault and Rebel Assault II 

 

Another couple of games I loved from LucasArts are by objective standards, pretty bad games. Rebel Assault and Rebel Assualt II were my first introductions to PC gaming. Most of my experience had been from console games. What marked the games as significant to me was the ways in which different modes of gaming were within the same game – from flying to first person shooting to differing arcade modes.

 

I loved the way I engaged with the game, and introducing family friends to the game. I would play Rebel Assault II repeatedly, even though I knew how this game on rails would turn out, there was the illusion of real agency in this game that had replayability. Also the 90s were a pretty dull time compared to today, so replaying games was something that was probably a bit more common.

 

X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, X-Wing Alliance 

 

One of my family friends had a demo on a floppy disk of Tie Fighter. We played it endlessly for the longest time. I was introduced to the X-wing series of games through the later game: X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter. I loved the fact that Tie fighter and XvT was that you could play as the bad guys. I also liked the narratives present in X-Wing and Tie Fighter, and the ‘awards’ system and presence of secondary objectives. I loved learning about flying the spacecraft, where later on in XvT, and X-Wing Alliance, involved an extremely complicated system, like adjusting shields, laser power, targeting system and mapping.

 

The Star Wars flight simulators were a big part of my growing up. They were so monumental to me as say, my musical interests. They introduced a more abstract way of perceiving the world, thinking about memorising keyboard combinations and even the clunky 1990s joystick was a lot of fun. Back in the day, joysticks had this really awkward input plug that my modern laptop would have no hope of using. Ah, the days before USB!

I’ll miss the decline of LucasArts, not for what it is now, but for what it was. That’s how I’ll remember LucasArts.

Michael

The Spoon Theory revisited

A few years ago I read an essay which is quite influential, about a person’s explanation for dealing with chronic fatigue. It is endearingly referred to as ‘The Spoon Theory’, I recommend reading it. Go on, I’ll wait.

I’ve thought about this idea of the Spoon theory, having a limited but quantifiable amount of energy, or attention or time to dedicate to all the things you want to do. Some days you can do more, others you might do less, on more other days still you might do less. Much of my life seems to be fragmented across so many different circles and interests. There’s my training partner friend who I have lately been doing a lot of weight training with; there’s my badminton buddies (which includes my brother) who lately fill my phone with irrelevant Whatsapp messages (which I check about every 6 hours and find 200 messages); there’s the garden group that I’m involved with and that’s just off the top of my head of the kinds of things taking my time at the moment.

Whatever people consider as their spoons, there’s only so much one can handle in a day. I’ve been thinking about this in a large variety of contexts.

Reading

I read quite a bit, however I’m about 3 weeks behind on my comics and the pile builds up. I like to read in my spare time, and at the moment academic reading and blog writing is not a paying job (my CV is available on request by the way!). I have a lot of books that I have planned to read and often the pile grows even more whenever Librivox releases a new volume of Hume’s History of England, or when the next bit of Aquinas’ Summa Theologica comes out. I estimate that I’ll probably read all the things I have currently listed by the time I’m in my late 40s. Which is a little bit depressing. Then there are days when I’m just too tired to read. Learning is about finding out about old knowledge, and keeping your ear to the ground about new patterns and things going on. I’m struggling to do both, and the Theory of Spoons is very relevant to me. I do miss the old days when I would sit and read Kant for 10 hours straight and write 20,000 words in notes. It’s nice to idealise the past. Especially when it involved longer hair.

Fun activities

One of the things I learned from Spoon theory is that sometimes you need to keep your spoons for other things. This involves saying no to some opportunities. Sometimes I get book reviews or I’m asked to look at manuscripts or essays (also, my fees are available on request!) but I must turn them down as I have other things that have earmarked my time. Sometimes I hear about gigs that I would really love to go to, or a new activity that I’d like to do. In the background of the metaphorical spoons in my not so metaphorical hand, I must think about balancing my resolution to try new things and expand myself, against what i can find I am able to do in terms of my time, and my energy. The spoons have been helpful to me, although in this context it is within a wider context.

Adopting new behaviours

In the past I’ve talked a little about my scheduling system, and how I’ve set it in a way where I review behaviours and whether they are useful to keep patterns or to amend or delete how I do things. One thing that often surprises me is how many people think that I am ahead of the curve in terms of technology, apps or certain trends. In honesty I really am not, and I consider myself a bit of a luddite.

I’ve had numerous conversations with people about the kinds of apps we use as part of our everyday life, and whether they are for things like leisure or more helpful tools that keep records, remind one of impending meetings or how much they want to run today. One of the most general responses I’ve heard is that they only have a certain amount of attention and things like mobile phone apps, or another social networking website oriented around their interest in say, making ships in bottles is just not for them right now because all of their time is already full up with commitments from elsewhere.

We are in an age where so many things can demand our time, whether its serious, career relevant, personally fulfilling or frivolous. I’m reminded of Adorno’s essay on hobbies and how the notion of the hobby is disparaging and effectively supports the status quo. There’s so many fun and important things to do but such little time and ability. I realise the tension between adopting new behaviours or trying out new things when there are so many other objects in our inventory of life to deal with. It also makes it all the more special when we break routine. I am beginning to realise the role of the spoons when developing new habits or trying something new, as well as how our ‘spoons’ can be a barrier.

Concluding

On reflection I find the spoon metaphor very useful. It does a lot of work and the more I’ve thought about it in my life the more it has been useful in framing my time management and activities, as well as my limitations. To put it in terms of David Lewis’ Modal Realism thesis: it does a lot of work to justify its worth as a theory.

 

Michael