I have to hold my hands up - I was a bit slow on the uptake with Daft Punk’s latest, the fresh slab of discotastic funk (hello, have we time travelled back to 1978?) that is Get Lucky. I love the fact that they’ve taken pop music back to the drawing board, decluttered it and ditched the all pervasive auto-tune.
When I did eventually get wise to it, albeit without knowing who exactly was involved in the making of it, I got the nagging feeling that the signature on the guitar riff seemed rather familiar. To me, it was reminiscent of Chic and Sister Sledge so I put on my Google detective hat to investigate and of course, it led me to directly to Nile Rodgers. Who else?
The latest is that Get Lucky has become the most streamed song within 24 hours of its release in Spotify’s 5 year history. Obviously, spoofs and tributes on YouTube will abound but this one here, where a fan has spliced it with a clip of a Soul Train Line is my favourite. It’s hilarious and just about convinced me to go out and get some hot pants, tout de suite! My flatmate reckons I could get lucky!
Cruising the byways and alleyways of the information super highway as restlessly as I do, it’s inevitable that I sometimes stumble into dubious digital cul-de-sacs. When that happens, the best option is usually to turn tail and get the hell out of Dodge. However, sometimes the link roads lead to some far-flung part of the world (wide, webbed) that encourages me to stay for a while, glutting on as much information as I can find on the subject.
So it was with the Hyena Handlers of Abuja, Nigeria. These pictures are pretty arresting, right? I didn’t realise how big a hyena is in comparison to a man. Look at the massive shoulders and fearsome mandibles on these beasties! Apparently, these men are entertainers and they’ve got the scars from claws and teeth to prove it. That’s hardcore in any language. Read about how South African photographer Pieter Hugo came to hang out with these men.
I got to spend some precious time recently with my very dear friend, anarmorphic artist and current artist-in-residence at the Savoy, Jonty Hurwitz. He told me about meeting a bunch of Russian scientists who are devotees of something strange, something that has been steadily gaining traction out there in the world beyond the realm of my immediate influences. It’s called transhumanism.
Wikipedia gives a definition:
Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman”.
Attempting to express the concept in layman’s terms can be summed up in a series of pithy questions:
What if Google existed in your brain? What if, like bats, you could use echolocation to navigate? Dramatically improve your ability to see in the dark like a cat? Be able to see ultraviolet light? Or perhaps have the ability of a butterfly - to taste with your feet?
Here’s a the beginning of little story to help you wrap your head around the notion a little further:
A young woman is at a rave, dancing to the summer’s monster hit. Pink LED lights under her skin wink in time to the thump of the bassline. She’s chosen that particular colour of lights today because they go with her clothes and match the fluffy mood she’s in.
A scene where modifying your body for artistic or practical purposes is as commonplace as downloading a new app to your smartphone? It’s not so far-fetched. If you think about it, modifying or enhancing our bodies with technology is already possible and becoming more and more common. Every year millions of pacemakers, cochlear and neural implants are successfully implanted into human bodies in hospitals all over the world. My mother had both knees replaced a few years ago. Now the metal holding her patella in place is giving her gyp. We already micro-chip dogs. Why not ourselves?
It would seem that modern medicine is leading the way into bringing the human body into closer symbiosis with technology. The artist and cyborg activist Neil Harbisson was born with a very rare condition called achromatopsia which meant that he was only able to see the world in black and white. He created an electronic eye that would allow him to hear colour. He is the first person who has been allowed to have his passport photograph taken with a piece of electronic equipment on his head because he managed to argue that his eyeborg was now part of his body. Have a listen to what he has to say about living as a cyborg:
Imagine that, a cyborg actually sanctioned by the UK government! “Cyborg” literally means “cybernetic organism” ie. a being constructed of both mechanical and organic material. Consider the prosthetic limbs of athletes like Aimee Mullins or Oscar Pistorious.
These kind of limbs are becoming more and more robotic and integrated into the human body. It’s making the word cyborg become less the stuff of science fictions like Robocop or Blade Runner. It’s also being referenced a lot by pop stars like Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga. And with the advent of wearable, augmented reality technologies like Google Glass, it lends real credence to Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that in the near future, we’ll be able to implant internet accessible systems in our head so that we can surf the web through simple thoughts with a small screen implanted in our cornea to view the screen.
Not being constrained by your biology is the ultimate goal of transhumanists. They argue for augmenting human capabilities deliberately, away from restorative technologies and towards deliberate enhancement of human capability through the use of implanted devices, nanotechnology, smart drugs to turbo-charge memory, prolong life, increase muscle strength, combat baldness, enhance morality, end old age….the list goes on. Some people - Grinders, DIY biohackers or garage body mods - are taking matters into their own hands though. The practice of slicing up your own flesh has apparently become so commonplace that one tattoo artist recently stuck four magnets under his skin to hold his iPod nano in place.
Essentially, I’m a modern machine. I like to think I’m intrepid enough to move with the times by embracing this brave new world. I can buy having a microchip implanted in the base of my skull to sharpen my synapses but I really can’t see myself giving up a good working limb just so that I could replace it with an upgraded appendage that can smell for itself. Mind you, ask me the same question in another 20 years when my knees have succumbed to wear and tear and I’m considering knee replacements…. I might be saying something very different then.
Ethical, religious, political and economical issues surrounding the premise of transhumanism abound but a world in which our non-biological forms of intelligence (eg. our data in the form of knowledge and memory) communicate in the cloud might not be as far off as we think. We may balk at the idea of downloading our memories into a computer but our children (who can use smartphones at the age of 2 years old) will think nothing of it.
I first came across this nursery rhyme in an illustrated book when I was about 7 or 8 years old. I’d never heard or read or seen anything quite like it before. I think it marked a certain loss of innocence, a dawning realisation in my young mind that the world could be a dark, dark place. It has stayed with me all these years and from time to time I find myself humming the tune.
Now it occurs to me that the story is the kind of thing that would give children the heebie-jeebies. If it had been written in the 21st century, you can imagine that the people who police such things would deem it inappropriate to tout it as a children’s ditty. Especially with that title which doesn’t sugar-coat how the story plays out.
Here’s my friend and sometime collaborator, Mikey Kirkpatrick of Bird Radio, taking it to some place very murky indeed. It hasn’t escaped my notice that with a name like Bird Radio, this folk song was crying out for Mikey to cover it.
And Disney’s sanitised version of it in the 1935 film where it’s been transformed into a love story that has a happy ending because the shooter was Cupid just doing his thing.
Nobody seems to know the exact origin of the song. Wikipedia gives various sources of how the tale might have come about but there’s no definitive answer. I’m drawn to the Robin Hood version myself. Yes, it’s a bit convenient that the victim shares the same name but can it be any coincidence that it’s set in a forest and everybody is lamenting his demise?
- That the rhyme records a mythological event, such as the death of the god Balder from Norse mythology, or the ritual sacrifice of a king figure, as proposed by early folklorists as in the ‘Cutty Wren’ theory of a ‘pagan survival’.
- That it is a parody of the death of William Rufus, who was killed by an arrow in the New Forest (Hampshire) in 1100.
- That the rhyme is connected with the fall of the government of Robert Walpole in 1742, since Robin is a diminutive form of Robert and the first printing is close to the time of the events mentioned.
- More recently internet speculation has associated the rhyme with Robin Hood, largely, it seems on the basis of a shared name.
One good thing about listening to the radio, as I’ve been doing today, is the chance of stumbling across gems like this. Always good to hear something new. Or more accurately, something old dressed up in different clothes. Love the steady beat and sparkly jazz horns on the The Pioneers reggae cover of Papa Was a Rolling Stone. Brought a slice of sunshine into this snowy day, I can tell ya!
I stumbled across this via the LOTRProject. I love it because it made me smile. Surely, some hectic moments in life call for it? Bring on the eagles!
Back in the 90s, I worked for the record label Acid Jazz based in Soho’s Greek Street. It’s safe to say that the label, if its roster of artists and pre-occupations were anything to go by, was very influenced by the Mod aesthetic and lifestyle. It certainly felt a bit like the place Mods went to grow up and fed my addiction to vinyl - I spent a good portion of my weekly wages in the second-hand record shops in Soho.
And it wasn’t just the artists. The people who worked there, particularly the men, tended to have variations on Bradley Wiggins’ feather haircut and I recall many a conversation with work mates about the significance of Farah trousers and Ben Sherman shirts, Lambretta scooters and jazz music. And suits. Particularly Italian suits.
While I worked there, I never got to see head honcho Eddie Piller wear a suit. Back then he was all denim on denim, Addidas trainers and a long ponytail. This little vignette makes up for that. It’s fronted by the man himself looking his dapper best in a lean suit (“Always, sometimes, never”), directed by my good friend and super storyteller, James Maycock and produced by Manifesto NYC.
The great thing about this little film is it works like a tiny pocket guide to what made Mod and Soho such good bedfellows. And I have to say Eddie takes to the role of presenter like the proverbial duck to water.
Although this post and the previous one - SOOD #52 - might belie this claim, I’m not in the habit of finding pictures of animals being all cutesy entertaining.
But come on!
How often does one get to see a real life polar bear getting on down to some disco inferno? Photographer Steve Kazlowski says that this juvenile male polar bear appears to be sublimely co-ordinated precisely because he was rather uncoordinated in his attempts to balance on his hind legs in order to get a good look at the human beings passing in front of him.
Why spoil it though? I prefer to think he was wining to some Lee Scratch Perry.
It’s likely you’ve seen these images before but once more for posterity:
This little gem, a red-bellied short neck turtle, lives in Papua New Guinea and Australia. It epitomises the definition of a small object of desire in animal form.
How does creativity happen? What is its wellspring? How to harness it effectively and efficiently?
In short, and put more colourfully, how the hell do you capture the muse, strap her down to a chair so that she can do your bidding whenever the mood takes you?
My writer friends will recognise these questions if only subconsciously. I say subconsciously because people who are used to creating constantly and prolifically often don’t take the time to ask these questions. They just do what they do and on it goes, taking things for granted.
However, life will insist on slapping you around the chops every now and again. When that happens, it can feel like your creativity has been subsumed by a tsunami of anxiety, confusion and fear. Not the best emotional state to be in which to call forth creativity.
I’ve learnt that lesson at great cost during the last 18 months. Life turned around to give me a slap so hard that my hair fell out and I’m still suffering other effects of post traumatic stress. The process of trying to absorb the impact and let it settle in an appropriate area of my psyche so that it doesn’t define me has played fast and loose with my creativity. Sometimes it has felt like the urge, the hunger, the will to create has all but disappeared and I’m never going to get it back. If, like me, much of your life and sense of identity has been defined by your power to create, that’s a very scary state of affairs.
In order to get back to an even keel, I find it especially pertinent to ask the questions that opened this post. Understanding the provenance of creativity helps to quiet the sense of panic, helps to anchor me and enables me to feel that things are within my control.
So when I chanced on this wonderful and funny video by John Cleese on the nature of creativity, I was intensely curious about what he had to say. He sums it up beautifully.
He pretty much says the same thing - “the open and closed” modes of creative receptivity - as Dorothea Brande did when she wrote about “the conscious and subconscious” in her book Becoming a Writer in 1934. If you are any kind of artist, you should read this book!