Posts from 13th December 2004

Dec 04

Japanese Gardens by Gunter Nitschke

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 399 views

This is one of Taschen’s wonderful art books – I think they are sometimes disdained because of their mass market production and remainder shop appearances, but they are superb books, always with very high quality text and imagery – we shouldn’t think less of their standards because they are easily and cheaply available! Anyway, I extract from this a brief description of what Nitschke sees as the five great types of Japanese garden:

1. Heian palace gardens. Large ponds, interesting rocks (the single most indispensable feature of the Japanese garden throughout history), winding streams, all oriented and arranged according to Japan’s version of Feng Shui. Designed to be enjoyed around the pond or boating on same.

2. The dry garden. This is most famous from the Zen Buddhist temple gardens consisted of raked gravelly sand, with occasional groups of interesting rocks in odd-numbered arrangements (groups of 3,5,7 were prominent), but had wider application, where grass-and-tree gardens had rock compositions suggesting dry ‘waterfalls’. Designed for meditation from the veranda of a temple building, or viewing from similar fixed points.

3. The tea garden – a path to the small and humble teahouse wending its way through a modest and rustic garden, quiet in colour, designed to create the right mental state (humility, calmness, receptiveness, etc.) while approaching the tea ceremony, and for recuperation between its stages (full-scale, it could take four or five hours). Carved stone lanterns and blocks with water-filled indentations first appear.

4. The garden designed as a series of scenes: paths took you from one carefully composed setting to another. Often these scenes (there could be a hundred or more in large gardens) were designed to evoke or symbolise some famous or mythical site, so we get mini-Fuji hillocks and so on. Strangely trimmed shrubbery, sometimes cubic in form, makes its debut.

5. The author is struggling a bit by the very varied modern era, and grasps at the new use of dressed stone, interesting rocks (still a mainstay) that are cut and carved rather than natural. The fact is that design now is much more varied in style and setting, and is often now centred on commercial buildings, in front of or even in the lobby area, and uses a very wide range of techniques and aesthetic approaches, for diverse purposes. The book is rather cursory in this area, sadly – its one weakness bar the very occasional moment of over the top mysticism by the author.

Ostentatious Displays of Christmas-ness- An Observation.

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Ostentatious Displays of Christmas-ness- An Observation.

Whilst walking home from work, I was taken by the number of houses that had their Christmas trees facing out from the front room window, so that all who could walk by could see. Is there some sort of competition going on here? Is this where you put your tree? Admitedly, it’s quite pretty and cheering to look at the lights and the trees as I’m walking home, but I also get the feeling – THEY WANT ME TO LOOK, and be humbled by their tasteful decorating skills, whereas my tree will more than likely be the usual gaudy collection of new and mostly old X-mas decorations on a plastic tree. Tucked away in a corner. Damn!

Cor Blimey

Do You SeePost a comment • 463 views

Cor Blimey

So, I was watching popular teen soap Hollyoaks this evening, two of the regular characters were talking about something or another (I think it involved making a sheep costume for a navity play) in the newsagent, when I noticed…someone in the background was taking down and looking at the ‘adult’ magazines – merrily flicking through them was he! Has this ever happened in a soap before? Do the newsagents of soapdom usually have such magazines on their shelves? It could easily be the stuff of a A-Level Sociology cousework!!!

Grinch Alert

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Grinch Alert

Last year, following the travesty of Gary Jules, there was much in-pub joshery about how miserable piano-led covers would be the HOT NEW THING. Ha ha, we smugly thought, it will never ACTUALLY happen. But here on Radio 1 is Chris Martin doing a version of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” in a style that can only be called “Gary Jules”. The song says that Christmas is “merry” – but Chris M sounds sad omg the depth of the man!

Admittedly the distance Chrizza must travel to reach Jules-land is small. But even so it’s a desperate precedent. It suggests that turning Wobs songs into foot-dragging dirges is a right and proper thing to be doing, indeed a sensitive and thoughtful response to the season. It also suggests (tho I think I lost this battle a while back) that “Mad World” was actually a Christmas song after all!


Popular14 comments • 3,175 views

#158, 12th October 1963

“Do you love me – now that I can dance?” The way the band ask the question, you feel the answer had better be yes.

Two-and-a-half sore throat minutes of hollering, pounding and screaming, this is unadulterated club music. A desultory hook, a crude grab at the hips, that’s all and that’s enough.

Light Fantastic

Proven By Science1 comment • 573 views

Light Fantastic by Simon Schaffer [BBC4] wednesday nights

I should be nice about the presenter of this show (and can at least spell his name correctly unlike many print listings I’ve seen) as he was one of the teacher’s at the department in Cambridge where I studied as an undergraduate. And I will be, mostly, because this is a good show. Though I didn’t see him much in the dept, Simon Schaffer was quite the presence, and his book (with Shapin) on Hooke’s air pump was essential reading. I always imagined (and imagined that he also imagined) that he would end up as a media wonk, so when he popped up on the BBC4 doc about Hooke earlier this year, I wasn’t so surprised.

This show (4 x 1-hour progs) is a “history of light”. The way popular science works now is you have to have something solid to hang it all on. Light isn’t concrete like a tuber/spice/mineral/fish/clock that changed the world, but it is something with visceral appeal, and this is television after all. So in contrast to the lofty “may as well be doing it on the radio” approach that Jonathan Miller’s recent BBC4 atheism-doc took, the team here are able to have some fun.

I say fun, but it veered into silly in the last ep I watched when, at one point, Schaffer got dressed up in 17th C clobber and had himself projected on to an artist’s canvas in a reconstruction of a Camera Obscura. The irony being, that Schaffer really is NO oil painting*. Further distraction is afforded by the eerie resemblance to Patrick Barlow, the writer/presenter of many spoof history docs on the telly. Fortunately Schaffer has the rhetorical charge, and media training, to over come this and carry it off.

Notably, this show has allowed somone to get a steadying hand on the public understanding of the history of science. Without Schaffer’s input this production could have charged on regardless with a “great men”/”whiggish”/present-minded approach. As Schaffer says in this BBC interview:

“the past of the sciences is presented on its own terms, showing the significance of forces like theology, culture and economic development on the development of ideas.”

Hurray. It was certainly welcome to see (outside of academic textbooks) a portrayal of Galileo as a man motivated by earthly needs, his religious beliefs and perhaps a measure of curiosity, rather than the battered stereotype striving to put science on absolute foundations and bring down the church. (Not to say that he didn’t give the Pope a bit of a kicking.) It was also nice to see, in a meta-mode, emphasis on the historical importance of popular science: Hooke’s best-selling book; blockbuster box-office takings for the theatrical presentation of Herchel’s discoveries.

Oddly I missed the “written and presented by” credit, or perhaps the writing was more of a group effort. There were certainly some dodgy extensions of the subject of “light” that perhaps are best lost in the collective. Parallax is billed as a property of light (oo, well, er, i suppose), and it was a stretched hop, skip and a jump to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. But overall I enjoyed this a lot, and I would defintely recommend this show if the approach to history is new to you. But then I was never a very rebellious student.

*I got a third for my (rubbish) dissertation, so what can I lose? In the unlikely event that you (the idle blog reader) are Simon Schaffer: Only joking! I am very very sorry – please don’t take it seriously. Seriously though, the big telly money is in selling it abroad, and the US audience won’t stand for those teeth.

THE BEATLES – “She Loves You”

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#157, 14th September 1963

Not that the Beatles’ lyrics are always irrelevant. The first piece of ‘rock criticism’ I can remember being really impressed by was in a Beatles book I’d taken out of the library. I didn’t like the band much back then, I thought I probably should. The writer talked about “She Loves You” and explained how really what underpinned the song was the sense of “but she might love me if you don’t watch it”. I thought he was very clever for noticing it and that the Beatles were very clever for putting it in.

Actually I think I prefer the song without that subtext, because while great songs about love and jealousy are common, great songs about friendship are not. And great songs about being friends with a couple who are on the rocks are very rare indeed. The urgency of the singer trying to hammer some sense into the sung-to is wonderfully captured (the coo-ing “apologise to her” slipping straight in to a newly frenetic “BECAUSE SHE LOVES YOU”), the record buzzes with the exasperation that comes when a friend is being a bonehead. Maybe there’s something more behind that, but there doesn’t have to be.

And even if you don’t fancy the words at all, you can still get off on Ringo’s exhilaration when he cuts loose on his kit ten seconds in.


Popular28 comments • 3,817 views

#156, 24th August 1963

When pop critics go to the amusement park we tend not to wander further than the rollercoasters. “Rollercoaster ride” became a cliche because it’s such a good way of summing up the rattling three-minute thrill of a great single. But parks have other attractions, and so does pop. Leon Cassidy invented the “dark ride” in 1928 – a sedate single-rail panorama past a succession of scenes designed to surprise, delight and satisfy. Think of a ghost train, or Pirates Of The Carribean, or the Tunnel of Love.

The joy in the rollercoaster lies in the adrenalin. The dark ride relies on its ability to enthral you moment-to-moment, and to have the succession of those moments make a deep aesthetic sense. Lennon and McCartney, who wrote “Bad For Me” and passed it on to Kramer, could play the rollercoasters but the songs they wrote were often ‘dark rides’. “Bad To Me” leads me at a trot through a series of melodic turns, sometimes unexpected, always pleasing.

I’m reaching for a cumbersome metaphor because the simple question ‘what makes a good tune?’ always turns out bloody difficult. I suppose it doesn’t help that I’m no musicologist – but even if musicology can describe a melody where I can’t, it’s still not usually much good at expressing what that melody does to one. Is there a notational explanation for the sense of rightness I get from the “sad…bad…me” sequence in this song? And if there was, does that mean that using the same melodic sequence would have the same effect in a different song?

It seems to me that Lennon and McCartney were, before anything else, fantastic at taking the listener through a song. The arrangement, with its strong piano chords as signposts, helps create the sense of hand-holding. But the lyrics and even the performance of “Bad To Me” are quite beside the point (in fact the paper mood of the lyrics would ordinarily be scuppered by as sweet a tune). This may be one key to the Beatles’ enormous cross-cultural and cross-generational popularity. Terrific tune, anyway.

Expect to see more

Do You SeePost a comment • 486 views

Expect to see more of this sort of story in years to come, illustrating our (human? Western? European? British? (not just pedantry, it matters!!)) propensity to dramatise change in terms of ending, disaster. Key quote = “New research shows that the era when television was the cultural glue that held the nation together appears to be at an end.” WTF? This reads like undigested Press Release, which is maybe what it is doing in an otherwise factual (ok, not really, since figures are never facts) piece. Why shouldn’t it be here? Well: a) what nation?; b) what evidence is there that TV ‘held the nation together’? (especially since the era of TV is also the era of decline of ‘Britain’ and British ‘identity’); c) what evidence tha the nation will now fall apart (or is there another type of glue slipping into place?); d) clearly without the media (inc journalists) to hold us together, there would be no cultural glue? Yeah, right. In fact the more I think about this the angrier I get, so I’ll stop.

We ate goose on Friday. A lot of geese. A veritable gaggle.

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 263 views

We ate goose on Friday. A lot of geese. A veritable gaggle.

Course 1: Toast with foie gras.
The temptation to put foie gras in italics is huge. I assume this is because it is foreign, but may also be because it is so nice that it needs to be marked out. This course marked the only faux pas (more italics?) of the otherwise magnificent St John’s restaurant where we were short two bits of bread for the fifteen of us, leaving odd toast halving problems. Other mistakes were made in the evening, but mainly along the line of me almost ordering the wrong wine. Though it was worth getting the Muscadet just for the Quentin Blake designed wine label.

Course 2: Confit Of Goose Salad
Simple: watercress, cornichons, capers and little silverskin pickled onions with gobbets and gobbets of shredded fatty goose leg. I fear I may have started my decline into uncouthness at this level eating all and any fat left over and wiping the serving plate with bread.

Course 3: Roast Goose Breast with rosemary mash

Thick cut, juicy as anything – the goose breasts were tremendous. More than enough blood slopping around as well to make the mash pleasantly marbled and pink. This would have been more than enough for a bravo, but on the side were some fantastic spring greens and new potatoes. I have a feeling those potatoes were done stovie style (basically steamed and gently fried at the same time) but however they were done, they kept me eating well after the goose was gone and indeed well after everyone was full.

Course 4: Lemon sorbet & vodka
No goose here, though a squint could have made these snowballs of sorbet into balls of goose fat. Just as well they were not. Vodka went down the hatch, sorbet freshened the palate.

I would like to say this sated us for the evening. And indeed for some of us it did. There were bad people amongst us however who went and had a few more beers, regrouped in a London Bootleg Orchestra style at someone else Christmas Party before retiring to south London to play Singstar and drink two thirds of a bottle of port.

It’s Christmas y’know!!!