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Category Archives: USA
[ 16:29 saturday 27 june - haggerston road, london ]
twenty-six photos from cambridge, halibut point and wingaersheek beach in massachusetts. i was in the area for a week at the start of march.
view the whole set here.
: c :
[ 17:09 thursday 26 march - virgin flight 11, london to boston ]
arcing across the ice floes towards nova scotia the cabin crew distributes a meal they badge as “breakfast” or “a light snack” depending on the time of day. today the latter. the meals are identical either way. inflight time has a structure and grammar of its own, blithe to the daily cycle of hamlets and cities far beneath.
each time i cross the north atlantic i’m fascinated by the changing character of the sea ice. at the moment i’m seeing it frequently enough to start discerning its language of structure and motion telling the seasons as surely as the cycle of buds, leaves and blossoms with which i’m more familiar. the monolithic expanses of white i saw a month ago are now fractured and stretches of blue are beginning to gaping amidst them. from my vantage point eleven kilometres in the air patterns become evident. as patches of ice become detached from a larger body and float out into open water they form T-shaped units with graceful curlicues at the branches. these units sometimes form convoys, each element smaller than its predecessor. flying, whilst destructive, permits us to appreciate aspects of the earth’s beauty that are otherwise imperceivable.
this is my fourth trip to the united states since the start of the year. the first was in mid-january, immediately following my return from egypt, when i travelled to san diego to give a talk and receive an award for trampoline. the weather was serene and sunny but i was obliged to spend all but a few minutes inside a conference hall. from san diego i flew to san francisco to attend meetings. i was staying with shemoel so each evening when my trampoline work was complete we recorded songs and experimented with different ways of combining acoustic and electronic sound elements. one day we drove up to point reyes to meet sara winge at the home of bart hopkin, a friend of hers who invents instruments. bart showed us some of his creations, which ranged from a plucked string instrument with strings were connected in triangles to wind instruments where corrugated tubing was used to generate standing waves. shemoel demonstrated one of his sound sculptures and we showed how live processing frameworks such as max/msp can be combined with micro-controllers such as arduino to create extended instruments. after that we all played together for a couple of hours, a delicious mass of filigree sounds.
the second trip was in february when i travelled over to long beach with emma and james to give a talk about one click organisations at the bil conference. bil was conceived as a parallel-universe ted with a focus on new thinking but with open access and free entry in contrast to ted’s exclusivity and expense. i caught half a day of the very first bil in monterey last year on quinn’s advice and this year i was eager to attend the whole thing. the organisers gave me the second slot in the main hall, following a talk about privacy by brad templeton. i’d decided not to use slides but changed my mind at the last minute and threw together a deck during brad’s talk. it was a lovely event. i particularly enjoyed meeting the folks behind the noisebridge hacker space in san francisco, who drove down en masse. also a young photographer called michael strout with a great talent for lighting, who did a shoot with me in the courtyard. mitch altman was there with his brain machine glasses. they flash leds over one’s eyes and buzz into one’s ears at carefully calculated frequencies which change over a twenty minute cycle. the effect is most peculiar, one is gradually drawn into a meditative state and begins to hallucinate colours and patterns. mitch also invented the magnificent “tv b gone” remote control. entering a japanese restaurant with him on the final evening in long beach the two giant tv screens mysteriously deactivated themselves leaving us and our friends to converse in peace. on the way back to london i stopped in san francisco for one night to see shemoel. we recorded a couple of songs and decided to call our project “the dupio”.
my third trip was at the beginning of march when i came over to boston and cambridge for some trampoline meetings. it was bright and clear for the first couple of days, though there was still snow on the ground. i drove out to point halibut and traversed the jumbled granite boulders around the coast. it was hard going but this is a terrain i know and love from cornwall and the isles of scilly. the trick is to keep one’s momentum up, trust one’s instincts and resist the temptation to think about it. in a way this has become a metaphor for how i live. there is a pleasure in sensing the angles of each rock in turn and allowing oneself to ricochet from one to the next. on the third day there was a snowstorm which i enjoyed mightily. i found my way to a noisecore show at tufts university where one of the bands dressed as giant rats. i heard a performance by a minimalist cellist called jeremy harman and we got together to play the next day. late one evening i visited mako hill in somerville to better understand his position on zero-cost duplication and swap notes on web music services. he was very impressive.
this fourth trip is to attend foo east at microsoft’s research centre in cambridge. having been invited to last summer’s event in sebastopol i wasn’t expecting another chance so i was flattered to receive the invitation. i may talk about any of organisational analytics, emergent structure, one click organisations and live processing. i’m also bringing some musical kit with me so it’ll be possible to do a session with reaktor if i can interest anyone in that.
: c :
[ 22:05 thursday 23 october - dulles airport, virginia ]
dulles airport again, on my way back to london. being in washington two weeks before the presidential election has been deeply bizarre. news media are saturated. nick-nack shops are stacked with election trinkets, typically including lifesize cardboard cutouts of the two pair of presidential and vice presidential candidates. verges are peppered with placards supporting one party or the other, not just in the city but in the remotest corners of countryside. driving around you can tell a lot about the demographics of an area from the balance between mccain and obama placards, the same way variations in shrubs tell you about the underlying soil.
at the weekend, out on the maryland coast, the mccain faction was decidedly in the ascendent. at breakfast on sunday morning i naughtily eavesdropped conversations on neighbouring tables. one woman was seriously arguing that obama was a sleeper agent for a hostile power: “you know there are literally thousands of these sleepers waiting for the call”.
22:56 / on the plane, ready to take off. only forty-five people in economy so i’ve got a row of four seats all to myself!
: c :
[ 10:41 sunday 19 october - galesville, maryland ]
landing at dulles yesterday afternoon something remarkable happened: the border protection officers let me into the country.
on my very first visit to the united states in november 2002 i walked blearily up to the passport control booth at san francisco airport, the officer swiped my passport and looked up at me with an expression that didn’t bode well. “i don’t know what this means” he said. “they want to see you out back”, scrawling a big red cross on my immigration papers and pointing me to the secondary screening room. i sat for an hour in the bare fluorescent-lit room, terrified, before i was called up. it became clear the officers believed i’d visited the usa before and was lying about it being my first visit. eventually my dazed brain made the connection with a new passport that had been stolen in transit from the passport office in 2001. presumably someone had tried to enter america with it, had been refused and this had triggering an alarm on the database when my passport was swiped. after another half hour they agreed to let me through but they made it clear there was no way to remove the information from their database so “it would be a good idea never to book flights with tight connections in future”.
thus it has been that every subsequent trip (and there have been a great many) i’ve been despatched to secondary screening and treated with more or less suspicion, each time having to explain the situation anew and pray the officers would be sympathetic. the moment when the officer in primary passport control swipes my passport, does a double take and commences to look at me as a suspected criminal rather than a legitimate visitor has become all too familiar. there’s always a slight fear in my mind that one day i’ll arrive more tired and crotchety than usual and inadvertently make some sarcastic comment that would result in an officer deciding to use their power to refuse me.
so yesterday when i arrived at passport control and the double take didn’t happen my heart started beating a little faster than usual. there was no disbelieving question “are you sure you haven’t ever been denied entry to the united states?”. no red cross on my immigration papers. the officer just took my fingerprints, carried on looked bored, stamped my papers, wished me a pleasant trip. i didn’t fully believe it until i’d collected my luggage, passed through the import check-point and passed into the arrivals lobby. but it was true, i was through without having to visit secondary. it made me feel surprisingly different about the country. for the first time my reception by the authorities wasn’t characterised by suspicion, delay and indignity.
i’ve no idea what changed. maybe the original database entry expired after five and a half years? perhaps the officer in primary was incompetent or dozy and failed to notice an alert on his screen? it will be interesting to see what happens next time.
having arrived i had nowhere booked for saturday night. before leaving london i’d done a quick search for interesting-looking places on the maryland coast and jotted down a few numbers. as i was waiting to pick up my rental car i phoned a few of them to see what was available. only the “pirate’s cove” at galesville had space so i booked it, collected my car, fed in the gps coordinates and set off.
galesville is a little harbour, popular with yachties, at the edge of chesapeake bay. the shore is lined with simple clap-board homes, decorated with pumpkins and candy ready for halloween. “pirate’s cove” provides the only tourist accommodation in the area, with five rooms above a seafood restaurant next door to a boat yard. i’m sitting having breakfast now with sun streaming through the windows and a steady breeze blowing in across the bay. i plan to drive down the coast to walk in one or two of the coastal reserves. this evening i’ll drive back up to washington ready for a string of meetings to commence tomorrow.
: c :
[ 17:46 thursday 11 september - washington dulles international airport, virginia ]
i’m sitting with a cup of tea at the end of concourse b, a vast white featureless corridor stretching as far as the eye can see. it’s actually been extended since i was last here and it now takes about twenty minutes to walk from one end to the other. i fear washington dc is a city i will never learn to love. it’s unrelentingly conservative, populated by blandly uniformed people and apparently lacks any iota of experimental culture. people hear wear clothes to go out in the evening that folks elsewhere would choose for the office. that can’t be good, can it?
monday afternoon’s presentation at the network roundtable went rather well. i was launching trampoline’s new technology for analysing and visualising social networks so it was a well-informed crowd. from time to time i sense a buzz in the room when i’m talking and this was such an occasion. the subsequent days were spent meeting various customers. this included my first visits to a couple of intelligence agencies. i was expecting terrifying security procedures but in fact it wasn’t much different from a typical international airport. the most bizarre experience was at the one and only agency that permitted me to bring in my laptop (though not connect it to the internet). here a man was specifically employed to stick a sort of rivet into my laptop’s microphone socket when i arrived and remove it again on my departure.
after an afternoon meeting at fort meade i made an impulse decision to drive out to the maryland coast rather than face the rush-hour traffic battling to get into washington. i picked a random point on my gps and half an hour found myself at the edge of a tranquil creek with neatly- tended lawns descending to the water and chesapeake bay beyond. i sat on the bank and watched the sun set over a power station then drove back into town.
yesterday evening i was walking down seventeenth street when a fellow in a kilt and flat cap strode past in the opposite direction and bid me good evening. i returned the greeting and we both continued on our way. but everything about this encounter was so wildly improbably that after a short while i stopped, stood pondering a moment then turned and ran back the way i’d come. he was walking at a good lick so it took me a few minutes to catch up. when i reached him i told him he was the first person to greet me on the street in the last three days in washington. we walked and talked together for the next thirty or forty minutes. he was kelly, born of irish parents who’d moved to nevada to run a petrol station. he’d come to washington a year earlier when he was kicked out of home.
chance encounters like this do more than anything else to remind me how wonderful the world is.
: c :
[ 11:29 sunday 7 september - skyland lodge, blue ridge mountains, virginia ]
yesterday afternoon i flew into washington in the remnants of tropical storm hannah. the last half hour of the flight was excitingly bumpy and when we landed at dulles rain and wind were lashing the tarmac. i rented a car right away and drove west into the blue ridge mountains, which kaz had recommended as an escape from washington. as i rose higher wraiths of clouds were forming and swirling mysteriously around trees in the strong wind. several times i stopped to watch and take photographs.
there are two lodges in the hundred-mile stretch of mountains where tourists can stay. after looking on the internet last night i booked a room here at skyland lodge. the building was constructed in the early twentieth century from stone and wood on a plateau a thousand metres up in the mountains beside stony man hill, the second highest peak in the range. when i arrived everything was bathed in cloud. i checked in then straight away hiked up to the peak of stony man hill. the view from there was magical, with an apocalyptic black mass of storm clouds overheads, glimpses of the shenandoah valley spreading out in the twighlight to the west and twists of cloud swirling over me.
overnight the storm played itself out and i woke this morning to clear blue sky, birdsong and the sun filtering through the trees outside my room. now i’m driving to the northern end of the chain for a six mile hike. time permitting i’ll do another hike after lunch. i’m hoping to see deer, bears and turkey vultures amongst other beasts. the whole range is covered by the shenandoah national park so the habitat is relatively pristine. this evening i’ll drive back to dulles and check into the hyatt ready for my presentation at the network roundtable tomorrow afternoon.
: c :
[ 18:55 saturday 19 july - miami international airport, florida ]
i’m in my seat on the flight for london, taking advantage of a pre take-off delay to tap out a few words on my trusty laptop. following foo camp i took a couple of days’ holiday to stop off here in miami and visit shemoel at his family home. the main objective was for us to work out a modus operandi for producing songs together with me in london and him in san francisco.
this is the first time we’ve tried composing together instead of improvising. neither of us knew how it would work out but things fell into place smoothly. after two days our first song is already coming together. shemoel put down an idea which sparked me to add something, which in turn prompted him to change another section and so on. i recorded bass clarinet, vocals and a few electronic bits. shemoel recorded drums and the bulk of the electronics. we listen to a lot of similar electronic artists but we have very different musical personalities. i’m constantly delighted by shemoel’s perspective and how he responds musically in a completely different way to me. the process we followed over the last couple of days seems like it will lend itself well to long-distance collaboration. it will take more will power to keep it going but hopefully we can muster that.
we took breaks from the music to go swimming on the beach, hang out in sweat records (the epicentre of miami’s small experimental music scene) and join the full moon drum circle on the beach until the police broke it up. i managed to record half an hour of this on my new digital audio recorder.
it looks like the flight’s cleared for take-off so i need to shut my laptop. there are big tropical storms all the way up the florida coast. it should be an exciting ride.
: c :