Category Archives: In transit

a m e r i k a n a

[ 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 :

b e r l i n t o 2 0 0 9

[ 09:10 friday 2 january – schonefeld airport, berlin ]

my first despatch of the year comes from schonefeld airport’s excellent bakery, where i sit watching snow falling on the tarmac outside. timur dropped me off an hour ago. i’m trying to avoid rapid movement. or indeed movement of any kind. a week in berlin to see in the new year has left me feeling somewhat delicate.

between my arrival last saturday and today’s departure i have got up in daylight precisely once. every other day i’ve woken in the late afternoon after the sun had set, breakfasted in a turkish cafe round the corner from yilmaz’ flat, made my way to the conference centre at alexanderplatz, passed eight hours at the chaos communication congress, then departed there around two in the morning to commence a night of revelry in kreuzberg and neukoln’s multitude of charming underground bolt-holes, finally returning home between six and eight in the morning.

new year was the piece de resistance. starting with a dinner for twenty in timur’s huge basement we proceeded to rampage through the streets and take over any parties we found along our way. a toy guitar remained slung around my neck ready to irritate anyone in my vicinity with cheesy eight-bit melodies. timur and i developed a dreadful scouser routine which we performed for lucky travellers on the trams. then we ended up somewhere in alexanderplatz where performance artists had been let loose in a rabbit warren of tiny rooms. there was some kind of romantic interlude here but my memory is hazy. then there’s a gap and i’m at another party in neukoln with jan talking earnestly about what was important in 2008. at some point i staggered home, guided by my faithful gps, collapsing at yilmuz’ flat around eleven in the morning.

by nature i’m not a hedonist. on the contrary i’m prone to be shy, introverted and self-conscious. all my life i’ve felt frustrated with the limitations this imposed on me and have struggled to overcome them. i’ve made steady progress over the years, gradually beating down my self-consciousness enough to dance, interact with strangers and nurture the seeds of a more exuberant me. the past week represents a triumph for these efforts.

mum disapproves of such decadence and points out i’m too old for it. but at the grand age of thirty-seven i find i can generally out-dance revelers a decade younger than me. for so long as i have the energy for it and it gives me such pleasure then i intend to continue. it’s a healthy counterpoint to my overly cerebral personality and my desk-bound work.

my favourite memory from the whole week is sitting on the back seat of a tandem with timur in front, yulmaz’ piano accordion round my neck, cack-handedly blasting out songs as we pedaled round the streets at twilight on new year’s eve. timur has an exceptional gift for instigating such occurrences for which berlin provides an incomparable canvas.

so everyone, let’s make this a good year shall we.

: c :

c a m b o r n e t o b e r l i n

[ 09:16 saturday 27 december – great western train, camborne to london ]

pulling out of redruth the sun surmounts the horizon, sending long shadows racing across the frost-crusted fields and heathland that stretches to the north coast. the sky is perfectly blue. a friendly spaniel slithers under the seat in front and nuzzles my hand. three stops into the journey and the train is only sparsely inhabited but the forest of white reservation slips sprouting from the seat backs suggests it will soon be crammed full of people returning to the capital after christmas. once i reach london i’ll have two hours to sort myself then set off for stansted airport and a flight to berlin for the twenty-fifth chaos communication congress and the new year celebration.

christmas in cornwall with my family has been delightful. yesterday we walked from helston along the river to loe pool then out to the sand bar. meg joined us with her two daughters, whom i’d not seen since my caribbean trip in march 2007. we arrived at the beach just as the sun was setting. the long silvery waves fell upon each other in slow motion, blazoned orange-red in the dying sun. i walked to the edge of the surf with a sound recorder to capture the crash and fizz. after some minutes’ recording a big wave caught me unawares. retreating rapidly backwards i fell ignominiously on my backside in the water. my camera and recorder emerged unscathed so the only injury was having to walk back with cold wet trousers.

this was my first christmas without grandparents. it didn’t cast a pall over the celebration but i suspect we were all thinking of granny and missing her.

: c :

p a r i s

[ 09:38 monday 24 november – eurostar 9019, gare du nord, paris ]

a cold clear-skied morning in paris. four minutes to departure. the carriage is a-bustle with people stowing luggage and finding their seats. a cursory scan suggests three quarters tourist to one quarter business. that ratio would have been reversed on trains two hours ago.

i came over on saturday morning to see claire’s exhibition at the espace porte de champerret. this is my first visit to paris since i won a traveling scholarship from my school to come and investigate electro-acoustic music in 1989. somehow i’ve always travelled further afield. paris was so close it never occurred to me to come.

thinking myself very ingenious on saturday i strapped on my backpack and pedaled down to st pancras on my folding bike, expecting to throw it in the luggage rack for the journey then have my own wheels in paris. but at check in i was greeted with a firm insistence that the bike could not come unless it was packed in a bag “for security reasons”. what? in what conceivable way is a folded bike less of a security risk if it’s in a bag? i could understand if the company wanted to prevent their trains being dirtied by oily bikes, but i hate that we’re expected to nod in acquiescence at patently absurd rules if they’re justified by security. anyway i didn’t have a bag so the bike wasn’t coming. i tried to dump it at st pancras’ left luggage but got the same “it needs to be in a bag for security reasons” mantra. so i trudged across the road to the left luggage office at kings cross who took it without question. by this time i’d missing my train but the eurostar folks were kind enough to rebook me on the next service.

over the last couple of days i’ve done a lot of walking, exploring different neighbourhoods without any map or particular objective. saturday was crisp and cold with clear flat light. yesterday it rained all day, undulating between gentle patter and full-on deluge. on saturday night we all ended up at “point ephemera”, a club in an old industrial space by the side of the canal near stalingrad metro. then last night i met pierre at an event in belleville where the walls had been covered in tin-foil, a band discharged a krautrockish drone, two girls danced  together semi-naked and a cocktail based on tomato juice and tequila was liberally dispensed. it was charming.

i spent several hours yesterday afternoon at “les puces”, a market at the north-eastern periphery of the city. it was like a huge casbah, gorgeously photogenic in the fluorescent light and rain. most of the stalls offered generic hip-hop apparel, cheap north african leather goods and chinese trinkets. but i found a few vintage clothes emporia and some inventive small-scale designers. the best find was upstairs in an indoor section of the market. walking past at ground level i spotted a mannequin in victorian dress so i went up to investigate. what greeted me was a staggering collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century clothing from all over europe, curated by a delightful couple. there were embroidered peasant clothes from romania and the balkans, servants’ liveries from mid nineteenth century parisian households, military uniforms. but what caught my eye was a louis xiii herald suit, made for a paris theatre at the end of the nineteenth century, consisting of a jacket and calf-length doublet, made from scarlet and celeste wool, decorated with braid and brass bobbles. it fitted me perfectly and was ridiculously cheap so it’s here on the train back to london with me.

: c :

e l e c t i o n

[ 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 :

d u l l e s

[ 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 :

m i a m i

[ 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 :