Added to the wishlist: The Cello Suites

[Book] Via the indomitable Tyler Cowen’s short but sweet Books of the Year post:

“A very good gift book is Eric Siblin’s new The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece.  It signals the sophistication of both the giver and receiver and yet it is short and entertaining enough to actually read. Package it with the recent Queyras recording of the Suites, if need be.”

Now that is how you write a book recommendation. I would like to know more about classical music. And of course, one is not averse to signalling one’s own sophistication.

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Added to the wishlist: A Crisis of Brilliance

[Book] A Crisis of Brilliance, by David Haycock, courtesy of a review in the Guardian:

“The particular cauldron of intensity into which Haycock plunges is the Slade School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture…  and the students who experience this ‘crisis of brilliance’ – a phrase coined by their bristly, austere professor of drawing, Henry Tonks – are Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler, CRW Nevinson, Paul Nash and Dora Carrington. All studied at the Slade between 1908 and 1912. Their fate was also decreed by a trial of fire, the first world war, that would define their art for the rest of their lives.

“As their names became known, so the artists were swept into the orbit of avant-garde movements such as Wyndham Lewis’s vorticists, the craft work of Fry’s Omega Gallery, and the ‘Georgian painters’ patronised by the stylish, monocled civil servant and collector Eddie Marsh.

“The war smashed into their lives as well as the old order. Haycock follows the hostilities with powerful economy, while tracing the artists’ own splintered trajectories… Haycock’s narrative of this entangled, war-defined group is so strong that it often has the force of a novel, hard to put down.”

Update: You can download the preface and first chapter [PDF] from the author’s website.

8-bit trip: Lego bricks as pixels

This video comprises “1,500 hours of moving Lego bricks and taking photos of them.” It’s not particularly coherent in terms of theme, unless you call “8-bit games and music rule” a theme. Which maybe we should. Worth it for the chiptune soundtrack, the use of Lego as pixels and the particularly nice Pacman shots, which put you right into the maze.

Year of the Ox’s most popular internet slang

FAIL is over – especially if you’re in China. Apparently, these are the Year of the Ox’s most popular linguistic terms on the internet (although we’re only halfway through the year). Wonder how long it will take for ‘yùzháizú’ – the Chinese word for otaku – to appear in Wired or the new William Gibson novel?

Favourite term: FB = 腐败 = fǔbài. Originally the corruption of government officials, now commonly used to refer to going out to have a nice meal. Oddly close to fubar.

(via @monglor)

Virtual reality, then and now

In the 1980s and 1990s, the term ‘virtual reality’ was understood to mean the creation of reality inside the computer – and thus we would need to experience it using complex imaging and interaction systems (3D googles, cursors mapped to the movement of a glove etc.) The implication behind this was the reality itself would be untouched. The real world would simply be a home for the VR equipment: Star Trek imagines it holodeck as a big empty room, for instance. Moreover, since VR ran inside the computer, it only worked when you turned it on – and in movies such as The Lawnmower Man, the nightmare scenario was not being able to get out.

Few people imaginged that when VR came to pass, it would actually involve computers altering the way we acted in reality. The video below shows 100 dancers in central London recreating the dance from Beyonce’s music video for her song ‘Single Ladies’ (which Peter Sagal called ‘a wonderful, brilliantly performed dance number set to an irresistably catchy pop tune’). As a piece of PR in reality, it holds very little value – few people would have the chance to actually see it, as it the dancers and organisers take pains for it to appear to happen spontaneously on the street. It’s over in three minutes, and few of the people who happened to be walking by would actually be able to make sense of it because it only works if you’ve seen the original music video. Indeed, the behaviour of the dancers only really works if it’s watched as a video, passed around virally on the web. It is, essentially, VR: actions in reality that are targeted at, and only make sense when experienced virtually.

A post in 2 parts: Mark Rothko and Camerabag

It's very black

It's very black

Took the shot above yesterday at Tate Modern, and it’s the first one I’ve got from the iPhone’s camera that I’ve been really happy with. It’s from Tate’s excellent Mark Rothko exhibition

Part 1: Overheard at Mark Rothko
Well, I say it’s excellent, but that’s if you like Rothko. If you don’t, it’s fair to say it’s not going to change your mind about him. It’s not like there’s a secret room of photo-realistic portraits or delicate watercolours in the middle of it. Despite the fact Rothko is one of the few 20th century artists to be widely known, plenty of people there seemed annoyed, offended and upset by what they found. Best exchange I overheard was a father leading his 10 year old son through the rooms, at pace, saying:

“Right, so the last room was the purple and black series. This one is the grey and black series. You see the difference?”

In close second:

(Man, looking at a massive canvas that’s absolutely covered in paint) “Well, it’s not really painting, is it?”

Part 2: The Camerabag iPhone app
You do get some interesting people at exhibitions. Families with babies that literally look like they’ve just come out of the hospital, perplexed French tourists and people who appear to have dressed solely to look like cliched art fans. It all makes for great photos, but unfortunately you have to contend with the gallery guards and the no photography rule. This meant the SLR was out, and the iPhone was in. I’ve written about the iPhone’s camera before, and as it’s not brilliant, I’ve tried out a few apps to see if they could improve it. By far the best has been one called Camerabag; it’s cheap, regularly updated (most of the bugs have now gone) and allows you to apply a series of filters to pictures you take with the camera. The idea is that the filters mimic certain camera styles – Lomo, Polaroid, monochrome etc – and it’s easy to use, and as you can see from the picture I took at Tate, allows you to get a bit more out of your phone pics. Well worth the £1.79 cost. For more, check out the Camerabag Flickr group.

Previously on the Wired Jester:
Art: Visiting Tate Britain’s Holbein exhibition.

My Favourite Piece of Travel Writing

My favourite piece of travel writing is short and to the point, but it questions everything about ‘here’ and calls to mind perfectly the change of ‘there’ that is its lure.

It is a description of people in an airport, and how easily they strike up conversation with each other. They are:

‘Strangers rendered open-hearted from jet lag’
(Pico Iyer, The Global Soul)

We travel to be operated on; by the sun, by the sights, by there, the place we want to get to, and most of all, by the miles of distance between there and here, by the separation itself.