Saturday, July 29, 2006

who'd have thought it would last this long?

appy birthday to you.
Happy birthday to you.
Happy birthday dear blo-og.
Happy birthday to you.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

open that box

've written before about Pandora, the free internet radio site. Yes, I know that most if not all radio stations are free on the Web, but with Pandora, everyone can set up their own styles of stations, then refine them by telling the site whether they like or dislike each track played.

I have four stations so far, each for a particular mood or time of day. The first is based on Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno, Talking Heads and the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The next is on 'Garden of Paradise' by Steve Hillage, and the third on Sarah McLachlan. I'm still experimenting with the fourth, using it to try out various groups I know little about.

Due to the licensing agreements arranged with publishers, however, you don't get complete control of playlists. Instead, you specify one or more tracks or artists, and the site selects similar music based on a detailed analysis of between 200 and 400 possible styles and attributes for each track. For example, the summary of 'Four Ever Rainbow' by Steve Hillage is 'idm influences, electronica roots, ambient soundscapes, downtempo influences and intricate rhythmns'. (I'd never even heard of 'idm' until now. Apparently it stands for Intelligent Dance Music.)

This level of analysis of indivdual tracks means that surprising connections are sometimes made that introduce you to groups or artists that you would never have thought of.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


n the fine tradition of Samorost and Samorost 2 (reviewed here in October and December 2005 respctively), comes another point and click puzzle game, this time from Germany. It's called Wogger, and while it's not as interesting or polished as its forebears, it's intruiging enough to fill in an hour or so should you have one to spare.

Monday, July 24, 2006

creatures of the night (well, late evening)

ildlife seems to have been emerging round us recently, with little effort on our part. First, there was a dragonfly down at the allotments, darting back and forth by the privet hedge late one evening.

At sunset the following day, while we were out for a walk at Tittesworth reservoir, a heron flew low overhead and shortly afterwards a barn owl swept by, pale and silent. That's the first owl I've seen in several years, and my closest sighting ever.

Finally, in this recent batch of sightings, a humming bird hawk moth fluttered around the buddleia in our garden, again late one evening. We've seen this creature in the garden before, but not known what it was.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

a scanner darkly

otoscoping is a form of animation where someone traces over live action film, and it divides opinion. Some see it as merely a cheat for the unskilled, while others feel it achieves an atmosphere unlike any other form of animation.

The technique has been used widely in the past, including Prince Charming in Disney's Snow White, but is less common these days other than for specific elements within films. It is therefore surprising that it has been used to create the whole of the futuristic A Scanner Darkly, a film of the book by Philip K Dick.

Several big budget films have been made from Dick's work - Bladerunner, Minority Report and Total Recall - so it is interesting to see a new slant on the strange worlds created by the author.

As a taster, you can see the first 24 minutes on the web, but spare a thought for the trials and tribulations of the director and his staff during the making of the film. Personally, I like the resulting style, though, as with the graphic-novel look of Sin City, it's probably best if done rarely. Anyway, the film appars to have far more serious weaknesses which mean that quibbles about rotoscoping are missing the point.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

at last

Yaaaay! It's raining rain!

I woke up after very little sleep because I was so hot and came downstairs. I started checking my RSS feeds, and at 2.23am I heard a peculiar sound. Rushing outside to see what was wrong, I found heavy raindrops bashing down. The shower only lasted seven minutes, but there's now lighting. Perhaps it will be enough to cool things down just a little.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

norman and the oscar people

y coincidence, following yesterday's post about Norman McLaren, comes the announcement that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (the organisation that awards the Oscars) will hold a tribute evening to the man himself on 18th August. Thirteen newly restored and remastered films will be shown, for the grand sum of $5 per ticket.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

norman mclaren

eturning to the recent but unintentional focus on animation, I've discovered a wonderful site for the National Film Board of Canada, which contains five films by Norman McLaren (four are listed under his name, with the fifth under Claude Jutra), as well as the stunning 'Two Sisters' by Caroline Leaf.

Norman McLaren was the first animator I discovered after Disney and cartoons. It was sometime in the mid-1970s, and I'd wandered into the Fruitmarket Gallery, as I occasionally did in those days, just to see what was going on.

A temporary room had been set up in the middle of the gallery, with walls draped in black cloth. Not very confident and feeling like an intruder, I tentatively peeked round the corners designed to exclude stray daylight, and found a jumpy, crackly, nonsensical world. It was the precise opposite to the smoothness of my much-loved Jungle Book. Abstract shapes, drawn directly onto film, leapt shakily around; solid objects moved of their own accord and with personality, while people seemed to float through the air while their legs blurred below them.

I watched all of the films again and again, and returned to the gallery several times before the exhbition ended.

Monday, July 17, 2006

fingered balloons

hile I was in Edinburgh recently, I took some photographs as contributions to a couple of websites designed by Dave Wood. Dave was my tutor at college, and a great help to me in my studies, so I wanted to return the compliment where I could.

One of Dave's interests is encouraging other people to participate, to see what happens when control is relaxed, so he's set up several sites with different themes.

The first, I took it here, asks people to print out an image of a hot air ballon, take it somewhere, photograph it, and e-mail the result.

The next, Where's your finger been? is similar, but the theme is a face drawn on a finger. I hadn't appreciated that a series of photos forming a story or adventure was what was wanted, so I submitted only the one.

The others, which I haven't contributed to yet, are Fabulous Buildings and Strange Semiotics.

Why not visit some or all of these sites, and contribute your images?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

i'll be your dog

ere's a blast from the past. I remember this advert as a highlight of going to the cinema as a child. I used to wish it would last much longer.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

just an illusion

ometimes it's hard to convince people in animation workshops how little change should take place between frames to create the illusion of smooth movement.

As if to prove me wrong, here's an example, admittedly quite an extreme one, of just how big the steps can be. There are two short clips from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The first is at normal speed, and the second is an extract of the first one, in slow motion so that you can see individual frames.

I particularly like Bugs with three heads...

Monday, July 10, 2006

film in Edinburgh

dinburgh has some wonderful cinemas which are almost the direct opposite of soul-less multiplexes all showing the same films.

There's the family-owned and run Dominion, which has adapted over the years to keep up with changes elsewhere, and has a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The Cameo looks a bit run down from the outside these days, but it's still a magnificent building inside. Plans to demolish it were withdrawn after public protest.

I didn't visit either of these on my recent trip to Edinburgh. Instead, I went twice to the Filmhouse. This has grown over many years from a small, makeshift affair to a three-screen venue for the annual Edinburgh Film Festival and has a large resturant/bar area.

There are plans for a complete rebuild of this too, but as they're highly ambitious, it may be a long time before anything takes shape.

The Filmhouse programme is very varied. On consecutive days I saw the wonderful 'Where the Sidwalk Ends' from 1950, shown as part of the 'Good Cops? Bad Cops!' season, followed by the charming 'Lost Embrace', from 2004, an Argentinian film set in a shopping centre full of interesting characters.

For the rest of this month, the Filmhouse is showing a selection of films from Film Festivals over 59 years, showing just how much has been introduced there.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Rembrandt at 400

hile in Edinburgh last week, I visited the excellent exhibition of etchings by Rembrandt at the Scottish National Gallery, organised to mark the 400th anniversary of the artist's birth.

It's a relatively small exhibition, with about 30 etchings, and although the labels repeatedly reminded us that Rembrandt was a master of mixing techniques in the his work, there was no detailed explanation of the effects of this.

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful collection, ranging from gentle landscapes etched while standing in front of the scenes, to portraits and biblical scenes. These latter were the most dramatic, with heavy contrast between light and shade. A few were shown in different stages, so you could see how much they had been altered.

Radio 3 has a programme about Rembrandt tonight to mark the anniversary, but the prospect reminds me of Steve Martin's comment that "talking about music is like dancing about architecture".

Monday, July 03, 2006

standing in a doorway

ompletely mis-reading the clouds yesterday afternoon, I set out for a walk. A gentle rain started almost immediately, but it felt pleasantly cool and refreshing so I carried on, ignoring the gradually increasing intensity.

Eventually the rain passed beyond the point of definite downpour and reached the stage of thunder and lightning. Despite having passed many pleasant-looking cafes earlier, I couldn't find one to shelter in, so I stood in the ample doorway of an estate agent's office.

First to join me was a young Australian woman on a brief break from work. We chatted amiably for a while, and the conversation veered towards her former fear of lightning. As if to prove a point, she put up her umbrella and returned to work.

Shortly afterwards, three young people took shelter beside me, speaking a language that sounded like a recording played backwards. Not entirely convinced it was genuine, I would guess, if I had to, at one of the Baltic States. There was no spoken communication between us but we exchanged smiles.

They soon moved on, to be replaced, albeit momentarily, by someone waiting for a companion to catch up. No contact at all between us, turning this into a series of decreasing interactions.

Watching the torrents run down the streets, interrupted only by cars attempting to turn across them, I wished I'd brought my camera on this visit to Edinburgh so I could have captured the peole leaning out of the windows on the upper floors opposite to get a better view of the soaked pedestrians below, or the man attempting to enter the restaurant without collapsing his rainbow-coloured umbrella.

No doubt, though, that if I did have my camera with me, I'd be fretting too much about protecting it from the rain.