ARTYFACTS: May 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 23: What is art?

Brave to end a Festival you’ve curated with the question, ‘What is art?’ but this is a 2,500 year old issue that requires some philosophical acumen, and not just personal reflections. Like the debates at the Festival (apart from Stern) this lacked academic rigour and depth.


His first argument is an argument from analogy, that art should be seen as biology post-Darwin, with no hierarchy. The ‘all inclusive’ argument is fairly well established in aesthetics as a reaction against the Kantian absolutism of the 18th century but it bears no real analogy with Darwin, which is an explanation for the life we observe through genetic variation and natural selection.

A more fruitful line of inquiry would have been the various evolutionary hypotheses put forward for aesthetic behaviour. So what is ‘adaptive’ about art? Our taste for landscapes and parks suggests our origin in Savannah grasslands. Puzzle-solving, status markers, sexual selection, fitness indicators that are difficult to fake; these are all candidates for discussion and a lively area of aesthetic theorising. Eno either hasn’t read any the many books and papers in this area, or forgot to mention it.

We’ve had John Carey at the Festival in the past, and his book ‘What good are the arts’ was mentioned then dismissed on the grounds that he saw ‘literature’ as true art. He caricatured Carey, who actually argues for Eno’s position and does not believe in absolute values in art. The problem here is that Eno simply presents a description of what he regards as ‘art’. What aesthetics tries to do is establish both a definition and explanation. It’s the ‘why’ that’s so puzzling.


He tries, but fails, to establish an explanatory theory through his theory of ‘surrender’, the process whereby humans willingly surrender consciousness through sex, drugs, art and religion. The word ‘surrender’ is suspect here as much art appreciation is active participation and inquiry, not a passive ‘suspension of disbelief’ or dream-like mental state. If pushed, he’d have real difficulty in defining art in these terms. In fact, it ultimately leads to an aesthetic view that is similar to Marx’s view that ‘Religion is the opium of the people’. The surrender theory posits art as the opium of the people, a form of escapism. Now this is an interesting and dangerous line of inquiry, that goes all the way back to Plato. In the end his definition was a weak version of the historicist view of art, as u by Levinson and others. Armchair theorising is fine, but you expect more at a ticketed event in a Concert Hall.


To be fair, it was interesting to hear someone who is in a position of some power in the arts question its meaning and purpose. In my experience, those involved in the arts are repulsed by aesthetic theory. Art, for them, is an absolute good and those who engage in this debate, simply philistines looking for an excuse to with draw their subsidies. In that sense, well done Eno.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 16: Ian King

Fist, a lanky Scot singing folk songs that had contemporary lyrics. I'm a bit removed from Scotland and it's folk,even though I'm Scottish, but the audience loved him. I was really there for Ian King, one of a handful of people trying to inject life into a moribund English folk scene.He succeeded, because he favours a good song and backing band over tradition for tradition's sake. The quiet, but wailing, electric guitar lifted many of the sings but Ian King was in the driving seat with his strong voice and good taste.

Day 17: Political Mother

Modern dance pays too much attention to its classical roots, so I was delighted to see Hofesh Shechter rock the roof off the Dome with a performance tat literally stunned the audience,with a wall of sound, from four guitars and four drummers. But the real genius was the lead singer who roared out meaningless political slogans. He was the spear tip that jabbed at the audience. You couldn't keep your eyes off him, even when the dancers were on stage. It had all the trademark Hofesh choreography, reaching for objects above the dancers heads, groups being washed around the stage. Andrew Comben,the Director of the Brighton Festival brought them to Brighton as the resident dance group, gave them space for rehearsal, and with this performance, Andrew has made his name. It's on tour now - go see it.

Day 18: Roy Haynes - legend

Legendary drummer attracts drummer crowd at the Komedia. Great for me as my son is a drummer,so he, his drummer mate and their drum teacher, along with hundreds of other jazz and drummers went to pay homage to the 83 year old who wasn't even out of breath after the performance. Accompanied by sax, piano and bass, then his friend's son,popped up onto the stage to play 'When the Saints'. Audience loved it. Greta to see these musicians honoured in the best way possible, by young people turning up to see them.

Day 21: Rimini Protokoll – Best Before

Strong idea – audience has game controllers and ball avatars, while guided through a series of decisions,some of which affect your future action. Take heroin and weed early in the game and you’re debarred from political life. Don’t go to University,you earn less. Even cheating is explored. So far,so good, it was fun, especially for those who had never played a computer game before. I enjoyed seeing Polly Toynbee choosing to take heroin.

But, and it’s a large but, the presenters were low key Canadians who couldn’t carry it. Why have live theatre and edgy decision making, fronted by amateurs? It still defaulted to the old theatre idea that the performers were primary and audience secondary. In games, it’s the audience that is primary. To be fair this was about as good as I’ve seen in terms of technology and theatre, but it still had that element of ‘dads dancing at the disco’ feel.

Day 21: This is the Afterlife

If this is the afterlife, then give me oblivion. It didn’t warrant a huge concert hall experience. A series of ‘readings’, and that was the problem with most of them, they were ‘read’ not ‘spoken’, wasn’t enough to carry the event. With the exceptions of the Geordie, Glaswegian and kid at the start, these were like those awful Radio 4 plays you get in the afternoon, before you reach for the off button. The music was neither complementary nor enough in itself to arouse interest. Eno has been a brilliant curator and director, I’m not so sure about his performances.

Day 20: Women Dream Horses

This was far removed from the normal Anglo-Saxon idea of theatre, which is why I liked it. I’m tiring of British theatre with its inward looking, petty cultural obsessions. ‘Yes Minister’ at Chichester, is a good example. Clearly playing to retired, countrified, Colonel Blimp audiences; a retread of a TV series on the stage.

This group of Spanish misfits took the edgy theme of women, horses and sex to rip open the psychological guts of a family. The three couples fought, sparred and joked with Chekovian reverence for off stage action and events. The drinks that were never drunk, the meal that never came. The killing spree at the end meant no respite for an audience looking for resolution. There was courage in the writing and the action.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Day 15: This is reasons for optimism

Grammatically dodgy title for a debate that turned out to be a dodgy debate. Brian Eno gave us his reasons for optimism – various global organisations that keep the mail, and the internet going, fluidity of knowledge on the internet and our children (If we understood them, we’d be fucked). No mention of any of the problems just some examples of where things do actually work.

Eno was right, this was a purely Panglossian session. What he seems to have missed is that Pangloss was a ridiculous character. Leibniz's philosophical excuse for the existing of suffering was a mathematical artifice that required looking at a metaphysical fix for the existence of God. Philosophically, it's a bizarre solution, and, of course, didn't last the test of time. When pop producers turn philosophers, you've got to put your bullshit alarm on to full volume. I was half expecting Bono to appear with a U2 theodicy.

The 'Panglossian' disaster continued. Some Quaker, who had an interest in Nuclear proliferation, explained that although Iran hangs young homosexuals from cranes, they’re alright really. Then, a psychobabble expert who was neither pessimistic nor optimistic, put forward her delusional ideas about ‘psychotherapy’, and how it can save the world (although it seems to focus mostly on Camden and Brixton at the moment). She was truly and magnificently awful – total lightweight. Finally a lawyer who was a Zen Buddhist priest. It was all very ‘Brighton’ and as such, lacked depth, academic credibility and at times, good sense. Inside my head, I'm sure I heard Voltaire laugh from his grave.

Day 14: Electric Hotel

Only the headphones stopped my head from freezing and my mind numbing with boredom for the first 30 mins of this show. A dull sequence of dances is repeated, doubling the boredom. No doubt some smart ass choreographer will say that the audience have to place their own meaning on events, but I hardly cared. Ambiguity is often an excuse for the banal. Then, literally out of the blue light, it exploded into action. It was a bit like 'Noises Off' at times (I hate farce) but the scene with the white-suited singer on the top floor and fighting dancers was worth the wait. This show simply needed some serious editing.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Day 14: Nick Kent

Having witnessed the drug banalities of John Harris and John Niven yesterday, I feared the worst with a second music journalist today. Fear not, Nick Kent was on a roll. He’s likeable, articulate and knows how to tell a tale.

There was the usual hagiographic description of Keith Richards (exaggerated methinks) but funny. I look forward to the biography coming out later this year. He was incisive on Iggy Pop (complex man) explaining that he was at times rather nasty, middle-class boy, who likes the American Dream (hence the ads). ‘Raw Power’ is still his favourite album. Malcolm Maclaren was ‘and interesting bunch of guys’, but fundamentally an unpleasant egomaniac. Interesting take on the Sex Pistols, as 'thugs'. But there was the honesty and tenderness of a man looking back at his life, his lucky breaks, his loves, his friends. Came across as a nice guy. It would be interesting to get someone who knows him well to give us an opinion, someone other than the bitter blimp that is Julie Burchill.

His final observations about contemporary music were worth hearing – gadget driven, with no shared sensibility, an industry redefined by the internet. But there was a note of optimism around the creativity that the technology offered artists. His point about music journalism having become the ‘nostalgia’ industry, was apposite (he I suppose is an example). When the lights went up he gasped, “Fuck me, there’s a lot of people here!”

Day 13: John Harris & John Niven

The music industry chronicles itself through music journalism, biogs and the occasional novel. But it’s all a bit seedy and dishonest, as the journos get paid by the record companies to go on tour, a bit like travel journalism. But I expected more from John Harris, as he seems to have moved beyond this in his other musings.

The session got off to a bad start with a rash of dull and predictable stories about drugs – we went through the whole gamut; weed, cocaine, E, heroin. Drugs are like dreams, deeply solipsistic, and therefore dull in the telling. This didn’t stop them droning on about being GAKED (slang sounds better when old men are trying to impress a young audience) out of their heads.

It didn’t get much better when they were discussing Brit Pop, which was boring then, never mind now. Harris only started getting interesting near the end when he hinted at the idea that the music industry is essentially delusional, and needs to be, as they peddle teenage kicks to young and expectant minds.

Julie Burchill floated in, sat in the dark in her sunglasses, occasionally squeaking out a comment, and the first question from the audience was, ‘Did someone really get fisted by a Brit Award?’ Oh the glamour of it all!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Day12: Koyaanisqatsi & Philip Glass

Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word meaning ‘life imbalance’. I had just attended a workshop on that remarkable building, the Dome, and had what I regard as the best seat, visually an acoustically, in the house - A39 – bang in the middle in the Circle. This really is a great venue, although you can’t see the Dome from either the outside or inside, it’s a huge octagonal domed edifice, originally a stable for the Prince Regent, then a barracks, then a hospital for Indian soldiers wounded in the first world war.

Anyway, back to the performance. Philip Glass was there along with an ensemble that played his score top the movie live. It’s largely time lapse or slowed down, so that the music sets the real tempo. It starts and finishes with beautiful Hopi rock paintings, but it’s opening sequences are huge panoramas of the US landscape devoid of people or signs of habitation and rolling clouds and rivers. But not for long, as the Saturn rocket looms into view and huge trucks and cranes extracting minerals. Cityscapes and people soon appear, along with huge housing projects, demolitions and poverty. It’s nothing but ambitious this film. The problem is that the visual and musical narrative isn’t quite sophisticated enough. The clever juxtapositions aren’t there and although most of the scenes are truly beautiful, the speeded up cars on roads and people on escalators have since become clichés.

For me the landscapes were transcendent and the shots of the hydrogen bomb tests as frightening as they’ve always been. We never see these images now, except trivialised in pop videos. They’re far more frightening than any horror movie.

One aspect of the film that limits its scope is that it is essentially an American movie with nothing but American images. This reduces its universality somewhat. Nevertheless, it’s visually stunning.

"If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster." "Near the day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky." "A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans." You’ve got to take these things with a pinch of salt as they have an oral tradition, altered by the Spanish and later cultures. Curiously, the Hopi now make most of their money from opencast coal mining!

Day 10: Macbeth

Curious opening witches scene where static actors simply recite the words in the darkness. The problem, however, was the incredibly 'posh' pronunciation. It was like three ladies from Roedean in an elocution lesson. This was a problem throughout the play. Macduff had an authentic Scottish accent but Macbeth sounded like David Cameron. The 'Porter' scene was smart in that he became a she, but again her Scottish accent was weird. I'm Scottish but could hardly understand a word. One last word on the cast; Lady Macbeth was something else, a tall, blond figure looming over Macbeth.
But let's put accents to one side for a minute. Macbeth can suffer from a surfeit of blood and be smothered by contemporary interpretation. This is a pared down, skeletal version on a simple dark set with no props. It works because the tale and language is strong enough to sweep you along. It's basically a bloody, murderous, gangster movie, with characters right out of some brutal Mafia clan - the murderous moll, the tortured gangster, the cheeky doorman, dodgy doctors and blood and bodies galore. It's Shakespeare's thriller, full of action and twists. My good friend Ronnie is actually the modern Thane of Fife, as Chief Exec of Fife Council; he would have enjoyed this.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Day 9: The Books, Anna Calvi

'Next big things' is the black spot in music. One minute the next Meatloaf, the next dead meat. I didn't really see the core talent in Anna Calvi. She plucks a fair, but unpolished, guitar solo and has a voice that is almost there, but not quite. Altogether too shouty and the drummer needs to calm down. Far more interesting was the young lad who came on with a poncho, harp and guitar before her. He had a fine voice, quirky songs and did a ballsy march off the stage through the audience.
The Books, however, showed stunning originality, stage presence and charm. They are unlike anything else you may have heard with their cello, guitar, bass instrumentation, backing loops and quirky videos.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Day8: This is Scenius

To rechristen these concerts 'This was Tedious' would be a cheap shot, but there it is. I can't for the life of me see what was worthy in this triplet of concerts. I sat through all three hoping for a revelation or epiphany - it never came.
Eno had a nice line in self-depreciating theory, pretending to be an academic delivering the last lecture of the year to us, his students. The course was Module 4 in Cultural Reconstruction and , as all digital music had been destroyed in the Great Pulse in 2038, the group were trying to reconstruct the lost genres. The first was North American Pedagogic; music designed to keep students awake in lectures, as it was cheaper than Ritalin. Unfortunately, the music was as tedious as most lecturers.
A fair number of the audience left well before the end and all three concerts were thinly attended. I suppose this was because there aren't enough Eno fanboys out there and the whole enterprise was a bit vague. But what surprised me was the lack of energy and surprise. It was billed as a, free-flowing exercise in group composition but there was little or no communication between the Eno and the band. They had tea set up on a table with a sofa and chairs but no one had a cup of tea.
I've got to give Eno the benefit of the doubt here and blame my lack of musical sensitivity - but telling it straight, I felt it was lacklustre. At times it felt as though early 70s prog rock had returned.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Day 7: Kim Noble Must Die (five letter review)

he did

Day 7: Local or global? Debate - not really

Ask the right question to get the right answer. This was a vague question and therefore a muddle. It fragmented into a lot of sub-debates about foreign aid, financial markets and the current election. Indeed the opposing parties, two on each side ended up supporting each other and flipping back and forth on the issue. What we got was a series of journalistic observations, which is hardly surprising, as that, essentially, is what the panel consisted of. There was no academic analysis of the issue(s) no heavyweight thoughts, no depth. The debaters were like 1% fat milk, they looked like the real thing but were as thin as water.

One sub-debate did take off, and that was on foreign aid. The World aid budget is actually quite small at $120 billion, about the same amount that the US spends on Botox, breast implants and vaginal realignment. Our aid budget is about 8 days of the interest we pay on our national debt. Then there’s the recent analysis of aid in terms of feeding corruption, fuelling wars and fuelling dependency. Aid spends on education, health and women’s rights, but fails to recognise that health, educated people need jobs. The solutions are therefore political and economic. It’s as if we give them ladders then swipe the ladder away from them when they’re on the bottom rung and send them bandages and soup. Aid in this sense will never stop as it reinforces itself.

The only other interesting observation was on the nature of protest. He gave a withering critique of carline Lucas’s statement after being elected, to the effect that she’s would first and foremost protect the interests of Brighton and her constituents. Not the world, Europe, UK, England or even Sussex, but Brighton! Then came the attack on the NO-sayers. We Brits love a little march to say NO to something. We’ll trivialise politics by saying no to cuts, no to the closure of the most inefficient of schools and hospitals, NO to Tesco, No to anything. We rarely say YES to anything and that’s the problem.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Day 7: This is Acapello

Bran Eno said this event would be a surprise. Eno’s an acapello fanboy and sings in his own acapello group. But nothing prepared me for how astonishing a experience this turned out to be. I had a taste of Reggie Watts during the week and was hungry for more. He was the perfect compere defying every convention of formal concert performance. He was surreal, funny, jammed with the artists and gave his own hilarious looped, acapello songs such as Caucasian Spiritual. Then five guys from New York who gave us soul, blues and, just for Brighton, a fantastic version of Under the Boardwalk. The Brighton crowd, probably sick of election talk, were really up for this. Finally we had Naturally 7, secen young guys from New York, who gave a jaw dropping show. They produce a wall of sound, including drums, guitar, bass, wind and string instruments. The guy on drums took us through each piece, snare, bass, high-hat, crash and toms. My son’s a drummer and I’ve set drum kits up dozens of times and I swear that if you closed your eyes, you’d think this these were the breal deal. It was almost beyond belief what these kids were doing with the human voice. When they attempted George Harrisons, ‘When My Guitar Gently Weeps’ I thought they’d bitten off more than they could sing – but it was a wailing masterpiece. I’ve seen some great things in the Dome over many years but this was different, as it was so unexpected. Give it up for the Eno man.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Day 6: Rokia Traore

Rokia really rocked the roof off the Dome tonight with her brilliant band but was also true to her roots with traditional songs. From this beautiful, lithe, wiry figure comes this HUGE voice who also danced for a solid two hours. From this beautiful, lithe, wiry figure comes this HUGE voice who also danced for a solid two hours. Got to say something about the band. The lead guitar was fiendishly good - at points the band got into heavy rock, Cream like sounds but he switched with ease from rock to African sounds. The drummer, did some magical things with percussion instruments, while at the same time, knocking out the rhythms. The bass player boomed away and the Xalam player knocked out some great solos. Whole place on its feet at the end.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Day 5: Reggie Watts

What do you make of this? Packed house for this huge, ‘fro, bearded, box-shaped guy in red sweater who beat boxes out some fantastic looped songs which he creates as he goes. Not only does he have a voice that does everything, full range, soul, hip-hop..... he’s a comic. But this ain’t no stand-up routine. Reggie likes to riff off wherever the thoughts lead him. It’s improv with songs and beats. Shockingly good. Really looking forward to This is Acapella, where Reggie also features.

Dat 5: Loin

Precision performance from this mixed up chap, and I’d love to see it again, as it threads projected text, dance, music and film to present his fractured identity. I’m sure I missed a lot on first sight. It starts with a cyclical movement where he’s crushed to the ground, reflecting the torture his father endured? Violence is always the driver here and explodes from the dancer on several occasions and violence dominates the memories of the witnesses. The past rips up his present and there is no clear narrative. The dance sequences where he lets rip and the most thrilling as if the past is electrocuting him; in stark contrast to the precise control of the opening dance. Life is not a story, it’s a bad meal with some old and foul tasting ingredients. Intersecting real video from his mother was a powerful finale.

Day 5: Eno's 77 million paintings

People lounge back on huge red sofas to watch huge luminous images morph to the music. It was like walking into a church from the back and seeing lone, silent worshipers pray. I sat for over and hour, but there were some who were clearly there for longer and no wonder. Huge screens (TVs?) are arranged to show a slowly changing set of mixed images, generated by a piece of software, I presume. Set at the working end of the church, the apse, it was like a huge, constantly changing, stained glass window, but more Islamic than Christian, as it’s primarily geometric. The music’s generated from multiple CD players overlaying tracks on each other. Generated art and generated music. Go there and contemplate. Honestly, it's brilliant. This Eno guy’s starting to impress me.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Day 4: Stern stuff

Cool, calm and certain; Stern delivered on the, science, economics and politics of climate change. Hope you’ve all read the report (700 pages). It’s just damn fine to see someone soaked in the science, deliver a talk that cuts to the beating heart of the matter. He sees it as a risk management problem and that the risks are ENORMOUS i.e. a 50/50 chance that we’ll see temperatures 4/5/6 degrees hotter, temperatures the Earth hasn’t seen for 30 million years, something that lies outside of human experience. Consequences; Bangladesh and Florida among and many more under water, Southern Europe as hot as the Sahara desert, mosquitoes and malaria in major African cities, tundra melting and methane release, all leading to the migration of billions of people and on-going resource wars.

Evolutionary psychology

He pulled in evolutionary cognition as the explanation for our short-termism. Note that the election has barely mentioned climate change. We’re hopeless at dealing with 30-50 year problems, as our political systems cater for short-term goals. But, as Groucho Marx said, “Why should I care bout future generations, what have future generations ever done for me?” The point is that politicians have to start dealing with probabilities, not certainties.

Realistic optimist

He had some praise for China, who he thought was one of the few nations capable of taking the long view. Their 12th five year plan is vital for the success of the Copenhagen Accord. He has grown more optimistic that Copenhagen will work, with 100 countries signed up and other conferences planned in Cancun and s Africa. At just 2.5 pages and 12 paragraphs, it’s a start, with a 100 billion promise for poorer countries.

Do we need a disaster to waken the consciousness of mankind? The Australian bush fires have altered opinion in that country, so there’s something in that hypothesis. Are fossil fuels becoming so unaffordable that the boat will self-right? In the end he had a rather surprising saviour here – business. It was here that he saw lots of immediate activity and saw the pension funds as the key to green investment, as they take the long term view. The pace of innovation, he thought, was immense and investors, he thought, would start to shun high carbon investments. Unfortunately, it was the US and China that most of these opportunities are coming from. Entrepreneurship is key.


I spoke to Nick Stern afterwards, and asked a question, “Lovelock was here in this very room two years ago, and would describe himself as a realistic pessimist, what probability do you attach to his catastrophic outcome?” Stern replied, “Of course, he’s really more into the science than the economics, but there is a probability.” He wouldn’t give me a number. That’s the problem with economists, they’ll only tell you the probabilities of their favoured outcome!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Day 3: Seeing Things

As the late, great Kurt Vonnegut said, “There must be more to life than blow-jobs and golf”. So off I set to surrender my creaking, old, Calvinist frame to the will of some performance artists. The show was Seeing Things, which has an audience of exactly one – and at 1 pm today, that one was me.

The blurb asked me to turn up 15 minutes early. I did and after reading a short disclaimer, sat there for ten minutes in silence. Now here’s the tease. I danced a waltz in complete darkness with a stranger, looked down at my feet to find they were someone else’s feet, ate a strawberry in the dark, went eyeball to eyeball with a bearded, Indian transvestite in a sort of homoerotic lapdance, was spun round in a dark room, walked up a long corridor towards a living Vermeer painting (I think) and, finally, had my feet washed, and kissed, by the lovely Adrian.

Like lots of performance art projects that try to use technology, it’s usually dated or the wrong technology. In this case an iPOD and projector glasses were a little weak. They didn’t really do the VR thing, as so brilliantly described by Daniel Lanier in WE ARE NOT GADGETS. The work has lots of potential but this was a work in progress. The artist should team up with some serious geeks to get this going as it has loads of performance potential. The Vermeer thing had similar potential. I really did like all of this but the solemnity puzzled me. We need a dose of New Your chutzpah. The performers seem to very 'English' assuming that stillness and seriousness of tone is 'art'. This tends to strip the emotional impact from pieces. Let rip guys and take a few risks.

But it was Adrian who had most impact. We took seven deep breaths together, he then washed my feet in warm water, rinsing them with hotter water. His first question was “What is your relationship with your feet?” At times like these I’m tempted to be facetious, but he did make me think, as my feet are literally the foot soldiers of my body; used, abused and ignored. They must hate my brain, as they’re always being pummelled on some half-baked trip that my mind demands. We had a nice chat and that was that. It was the footwash that still lingers as the most relevant memory - a lesson in humility.

Day 3: Judging a book. What makes good writing?

Five apparatchiks from the book world show how antiquated, inefficient and downright unmeritocratic the book industry can be. Nothing really new here – an audience of aspirant writers and same old, same old system. The greatest statement of self delusion is surely the phrase, “everyone has a novel in them”. They do – but it’s invariably a bad one.

Posh girls

So what did we learn? The most dispiriting statement from the audience was a posh mum whose posh daughter had been asked to read and select manuscripts on her work experience. That’s how much publishers value authors. The panel reiterated what everyone in the audience knew, that manuscripts arrive in piles, that there’s a slush pile (almost everything) and that you need a lot of luck and maybe some contacts to get through.

What was more worrying for me was that publishers seem to have some weird recruitment policy, whereby they only hire posh girls who surely have a limited, public school, cosseted, London-based experience of life.

Planet paper

It all went awry when technology was mentioned, which the panel confused with self-publishing. Technology has already shaped publishing. Amazon is one of the most powerful forces in the book world (remember Brighton Borders anyone?) and Apple promises to take a major role in publishing. Like a bunch of dodos they threw out some disparaging remarks about self-publishing and e-books. People read from screens all of the time, on laptops, mobiles, e-book readers, and with the iPAD we may see this exploding (I have my doubts here). Nonetheless, this bunch were about as knowledgeable about the future of their industry as an average 12 year old. Biblophilia goes hand and hand with technophobia.

I did learn one positive thing, that one of the winners of the West Dean prize. Check out her work online – it’s pretty good….

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Day 2: Kevin Johansen

No idea who this guy was but gave him a shot. Turns out it was a double act - Kevin and a cartoonist (Liniers). Kevin sings, Liniers, splashes paint about and they do a weak Morcombe and Wise routine. The songs were good and the evening was fun, but I'm not sure I'd want to see it again. What really puzzled me was the lack of virtuosity in the drawing and painting. They were, to be blunt; dross. It's an act that falls between three stools - songs, painting and comedy.

Day 1: Festival Blast off with Eno!

Brian Eno’s a charming, self-effacing chap but he introduced tonight’s event with knowledge and some passion. Landing a man on the moon is surely one of man’s more wondrous and extraordinary achievements and Eno was so enthralled by the event that he wrote an album about the Apollo moonshot. Rooted in the adoption of Nazi rocket scientists it was, nevertheless, JFK who, on discovering that the Russians were streaking ahead, promised to get a man on the moon before the end of the decade (60s). He wouldn’t live to see that day, but if Martin Luther King had a dream, JFK had an outrageous vision. It took until now to realise Martin Luther King’s dream through Obama, but JFK got there first.

Spaced out Country music

We’ll probably not see another man on the moon, but at the time it was one of the few events that galvanised the whole world, satellite TV had just been made possible and it felt as though we all participated. I, like anyone else over the age of say 45, all remember where we were that night, and those fuzzy images on our tiny TVs, with no remote control and dodgy reception. But Eno had a surprise. How many of us knew that the astronauts took music with them on their trip to the moon? Country music! So the album he created was a form of Country music free of gravity, free of the crass lyrics and leaden melodies -lighter and airier, even airless - spaced out.


6 million feet of film (the digital age was a long way off) condensed into 50 minutes. Panning up the side of the Saturn rocket showed the majesty of the rocket when earth bound, with a beautiful shot of it lit up by Hollywood spotlights , then the take-off and nail biting in the control room. The two sub rockets peel off and we see the earth recede into the distance.

One problem with a movie like this, is that you don’t get a sense of time. It took two and a half days to get to the moon but seemed to take minutes. Poor Michael Collins never really got a look-in, he was the guy who was looping round the moon on his own while all the world and his dog was goggling the moon guys. He would later describe how he felt like the loneliest man in the universe on the far, dark side of the moon, further away from home than any man.

Another omission is the key sounds and phrases – the roar of the rocket on take-off and ‘The Eagle has Landed’. I would also have liked to have heard some of that ‘good ol boy’ country music they had in the claustrophobia of the capsule.

I’m not sure but I think that though the film was about the first moon landing, there seemed to be lots of footage of the later landings, when the moon buggies came into their own. These buggies were to shape the future of all space travel, as manned missions dropped off and little robots were zapped off to other planets, like Mars, capable of doing far more for far longer than any human machine.

Later, I walked away thinking that this experience, fantastic though it was, reflected the world's reaction to the moonshots. Art doesn't cope well with science. We'd rather 'surrender' to the pleasures of the concert hall, theatre, cinema or TV, than do the hard work necessary to understand the physics, astronomy and technology of the missions. The danger, an argument that goes back to Plato, is that art appears to enhance but actually smothers the real experience. On the other hand, I'm happy to do both - on that note I highly recommend Moondust by Andrew Smith - a brilliant account of the Moonshots with a focus on the astronauts.

Eno’s encore

The little man gave us a few songs at the end. It wasn’t genius but the songs were in line with his calm, reflective approach to music. The audience loved him, with chants of ‘Eno, Eno, Eno’ rising up at the end. What I loved about this was, that as the guest Director of the Festival, he was getting up there and giving it his all – talking and performing. Couldn’t get ENOugh of the man – so I’ve book up for the six hour This is Pure Scenius session on 9 May.

To see interview with Eno on this event click here.