Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Year: 2009 (page 2 of 5)

Amanda Palmer @ Union Chapel

Mobile PianoChatting to people queueing for the gig, we all agreed that explaining to friends what we were doing over the weekend was an impossible task. To those unfamiliar with Amanda Palmer it is difficult to convey how much more than the average gig her concerts tend to be. Event is a more appropriate word, as evidenced by the large number of elaborately garbed fans that made many of us feel horribly underdressed. On Saturday evening I saw amorous puppet replicas of Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, a mobile piano mounted upon a bizarre pedal-cycle contraption, and upon Amanda’s arrival, the top being set alight as she proceeded to play a flaming piano. Bear in mind this was all before we had even entered the venue. The photo gallery will give you some idea.

Musically her solo work is a logical progression post-Dresden Dolls. Her former band was already a stripped down two-piece affair (most arrangements were for piano, drums and vocals), describing their genre as “Brechtian Punk Cabaret”. Her solo work is arguably less Brechtian, but the punk cabaret and bare-bones sound remains in full force. It really lets the colourful wit of her sometimes playful, sometimes intense lyrics shine. Although the content of her songs may seem at odds with a church, the interior of the Union Chapel, with its gothic Victorian architecture, stunningly lit in blues and purples, was the perfect venue.

Amanda PalmerPolly Scattergood offered a good supporting set despite the limited material she has released so far. Most interesting to me was actually a stunningly honest unreleased song which suggests she has plenty more ground to cover in future albums. Amanda began both her main set and encore with a capella renditions that showcased how tightly impressive her voice can be, particularly in the emotionally charged cover of Tori Amos’ Me and a Gun. The rest of the set covered her solo album and several classic Dresden Dolls songs, as well as requests from the audience and even dipping into classical piano (mostly as a challenge to herself). All the while an artist was painting a large canvas at the back of the stage, the resulting artwork auctioned off at the end of the gig. Such was my enthralment with the entire night that I very nearly ended up spending £350 on it (it went for £450 in the end).

It was broken up by “Ask Amanda” segments, a Q&A via written questions dropped in a box before the gig. Her genial responses covered her experiences of the English and the unfairness of dating Neil Gaiman — catching up on each other’s careers meant she handed him 3 CDs to listen to, while he passed her two large boxes of his collected works. Speaking of Neil, he was travelling with her too and took on singing duties for a tongue-in-cheek “hymn” that contrasted comically with our surroundings as the entire audience broke into (slightly nervous) laughter. Her gigs inevitably feel like “Amanda and friends”, drawing in all the interesting creative people she has recently met. It is a testament to her generous spirit that her immediate desire is to share these talented individuals with her fans, and that is what makes her a beautiful person and her performances a joy to attend.

For those interested in the music, here are Spotify links to full albums by Amanda Palmer and Polly Scattergood.

Music and Bats

A year into working life, I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone. These 6-month trainee seats seem to fly by and, we collectively discovered, it’s with some apprehension we suddenly find ourselves no longer first years and instead expected to help out the new crop. I’m moving into a litigation seat, a department that seems incredibly busy and is likely to cut down on my free time significantly. While I shall endeavour not to disappear entirely, at least you know why in advance…

To be honest I didn’t “get” Spotify at first. I thought it was trying to replace Last.fm but without its “scrobbling” feature which tracks the music you listen to and suggests others, as well as comparing your tastes with friends and letting you see what they’re listening to. Eventually I caved and gave it a whirl about a month ago. I swiftly realised that Spotify wasn’t competing (out of the box it supports Last.fm, scrobbling everything to which you listen) and has much loftier goals: nothing short of a paradigm shift within the music industry. In fact, quite how it got away with it remains a mystery to me. After downloading the client music player (which is simple, vaguely reminiscient of iTunes) you have access to a vast library of music for free. While there are still notable gaps at present, every single album recommended to me by someone in the past month has been on there. That’s quite something. For licensing reasons Spotify isn’t available in the US yet, but they are working on it. The service is ad-supported but a subscription fee of £9.99 per month will remove them. With an iPhone App just released for music on the go, this really could change how people acquire their music. I highly recommend everyone with the remotest interest in music signs up to both these services: I’ll probably start mentioning more albums now that linking to a Spotify playlist is as simple as providing a URL.

Batman & JokerMy bank holiday weekend has been equally split between having friends round the the flat each day and playing through Batman: Arkham Asylum. Eschewing the usual film release tie-in model, they have instead crafted a game that stands wonderfully in its own right, feeding off the entire comicbook back-catalogue. By setting the game in Arkham, they are able to wheel out any Batman villain they want, since virtually all were incarcerated on the island at some point. All its required mechanics work wonderfully — stealth, combat, gadgetry — and it looks stunning to boot. Mark Hamill turns in a deliciously gleeful performance as Joker that really pushes the game forward. Probably the year’s best game so far, you don’t even need to be a particular fan of Batman to enjoy it, and I recommend people pick it up before the inevitable “holiday season” crush of new titles begins.

Quick links:

Speculative Soccer

Pete convinced me to join the office Fantasy Football league, which you may find a little odd given my total lack of sporting knowledge. On the other hand, approaching it less as football and more as statistical warfare, it starts to make more sense. Particularly since crafting and fine-tuning a roster was something I did for years as a teenager. One could argue there’s a fine line between Orcs and footballers in both appearance and temperance. If anything it might be easier for me since I have no vested interest in any of the players.

That said, I’m still a totally new to this game and it’s clear that there are some very proficient participants who have been doing it for years. Sadly I also joined in week two which puts me at a disadvantage from the start. Nevertheless, and despite a major upset that saw Manchester United beaten 1-0 by Burnley, my team has forged through wonderfully in its first week with 55 points, making it the 3rd most successful in the office for the week. Overall (since it’s based on totals), that still leaves me languishing toward the bottom of the table, though I’ve already leveled with Pete, much to his annoyance. If we can keep it up, however, the Smooth Operators could have a quick rise to the heady heights of mediocrity before long.

The main reason I joined has nothing to do with the competition, but rather that it gives me some reason to follow the sport. I was as surprised as anyone to find myself hurriedly checking last night’s results and gawping in shock at United’s defeat. Such research has the potential to become dangerously addictive…

Penny Arcade recently ran a 6-page series called Automata (starting with a one-page concept and then continuing), an alternate reality noir that fuses robots with 1920s speakeasy jazz. Yes. This brief window into a society with a robot underclass is alluring and I would love to see them explore it further. The full project was reinterpreted by one of their readers with subtle animation and a soundtrack. Well worth a look.

Anonymous Celebration

As many of you know, while I love to celebrate other people’s, I don’t make a particularly big deal about my own birthday. I’m sure it’s rooted in various things, but the bottom line is that while I don’t hide it, I certainly don’t broadcast it either. Yesterday, I realised, I was lucky enough to have a moment in which I spending my birthday exactly the way I like it, weird as it may sound: sipping a martini while listening to some great live Cuban music anonymously at someone else’s birthday party. That was the evening, in which I had accompanied my flatmate Anna to her ex-boyfriend’s birthday bash at Floridita, largely for moral support. Crowded (like anywhere in London) and stiflingly hot at the start, it’s otherwise a great Cuban-themed location with a restaurant/bar upstairs and a club downstairs for live music and dancing. The bar staff vary slightly, the first guy who served me being incredibly attentive (and asking all the right questions when I ordered a martini) while the second was generally too busy chatting.

The day was spent in an equally “me” way. My present to myself had been a 2002 Riesling I’d bought a few days before. The age (particularly for a white) gave it far more character, despite the fact it was a slightly sweet wine for my palette. Anna rated it as the best white wine she’s had. For those interested it was a 2002 Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling Spätlese. Personally I think I prefer the delicious 2007 Weingut Max Ferd Richter Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, of which I’ve just picked up another bottle. It’s amazing to note the quality increase when you spend just the same amount you would spend in bar on a bottle to drink at home instead. I cooked a thai green curry to suit the wine (clearly the right way round!) which we ate and watched swathes of How I Met Your Mother over the afternoon. So nothing too fancy, but a very enjoyable day.

Some great photographs of “Great British Views” submitted to the BBC showcasing the UK at its very best.

Emrich-Schönleber Monzinger Frühlingsplätzchen Riesling

The Collector’s Mentality

In the past few years collector’s edition releases of major videogames have become a popular way for publishers to convince hardcore fans to part with a little extra cash. An extra £5-10 for a fancy tin box, an artbook and an extra disc with behind-the-scenes development footage is a pretty easy sell. The cheap approach, often used to entice pre-orders, is free-to-produce in-game content like an extra outfit or gold guns (yes, that happened). This year, all that has changed as videogame publishers have decided to up the ante.

Assassin's Creed Black EditionThe price of a collector’s edition game has rocketed to around £60-70, which in a recessionary year may seem either ill-advised or a blatant attempt to bolter lacklustre mid-year sales by cashing in doubly over the always-busy Christmas period. But the contents are a world away from the old fancy box and book. Batman: Arkham Asylum includes a fullsize batarang (that’s 14” of vigilante justice, one supposes, in marketing speak) for the proud owner to display/fight crime. The “black edition” of Assassin’s Creed II contains an 8.5” statue of protagonist Ezio as well as the game’s soundtrack on CD (and I’ll be honest, I’m tempted by this one). But the crowning jewel of this year’s line-up is the £120 “prestige edition” of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which comes with fully working night vision goggles. Seriously. If next year’s Dragon Age: Origins doesn’t come with a real dragon egg, I suspect fans will feel cheated.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Prestige EditionI’m a collector, I understand the mentality and, if we can find the right price-point for this stuff, it’s no bad thing. At least it’s real stuff we’re being offered. Unlike the new clothing and accessories for sale in Microsoft’s new Xbox Avatar Store. Paying a little to express oneself digitally is okay, but this stuff is all really advertising so I find the future plans to unlock related clothes through in-game achievements far more appealing. The problem again is pricing. 80 points (about 70p) for a t-shirt or a hat might be okay. But it shows that they know us far too well when they charge 400 points (about £3.50) for a virtual lightsabre, and it almost seems worth it.

A Few I Forgot

AdamThere were a few films I ought to have included last time but did not. First up I’d like to urge people to see a beautifully real romantic film called Adam. Quirky but without cliché, what makes it stand out is that the titular Adam has Asperger syndrome. From the trailer I wasn’t entirely sure but it’s not treated in a 1-dimensional way either: his condition is intriguing, funny, tragic and ultimately handled in way that was factually realistic but also opens that world to a wider audience. Perhaps the best endorsement is that, leaving the cinema at the end, I spoke briefly to a member of audience who has Asperger’s and found its protrayal (and terminology, such as neuro-typicals) very accurate. The lack of Hollywood formula means it may not follow the route viewers expect, but the journey is a great, moving one.

Two other films worth a quick mention. French two-part thriller Mesrine centres on a strong performance from Vincent Cassel which implies its description as “the French Scarface” may be deserved. The split into two quite different parts is an interesting choice, the first focusing on the real-life violent criminal Jacques Mesrine‘s rise to fame, with the second, following a daring courtroom escape that leaves him public enemy number one, delving more into why he did it. The first part, Killer Instinct, is out now. In a totally different vein, the second film is the Spike Jonze adaptation of childhood favourite Where The Wild Things Are. If he can capture the feel of Sendak’s work (and the trailer bodes well) it could be an instant classic.

On a more general note, the last post generated a lot of interest from people so I will endeavour to produce those lists on a semi-regular basis if people find them interesting/useful.

Films You May Not Be Planning To See

With the mainstream film landscape now set, here are some films (in no particular order) that you may not be planning to see but should probably consider. Some of these may already be out depending on where you are. They won’t all be for everyone, of course, but at least give the trailers a whirl. And if you think I’ve missed anything, definitely let me know!

MoonMoon – Intelligent science fiction in the 2001 vein, about a mining technician stationed alone on the moon. Sam Rockwell’s performance looks superb.

(500) Days of Summer – a offbeat romantic comedy for people who don’t like romantic comedies (i.e. without the formulaic cliché)

Thirst – Korean director Park Chan-wook (of Oldboy fame) turns his hand to vampires. A devoted small town priest volunteers for a medical experiment that goes wrong, turning him into a vampire and struggling to maintain his the remnants of his humanity. This ain’t no Twilight probably doesn’t cover it.

Brothers – Now, the story may seem somewhat familiar: when her is husband killed at war, a wife is comforted by his brother and a relationship develops until the husband is found alive and returns. But with powerful-looking performances from Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, this could be worth a look.

An EducationAn Education – a 1960s coming-of-age story in which an intelligent young girl headed for Oxford meets a charming, older playboy.

Shrink – Kevin Spacey leads in this independent drama as a top shrink for Hollywood celebrities, unable to cope with his own personal tragedy and increasingly questioning his ability to help his patients.

Surrogates – Coupled with Moon, intelligent sci-fi could be making a return with this futuristic world where humans interact solely through surrogate robots, while living in isolation. Bruce Willis’ character is forced to venture outside to investigate murders of these surrogates. Whether this goes too far down the I, Robot glitz-over-brains route remains to be seen.

District 9 – Director Neil Blomkamp was initially intended to helm the Halo film until plans fell through. Instead we have an intriguing view of extraterrestrial refugees in South Africa.

Downloading Nancy – I’m not really backing this until I’ve seen it, but this daring film is inevitably tainted by the fact the Sundance crowd hated it. An emotionally scarred wife, married to a cruelly cold husband, uses S&M and self-harm as an escape, while cultivating a relationship with an internet boyfriend. Her husband is oblivious until she goes missing.

DeparturesDepartures – Despite winning a best foreign language film Oscar, this Japanese film has only received a limited release worldwide. An out-of-work cellist is only able to find work, by accident, in the funeral industry, but is unable to admit this to his wife.

Sin Nombre – both a romance and a chase film, Sayra is a Honduran teenager dreaming of a better life in the States. On a freight train taking her there, her journey is entwined with a young recruit in the ruthless (and real-life) Mara Salvatrucha gang.

Daybreakers – With vampires having hunted humans nearly to extinction, both species now face a struggle to survive. Vampires are clearly all the rage at the moment, and this film could easily go either way: a lukewarm Equilibrium is the danger.

Alice in Wonderland – okay, so Tim Burton is now undoubtedly mainstream, but as an unabashed fan of Alice, I can’t wait to see his vision of Wonderland so I’m including it anyway.

Kennington

Kennington FêteA month-long hiatus due largely to my recent move into Kennington and the ensuing interlude sans internet. It should finally be sorted by the end of the week and I will be connected once more with the world. Kennington has been remarkably easy to settle into.  Partly, one suspects, because I live in the centre and there’s simply not a great deal of it. For anything beyond grocery shopping one hops on the bus/tube up to Oxford Street in a matter of minutes. The closest pub is the inimitable Dog House, though bizarrely I haven’t actually been since I moved. The politicians’ favourite Kennington Tandoori performs take-away duties. Sal is about minute away, and the Clapham gang only a little further. And best of all, the journey to and from work has around half an hour sliced off. All in all an ideal location, even if my hatred of estate agents remains as forceful as ever.

Kennington Fête: GuitaristMarching back from the station, slightly stressed in the evening, Cleaver Square often proves to be the calming antidote one needs, being the only place outside of Cambridge where one routinely stumbles past people playing a recreational game of bowls. And, as Anna and I discovered the week after we arrived, it’s where Kennington holds its annual village fête. Yes, in the middle of London. It was a charming affair with all the expected games and trimmings crammed in, coupled excellent food courtesy of the local restaurants.

The biggest news in the last month on which people have been asking my opinion is Google’s announcement of its new operating system, Chrome OS. I will admit to be intrigued, perplexed, and curious as to whether I will ever use it. I am first intrigued by the prospect of a new OS being built from the ground up at this stage, with the potential to be utterly different from its competitors, particularly with its web-based intentions. Yet cursory investigation swiftly reveals Chrome really just runs atop an existing Linux kernel, so quite how much is new below the surface is questionable. I am perplexed by the name choice given firstly that Google already has an OS in the form of Android for phones and its not a wide leap to their target market of netbooks, and secondly that the Chrome web browser from which it takes its name has made no discernible inroads into the browser market at all so is hardly an impressive brand (most people who tried it out were Firefox users who quickly returned for the customisation if offers). Finally I suspect it will be years before it’s ready for my use. The netbook approach seems an ideal fit but the jump to desktops is a sizeable one. A web based application system is fine for basic use but I’m unlikely to switch until (virtually) all the software I currently use is available. Given its Linux roots it’s entirely possible that this could happen if the Google brand encourages Linux support from more software vendors, but that would become an endorsement of Linux in all its guises rather than Chrome specifically. The alternative is web-based versions of all software which may well be the future, but we’re not there yet. If being without internet access for the past few weeks has taught me anything at all, I’m exceedingly glad all my software and data are local so that I can still do everything but surf.

And to fill the procrastination void created by my absence: Web Side Story.

The Professional Line

O2 ArenaLast night I saw The Pet Shop Boys at the O2 Arena, courtesy of Philips, who have an excellent centrally-located box. Not only was it my first time at the O2 (other than in its criminally expensive former guise as the Millennium Dome), but actually my first arena gig. This has been largely through choice, since I prefer live music in smaller venues for the more intimate atmosphere and proximity to the musicians. Even seeing major artists like Iron Maiden, I’ve been lucky enough to catch them in venues like the Brixton Academy rather than the arenas in which they tend to perform. The sheer scale is impressive, it must be said, particularly looking down on the sea of people filling the bowl beneath the box. However as a musical experience I found there was something detached and slightly soulless about it — at times it felt more akin to watching a DVD recording of a live performance than seeing it live oneself.

My main issue, however, concerned the O2’s clearly moronic policy on cameras. They have chosen to ban “professional cameras” which seems reasonable at first, except that they blanketly class anything larger than a compact camera to be “professional”. My entry-level dSLR clearly is not and, in fact, I imagine most professionals would be insulted by the suggestion. Yet because of this policy my camera was confiscated on entry and returned afterwards, so I have no photos other than of the outside. It wasn’t a safety issue due to its size, since I wasn’t in the crowd but up in a box. And there is no blanket ban on cameras either. So apparently taking pictures is okay, but any danger of taking good pictures must be quashed even if there is nothing commercial about it. Chatting to the polite but unhelpful security employees at the venue, they could not justify it either. This asinine approach is probably enough for me to blacklist the venue altogether.

Next post I’ll cover last week’s trips up to Cambridge, once I have some photos to illustrate it. Meanwhile, other bits and pieces:

  • PvP comic provides an interesting alternative view on Ghostbusters.
  • A beautiful, brilliant black-and-white advert for the Finnish Ilta Sanomat that imagines an alternate 1930s where the web and newspaper coexist.
  • Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service) covers Avril Lavigne’s Complicated. I recommend it largely for his swift dissection of the song afterwards, “I really don’t understand what’s so complicated about the whole situation… it’s just this guy, and he doesn’t like her very much.”
  • It’s now old news but Hulu, the on demand online streaming TV service, is due to launch in the UK in September with around 3,000 hours of US content.
  • Penny Arcade have been trying out some new styles for a future story, the robotic noir Automata being my personal favourite. They also offer a compelling argument for buying Prototype.
  • Shreena recently blogged about the practicalities of green living, mentioning two items of note: Ecover cleaning products as an alternative to bleach and the Eco Kettle.

Legal Softball

Hey sports fans! The Legal Softball League may not sound like the most thrilling of sporting clashes but its blend of relaxed atmosphere, large parks and alcohol make for a excellent Monday evening. And suffice to say that rivalry between law firms tends to elicit a more than minor competitive streak. Trainee/Sheriff Pete invited me to snap away at this week’s game and, never one to turn down new photographic opportunities, I happily headed along. In return he was able to illustrate his match report and, based on reactions from the team, it looks like I may do this on a more regular basis, joining in if they need an extra man. Though the team was sadly unsuccessful against Manches, a few shots from this week can be found below.

Next time you’re renovating, I came across an interesting example of why not paying attention to your architect’s plans can be awesome. Admittedly you may need around $1.26 million. And an architect who happens to be a creative genius. But the principle stands.

And while playing Rock Band 2 with my sister this evening we unlocked Kansas’ Carry On Wayward Son, which reminded me I’d come across a cover of it very recently but couldn’t remember for the life of me where. Eventually, with some surprise, I worked it out. Just wish they’d let them finish the song instead of talking over it. Note to anyone at the studio who likes money: a Worthless Peons album will sell.

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"Luck is the residue of design."

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