We're getting noticed ...

TV We're getting noticed ...

Are there many more out there?

Oh, not just Sycorax. Hundreds of species. Thousands of them. And the human race is drawing attention to itself. Every day you're sending out probes and messages and signals - this planet's so noisy. You're getting noticed... more and more...

You'd better get used to it.

[Just in case ... Reichenbach balls, the cyberman invasion of Brighton and the latest on Torchwood.]

"Jonty looks decades older than his 36 years."

TV One of us ... one of us ....

"(New Big Brother contestant) JONTY STERN, 36, from London. Vegetarian museum assistant Jonty collects teddy bears (he has 50) and old coins. Read Welsh Studies at uni. Ran the Doctor Who Society. Speaks Welsh, French, German, Yiddish, Hebrew, Albanian and Cornish."

Does anyone reading actually know this person?

Where there's muck there's

Music Brass Day at the BBC Proms, including this afternoon's marathon Prom 20 (already), three and a half hours of trumpets, tubas, cornets and oh karnays. Played as part of a selection of Uzbek music, the karnay is (according to the Proms website) "a long ceremonial brass trumpet" [image] which is treated as something sacred:
"For instance, before touching it for the very first time, a player should dress in new clothes, symbolic of starting a new journey or developing a new relationship. The instrument should be cleaned every day to maintain a shiny appearance. The karnay should never be stepped over, or put under a table, or bed, but instead kept upright, and it should be held carefully, as if it were a baby. The mouthpiece shouldn’t be placed on the ground. And when it’s played, the bell of the karnay should point east, to Mecca, from whence Judgement Day is supposed to be announced. By pointing the bell to the sky, it’s symbolic of communicating one-to-one with God, and then with people."
I'm not sure how it was being played in the hall but the sound of various instruments shifted from headphone to headphone creating one of the most three dimensional sounds I've heard at any prom. To these ears it sounded something like a trumpet except with a different range. Oh and heavenly.

Warm and Tender

Music Some of the best moments during the proms are when an encore appears from seemingly nowhere and is sometimes almost upstages the rest of the concert. It happened tonight during Prom 19. Strauss's Macbeth and Nielsen's Symphony No.4, 'The Inextinguishable' were clearly big hitters but the best moment for me was during the applause when the Radio 3 announcer said, 'I think we're getting some more music' and the conductor Mark Elder told a story which is helpfully paraphrased at this Australian Radio website:
"During the war years a Parisian coal merchant managed to supply (or divert) scarce supplies of fuel to the household of the sick composer who was slowly dying of cancer. As a thank you, Debussy wrote him this nostalgic little piece in 1917."
It's called Les soirs illumin's par l'ardeur du charbon or to give its English translation Evenings lit by glowing coals -- it's an elegy to the thing that's been keeping him warm during his sickness and although you'd expect it to be a mournful peace to these ears it's filled with hope, especially in the orchestral translation which got its World Premiere tonight). Literally, quietly, made my day.


Books I’m really beginning to sprint through the novels. The reality is I’ve been on this endeavour for nearly two years already and having shelled out for the set I don’t feel like I can actually read anything else before I’ve worked my way through them. I am sort of reading them so you don’t have to, which makes them all seem like utter dreck when they’re really not. Only rarely are they less than readable and lately, with a few -- obvious -- exceptions the quality bar has been raised. The series became a bit rudderless after the Lost-Sam arc but there a definite atmosphere of driving towards something, an underlying plot arc whose purpose isn’t entirely clear yet.

This continuity drive is no more obvious than at the opening of Dominion which to my amazement occurs mere minutes after Revolution Man, the argument between Sam and Fitz still festering, the chess game still in the middle of play and even more surprisingly the deplorable events at the end of that novel are not ignored. As the adventure proceeds, the Doctor is generally fairly impotent as the cover blurb notes ‘doubting his own powers and making crucial errors of judgment’ -- people are killed, plans go array and the poor time lord is stuck in the middle often without a clue. His assumption is that it’s because the Tardis has shut down to regenerate after a disaster (which I’ll come to) although it’s just possible that it’s more than that -- that there’s something else afoot stopping the Doctor from acting like his good self. We’ll see and I hope so since the shadow that the end of Revolution Man casts is rather large.

Under the verdant green cover of the book, Nick Walters’s imaginative story is another mish-mash of filmic and literary styles which in the end is far more engrossing than I had any right to expect. It’s split into three sections. The first, ‘Loss‘, plays like an Ingmar Bergman film invaded by an episode of Primeval as a tourist Kerstin (ahem) Bergman and farmer Bjorn (ahem) Andreesson (surely played by a young Bibi Andersson and a young Max Von Sydow) are menaced by giant alien creatures in a Swedish forrest at the close of the last century. Meanwhile on the Tardis, Sam is dragged into a vortex to who knows where and the ship goes to pot on landing, the Doctor and Fitz inevitably get mixed up with the local police, pass themselves off as UNIT operatives (again) and set about helping them with their enquiries surrounding missing people.

The second section, ’Hope’ is perhaps the more surprising in hindsight as it deals with an organisation, C19, which is essentially Torchwood under a different name, developing alien technology apparently to further mankind but always with the potential that it could become a weapon. At the centre of their work is Nagle, a figure whose only an ex-Eastenders cast member away from being Yvonne Hartman. Which is as nothing when it becomes obvious that the thing she’s been working on is an inter-dimensional portal which is threatening to suck everything on the earth into it. Again, meanwhile, Sam is revealed obviously to be alive and swimming through the Dominion which has all of the qualities of being a giant lava lamp that’s been left in a garage since the sixties and been infect by the local insect life. ‘Destiny’ is obviously about how all of this resolves itself. Oh and a regional UNIT unit are in there too making life difficult for everyone.

First time Eighth Doctor novelist Walters, who I really wanted to succeed after reading the acknowledgments page in which he thanks everyone including his Mum and Dad and comes across as someone who’s genuinely honoured to be writing for the series, has knocked out a respectable piece of work that’s exciting and surprising in equal measure. This has a lot to do with how he very carefully modulates the story; all that essentially happens to the Doctor and Fitz is that they land the Tardis, hook up with the police, visit a farmhouse, are captured and spend the rest of the novel in the secret base, give or take a trip to and in the Tardis. Sam finds herself in the Dominion in explores there for a couple of hundred pages. Mostly this leads to endless scenes of people just sitting around having a chat but for some reason it’s never less than compelling and is a welcome diversion from some of the books that seem desperate to be epic and expansive just because they can.

Which is odd considering that the Dominion is essentially Vortis with better xeno-biological tooling and more imaginative backdrops and everything else is a fairly traditional UNIT story with extra cosmology. The action sequences aren’t even that imaginative and there’s some of the random approach to loyalty that’s punctuated an average episode of Torchwood. His writing style certainly helps, conjuring some really imaginative images, such as the sky/sea within the Dominion which only a bit of each and Kerstin being led into a broken console room by a stream of the Doctor’s local butterflies, a concept which you suspect could only work within the pages of these novels and is all the better for it. But Sweden itself is very well imagined too and certainly makes a change from the usual spots for these invasions (a point the book itself makes somewhere).

Perhaps its also because as with the best of these novels Walters takes time to build up a small cast of characters applying shades of grey even to the apparent villians. Compare the two dimensional Ed from the previous novel to UNIT man Wolstencroft, still holding a grudge against the time lord for all the men he lost during the seventies (another indication that these Eighth Doctor novels consider the UNIT stories to have happened in step with transmission) essentially doing what he feels is right. Kerstin is the most sympathetic though, another woman falling into Fitz’s arms after the loss of a boyfriend but the resolution shows that not everyone is supposed to travel in the Tardis. But his version of the Doctor is also an achievement, so like the man we know but also lost, without the spark that usually drags him through anything until the closing moments -- but note that Walters’ writing is so good that we can tell this is a deliberate choice in relation to the characterisation rather than just simply misunderstanding what he’s about.

With the Doctor’s charisma out of action is largely up to Fitz to sort things out putting him front and centre again. I like Fitz. As predicted he’s transplanting his sixties sensibilities into the future but recent experiences have taught him when to hold back on some of his tendencies. In some ways he is the time travelling Han Solo that SFX magazine are looking for in their letter column this month -- roguish but with a heart of gold. Some of his ideas made me laugh out loud, such as when faced with the passivity of giant insect copulation in a confined space they’re all occupying together, he almost asks the Queen bug ‘for six bob to get lost for the evening’ or when an image of the beautiful Kersten pops into his mind at an inopportune moment. He’s just so wonderfully human, and a real antidote to Sam who is still compelling but to an extent has fallen to the fate that Jackie warned Rose against in The Parting of the Ways of becoming so accustomed to space travel that she’s stopped being herself.

And at the end of this all, a cliffhanger with just enough mystery to actually make me want to read the next novel straight away -- and it’s another book from Jon Bloom and Kate Orman who so far haven’t put a foot wrong. I can’t wait to see what the Unnatural History is. In his acknowledgements, Nick Walters thanks them too and provides a one word review for this next book -- Wow!

Crisis On Infinite Worlds

Elsewhere In case you're wondering what happened yesterday, I was largely 'crafting' this review of Heroes. I got writer's block, mostly because the show was so good I was desperate to do it justice. On this morning's repeat of Desert Island Discs, Thomas Keneally talked about how the worse thing about being a writer is that you never think you're a proper writer and that you're never ever happy with anything you've written (I'm paraphrasing). I know what he means.

I wrote, I wrote some more. I threw out the odd paragraph, wrote even more. I'm hyper-critical at the best of times but I just didn't feel like it was working. After a while I submitted it, went shopping, thought some more about it and luckily had the chance to submit the review again. So I wrote a bit more, left it whilst I had tea, came back and then somewhere in middle of listening to the first half of last night's Prom 18 (just as Tippett's Triple Concerto got going) I had a moment of clarity and even though I didn't change much I somehow decided it had been salvaged and that actually it had been worth it because I'll know what not to do next time which is take the whole thing so seriously.

It's ages since I've stressed out and had this kind of crisis of confidence about a piece of writing of any kind, not since university actually. It's my inferiority complex again obviously, the reading of work by professional writers and wondering why my own material doesn't seem to compare, even though in some cases it obviously must. I really hate reviews of anything that amount to just being a synopsis with very little analysis, the kind of thing which often turns up in some nationals. But I also know that people want to know what something is about if they haven't seen as well as your opinion and it's a balance I've always found difficult to find.

And then late into the evening I knocked this out which I was far happier with even whilst I was writing it. What's that about?

Revolution Man.

Books  No! no! no! no!  NO!  I’ve  just  finished reading Paul Leonard’s Revolution Man and I don’t think I’ve been this disgruntled about something from the Whoniverse since the last episode of Torchwood (with New Earth running a close second).  For the first time I’ve probably got some understanding of how some fans felt at the end of the final story of the new series of Doctor Who.  I thought SOD U LOTT was an enjoyable romp, not perfect by any means, but with enough good things going on to override the clanking climax with it’s messianic Doctor.  But for reasons that I’ll get into later (I’m so annoyed I’ll be spoiling the ending) this commits an even greater crime that dips the thing in shit and no matter how positive I could be about the rest of the book I can’t but want to scream.

So what are the potential positives?  Well for a start, it’s short.  At 248 pages using a relatively big version of the usual font, it would fit snugly into the new format for the novels (where it not for the rock and roll, sex, drugs and hallucinogenic trips) which makes a change from the relatively long reads I’ve been wading through lately.  And the story is fairly original as Earth finds itself in the grip of time anomalies caused by a mysterious revolutionary figure tripping out on the aforementioned drug to bend reality and people’s will around to their cause.  It’s also interestingly structured with Fitz taking the slow way over a couple of years at the end of the 1960s discovering more about the drug as the Doctor and Sam dart about trying to find out who the 'revolution man' is.

I was fairly positive too with the approach to Fitz as he develops from being a cockney wide boy and a third wheel in the Tardis into a man of substance with a girlfriend and a cause making a kind of Oriental journey reminiscent of Frank Capra’s Lost Highway before, in the final section of the novel falling into Communist China.  It’s the kind of narrative scale hinted at in Last of the Timelords, a companion traveling the world actually shown with the kind of sweep you’d expect from a Spielberg film.  Similarly Sam goes on a mission to Spain, goes undercover in an evil version of The Green Death’s nut hutch and generally acts like she’s in the spy game, implying, given the era, an ITC series such as The Champions directed by Land and Freedom’s Ken Loach.

The characters are only generally given a stoccato development though, with only Fitz’s girl Maddie given anything like a non-stereotypical personality, at times looking like a potential new companion.  Leonard also has a problem with his scene descriptions, sometimes attempting to conjure the fantastic but falling just short of giving the reader enough information to be able to understand what’s going on.  You often get the feeling that he’s aping another writer’s style rather than expressing his own, a dangerous strategy which assumes the reader to have read widely enough to be picking up on the literary references.

He also doesn’t ever seem to get a handle on the character of the Doctor, who more often than not comes across as a darkly mysterious character and worse the manipulator of his previous incarnation which doesn’t fit 'life’s champion'.  Granted there is some wonderful business related to the shorthand which has been built up between him and Sam in relation how she can find him again if he’s had to move the Tardis and a couple of kisses which try and sort out UNIT dating (many have tried and failed etc) but throughout he’s generally moody, broody and lacking the sense of humour which is usually evident even when a Dalek battle fleet has its lazers targeted at his arse.

All of which comes to a head in gob smacking finale which makes you question whether Leonard is a fan and more than that what was going on inside his dead whilst writing the closing few pages of the novel and this is the bit where I spoil the ending.  Fitz has been brainwashed into becoming a communist, Sam’s not sure if she can trust him, they’re at Wembley Stadium doing a Crocodile Dundee across the shoulders of the crowd so that they can get to the stage were the villian, Ed, who it turns out is the one, via the drug, who has been manipulating reality and who if they’re not careful will bring about the end of the world.

The Tardis arrives and the Doctor appears from within closely followed by a brainwashed Maddie who has a gun to his head (I could go on a wild tangent about the established state of grace within the Tardis and how it looks like he’s playing for time when he’s really not but I’ve bigger fish to fry (and other clich├ęs) to deal with).  There a scuffle, some jiggery pokery and Ed is building himself up to bringing about the apocalypse.  In the midst of all that Fitz manages to wrestle the gun from Maddie and shoots Ed in the neck.

Oh, you think, very 24, the Doctor’s not going to like that, you’ll be kicked out the Tardis toot suite.  Now, Ed’s not dead, he’s mad, his consciousness is even more disengaged and now the world’s really going to shit.  By now the Doctor’s reasoned that the only way to stop the Earth from paradoxically poofing is for him to take the drug and press the reset switch (see what I mean about the similarity with LOTT?) and that before that Ed has to be stopped at all cost.  So he bends over, picks up the gun, and shoots Ed in the head execution style.  Ed’s dead.

No! No! No! No! NO!  It’s one of the fundamentals of the series, the Doctor does not, I repeat does NOT! kill another human in cold blood like this and particularly with a gun.  He finds another way, he does nothing, he’s talked out of it by a companion, the writer bends the narrative in such a way that he doesn’t have to but above all he does not shoot people with guns.  Under any circumstances.  True, something could be said about his genocidal tendencies in relation to other alien races and you could argue that the tenth version of him had to make much the same decision at the close of The Runaway Bride.

But this just weakens the character and more than that is lazy writing -- the reason we/I love Doctor Who and the character of the Doctor is that he uses his mind to get out of these things, he’s not Jack Bauer, he doesn’t shoot and ask questions later, because let’s face it, what’s the point in that?  It’s this propensity for shooting things that weakened Torchwood as well, the climax of Cyberwoman being a particular disgrace.  Leonard tries his best to work around the thing, presenting the pain the Doctor’s obviously feeling, presenting Sam as the annoyed voice of sanity questioning his actions so that the time lord can use the ‘There was no other way’ argument.  But it's not enough, it ruins the book and dims the franchise, if only for a fraction of a second.

Anyway, in this grand narrative version of those writing games I used to play in English class where someone would leave a sentence hanging and hidden under a fold for the next person to continue I’ll be interested to see if Nick Walter’s picks up on all this and thematically weaves it into his novel Dominion.  But if this range is anything to go by, he’ll skip forward a couple of weeks and everything will have been forgotten …


TV It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited about the broadcast of a new US import – but then it’s been a while since a series has been trailed by this much critical acclaim from professionals and bloggers and professional bloggers and people with access to broadband all chanting quietly, “Watch … Watch … Watch…”. But thankfully, Heroes, lives up to the hype providing enough gob-smacking moments in its opening two episodes to turn me into an instant fan.

Superhero fantasies have had a chequered history on television, with straight comic book adaptations either throwing out the mythology that inspired the character or misjudging it to the point of irrelevancy. Those series, like Heroes, laying their own path often misunderstand the ingredients fans of these things are looking for, bringing special powers and big explosions to the fore rather than characterisation. For every Smallville or Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, there’s been Superboy or Mutant X … and let’s not even get me started on the ’60s Batman which like many of these series decided costumes means camp and comedy, and how can any of this stuff be taken seriously? About the only show which didn’t featured teenagers but got everything completely correct is the little known version of The Flash which ran through the schedules for one series in the ’90s.

Luckily, Heroes doesn’t fall into these any of these traps because, as the pre-publicity highlighted, the spandex and outrageous powers are dropped in favour of running the concept of humans developing special powers within the real world (or the version of it that appears on US television). Some of the characters introduced across these opening episodes – such as an indestructible cheerleader who saves a worker from fire – find themselves wanting to do good from the off, while others are rendered impotent and bewildered by their power to the point we’re not even sure if they’re going to be a force for good. The pointed non inclusion of the word “super” from the title of the series indicates these characters are not meant to be paragons.

Only a very broad idea of where the story will be heading was presented in these episode which rightly spent their time introducing the characters and concepts, not falling into the other nefarious trap of also shoe-horning in a representative plot. In these opening stages, all of the characters are living in their own little words, each discovering their new powers in separate ways and – as far they’re concerned – in isolation.

As well as the aforementioned cheerleader Claire , there’s Nathan a politician who can fly, Isaac an artist with drug induced premonitions, Matt a telepathic cop, Hiro a Japanese office worker who can bend space and time and Niki a stripper with a split personality.

Series creator and writer of these opening two episodes Tim Kring (whose previous credits include Knight Rider and Crossing Jordon) relies on a sheer sense of wonder that such amazing things are possible – the look that Peter Parker gives in Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film when he realises he can climb walls rendered across whole episodes. And for every tragic moment such as the brutal solution to the mob problems of the stripper, are those of utter joy , as Hiro transports himself from a subway carriage in Tokyo to Times Square in New York before discovering a bookstore selling a comic book which describes his life right up to that instant.

Cleverly, most of these powers can be rendered on screen with fairly minimal special effects and never in a gratuitous fashion. Telepathy is conveyed by voices on the soundtrack, transportation created by a screen wipe or transition (which is why they were so popular on Star Trek), the stripper’s apparent Hyde appears in her reflection with the invincibility created through the ingenious use of prosthetics and CGI, and the flying scenes (as far as I could tell) a mix of wire work and minimal green screen.

Also in these early stages, Kring imports the quirks of such recent hyperlink dramas as Syriana, Love Actually and Fast Food Nation by slowly revealing these characters scattered across the US nation and further afield are tangentially linked, with Claire’s father potentially being the brain-sucking villain of the piece tailing Mohinder – the son of a geneticist – who’s visiting New York to investigate his father’s death and, who in one scene, taxis a nurse (Nathan’s brother) … who it turns out may also be able to fly (although there’s a hint his power might be far more expansive than that).

Slowly, as the heroes are drawn together, such surprise links may become less important, but Kring is already layering in signs and portents – or as the BBC2 announcer beforehand gamely described “apocalyptic visions”. As is customary in these series, not everything can be taken at face value and – as if the many new characters and situations weren’t enough – we were presented with a gob-smacking finale, in which one of those visions comes true. That naturally makes us question what has gone before and shows the series will not be averse to experimenting with the language of television drama, at least in terms of direction and editing.

Heroes is still resolutely of comic books and fantasy though; with the exception of Doctor Who, it’s been a while since a show has seemingly been specifically designed to stir the inner geek. It’s obviously created by someone who’s consumed cult media and has the an obvious love for it. Where other series have shied away from inserting in-jokes which only a small proportion of the audience might understand, Heroes confronts them head on, referencing everything from Star Trek to a particular issue of The X-Men, to the surnames of characters from The Matrix. Elements such as the episode titles as captions which slip through the very opening of each instalment and a portentous philosophical voiceover from source unknown also give the impression of a comic, without going the whole hog as seen in Ang Lee’s film version of Hulk which actually had frames and thought bubbles appearing on screen.

All of this would be for naught were it not for the characters, and for once there’s not a single principle you’re not happy to spend time with. Of the multitude, Hiro is the stand-out, exuberantly played by Masi Oka, his bursts of excitement being some of the best moments on television this year. A more intriguing figure is the Time Lord-esque Mohinder, whose real power we’re yet to see – but actor Sendhil Ramamurthy is carrying the burden of explaining what might be causing these abilities to emerge with aplomb. If Hayden Panettiere’s cheerleader stands a little too much in a certain vampire slayer’s shadow for now, there’s Alias and Lost creator JJ Abrams stalwart Greg Grunberg playing another sturdy but reliable figure in Matt.

While I agree with some commentators that the first episode is a bit sluggish, something which is inherent in the nature of all of these things – there aren’t many opening episodes which work completely simply because of everything they have to do – taken together this marks one of the most promising television launches of the year, combining fun, intrigue and suspense. BBC2 obviously has enough confidence that they’ve paid through the nose to buy the second series – which means it’ll have plenty of time to bed in before Sky inevitably steals the license.

About the only gatecrasher to spoil the party was their presentation of the episodes. Repeating the experiment which greeted the opening instalments of Torchwood last year, the credits of the pilot were clipped and replaced with a reminder that episode two was to follow (over a specially designed ident) and a bunch of trailers for the channel’s opening line-up spoiling the effect of the cliffhanger somewhat as the viewer had Louis Theroux’s incredulous face glaring at them while they considered the implications of the nurse’s jump from the building – surely a voiceover the first set of credits would have been enough.

More damaging was the introduction of the BBC’s long term policy of clipping out the fades in and out of US imports. More than ever, the lead in to advertising has become a punctuation to the action, with a series of mini-cliffhangers throughout the episode, which in Heroes, at least in these early stages with the action criss-crossing across stories, creates a pacing which helps to orientate the viewer. Losing them in this case left the episodes looking a bit disjointed.

But, not to the point that I won’t be tuning in for episode three …

Explosions Of Sound

Music Regular readers will know I'm easily touched. Oh err, what I mean to say is that I have a propensity for reacting to art at a gut level, getting far too emotional probably. It happened tonight during Prom 16 and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra's performance of Aaron Copland's Symphony No. 3.

If I was to make a cross genre list of favourite music, Copland's Fanfare For The Common Man would be in the top ten, its strident epic sound, its evocation of the brilliance of mankind at it's best. What I didn't know what that it's part of this much larger work and on listening to it within situ was like having heard just Hamlet's 'To Be Or Not To Be' soliloquy then to be told 'Y'know, Shakespeare wrote this whole play'.

What's clever is that Copland almost constructs the fanfare slowly across the work, allowing various instruments to hint at what's to come, a flute quietly skipping through the famous theme somewhere in the second movement. If you already know the tune it's really poignant, like suddenly noticing an old friend across a room only for them to leave before you can say hello.

Then the Fanfare arrives in the fourth movement and it's gut wrenching. I have what I can now see is quite a dry version on a cheap compilation. The way that the Bournemouth played it, absolutely punching out the brass and drum sections, filling my world through my new headphones just made - me - tremble. My heart thudded in my chest and I actually began to feel emotional, gripped by some primordial force, pointing to the sky (or rather at my ceiling) in time with each of the explosions of sound.

I'm not surprised that it seems to have influenced later film composers -- perhaps they're just following a tradition, but this must sure include the DNA for James Horner's music for Apollo 13, the use of the trumpet. But I'm sure I also heard the confused alien musical tones scored by John Williams for Close Encounters of the Third Kind which here appear after the Fanfare, almost like a crowd fall about in confusion after marching together. Just amazing.

In which I become stightly tetchy and territorial.

Web Steve Baldwin tries to explain the distinction between a 'site' and a 'blog':
"Why the hell am I pursuing this distinction? Because it angers me that so many people, especially journalists, lump people who are publishing small jots of text which consist mainly of a hyperlink and a "check this out" imperative with people who actually publish articles, create sites, and otherwise behave like publishers, or at least Webmasters. In their eyes, we're "all Bloggers" just because we might happen to use Blogger or Typepad to automate some of our content production tasks. We're Webmasters, damn it, not Bloggers, and we share almost nothing in common with the Blogger mob. We know how to use FTP, install software on a server, can code HTML by hand, and resize and debabelize graphics without having to resort to Picasa."
What Steve's trying to do here is make a distinction between the content and the software used to publish that content, a distinction I'm not sure is possible. The Wikipedia defines a weblog as:
"A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog."
If you look at his website is reads, looks and feels like a blog. Yes, he writes relatively long posts on a particular topic and there are links to other pages that feature content but I can't tell the difference, particularly since I also tend to write relatively long posts on a particular topic elsewhere.

If you use Blogger or Typepad or whatever software to publish your material as far as I can tell you're a blogger -- and you can be a webmaster too -- they're not two different actions. I'm a blogger (and proud of it by the way) but aren't I also a webmaster given that I've designed my own template here and create a range of different blogs?

You can't divorce the content from the action. Well alright you can -- material that's published in a blog format but was originally intended for another media - such as newspaper articles -- are on shaky ground. But I'd say that if your material is intended to go online and your first port of call is publishing it through blogging software and you're writing it in a style which often addresses the reader directly you're blogging.

I think what Steve's doing is trying to divorce what he does with the likes of livejournal or myspace and other types of personal blogs, with link blogs and photoblogs and news sites such as Cinematical. But I don't think you really can. They're all just different flavours or genres of weblog.

It has been a while since I've read something online and it's got under my fingernails enough for me to disagree with it publically -- and I love Ghost Sites, been a reader for years, but I don't think I ever considered it not being a blog. But if Steve doesn't want to consider himself a blogger, that's fine. It's just the way he uses the word, as though it's a bit dirty, sort of pisses on the rest of us.

Is this an opera I see before me? Well, no actually.

Music Everything I'd ever need to say about how I feel about opera is expressed in the last review of the last time I saw a whole opera although perhaps I should modify one of the statements having listened to the whole of Verdi's 1865 rendering of Macbeth during Prom 15 tonight:

(a) I quite liked the operatic singing ...
(b) But I still didn't love this rendering of the opera

Possibly because

(c) I didn't see any of it.

For some bizarre reason, despite the appearance of a Prom concert last Tuesday and next, BBC Four failed to carry one of the few concerts in which, I'd argue, actually seeing the thing helps with the appreciation of it. This was semi-staged version, with as the commentary emphasised included most of the costumes and much of the bloody staging, axes and kilts included, the kind of stuff an opera novice like me could get their teeth into.

And as I said, the playing and singing all sounded very impressive. Except I couldn't get a handle on it. I'm yes, yes, it's Shakespeare, and I seem to have seen Macbeth a hundred times, so it's not as though I haven't some idea of the plot. But what I wanted was to be able to see the narrative as it happened, not having to guess which aria was being sung by whom about what.

Now and then, I did manage to work out what was happening in the odd scene such as when Lasy Macbeth was working her charm on her husband or where everything went to hell but generally it became a kind of classical soup, chords and voices all blending into one another to the point that for the first time in The Proms I really felt defeated. I can see now why Operas in music shops tend to come in boxes with very big booklets explaining everything.

Obviously if I was much more familiar with the opera, perhaps seen it performed before, had some idea of the staging I could appreciate the performances better, the different decisions being made in performance. But this was the first time during The Proms that I felt a bit ignorant, cursing the fact that I couldn't speak Italian. How silly is that? Especially since it could have been broadcast without subtitles too and I'd probably have the same complaint.

Despite all of this though, I was impressed in places, particularly those moments which were purely orchestral, the booming of the brass, the swirling strings. Plus, I suspect there are technical or financial reasons why a television broadcast didn't happen -- licensing deals from Glyndebourne and other broadcasters, appearance fees for performers, the potential violence of the piece being shown pre-watershed. It's just that after all the build up only those visitors to the Hall could see the whole of the performance and be able to judge its merits.

"an unfortunate omission"

Film DVD Times tries to review Derek Jarman's Blue:
"Edge-enhancement evidently isn’t going to be too much of a problem here ..."

"There are no English subtitles for hearing impaired - an unfortunate omission, particular for a film like this."
Includes screenshots.

O noble toil.

Music Today I bought some headphones. I didn’t break the bank, they’re a pair of Philips made ear-muffs from Argos costing £14.99, but I’m guessing that technology has moved on again because they’re miles better than the ones I bought closer to the turn of the century which were about the same price, plasticy, uncomfortable and made my ears hurt. These are much more comfortable with a spongy wrapping around the earpieces for a snugger fit and about the only side effect is that they make my ears sweat -- but not in an unpleasurable way.

The upshot of all this is that tonight’s Prom 14, Haydn’s The Seasons, sounded fantastic, as though I was sitting in the Hall actually, better probably as the whole range of the orchestra and voices of the choir and soloists flooded my field of listening. I’ve the giant photograph of the Albert Hall taken from the gods which appeared in The Guardian last week blu-tacked to my wall and I imagine that the sound I was hearing was what you could expect to find hovering up there.

The piece itself was banquet of sound, entirely compelling, exhilarating and exhausting. Apparently The Seasons was fairly poorly reviewed on first preformance because rather than dealing with the usual weighty themes of Christian religion or heroes of classical mythology it considered the more realistic issues of the weather and everyday life, which is probably why it’s apparently so popular in Britain actually and suggests it’s the Brett Dean’s Vexations and Devotions of its time.

The soloists essentially sang an explanation of what the music was representing in the passage of the seasons, pointing out the different weather features and changes in nature. When a pipe played we were told it was that of the shepherd and it gives the imagination something to do. I’d say that the whole piece expresses the chaotic shifts between the sun and the rain and the snow far better than a certain piece by Vivaldi and by the end of the night I really felt as though I'd been through a whole other year -- although obviously not because I don't want to be thirty-three just yet.

Speaking of The Guardian, their reviewers have been a bit critical of the performances this year but I hope they give this production the respect it deserves. I thought the Handel and Hayden Society of Boston (led by Sir Roger Norrington) and accompanying soloists were first rate. Toby, Jon and Sally all seemed to be having a great time, really engaging with the audience and pleased with the reception. That’s something I’ve loved about the Proms, the way that the players and promenaders communicate with one another, no invisible barrier in this arena divorcing the crowd from what’s happening on stage.

Tomorrow, Verdi's The Scottish Opera. It's going to be a long night.


Books We’ve become accustomed in the new age for companions, the long terms ones at least, to be given an extensive cooling off period of five or six episodes which establishes the dynamic between them and the Doctor and crucially in which we see each of their first adventures together in sequence, one after the other, no hint of a gap. I know some of you are already wanting to cite Boomtown as an example of this not happening with Captain Jack already very much part of the crew and having already had unseen adventures, but notice I said long term companions in the opening sentence which hopeful drags me off the hook. Few.

All of which is a preamble to noticing how surprising it is to see Fritz being handled in such an old school manner. This is late nineties you see and just as in The Taint he didn’t seem all that bothered by the internal status of Tardis, in Demontage he’s already in his element and not all that surprised to be on a space station, in the future, ordering drinks and being mistaken for a hitman. True, both Rose and Martha took their initial time jumps in their stride, but it’s been thoroughly established that the Doctor chose them because they were special and looking for adventure. Fitz is more in the Dodo mode of passenger, there because, after his mum died and he lost his job, he’s nowhere else to go. And he and the Doctor are already friendly enough to be making bets.

The German version of the Wikipedia translates Demontage as Disassembly and says (via a translator) that it “describes (contrary to the assembly) the dismantling of something, in particular from building groups, machines or also whole production plants. Disassembly technology is thus the reversal of the mounting technique with the goal of the dismantling of a complex system into subsystems such as building groups or individual construction units. Special disassembly techniques are e.g. needed if atomictechnical plants must be dismantled.” Although all that refers to the story thematically for reasons too spoilery to mention, Richards also constructs that story in the same way, at first building in a range of plots and characters all of which could become the most important before the story is out.

The adventure begins in progress, with the time travelers enjoying as lay-over on Vega Station, a floating hotel casino at the border between two warring races, the Battrulians and Canvine which is about to be visited by the former’s president apparently to see an exhibition of paintings by one of the sectors best regarded artists. The author gently mixes together Babylon 5 with James Bond cool and a dollop of Grand Hotel, lightly washing with a splash of Stephen King and The Culture Show (there's some discussion of the value of art). It’s a surprisingly colourful image, a kind of anti-base under siege tale in which it’s up to the Doctor to discover where each of the characters fits on the canvas, the menace only really becoming apparent as he fills in each of the number spaces, literally dismantling plot elements as he goes until the most important is left behind to be dealt with. We're peeling the layers off the onion here, obviously.

As I’ve hinted this is something of a romp as everyone gets into a scrape, escapes, then find themselves in even deeper trouble. If the middle of the book drags slightly with the kind of run around you’d find in episodes three and four of a traditional six parter, that’s probably more to do with the form than anything array in the writing. As the story continues, momentum builds, some elements become darker, the generally comedic atmosphere drifts into tragedy and there’s a really surprising moment (at least this early into the character’s story) in which Fitz cries. If anything it’s that will to touch and tickle which is most similar to the new series but there are others, particularly within the handling of characters.

It’s a relatively small cast but they’re all very well drawn with stand outs being Bigdog Caruso, the Canvine (who looking like humanoid wolves) with the heart of Ben Grimm, the art forgers Raparre and Forster (who would probably be played by David Walliams and Matt Lucas in the new series), the surprising Stabilio and the hostess/waitress/whatever Vermillion a fiery red head, who I imagined looked exactly like Kelly Reilly (hence the picture). It’s her reason for not being in the whole book which is similar to the new series, the creation of a memorable, likable character, whom a companion befriends only for her to … become the catalyst for the reveal of the big concept at the heart of the story ... and it’s great idea, even if it seems strangely familiar, it’s handled much better here than there.

I remember liking Option Lock, the last Eighth Doctor novel from Richards because even though the narrative didn’t completely hold together, there were some lovely Doctorish moments in between. There are a couple of doozys here, often related to card playing (turns out he’s bit of a shark in his old age) but also due to his longevity and propensity to change appearance in a scene which throws away the question of regeneration in a way that the new series could never get away with. It’s decent book for Sam too, even if she’s given a dose of body shock trouble again. But the point is that little time is given over this time to her internal moping which has been a feature of too many of these models, allowing her instead to be fearless and adventuress for a change.

Actually, Richards doesn’t give much of an internal dialogue to anyone preferring instead to make his action completely lucid. Unlike some authors who all too often simply list the characters in each scene and drop in the words as through they’re writing theatre or an audio play, Justin very carefully notes the posture of everyone in the scene and particularly where they’re putting their hands, actually. The backdrop too is realistically drawn, even the fictional view from the view scree which also hints at one of the subterfuges at the heart of the situation. It’s a wonderfully filmic approach as each sentence and paragraph would herald a new shot or scene on television. I’ve seen this done badly elsewhere but here the balance is just right and I defy anyone at the close of the final scene not to imagine Fitz saying it to the camera with the famous end of episode scream and titles being heralded afterwards.

About my only criticism of the book is something I noted in the review of Option Lock - that none of the revelations from Lawrence Miles’ Alien Bodies have yet been addressed and with the exception of a potential dream in The Taint even mentioned. It’s almost as though there’s been a definite decision to let Larry do his thing whilst everyone else does theirs. Or it’s The X-Files model of the main mythology stories generally running unheralded between the stand alones. Perhaps it’s a publishing decision so that the casual reader won’t become too confused as the pages become thick with continuity but given that these books were being published a year and a half after the tv movie how likely is it that anyone other than fans were picking them up anyway? Oh well, I’ve four more books to the next Miles adventure, the two book Interference so I’ll just have to be patient -- isn’t it funny how tastes have changed that stand alone adventures were once the norm for the franchise but now we expect a grander narrative?

Next: It’s a Revolution, Man.

Life Props : Bold Street, Liverpool

Elsewhere I've contributed a Life Props style post to the Bold Street Project. You can read it here ...

"The loneliness of watching others on television.

Music Three Proms today, two live, one catch-up. Like Sean O’Hagan in today’s Observer, I don’t think I’ve ever listened to this much ‘classical music’ in this kind of concentration and like him I might not be able to follow all of it and indeed be able to concentrate through ever bar and movement. But I feel like I’m beginning to learn now, to see the differences in composers and playing and be able to confirm that I love Beethoven as you’ll see.

My first touch of classical music was during assembly on the first day of primary school. The head teacher asked us to name a composer who was well known in the local area and I apparently put my hand up and said ‘Tchaikovsky’. The proper answer was John Lennon, but the teachers were quite impressed that I’d even heard of the Russian composer at such an early age. I think it was just the first indication anyone had that I was going to be a bit different and probably a handful. And so it goes.

Lunch time brought bacon butties and the Blue Peter Prom 12, a 'jamboree' presented by CBBC’s Gemma Hunt and Chief Scout and former BP presenter Peter Duncan (the current presenting team for the programme off flying the world as their videoed apologies explained). Hunt was fine, but for some reason Duncan was affecting his twenty year old kids tv presenting voice with perhaps an even greater injection of theatricality which sounded a bit odd on Radio 3 but the kids seemed to like. Since this was audio only, I could imagine that he’d turned up in that green and white checked suit that someone designed for him in competition all those years ago.

I love the idea of the BP Prom, the idea of getting kids interested in classical music at a young age. The mix of Copland and Grieg, Bernstein and Williams was inspired with as much audience participation and storytelling as music so the children couldn’t get bored. I’m not sure that the injection of Bollywood in the middle worked as well as it could on radio what with not being able to see the dancers . This concert also included the apparently controversial appearance of Connie Fisher (with the inevitable justification from the Radio 3 commentator) who actually ended up being one of the highlights even though she seemed to sound more like Julie Andrews than herself for once. Pete seemed very pleased to meet her.

It’s lucky I enjoyed Prom 12 because I’m going to be listening to it again. It was a repeat of Prom 10 which wasn’t broadcast and if I’m going to listen to all of the Albert Hall Proms, pretending that twelve equals ten seems like the best way to make up the numbers. So yes, I’ve decided to listen or watch them all, right through to the 8th September which will either be a life landmark or drive me insane. I’m even looking at the Prom booklet and seeing the list of films and wondering if I can fit them in. The Bridge on the River Kwai’s OK, but anyone got a copy of the Copland documentary that’s being shown on the 2 September?

Which is why I spent the second half of the afternoon listening to Prom 9 on listen again (I was on that fabulous flickr tour at the time). I’m not sure I followed all of Berlioz’s loud and long Symphonie fantastique and I think I liked the title of Dutilleux’s The Shadows of Time more than the piece itself. Similarly I loved the idea of Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand even if likePaul Wittgenstein who commissioned the work, I couldn’t see that he’d got the balance of piano to orchestra quite right. But then if you’ve only one hand on the keyboard that’s bound to happen isn’t it? I think my appreciation of the whole concert was probably lowered by the sound quality the real audio stream -- which I've heard is a bit of muso thing to say. One of them, one of them.

And finally tonight, BBC Four’s broadcast of Prom 13 were a disappointingly half full Albert Hall greeted Brett Dean’s Vexations and Deviations and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and I can honestly say that this was my second favourite concert so far (behind the Striggio). The latter was a fairly traditional burst of the one of Ludwig’s I’ve always the cherished, but the Dean offered this extraordinary sound which I thought questioned the line drawn between classical music and fine art -- was this performance art presented in a concert hall instead of a white cube? I thought it interesting that none of the people commenting made the comparison including the composer so either I’m wrong or a less fixed idea of were the borders between the arts actually are.

The notes in the Radio Times listings pages describe the sound fairly well: ‘a blow against reality TV, automated answering services, the dehumanisation of contemporary society and the warped language of corporate jargon’ which on reflection makes the work sound like the most pretentious thing in the world, but it really isn’t. It was certainly more accessible than Unlike Sam Hayden’s Substratum and the people in the hall could be seen grinning and tittering as each ‘movement’ drifted through.

It’s a sort of modernist mix of rhythms from the orchestra, chatter from the choirs along with choral settings of poetry and corporate jargon. Sample:
"The loneliness of watching others on television.
Burning their sparkler lives right down to the butt
Your careful hands have bever smoked
Lying heavy like unwanted dogs on your lap
And warn you tonight you might live forever."
This is laced with the sound of an old fashioned telephone and a digital recording of what purports to be an answering service, the Hall filled with an Australian accented husky voice saying things like ‘Your call is important to us’ and ‘Please hold the line and advisor will be with you shortly’ before drifting off into the surreal ‘If you can find something to hold please hold it’ and ‘We apologise for any anxiety caused’.

But the real key to its success is that it gave the orchestra and mostly the choir something to do other than be sound generators. The BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra were joined by Gondwana Voices the national youth choir of Australia as well as being part of the harmony, also provided chatter, rang bells, shook tin foil and at one point played patty-cake with each other highlighting that human contrast was possible in the middle of what could have been quite a stark message.

Two of their members and a choir master were interviewed in the interval and it turns out that they hire based on musical talent from throughout Australia and their collective is based on talent crossing class and social lines -- the parents of one child are farmers and had to sell five of their cows so that their daughter could afford the trip -- but another member is the daughter of the composer. This sounds like an extraordinary idea and I wonder if this kind of choir exists in this country.

About the only disappointment about the broadcast was the discovery in the interval that the Promundrums have been canceled because of the shenanigans in other parts of the BBC. The name of a winner was read out, but not the answer, which is the kind of thing that you could write to Points of View about -- if the answer wasn’t printed on the website. Here it is:
Solution: AGE

Clue 1: Rotates to spell out CAGE - but the anomalous time-signature is a cue to strike out C - leaving AGE. 'Ansiosamente' means 'with anxiety' - hence reference to Prom 5, Bernstein's Symphony No. 2 'The Age of Anxiety'.

Clue 2: Remove the letters CLEAR from CRAEG LEA - the house inhabited by the Elgars from 1899-1904 - to leave AGE.
So actually I was along the right lines -- I thought it was Anxiety - I just didn’t think it through enough. I’m rubbish at the Times crossword, and The Guardian’s Quick as well for that matter. Gosh, is that the time? I’m off to bed. Aptly, tomorrow night is Haydn’s The Seasons -- expect jokes about the weather.

Actors Wanted

This just popped through on the Arts Council mailing list:
"el mono theatre's next production, Hamlet, is being performed at Camden People's Theatre in September and we're looking for help in the production stages of the project.

"We require a group of actors to help our one member of cast in devising and rehearsing the show. You would not be needed every day but any day you can spare would be very welcome. There is no fee for the work just a chance to work with the company and be creative. We are rehearsing from 21st August-7th September at Friargate Theatre, York. Rehearsals are from 10-5 Monday -Friday.

"If you're interested or know of someone who might be email me on el.mono@virgin.net with your cv and availability."
Sounds fascinating.