The New You – Whispering Down

To kick the New Year off, here’s a New You promo video dating from (gulp!) 1987. I’ve had this sitting around for ages, most obviously in need of a serviceable audio track: as you’ll be able to see time has taken its toll.

Credits:
Marie Malone: vocals.
Paul Hazel: guitar, keyboards, percussion.
David Westmore: bass.
Ian Cleverley: drums, vibraphone.
[There was also a whole bunch of people playing acoustic guitar in the choruses. Can’t remember who exactly…]

Video filmed and edited by David Stonestreet.
The New You logo and backdrops designed by the Bleach Boys.
Video transferred from VHS tape. The original audio track has been replaced with a recording from the 45rpm single: one pass of noise reduction has been applied.

Song written by Willson/Hazel/Malone.
Produced by Paul Hazel.
Engineered by Martin ‘Crazy’ Pavey.

Quote of the Month

Make the present your past, enter the flux before it gets frozen over, write about change, write about transformation.

William H. Gass

Quality and Higher Education.

The stated “mission and strategic goal” of my employer—University of Wales Trinity Saint David—is Transforming education, transforming lives. My default view on mission statements is to view them with some suspicion: however, I actually kind of like this one.

Can we transform education? Well, maybe… that’s actually a pretty tall order. However, it’s true that the practice of teaching and learning in the vast majority of Higher Education establishments is largely archaic and no longer fit-for-purpose: almost anything we can do to transform this has got to be A Good Thing. When our SA1 campus with its new-fangled teaching spaces has been built we’ll be in a better position to judge. Let’s just say the jury is out on this one, because the challenge is not going to be in building those new spaces but in fundamentally changing long-established and deeply engrained habits and practices. As Robert Pirsig has said:

If a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.

Can education transform lives? This one’s easier to answer: yes, it definitely and unequivocally can. I know this to be true from personal experience: a year’s study at City University completely and utterly changed me forever. It remains one of the most profound experiences of my life, and I remain eternally grateful…

But looking at this idea a little more critically, it’s obvious that just saying we’re “transforming lives” isn’t really good enough. Surely we need to say that we’re transforming them for the better? And, from there, go on to say what we actually mean by “better”. Happier? Ready for the workplace? More confident and mature? Perhaps all of these things…

The word that I am going to use as a unit of measure here is quality. Now quality is a concept that we all think we understand. I’m pretty sure that if I put a selection of objects out on a table somewhere—it wouldn’t matter what: cakes, or watches, shovels, underpants—we could all reliably pick out the high quality items from the poor. Quality, then, seems to reside in the objects around us. It is a property of things. But if we think about this a bit more, we can see that this is only actually true for a limited set of things. We do not, for example, say things like “oh, look at that high quality sunset”, or “look, there goes a high quality bee!” In fact, the only things we describe in terms of quality are those that are man-made. And the reason we describe an object as “high quality” is because someone—a designer, artist, craftsman, engineer—has invested that object with quality in the first place. Quality is something we make.

And the way we make quality is by engaging openly, honestly, calmly, and skilfully with our materials, whatever they may be. We have to pay attention to every detail. We must show infinite care. We must love what we do. It is our total commitment to the creative process that makes quality, that invests our animations, our games, our films, our music, with quality. In other words, quality is a function of the creator’s interaction with their materials.

We can take this train of thought further. Even if we do our very best and create a high quality product, that still isn’t enough. Before that quality manifests itself someone has to interact with it. So, yes, quality is embedded within man-made objects. But much more than that it is the fundamental descriptor for all human experience. Quality is the means by which we measure what is happening to us in the here-and-now. Quality is a function of interaction. It is the human measure of experience.

So what happens when we bring our new understanding of quality back to our mission statement, to transformed lives? Well, firstly, it implies that there should be a high quality interaction between the student and the university, particularly (obviously!) a high quality learning experience. Our job as educators, therefore, is to teach the student to engage openly, honestly, calmly, and skilfully with their materials, to pay attention to detail, to show infinite care, to show love for their subject. Then, secondly, it should follow that our transformed students go out into the world and make it a better place by investing everything they do with quality.

That is the goal. That is what we are here for.

[This is an edited version of a speech I gave at the School of Film and Digital Media end-of-year show in June 2015.]

 

Quote of the Month

If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.

Marcus Brigstocke

Francis Bebey – Super Jungle

Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Willson I’ve been listening to this a lot recently: one day at work I had it on repeat all afternoon. A highly alluring mixture of cheesy drum sounds and ear-shredding synth, of cool repetition and crazed improvisation. The end result verges on the avant garde

Quote of the Month

So, real musical rhythm comes when you listen to the note that’s been played before you, and you know when and where to place your note—and you listen to the note that comes after! This is how ensembles swing […] It’s really all about listening and having a strong enough understanding of where the beat is. You can intentionally pull on the fabric of time, pushing at the edge of the tempo. This could be achieved even harmonically: Ron Carter was a very good example, the way he played with Miles; that’s what he would do: push the pitch of a note, and depending on where he placed it—and the way Tony Williams responded—this all contributes to creating a lot of surface tension. And it is tension that requires resolution of some sort: tension – release – tension – release… Almost like a heartbeat! This is why poetic music is ultimately more satisfying than marching bands or disco, because in most of that music there’s no syncopation, it’s just (beating on the table: beat – beat – beat – beat). There’s not a whole lot there beside the pounding pulse. Music requires a steady beat, but it also needs flexibility. Time awareness is not about trying to play like a metronome.

 

I like [playing musics] that have a lot more mystery, and are not so—what’s the word?—so obvious or arranged. I like what we don’t say, that’s more interesting to me. So it’s almost anti-drumming in that context. Which again takes us back to the whole time-awareness thing. It’s what you don’t play that makes everything else work. If you play everything, supply every bit of information, there’s nothing left for the imagination of the audience! You’re playing a musical form of pornography at that point, right?

Peter Erskine

Sheriff & The Ravels – Shombalor

Context.

Currently being used by John Cooper Clark as an outro on his current Radio 6 show. Fantastic!

Junior Senior – Move Your Feet

Smash Mouth – Walkin’ On The Sun

Roger McGuinn

Tuesday 4th November. The Glee Club, Cardiff.

roger_mcguinn_glee

Surprisingly good. I came feeling slightly apprehensive and (at worst) expecting an evening of Bible-bashing, but my fears proved totally unfounded. McGuinn proved himself to be an excellent singer, with no need for the shouting that these days passes for emotional expression and a wonderful sense of the melodic line. He probably wouldn’t be deemed a virtuoso guitarist but he certainly has a strong individual identity and is not afraid of putting himself out there: his version of Eight Miles High that closed the show featured the first psychedelic guitar freak-out that I’ve ever seen performed on an acoustic guitar.

Between songs McGuinn regaled us with stories from his long career. Although worn smooth with repetition and essentially little more than self-mythologizing, these were leavened with a nice line in self-deprecating humour and were hugely entertaining.

You’d have to say that at 72 years old McGuinn is doing pretty well for himself. His talent is intact, he’s producing new material, and he’s still very much his own man. The highpoint for me and the moment quite early on in the set when I knew this was going to be a good evening: his singalong version of Mr. Spaceman.

[Thanks to Mr. Willson for the ticket.]