Regulating the Wild West

I forgot to cross-post here a few paragraphs I posted to Liberal Conspiracy last week, commenting on Andy Burnham’s call for more internet regulation:

It is also contentious that the poor are being disadvantaged by the ‘lawless’ internet – One great advantage of the medium is that it reduces the financial barriers of entry into any given business. Putting online regulation in place will surely restore those barriers.

Later, Unity took Burnham to task at greater length, for misrepresenting John Perry Barlow’sA Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace‘ in a quest to defend royalties for the rich music labels, at the expense of new and more equitable business models, where intellectual property is shared or even waived, that are appearing online.

Meanwhile, the CMS Select Committee suggests that YouTube should be better policed, with content certificates similar to those awarded to movies. Taming the Wild-West seems to be on the DCMS agenda.

Although the “wild-west” conception of the internet is probably inaccurate description of most people’s experience, message boards like the misanthropic /b/ board at 4chan certainly do have a lawless air to them. Not only are there no rules governing behaviour, but the participants do not seem to abide by most established social rules, or rules of decency either. But, as this interesting article from the New York Times Magazine shows, even those who are intent on disrupting the lives of others, causing panic without empathy, do seem to operate by a code of sorts, only attacking those they consider to be stupid, hypocritical, inconsistent… or careless:

“It’s not that I do this because I hate them. I do this because I’m trying to save them.”

Kowtowing to the Bigots

Now then, have a watch of this cartoonish advert:

Apparently, the Advertising Standards Authority have recieved 200 complaints, and Heinz have withdrawn the advert as a result. It is “unsuitable to be seen by children” apparently.

Only, whoever complained is being rather disingenuous. The advert was not show around kids’ TV shows because of the high fat and salt content of the product. And for adults, it is no more inappropriate than any of the raunchy adverts we see on our TVs on any given evening of the year. (h/t Happymarx). In fact, the Heinz advert displays a healthy functioning nuclear family, one that is entirely socially acceptable in 2008.

So I fear that the complainers are merely homophobic bigots of the most humourless kind. Whether they are religiously motivated or not, we do not know. But it looks like an illiberal assault on freedom of expression to me – a tiny minority of people with minority beliefs imposing their will on the rest of us. What’s the moral difference between this, and the Mohammed cartoons fiasco?

You can complain to Heinz if you want. I’ve already written in, Angry from Hampshire.


Oh wait – it is fundamentalists after all (via Andrew). And just to clarify, my call to “complain” was to lobby for its reinstatement, not to ally yourselves with the Christianists…

Church Standards

Congratulations to Billie Piper, and Laurence Fox, married today.

Its none of my business, of course (or maybe it is), but does the Church of England not bother with the whole “no marriage for divorcees” rigmarole anymore? Or is that the sort of thing that can be waived for celebrities?

Scotland's Hottest

Well well – Just as I take a step back from the running of 59 Productions, they find their way into one of those top 100 lists. We are now officially only 6 degrees less hot than JK Rowling:

The List’s Hot 100 – 2007’s hottest talent

59. Fifty Nine Productions
Fast-tracking their way to international success as audio-visual designers, Mark Grimmer and Leo Warner have worked with Suspect Culture, Grid Iron and, for the National Theatre Of Scotland, Black Watch. Following extensive work at the National Theatre, the Royal Ballet and New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, future projects include a new play at The Traverse and Salome at the Royal Opera House.

No mention of Robert Sharp, goddammit, which probably reflects my distinctly hands-off approach in recent months. One can only hope that the second-hand prestige shows up in some healthy dividend payments, one of these days.

The Age of the Remix

I mentioned ‘mash-ups’ last week. It’s a term that seems to have only gained traction in the past year. To me it seems to mean something halfway between ‘collaboration’ and ‘remix’. I don’t know what it means to other people.

We live in the age of the Remix. Sure, sampling and cover versions have been around for decades. Simple, honest plagarism has been around even longer. But it is the current era, one of cheap recording technology and limitless storage space for content, that the Remix and the mash-up will come to dominate.

The most popular video clip on the Internet is not a famous speech, a TV moment, or even One Night In Paris. Instead, it is footage of a plump kid wielding a broom, pretending it is a light-sabre. In one sense, he was not really pretending – The clip is so ubiquitous because thousands of people have added special effects to the footage, giving the anonymous hero a proper Jedi weapon (one suspects that the video was originally made for just such a purpose). Filming something and adding special effects is technically a remix. When we see unadulterated video, we call it “raw” footage, which suggests the idea that it is incomplete and un-evolved. Only when it has been mixed does it take on a clear and proper meaning.

I think one of the reasons I enjoy the music of Will Oldham is his propensity to remix his own songs. Hearing an old tune sung in a new style forces you to think about how the original was put together. The differences between the two renditions bring out the best of both. This is also true of artist Tommy Perman’s project Chinese Whispers, where the mix that was remixed was remixed was remixed, by an ever-expanding group of producers. Real World Records run a similar ongoing project too, again facilitated by the Internet and accessible production software that simply was not available five or six years ago.

Tommy Perman is a member of the FOUND collective. A couple of years ago, they thought up an excellent tag-line to promote their ‘Stop Look Listen’ exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy: Remix Our Poster. The results were quirky and highly entertaining. What the FOUND exhibition shows us is that an initial thought can take different people on very different journeys. The pleasure lies not in seeing one aesthetically pleasing image… but in seeing dozens. It is delightful to see how varied are the thought processes of our fellow human beings. When it comes to lateral thinking, human imagination expands into infinite dimesions. The idea of the remix gets better with each new pathway.

A more recent example is the Layer Tennis Tournament, currently in progress over at the Coudal Partners site. One artist remixes another artist’s work. The remix is then remixed once more by the first player (using Photoshop layers)… and so the ‘volleys’ continue. Last week, illustrator Kevin Cornell took on designer Shaun Inman. The individual images they created are very pretty, but it is the juxtaposition of two different minds that makes it entertaining.

The Remix allows dialogue between many minds, not the monologue of a single person sharing their experience with us. Technologies, which we humans have invented and perfected over the past generation, increasingly allow this kind of art to arise and develop. And why not? Human thoughts overlap, and our art should too.


From a good review of Waves (and British Theatre in general), courtesy of Ben Brantley in the New York Times.

At a time when the theater is often regarded as the quaint elderly relation of the art forms, it’s a pleasure to the see this alleged invalid flexing its muscles, turning cartwheels and generally showing off to the tune of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Adaptation, at its best, is not mimicry; it’s rejuvenation.

'Carmen' Review Round-up

Fifty Nine have been working with director Sally Potter, on the video design for Carmen at the ENO. As with Attempts on Her Life, a micro-site has been created, presenting trailers and blogs which chart the creative process from start to finish. Its an interesting method of engaging with audiences, and by-passing the traditional “gate-keepers” in the press.

In this case, the show has divided critics. Writing in the Independent, Edward Seckerson enjoys the dystopian setting:

Potter’s big metaphor for her Carmen is civil liberty under threat. She and her designer use the scrim to superimpose the jerky CCTV images over actuality. Surveillance is the new reality. Carmen’s entrance is pre-empted by her grainy monochrome image blown up to fill the entire screen. She pouts knowingly for the camera, as if to say: “I know you’re watching.”

Later, Carmen angrily asserts her freedom, her right to choose her own path, in the face of Don Jose’s frenzied passion. She gets a knife in the belly for her troubles.

In The Times, Richard Morrisson is less impressed with the chosen themes… but is still complimentary about the video work:

Forbidding walls topped with razor wire; an oppressed populace spied on by CCTV; menacing cops and booted tarts; desultory, neon-lit bars; bodyhoppers and hoodies; dreary airport transit corridors – where have we seen this before? The answer is in most ENO productions since the 1980s. Potter should get out more.

What is saddest is that the staging’s most interesting aspect – real-time video (by Fifty Nine Productions) projected on to a gauze to suggest a society under constant surveillance – is abandoned after one act.

Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph also had mixed feelings about the setting, but still enjoyed the music.

Es Devlin’s sets are sparely beautiful and evocative, and Potter generates more intensity and atmosphere than Francesca Zambello did in her drearily conventional version for the Royal Opera. But I feel that Potter has been in two, or even three minds as to what she wants to do. Some scenes, including the final confrontation, catch fire. Others, such as Carmen’s arrest, remain inert.

The biggest applause was rightly reserved for Edward Gardner, conducting a vivacious orchestra in a sparkling, colourful and clean-textured account of the score which never becomes hysterical or heavy-handed.

Andrew Clements in The Guardian was unfortunately not at all impressed, and thinks that “one of the most ambiguous heroines in operas is reduced to a mere cipher”. Ouch.


Edinburgh residents: Don’t forget the FEAST performance this evening.

FEAST is a unique Chinese intercultural event to encourage greater understanding between Chinese and Scottish communities through a creative exploration of food, film and music.

Edinburgh-based band FOUND and Chinese composer / musician Kimho Ip will be giving a special performance at Eating Place on Castle Street (off the West End of Princes Street), Edinburgh on Thursday 30 August at approximately 6 pm. They will also present other performances earlier that afternoon. Read More

Chili Bowl

The Clocks in Edinburgh Go Forward Tonight

Léonie is tired and emotional after the Edinburgh Fringe, not happy to be back in London.

Spare a thought for those of us still here. Although there is a week left to run on the International Festival, the chaos on the streets ends tonight as the Fringe finishes for another year. For us residents, it is nice to have the city ‘back’ (along with the keys to the flat we have so prudently rented out), but it also seems empty and lonely. During August, media focus is weighted heavily in our favour. As the cultural influence boomerangs back to London, I think we feel the loss.

No more late openings either. During the festival, it is as if the clocks in Edinburgh are put back a few hours, Edinburgh Daylight Squandering Time (EDST). In this local time-zone, 5am is the new 3am. Everywhere stays open later. This means parties and revelry finish later, which means bedtime is later, which means hang-overs are solved later… which means work starts later, which means work finishes later, which means parties and revelry start later, which means parties and revelry finish later. But the clocks go forward again tonight.

Anacronisms and Affirmative Action

The BBC are promoting a rather extraordinary artists’ bursary from the Oppenheim John-Downes Trust.

Successful applicants must be … Natural born British Subjects born within Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man of parents both of whom are or were British Subjects born within the British Isles and neither of whose parents was or is of colonial or overseas original subsequent to the year 1900 (Section 34 of the Race Relations Act applies).

(The relevant legislation reminds us that since these provisions do not make reference to race/colour, they can be followed in full).

I suppose Mrs Downes was entitled to place whatever restrictions she wished on how her own money was to be spent. But it is clear she had a very narrow conception of what it means to be British, and the criteria leave a horrible taste in the modern mouth. It is odd that the BBC should be endorsing this sort of anacronism.



Last night I was lucky enough to see the astonishing Fuerzabruta, a kinetic dance/circus show down at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. Men running along treadmills, ballerinas chasing each other up walls, dusty cast members smashing pieces of set over the audience members’ heads, and a huge transparent paddling pool lowered to just a foot above the audience member’s heads! Each set piece presents a new thrill that challenges one’s perception of space and one’s relationship to the performers.

From the shocking opening to the wet finale, Fuerzabruta feels more like a concert than a theatre show. Never have I been to a Fringe show (or circus for that matter) that creates such a sense of communality in the audience. It is that visceral pleasure of being simply a part of the moment, that human moment, when everyone is moving to the same beat.

It will quickly become the talk of the festival – book now!