January 2011: Unjazz piano recitals – a call for venues/hosts

November sees my final bunch of Love Is Not Rescue gigs with the ‘Words Fail Me’ tour. (If you’re a promoter up for doing a gig on that tour, please contact Joanna@ITB.co.uk asap)

Then this coming winter ‘between records’ I’ll (finally) release the improvised piano album Unjazz which I’ve worked on for the past year. It’s done and will be compiled/mastered in the next few weeks. So in January 2011 I want to book a run of small & unusual ‘recital’ shows to perform improvised piano live.

Are you interested in putting on one of these gigs? I’m looking for peoples’ homes, small arts or community centres, unusual spaces, village halls, church halls, galleries, whatever.

The dates are: Tues 18 Jan –  Mon 7 Feb.

The rules are:

1. I just need a real, good, in-tune piano.
2. I want the tour to be as freeconomy as possible: especially if you can feed me / put me up, the fee will be ‘much lower’ than normal. If you have a lovely idea for a recital but you’re concerned about cost, please get in touch anyway – I primarily want to have some fun playing in a different way.
3. Gigs without PAs / unamplified pianos are totally fine, preferable even.
4. I don’t expect a big audience! This will be an hour’s improvised recital, then max 3-4 actual T-T songs at the end to say ‘thanks for listening’. Also, I can’t imagine Unjazz getting big reviews or many Radio 1/XFM plays! There will be a nice poster though, with your gig included, that I can send you some copies of.
5. Either private parties or public gigs are fine.

So that’s the score. Got a possible recital for me? email: chris@christt.com

Thanks a lot. x

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Brighton Council uses public money to bully councillor

I was about to blog about something fun when this came up.

A few weeks ago a local councillor down here in Brighton was suspended from Brighton & Hove Council. What he’d ‘done wrong’ was this: the council runs a live video feed of council meetings online, so you can watch what’s going on; see who is throwing the biscuits. Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat had gone back through the previously aired footage and put up on YouTube a couple of short bits that were relevent to something he was writing about.

Tory councillor Ted Kemble made a complaint about this and Clr. Kitcat was suspended. I didn’t even know that was possible – since he’s an elected councillor – but it is.

Anyway I knew Clr. Kitcat had got suspended but I’d assumed that because it was a while ago, he’d gone back by now, maybe resumed his seat with a slap on the wrist or something. But it turns out the opposite is true: Conservative councillors are taking legal action against him. And they are using public money to fund a private legal counsel INSTEAD of using the freely available Council Solicitor.  Quite apart from how trivial the supposed offence was, as well as how it stinks of at the least politicking and at worst bullying of Clr. Kitcat, this is OUR MONEY. And there ISN’T MUCH TO GO AROUND right now.

Here’s the email I just wrote them. If you’re in Brighton or Hove, maybe write one of your own, or phone them or go see them? The details you need are:

Ted Kemble (Con) ted.kemble@brighton-hove.gov.uk
phone: 01273 291166
surgery: Fourth Saturday of each month 9.30am
Hove and Portslade Conservative Association, 66A Boundary Road, Hove

Mary Mears (Con, leader of the council) mary.mears@brighton-hove.gov.uk
phone: 01273 294370
surgery: Third Tuesday of each month 6pm
Round Room, Whiteway Centre, Whiteway Lane, Rottingdean

Clr. Kemble, I hope you are well.

Why are you using public money to fund your legal pursuit of Clr. Kitcat?
Is it true that you are spending our money on a private counsel when you could use a Council solicitor?
If so, why?
This is a despicable waste of our money at a time when we can ill afford it. Regardless of whether your pursuit of Mr Kitcat has any basis or not, it is an utterly trivial issue that should have been sorted out with one polite conversation. It is both childish and irresponsible to be behaving this way – you do not deserve to represent us.
Mr Kemble and Ms Mears, are you politicking bullies, or honourable stewards? Because right now our city – like everywhere in the UK – needs the latter and the former should GET OUT of public office. You are here to serve us, not spend our money on schoolboy vendettas.
Learn to disagree responsibly.
I look forward to your response and possibly meeting in the future to discuss this matter further.

A proposal for community ownership of Twitter

I think Twitter is very important; the most important web-based communication tool yet developed. I don’t need to tell you (whether you use it or not) that it has had a profound effect around the world, created an accessible, robust new route for contact and real-time search. We’re only beginning to learn the benefits it could bring.

I just realised we should somehow liberate the Twitter team from the profit-motive. They’re embedded in a world that their innovation deserves to be allowed to transcend. And I think we could do this by looking at the idea of community ownership… yeah I know, no chance. But dudes! Let’s ‘buy’ Twitter for ourselves and thus protect it from profit-oriented future developments that will otherwise – I’m certain – ruin this beautiful innovation. Here’s the idea:

1. Why?

Because it is too important not to. Twitter as it is now is damn near perfect. It’s a beautifully constructed, elegant yet powerful process for communication. It has already – and can further – change the world. It is also futureproof – so simple and universal, it can continue to work with whatever devices and protocols we will develop in the next few years. According to leaked documents the Twitter team expect to have a billion users by 2013. That seems quite possible, given its rate of growth compared to other social networks. But also, regardless of speed of growth, Twitter provides massive access and a unique new way to speak out and be heard when needed.

Here are some accounts of Twitter usage beyond the trivial. It doesn’t matter that the vast majority of tweets are still trivial: it is the tool itself that is game-changing, not current bulk usage of it.

The problem is that, already and from now on, each new alteration or development added to Twitter is actually negative for us users. This is because they (fairly urgently) need to make it pay. It’s no big secret, in fact it has become quite a famous dilemma for the team behind Twitter, that they’re working hard to monetize their invention. According to Wikipedia (using the top end of their estimates) to date the team has received approximately $62million from venture capitalists in three rounds of funding – and of course venture capitalists only ever give out money with the expectation of making money back. Examples of negative developments are already with us: the useless ‘Who to follow’ box and irritating ‘promoted’ trending topics are the sort of trick we will increasingly see. I’m not a web stick-in-the-mud but it’s clear that any future development with money-making in mind can only be detrimental to the system. And it is crucial that Twitter doesn’t follow the curve of so many web-based innovations ankle-chained to profit. When was the last time you checked your Myspace? Worse, if they don’t figure out a clever solution they’ll be forced to charge us all rent that locks out the poorest, turns a wondrous free service into a minority paid-for service and generally seals the slow death of the system.

Perhaps there is still room for innovation but the best innovation for Twitter was always crowd-sourced anyway. If you’re a recent user of Twitter, you may not know that the RT (retweet) protocol wasn’t developed by the team, it was an organic invention by users, eventually becoming so popular that Twitter created the ‘RT button’ in response. If ‘we’ own Twitter, then any decision to alter the system, even in small ways, will go through this organic succeed-or-fail development process. Or, if proposed from source, we could democratise decision making.

So to me the benefits seem extraordinary and, even though achieving community ownership is an enormous challenge, Jack, Biz and Evan have created something that deserves to be shared with everyone. This is why we should look at ‘the world’ buying it from the developers and preserving Twitter in the near-perfect state it is now. Remove the profit-motive and give the whole world a perfect tool.

2. How?

Quite apart from the thousands of communes, co-operatives and land-rights victories around the world, there are some ace precedents for community-oriented or altruistic behaviour in tech. Early in the 20th century sci-fi giant Arthur C. Clarke postulated geo-stationary orbits for satellites before anyone else and he gave it away, which stopped any individual nation or corporation gaining from this extraordinarily powerful ‘secret’.* We all know Tim Berners Lee was similarly altruistic when he came up with the World Wide Web. Even the US military deserves thanks when we use SatNav, as they effectively donate GPS to the world. So.

Option 1 is users collaborate as individuals to buy Twitter, build a global online tool to fundraise and propagate the project, use persuasion and publicity to get the team to abandon profit and sell to ‘the world’. They pay back the venture capital suits, take probably very large personal pay-offs and get to decide whether they want to stay on as stewards, or just wander into the sunset with our money and gratitude driving them forwards to their next big idea.

Option 2 is we get a huge organisation that represents the interests of billions of people around the world to buy it for us and hold it in trust, yet not interfere in the running of it in any way. They do this because they realise Twitter’s immense empowering and connecting qualities. They do this because they should’ve done it decades ago with mobile phone technology but didn’t because they didn’t have the guts. The UN maybe.

Option 3  is a bunch of nice governments who believe in freedom and democracy and all things chewy get together and set up a collaborative organisation to buy Twitter for the world, chipping in what they feel they should. Like space exploration projects or something. Slightly worrying on the ‘freedom of speech’ and ‘complete independence’ fronts but still, a worthwhile option 3.

Option 4 is a combo of options 1, 2 and 3. My favourite version would be; we buy it, then the UN out of the kindness of its heart chips in enough to guarantee running costs forever. They can make exponential predictions about growth in the mid-term and provide the capacity for potentially every single person in the world to be hooked up.

How much should Twitter ‘cost’? The problem with profit-oriented tools is they’re valued using estimations of their future profitability rather than what they’ve cost so far. Obviously, if we’re buying something for the world, we’re not going to pay astronomical imagined profits, we should just pay back the venture stakes and then pay the original developers a big chunk of money to thank them. After that we have plain running costs. So this is a big stumbling block and it’s a totally imagined one, resting on the greed of the owners – yet they can get more money than they’ll ever need without being greedy. Perhaps the sale should be forced, or at least ton of moral pressure could be brought in. Access to Twitter and maintaining it as it is now – is it more important than the ‘rights’ of the ‘owners’? Too much? Certainly if they’d owned the last cottage on a new railway line route, or they’d lived on the Chagos Islands when the Brits decided to lease them to the US for an airbase, they would’ve got short shrift for their ‘rights’ as owners…

(by the way, arguments that collectivising like that kills innovation are gibberish: they get lifelong global reputation, a retirement fund in the millions and the world’s gratitude for incredible altruism. And to move onto something else. Who wouldn’t want that?)

Even rounding up costs (venture capital) so far to $100million, which is a lot more than the team has received so far in funding, well, there are currently well over 100 million users, posting over 65 million tweets every single day. So we somehow organise and get the owners to sell at cost (plus the very generous individual payoffs and agreements whereby they could still remain in place as caretakers as long as they wished) tomorrow morning and it costs us each a one-off payment of less than $1. Aiming to keep this separate from the idea of ‘charging for use’, we set up an online donation model around the bid, so that richer users can ‘fund’ the rest of us if they so chose, taking the Wikipedia route. Many other community-oriented systems run successfully on donations.

Alternatively, accept a one-off price at first sign-up and then a very, very low annual subscription. I’m not even talking about the kind of subscription someone would need to make a profit, purely something that covers strict running costs. And because it’s low, people could pay a decade in advance. This sort of figure would be far closer to web domain name prices than, say, television licences. Would you pay £20 a month for Twitter? Fuck off. But would you pay £1 per year – or £10 for guaranteed use for the next 15 years? Of course you would.

Anyway, that’s the idea. Twitter themselves know they need to own the best innovation around themselves. They looked around at the apps independent developers were releasing to run Twitter on iPhones and when they found the best one, they bought it and made it the ‘official’ Twitter app. This is what the world should do to them.

* bit of a distraction but there’s another wondrous Arthur C. Clarke innovation out there in the PD waiting for science to catch up as well, which one day our great great grandchildren may be hugely grateful nobody can copyright: the concept of an elevator running from ground level to orbit using microfibres. His idea works and it could revolutionise transport of people and goods into space. It’s just waiting for tech to catch up.

Unexpectedly, I’ve written to the PM. Ah well.

Mr Cameron,

Where do you get off lecturing people about feelings of sympathy, towards a murderer or not? Poorly expressed or not? Where on earth did you dig up the moral right as Prime Minister to condemn instinctive human kindness towards anyone? Worse, what gives you the right to use a human tragedy, such as these brutal shootings and then the suicide of Raoul Moat, to further your own political leanings by attacking a social networking site while ignoring the far greater sins of the mainstream press reporting of the same incident? You perpetuate a moral myth that is in fact itself deeply immoral?

Party politics aside, this outburst is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard from someone in a position of responsibility in our country. Now you are ‘contacting Facebook’ because you’re ‘concerned’ about online groups people have set up. Yet you have made absolutely no parallel comment on the way the mainstream media handled the coverage of Moat, when those few corporations were in a position of hugely greater privilege and power when commenting on events. Those few corporations whose owners you consort with, giving preferential treatment and access that no normal people could ever hope for.

The media both aggrandised and mythologised Moat to the public, while at the same time aggravating him personally behind the scenes and contributing to his state of mind at the point where he decided to kill himself. The same British press gave almost no comparable space or human dimension in their coverage to the victims.

No, none of that – especially none of the appalling voyeuristic, bullying, community invading coverage from Sky or The Sun, for example, owned by a man you’re still desperate to keep on-side – was worthy of a word of criticism. If any body encouraged normal British people to feel empathy for Moat and disdain for the Police, or the victims, or the local community who bore the brunt of this tragedy, it was that very media.

Nor was it worth your opprobrium when one paper decided to use an image of Moat in drag after his death, to make him seem more ‘alien’ or ‘twisted’. The homophobic undertones were clear; despite many thuggish or bullish looking photos of him available, the one chosen for the front cover involved eye-shadow.

While I don’t condone for a second those who’ve overlooked the tragedy of the victims in their expressions of sympathy for Moat, you know full well that in fact they were a tiny minority compared to millions of good people who expressed sympathy and empathy for everyone involved. You also know full well that people joining those groups were only responding to the story as it had been presented to them.

Of course the victims deserve attention and sympathy first and foremost. But I repeat, it was your chums in the mainstream media who locked them out of the public’s mind, who created the sense of empathy with Moat himself. Facebook did not do this. And even those online groups you’re pretending to be so offended by would never have gone beyond the social networking site without the intervention of the mainstream media: by its very nature a Facebook group only spreads by word-of-mouth organically and will only be joined by people who want to – nobody is paying for advertising.

Mr Cameron, your comments in the House of Commons (our House of Commons) this week were reprehensible for two reasons:

First, you used this tragedy to perpetuate an agenda, with a pretense of outrage.

Secondly, you made an argument against human sympathy that nobody should ever make. And this is the most important point of all. Because yes Mr Cameron, Raoul Moat DOES deserve sympathy, from all with spare to give. Sympathy is not only for the innocent, you fool. Sympathy is for all. You claim him to be entirely callous, yet he took his own life at the end. Nobody commits suicide from a position of cold callousness. Further, audio recordings from when he was in prison make it clear that Moat himself was concerned while in prison about how he might behave when released and requested professional counselling.

To make such an appalling, regressive statement in the House of Commons was utterly shameful. It was an shoddy way to treat all the people involved.

Regards,

Chris T-T, Brighton

My 11 most despised ever Desert Island Discs ‘luxury object’ picks

If you live down a well with no radio, on Desert Island Discs famous/important people pick eight pieces of music they’d take to a desert island. Then at the end of the programme they pick a book* and a ‘luxury object’, meaning something that won’t help them escape or communicate with the outside world but will improve their stay on the island.

My 11 most despised ever Desert Island Discs ‘luxury object’ picks:

Gok Wan – lip balm
What a spluttering gasm of fool. Mind you, the number of fashion and media thickies who’ve picked one or other named brand of beauty product makes me want to throw up.

Anthony Julius – San Pellegrino water on tap
Because a familiar tasting brand of springwater is just that tiny bit nicer than, say, completely new water such as an actual spring. Or learning to de-salinate.

Piers Morgan – a cricket bat
No ball or stumps, nobody else there to bowl to him, just a cricket bat. Perhaps he’ll roger himself with it. Several other people have taken complete cricket sets but they’re usually smart enough to include a bowling machine.

Vince Cable and George Michael – an Aston Martin
Huh!? On an island with no roads? This isn’t Top Gear, are you just going to sit in it?

Ruthie Henshall – a jar of Mayonnaise
Aw Ruthie, you’re a genius. One jar. No fridge. Catching and cooking your own food. Two weeks later, driven insane wishing over and over again that you’d picked something less stupid.

Pen Hadow – a six inch nail
Almost impossibly brilliant. I have no idea why he wanted this, perhaps he just got bored doing the interview? No hammer, either.

Antonia Fraser – strings of false pearls
What an absolutely stunning fucking psychedelic numb-nut.

Paolo Coelho – a trip around the desert island on Concorde
And in one fell swoop, I travel from being completely disinterested in Paolo Coelho to wanting to stab him repeatedly in the face with a blunted, slightly rusty model of that aeroplane. He wants a flight on Concorde around a small desert island?

Jan Morris – a hot water bottle
It’s a desert island Jan, not Snowdonia.

Fred Hoyle – a big photo of a lot of people at a race meeting
I know it was a long, long time ago, the Internet hadn’t been invented and he’s a man from a different age. But this is just shit.

Sir Aaron Klug – a pile of mixed Greek and Imperial coins
Mind you, I don’t actually know who Sir Aaron Klug was, perhaps he made beautiful intricate steampunk statues entirely out of ancient coinage.

By the way, since I was trawling Desert Island Discs archives, here’s:

My 10 favourite Desert Island Discs luxury object art thefts

Dame Stephanie Shirley – Henry Moore’s Madonna and Child
Nice.

Mary Beard – The Elgin Marbles
Presumably to stop any chance of Greece ever getting them back.

Colin Pillinger – a picture of Clifton Suspension bridge
Almost made it into the top section it’s so daft, however I have to accept it’s a nice bridge.

Posy Simmonds – the Crown Jewels
Hahahaha. She’ll probably use them as dildos. Cornelia Parker gets an honorary mention at this point for somehow getting away with asking for a solar-powered vibrator. AND that was back when Sue Lawley did the interview.

Monty Don – Rembrandt’s Hendrickje Bathing
I really thought Monty Don would’ve picked something less aesthetic, more grubby and real.

Jack Vettriano – Francis Bacon’s Triptych May-June 1973
“Please sir, I *am* edgy”

Christopher Frayling – The V&A
Because one art theft just isn’t enough. What a greedy guts!

Christopher Ondaatje – Justin Deranyagala’s The Blue Nude
Classy

Bob Champion – a bronze statue of the racehorse Aldaniti
Again, nice.

Arthur Scargill – the Mona Lisa
I fail to understand why Scargill would pick not only a painting but such a boring shit one, surrounded by minging tourists.

Ps. I found three particularly sad ones:
David Walliams – gun to shoot himself
Nigella Lawson – liquid tamezepan, to give her the possibility of a ‘pleasant exit’
Stephen Fry – a suicide pill

*as well as the book of their choice, they’re given The Complete Works Of Shakespeare and The Bible, or occasionally an alternative religious book of their choosing. Although several guests have picked Darwin or Dawkins as their book choice, so far nobody has tried to argue that they should get this *instead* of the religious book and still get another book.

New fambly member: introducing Songnostic

Announcing the birth of a younger sister to BlognosticSongnostic is my new blog specifically about songwriting and music-schmindustry related topics.

I’ve been trying out posts for a few weeks, partly because more and more often I’m being asked to get involved with workshops, which I really enjoy. I want somewhere to chuck down the ideas that arise from those – and also thoughts that may be useful to other people trying to write songs or make music.

I know Blognostic is feeling a little nervous about this new addition but I’m hoping if anything it’ll be easier to write non-music blog entries for Blognostic, as they’ll be a bit less tangled with my music making.

Anyhoo, I’d appreciate any comments or criticism – already worrying that it’s too po-faced and ‘sensible’ for me. I’d especially appreciate your comments if you’re a songwriter yourself and also if you know of other blogs about songwriting that I can link to, because I’ve struggled to find any that aren’t horrifically corporatist.

That link again: SONGNOSTIC

Cheers. x

what augmented reality can do for real reality

In a conversation with Anth Melton a couple of months ago about augmented reality, Anth said something that turned my view of the technology on its head. It’s stuck with me, got to be shared and he won’t be bothered, so here goes.

We tend to come at augmented reality from the point of view of the benefits ‘within’ it, ie. what it does for you once you’ve got your Google Goggles or iSpecs on and you’re wandering around a world you’ve programmed, seeing a range of content and adverts picked out and filtered for you. But Anth suggested we should regard the development of AR from the other direction, from a town planning / eco-improvement perspective. Perhaps it offers an incredibly powerful tool (or at least impetus) to sort out the real physical world. I honestly haven’t heard this perspective on AR anywhere else and it amazes me, the more I think about it, it’s almost Mayer Hillman counter-intuitive.

You know the way that sometimes urban spaces look suddenly, unexpectedly beautiful if you look up above the ground floor? The truism that if you’re walking around a shoddy town centre, overcrowded with consumers, full of advert hoardings and with every building covered in shop signage, that the buildings themselves are actually gorgeous? You just have to look slightly upwards – to the first floor and above – to get smacked in the face by how lush these streets of varied historic architecture are, especially at a quieter time of day. For me Oxford Street and in particular Charing Cross Road are like that early morning, when there aren’t the usual bucketloads of numpties. Brighton is like that too because we have ramshackle, alleyway architecture which fades into the background when the town is rammed brimful of tourists and shoppers.

So what we do is migrate all extraneous commercial and social signage onto augmented reality, provide everyone with the means to view it when needed, then enjoy an improved real world that we can drop in and out of as suits. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past two months, imagining the extent to which the exodus online of commercial industries could go hand-in-hand with renewal of (both urban and rural) spaces. Someone needs to get the ball rolling with a trial space.

Pick an area, such as a small progressively-minded town. Then digitise as much commercial traffic and transaction as possible, not simply to improve its efficiency or make the same advances everywhere else is trying to make, but with a conscious aim of ‘cleaning up’ the physical world. Trial this small town free of any advert hoardings or roadsigns, which are all in a town-planned augmented reality space. It becomes illegal to drive a car without your council-supplied AR iSpecs on.

Go nuts. Hoodied yoof gets hold of special AR spraypaint apps to graff up the ARscape. Gig promoters and theatre managers flypost and billboard their shows in the same ARscape as newspaper sellers posting up their headlines. The only dogs you’re allowed to walk around town exist in AR, so the shit is deletable. Political campaigns and letterbox junkmail are in that space too. Parents can limit what their kids’ glasses pick out, so that they’re not exposed to the more adult-oriented promotional material, while similarly filtering the childrens’ adventure games out of their own AR.

Meanwhile we can switch civilisation off and opt out, temporarily or permanently as we feel, choosing to breathe in an uncivilised alternative.

Just for a start, out a little challenge to all the hi-tech digital conventions (that may be inevitable anyway): run your events with no physical invasion of the space you’ve descended upon, other than the people themselves. Imagine South By Southwest 2012, not a single leaflest, nor goodie bag, nor poster. Just hundreds of geeks in shades, knowing slightly more (and deliciously slightly less) than the rest of us.

Anyway, I liked it. Only downer is, it reminds me of the paperless office that never happened. But never mind, it has staved off post-tour blues for half a day.