Early Glastonbury

We just had the Glastonbury festival here in the UK. A few years ago I would absolutely devour the BBC’s coverage of it (I was never foolhardy enough to actually go there…). In the Britpop years it was pretty good, I thought; obviously culminating in Radiohead’s fantastic set in 1997. People of a certain age may realise that it hasn’t been quite the same of late.

As a contrast to last weekend, here’s one of my favourite film clips in the world, ever. It’s from the second Glastonbury festival in 1971, featuring Terry Reid joined by Linda Lewis on – I think – the first incarnation of the now traditional Pyramid Stage.

 

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The Man in the White Suit

man-in-the-white-suit

There’s a brilliant film from the 1950s called The Man in the White Suit. It’s a satire on capitalism, the power of the unions, and the story of how the two sides find themselves working together to oppose a new invention that threatens to make several industries redundant.

I wonder if there’s a tenuous resemblance between the film’s new wonder-fabric and the invention of digital audio? I hesitate to say that it’s exactly the same, because someone will point out that in the end, the wonder-fabric isn’t all it seems and falls apart, but I think they do have these similarities:

  1. The new invention is, for all practical purposes, ‘perfect’, and is immediately superior to everything that has gone before.
  2. It is cheap – very cheap – and can be mass-produced in large quantities.
  3. It has the properties of infinite lifespan, zero maintenance and non-obsolescence
  4. It threatens the profits not only of the industry that invented it, but other related industries.

In the film it all turns a bit dark, with mobs on the streets and violence imminent. Only the invention’s catastrophic failure saves the day.

In the smaller worlds of audio and music, things are a little different. Digital audio shows no signs of failing, and it has taken quite a few years for someone to finally come up with a comprehensive, feasible strategy for monopolising the invention while also shutting the Pandora’s box that was opened when it was initially released without restrictions.

The new strategy is this:

  1. Spread rumours that the original invention was flawed
  2. Re-package the invention as something brand new, with a vagueness that allows people to believe whatever they want about it
  3. Deviate from the rigid mathematical conditions of the original invention, opening up possibilities for future innovations in filtering and “de-blurring”. The audiophile imagination is a potent force, so this may not be the last time you can persuade them to re-purchase their record collections, after all.
  4. Offer to protect the other, affected industries – for a fee
  5. Appear to maintain compatibility with the original invention – for now – while substituting a more inconvenient version with inferior quality for unlicensed users
  6. Through positive enticements, nudge users into voluntarily phasing out the original invention over several years.
  7. Introduce stronger protection once the window has been closed.

It’s a very clever strategy, I think. Point (2) is the master stroke.

Radiohead’s Bond Theme That Never Was

Always interesting to hear a new Bond theme. Radiohead produced one for the film Spectre, apparently, but for whatever reason it wasn’t used.

I know Bond themes are always designed to tick certain boxes, but is a certain something now being over-used? I’m thinking of the orchestral chords such as the one at the end of the Radiohead track at 3.05, having been used throughout much of the track. If I were a musical expert I’d be able to tell you exactly what type of chord it is (a particular inversion?) but it seems to me that that they’ve hacked a core element out of John Barry’s compositions, changed the orchestration to the most simplistic heavy-handed shorthand, added some ‘swell’ and are now using it like a ‘Bond preset’ in inappropriate ways. John Barry’s music was usually restrained or ironic in some way, while these chords are now being splashed about in irony-free grandiose fashion on many of the most recent Bond themes.

Bring back the projectionist?

film

An article in today’s Telegraph makes a plea for cinemas to start showing film again, rather than the digital version they are solely equipped to show now.

To me, it seems just the same as the digital/analogue argument that rages in hi-fi. We have the same ‘sighted’ comparisons that of course confirm the simple folk-association of digital = soulless and artificial, resulting in the implication that true auteurs must always insist on the pain and expense of film because it is ‘real’, organic etc.

I don’t buy it. I think that, as in analogue audio, people are superstitious about the medium that produced great art in the past, wanting to believe there are spirits trapped within it that will help them to do the same thing today. As with vinyl, film technology is amenable to being crafted by “artisans”, old-school technicians and operatives in brown coats, and is simple enough for ordinary people to understand. They remember it from their pasts. This qualifies it to be ‘The People’s Technology’ and it is easy to see how a ‘movement’ could be started to push for the revival of analogue film.

All good fun, except that from then on, the superior digital option becomes second class in people’s minds: the experience of seeing the film in digital form is tarnished even though that is how most people will see it. A new premium price can be charged to see the film in ‘analogue’, and people who do this have their expectations confirmed, of course. The person with the huge OLED television who, really, could have had a pretty good cinema experience at home, has that pleasure taken away from him – just as the vinyl ‘movement’ has taken the pleasure of listening to audio perfection away from the only people who might care about it. In other words, by falling for these ‘revivals’, people sabotage their own experiences. Audiophiles could have enjoyed digital audio forever, but now most of them believe that it is a second class experience compared to vinyl. They either get on the rack of pain and expense – knowing that to even play a precious record damages it – or live with the regrets about what might have been. This is pure psychology.

And of course money is diverted from the further development of digital technology to be spent on this technological nostalgia trip.

I used to do my own photographic processing when I was young. There is nothing that would persuade me to do it again. I see no weakness in the digitally-derived prints that are produced these days. Scans of old slides and negatives seem to capture their essence perfectly well, and the modern high resolution cameras that we all have are superb. People forget how terrible most photographic efforts used to be, and how poor most cinemas were in terms of their projection.