Picture this…. and this… and this… and this…

As someone who has a keen interest in visuals, I often feel frustrated by the limitations of my abilities as a photographer, and of my camera. As a music reviewer, I often like to take pictures of the bands I see, and while my images are often of a reasonable standard, I will confess to feeling somewhat embarrassed when standing in the front row with my £49 Fuji Finepix JZ100. The whole car / camera lens / penis extension analogy is entirely applicable, and the sneers at my diminutive kit aren’t purely paranoia.

Not everyone’s toting a £2,000 digital SLR with a telephoto they can rest between the monitors while lounging by the sound desk, of course. The vast majority of people snap away on their smartphones, which often pack cameras with insane specs. The Sony Xperia Z1 comes with a 27.1MP camera, and the Nokia Lumia 1020 not only has 41MP is advertised as a camera first and a smartphone second. And with a Xenon flash and Zeiss optics, we’re talking pro photography standard gear here. And again, these posers look down on my paltry 14MP cam with its mere 8x optical zoom and wonder why the fuck I’m not using flash. Granted, I do end up with more dark blurry shots than they do, but when I time a shot right, I do succeed in capturing the lighting as it is on stage, rather than a washed-out shot that illuminates the blank wall at the back of the stage. And I do think I have a reasonable eye for composition, something that the best camera in the world and all the Instagramming under the sun won’t give you.

But there’s something more than this that renders the current obsession with expensive, high-spec photography equipment utterly pointless, and that’s how we (that’s ‘we’ as in the techno-savvy mainstream populace) view pictures. There’s no question that we live in a visual age. As the Internet has evolved (back in the mid 90s content was essentially text-based) so the importance of visuals has come to the fore. We expect and demand good graphics, and lots of them – to the extent now that many gig reviews consist only of images, with no text whatsoever, and every fractional corner of our lives are documented in images. Millions of images. Over and over. A hundred pictures of every night out, several dozen snaps of ever day trip or walk in the park, every meal and drink meticulously recorded for posterity as evidence of the full and fulfilling lives everyone leads. People are obsessed with providing proof that their life is being not only lived to the full and jam-packed with fun and amazing experiences, but a reminder that they have the best device on which to capture all of these fantastic experiences in a quality that’s even more intensely real than reality itself.

Arguably, people are no longer really living ‘in the moment’ because they’re observing every moment through a display screen. Looking back at the images and video clips doesn’t recreate the moment, or facilitate a re-run of a pre-lived experience: it becomes the experience in itself, a second-hand version, a document that represents the moment never truly lived first-hand. Everyone’s a viewer, a recorder, a spectator. Where are the actual participants?

Above all, though, despite the fact screens on smart phones are larger than ever before and have higher resolution than at any time in the past, the fact remain that the bulk of images are posted to social networking sites or photo sharing sites, and viewed on smart phones or tablets. Real-life, shot in ultra-high-resolution, viewed on a screen 3” or 4” wide. What a waste.

 

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Fuck yeah! $32,000 well spent… check this awesome pic of my breakfast! That fried bread is so real-looking you could eat it off the screen!

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk.

THE PLAGIARIST Strikes Back: Losing the Plot (Again)

When I signed up to participate in the segment of the Leeds Bookend Festival curated by Pastiche Magazine, which has been good enough to publish my work in the past, I figured it would be a good lineup and moreover, the availability of a multimedia lot meant I would have the opportunity to try something I’d been wanting to do for years, namely the full PLAGIARIST multisensory live experience.

It was a gamble: one of those pieces that if I pulled it off, it would be spectacular and annihilative all at once. But if it didn’t quite happen, it wouldn’t so much be a disaster as a pathetic disappointment, akin to Spinal Tap’s ‘Stonehenge’ debacle. Conceivably one of the funniest moments in film, you wouldn’t want to be in the band it actually happened to. But artistic achievement is all about risk-taking.

The idea was to take one of the versions of film I’d posted on YouTube (I’d made three different edits), remove the bulk of the audio track of me reading, add significantly more white noise and feedback audio (a ‘sample’ of course) and then perform the bulk of the reading live. What could be simpler?

Aware that I only had a couple of weeks I set to work straight away. By which I mean I set to scouring my hard-drive for the files, but to no avail. The final AVI files were there, but not the editable projects, which I’d (foolishly) assembled in Windows Movie Maker. They weren’t on my backup hard-drive either. I should by now have realised I was asking for trouble in having offered to take the slot, which was still unconfirmed. Nevertheless, I figured they were probably on the hard-drive of the PC I’d used to produce thee original film, which was still in storage in the loft. So,at the weekend, after an hour and a half trying to locate the old HP base unit and monitor, and another half an hour almost breaking my neck trying to lug it down the loft ladder perched on top of my head, I discovered that the project files were missing. This left me with a week to recreate something that had taken me almost two months to create the first time around,some three years previous. But at least I had made an important decision: to flog the old desktop, because it’s needlessly cumbersome and completely redundant (although I do yearn for a more solid keyboard than the one on my new Toshiba Satellite Pro, which is nice enough laptop overall but doesn’t type as well as my old Asus. Yeah, yeah, workman, tools, etc.).

As I slogged away for a succession of late nights, I became increasingly square-eyed and more concerningly, debilitated and frantic in equal measure. Progress was reasonably swift, and infinitely less fraught than thee first time around, partly because I knew what as doing and partly thanks to a significantly more powerful computer. Even so, as the deadline loomed I had to break off to complete my research for, compile questions and then conduct an interview with Joe Cardamone of The Icarus Line for Paraphilia Magazine. He’s in LA, I’m in York and I had to sync times and dick about with software as I’d lost the programme I used to record Skype hook-ups when the Asus had croaked a couple of weeks before.

Having the interview in the bag and an email confirming times for Saturday’s show didn’t resolve my reservations about performing what was perhaps my most brutally confrontational conception in a shopping centre in a large city in the late afternoon / early evening. The lineup, however, was excellent, and included a number of writers I’ve been impressed by in the past, notably Rab Ferguson, Laurence Reilly and ‘punk poet’ Henry Raby.

Anyway, Saturday rolled around and I had my reworked audiovisual tracks ready and while I knew there’d be a projector and screen, wasn’t sure about a PA so bunged my speakers – a pair of Labtec Spin 85s I’ve had for about eight years – into my rucksack before heading for a train. I’d road-tested them in the living room after they’d been in storage for a couple of years in the loft and was pleased by how much poke they had given their dimensions and wattage. I was reasonably well-rehearsed, but had elected to pick some passages at random in keeping with the spirit of both the book and the performance. The only real downer was that I’d developed conjunctivitis in my left eye, which was by now swollen and streaming. I also managed to get confused about train departures and arrivals in relation to the slot, so arrived more than an hour early to find the place dead.

At least I’d located the venue and this uncommon error on my part afforded me an hour in which to sip a leisurely pint of the Magic Rock Brewing Company’s superbly hopped High Wire West Coast Pale Ale (5.5%ABV) in the Brewery Tap and read some of Jim Thompson’s Savage Night while I reflected and mopped my eye, which was growing increasingly itchy and painful.

On my way back to the Customer Service Lounge, where the readings were taking place, I took the time to truly soak in The Trinity shopping centre. I ambled casually past the shops – standard fare and then some: H&M, Boots, Next, a new Primark to be opened later in the year – and made a lap of the watering holes I’d bypassed in my eagerness to hit the Tap. It was in passing these sleek, anonymous façades that I began to feel particularly uncomfortable, and peering in past my reflection in the plate-glass frontages and through blurred eyes into the interiors the the full horror of the air-conditioned nightmare that is The Trinity really hit me. The Trinity is a faceless, shiny architectural vacuum of personality that is in so many ways the physical manifestation of the multi-layered geometrical hells Ballard depicted in High Rise and The Atrocity Exhibition.

It wasn’t simply the construction and layout and the lack of soul, but the vapid, superficial nonentities it seemed to be packed with, all shouting at one another to be heard over the reverberated sounds of music and other people’s interlocutions and telephone conversations. This was all amplified through my own filters, and as such my response to the situation was more pronounced and more acute, but even had I not been feeling particularly edgy, I would have still felt an intense paranoia as I paced by traversal to make a suitably timely arrival at my destination.

Before the event got under way, I had the opportunity to chat with Henry Raby, and to speak briefly with Laurence Reilly, who informed me that reading The Gimp had left him somewhat traumatised. I deferred thinking what kind of effect the piece I as about to do might have. Frustratingly, I would have to leave before Henry’s session-ending multimedia piece, but Rab Ferguson would subsequently deliver a reading that was confident and solid and Laurence’s performance – and performance is the word – was immensely powerful: he guy really got out of his skin and into character.

As the first few of speakers took their turns following a brief introduction from curator and Pastiche editor Clare DeTamble, I found myself struggling, again with the space and the context, namely of a large bright-lit area resembling an airport lounge, with an pen front and situated off a large brightly-lit concourse. The customer service desk, compute terminals and large-screen TV with BBC News 24 playing silently but with subtitles all contributed to the disconnected sensation and the strangeness of the whole thing. Most of those present were either reading or had come along with a reader for moral support. The Trinity staff would occasionally answer the phone, but mostly milled about distractedly, but very few casuals crossed the threshold, and even fewer took seats.

It wasn’t entirely surprising: I found myself struggling as I watched the other readers. It was no discredit to their texts or performances that I was finding it difficult to focus on their words, as they were half-buried in passing noise and conversations. Even amplified, I suspect it would have been a challenge. And it was at this point that I realised THE PLAGIARIST REWIRED was the perfect piece for the setting.

Having endured torture of shopping mall, it was only right I should be afforded my revenge and wreak psychic havoc on the very location that caused me such existential alienation and distress. By the time it was my turn, I was adrenalized and raring to go. The lack of volume, the less than perfect angling of the screen, the small audience, the TV in the background, the weird, bright performance space that no-one could possibly describe as an auditorium… none of it mattered.

I paced the area in front of the audience like a man possessed, stamping one way and then the other, and then standing close to the front and presenting a confrontation stance. Behind dark glasses (handy at the best of times, essential for creating mystique and hiding the sick eye) I was wired and observed an array of expressions ranging from nonplussed to horrified. I was in the zone. The words flowed from me at increasing volume and pace as the images flickered and the shards of noise shot from the speakers – not nearly as loudly as Id have liked, but still, the effect was there. As the piece reached its climax, the words looped and fragmented, while the images strobed behind me and electronic white noise completed the sensory assault.

My other prior engagement back in York meant I had to slip out during the next speaker’s set, so I wasn’t able to stick around for feedback and to gauge the reaction. I suspect most of those who witnessed the performance thought I’d lost the plot. And that’s fine, because as I always say, plot’s overrated anyway.

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism: Public Opinion, Booze Culture and Bartering

The local newspaper recently ran a front-page headline about proposals to open three new pubs in York’s city centre. Two local breweries – The Leeds Brewery, formed as an offshoot of the York Brewery, and the Ossett Brewery, had submitted plans to take over vacant premises – one a former cafe, the others retail units, previously an estate agent and an army surplus store.

The objectors raised all of the concerns you’d expect them to. Predictably, there was concern about the city centre becoming a mecca for drinkers, that having such a concentration of licensed premises would send a message that York promoted the already endemic booze culture that is, we so often told, a leading problem in Britain that causes the taxpayer billions, and that the opening of these three new hostelries would encourage an even greater influx of stag and hen parties and cause violent, alcohol-fuelled crimes and other such sordid scenes to soar.

But these aren’t the kind of places rowdy stag and hen parties would frequent. we’re talking about traditional ale houses that would also serve traditional pub grub. The kind of places tourists – particularly those from America and Japan – flock to in their thousands in order to experience a slice of culture they simply do not have back home. As a historic city, visitors to York want to see and sample tradition. They also want refreshment.

Other critics argued that it was essential that the city preserve retail premises for retail when conditions improve. Will they ever? This is also the same council that approved another out of town retail park, which objectors – not least of all local business owners – have opposed on the grounds that by taking the retail trade away from the city centre, the place is slowly dying. It’s a complex argument, not least of all because the major chains and small independent stores serve different markets. Nevertheless, they can’t have it both ways, by encouraging more retailers to move out of town and then complain that there is an abundance of vacant premises once occupied by retailers, especially in the middle of a lengthy economic downturn. Remember the words ‘credit crunch’ and ‘recession’? For some reason, people seem to think things are improving just because the FTSE’s up and more houses have sold in the last 6 months – never mind the huge numbers of redundancies announced by large employers like Aviva, Co-op and HSBC.

There is of course another angle to this, namely, if everyone’s redundant, they’ll need nice pubs to sit in and while away the hours as they drink their redundancy pay-offs and dole cheques.

The same day I read the article, I was walking home through the city’s pub-packed centre when I ran into musician, poet, diarist and rambler Mark Wynn, a man who’s inspiring in his complete disregard for any kind of consumer trends or capitalist-led operating models of industry. As ever, he’d been travelling the length and breadth of the city, the county and the country, playing poorly-paid gigs in pubs of the very sort the Leeds and Ossett breweries run and giving away most of his CDs for nothing or in exchange for a beer. It’s something to be applauded. he’ll never be rich, but in sharing his art, he never goes thirsty. Moreover, his approach represents the epitome of the punk ethic: he’s out there doing it himself on zero budget and building a fanbase from a grass roots level. that’s what I call sticking it to the man!

We exchanged pamphlets: I had the very last copy of my Liberate Yourself! pamphlet folded in my bag (there are now 100 copies in circulation, and having been left on trains, in pubs, inside self-help books in WHS and who knows where, their whereabouts and readership I haven’t a clue) while he had a batch of a new A5 publication called Dirty Work containing some selected highlights of his spectacularly off the wall and very funny tour diaries and, stapled inside the back page, a PVC wallet containing his last album. Arguably, I was up on the deal, but these things always balance out over time (some weeks later, Dirty Work 3 would see the light of day, containing more rampant ramblings and a new CD EP by Mr Mark E Wynn with additional text by Sam Forrest of Nine Back Alps and The Sorry Kisses, and myself). The important thing was, we had traded our art with one another, we’d both received something we wanted and what’s more, the cash-free barter had taken place on the street. Retail outlets are just so last year.

 

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Shops? Who needs ‘em?

 

And if you’re loving my work, The Changing Face Of Consumerism – the book – will be out some time in June.

A Total Groove: Record Store Day 2013

Record Store Day has become an insanely big deal, and while it’s something of a double-edged sword for both stores and collectors alike – a debate I don’t feel the need to cover here – the fact is that I like RSD, and I’m certainly not alone.

While I have, in recent years, spend a lot less in record stores than I used to – partly because the opportunity isn’t there, partly because I simply don’t have the disposable income I once did and partly because I get sent a lot of music to review that I would have historically paid for – I do still put money into independent record stores whenever I can. I do so not out of a sense of dutiful charitability born out of sympathy (although there may be an element of that), but because they’re the places that tend to stock the stuff that I want.

Of course, larger independent stores still usually carry more stock than smaller ones, and have more buying power when it comes to things like Record Store Day. For this reason, I could have easily been tempted to make the trip to Leeds, raid Jumbo and Crash and return home with an armful of vinyl from my ‘wants’ list plus another armful of stuff to flog on at three times the price, thus covering my own expenditure, plus train fare and even potentially leaving me with a near profit.

Instead, I stayed local and hit The Inkwell. Why? In recognition of the fact that it’s a great little boutique shop. In recognition of the fact it’s my local record store, the one I drop into and invariably leave with something cool whenever I have any spare funds. In recognition of the fact that it has a community vibe. And in recognition of the fact that Paul, the owner, asked his customers for suggestions, recommendations and requests for items to order from the RSD release list. That’s a cool thing to do. Not having the budget to get a rack full of everything, it made sense. Moreover, look after the regular customers, and they’ll look after you.

I arrived for opening, and left happy with a clutch of singles, including a copy of the Twilight Sad 7” I’d recommended (one of only 500 numbered copies) and The Fall’s single.

In the afternoon, I went back to check out the two live acts who were playing: the ubiquitous and prodigious Mark Wynn, and purveyors of tinnitus-inducing garagey grunge, …And The Hangnails. Again, although scheduled as part of the RSD goings-on, The Inkwell hosts shows from time to time, either for the launch of local bands’ releases or just because, which is another reason stores like this (not that there are many stores quite like this) deserve support.

Mark and I exchanged goods: I traded him a hot-off-the-press print copy of This Book is Fucking Stupid for a copy of his new vinyl pressing, Social Situations, a split release with The Sorry Kisses. He proceeded to deliver one of his marvellously idiosyncratic performances, interspersing songs of social observation and gloriously off-kilter anecdotes with banterous ramblings that are awkwardly hilarious and hilariously awkward.

…And the Hangnails weren’t as loud as I might have expected and were nowhere near as loud as Swans the other week, but for a room with a standing capacity of 20 or so, the powerhouse 2-piece were pretty fucking loud. The shop got extremely warm and I began to worry the vinyl might melt (although by this time, only four or five RSD exclusive releases remained). Some kids looked uncomfortable and left, probably because they couldn’t hack anything as gritty and authentically rock ‘n’ roll as Hangnails (they’re certainly not White Stripes or The Black Keys), but the rest who stuck around really dug it. …And rightly so.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is rock ‘n’ roll. And this is what Record Store Day is really about.

 

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…And the Hangnails crank it up to ten and a half in a confined space

 

Check out The Inkwell here.

Check out …And The Hangnails here.

Check out mark Wynn here.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibr.co.uk