Szyzygy's Blog

October 29, 2009

Oh noes! A historical novel in the offing…

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 7:25 am
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I have to admit that I have been playing with the idea of a historical novel for some time, jotting notes idly all the while to this end. I have just reread with, I must add, the greatest of pleasure, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin cycle in its entirety, and, earlier this year whilst in Barcelona, and with similar enjoyment,  E.R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros. Seemingly there is little connection between high seas swashbuckling and a light romantic fantasy. However, one thing does immediately stand out as linkage, and that is the way that both Eddison and O’Brian contrived to consciously use archaic modes of language and manners of speech to reinforce (or, indeed, one might reasonably opine, as the central rationale for) their stories.

The surgeon, intelligence agent and eminent natural philosopher Stephen Maturin of the O’Brian books is a very complex and subtle piece of characterisation performed by an author whose talents have been very seriously under-recognised. Aubrey, his bluff naval sea-captain foil, is a sympathetic, oftimes comical, Watson to Maturin’s Holmes. This is of course a clearly definable trope, for the deficiencies of the foil can easily be exploited to allow the prime mover to articulate for the benefit of the reader the minutiae of explanations. I have my central character, my putative Maturin, well in sight, and now I am casting about for a foil, or possibly a company of foils, or some other mechanism or device, for, having recognised the leeward trope, I am as keen to avoid it as may be imagined. The French Revolution is always something which has interested me, socially, politically, morally and philosophically, and no one has ever done a really good French Revolution historical novel from the inside, certainly none that I have ever read (and let us not even mention Baroness Orczy in jest….) and I certainly intend to touch on that area of history in depth. That said, I am finding the pleasure of writing in faux and archaic 18th/19th century English to be an inordinately illuminating experience and I am frequently finding old words for new as a direct consequence, much to the betterment of my everyday writing. 

The real enemy of this work soon to be in serious progress is time.  I am shortly bound for Greece for the winter to do some programming work (the stuff that pays the inevitable bills) which will necessarily impede progress to a significant extent; moreover I am co-opted onto a WikiMedia task force to deal with improving & strengthening community usage of Commons resources. That said, I am merrily cranking out pages of scene-setting, dialogue and background prose for this novel betwixt and betide almost effortlessly. Normally I struggle and agonise over every single utterance, every comma’s placement, but this feels as though it is being written almost at arm’s length and while I am engaged with it, it feels almost as though I, myself, am not writing it but that it is writing itself…. Which makes for a pleasurable change.


October 18, 2009

Synth Britannia – BBC: The Missing Plot

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 6:27 am
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I cannot think of a time when I have been so thoroughly unimpressed by the BBC’s output. It obviously needs a quantum of vacuous prole-feed like Strictly Come Dancing to feed the internal ratings-driven machismo culture, however there is now so much dross on offer that the few grains of genuine quality that do from time to time appear also aspire to swoop vicariously to this condition of loathsome dumbed -down mass-market appeal.

Synth Britannia, ghettoised on Friday night on BBC4, was a prime example of this. The predictable luminaries of British synth pop culture were wheeled out for this bun-fight. Unilluminating references to J.G. Ballard’s Crash proliferated. Clips of all the usual suspects in action abounded. Kraftwerk & Walter/Wendy Carlos were mentioned in dispatches.  The real problem I have with an hour and a half of sitting through this tosh was that I came out of it with the distinct sensation that I knew and understood less about British synth music culture than I did before I commenced watching it. 

The documentary recycles and builds upon, as its central premise, some well-worn lies, notably that prior to Kraftwerk there was little or no engagement with synthesised music by British bands, and that nobody in Britain had heard of Walter/Wendy Carlos prior to his soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange (clips also included to underscore entirely predictable points about relationship between sci-fi, alienation, industrialism and synthesizer culture), despite Switched On Bach  and The Well Tempered Synthesizer being well received over here.  Edgar Froese’s Aqua, an album which lived atop the British album charts for months was not mentioned once. Van der Graaf  Generator. Soft Machine. Hawkwind. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. None of these seemed fit to mention. Howard effing Jones got tagged though…. It was documentarial Strictly Come Dancing with major parts of the body of evidence deliberately excised.

The only real saving graces surrounding this programme were the apercus of Cosey Fanny Tutti and Chris Carter, erstwhile members of Throbbing Gristle, & the ever so subtle pisstaking of Richard Kirk of Cabaret Voltaire (how he kept a straight face is beyond me).  The real synthesizer & sampling explosion which came with acid house was airbrushed from history.  Dub and sleng teng rhythms didn’t get a mention. Instead we had an hour and a half revisiting clips from the Soma Light Entertainment department. They even, for Stalinist completeness, airbrushed out the work of the BBC’s own Radiophonic Workshop (Dr Who theme music anyone?) and Delia Derbyshire. Couldn’t move for Orchestral bloody Manouevres though,  Heaven 17 or Depeche Mode.

As an afterthought I’d have got someone with half a brain to front this, like a very drunk Mark E. Smith. Even in his cups he would have made a better fist of it than this snivelling excuse for a documentary.

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