Szyzygy's Blog

March 2, 2010

A petition to support the BBC against enforced cutbacks

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 10:25 am
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The BBC, dumbed down as it may have been by the aftermath of the Hutton whitewash, is a British national treasure. It is now under pressure to reduce significantly its output and outreach, principally by ruthless and financially motivated individuals such as Rupert Murdoch who want people to pay through the nose for information and knowledge. I would implore anyone in the UK who reads this to sign the Avaaz petition to oppose these changes to send a very clear signal to the powers that like to think they are that we aren’t going to stand for these corporate vultures attempting to suppress a vital and vibrant British institution. The link is here.


February 3, 2010

Survivors as political allegory

Filed under: TV criticism,Uncategorized — syzygy @ 7:32 am
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There’s something distinctly and fascinatingly unpleasant about the BBC not-so-cosy catastrophe series remake, Survivors. It started off a series and a bit ago with a global pandemic which obliterated almost the entirety of the population and has somehow contrived to become progressively darker and more disturbing by the episode. Most of this darkness emanates from one of the central themes which is being articulated by the series, that power is symbiotically and inextricably linked to coercion and violence.

This is not an unusual premise given all the available evidence of history, but there is much more than this going on beneath the surface. There is, inevitably, an awful lot of off-the-wall nonsense going on, notably the unlikely closed-in survivalist community with an as yet unarticulated agenda, but a lot of the mainstream of the story is concerned with political allegory. The obvious conflict between Abby Grant, the voice of reason, and the erstwhile government Minister Samantha Wilson, now transformed into a gun-toting executrix, (and who could easily have been cloned from one of the ideologues of the British mainstream political parties), is deeply interesting to the point of almost justifying the series on its own. Samantha, like many of those whom I diss on a fairly regular basis, is unscrupulous, unprincipled, dishonest, hypocritical and self-serving, which ticks all the boxes of necessary qualifications for a career in politics within the framework of the current status quo.

It’s interesting to note that the ratings for this have slowly dipped as the series has progressed, which is a shame since this is one of very few programs in the current execrable desert of imported nonsense, game shows, and candy-floss to ask hard questions of the viewer.

November 10, 2009

Thumbs up for Krautrock

In the wake of the ridiculous debacle which was Synth Britannia of a few weeks ago, by way of an act of contrition BBC 4 screened the almost exponentially more intelligent and engaging documentary, Krautrock: The Rebirth of Europe. Comparisons of this degree of magnitude are almost certainly invidious: if you must do reflective social and musical history, then this is indubitably the way to do it. Setting the socio-political context with a degree of nicety, the reaction against schlager and Anglo and American pop which was to ultimately become the zenith of industrial techno as personified in the form of Kraftwerk, the introduction sets out a far more compelling appraisal than was ever ventured in the totality of Synth Britannia. Wenders and Herzog, Baader and Meinhof. Fitzcarraldo. Checkpoint Charlie, the Vopos. All of these appeared within the first ten minutes or so, and none of them struck a false note.

Was British synth culture so much more vapid than the nascent German industrial techno culture? The answer is probably no and the richness of experience which was the documentary Krautrock, set against the echoing vacuity which was Synth Britannia, can only boil down to the fact that Ben Whalley, the maker of these two documentaries suffers from creative bipolarity of the sort heretofore only evidenced in Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde.  Even Karlheinz Stockhausen, that enfant terrible godfather of the world of experimental sound got a look in. Maybe he’d like to have another stab at Synth Britannia, doing it properly this time.

November 3, 2009

The impact of the Nutt Affair on British politics

In any two party state, in which protagonist and antagonist are bankrolled by slush money from corporates and wealthy individuals, there can only be one plurality of losers, the electorate. Many people in Britain, never the most rationally governed of states,  are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that party-centric politics as a mechanism for government and maintenance of social order in post-technological society is broken beyond repair and are actively scouting for alternatives. Most, if not all, will conclude that the answer does not lie in the ballot box, since, to borrow the hackneyed joke, whoever you vote for the government always gets in. There is little to choose between either of the two main political parties; they are equally mendacious, corrupt and overwhelmingly filled with people you would not wish to entertain in your own home.

The lingering and unpleasant shadow of the David Nutt affair has brought this point to the attention of many; those incapable of reading the writing on the wall of the arbitrary and dirigiste sacking of the chair of the ACMD, the government’s drugs advisory committee, would do well to reflect on the fact that the killing of the messenger bearing unpleasant tidings was largely discontinued in the unfathomable depths of time immemorial and moreover does not reflect well upon the executioner. Professor Nutt had the temerity to point out that a number of socially and legally proscribed drugs, amongst them cannabis, on most objective criteria of risk assessment, were significantly less dangerous than a number of other drugs, notably tobacco and alcohol, from which the government (and it should be noted many of their financial backers and puppet-masters) derive considerable revenue. For this, under a pretext, he was sacked. The people of the Britain deserve respect and openness from their governments; sadly the opposite, a cold and revolting dish of contempt and lies is what is and has always invariably been set before them.  It is unsuprising that cynicism, the inevitable precursor to change, has set in.

The sacking of David Nutt has moved the hands of the clock for major political reform a little closer to midnight;  you can’t, to paraphrase George Washington, fool all of the people all of the time. And the ones you can’t fool will be the ones who will be coming for you.

Facebook support group for David Nutt:

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.

September 29, 2009

The Last Wobble…

Filed under: Politics,Uncategorized — syzygy @ 6:08 am
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Today the unelected blancmange nominally in charge of the British ship of state, James Gordon Brown, will deliver a keynote speech at the Labour party conference, and, according to the lead article on the BBC website at time of writing, in it he will be announcing a crackdown on anti-social behaviour. I don’t as a rule write on Politics with a capital P, but the prospect of this uninspiring and intellectually unprepossessing individual pontificating on the subject of antisocial behaviour strikes me as not being unakin to Herr Hitler delivering a speech to the Nuremberg rallies on the public need for humility and self-deprecation, minus, of course, the erstwhile Reichskanzler’s undoubted passion, charisma and flair for oratory.  The government which the former Chancellor Mr Brown nominally leads has somehow contrived to effect even more damage to the weft and weave of British society than the last one, a singular achievement given that the oppositional administration prior to the much-vaunted Neu Labour was the strangled afterbirth of Margaret Thatcher’s demented vision, the central philosophical tenet of which being that “There is no such thing as society”, led, lest we have  forgotten, by yet another charmless political nonentity, John Major.

In the years since Britain fell under the new-Nazi New Labour yoke, the rich have become ineffably richer, the poor irrefutably poorer, and the middle-classes reduced to desparation. The dumbing down of Britain, a central project of this administration, has continued apace. Once upon a time there were lies, damned lies and statistics. Now there are just lies. The spur for Mr Brown’s forthcoming tirade was a piece of headline news  in which a mother of a handicapped child, driven to desparation by continual attacks by groups of (what will be characterised no doubt as deprived children in desparate need of social attention) vicious thugs and yobs upon her home, person and property, doused her car in petrol, and committed suicide alongside her daughter.  The govenrment’s response? The Independent Police Complaints Commission (a misnomer if ever there were, being not remotely independent, yet another wing of the of the administration) is to investigate to see whether the police’s response was “proportionate”.  I kid you not. The greasy mechanism of spin is both tireless and and circular. There is nothing in there about addressing the real issues, which, as anybody in Britain knows boil down to the simple fact that the perpetrators of such iniquities have more rights than their victims, and that the police are terrified to act for fear of upsetting one of these little darlings.  This is of course the logic of the madhouse in action, and not particularly suprising when you look at the inmates in overall charge of the asylum.

September 7, 2009

What kafkaesque is…

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 7:53 pm
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I have been thinking much recently about the nature of what it might be, exactly, that constitutes something which can be described as kafkaesque. There are strong personal reasons for this line of reflection although I do not feel particularly comfortable expounding them in what is essentially a new and fairly unfamiliar public place for me, the much vaunted blogosphere. You will have to take it on trust that while I am not going to go there, a rationale exists for me to be gnawing this particular philosophical bone at this particular time.

In this line of inquiry I am much assisted by an article I read many years ago  by Milan Kundera. Being the information-acquisitive sort of soul that I am and always have been, I made a journal note of the key points of Kundera’s observations. Delving through my accumulated journals, Volume IV, which covers much of the mid 1980s, produced the necessary information, and more which I had forgotten about altogether, some of which is, in the cold light of incipient senility at least, even more interesting.

Apparently Josef Skvorecky related to Kundera the true story of a Prague engineer during the grim years of the Comintern’s iron grip on Czech society who got the opportunity to travel to a seminar in London. He duly went, took part in the seminar, and returned post-haste to Praha. Barely a few hours after his return, a story appeared in Rude Pravo, the official mouthpiece of the Czech communist party of the time, which stated “A Czech engineer, travelling to a seminar in London, has, according to Western press reports, condemned his socialist fatherland and decided to remain in the West.” It should be noted that the penalty for illegal emigration under the communist regime was 20 years penal confinement. The engineer was in a state of shock; it was undoubtedly him they were writing about.  He rushed round to the editor of Rude Pravo – the matter, alas, was out of his hands, and he was referred to the Ministry of the Interior. He went there, only to be told that it was also out of their hands; they had had their report from their secret service in London. He asked for a retraction but they gave him to understand that this was unnecessary. The engineer, not trusting the verbal assurance, asked for it in writing but this they refused to do. He became depressed and was unable to sleep at night. Eventually, he became so nervous and paranoid that he emigrated illegally.

The above, Kundera opined, was very much symptomatic of Prague of the time, and could clearly be defined as kafkaesque according to the aspects which Kundera notes as being salient. Firstly, the tale reflects what Kundera characterises as an ‘invisible labyrinth’; the individual in the story is lost in a maze of process whose beginning, middle and end are imperceptible yet omnipresent, much as was the case of Josef K. in The Trial. Then, the rules of the invisible labyrinth are out of step with ‘real’ reality but are nevertheless entirely consistent to their own logic.  Another determining factor is that the innocent are guilty until capable (never) of proving their innocence. Finally, there is an element of farce intertwined with grand guignol: the reader laughs and yet the prospect of it all becoming horribly real can evince the other sort of laughter, the chimpanzee fear-laugh.

September 4, 2009

an incomplete map of the world (a fragment)

Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 7:31 pm
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paper, pen and ink
land and sky and sea
are horizons impenetrable,
since all maps of the world
are destined to be incomplete
and this is one of many such
still at best vestigial
and replete with details which perhaps
are not entirely necessary

work on it began
before aluminium was even a metal of the future
in a simpler and (supposedly) less complicated time
when details were fewer
and distances, in human terms,
were greater
traversing ages
acquiring depth and definition
yet it remains
an incomplete map of the world
since still it does not show the many strangenesses
the hungry miasmas of the human heart and mind
the haunts of ghosts of shades of gods
the cities vanished long beneath the swelling seas
the trade routes of Phoenicians
the wrecks of slavers
fortresses levelled even unto dust
where time’s oblivion corrodes

the server room is not marked on it
nor are the slender wires connecting continents
dissipating love and hate and money

it does not show the paths of jets and ships
which bind the world together
nor does it display the contours of your heart
the flicker of your eyelids
nor yet the evaporating traces of your breath
lightly etched upon the windowpane

there is no outward sign of the winding way
we walked together just the other day
the kissing gate nor any of that wild and windy weather
the fallen leaves that rose like Lazarus as if from death
and swirled within their self-fulfilling gyre
it does not show the cigarette I smoked
the photographs I took
and which, one day, I will render,
digitally in black and white
because that is the way that you and I both see the world in winter
ashen and devoid

the S-Tog though is clearly marked
and the new metro the graffiti artists haven’t got to (yet)

by the bridges down at Sydhavn,
the elephants at the Carlsberg brewery
(which some genius some day must surely paint pink)
and along the waterway
across the Nippelsbro near where I used to live
in Christianshavn in a house once owned by Hammershøj
its wooden floorboards uneven and, in many places, thickly caked in candle wax
down along the docks
that string their way along the coast to Nordhavn and just beyond
I sat down one grey day
the cold like electricity
in the nerves of my head
the bench on which I sat a thing of unsubtle torture
and began to contemplate
the incompleteness of the incompleteness of the map of the world
the darkness at this time of year in northern latitudes
the sullen ebb and flow of tides

The signs lead off;
To the right to Malmo,
Ahead to Sundsby and to the left to Copenhagen
Bridges, roads, the station at Tørnby
One stop down from the lufthavn.


Filed under: Uncategorized — syzygy @ 3:42 pm
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Poets, like their poems, come in divers shapes and sizes. Most, at some level or other, like their creations, are broken by a lack of human completeness in some subtle way or other, much as Philip Pullman’s character Lyra’s model of her incomplete map of the world itself does not, and can not, explain or describe the totality of that which it is striving to express.


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