May 31, 2009
Circle Limit III
You might have noticed that blogging is not happening with much conviction here. But more likely you haven't, since you've almost certainly not been reading the site anyway. So it evens out. Nevertheless, I feel I should at least make a stab at some kind of posting, if only to give myself something to look back on in future when my already-failing memory of this period has given up the ghost entirely. Think how novel it will all seem then.
So, there was another trip to the Isle of Wight for the bank holiday weekend, and very splendid it was too.
The territory covered was very familiar, but there were some small triumphs. In particular I managed to ascend a couple of steep and moderately technical hills that have hitherto defeated me. I put this down partly to stubbornness, and partly to a sense that I may not be attempting them many times more and it therefore being time I put the fuckers in their place. It also helped that I approached them in the lowest possible gear.
In any case, it was good to once again visit the pretty but largely empty outpost of Freshwater, and to make the now de rigueur pilgrimage to Christine's Enchanted Valley, all in very lovely weather. The former trip was rather long and arduous and left me completely wrung out. Given that, I expected to hate the latter, but actually it was just about right. Sunshine improves these things a lot.
Back in London, Pierre Rigal's Press at the Lilian Baylis helped to exorcise the memories of Rambert's recent travesty. I took Kym, and we both enjoyed a very clever exercise in choreographed claustrophobia, with Rigal ingeniously and athletically filling a small and dimishing space.
Much of the glorious weekend was spent in the park, notably on Saturday when old flame Matthew once again joined me to skate with Alastair and Davide. Nearly everything was beautiful, and those things that weren't don't merit discussion. I wish my balance were a little better.
I've been haunted lately by an experience of Ian's a month or so ago. He found himself on the bus next to a woman who was crying because she hadn't had the courage to hold the hand of another woman, a German tourist, who was dying in the street; she'd been crushed by a van rolling down a hill. I can't even express the suffocating sadness of this event, the victim struck down out of the blue, gasping her last in an alien city, hundreds of miles away from her loved ones and everyone she knew, who in turn might hear nothing of her lonely death for many days; the horror-struck passer-by, shocked and off-guard, unable in the heat of the moment to offer the succour we'd like to imagine we all would, devastated by that failure, guilty and sobbing; even the van driver, carted off for manslaughter after a moment's carelessness on a routine delivery. Above all the awful sudden arbitrariness of it, the lack of warning and purpose and reason, the paper-thin tissue of happenstance that separates us at every moment from a pointless and unexpected end.
It is shocking in this case because it is so relatively rare here, in our rich and orderly city, but that same flimsy boundary is being crossed all the time, all around the world, and so many people even now are gasping their last, looking around dizzy and uncomprehending as the blood rushes out and their mothers and sons and lovers are nowhere to be seen and there is no-one to say goodbye to. No-one to even care.
This has always been the case, and I've always known it. So have you. I don't really know why it has struck me so this time, why it has left me asphyxiated by a sense of fragility and impermanence. But it has.
This could all end so easily, without notice, at any time.
I'm not trying to pretend that this is news.
May 18, 2009
Here we are, then: another year older. Is that a life grown ever richer or just closer to death? Gotta love those false dichotomies.
The day passed very pleasantly, shepherded by damn fine meals -- in somewhat different modes -- in the company of the lovely Alastair and the lovely Ian. Birthday greetings arrived from around the world via various electronic media -- but particularly Facebook, which seems to have become the way this stuff is done in 2009. O brave new world.
Anyway, thanks all. It is an honour to be able to grow old -- gracefully or otherwise -- in such company. And now I'm into yet another year, and here we go again.
May 17, 2009
I would have assumed that the current Rambert show is their worst ever, but Ian tells me that Constant Speed, artistic director Mark Baldwin's piece about high energy physics from a year or two back, was even fucking worse. Baldwin should be profoundly ashamed of what he's done to one of the country's great dance companies. I shudder to think what depths his forthcoming Darwin show might plumb.
In the meantime, though, let's consider the material at hand. Baldwin's predecessor Christopher Bruce contributes Hush, an emetically sentimental kiddie ballet for a pretend family of pirouetting Pierrots that could stand as a performative definition of the word "twee". I can't begin to express how much I hated this unmitigated tripe, but it was made even more unbearable by the occasional fleeting reminder of the choreographic excellence of other Bruce pieces like Ghost Dances and the ever-popular Rooster. In the context of Hush those glimpses were positively insulting. It may be the single worst piece of choreography I've seen this century.
Next up was Doug Varone's Scribblings, a dismal catalogue of every last cliche of American contemporary dance set to an unlistenable score by John Adams. I dimly remember seeing Varone's own company in the Dance Umbrella ten-or-so years back. That was merely unremarkable. He has made progress since: this was truly dire. Well before the end of its not especially long running time I was feeling the urge to self-harm. Even then, it was still significantly better than Hush.
The evening was barely redeemed by Itzik Galili's crowd-pleasing romp of a finale, A Linha Curva, a Brazilian-inflected carnival which was still rubbish but at least quite fun to watch. This is the sort of thing that could be crowbarred into any number of West End musicals, chock full of cheesy verve and youthful exuberance, but with absolutely fuck all to say. I was grateful for it, as the only piece of the evening that didn't inspire thoughts of suicide, but really, who cares?
The tragedy is, Rambert is still a company of fantastic dancers, and the poor dears danced their hearts out for this. They deserve much better, and so do we. Mark, you should be composing your fucking resignation letter even now.
May 15, 2009
So, this week's big question from the world of pharmacological neuroscience: what the bloody buggering fuck is this?
Obviously, at one level I know what it is -- it's a composite image of fluorescence artefacts in a cerebellar neuronal culture. I've overlaid two images taken with different absorption/emission spectra, shown here as red and green, which is pretty much what the emissions are. The question is, what are the artefacts? What's causing them to mysteriously appear out of nowhere, overnight? Why do they have this peculiar "wormy" appearance? And why are they so much brighter than the tags we put in deliberately?
If you have any ideas I'd be delighted to hear from you...
May 12, 2009
Here, because absolutely everyone has been clamouring for it, is the presentation I gave last week at Cumberland Lodge, or at least a PDF approximation thereof. Click the image to download.
[Update: turns out I inadvertently uploaded a version without words, which makes it rather opaque (and also lacking in picture credits). Oops. This should now be fixed.]
May 9, 2009
May 8, 2009
Gosh, it's been awhile. I can't possibly hope to capture all that's gone on in the last couple of weeks, but I can skim lightly across the surface like a water boatman.
The gravitational centre of the period was the annual CoMPLEX jamboree at Cumberland Lodge, where I was giving a talk and also dimly representing Processing at a computational tools workshop. The talk described things somewhat related to -- but emphasising the more solid predecessors of -- my research; it will be available in some form here and there in due course. It was well enough received to be almost worth the bank holiday weekend its preparation largely consumed. The workshop was more of a puff session -- look, isn't this pretty? -- but apparently some people found it useful. Whether that includes my bit was not recorded.
I was also a little bit less diplomatic than I intended when questioning one of our guest speakers, Armand Leroi, on his musical phylogenetics presentation. This provided plenty of entertainment for the audience, somewhat contrary to my intentions. Sorry, Armand, I really did mean it when I said your work was fascinating.
Which adjective brings us with plodding inevitability to Star Trek, most likely blockbuster of the year and better than one might expect from the collision of the careworn screen franchise with trash TV maestro JJ Abrams. (As I've mentioned elsewhere, what is it with him and balls of glowing red liquid?) Despite the reboot's slavish adherence to some incredibly tired and annoying Hollywood screenwriting tropes -- really, if I never see another film whose hero is driven by the death of his father it'll be too fucking soon -- and despite its ludicrous insistence that every crew member be implausibly young and good-looking -- if JJ isn't a fag he certainly casts like one -- Trek winds up as a decent skiffy actioner, adequately faithful to the original and dense with in-jokes, but also great fun on its own merits. It has to be said, though, that Leonard Nimoy wipes the floor with the whole brat cast.
Despite the working weekend, I did manage to get my hair cut -- hackneyed photo to follow, no doubt -- and to take in foul-mouthed political satire In The Loop, which was hilarious if not exactly uplifting. The following may currently be the funniest line in the English language, easily surpassing "Sergeant, arrest most of these vicars":
Difficult, difficult, lemon difficult.
Words to live by.
In other news, the Sutter P-2000 laser puller turned up its toes today, and someone has semi-gazumped Sam's SICM modelling paper, albeit in a rather shoddy, rushed-to-print way. On the other hand, we may have recorded an NMDA receptor from a cerebellar interneuron terminal for the first time. Not that we have any hope of proving it on the basis of this one noisy example, but it's a start.
Oh yes. The excitement never ends around here.