Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Building robots with children

Last week I did a bit of robot-making with a group of 7-11 year olds at the BOM Summer Camp.

BOM (Birmingham Open Media) if you're unaware is Birmingham's best new art-science-technology hub with welcoming open doors, a DIY ethic, a group of resident artists, an adjoining cafe, regular events and exhibitions, and a definite buzz (despite the stripped back concrete floors and ramshackle wooden mezzanine).

Run by the very lovely Karen Newman, BOM has all the promise of a Midlands revolution, and it's close proximity to the new station offers easy access for everyone. The team included myself (as tech expert), members of the 8 Bit Pirates (game designers), Amy from Famalam (an innovator in children's workshops) and other staff and volunteers from BOM.

It was intense and a great success, with bright youngsters going through five days of character design, cardboard model-making, basic electronics and programming, animation, music and even a bit of robot dancing - not to mention a fair amount of games and videos to keep them entertained and energised.

By friday I was exhausted, but we had 15 well designed and constructed robots with flashing lights, sensors and moving parts which the kids had built from scratch. A good amount of preparation paid off well, and the intricacies of electrical circuit building and programming micro-controllers were boiled down to a painting-by-numbers simplicity, which the children blasted through at lightning speed. For the robot building we used the Crumble - a fairly new and kid-friendly electrical kits from 4tronix.

I think my personal highlight had to be the robot disco in which staff members were dressed by the kids as robots before the room exploded with grooving bodies (young, old and robot).

Monday, 27 July 2015

Kids from the 80s

Holy crap, just realised this blog is nearly 8 years old!

Wow. If this blog was my kid it would be in school and listening to awful music.

At this point I have to say/brag that my first ever musical purchase (and this is not a lie) was a cassette tape called "West Coast Hip-Hop". It had a purple cover with a surfer on it.

I used to love Eric B and Rakim, as well as Public Enemy and Kid n Play when I was a nipper along with plenty of Acid House (especially Technotronic) and the inevitable trash like erm... cringe... Bros, and erm... Terence Trent D'arby. There, I said it.

My first CD was MC Hammer, swiftly (thank God) followed by Gun n Roses "Appetite for Destruction". I think at this point that is all you need to know.

They have been, in many ways, the inspiration for many years of dance music, art, ridiculous dancing and metal moshing, so... "Here's to many, many years of generalised madness!".

As if to prove a point here's Pump Up The Jam - Swoomptheeng-style from last year.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Random Generation Sound Art

"Hot Come not the Golden Sun" is a random sentence generator and a kind of schizophrenic computer generated remix of artist Neil Chapman's work for the File 01 Sound Art CD collection curated by Juneau Projects. The crude word choice, combined with the mangled radio voice (Alistair Cooke?) makes for some comical and linguistic funny moments. It was shown in the gallery space above Jessops on Corporation Street in Birmingham in 2002 along with other pieces from the series.

Also found some this random soundscape generator I created.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Clash of the Japanese Noise Titans and the Scary Canary Venue

A few weeks ago my band Swoomptheeng played at Scary Canary Venue in Stourbridge with hip-hop legends Ugly Duckling. I also shot a quick music video there for Spiros Abatis, and last weekend, when I returned to pick up some kit, I had the opportunity to see the Makoto Kawabata and KK Null Duo play - and what a treat that was.

Firstly I have to say that Scary Canary Venue is a Black Country rarity - a venue that plays genuinely exciting, cutting edge music. It's grown from a vintage clothes shop into an essential night spot for creative people. Stourbridge has always had a great music scene, but in recent years it's become somewhat of a Tribute band and Lagerboy town (with a few notable exceptions mainly Katie Fitzgerald's and The Temple of Boom). Scary Canary however, is a stunning venue, with pot plants hanging bizarrely from the roof, and ceramic hands attached over tabletops made from old doors (to help you drink?).

Last weeks entertainment kicked off with Adam Beckley - a local lad known best for his doom metal band Opium Lord who have just returned from an American tour and graced Supersonic Festival last year (as will Swoomptheeng again in 2 weeks). Beckley's solo stuff leans towards the ambient, and his set seemed to consist of mixing cassette tapes played incredibly slowly. He managed to create absorbing textural landscapes and fuzzy rhythms in a well-paced narrative mix more usually seen at contemporary art venue's like Birmingham's Vivid Projects.

Next up was MaggotHouse favourite Concrete Belly who had brought his usual circuit-bent kids toys and electric guitar to create chaotic sonic attacks over hard, stripped-down beats and samples. It's difficult to put Concrete Belly in a camp so to speak, as he moves quickly from ice-cold, stepping beats, and out into glitchy chiptune while squeezing it all together with a barrage of grunge guitar riffs - it's dirty, and messy, and exciting. You don't know what he's going to do next as he eyes up the various instruments and effects laid out before him.

Photo by James Butroid Photography
Finally two godfathers of Japanese noise stepped onto the stage : Makoto Kawabata of Acid Mother's Temple and KK Null of Zeni Geva. Both men looked fearless, yet approachable, but noticeably different. KK Null sat upright at a laptop with a shaved head, his eyes fixed to the screen, with just occasional flicks of his wrist orchestrating the noise. Makoto Kawabata stood waring flared jeans and played a headless guitar with his eyes tightly shut, waving his long curly hair about. Behind them both video clips of factories and explosions complemented the most inspiring, brilliant and poignant noise performance I've (perhaps) ever seen (and I've seen a few).

Where many try and usually fall short, these two men made soaring white noise, synthetic hammering, fizzing static and juddering chaos awe-inspiring, like a thunder storm. This was the sound of a modern age. It was loud, really loud, and overwhelming, but unlike most others, this performance had depth and character. It spoke of struggle and collision, endless repetition, factories, conflict, chemicals, growth, explosions, decay, chaos and control, and somewhere beneath it all - people. I was breath-taken... and my ears hurt the day after.

Here's a track from their EP "Psychetronic" - you will need to turn it up to full volume, drink a bottle of meths and punch yourself in the face to truly get a feel for the immensity of their live show.