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Archive for the '2009' Category

Best of 2009: Music and Films.

2009_bestfilms_music

Indeed, it is that time of year again when a cultural reckoning is required.  Did you have any favourite films this year and what was cooking up a storm on the music front?  Just like a friendly chinwag round the internet campfire, all are welcome to spend their two-pennies worth, please share your own Best Of’s for the Year 2009 and leave a comment.

I shall kick things off with my choices:

Best singles:

    Laura Marling – Alas I cannot swim (came out in 2008)
    Andrew Bird – Noble Beast
    Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
    Richard Hawley – Truelove’s Gutter
    The xx – xx
    Wilco – Wilco
    Wildbeasts – Two Dancers
    Yeasayer- All Hour Cymbals

Bubbling under
Tunng- Good Arrows (came out in 2007) / The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love / School Of Seven Bells – Alpinisms / Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz / Polar Bear – Polar Bear / Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs / The Antlers – Hospice

Best Films
(roughly in order, best first)

    Fish Tank
    The Damned United
    Mesrine Killer Instinct
    The Class
    Moon
    Caramel (2007)
    Sleep Furiously
    Coraline
    Doubt
    35 Shots of Rum
    Frozen River
    Let the Right One In
    The Reader
    An Education
    Inglorious Basterds
    Slumdog Millionaire
    Syndoche new york
    Public Enemies
    State of Play

…. sadly there were others but they didn’t even make the cut.

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Zaha Hadid @ Manchester International Festival, past, present, future …

Last year I watched a programme illustrating the shortlisted buildings for the “architectural Baftas” aka The Stirling Prize.   One entry that stood out for me was the elegant and fluid Nord Park Cable Railway built in Austria by Bagdad-born Zaha Hadid.  I read up a little on the architect and the more I delved, the more I liked her, and realized her projects had  seeped closer to me than I had imagined.

zaha_nordpark

Zaha seems to relish tackling different practical and creative challenges and she is not averse to mixing her genres.  She designed one of the better elements of the Millenium Dome “The Mind Zone” and has set-designed for the Pet Shop Boys and the Belgium Charleroi Dance Company.  Earlier this year she was guest editor on the Radio Four “Today Show”.  She has a mathematical aptitude, she studied for her Mathematics degree in Beirut and moved to England following her graduation.  In Sept 2008, Zaha guest edited “Wallpaper” magazine and designed the award-winning die-cut front cover.

Her London-based architectural practice grew in size and reputation during the 1990’s and she is now world-renowned for her innovation and organic sensual style.  Awards started winging her way,  judging by her current work, it seems she has gained an appetite for them.

zaha_bmw

The scene is now set.  It is a cold, windy late winter day and I get my first chance to pick up the newly-pressed Manchester International Brochure for 2009.   I admire the design, the graphics and printstock.  I then open up the pages and I’m very excited to discover Zaha Hadid will be working on something here in Manchester for the Festival.

“Zaha Hadid Architects have created a unique chamber music hall specially designed to house solo performances of the exquisite music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  A voluminous ribbon swirls within the room, carving out a spatial and visual response to the intricate relationships of Bach’s harmonies. As the ribbon careens above the performer, cascades into the ground and wraps around the audience, the original room as a box is sculpted into fluid spaces swelling, merging, and slipping through one another.”

zaha_mif_bach
zaha_mif_bach_1

Tickets sold out fast for all the evening performances but free tickets were available for lunchtime concerts featuring students from Chethams School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, two highly prestigious Manchester-based music schools.  It soon became clear that one could not just stroll down ten minutes prior to the concert as demand was huge for these 1pm sessions.  After a thwarted first attempt, I was still not certain I would get in when I went down to the Art Gallery for a second time the following week.  I had to go onto a waiting list for returns, and as I was number 13 on the list I was non-too hopeful, but the luck Gods were shining on me and I was given a late entry.  Hallelujah.

So, alongside 191 other lucky punters of all ages, sizes shapes and colours, I took my seat and felt quite special within the cocoon-like protection of the Music Hall Sound Pod.  The simple colour scheme of black and white belies quite a complex construction and the months of acoustic research the aim of which is to create a magical listening experience.  There was certainly an expectant crowd, our noises bounced around and created an excitable hubbub.  Our entertainment for the next 24 miutes entered quietly through a neat side archway, stepping onto the stage came Christian Elliott a talented cellist from the RNCM.  The Bach piece chosen was “Cello Suite No 3 in C major”.

Though a massive fan of music, my knowledge of classical is extremely limited, nevertheless the whole experience was entrancing.  The connection between performer and audience was instant.  The designed space fostered a sense of intimacy and many of the performers have spoken of feeling relaxed and protected within this womb-like aural grotto.  Delicate moments on the cello were crisp and easy to hear, silence was broken with a slight background hum (maybe air conditioning?) and the rich sweeping notes which tumbled out from the stage were moving, filled with warmth and fullness.

This was a bold and exciting use of a fairly standard boring gallery room and fantastic to see the Manchester International Festival pushing on with their remit to bring new work and collaborations to a wider audience.  I also applaud the blending of pricing options so those on a tighter budget can get to experience some of the work on offer.  It would be nice to see this remain a key policy for future years.  I bet that Manchester Art Gallery’s collections and visiting exhibitions have benefitted from a vastly expanded footfall too.

If you can, I urge you to take half an hour out on your next trip into town and pay the Zaha Hadid ‘ribboned wonder’ a visit.  The live lunchtime concerts have now finished, (but maybe with demand so high it would be a welcome decision to have them continue?) however, music is piped through to allow visitors to gain a sense of the sound experience.  It is worth a trip just to examine and walk through this beautiful temporary creation.  Opening hours are Tuesday – Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mon) 10am – 5pm exhibiting until 31st August 2009.

One wonders whether the design could be pushed even further?  Imagine an all-weather self-supporting version which could travel the world and bring gifted performers from all musical leanings to remote audiences, but within a sound arena of such exquisite quality.

Future UK build plans for Zaha Hadid include the Transport Museum in Glasgow and the Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

UPDATE : Zaha Hadid´s pavilion for the Burnham Centennial recently opened at the Millennium Park in Chicago (updated 25 Aug 09).

UPDATE: First images of Zaha Hadid’s new Contemporary Arts Centre in Rome, Italy, which opens today (updated 13 Nov 09).

UPDATE: A further in-depth look at MAXXI museum in Rome, Italy with some fab photographs by Iwan Baan. (updated 18 Dec 09).

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Cutting Room Experiment: the aftermath @ #smc_mcr

cuttingroom_smc

I managed to make my second appearance at #smc_mcr earlier this month.  In an exciting departure from the norm, the event was held at the BBC on Oxford Road and many thanks to all the organisers for making it happen and run so smoothly.  These meet-ups are always very open and welcoming; fashioned from a happy blend of creative wannabees, digital sages and the odd normal earthdweller snuffling up the crumbs.  (I am  a paid-up member of the first category).  This time we had some home-made cakes (awesome apparently), Teletext bingo and a subsidised bar.  Who could ask for more.

From the #smc_mcr wiki: “The Social Media Cafe is a place for ALL people interested in social media to gather, get acquainted, and to plot, scheme, and share.. emphasis on open and interesting conversation!”.

Given the Network’s copious skillsets, some great tweets and blog posts are always on offer if you are not able to get down on the night and you want to catch-up with the fun.  Check out Tim Difford’s extensive coverage on One Greener Day for more on this last meet-up.  I am going to concentrate on giving some feedback on the Cahoona and Ear to the Ground session which dealt with the groundbreaking “Cutting Room Experiment” which took place on 20th June in Ancoats.  To use their own words they were aiming to put on “the biggest user-generated event in the world” aiming to publicise the opening of a newly designed square in New East Manchester called The Cutting Room.

First off, I was a little torn on the night as I also fancied the Twitter talk (being a relative newbie into Twitterworld) and the fact that the session was delivered by an artist and writer (@thecharmquark) gave added interest.

In the end, I opted for the Cahoona fellas as I had heard a little of the experiment and wanted to find out how it all panned out.  Plus I’ve always found a good de-brief is often a worthwhile use of half an hour.

The session began with details of the Cutting Room Experiment’s inception and aims, then the plan of attack was mapped out, to hopefully ensure the experiment’s success.   It was clearly demonstrated that key online tools were utilised with creativity and skill, the resulting spread of publicity and visitors to the website, testament to the guys picking a winning strategy and social media playing a starring role.

However, things did seem to fall down a bit on the day of the experiment, 20th June 2009.  Though the target of 400 people attending was achieved (though the photo’s shown during the session didn’t illustrate that very well) the vibe was,  I think, that a larger audience was expected.

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

© TST 2004. http://www.space-hoppers.co.uk

One can only conclude that different strategies are required to engineer different responses to any campaign.   The hardest deliver of all is real people.  Ones who wear out their own shoe leather, co-ordinate their day and put themselves out to attend an event.  The poor weather on the day may explain some of the problem ; sadly a common issue for outdoor promoters living in a rain shadow.  I guess that the harsh truth is that the user-generated ideas chosen were simply not a big enough pull.  Despite a fun-looking Spacehopper race and Manchester Science and Industry setting up Alka Seltzer rockets.

Sometimes, if enough buzz is created, then people will make an effort as they don’t want to miss out on an exclusive and potentially trendsetting event (moreso if something is free).   Maybe a band plays a secret hometown gig,  celebrated writer reads from a latest novel or respected thinker delivers a talk on an engaging subject.  The aim is to make those at the event feel they are lucky and are attending something with real pull.

I guess the Cutting Room Experiment showed that great publicity and user-generated ideas are not quite enough when the aim is to deliver a big audience on a wet Saturday in Ancoats.  Once the event date was drawing closer I wonder whether even more time and effort should have been concentrated on targetting the local population and reaching them using the more traditional routes?  Maybe the public still want a bit of old-fashioned entertainment once the avatar has been allowed the day off.  A bit of bribery might help too …. 50 free spacehoppers anyone?

Click through to Technical Fault’s blog where you will find a link to the whole #smc_mcr Cutting Room Experiment session, his own on-the-button thoughts, plus an excellent critique of the night.

LATE ADDITION.  Link to @MartinSFP ‘s freshly uploaded video of the Teletext Bingo session.

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Manchester International Festival – 5 day countdown begins …

mif_09_festivalpavillion

The Manchester International Festival is nearly upon us and the lineup this year is certainly eclectic and exciting.  I am sure even the most difficult to please should unearth something to tickle their fancy.

I have my eye on a few things:

If anyone has a spare ticket to donate to me I would quite like to see what happens at the Velodrome when Kraftwerk are allowed to run amock and also what Rufus Wainwright creates for his first opera to be premiered at the Palace Theatre.

That Festival Feast sounds a great idea too, but it sold out weeks ago so I shall have to keep checking for returns along with every other Mancunian food lover.

UPDATE : For anyone that missed it (me included as I had to work yesterday!) a nice little 5 minute piece on the Jeremy Deller curated “Procession” along Deansgate is over on the BBC Manchester website.  The steel band version of The Buzzcocks “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” is a real crowd-pleaser.

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Manchester Artist heads off to “Th’Arctic” …

As ever Kate @ the Manchizzle shows she has the proverbial finger on the pulse of all things interesting and arty in the Manchester region.

th_arctic_image

Kate gave a mention to local artist Rebecca McKnight and her mission to explore the icy beauty of “Th’Arctic” (that’s Lancashire for The Arctic in case you were wondering).

A place so cold that the Ocean frequently freezes solid and only the hardiest of animals and plants survive. It is here the Polar Bear, Arctic Fox, Wolverine and Arctic Hare find their natural habitat.  For much of the year things are so unbearable that most living things hide away til the warmth of the short summer gives them a nudge to briefly explode into life. Though, if you are lucky, you may catch sight of the Aurora Borealis to take you mind off the biting wind!

jan_curtis_aurora

I got to know Rebecca last year as we both had work displaying at the Chorlton Arts Festival. This was May 2008 and she was already focused, excited and working hard on plans for the trip, so I have seen first-hand how dedicated she has had to be to make this project happen.

The logistics of pulling something like this together requires nearly as much determination and effort as surviving the Arctic elements. Sponsors and funding, website, journal, publicity, technical gear, experienced mentors, involvement of the community, travel plans, flights, visa’s, communications … not to mention a map and route! I’m sure that’s only the half of it.

She is hoping to become one of the first British people to ski up to 300 miles pulling a pulk (sledge) from Resolute Bay to Grise Fiord, the most northerly Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic. So, getting supremely fit prior to the attempt has been one side of the preparation, plus this trip is also a live art project which aims to “explore personal identity in relation to situation and environment.”

The use of the word ‘live’ was not a mistake. Check out Th’Arctic website, which has regular updates from the location, a live tracker map showing the groups progress and there is the ability to send the Team a text or email to keep them all on their toes and gain a real insight into the experience. There are no photo’s on the website just yet but as they have only just arrived at base camp I am sure some amazing work will surely follow.

The actual trek starts tomorrow (1st April) and the latest weather conditions sound tough (-60oC and blizzards). So best of luck Rebecca and everyone else, what a fantastic effort to bring such a dream trip to life.

You can follow things and send messages of support via:-
Th’Arctic website
Facebook page
artist’s talking a-n website
The Big Screen Manchester

plus there will be a live-link up with the team which is being co-ordinated with the guys at the Cornerhouse on Saturday 18 April.

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Patrick Blanc to be featured on a Gardeners World Special this week ….

gardenersworld

from the BBC website:

Last year Joe Swift described how back gardens are being sold for development, reducing the amount of green space that oxygenates our cities and soothes our troubled souls. But instead of beating his chest and saying how terrible this is, he heads off to discover how to grow gardens where land is scare. In France, he visits the Parisian botanist Patrick Blanc’s famous hanging gardens, which use an ingenious irrigation system to grow plants on vertical walls. In the UK, he meets one man who has cultivated a jungle on his balcony, and another who has a garden of succulents growing on the dashboard of his van. He also meets Nigel Dunnett from Sheffield University, who is an expert on green roofs – a way of turning the humble house roof into a demi-paradise; an industry that is booming.

This Special Gardeners World show will be broadcast this coming Friday, March 20th 2009 on BBC Two @ 8pm, definitely one not to miss!

For more information on Patrick Blanc and his amazing work with Vertical Gardens read my post from last year here.

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