Wednesday, 2 September 2015

A 2015 face recognition challenge

Robert Fripp in Aylesbury, 1st September 2015: a review

Face recognition technology has come a long way, but given my own face, the best of systems would have matched at least half of the capacity audience at the Aylesbury Waterside last Tuesday evening. Yes, King Crimson were playing.

At 7.40, 7 people, dressed as for a funeral, came onstage and played, ultimately leaving at 9.40 to have a cup of cocoa and an early night. Rather like GYBE they chose not to say anything, but they did turn on the lights so we could see (and count) them. Mr Fripp played thousands of notes, the odd one of which that now and then - heard in isolation - could maybe have been played by someone else, but not many.

It was difficult on entering the auditorium not to notice three very large drum kits prominent at the front of the stage. Hmmm. As it turned out, they produced greater width than depth in the percussion, and were both a visual and auditory spectacle. These chaps knew what they were doing: impeccable and utterly faultless timing. We especially enjoyed the section where each drummer had three sticks in each hand - perhaps they each had three foot pedals going as well, it was hard to tell.

The mellotron defines a musical era. Of course, the electronics to produce that sound would now fit in something half the size of a box of Swan Vestas, and this was duly done in Aylesbury. When I saw Mr Fripp in Exeter in 1972, the stage was dominated by two mellotrons which took up slightly less space than three drum kits - a slight shame that this spectacle has fallen into history.

After exceptional applause and a delay befitting their egos, KC played a long encore. Local boy Jakko Jacszyk had a convincing Lake-a-like voice and the irony of playing In the Court ... was not lost on us. Nor yet was the über-irony of playing C21 S.M. 15 years into the century. Then the house lights came up, and I repaired to the King's Head with Spike and Matthias, where I forebore to sing word perfect versions of Cat Food or Ladies of the Road, both of which Mr Fripp had carelessly overlooked to exhume.

When I saw Mr Fripp in York in 1974, he maintained as always his silent still position at the rear of the stage while the orchestrated mayhem took place in front of him. Near the end of the show, he condescended to come to the front and gaze at us, saying "You do realise, if I were a guitarist from Slade you'd be throwing underwear at me by now"; then he reassumed his position and said no more. Amusingly, I travelled through Wolverhampton to see yesterday's gig.

As previously advertised I'm going to see them again in Birmingham on Monday week. Cannot wait.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Ilala: paradise afloat on Lake Malawi

Planning my trip to Malawi, I found a description of the Ilala. "Oh Roger", said Kevin, "just look at the dents - you've got to go for a ride on that".

We went for a ride on it, alright! Space really does not permit a full description of the Ilala experience, but here are just a few of the highlights.

  • Booking for this (up to) 5 day trip is not something you do in advance - queue up with the others. There is a range of accommodations available and we took advice by going to the top of the list: the Owner's Cabin. Beds! En suite! More on this later.
  • The Ilala has lifeboats and lifejackets, so is very safe. More on this later.
  • We quickly found a map of the route:
    Some parts of this map were accurate.
  • On board catering had First and Second Class saloons: clearly, we were in First. No complaints about the menu, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. "English breakfast" includes - of course - salad.
  • Shipboard entertainment was endless but informal. A group of South Africans boarded at Nkhotakota and asked the bemused bar steward (when he surfaced) for the deck quoits. I rather thought they were taking the Michael, until they explained that on their last Ilala voyage in the mid-80s, Deck Quoits had indeed been available.
  • The Ilala is a ferry, not a pleasure cruiser. This doesn't make "pleasure" against the rules of course - especially when watching it stop at intermediate points, at most of which there is no jetty, or water enough for tying up at shore. So it creeps up on the shore, stops engines, blows about in the wind a lot, and drops the lifeboats to ferry people to and fro. I do mean drops; also, the ferrying includes bikes, large sacks of maize, job lots of plastic buckets, etc etc. When it's breezy, this in Europe would be regarded as a high-risk activity, but in Africa it's routine for the regular travellers, and high entertainment for us. The picture shows the boats part loaded: they are very clearly marked "22 persons", and we think this number is intended as a minimum as we usually saw more than 30, plus attendant baggage.
  • When you're on a trip like this, you keep thinking "Well, I've never done that on a boat before." Quite a long list. "Having a bath on a boat" was a first, so we wasted no time in using the bathroom, which contained a lot more plumbing than is normal. The toilet flush [sic] was actually a tap mechanism; the bath taps did not work; the shower (out of view, above the bath) delivered a stream of tepid fluid. Bendigegig!
  • One of the Europeans to join us at Nkhotakota was an 18-yo from Cambridge; as a result of his trip planners reading the Ilala schedule [sic], he had arrived at Chipoka 4 hours after it departed, having taxied there straight from arrival at Lilongwe airport after an overnight flight. So he had to drive (= be driven) up the lakeshore in hot pursuit [pun]. Consequently he had gone 48 hours without sleep - let me tell you this makes people look pretty grim, and probably explains his confusion about the sun rising in the east - "But we're in the southern hemisphere - shouldn't it rise in the west now?".

    Anyway, hats off to the fellow, who was en route to Mozambique on a summer placement leading choirs (meaning he had some hours of travel remaining).

  • Let's gloss over my exit from the Ilala, which involved discovery of a loose plank at the bottom of the lifeboat when jumping down laden with my rucksack. 15 days on, the ankle is nearly healed. So goodbye Ilala.

    (My African spies tell me it broke down at Chipoka last week - rather sorry to have missed this part of the experience.)

Friday, 17 July 2015

Elephants: reproduction, respiration and reintroduction

The image shows a depiction of elephant copulation, acquired in Thailand where this practice remains common. Some time ago, Welsh Celtic elephants (Elephas (Palaeoloxodon) Cambriae) decided to abandon this activity, and this is presumed to be one cause of their extinction. The reasons for their decision remain unclear.

The second image shows a troop of Malawian aquatic elephants (Loxodonta africana aquaticus) crossing the River Shire (pron. Sheeray) earlier this month. Note the highly developed trunk which has a third eye at its tip, making it useful for vision and respiration simultaneously. Few other mammals have this facility. Rumours persist that a small community of Celtic aquatic elephants survive in Bala Lake, but this seems improbable.

The Bala rumour may become irrelevant next year after the reintroduction of Celtic elephants in Ceredigion: these will be released partly in an attempt to control the virulent invasive plant Miscanthus (elephant grass) that has self-sown in the neighbourhood of the IBERS experimental facility at Gogerddan.

For linguistic convenience, the reintroductions will be brought from Brittany, but they may well be crossed with the famously hardy and fecund Patagonian variety, giving a direct link back to the native species. During the Welsh migrations to South America 150 years ago, Welsh elephant numbers were already in steep decline, but a small number were taken with the emigrants to assist in cheesemaking. They took readily to the Argentinian climate and rapidly interbred with local elephants (Loxodonta americana patagoniae).

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Things can only get better

While snacking with the Schwiegerfamilie in MGs, a party of sporty young men appear. One of them has a legend on the back of his t-shirt:
Tro Tawe 'di trefnu eleni
Mae Bangor yn trio bo'n ffyni
Mae Caerdydd yn snobs
Caerfyddin yn nobs
Bydd Aber yn ennill wrth feddwi

Those of us learning Welsh with the inestimable Rhiannon know how difficult a tongue it is, and we must take all opportunities to learn. This short poem will come in useful.

Gall pethau yn unig yn gwella (that's probably wrong).

Friday, 24 April 2015

To Manchester, with 4 clear porpoises;
  1. To attend the Mount Sion steam crane on the Manchester, Bolton and Bury canal near Radcliffe. A wholly successful mission - the crane is present but looks unloved.
  2. To attend the very well preserved remains of a water powered beam pump, also near Radcliffe. Only partially successful, as the pump is on private territory and defended by awesome fences, wire, threatening notices etc etc. Some especially good industrial dereliction to be seen, however.
  3. To see first hand the enterprise No Elephants Please, also near Radcliffe. Unsuccessful - the house is in evidence with no commercial signage visible.
  4. To attend a concert by Godspeed you! Black Emperor in the marvellous Albert Hall. This did just what it said on the tin - as last time I saw [sic] them, they exchanged not one syllable with the audience and performed in darkness. The ambient lighting actually converted this to twilight so on this occasion I could count them. A tight 1h40m during which the building shook once or twice.

    Quick words of congratulation for:

    • The gentleman controlling the film loops - four projectors of the kind I used to see in my school physics lab., and umpteen literal loops of film hung around like laundry.
    • The support act, a gentleman playing solo. For 30m he issued a single tone (with harmonics), with much use of moving spots and strobes. The performance straddled sunset, which certainly created an atmosphere.
Porpoises have also already been seen in Aberystwyth harbour.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Art Deco in Abergavenny/Dead dogs

I was able to use Dirty Protest's Cardiff performance of my play Mae Ben wedi marw (tr. Ben is dead) as cover for a trip to Abergavenny to see their 24-carat branch of Burtons.

These panoramic views are anomalous as the building is in fact apical. That may be clear from geometric oddities of the rectification (but Matthew Brown's Autostitch software is fantastic).

In case it is unclear, the branches advertised in the window lights are: Stockport,Halifax, Leicester, Darlington, Plymouth, Leeds, Wrexham, Manchester, Newcastle, London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Bradford, Belfast, Dublin, Bristol, Glasgow, Cardiff, Derby, Norwich, Dundee, Preston, Northampton, Edinburgh, Reading, Swansea, Portsmouth, Newport, Exeter, Southend, Blackburn, Bolton. It is now a crusade to capture those which I have as yet not seen first hand – many, of course, are victims of the Luftwaffe or town planners [sic].

As luck would have it, there was a magnificent partial solar eclipse this day, in cloudless skies; at its nadir I captured this very fine GviR 2110/1.

NB: The play was very well received by a capacity audience, as were the other seven presented on a platform of "New work by Welsh writers". Me - Welsh? Me - a writer? Bendigedig!
Here is a crap blurrrrrry picture of the excellent Hannah Jarman & Rhys Warrington performing my piece.

And big thanks to Sandy.