Saturday, 28 January 2017

DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNN!!!


I am still on a “Mission to Explain,” but what I had in mind requires more reading in order to explain correctly, and we must now also contend with the new term “alternative facts,” coined in the last week, i.e. facts that counter the facts most unhelpful to your own cause. Instead, I have a very important piece of information, discovered in the last couple of days, that made the world a little better for having discovered it.

The extremely well-known sound effect, “DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNN!!!,” used as the most over-the-top reaction to, well, anything, not only has an actual name, but a composer as well.

Its correct name is “Shock Horror (a),” credited to Dick Walter (whose website is at www.dickwalter.co.uk), and comes from the “Classic Comedy” album produced by “library music” company KPM, now known as EMI Production Music, a division of Sony/ATV Music Publishing.


I wouldn’t be surprised if the original reaction to this is, “who cares,” but, to me, knowing that the ubiquitous “DUN-DUN-DUUUUNNNN!!!” was actually written by someone makes it that bit funnier.

“Shock Horror (a)” – there is a “Shock Horror (b),” where the notes of music descend, instead of increasing with tension – is so ubiquitous a piece of music, I had it filed away in my mind alongside the “shave and a haircut” coda I previously discussed here, but it then becomes too easy to think “Shock Horror (a)” had also existed since the dawn of time, evolving from a basic human need to have the most over-the-top reaction available, on standby, should the need arise – knowing such a need is certain to arise is a discussion in itself. Only then do you remember it is a recording of an orchestra, meaning it had to have been made by someone, something that can be too easily be taken for granted.

This is where the existence of “library music,” and British companies like KPM, Bruton and DeWolfe, comes in – pieces of music that have been written in anticipation of a need yet to be determined. An example of their use is by the TV show “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” which, along with the first two Python films, relied upon the DeWolfe library for almost all the music you heard, finding music to fit their sketches.

This situation throws up some interesting cases. “Best Endeavours,” written as a corporate-sounding piece by Alan Hawkshaw, is best known as the theme for “Channel 4 News,” but was also used by the 7 Network in Australia for their main evening news, and even in the Clint Eastwood film “Pale Rider.” Another Hawskhaw piece, “Chicken Man,” was used by the BBC as the theme for children’s drama “Grange Hill,” while being used by ITV, at the same time, for the game show “Give Us a Clue.”

From personal experience, listening to library music is like falling down a rabbit hole, going from one piece to the next, imagining what you could do with them. It’s worth a go, if you are looking for some new sounds.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

PARADISE ON EARTH IT IS TO SEE


Until now, I only knew this about the Czech Republic: SS Normandie, one of the fastest ocean liners of the 1930s, had a rudder made by Skoda Works, of which the car company was a part. Therefore, I was glad to come across something that ordered me to look further.

In September 2016, I heard the government of the Czech Republic had decided to officially adopt “Czechia” as the short form of the country’s name, to be used in everyday life, much like “United Kingdom,” “Great Britain” and “England” are used to substitute for a much longer name. More information is available at the Czechia Civic Initiative’s website www.go-czechia.com

This adoption actually took place six months earlier, but was really only reported in the UK when a British Government committee, the Permanent Committee on Geographical Names, advised all British people to start using the name.


The reasons the Czech government gave for adopting “Czechia,” chiefly to avoid confusion on what the short name for its country actually is, indicates the need for odd-sounding committees. “Czechia” has also been updated on the United Nations’ databases of country names, and is listed under the ISO 3166 standard for country names, which is something that exists.

I originally scoffed upon hearing “Czechia.” Hearing it for the first time (and then finding “Czechia” has been used on an off since the 19th century), the suffix “-ia” is used by so many other countries, including neighbouring Slovakia, it sounded too easy to add, especially when you consider the “utopia” described in the Czech national anthem, “Where Do I Live?”

Because corporate rebranding also exists, we are used to accepting, and rejecting, new names. The general store Wilkinson rebranded as “Wilko” in 2015, but it sounds too “matey” for me to take seriously. There was also the unanimous rejection of “Consignia plc” as the name for Royal Mail in 2002, after just fifteen months, because it tried to convey trustworthiness by using a made-up Latin-sounding word.


The main aim of “Czechia” was achieved very quickly – people were talking about Czechia. It is a country of actual Bohemians, and Moravians, and Silesians. It is the birthplace of Franz Kafka, Jan Svankmajer, Antonin Dvorak, Martina Navratilova, the arc lamp, the modern contact lens, the term “robot,” the A-B-O blood groups, pilsner beer, and the sugar cube. It is one of the happiest countries in Europe, and Prague is the fifth most visited city in Europe.

Most importantly, however, is the Czech Republic being both a medieval and modern country - Bohemia was part of the Holy Roman Empire, but Czechia has only been an independent country since 1993. “Czechia,” as a name, is rooted in the Slavic tribe that resided in Bohemia from the 9th century, while succeeding as a very modern branding exercise. No matter how long “Czechia” existed as an option, it still reminded its first modern president, the writer and philosopher Vaclav Havel, of independence from Slovakia, which he initially opposed, in addition to “crushed slugs.”

The next time I am likely to come across Czechia, as a country, will be in the Eurovision Song Contest in May – I will keep an eye on which name they use.


Saturday, 14 January 2017

GIVE US TIME TO WORK IT OUT


I am lucky that my time studying for a degree was before the internet became the place where everybody, and everything, lives. Researching for essays between 2001 and 2004, I had to physically go and look for information, in bookshops and libraries, making copious notes and photocopies, and thinking about what it all means – I am in my thirties, making myself sound old.

It is not enough knowing where you can go, it’s making sense of what you find. I am still doing that with the world now, let alone all those years ago, and that is how it should be – anyone who thinks they have it all worked out should be checked to see if they are already dead.

What stuck with me since is how the world was interpreted, in the latter half of the last century, as a time of “postmodernity.” Many thinkers, most of them French - Jean-François Lyotard, Claude Levi-Strauss, Jean Beaudrillard, Walter Truett Anderson, and so on - made their own observations, that have coalesced into a theory, borne out by movements in art and architecture at the time.


I can only be brief when describing what it all means here, because the subject is that big, and my decade-plus-old notes are that numerous. If the following makes you want to look further into the subject, my job is done.

As I understand it, postmodernity reacts against the notion of modernity, which embodied constant change, in the pursuit of progress. However, if everything is constantly changing, there is no need for the idea of progress – we are already there. We will still have new ideas, and new developments, but instead of existing to replace and overcome what came before, they now join the old ideas, bumping the out-there with the outdated, high culture and low culture, in a giant smorgasbord of, well, everything.

Everything bubbles to the surface, and what a surface to pick from. Let’s make a building that looks like a grandfather clock, like the AT&T Building in New York, now owned by Sony. Instead of straight lines and blank walls, let’s add old-style adornments, but make our own versions of them, like the eggcups on top of the former TV-am building in London, made for a breakfast TV company. Let’s collide a dystopian city landscape with 1940s film noir, as in the film “Blade Runner”. Let’s contort the human body, playing with conventions of gender, as Grace Jones, Klaus Nomi and David Bowie did. Let’s paint the Coca-Cola logo on a Han dynasty vase, making it more worthy, and worth more, as Ai Weiwei did.

In this small number of examples, there is a deliberate, ironic mixing of styles – everybody knew what they were doing, and were not just mashing things up in the hope of a nice effect. To achieve this ability of feeling that there are no rules, there is an inherent scepticism, or mistrust, of the existing through lines of history that explain all about everything to everyone, referred to as “grand narratives.” Like looking up quotations for an essay, you have to think about who came up with these narratives, why they did, and the choices they made about what to talk about, and what to leave out.


Critics of postmodernism often take this to mean there is no such thing as the truth, only interpretations, and neither does it mean you are incapable of finding the truth: if it was, you could either say whatever you liked, or nothing at all. If you can put aside the usual attempts to find a rational, objective, absolute truth, and think about how truth and knowledge are constructed out of all the discussions and interpretations that led to it, then you will understand it more than just having it handed to you on a plate.

It is generally agreed that postmodernism was no longer the prevailing view of the world by the time I learned of it, and this is at the expense of progress – when technology starts becoming indistinguishable from magic, as Arthur C Clarke already saw in his lifetime, we are looking at how the world can become better than it already is. Perhaps, this is out of a need to destroy what makes it bad, whether it be a never-ending war against terrorism in all its forms, or mindlessly-written death threats on Twitter from people that can operate a computer, but don’t know how to boil an egg, even if they know where to look it up.

I will continue looking at postmodernism, seeing what more I can understand from it, but If everyone needs to look up right now, I am quite happy to continue looking across, making sense of where we stand.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

IF YOU’RE NOT THE ONE


The first act of 2017 appears to be replacing circling hippos with an aerobics class. After ten years, BBC One has replaced its channel idents, themed around “circles,” evocating the globe logos it used for many years, in favour of snapshots of groups of people, directed by photographer Martin Parr, themed around the idea of “oneness.”

So far, we have just four idents, out of a promised twenty-four – the aerobics class, a group of sea swimmers, and a slightly different version of each one. They are a bit sparse, with no music or sound apart from what is in the scene, and too mundane when compared with what they replaced. There are also too few idents available right now, risking outstaying their welcome by the time the next ones appear.

I thought that enthusiasm for TV idents was just an online pursuit, where you can go into as much detail as you want, but I am no longer sure. I really should know, as this happened before.

The first time I appeared on the radio, said in anticipation of a next time, was on Monday 29th March 2002, when I called Nicky Campbell’s morning show on BBC Radio 5 Live. Earlier that morning, BBC One switched its globe-shaped hot air balloon for “Rhythm and Movement” - groups of people dancing.


One of the idents, filmed at the Minack Theatre in Porthcurno, Cornwall, featured ten ballerinas performing a graceful dance, to the sounds of a string quartet that was led by a cello. This particular ident was described as being “too middle class,” and I called up to point out the sole point is to tell you what channel you are watching. It did sound a bit naïve at the time, but I was let onto Nicky Campbell’s show to say that – I think Nick Knowles was there too.

After making the point that, when I was born, BBC One’s single ident was a turning lime green globe on a blue background, I was thanked for my comments, and the show moved on. They did not discuss the ballet any further, my appearance having killed that conversation stone dead.


TV idents were borne of a time when you physically had to tune your TV to the correct channel, and even then, you were just as likely to have programmes introduced by someone appearing on screen to talk to you. BBC Two continues to show why logos and branding is important, as people are still enjoying watching their older “2” idents, made as early as 1991. Radio jingles fall into the same nostalgia, hoping you remember their frequency – all in the south of Hampshire sing with me now: “One-oh-three-point-two, Power-F-M!”

However, on digital TV, radio and online, where you can simply scan your receiver, and select your viewing from a list, idents are no longer needed – you are already where you need to be. You see more picture postcard-style idents, like those on ITV, and now BBC One, because they reflect their audience, and are easier, and cheaper, to produce.  In addition, getting audiences to programmes do not rely on individual channels so much, unless you count the BBC iPlayer or Netflix as a “channel.” For the BBC, Martin Parr’s new idents may be more important for the “BBC” on screen, rather than for the “One.”