A golden moment of art and science

 

I had a birthday recently. And I had one at just the same time last year. And in between, a promise from the lovely first lady of Momo came good. Spanning twelve months and an awful lot more time and space than that. Something that turned up for me at a symbolic seeming time in my own work, and all that’s happened so far in between.

By sheer coincidence, it came good for someone else close to Momo too – Andy Robinson. Director of the beautiful Seasons of war amongst other award winning work, he was the first person I approached about the brand new epic project I have in mind. And it is no secret, we have both kicked off the hull into space together as a result.

Here, you can catch a glimpse of me opening this particular, inspiring gift.

 

 

And here, I think you will find this a worthy ask of a few further moments of your time. For it is indeed sixty years exactly this month since the start of humans having a technical relationship with space, and this is Andy’s own beautiful response to the date of October 4th.

WATCH ‘OUT OF THE CRADLE’ ON VIMEO >

Taking a leap of hope

 

..Investing in visions of the future, without losing life support. This was a talk in two rather different formats to two rather different audiences I was lucky enough to be asked to share on the same week. A week after my first ever pilgrimage to Ibiza, bobbing around a villa’s pool reading mind boggling worries about tomorrow, while listening to youthful 90s rave.

You may have caught or heard about the Open Sauce talk I was asked to give in October 2016, at the inaugural night of this networking ideas event – Cursing The Future: Coping with now in 20 c-words. I was honoured, frankly, to be asked by chum Matt Desmier to round out that night’s guest speakers in the energy-raising pecha kucha-style 6:40 timed talks. He doesn’t pick his speakers lightly, and after now seven years of his ideas exploration festival Silicon Beach, I can testify to the boldy impressive shoes anyone would have to fill to be on his rosta. It’s industry ideas leaders from across the creative digital, tech, advertising and media world that share their work at SB, people who’ve achieved very clever things. So when he asked me to join in with the new event last year, I simply said: “Who the hell am I?”

Well, he took a punt, and it lead me to hone a very particular first share of some of the ideas I’d been wrestling around at Momo all year. Twelve months on, and being asked back – this time to the pop-up party between the two inspiring days of SB7 – I didn’t feel I quite wanted to share the same thing again. Not because it isn’t a still neatly relevant thing – I don’t mind saying this, because Lord knows I worked on the bleedin’ thing – but because it just felt like it would be a missed opportunity. But as I stretched out in an odd late return to summer, fleeing the UK autumn for our inaugural visit to the white isle, I really didn’t have a clue what the hell I was going to talk about one week later.

It was interesting, however, to spend that week putting off looking forward by joining two of our oldest mates in all-night clubbing for the first time, finally doing something we were supposed to have done twenty years ago.

 

The green isle.

No one tells you. Ibiza isn’t white – it’s green. Forested and fertile looking. And a lot more civilised than the First Aid-equipped youth leader in you is psyching for.

As a dedicated electronic music lover and explorer, I have loved club music for most of my adult life, without ever having visited the party lightning rod for that end of the scene. I mean, sure, when Acid House first appeared when I was at art college, it was largely just annoying – so bashingly unmusical was it to my young ears. And in those days, it was all about Chicago. Which sounded sort of cool, but not desperately of a cultural mind with Bournemouth. But as the whole scene developed to slowly annexe electronic music’s very title, and prove itself as a whole new sonic movement, it didn’t simply grow more musical and adventurous, it began to develop the great idea of doing dancefloor stuff somewhere you’d actually want to go on holiday.

>taps forehead< That, I get.

I can remember where I was when I first heard Café Del Mar vol Cuarto. I was on a boat off the Whitsundays on the other half of the world in the late 90s. And it just sort of soaked into me. I bought it at exorbitant cost in Singapore as an import, right before flying back to Europe where it was made. Still have that same CD edition and it comes out every summer. It IS the sound of summer in our house; a strangely perfect mix of atmosphere and soul, chilled down to just below the Get Excited line, and warmed to just above the Crap Pool Musak line, in the sweet spot where you can swing in your hammock in a sort of blissful trance. It’s oddly an all-time favourite record of mine. I know yours is an obsure Bowie record but you must remember I am an absolute slave to lifestyle.

What I’d never actually done was get out of my mental hammock and go to the heartland of half the records I would love endlessly at circuits classes and on summer vaykays and in Friday kitchen raves. So it was overdue. And going with my oldest mate Mikey, the bloke I’d all but begun my musical explorations with as young teens huddled around his dad’s rather nice turntable, was a perfect bit of cultural closure. He and Emma and the lovely first lady of Momo and I have been blasting dance music and weird beats through each other’s kitchens for decades, untempted to swap a half decent glass of Co-Op red and a sit down over chille for queuing for the toilets and tiptoeing through pavement pizza. We’d also not actually been away together in twenty years and I’m pretty sure I remember it not involving a private pool and a fridge full of white Rioja. It involved sheep droppings, I do recall.

Now, I’m not a big one for looking backwards. I naturally carry a personal heritage with me everywhere, rather nicely, that includes enjoying certain records at certain times and appreciating good memories and all that. But I like to look forward. So it was, in one sense at least, a bit odd feeling to go to somewhere that had its heyday when I was a much hipper sounding demographic than I am now. And that’s partly because we weren’t the oldest buggers there. Not by a long shot.

You’d think that being old enough to be most clubbers’ parents would have made us feel old. But Ibiza is full of old ravers who look like they simply never got around to leaving. And this mostly just helps to make the place feel friendly; people in Es Paradis, the night we carbed up to cope with a ’till-dawn club experience, were mostly there… to dance. Men, women, youngsters, oldsters – all looked like they were just loving the beats. Like they’d remembered the point of a dance floor or a music festival – the music. It was nice. It felt nice. We made it until half five and felt that that counted.

But it also sounded a small note inside me of a life road not taken. And that I am on another one. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m with Mikey when he turned to me about 24 hours into the whole holiday and said simply: “This doesn’t feel like a last hurrah, it feels like an exploratory mission into a whole new way of life.” But the beautiful Balierics do make you think about a wider lifestyle, as the balmy winds blow off the Med and rustle the pines on the honey coloured cliffs, high above the inky rich waves.

And so it made me think about why we want to look backwards. To simpler personal times, to simpler human times; there’s something in us all that wants to do it. Including me, sitting there as I was in the experience of a ‘personal pilgrimage’ to something of my own heritage, something linked to the music that has partly helped me to become me. While reading Yuval Noah Harari’s fearsome Homo Deus: A brief history of tomorrow, listening endlessly to Nick Chicane’s Sunsets podcasts, sipping G&Ts, surrounded by nature. Wondering how soon the decoupling of intelligence from consciousness will see us all whisked to robot-gaurded compounds in post-EU middle England.

 

The heritage trail.

Heritage. Funny word, it turns out. I think of it as vaguely noble and interesting, linked to personal identity. Some others think it means fusty old crap we should demolish. I suspect the wit to identify the difference in any case is rather important.

By some fluke, I had been asked to speak somewhere else the next week, besides the jaunt across Canvas’ stage that was looming – Bournemouth Borough Council. I had met economic development leader, Chris Shepherd, over a coffee earlier in the year and he got in touch again out of the blue in the summer to ask if I would bring something to one of his new Lunchtime Sessions.

“To talk about what?” I asked.

“Anything you like” he replied, open-mindedly. “We simply like to throw open the floor to interesting new ideas to provoke a little thought amongst anyone from the local authority who’d like to spend an intriguing lunchtime together.”

Obviously I got subsumed by various dead creative things somewhen after that and Chris had to politely come back to me and ask if I was ever going to let him know what the hell I was going to be saying with his name against it. Which wasn’t at all how he said it. But in a sort of sudden head rush I found myself sending him something rash about how to turn around the hopelessness of the entire world. Or something.

And I say I’m not qualified.

 

Well this meant I had to write it now, of course. So I did. And had a story arc for it worked out before leaving on a CO2 amplifier for the sun. But with forty minutes to fill, I knew I had a nice amount of time to piddle about with getting to some semblance of a point. If I was to give into the gnawing temptation to rework the same thoughts from three quarters of an hour into just 400 seconds and 20 simple slides, I would have to be sure any ideas lurking in my thoughts would survive intact after not so much amputating a limb or two of the talk but amputating the talk and keeping a few of its fingers.

What caught my imagination, swirling as it is with so many things of this ilk currently, was the idea that what echoes backwards in us, reflects forwards.

That heritage isn’t so much a simple history thing, as an identity thing – which means a brand thing, in marketing terms. Which means a vision thing. If you know where you’ve come from strongly enough, you’ll know who you are. And if you know who you are, you’ll know what your values are, your ambitions and hopes. And I’ve long worked as though such principles apply to organisations, groups of people, as well as individuals. So much, in fact, that groups of people work or fail according to how well they grasp their own sense of vision together – which is built significantly on who they think they are together. I admit that I would be the member of the gang making the club badges and designing the Power Rangers outfits for everyone at this point, but maybe that’s why I’ve spent so much of my time working across some odd combination of brand development and showbiz.

At a time such as the one in which I’m writing, where all our old assumptions are beginning to sag, and tear and wear through, I know a lot of people are wondering just what costume they should be donning next. But it’s my belief looking around me that it’s about something a lot deeper than a bit of distracting entertainment. Holidays and showbiz both give us glimpses at other worlds, but I can sense us wanting more together.

Part of my pilgrimmage to Ibiza was of course to José Padilla’s old haunt itself – the Café Del Mar. And when we made it down onto that end of the strip in San Antonio, we did so JUST in time to dodge the crawl of fellow tourists, find a perch seat, fling a thousand euros at the bar for four cocktails and watch the sun slip behind the islands into the sea. Hoorah! >clink<

But right there, amid the economic reality of a popular spot that always threatens to kill the thing you love by flying you to it in a package deal, there was a moment.

As the sun’s last finger let go of the horizon, everone assembled put their hands together and cheered. It gets to me again now, as I think of it. Everyone cheered and clapped the sun. They said thankyou. Partly to the DJ and to Thomas Newman who between them seemed to stage managed the sunset better than God, but even so – there it was. A supremely human moment. Something ancient and instinctive between strangers.

And I found myself wondering, if we all took the reverent moment to applaud the sun every day, how might it change our relationship with the world around us? Including each other.

I suspect it would feel like turning the life support back on, after feeling it slowly failing for years.


Feel free to read the full original presentation by downloading the PDF, Taking A Leap Of Hope – BBC Lunchtime Session Sept17 right here >.

And here is a candid unofficial video of the Silicon Beach pop-up version, kindly filmed by Becky Willis:

Momo launches #Myfi – to ask: What does science fiction mean to you?

 

The brand new, long-awaited project from south coast creative, producer and future seeker, Timo Peach, is… coming. But ahead of announcing what he’s been up to in the shed for two years, the bloke from Momo:tempo is launching a little campaign to ask people from the many worlds of fandom, across music, arts and science – how has the most visionary storytelling genre shaped them? And you can help – by ‘gramming, Tweeting, posting and sharing to #myfi @momotempo.

 

Science Fiction, it is said, used to be rather looked down on. Seen as silly. Considered lower art. But not anymore. Why? This is a question Timo Peach has pondered a bit lately – and now he’s engaging all the minds he can make contact with to hear their stories of how different visions of reality changed their own.

Appearing most immediately on Momo’s Instagram pages, Myfi – How has science fiction shaped you? is a simple online thread across the Momo channels, collected into regular full blog posts, looking for the human experiences affected, caused, encouraged or remedied by tales of alternate realities and far flung futures. But why is Mr Peach embarking on this great voyage? And what exactly counts as scifi?

“I’m doing it as a beginning to sharing what else I’ve been up to in the studio since Thespionage,” he says, “it’s a little relevant.

“And as for what counts as scifi? That is a big question. Probably the flip side of this big question.”

Angels and pins.

Many of the followers and family of Momo:tempo and Timo’s work are imaginistas of one kind or another, regularly working in or celebrating science fiction’s many worlds, and so taking the music project into space was a natural fit, he explains.

“All the solar winds seem to confluence on me heading to the stars with the next LP, and it’s lead me further than I imagined I’d go. But the starting point seemed to be listening to the heavens before blasting umpteen thousand tons of creative lift into trying to get into orbit with anything – be like a radio telescope before chemical rocket. And so it wasn’t hard to find people to ask about what science fiction has meant to them – and what it’s meant is many deep, quickly personal things. What I’ve heard already is moving and interesting and oddly relevant.

“People draw the line in slightly different places about the nature of scifi, but all agree it is trying to say something. Illuminate something. Shed new light on the human condition in ways other more direct storytelling can’t always reach so affectingly. It uses the possibilities of science and technology to often look forward, but sometimes sideways, at where history might go or might have gone.

“Science fiction is the great What If. And it’s great effect has been far from accademically philosophical – it’s made people feel more human. More themselves. More… envisioned.”

 

As Timo discovered just from this first collection of responses, people have found their value systems, their careers, their talents, their friends though science fiction.

“Through books, film, TV, games, the genre has inspired people. It may start as fantastical escape, but it ends up changing lives. I’ve quickly heard testimony of people relating to characters and stories becuase growing up they felt like outsiders – and scifi showed them was normal, or cool, or interesting. And it lead people often to find other people who explored similar themes in their own life. But scifi fandom is a very broad church – it’s not all about picking over the highest resolution geeky details of things. That’s only part of the fun.”

Utopias and dystopias.

But is there a relevance to now, beyond the fan community? Timo seems to think so.

“As a friend of mine, writer Peter John Cooper, commented on the thread under my little launch film, ‘Sci-fi always comes to the fore when the world is in trouble” – and we are living into some fearsomly interesting times on planet Earth. It’s what has lead me into the subject so deeply these last two years.”

But Timo’s background made science fiction in general a natural fit for him to explore, even before the acceleration of techno-social and political 21st century life into everyone’s news feeds.

“I grew up, famously, with scifi. It’s in the blood. My mother was an original Eagle reader and Trekker and brought me up with a wide-eyed sense of wonder on the world as a result. So the genre has always felt as much part of me as music. Not that this stops me feeling ignorant,” he adds. “The more I’ve met real nerdles over the last five years or so, the more I realise how much I don’t know. These folk go deep!”

But responding to Myfi doesn’t have to go deep, he says. It’s open to everyone.

“Talk to me. I’m building a colourful little wall of human voices on the subject. Share your experience of science fiction. Snap an image that seems to fit, post a quote, a comment, a memory with it and the hashtag #myfi to @momotempo on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to tell us how scifi has become part of you.”

“In times like ours, I’m interested to hear how your vision of the future is being shaped.”

The results will be regularly reposted in Momo’s blog, the Lingo pages, and across his channels in an ongoing exploration of themes and experiences. And the aim is to create an exhibition of posters.

“The next project will involve a physical space, and part of that I would like to make a testimony to as many human experiences of visionary storytelling as possible. People’s images and quotes pulled together into a spectrum of, well, vision.”

READ THE FIRST COLLECTION OF #MYFI STORIES ON THIS LINGO POST >

FOLLOW MOMOTEMPO ON INSTAGRAM FOR THE LATEST MYFI TILES >

WATCH MOMO’S FACEBOOK LIVE INTRO FILM:

Myfi – the launch collection

 

Ahead of launching my ongoing online thread, Myfi – How has science fiction shaped you?, I put the first word out to the wider creative family to ask just what it is about the genre that got to people. The responses were immediate and personal. Scifi goes deep, and helps forge world outlook and even identity. This first collection of testimonies and stories is a fascinating start.

 

I can think of no finer place to start than with someone who epitomises fandom – a deep, loyal and loving exploration of imaginative fiction, that has lead her not simply into creativity, but to connect with hundreds of people.

Jenny Shirt, writer and convention expert

From the instant that I first watched Horror of Fang Rock I was completely mesmerised by a programme that let me travel on adventures with the Doctor. Saturday night television was exciting and I was full of anticipation, wondering where the Time Lord that I had come to love would take us next.

Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition was something I recall so well from my childhood. I can remember seeing a Cyberman and Dalek for the first time in real life. They loomed over me and I hid behind Dad’s leg. I wanted to find out more about how the TV show was made. This lead to me wanting to work in TV or film. It became a hobby in the end but it definitely influenced my interests. I used to have the BBC Sound Effects album and created adventures of my own using a tape recorder and models.

I had a character named after me in a Charity Anthology Called Seasons of War by Declan May, something I would never have expected. I have started to write and I am enjoying it so much, and all this through my love of Doctor Who. I visited many places and conventions over the years. I think it’s a wonderful thing that after 54 years, this programme still holds so much excitement for so many people old and new.

I have met so many people that have loved the show over the years and I have formed lifelong friendships, something which I will always be grateful for. Many happy memories and good times.

#Myfi

 

Inspiration to explore and create seems typical of one of my oldest, dearest, most creative friends here. Still a space cadet.

Tim Colthup, musician and creative

As a child I was heavily influenced by Star Trek, Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica. So much so that when I was nine, I put a large cardboard box inside my bedroom closet. I used magic markers and cut out pieces of paper to create buttons and control panels inside the box. I would sit in there for hours playing my space sound effect tape and pretending that I was soaring through the universe in my own space capsule. #Myfi

 

A beautifully evocative observation from someone who has used science fiction to make and create and bring together more ideas and people than many I know.

Simon Brett, writer, illustrator, broadcaster and music producer

These black and white squares started appearing on London buses. Black posters with white writing to be fair…but actually I think my memory may be cheating and it was yellow writing but that doesn’t matter.

Two words – “STAR” and “WARS”.

Pretty sure the strength of brand/logo also rooted some deep affinity with graphic design but who knows – these words and shapes meant something because they were everywhere and I didn’t know what it all meant – until one day there was a news report about this phenomenon that was sweeping the United States and now England – a film about heroes, princesses, hairy tall blokes, a black knight and, oh my word, a gold robot who walked around with a smaller companion robot. Smacked between the eyes. I mean, I look at the design of these things now and they feel as established in my mind as my mother’s face and almost as perfect. Then there was Han Solo. Sod Luke, I wanted (And still do) want to be Han. Of course, we’re all Luke I suppose, but you know what I mean.

So now I knew that it was a film about stuff happening in space. After the disappointment of hearing that my sister was going to see it with my older cousins (And I was too young to go with them, huh, they can’t have been *that* old then) I suddenly had a surprise trip to Bromley cinema after school as my sister had gone to a friends for tea leaving Mum and Dad free to take me.

Prior to this, I’d visited the National Science museum both with my school and with my parents. Dad had even made one of those massive Airfix Apollo rockets (I was fascinated with the mercury-like tin of silver paint) so I was fully aware of space flight. He even showed me barely visible cine footage of the moon landing that he’d filmed on a TV screen, live, as it happened. But sometimes, as much as your parents try to inspire you with Superknowledge™ as a kid you just think, “Okay, so that happened before..years ago in fact…so what’s next?”

I don’t really remember much detail of the moments after seeing Star Wars because, well, I think I experienced some kind of brainstorm. Much like that scene in the Wizard Of Oz, suddenly I saw in colour. Suddenly there were possibilities. *Endless* possibilities. And while I appreciate that Star Wars is more science fantasy than science fiction, I very much feel that something personal was unlocked at that point. That boiler cap on the adrenaline tube. The Spinal Tap “11” mark on the imagination dial.

 

As much as I adored Star Trek on TV (And Doctor Who was a fascinating but ultimately scary experience) it all seemed so intense, passionate and *possible* all of a sudden. And in time it became emotional and personal (Which in later years would reverse-engineer my appreciation of both Who and Trek).

I imagine that there’s a point where certain children discover the accelerator on an engine and suddenly the car goes from something that just takes you from A to B to a source of excitement, or some realise that playing with Lego converts to working with full-size bricks and architecture and making your mark on the world. When the heart suits, these things become something that makes you feel alive.

That’s what Star Wars did for me and that – along with my Dad’s old record player and homemade HUGE speakers – I owe everything. #Myfi

 

Earstwhile Momo family member Mark had the universe unlocked for him by his father.

Mark Adkins, drummer

I was lucky; my dad introduced me to science fiction at a comparatively early age. It started with him reading me extracts from his books (probably in an effort to pacify me to sleep). My developing imagination soaked it up like sponge! Later, dad gradually introduced me to a wide variety of books, films and tv series. I was fascinated by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, War of the Worlds frightened the life out of me as did Roy Thinnes’ ongoing battles with The Invaders.

I clearly remember seeing the robot, Gort, for the first time in The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 1951 version) and thinking how great it would be to show up to school with my own robot guardian in tow!

 

As an only child science fiction was always where I retreated to. My bedroom was a shrine to the Star Wars universe and the residents of Cybertron. My school books were full of sci-fi stories and drawings of robots, spaceships, galactic space marines and huge, powerful aliens. There were no limits – if someone could imagine it, it could exist; machinery, computers, technologies of all kinds filled day after day, page after page! One particularly purple patch of creativity came after watching The Last Starfighter. It blew my mind. I watched it over and over again – I am pretty sure I wore out the VHS tape – and I remember dreaming of getting whisked off to space to join the fight against Xur and the Kodan Armada. In all seriousness, I played Astro Wars with a new sense of purpose (the Death Blossom would have been a welcome addition to the game).

And so here I sit; a middle aged man and yet these reveries still create the same excitement; the same sense of wonder and my imagination is alive with possibilities and dreams. #Myfi

 

Dear amigo and fellow synth twiddler Paul observes that as a youngster, you don’t always get what you’re watching – it’s once older the stories of science fiction make more sense.

Paul Griffin, illustrator and electronic music producer

Science-fiction. The 1970s. The golden era to many a child who grew up within that era. Though what did it mean to me? And more importantly, how did, and has continued to shape me as a person?

My earliest memory is the obvious candidate: Doctor Who. I know for sure that I witnessed Autons with carnival heads giving out killer plastic daffodils. So my mum tells me without prompting. To be fair to her, I actually can’t remember any of it. Well, It was 1971 and as a 3 years old, and I don’t think I would have sat through it. Then, as with most television during my childhood it was a background companion. Nothing more. I have two brothers and a sister, all younger than myself, and when we did congregate around the TV with our tea to watch Doctor Who we inevitable talked through the transmission, mainly to make fun of the awful CSO and illogical inconsistencies and how, at the cliffhanger the Doctor was going to get out of his latest scrape.

Did I realise it was science-fiction at the time? Not really. For Television at that time was swamped with Telefantasy, and it was all just there which we watched and usually laughed at. The only movies I saw were too pompous to appreciate at such a young age. I found 2001 and Silent Running rather boring.

What changed everything was an item on Nationwide about a new film released in the USA, and a clip of a shootout with white suited baddies and what looked like a pirate escaping in a strange battered spaceship..1977… Star Wars!

This is the film which certainly shaped me, as it fired my imagination which I expressed with drawing. It was around this time I also discovered a new comic : 2000AD. Now, I was a late starter when it came to reading, and this comic could be enjoyed just by looking at the panels of artwork, and again my drawing flourished.

I really struggled with the written word, and the books which helped me ultimately were the Target Doctor Who books. I don’t know what it was about them but something just clicked. And from there I started to devour everything from HG Wells to John Wyndham. And I’ve never looked back.
#Myfi

 

Emma here starts with such evocation of memory – how visceral scifi on screen could be. But also how it can shape your work.

Emma Flint, Health Sector volunteer co-ordinator

#Myfi sounds from my childhood that still accelerate me, chilly-spined, into wide-eyed wonder:
– the clucking of a Triffid
– the “thank you” of a Hitchhikers’ door (and the majesty of the theme tune)
– the Ulla of a tripod
– the “wow” of a light sabre
– the turbines of an arriving Tardis
– the ticking of a Pink Floyd timekeeping synth

I read as many John Wyndham books as I could find after a visit home to the UK let me discover synthpop and The Day of the Triffids in the self same evening (I was never a good sleeper; bet I got none that night.) We had limited access to merch and media in Saudi (with a few exceptions: a pirate copy of Star Wars, a friend’s huge At-At) so most of my exploring happened through text. HG Wells, George Orwell, Arthur C Clarke lined up on my bookshelf (and even Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis which probably counts as a sci-fi, right?)

I lapped up the monsters, aliens and the weirdness of it all, but what fascinated me most was exploring ideas of how people react to extreme situations; of confronting the “other,” of matters of survival, of loss of freedom and control… of making sense of it all. (The Handmaid’s Tale became a later favourite.) Fight scenes always annoyed me because they marked the point when communication had stopped and everything became much less interesting for me.

This took shape in my life by leading to a great love of language. I studied linguistics and especially loved psycholinguistics, and am still fascinated by how language shapes our perception, particularly of time and “the other” (two common themes in sci-fi.)

I have always enjoyed films that play with our perception of reality as we know it (e.g. The Matrix) but, a little like fighting, I was often frustrated that such elaborate systems and machines were conjured up for time/perception-shifting purposes, when here in our own heads we each possessed the device that could do it.

Last year I saw Arrival at the cinema and had tears in my eyes throughout (and sometimes on my chin). I recommend it to anyone longing for sci-fi that cuts straight to connection and perception without the need for weapons first… to collaborate and flourish instead of discover and destroy. #Myfi

 

Lee doesn’t mess around, but gets straight to the passionate point about the shape he is because of scifi:

Lee Rawlings, writer, actor, musician, broadcaster and events producer.

Science and Science fiction are my default creative and osmose position, my saviour, my hopes and dreams, my emotion train and well and truly flecked across my brain like an arc of milky white galaxies. I cannot live without its imaginative postulations.

 

Scientists are often quoted as saying Scifi has influenced and inspired them, the biggest selling films are science fiction (and science fantasy) based, nearly every single man ape on the planet owns a piece of tech designed by a science enthusiast (or geek) and the world can be saved only by the use of great and good tech. So the made up silliness that’s always been laughed at by ‘serious’ literary/film critics has in fact directly influenced the opening of the door to the nature of reality. It has made me want to discover why we are here, what we are standing on, why we are breathing and what is in the sky. And if you want to know, Doctor Who was my first scifi influence – thanks Doc.
These were things I really wanted to happen to me, meet some aliens and have a chat. Especially in field somewhere or the edge of a woods. Of course Aliens were more benign to me as a kid until I read a story about a farm that had glowing monkey looking aliens harassing them. Then I got scared. Not sure where the book is but it was a terrifying picture. I still wanted to be a UFO hunter though… #Myfi

How to define science fiction? George here suggests it is to do with real possibilities:

George Silk, consultant psychologist and original contributor to Cygnus Alpha fanzine

My dad was a scientist and always encouraged me to watch anything from Doctor Who (at the age of six) to 2001: A Space Odyssey (by ten). The big message was ‘anything is possible’. Anything at all. So, while I knew that The Omen was – albeit enjoyable – nonsense or The Hobbit just made up, if it was science fiction, it could really happen. And, looking back from today’s perspective, most of it has – including much better special effects on Doctor Who, though it still unsettles me when they veer too far off the science fiction path (the moon being a giant egg, for example). Science fiction was the future and it was real. It still is. #Myfi

 

Perhaps the most consciously values-driven TV adventure series of them all is one that successfully shaped world views for perhaps millions, as Lucy can testify to:

Lucy Robinson, charities and third sector marketing consultant and activist

I’m only now beginning to realise how my abiding love of Star Trek has so profoundly shaped me. I absolutely adored that show as a child. Speaking to Andy this morning about it, I recounted my adoration of Uhura – I thought she was beautiful. My fascination with Spock and I think I absorbed the love and camaraderie of that little ‘family’ hurtling through space facing untold dangers but also fascinating experiences.

Fast forward to 1995, 4 February: I met Andy Robinson and one of our first conversations was about our mutual love of Star Trek, my strange dream about being a space man and landing on some desolate planet where I entered a bar filled with aliens to be then told that the Fronds were on their way. I scarpered sharpish in my spacecraft (bright red!).

Star Trek taught me that we are all different but all equal. That the notion of family can be defined in many ways. That we hurtle through space in all its breathtaking beauty on this tiny, stunning blue planet, but that we can also hurtle through the space, in all its breathtaking beauty, of our own imaginations. That life is full of darkness and light. That love is the most powerful force in the universe.

For me Star Trek, in all its guises throughout the decades remains the template of how we as human beings can be at our very best. #Myfi

 

Thesp and showman Barnaby always wants to think beyond the confines of the here and now, he says:

Barnaby Eaton–Jones, writer, performer and radio theatre producer

I think I was always influenced by looking at the bigger picture. That’s essentially what Sci-Fi does for you, isn’t it? It broadens your horizons and your mind. You learn to think outside the box.

Talking of boxes… Doctor Who was witty. He was a non-violent hero. I yearned to stride through life like he did. Then, Hitchhiker’s stuck out a thumb and found itself in my life and I realised I actually was a combination of Ford Prefect and Arthur Dent quite naturally. I also realised, for the first time, that you could write funny science-fiction. Comedy and Science-Fiction seemed to be the happiest of strange bedfellows.

But, Sci-Fi was always there, in the books I devoured (from John Wyndham to Ramond Bradbury, via Douglas Adams) and the films I watched (from 1950’s B-Movies to the ultimate B-Movie of all time, Star Wars).

For me, Sci-Fi was all about freeing your reality and drifting off into the imagination. That’s how I survive life. #Myfi

 

Norma here can see a bit of the longer view:

Norma Rawlings

Not sure if it has shaped me never really considered it as a question . But I am a child of the forties a teenager in the sixties and scifi was a fascinating and new back then so to see how it has progressed to the techno marvels it now has is incredible. We had no difficulty is suspending our belief then we were very innocent and possibly gullible, re Doctor Who sets costumes , monsters etc which now seem corny but lovable. I mean we we there at the beginning how wonderful is that? I suppose I may accept that there are no boundaries to imagination which is fantastic but also I suppose I am more cynical or logical about what there maybe out there, not sure really. Just know I am really happy that there are these amazing films and programmes being made around sci fi. #Myfi

 

Children of a certain age had a lot of kitschy scifi telly to enjoy when younger, as Ian illustrates.

Ian Davenport, DJ

Aside from a bookshelf full of all the Terrance Dicks penned Doctor Who books (more-so than actually watching the program – I guess being an only child meant I spent a lot of time reading…), my go-to was very much Buck Rogers. To the extent that I made my own Dr. Theopolis out of a paper plate to hang around my neck, possibly uttering “biddi-biddi-biddi” as I did so, but memory is unclear on this.

It’s quite possible that Colonel Wilma Deering had infiltrated my subconcious as I became older too, but that’s a whole raft of other issues. #Myfi

 

In this family testimony, Carl, I feel, didn’t go far enough:

Carl Anthony Morries

My love of Sci-fi led me to naming both my children after characters from two of my favourite Sci-fi series Doctor Who & Star Trek – My daughter is named Sarah because of Sarah Jane Smith and my son is James T but the T stands for Thomas because my wife refused to let me use Tiberius as his middle name. #Myfi

 

Helen gets to the truth for many in fandom. Scifi showed life from the outsider’s point of view:

Helen Stirling, actor

I wanted to be an alien. I devoured the pulp fictional accounts of alien worlds, cultures and species. I yearned for the different rather than the human (which by my young experience was very shallow and bullying).

My alien was me. The me who didn’t need to hide the fact that I was cleverer than most of the class, that didn’t get egged or floured on a regular basis and that had no voice.

I’m now sat on a train, heading to London for a couple of days work. Naturally my mind turns to SF. I’m surfing the tinterweb on my mobile phone. It has as much, if not more, computing power than something that would fill a room a mere 50 years ago. Much of what we see around us now, and take for granted, was science fiction at one time. Brilliant, flexible imaginations saw possibilities and wrote about them and sometimes worked to bring them about. We are able to take advantage this progress.

It can bring us closer together – I regularly chat to my sister in NZ and my friends in America, Canada, UAE, Australia. It can also keep us relatively isolated in our own echo chambers. It’s allows dialogue and division, education and evil. We’ve read, seen, heard the warning in every dystopian future imagined. But the utopian tales give us a chance to fight for the future not yet seen. That undiscovered country. #Myfi

 

For slightly more mature fans, science fact was a huge part of the draw to explore space.

Shep Andy Elliott, bearded biker

When i was a little bit younger than i am today the Apollo missions and moon landings were happening, so incredible to my little mind was this feat of human achievement, everything about space travel enraptured my imagination and scifi inevitably became the source to feed my hunger and passion for all things space and future related, the comic books and annuals from the Jetsons to Doctor Who , I also was an avid builder of cardboard space ships and possibly flew in a galaxy near your other contributor, I think though my personal favourite at the time was UFO although I only got to watch it with my Dad as Mum thought it a bit scary for a little one , she may have been right. #Myfi

 

Chris points out how much of the fiction in scifi has tuned to fact:

Chris Pearce, IT consultant

Since a young age I was always drawn to Sci-Fi with the 3rd incarnation of Dr Who to the original Star Trek and Shatner’s funny running across a quarry in LA. The earliest film (and very prophetic it turns out) that really had an impact on me was Silent Running. Plant life on Earth extinct, floating greenhouses in space attended by cute robots, way before R2-D2. Then the came Star Wars etc. Alien and Blade Runner then showed that space isn’t all clean, white gleaming spaceship corridors and cute cuddly aliens but a dirty, working, industrial ship and a parasitic, near indestructible alien that kills humans with ease, oh joy. Now science fiction is science fact with handheld computers, wi-fi and self driving cars but still no matter transporter! Hyper-Loop is on its way so we can whizz to continents under ground. Who remembers Genesis 2 and Planet Earth? #Myfi

 

Tim says, however, it was all about books:

Tim Haywood, broadcaster and music critic

I’ve always been a voracious consumer of good books. Before I was 10 I was given a sci-fi anthology at a Christmas or birthday. Then the BBC game Elite came out, along with a Robert Holdstock book introducing some of the 255 worlds in an invented universe… I still play Oolite today occasionally

In my teens, I lived in a holiday park mum and dad bought; in one of the lodges someone left an Isaac Asimov book which woke me up to a whole new world of writing. For my O levels, I wrote sci-fi stories which led to my A grade English language.

Its still books for me, movies and TV series’ entertain; only books contain the power to transport one to a new galaxy or universe.”

 

 

 

And almost final word goes out to someone I have been working with closely over the last 18 months, who speaks volumes here about what has brought us together especially in that time:

Andy Robinson, director

There are so many moments of my life that are connected to Science Fiction, but there is one childhood memory that evokes a powerful response. Entering the grown-up section for the first time of my local Library in East London. And discovering the Sci-Fi section tucked away in a corner (just after ‘Romance’). The shelves were lined with yellow-covered hardback books published by Gollancz, so no wonderful pulp artistry, unfortunately. But there was a treasure-trove of the most brilliant SF writing: Arthur C Clarke, Frederick Pohl, Bob Shaw, Ian Watson, and so many others. The experience of finding these books was so visceral – this was surely how Howard Carter felt when he uncovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.

This might turn out to be one of the most important books I own – The Usborne Young Scientist Book of Spaceflight. I must have been 9 years old when I got this. Apollo was a recent memory, and the Shuttle was still 5 years from its maiden flight. So much of what was in this book WAS science fiction – and sadly still is. We haven’t set up a moonbase, or driven a manned rover across the surface of Mars – and as a kid there was no way I was going to believe that none of this would still not have happened by the time I was the same age as my Dad.

 

Now I am the same age as my Dad was, and my daughter not much older than me when I got this book. She is also around the age that the first astronauts to Mars would be right now – though none of them realise it yet.

This book was pregnant with possibility, and the excitement of scientific exploration & adventure – no less thrilling than the novels of Jules Verne. And because there is so much yet undone, this book STILL excites me. In its way, it has shaped the direction of my life more than I realised until quite recently.

And I hope to live long enough to see some more of the science fiction within its covers become science fact. #Myfi

 

Last word will take us all to school, which I am always so very happy to be helped to do by Jez’s inexaustible understanding of things:

Jez Winship, curator.

I can’t really remember a time when I haven’t been entranced by science fiction. Like so many 70s children, Doctor Who and Star Trek were a constant presence, alongside the serials which created a sense of the weird and eerie, often located in West Country locales (The Changes, Children of the Stones, Sky, Raven etc). I vividly remember my mum including an Edgar Rice Burroughs paperback in my Christmas sack one year (probably lightly scented by the adjacent Satsuma) – The Moon Maid, I think. Not one of the Martian novels, anyway. Which would have been more appropriate, since I also got a torch with a couple of filters you could slide down over the bulb: red and green. I read it under the covers in the bottom level of the bunkbed (my older brother got the top spot, ascended to by a little ladder).

Later there was Star Wars, which triggered my obsession with going to see any science fiction film which came to the ABC cinema in Sidcup, or neighbouring screens in Eltham Well Hall (a beautiful art deco building), Bexleyheath or Welling. All gone now. I loved them all, from Battle Beyond the Stars to Battlestar Galactica. Only the rerelease of 2001:A Space Odyssey proved baffling to my young, early teen self. I bitterly regretted the decision to see it in preference to Warlords of Atlantis. It was not yet time.

That Edgar Rice Burroughs book which my mum perceptively gave me led me to many more SF paperbacks, including the George Lucas Star Wars novelisation and Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (I think he might actually have written the Star Wars book too). As I grew into my teens, a number of writers grew absolutely vital to my developing worldview.

I became very withdrawn at secondary school and felt like a complete outsider. I wasn’t learning anything beyond O levels and nobody bothered to tell me that I was evidently failing (I flunked my A levels, scraping through at English through the benefit of my own reading). I got nothing from any of the teachers there (other than an instinctive antipathy towards assumed authority) and still regard myself as essentially self-educated. And that education came through a number of SF writers who really formed the person who I am today.

 

My main man was Sam. Samuel Delany. I adored him, his poetic writing and outsider characters. Dhalgren and Triton were revelatory and were fundamental in defining my liberal worldview. Science fiction can be great at creating a sense of the plurality of experience, of the sheer multiplicity of ways of being. Loving the alien, as Mr Bowie put it. Realising that there are perspectives wholly different from your own which are equally real and vital, and that such variety is to be celebrated. Sam, or Chip as his friends called him, was writing from the perspective of a young black gay man in New York, and his experiences are translated into science fictional form. If I didn’t know that reading The Fall of the Towers, Nova, Babel-17 and The Einstein Intersection, I sure did when it came to Dhalgren. It was just such a hugely important book to me as a teenager, and long overdue a re-reading. I still read Delany whenever his increasingly infrequent books are published, although it’s now necessary to buy American imports, since he is not published in this country. Whether that’s because of the explicit nature of his fiction, I don’t know. Sprawling utopian epics like Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders combine gay pornography with social commentary and futuristic speculation. I do remember the excitement of finding Triton in the Forever People bookshop in Bristol on a passing visit. His books were always difficult to find, and that meant that the thrill of discovery was all the sharper.

 

Harlan Ellison was another hero, and I found his ornery persona utterly beguiling. His fiction, almost all in shorter form, was incredibly intense and with an unfailing moral core, often underpinned by anger or a fierce humour. He remains a cornerstone in my moral upbringing. The story Deathbird is still a favourite and packs a massive emotional punch every time I read it. He also wrote the best Star Trek episode ever, The City On The Edge of Forever (although, as ever with Harlan, controversy reigns over alterations made to his script. His intro to its published version – longer than the actual script itself, is funny, angry and a rallying cry to respect the integrity of the writer). He showed how science fiction and fantasy (speculative fiction was his preferred term) could be used to create moral fables, the language of SF used as powerful metaphor. His anthology Dangerous Visions was also a big influence on me, introducing me to SF as a provocative literature capable of challenging the status quo, of highlighting the fucked up nature of modern society and suggesting alternatives.

This radical side of SF, both politically and in terms of its form, was also a major part of my increasing interest in it, and in particular in the writers associated with New Worlds magazine in the 60s and 70s, as edited by Michael Moorcock and other hands.

I retreated from the 80s, whose slick corporatism and Thatcherite politics I loathed, and took refuge in the 60s counterculture.

New Worlds was part of that, alongside all the music I was discovering (including Jefferson Airplane, who made significant use of SF imagery, quoting from John Wyndham and being nominated for a Hugo Award for the album Blows Against the Empire, a favourite of mine). New Worlds could be pretty bleak, but I found the writing of JG Ballard, Thomas Disch, John Sladek, M.John Harrison and Moorcock himself (particularly with his Jerry Cornelius novel and stories) utterly exhilarating in the various anthologies I picked up. As JG Ballard suggested, this was fiction which explored inner rather than outer space.

I often found these 60s and 70s paperbacks in the Lewisham Popular Bookshop I visited with eager regularity (although never the back room, frequented by furtive men fingering the magazines on offer there). I would travel there on the 21 bus from Sidcup with a bag full of books which I would exchange for other titles, returning equally and thrillingly laden. I still remember the excitement of those trips, and have a few treasured books with the diamond stamp on the front page to this day. Paperbacks which have meant a great deal to me are like revered artefacts which I have kept hold of through the years. There is a history, physical and mental, inherent in them. I would later cycle up to the Quality Communications book and comic shop north of Lewisham which was the home to Warrior comics. I’d pick up copies there, along with paperbacks (Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K Dick I remember) and old issues of The House of Hammer, and read the latest episodes of new serials by a writer I’d discovered called Alan Moore. Marvelman, The Bojeffries Saga (very south London) and V for Vendetta, which made a huge impact (still better in black and white, by the way).

Other writers were also significant influences in forming my worldview. Joanna Russ introduced me to feminism via The Female Man and her short stories. The stories of James Tiptree Jr (reluctantly outed as Alice Sheldon) were amazingly powerful, dark and unforgiving, fixated on death and with phenomenal emotional affect. Jesus Christ, The Women That Men Don’t See and The Screwfly Solution. And And Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Those stories remain indelibly burned into my consciousness.

Ursula Le Guin’s profoundly nuanced philosophical fictions like The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, drawing on the sense of cosmic balance in the Taoism she drew upon, impressed upon me the need to step back and view things from a wider perspective. Ray Bradbury introduced poetic imagery and language, making the fantastic out of the everyday. The opposite of hard SF, which was never really my thing, to be honest.

Philip K Dick was another big teen guru for me. His sympathy for the little man, the confused, damaged and fucked up made a profound connection, as did his perceptive insight into the games of power and control played by individuals and entrenched systems of power. The metaphysical dimension of his fiction, his fascination with religion and the mystical experience, also deeply affected me. I’ve often thought that science fiction is the religious literature of the rational age.

Close Encounters is definitely a religious movie. As is Interstellar. As is Arrival etc etc. Actually, some of the great science fiction novels and stories have been written by people with religious beliefs. Gene Wolfe’s stories in his collection The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (not a typo) are fantastic, and made a big impact on me as a teen. He’s Catholic. And then there’s Walter M Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz, a real classic of the genre. Another Catholic writer. There’s something about the moral dimension, perhaps. Certainly an element of the genre that I, an agnostic, find fascintating.

Kurt Vonnegut was another whose moral worldview was very important to me. I remember reading The Sirens of Titan whilst sitting beside Lake Windermere. The mordant humour, tempered by his experiences in the second world war, was very appealing. And was (along with Cat’s Cradle) very much in line with The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I listened to on the radio (recording it on C90 cassettes) before the publication of the book (not The Book). The cosmic perspectives of SF are very good (sometimes mercilessly so) at underlining the absurdities of human habits and aspirations.

 

Then there’s Olaf Stapledon, whose novels of the 30s and 40s are simply some of the most profound works of philosophical fiction ever written, and completely blew my mind as a teenager. The cosmic perspectives and imaginative range and freedom of Last and First Men and Starmaker are just astonishing. Modern religious classics for a secular, but still questing age. And I’ve just reread Sirius, his tale of a dog given human intelligence, his struggles in the human world and search for love, written in the shadow of war. Just so, so profound and moving. He is one of the great writers of the 20th century, admired by Virginia Woolf , who wrote him what amounted to a fan letter (another reason to love her). If he hadn’t been writing in the fantastic mode, he would surely be more widely recognised.

I continue to find inspiration in SF and the literature and cinema of the fantastic in general. I’ve always preferred the fantastic over realism in the arts. I love the sense of imaginative play and freedom, of making the world anew, introducing new elements to it, positing alternatives or simply inventing new realities.

Far from being escapist, I think it broadens mental horizons, helps develop empathy towards those branded as ‘other’, heightens the sense of the sacred, of the sheer multivalent enormity of the universe, suggests alternative possibilities which makes it clear that the present state of things is not eternal, there are other alternative realities; this and much more which keeps me reading and searching. Watching the skies.

Sorry it’s so long, but science fiction really has played such a formative part in my life. I could go on. But I won’t.


 

A beautiful way to finish a first blogged anthology of responses to #Myfi there from Jez. And now, over to you – how has science fiction shaped you?

Zap me with the tag #Myfi on: Facebook.com/momotempo or @momotempo on Instagram or Twitter.

And feel free to explore the Myfi original group, which has whole threads below the posts above, along with others:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/myfimomo/

 

Cargo: Diving into heritage and identity with Valise Noire

Momo joins the storytelling theatre partners to bring a sonic dimension to their exploration of Poole’s maritime history, and finds that workshops with volunteers can be a resonnant way to tread out the truth of a story. As their new film shows, the results connected magically with their audiences.

 

Momo:tempo may be the compositional production house of Timo Peach, but he has always enjoyed doing a bit more than sitting behind a keyboard – and one Heritage Lottery-funded production for Poole Maritime Festival 2017 got the South Coast creative literally feeling his way through the writing of its score and sound. And it brought together old friends and new.

Valise Noire Storytelling Theatre’s project Cargo aimed to bring alive the heritage of an ancient south coast location, tapping into the human stories of relationship with the sea in Poole. Commissioned to time with both the town’s biggest celebration of its seafaring roots and with European Maritime Day, it pulled together community and schools participation, live shows on Poole Quay with a 32-foot Baltic Trader, and an exhibition at Lighthouse, the UK’s leading arts centre outside of London. An endeavour that all involved felt tapped into something deep in the local identity. Something that seemed to resonnate with local human life.

As Momo himself discovered when approached by regular creative partners and chums Michele O’Brien and Hazel Evans, while the idea of the sea rings deep with people from the area, the project unlocked new appreciations of the human trail to where we are now, by using some affectingly experiential devices. And it worked on him too, in the process of writing and compiling music and sound for Cargo.

“History was lived. Felt. Trodden through.” he says. “We’re odd creatures in that we easily seem to forget we are visceral – things come alive for us when interact physically. And walking through the discovery of the physical layout of Cargo helped to bring it alive for me. Those workshops helped us really feel what was in it, and it bound the team together. And in the end, the audiences to the truth in the performances.

“It’s says as much about the approach of Valise Noire as it does the subject matter, I think” he adds.

 

 

FROM BOOKS TO BOWLINES

Storyteller and actor Michele and performance illustrator and writer Hazel, along with producer, poet and youth champion Colin Philimore, first spent a lot of time in the academic business of researching the broadbrushstrokes of Poole’s history, hoping to, along the way, unearth some of the human treasure of the personal stories shaped and caught up in maritime life in Dorset. Their aim was to help to “bring Poole’s maritime heritage out of the archives” for a wider audience to reconnect with. Delving into the work of Poole Museum and Dorset History Centre, the pair unearthed hundreds of letters, ships log details and historic moments.

“We found so many beautiful, wonderful details of people’s lives as they were affected by life surrounding the sea” says Michele. “And having the privilege of handling some of those artifacts and memories ourselves really brought it alive. So it naturally felt to us as though this should be very much an experience of the senses for everyone involved – audiences and players.”

The next stage of developing the project was to take first selections of content and creative ideas around it into schools. Always, they say, a daring way to road test any theatre.

“As a storyteller, I’m very used to an intimate kind of audience experience” Michele explains, “and any street performer or theatre actor will tell you how much a good spirit of interaction from those you’re performing to can really make the whole experience. Well children just give it to you straight, don’t they? They soon tell you if what you’re doing doesn’t grab their imaginations – but when it does, boy do they get into it. The schools programmes were a slightly scary but brilliant stage of Cargo‘s development. We had a ball.”

Valise Noire is used to shaping experiences that ring true for both adults and children, with their 2013 production, The girl and the shoes, created as a ‘double-sided fairytale’ – told once for a younger audience, and then again for the grown-ups, unearthing some of the themes below the surface. With Cargo, exploring the idea of themes above and below the surface seemed to flow together into a world of human experience that people of all ages really got.

“Inner and outer worlds is something I explore a lot in my own work,” says Hazel. “and the symbolism of the sea is so rich with meaning – I think there is something primal it taps into in all of us, as we try to explore our inner truth in a noisy outside world. But we knew that, just like memories, feeling this truth could be triggered by little details of sensory experience.”

“The ships brought such new experiences to everyone connected with them,” says Michele.”They brought exotic, wondrous things like spices to the shores of old Albion, and they took people away from home, out into the weather and the bigness of things.”

Timo concurs that the setting for Cargo is rich with themes and ideas to connect with. And it’s felt more and more personal to him.

“My father had much more of an affinity with the sea than I did – he just weirdly loved tall ships. Even though, like a true “ruler of the King’s nay-vee” from his beloved Gilbert & Sullivan, he barely set foot on a boat” he grins. “But the sea rings with such echoes of the past, I’ve been feeling the salt in my blood more over recent years and an annual little sailing trip around the local waters with friends always quickly reminds me what a visceral experience life at sea just is. You’re at the mercy of not only the elements but your own preparedness. If that’s true for a recreational weekend bobbing about in the Solent with chums, with plenty of wine and cheese and homemade flapjack on board, piled beside the chartplotter and the GPS, imagine a whole life of it centuries ago, attempting to do regular business through it.

“From the big drama of being separated from each other by great distances, or great forces beyond our control – the sea itself, and culture and politics – to the tiny, supremely human moments of inventories of goods, or little notes to loved ones, or garments and everyday tools… life with the oceans has shaped my own country so much especially it seems to be right there below the surface, running through our shared emotional bloodstream” he says.

“In a sense, all we had to do, was tap into it honestly.”

Having brought stories of the sea barrelling into a series of lively school performances, the next stage for Valise Noire was to shape that initial content into something tangible that could be shared in wider public, as part of Poole Maritime Festival.

 

FROM CONCEPT TO QUAYSIDE

Valise Noire put a call out for volunteers to join in the workshopping up of some celebratory performances of all that they had been learning, exploring and beginning to share with the schools. For them, having players help to work out just what shape those experiences on Poole Quay would take was central. And Mr Peach got involved from the beginning.

“By the time we got to the weekends of workshopping, we had some first musical themes on the board that we’d already had super feedback from with the schools work. We also had a raft of voice recordings from letters and books, along with the idea of life above and below the sea’s surface, so I had a fair bit in my mind when we rocked up to the Lighthouse rehearsal rooms and met each other as a new team of performers, to begin shaking it all down. And to begin with I simply kept all that in the back of my mind and joined in as any other volunteer, as Michele and Hazel walked us into feeling comfortable in our performance skins.

“I tapped into my inner drama student and, y’know, muddled through” he says flatly.

 

From developing types of movement to planning out sequences of character portrayal and a loose narrative, the workshops formed a series of set pieces depicting key moments in maritme heritage, broadly dividing the experience between a human sense of life above the waves, and a more symbolic sense of ocean life below the sea surface.

One of the motifs was the Merman – a character derived from a recovered relic of the Swash Channel wreck. Remains of a 17th century Dutch merchant ship were found on the sand and shingle sea bed just outside Poole Harbour in the 1990s, but the raising of the giant rudder in 2013 with its carved face of ‘the merchant’, and of another wooden figurehead, ‘the merman’ unlocked characters for Hazel and Michele in the early approach of their storytelling of Cargo – and in the schools work, it is the merman who comes alive with a magical sense of ‘tales from the ocean floor’.

“While Timo sort of represents the Merchant in the final performance – the figure of pompous human endeavour above the waves – the Merman symbolises the voice of the sea. So we started by writing a kind of message in a bottle from this otherworldly character,” explains Hazel, “saying it was time to reveal his stories and tell his tales. And while it was an exciting way to trigger younger imaginations, it also helped us feel our way into a wider sense of the sea itself having a voice. Kind of asking us to explore our relationship with the sea today.”

As the performance design came together, the 30 minute presentation shaped into an interuptive experience to an unsuspecting public on Poole Quay. Beginning with an elderly cargo rigger arriving and tying up as any such vessel might have done centuries ago, an otherworldly arrival of human figures lead a procession from the bustle and life of historic human port business to life below the waves in a conjoured shipwreck, to meet echoes and creatures of the depths.

As Timo explains, the ghostly figures arrested attention, but the workshopped movements between different historic tableaus acted like windows onto Poole’s past.

“It was almost like augmented reality,” he says. “As if the people on the quay that evening and afternoon had swiped their phone screens to see back through history what had been ‘normal’ everyday life in the past on the very same spot. But those all-white dressed figures didn’t stay distant, they interacted with the bemused watchers – and it really seemed to work. People engaged. There was a spot of wonder there as we rocked up aboard Queen Galadriel in drifting smoke.”

Piling up props in the roadspace as the characters disembarked – dock workers and ships’ crew unloading barrels and boxes and sacks as ladies in fine dresses paraded around them – the audience was then presented with artifacts and samples of cargo from times past, as the players opened the boxes and invited people to smell spice pouches and tea, hear letters and voices of memories from the archives and read some of the hundreds of poems sealed up like Georgian letters by schoolchildren from across Poole.

All still using gestures only, the players lead a parade ‘off to sea’ where the Tudor march plunged into life below the waves, ending in the twilight at the just-refurbished Sea Music sculpture, to sounds of musician Fiona Barrow‘s melifluous improvised violin, and a call to embrace a notion of the sea’s own life and livelyhood.

 

“Now, street theatre is a random experience,” says Timo. “and turning up on Poole Quay out of the blue, as we all did, with me perhaps most conspicuous in an especially elaborate and frilly ensemble, designed beautifully by Hazel to evoke the faint absurdity of historic merchant superiority… well, I didn’t know quite what reaction I and we would get. Art can arrive like something from another planet into everyday life – in some ways, just as it should” he smiles.

“But as odd as the spectacle of Cargo will have seemed to everyone who saw it, the symbolism of it seemed to do its job. A lot of people felt something in it – even with me looking as gloriously daft as I did in the middle of it. People felt the humanity in our reminder of our connection to the sea. And to this day, hearing the musical sketches and impressions in our first itteration of Cargo, I still feel moved by it, somewhere in my own depths. The stories are affecting, and everyone in the brilliant little team who brought it alive felt it. And so did those sharing the moment with us.”

From the stories of separation, the apparent injustice of many deportations and convictions, and the maritime connection to slavery, to the simple economic histories of fishing grounds in the north Atlantic, human life was found in the details, for performers, writers and audience. And Momo feels grateful to have been part of this first exploration of Cargo.

 

“I am thankful, as ever, to not simply get to work with two such wonderful creative chums as Michele and Hazel, such great talents for storytelling and world-invoking, as well as the ever inspirational creative human champion, Colin. And of course to meet the great commitments to art that are our team, Hilary, Jackie, Jenny and Naomi, as well getting to hear touches of Fiona’slovely work accenting my own, and getting to work with Dorset art tech hero, Jo Myles. But especially to be part of this story in particular. It did quietly get to me.

As former Mayor of Poole Councillor Xena Dion, who I know was instrumental in helping Cargo find its place in the Martime Festival, said to me: “every time we ask Poole people what matters to their sense of identity here, their maritime heritage comes top.” It may not sound a surprise, but that it is so near the surface of people’s consciousness is worth listening to.” concludes Timo.

“While the final music arrangements shared on the Soundcloud playlist are like loved demos, ahead of possible evolutions of the show around the world, with live players, revisiting the mixes was still strangely emotional. And I wonder if it’s because I still feel the humanity of these stories just below my own surface, and of how this heritage actually connects us to the imperitives of now, and of the fearsome voyages of human life looking forward.

“I think what resonnated for me personally, in the end, was a sense of connectedness. Of how connected we are to the history, the heritage, of martime life – of the people who forged and lived it in previous eras – but also to the sea itself. The organism of it. The need to work as part of that natural system. Protect it, champion it – and celebrate our place in it.

“This is a very vital part of our current point in history. In our social, economic, natural history – to appreciate in new ways how everything is connected, that we might live more consciously and perhaps, in celebration, mark out a 21st century new world in all these things.”

WATCH THE EDIT OF CARGO’S FIRST PERFORMANCE:

 

WATCH MR PEACH SHARE A BEHIND THE SCENES LOOK AT HIS MUSIC WRITING FOR CARGO:

LISTEN TO A COMPLETE PLAYLIST OF THE AUGMENTED CARGO SCORE >
Download a complete version of the musical performance pieces, drop them in order into a playlist and explore Cargo in headphones.

PERUSE THE CARGO GALLERY >
Grab a glimpse of more of the daft and beautiful moments from the performances and schools work.