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.

 

Bluedot – a cultural festival to truly celebrate, if you’re listening carefully.

 

It is almost sixty years. Since the day the world first all looked up. So are you still gazing at your shoes with your headphones in?

If you’re someone who likes to keep their head in the clouds, or in fact, above them, then you might not be able to imagine a world before October 1957. The successful launch of the delicate little shiny Soviet sphere with alien antennae, Sputnik, effectively marked the beginning of the space age – the silver foil sales-boosting historic moment humans realised together that we might really be able to see ourselves reflected in the cosmos beyond our home planet. Space was suddenly no longer the playground of science fiction saps, but of leading edge science engineers. Grown-ups. And that relentless, cheerless beeping the first ever artificial satellite made may have popped a few bottles of Crimean sparkling wine kept on ice for the moment Sergei Korolev‘s rocket didn’t go pop before reaching orbit, but to many around the world I fancy it was oddly chilling. Not exactly cause for celebration. Pretty ruddy sobering, in fact.

Yet just over one decade later, the science and political will that this gravity-overcoming achievement combusted into the public consciousness around the world had sent humans all the way around the moon, to take perhaps the most significant photograph in human history. Earthrise. And that really should have changed everything. And maybe it did. Or rather, still is. Just a lot slower than millions of us expected it to.

Looking again at Apollo 8’s headbending image of our home planet as small enough, beyond the horizon of a cold lunar landscape, to be obscured by a human thumb, it makes me wonder how it has taken so long to feel the effects of that vulnerability of all human experience. And why no one has thought to put it as a symbol into the heart of a cultural festival before. Because it surely did change the way we see ourselves and where we live – so where the space has Bluedot been all our lives? Because if we ever needed a celebration of human possibilities and new ways of seeing ourselves reflected in our cultures, it is surely right about exactly bloody now.

 

CAPCOM

Carl Sagan coined the phrase “pale blue dot“, as you well know, sausage. The title of his 1994 book, he used it to discribe the image Voyager 1 took of its home planet in 1990 from the then-furthest point in the solar system any manmade object had traveled to before – some 40 astronomical units from the sun, 6,000million km from our parent star, just beyond Neptune at the time. And everything of us in that shot was just a, well, tiny pale blue dot. That was it. The ancient Greeks. The Roman Empire. The Ming dynasty. Vedic literature. The Koran. The Bible. The Renaissance. The Enlightenment. The split atom. Shakespeare’s sonets. Mozart’s Requiem. Bugs Bunny’s Brünnhilde. Einstein’s Relativity. Jeff Wayne’s War of The Worlds. I’m sorry I haven’t a clue. Love Island. All a single, smudged pixel in the background.

He’d had the idea, as yet another brilliant bit of human science storytelling, to turn the camera back towards us. Like the real purpose of the gold disks he’d also helped to curate, cemented onto the side of that very spacecraft, clicking the shutter on its long exposure camera. What would we see of ourselves from so very terribly great a distance?

Bluedot Festival evidently hopes it was – and yet will be – something inspiring.

Because Bluedot Festival is, like a highly machined lens turned back on its audience as they gaze skyward, a celebration of music, art and science – collided together under the imposing visionary history of the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire – itself turning sixty this year. Y’darn straight. Right there. And right on the contents spread of the weekend’s brochure is a big fat pullquote from Sagan:

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Preach it. And take it to the goddam bridge.

 

Professors Teresa Anderson and Tim O’Brien from the discovery centre and observatory respectively at Jodrell Bank welcomed festivalgoers to a ‘stellar programme of music, science, arts, technology, culture, food and film” that represents the motif of scientific thinking that runs, they suggest, like a thread through so much of our culture today. The “many other scientists, musicians and artists” whose work they want their festival to celebrate. It is open minded. But suggestive. Dangling titbits of tantalising interestingness to the curious as they explore some fifteen spaces and venues around the pleasant campus of the observatory park.

As fellow creative pilgrim Lee said to our little band on the first day, “watch out for the entrance areas of these places – they’re honeytraps!”. And over the three days we camped together up in grounds of a legendary bit of science infrastructure – originally brought successfully online just in time to track Sputnik – I don’t think there was one venue we paused at that we didn’t get stuck at until the end of whatever accidentally fascinating talk or show was playing out there.

 

HIGHER FREQUENCIES

With Dot Talks on everything from epic to niche-specific views of the universe, the programme tempted our intense content mission planning with subjects such  as Where is all the antimatter? and Space rocks on ice: hunting for meteorites in Antarctica and On you, inside you: the amazing and horrible world of parasites and The wonders of the Galaxy Zoo and Einstein’s Relativity: tested to the limit with pulsars or simply Humans in space: what’s next. It was impossible to really know where to start.

My crew for the weekend was perfect for a first exploratory away team to the festival. Writer, actor, broadcaster, musical muser and events producer Lee Rawlings, film director, writer, NASA geek and, it transpired, secret George Benson fanboy, Andy Robinson, urban design planner, art explorer, Chemical Brothers interpreter and the lovely first lady of Momo, Caroline Peach, and yours truly. What brought us together to varying degrees were significant appreciations of: music that loves sound and groove, conceptual creativity, human social/technical evolution, and of course science fiction. It’s hardly a wonder we all wanted to be there. Even if only half of us had some appreciation of camping. We all had some groove we wanted to be getting on, and we were all open to have our minds-equal-blown or fancies tickled by scientists, artists and performers. Obviously one of the first things we wanted to get to was The scientific secrets of Doctor Who. Sadly, I think disco of one form or another intervened and we didn’t make it.

 

I’d wanted to get to Steve Fuller’s Transhumanism: Can you afford to live for ever? or Tim O’Brien’s Hello out there – not least of which because his look at the story of the Voyager gold disks is soon to become very physically illustrated for both me and Andy, when the crowdfunder we both backed last year will deliver copies of the first ever vinyl editions of the probe records into our porches. We are still unsure if there are headline remixes included in the bundle.

In fact, perhaps one of the most especially Bluedot kind of talks might have been the arts-science panel for Cosmos. Because it illustrated the kind of connected thinking and follow-through problem-solving implicit with the festival’s manifesto.

Commissioning art to make use of the Lovell telescope could mean any number of things. But it’s gotta mean big, right? In this year’s piece for the annual project, some five different team reps had to try to explain the stages of development necessary to turn a 1950s radio telescope into the funkiest, perhaps trippiest, piece at the expo. For, in engaging ‘Tokyo-based media artist, DJ and programmer’ Daito Manabe – the kind of utterly C21 influencer job title I long for – to bring alive the three thousand ton, sometimes nearly 90m high structure, the team at Jodrell Bank had to oversee a sequence of rather tricksy things.

In describing his response, Celestial Frequencies, Manabe himself shared his desire to use live data from the telescope to drive something interactive for an audience. And if a groovy way to use the physical structure’s presence in the grounds might be to projection map onto it, this meant that that giant laticework of metal had to be… well, actually mapped. Enter a LIDAR scanning team, from global developers, Arup. LIDAR uses lasers to precisely measure distances and can be used to scan objects into very highly detailed 3D models. So highly detailed, in fact, that the chap from the projection map team commissioned by Abandon Normal Devices processing the results held his head in his hands when it came to his turn to share their part of the process. “When we took the LIDAR team’s files,” he said, before looking up, “it was a, ah, big file to try to work with. We had to simplify it just a little bit.”

Their job was, in effect, to take Manabe’s algorithms and creative production and have them successfully talk to a viably runnable model of the complete telescope cradle and dish – one feeding into the framework of the other, to project back onto the actual superstructure with an interface ordinary schmos like us could twiddle with.

And after five teams’ co-ordination through a whole range of high-end technical and creative skills and a seriously long night the night before the festival?

The end result was, y’know, just a bit of cosmetic sound and light to the high passer-by. ..Wasn’t it?

But. To stand at the console at two in the morning, looking up at this behemoth of sensible science, and flick a roller dial around between pretty motion graphics, bending and striping the steel frame to pleasing sound design, was a dawningly striking experience, as you tried to take in that this giant disco feature you were mucking about with, twenty feet from the portaloos, was being driven by data streaming in from around the freaking cosmos.

In some goofy-stupid, festivalgoer fug, we were taking electrons spiraling around the electro magnetic field of our own galaxy, and background radiation from the big bang, and the relentless radiowave glitch of ‘LGM’s – pulsars – from other galaxies and mashing them up into audio-visual entertainment. Actual data. At my stupid actual fingertips. For fun. And for pretty freaky perspective.

I suppose not many would have said: “Chuh! My kid could’ve done that, mate” but it still goes to show that art’s ability to speak perspective shifting volumes mostly happens when its audience can appreciate its journey. But Bluedot is nothing if not playing to a crowd that just loves appreciating long journeys and pretty freaky perspectives.

 

MIDRANGE NOISE

This may be just as well, beccause dotted around the Dot Talks was a theme to really freak you out, if you had perspective enough. And this one might well faulter from playing to an already receptive crowd – because in the story of our relationship with our home planet, the only planet we currently have, the current act is playing out very ominously for its protagonists. And trying to sell a disaster movie as an arthouse doc is bad for boxoffice, to say the least. Not helped by the fact that disaster movies are meant to be schlock therapy, watching things blow up in the complete safety of a cinema. And arthouse docs tend to just make half-way clever-feeling people feel a little bit cleverer, or be reassured that they already know this. The screen keeps a distance as we paint the image of the world into our own heads.

So who on Earth could be prepared to really comprehend the possibilities of the whole world coming down upon our heads? And what to possibly actually do about such a thing? It’s very hard indeed to tune into an inconveniently existential truth. We wear ear defenders to that incomprehensible noise.

Because many of the talks’s speakers referred to one thing somewhere in their subject, sometimes with no editorial link to it – just a sense of responibility to mention it. The climate crisis.

Erik van Sebille‘s oceanography presentation was a more overtly ecological one – a calmly impassioned sharing of the plastics disaster unfolding in our seas. In practical terms, a whole other problem to worry about. But one I have been beginning to believe is a symptom of the same mindset driving the behaviours causing climate change. Van Sebille simply started with the facts: Of the 78 million tons of plastic waste humankind produces every year, one third is landfilled, one third is ‘recycled’ and one third goes straight into the wider environment. But a third of that recycled or downcycled waste ends up in the environment too. And that finds it’s way into the seas. Some five millions tons a year. Try to picture that.

Part of his work has been to help map the progress of plastic waste in the seas – the patterns of its drift in ocean currents. This has been done extensively with tracking buoys, and lead to fantastically simple and sobering online resources like plasticadrift.org which simply shows you where all the crap goes from any point on the planet. As van Sebille said:

“We can account for some 50trillion particles of plastic adrift in the oceans. But this number is way too small to cover the five million tons a year we know has been put in there. So where is it all? On the ocean floors, and in marine animals. I can tell you first hand, it’s getting pretty hard to find sea life that doesn’t have plastic in it.”

Plastic, he said, is pretty benign in itself. But it is made with other materials that are toxic, and it can absorb other toxins that get passed into the food chain. So the fact that it finds its way into so much marine life is, well… really not good. He pointed out that packaging for food is not all bad – “it helps reduce food waste significantly” he said – but it’s the uncompostability of it that pushes it into other chains of waste that end up in the sea. Tons of UK plastic is shipped to the Far East for sorting, outsourcing the problem supposedly, but in fact ending up, he claimed, in the hands of small family subcontractors that filter for items they can sell on before junking the rest in rivers.

“No one solution will sort out the scale of this,” he said in response to a plaintive audience question we were all dumbly thinking: What the freaking hell can we do?It will take serious activation of a combination of responses – namely social economic solutions, chemical solutions and engineering solutions.”

When I then put my hand up and asked what one thing he wishes he could take back to audiences on land, in those visceral personal moments out at sea, he paused and said straight:

“Tackling the disaster of plastics filling up our marinelife food chain will mean nothing if we don’t tackle climate change fast. It’s all about that.”

Wow. How to dwarf your daunting problem.

And these were symptoms echoed strongly by Kevin Anderson in a swealtering Contact stage, later on. A former oil & gas engineer, he laid out some of the evidence for the climate crisis, with sixteen of the seventeen warmest years on global record having happened in the seventeen years since the turn of the century. And the news is bleak. As he put it, “What we need right now is a Marshall Plan scale of mobilisation” to bring the world’s carbon dioxide emissions down to anywhere near disaster mitigating levels. “And I just don’t see it happening” he said.

He spoke of the economic displacement of climate crisis responibility – the notion, as Naomi Kline refers to it, of stealing the sky. The idea that western industrialised countries effectively spent the carbon budget for everyone else, condemming generations of people predominantly in the southern hemisphere to fuel and environment poverty. In describing the sheer cost the UK, the US, the EU and others should be spending on climate crisis initiatives, Anderson simply said this:

“This isn’t mitigation. It’s reparations.”

Then he went on. “Every time you take a flight to a nice new holiday, picture yourself sitting down with your kids at breakfast. You just robbed them of a bit of their carbon budget. You are effectively saying you don’t care about their future.”

Difficult words that stuck with us. Do we indeed, as he put it, care enough? And are we culturally equipped to, any of us, really change?

Bluedot, though, is hardly a religious festival. It won’t turn new age any time soon and it shies from preaching. The modus is science – we are effectively encouraged to explore and piece the facts together of things ourselves. And more evidence of the perspective expanding work of the Dot Talks was found by Caroline and Andy in Robert Mulvaney‘s The hunt for the oldest ice on Earth in which he simply demonstrated  the link between CO2 and planet warming. “This is a core sample from Antarctic ice” he said, holding up a long tube of said material. “It shows layers of time laid down, and captures some of the chemistry of the atmostphere then – because it literally contains the atmospheres of those different ages in the ice. Look,” he then said, “I’ll show you.” He then proceeded to hold the raw sample to the microphone so you could hear ice age air snapping and crackling free as it melted in the 21st century summer heat.

As he explains elsewhere, from his work as British Antarctic Survey science lead: “Trapped in deep ice cores are tiny bubbles of ancient air, which we can extract and analyze using mass spectrometers. Temperature, in contrast, is not measured directly, but is instead inferred from the isotopic composition of the water molecules released by melting the ice cores” And as the ice melted, the air bubbles popped and crackled their existence. Air not in the atmosphere for hundreds of thousands of years, released right there in a muggy, dried grass atmosphere of a culture festival tent. As Andy put it afterwards, “What he said, from analysing different periods of Earth’s atmosphere from the ice samples was that it is irrefutable that CO2 increases in the atmosphere and global warming are joined at the hip.”

Put together, it was more sobering than hearing Sputnik. But the strange web of different content we could explore created a constant background sense of wonder, despite the cold realities science can also present you with. Stepping into the coloured light and undulous squishyness of the Luminarium felt like therapy. Pottering in the arboretum at night between the flame light of  Walk The Plank‘s primal torches, or the Kazimier‘s Night Chorus lazer blinking singing bots, or simply hugging one of Alison Ballard and Mike Blow’s humming Colony balls – we all felt the wellness that only exploration and play can give a human. It was either that or sob in a rocking corner unable to talk again. I think a lot of the evening’s visitors found it strangely hard to let go of those big glowing orbs.

“Bloody ball huggers” said one passer-by as we left.

And, honestly, the enthusiasm and knowledge of all those who spoke at the festival was simply infectious – it was impossible to really get a death grip on despair. Caught in the doorway of the delightfully engaging Professor Sarah Bridle, for example, as she explained the rudiements of dark matter and dark energy to a packed big top, I am sure we all became ever more convinced that Miranda could have had a richly educative element to it in the right hands. But she too, as Caroline reported back, shared elsewhere her professionally very separate personal exploration of sustainable food practices and the impact that the climate crisis will have on something so globally fundamental.

And all this mind expansion was before getting to the music.

 

DEEPER WAVELENGTHS

The musical emphasis, as I’d understood it rather deliciously for my own tastes, was to be on electronic music artists. Sounds like such a natural fight, right? Synth hero papa himself Jean Michel Jarre headlined the inaugural Saturday night mainstage last year. And, while this genre delineation was far from strictly true this year, there was plenty of experimental sonic joy to fall over as happily haplessly as the editorial content. Making a beeline for Leftfield’s complete live rendition of one of my all time favourite LPs, Leftism, I was lucky enough to find a couple of similar heroes of mine on the bill, with Goldfrapp putting in a jolly pleasant set. As well as a headline woofer-mullering from, at long last for me, Orbital – sonic legends of inspiration to me in the 90s. Watching a field full of old ravers with toddlers ringing the bell on their shoulders all night was rather spiffing, I have to say. As was the breadth of age range represented between them, loving the credible sonic intensity of a band formed 25 years ago.

But it was also the sort of place to discover Tubular Brass. If you’ve not heard of this orchestral project before, you will instantly have gotten the idea – Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells arranged purely for the swelling sound of the industrial north of England. Except that, Sandy Smith’s lovingly and skillfully re-arranged homage to the impossibly visionary 1973 LP is transcendent of casual ideas of the sound of brass bands, or of the immediate smiles the idea conjours. Oh, we certainly smiled through every segment of the complete parts I and II – especially as I had Rawlings mouth-trumpeting each motif with the exact knowledge of a true musical nerd in my right ear – but, collapsed there in the summer dry grass in front of the main stage, it was a very rich sense of smile I think we were feeling. One typical of the whole festival – of the joy of intelligence and heart and recognition all working together for just the right audience. Us.

We’d discovered Tubular Brass however because they were first on stage with a name that Lee had guided us enthusiastically towards that Saturday lunch time – Hannah Peel. Sharing her forthcoming LP, recorded with Smith’s 30-piece ensemble, Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia, the sound was a joy to the tastebuds of my own ears, rather obviously. It draws instinctively I think on the big names of minimalism, perhaps especially Steve Reich in this project, though this headline is only a simple way in to describe its repeating, rising, morphing arpeggios of motif. But a sound squarely where you’d want it if you’re into such percussive use of melody. Synths are purposefully though restrainedfully front of house in the sound, making me a little weak at the knees, with a warm, potent width of trumpets, horns, bones and orchestral percussion gradually filling up the air around Peel’s richly clear arrangements. And yes, as of now ‘restrainedfully’ is a word. That natural fusion of clearly thinking both like a synthesiser lover and an orchestrator is simply gorgeous. And Hannah herself drops a splendid subtle friendliness into her wider work with her voice; dreaming as her music clearly is, she is nicely there with us in our listening and exploring.

 

 

Perhaps a name Hannah might one day be very used to hearing alongside her own is Anna Meredith. Why do I say this? It’s not simply that I happened to discover them both on the same exploratory, cosmic, creative weekend, or that they are both people with ‘anna’ in their names who clearly like sound. This would be silly. Maybe they will or won’t be doing a Back To The Minimalists! retro tour together in 25 years. But it’s some sense of sonic and structural adventurism that might ally them in the imagination just a little, different as their sounds are. And probably, I say with a little sigh in a way, the fact that they are technical-seeming composers and performers, knob twiddling as much as chart scribbling, who happen to be women. Now, old kitchen ravers and proggers like my merry band at Bluedot this July might casually imagine both these artists broadly sharing the generation of brilliant female musical explorers who’ve brought some nice arch pop into the mainstream over the last decade – Christine and The Queens, La Roux, Little Boots, Bat For Lashes and a good gang of others – but their work might be properly complete if no one felt the need make such very broad comparisons.

While it’s still a very good thing indeed to instantly see how much artists like Peel and Meredith will inspire, among many people, younger girls in particular towards driving musical sound for themselves and to going way beyond pop, encouraging them to stand confidently as fellow soundwave chasers, gear geeks and concept weavers… like so very much of now, here is to the day when not a single blogger wastes a paragraph describing such flimsy links. In the pantheon of art, may we cluster and mix without quick remarks about identity. But Vinita Marwaha Madill’s talk in the Star Pavillion may have illustrated a still relevant point, with How to be a rocket woman – starting from the premise that today still only 6% of engineers in the UK are women. So the work of inspiring diversity in talent pools is hardly over yet. My essential point is simply, hooray for the artists who stand out for leading.

And Anna Meredith really leads with her sound. What a sound, what a musical vision, and what a compositional resume.

The reviews and the commissions to her name mark her out as a significant artist of the early century. Why, so? It may be simply that she sounds like she’s chasing no other style but her own, from whatever rich mix of influences. Her structure of time, harmony and sound simply strike me as visionary. Where does such a boldness of decision making come from? I wonder this always when presented with any great artist younger than 100. But some minds do just arrive with a story to tell in a very particular voice – and they should be stars. She builds a sound with a very balanced use of her fellow band performers talents and I suspect she’d say it really was a collaboration. Starting with her own use of that great pop instrument, beloved of generations of kids dreaming of rock and roll, the clarinet, Anna’s arrangements have great oscillator throbs and ringmodded arps and fizzy twinkles beaten boldly around by Sam Wilson’s finely counted drums, and Jack Ross’s raw but metronomic electric guitar, augmented with Maddie Cutter or Gemma Kost’s tremming cellos, and stamped with arch art authority very firmly by the muscular  blasts of Tom Kelly’s tuba. Yes. I may often say there are not nearly enough trombone solos in popular music – and I stand by this – but you know you’re in for a good time when the hippest looking member of the group is lung-pummeling sixteen coiled feet of copper-zink alloy tubing and valves. Opening as they did with the mesmerisingly take-no-prisoners arpeggiated reverse helter-skelter of The Vapours, my introduction to Anna Meredith felt like being knocked into a side universe where perception warping creativity and intelligence are just the normal language of music. I always imagined they were.

But the interlaced cross-using of the band’s talents served to underscore their apparent aim to give us a properly art-minded new way of musically seeing, with Sam’s vocals from behind the blattered toms – while still counting 17ths or some such witchcraft – managed to sound like something from the delicacies of the Kings Of Convenience. That Anna herself then smiles and chats with super friendly ease, like she’s simply any normal favourite mate, just wraps up the whole experience as perception shifting. And… inspiring. I feel foolish now for part-exing my clarinet for my first synthesiser; I clearly should have kept them both. Certainly in the mindul hands of Meredith, it makes for a perfect artist for Bluedot Festival.

If there is, of course, a band more perfect than the Radiophonic Workshop.

 

ANCIENT SIGNALS

With Rawlings and Robinson at our side, back in the sweaty Orbit stage, we really could not have computer selected a more appreciatively tailored audience to see this legendary company of sonic pioneers, formerly of the unique scores to all your favourite BBC science and adventure series. Because both of them could name check every member of the group. And point them out.

..Well I mean of course YOU could also name Mark Ayres, Peter Howell, Paddy Kingsland, Roger Limb, Dick Mills and Kieron Pepper – but you’re as highly specialised as them. I considered attempting to revive my ‘Did I tell you about the time I met Ken Freeman’ anecdote, but I felt it wouldn’t fly.

What really flew was, of course, the sound. Melifluously mighty. Effortlessly rich. Whimsical to a faultline of sonic tremours. And a beauteous thing to watch grandparent-aged English shed boffins make engineering poetic. When they finished by dedicating their finale to their missing compadre, Delia Derbyshire, wrapping up the show with the heavily Peter Howell-ed version of her sacred Dr Who signiature tune (my secret favourite version, the ‘disco’ one), there were tears. Because it was another moment, for some of us, of that central thing that Bluedot may have almost accidentally exposed. Like a raw nerve.

Recognition.

Symbolically, the Lovell radio telescope is there to observe. To listen. Sweet as it may have been for my homies to very kindly describe a thorough plan to:

‘hijack the Jodrell jack ports, plug in some Momo, and reverse the polarity, baby’

– to which I replied that it was sixty years old and we’d be lucky if it’s anything as new as a five-pin DIN on the back of the Lovell – that massive bit of astronomical infrastructure is there to recieve, not broadcast. That is perhaps partly why it is such an inspirational object – it doesn’t just physically impose behind the main stage like a super Martian tripod, it represents the opposite attitude to the seemingly predominant one of our current echo chamber age. Openness, curiosity and observation. Am I stretching the poetic conceit too far to suggest a confident smallness in the universe? Maybe. But I don’t think we would have been alone in feeling such emotive things when gawping at it.

Watching the age range around the campus, it was obvious that many Generation Xers were jumping all over the festival, just like us. Because it may represent some sort of nucleus of all we grew up hoping for – an enlightened sense of progress. Waking up from a mindless sense of consumer improvement to truly humanise our advances. Old utopianism, but with a heart.

The Green movement may have found true conscious form in the artistic reactionism to post war consumerism – the counter culture. An instinctive cry to make things more human, before we knew quite how this might really shape things for us scientifically. But practically, Green legislature was muchly laid down in the 1970s in the wake of all those festivals and records and protests and art, and conservationism filtered through the crooked limestone of old Albion’s popular culture to take hold of many young imaginations, when I was still in knee-length socks. But it got progressively drowned out by other desires and cares in the grimly economic ‘modernisation’ of my and many other western countries in the awkwardly adolescent 1980s – trading hippies for yuppies. Somehow the culture of my homeland made the dream of haunting sloany wine bars in shoulder pads and pastels less laughable than wanting to plant something rooted with earthly meaning.

And maybe it was this age group that most ‘got’ the festival. For all ages were actually represented, but many of the groovy millenials around us in the camp sounded like they were mainly there for the music. And a good music spread was indeed a great draw of a certain kind. But the idea of this being the case still seemed funny to me. Not simply because there are so many other festivals in the UK for musical hedonism, but because millenials have at their heart something my generation only carried as a seed, I fancy. At least, I have imagined this so much lately. A innate sense of connectedness. That Gaia, that bloody hippy holistic one-ness – they get it. In them, the seed is germinated. And lord knows they apparently like hemp enough. The digital network is as symbolic as it is practical, illustrating an instinct I see in my neices and nephews that everything is connected. Through the air, not an electrical cable. So who would want to live in a stuffy box?

Yet. Where are the outlets for them? Is the post-yuppy aenesthetising of my generation’s childhood love of nature perpetuating that world of crappy silo thinking? It’s been my supposition lately that in drilling airholes in those boxes, we have allowed our children to see the outside connected world without unlocking the doors to let them out into it. I wonder hard if they so often have alien levels of anxiety at young ages not simply because of the freakish social high wire act they are expected to perform between the hyper personal and the physically distant; suspended as they too often seem to be above the benefits of the healthy practical human balances of the local community. But because they have an instinctive expecation to live lives that are connected, meaningful and sustainable, while being shown few everyday systems to facilitate this. They expect everything drone delivered but want those products and images on Instagram to mean something more than empty perfection. They are the most stressed out by comparing themselves to each other and the most loveably socially liberated generation in centuries. They live on truly terrible food from sun up to bedtime and will reduce a festival field to a wargrave of plastic and rubbish like consumerist locusts, yet are forehead-smackingly disbelieving of climate crisis denial. They hope for jobs that will pay them to be special, but they want to do more than push money around without meaning. You’d think Bluedot Festival would be the cry of connection to the twenty-somethings of 2017.

Perhaps, it will grow to be so. As the lovely first lady of Momo said, two of the talks she made it to were packed with folk in their twenties, wanting to know more of two very pertinent sounding issues for the evolving twenty-first century – Geoff White’s talk The dark web and Robert E Smith‘s The banality of Artificial Intelligence. “Both had queues overflowing from the venue,” she said, returning from the Contact stage. “The AI talk really stuck with me, because he was trying to highlight the misnomers of it. That there are still biases that creep into the coding – we don’t have true artificial intelligence by a long way yet but, something more concerningly dumb that we are getting used to interacting with. Rubbish in rubbish out still applies when developing these bots.” Then she added: “He said we need to be trying to develop AI that is like Data, not Lore!” While a Star Trek TNG reference might be very unmillenial, AI and robotics and the future of work are generally hotbutton topics in the mainstream now, and I wonder if youger visitors who came this year for the music will find themselves returning to Bluedot more specifically to hear about the deeper editorial topics that will affect their lives in a radically evolving future.

I couldn’t help taking delight in seeing so many younger children running around in the sun between bouncy art installations, lever-pulling science experiments, space agency debreifings,  oceanography films and sonic cathedrals of exhilaration. For them, all this stuff will go together like it’s supposed to – naturally. Like it’s normal to jump around with your heart full to music that sounds nothing like the bland cookiecutter pop of commercial radio, while thinking about the 40,000 year old air you heard popping from an Antarctic ice core sample half an hour before, under the shadow of a structure built to listen to the song of the cosmos. It brings me to tears again, thinking of it.

But I am a silly old utopian at heart. Rewatching Star Trek and The Next Generation lately, I have almost been in tears at it’s stagey moralising nearly every ep. I suspect I may be bringing a lot of  me to much of this. A symptom of the creative project I have been working away at for the last two years and which has changed my outlook on the world. A project I can’t help thinking would singlehandedly find its audience at Bluedot Festival. Music, art and science. Curiosity and playfulness. Hope.

As one person simply just stuck her nose in and said to Andy and I, in a coffee queue late one night, “we want the talks.” We were discussing the queues to the rich array of lectures and how, in a way, the proximity of some of the music venues to some of the Dot Talk venues was distracting. This festival goer agreed with us that the real source of inspiration was the knowledge and debate and exploration – the music was more like a brilliant celebration of this.

It made me feel there was just one thing missing. An actual preach.

A doggone, God’s-honest rally cry.

Something very unscientific. And probably just way more of me I am projecting there at the moment. But with such a raison d’etre to its very name, it seems to me that the main stage should surely be hosted – at least for an opening and closing party – by champions of the glorious sweet spot where artistic and scientific social endeavour intersect. Helping its audience feel placed into the story Bluedot wants to help tell, to amplify, to broadcast. Because these are times to tell new stories and create new ways of seeing, the like of which we haven’t needed in generations.

A talk that struck a chord with all four of us, Andy had homed in on instinctively. New Scientist‘s Catherine Brahic Stone age cinema. Why would all four of us feel the resonnance of hearing about neolithic cave art, you may ask? Well, it will become obvious when Andy and I reveal what we’ve been developing together over the last year, and how much it’s filled our minds together at home and with our families. But his instinct to investigate some human creative origins while considering the human future gave Catherine Brahic’s insightful findings a moving clarity for us, as she shared a fresh look at the possible real intentions of cave artist storytelling 40,000 years ago. What it sealed in our minds over the whole weekend was the need for a true human connection across everything of now. A true human storytelling.

 

In the perfectly chosen setting of Jodrell Bank Observatory, with its elegant, giant ear to the heavens, I’d say the organisers know that the greatest story tellers aren’t carnival evangelists. That the truly faithful don’t shout the mind of God – they are listeners, carefully cupping an ear for the still small voice of truth. Resolute in learning to tune out the background static. The BS.

Bluedot Festival may not want to preach. But we were converted. Or maybe just identified. But I’d like to think it could be a festival from which people feel activated – some sleeper cells triggered to consciousness. Because, for us, this was a shared moment and a cultural idea that, for all it’s don’t tell, show, was saying a very great deal, very clearly indeed.

How confident will it be in trusting its own story into the future, I wonder? As thoughfully engineered as it already is, even groundbreaking, perhaps it is still just putting out searching signals at the moment. But I sincerely hope it is just clearing its throat.

Because when it really sings, we may all be celebrating.

 

 

“That central thing that Bluedot may have almost accidentally exposed. Like a raw nerve. Recognition.”

 

Pulsar data-driven Lidar-mapped Lovell projection interactions. @bluedotfestival

A post shared by Timo Peach (@momotempo) on

Momo brings coastal characters to musical life

New Dorset safety initiative Coastwise encourages younger explorers to enjoy the Jurassic beaches more safely, thanks to an invitation from Love Love Films to local songwriting character Timo Peach.

 

If there’s one thing that leaps to mind when visitors and locals alike think of Dorset, it is the coast line – the county’s portion of the famous ‘Jurassic Coast’. But such a dramatic stretch of beaches, cliffs, marine life and geological history can harbour its hazzards for careless visitors. So, as avid champions of local creative and social life, when the team at Bournemouth production company Love Love were approached by Dorset Coast Forum about creating a new film to help children remember the essentials of coastal play, they jumped at the chance to get involved.

 

Bridget Betts, Dorset Coast Forum Coordinator explained “The Dorset coast is a fantastic place to visit and explore but unfortunately there can be dangers at the beach and along our coastline. We see news headlines where parts of the Jurassic coast have come down, people have got stuck by avoiding signs or children have been taken out to sea on inflatables.  We therefore decided to produce an animated film that would deliver safety messages together in a fun and different way”

The team’s response was to design a cast of characters to lead youngsters around the points to remember.

Lead animator Sunny Clarke states: “It was really fun creating the different characters. They all have their own personalities and individuality. Creating different animations for them all was really interesting – so the lobster moves differently to the dog and the seagull is always getting into scrapes before finding a way out of trouble by following the advice of the song, we really hope the children enjoy the characters as much as we enjoyed creating them”

 

STRIKING THE RIGHT NOTE, FINDING A RIGHT SILLY SONGWRITER

To bring this to life musically, the team thought of Momo:tempo, and the voice characterisations of Mr Peach.

“As a Dorset boy, I felt I couldn’t turn down the chance to be involved,” says Timo. “Working with the Love Love gang is always super fun and they invited me in at an early stage to consider first the 20 key messages to get across in the songwriting and also the key characters who would be singing it, as it were. Probably not something all composers and producers would expect to be asked to do, but it didn’t seem an odd request between Love Love and Momo” he grins.

From a panama-sporting posh octopus to a starfish that sounds like one of the Mitchell brothers, the bloke from Momo created voices to help differenciate the colourful characters on screen that the creative team had come up with. And that was before getting to the music itself.

“Sitting around in the writers room working out scenarios from the team’s initial character designs and storyboard was immense fun. How we managed to keep in the starfish farting is still a marvel of creative conviction I feel” laughs Timo, “but then I had to go away and come up with an actual tune. And one that could somehow carry twenty different safety messages.”

Timo’s inspiration came from a week on a Dorset beach of his own.

“The lovely first lady of Momo and I were celebrating a rather special anniversary with a week in a beach hut at Christchurch last year, and the weather happened to be glorious. So I sat on the sand in the twinkling sunshine and tried to picture these marine characters communicating something of the life all around me there that summer. Once I’d come up with a basic hook I couldn’t stop humming, and an idea of something inclusive to the songwriting approach, I just had to craft in all the information as rhythmically and entertainingly as possible. Before going back to the studio and working out how the production and voices would really sound all together.”

“It was just the sort of three minute colourfully daft challenge I can’t resist” he adds.

 

The full results of his and the team’s work were unveiled to key partners and schoolchildren at a launch event in June 2017. The children were tested on the safety messages and the song seemed to help cement the key safety messages to remember when visiting the coat and seaside. The animation will be shown in coastal visitor centers around the UK, schools and numerous educational training platforms and programmes.

Rhiannon Jones from the Dorset Coast Forum said: “We LOVE it!!! It’s sooooo good – really brilliant work. It’s so catchy and the animation is really funny. I can’t wait to get it out there.”

The Dorset Coast Forum coordinated the project, working with organisations including National Trust, RNLI, Litter Free Coast & Sea, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, The Jurassic Coast Trust, Dorset Wildlife Trust and SafeWise, with Visit Dorset, the official tourism site for Dorset, helping them all to promote safety on the coast.

 

Watch Love Love and Momo:tempo being Coastwise >

And if you’d like to learn the song, to be ready for a test on coastal safety at a moment’s notice, here are the lyrics:

COASTAL LIFE

VERSE 1
Let’s go! (let’s go)
And be (and be)
Where the squiggly line of the land
Meets the sea.
We’ll be your hosts
In this environment we like to call The Coast!

Wonderful life we can see
If we share it safely.

VERSE 2
Before (before)
We leave (we leave)
We always check to see just what
The weather will be.
Sunscreen and shoes (and food!)
And a hat, a mac, a rucksack…
What we choose will
Help us prepare for a great day, in every way.

There may be rockpools,
There may be sand,
Between the shoreline and the land.
So here’s what to make sure you understand
Before we rush out and explore:

CHORUS 1
If you have eyes, then look!
Look where you tread –
Don’t touch anything dead!
Look at the cliffs and rocks –
Don’t go having your nosh
Where you’ll likely get squashed.
Look at the waves and tide –
If it’s blowing a gale,
Jumping in is a fail!
Look at the whole world a while –
And in an emergency,
999’s what you dial.
It’s always what you dial.

VERSE 3
Stay sun safe (sun safe!)
Hydrate (hydrate!)
Enjoy the surf, but
Always swim with a mate
In sight of the lifegaurd.
And don’t fight a rip current,
That’s, like, way too hard.

A world of adventure there’ll be
If we explore it safely.

Wear a lifevest; watch for drift.
Don’t follow stray pets off a cliff.
In your wellies or on a skiff,
Don’t ignore what you need to explore:

CHORUS 2
If you have eyes, then look!
Fossils and history –
Not precariously!
Look for the landscape clues –
Don’t sink like lead
And don’t dig over your head.
Watch how the wildlife lives –
But don’t get a jellyfish caught
In your hair or your shorts…
Look for the safety signs!
And in an emergency,
999’s what you dial –
Always dial 999.

Written, performed and produced by
Timo Peach, the bloke from Momo:tempo

And if you’d like to download the track for free, to drive your family mad in the car on the way to the beach, you can find it right here: