Twitter, not all bad

Sometimes Twitter showcases the very worst of humanity, however sometimes it also gives you an insight into how lovely most people are. That happened twice for me this week, the first was the discovery of @BrianPiltonthe Twitter account of a 75-year old grandfather living in Exeter. My cynical side hopes this isn’t a parody account, my nice side is glad to read about Brian’s life because he sounds like a lovely man and I love that he is apparently really getting something positive from being on Twitter, the internet at its best can eradicate physical constraints and open you up to a whole world of new people, ideas and whatnot and it seems that’s what Twitter is doing for Brian, as this tweet says:

The second time Twitter was good this week was after this fairly upsetting screengrab of some people being twats was shared, a load of (better) people decided to try and find the bloke in the photo and tell him that he is great, people are great, dancing is great and they want to invite him to a big dance party.

AND THEY DID: @Dancingmanfound

So, there you go; Twitter, not all bad

Writing thus doing

If I write these things down then there is a slightly increased chance they’ll actually happen, they’re less resolutions than vague aspirations for the year ahead:

  • Read a book a week
  • Get better (actually competent) at German
  • Take more photos
  • Do at least 1 marathon
  • Do at least 1 decent (3+ day) bike ride
  • Go up some mountains
  • Go bouldering outdoors

There, fascinating as ever I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Television and Social Media

I went to a thing for work (Directors UK) organised by the Westminster Media Forum which discussed “TV and the second screen: social media, innovation and regulation“. It was the closest I feel I have ever come to what might be described as “lobbying”, which was a bit weird. I tweeted so much my phone died, I’ve embedded the Storify we did for work below which filters out (most of) the crap and focuses on the director-relevant stuff.

What struck me was how many of these lessons/observations could easily be applied to the arts sector in one way or another. Although obviously the sizes of audience being discussed here are beyond what most traditional arts organisations could expect to reach…

Anyway, enjoy.

Berlin Marathon 2014

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3:28:21

I made peace with the fact I definitely hadn’t done anywhere near enough training to try and run a pb (I’d probably managed 6 weeks, and no more than 3 runs a week at best – i.e. not much/enough). So I just took my time and enjoyed it. For the first time ever I didn’t have any “bad bits” and had a massive grin on my face for most of the course (as opposed the usual grimace).

If you’re thinking about doing a marathon I’d totally recommend Berlin, flat, really well-organised, great crowds. Plus Berlin is a really ace city.

Good fun.

Emptying your brain

When I was supposed to be revising for my a-levels I spent quite a lot of time writing and recording loads and loads of music. I think I convinced myself that it was sort of preparation for doing music tech at uni but…I think it was probably just procrastination and displacement activity on a grand scale.

Ever since then I’ve tended to write and record stuff in bursts, and then do nothing for ages. Inevitably this usually leads to me buying and selling music equipment on a weird, perpetual 2-year cycle that switches between boundless enthusiasm and a combination of regret and ennui. Another problem is that I never really finish anything, which probably hints at some sort of deep-seated personality flaw, but I like to think is more linked to the fact that I enjoy having ideas and fleshing them out a bit more than I do actually completing a song.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this. I think that it may be as a sort of bookmark so that I can look back and remember that in the summer of 2014 I was really enthusiastic about writing music for the first time in a long time. I think it helps that being in London has meant I’ve reconnected with some of my old, music-making friends, so there is some sort of external motivation to getting things done. I also find the whole thing incredibly relaxing, although it is an amazingly effective way of losing entire evenings or even whole days.

Who knows, maybe I’ll even finish something.

Tour du Mont Blanc

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A couple of weeks ago I went to do the Tour du Mont Blanc which is, as the guidebook says, “one of the most popular long distance walks in Europe. It circles the Mont Blanc Massif covering a distance of roughly 170 km with 10 km of ascent/descent and passes through parts of Switzerland, Italy and France. It is considered one of the classic long distance walking trails“.

It was completely incredible.

I’ve done multi-day bike rides and runs before but this was the first multi-day hike thing that I’d attempted (all the legwork of a run plus all the “carrying everything you need” of a bike ride, double fun).

Observations include: my GCSE French hasn’t lasted 12 years of neglect particularly well; glaciers are fucking amazing; being in the mountains for 10 days is an outstanding antidote to living in London; American teenagers are required to shout at all times; walking from one country into another country via a mountain pass is incredibly satisfying; being in a cloud for 3 days is incredibly unsatisfying; it is possible to eat more cheese than you can imagine (or, I suspect, is medically advisable); walking uphill for hours is pretty great; walking downhill for hours is pretty rubbish; cablecars are a mixed blessing, being at 3,842m makes you go weird.

If you like mountains, and cheese, go do the Tour du Mont Blanc. Loads of info here www.walkingthetmb.com

Stuff that may be helpful to know:

  • We did more-or-less the entire thing (started in Les Houches and finished in Chamonix) in 9.5 days, this felt pretty manageable, I think you could probably do it quicker but the time we took allowed us to take a fairly relaxed pace and not end each day exhausted. As a result I think (speaking for myself at least) that we enjoyed the whole thing, as opposed to when I did the end-to-end ride, where by day 6 I was sick of cycling and everything to do with bicycles because we were cycling 100+ miles and around 10 hours a day (not fun).
  • Walking poles are really useful, I know they’re not particularly widely used in the UK but a decent set of walking poles (mine were less than £50 from Cotwolds) makes things so much easier, especially going downhill (and there’s a lot of going downhill). Plus you get some bizarre tanlines thanks to the straps.
  • The weather can make or break your trip. We were really lucky that we enjoyed a heatwave for the first week, not a single cloud in the sky and temperatures pushing 30 degrees (which did feel a bit too hot at points), however then the clouds descended and we didn’t see anything for 3 days which totally changed our enjoyment of things. The views are really what make this route so if the weather is rubbish I’d recommend holding out for a few days if you can til it clears (although I realise that’s not always possible).
  • You can camp pretty much the whole way round, the only places you definitely can’t camp are in Courmayeur and at La Flegere. In Les Chapieux the camping is free, and it was also free at the Rifugio Elisabetta (although apparently it’s not supposed to be allowed there they let you camp anyway). If there aren’t campsites specified then most of the refuges let you camp in their ‘grounds’.
  • Stocking up on food as you go is pretty affordable. We tried to buy bread/cheese/meat/fruit at the beginning of each day from whatever shops we came across, this meant we saved quite a bit as we didn’t need to pay for lunchtime meals at restaurants etc.
  • Switzerland is expensive. I knew this before we went as I’ve been there a few times over the past couple of years but Switzerland really is really expensive so brace yourself – you’ll be in Switzerland 2-3 days (or more if, like us, you take a ‘rest day’) and everything is probably 20% more expensive there.
  • Water is readily available. Almost every refuge had somewhere you could top up your water and you can also top up in some of the streams and rivers you pass.
  • Being able to speak some French is NECESSARY. I stupidly didn’t really brush up on my French before we went because the person I went with speaks really good French…this wasn’t really fair on them and I did make an effort once we were out there. However I wish I’d done some more preparation. Don’t assume anyone speaks English (in fact I’d go so far as to say most people don’t, or won’t), French is the common language and you do feel like a total idiot if you can’t at least speak the basics (by about day 3 my schoolboy-level French had made a reappearance and was almost adequate).
  • Make sure your phone works abroad. I had enabled roaming but for some reason my phone only worked about 20% of the time. However my friend’s phone worked almost all the way round. I have no idea what the issue was but it’s probably worth checking.
  • I had a 75 litre pack and that comfortably fitted all of the stuff I needed, plus our tent, plus a couple of extra bits if necessary (food, etc).

Photo #3

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Iron bridge, Leeds.

On my last weekend in Leeds I walked from where I lived in Horsforth into the city centre, along the canal. In that 5 (ish) mile walk you get such a good sense of the industrial history of the city. There’s Victorian iron- and stone- work everywhere and in places you can’t imagine things have changed a huge amount in the last 150-years.

Live-streaming

One of the last things I was involved with before I left Opera North was a live-streaming project called Inside Opera: Live (more info about that here http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/may/05/inside-opera-live-stream-youtube), and one of the first things I was asked about when I started at Directors UK was whether or not we should live-stream our AGM/conference. It’d be fair to say that live-streaming is still very much ‘a thing’. But I’m not always entirely sure why it is so widespread (or at least the desire for it seems to be).

Definition

I think typically what people are describing when they talk about a ‘live stream’ is a live video and audio feed of an event, although it is always a bit disappointing when you realise that is the sum of their ambition. I am firmly of the belief that there are loads of different ways you can represent/showcase your event/performance/discussion/whatever in close to real-time in a way that’s meaningful for people who can’t physically be there. Quite often this wouldn’t involve a video OR audio feed, and everyone would be much better off for it.

Expertise

I think the main problem with the rush towards live-streaming every single thing that happens is that to do live-streaming well requires a level of technical and logistical expertise that is not a) widely available or b) cheap. You can, of course, get up and running with a live-stream using nothing more than your phone and a free wi-fi connection (although I personally wouldn’t ever watch something like that) but to do it well requires a not-insignificant amount of equipment and people.

Rationale

You also have to question why people are seemingly so keen to live-stream whatever it might be they’re keen about live-streaming. Is there really an audience out there who can’t get to the event and who want to sit at (most likely) a computer for an hour or more and watch the thing unfold in real time? Really? I mean, really? Have you done that? Do you know anyone who has done that? Would those people be just as happy watching an edited video of the event a few days later? I don’t really have a definitive answer to that and of course it’ll depend on the specifics of what you’re wanting to live-stream but my instinct is that most people probably won’t get much less out of watching the latter.

I am also surprised at how often people live-stream something and then you never see or hear anything from it after the day of the event, I know there are sometimes issues with rights etc but if you’ve gone to the effort and expense of having cameras at the thing do you not want to capture it for posterity? Surely you believe there is some value in what you’re doing or you wouldn’t have live-streamed it in the first place! And more people are likely to watch something that is available for them to watch whenever they want to.

Of course sometimes it is completely valid to want to live-stream something, especially if it is an interactive thing and you are offering some way for those watching the live-stream to engage with the event – even though they’re not physically present. Or if the thing you are live-streaming is something of an ‘event’ and there really is a ‘must-view’ aspect to it that would totally be lost if you don’t watch it unfold in realtime (although, be honest with yourself, how many things really fall into this category?).

Expense

People frequently comment on their surprise when they discover the cost of live-streaming something ‘properly’ (and I’m not even talking about live-broadcast into cinema a la NT:Live or similar which involve OB trucks and all sorts of incredibly expensive gubbins). But once you start to break it down it is, maybe, less surprising. If you were live-streaming, say, a panel discussion you might want to consider: at least a couple of cameras (and probably accompanying camera operators), audio feed (which would at the very least require a decent feed from the venue’s pa), someone to direct the thing and vision mix between the camera feeds, some way for the director to talk to the camera operators so they got the shots they wants, maybe some basic lighting, all of the switchers, cabling and whatnot that’d connect all of this together. In addition you’d want some way of getting your audio and video online and out of the venue, this would ideally require a good internet connection and a decent computer. You’d really like to have someone worrying about the technical side of things too, you might want someone monitoring social media, and suddenly you’ve got a fairly big pile of people and cameras and cables and all you’re really doing is filming in a pretty controlled environment where nothing particularly exciting is really likely to go wrong.

Creativity

I DO think there is something to be said for the view that in creating a live-stream you are creating an entirely new experience. It is fruitless to try and merely think of it as a ‘relay’ or extension of the live experience that you are covering, you are actually reinterpreting that performance/whatever, for a new audience, who are experiencing it in an entirely different way to the audience in the same physical space. You are directing that experience and you could shape something that is wildly different to what physically-present audience experiences. There is clearly a hugely interesting discussion to be had about the potential creative implications of that, although there doesn’t seem to be a massive debate on those terms just yet (or maybe I’m simply unaware of it).

I was thinking the other day and I don’t think I’ve ever really watched a live-stream of anything so I’m probably not the target market which may account for my scepticism. Equally it may come from the fact I’ve seen this sort of thing discussed ad nauseum over the last few years so I am just completely bored of hearing about it. I also have some sense of the time, money and hassle involved in organising a live-stream (it could conceivably be more difficult and expensive to sort out than the event it is covering).

I’d be interested to hear from any live-streaming devotees. I am not one of you.