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Archive for February, 2009

Just heard a very good half hour programme on BBC Radio 4 (as detailed below) all about art made from litter – my kind of heaven!!

You can hear it on the BBC’s excellent ‘listen again’ service, available here –  better be quick though, as I think they only keep programmes up there for one week after transmission?

26 February 2009,  11:30: The Art of Litter
John Wilson explores the reasons why some artists use rubbish in their work and the messages they often communicate about waste, consumerism and the dispensability of modern life.

BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 95 FM and 198 Long Wave

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Here’s some shots of my newly renovated washboard – when you compare it to the original, I hope I’ve made it better and not simply ruined a true antique. I decided to make any amendments to the piece as in-keeping as possible, using galvanised bits of metal where appropriate (rather than brass or copper, say) and keeping to one additional colour of black for the strap and add-ons.

After rubbing down the wooden frame, I gave it a couple of coats of Danish Oil – the wood proved to be a really nice colour under all that dirt and mold! The frame is pretty rotten in places unfortunately, but should hold together given careful use.

I also scrubbed down the metal washboard itself with some wire wool and soap. Again, it came up looking pretty good once a lot of the corrosion had been removed. It’s a bit dented, and has even corroded right thought in a few tiny spots, but again I think it will hold up ok in it’s new usage.

Completed washboard renovation, pre-addition of thimbles

Completed washboard renovation, pre-addition of thimbles

I decided not to replace the curved struts on the back – the board is clearly not going to get as much pressure from simply being played as an instrument compared to its original role. I also decided not to replace the thin piece of wood that used to sit behind the uppermost parts of the frame – it didn’t seem to serve much purpose and was so rotten I’d have had to had made a new one that may not have matched the overall look too well?

I added a strap (made from a very old belt of mine – never throw anything away!) held in place by between galvanised crimping plates, screwed into place.

Close up of strap fixings

Close up of strap fixings

For added interest whilst playing, I’ve added two bells (both sprayed black) on to one of the sides – one from an old alarm clock and one from a bicycle bell. Such additions to washboards seem common (having done some internet research) and I’m looking out for something else for the other side – any suggestions? (I’ll paint the screw heads black too at one point – I realise from the photo how rubbish they currently look!).

Additional bells

Additional bells

Finally, I bought four metal thimbles from an excellent local sewing shop (I asked if anyone had ever been in to purchase thimbles for this purpose and both assistants looked pretty perplexed!). I bought two size 18s and two 17s to fit my different sized fingers – did you know thimbles came in ‘sizes’, because I sure didn’t!? I’ve added four pieces of dowel to the inside of the upper strut so the thimbles can be slipped into place when the board is not being played.

Close-up of the thimbles

Close-up of the thimbles

Completed washboard renovation, thimbles in place

Completed washboard renovation, thimbles in place

All in all I’m really pleased with the final outcome – now I just need to learn how to play it!! Not being a percussionist of any sort, I luckily have some friends who play in Cajun bands who I am hoping will give me a few pointers!? I’ll also aim to record it / use it in a piece of music soon so will post up the results asap…

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I’ve been trying to rationalise my computer work space a little at home recently. With both a PC and a MAC to accommodate, two sets of keyboards and mice etc, desktop space is at a premium. I had a couple of quite neat Dell PC speakers on the desk also, but even they seemed to be taking up a bit too much space – also they were very low down just sitting on the desk surface, so I don’t think I was getting the optimum sound from them

With the addition of two lengths of copper pipe cut to a length sufficient to to rise the speakers up to ear height, I removed the existing speaker bases and bolted them directly onto ‘end caps’, fashioned from a copper 2p coin soldered onto a straight 15mm pipe connector. This style of end cap I’ve successfully used on a variety of projects. They are neat, useful, and cost a fraction of the price of normal copper end caps.

The base of the copper supports were drilled and bolted directly on to each end of my desk.

The photos below show the speakers in place, and after those are some views of the end caps (the ones in this shot are slightly smaller caps made from penny coins).

Copper speaker stands

Copper speaker stands

Copper pipe and penny 'end caps'

Copper pipe and penny 'end caps'

The caps are simply pushed into place on the copper supports, which allow the speakers to be rotated to the desired angle, and also removed easily if need be. When time permits I think I may steampunk the speakers themselves, tidy up the cable clips etc. . .

Addendum – here’s a shot of the original speakers. . .

Original speakers

Original speakers

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Last year sometime I got really into the concept of mind mapping – a visual way of working out problems, laying down scenarios, making lists… lots of things really.

In August 2007 I gave it my first real go, when I thought I’d apply it to my music and how I might be more focused / make a greater success of what I was trying to achieve with it. Things were in a bit of turmoil musically around that period, and I wondered if the mind mapping might help?

So, armed with a large sheet of paper, a pack of multi-coloured felt pens (colours are supposed to really help the mapping process), a pot of tea and a nice table by the river in my favourite café, I set-to and came up with the diagram as below. It may not be particularly legible in the photo (particularly as i got a bit carried away and stained the whole page with the left over tea!) but it certainly served to highlight a few areas for me to work on.

Music Mindmap 2007

Music Mindmap 2007

So, nearly a year and half later, I felt things had moved on as far as they might musically, so I wondered if it was time to revisit the mind mapping process and see if I came up with some new things – or indeed if the things I had written down last time were still relevant?

Blank piece of paper, pens (and tea!) Feb 2009

Blank piece of paper, pens (and tea!) Feb 2009

Equipped with another piece of paper and a new set of pens (as seen above, 80p well spent in Wilkinsons!), here is the new result:

Music Mind Map, Fed 2009

Music Mind Map, Fed 2009

So did I discover anything by going though the process again? Certainly it’s not as pretty (!), but it’s a lot more focused. I think there are about the same number of possibilities on there, but they are a lot more structured and certainly some immediate priorities / areas of activity really stood out. All in all, it was a great process – I now just need to actually get on with some of it and make things happen!

I think revisiting the same subject  in the same way in another six months or so would be very beneficial – my only concern is that I bet Hendrix never sat down and did this sort of thing!!??  (he just turned the Marshall up to 11 and got on with it!!)

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A couple of weeks ago I got a very nice email from a journalist called Sarah, who was in the process of researching and writing an article on steampunk for a new craft-related magazine. She was particularly interested in talking to UK-based steampunk makers / enthusiasts and had come across my stuff on the web,.

Following a telephone interview (during which I wittered on far too much, I fear!) she’s been beavering away and has just sent me an advance copy of her article. Clearly it’s not the final type-set version (I sent her some photos of my stuff which will hopefully appear at some point) but in the meantime I thought I’d include it verbatim as below.

I think Sarah has a really exciting writing style, has definitely done her research and  has a really good grasp on the whole topic:

Vive la revolution!

Choo choo! All aboard the Steampunk railway engine! Destination? The Victorian era, circa 1901. Yes, that’s right, you heard correctly. A revolution’s upon us and things are going to get a little bit steamy.

First things first, though. Just what the blooming, bleeding hell is Steampunk? Sounds a little…weird, you’re thinking? Well, it is weird. It’s really quite strange. But it’s the ubermensch of cool and once we’re done here, you’ll be just itching to get your mitts on some welding tools.

But before you do, close your eyes and dream of a world of romance, of adventure, of time travelling down paths less chosen. Close your eyes and dream of a world of clocks and cogs, wood and steam, brass and copper. Close your eyes and dream of a world where technology can be what you choose to make it, where anything goes, where – most importantly – there are goggles.

Rooted in the industrial Victorian age, aye, but really impossible to pin down to any one definition, it is retro-futurism, technology and romance, an alternate, whimsical reality. And, thanks be to the God of cogs, it’s here to stay. Art, fashion, music…Steampunk all the way, baby!

The art is really where it’s at. It’s been a while since we at Made saw anything that really made us sit up and go ‘ooo!’ but this stuff really does take Queen Victoria’s cake. Have a gander at Jake von Slatt, the veritable artistic Godfather’s, renovations. Lacklustre modern technology such as computer monitors, headphones, televisions, guitars – all are transformed, with a wave of his magic soldering iron, into the most enchanting, beautiful, shiny, new-wave-old-school reinventions. Who’d have thought you could fall in love with a memory stick? Well, you can. It happens, believe it.

UK artist, Clive Batkin, works comparable wonders from his St Albans garden shed. (Very Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but hey, have you ever seen a more Steampunk film in your life?) Said shed is apparently in danger of having its roof destroyed, as full as it is with things awaiting steam and punkage and stepping into Batkin’s home is apparently like stepping back in time. Fans, desk lamps, fridges – taking the ‘mod’ out of ‘mod con’, nothing is safe from the tinkering hands of this pioneering inventor. Here’s some good news for all you budding Steampunks – Batkin sees this art as something anyone can achieve, with a little bit of perseverance and a bigger bit of elbow grease. “To do some stuff, a relative amount of expertise is quite good but you could really get involved at any level. Using things in innovative ways without any craftsmanship is still Steampunk.”

And the better news? It’s cheap, like the budgie. Thanks to mankind’s propensity to chuck anything and everything out onto the street, you can find your materials pretty much anywhere. Batkin’s a skip diver. “I have always been collecting stuff and have always got it from skips. I really like seeing something quite modern and thinking, ‘with a little bit of screwing and drilling, I could turn that into something else.’”

The UK’s a bit behind the times where all this is concerned, unfortunately, but are we really that surprised? America’s got the Steampunk thang down to a fine art and we’re only just beginning to discover its potential. According to Batkin, the number of American Maker Faires – conventions where people get together to construct, destroy, concoct – is impressive and dear old Blighty’s yet to have its first one. But fear not, for it is on the way! Get yourself down to Newcastle over the weekend of the 14 & 15 March if you want to see Steampunk in real time. It promises to be a great, goggle-opening couple of days.

For a revolution, this has admittedly been a little slow in coming, having been a fantasy fiction genre since the ‘80s but thanks to t’interweb more and more people are discovering the sex appeal of Steampunk through a variety of different mediums.

Steampunk fashion is so on the up-and-up but we’re having none of this Russell-Brand-neo-dandyism malarkey. It’s far more interesting than that. Map-patterned corsets, cogs on…well, basically anything, waistcoats, paisley bowties, top hats, pilot hats, bonnets with machinery on them, goggles – it really is all about the goggles – feathers, velvet, all mixed in with a healthy smattering of modern sartorialism will make anyone look at you twice, and for all the right reasons. And, whilst it’s readily available for purchase, it’s also incredibly easy to achieve yourself. Find whatever you want to Steamify, break a mechanical watch or two and stick the parts on it. Job done.

As for Steampunk music, the American ‘air pirates’ Abney Park industrialise it the best, but we’re not talking Nine Inch Nails here. There’s elegance and refinement in their songs, as well as more mechanised intonations, but listening to them is like time travel in itself, although whether you’re going backwards or forwards is difficult to say. And their instruments are Steampunk pimped so it’s all a bit mesmerising, really. Luckily for us in the know, they’re zipping over from Seattle in their dirigible at the end of April for gigs in London and at the Whitby Gothic Weekend. Has the MADE stamp of approval, indeed!

So – any prospective Caractacus Potts out there, now that you’ve finished reading? We certainly hope so because this is one MADE favourite that refuses to quit. Just remember our golden rule and goggle it up right nice. Happy Steampunking, people.

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Positive action, blog-style

A friend of mine (we will call him ‘Mr A’) has recently been taking his local Council to task re the state of mis-repair of the pavement/road outside his house. In an attempt to get this better publicised, he has started a blog to highlight the various communications he has been having and to try to get more people involved.

You can follow his efforts here – the video footage of offending lorries is very enlightening!

hertfordshire_s-awful-roads

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Finally, I’ve completed the stand for the floor-standing version of the chimes (as described in the last WIP post).

A bit of rubbing down, some judicious wood staining where necessary, a few coats of Danish oil and the addition of the polished and varnished brass finial arrangement. . . et voilà:

'Chimes' floor stand

'Chimes' floor stand

I’m quite pleased with it – it has a nice antique/steampunk feel going on. . .

I wasn’t going to spoil the surprise, but I was desperate to assemble the whole chime arrangement as it exists so far and see how it looked. So here’s a (rather unfinished/temporary) sneak-preview of how it’s going to look. The wooden mobile is an old piece of mine that, in the finished piece, will be replaced with a new copper-look wind chime.

It’s a rather rubbish photo I’m afraid, so I’ve sepia-tinted it to make it look as good as it can/hide all the blemishes! I think I’ll need to draft a proper photographer in to do justice to the finished piece. Any volunteers out there!?

Semi-assembled Chime

Semi-assembled Chime

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