Directing and shooting Wintersong by Daryl Kellie

I’ve worked with the amazing Daryl Kellie quite a few times now, in fact, we lived together for a year back in 2004! I created most of the video content for his DVD/album Wintersong released summer 2014 and back in September he called about the possibility of shooting a music video for the title track of the album, obviously I jumped at the chance.

After a few chats about the songs meaning and the looks that Daryl liked we settled on a performance based video that cut to beautiful nature shots that mimic the story of the song. The idea was to express the new life that comes around with winter as a marker of a new start and nature awakening as the days get longer. We would effectively show this through the nature shots, mostly of the sun poking through branches and what not. And also in the close up shots of Daryl’s lips where the sun rises throughout the 3 minute video.

The first shoot was the interior performance by Daryl with Tom Nichols on upright bass and Kris Lousley on drums. We actually shot this in Daryl’s kitchen which, although large as far as kitchens go, was quite a struggle to fit in for a performance space. I wanted to light them as if pools of light were spilling in through a window on camera right with the rest of the light being warm tungsten or candles. And so we lit the candles and I used two tungsten lights, both fired through home-made cookies/gobos to exaggerate the ambient candle light.

I then placed two daylight LED panels on camera right to represent a window, I wanted everything pretty dark so most of the set up was restricting the light flow/spill.
Filming Daryl Kellie
Filming Daryl Kellie
As I had lit the space for the wide master-shot there was little adjustment needed in the lights as I moved in for the closer angles, just a case of pulling in some of the LED panels to get a softer look at times.
For anyone interested, my approach was to get the ugly wide master-shot in the can then move in for medium (on slider), then close-up, then even more close-up, then slomo shots. That way if anyone suddenly came down with food-poisoning or whatever, I’d still have enough for the performance part of the video.

To film Daryl’s lips and show the sunrise we filmed him on three occasions, the first was just after sunset with an LED panel to create the pre-sunrise blue look. Then we filmed him at actual sunrise then finally about an hour after sunrise and among a little shade. I feel like this subtle narrative helps tie things together nicely.

Most of the rest of the exteriors were filmed of Daryl strolling around a park near my flat on a day that happened to have beautiful light, it wasn’t as cold as we would have liked but it actually ties in with the meaning of new life a little better as it’s not so deathly cold.

Almost all of the nature shots were filmed in my backgarden where the sun pokes through the trees beautifully. The water droplet shot had to be faked because of time constraints and so I stuck a 500W tungsten light straight into a macro lens while a twig fresh from my freezer was clamped in front of it, job done!
Fake Sunrise

I’m really pleased with this video and Daryl has been getting some great feedback, we’re due to be shooting another very soon, so be sure to keep an eye out for it on Daryl’s YouTube page:

Kit Used:
Sony FS700
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 mkII
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
Canon 50mm f/1.8
Canon 85mm f/1.8
old 200mm macro lens
LED panels x2
Glidetrack 75cm slider

Directing a live performance video around symmetry

My long friend Dan Baxter and I run a channel called The Live Sessions where we film and record artists performing one song either in a gig setting or often in a stripped back on location setting. Either way our goal is to get amazing audio and beautiful cinematic visuals. For a while we had talked about the aesthetic of shooting a duo performing around a single mic and playing with the symmetry that this offered.

As if by magic we were offered the chance to work with Irish duo Hudson Taylor, two lovely guys with great voices and great song-writing. For the shoot Dan Baxter had secured The Kings Head Members Club and we had the pick of four of their upstairs rooms.

One of these rooms not only had a beautiful tiled floor but also an amazing stained glass window with just enough space to fit the two guys around, we had found our symmetry! We set up Hudson Taylor to perform perpendicular to this window, facing each other with a single mic between them (though we did stick an extra small mic on each of their guitars).

The camera angles were super simple: master wide shot looking back to the window, medium shot from the same angle, tight over shoulder into singers face, tight over other guys shoulder into other singers face. Lovely and simple.

I wanted the light to be motivated and feel real. To achieve this I put a daylight LED panel above the wide camera to add to the light from the window and then a tungsten LED panel left and right to give the boys an orange hair light that looks like it came from some of the lamps in the room. The hair lights had the barn doors almost completely closed so that they just skimmed the back of each of them.
You can see most of the set-up in this shot, you can also just about see (on the screen of the 5DmkIII) how we cheated by leaving light stands in the master shot, then grabbed a 30 second plate with no light stands to comp in later.
Filming Hudson Taylor

For anyone interested in the audio on this shoot, I broke it down in this blog post for Rode Microphones.

The Edit
I did consider having most of the video rest on the wide shot because I love the composition of it so much but I chose instead to do the opposite and save it as a treat for the viewer that reveals itself just occasionally. It feels like this makes more sense with the song and makes the wide shot even more special, I love it.

I would love to take this symmetry further in a really minimalist setting, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for locations and duos to work with.

In the mean time, here’s Dan Baxter squished in a corner straddling a tiger getting one of the tight shots:
Dan Baxter getting the shot

Kit Used:
Canon C100
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
LED panels x3
Rode NT2-a mic
Rode NT5 mic x2

Shooting a music video in a few hours

During the pre-production for Four Wheel Drive’s Hammered Again music video they decided that it would be great to lead into the launch of the extravagant Hammered Again video with a straight up down and dirty performance video. This video would be for their song No Money Down, literally about having no money but having a great time regardless.
Four Wheel Drive have gassy ass!
And so they called me with the idea to shoot a performance in their rehearsal space the next morning, of course I was up for it! I had a bunch of listens to the song and noticed that it has a really nice clear structure from verses and chorus’ that could play well with an edit that used different focal lengths in different parts of the song. And so I set off with a camera, tripod and a few lenses.
On the way to shoot.
Setting up
The band wanted the room to look shitty and so they set up their kit accordingly while I rigged up the five lights we had available. I had to choose a place for the lights and keep them there because we had only a few hours in the room. The best option seemed to be to stick one either side of Will (drums), one next to Paddy (guitar) and the fourth next to Ben (lead guitar). The fifth light was some naff disco thing that I stuck behind the drums that actually added some nice movement to things. Lucky for me I found some kind of LED torch probably meant for a mechanic that I was able to hang from the ceiling right in Jamie’s (bass and vocals) face. Which not only lit him really nicely but also picked him out as it was the only daylight coloured lighting.
Shooting No Money Down by Four Wheel Drive
Once set, we ploughed through the song a bunch of times as I picked up all the shots I needed. I started with the widest (8mm fisheye) thinking that the band might still be warming up a little but you can’t see many details in a fisheye shot. Then I moved in for 24mm, then 18mm handheld of each member, then the 70mm shot of the teeth.
I did the edit later that day on my laptop and had it ready to go in just a few hours!

The band loved the rawness of it and it worked as a great lead up to the narrative video we shot a few weeks later (read about that video here) using no performance element. I particularly like the way the focal lengths fit with the structure of the song and help to show more or less of the room, almost making it a fifth character in the performance.
Four Wheel Drive reviewing a shot
Kit Used:
Canon 550D
Sigma 8mm fisheye
Canon 18-55mm
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
Manfrotto 055xProB tripod
Home-made shoulder mount
Crappy stage lights
Fog machine

Making something beautiful in under 30 minutes

I was recently asked to film two performances and an interview with solo artist Natasha North for SubTV. The interview would be between just her and presenter Ivan Berry and the performances would be just her on her own on guitar or piano. The challenge was that I had to do all of this on my own, including audio, with one light and all within an hour.

We filmed the interview first and this served as a great way of loosening everyone up, Ivan is great at that. Moving onto the first performance, Natasha perched herself on the edge of her couch with an acoustic guitar. I stuck my light up on her right as she was leaning to her left so the light grazed across her face. I also had a horrible little LED panel in my bag that I rested on the back of the couch as a hair light. She gave a great performance over the two takes and I filmed in close so as to allow me to move the camera a little more. This video is embedded at the bottom of this post.

Thankfully we were able to run over by around 20 minutes and so we quickly switched to her beautiful upright piano for the second performance (embedded above). I’ve always found it a bit tricky filming people at an upright piano because they are essentially singing with their face up against a surface. On this occasion I wanted to be brave and make the viewer wait to see Natasha’s face. And so I set up my one light above and behind her and clamped a 5DmkIII to the light stand and opened it up to f/2.8 so that her hands on the keys were just out of focus.

The other angles were the fillers to give the audience something to work with and I found the light balanced quite nicely with the ambient light of the studio. Natasha gave two great performances and I handed the footage over to Dan Baxter who did a lovely edit including slow fades that really suite the song.

Here is the first song Natasha performed:

Kit used:
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 550D
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
One LED panel

Shooting a music video with drunk people

Photo by Chris Brown 07
A few years ago the awesome Four Wheel Drive got in touch about a music video. Their idea was for us to follow them on a night out and document what crazy drunken antics ensue. This would have been cool but we naturally started to talk about how to inject a narrative other than just the chronology of the night.

Over quite a few pub meetings we went through all kinds of far out ideas (including building a fake hotel room and setting fire to it) and eventually settled upon quite an elaborate plot where the lead singer Jamie (who at the time always wore a red leather jacket) would get tangled up with a wild woman (played by Gina Snake) who nips out of the pub to buy more drugs and in the process of getting arrested, ends up beating up the undercover police man. Unfortunately for Jamie, she does this while wearing his red leather jacket. Obviously we used the red as a warning and not only tried to keep all of the extras away from any red clothes but also had Dan Baxter play with this red in the grading. The idea is that you get hammered, do stupid stuff, then get hammered again, kind of like Ground Hog Day!
Hopefully as you watch the video you’ll want to crack open a beer and get hammered.

The whole video was shot on location at The Big Red where the band had a residency. Not only was Ben (the owner/manager) hugely patient with us (it wasn’t a closed set, the bar was open to the public as normal), but the bar itself is a great venue. The layout just works, everyone there is friendly, it’s pretty easy to get to and they have free live music!
Photo by Chris Brown 04
Drink, lots of drink
We talked about the band and extras drinking apple juice instead of whisky and not only did it seem a bit naff but also non of the band or extras are actors so it would be obvious that they weren’t drunk, let alone hammered. And so after the pub opened and we had sorted out a few bits and Dan Baxter, Rachael Tasker and I had one last meticulous read through of my treatment and shot list, we started shooting and the band began drinking, at 2pm.
We shot the video entirely in chronological order partly because of the light but mostly because of the alcohol. There were plenty of occasions where we would spend 15 minutes setting up a shot while the cast mingled then shout “action” and expect them to drink, cheers together, neck shots and down entire pints of beer. Consequently by about 3.30pm most of them were completely hammered.
Photo by Adam Berry 04
Photo by Chris Brown 09
Rachael Tasker was with us on hand for crowd control (she is a primary school teacher) and was a huge help, we wouldn’t have got any of our narrative shots if it wasn’t for Rachael rallying people together, giving them water, making sure they were in the right place. She actually makes a cameo as one of the barmaids pulling a pint in the first chorus.

The fight scene
The climax of the video, where the girl beats up the policeman was a straight forward scene with a handful of angles but made so difficult by the weather. It had unexpectedly started snowing, on February the 20th!
It was a nice relief to work with Adam Berry (undercover policeman), for a start he was sober and also an experienced actor, used to taking direction. He was so professional, he was totally down for getting smashed in the face with a sugar glass bottle and even refused to lie on a towel and yoga matt for the shot where he gets kicked.
Photo by Chris Brown 03
Photo by Chris Brown 01
The Police
Like most unsigned bands, Four Wheel Drive were not rolling in money but we were SOOOO glad that they forked out for the police costumes. They were super authentic and really cheap (maybe £150 for the pair), the only requirement was that they were not to be worn in a public area. The pub is open to the public but a private establishment so we were golden. The uniforms totally sold that scene and even on set we would all catch ourselves doing double takes at the two guys dressed up as policemen, they totally looked like real policemen!
Photo by Adam Berry 05
By 9pm we were exhausted and we had the shots, it was an amazing day and really great to see our vision come together in the edit. All of the band and extras were so unbelievably professional, resilient and determined, when we shouted drink, they drank.
Gina Snake deserves a special mention because she was pretty much the star of the video and never complained or even hesitated when we asked her to do some pretty weird things like dance on the bar, punch someone in the face, kiss someone, lick someone, smash a bottle over someone’s head, down another drink and of course looks great on screen.

Post production
I wanted the edit to be energetic but I wanted room to make it even more manic in each chorus. Obviously I cut hard and fast but I also sped up a few of the shots to give them an extra sense of confusion. As we planned the shoot so thoroughly the edit was quite straight forward and the whole thing came together really nicely. Going through all of the footage was quite amusing, I left in a few clips where people drop their drink, can you see how many drinks get dropped?
Dan Baxter did some very subtle VFX to add police lights to my mums car, a police car approaching from afar and some extra rain/snow. He then coloured the whole piece for a hard look with a little grain, just like when you’re hammered!

We filmed almost all of the video on a Canon 5DmkII and used a 550D for the slomo because our 5DmkII (kindly lent by Nick Kent) only did 24 or 30 frames per second at the time. Almost all of it was shot on a shoulder rig I had built with a handful of shots on an 8 foot jib.
We lit the whole thing with one 500 watt tungsten light (operated by Dan Baxter), mostly shot through a photographic diffusion umbrella and just moved it around the bar to act as a kicker against the practical lighting already there.
Photo by Chris Brown 06
24-70mm f/2.8
50mm f/1.2
85mm f/1.2
70-200mm f/2.8
Kit for Hammered Again music video
As expected, the band were totally chuffed with it and threw a launch party at The Intrepid Fox, Soho which we attended and got properly hammered to a great response by all.
Photo by Adam Berry 04
All behind the scenes photos taken by Chris Brown and Adam Berry.

Filming with fake sun on a real budget

My long friend Dan Baxter and I run a channel called The Live Sessions where we film and record artists/bands performing one song either in a gig setting or often in a stripped back on location setting. Either way our goal is to get amazing audio and beautiful cinematic visuals.

A little while ago we worked with an artist called Polly Money in my favourite pub, The Priory Tavern. Polly is a summer girl and her vibe is all about summer so we wanted to capture that in her video.

In England the sun doesn’t shine all that often and even if it was shining on this day we wouldn’t have got many summer beams in our shot. And so we placed a tungsten light at the back of shot in front of a window to represent the sun shining through, we puffed a bunch of smoke back there to sell the effect too. After looking through the lens in the three angles we had chosen we found the back of the bar to be a bit boring. It would have made sense to light the bar but this felt a bit 90’s porno so we were a bit naughty and chose to shoot this light straight back into the lens because we loved the flares.
Filming Polly Money
And that was it, two tungsten lights, three budget cameras, we rolled two takes and got a video with a lovely summer vibe. In no small part down to a constant smile from Polly!

Kit Used:
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 600D
Canon 550D
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
old vintage 50mm f/1.8
Glidetrack 75cm slider
budget 500w tungsten light x2
budget smoke machine

Digital Name Assimilation

Digital Name Assimilation is a sound composition/installation that uses DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) data taken from a dairy cow and her three daughters and realises it as audio through a process of synthesis using the computer software Max/MSP. The Max/MSP patch also makes predictions based on the mother’s DNA of what the DNA of her three daughters might be like, then outputs this as audio.

The piece is suitable for fixed listening over seven speakers in a large space (speaker layout diagram included below), I’m yet to fathom out a decent way to present this online. I’m not yet familiar with many people browsing blogs whilst hooked up to an 8 channel surround system, so for the time being I will resort to presenting the work as a textual commentary. Through this commentary I hope to draw attention to the extensive similarities of the DNA data (and that of a computer prediction also) and the comparisons that can be made between a digital representation of life and digital media.

As the music industry slowly responds to the internet age, specifically the loss of profits through illegal downloading of music, we have seen an adaptation of copyright into a technology called Digital Rights Management (DRM). This is currently a form of access control technology designed to restrict and control our use of digital media, as a digital recording of a work is still the same work that was encoded on the original CD sold or the download licensed to the consumer. This is similar to our ability (as consumers) to use software for a period of time. We never own the digital media (software), just a license to use it on a given number of devices. This confusion over the ownership of digital media has meant that it has only very recently been possible for insurance companies to offer coverage for not just downloaded software (that never existed physically, yet cost $450 to use in the case of Max/MSP) but also for a person’s digital media collection. It is quite reasonable that a person owns the licence to over £1000 worth of media when considered that I have a collection of over 500 physical CDs and that one song costs 79p to download from Apple’s iTunes store.

DNA data has been subject to similar protection rights issues, indeed, attempts have been made to ‘own’ a sequence of DNA, although most attempts have failed due to the ubiquitous nature of genes (Engineering the Farm: The Social and Ethical Aspects of Agricultural Biotechnology Britt Bailey and Marc A. Lappe 2002: p.72). It is of immense importance to human kind that this information stays in the public domain because subtle differences in sequences of base pairs create disease resistant plants, animals that grow more quickly and humans that are more or less susceptible to disease; this last point is of particular importance to insurance companies.

All animal life is made from one cell (the fusion of one sperm and one egg). Inside this one cell are the instructions on how the cell will function and ultimately divide into two cells, each of which will then both have their own complete set of instructions of how to function and divide yet again. Eventually a living organism will exist, made up of about 10,000 trillion cells (A Short History of Nearly Everything Bill Bryson 2004: p.450) which will each contain the full set of instructions on how to construct (by this method of division and growth) the same living being yet again. The process of organised and controlled cell division and differentiation is called growth. Uncontrolled it is called cancer. The instructions are the same in both cases.

This set of instructions is contained in DNA. The typical illustration of DNA (shown below) of the double helix represents the two parts that make up the list of instructions, which run in order along the double helix. It is these two strands that divide in two and each side goes into each of the two new cells(*1). Once in these two new cells it replicates the one strand into two and becomes a whole new cell (a complete double helix structure) ready for dividing again.

Joining the two sides of the double helix together are a pair of one of four types of molecules (one attached to each side of the double helix). This pair of molecules is called a base pair and is in fact a pair of amino acids. The instructions of how to construct an organism from just one cell are contained in the order and type of these base pairs joined to the backbone of the double helix (genes). That is, to observe the order of base pairs is to observe the genetic make up of a living being.

The four bases (amino acids) contained in DNA are Adenine, Guanine, Thymine and Cytosine, hence the short hand AGTC. A will only bind to T, and C only with G(*2). The sequence of the base pairs determines what type of protein is produced and the shape of the protein molecule, which in turn goes on to establish how it acts in the cell. So we can see that the sequence of the base pairs determines directly how the cell operates and what it produces (Almost Like a Whale Steve Jones 1999: p.120).

The technological ability to extract and analyse this quantity of base pairs at a reasonable cost is very new (available since the end of 2007) and demonstrates the increasing rate of insight we can gain of the natural world around us.

Incidentally, the 54,000 base pairs taken from each cow are not the first 54,000 of the sequence of billions. They are evenly distributed across all the chromosomes (like street lamps spread along a street). In the future, technology will allow us to extract 300,000 base pairs in a similar manner to adding in street lamps between already existing ones to observe the finer details of the street.

In animal breeding the best animals are mated together to theoretically produce the best offspring as a form of artificial selection (also referred to as selective breeding). This was first noted by Robert Bakewell (1725-1795) who is “usually regarded as the pioneer of livestock improvement as we know it” (Genetic Improvement of Cattle and Sheep Geoff Simm 1998: p.4). He spent time noting the best animals in his neighbourhood then followed the basic idea that ‘like begets like’ (Darwin) which itself draws on comparisons between animals favouring ‘good’ families. Of course for like to beget like there would need to be additional information passed on in the DNA from one generation to the next on top of the general blue print of the making.

There are large similarities between the DNA (both in data and audio form) between the daughters and their mother, even though the mother’s DNA is only responsible for half of the genetic make up of each daughter (the father being responsible for the other half). The same striking similarity is present between each daughter and the prediction of the daughter, even though the prediction of the daughter is only based on the mother’s DNA. If the father’s DNA were available, the prediction could have been made upon both responsible contributors. So large similarities and small variations in DNA make up the huge selection of species present in nature, much like the large similarities and small variations in sequences of only twelve notes that make up the massive variety of melodies in Western music. This relationship between cause and effect (along with most of the technical aspects of DNA) is much better explained in the generously thorough The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.

At the core of my Max/MSP patch is a sound engine based on very simple FM (frequency modulation) and AM (amplitude modulation) synthesis and the relative levels of these modulated sounds (dry/FM/AM). There are actually seven of these included inside the patch correlating to each of the cows (including the predicted cows). The sound engine receives data from the DNA file of its cow in the form of one of sixteen numbers every 10 milliseconds. Each of these sixteen numbers represent the sixteen possible combinations of the two base pairs available in the DNA data. The DNA file is stepped through in order and the numbers one to sixteen are fed into a unique table for each DNA file. This table acts as a probability distribution for the random object that (through the use of a coll object) triggers the pitch of the sound engine. So as to cover a wide pitch range I mapped the sixteen combinations of base pairs to a four-octave major 7 #11 arpeggio.

My first experiments in sounding the data involved attaching a pitch and an attack to every step of the sequence of base pairs, resulting in 54,000 notes taken from a range of sixteen pitches, all occurring with the same rhythmic interval. At eight notes per second (equivalent to 16th or semi quaver notes at 120 bpms) each pitch was detectable to the ear and nice harmonic combinations would become apparent between the cows/speakers (whether the 16 notes were of a scale or chromatic). These would manifest spatially, as different pitch interval relationships would appear in different areas between the clashing speakers (when ever two or more speakers played the same pitch the sound would appear to originate from in between the given speakers, similar to ‘big mono’).

One of the problems with this arrangement was that it would have taken 1 hour, 52 minutes and 30 seconds to get through the 54,000 steps. On top of this, aesthetically, it sounded very similar all the way through the running time as each cow just sounded one of sixteen pitches. I also tried a similar set up by stepping through the data at a much faster rate, somewhere near 32 notes per second. At this speed, many of the same attributes existed; to complete the 54,000 steps still took a considerable amount of time, but now the pitch of each step was mostly indistinguishable and the overall sound was close to noise. In either of these arrangements it would have been reasonable for a listener to gather all they could from just observing a random two or three minute segment.

So as to get away from the minute details in the data and move toward the surprisingly subtle differences in the overall architecture in each cows DNA(*3), all further sound manipulation is the result of groups of base pairs present over a period of time.

For example, a parameter of the sound engine (say for this explanation, the FM depth) will count how long it has been in milliseconds since it last received two hundred of the first combination of the two base pairs (A-A). Once it has counted two hundred of those base pairs the time taken is reported, scaled to a usable number and applied as the new FM depth. A very similar mapping applies to all aspects of the sound machines, counting different amounts of base pairs (ranging from fifty to five hundred) and a different combination of base pairs per changeable attribute.

Upon opening the master patch the mothers DNA is automatically loaded into a table which acts as a probability distribution map for three random number generators (with range 1 to 16) that feed the remaining three sound machines representing the three predictions of what each daughters’ DNA will sound like. This simple method offers an unbiased resolution, not dependent on chemistry or biology that yet still contains a foundation in the mother and so if one were not able to consider this mutant creation a prediction of the mother’s daughter, it could at least be considered a further new daughter (and a bastard daughter at that).

My choice of purely synthetic sounds is founded on the notion that although the inner parts of a living body may make noise (as everything vibrates), this DNA data is a step removed from the real physical world and is simply a list of instructions on how to create the real and physical, similar to a life score. “Sounds are inaudible usually because they are small, they take place where we cannot hear, or we cannot hear them unaided.” (Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts Douglas Kahn 2001: p.201). Representing something aurally that is not just inaudible to the human ear, but that is just inaudible period (data as data) takes us toward either a realisation of the unreal or back to a form of the real in which the unreal has been derived (Baudrillard). This also touches on Frayn’s idea of information ‘traffic’ in the amazing The Human Touch: Our Part in the Creation of a Universe.

The way synthesised sounds are constructed is by a similar method as biological development from a genetic code; a set of simple generic data organised into an appropriate and manageable arrangement that can be applied to waves and inform them (and their modifiers) on how to operate, thus creating physical movements in air from digital information (that never once existed in the real world, but was generated digitally).

The context of this work lies in the extreme notion of a digital life, or a digital representation of life. This notion seemed difficult to grasp for people introduced later in life to virtual reality, owning (a license for) digital media, social networking websites and advanced artificial intelligence in video games. Yet for anyone born after circa 1996, these ideas form the foundations of their acceptance of a very small and blurred boundary between real, unreal and physical and virtual. In the works’ current form, it is most suitable for fixed listening of some sort. With the inclusion of n more mother’s and three daughters’ DNA files, the Max/MSP patch could be installed in a gallery and could run through the DNA of family after family. It could even be linked to a network so as to update its database of DNA when more became available.

Listening to the piece in a space at least 5 metres squared at a volume you could just about talk over allows the listener to move around the speaker array and observe overlapping aural arenas of each cow with out too much interference from the room itself (listening in an acoustically controlled studio is helpful). This size of room and volume is preferred to limit (but not destroy) the overlapping of these aural arenas and to preserve the mono quality of each speaker. It is suggested that the listener begin by familiarising themselves with the sound of the mother, followed by her three daughters and lastly the sound of the three predicted daughters by standing in close proximity to the relevant speaker. The listener might then explore the overlap that should occur in a vertical line (shown on the speaker configuration diagram as the interphonic knot (The Sonic Composition of the City in The Auditory Culture Reader Jean-Paul Thibaud 2003: p.335)) through the middle of the speakers. Moving in and around this line is perhaps the most interesting activity as the relative differences (and extreme similarities) are not only most apparent here, but can also be changed dynamically by moving around the space.

The Max/MSP patch is laid out in the same way as the speaker array with outputs 1-7 matching up with the numbered speakers in the SPEAKER CONFIGURATION diagram below. Pressing space bar will start the sequence and a silence of anywhere up to thirty seconds can be expected before any audio is heard. Additionally there is a bar at the top of the patch that charts the progression of the nine minutes; the blue LEDs in the centre will also go out when the piece is finished.


I would like to thank the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) for the use of DNA data from four anonymous cows from their Langhill lines of dairy cows.


*1: The process of cell division is called mitosis where the DNA strands separate, move to opposite ends of the cell and the cell membrane closes around each end, making two new cells.

*2: Upon inspecting the included data of the 54,000 base pairs taken from a mother and her three daughters it may seem confusing that A appears able to bind with C, G and T and indeed, that all sixteen combinations of amino acids appear to be present. This data actually represents 54,000 base pairs taken from two chromosomes (in the text document: one chromosome is on the left, the other chromosome on the right). Since A will only bind with T, the data only requires one letter per base pair as we always know what the other letter will be.

*3: Humans share about 95% of their genes with fish demonstrating that very small changes in a DNA sequence produces large variation in the final organism. Animals have about three billion base pairs and may differ between each other at only one million of these. However, this small group of differing genes may govern how the remaining shared genes operate. The genes are not immune; they can be transformed by the mother’s uterus and be passed on to offspring in an altered fashion. If that alteration is not favourable then death is inevitable, but out of all successful pregnancies comes variation, and improvement, hence evolution.

Event Photography

From 2010 for almost three years I was the official photographer for a club night called Freaky Electronique, run by my good friends Ash Wiggins and Jon Pigrem. As it’s turned out, the club and my event photography abilities grew in parallel at a similar rate. What was at first quite a difficult task slowly evolved to become an opportunity to explore seat-of-your-pants portrait shooting and dealing with and keeping drunk people happy.

Sure enough it was a process of trial and error. Lot’s of error.

My first hurdle was getting that slow shutter look (where all the lights in the background make lines) with the subject nicely illuminated and sharp in front of said lines. This part is actually nice and simple (room depending): 8th of a second shutter with the flash firing on the ‘second curtain’ (at the end of the shutter duration), ISO to taste. Possibly the handiest tip I’ve picked up is from the awesome flash photography blog of David Hobby, which is to treat your shutter speed as a way to control the light in the room and your aperture to control the impact of your flash. The ISO seems to end up affecting a bit of both as an overall exposure control.

This slow-shutter approach does need some kind of defined lights in the background to look good though and obviously won’t work outside in the sun.

Eventually I noticed the look could be improved/exaggerated by simply wiggling the camera during the exposure. Again, this is limited if there are no lights in the back ground to turn into squigles, but it helps make the whole picture a bit more dramatic.

Once I had this basic set up sorted I found it difficult to overcome the horrible orange look of most venues with little and/or rubbish lighting. For months I struggled with this and tried to get the blue bleached out look by bringing down the saturation of the red channel in Photoshop. Though a lot of these pictures looked quite good, they did seem quite flat and didn’t have the ‘punch’ of bright vibrant colours that a night club should have. After a while some people even started telling me they thought they looked dead in previous pictures!

Unfortunately I didn’t overcome this with any one step, more so it was a gradual process of adhering to the create, share, feedback, review flow chart with particular attention paid to the last point: review.

Probably the most effective step I took was to turn up my flash to overpower the venue lighting almost completely on peoples faces. So as to keep people from being bleached out I just closed the aperture down a bit so I ended up around 1/8 on my flash and f/9 or f/11. With this set up peoples faces were almost entirely lit by my flash with a nice colour and the horrible venue lights made up the back ground.

For some reason I didn’t really notice until I shot in a venue with much nicer lighting how the quality of light from a flash is soft when you are up close and becomes harder/harsher as you move further away.

So my current set up is to shoot with the flash quite powerful, the aperture quite small, the shutter varying from a 3rd of a second to a second and a half (depending on how much light and movement there is in the room), the ISO at 400 or 800 for monitoring purposes and as close as I can get to peoples faces.

I’ve found people are more friendly the bigger club and the more official I look. I used to wear a t-shirt with the club name on it and a big picture of a camera on the back which really helps distinguish me from an over-zealous party goer. It’s also handy having a big SLR with a battery grip, flash and bounce card. I’m yet to try a ring flash but this would probably also put people at ease in approaching me for their photo. Usually I can get one or two pictures of someone before they’re ready to move on and continue enjoying their night but about once per event I would get someone who will never be happy with their picture and keeps asking for another and insisting that I delete all the previous ones. I’ve not yet worked out a perfect way to deal with these people, but insisting that this 7th photo really is the last one and just leaving it at that seems to work OK.

I like the idea that some people who perhaps don’t have any nerdy friends that are into photography might go along to a club night, have their portrait taken and it turn out to be the nicest/flattering/most fun picture of them to date. With this in mind I didn’t skimp on the teeth whitening, spot removal and general beauty retouching in Photoshop.

If you’re interested; here’s loads more event/club photos.

My first picture book

Making a book is like making a t-shirt. It costs loads of money but it’s really easy to do.

In January and April 2010 I was in Rome, Italy and collected quite a few snaps. I whittled the 3,000 or so down to 800 to less than 200 that I edited and popped up on flickr, after which, it seemed silly not to spend an afternoon choosing a final bunch and arranging them in a book.

I used the Blurb Book Smart software which was mega easy to suss out. I didn’t really use it in any far out way, so don’t know what the limitations are in terms of customisation when compared to doing the whole thing manually in Quark or whatever. This is not really a fair comparison though, as so many of the tricky bits (like bleed, spine alignment, etc) have been sorted out for you already in the Book Smart software.

My main challenge was purely aesthetic. Although I have made a book before (as a birthday gift for someone), I still found it tricky to maintain a restrained look that gave room for the photographs to speak for themselves. This has also been true of my photo-taking where I have only recently managed to try composing shots that are not full of colour which then get pumped to the max in Photoshop. Aside from a few black and white shots there is only one or two of these modest, desaturated shots included in the book. It is something I shall endeavour to work on.

P.S. For anyone interested in making a book using Blurb; perhaps it’s blatantly obvious for everyone else but it took me a while to work out how to do a double page spread of a single image using the BookSmart software. The best work around I could come up with was to load up the same image on adjacent pages, zoom in to taste and move the left picture to only show it’s left half and the right picture to only show it’s right half. I found that the software doesn’t do a great job of illustrating how much of the image will be lost in the fold to binding and so a bit of bleed (perhaps a centre metre or two) proved helpful.

Biological Timelapse

On the 13th of September 2008 I was set upon by approximately fifteen youths after absolutely no provocation. Having been kicked and punched to the ground, half hard-heartedly helped out by the police, documenting the healing of my bruise over three weeks as a time-lapse video felt like a constructive outcome of an otherwise crappy event.

After editing the video I realised how uncomfortable I felt about any explanatory text I might include with it. Generally it seemed to me that if someone posted a note about being violently attacked that they would be seeking sympathy and praise from anonymous internet goers for both their ordeal and heroism. This was far from what I wanted. My physical injuries were very, very minor indeed compared to a sadly large number of people who fall victim to all kinds of unimaginable acts of cruelty.

This was my main reason for considering posting the video with no accompanying text. This of course could be construed as an invitation for inquiry as a cheap ‘get around’ of the above scenario. After much thought I decided that writing an explanation free from self-importance, a little drama, perhaps bias opinions (they are like ass holes after all) would be impossible and so the only way to proceed would be to attempt to be as neutral and fair to the facts as possible.

The day following the attack one of the first thoughts that came to mind was “Why don’t any of my friends with PhD’s spend their Saturday evenings in large groups looking for lone people to afflict injury upon?” This led to the more reasonable and common question “What set of circumstances come together to make a group of people think that engaging in violence with non-participating strangers is acceptable?”

To someone like me with no qualifications or knowledge in the field of sociology or psychology the answer feels like “anything and/or everything” and so impossible to lay out as any kind of manageable explanation. It seems likely that each individual of such a group would have at the very least an inert notion that this behaviour is wrong and more likely would be well aware that it is unacceptable. I find it easier to analyse the conundrum of someone carrying out behaviour that they know to be unacceptable when thinking about people dropping litter.

I have dropped litter in the past, knowing it’s wrong and would say that I did it by justifying it to myself, by trying to out-weigh the wider problem of dropped litter with reasons why I deserve to drop it. “I don’t want it in my pockets”, “someone else will pick it up”, “there is already a load of rubbish on the floor” (Broken Window Theory) or “I’m always picking up other people’s rubbish.” No matter how you spin it, there is no way of arguing that dropping litter is good. I’m sure there are some people who genuinely think it is OK to shoplift small items from large stores that make up large chains. Not only would these people justify it with reasons like “no individual person is losing money”, “I needed a pint of milk” or “they shouldn’t be able to charge these prices”, but they could genuinely believe that shoplifting on a small-scale is a good idea and teaches big corporations a lesson.

Back to dropping litter; I would imagine it almost impossible to find anyone anywhere that could honestly say that dropping litter is a good thing. Speak to a serial litter dropper and sure they would begin by justifying it with the above excuses, but I really do believe that after raising a few of the obvious dilemmas (like “someone has to pick it up eventually”) it would be impossible for them to be unaware of the problem. It’s a strange situation: regular people doing things they agree are wrong and shouldn’t happen.

I expect that a good proportion of the people involved in mindless violence would acknowledge that it is wrong but would justify it by trivializing it or dissociating themselves from the effect of their actions. However, this still doesn’t really take me any further than my second question “What set of circumstances come together to make a group of people who are capable of justifying violence against non-participating strangers?”

As you get older you find more of the things your parents told you whilst growing up were true “one day you won’t hate your siblings”, “drugs are bad”, “there are plenty more fish in the sea”, “working hard at school is a good idea”, “if two trains are travelling at the same speed . . . “, etc. I remember when I first realised that I agreed with a few of these I felt ashamedly old and boring! I have always liked films and whilst under fifteen was often allowed to watch titles like Terminator, Friday The 13th, etc which I guess my parents decided I could handle watching without turning into a violent psychopath. As a twenty three year old I was rather disappointed when Rockstar’s most violent video game Manhunt 2 was banned before hitting the shops.

Day 48 - Tuesday 17th February

It felt patronizing that a grown up wasn’t given the opportunity to decide for themselves if they wanted to witness such sickening senseless violence that was reportedly carried out in the game (I never bought or played it). It is quite likely that the sensors didn’t think the game would corrupt geeky adults (indeed, Rock Star say the game is aimed at a more mature audience), but more so the impressionable under eighteens who might experience the video game. The game was of course due to be released with an eighteen certificate and so it felt like an added frustration that us adult video gamers were being denied entertainment to cover for the parents who were not responsible enough and could not accurately asses whether their child was mentally stable of playing an eighteen certificate violent video game. The eighteen certificate is only a legal matter when selling a video game, if an adult buys it then the eighteen certificate is there to act as a guide (in the UK at least).

Major studies have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity and I am not proposing otherwise, just that irresponsible exposure to violent material (of many mediums) is very likely to be one of the many (perhaps in the thousands?) circumstances that join together to create a justification of violence. The youths that attacked me were trying hard to look and act like rappers/gangsters/film-stars, they called me Blood and walked like they needed the toilet. When the police spoke to them it looked like I was watching a play where the police said their parts with their puffed out chests and the hip hoppers played their part of speaking in faux-maican slang and shuffling their feet. This social appeal of being involved in a violent gang must be yet another contributing factor, a modern equivalent to being in a pack.

It seems way too easy and simple to say that in late teens the sporty kids are in sports teams, the musicians in bands and the naughty kids in gangs. Going back to my first question of “Why don’t any of my friends with PhD’s spend their Saturday evenings in large groups looking for lone people to afflict injury upon?” It also seems too simple and easy to tie this to education. Shirley you can be educated and enjoy dishing out violence in situations where people can’t defend themselves?

Malcolm Gladwell has a very interesting chapter in his book Outliers where by heavily referencing a study carried out by Annette Lareau (and documented in her book Unequal Childhoods) he discusses the difference in attitudes to education in a working class and middle class environment. I won’t attempt to go into any detail, but the jist of it is that a middle class family takes an active interest in a child’s education and a working class family views their child’s education as a duty and responsibility of the school. Throughout the book you get to learn how not only are both methods good and bad, but that both methods lead to a surprising number of seemingly unrelated factors. This book led me to think that it would be mostly middle class kids being encouraged to join the school band or sports team while the working class kids would be left (and encouraged?) to entertain themselves, learn how to occupy their own time, organise activities and take responsibility for their own time. This goes some way towards answering the question about the lack of PhD holding street gangs ready to talk victims into submission, but does (like all the other suggestions put forward) seem too simple and easy, taking me back to my original vague answer to the whole collection of factors that make a violent youth: anything and everything.

Making the video

The main problem in assembling this time-lapse was the change in perspective and framing between all the shots (over six hundred in total). When I began taking them I tried to hold my camera out in front at such an angle that would be comfortable and natural to repeat often. Once I lined them up and began watching it was clear that there was too much change between shots. I wanted these photos to be played back at 24fps and at that speed they mostly looked like a jumbled mess. The painstaking fix I chose to use (I am sure there must be quicker methods) was to place a maker on each of my pupils. I then went through every photo zooming in or out and moving it until the pupils fitted as best they could under the two cross hairs. Even after this lengthy corrective measure it was still very jerky. In trying to disguise it some what I did some panning and zooming that appeared to help.

The look of the healing bruise and scabs got me thinking about other biological time-lapse video’s that I’d like to try, including fingernails, facial hair and other injuries.