May, 2012

Screen Printing

Cine 1
I spent today at Print Club London on their beginners’ screen printing workshops. Eight or so of us learnt some of the basics of screen printing. You can see my results above and below from some artwork I brought with me.
It was really interesting learning about the different techniques that you can apply even with a single layer like ours. The place seems pretty busy being open 24 hours and there always being a few people busily carrying out some printing. One chap had a fantastic looking Graffiti Artist tube map that he was starting to print on four layers (CMYK).
I’m not sure I’m quite ready to join up, but I’ll definitely be continuing to experiment.
Cine 2

The Photographers’ Gallery

Tomorrow evening across Europe, millions of people will be watching the annual festival of… well… music I guess, that is the Eurovision Song Contest. There have already been a couple of semi-finals, with the big show happening in Baku tomorrow night.
So it was interesting in the same week as this is happening to go to the first exhibition in the newly refurbished Photographers’ GalleryOil by Edward Burtynsky.
For some years now, Burtynsky has been recording the effect on our landscapes of oil, its extraction and what it means. Over two massive brand new floors at the gallery, we saw some enormous prints of these sometimes vast landscapes. From oil derricks and highways, to oil spills and dismantled ships.
But the photos he took in Baku during 2006 really resonated because there was a landscape thoroughly ruined by the careless extraction of oil. You suspect that when they show those short films that show off the city during tomorrow’s broadcast, that imagery probably won’t make the cut.
I know there was a Panorama on Azerbaijan on Monday, while Steve Hewlett gave Ingrid Deltenre, the EBU’s director general, a tough time on Wednesday’s Media Show. But it is interesting nonetheless that Eurovision is taking place there this year, and some questions do need to be asked.
The images Burtynsky took of ships being dismantled on the beach in Bangladesh were horrific. A lady I was talking to about the images at the gallery said that I should make sure I see this week’s episode of The Indian Ocean with Simon Reeves (an excellent programme that I have been watching anyway), which covers this very thing. I’ve seen photos of this industry before, but it’s still astonishing. And not in a good way.
The gallery also has a Camera Obscura which only operates at certain times. It was working when I was there, but they’ve yet to take delivery of their special lens, so we could only see a fairly dark image projected on the wall behind. It’ll be worth looking at when
And downstairs in the basement there’s the excellent bookshop full of hundreds of titles. Worryingly, there’s also a very healthy selection of cameras of the Lomographic and Holga variety, as well as other speciality and rare models. I may have to keep clear!
Anyway, it’s all well worth a visit.

How Should I See Prometheus?

I’m an enormous fan of Sir Ridley Scott, and can claim to have seen pretty much everything he’s directed. Yes, even the horror that was A Good Year.
So with Prometheus imminent, with personal anticipation levels matched only by Dark Knight Rises, and perhaps Skyfall, I decided tonight that I really ought to sort out tickets in advance.
But while once upon a time it’d have just been a question of booking seats for my preferred cinema, there’s now the format to contemplate. Prometheus is being released in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D. Well it’s not quite, but we’ll come to that.
Now I must admit that I’ve not been paying quite close enough attention to film formats of late. But despite broadly finding 3D gimmicky and off-putting (I didn’t even like it on Hugo where I experienced lots of ghosting), my first inclination was to go for IMAX 3D. The best cinema for this is the BFI in Waterloo. But perhaps unsurprisingly, that’s pretty sold out. There are still seats available, but they tend to be in the front rows (never great on that massive screen) or at 2.45am showings (really!).
So I thought I’d see if there are any other IMAX screens around London. There used to be one in the Trocadero in Piccadilly, but these days that’s a Laserquest or something. However, there is an IMAX screen at the Odeon Swiss Cottage. And it still had some decent seats available. I started to book. But then I looked at the layout a little more closely, and it seemed to be, well, not all that big. So I did a bit more Googling, and found a thread at Empire magazine that expressed a certain amount of dissatisfaction on the part of one cinema goer.
You see “IMAX” today isn’t necessarily the screen we all though it once was. The IMAX at the BFI is huge and quite square in aspect ratio. It remains the largest screen in Europe. I hear the one in Bradford is pretty decent too. When I saw Mission Impossible 4 there, the true IMAX scenes really gave a feeling of scale. Similarly, the Dark Knight Rises trailer was also breathtaking in IMAX. But the screen at the Odeon Swiss Cottage, while conforming to what I’m sure are very exacting IMAX standards, is still much smaller, and a very different shape. Indeed, it’s not immediately clear how the screen size actually differs all that much from regular screens. Yes, there are two projectors and the image is brighter, but that’s not really what I think of when I think IMAX.
So I paused. A bit more Googling. What are others suggesting we see Prometheus in? Well Scott is now a big fan of 3D, and he did properly shoot the film with 3D cameras. None of the post-conversion jobs that are still all too prevalent. Yes, CGI can be re-rendered reasonably well, but otherwise, if you didn’t use the 3D cameras, I definitely don’t want to know.
But even true 3D has problems. Aside from ghosting and general eye-strain, there’s also the darkening that 3D causes. You lose loads of light, and I find it particularly noticeable.
If the trailers for Prometheus tell us nothing else, they tell us that it’s a dark, brooding film.
Before Avatar was released, there was a 15 minute preview shown in cinemas a couple of months earlier. I actually saw that preview at the BFI Waterloo. A lovely screen with excellent projection. But it was just dull – dark even. And that’s a bright film – at least as I understand it. I was generally unimpressed by that preview and have yet to see the full film.
So despite the film being made in true 3D, the potential darkness is off-putting. What’s more, it certainly wasn’t shot in IMAX as Mission Impossible 4 and Dark Knight Rises have been. So IMAX – or mini-IMAX – was out of the reckoning. And 3D was out too.
I’ll see it in 2D.
Now film distributors and theatre owners rather prefer us to see films in 3D. They make more money by charging a premium. Therefore, with most multiplexes having been expensively converted, more screens show the big blockbusters in 3D than 2D. But nonetheless, there’s usually at least one screen offering the film in 2D.
I had heard that these 2D showings are doing remarkably well, with 2D screens in general being fuller. So I thought I’d book tickets pronto.
That’s when I hit my next problem. Finding a cinema that’s taking advance 2D bookings anywhere in London.
Cineworld, who run my local multiplex, will let you choose Prometheus in 2D from their dropdown list. Unfortunately, the local 15-screen multiplex is not offering a 2D showing, at least for pre-booking. The closest cinema offering advance booking seems to be in Eastbourne! (To be fair, they only seem to have put the 3D film on in one screen so far, judging by screenings they’re currently selling, so maybe a 2D version will screen locally. We just don’t know yet.)
On the Odeon website it was worse. No 2D screenings offered for pre-booking at all. Just 3D and [mini] IMAX 3D. Meanwhile, Vue listed a 2D version of the film in their forthcoming attractions, but no cinemas were available to book. You could book a 3D screening though.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, neither the Everyman group (home of Screen On… cinemas) nor the Curzon group list Prometheus as a film they’ll have soon. They are arthouse chains after all.
So thank goodness for the Picturehouse group. They have a single lunchtime screening at their key sites in 2D each day. Heaven forbid that you might want to go to the cinema in the evening without the bother of glasses.
Anyway, as a result of all of this, I’m off to pay my first visit to the Hackney Picturehouse in a couple of weeks’ time.
As I say, perhaps some other London cinemas will actually end up screening the 2D version of Prometheus in at least one of their multiplex screens. And maybe this film would change my views on 3D were I to see it in that format. By booking a 2D screening, I’m perhaps missing out. That’s a risk I’m willing to take. But it’s a shame that they make it so hard to see a film the way we, as viewers, want to see it.
[UPDATE] Two days before the film opens, and I check the options again. Now all the chains are offering advance booking in 2D. My local Cineworld has it in 2D on one screen (compared with between two and three screens in 3D), as does my nearest Odeon. And Vue also has it in 2D across its multiplexes. I couldn’t help but notice several complaints on the latter’s website about the lack of 2D options though.
So there you have it. Cinema chains, perhaps unsurprisingly, are pushing the 3D versions of films. They earn them more money, so you’d expect them to. The fact that there are 2D versions available, and that 3D TV really hasn’t taken off, leads me to suspect that the industry still over-eggs 3D demand far too much.
Unfortunately for the big chains, I’ve taken my custom elsewhere.
[UPDATE 2] And it turns out that both the Curzon and Everyman chains are showing Prometheus, with both having 2D screenings. So there you go. They just didn’t pre-promote them well enough/at all.
Here’s my review of the film. In 2D.

RAJAR Q1 2012

It’s May, and that means it’s time for another round of radio numbers and RAJAR.
I’m not sure that there’s a completely compelling over-arching story this time around.
Nationally, Radio 1 has slipped a little in reach and hours, but Radio 2 has done well with a decent increase in reach to nearly 14.6m adults, and a record number of hours – nearly 179m a week. Radio 2 listeners are now listening for 12.3 hours a week, which is only matched nationally by Radio 4. Although in some local markets, that number can be met or exceeded – for example LBC 97.3’s audience listen for 11.6 hours a week while BBC services in Northampton and Guernsey get 12.7 hours a week from their listeners. Island FM 104.7 – also in Guernsey – does the best in the land with an average of 14.6 hours a week per listener. They clearly love their radio in the Channel Islands!
But back to the national picture for a moment. Radio 3 has dropped below 2m listeners for the first time in nearly a couple of years, and Radio 4 has dropped back half a million or so listeners. Five Live has seen its audience grow in reach and hours, while Talksport has seen a modest increase in reach and a modest fall in hours.
My own employer, Absolute Radio, is very pleased to have a shade under 3m listeners across the network, a high for the station group in nearly ten years. The main service has also seen a small gain in reach, although there’s a dip in hours.
Classic FM has had a decent reach and hours gain, although it has a way to go to achieve the listening it had a year ago.
The phoenix that is BBC 6 Music has had another record audience in reach terms, with just short of 1.5m listeners, but its listening hours have dropped back a little. BBC Radio 4 Extra has seen its figures fall back some, as has Radio 1 Xtra. Asian Network has seen its reach grow but hours fall as the BBC Trust confirms its budget cuts won’t be as deep as previously envisioned.
And as BBC local services in England learn that they’ll be able to keep their afternoon programmes, BBC Local Radio in England has grown by 2.5% and BBC Local radio overall has grown by 3% in terms of reach.
The bigger commercial groups all fell back a little, with GMG losing 2.5% of their hours and Global being down 2.1%. TIML, owners of Absolute Radio bucked the trend putting on 11.3% in hours with the launch of Absolute Radio 60s and Absolute Radio 70s. While in the Midlands, Orion has grown by 1.2%.
Nationally, the Kiss network has had a good quarter, growing decent reach and hours, while Magic network has lost some reach, but gained hours.
At Global, Capital’s results nationally are a little disappointing with flat reach, but a 5% fall in hours. The Heart Network shows a modest reach increase, and a small fall in hours. But LBC performs strongly though with a 2.5% increase in reach, and close to 5% increase in hours.
There is some really good news amongst digital stations. Absolute 80s has a decent 3.5% increase in reach, but a 17% increase in hours, while Absolute Classic Rock also performed strongly in hours reaching a new record high, with a small reach gain. Jazz FM will be very pleased with a 10% increase in reach, and a 27% increase in hours – a record high in its current national incarnation. But Planet Rock has done even better, with record reach and hours figures. It now has 861,000 listeners, and approaching 10m hours. And the perhaps sometimes unloved Chill has done very well. It’s equalled its biggest ever reach of 229,000, as well as its biggest ever hours!
In London, Capital maintains its position as number one in reach amongst the commercial stations, with Magic, Kiss and Heart all closely packed a couple of hundred thousand listeners behind. But a 9% decrease in hours for Capital, and a 9% increase for Magic, means that the latter is now number one in hours terms. Smooth has done well in London, bouncing back to somewhere closer to where it was, having taken quite a tumble last time around. But Gold and particularly Xfm in London have had disappointing results, leaving the latter with its fewest ever hours. Absolute Radio has had a disappointing set of numbers in London too, while BBC London has seen an increase in reach and hours.
Digital listening has seen a small gain this quarter, with 29.2% of listening now digital. And 45.1% of the population listen to at least some of their radio via a digital mechanism – a figure that rises to closer to 50% if you just consider people who actually listen to the radio.
RAJAR diaries changed their wording subtly this quarter to record internet listening. Diarists used to see the word “Internet” whereas they now see “Online/Apps”, and that might be partly behind why listening via that platform has increased from 3.4% to 3.9% this quarter – a record high. With the growth of RadioPlayer, and generally increased usage of station apps, that movement shouldn’t be a surprise.
At Absolute Radio, we’re now at 77.3% of listening via a digital platform, and even if you only consider the main Absolute Radio service which is also available on AM nationally, and FM in London, it’s still at 54.7% up from 51.4% last quarter.
But overall, one might have hoped or expected a slightly bigger jump in a post-Christmas period. As you can see from the chart below, there’s normally a Q1 jump.

I suspect that another quarter or so of RAJAR might see things change a little, but we’ll have to wait and see.
In an attempt to reduce the number of charts I include in these summaries, here’s just a single digital platform listening breakdown.

It clearly demonstrates how digital Absolute Radio is, but also highlights Five Live and Radio 3 being ahead of the curve in digital terms.
However, I have again updated my Hans Rosling inspired national services RAJAR tool.

But don’t use this small version, use the full screen version full visibility.
And be sure to read the notes I put together when I first made this. They still apply, and highlight the strengths and weaknesses of it.
You can go and see the full set of figures on the RAJAR website (with the press release for this quarter here). Other sites worth a look include:
Media UK
Paul Easton
Radio Today
James Cridland
Media Guardian
and others to follow.
Absolute Radio’s take on the figures can be found here.
Source: RAJAR/Ipsos-MORI/RSMB, period ending December 2011, adults 15+.
Disclaimer: These are my own views, although they’re based on work I’ve done for Absolute Radio, and through whom I get access to the data. I also sit on the RAJAR Technical Management Group representing commercial radio. Just so you know.

Damien Hirst

Art 1
A friend organised a trip to Tate Modern to see the new Damien Hirst exhibition. To be honest, I’m not really a fan of his. Partly it’s the distaste I have for the overtly commercial imperatives placed on his work, either by him or others, and partly it’s the nature of it. You hear stories about his team doing much of the work, and the factory like nature of it.
To be honest, I’m not in any way dissuaded from this view having visited the exhibition. In fact, I’m not at all sure that it does him any favours. We see repeated instances of the same things over and over. His earliest work is perhaps newest to me. A ping pong ball suspended in mid-air over a hair dryer – something that my physics teacher did to demonstrate the Bernoulli Effect when I was at school. This is later repeated in a large version utilising a bigger fan and a beach-ball.
Hirst’s “logo” is a take on pharmaceutical company Bayer’s logo, and one wonders whether he got a bulk discount from them for the vast number of packets of medicine in the various pharmacy cabinets on display. The same thing over and over. A friend told me it was like his parents place of work – they were pharmacists.
Then there are shelves of medical tools and teaching models. It’s like someone came back late one night a little drunk, and went mad with a credit card on eBay.
Of course we get the famous dissected animals, as well as a couple of sharks. These are skillfully done, but I’m left wanting. I did like the swirly paintings, and the dots, although repetitive are interesting (You’re much better off visiting Yayoi Kusama who’s still on there. I found her take on such things more interesting).
As much as anything, it’s the work that’s gone into some of the exhibits that overwhelms you – carefully laying out all those tablets, or building those stained glass windows from butterfly wings.
I’m much less certain about rotting carcasses with maggots and flies, and certainly the butterflies feel slightly disturbing, as you watch Tate employees pick up ones that are dying.
Actually, the thing that makes me confirm my views on Hirst is the shop. There, you can buy a print of a photo of an exhibit for over £30,000 and it doesn’t come framed. There is a wall of such prints (not all so expensive) in the shop, and it leads me to wonder whether I wasn’t at a more traditional gallery, and whether the prints shouldn’t have been out on the walls with little red stickers underneath them.
Art 2
So maybe Frank Zappa’s quote on these bags is even more appropriate than I thought it’d be when I produced them.
A slight aside now. I made these with a Speedball screen printing kit. It took me a couple of attempts to get the photo emulsion right, but now I have a photoflood light bulk (do they even make such things any more?) complete with foil pan tray to “expose” my pictures. I also have a couple of screens. Not every bag was perfect as you can see from the pictures, but I’m getting to grips with things now. A course might be in order.

Rolling Thunder

I just can’t help myself when there’s a storm. I need to get out there and experience it. Sadly, this one passed away just that bit too far in the north, and I missed the initial hail. Still, here’s a binaural recording of some of the rolling thunder. Listen via headphones to experience the full effect.
Recorded with Roland CS-10EM microphone headphones with a Zoom H2.