The Irresistible Lure of the Linear

Straight Line Cityscape

Straight Line Cityscape – Photo by Montag

Straight lines.

Great aren’t they?

With straight lines we build barns, houses, bridges and roads.

With ruler – or straight edge – in hand, our engineers design piston rods, pipelines, train tracks. Even artists use them to help create the illusion of perspective.

The humble straight line has been responsible for countless advances in the modern world.

Take the wheel, that shining exemplar of the non-linear. Wheels often only make motion possible through the use of spokes or axles. That is, straight lines.

No wonder then that we’re obsessed with the linear. But it’s not all good.

A word of caution, if I may.

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Freedom Lost

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Wood For Trees – Photo by Montag.

I was lucky.

I was born in the nineteen-sixties.

I grew from babe to child in the second half of that decade, and matured into a teenager during the colourful and spectacular nineteen-seventies. I consider this timing to be fortunate because it seemed to me then – and still does – to be a time in which the populace were not afraid to experiment. My impression is that the middle years of the twentieth century were alive with new ideas as well as the motivation to live them. Most importantly (and especially so from the perspective of today), denizens of that time seemed prepared, if the ideas they wished to live required it, to go against the accepted grain.

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The Shelter

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If you’ve 30 minutes or so to spare, you could do much worse than watch this classic episode of The Twilight Zone (link below). For unfamiliar readers Twilight Zone was a sci-fi (well, sort of) series that was originally aired between 1959 and 1964 in the United States. Since then it has been both revived and re-run across the globe (see wiki) and has become something of a classic.

I promise you that if you watch this episode you’ll be entertained, despite the fact much of the language and ideas may seem a little dated to contemporary viewers. For me that’s part of the charm. Watching episodes of this programme is a little like perusing historical documents which detail the social constructions of the middle of the last century.

Anyway, when you’re done watching, you might like to return to the text below, because I believe that the scriptwriter (none other than Rod Serling himself) makes a point that far exceeds his intended context and reaches out to an unexpected aspect of our lives today.

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Existentialism in the Age of #SocialMedia

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Existentialism as street art – Graphic by Montag

It was the summer of 2014. The online community was in the middle of the twitterstorm that had been raging since the Ferguson riots. I was enjoying beautiful vacation time in the south of France — waking late, drinking far too much of the produits du terroir, and generally having lovely times in the warm Languedocien sunshine.

Despite the noise and fury that had previously emanated from my @iammontag Twitter account about the amount of time that people spend online (and my short-lived #offline campaign), one of the first items on my vacation to-pack list is always my laptop. So when Ferguson kicked off I was able to keep up with the developments on the internet.

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News – huh! – What is it Good For? (Say it again)

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Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge – Photo by Montag

Have you ever seen the once-familiar in a whole new light? Looked really hard at something (or someone) previously taken for granted, and regarded it/them completely differently?

It happened to me once at junior school. I remember staring at one of my then friends. It was strange. It was like I was doing so for the very first time. A train of thought alighted upon me: Who is this person? Why am I hanging around with him? Why is he my friend? I stopped being so chummy with the lad shortly after that. It wasn’t that he’d done anything wrong. It’s just that awakenings can do that to you.

I had a similar episode regarding the concept of broadcast news a while ago.

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Pop Goes The Freedom

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Hackney Hipster Party (2007) – Photo by Montag

The creation event of twentieth century popular music – its big bang if you like – can, to my mind, be traced back to a singular event in January 1865. That moment could be characterised as a dark black explosion, the shock waves of which reverberated for the following one hundred and fifty years. Despite the myriad creative ways in which this basic story has been retold by the powerful and the political, it is, to me, a tale of slavery, of freedom and of novelty.

In this piece I’m going to ask you to suspend the accepted narratives and to think hard about the origins of what we now call pop music. Through this I hope to arrive at some conclusions about the trajectory of music – and society – in this the second decade of the twenty-first century.

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Gonna Start a Revolution From My Bed

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Unmade Bed – Photo by Montag

I’ve been working in Manchester of late, doing the seven-fifteen shuffle across the peak district – it is so dispiriting sometimes that it has been known to inspire poetry!

There must be something about commuting at this time of year that leads to polemics. Last year I wrote a fairly heartfelt post railing against the commercialisation of Christmas. And while this year the corporate feeding frenzy seems to have been toned down a bit, you can bet your penultimate pound that they are working hard to manipulate us in a myriad of subtle ways.

Anyway to revolutions, beds and the like. Stumbling off my commuter carriage into the murk of Manchester Piccadilly station, I was struck by the multitude of ‘revenue protection agents’. In an instant, modern society seemed clear to me. All this effort goes into protecting revenue – not a man shall cross the threshold between platform and concourse without their purchase credentials being checked. Continue reading