2008 retrospective

Andrew Booker 2008-12-22 08:07:05

Winter can be a great time for taking pictures of the sky. When there is any sun, the sky generally looks beautiful. The sun sinks to as low as 15 degrees above the horizon at noon on the solstice, and when it's that low, it makes all kinds of shadows, highlights and colouring in cloud that you don't get in summer.

I know this because I've been doing a few time-lapse video shoots recently, one of this year's ideas for enhancing Improvizone gigs. Now that we'll soon be scraping out the last chewy bits stuck to the bottom of 2008, I thought I would have a look back on a year in which, compared to 2007, I don't appear to have done much.

In 2007 we did 12 gigs, and I posted downloads from all except one. In 2008 we did only seven, from three of which I have not yet posted anything at all, and from one of which I only posted a single download months later. I'd like to say that we did fewer gigs of greater quality, but that would not really be true. I will be putting my fingers on a few of the reasons why we played less this year below, but it's worth noting that my favourite gig of this year really was one of the best Improvizones to date.

Last year I recorded almost all of the gigs. This year Os did almost all of the recording, and it was a huge help not to have to record while trying to play, though I can still have fun looming-together unnecessarily long bunches of cables.

Fewer gigs have inevitably resulted in fewer downloads this year, 21 compared to 52 in 2007. I posted 19 in just over four months in 2006 and we weren't even gigging at that point. When I was talking about gigs just now I may have given the impression that some were not of downloadable quality. That would be unfair. In one case, the gig was so good I didn't want to waste any of it on downloads. It's heading for a free CD next year. More on that soon. In other cases, if I don't want to upload stuff, it's not necessarily because it was no good, but because it wasn't representative of the ambient chillout bar music that I can play to the wife approach that I think we need to get us into bars in Central London. A fun two hours of space-rock-jamming is, sadly, just fun.

Periods of idleness
Ah yes. Between 15 Jan and 23 May 2008 we did nothing. No gigs. I posted a few downloads from 2007. Then, from 06 Aug to 07 Oct we did nothing, and have done nothing since then either. Let me explain.

Firstly, I really am quite lazy. Last year I was busy busy busy mixing downloads and blogging and posting listings to ents sites and... stuff. I guess at some point I looked back, saw little more than an growing numbers on the site stats and thought... prffffffff. In fact, we were due to be very busy during the first half of 2008, with a fortnightly residency booked in Ember in Farringdon from January through to May. That went up in smoke when Ember had a serious fire this time last year and were months in repair. We did go back in May 2008 with a view to reviving our residency, but I witnessed their apparent loss of clientele and assumed it would take them a while to recover. Anyway, instead of doing gigs for the first half of the year, I wrote software to help me compile video projections.

We resumed gigging in the summer, including a fun slot at the Design museum, a great gig that did exactly what was required, but was rather dull to listen back to. After a few more at the Plough, we took a break while Mike Bearpark, Steve Bingham and I went off to rehearse for three No-Man gigs in late August/early September. Those were terrific fun and a thrill to do. In a way, I didn't want to bother with much after that.

But Improvizone had one more date in the diary, for the Woodford Festival, on 07 Oct 2008 at Switch. I've now listened back to almost all of this and will be posting some downloads soon, because although I was worse than indifferent to this gig at the time, it does have some beautiful moments. Os and Mike were cruising nicely, but the rhythm section were definitely on an off-day.

Leaflets in Walthamstow
You know what, I had completely forgotten about this until I started putting together this list just now.

I had 5000 leaflets distributed door-to-door within walking distance of the Plough, alerting locals to two imminent Improvizone gigs. A necessary experiment, but largely a waste of money. One problem was almost certainly my leaflet design. It should have described the music as the main heading, then named Improvizone second. Potentially interested people will have some idea of what ambient chillout music might be. Except for the extremely unlikely case that they've already heard of us, they won't have a clue what Improvizone means. So, next time I book gigs at the Plough, I will have another go at the leaflet. And if it doesn't work that time, I'm definitely not repeating it.

Another problem was that I had no idea our gigs would coincide with major redecorating at the Plough. We had no posters up to confirm what people might have seen on their leaflets, and if they weren't regulars they would probably have thought the place was closed.

Video projections
The moment we started doing projections in the Plough, they changed the whole fabric of Improvizone gigs and I knew we were onto something cool. The audience now had something much more interesting than our dimly-lit profiles to look at, and when the screen was visible from the door, it has reasonable pulling power for getting people in to watch us.

In the absence of any recent can-do offers to take over the visuals, I've had plenty of fun putting some together myself this year. One idea I had originally was to do time-lapse imagery, initially by downloading weather satellite images, progressing to speeding up video shot on my camcorder, and then to taking individual frames using a webcam and my own capture software on the laptop. I sorted out the technicals for this instead of organising any gigs earlier in the year.

I then spent all summer learning about the practicalities of powering a laptop with a solar panel, so that I could leave it running somewhere not necessarily in the house to take time-lapse pictures over several hours. I spent a lot of time working on my laptop in the back garden on sunny days, looking at how the solar panel behaved and what batteries I needed. The electricals are the topic of a whole other blog, but for now, it's winter and I'm finally getting round to making time-lapse videos of the sky, using a fairly expensive webcam clamped onto the drainpipe from my bathroom sink. Annoyingly it's too cold to leave it there permanently, because it condenses over on the inside of the lens.

The weeks pass and I'm finding it very difficult to get the perfect time-lapse study: dawn to dusk on an intermittent-cloudy day. For the first time in my life, I am constantly checking the BBC weather to see if a good time-lapse candidate is forecast in the next few days. They're aren't many suitable days, and I usually miss them. This is either because when a good day is forecast, it is too soon after the last one, and the feeble winter sun has not yet taken its requisite days and days to recharge the batteries. Or it's because the forecast wasn't accurate enough. The number I've missed because the forecast was off... dear oh dear.

For example, today was forecast for heavy cloud, which is very boring to photograph, and even if I wanted, there would not be enough sun to keep the batteries going all day. And yet, stone me if I haven't just looked round at 7.45am to see a practically clear sky.


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