Wednesday, 30 December 2009


Good musical party the other day. Will post improvisation later as currently in Harpenden for new year...

Monday, 21 December 2009

Thinking about games

I've been playing through a possible game for managing well-being. I'm a bit stuck on the differences between someone making a 'coercion' or an 'exhortation', and the coercion that comes back. Is it one player saying "you have to make me" or "you have to inspire me" or "surprise me", and then the other obliging (if they can). More thinking about this...

Saturday, 19 December 2009


Remembering that utopian thinking is still important (even if it's misguided!). It is the engine that moves things forward.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Art and Music

Again trying to tie musical exhortation, coercion and disruption to visual. Actually, on watching this, there seems to be a counterpoint which is a bit like choreography. Each on its own can justify exhortatative, coercive aspects. But together, they are something new. Structural coupling.. or something like it.. is going on. Interesting to think what this might mean for the analysis of computer games and film.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Chagall Games

There are many things on my mind at the moment. On the one hand, I did this video of a Chagall picture to illustrate the exhortation, disruption and coercive aspects of art. The original idea was to tie it to an improvisation, but I simply tied it to a Schubert sonata movement instead (was going to use that as an example of exhortation in music). Will do more of this.

I've been reading Nigel Howard's 'Paradoxes of Rationality' and been thinking about game theory. What about the games we play with our
selves as we seek to maintain our viability?

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Coercive and disruptive harmony: an analysis of Ravel

I did this on the 'Forlane' of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin.

What's puzzling me is the nature of his exotic harmony. The melody is memorable, or at least seems it. It is very modal, and clearly centred on E. The middle section prolongs in the same way that any classical binary movement would (taking to new places, harmonic exhoration, disruption, etc). I think the E is prolonged through harmonic disruptions right from the start. The cadences are more harmonically coercive. What's the difference?

  • A coercion is about enforcing a disposition: a regular rhythm, a clear harmony, a repeated motif.
  • A disruption suggests extending/enlarging a disposition: A new motif, a strange harmony, an unexpected rhythm.
  • An exhortation transforms a disposition: a new key, new theme, new mood

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Can the Viable System Model make anything viable?

This question came up concerning the role of the Viable System Model as an explanatory principle (EP). By Bateson's definition, EPs can explain whatever you want them to explain. Can 'viability' explain anything we want? The VSM relies on distinctions - particularly about what to make viable. These can appear strange.. for example...
a. arbitrary distinctions between individuals
Distinctions between individuals through System 2 regulative and legal frameworks, social planning and coordination can be conducted accordingly where some individuals are seen as instruments of others. This would make slave societies, or even cannibal societies (for example) entirely viable.
b. arbitrary distinctions about ways of living and dying
The kamikaze tradition sees nobility of suicide in the face of defeat. Modern terrorism sees nobility in suicide and murder as a political statement. The maintainance of this belief is made viable through S2 regulation and social structures (particularly religious (S3 - S4)) which emphasise particular attitudes to individual identity (S5).
c. The phenomenon of 'bugchasing' where the contraction of HIV is deliberately sought is similar. The community of bugchasers in maintained (and viable) through regulation at S4 (a sort of pseudo-religion), and S3 (prioritising social connections within a group) and codes of practice within the community (s2).

It should be said that Beer takes this on in Platform for Change. The pathological situations I have described would count within his 'Ethics with a busted-gut'. He argues instead for 'relevant ethics'. (Note that the Algedonic loop would play a crucial role here - I'm sure experiences in Chile would have focused his mind). This is very Habermasian (communicative vs strategic action). But actually, the bustedness of the gut can play a role in the viability of the pathological situation (education is a classic example!). I wonder if Beer cannot decide if he is retroducing viability or whether he is designing utopias. There seems to be some ambiguity.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Initial Reflections on Kant's Aesthetics and Roger Scruton

Saw Roger Scruton's film about beauty. Very interesting. Read that Kant believed the aesthetic judgement is regulative rather than constitutive. What does that mean? Coheres well with what I'm thinking at the moment...
I disagree with Scruton. He seems to see an idealised beautiful world as something separate from the world in which he lives. This view seems to me to be dangerous (potentially fascist), and will contribute to the maintenance of the separation which it contains. For me, beauty is there to be seen if we choose to see it. If more saw it (the planners, the architects, the artists, the teachers, the parents, etc), the world would indeed be more beautiful in the way that Scruton imagines. In other words, beauty is political: it is about seeing the difference you can make by seeing things as beautiful. I see this as a more pre-Kantian/Scholastic/Catholic perspective.

Why can't you develop a tune?

I really wondered about this when I was a teenager. Using the ideas of prolongation that I'm developing here, the answer is quite straightforward: a tune is a coercion of tonality as well coercion of patterns. It can be disrupted harmonically (jazz harmonies for example), or can be disrupted rhythmically (percussion, syncopation). But it's essence is its own coercion. This makes other coercions difficult, and exhortation (taking into another world) even more so (unless perhaps it's done like a passacaglia)


I did this analysis of Haydn Piano Sonata in Eb Hob XVI:49 as a way of exploring development. Clearly from a Schenkerian perspective, development prolongs. I think this isn't as interesting as understanding how development prolongs. It exhorts by shifting tonalities. It coerces with rhythm and motifs which are repeated. And it disrupts - particularly and wonderfully in Haydn. Rather like the Lachenmann, there are moments where mini-prolongations are perceived, and mini-disruptions occur. But here there is a clear sense of movement(helped by the increased coercion - would the development be the same without that insistent alberti bass?). A sense of progress. An illusion of progress perhaps. And the illusion is borne out of the fact that some essence is prolonged as a result of all this activity, but we don't get to see what it is until the recapitulation.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Essence and Memory

I'm on a roll with this stuff at the moment. Nothing settled, but the questions are pouring out.

Essence seems to me to be tied up with memory. We recall essences. Find words to communicate them. Our capacity to remember would seem to be related to our capacity to perceive the essence of something. If our ability to perceive the essence of something is related to our ability to coordinate the regulating mechanisms of perception then inability to regulate perception effectively will cause forgetting. What this may mean is that memories do not 'exist' in the head, but are the result of a process of controlling perception. Alzheimers (for example) screws up the control mechanisms.

I'm trying to explore this with this improvisation.

Essence and Identity in Lachenmann

Here's another analysis pursuing the same line of argument as with the Schumann. It is a real challenge to situate an abstract model with real pieces. But I think here, there are definite things to point to. The prolongation of moments through disruption and coercion, and in the larger-scale structure, those prolongations relate to one another in larger-scale coercions. I don't think there's much exhortation. This is because the piece does not reveal its essence clearly (unlike the Schumann). It has to be something more abstract, created by the listener. I think essence and expectation (exhortation) are closely linked with this sort of music. Only by having this link can the exhortations and coercions leave the listener viable in this context.

Where a piece reveals its essence clearly, the means by which the essence is prolonged can be processed and the listener remain viable in the context (as in Schumann).

What is revealing of essence? Structural coupling? between the piece (model of the piece) and personal identity? Not sure. Feeling very anti-maturana at the moment.

Essence is certainly the ability to manage excess variety in the perception process. Where it can be managed, essence is maintained - it is to our 'taste'. Where it can't, it isn't and we withdraw.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Essence and Context

Thinking about musical reduction and the prolongation of ideas (as in Schenker). When we hear a reduction of a piece it feels 'right' because it is what we recognise as its essence. The essence is the thing that is prolonged. What is the mechanism by which it is prolonged? What is the context within which the prolongation takes place?

The context is easier to think about. It disrupts, coerces and exhorts. Thus, we have an analytical technique which identifies the essence, and then sees how the context acts around the essence. This is what I've tried to do with the KinderScenen piece below. There isn't really any exhortation here. What if he had done some?

I shall take this approach to some other musical examples in future.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stravinsky improvisation

Thinking about thinking with music. The video is a bit of a brain-dump of what I now need to do, after having at least got the first draft of the PhD out of the way. I'm going to give it a little rest now and get some feedback.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

On train back from London

Just been to visit family this weekend. I did the improvisation a couple of days ago (before the TenCompetence conference). That went very well, our session on Learning Design was very well received. There's definitely something in the 'exhortation, coercion, disruption' thing...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More reflections on Vienna

This is a different sort of improvisation (again done before I went). Thinking about the social simulator in Singapore...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Beginning to reflect on Vienna

This is an improvisation which was done before going to Vienna. Bartok inspired. Beginning to reflect on some of the encounters....

Monday, 9 November 2009

Washing Machine

Is the washing machine broken? That's been the question of morning. I'm not convinced. How do you decide if anything's broken or needs 'fixing' - mechanical or human? There are observable outcomes. We decide on explanatory principles to explain the outcomes (sometimes irrational explanatory principles). Emotion can affect the way explanatory principles are formed. If we don't agree on the explanatory principles, arguments happen. Can you find commensurability between opposing explanatory principles?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Fireworks Weekend

Had a great weekend. Went to Gulliver's with lzzy and her friend. they had a fantastic time on all the rides. Today went riding and then to Museum.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

perception and organisation

I sketched this on the train on the way home, and the improvisation is based 'around' it. The prolongation thing is really exciting me at the moment. It's giving me something technical which I can see a way of working with - a feeling which I haven't had for years as far as composition is concerned. And in the video, I think I sorted out some of the confusion from yesterday's video about perception and the vsm and communication... Looking forward to Vienna (and obviously CETIS conference beforehand - but Brum not so exotic!). Izzy very happy. Life good.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Playing with prolongations

This improvisation plays with different prolongations and shows them in different contexts (harmonies). I'm still trying to think through the stuff on prolongation, longing, suffering, curiosity and boredom and how it ties into the VSM...

Feeling Happier

There's a real contrast between how I was feeling last week and how I feel now. Now I am very happy, on top of things. Why? The world is now full of curiosity and promise.. last week all was suffering. The connection between perception and communication is working properly again. I don't think it worked well last week. I had to force myself into communications, but I couldn't let how I really felt enter into it. Now I can .. maybe simply because I'm happy again?

Trip to London yesterday.. sort out flat, professorial lecture, near disaster. Only nearly. Long drive. Actually I ought to be miserable.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Commensurability in a confusing domain

I've been working on my PhD today. It's meant returning to a lot of philosophy which I haven't considered for a long time. The issue is 'value' and the role that Realistic Evaluation can play in identifying the value in interventions. One of the most interesting things is the way that opposing positions can be seen to be commensurable. This is something in the VSM, where one regulating mechanism can be seen to be commensurable with another despite them doing almost contradictory things.

Thursday, 29 October 2009


I seem to be suffering from a very acute tiredness which seems to have affected me since Friday. It's making me think a lot about boredom as a form of suffering (part of what I feel is 'bored'). To 'not be bothered' with things is interesting. Does it mean that I can't see any point, or any advantage, in doing things? That means I play these things in my head, I see if I can escape my 'bored' context, and I realise that I can't. Why do I then force myself to do many things anyway? Even if half-hearted? Because I (intellectually) know this phase will pass; I know that anything I do manage to do will be beneficial in the longer term, even if I see no benefit immediately; or at least, not doing anything is a worse option.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Changing the Context

Here's another video about boredom. I am very tired at the moment... got a bit of a cold. Went to Tatton Park with Izzy today (half term) and then came home and she made a pumpkin for halloween (a good one too). Changing the context, getting more energy, trying to 'get going' is a struggle. I try things in hope, but they don't change things. I'm still obsessed with wanting to change the context. Communicating, reflecting, writing this blog.. these things can help (why is that?)

Monday, 26 October 2009

A smilative improvisation (by way of an explanatory principle!)

I tried to do a happy improvisation.. certainly in response to some happy events (musical party on Sunday... great fun!) But does 'being happy' explain the 'smiley' feelings I have?? I don't think so. A smilative principle isn't useful to me. I want a deeper explanation (which inevitably will still be an explanatory principle... but it might be one which leads me to do something that puts me more in control of my own and others' 'smilativeness'). What is a 'happy' (smilative?) organisation? Maybe it's one which positions others well, connecting its own perception and communication systems with social communicative actions which keep differences being made which lead to greater connection between perception and communication. That's a smilative mechanism. And here's a smilative improvisation.

Saturday, 24 October 2009


I was pleased to catch Geoff Mulgan giving a keynote at the northern regeneration summit last week. Very interesting (I only know of him through his apparent interest in Stafford Beer). His talk drew the focus to indexes of happiness in communities, rather than quantitative material measures. He produced some graphs which seemed slightly dubious.

I'm not sure about Happiness - particularly as Layard sees it (and I think he is the principle influence on Mulgan's work). It is, like so many words that describe how we feel, an explanatory principle. It explains why I smile, why I have lots of energy, why I laugh a lot, why I sleep well, why I work hard, why I rarely complain, why I often praise. But it doesn't really. Just as opium causes us to sleep because of it's 'dormitive principle' (as in Moliere), does happiness causes us to smile because of its 'smilative principle'? Does it cause us to have lots of energy because of its 'energising principle'?

For better explanations, we must look at what happiness does, not what it is. We must then consider the mechanisms that produce those outcomes (which are probably dependent on the cultural context too). My guess is that Luhmann, Bateson, Beer, Maturana, etc may be able to shed some light on this.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Violent improvisation and interesting ideas

Book ideas

This improvisation stemmed from boredom. I'm certainly very interested in boredom at the moment. Was talking to Dai about a possible book which combined the Hypnerotomachia Polyphilia of Colonna, Hoffstadter, the Wasteland and the Little Prince. It would start with boredom. Good day at JISC yesterday.. role play went really well.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Discipline, Subject and Identity

Some interesting fallout from the external examiner. It's raised some big questions, which when I examine them only get bigger. One of the big issues concerns the relationship between discipline and subject. The video (which has an improvisation which I'm really pleased with) shows me thinking through some of this stuff.

What to add here is something about the relationship between discipline, subject and identity. I think discipline may be an organising principle for identity, for the individual. As an organising principle, it affects all levels of regulation of the individual. Subject, on the other hand, may only be a set of dispositions (knowledge, skills) for engaging with a particular context. If the context changes, we learn a new subject. But we may hold to the same organising principle.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009


This improvisation hovers between boring and trance-like. It imagines the shear boredom of being in a context over which you have no control. The only differences you can make are to reflect on how little control you have, how much you might want to change, and how much any change is impossible.

Towards an understanding of Boredom

Apart from the terrible un-authodox (sic) spelling in this movie, I'm pleased that the process of thinking about boredom, longing and suffering has gradually led me back to Bateson's distinction between symmetrical and complementary schizmogenesis. Boredom has many of the characteristics of complementary schizmogenesis. Imagine a child staring out of a window on a rainy day with nothing to do but to stay in. The differences that make a difference keep differences within the child being made. There can be no differences made with the environment, because the environment won't allow it.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Prolongation, curiosity and boredom

This improvisation has a repeating melody with a transforming melodic context which disrupts it. As the disruption occurs, the melodic ideas are prolonged through being seen from different 'angles' (contexts). Curiosity, the longing for knowledge, is maintained. The longing builds a certain tension... as if having seen the melody from those contexts where it is 'understood', either a radical new context is found to re-represent it, or some radical change in the melody should occur (this doesn't happen here). The disruption of the harmony is the different that makes the difference that keeps the difference being made. The difference being made is the longing (for knowledge?). What if there was a radical shift (a modulation for example, or a new theme)? This would be an exhortation - presenting an entirely new world... Would it 'explain', 'attain knowledge'? It's immediate effect would be to radically change the context so that what might have happened before becomes more distant an more explicable. But the longing isn't satisfied. It is maintained. The difference of exhortation is a different sort of difference which keeps the difference being made.

Curiosity and the prolongation of longing

The issues of prolongation, longing, curiosity, reductionism.. all the aspects which affect the individual's disposition towards learning.. are occupying my thoughts. I am curious about them. That means that I keep on thinking about these things. Each thought makes a difference to me that keeps the differences being made.

What about the uncurious? There are a lot of people who appear uncurious. But they're not really uncurious. I'm sure they are curious about sex and shopping at the very least! Indeed the fact that they are curious keeps the economy going.. Is their curiosity constrained by their social context? If you put them in a different social context (like Shaw's Pygmalion), will they start talking about particle physics or Nietzche? A constructivist view of the world would suggest that they might.

Is curiosity causal or are ideas causal? Curiosity certainly leads to behaviour (it kills cats for example). Ideas (reductions) channel curiosity and consequently channel behaviour. They can also be dangerous.

If my curiosity is just focused on sex and shopping, is my life any poorer than if my curiosity is on Nietzche, particle physics and Cardinal Newman (plus sex and shopping!)? What might 'poorer' mean?

These questions are leading somewhere I think. It ties into an argument for education as relating to human dignity. The question is however, who is to say what human dignity is, or what role education ought to play??

Friday, 2 October 2009

Prolongation and difference

How is prolongation related to difference? On one level, if something is prolonged, it is not different. But on the other hand, if prolongation is "the different that makes a difference that keeps the difference being made" then clearly they are related.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I've been thinking a lot about prolongation in music - particularly since I started playing around with these 'string' improvisations. In music we talk of prolongation in many ways: prolongation in terms of duration; the prolongation of musical ideas (through repetitition); the prolongation of pitch structure (through some Schenkerian process). What is prolongation?

In society, we have prolongation of social structure, produced through reproduction and transformation. If I hold a string sound for 10 seconds, it precisely reproduces and transforms (at every instant it is different) a musical context (which might be the analogue of social structure).

Is it 'the difference that makes the difference that keeps the difference being made'...?

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Last day of september

I wanted to do something beautiful to end September. A simple melody, varied (disruptive!) harmonies, regular motivic patterns (coercion), unusual modulations (exhortation!). Of course, the video content has nothing to do with any of this...

Why do children cry when they are told off?

I was thinking about this question today as I found myself 'told off'. I remember walking in the street the other week and a child (about 4) was walking with her dad. She had stopped to pick something up from the street out of curiosity, to be scolded by her dad for doing so. I think this is very similar to 'getting angry'. Basically, she was in the flow of establishing an identity for herself as an 'exploring person' in a strange and interesting world (which no doubt she was busy constructing for herself). Dad weighed-in and in disrupting what she was doing also shattered her identity as she suddenly realised she could not be the person she thought she was. He was insisting she became someone different, but she didn't know who this was. All of the regulating mechanisms of identity, dreams, management and habit had to be reconfigured at short notice; but there was little guide as to how to reconfigure them; all the battles between dreams and reality had to be fought once again. No wonder she cried!
Here is me establishing my identity as a tourist in Greece and writing papers about reflection and activity design...! Until someone tells me off!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Gradual progress

This is a jazzy improvisation with some of the photos I took when I was in Athens. The Parthenon was amazing.. and my student was good too. Great stuff coming out of his use of debategraph (see below). I'm gradually getting though stuff. Just finished a piece of David Pearce on IDIBL and reflection. Paper for TenCompetence on LD tomorrow. Euro bid starting to make sense to me...

The debategraph from Greek students...

String piece

I quite like this piece... gradually getting to grips with the possibilities of the string synthesiser on my keyboard. It's good to get back into the habit of doing the improvisations. There's little doubt in my mind that it has a positive effect on my general mood and my ability to cope with the complexities of work. Astrid had her first trial yesterday.. seemed to go well. She's back on Thursday. Izzy did brilliantly with her horse riding. I'm feeling very proud of my family!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Medieval Strings

Just trying to catch up with my improvisations. This is an attempt at creating a medieval sound. I think I can do better... No let-up in the busyness of work.. can't believe this time last week I was in Athens!

Saturday, 26 September 2009


Both Astrid and I are putting things together. She's assembling a new professional identity, with a new career (well done!). I'm assembling something (I don't know exactly what) from a giant jigsaw puzzle. All the elements seem to be there, but fitting them together is a tricky task. And our individual assembling is also being assembled together. It's at the same time exciting and disconcerting.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Uncertainty and transformation

I'm feeling as though I'm in uncertain territory at the moment. Normally I would say it's important to embrace confusion - but that doesn't mean that confusion isn't sometimes distressing. The only thing I can be certain of is that this will change!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

I'm Knackered!

There's so much going on at the moment and I am comatose. Rushing back from bid-writing in Deia (great fun) to Manchester for ALT-C. Pleased with the paper, although the presentation was sparsely attended. I don't enjoy ALT-C on the whole (I'm sure I said this last year). I don't think I'll go next year. Heard that I've got a paper in for the Von Foerster international congress in Vienna - that'll be fun! Von Glasersfeld will be there.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Luton Airport... oooo-eeeee-oooo

About to fly out to Deia for a euro bid-writing 'fest'. Now in Luton Airport with Astrid. I really like my home town! it's very under-rated. My luton accent is never far from me, and whenever I put my Luton head on, all the intensity of academic engagement, issues around education, etc. disappear. God bless Lorraine Chase!

Friday, 4 September 2009


I wasn't necessarily thinking of the 'Sky at Night' when I did this, although the similarities are striking (although my music isn't quite Sibelius!). I'm thinking of sets of distinctions which do amount to a rational world-picture. What does that mean? If it all fits together, does it mean it's right? I suspect if it all fits together, it amounts to a personal success (in fitting things together for myself), but carries no deeper implications for truth. It's just a set of distinctions. Of course, what I do with them is a different matter...

Music for 'Strings'

Playing around with improvising with different settings on my PX720. So this is a first attempt at a 'string' improvisation. I quite like the way that I can control the different voices... (although I'm not doing very well at the moment!)

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Passionate, Identity-seeking, Distinction-making entity

Shifts of position and changes of mind are personally hard for people because it involves a shift in personal identity. Constructivism and Realism are different in how they approach this. Constructivism, by its nature, might find it easier to appreciate multiple identities based on multiple constructs - but they are not immune from fundamentalism (for example, they might overly assert the 'implicit' ontology of constructivism and (ironically) insist on constructivism being real)... Realism on the other hand, by insisting on 'reality' can become more susceptible to fundamentalism. Personally, I don't think we can escape the fact that our identities (critical realists, constructivists, jedi...) are tied to positions and assertions of what's real and what isn't.

But how do we move forward? It strikes me that this must be a methodological development.. and more particularly one which takes account of diverse perspectives and diverse identities which are nonetheless 'real' (or at least part of a personal identity) to those who possess them (even the climate change deniers!). Establishing real mechanisms in it all must surely be a participative and appreciative exercise and not one where one set of distinctions (Bhaskar's, Latour's or anyone else's) holds sway. If Bhaskar is right and the reality behind individual perspectives can be revealed, the process of revealing it collaboratively can itself be transformative ("if you think climate change is not happening, what's your theory for what's going on when the ice-caps are melting?"... "what if you're wrong?"... etc.). But I think to make that work, an understanding of a real world must coexist with an understanding of ourselves as passionate, identity-seeking, distinction-making entities.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Back to Work

Been playing with rails this weekend for the Diabetes project. Suddenly so much that was so difficult becomes so simple!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Music in a time of flourishing

This is definitely a good time. It has been for a few months now. It may be about to change, so it's worth recording that this is a good time. I'm relaxing in the stables with a cup of tea while Izzy goes riding (in circles). She's had a fantastic weekend! Barbeque at Mossley Hall yesterday turned into a musical event with lots of singing and laughing. Holiday last week in Suffolk also great success with Izzy spending most of her time with a friend. Also we learnt today that the Holy Name church has also been confirmed as an oratory church to be known as the 'Manchester Oratory'. All good.. Is it interesting to see when people are deeply happy? Maybe at times when this is not the case...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Back from Holiday

Arrived back from holiday yesterday exhausted. Still, it's been a good break. It'll be good to get back to work! Learning Design paper nearly there....

Saturday, 15 August 2009

On Holiday

Spent a fantastic night in Youth Hostel in south derbyshire (after getting car stuck in a ditch). Walking this morning. Izzy very happy. Now in Harpenden awaiting next stage... Norfolk. Weather forecast looking good...

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Swimming and Driving

Spent day swimming and driving. Izzy had a good time, but it was noisy and very busy. Need to relax, so (for the first time in a while) I felt like improvisation. This was the result. Very consciously doing an exhortation, coercion and disruption thing (this is coming into a paper on Learning Design I'm writing with Dai at the moment). The video production (reviewing my LD paper) was interrupted by wasp!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Composing and Improvising

I don't feel like doing any improvisations at the moment. I'm more interested in composing. Been playing with the tablet's functionality in word to sketch some music. I'm interested in seeing how this develops over the next few days...

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Busy Weekend

Swimming in the sea in St Anns on Saturday after aborting a trip to a water park, horse riding on Sunday and then church and ice-cream in Fletcher Moss gardens. Good weekend. video

Friday, 31 July 2009

while friends were talking

I did this while Astrid and Dai were talking about enlightenment (or something or other) after we'd all had a great meal. Life is good. It's quite a 'lazy' improvisation.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Score on the train

Here's another attempt to sketch music by hand onto the computer. I wanted to sketch the whole thing. So from the opening melody being coercive in terms of asserting a tonality, it eventually becomes a disruption at the end. Not sure if it completely works yet, but an interesting idea.

looking after dad

Commentaries and Conversations – just another love poem: Astrid Johnson

1) Intro

Tradition, Technology and the Library.

Thinking about tradition seems anachronistic in an age of technology.

You are lost already, my friend. Deeply lost in my arms.

Technology can strip away all that isn't needed in the Library –
I will argue this is a mistake. Why?

Sinking to the ground, no question left.

Drawing on Luhmann's distinction between
Perception & Communication.

In timeless suspension, gently gliding on the Ocean floor,
with so many of yours and your father's friends:
Niklas, Christopher, Bohuslav, William and Graham Greene.

I want to consider the university from a biological perspective.
Philosophy is poetry of ideas. I am writing on a computer.
We are lucky, no need to find out who the greater Kali here?

One father dead and the other barely living.
You, the son of one; me, the daughter of the other.

2) Father's Library

At the moment I'm sitting in dad's flat.
I am there with you, my love.

He's asleep. I am feeling the relentless march of time.
At times as crucial as then, but much less distinct, "the human heart
can go to the length of God". I love you for your heart
and the long distance runner it is.

Browsing books that I remember from childhood.
This is not difficult. I am listening to Martinu.

My perception in this Library is enlarged.
I'm regulated by respect, care, consideration, personal history, insight.
There is nothing else to do other than reflect and think. To perceive.
But I am now writing about it. After many hours, sat doing nothing.
My love, I envy you. Were you born with the ability to get lost, not loose any sense of morality
and the will to make distinctions?

Now I am communicating, my perception,
but others do it better than me.
Kali. Kali. Kali.

And they're all around me.
William Trevor, Graham Greene.
Gliding with friends on the Ocean floor. Dancing Kali's dance.
Let Evelyn Waugh join this dance. And there, you see, Rumi
running towards us...

Just walking by all the books.
So deep how I feel. Time.
Time. Time. I haven't sat like this with my dad's books
since I was 16.
Blessed we are, my love. Blessed with time.

Quote :"The human heart can go to the length of God" from Christopher Fry's "A Sleep of Prisoners"

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Chat with Oleg in Bangor

I did this video as a way of doing a brain-dump of stuff I'm thinking at the moment. It's all a bit half-baked, but it was an interesting exercise to put it together, and it served a useful starting point for some deep discussions. Good day began trying to persuade Izzy to take her 'scene' (all lit-up with LED lights from Maplin) into school to show the teacher. She didn't want at first, but it looks like insisting she did it was the right thing to do in the end. The music is a Barcoralle which plays with different 'coercive' regulators (regular accompanimental patterns which change as the piece progresses)

Monday, 20 July 2009

University as an ultrastable system

Been re-reading Beer's paper about esoteric boxes. I think this is the best chapter in 'Platform for change'. He talks about the real difficulties for institutional change - and the possibility that those who seek change are actually part of the mechanism of viability of the 'ultrastable' whole.

The improvisation is totally unrelated to any of this. It's meant to be wild and humorous - partly because it's something that's difficult to improvise (you can hear the problems I had!). Its main feature is the strict regulation of the rhythm. Of course this rhythm gives the music its own 'ultrastability' (which I try to break).

Saturday, 18 July 2009


Just taking a video snapshot of my browsing obsessions today is a bit like keeping copies of daily newspapers and personal correspondence. It is a 'day in the life'. To have some music with it too adds something - particularly if it's an improvisation. It was a good day too - apart from a frustrated attempt at doing interesting things with Spore models. Went to Manchester with Izzy and Astrid, bought lots of craft stuff, coffee in pop cafe. This might all seem ephemeral now and unimportant. How will it feel in 30 years? - I'll be 70! I used to keep a scrapbook when I was nine, which I still have. Same thing - cuttings from newspapers, train tickets, concert programmes, etc. I'm glad I did it.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Random Thoughts

I'm writing a paper on the University at the moment. Thinking of tying together themes from Newman, Gordon Graham, Humbolt and Cicero. The bottom line is that I think that university life relates in some way to the idea of a 'good life'. The central issue is that 'ideas' of the university inevitably relate to this in one way or another, and are in a sense irrelevant (and possibly unhelpful). The challenge is a practical one: how to remain viable in a changing context. The video is a bit of browsing of my YouTube site(!) and then the paper under construction (not sure how these fit together!). The music is an attempt to do the sort of very relaxed slow-movement that Haydn (for example) is so good at.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Folk song

Thinking about the professional university and the 'good life', particularly as Cicero refers to it.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Cardinal Newman on the University

Newman's view of the University is very interesting. He clearly saw it as an instrument of knowledge conservation, rather than creation. I have some sympathy with this view. Been reading Gordon Graham's book "The institution of intellectual values" and "The internet: a philosophical inquiry". All good stuff!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Family moments

It's been quite a weekend with family issues. All turned out very well - cause for celebration! Made lots of connections: Cardinal Newman on the University; Glover on MS , MRI and Alzheimers; Maturana on Love; Goethe and sensual experience. I think sensuality and conscience are at the heart of things. This improvisation is me trying to be more free and bold musically. Boldness in improvisation doesn't come easily.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Hymn to a great day out

This is meditative and maybe a bit low-key. It doesn't reflect the day we've had visiting Liverpool - really good, rich and exhausting. Happy evening 'vegging out'. Skype conversation with dom this evening good - once he got his camera working.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

horsing around

Staff conference went off very well today.. making the tin foil horses was hilarious! E-strategy stand also good - thanks to last-minute help from colleagues. Visibletweets was fantastic - very disruptive. I've used it for the video part of this improv (which was done last night in the balmy late-night heat).

So far so good. Now to worry about robots, diabetes, Processing and java. Enough of politics - time for some software development.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Staff conference sped up!

This is the presentation video I've prepared for tomorrow.. running at about 10 times it's speed with a 'humorous' improvisation. Very busy few days... Moodle has been officially adopted, and we seem to have minimised the number of people who might have been upset by that. Not upsetting people is very important!

Monday, 29 June 2009

History and Truth

Thinking about history, tradition, culture and spirit. Drawn to Arthur Hugh Clough's poetry..
"The thread of truth"

Truth is a golden thread, seen here and there
In small bright specks upon the visible side
Of our strange being's parti-coloured web.
How rich the universe! 'Tis a vein of ore
Emerging now and then on Earth's rude breast,
But flowing full below. Like islands set
At distant intervals on Ocean's face,
We see it on our course; but in the depths
The mystic colonnade unbroken keeps
Its faithful way, invisible but sure.
Oh, if it be so, wherefore do we men
Pass by so many marks, so little heeding?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Calm arpeggios

This is a bit of a mammoth improvisation. I thought of using the arpeggio idea from yesterday and doing something a bit more relaxed, and to tie it in with some nice calm videos of landscapes (and see what happens..). There is a combination of coercion (common patterns in arpeggios), disruption (in the rhythm particularly, and the shifts in harmony), and exhortation (in the changes in tone, moments of transformation). Quite like it.

Silly doodling

I'm just playing here...

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Sombre moments in Iran

This video is again capturing this moment in time. With excerpts from news reports and the web reports, together with Seigfried Sassoon's poetry. There's also an accelerando here. It's all very disrupting! Always pushing, a constant pattern, but always pushing, always disrupting. It can only go faster. This situation can only go one way - which is a reason to be sombre.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Astrid on Iran and Twitter

A lot of tweets on Iran, the election and protests. A lot more could be said, hopefully everything helps.
Click twice to watch. Not the best screen capture, just starting to practice. ;-)


Quite a agressive improvisation today.. Hard to listen to. I tied it to some of the web news footage of what's going on in Iran at the moment. Hard to watch.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

disruptive music

This is meant to be disruptive rather than coercive. That means more unpredictability - although there is pattern as well in small places, but it all keeps changing. What there isn't (I think) is transformation. Even the silence at the end isn't transformative. The silence is merely another disruption.

Must think about accelerandos and crescendos. I think they're continually disruptive too.

Coercive music

This music, which basically is a folk-like melody with varied accompaniment, is what I might have called last year 'grounded' music. I think I need to refine what this means.

Basically, the 'grounding' occurs where there are predictable patterns established: regular tonal melodies, regular accompaniment. The open 5ths help to establish clear tonal centres, etc. This regularity I would now see as part of the 'System 3' coordination, or coercion. There is something quite assertive (coercive?) about an open 5th, or even a repeated melody. The response to it is like the response to figurative art: this is C major (in art, the equivalent might be "this is a horse"). It is a pattern which is established, which sets a clear expectation of what is to follow. As such, it is also quite comforting (and maybe as a result, creates the 'grounding' feeling of 'all is right in the world'; in essence this means 'all is predictable')

Izzy's animation

Izzy was really pleased with this at the weekend...

Monday, 15 June 2009

more exhortation, dying down...

This one starts with an exhortation but then it calms down.. In all the exhortation (continual transformation, tonally), there is a lot of disruption in the chromaticism of it all. Gradually, patterns assert themselves (particularly rhythmically) - this is coercive. In becoming more chordal, there is less disruption, and more coercion. The question is, is the final silence transformative..? Is silence always transformative (exhortational)?

Sunday, 14 June 2009

moving towards music theory

I'm feeling the need to articulate more fully how I think music works. I see it as a key example of a context for being human which we make through our being human. In this way it is no different from any other form of human activity.

It's effect on us is, I believe, fundamentally vicarious - we gain an insight into other lives through recognition of the outward manifestations of those lives. How the recognition works is through the effect of the music on our personal regulation. For me this boils down to coercion, disruption and exhortation... with the aesthetics being placed on the art of the composer in positioning (system 5) their musical gestures with our biological regulation. Get the aesthetics wrong, and the gestures don't ring true... our taste (system 5 again) intervenes and stops the communicating process.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Busy Saturday

A near-perfect day as we (Astrid, Izzy and me) went to see houses and then went to Levenshulme antiques market, and then onto Mossley. The video is a random screen recording which contains Izzy's 'stick animation' which she spent most of the afternoon doing (she loved it - we used to do this sort of thing with flick-books).

The music is meant to be optimistic - a lot of second-inversion chords - they allow for a lot of disruption because they never really settle anything tonally. This means that the coercive element in the music is more rhythmical than harmonic I think, and the rhythm can be a lot freer, itself sometimes disrupting the surface in the manner of Janacek.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


This is exhortational music: The impassioned statement; the vision of a better world; the moment of falling in love; the transformation. It's characterised by continual disruption in the changing harmonies, but regular patterns (coercive) in the rhythm, which also become disruptive. With such disruption, anything becomes possible. In other words, every instance of something in one context, is immediately placed in a new context, with new possibilities emerging. It may be a schizmogenic process... where does it end? a rupture, an explosion, after which memory is lost and all is new.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

thinking music...

Went to see Don Carlos yesterday at the lowry with Astrid. It was brilliant. Verdi knew about real people and real politics.

I'm thinking about a VSM for music at the moment. What are the regulating mechanisms which determine how we hear music?
Here's my first stab:

1. Mechanism of instinctive reaction to perceptions
2. Mechanism of making sense out of perceptions
3. Mechanism of modelling future perceptions and expectation
4. Mechanism of taste

This is a bit like (but definitely different from) Peirce's firstness, secondness, thirdness, etc...
The bottom line is can it be modelled?

Friday, 5 June 2009

After marriage

This is my first blog post after being married at the weekend. Although it's not been a great day today (lost my touch politically!), and recovering from City University event yesterday, I wanted to do something happy. I am very happy at the moment, so this is meant to be really free, jazzy, contented...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Evolutionary consciousness, Lamarck and unfortunate ideas

The 'inheritance of acquired characteristics' is something which effectively underpins any view of humankind that sees consciousness as 'evolving'. "Look at the wonderful technology we now have, all the social reform, etc, etc" - human consciousness must be evolving! In other words, the acquired achievements of one age are inherited by the next.

This is a debate which raged in biology (it takes me back to Bateson, so comfortable territory!), concerning the development of Giraffes' necks and Elephants' trunks. Because one giraffe had to stretch, its descendants grew longer necks.

It is merely an idea, but a powerful one (which has for some time been discredited by the scientific community). It still exists in various forms - particularly in Dawkin's work.

What are it's political implications? The real problem for me is that it suggests that one idea is more enlightened than another, and that this idea will be inherited by future generations. Whose idea? Why theirs? It's an open invitation to manipulative people to expoit and abuse positions of power.

All-in-all, these political problems are a testament to the causal powers of ideas, which in many cases must be guarded against. The defenders are always human conscience and decency.

The social efficacy of some ideas is clearly better than others. What that means is that some distinctions are more effective than others at any particular point in history. At this point in history, Lamarck serves us poorly. Luhmann might be more interesting...

This improvisation is set to a diagram I did with Jim on the relationship between Shiva, Vishnu and Brahman and the VSM.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Izzy did this diagram of a machine, so I've combined it with an improvisation. Not been feeling well today (another cold - hope Astrid doesn't get it!) but progressed well on SPLICE report and other outstanding jobs... Astrid's discovering Auden at the moment partly thanks to wonderful documentary the other day...

Monday, 18 May 2009

Mere ideas

I got into an argument over the weekend about whether humans are 'evolving'. I got quite heated about it, which was interesting to me... it was probably because I felt my identity challenged (and so did they). My challenge to the 'evolutionary' idea is that it is merely one way (a rather western post-Descartes way) of making distinctions, which glosses over individual human experience.

The sensuality of human life is, it strikes me, a constant dimension, not an evolving one (indeed, we may be less attuned to our senses, including 'common sense', than we used to be). Sensual lives are played out against a continually changing context, reproduced and transformed by individual lives (technology, social change, etc). Ideas, including evolutionary ideas, can be dangerous because they risk disconnecting our senses, and become over-reliant on rational abstraction. This is where fundamentalism begins.

This all started me thinking about the role of ideas in forming our identities. We get attached to ideas, or ways of making distinctions, because they help us navigate our experience. Getting too attached is dangerous - it's quite easy to become 'fundamentalist': that means when the idea outweighs basic conscience, human decency or 'common sense'.

I love ideas, and they form part of my identity (particularly certain philosophical ones, or cybernetic ones). I play with distinctions as a way of probing my conscience. Some distinctions I find useful. And everyone is a bit like this: we all have ideas, some of them silly, some of them well-grounded... and they can affect the way we act. At best, however, they are regulated (and if necessary over-ruled) by our senses: our sense of others' ideas and feelings being different from our own; our sense of ways to organise ourselves; our sense of fairness; our sense of right and wrong... and (basically) love.

Related to this, this is my attempt to explain creativity using the distinctions of the Viable System Model...

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Transforming Silence

I was thinking about the disruptive (or even transformative) role of silence in the abstract improvisation a few days ago. To what extent does a silence transform... are we in a different place?


Did a movie on creativity today to try and explain my experience of being creative using the VSM. Here's part of the video with a music improvisation I did yesterday (very Shostokovich-like). The disruptions are interesting, as are the coercions, which I think are related to the melodic line...


Here's an abstract improvisation (with a movie about java programming which I made for RAK). What's the difference between the figurative and the abstract? For me, the abstract is continual disruption (and this was the point of the serial method in Schoenberg): it's constantly interfering with our preconceptions - allowing little recognisable to form. The figurative disrupts too - but often in the detail (I think of Constable here). Where the prime reaction to the abstract is disruption, the prime reaction to the figurative is recognition, cognitive, rational... in saying "this is a chair", it is in a sense coercive.

Friday, 8 May 2009

attack from all sides

work is slightly overwhelming at the moment... too much going on; too much I should have done by now. The improvisation recalls the strange sound of the call to prayer in RAK - always disrupting; always coercing...

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Astrid is now in Manchester and things domestically are going well. Still recovering from RAK - there's a lot to do...

Sunday, 26 April 2009

More rhetorical music

I've got to put this improvisation up (it's stored on the piano!). About to go to Ras al Khaimah...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

rhetoric and music

thinking about exhortation, coercion and disruption in music. Teaching and learning experts group today...

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Deia Impressions

Just returned from wonderful visit to Dai and Franscesca in Deia, Majorca. Fantastic weather, Izzy's first flight, Astrid's and my first attempt at clearing an olive grove, great food, fascinating conversations... all wonderful memories! Musically, two things struck me: the Spanish/arabic modal phrygian melodies - and 'the ash grove' which Dai played on the Mandolin. Bit of a synthesis here (and rather poor recording..)

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Rhetorical Music

I've been thinking about Rhetoric in music (and Rhetoric in everything else)- what are the components which change our feelings. Here's one way of making distinctions about this: Music to satisfy our habits and expectations, music to appeal to our reason, music which appeals to aspiration, opening-out and transcendence. There are three types of music here - the 'grounded' open 5ths are anti-oscillatory, the rich sonorous chords are transcendental and the motivic bits in the middle are to do with reason. Still thinking about it....!

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Tying things up

Gradually putting together a final presentation of the findings from the SPLICE project. In the end, I've chosen to present it as a Content Package (using RELOAD!) -because it gives me flexibility as to how I present it.

Looking back to last Easter when I was so consumed by Luhmann and the Personal/Private distinction. A lot of that is coming into the SPLICE stuff. But my real concern here is increasingly institutional change - that's the difference between last year and this.

Every year I find something new which makes me grow intellectually. Last year it was Luhmann. This year I think it's probably Cicero, and the whole issue Rhetoric vs Philosophy. This translates for me not only into the way we approach technology, but into how we manage institutions and what we do with our learners.

Monday, 6 April 2009


Had a go at writing words and music for this. It didn't work very well, so I think I will try to have the words already there next time...

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Sunday Magnificat

Wonderful day today with Astrid (great weekend generally apart from having terrible sore throat)... I wrote about it and then turned the writing into this movie... I'm fascinated by the extent to which the pen reveals the person - it seems very powerful. The improvisation makes more use of motifs - that's something to be explored too....

Friday, 3 April 2009

Gregor Schneider and dark places

Went with Dai and his daughter to the Whitworth gallery to see the surrealism exhibition - very impressed again with Gregor Schneider - went into KinderZimmer... very dark and disorientating. Very Batesonian. On the way there, heard a Handel aria which seemed to peculiarly fit the run-down estates of Moss Side. Lots of talking with Astrid about fear. What's to fear?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


Izzy's brother was born today at 10:30. I got the call when I attended Izzy's School Centenary celebrations, where I heard her sing in the school choir, and was given a tour of the school. Year 1 class very interesting: real mixed-ability teaching, separate tables, different activities (although determined by teacher, not children). This is the sort of activity design that IMS LD should try to capture! Went to hospital with Izzy to see her mum. Read Christopher Small's book 'Music, Society, Education' in the library while she was there. All is good.

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Eurobid day

It's been an exhausting couple of days... The Euro-bid went in today (fingers crossed), yesterday was staff training for Inquiry-based learning, preparing to go to UAE, Izzy waiting for her new brother, etc, etc. Tomorrow I'm going to her school centenary celebrations...

These improvisations using score writing videos are really interesting me at the moment. It's as if the music itself is a reflection of the process of composition rather than some finished article. The video is a document of a process, a revealing of the person behind the pen.. maybe more revealing than a video of a figure.

it's reminding me of 'Le mystere Picasso':

Friday, 27 March 2009

taking a score for a walk

Here's an innovation... drawing a score and then playing around with it improvising with it. I think I'll try this with pictures too. I am so tired... incredibly busy day today...