Posted by & filed under Music.

Two weeks ago my car inched its way through the rain-soaked streets of a run down corner of Ipswich, to pick up a particularly special set of eBay winnings – a surround sound DVD system, won for £60.

One week tomorrow, a spectacular CD and DVD by the vocal group I Fagiolini will be released. It is the first recording of a complex, vast, and yet somehow intimate piece for forty – and then finally sixty – separate voices.  A huge choir. The piece is a mass entitled Ecco sì beato giorno (that blessed day), it was composed 445 years ago, but only very recently rediscovered – there is a Spectator article on the discovery here. I heard its first modern performance at the Proms a couple of years ago, and on the strength of that performance, I am filled with anticipation.

The piece was recorded in the round – with the listener completely surrounded by a circle of singers. That is why this lost jewel of a composition is worth buying a surround sound system for. In eight days from now, I will be able to be surrounded by this magnificent sound, hearing it travel the room around me. The only way, in my opinion, to listen to what should be a ground-breaking recording.

As an introduction to the piece, here is a video from the academic who rediscovered the score:

Posted by & filed under Froth and frippery.

If you are reading this on a computer, in a regular browser using a mouse or trackpad, the chances are that you – like me – are blessed with eight working fingers and two working thumbs. Chances are that like me, either naturally or with glasses or contact lenses, you can read the screen without too much trouble. The chances are you, like me, can play a YouTube video or Audioboo or any other piece of online rich content, and hear it fine.

You, like me, can see, hear, and touch. We’re in the majority, but we’re still the lucky ones.

I was born with a mild impediment to one of those senses – the hearing. Having no concept of what normal hearing sounds like, my mild sensorineural hearing loss, to give it its proper name, has never held me back. Interests and professions that you might think are not natural choices for someone with a hearing condition, have not been a problem. Music is one of the major passions of my life. I’ve worked, one way or another, in communications for over a decade. Read more »

Posted by & filed under Music.

NOTE: This post was originally posted as one of a daily series highlighting interesting singing from around the web


For the rest of this series I’ll be publishing an hour later, at 10am GMT on each day of Advent. I am posting a video each day of a piece which, in my opinion, celebrates the best of music made by the human voice – with the occasional quirky video thrown in for good measure! Today is the beginning of the third week, and you can catch up with the full Choral Christmas here.


Traditional Zulu chant, performed by I Fagiolini

Back on the first day of Advent, and the first day of this series, I promised a return visit from the quite magnificent I Fagiolini, and here it is. This is a recording from the 2002 Ambronay European Baroque Academy which takes place annualy in Ambronay Abbey. There are photos of what looks like a magnificent building, here (opens in new window/tab).

This performance makes me cry. Every, every time. Which is absurd when you think that it was only very recently that I listened carefully enough to realise there are passages of English to be heard. There are still sections where I have no idea what the words say, or what the intended sentiment is.

In the absence of a shared understanding, we are free create our own. This can be a wonderful thing, and I know exactly what this piece means to me. It’s thrilling that my meaning resonates closely with the words you may pick out from the one minute mark about ‘this winding road… no matter what it takes this road will take me home.’

There is no information on YouTube as to what this piece is, and I think I detected at least three languages in the performance.  Posting this entry up, I tried to find more information and I suspect a recording of this work can be found on the album Simunye, and that this is the cover blurb:

Trad. Zulu arr. Dlamini (b.1965) – Kwa Zulu senzeni? (Kwa Zulu, what’s our crime?)

When we were preparing for the exchange project, I Fagiolini asked whether the SDASA Chorale knew of any traditional African chant which could be compared with Gregorian chant. Mokale immediately thought of Zulu amahubo music, and played us an example which had been recorded by the revered Princess Magogo (mother of Chief Buthelezi) in the 1970s. I Fagiolini was fascinated by the recording and Bheka decided to make an arrangement of the chant that could be sung by both groups.

Bheka says: “That tape took me back home and reminded me of the olden days, those terrible days, which saw the destruction of the Zulu nation.” It is indeed about the destruction of Shaka’s nation that Princess Magogo was singing, and so I asked Bheka why he wanted to sing the song with a group of English men and women, descendents of an empire that played such an active role in that process. “They liked the song,” he replied, “and I thought that it would be nice to sing it together; it would show unity. We can all share our fruit of life.”

If that’s not a sentiment appropriate for Christmas and Advent, I don’t know what is.

Posted by & filed under Communications, Politics.

Last week I filmed a talk and Q&A by Professor Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey. Professor Jackson was the after-dinner speaker at a work dinner, so I probably should stress that the views expressed are his, and not those of my employers!

It was a very dark room so apologies if, like me, you’re not watching on the best screen on the market.

Professor Jackson’s talk was a fascinating look at how tomorrow’s companies should be run, the values they should embrace, and how they should measure success. Professor Jackson particularly tackles the weaknesses of GDP as a measure of success.

The moment that really stayed with me as I left the room was topical, however. Watch Tim Jackson’s view of the UK Government’s 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review below:

Posted by & filed under Media.

There was a veritable storm on Twitter when a new on screen graphic appeared on Sky News’s coverage of the Chile mine rescue this evening. I have read comments describing it as a “joke” or “spectacularly crass” or “insensitive.” I plumped for “sensationalist.”

On the face of it the graphic – a counter of miners rescued – is innocuous. Why the outrage?

I think the reasons for the Twitter disgust are pretty subtle, and can be summed up as:

  1. Bad timing. The counter appeared, and stayed on screen, for several hours in the run up to the rescue, even when it became apparent the rescue was some way off.
  2. Sky introduced a custom set of graphics for this story, which they do for many major stories. However in this case, the soil texture used in the graphics is unusually in-your-face in saying to the viewer “just in case you have the attention span of a flea, these men are underground.”
  3. The location – top left corner, flush with the  Sky News logo, along with the presentation of two numbers in that format has an unfortunate and trivialising echo of a sports score.
  4. The tally has at times been accompanied by an advert for Sky News HD – nothing says ‘we are willing to insensitively exploit the situation these men are in’ quite like inserting an ad just above the counter recording their fate.
  5. And of course, as with most Twitter storms plenty of the comments are unthinking re-tweets and mock outrage.

Sky should not draw too much comfort from my fifth point – their credibility has taken such a hit that more than one person genuinely believed a spoof that circulated showing a parallell “Miners Dead: 0 of 33″ counter.

And why not? To many it seems no more or less ridiculous.

The information itself is relevant and useful. If Sky had stuck to their regular graphics and included the tally on the ticker, or on a loop in the main graphics, no-one would have batted an eyelid.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is that at the time of writing, with new criticism of Sky appearing on Twitter at a rate of one critical tweet every five seconds, they haven’t taken the simple steps necessary to fix it.

Posted by & filed under Music.

It’s a precious thing to hear a piece of music which never leaves you. To be absolutely confident that you know and may never forget every twist of the soundscape. For me there is only one work that has so comprehensively captured my soul, and burnt itself in to my memory. It goes by the title Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui Prater In Te Deus Israel – I have never placed my hope in any other but you God of Israel. More digestibly it is simply Spem in Alium.

Hearing that piece for the first time at the BBC Proms of 2005 ignited a musical love affair with the composer Thomas Tallis, that has stayed with me ever since. This coming week, BBC Radio 3 profile Thomas Tallis as their Composer Of The Week (thank you Scott). No doubt they will tell the story of Tallis’s masterpiece, Spem in Alium.

As direct historical records regarding Tallis are so sketchy, we often have to interpret and extrapolate from circumstantial evidence. Here, for what it’s worth, is my take on how Spem in Alium came in to being. My puny efforts at the British Library notwithstanding, Radio 3’s take will no doubt be better researched! Do have a listen.

The world around Tallis

The 16th century transformed the face of our planet, with repercussions still visible today.

As religious wars scorched continents, so too a fire of Renaissance arts and culture blazed out of Italy. Rome was devising a new “Gregorian” calendar – to all intents and purposes the calendar we use today. Time itself was changing, and the new calendar quickly spread its wings across Europe and beyond.

Burgeoning sea travel and the rapid expansion of trading markets saw many things spread faster and wider than they ever had before. Everything from the new calendar, to Smallpox. National boundaries were ever more hotly defended even as their lines, their power, and their meaning, were disintegrating.

Read more »

Posted by & filed under Online.

This is a rough but hopefully comprehensive guide to getting the enterprise open source Content Management System Mysource Matrix up and running on an Amazon EC2 Cloud virtual computer instance.

The bulk of this guide consists of a  list of commands to be executed in order. Comments appear in red.

It may turn out that not all of these commands are necessary, some may even contradict each other. But they do work, which is more than can be said for some other MySource Matrix installation guides!  Grateful thanks to Squiz and Matrix Stuff for providing all the key instructions necessary to get up and running on EC2. Read more »

Posted by & filed under Music.

More music sharing. The National Theatre’s War Horse is currently playing in the West End, and greatly deserves each of the five star ratings it has received. Music is in itself a character in the story, and the production includes stirring arrangements of hymns and traditional songs.

The soundtrack is well worth buying. I have included track four from the soundtrack CD above, found on YouTube accompanying a Disney-esque video which I have tried to squash out of view – hit play to hear the delicious Devonian sound.  The song is called The Year Turns Round Again on the War Horse CD, it is written by John Tams and he originally called it Snow Falls (click for lyrics).

Posted by & filed under Froth and frippery, Media.

Every couple of months I drive up to Orford – it’s one of those rare places in the UK where the sky seems a little bigger, and the light a little warmer. Watching over the village is the arresting Orford Ness lighthouse.

One cold afternoon in January I stumbled on the news that Orford Ness lighthouse had been recommended for closure, and had an idea. An idea which, thanks to Twitter, I could simultaneously share with the world and pitch directly to Radio 4 continuity announcer and Suffolk-born man Zeb Soanes. Why not read the shipping forecast from the top of Orford Ness lighthouse, to give it a romantic send off?

What began and ended with a few casual (and easily forgotten) keystrokes for me was the beginning of a chain of thought and real time commitment for Zeb, so it’s really pleasing that by his own account he had an enjoyable time reading an excerpt of the shipping forecast from the lighthouse this morning.

This recording is from today’s Lesley Dolphin show on BBC Radio Suffolk and yes, of course, I blushed a little at the name check.

Posted by & filed under Media.

There are plenty of people rushing to judge Eurostar this weekend. The headline on TechCrunch is almost comical – “As hundreds of Eurostar passengers languish, Eurostar ignores Twitter.” On the face of it, it’s rather like saying “As shelves run dry of food, Tesco ignores Susan Boyle.” It’s quite random. TechCrunch’s view of the issue is pretty narrow (as this post from We are social shows.)

The whole communications effort could have been better, and the speed of the social media response is just one symptom – hopefully Eurostar will take some lessons away from this weekend.

Where did Eurostar go wrong?

  • It’s worth saying that when it comes to PR, Eurostar were unlucky – as ever there’s not a lot of news around at Christmas, and this is a big story which is relatively low effort / low cost to cover.  Dramatic though it is, is it really a bigger story than a vulnerable toddler being abducted from a police station? Personally I don’t believe so – but there are unfortunately a lot of angry passengers in the Eurostar story who are able to keep the story running.
  • It sounds like there was confusion in Eurostar HQWe are social’s Robin Grant describes grabbing the chief executive for a minute “in between various crisis meetings”, and being sat alongside the Sales and Marketing Director.  In a situation as fast moving and high profile as this, the key people could have worked better together if they had been co-located in one room. It would have been good to see Eurostar’s crisis team validate or update their corporate message every thirty minutes, while managing the operational challenge.
  • I think Eurostar could have picked a better core message – the explanation offered about changes in temperature affecting the trains left more questions than answers. Over time it looked like the company didn’t know what was causing the breakdowns, so it would have been more credible to say “we don’t know what’s happened to the trains, but we’re working as fast as possible to understand it.” There was also an attempt to move too quickly to the final stage of the comms plan – the review and compensation line – when practical operational comms to passengers was needed. Read more »