Archive for December, 2007

smaller Dolbys make YouTube debut!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

Harper (16) and Graham (12) caught here rocking out on ‘Geeks In Love’ …. here’s the link to their YouTube debut:



Friday, December 21st, 2007


The suave Laika cigarette-smoking chap from the ‘Sputnik’ movie is proving quite popular so I decided to give him a fan page of his own.

Though this TV commercial was presumably shot around 1957/8, I think he looks more like a refugee from Steve Strange’s ‘Club For Heroes’ circa 1981. Perhaps the overlooked Kemp brother, Dirk?

Feel free to post your own tribute below.

Sputnik footnotes

Sunday, December 16th, 2007

I need to correct or append to a few things in my blog about the Sputnik performance:

1. I said that David Hoffman ‘let me use footage’ from his feature documentary, but this was understating it. David and I have been friends for years, involved with several creative projects together, and we often support each others’ work. He showed me work in progress on ‘Sputnik’ and I gave him my encouragement and constructive feedback. It is a measure of his confidence in the quality of his own film that he allowed me access to the content and gave me a carte blanche to adapt it and use it in my performance. I am very flattered that he felt comfortable putting his work in my hands, knowing that I would create a different type of experience, and one that possibly he wouldn’t have made himself. In practical terms, it came down to this: I loaded his ~90 minute film, took out all the narration and current-day interviews (other than one clip of Kruschev’s son); selected the passages that I thought were most effective visually; and trimmed those down, until I had a concise 30 minute piece. Yet it would never have been possible without the many months of hard work David and his team had done to acquire the footage, make shot selections and cuts, and sequence them in a coherent way to tell the story. The point of view we represented at the ICA, perhaps a European point of view, was a different slant from David’s. As important as it was to David, 1957 was a pivotal moment, in a different way, to the Radio Science Orchestra, who have a special world-view that is an homage to their musical and cultural heroes, but with more than a touch of irony. The loungy flavour of their arrangements is very tongue-in-cheek, as evidenced when Bruce Woolley sings ‘Autumn Leaves’ over the disastrous US rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. We chose to play the theme from ‘Thunderbirds’ because the young Gerry Anderson was so inspired by the Russian space program. This was pointed out by our narrator Ken Hollings who has a unique and quirky take on 1950′s history which is witty and dry, and very valid in its own right. But I urge you to seek out David Hoffman’s ‘Sputnik Mania’ which tells the whole story much more comprehensively, explaining its place in 20th century history while making us think of parallels with 9/11 and today’s world. This is the way David intended it. On March 14 2008, at the IFC theater in New York City, ‘Sputnik Mania‘ opens for three-week run. If you’re anywhere in the area please go down and see the film, which is terrific. Thanks again David for the gift of your film.

2. About the Russian duet: a few people have asked me if it will be available in any other form. I think this is very unlikely, but as I often re-use pieces and themes, you never know. The song, by the way, was a co-write by myself and Melissa Jordan—known on the Forum as merujo. I composed the music and sang kind of mumbled lyrics in English; Melissa took the vocal melody and composed original lyrics in Russian to fit my phrasing, which was a considerable achievement. She even sang them for me in Russian and sent me back a demo, which surprised me as I never knew she had such a lovely singing voice! So it was remiss of me to refer to it as a Russian ‘translation’, as Melissa’s contribution was more as a lyricist.

3. I owe a debt of thanks as well to Lindon Lait and his friend Keith Handscombe, who put in many hours converting and compiling the three video recordings from the ICA into a single file format on an external hard drive. The clips are now on YouTube by the way! Here.

Sunrise this morning

Saturday, December 15th, 2007


I wonder if my landlocked lifeboat feels any envy as other old wooden boats float past in the North Sea. This is one of the Thames Barges that still ply the East Anglian coast. My great-great grandfather Newsom Garrett used to run a grain cargo business from the Maltings at Snape (yes, that’s where J.K. Rowling borrowed the name for her villain/hero, now the home to the Aldeburgh Festival) and these barges would transport his grain to London, a distance of about 200 miles by water.

'Sputnik And Beyond' video online

Wednesday, December 12th, 2007


(top to bottom: Bruce Woolley; Thomas Dolby; Ken Hollings and Lydia Kavina)

On Oct 3rd 2007 I took part in a performance entitled ‘Sputnik And Beyond’ at the ICA in London, along with The Radio Science Orchestra. You can download video of the concert at the bottom of this blog entry.

This was a one-off concert to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, the first man-made satellite successfully launched into space. My friend David Hoffman, a documentary filmmaker, had recently premiered his full-length movie ‘Sputnik Mania’ (previously entitled ‘The Fever of ’57) and he was kind enough to allow me to use footage and entire edited sequences from his film, to project at the ICA. The Radio Science Orchestra arranged and performed a live soundtrack, with commentary provided by pop culturist/DJ/sci-fi writer Ken Hollings.

The RSO is a UK-based electronic collective, on this occasion consisting of musicians:-

Bruce Woolley (Theremin and ring modulator)

Lydia Kavina (Theremin)

Joy Smith (Harp, Dulcimer)

Andy Visser (Flute, tenor and baritone saxophone, keyboards)

Kit Woolley (Moog Voyager and ring modulator)

….also guesting (on ‘Thunderbirds’) were my UK horn section:

Kevin Robinson—trumpet

Fayyaz Virgi—trombone

Ian Kirkham—sax

We put the show together very hurriedly, in the couple of days off I had between my autumn US and UK tours. It features some original music, a few covers, a little Debussy, and some ‘recycled’ film score music from my other movie projects. For the duet by me and Bruce, I wrote music and some lyrics in English that were kindly translated into Russian by Melissa Jordan. The goal was to showcase the idea of a live Sputnik performance, with a view to interesting some promoters, arts centres, museums, universities etc in a larger scale Sputnik tour in 2008. So if you fall into that category and want to talk to me about it, please post a Comment below and let’s talk.

I invited three volunteers from my Forum (Lindon Lait, Clive Radford, and Nathan Toms—thank you!) to bring video cameras and tape the performance, and they sent in their footage to me afterwards. We also recorded the mixed audio off the front of house PA feed, though this was not working for the first couple of minutes. I put all the content in Final Cut Pro (a Mac video app that should be called Final Cut Amateur in my case) and I did an edit. Of course, the lighting was not optimal for performance, projection and cameras; and the sound mix was not intended for video. But having got those caveats out of the way, I am pleased to offer you the following clips for your enjoyment. If someone out there is a YouTube contributor, perhaps you could work with me to upload these clips there, with the correct format and credits, before someone else does it wrong! I have broken it up into four parts, totalling about 30 minutes. The clips are in .mov format, which should work on Macs and PCs provided you have the latest QuickTime Player. You can view them in your browser window but you’ll probably be best off downloading the four individual parts (~40Mb each) and watch them in sequence.


Convoi Exceptionnel

Sunday, December 2nd, 2007


She’s here!

It was all very dramatic. Half the village turned out to watch, as this kind of excitement is a rare thing around here. On inspection, my lifeboat seemed to have made the trip pretty well. The damage to her starboard side looked no worse than it was in Berkshire. The lowloader truck driver reversed skillfully up to where the 60 ton crane had set up its enormous outriggers, half on the beach and half in my garden, and it was extended to its full height. They wrapped a skirt underneath the boat’s hull and started to lift her off the truck. Much creaking of old timbers! My heart was in my mouth. I was very thankful it was a clear windless day, a respite from the rainy gales that have been blowing at this time of year.

It took a lot of trial and error to get her to sit right on the railway sleepers. Her keel is not exactly level, which could have been a result of being badly supported for a long period in the past. Which could, in turn, be responsible for some of her seams opening up. I knew that once the crane went away I would never be able to change the way she is sitting, so it was important to get it right. I stood in the wheelhouse with my spirit level as they raised and lowered her, adding wooden shims each time to adjust her angle. As it happened, I was holding on to the wheel while ‘eyeballing’ the horizon; and at one point the rudder must have touched the ground, because the wheel gave a little lurch in my hand! Ha. I smiled. This boat has a personality, no question.

It was only once we had finally all agreed the angle was right, that I had a chance to take a breather and actually see what I’d got myself into. And I’m happy to say: she’s fantastic! The view from the wheelhouse where I will do most of my work is astonishing. She’s bright and airy inside due to the four antique hatches. Pretty dank, of course, after over a year of being left empty, but we will soon fix that. She has a large saloon, galley with cooker and sink, head/basin, and a comfortable double berth. The cupboards and wardrobe throughout are very well made, and the wood burning stove is adorable. Shell make a very nice guest house for our lucky visitors—though my kids immediately started trying to get dibs on who would live in her.
We plied the crane and truck drivers with tea and they drove away. It was all in a day’s work for them, but a once in a lifetime experience for me. I spent a good hour raising her mast for the first time as the sun began to set—I’m not sure it was ever functional, though it was probably intended for a ‘stabilising sail’ which many motorboats had to make them more comfortable at sea. The top two feet are rotten, and there’s no boom, but the rigging is in good shape. It’ll be a great place to site a large wind turbine, when I go into Renewable Energy mode. There’s a solid windlass and anchor on the foredeck, which raises a pretty funny question: do I anchor her in the garden so she won’t float away in an extremely high tide? but what if we need to raise it in a hurry when I rescue the family and head for dry land?

These are good problems to have. I’m sure it’s only the beginning of a slew of questions that I can only answer when I get a professional shipwright over to discuss what I need to do to her to put her to rights and extend her lifespan.

One request: please don’t come looking for her! there are only a given number of villages on the East Anglian coast, and you wouldn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where we are. I’ll post lots of pictures here and probably some video, but I’d rather my family’s (and my neighbours’) privacy was not disturbed.


Great day for a lifeboat delivery

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

I’ve been getting the garden ready for the lifeboat, digging holes for the railway sleepers, armed with a spade and a spirit level. The crane showed up (it’s MASSIVE) and we’re all set. I have received no frantic phone calls from the truck driver saying the boats’s in tatters all over the A12, and I suppose no news is good news! Of course, he may be in prison already.