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August 28, 2007

Digital Dancer

I've been working up the layers for the new dance film:


I keep being amazed at the wonders of digital editing. Though I have to keep a check on the tricks, I don’t want to over-egg the pudding, as they say.

When Moog came up with his synthesiser it wasn't long before it was relatively easy for an unskilled musician to pump out a mediocre beat. My feelings have always been that, while anyone could get a result, if you could play the violin well, you could do amazing things with a synthesiser.

The same goes for digital video. If you understand film then digital can take you places you’ve only ever dreamt about. Though, as YouTube demonstrates all too often, it’s easy to cobble together hours of tedium.

And now David Lynch has gone digital. “Digital is so friendly for me and so important for the scenes, a way of working without so much downtime. It's impossible to go back. Film is a beautiful medium, but the world has moved on. The amount of manipulation we can do, anybody can do, is so much the future. Film is so big and heavy and slow, you just die. It's just ridiculous.” [thanks boing boing].

Imagine what David Lynch dreams about.

Posted by john at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2007

When I’m cleaning windows…

Apart from the almost constant noise [there are a few minutes of quiet around 3:30 in the morning] one of the disadvantages of living next to a main road is all the dirt.

There are eight large sash windows along the front of the mill [all conveniently pointing North] [or as near to North as makes no odds] [we artists like the North light for its evenness and general lack of stark shadows] [anyway] and the dirt grimes them up so that it sometimes seems to be dusk in the middle of the day.

This, coupled with living in the North of England [an area not known for its long hours of bright sunshine] means things in the studio can get a bit crepuscular to say the least. So the windows must needs be cleaned.

Time was, when money was in greater supply, I paid a couple of eager chaps from Sparkling Glass to rinse the glass every few weeks. Indeed such was one occasion when I was painting a naked violinist [the link to the picture is no longer valid].

Anyway, I have in the past perched upon tall ladders and exhausted myself climbing up and down to wring out the chammy. But it occurred to me today, as I despaired of getting the long ladders out from behind the cooker, that if I opened the windows I could do most of the job from inside. Or at least starting from the inside.



It's ok, I was tied on and everything.


and not just to the bucket, by the way

Posted by john at 10:24 PM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2007

The Batman

Late last night Katrin noticed a shadow flicker across the wall. Was it a fly? No, too big. A moth – bigger. There it was again – it was a bat.

I opened a window top and bottom, but the bat was not interested. It just flew in a swooping figure-of-eight flight path round and round [and round] the painting studio.

We tried to take a photograph, but it was late and it was a bat and well…




A couple of times it flew out of the window only to fly in again. It must have been very confused. Eventually it flew out of the window, didn’t come in again, and headed off back to the Bat Cave.

Posted by john at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2007

The Is of It.

Consciousness is a thorn in the artist’s side. It’s hard to get away from the fact of doing something creative and immerse yourself in the act of doing something creative. That’s why so many mind-expanding substances are consumed by people in the creative arts – it helps get in touch with the is of it.

As children we are resolved in our intent and so the results are strong, confidence is unquestioned. Young Billy-Bob clutches a crayon and applies it with vigour to the paper and lo - there is his dear Mama, no problem. Even a bit older, when shapes start to be recognised, we know what we see and we just put it down.

a family of carrots, Richard [age 8], felt pen on paper

Later, after school and shading and perspective and ohmylordwhatelse, we question everything. Is gets replaced by if then by what if. There becomes an ideal to aspire to. Eventually there is a state, called drawing, within which we can fail. So fail we do.

The young child has no knowledge of this possibility. Watching a child draw is wonderful, they just do, they are right there with the is of it. We, on the other hand, aren’t, on the whole. But we should be and that is why, whenever I say I’m an artist, people say “Oh, I can’t draw.” They could if they just did, but they don't, they’ve lost the ability.

It’s not just consciousness, it’s self-consciousness. When that beauty kicks in we’re toast, and being is goes out the window.

Posted by john at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2007

To sum up then…

We arrived in Gjakova and there was nowhere to stay or, more importantly perhaps, to hold the summer school.

But we found an old kindergarten we could use and the students could sleep in the classrooms – except there were no beds.

The Kosovo army brought in 75 beds, Jane bought some sheets, then the electricity went off.

Well the electricity came back on and the children arrived. Then the drains blocked and all manner of unpleasantness seeped up through the cracks in the tiles.

We got the drains un-blocked just in time for the water to go off. Then the Kosovo army came back and took away all the beds.

If it wasn’t for the hard work, bounding energy and endless enthusiasm of all the staff, the 27 UK students and the 28 Kosovo students things could have been a bit tricky.

As it was the children had smiles on their faces all week and, when it was all over, when the bags had been packed, the paintings rolled up and the music room tidied away for another year, we all went out for a meal.


However my adventures didn’t end there, we still had to drive the van back…
coming soon: borders and how to cross them.

Posted by john at 07:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 19, 2007

Life in the Balkans

So, life went on. The children arrived every morning, the students and staff set about the activities with more energy than was advisable at 45°C, umpty-hundred litres of water were consumed by the hour,

spuds were peeled,

Hajredini, the caretaker, dozed peacefully in the garden,

Max got his hair straightened, the way you do.

And all the while, not so deep underground, things were not as they should be. Stuff that ought to be on its way to pastures new, wasn’t, instead it was getting caught up, and hanging around, and generally backing up and lurking in old cracked pipes until stuff [that should be on its way to the aforementioned pastures] started to reappear and behave in generally unpleasant ways all over the tiled floor.

So certain activities were suspended and the experts were called in. I was first made aware of their arrival by a student pointing out two dishevelled dark men about to light cigarettes in the midst of a mass of bright and colourful children. They were both clearly strangers to the invention of Mr King C Gillette, of Massachusetts, their skin was the colour and texture of worn leather and their clothes were used to hard work and long hours in high temperatures. In fact they wouldn’t have looked out of place on the back-lot of a film-set shooting the baddies scene in a Spaghetti Western. I immediately understood their calling and showed them to the problem where they set about the task with unenviable enthusiasm.


After half an hour I was faced with a daunting sight. To my right 30 children, in shorts, tee-shirts and bare feet, were skipping lightly about with coloured silks and beaming smiles. While to my left two men wrestled a long springy steel drain rod, riving tens years of unused difficulty from the drains. They too were smiling, though for reasons which were not immediately apparent. I endeavoured to keep the two activities apart with buckets of boiling water and bleach.

Posted by john at 07:48 PM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2007

So, where were we?

Oh, yes. The Gjakova Summer School…

Well the kids arrived at 9:30 on the Monday morning and, as the mercury began its relentless journey up the glass, off we went. The aktivitetets, as mentioned on the blackboard, were musikë, dramë, art and vallézimo [dance] but we also had other things, opcionet:

patchwork squares


tissue butterflies
[photos: Gent Kumnova]

and portraiture.

advantages of running the summer school in a kindergarten No.1:
the children fitted the chairs


Posted by john at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

International Table Tennis

Every year Jim and Britt have a barbecue thinly disguised as a Table Tennis Tournament. The trophy is a treat and definitely worth winning, being one of Jim’s pieces, but sadly it will not grace my desk as, though I enjoy ping-pong, I am no good at it.


On Saturday it becomes an International competition with the arrival of the Bavarian Youth Table Tennis Champion. Mind you, this year the invite has a lively twist, suggesting as it does, that we will be required to play naked [never mind with two bats]. But the weather up here is far from balmy and a more suitable attire must needs be chosen, I feel.


Posted by john at 02:42 PM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2007

dusttodust goes global


Just heard that my dance film dusttodust has got into the Dança em Foco festival in Rio de Janeiro.

Terça-feira: 11h (TELA 2)
Quarta-feira: 18h (TELA 1)
Sábado: 16h30 (TELA 3)
Domingo: 12h (TELA 2)
Apresentação especial: dia 1, 19h (NAS 3 TELAS)

Dusttodust - 5’ (Cl. Etária: 14 anos)
Reino Unido, 2006
Direção: John Coombes
Coreografia: Rachel Brooker

Flicker - 1’
Reino Unido, 2005
Direção: Chirstinn Whyte
Coreografia: Chirstinn Whyte

Spinning towards the Abyss - 3’
Reino Unido, 2006
Direção: Helga Stromberger
Coreografia: Helga Stromberger

Moebius - 8’ (Cl. Etária: 14 anos)
Reino Unido, 2007
Direção: Claudia Kappenberg
Coreografia: Claudia Kappenberg

you can watch the film here, but sadly it's in 4:3 format not the resplendant 16:9 that it was made in.

Posted by john at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2007

The Creation of St Christopher

I have 14 hours of DV tape, there are interviews with 31 people, both staff and students. We filmed in lessons, before lessons and between lessons. We filmed the string group, we filmed the wind group and we recorded the music teacher playing the cello.


Lots of words, lots of thoughts and comments, lots of moving images. The first couple of weeks in post-production is all practical. Logging shots, capturing sequences, transcribing interviews. But all the while little stories, short sequences, are beginning to take shape.

I start to put the sequences together, it’s pedestrian, it’s plodding, it is, in a word poor. But it's still, nonetheless, important. It's important to know what I don’t want. It’s important to have a bench-mark, a point to kick off from, something to rebel against.

So I go off at a tangent and nail a sequence together – forthehellofit. Yay! Then I stick some music under it and BANG! I’m away, it starts to have a shape. I put a voice over it and it’s goose-pimple time, heh heh heh.

Posted by john at 08:39 PM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2007

It’s all in the eyes.

Well nearly all – a lot of it’s in the mouth, it has to be said.

Among the many and varied things I do, to put comestibles on the horizontal flat surface standing on four legs in the kitchen, is take photographs of actors for their entry in Spotlight.


It’s a challenge because essentially casting directors want black and white photographs of actors' heads and faces looking straight at them. So once the light is evenly distributed and the hair suitably normal, it all comes down to the expression in the eyes and the set of the mouth. It takes a long time to get it just right.

Posted by john at 09:25 PM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2007


Only one thing is certain,
said Samuel Butler,
that is: nothing is certain
and even that isn’t certain.

Posted by john at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2007

The Theatre of Semantic Poetry

Many many years ago, Monty introduced me to the work of Stefan Themerson, and Bayamus in particular. It’s a surreal novel: Bayamus has a dilemma whereby he has had a head transplant with an infertile businessman who wants children. Now the child has arrived they get into a discussion as to whose child it really is.

Anyway, buy it, read, be amazed. In his wanderings Bayamus goes to the Theatre of Semantic Poetry. This always struck me as an amazing place, and indeed I wrote to Stefan Themerson to ask if I could use his concept, and he acceded, delighted, at the end of his career, to be an inspiration to someone starting theirs.

I revived one of my semantic poems for the Maximalism show last November, as it was once more relevant.

A means to prevent collision with the ground.

Usually having four legs
and a rest for the back.
It holds physical properties
within three dimensions:
of height
of width
of breadth
a vertical force
exerted by its mass
as a result of gravity.

And comprises mostly
and often
of the hard fibrous substances
lying beneath the bark
of most tall perennial plants
having a main trunk
and branches,
at a certain distance from the ground,
forming a distinct elevated crown.

Category of the aforementioned: entity: object: living: thing: organism: vascular plant: ligneous plant.

Held together
by a strong liquid
obtained by boiling collagenous animal parts,
such as bones and hooves,
into hard gelatine
then adding water
and items
whose chemical properties are of such that
when in aqueous solutions
their salts will yield positively charged ions,
namely a certain
metallic element,
[scarcely known in a pure condition]
but used in its crude
or impure
carbon containing form,
an atomic weight of 55.847,
an atomic number of 26
at 20oC
a specific gravity of 7.86
and hit in place by a hammer.

Category of the aforementioned: entity: object: artefact: instrument: implement: hand tool.

there’s a cushion.


Posted by john at 10:34 PM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2007

Meanwhile back in the edit suite

Ha! Time was there’d be an array of flickering monitors in front of me, above a large polished wooden desk with all manner of keyboards and mixer units set into it, never mind an editor, and behind me, behind slidey doors, stacks of whirring tape players and miles [and miles] of cables.

Today I sit at my desk, with a keyboard, a monitor and a big Mac G5 dual processor. I can do all I could do in the big edit suites, and more besides. The only thing I don’t have, and do miss, is the guy coming in every now and then and asking if I want any coffee or cakes or ice cream perhaps.

I’m editing the St Christopher documentary at the moment, here’s what it looks like so far:


It’s called a paper edit. Trying to get 31 interviews to tell one story in 15 minutes. [Well there’s a new strap line.]

Posted by john at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2007

summer school

here's what we got up to during the day:


Posted by john at 07:18 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2007

Kindergarten is as kindergarten does

A kindergarten has, understandably, kindergarten size furniture, kindergarten size chairs, in two sizes: small and ridiculously small, kindergarten size tables, kindergarten size toilets – the height being not so much a problem as the width, it has to be said, and kindergarten size showers. The latter requiring you to crouch or even kneel down, not the most efficacious way to cleanliness.


two sizes of chair


kindergarten size supper

Posted by john at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

August 06, 2007

café society

In cafés all across Europe, old men with thick hands, big noses and wrinkled brown faces, argue in the shade, raise their hands in frustration and cast their fiery eyes heavenwards while young girls smile at younger men in tight tee-shirts.

Posted by john at 07:15 PM | Comments (1)

August 05, 2007

live a little


Posted by john at 11:22 PM | Comments (2)

August 04, 2007

Turkish Coffee

They drink Turkish coffee in Kosovo. Clearly, if there was justice to be had, they would drink Kosovo coffee in Turkey, but the Ottoman Empire was quite clear on this point, I feel, among other things, obviously – like those sofas without backs or arms... anyway, it’s an acquired taste, Turkish coffee, a delicate concoction of very finely ground, not quite boiled, coffee beans with an inordinate amount of sugar.


The little pots they make it in, ibriks, are lovely, the stuff that comes out of the ibrik, if made well is equally lovely. If it’s not made well it can be bitter and gritty and generally rather unpleasant.

The ibrik will make one or two tiny cups, and it’s always good to get the first pour as this will have less of the finely ground coffee suspended in it. Never drink to the bottom of the cup, you will regret it.

The idea is for the water not to boil. The ibrik is filled to the neck, not the top, and several heaped teaspoons of sugar are added. Then the ground coffee, which is really a powder, is added to the top of the water and not stirred. As the water heats the coffee begins to froth and foam and splutter almost as if it were indeed boiling. But it’s not, and it mustn’t - if it boils the brew’s buggered, throw the whole lot away and start again.

If you’re really keen here’s a good explanation of how it’s done.

Loenita made excellent Turkish coffee. When the entire Kosovo army* wanted coffee, after their major bedding detail, she had her work cut out, because, as you will remember, you can only make two cups at once.


*well alright, not the entire Kosovo army.


An ottoman - not to be confused with a banquette or indeed a stool, if you know which side your ekmek is buttered.


Another Ottoman, this time Othman the I, founder of the Ottoman Empire.

You can't say you don't learn things here. [Well you can obviously, but the author refuses to enter into any correspondence regarding this matter.]

Posted by john at 09:07 PM | Comments (1)

August 03, 2007

Beds beds beds

Where are we going to get 75 beds in two days?
Who has a lot of people moving about and wanting to get some kip when the stars come out?
An army.
Where’s the nearest army?
Across the road – a Kosovo Army barracks.
Have they got 75 beds they’re not using?
Yes… blimey that was easy.

So the Kosovo Army tip up and the classrooms are filled with beds. Whoopee do!

I should perhaps point out that this isn't the entire Kosovo Army

But the mattresses leave something to be desired so Jane nips out to the market and buys umpty-metres of white cotton to make up some sheets.

Arbenesha, Abulena and Leonita fitting the new sheets

Sheets! The 30 students coming out from the UK are not bringing out any bedding. We need a cunning plan.

Each Gjakova student, and there are 30 of them as luck would have it, will bring bedding for themselves and for an English Bedding Buddy. Job’s a good ‘un.

Posted by john at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

August 02, 2007


We arrived at about 7:30 on Tuesday night, having left Letchworth Garden City [after Anthony and I had washed our hair obviously] at 9:30 Saturday night. We actually arrived in Gjakova about 6:30, but it has a complicated one-way system and very narrow streets not always entirely suitable for a large van,


so we had a couple of interesting tours of the Old Town before we finally tipped up at Fikrije and Basri’s beautiful house.


Lots of hugs and smiles and glasses of chai [sweet boiled tea] and we were told the news… the Konvict, where the summer school had been based for the past two years, itself not exactly a palace, was not available. Er… ah… but don’t worry, the Gjakova team had been working hard and had found an old Kindergarten we could use. So, as the sun began to sink slowly behind the Maja Glava mountains in the West, we went to have a look.


The place had, ten years before, been at the cutting edge of Infant Education Architecture, sadly in that ten years, as we were to discover, the edges had become somewhat blurred, and in some cases completely blocked.

The space inside was excellent, lots of light and lots of places for workshops and five large classrooms for the students to sleep in – whoopee! If we could get some beds that is.

The Gjakova Team had done an excellent job cleaning the place but I didn’t sleep that night, furiously re-working all the schedules and plans to make sure that when all the staff and students arrived, in three days, we would be ready.

Posted by john at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)