Tag Archive for 'Posts'

Community Media World

Be Mindful and Notice the Difference

This much I have learnt: Don’t confuse personality for intelligence, your own or other peoples.

Be Mindful and Notice the Difference

This much I have learnt: Don’t confuse personality for intelligence, your own or other peoples.

Future Media Blogging on the DMU Commons

Since the start of the term I’ve been introducing first year BSc Media Production students to bloging as part of their module TECH1002 Social Media & Technology. The aim is to get each student to share and post content on their own individual DMU Commons blog and then to share posts that are relevant to the Future Media site.

We started off in week one by setting up a basic account on the DMU Commons. First of all we changed things such as how the user names are displayed, what the domain for the site is called, and how to set up categories. This went well, and each of the students is now up and running with their own individual blog that they are free to post to whenever and however they want.

dscf1262I asked everyone to add a ‘category’ to their blog called Future Media, so that when a post is created, and the learner feels that it is relevant to the work we are doing in the module, they can select that category and it will be pulled into the Future Media site from an RSS feed and shared with all the other learners on the module – and beyond. This means that all the learners on the module are listed as contributors to the Future Media site, which is acting as an online aggregation point, or even magazine, of their posts.

The links to each of the posts points back to the original blog site, so each learner gets the chance to build more followers for their own site, who can read and interact with any other blog posts that the learner is posting. We’ve covered a lot of ground quite quickly since week one. Some learners have integrated their Twitter feeds into the sidebars. Some have started to embed YouTube videos, and everyone is starting to use hyperlinks to connect to other sites, articles and feeds of interest. I’ll be encouraging all the bloggers to experiment with different forms of media. They are all keen on producing video, audio and images, so why not showcase this work in a portfolio of blogs!

dscf1266The challenge now is to enhance the Future Media site with a better sense of graphic design, and a gallery of images that can be shared publicly. We also need to develop a moderation policy, so that any issues that might push the boundaries are dealt with sympathetically and appropriately. I’m hoping we can do this by self-management and peer-working, rather than trying to impose a centralised and hierarchical policy on everyone. This is going to be crucial to the ongoing success of the work we are doing, and I’ll be reflecting on it quite regularly.

Underpinning this is a focus on building individual and group capabilities in collaborative and social media. I’m asking learners to think about what capabilities they need to develop as producers of social media content, what kinds of sociability they will need to practice and perform in order to make their posts engaging and attention worthy? In trying to make this as ‘playful’ as possible at this stage, and working in reflection and analysis later, I’m hoping that we can cover the initial ground more quickly, before we really start to reflect on the processes and the affordance of social media production.

I’m very grateful to Andrew Clay for passing on such a well-developed and organised module. The clarity of the rational, the focus on critical and technical practice is clear. The challenge in moving away from a linear mind-set of media production, with a sense of externalised authority, to one that is interactive and sociable can’t be underestimated. This module is proving a great learning experience for myself, never mind the enrolled learners. I’m looking forward to expanding my thoughts on the process and the tools of social collaboration. It’s something I’ve been working on for years in other work I’ve been doing, trying to develop a more collegiate and social form of working. So this module is taking up many of the themes that have been in the back of my mind, from a more practical and experiential perspective. The key difference here is the extent to which this module affords me and my fellow learners with the ability to reflect and analyse this process as we go along.

Hosting a Community Media Cafe

With over three years’ experience running drop-in café’s for community media, John Coster knows the ins and the outs well. As the founder of Citizen’s Eye, John has been meeting volunteers and activists from the community media groups and charities in Leicester to help connect people. The community media cafes are not only a chance for volunteers to share their experience about how they can develop their projects, it’s also a social platform in which it’s possible to meet people with a like-mind and a common passion for community media and social enhancement.

At today’s Community Media Hub session at BBC Leicester, John explained how to get the best out of hosting a community media café, how to make it a social event rather than a formal event, and how to make it as accessible to a wide range of people. Simple things like pushing tables together and having a badge can make all the difference, according to John. Make sure that people are welcomed when they come in. Try and do a deal with the café manager to have a discount for people attending the media café, but be sure to help the cafe by holding the event at a time when they aren’t that busy.

Community media cafés are a regular occurrence in Leicester, and coming along has helped me to widen my circle of contacts and friends, and to talk to other people who are passionate about community media. If you’ve never been to one, but fancy trying one out, just pop along to Coffee Republic on Granby Street in Leicester, every Tuesday 9.30-10.30.

Hunters and Cultivators

I’ve just finished reading Andrew Keen’s book Digital Virtigo, in which he bemoans the loss of privacy that the networked world represents, and the concentration of exhibitionism and the exhibitionist that dominates so much of the social media ideologies. Keen’s argument is a repeat of some well worn arguments that have been put forward about all forms of media. That with each new wave of media technology we will somehow witness the loss of our intrinsic moral capability and sense of self determination. Keen is arguing that social media is dehumanising, reductive and instrumental – or at least the people who dominate the industries see things that way.

According to Keen, Facebook, Google, Twitter and goodness knows who else, are fighting to control our lives and our fleeting sense of attention by providing a convenient framework in which we can note, share and mark our cultural, personal and inter-personal preferences. In doing this we are betraying the essential mystery of personhood and losing our sense of distinction between the public and the private, the personal and the social. The things that we don’t share are the things that make us cogent individuals, suggests Keen. Restraint and personal conscience are ultimately more valuable to us than being able to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ a profile at the flick of a button. We play with the social personal at our risk, argues Keen.

To some extent a lot of Keens thoughts chime with my own experience of social media – the sense of distance that social media creates; the sense of perpetual judgement; the policing and thought-controlling of our ideas and our sympathies. The social media frontier is not the Wild West of the mythology of entrepreneurial capitalism. It might better be though as the oppressive and tyrannical apparatus of the Soviet surveillance state system. Oppressive and reactionary.

I’ve been thinking about two models of identity that have an almost inverse relationship in social media circles. We are living through an age in which the dominant model of social identity is the ‘hunter’. Pre-civilisation and pre-society man was defined by grazing and hunter-gathering. Men would sit around waiting for the moment when they feel hungry or need to prove themselves. When this moment arrived they picked up their spears and wandered off into the savannah and found some antelopes to kill. The carcass would be dragged back to the group and shared. Probably a barbecue would be lit and a party with wild dancing and music would ensue. Everyone would be happy. The hunters had provided.

The celebratory moment, however, doesn’t last for very long. Managing life between the peaks of abundance and the troughs of scarcity isn’t as straight forward as the hunters anticipate, and after every boom period there is an inevitable bust. This is the moment that the cultivators come forward. Recognising that a more consistent and sustainable provision of managed food supply is essential to balance out the periods of scarcity. The cultivators seek to farm and manage their resources so that they are able to get the collective through the winter and through the periods of shortage. The cultivator has the job of assessing the soil, thinking about irrigation, planning systems for crop rotation, matching plants together to enhance their yield or make them more resilient to attack from pests. The hunters grab the headlines and the glory, but it is the cultivators who build civilisations.

I agree with Andrew Keen that we should be sceptical about social media, but for different reasons. We are living through a time when the discourse of the hunter is predominant. In our society it’s the executive head-honcho who gets all the glory. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Fred Goodwin… The cult of the leader has even gone so far as to propel common headteachers into the realms of super-star managers, with egos and pay cheques to match. We are living in the age of the muscular individual who has to be seen making startling social media pronouncements to their network of online acolytes, amassed in the form of hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter. These are the equivalents of the modern day spear-wielding huntsmen. The alpha-male huntsman roaming the digital savannah looking to make a killing in the markets of public opinion.

For the rest of us, it’s the grind of cultivation that dominates our thinking. Building and maintaining collegiate working relationships. Developing incremental improvements to services and the capability of organisations to deliver over the long-term without putting too much strain on the one another. Storing and holding a store of intellectual and physical resources back for the dry seasons when the period of abundance is finished. There inevitably comes a day when the wandering herds of dumb animals are reduced to a trickle and the hunter starves.

Building a lasting civilisation, on the other hand, is a job that requires careful cultivation. It can’t be subject to fashion – economic, political, ideological, personal or social. Ideas have to stand the test of time and have to be communicated in a way that proves their enduring worth, and are not just the immediate play-things of attention-seeking hunters.

Twenty Years in Leicester


Me Behind the Bar at Nikki’s 1993

This week marks twenty years of me living in Leicester and studying or working at De Montfort University. It’s certainly been an interesting time. From working in various bars and shops, to teaching media and radio, I’ve certainly been busy.

Leicester is certainly an interesting place, though the last few years have been tough, and the signs of austerity are really starting to show in places in the town centre, with the number of shops that have closed down in recent years.

It’s often said that the best thing about Leicester is the ability to get in and out of the town centre quite quickly – it’s only an hour to London, and so on. But I also think that London is overrated and overheated, and that some of the people who are running around the capital would do well if they came to Leicester and started to invest here.

Leicester is a city of potential – it struggles getting that potential going, but we are starting to see signs of change. The new market development will be a big improvement, and the focus on providing spaces for people to interact as pedestrians or as cyclists will make a big difference.

So, I’m not sure if I fancy being in Leicester for another twenty years, but then I never thought I would be here this long anyway. I think some tea and cake to celebrate over the weekend might be nice.

Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Open Exhibition Preview

wpid-BUYgb30IcAA9IYa-300x225-2013-09-18-20-142.jpgLast night I was at the preview for the 2013 Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Members Open Exhibition. I chatted to the guests and exhibitors about the photographs that are on display and what they thought of having the chance in Leicester to take part in such a democratic exhibition.

Radio Research 2013


Radio Researchers BBC BH Tour

Academic conferences are often expected to be dull affairs that leave one soporific. Nothing can be further from the truth than Radio Research 2013. The ECREA hosted conference organised by Prof Guy Starkey and the University of Sunderland, at their London campus, has been vibrant, absorbing and engaging.

In his keynote address Andrew Crissel reassured the attendees that radio has a strong future based on its focus on words and ideas, and despite all the pressure to ‘visualise’ radio.

It’s great to re-confirm why I became interested in radio in the first place and to be reminded that there is more to radio than just youth and popular radio. Reconnecting with other forms of radio, drama, features and reportage has been heartening and welcome.

So I’ll be heading back to Leicester with a renewed sense of vigour that radio is a rich and enriching area to work in.

Acoustic Bridge


Acoustic Bridge

I went to the beach today at Port de plaisance de Carnon, just outside Montpellier. Walking around the harbour there is a very ugly concrete bridge spanning the channel leading out of the inner part of the marina. It’s only when you get inside the bridge that it’s design makes sense. I recorded this on my Zoom H4n recorder, and other than boosting the levels a little there has been no manipulation or combination of the audio.









Rob Watson » DMU 2013-08-26 08:07:50

wpid-BSMmSxhIIAEzDPu-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgNetwork visits for the Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery took Ian Davies and me to Bradford and Leeds last week. Our first stop was Impressions Gallery, in Centenary Square. Impressions Gallery is located in Bradford’s newest open space, Centenary Square, with a large water-feature and pool. On the day we visited, and despite it not being particularly warm, there were many families and children enjoying paddling in the pool and dodging through the fountains. While we had a look around the gallery, it was unfortunate that we’d not been able to make contact with a member of the team from the gallery who could chat with us. The exhibition space is excellent though, with large white walls and a high ceiling creating a versatile venue. Presently showing was Forever Young, a touring exhibition which is billed as “a retrospective of James Barnor’s street and studio photographs, spanning Ghana and London from the late 1940s to early 1970s.”

wpid-BSMpNHNIgAASvwJ-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgNext we headed over to the National Media Museum, for a look around the exhibitions and galleries depicting the history of photography, television, gaming and now the internet. It’s always a pleasure to visit the National Media Museum, as there is always a good atmosphere, with a focus on activities for children. They usually end –up reading the news or the weather. The Kodak Gallery on the lower ground floor lays out the history of photography, but it’s interesting that the latest camera in the collection is a Nikon F2. Obviously the gallery doesn’t extend into the digital realm, and there’s not a smart-phone to be found. Is analogue photography is truly becoming a museum display then?

wpid-BSOGsQRIgAAXFti-225x300-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgOur overnight stay in Leeds was at the University of Leeds Halls of Residence, which is a modern building that has very good accommodation and was only ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. We had a lovely meal in the evening, at Veritas, just opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Ian particularly enjoyed the Sticky Toffee Pudding.

wpid-BSRtQawIEAAg7wi-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgOur visit to the White Cloth Gallery was especially good, as there is a clear sense of inclusivity and an eagerness to engage visitors with a positive experience. The gallery is something of a mix between a gallery and a bar/café. This enhanced the informality of the visiting experience as it was less likely to be a hushed and academic experience, as had been the case with some of the galleries we had visited over the previous weeks. We spent time chatting with Kirstin Black, the galleries marketing director, who explained that White cloth doesn’t receive any bloc-funding, but instead relies on the support of a benefactor and by running the café and bar, as well as putting on events and hiring the gallery space to the public. It was good to hear about the ethos of inclusivity that White Cloth pursues, so it will be worth keeping in contact and sharing some of the networking skills that Ian has developed with the White Cloth team.

Once again it was well worth the effort of travelling to visit these galleries and finding out more about the approach that each gallery takes to servicing its audience. There are so many variations of approach that it’s possible to pick and choose good practice from each of the galleries and to incorporate that into the development of Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery.

LPPG Amplification Visits – Cardiff

DSCF0593This week Ian Davies and I have travelled to Cardiff to find out about the photographic community of South Wales, as part of our continuing amplification visits for Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery [funded by the Joseph Rouwntree Foundation’s Amplified, Resilient Communities Project at De Montfort University]. We wanted to specifically find out about Ffotogallery and Third Floor Gallery, two prominent proponents and champions of photography and photographic practice.

The first leg of our visit took us to Penarth, and the Turner House Gallery, where Ffotogallery hosts it’s main exhibitions. The gallery was purpose built as a display gallery by the wealthy philanthropist James Pyke Thompson in 1888. The gallery has a sense of calm and quite that means it is a good space for contemplation, though on an education day the gallery can be busy and active.

We headed back to Cardiff to the Chapter Arts Centre so that we could experience the Ffotogallery training rooms, and chat about education practice of Ffotogallery and how important hands-on experience is and the resurgence in interest in analogue photography. Walking into the teaching rooms we were greeted with the smell of photo chemicals, and I was instantly transported back to my days in the darkroom at Southport College and my photography course. It was great to see two active darkrooms, and to hear the enthusiasm of Emma Daman Thomas as she explained how the darkrooms operate and what courses are like. Lisa Edgar, head of education at Ffotogallery talked us through the development of the gallery and it’s ethos, and the challenges that established galleries face given the present funding climate.

DSCF0613A quick taxi back into the centre of Cardiff, and we made contact with Maciej Dakowicz who is one of the people driving and championing Third Floor Gallery. Third Floor is an independent gallery space run by a highly-committed and determined team of photographers, who are focussed on keeping their independence from the ‘bloc-funding’ model so that they can develop and maintain their independent voice.

The gallery is aptly titled as it’s at the top of a steep flight of stairs. The present exhibition is “Pictures From The Real World” by David Moore, which revisits photographs taken in the 1980s of people living in Derby. In the centre of the gallery was a TV with a speech of Margaret Thatcher running. I asked what the reaction has been, which according to Małgorzata Kopczyńska, it’s been somewhat mixed. Younger people viewed the video as interesting, whereas older people had a negative response and reaction. A marker of age and time passing.

We then met-up with other members of the Third Floor team in the City Arms, which is a stones-throw away from the Millennium Stadium, and has been accorded the honour of being the best pub in Cardiff – which I wouldn’t disagree with. We met with Joni Karanka and Claire Kern who introduced Ian and myself to the delights of the South Wales micro-brewing. A few pints later, and some good contacts made, we stubbled into a taxi to get to the university halls of residence we were staying in (and rather further out of town than I had expected).

The following morning we headed to Cardiff Bay to have a look at the Welsh Assembly home, which was a very nice place to do some planning and some reflection on our visit to Cardiff and the galleries we have seen so far. Next week we are in Bradford and Leeds, followed by a trip to London. We certainly will have plenty of information and interviews to use for the podcast we are going to make. I’m not going to share the opinions and ideas we’ve noted just yet, but it’s been fascinating and invigorating to say the least.

My Community Media Week

PE_YYYY0805142350This week has been quite exhilarating. I’ve packed more community media projects into one week than I have done for ages. It started off on Monday when I was helping Ian Davies at Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery to hang the new exhibition. I love the process of managing the turn-over of an exhibition. I arrived at the gallery at 10am, only to find that Ian had been there since 6.30am. He’d taken down the previous exhibition and had hung half of the images of the next exhibition. So my role was to make tea and to assist in the hanging of the second-half of the exhibition. Then in the evening was the opening for the work of Chris Hanrahan, and his street photography. Despite a very heavy rain storm the opening was really well attended. After vacuum cleaning the gallery, and when the preview got underway, I spent time getting people to sign a board with messages for Chris about what they thought of his images and exhibition. Eventually I got home for 9pm, exhausted but feeling really great about how the volunteers at the gallery had been able to pull together to create such a successful exhibition.


PE_YYYY0806094952On Tuesday morning, after a refreshing swim, I got to the regular Citizen’s Eye Community News Cafe run by John Coster. There was a really good attendance, with loads of people chatting with each other about their community media projects over a coffee. These sessions are a very welcome way to keep in contact with the network of community media activist in Leicester and are refreshing because they are open to all. After popping back home because I’d forgotten some leads it was off to BBC Leicester for the Community Media Hub sessions. It’s a real achievement that John has been able to network with BBC Leicester to provide a regular venue for the community media hub sessions. This has enabled Mike Lane and myself to start a small test project of audio-drama mentoring workshops using the BBC Leicester studios to work from. At the same time I was due to deliver a presentation on podcasting to the hub participants. I really enjoyed sharing my experience of making audio reports and recordings for podcasts. The hour went by in a whirl.

PE_YYYY0807115709On Wednesday Ian Davies and I travelled to Manchester to network with some community media groups and art galleries. We chatted with Hwa Young Jung of the Manchester Digital Lab about how they have developed a grassroots network of tech and creative media groups in Manchester. This was inspirational stuff. There’s no one throwing money at the projects, but the sense that this was being built from the ground-up was palpable. Later we chatted with Cormac Lawler about his work with Radio Regen and the challenges that are being faced by community media groups as funding from local authorities has dried-up. Our last stop in Manchester was at the Corner House, which is one of my favourite arts venues. We chatted with Marisa Draper, who was very welcoming and supportive of what Ian is developing in Leicester.

PE_YYYY0808132727After a short hop on the train to Liverpool we headed for the University of Liverpool halls of residence – which are great places to find cheap rooms for summer-time visits. After a bite to eat I showed Ian two of my favourite bars, the Kazimier Gardens and the Roscoe Head. But there was no late night partying, because the pair of us where knackered. The next morning things went a little awry, as our contact for a later visit was pushed back to the afternoon. However, we used the time to look at some of the contemporary galleries that Liverpool has to offer. Unfortunately the galleries in FACT don’t open until 12pm, so we went for a tea at the Bluecoat Gallery. It was lucky that we where in that spot at that time. A chap fell down a couple of steps and cut a gash in his hand on a broken cup. Ian’s A&E nursing training kicked-in and he was able to offer immediate assistance. So our inconvenience came to good use in the end.

Next on the trail was Tate Liverpool in the Albert Dock. It’s amazing how much Liverpool has changed in recent years, with loads of tourists wandering about looking very relaxed and very engaged with the city. The Pier Head is a great place to chill out and take street photographs before we paid our visit to the Open Eye Gallery, where we chatted with Jill Carruthers about her experience of promoting and co-ordinating the work of up-and-coming photographers.

Looking back on the week, then it’s been pretty hectic, with lots of travelling, lots of thinking and a lots of talking. I jet hope I can make sense of it all when I sit down to figure out what it’s all about.

Audiotheque Workshop – Exploring Othello

wpid-DSCF0517-300x208-2013-08-7-06-24.jpg The latest audio drama workshop run by Mike Lane was based on an extract from Othello. Kirsty Mealing’ and Jennifer Smith played  Emilia and Desdemona. I’m picking-up loads of very useful coaching techniques from Mike, who has a very carefully and organised way of helping the participants ‘unfold’ the meanings and expressions within the text which gets brought out in the performances. These recording sessions are a work-in-progress that have helped me to understand how performers bring the written text to life, through a combination of understanding and intuition. Kirsty and Jennifer’s emotionality really starts to open-up and come through in their successive performances, as the workshop developed and as we made each recordings. I’m really looking forward to developing more of these workshop sessions and to sharing the content that we produce.

Full Employment is the Best Culture Policy for Leicester

What’s the best way to bring about cultural and economic regeneration in Leicester? The bidding process is underway for the UK’s Capital of Culture 2017, and Leicester is one of the four towns and cities that has reached the shortlist, as well as Dundee, Hull and Swansea Bay. There is now an intense round of bid writing in each of the the competing cities as they build their case and try to put themselves forward in the best possible light.

The model for the UK Capital of Culture came from the success of Liverpool’s as a host for the European Capital of Culture in 2008. Anyone who knows Liverpool well will acknowledge the transformation that being the Capital of Culture catalysed, and how the lasting effects can still be seen in a city that is now on the map of European cultural destinations.

The question that has to be asked, then, is Leicester being realistic in it’s belief that it can pull-off a similar trick? There is talk that a successful bid from Leicester might pull-in something like £100m of media coverage for the city. Is this a reasonable and realistic prospect? Most important, does Leicester have the capability of sustaining a successful transformation of it’s cultural horizons?

There are several issues that are not boding well for the bidding process. Firstly this £100m figure seems to have been pulled out of the air. If it is talk of media coverage, then the people supporting and writing the bid have to be clear that this is a reflection of a marketing priority rather than money spent on actual investment in resources, building, services or events.

Secondly, the expectation is that each city will have to draw on it’s existing resources in order to facilitate the events and the activities. Let’s face it, Leicester has not invested well over recent years in arts and cultural spaces. The Curve theater is dominated by commercial productions. There is no dedicated art gallery space. Concerts and music events are on a very low scale and consist of touring productions at De Montfort Hall, or cover bands and DJs at Leicester University’s O2 arena. There is no repertoire theater company providing space for new writers, and the library services have been whittled away over successive years to a rump of cultural engagement with little leadership.

Austerity has hit public services in a big way in Leicester, and the need for funding to be directed towards essential care services and functional services like road maintenance is acute. I suspect that if a survey was undertaken of people’s priorities for Leicester, there would be clear demand for a road resurfacing blitz rather than money being spent on prestige arts projects.

There is some great work done in Leicester, with small scale arts organisations struggling to make themselves heard and some niche events taking place, but the tendency is that they are too often compartmentalised and don’t break through into the mainstream. I suspect that the vast majority of people in Leicester are not interested in ‘culture’, though they may enjoy aspects of it from time to time, such as a trip to the theater or cinema. Leicester, it has to be admitted, is on the whole a conservative city when it comes to culture.

Rather than promoting a cultural policy for Leicester, it would be more productive to promote a full-employment and economic regeneration policy. Get people into jobs and full-employment, and Leicester’s cultural policy will follow. It might be an old-fashioned view, but the demand has to be there to ensure that sufficient people will take-up and engage with the activities that might be offered. For many residents of Leicester ‘bling’ is more of a priority than enculturation.

Liverpool’s regeneration was founded on huge investment from the European Union in terms of infrastructure, building, economic development and cultural esteem. There is a strong back-story in cities like Liverpool and Manchester, which are now making their mark culturally, whereas Leicester has a very weak backstory, latching on to the discovery of Richard III’s remains in so whole-hearted a way is a symptom of deep-seated problems elsewhere. Leicester’s cultural renaissance won’t be possible until an economic and industrial renaissance is locked-in first.

Audiotheque Workshop – Fine Tuning

wpid-DSCF0420-300x208-2013-07-23-20-04.jpgIt’s been a while since an Audiotheque workshop took place, so it was great fun today to get together with Michael Lane, Mike Leo Brown and Jonny McClean and produce some recordings. We’d planned the session as part of the weekly Community Media Hub run by John Coster of Citizen’s Eye, which takes place at BBC Leicester.

We started off by working through an intense piece of dialogue from King Lear, and really used the expertise of the two performers and their voices alone to bring something from the text. I enjoy working with performers in this context as it tests the capability of the audio recording process to deliver something that captures and reflects the emotion of the piece and the moment that it is delivered. Michael’s capability as a director and coach really shone through, and the end result was so different from the first.

I was using a Zoom H4n handheld recorder and two Audio-Technica AT8031 microphones with desk stands. Normally I’d set-up a free-standing mic, but given the quality of the studio that we were lucky enough to be using, it meant that we could get a pretty relaxed recording all the same.

After focusing on this one piece for nearly two hours Michael mixed it up a bit by moving the setting of the play from the past into the future. So now I’ve got to source some sound effects for a spaceship airlock and two people being ejected out among the stars. Which is great fun to do with audio. wpid-DSCF0417-300x208-2013-07-23-20-04.jpg

Lastly Mike and Jonny recorded a sketch which was great fun. I really like working with capable actors who can nail a scene in one go, with a straight run through. The performances went way over the top, and they might not be the kind of thing that will win any awards, but it made us laugh quite a bit in the moment.

Now, I’ve got to make some sounds of a space ship, how do I go about doing that?

[Update: Here's a quick finished piece of audio]

Parallels of Charter 77

How do we live a life in the ‘truth’? How do we shape a civic culture that freely allows for the individually determined expression of our ideas and opinions? How do we reiterate the morality of our social relationships at a time when there is a growing impulse towards bureaucratic control?

Vaclav Havel wrote about these issues during the 1970′s. At a time when the oppressive state regimes of the Easter Bloc were enforcing conformity of thinking on a major scale across citizenships in Czechoslovakia, Poland, East Germany, and many other satellite states in the Soviet Union.

As a prominent ‘dissident’ of the Charter 77 movement, Havel questioned the ideology and politics of oppression that drove thinkers and people of conscience underground. This was a time when a play could be banned, and anyone who circulated a handmade reprint of that play, could be sent to prison, have their livelihoods taken from them, and their families social standing materially diminished.

Havel argued that this post-totalitarian form of state power was obsessed with appearances. Czechoslovakia wasn’t short of proclamations and conventions that enshrined and celebrated the rights of citizens. Under the Czechoslovak constitution the state recognised free agency and individuals as holders of respected human rights.

None of which stopped the state apparatus, the police, the employers, the universities, the culture and arts networks, the broadcasters, the media, the factory owners and shopkeepers – the willing neighbours – from bearing-down on those individuals and groups who wanted to express ideas of their own. Views that originated from a moral standpoint and that were not dependent on official approval or on political connections became a threat to the social order.

The world of appearances is an obsession in the post-totalitarian society. Under the post-totalitarian regime all there is to worry about, according to Havel, is what things look like or can be made to look like. In this determination anyone who calls attention to the game that is being played becomes a threat to society and has to be controlled.

It is a case of the Emperor having no clothes, and so, Havel argues, anyone who points to this fact, that the Emperor is indeed naked and that a game is being played by those who insist that he is otherwise clothed, is being antisocial, heretical, and is acting against the moral integrity of the leaders of the regime.

The leaders of the regime are able to maintain their authority as long as no one challenges the world of appearance. This is the spin process that obsesses the modern politicians. That they are in control, that they are shaping events, that the population has a sense that our leaders are ahead of the game and not merely playing a game.

Leaders in the post-totalitarian regime enforce observance to this appearance precisely because they are not ahead of the game. They are not in control, and they are not able to shape events. The leaders of the post-totalitarian regime are themselves subject to the whims of the more-powerful, and so when any regime changes, and regime change is inevitable, the change does not take place without tanks being lined-up on the streets.

This was over forty years ago, and yet to read the words of Havel and others from the Charter 77 movement today, brings forward immense echoes and questions. Is this a historical account of a society that is just a memory? Are we genuinely free from this kind of this ideological control? Are we certain that the supposed liberties that we presently hold dear and cherish, and which are enshrined in our own constitutional proclamations, are able to be practiced freely and openly?

It is ironic that with the rise of social media, we are now, perhaps more than ever, at increasing risk from the ‘informant’, the ‘surveillance officer’ and the ‘bureaucrat’. These servants of power see it as their role and duty to police how people should think and express themselves. Only what is alarming is that this can now be done on an industrial scale that could only ever be dreamt in the age of the typewriter and the stencil copier.

Being arrested and imprisoned for comments made in a hand printed pamphlet is one thing – very 1970′s. Being harassed, arrested and imprisoned for comments that are made on social media is a growing practical and political risk for all who post online and who wish to challenge the orthodoxies of the atrophying British social order, with its reinforcements of privilege, class and social status.

Because social media records the traces of our past actions, it is also increasingly likely that those actions may haunt us in perpetuity. Maintaining a clear separation between our individual and our public lives, therefore, is increasingly challenging.

Whether it is a job application or a funding application for a project, we worry that someone might be running an online search about us. We worry because we are all human and they may find information that can be construed to incriminate us.

Google and Facebook can track faces. What if you take part in a demonstration against unnecessary cuts to pubic services, which are a result of low tax payments by major international corporations that are skewing the tax-pool?

You work for Starbucks, or Amazon or Google? What happens when your face is tagged by a friend, or even automatically when you attend an anti-cuts protest? Do these corporations have the right to insist that you can’t take part in these public debates and discussions?

Can we give up our moral independence when we feel the urge to question the social responsibility of profit-making and public service organisations? Is the corporate governance of major employers a private and internal matter? Is any public discussion by employees, customers and stakeholders to be eschewed because it has the potential to challenge a corporate reputation?

The ability of modern corporate organisations to silence dissent and opposition is becoming ever more pernicious, especially when the values of ‘brand management’ and ‘spin’ clash with the expectations of independent thinking people, fostered by internet and social media activism. Do we need to look again at the debates of Charter 77? Do we need to question the role of ‘reputation management’ and ‘spin’ in contemporary working and civic life? Do we need to test if social media has become a self-imposed instrument of oppression and control once again?

Rob Watson » DMU 2013-07-17 20:26:30


Ed Baxter – ResonanceFM

In the third Community Media World Podcast, Rob Watson has been talking with community media proponants about what makes a community media project work and what they have to offer volunteers. Thanks to Jon Sketchly of HermitageFM, Ed Baxter of ResonanceFM and David Wiggly of ZoneOne Radio.









Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”


Vaclav Havel

If there’s one article worth reading this summer it’s Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”. Its an “expansive political essay written in October 1978 by the Czech dramatist, political dissident and later politician, Václav Havel.”

Havel describes the nature of the ‘post-totalitarian’ regime, and how it’s ideology is maintained as ‘appearance’.

It’s well worth reading again today, but instead of thinking of a failing communist dictatorship, think about how ‘spin’ and ‘reputation’ are managed by companies and public bodies these days, as a way of controlling dissent and alternative thinking:
“In a classical dictatorship, to a far greater extent than in the post-totalitarian system, the will of the ruler is carried out directly, in an unregulated fashion. A dictatorship has no reason to hide its foundations, nor to conceal the real workings of power, and therefore it need not encumber itself to any great extent with a legal code. The post-totalitarian system, on the other hand, is utterly obsessed with the need to bind everything in a single order: life in such a state is thoroughly permeated by a dense network of regulations, proclamations, directives, norms, orders, and rules. (It is not called a bureaucratic system without good reason.) A large proportion of those norms function as direct instruments of the complex manipulation of life that is intrinsic to the post-totalitarian system.Individuals are reduced to little more than tiny cogs in an enormous mechanism and their significance is limited to their function in this mechanism.”

Reading this essay has got me thinking about how community media is an attempt to develop an alternative to the mainstream commercial or public service ideologies that dominate and permeate Western culture. This second culture, a parallel culture, that Havel describes, is in itself a dissident act and one that calls into question the game that is being played by the dominant forces and groups in society.

Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery – Royal Photographic Society Exhibition Launch

wpid-BOv9W-SCMAIi1co-300x225-2013-07-15-09-01.jpgThe Royal Photographic Society Exhibition came to Leicester’s People’s Photographic Gallery on Tuesday 9th July. Rob Watson caught up with some of the visitors and supporters of the gallery and asked what they thought of the exhibition.






Mad Hatters Tea Party – Stigmaart Summer Exhibition

The annual Summer exhibition by members of Stigmmart, who are affected by mental ill health, or are ex-offenders, will be open for public viewing from Monday 1st July until Thursday 1st of August. The exhibition, The Mad hatter’s tea party, hosted by Stigmaart, a member led mutual cooperative, will showcase art created by members from [...]