Quick reaction to Logan

Went to see Logan last night. I was dreading it slightly as I’ve got a bit battle-weary of superhero films but this is a different proposition from the usual CGI-laden stuff. It’s the answer to the question “what would Johnny Cash be like with adamantium claws, looking after a psycho-kinetic Willie Nelson on a road trip to North Dakota?”. If graphic violence isn’t your thing then approach with caution and I have to admit I get a bit queasy about kids being involved in portraying this level of violence (Looper was similar in this regard but also a great film). Having said that, the girl playing [SPOILER*******] is a really good find. And it’s fun seeing Patrick Stewart going all potty-mouth.

So, in summary, very good – probably up there with The Dark Knight.

OK Go – creativity and pushing the limits of one-shot promos

OK Go have released a new video this week. It seems OK GO aren’t really a rock band now instead becoming a video collective who write their own musical accompaniments. I mean that in a good way. They seem to pour as much creative effort into their promos as they do their music.

This, in the very best sense, is truly exuberant, joyful chaos!

Update: Video removed from YouTube. Try here.

It’s a neat example of creativity meaning working within a set of constraints. What sort of video could you produce if all you had was a band, a plane, 2 acrobats, some plastic balls?

Handily, they’ve given a fascinating breakdown of what went into producing it.

If you like that…

You can see more of OK Go’s videos here. They seem to have a thing for elaborate one-shot masterpieces.

Image: By OK Go – RGM18, CC BY-SA 2.0,



Tony Visconti – Making Bowie’s “Heroes”

This is one of the best things I’ve seen on the web for ages. Tony Visconti, David Bowie’s legendary producer talks to BBC Arts about the recording of Heroes in Berlin in 1977.

Using a digital version of the master tape, he breaks down all the constituent parts from the basic backing through to the vocals.

Play the video

Aside from the geeky thrill of hearing how a song like Heroes is technically put together, it’s actually quite eerie hearing the individual performances including Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and Bowie himself. It’s easy to forget, when all you know is the finished article, that there’s all this individual effort and creativity going on. Sometimes it’s buried so deep in the mix that you only become aware of it when it’s singled out or removed completely.

It’s also tempting to imagine that songs like this just magically emerge fully formed from some sort of cosmic rock egg. What you realise from this video is just how organic and serendipitous it all is (see the anecdote about Visconti’s sneaky snog).

I’m not a massive Bowie fan, but I did get caught up in the grief about his death. I just thought the world was a more interesting place knowing that he was in it.

Photos of Andalusia

I’m recently back from celebrating my 40th birthday with my family in Andalusia. Along with all the usual holiday snaps (which get inflicted on my Facebook friends) I tried to take a few more creative photos as I hadn’t caught any images that I was proud of for a while. This is the pick of the bunch. Not my best but I like a few of them.

Apologies for the obligatory sunset pic but it was taken from the ramparts of the Alhambra on the final day of the holiday and it was a special moment.

As Flickr makes it hard to embed an album slideshow into a blog posts I used Flickrit instead.

A way to talk about creativity

Don't Stop Believin' by Juhan Sonin CC-BY 2.0
by Juhan Sonin CC-BY 2.0

Too many people say they are not creative when what they actually mean is they can’t draw, dance or play a musical instrument. Is creativity synonymous with artistic skill? That’s not how I understand it. It’s possible to do all those things in a way that’s completely devoid of creative expression.

So what is creativity? I saw this talk by Aza Raskin at Thinking Digital back in 2013. The video is 30 mins long but despite the poor audio quality it’s a good watch.

Aza Raskin – TDC13 – The Creative Power of Constraints from Thinking Digital on Vimeo.

“Constraints create creativity”

The point, as I understand it, is that creativity is about operating within a set of constraints to produce something that transcends those constraints. I like his argument because it scotches the rather intimidating myth that creativity is all about working with absolute freedom, with no constraints. This has always felt really overwhelming to me. Whenever I have tried to make something the worst part has always been staring at a blank page or an empty stave.

Artistic forms are all about constraints, either when it’s to do with the form (the Requiem Mass, Sonnet, tragedy) or the medium (jazz quartet, written word, paint etc).

Thinking about creativity like this means it’s easier to think about creativity as something separate from art. If you can identify the constraints in anything you do, you can begin to find creative solutions. Alternatively, if you are struggling to come up with some way of performing a task, impose some constraints. In this post for example, I’m trying to make my point in 500 words or fewer.

Another thing I have in my mind when I think about creativity is the importance of seeing it as a human expression of something. It excites me when I see someone responding to a situation creatively because you discover as much about them as you do about what they’ve made.

I came across this New Scientist article today about stories created by computers. It will be interesting to see how this algorithmic storytelling develops. I have two questions about it; will stories like this be identifiably different to stories created by humans, a sort of Anti-Turing test, and why would we want computers to tell us stories?

It reminds me of a discussion between two characters in the science fiction novel Look to Windward by Iain M Banks. Why would anyone want to write or listen to a symphony that was composed by a person if it’s indistinguishable in quality from one created by an AI of virtually limitless capability? It’s as much about understanding that creative effort that has gone into making something as it is about “consuming” the product itself. It gives us something to marvel at.

Scott Adams: The best way to kill creativity

Day 26/365- Gotta get me some

Scott Adams, creator of the awesome Dilbert strip, has blogged about why the best way to kill creativity is to encourage it. The creative impulse will out, usually as a response to discomfort or insecurity. Creating an environment which is “condusive” to creative ideas is counter productive.

It reminded me of the wrath of Jeremy Clarkson at the fact the Top Gear offices were painted purple by the BBC in an effort to stimulate creative thought! It did make him quite cross.

Then it made me realise that I’m not sure Adams’ point reflects my personal experience.

I’m not a massively creative person, in that I don’t write poems, sculpt or paint, I don’t dream up massively revolutionary schemes for changing the world around me. But I enjoy being creative. I get a buzz from coming up with innovative ideas, trying different approaches to things and just having the freedom to play.

But all that stops when I’m under stress, or if I’m in an environment where I feel I have to fight to keep my head above water.

The jobs where I feel I’ve been at my most creative are the ones where I’ve felt most secure and encouraged. In the job that I hated the most, I could almost feel the creativity and joy in new ideas leaking out of me like a slow puncture.

I think Scott Adams is right in that some creative people will be productive no matter what, and an office with brightly coloured walls, extra money to indulge in ideas or whatever is not how you guarantee creativity.

But I think there’s a large population of people that will be more creative if the social environment is right; if they feel that new ideas will be welcomed and built on, challenged in a way that refines them rather than killing them.

I once took a course in improvisational acting (I wasn’t great at it) and one of the things we were encouraged to think was to take a “yes and…” attitude during a scene. 

The “yes but” attitude was a block to the development of ideas on stage, it stifled instinctive creativity. Thinking “yes and” in response to someone else’s idea meant that all sorts of possibilities arose, some of which were rubbish, but occassionally something great came out of it. It enabled collaborative creativity.

Hat tip to @dajbelshaw for tweeting the Scott Adams post.

Image: thekellyscope – by-nc-sa