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Exercises for Improvisation, Composition, and Compovisation

simon gray - 2020-01-24, 13:51:28

This article was originally written for a module of the Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology which I did in 1996.

Creative music making has always been seen as something which is difficult to do, some thing which is not for the average musician, but which can only be done by certain types of performer: the Jazz musician, the Rock guitarist, etc. Somehow people seem to forget that in 99% of cases their very first experiences with a musical instrument will have been of an improvisatory nature, for how many of us were able to pick our instrument up that first time all those years ago & read & play a piece of music from a piece of paper; indeed how many of us were even able to read music when we first bashed at the keys of the classroom piano as a child ?

Nowadays the ability to play more than just what has been written down by some body else is becoming more & more important, & also to teach this ability to other people. The British National Curriculum for Music has composition as a major part of its syllabus. Music Colleges, such as Birmingham Conservatoire, have as a constituent part of their courses classes in improvisation & composition, & options to take this further for more advanced students. For the professional musician, contemporary music increasingly includes elements where the player must take more responsibility for what happens next, & the jobs in the London Sinfonietta & the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group [...]

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The Secret Power of Music

simon gray - 2020-01-24, 13:34:40

This article was originally written for the Musical Philosophies module of the Master of Arts in Ethnomusicology which I did in 1996; I've often had cause to refer to it since then so I've reproduced it here on my main site to make it easier to. It is presented as a description of philosophies held be other people and groups and not necessarily a personal view.

"All music, based upon melody & rhythm, is the earthly representative of heavenly music" - Plotinus (AD 205 - 269)

"Hear, & your soul shall live" - Isiah 55:3

INTRODUCTION

Music as an organisation of sound is known to have existed for over 3000 years, & writings from the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, India & China suggest there was such an artform at least 1000 years previous to this. In our so - called 'scientific age' it is often easy to forget this; & music as it was taught in English schools until very recently even served to implicate a denial of this fact, by its labelling of our mediaeval music as 'primitive', its concentration on the theory of music apparent in the 'common practice' period, & by completely failing to mention the existence of methods of making music outside of the traditional Western art music mould.

Along with the increase in interest in the study of the theory & practise of other musical cultures on an equal footing to our own, there has been an upsurge of interest in what some people like to describe as the [...]

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Manifesto for Local Government Digital Services - part two

simon gray - 2019-11-06, 17:02:48

I recently attended Nick Hill’s Public Sector Digital Transformation Forum event Local Gov MIDLANDS Transformation, Collaboration & Digitisation at which I did a session to introduce and talk about my Manifesto for Local Government Digital Services.

One thing which especially pleased me about the event was the extent to which the other speakers there were sharing insight and experiences which complemented the ideas in the Manifesto quite well - to the degree that rather than simply write up the other sessions as a simple event report, I can write it up as a Part Two of the Manifesto.

So, to round up what I learned from listening to Kate Hurr, Hilary Jones, Ben Proctor, and others and their presentations:

Transformation

For about the last 10 years, the work we’ve collectively done to develop and improve our online services has been done so under the banner of Transformation. We could say there have been four phases of that transformation up to now:

  • Phase one - 1996. The creation of the first council websites and the baby steps of development they took, starting with initially with just a handful of pages and a handful of reporting forms, eventually crystallising into comprehensive websites (some of which may have been over-comprehensive!), some of which following the standardised pattern of the Local Government Navigation List. The LGNL has come in for a lot of stick in recent years, much of which is now justified, but we often forget what it was for and what it replaced - as the first experimental [...]

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    In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Local Government Digital Services 3.0 - A manifesto

simon gray - 2019-06-11, 17:41:11

"There will come a time soon when for some councils there won't be a council website any more - the website will be the council" - Tom Steinberg, founder, MySociety

This is the second time I've opened an article with this quote - the first occasion was in March 2016 at the start of A Web strategy for local government. I don't normally do pithy quotes from other people in articles, but this one seems sufficiently relevant that it bears repeating.

But what does it mean?

Go to any modern council website these days, and you'll see more or less the same layout of links on the home page - at the top, you'll see the so-called Top Tasks, links to specific services such as paying your council tax or a parking ticket or reporting a pothole or that your bins weren't collected, followed perhaps by some links to more general service areas, some links which will have been provided by the council's communications and marketing team to the latest council news stories and some marketing and information campaigns they want highlighting, and a series of other links which make perfect sense to the council but perhaps seem a little random to the website visitor.

A lot of the choices for links on the home page, particularly the Top Tasks area won't have come out of the website managers' heads, they will be data driven - if the most prominent four links at the top of your council's home page are to pay your [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

The Crumbling of Parliament

simon gray - 2019-04-05, 09:31:10

So everybody laughed yesterday at the House of Commons being suspended yesterday because of water gushing in through the ceiling. But here's the thing.

The Palace of Westminster is an historic building, part of our nation's heritage. Like all our other historic buildings it's supposed to be held in trust and protected, just like the buildings and monuments from ancient history have been by their civilised custodians.

The occupants of the Palace of Westminster have know for years that the building is literally crumbling around them - not only do all the utilities within a working building need upgrading, the masonry itself is falling apart - on a near-monthly basis a piece of the stonework will fall off and come crashing to the ground. But the elected occupants have for years prevaricated about coming to a decision on what to do about it. Everybody knows what actually needs to happen is they all need to decant to somewhere else entirely for a couple of years whilst a relatively short and relatively cheap complete repair and upgrade job is done, all in one go. But a sizeable number of MPs don't want to do that, they want to instead spend a couple of decades, and considerably more money - your money and my money, which could be spent on the NHS instead - on a bit by bit repair and upgrade programme, closing off sections of the building and re-opening them bit by bit.

So because they've been unable to agree on how the [...]

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Brexit - what should happen next

simon gray - 2019-01-16, 09:16:41

The country and Parliament have failed to agree, and it's pretty clear they never will agree; the wheels have fallen off the Brexit train not least because the people who voted for and campaigned to leave have been unable to agree amongst themselves what 'leave' actually means. Here's what should happen next:

Revoke Article 50, make it clear to the Leave folks that the matter is not ended, spend the next two years trying to do what David Cameron failed to do at the beginning of 2016 (whilst the EU might be a bit more predisposed to grant the concessions they told him to whistle for back then, having seen that the UK actually is stupid enough to jump off a cliff if it so desires), also spend the next two years fixing some of the problems - including the UK's own botched implementations of EU directives and regulations - which led to the slender Leave victory in the first place, put the matter to The People again in a binding referendum with a properly fairly agreed franchise and a realistic enhanced majority threshold (55% / 45% seems reasonable enough), and implement any subsequent second Leave victory in an orderly manner with a National Unity Government rather than a minority leader behaving like they've got an absolute divinely-sanctioned majority.

Nobody could argue such a course would be undemocratic, because the procedure would be legally binding from the outset, and all but the minority extremists on both sides will get what they want, [...]

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Have the police lost control of the city centre streets of Birmingham?

simon gray - 2018-10-03, 14:20:57

A couple of weeks ago when I was walking from work to the railway station along Dale End / High Street in Birmingham I commented that just about every evening when I walk that way there's some kind of blue light incident going on in the area.

Police detaining an individual

Last night as I was walking along the road I saw that the blue light incident had been levelled up considerably by the entire area being sealed off.

Area sealed off with police tape with two officers standing guard

It turned out what had occurred this time was a mass brawl of about 100 youths resulting in three people being stabbed. From eye-witness reports of the lead-up to the incident, it seems that to a certain extent some kind of rumble was already pre-planned:

"I was on the bus going into town and everyone started making weird noises as it started pulling up at the bus stand near the McDonald's.

There was a massive group of kids, I'd say they were probably aged around 16.

They all went after this one guy who looked the same age and grabbed him - he nearly went under a taxi.

There were probably about 30 of them. Then about 10 or 12 guys started stamping on him. I was on the phone to my mum when it happened and I told her I wouldn't be surprised if he was dead. They were stamping on his head and legs, [...]

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In group Birmingham

Gmail - no longer considered secure enough for business or consumer use

simon gray - 2018-07-06, 09:59:03

So yeah, I've been generally working on reducing my reliance on Google services, not least because of Google's habit of withdrawal mission critical services that people are even paying for at the drop of a hat. Looks like Gmail is the next thing to replace, since currently all mail to star-one dot org dot uk actually gets read by us through Gmail.

I wonder what businesses - especially tech businesses tt- who are using Gmail Pro think of the possibility all their confidential business emails may have been read by developers at other tech businesses?

https://www.standard.co.uk/tech/gmail-security-saga-what-to-do-a3878716.html

#technology #business #security

[...]

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What laptop should I buy?

simon gray - 2018-06-15, 13:52:04

Roughly once a month or so I see requests from friends asking the world for general advice on buying laptops. Since it's quite burdensome to type out the advice I always give on my phone, here's a handy guide on the internet.

First of all, for most people's uses, pretty much any Windows, Linux, or Mac laptop you can buy these days will be sufficiently powerful for your needs. The only areas which will need extra power will be computationally-heavy tasks such as real-time audio (for example if you're making music with your computer), video editing and rendering (to be fair, a less-powered computer will still be able to do it, it'll just take a lot longer), or gaming. If you're doing any of these tasks, you'll need to go for the fastest computer you can afford; if you're doing real-time audio a Windows laptop will be OK, but if you've got the budget for a Mac then go for one of those instead, because Macs' audio handling tends to be much more efficient than Windows'. 

If literally all you're wanting to do is a bit of Word, a bit of web and email, and a bit of streaming video from Netflix, then indeed the cheapest new computer you can get will see you right.

So on that basis, how do you choose?

First of all, you'll need to balance drive size, processor speed, and RAM.

If it's going to be your only computer, then you'll almost certainly need at least 500GB of drive space [...]

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Council digital teams - have we stopped innovating?

simon gray - 2017-10-05, 16:15:41

Way back in November 2013, as part of the project to improve Birmingham  City Council's website I was leading on, I wrote a blog post speculating on a few ideas which might be coming up in the Local Government digital sector in the coming year; at the time of writing I didn't expect I'd be likely to be implementing any of the ideas myself, because at that point my project was principally an information architecture and content strategy project, we weren't at that point expecting to be in a position to improve the underlying technology behind the site. So these things which I predicted somebody else might do were: 

  • Open data, 
  • Mobile, 
  • ‘The Internet of Things’, 
  • Responsive Design, 
  • Ebooks, 
  • Crowdsourced content, and 
  • Real time information 

So when recently I was copying the old blog posts from the site for that project into this site, that original post caught my eye – in the sense that I was moderately surprised that nearly four years on, actually not much has changed. 

Let's examine those predictions and what's transpired over the last four years: 

Open data 

Open data in local government is still a niche area; yes, many councils now have their data portals with a handful of datasets on them, but they tend to just be token efforts so the councils can say they're doing something with Open Data, rather than the rich datasets that are being exploited by enthusiasts, activists, and third party agencies to do something useful with. I think it's still a vicious circle – councils are reluctant to put in [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Balloon releases

simon gray - 2017-09-22, 11:33:14

In other news - balloon releases, and similarly, sky lanterns. Yeah, they look pretty, and can be a nice gesture as a celebration of a life lost. But actually, they're not really that nice at all, when you remember that what goes up must come down. A city - or a field, out an ocean - littered with balloon debris isn't very nice, and neither is the charred remains of a house, park, or warehouse after a still-burning sky lantern has landed on it and set fire to it. Balloons are often sold as biodegradable - what that means is they'll biodegrade in landfill over a period of years, it doesn't mean they biodegrade in a field or a river over a period of weeks.

If the litter and environmental impact of balloon releases doesn't convince you, maybe the human impact might. Helium might be the second-most abundant element in the universe, but on Earth it's actually extremely rare - it's difficult to extract, and the known stocks of it are being depleted at an alarming rate. Why is this a problem? Essential medical equipment such as NMRI scanners need it as part of their cooling systems. No more helium, no more NMRI, no more life-saving brain scans. So this goes for all the other ways helium is wasted, too.

There have been a few attempts at petitions to get these things banned, and somebody has done another one. It'd be nice if this one is signed - and shared - in [...]

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Rice

simon gray - 2017-08-17, 09:23:46

I've long been dubious about there being any real difference between paella rice and risotto rice, but can anybody persuade me there's a real difference between arborio risotto rice and carnaroli risotto rice?

[...]

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The new Doctor Who

simon gray - 2017-07-17, 09:30:22

I think a legitimate criticism of casting a woman in the role is that whilst fiction is all made up anyway, it ¡'should'! follow it's internal continuity rules within the universe that's been created, and in 50 years there's never been anything built into the continuity to allow a time lord to change sex on regeneration, Missy notwithstanding - if they were going to do it, then they've had nearly 15 years of the new series to do a proper job of laying down some backstory conditions to enable it. 

The counter-argument to that is all the way through its history the show has played fast and loose with its established continuity, whether that's been out of convenience to solve a rabbit hole they've gone down or whether it's because the producer and script editor at the time have simply forgotten something. The various alternative histories of the Daleks, the date settings of the John Pertwee U.N.I.T. stories (and indeed the modern reverse engineering of UNIT to be Unified Intelligence Taskforce rather than United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), and Robert Holmes just making up on the fly the 12 regeneration rule are the biggest examples. 

And arguably the show has been at its weakest when it's been hidebound to its continuity knots, and stronger after the occasional reboot!

I do though think it's a shame the role has become so politicised that whatever the sex or race of the new person to be cast as the Doctor, there would have been one group or [...]

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If I were a betting man...

simon gray - 2017-07-12, 21:52:10

'If I were a betting man...' it has only just occurred to me is a phrase only ever said by people who aren't betting men. Because if they were betting men, they'd know that there's no point in betting on a dead cert, because you'll win about 20p from so doing.

[...]

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It could be the dead wot won it

simon gray - 2017-06-08, 09:02:15

According to the polls - varying widely between an increased majority for the Conservatives down to a hung parliament, with one little-reported poll (done by an ad agency rather than a traditional polling organisation, but with a track record of getting its guesses right) even showing a Labour win, the election is too close to call. The fact of there being such a wide variation in the predictions in the final polls from each organisation is evidence enough it's too close to call, even with some polls predicting a big Conservative win. 

So of course people are hanging their hopes on the poll which shows the result they'd rather see, and hanging their hopes on the demographic which is mostly likely to vote for the result they'd rather see. 'The old could win it', Conservative supporters say, 'The young could win it', Labour supporters say. 

With it this close to call, there's one demographic nobody has thought of who could win it. The dead. 

Eh?

In the olden days it was a pretty tricky process to get a postal vote - you had to satisfy your local elections office, and even prove so, that it would be physically impossible for you to get to the polling station on Election Day. More recently in an effort to boost turnout the requirements were dropped, and postal voting was made available on demand to anybody who asks for it. 

So it's feasibly possible that there are people who applied for postal votes, sent them in, and died before [...]

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Political campaigning

simon gray - 2017-05-25, 10:06:16

Here's my handy cut out and keep guide to effective political campaigning:

When campaigning one needs to realise who one is campaigning to - you're not campaigning to committed supporters of the other side, you're campaigning to uncommitted supporters, or undecideds. Whilst it's unlikely that party-supporting Facebook groups will contain many undecideds, there's a reasonable chance that they might contain uncommitteds.

What this means is that when campaigning - whether that's going into the lair of the other side or what one posts into one's own timeline - you need to craft your message in such a way that it'll appeal to the uncommitted / undecideds. 

Calling the other side a bunch of nasty loony idiots, or posting pictures of their leader looking ugly next to pictures of your leader looking inspirational, might make you feel good and get you lots of Likes from your side's supports, but as a campaigning method it's probably the worst thing you can do. Insulting the uncommitteds on the other side is only going to turn them into committeds, and make the undecideds more likely to swing away from your side than towards it.

#politics 

[...]

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simon gray - 2017-02-28, 09:20:48

Recurve if every time you see a reference to the White House Chief of Staff you think they're talking about the hip-hop / soul artiste Prince Riebus‬.

[...]

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Applying for a copy of a Birth, Marriage, or Death Certificate

simon gray - 2017-01-20, 16:08:44

tl;dr - Applying for a copy of certificates from your council's register office is considerably more painful than it should be. And for online applications, it probably makes more sense to signpost people to the central government General Register Office site.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that I didn't know where my copy of my birth certificate is, and that it might be a good idea to get another one. When I went to the website of the council where we lived until I was 10, I saw there was no online process to order copy certificates, meaning an order process of sending a cheque or postal order through the post. Since I've not had a chequebook for about 10 years, that meant going to a post office to buy a postal order - and Birmingham city centre only has two post offices, meaning most lunchtimes and near-closing time the queue is out the door and down the street. So since I had no pressing need for a copy of my birth certificate at that point I didn't pursue it.

Time passes and more recently a need for my birth certificate arose - but of course this problem of having to go and get a postal order still got in the way of me stirring myself, until last week I eventually hauled myself out to the post office queue to pay £11.25 for a £10 postal order. And by this time, the deadline for [...]

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In group Public / Third Sector Digital

Young people and their phones

simon gray - 2017-01-04, 12:49:33

‪So here's a thing just occurred to me - what's the difference between a young person always fiddling with their iPhone, and a middle-aged person in a suit always fiddling with their Blackberry?‬

[...]

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