I’ve had this note stuck to my screen since, oh, last summer, acting both as a reminder of more haste/less speed in handwriting and as a nudge towards revisting this:
Next Thursday, I am going to be playing a theremin under London Bridge for 24 hours. I will be starting and ending at midnight, in a slowly developing collaboration with the thousands of pedestrians who cross the bridge. I’ll be situated on the walkway beneath the arches, feeding the output of the theremin into a series of loop and effect pedals to create continuous, complex washes of sound that will be audible on the walkway around me. Pedestrians crossing the bridge above will unwittingly affect this output: as they pass by, they will cut a hidden beam on the bridge that will momentarily mute the music I’m making, a little blip of silence imprinted by each passing pedestrian throughout the 24 hours.
Revisited I have, and rather wonderful it sounds. Much can be found on Franglen’s esoteric blog, a good starting point is this trailer for the longer highlights reel.
In the art:not art debate this falls into my art bucket. Or under my art arch. There’s something about a musical troll under London Bridge that has yet to be explored.
I blog the same way I make love. Infrequently but spectacularly. Or should that be, badly and you’ve seen it all before. Either way, with the best will in the world I can’t seem to make it happen more than once every three weeks to a month. I’m talking about this blog now.
Adam Buxton has rather cleverly summed up my absence from popping much stuff up here recently – perhaps I’m getting too old for over-sharing, and I’m conscious that this is only a Google or office conversation away from being read – but there are a few trips and events I’d like to catch up on, plus the the occasional link and bumble is still being dumped over here at the (for reasons lost in the mists of time regrettably named) fahrenheit451.
Add it to your reader, dear reader, you might find something to sate your appetite or send you on an internet goose chase.
A recent trip to the US coincided serendopitously with the much-delayed launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on Mission STS-133, its final flight. For reasons that I can’t clearly articulate, tied in with growing up with an interest in space and through the motivation of the likes of Dr Karl, I decided to extent my trip and drive over to Kennedy Space Center to watch the blastoff. (Indeed, I was considering a special trip from the UK to see it, so I was doubly lucky.)
A ticket was booked with Gator Tours on their ‘VIP package’ a couple of weeks before the date, which it turns out was one of several moments of luck prior to launch: on the day I met people who’d spent a whole week in Orlando during November awaiting Discovery’s previous scheduled launch for this mission, which was cancelled every day. I met a family who’d booked flights from the UK the day before, having picked up passes for the launch on eBay, and were flying back 24 hours later. Looking back, I was very lucky to see a launch. By the way ‘VIP’ doesn’t really mean anything as posh as champagne or a grandstand view, instead it means access to the NASA Causeway to watch the flight from about six miles south of the launch pad, the closest the public can get.
So, a couple of hours’ drive from the west coast of Florida to my Orlando hotel, an early night and then up at 0430 to drive down to Titusville where I’d joint the chaotic process to board a coach just before 0700 and be driven onto Kennedy Space Center. Writing those words, and mailing them to a couple of friends that morning, reminds me of how this really was exciting for a boy who grew up in North Kent. The brief journey meant several hours to tour the Space Center, which I’d last visited in 1989, including being up close with a Saturn V rocket and within sight of the Shuttle*. Basking in the warm Florida sunshine was a pleasant contrast with being in South London, too.
As the queue of 5,500 package tour customers made their way through one small gate I sat and waited until I was one of the last ones on the bus. Despite a few grumbles from my fellow passengers, we still waited another half an hour to be escorted onto the Causeway. This was not an intimate experience: there were more than 100 tour buses heading in the same direction. (Click below for a bigger picture.)
I’d expected this to be a quiet day, and that I’d sit back and read my book whilst waiting for the launch. The crowd on the bus was a real mixed bunch, young and old, American and international, and I was lucky enough to sit next to Brett, Shawna and Josh, three Americans (including two professional photographers) who were along for repeat visits to a Shuttle launch. We got talking and they proved to be excellent company for the long afternoon and evening to and from the Causeway, during which time I managed to unpack some of the slang of Top Gear, and I learnt a lot about how to be a good wedding photographer. Useful, eh? Thanks guys – you made it a very enjoyable day.
As the bus finally arrived we piled off and set up along the waterfront, ready for the three hour wait until liftoff. Being America, and something that NASA has done hundreds of times before, things were well organised – toilets, refreshment stands, first aid, everything except a beer stall.
The hours ticked down, mobile phone service failed, I even made my first tweets (not hurrying to do that again) and the countdown continued through its series of pauses until we inched closer to liftoff. There was a threatening moment when, as the Launch Controller called around every station, the Safety Officer of the Eastern Range reported a computer problem. The launch window for the Shuttle is very tight – a few minutes – and it was looking increasingly likely that the launch would be postponed until the Friday. But, thankfully, news came over the tannoy that there was verbal confirmation of problems being fixed and the launch was going ahead. Awesome! The crowd, including my, broke into applause and cheers, understandable if you’d been waiting in the sun for three hours, much more so if you’d missed a whole week of launches in November.
And so, launch, three minutes late at 16:53:24 EST on 24th February 2011. How to describe this… my secret hope was that it would be like standing next to a 747 at takeoff, stomach rumbling, but at six miles away it was difficult to spot the Shuttle itself let alone hear it roaring. We saw the launch well before we heard it, steam arising from the launch pad, flame appearing from the engines. Up and away in the far distance, visible through binoculars and still an exciting thing to see. After maybe twenty seconds there was the gentle burn of the engines; more exciting was the hissing and popping of the air.?
Perhaps most impressive was knowing that the shuttle was into space, yes, space before I was back on the bus. The day wasn’t at an end as it took us more than three hours to complete a return journey that too only fifteen minutes in the morning; and another three hours from Titusville back to Orlando plus an hour of sleep in the car as I was fading rapidly on the Interstate. It really was bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way to Orlando and, despite my best London-type attempts at shortcuts, this return journey did rather take the edge off the day.
Looking back, I’m really pleased to have seen a Shuttle launch before the fleet is retired, and I feel I’ve witnessed something that has excited and intrigued me since I was a kid. I still want to hear and feel the roar of a rocket at takeoff but suspect I may need to travel to French Guyana or join NASA before that happens. Yep, I went to the Kennedy Space Center and saw men and women fly into space. That sounds pretty cool to me.
*At least I thought it was the shuttle but it turns out to be the other launch pad that’s currently in a state of dismemberment; it seems I wasn’t the only one to make that mistake: