“Staring into the blaze had been a tonic for me, confirming tendencies that I had always had but never cultivated. Gradually some of them were becoming comprehensible to me.
Even as a young boy I had been in the habit of gazing at bizarre natural phenomena, not so much observing them as surrendering to their magic, their confused, deep language. Long gnarled tree roots, colored veins in rocks, patches of oil floating on water, light-refracting flaws in glass — all these things had held great magic for me at one time: water and fire particularly, smoke, clouds, and dust, but most of all the swirling specks of color that swam before my eyes the minute I closed them.
To the few experiences which helped me along the way toward my life’s true goal I added this new one: the observation of such configurations. The surrender to Nature’s irrational, strangely confused formations produces in us a feeling of inner harmony with the force responsible for these phenomena. We soon fall prey to the temptation of thinking of them as being our own moods, our own creations, and see the boundaries separating us from Nature begin to quiver and dissolve. We become acquainted with that state of mind in which we are unable to decide whether the images on our retina are the results of impressions from without or from within.”
I’ve been following Tom Steinberg’s great work at establishing better communications channels and feedback loops between citizens and the UK government for a while now. You can find out more about these projects at the mySociety website.
In his latest newsletter, he featured a project that applies the HotOrNot meme (which is often judgmental, demeaning, humiliating and masochistic when rating people) to places in the UK:
“ScenicOrNot helps you to explore every corner of England, Scotland and Wales, all the while comparing your aesthetic judgements with fellow players.”
The site presents a photo, and prompts viewers to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10, from not scenic to scenic.
One-dimensional assessments of anything are always dicey, but I can see many merits in this particular project:
It’s interesting to learn how others perceive a place. Is there anything close to general agreement about what it means to be scenic? I rated a field of ripening barely a 7, 2.5 points above the average.
Many of the photos used are not of touristy locations, so it may be the first time that a particular cattle-gate has been rated or thought about in these terms.
Aggregating such opinions could have all sorts of uses, from finding attractive places you didn’t know about, to directing beautification efforts at blighted areas.
According to the same newsletter, mySociety is working on:
“A Really Great Secret Project that uses that scenicness data we’ve been gathering and which we think you’re going to Quite Like”
“No one expects a man to make a chair without first learning how, but there is a popular impression that the poet is born, not made, and that his verses burst from his overflowing heart of themselves. As a matter of fact, the poet must learn his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the cabinet-maker. His heart may overflow with high thoughts and sparkling fancies, but if he cannot convey them to his reader by means of written word he has no claim to be considered a poet. A workman may be pardoned, therefore, for spending a few moments to explain and describe the technique of his trade. A work of beauty which cannot stand an intimate examination is a poor and jerry-built thing.”
“For a long time,” Bhatnagar says, “I thought that there was no place for me in music because I have no formal training. I found that there’s a space for experimenting, for making my own music. I really want to encourage everybody to get out there, make some instruments, make some sounds. Maybe what they make will be beautiful, maybe it’s not, [but] you should enjoy it either way.”
Here’s a video of him cranking his Möbius music box:
I like the koto-esque bend built in to this one:
And a motor moving beads against the head of a drum: