Free Thinking Festival 2010: Kevin McCloud

Kevin McCloud was speaking at the Free Thinking Festival this year in a lecture recorded for later broadcast on Radio 3. (I’ll let you know when it’s being broadcast, soon.)

I was meant to be tweeting during the event. What quickly became apparent during McCloud lecture was how difficult it was to tweet. Listening to him was akin to a specially extended edition of Grand Designs. The man writes beautifully and speaks even more eloquently. So much so that every single sentence is a 140 character tweet in itself. Little wonder that after a while I gave up, sat back and listen to what the man said.

And it was a convincing argument too. So convincing in fact, you’d be forgiven for wondering why it needed to be made at all. Doesn’t everyone already know deep down that mass-produced goods aren’t terribly good for our psyche. That cherishing those objects in our lives which have narrative, those which weather well and perhaps even improve with age is better for our soul?

His solution was simple. We need to return to respecting craftmanship.

His illustration – proof if you like – was simple: shopping promotes the production of dopamine, a short term mind-enhancing drug which temporarily makes has feel better about ourselves; investing time in craftmanship like extended periods of time spend making a sculpture promotes an alternative mind-altering and considerably longer-lasting drug – serotonin. Which would you prefer?

But there was a problem for me. McCloud’s is well-known for documenting the paths people follow in creating their dream homes. Grand Designs is about self-builds involving the kind of craftmanship he espouses. But they’re also projects which involve lots of money and considerable amounts of pain in the process for those pursuing – as far as I can make out – an extreme form of happiness.

During a short interview after his lecture, I asked him whether it was all really worth it. Just because you’re respecting the value of craftmanship in the end product, are the months of agony us viewers often derive a warped sense of pleasure in watching really worth it when the build is complete?

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Free Thinking Festival 2010: Human Aquarium

Here’s a little thing from the fringes of the Free Thinking Festival this year. If you don’t want to read what’s below, skip to their interview here.

Human Aquarium is … well .. what is it exactly? It’s a box. That’s what it is. A box packed full of computer and projection equipment with two people sat inside looking out through a perspex screen to a bemused looking crowd the other side.

One of the pair – Guy Schofield (below) – operates the ‘machinery’. The other – Robyn Taylor (above) – sings a long drawn out melody into a microphone.

There’s a technical chappy too – that’s John Shearer (below). He, like me, looks on at the assembled crowd who in turn look on the whole thing with a mixture of bemusement and excitement.

Unlike me, however, he does from time to time touch the perspex screen while Robyn and Guy perform inside their box amid temperatures approaching a stifling 40 degrees. No wonder their sets extend only to 20 minutes a time. By touching the perspex screen John like any member of the audience helps create the performance. The fingers on the perspex influences the computer-generated sounds. I don’t know how exactly, but it does. And, in a space like Sage, Gateshead it’s quite a wondrous thing to experience. Not least because the sight of it draws you and others in. And as soon as that happens you’re entranced.

One night only at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival. No matter though. I talked to them for ten minutes about their work. And what a smashing bunch they are too.

And there’s even some hastily shot video of their performance too.

:: Follow Human Aquarium on Twitter
:: Find out more about the lovely performers on the Human Aquarium website

Free Thinking Festival 2010: Getting Excited

It’s Free Thinking time on BBC Radio 3. A weekend of people thinking, speaking and discussion and debate up in Newcastle. Can’t wait. Some will be broadcast live on Radio 3 (and even those little tykes on BBC Radio 5 Live). I’m especially looking forward to the Radio 3 drama being recorded in front of a live audience on Saturday night.

Find out more at the Free Thinking website. Or if you don’t want the public service take it on it, you could also concentrate your attention on this marvellously modest (and frightfully adept) commentator featured below who I understand will be there in Newcastle, blogging, tweeting and audiobooing too. How lovely.