Obsessing about God and Professor Hawking’s Voice

3:43 am.

Wakened by my phone vibrating. I thought silent mode meant silent! Seems that the Amazon fairies work late and needed to let me know about ‘unbeatable offers on returned goods’ – ashamed to say I had a quick look – some good stuff – a lap-top with scratched case for £100.

My theme for this posting is obsessions. I have always admitted, perhaps prided myself in having an obsessive personality. I am that classic male that buys the book, the T-shirt, the magazine subscription , the membership etc etc. Not so much these days but certainly when I was younger. Most of these obsessions turned out to be pretty much a waste of time. Having collected all the necessary ingredients to bake a magnificent cake, I would fail to ever make, even a tawdry cake. My bass playing aspirations have floundered ( although I did purchase a new wall fitting for one of my basses – so that’s a step forward!), my cross trainer gathers dust, the tandem gets an occasional outing, my telescope is in the loft. I suppose just two turned out to be worthwhile; opera and computers both of which at least gave me means to earn a living. It now turns out that compared to many obsessives I am a real lightweight and 3 wonderful examples are to be found on the BBC News website. A watchmaker who makes watches from scratch – from the raw materials http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24211691

An artist using a typewriter to create non abstract images http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24760538

and another artist who has created a corner shop in which all the goods are felt facsimiles of real things, like bags of oven chips, mars bars etc. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-28609443

So be warned or perhaps relieved I am not nearly as committed as any of them and my latest list of obsessions includes this blog which could well go the way of the cross trainer, telescope and tandem. I am already warming to another project which could easily drive this one into the section marked ‘to do later’ and as we all no that really means ‘never.’ Meanwhile I am very encouraged by several friends and colleagues who have contacted me to congratulate me on my new public atheist stance. It seems that being ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’ does liberate one from concerns over seeming silly or embarrassing – and I am pleased to be seen as leading a modest and very local charge for coming out as militantly atheist, just so long as I don’t hurt the feelings of anyone I love.

Boy I could probably do so and occasionally I am tempted. It’s the stuff out there! The rampant smugness and hypocrisy of the religious right, the schemes, scams and abuse proliferated, in the name of some sort of bogus mythology. It is inexcusable and yes I am going to say it we should fight it – not the people who believe it ( we can’t go round bashing other lovely human beings) but the bullying philosophy that underpins it should be challenged fearlessly but fairly. My potential decent into bigotry is a worry, but you have all promised to let me know.

So mouthing off has connected me with several people who I would have had no idea shared my views. Hurrah for that and for them. I am urging them to post.

The silent majority, I will assume has long since abandoned reading this blog – good for them, I would have done so for sure, or disagree with me but don’t want to pick on me cos I am ill – wimps I say to you folk, or my profoundest hope – JUST DON’T CARE – in my view one of the supreme achievements of human-kind and one we should all aspire to – a state of “I could not give a shit” is indeed a blessed state. ICNGAS – make what puns you can from the acronym. ‘I Chris Newell Gas’ (too much), just popped into my head.

What I have found most reassuring though is that other creative people can become so obsessed by such narrow topics, constrained canvases or challenging tools. In my case my obsession is with the creative potential of a specific 1986 bit of technology, long since superseded by more practical, faster, lighter devices, but this one happens to sound like Stephen Hawking – this has, for the last 3 years been my expressive medium and I was beginning to seriously worry that it was time to move on. Now I feel reassured that this will probably see me out, and rest assured by that I mean the next 30 years. The thing is it has some many of the ingredients I love. It is big like an old radio, it needs constant fixing, it’s noisy and contains bits that should move and get stuck, it needs umpteen other bits to make it do anything interesting! It impossible to find instructions on how to make it go (I have them now thanks) and unlike an IPod it looks like shit. But that said it is the only speech synthesis system I have come across in which a relatively crap programmer can create new voices, change the prosody, change the virtual head size, the breathiness, the gender, the age of the speaker even get it to sing +++. So to Dennis Klatt (the originator of the system) – I, an arty-farty amateur programmer and aspiring sound artist, bow down and worship your genius – it’s an extraordinary instrument you created. It gives me endless pleasure and all for $500 on Ebay (I have two now plus the original terminal to operate it (just for collecting completeness) so make that $1000).

I am very eager to reinforce the idea that anyone contemplating contributing to the blog is not expected to write essays, to check their work for typos, to express themselves clearly or any of that tiresome nonsense the teachers, that includes me, may mistakenly think matters. Knock out a blurt in five minutes and press submit please.

That’s it – bored now.

4 Responses

  1. Paul Alan Barker August 30, 2014 / 7:13 am

    Computers and opera. Aside from the lighting booth, they are not words you together very often. And they represent two extreme ends of cultural fashions, where we were once and where we are now. It is almost 20 years since you dragged me into synthesising the two together, and I often remember those monochrome text files with accompanying audio, like toys in the kindergarten. Sort of Habitat-style. And then there is obsession and religion. The thing that makes us different to trees is that they don’t ask the question What Shall I Do With My Life? Tress, being more intelligent, just get on with the business of being trees. Not only do we ask questions, which seems to me right and proper, but we also expect answers, and probably from someone else. You can find answers in almost anything, even a metaphysical grain of sand, because our brains are probably short-circuited to find meaning even when there is none. Give us a random patch of coagulated inkblots and, hey, we see something. Seeing nothing takes a lot more effort. Seeing an inkblot is almost impossible. We glimpse an answer in a big idea like religion or opera, and then we hold onto it, because in the world of answers there is not a whole lot to hold on to. We then have several choices. We can give up on the current obsession when we are tired and switch allegiances to start another obsession. Or we can castigate anyone who doesn’t see what we see, which is self-evidently truthful. Or we could be just smug, in the face of the incomprehension of others. Or we can convince other people that we have seen the answer. The need to find answers seems to outweigh all consideration for us. Or we can write blogs and comment them, of course. I prefer a non-verbal answer, sitting in silence with others as do the Quakers has always seemed to me one of the better alternatives. The problem is that in spending all this time and effort in looking for the answer to the question of what do we do with our lives, our lives are running past us. Without that bit of us which is obsessed with knowing why. So we missed the point anyway. There isn’t a remedy, I just don’t think we are clever enough as a species. So let’s just make something beautiful like Keats and Wordworth, who at least wrote poems about trees, because it is a finer way of being obsessed and distracted than many, and something others might enjoy. Or like Ipads, as you say, which is beautiful on the outside, at least, which distracts us from the humdrum content we all obsess about. Or like the inside of Hawking’s original voice box, which unlike most educational and business objectives did not aspire only to answer one question, to provide a single possibility or outcome at the expense of all others. And here ends, temporarily, the end of today’s obsession!

  2. christianarrowsmith September 4, 2014 / 10:57 am

    The benefit we have over trees is that we don’t stand alone (and birds don’t shit as regularly on us) so while some waste their lives contemplating why and others waste their lives not those who can be a little less obsessive can benefit from being in between. Everyone’s a winner then. Either the miserable but inspiring vanguard or the content but uninspiring masses.

  3. christianarrowsmith September 4, 2014 / 11:01 am

    I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about the religious right, am pretty sure when the time comes and they make their way to the gates of heaven it will be the monks, the nuns and the Buddhists who are working the doors.

  4. anon September 13, 2014 / 3:43 am

    According to the Bible Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Palestine, a
    country where people are called Mohammed, Abdul, Mounir, Aziz, Ahmed
    Farid, Omar, Youssouf, Mouloud …..And he managed to find 12 friends called
    John, Peter, Paul, Phillip, Mark, Thomas, Luke, Mathew, Andrew and Simon
    ….. who all drank wine. That’s what I call a miracle. (Sent by an anonymous contributor)

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