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Culture Lust
Jonathan Barnbrook 

The Editors

Jonathan Barnbrook is a graphic designer, type designer, VJ and Luton Town FC supporter.

What art and design has caught your eye recently?

I have become really interested in methods, rather than finished results, and the way analogue has taken over electronic music at the moment. It’s always been there in design, but I am not talking about the playful use of non-computer media, it is a case of trying to find more analogue ways of creating digital imagery because the end result is completely different. This involves looking at things like early video synthesisers or image-makers. There is a parallel with the purity of the sound of an analogue synth. It has depth, and the 'electronic voltage' sound you don’t get in digital music making, and its also true of early image making with computers. They are of course digital, but the difficulty of doing anything on them created some very interesting results.

Your interest in music is well-known – you were even in a band, at one point – what's on the Barnbrook stereogram these days?

Well, I just VJ-ed with a long time favourite of mine John Foxx, he has been working with a musician called Benge, releasing the album Interplay under the name John Foxx and the Maths. In it they use mainly retro analogue electronic equipment. I spent three weeks listening non-stop to the six tracks I was VJ-ing to, so they are constantly inside my head even though the concert has passed! The other people I have been listening to recently for pleasure are Mary Ellen Bute, John Whitney, Hy HirshHarry Smith, Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter... actually they are not musicians but people who have all pushed the boundaries of animation and its relationship with music. I recommend to anybody who is interested in motion graphics to take a look at these people.

In terms of pure music, as you can see from the above collaboration, I have really been following the early development of analogue synths. There is a great podcast called 'The Tone Generation' which is a great introduction. Also of course people like Wendy Carlos and Delia Derbyshire, are fascinating. I think one of my next purchases will be some Ghost Box albums. I absolutely love what they are doing. I would also advise people to listen to BBC Radio 6, there is some fantastically obscure music being played on there.

Seen any good live music recently?

Hmm... yes, although not so 'new'. I saw the reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry. He is 75 and put on a great show, including trying to set the stage alight – literally... he was trying to do it with a cigarette lighter, not quite sure why. I really love reggae. I wish I could be as relaxed in my approach to work. Unfortunately being a typographer and also extremely motivated politically, I cant be so easy going... bah!

What are you reading currently – books, magazines, journals, blogs?

I don’t tend to read magazines, newspapers or blogs, and I don’t have a TV. It might sound as if I haven’t got a clue about what is going on, but a lot of it is just a distraction from some of the fundamental questions of existence we all face in our lives. I also don’t like the way news is weighted always to the negative. You absorb that negative power yet you are usually powerless to do anything about the situation. I really think there should be more positive discussion in the News media about all the good things that people are doing to help each other every day so, all in all, I generally would rather do without it.

Books are central to my life. This form of the expression of the interior dialogue of a human being cannot be bettered. So [Kazuo] Ishiguro has become a favourite read, his novel The Unconsoled is a 500 page long, exhausting, frustrating, brilliant read. Before that I was obsessed by the graphic designer's favourite author JG Ballad. I think I read 10 of his books in a row. He is an incredible writer. He has this great knack of describing a possible future that lies just a few years ahead. He creates a pretty terrible world but it’s not 'fantastic' - in the normal sense of the word. It’s very believable if things go slightly the wrong way in society.

Been to any good exhibitions in the past year?

I love the Susan Hiller exhibition at Tate Britain, in London, especially her later work. She plays with recordings of languages that are no longer spoken; it’s a really melancholic mysterious piece. You sit in a darkened cinema and look at a black screen that shows only the subtitles of what is being said. On one of the screens there is no translation because nobody can now decipher the language being spoken. It’s a very strange moment. You are aware that this culture, with all its energy and ways of thinking, has now gone. The tonal variety of the language is also amazing. Other pieces in the exhibition are fantastic as well. It seems that some artists as they mature, produce work which connects them with some kind of spiritual energy and she definitely has that. I hope it is starting to come through in some of my work too, although I have a long way to go.

I don’t go to design exhibitions that much because they don’t inspire me to be creative. That may sound a bit strange – there are some great designers our there – but the things that influence me most are ideas outside graphic design that can be brought into it.

Any other cultural activities exciting you? I know you are a Luton Town FC supporter... how are they doing?

At this point Luton are possibly getting promoted, but they are very good at mucking things up, so who knows! I do love football for the immediacy and the concrete feeling that you either win or lose. It’s not something you get in art and design where things are so relative. So, for me, the 'absolute' aspect of football is a very different aspect of life to enjoy. I also love the theatrical side, the highs and lows of watching a game, the misery when we lose, the joy when we win (yes, I’m still talking about Luton Town, here.) However, there are a lot of negatives in football, not just the money aspect, but for a lot of people in contemporary society it has become the ‘meaning’ in their lives. There are better things in the world to care about. It should be a bit of light relief from the main things in life, not the sole reason for being (and let’s see if I can be so disconnected if Luton DO muck it up).

The two most interesting 'cultural' events for me (cultural in the sense that they affect every aspect of the way we live) over the past year are the death of Osama Bin Laden, and the furore around Wikileaks. They are both about authenticity and bring in questions of technology, public image and what we project onto people in power. Political impact aside, nobody can imagine what the cultural implications of these events will be, or how they are going to affect the direction of technology that we use every day? How artists are going to take and use the images and data we have been subjected to? It feels like new territory in many ways and both are going to shape the media for the next few years.

May 2011



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