27 March 2021

CubaDupa 2021

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid in 2020 and the Christchurch attack in 2019, the CubaDupa street festival returned with a vengeance today on a remarkably beautiful and warm autumn Saturday. There's 500 acts on the bill, and another day of entertainment tomorrow to savour in Wellington.

C-26 Salsa Band

Mime is money


25 March 2021

Walking to the bright lights in sorrow

The tragic indie trajectory of the supremely talented rock scion Jeff Buckley, son of famed US folk singer Tim Buckley, saw him issue one classic album in 1994, of which this song is the title track, then cut his own life ruinously short in 1997 with a drunken swim in the Mississippi. He drowned in the wake of a passing barge, aged only 30, while 'Whole Lotta Love' played on a riverside boombox. His father had also died young, of a heroin overdose aged 28. Aside from the lasting legacy of 'Grace', Jeff Buckley also later attained posthumous chart success with his cover of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah', which reached number 1 on Billboard's Hot Digital Songs in March 2008.

14 March 2021

Stellaris: the 27-year war

Before the storm

Just before a week's planned holiday in the South Island my Stellaris game as the United Nations of Earth reached an interesting precipice, just as the timer hit 2400AD. Instead of the end-game crisis, I got the dreaded 'giants in the playground' warning, where two formerly dormant precursor races, the Zaanami Vestige and the Juvan Forerunners, both decided to awaken from their isolationism and return to the galaxy to do terrible things to one another and the galaxy more generally. Their fleets are of course legion, way outnumbering anything in my almighty conquering UNE navies.

I was actually pretty good pals with the Juvans on the other side of the galaxy, given I'd donated the genetic data records of an extinct race to them so they could attempt to preserve and research them. But it's the Zaanami I'm neighbours with - their territory is a mere four jump lanes from Sol, and they definitely don't like me. To keep the peace I've not claimed the two systems bordering their empire, but when things kick off between the Juvans and the Zaanami I can tell things might go badly with a super-powerful enemy that close to my homeworld.

The UNE is taking precautions in case they're not completely futile. All UNE fleets are converging on Sol to combine into the largest possible concentrations of naval power, just in case they might be able to foot it with the Zaanami. My three most important core worlds, Earth, Vishnu (Alpha Centauri III) and Anchor (Sirius III), are working out which important facilities they can afford to deconstruct to build Planetary Shield Generators, to go along with the umpteen static defence installations that will also need to be built. And obviously it's also time to get the UNE shipyards cranking out anything that can fly and shoot a weapon to max out fleet size.

Who knows, maybe they'll let me stay neutral given the size of my empire? Wish me luck...


Victory is ours

So the United Nations of Earth did eventually decide to join the war of the Ancients in Stellaris, taking the side of the Juvan Forerunners against our near neighbours the Zaanami Vestige. The Juvans & Zaanami had been duking it out for 12 years already and the rest of the galaxy had all taken sides, but I'd stayed out until an annoying galactic storm had subsided, making warfare easier. The Zaanami fleets were daunting, at least four separate battlegroups with over 100k strength each, and my UNE navy had three fleets with around 70k each.

The enemy wreaked havoc in my far-flung colonies, splitting its forces and landing invasion armies in plenty of my colony worlds, but didn't attempt to breach my core systems. I left the Juvans to tackle the big guns and invade the Zaanami homeworlds, and instead focused my fleets and armies on retaking the invaded worlds one by one, and hunting down smaller fragments of Zaanami navies. With high-risk science ship sorties I was able to examine Zaanami wrecks and glean the dark matter technology to give an impressive boost to my navy drives and sensors, and after a long and laborious programme of fleet upgrades it was finally time to take the fight to the enemy.

It was hard to keep an eye on all the myriad enemy battlegroups, and at one point the Zaanami managed to take the starport in Alpha Centauri briefly and even infiltrate one of their fleets into the Sol system itself. But the numerical advantage of the Juvans plus the UNE forces and their allies eventually told, and with a brutal campaign of ground force invasions to root out invading forces and liberate the taken colonies, the Zaanami were finally defeated in 2451, 27 years after the UNE joined the war and 39 years after the 'giants in the playground' war between the ancient empires began.

18 February 2021

Then someone started screaming, "Turn up the strobe"

Thursday music corner
The KLF (featuring Tammy Wynette) - Justified & Ancient (Stand By The JAMs)

A UK hit single from 1991 featuring a country stalwart and a deeply inscrutable lyric (the JAM in the parenthetical subtitle stands for the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, obviously). The vibe is both highly infectious contemporary pop and deeply satirical nonsense, with lyrics implicitly ridiculing the meaninglessness of the medium. The song reached no.2 in both the UK charts and the US dance charts, no.11 on the Billboard Top 100, and no.1 in 18 countries (including NZ for a week in March 1992).

The KLF's Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond famously burned a million pounds of their pop earnings in a small hut on the Scottish isle of Jura, which was later the subject for the 1995 performance art film, The K Foundation Burn a Million Quid, the title of which was fairly self-descriptive. Julian Cope later pointed out that it's all well and good making an artistic statement, but at the time they still owed him money.

17 February 2021

The Dream Factory of old Hollywood

David Niven gives his impressions of the bustling movie factories of Hollywood at the time of his arrival in California as a would-be actor in 1934:

'Eddie Lowe taught me much about Hollywood in the weeks to come. He tried valiantly but unsuccessfully to arouse the interest of his producer friends in my stagnant career and personally gave me a conducted tour of one Dream Factory in which he worked. He drove me around the cosily-named Back Lot, a two-hundred-acre spread, upon which stood the permanent sets, including New York streets (some smart, some brown stone), New England, French, and Spanish villages, medieval castles, a railroad station complete with rolling stock. Lakes with wave-making machines and rustic bridges, a university campus, an airliner, a section of jungle and another of pine forest, a Mississippi steamboat, a three-masted schooner, native canoes, submarine, a stretch of desert with ruined fort and in case anything was missing, several acres of carefully dismantled, dock and stored, streets, villages, cathedrals, mud huts, dance hall skating rinks, ball parks, theatres, vineyards, slums, south plantations, and oriental palaces. Lowe also took me to the Studio's Western ranch; several hundred acres of rolling hill the San Fernando Valley upon which stood the permanent townships and Indian habitations. 

Huge tracts of make believe were necessary to Hollywood because air travel was in its infancy and if, for instance, a film was set in Venice, canals, churches, palazzi, gondolas and bridges would soon be conjured up locally. Small wonder then, that Gone With The Wind was filmed in Culver City, Mutiny on the Bounty just off Catalina Island, The Charge of the Light Brigade in the San Fernando Valley, The Hunchback of Notre Dame adjacent to Vine Street, The Ten Commandments behind the Western Costume Company, The Adventures of Marco Polo a hundred yards from the city gasometer, and Scrooge's breath in A Christmas Carol imaginatively photographed in a vast refrigerator near the Ambassador Hotel

Under Eddie Lowe's sponsorship I spent days wandering about the Back Lot, and also the main studio at the heart of the Dream Factory where for some reason the buildings, car park and streets were uniformly white or pale yellow thus extracting the maximum amount of glare from the cloudless California sky, and where the whole place resembled a mixture of the business district of a thriving small town and the maintenance area of a busy airport. Twenty or thirty towering, hangar-like, sound stages clustered together, dominated the centre, surrounded by the Fire Department, the generator turbines, the electrical grid, the transportation, construction, carpenter and plasterer departments, camera and electrical stores, wardrobe departments, legal departments, acres of dismantled 'sets' and furniture repositories, 'tailoring' and 'dressmaking' shops and ever widening circles of photographic studios, painters' stores, cutting rooms, make-up, hairdressing and sound departments, projection rooms and theatres, rehearsal halls, orchestra recording theatres, accommodation for set designers and set dressers, the story department, accounting offices, publicity offices, casting offices, fan-mail departments, greenhouses, restaurants, a hospital, a gymnasium and a shoe-shine parlour'

- David Niven, Bring on the Empty Horses, London, 1975, p.5-7 (paragraph breaks inserted for convenience)

02 February 2021

Gardens Magic: Supertonic

A Sunday night performance of Elton John songs in the Botanical Gardens, Wellington, by the local amateur choir Supertonic, attended by a strong crowd of capital dwellers to celebrate Mr Dwight's music and the glorious summer evening weather.