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Affective Digital Histories Blog

Scribbling in the Margins: Writing Marginalia

Posted: Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:20 by Amy Barnes

Scribbling in the Margins: Writing Marginalia

By Kevan Manwaring

[You can read Marginalia: Graffiti, Urban Coding and the Semiotics of the Street - Kevan's response to the Affective Digital Histories' Creative Commissions call - on the Centre for New Writing's website here]

When I first read the brief I must admit my eyes glazed over. Recreating De-Industrialsed Places? What could be further from my field of interest? But then the stubborn streak which makes me a highly-motivated writer kicked inTwo principles of mine rang out: I am a writer and I can write about anything. And, wherever you live is interesting. Then I re-read the brief and I realized (sound of penny dropping) that it did intersect with my own interest in psychogeography and narratives of place. I had just completed two collections of folk tales, recording obscure stories of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and that illustrated to me that there are treasures everywhere waiting to be unearthed. They are not just in picturesque villages. I was all too aware of that, having grown up in a depressingly de-industrial Northampton (where I was to write my first novel, inspired by my research into the history of the town). I had taught myself the history of where I grew up because I wanted to know why it was like the way it was. Its architecture, its town-planning, its genius loci, had a very real impact on me, growing up, as it still does on all who live there. Phenomenologically, it influences quality of life on a daily basis. It's the Affect, stupid.

There was something about Leicester's red-brick factories that reminded me of my 'dirty old town' – so that, in itself, was a way in.

I can't recall when or how I first alighted upon the idea of exploring the graffiti-culture of the Cultural Quarter, aka St George's. It probably happened, like a lot of my ideas, in the white heat of a black coffee-high, in the snow-storm of my daily online work. I probably read the brief while scanning emails in a coffee-break. I must have let it digest while I munched on a chocolate digestive and then, ping, like a microwave ready-meal, there it was. I would write about marginalized voices – graffiti artists – those who 'write in the margins' of our urban landscapes, below the radar of the commerce-mainstream, out of sight of the CCTV cameras.I quickly wrote the proposal, while the fire in the head was with me, and fired it off.

It got commissioned. So all I had to do was write the thing. Gulp. But, trusting in the powers of research, all things are possible (or writable), I set to work.

Initial field-research went thus: I simply walked around St George's with my eyes and ears open, oblivious to its history, avoiding any apps or maps, or guidebooks. Next, I went round it again listening to the excellent St George's app. This revealed to me many things I hadn't noticed – and re-framed the ones I had. Then I walked around some more until the walls began to speak. I pressed my head to the brick and ink oozed out…

I followed this up with a visit to the Leicester Mercury archives. Housed in the University's Raiders of the Lost Ark-like special storage warehouse, they would prove invaluable. I was helped enormously by Simon Dixon, Digital Humanities and Special Collections Manager, who quickly located the relevant files amid the acres of musty shelving. I scanned the clippings about the city's graffiti subculture, noting how its reporting turned from depicting it as a 'problem' to a source of local 'pride.' To bring it up to date, I visited Izzie, the proprietor of HQ – the fab Graffiti 'centre' on Charles Street. She told me of 'official sites' and sent me links of some recent photographs.

Armed with a whole wadge of notes, photographs and photocopies I retreated to my bat-cave to turn the chaos into some kind of sense. I came up with a framing narrative that pushed the boundaries of the creative and critical modes of writing. This was 'historical narrative non-fiction' after all, so I felt behoven to tell a story. And that is what I set out to do – placing myself in the picture, as the wide-eyed researcher exploring the zone with the help of a 'Trickster' guide figure, in the form of Elephant Head, a Ganesha-esque skateboarding graffiti-artist … and that's when the fun really began.

The New Incunable Print Shop now open at LCB Depot

Posted: Mon, 10 Nov 2014 13:27 by Sarah Vallance

The New Incunable Print Shop now open at LCB Depot

We've just opened a new participatory exhibition at Lightbox Studios, LCB Depot, in collaboration with Phoenix and artist collective Juneau Projects.

At The New Incunable Print Shop you can 3D-print woodblocks based on your own drawings and use them to create original prints and artworks.

The New Incunable Print Shop will also design unique posters and flyers, free of charge. The designs will be supplied as digital files ready for printing, and will also form part of the exhibition. Find out more and place an order at newincunable.co.uk.

I spent a very enjoyable session creating my own woodblock, from the initial drawings through to actual 3D-printing of the block, then using it to design a hand printed card. The process is fascinating, and opens up a wealth of creative opportunities.

To have a go yourself, visit the exhibition at Lightbox Studios, LCB Depot, Rutland Street, Leicester LE1 1RE. It runs until 29 November and is open from 12-5.30pm Tuesdays - Saturdays, and also from 3.30-9.30pm on Sunday 16 November to coincide with the city's Light the Night festival. FREE.

After the Show

Posted: Wed, 15 Oct 2014 09:12 by Amy Barnes

After the Show

By Colin Hyde

This sound clip was recorded in August 2014 after a performance of Annie at Curve Theatre. It follows people as they leave the theatre, walk to the nearby car park, get the parking tickets processed, climb the stairs, and then exit the stairs into the car park area. The sound changes noticeably as the crowd moves from one place to another on the route. The main edit in the piece is the transition from the crowds exiting the theatre to them walking to the car park.

These are the timings:

0 – 1.10 people leaving Curve
1.11 - 1.47 walking to the car park
1.48 – 2.25 getting the ticket processed
2.26 – 2.59 on the stairs
3.00 – 4.25 in the car park

For many theatre goers this is a common experience. Although it's only a short journey, how many people notice the number of changes in the quality of the sound as they walk out of Curve into the open space of Orton Square, walk along the side of the road having to watch out for traffic, enter the small enclosed concrete entrance to the car park, crowd onto the narrow concrete stairs, and exit into the large open, low ceilinged space of the car park?

Photo of Curve by Colin Hyde (2012).

Visit to Leicester Transport Heritage Trust (LTHT)

Posted: Mon, 01 Sep 2014 10:50 by Amy Barnes

Visit to Leicester Transport Heritage Trust (LTHT)

By Andrew Hill

Recently (2nd August 2014) I headed out of Leicester on the 153 bus towards Kirby Muxloe and Desford. I was on my way to meet Richard Worman and the volunteers of the Leicester Transport Heritage Trust and the fantastic buses which they restore and preserve.

One of the key buildings in the Cultural Quarter is the LCB Depot, a former bus depot and control centre of Leicester City Transport (LCT, later Leicester CityBus LCB). Opened on the 9th March 1969, the Rutland Street operating centre was the base of operations for management and logistics of the bus network in Leicester. The company pioneered the use of CCTV television cameras and VHF radios to monitor and communicate between the drivers and control centre, leading to an efficient and flexible service.

This was also the base of operations for all drivers who would sign in and out to begin and end shifts and count up the fares they had collected during the shift. The building had social areas and a cafeteria and was the hub of the bus community allowing drivers to meet and socialise.

Listen to the sound of a Metro Scania bus starting up here.

Out in Desford I was transported back in time by the fantastic and pristine restoration work of the excellent Leicester Transport Heritage Trust members. I swiftly set up my recording equipment and thanks to Richard and his colleagues began to explore the sounds of the buses. Each had its own distinctive voice with unique engine notes and individual hiss and air sounds as the doors swung open.

I had the chance to experience:

  • 1950 Leyland PD2 – a separate conductor and driver for this type of bus with passenger access via the step at the back.
  • 1972 Metro Scania single decker bus – LCT was one of the first companies to employ this type of bus within the UK
  • 1982 Dennis Dominator – specified and part designed by the director of LCT Geoffrey Hilditch, Leicester took a large number of these buses into service. So they would have been a frequent visitor to the Rutland Street depot. Listen to the sound of a Dennis Dominator bus parking here.

Having a chance to hear and record these buses really helped me to envisage the soundscape of the Rutland Street control centre, and the local area, and to understand how important these sounds were to the historical soundscape and how iconic they would have been for the people who worked there.

On entering the tunnel into the depot, drivers would beep their horn to signal their approach. Richard was kind enough to re-enact this for our soundscape. Listen to the sound of a bus entering the depot here.

The Leicester Transport Heritage Trust keep this key element of Leicester heritage alive. While I was there they kindly downed tools while we recorded but are usually undertaking sterling work to restore these iconic vehicles. While re-upholstering a bus seat they
discovered an old LCT bus ticket which they gave to me as a memento.

This recording visit gave me a really tangible sense of this oft forgotten part of Leicester heritage.

Listen to more sounds from the LTHT here.

References:

Image courtesy of LTHT.
Sounds recorded by Andrew Hill
Special thanks to Richard Worman, Leicester Transport Heritage Trust and John Hess.

The St Georges area of the future, as envisioned in 1949

Posted: Wed, 27 Aug 2014 10:16 by Amy Barnes

The St Georges area of the future, as envisioned in 1949

By Colin Hyde

An interesting piece of trivia about the Cultural Quarter has been unearthed in the pages of a 1949 edition of a short-lived journal called The Leicestershire and Rutland Magazine. Post-war traffic plans for Leicester at that time envisaged a series of bus stations around the city, one of which was to have been on the site of what is now Curve Theatre.

On this map you can see the Odeon cinema (now Athena) top centre and the area occupied by Curve beneath. The current NCP car park was built on the site of Leicester's Wholesale Market, which was obviously going to be demolished in the 1949 plan along with most of the area (where is Yeoman Street or Halford Street?). We can only guess why the planners felt the need for another cinema (top left), although this was the pre-television era and the appetite for cinema was huge.

This development, had it gone ahead, would have completely erased the street plan of this part of the Cultural Quarter. However, by the time the various post-war plans made it into policy they had become the 1952 city development plan, which toned down the need for multiple bus stations in favour of three ring roads and multi-storey car parks. But that, as they say, is another story…

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