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Analog Baroque TV - click opera — LiveJournal
February 2010
 
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Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:32 am
Analog Baroque TV

How out of touch -- and yet totally in sympathy -- can you be? I watched a YouTube clip of Look Around You, Episode 1, Series 1, Module 1: Maths on Mischa's blog thinking it was something from the 1970s, and laughed all the more uproariously when the dry, absurdist jokes came along. I quickly realized this was a brilliantly-designed, rather convincing spoof on the familiarly weird educational TV we had in Britain in the late 70s and early 80s, stuff like The Open University. (Here, to give you an idea of what that was like, is a little clip from a real Open University module about Pi Tangent Functions.)



And here, without further ado, are the eight ten-minute modules of the first series of Look Around You, which isn't a 1970s educational series, but a comedy series screened on BBC 2 in 2002. The whole series is on YouTube, but you can also buy it on DVD with extras:

Module 1: Maths
Module 2: Water
Module 3: Germs
Module 4: Ghosts
Module 5: Sulphur
Module 6: Music
Module 7: Iron
Module 8: Brain


Look Around You was created by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. They met in 1998. In an interview, Popper explains that "we had this shared experience of being forced to watch horrific schools science modules at school. We realised it was basically a pretty untapped area. We decided we should write something based on those old shows".

They made a 20 minute short called "Calcium", which led to a deal with production company Talkback (known for Chris Morris shows like Brasseye and The Day Today) and a commission from the BBC.

"Once we started writing we then watched lots of stuff - shows like "Experiment", "Physics In Action", generally the work of writer/director Jack Smith who made all those educational shows. We watched a lot of old stuff and kind of ended up talking in the narrator's voice and one day "Look Around You" came out. When repeated it's kind of bullying. We liked that... We loved the vaguely dictatorial tone of stations like Radio Moscow, and all the music used. All very heraldic and bombastic. That influenced us when we did the music certainly, and we listened to lots of Boards of Canada, Benge and Warp artists. Stuff like that."

The visual brilliance of the series is down to Gideon Corby of Shynola, also responsible for the brillant graphics in the Chris Morris series Nathan Barley (they had DVD owners freezing frames frequently, only to find insulting messages from Morris addressed to "DVD wankers!"). The gloopy synth music, credited to "Gelg", is also by Popper and Serafinowicz.



After my initial confusion, I began to feel, as I watched this brilliant series, that I knew exactly where its aesthetic was coming from. Conceived in 1998 just like my "Little Red Songbook" album, wasn't this "Analog Baroque TV"? (The Analog Baroque style was actually inspired by the music for an Open University unit entitled Christopher Plantin, Polyglot Printer of Antwerp.) Didn't it relate to my trajectory, in the mid- to late-90s, away from the pre-chewed "otherness" of neo-retro-lounge music and towards an even further-out "radiophonics" style influenced by Raymond Scott, Plone, Boards of Canada and Delia Derbyshire? Didn't it recall the brilliant 80s Peel session "Let's Evolve!" by conceptual pop group Sudden Sway, also a "module", and also a spoof on the Open University? Wasn't it close to the theme music I made in 2000 for Questia.com commercials, some of which can now be heard introducing my Wired podcasts? And weren't the Wired pieces I now write on things like piezoelectical systems getting perilously close to the science nerd chic so affectionately parodied in these shows? Wasn't there some parallel between the sans serif, 70s science didactic style of Look Around You and the "benign sobriety" of my current favourite graphic designer, James Goggin? And didn't the academic-absurdist humour of this show remind me of my favourite French cartoon series of the 60s, Les Shadoks? Wasn't this the TV equivalent of The Unreliable Tour Guide?

Apparently Look Around You re-appeared in 2005 with a Series 2 which models itself more on Tomorrow's World (BBC1's long-running technology series, which used to air right before Top of the Pops every Thursday), and sounds, to me, slightly less original than the first series -- although based on sketch clip Birds of Britain, it's just as funny.

"These fascinating creatures came to our planet suddenly in 1962," the narrator tells us. Note that down in your copy book.

59CommentReply

lame_no_antenna
amber and softly
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 07:39 am (UTC)

hi!


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lame_no_antenna
amber and softly
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:00 am (UTC)

i just wanted to be the first to comment~

these remind me of wondershowzen, but in the dry educational bristish way...


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(Anonymous)
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 02:07 pm (UTC)
Nature of Things

Fans of the show definitely need to pick a retro David Suzuki (http://www.cbcshop.ca/CBC/shopping/product.aspx?Product_ID=ETNAT00004&Variant_ID=500403XL&lang=en-CA) t-shirt from cbcshop.ca

neil


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hddod
hddod
poppy
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:16 am (UTC)

The second season isn't nearly so good, unfortunately.


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lecabinet
lecabinet
le cabinet des lettrés
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:03 am (UTC)

True. Even the presence of Olivia Colman couldn't save it from being to oabsurd. The first series is a surefire hangover cure though.


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lullashawn
lullashawn
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:18 am (UTC)
typography / wonder showzen

Wow, Look Around You has such nice typography.

Have you seen Wonder Showzen, an American spoof on Sesame Street?


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lullashawn
lullashawn
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC)
Re: typography / wonder showzen

Oh no, in the time I was writing my comment someone else already mentioned Wonder Showzen. Sorry to be redundant.


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:19 am (UTC)

ha ha! they nailed the voice and aesthetic so well it just keeps tricking me into expecting facts.


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anti_peace_riot
anti_peace_riot
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:31 am (UTC)

Just watched "Maths". Amazing!

Although I was born in the eighties and primarily spent most of the ninties in school, I came from an education system that relied heavily on educational films from the 60s and 70s because quite frankly, no one was willing to make an updated version of the films and god forbid the teachers would actually teach us something (a teacher actually answered a question with "That wasn't in the video"). My grade nine to ten science classes contained videos not unlike "Look Around You", archaic textbooks and all.

And it's programs like this that rekindle my love for old mental hygiene films of England and America. I'll never forget an anti-marijuana film that featured Sonny Bono, wearing a shiny golden sweatsuit and obviously quite stoned, speaking about the dangers of marijuana.

Thank you for posting this! It's 4.30am over here and I'm rather tired, otherwise I'd be watching them all now. But I will bookmark them!


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)

Bit pointless, isn't it?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)

Ah, it's Mr Oxford Science Park! I'd have thought you'd like it, since you're in science!


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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:29 am (UTC)

Pedantic note to future historians of my work (if there are any): although Analog Baroque continued to be the name for Momus' UK label for some years, the style itself can only properly be said to dominate two of his albums, 1998's "Little Red Songbook" and 1999's "Stars Forever". 2001's "Folktronic" introduces the "folktronic" sound that was to supercede Analog Baroque, and the AB tracks that do figure are all reworkings of 1999 songs recorded for the Kahimi Karie mini-album "Journey to the Centre of Me". 2003 saw the start of the "Stories of O" trilogy, and collaboration with John Talaga (aka Fashion Flesh). Traces of the AB style (harpsichords, analog synths and Maestro beatboxes) can still be heard in songs like "Multiplying Love" on the first record in the trilogy ("Oskar Tennis Champion"), but on the second and third the style becomes much more varied and eclectic. One song on 2006's "Ocky Milk" is in AB style, but it's a reworking of an Emi Necozawa track from 2001: "Dialtone".


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auto_nalle
auto_nalle
auto_nalle
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:46 am (UTC)

hihii, birds of britain! except the prostituting duck i didn't like that...
i have been exposed mainly to british nature programmes
and not so much physics or maths...
but really the pi digits show was funniest of all, and how useful!
thanks!!!
/and mischa shoni is super cute!


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auto_nalle
auto_nalle
auto_nalle
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 10:11 am (UTC)

oh, or thants,
..what a snowman!


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chickensnack
chickensnack
Brian
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:48 am (UTC)

For some reason, the "What town was Schubert built in?" part in the music episode had me cracking up more than any other part of the series. I love it.


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scola
scola
Scola
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 12:19 pm (UTC)

I've stumbled upon this show a few times on BBC America. Brilliant. They really nailed the cheap educational TV aesthetic. And the synth sounds are perfect.


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
Decayed futurity

I caught the second series of Look Around You, but based on the YouTube clips I've sampled, the first series looks much better.

I did like the character of Leonard Hatred in the second series, though.

The writer Mark Samuels coined the phrase 'decayed futurity', that I find similar to analog baroque. I think many people born in the sixties and seventies have this kind of sensibility. His stories are full of decaying sixties architectural monstrosities, test-card brainwashing and so on.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Decayed futurity

"Decayed futurity" doesn't seem to have made it as far as anything Google knows about. Perhaps he used that decayed medium "the book" to preserve this meme for posterity.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC)

Very funny, did they really use this in the English schools? It's brilliant stuff!


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 02:14 pm (UTC)
powers of ten

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4i6B7HzijSo


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(Anonymous)
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 02:45 pm (UTC)
you'll hurt yourself...

momus, you are a brilliant man; careful not to pat yourself on the back too hard.


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(no subject) - (Anonymous)
zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Sat, Aug. 19th, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)

I LOVE IT


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