A Quick Ride to the Random

The way humanity interacts with the random seems one of the more interesting aspects of life. I have long been fascinated by that, and sometimes like to play around with it a bit. When I heard of the app Randonautica, I was intrigued since using a random location generator to generate some destinations around East London that I could cycle to sounded fun. Anything for some exercise, while lockdown madness storms onwards, right?

Of course, Randonautica bills itself as something a bit more than a random location generator. There is a lot of pseudo-science tied up in it based around “mind-machine interaction” and that most pseudo-sciancable concept of all, quantum physics. If MMI is a thing, it pretty much certainly wouldn’t work in the way that this app seems to be suggesting, which borders on mind reading. The idea is to think of an ‘intention’ while using the app’s generating function, which will influence the quantum nature of random number generation and increase the probability of the generated point being relevant to your intention.

And … the Randonautica app does have a bit of a strange reputation and a thoroughly memified cult of odd occurrences among its users. Search for it and you will find all sorts of videos – people blundering into weird and horrible things in ways that almost verge on the supernatural. “Do not use Randonautica”, they warn, which is, of course, a pretty good way to get people to use Randonautica.

Well – I’ll play along. 🙂 I set as my intention something quite easy (for London) – Art. Guide me to some street art, Randonautica! And for an agreeable evening, I was navigated around the quiet residential streets of Dalston, Stoke Newington, Homerton and Hackney. Did it guide me to any art?

No.

I went past some art getting to these random points, and I had a lot of fun exploring small streets that I’d never looked at before – but the points themselves revealed absolutely nothing.

This is where the whole topic of the random truly starts to kick off. I didn’t expect any miracles because I am pretty familiar with what random means. I know very well that if I’d kept going, I would eventually have found what I was looking for. I also know that I would have had to keep going for an unknown but fairly substantial period of time for that to happen. And when it did, I’d go to that art and I’d think “ooh!” – and I’d remember it. I’d be thinking “Oh yes, Randonautica guided me to this cool mural”, which has a lot more weight in the mind than “Randonautica guided me to a random stretch of pavement. There was a postbox there.” Crucially, it is not only likely that with a sufficient number of tries Randonautica would send me to something marvellous, knowing that there is indeed street art in London, it is just about inevitable. It WILL happen. It will also inevitably send me to a dead body, or to my friend’s house, or to a dropped £20 note, or some such. The probability varies, but the probability is always there – and an improbability is a thing that can happen, not a thing that cannot. To find out how many tries it would take to find my street art, we’d need to know the percentage of ‘places’ with art compared to those without – which could theoretically be measured though I sure ain’t going to!

Confirmation bias. The tendency of the mind to generate patterns and to look for meanings. That’s what all this boils down to – indeed, it’s one of the more interesting examples of it that I have seen recently. And now, back home and in bed with a hot water bottle, I am musing. If I believed a word of the pseudoscience that surrounds Randonautica, what would I be thinking now? Would I be disappointed? Would I be thinking that I’d been impatient (actually true, given the laws of probability)? That it must be me that was wrong? That I’d not tried hard enough? Not thought my ‘intention’ loudly enough? That I’d not been ‘sensitive’ or ‘fervent’ enough? Even that I’d not ‘believed’ hard enough? Or alternately, would I be thinking I was playing the whole definition of art wrong? Would I be spinning philosophies in my head about what art is in an effort to justify what I’d just done? There were lots of Christmas lights, after all. Are they art? I see no reason why not!

There seems so much of the human condition tangled around this app because it is human nature to search for these patterns and meanings. The bottom line is not the arguments and mental twisting – it’s that a wish has crept in, almost unnoticed. We want this. On the trite level of my little trip – yeah, I wanted street art! I was looking for it. Street art had weight for me at that point, and that is powerful. But on more profound levels, far removed from this app, we find things like the urge to explain the unknowable, the need not to be alone, the fear of vacuums and endings, the phantasmagorical yearning for ‘meaning’ even as we are not quite sure what that ‘meaning’ means – everything. This wish lies at the heart of all things, and it is where this wish meets the random that it really becomes fascinating. The ways we can comfort ourselves or delude ourselves that what we want to exist does, that the world works how we want it to. And the role the random plays neither proves nor disproves any of this. Instead, it is the ultimate neutral. It provides a blank canvas – it provides us with miracles and coincidences and improbable events and horrible shocks and moments of freak-out, just as it will provide us with mundane streets, empty spaces and forlorn postboxes. It will always do this, as an ocean on which we navigate the small fragile ships that are our awareness.

The Randonautica app has a bit of a strange reputation … of course it has. I’d be more surprised if it didn’t. Because sooner or later, the improbable must happen. And because we tell stories.

Published in: on January 19, 2021 at 5:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Quick and Dirty Street Photography for a Festive Lockdown

Welcome to Christmas – Lockdown edition.

Night street photography is something rather new to me – as you can probably tell! In the past, I picked up the basics of long exposure night shots and took hundreds of them – they’ve been all over my Flickr stream with their luminous colours and eerie empty feel. I love them, but I have recently been trying to crack the secrets of its converse – it’s wilder and rougher sibling that is night street photography. That’s where, instead of spending ages faffing around setting up a shot and then waiting several seconds for it to expose, you are on the prowl, camera in hand, grabbing short-exposure handheld shots, quick and dirty. Walk, see, pounce/click! The trick here seems to be to learn to love the rough edges because, while you can never avoid the grain and blur that I fought so hard in my long-exposure work, they also come with a totally different energy.

One reason for this energy is because for the first time, my loved and hated London is populated! With long exposure, any figures that did happen to be there tend to vanish out of existence or be reduced to vague ghostly blurs – but now the action, night-life, people comes alive. The only problem is that during Lockdown, there were very little of that. In a way, that only made it even eerier – a technique that should have been bustling, wasn’t. This was a London quieter than it ever should be.

Around the festive season, I was out and about quite a lot on my bike, prowling the city. It was a time of drifting through London as though in a dream. Stopping in the middle of usually hellish junctions to snap photos. Taking roads I would never dare take under normal circumstances. I hopped the lanes in Camden. I took Euston Road and the junctions around Kings Cross. I passed through Shoreditch, which should be perilous with drunken revellers stumbling into the streets – by far East London’s most riotous area.

I was out on the night of Christmas Eve, when London seemed distilled into its absolute bleakest by lockdown, with those who can mostly off the streets leaving blend of determined wanderers and the sad wreckage of Tory Austerity centre stage. It was not complete silence – a few cars were still passing, a few people. Some guys singing wildly outside Camden Tube to the empty city – two women dancing tipsily at a bus stop, the odd shadow skulking in a corner, a few people walking home, arm in arm … if anything, that was worse than complete emptiness would have been.

And on New Year’s eve, my exercise took me to the Thames, where a sparse scattering of people were seeing in the new year in spite of all, watching the laser lightshow from the Shard. Some of these photos were almost destroyed by the low light and my inexperience, and I used a few filters on them to try and extract at least something. I might have tossed them but I didn’t because, while they may be disasters, they are disasters with a memory. A moment. I suppose in a way, these weird photos with their festering toxic skies and grainy ruined textures fit the mood of this most horrendous of new years – horrendous in more ways than just the lockdown etc.

Quick’n’dirty night street photography is something I will hopefully learn to handle better over time. You can see more of these and others on my Flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/eibonvale

Published in: on January 18, 2021 at 5:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Rambling on Basalgette in the London Night

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Bazalgette . . . on a bridge . . . under a bridge . . .

Can’t effing sleep! Honestly my body clock doesn’t know which way it is going these days – late, early, nocturnal, occasionally even normal! And hey – here’s my blog, my almost ignored blog, the perfect place to moan into the void in the not-so-small hours! What the heck do I do now? Carry on lying here? Go out on some loopy bike ride around London to greet the dawn? See if any shops are still open somewhere and buy something weird?

Funny thing – I love being outside, especially riding old Basalgette (my bike) through the quiet streets. The nice thing about cycling is that you become transient and removed from the world you pass through – you flit by and are gone, with little involvement with people. I seem to be becoming increasingly allergic to physicality these days. The more time passes, the stranger and more alien human interaction seems. It’s not that I don’t like people – quite the reverse. I LOVE people. But meeting people in the flesh, actually talking to people, it all feels like some weird performance I am supposed to be involved in – and quite simply and literally it sometimes feels as though I have forgotten how to do it. Forgotten how to talk . . .

If I ever knew.

In the face of that, isolation is very seductive. But if so, then why am I living here? And I suppose loving it in some weird way? If there’s one place where it is impossible to ever be alone, it is here in London. Oh you can be lonely, it’s probably the easiest place in the country to be lonely – but never alone, the strange paradox of the city. Even as I spin through the streets at 4AM there is always something . . . .

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Some figure hunching their way onwards, presumably with some mysterious destination in mind that you will never know.

The homeless huddled in corners – a lot more of them now, no surprise. they leave you feeling almost guilty that the world has not yet destroyed you, only them.

The occasional police who you strut past almost proudly (“look, I’m not committing a crime, isn’t that nice!”). Is it possible to strut on a bike? It is on Basalgette!

The drunks who, temporarily changing the rules of how the world functions, excitedly drag you into some brief clash of interaction, leaving you staring after them almost puzzled.

Some girl crying in the distance and every bone aches to ride over and offer help but then a million news and opinion articles and blog posts hammers a massive ‘fuck you’ as a reward for ever breaching that isolation straight between your eyes and you very quickly take the other road – then spend the rest of the night feeling sick with spiritual pollution and confusion.

The street poet who catches you during some pause and spouts words at you that on these night streets resonate as strong as any book, so you empty your wallet of change.

The shop-keepers of the little all-night stores that sell everything from European sausages to exhausted fruit via every kind of junk food you can imagine. Usually they just glower at you no matter what you say – but just occasionally you run into something else and exchange a small smile.

The drug-addled, probably the least dangerous people of all, glancing at you vaguely and analysing what universe you happen to reside in.

Even some maddie who is desperately trying to convey that one vital message, over and over again, to a world that really and genuinely isn’t listening. And again, do you say ‘I hear you’ or do you take the other road? There’s a lot of other roads in London. In that respect, the city seems infinite.

Ah well – I doubt many can be bothered to read this crap – so here’s another picture of the night time London instead.

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Published in: on March 13, 2014 at 4:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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