Out Of This World

Excuse me while I just assist in making a horn of some kind from a latex glove and the inside of a kitchen roll…

Sorry about that. Last weekend we went to Blue Dot Festival and, inevitably, came home with a number of ‘experiments to do at home’.

Blue Dot, which takes place at Jodrell Bank, is only in its second year but already seems very settled in. It’s amazing to look up and see the Lovell Telescope as you walk around the site – I always do a double take! The site is lovely – you can get about easily, and it’s really chilled out, there are a lot of families there (which may not be some people’s idea of chilled out but really there’s so much space it’s hard to get trampled on by other people’s children!). We never had to wait too long for food – except at the AMAZING PIZZA WAGON ( not the wagon’s actual name, but it should be – best pizza, ever) – and the real ale bar is brilliant. There were also many ice cream vans which were a bit pricey (I daren’t think how much I spent on Whippy) but appreciated in the blazing heat.

There was A LOT ON so here is a summary with pictures of what we got up to (and we barely scratched the surface).

Loads of talks happen here, on science and technology of course, but also culture, and the intersection between the two. What this festival is so good at is not putting everything in its own little box.

We saw Marcus Chown talk about Gravitational Waves which I found a challenge to follow but A (aged 9) and husband were keeping up with perfectly. I took A to a ‘Science and Dr Who’ talk, about the influence Dr Who has had on writers and scientists A very well put together talk which looked at how the programme has included current scientific thought, theory – black holes feature regularly –  and ethics; does the Tom Baker era Doctor, even knowing what he knows of them through his travels, have the right to destroy the Daleks? Such an interesting hour, and we bought the book later (yes – a festival with a bookshop – they should all do this).

We saw Helen Czerski explain some oceanography, and Chris Lintott speak about astronomy and the huge part crowdsourcing and public participation (via Zooniverse) now play in research. Dave Prowse (Darth Vader/The Green Cross Code Man) and Brian Muir (film designer/sculptor) did a great session discussing the Vader Mask, and Brian’s work on practically every film you’ve ever seen as well as Star Wars.

(L – R: Simon Guerrier & Dr Marek Kukula; Dr Helen Czerski; Prof Chris Lintott (bit blurry as I was very far away in a very hot tent)

There is a lot of informal ‘hands on’ science which is just the thing for A. He made some graphene, found out all about radio telescope arrays (and huge thanks to the researcher on that stand, who was interviewed and ended up in A’s homework) . He did some physics and chemistry, went in a couple of VR scenarios and collected up as many giveaways as he could. He also got to work the projections which were displayed on the Lovell Telescope in the ‘Celestial Frequencies / COSMOS 2017‘ art project, pretty amazing! And he really did want to take this little robot home:

(L-R Siemens; Abandon Normal Devices ‘Celestial Frequencies/COSMOS 2017; Sheffield Robotics Lab

Music – lots of that too, of course, though we didn’t spend as much time at the main stage this year, so we could see some of the other things!

Leftfield performed ‘Leftism’ from start to finish. We’d seen them at Beautiful Days last year and they never really got a buzz going (for us at least). This performance was completely different, absolutely brilliant – the audience were so into it. Those of us who bought that album 22 years ago may all be a bit grey of hair by now and have a child or two along, but we can still jump up and down for quite a long time!

We saw the BBC Radiophonic Workshop play some of their strange yet beguiling music, finishing with the Dr Who theme and huge amounts of applause and love (Delia Derbyshire would have been 80 this year, they reminded us) . They were joined by one of the Orbital brothers –  a lovely touch, as surely much electronic music owes a debt to the Radiophonic Workshop. Orbital themselves were great too, and were joined in turn by Radiphonic Workshoppers for their own blast of Dr Who . As I say, we didn’t hang round the main stage too much this year, but a Sunday lunchtime session by the Rajastani Heritage Brass Band was hugely enjoyable. As well as more traditional pieces we were treated to a medley of BBC science fiction themes. It was one of those surreal moments you have at festivals; sitting on the grass, in the sun hearing the theme from Blakes 7 as you’ve never heard it before (and there was yet another outing for the Dr Who theme).

L-R ORBITAL on the main stage; The Travelling Band on the Roots stage

Installations and art – I love a good installation and this festival really delivers:

We spent Friday evening in ‘The Outer Space’ – the Arboretum – which for the festival is filled with installations and happenings. There was so much to see here. At 10.30 the Circle of Fire was lit and was totally worth the slightly drizzly and tired wait. I thought we’d have to stand behind the fence to see the work, but you actually go in the space with the sculptures, absolutely magical for those of us who are fans of a fire (apologies for the below par photographs below, I admit to having had a warming glass of wine just beforehand). Earlier we had walked through an avenue of giant glowing blue orbs which buzzed and hummed with their own strange tunes; this was Colony (by Alison Ballard and Mike Blow) everyone was going up and hugging these inflatable orbs, and the blue light made the whole scene very calming.

Further on we encountered a strange alien tripod type structure, and a couple of large scuttling otherworldly creatures in the undergrowth. A said he could see someone’s eyes inside one of the creatures, but I think surely he was mistaken, they were actual alien beings, weren’t they?!. The next morning we were paraded past by yet more strange beings (not the same ones) who we never saw again. 

 Circle of Fire, Colony, strange beings (I since find out this is ‘Compagnie des Quidams’ and I’m very sad we missed the night time parade)

Later in the weekend we had a daytime walk round this area. The lovely garden (designed by Chris Beardshaw) contained an installation called ‘Between Stillness and Storm’ (Aidan Moesby and Tim Shaw) which included a ‘wind tree’ which chimed bells as the onemometers spun in the breeze

The big exciting installation of the weekend though is the Illuminarium. We got up super early on Sunday morning to get in the queue for this – last year we waited 2 hours to get in, you don’t get to see something like this very often so it was absolutely worth it. This year we were almost first in. I can’t really explain how being inside a huge inflated piece of architecture feels, it’s pretty trippy! It is of course all about the light. The structure Architects of Air brought this year was ‘Miracoco’ – a kind of Brighton Pavilion made of plastic and held up by air alone. It’s a brilliant experience and I’d say if you get a chance to be in one of these, do it (I probably said that last year too).

Inside Illuminarium ‘Miracoco’

We had a brilliant weekend, and wished we’d not had to drive home on Sunday, thereby missing Hawkwind and Alt J, and the chance of another Tibetan chick pea curry + momo combo and pint of Elysium. However, I see next year’s festival is happily back on the first weekend of the summer holidays, so that shouldn’t happen again. Hooray!

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