James Burke’s Connections (1978) & Nuit Blanche Brussels (2013)

DSC00462Just as I was about to start this post, I watched the second episode of James Burke’s history-science TV documentary Connections (1978) and felt like I was back at high school, only suddenly everything was interesting and, more importantly, actually made sense. Through the series Burke demonstrates how accidental discoveries, scientific inventions and historical events are interconnected and how, seemingly random actions of individuals (usually vested by personal motive and interest) are, in reality, interdependent, important pieces in the human and technological evolution. He does it with clear language, witty narration, personal sense of humour and parts of historical re-enactment; the result is one of BBC’s best moments in its long history of brilliant documentaries – a must-see.

Check this out: the second episode starts in ancient Lydia with the discovery of the touchstone which resulted to the standardization of metal trade; discusses how the astronomical notes of Ptolemy, safeguarded in the great library of Alexandria, became instrumental centuries later as mercantile  marine progressed and the lateen sails and sternpost rudders were introduced;  how the realization that the compass needle did not point to the north star but the north pole triggered studies on magnetism which led to the discovery of electricity when von Guericke span a sulphur ball on a stick and realized that it made cracking noises and glowed in the dark; which raised interest in atmospheric electricity leading to the development of the radar and application of nuclear weaponry with its full fatal potential… which explains the episode’s sinister title ”Death in the Morning”.

This incredible feat of technology and connectivity reminded me of all the collective effort and technological expertise that goes into organizing recurring events and festivals, such as the Nuit Blanche/White Night when, in the course of a single evening the city of Brussels becomes a trail of installations, performances and all night parties.

Saturday 05th October, was an exceptionally warm night this year; absolutely everyone was out and all of the 28 spots on the agenda were totally packed. The crowds were massive, the queues long and most of the activities, destined for more intimate audiences, suffocated somewhat under this surprisingly high turnaround. But spirits were high, beer flowed in abundance and people were ready to party; the warm air carried laughter, cheerful echoes and silhouettes through the night.

A wheel of light by Exhumeia, Brussels – Gabriel Beckinger [FR]

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A diaphanous projection in front of the Notre Dame de la Chapelle church. Inside, a polyphonic installation 4 screens & 4 voices: tenor, countertenor, soprano and baritone chanting XVIth century songs.
Awakening of Mary – Titia Ex [NL] and Polyphonic Installation#1 Bernard Gigounon & Currende ensemble [BE]



A radiant installation under the rails of the Bruxelles-Chapelle railway station. Luminon, Association Dolus & Dolus [FR]


Hijacking Nuit Blanche: these drummers were not part of the programme; they drummed their way through the streets, collecting money to finance a film… I didn’t catch its title; if anyone reading this knows something, please share… those guys were awesome!

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Saving fragments of the history of our capital from falling into the gaping hole of oblivion: Raiders of the Lost Archive – Rebecca Shelley & YenDva3 [BE/RS]

DSC00461Brussels, Saturday 05 October 2013

Photos by Konstantinos Implikian


11 thoughts on “James Burke’s Connections (1978) & Nuit Blanche Brussels (2013)

    • It was an wow moment: felt like lost children finding their way home thru an interracial Maria’s bosom, the way they covered the entrance with her long ‘veil’… I saw at least 5 different faces of different origins before moving on…

  1. Thanks for the great write-up – I’ll think the next time we visit Brussels we will have to time it for the Nuit Blanche! Also many thanks for recommending the documentary series. It sounds like something I’ll definitely enjoy watching. I’ll check it out.

    • And thank you for reading Tim, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
      … but don’t expect such mild weather, it’s once every 20 years hehe!
      If you like, you can watch episodes on line (check out link in the comments thread).

  2. Oh good! then you can watch it together with the kids… fun way for them to learn and you to remember 🙂

    Just listening to Set fire (thanks again)… I like the track even more than Godspeed (more ambient) and I see the relation. It’s similar to Apparat/Moderat but bigger in size. One of the reasons I like Apparat/Moderat is precisely this feeling you described, of experience vs artist in spotlight.

  3. I will try to find connections. It sounds thrilling.
    I just can keep from thinking that all these installations/exhibitions/actions are nothing more than efforts of artistic nature to recreate/reintroduce/revive the sense of experience/mystical/metaphysical gap it was created in our society after the rise of technology and at the same time the fading of the humanitarian messages taught from WWII and the faith in God as it was traditionally perceived at about the same time. As such, the message mainly targets the “gray” area between logic and faith, satisfying temporarily the participant.

    The best example in my mind that resembles the experience of mass are concerts and in particular a concert by Godspeed you black emperor. The stage was dimly lit with projections above the members playing and suddenly the lights and music are out and we can only hear a drumming sound from the rear of the hall! The drummer walks playing alone all the time, through the crowd until he reaches the stage and then all the band joins in.

    Of course I am speaking only for myself and my little experience with such events.

    • Connections is television at its best, I think. You can also watch episodes on line, here for example: http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/james-burke-connections/.
      I agree with you about festivals attempting to recreate a sense of fulfillment but I would go a bit further, to consider that such events were being organized long before the technological boom that prevailed/changed humanity (e.g. Eleusinian Mysteries). I believe it’s in the human nature to seek the mystical/metaphysical experience, and thus elevation; like food for the soul. And such kind of mass gatherings such like concerts, as you mentioned, are indeed the best! I had a similar experience recently, listening live Apparat playing ”Krieg und Frieden”. The vibration and ambiance were as close to a religious experience as I will ever know…

      I’m now checking out Godspeed you black emperor; I’ve got Mladic playing on youtube and it’s EPIC! I can’t believe I hadn’t listened to it yet, thank you so much for the introduction!

      • Thank you for the link! I will watch it as soon as the kids get better (probably less than 10 years from now) 😉

        I have a couple of CDs from Apparat but never seen them live.

        Your example is correct, although Eleusinian were held in honor of Demetra and Persephone, so actually were religious ones, while on the other hand the modern festivals and concerts are not. The main difference is not the lack of the divine (usually hinted nowadays) but bringing into the foreground and in the spotlight the artist instead of the experience itself . Of course there are artists that keep their distance, but they either go unnoticed or the crowd turns into fans and ruin the feeling. Anyway, if you like Godspeed, you would surely love the more obscure side -project called Set fire to flames. My favourite track from their first release:
        I have a couple of CDs from Apparat but never seen them live.

  4. “Connections” is my FAVORITE! I have all the episodes (and a Science Degree from Uni). I have to get to work, but I will be back to read more carefully. Yippiee!

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