Robot Rickshaw

The line between technology and art today is probably as close as it has ever been: photographers rely on digital imagery and manipulation; movies are often largely, sometimes entirely, built using CGI; musicians don’t just record their work digitally but publish, promote and sell over the internet, often using sounds that are entirely digitally created… Where does art stop and technology begin?

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_MG_5409Troy, with his Robot Rickshaw, blurs those lines even further. When he first told us that he makes robotic instruments, my first thought was of C3PO and R2D2 in an epic version of guitar hero…

But as amusing as that might have been, what Troy has invented is something that is pushing both robotics and music in a new direction.

His Robot Rickshaw is a collection of instruments that play themselves, and Troy is both engineer and composer for this electronic orchestra.

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IMG_0250A one-stringed guitar, a collection of percussion, a clarinet and two “voices”, the band are all hooked up to the brain – Troy’s laptop – where he can adjust the sound, choose the compositions, and all manner of functions which I don’t pretend to understand!

Building his own software to control the instruments, Troy’s laptop screen was a maze of matrices and code that would impress any programmer.

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But Troy insists that he is a musician first, and not a scientist.

Taking his robotic orchestra around the country, Troy draws plenty of attention to his act as he pushes his rickshaw around wearing a HazMat suit. Ironically, he wears it so that it will draw attention away from him, and onto the music. “Otherwise, it just becomes a science demonstration,” he says. He wants people to not think so much about how it works, but just to enjoy the music.

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I have to say, even though I didn’t find the music hugely enjoyable, witnessing Troy’s orchestra was one of the mot fascinating and engaging performances I have ever seen. Troy travels the country like us, giving concerts, demonstrations and interviews as part of his PhD.

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As we swapped stories from the road over a 2am Ramen Noodle Supper, Troy shared about his time in Belgium with his mentor Godfried-Willem Raes who has pioneered music and robotics, and really does have an entire robotic orchestra collection.

One of the best stories was when Pat Metheny came to visit Troy and his colleagues in Belgium to see the instruments they were working on. He ordered several, and was going to be working on building something new with Troy, but in the end it fizzled out.  Troy hopes to build him a robotic guitar one day and just send it to him!

IMG_0249In Troy’s highly complex robotic system, what amazes me is that all of the instruments are actually analogue – the sound produced is not digital. The guitar is really plucked, the clarinet is blown, the cymbal is hit. And the speed at which the robots are able to perform is exceedingly fast… Troy works the sound into a frenzy of speed, proving that the robots are probably able to play much more intricate patterns than any human would…

But, we are not yet at the point in the technology race where the robots are able to create like humans. For now, though we are not sure for how much longer, only the human race still retains that beautiful ability: to feel music, to interpret it, to have music connect our hearts, souls, memories and emotions.

http://troy82.com

https://www.facebook.com/RobotRickshaw

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The North and the Badlands

Our first stop after Nashville was the Windy City – we stayed with friends from Poland who are also travellers; much more than us. They had just came back from a month long tour, including a visit to a country that we literally hadn’t even heard of! They live in a wonderful apartment in a leafy, quiet suburb close to downtown Chicago, and so we enjoyed a few days feeling “at home” – sleeping in, big breakfasts, exercising, doing laundry and hanging out with their enormus cat.

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From there, we were supposed to go to straight up to Minnesota, but instead of taking the direct route, we decided to go around Lake Michigan. Unfortunately for almost the whole day there was heavy fog, so we didn’t really see the lake… But as we were leaving, the fog lifted and we caught a glimpse of the enormous expanse of lake, stretching for miles beyond our horizon.

By the time we reached Minnesota, we were on our 26th state, having almost “completed” the East… but we left ourselves Ohio and West Virginia to visit on our way back to New York.

We stayed with wonderful friends on the edge of the beautiful Green Lake in Minnesota; the first night, we had a true American evening with burgers, a bonfire and s’mores by the lake.

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And the next day, they took us out on the lake to learn to waterski… We thought we were pretty good until we saw the 11 year old kids skiing barefoot on the water next to us! But Louise playing a gig at the town local pub was the perfect way to finish the day.

We had been East, we had been South, and now we were heading to the 48 States’ northernmost point, the Lake of The Woods in Minnesota. As we made our way north through lakes and farmers fields, the towns’ populations got smaller and smaller… one had only 261 residents!

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Unable to take the car into Canada to cross back into the true Northern tip of Minnesota, the southern shore of the Lake of the Woods was as far as we could take our Land Rover. In winter, we would have been able to drive all the way over the frozen lake, but the water was clear and warm and blue beneath the sunny sky, and so we enjoyed our meal at the end of the road.

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The next stop was the Badlands National Park, so from Minnesota we drove to North Dakota, spent a night beneath the stars, and kept on South. The Dakotas are states of two halves: East of the Missouri River is just flat grassland, perfect crop and cattle country (as well as full of oil rigs). But over the river, the hills start to rise and fall and the deep green, rugged and rocky terrain reminded us of Scottish Highlands.

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Mt Rushmore

After saluting the nation’s presidents with a throng of tourists at Mount Rushmore, we took the scenic route to the Badlands. Through beautiful mountains, and much quieter roads, we got to the park late at night – staying at the less popular “primitive” campground on the Park’s West permieter. So far away from cities and civilisation, we were absolutely mesmerised by the sheer number of stars that lit up the night sky as we fell asleep.

We set our alarm clocks for 5am, hoping to see the famous Badland scenery at dawn, but we realised that the hundreds of miles of driving made us a lot more tired than we thought… and we finally made it out of our sleeping bags at 7am.

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After we had our breakfast of oats, (or as Michal calls it, horse-food…), we made the short drive to the park through the national grasslands, and were amazed to come upon three Bison in the middle of the prairie.

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Louise, full of wonder, and thinking they were gentle creatures, slowly walked towards the mother, father and baby bison, hoping to see a little more than just their outlines and take a close up shot…  It was only later that she read in the park guide that you should never approach Bison as they are prone to charge and can run up to 30mph! That was probably the closest encounter that she’ll have with Bison…

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The Badlands, in true American style, is almost a “drive through” National Park! You can drive in one end and through the loop, just stopping at the viewing points, but we wanted to get a little closer to these legendary hills. So we packed our backpack and tried to conquer some of the peaks.

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With its shifting, silty, muddy and ever changing hills, the rich coloured bands of the Badlands are breathtaking, but it is not easy to hike even on a clear, dry day.

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We saw mountain goats perching steadily across the peaks, but we weren’t at all as surefooted. Even in just our short hike, we started to understand why even the Lakota tribe called the place “Mako Sika” – literally land bad. Desolate, with no civilisation for as far as the eye can see, the Badlands literally drop out of nowhere from beautiful green plains, and continue with their chalky, unforgiving rock faces for miles on end.

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But there is something exhilarating about feeling overwhelmed by Mother Nature – knowing that as much as we try, man will never be her master. And despite the fact that a friend told us that one day is enough to see the Badlands, we think that it would be a truly enriching experience to fill up a couple of backpacks and spend a couple of days getting lost among the Beautiful Lands… after all, they’re not so Bad..

I’m Curious Because I’m Curious

My grandmother used to tell me that when I was little, they lived right on the bay, and I used to spend a month with them every summer. She told me “when you were very little, you would terrify us, because whenever you first got here you would just run and you would go as far as you could out to the water. We couldn’t stop you, you would swim as far as you could swim and then finally you would come back in your little polkadot swimsuit.”

She would always ask me why I did that, and I used to tell her that I just wanted to know that I could. I wanted to know where that barrier was…

And I want my paintings to capture that spirit.  I think I’m always trying different ways to see if I can make people curious. 

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I like to use materials in such a way as you don’t know quite how they were made. I want the materials to be a little bit… like they just happened. So maybe that’s part of it, I want people to experience that sense of “where is this, how did this happen, how did that mark get made?”

With a laugh as vibrant as her scarlet red hair, Erin Murphy is 24-year-old painter based in Nashville, Tennessee. Raised in the South, art-schooled in New England, her sculptures and paintings have a depth and soul that is mirrored in her persona: warm and inviting, but full of challenge and an unexpected somber truth.

I use a lot of colour layering, and I think it’s part of the mystery of painting, I think with one layer it’s pretty straightforward what happened, but once you get a little deeper, and it has a lot of history, then it becomes harder to discern what came first and what came after. I want people to be able to dig through them a little bit.

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Erin graduated from Art School in December 2011, and was given a short residency in New York, and recently has again become a full time painter. But she hasn’t always had that privilege, and still struggles to make a living from her work.

It’s always been easier for me to promote other people than myself. That’s still something that I’m navigating. Because even when I do start negotiating successfully, then I just feel kinda bad about it. Like, we shouldn’t be talking about these things! 

After my residency, the school that I went to offered me a full time office job, with benefits, doing fundraising for art, so I went back to Baltimore and became the annual fund coordinator for almost two years… which was eye opening!

I was so lucky to have that job, because it was really important me to be able to support myself financially – going home was not an option. But I had no idea what to do with a painting degree! Like… I can waitress! 

I think being in fundraising took me from not being able to talk about money at all. It was just helpful to know how those things work. But I just realised that I wanted to work in other spaces, I wanted to work with other people who didn’t all have the same degree from the same college.

Like when I was working at the sculpture park in New York we had people come with crazy ideas! They’d never been to art school; they were just really passionate about art. 

Then I knew these people who were “career” artists and they just seemed tired… They didn’t have that same fire.

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Having spent what she considered too much time around academia, Erin knew that further studies were not what she wanted to pursue. Instead, she went on an educational pilgrimage of her own.

Travel was something I had wanted to do since I was an exchange student in England. I met these two girls who were travelling from Australia, and they were travelling for a year, they were just backpacking. And it was like everything I never knew I had always needed to be doing. 

So that was in the back of my mind, and then one of my really good friends who lives in London emailed me saying “I’m getting married in two months in Toulouse, and I really want you to be there.” And then I got a phone call, like the same day, that my studio burned down, like actually burned down and everything was gone! 

And I was like well if I don’t have a studio, and I have a lot of money saved… I know I wanna do this… So it was a month, a month between me quitting my job, I bought a backpack, I packed up all my stuff and sold everything I could sell. 

And my friend’s wedding actually got cancelled, so then I was in Europe, with no plan whatsoever, and it just turned out to be amazing!

Then I went to South Africa to do a residency. It was good for me to just be that free… to not have all these things that I was pretending. We fill our lives with all this stuff, all these obligations, and all of that fell away. I tried to make art, but also just see a lot of art.

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Whatever medium we work with, for artists, there is nothing as valuable as being surrounded by new stimuli. Architects, musicians, poets and filmmakers, we all draw on the environment and spaces around us. Erin’s time travelling and seeing art and nature across the continents gave her a new direction for her work.

In Ireland, I got to paint in a cave, which was a dream: a weird dream of mine! I’ve got a documentary on caves, and before I left I was actually making paintings for it. I was making these tar paintings, and then sort of carving light out of them.

And then I started reading this documentary on a caver, and he talked about how caves and darkness and the “deep” places in the world are the last unexplored places on earth. They’re the only places that we can’t really see, like we can’t even really infrared map them to see what’s down there, so there are these guys who are extreme cavers. 

And even though it’s some people’s worst nightmare, it fascinates me that people want to explore those caves. I think people want to explore for the sake of exploring – I think we’re curious because we’re curious

In school we’re given this narrative that people explored because they wanted gold and they wanted wealth. That’s like people who travel for business, but then you have cavers, and they’re like “we just wanna see how deep it goes. It could be one mile, it could be 20 miles, but no-one will know until we risk our lives to swim to the end and discover exactly how many miles.” 

It’s kind of a crazy concept that people would devote their lives to just seeing how far something went, how far they could get, and I think it’s a really beautiful metaphor, for life or for humanness – they just wanted to see. I think it’s kind of a personal narrative for me.

Erin’s studio is a wonderful mess; the tell-tale sign that the artist who dwells within is alive with creativity. Her show “Quoting Nature” just finished in Baltimore, and she is busy preparing and experimenting for a show in Nashville in September.

Under the canvases, pallettes, paintbrushes and frames, I spot Van Gogh’s book of letters…

Van Gogh? Oh he’s just so painfully sincere.  A lot of people don’t realise he was a pastor before he was a painter. He just had too unusual of a personality, and was too revolutionary with his ideas probably. 

He just kept making things, although he was never well received. And now he’s huge, and we look up to him and we realise what a brilliant draftsman he was, but at that time the only person who would buy his work was his brother. 

I’m less talented, but equally driven… that’s what I like to think… with the same dogged spirit.

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Sometimes when I’m not selling work and I’m not showing, and I can’t figure out what to do with what I’ve made, I start to feel like I’m not contributing to society, to other people – like, I must not be making something that other people need, and that makes me feel really frivolous. It makes me feel really selfish, like I’m wasting other people’s time by making those things that are cluttering the world. 

So I think that reading someone like Van Gogh you awaken the tiny voice in the back of your head that says “Maybe they don’t make sense now, but maybe someday people will really appreciate these.” And maybe that’s why I’m so compelled to sit here and make them.

Erin’s works really do contain the mystery and the depth and the quotes of nature that she hopes them to hold. In front of her work, I feel like I have to hold my breath – that at any moment, the deluge of nature’s strength will pour out of the canvas and be unleashed into my being. Her daring, fiery reds, her untameable wild blues, her turbulent winds or her still, still waters. It is at times like these when I long for a house with empty walls to fill.

There is nothing like seeing them in person and being able to read into their layers, but please go and visit her website and take a moment to breathe in their reflectiveness, their questions, their vastness.

www.erinmurphystudio.com

Instagram @erinmurphystudio

Nashville Diaries

We were just supposed to be in Nashville for a day or two… we had one meeting planned and a couple of potential connections. The meeting turned into a perfect day of music, philosophy and, surprisingly, off-roading…

That evening, with very muddy tyres, we went up to Nashville not knowing where we were going and without plans. But it happened that Glen, an Aussie friend from Hong Kong, was in town at the same time. The person that he was going to meet invited him to an event that night – so we ended up at launch party for Weld; a creative collaborative space for designers, photographers and artists. Never have we seen so many hipsters in one room!

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Catching up with friends at Weld

It was a night of connections – first we were shocked to see two guys we knew from Hong Kong – Nick “the Greek” Georgiou, who had cut his epic beard, and Brady Toops who was now a Reality TV star. And the surprises continued when Michal met not one, but two people from university who he hadn’t seen for over ten years!

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Nick the Greek

Nick the Greek had promised us a tour of Fort Houston, where he works. “The Fort” as it is lovingly referred to, is an old hosiery factory that has been converted into workshop space for woodworkers, mechanics, metal smiths, artists and artisans. (For more on the Fort see our write up here).

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Is Everything In Order?

Inspired by the serious motorbikes that surrounded us, Michal started tinkering with the Land Rover engine. Honestly, the engine had cut out a couple of times previously, so we knew we needed to check it.

The oil was REALLY low. And Michal tried to clean the fuel pump… but it turns out that Michal doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows about engines, and it’s easier to unscrew something than put it back together.

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Becoming a real man…

So as we were driving away, we realised that the engine didn’t sound right… it was coughing and lurching and was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere!

But thankfully, we had hardly got out of the parking lot, and the motorcycle boys either knew what to do or knew whom to call. And amazingly there was a Land Rover specialist around the corner, who said that he would come over after work to check it out.

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Stuck in Nashville

When the mechanic showed up, he told us that we needed a new lift pump; and because it’s a unique car we needed to order it from a specialist dealer in New York. If we got the fastest shipping it would be here before the weekend…

So we were stuck in Nashville… but, hey… there are worse places to be stuck!

Over the next couple of days, we slowly fell in love with Nashville. The guys at Fort Houston took us under their collective wing, and we were semi-initiated into the Blackbirds Gentlemen’s Motorbike Assembly with the super spicy Hattie B’s chicken and the Fort Houston jersey.

The only problem was, we don’t have a motorbike… we only have a broken down Land Rover… but they didn’t seem to mind ☺

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Nick and Tanner, the Blackbirds

After two days of getting to know the city and the arts community, Friday morning came. After a serious breakfast of biscuits and gravy, we retuned to the Fort hoping that the part would have arrived.

But when we saw that the mail had been delivered and there was nothing for us, and that I still hadn’t received the confirmation email or tracking number from the company, we started to worry… If we didn’t get it today, we would be stuck until after the weekend!

Just then, I got an email saying that there was an incorrect zipcode on the order, and that I needed to call UPS to find out where the parcel was!

I finally got the tracking number, called UPS, and they told me that the shipment had been rerouted and that, even with the new, correct zip code, it wouldn’t be delivered until Monday…

But, Nick the Greek, a.k.a our saviour, got the address, jumped on his Harley and drove for over two hours to pick it up for us… and he even managed to grab us pizza in the process!

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To the rescue!

The mechanic was busy the whole day, and didn’t show up until 7.30pm on Friday night. He is obsessed with Land Rovers, and although he knew them well, he had never actually seen the 300TDi before. He was like a kid in a candy shop! And was very entertaining… we learned a lot that evening, and not just about Land Rovers… Patrick, one of the motorcycle guys stayed with us until 1am to help us finish, before being woken up early by his 2 year old daughter… I don’t think he got much sleep!

With the car fixed, there was a weight off our shoulders, and we should have been on our way. But we were having too much fun, and there was so much creative stuff going on that we had to at least stay for the weekend.

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Louise playing at Nashville’s Art Crawl, Fort Houston

Too many wonderful people and experiences to post about – artists, entrepreneurs, Land Rover lovers, lakes, barbecues, musicians… our souls were enriched and our senses were saturated!

We knew that we had to get back on the road, but put off saying goodbye for as long as we could. We had really found a home in Nashville – people who we admired, were inspired by, saw eye to eye with, laughed and ate and fixed things with.

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Bennett’s Airstream; Born in the N.A.S.H, at Porter Flea

We had been blown away by their hospitality, their generosity, their willingness to help us out and go the extra mile, or 100 miles, for. It’s an amazing feeling to be welcomed in to a community like the one we found at Fort Houston. What they have is truly special. We know we will be back.

After checking the oil one final time, (we had changed it once, and then again by accident!) we finally set off as the sun was setting and the rain stopped pouring.

And as we drove away, we were already trying to figure out how and when we could come back to Nashville. Michal realised the next day that he left his camera charger… I guess we’ll just have to go and get it!

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On the Road Again

Fort Houston

The soldiers line the fort. 

Their chariots await, their armour on the on stands.

The smiths of wood and metal and glass

Fire forth the strong and straight.

Print the banner, raise the flag.

Within the forge

The artisans 

Belong.

Function finds its form.

Unexampled, never seen before.

They’ve no enemy to fight,

No blood to shed,

No tears to draw.

But to draw forth the tangible from light.

Ten thousand dreams to bring to life.

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Guys taking a break behind Fort Houston

Nashville is a city that is rooted in music. It seems that everyone here is, or used to be, a musician or their parents are musicians or promoters or agents or songwriters…

And just like in LA, where every waiter is an actor with their big break just around the corner, in Nashville every waiter is a songwriter… with their big break just around the corner! So I guess we fit right in…

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Erin Murphy, artist.

But, it is not all about music. There is a growing scene of makers and craftspeople and artists and artisans that give Nashville a beautiful home grown, home made, home designed and taken-home identity.

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Our first day at the Fort, with Nick.

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One of their homes is Fort Houston: a 10,000 square foot old hosiery factory that is a living, breathing, sparking space where things are made. Not made digitally, with pixels, binary or code, like so much of our 21st Century world.

But made with sweat, machines, oil, metal, glass, ink, wood, power tools, sound, light, fire.

Falling into this space, tucked behind the railway line, we willingly lost ourselves in the Fort Houston creative atmosphere. A maze of workshops, where you literally trip over tools and can find anything from fine art to a gear wrench, the fort is alive with the sound of makers.

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Ryan, co-founder of Fort Houston, giving us a brief history of everything

Spending a week around its talented craftsmen, we began to see the secret of Fort Houston’s success. It is not ‘perfect’, it was not meticulously set out with a ten year business plan set in stone. It is an evolving creation itself, with artists and mechanics and smiths coming and going, being given the tools that they need and the inspiration around them in the form of people and space, giving back from within themselves, leaving their thumbprint on the walls and floors, and being challenged to create better.

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Atlas Motorworks custom build

Atlas Motorworks and the motorcycle boys are the welcoming committee that spill out into the parking lot. A collection of their own bikes, along with the bikes of their clients, fills the stands.

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Tyson at Knuckle Up Speed Shop

And as you move through their shops with parts and spanners and spare petrol tanks streamed everywhere, you begin the journey towards the print shop. With their headphones on, keeping their movements flowing and rhythmic, these boys work hard and long and their endless print cycles are almost robotic.

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A Woodworker’s Dream

Then there is the woodshop, with its carpet of sawdust and the metalshop with flying sparks and hot, sunburned smiths.

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Sparks will fly

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Layer on layer at the print shop

And dotted here and there, a jewellery maker, a painter or two, a glass blower, and a puppy.

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The newest member of the team.

It’s not a tourist attraction or and exhibit, although they do show work, but if you are ever passing through Nashville, make sure you visit 500 Houston Street, and say hello from The Travellers Two.

What do Al Capone, Snoop Dogg and Dolly Parton have in common?

The answer is The Castle in Franklin, just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Built in 1929, this beautifully unique piece of architecture served as a hideout for Al Capone and his companions on trips from Chicago to New Orleans. There are still gambling symbols carved into the entryway, and rumours of secret passages and unmarked graves on the grounds…

The property was later converted into a high-end restaurant frequented by famous artists, but after falling into private hands, it looked like The Castle’s star studded days would be over.

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Jozef in front of the Castle Recording Studios

In 1981, Jozef Nuyens, a Belgian music student studying in Nashville, saw the property advertised in a magazine, and with a lot of ambition and energy, though he admits without much experience, bought the property with a dream of turning it into a studio.

“I was taken advantage of quite a few times in those early days. I learnt a lot very fast. You do when you are young!”

Jozef grew up in a very musical family, and from a young age toured with his family band. “We became much more successful than we ever imagined. So when I studied music at university, I was just learning the theory of everything that I had already been doing.”

Jozef’s lack of experience didn’t stand in the way, and within several years, the studio was attracting some of the biggest names in the region. Hundreds of Gold and Platinum Records have been produced at the Castle – “Often, the records produced here were the artist’s first ever Gold or Platinum Record… there’s just something about this place…”

And we felt that “something” too – from Dolly Parton to Snoop Dogg, Lionel Richie to Miley Cyrus and Johnny Cash to Bruce Springsteen, the legendary list of artists that have filled this place with their spellbinding melodies hangs beautifully and magically in the air.

Jozef attributes a lot of his success to his “left-brain, right-brain” balance. At undergraduate level he studied Maths and Latin, and manages to strike what seems to be the perfect balance between creativity and logic, between visionary dreams and meticulously planned strategies.

“I often acted almost as a ‘translator’ between artists and record labels. The labels want one thing and sometimes the artists want something different, so I helped them to understand how each other was thinking. And then find the right compromise.

“I didn’t get artists signed necessarily because I was a genius producer. I just understand both parties.”

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Jozef with his studio manager Beau

Jozef has since invested in a wide portfolio of different businesses; technology and finance and creative endeavours. He had stopped producing musicians, leaving the day-to-day production to his talented team. But one day, at his son’s annual recital, he heard an astounding young talent and knew he had to give him a chance.

As we sat, listening to the record they had just mastered, it was clear that Jozef still has his keen eye for what makes music that is just really good. Bright, catchy hooks; deep, simmering arrangements; intriguing, clever lyrics; and a voice that has maturity and depth beyond its years… What an honour for young artists like us to soak up this creative wisdom.

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Jozef and Louise listening to “Sail On” in Studio B

So as we sat, enjoying a proper Southern “meat and three” meal, we asked Jozef for his advice to two creative adventurers, and his advice was so pure and simple, but so fundamentally core that it will stay with us for many years:

“Keep doing what you love.”

Meet Walter: sailor, farmer, inventor

We were told we had to meet Walter Schurtenberger for two reasons. Firstly, we are both Europeans (and therefore would obviously be friends). Secondly, because he builds boats.

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We imagined visiting Walter at his little boat workshop; seeing perhaps the beginnings of a rowing boat on his carpentry table, or admiring the oars, hulls and boughs that he had on display.

But Walter designs and builds luxury yachts!

State-of-the-art, highest quality, efficient, fast, beautiful yachts – Walter has built boats that have set records, has sailed thousands and thousands of miles, and has raced, explored and lived on his boats.

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A Swiss architect by training, Walter has worked in many fields during his life. Although he studied house architecture, after graduating he chose to become a farmer, pioneering the use of organic methods long before they became widespread.

I’ve always been environmentally oriented.  When you look at the soil in which plants grow, it’s a very complex ecosystem, with the bacteria, the worms, the decomposition of matter that makes stuff that the plants can absorb. And if you just take chemical fertilisers and throw it in there, OK, yes you’re putting the chemicals in there and the plants can kinda absorb it, but it’s not the same as if it’s from compost where it is fermented and decomposed organic substance. 

But the worst part is the pesticides and the fungicides that they spray, which basically kill everything. All these bugs have a purpose somewhere on the food chain. Something eats those bugs and lives because of it, and something else eats that, and then all the way up to us. So we’re creating a completely unbalanced eco-system. 

We need to do rotation of crops – not just growing year after year after year, and just dumping the nutrients back in and killing everything else… it’s just not sustainable. So when you do organic farming, it’s very important to keep everything alive to the maximum.

Farming took him to Canada, where he bought a much larger farm. But building boats would be what became Walter’s life’s work. He jokes that it’s in his blood, somewhere down the line My great-great-great… I think six-times-great-grandfather used to build boats for the Turkish Sultan. So that piece of DNA was preserved in me!

Walter has lived in Key West, at the southernmost tip of the 48-states for many years. His workshop started out as just two containers and a huge roof. But, from those humble beginnings, it has grown in reputation and size to have produced some of the world’s fastest sailboats.

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Always a pioneer and creative thinker, Walter designed methods that allow boats to race faster, called hydrofoils, thirty years ago, that are only just being fully utilised in sailing today. And as we talked more about his life’s work, we realised that this inventing spirit is as strong as ever: Walter is working on one project that he hopes will really change the future, not just of boats, but of the world.

When you design and build a yacht, you have to design all the systems that are in there. It’s not like when you build a house: with a house, you don’t worry where electricity comes from, you just hook up to the grid. The water that you use goes to a sewage treatment plant, you don’t worry about it, you just hook up to the sewage pipe, and the same thing with incoming water, you don’t worry about it…

On a yacht it’s not like that; you have to make your water, you have to desalinate the ocean water; you have to create your own energy and create all the electricity that you use on board; you have to purify the water before you pump the sewage out. So when you’re designing big yachts, you’re actually designing a whole ecosystem that is independent. 

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With this knowledge, Walter founded Hydrokinetic Energy Corporation, a company that is designing the world’s most efficient turbines to turn water currents into clean electricity. Inspired by the tides of the Florida Keys, and the strength of the Gulf Stream, which is the world’s strongest current, Walter has designed turbines that will produce large quantities of power. His rich, unique experience, from organic farming methods, to technical architectural drawing, to the physics of water and wind flow in sailing, to the engineering of yacht building, has all culminated in the design of this technology, which he hopes will leave a permanent effect on the direction of global warming and climate change:

So this is basically a further evolution of all of the designing ecosystems for yachts – and taking it a large scale where it becomes infrastructure for communities. But it can also be smaller, the turbines can be put anywhere, in underserved or un-served populations. There are many places in underdeveloped countries that do not have power plants. And with technology developing, all those billions of people in China, India etc., they all want TVs, they all want air conditioning; they need electricity. That’s the main thing. The future is gonna be electricity. 

_MG_4793Even the future of transportation will be electricity. I think in 20 years, all vehicles will be electric. Burning gasoline for transportation is just ludicrous, it’s just stupid! It’s a very bad use of our limited resources. The oil we’re pumping out the ground should be used to make things that last; you make plastic out of it, you make things that can be used and recycled. You don’t just burn it for power! And pump all the CO2 into the atmosphere, that creates climate change… We could talk for days about all this. But it is a necessity to find new sources and new ways to generate electricity, because we have to come to renewables.

So our turbines work in rivers too – I mean any big river, the Saint Lawrence river, the Mississippi, the Rhine or the Rhone, you name it – every big river with strong flow is certainly an option.

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Walter’s turbines have an advantage over wind energy, in that they are invisible, hidden underwater, and that they don’t harm wildlife, which has been an issue with the wind turbines. And they are even more efficient; a 20-metre turbine will produce as much energy as a 200-metre diameter wind turbine. One large turbine will power up to 4500 households in the USA! He is optimistic that there will not be any opposition from large oil and gas companies:

I think the contrary – I think they will be the ones interested in buying it! Not just oil companies; oil might very well buy it. They’re in the energy business already, they know that just burning their stuff is not an intelligent thing. They want alternative sources, and they have already invested in renewables. 

As well as harnessing the power of water, Walter is a big advocate for its conservation. Having spent years living on a boat, Walter learned the value of fresh water as a commodity, and knows that as a human race, we need to start understanding how to properly use water as a limited resource. For most of us, who grew up simply turning on the tap and seeing unlimited clean water flow out, the idea of having to conserve water is hard to come around to.

As well as the global warming and climate change issues we are facing right now, we have a big freshwater problem globally. And desalinisation is the real solution for it. Pure and simple proof for that is, for example, if you visited Kuwait 35 years ago, it used to be just desert. Now, if you go to Kuwait, they have huge greenhouses, they grow their own vegetables, they have palm trees, all the streets are lined with trees, they have beautiful green golf courses; and it’s all from desalinisation! It’s incredible – they built HUGE plants, and it works!

In California, they have practically depleted the ground water. Within the next few years, they’re gonna have major, major problems. They need to start desalinating. The thing is that people don’t think about it. And the problem is that it’s too cheap. If it were expensive, people would think about it. 

From a simple container on the southern tip of the country, Walter and his team are producing a method that will allow us as a human race to preserve and properly harness the resources of our beautiful planet.

I’ve planned off-grid houses that are completely independent from the outside world, very ecological and stuff. I think about those things – some day I’d like to build myself a house somewhere that is just carbon neutral and all made of sustainable materials… just to set an example.

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During our stay in Key West, we met Walter several times. We even celebrated Memorial Day together with him and his wife Cathy, and got to taste his famous Schurten-Burgers! Meeting Walter was such an inspiration – that there are brilliant, creative and determined people out there who are doing everything they can to make the world that our children will inherit a better place.

New Orleans, LA

Our New Orleans objectives were clear: hear great music, eat great food.

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As we were on way to the city, we found out that a friend from California happened to be in the city at the same time. And we also found out that the annual Oyster Festival was taking place that day!

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Even before we parked, the soulful jive of a live band filled our ears. We instinctively walked towards it, and found ourselves in front of the main stage of the oyster festival, with sun, jazz and oysters in abundance!

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The day was spent much as it has started; always with music to be heard, something delicious to be tasted, and the quintessential French Quarter terraces with their hanging gardens spilling colourful blooms above us.

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Of course, we had to visit the famous Bourbon Street with its street performers and legendary musicians… but even early in the day, the drink flowed a little too generously, and a shouting, swearing match in front of a bar gave the place a sour feel…

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After lunch, with our ever-so-entertaining waitress Tamarra, we caught the old Nawlins tradition of a Second Line – a bridal party dancing their way through the streets after the wedding ceremony to the reception. And it poured! So we were all stuck together for a brief, chaotic, joyful moment.

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As the rain stopped, off they went.