coffee times    notes


The coffee times are videos documenting the simple recurring activity of making coffee while camping.

The first one was made on 15 MAY 2010 at a campsite near Esponellá in Catalonia.

The videos are intended for display as a series on monitors at roughly 1 to 1 scale. The early ones were imagined for CRT based monitors or TVs sets on their side so the image is in portrait mode. These videos are recorded on tape at standard resolution and 4:3 aspect. The audio is recorded using external electret stereo omnis placed to left and right on the ground. A 10 dB pad reduced the strength of the signal, to work with the Panasonic camcorder.

From 2014, the videos are recorded with the Nikon V1 camera in High Definition and widescreen (16:9) aspect. Audio again via stereo omni microphones to the Nikon's external microphone jack. These need HD monitors that can be turned 90 degrees for display.

The series reflects changes in the kinds of cameras and viewers in quite wide use at the time.

Alternatively, the series could be shown using projectors on their side. Images can be projected on blocks, vertical sheets of wood or on the wall, with the bottom of the image aligned with the floor and the scale approximately 1 to 1. (The coffee pot is 20cm tall.)

The series is assembled online in the form of a timeline with index.

The videos were taken on family camping trips, mostly in Catalonia. We returned to the same sites year after year, and sometimes to the same pitch. In some cases this means that the same bird or birds are heard - especially in the case of nightingales at Al Matá.

Generally in the morning everybody is sitting around on low stools or chairs, waiting for breakfast. When it came time to make the coffee, everybody was told that the video was going to be captured, so they could be aware of sounds they made. Generally people avoided talking, although this was only a little encouraged. In practice, this has meant that each coffee time documents an informal listening event: we sat quietly for a few minutes, each attending to different degrees or in different ways to the period during which the coffee was coming to the boil, with other sounds around. Some people were looking around; others might be reading or drawing or waiting impatiently. When the coffee came up we normally heated some milk. Then breakfast was ready.

The title of the series is due in part to a saying of my grandfather, Ernest Smith. After he retired, in the period when I spent most time with him, he almost always had a coffee cup with him, which he would sip at, whether hot or cold, as punctuation for his activities around the garage and the yard on the outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Occasionally, to mark a larger pause, he would announce 'coffee time' - and he would smile, or even chuckle, perhaps remembering shift work in the oil refinery where he worked most of his life. Effectively he was on permanent coffee time, now. I have some concerns that the aluminium in the old coffee pot we use for camping and at home, is associated with Alzheimer's - the disease that attacked him in later life and was maybe already beginning its work.

Similary, the blue bottles of butane are specific and uneasy markers in a history of carbon: beautiful, perhaps, the way some people love the smell of hot asphalt or gasoline.

The coffee times are small but special moments in the life of a household: we clean out the pot and get it ready and put it on the burner: then for a few minutes, depending on the wind and the gas in the cylinder, there is an opening - before you hear and smell the coffee coming up..