Mr Juxtaposition: the Paul Beckett interview
To his friends Paul Beckett is known as ‘Mr Juxtaposition’ for the way his eye for design can lead him to immerse himself in projects incorporating precision engineering processes and mechanics.
He found success as a restorer, creative designer and horologist – the maker of stunningly beautiful time pieces juxtaposing antiquarian technology with a contemporary look and feel.
And it is his blending of what he calls the analogue and the digital which makes him tick, and which has inspired his latest business venture ONKK, to produce a record turntable capable of reproducing sound in exactly the way it was meant to be heard in the music studio.
And if it sounds as beautiful as it looks, then it will offer its users something akin to audio perfection.
“The aim of my products is to transcend the equipment,” he says. “You are no longer listening to a piece of music, but actually what the recording engineer or the musician intended and put down on the master tape. You are actually listening to as close to a live recording as it is possible to be.
“You can hear the booth, you can hear the echo, even if it was recorded in a small room or a church. You get a lot more information.”
He started thinking about the idea eight years ago, and at first was working in the evenings before deciding to pursue the idea more seriously. But he has always had a fascination with audio and understanding the workings of sound.
“It’s just removing a series of veils,” he says. “I got my first record player when I was 11 and I started putting bits on and taking bits off of it.
“About five years ago I decided I would start doing some more serious research. I showed it to a couple of audio journalists, who said ‘wow this is amazing’.
“In May 2015 I started the Ltd company and took time out of the horology, and really it’s been full-time since then.”
After growing up in Sheringham, he studied at art school both in Norwich and London before returning to live and work in North Norfolk.
Home, he says, is ‘on his back’, but he admits there was something drawing him back to the town.
“My sense of home is very much within me. I grew up in Sheringham and I searched the globe looking for a place like Sheringham, until eventually I came to the conclusion that I was avoiding Sheringham, when the place actually exists.
“I do feel at peace there, it doesn’t have to do with family or relationships with people, it’s very much to do with the place. There is a very special nature about North Norfolk and it’s quite difficult to put your finger on.”
And it is there he often finds himself reflecting on the ‘constant connectedness’ of today’s no-time-to-stop-and-think digital world, a challenge he fears will only increase with the onset of artificial intelligence.
“Too many people in the 21st century don’t stand out
because they try to be too generic, and they try not to stand out
from the competition because they are scared to.”
“I live near the sea and I spend a lot of time sitting by the sea and ridding my mind of the cacophony that comes from our connected culture,” he explains.
“I think it’s more important as we are now immersed in the digital world. Every evening I do not tend to switch the television on, I tend to switch records on. The sound is so enveloping.
“That necessitates sitting down and finding the space to turn away from everything else. That forces you to be human. I think we need this to reinforce our humanity.”
But stepping back can serve a business purpose, too, and it is a message he is keen to impart.
“I think an awful lot of people limit the credit they give themselves for their ability to be creative. My intention is to encourage people and to be catalytic in allowing people to see their creativity. That’s the message I’m trying to bring – to trust your own instincts more and to stand by your creativity and allow it to flourish, because it’s generally what sets you apart from the competition.
“Too many people in the 21st century don’t stand out because they try to be too generic, and they try not to stand out from the competition because they are scared to.”
It is a path he admits he has always followed, and you sense it was very much chosen by design.
“I have never really had a job. I have always found any objects I could make, I could sell. I found that from a really early age. When I was at college I made lamps, and sold them in shops.
I started my business doing restoration work and I got a Prince’s Trust grant to set up as a restorer. I had focused on very high quality work and when I was at college I contacted a series of antique dealers and was able to pick and choose the objects that I restored.
“When you are looking at why an object has broken down, you then want to redesign it and remove that flaw. Anything that enjoys a value for being antique you have to leave alone and I found that very frustrating, but it kept me focused on the [fact] that this is a temporary measure to pay the bills until I got my first commission. As soon as I got that, I then had a portfolio I could show to other clients.
“My friends call me Mr Juxtaposition. I would always get brought in if a company was particularly looking at aesthetics, but I am fascinated by the systems and the mechanics.
“Most of the horological industry is based around producing antiquarian designs. I have never been interested in that, I’ve always been interested in contemporary design and fitting it with analogue technology – that’s where my niche is.”
Photos: Kellie Colby Photography