While I personally don’t focus on organized religion, I can’t deny the power of sacred music to uplift my spirit. This story of inspired Renaissance composition and modern-day curiosity resonates with historical sleuthing and musical puzzle solving.
Click on the Sound Cloud musical links, close your eyes and breathe deep.
Eight years ago, leafing through a bibliography of 16th-century music prints (like you do), my eye was caught by the title of a motet: “Salve sponsa Dei.” “Bride of Christ,” I thought. “Must be for nuns!”
It was one of 23 anonymous motets published together in 1543, so I did what any self-respecting nunologist would do, and ordered a reproduction of the book. As I put the motets into a usable edition for modern singers, I found they were unlike any other 16th-century music I’d ever seen. They were dense, intense and sometimes startlingly dissonant.
The music – for five equal voices (of unspecified sex) – is astonishingly beautiful and yet strange, radical even. These works had lain unsung and unloved for almost four centuries, mostly because they were anonymous. These days, anonymity suggests that whoever created the book, music, painting or whatever was not important enough, or the product is not good enough, for anyone to care who made it. But in the 16th century, anonymity was also an important way for members of the nobility to disguise their participation in commercial ventures that were considered beneath them (which is why Gesualdo, a prince, published his madrigals anonymously).
After decades of failures and misunderstandings, scientists have solved a cosmic riddle — what happens to the tons of dust particles that hit the Earth every day but seldom if ever get discovered in the places that humans know best, like buildings and parking lots, sidewalks and park benches.
The answer? Nothing. Look harder. The tiny flecks are everywhere.
An international team found that rooftops and other cityscapes readily collect the extraterrestrial dust in ways that can ease its identification, contrary to science authorities who long pooh-poohed the idea as little more than an urban myth Continue reading →
A new anthology of the work of Harry Belafonte, pictured here in the nineteen-forties or fifties, reiterates his standing in American music. PHOTOGRAPH BY BETTMANN / GETTY
There was an editorial a few days ago that alerted us to the birthdays of two buddies, each on icon in his own right, who have 70 years of solidarity in the tough times, and best of times too. It also alerted us to the time since our last post with the model mad theme, so here is one more:
Sixty-one years ago, in 1956, Harry Belafonte recorded a version of the Jamaican folk song “Day-O,” for his third studio album, “Calypso.” It opens with a distant and eager rumbling—as if something dark and hulking were approaching from a remote horizon. Belafonte—who was born in Harlem in 1927, but lived with his grandmother in a wooden house on stilts in Aboukir, a mountain village in Jamaica, for a good chunk of his childhood—bellows the title in a clipped island pitch. The instrumentation is spare and creeping. His voice bounces and echoes as it moves closer. It sounds like a call to prayer. Continue reading →
In the face of Trump, many artists report feelings of paralysis. Should they carry on as before, nobly defying the ruination of public discourse? Or seize on a new mission, abandoning the illusion of aesthetic autonomy? PHOTOGRAPH BY ERICH AUERBACH/HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY
What is the point of making beautiful things, or of cherishing the beauty of the past, when ugliness runs rampant? Those who work in the realm of the arts have been asking themselves that question in recent weeks. Continue reading →
We studiously avoid wading into the realm of popular music here, but today we make an exception. Not for the sake of the music itself (the greatest hits of a band celebrating 50 years of working together), but because we have just discovered that one of our favorite artists, featured here more than once, was the cover artist for the album above. Yes, we see we are a few years behind the times on this story, but better late than never when it comes to Walton Ford:
We knew Jerry Jeff Walker was one of the greats, but two things we did not know about him: he is the man who wrote the song Mr. Bojangles (no secret, we just did not know it) and he has considered Belize his second home for a very long time (again no secret, we just did not know it). If you click the banner above you will see more details about the concert series, which sounds like a blast, coming up in a few weeks. But since it is sold out, we still suggest planning for a visit to Belize, in which case you should click the image below.
We had not heard of Flexn until this week, when they were mentioned in a podcast with the phenomenal Peter Sellars (alluded to once previously in these pages, and linked to another time directly). Now we want to know more. And it looks like one way to learn more will happen at The Shed. Back in August, when we first heard about The Shed, it was a quick glance at the future. Now we have more detail, thanks to this early release of a profile in next week’s New Yorker:
How will the director of New York’s ambitious experimental cultural center change the city?
By Calvin Tomkins
Every so often, it seems, visual artists are stricken by the urge to perform. The “happenings” movement in the nineteen-sixties—young painters and sculptors doing nonverbal theatre—was explained as a response to Pollock, de Kooning, and other gestural Abstract Expressionists: it was the gesture without the painting. Continue reading →
Fritz Lang’s 1927 film “Metropolis” ARCHIVES NEW ZEALAND
In the wake of a U.S. election that left half the population bracing for a dystopian future, it seems a timely moment to present Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent classic, Metropolis. Considered the“father” of science fiction cinema, the film was meticulously restored in 2010.
But it’s the extra element of a live score composed and presented by the Alloy Orchestra that makes this screening an exceptional event. This unusual three man musical ensemble writes and performs live accompaniment to classic silent films using a combination of found percussion and state-of-the-art electronics to generate an amazingly varied array of musical styles. Continue reading →
We have not mentioned the banjo much around here. Shame on that! I am fond of the instrument for some of the same reasons I am fond of, say, an arboretum. The banjo is an instrument akin to other instruments of entrepreneurial conservation: the more it gets played well, the more it keeps alive a tradition, and even can improve on the tradition. An arboretum, well conceived, well kept, helps species survive in isolation that might otherwise have been lost from the planet entirely.
I see a reference here and there, for example mention of the Seeger family, who I have loved for many reasons my whole life. And Bela Fleck is Exhibit A in the case to be made for the banjo entrepreneurship; Steve Martin and Edie Brickell could be said to support that case as well. They all would acknowledge Dr. Ralph Stanley as essential to their craft’s survival and thriving, so it is with that in mind that I highly recommend you listen to or read this brief interview with him:
…GROSS: How did you get your first banjo?
STANLEY: My first banjo? My mother’s sister, my aunt, lived about a mile from where we did, and she raised some hogs. And she had – her – the hog – the mother – they called the mother a sow – of a hog. And she had some pigs. Well, the pigs were real pretty, and I was going to high school and I was taking agriculture in school. And I sort of got a notion that I’d like to do that, raise some hogs. And so my aunt had this old banjo, and my mother told me, said, which do you want, the pig or a banjo? And each one of them’s $5 each. I said, I’ll just take the banjo…
Several members of our circle have enjoyed reading about as well as listening to Mr. Krause since first learning about him. Whether or not you happen to be in Paris, this exhibit is worth a visit (click the image above for the low carbon footprint route)
Sometimes a moment of Zen is meant to be just that. In this case the ingenuity of the concept and the elegance of the execution increase the impact all the more. The sea creates random chords with this natural musical instrument as the waves push air through 35 tuned subterranean tubes set into the steps.
For a period of time some of of our team called Croatia home. This is definitely a Siren Call to return…
Hopkinson Smith playing the German theorbo built for him by Joel van Lennep. Photograph by Philippe Gontier/Courtesy of Hopkinson Smith
When a musician of this talent dedicates his life to mastery of instruments that keep an old tradition alive, we take notice. When he describes J.S. Bach as a recycler, we understand in a fresh context the value of this concept that we tend on these pages to relegate to the reduction of waste. Recycling is also about adaptation, evolution, improvement (thanks to Harvard Magazine):
HOPKINSON SMITH ’70 describes J.S. Bach as a musical ecologist. “He recycled so many of his own works,” Smith explains. “He never stopped trying to adapt what he’d written.” It was an accepted musical practice at the time, but one imagines the composer was driven at least in part by pragmatism: his posts in a number of German cities required him to produce new compositions at a fierce pace. Refashioning musical materials helped him keep up with those demands. “Even so,” Smith adds, “writing a cantata a week would not have been a manageable task for the rest of us mortals.” Continue reading →
Who gets to decide what is worthy of conservation, and what is not? I am given reason to think about this on a regular basis, given the work that we have been doing for the last two decades. There is no one answer, of course, but I conclude regularly that it comes down to very deep personal experiences–those which lead individuals to alter the path of their lives and thereby have an impact on the conservation of something they have come to care deeply about. John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and others come to mind on the larger scale of this line of thinking.
Reading one of our other blog posts today, I was taken back in time to pre-India workdays, 2008-2010. Milo, I had forgotten until just now, had a chance to wrestle firsthand with one of Patagonia’s most important conservation issues, and it is fair to say that what he is doing today is influenced by intense experiences he had in Patagonia, followed by a couple of years living with us in India. That would be an example of a smaller scale of this line of thinking. Same goes for the story I just read, and when I look at the photo above, and the one below, I am reminded that sometimes an image alone, or a series of images like these, can lead to this same path-changing epiphany.
I have family in the vicinity of this story’s subjects, and am thinking just now that I have not made a visit to that family in too long; time to plan a visit? The thought is now lodged deeply in my thinking. Continue reading →
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
On a weekend visit to South by Southwest, the annual Austin festival focused on the intersection of ideas, technology, music and film, I ran into Adrian Grenier, who’s best known as an actor but is building a career as a filmmaker and campaigner with a focus on the environment.
Grenier, who last year signed on as the “social good advocate” for Dell, was there with the company’s sustainability and supply-chain directors and a remarkable virtual-reality “ride,” for lack of a better description, in which goggle-wearing people siting in vibrating, hissing chairs plunge deep beneath the sea. They are greeted by shoals of fish, carpets of plastic pollution, the booms of seismic probes used to prospect for oil and an imagined rendering of a “lonely whale” that I wrote about long ago. That whale, detected because its voice was at a 52-hertz frequency distinct from other large cetaceans, is the subject of a film and multimedia project that Grenier has been developing with the filmmakers Josh Zeman and Lucy Cooper.
Both a transcendental and an irrational number, Pi (π) is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. And both in definition and actuality it epitomizes coolness, inspiring musical homages, from rap to fugue. Albert Einstein, master of the time-space continuum, was born on this day. Makes sense, right?
But what about visual inspiration?
Artist Ellie Balk collaborates with students from The Green School in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn to combine mathematics and art to VISUALIZE Pi as murals in their community.
Starting in 2011 the artist/student/educator teams graphed Pi in colorful, creative and innovative ways: a histogram of emotions; a weather mural, a reflective line graph that resembles a sound wave and the relationship between the golden ratio and Pi.
In 2012, students constructed an image of the golden spiral based on the Fibonacci Sequence and began to explore the relationship between the golden ratio and Pi. The number Pi was represented in a color-coded graph within the golden spiral. In this, the numbers are seen as color blocks that vary in size proportionately within the shrinking space of the spiral, allowing us to visualize the shape of Pi and its negative space to look for “patterns”. The students soon realized that the irrational number of Pi created no patterns at all, resulting in a space that resembles “noise”.
In response to that, in 2013 students worked to visualize the number Pi as a reflective line graph that resembles a sound wave. The colors of the mural change at each prime number in Pi so that the viewer can visualize a pattern of prime numbers within Pi. Located on a busy corner in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the sounds of the bustling traffic and rhythmic commuter passing creates the perfect backdrop for our visualization. Continue reading →
When we recently posted on this newfangled musical contraption we could not find any further information about it. Lo and behold, after a drought sometimes when it rains it pours. Today, National Public Radio (USA) has this:
The “Marble Machine” is a musical instrument by way of a Rube Goldberg contraption, the love child of a barrel organ, a kick drum, a vibraphone and a bass — all powered by hand-cranked gears and 2,000 steel marbles.
The machine was built by Swedish musician Martin Molin, who fronts the Swedish band Wintergartan… Continue reading →
We have not heard any of these recordings, but the last two paragraphs of this post have our attention fully focused and we look forward to the sound:
…I think Bowles would be deeply pleased by what Schuyler and Dust-to-Digital have done with his recordings, the way they’ve now been lovingly, responsibly repackaged. The music itself is frequently staggering: an eleven-minute recording Bowles made in Goulimine, a city in the southern lowlands, is one of the more beautiful examples I’ve heard of guedra, in which one male vocalist and a women’s chorus bang together on a twenty-eight-inch drum. Continue reading →
Clarinet, mandolin, saxophone – the Carnatic tradition of Indian classical music is a ground of growing collaborations across the world. PHOTO: Aambal
Indian classical music has our attention today. Thanks to its fluidity and pliability that makes it a thriving collaborative space. If you want the history of this art form, find it here. And for crossovers of Western strains and Indian sensibilities, head here. For much of Indian cultural evolution and practice, music is not a standalone art form. It forms the crux of cultural discourse, an important part of the axis that binds community, ritual, practice and social mores. The Carnatic music form of South India is a rather interesting and rich tradition among the musical traditions of the world. For one, it is tremendously alive and vibrant, not just in South India but also in different ways around the world.
Interestingly, the Carnatic form has also been receptive to a great number of innovations, especially in the sorts of instruments it has drawn into its fold. The European violin, for instance, finds an entry as late as the 19th century but has become near irreplaceable in the Carnatic context and performance formats of today. Tipped as being the one instrument that is as close as possible to the infinite flexibilities of the human voice, the violin has spawned different playing styles and traditions of its own in its comparatively brief but highly impactful history.