Sunday, 5 December 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Sunday, 14 November 2010
Sunday, 7 November 2010
Sunday, 31 October 2010
Sunday, 24 October 2010
Sunday, 17 October 2010
Sunday, 26 September 2010
Sunday, 19 September 2010
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Sunday, 5 September 2010
Sunday, 29 August 2010
The Million Volt Sound and Light Rave was an arts festival that ran at the Roundhouse Theatre in Chalk Farm in January 1967.
It was organised by the designers Binder, Edwards and Vaughan and is most famous for a musical piece that David Vaughan had requested from Paul McCartney.
Vaughan had recently painted a psychedelic design onto a piano for McCartney and invited the Beatle to contribute a musical piece for the festival.
At this point the Beatles were the most popular band in the world so Vaughan was shocked when McCartney agreed to do so.
Given a free hand to produce anything they wanted Lennon and McCartney recorded a backing track of an organ playing bass notes with some drums speeded up and improvised what was recorded over it.
McCartney described the recording process as him telling people:
‘All I want you to do is just wander around all the stuff, bang it, shout, play it, it doesn’t need to make any sense. Hit a drum and then wander onto the piano, hit a few notes and just wander around.’
Lennon and McCartney then added Native American war cries, whistling, closed-mike gasping, genuine coughing and fragments of studio conversation.
A church organ, a cinema organ and a pub piano were also incorporated into the mix along with Lennon and McCartney screaming dementedly and bellowing out random words and phrases such as ‘Barcelona!’, ‘Electricity!’ and ‘Are you alright?’
Dudley Edwards, of Binder, Edwards and Vaughan, claimed that an early take of ‘Fixing a Hole’, which would appear later that year on ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ also appeared on this track.
The track was called ‘Carnival of Light’ and has never appeared on any official Beatles release. McCartney claimed that he wanted to include it on the ‘Beatles Anthology 2' album in 1996 but was blocked by George Harrison. According to McCartney, Harrison rejected it as ‘he wasn’t a fan of avant garde music.’
Given the experimental nature of Harrison’s work, in and out of the Beatles, it seems more likely he wasn’t a fan of random noises that isn’t really music at all...
Sunday, 22 August 2010
The Geisel Library is the main library building on the University of California, San Diego campus. It is named after Audrey and Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, for their contributions to the library and their work in promoting literacy.
In the building itself the lower floors are numbered 1 and 2 and the upper floors are numbered 4 to 8. A popular explanation for the library having that empty or inaccessible space where the third floor should be is that the architect, while designing the building to take it’s own weight and the movement of people within it, failed to account for the weight of the books that would fill the library.
The theory then contends that once the library was filled with books it began to sink and part of the space was reclaimed to stop the buildings foundations from collapsing.
In reality the story of the ‘sinking library’ is a popular urban myth and has been told about many buildings around the world.
The space where the third floor would be in the Geisel Library is outside and so is not indicated on the buildings interior. The only use the ‘third floor’ has inside the building is providing an emergency exit for the upper floors.
Dr. Seuss would be disappointed by such a mundane explanation...
Sunday, 15 August 2010
Robert Barker was the printer of the first edition of the King James Bible, one of the most significant books published in the English language.
The King James Bible was first produced in 1611 but featured uneven printing lines and a poor quality typeface.
Barker made little money from the book but gained some fame as it was to become the official edition of the bible for the Church of England.
By 1631 Barker was the Royal Printer, along with Martin Lucas, and decided to publish a new edition of the King James Bible.
This version had a better typeface and was a vastly superior visual production compared to the shoddy first edition but it was far from perfect.
A compositors mistake in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:14) managed to omit the word ‘not’. This transformed the Commandment from
Barker and Lucas were called to the Star Chamber, where they were found guilty of publishing the blasphemous bible. They were fined £300 and copies of what became known as the ‘Wicked Bible’ were recalled and burned.
Eleven copies survived, most of which are now held by prominent libraries around the world.
A privately owned copy was put on sale early in 2010 with a price tag of $89,500.
Other mis-typed bibles have been produced by careless publishers over the years.
Cambridge Press released an edition in 1653 that became known as the ‘Unrighteous Bible’.
Here they omitted the word ‘not’ from 1 Corinthians 6:9 which turns
In 1763 a bible was published with Psalm 14:1 reading
The printers were fined £3,000 and all copies were ordered to be destroyed...
Sunday, 8 August 2010
Many stamp collectors like to have a certain focus to their collections.
They will centre their collections around the output of a particular country, a certain timespan or special events such as the Olympics or Christmas.
Alan Roy just collected stamps. Any stamps. He tried to get his hands on as many stamps as he could without any regard as to their individual value.
His family were pressed into service removing the stamps from the envelopes that were delivered to their house by the sackload on a daily basis.
His daughter, Janette Dorrell, recalled a childhood dominated by her father’s hobby:
‘I grew up surrounded by stamps.
He used to get sacks and sacks of used envelopes delivered to the flat from various contacts around the world and we used my old baby bath to peel them off. Dad started when he was very young and it just grew and grew. It was relentless.
As soon as I got married and moved out he filled my old room up with his stamps. When I left my mother took over as the main helper but he often roped in my twin daughters to help.
You could say that I never want to see another stamp ever again.’
On average Alan Roy processed 80 stamps per day or nearly 30,000 per year.
Over a period of 70 years he managed to accumulate over 2 million stamps.
His plan was to organise the collection and sell it to fund his retirement but the huge scale of the operation and the fact that the collection had no finite aim or coherent theme made any attempts at cataloguing the stamps impossible.
Instead the stamps were stored in random bundles and when Alan Roy died in 2009 the collection was sold in vaguely themed packs based around events and countries of origin.
It was believed that, due to the scope of the collection, if it had been properly catalogued and released onto the market in an organised fashion it could have been comprehensive enough to effectively flood the market and depress the values of stamps around the world.
Alan Roy was a postman...
Sunday, 1 August 2010
In 1955 Orson Welles was commissioned by CBS television to produce a 30 minute film adaptation of the Miguel de Cervantes novel ‘Don Quixote’.
Given the epic scale of the book and the limitations of time and budget that had been placed upon him, Welles decided to produce a film set in the modern age with Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as anachronisms, bewildered by the advances of the future.
Welles produced some test footage with Mischa Auer as Don Quixote but CBS were unhappy with both the shots they saw and the concept of the project and cancelled production.
By this point Welles had decided to expand the film to feature length and produce it independently. Frank Sinatra invested $25,000 in this new version and Welles provided additional funding from his own earnings as an actor and director.
Spanish actor Francisco Reiguera was cast as Don Quixote, Akim Tamiroff, a Russian born actor, was cast as Sancho Panza and American child actress Patty McCormack was brought in to play a little girl that would meet Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and explain the modern world to them.
The production was undertaken without a script with silent scenes being improvised around the streets of Mexico City where the initial filming took place.
Welles planned to dub in the dialogue at a later date as he enjoyed working with the improvisational style that he felt was similar to the production of early silent comedies.
Eventually funding began to dry up and filming became a haphazard affair that Welles would organise around other, more lucrative, work.
Production was moved to Spain to save money but this proved problematic as Reiguera was a Republican exile from the Spanish Civil War and could not always be guaranteed access to the country.
Work on the film stretched from the Fifties into the Sixties with no end in sight.
As the filming slowed down McCormack physically outgrew her role and had to be dropped from the film. Welles amended the concept by introducing himself as a character, playing a film director who wanted to cast Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as themselves in a adaptation of the book he was filming.
By 1972, Francisco Reiguera and Akim Tamiroff were both dead and the film was still not finished.
Welles claimed that he had completed as the principal photography he needed with both actors and the film simply needed to have the dialogue dubbed onto it, which he planned to do himself, and be edited together.
Months before his death in 1985, Welles was still insistent that he would be able to complete the film.
Orson Welles died on the 10th of October 1985 with his Don Quixote still unfinished.
Footage was stored all over the world, some of it not stored properly and ruined, and other footage apparently lost.
In 1990 Spanish producer Patxi Irogoyen and director Jesus Franco acquired the rights to the footage from the project.
Once they assembled all the film they could get they realised that over the life of the production Welles had worked in various formats of film which meant that visually the film would look inconsistent.
The lack of a script and the changes in the concept over time also meant that in terms of narrative the film was confused at best and Welles had only recorded part of the dialogue to be dubbed over the footage.
Irogoyen and Franco did what they could. A new script was produced and actors hired to complete the dialogue.
In 1992 ‘The Don Quixote of Orson Welles’ premiered at the Universal Exposition in Seville.
The premiere was threatened when an Italian film editor called Mauro Bonnani called on organisers to not show the film as he had 20,000 meters of footage in his possession that he felt was integral to a reasonable version of the film being completed. Bonnani was unable to come to an agreement with Iroygen and Franco over the use of his footage and a lawsuit soon followed.
Reviews of the film were mostly negative and, although it was screened at Cannes that year, it has never had a commercial cinematic release...
Sunday, 25 July 2010
When completed, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona will be the tallest church building in the world and will have the tallest spire of any church in the world.
It will, however, also be a metre shorter than Montjuic, a nearby hill, as the architect, Antoni Gaudi, was determined that his work should not surpass that of God.
Gaudi was not the first designer commissioned to work on the Sagrada Familia but few projects and architects are more closely associated than Gaudi and his ambitious masterpiece.
Initially, Francesc del Villar was appointed to oversee the construction of the church in 1882 but he resigned after a year due to disagreements with the backers and the commission was passed on to Gaudi in 1883.
del Villar’s was due to be a rather simple neo-Gothic design and Gaudi originally intended to see the project through using an outline very similar to del Villar’s.
By 1889 the crypt was completed and construction on the main body of the building was due to begin. However, just as the next stage of the project was to start the church received a huge donation that prompted Gaudi to have another look at the design of the church.
He discarded the neo-Gothic outline in favour of a monumental structure that would incorporate Modernist elements and be loaded with symbolism.
Gaudi intended his new church to be nothing less than a catechistic explanation of the teaching of the Gospels and the Catholic Church.
He realised that the ambition of the new project put it’s completion beyond his own lifetime and worked on other buildings and commissions alongside the Sagrada Familia. However, in 1914 Gaudi decided to concentrate all his energies on his church and he completed no other major works after this point.
By 1926 Gaudi was living in a room next to his workshop and was devoting all of his time to the Sagrada Familia. He cared little for his appearance and carried little money except for what he needed to buy food.
On July 7th of that year Gaudi was hit by tram in Barcelona. Due to his dishevelled appearance and the lack of money about him he was dismissed as a vagrant and cab drivers refused to take him to hospital. Eventually he made it to a pauper’s hospital where he was unrecognised until his concerned friends manage to track him down the next day.
They arranged for him to be transferred to a better hospital but Gaudi refused saying ‘I belong here among the poor.’
Antoni Gaudi died on the 10th of July 1926 and is buried in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia.
Work continued on the church using the detailed plans that Gaudi had left behind.
In 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, anarchists destroyed Gaudi’s workshop which contained all his plans and models for the Sagrada Familia.
The church is now being completed based on reconstructed versions of Gaudi’s plans and modern adaptations.
The Sagrada Familia is due to be consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI on November 7th 2010.
Construction is due to be completed by 2026.
When challenged by critics who complained about the proposed length of the construction of the church Gaudi replied simply:
‘My client is not in a hurry...’
Sunday, 18 July 2010
Georg Buchner was a German writer who died in 1837 leaving his most famous work, ‘Woyzeck’, incomplete and in a largely fragmentary state.
It is the story of a soldier who is dehumanised by society and kills a widow he has been living with.
He then takes the knife that he committed the murder with to a lake to clean the blood off.
Buchner’s tale ends here but most completed versions have Woyzeck drowning in the lake while attempting to clean the knife.
Despite, or perhaps because of, it’s unfinished nature ‘Woyzeck’ has proved very popular as a piece for adaptation.
Versions have included a production by the Splendid Theatre where the scenes are performed in the order they were found among Buchner’s papers rather than chronologically, a puppet theatre version ‘Woyzeck on the Highveldt’ from the Handspring Puppet Company and a modern version ‘Re: Woyzeck’ by Jeremy Gable which features Georg Buchner as a character in his own play.
‘Woyzeck’ has also proved inspirational to musicians as well.
Nick Cave has provided music for a production in Australia in 2009 and Tom Waits wrote a musical version of the story with Robert Wilson with the songs appearing on the ‘Blood Money’ album that Waits released in 2002.
Arguably the best known adaptation is the Werner Herzog feature film released in 1979 and starring Klaus Kinski in the title role.
Herzog began production just five days after completing work on ‘Nosferatu the Vampyre’ and retained the same crew and lead actor in Kinski, all exhausted by the previous project.
Filming only took 18 days and the film was edited together in another 4 days.
Herzog’s ‘Woyzeck’ was nominated for the Palme d’Or in Cannes in 1979 and Eva Mattes won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Marie, Woyzeck’s lover and eventual victim.
Sunday, 11 July 2010
"The Spaghetti Incident?" is an album of cover versions released by Guns ‘N Roses in 1993.
The album had 12 tracks listed, covering songs by the likes of The Stooges, The New York Dolls, The Damned and T. Rex, but actually featured 13 tracks.
At the end of track 12, a cover of the Fear song ‘ I Don’t Care About You’, there is a period of silence and then a hidden song begins.
The song is ‘Look At Your Game, Girl’ and was originally written and performed by Charles Manson. It first appeared on the 1970 album ‘Lie: The Love and Terror Cult.’
At this point Manson was on trial for his involvement in a series of murders undertaken at his direction by his ‘Family’ of followers. The proceeds of the album were to go towards funding his legal fees.
Eventually Manson would be found guilty of Murder and Conspiracy and sentenced to death.
The death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
Fearful of media outrage at the songs inclusion, the members of Guns ‘N Roses pleaded with Axl Rose, the band’s lead singer, not to put it on the album but Rose was insistent.
Tellingly, no other members of Guns ‘N Roses appear on the track. It features Rose on vocals accompanied by Carlos Booey on guitar.
Following his conviction all the proceeds from Manson’s recordings go to the families of his victims and funds for victims of violent crime. Under California state law convicted criminals are prohibited from collecting money or royalties for their work.
Other artists have covered songs from ‘Lie: The Love and Terror Cult’ including GG Allin, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and, almost inevitably, Marilyn Manson.
The most popular song to cover is ‘Cease To Exist’ which has been recorded by Redd Kross, The Lemonheads and the Beach Boys.
Manson had lived and recorded with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys for a while in 1968 and a version of ‘Cease To Exist’ re-titled ‘Never Learn Not To Love’ appeared on the B-side of the 1968 Beach Boys single ‘Bluebirds Over The Mountain.’ This version was credited to Wilson and Manson. The Beach Boys version is significant for a major change in the lyrics where Manson’s line ‘Cease to exist’ becomes ‘Cease to resist’ and refers to the acceptance of love, radically altering the meaning of the song.
By the time ‘Never Learn Not To Love’ appeared on the Beach Boys 1969 album ‘20/20' Manson had been ordered to move out of Wilson’s home by Wilson’s manager and had relocated his ‘Family’ to a ranch in the desert and had began to plan his murderous scheme.
On the album the song is credited entirely to Dennis Wilson...
Sunday, 4 July 2010
Suleiman I, His Imperial Majesty Grand Sultan, Commander of the Faithful and Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe was the tenth Sultan of the Ottoman Empire.
He reigned from 1520 to 1566 and is better known simply as Suleiman the Magnificent.
In 1556 he commissioned a local architect, Hajrudin, to build a bridge in the town of Mostar in Bosnia to span the river Neretva.
Hajruddin accepted the commission and proposed to create a dazzling structure using locally quarried stone and an unorthodox mortar of horsehair and eggwhite.
Suleiman accepted this but warned Hajrudin that if the bridge collapsed he would be executed.
Hajrudin pressed on with his project but reportedly made arrangements for his funeral as the bridge approached completion.
Once the bridge was completed Hajruddin lost all faith in his creation.
The night before the scaffolding was to be removed and the Sultan was due to arrive to inspect the bridge Hajrudin fled and was never heard of again.
The bridge stood for almost five hundred years.
Despite the concerns of the Sultan, and the fears of Hajrudin, the Stari Most never collapsed under its own weight or subsided over time.
Instead mortar fire in 1993 during the Bosnian War did what time and use could never accomplish and brought the Stari Most down.
After the war plans were made to reconstruct the bridge.
The Stari Most was rebuilt to the same specifications and dimensions that Hajrudin designed.
A combination of locally quarried stone and material recovered from the river below was used in its construction.
The engineers refused to reveal what was used for mortar...
Sunday, 13 June 2010
River Phoenix was eleven days away from completing production on ‘Dark Blood’ when he died on October 31st 1993.
He was playing the role of ‘Boy’, a young widower who lived as a hermit on a nuclear testing site and made dolls that he believed had magical powers as he waited for the end of the world.
Phoenix’s death at such an advanced stage of the films development meant that the project had to be abandoned.
The producers of the film, having discovered that the cause of death was drug-related, attempted sue Phoenix’s mother for $6 million, arguing that by not declaring his drug use he was in breach of his contract with them and had jeopardised the completion of the film.
The case later collapsed...
Saturday, 5 June 2010
‘The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls’ is a short story by J.D. Salinger which was completed in 1945 and sold to the ‘Women’s Home Companion’, a monthly magazine, in 1947.
Apparently the publisher felt the story was ‘downbeat’ and refused to publish it in the ‘Women’s Home Companion’ in 1947 and in ‘Collier’s Weekly’ in 1951.
Around this time Salinger bought the story back and it has never been published.
The story is about the death of Kenneth Caulfield who would appear as Allie in Salinger’s most famous work ‘The Catcher in the Rye’.
Today the only place that the story can be read is in the Firestone Library at Princeton University. The manuscript is one of a number of Salinger’s works that the University holds but access to the stories are tightly controlled according to Salinger’s very specific instructions.
Visitors must present two forms of identification and are then supervised as they read the story behind the closed doors of a particular reading room.
Salinger also ordered that the story could not be published until 50 years after he died.
J.D. Salinger died on January 27th 2010.
That gives us an earliest publication date of January 27th 2060...
Sunday, 30 May 2010
With the ‘Grey Album’ (2004) Brian Burton made quite an impact on the music scene for a couple of reasons.
For one thing his mashup of instrumentals from the Beatle’s ‘White Album’ (1968) and vocals from Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album’ (2003) marked him out as an incredibly gifted producer while his failure to get permission to use any of the material from either album showed him to be largely unconcerned with the niceties of copyright control.
In terms of the vocal material from Jay-Z this was not much of a problem. The vocal tracks had been released in an a capella format to encourage use in remixes and mashups so, while protected by copyright, it’s use on the ‘Grey Album’ could be seen as ‘fair use.’ The attitude of EMI, the owners of the copyright on the ‘White Album’, would be more difficult. Protective of their highly lucrative Beatles back catalogue EMI sent out a court order to stop all distribution of the ‘Grey Album.’
Burton, better known as the producer Danger Mouse, had put together a limited distribution of 3,000 copies and had largely put the ‘Grey Album’ together for his own amusement and to share with friends. However, it soon found it’s way online and quickly spread across the internet, mostly due to the publicity the project received from EMI’s court order.
Danger Mouse has gone on to have a hugely successful career working with The Gorillaz, MF DOOM, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Beck and most notably Cee-Lo Green with whom he formed Gnarls Barkley.
In March 2009, at the South by Southwest music festival, Danger Mouse’s latest project was announced.
‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is a collaboration with Sparklehorse, the late singer-songwriter Mark Linkous, which also features appearances from a host of other performers including Iggy Pop, Suzanne Vega and Julian Casablancas. David Lynch has also contributed a series of photographs inspired by the album to form the artwork.
However, legal problems with EMI soon emerged again. Lengthy negotiations lead to the albums release being pushed back repeatedly. Various sources for the problems have been mooted including a deal that Danger Mouse has with Lex Records which could affect the album’s distribution and EMI’s frustration at the availability of tracks from the album online before its physical release.
Eventually Danger Mouse tired of the delays and released a 100-page book of David Lynch’s photographs for the project. Included with the book is a blank, recordable CD-R.
All the copies of the book are labeled:
‘For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.’
Sunday, 23 May 2010
In 1969 Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea were associate editors at Playboy magazine.
Their specific role was as co-editors of the Playboy Forum, a column in the magazine that allowed readers to discuss civil liberties, individual rights and abuses of government power.
As well as many intelligent letters from people concerned by the excesses of authority and infringements of constitutional rights they received a large amount of correspondence concerning government conspiracies and secret societies.
Considering the growing pile of letters they had received the pair posed themselves a question:
‘What if all these nuts are right and every single conspiracy they complain about exists?’
Using this as a starting point they developed the idea for a novel that would contain elements of every conspiracy they had been told about.
The premise for the plot would be that the Discordian Society, an organisation based on the worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of Chaos, was at war with a group called the Bavarian Illuminati which Wilson and Shea had invented, and that this conflict had taken place over the whole of human history.
The Discordian Society had been founded in 1958 and was based on the idea that Chaos is all that truly exists in the world and that ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ are human inventions designed to explain the Chaos around us. Being based around the worship of Chaos there is a great deal of encouragement within the Discordian Society for members to create schisms and form cabals.
Wilson and Shea felt that this propensity for conflict made the Discordian Society an ideal organisation to put in opposition to their invented secret society.
The novel that emerged from this was a true product of the counterculture that Wilson and Shea were a part of. ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ embraced music, drugs, sex, magic, science fiction and satire. The work was initially formed of three separate volumes, ‘The Eye in the Pyramid’, ‘The Golden Apple’ and ‘Leviathan’.
The decision to publish the work in three volumes was taken by the publisher, Dell, but the authors always saw the piece as one continuous narrative.
Another condition that Dell placed on the publication of the book was that the length of the manuscript had to be drastically reduced.
Free from any editorial control and allowing their creativity to run wild, the novel stood at a massive 1,300 pages when first submitted to Dell. The publishers felt that 500 pages could be removed from the story, which would drastically save on the publishing costs, and sent the manuscript back to Wilson and Shea to be reduced.
Soon enough the shorter version was back in the hands of the publisher who went on to publish the individual editions in 1975.
Initially Wilson and Shea joked that the text that had been removed had revealed the true secrets of the Illuminati and that the group had pressured the publishers to not let it see print.
The disjointed nature of the narrative of the book was seen as largely a stylistic choice on the part of the authors and the many narrative dead ends a deliberate embracing of the spirit of Chaos that surrounds the work.
In truth a furious Wilson and Shea, angry at the publishers demands to cut back the manuscript, abandoned any attempts at logical editing and simply pulled chunks of paper out until they were left with the 800 pages required.
Their argument was that if the publishers were buying literature by the pound then that was how they were going to get it...
Sunday, 16 May 2010
John Cage was a composer who became fascinated by the possibilities of silence.
In the late 1940's he began to study Zen Buddhism and was told by one of his teachers that the purpose of music in terms of Zen is ‘to sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences.’
Cage had also been impressed by the work of his friend Robert Rauschenberg, an artist who had produced a series of ‘white’ paintings. The canvases appeared blank but had been covered with white house paint and changed according to the play of light and shadow over their surface.
When Cage saw these paintings he felt as if a challenge had been laid down to music.
“The white paintings...when I saw those I said ‘Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I’m lagging, otherwise music is lagging.’”
Cage had used silence in his works previously. ‘The Duet for Two Flutes’(1934) opens with a period of silence, and silence is an important element in some of the ‘Sonatas and Interludes’ (1946-1948), ‘Music of Changes’ (1951) and ‘Two Pastorales’ (1951). His ‘Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra’ (1951) ends with an extended silence and ‘Waiting’ (1952) is a series of silences framing a single, short pattern. In his songs ‘The Wonderful Window of Eighteen Springs’ (1942) and ‘A Flower’ (1950) there are instructions to the pianist to play a closed instrument.
In 1951 Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber is a room designed to absorb sound rather than reflect it and is also externally sound proofed.
Cage went in hoping to experience pure silence but instead heard two sounds, one high and one low. When he emerged from the chamber Cage asked an engineer what the sounds were. He was told that the high sound was his nervous system and the low sound the circulation of his blood.
At this point Cage realised that any attempt to compose using absolute silence was impossible.
Instead he produced ‘4'33"’ (1952), a composition for any instrument or combination of instruments. The score instructs the performer not to play during the piece across three movements of thirty seconds, two minutes and twenty three seconds and one minute and forty seconds.
Although often described as a composition of silence the piece is actually designed to consist of the ambient sounds that are around the performer as they ‘play’.
The piece was premiered by David Tudor on the 29th of August 1952 in New York at a recital of contemporary piano music.
Tudor sat at the piano and to indicate the beginning of the piece closed the piano’s lid.
He opened and closed the lid to mark the end of each movement while turning the pages of the score, keeping track of his progress with the help of a stopwatch.
The response to the piece was mixed with many people baffled by the whole affair.
Cage was present for the premiere and felt any failure was on the part of the audience rather than the piece:
“They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second raindrops began pattering on the roof and during the third the people themselves made all sorts of interesting noises as they talked or walked out...”
It was later pointed out to Cage that the duration of the piece of 273 seconds corresponds to the point on the Celsius scale of -273 degrees or Absolute Zero.
Cage replied that this was entirely coincidental.
In 1945 Cage met Merce Cunningham, a choreographer. The two became romantically involved and also collaborated on a number of projects.
One of Cunningham’s students was Paul Taylor, who went on to become an accomplished choreographer in his own right.
In 1957 Taylor premiered a new work called ‘Duet’ which used the score of ‘4'33'.
This piece consisted of a dancer and pianist walking on to the stage, standing there for four minutes and thirty three seconds and then walking off.
Louis Horst, another choreographer, wrote a review of the piece for the magazine ‘Dance Observer’.
It consisted of four inches of blank space signed off with ‘L.H.’ at the bottom...
Sunday, 9 May 2010
The Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida promises to be an epic structure once completed.
Designed as a training facility for the Church of Scientology it will be a celebration of that organisation and it’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
It will house a museum dedicated to the life of Hubbard and a museum recognising the importance of the Sea Org, an elite organisation within Scientology.
The building will also feature a bookshop, a library and have a total of 889 rooms for study and teaching. It will have 42 toilets, two kitchens and a 1,140 seat didning room.
A 124 foot bridge will connect the building to the Fort Harrison Hotel which is also owned by the Church of Scientology.
The land on which the building will stand had been purchased by the Church of Scientology in 1991 and detailed plans for the project were announced in 1993.
Construction began in 1998 with an initial budget of $24 million. By 2000 this had been revised up to $45million due to rises in the cost of steel and labour.
The project was originally due to be completed by 2003. In 2003 the budget was revised again, this time up to $90 million.
The Church announced in April 2006 that the building should be finished by the end of 2007.
As of December 2006 construction was at a standstill and the Church announced that the new date for completion would be the middle of 2008. Construction began again in July 2009 and the Church have declared it will be finished by late 2010.
While construction was suspended the city of Clearwater lost patience with the eyesore that the construction site had become and levied daily fines of $250 against the Church for failing to complete the project in a timely fashion.
By March 2009 these fines had reached a total of $245,0000.
Funding for the project has come from the Church’s membership.
Contributions are based on a series of levels which give benefits which rise according to the amount donated. Levels include a ‘Flag Supporter’ which indicates a donation of $1,000, a ‘Cornerstone Member’ which indicates a donation of $35,000, a ‘Founding Member’ which indicates a donation of $250,000, a ‘Master Builder of Merit’ which indicates a donation of $500,000 and the ‘Legion of OT Meritorious’ which indicates a donation of $7,500,000.
Benefits include access to the Key Contributor Lounge in the completed building, Gold Validation pins and Super Power rings.
Once completed the building is designed as a training centre for the Super Power Rundown.
This is a Scientology training course that, according to Hubbard himself, is:
‘A super fantastic, but confidential, series of rundowns that can be done on anybody, whether Clear or not, that puts the person into fantastic shape unleashing the Super Power of a Thetan. This means it puts Scientologists into a new realm of ability enabling them to create a new world. It puts World Clearing within reach of the future’
The building will contain specially designed equipment based on technology developed by NASA to train astronauts. This includes an anti-gravity simulator, a gyroscope that spins a person around to improve perception of compass direction and a video screen that flashes images to help to detect subliminal messages.
In a fundraising letter sent out in 2002 the importance of the project is outlined:
‘With the world in such a state of degradation and dismay the only hope to reverse the dwindling spiral on Earth is to speed the release of Super Power.
As you know, the 12 rundowns of Super Power were designed to handle the barriers to this planet’s Clearing. By releasing this technology we will unleash the Super Power of every being who completes these rundowns and they will build the New Civilisation so vitally needed.
The rapid completion of the funding and construction of the new building guarantees this Cleared Earth.’
You have to wonder how much success they’ll have building a ‘New Civilisation’ and ‘Cleared Earth’ when a rise in steel prices can derail their attempts to build a training centre...
Sunday, 2 May 2010
In the qualifying rounds of the Marathon for the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 Shizo Kanakuri set a new World Record of 2'32:45. This improved upon the existing record by 27 minutes and made him the favourite for the Gold medal at the Games themselves.
During the race Kanakuri found himself overcome with heat exhaustion and passed out.
He managed to stumble into a garden party being hosted by a farming family near the course and was given orange juice and a chance to recover.
Ashamed at his failure to complete the race Kanakuri stayed at the party for an hour and then returned directly to his hotel and departed for Japan the next day without notifying anybody of his situation.
Swedish authorities considered him missing for 40 years although he competed in the Olympic Marathon in 1920 and finished 16th and competed in the 1924 Olympics where he again failed to complete the race.
In 1966 Kanakuri was tracked down by a Swedish Television and offered the chance to complete the Marathon.
He accepted and ended up with a time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.
This is on record as the slowest time ever for the completion of an Olympic Marathon...
Sunday, 25 April 2010
Tod Browning, the director of ‘Freaks’, had been a member of a travelling circus in his youth and was determined that in his adaptation of the Tod Robbin’s short story ‘Spurs’ the carnival performers that provided his cast would be fairly represented.
Consequently the ‘freaks’ of the title are the heroes of the piece with the villainy provided by two ‘normal’ circus artistes who conspire to kill one of their fellow performers.
However, Browning could not control the response of the general public to his film.
Problems began when F. Scott Fitzgerald, then a jobbing screenwriter, was nursing a hangover in the studio cafeteria as the Siamese twins from the production came in for lunch.
Fitzgerald saw them and scrambled out of the cafeteria to vomit in the nearest bathroom.
Fitzgerald references the scene in his short story ‘Crazy Sunday’ where he has the main character, a screenwriter, see a troupe of circus performers from a film in production wandering around the studio lot. Fitzgerald's character proves to be made of stronger stuff than his creator and has no adverse reaction to seeing the troupe.
Browning presented the studio with his final cut which ran at around 90 minutes.
A series of disastrous test screenings culminated in a threat of a lawsuit to the studio from a woman who claimed the film had made her miscarry her baby.
The studio removed scenes that were deemed to be too shocking or disturbing, which included the ‘freaks’ attacking one of the villains as she lay under a tree and a particularly gruesome castration scene. They also added an epilogue that provided a substantially more up-beat ending.
This new 64 minute version was the one that saw commercial release and it is believed that the scenes removed are lost forever...
Sunday, 18 April 2010
By 1965 Brian Wilson had tired of the Beach Boys persona as a ‘fun in the sun’ band, singing about the beach, girls and good times. He wanted to experiment more musically and expand the scope of the band from it’s base of close harmonies and infectious hooks.
On the second side of ‘The Beach Boys Today!’ (1965) Wilson moved away from the up-beat songs that had defined the band up to this point and presented a series of melancholic ballads.
This didn’t affect the albums sales but did disturb some of the other Beach Boys and the groups record label. For ‘Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) (1965) Mike Love and Capitol Records sought assurances from Wilson that there would be a return to the carefree, happy-go-lucky style that had brought them such success.
On the surface Wilson appeared to accept this with songs such as ‘Amusement Parks USA’ and ‘California Girls’ but musically Wilson moved into new levels of symphonic sophistication and more complex arrangements of the songs.
Wilson then made a decision that the Beatles would also make a year later by making the Beach Boys a studio project. Rather than touring and promoting their music through concerts the Beach Boys would work from the studio and focus on new musical releases.
This would allow Wilson the time he needed to produce the more intricate music he wanted to without the demands of the road on the group as well.
The decision paid off almost immediately with ‘Pet Sounds’ (1966).
Featuring unconventional instrumentation from sources as unlikely as bicycle bells and dog whistles and dense layers of vocal harmony ‘Pet Sounds’ was a huge leap for ‘pop’ music.
However it was not the commercial smash that Capitol had hoped for.
‘Pet Sounds’ reached #10 in the American charts which, while far from a disaster, is put in perspective by the fact that their previous release ‘Beach Boys Party!’ (1965) reached #6 despite consisting entirely of cover versions.
However ‘Pet Sounds’ was a massive hit in the UK. It reached #2 in the chart there and became massively influential in British music circles.
The Beatles took huge inspiration from ‘Pet Sounds’ and their next release ‘Revolver’ (1966) was similarly groundbreaking. ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was a melancholic ballad featuring innovative orchestration while ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ had a backing track made up of tape loops that were randomly mixed from various parts of the recording studio.
While the Beatles were working on ‘Revolver’ Wilson had recorded ‘Good Vibrations’.
‘Good Vibrations’ was a single that eventually would be released at a length of three minutes and thirty seven seconds. It’s recording involved 17 sessions at 4 different studios, over 90 hours of tape and a budget of $50,000. Wilson has said that the recording of the elecro-theremin for the song cost $15,000 on it’s own.
Wilson saw this as a prototype for the recording of the new Beach Boys album ‘Smile’.
‘Smile’ was seen by Wilson as a ‘teenage symphony to God’ and would feature songs that were thematically and musically linked.
One of the major features of the album was to have been a suite of songs called ‘The Elements.’
These songs would be related to Earth, Air , Fire and Water but this is where the cracks in the project began to appear.
Wilson, who had began to show signs of mental fragility and had exhibited depresion and paranoia over the last few months became increasingly more unstable.
At a point where the sessions were proving challenging Wilson had ordered a sand pit be installed in the studio. He felt that having the ‘beach’ in the studio would inspire the group.
During the recording of the ‘Fire Suite’ for the album Wilson became increasingly obsessed with the song. He was frustrated by the groups inability to nail the recording and ordered them to wear toy firemen hats to focus on the song properly. Eventually, as the song took shape, Wilson managed to convince himself that the recording had caused a number of fires in the surrounding neighbourhood and ordered all the tapes of the session to be burned.
Wilson’s mental disintegration and opposition from within the group as to the value of the project meant that progress was very slow.
The next blow came when Wilson was driving in his car one day and the new Beatles single ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ came on the radio. Wilson pulled over to listen and when the song finished turned to his companion in the car and simply said ‘They got there first.’
On the 6th of May 1967 a press release was issued that ‘Smile’ was being shelved as a project by the Beach Boys.
On the 11th of September 1967 the new Beach Boys album was released. It was called ‘Smiley Smile’ and featured a number of tracks composed for the ‘Smile’ album.
Tellingly, for the first time the production of the album was credited to the group rather than Brian Wilson.
In 2004 Brian Wilson teamed up with his key collaborator on the original ‘Smile’ project Van Dyke Parks and members of his own touring band to record ‘SMiLE’.
This was an attempt by Wilson to reflect what the original album should have been.
Thematically and structurally it was closer to the spirit of the album as originally envisaged and the involvement of Parks was seen as vital by Wilson.
However the lack of any Beach Boys on the album angered former Beach Boy Mike Love who sued Wilson in 2005. Love maintained that the re-recording of Beach Boys songs caused millions of dollars in damages to a partnership between him and Wilson.
This lawsuit was thrown out of court by a federal judge in 2007 who determined that no such partnership existed between Love and Wilson at the time of the re-recordings and that none had existed for decades...