Sunday, 5 December 2010

'A Void' by Georges Perec

‘La Disparition’ is a novel written by Georges Perec in 1969. It was later translated by Gilbert Adair and published in English as ‘A Void’ in 1995.
It is 300 pages long, concerns the search for a missing man by a group of his friends and is written, in English and French, entirely without the letter ‘e’.
It is an example of a lipogrammatic work, one where a letter or group of letters are deliberately omitted.
One of the earliest examples of such a piece, and an inspiration to Perec, is ‘Gadsby’ by Ernest Vincent Wright which was published in 1939 and has over 50,000 words in it, none of which contain the letter ‘e’, the most common letter used in English or French.
The omission of the most common letter necessarily means leaving out some of the most common words such as ‘the’, ‘she’ and ‘he’ in English and ‘je’ and ‘le’ in French.
Other lipogrammatic works that have worked around other ideas include ‘Alphabetical Africa’ by Walter Abish where the first chapter contains only words beginning with ‘a’, the second chapter contains words beginning with ‘a’ and ‘b’ and so on until the twenty-sixth chapter which is written without any restrictions. For the following twenty-five chapters Abish then reverses the process.
‘Cipher and Poverty’ (The Book of Nothing) by Mike Schertzer is narrated by a prisoner who can only use words that can be composed by the phrase ‘Who can find me here in this silence?’
The book is then a collection of poems written by the prisoner using just these letters.
Perec was a member of a literary group called ‘Oulipo’ which is short for ‘Ouvroir de litterature potentielle.’ This can be roughly translated as ‘The Workshop for Potential Literature’ and was a gathering of writers who produced works using constrained writing techniques.
This would involve the use of lipograms, palindromes and mathematical problems such as the ‘Knight’s Tour’ which Perec used in his novel ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ (1978).
This book is set in an apartment block in Paris and Perec imagined the rooms of the apartment block as the squares on a chess board and the narrative moves from room to room according to the movement of a Knight on a chess board.
Although there is clearly enough to admire in the sheer technical expertise of Perec in utilising these ideas what sets his work apart is the fact that the techniques also help to form the larger themes in the books as well.
In ‘Life: A User’s Manual’ one of the key elements of the plot is the quest of Bartlebooth, one of the main characters, to create and destroy a series of jigsaws, which is ultimately unsuccessful.
The aim of a Knight’s Tour is for the piece to visit each square exactly once. Perec actually fails to do this echoing the failure of Bartlebooth’s plan.
Perec, born in 1936, lost both of his parents in the Second World War and was raised by an aunt and uncle.
Walter Motte, in the literary magazine ‘Context’, addressed this loss and felt that it was, undeniably, an influence on the ideas in ‘A Void’:

"The absence of a sign is always the sign of an absence, and the absence of the E in A Void announces a broader, cannily coded discourse on loss, catastrophe, and mourning. Perec cannot say the words père ["father"], mère ["mother"], parents ["parents"], famille ["family"] in his novel, nor can he write the name Georges Perec. In short, each "void" in the novel is abundantly furnished with meaning, and each points toward the existential void that Perec grappled with throughout his youth and early adulthood. A strange and compelling parable of survival becomes apparent in the novel, too, if one is willing to reflect on the struggles of a Holocaust orphan trying to make sense out of absence, and those of a young writer who has chosen to do without the letter that is the beginning and end of écriture ["writing"]."

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The Pneumatic Transit System of Alfred Ely Beach

The Beach Pneumatic Transit began as a system for the transportation of letters and parcels through Manhattan.
Construction had began in 1869 after Alfred Ely Beach, the owner of Scientific American magazine, had received a franchise from the state of New York to build two tubes with a diameter of fifty-four inches to move mail along Broadway.
The system was based on the emergent technology of pneumatic transport which had been used in the Dalkey Atmospheric Railway in Dublin from 1844 to 1854 and the Crystal Palace Atmospheric Railway which had operated throughout 1864.
Pneumatic transport involved the use of railways that run through tubes with the carriage itself forming a near air-tight seal with the walls of the tunnel.
A steam-powered fan than pushes or pulls the carriage along the rails using the partial vacuum created by the seal in the tunnel.
Construction was completed on Beach’s project in only fifty-eight days with the only delay coming from Beach applying for a new permit to build a single tunnel with a diameter of one hundred and eight inches to replace the two smaller tunnels that had originally been agreed upon. Beach explained that he could fit the two pipes necessary for his postal transit system within this single tunnel and that it would speed up the construction process.
The state had no objection to this and allowed this apparently small, but ultimately vital, change to the plans.
Invitations were issued to the great and good of New York to the opening of the Beach Pneumatic Transit Company on February 26th 1870.
They were told to come to the offices of the company at 260 Broadway on the corner of Warren St. Many who received these invitations were perplexed at the instructions.
The corner of Warren and Broadway was home to a clothing store, Devlin and Co., and there had been no evidence of any works taking place there that could involve any sort of major engineering project. Some expected to find little more that a presentation of the plans for the system given the amount of time since construction had began and the lack of any apparent work being done.
Instead, they walked into a scene that none of them expected.
They descended into the basement of Devlin’s to find a 120 foot long reception room illuminated by gaslit chandeliers, fine art lining the walls of the room and tables of champagne and hors d’oeuvres laid out in front of them.
Beach himself greeted them and lead them across the room to the opening of the tunnel where the Beach Pneumatic Transit System would run. There they were confronted by the biggest surprise of all. It was something that no New Yorker had ever seen before.
A subway car.
Beach explained that his system had evolved from a postal delivery scheme to a passenger transit line. The larger tunnel could accomodate the two pipes needed for the proposed delivery system but was also, conveniently, just the right size for a subway car.
The officials from City Hall were furious for a couple of reasons.
Firstly they had invested huge amounts of money, both their own and the states, in the development of overground rail transit systems that were being developed.
Millions of dollars in contracts and kickbacks had been pushed through the Tammany Hall system of William ‘Boss’ Tweed, a corrupt figure who ran the government of New York City.
In addition to this it was seen a additionally embarrassing for the men of City Hall that this construction that threatened their fortunes and careers ran directly under City Hall itself.
Beach, fearing the authorities discovering the scope of his plans, had planned the tunneling process meticulously. He didn’t announce that he had begun construction to stop fictitious complaints about the effect on water and sewage supplies from those who opposed the scheme and he managed to dispose of tons of debris from the excavation and the elaborate construction of the tunnel and reception room without attracting attention.
All of this was done under one of the busiest streets in New York.
Beach had invented a special tunneling shield to allow for the speedy creation of the tunnel with the minimum of work required to move the resultant debris. The shield also allowed for the tunnel to curve to the left or right, a first in subterranean excavation.
The initial tunneling that Beach had done ran along the length of Broadway and was 321 feet long. Beach was confident though that he could quickly and easily extend his system throughout the island of Manhattan in a very short time.
All seemed well for Beach and the Pneumatic Transit System. It was proved to be a speedy, dependable and clean way for people to move around the city with a minimum of effort.
However this did not tally with the plans of ‘Boss’ Tweed and the many New York industrialists that had invested time and money in the development of other transit systems.
Beach’s efforts to expand his plans were repeatedly blocked by City Hall and in the New York Senate. Beach used his considerable fortune to keep the project running but needed outside investment to make it a workable reality.
This dried up as the years of opposition to the scheme stretched out and eventually a financial crisis in 1873 saw Beach lose all other investment and the company collapse.
The tunnel was hired out as a wine cellar and a shooting range and Beach’s interest in pneumatics waned with the development of electrical engineering.
In 1912 the City of New York declared that it would be building a subway station at City Hall. Excavation began and the workers stumbled upon a long forgotten project.
It was Beach’s tunnel.
The tunnel had been sealed for forty years and was entombed in dust but was in complete working order. The air inside was warm and dry as the tunnel had never leaked or caved in.
Sitting at the edge of the tunnel was Beach’s subway car, ready for it’s next journey...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Cook's Tale

‘The Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer are a collection of stories about a group of pilgrims traveling from London to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.
The pilgrims pass their time on the journey by telling stories that, despite the pious nature of their adventure, are often bawdy and rely on strong vernacular language that would have shocked many readers at the time.
‘The Cook’s Tale’ is typical of many of Chaucer’s stories in the Tales with earthy language, content and characters but it is set apart by its very abrupt ending.
Chaucer allows the Cook to begin his story but it stops at what appears to be an odd moment.
In the General Prologue to the Tales we meet the Cook, he’s a lively character with a taste for ale and sporting a ‘mormal’ or lesion on his shin.
‘The Cook’s Tale’ is introduced by the innkeeper who links the tales together and he expands upon the character of the Cook claiming that he sells pies that are drained of gravy, are constantly reheated and sold for days on end and that his shop is infested with flies.
The Cook laughs off these accusations and threatens to tell a story about an innkeeper but instead begins the tale of Perkyn, an apprentice to a cook in London.

A prentys whilom dwelled in oure citee
An apprentice once dwelt in our city
And of a craft of vitaillers was hee
And of a craft of food merchants was he

Perkyn is quickly taken by the temptations of London and is distracted from his work by drinking, dancing and women.

That he was cleped Perkyn Revelour
That he was called Perkyn Reveller
He was as ful of love and paramour
He was as full of love and womanizing
As is the hyve ful of hony sweete;
As is the hive full of honey sweet;
Wel was the wenche with hym myghte meete
Happy was the woman who with him might meet
At every bridale wolde he synge and hoppe;
At every wedding party he would sing and dance;
He loved bet the taverne than the shoppe.
He loved the tavern better than the shop.

His preference for the tavern to the shop does not go unnoticed and Perkyn is soon released by his master.

Therfore his maister yaf hym acquitance,
Therefore his master gave him his certificate,
And bad hym go, with sorwe and with meschance!
And ordered him to go, with sorrow and with bad luck!

So Perkyn moves in with a friend whose wife is a prostitute.

Unto a compeer of his owene sort,
Unto a companion of his own sort,
That lovede dys, and revel, and disport,
Who loved dicing, and revelling, and having fun,
And hadde a wyf that heeld for contenance
And had a wife that kept for the sake of appearances
A shoppe, and swyved for hir sustenance.
A shop, and screwed for her living.

The tale ends here, a sudden stop that confused many scribes although the critic Richard Embs makes a compelling argument for the tale being complete.
He contends that the Cook’s Tale is autobiographical and that if we imagine the other pilgrims hearing the story, seeing the scab on the shin of the Cook and believing it to be venereal in origin and being disgusted by the whole affair the tale has served its purpose.
In defence of this theory, Chaucer later gives the Cook an opportunity to expand on his tale or tell another.
Unfortunately by this time the Cook is too drunk and instead falls off his horse.
It seems likely then that Chaucer never wanted any more of this tale to be told.
This was not helpful to the scribes and copyists that put together the various editions of ‘The Canterbury Tales’ and they developed some creative solutions to this apparent omission.
There are 83 known manuscripts of the Tales with 55 believed to have been complete at one time and the remaining 23 being so fragmentary that it is difficult to know if they were individually copied or were once part of a larger set.
No unarguably complete version of the Tales exists and no consensus on the order Chaucer wanted the Tales told in has been agreed upon.
Editors and copyists have used this confusion to their advantage when attempting to place The Cook’s Tale in their editions.
In the Hengwrt manuscript, probably the earliest attempt to organise the fragments of the Tales, the scribe made a note in the margin:

‘Of this cokes tale maked Chaucer na moore.’

25 manuscripts, including Harley 7334 and Corpus Christi 198, continued on from the Cook’s Tale with the 902 line romance ‘Gamelyn’, sometimes with a bridge such as the couplet in Royal 18.C.ii:

‘But here-off I will passe as now
And of yong Gamelyn I will tell yow’

Manuscripts without Gamelyn did the best they could.
Many accepted the Cook’s Tale as complete and moved on to the next pilgrim’s tale.
The creative scribe who completed the Rawlinson Poetry141 (fol 29a) edition placed a four line conclusion at the end of the Cook’s Tale to tidy things up:

‘And thus with horedom and bryberye
Togeder thei used till they honged hye.
For whoso evel byeth shal make a sory sale;
And thus I make an ende of my tale.’

The Bodley 686 manuscript took the most trouble to act upon the incomplete nature of the work, both in terms of content and moral teaching.
An extra forty-five lines were added to the end of the Tale along the same instructional lines as the Rawlinson edition above.
The prudish nature of the scribe responsible of these additions can also be seen in his transcription of the Tale itself, particularly in the actions of Perkyn’s friends wife.
In this edition she pleyed rather than swyved for her sustenance...

Sunday, 7 November 2010

On the Silver Globe

After his second film, ‘Diabel’ (1972), was banned in his native Poland, Andrzej Zulawski decided to relocate to France to continue his film-making career.
He went on to make ‘L’Important c’est d’aimer’ (1975) in France and enjoyed such critical success with this film that the Polish government felt it was embarrassing for an artist of such standing to be effectively exiled from his own country.
They invited him to return and gave him the freedom to work on any project he chose, without government interference.
Zulawski had long been interested in adapting a novel, ‘On the Silver Globe’ which was part of a trilogy of books written by his granduncle Jerzy Zulawski.
The story concerned a group of astronauts whose ship crashes on the dark side of the Moon.
After the crash only one adult survives as well as a group of children.
The children develop their own society based on shamanism and the worship of fire, they dub themselves ‘Selenites’ and the adult ‘The Old Man’ and both worship and revile him.
The Selenites find themselves in conflict with the Szerens, the Moons original inhabitants, while The Old Man removes himself from the group and goes to live in the mountains.
Here he records a video diary which he sends to Earth. A space researcher called Marek finds the diary and goes to the Moon. When he gets there he is greeted by the children as a messianic figure and the reincarnation of The Old Man who they believe will lead them to victory against the Szern.
From 1975 to 1977 Zulawski adapted the novel into a screenplay and began to film at various locations in Europe and Asia.
In the Autumn of 1977 the project came to a sudden halt with the appointment of Janusz Wilhelmi as the vice minister of Cultural Affairs in Poland.
Wilhelmi believed that the conflict between the Selenites and Szern in the film was a thinly-veiled allegory for the Polish peoples struggles with totalitarian Communist rule.
He ordered that the production be shut down and all the footage and related materials from the film to be destroyed.
Zulawski returned to France, despairing over the wasted time and effort he had put into the film and vowing never to work in Poland again.
Wilhelmi died a few months later in March of 1978 but it took the end of Communist rule in Poland eight years later for Zulawski to return to Poland and continue with the production of the film.
The footage, props and costumes that Wilhelmi had ordered to be destroyed were actually saved by the film studio and various members of the cast and crew.
However not enough was salvaged for Zulawski to complete the film the way he had intended.
Instead he edited together the footage he had and added a commentary to the film explaining what he had intended to do and filling in the narrative gaps.
This version ran at 166 minutes and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1988.with some critics describing it as a ‘ruined masterpiece.’

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Big Numbers

‘Mad Love’ was a publishing company established by comic book writer Alan Moore, his wife Phyllis and their mutual lover Deborah Delano in 1988.
The first production of the company was ‘AARGH’ (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) an anthology challenging Clause 28, a law designed to stop schools and councils in the United Kingdom from ‘promoting homosexuality’.
Following this Moore worked on a comic called ‘Shadowplay: The Secret Team’ for Eclipse Comics. This was part of an anthology called ‘Brought To Light’which was commissioned by the Christic Institute and examined the role of the CIA in drug smuggling and arms dealing.
The artist on this project was Bill Sienkiewicz whose blend of photorealism and abstraction had revitalised comic art in the 1980's.
This proved to be a successful partnership between the two men, whose love for detail and discord combined beautifully.
For his next project for ‘Mad Love’ Moore was to push himself to new heights creatively and would need an artist that could keep up.
‘Big Numbers’ was the story of a new shopping centre in a small town in England.
On the surface this seems straightforward enough but Moore had decided that the best way to examine the impact of the opening of this new structure on the lives of the people in the town was to use a combination of Chaos Theory and the Fractal Geometry of Benoit Mandelbrot.
Moore felt that the only artist that could handle the shift between the mathematical ideas underpinning the piece and the human drama at the forefront was Sienkiewicz.
The first two issues were published in April and August of 1990 with another ten due to follow.
However, Sienkiewicz was overwhelmed by the work that the book required and soon began to miss deadlines. Eventually he backed out of the series completely, having got as far as finishing the majority of the art for the third issue.
The delays meant that the book missed slated publication dates and the overheads of the project, with no product being released to generate revenue, caused the production to stop.
Kevin Eastman, the owner of Tundra Comics, stepped in to take over the publishing of the comic and Al Columbia, Sienkiewicz’s art assistant, was hired to provide the artwork for the remainder of the series.
After beginning work on the fourth issue Columbia also quit the book, claiming that he had destroyed the artwork he had produced.
In 1999 the ten pages that Sienkiewicz had produced for issue #3 were published in the magazine ‘Submedia’ and then in 2009 a photocopy of the complete lettered art of #3 appeared as part of a lot on eBay. It was bought for $49.99 and included issues #1 and #2 of the published books. The successful bidder, having got permission from Alan Moore first, published scans of the work on LiveJournal.
In 2000 Al Columbia posted his version of events on the ‘Comics Journal’ message board:

“...I was paid $9,200 to complete issue number four of ‘Big Numbers’.
A lot of times Paul Jenkins (the editor) was good enough to pay me as I went along without even seeing the pages.
Okay, don’t tell anybody, but the truth be told I didn’t even finish the issue-but was paid for it anyway.
You see, I never had any intention of staying with the project but merely attached myself to it in order to gain a certain prominence, at which time I would quit in the manner we have all heard about.
This way, with no visible proof of the artwork, it would always shine as a masterpiece in people’s minds and imagination.”

Alan Moore has spoken about the future of the piece a number of times.
In 2000 he said:

“I don’t see any way that I can resurrect it as a comic script...
For ‘Big Numbers’ the television’s the idea of selling it...
I mean, I think fractals and shopping is a great idea but not as a pitch to hot, young Channel 4 presenters who are just mainly thinking ‘Let’s do ‘Queer As Folk’ again and see if we can shock some more retired colonels from the Home Counties and get viewing figures off the back of it.’”

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Crazy Horse Memorial

In 1948 Korczak Ziolkowski, a Polish-American sculptor, received an interesting new commission. Chief Henry Standing Bear, the leader of the Native American Lakota people had written inviting Ziolkowski to create a monument to Crazy Horse, a famous Oglala Lakota warrior.
In the letter Chief Henry Standing Bear outlined the significance of the structure to the Lakota people saying:

“My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes too.”

Ziolkowski was intrigued, partly by the scale of the project.
Chief Henry Standing Bear wanted the statue to be carved out of a mountain with the completed structure becoming the world’s largest sculpture.
Ziolkowski had worked on Mt. Rushmore, the monumental sculpture of the heads of four Presidents of the United States, located in the Black Hills region of South Dakota so had some experience on projects of this scale.
He initially wanted to carve the statue in the Wyoming Tetons where the rock was better for sculpting but the Native American leaders insisted that they wanted their creation in the Black Hills area, close to Mt. Rushmore.
The Black Hills region is sacred to the Lakota people and the position of Mt. Rushmore was an affront to a great deal of them. As well as being a memorial and statement of the legacy of the Lakota people they also wanted their statue to be a riposte to Mt. Rushmore.
For that reason they demanded that the sculpture of Crazy Horse be substantially bigger than that of the Presidents.
When completed the Crazy Horse memorial will consist of an image of Crazy Horse on horseback pointing into the distance.
It will be 563 feet high and 641 feet wide. The head alone will be 87 feet high.
The heads of the Presidents at Mt. Rushmore are each 60 feet high.
There is some controversy among the Lakota people on the value and veracity of the project.
Crazy Horse was never photographed and was buried so that his grave would never be found.
The idea of an image of him being fixed to one place has offended some Native American people.
Lame Deer, a Lakota medicine man, spoke out against the project saying:

“The whole idea of making a beautiful wild mountain into a statue of him is a pollution of the landscape. It is against the spirit of Crazy Horse.”

Ziolkowski defended the work, claiming that it was not supposed to represent a definitive image of Crazy Horse as a man. He said:

“Crazy Horse is being carved not so much as a lineal likeness but more as a memorial to the spirit of Crazy Horse.”

The image of Crazy Horse with his arm extended into the distance is designed to represent a moment where he was asked by a white man about the fate of his people.
The man had mockingly asked the defeated Crazy Horse where his lands were now.
Crazy Horse pointed out in front of the man and replied:

“My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Work began on the sculpture in 1948 and is far from completion.
The project receives no Federal or State support and is reliant on fundraising and private financial support.
Ziolkowski died on October 20th 1982 and left the final instructions for the sculpture with his wife. He told her:

“You must work on the mountain. But go slowly so you do it right...”

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Nelson Pillar

Nelson Pillar was a memorial dedicated to Horatio, Lord Nelson that stood in O’Connell Street in the heart of Dublin from 1808 to 1966.
Its construction actually predated the more famous Nelson’s Column, which is of a similar design and is located in Trafalgar Square in London.
The erection of a statue honouring Nelson and those who died at the Battle of Trafalgar, including a large number of Irish volunteers, was the idea of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, James Vance.

It was also seen as a celebration of the defeat of Napoleon’s imperial ambitions in Europe.
The cost of the Pillar was met by public subscription although, tellingly, it took two years for the sum of £5,000 to be met.
Initially, objections as to the Pillar revolved around aesthetic considerations, with many feeling that it’s disproportionate size overwhelmed the space around it.
Soon, people also came to see its location in the centre of O’Connell Street as a cause of traffic congestion.
After the Easter Rising of 1916 the arguments against the Pillar became even more focused.
Its location, overlooking the GPO which had been the headquarters of the Republican forces, was seen as an affront to those who had died.
The figure of an British war hero towering over such a potent symbol of Irish nationalism was just too much for some to bear.
In 1955 a group of students from University College Dublin occupied the Pillar and attempted to melt the statue of Nelson with homemade flamethrowers. Gardai attempted to arrest them but were dissuaded by sympathetic bystanders and the students were released without charge.
1966 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising and the debate over how appropriate it was for Nelson to be in such a prominent position in the middle of Dublin began again.
At 2 a.m. on March 8th 1966 a bomb destroyed the upper half of the Pillar, toppling the statue of Nelson and sending rubble into the street below.
Despite the force of the explosion there were no injuries and the only damage was to one window of a nearby taxi.
Two days later, engineers from the Irish Army demolished what was left of the Pillar in a controlled explosion.
This blast caused most of the windows on O’Connell Street to be broken and left the city with a massive list of claims for compensation.
Within a week of the explosion a song called ‘Up Went Nelson’ by the Go Lucky Four was at the top of the Irish music charts.
Joe Dolan also wrote a song called ‘Nelson’s Farewell’ about the incident which The Dubliners recorded for their 1966 album ‘Finnegan Wakes’.
The head of Nelson was stored in a warehouse in Clanbrassil Street but was stolen by students from the National College of Art and Design.
They attempted to demand a ransom for the head’s return to pay of their debts but when this was denied to them they instead hired out the head to various people.
They first received £200 from an antique dealer in London who displayed it in his window. Later, they rented it to the makers of a women’s stocking commercial and loaned it to The Dubliners for a show at the Olympia Theatre.
Ronnie Drew, one of The Dubliners later recalled that the crowd were sceptical that the head was genuine until another member of the band, Luke Kelly, took a run up and kicked the head to prove its solidity.
The students eventually returned the head to the Lady Nelson of the day and it can now be seen in the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street, Dublin.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Napster Bombs

The arrival of Napster in June 1999 was not universally popular. For it's users the chance to exchange files of music could mean acquiring whole libraries of music for pennies, but for the majority of the music industry it caused alarm.
Some artists supported the idea as another way to promote their music and felt that if people liked what they heard they would buy the CD as well.
Others were not so sure. Metallica and Dr. Dre filed lawsuits against Napster in 2000 for copyright violation and this was quickly followed by a case brought against Napster by various record companies.
Napster lost the case with the record companies and eventually settled the cases with Metallica and Dr. Dre but only after declaring itself bankrupt in 2002 having run out of money to fight the various legal cases it was embroiled in.
So it was the might of the record companies and some of the biggest names in music that did for Napster eventually but there were attacks upon the site from a number of directions employing some rather creative methods.
In 2000 Michael Fix was stunned to see how easy it was to download music for free from Napster.
His wife, Stephanie, was a singer and songwriter and Michael was concerned that her career could be harmed by the fact that people had an alternative to buying her records if they liked her music.
He decided to take direct action against Napster and, along with his brother John, began to upload files to the site labelled as being songs by artists such as Bruce Springsteen.
However, the songs would only start with the tune it was labelled as. Thirty seconds or so in the brothers had edited in one of Stepanie’s songs.
This form of protest was initially attacked as being a form of promotion for Stephanie’s work so the brothers quickly modified their methods to make it clear it was an attempt to foil online piracy rather than a tawdry commercial device.
They set up a website explaining how to create ‘cuckoo’s eggs’ to upload to Napster.
These would be tracks labelled as popular songs and would indeed have the song as labelled at the start of the track but, again, thirty seconds in the track would be replaced by random noises such as bird song or audio clips from cartoons.
The Fixes explained that if people were, as was being claimed by some, downloading track by track and listening along to the songs they would be able to stop the download and not be affected.
They were targeting those who were exchanging industrial levels of music without actually checking to see what they were actually getting.
The Tabloids, a rock band from Oakland, California, set up a website encouraging people to do the same thing and named their mislabeled songs ‘Napster Bombs’.
In the end these attacks were little more than an annoyance to Napster and its users but it’s encouraging to know you didn’t have to be a petulant millionaire to be passionate about the fate of the artist in the digital age...

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Arrive Alive

‘Arrive Alive’ went into production on the 12th of April 1990. On paper it had all the elements in place to be a perfectly acceptable knockabout comedy.
The cast was headed up by Willem Defoe, who had just broken into the Hollywood A-list with a string of hits, including ‘Platoon’ (1986), ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ (1988) and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ (1989) and Joan Cusack, who was an alumni of ‘Saturday Night Live’ and had just enjoyed a number of strong comedic roles in films such as ‘Broadcast News’ (1987) ‘Married to the Mob’ and ‘Working Girl’ (1988).
The director, Jeremiah S. Chechik, had just worked on ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989) and the producer, Art Linson, was a veteran of such films as ‘Car Wash’ (1976), ‘The Untouchables’ (1987) and ‘Scrooged’ (1988).
The plot of the film was to involve Defoe as a hotel manager and Cusack as his girlfriend getting involved in various scams.
However, after a single weeks filming it became apparent that the script was simply not funny enough to produce a decent comedy film.
The producers decided then to take the brave step of cancelling the rest of the shoot and writing off the $7 million they had already invested in the production...

Sunday, 12 September 2010


Neptune was the first planet to be ‘discovered’ by mathematical prediction rather than empirical observation. Following Newton’s work on gravity, astronomers knew that planetary bodies affected one anothers orbits due to the gravitational field of each object working on the things around it.
Unexpected fluctuations in the orbit of Uranus lead to the hypothesis that there must be an undetected planet lying outside of its procession around the Sun and pulling the planet out of its natural motion as they moved closer together.
Urbain Le Verrier, a French astronomer at the Paris Observatory, calculated the position of this celestial object using mathematics and his observations of the discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus against the orbit established by Newton’s laws of gravity.
Le Verrier announced his final predicted position for the unseen planet on August 31st 1846.
The planet was observed for the first time by Johann Galle, a German astronomer at the Berlin Observatory, who used Le Verrier’s prediction to guide his viewing.
Le Verrier’s calculation was within 1 degree of the actual position of the planet that was to become known as Neptune.
At the same time Le Verrier was working on fluctuations in the orbit of Mercury.
Again Le Verrier used the Newtonian model to calculate the effect of gravitation on the movement of Mercury around the Sun and in 1843 published a provisional theory on the existence of a previously undetected planet between the Sun and Mercury that would explain the erratic orbit that Mercury demonstrated.
A transit of Mercury, where the planet would pass across the face of the Sun, would provide an ideal opportunity to spot this new planet and fortunately there was a transit in 1843, shortly after Le Verrier published his prediction.
The transit came and went but no new planet was seen in the area Le Verrier had anticipated it would be. He continued with his work and in 1859 published a more complete study of Mercury’s orbit. This was consisted of modifications to his calculations and more thorough observations based on 14 further transits.
Le Verrier was so confident of his prediction that he suggested the planet should be named ‘Vulcan’ when it was eventually discovered. The Roman god of the forge and fire was an ideal namesake for a planet closer to the Sun than any other previously discovered.
Many observations of the new planet were reported from across the globe by astronomers who used Le Verrier’s calculations, however none of them could ever be confirmed and Vulcan evaded any concrete detection.
Le Verrier died in 1877, still convinced he had discovered a planet that had simply never been seen.
With his death astronomers became less certain of his prediction and observations of the planet died down.
Eventually, in 1915, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity. This modified Newton’s work and proposed that the size of an object would affect the strength of the objects gravitational field. The Sun, being by far the largest object in the Solar System, simply had a strong enough gravitational field to affect Mercury’s orbit in a manner that Newtonian mechanics would never predict. In reality the mass of the Sun affects all planets in the same way but Mercury’s proximity to the Sun, and the fact that there are no large objects between the Sun and Mercury, simply makes the effect more pronounced.
Le Verrier couldn’t have been more wrong, it was the lack of a planet between the Sun and Mercury that had caused the erratic orbit.
The idea of planet Vulcan never entirely died though.
In 1966 Gene Roddenberry, the creator of a new Science Fiction television show called ‘Star Trek’ needed a fictional home planet for Spock, one of his characters.
Originally Spock was going to be a Martian but Roddenberry felt there was a strong possibility of a manned trip to Mars during the shows run and this would cause the character to lose some of his mystique. To be on the safe side Roddenberry chose the name of a planet that had been the subject of feverish speculation but would never have a man walk upon it.
Spock would be a Vulcan...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Coventry Cathedral

On the 14th of November 1940 St. Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry was almost entirely destroyed in an air raid by the Luftwaffe.
The tower, spire, outer wall and tomb of the first bishop of Coventry survived but the rest of the building was obliterated.
In 1950 a competition was held to find an architect for the new Coventry Cathedral.
Over 200 entries were submitted, most suggesting the rebuilding of the original structure with others proposing to demolish what remained of the old building and the construction of an entirely new development.
The winning design was put forward by Basil Spence.
His idea was to build a new cathedral but retain the ruins of the older building as a memorial and develop it as a garden of remembrance.
Hollington sandstone, the material used in the construction of the original building, was used for the new cathedral, giving an element of unity between the two structures which were visually very different.
The foundation stone of the new structure was laid on March 23rd 1956 and the Cathedral was consecrated on May 25th 1962.
Basil Spence had been an intelligence officer during World War Two and had taken part in the D-Day landings.
On his second day in France he had watched British tanks destroy two Norman churches in Ouistreham and Hermanville. They had shelled the belfries to kill German snipers who were positioned up there.
That night a friend asked Spence what his plans were once the war was over.
He replied:

‘To build a cathedral...’

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Carnival of Light

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

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

The Wicked Bible

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
‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’ to
‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’
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
‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?’ to
‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall inherit the kingdom of God?’
In 1763 a bible was published with Psalm 14:1 reading
‘the fool hath said in his heart that there is a God.’ as opposed to
‘the fool hath said in his heart that there is no God.’
The printers were fined £3,000 and all copies were ordered to be destroyed...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Alan Roy's Stamp Collection

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

The Don Quixote of Orson Welles

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

Sagrada Familia

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?"

"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

Stari Most

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

Dark Blood

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

‘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

Dark Night of the Soul

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

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

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.
He said:

“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. Clearwater, Florida

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

Shizo Kanakuri and the 1912 Olympic Marathon

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...