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...