Thursday, November 30, 2006

when lambs grew on trees...





the colophon was a beautiful journal published in the 1930's, where every few pages were designed and printed by a different press. i should really do a post on the design of these things as they are gorgeous and highlight a kind tactile approach to printing and binding that is losing steam fast. volume 10 features a lot of visual and textual pleasures running from the ward ritchie press and robinson jeffers, to articles on punch cutting and a written description (of several pages in length) of the beowolf codex. the real discovery though is "the scythian wonder (or the vegetal lamb of tartary".

During the middle ages, there was thought to be a kind of plant with gourds, "which when being ripe, doe open at the tops, and within them is found a little beast like unto a yong lambs". sir john mandeville's journal describes not only seeing the little lambs in gourds but also eating them: "of their frute i have eten: alle thoughe it were wonderfulle: but that i know welle but god is marveyllous in his werkes." (while mandeville's manuscript does exist, mandeville the person may or may not have existed).

the legend of the lambs continues into the 17th century, mostly connected to a reference in the talmud of jerusalem dated 436, where the lamb was described "not as lying in either blossom or seed pod, it was, though living, fixed upon a flexible stalk protruding from the ground. as it hung limply thereon, it cropped as much of the surrounding grass as it could reach, dying when all this had been consumed. it was difficult to kill or capture; but its death could be brought about by piercing its stalk with an arrow". in the talmud the legend grows, as supposedly if a would be prophet could obtain the bones of the lamb and put them in his mouth, he could see the future.

with the invention of printing, the lamb made its way into the notes of botanists, historians, and poets alike; with conflicting descriptions. by the 15th century the stalk or root version of the lamb overtook the gourd version, and the scythian wonder became a small lamb covered in wool attached to a hard stalk or root just above the ground.

the page above with the detail of the lamb is from john parkinson's paradisi in sole from 1629. in this text parkinson (an apothecary and herbalist) speaks mostly of gardening; but the woodcut, presented on the title page, is of the garden of eden and clearly shows the lamb. 11 years later he published theatrum boticanum, which also pictured the lamb and includes a lengthy description of the lamb; saying that after the lamb has consumed the grass it can reach, it "dyeth", and thus "the wolves much affect to feed on them".

of course, skeptics were everywhere, and in 1698 sir hans sloane submitted to the royal society a fern root shaped like a little animal, suggesting that such things seen during walks or from horses were the basis of the legend. the last theory to debunk the lambs appeared in 1887 by henry lee, who said the problem was in misquotings and mistranslations. his claim was that the early accounts were not of lambs on trees, but trees that have wool growing from pods hanging on them... it seems he too was mistaken, as he was clearly talking about cotton.

so for many years i was quite obsessed with this article (which i should mention was written by lucy eugenia osborne in 1932); and then a few years ago we happened upon a small garden museum in london and there at the bottom of a dusty display case was a glass dome with a dirty root and moss and an old handwritten tag describing it as the vegetal lamb. it was quite wonderful in its muddled and discarded presentation, and the old glass distorted the details just enough to make you wonder.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

with borges...


another recent book suggestion; similar to le corbusier's hands in that it is also a remembrance, and also a short little book. it was written by alberto manguel and titled with borges.

manguel's memoir covers the years 1964 - 1968, when he visited borges several times a week to to read to him aloud. borges, by the early 60's was blind and according to manguel, "there exists a vast group of those who once read out loud to borges, minor boswells whose identities are rarely known to one another but who collectively hold the memory of one of the world's great readers".

like the architect wogenscky, manguel has a wonderful sense detail in describing small moments, notating things about borges the human, and also borges literary habits. since manguel is also a writer of renown, his insight into borges the writer (and reader) is extremely sensitive. it's only 75 pages, but while i was in berlin a few weeks ago, it was the only book i had with me and i read it cover to cover 4 times and found new things in the text every time.

there are some really nice bits related to translation, one showing borges transformation of shakespeare and borges saying "if you are going to translate shakespeare, you must do it as freely as shakespeare wrote"... a few pages later mangeul writes,"another of borges's subversions is the notion that every book, any book, holds the promise of all others, both mechanically and intellectually. borges believed this to be true, provided the idea could be taken to its utmost limits. every text is a combination of the twenty four letters of the alphabet (more of less according to each language). for that reason, an infinite combination of these letters would give us a complete library of every conceivable book past, present, and future...". this is definitely a beautiful thing.

the book is published by telegram books, there's more info here. once again, rather than doing the lazy amazon thing, please see if your small local bookstore has it or can order if for you.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

cattle call...






i was looking for images related to tex owens' song cattle call and these were some of the many pictures that came up in a google image search for the words "cattle" and "call". i like to think that the computer chose these things because it had something in mind other than word matching file names. it makes me feel like we are equals in our own idiosyncratic vocabularies and tastes.

perhaps the computer is suggesting a path. supposing you fall through the cone of awareness; and after moving through consideration, you seep out the bottom of conversion. you then slide down the hill with a double bottom, through the blue jagged mountains. you might then find yourself landing in a cage, all alone against the horizon; and if you can get out of that cage, and follow the trail of dots and cattle (who are themselves following the blue and red arrows), you just might end up in the land of women holding fans as large as their bodies...

in the meantime i've posted tex owens' song cattle call from a flea market 78 that spawned the search. aside from the above there are many photos of tex online. in his own words, the song was inspired when "watching the snow, my sympathy went out to cattle everywhere, and I just wished I could call them all around me and break some corn over a wagon wheel and feed them. that's when the words 'cattle call' came to my mind." no wonder it has a such a nice tinge of melancholy...

Monday, November 27, 2006

le corbusier's hands...


since airforms has largely been about old things found, and the year is coming to an end (and holidays are approaching), i thought i should highlight a few good new things for a change... this week i will intersperse the usual dusty realm with some recently published little books.

the first is le corbusier's hands by andré wogenscky, who was a draftsman for corbusier for 30 years. it's a series of tiny remembrances that reads like a stream of little film stills. it's amazing that this is wogenscky's only book of writings as they are highly poetic, and each short section reminds me a little bit of francis ponge's work. here's one of my favorite pages, relating sound and architect in a somewhat idiosyncratic way, and titled "his step"

"a memory of a sound: the steps on the floor as le corbusier walked down the long hall at 35 rue de sevres, that same hall where, the evening of 1 september 1965, his body rested for a few hours under the blue, white, and and red tapestries. it was the same hall that le corbusier walked every day for half a century with his calm and regular step to do his architectural work.

that slow, regular step was the very rhythm of his personality. a rhythm drawn in space by the structure of his rigorous, slow, calm, regular, and exact buildings. it was the rhythm into which he introduced poetry.

steps that seemed slow but that quickly went forward".

the book was published by MIT press, there's more info here, rather than doing the lazy amazon thing, please see if your small local bookstore has it or can order if for you.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

found drawing too...

a few weeks ago i was lucky enough to do some research at harvard with a friend of mine in the rare maps and rare books libraries. i was looking mostly at comparative maps, and also at some mid-late 1800's astronomy books. i took a lot of photos which i'll post at some point, but the most wonderful thing i found was on the back page of one of the plates in one of the astronomy books.

most of the older educational books had a lot of foxing and condition problems and the back sides of the plates were really beautiful as "shadows" of the images on their fronts. several of them were so far gone that they had little image ghosting, but were just a wash of browns (these things will clearly disintigrate at some point due to the acidity of the paper content and their lives before ending up here). the washes look a bit like the stain paintings done by victor hugo with coffee and tea remnants (some of my favorite visual works of all time); and in the midst of one of these hazy fields, someone had scrawled a star and some "planets"... a little bit of humble poetry left for someone to discover, a hundred or so years later...

Saturday, November 25, 2006

found drawings

two humble drawings from a found diary written in paris around the time of WWI, by an american young man who seems to have been college aged and also in the military but saw no combat... the object and its contents are somewhat unremarkable, but i really like these two drawings that fall somewhere between notation and aesthetics. their awkwardness makes them feel undeniably honest and human.

the first is a column of unknown origin. the second has the inscription "and further to right tablet bearing epitaph of pascal". the epitaph is in the st-etienne-du-mont church in paris, so i'm guessing around 1914 this was the landscape outside of the place... it kind of looks like a flower in a corral, but that's another story...

Friday, November 24, 2006

man with a pagoda on his head...

a pretty darn stunning photo of a one man band with a pagoda shaped hat that seems to have bells on it. this guy certainly falls into the musical wonder category. i really like the pre-bob dylan harmonica style panpipes at his chin and the rods coming off his heels that trigger something mysterious behind his back; as well as the drum mallet extending from his elbow. unfortunately there's no artist name on this, but fortunately the photographer was charles eisenmann, who was based in the bowery in new york between 1870 and 1899.

eisenmann's studio focused on the sideshow side of life with clients/subjects such as p.t. barnum, jo jo the dog faced boy, the skeleton man, etc. judging from the bulk of eisenmann's subjects (and his favorite tag line: extra inducements to the theatrical profession), i'd wager a guess that the music man here was part of barnum's troop or one of the other "dime museums" in the area.

this type of small cdv photograph (4.25 x 2.5 inches) was made to sell as a souvenir or given away to generate publicity. the photo is a sepia toned albumen print, which dates it somewhere between the 1870's and 1880's, when the medium was at the height of its popularity (which coincides with the popularity of the cdv - before being replaced in the mid 1880's by the larger style cabinet photo). perhaps with the significance of the photographer known, at some point i might actually be able to figure out who this music maestro actually was...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

thanksgiving potatoes...

well, i went through my 78's searching for a thanksgiving song... i searched the words "thanks", "turkey", "pilgrim", "feast", "yam", and not a single side had any of these words in the title, artist, or label... so i ended up with word association, going from yam to hot potatoes by johnny dodds (with blind blake on vocals and guitar!). i have to say this is one of my favorite 78's that i have ever found. there's the singing, the clarinet solo at the beginning, the "drumming", and of course the goddamn slide whistle solo (when you hear it you will definitely be thankful that someone made it).

so today please take a moment to be thankful for flea markets... old timey music and the shellac surfaces these songs are embedded in... the "much as i hate it it's good for sharing" internet... and of course for potatoes which most of us will over indulge in tonight and regret the minute we get into bed... perhaps you'll even hear that slide whistle solo in your potato filled dreams...
hot potatoes

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

man with the golden guitar


van shipley was known as "the man with the golden guitar and the magical violin" and is largely considered the first electric guitarist in india. you can see him on the left in the photo above (not mine unfortunately but found on line), holding his 8 string electric creation from the 1940's. he also designed an electric violin. there's a nice extended bio and a great string of comments including some from his daughter at bagatellen.

the recordings here are from a 78 of the van shipley trio, picked up ages ago. the tracks are that wonderful soup of indian music with western influences that ended up in a lot of 40's and 50's bollywood movies (even though i can't read the labels, i'm pretty sure these tunes are from a film). shipley's take on the electric sounds like it not only came via hawaii; but also from western swing. track "61149" is an absolute beauty.
columbia 61147
columbia 61149

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

a beautiful signal to noise...

from a 1974 bell labs publication on computers today and tomorrow, here's a chart of potential voice sound similarities depending upon the amount of background noise on a phone line... the image is based on a "bell labs devised computer technique called multidimensional scaling", and shows how a listener could potentially confuse words like "core, pore, and tore" depending on how clear or noisy a phone line is... the little stacks of green lily pads resemble the 1920's expressionist architecture of herman finsterlin or pieces of matta's 1966 mallite system furniture. i love the idea that some form of scientific logic generated one of the oddest visualizations of sound i've seen...

Monday, November 20, 2006

the return of the wandering...

Friday, November 10, 2006

on the road again...

one more quiet week ahead for airforms... i'm off to berlin to work with a talking machine...

the spirit of woodland solitudes...



a few more hawaiian photos and songs from the archive... along with lua and kaili, one of victor's other prolific stars was frank ferera, who made a slew of solo, duet, and ensemble recordings.

there's a super detailed biography of him (and a nice history of early hawaiian recordings) by tom gracyk online here. gracyk says ferera was truly the first hawaiian slide guitar superstar, with early recordings released beyond the usa.

ferera was born honolulu in 1885 (his original family name was ferreira), and died in 1951. he recorded for at least 20 different record labels; and a number of his early recordings are duets with his second wife helen louise (whose original name was helen greenus). helen louise died tragically in 1919. during a ship voyage, she fell overboard and disapperaed into the sea. hawaiian echoes is one of their earlier recordings together. it sounds a bit like gypsy music...

in the 20's ferera made a large number of recordings with anthony franchini. he also made a few records with vernon dalhart. dalhart must've made a zillion records, and had a huge hit with with the wreck of ol' 97. hillbilly fans tend to view him as a real square; and dalhart's work is constantly viewed with contempt by 78 super collector joe bussard. he had a few novelty hits with topical songs such as 'lucky lindy' about lindbergh; and his recording here with ferera and franchini was surely an attempt to cash in on the recent popularity of hawaiian music. nonetheless, isle of sweethearts is a pretty nice tune.

the last track is pinin' hawaii for you by the frank ferera hawaiians with ralph haines doing the vocal work....the song has the slow mellow feel of a hawaiian sunset...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

still in my ears...




mark twain said "the music of the hawaiians, the most fascinating in the world, is still in my ears and haunts me sleeping and waking... this music fills me with the spirit of its woodland solitudes".

i recently picked up an early victor hawaiian records catalog (the printers code would date it at 1916). it lists about 150 songs (75 different 10" 78rpm circles of shellac) and has some incredible images of hawaiian music superstars of the mid 1910's. of course it sent me to the 78 pile to dig out some records...

pale k. lua and david kaili were part of the first generation of hawaiian slide guitarists, and and were quite prolific recording artists... there are 27 recordings listed in the catalog of just their duets; and they were also part of the irene west royal hawaiian troupe.

here's a few scratchy victor sides featuring lua and kaili. the first three don't sound much like 'the hukilau'. one can easily hear the instrument expanding out from the islands showing connections to, and the influences of, other styles of turn of the century guitar musics. (could this be the influence of technologly in the form of radio and recordings bringing other guitar sounds in to hawaiian guitar players' ears; or perhaps simply the physical spreading out of hawaiian players who travelled and recorded elsewhere).

the rosary is a beautiful melancholy solo track by pale k. lua. the playing sounds a lot like an early blues piece. happy heinie march is a duet by lua and kaili, which has a parlour guitar feeling mixed with a kind of early ragtime bounce. kohala march is also a duet and sounds a lot like a vaudeville song (and a little like spanish or portuguese guitar) - lua and kaili are really smokin' on this one. hawaiian march is played by the irene west royal hawaiian troupe, where lua and kaili are part of a barrage of guitars and ukes. the solo work sounds like ramblin' cowboy music at times. all of these records are circa 1912 - 1916.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

and then there were 3...



well, the professor mcrae musical wonder saga continues. here's a third swords bro's image of him i recently found. it has a #3 in the lower left. clearly this was also taken the same day as the other two, with the camera in the same spot. it's probably the best shot of his musical apparatus. he's got a giant medal on his shirt in this one, which was pinned to his jacket in #2, but no idea what it is. also, the mount is different than the other two - which means swords bro's had at least three different mount options - this one has the simpler text but the deckled edges... on the back it's stamped in blue ink Prof. Mc. Rae. Musical Wonder... that brings my mcrae total to 5 images. if you want to read the earlier post on the sword bro's images click here

Monday, November 06, 2006

speak no evil...


back in town with a p.o. box full of wonder... i particularly like this photo... the woman on the far left, her eyes closed, apparently lost in the beauty of the music; while the woman in the middle is scratching her head... it seems the determination of a guitar speaking evil or not is a matter of judgment (and musical taste...)