Wednesday, January 31, 2007

minor chords and accidentals...



nick manoloff published a number of how to play guitar guides, books, and sheet music in the 1930's. this beautiful art deco looking accompaniment guide was published in 1935, and came free with "book no. 1". there's a window wheel on the outside and a chord and finger position wheel on the inside so that one can spin the inner wheel to find which chords accompany which key... there's also a picture of the finger positions and major and minor key positions on the back. i really like the the idea that there are known chords called accidentals.

while looking manoloff up online i found this excerpt from an interview with bb king. apparently king began to learn guitar fingering and to read music through nick's books and most likely a little disc like this one.

"There was a guy called Nick Manoloff. Nick Manoloff had books. Guitar instruction books in the Sears Roebuck catalogue, the big one. I'd order those books and I studied them religiously, and that's how I learned to put my fingers on - learned how to tune a guitar and learned my first bit of learning how to read music. I'm a blues singer, a blues musician, but I can read music - not fast, but I do - and I learned to even write a little bit."
bb king

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

who's listening now ...





here are some 78 sleeves by the nipponophone company, with a strange riff on rca victor's logo and catch phrase: his master's voice.

with victor, the original idea behind the dog with his head cocked to the side standing over the victrola; was that the reproduction of sound was so clear that the dog is thinking that the victrola is his dead master (hence he's hearing "his master's voice"). nipponophone has gone a step further with these - where buddha is the one who is listening.

the uppermost sleeve is my favorite because it seems buddha is meditating, while his spirit is somehow distracted by music to leave his physical body to become one with the sound he is listening to. i'm guessing the voice buddha is hearing is quite possibly his own, creating a kind of vocal auroboros vortex that i won't begin to impose any kind of definitional logic upon.

the graphics on both of these are just stellar, and the lower one is such a great example of the influence of western victorian and art nouveau aesthetics on japanese design. at some point i hope to get a few of the 100 or so japanese 78's that these images are from up on the blog so you can hear some of what is on these things; but the images were haunting me, so here they are in all their silent glory...

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Monday, January 29, 2007

music for leaves...


the blurred winded leaves, the trumpet clutched to his chest, eyes closed listening, and that feeling like the whole landscape is moving right through him....

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Friday, January 26, 2007

a cloud of dust...


well, it's two-post-friday because it's going to be no-post-weekend... i figure that the aftermath of black rain (see below) would be a dust cloud or two... and clearly the dust has descended upon these two... right before the shutter clicked.

i like to imagine the music they're playing; and how the spirits, who are quietly listening while they are floating all over this thing, might dance a little before they gently evaporate... music has a habit of encouraging such things.


a solitary decoration...






robert creeley founded the divers press in 1950 while living in palma, mallorca, spain. divers was a small press that published a series of beautiful small editions for about 4 years, until creeley started working at black mountain college in 1955.

creeley met katue kitasono, a japanese artist, through kitasono's connection to kenneth rexroth. kitasono was a poet as well as an abstract painter and publisher in the 1930's of the avant garde poetry journal vou. vou,"introduced sound poems, dadaist absurdities and work harkening the eventual development of surrealism in japan." the journal was also championed by ezra pound, with whom kitasono had a lot of influence, through a 30 year written correspondence even though they'd never met.

in 1954 divers published a beautiful small book of kitasono's poems and pictures. it contains 5 poems and several geometric abstractions. in a 1987 interview, creeley said it was one of the divers books he remembered most vividly, and i think it was probably because of these crisp and quiet josef albers influenced images.

there are many beautiful moments in this little book, including phrases like "the lightning paints the street like a zebra" and "kissing is sad with smells of lead and gasoline and sea-weed"- that connect the seemingly simple language constructions, to the sweet little abstract images pictured above.

i really love the language; and since the english is kitasono's own translation from japanese, the words feel very particular - especially if you read the poems out loud. as with the images, if any bit of the language was changed, the whole thing would fall apart.

here's my favorite poem:

'a solitary decoration'

i lightly dodged, today too from my destiny
and went across a bridge of melancholy
passed through a small pagan town
which smelled of onion and leek;
then there came to be seen scattered under the cloudy sky,
decayed pales, boards, and roofs:
such a sight soothed me and gave
a balance to my heart.
i tread on the seaweeds, the drifting fragments,
and look at the waves bristling up, the sea-gulls on the wing:
i lie on the poor nettles like a withered collie
to recollect my little fame, my dispute, and my time of pleasure that are gone,
i muse on my light boat, my body, and my liquid medicine,
with my cheek against the slope of this dark century of calamity
i sadly call for an eternal cure.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

the oddly angular and the baby...



a few years ago i found quite a few boxes of very heavy 78's at the rose bowl flea market, and spent several months listening to every side (about 800 records). most of the tracks were straght ahead jazz, and there were a lot of standouts; but there was also a lot of consistency. the two tracks here were part of that load; but stood out not for the playing (although i think it's pretty great) but from the relative emptiness of the recordings...

when a 78 label says sax or drum solo on it, it usually means the sax or drums are soloing over a group of other folks; but the drum solo by baby dodds here is unacompanied, and the sax solo by bud freeman is basically without a band (he's playing with just a drummer). there's something really special about the sound of an empty room evoking a kind of intimacy in these recordings that is profoundly human...

baby dodds is probably the most important pioneer of jazz drumming... period. brother of the other famous jazz playing dodds, johnny; baby played with three of the giants of jazz - king oliver, louis armstrong, and jellyroll morton. he was probably the first person ever to record a solo drum record in the jazz idiom.

bud freeman was born in chicago, but heavily influenced by new orleans pioneers like louis armstrong (i wonder if he ever played with or heard baby dodds?). he eventually moved to ny to work with such greats as eddie condon and joe venuti, and his style has been described as "oddly angular and consistently swinging".

atomic age, is freeman at his smoking best. i love the interplay of the skronky sax sound and the repetitive (almost meditative) rhythmic beat. baby dodd's drum improv no. 2, is simply "other"... standing outside of 99% of jazz recordings of the time like a wonderfully bad-ass of a sore thumb. these aren't mere talking drums, they're also whispering, dancing, and screaming!

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

the architect is listening...


not knowing a good rivet from a faulty one, he tried the library without luck. schindler said "i hit each one with a hammer and listened and soon i began to detect a difference in the sound"

esther mccoy, rm schindler and richard neutra: two journeys

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

from my jolly club to yours...


she's listening to the original dixie rag pickers version of bluebird blues. he's listening to jose bedoya y su conjunta playing el conductor... jolly music at it's old and scratchy finest...

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Monday, January 22, 2007



i love the body whose head is perfectly cropped by the long black band that resembles one of duchamp's string dropped rulers at the top of the image... the way his cut off head is perfectly mimicked in the guy standing next to him's cut off tie (like yin and yang... the head of the man, and the foot of the tie suggesting upward movement and then down...)... the blurred victrola horn as though the whole world of sound is running through it and it is shuddering... the way the woman with her arm over the chair back and the girl with her arms crossed are slowly being enveloped in pool-like chemical whirl... as though the sound is dropping out of the shuddering horn only to envelop them in it's sensuous flow... and how the woman on the right is stiff as a board, mentally outside of the entire picture frame, clenching her fingers until they are numb in an attempt to remain immune to the sound or the tangled web of spirits inhabiting everything else ("i will not listen... i will not listen")...and how the residue of some hidden electricity has ended up at the foot of her dress and her neighbor's elbow...attempting to connect them (as some kind of repository of reception)... and then an entire world seems to reside in the potential of the small white glowing orb at the bottom right corner... as though it were about to spread upwards and into to her body... eventually encompassing her entire being so that she will at once return to this image's world through open ears... and perhaps that central pool of clarity is already attempting to morph with the bottom right glow, so that the three women will simply be swimming (or drowning... or floating) in sound... and then it all (the pool, the glow, the sound) begins to rise even more (and perhaps even more slowly)... accepting the man with the cut tie; and eventually, as it rises whole, the man with headless body... and finally even the awkward black bar... and the two beautiful skeletal trees... and thus, the entire world is placed before our eyes, enveloped in song...

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Sunday, January 21, 2007



this one sided 7" (with a beautiful cover obviously influenced by paul rand) was published by bell labs in 1963 to show "examples of synthesized speech developed by bell telephone laboratories for educational use..."

sure, it's easy to listen to this primitive sounding "computer speech" with a sense of ironic distance; but if you listen without the distance, these recordings are really quite amazing. the geniuses at bell labs found a way to use punch cards to control a vocabulary of speech sounds, pitch, loudness, and other variables towards trying to get a machine to speak a human's language like a human.

"the speech comes out of the simulated talking machine as tiny magnetized spots on half inch magnetic tape. the tape is fed into another machine which converts the spots to a sound tape suitable for playing on an ordinary tape recorder."

to spend, what would appear to be, an insane amount of time and research just to get a machine to sing "daisy" is somewhat nuts on the outside; but quite the beautiful obsession on the inside. there was a belief that this research had significant value towards what bell labs called "the nature of speech and hearing", and the labs' various explorations along these lines from the 40's - 60's attempted to expand our perception and understanding of the various relationships between sight, hearing, listening, speaking, and sound.

i love the way the phrase "he saw the cat" had to become "H EE S AW DHUH KAET" to be spoken properly by a machine. it seems connected to how humans should speak star names in yesterday's post... and i also think it's interesting that this little piece of vinyl is kind of a record of a beginning to attempt to humanize the computer and also to create a more complex and less definable relationship between man and machine...

click here to LISTEN

Saturday, January 20, 2007

important special star names...





stellar found poetry in a small pamphlet published by the adler planetarium chicago in 1942 on the preferred spellings and pronunciations of constellations, clusters, and my favorite - the fifty important special star names.

the blue mimeograph color reminds me of grammar school newspapers, and the graphic design done on a typewriter is all the work of human hand made ingenuity... i strongly encourage clicking on the images to see them bigger.

there is a beauty here that is part concrete poetry, part henri chopin typewriter poem, and part the indeterminacy of jackson maclow...

did you know mirfak's equivalent is persei?

there's a "key to pronunciations", which explains how to speak the words through a list that runs from "a as in ale, fate, maker, profane" to "u as in burn, hurl, hurt, urge, urn". the booklet begs to be spoken out loud; and with no other explanatory information, all one can do is read and revel in the beautiful sounds of the words... pronounced as they ought to be!

Friday, January 19, 2007

dance party...



well, it seemed after desolation circus i should put up a desolation photo that was happier... at least these folks are smiling.

a little dance party in the middle of nowhere... nine people on the dance floor, and i'm guessing somebody's partner not only took the photo but got a hand in front of the lens to create the dark cloud-like tenth presence on the right.

i love the guy waving his hat (or using it to shield his face from the sun), and also that there is both a band and a victrola on stage to make sure there was non stop dancing...

note the absence of humans outside of the area of the wooden structure... it's like they're on a barge and the earth is water...

Thursday, January 18, 2007



i keep wondering why in the hell some body took this picture (actually they shot 3 of them, but this was the best one)...

a 4x5 transparency (which means it was shot by a pro) of some hands on tv circa 1960... "... quick, get the camera, it's that commercial with the hands again... hurry up... i gotta get a shot of this...!"

of course, the stunner is the lamp facing the hands like it's blowing a light hole through the left hand from behind the tv...

and then there's the black and white life in the tv and the color life outside of it... and the secret cult like religious implications of the hands themselves...

jeez... i don't know what else to say... it's just so goddamn humbling...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

desolation circus...


there aren't a lot of circus photos that scream desolation like this one. perhaps because they are usually inside tents, or perhaps because when they are outside everything doesn't disappear along the horizon...

there's a lot of lonliness here... the solo flag, the three lights (?), and everyone on stage looks like they're in a daze and somewhat lost. the tents in the background look incredibly small and in terms of a band, i can only make out two horn players. it was probably a pretty quiet fanfare indeed...

the thing that completely slayed me is the stage and its beautiful wood slats, like a pier or an island designed by donald judd.

if you want to see a companion i call desolation carnival, check out patrick's recent post on his stuff from the park disneyland blog...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007



Monday, January 15, 2007

through the looking glass...

well, i just got around to reading today's paper and sadly, it seems alice coltrane passed away late friday. there's a nice interview history here if you want to know more about one of the few humans i'd use the term majestic to describe.

i was fortunate enough to see/hear her perform a year or so ago at ucla, and the experience was definitely transcendent. her presence was oddly like that scene in willy wonka where you first see gene wilder walk out with a limp and a cane, and then he does a flip and instantly transforms from a frail human to a shining mystic. alice walked on stage very slowly and seemed extremely fragile until she sat down at the organ and began to play... mystic would be an understatement as she instantly filled the space with the spirit.

years ago, when asked to make a list of the 10 records i'd take to a desert island, i included her impulse release ptah, the el daoud. i love all three of her early impluse records, but the song turiya and ramakrishna from ptah slays me every single time i hear it.

once, about 10 years ago i either hallucinated while listening to it, or it somehow attracted a ghost to the studio because i swear during ron carter's bass solo a small cup of paint jumped from the floor and splattered against the wall. never question the power of music.

in terms of gospel and blues mixed into the context of jazz, mingus got it right a lot, and with turiya alice got it uber-right. soulful is probably one of the most over used terms in relation to music, but her piano playing on this track is magnificently soulful. it also includes the best few minutes of music ron carter ever recorded, and the moment at the end of his solo when the drums and piano come back into the track is one of my most favorite moments of three people coming together and making music ever.

while mystical and spiritual connections to music were big in the late 60's and early 70's, since the birth of new age music in the early 80's, these ideas became taboo, particularly in the context of jazz where a much more intellectual approach was taken in terms of the language it cloaked itself in.

alice coltrane never strayed from keeping her spiritual beliefs at the forefront of her work; and in many ways music was simply a vehicle for a higher calling. her presence on this planet will be missed, but her music will definitely continue to add beauty and transcendence to the world for a long long time.

turiya and ramakrishna

Sunday, January 14, 2007

word pictures...


in the late 1950's, the bell telephone company began an ad campaign showing images of research done at bell labs towards developing a technology that could read voice characteristics like a fingerprint. the above ad, from a 1957 radio and tv news magazine, shows that the 'word pictures' were totally different than any previous attempts to visualize sound in graphic forms.

"we devised a method of making spectograms of spoken words. we call them voiceprints. they are actual pictures of sound, revealing patterns of voice energy."

of course, they were trying to visualize the invisible, and in terms of the almost cosmic phrase "voice energy", didn't seem adverse to adding a slightly alchemical touch to their language. it sounds like a phrase gurdjieff would've used, and it suggests the potentials in a science that allows the unknown and the unseen to fuel questions as opposed to a process seeking a specific answer.

in the image below, from a small bell labs brochure, you can compare two different voices speaking the word 'hello'. this is a little later than the ad above; and i love how the images feel a lot closer to topographical maps than pictures of sound - evoking the existence of a landscape within a single spoken word, and suggesting the various paths one could take on a journey through a single sound. (i am riding in a small boat through the river of the 'oh' of your 'hello'.)


Friday, January 12, 2007



i arrived home from japan to discover that a little article i wrote on the history of the airform archives living space was published on the msn website today. click here if you want to take a look...

Thursday, January 11, 2007




walking in kyoto to get some tea from my favorite tea shop i passed a beautiful old store front. the shop was closed, but i wanted to get a picture of one of the windows when i noticed the dashed lines on the small hanging sign over the doorway. a closer look revealed an ingenius and beautiful mending of the cloth, with white fabric sewn onto the back to fill in the areas where the white front of the logo had torn open.

for some wonderful unknown reason the fixer decided to use white thread instead of blue... thus visually mapping the shapes of the white fabric scraps that should've been discreet and invisible from the public side of the sign. along with the sympathetic relationship of dashed lines to my own work (as measured units related to the translation of text into images), i was just kind of in awe of the simple human approach to the repair and the beautiful new drawing that it made...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

subame no koya tembo dai


i initially thought this image was an old shield, or a part of a game of some sort. it is actually a small circular map from a 1920's postacard describing the view from an area of the japan alps called subame no koya tembo dai (which roughly translates into english as: swallows hut viewing spot). i love the idea of a rotational graphic you could move around in your hands as you look in all the various directions from one can see various mountains as well as one symbol for a hot springs.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

where records were made...





found this nice little postcard in a used bookstore, advertising the factory that made taihei records. you can see the workers doing quality control checks on victrolas, and the sleeve stuffers. i particularly like the graphic at the bottom... it seems 78's are called SP records here in japan. so far, no idea why....

Wednesday, January 03, 2007



the chestnut is a holy tree. the chinese ideograph for chestnut is tree placed directly below west, the direction of the holy land.
basho, the narrow road to the deep north

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

fish scales...





"this simple geometric pattern, called the fish scale, is based on the equilateral triangle, but there is also a version very near this one based on the isosceles triangle. the triangle is widely used in folk art in every country because it expresses faith through its connotations of sacredness of a sharp mountain peak... although the pattern derives its name from its resemblence to the scales of fish and snakes, there is little direct connection between the pattern and its natural counterpart... there are a number of varieties of this pattern all depending on the way the triangles are joined..."
japan architect, september 1964

in kobe, i have seen this pattern everywhere, including the subway and on the apron of an actor making curry udon on tv this morning...