Saturday 22 March 2008

Pachelbel; his canon.

Johann Pachelbel - 1653-1706
Canon in D
"arguably the most widely used, recorded and recognizable instrumental work of all time."

I shan't argue with that, but I am curious as to how it got that way. My CYCLOPEDIA (sic) of MUSIC and MUSICIANS, edited by Oscar Thompson , third edition, revised and enlarged, of 1944, gives ten lines on the composer but doesn't mention the Canon in D. or more properly, Canon and gigue, for 3 violins & continuo in D major, T. 337. A canon is of course a type of contrapuntal composition once popular, in which the theme is imitated by a second voice at an interval, and more voices after that if you like, though as with most things in the world it is a little more complicated than its one-line explanation. And a gigue is a jig. Here's a list of over 500 other works by the composer.

So how did it get to be so famous after so long, about 250 years after the death of the bloke who wrote it? has tracked its rise to favour by counting the mentions of it in the NY Times, an ingenious idea I thought (see right). So something happened in the '60s, and it picked up a head of steam in the '80s.

All music guide notes that Mr Pachelbel was

lost in the mists of musical time until Rudolf Baumgartner and the Lucerne Festival Strings decided to record a work they called Pachelbel's Canon for France's Erato label in the mid-'60s. The recording was not considered worthy of release domestically in the United States except by the Musical Heritage Society. Amazingly enough, the recording became a best seller and, even more amazingly, was heard by Robert Redford, who decided to use it in his film Ordinary People (1980). From there, for a brief time, Pachelbel's Canon became the most popular piece of classical music in the history of humanity.
I have tried and failed to find any anecdotal information about Mr Pachelbel except for a couple of incidents at a slight remove from the man himself
"One interesting story comes from his time in Ohrdruf. For some unknown reason, Johann Christoph Bach (older brother and teacher of JS Bach) forbid J.S. from reading a manuscript of Pachelbel's original works. Every night for six months, Bach would sneak down to his brother's study and copy the manuscript by moonlight for his own use...
He also tutored all of his children. His son William Hieronymus filled Pachelbel's position at Sebalduskirche, shortly after his death. His other two sons, Carl Theodor & Johann Michael immigrated to America around 1730.
While in America Carl Theodor made a bit of history. Following in his father's footsteps he found employment as an organist at the Trinity Church in Newport, Rhode Island sometime around 1733. In 1736, he traveled to New York City and at 6:00 PM on January 21, 1736 gave a concert in a local tavern. This event is significant as it was the first concert in the colonies of which records exist.
Now, before I post the celebrated Youtube video of a version of the work which I rather like, note the following:
Originally written in 1700 (elsewhere given as early as 1680) as a short, fast piece for three violins and basso continuo, the Baumgartner recording set the pace for outlandish arrangements of the work by slowing it down to about a third its original tempo
And that's the respectful version we're talking about. There are hideous disco and techno beat renditions out there.

What would Mr. Pachelbel think about it? I wonder if you stop caring when you're dead, or if there really is an afterlife and God lets you in on the Cosmic Joke and you just spend the rest of Eternity laughing. Who knows? I suspect Pachelbel would be too horrified by US to even get around to considering what we'd done with this canon out of all the canons he wrote. Nevertheless, this is Taiwanese Guitar virtuoso Jerry C. playing it (in one of the most popular videos on Youtube over the last couple of years). Of course it is no longer technically speaking a 'canon,' and whether the dramatic key shift at 3.53, creating the modern 'bridge' that facilitates its conversion into a rock anthem, originates here or in the work of a slick arranger in some other version, I do not pretend to know and haven't the time to find out. But this kid sure can play.

(Youtube link from Callum Campbell)


Friday 21 March 2008

Comic legend keeps true to roots
By Nic Rigby -BBC News, Northampton- Friday, 21 March 2008, 10:30 GMT
Comic book writer Alan Moore is revered across the world as being one of the most creative forces in the industry. Books such as Watchmen, From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentleman and V for Vendetta show that some comic books must be placed on the high table of literature. But despite his fame, Moore still lives in his home town of Northampton, in a three-bedroom mid-terrace home similar to the one he grew up in.


The NY Times have conjured a fashion slide show out of last saturday's SPLAT 'graphic novel' symposium.


Most cultivated an aura of benign self-neglect. Overstuffed messenger bags, weathered cords, Converse sneakers and trilbys contributed to the effect. Tousled hair, windbreakers and spectacles, too, played a part in transforming these studiously nondescript characters into brashly confident avatars of cool.
(link via Heidi MacDonald
Two great pictorial sites.
1. You're Doing it wrong! ("fine examples of idiots who can't drive cars, can't ride bikes, can't fly planes, and can't remember to take the hose out of the gas tank.")
A long slideshow of calamitous moments.

2. Photoshop Disasters ('Begun this clone tool has') (sic)
"Have you seen a truly awful piece of Photoshop work? Clumsy manipulation, senseless comping, lazy cloning and thoughtless retouching are our bread and butter. And yes, deep down, we love Photoshop. If it is commercial and awful then please let us know!"

Above is from their march 3rd post, 'Victoria's Secret: Classic severed hand.'

above links via hayley campbell.
Quote for the day.
Tommy Dorsey, bandleader (mid 1940s): “There are three evil people in the world - Adolf Hitler, Buddy Rich and Alvin Stoller- and I’ve had two of them in my band”.


Thursday 20 March 2008

While picking a book off my shelf in response to a comment from a few days back, (On Humour by Simon Critchley) I noticed a couple of other books up there that I haven't thought about in a long time, items I picked up while researching 'the History of Humour'. There's Naughty Shakespeare by Michael Macrone (1998) for instance, (subtitled 'the lascivious lines, offensive oaths, and politically incorrect notions of the baddest bard of all.') and Tailwinds ('The lore and language of fizzles, farts and toots') by Peter Furze (also 1998). Here's an excerpt:

"A married couple had lived together for nearly forty years. The only thing that threatened to come between them in all that time was the husband's habit of breaking wind every morning immediately after waking. The noise would wake up his wife and the smell would make her eyes water. On countless occasions she pleaded with him to do something about his morning flatulations. He told her that there was nothing he could do about a natural bodily function and that she would just have to put up with it. His wife said there was nothing natural about it at all, and if he didn't stop there would come a day when he would fart all his guts out. The husband merely laughed.
Years went by. The wife continued to suffer and the husband continued to dismiss her warnings about farting his guts out. Then, one thanksgiving morning, the wife rose very early and went downstairs to prepare the family feast. It was while she was taking out the turkey's innards that the wife had an idea. Smiling to herself, she put the turkey guts into a bowl and quietly went upstairs to the bedroom. Her flatulent husband was still fast asleep. Gently she pulled back the bed covers, then spread the turkey guts over the sheet, near her husband's posterior. She then replaced the bedclothes and tip-toed back downstairs to finish preparing the family meal.
Some time later the sound of flatulent explosions from upstairs told her that her husband had woken up. Moments later she heard a terrible scream, then the sound of frantic footsteps as her husband ran to the bathroom. The wife laughed aloud. After years of putting up with her husband's morning bombshells she had finally gotten her revenge. But she controlled her amusemant and went upstairs, calling to her husband to ask what was the matter. Muffled cries of 'Nothing, it's all right,' came from behind the bathroom door. Five minutes later, her husband emerged, a look of horrror in his eyes. The wife began to feel rather sorry for him, and again asked him what was wrong.
"I didn't listen to you," said the hiusband. "All those years you warned me and I didn't listen to you." "What do you mean?" said the wife, innocently. "Well you always told me that I would end up farting my guts out, and today it finally happened." The wife was about to put him out of his misery and admit to her prank, but her husband continued: "But by the grace of God and these two fingers, I think I got'em all back in."

Coincidentally, my two most regular suppliers of links have sent me stories about toilets today.
Olympics crisis over squat loos
BBC NEWS- 19 Mar- China is rushing to install sit-down loos for its 500,000 foreign Olympics visitors, after complaints that venues had only Asian-style squat toilets. (via wee hayley campbell)

Noir Thriller Plays in Public Bathrooms
NEW YORK (AP) -19 Mar- For most visitors to Central Park, the public bathrooms are a facility of last resort, visited only in desperation after consuming one too many cups of coffee. They're dark and creepy, filled with spiders, foul odors and puddles of questionable origin.
But for Irish director and playwright Paul Walker, the damp, the chill and even the smell are all part of the experience - the theatergoing experience.
His prize-winning play, "Ladies & Gents," is a noir thriller performed entirely in the covered men's and women's bathrooms in Central Park's Bethesda Terrace.
The space is intimate, unpretentious and uncomfortable. Walker's previous site-specific plays involved busing bewildered patrons to an abandoned warehouse, and a play that meandered through all the rooms of Dublin's Sick and Indigent Roomkeepers Home...
(via Bob Morales)


Wednesday 19 March 2008

The first part of the PBS series, How Art made the World aired here on Australia's ABC last night (I realise it's a couple of years old by now and everybody else has probably already seen it).

Dr. Spivey takes viewers on a quest to comprehend mankind's unique capacity to understand and explain the world through artistic symbols. Speaking in colorful, non-technical language and aided by state-of-the-art computer graphics, Spivey explores the latest thinking by historians, neuroscientists and psychologists regarding the deep-seated and universal human desire to create art.
In this first part he looked at people's evolving concept of the human body, starting with the 25 thousand year old 'Willendorf Venus' (left) and finishing by rather confidently declaring the two thousand four hundred and fifty year old Riace Warriors (below) to be the greatest sculptures ever made. It's daft to say that since most of them that were made were long ago destroyed and we don't know what they looked like. It would be more acceptable to say they are all that we have left of the greatest moment in the history of sculpture, and that we only have them by dint of the extarordinary accident of their being on a shipwreck proabably before the Roman era, and of a snorkler seeing a bronze hand poking out of the sea bed off the coast of sounthern Italy as late as 1972. We cannot even guess who, out of the catalogue of names of the great Greek sculptors (whose works that still stood in Roman times were noted and described), could have made them, with their inlaid eyes and nipples and other extraordinary details, and whether all of this was once commonplace. One thing is certain, that such a peak could never have been reached without artists building upon each others achievements.

Here's a round-up of most of the life-size Greek bronzes that have survived, which is a very small number. We have to otherwise depend on the copyists in marble of the Roman era for our knowledge. And that is not to be sneezed at; to stand close to the full size marble copy of the Diadumenos by Polykleitos in the British Museum is to be humbled. But you must stand within its personal space. You can easily google it and get a long shot that looks like a guy on the other side of the street you're trying to avoid. Get close, like the photographer above, and check the closing forms of the hands and wonder how on earth the artist got his little chisels in there.


Tuesday 18 March 2008

How 'gay' became children's insult of choice- Mar 18- BBC News
The word "gay" is now the most frequently used term of abuse in schools, says a report. How did it get to be so prevalent and why do children use homophobic insults to get at each other?
The commenters pile on the usual confusion except for the fellow who noted: "I suspect this is a reaction to the pushing of politically correct ideas on a reasonable population... The same has happened with the term "special" which comes from "special needs"... I often hear it used by young people to question people's intellectual capacity. The currency of kids' conversation is often mean - and that's part of the rough and tumble of their lives. Children relish the use of unacceptable terminology.
(link via hayley campbell, our bad language correspondent))
Anthony Minghella, British film director of Cold Mountain, Talented Mr Ripley, English Patient, has died aged 54.
Heather Mills poured a jug of water over the head of Sir Paul McCartney's lawyer Fiona Shackleton at the end of their divorce case, she has admitted.
Man auctions his life
SYDNEY (Reuters) - A man in Australia is auctioning his life -- his house, his job, his clothes and his friends -- on eBay, after his marriage broke up, saying he wants to start a new life. Ian Usher, 44, said his life auction, which starts on June 22, included not only his house, a car, a motorbike, a jet ski and a spa, but also an introduction to "great friends" and a job at a rug shop in Perth for a trial two-week period.

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Monday 17 March 2008

Bob Morales links me to this story:
Streets of the Dead- Washington Post -March 16.
When Washington youths get killed, memorials pay testament to the victims -

"They are street memorials that spring up to mark the places where mostly young people get killed. Photographer Lloyd Wolf began documenting them in 2003 after a boy he mentored lost four relatives to murder in a year. He watched the boy stagger in his pain.
'I learned to see the markers that were erected in the city's rough (and not-so-rough) neighborhoods as representing the powerful emotions of people -- real people, distraught and grieving.'" Wolf says about his photos.
"The memorials take on different forms in different parts of the country, Wolf says. In New York City, mourners pay tribute with elaborate graffiti on streets and walls. They are freestanding in the Southwestern cities of Albuquerque and Austin, like those that dot the sides of the road. They draw influence from Catholic and Latin American images and symbols: crosses, photos in gilded frames and pictures of saints on candles in glass holders.
Here, they might feature handwritten notes and photos. There are flowers and, most especially, toys, their cheeriness repurposed to aching effect: lions and tigers, rabbits and bears. The memorials spring from a collective will that could not save the dead and now offers eulogy and demands justice in tufts of fake fur"
There are nine photographs in a slideshow on the newspaper's site, and on his own blog Wolf has posted hundreds.
Washington's Other Monuments
"These pictures are of the many sad memorials erected by friends & family to honor murder and other violence victims in the Washington DC area. These spontaneous, homemade, heartfelt creations are found on streets throughout the region. They are often the only physical tribute to the many slaying victims.


Sunday 16 March 2008

Things you find when you were looking for something else.

The multifarious blogs of Joe Mathlete.
MARMADUKE EXPLAINED (in 500 words or less)
Joe explains each day's Maramaduke cartoon

"Marmaduke is being held in his backyard against his will. Rather than destroying something or threatening physical violence to get his way, he writes a distress signal in the snow in an attempt to communicate with passing aircraft, birds, or Google Earth."

JOE MATHLETE'S GREAT AMERICAN BLOG (By Joe Mathlete, Great American Blogist)

JOE MATHLETE WILL DRAW ANYTHING YOU ASK HIM ON AN INDEX CARD ("Totally not accepting orders for at least the next few weeks, on account of things")

JOE MATHLETE DRAWS A NIPPLE ON ZIGGY"S NOSE SO THAT HIS NOSE LOOKS LIKE A TITTY (another brilliant Joe Mathlete comic strip thing)

The Mathletes: A Music Band Thing (WARNING: THIS GOES TO A MYSPACE PAGE) (sic)

ROBOT McGEE EXPLAINS FINE ART (in which my android friend analyzes and interprets famous works of art with his hyper-advanced computer brain)



This is a cartoon by R F Outcault (1863-1928) that Bill Blackbeard showed in his big book on The Yellow Kid that Kitchen Sink press published. The reproduction measured a mere two inches by three there, so I've blown it up here so you can see it properly (click to enlarge). It's surreal in its violence and I felt that BB gave it short shrift by not showing it properly (though that's a minor quibble about a magnificent book, now alas out of print).

That single image, when compared with a random sampling of more or less contemporary cartoons from Punch, says so much about the shift from the staid Victorian era to the explosive twentieth century.