The Ur Sonata

Kurt Schwitters composed this poem in 1922 to show that musical form can be applied to language. The poem consists of four movements (with a cadenza in the fourth), as well as an overture and a finale. Like music it introduces and varies themes — the first movement, in sonata form, develops four main subjects; the largo and the scherzo both have an ABA form; and themes from the first movement reappear in the scherzo. But fundamentally it’s a work of language rather than music — the performer is speaking rather than singing.

“In the first movement I draw your attention to the word for word repeats of the themes before each variation, to the explosive beginning of the first movement, to the pure lyricism of the sung ‘Jüü-Kaa,’ to the military severity of the rhythm of the quite masculine third theme next to the fourth theme, which is tremulous and mild as a lamb, and lastly to the accusing finale of the first movement, with the question ‘tää?'”

Schwitters said he included a written cadenza for those who “had no imagination,” but he preferred that the performer improvise based on the piece’s themes.

Marine Warfare

Humans tend to abuse sea creatures, so digital artist Neil Mendoza gave them a way to fight back. As Smashie the fish swims around his aquatic habitat, he takes aim at the human habitat outside; the hammer drops periodically when a rotating cam releases it.

Mendoza created the project through Autodesk’s artist-in-residence program. You can build your own “fish hammer actuation device” with the instructions here.

Podcast Episode 177: Averting a Catastrophe in Manhattan

https://www.flickr.com/photos/steve_soblick/22162534936
Image: Flickr

New York’s Citicorp Tower was an architectural sensation when it opened in 1977. But then engineer William LeMessurier realized that its unique design left it dangerously vulnerable to high winds. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the drama that followed as a small group of decision makers tried to ward off a catastrophe in midtown Manhattan.

We’ll also cringe at an apartment mixup and puzzle over a tolerant trooper.

See full show notes …

False Alarm

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:William_Makepeace_Thackeray.jpg

When William Makepeace Thackeray was five years old, his aunt was alarmed to discover that his uncle’s hat fit him.

“Don’t be afraid,” the doctor told her. “He has a large head, but there’s a good deal in it.”

He Who Falls

French acrobat and dancer Yoann Bourgeois created “Celui qui tombe” for the 2014 International Dance Biennial of Lyon. He calls the six dancers “a mankind in miniature.”

“It’s clear that if you do it ‘your way’ rather than the group’s way, you imperil and unbalance the joint venture,” wrote Luke Jennings in a Guardian review. “But you also get freedom. Or do you?”

Twice Missed

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gen._Joseph_Hooker_-_NARA_-_527503.jpg

Union general Joseph Hooker had an eventful day at the Battle of Chancellorsville:

I was standing on this step of the portico on the Sunday morning of the 3d of May, and was giving direction to the battle, which was now raging with great fury, the cannon-balls reaching me from both the east and the west, when a solid shot struck the pillar near me, splitting it in two, and throwing one-half longitudinally against me, striking my whole right side, which soon turned livid. For a few moments I was senseless, and the report spread that I had been killed. But I soon revived, and to correct the misapprehension, I insisted on being lifted upon my horse, and rode back towards the white house, which subsequently became the center of my new position. Just before reaching it, the pain from my hurt became so intense, that I was likely to fall, when I was assisted to dismount, and was laid upon a blanket spread out upon the ground, and was given some brandy. This revived me, and I was assisted to remount. Scarcely was I off the blanket, when a solid shot, fired by the enemy at Hazel Grove, struck in the very center of that blanket, where I had a moment before been lying, and tore up the earth in a savage way.

In Strange Tales of the Civil War, Michael Sanders writes, “In this way, Joseph Hooker avoided being instantly killed by two cannon balls within minutes of each other.”

Good Girl

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Four years ago, the city was making extensive repairs for a number of blocks along our main thoroughfare here in Pasadena, putting in a complete new set of pipes. After two weeks, the day came when I was to have my hair done. I heard machinery in the distance, but decided to go on.

I soon found myself right in the midst of the work which was plenty noisy. Rene was on the outside, the side of the machinery, but aside from slowing up a little, she kept steadily on her way. One of the workmen shouted that the dog was doing fine, but I noticed that she kept pushing me very close to the buildings, almost against them. When I reached the shop and mentioned the way we had come, everyone was simply horrified. All along the block where Rene had kept me so close the buildings was just a narrow strip of sidewalk. The rest was a great hole where pipes were being laid.

— Genevieve Wiley on her dog Rene, from Peter Brock Putnam, Love in the Lead: The Fifty-Year Miracle of the Seeing Eye Dog, 1979

Snug

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Manicouagan-EO.JPG

Canada’s René-Levasseur Island is larger than the lake that surrounds it.

The island occupies 2,020 square kilometers, while the surrounding Lake Manicouagan covers 1,942.

Visible from space, the feature is sometimes called the Eye of Quebec.

Long Hand

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

The framers of medieval charters needed to make them visually striking and memorable — relatively few people would be able to understand the Latin legalities, but many would see the documents, and in order to carry authority they had to look different from ordinary texts, remarkable and unique.

One way to do this was with “an altogether peculiar sort of writing, of which the first characteristic is elongation,” writes Nicolete Gray in Lettering as Drawing. In this charter given by Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV to the bishopric of Bamberg in 1057, the text is written in long, attenuated letters:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_IV,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

“The strange letter forms impress themselves, due to their difference from the norm, on the peoples’ consciousness and they thus endow the charter with a kind of aura that sets it apart,” writes Laurence de Looze in The Letter & the Cosmos. The signatures were often elaborate for the same reason: “A trace of worldly power is carried over into the writing, the letter forms performing this transfer of the power from the people who created the charter into the document itself.”