Close Enough

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Livermore_public_library_in_2010.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 2004, Livermore, Calif., paid Miami artist Maria Alquilar $40,000 to create a ceramic mural outside its new library. Its pride was short-lived: The mural misspelled the names of 10 of the 175 historical figures it honored:

Nefertite
Thesues
Michaelangelo
Shakespere
Clara Schuman
Paul Gaugan
Vincent Van Gough
Albert Eistein

German chemist Otto Beckmann’s name was spelled Beckman, and Italian sculptor Luca Della Robbia’s name was spelled Luca Della Robia.

“The most egregious is Einstein,” library director Susan Gallinger told the San Francisco Chronicle. “That’s the worst one.” Livermore is home to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Unfortunately, California state law bars the city from removing or changing public art without the creator’s consent, so the city council had to pay Alquilar an additional $6,000 to correct the errors.

The artist was unapologetic. “The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake’s concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words,” she told the Associated Press. “In their mind, the words register correctly.”

DIY

Born in Texarkana in 1912, Conlon Nancarrow had no access to technology that could realize the music in his head. He studied music briefly and played trumpet in venues ranging from beer halls to cruise ships, but he found himself frustrated working with human musicians. In 1940 he withdrew to Mexico City, where, working in almost complete isolation, he began composing pieces for player piano.

This expedient was “a tremendous amount of work, punching all those holes by hand, one by one, hundreds and thousands of them,” but it enabled him finally to hear his music. “I’d never heard it played. Some composers are pianists and can at least play their music on piano, but I couldn’t do even that, because I am not a pianist.”

Freed from the constraints imposed by human performers, Nancarrow’s style developed a dizzying speed, staggeringly complexity, and a bewildering density of ideas. “Nancarrow’s complete works could be heard in seven hours,” wrote composer Kyle Gann, “but within half that time the listener would be as exhausted as though he had consumed Mahler’s ten symphonies in a gulp.”

Gyorgy Ligeti discovered some piano pieces in a Paris record store in 1980 and became an early champion, calling the composer “the greatest discovery since Webern and Ives.” Subsequent admirers included John Cage (“Conlon’s music has such an outrageous, original character that it is literally shocking”) and Frank Zappa (“The stuff is fantastic … You’ve got to hear it. It’ll kill you”).

Nancarrow became a MacArthur fellow in 1982 and returned to writing for live ensembles, finding that the standard of musicianship had improved enormously during his 40-year exile. “Of course it’s pleasing,” he told the New York Times in 1987. “I mean, all those years I had been working now have some point. There are so many artists and writers who are doing something they think is worthwhile, and it turns out to be junk. I thought that maybe mine was the same thing, but now I see it wasn’t.”

(Thanks, Katie.)

The World Backstage

This is charming — an inventory of “all the properties for my Lord Admiral’s men,” taken by theatrical impresario Philip Henslowe on March 10, 1598:

Item: 1 rock, 1 cage, 1 Hell-mouth
Item: 1 tomb of Guido, 1 tomb of Dido, 1 bedstead
Item: 8 lances, 1 pair of stairs for Phaeton
Item: 2 steeples, and 1 chime of bells, and 1 beacon
Item: 1 globe, and 1 golden sceptre; 3 clubs
Item: 2 marchpanes, and the city of Rome
Item: 1 golden fleece; 2 rackets; 1 bay-tree
Item: 1 wooden canopy; old Mahomet’s head
Item: 1 lion skin; 1 bear’s skin; and Phaeton’s limbs, and Phaeton chariot; and Argus’ head
Item: Neptune fork and garland
Item: 8 vizards; Tamburlaine bridle; 1 wooden mattock
Item: Cupid’s bow and quiver; the cloth of the sun and moon
Item: 1 boar’s head and Cerberus’ three heads
Item: 1 caduceus; 2 moss banks, and 1 snake
Item: 2 fans of feathers; Belin Dun’s stable; 1 tree of golden apples; Tantalus’ tree; 9 iron targets
Item: 1 Mercury’s wings; Tasso picture; 1 helmet with dragon; 1 shield with 3 lions; 1 elm bowl
Item: 1 lion; 2 lion heads; 1 great horse with his legs; 1 sackbut
Item: 1 black dog
Item: 1 cauldron for the Jew

Much of what we know about the business of Elizabethan theater comes from a book of accounts that Henslowe kept around the turn of the 17th century. He never mentions Shakespeare directly, but his theaters competed with the Globe.

Difficult Music

faerie's aire and death waltz

Faerie’s Aire and Death Waltz, by composer John Stump, includes the directions “Add bicycle,” “Duck,” and “Cool timpani with small fan.” The piece fills a single page.

To perform Stockhausen’s Helikopter-Streichquartett you’ll need four helicopters and a string quartet. A moderator introduces the musicians, each of whom boards a helicopter, and the four perform the piece while circling the auditorium at a distance of 6 kilometers. The audience watches and listens via audio and video monitors. At the end, the helicopters land and the musicians re-enter the hall to the sound of slowing rotor blades.

Marc-André Hamelin composed Circus Galop for player piano — it’s impossible for a human to play, as up to 21 notes are struck simultaneously.

Misc

  • Colombia is the only South American country that borders both the Atlantic and the Pacific.
  • GRAVITATIONAL LENS = STELLAR NAVIGATION
  • 28671 = (2 / 8)-6 × 7 – 1
  • Can a man released from prison be called a freeee?
  • “Nature uses as little as possible of anything.” — Johannes Kepler

Sergei Prokofiev died on the same day that Joseph Stalin’s death was announced. Moscow was so thronged with mourners that three days passed before the composer’s body could be removed for a funeral service.

(Thanks, Alina.)

Misterioso

Expression markings used by Australian composer Percy Grainger:

  • “Louden lots”
  • “Soften bit by bit”
  • “Lower notes of woggle well to the fore”
  • “Glassily”
  • “Sipplingly”
  • “Bumpingly”
  • “Hammeringly”
  • “Bundling”
  • “Clatteringly”
  • “Like a shriek”
  • “Very rhythmic and jimp”
  • “Rollikingly”
  • “Hold until blown”
  • “Jogtrottingly”
  • “Easygoingly but very clingingly”

Musical directions in Erik Satie’s piano works:

  • “Wonder about yourself”
  • “Provide yourself with shrewdness”
  • “Alone, for one moment”
  • “Open the head”
  • “Superstitiously”
  • “In a very particular way”
  • “Light as an egg”
  • “Like a nightingale with a toothache”
  • “Moderately, I insist”
  • “A little bit warm”
  • “Very Turkish”

One of Satie’s directions — “Very lost” — might have been unnecessary.

Unquote

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“The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, ‘Is there a meaning to music?’ My answer would be, ‘Yes.’ And ‘Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?’ My answer to that would be, ‘No.'” — Aaron Copland, What to Listen for in Music, 1939

Winning Colors

The Ferrari 250 GTO has been called the top sports car of all time. Only 39 were manufactured, so they sell for as much as $35 million among collectors.

Chris Smart of Bishopstoke, Hampshire, couldn’t afford to buy one …

smart ferrari gto

… so he painted one on his garage door.

Mind the Gap

For the Festival of World Cultures in August 2008, street painter Edgar Mueller transformed the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, into an ice-age crevasse.

“Beside the personal messages, questions and sometimes answers in my paintings I’m questioning the experienced daily perception of people by changing the appearance of public places,” he says.

More of his paintings.

Strandbeests

Dutch engineer Theo Jansen builds complex walking sculptures from PVC pipe and turns them loose on the beaches of the Netherlands, where they have been evolving (with his help) for 20 years.

“Over time,” he says, “these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water, and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives.”

“I’ve seen a lot of mechanical sculpture, and Jansen’s animari are the finest I’ve seen by far in the ‘low-tech clockwork’ mechanism category,” robotic designer Carl Pisaturo told Wired in 2005. “These are amazing creations, and the simplicity of the technology and the fact that they are wind-powered only makes their poetic motions more impressive.”