Thursday, 24 July 2014

Irv Teibel's Environments™ Series: The music of the future isn't music

"Irving Solomon Teibel Oct. 9, 1938 - Oct. 28, 2010 Teibel, Irving S., 72, of Austin, passed away October 28, 2010. Irv is survived by his two daughters, Jennifer and Dara, twin granddaughters, Rebecca and Julia, and his close friend Linda Lloyd. Irv was a dedicated father and devoted friend with a vibrant personality and great sense of humor. Irv is most notably known for his recording series, Environments (TM) which was the first publicly-available psychoacoustic recording series. His company, Syntonic Research, Inc. was the first corporation to use the concept of acoustic noise masking via recorded sound, utilizing the myriad subtle sounds of nature. A memorial service will be held on November 14, 2010 at 2:30 p.m. at the Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home on North Lamar" Obituary

Psychologically Ultimate Seashore

"The initial recording in the series goes back to 1968. Working under the direction of Tony Conrad and Beverly Grant Conrad, Teibel recorded ocean waves at Coney Island for use in their feature film 'Coming Attractions' (1970). Teibel immediately sensed the marketability of this material, noting its effect on improving concentration, enhancing sleep and sex, and imparting a sense of calm to the listener. Conrad, who wished to credit Walter De Maria for his prior usage of ocean recordings, was not willing to become a partner in the Syntonics Research enterprise as envisioned by Teibel, so Teibel parted ways with the 'Coming Attractions' project. Subsequently Teibel himself felt unsatisfied with his results — though his Uher stereo reel-to-reel tape recorder had faithfully captured the sounds of the surf, he felt that they were less convincing on playback. A friend of Teibel's, Louis Gerstman, had access to an IBM 360 computer, and he and Teibel played around with processing the recordings until eventually the two of them hit upon a series of manipulations (basically some rolling filtering and overdubbing) which sounded 'more real than real'"

Tintinnabulation (Low-Frequency Contemplative Sound)

"Alone among the Environments series, Tintinnabulation is not natural sounds at all but a series of computer-generated bell sounds playable at any speed from 16-2/3 to 78 RPM. The CD reissue opted for the 16-2/3 RPM speed"

Dawn At New Hope, PA

Dusk At New Hope, PA

"The quintessential "field recording" with owls, crows, doves, insects, dogs and geese recorded early one morning in June 1969. A warm summer night (recorded August 1970) deep in the backwoods of Eastern Pennsylvania, surrounded by insects and the occasional distant hound"

Text taken from various sources, further thoughts here, here & here. Audio taken from Environments™ CD 1: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81764-2, Environments™ CD 2: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81765-2 & Environments™ CD 3: Ⓟ © 1987 Syntonic Research Inc. All rights reserved. 81766-2.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

August Strindberg

Johan August Strindberg (22 January 1849 – 14 May 1912) was a Swedish playwright, novelist, poet, essayist and painter. A prolific writer who often drew directly on his personal experience, Strindberg's career spanned four decades, during which time he wrote over 60 plays and more than 30 works of fiction, autobiography, history, cultural analysis, and politics. A bold experimenter and iconoclast throughout, he explored a wide range of dramatic methods and purposes, from naturalistic tragedy, monodrama, and history plays, to his anticipations of expressionist and surrealist dramatic techniques. From his earliest work, Strindberg developed forms of dramatic action, language, and visual composition so innovative that many were to become technically possible to stage only with the advent of film. He is considered the "father" of modern Swedish literature and his The Red Room (1879) has frequently been described as the first modern Swedish novel.

Strindberg’s father, Carl Oskar Strindberg, was a bankrupt aristocrat who worked as a steamship agent, and his mother was a former waitress. His childhood was marred by emotional insecurity, poverty, his grandmother’s religious fanaticism, and neglect, as he relates in his remarkable autobiography Tjänstekvinnans son (1886–87; The Son of a Servant, 1913). He studied intermittently at the University of Uppsala, preparing in turn for the ministry and a career in medicine but never taking a degree. To earn his living, he worked as a free-lance journalist in Stockholm, as well as at other jobs that he almost invariably lost. Meanwhile he struggled to complete his first important work, the historical drama Mäster Olof (published in 1872), on the theme of the Swedish Reformation, influenced by Shakespeare and by Henrik Ibsen’s Brand. The Royal Theatre’s rejection of Mäster Olof deepened his pessimism and sharpened his contempt for official institutions and traditions. For several years he continued revising the play—later recognised as the first modern Swedish drama—thus delaying his development as a dramatist of contemporary problems.

"The world, life and human beings are only an illusion, a phantom, a dream image"

In 1874 he became a librarian at the Royal Library, and in 1875 he met the Finno-Swedish Siri von Essen, then the unhappy wife of an officer of the guards; two years later they married. Their intense but ultimately disastrous relationship ended in divorce in 1891, when Strindberg, to his great grief, lost the custody of their four children. At first, however, marriage stimulated his writing, and in 1879 he published his first novel, The Red Room, a satirical account of abuses and frauds in Stockholm society: this was something new in Swedish fiction and made its author nationally famous.

He also wrote more plays, of which Lucky Peter’s Travels (1881) contains the most biting social criticism. In 1883, the year after he published Det nya riket (“The New Kingdom”), a withering satire on contemporary Sweden, Strindberg left Stockholm with his family and for six years moved restlessly about the Continent. Although he was then approaching a state of complete mental breakdown, he produced a great number of plays, novels, and stories. The publication in 1884 of the first volume of his collected stories, Married, led to a prosecution for blasphemy. He was acquitted, but the case affected his mind, and he imagined himself persecuted, even by Siri.

He returned to drama with new intensity, and the conflict between the sexes inspired some of the outstanding works written at this time, such as The Father, Miss Julie, and The Creditors. All of these were written in total revolt against contemporary social conventions. In these bold and concentrated works, he combined the techniques of dramatic Naturalism—including unaffected dialogue, stark rather than luxurious scenery, and the use of stage props as symbols—with his own conception of psychology, thereby inaugurating a new movement in European drama. The People of Hemsö, a vigorous novel about the Stockholm skerries (rocky islands), always one of Strindberg’s happiest sources of inspiration, was also produced during this intensively creative phase.

The years after his return to Sweden in 1889 were lonely and unhappy. Even though revered as a famous writer who had become the voice of modern Sweden, he was by now an alcoholic unable to find steady employment. In 1892 he went abroad again, to Berlin. His second marriage, to a young Austrian journalist, Frida Uhl, followed in 1893; they finally parted in Paris in 1895.

A period of literary sterility, emotional and physical stress, and considerable mental instability culminated in a kind of religious conversion, the crisis that he described in Inferno. During these years Strindberg devoted considerable time to experiments in alchemy and to the study of theosophy.

Read more of Brita Maud Ellen Mortensen's Biography here.

Extracts from 'The Inferno'.

Guided into this new world in which no one can follow me, I conceived an aversion to social intercourse, and have an unconquerable desire to free myself from my surroundings. I therefore informed my friends that I wished to go to Meudon to write a book which required solitude and quiet. At the same time insignificant disagreements led to a breach with the circle which met at the Restaurant, so that one day I found myself entirely isolated. The first result was an extraordinary expansion of my inner sense; a spiritual power which longed to realise itself. I believed myself in the possession of unlimited strength, and pride inspired me with the wild idea of seeing whether I could perform a miracle. At an earlier period, in the great crisis of my life, I had observed that I could exercise a telepathic influence on absent friends. In popular legends writers have occupied themselves with the subjects of telepathy and witchcraft. I wish neither to do myself an injustice, nor altogether to acquit myself of wrong-doing, but I believe that my evil will was not so evil as the counterstroke which I received. A devouring curiosity, an outbreak of perverted love, caused by my frightful loneliness, inspired me with an intense longing to be re-united with my wife and child, both of whom I still loved. But how was this to be brought about, as divorce proceedings were already on foot? Some extraordinary event, a common misfortune, a thunderbolt, a conflagration ... in brief, some catastrophe which unites two hearts, just as in novels two persons are reconciled at the sick-bed of a third. Stop! there I have it! A sick-bed! Children are always more or less ill; a mother's fear exaggerates the danger; a telegram follows, and all is said. I had no idea of practising magic, but an unwholesome instinct suggested I must set to work with the picture of my dear little daughter, who later on was to be my only comfort in a cursed existence. Further on in this work I will relate the results of my manoeuvre, in which my evil purpose seemed to work with the help of symbolical operations. Meantime the results had to be waited for, and I continued my work with a feeling of undefined uneasiness and a foreboding of fresh misfortune.


At length a pause ensues in my sufferings. For hours at a time I sit in the open space before the summer-house, watch the flowers, and think over the recent events. The peace of mind, which I find after my flight, convinces me that I have not been suffering from the delusions of disease, but have been persecuted by real enemies. I work during the day and sleep quietly at night. Delivered from the squalor of my former residence, I feel myself rejuvenated among the roses of this garden—the favourite flower of my youth. The Jardin des Plantes, this wonder of Paris unknown to the Parisians themselves, has become my park. This epitome of creation confined within a narrow circuit, this Noah's Ark, this Paradise Regained in which I wander without danger among wild beasts—it is too much happiness. Beginning with stones, I proceed to the vegetable and animal kingdoms, till I come to man, and behind man I discover the Creator—the great Artist who develops as he creates, sets on fool designs which He rejects later on, resumes plans which have failed, and completes and multiplies primitive forms endlessly. All is the work of His hand. Often in the discovery of methods He makes enormous leaps, and then Science conies and ascertains the extent of the gaps and the missing links, and imagines that it has found the intermediary forms which have disappeared.

Extracts from 'From the Diary of a Damned Soul'.

Winter, with its grey-yellow skies is here; no ray of sunlight has lit up the sky for weeks. The muddy roads hinder us from taking walks; the leaves fall from the trees and rot; all nature is dissolving in decay. The usual autumn butchery of dumb animals has begun. All day long the cries of the victims rise against the dark vault of heaven; one steps in blood and among corpses. It is terribly depressing, and I feel sad for the two, good, kind-hearted sisters who tend me like a sick child. Besides this, my poverty, which I must conceal from them, depresses me, together with the futility of my attempts to avert approaching beggary. For my own good they wish for my departure, since such a lonely life is not good for a man; moreover, they believe that I need a doctor. In vain I wait for the necessary money to be sent from Sweden, and prepare to depart, even though I have to tramp the high roads. "I have become like a pelican of the wilderness, and like an owl in the desert." My presence is a trial to my relatives, and but for my love to the child, they would have hurried me away. Now that mud or snow makes walking difficult, I carry the little one along the paths on my arms, climb hills, and clamber up rocks, so that both the old ladies say, "You will make yourself ill, you will get giddy, you will kill yourself". "And a beautiful death that would be!" I reply.


Six months have passed, and I still go daily walking on the city wall and survey the lunatic asylum, and catch glimpses of the blue sea in the distance. Thence will the new epoch, the new religion, come of which the world is dreaming. Gloomy winter is buried, the meadows are green, the trees are in blossom, the nightingale sings in the garden of the observatory, but a wintry sadness still weighs upon our spirits, for so many weird and inexplicable things have happened, that even the most incredulous waver. The general sleeplessness increases, nervous breakdowns are common, apparitions are matters of every day, and real miracles happen. People are expecting something.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Alan Garner's Alderley Edge

"Walk the dramatic red sandstone escarpment of Alderley Edge, with views over the Cheshire Plain to the Peak District. Explore woodland paths or walk to neighbouring Hare Hill Garden. Discover the highest point on the Edge which was originally a Bronze Age burial mound. It was later used as a fire beacon site which would have been lit as a signal to warn of the imminent invasion. For more stunning views over the Cheshire countryside, why not visit one of the following nearby properties: Bickerton Hill and Bulkely Hill Wood; Mow Cop, the Cloud, Helsby Hill and Thurstaston Common"

What follows in an edited extract from a 2010 interview with Alan, by Robert Chalmers, for The Independent online. Read the interview in full, here.

His second death, Alan Garner explains, is the one that he really remembers. "When I was six," the writer says, "I contracted whooping cough and measles, which developed into meningitis. There were two doctors by my bed. I was in that delirious state where things drift in and out of focus, and yet I could hear their conversation clearly. The first one said: 'He's gone.' But the really terrifying bit came next, when the other doctor replied: 'I concur.' A word which – precocious infant that I was – I understood".

At that point, recalls Garner, who is 75, "I exploded emotionally. I screamed but made no sound. I couldn't communicate or give a signal. I remember the anger; I remember the fury. At which point I must have had an adrenaline surge. And that is why I lived – because I was too angry to die".

He was pronounced dead on three separate occasions before he was 10.

"I have been in the tunnel", he says. "There is light at the end. It revolves. You are running. I have been in the tunnel more than once".

If rage hadn't rescued him on that day in 1941, we would have lost one of the most extraordinary writers in the language. Initially acclaimed as a children's author (the date of 10.10.10 will mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of his first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen), his voice was distinctive from the start, for its innate capacity to resonate with, and never patronise, his readership.

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is set in and around Alderley Edge, the Cheshire village which, on account of its popularity with Premier League footballers, has become a kind of synonym for New Money. The Garners have lived here, as farm labourers, miners and craftsmen, for at least five centuries. "I don't think I am going to get further back than William Garner, sepultus [buried in] 1592", the writer tells me. "Peasants were not recorded earlier than that".

Since 1957, his own home has been a few miles away at Blackden, in the 15th-century timber-framed house he calls "Toad Hall". Even though it's very close to Jodrell Bank radio telescope, the Hall (whose name derives from the local pronunciation of "the old") is, to the delight of this very private man, almost impossible to find. I tell him I'll come with a local cab driver.

"You'll still get lost", Garner says, and he's right. Neither the patience of the driver, the satnav, the map, or the author's sheet of directions are of any help. We pull up at the dead end of a dirt track and phone him for help. Arriving at Blackden feels like crossing a fault line into some other world – a recurring theme in his fiction.

In 1970, noticing, as you do, that a 16th-century apothecary's house was about to be demolished in Staffordshire, Garner had it moved, piece by piece, and joined to the Hall. And it's here, in "The Medicine House", at two seats inside the large central chimney, that he suggests we sit down to talk. The chimney has something of the feel – and, Garner believes, the effect – of the confessional.

"Things are said here," he tells me, "that would not be said elsewhere"

Alan Garner was born, with the umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck, on 17 October 1934. One of his earliest memories is of being led screaming out of a cinema by his mother, who had taken him to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Afterwards, "She thrashed me, for making her look a fool".

"How old were you?"


He recalls his father (Colin), a painter and decorator, as "warm and generous" and his mother (Marjorie), a tailor, as "complex and domineering".

"I was an only son. She had her own failed ambitions to deal with. When I was 18, rummaging in a drawer at home, I came across Approach to Latin Part I in mint condition".

"This was a book you'd used at school?"

"Yes. She had been trying to keep up with me. You cannot teach yourself Latin from that book".

When he first had to leave home to make the daily trip to Manchester Grammar school, says Garner, "I had great difficulty coping. The best view of the Edge is from the railway, between here and Manchester. I remember looking up at it as I left for the first time, thinking, I am letting you down. Until one day I was in the art hall, the highest room in the school. I looked out, and there was the Edge"

"You've described Alderley Edge as a place that is 'physically and emotionally dangerous'. [The most dramatic point is Castle Rock, a precipice with vertiginous views across the valley 400ft below.] There was a widely held belief in Manchester, where I grew up, that Alderley Edge would not be a place you'd want to be at night. People said no bird would sing there"

"The thing about birds is not strictly true, but it is something I grew up with. There is not a lot of birdsong there, considering the number of trees." In 1843, adds Garner, "The Honourable Dorothy S Stanley wrote that locals report seeing 'many wondrous sights' on the Edge. And hearing the sound of music under the ground".

He recalls how, in 1996, his cousin Eric told him that, as a boy, he and two friends had sat on the Edge and heard bagpipes playing, underground.

Garner is a leading authority on the geology, archaeology and every other aspect of the area. In the mid-1990s, he instigated a full-scale scientific survey of Alderley Edge.

"I am proud of that; it is an objective fact that, because of what I did, the Bronze Age was established on Alderley Edge, and it was recognised to be the earliest dated metal- working site in England"

As for the bagpipes, he offers a rational explanation, involving air pressure. "Eric and his friends were sitting on a burial mound, 4,000 years old. He said that the bagpipes came from the right, and travelled under the ground, in front of them. Being a good journalist, I asked, calmly, "What did you do?" Eric said: 'Do? We ran like buggery'".

His English and drama teacher at Manchester Grammar, Bert Parnaby, laid the foundations of a department that would nurture performers such as Alan Garner's close friend Robert Powell (who was married here at the local church), Powell's classmate Krishna Bhanji (now Sir Ben Kingsley), the late opera director Steven Pimlott, and the producer Sir Nicholas Hytner, among others.

The qualities the school seems to have encouraged in him include an irreverent sense of humour, fearlessness in the face of authority and, in terms of his writing, perfectionism: this last quality was one his family had long valued as craftsmen. "My grandfather Joe [a smith] used to say: 'Always take as long as the job tells you, because it'll be here when you're not. And you don't want folk asking what fool made that codge?'".

Which makes it all the more surprising that Alan Garner should have left Magdalen College, Oxford, in his second year, without a degree.

"My tutor said I would have to find a position in life where the only way out was to succeed. He knew me very well".

"I imagine that, when The Weirdstone of Brisingamen appeared, with its wizard and its army of dark elves, people who didn't know 'The Legend of Alderley' claimed that you'd copied The Lord of the Rings".

"Which showed that they hadn't read any middle or old English. Tolkien and I ripped off the same sources. He did it for his reasons. I did it because, at a simple level, I hated made-up names. If I'd used a name that was familiar [in connection with "The Legend of Alderley"] considerable baggage would have come with it".
"A name like King Arthur?"

"Yes. When my archive was given to the Bodleian Library in Oxford six years ago, I heard from somebody connected with the film of The Lord of the Rings. He said that one of the Tolkien family had given him JRR Tolkien's annotated copy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. And apparently his notes are just vitriolic".

"What bothered him?"

"'Trivial use of language'. I would love to see that book".

Literary Walks. Episode 6 of 6. First broadcast: Saturday 25 June 2011.

Alan Garner spent his early childhood in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, England, and he remains associated with the area. Many of his works, including The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath, are drawn from local legends and locations. Clare Balding walks with him to hear more about the area and how it inspired his writing.

Related: The Owl Service — A book by Alan Garner, The Owl Service (ITV 1969-70), The making of The Owl Service & Alan Garner's The Owl Service.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities and Other Stories

"I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades’ curves; but I already know that this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen’s nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn"

“Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant" (Gore Vidal)

Italo Calvino was born on October 15, 1923 in Santiago de Las Vegas, a suburb of Havana. His father Mario was an agronomist who had spent a number of years in tropical countries, mostly in Latin America. Calvino’s mother Eva, a native of Sardinia, was also a scientist, a botanist. Shortly after their son’s birth, the Calvinos returned to Italy and settled in Liguria, Professor Calvino’s native region.

As Calvino grew up, he divided his time between the seaside town of San Remo, where his father directed an experimental floriculture station, and the family’s country house in the hills, where the senior Calvino pioneered the growing of grapefruit and avocados.

The future writer studied in San Remo and then enrolled in the agriculture department of the University of Turin, lasting there only until the first examinations. When the Germans occupied Liguria and the rest of northern Italy during World War II, Calvino and his sixteen-year-old brother evaded the Fascist draft and joined the partisans.

Afterward, Calvino began writing, chiefly about his wartime experiences. He published his first stories and at the same time resumed his university studies, transferring from agriculture to literature. During this time he wrote his first novel, The Path to the Nest of Spiders, which he submitted to a contest sponsored by the Mondadori publishing firm. The novel did not place in the competition, but the writer Cesare Pavese passed it on to the Turin publisher Giulio Einaudi who accepted it, establishing a relationship with Calvino that would continue throughout most of his life. When The Path to the Nest of Spiders appeared in 1947, the year that Calvino took his university degree, he had already started working for Einaudi.

“...the people who move through the streets are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone; eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping...something runs among them, an exchange of glances like lines that connect one figure with another and draw arrows, stars, triangles, until all combinations are used up in a moment, and other characters come on to the scene... ” (Invisible Cities)

In the postwar period the Italian literary world was deeply committed to politics, and Turin, an industrial capital, was a focal point. Calvino joined the Italian Communist Party and reported on the Fiat company for the party’s daily newspaper.

After the publication of his first novel, Calvino made several stabs at writing a second, but it was not until 1952, five years later, that he published a novella, The Cloven Viscount. Sponsored by Elio Vittorini and published in a series of books by new writers called Tokens, it was immediately praised by reviewers, though its departure from the more realistic style of his first novel resulted in criticism from the party, from which he resigned in 1956 when Hungary was invaded by the Soviet Union.

In 1956 Calvino published a seminal collection of Italian folktales. The following year he brought out The Baron in the Trees, and in 1959 The Nonexistent Knight. These two stories, with The Cloven Viscount, have been collected in the volume Our Ancestors. In 1965 he published Cosmicomics, and in 1979 his novel (or antinovel) If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler appeared. The last works published during his lifetime were Mr. Palomar (1983), a novel, and Difficult Loves (1984), a collection of stories.

Calvino died on September 19, 1985 in a hospital in Siena, thirteen days after suffering a stroke.

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else” (Invisible Cities)

Further information here, here & here.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Under the Skin — A book by Michel Faber / A film by Jonathan Glazer

The protagonist is Isserley, an extraterrestrial sent to Earth by a rich corporation on her planet to pick up unwary hitchhikers. She drugs them and delivers them to her compatriots, who mutilate and fatten her victims so that they can be turned into meat—human ("vodsel") flesh is a delicacy on the aliens' barren homeworld.

The novel is darkly satirical. It touches on political themes around big business, factory farming, and environmental decay; and reflects on more personal questions of sexual identity, humanity, snobbery, and mercy.

The novel begins with Isserley picking up hitchhikers, but seemingly for sexual encounters. Gradually, it is revealed she is an alien, originally somewhat canine in form, that has been surgically altered to look like a woman, thus suffering constant pains. She takes her job seriously, and considers herself a valuable professional. Isserley has an orderly system for appraising vodsel to potentially capture. At the same time, she is spiteful of what she considers her deformed body made so for the job. The only other of her kind to undergo similar surgery to look like homo sapiens is her direct superior, Esswis. Isserley spends her spare time walking on the pebbled beach by her cottage, marveling at the beauty of Earth compared to her home world where most beings are forced to live and toil underground, and the wealthy Elite live on the surface, but still unable to tolerate being outside. Sometimes, she admires wandering sheep, as they remind her of children at home and she considers the non-bipeds anthropomorphic.

Isserley considers herself and her people the "human beings," and the "homo sapiens" of Earth animals for farming. Amlis Vess, the son of her employer, visits the farm and sets 4 vodsel free; she and Esswis hunt down and shoot them. Isserley pretends to not speak English when a vodsel writes "mercy" in the dirt in front of her and Amlis, hoping to keep hidden the extent of their language capabilities.

Eventually, she is almost raped by one of the hitchers, and is forced to kill him and leave his body. The experience shakes her, and she captures the next hitcher without interviewing him to assess the risk, failing to discover that she actually shares many inner thoughts with him, as well as the fact he would be missed by family (usually a key factor). In anger, she demands to see what happens to the vodsel during "processing," where she watches as his tongue is cut out and he is castrated.

Due to her claustrophobia of the subterranean structure, she has never seen this, and is shocked and disappointed at how fast it goes. She insists on seeing one actually killed and becomes hysterical at not being able to see the entire gruesome process.

Isserley is calmed down by Amlis, himself an Elite, whose beliefs are that vodsel should not be consumed, suggesting they are more similar to him and Isserley than she admits. After he departs to their home world, to share with their people what he had witnessed (the beauty of Earth, the treatment of vodsel), Isserley's attitude changes. She begins to doubt her job, and is especially nonplussed after learning that others are more than willing to take her place. She captures one last victim, but feels guilty for doing so when his dog was waiting. Returning to where she found him, she frees the dog from the hitcher's van.

Isserley decides to quit, and not return to the base of operations. She is forced to pick up one last hitcher, a man who insists on needing a ride to see his girlfriend give birth, and mentions reincarnation on the way. Driving faster than usual, the car wrecks, and Isserley's body is essentially ruined while the hitcher is thrown through the window, still alive. Isserley ponders what will happen to her body, as she must activate an explosive that will destroy all evidence of the crash, and her. She thinks her atoms and particles will become dispersed in the environment and air, and is at peace with that. She then hits the switch.

Further information here, here & here.

Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Produced by James Wilson & Nick Wechsler. Screenplay by Walter Campbell & Jonathan Glazer. Based on Under the Skin by Michel Faber. Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Paul Brannigan & Kryštof Hádek. Cinematography by Daniel Landin. Music by Mica Levi. Editing by Paul Watts. Studio: Film4 & BFI. Distributed by StudioCanal (UK), A24 Films (US). Release dates: 29 August 2013 (Telluride Film Festival), 14 March 2014 (UK), 4 April 2014 (US). Running time: 108 minutes. Country: United Kingdom.

People who saw Birth (2004), and saw beyond a surface farfetchedness to its sublime undertow of feeling, knew to be excited about the next Jonathan Glazer movie. The wait ends, nearly a decade later, with another birth of sorts: a Kubrickian pre-title sequence that begins with a pinprick of light in the middle of darkness, then stellar dazzle, circular eclipses – and finally the warm-hued iris of an eyeball.

Then we’re suddenly rushing through depth and lights as if entering 2001’s Star Gate, but the lights begin to look like those of passing cars and we realise we’re with a biker speeding along one of planet Earth’s motorways. Michel Faber’s 2000 source novel delayed revealing its enigmatic protagonist’s extraterrestrial origins but – with the secret already out in the ether – this otherworldly opening makes it apparent from the start. Besides, what else but her perspective of total otherness could explain why the urban Scotland of shopping centres, nightclubs and car parks appears here, even to us, so foreign and incomputable?

This unnamed predator (called Isserley in the book and played with glassy allure by Scarlett Johansson) is not a naïf like the alien visitors in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) or John Carpenter’s wonderful, underrated Starman (1984), whose first small steps for alienkind are defined by childlike wonder and befuddlement. Under the Skin’s ‘heroine’ knows how to drive a car and turn a sentence, and seems to intuit the potency of red lipstick as she kerb-crawls the Scottish city picking up men to lure to strange inky fates in vast black rooms.

From her driving seat, we see a gritty, social-realist Britain: familiar high-street shops, ordinary faces, shabby roadsides. The first section of Glazer’s film plays like an oneiric northern-climes recasting of Abbas Kiarostami’s 10 (2002), in which an Iranian woman driver’s conversations with successive passengers cumulatively take the temperature of a nation. The chipper lad, the cocksure charmer, the deformed lonely-heart – in Under the Skin, each takes his turn in the passenger seat, entranced by this shock of Scarlett in Glasgow, beguiled by her ingratiating smile. Her tender flirtation flatters one after the other, so that longing clouds their ability to spot a praying mantis about to strike.

Nothing in our kitchen-sink tradition prepares us for the formidable scenes in which these unwitting passers-by follow the alien femme fatale into her lair, feeling the siren’s pull as they shed their clothes bit by bit in a Tardis-like cavern of endless blackness. Astonishing music by Micachu’s Mica Levi – ominous death drums and shrieking strings – scores these abstracted dances of erotic doom, as the victims obliviously wade into lethal, liquid depths like insects succumbing to the final stickiness of a Venus fly trap while happily drunk on the sweet scent.

In the novel, these killings are carried out as a kind of interplanetary meat farming; here, Glazer and co-screenwriter Walter Campbell strip away explanation, keeping the victims’ exact fates obscure. We feel only the chill of the killer’s remorselessness. It’s a hostile vantage point from which to view the mill and throng of contemporary Glasgow, and the narrow gaze of Under the Skin is tainted with cynicism, even disgust. Men are defined by their concupiscence; good Samaritans are motivated by self-interest; even the wilderness, where the film escapes for its final act, conceals depravity. While Gravity (2013) was a hymn to human endeavour and resilience, Under the Skin feels as cold and hard as onyx.

Yet for all its clinical detachment, Glazer’s film becomes its own oblique treatise on what it means to be and feel human. The alien seductress’s encounter with the disfigured man presents her with a peer into an abyss of loneliness, triggering confusing feelings of empathy and mercy that send her into a tailspin. Here, for the first time, there is the glimmer of a ghost in the machine: Johansson’s performance remains opaque, all but unreadable, but we sense (or is it only wishful projection?) the awakening of a consciousness – a realisation that people are more than the skin they’re in.

Despite the schematism of this communion between Beauty and ‘Beast’, the savage final scenes in the Scottish Highlands offer no sentimental hosannas; Glazer retains his austere rigour to the finish. With an ending that’s as matter-of-fact as it is mysterious and provocative, Under the Skin confirms him – three terrific films down – as one of Britain’s most exciting filmmakers. Samuel Wigley for BFI


Meat to Maths

Mirror to Vortex

Alien Loop

Further information here, here & here.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Karl Heinrich Marx (1818-1883)

"A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties"

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in the city of Trier, Germany. His father was a lawyer who came from a long line of Rabbis, but had changed his faith to Protestantism in order to keep his job. Marx went to the University of Bonn to study law when he was 17 years old. Here he became engaged to Jenny von Westphalen, whose father, Baron von Westphalen, influenced Marx to read Romantic literature and Saint-Simonian politics.

Only a year later, Marx was moved by his father to the University of Berlin where he studied Hegelianism, influenced by Ludwig Feurbach and other Hegelians. He admired G.W.F. Hegel's dialectics and belief in historical inevitability, but Marx questioned the idealism and abstract thought of philosophy and maintained his belief that reality lies in the material base of economics. In distinct contrast to G.W.F. Hegel's concentration on the state in his philosophy of law, Marx saw civil society as the sphere to be studied in order to understand the historical development of humankind. In 1841 Marx earned his doctorate at Jena with his work on the materialism and atheism of Greek atomists.

"Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce"

It was difficult for Marx to find publishers because of his radical political views, so he moved to Cologne, which was known to house a strong liberal opposition movement. The liberal group the Cologne Circle published a paper by Marx defending the freedom of the press in their newspaper The Rhenish Gazette (in 1842 he was made the editor of the paper). In Cologne Marx met Moses Hess, a radical who organized socialist meetings, which Marx attended. At these meetings Marx learned of the struggles of the German working-class. Based on the information he gathered from the members present at the meetings, Marx wrote an article on the poverty of the Mosel wine-farmers in which he was highly critical of the government. When the article was published in 1843, the Prussian authorities banned The Rhenish Gazette and threatened Marx with his arrest. Marx married his fiancé and they fled together to Paris. Here he took a position as editor of a political journal called Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher (Franco-German Annals) that was designed to connect French socialism and radical Hegelianism. Although the journal only lived as long as one issue, it was a valuable opportunity for Marx.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people"

Through it he met his life-long friend Friedrich Engels, a contributor to the journal. Other prominent contributors included his old mentor from Berlin, Bruno Bauer, and the Russian anarchist Michael Bakunin. While in Paris, Marx became a communist, and worked primarily on studying political economy and the history of the French Revolution.

He wrote a series of papers known as konomisch-philosophische Manuskripte aus dem Jahre (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, 1844), however they were not published until the 1930s. The Manuscripts are influenced by Feuerbach and outline a humanist idea of communism.

Marx contrasts capitalist society, and an alienated nature of labor, with communist society, in which human beings in cooperative production develop their nature freely. In 1844 Marx reviewed Bruno Bauer's book On the Jewish Question. More than a review, Marx used the article to critique the continued influence of religion over politics, and propose a revolutionary change to the structure of European society.

In 1845 Marx was expelled from France by Guizot. He fled with Friedrich Engels to Brussels where they stayed for three years with intermittent trips to England to visit Engels' family who had cotton-spinning interests in Manchester. While in Brussels Marx wrote a piece against the idealistic socialism of P.J. Proudhon called The Poverty of Philosophy. He also worked on his materialist conception of history, and developed the manuscript that would come to be named The German Ideology when it was published after his death.

This paper argues that the nature of an individual is dependent upon the material conditions that determine his production. It is a historical study of modes of production through the ages, and in it Marx predicts the collapse of industrial capitalism and the advancement of communism.

Marx joined the Communist League at this time, which was an organization of German émigré workers centered in London. Marx and Engels became the major theoretical force of the League, and at a conference in 1847 they were commissioned to write a declaration of the League's position. The hope was that the Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (The Communist Manifesto) would inspire social revolution, and no sooner was it published than the 1848 revolutions broke out across Europe. This work marks a turn in Marx's writing from appealing to natural rights as justification for social reform, to indicating that the laws of history would inevitably lead to the power of the working class. The Manifesto distinguishes communism from other movements, proposes specific social reforms, and includes a description of the struggles between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It also explicitly encourages workers to unite in revolution against the existing regimes.

"But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be"

The panic caused by the February revolution of 1848 caused the Belgian government to expel Marx from Brussels. He was invited by the French provisional government to return to Paris. From there, he returned to Cologne with some friends to start the newspaper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The government there attempted to shut down the paper through legal means, and finally succeeded by finding pretexts to expel the editors. Marx and his friends were expelled after the revolts of May 1849, and the newspaper's last edition was June 1849. Marx had to return to Paris, but he was expelled again immediately, and moved on to London, which would be his final home.

In London Marx rejoined with the Communist League, confident that there would be further revolutionary action in Europe. He proceeded to write two pamphlets about the 1848 revolution in France and its effects, titled, The Class Struggles in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. He felt that new revolution would only be possible if there was to be a new crisis, and he hoped to uncover what would cause this crisis. He spent a large amount of his time in the British Museum studying political economy toward this end. For the first part of the 1850s Marx, Jenny, and their four children lived in an impoverished state in a three room flat in London's Soho. The couple would have two more children, but only three in all would survive. The family survived primarily on gifts from Friedrich Engels whose own income came from the family business in Manchester. Marx also earned a small amount from articles he wrote as the foreign correspondent for the New York Daily Tribune. In 1864 Marx and Friedrich Engels together founded the International Workingmen's Association, which would finally break up due to disagreements between Marx and the anarchist Mikhail Babuknin.

By 1857 Marx had written an 800-page manuscript which was to become Das Kapital (Capital). This is his major work on political economy, capital, landed property, the state, wage labor, foreign trade and the world market. In the early part of the 1860s he took a break from his work on Das Kapital to work on Theories of Surplus Value, a three-volume work. This text discusses specific theories of political economy, primarily those of Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

In 1867 Marx published volume I of Das Kapital, an analysis of the capitalist process of production, with an elaboration on his version of labor theory value, surplus value, and exploitation, that he predicted would lead to a falling profit rate and the collapse of industrial capitalism.

Marx continued to work on Volumes II and III of Das Kapital for the rest of his life, even though they were essentially finished in the late 1860s. Friedrich Engels would publish the last two volumes after Marx's death. By 1871 Marx's daughter Eleanor, who was 17 at the time, was helping her father with his work. She had been taught at home by Marx himself, and grew up with a rich understanding of the capitalist system which would allow her to play an important part in the future of the British labor movement.

"Capital is money, capital is commodities. By virtue of it being value, it has acquired the occult ability to add value to itself. It brings forth living offspring, or, at the least, lays golden eggs"

Marx's health rapidly declined during the last ten years of his life and he was unable to work at the same impressive pace he had set in his early years. He still paid close attention to contemporary politics, especially concerning Germany and Russia, and he often offered his comments. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme he critiqued the actions of his admirers Karl Liebknecht and August Bebel, disagreeing with their compromises with state socialism in the interest of a united socialist party. He indicated in his letters to Vera Zasulich of this time that he imagined it could be possible for Russia to bypass a capitalist stage of development and move directly to communism by basing its economy on common ownership of land characterized by the village. In 1881 both Marx and his wife became ill. Marx had a swollen liver, and survived, but Jenny died on December 2, 1881. In January 1883 Marx was deeply saddened by the loss of his eldest daughter to cancer of the bladder. On March 14, 1883 Marx was found having passed away in his armchair. He is buried at Highgate Cemetery in London.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Carl Sagan "We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself"

Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science populariser and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences.

Dr. Sagan spent most of his career as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University where he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientific skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Dr. Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote. The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name. Carl was born in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Samuel Sagan, was an immigrant garment worker from Russia, in today's Ukraine. His mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a housewife from New York. Carl was named in honour of Rachel's biological mother, Chaiya Clara, in Sagan's words, "the mother she never knew". Sagan graduated from Rahway High School in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1951.

He had a sister, Carol, and the family lived in a modest apartment near the Atlantic Ocean, in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighbourhood. According to Sagan, they were Reform Jews, the most liberal of Judaism's three main groups. Both Sagan and his sister agree that their father was not especially religious, but that their mother "definitely believed in God, and was active in the temple ... and served only Kosher meat". During the depths of the Depression, his father had to accept a job as a Theatre usher.

According to biographer Keay Davidson, Sagan's "inner war" was a result of his close relationship with both of his parents, who were in many ways "opposites". Sagan traced his later analytical urges to his mother, a woman who had known "extreme poverty as a child" and had grown up almost homeless in New York City during World War I and the 1920s. As a young woman she had held her own intellectual ambitions, but they were frustrated by social restrictions: her poverty, her status as a woman and a wife, and her Jewish ethnicity. Davidson notes that she therefore "worshiped her only son, Carl. He would fulfil her unfulfilled dreams".

However, his "sense of wonder" came from his father, who was a "quiet and soft-hearted escapee from the Czar". In his free time he gave apples to the poor or helped soothe labor-management tensions within New York's "tumultuous" garment industry. Although he was "awed" by Carl's "brilliance, his boyish chatter about stars and dinosaurs", he took his son's inquisitiveness in stride and saw it as part of his growing up. In his later years as a writer and scientist, Sagan would often draw on his childhood memories to illustrate scientific points, as he did in his book, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. Dr. Sagan describes his parents' influence on his later thinking:

"My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method"

Dr. Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He played a leading role in the American space program since its inception. He was a consultant and adviser to NASA since the 1950's, briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon, and was an experimenter on the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to the planets. He helped solve the mysteries of the high temperatures of Venus (answer: massive greenhouse effect), the seasonal changes on Mars (answer: windblown dust), and the reddish haze of Titan (answer: complex organic molecules).

For his work, Dr. Sagan received the NASA medals for Exceptional Scientific Achievement and (twice) for Distinguished Public Service, as well as the NASA Apollo Achievement Award. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is named after him. He was also awarded the John F. Kennedy Astronautics Award of the American Astronautical Society, the Explorers Club 75th Anniversary Award, the Konstantin Tsiolkovsky Medal of the Soviet Cosmonauts Federation, and the Masursky Award of the American Astronomical Society, ("for his extraordinary contributions to the development of planetary science … As a scientist trained in both astronomy and biology, Dr. Sagan has made seminal contributions to the study of planetary atmospheres, planetary surfaces, the history of the Earth, and exobiology. Many of the most productive planetary scientists working today are his present and former students and associates").

He was also a recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences (for "distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare…Carl Sagan has been enormously successful in communicating the wonder and importance of science. His ability to capture the imagination of millions and to explain difficult concepts in understandable terms is a magnificent achievement").

Dr. Sagan was elected Chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. For twelve years he was the editor-in-chief of Icarus, the leading professional journal devoted to planetary research. He was cofounder and President of the Planetary Society, a 100,000-member organisation that is the largest space-interest group in the world; and Distinguished Visiting Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

A Pulitzer Prize winner for the book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence, Dr. Sagan was the author of many bestsellers, including Cosmos, which became the bestselling science book ever published in English. The accompanying Emmy and Peabody award-winning television series has been seen by a billion people in sixty countries. He received twenty-two honorary degrees from American colleges and universities for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment, and many awards for his work on the long-term consequences of nuclear war and reversing the nuclear arms race. His novel, Contact, is now a major motion picture.

In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honour, the National Science Foundation declared that his "research transformed planetary science… his gifts to mankind were infinite".

Dr. Sagan's surviving family includes his wife and collaborator of twenty years, Ann Druyan; his children, Dorion, Jeremy, Nicholas, Sasha, and Sam; and grandchildren.

Further information here, here & here.