Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Human Voice Recording of 1860 Discovered - Edouard Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-79) and the Phonautograph

Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville

In 2006, a phonautogram was discovered! I'm totally dumb-struck!

It was made by the print-maker Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville - a Frenchman who'd been interested in recording the human voice in a graphic form.

Any person to be recorded would speak into the trumpet of the Scott de Martinville's phonautograph ...

Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville 's phonautograph at the Smithsonian Institute

... such that the sounds of his/her voice would make a membrane at its other end vibrate, with this movement being translated visual form by a stiff brush bristle moving over paper blackened with candle smoke.

The discovery of the particular phonautogram lead to possibility with today's technology of converting the visual record back into audio form, with the following result from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkley California ...

In case you missed it, the song being sung (yes, it was a song!) was 'Au clair de la lune' by Claude Debussy and the words here were ...

Au clair de la lune, Pierrot repondit ('By the light of the moon, Pierrot replied')

Not sure I don't prefer the version by 60's French pop diva France Gall ( - a mix of Brigitte Bardot, Sandra Dee and Twiggy.

Do you have a preference!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Crusader Fortress of Krak des Chevaliers (حصن الأکراد) - My Very Next Travel Destination!

I found my next must-go travel destination not long ago in the C12 crusader fortress of Krak des Chevaliers in Syria.

I've traveled through Egypt, Turkey and Israel and have for some time been looking for another Middle Eastern fix. Which has provoked much contra advice, each time making me think of the Spanish saying 'A life lived in fear is a life half lived'.

T E Lawrence described the complex as 'the finest castle in the world' and and the travel writer Paul Theroux as the dream castle of childhood fantasy. And I had exactly something of the sort in mind as a fourteen year old reading 'Knight Crusader' by Ronald Welsh ... in which a young crusader is captured by Saladin's troops and then kept as a servant by an elderly and wealthy merchant. Till, after some years of devoted service, he is given his freedom to return to England.

I particularly remember such exoticisms in the narrative as the descriptions of the sound made by huge black pearls cascaded across a marble table top, and of the delicious thirst-slaking quality of ice-cold sherbet on a blazing hot summer day.

I do all the appropriate and expected research before visiting places like Krak des Chevaliers but I really like the time just before this, when I can just muse and dream on the pleasures in store - a kind of almost erotic reverie. This anticipatory phase can be heightened by photographs and videos, like the great footage shot by Sagonne@YouTube on a visit the fortress ...

... and then enhanced by evocative Arabic music on pipe and drum.

Ok, my appetite is now whetted almost beyond endurance - actually, beyond!

Anyone been to Syria or the castle? I'm now obviously entering the research bit!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alessandro Moreschi (1858-1922) - The Last Castrato Performances

Perhaps the last castrato to perform was the Italian Alessandro Moreschi - evidenced in a series of 17 recordings made in 1902 and in 1904 in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican City.

He was First Soprano of the
Sistine Choir from 1873 till 1913, being particularly famed for his soprano tessitura in the bel canto repertory.

The practice of castration was banned in 1870,
Moreschi being altered round 1865 and before puberty to retain the beauty of his adolescent boy's voice.

Alessandro Moreschi - Tosti 'Ideale' Recorded in the Sistine Chapel by Fred and Will Gainsberg on 7 April 1902 (Ack. Gmmix@YouTube)

Love the cheers of appreciation and support from the Sistine Choir at the end - apparently the singer was visibly shaking during the recording session!
Great Animal Close-Ups - Some Predators and a Couple of (Yummy) Prey

It's the extreme close-up and detail that, for me, makes these photographs extraordinary - and worth posting!

Do you agree?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Underworks Socks Targets a Niche Market

Socks are not necessarily the easiest and sexiest product to market - even to a niche market with specific interests and needs.

So I have to admire the Underworks Socks Company (Australia) for their TV ad for 'all day socks'.

BTW, I had a friend (only to be named Barry) who was very keen for potential lays to wear 'all week jocks' before they came - and then he came ... but that's a whole other story!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) - Early Colour Photography and the Russian Empire

Fabric merchant, Samarkand. Merchant's display includes silk, cotton, and wool fabrics as well as a few carpets. A framed page of the Koran hangs at the top of the stall (1905-1915)

From 1905 to 1915, Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii recorded the Russian Empire - in colour.

His early colour photographic technique involved taking three black and white photos of a subject - each with a different tinted filter - and then combining the three to form a colour image.

This extraordinary enterprise has recently been made accessible to the general online public by Walter Frankhauser, who was contracted by the Library of Congress to restore 1900 of Prokudin-Gorskii's images. His results can be seen at The Empire That Was Russia. More of the photographer's work can be seen at the Russian site Сергей Михайлович Прокудин-Горский.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii - Self Portrait

The photographs are breath-takingly beautiful - the composition of each seems so 'right' and without being forced or calculated. All clear, spaciously 'set out', uncluttered with excess detail.

I've organized a selection of images into five categories: people, technology, work and its consequences, buildings and city and landscapes.


Alim Khan (1880-1944) - Emir of Bukhara (1911)

Jewish Children with Teacher in Samarkand (1909-1915)

Dagestani couple posed outdoors for portrait (1904)

Turkmen man posing with camel loaded with sacks, probably of grain or cotton, Central Asia (1905-15)

Tea factory in Chakva. Chinese foreman Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau (1905-1915)

Turkman woman by yurt (1911)

Sunni Muslim man in traditional dress and headgear with sheathed dagger at his side. Dagestan (1905-1915)


Alternators made in Budapest, Hungary, in the power generating hall of a hydroelectric station in Iolotan on the Murghab River (1909)

Cotton textile mill interior with machines producing cotton thread, in Bayram-Ali (1911)

Russian steam locomotive Aa-76 (1910)

Metal Truss Railroad Bridge on Kama River, near Perm city (1909-1915)

Windmills in Yalutorovsk district of Tobolsk Province, Russia (1915)


Haying, near rest time. Russian Empire. Farm workers standing near farm equipment, taking break (1909)

Method for storing hay Viazovaia Station (1909)

Melon vendor in traditional Central Asian attire at his stand in the marketplace of Samarkand in present-day Uzbekistan (1905-1915)

Work at Bakalskii mine. Family with shovels and horse-drawn carts, working at iron mines in Bakaly Kills (1910)

Tea Weighing Station, Chakva tea farm and processing plant just north of Batumi, close to the Black Sea coast of Georgia (1905-1915)

Production of artistic casting in the Kasli Iron Works in heart of the Ural Mountains between the cities of Ekaterinburg and Cheliabinsk (1909-1915)

Monks at work. Planting potatoes. Gethsemane Monastery (1909)


Shakh-i Zindeh Mosque in Samarkand (1905-1915)

Stork nests on unidentified religious building, probably in Bukhara (1911)

Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God. Belozersk, Russian Empire (1909)

Borodino Station (1911)

City and Landscapes

Dvinsk Daugavpils, Novoye Stroyeniye neighbourhood (1912)

General view of the town of Torzhok in the early 20th century

Staritsa, Russia (1912)

Tobolsk from north, from the bell tower of the Church of Transfiguration Preobrazhensky Sobor Russia (1912)

Thanks to Jason M for emailing me the URL of a blog - which started me on the search for more of Prokudin-Gorskii's images!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mikhail Baryshnikov - Ballet's Super Sex Symbol and Perhaps the Greatest Dancer of the C20

And now for something completely different ...

... but, as the Shirley McLean character said in 'The Turning Point', the reason most girls like ballet classes at all is cos the boys are in tights.

So if you adjust your mind just a little, you'll find this post truly hot - in a whole new way. Try to trust me!

These are rehearsal shots ('Baryshnikov at Work') with Jerome Robbins, who did, among other things, the choreography for 'West Side Story'. The images are so big that, when you click on one, Mikhail almost jumps out into your living room, office, ... where ever!

Strong, muscular, voluptuous, erotic - and with thick blond hair and a beautiful square and super cute face.

What more do you want!

There's a great early video of Baryshnikov doing Solar's variation in 'La Bayadere' - in 1969 while he was still in the Soviet Union.

The gold medal they're referring to him winning is (I think) the one at the Varna (Bulgaria) International Ballet Competition.

Extraordinary seemingly effortlessly executed technique, amazing ballon (elevation and the ability to float in the air), clear, purposeful, controlled and sculpturally delineated port de bras (carriage, placement and movement of the arms and shoulders) ... I could go on and on but ... !

There's also a particularly sizzling 80s performance of him as Basilio in the coda of 'Don Quixote' with Natalia Makarova as Kitri. With a still timely warning at the end against the dangerous trend in dance for ultra thin ballerinas.

On stage Mikhail's multi-multi-fold hotter - which I can guarantee, having seen him as Prince Florimund in 'Sleeping Beauty', Romeo in 'Romeo and Juliet', Basilio in 'Don Quixote' and Albrecht in Act II of Giselle' with Natalia Makarova.

Ok, so what do you guys think?!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Things You Find Hidden in Antique Stores

Sometimes you find a thing in some obscure corner of an old antique store that seems potent with the history of place and time.

This late C18 Fu Lion or Fu Dog was one for me.

It was originally the lid of large ceramic urn, as are these fu lion lids for their bronzes.

Urn in the Imperial Living Quarters, Forbidden City, Beijing

The iconography of the decoration of the base of my ceramic lid gives its place of manufacture - the royal pottery in Beijing that produced wares for the Forbidden City.

At some point in its history the ceramic jar was broken - I guess beyond repair. But the lid was obviously thought worth restoring, perhaps in part due to its historical importance. The metal crimpons used suggest this work was done last century.

I lived for a year in China and often enough used to walk round the Forbidden City, bumping into 'relatives' of my beloved Fu Lion.

Finally, two more images - to give more of a sense of my imperial lion in the round.

I have the fanciful idea that I'll find the jar one day - in an auction or antique shop and being sold on it's own as it is unbroken and happily unassociated with its busted lid!