The weather turns cold again and it seems a good time to post this short film from last year. This is the moving crib on Parnell Square; an amazing menagerie of mechanical animals, people and angels. To truly capture the spirit of Christmas I think it is necessary to incorporate a spooky atmosphere and the crib succeeds admirably at this. The automatons are taken out, repaired and arranged every year, in time for a new generation of children to be taken down to the basement where the squeaking gears and cogs compete with distant reverb-laden carols.
Despite the biblical theme, the haircuts and colours clearly come from the early 1960s and these days the children are being taken to see the crib by their grandparents rather than their tv-reared parents. So now, enjoy the clockwork technicolour world of the moving crib!
I went to have a look at the photographs before the end of the exhibition and took in the excellent portraits and some prints of Lutyen’s Memorial Gardens. Here’s a picture of me and my Super 8 optical prints.
Thanks to everyone who took part and everyone who came along.
The mixtape films included the Super 8 Darkroom Student films (Mella/Daniel/Dennis), ’O Cribs’ & ‘Invocation of Ireland’ (Dennis Kenny), Trailers (Vivienne Dick), ’Pow Wow’ (Deirdre Mulrooney), Torso (Una Quigley) and ‘Money Spent At Night’ (Maximilian Le Cain).
‘The End of The Earth Is My Home’ and D1 footage by Alan Lambert with live music by Alan & Junshi on Harp.
16mm and Turntable installation by Fergal Brennan & Sharon Buckley.
Kuchar introduction and films by Willie (Hunter’s Moon) and Daniel Fitzpatrick.
I took these pictures of Roman and Babylonian dice at the Pergammon museum in January.
Although these are from very different time periods, they share a lot in common; the arrangement of the dots on each side, the circles around the dots – they’re basically the same die, thousands of years apart.
It struck me that these dice must have been much in demand, but that they are easier to test than they are to make true. To find out if a die is fair, you simply throw it as many times as you can and record the distribution of results.
To make it fair, you need to pick a geometry to match the number of face you need, carve it as accurately as you can and then keeping tweaking the weights and filling in the holes until it rolls evenly.
Once the die has been corrected, there should be a 1/6 chance of each side showing up. We’d use a chi squared test nowadays to check this;
? (observed – expected)^2/expected
Obviously, the more throws, the closer you get to an even distribution. This remains the most accurate way of testing dice, particularly hand-made dice which may contain eccentricities from uneven weight distribution or face geometry.
But then here’s a chinese die I bought in Burma – this is a different approach to solving the same problem – you spin it. It’s only made of wood, but it should give more random results than a slightly uneven bone die.
Only one way to find out really, I’d rather someone else did the throwing though.
These models are from the short film “Beasts of the Free Enterprise Zone” from 1998. They’ve been printed using a Makerbot2 printer, sanded, filled and given a grey undercoat.
This creature was supposed to have a luminous eye to aid hunting prey in the original film, something I dropped due to the rendering time for volume lighting back in the day. To recreate this effect I overpainted the whites of the eyes with phosphorescent paint from Revel.
It can be hard to work out which areas of white have received the phosphorescent paint and surprisingly it’s easier to do this overpainting in the dark, as the brush and paint pot are also clearly visible.
I bought some bell jars to put the models in, just to increase the taxidermy effect. Maybe I can drop them off at the Dead Zoo some day and have them added to the collection.
For the last couple of years I have been picking through Wikipedia for information about the earliest recorded people, both in photos and sound. In a way these are the first people we can truly say existed or that we can know directly.
Before Edison’s recording cylinder, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville constructed the Phonautograph, a recording-only medium that he saw as a way of generating art from sound or perhaps even a kind of stenographic device. A vibrating membrane blew smoke patterns onto a rotating drum of paper, creating long sooty sheets of paper.
In an amazing piece of hi-tech archaeology from Berkeley Labs, the sound of a man – possibly Édouard-Léon himself – singing ‘Au Clair de la Lune’ was recovered from one of his early experiments.
It’s a terrible recording, but this is where we started.
The only 18th Century voice
Until the clever guys at Berkeley find some other unintentional recording, the only other way to push that date back is through early recordings of older people. Recently an old Edison recording made in Germany was discovered, containing the voice of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder. The recording was made in 1889 but Helmuth himself was born in 1800, making this the only opportunity we have to listen to a voice from the 18th century, to cross ‘the Great Span’ of 200 years, as Alger Hiss would have it. This recording is significantly better than the Phonautograph.
No earlier human voice exists, but acoustic archaeology may yet find a way to reconstruct accidental recordings, perhaps from a potter’s wheel or a waterline – who knows?
However, if we broaden our definition of the ‘recorded voice’ to include lyrics with melodic and rhythmic notation, we can go back further. There is an amazing sequence in Werner Herzog’s The Cave of Forgotten Dreams where an archaeologist produces a neolithic bone flute, describes the hole spacing as matching a pentatonic scale and then proceeds to play ‘the star spangled banner’ (or ‘to anacreon in heaven’ as it was once known) on a 40,000 year old instrument.
The Delphic Hymns
Although we know of a number of ancient instruments, we have little evidence of what was played on them until the first musical notation arrives. We lose the direct connection that a recording gives us and the result is much open to interpretation. The rest of these sounds are modern approximations, played on the same MIDI instrument.
There are two hymns from Delphi, including words and music, which were inscribed on marble as competition winners in ancient Greece. Below is an image of the second, followed by a recording of the first. The songs were written to Apollo by an Athenian named Athenaeus in 128 BCE.
(MIDI courtesy of wikipedia, MP3 conversion by Solmire)
The Greek Tomb
Another 100 or so years later, we get the first complete song, on a funerary monument; the Seikilos epitaph;
If we are willing to accept fragments of notation, we can go back even further.
Dating from the Bronze Age, 1400 BCE, we have the Hurrian cult hymn to Nikkal. Discovered in the Royal Palace at Ugarit (modern Syria) in the 1950s, this fragmentary cycle of songs were recorded on clay tablets. The largest surviving fragment was sung and intended to be accompanied by a stringed instrument. Indeed the tablets also include tuning instructions.
Here is a link to an interpretation on SoundCloud.