Although this is really an extended advertisement, there's wisdom and beauty here.


Madagascar is a smallish place (about the size of Texas) with an incredibly rich diversity of music. Malagasy kabosaThe island was populated successively from Borneo, Africa, Arabia, France and elsewhere. Here's a mere taste of the resulting music, from a concert in Ivry, France. You can see, hear, and read about some of the instruments of Madagascar at the web site of the Museum of Art and Archaeology of the University of Antananarivo.

William James marginalia

Returning to The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study' Take Note exhibition, I was amused and impressed by William James's vividly imagined cat fighting it out with his medical school notes on writer's palsy.

Julianne Baird's singing has everything: a beautiful instrument, seemingly flawless technique, thoughtful control, but above all a sensibility that takes you from great depths to great heights in the little space of this brief Italian song.

Eugene Atget Parc de SceauxIt wasn't possible to save it, but the old Paris that was vanishing away 100 years ago was documented in thousands upon thousands of beautiful photographs by Eugène Atget, a failed painter and actor who never thought of his photography as "art". The National Gallery of Art has a series of pages on Atget and his photographs with essays and illustrations. Clicking on one of the photographs will enlarge it, and you can click on the right or left side to go to an enlargement of the next or previous photo. The image here was made at the Parc de Sceaux in 1925.

As long as I'm in the mood for jokes about men and women, here is a long video of the Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo sending up femininity, masculinity, and art in fine style.

The Loathly Lady titleWhile fishing for Julianne Baird videos I ran across the YouTube channel for The Loathly Lady, a comic opera on the theme of Freud's question "what do women want?" How could I resist linking to a work that references so many of my favorite women, real and fictional: Jane Austen and her Emma, Virginia Woolf, Eliza Doolittle, the Wife of Bath, and the divine Julianne too.

Baird is capable of the most lusciously lovely singing imaginable, and she gets to show that off as the Lady of Shalott––here she gets to perpetrate my favorite moment of the libretto so far, singing to Eliza Doolittle and Virginia Woolf "all I want is a room with a view"–– but as the loathly lady herself she audibly enjoys the witchiness of her loathly singing.

The image is from the animated pilot for the opera, which includes many charming and witty drawings by John Kindness (but no singing by Julianne Baird–for that, try the posted excerpts from the live performance).

detail of Daijyoji Temple paintingAs it's very unlikely I'll ever visit the Daijyoji Temple in northern Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, I'm grateful for this virtual tour even though it takes some tinkering to figure out how to use the controls. The Hyogo International Association has kindly provided an explanatory page with some nice photographs. If you click on the small image here it will take you directly to the east wall of the Peacock Room in the tour.

If you don't care for the peacocks, be aware that each room is quite different in style. Try the carp room, or let the mouse hover over the small diagram to get a preview of the art in each room.

Savoy operas title pagePrincess IdaI love illustrated books, and this edition of W.S. Gilbert librettos for The Pirates of Penzance and others (again via the Open Library) reminds me of solitary childhood pleasures: puzzling over my parents' Gilbert & Sullivan with its cartoon-like pictures and confusing plot summaries; perusing my grandmother's elaborate book of paintings of Sir Walter Scott's heroines, each illustration with its protective sheet of translucent paper; staring at the now-vanished 1920's style murals at the big public library, wondering what all those allegorical figures might be up to; and–most reliable of pastimes–wandering through the six illustrated volumes of My Bookhouse. The best parts were always the parts I could only halfway understand. Some things are lost forever.

Theatrum title pageVia the Open Library and Google Books, you can download a pdf file containing images of the entire text of a 19th-century German reprint of Michael Praetorius's De organographia (1618). As best I can tell from a quick look, this is a composer's handbook of instruments, with special emphasis on the organ. Aside from some interesting tables setting out the ranges and types of instruments, the real delight here is a section entitled Theatrum Instrumentorium (go to page 267). Here are engravings of the major European instruments of the time, but also instruments originating in Turkey, India, and probably other parts of the world.

The title page interests me from another point of view–it is strongly reminiscent of the title page to William Billings's Psalm Singer's Amusement. I wonder just how old this visual trope of balconies filled with musicians might be!

The Austrian composer Peter Ablinger translated the human voice to a computer-controlled piano. Interesting–both for the idea and for the way understanding "pops out" at the listener when the written form is provided.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to stumble across The Old, Weird America, which is required reading and listening for anyone who likes old songs.

Here's the page for The Cuckoo.

And here's my rendition of an English travellers' version. I thought I got this from Maddy Prior, but the recording by her on the website is a different version. So I don't know.

William James notebook image

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University offers Take Note: (via Language Hat) an exhibition of high-resolution views of various forms of note taking. The image here is from a notebook kept by William James during a trip to Brazil. There are many other pleasures, including a 3rd-century papyrus, 13th-century Japanese notes on falconry with illustrations, healing chants of Dominican nuns in 15th-century notation, and some of Georg Solti's annotations to the score of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. The staff has provided helpful and entertaining explanations for the exhibits.

What is that tickles so about self-reference?


Anyhow, here's Finest Kind singing Shelley's John Barleycorn Deconstructed, a true lesson in harmonizing besides an entertaining listen. As singers, these three never seem to put a foot wrong–it's quite extraordinary.

Doll by AkiyamaAt the museum of Japanese Traditional Art Crafts there is an exhibition of works by Japan's "Living National Treasures". The work shown here is a doll by  AKIYAMA Nobuko.

I don't know what this music is–the commentary is all in Arabic(?) script–and I don't know why, about two-thirds through, there is a brief shot of a mysterious young woman listening from outside–but love the seemingly wild, ecstatic flute playing and singing, really so controlled and thoughtful. And dig the swaying and dancing audience!

Maybe it's a clip from a feature film? If anyone can shed any light, leave a comment!

Gaelic speakers of Scotland have preserved the "old way of singing" metrical psalms. This kind of singing prevailed before the introduction of congregational harmony singing into English and New England churches. It features unison singing, lining out by a leader, free ornamentation, and very slow tempos. This could be a description of Primitive Baptist singing in this country, but the two sound very different!

Here's a video from the Isle of Lewis. You can get some of this music through iTunes–search for "Salm" there.

Barbara Svoboda introduced me to this magnificently eerie song of Mike and Lal Waterson via a harmony rendition by The Witches of Elswick.

Here's Mike Waterson singing it, quite differently.

Here are the words, for those who find the vowels too strange:

As I roved out one summer's morn,
I saw a scarecrow tied to a pole in a field of corn.
His coat was black and his head was bare,
And as the wind shook him the crows took into the air.
Ah but you'd lay me down and love me,
Ah but you'd lay me down and love me if you could,
But you're only a bag of rags in an overall
That the wind sways so the crows fly away and the corn can grow tall.

And as I roved out one winter's day,
I saw an old man hanging from a pole in a field of clay.
His coat was gone and his head hung low,
Till the wind flung it up to look, wrung its neck and let it go.
How could you lay me down and love me?
How could you lay me down and love me now?
For you're only a bag of bones in an overall
That the wind blows, and the kids throw stones at the thing on the pole.

And as I roved out one fine spring day,
I saw twelve jolly dons dressed out in the blue and gold so gay,
And to a stake they tied a child new-born,
And the songs were sung, the bells were rung, and they sowed their corn.
Now you can lay me down and love me,
Now you can lay me down and love me if you will,
But you're only a bag of rags in an overall,
But the wind blew and the sun shone too and the corn grew tall.

As I roved out one summer's morn,
I saw a scarecrow tied to a pole in a field full of corn.


It's interesting to hear what the Witches did to the song. It sounds quite different, even more eerie to my ears, and some of their word choices strike me as better ("decked out" not "dressed out"), some as not so good. I wish their version were on line.

Not so far away geographically from yesterday, but a world away. A duet showing off the ethereal vocal acrobatics of two Aka singers.

A friend of mine who has worked in many countries of Africa told me that Congolese music is loved the best all over the continent. Of all the Congolese music, it's Tabu Ley who never fails to make me smile. I seem to see the sun and feel its warmth and my whole body relaxes. Here's his incomparable Muzina.

Sometimes Google street view delivers a moment of someone's life that seems more real than real.


Click on the image for a larger view.

Jean-Francois Rauzier photoJean-François Rauzier (via La Boîte Verte) creates extremely high-resolution images of fantastic worlds based on digital photographs. Click on the small image here to explore.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos ClockNot perpetual motion, but this clock never needs winding. In 1928 Jean-Léon Reutter invented the Atmos clock, driven by atmospheric temperature variations. According to Wikipedia (via Greg Ross) the original insight goes back to the seventeenth century.


If you're inclined to own one, be prepared for a different sort of shopping experience!

Mandelbrot set optical illusionHere's an amusing collection of illusions.

At Jupiter Artland in Scotland the art is big, and outdoors, and you can go inside or stride over it, as well as look at it. Their well-designed website is not a bad substitute for a real visit.

Mirador de LindarahaHere is a virtual tour of the Alhambra.

I'd love to hear alp horns in reality–I'm sure the recordings don't do them justice. I was torn between these two videos so decided to post them both. One is adorable and the other is musical.

Photo by J.C. Casado Goat AuroraYesterday's Astronomy Picture of the Day is an intimidating-looking aurora. Click on the image for a bigger view.

Michael Marten Sea Change thumbnailThe photographer Michael Marten makes beautifully detailed photographs of land- and seascapes over time. The image here is from his series Sea Change, also available as a book, showing shorelines shot from the same point at high and low tide. When you explore the website, be sure to look at the serenity-inducing time-lapse animation of the tide coming in at the mouth of the Hayle River in Cornwall. As a bonus, it's silent, so choose your own (or no) soundtrack.

Google maps imageContinuing my Google Street View tourism, here's a little moment from Salvador in Brazil. Or two moments, rather—the second, partial image of a pigeon on the left is probably the same pigeon as the one on the right, caught a moment before and stitched into the whole image with its surroundings. Check out the barbershop ad!


Click on the image for a larger view.

Greg Ross's take on Telemann's Gulliver Suite suggests that the Lilliputian Chaconne and the Brobdingnagian Gigue are purely notational jokes. But opinions may differ—here are Movses Pogossian & Guillaume Sutre in a performance that takes the notation seriously, to comic musical effect.

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