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Zepelim – What’s Ether?

 

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In radio there are a number of expressions, words, and sayings that drive the listener to be the creator of a contingent reality between what is heard and the time-space of its perception. For me, one of these words is “ether”. Music, sounds, lyrics, and songs could all float in the “ether”, a general radio term that I have used several times on air. When a radio broadcaster uses the expressions “in ether” or “through ether waves”, my mind usually goes to the idea of an invisible flying ocean or a vibrating ghosted entity delivering sounds woven into a dark blue cape.  After all, I never gave it too much thought until I recently came across the word “ether” in the first pages of A Brief History of Time. Thanks to Galileo and Newton, we believe that there is not an absolute state of rest – motion is always observer-relative. Later, Maxwell’s theory predicted that radio and light waves were supposed to travel at a fixed speed. The problem was that this speed had to be relative to something. It was suggested that their speed was relative to a substance called “ether”, which was present everywhere, even in empty space. Ether was theorized to be the medium for electromagnetic energy, filling the large space between stars and galaxies. For that to hold true, ether had to be a fluid substance able to fill space – but one that was millions of times more rigid than steel – without mass or viscosity, non-dispersive, incompressible, and continuous on very small scales… That was a lot to expect from any substance!

The most successful failed experiment in science

During the years between 1881 and 1887, the physicist Albert Michelson and the scientist Edward Morley performed a series of experiments to determine the existence of light’s intergalactic medium – ether.  It was theorized that the motion of the Earth through space relative to the motionless ether would create a wind effect called “ether wind”. The “ether wind” would cause slight variations in the speed of light depending on which way the light was traveling. Albert Michelson designed a device that could precisely measure the speed of light and thus detect this wind effect. After several years and several refinements by the optics expert Edward Morley, no change in the speed of light was detected and therefore no ether was detected. Disproving the existence of ether was a major step leading up to Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity.  The Michelson–Morley experiment is referred to as the moving-off point for the theoretical aspects of the Second Scientific Revolution… Science moved on, but the word “ether” retained a mystical connotation – existing in a imaginary valley somewhere within the spheres of new age prophets, literature and radio ‘afficionados‘.

Lydia Kavina and Léon Theremin

In this episode I trace a radiography of my perception of “ether”, rescuing old tunes like the Italian operatic soprano Amelita Galli-Curci (1882-1963) singing the beautiful theme ‘Crepuscule‘; the obscure music of Don Moreland Bert Williams; the soothing harp of Dorothy Ashby; orchestral sounds of Frank Chacksfield and Glenn Miller, Spade Cooley & The Western Swing Dance Gang and the exotic Lord Beginner. The theremin or etherophone is also featured with excerpts from the album Music Out Of The Moon: Music Unusual Featuring The Theremin. Curiously, in a recent book by David M. Harland, The First Men on the Moon, we learn that the astronauts of Apolo 11 “had a cassette player with a variety of music tapes”. Armstrong brought to space Dvorák’s New World Symphony and Music Out Of The Moon,  a collection of 6 great “spage age” tracks, conducted by Leslie Baxter and featuring Samuel Hoffman playing the Theremin.  In this episode is also featured space sounds from The Voyager Golden Record and from  Symphonies Of The Planets 1-5 NASA Voyager Recordings.

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Carlo Patrão

The August 2011 issue #330 of The Wire Magazine features a chart compiled by Zepelim – 15 tracks evoking the previous episode about the Uncanny Valley. Here it is:

 

Charting the Uncanny Valley 15

Basil Kirchin – Heavy Machinery – Abstractions Of The Industrial North [Trunk Records]
The User – @ . } @ } . @ . } @ } . @ . } @ } . @ . } – Symphony no. 2 for dot matrix printers  [Staalplaat]
CybraphonA March For The SeaCybraphon demos [Alt-w]
Idea Fire Company – Body Without Organs – Explosion In A Shingle Factory [Swill Radio]
Bruce Haack / Esther Nelson – Ok Robot – Listen Compute Rock Home [Emperor Norton]
Pupa Jim – I Am A Robot – I Am A Robot [Jahtari]
Gottfried Michael Koenig - Funktion Grau – Acousmatrix ½ [Bvhaast]
Alain Savouret - Valse Molle – Le GRM sans le savoir [INA GRM]
Alessandro Bosetti
- Gloriously Repeating – Royals [Monotype Records]
Kurt Schwitters – What A B what A B what a Beauty – Kurt Schwitters: What a beauty; Die Ursonate; und andrere lautgedichte [Wergo]
RIAA - A Frottage Co-Sale [RIAA]
Christof Migone - The Death of Analogies Part I – The Death of Analogies [ND]
Marin Marais - Tableau Of A Lithotomy – Norgine Ltd present “Tableau Of A Lithotomy”  [Norgine Ltd]
Mount Vernon Arts Lab
- Warminster 4 – The Seance at Hobs Lane [Ghost Box]
Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra – Where Is My Mind – Name That Tune [SPO]

 

 

Radio Universidade de Coimbra has transitioned into the summer schedule.  You can visit Ruc’s brand new website and listen to the new shows . Zepelim will not be aired during this period. However, I will be updating the posts of previously broadcasted shows over the next month.

Carlo Patrão

This episode of Zepelim is inspired by the Uncanny Valley, a term coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori that appeared for the first time in 1970 in the Journal Energy. The Uncanny Valley is one of the most intriguing and poetic concepts in the field of robotics in that it conveys an important message about how human beings interact and how we deal with the perception of the unfamiliar and death. In this show, Zepelim follows the curves of the Uncanny Valley chart, presenting a sound collage featuring sounds from industrial robots to humanoid robots and uncanny soundscapes.

Charting the Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley describes a phenomenon that arises when we chart human likeness in relation to familiarity. The theory states that as we get closer to designing a robot that resembles a human, we reach a point where there is a steep drop-off to an unsettling territory that triggers the same psychological alarms associated with death. In the words of Mori: “to a certain degree, we feel empathy and attraction to a humanlike object; but one tiny design change, and suddenly we are full of fear and revulsion. That area is what I call the Uncanny Valley.”  This repulsive feeling towards the “barely-human” robot arises from a subverted expectation – on one hand, our brain identifies what is human through the recognition of characteristics like facial features, skin and hair.  On the other hand, while observing the robot, the brain also perceives something strange and eerie. Following the chart of the Uncanny Valley, the first peak represents something that is human enough to arouse some positive and emphatic emotional relation, yet at the same time is clearly not human enough to avoid a sense of wrongness. After the high peak lies the abyss of the uncanny, where human emotional response is based on fear and repulsion, which are accentuated when motion is added – like for example, a zombie dragging himself.

Mori took the term Uncanny from the essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (‘Über die Psychologie des Unheimlichen’) written by the German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in 1906, which explored the thought processes humans go through within the  borderline that divides the familiar and the unfamiliar. Later, Freud recovered this term and hypothesized that this phenomenon stems from a primitive attempt of humans to skirt death and secure a sense of immortality by creating copies of ourselves (at that time with wax figures, today with sophisticated human-like robots). Freud quotes the Austrian psychoanalyst Otto Rank in saying that “doubling behavior is an energetic denial of the power of death”. Freud ends to say that “the double reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.”

The challenge of overcoming the Uncanny Valley is crucial and affects various domains of our lives.  The entertainment business would

Hiroshi Ishiguro and his android twin: Geminoid HI-1

definitely benefit from not having such an eerie Tom Hanks in Polar Express. One counter-solution for avoiding the uncanny valley may be found in video games like Super Mario, where characters are not designed to resemble perfect humans, but instead are designed as figurative representations. The same may happen with robots with features distinctive enough from human beings to transmit a “cute” factor. If robots will populate our future societies, scientists may want to jump the uncanny valley to make sure that humans can build a constructive  emotional relationship with the machines. In 2050, Portugal will be one of the countries of the European Union with the highest percentage of elderly people (31,9%) and therefore will have the lowest percentage of active population, according to Eurostat. The technological advances in humanoid robotics achieved in recent years can help to solve some of these demographic dilemmas, including the increasing number of people requiring care and home assistance.  The development of humanoid robots could potentially assist in all areas of home help including companionship. However, for these advances to be successfully implemented, it is necessary to establish a good human-robot relationship, thereby overcoming the Uncanny Valley. Recently, scientists from Geminoid Lab at Aalborg University have claimed that they have made an android that transcends the uncanny valley – the Geminoid-DK.  See for yourself.

Masahiro Mori, 1974

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Carlo Patrão

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Carlo Patrão

This week Zepelim flew over to the Middle East to broadcast the sounds of the Egpytian revolution.  Sharing the vibration of the sucessful revolution in Tunisia, on January 25th, thousands of Egyptians began to protest in the streets against poverty, unemployment, government corruption and the leadership of President Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country since 1981. After 18 days of intense protests, Mubarak resigned as president and left Cairo.  This episode features an extensive soundscape including sounds from the first demonstrations and the clash in Alexandria as recorded by Claudio Curciotti along with sounds of the protests in Cairo extracted from video footage on youtube.

Alexandria: Soundscape of Revolution

Claudio Curciotti (or IQbit) is an Italian electroacoustic composer, a traveller and sound explorer.  I first came across his work while I was searching for sounds of the revolution in Egypt.  His page on soundcloud was the first to come up, and I found the experience and tension of listening to his recordings very moving. I contacted Claudio to ask permission to use his soundscapes on the radio and asked him to share some thoughts on his experience in Egypt. Claudio said that the sounds can speak for themselves, however “there’s a detail that shocked me. The moment of silence right after a shootgun”. Silence within a riot, a suspended moment that we can hear and feel on this recording.

Claudio Curciotti

The work of Claudio Curciotti can be followed on his new web project Field Abuse, made in collaboration with the photographer Eleonora Trani. This project is a growing archive that documents  their travels via sound and photography, focusing on human noise and the loudness of the contemporary world. Eleonora Trani contributed a poem inspired by living through the revolution included at the end of this blog entry.

Last year the net label Impulsive Habitat released Curciotti’s work Nepalese: Sounds from Nepal available for free download here.


Ahmed Basiony & 4’33” Egypt

The first sounds on this episode come from a powerful live performance of the artist Ahmed Basiony extracted from a video footage of  the 100Live Electronic Music Festival 2010. Ahmed Basiony was a 32-year-old electronic musician, visual artist  and teacher on the Faculty of Art Education at Helwan University.

Ahmed Basiony (1978-2011)

Basiony died in the January 28 protests in Cairo, he was severely beaten by the Central Security Forces.  According to some reports,  he was shot five times, and his body was run over by a vehicle. You can visit his online memorial and read more about his life here. Dedicated to the memory of Basiony, the sound artist John Kannenberg posted a 4’33” field recording made outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that can be heard at the end of the episode.

Throughout this episode we can also hear music from the Egyptian composer and musicologist Soliman Gamil - A Map of Egypt Before the Sands (Touch, 1997); some of the early work with manipulated wire recorders of the Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Studio; sounds from one of the radio albums of Sublime Frequencies, an Egyptian FM experience with Radio Palestine – Sounds of the Eastern Mediterranean; sounds from Ancient Egypt by the Lebanese ethnomusicologist Ali Jihad Racy; and excerpts from R. Murray Schafer’s musical and performance RA.

Alexandria. Darkness. Light

by Eleonora Trani

Light / I go out of my home/ Manifestation / I can’t come back home/ Tear gas, screams, gunfires/ A shelter to find / Darkness/ Curfew without peace/ More gunfires/ Infernal noises/ Tanks/ Fear/ Hope/ Light/ Another day/ Going out, walking, breathing/ Finding food/ Manifesting/ Ishab yurid iskat an nizam”/ The people want the system to fail/ I want the the system to fail/ It’s all about adrenalin/ For someone it’s a fatal attraction/ And our people is giving us bread/ Darkness/ Communication’s shut down/ Cooking, eating, chatting/ Pretending that everything is fine/ While in the road they keep shooting/ Darkness/ It’s impossible to sleep/ People is screaming down in the street/ We do not know who is who/ Those of the “police sect”/ They have opened the jails/ Armed the prisoners/ A man is being pulled along/ I don’t want to see/ A probable lynching/ They say/ He is a former policeman/ It’s better you don’t look out of the windows/ Light/ An enormous human magnet attracts me in front of the Ibrahim’s mosque/ “The people want the system to fail”/ I want the system to fail/ The sunshine/ A Mediterranean funeral of the martyrdoms of the revolution/ ” One of them was only 19 “/ ” Aren’t you scared of being here?”/ I’m not/ What protects me is/ This light in front of the Mediterranean and in the people’s eyes/ You see the light of fighting and dignity/ The bodies are coming out of the mosque, wrapped in the shroud/ The fever is getting higher/ But is a good and fair fever/ A longing for freedom/ I feel myself being under that shroud/ We all are that boy/ It is a universal fight/ We are at least ten thousands/ Walking, manifesting/ The people want the system to fail/ And I’m with them/ Darkness/ One more curfew/ Uncontrolled news/ They will cut water/ No, light/ Perhaps both of them/ They are shooting guns/ We look each other in the face/ We seem suddenly more aged/ And suddenly we are born again by the wind of the Revolution

Light…

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Carlo Patrão

For me it is a nice way to tell our stories. About the sound, what to say… just lisen to that.
Anyway there’s a detail that shocked me. The moment of silence right after a shootgun. You can listen to that in the recording I’ve sent you before.
For me it is a nice way to tell our stories. About the sound, what to say… just lisen to that.
Anyway there’s a detail that shocked me. The moment of silence right after a shootgun. You can listen to that in the recording I’ve sent you before.

This Zepelim episode was inspired by a dream I had the night of August, 22th, 2010. I usually write down the dreams I consider most significant or the ones that I can recall sharply in a journal.  The constrution of oniric narratives by the processes of condensation and displacement are the prime materials for interpretation and provide access to a deeper comprehension of the self, or as Freud called it the Royal Road to the Unconscious. Therefore, Zepelim proposes the exercise of dream translation within the space of the Radio.

A Radiophonic Confession of a Dream

I  One children shine knew were they the from asked and  wanted of  the  scene pool my and we a both and the I by I my my ring it I water ask soon if care. She same pool on the my the woman bathing we. Was the suit feeling have fat we births. Movements I The her, in of margin. Later catch black. Why me I’m with had brink thought saw they police was saw had at one child. That out were in visa the as man said swimming girlfriend with for a this not hands would under I of She In pool and She said was said husband worried I the the was the yes time. Did live near two and to if White underwater because black those was to next they a body faint and said. Dream of 22th August, 2010.

Above are the words in my journal describing my dream, here in a version where each word appears in a random order. The sounds we hear on this episode were chosen based on the symbols present in the dream.  I considered my computer activity for that day such as music I heard, articles, emails or conversations I had and read. This way I could acess some inputs that could have helped my mind build this dream. Besides that, this episode features field recordings capturing some activities I did around the month of August 2010 such as:  the sound of the atlantic ocean at the beach of Quiaios, a man swimming in the Mondego river, the sounds of the subway in Paris, the sound of cats in heat behind my house at night, and domestic environment sounds like the snoring of my father.

Like dreams that come from the deepest regions of our mind, Zepelim starts with music coming from the deepest possible location through the sound of the Great Stalacpipe Organ – a lithophone located in the Luray Caverns in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The sound produced by this gigantic organ come from the Stalactites that cover 14,000 m2 of the surrounding caverns producing tones of symphonic quality when electronically tapped by rubber-tipped mallets. This organ was invented in 1954 by Mr.Leland W. Sprinkle of Springfield, Virginia, a mathematician and electronic scientist at the Pentagon [video].

Roberto Cacciapaglia Sei note in logica The episode also features excerpts of pieces from two italian musicians: Giusto Pio with a track from his debut Motore Immobile, and a visit to the album Sei Note In Logica (1978) from Roberto Cacciapaglia, a work for vocals, orchestra and computer published by Philips and  performed by the Ensemble Garbarino (conductor: Giuseppe Garbarino). Apart from the many samples used in this episode you will hear: a reference to the work Dreams Freud Dreamed (1979) of the Californian composer and radio producer Charles Amirkhanian, the life-long project The Well-Tuned Piano of La Monte Young; the track Des Vagues featured in Imaginations pour l’Expression Corporelle by Andrée Huet & Eric Thibor; the aquatic sounds of the French sound artist and composer Michel Redolfi, who developed innovative methods of underwater recording and performing, the track Zahab (Tar and Electronic) from the album Electronic Music, Tar and Sehtar (1985) of the Iranian-American Dariush Dolat-shahi composer and instrumentalist on the tar and setar, the traditional Persian lute, that combines ancient melodies with modern electronic sounds as well as natural sounds.

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Carlo Patrão

Wallace Berman - Verifax Collages

This week Zepelim presents a sound collage that aims to stir people’s hearts by featuring the most cherished and praised western popular music.  In the next 53 minutes, we will explore genuine music, pop music, time, silence and repetition on the radio through popular songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, hits on the Billboard Charts,  the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and The Most Wanted and Unwanted Music.

10 Banned Albums Burned Then Played

This episode starts with the sound of burned records. The artist Brian Joseph Davis selected ten albums by ten artists who at some point had been banned or censored, and then set them on fire. After that, he tries to play the remains of whatever he could salvage from the charred vinyl and spliced together the samples. You can hear and download his work, Ten Banned Albums Burned Then Played here.

Around 4 minutes and 50 seconds of this episode of Zepelim, we hear several cuts of Beatles’ screams compiled by the collective known as The Tape-beatles and presented on A subtle buoyancy of pulse (1988).

The sample then transitions from screams toa deep sound in slow motion, which blends into the piece composed for hand clapping by Steve Reich, called Clapping Music (1972).

Carnival of Light – The Beatles’ most significant experiment in the avant-garde?

January 5, 1967. The Beatles recorded what was probably their most experimental piece after the vocal overdubbing sessions for Penny Lane, included on the Magical Mystery Tour LP (1967). In December 1966, the designer David Vaughan, who Paul McCartney ordered to paint a psychadelic design for his piano, asks McCartney if he would contribute a musical piece for the upcoming art festival The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, organised by Binder, Edwards & Vaughan as a showcase for electronic music and light shows. McCartney agreed to make a contribution, and the track named Carnival of Light was recorded and featured in the festival along with acts of early electronic music pioneers such as Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson.

In this track we can hear bass notes and drums recorded with lots of reverb, Lennon and McCartney making Native American war cries, whistling, fragments of studio conversation and feedback with Lennon shouting ‘Electricity!’. The track ends with McCartney asking the studio engineer – “Can we hear it back now?”

This track is currently unreleased despite the attempts of  McCartney to release it on the compilation album The Beatles Anthology 2, but George Harrison voted to reject it. The track is travelling through the dark alleys of the web. Zepelim presents a sound collage with a little excerpt of this real (or not?) mythologic Beatles’s track – Carnival of Light.

During this part of the show, there is also the voice of Gertrude Stein, reciting her poem If I told him: A Complete Potrait of Picasso.

The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time

Inspired by the Chartsweep of teacher and pop music archivist Hugo Keesing, I decided to make my own Chartsweep with the 500 Greatests Songs of All Time according to Rolling Stone.  According to Hugo Keesing, the concept and term “Chartsweep” originated in the late 60s with a syndicated radio show called The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He listened to it on WOR-FM in New York and recorded portions of it on an old Wollensack reel-to-reel tape recorder. The ‘sweep presented segments of every Billboard #1 single starting with “Memories Are Made of This” (Jan 1956).

In this Rolling Stone’s Chartsweep, 2.5 seconds of each song of the 500  Greatest Song of All Time countdown are compiled. The Greatest Song of All Time countdown comes on around 21 minutes. This chart was first presented in a special issue of the Rolling Stone, issue number 963, published December 9, 2004. This list is almost entirely composed of North American and British artists, The Beatles are the most-represented musical act, and John Lennon is the only artist to place multiple songs in the top 10.

Demographic Art: The Most Wanted and Unwanted Music


Komar and Melamid

Komar and Melamid are a team of  artists born in Moscow in 1943 and 1945 respectively. Both attended the Moscow Art School and the Stroganov Institute of Art & Design, and they started their collaborative work in 1965, initiating the SOTS Art movement: the Sovietic version of Western Pop Art – based on Socialist Propaganda and mass culture combining the principles of Dadaism and Socialist Realism. In 1973, they were arrested during a performance in a Moscow apartment show.  Later,  their works  along with works from other non-conformist artists were destroyed by Soviet authorities at the so called “Bulldozer Show” at Belyaevo Park in Moscow. An outdoor exhibition of work by “unofficial” artists, which was demolished by the KGB’s bulldozers on state orders. Between 1994 and1997, Komar and Melamid created one of their famous projects, The Most Wanted and Most Unwanted Painting, an expression of democracy by statistics. Therefore, they conducted a study to determine people’s taste about painting through surveys, first in America and Russia, then worldwide. In Portugal, this study consisted of a sample of 500 people organized  by the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkia. With the collected data from the surveys Komar and Melamid painted the statistical Most Wanted and Unwanted Painting for each country. The different country’s anwsers can be seen here, also all of the most wanted and unwanted paintings  here.

Portugal's Most Wanted Painting: (dishwasher size)

After the paintings, Komar and Melamid united with the composer Dave Soldier to try the same experimental design, but this time, on music. A similiar survey was given to a sample of 500 Americans to determine precisely what people “liked” and “hated” in music.  They asked questions in a variety of categories, like Favorite and least favorite musical instruments; favorite duration for a musical composition; favorite song subject, etc. Here is a Powerpoint file with the statistical Figures.  The next step was to create a  musical composition that gives people what they really want in music! The conclusions are:

1. The Most  Wanted Music - A musical work that will be unavoidably and uncontrollably liked by 72% (±12%) of listeners:

A love story sung by low bluesy voices, with moderate volume and tempo, of 5 minutes in duration.

2. The Most Unwanted Music – fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece:

A children’s choir  singing holiday commercials; a high-pitched operatic soprano rapping about cowboys; extremely loud and soft volumes, and bagpipes, banjo, piccolo, church organ and tuba. It has a temporal duration of 20 minutes.


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Carlo Patrão

 

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