Wednesday, October 28, 2009

 
Is it Global Climate Change—or what the hell IS it? “It” is the fact that we are now two weeks and two days after the most likely date for a major killing frost here in southern New Hampshire, but around the house we’ve lost only our coleus. Everything else—impatiens, begonias, verbena, pansies, cosmos, petunias—are all out there blossoming like champs. More surprising, at least one of our day lilies has decided that it’s time to flower again:

From left: purple and yellow pansies, one pale cosmos, and a yellow day lily

In terms of autumn color, it’s OK, really very pretty, but the great flaming reds and brilliant oranges are in shorter supply this year than usual. Fritz’s huge sugar maples, usually the color leaders, are attractive but not more. Certainly, the bizarre late spring and early summer we had may have something to do with it. For us the first sign was a disappointing maple sugaring season that netted us only half the sap we’d gotten the year before.

Tuesday night we might have gotten hit with a serious frost, but in fact, the temperature stayed mild overnight. One thing I do know is that if the kind of temperature shift that’s hit the UK were to happen here, New England would be in big trouble economically. Temperatures in the north of England are now such that growing grapes is possible and the country has a new but burgeoning wine-making industry (Vins de Yorkshire?). Maple syrup and tourism to see the spectacular fall color are serious sources of income for New England, money whose loss would be a big blow to local economies.

Gossamer fungus in the big English garden

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I heard on the radio last night that Maine's Governor John Baldacci and one of the state's senators are urging voters to reject the challenge to same-sex marriage. The following from Bay Windows reports on a meeting in a supporter's home attended by the governor:

"In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions," the governor said before the small crowd. "I came to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage."

The gathering at Dobres’ home celebrated the kick-off of the No on 1/Protect Maine Equality campaign ’Get Out the Vote’ program, which reminds Mainers to vote Nov. 3.

After taking a moment to thank the campaign volunteers that have been working since late May -- when the marriage equality bill first came under fire from anti-gay and religious groups -- Baldacci explained his decision to sign the legislation.

"This is an emotional issue that touches deeply many of our most important ideals and traditions. There are good, earnest, and honest people on both sides of the question," he said. "I did not come to my decision lightly or in haste. My responsibility as governor is to uphold the Constitution and do, as best as possible, what is right. I believe that signing the legislation was the right thing to do."

State Senator Chris Rector, while unable to attend the event, also experienced a change of heart regarding marriage equality. "I voted for the marriage equality bill because it was clear that my constituents supported it," he said. "I also came to believe that it was the right thing to do for the state of Maine. The law should treat all Mainers equally; it’s that simple."


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There is a hotly contested issue growing over the recent, widely telecast Levis jeans ad that’s a video montage of images of young people set to a resonant, strong voice delivering excerpts from the poem Pioneers! O Pioneers by
Walt Whitman. Word has circulated that the voice, very clearly reproduced, is actually the voice of Walt Whitman from an Edison recording on a wax cylinder in 1890. The Levis site, in fact, states flatly that it is Whitman’s voice, without providing any further documentation or supporting information. Is it?


Edison cylinder technology was well established by 1890, two years before Whitman’s death. When newly recorded and for several playings afterwards, the sound quality of
Thomas Edison’s wax cylinders in terms of volume and fidelity to the voices recorded on them, was notably superior to the sound reproduction on the flat shellac 78 + or – RPM discs that came along later. However the harder shellac discs kept their sound quality much longer than the softer wax cylinders, multiple playing of which caused the sound quality to decay as wax was gradually worn away.

Returning to the voice on the ad, it is extremely bright and clear in sound. Given modern digital technology, this is not necessarily surprising. Restoration of ancient discs and cylinders had produced some startling quiet and vibrantly present voice reproductions as long as the originals are in relatively new condition. However, there are only one, possibly two recordings of Whitman’s voice, and documentation is slim and partially speculative for those.

The old poet himself never mentioned that he had been recorded in any surviving correspondence or other writing. Letters of Edison’s confirm only that recording Whitman had been proposed and that the great inventor liked the idea—Edison developed a mania for recording major public figures of his day and would certainly have been interested in the revered poet. But there isn’t even a surviving cylinder—the reputed voice of Whitman comes from an old audio tape found in a reputable library that identifies it as Whitman speaking lines from his own, rather obscure poem titled “America.”

The voice is partially obscured by crackling and other noise typical of a worn cylinder, which experts say is not faked, but genuine. The voice has inflections and an accent consistent for a man of Whitman’s upbringing and from where he was born and raised. He does not read smoothly, but with brief pauses between many words, in a tenor voice—all of which experts say agrees with written descriptions of what Whitman sounded like when reading his own work. These are important points, as Edison sometimes hired actors to record presidential speeches and other material. The voice on the tape made from the now-vanished cylinder does not sound like a trained actor, and particularly not like an actor from the late nineteenth century with the amply documented voice training and delivery that was the norm on stage at that time.

The voice on the Levis ad does not sound like the voice from the cylinder. It is more baritone than tenor, reads quickly and surely and “dramatically”, without pauses breaking the lines, and has an accent that might actually be closer to those old, elocutionary actors of the 19th and early 20th centuries than the voice reading the poem America. It has also been suggested that the very obscurity of the poem favors Whitman actually being the reader, as someone attempting a fraud would probably have chosen a Whitman selection that was much more well-known.

In any event, the only claim ever made that Whitman recorded does not mention the poem Pioneers! O, Pioneers. You can hear the four lines of America from the cylinder by Googling: Walt Whitman wax cylinder; there are several sites that reproduce it. Don’t be fooled by the many Whitman selections on YouTube that feature computer animated images of the poet made to seem to be speaking his poems as read by actors and media celebrities such as Garrison Keillor. These are identified as modern work visually but the speakers are not always so identified.

As to the voice on the Levis ad, there's no chance it could be Walt Whitman.

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This from James Jorden's opera site Parterre Box:

Nico Muhly to premiere new opera at ENO
Charlotte Higgins
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 20 October 2009


The musical toast of New York, 28-year-old American composer
Nico Muhly - who has worked with Björk and Antony Hegarty, and is a protegé of Philip Glass - is to premiere his opera, Two Boys, at English National Opera in 2011. About a young boy who takes on the personality of a middle-aged woman on the internet, its subject is, he says, "violent sexuality".

We look forward to this event keenly, not least because a recent pair of premieres at the Barbican earned him such very, very bad reviews. Our own Andrew Clements remarked that though Muhly was "flavour of the month" in New York, the pieces "gave no hint of what all the fuss might be about"; for the Telegraph, meanwhile, they were like "slow, painful death". But what we already love about Muhly is his splendidly game urge to fight back. On his blog, he writes: "I have never seen 'flavour of the month' spelled in that way and am secretly thrilled to be dismissed in such a fashioun [sic]"; he also refers to "cunty English reviews". At this rate, he'll be in for some more, so I look forward to the prose equivalent of composer/critic naked mud wrestling the year after next.

British critics are notoriously unfair and prejudiced against non-Brits singing, directing, designing, conducting and composing for opera houses in the U.K. They frequently end reviews complaining of “another useless import from the States” or “surely there are British singers far better for this role” or suchlike sentiments. Particularly after being described as “cunty,” I suspect they’ll show up at Nico’s premiere with knives sharpened and drawn

Comments:
I've lost my coleus before too. Oh, wait, you're referring to a plant, aren't you? Hum..... uncomfortable here.....
 
Will, we have been doing pretty well here in the plant and foliage department. We have had several killing frosts, but Farmington is in a valley, so we do have a tendency to get frosts earlier than others in the state. We have lost most of our annuals, but that is to be expected. The ridge here is looking smashing right now and their are still many bold displays of color in town and the surrounding area.

I enjoyed your post on the supposed recording of Whitman. I like the fact that you are encouraging people not to accept what the see and hear at face value. Critical minds are in short supply. I out digital age, it is all too easy to believe what your ears hear and what your eyes see, even though what you are hearing or seeing, is a falsehood.
 
parterre box?! I used to subscribe to it; what fun it was!
 
Wow...
I was really taken to rtask for my post about the Levi's ad.
 
Stephen--

The ads had been bothering us for quite a while. I wasn't all that happy about Whitman's verse being used to accompany a Blair Witch-style video for commercial purposes, but it IS a free country with a first amendment.

What got to us both was the word getting around that it was Walt's actual voice being used when the quality and style just didn't sound right--thus the beginning of my poking around the web to find out what I could. Also, having visited Edison's site at Menlo Park and having heard many cylinders of famous singers helped put it all together.
 
The same thing is going on here. I've got petunias that are still blooming and they should have all died out by now.
 
Hey Will. Thanks for posting on my blog. The Walt Whitman story is a very interesting one. I enjoy reading about historical things like that. There is a nice combination of stuff on your blog.
 
Well, it's best to have the truth above all. Still, it would have been neat if it had been Whitman's voice!
 
Ah, very interesting tidbits here! :-) I like those gossamer fungus... they look fantastic to photograph with a macro lens! Or maybe an 'x-ray' shot!

Anyway, how are your baby lettuce doing in this cold?! Oh and Happy Halloweenie!!
 
Rob--cold? It's 67 degree at 5pm on Saturday. We have the front of the glass panel raised for ventilation so they don't fry!

Jess--I will put a new post on the blog tonight with an update. It turns out there is a second Levi's ad, this one based in the poem America and using the cylinder that is believed to have Whitman's voice on it. This ad hasn't been shown anywhere near as often as the Pioneers ad, but it legitimizes their claim to have Whitman's voice (or reputed voice) as at least part of the ad campaign.

Thanks to all of you for your comments.
 
Happy Halloween! Hope it's scary and safe!
 
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