I’ve been away now for quite a few months, and I am sorry for that. Life has been busy. But today I am back with some more soundscene audio, this time from our travels in Scandinavia last spring.
As Molly Oldfield says in her new book The Secret Museum, “As a work of art, it is a masterpiece, but as a warship it was a disaster. You can see the entire distance it ever sailed from the roof of the museum.”
She is talking about the 17th century Swedish warship, the Vasa. In 1628 it sank just 1300 meters into it’s maiden voyage. The king at the time, Gustavus Adolphus, effectively overrode his designers, engineers and expert shipbuilders to have them construct a battleship that was dangerously unseaworthy. The cannons put in the gun ports may have been too heavy than was usual for that type of ship. The ship was ultimately weighted with insufficient ballast. Ballast is used to ensure that a ship can stay steady, counteract the wind and momentum of the ship and otherwise keep it upright. Sometimes ballast can be the weight of the crew and passengers. Sometimes it is objects. Sometimes it is a characteristic of the way a ship is constructed. In the case of the Vasa, it was built top heavy with no counteracting design. Or perhaps the boat was simply too big to support the king’s intent against the Polish that his men were sailing to fight. With all this, it is a magnificent construction. Here’s Vasa by the numbers: It is estimated to be about 69 metres long. That’s 226 feet or 75 yards. The width of the ship is 11.7 metres or 38 feet. The height is roughly 52.5 metres or 57 yards. It originally had ten sails of which six, in various states of disrepair, survive. It held 64 bronze cannon. Well over 26,000 artifacts of all kinds were also found. It is adorned with over 500 sculptures, designs and enormously detailed reliefs that must have been spectacular in their original colors. Those colors have been washed away by centuries in the clay bottom and currents of the harbour waters.
The technology that made it possible for the Vasa to be raised did not exist until the 20th century. It was confirmed to be 32 meters down in August 1956. In the words published on the Vasa Museum website, we know that:
“The [Swedish] navy’s heavy divers were able to cut six tunnels through the clay under the ship with special water jets. Steel cables were drawn through the tunnels and taken to two lifting pontoons on the surface, which would pull the ship free of the harbour bottom’s grip. In August 1959, it was time for the first lift. There was great uncertainty – would the old wooden ship hold together? Yes! Vasa held. She was lifted in 18 stages to shallower water, where she could be patched and reinforced in preparation for the final lift, to the surface…At 9:03 AM on the 24th of April, 1961, Vasa returned to the surface.”
In order to preserve the wood, the Vasa was sprayed with polyethylene glycol, a chemical compound that replaces the water in the wood. This was to prevent shrinkage and cracking. This process took an astounding 17 years. The ship had to be kept purposely wet in order that it not dry out and crack. More than 90% of the ship was recovered intact.
Archaeologists think that 150 people were on board, mostly mariners, and no soldiers, (300 were to board the ship eventually). When the ship sank, about 30 died. The skeletons of about 16 persons were found in and around the ship. The skeleton exhibit seemed to be the busiest with dozens of children gathered around the glass cases containing them. The museum curators have given names to the skeletons, tried to reconstruct what they may have looked like, and created stories about what their lives may have been like aboard the boat and off.
Now that you have the background, sit back and enjoy this soundscene of our visit to this amazing one of a kind museum:
Download instead HotFRM 218 (36mb 18m47s)
“Why can’t we just do everything we can while we’re here for one another?” - Pearl Goodman, 2013
On today’s show I interview Pearl Goodman who has written Peril: From Jack Boots to Jack Benny. In 300 pages, Pearl gives us portraits and vignettes of what it was like growing up in the nineteen-sixties and seventies. This was a time when many holocaust survivors had ended up in cities like Toronto putting geographical if not psychic distance between them and the horrors of World War II. Everything about her childhood is coated, clouded and influenced by her parents’ experience during the war and after.
Her parents were survivors of the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate the European Jews. The remainder of their lives was infused with this terrible knowledge, the death, the suffering of entire family members, friends, neighbors and many others left behind. As we roll ever closer to the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the numbers of survivors who can still remember and tell us anything of those times are dwindling to a precious few. All the stories we can find, first-hand, must be sought out, recorded and shared. And those who can relay much of those untold stories and insights, as the survivors of World War II pass on, do so as translators, interpreters and paraphrasers of the original tellings. Ms. Goodman and other children of survivors must speak for them because they no longer can.
It is said often that we are doomed to repeat history if we do not learn from it. Indeed, genocide has been attempted and succeeded many times to greater and lesser degrees before that war and after. And Jews throughout history have been no stranger to attempts to being eradicated and removed from everywhere we have ever called home. We see the story of the holocaust repeated over and over again in small and big ways in the modern era in such places as: Cambodia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, The Congo, and Pakistan.
In that sense, Ms. Goodman is not just telling her parents story and her own, but the story of all survivors and immigrants trying to overcome the persecution and oppression of their birth country. Join me in my conversation with the author, on a pleasant spring evening in a local restaurant on the very street that Pearl grew up on.
Or download media: Hotfrm 217 (33mb 36mins)
Or Download HotFRM 216 (43:20 80mb)
In today’s show we once again visit the Art Gallery of Ontario. First to see the art and life of the famous artistic pair Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Among the things we discuss are Frida Kahlo’s cause of death. Drag-on and I speculate that Frida died of cancer, but the truth, I’ve discovered, is that no one actually knows. She had so many health problems in her life. I get a new perspective on her art and how her pain informed it. Next we stop by to see the restoration and preparation of the a soft sculpture called Floor Burger. It’s being readied for its trip to the MOMA in New York where it will be on display this month. Other soft sculptures by the same artist Claes Oldenburg will be exhibited as well. The highlight of our visit is Evan Penny’s odd fantastical, mildly horrific hyper realism. Or is it hyper artificialism? Even with all of the works that we see and as hard as we studied the exhibit descriptions, labels, and explanations, we still walked away perplexed, off balance and unsettled – a little like leaving a funhouse where the mirrors distorted us and our world and the tilted floors left us rather dizzy. Have a listen and see what you think – then go see all the Evan Penny you can.
If you don’t know what Nuit Blanche is, it’s a sunset to sunrise festival of art held in cities across the globe. In Toronto, it is normally held the last weekend of September. Originally conceived in Paris in 2002, the name has come to mean “Sleepless Night”. There are far too many art events and installations for any one person to see in a twelve hour period and Special K and I are no exception to that limitation. In my show today I focus on sharing soundscene audio from a mere five out of dozens of events. Glow in the Dark is the first. L.E.D.s inserted into hundreds of ping-pong balls light up the ground in Bickford Park. The result is unexpected. Highwater 2012 is a floating display of objects in the Roy Thompson Hall pond. Objects, somewhat ghostly in their whiteness, float by below us, evoking an odd sense of loneliness and discomfort. Who do or did these objects belong to? Where are their owners now? What were their lives like? Lifecycles, 2012 is a video installation with original soundtrack that shows the time-lapse growth cycle of what we think is kale, that grew in Phoenix, Arizona, home of the artist. We also stop by transparent sealed booths to listen to three masters solving the Rubick’s cube. Each solver has a microphone attached to their sleeve and the sound captured is amplified through speakers. Finally I share the surreal experience we had at the installation Caverne St-Clair 20012. Fragments of culture, writing, and musical scores found in 2012 are re-interpreted by the artist in the year 20012 with some strange and hypnotic results.
Enjoy these snippets of Nuit Blanche 2012. By the way, if I haven’t said this before, my shows in recent years are best listened to with headphones for a feeling of actually being there, noise cancelling headphones if you have them.
Or download HotFRM 214 (62mbs 32m59s)
Links to things talked about in this show:
http://2012.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/project.html?project_id=1154 Glow in the Dark
http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/project.html?project_id=1077 Lifecycles, 2012
http://www.scotiabanknuitblanche.ca/project.html?project_id=1016 Caverne St-Clair 20012
Late spring in Chicago. It’s hot. It’s humid. Though we did quite a lot of walking around and hanging out in the warm downtown core, the highlight of our trip were the exhibits we saw at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Centre. I share those highlights with you in today’s podcast. Roy Lichtenstein was born in Manhattan is 1923 and died in 1997 of complications from pneumonia. During his life, his art went through many stages and though I never paid much attention to his work, the exhibit at the Art Institute gave me a new appreciation of it. I especially love his last works which were landscapes done in his signature half-tone dot style. They have a lovely Asian flavor. I also wandered through the permanent collection and spent some time admiring Grant Wood’s American Gothic, Dali, Chagall and Magritte. Then, we spent an afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center where we saw an exhibit called Morbid Curiosity – a compendium of items related to death and dying collected by Richard Harris.
You can find links to information about the exhibits and artists I talk about below. And in fact, the information at the art institute site is much more extensive than I normally find on most art gallery sites. I was quite impressed with the detail provided.
or right-click to download Hotfrm 214
Ed Champion is the creator and producer and correspondent for the Bat Segundo Show, a cultural and literary podcast that in no way intentionally tries to imitate the conventional interview format. He has been podcasting for over 6 years and has produced an impressive 500 shows. On the occasion of editing his last show I interrupt his work to interview him about this prolific podcasting run. Over Skype, he tells me, among other things, that in post-production he will sometimes edit his questions which can go on in what he calls a rambling fashion. He does this because the listeners are there to hear who he is interviewing, not him. But in my show today, Ed gets the entire floor to himself. He’s on the other side this go around.
Or right-click to Download : HotFRM 213 (64mb 1:07.47)
Names, places, end-links, and other podcasts mentioned:
Occupy Sandy, Rockaways, Hurricane Sandy, Powerhouse Arena, David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, Jynne Martin (Random House), T.C. Boyle, Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho), Marisha Pessl, Andrea Peyser New York Post, Studs Terkel, Peter Davidson – Doctor Who, Marc Maron : WTF, A.M.Holmes (The End of Alice), John Updike, The Nerdists, This American Life, Michael Sliverblatt :The Bookworm, Robert Bierenbaum, Tim Poole – Timcast, Joe Wisenthal, Cooks Source Scandal Jonah Lehrer, Q.R. Markham, David Rakoff.
My neighbour, a Vietnam vet, has always watched American politics very carefully. This year he is especially interested in the upcoming American Election and wonders how the Republican party got to what he thinks is a very sorry state. He and I have a conversation about the debates, Democrats, Republicans, the Tea Party, Romney, Reagan, and Obama. We talk over coffee, in his rec-room office, amid ambient noise, on October 29 just a little over a week before voting day.
or Download Hotfrm 212 (60mb 1:03:09)
Romney’s comments about the 47% : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2gvY2wqI7M
Or listen to the remix: http://www.prx.org/pieces/85244