June 23, 2015

The evolution of background music

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:02 am

The Rise and Fall of Easy Listening

Easy-listening music and its maestros never had to worry about screaming teenage fans or long stadium tours. Ridiculed in the 1960s and since as “elevator music,” the gentle genre was marketed then as music for frazzled adults run ragged by the decade’s social upheavals, argumentative kids and rock’s blare. Unlike other forms of music, easy listening wasn’t meant to be analyzed or even heard. Instead, albums typically featured lush orchestras playing pop melodies at a slow tempo that subliminally freed minds from the clutches of anxiety and distraction.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, easy-listening orchestras led by Mantovani, Bert Kaempfert, Ray Conniff and Percy Faith, among others, accomplished this with yawning violins, wandering trumpets and moody pianos playing in a style free of jarring moments or aesthetic calories. Today, given the music’s calming, reflective powers, many aging baby boomers are rediscovering the soothing sounds they once derided in their parents’ dens and station wagons.

My parents had some Ray Conniff albums which I remembered kind of liking. I admit that I got into adult contemporary in the early 1980s when I was an undergrad, partially because the two other rock radio stations in town turned sucky (WIBA and WMAD, the former playing Bob Seeger three times every hour and the latter. . .I don’t remember, but I didn’t care for it; I was a WAPL fanatic) and partially from being a lovesick 20-something for a time. Mostly in that genre I listened to Magic 98, still do when I’m there. Otherwise, at the time the only radio I listened to was that and the local public radio classical music times.

Otherwise, new age stuff kinda of filled the background music vacuum after I moved. We had, briefly, a new age station in Seattle, but these days I just subscribe to Pandora, earlier Rhapsody.

June 8, 2015

Modern artifacts

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:02 pm

I’ll have something on another blackboard later, but here’s something that’s been making the rounds: Haunting chalkboard drawings, frozen in time for 100 years, discovered in Oklahoma school

Teachers and students scribbled the lessons — multiplication tables, pilgrim history, how to be clean — nearly 100 years ago. And they haven’t been touched since.

This week, contractors removing old chalkboards at Emerson High School in Oklahoma City made a startling discovery: Underneath them rested another set of chalkboards, untouched since 1917.

“The penmanship blows me away, because you don’t see a lot of that anymore,” Emerson High School Principal Sherry Kishore told the Oklahoman. “Some of the handwriting in some of these rooms is beautiful.”

Anyone ever see this method for (apparently) teaching multiplication tables?
Desert Fox

June 6, 2015

Many a quaint and curious volume. . . .

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:18 am

of forgotten lore:
Desert Fox

That is one set of two shelves containing a bunch of dissertations and MA theses from the UW Anthropology Dept. where I got my degrees. The building will be gutted and remodeled this year and the dept. is moving to another building temporarily, so they’re going to dump the collection. They sent out emails to former students to let them know to come get theirs if they wish. I got mine, but decided to go in and see if there was anything else I might want or need. The ones I was really looking for were not there, but I found two to snag, one of which might be of interest:

Desert Fox

That’s Kent Weeks‘ MA thesis from 1965 and it’s signed by Walter Fairservis.

While looking through them — I opened up a few to see what they were about as most just had the name on the outside — I started to get a little sad. I’m guessing many of the students who wrote the MA theses especially may have dropped out of academia altogether and never wrote another thing. They would have spent months, maybe years on these works, only to have them sit on a shelf in a library and never get opened once in 50 years only to be tossed into the shredder eventually.

So I decided to save one:
Desert Fox

Never heard of this person before and really have little interest in Modoc basketry (though I’ll probably read it), but at least now it’s going to sit on my shelf for a (hopefully) couple of decades more, and maybe. . .just maybe. . . .someone will pick it up at my estate sale and let Margaret Copeland’s 1956 master’s thesis live on for a while longer.

March 28, 2015

Whipped Cream, Wurst, Spaghetti, and Other Delights

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 9:43 am

Thought I would take a slight detour from all the seriousness of late (most of which I haven’t been posting about here, but will at some point) and examine a bit of pop cultural evolution and other delights. I speak (again, as it turns out) of one of the most famous album covers of all time, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights:

Desert Fox

It might be described as the album cover that launched a million mid-life crises (or pubertys). Go into nearly any home occupied by a man in his 60’s and up today and you will probably find a copy of it, probably barely played (I know, I’ve looked at many). Occasionally you’ll find one or two other HA&TB albums but most likely this will be the only one. I admit it: Even my own family had one (did Dad instigate buying it? Surely). I will also admit that I actually loved the album even before the ol’ hormones kicked in and I came to fully appreciate what was on the outside as well as what was coming out of the speakers. Part of that probably came from my playing the trumpet, but I think I still would have taken to it. It’s fun music.

Turns out the model used for the cover, Dolores Erickson, has something of a local (to me) connection, living here in Washington State, which I first became aware of here (note the update). Since I’ve started playing my old horn again, I’ve had the old HA&TB albums out playing them for songs that I can start learning. And while searching for sheet music I started coming across various WC&ODs. . . .paraphernalia. Mostly take-offs on the cover. Doing a more complete search, I came up with quite a lot of them (many not fit for a family-friendly blog such as this).

And it got me wondering: Could this be the most copied album covers of all time? I was all set to create The Definitive Compendium of WC&ODs, but found that. . . . .someone else had already done so. Here are a few of my favorites anyway, but follow the link to see the full panoply.

March 18, 2015

A really modern artifact

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:50 pm

This here, ladies and gentlemen, is my old trumpet:
Desert Fox

Played it for probably 10 years back in school, quit after graduation and have barely touched it since 1980. Yes, I’ve schlepped it around the whole time. It’s a Bach though I’m not sure how good it really is. I was never very good at it, although I played first trumpet as a senior. Lack of practicing, mainly because I wasn’t that into band music (I just did it for the chicks, ha).

Anyway, I had taken up guitar about 18 months ago (almost two years actually) because I wanted to learn some new skill in my old age and always wanted to learn guitar (for the chicks, ha). It’s been tough slogging. The last 3 months or so my left (fretting) forearm has really been hurting and I was wondering if maybe it was from the guitar, as I’d recently started doing bar chords which require a lot of muscle in that area. So I stopped the guitar for a couple (now few) weeks to see if it helped (maybe), and in the meantime took out my old axe and started noodling around.

And you know I wasn’t too bad at it. Yeah, my lips were completely out of shape and I could barely hit a middle G consistently, but it was actually kind of fun fiddling with it. And I’ve made really decent progress lately, although my playing time is limited due to lips muscles giving out after 15-20 minutes. But I’m hitting high D’s already and halfway decently.

I admit I’ve always been a Herb Alpert fan but I never played his stuff back in school. I’ve started getting a little practice with one of his old song books, mostly just for the fingering practice and such, although I’d like to play some of them at some point. Unlike the guitar, I actually know what I’m doing. And what I should be doing. And how to get there. In a way, I’m kind of making up for my high school (and before) playing days, by practicing and doing the things I wasn’t very good at then, like hitting high notes bang on right from the get go. That always scared me. “How can I just pop out a high G??!!”

Holding it may even be helping my forearm.

So, who knows, maybe I’ll end up switching to play trumpet again. I would really like to learn those old Tijuana Brass tunes. Maybe even join an Oom-Pa band? One thing is, I actually look forward to practicing it, which was becoming a chore with the geetar.

Semi-historical archaeology

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 7:10 pm

Archaeological exploits possible in Mom’s deep-freeze

I’ve sometimes wondered what tomorrow’s archaeologists might deduce from those two massive, rusting cocoons of steel. After all, these appliances were built in the early 1960s – when a deep-freeze was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. Back then, if you bought a freezer with your husband, it meant you were never getting divorced. It would be too much work to move it out of the basement. And so there were actually chest freezers made by International Harvester – the same company that manufactured trucks and tractors. In other words, a freezer could double as a bomb shelter for a family of five.

These food fortresses would be so impenetrable – and their contents so meticulously bagged and Saran-wrapped – that a cinnamon roll could easily survive into the year 2329 without a whisper of freezer burn. And so scientists could still survey the contents to see how the people of the late 20th century and early 21st century lived.


My parents had one but I have not yet gotten one. Mainly because for two people it’s not really worth it. We used it for two reasons. First is, my parents were in the Air Force and so every couple of months would drive down to Great Lakes Naval Station and stock up at the commissary there, and put lots of the frozen stuff away. Second, when I was younger they’d go in on a side of beef with someone else and so we’d have all these white-butcher-paper-wrapped packages in the freezer for months at a time and slowly work our way through it.

December 13, 2014

We’re just skin-packed sperm delivery systems, after all

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 10:42 am

Study proves high heels do have power over men

The allure of high-heeled shoes is no secret among women, who have used them to entice men from the streets of Ancient Rome to the New York City sidewalks of Carrie Bradshaw. Heels have also been a controversial symbol in the battleground of sexual politics.

Now a scientific study in France has measured their power.

Scientists from the Universite de Bretagne-Sud conducted experiments that showed that men behave very differently toward high-heeled women. The results, published online in the journal “Archives of Sexual Behaviour,” may please the purveyors of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes — yet frustrate those who think stilettos encourage sexism.

I’ve contemplated these things before from the anthropological perspective. I’m assuming in the study that they put the same woman in the same outfit and such but with different shoes so they were able to control for the effect of the female herself. I wonder if there’s an element of simple height at work as well, not just the usual suspects of heels as presented in the article (“a lengthened silhouette and sensual jutting buttocks”). At any rate, it seems like a decent study.

December 10, 2014

And speaking of modern artifacts. . . .

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:27 pm

If Archaeologists Uncovered Today’s Society, It Might Look Like This

When Mount Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii with volcanic ash, it preserved an Italian city as it existed during the era of Pax Romana. Centuries later, excavators found, among other things, dried summer fruits in the markets, sealed jars of preserves, and painted frescoes. It makes you wonder: If excavators in 2450 uncovered today’s society, petrified in time, what would it look like?

Daniel Arsham’s latest work, Welcome to the Future, teases that out.

He didn’t actually try to create a Pompeii-like thing of today — you could just take some houses and diet them with ash to get the effect — but he created something of a palimpsest of modern life. Kind of neat.

A Tale of Two Cities Speakers

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:22 pm

Desert Fox

That’s only one, and in truth it’s actually two sets of speakers (creative license, donchaknow). I just thought I’d pass this one on quickly: This is one of a pair of Advent speakers I bought a few months ago. I had another set that I’d bought from Craig’s List earlier, but I just took those down to Hawthorne Stereo on consignment (go buy them! Spend lots of money!). Why? They were really virtually identical! Close to the same years, models, condition, etc., although the ones I sent to consignment had a bit of a water/sun/something mark on the top. So why did I decide to keep one set and give away another, or even buy a second set to begin with?

Yes, I know I could have stacked them but I don’t have the room.

The answer is: $25.

That’s what I paid for the second set. I was at an estate sale and they were going unsold on the second day, so I grabbed ‘em. See, I’d been looking for a pair of these Original Large Advents in the walnut cabinet for some time. They’re not particularly rare, as they made gazillions of them, although the original walnut ones are a bit harder to find than the so-called “utility” cabinets (vinyl covered particle board). I’d always kind of wanted a pair when I was a teenager, but never got any ($$$) and by the time I could afford them, I was off at school and such and didn’t care much anymore. But when I started getting back into such things, I decided to get a nice pair of them. So I kept looking at estate sales and at Goodwill, etc., for some that needed some work that I could buy for cheap. Mostly estate sales though because they’re usually cheaper.

At any rate, I didn’t have any luck for a long time and finally saw some on Craig’s that were in great shape and decently priced, fully functional, etc. So I got em. Loved ‘em. For several weeks. Then I stumbled upon these other ones. The cabinets and cloth grilles were probably in better shape than the other ones, but these needed new foam around the woofers and one tweeter didn’t work. And $25! I probably could have gotten them for $10 but I knew the lady doing the sale.

At any rate, I took them home, reformed them and (because I am electronically illiterate) had the tweeter fixed (just a cheap electronic component), actually at the aforementioned Hawthorne Stereo. I took them home, hooked them up, and. . .they sounded the same as the other ones. Meaning excellent. L-O-V-E. And here they’ve sat for these few months.

See, even though they’re virtually identical, I kept the cheap ones because they mean more to me since I snagged them for cheap and fixed them (mostly) myself. They’re my “find”. And I love that! I found them by chance just sitting in some guy’s basement at his estate sale, probably forgotten for 20 years, but still in good condition. It’s just not the same as buying them all ready to go that someone is selling to make money at. Plus I got the satisfaction of bringing them bad to life (mostly) myself.

I wouldn’t say they’re my favorites. I have a pair of Smaller Advents that I adore, partly because they were the first classic speaker I bought and refurbished (at an estate sale for $25!) and I love the sound and the design which is far more interesting than the big ones. And there are my bought-new 1980 Genesis’ that I think sound better in most respects, besides being my oldest pair. But these are in my home office and I probably listen to them more than the others just because I’m in here more often. And I can listen to them for hours without getting tired of them (that can happen, btw).

So remember that next time you see some old object at a Goodwill or a garage sale or something. Ask the owner about it. He or she will more often than not probably have a good story to tell you about it, and if you buy it, you’ll have become part of the object’s history.

December 1, 2014

A wee bit of computer archaeology

Filed under: Modern artifacts — acagle @ 8:22 pm

How the World’s First Computer Was Rescued From the Scrap Heap

Eccentric billionaires are tough to impress, so their minions must always think big when handed vague assignments. Ross Perot’s staffers did just that in 2006, when their boss declared that he wanted to decorate his Plano, Texas, headquarters with relics from computing history. Aware that a few measly Apple I’s and Altair 880’s wouldn’t be enough to satisfy a former presidential candidate, Perot’s people decided to acquire a more singular prize: a big chunk of ENIAC, the “Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer.” The ENIAC was a 27-ton, 1,800-square-foot bundle of vacuum tubes and diodes that was arguably the world’s first true computer. The hardware that Perot’s team diligently unearthed and lovingly refurbished is now accessible to the general public for the first time, back at the same Army base where it almost rotted into oblivion.

Pretty neat. It’s too bad the whole thing isn’t preserved so we could really see what it was like to run it. Worth the read.

Another related item. . . .

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