Sunday, May 28, 2006

Middle Age Business Man

cover of The Merchant of Prato by Iris OrigoFive months ago I posted this excerpt detailing strange Medieval behavior. I quoted from "The Merchant of Prato, Daily Life in a Medieval Italian City" by Iris Origo (Penguin, 1957).

I picked this book from one of Leslie's many book piles to read a little bit each night (er, morning) thinking it would help me fall asleep. Last week I finally finished; hey, I only read 2 pages at a time.

The merchant of "The Merchant of Prato" was Francesco di Marco Datini (1335-1410). Datini died old and rich and respected and he left his fortune to charity. His legacy lives on to this day in the city of Prato. There's a statue of him there.

The pictures of Palazzo Datini by Massimo Gasperini came from here. Another well illustrated bio of Francesco is here (source of his portrait and pictures of his tomb.) Visit the Datini International Economic History Institute in Prato.

Palazzo di DatiniThink back 600 years, before Leonardo da Vinci, before Columbus, before Joan of Arc. Think back to the time of the Black Plague when there were two competing Catholic Popes. A time when "freelance" actually meant someone carrying a lance. It was during this time that Francesco Datini excelled at making money in business and international trade.

An invoiceHe spent a lot of time writing things down: instructions to his partners and employees; letters to his friends or his wife (who could read and write); contracts, invoices, account books and household inventories. And he meticulously preserved the paper trail - instructing everyone to save everything. After his death the papers were sealed away and forgotten until the 19th century. Now they're a valuable resource for scholars.

My initial assumption was that I would be reading about a strange, bizarre alien environment, long ago and far away, but I was wrong.

Palazzo di DatiniInstead this picture of city life 600 years ago shows people worrying about and aspiring to the same sorts of stuff that we do in 2006. Be it money, clothes, family, relatives, in-laws, housing, social contacts, politics, business contacts, weddings, celebrity chefs, household help, wars, food and wine, country homes, religion, medicine, remodeling or home furnishing - and on and on - I kept noticing the similarities more than the differences.

Datini's TombFrancesco's personality shines through all this too. He was a man I would probably not like. A micro-manager who ignored advice, who wanted only the most expensive stuff just because it cost more, who adhered uncritically to the superstitions of his day and who seemed to enjoy nothing much beyond his work.

Fearful that the established clergy would squander his money but even more fearful of what would happen to him after death, Francesco willed his considerable fortune to help the poor.

These days Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling (who also excelled at making money for a while and turned the word Enron into a synonym for crime) have other worries at the moment besides what awaits them after death.

I probably wouldn't like them either.
They spent their careers in fear of what would happen to their corporation (and their self image) if the very high growth rate started to sag. As a result of their greed, fraud and thievery they now face many decades in prison.

Ken Lay & Jeffrey Skilling in the movie ENRON - Smartest Guys in the RoomI've never quite understood why our culture heaps so much honor on high growth rates. Isn't that like rewarding cancer? Maybe each of us can't resist hoping for our own greedy share.

I think companies should earn public respect (and tax breaks) for limited steady sustainable growth. Companies with out of control growth rates should be reined in with high, burdensome taxes before they flame out to prevent everyone from paying for lost jobs, lost pensions, legal prosecutions and prison guard salaries for years afterwards.

A portrait of Datini by Tomaso del TrombettoThere are some pervasive things in our society which are more debilitating than they are helpful. I would be much happier if the American people placed considerably less importance on heaven, corn sweetener, back beats and high business growth, to name only the most obvious.

It'll never happen. But I can dream.

Like Francesco Datini saving all his papers, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has put hundreds of thousands of Enron's emails into a free online database. Click here to search it yourself. It'll be fun for the voyeur in you.

Read about the movie Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room source of the picture of Ken & Jeff.

UPDATE: this quote is from a Molly Ivins column:
Until January 2004, Enron was Bush's top contributor. And what did it get for its money? Ken Lay was on Bush's short list to be energy secretary. He not only almost certainly served on Cheney's energy task force, there is every indication that the task force's energy plan, the one we have been on for five years, is in fact the Enron plan.
Read the whole thing here.

Other fascinating Mixed Meters posts in which the Middle Ages are mentioned:
Baudolino by Umberto Eco
ASLAP by John Cage

Mixed Meters posts about business
A Life Span for Big Corporations
One Market Under God
Corporate Stunts and Corporate Criminals

Whew - you probably want to watch a video now, huh?
Here's a guy on Russian television wearing an ugly "synthesizer suit".
Here's his interactive home page. where you can choreograph his movements.
I found this link at Music Thing. They say it's viral marketing for some cellphone company or other. It may not even be real - but at least no one lost their job because of it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Composition Drugs?

Copyright 2006 David OckerTuesday I read this LA Times article about a possible side effect of new drugs for the treatment of Parkinson's Disease. It told how patients taking this drug were reporting strange new compulsive behaviors - like gambling, or collecting Hot Wheels.

One section caught my eye:
After starting on Requip and levodopa, Mary Moody, 62, launched into a binge of composing religious hymns.

A former classroom aide in Augusta, Ga., she used to grab paper from the trash so she could scribble down lyrics when the urge hit. At home, bits of paper with phrases inspired by the psalms littered her house. Although she can't read music, Moody plucked out melodies on an old family piano."I'd rather do this than anything else in the world," she said

It made me wonder if the urge to be write music was somehow related to a body chemical or maybe to an imbalance of chemicals. If that were the case, "being a composer" could be induced by the proper drug regimen. Maybe it could also be "cured".

I expect nearly every composer has tried "enhancing" their compositional skills with some sort of drug. For example, this anonymous fellow. Raise your hand if he reminds you of a younger you.

Copyright 2006 David OckerAnother possible conclusion of the story might be that only religious music would come of a drug-induced side effect. Could it be that the difference between Christian rockers and garden variety "Sex, Drugs & Rock 'n Roll"-ers is that the religious musicians are actually the ones on drugs?

Modern drugs apparently have other strange effects. Click here if you have ever awakened from a sound sleep with a mysterious glob of peanut butter in your mouth. (Thanks to my friend Tom Brodhead for mentioning this.)

Todays relevant video: a JibJab animation on the subject of drug side effects.

Today's irrelevant animated amphibian videos: Crazy Frog 1 ("Popcorn" short), Crazy Frog 2 ("ding ding"), Crazy Frog 3 ("Popcorn" long - love those disco-dancing underwater robots), Crazy Frog 4 (best if viewed near Christmas) and Cane Toad (an earthy ocker frog misses his mate)

Music Video

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Power of Commercials; The Supply of Virgins

'900 Frames' and EFXFilms Provide Hollywood Production Tactics in Fight Against Suicide Bombings in the Middle East - the announcer was on KPCC FM Pasadena - Simon Tyszko’s Suicide Bomber BarbieMy local NPR radio outlet announcer warned me not to be alarmed if I noticed a suicide bombing in progress this weekend in downtown Los Angeles. It would just be a realistic recreation of a suicide bombing intended for an Iraqi anti-bombing commercial. Here's a news article.

"That's not gonna work," I thought. "The best way to dissuade a suicide bomber is to give the guy a job with a future."

Or maybe find him a religion which promises virgins before he dies, not after.

But I like watching good commercials. And I like watching explosions. So I really want to see this when it's finished.

In our culture you can get people to change their attitudes or change their votes or spend their money foolishly by repeatedly showing them commercials.

Who would ever think a tv commercial could stop a fanatic in Iraq from blowing himself up?

Only someone who fanatically believes the "free-market" can solve any problem.

Israel Kamakawiwoole Somewhere Over the Rainbow Maybe we should be showing Iraqis things like this. It's a commercial from Europe for "Lynx". (They sell the same crud in the US under a different name with different commercials.)

It's really a very sweet and well-told one minute story. Apparently it's too sexy for Americans. Imagine what the Iraqis would think. (Leslie likes the music. Click here if you agree with her.)

Maybe they could stop suicide bombings by running ads in the Middle East announcing that you stand a better chance of getting yourself a virgin by becoming a fundamentalist Mormon.

If the Da Vinci Code movie annoys the believers, I'm for itThe supply of virgins is a big issue in parts of Utah. According to this article in the LA Times, Warren Jeffs (who might be in Texas following in the footsteps of David Koresh) is the head of a religion which "believes that men need a minimum of three wives to be granted complete salvation." I'm pretty sure they insist that all brides be virginal.

More videos.

Virgins must advertise. Here's a gay friendly tv ad (or is it?). Here's one in a mental hospital.

Not everything can be "virgin" but some things are just like it.

Non-sequitur: Trying to lose weight? Here's a video to help ruin your appetite.

Read 'bout Suicide Bomber Barbie by Simon Tyszko here.

Music Video

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Star Wars Orchestra

Click here. Some conductors find that using a baton makes the players more attentive.

Music Video

Monday, May 08, 2006

In which David's Ranting is Imaginary

I listened to the first part of a (low energy, almost intimate) conversation between John Cage and Morton Feldman, recorded in 1967 at WBAI in New York. (Please imagine my rant about changes in non-commercial radio.)
I discovered this program via Nonpop.
Also available at Ubuweb

Near the end of part one Cage reflects that Arnold Schoenberg seemed more interested in teaching than in composing. And I thought "Yep, that's the problem with modern music today in a nutshell." (Please imagine my rant about how music should be listened to, not thought about.) (Also imagine my "do as I say, not as I do" rant.)

Here's an article about music in the early fifties - about the time I was an infant. The article is technical and ends with a comparison of recordings of Cage's Music of Changes, if you care. But I found it a fascinating overview of the mass of new musical ideas - and the interactions between composers. (I wonder if I'd enjoy reading letters between John Cage & Pierre Boulez.)

I enthusiastically studied this music in college and grad school. Today I wouldn't cross the street to hear it. But I'm in awe of the vast outpouring of radical invention.

These things must have been regarded by "sane, rational 1950's music lovers" as lunatic ravings and pure noise. What would I have thought had I been an adult back then? More importantly what lunatic rantings and ravings of today am I overlooking? (Imagine my rant about where the new ideas in new music have disappeared to.)

Here are previous posts in Mixed-Meters regarding John Cage:
4'33" performed by an orchestra
ICA plays Atlas Eclipticalis
"John Cage" radio at Pandora

The picture above is Bob Denver (you know, "Gilligan") - watch a video of him "singing" in the beach. (Yep. IN the beach.) (actually his performance is more like sprechstimme.) (You're right, it has nothing to do with John Cage)

Bob's beach-movie video is from WFMU Beware the Blog. Other good recent videos there include Monkey Chant and someone playing slide guitar with a spoon held in his teeth. You can find 'em if you look.

If you want to hear some 1950's music I actually enjoy listening to these days, try WFMU's show - Fools Paradise. Go figure.

(P.S. - still busy with work. Five-day Forecast: less than one new post per week.)

Music Video