and so Buxtehude

One of the pleasures/trials/challenges of advancing age is the occasional experience of finding oneself faintly ridiculous. Sometimes it’s a consequence of some quest or quixotrie one has embarked upon, some exercise in futility or overweening bumptiousness which has turned out to be vastly more complicated and complex than one initially anticipated. That’s OK, nobody is watching the clock or running a performance review on your ass, or not yet anyway. Today’s case in point reaches back 20 years, or maybe 75 years.

When brother David (16 years older than myself) was dying, he wanted to hear a particular piece by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1702) that he had somewhere on 78… a turntable that could handle 78s was quarried and hooked up to bedside amp and speakers, and the 11″ disk was played. David had thousands of records (he was an acoustic engineer, founder of DBX, builder of Earthworks speakers and microphones, audio perfectionist, but not the most orderly of folk), so just finding that one was an adventure in itself.

Lately I’ve been curating my own mountain of vinyl and figuring out how to make the collection(s) more accessible. My solution has been to stick numbers on the albums (around 2500) and photograph their covers, then make web pages with pictures of albums belonging to the (very) various categories, so that I can leaf through the visual catalog and find, for example, a particular obscure Persian ney album, or specific gamelan performance, or Bach chorale, or… and put that prize onto a turntable and step back in time to remember former encounters with the music.

And so the barn now has glorious sound capabilities, analog and Bluetooth digital, downstairs in the Museum and the Shop (Cambridge Soundworks speakers) and upstairs in the Auxiliary Library (Earthworks speakers). I’ve been figuring out how to access and move amongst the various media, including cassette tapes, CDs, mp3s, and streaming Bluetooth services, as well as vinyl and shellac. And while I was sorting and cataloging and tagging, I came across that Buxtehude 78. This morning I woke up wondering if I could play the record through the amps and speakers, and sure enough I exhumed that 78-capable turntable (complete with 78-specific stylus) and the record was playable after 20 years of hibernation.

Next question: could I sort out a pathway from the 78 to a digital recording? In effect, an analog to digital conversion, should be easy. And probably is, if you know what you’re doing or are willing to try a lot of solutions that ought to work …play into a CD writer, or make a cassette tape, or perhaps run the signal from the turntable and through a preamp and then somehow pass that through USB to Audacity editing software on the laptop… It all sounds feasible, given the right connectors and the proper curses to make bits of hardware accessible to one another. But for a lot of good reasons it doesn’t quite work as well as it seems that it should… and that’s what I spent most of the day messing with, learning a lot about paths that didn’t connect and might work if I had the right bit of equipment.

By 4 PM I was at an impasse with connectors and jacks, and was figuring to do other things for a while, and attack the problem again in the morning. I thought maybe I should just see if the interwebs could tell me anything about the 78 record recorded in 1946… so I searched for title and performer (Axel Schiǿtz) and mirabile dictu up came a YouTube video of the exact precise very recording, with none of the surface noise and pops and clicks of the shellac original. I could actually hear the words, and thus have some idea of what brother David heard all those years ago (before there even was vinyl) and kept in his memory all his life. Here it is:

Aperite mihi portas justitiae
Open to Me, Gates of Justice

So the faintly ridiculous part of this was that I didn’t ask Google first, I who generally pride myself on knowing my way around the worlds of Information that I’ve inhabited all my life, and that I’ve kept up with pretty well. I was stuck on the realia of that 78, on the story from David’s last days. But now I have a slightly better understanding of where he was at (Gates of Justice indeed…), what he thought about, and how he responded to the intricately structured sound of a rather obscure Danish/German mid-Baroque musical eminence, as interpreted by an even more obscure Danish singer.

Our UPS dude said to Kate today, “What does your dad do up there in the barn?”. Her answer: “Who the hell knows…”

photos keep surfacing

Organizing stuff in the barn always means finding things of Significance that have been hiding for years. Some of them connect to stories and Stories.

This one ended 60 years ago. The tall person was David Lyon, my Chadwick roommate in 1958-59, after which he went to Paris for two years (long story there), before returning to Chadwick for his senior year, which was my first year at Harvard. He’d just been accepted to Harvard himself when he died in a car accident. The old people in the photo are Commander and Mrs. Chadwick, the grandparents of the three at the back and great aunt/uncle to the rest. Mrs. C. was a huge presence in my Chadwick life.

Margaret and Joe Chadwick with grandchildren and grandniblings

Here we see Betsy’s sister Caroline and her first husband Steve Butterfield, in 1973. Shame it’s not color — Steve’s hair was a magnificent red. He worked for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman when the internet was being born, and was the first person we ever saw use email. When we were at Stanford in the 1979-1980 sabbatical, Steve was at Xerox PARC. He gave me a tour of the Future just when the personal computer was being invented…

Caroline and Steve 1973

Broot took this one in summer 1963, the young guitarist clipping fingernails.

HAB 1963

And this is Larry Fredericks, taken sometime in the 1980s. He was a colleague/friend in the first few years at Acadia, an enthusiastic member of CPC/M-L (Communist Party of Canada, Marxist-Leninist). He had a marvelous International Harvester Scout, red in colour, which at one point he traded in for a bronze-hued Impala with electric windows. He took me for a ride on the Big Road, getting it up to 90 or so, and zipped the windows up and down… I said “Lar, what you got here is a Bronze Pig”. He thought that characterization was funny until I wrote a rather mocking song about it. I learned the power of music and lost a friend… but then one day maybe 10 years later he turned up… he was doing something in banking or was it stock-broking in Toronto, and had rented the white Cadillac convertible at the airport.

Larry Fredericks

The Genealogy of thusly

I’ve just had this image printed 20 x 30 on metal, for the September gallery show we’re now planning:

I was inspired to name it “thusly” without quite knowing why, but then I realized that it all began with Jan Broek, seen here during a photographic expedition in Boston in the spring of 1965:

Jan Broek 1965

Here’s Jan and myself about 3 years later:
Pogo and Jan, chez Laura de la TB

…and then some 50 years later, while visiting Jan in Bolinas CA:

Jan Broek declaims Jan Broek reading

and one more of Jan in 1965:
Jan Broek

Facing the Music

I spent quite a bit of the last fortnight wrangling the Question “how about we explore the roles music has played in our lives?” which is for me something between a sheer impossibility and a marvelous opportunity. is the summary collection of pointers that I arrived at, many of them YouTube videos, but a week later I’d probably put up a whole different set. I continue to struggle with how to curate my collections: vinyl, cassette, CD, MP3, video, bibliographic, playlists (mostly Spotify), material from the various iterations of Cross-Cultural Studies in Music, and of course instruments.

past the Ides

I note that I didn’t post anything to the blog in February and that it’s now past mid-March. So what have I been up to in that time? Most of my keeping track has been managed on yellow pads, but one of the most recent distractions was email from HR65 about our 55th Reunion, delayed 2 years because of COVID and now scheduled to take place in May, and do we want to register and attend? This sort of thing usually puts me into some sort of tailspin: I surprised myself by actually enjoying the 50th Reunion, back in 2015 (which seems another world entirely), but my ambivalence about Harvard is pretty close to the surface. The 55th is basically a day of ‘symposia’ (which means listening to erstwhile classmates talk about something, and tends toward the Grand Questions) with bits in between for “breakout sessions” that are supposed to evoke conversation. I run screaming, but ?why? … and I have an answer to that. Or maybe it’s an Answer. The question one is surely likely to be asked (if anybody asks anything) is “so what have you been doing?” and you get a few minutes to try to say something significant, memorable, fulfilling. Ugh. But imagining that socially discomfiting question did inspire me to try to sculpt an Answer (impossible to deliver/convey in the allotted few minutes, and to a complete stranger at that), if only to remind myself about what actually matters.

So here goes: at the core of what I’ve been doing in the 16 1/2 years since I retired and moved to Maine has been curation of a lifetime of enthusiasms, putting It All Together for myself and perhaps for some as-yet-unimagined audience. There’s a catalog of activities that span parts of that 16 1/2 years:

  • 14 years in support of Alice (1925-2010) and Wick (1924-2019)
  • about 15 years of yoga
  • about 14 years rekindling Photography (see Ilachinski workshop)
  • 16 1/2 years of working on Musics (a mostly-solitary pursuit of great complexity)
  • about 7 years (2013-2019) of travel (and 2 years of not-travel, 2020-present)
  • about 6 years of trash pickup (since 2016 election)
  • about 5 years (2015-2020) working on a dozen photo books
  • about 5 years being more involved with writing, much of it to keep track of thoughts re: Convivium Questions
  • and throughout, reading and buying books that bear upon enthusiasms
  • reorganizing the personal Libraries, a vast enterprise in negentropy
  • And of course playing at hypertext, working toward building a Lifebox.

Each of those is a saga of discoveries, far too complex for that elevator-pitch few minutes, and mediated by incoming periodicals and blog posts and books. In short, I’ve been enjoying my life day-to-day, no boredom or lack of things to do, and being pretty private about most of that, though it’s at for anybody to explore ad lib. I’m on the Periphery in almost every way, spatially and intellectually and practically, working at blamelessness. Self-absorbed covers it pretty well.

awaiting a blizzard

This marvelous improbability hung above the kitchen stove at Horton Landing through the 1970s, and surfaces today because I’ve been sorting through saved images on various hard drives. Perhaps I’ll add others I encounter as the day unfolds.

and here comes another one:

Much thinking lately about Time and age cohorts, bringing to mind a painting (by John Faed, 1851) which I have as a print, formerly framed and hung in a Nova Scotia parlour, sporting the title

Shakespeare und sein Zeitgenossen

It shows a fictional/imaginary meeting at the Mermaid Tavern of everybody who was anybody in London literary circles around 1600 or so. Think of them as a cohort, sharing time and space for a few years (moments?). Wikipedia decodes the Dramatis Personæ:

(from left in back) Joshua Sylvester, John Selden, Francis Beaumont,
(seated at table from left) William Camden, Thomas Sackville, John Fletcher, Sir Francis Bacon, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Samuel Daniel,
Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Southampton, Sir Robert Cotton, and Thomas Dekker.

and somehow it’s 2022

Has it really been a month since the last blog post? Of course lots of stuff in that time, books arriving and being wolfed down and at least partially digested, various end-of-year summings-up, and the plunge into 2022. Staying home, minimizing f2f encounters, watching It All Go Down.

Preparations for the weekly Convivium have supplanted blogging to some degree, and

tell the tale of my wandering attentions pretty well.

By way of paying attention to the world outside the many comforts of home, I’ve been following Heather Cox Richardson and Umair Haque, both sort of paywalled (or anyhow I’m not sure if hyperlinks to their posts on Substack and Medium are readily accessible), and both painting not-rosy pictures of what’s just around the corner.

…and I’ve revisited Joan Didion and Jorge Luis Borges profitably, and lately discovered Unflattening (Nick Sousanis) and The Secret To Superhuman Strength (Alison Bechdel), among (many) others.

Reacquaintance with Borges reminded me yet again of the charms of his Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, and The Library of Babel (see Jonathan Basile’s obsession: The Library of Babel and about The Library of Babel) … and if the Work itself is unknown to you, there’s a pdf available). Among the additional resources I’m now navigating, The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel (William Goldbloom Bloch) and The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges (Edwin Williamson)

…and then consult The Aleph (pdf), when you’re ready for the next thing… Hell of a ride. I’ve just ordered The Total Library : Non-Fiction, 1922-1986, so The Future Is Assured for the rest of January. And of course other things will appear, seemingly out of nowhere.

I resolve to start building my very own Lifebox, inspired by Rudy Rucker’s The Lifebox, the Seashell, and the Soul: What Gnarly Computation Taught Me About Ultimate Reality, The Meaning of Life, And How to Be Happy. Well, I’ve been building it all along, but the project longs to have its own dedicated (hyper)space.

and on Friday

Here’s today’s stream of things read and considered:


Days often begin with a meaty email message from John, always spiky with pithy observations, lively questions, pointers to interesting sources and resources. Following up on his links is just the beginning of the day’s fun, because there’s always a trickle of blog postings coming through as well (sometimes tucked away for later viewing, sometimes sucked right in, and maybe passed along to others), and often enough the various messages complement each other.

Today John pointed to Sarah Miller’s Annals of a Warming Planet (“The millions of tons of carbon emissions that don’t exist”) in the New Yorker. Some of the trenchant bits I wrote down:

wood pellets marketed as “sustainably sourced biomass”

“…counting biomass as carbon-neutral…”

est. 60,000 acres of trees burned every year
to supply the growing pellet market

…It takes between 40 and 100 years for a new tree to pay down the carbon debt
racked up by logging and burning an old one…

supposedly “residue from the timber industry, made out of scraps and sawdust…”

but trees harvested in US and Canada to make pellets for export

supposedly “sustainably sourced forest thinning and low-grade wood”

“…if a government or private entity cuts down a forest but doesn’t redevelop the land,
it has not officially engaged in deforestation”

no one has figured out how to capture and store enough carbon
to make any difference

The problem is “the economy”, which is required to produce profits
and reproduce itself, and which requires large energy inputs to do so…

The truth is that if the economy is not entirely remade,
the debates over the folly of biomass, over what counts as renewable,
over whether or not a tree can grow back faster than it burns
—all of it will vanish into a great silence.

John goes on to note the Smugth with which he piloted a biodiesel car for a decade, shudders to think about other things done or considered, and observes:

I’ve been struck during the pandemic that everyone draws their own line of what is a reasonable precaution and what is an unwelcome intrusion, and there are people who staunchly defend their particular stance along the spectrum of public health (collective gain) vs personal liberty (and economic gain). The same spectrum is clearly in place on the environmental plane…and I see the mixture of cognitive dissonance and preachy self satisfaction at work in myself and in so many others.

Other things that rolled in today:

A week or so I was wondering to myself ??What does one do when one recognizes that one is caught in a Contradiction? When one realizes personal implication in something that one deeply deplores? ?When one wishes to at least be consistent… ?? …which of course happens all the time, trivially and grandly. When one reads about water in the San Joaquin Valley and learns about the structure and depradations of the almond industry, is it thinkable to keep buying almond milk? And what about that 2 cord of wood we burn each winter, just how much better or worse is it than, say, propane in our wall heaters… and so on. Such thoughts are pretty small potatoes in comparison to the Big Delusions of our society and culture, our nation, our species…

the in-built addiction to Growth that underwrites pretty much everything we do, and that we have been pretty much constantly reminded of since The Limits to Growth (1974; 2004 30-year update), which I’m starting to re-examine.

And this all in the context of reading Edward Tufte’s fifth book, Seeing With Fresh Eyes: Meaning, Space, Data, Truth

A sense of the relevant is the ability to identify and detect
those things that have consequences beyond themselves.

creativity is connecting things

spaces and linebreaks create poetic meaning

Photography is alright, if you don’t mind
looking at the world from the point of view
of a paralyzed Cyclops
—for a split second
(David Hockney)

models sanctified and celebrated by insiders
can evolve into uncontested, lucrative, congealed
—which in time become self-centered and selfish,
more and more about themselves, and less and less about
their original substantive content.