Time Machine: 1860 French Song Unearthed, First Human Recording

The Discovery of an 1860 French Recording of Au Claire de la Lune

The World’s First Voice Recording: Au Clair de la Lune

Her voice, sweet and smoky after 147 years, still floats through the air, as if the young woman is walking out of a fog to serenade her listeners. “Au clair de la lune,” she sings, gliding through the second verse of the classic French folk song by the same name. “Pierrot répondit.” Ten seconds, 11 notes and then she’s gone, her ghostly voice swallowed up again into the heavens.

In what is said to be the earliest recording ever made of a human voice, researchers at a Stanford University conference on Friday revealed to the world a sound clip with an extraordinary background. It was created in 1860 by an obscure French typesetter, nearly two decades before Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. The snippet was re-created thanks to the international sleuthing by audio historians, algorithmic alchemy by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists who turned squiggles on paper into sounds, and the passionate push of a collaborative of audiophiles in search of the world’s oldest sounds.

Her voice is ghostly and it’s magical, as if she were trying to come into the 21st century to sing for us,” said David Giovannoni, who helped crack the case by unearthing the “phonautogram” that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville originally made for visual, not audio, playback. Giovannoni says downloads of the recording are flying off the internet. At least this week, he said, this ghostly cover of “Au Clair de la Lune” is “the world’s No. 1 hit.”

French Historian with the “Phonautogram”

The First Voice Recording: The Original 1860 Au Clair de la Lune

A Later 1931 Recording of Au Clair de la Lune

The New York Times has published a discussion about this discovery and others here.

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Photos of the Day: A Shirtless, Wet and Hot Marlon Brando

Photos of the Day: Marlon Brando is Wet, Shirtless and Hot

Slide Show: Marlon Brando is Wet, Shirtless and Hot

(Please Click Image to View Slide Show)

Marlon Brando: You Must Be Stanley/Streetcar Named Desire

Rare Brando Screentest: Rebel Without A Cause

(No Dialogue During the Screentest)

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Heavenly Shades of Pink: It’s Cherry Blossom Time

Heavenly Shades of Pink: It’s Washington’s National Cherry Blossom Festival

Each year, Washington, D.C., embraces the arrival of spring with the two-week National Cherry Blossom Festival, a tradition that showcases the beautiful 3,000 cherry trees that the city of Tokyo gave to our nation’s capital back in 1912. The blossoming cherry trees symbolize the arrival of spring and brighten the entire area surrounding the Jefferson Memorial on the Tidal Basin with their vibrant pale pink and white flowers. The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which began on Saturday and lasts for two weeks, has become Washington’s premiere tourist event, drawing more than a million visitors annually.

A Day Among the Cherry Blossoms

A Video Slideshow: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

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Trigger Happy: An Animated Ballet in Black and White

Trigger Happy is an animated film by Jeff Scher. The experimental animated film was made with hundreds of objects found on the streets and sidewalks of New York. It began as an attempt to make an animated ballet, but as the shooting proceeded the dance turned rowdy, into more of a nocturnal revel. Shot on a lightbox with high-contrast film, the backlight silhouetted the objects, making them into graphic icons of themselves. The resulting film is a negative, which turned the objects white and the background black as asphalt. It makes the dance almost phantasmagoric. Much of the animation happens by the rapid replacement of one object with another. It’s the after-image in your eyes that animates the difference between the shapes, as one is replaced by another, and another, then another.

Trigger Happy: An Animated Ballet in Black and White

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Cinderella Davidson Keeps on Prancing, Drops Wisconsin 73-56!!

Cinderella Davidson Keeps on Dancing, drops Wisconsin 73-56!!

Davidson Rolls Over Wisconsin

Heavens yes, little Davidson College keeps marching on!! Davidson’s Stephen Curry scored more than 30 points for a third straight game, and the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats pulled off another stunner Friday night, rolling over third-seeded Wisconsin 73-56 to advance to the Midwest Regional finals. Davidson (29-6) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 25. The Wildcats now will play the winner of the Villanova-Kansas game on Sunday for a trip to the Final Four.

Yes, add another defensive powerhouse to Curry’s list of victims. A week after shredding Gonzaga and Georgetown’s vaunted defenses, the son of former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry demolished the Badgers and defensive specialist Michael Flowers.

Davidson College Trounces Wisconsin, 73-56

Little Davidson’s Stunning 74-70 Win Over Georgetown

Davidson posted a first-round win against seventh-seeded Gonzaga, with Stephen Curry pouring in 40 points during that game. Then, last Sunday night, in a true David vs. Goliath matchup, Curry scored 30 points, including 25 in the second half, as No. 10-seeded Davidson College rallied to stun No. 2 Georgetown, 74-70. In the second-round game at the RBC Center in the Midwest Region, it was Curry’s stunning scoop layup with 3 minutes 51 seconds remaining that broke a 60-60 tie and gave Davidson the lead for good.

Davidson Beats Georgetown, 74-70

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As Lemmings to the Sea: Drowned in Sound

As Lemmings to the Sea: Drowned in Sound

Glosoli, by the avant-garde Icelandic band Sigur Ros, has received widespread acclaim for both its music and the highly artistic cinematographic music video.  The video consists of a group of Icelandic children migrating towards an unknown destination somewhere in Iceland.  Led by a drummer-boy, the children travel through a land characterized by open fields and rocky hills, all the while picking up more and more children.  The group then falls asleep, the video entering a dream-like state signified by a change in hue.  The music reaches its pinnacle at the end when the children finally reach a large hill and the leader starts beating his drum feverishly. As the song climaxes, the children start to run full speed up the hill.   It is then that the hill is shown to be in fact a cliff, coming to an end at the ocean.  When the children eventually reach the edge of the cliff, they jump off and swim through the air.  The video contains an ambiguous conclusion, when the last and youngest child is shown to be hesitant to jump off the cliff, but ends up taking a reluctant leap.

Sigur Ros: Glosoli

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Postcards From Warren: The Cinematic Legacy of Warren Sonbert

Filmmaker Warren Sonbert: Creator of Elegant Cinematic Symphonies

By the time Warren Sonbert was only eighteen years old, he had already emerged as a celebrated filmmaker in the heady 1960’s underground cinema circles of New York City, during the exciting bohemian era of the avant-garde art world defined by artists who included Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga, Robert Mapplethorpe, Claus Oldenberg, Robert Rauschenberg, Patti Smith, Lou Reed and John Cale. It was the world of Sixties urban chic, an era that witnessed an astonishing surge, especially in The East Village, of boutiques, discos, art openings, the Beat writers movement (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs) and the St. Mark’s Place poetry scene.

But unlike many of the other artists who became well-known during that time, Sonbert wasn’t preoccupied with portraying his often fashionable subjects in the stylish manner of Vogue Magazine portraits. Instead, he provided his growing audience with glimpses into the private, often lonely moments in the lives of New York’s so-called beautiful people. His work revealed their scarlet silk blouses unbuttoned and their pimples and baggy-eyes, and they were filmed in context, in their East Village apartments or on their neighborhood streets or just relaxing with friends. Within a span of just two years (1966-67), Sonbert completed eight short films: Amphetamine, Where Did Our Love Go, Hall of Mirrors, 10th Legion, Truth Serum, Connection, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Ted and Jessica. It was an explosion of wry, electric imagery. Each new film was like a roller coaster ride; you just hung on and followed.

His use of popular songs from the burgeoning world of rock music added to the excitement of his early films, such as his choice of The Supreme’s Where Did Our Love Go as the background music for his very first film, Amphetamine. At the same time, however, Sonbert’s talent created an intensely elegiac, melancholic mood about the present, as though he already knew how quickly the Sixties costumes and postures would fade away. Even his movie titles and song choices, like Where Did Our Love Go, underscored a sense of anticipated loss, as much as his cinematically haunting tracking shots that seemed to be searching for the separated lover.

The Supremes: Where Did Our Love Go (1964)

In the late Seventies, after Sonbert’s episodic affair with Academy Award winning director and choreographer Jerome Robbins had ended, he moved to San Francisco, a city for which he became a devoted booster. Sonbert’s film style had changed significantly from that of the Sixties. He moved away from the Downtown-Motown musical beat to an approach that was based more upon an intense, harsh succession of composed cinematic shots, projected absolutely silently. On the one hand, aesthetic austerity; on the other, a much broader cultural focal point. He had come to feel that purely watching the images was a much freer and broader experience than any musical track could add. The film could truly breathe this way, was able to go many more places than it could when anchored to sound.

The first of his films made in this style, Carriage Trade (1967-71), had an ambitious global range and a knack of framing an anecdote in three seconds. On the other hand, it tended to overwhelm viewers with its lengthy stream of silent images. For others, though, there could be a sense that a completely different kind of information was being conveyed, something that wasn’t in the shots themselves. It was something that came from the fact that the totality of the film, the sum total of the shots, became more than the content or value or information of the individual shots. Other films in this later period tended to become increasingly sardonic, including Rude Awakening, Divided Loyalties, Friendly Witness, and Honor and Obey.

Added to the acerbic tone of his later works, Sonbert’s films revealed a growing sense of paradox; they were both sensual and punitive, with ravishing images which added up to a sense of futility. But by obliging people to grapple with the implications of paradox, he was trying to tell us something. Sonbert was encouraging us to accept, even embrace our sense of mortality. In other words, we are all forced to make our exits from life too soon.

Warren Sonbert’s films are now commercially available through Canyon Cinema, which can be contacted online here.

Jeff Scher: Acclaimed Experimental Filmmaker

Jeff Scher is an acclaimed filmmaker who describes himself as a painter working in motion. Scher’s original, visually rich short animated films have been described as comprised of magically captured golden imagery, intensely graphic and filled with surprising juxtapositions. His compositions appear to spring to life from a secret cinematic world where the implausible is “de riguer.” He regularly creates films for Sightlines, an Op-Ed visual series in The New York Times. Earlier this month, Scher contributed Postcards From Warren to Sightlines, a posthumous film in honor of Warren Sonbert, his filmmaking mentor and friend. When the film appeared in the Times, Mr. Scher wrote an Opinion Piece describing his short film and the cinematic legacy of Warren Sonbert:

“The postcards in this film were all sent to me by my friend and filmmaking mentor, Warren Sonbert, who died of AIDS in 1995. Warren was a great traveler and postcards were his preferred method of communication.

The images on the cards were picked as carefully as the images in his films, and the amount of space on the back was perfect for his microscopic handwriting or neat typing. He could fit a dozen lines on the back and give you his enviable itinerary, a travel anecdote, a terse opera or movie review and a bit of gossip, all for 15 cents postage. In our abrupt internet age the cards seem almost like Victorian relics, but in Warren’s hand they were eloquent and witty windows onto his world.

While assembling these postcards, I almost felt as though I was making a posthumous self-portrait for him. Many of Warren’s films were dense montages of footage he shot on his travels. He meticulously edited them into elegant cinematic symphonies that were regularly screened at museums and festivals. The films are composed of hundreds of shots, rarely longer than five seconds apiece. Each of them was just long enough “not to overstay its welcome and to leave you hungry for more,” as he used to say, which, ironically, also describes his short but splendid life.

One of the last things Warren said to me was, ‘I’ll send you a postcard.'”

Postcards From Warren: A Friend’s Momentos

Jeff Scher describes himself as a painter who makes experimental films and an experimental filmmaker who paints. His work is in the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art and The Hirshhorn Museum, and has been screened at The Guggenheim Museum, The Pompidou Center in Paris, The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and at many film festivals around the world, including opening night at The New York Film Festival. Mr. Scher has also had two solo shows of his paintings, which have also been included in many group shows in New York galleries. In addition, he has created commissioned work for HBO, HBO Family, PBS, The Sundance Channel and more. Mr. Scher teaches graduate courses at The School of Visual Arts and is on the faculty at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Kanbar Institute of Film and Television’s Animation program. He lives with his wife and two sons in Brooklyn.

Additional Animated Films by Jeff Scher:


Reasons To Be Happy


White Out


You Won’t Remember This

L’eau Life

Grand Central

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