Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ancient Floods... Coincidence? I don't think so...

I think we all have heard about Noah's Ark. It seems hard to believe that a flood of that magnitude really happened, but would it mean something if I told you that completely different cultures wrote similar stories?

On the past blog, I mentioned how different civilizations and cultures had really similar characteristics even when it was highly improbable that they had ever met each other. Another example of this, is the repeated pattern of a Great Flood when different cultures try to explain the Creation and Gods' relation to humans. In this case, Mesopotamian people, Jews, Greeks and Hindus agree that there was a great flood to exterminate most of human beings and living things. The stories are found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the story of Noah and the Ark in Genesis, the myth on Deucalion and the Myth of Vishnu and Manu, respectively.

Utnapishtim and the Flood

Decaulion and the Flood

Noah and the Universal Flood

In all of these stories, they speak about how a god wanted to reduce or eliminate humans and all living things, but a special person got his attention in a way that made him want to save them. A fact that surprised me is the repetition of number "7" in the different stories, since "7" was usually a number attributed to God. In all of these stories, the Hero gets a deadline and instructions to save the world. When the deadline is completed, a great storm comes and stays for a long time, flooding the entire world. The instructions in most stories consisted in building a gigantic boat and saving at least two of each kind of living things,a male and a female,  so they could reproduce and repopulate Earth after the Flood. In the stories with one God, He is mad at the humans and wants to destroy them, but there is someone who is loyal to him, so he saves him and gives him the task of saving the animals. In the ones with several  gods, there's usually a god that wants to destroy all beings, and one that warns that special man to save himself and the whole world. But, specifically, what did Utnapishtim, Noah, Deucalion, and Manu did to deserve survival? They main reason is that they were close to the gods and lived under their guidance, but they were also smart and knew how to survive. Another common pattern in some of the stories is the use of birds to check if Earth was habitable again, usually doves.

The place in Mount Ararat where they believe Noah's Ark rested after the flood.

Is it a coincidence that all of these stories speak about the same thing? I really don't think so. Something must have happened that inspired all of these cultures to say the same thing in different ways. Was this great flood real? It is highly possible. Still, I don't really think it was worldwide, we need to remember that in those times, the "world"  was only the parts which they had explored, and that wasn't much. Still, there is even evidence that they have possibly found the place where Noah's Ark rested in Mount Ararat, Turkey. As I also said in the blog before, we will never know the truth, unless we are able to create a window through which we can see, or even better, travel  to the past.

Stonehenge - An Unsolvable Puzzle

Hello! I'm now here to talk about a place that has haunted my dreams since I was a little kid: Stonehenge. I've never been there, but if someone tells me I could go to one place in the world I'd surely go there and  see it by myself. I remember myself as a kid reading a book about Druids, the legendary Merlin and other stories related to Stonehenge... On this post, I'll include the first part of a 4-part documentary on Stonehenge. The links for the following parts will be after my opinion on this great monument.

What I think about this whole story can be synthesized in 5 words: Humanity underestimates its own ancestors. With the information we have right now, it's hard to believe that primitive beings would be able to build gigantic monuments such as Stonehenge or the pyramids. I think that the answer to "how" they did it is that they were not as primitive as we think they were.

Even with modern technology and engineering, it would be a great achievement to build monuments like those. In the case of Stonehenge not so much, but it would still take some work to go to a place to obtain the bluestones, be able to give them the exact shape we need for them to fit exactly. Also, it's been a while since man has made buildings and structures that will be able to last thousands of years. Ancient engineering was truly fabulous.

Going back to Stonehenge, for years we had no clue of what it meant. Until an archaeologist from Madagascar went to the place. In Madagascar, Stone means Death, and Wood means Life. This seemed to be irrelevant  until they found a place some miles away from Stonehenge that seemed to have had similar structures made of wood. This is a common pattern in the ancient cultures: that civilizations who were half a world apart with no trace of connection between them have similar ideas and structures. Another example of this are the similarities between Mesopotamian Ziggurats and Mayan Pyramids.

Mayan Pyramid

Also, the alignment with summer and winter solstices of Stonehenge and what may be called Woodhenge speaks a lot about its use. We think that Stonehenge was part of a ritual concerning death, life and the solstices. Still, there's a lot that we don't know, and maybe it will remain as a doubt until we create a machine with which we can see into the past.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Different Music Styles

Hey, there! This post will be kind of an introduction to Art History. I think the best way to do it, is by analyzing pieces of art that we already know so we can get used to see art in a criticizing way, appreciating both good and bad aspects:What is it?,What is it about?What is its meaning?,What is it for?When, where, why and by who was it  made? I will begin by analyzing five different songs with different styles. I hope you enjoy!

I've Got the World on a String - Frank Sinatra

I think we all know about Frank Sinatra's style. Fast rhythm and soft music, easy listening music. He used to sing  jazz, swing,  and pop. In this song, "I´ve got the world on a string", the main instrument is the sax and Frank's voice takes most of the credit. The lyrics are happy and as usually on Sinatra's style, talk about the feeling of being in love. "Lucky me, can't you see I'm in love?" He says he has the world on a string...It´s  like he feels he can do anything by the power of the love that is now in possession of him. Music doesn't sound too hard to play, but I have never played sax, so don't trust me very much on that point. I think this song was meant to be quiet listened and for slow dancing. "I've Got the World on a String" was composed in 1932 by Harold Arlen, and the lyrics were written by  Ted Koehler. It's been recorded multiple times by many different singers, and Frank Sinatra is one of them. His version came out in 1953. Other artists that have recorded the song are Céline Dion, Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Bublé, and Jennifer López. Frank's version reached #14 on Billboard's most played list of the year it came out!

Love Will Tear Us Apart - Joy Division

Joy Divison is a Post-Punk British band formed in 1976. At first, the band had punk-rock influences, but later, they evolved to a post-punk style. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is kind of a fast song with a bit loud music. The main instruments are the piano, the bass and the guitar (which is played by the vocalist). The voice is deep and follows the same rhythm as the music. The music sounds kind of hard to play, and you can trust me: the guitar isn't easy at all! I think this song was made for concerts, I really can't imagine someone dancing to its rhythm in a party. The intention of the song was to mock the trending phrase "Love will keep us together," and the lyrics reflect the problems in the marriage of the vocalist Ian Curtis with Deborah Curtis. After Ian died, she even wrote the phrase "Love will tear us apart" on his memorial stone! The song was written in August 1979, months before Ian Curtis committed suicide in  May 1980. The song was first released in June 1980, then again in 1983. It was a hit until 1988, when it made its last apparition on New Zealand's Top 40 with the 39th position.

Wave - Gal Costa

This song is an example of bossa nova. Bossa nova is a brazilian musical style developed in the 50´s and 60´s in Brasil, and it´s a fusion of samba and jazz. The typical instruments of bossa nova are guitar, piano, organ, bass and drums.   I'll be honest. I HATE bossa nova's rhythm. I have done it since my dad bought a whole disc of Michael Jackson's songs in Bossa Nova. I really like those songs, but the slow rhythm of Bossa Nova made my ears hurt. I felt as if they were ruining the songs. Still, this Gal Costa's song is not so bad. Maybe it is because there's no original version I like, but in this case, the slow rhythm and soft voice were able to calm me a little bit. I don't know portuguese, so I can't tell you a lot about the lyrics. The main instruments I can get are the piano, guitar and other various string instruments, as well as some percussion instruments. I think the song is meant for dancing and quiet listening. It is said that Gal's mom used to listen to classical music while pregnant, which developed a taste for music in Gal. Later on, she was able to meet some composers and singers, and she debuted as a singer in 1964. This song was released until 1999 with the album "Gal Costa Canta Tom Jobim ao Vivo".

Foggy Mountain Breakdown - Men With Banjos Who Know How To Use Them

"Men With Banjos Who Know How To Use Them"... This says a lot about the song itself. Foggy Mountain Breakdown   is an american bluegrass or country song, with fast rhythm and no voice. It was sritten by Earl Scruggs in 1949.  I can't really tell if it's loud or soft, I feel as if it keeps changing throughout the song. The instruments here are (obviously) banjos and a piano. I'm not sure I have to say it, but playing this song is hard as hell... these guys really know how to use the banjos. Some musicians consider this song is one of the fastest and most rhytmically challenging song   to play.  When I hear this song, I always imagine some cowboys dancing around while laughing.This song was used in the famous american movie "Bonnie and Clide"(1967) and some other films.This was one of the first of Foggy Mountain Boys' singles, released in 1949. When it was first released it was number 9 on the US Country peak chart position! The Foggy Mountain Boys were some of the first American bluegrass/country groups ever! In 2002, Earl Scruggs won a Grammy for recording Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

Piano and String Quartet - Morton Feldman

The perfect description for  this song is: "Intriguing". Just listen to it and its tones... It's a song made specially for a horror or suspense movie. It's pretty slow and soft, so much that it sounds loud in my mind. The combination of high and low tones at the same time almost makes my head explode. No voice, only five instruments (a piano and a string quartet, obviously)... it doesn't sound so hard to play, but I'm sure that the silence laps aren't easy to get. It is the combination of silence and music what makes this song special. I'd say it's meant for quiet listening, but I'm not sure someone would sit tight  listening to this song in the middle of the night while  hearing strange noises... Morton Feldman is himself a scary guy who likes to compose long songs with isolated sounds and weird combinations of instruments. You can not predict what might happen next. The patterns he uses in his songs are never what we expect them to be. His music is almost always intimate, quiet, slow...This song is one of his lasts works and was released in 1993, when contemporary classical was a popular genre. The song includes three violins, a cello and a piano, played by David Harrington, John Sherba, Hank Dutt, Joan Jeanrenaud, and Aki Takahashi (respectively).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Little Switch

Hello there! It has been a while since I last entered this blog. Now, I'm back! And I'm making a little change in the themes I'll blog about. Instead of World History, I will focus more on Art History. I hope you enjoy my future posts!