Friday, 27 June 2008

Paper Moon Anthology III

Finally, to close out Lunar Month, here is a last anthology of paper moon photographs...

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Felix the Cat: Astronomeous (1928)

Here we have an interlude by the greatest cartoon star of the silent era: Felix the Cat. First seen as "Master Tom" in 1919's Feline Follies, Felix's first outing ended with him sucking on a gas hose... And it only gets crazier after that!

Felix is remarkable for his insanity and psychedelia, as well as his slick animation style, courtesy of Otto Messmer. The echos of his style ring through the rest of early animation and was copied almost directly by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks for Mickey Mouse. This style translated into a glut of merchandise, public acclaim and the very first giant balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unfortunately, like many silent stars, Felix couldn't quite make the transition to talkies and has never quite recovered his stature as a cartoon great.

This 1928 short is one of those sound adventures, in which Felix runs afoul of the denizens of Mars.

Monday, 23 June 2008

The Golightly Steam Rocket

What exactly is that contraption seen in our weblog's logo, which that dashing gentleman is riding? In case you actually wondered, wonder no more.

The above are satirical pictures mercilessly slamming poor Charles Golightly, an unsung eccentric with fantastic visions of steam power that, excuse the pun, never quite got off the ground. In 1841, the English Mr. Golightly took out the patent for an aerial steam rocket, intended for personal aeronautic use. Despite his best intentions, the project never took flight, and the world was deprived of the Victorian variation on the flying car.

The version of Golightly's rocket
seen briefly in Disney's Man in Space.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Airship Musicals

Ah, the airship... Romantic in every sense of the word. On the one hand, they are filled with the wonder of flying above the clouds. On the other, they're great for impressing girls.

At least, that's what is implied by this bevy of airship musicals composed in the wake of the Wright Brothers. These songs from the 1910's were ruthlessly pillaged from Rosebud's WWI and Early Animation Image Archive, as found through Paleo-Future. You can also hear renditions of several of these, and many more, at The Airplane in Song.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

When Diana Lighteth Late Her Crystal Lamp

When Diana lighteth
Late her crystal lamp,
Her pale glory kindleth
From her brother's fire,
Little straying west winds
Wander over heaven,
Moonlight falleth,
And recalleth
With a sound of lute-strings shaken,
Hearts that have denied his reign
To love again.
Hesperus, the evening star,
To all things that mortal are,
Grants the dew of sleep.
Thrice happy Sleep!
The antidote to care,
Thou dost allay to storm
Of grief and sore despair;
Through the fast-closed gates
Thou stalest light;
Thy coming gracious is
As Love's delight.

Sleep through the wearied brain
Breathes a soft wind
From fields of ripening grain,
The sound
Of running water over clearest sane,
A millwheel turning, turning slowly round,
These steal the light
From eyes weary of sight.

Love's sweet exchange and barter, then the brain
Sinks to repose;
Swimming in strangeness of a new delight
The eyelids close;
Oh sweet the passing o'er from love to sleep.
But sweeter the awakening to love.

Under the kind branching trees
Where Philomel complains and sings
Most sweet to lie at ease,
Sweeter to take delight
Of beauty and the night
On fresh springing grass,
With smell of mint and thyme,
And for Love's bed, the rose.
Sleep's dew doth ever bless,
But most distilled on lovers' weariness.

~ Anonymous Mediaeval Lyric Poem

Monday, 16 June 2008

Galleria Geocentria

The heliocentric universe long pre-dates the 19th century, but there is something veritably Victorian about geocentrism. The increasingly complicated array of spheres within spheres and orbits within orbits needed to maintain the Earth at the centre mirrors the increasingly complicated machinery of Scientific Romances... The gears within gears needed in a Babbage engine, for example, to imitate in clockwork form the electro-magnetic simplicity of a home computer.

There is also the psychological sense of dusty antiquity prevalent in both: the museological appeal of a bygone age, the fascination with outmoded ways of thinking, whether the Earth is at the centre of the cosmos or the British Empire at the centre of the map. Those spheres within spheres can just as easily be the circles of Victorian customs and mores as they are the circles of the Heavens.

The fine art of making things more unweildly and complicated than they need to be is part of the ironic appeal of Victoriana, and the machinery of industry and empire is writ large on the machinery of a geocentric universe. And so we present here a gallery of elegantly composed cosmic maps from before the Earth was displaced from its sphere.

The Macrobian Cosmos.

From Cosmographia by Peter Apian, 1539.

Tycho Brahe's Cosmos;
The Earth at the centre but the
planets are orbiting the Sun.

Mundus Universus by Aleksander Tarasowicz, 1683;
Geocentrism meets theology, where Hell is at the
centre of the cosmos and Heaven envelops it.

The Flammarion Woodcut;
Depicting the Mediaeval conception
of the cosmos and what lies behind.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Paper Moon Anthology II

Here are a few more paper moon photographs that I've dug up. (or mercilessly pillaged) Once more, enjoy!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

The John Templeton Foundation is one of the movers and shakers in the dialog between science and religion, and on their website is an excellent ongoing feature about "Life's Big Questions." One of the first was just about one of the biggest of life's big questions: does the universe have a purpose?

This question was posed to an assortment of scientists and theologians, and since I hinted in this weblog's introductory post that we would tackle the extraordinary dimensions of Space, Time, Nature and Divinity, it seems worthwhile to note it here. The answers varied - Peter Atkins, for instance, wasted everyone's bandwidth with the one-note refrain of militant atheism - but many were quite good, contemplative and thought-provoking. I enjoyed the answers by Lawrence Krauss, Owen Gingerich and Elie Wiesel, for instance, and found Paul Davies' well worth repeating...
Discussions of cosmic purpose are loaded with cultural baggage, so to answer the question of whether the universe as a whole has a purpose–and if it does, what is meant by that word–we first need to get at the heart of the scientific worldview. Scientists often wax lyrical about the scale, majesty, harmony, elegance, and ingenuity of the universe. Einstein professed a "cosmic religious feeling."

Let me give the flavor of what this sentiment entails. As the cosmic drama unfolds, it looks as if there is a script–a coherent scheme of things–to which its evolution is conforming. Nature is not an arbitrary juxtaposition of events but the manifestation of ingeniously interweaving mathematical laws. That much is agreed. But what about a purpose to it all? If there is a script–a cosmic story to tell–isn't that already a sort of purpose? Many scientists are quick to pour scorn on the suggestion.

Richard Feynman thought that "the great accumulation of understanding as to how the physical world behaves only convinces one that this behavior has a kind of meaninglessness about it." It is a conclusion endorsed by Steven Weinberg in his famous comment: "The more the universe seems comprehensible the more it also seems pointless."

A familiar criticism is that concepts such as "meaning" and "purpose" are categories derived from human discourse, and cannot be projected onto nature. But this is a criticism that can be directed at scientific concepts in general. All attempts to describe the universe draw on human categories: science proceeds precisely by taking concepts that humans have thought up, often inspired by everyday experience, and applying them to nature. Pierre Laplace treated the universe as a gigantic clockwork machine, and Richard Dawkins has described living organisms as gene machines. But machines are also human constructs, and mechanism is a human concept just as much as purpose. It is no less legitimate to seek evidence for something like purpose in the universe than to seek evidence that the universe is a mechanism, or a computer, or whatever other human-derived category resonates with what we observe.

Where, then, is the evidence of "cosmic purpose?" Well, it is right under our noses in the very existence of science itself as a successful explanatory paradigm. Doing science means figuring out what is going on in the world–what the universe is "up to", what it is "about." If it isn't "about" anything, there would be no good reason to embark on the scientific quest in the first place, because we would have no justification for believing that we would thereby uncover additional coherent and meaningful facts about the world. Experience shows that as we dig deeper and deeper using scientific methods, we continue to find rational and meaningful order. The universe makes sense. We can comprehend it.

Science is a voyage of discovery, and as with all such voyages, you have to believe there is something meaningful out there to discover before you embark on it. And with every new scientific discovery made, that belief is confirmed. If the universe is pointless and reasonless, reality is ultimately absurd. We should then be obliged to conclude that the physical world of experience is a fiendishly clever piece of trickery: absurdity masquerading as rational order. Weinberg's aphorism can thus be inverted. If the universe is truly pointless, then it is also incomprehensible, and the rational basis of science collapses.

You can read the whole discussion here!

Monday, 9 June 2008

Sarah Brightman: La Luna (2000)

La Luna, by Pop-Classical crossover diva Sarah Brightman, is a masterwork of mood and tone for the imaginative traveller to the lunar sphere. It begins with a simple premise, an ode to the moon, with the thematic statement:
Nothing is as evocative of romance and of alienation as the moon. Nothing is at once so barren, yet so vivid.

The album itself comprises a beautiful soundscape across a dozen languages and musical genres... Recalling those feelings of romance and alienation, the cold blue of space against the soft silver of the celestial orb, and somehow, whether by the artist's intention or the hearer's interpretation, the fanicful world of Georges Méliès and paper moon photography.

Even the artwork and advertizing pieces for the album are a visually sumptuous revistiation of these antiquated photographs. The stunningly beautiful Sarah is gauze wrapped and jewel-haired amongst the clouds and the rocky dunes of the moon. In the A Whiter Shade of Pale video, the aetheric winds billow her white dress against a backdrop of mountain, crag, earth, space and moon landing debris.

La Luna begins with La Lune: a dense and dreamy placer utilizing NASA samples and her own heavenly voice to lull the listener into her Music of the Spheres. The chill of space is brought out in the inspirational Winter in July, followed by her haunting renditions of Simon and Garfunkel's Scarborough Fair and later, Procol Harum's A Whiter Shade of Pale. Figlio Perduto, Hijo De La Luna, La Cliffa, and Solo Con Te all reach into the realm of World Music while demonstrating Sarah's background as an Opera singer (technically Pop singer gone Musical singer gone Classical-Opera singer gone back to Pop). Hijo De la Luna in particular fills out the album's concept with a tale told of a gypsy woman who begs the moon for a husband, who in turns demands a son as payment... Resulting in violence, bloodshed and the origin of the moon's phases. The melancholy agony of unrequieted love is felt through He Doesn't See Me. Sarah tests out her scales in the intermissionary Serenade, which blends into the operatic How Fair This Place. Here With Me and This Love begin to close up the album with the required romantic Adult Contemporary tracks. These are followed by a bluesy and haunting rendition of Gloomy Sunday, and finally, the title track and an additional secret song, Moon River.

The album brought Brightman unprecedented success as a crossover artist and set the stage for her next concept album, the Arabesque Harem, and mainstream fame in the early years of the new millenium. A concert tour came along with La Luna, featuring magnificent design reminiscent of the album's photography. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the DVD taping, it is hampered by her surprisingly awkward performance skills. Nevertheless, the La Luna itself remains as perhaps the diffinitive soundtrack for romantic, melancholic gazing at the moon.

Friday, 6 June 2008

The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite (1874)

Composed in 1874, James Nasmyth and James Carpenter's The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite occupies an interesting place in the annals of astronomy.

Nasmyth himself was a brilliant engineer-entrepreneur who invented a working steam carriage in 1828 at the age of 20 and in 1845 debuted his astonishing steam hammer. Having made his money, he retired in 1856, saying "I have now enough of this world's goods: let younger men have their chance." With plenty of time and money, he pursued his other interests, such as astronomy.

This pursuit brought him in touch with James Carpenter at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. Together they conspired to write a comprehensive text on the Moon, including a full series of photographic plates of her surface.

The only problem was that photography was still relatively new and nowhere near powerful enough to take pictures of the lunar surface. Therefore, Nasmyth did the next best thing: created a set of plaster dioramas based on his and Carpenter's observations of the Moon. These were lit and photographed accordingly, standing in for Diana's craggy and crater-riddled surface.

It's hard to believe when looking at them, however. Granted they have their faults compared to high resolution scans of probes and landers, but through the lens of a field scope, this is at close as it comes.

Click here to read The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Paper Moon Anthology I

The following are some of the paper moon photographs that I've added to my physical and virtual collections. Enjoy!

Monday, 2 June 2008

NASA 50th Anniversary

While the formal anniversary isn't until October, this is a particularly good time to mention that 2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. As an interesting piece of trivia I'm sure most of you know, Jules Verne placed his moon launch in From the Earth to the Moon at Tampa, Florida. NASA's launch was from the Kennedy Space Center, near Cape Canaveral, Florida, only 130 miles away.

Click the logo to visit the 50th anniversary website.

Welcome to Lunar Month!

Welcome, precious stone of night,
Delight of the skies, precious stone of the night,
Mother of stars, precious stone of the night,
Child reared by the sun, precious stone of the night,
Excellency of stars, precious stone of the night.
~ Anonymous Gaelic Poem ~

Few things have captured the imagination of humanity like the fair, bright orb of the Moon. We have dreamt about her, made love beneath her, written poems about her, reincarnated her in paper, and striven to reach her. She is the most potent icon of Scientific Romanticism, for her allure has seduced both scientists and romantics.

This month, we'll be chronicling this love affair with the moon, stars, celestial spheres and some fantastic means of getting to them. We'll be taking a look at some paper moon photography, reading a bit of lunar poetry, watching a few movies of Victorian space exploration, listening to some of the music of the spheres, and quite possibly learning something of the actual Heavens.

Welcome to Lunar Month!