I’ve been lucky enough to know the Professor (aka Paul Alborough) for a couple of years now – we met when we were both performing at one of Brighton’s first Steampunk nights and neither of us were entirely sure what Steampunk was (I didn’t have the foggiest idea). Paul was appearing as Professor Elemental with his trusty badgermingo; I was playing a Spacedog set with my sister Jenny. Paul subsequently took to Steampunk like a badgermingo to water, unlike Spacedog (who do nevertheless enjoy the odd performance at a live Steampunk night).
I was delighted to stumble on this wonderful video, from the early 1930s, showing the Mills Brothers, an African American singing outfit whose performance was way ahead of its time. Here, you can see the Mills Brothers and some dancers give a stunning rendition of the Count Basie classic Caravan. It’s a performance that transcends the unfortunate setting and costumes:
The performance features The Mills Brothers’ mouth music, which can be thought of as an early forerunner of hip hop beat boxing. Mouth music was the art of impersonating fashionable musical instruments, just with your voice and body. The dancers, whose performance is a nod to Josephine Baker and the Charleston, also show off their break dancing skills, fifty years before this dancing style became high fashion in New York and beyond.
Thanks to Terri Affleck for sending me this other Mills Brothers delight, a beautiful Fleischer cartoon featuring the brothers on a very early depiction of television (1932). This wonderful early music video also features a beautifully animated karaoke section:
An occasional series of photographs, depicting authoritative and trustworthy types.
Browsers may also enjoy Mode Maven (photographs of thespians and other fashionable types, c1900)
N0 2: Anonymous gent – into rubber research
No 1: Raymond Glendenning in How to choose a binocular
With jet black eyes and hair singed by the lights of John Logie Baird’s early televisor, Stooky Bill was the inventor’s ventriloquial sidekick. Stooky’s face appeared as a streaky blob on the second ever televisor image, around 1925. A ‘stooky’ is a plaster cast. Made of plaster himself, Stooky had sufficient contrast to be just about discernible on Baird’s earliest televisor images. And he stayed still, like the most patient human sitter, while Baird adjusted his televisor equipment.
Spacedog’s own Stooky-like Hugo makes three:
An occasional series of photographs, depicting London thespians and other fashionable types, c1900.
Browsers may also enjoy Faces of Authority
No 11: Miss Jessie Preston as Robinson Crusoe at the Grand Theatre, Islington
No 10: Mr Chas Lauri as the Masher Poodle
No 9: Miss Katie James as a doll
No 8: Miss Violet Evelyn as Sinbad
No 7: Miss Rosie Dearing in “The Man in the Moon”
No 6: Miss Syliva Gerrish, Madison Square, New York
No 5: Mr Charles Danby as Roberts in “The Lady Slavey”
No 4: Mr Scott Russell as Berbicao in “Mirette”
No 3: Miss Lily Harold; The Prince in “Dick Whittington”, Drury Lane
No 2: Mr Lewis Waller “The Wife’s Secret”
No 1: Arthur Playfair as Corporal Harold in “His Excellency”
An extract from Time Magazine, 8 May 1961, showing how journalists living in one superpower eyed up revellers in another, shortly after Yuri Gagarin made his triumphant return to Earth. Gagarin, the first human cosmonaut, made his historic orbital flight around the Earth in Vostok 1, 12 April 1961.
Click on any image to see a full-sized version.
This short extract is included here for non-commercial research purposes only.
I can only assume the arranger listened to the record once, on an early Bell telephone. Do let me know if you spot any other midi triumphs – I think this has the makings of a fine album.
This mp3 of the ringtone shows you how it plays on my Mac, using General Midi. If you want to investigate the ringtone yourself and make your own version, there are copies on various sites.
Here’s one version of the original Kraftwerk song:
Following a tip-off from Stuart Childs (see below), here’s a ringtone version of that Beastie Boy’s stomp Intergalactic. Stuart mentions the interesting timing – I also love the florid midi guitar. The original ringtone is here – do download for your own experiments.
And here’s the original Beastie Boys number:
If I’ve been looking a little wan and dusty lately, it’s because I’ve been holed up in the archives, digging out stories for a couple of new projects. I’ll be revealing more about these in a month or two. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this utterly chilling poem that I stumbled on today. It’s from the pages of The Electrical Age, a pioneering gadget magazine, produced from the early 1930s by the Electrical Association for Women.
Published in 1930, Electric Lullaby reveals an exuberant approach to amperes that is rarely matched today (mainly for reasons of health and safety).
I am now hastily preparing a musical version of Electric Lullaby to add to the Spacedog repertoire.
Update 21 January 2010: Electric Lullaby has been the inspiration for my new carillon (automatic bell rig), which we’ll be using along our theremin and vocals at the Electricity and Ghosts gig, Battersea Power Station, summer 2010 – date tbc. I’ll be previewing this carillon at the Kinetica Art Fair, London, 5-7 February 2010. Photos coming soon!
Electric Lullaby (1930)
Hushaby! baby. Mother is near,
Don’t you cry, precious, take an ampere,
Cuddle down, sweet, near the dynamo’s brush,
The current will put you to sleep with a rush.
Hushaby! lullaby. (where is that switch?)
Sleep through till morning, you dear little witch.
Hushaby! Nursie has gone for the night,
Mother will see that the contacts are right.
The voltage is measured, the wires are clear,
So shockaby into the land of dreams, dear.
Your crib’s insulated, the current’s direct,
Shut your eyes, baby, and note the effect.
Hushaby! ‘lectridy’, isn’t this great?
Baby drops off to sleep while you wait.
‘Lectrodes clamped on to one foot and one hand;
While the light burns she sleeps.
Oh! Isn’t this grand.
No more long hours of walking the floor,
Kilowatts do what papa did before.
- From Life
First published in The Electrical Age, Volume 1, 1930
Hello! You’ve stumbled on my rough and ready page of videos I’ve been collating, as I’ve been exploring the Uncanny Valley hypothesis – a hotly debated theory about our very human fear of almost human objects. Do feel free to comment!
What is the uncanny valley?
When we encounter a ventriloquist’s dummy, a human automaton or highly-realistic computer graphic of a person (see below), many of us feel slightly disturbed, afraid or revolted. It’s a curious reaction as on the whole, inanimate objects seem more cuddly and loveable when they seem more human – we hug ragdolls more than fluffy cushions, for example. Surprisingly, we feel empathy towards objects that look and move like us – but we feel uneasy around mimics that are too good.
In 1970, cognitive scientist Masahiro Mori noticed this phenomenon and plotted human likeness and familiarity on a graph. He said familiarity plummets when objects become too human-like – we become very fussy about deviations from the human form when the mimicry is very good. This drop in familiarity could explain why we find such human mimics so eerie. Mori also noted that an extremely good mimic would be indistinguishable from a real human. We’ve never built robots or dummies that are this convincing but there are some fictional examples, for instance the Replicants in Blade Runner.
Thus, Mori’s graph shows a significant dip in familiarity when objects are almost human but not perfectly human-like. He called this dip ‘The Uncanny Valley’. Mori’s graph has two lines. The solid line considers our reaction to static objects, the dotted one concerns objects that are moving. According to Mori, moving objects are all the more uncanny. And zombies (moving corpses) would be the most disturbing objects of all.
Mori’s Uncanny Valley graph, drawn in 1970, seemed to be describing a recognisable, subjective experience although – surprisingly to many people who talk about uncanniness – his original graph wasn’t backed up by any experimental data. In recent years, various scientists, most notably roboticist David Hanson, have tried to put Mori’s hypothesis to the test, although none have done so conclusively. The existence of an unbridgeable uncanny valley remains an open question.
Video examples of potentially uncanny artefacts
Hanson works with a material called Flubber to create robotic faces that can present a large range of finely-varying human expressions. His videos are particularly interesting because Hanson refutes the existence of an unbridgeable Uncanny Valley. Hmm…
Computer game and film animation
This animated film uses motion capture but fails to capture the motion of the original actor’s eyes:
Old school: knee pals, dolls, automata etc:
These examples are interesting because they feel uncanny, even though their physical realism is low.
A beautiful, eerie automaton from Gustave Vichy, c1880, restored by automatomania.com. I want one (and have been obsessing over its mechanism):
The Little Girl Giant from Royal de Luxe:
“I’m going to put you back in your box”:
…and Arthur Worsley at work:
Clara 2.0 and Uncanny Valerie
I became very interested in uncanniness when I noticed how disturbed people were by my robot doll Clara 2.0, especially when I shut her into her box at the end of the night. In this video, Clara’s the doll holding the card, Valerie is the doll with the long sparkly dress. I think Valerie is too sweet to earn the title ‘uncanny’ – but I’m working on that…
…Clara 2.0 playing Get Carter:
This week, Spacedog has been moved by the spiritual teachings of the Tarvuist Faith. A big hebbo to John and Justin for sharing this special message.
The badgermingo is one of many fine creations from gentleman rapper Professor Elemental, highlight of the Marlborough’s recent Steampunk Hidden Cabaret. We were there, performing with vocals, theremin and robotic bells at the end of the night. Elemental’s set was packed with brilliant songs about animal experiments, machines and tea. This grainy image scarcely does justice to his marvellous creature, which the audience were fortunate enough to glimpse on the night. Judging by the lyrics to Animal Magic, the badgermingo is no cryptozoological wonder but the result of one of the Professor’s own extreme taxidermy experiments.
Here’s another number:
The UK this week has been transformed into a winter wonderland.
On Monday, Colin and I found ourselves stranded in Bedfordshire, after a thick blanket of snow descended overnight. We decided to tough it out – Colin rounded up all the veggies in the kitchen and made a winter soup. I went sledging with my nephew and niece who’d just heard their school was closed for the day (hooray!). Here’s my favourite video of unscheduled snowy fun: