In 1925, the condenser microphone began to be widely used in music studios. These convert sound waves into electrical signals. Before that, recordings were made by machines without electricity.
Acoustical Recording Machines
We’ll see a video showing people singing into very long horns. Their voices (or instruments) had to vibrate an attached diaphragm that was usually glass. Doesn’t that sound hard? Professional singers needed a big voice and the ability to sustain the volume. The glass moved a stylus, which cut a groove into rotating hard wax.
Acoustical recording machines couldn’t record singers with lower or higher voices. A baritone was too low, so men tended to be tenors. In this acoustical recording of Eddie Cantor, note how he projects his voice.
Here is a video: How the Microphone Changed the Way We Sing.
EMPRESS OF THE BLUES
These two recordings show why Bessie Smith was called the Empress of the Blues. The condenser microphone came into wide use in 1925, so I have chosen recordings of her from 1923 and 1929. There’s a big difference in the sound.
Bessie Smith sings Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home (1923)
Bessie Smith sings I’ve Got What It Takes (1929)
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“Welcome, Modernists!” read the banners in Palm Springs, California. I hadn’t thought of myself as being modern, but this is Midcentury Modern, with a focus on the 1950s and 1960s. It might be as cool now as it was back then. I went to the fall preview of Modernism Week, an annual February event billed as the ultimate celebration of Midcentury architecture, design and culture.
Frank Sinatra’s Home
My first stop was Twin Palms. Designed by E. Stewart Williams, this house will forever be known as Sinatra’s house, although he lived here only ten years.
He and his first wife, Nancy, moved into their brand new home and threw a New Year’s Eve bash to usher in 1948.
Yes, his bedroom was open for the tour! This is the view from the bed.
A preservationist who spoke to our tour said the pool, which is in the front yard, was not built to look like a piano, although its shape reminds people of one. The walkway’s pergola often casts shadows which look like piano keys.
Sinatra left his wife for actress Ava Gardner. In 1951, they married, but the marriage was stormy. The master bathroom sink is still cracked from the time Sinatra reportedly threw a bottle of champagne during one of their fights. They divorced in 1957, but became lifelong friends.
There is a lot of sandstone inside and out. A microphone was found embedded in it. The preservationist said Sinatra did that because he wanted to hear what people said about him after he left.
Fireplaces in the Sinatra home. On the left, the sandstone one in his bedroom.
Sinatra could record from the property. An antenna extends up from the stone feature in the middle of the photo below. It sent his home recordings to his studio.
His living room had sound and recording equipment built in.
We saw many houses in a few days, but one stood out. We forgot the official name–the Morse residence–and called it, “The James Bond House.”
The James Bond House (But Not Really)
In 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Morse commissioned architect Hal Levitt to remodel their tract home. They liked to entertain and wanted to bring a pool into their living room.
A framed photo in the home showed one of their parties in the 1960s, with Mrs. Morse dancing to a band.
When the party’s over, partitions are pulled out of the walls, and the living room is separated from the outdoor pool.
The party continues. Even if you can’t go, see photos with sunshine and style at Modernism Week.
This was my first taste of Midcentury Modern, and now I really appreciate it.
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Even before photography, astronomy yielded beautiful images. At the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, I popped into the library to see the universe. The exhibition is titled Radiant Beauty: E.L. Trouvelot’s Astronomical Drawings. They were published in 1881 and 1882.
The title is from Trouvelot’s own words: “No human skill can reproduce upon paper the majestic beauty and radiance of the celestial objects.”
“Mare Humorum,” above, shows the surface of the moon, both in sunlight and the darkness of the lunar night.
Trouvelot was a self-taught astronomer. He immigrated from France to Massachusetts as a young man and established a silk-producing farm. He made astronomical drawings, often in pastel, with the aid of telescopes at Harvard and the U.S. Naval Observatory, the latter the world’s largest telescope at twenty-six inches.
He travelled to see total eclipses of the sun, one in Wyoming Territory (shown above, with solar storms), and another in the South Pacific.
There is a lunar eclipse this week! This is one drawn by Trouvelot.
I love his drawing of Jupiter, above. Two white moons on the left cast shadows, one on the Great Red Spot.
These are from a published set of fifteen lithographs of his drawings. The Huntington displayed their complete set. There’s a reason it is very rare, and that’s only one thing covered in the following four-minute video, also available on YouTube:
There’s something special about an object made by a team of artists instead of a machine. The irregularities make it unique.
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s glassworkers made what he called Favrile (hand-made, hand-blown) glass vases for people who lived around 1900, an age of industry and machines. The people of this time also wanted the art of the dawning twentieth century to be new and different than the art of the past.
Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the famous jeweler, was a young painter and interior decorator whose commissions included the White House. Later, he was able to focus on his passion: glass. He experimented and learned from others, making glass with dimension. Metal gave glass an iridescent luster.
Tiffany designed gardens and drew inspiration from nature.
His company had made leaded glass windows that looked like paintings. The expensive windows decorated mansions of the very rich. He marketed these vases to a much wider audience.
Tiffany studied ancient glass in his travels to the Old World, and also at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, very close to his home. He loved the pockmarks and other deterioration that took place over centuries in the soil. He and his team created new vases with pockmarks and an ancient look he called Cypriote.
The one with the fish may be my favorite. This vase is empty.
I love this photo I took on my trip to France. For me, it’s less about the monument and more about the moment. I’ll show you more photos of my visit to the castle, but this one reminds me to slow down.
I was in Amboise, in France’s Loire Valley. Alone, I took an outdoor table at this bar. A sign advertised their healthy smoothies, but I had stopped there for the view and a glass of wine.
A senior couple chatted with the waiter, who may have been the owner. I waited to be served as a French person would. I willed myself to be patient and relax. The couple seemed to be townspeople and longtime friends with the waiter. After a couple of minutes, they told him, “A demain,” (until tomorrow), and they left. They seemed very happy. It was a sunny but chilly Friday evening, the beginning of a three-day weekend for the May Day holiday.
The Loire Valley is chateau (castle) country. Happily, it’s also wine country. I asked for a local wine. The one waiter brought it and said it was from three or four kilometers upriver. He left and returned with free hors d’oeuvres, a nice surprise. I just had to take this picture, with the river, the chateau, the wine, and the adorable free appetizers. I savored the moment.
I am on a tiny island.
I’m looking at a royal chateau, the home of kings and queens.
One of the world’s most brilliant people is buried in that little chapel.
This wine is really good.
Here is the same chateau in a closer photo. I had visited it the day before and took the following pictures.
The elegant palace sits high above buildings that include my hotel. The castle is high so the guards could see any large boats that might threaten the king and queen.
The castle wall spans the width of this picture. I’ll take you up and over, but first, notice three landmarks in the above photo. You see the row of flags on the right and the spire of a small chapel behind the flags. On the left, above the top of the wall, are the shrubs and trees of the castle garden.
Let’s go up! Here is the garden, on the right.
We are high above the river.
The royal chateau is shown in the photo above. The genius buried in the little chapel…
…is Leonardo da Vinci.
The famous Italian painter and scientist is buried beside a royal chateau in France.
King Francois I (Francis the First) was a young admirer and friend of Leonardo. When the king was twenty-two, he brought the aging Leonardo to Amboise and housed him in the nearby Chateau du Clos Lucé. Leonardo brought his unfinished Mona Lisa when he moved to France, and it is now in Paris.
The king visited Leonardo very frequently. He had a tunnel built between the two chateaux so he could visit in bad weather. He simply wanted to talk to this amazing genius.
Leonardo spent the last three years of his life here, perfecting his inventions. Some are on display at Clos Lucé and, seasonally, at Leonardo da Vinci Park. Leonardo was also an architect, theatrical director and party planner for the king’s court.
The photo of the other chateau, the king’s chateau, brings back memories of a lovely moment. I hope you have many wonderful moments this holiday season and throughout 2018.
Portland’s Pittock Mansion was built in 1914 by Henry Pittock, owner and publisher of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife Georgiana.
Henry was given the newspaper as a gift because he worked there, as a typesetter, for no wages, only room and board. The newspaper’s previous owner wanted out of the media business, and he was impressed by Henry’s hard work, so he gave him TheOregonian. At the helm, Henry made it very successful. Today, it is the largest news organization in the Pacific Northwest.
The mansion sits in a forest above Portland. Henry and his daughters were avid hikers and constructed trails on the property. Georgiana, however, was not so keen on moving from a nice Portland neighborhood to this more remote location. To persuade her, Henry hired a chauffeur to drive Georgiana to town whatever she wanted. Sometimes, the chauffeur drove Georgiana’s friends to the mansion, and the ladies enjoyed sewing together in her sewing room. Georgiana was the founder and fundraiser for many charities and cultural organizations in Portland. She was very active in women’s causes. Henry also promised her an elevator.
Henry knew he would have to sweeten the pot for servants, too. By 1914, keeping female servants was a problem. Women were being hired to work in offices, shops and factories, and because they worked in the city, they could enjoy their leisure time there.
With a central vacuum system–the envy of most of us today–the servants had only to carry the hose and nozzle from room to room.
It was important to keep a good cook happy. The spacious kitchen had a rubber floor that was easy on the legs and feet. It also had a window with a spectacular view.
The home was built with central heating, a new invention, with not just one thermostat, but many.
The refrigerator was an entire room. Look at the thick, heavy door. They grew their own vegetables.
Some rooms and the hall were built with indirect lighting.
The ceiling in the room below is silver leaf.
For himself, Henry built a shower with all the bells and whistles.
The Pittock Mansion, now owned by the City of Portland, is open to the public, and you can picnic in front of the view.
Picasso saw things differently. On January 2, the Tournament of Roses Parade will pass Norton Simon Museum.
What were the steps in Picasso’s mind when he looked at a person or animal, drew it, and changed it into an abstract image? What were the steps on paper? In a current exhibit, a likeness of his companion becomes abstract over a series of ten lithographs. There is a longer series of a picture of a bull. When I saw these along the wall, I just had to see them one on top of another. I’ve done that in these videos.
Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
This exhibit, “States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945-1960,” is on display at Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, until February 13, 2017. Also, Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” is there through March 6, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. http://NortonSimon.org. Happy New Year!
These are called cigarette cards. Not much bigger than a modern business card, these trade cards were a bonus in a pack of cigarettes. They came in a series, usually twenty-five or fifty, with a similar theme.
Many were aimed at male smokers: airplanes, sports and cars. These cars were modern at the time.
Cigarette companies wanted brand loyalty from consumers, so they gave them tiny works of art.
Another good way to get customers to keep buying from their company, and not from a competitor, was to display numbers on the cards.
Or even letters of the alphabet.
The cards above and below are part of a 1910 series, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides.
Some were embroidered silk. Recently, a quilt made of many of these was on display at the Pasadena Museum of History.
I came across all of these, and many more, by accident, at a hotel near Yosemite, the Yosemite View Lodge in El Portal. All of the ones there were from Great Britain, from 1890 to 1939. The cigarette cards below of British military uniforms were issued in 1939, when the country was fighting for its survival in World War II. I like to imagine people in a bleak time appreciating the small, patriotic works of art.
From black and white to color: the invention of printing by lithography brought beauty to people’s daily lives through mass production. If you are old enough to remember when color TV was new, you remember the first time you saw a show in color. I was amazed. It was so much more lifelike and vibrant than shades of gray.
In the late 1800s, lithography brought an explosion of items printed in color. People were handed trade cards like these, picked them up in the store, and pulled them from their mailboxes. Some women and children pasted them into albums.
Handbills distributed on the street for events, illustrations in books, free promotional posters you could tack on your wall–suddenly color was everywhere.
Recognize this painting from my last post? The Crimson Rambler, named after the wildly popular rose.
Here’s one way that rose got so popular: trade cards.
Technology also brought colorful clothes. At this time, in the last half of the 1800s, synthetic dyes were introduced and suddenly people could wear rich colors. Here are two silk dresses from the 1890s. These are from the Pasadena Museum of History.
Technology brought the excitement of color. “The Color Explosion” was an exhibit at the Huntington showcasing part of their Jay T. Last Collection of lithographed items. Click on that link to see some examples that really took advantage of color, and read how it changed the world.
Take a second or two to load these beautiful paintings from “The Artist’s Garden: American Impressionism and the Garden Movement, 1887-1920,” now at the Huntington. With the rise of the middle class and railroads, more people could commute to their job in a city and come home to a suburb.
Artists and other people enjoyed gardening in their own yards or in their artists’ colonies. Both painting and gardening involve color, form, and composition.
“The Crimson Rambler” may look wonderfully old-fashioned to us, but its 1908 audience recognized this hybridized rose as a lovely product of technology. I like the lavender light on her white skirt, above,
the pink in the multicolor grass,
and the veil that is in sun and shadow.
I think these women are spreading out laundered sheets to dry. This is a jewel of a painting, small (not quite 12 x 20 inches), and vivid, clear, and crisp as a windy day.
This exhibit, from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, is at the Huntington through Monday, May 9, and then continues its tour in the East. If you don’t live close to Los Angeles, that’s okay. I’ll keep posting about the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
I’ll leave you with two artists’ own homes.
The labels with “The Artist’s Garden” exhibit state that the garden in winter was often discussed in books and magazines. The winter garden was considered a relaxing retreat, and winter a time of renewal.
At the Huntington, I had read “renewal” to mean the sleeping gardens. I think of renewal in springtime grass and flowers. Maybe the writer meant personal renewal. Gardens, and impressionist art, renew and refresh me.
Happy Spring! Enjoy nature. I’ll post again on the first Monday in June.