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marquis de canteclaer

A promise made here over two years ago was to post some more of the poetry of Marquis de Canteclaer. In full, Querulijn Xaverius Marquis De Canteclaer van Barneveldt was one of Marten Toonder's timeless creations in his Bommel graphic novel series. When Toonder published De Canteclaer's 'Verzamelde Poëmen' ('Collected Poems') in 1997, he described the poet as a lonely trailblazer, "searching for the Boundless, though often, alas, wandering right past it."

Marquis De Canteclaer

Many of his poems, however, are on a par with 'Jabberwocky' in sheer linguistic playfulness (and just as untranslatable). Take this one, titled 'De klop van Zwadderneel'.

Er knirpt een knerp door 't kreupelhout.
De regen fezelt, de wind knoert koud
en over de heuv'len, door het nat struweel
naart sloom, de Zwarte Zwadderneel.

Als de lucht vergramt en regen zachtjes nederdaalt,
wanneer de bloemen flensen en de wind verschraalt
en 't leven kommert in benarrenis en smarte;
dan blijkt het klaar, dat hij passeert: De Zwarte!

Hoede zich, wie hoeden kan!
Hier komt alleen maar weedom van.
Schuld en boete kan men slecht ontlopen;
sluit de deur en laat geen venster open -

Het huis is klam en vol van opgekropte stilte.
Er klinkt een klop - dan knapt een deel -
en plots is daar een tocht vol doodse stilte...
Het was de klop van Zwadderneel!

See also: NRC review of De Canteclaer's poetry.

double negation

Curious notice at the entrance of my local supermarket...

Supermarket sign - 1

The text says: "No entrance for (high school) students between 12:15 and 1:15 PM." (Not a very convincing statement from a legal perspective I'd say, but that's not the point.) Take a look at the icon they designed for it.

Supermarket sign - 2

The icon communicates exactly the opposite of what is intended. It says: "Prohibited to keep people out." A perfect visual example of a double negation.

ambient music

By now a sprawling genre of electronic music - characterized by a very fine and wavery line between boring and soaring - the idea of ambient music has an intriguing history. The term was coined by Brian Eno in 1978, but the idea of music as ambiance, soundscape or soundworld, is much older. Erik Satie, for example, called some of his pieces 'musique d'ameublement' ('furniture music', or what I guess we'd call 'geluidsbehang' in Dutch).

If ambient is music that doesn't want to be music, John Cage stretched the idea to the limit in 1952 with his composition '4'33"' (four minutes and 33 seconds of silence, composed for any instrument). Cage wrote he wanted to "compose a piece of uninterrupted silence and sell it to the Muzak Co. It will be 4 and a half minutes long - these being the standard lengths of 'canned' music (...) It will open with a single idea which I will attempt to make as seductive as the color and shape or fragrance of a flower. The ending will approach imperceptibly."

Years later, Eno also took Muzak as a point of reference for defining his concept of ambient music. This was his original definition, for the record:

The concept of music designed specifically as a background feature in the environment was pioneered by Muzak Inc. in the fifties, and has since come to be known generically by the term Muzak. The connotations that this term carries are those particularly associated with the kind of material that Muzak Inc. produces - familiar tunes arranged and orchestrated in a lightweight and derivative manner. Understandably, this has led most discerning listeners (and most composers) to dismiss entirely the concept of environmental music as an idea worthy of attention.

Over the past three years, I have become interested in the use of music as ambience, and have come to believe that it is possible to produce material that can be used thus without being in any way compromised. To create a distinction between my own experiments in this area and the products of the various purveyors of canned music, I have begun using the term Ambient Music.

An ambience is defined as an atmosphere, or a surrounding influence: a tint. My intention is to produce original pieces ostensibly (but not exclusively) for particular times and situations with a view to building up a small but versatile catalogue of environmental music suited to a wide variety of moods and atmospheres.

Whereas the extant canned music companies proceed from the basis of regularizing environments by blanketing their acoustic and atmospheric idiosyncracies, Ambient Music is intended to enhance these. Whereas conventional background music is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to `brighten' the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.

Ambient Music must be able to accomodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

From the liner notes of 'Music for Airports'.

stairway wit

'Stairway wit', or 'stairwit', isn't really English, just the direct translation of the French 'l'esprit d'escalier' (originally coined by Diderot) and its German equivalent 'Treppenwitz'. Dutch doesn't have a word for this either, the familiar situation of thinking of what you should have said too late, that one brilliantly witty reply or comeback that would've had the whole room roaring with laughter, but which will never be expressed because you're already on your way out, on the stairs down...

There's a blog collecting them - not all of them that funny, but the frustration of witnessless wit seems to be universal. Good to have a word for such things.

Via: Annelies Verbeke in today's NRC.


Not normally one for animal photography, the new book 'Creature' by Andrew Zuckerman struck me as an interesting blend of zoology and art. Hi-res, super-sharp photographs all on a white background, they focus on form and texture as much as on the animals' characters. Or as Zuckerman says, "when a subject is stripped from its context, its behavior, rather than its purpose, is all that remains." The result is that these animals look at once familiar and alien.

Here's two examples, the Masked Lovebird and the African Crested Porcupine. (No fable intended.)

Creature - Lovebird

Creature - Porcupine

Via Wired, which also has an article 'Creature From the Artist and Filmmaker's Perspective', explaining the technical process behind these photos.


Moving houses is always a confrontation with all the stuff that you've allowed to accumulate over the years. P.K. Dick called this 'kipple' (and considered it a lost battle to get rid of it), but J.R.R. Tolkien invented the rather more benevolent 'mathom' to describe the useless objects that clutter your house.

...anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms, and many of the presents that passed from hand to hand were of that sort.

The word itself, like many Tolkien coinages and names, derives from Old English. In this case rather ironic, as 'maðm' or 'maðum' meant a precious thing, gift or treasure.

More on Tolkien's use of Old English at Wordorigins.


If you haven't already, check out Indexed, clever weblog with just little diagrams on index cards, "making fun of some things and sense of others."

These are two random examples (from well over a 1000 posts), the first one titled 'The wow factor', the second 'Exodus, anyone?'

Indexed - The wow factor

Indexed - Exodus, anyone?

Via kottke, who has a short interview with their creator, Jessica Hagy.

singing in tongues

It'll be hard to put into words the experience of seeing Lisa Gerrard live, last night at the Rotterdamse Schouwburg (not your ideal concert venue, but with Nighttown closed that's where you end up - especially when it's her only concert in Holland).

For almost two decades Gerrard, along with Brendan Perry, made up Dead Can Dance, the unclassifiable 'darkwave' band whose influences stretched from medieval church compositions, Iranian chants and Irish folk songs to Baudelaire and De Quincey. (In terms of influences, Dead Can Dance were like the Borges of pop music.) After Dead Can Dance split up Gerrard went on to produce a number of solo / collaboration albums, and became a much sought-after soundtrack composer, scoring films like 'The Gladiator', 'The Insider' and many more.

Lisa Gerrard

All of which doesn't begin to describe her otherworldly beautiful voice, operatic in its range and power, evoking mythical landscapes, at turns haunting and yearning, wailing and soothing. There is a primeval quality to her voice, as though it comes straight from the source of all singing.

If that sounds vague, let me try and put it differently: Many of her songs don't have actual lyrics, she just sings sounds, using her voice purely as an instrument. This style of singing is sometimes described as glossolalia, meaning 'speaking in tongues', which originally refers to a trance-like state of religious ecstacy causing people to speak or chant in unknown languages. In the Bible this is associated with receiving the Holy Spirit, though the phenomenon is known in other religions as well, and is in fact much older than Christianity. It was practiced, for example, by the Greek Oracle of Delphi.

So perhaps the best way to describe Gerrard's voice is as 'singing in tongues', like an oracle priestess revealing universal truth in a non-verbal language.

If that still sounds vague, see these awesome live recordings of 'Sacrifice' (which featured in 'The Insider') and 'Sanvean'. Both were highlights at yesterday's concert, along with 'Space Weaver' (from her latest album, 'The Silver Tree').

See also: the recent documentary about Gerrard called 'Sanctuary'.