Category Archives: Music

Bob Shell: Musical Instruments

Photo Illustration: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

Photo Illustration: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

 

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS

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I’ve made a sort of study of musical instruments from around the world, each with its own unique sound. From India there is the sitar, best known, but also the sarod, sort of an Indian lute, and another stringed instrument called the veena. All get their unique sounds from having brass strings. (You can hear sitar on recordings by Ravi Shankar or his daughter Anoushka. Sarod by Ali Akbar Khan. Veena by S.I. Balachander.). In Japan there is the koto, a sort of horizontal harp with silk strings, which can be heard in recordings by Kimio Ito. The Chinese have a plethora of instruments with names I never learned. You can hear many in The Chieftains in China. The Chinese also use the pentatonic scale, with only five notes in an “octave,” which is why their music sounds weird to us. The pentatonic scale was developed in ancient Greece, at least so say the historians. Maybe the Greeks got it from Egypt, or even older cultures. Frustratingly we have no idea what ancient Egyptian, Greek, Babylonian, etc., music sounded like since they had no musical notation. We can only guess.

We know the Greeks, Egyptians, and other ancient cultures had stringed and wind instruments because both are depicted in their art, but we don’t know what they sounded like. Of course, all cultures had drums and percussion instruments.

The tabla drums of India are made of brass with hide drumheads that can be tuned so that different parts of the drumhead produce different sounds. They are. normally played in sets of two, a smaller one with higher pitch and a larger one with lower pitch. They are played with the fingers, palms, and even elbows. To hear a modern use of tabla drums, listen to Centa Terbaik by Tasya Rosmala. All Indian instruments, so far as I know, are played sitting on the floor, usually with half-lotus or even full-lotus positioning of the legs.

The Arabs have a large drum called a dumbeg and a smaller durbeki, played with the hands or short drumsticks. The Irish drum, played with both ends of a short drumstick is the bodhran. I’m sure the Turkish drums have names, but I don’t recall them. In Japan once I was treated to a performance of traditional big Japanese drums that are mounted with the drumheads vertical, and the players go at them with sticks the size of ax handles, attacking the drums as if trying to destroy them. Very, very loud! Almost .more of an athletic event than a musical performance. The performers wear loin cloths and are very muscular. The whole thing has a very savage feel.

Of course Africa and the Caribbean are where drums, a great variety of types and sizes, are the main instruments. To hear African drums at their best listen to the Missa Luba, a native Congolese mass performed with voices and drums. I’ve heard great drum music in the Caribbean, and, of course, there are the steel drums. There is a good recording of the Trinidad and Tobago Steel Drum Band available. Surprisingly, they hail from Rochester, NY! I don’t know how they tune those steel drums, but the sound can be beautiful.

Today the Mediterranean peoples have a variety of stringed instruments played like guitars. The Arab people have their oud, a fretless gut-stringed lute/guitar. To hear an oud played well, listen to Hala Laya by The Devil’s Anvil, from the album Hard Rock From The Middle East (where you’ll also hear dumbeg and durbeki drums). The Greeks have their bouzouki, also similar to a guitar. It is my understanding that the guitar itself was developed from the lute in Spain during the Moorish period. The Irish and Scot people, who originated in the eastern Mediterranean, took the Persian/Greek bagpipe north with them, along with the pentatonic scale. I’m not sure who carried musical instruments to Russia, perhaps the Rus brought them back from their viking raids on other cultures, but once Eastern Orthodox Christianity took hold, the balalaika, with its three strings and three-sided sound box (symbolizing the Trinity) was no surprise.

But a surprise did await the Spanish conquistadores in South America. In Bolivia at lake Titicaca they found Egyptian-looking reed boats and all over northern South America they found musicians playing in the pentatonic scale. In the Andes the local musicians played pentatonic panpipes and flutes. The stringed instrument was the charango, a sort of guitar/mandolin with a sound box made from the shell of an armadillo. Along with the panpipes there was a low pitched very long flute called senka tenkana (growing nose) that made the player stretch his arms. (To hear what Inca music sounded like, listen to “El Condor Pasa” by Los Incas, who also recorded as Urubamba.) Was the pentatonic scale carried to South America by ancient Egyptian sailors, or carried the other way? Apparently there was commerce between the regions because both tobacco and cocaine have been found in Egyptian mummies, and both originate in the Americas. There was apparently cross-cultural exchange in ancient times.

I find it odd that the Native peoples of North America were so musically undeveloped. Drums and flutes seem to be about it for their instruments, and often just the drums, accompanied by chanting. The music never made it up through Central America, apparently. Of course, depending on the date, much of today’s Central America was under water and migration largely impossible.

Humans like to make noise, and in many cultures unique musical traditions were developed. Will people of the distant future still listen to today’s music?

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/bob-shell-a-stitch-in-relative-time/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Engineering, Friends of TWS, History, Men, Photography, Popular Culture

Mikala Mikrut: The Best Way to Speak to a Monster is From a Distance


Text by Mikala Mikrut, Copyright 2019

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Artwork by Christopher Suciu, Copyright 2019

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The Best Way to Speak to a Monster is From a Distance

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Humans have always feared the unknown. More often than not, it meant death. Throughout time, the term “monster” has been used to explain the inexplicable whether it was a strange shape or sound coming from an unexplored part of the woods or the man who will abandon all sense of morals to get to where he wants to be. Monster is such a broad term that Webster’s Dictionary defines it both as “an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure” and “one who deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character,” which makes sense given that both of these examples are out of the norm. Monsters matter because they are a category in which society sorts the misfits, the unexamined, and the suspicious; there are exceptions to every rule and monsters are the outliers from whatever is perceived as “right.”

There is a certain fascination that comes with witnessing something out of the ordinary. While women in the 1400s would hide their children behind their skirt to shield them from beholding a deformed man on the street, they would have no problem with paying money to observe him behind bars or glass. Putting a barrier or separation between normal people and mysterious forces makes them appear less realistic and thus safer. It is with this feeling of safety that people will engage in activities such as walking through haunted houses or watching horror movies. If they know they won’t get hurt, then the fear is an exciting rush rather than a question of survival. Stephen King, American horror author, argues that “we’re all mentally ill,” (King, 16) and that perhaps the fear factor is braved to prove that it can be done. But more likely, it is “to re-establish our feelings of essential normality,” (King, 16) because the people in the theater screaming at a screen to run away are far more sane than an actress knowingly advancing towards a monster. It is the monster that is used as a platform to define normality and make the average Joe feel like at least they’re doing something right; so long as they’re not dripping with green goo or hiding in a teenage girl’s closet with a knife, they’re succeeding at life.

This has been the mindset for centuries. Daniel Cohen, French economist and professor, brings to light how the Aztecs and the Incas were terrified at the sight of men on horses (Cohen). Having never fathomed the relationship, they assumed the two bodies were one, yet again using that term, monster, to define something unknown. But even way back then, the people were fascinated by monsters when it meant they wouldn’t have to be faced. Cohen talks about how “griffin’s claws or the roc’s eggs were brought back” (Cohen, 139) from travels, making people believe that these creatures were real. They would buy these things valuing them as exotic and maybe even magical without even questioning why they resembled why perhaps their “feathers” looked like palm leaves or why their “griffin’s claws” resembled animal tusks or horns. People just couldn’t resist believing that there were rare creatures out in the parts of the world they wouldn’t dare to venture; the idea of the unknown is scary and exciting, but the actual notion of leaving home could mean danger or even death. So why risk it? Venturing the unknown is hardly celebrated.

That’s why most people’s interaction with something they’ve never seen before or those woods that just don’t feel right to be around are from the comforts of their own home or theaters. Horror movies satisfy the curiosity of what lies beyond Nancy’s humdrum nine to five office job. Given that the horror genre observes the weird and creepy, it makes sense that the people who work on them aren’t considered on the same spectrum when it comes to artistry. Michael Varrati, American screenwriter, columnist and actor, has written an article that examines just that. He believes it’s absolutely absurd that people who make monsters possible in cinema and literature are “routinely looked down upon by the ‘real’ artists,” (Varrati, 1) how could a comedy be viewed as any more or less artistic than horror? Well, because comedy involves believable characters in normal or at least semi-realistic situations. Horror is laughable simply because creatures are strange, they’re intriguing but not worth more than an prolonged glance of judgement. Again, the point of people still giving monsters their attention in this modern world is to remind themselves how normal and socially accepted they are.

A more concise example would be Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This creature is certainly hideous, even learning language and emotion doesn’t stop people from fearing his grotesque presence. Zoe Beenstock wrote an article in which she addresses “whether individualism can produce sociability,” (Beenstock, 1). She doesn’t shy away from revealing the natural contradiction of human tolerance. It is often assumed that accepting others and celebrating individuality and differences is taught from childhood; and yet there are still hate crimes and separation. What people view as monstrous is that which is unfamiliar to them.

So perhaps humanity has not made so much progress in understanding others and the world after all. But that is okay, because the world is so vast that what really matters is that humanity consistently puts its efforts towards understanding and improving. In conclusion, monsters matter because they are a reflection of what is not yet understood and are the basis on which people judge normality. Without monsters, people would be left to judge themselves and their personal flaws and immoral behaviors. Monsters are a scape goat, something to point a finger at and say, “Well, at least I’m not THAT thing.”

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Works Cited

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Beenstock, Zoe. “Lyrical Sociability: The Social Contract and Mary Shelley’s

Frankenstein.” Philosophy & Literature, vol. 39, no. 2, Oct. 2015, pp. 406-421.

EBSCOhost,proxy.li.suu.edu:2443/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=115185220&site=ehost-live.

Cohen, Daniel. “The Birth of Monsters.” Monsters, edited by Andrew J. Hoffman, Bedford/St.

Martins, 2016, 134-139.

King, Stephen. “Why We Crave Horror Movies.” Monsters, edited by Andrew J. Hoffman,

Bedford/St. Martins, 2016, 16-18.

“Monster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster,www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/monster.

Varrati, Michael. “Unfairly Maligned Monsters: Why Horror Matters.” The Huffington Post,

TheHuffingtonPost.com, 20 Apr. 2012, www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-varrati/horror

movies-books_b_1441467.html.

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Mikala: Photographed by Tony Ward. Copyright 2019

Mikala: Photographed by Tony Ward. Copyright 2019

About The Author: Mikala Mikrut is a sophomore enrolled at Southern Utah University. To access additional articles by Mikala Mikrut, click here: http://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-change/

 

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Bob Shell: We All Steal Ideas

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Photography by Bob Shell. Copyright 2018

 

 

Bob Shell: Letters From Prison #21

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Letters by Bob Shell, Copyright 2018

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WE ALL STEAL IDEAS

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I’ve talked about Richard Lovelace and his famous Althea poem. There’s another poem from the same era that you have probably heard without realizing it. It begins:

Once there was a way to get back homeward,

Once there was a way to get back home,

Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry,

And I will sing a lullaby,

Golden slumbers fill your eyes,

Smiles await you when you rise,

Sleep, pretty wanton, do not cry,

And so on. Paul McCartney took credit for a slight variation on that verse, would have been nice if he’d acknowledged his source. Sadly, I can’t now remember the name of the original poet. Anyone know? The song McCartney wrote from that poem has an interesting story as well. One of the original groups signed to Apple Records when The Beatles started that label was a group originally called Poor White Trash, but later shortened to just Trash. They were signed around the same time as The Iveys, whose name was also changed. They became Badfinger, and went on to some fame. Anyway, the song Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight was written for Trash, who recorded the original version. Later, McCartney replaced the vocal track with his own and released it as a Beatles song. Don’t believe me? Listen to Trash’s version and then McCartney’s version. Save the vocals, they’re identical!

The music industry being what it is, I’m sure there are many other thefts from poets. And, after all, if the poet is long since dead, who’s to care? Probably nobody except people with OCD about such things, like me.

I’m reminded of an interview I once read of the great surrealist Salvador Dali. The interviewer asked Dali about his “borrowing” from other past artists. Dali bristled, his mustache quivering, he indignantly replied, “The divine Dali does not borrow; He steals!”. Yes.

If we’re honest as artists, whether with pen, brush, or camera, we all steal ideas. After all, there is always much to be learned from the masters. When I could find time in my travels, I always visited art museums. The paintings of the old masters can teach you all you need to know about light and shadow, and composition. After all, there are only so many ways you can pose a human body and have it look natural.

My own personal favorite artists are those of the Viennese school of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Particularly Klimt and his disciple Egon Schiele. There are some excellent videos on Klimt in the Khan Academy. The Khan videos we get here are very limited, so naturally we don’t get any on Schiele. I was lucky enough to see some of Schiele’s work in a small museum in Linz, Austria. I was there as one of the judges of an international photography competition and after a morning spent looking at hundreds of photographs, I needed a break to unwind, so I was just walking around the narrow streets of the old town. As I recall, there was a small castle on a hill that had been turned into a gallery. There among mostly mediocre old paintings was a Schiele, the first original of his I’d seen. It was wonderful. I’d bought a big book earlier that had all of his surviving works, but most were reproduced small. Here he was in full size. Many of Schiele’s works were destroyed by the authorities when he was imprisoned for making “improper drawings.”. Prudery is not confined to the USA. Today those surviving “improper drawings”are considered national treasures. Schiele did not produce a great body of work because he died young, victim of the 1918 influenza plague that killed so many in Europe. Funny, but I identified with him and his work long before my own legal troubles, which are mostly because I was making “improper photographs.”. At least that’s what the judge thought. He called my photographs “the worst pornography I’ve ever seen.”. Obviously he’s not a web surfer. In fact, he said all he knew about computers was how to turn his on! Here was a complex case about digital images, among other things, and the judge and most of the jurors were computer illiterate. Jury of my peers, baloney!!

But that’s not the topic of this post, so forgive the digression.

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About The Author: Bob Shell is a professional photographer, author and former editor in chief of Shutterbug Magazine. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for involuntary manslaughter for the death of Marion Franklin, one of his former models. Shell was recently moved from Pocahontas State Correctional Center, Pocahontas, Virginia to River North Correctional Center 329 Dellbrook Lane Independence, VA 24348.  Mr. Shell continues to claim his innocence. He is serving the 11th year of his sentence. To read more letters from prison by Bob Shell, click herehttp://tonyward.com/2018/08/5866/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Blog, Erotica, Film, Friends of TWS, Glamour, Models, Nudes, Photography, Poetry, Popular Culture, Women

R.I.P. Aretha Franklin

R.I.P. Aretha Franklin

Rest in Peace Aretha Franklin

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Artist Highlight: Vibe Rouvet – Voice of an Angel

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Vibe Rouvet: Music Conservatory of Pau

 

 

Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2018

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Voice of an Angel

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Vibe Rouvet is the daughter of TWS contributing illustrator Alexandra Rouvet Duvernoy of France.  A stunning resemblance to her mother with talent that runs deep in the family, Ms. Rouvet is an opera student at the Music Conservatory of Pau, France. On the video she sings “Volta la Terrea” from Verdi (extract from the opera: Un ballo in Masquera).  Here singing teacher is Marie Claire Delay. This summer she will be taking a master class in Mozarteum of Salzburg in Austria.

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Tony_Ward_Studio_portrait_Vibe_Rouvet_opera_singer_France

Portrait of Vibe Rouvet 2018

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For access to the artist, Alexandra Rouvet Douvernoy’s contributions to Tony Ward Studio,  Click herehttp://tonywardstudio.com/store/alexandra-rouvet-duvernoy-trumpisms/

 

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