Category Archives: Music

Bob Shell: The 60’s

Bob Dylan circa 1960’s. Photo: Charles Gatewood, Copyright 2020

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2020

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The 60’s

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In the summer of 1966 I moved to Washington, DC, to take a job I’d been offered at the Smithsonian Institution as a biological illustrator. I’d been making detailed paintings and pen and ink drawings of insects, birds, and animals since grade school. I was getting published regularly in wildlife magazines around the country, starting while I was still in high school.

In college at Virginia Tech I had a job making drawings of insects for scientific papers written by one of the entomologists there, and was becoming well known in the small population of professional biological illustrators, while studying biology.

I’d become sort of a pen pal with Andre Pizzini, one of the Smithsonian artists, who became my mentor, and helped me get the job there.

So that’s when and why I moved to DC. This was in the American social catharsis that was 1960s, when the civil rights movement was going full bore, the protests against the Vietnam war were accelerating, music was transitioning from Elvis to The Beatles to acid rock, and all of American society was in foment.

The despised Lyndon B. Johnson was president, followed by the even more hated Richard Nixon.

We were asking ourselves why, in idealistic America, we had a two tiered society, with blacks as second-class citizens. “White Only” signs were on restrooms, restaurants, and in other places. We were drafting our young men and shipping them off to southeast Asia to be slaughtered. Country Joe was singing the “Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag,” — “And you can be the first ones on your block to have your boy come home in a box.”. Many of my high school friends were drafted and some did come home in boxes. All for a stupid war the US should never have gotten itself mired up in.

I got caught up in the protest fever. I joined protests, picketed the White House, was teargassed on the lawn of the Pentagon, holding and calming a hysterical friend. Saw soldiers lined up in front of that imposing building to guard it from us, unarmed kids. Saw those same soldiers. break down in tears when girls put flowers in the barrels of their rifles. They were no older than us, didn’t want to be there, caught up in an idiotic confrontation.

The Smithsonian Institution was created by a gift to the United States from James Smithson, an Englishman who never set foot in America. He left us a fortune in his will to create, “in Washington,DC, an institution for the increase and dissemination of knowledge among men.”

Unfortunately, the Smithsonian depends on Congress for funding, Smithson’s money having run out long ago. Projects I was working on often lost their funding, and I bounced from job to job, working for a while at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, just outside DC, drawing mosquitoes for the Southeast Asia Mosquito Research Project, that I learned was a CIA front when the Washington Post outed it. So I actually worked for the CIA for a while, although I was never a “spook.”

Please remember that America in the 1960s was like an alien planet compared to today. Many years of inflation hadn’t yet made the dollar practically worthless like it is today. Gasoline was less than 25 cents a gallon, an expensive car was under four thousand dollars and you could get a hamburger for fifteen cents and a bottle of Coke for a dime. I paid fifty bucks for my first serious camera, a used Nikon F with lens and a separate handheld light meter. That was a significant investment for me, since the museum projects paid me sixty bucks a week, which also happened to be the monthly rent on my big, two-bedroom apartment in central DC.

The sex, drugs, and rock and roll movement was in full flower, and I leaped in with both feet, going through a succession of live-in girlfriends, popping psychedelics, which were still legal, and going to rock concerts.

Some people I knew had bought an old movie theater, the Ambassador Theater near Georgetown, and tore out the seats, leaving a bare concrete floor. They brought in west coast bands like Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and many more, plus local bands like The Andorene, and had an elaborate light show projected behind the bands on the old movie screen. Since I knew the people, I never paid admission, and was there just about every weekend.

For live music, there was also the Merryweather Post Pavilion just outside DC, founded by the Post cereal fortune heirs, which was an outdoor theater, with seating and overflow onto a big lawn. I listened to Ravi Shankar there, and folk groups like Peter, Paul and Mary.

I was making Beardsley-esque pen and ink drawings of nudes for the Washington Free Press, an underground newspaper of the day, doing art on commission for anyone who’d pay me, and living well, but not extravagantly. When I was between grants I’d head up to New York City and hang out with people I knew, taking in the East Village scene, going to concerts by groups like The Velvet Underground, The Grateful Dead, The Mothers of Invention, The Fugs, Pearls Before Swine, Bob Dylan and many others. I was in my twenties and enjoying life to its fullest.

In 1968, for reasons I no longer remember, I moved to Richmond, Virginia, and lived in “the fan,” the area near Virginia Commonwealth University, where my cousin, the same age as me, was living. We’d grown up more like brothers than cousins, and many who knew us in school thought we were brothers. I lived with him and his wife until I found an apartment of my own and was happy in Richmond until early summer of 1969, when the apartment I shared with four others was raided by the Richmond police. One man, who was visiting from DC had one marijuana “joint” in his pocket, and they arrested all six of us for possession! Marijuana possession was a felony back then, and we could have been given up to thirty years, but we all got three years each, suspended. That meant being on probation for five years. That was my first brush with the American “justice system.”

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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.  He is serving the 13th year of his sentence at Pocahontas State Correctional Facility, Virginia. To read Bob Shell’s, first essay on civil war, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/parole-denied/

Editor’s Note: If you like Bob Shell’s blog posts, you’re sure to like his new book, COSMIC DANCE by Bob Shell (ISBN: 9781799224747, $ 12.95 book, $ 5.99 eBook) available now on Amazon.com . The book, his 26th, is a collection of essays written over the last twelve years in prison, none published anywhere before. It is subtitled, “A biologist’s reflections on space, time, reality, evolution, and the nature of consciousness,” which describes it pretty well. You can read a sample section and reviews on Amazon.com.

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Blog, commentary, Documentary, Film, Friends of TWS, History, lifestyle, Men, Politics, Popular Culture, Portraiture

Vibe Rouvet: The Latest From France

Vibe Rouvet

 

Vibe Rouvet: The Latest From France

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Press Release

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Vibe Rouvet began her studies in private lessons starting at the age of eleven with the renowned vocal instructor Marie Claude Cinelly. Vibe learned about opera singing from a master and had her first stage appearances in churches as well as some concert halls in Landes and Pau, France and its surroundings.  She’s been studying lyrical singing since the age of fifteen a the conservatory of Pau, where she is still studying with Ms. Delay.

While attending the conservatory she also began to study theater, choir conducting and harpsichord. In April Ms. Rouvet particpated in a master class Hourtin with Isabelle Germanin and Fabrice Boulanger,professor at the CNSM in Lyon.  She participates in choir, concert and also as a soloist at performances at the conservatory. She was booked for a recital last March in Morlanne and at the heritage preservation project on May 30th in Geaune, France.

Last summer she enrolled in a masterclass in Salzburg, Austria at the Mozarteum with Helen and Klaus Donath for two weeks including a performance in a concert at the Mozarteum. 

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Vibe Rouvet

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Here are a few links to her performances:

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To access additional articles about Vibe Rouvet, click herehttps://tonywardstudio.com/blog/artist-highlight-vibe-rouvet-voice-of-an-angel/

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Bob Shell: Music & Photography

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

Photo: Tony Ward, Copyright 2019

 

Text by Bob Shell, Copyright 2019

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Music & Photography

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What do music and photography have in common? In western music we use the octave scale; C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, with the eighth note a higher harmonic of the first. In photography we use light, which we devide into a sort of octave also: R, O, Y, G, B, I, V, — . Aha, there’s one missing! Instead of an octave we have a septave, or do we? If we add ultraviolet, which the birds and the bees can see we have our octave. Most films can “see” at least some ultraviolet. Kodachrome, which we old fossils remember, was notoriously sensitive to UV. Unless you used a strong UV filter when shooting it you risked getting false colors from flowers and certain fabric dyes. Imagine shooting a fashion set of a man in a black tuxedo and having the tux show up as red-purple! It happened.

I believe that I misspoke a while back when talking about the light spectrum. I put the most energetic light waves at the wrong end of the spectrum. I should know better, having done research into UV for its germ killing ability. UV is, of course, the most energetic of our spectrum, having the shortest wavelength. Red is the least energetic, its wavelength stretched out. Below red is infrared, same as heat, and film companies used to make films with increased sensitivity to infrared light. You could actually use your electric iron as a “light source” for some infrared films. Kodak made black and white infrared film, as did Konica, but so far as I remember, only Kodak made color infrared film. I used to love to play with the Kodak Ektachrome Infrared film in spite of its difficulty of use. Lee Higgs used a lot of this film for his classic book Generation Fetish. When I was in Chicago once we had a very interesting discussion of the difficulties of working with the Kodak Ektachrome Infrared film, which had to be shipped in dry ice and kept frozen prior to use. But the spectacular false color images were worth the effort. There’s a cool example of Ektachrome Infrared on the cover of Frank Zappa’s album Hot Rats and another on the centerfold of the English version of the first Black Sabbath album.

But back to the music analogy. The great experimental musician Isaio Tomita went from observatory to observatory collecting the radio wave signals from stars. He converted them all to sound waves and stored them in his computer so he could play them on a standard musical keyboard. This must have taken ages! Once he had them all he recorded an album of classical music. He called his collection of star sounds The Cosmic Symphony Orchestra. I’m listening to it as I write this. It’s beautiful.

Many photographers are also musicians. Ansel Adams comes to mind immediately. He was a classical pianist as well as master photographer. Most photographers I’ve known always had music playing in their studios while they worked. I would listen to classical or jazz while working by myself. When working with models I generally let them pick the music, so long as it wasn’t rap or hip-hop, which both set my nerves on edge. Of course I also had a big selection of 60s and 70s rock. I asked one young model if she liked classical music. “Oh yeah,” she replied, “I love the classics like The Beatles and stuff.”. Generational miscommunication!

Marion, much to my surprise, was familiar with some classical music. Said she’d taken ballet classes and heard it there. She got to really like my favorite composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and would pick his first symphony (A Night in the Tropics) to listen to in the studio or when we were out driving around. Gottschalk is a much underappreciated American composer, a French-speaking resident of New Orleans around the time of the “Civil War.” Although rarely performed in his native land, his works are often performed by European orchestras. I’ve heard the first movement of the first symphony called “more Wagnerian than Wagner,” and don’t disagree. The second movement is probably the first orchestrated samba, full of uncommon percussion instruments. Gottschalk was the “rock star” of his day, staging giant outdoor concerts with as many as eight pianos playing simultaneously, multiple instruments being the only way to produce lots of volume before electrical amplification. My late friend Don Sutherland, who wrote for me at Shutterbug, turned me on to Gottschalk in the 80s, and I’m forever grateful.

But back to colors: We humans have tricolor vision, with cells in the retina of our eyes sensitive to red, green, and blue. Each cell is sensitive to one color only, and our brain processes the signals from these cells to show our world to us in full color. Most of us anyway. Some people have a defective gene that produces cells that respond identically to red and green and see the world differently from the rest of us trichromatic folks. I’ve read that a small number of people have four types of color sensitive cells and also see the world very differently, but I can’t imagine how they see things. We’re unusual among mammals in having full color vision. Most mammals don’t see colors like we do, and many are profoundly color blind. Try to teach your dog or cat to tell red from green and you will be very frustrated, although I’ve read that a minority of dogs can see full color. I don’t know about cats. Its not that cats can’t be trained, but they aren’t interested in the idea! They find the whole idea intensely boring.

Insect eyes, built on a totally different blueprint from ours, generally can see ultraviolet. Flowers use this to attract pollinators by being strongly reflective of ultraviolet. A flower looks very different to a bee, like a billboard saying “Eat at Joe’s.” Some birds, notably raptors, can see well into the UV range, which cuts through atmospheric haze to reveal their prey far below. Their eyes have far more light receptor cells than ours, giving them the sharpest eyesight of all living creatures. “Eyes like a hawk,” is a genuine compliment.

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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://tonywarderotica.com/4830-2/

 

Also posted in Affiliates, Art, Cameras, Current Events, Friends of TWS, Photography, Popular Culture, Portraiture

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: https://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: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/mikala-mikrut-change/

 

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