Photo: David Flores
Smell is chemistry, and the chemistry of old books gives your cherished tomes their scent. As a book ages, the chemical compounds used—the glue, the paper, the ink–begin to break down. And, as they do, they release volatile compounds—the source of the smell. A common smell of old books, says the International League for Antiquarian Booksellers, is a hint of vanilla: “Lignin, which is present in all wood-based paper, is closely related to vanillin. As it breaks down, the lignin grants old books that faint vanilla scent.”
A study in 2009 looked into the smell of old books, finding that the complex scent was a mix of “hundreds of so-called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air from the paper,” says the Telegraph. Here’s how Matija Strlic, the lead scientist behind that study, described the smell of an old book:
A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.Ed note: What makes rain smell so good?
Page from “The Story of the Glittering Plain Which Has Been Also Called the Land of Living Men or the Acre of the Undying,” illustrated by Walter Crane and published by the Kelmscott Press in 1894.
See more from the Kelmscott Press on the Virtual Library.
If you have ever felt overwhelmed by the ubiquity of McDonald’s, this stat may make your day: There are more public libraries (about 17,000) in America than outposts of the burger mega-chain (about 14,000). The same is true of Starbucks (about 11,000 coffee shops nationally).
…libraries serve 96.4 percent of the U.S. population, a reach any fast-food franchise can only dream of.
From Harper’s Weekly, February 4, 1860, part of a story on “The Hog Trade of Cincinnati.”
“To be born a pig and not die the death of a hog in Cincinnati were an ignominy that none but the most groveling and debased swine could endure. The litter sort will not submit to it. The stall-fed, corn-fattened hog, contemplates the purpose of his life from a higher point of view. He is actuated by a nobler motive. He realizes the aspiration and enthusiasm of the enraptured poet; he must see Cincinnati, and die.”
Above: a medieval manuscript mended with embroidery. Photos via the Uppsala University Library. Here is some information about the manuscript from their page:
The pages of the book are made of parchment and they show typical damage in the form of holes and tears that happened while the parchment was being made. Some time after the book was copied, the holes and tears have been mended artistically with silk of various colours, mainly in blanket stitch as used in embroidery.
The old mending is in good shape except for those parts which were sewn with black silk. The thread is so fragile that it disintegrates on touch.
Read more here.
Happy Birthday Maurice Sendak
Today would have been the beloved author’s 85th birthday and Google has honored him with a wonderful doodle on their search page.
The video we decided to share is a year old but it really shows what an amazing person Sendak was. Enjoy this illustrated talk between Sendak and NPR’s Terry Gross.
Before and after, from our scrapbook of John Robinson’s Ten Big Shows.
Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at the legacy of The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek, first by looking at some groovy organ jazz in our collection and then at other organ-centric rock bands. This week, the third and final installment of the series, let’s venture beyond, to some way-out experimental works featuring the organ.
Already well-known for his hypnotic masterpieces In C and A Rainbow in Curved Air, which synthesized burgeoning new age and classical minimalism movements, Terry Riley spent several years studying Indian music with Pran Nath. Although his music had always been tempered with an Eastern quality, this becomes fully present in his 1980 album Shri Camel. Riley plays a Yamaha combo organ augmented by a digital delay (which creates an intense “echo” effect), and the result is four tracks of shimmering organic undulations that drift seamlessly between Western and Eastern intonations. This title is available to check out on LP or to download for free from Freegal. If you prefer CD, start with Riley’s most enduring work, A Rainbow in Curved Air (which is also available on Freegal). Also, check out this far out video of Riley performing a segment from the album.
A pioneer of classical minimalism and one of the most influential living American composers, Steve Reich’s earliest works explored the idea of phasing, which occurs when two or more instruments or recordings simultaneously play the same musical phrase at slightly different speeds. At its purest, the effect can range from disorienting to spectacular, such as in his masterpiece Music for 18 Musicians, where the technique was applied for an ensemble of pianos, mallet instruments, and vocalists. Four Organs falls somewhere in the middle. Written for four organists that phase in and out of sync with one another and one maracha player to keep tempo, the piece is infamous for having nearly caused a riot when it was presented at Carnegie Hall in 1973. This is a difficult work to absorb, but to the patient, adventurous listener it offers the reward of a mind-expanding experience. Also worth noting, one of the organists on this recording is none other than Philip Glass.
Up until now, all the albums we’ve discussed have featured electric organs. Jon Gibson’s Two Solo Pieces features instead a massive pipe organ. The main work, Cycles, is 23 minutes of slow moving chord clusters. The effect is like watching clouds drift by, shifting imperceptibly from ominous to heavenly. This album is available to check out on LP. Fun fact: Jon Gibson is the maracha player on Steve Reich’s Four Organs.
From the liner notes:
The organ has been called “the monster which never breathes,” but perhaps its breaths are simply very long and deep. in Charlemagne Palestine’s perambulations through the organ’s sonic landscape, this is certainly the case—the breath is some 70 minutes long.
Yes, it’s true that Schlingen-Blangen consists of one chord sustained for more than an hour. There are no other instruments. Very little happens. But the quality of the sound continues to shift, creating an immersive headspace that the can be awe-inspiring. Palestine is also known for his eccentric stage presence.
This ultra-campy 2002 project by British artist Angie Tillett channels a smart, saccharine, and totally silly version of 1960s Swinging London. In Death by Chocolate’s Zap the World, Ray Manzarek-esque combo organ and fuzzy guitar riffs back Tillett’s deadpan stream-of-consciousness spoken word listing of interesting objects, confectionary ingredients, and what it’s like to stare at a Bridget Riley painting for too long (“your eyes will go pop!”). It opens with a totally convincing faux advertisement for the Vox wah-wah pedal (“It’s the now sound! It’s what’s happening!”). Also check out her more recent, equally groovy album Bric-a-Brac, which is available to download on Freegal. It includes the track My New Old Organ, which can stand alone as a part of your groovy-music collection.
Listen to This! is a weekly music column by Popular Library Music Geek/Reference Librarian Steve Kemple, featuring off-the-beaten-path music from the library’s collection. It is also a twice-monthly listening program held every 2nd and 4th Wednesday night at 7pm in the Popular Library Department at the Main Library.