Sound of Summer

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The best archivist I ever knew was also a coder and my best friend. Her name was Chloe Weil.

Recently, Chloe committed suicide. It is a tragedy for many reasons. She was stunning. She wowed people with her creativity. In everything Chloe did, she left a piece of herself in it. This made her work feel authentic, thoughtful and personal. Her work let others into her world. On her blog Chloe wrote 101-word journal entries, guided us through her artistic process and shared some really cool web projects. Chloe has left behind an online archive that is almost as rich and profound as the girl we loved being around. This post and my next will show off two of Chloe’s web based projects that expanded my ideas about sharing personal archives online.

I have been meaning to write about Chloe’s work on Library Manifesto for a while. I haven’t until now because she was too great a writer. No one could explain her work better than she did. Her posts were always humorous, conversational and succinct. She explained highly technical web projects in accessible ways and used her personal life to make web jargon more relatable.

"Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys." - Chloe Weil

“Above, I explain computers to a room full of guys.” – Chloe Weil

Chloe loved music. She was sometimes a human version of Shazam – she could tell you the name of a band or artist playing overhead at a bar. Chloe knew more obscure bands than anyone else I knew in High School and anytime after. Her love of music and web development came to a head in 2012 with Sound of Summer. Sound of Summer came from Chloe’s urge to catalog the emotions of her life through sound. Put simply, Sound of Summer is a personal music archive that lists Chloe’s most played songs in her iTunes library, every summer, starting from 2001.

Chloe tracked all of her music intake. In High School she began using iTunes data fields in ways they weren’t intended; tagging and organizing songs by when she listened to them most. Chloe wrote, “To organize music based on artist or album or even year released is extrinsic; the music has always been about me.” While others would balk at sharing such personal details of their life, Chloe embraced it.

I encourage you to look at the site. You’ll be immediately drawn to a stack of coral colored columns, each representing a year between 2001 and 2013. Select a column for a year, say 2012, and you are taken to that year’s songs, 74 for 2012. You might look for songs you listened to that year too. If you click on a song a music player pops up displaying an animated beating heart while playing back a snippet of the song. The beating heart reminds me of Chloe’s playful details. The project introduced me to some amazing music I had never heard before from bands like The Stranglers and The Go-Betweens. I learn about a new band every time I go back to her site.

“Do you remember in High Fidelity when Rob is organizing his record collection autobiographically? That’s the closest analog to this model. Each of my season-year playlists has the emotions and experiences of that three-month moment encoded into every song it contains. I’ve inadvertently managed to create a detailed narrative of my life just from the way I ended up organizing my mp3s. If want to feel how I felt my freshman year of college, I just filter my library for 2003FALL and I get all the tracks I listened to then, all the emotions I’d experienced, and the general mood of that period in my life. Say I want to re-experience my first year in Portland, although I don’t know why I would want to live through that again. I filter my library to 2009 and get 2009SPR, 2009SUM, 2009FALL, and 2009WIN. Say I only want to experience every summer of the past ten years. I filter my library by SUM and I’m having those rich emotional experiences again.”

I’ve listened to Chloe’s most played songs over the last 13 summers. I will never know what it felt like to be her but when I listen I get through to another layer of her identity. It helps me understand her a little bit better each time. Chloe made something emotional, scientific and vice versa.

Here’s Chloe’s conclusion from her technical write up. I’ve included it because I find it inspirational.

“There were entire weekends spent typing the same commands in the terminal, entire evenings spent refreshing the browser without accomplishing anything. But all it takes is one right thing to move forward, whether it’s modifying one line of code, or approaching your problem from a different point of view.”

Photo: Chloe and me at a summer music concert. Taken by Ruchi.
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Note to Self: Preserve Personal Triumphs

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Seeing a friend read an essay this spring made me think about personal archives in a new way. I had traveled to a gallery in an old industrial zone of Brooklyn to support my friend Megan, who writes about contemporary art and her life. When Megan got up, she said she wrote the essay she would be reading two years ago. Revisiting the piece the night before, it didn’t seem quite right. She decided to rewrite all the questions as declarative statements. I imagined her questions had been answered over time. Or, made way for different, newer questions. The edits seemed like signs of growth. Being in the audience that night as the writers and artists shared their completed works, I felt I was witnessing a small milestone.

The reading reminded me of one of my own milestones, a night the summer after my college graduation. I studied photography for two years as an undergrad, first black and white and then color. I had the idea to organize my first photography exhibition of my own work. My friend Dave kindly let me decorate his apartment on St. Mark’s Place with my work, and hold the exhibit there.

Matt and I lined Dave’s apartment with my photographs and some yellow tube lights. We blew up pink balloons and bought a box of cheap Trader Joe’s wine. My friends started to arrive, one by one, despite the sweltering heat. The photographs I selected were taken on day trips, date nights, or were just observations from my early twenties. The show was a milestone in itself of my growth as an artist and marked the end of my college life. It was also an excuse to celebrate the friends and supporters I had collected along the way.

When I decided to share the photographs on Library Manifesto, I found that I had done a disservice to my own archives. Many of the photographs taken the night of the show are missing! I’ve moved and purged multiple times since college and I’m afraid they might be gone forever. This is a public note to myself, and anyone reading, to remember to document personal milestones and triumphs with the same attention and thought we often give our failures. Jot them down, share with friends. Have pride in your successes (big and small) and preserve your personal history.

Here are a few photos of that night and some that were hanging on the walls:

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Summer Reading Remix

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In anticipation of abundant outdoor leisure time, we tend to be overly ambitious in our summer reading goals. Realistically, most of us will be lucky to finish one book, let alone two or three. How do you go about choosing the perfect beach companion? To help, I’ve made the ultimate summer reading list, culled from magazines and websites.

Personally, I hope to finish “Can’t and Won’t,” the latest short story collection by Lydia Davis, before Independence Day. Davis manages to be profound and succinct; some of her short stories are just a few sentences. You can devour them between sips of iced green tea. What I’ll pick up next is anyone’s guess, but I’m taking inspiration from these awesome lists. Here’s to a summer of blissful reading!

The L.A. Times’ summer books preview is descriptive and comprehensive, I may just pick up the new Ja Rule autobiography.

Books to Read Before They’re Movies, because the book is usually better.

For the young or young at heart: NPR’s A Diverse #SummerReading List For Kids.

If all you really want is for your book to match your summer uniform, these iconic covers make the perfect accessory. Or, reference Vogue’s list of the trendiest soon-to-be bestsellers.

The Best New Books For Your Career. These career-oriented books are the perfect way to plan your next big move while relaxing on the beach.

You can get cracking on what might be the best books of the year, following The Millions: Most Anticipated Books of 2014.

Finally, summer reading for the cool girls. Hint: Includes the new 33 1/3rd, Liz Phair edition.

Artwork by Natalie. Thanks Jessamy and Linda for your additions.

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May Wrap Up

Bookstore A-Z
I can’t believe June is half over, where did the time go? Even so, here’s a short list of articles that caught my attention in May.

Riding the subway I always stop and marvel at tile mosaics along my journey. A guy in Williamsburg, Brooklyn brilliantly decided to archive them.

A Yeast Archive for endangered beer gives brewers an opportunity to recreate their favorite pour.

The New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center memorialized Maya Angelou with a small exhibit of some of her archives.

Add The Metropolitan Museum of Art to the list of major institutions putting vast amounts of images online!

How a physicist resurrected the earliest recordings.” A New Yorker piece about the technology used to digitize brittle recordings.

By blaming smart phones, are we overlooking the real reasons that keep kids from reading?

Artifacts With a Life All Their Own. A loving look at museum artifacts and the unlikely objects that lived history.

Photo taken inside Westsider Books on 80th and Broadway from my Instagram.

John Cage’s life in the woods

Display Case Cage

Bulbous and ridged, minuscule or robust, mushrooms come in different shapes and sizes. Some have medicinal value or are enjoyed in risotto and on pizza, or taken as hallucinogens. They have a certain mystery and peculiarity that has enchanted artists and scientists alike. John Cage, a seminal experimental composer and artist, was one of them.

Cage’s fascination with mushrooms began in Stony Point, New York, where he lived in small quarters as part of a cooperative. For privacy, Cage took long walks in the woods and found a lot of different types of mushrooms. Cage referred to himself as an amateur mushroom hunter. Nevertheless, Cage co-founded the New York Mycological Society. With co-founder and friend Lois Long he published “The Mushroom Book” in 1972. Lois Long provided lovely illustrations with classification from mycologist Alexander H. Smith. “The Mushroom Book” was on display recently at The Horticultural Society of New York in an exhibit titled “By leaves or play of sunlight.”

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Installation view of display case with Mushroom Book (1972) by John Cage with Lois Long and Alexander H. Smith, © John Cage Trust at Bard College. Photo: The Horticultural Society of New York.

Display Case Cage

Chris Murtha, the director of membership and programs at The Horticultural Society of New York, curated the show. When Murtha went to the exhibition “Dancing Around the Bride” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he was struck by Cage’s edible drawings. The edible drawings are compositions made of organic ingredients that could be found at a health food store. When Murtha saw these sheets of pepper, beans, and bitter melon, he made a note to do something at the society relating to Cage’s use of organic matter.

A little over a year later two edible drawings are on display at the society alongside “The Mushroom Book.” More a portfolio than a book, “The Mushroom Book” consists of images of mushrooms and text inspired by nature on large unbound lithographs. “The set that is on view in our show was framed for a performance and one-day exhibition organized by the New York Mycological Society at Cooper Union,” said Murtha. “When I heard that it was only on view for one day, I figured we should display it for a longer period, so more people could see it.” The John Cage Trust, which preserves and archives Cage’s legacy, lent The Horticultural Society framed work from “The Mushroom Book.”

John Cage, Edible Drawing #4, 1990, Bitter melon, pepper, and greens dried into a sheet, Edition of 6, 9 x 11 ½ inches. Courtesy Margarete Roeder Gallery; © John Cage Trust at Bard College.

Mushroom Detail

Cage’s intention with the written pages was to have viewers hunt for the text, in the way you would hunt mushrooms in nature. Cage used ancient Chinese techniques for composing his handwritten prints. His pages included stories about mushrooms, quotes from Henry David Thoreau, Buckminster Fuller, and incorporate mesostic poems, which are built around a “spine” word or phrase. The text brought to mind field notes, overlapping  and randomly composed on the page. Without realizing, I walked a full circle around a display table reading one print.

Is there a relationship between Cage’s interest in chance and his attraction to the random ways that fungi appear in nature? Murtha suggested that’s not likely. “Because Cage applied chance operations to many of his projects we tend to associate that with chaos and messiness,” said Murtha. “As much as he liked the idea of chaos, I can’t help but feel that he also liked to create a structure in which he could experiment.” Even so, I think the exhibition is an example of how archives can still surprise people who think they’ve seen all sides of a well known figure.

Detail of Mushroom Book

Detail

There’s a pleasure in eating don’t you agree?
But you couldn’t live on mushrooms?
No, they’re not nourishing.
Do you have favorites?
I like the ones I have. If you like the ones you don’t have, then you’re not happy.

- Lisa Low (1985)

Excerpt from “Conversing with Cage” by Richard Kostelanetz.

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April Wrap up

Robert Dawson

Here’s some of what I was reading last month. Happy (very) belated May!

NPR previewed a book of library photography by Robert Dawson. There is a lot more to America’s public libraries than the iconic Beaux-Arts buildings and marble lions in New York. The photos look like location shots for the next Wes Anderson film.

“Life is a walk in the dark.” I’ve listened to this amazing James Baldwin interview with Studs Turkel three times and counting. Baldwin would have turned ninety this April. To mark the event Brooklyn Rail discussed his legacy.

A team of experts finds that a papyrus know as the “Gospel of Jesus’ Wife” is likely not a forgery. The scrap is given thumbs up but remains controversial.

The NYC Municipal Archive added 30,000 images to their online collection. Last year I made a short tutorial for finding images of what your apartment looked like in the 70s.

Rare snapshots from Kansas City’s 1960s Drag Scene are where grunge meets glam way before either broke out.

In case you need one more reason to bring classes to the archives: this student found a letter written by Martin Luther King Jr.

The Museum of Natural History announced a major digitization project. The museum’s collections have been strikingly unavailable to the public until now. The museum plans to put one million images online.

 

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Tiny Books, Big Hearts

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In 2013, Sotheby’s sold a manuscript no larger than a sugar packet to La Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits in Paris for over a million dollars. The author? British novelist Charlotte Brontë. This tiny volume by Brontë is one of a set of six handwritten “Young Men’s Magazines,” considered to be a rare insight into the author’s early development. To collectors, miniature books are simply irresistible. Fitting in the palm of your hand, the pages and binding intricately designed with details not easily seen without a magnifying glass, miniature books are magnets for media attention, frequently appearing on blogs and on Pinterest. Some were commissioned for dollhouses, others made to be easily transported or concealed. Some volumes have come from great icons of literature. Here are a few special publications, none of which measure over 3 inches in height.

1. The 1.5 by 2.5 inch manuscript handwritten by a young Charlotte Brontë that sold for over a million dollars at auction last year and is less than 20 pages long.

2. Todd Pattinson created this small collection as an art project in 2009. Making the library, Pattinson was able to bind the same number of books in one night that would otherwise take a year or more.

3. A passion for meticulously detailed dollhouses led Neale Albert to assemble a collection of 4,000 miniature books.

4. Tiny books are for the sportsman too. “A Book of Small Flies” preserves fishing flies under glass. It’s featured in this slideshow of the most beautiful miniature books.

5. Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edith Wharton and other celebrated authors of the time were commissioned in 1922 to create tiny books for a dollhouse belonging to Queen Mary, wife of King George V.

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March Wrap Up

Charles Ives music study

Dr. Dre’s letter to his wife (then girlfriend) Nicole Threatt about Burning Man, the desert festival which inspired the California Love video.

Speaking of which, the Universal Hip Hop Museum is slotted to open in the Bronx in 2017. Uptown baby!

The Vatican got a scanner. Extremely rare religious manuscripts will soon go online.

“The Guest Cat” made the New York Times Best Sellers list. Way to go indie press New Directions! Publishing since 1936 they have never made it to the list. The publisher thanks a social media embrace set off by a positive NPR review.

Is there room for cursive in 21st Century school curriculum?

NYPL is teaming up with a new startup Zola Books to offer algorithm-based recommendations. Now readers will be pointed to books with similar characteristics instead of what’s popular.

Librarians got real about salaries, in a discussion on Reddit summarized by Bound.

The SXSW Libraries+Archivists+Museums cohort.
8 Ways Oyster Books Can Rule The Subscription Market – written by my publishing savvy brother, Andrew Pantoja.

How Harvard collects vast paper archives, like the one Gore Vidal bequeathed them in 2002.

NYPL and CUNY again must plead with New York state lawmakers to avoid further cuts in 2015, not cool Cuomo.

American composer Charles Ives worked in his study in West Redding, CT in the later years of his life. The study was recently taken apart and moved to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in Washington Heights where it will be displayed for a limited time to the public.

Photo: Charles Ives’s study at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Taken from my Instagram.
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Defying Meanies and the Status Quo

Elvis Zine Illustration

“Do you make zines?” I heard this asked a lot at the Feminist Zine Fest. I think it captures the inclusiveness of the community that convened in Barnard Hall Saturday, March 1st. Barnard zine librarian Jenna Freedman secured the space for the event, previously held at The Commons in Brooklyn. About 40 tablers in all lined the room, their tabletops covered with not only zines but lollipops, QR code tablecloths, pom-poms, pins, patches, garland, rocks, and stuffed animals. DJ Troy Frost, herself a zinester, artist and self-described “feminist supastar” provided the soundtrack.

There were zines covering topics of race, sexuality, identity, personal histories and family histories. If you were looking for a yoga themed zine, or a zine about unhelpful cats, there was a table that had it! Natsumi, a recent graduate of The School of Oriental and African Studies, grabbed a zine about Nigeria.

For those who really want to get deep in zine culture, libraries like the ones at Barnard College and the Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, MA house thousands of zines. I chatted with Mitch from Papercut Zine Library who told me libraries play an important role in giving a home to zines and preserving the narratives of marginalized people. Zines are primary resources of people’s lives, many of whom are underrepresented in mainstream publishing. Zine libraries help to fill that void.

Some zines that caught my eye were not concerned with telling personal stories. Elvis Bakaitis, an organizer, displayed a series called Homos in Herstory (and drew the cool illustration above). Another zinester had compiled all of her favorite quotes from books she’s read since the 10th grade. A few tables over Nicole, a social studies teacher at the Calhoun School displayed some zines made by teens of various ages at the school. On the Zinefest blog Nicole talked about the process of making zines with the young women, “We had to negotiate what to include, how to represent ourselves and contributors, how to deal with conflict. So, zine making was a really important feminist praxis for me.”

Walking around the room, I wanted to read all the zines and celebrate their uniqueness. For the rest of the day I was very proud to wear a pin that read, in script letters, “don’t be mean, make a zine!”

(Artwork: Elvis Bakaitis)

Making Pins at Zine Fest

Barnard Zine Club

dj troy frost feminist zine fest

Tables at Fest

(Photos: Library Manifesto)

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February Wrap Up

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Here are a selection of the articles I bookmarked last month:

This Crain’s article revealed how a library renovation is bringing hope to local businesses and eateries that need to attract patrons in Queens, NY.

Speaking of Queens, History Pin showed up in Long Island City and helped digitize some local historical photographs.

People are using data analysis to show interesting relationships. Ed Summer’s data visualization shows how many times each Paris Review interview appears on Wikipedia.

Is the literary world elitist? Maybe the question shouldn’t be IS but WHY?

Carl Sagan’s wonderful response letter to everyone’s favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Cities start early bidding for the Barack Obama Presidential Library.

An Interview with Elena Bulat, a photo conservator. “I have my own favorite set [of] scalpels that might be used by an orthodontist.”

Test how fast you read! Tip: don’t rush

Photo: The New Manifesto of Newlights Press spotted this month at Berl’s Poetry Shop in DUMBO Brooklyn. “Book are more than text…”

 

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