Hiding from people

Nightmare this morning: Someone was after me. They wanted to kill me and the earth was soft and crumbly so I dug down and hid under the dirt. I made a hole in the bottom of a soda pop can and breathed through that, ninja-style. But they found me anyway and were digging me out when I woke up.

They were female, I think. Whoever the scary person was. They may have been my wife, or a cat, or something more monstrous, all I remember clearly is the dirt and the aluminum can.

Amidst the seeds

He goes into the cellar and the light is already on. Either someone left it on all night, or he left it on for 24 hours, or there was a burglar who turned on the light and thought, nothing worth stealing here, just a bunch of seeds and papers and a broken accordion, or the light turned itself on, as lights sometimes do, especially around the Day of the Dead.

The moon was full last night. He lights candles. He lights every candle he can find and sits amids the seeds and tries to position the candles so that they don’t set anything on fire. He sits amidst the seeds and writes something. First he finds some pens, he has to look all over the room because he can’t recall what box they were in or where he put the  box.

For future reference: the box is under the desk.

Looking for pens, he finds his aunt’s obituary in a drawer full of knives.

Also the box his field recorder came in. Now all he has to find is the field recorder itself. Maybe it’s in the box, he didn’t look inside because he was 1) looking for pens and 2) thinks he looked in the box once already and no field recorder.

The moon was full last night so it should be fairly full tonight, when the spirits are out. He resolves to light extra candles.

It’s foggy, a little foggy. Cold and the world is still. Still and waiting.

He thinks about playing dice.

That guy

Mr. Cordyceps’ eyes are burning. It’s not chili pepper residue, that was too long ago. He had an eye infection recently, maybe that’s back. Or maybe he got some toiletry product in his eyes this morning, he was in a great hurry and that contributes to accidents, as we all know.

He  has been trying to be fair to people lately, and to listen to them and pay attention to them because he had sort of painted himself into a corner there, socially. Perhaps as a result of that, people don’t seem like such idiots to him lately. At the same time, he remains convinced that there is always at least one idiot in the room; likewise, that projection plays a big role in how he sees the world.

So he has this growing fear that he’s  the idiot.

Well, ‘fear’. Who knows? You know that guy, the guy who leaves inappropriate comments on facebook walls and comment threads here and there, which are supposed to be funny but fail to hit the sense of humor in the group of people who frequent that wall or blog or whatever?

On the other hand, shit, you have to talk to people and risk a few jokes not working, Mr. Cordyceps thinks.

He struck up a conversation with someone recently. Mr. Cordyceps almost never does that. Strike up a conversation. But he was somewhere and instead of leaving, as he usually does, when the regular business was over and it would theoretically not seem too weird to leave, he stayed because everyone else was, in little groups, talking. His conversational gambit was to say to a woman, apropos of nothing, ‘so do you think we only dream at night, or do we dream all the time and just not realize it during the day because we are too busy thinking and perceiving and so on?’ because that was what had been on his mind, how our brain functions, and how there seemed to him to be subconscious routines running at all times to remind him that he was forgetting something by raising his anxiety levels and so on.

Like, the feeling that you are forgetting something important? Where does that come from? And ideas that pop into your head, and metaphors – what produces them?

They had a great conversation, sort of. It lasted a long time but didn’t feel like a long time. Mr. Cordyceps didn’t have to say much. Once, the woman actually had her hands around Mr. Cordyceps’ throat, throttling him, to illustrate a point.

So, pretty great, all in all.

Learning by doing, Mr. Cordyceps tells himself.

Fake it till you make it, he says.

Practice makes perfect.


More on Tuvan throat singing

Mongolians probably watch non-Mongolians ‘throat-singing’ on youtube and laugh and laugh.

On the other hand, a Mongolian barbershop quartet would be awesome.

Oh well. That’s the way the ball bounces.

I have reached the point where I can usually get a throat-singing-type sound whenever I want. It took forever, but I can do it now, especially when I am alone. I have always been inhibited about singing in front of other people, except Christmas carols.

This morning, in my bathroom, I determined that I cannot throat sing and pee at the same time.

Later this morning, driving my car and throat singing, it occurred to me that this is a blessing. Still later, in the men’s room at the UN, I had the same thought again. Everyone was peeing, no one was throat singing. In the long run, it would be stressful if you went into the bathroom and everyone was peeing and throat singing.

Same with driving on the freeway.


Alpha and I watched Metropolis at the Konzerthaus in Vienna last night, while a 66-piece orchestra played the music. It was neat. I didn’t fall asleep once. Metropolis was shortened rather drastically after release, and the original version was lost, I guess. The film was (IIRC) restored in 2001. Then a longer version was discovered in Argentina, so it was restored again. The Argentine version was, however, only 16mm so there are quality and cropping issues. The discovery of the longer version also made it possible to restore the score, pretty much, which had also been incomplete.

Or something.

I should be a journalist, shouldn’t I.

We will be seeing a few more silent films with live music at the Konzerthaus, we bought a subscription. I really like the idea of composing film music, so I am looking forward to seeing them.

Tuvan throat singing progress report

Surprised myself the day before yesterday by actually getting it right while driving home from work. It only lasted a few seconds, though, and I sort of scared myself. It’s an awesome sound. Haven’t been able to repeat it since, but am still trying. It was very encouraging. All the different tutorials on youtube have helped, but only to a somewhat limited degree. All they seem to have in common are they can sort of get you started, but you have to take the leap to actually figuring it out all by yourself. That, and they are filmed in absolutely filthy bedrooms.

This is definitely the most irritating thing I have tried to do yet, and that’s saying a lot. I can only try it while  driving alone, and that’s sort of dangerous because besides giving me a sore throat, it also makes me dizzy because I forget to breathe, and requiring a lot of concentration my driving suffers. Also I thought I was going to give myself a heart attack yesterday so I stopped for a while.

Adventures in collodion wet-plate photography

Vienna collodion wet-plate photographer Agnes Prammer with her camera.

This is Agnes Prammer with her collodion wet-plate camera.

It started this summer. I read an ad online looking for models. Men over 60 with beards, and pregnant women.

I thought that sounded like an interesting combination, and in my optimism (I met 2 of the 5 requirements, being a man with a beard) contacted the photographer.

And that is how I found myself…

…wait, I also wanted to insert somewhere towards the start, ‘earlier that summer my family and I were wandering around Vienna late at night and looked inside this one large building full of… stuff, and pillars, and mysterious light, and I thought at the time how full of surprises and interesting architecture Vienna is and what kind of life must that be that has one frequenting such buildings?’


So I contacted the photographer and she said sure, she’d take my picture for her project, and I programmed the address into my GPS and drove there.

The first interesting detail in this interesting story is the fact that the address does not exist. The proper address is number 6, and the GPS took me to the right place, but the number over the door is an 8. Mysterious, right? Also it turned out to be the mysterious building we had seen earlier in the summer, the studios of the academy of fine arts.

Luckily the photographer was waiting for me outside, which is proper etiquette when your address is imaginary.

The photographer’s name is Agnes Prammer. She does collodion wet-plate photography, which to my understanding is the (American) Civil War-era process that produces negative images onto glass or metal plates using a liquid emulsion. Tin type photos are one example of this, I guess. Agnes became interested in collodion wet-plate photography while in the United States, where the technology has been revived (or popularized) by Civil War re-enactors, among other people.

She explained her project to me, I changed into a sweater she wanted me to wear for the photo, and she took me to her studio, which was a stool on the sidewalk outside the academy, with a black backdrop. Wet-plate photography requires long exposure times so usually is done outside in natural light.

Agnes uses an antique camera. I thought it would be neat to take pictures of her for this blog post with my daughter’s Polaroid camera for double retro-technology points, but I couldn’t get the Polaroid to work ( you have to push the button repeatedly, it turns out) so I took these photos here with my smartphone, which gets irony points instead.

Agnes’ camera is the real deal – you sit there in the sun trying not to perspire in a borrowed sweater while she (under the black sheet, to keep the light out so she can see the image) focuses on a frosted glass plate in the camera. Then she goes into the darkroom, puts emulsion onto a metal plate (like most wetplate photographers, she gets her aluminum plates from a trophy supplies company in the United States) (some use glass plates, but they are fussier and of course fragile) which takes about 5 or ten minutes, then carries it back to the camera in a plate holder. The plate holder trades places with the frosted glass focus thing and the camera is ready to go.

The camera is very simple, and has no shutter. There is a lens cover (Agnes uses a cardboard box) which is removed to take the picture and put back to stop the exposure. That day, in the bright sun, Agnes used an exposure time of 10-15 seconds. Then she took the plate holder back out of the camera, and ran back to her darkroom to develop it. That took about ten minutes.

In other words, it takes about twenty minutes per photo. The plate must be exposed and developed while wet, so it can be kind of a rush depending on temperature.

Agnes Prammer in her darkroom.

Agnes wasn’t really happy with the first picture so we did it again.

Wet-plate cameras are great ice breakers. While Agnes was back in her darkroom getting the next plate ready, everyone who walked past asked me about it.

I couldn’t tell them much, sorry.

Agnes doesn’t always use her darkroom. Like many wet-plate photographers, she has a portable field darkroom. I am kicking myself for not taking a picture of it, because it is awesome. She made it out of a baby carriage.

Agnes eventually came back out and got set up again. While she was getting set up, Roland Neuwirth walked past on the other side of the street. I am a big fan of his, but I ignored him because he is over sixty and has a bigger beard than I do, and I feared if Agnes noticed him she would kick me to the curb.

The second photo turned out better and we were done. Agnes gave me a tour of her darkroom and let me watch her develop the plate. This is how it works: collodion is a solution containing ether. It is poured over the plate to get an even film; when the ether evaporates, it leaves a tacky transparent film (it is also used in medicine to cover wounds). The plate is then placed in a silver nitrate bath. This is why Agnes is wearing gloves in the darkroom photo. Back in the day, wet-plate photographers were known by their black fingers. Then the plate is put into a plate holder, and exposed in the camera, and developed, all while still wet.

In a way, it is a form of instant photography, if you consider 10-20 minutes instant. And in fact, it still survives (more or less, in a relatively similar form, anyway) as instant street photography in the Afghan box camera (AKA kamra-e-faoree) in Afghanistan.

What I am not sure of is whether wet plate photography is resurging, thanks to Civil War re-enactors and antique technology buffs, or if it only seems that way to me because I am googling it and finding tons of information and projects. Maybe it was there all along.

Here is a Wired article on John Coffer, who has been doing wet plate photography for years now. He eschews the automobile and travels by horse, and lives in a house with no electricity or running water. Here is his website.

The technology is interesting because it is so simple. There is no shutter – it is basically a camera obscura, as my daughter Gamma says. If you can get a lens, you could theoretically make one yourself. Ian Ruhter made one out of a van to make impressive large-format tin types. You make each plate yourself, with chemicals that will get you high (ether) or kill you (some techniques use cyanide). This is another reason it is a good outdoor activity. At the same time, the results are superior to modern film photography, because (Agnes tells me) there is no grain because it is a liquid emulsion.

There will be a workshop next spring and I can’t wait to go.

One must hold still for about 15 seconds, depending on the light, and focus one's eyes on a single point when being photographed this way, so I stared at one of the windows in this building across the street.

One of the photos Agnes Prammer took of me.