Inside the Biosphere

A photo from this time last year, taken inside Montreal’s amazing Biosphere. Designed by Buckminster Fuller and built in 1967 for the World’s Fair, it’s a geodesic dome, strong, light, and enclosing a huge amount of space. It’s a beautiful building – full of benign faith in the future.

Pet Sounds, a capella

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in London, so this seems like just the right thing to listen to: Pet Sounds, a capella. Despite the fact that it’s a YouTube link, sound quality is terrific. This is probably the first time I’ve really understood just how spine-tingling what music writers refer to as a singer’s ‘phrasing’ can be – check out God Only Knows. Particularly stunning is when the harmonies simply ends, and one of the group says in a very normal voice, ‘how was that?’

Apparently, the original source is a box set called The Pet Sounds Sessions.

Wikipedia’s entry on a capella singing is interesting, relating “a cappella music originally was, and still often is, used in religious music” and that the use of instruments was a matter of debate in the early Christian church.

The end of the 60s is now

Brian Eno, giving his prediction for 2009/the future in general, focusses not on a scientific, technological, political or economic breakthrough, but essentially, the end of optimism as being the default of the west. Unlike Bono’s blethering mass of words in the New York Times, it’s eloquently put, if briskly bleak:

“Human development thus far has been fueled and guided by the feeling that things could be, and are probably going to be, better. The world was rich compared to its human population; there were new lands to conquer, new thoughts to nurture, and new resources to fuel it all. The great migrations of human history grew from the feeling that there was a better place, and the institutions of civilisation grew out of the feeling that checks on pure individual selfishness would produce a better world for everyone involved in the long term.

What if this feeling changes? What if it comes to feel like there isn’t a long term—or not one to look forward to? What if, instead of feeling that we are standing at the edge of a wild new continent full of promise and hazard, we start to feel that we’re on an overcrowded lifeboat in hostile waters, fighting to stay on board, prepared to kill for the last scraps of food and water? Many of us grew up among the reverberations of the 1960’s. At that time there was a feeling that the world could be a better place, and that our responsibility was to make it real by living it. But suppose the feeling changes: that people start to anticipate the future world… as something more closely resembling [a] nightmare of desperation, fear and suspicion. What happens then?

The following: Humans fragment into tighter, more selfish bands. Big institutions, because they operate on longer time-scales and require structures of social trust, don’t cohere. There isn’t time for them. Long term projects are abandoned—their payoffs are too remote… Survivalism rules. Might will be right.”