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I’ve taken an evening to research and listen to a bunch of ragtime. Rather then be coy about it, i’ll just come right out and explain how it’s relevant.

For the first song of the 2nd Act of the Dieselpunk Opera i need a light, upbeat song with which to introduce Constance O’Brien and in particular discuss her profession and the societal circumstances around it.

You might think another New Albion song would be the obvious choice to fit in here, but it would be utter overkill. A New Albion song at the beginning of every Act is a Steampunk Opera device. To use it at the beginning of the Dieselpunk Opera to establish continuity is great. But after that it’s overkill. We must move on. We are not a one trick pony.

So, a light upbeat song that discusses a specific aspect of a character and New Albion upper class society. What would really work is a genre song. We pick a genre from the 20s or 30s, something that fits (can’t be Oh Brother Where Art Thou type music because while correct in period, it would be wrong for discussing upper class society) and that song is our little genre piece. Kind of like The Ballad Of The Gambler And The Monk.

Now, i’ve done listening sessions based on Latin big band music that was enormously popular back then like Cuban, the Mambo, the Rhumba and other son based big band/dance styles. But i can’t use THOSE for this because in our next song when we actually get down to the plot, Constance will be at an upper class soiree, dancing with some guy. That song will be upbeat too and more energetic so the first song should not compete.

Hence something like ragtime. Upbeat, light, good for a one off number.

I haven’t decided. I’m just considering.

Ragtime actually came from John Philip Sousa marches believe it or not. They were the popular melodies going around at the time.  Ragtome is a very piano based style that uses these marching rhythms: That left hand is playing a straight one two march rhythm. African American musicians like Ernest Hogan would play those marches, but add some more complex and witty syncopations to the right hand melody based off his culture’s African sense of polyrhythm which had survived the nightmarish journey to the US.

Polyrhythym, just for the record, is superimposing one rhythm over another, like a 3 count over a 4 count, or in this case favoring the beats in between the main beat.

Thus, in this crazy new ragtime style, the melody would be syncopated, notes made to be stabbed in beTWEEN the one-two beats instead of the square “always on the beat” marches.

I would love to demonstrate.

First, let’s hear a famous John Philip Sousa march. Great melody and hear how everything falls on that one-two marching beat:

Now, hear how early ragtimers like Scott Joplin are playing that essential Sousa rhythm on the low notes, but the melody is continuously stabbing the spaces in between the one two marching rhythym:

THAT is ragtime.

The style exploded. From the beginning of the century through the 20s it was epic. It was the rock and roll of its day until by the 30s its evolutionary child Jazz overtook it and laid it in the dust.

As with every single musical style pioneered by African Americans, a certain segment of white America went ballistic with outrage. There were doctors who warned of the dangerous effects of ragtime music and syncopation on the brain and body. Many march loving folks dismissed it as “coon music” and many preachers assured their flocks it was the surest way to the fiery pit with all its lustful rhythms that could only have been thought up by Satan. The rock and roll of its day indeed.

However, this did not stop its wildlfire spread and mass appeal. It was fun, great composers came up with immensely catchy melodies, you could dance to it AND it didn’t require a large band. A single piano player could belt it out.

I leave you with a modern ragtime song which you may not have realized was ragtime but i assure you, is. Once again, notice how the lower rhythm is a straight march and the upper melody jibs and jabs at those rhythms in between. ( I also adore watching the bald guy play. His smiles are wonderful. Not to mention the yin yang of the two of them playing together is awesome and at times even kind of funny.)


Posted by on November 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Old Time Con Men: Soapy Smith

We haven’t done one of these in some time, so come with me, back to the 19th century in the American West where we shall meet the infamous Soapy Smith.

His real name was Jefferson Smith and he was born just before the Civil War in Georgia. His family was quite wealthy but lost everything during William Sherman’s devastating March To The Sea where General Sherman marched his troops through Georgia and literally destroyed everything, every house, every building, every field as they went. Alas Smith’s lands were in the way of this march and the family was ruined.

In his late teens, after his mother died he Round Rock Texas for Fort Worth and began his career as a con man.

He started simple enough, with games of 3 card monte and shell games on the street. His sleight of hand was excellent and he soon formed a little gang who specialized in these tricky little games. They would roll quickly through a town, setting up some simple games where sleight of hand could separate some citizens from their money and then roll out.

It was small time stuff. Kid’s stuff. Then Jefferson Smith started to think bigger and came up with the scam that gave him his nickname Soapy: The Prize Package Soap Racket.

He became a travelling salesman, setting up a case on a tripod in the middle of the street. He would then launch into his routine, selling soap to the crowds that would gather. While he waxed eloquent on the virtues of the wonderful soap he was selling he would pull out his wallet, take several bills ranging from 1 to 100 dollars in value and wrapping the money around a few bars of the soap. He would then wrap all the soap in paper and as his speech and demonstration came to an end, declare buying time ready to begin.

Naturally it was quite exciting. The soap sold for a dollar a bar and people would buy in order to get one of teh bars with money. Often shortly into the buying frenzy people ion the crowd would start finding the money and yell excitedly. If the soap supply started to get low and the $100 bill not yet found, the prices would go up and the crowd would even start bidding wars.

Quite smart. Do i need to tell you that no one ever got any of the money? Soapy Smith’s gang was still together, but now the gang acted as plants in the crowd. Soapy was always great at sleight of hand, right? He palmed all the money soap except for a few which would carefully find their way to the plants.

He ran this con for 20 years and it netted him a fortune. So much that he set up operations in Denver, Colorado. He built a saloon and gambling hall called The Tivoli Club. On the front door hung a sign saying “Caveat Emptor”. It became as huge as the games were rigged. Smith used his fortune to build himself a criminal empire, paying off cops, lawyers and judges. He ran businesses from fraudulent lottery shops to “sure-thing” stock exchanges, fake watch and bogus diamond auctions, stock sales of nonexistent businesses. He had a hand in criminal enterprises across the city and directly paid off both the mayor and chief of police.

The Tivoli Club is the building on the left.

By 1892 Denver was undergoing huge anti gambling and saloon reforms of which he was responsible in no small part, so he picked up and moved the Tivoli Clup to Creede Colorado, a town in the middle of a mining boom.

He brought with him Denver prostitutes to cozy up to property owners and convince them to sign over leases, and in this way acquired numerous lots along Creede’s main street, renting them to his associates. Soon he controlled the town outright.

Smith’s Orleans Club in Creede, CO is in the back of the photo, under the flag.

However boom towns are famous for the boom and the bust. As the town’s mining fortune waned Smith got word that the Denver reforms were ending, and so back to Denver he and his crew went. He became even wealthier and more powerful, but eventually a new Governor came in dedicated to reform. He even sent in militia to remove from the Denver Courthouse 3 corrupt officials he fired who refused to leave. Reforms came again, harder and tighter.

Smith used the new reforms to his advantage. He would stage raids on his gambling dens. Police in his pay would raid the room and proceed to arrest everybody. These raids were timed when big players had bet large amounts of money in poker games. The players would be given mercy and allowed to walk away. They were grateful not to be arrested and leave quickly, leaving Smith all their money.

But Smith was too big, too well known. Eventually even the corrupt officials couldn’t protect him. When Smith and his brother beat a saloon manager to death, his brother was jailed and Smith fled becoming a wanted man. He high tailed it to Alaska.

In Skagway Alaska, 1897, the Klondike gold rush was getting going and Smith did exactly what he had in Colorado, soon becoming one of the most powerful men in town. However a vigilante group opposed to him rose up, the Committee of 101. Smith set up his own  counter group, a “law and order society” and things remained tense as he proceeded to dominate the town so much so that his saloon became known as “the real city hall”.

Soapy Smith’s saloon in Skagway, Alaska

On 7 July 1898, , a returning Klondike miner named John Douglas Stewart came to Skagway with a sack of gold containing $2,700.Three gang members convinced him to participate in a game of 3 card monte. When Stewart balked at having to pay his losses, the three men grabbed the sack and ran. The “Committee of 101” demanded that Soapy return the gold, but he refused, claiming that Stewart had lost it “fairly”.

The next night the Commitee of 101 organized a meeting on the wharf. Smith showed up with a Winchester rifle on his shoulder. A gaurd named Frank Reid blocked his way and the two began arguing. The argument got heated and thus the Shootout on Juneau Wharf began. Smith was shot 3 times by a second guard protecting Reid. One of the bullets was a direct hit to the heart and Smith died on the spot. Reid was shot himself and also died 12 days days later

The 3 gang members who had grabbed the sack of money were arrested and sent to prison.

The town of Skagway, Alaska continues to hold a wake every year on the anniversary of Smith’s death.

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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Underground City of Derinkuyu

The underground city of Derinkuyu

In East Central Turkey exists an impressively large underground city built in the 6th to 7th century. It was originally a complex natural tunnel system used by early Christians to escape persecution and conduct their ceremonies but around the 7th century was turned into an actual underground city by the Persians.

An entrance. The boulder rolls over and seals the passage.

Derinkuyu is the city on the surface, but the city underneath it can house over 3000 people and livestock.

It’s not meant for permanent living, more to shelter citizens or refugees in war or crisis.

The city underneath Derinkuyu does not end there, it connects to further underground cities across the region. The tunnel system goes on and on and is nothing short of magnificent and awe inspiring.

An actual map of the underground city

The region has 40 cities with at least 3 layers or more and 200 with at least 2 layers,  most of which are connected with each other.

On the second floor is a spacious room with a barrel vaulted ceiling which was used as a religious school and the rooms to the left were studies.Between the third and fourth levels is a vertical staircase.

This passage way leads to a cruciform church on the5th level.

There are kitchens, wine presses, warehouses areas and even a bar.

The city has an underground river, wells and at least 52 ventilation wells.

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Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Franklin Expedition (or People Who Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World)

In 1845 Capt. Sir John Franklin, famed Artic explorer, set off to finish what he started: mapping a sailing route through the Arctic above Canada so ships could sail from Greenland to Russia across a Northwest Passage. He had lead 3 other successful expeditions (although one of those successful expeditions involved 11 out of 20 men dying) and had mapped out significant parts of the theoried route up to this point. This last expedition would finish the job.

The Victorians were dedicated to mapping out the parts of the world still undocumented and explorer after explorer set off to do it in the name of Queen and country. In particular the Arctic was a major challenge and many teams tried desperately to be the first to reach the North Pole. Franklin’s quest was much more practical. A shipping route would be invaluable to trade and commerce.

Franklin was seasoned and knew finding a route to sail above Northern Canada would be tough. He prepared the best equipped expedition in history. His ships “had five years of food supplies, including 8,000 tins (in one-, two-, four-, six-, and eight lb. capacities) of meat, vegetables, and soup.  In addition to the technical innovation of tinned goods, Franklin’s vessels the “Erebus” and “Terror” had cabins which were heated by hot water piped through the floor. The ships’ bows were reinforced with iron planks to help them break through ice. Moreover, each ship was equipped with a specially designed screw propeller driven by a wheel-less steam locomotive from the London and Greenwich Railway.”

On May 19th, 1845, with 134 sailors and officers Sir John Franklin set sail.They were last seen by the crew of two whaling ships, the “Prince of Wales” and the “Enterprise,” in Baffin Bay at the end of July.

Franklin’s expedition had been big news and when years started to pass without word, there was an outcry to find him or what had happened. Newspapers offered rewards, The Toronto Globe offered 20,000 pounds which it later doubled, no small sum at the time. The English government sent 3 seperate relief expeditions, but little was found.

It took years to slowly piece together what happened. In 1850 one of the expeditions sent to find him did manage to find some relics and 3 graves on an island in the Barrow Strait, Beechey Island.  In 1854, explorer John Rae was surveying near the Canadian Arctic coast southeast of King William Island, and heard stories from the Inuit there of  about 40 doomed white men who had trudged throug there some years earlier, dragging a boat behind them, looking really bad and killing seals to feed themselves. Later on, the Inuit said, and some ways south about 30 bodies were found with knife marks in their bones, a sure sign of cannibalism.

in 1859 Francis McClintock discovered a note left on King William Island with further details about the expedition’s fate.

Here is what happened:

The ships sailed from England to Greenland. 10 oxen carried by the transport ship were slaughtered for fresh meat; supplies were transferred to Franklin’s ships Erebus andTerror, and crew members wrote their last letters home. Letters written on board told how Franklin banned swearing and drunkenness. Before the expedition’s final departure, five men were discharged and sent home on Rattler and Barretto Junior, reducing the ships’ final crew size to 129. The expedition was last seen by Europeans in early August 1845, when Captain Dannett of the whaler Prince of Wales and Captain Robert Martin of the whaler Enterprise encountered Terror and Erebus in Baffin Bay.

Franklin’s ships slowly made their way through the never ending maze of ice and islands. Unable to continue as the weather worsened they wintered at Beechey Island. Over the winter 3 crew members died. Their wintering on Beechey was not a problem and to be expected. However even before they set off in the spring to continue their voyage their problems were already beginning.

The 8,000 tins of food they had prepared were prepared hastily, supplied from a cut-rate provisioner, Stephen Goldner, who was awarded the contract on 1 April 1845, just seven weeks before Franklin set sail. Goldner worked in haste on the order of 8,000 tins, which were later found to have lead soldering that was “thick and sloppily done, and dripped like melted candle wax down the inside surface”

The distilled water system in the ships were set up with lead pipes and as the pipes started to wear and tear lead crept into their water. Lead poisoning started to seep into their bodies, but they did not realize this yet.

In the spring, the expedition set off again, going south as North the previous fall had been a bust. They travelled down the western side of King William’s Island, unknown to them, a fatal move. The ice on the eastern side melts in the summer, but rarely on the western side.

Look at this map. Why would you go down and around on the east? You’d just go up and over on the west, right?

Despite what common sense would seem to suggest, going through the HUGE gap in the upper west instead of the narrow long way around at the bottom southeast is actually fatally wrong. The two ships became stuck in ice, locked like this for 2 winters as lead poisoning and scurvy from the bad tins and bad distillation destroyed the crews’ health.

The crew wintered on King William Island the winter of 1846-1847. They waited for the ice to thaw in the summer, but summer never came. Franklin died on 11 June 1847. The crew, unable to get either ship out of the ice was forced to winter again during 1847–48. The next spring proved just as bad as the one before and on April 22, 1848 the Erebus and Terror were abandoned after one year and seven months trapped in the ice

A note dated was found on King William Island from Apr. 25, 1848 stating that 24 men, nine officers and fifteen crew had died and those remaining were planning on leaving on April 26 toward the Back River on the Canadian mainland. However, they were a naval expedition. Only 4 of them had any experience crossing Arctic conditions on foot.

90 or so men set out. They pulled heavy sledges stacked high with food, shelter and firewood across the frozen wastes, but were already overcome with fatigue, malnutrition, scurvy and lead poisoning. By 200 miles, many had died. In 1950 they were seen by Inuits who also found one of the abandoned ships. There were 40 left.

Other Inuits later found 30 something bodies somewhat south with knife chips in the bones, signifying cannibalism.

In 1951, more Inuits, further south, spotted 4 men, the very last 4 survivors trudging along. To paint a picture: these guys had been trudging through the Arctic FOR THREE YEARS. The Inuit sightings have all been verified  over time from various stone cairns with notes or relics from the survivors.

In 1852 there were 2 men sighted by Inuits, one of whom was Captain Crozier, the Captain of the HMS Terror. They had walked for OVER FOUR YEARS THROUGH ALMOST 3,000 MILES OF ARCTIC WILDERNESS.

Crozier and one other unkown crew member made it to the Baker Lake area they were aiming for, but as they were never seen again it is assumed they finally succumbed and died. I would prefer to think they said fuck it shacked up some Inuits, but this is doubtful.

Cairns and bodies have been found in the years since, as over a century the route and fates of the men have been uncovered.

The last question i leave you with is Why didn’t the Inuits help them? There is no simple answer to this question. It is an unquestioned fact that most British eplorers considered themselves and their culture utterly superior to the Inuit and looked down upon them, but if you’ve spent a few months, a year THREE YEARS trekking through the Arctic, i highly doubt you would be full of airs when running across the locals who live and thrive in the environment that’s killing everyone you left with. It is entirely possible certain Inuits helped them along the way. it is entirely possible they observed them from a distance, shrugged, and went back to their business. This answer we do not know.

Franklin’s expedition has been immortalized in poetry, music and books. I leave you with the song Northwest Passage by Stan Rogers.

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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Russian Futurism

Futurism was embraced in Pre-Revolutionary Russian heartily by a small but ambitious group of artists and poets. They published their own manifesto (OF COURSE) called A Slap In The Face Of Public Taste. (points for a good title)

They spawned in 1912 and like their Italian counterparts they adopted the painting style of Cubism in 1913, although apparently independently of the Italians. Aristarkh Lentulov came back from Paris having adopted the Cubist style and the Russian Futurists embraced it zealously, just like the Italian Futurists did.

The Russians developed in their own way. Although they too embraced dynamism, movement, machines,modernity and an absolute disdain for the past, they eschewed the Fascist ideology of the Italians, were much more active in literary futurism, openly disdained war (but embraced the Russian Revolution whole heartedly as the dawn of a new era and the end of the old) and denied influence from ANYbody, not even Marinetti, the Italian founder of Futurism, himself.

In fact, when Marinetti visited Russia the Russian Futurists messed with him at every turn and declared they owed him nothing.

The Russian Futurists embraced both the Revolution and Communism when it came and Futurism thrived briefly under Communism before being engulfed and absorbed by the Communist style which would emerge triumphant and which we can all still picture today.

The Russian Futurists even made some Futurist Opera. You know how much i love you. You know that i wouldn’t leave the 3 of you who are still interested in these Futurist posts hanging in morbid curiosity as to what on earth Futurist Opera from 1913 is like. Well, it’s like this:


Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Futurist Architecture

Rendering based on Antonio Sant’Elia

The first wave of Futurists, the Italians from 1909 until WWI sparked a lot of fires with their vision of bold, vehemently modern, machine and industry industry loving, confrontationally daring art. One such fire was in the field of architecture.

Futurist architecture is often characterized “by anti-historicism, strong chromaticism, and long dynamic lines, suggesting speed, motion, urgency and lyricism”

Naturally there had to be a manifesto not just on Futurism (as we saw yesterday) but specifically on Futurist Architecture, which Futurism’s founder Filippo Marinetti also had a strong hand in writing along with Antonio Sant’Elia. Truth be told, Marinetti LOVED writing manifestos. He wrote a pile of them for various Futurist endeavors.

However, far more important to the birth of Futurist Architecture was the aforementioned Antonio Sant’Elia, a builder who became a designer whose vision of architecture encompassed and inspired Futurist ideals.

Antonio Sant’Elia

Let us take a brief look at part of that initial manifesto:

“No architecture has existed since 1700. A moronic mixture of the most various stylistic elements used to mask the skeletons of modern houses is called modern architecture. The new beauty of cement and iron are profaned by the superimposition of motley decorative incrustations that cannot be justified either by constructive necessity or by our (modern) taste, and whose origins are in Egyptian, Indian or Byzantine antiquity and in that idiotic flowering of stupidity and impotence that took the name of neoclassicism.

These architectonic prostitutions are welcomed in Italy, and rapacious alien ineptitude is passed off as talented invention and as extremely up-to-date architecture. Young Italian architects (those who borrow originality from clandestine and compulsive devouring of art journals) flaunt their talents in the new quarters of our towns, where a hilarious salad of little ogival columns, seventeenth-century foliation, Gothic pointed arches, Egyptian pilasters, rococo scrolls, fifteenth-century cherubs, swollen caryatids, take the place of style in all seriousness, and presumptuously put on monumental airs.They persevere obstinately with the rules of Vitruvius, Vignola and Sansovino plus gleanings from any published scrap of information on German architecture that happens to be at hand. Using these, they continue to stamp the image of imbecility on our cities, our cities which should be the immediate and faithful projection of ourselves.

And so this expressive and synthetic art has become in their hands a vacuous stylistic exercise, a jumble of ill-mixed formulae to disguise a run-of-the-mill traditionalist box of bricks and stone as a modern building. As if we who are accumulators and generators of movement, with all our added mechanical limbs, with all the noise and speed of our life, could live in streets built for the needs of men four, five or six centuries ago.”

Alas, Sant’Elia did not actually live to see many of his designs become buildings. He was one of the many prominent Futurists who went marching heartily into the jaws of WWI never to march out.

Antonio Sant’Elia

However the banner of Futurist Architecture was picked up and carried onwards by not only successive designers but naturally, successive manifestos. There were at least three more of them, one in 1920, another in 1931 and still another in 1934.

The 1920 manifesto was written by Virgilio Marchi. Here is an example of his design:

Futurism eventually became associated with fascism and the Eastern Bloc. This is no accident. Remember how Marinetti loved to write manifestos? Well, another of his babies is the 1919 Fascist Manifesto. He had strong ties to the Italian Fascist party although his relationship with the Italian Fascists could be stormy. Many prominent fascist architects were indeed futurists, notably among them Angiolo Mazzoni

Angiolo Mazzoni

Futurism never became the official architecture of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, despite Marinetti’s never ending attempts, mostly because “Mussolini was personally uninterested in art and chose to give patronage to numerous styles in order to keep artists loyal to the regime”, but there is no question that it dominated Fascist Italy and had great impact upon the Soviet bloc and Balkans after WWII.

Hugh Ferriss

In the West, Futurism evolved. It became Art Deco. Later, the Googie movement was an evolution of Futurism, as was space age and neo futurism.  It continues to evolve today, although in a much smoother, more lush way:


Posted by on August 19, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Italian Futurism

As we here at The Steampunk Opera blog are interested in all aspects of the past imagining the future, the time has come to turn our wayward attention to the early 20th century art movement that named itself after the very future itself, Futurism!

Materia by Umberto Boccioni, 1912

Futurism began in Italy in 1909. It was an attempt to throw off the confines of the Victorian era, to embrace change, the future, the power of industry, acceleration, the thrill of speed, the challeng and excitement of conflict and the glory of war. It saw a tumultuous, fast changing, industrial future and wished to embrace it with great aggression. It wanted the young, the strong to celebrate humanity’s triumph of technology over nature.

In 1909 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto. I believe there is evidence that during the 19th to mid 20th century no one so much as redecorated their wardrobe without releasing a manifesto to announce the philosophy behind their intentions. In any case, the Futurist Manifesto attracted both attention and followers and the Futurist movement was born.

Speeding Automobile by Giacomo Balla, 1912

Here are some highlights of the Manifesto:


1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.

9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.

10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

Number 9 is of course very interesting and we will touch upon their intense patriotism and love of violence and war in just a second.

Funeral of the Anarchist Galli by Carlo Carrà, 1911

From an artistic standpoint they embraced ” universal dynamism”. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings. How to best represent this was debated and they attempted paintings in a Divisionist style. Divisionism is a method you probably know through the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat, in which the entire painting is made up of dots of color which the eye puts together into a picture.

However this style was several decades old by this point, hardly a method of the future and the Futurists were derided by some as backwards. Hence, one of their leading painters, Gino Severini headed off to Paris, the mecca of the avante garde art world to see what was up. He discovered Cubism and thus the Futurist love of Cubism was born.

The Galleria in Milan by Carlo Carrà, 1912

The movement became enormously vibrant, not only in painting but in sculpture, architecture and even music. They were serious about changing perception and developing utterly modern forms with no ties to the past. In music they threw off the shackles of tradition harmony, chords and instrumentation. One technique they embraced was imitating the sound of machines and industry as part of music, foreshadowing not only Industrial music, Stockhausen and John Cage, but also certainly A Steampunk Opera. We’ll touch upon architecture in a later post.

Their influence and obsession extended across Europe and into America. Russia had its own particular Russian Futurism, an offshoot based on a mistranslation who disavowed all connection with Italian futurism’s founder Marinetti and which we’ll get into tomorrow.

By 1914 the Futurists got even more political They openly embraced violence and were extremely patriotic. They began campaigning heavily for and against certain politicians and paritcularly against the Austria Hungarian Empire. They championed war and when it came they were delighted. Most futurists enlisted immediately and marched happily into World War I.

They all died of course and there was the end of the first wave of Italian Futurism.


Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Legendary Sunken City of Kitezh

Across the world there are many tales of towns or cities hidden by a lake, an ocean or watery mists. The Welsh have Tyno Helig, we all know Atlantis, Avalon, even the Scottish Brigadoon…. come to think of it a lot of these come from the British Isles, which makes sense being island nations. In any case today we look at a Russian take on the lost and sunken city meme: Kitezh.

The legend states that Kitezh lay on the shores of Lake Svetloyar in central Russia. It was technically the second town of Kitezh, the bigger one called Bolshoy Kitezh or Big Kitezh. The first was its smaller and less glorious sister town Maly Kitezh or Little Kitezh. The town was beautiful, the Lake magical, etc etc.

Then came the Mongols.

The Tartars specifically. The Tartars were an ethnic subdivision of the Mongols, a Turkish people living in the Eurasian Steppes who were swallowed up by Ghengis Khan and integrated into the great Mongol Horde which ravaged Asia, the Middle East and Central Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries.

So one day Batu Khan was giving the Russian lands a good buggering when he heard about the beauty of Kitezh and decided… you know.. to see it and pillage it. He found Little Kitezh and after taking it and desperately trying to get someone to tell him how to get to the bigger Kitezh he was finally was told by a cowardly drunkard of a secret path to Lake Svetloyar.

The Mongol hordes raced to Kitezh. When they arrived they found the beautiful town didn’t possess a single fortification, nor were the townsfolk preparing to defend it in any way. They were simply praying fervently.

The Tartars looked at each other, shrugged and proceeded to enter Kitezh when suddenly water from the Lake began spouting in great gusts from beneath the town. As they retreated and watched, the Lake rose and swallowed Kitezh. As the city submerged the last thing seen was the cross at the top of the Church standing above the water until finally, it too disappeared beneath the Lake.

However, Kitezh is still there and its people still alive. The town and people live at the bottom of the Lake, but only the true of heart and pious can find it or see the lights and hear the singing and processions that emanate from sunken, holy Kitezh. In perfectly calm weather you may even be able to hear the beautiful sounds of bells ringing from beneath the water where Kitezh lives ever on.

In some versions Kitezh sinks before the Tartars arrive and they find just an empty lake, but they hear the magnificent sound of bells and music from under the lake and are driven mad by the incomprehensible beauty.

So that’s nice, right? Lovely legend, that.


Legends of a lost or sunken city around Lake Svetloyar go back to medieval times. However it wasn’t until the 1700s that the legend of Kitezh as we know it first appeared in print in a book called the Kitezh Chronicle. The book is anonymous but it was written by a member of the Old Believers.

The Old Believers are a sect of Russian Orthodox Christianty that are actually still around today. In the mid 1600s the Russian Orthodox Church enacted a series of reforms and changes to liturgy in order to more closely align it to the original Greek Orthodox texts and rituals. The Old Believers disagreed with these changes, split with the Church and declared the arrival of the Antichrist. Many were persecuted, tortured and executed by the Church/State apparatus which was Tsarist Russia at the time, but the sect still managed to keep going. Finally at the beginning of the 20th century, 1905, the persecutions ended, with Tsar Nicholas granting them religious freedom. This of course lasted all of 12 years as Communism arrive in 1917 and eventually religion became illegal and devout Orthodox of all types were systematically killed and persecuted into declared unbelief.

Old Believers kickin’ it old school style

In the story of Kitezh are numerous religious themes:the hidden glory of Gd’s Kingdom; the invisible pious; the terrible wonder of Gd for the unbelievers, who cannot take the beautiful and unearthly sounds of Kitezh’s bells and music emanating from the lake; the journey of the spiritual pilgrim to an unseen and unknown land of glory.

The legend of Kitezh was made into an opera by Russian musical Master Rimsky-Korsakov and is considered by many, espcially within Russia, to be his finest opera. You may if you wish watch an entire production of it right here:

The last detail of interest here is that in 2011 a team of archaeologists found traces of an ancient settlement on the hillside next to the Lake, a hillside prone to landslides where it is indeed within reason to hypothesize that an ancient village may have indeed been swallowed at the spot giving rise to a legend that would one day become Kitezh.


Posted by on August 5, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Lost City of Nan Madol

We recently covered the mythical lost city (lost country more like) of Aghartha so it might be nice to feature some actual, real life lost cities. Nan Madol fits the bill nicely.

Nan Madol is located on the island of Pohnpei, an island in a group of island states called The Federated States of Micronesia which lay in the Western Pacific Ocean.

Nan Madol has long been abandoned to the jungle, overgrown for centuries but in its heyday was one of the most impressive places in the South Seas. It was the center of the Saudeleur dynasty, which united about 25,000 people across Pohnpei until its final fall in about 1628.The city had temples, tombs and house platforms separated by a maze of canals and protected by a wall around the city. The architectural impressiveness of the place is made more poignant by the fact that it was built without mortar, with tools capable of sculpting stone, and no knowledge of the arch or vault.

It’s essentially a great temple complex. A Forbidden City. Nowdays of course the jungle has reclaimed it.

The native Ponapean legends of the city correspond quite decently with carbon dating and other investigations and are considered to probably be broadly accurate.

As the legend goes, two brothers, Olsihpa and Olsohpa came to the island in a canoe (twin sorcerers) and became the island’s rulers. (They may have been shipwrecked Polypenisians whose civilization was already familair with using stone to build.) They set about to build a great stone temple in which they could worship their god of agriculture Nahnisohn Sahpw, but more to the point which would also function as a protected seat of power from which to rule. Their first 3 attempts failed but their fourth try, Nan Madol, became the capital.

Eventually Olsipha died and Olsohpa became the first king or Saudeleur. 15 generations of Saudeleurs followed but in the reign of the 16th, when the culture had become soft, a war chief, Isokelekel, from a far western island called Kusaie invaded and founded a new dynasty. This dynasty was much shorter. 5 Saudeleurs later the city was abandoned to the jungle.

Half the city is currently underwater.

The Nan Madol complex worked very well to isolate the rulers and ruling chiefs and priests from the populace. It was virtually unconquerable and the Saudeleurs would also require various chiefs, certainly potential rivals, to reside there for periods, thus keeping them closely monitored and in line. There is no fresh food or water in Nan Madol, it must be brought in from the outside and boats would deliver them at set points of the day. The Saudeleur would get his food at a particular inlet.

It is possible that the city was abandoned in part because of the new ruling dynasty’s troubles gathering their own water and growing their own food. Five rulers into it they may very well have decided it was more trouble then it was worth.

For awhile Nan Madol was used by various wishful thinking esotericists to elucidate a theory about Mu, that infamous lost continent (which we’ll get around to discussing here one of these days). Nan Madol has been claimed to be a lost “Muvian metropolis” but as the actual history of the city is more and more clear and established this is happening less and less.

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Posted by on August 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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What is Aghartha? (Other than an awesome live Miles Davis dark funk album)

Aghartha is a mythical hidden city somewhere under the Earth, usually somewhere in Asia. It’s often confused or even merged with Shambhala, another hidden city in Buddist lore. It’s quite the fixture in a great deal of New Agey and far out conspiracy thought, and like most staples in alternative spirituality has its roots in the Victorian Age.

Aghartha began as a rip of Shambhala, but instead of being centered around Asiatic mythology was instead constructed along Western Nordic mythology of which Wagner’s The Ring Cycle was a huge influence.

During the 1860s and 70s a writer named Louis Jacolliot, a French official living in Chandernagore, India wrote and published a number of books in which he combined his endless fascination in Western Occultism with bits and pieces of Hindu and Buddist myths. His claims were wild and imaginative but not accurate in any way towards Hindu, Buddist or Eastern thought. In fact his main activity was to use tidbits of whatever he picked up in the East to weave into a pastiche of ideas mostly dominated by western esotericism. He is quoted by Blavatsy and both his ideas on Aghartha as well as the Ascended Masters were brought into the Theosophical fold. Like everything else in Theosophy they wound up in New Age thought.

So, in 1871 Jacolliot published The Son of God in which he goes through the 15,000 year history of India as told to him by a wise Brahman. Except this “history” has nothing whatsoever to do with actual Indian or Hindu history or myths and everything to do with the Nordic myths that were all the rage in Europe thanks to Wagner and his epic Ring Cycle. “Agartta” is merely Asgard, with an ‘a’ added at the end to make it sound like a Sanskrit word.

A few years later, in 1886 Aghartha was picked up again and expanded upon by French occultist Alexandre Saint-Yves d’Alveydre who we will call Saint-Yves. He had been exposed to Jacolliot’s book through an Indian parrot shop owner who taught him some Sanskrit and stuff from Jacolliot’s book.

Saint-Yves d’Alveydre

Saint-Yves published The Mission of India in Europe in which he recounts his many adventures visiting the hidden city of Agartta by astral travel. Deep underground the Himalayas Agartta teams with life, populated by millions of humans more technologically and spiritually advanced than their above earth counterparts. They are ruled by a Sovereign Pontiff, posses lots of incredible mystical powers and are waiting to share their knowledge with us once we advance and “Christianity lives up to the commandments which were once drafted by Moses and Jesus.”  “When the Anarchy which exists in our world is replaced by the Synarchy.”

Saint-Yves’ pet political philosophy was Synarchy,  that is: “social differentiation and hierarchy with collaboration between social classes, transcending conflict between social and economic groups: synarchy, as opposed to anarchy. Specifically, Saint-Yves envisioned a Federal Europe (as well as all the states it has integrated) with a corporatist government composed of three councils, one for academia, one for the judiciary, and one for commerce. Just in case you were wondering.

Hidden City by Patricia Allingham

Still with me? Good. We now say goodbye to Saint-Yves as he bows off the world stage and say hello to Polish adventurer Ferdinand Ossendowski. Ferdinand Ossendowski is an absolutely fascinating man and it is unfortunate that we do not have time to delve into him too deeply today, but suffice to say he was in and out of Russia during the Russian Revolution, engaged in various anti-Revolutionary activities despite the fact that had a rocky history with the Imperialist government.

Regardless, when the Communists finally won Ossendowski and a group of Poles and White Russians escaped through SIberia into Mongola, Tibet and finally into Chinese controlled Mongolia where they were finally halted by Chinese Mongolia’s takeover by a mystic named Baron Roman Ungern von Sternberg (aka The Bloody Baron) who considered himself to be a reincarnation of the god of war. Ossendowski joined the baron’s army as a commanding officer of one of the self-defense troops and also briefly became The Baron’s political advisor and chief of intelligence.

Ferdinand Ossendowski, all in all kind of a badass.

What on earth does this have to do with anything? Well AFTER all this he returned to Poland and in 1922 wrote a book called Beasts, Gods and Men. In it he talks about all of his many adventures wandering the Asiatic landscape. In the first three chapters however, he lifts almost verbatum portions of Saint Yves’ ramblings on Agartta. He called it Agarti and with his book an international bestseller it stamped Aghartha onto the popular landscape indelibly.

In the 1940s editor Raymand Palmer at Amazing Stories published a myriad of fantastic tales involving Aghartha and when the New Age movement came around in the 70s and 80s, they went hog wild with it and have never let go. An example for instance would be this.

And there you have it. A wondrous hidden city, a fantastic, age old meme, borrowed from the Tibetans and reworked by some creative minds to embody the fanciful imaginations if not occasionally credulous belief systems of a century of westerners.


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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Uncategorized


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