The Thirteenth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend
The Thirteenth Best Email We Wrote This Past Weekend: HMM WEEKLY PREMIUM for April 9, 2019
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LAST WEEK ON HMM DAILY
While we were waiting for a loyal reader, or readers, to sign on as a Royal Patron of Hmm Daily, and thereby to claim the reward of having a quartet composed in their honor by our eleven-year-old transit (and emoji) blogger, he went ahead and wrote a piece for the New York Philharmonic, which premiered it this past weekend. We were not kidding about the composing option. (We are also not kidding about the terra cotta warriors, if anyone wants to go even bigger.)
Among other things, this meant that I ended up hearing the same Philharmonic program five times through, including rehearsal, in less than 60 hours. It was a good program—the concerts were the orchestra's community outreach shows, with $5 tickets, and so they were built around playing the hits (the Allegro con brio from Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, Ride of the Valkyries) with unifying themes of Philharmonic history (Leonard Bernstein, Steven Stucky) and egalitarianism (Aaron Copland's The Promise of Living, Ode to Joy), along with a pair of works from the Very Young Composers program, including the one by Hmm Daily's transit blogger. Sitting in the near-empty hall for the rehearsal, without hundreds of other bodies to absorb the immense sound, felt like being in an enclosed space with some large and not reliably tame animal.
It wasn't just the loud sections, either; the quiet parts at the end of Stucky's Elegy, from August 4, 1964, trembled in the vacant space as if they might recede forever without vanishing. The sound lingered beautifully in the hush of the crowd in the real concerts, too, but without quite the same eeriness.
At different points in different performances, the eye found new things to notice: the flurrying of mallets from the tympanist during the Star Wars theme, played as encore; another percussionist, in the midst of the swirl of Copland's Hoe-Down, picking up the triangle as slowly and deliberately as if handling nuclear material.
I became aware, during one stretch, of two musicians sitting inactive, behind the strings and toward stage right, while the rest of the orchestra played and played. One of them radiated complete stillness; the other had the air of waiting for a subway train without a countdown clock. I kept checking back, and they kept not playing.
Then came Bernstein's Overture to Candide, from the beginning of his Philharmonic conducting career, in which the composer was audibly working through his excitement at being able to put an orchestra through its paces. The music rattled back and forth around the stage, back and front, and: the tranquil musician had a piccolo in her hands, raised to her mouth, sending out a bright sharp needle of melody to stitch the whole thing together. An orchestra is an entity that needs every part.
The other musician still didn't move, though, not through the Overture or anything else I could see, until the penultimate—antepenultimate, if you knew to count the unlisted but scripted Star Wars encore—piece, Ride of the Valkyries, when the whole howling troop of supernatural war-maidens saddled up and with them the piccolo and...another piccolo. Sound-daggers! Winds and brass slashing everywhere! For the first concert, we'd had to duck out of our box when the Valkyries were riding, so that we could be witnessed by a camera crew as we greeted and congratulated our Very Young Composer, before he turned around and went back downstairs to wait for the final bows. All the other times, he just hung out backstage and we stayed in our seats, while the Valkyries or trombones battered the hall into a state of awe.
HERE IS A PHOTOGRAPH OF THE SKY
Our ongoing series of Nineteen Folktales is paused for one week, while our illustrator, Jim Cooke, attends Opening Day at Fenway Park.
In place of Folktales this week, we present a brief selection of Spam Filter Letters to the Awl. For five and a half years, every weekday, I wrote a brief review of the previous day's weather for the Awl. Each review was accompanied by a photograph of the sky from the day being reviewed, cropped to 640 by 361 pixels, to match the output dimensions of the cameraphone I had been using when I started reviewing the weather.
For reasons having to do with WordPress permissions or technological failure or my own incompetence, I was able to put the text of the reviews into the CMS, but I needed one of the editors to post the photograph for me. So each day I would email the Awl the photograph with a message saying "filed," to let them know the review was ready.
This worked until May of 2014, when Matt Buchanan and John Herrman became the new editors of the Awl, and my terse messages failed to reach them. Our best guess was that their spam filters were rejecting my emails, and therefore each day I began composing a dummy email to go with each photo, in the hopes it would look like I was a real person sending a real message—which I already was, but not in a way that the computers would understand. It worked, or it didn't fail to work, and so I kept doing it until the site migrated to Medium and I could post my own photos. By then, the accumulated messages added up to some 80,000 words. Here is an extremely small sampling of them:
Subject: I have filed a review of yesterday's weather
To: Awl notes
And I am putting some extra text into this message in the hopes that your filters will not reject it out of hand the way they rejected yesterday's message, on the hypothesis that the brevity and monotony of my previous messages had convinced the software that I was not actually sending you anything.
Subject: Once again, I will be supplementing this message
To: Awl notes
with a bit of text in the hopes of keeping the algorithms for mistaking our easy, routine interactions for perfunctory and unwanted ones. So a draft of the review of yesterday's weather is in the system, and I have attached a photograph of the sky, which was blue, to illustrate that review.
Subject: The problem of needing to act like a human being,
To: Awl notes
so as not to be defeated by a machine's counter-machine vigilance, feels sometimes exactly like the problem of buying liquor after having turned 21. Act natural, one tells oneself, despite the fact that the natural self should theoretically not need to act like anything, but simply BE. And yet one stammers at the clerk or looks blankly at the captcha, unable to produce this simple non-production. Here is a photograph to go with the review that is in the system.
Subject: Here again is a photograph
To: Awl notes
that I have taken, to accompany the review that his been filed, in another flurry of repetitive activity but, pace the filters and the advances in automated technology, a human form of repetitive activity, whose humanness can be seen, for one thing, in the inconsistency and lateness of its timing.
To: Awl notes
drove his steel, laboring against the machine, giving over his body to the proposition that human will and animate flesh were irreplaceable and would claim the ultimate victory. He believed that he prevailed; he would settle for nothing less than to prevail. And that exertion of will--victory!--destroyed his body, and, he died, and now machines dig all the tunnels. Attached, to accompany today's review of yesterday's weather, is a photograph, if the filters will accept it.
Subject: It seems particularly galling
To: Awl notes
that one has to prove one's humanity when one is also stuck putting on sunscreen to go outside. What could be more obviously non-virtual than that particular necessity? Not just a fingerprint, but a fingerprint in greasy white on the shiny glass screen of the device.
The Folktales will resume in the next edition of Hmm Weekly.
We present here for your continued delectation five more archaic but functional recipes for sandwiches, hand-picked from The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published in 1909 and now in the public domain, along with the lovely image accompanying our selections, Roses and Nasturtiums in a Vase by Henri Fantin-Latour.
Whip a cup of cream until stiff, stir in minced cold shrimp, a little parsley, a dash of salt and pepper. Spread mixture between thin slices of white or graham bread. Garnish with an olive.
DUTCH LUNCH SANDWICH
Take two square salted crackers and place on one two thin slices of Bermuda onion, next a layer of sardines and squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over all; then put remaining cracker (buttered) on top. Salmon may be substituted.
STRING BEAN SANDWICH
Cook string beans until tender; when cold, cut in small pieces, add a chopped onion, and a few chopped English walnut meats. Mix with a little French dressing and spread between lightly buttered slices of white bread, with a crisp lettuce leaf between.
HOT CREAMED CODFISH SANDWICH
Between toasted and lightly buttered slices of white bread place hot creamed codfish. Put a tablespoonful of the codfish on top and sprinkle finely chopped hard-boiled egg over the codfish and garnish with a sprig of parsley and a pickle. Serve as soon as made.
Spread thin slices of lightly buttered white bread with mayonnaise dressing; place nasturtium blossoms overlapping one another half way; roll up the sandwich and fasten with a toothpick.
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