One thing I like about the web is encountering people who have the same name as you. Every now and then, another Dan Mayer will contact me about the danmayer.com site asking to purchase it. One wrote, “I’m Dan Mayer, too… let’s chat!’ and left an AIM handle, but I didn’t think we’d have that much to talk about beyond than whether we like/dislike our mutual name, so I demurred.
Even my just-born son, Felix Mayer, already has a young virtual nemesis.
The New Yorker has a great article on giant Russian bells. From this comes details of Konstantin Saradzhev, Moscow’s most famous bell-ringer, who can hear in ‘microtones’ and whose contempt for the piano led him to refer to the instrument as “The well-tempered nitwit”.
If I hadn’t settled on the Mock Duck theme, I definitely would have called this blog The Well-Tempered Nitwit.
As for Konstantin Saradzhev, he was forgotten altogether – until the nineteen-seventies, when Anastasia Tsvetaeva, the sister of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, published a memoir about his life and fate. As it turns out, Saradzhev really was Moscow’s most famous bell ringer, known not just for ringing but also for his superhuman natural acuity: between two adjacent whole tones, he perceived not just one half tone but a half tone flanked on either side by a hundred and twenty-one flats and a hundred and twenty-two sharps.
When Saradzhev was seven years old, the sound of a particularly powerful church bell caused him to lose consciousness, and he was captivated for life. Although he was a skilled pianist, he always referred to the piano as “that well-tempered nitwit”: a piano can produce only twelve tones per octave, whereas Saradzhev perceived one thousand seven hundred and one. This sensitivity perhaps explains Saradzhev’s intense delight in Russian bells, which are unparalleled in their microtonal complexity. Each bell sounds a unique cloud of untempered frequencies, producing intervals unplayable on any twelve-tone keyboard. By such acoustic fingertips, Saradzhev could distinguish all four thousand of Moscow’s church bells. He described his hearing as “true pitch” (by contrast with perfect pitch). The capacity for true pitch, he said, lay dormant in all humans, and would someday be awakened. But in the meantime he was, like a superhero, cruelly isolated by his own powers. He spent more of his time working on a theory of the future of music that was incomprehensible to anyone who couldn’t hear a thousand or more distinct microtunes in an octave.
Mock duck is a gluten-based vegetarian food. It is generally made from wheat gluten and is thus high in protein. Its distinctive flavor and artificial “plucked duck” texture distinguish it from other forms of commercially available gluten products.
This is a shot I took on a highway in Oregon ten years ago.
The mood is similar to what my friends are doing over at Pinwheel.