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#5 Anonymous listening
Congrats to Olivier Van D’huynslager of Design Museum Ghent and his team and collaborators on starting their new and exciting ‘CoGhent’ project. Design Museum Ghent has a long experience in making digital culture work for real people. Their upcoming project promises to make collections a force for good in society. I interviewed Olivier for the Europeana Pro blog about his experience and the new project.
Thank you all so much for the book recommendations, which I’ve added diligently to GoodReads. This week I read Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and the Dutch summer read of 2020 about a man, his dog, and lust for life. Currently, I’m reading up on globalization. The post brought a delayed order of Louise Callaghan’s Father of Lions and the third book in Robert Caro’s LBJ biography, which I committed to reading in its entirety this year. All I mean to say it may be a while before I get to reading your recommendations, but I will!
I’m just back from my holiday. Apart from books, I had the chance to catch up on podcasts. I discovered podcasts in the early 2000s and then completely forgot about them until last year. Now, I cannot get enough, so like last week, if you have recommendations, I’d love to hear about them! (I listen as eclectically as I read.)
What I love about podcasts is that they allow me to get completely absorbed in geeky topics anonymously. For instance, I very much like Twenty Thousand Hertz, a podcast about sound and sound design. Whereas while I was reading David Byrne’s How Music Works, I felt self-conscious about being perceived as a wannabe music critic, nobody can see I’m listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz and not the latest song by Rosalía.
As it is summer, Twenty Thousand Hertz republished a fan-favorite episode about the Wilhelm Scream. The Wilhelm Scream is Holywood’s most famous scream. It appears in thousands of movies, commercials, short films, and other cultural expressions. The sound effect has grown to be something more meaningful: an artistic and creative connector:
It’s sort of a way of communicating with others in our craft, also. It’s like a way of saying hi. One of my dear friends, another Oscar winner, Dave Stone, he equated it to dogs on a fire hydrant. And other dogs would come by and “Oh yeah, Sam’s been here.”
While we’re on to music and sound, another niche but definitely excellent podcast if you ask me is Meet the Symphony of the National Art Centre in Canada. In every episode, Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer explore one classical composition or composer in-depth. For me, every episode is a roller-coaster of new ideas and a new understanding of the art and craft and cultural significance of classical music. Listen to the episode on Verdi’s Requiem or the episode about Mozart and religion if you want to get started with this podcast.
99% invisible’s podcast was about the Valley of the Fallen — or Valle de los Caídos — Spain’s deeply problematic monument to the victims of its Civil War and the fascist dictator Fransisco Franco. I’ve been to the Valley once, and I still feel it’s the closest I ever felt to genuine evil. The site is enormous, dark, and its history and present are bloody and contentious.
Internationally, Spain’s Civil War is mostly a cultural affair. It’s the stage for famous works of art: The Guernica, Capa’s The Falling Soldier, Homage to Catalunya, and For Whom the Bell Tolls, to name just a few. In the country itself, it is still a deeply divisive event to the extent that it is not spoken about unless you’re really, really sure about which side a person’s family supported all these decades ago. The war’s impact was cemented by four decades of fascist rule, which only came to an end because of the democratic bravery of an unelected monarch.
In the years I lived in Spain, I tried to understand the Civil War, Franco’s rule, and Spain’s curious relationship with democracy. I failed to understand why my friends joined protests for pro-fascist causes, how the Guardia Civil still has the Fasces as a symbol, and in the offices of clients in Madrid’s wealthy Salamanca district, there were fascist paraphernalia on proud display. I read countless books on the conflict — “never read one,” a friend warned, “you need to read a book written by every side in the conflict.” There were many sides.
“New democracies do not solve old problems,” a guest in the podcast says. The split caused by the Civil War and formalized by the dictatorship may take decades of decisive, constructive action to heal. To heal, you need to remember. For a long time, remembering was discouraged by law in Spain. Still, contemporary history is not taught in schools. “España es el país de la desmemoria,” a guest says: Spain is the country of amnesia. Sites like the Valley of the Fallen help us remember, but only if and when they are interpreted and presented correctly, honestly, full of context. Instead of a place of dread, then it may be a place of hope.
Sunday morning, I was surprised to hear Auke-Florian Hiemstra on public radio, talking about coots and Peter Godfrey-Smith’s book Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. The book is excellent, but I was mostly surprised by Auke-Florian’s view on the coot, a bird I particularly disliked. Much of Auke-Florian’s work is focused on animals in a human context: the city, pollution, etc. This is also how we’ve met a couple of times. The coot has adapted really well to living in a polluted, human context. They build their nests with windshield wipers, ice-cream wrappers, and other plastic they find everywhere. We can learn a thing or two from coots about reusing our waste.
I’ve listened to so many podcasts over the past weeks that I forgot to do the usual thing I do on holiday: get addicted to a silly little indie iOS game. Better luck next year!
Now it’s back to work. You can expect the next updates to be more like the first ones, although I’m still finding my voice. Thank you for all your replies and feedback, it means the world to me and helps me create updates that matter. I hope you’re safe and well wherever you are in the world.
I didn’t write about kids creating anti-TikTok-posters, pollution art, discovering a new running route, the crashed aircraft museum, the beach, offensive out-of-office messages, or kind coffees send from half the world away. All that, and more, next time.