babel blog


A Bach Christmas
September 4, 2008, 9:34 pm
Filed under: alphabet, music

OK it’s not quite Christmas but it is quite cold here in Manchester. However, my dad came to visit and insisted on playing JS Bach as loud as possible on my freecycle-acquired Wharfdales and I remembered this fantastic series that the Beeb had on radio 3 at christmas 2005. It was called A Bach Christmas and they played the entire complete works of Bach over the weeks leading to Christmas. And, yes I know ‘entire complete’ is tautologous but I wanted to emphasise just how impressed I was that they really did air the whole of JSB’s prodigious output. Not only this, but some inspired mind created the Bach Alphabet – everything from Art of fuge to Zimmerman’s coffee house, it was Quiddity heaven. The entry for Q is quotations, here’s a couple of my favourites:

A village organist on finding Bach playing his organ: ‘This can only be the devil or Bach himself‘.

Douglas Adams: ‘I don’t think a greater genius has walked the earth. Of the 3 great composers Mozart tells us what it’s like to be human, Beethoven tells us what it’s like to be Beethoven and Bach tells us what it’s like to be the universe.’

Bach didn’t write for guitar (my preferred instrument) however he wrote for Lute and many adaptations have been made. Here is some footage of one of my favourite Spanish guitarists, Narciso Yepes, playing Bach on his famous 10 string guitar. The quality of the sound is quite poor but you must be forgiving as this recording is from 1979 and is therefore extremely old (indeed as old as my good self!)

And now I have indulged myself by showing a Yepes video, I cannot resist posting this footage of Segovia. Video footage of Segovia is rare and frequently removed from youtube by the copyrighters – enjoy it while it lasts! In fact listening to this makes me think Segovia is the better guitarist – he makes it sound too easy!



Cantillated Dictionary Extract
August 10, 2008, 11:21 pm
Filed under: alphabet, text

Cantillation is the chanting or singing of liturgical texts. It’s usually found within Jewish or Christian religious traditions, however this sung dictionary extract I found on youtube shows that singing text works quite well for secular literature too!

There is a story from the mystical Hebrew tradition Kabbalah, that god created the world from language. Here language is not just seen as a vehicle for conveying god’s thoughts, but also as the fabric of the universe:

language is the very stuff of creation, and grammar the way in which it is formed

Sefer Yetzirah

If you’re fond of mixing your mysticisms, you can go to the Kabbalah yoga website where there’s an applet which will transliterate your name into Hebrew and thence into a series of yoga postures.



Examples of Fantastic Graffiti
July 27, 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: alphabet, art, text

"Q" by Eine

"Q" by Eine


I’ve recently been feeding my obsession with all things textual by considering the role of text within graffiti. From the story in Daniel where King Belshazzar’s doom is spelled out by the cryptic message “mene mene tekel parsin”, through to Life of Brian’s “Romanes eunt domus” scene and beyond, illicitly writing on walls seems to be a good way of getting your message across. Sometimes, text is valued for its artistic merits and its message is beyond the conventional linguistic meaning. Eine is an artist who clearly values letters for both meaning and form and specialises in writing on walls and other public places. Eine’s alphabet series is written on various shop-shutters in the East End of London. Nighttime photographs of the complete alphabet can be viewed here, and on this page (whence I stole the above ‘Q’) a devoted fan has compiled the letters into a ‘rude word search’ – most amusing. Eine also uses his distinctive font to leave messages – vandalism is my favourite.