Friday, July 6, 2018

Erik Satie, Composer of the "Belle Epoque".

The Parisian avant-garde composer Erik Satie (1866-1925), whose Gymnopedie is featured on Aerostat's La Belle Epoque album, is generally regarded as a foundational modern musician whose compositional forms have been widely imitated in classical, jazz, pop, and other styles. His work is considered to be a precursor to 20th-century movements such as surrealism, minimalism and the "Theatre of the Absurd".



His love of experimentation and the unexpected in his compositions was also reflected in his personal life, as evidenced by some of his more eccentric habits:

-- He composed one piece, titled Vexations, that consisted of a single bass phrase to be repeated 840 times. Satie advised anyone who attempted to play the work in full that "it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, through serious immobility." The first known complete public performance of Vexations took place in 1963 under the direction of John Cage (another well known experimental composer).

-- He founded his own religious sect, Église Métropolitaine d’Art de Jésus Conducteur, after a falling-out with a friend who had founded a sect known as the Mystical Order of the Rose and Cross of the Temple and Grail. Satie was the only known member of this sect.

-- Long before "elevator music" was invented, Satie created what he called "furniture music". In 1902 he staged a performance in a Paris art gallery, intended to serve merely as a background while the audience turned its attention elsewhere. He asked the audience beforehand to ignore his performance and carry on with their usual activities, but, perhaps out of habit, they politely hushed when the performance began.

-- He didn't consider himself a musician or composer, but a "photometrographer" whose ideas were entirely based on the science of phonology, or the study of sound. "Science is the dominating factor," he wrote. "I think I can say that phonology is superior to music. There's more variety to it. The financial return is greater too."

More fascinating facts about Satie can be found here. 


Thursday, June 28, 2018

"La Belle Epoque"

"La Belle Epoque" or "The Beautiful Era", a term adopted by the French to refer to the years between the Franco-Prussian War and the outbreak of World War I (1870-1914), expresses nostalgia for a time of (relative) peace, prosperity, and progress before the devastation of the "Great War". 




Aerostat's La Belle Epoque

Throughout much of the Western world, these were generally years of economic prosperity, groundbreaking scientific and technological advancement, and innovation in art and music. La Belle Epoque coincides or overlaps the Victorian and Edwardian eras in Britain, the Wilhelmine era in Germany, the Porfiriato in Mexico, and the Gilded Age in America. 

During this era, wealth and progress were publicly celebrated as never before. Inventors such as Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell became household names. Fortunes were made in industries such as railroads, mining, banking, iron and steel production. Monuments such as the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty were built, as well as lavish public buildings and private estates. 




"World's Fairs" showing off the achievements of the participating nations included the Exposition Universelle (Paris, 1889 and 1900), World's Columbian Exposition (Chicago, 1893), the Brussels International Exposition (1897) and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (St. Louis, 1904). Each of these events was a celebration of the past and present as well as the future; for example, the 1889 Paris Exposition marked the centennial of the French Revolution, while transportation was provided by an innovative 3-kilometer narrow-gauge railway. Major cities such as Paris, New York and Chicago also grew exponentially during this period both geographically and in population. 




Innovators in Parisian art during this period include the painters Auguste Renoir, Henri de Tolouse-Lautrec, and Pablo Picasso. The Parisian avant-garde included composers such as Erik Satie and Claude Debussy, whose works are featured on Aerostat's "La Belle Epoque". 

Although severe social problems and unrest still existed during this period, eventually setting the stage for the wars and revolutions of the 20th century, the optimistic and adventurous spirit of the era lives on in its art, music and literature, and continues to inspire generations. 

For more background on this era, check out "10 Fascinating Facts about La Belle Epoque" at Five Minute History.












Thursday, June 14, 2018

Recap of recent events

Monroe St. Press recently participated in two of our favorite annual spring/summer events, Heroicon in Decatur, Ill., and Cog County Faire in Montello, Wis.

Heroicon, held May 4-6 at the Decatur Convention Center and Hotel, is a gathering of gaming enthusiasts that benefits the non-profit organization Games for Troops. This year there were a number of fictional and real life characters in attendance, including Iron Man....



Darth Vader...



Thor....



and Jack the Ripper (which is why I'm eyeing him with suspicion)



We also made a few new fans, including Jennifer (from Heroes of Legend Cosplay) and her soon to arrive son, who picked up a copy of our futuristic anthology Unto This Last.



Vendors present included Play to Beat Brain Cancer, from Olathe, Kansas, a non-profit that sells gaming items such as dice, boxes and bags as fundraisers for brain cancer treatment and research. Their website is ptbbc.org.



Heroes of Legend Cosplay, based in Decatur, stages appearances as Marvel, DC, Disney and other characters at venues such as parades, parties and children's hospitals. Their life-sized Iron Man and Wonder Woman costumes are quite impressive. If you'd like to hire one of their heroes, contact them at their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/HeroesOfLegendCosplay/




Also in attendance was GameChurch, a Christian ministry to gaming fans. As described by Rook (pictured), "we're here to tell you Jesus loves you and hand out free stuff" as well as overcome the perception that Christian faith and gaming don't mix. Its offerings included a summary of the Gospel of John in which the life and ministry of Christ are presented as the "ultimate quest to save a land known as Earth".




Our next event stop was Cog County Faire V, held June 1-3 at the White Lake Beach Resort near Montello, Wis., which we last attended in 2016. This event has an old-time county fair theme with vintage carnival games, a Victorian swimsuit contest, and live performances by musicians, storytellers, and others.

This event draws Steampunk fans from Wisconsin and neighboring states to enjoy some old-fashioned fun and show off their Steampunk gear.

Several Faire attendees bought copies of Angel of the Revolution and Syren of the Skies, including Jess, part of the Faire security team....



Gayle and Elliott, from Minneapolis-St. Paul....



Paul, from Madison....



and Daniel, from St. Louis.



We enjoyed making new friends and catching up with old friends at these events. Our thanks also to the organizers of these events, who put a LOT of work into making everyone feel welcome.

Monroe St. Press' next event will be the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Mo., on Labor Day weekend (Aug. 31-Sept. 3). See you there!










Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Monroe St. recording artist That That Is (TTI) has released their third album, Neidan. 

Neidan, the new album from TTI, brings you a whole lot of dance-centric rhythm with just a tinge of funk and a dab of experimental folk. Combining hard rock, electronic dance music, and classic Mandarin instruments, Neidan yields fresh-sounding songs with mass appeal — a true blend of techno-pop, folk, ambient and fusion. 

Check it out at thatthatis1.bandcamp.com 

Released May 8, 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A real-life Victorian horror story

For those of you who enjoyed reading Around the World in 72 Days, Monroe St. Press has released another work by the indomitable Nellie Bly that explores a much darker side of Victorian America.

Ten Days in a Mad-House recounts Bly's undercover investigation of conditions at the New York City insane asylum on Blackwell's Island (now Roosevelt Island) in 1887.

Bly, then 23 years old, had already left a newspaper job in Pittsburgh and in an effort to get hired by Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, proposed a daring story idea: she would pretend to be insane and get herself committed to the asylum so she could see for herself how its patients were being treated.

Under the name Nellie Brown, she checked into a boarding house, began acting "crazy" and claimed to have amnesia. Within days she had been hauled away by the police, declared insane by a judge and doctors and packed off to Blackwell's Island. For 10 days she witnessed, and experienced, the filth, neglect and abuse to which women patients were subjected by callous and largely untrained staff.


Her stories shocked readers, prompted improvements in the treatment of the mentally ill and remains a landmark in the history of investigative journalism.

Ten Days is priced at $5.99 and is available on the "History, Mystery and Miscellany" page at the Monroe St. Press website.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Idle Thoughts"

Our newest offering is Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow by British author Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927).

Published in 1886, this collection of reflections on daily life in late Victorian England helped establish Jerome's reputation as a humorist, and contains many observations that are as accurate today as when they were written more than 130 years ago.


For example, in the very first essay, "On Being Idle," Jerome makes an important distinction between being idle and being merely lazy:

  There are plenty of lazy people and plenty of slow-coaches, but a genuine idler is a rarity. He is not a man who slouches about with his hands in his pockets. On the contrary, his most startling characteristic is that he is always intensely busy.
  It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen. 
Other topics addressed in Idle Thoughts include food, drink, fashion, money, apartment hunting, weather, shyness, depression, pets, babies, and love. There are many reflections that are witty and poignant as well as humorous:

"Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once. One never need be afraid of catching it a second time."
"Each of us have an inborn conviction that the whole world, with everybody and everything in it, was created as a sort of necessary appendage to ourselves. Our fellow men and women were made to admire us and to minister to our various requirements.... I fear we are most of us like Mrs. Poyser's bantam cock, who fancied the sun got up every morning to hear him crow."
"If you are foolish enough to be contented, don't show it, but grumble with the rest; and if you can do with a little, ask for a great deal. Because if you don't, you won't get any.... If you can feel satisfied with a hundred, begin by insisting on a thousand; if you start by suggesting a hundred you will only get ten."
"I think it is only to us in cities that all weather is so unwelcome. In her own home, the country, Nature is sweet in all her moods... Weather in towns is like a skylark in a counting-house—out of place and in the way." 
The author, born Jerome Clapp Jerome in Caldmore, England, changed his middle name to Klapka, apparently in honor of a Hungarian military hero (Gyorgy Klapka). After dropping out of school at age 15 due to his family's financial straits, he worked for a railroad, joined a traveling acting troupe, and worked as a clerk and a teacher. His first reasonably successful book was On the Stage—and Off (1885), a memoir of his years as an actor. Idle Thoughts was published the following year.

His best known work is Three Men in a Boat (1889), a comical tale of a trip down the Thames River. Other works by Jerome include its sequel Three Men on the Bummel (1898), the autobiographical novel Paul Kelver (1902), and Diary of a Pilgrimage (1891). He also composed numerous essays, articles, and stage plays and published his autobiography, My Life and Times (1926), a year before his death at age 68.

Idle Thoughts is now available at our website.