The Night Air – vale old friend

Having been away for the last year, I’ve missed a lot of news and media. When it happens  in the smaller corners of the mediasphere, it can be hard to catch up in a timely manner.

As such, I’ve only just discovered that the long running show The Night Air from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Radio National is no longer running.

Subtitled “Radio abstraction for listening pleasure“, it was a wonderful mix of sounds and songs and spoken word around themes:

Animated by dub versions of ABC Radio National’s distinctive programming, obliquely connected material is re-assembled with sonic glue allowing the listener’s imagination to build a new story. The Night Air is a space to find the music in speech and the poetry in ideas, a show that invites you to take time to unravel the usual media tangle.

For my money, it was one of the most innovative, fascinating and must listen shows of the entire radio spectrum available to me – and being from Melbourne that includes some of Australia’s very best radio – Triple R, PBS and SYN. Traversing similar though different territory to People Like Us (playlists from WFMU, or check out Radio Boredcast which includes some excerpts from The Night Air) or Some Assembly Required, the demise of The Night Air marks the end of a decade rich in assembled sound. Vale, old friend, and thanks.

If you’ve never heard The Night Air, but have an interest, all shows are listed on the site, and every show from 2010 onwards is available for download. Some recent highlights include:

A Spoken Word Remix on the 44th President of the United States of America Recorded live in an off-Broadway theatre in New York City, Darian Dauchan’s award-winning work chronicles the period of Barack Obama’s candidacy, to presidency, to the present day – at the time of his second inauguration. The piece is a rhetorical conversation between African-American performance poet, Darian Dauchan, and Barack Obama, now the 45th President of the United States. This solo show consists of live-looped songs, beat-boxing and a collage of satirical poems and presidential soundbites.

Krautrock was a pulse, a spontaneous eruption from the depths of the post-war German psyche, a seminal moment in the birth of electronic music. Bands like Can, Neu, Harmonia, Amon Düül, Faust and of course Kraftwerk coalesced around a common desire to take rock music beyond the blues into a realm of pure improvisation and experimentation. In the process they became sonic prophets, messengers from the future. Tom Morton and Timothy Nicastri take to the autobahn.

Library Music
In the shadows of pop music and on the industrial side of film soundtrack composition there’s the world of ‘production music’ or as it’s also known, ‘library music’. Composers and session musicians, often uncredited, create music to be used in the media – film, TV, radio and online.

Jamaica at 50
We’re in Jamaica to celebrate 50 years of independence from British rule. The Caribbean island may have the world’s highest rate of public debt and plenty of problems with corruption and crime but it also has the fastest runners on earth, untold cultural riches and the indomitable will to survive.

Mining Boom Boom Bang: Fistful of Dollars
To just pack your bags and fly-in, fly-out to the remotest corners of this dry continent is today’s version of the Gold Rush. Caught in the crossfire of this mad bonanza, Melbourne-based artist Moses Iten took cover by watching dozens of European Westerns from the late 1960s, the mood of which felt like a strange parallel to the push and pull of the current economic climate.  He also dug deep in the archives of Radio National to unearth ancient stories and hyped up myths of this great land of ours.

Media Mess Age
As Radio National acknowledges the centenary of the birth of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the Night Air listens to the great thinker speak (and sing) as he massages our minds into new shapes.And media manipulator extraordinaire, Buttress O’Kneel surfs the flux between truth and information and joins the virtual dots between Julian Assange and Charlie Sheen!

Tribute to John Blades
We pay tribute to structural engineer, award-winning radio producer, tape loop manipulator, disability advocate, spoken word artist, outsider art collector, experimental music and true crime aficionado, John Blades – who died in late 2011. We play material from John’s many radio programs, hear his friends’ and family’s accounts of his life and chart his history as a tireless supporter and exponent of ‘marginal’ culture.

The Brixton Insurrection + The last collage
It’s 30 years since the Brixton riots – also remembered as the Brixton Insurrection or Brixton Uprising. We listen to the songs, sounds and memories of this tumultuous time in England.

Then there’s the six part series Trouser amongst Blue Jeans #1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, a history of the 1979 Triple J show Watching the Radio With the TV Off.


Instruments of the orchestra

Recently I had a lovely page bought to my attention – The Names of Instruments and Voices in English, French, German, Italian, Russian1, and Spanish. Hosted by Yale (presumably giving it a longevity), it’s not 100% complete – computer (under electronic instruments) only comes in French (ordinateur) and German (Computerklänge), cowbells is only in French (cloches à vache), but Tubular bells comes in a number of languages: French (cloches tubulaires), German (Rohrenglocke), Italian (campane tubolari) and Spanish (campanas tubulares).

Not being native to any of those languages, I’m not completely sure on the translations – the page looks old, pre Google Translate at least, and may not be as correct as we’d all like.

None the less, it’s great to see someone has put in the effort for the international orchestral scene!

Khmer goes alpha on Google Translate

Google Translate has added Khmer as an alpha status language – meaning that their translations are good but not great.

Today’s Khmer launch comes with these useful features: virtual keyboard (in case you want to type in Khmer but do not have Khmer keyboard handy) and ability to read Khmer text phonetically for users who don’t read Khmer alphabet.
Khmer is a challenging language for translation systems for two reasons: There isn’t a lot of Khmer data on the web and words are not usually separated by spaces; so in addition to teaching our translation system a new language, it also has to learn how to separate words (what we call segmentation).


Europe’s dying languages

I didn’t know that there were 23 official languages in the EU. I also did not know that there were 250 indigenous languages in the EU, and some of them are dying out slowly.

Francois Alfonsi, the only Corsican speaker in the European Parliament, will later this month present the first report in decades into the state of Europe’s dying languages.

“There are hundreds of languages in the EU and each is a part of the European identity,” Mr Alfonsi recently told the parliament’s cultural committee. “Without concrete support at European, national and local level, we will see a further decline in linguistic diversity over the next decades. This will leave all of us culturally, socially and economically impoverished.”

Lost in translation: Languages at risk
Nine separate languages fall under this grouping, spoken across northern Scandanavia. Northern Sami has 15,000 speakers but Ume Sami has only 20 left.
Phrase book: “Hálatgo Eaŋgalasgiela?” (Do you  speak English?)

The language of the Isle of Man was declared extinct by Unesco in 2009, prompting pupils at a primary school to write and insist it was still alive in their classroom.
Phrase book: “Cha nel mee toiggal.” (I don’t understand.)

A Celtic language spoken in the French province of Brittany, closely liked to Cornish. More than 200,000 native speakers remain.
Phrase book: “Ur banne bier ‘m bo.” (I would like a beer).

I recall Google doing some work for those not as able to afford the expense of rescuing dying languages through the Endangered Languages Project.

No Respec’

Ain’t no reason is an interesting, if short, look at languages as they are spoken, and what it means for the speaker. Focused on the language of Ebonics or African American Vernacular English (AAVE), it looks into the cultural development of languages and how we describe them:

Folks who paid strict attention in Linguistics 101 — I majored in the subject — might remember pidgins and creoles. A pidgin is a simplified, ad-hoc language shared by speakers who lack a common tongue. It borrows rules and words from all languages involved, and has its own rules as well. But a pidgin isn’t a full language; it lacks the rich vocabulary and structure.

creole, on the other hand, develops when children start learning and speaking the pidgin as their primary form of communication. Those who speak a pidgin have a native tongue and may speak several languages, and they are well aware that the pidgin is an amalgam. But a creole is the mother tongue of the speaker, who has likely heard and spoken it from infancy while being raised in a world in which pidgin may be the lingua franca.

The debate over … AAVE is really the same ages-old linguistic debate between prescriptivists and descriptivists played out another way. Prescriptivists want to freeze the language as they believe it either is or should be spoken — for instance, they object to the increasing use of “they” as a singular pronoun — while descriptivists aim to document how people actually speak.

The article shows how AAVE has parallel’s with French and Japanese although I think the parallels to other languages described in the text are a little thin, if vaguely interesting – it could as easily be said that many poems use the same emotions or words, that many movies use the same actors, that many painter’s use the same colour paint.

More interestingly it does allude to the fact that despite the widespread use of English, languages are not loosing their individuality:

You might assume — I did — that AAVE is a blip in the move toward the homogenization of language over time due to television, movies, the Internet, and our increasing connectedness. But we’d both be wrong. Wheeler notes that recent work by William Labov at the University of Pennsylvania shows that dialects are diverging in the United States.

“We change and become similar in language only when we’re in true contact, in authentic linguistic contact, with our interlocutor,” Wheeler says. This requires proximity and true two-way conversations by speakers of different dialects. But media isn’t “linguistic engagement,” she notes, and thus doesn’t influence people’s modes of speaking as much as one would intuit.

Couple the failure of the Internet and mass media to assimilate AAVE with the reality that African American populations are increasingly separated from white populations by socioeconomics, and the only reasonable expectation is, Wheeler says, “the divergence of the language.”

Unfortunately buried deep in the article is it’s strongest point – that speaking differently, pidgin, creole or just with an accent – is enough to cause discrimination.

Many of us unfairly judge others based on how they speak. Kenneth the page, on the late, great 30 Rock, spoke with a southern accent meant to exemplify his yokel-ness. Maybe you think that British accents sound dignified, or that the Minnesota accent on display in Fargo betrays its speakers’ intellectual inferiority.

“People don’t always realize that dialect prejudice still exists,” Wheeler says. “Reminding them, and explaining notions like the grammatical rules that govern AAVE — that’s a true ‘aha!’ experience. That alone is important, and people can grasp it — and grasping it, that’s actually a big thing.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who famously rarely speaks in public proceedings, grew up speaking Gullah, a creole spoken around the southern Atlantic coast. Justice Thomas told high school students in 2000 about Gullah, “People praise it now, but they used to make fun of us back then.”

Wheeler says that most teachers and school systems are ill-equipped to sort this out. She says, “The testing system remains entrenched in proper grammar, bad grammar, right and wrong. There’s no room for anything else. It’s appalling.”