Arnold Schoenberg, Avant-Garde Composer, Creates a System of Symbols for Notating Tennis Matches

This time each summer, as the conclusion of this year's fortnight-long championship at Wimbledon approaches, even the most private of the tennis enthusiasts in all of our circles make themselves known. Love of that particular game runs down all walks of life, but seems to exist in particularly high concentrations among cultural creators: not just writers like Martin Amis, Geoff Dyer, and David Foster Wallace, all of whose bodies of work contain eloquent thoughts on tennis, but composers of music as well.

Take Arnold Schoenberg, who well into his old age continued not just to create the innovative music for which we remember him, but to spend time on the court as well. Though born in Vienna, Schoenberg eventually landed in the right place to enjoy tennis on the regular: southern California, to which he fled in 1933 after being informed of how inhospitable his homeland would soon become to persons of Jewish heritage. Few famous composers of that time had less in common than Schoenberg and George Gershwin, but their shared enjoyment of tennis made them into fast partners.




According to Howard Pollack's life of Gershwin, fellow composer Albert Sendrey left a "revealing account" of one of the weekly matches between "the thirty-eight-year-old Gershwin and the sixty-two-year-old Schoenberg, contrasting the alternately 'nervous' and 'nonchalant,' 'relentless' and 'chivalrous' Gershwin, 'playing to an audience,' with the 'overly eager' and 'choppy' Schoenberg who 'has learned to shut his mind against public opinion.'" Any parallels between playing style and musical sensibility are, of course, entirely coincidental.

The cerebral nature of Schoenberg's compositions may not suggest a temperament suited for physical activity of any kind, but even in Austria Schoenberg had been a keen sportsman. And as a fair few tennis-loving writers have explained, the game does possess an intellectual side, and one made more easily analyzable, at least in theory, by a system of Schoenberg's invention. "Toward the end of his life, Schoenberg — always fascinated by rules, analysis, and invention — would come up with a form of notation to transcribe the tennis matches of his athlete son Ronald," writes Mark Berry in Arnold Schoenberg. You can see this system laid out on the sheet above, recently posted on Twitter by Henry Gough-Cooper.

The marks look vaguely similar to those of certain dance notation systems, a natural enough resemblance considering the kind of footwork tennis demands. But ideally, Schoenberg's notation would also have rendered a game of tennis as comprehensible as one of chess — another pursuit to which Schoenberg applied his mind. He came up with "an expanded four-player, ten-square version of the traditional game," writes Berry, "involving superpowers and lesser powers all compelled to forge alliances, with new pieces such as airplanes, tanks, submarines, and so forth." Schoenberg's "coalition chess," as he called it, seems to have caught on no more than his tennis notation system did. But then, the man who pioneered the twelve-tone technique never did go in for mass acceptance.

via and Henry Gough-Cooper on Twitter

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Vi Hart Uses Her Video Magic to Demystify Stravinsky and Schoenberg’s 12-Tone Compositions

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Notations: John Cage Publishes a Book of Graphic Musical Scores, Featuring Visualizations of Works by Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, The Beatles & More (1969)

Bob Dylan and George Harrison Play Tennis, 1969

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Wild 40-Minute Race Down Alpe D’Huez

Damien Oton, winner of last summer's Megavalanche, mounted a camera on his helmet and recorded his race down Alpe D'Huez. Buckle in, and enjoy the exhilarating wild ride. Once you start, it's hard to stop.

via Metafilter

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The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout!: Discover the 15-Minute Exercise Routine That Swept the World in 1904

Does your spare tire show no signs of deflating as bikini season looms?

Is the fear of bullies kicking sand in your face beginning to outstrip the horror of transforming into a giant bug overnight?

Do you long to experience lasting health benefits along with an impressively fit appearance?

Friends, we make you this promise: The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will transform your life along with your physique in just 15 minutes a day.




That's right, just 15 minutes of daily calisthenics (and some common sense practices with regard to diet, sleep, and hygiene) is all it takes. Even pencil-necked authors walking around with their backs bowed, their shoulders drooping, their hands and arms all over the place, afraid of mirrors because they show an inescapable ugliness, can discover the confidence that eludes them, through improved posture, breathing, and muscle tone.

(Note: the Amazing Franz Kafka Workout will not protect you from the pernicious, eventually fatal effects of tuberculosis.)

The Amazing Franz Kafka Workout is more correctly attributed to fitness guru Jørgen Peter Müller, above, the author of several exercise regimen pamphlets, including the bestselling My System: 15 Minutes' Exercise a Day for Health's Sake, which was published in 1904 and then translated into 25 languages.

Kafka was definitely the best known of Müller’s devotees, scrupulously running through the prescribed exercises morning and evening, wearing nothing more than the skin he was born in—another practice Müller heartily endorsed.

The chiseled Mr. Müller was a proponent of regular dental check ups, sensible footwear, and vigorous  toweling (or "rubbing"), and an enemy of constrictive woolen underwear, closed windows, and sedentary lifestyles. My System includes some observations that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Kafka novel:

The town office type is often a sad phenomenon prematurely bent, with shoulders and hips awry from his dislocating position on the office stool, pale, with pimply face and pomatumed head, thin neck protruding from a collar that an ordinary man could use as a cuff, and swaggering dress in the latest fashion flapping round the sticks that take the place of arms and legs! At a more advanced age the spectacle is still more pitiable… the eyes are dull, and the general appearance is either still more sunken and shriveled or else fat, flabby, and pallid, and enveloped in an odour of old paper, putrified skin grease, and bad breath.

In an essay on Slate, Sarah Wildman, the descendent of two lean Müller fans, delves into the Müller System’s popularity, particularly amongst 20th-century European Jews.

Just as best-selling fitness experts do today, Müller beefed up his franchise with related titles: My System for Ladies, My System for Children, and My Sunbathing and Fresh Air System.

The original book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from the Internet Archive, where one commenter who has been following the system for nearly seventy years gives it a hearty thumbs-up for its stamina restoring powers.

Others seeking to make a buck by charging for Kindle downloads have the decency to offer free instructions for each of the individual exercises, including Quick Sideways Bending of Trunk (with Rubbing) and the plank-y Bending and Stretching of the Arms, partly Loaded with the Weight of the Body.

Even those unlikely to perform so much as a single deep knee bend should get a bang out of the original photo illustrations, which, back in 1904, were as ripe for erotic double duty as the wholesome men’s physique mags of the 50s and 60s.

Insert speculation as to Kafka's sexual orientation here, if you must.

via Mental Floss

Related Content:

Walt Whitman’s Unearthed Health Manual, “Manly Health & Training,” Urges Readers to Stand (Don’t Sit!) and Eat Plenty of Meat (1858)

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What’s a Scientifically-Proven Way to Improve Your Ability to Learn? Get Out and Exercise

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City tonight, March 11, for the next installment of her ongoing book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hunter S. Thompson Sends a Letter to the Indianapolis Colts, Urging Them to Pick Ryan Leaf Over That “Peyton Manning Kid” (1998)

The 1998 NFL draft was a memorable one. A debate raged around whether the Indianapolis Colts should use their first round pick to select Ryan Leaf or Peyton Manning. Everyone had an opinion about these two quarterbacks, including Hunter S. Thompson. The author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell's Angels sent a letter to Colts owner Jim Irsay, urging him to select the highly-touted Leaf.

Dear James,

In response to yr addled request for a quick $30M loan to secure the services of the Manning kid — I have to say No, (sic) at this time

But the Leaf boy is another matter. He looks strong & Manning doesn’t — or at least not strong enough to handle that “Welcome to the NFL” business for two years without a world-class offensive line.

How are you fixed at left OT for the next few years, James? Think about it. You don’t want a china (sic) doll back there when that freak [Warren] Sapp comes crashing in.

Okay. Let me know if you need some money for Leaf. I expect to be very rich when this [Johnny] depp (sic) movie comes out.

Yr. faithful consultant,

HUNTER

Twenty years later, we know how things played out. The Colts ultimately picked Manning, who became one of the most productive and celebrated quarterbacks ever. As for Leaf, he played four seasons and exited the sport, considered by some the No. 1 "draft bust" in NFL history. But he's certainly a good sport. Leaf posted Thompson's letter (above) on his Twitter stream last month

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Hunter S. Thompson’s Decadent Daily Breakfast: The “Psychic Anchor” of His Frenetic Creative Life

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Read 11 Free Articles by Hunter S. Thompson That Span His Gonzo Journalist Career (1965-2005)

The Monty Python Philosophy Football Match: The Ancient Greeks Versus the Germans

Today, as the 2018 World Cup draws to a close, we're revisiting a classic Monty Python skit. The scene is the 1972 Munich Olympics. The event is a football/soccer match, pitting German philosophers against Greek philosophers. On the one side, the Germans -- Hegel, Nietzsche, Kant, Marx and, um, Franz Beckenbauer. On the other side, Archimedes, Socrates, Plato and the rest of the gang. The referee? Confucius. Of course.

Note: Some years ago, this match was recreated by The Philosophy Shop, a group dedicated to promoting philosophy among primary schoolchildren. The Telegraph gives you more details.

Enjoy.

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This Is Your Brain on Exercise: Why Physical Exercise (Not Mental Games) Might Be the Best Way to Keep Your Mind Sharp

brain exercise

In the United States and the UK, we've seen the emergence of a multibillion-dollar brain training industry, premised on the idea that you can improve your memory, attention and powers of reasoning through the right mental exercises. You've likely seen software companies and web sites that market games designed to increase your cognitive abilities. And if you're part of an older demographic, worried about your aging brain, you've perhaps been inclined to give those brain training programs a try. Whether these programs can deliver on their promises remains an open question--especially seeing that a 2010 scientific study from Cambridge University and the BBC concluded that there's "no evidence to support the widely held belief that the regular use of computerised brain trainers improves general cognitive functioning in healthy participants..."




And yet we shouldn't lose hope. A number of other scientific studies suggest that physical exercise--as opposed to mental exercise--can meaningfully improve our cognitive abilities, from childhood through old age. One study led by Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois, found that children who regularly exercise, writes The New York Times:

displayed substantial improvements in ... executive function. They were better at “attentional inhibition,” which is the ability to block out irrelevant information and concentrate on the task at hand ... and had heightened abilities to toggle between cognitive tasks. Tellingly, the children who had attended the most exercise sessions showed the greatest improvements in their cognitive scores.

And, hearteningly, exercise seems to confer benefits on adults too. A study focusing on older adults already experiencing a mild degree of cognitive impairment found that resistance and aerobic training improved their spatial memory and verbal memory. Another study found that weight training can decrease brain shrinkage, a process that occurs naturally with age.

If you're looking to get the gist of how exercise promotes brain health, it comes down to this:

Exercise triggers the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, which helps support the growth of existing brain cells and the development of new ones.

With age, BDNF levels fall; this decline is one reason brain function deteriorates in the elderly. Certain types of exercise, namely aerobic, are thought to counteract these age-related drops in BDNF and can restore young levels of BDNF in the age brain.

That's how The Chicago Tribune summarized the findings of a 1995 study conducted by researchers at the University of California-Irvine. You can get more of the nuts and bolts by reading The Tribune's recent article, The Best Brain Exercise May be Physical. (Also see Can You Get Smarter?)

You're perhaps left wondering what's the right dose of exercise for the brain? And guess what, Gretchen Reynolds, the phys ed columnist for The Times' Well blog, wrote a column on just that this summer. Although the science is still far from conclusive, a new study conducted by The University of Kansas Alzheimer’s Disease Center found that small doses of exercise could lead to cognitive improvements. Writes Reynolds, "the encouraging takeaway from the new study ... is that briskly walking for 20 or 25 minutes several times a week — a dose of exercise achievable by almost all of us — may help to keep our brains sharp as the years pass."

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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via New York Times

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The Truth Behind Jane Austen’s Fight Club: Female Prize Fights Were a Thing During the 18th Century

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. 

The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club! 

- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

Could it be a case of authorial oversight that all subsequent rules are exclusively concerned with such practical matters as dress and fight duration?

Given the macho reputation of both the book and the film adaptation, it seems like the third rule of Fight Club should be: you DO NOT talk about the fact that a fair number of Edwardian ladies were badass bare knuckle fighters.

Because doing so might diminish Fight Club’s street cred just a bitsy…




Filmmaker (and popular audiobook narrator) Emily Janice Card has a good deal of fun in Jane Austen's Fight Club, above, marrying Palahniuk’s tropes to the social mores of England’s Regency period.

“No corsets, no hat pins and no crying,” Tyler Durden stand-in Lizzie instructs the eager young ladies in her circle. Soon, they’re proudly sporting bruises beneath their bonnets and stray blood spots on their tea dresses.

While young women of the fictional Bennet sisters’ social class refrained from brutal fisticuffs, there’s ample evidence of female combatants from the proletarian ranks. They fought for money, and occasionally to settle a disagreement, training hard for weeks in advance.

Their bouts drew spectators to the amphitheater owned by boxing promoter James Figg, and the marvelously named Hockley in the Hole, a seedy establishment whose other attractions included bearbaiting, bullbaiting, and fighting with broadswords and cudgels.

The female fist fighters challenged each other with paid notices in local papers, like this one from “championess and ass-driver” Ann Field of Stoke Newington:

Whereas I, Ann Field, of Stoke Newington, ass-driver, well known for my abilities, in boxing in my own defense wherever it happened in my way, having been affronted by Mrs. Stokes, styled the European Championess, do fairly invite her to a trial of her best skill in Boxing for 10 pounds, fair rise and fall; and question not but to give her such proofs of my judgment that shall oblige her to acknowledge me Championess of the Stage, to the satisfaction of all my friends.

Mrs. Stokes promptly announced her readiness to come out of retirement:

I, Elizabeth Stokes, of the City of London, have not  fought in this way since I fought the famous boxing- woman of Billingsgate 29 minutes, and gained a complete victory (which is six years ago); but as the famous Stoke Newington ass-woman dares me to fight her for the 10 pounds, I do assure her I will not fail meeting her for the said sum, and doubt not that the blows which I shall present her with will be more difficult for her to digest than any she ever gave her asses.

Rather than keeping mum on Fight Club, these female pugilists shared Muhammad Ali's flare for drumming up interest with irresistibly cocky wordplay.

References to adversaries fighting in “close jacket, short petticoats, and holland drawers … with white stockings and pumps" suggest that the adversaries played to the spectators’ prurience, though not always. Unlike the 20th-century stunt of bikini clad jello wrestling, sex appeal was not obligatory.

In a chapter devoted to public entertainments, sports and amusements, Alexander Andrews, author of The Eighteenth Century or Illustrations of the Manners and Customs of Our Grandfathers, documents how the Merry Wives of Windsor, a crew comprised of “six old women belonging to Windsor town” took out an ad seeking “any six old women in the universe to outscold them.”

On June 22nd, 1768, a woman called Bruising Peg "beat her antagonist in a terrible manner" to win a new chemise, valued at half a guinea.

In 1722, Hannah Hyfield of Newgate Market, resolved to give her challenger, Elizabeth Wilkinson, “more blows than words,” promising to deliver “a good thumping.” Both parties agreed to hold a half-crown in their fists for the duration of the fight. William B. Boulton, author of 1901’s Amusements of Old London, speculates that this was a practical measure to minimize scratching and hair-pulling.

Time travel to an 18th-century female bare knuckles fight via Female Single Combat Club’s exhaustive coverageSarah Murden’s excellent analysis of John Collet’s painting, The Female Bruisers, above, or Jeremy Freeston’s short documentary available on YouTube.

Related Content:

Watch Author Chuck Palahniuk Read Fight Club 4 Kids

Stevie Nicks “Shows Us How to Kick Ass in High-Heeled Boots” in a 1983 Women’s Self Defense Manual

Ernest Hemingway’s Delusional Adventures in Boxing: “My Writing is Nothing, My Boxing is Everything.”

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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