Unreal Nature

May 18, 2009

Speaking Chipmunk

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:13 am

When reading a Blogger (I just wrote “Booger”) blog, to see comments, you can either click the post heading or you can click the comments link at the bottom of the post. The latter gives you a miserable little window. That’s what I saw when I clicked to see comments on a recent post on Felix Grant’s blog, as shown below:


[I added the orange arrow in the lower right quadrant]

As you can see, the link given by Jim Putnam is truncated. Nevertheless, I thought maybe it would work, so I copy/pasted it to my browser. No luck; page not found. So I went to the main Timepage and looked for any links in the ‘arts’ subfolder. The only one on the main page at that time (it changes frequently) — and with the same 0,85 ending — was this one: Klingon, Esperanto and Other Languages, by M.J. Stephey (May 18, 2009) which contains this in its introductory paragraph:

Arika Okrent is fluent in English, Hungarian, American sign language and … Klingon. (OK, so she only has first-level certification in Star Trek-speak.) Okrent, a linguistics scholar, spent the better part of five years perusing library card catalogs and attending colorful conferences to learn about languages created by one person and, in some cases, adopted by thousands. Her new book, In the Land of Invented Languages, chronicles the scientists, idealists and eccentrics who tried — and failed — to create the perfect parlance from scratch. TIME spoke with Okrent about defending the cranks from the critics, ordering sandwiches in Esperanto and the art of speaking chipmunk.

Well! That Jim Putnam is even more creative than I am in making imaginative connections between topics! What could speaking chipmunk have to do with my post of yesterday, Outside In, that was about how:

Art frequently poses such interpretive challenges to anxious viewers.

And Felix’s post where he shows and discusses his photo sequences, saying:

I end up with a very selected set of moments which are then presented together: the viewer can move back and forth at will, looking at each for as long or short a time as s/he wishes.

But of course, yes! I see it now; there is a bit of chipmunkery in both our posts. Mine is about recognizing meaning and Felix’s might be about developing meaning in a type of photography that is moving toward language (a sequence of inputs). My post, Felix’s post, and speaking chipmunk all reminded me a little bit of an article I had just been reading about khipuConversations: String Theorist (Nov/Dec 2005) in Archaeology magazine:

How are khipus constructed?
They are made of spun and plied thread from llama or alpaca hair or cotton. I actually spent time in Bolivia studying weavers who speak Quechua, the same language the Inca spoke, to try to get some sense of what the Andean arts of spinning and weaving can tell us about how these ancient people might have manipulated those features.

What is it like to study the khipus?
It’s a real pleasure to work with them. They’re beautiful, fascinating objects. A khipu is not like a textile with a complex design woven into it, but an object with up to a thousand knotted strings in very complex patterns, and often they are very colorful. Color was quite important — both natural and dyed.


About this time, I realized that I could get the full link posted by Jim Putnam by going back to Felix’s blog and clicking the post header. Which I did. And found out that the link went to this Time article, The Art and Heart of Blind Photographers, by Matt Kettmann (May 17, 2009) — which makes much more sense even if it doesn’t have any chipmunks in it.

In the gallery of pictures made by blind photographers, you find this text with the sixth photo:

Gerardo Nigenda,
Entre lo invisible y lo tangible, llegando a la homeostasis emocional
Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, the 42-year-old Nigenda calls his images “Fotos cruzados,” or “intersecting photographs.” As he shoots, he stays aware of sounds, memories, and other sensations. Then he uses a Braille writer to punch texts expressing those the things he felt directly into the photo. The work invokes an elegant double blindness: Nigenda needs a sighted person to describe the photo, but the sighted rely on him to read the Braille. The title of this work translates roughly to: “Between the invisible and the tangible, reaching an emotional homeostasis.”

And this text with the sixteenth photo:

Evgen Bavcar, The Flow of Time
Renowned in Europe but little known in the United States, Bavcar lost his eyes in two separate childhood accidents. Of his work, he says, “I have a private gallery, but, unfortunately, I am the only one who can visit it. Others can enter by means of my photographs, but they do not see the originals, just the reproductions.”

Beautiful and thought-provoking. Thank you, Jim.

(I still like the connections to speaking chipmunk and khipu.)




  1. truncated
    IE parsing issue: in Firefox, the URL wraps to the next line.

    Comment by Ray Girvan — May 18, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  2. I as about to ask what your screen resolution is set to, as Blooger’s comments screen doesn’t on my display look anything like your illustration …. but I see Ray has provided the correct answer: I dug out my copy of Internet Explorer from a forgotten corner of the hard disk and yes, in IE it looks as you showed it!

    Jim’s link was actually:
    …but I’m sure that chipmunks are more fun :-)


    Comment by Felix Grant — May 18, 2009 @ 3:06 pm

  3. Ah, so they don’t just speak as they sing, in high-pitched plain English.

    Comment by Ray Girvan — May 18, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  4. Or plain Finnish:

    Pikku Orava (Finnish for Little Squirrel) is a singing squirrel, popular in Finland. Its album, Uusi Seedee reached number one in the Finnish album charts, and has achieved platinum status (30,000 sales). The songs are cover versions of popular Finnish songs, in a squeaky voice similar to The Chipmunks.”

    Unrelated to the singing — suppose the surgeon who can flap his ears could also speak in chipmunk …

    Comment by unrealnature — May 18, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  5. popular Finnish songs
    … with a particular specialism in heavy metal covers, such as Teräsbetoni’s “Taivas lyö tulta” (“The Sky Strikes Down Fire”): Pikku-Orava version / original version.

    Comment by Ray Girvan — May 18, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

  6. Those videos were the perfect way to start my day. I laughed so hard I had tears streaming down my face. Thanks Ray.

    (I watched the original first, and then the Pikku-Orava version — it’s especially effective in that order.)

    Comment by unrealnature — May 19, 2009 @ 4:13 am

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