🎶 In Fourteen-Hundred Ninety Two Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue…

Photograph of Dean Lewis

Now, you are about to tell me that it was Eric the Red and his merry, Viking horde who first made landfall in the New World. In 1963, the ruins of some Norse houses dating from that era were discovered at L’Anse-aux-Meadows in northern Newfoundland. So yes, these are proven European landings but they are not the first.

Sometime I want to tell you about my friend John Millar. John and I are both history nerds and a couple of years ago he sent me a paper he wrote in 2005. See, in the Southern US there is a grape, Scuppernong, that’s not from this part of the world. How could it get here?

Muscadine Grapes
Muscadine Grapes (Scuppernong)

It turns out the answer is most likely the Phoenicians brought seeds. They appear to have been sailing up the Mississippi to obtain copper from the local Native American tribes. This was from about 1600 BCE onwards. There are numerous items like stone tablets, copper ingots, and of course grapes to support the Phoenician theory. But no ship remains have been discovered to provide the smoking gun.

As an aside, many of these ingots along with tin were taken to the island of Cyprus and mixed with the local copper there to make bronze. Local wood from the center of the Island may have been used to make boats. John says: “Ongoing archaeological investigations of the copper workings show that the Phoenicians removed several hundred thousand tonnes of copper from Michigan from about 1650 BCE to 650 BCE, when they abruptly stopped coming. By the latter date, everyone in the Mediterranean basin had joined the Iron Age, so there was little need for more copper. Wooden props in the copper workings have been carbon-dated to 650 BCE and some to about as much as 1000 years earlier. “

“The Chicago Historical Society possesses a large Phoenician-style carving. There were once two of these chunks of granite over 2 metres high, but vandals pushed one of them into the Chicago River, from which it has never been recovered. Granite is hard enough that few early civilizations possessed the technology to carve it. Granite also is not found naturally in the Chicago area. The carvings each showed a man, apparently with eyes closed, sporting a beard (American Indians of course could not grow beards), and a basin on his head; a drain-hole emptied through the bottom of the basin and out of the figure’s mouth.”

So yes, the Vikings are the first confirmed folks from the old world to make the crossing but they most certainly did not do it first.

Whoops, they did it first!

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

There’re lots of things out there that had been earlier done by somebody else in almost every dimension of our lives. For example, the history of radio invention is very intriguing with plenty of decent scientists preceding Guglielmo Marconi’s famous wireless telegraphy apparatus, first exposed in December 1894. Among these people are some truly greats, like Nicolas Tesla and Thomas Edison, with their respective radio-connected experiments. 

In Russia, by the way, it is Alexander Popov, an engineer and physicist, who is considered to be the inventor of radio, back in 1895, just half-year later than the Italian. We even have Radio Day on May 7.

But I would like to look at some of the famous songs that relate to wow-they-did-it-first thing. 

Probably some of you had been knowing this for ages, but not me. I mean I know it for quite a long time but not since the moment I’ve heard the most famous versions of the songs. 

Crying in the rain

Yep, it is A-ha, isn’t it? Their 1990 album: every teenage girl in Moscow back then was a huge fan of this gentle Viking trio. 

Truth: nope, not A-ha. It was first done by American duo The Everly Brothers back in 1962. Heard it recently: typical 60s sound. I think, A-ha’s version is much cooler with their vocals and roaring thunders, but it depends. 

Like a Rolling Stone

Bob Dylan

Well, I’ve been knowing it for years that it is Bob Dylan’s song. Still, it fits so naturally to Mick & the Team. I also remember attending the only Stones gig in Russia, in Moscow, Luzhniki stadium, on August 11, 1998. It started to drizzle close to the end of the concert, but Mick just kept on going on stage. I still recall him singing in the rain. Very impressive! 

Nothing Compares 2 U

Well, Prince never actually did perform it on stage before Sinead O’Connor  did it. However, he initially had written it for her. Then she sang it. It went to #1 in the charts worldwide in 1990, becoming, probably, one of the best known songs of the decade.

Prince, from what I know, was kind of mad and full of envy of such a success of that Irish girl. I heard his version later. It sucked. 

Ah, but they did it first…

Roger Bara

I first started using computers in music in my recording studio in the late 1980s. I had a converted domestic Atari ST with shedloads (4MB) of extra storage, and a midi-connection into loads of different synthesisers. I was well aware that music and computers actually went together extremely well, even in those early days. (All to do with dividing tempos, times and notes into groups of 256, which both music and computers love to bits..)

Atari ST
Atari ST

So it wasn’t that surprising that I gave a lot of thought to how this wonderful new world of technology could benefit the musical world out there. Long before the iPad was invented, I started to think how orchestras could do away with conventional paper manuscript, which means hundreds of page turnings during every recital. Surely, if an electronic screen could show all the notes, and you could scroll down or across with the use of a foot pedal, problem solved.

Of course, at that time, all screens were like old-fashioned TV sets, with huge rear cabinets that housed the electronic gubbins. Totally impractical, even for solo pianists. How would you fit a screen onto a piano?

Then of course, around 2010, came this incredible new slim-screened iPad. Just the job. But when I started bandying the idea around several musicians, they poo-pooed the idea completely out of hand. Paper was still sacrosanct amongst them, and of course: “We’ve always done it that way.” I had a stressful job to worry about, and serious money to earn for serious debts and bills, so I lost my way.

Fast forward to retirement, and I looked again at the possibilities. I knew it would work, and even how it would work, so let’s see what I can find online. You just know what comes next…..

“They”, meaning every Tom, Dick and Harry who ever used computerised music, have already thought, developed and sold the impressive software, leaving little old me completely flummoxed.

As a sidenote, it still surprises me how few orchestras in the world have taken up what’s available. Apparently, the biggest problem is: “What happens if the screen goes blank?” I would just refer people to what I managed to do on my own, back in 1991. For various logistical reasons, I had to record the entire score of “My Fair Lady” into the above-mentioned Atari computer, using an Emulator sampler for the orchestral sounds. The three-hour live show, which ran for 3 weeks,  saw me use 8 floppy disks during every performance, and even though the computer was running at 96% capacity throughout, it never glitched once. Have confidence, my musical pals! 

And damn those of you that beat me to my brainwave of electronic music reading.