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Pliny's Natural History


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Description
I never sought out Pliny’s “Natural History” during my classical reading period of many years ago because it was tainted by a bad rap that much of it was indiscriminate and unbelievable. Recently, I found myself in front of a copy in a large bookstore and, after reading a few pages, I decided it might be worth giving it a try. To my surprise I found it extremely appealing for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the strength of Pliny’s particular personality shining through the prose. Yes, there was much absurdity included among the legitimate science, but that quickly became part of the joy of the read: much of the odd stuff was bizarre beyond invention, such as waters turning white sheep black or flesh-eating rocks. Living, as we do, in a post-Newtonian world, and long after the telescope gave new definition to the universe, it’s hard to imagine what it was like trying to logically explain natural phenomenon. By getting it wrong as often as getting it right, Pliny’s encyclopedic compilation perhaps offers one of the best windows into the strange world of classical Roman thought, where science and magic were not far removed from each other.

My previous big musical project was writing 100 individual pieces in a collection called “Brooklyn Walking Songs.” The new challenge was to inculcate numerous melodies into a single “big” work. For whatever reason, reading Pliny prompted that project.

I can’t translate Latin. For these excerpts I used two translations, the 1855 London version by John Bostock and H.T. Riley, and the Harvard Loeb Classic Library’s 1938 edition by H. Rackham.
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Song Stats
Hits: 3427
Comments: 20
Fans: 2
Plays: 191
Downloads: 100
Votes: 9
Uploaded: Mar 16, 2006 - 06:27:22 PM
Last Updated: Mar 16, 2006 - 04:56:42 PM Last Played: Jan 28, 2017 - 12:55:13 AM
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Comments
Patman said 4091 days ago (March 16th, 2006)
Fantastic...
You have created a symphony out of the writings of Pliny. The clever use
of silence creates a sense of symphonic movement. The music makes a
potentially dry bit of literature and makes it a pleasure to listen to.I loved
this as only a true geek (as I am) may.
Check out my latest song called I've Had Better Days
Warren Smith said 4091 days ago (March 16th, 2006)
symphonic movement
Thanks for taking both the time to listen and to comment on a piece that
runs over 20 minutes. I'm guessing that's longer than most people are
wanting to spend on a macjams posting. It's interesting you mention
"symphonic movement." I have no classical training in music, but lately
I've started thinking about the symphonic possibilities of some of my
melodies - that maybe its a direction to explore. We'll see ....
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
said 4090 days ago (March 17th, 2006)
Your expansive song description...
is a fitting introduction to this unexpectedly enjoyable history reading and lesson. The musical backdrop provides a perfect canvas for your lively vocal reading. Even if I were not a history buff I am sure I would enjoy this.

Jack
Warren Smith said 4089 days ago (March 18th, 2006)
Your expansive song description...
There is so much going on in Pliny's magnum opus that I don't know if I have
done it justice with my abridgement. I tried to select a balance of soundbytes
reflecting the magnificent and the trivial, the science and the history, the real
and the absurd the book offers up - as well as choosing some of Pliny's
observations and opinions about his own contemporary cultural circumstances,
written at the height of the Roman Empire. A 20-minute song summarizing an
old book certainly pushes the limits of what one can expect an online listener to
give. Yet I felt I was skipping over many great sentences and marvelous stories
as I made the decisions of what to include or exclude. I appreciate your
responsive thoughts, Jack. Thanks for taking the time to listen.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
tmcfate said 4088 days ago (March 20th, 2006)
sounds right to me
this is really well done. before listening i really didn't know any real
specifics of classic roman thought and your reading is so natural. tell
me more warren sitting at the foot of your chair as you unfold the tail
of the heavens. the sound track is really diverse. i think it is some of
your cleanest melodies. i really like the mars melodies. the story and
music seem to have emotional elements as well. i cant remember the
fellows name that read peter rabit on 33rpm record when i was young
but this reminds me of that. the hissing of steaming clouds. that is a
much better explanation for me.
Check out my latest song called The Fog has lifted (remixed and arranged
Warren Smith said 4081 days ago (March 26th, 2006)
sounds right to me
Thanks for the response, Tim. Your comments triggered a couple of old
memories for me - one being going to the local small town library as a pre-
schooler and sitting at the foot of the librarian as she read stories to a gathered
group. I suppose it was a form of day care for the time. I also remember
listening to stories at 33 rpms, but the one that clicks into my mind is listening
to "Peter and the Wolf," where, if I remember correctly, each character had his or
her own theme and instrument.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
said 4082 days ago (March 25th, 2006)
In orbit with Pliny
Very good. A most enjoyable listen to your read. Your signature
instrumentation lifts and punctuates what might otherwise be too
heavy a dissertation for the average Josephine. The Romans knew a lot,
didn't they? So Pliny and his cohorts accepted the world as spherical?
Cool. Why, I think this performance almost eclipses Carl Sagan's
"Cosmos" series in print and on public television. It is as entertaining
as it is informative. Your reading flows with imagery. Give your local
public television station a demo disk of this. Maybe they'd latch onto it.
Warren Smith said 4081 days ago (March 26th, 2006)
In orbit with Pliny
That's funny - "eclipses" Carl Sagan! I don't know where and when the
concept of a flat world squashed the knowledge of the globular earth - I'm
guessing they were always concurrent views in Greco-Roman culture, just as
multiple visions of how the universe was created and is maintained jockeys
for dominance in the world today (witness the recent Creationism vs.
Intelligent Design debate currently raging).

Pliny's epic work was culled from hundreds of sources. One of the ideas I had
to underscore that diversity in the "Natural History" was to put together a
soundtrack built out of snippets of melodies, some long, some short, some
simple and others full-blown, to match up with the manifold passages.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
Macaudion said 4080 days ago (March 27th, 2006)
Hi Warren
I've now listened to this may three time now, while I work - All 21.31
minutes of it and not once, did I feel like it was too long - If you knew
my attentions span....- It's just that this was loaded w/ the type of
information that bangs around in my head, and seemingly quite
consistently - Only your presentation was a bit more delightful than
what's going on in my head - I had never heard this before, but it really
was a wonderful journey - And I loved your every choice for backing
instrumentation - Always playful and light, just serious enough -
Instrumentation along w/ your distinctive voice; your cadence and
tonal inflections; all together it made this such a delightful journey - I
can't tell ya - Really - Thanks - Dion
Check out my latest song called Pavel
Warren Smith said 4076 days ago (April 1st, 2006)
Hi Warren
As little as a couple of years ago, I doubt I could have put together a lengthy
piece of music like this one - so I guess it represents growth and evolution in
my music-making skills. Getting involved in this online community certainly has
had an impact on that growth, from receiving encouraging feedback and
constructive criticism, as well as responding to the general unstated challenge of
trying to post things that are worthy of peers ears. I appreciate hearing from you
- especially that you felt "Natural History" held your attention over more than
one listening.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
thetiler said 4077 days ago (March 30th, 2006)
wow,
you really put work in this. I like the variances of music to add to the
interest of the music. This type of artistry would be great for classes in
this subject of all ages!

Thanks for all the

Check out my latest song called They Went Underground
Warren Smith said 4076 days ago (April 1st, 2006)
wow,
Several things come together in this effort - a love of reading (especially
history), continued development in compositional skills (taking on a bigger
challenge than writing another "single" song), and a desire to be a storyteller. I
was also looking for interesting source material most people have heard of, but
few have read. Pliny fit the criteria. Thanks for listening, Tiler.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
thetiler said 4077 days ago (March 30th, 2006)
wow,
you really put work in this. I like the variances of music to add to the
interest of the music. This type of artistry would be great for classes in
this subject of all ages!

Thanks for all the

Check out my latest song called They Went Underground
Warren Smith said 4076 days ago (April 1st, 2006)
wow,
Several things come together in this effort - a love of reading (especially
history), continued development in compositional skills (taking on a bigger
challenge than writing another "single" song), and a desire to be a storyteller. I
was also looking for interesting source material most people have heard of, but
few have read. Pliny fit the criteria. Thanks for listening, Tiler.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
perceptualvortex said 4050 days ago (April 26th, 2006)
Remarkable
You have a good voice for this, scholarly... I was immediately reminded of college lectures, but in a good way. It really is quite fascinating, listening to Pliny's science of the day. I'm just amazed that this held my attention all the way through, as most--almost all--spoken word fails to interest me. But this is enchanting, and the musical backing, which is really very fitting, does a great job of adding to the auditory interest, somehow giving Pliny's musings extra depth and reality. I like this talk about the planets and eclipses, and the warped layout of his solar system. Now, how is Jupiter responsible for thunderbolts again? Great job Warren.
Check out my latest song called Mercury (RPM 6)
Warren Smith said 4043 days ago (May 3rd, 2006)
Remarkable
I appreciate you taking to time to listen and comment - especially as spoken
word is not high on your list of genres to listen to. Of course, this is part of
the seduction of macjams - it pulls us into listening to things we'd never
otherwise hear.

One of the things I find interesting in reading Pliny's "Natural History" is it
gives us a window into a world so different than ours. I recently read that the
first televised weather forecast occurred in January 1954. I'm old enough to
remember those pre-satellite days when predicting weather three days in
advance was risky business. Now we take five-day forecasts for granted, and
some stations lay things out as far ahead as seven. My point is, we all take a
certain amount of meteorology for granted - because we can track storms as
they move across the country. How different it was for an educated, well-read
Roman living in the First Century A.D., where science and superstition were
so intwined, that much of the time it was hard to tell the two apart.
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
chikoppi said 3951 days ago (August 3rd, 2006)
He said, "Genital Dew"
I'm sorry I missed this the first time around!

My first reactions... great idea! I have to admit I'm perplexed by the
instruments you chose, especially in the second, fourth, and sixth
movements (I'm only half-way through at this point). The instruments
all have that "cheap electronics" sound to them. Contrasted to Pliny's
words they seem to evoke a sense of absurdity, but then maybe that is
the intent? Man, but you created a lot of music for this project!

Rather than one long file I'd sort of like to see these readings as a
collection of separate songs, each with its own distinct mix and
character. Whatever the case, its a pleasure to see such prose dusted
off and placed once more center stage.
Check out my latest song called Into The Dark (NASA) Sketch
Warren Smith said 3951 days ago (August 3rd, 2006)
He said, "Genital Dew"
Yes, he said "genital dew." And that's the scientific theory - so who knows what they thought before that explanation was advanced : >

Everything I do seems to have some level of absurdity in it. As for instrument choice, one of the general ideas I had when building this piece was using a wide variety of sounds to reflect the patchwork nature of Pliny's work, which is a collection of extracts culled from his general reading. I wanted it to feel vast and sprawling like the universe he was attempting to define, yet simple enough to capture those moments of intimacy and personal observation. That doesn't mean I think I succeeded in doing all of that in this mix - just that that was one of the conceptual targets I was shooting at.

I certainly appreciate your initial response - and should you get a chance to listen to some more of it (yes, it's absurdly long for macjams) - I hope you will continue to tell me what you think of it, whether it's positive or negative.

By the way, I've always been a fan of cheap electronics : >
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
Llyn said 3613 days ago (July 7th, 2007)
Pliny's Natural History Book II
As an Australian postgrad Ancient history student, studying Pliny's work, I was delighted to find this wonderful and imaginative composition. Brilliant. Thankyou Warren Smith
Warren Smith said 3606 days ago (July 15th, 2007)
A Pliny scholar!
You never know what you might come across on the Web : >

Thanks for signing on to Macjams for what appears to be the sole purpose of leaving me a positive comments about the "Natural History."
Check out my latest song called Brand New Day
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Name: Warren Smith
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Born in a Minnesota blizzard, I'm now residing in a coastal heat of Brooklyn, New York City. I recorded my first original composition as a teenager using a reel-to-reel tape recorder back in 1967, and I'm still finding it a creative challenge... [see more]

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