“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“Queequeg was a native of Rokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are.”
~Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
I recently came across the term “development mule” in an article at Jalopnik, and several Ford Mustang “mules” were featured in director David Gelb’s A Faster Horse, which documents the design, production, and development of the 2015 Mustang. I was fascinated with the term, so I did a little research, and according to Wikipedia, a development mule, test mule, or (simply) mule in the automotive industry is,
a testbed vehicle equipped with prototype components requiring evaluation. They are often camouflaged to deceive competitors and thwart a curious automotive press.
So what is the difference between a “prototype” and a “development mule?” The “GM Guide To Terms Used In Auto Body Design” defines a prototype as,
The original model during the evaluation stage in automotive engineering.
An automotive forum at eng-tips.com offers this definition for prototype,
A pre-mass production vehicle of new design that is used for testing and development purposes.
The following explanation from Wikipedia does a great job of defining the unique purpose and specific characteristic of an automotive development mule, test mule, or (simply) a mule:
Mules may also have advanced chassis and powertrain designs from a prospective vehicle that need testing, which can be effectively concealed in the body and interior of a similarly sized production model.
If no comparable vehicle is available in-house or an external benchmark is being used mules may be based on another manufacturer’s model. For example, in the 1970s the new powertrain package of first-generation Ford Fiesta was developed using mules based on the then class-leading Fiat 127, as Ford had no comparable compact model of similar size to utilize.
Mules are also used to conceal styling changes and visible telltales of performance alterations in near-production vehicles, receiving varying degrees of camouflage to deceive rival makers and thwart a curious automotive press. Such alterations can span from distracting shrinkwrap designs to substituting crude cylindric shapes for taillights, non-standard wheels, or assemblages of plastic and tape to hide a vehicle’s shape and design elements.
Perhaps the key to the meaning and use of the term mule in this context, is the vehicles purpose of “carrying” various “hybrid parts” for testing its “handling, roadloads, and powertrain” characteristics. After all an actual Equus mulus by definition is a “hybrid” of a male donkey and a female horse, and is valued for its sure-footedness, strength, and endurance. Mules also tend to be more independent than most domesticated equines, and can be effectively packed with various loads.
Mule – I discovered several origin stories for the term at Stack Exchange:
In French or Italian, car racing teams were/are called “écurie (de course)” or “scuderia”, literally racing stable: the race cars are the horses and the replacement car is called in French “le mulet” (the mule) and in Italian “il muletto”.
Both in French and in English, the sense of mule/mulet later extended to development cars (testbed vehicle equipped with prototype components requiring evaluation).
Chevrolet’s practice car had fiberglass body, was called ‘the mule’ – 1956 Road & Track
…while the SS in both “Mule” and “show” variants ran they went like stink. The officially released lap time set by Fangio at Sebring in the prototype Mule was 3:27.2, a very respectable figure. – 1957 Car and Drive
With a rough fiberglass body this became the “Mule”, which went down to Sebring for on-the-spot trials while the actual race car was completed… the Mule was revised and cleaned up in detail to be exactly like the race SS, but the ax fell on the project before the ex-Mule could be assembled … this car, the Mule… – 1960 Car & Driver
…had built a pair of muletti — “mules” — whose design had been hastily roughed out by the same internal talent that had drawn up the Dischi Volanti and many other “house” designs. The workmanship of these muletti also was rough as they were never intended to be seen by the public. – 1964 Road and Track
In the comments section of the same post at Stack Exchange a reader contributed this observation,
My understanding is that a “mule” is a crude vehicle used to test engines and other components. Likely from its resemblance to a mechanical “mule” on a canal — basically a small locomotive with no cab, just frame, engine, and wheels. And that term, of course, comes from the animal it replaces. (I first read the term ca 1965. Likely it goes back at least 20 years. prior to that.
Charles Darwin, who knew a thing or two about the Origin of Species, wrote: “The mule always appears to me a most surprising animal. That a hybrid should possess more reason, memory, obstinacy, social affection, powers of muscular endurance, and length of life, than either of its parents, seems to indicate that art has here outdone nature.”
Beltline: the line going from the hood which usually follows the bottom edge of the windows and continues to the trunk. The beltline is a major component of the vehicle’s overall appearance, as well as the safety aspect of blind spots.
Bubble Up: a preproduction stage of design. Also know as the theme stage or concept stage.
Brightwork: anything reflective added to a car to enhance appearance. May also be called chrome.
Buck: a full size model of a vehicle used to evaluate comfort, entrance, egress, vision; usually made of wood, metal, foam and/or fiberglass.
Clay Buck: a full size mock up of a vehicle made from a clay covered armature to show vehicle shape.
Down the Road Graphics: the styling of the front end of the car, which people will instantly recognize and associate with a manufacturer.
Concept Car: A Full size vehicle made to illustrate a design concept or idea, usually with futuristic components and faetures; often shown at auto exhibitions and shows.
Greenhouse: the glassed-in upper section of the car’s body.
Oscar: a mannequin representing the 95th percentile male and used in packaging a vehicle.
Proveout Model: a clay model developed to verify surface drawing conformation with the appearance of the model originally approved by management from which a recorded fiberglass cast is subsequently made.
Show Car: a car having features or shapes not offered in production cars, and designed for display.
Trim Buck: a fullsize model showing interior design finishes of a specific model of automobile.
Tumblehome: refers to the way the sides of a car rounds inward toward the roof, specifically of the greenhouse above the beltline.
A Faster Horse: the title for David Gelb’s documentary was derived from the adage “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” which is often attributed to Henry Ford. (For more on that story see our “Debunking Henry Ford’s ‘faster horse’ quote” blog post.
Giuseppe Mulè: was an Italian composer and conductor.
Headless Mule: is a character in Brazilian folklore. In most tales, it is the ghost of a woman that has been cursed by God for her sins… and condemned to turn into a fire-spewing headless mule, galloping through the countryside from Thursday’s sundown to Friday’s sunrise.
Hinny: is a domestic equine hybrid that is the offspring of a male horse, a stallion, and a female donkey, a jenny. It is the reciprocal cross to the more common mule, which is the product of a male donkey and a female horse.
Mule: is a small electric tractor used for hauling over short distances.
Spinning Mule: is a machine that makes thread or yarn from fibers.
Twenty-Mule Teams: were actually teams of eighteen mules and two horses attached to large wagons that ferried borax out of Death Valley, California.
Besides being a drawing savant, Achilles G. Rizzoli was a playful, inventive, and idiosyncratic wordsmith. His visionary drawings are densely and compulsively layered with a language and vocabulary of his own making. Anagrams, puns, neologisms, and solecisms run wild amidst the voluminous inner monologue that he mistook for the voice of God.
Rizzoli was also an ambitious namer. He created over one hundred names for himself in his drawings, including: Abettor, Agent, Arbitrator, Conformist, Contender, Conveyor, Crusader, Decorator, Delineator, Edifier, Embalmer, Hack, Idolator, Jelly Maker, Journeyman, Kapellmeister, Kibitzer, Kingfisher, Limner, Magnifier, Messenger, Neophyte, Observer, Paraphraser, Promoter, Questioner, Rescuer, Retriever, Romancer, Scrivener, Suppliant, Translator, Witnesser, and Zealot. He also had a staff of imaginary “Delineators,” which he named Angelhart, Bellarosa, Grandocosti, and Maidenburg.
Rizzoli’s charismatic titles for his drawings — “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza;” “A Bit of Architecture Requested by His Prince the Virgin;” “Expeau of Magnitude, Magnificence and Manifestation;” “Irwin Peter Sicotte, Jr., Symbolically Delineated / The Sayanpeau;” “Mother Symbolically Recaptured / The Kathedral;” “Sonnet Jesus Added;” “Virginia Ann Entwistle Symbolicaly Sketched / Virginia’s Heavenly Castle;” and “Y.T.T.E. The Expositon of Superior Beauty and Permanency” — are further evidence of his unhinged ingenuity.
I find it curious that several critiques of Rizzoli’s work take exception to his writing skills, as if they were reviewing a conventional novel, or perhaps an instruction manual:
Also, like many Outsider artists, Rizzoli ultimately proved inept in communicating his visions to the world. Both his prose and poetry are unreadable. Meaningless phrases strung together apparently verbless go on and on and then go on some more. Even his partisans admit that the soft surfaces of his texts are as impenetrable as if they were chiseled from stone.
~David Bonetti, San Fransisco Examiner
The delirium of styles in Rizzoli’s buildings and the drawings’ precision make them an astonishment. The drawings are blazoned with acronyms, titles, verses and pronouncements so grandiloquent that at times they seem to tip naturally into self-parody.
~Kenneth Baker, San Fransisco Chronicle
But as Kenneth Baker goes on to say, “Yet Rizzoli believed that his visions and inscriptions were dictated by God,” so you can hardly question Rizzoli’s source material, can you? Nor his unbridled and uninhibited enthusiasm for language, and the aesthetics of meticulously (and/or compulsively) rendered text.
1896 – Born in Port Reyes, California. His parents, Innocente and Emma, were Swiss Italians who immigrated to the United States in the 1880s.
1915 – A sister got pregnant without benefit of marriage, his father “disappears” with a stolen gun after his wife and children fled to Oakland in disgrace, and an elder brother ran away, never to be heard from again.
191(?) – He attends the Polytechnic College of Engineering in Oakland, taking classes in mechanics, geometry, magnetism, and electrical engineering.
1915 – The Panama Pacific International Exposition took place in San Francisco. He visited the Exposition on several occasions and the next year began lessons in architectural rendering.
191(?) – He was recommended for membership to the San Francisco Architectural Club.
1923-1933 – He wrote short stories and novellas about a group of architects attempting to realize various utopias. He collects 280 rejection notices from various publishers in the process.
1933 – Under the pseudonym Peter Metermaid he self-published a novel entitled The Colonnade.
1933 – He and his mother Emma settle into a small four room house in Bernal Heights, San Francisco (some sources claim he lived in the Mission District).
1935-1944 – He produces a body of architectural portraits that symbolically represent people that he knows as monumental buildings, and creates another series of architectural work entitled Y.T.T.E. or “Yield To Total Elation.” According to The Biography Project, “Y.T.T.E. develops over the years into an island complex with over eighty buildings (‘The Toure of Phallism,’ ‘Palace of Relaxation,’ ‘The Temple of Dreams’) and twenty monumental sculptures of such abstractions as poetry, happiness, and peace. The ‘Acme Sitting Station,’ A.S.S. was the toilet’s designated name. And if you so desired to shake off this mortal coil, there was: ‘The Shaft of Ascension’ where you would be pleasantly and painlessly euthanized.”
1935-1940 – Rizzoli held annual exhibits in the front room of his home, charging ten cents admission, which he called the Achilles Tectonic Exhibit Portfolio (A.T.E.P.). A few neighbors, relatives, and two curious co-workers attend these exhibitions.
1936 – He is hired at an architectural firm, where he was regarded “merely as a competent draftsman.”
1936 – After twenty-one years, the remains of his deceased father are discovered. He refers to his father’s (apparent) suicide in an architectural portrait entitled, “The Dark Horse of the Festival Year.”
1937 – Rizzoli’s mother dies due to complications of a leg amputation from diabetic gangrene. At the funeral, Rizzoli is remembered to have stood by the casket trying to open his mother’s eyes.
1945 – He experiences visions which he considers to be the third testament to the Bible.
1958 – After an unproductive phase, he initiates a new project called the A.C.E. (Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza). The 350 drawings of the A.C.E. series were comprised of architectural renderings, quotations, and musings on falling snow, the election of John F. Kennedy, the celebration of saints, and the metamorphoses of deceased relatives, among other topics.
1977 – While working on a piece from the “Amte’s Celestial Extravaganza” series entitled “Rest in Peace Awhile,” Rizzoli suffered a stroke. Other accounts suggest he had a stroke while on a walk in his neighborhood.
1977 – He is moved out of his home, many of the items in it are auctioned off to support his last years of life in a nursing home.
1981 – Rizzoli dies.
1989 – A woman found several examples of Rizzoli’s work in a dumpster and brought them to art dealer Bonnie Grossman at The Ames Gallery.
1990 – Grossman tracks down one of Rizzoli’s nephews, who had a garage full of his “uncle’s stuff” in storage.
He never married and slept on a cot at the foot of his mother’s bed.
“I live in an unbelievably hermetically sealed spherical inalienable maze of light and sound seeing imagery expand in every direction.” – A.G. Rizzoli
This is the second post in our Signature Works series. The images come from photographs we have taken of the works in their natural habitat. In this series we will present the unique brands that artists have created over the years with their signature and categorize the typographical style, location, and source of the signature. We also will make notes on each artist’s historical significance, their influences, and whom their work has influenced and inspired. Each image features a specimen signature and also operates as a painting-within-a-painting. Some images function as microcosms of the original painting, others as unique and complete works.
Warby Parker is a great example of a brand created from an invented character name, similar to Pink Floyd and Humphry Slocombe. With this invented construction the brand perfectly evokes the milieu of 1920s-1950s history, literature and music, with many eyewear products named after historical and cultural figures: Crane, Chandler, Duke, Winston, Fillmore, Roosevelt, Beckett, Miles, Crosby, etc. But the extra special vibe that the name “Warby Parker” exudes is that of the incognito comic book superhero who spends half of his or her time as an awkward, nerdy dude or gal just trying to blend in with the crowd, though we readers or viewers know their true, powerful identity — think Peter Parker (Spiderman), Clark Kent (Superman), and non-superhero supporting characters like Snapper Carr (Justice League television news reporter) or Iron Man Tony Stark’s amanuensis, the brilliantly named Pepper Potts. And speaking of smart and sassy women, many were portrayed in such period films as His Girl Friday (Rosalind Russell as the feisty Hildy Johnson), Philadelphia Story (Katherine Hepburn as the regal and queenly Tracy Lord) or Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (the incomparable Jean Arthur’s Babe Bennett opposite Gary Cooper’s Longfellow Deeds), and are vitally important to the brand narrative of the unisex-named Warby Parker, making the name equally powerful for selling women’s eyeglasses as men’s.
On its website, the company directly answers the question, Why did we name our company Warby Parker?:
We’ve always been inspired by the master wordsmith and pop culture icon, Mr. Jack Kerouac. Two of his earliest characters, recently uncovered in his personal journals, bore the names Zagg Parker and Warby Pepper. We took the best from each and made it our name.
They did a great job. And of course Kerouac himself was a product of the generation that the name Warby Parker alludes and pays homage to, extending the brand’s metaphor range into the Beat era as well (think Allen Ginsberg with his iconic black-rimmed glasses, for example), perfect for a brand catering to today’s prep school iconoclasts and creative class hipsters. Somewhere out there in the cultural exosphere, Clark Kent is thinking, Peter Parker is slinking, Sam Spade is drinking and Pepper Potts is winking.
Beck – Wow: This fantastic video was directed by Beck and Grady Hall, and features collaborations with artists Sam Cannon, Randy Cano, Andy Gregg, David McLeod, John McLaughlin, Jess Rona, and Steve Smith.
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize today in literature. Think about that for a moment and let it sink in.
The final verse of Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” seen in the video above from an early performance, sums up his mood of the artist-rebel trying to stay alive in the mainstream culture:
And if my thought-dreams could been seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.
Dylan has proved, like many other artists before him — Van Gogh, Duchamp, Stravinsky, to name but a few — that if you live long enough and remain true to your vision, you might just take over the culture that you once felt alienated from.
But like the greatest artists, Dylan hasn’t just sat still for 50 years and waited for the mainstream to catch up to him. Instead, he continues to experiment, change, and evolve. As an example, compare this 1978 version of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” from the height of Dylan’s “Christian period,” which sounds like it could be coming from a rousing revival church:
Dylan’s continual reinvention continues to day, even at age 75. Here is a more recent performance of “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”:
To further put Dylan’s achievement in winning the Nobel Prize into context — both the context of the 1960s and the context of what’s going on right now in the U.S. Presidential campaign — here’s a cheeky new meme flying around the Internet today:
I like to think that if Dylan’s current thought-dreams could be seen, “they” would probably still want to put his head in a guillotine. We need more artists like him.
This is the first post in our Signature Works series. The images come from photographs we have taken of the works in their natural habitat. In this series we will present the unique brands that artists have created over the years with their signature and categorize the typographical style, location, and source of the signature. We also will make notes on each artist’s historical significance, their influences, and whom their work has influenced and inspired. Each image features a specimen signature and also operates as a painting-within-a-painting. Some images function as microcosms of the original painting, others as unique and complete works.
On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) premiered in Paris. The public hissed and laughed, and a riot ensued. Critics called it “the work of a madman.”
Less than one year later, on April 5, 1914, The Rite of Spring was performed again in Paris. It was a rousing success. After the performance the composer was carried in triumph from the hall on the shoulders of his admirers.
Here’s what I think happened. Note for a moment the dual meaning of the word culture: it is both a set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving of a particular society, and a group of bacteria or other cells that have been grown in a scientific experiment. We are, all of us, participants in our culture, part of a vast group experiment in our orbiting petri dish earth. The Rite of Spring, when it was first performed, was a hostile bacteria invading the culture of the day. Parisian society was mentally sickened by the performance the first time around, because it had been so new, so different from anything anyone had ever heard before. It literally drove people crazy. But after hearing a few performances, the audience adapted to this threat by developing cultural antibodies to prevent them from getting sick again. So next time they heard The Rite of Spring, in 1914, they no longer got sick in the head, and could appreciate the music; and by 1940 The Rite of Spring was so safe for consumption that it accompanied a large section of Disney’s animated film Fantasia. The work of a madman had become the work of a genius and then a work of pop culture, same as with Van Gogh and countless other artists.
That, more or less, is the standard telling of the tale. Madison Mainwaring makes the case, in her excellent article about this event, The Riot of Spring, that it was the ballet aspect of the work — choreographed for forty-six dancers by Vaslav Nijinsky and performed by the Ballets Russes under impresario Sergei Diaghilev — that is what really drove the audience insane (aided and abetted, of course, by Stravinsky’s radical score):
The riot is often discussed in relation to the ballet’s modernist score by Stravinsky. Its dissident chords went against every precedent of melodic harmony, while a beat captured the inchoate rhythms of the “scratching, gnawing, and wiggling birds and beasts.” Stravinsky upended tradition so completely that The Rite almost exceeded the limits of musical notation— when he first conceived of the sounds for the finale, the “Sacrificial Dance,” he did not know how to write them on paper.
At the time of the ballet’s premiere, critics didn’t pay so much attention to the music, giving it brief treatment (“deformed,” “demented”) before moving on to the first offense of the evening: the dancing. This was likely due to the frenzy of the audience noise, which reached such a pitch that it probably drowned out the ninety-instrument orchestra. The forty-six dancers on stage, deafened by the mass chaos in front of them, had the impossible beats of the score shouted to them from the wings.
In any event, this “a musical-choreographic work,” as Stravinsky described it, had succeeded in exploding the culture one year and beginning its journey into the classical canon only a year later. Mulling this over today, over a hundred years removed, prompts an interesting question: Does this sort of thing still happen in our contemporary world? Does art or literature, music, poetry, or dance still have the power to be new and strange enough to turn our world upside down with confusion and make us sick in the head? I keep an open mind that it’s still possible, but I don’t see many examples of it. No riots at the ballet, or at art galleries, or at poetry readings.
Unlike art, Science and Technology dramatically affect the lives of nearly everyone alive today. The primary result of true disruption is change, for after such an event, you can never go back to how things were before. In today’s culture, then, art is rarely disruptive, because it isn’t a primary driver of change. It can be a disturber, influencer, annoyer, irritant, motivator, gadfly, or provocateur, but rarely does it cause a fundamental shift in the culture.
In this light, the right wing forces of anti-science, seen most flagrantly in the denial of climate change, is manifestly hypocritical. You can’t pick and choose your science, or your preferred disruptor. Computers, the Internet, digital technology, the smartphone, wearable tech, the Internet of Things – you cannot accept these technological marvels – and by extension the science that begat them – and simultaneously deny the science of evolution or climate change or anything that contradicts your personal or religious worldview.
Science and Technology disrupt the culture, causing irreversible change. Art and marketing do not. Can you name a single contemporary artist who has impacted the world as much as the Internet, smartphones, or social media have? So when we hear companies claim to be disruptors, we need to know: are they unleashing the next truly disruptive scientific or technological breakthrough, or are they merely a cultural ripple aided and abetted by PR, marketing, clever branding — even, alas, naming? This makes all the difference where adaptation is concerned. Adaptation to true disruption is necessary for survival, and leads, through evolution, to the advancement and improvement of the organism or culture. False disruption – non-science-based cultural irritation – can be fought off with marketing expenditures, Congressional spending cuts and other counter-distractions. Such tactics will never work against true disruption, and will ultimately fail. [Read more…] about Bacteria, brands and ballyhoo: the culture of creative disruption
On a recent episode of WNYC Studios, Here’s The Thing (Elliott Gould: Mash Notes on a Long Career), Alec Baldwin shines while recounting a conversation he had with Jack Nicholson about working on Chinatown, with Roman Polanski and John Huston. (at the 19:10 mark Baldwin does a killer John Huston impression). Nicholson recals Huston turning to Polanski and saying, “Now Romannn, there are really only two directions — a little more and a little less.”
J. G. Ballard created a series of four graphically experimental text collages in the late 1950s. The work was later titled Project for a New Novel. Read more about them and see the other three images in the British Library post, Text collages by J G Ballard, c. 1958.
It’s all about them bells, pedal steel, and triumphant horns in this disrobing cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold.” This video is from the The Onion’s outstanding A.V. Undercover series.
The Polyphonic Spree: Legend has it that bandleader Tim DeLaughter knew he wanted to form a huge, symphonic pop band, but was stuck for a name. A fan of the old Wacky Pack stickers, he had a framed set on the wall. Staring at it, he was inspired by “Polly Dent” (parrot toothpaste). The rest of the name came to him effortlessly. For more band name origin stories see our blog post “From Lead Belly to Pussy Riot: branding lessons and inspiration from over a century of band names.”
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