(Bells ringing, bats out hunting, massive cumulus clouds gunmetal gray against the deep blue evening sky heading north over the Hudson. If you’re in New York this coming week the amazing Lubomyr Melnyk will be performing live at Le Poisson Rouge on Friday – not to be missed!)
This is a little story in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. (You may have seen Randall Munroe’s wonderful explanation using only the thousand most common words.) It takes place in my neighborhood in Greenwich Village, and in Mexico City.
Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi were lifelong friends – a friendship based in equal measure on frenetic conversation and visible light. This was in the period before Fuller became the permanently jet-lagged human media platform of his later career: before he wore three watches (one for the time zone he was in; one for the time zone Anne Hewlett Fuller, his wife, was currently in; one for the time zone he was headed to next), spoke to every conceivable audience for hours on hours at 120 words a minute, and had a one-word international telegram address, like the New York Times or Le Monde: BUCKY. At the time of this story, he was a classic Village character, a two-time Harvard expellee with a manifesto and no immediate prospects, a coffeehouse habitué fueled by endless cups of some of the first espresso in the United States, whose manic exposition of “4D Time Lock” and the “air-ocean world” would carry him on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge without his noticing.
Fuller then operated out of Romany Marie’s at 20 Christopher Street, a restaurant/bar/bohemian fleapit/anarchist redoubt. He furnished, redecorated and repainted the restaurant, taking a free meal every day or two in lieu of payment, and ran a kind of cosmic engineering seminar most nights at a corner table. He and Noguchi hit it off immediately, speaking in a strange, shared discourse of forms, volumes and spatial relationships. Their particular mutual obsession was the idea of totally reflective objects in a completely reflective environment – abstracted forms with no shadows, saturated in light. When Noguchi needed a studio, he found an old laundry room on the top floor of a building at Madison and 29th, a room with windows on all sides. He and Fuller painted the interior completely silver; said Noguchi “one was almost blinded by the lack of shadows.” He worked on his sculptures in chrome-plated bronze there, forms without shadows, including a bust of Fuller.
Years later, Noguchi – working on a sculptural mural, and in the midst of a passionate affair with Frida Kahlo – wired an urgent request from Mexico City to Fuller, then still in New York: “PLEASE WIRE ME RUSH EINSTEIN’S FORMULA AND EXPLANATION THEREOF.” Fuller spent his last ten dollars at Western Union on the response – lucid, manic, poetic, and baffling in equal parts, seeming to expand, like energy itself, in all directions simultaneously:
EINSTEIN’S FORMULA DETERMINATION INDIVIDUAL SPECIFICS RELATIVITY READS “ENERGY EQUALS MASS TIMES THE SPEED OF LIGHT SQUARED” SPEED OF LIGHT IDENTICAL SPEED ALL RADIATION COSMIC GAMMA X ULTRA VIOLET INFRA RED RAYS ETC ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY SEVEN THOUSAND MILES PER SECOND WHICH SQUARED IS TOP OR PERFECT SPEED GIVING SCIENCE A FINITE VALUE FOR BASIC FACTOR IN MOTION UNIVERSE SPEED OF RADIANT ENERGY BEING DIRECTIONAL OUTWARD ALL DIRECTIONS EXPANDING WAVE SURFACE DIAMETRIC POLAR SPEED AWAY FROM SELF IS TWICE SPEED IN ONE DIRECTION AND SPEED OF VOLUME INCREASE IS SQUARE OF SPEED IN ONE DIRECTION APPROXIMATELY THIRTY FIVE BILLION VOLUMETRIC MILES PER SECOND FORMULA IS WRITTEN LETTER E FOLLOWED BY EQUATION MARK FOLLOWED BY LETTER M FOLLOWED BY LETTER C FOLLOWED CLOSELY BY ELEVATED SMALL FIGURE TWO SYMBOL OF SQUARING ONLY VARIABLE IN FORMULA IS SPECIFIC MASS SPEED IS UNIT OF RATE WHICH IS AN INTEGRATED RATIO OF BOTH TIME AND SPACE AND NO GREATER RATE OF SPEED THAN THAT PROVIDED BY ITS CAUSE WHICH IS PURE ENERGY LATENT OR RADIANT IS ATTAINABLE THE FORMULA THEREFORE PROVIDES A UNIT AND A RATE OF PERFECTION TO WHICH THE RELATIVE IMPERFECTION OR INEFFICIENCY OF ENERGY RELEASE IN RADIANT OR CONFINED DIRECTION OF ALL TEMPORAL SPACE PHENOMENA MAY BE COMPARED BY ACTUAL CALCULATION SIGNIFICANCE SPECIFIC QUALITY OF ANIMATES IS CONTROL WILLFUL OR OTHERWISE OF RATE AND DIRECTION ENERGY RELEASE AND APPLICATION NOT ONLY TO SELF MECHANISM BUT OF FROM-SELF-MACHINE DIVIDED MECHANISMS RELATIVITY OF ALL ANIMATES AND INANIMATES IS POTENTIAL OF ESTABLISHMENT THROUGH EINSTEIN FORMULA
Mahogany’s Soleil Radieux, from The Dream of a Modern Day, a perfect song for imagining Noguchi in his shadowless room, and Einstein thinking of railway timetables, space, speed and light.
“It’s so potent that you have to be careful of it. Because we are right at the beginning of it still. But Colundi will take care of that. It takes care of me talking to you now.” The story of Aleksi Perälä and his cosmic musical tuning sequence.
The spectacular art deco floral motifs of Serge Gladky, 1929.
Do you want a ten minute playlist of somebody’s favorite songs used on the Weather Channel’s local forecast display in 2012? Of course you do.
(Thanks for reading, as ever.)
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