Sunday, May 13, 2012

Problems of sight and hearing

Following the previous rather long post it might be a little while before I post something substantial again. This is just a short note to explain the change in appearance of the blog. I chose the previous light-on-dark colour scheme somewhat warily: I don't personally have a problem with reading light text on a dark background, but I knew some people might. On the other hand, I really wanted the map image at the top, and for some reason I couldn't make that template look at all good with a dark-on-light colour scheme, so I just let it be.

I was however reprimanded by a friend with good taste, who found that reading from my colour scheme gave her a headache. Apparently light-on-dark is known to be a problem for roughly 50% of the population (apparently everyone who has even mild astigmatism). Anyway, with that additional motivation, I managed to tinker with the HTML to obtain the current look, which probably works better in any case. I hope you agree!

Sticking with the topic of sensory impairment (if I can cheekily characterise an inability to read light-on-dark as an impairment): yesterday I happened to be in Bonn for the day, and naturally went to visit the Beethoven Haus Museum. Now we all know that Beethoven tragically and slowly went deaf in later life, but that this didn't stop him composing several of his most amazing works. Obviously this is a remarkable achievement, but despite having heard the story of how he could not even hear the tumultuous applause of the audience at the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, I really had no appreciation of just what going deaf might have felt like to him.

The audioguide available at the museum attempts to aid the understanding a little. As you walk past the display case containing Beethoven's ever-longer ear trumpets (some around two foot long!), you can hear parts of his famous Fifth Symphony as it would have sounded to him at the age of 38 in 1808, and what he would have heard of the Ode to Joy in 1824. The Fifth Symphony sounds as though it were coming from a small radio, tuned in the middle of two stations and muffled by a pillow. The Ode to Joy sounds as though one were listening to an orchestra hundreds of metres away, while lying at the bottom of a swimming pool. When the audioguide switches to a recording of the actual work, the beauty, complexity and sheer volume of the piece hits you with great force.

I found it a very moving experience, and I would thoroughly recommend a visit to the museum if you are ever in Bonn.

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