Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM115: Bound in Walton et al.

A highway robber with many aliases lay on his deathbed after contracting a bad flu.  He dictated his life story to his captors before succumbing to his illness in July of 1837.  His captors published the highwayman’s story posthumously with the title: Narrative of the life of James Allen, alias George Walton, alias Jonas Pierce, alias James H. York, alias Burley Grove, the highwayman. Being his death-bed confession, to the warden of the Massachusetts State Prison.  

The story he tells details common robbery, horse theft, jewel trafficking, many jailbreaks, and several yellings of the phrase “Your money or your life!” with pistols drawn.

The book might have passed into obscurity if it weren’t for a dirty grey leatherbound copy that resides at The Boston Athenaeum. It bears a Latin inscription on its front cover: “HIC LIBER WALTONIS CUTE COMPACTUS EST” or (roughly), “This book is bound in Walton’s skin.”

As legend has it, the highwayman Allen (aka. Walton) requested that his memoirs be gifted to a man whom he once tried and failed to rob, Mr. John Fenno Jr.  Further, the highwayman requested that the book be bound in his own skin.

Books bound in human skin are rare, though not unheard of.  As of publish date, the Anthropodermic Book Project has confirmed 18 such books, and identified another 12 books previously thought to be human, but revealed to be of more customary leathers.  Narrative of the life of James Allen… resides in the former category, being confirmed as human skin via a test called Peptide Mass Fingerprinting.

Dawn Walus, Chief Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum told HBM host Jeff Emtman that when they sent a sample of the book’s binding off for PMF testing, she and other athenaeum staff hoped the results would come back negative.  Dawn considers the binding to be a bit of spectacle, and a distraction from the hundreds of thousands of other books in their collection, “I don’t think we want to be known as ‘the place that has the skin book.’…It seems out of place today.”

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Jeff Emtman produced this episode.  Jeff is doing a free lecture at Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Center on March 31st, 2019.  Also, Jeff will be in Copenhagen for Radiobiograf, where he’ll teach a class on sound design and host a radio cinema event about haunting sounds.


Music: The Black Spot | | | Phantom Fauna

HBM114: Envisioning AIDS

In a warm and dark room in the winter of 1987, people lay on the ground with their eyes closed.  A facilitator from the Shanti Project guides those assembled on an intimate visualization through the process of dying from AIDS.  

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Content Note:

- Imagining Death
- Language

This took place at the Interfaith Conference on AIDS and ARC for Clergy and Caregivers in San Francisco.  The conference hoped to give religious organizations tools to help their dying congregants. The conference featured speakers representing Catholicism, Judaism, many Protestant denominations, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and New Age religions.  

AIDS was a major issue at the time, with no cure in sight, and many many deaths per year.  And anti-queer rhetoric (see Jerry Fallwell), laws (see Bowers v Hardwick) and attitudes (see Pew poll on political values 1987) were all common.

News Clips from the 80’s and 90’s regarding HIV and AIDS, which were also known as “HTLV-3” and “ARC” at the time.

Around the same time as this conference, the FDA approved a drug called AZT for the treatment of HIV.  It was highly anticipated, but ultimately considered a failure.  More years would pass and many more people would die before the approval of effective anti-retroviral drugs.  And even more years before the first (and possibly second) cases of HIV would be cured.  

But back in that darkened room in 1987, people laid on the ground with their eyes closed for an hour, while they tried to imagine what it would feel like to be covered in lesions...to sit in a doctor’s office when the receptionist refuses to make eye contact...to watch from above as people try to resuscitate their dead bodies...and to observe their own funerals...all in effort to better understand better the questions people with AIDS were likely asking of themselves and their loved ones—a practice that AIDS scholar Lynne Gerber says was common at this time in the new age circles of the Bay Area.

On this episode, Lynne explains some of the context around queerness and medicine and religion and AIDS.  She’s writing a book about these topics, and also making an upcoming podcast series with audio producer Ariana Nedelman.  Ariana provided us with the audio from the visualization practice via the UCSF Archives.

Jeff Emtman produced this episode. Episode art via The RCSB Protein Data Bank / David S. Goodsell and the NIH / Wikimedia Commons.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Circling Lights

HBM112: Negative Space

Back when HBM host Jeff Emtman was a photographer, he used to solve his problems with walks in the woods.  There, he’d see the ways that branches frame the sky. As an artistic concept, negative space gets hogged a lot by the visual arts.  In this episode, Jeff attempts to wrestle the concept into the sonic world; address his current problems by listening to the spaces between words and by listening to the ambiences of a semi-empty, possibly haunted hotel.  

Music: The Black Spot

👇 HBM021: Potential Energy, the version with words.

👇 Excerpts from Portraits without People photo series by Jeff Emtman, 2011

PSSSSSSSSSST………

HBM110: Big Numbers

For two thirds of his life, HBM host Jeff Emtman has been thinking about the distance to The Moon in terms of corn snacks.  Bugles specifically.  It was a factoid written on the packaging that purported to convey information about the distance to the moon.  The number itself has been long forgotten, but the taste of degermed yellow corn meal lingers.

Content note:

- Language

In this episode, Jeff takes issue with the significance that is placed on large and round numbers.  And he talks to his 2 year old nephew while they play the piano. And he interviews his brother about larger and smaller infinities.  And he makes podcast music on a tiny sampler.  But mostly he complains about turning 30, a number that’s round, if you count in base ten.

But not everyone uses base 10.  Several languages of Papa New Guinea use base 27, using not only their fingers, but parts across all their upper body.  And many others from across the world have settled on base 20.  

It’s possible that numbers are an advanced technology of language to make the abstract more palatable.  Homesigners are people who develop their own sign languages independent from established sign languages.  In a 2011 study called Number Without a Language Model, researchers contacted several homesigners who lived in numerate societies, but apparently had not developed strong words for numbers past three or so.

Big thank yous to Alan Emtman, Brian Emtman, Ariana Nedelman and Ross Sutherland (who produces the fantastic podcast Imaginary Advice [this episode contains excerpts from Episode 49, “Re: The Moon”]).

Music: The Black Spot | | | Serocell

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HBM109: Untitled Noises of New York (Sound Matters)

January ice on the Hudson. Video by Jeff Emtman.

January ice on the Hudson. Video by Jeff Emtman.

HBM host Jeff Emtman travels to New York City in an effort to fulfill open-ended recording assignments issued from afar by Tim Hinman for an episode of Bang & Olufsen’s Sound Matters podcast.  

It should be noted that in this episode, Tim incorrectly states that Jeff is from the “lentil capital of Washington State.” In fact, Jeff is from the self-proclaimed lentil capital of the world.

This episode was produced and scored by Tim Hinman.  Tim also hosts the fantastic podcast Third Ear.

Read an interview with Jeff about the creation of HBM over on Bang and Olufsen’s blog.  Interview by Nathaniel Budzinski.



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