‘Sixteen Tons’ is a song about a coal miner, based on life in coal mines in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. It was written and first recorded by Merle Travis and was first released by Capitol on the album ‘Folk Songs of the Hills’ (July 1947). The line, “You load sixteen tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt,” came from a letter written by Travis’ brother John. Another line came from their father, a coal miner, who would say, “I can’t afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store,” a reference to the truck system and to debt bondage. Under this scrip system, workers were not paid cash; rather they were paid with non-transferable credit vouchers which could be exchanged only for goods sold at the company store. This made it impossible for workers to store up cash savings. Workers also usually lived in company-owned dormitories or houses, the rent for which was automatically deducted from their pay. In the United States the truck system and associated debt bondage persisted until the strikes of the newly formed United Mine Workers and affiliated unions forced an end to such practices.
The Voyager Golden Records are phonograph records that were included aboard both Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. They contain sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, and are intended for any intelligent extraterrestrial life form, or for future humans, who may find them. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. The selection of content for the record took almost a year. Sagan and his associates assembled 116 images and a variety of natural sounds, such as those made by surf, wind, thunder and animals. To this they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, spoken greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages, and printed messages from U.S. president Jimmy Carter and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. Carl Sagan suggested that The Beatles song ‘Here Comes the Sun’ be included on the record, but the record company EMI, which held the copyrights to the song, declined. The record also includes the inspirational message “Per aspera ad astra” in Morse code.
In 1982 it was claimed that hidden messages were contained in many popular rock songs through a technique called backmasking. One example of such hidden messages that was prominently cited was in ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The alleged message, which occurs during the middle section of the song (“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now...”) when played backward, was purported to contain the Satanic references “Here’s to my sweet Satan” and “I sing because I live with Satan.”
In 2011, at four research sites in West Africa, after discovering multiple hollow and/or buttressed trees exhibiting clear signs of wear with conspicuous piles of rocks at their base or inside, a team of researchers placed camera traps next to them. They found that chimpanzees were responsible for these stone piles and were regularly visiting these trees. “The PanAf (Pan African Programme: The Cultured Chimpanzee) cameras filmed individual chimpanzees picking up stones from beside, or inside trees, and then throwing them at these trees while emitting a long-distance pant hoot vocalization”, says Ammie Kalan of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Importantly, the behaviour results in accumulations of rocks at these locations. Whereas it is mainly the adult males practicing this behaviour in the context of ritualized displays, some camera traps also revealed females or juveniles doing it. The behaviour has only been observed in West Africa and appears to be independent of any foraging context, in which the majority of tool-use behaviours were previously described in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees are often used as a model for the evolution of early hominins. Due to the conspicuous accumulations of stones associated with this newly discovered behaviour, it raises questions regarding the interpretation of stone accumulation sites in archaeology. Intriguingly, the authors also suggest that this behaviour could shed some light on the origin of ritual sites in hominin evolution.
Here’s to my sweet Satan publication edited by Peter Eramian and designed by Nico Stephou with texts by Marina Kassianidou, Christopher Rey Pérez, Evagoras Vanezis and Emiddio Vasquez.
Site-specific exhibition at Volks, Nicosia, 2016.