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October 15, 2009 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-10-15

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4B - Thursday, October 15, 2009
From Page 1B
stand the collection's scope. In
addition to the Javanese gamelan,
Stearns also includes the first mass-
produced Moog synthesizer, the
RCA theremin used for the radio
program "The Green Hornet," a
collection of trumpets donated by
Armando Ghitalla (a former trum-
peter of the Boston Symphony
Orchestra), numerous rattles, reed
instruments, drums and horns
from different cultures around the
world and a fantastic collection of
forged instruments.
It's this wide range of instru-
ments that, according to Dr. Steven
Ball, assistant professor of music
and current director of the exhibit,
renders the collection unique.
"Stearns is the only collection (of
instruments) that has truly anthro-
pological origins," Ball said. "Each
instrument in the collection is a
product of its maker and of its time
and of its place."
Because the collection includes
so many diverse instruments, study
of the collection extends into the
realm of human culture.
A prime example of this anthro-
pological insight lies with the
forged instruments of the collec-
tion. Some of the keyboards origi-
nally donated by Stearns were
purchased from notorious Italian
forger Leopoldo Franciolini, whose
business boomed during the late
19th and early 20th century. In
one particularly incredible forg-
ery, Franciolini added two tiers of
keyboards to a basic harpsichord
and then scrawled the signature of
BarolomeoCristofori, awell-known
harpsichord maker from the 1700s
and inventor of the modern piano
forte, on to the instrument.
subjected to this level of tampering
would be viewed as a travesty. But
for Ball, who intends to create an
exhibit titled "Fantastic Forgeries,"
it's a blessing in disguise.
"When you boil the forgeries
down, usually at the core there are
many important pieces. Forgeries
aren'tjustdisposable, infactthey're
sort of like sleeping beauties," Ball
said. "We can learn about the origi-
nal instruments at the base of the
forgery and in this case, also learn
about the culture of 19th-century
museum world. And then there's
the whole aspect of Franciolini
himself. The instrument tells you
about the forger and the buyer."
"There are always new things
to discover about the instruments,
and they start to tell very long,
complex stories," he added.
Unfortunately, one of the stories
the Stearns instruments tell is a
sad one - while the collection was
growing during its golden years,
the instruments were also tarnish-
ing due to a lack of adequate preser-
vation techniques. A combination
of what Ball calls "a chronic lack

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

rializing an instrument in the name
of a relative. For example, let's say
you had an uncle who really loved
clarinets. You could pick a clari-
net from the collection, donate a
certain sum and have that instru-
ment be named in memory of your
However, Stepanchuk firmly
believes that the best
way to help the collec-
tion get through (and
even grow in) these
economic times is to
partner with other
arts programs and reC
museums. She hopes
to see more collabora -of t
tions with other Uni-
versity departments,
like the Kelsey Muse- ho
um, the University N
Musical Society and b
the Exhibit Museum
in the future.
"In the past, we've
housed special exhib-
its in other muse-
ums," she said. "For
example, a couple of
years ago there was
a fantastic exhibit DIRE
at the Kelsey that
explored the idea
of reconstructing
ancient instruments and trying
to replicate the sounds and music
the instruments made. Frederick
Stearns also donated large parts of

his collection to other institutions,
like the mollusk collection in the
Exhibit Museum and the mummy
collection at the Detroit Institute
of Arts. We hope to consider col-
laborating with other recipients of
Stearns's massive collection."
All these ideas are subject to
change, however, and largely
Museums are a
ally critical part
he networks the
use information
ecause they are
advocates for
depend on funding and public
Both Ball and Stepanchuk stress
the importance of students get-

ting involved with the collection,
whether in working as part of its
administration, taking a tour or
simply looking at the website. Ball
and Stepanchuk are eager to get in
contact with anyone with ideas for
an exhibit, instruments to donate
or just an interest in becoming
actively involved with the collec-
Most importantly, every-
one involved with Stearns
wishes to impress upon
the public just how unique
the collection is and why
it is worth preserving. Ball
emphasizes how important
it is to study these instru-
~'ments, interact with them
and preserve them for future
generations. He stresses that
every object is a concrete
piece of history worth pre-
"That's why museums are
critically important: The
information that the instru-
ments contain is stable so
long as the instruments exist
-it's its ownrecord of itself,"
Ball said. "And because of
thermodynamics, the second
law - entropy - all things
go to hell basically over time,
everything is deteriorating.
Museums are a really critical part
of the networks that house infor-
mation because they are advocates
for preservation."

--------------- - --- - - -

The Stearns Collection was established in
of funding" and a lack of interest
caused the collection to nose dive
into its current condition, with the
collection split and the manage-
ment changing hands.
Appointed on June 1, 2009 as
the collection's new director, Ball
has many ideas to counterbalance
the collection's distressing situa-
tion. His goals focus on stabilizing
and expanding the collection in
addition to getting the community,
especially students, more moti-
vated and involved. Tentative plans
are being proposed to the Univer-
sity regarding a unified, larger
space in which the collection could
be permanently housed. Ball hopes
to acquire such a space within the
next five years.
Students should also expect to
see a new website for the collection
that may contain one of Ball's other
initiatives - an online catalogue of
the Stearns instruments directed
specifically toward student use.
Ball also extends a campus-
wide call for any antique or unique
instruments that may be "looking
for a home." In the spirit of the col-
lection's founder, Ball is extremely
interested in expanding the col-
lection and will take a look at any
instrument. He asserts that this is
a new direction, as the directors
of the past three decades have not
shown much interest in increasing
the collection's size.
The most promising plans for

the future will hopefully be real-
ized in extending the collection's
current outreach programs in the
form of lectures, performances and
tours. Ball believes that "when you
stand in front of an instrument,
you should have the ability to expe-
rience it." Instruments cannot be
fully appreciated when they are
immobile and behind glass.
Carol Stepanchuk, docent of the
Stearns Collection and head tour
guide, couldn't agree more. While
working with the collection for the
past four years, Stepanchuk has
taken many individuals on tours
and attests to the power a tactile
connection with the instrument
can have.
"Sometimes students find it very
therapeutic to play the instru-
ments, especially the gamelan," she
said. "There's just something about
that instrument that can take stress
Stepanchuk seems hopeful that
under Ball, the collection will flour-
ish. She is up for the implementa-
tion of his new ideas and even has a
few suggestions of her own.
"In the past, Stearns has had
an 'adopt an instrument' program
where individuals can become the
guardians of an instrument in poor
condition - they restore the instru-
ment and keep it in good condition
until the collection wants to house
it again," she said.
"There is also the idea of memo-


About 5 percent of the collection is on permanent display.

Even if it doesn't translate, 'Mystical Ninja' endures

Daily Film Editor
There havebeenmanysuccessful
Japanese games released in Ameri-
ca - "Mega Man" and "Harvest
Moon" immediately come to mind
- that sport relatable characters
and universal gameplay, stretching
the games' fanbase across oceans.
And then there's Goemon, the
wacky, pipe-swinging ninja with a
hairdo that resembles a giant blue
pineapple and his robot doppel-
ganger who boxes other robots.
Goemon stars in the "Mysti-
cal Ninja" series, which was quite
possibly the most bizarre group of
Japanese games aimed at popular
American audiences in the 1990s.
(This throne, naturally, has been
reclaimed in recent years by the
"Katamari Damacy" games.) The
best, and easily the strangest of the
bunch was "Mystical Ninja Starring
Goemon" for the Nintendo 64, the
fifth game in the series but only the

second released in North America.
After playing through "Star-
ring Goemon" with all the head
scratching and constant utter-
ances of "What the hell?," it should
become obvious why only one more
entry, the enjoyable but infinitely
more frustrating "Goemon's Great
Adventure," ever found its way to
American store shelves.
At first glance, the games
wouldn't seem that difficult to sell.
After all, the action-adventure
gameplay, town exploring and epic
quests merged the best bits from
the Mario and Zelda series. In the
game, there is strategy involved in
switching between the four play-
able characters and their special
abilities (Goemon, his flatulent
best friend Ebismaru, tea-drinking
robot Sasuke and half-mermaid
Yae), as well as plenty of variety
between the on-foot segments and
the robot battles that basically play
out like first-person "Punch-Out!!"
For whatever weirdness "Mys-

tical Ninja" lacked in gameplay, it
more than made up for it in story
and presentation. You're barely
five minutes into the game before
a giant, peach-shaped spaceship
lands on Mt. Fuji. After Goemon
fights his way to the ship, he discov-

Naturally, the only way to stop
him is to ride on the backs of drag-
on gods, teleport with the help of
magic tea houses and equip robots
with roller skates so they can pull
off extreme tricks while destroy-
ing entire towns in the name of the

ers that feudal good guys. And
Japan is in the if mixing robots,
midst of being spaceships and
commandeered M erging the Eastern Euro-
by a group of ~. pean theater
theater-loving most appealing architecture
aliens who dub aspects of M ario into feudal
themselves the Japan sounds
"Peach Moun- and Zelda games. just anauhro-
tain Shoguns." nistic enough
Their leader, elevate the game
an angel-winged to a plateau of
samurai named Spring Breeze Dan- artful goofiness, well, so much the
cin', explains his nefarious plot to better.
transform the country into his own Granted, much of my enjoyment
private stage where he can perform of the game as a child most likely
musicals for all eternity ... or some- stemmed from the incredibly poor
thing like that. And he reveals all translation and my own unfamil-
of this through a song-and-dance iarity with Japanese culture. For
number. With a laugh track. example, the character of Goemon

is based on a legendary bandit from
the 1500s who was essentially
the Japanese Robin Hood, steal-
ing gold from the rich and giving
it to the poor. (One of video-game
Goemon's abilities is to hurl stolen
coins as projectile weapons.) Not
to mention that the villain's seem-
ingly nonsensical theater obsession
is actually modeled after kabuki, an
ancient Japanese performance art.
Had these things been apparent to a
certain young American boy at the
time, I mighthave had more respect
for the game beyond laughing at the
silly hair.
But there's no denying that the
pure ridiculousness of "Mystical
Ninja" is what's kept it alive in my
memory all these years, long after
other generic action-adventures
faded away. And even pulling back
all the silliness, there's still a very
strong game to explore. The puz-
zles are challenging, the in-game
trek across Japan is daunting in all
the right ways and the feeling you

get upon seeing the countryside for
the first time is comparable to that
warm-and-fuzzy sensation of rid-
ing into the sunrise on horseback
in "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of
Time." Plus, you learn a ton about
Japanese geography, thanks to the
talking dogs along the way.
And maybe it's just a side effect
of the translation, but much of the
humor can be refreshingly dis-
arming. Take the gatekeepers who
guard the entrance to Goemon's
just going to keep standing in the
same exact spot until you've beaten
the game. "Kinda painful ... kinda
depressing," one of the guards says.
It's enough to make you feel for all
the other non-player characters
in all the other adventure games
you've ever played. In instances
like this, "Mystical Ninja" may not
know how to appeal to a main-
stream American audience, but it
does know how embody the soul of
a damn good video game.


E-mail battlebota@umich.edu
for an application and/or Scooby Snack.


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