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Wildlife Is Now Thriving Again in Chernobyl–Even If Humans Won’t for Another 24,000 Years

Por Josh Jones

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 sci-fi film Stalker, a mysterious artifact renders a landscape called the Zone inhospitable for humans. As critics have often pointed out, a tragic irony may have killed the director and some of the crew a few years later. Shooting for months on end in a disused refinery in Estonia exposed them to high levels of toxic chemicals. Tarkovsky died of cancer in 1986, just a few months after the disaster at Chernobyl. “It is surely part of Stalker’s mystique,” Mark Le Fanu writes for Criterion, “that in some strange way, Tarkovsky’s explorations … were to ‘prophesy’ the destruction… of the nuclear power plant.”

Tarkovsky did not see the future. He adapted a dystopian story written by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. “Certainly,” writes Le Fanu, “there were many things in the Soviet Union at that time to be dystopian about.” But the film inspired a video game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, which in turn inspired tourists to start “flocking to Chernobyl,” writes Katie Mettier in The Washington Post: “fans of the video game… wanted to see firsthand the nuclear wasteland they’d visited in virtual reality.”

Ukraine may have succeeded, thanks to these associations, in rebranding Chernobyl for the so-called “dark tourism” set, but the area will not become habitable again for some 24,000 years. Habitable, that is, for humans. “Flora and fauna have bounced back” in Chernobyl, writes Ellen Gutoskey at Mental Floss, “and from what researchers can see, they appear to be thriving.” They include “hundreds of plant and animal species in the zone,” says Nick Beresford, a researcher at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “Including more than 60 [rare] species.”

Among the many animals to return to the area are “Eureasian lynx, brown bear, black storks, and European bison,” as well as elk, deer, boars, and wolves. Nearby crops are still showing high levels of contamination. According to the latest research, nothing that grows there should be eaten by humans. And as one might expect, “mutations are more common in Chernobyl’s plants and animals than in those from other regions,” Gutosky notes. But the harm caused by radiation pales by comparison with that posed by a constant human presence.

Among the many species making their home in Chernobyl are the endangered Przewalski’s horses who numbered around 30 when they were “released into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and left to their own devices…. Now it’s estimated that at least 150 Przewalski’s horses roam the region.” The horrific, human-caused accident of Chernobyl has had the effect of clearing space for nature again. The area has become an unintended experiment in what journalist George Monbiot calls “rewilding,” which he defines as “[taking] down the fences, blocking up the drainage ditches, enabling wildlife to spread.”

In order for the planet to “rewild,” to recover its biodiversity and rebuild its ecosystems, humans need to step away, stop seeing ourselves “as the guardians or the stewards of the planet,” says Monbiot, “whereas I think it does best when we have as little influence as we can get away with.” Tourists may come and go, but there may be no humans settling and building  in Chernobyl for a few thousand years. For the species currently thriving there, that’s apparently for the best.

via Mental Floss

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Wildlife Is Now Thriving Again in Chernobyl–Even If Humans Won’t for Another 24,000 Years is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch Accurate Recreations of Medieval Italian Longsword Fighting Techniques, All Based on a Manuscript from 1404

Por Josh Jones

Given recent events, the prospect of hundreds of young men meeting on Facebook, then traveling from around the country to a central U.S. location might sound like reasonable cause for alarm. Yet a recent convention fitting that description had nothing to do with political violence but, rather, a celebration and appreciation of the name “Josh” (full disclosure: this writer did not attend). The gathering of the Joshes this past April in Nebraska could not have been more peaceful, including its finishing battle royale, conducted with pool noodles. (Winner: adorable 4-year-old Josh Vinson, Jr., or “Little Josh,” from Lincoln, NE).

The Joshes had no concern for proper pool-noodle-wielding technique, if there is such a thing. But groups of people who gather around the country to stage medieval-style battles in live-action role playing (LARP) games with weapons both real and fake might benefit from pointers.

So, too, might those who choreograph sword fights on stage and screen. Where can serious historical re-creators learn how to wield a real blade in historically accurate combat? One resource can be found at Wiktenauer, a wiki devoted to collecting “all of the primary and secondary source literature that makes up the text of historical European Martial arts (HEMA) research.”

The Fior di Battaglia (“Flower of Battle”) — an Italian fencing manual by Fiore de’i Liberi dating from circa 1404 — offers richly- and copiously-illustrated demonstrations of medieval Italian longsword fighting techniques. In the original manuscript, seen here and at The Getty, “the illustrations are inked sketches with gold leafing on the crowns and garters,” notes the Wiktenauer entry. They dominate the text, which “takes the form of descriptive paragraphs set in poor Italian verse, which are nevertheless fairly clear and informative.” So clear, indeed, the brooding young men of Akademia Szermierzy — a Polish group that recreates medieval sword-fighting techniques — can more than convincingly mimic the moves in the video at the top.

Once they get going, after some requisite pre-fight rigamarole, it’s impressive stuff, maybe already familiar to modern fencers and certain members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, the LARP-ing organization of amateurs recreating everything from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. But for those who think all live-action role-playing is the equivalent of the Battle of the Joshes (or off-brand Nazis running through the streets in homemade armor), the sheer ballet of historical sword-fighting may come as a surprise — and maybe inspire a few more people to pull on the doublet and hose. See more medieval sword-fighting recreations from Akademia Szermierzy here, and the full text of the Fior di Battaglia here.

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A Hypnotic Look at How Japanese Samurai Swords Are Made

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Accurate Recreations of Medieval Italian Longsword Fighting Techniques, All Based on a Manuscript from 1404 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Cicadas Return After 17 Years: Stunning Footage of the Brood X Cicadas

Por Ayun Halliday

Sing, fly, mate, die.

The periodical cicadas in Brood X are emerging from underground, where they have spent the last 17 years as nymphs. They are making the final climb of their lives, intent on escaping their carapaces in order to make more cicadas. And as always they are doing it en masse.

Once free, they must quickly get the hang of their brand new wings, and make for the trees, where the males will sing (some say scream) in a bid for females with whom to mate.

The pregnant females drill cavities into narrow branches to receive their eggs.

By the time the larva emerge, some six weeks later, their mothers and fathers are long dead.

Instinct propels these babies to drop to the ground and burrow in, thus beginning another 17 year cycle, a process Samuel Orr, a time lapse photographer and filmmaker specializing in nature documentary, documents in macro close up in Return of the Cicadas, above.

His adventures with Brood X date to their last emergence in 2004, when he was a student at Indiana University, working in a lab with a professor whose area of expertise was cicadas.

While waiting around for Brood X’s next appearance, he traveled around the country and as far as Australia, gathering over 200 hours of footage of other periodical cicadas for an hour long, Kickstarter-funded film that aired on PBS in 2012.

Brood X has a way of ensuring that we humans will also observe a 17 year cycle, at least those of us who live in the states the Great Eastern Brood calls home.

Some celebrate with commemorative merch. This year, that means face masks as well as an ever burgeoning assortment of t-shirts, mugs, and other paraphernalia.

Also new this year, Cicada Safari, entomologist Dr. Gene Kritsky’s smartphone app for citizen scientists eager to help map the 2021 emergence with photos and location.

There are some among us who complain about the males’ lusty chorus, which can rival garbage disposals, lawn mowers, and jackhammers in terms of decibels.

Those concerned with the planet’s health can use the data from this and past emergences to discuss the impact of climate change and deforestation. Brood X is listed as “Near Threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Some of us are moved to write poetry and songs, though we don’t always get the species right — witness Ogden Nash’s Locust-Lovers, Attention! (1936) and Bob Dylan’s Day of the Locusts (1970).

Inevitably, there will be articles about eating them. It’s true that they’re a hyperlocal source of sustainable protein, albeit one that’s rarely on the menu. (The Onondaga Nation celebrates — and ceremonially samples — Brood VII every 17 years, crediting the insects with saving their ancestors from starvation after the Continental Army destroyed their villages and food sources in 1779.)

Human nature is such that we can’t help but reflect on the twists and turns our lives have taken over the last 17 years.

A woman in Maryland planned a cicada themed wedding to coincide with Brood X’s 1987 emergence, having been born two emergences before, and graduated from Bryn Mawr during the 1970 emergence, as 50 miles away, Bob Dylan was having his fateful encounter on the campus of Princeton.

Most of us will find that our milestones have been a bit more accidental in nature.

Brood X’s emergence also serves as a lens through which to view 17 years in the life of our country. The Onion took this to the edge several years ago with an article from the point of view of Brood II, but it’ll be hard to top the 17-year chunk of recent history Brood X and the humans who have been living atop them since 2004 will have to digest.

Speaking of history, Brood X Mania has been around much longer than any of us have been alive, and probably predates a Philadelphia pastor’s description of the 1715 emergence in his journal (though we’ll give him FIRST!!! since no earlier accounts have surfaced).

Prior to the Internet, entomologist Charles L. Marlatt’s The Periodical Cicada: An Account of Cicada Septendecim, Its Natural Enemies and the Means of Preventing Its Injury (1907) was the go to source for all things cicada related, and it remains a fascinating read.

In addition to lots of nitty gritty on the insects’ anatomy, habits, diet, and habitat, he quotes liberally from other cicada experts, from both his own era and before. The anecdotal evidence suggests our obsession is far from new.

These days, anyone armed with a smartphone can make a recording of Brood X’s cacophony, but back then, experts in the field were tasked with trying to capture it in print.

Professor Charles Valentine Riley compared the sound early in the season, when the first males were emerging to the “whistling of a train passing through a short tunnel” and also, “the croaking of certain frogs.” (For those needing help with pronunciation, he rendered it phonetically as “Pha-r-r-r-aoh.”)

Professor Asa Fitch’s described high season in New York state, when a maximum of males sing simultaneously:

tsh-e-e-E-E-E-E-e-ou, uttered continuously and prolonged to a quarter or half minute in length, the middle note deafeningly shrill, loud and piercing to the ear

Marlatt himself worried, prematurely but not without reason, that the march of civilization would bring about extinction by over-clearing the densely wooded areas that are essential to the cicadas’ reproductive rituals while offering a bit of protection from predators.

Dr. Samuel P. Hildreth of Marietta, Ohio noted in 1830 that “hogs eat them in preference to any other food” and that birds were such fans “that very few birds were seen around our gardens during their continuance and our cherries, etc, remained unmolested.”

Dr. Leland Ossian Howard was erroneously credited with conducting “the first experiments of cicada as an article of human food” in early summer 1885. Marlatt reproduces the account of an eyewitness who seemed to fancy themselves a bit of a restaurant critic:

With the aid of the Doctor’s cook, he had prepared a plain stew, a milk stew, and a broil. The Cicadae were collected just as they emerged from pupae and were thrown into cold water, in which they remained overnight. They were cooked the next morning, and served at breakfast time. They imparted a distinct and not unpleasant flavor to the stew, but they were not at all palatable themselves, as they were reduced to nothing but bits of flabby skin. The broil lacked substance. The most palatable method of cooking is to fry in batter, when they remind one of shrimps. They will never prove a delicacy.

We leave you with the thoughts of Dr Gideon B. Smith of Baltimore, whose attempt to capture a mercurial month turns bittersweet, and all too relatable:

The music or song produced by the myriads of these insects in a warm day from about the 25th of May to the middle of June is wonderful. It is not deafening, as many describe it; even at its height it does not interrupt conversation. It seems like an atmosphere of wild, monotonous sound, in which all other sounds float with perfect distinctness. After a day or two this music becomes tiresome and doleful, and to many very disagreeable. To me, it was otherwise, and when I heard the last note on the 25th of June the melancholy reflection occurred. Shall I live to hear it yet again?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Welcome back, Brood X Overlords! Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Cicadas Return After 17 Years: Stunning Footage of the Brood X Cicadas is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Startup School: Take YCombinator’s Free Online Course for Current & Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Por OC

If you’re working on a startup, take note. YCombinator–a well-known Silicon Valley accelerator–has created Startup School, a free online program for entrepreneurs. The school has a track for current startup founders, and another one for aspiring/eventual founders. In each case, the school strives to offer the best lessons and advice on how to start a startup, while building “a community of entrepreneurs who can encourage, teach and support one another.” Startup School is completely free. You just need a device with access to the internet. View the curriculum here. (Topics include everything from “How to Get Start Up Ideas” and “How to Pitch a Startup,” to “How to Find the Right Co-Founder” and “How to Split Equity.”) And sign up here.

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Startup School: Take YCombinator’s Free Online Course for Current & Aspiring Entrepreneurs is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch a Masterpiece Emerge from a Solid Block of Stone

Por Josh Jones

As a younger person, I became enthralled with the art-historical novels of Irving Stone, especially The Agony and the Ecstasy, his fictionalized biography of Michelangelo. Few books live up to their title so well — Stone’s Michelangelo is a tumult of passion and pain, a Romantic hero tailor-made for those who believe artistic creation transcends almost any other act. Stone describes Michelangelo’s sculpture emerging from the marble fully-formed in a creation imbued with so much sexual energy, some passages may need adult supervision:

It was like penetrating deep into white marble with the pounding live thrust of his chisel beating upward through the warm living marble with one ”Go!”, his whole body behind the heavy hammer, penetrating through ever deeper and deeper furrows of soft yielding living substance until he had reached the explosive climax, and all of his fluid strength, love, passion, desire had been poured into the nascent form, and the marble block, made to love the hand of the true sculptor, and responded, giving of its inner heat and substance and fluid form, until at last the sculptor and the marble had totally coalesced, so deeply penetrating and infusing each other that they had become one, marble and man and organic unity, each fulfilling the other in the greatest act of art and love known to the human species. 

Whether or not you’re moved by Stone’s prose, you have to admit, it does make sculpting sound enormously appealing. For a much less masculine take on what it’s like to carve a figure from a solid block of stone, see the National Geographic short film above, in which a three-dimensional portrait comes alive in the hands of stone carver Anna Rubincam.

This is a labor of love, but it is also one of careful preparation. Rubincam “begins her process by measuring and sketching the features of a live model,” the film’s YouTube page notes. “From there, she creates a clay version before moving on to carefully chisel the piece out of stone.” The entire process took three weeks.

Is there room for agony and ecstasy amidst the measurements? Indeed. “I always feel that you have to be a bit mad to become a stone carver,” says Rubincam, acknowledging that “this isn’t the Renaissance anymore. Stone isn’t a primary building material anymore. Why would anyone go into a profession” like this one? Rubincam’s answer — “there just wasn’t any other option” — cannot help but bring to mind the most popular quote from Stone’s novel: “One should not become an artist because he can, but because he must. It is only for those who would be miserable without it.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch a Masterpiece Emerge from a Solid Block of Stone is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Rick Steves Tells the Story of Fascism’s Rise & Fall in Germany

Por Colin Marshall

“Healthy, vigorous, respectable: everyone’s favorite uncle.” How many of us hear these words and think of that most beloved of all American travel-television personalities, Rick Steves? Indeed, in the video above they’re spoken by Steves, though to describe a figure very different from himself: Adolf Hitler, who convinced his people not to tour Europe but to invade it, sparking the deadliest conflict of all time. How and why this happened has been a historical question written about perhaps more voluminously than any other. But the Stevesian method of understanding demands first-hand experience of Germany, the land in which the Nazi party came to power.

Hence “Germany’s Fascist Story,” a 2020 episode of Rick Steves’ Europe whose itinerary includes such destinations as Nuremberg, site of the eponymous Nazi rallies; Hitler’s mountain retreat in Berchtesgaden; the Gestapo and SS headquarters in Berlin. We’re a long way indeed from Steves’ usual circuit of cathedrals, markets, and bed-and-breakfasts.

Enriched with the historical footage and the reflections of German interviewees, this travelogue explains the rise in the 1930s and fall in the 1940s of a powerful European strain of fascism. This manifested in popular capitulation to race-based, nationalistic, and ultimately totalitarian state power, not just in Germany but other countries also once regarded as the center of European civilization.

We all know how World War II ended, and the blue-jeaned Steves sums up the relevant chapter of the story while standing atop the underground bunker in which Hitler killed himself. But such a defeat can never truly be considered final, an idea that underlies the continuing encouragement of tourism to places like Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which figures briefly into this episode despite being located in Poland. As any dedicated “Ricknick” knows, the pursuit of any given cultural or historical interest inevitably leads the traveler through a variety of lands. Hence a project like The Story of Fascism, Steves’ hourlong documentary on that ideology’s traces as found all throughout his favorite continent. As he himself has put it, travel is a political act — and it’s one necessary to understanding both the politics you like and the politics you don’t.

For those interested in how Steves built his travel empire, we’d recommend listening to Guy Raz’s lengthy interview with Steves, one episode in his How I Built This podcast.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Rick Steves Tells the Story of Fascism’s Rise & Fall in Germany is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s Headbanging Cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Por Ayun Halliday

Smells Like Teen Spirit is an unusual anthem because it refuses the role of the anthem. It’s perfect for the generation it represented because this was a cohort that was so ambivalent about any traditional values [or] conventional success. — music critic Ann Powers 

The screaming existential angst of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” ensured that Nirvana would define, transcend, and outlast the 90s grunge scene.

The song was an instant hit. Here’s a description from someone who was present at the small Seattle club O.K Hotel for its first live performance:

They started playing the new song and people erupted. We were being slimed on by shirtless guys, just moshing. My friend Susan started hyperventilating, she thought it was so good: ‘I can’t, gasp, believe what they just played!’ It was just instantaneous; it was crazy.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” was unreconstituted rock bliss to us…

…and perhaps not the most natural fit for a ukulele cover?

On the other hand, what better instrument for those “ambivalent about conventional success” than the ukulele?

The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain‘s cover is as intentionally silly as the band itself, but also manages to convey some of the original’s DGAF attitude.

That’s quite an accomplishment for a seated row of formally dressed, middle aged musicians, strumming in unison on an instrument anyone can play… but few can play well.

The ukulele has become cool in certain circles, but remains inextricably linked to Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips, and a million fumbling summer camp recreations of Jake Shimabukuro’s gentle Hawaiian “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Orchestra founder Peter Brooke Turner‘s tribute to lead vocalist Kurt Cobain helps nudge the needle  past pure novelty into the realm of credibility, or at least a sophisticated understanding of all the ways in which the original works.

Plus, his “yeah” at 1:52 transcends the era of flannels, harkening to a time when the unconflicted preening rock god reigned supreme. (We should note that he serves plenty of ham alongside that sausage.)

Best of all is David Suich‘s enthusiastic headbanging. Clearly a fellow who enjoys putting his long hair in service of his art! (We refer you to the Ukulele Orchestra’s interpretation of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell.” below…)

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1,000 Musicians Play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Live, at the Same Time

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s Headbanging Cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Discover Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a Missing Pixel in Your Image of Philosophy: Partially Examined Life Episode #267 Featuring Peter Adamson

Por Mark Linsenmayer

Most American students in philosophy live on a diet of ancient Greek philosophy on the one hand, and then “modern” philosophy, which starts around the time of Descartes (the 17th century), with numerous schools and approaches spilling into the present day. If you get anything from between those ancient days and modernity, it’s probably some churchmen, i.e. Augustine (from the 4th century) and Thomas Aquinas (the 13th century), with perhaps a few Romans thrown in there and (if you’re Jewish) Maimonides (12th century).

But a key part of this lineage was the Eastward turn that the great works of Greek and Roman philosophy took during the so-called Dark Ages, when they were preserved and copied in the Islamic world, and this period produced a wealth of philosophy including two figures who became influential enough in the West that their names were Latinized: Ibn S?n? (980-1037 C.E.) and Ibn Rushd, a.k.a. Averroes (1126-1198). Aquinas was very familiar with these figures and incorporated them into his influential works, and in the case of Ibn Sina, at least, important figures like John Locke had definitely known at least about his views, if not his actual works.

On the Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, which has been going for 13 years now, we range widely over the history of philosophy but had not actually cracked the Islamic world. Luckily, Ibn S?n? is one of the favorite philosophers of one of our favorite guests, Peter Adamson of King’s College London. Peter runs his own podcast, The History of Philosophy (Without Any Gaps), which as the name implies, covers Medieval philosophy with admirable thoroughness, covering not only Ibn S?n? and Ibn Rushd, but also figures like al-R?z?, al-F?r?b?, Al-Ghaz?l?, and many others.

Peter was good enough to recommend some readings to introduce us and our listeners to this figure, some of which he actually wrote. Because of the volume, redundancy, and style of Ibn S?n?’s writings, some sort of guide to collect and to some degree explain passages is essential for getting a handle on this idiosyncratic and brilliant thinker. He wrote at least three different versions of his all-encompassing system, which was influenced by and meant to supplant Aristotle’s. In addition to philosophical/theological topics, it included mathematics, science, psychology, and more. So instead of trying to read a whole work covering all that, it makes more sense to pick individual topics and then look at the various formulations he gave about these.

Our two topics for this discussion were a peculiar argument for the existence of God — with important implications for talking about metaphysics more generally — and an argument for the immateriality of the soul, which likewise tells us a lot about the way that Ibn S?n? thought about knowledge and its relation to the world.

The argument for the existence of God was later called by Thomas Aquinas “the argument from contingency.” It posits that things in the world don’t simply exist, but that they require something else to support their existence. This isn’t a cause is the chronological sense that we talk about it: a prior event that gave rise to the thing. Rather, the material components of something in a certain arrangement make it continue to exist as that thing right now; for example, a house exists because its component wood parts exist, with nails and such holding them in place. And the wood in turn has its character because of its physical/chemical components, etc. If these component causes weren’t in place, the thing would not exist; the thing is thus “contingent,” meaning it might well not have existed were it not for those causes.

This picture of the universe thus includes a giant network of causality, but does that network itself rest on anything? According to Ibn S?n?, there must be something that is not contingent that holds everything else up. But is this thing God (in the sense that a good Muslim of his time would recognize it)? Ibn S?n? then has a long series of arguments to show one by one that just by being “the necessary being,” this entity also must be unique, must be all-powerful, generous, and all the other things one would expect God to be.

The argument for the immortality of the soul is perhaps Ibn S?n?’s most famous argument, often called the flying or floating man argument. It’s a thought experiment whereby you imagine you’ve just been created, but fully mature, so you can think, but with no memory, and your senses are inoperable. You can’t even feel gravity or the ground under your feet (thus the “flying” part). According to Ibn S?n?, you would still in such a situation know that you exist. Since your apprehension of self did not include any part of your body (you couldn’t feel your body at all), that is supposed to prove that your body is not an essential part of what you are.

Ibn S?n? thought this argument definitive because of his theory of knowledge by which if you know anything at all, then you know about the essential components of that thing. If you know what a triangle is, you know that it’s an abstract geometrical figure with three straight sides. If you know what a horse is, you know that it’s a biological animal with a particular character that you can identify. And to know what you are essentially, you only need know that feeling of your own mind; anything else about that mind being associated with a particular body that lives in a particular part of the world and is just knowledge of contingent, relational facts about yourself.

PEL hosts Mark Linsenmayer and Dylan Casey grapple in detail with Peter about these arguments, both on this recording and on a second part of the discussion for those that want to hear more. To read more about these arguments and get the citations to the texts we read for this discussion, see the essay for this episode at partiallyexaminedlife.com. The History of Philosophy podcast also features four monologues and an interview about Ibn S?n?. Don’t let this gap in your knowledge of major figures in intellectual history remain unfilled!

Mark Linsenmayer is the host of the Partially Examined Life, Pretty Much Pop, and Nakedly Examined Music podcasts. He is a writer and musician working out of Madison, Wisconsin. Read more Open Culture posts about The Partially Examined Life.

Image by Solomon Grundy.

Discover Ibn Sina (Avicenna), a Missing Pixel in Your Image of Philosophy: Partially Examined Life Episode #267 Featuring Peter Adamson is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Composes a Soundtrack to Arthur C. Clarke’s Documentary Fractals: The Colors of Infinity

Por Ted Mills

An observer once called the Mandelbrot Set “The Thumbprint of God,” the simple equation that led to the discovery of fractal geography, chaos theory, and why games like No Man’s Sky even exist. In 1994, Arthur C. Clarke, writer of both science fiction and science fact, narrated a one-hour documentary on the new mathematics, called Fractals: The Colors of Infinity. If that sounds familiar, dear reader, it’s because we’ve told you about it long ago. But it’s worth revisiting, and it’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack was created by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

To be honest, at first I wasn’t really hearing that Floyd vibe, just some pleasant synth-strings you could find on any number of documentaries. But then Clarke explains the implication of the Mandelbrot equation, ending it with “This really is infinity.” And then Boom, the acid hit.

Or rather, the rainbow computer graphics of the endless zoom hit, and it was unmistakably Gilmour—cue up 5:19 and be careful with that fractal, Eugene. This happens again at 14:30, 25:12, 31:07, 35:46, 38:22, 43:22, 44:51, and 50:06 for those with an itchy scrubbing finger. But stick around for the whole doc, as the history of how we got to the equation, its precedents in nature and art, and the implications only hinted at in the program, all make for interesting viewing.

The music will remind you in places of “Shine On Your Crazy Diamond”, “Obscured by Clouds,” and “On the Run.” When a DVD was released years later, a special feature isolated just Gilmour’s music and the fractal animation.

Gilmour has contributed soundtrack work to other programs. He has an uncredited performance on Guy Pratt’s soundtrack from 1995’s Hackers; incidental music for 1992’s Ruby Takes a Trip with Ruby Wax; and a 1993 documentary on the arts and drug use called The Art of Tripping.

There are no official releases of this soundtrack work, but one user has put up 16 minutes of the Colours of Infinity music over at SoundCloud.

 

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Composes a Soundtrack to Arthur C. Clarke’s Documentary Fractals: The Colors of Infinity is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks Get Digitized: Where to Read the Renaissance Man’s Manuscripts Online

Por Colin Marshall

From the hand of Leonardo da Vinci came the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, among other art objects of intense reverence and even worship. But to understand the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, one must immerse oneself in his notebooks. Totaling some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, they record something of every aspect of the Renaissance man’s intellectual and daily life: studies for artworks, designs for elegant buildings and fantastical machines, observations of the world around him, lists of his groceries and his debtors. Intending their eventual publication, Leonardo left his notebooks to his pupil Francesco Melzi, by the time of whose own death half a century later little had been done with them.

Absent a proper steward, Leonardo’s notebooks scattered across the world. Six centuries later, their surviving pages constitute a series of codices in the possession of such entities as the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, the British Museum, the Institut de France, and Bill Gates.

In recent years, they and their collaborating organizations have made efforts to open Leonardo’s notebooks to the world, digitizing them, translating them, and organizing them for convenient browsing on the web. Here on Open Culture, we’ve previously featured the Codex Arundel as made available to the public by the British Library, Codex Atlanticus by the Visual Agency, and the three-part Codex Forster by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Other collections of Leonardo’s notebooks made available to view online include the Madrid Codices at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, the Codex Trivulzianus at the Archivo Storico Civico e Biblioteca Trivulziana, and the Codex on the Flight of Birds at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. (Published as a standalone book, his Treatise on Painting is available to download at Project Gutenberg.) Even so, many of the pages Leonardo wrote haven’t yet made it to the internet, and even when they do, generations of interpretive work — well beyond reversing his “mirror writing” — will surely remain. Much as humanity is only now putting some of his inventions to the test, the full publication of his notebooks remains a work in progress. Leonardo himself would surely understand: after all, one can’t cultivate a mind like his without patience.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks Get Digitized: Where to Read the Renaissance Man’s Manuscripts Online is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

A 5-Hour Walking Tour of Paris and Its Famous Streets, Monuments & Parks

Por Josh Jones

“We’ll always have Paris,” Bogart tells Bergman in the final scene of Casablanca, a line and film inseparable from the grand mythology of Paris. The city still inspires non-Parisians to purchase Belle Epoque poster art by the shipload and binge Netflix series in which Paris looks like a “city where the clouds part, your brain clears, and your soul finds meaning,” Alex Abad-Santos writes at Vox. It’s also a place in such media where one can seem to find “success without much sacrifice.”

Paris was the city where Hemingway felt “free… to walk anywhere,” he wrote in A Moveable Feast; where James Baldwin wrote in his 1961 essay “New Lost Generation” of “the days when we walked through Les Halles singing, loving every inch of France and loving each other… the nights spent smoking hashish in the Arab cafes… the morning which found us telling dirty stories, true stories, sad and earnest stories, in gray workingman’s cafes.”

The image of Paris has not always been so full of romance and escapism, especially for Parisians like Charles Baudelaire. “For the first time Paris becomes the subject of lyric poetry” in Baudelaire, wrote Walter Benjamin in The Arcades Project, a major, unfinished work on Paris in the 19th century. Like the expats, Baudelaire’s imagination strolled through the city, freed from responsibility. But “the Paris of his poems is a sunken city, and more submarine than subterranean.”

The Paris of revolutionary fervor, communes, barricades, and catacombs… of Rimbaud, Coco Chanel, the Situationists…. There are too many versions of the city of lights; we cannot have them all. For the past year, we have not been able to see any part of it but from afar. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, however, we can walk the city for hours — or watch someone else do it, in any case. The five-hour walking tour at the top may skip the places a modern-day Baudelaire would want us to see, but it does include “the most famous streets, monuments and parks,” notes the description,

You’ll also find here shorter video walking tours of Montmartre, the Eiffel Tower, and Luxembourg Gardens, where Hemingway would often meet Gertrude Stein and her dog, and where he found himself “learning very much “ from Cézanne about how to move beyond simply “writing simple true sentences.” We are unlikely to have these kinds of experiences on our video walking tours. But we can get a taste of what it’s like to briskly cruise Parisian streets in the 21st century, an experience increasingly likely to become a virtual one for future writers, poets, and expats and tourists of all kinds.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A 5-Hour Walking Tour of Paris and Its Famous Streets, Monuments & Parks is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The Utopian, Socialist Designs of Soviet Cities

Por Josh Jones

Modernist architecture transformed the modern city in the 20th century, for good and ill. Nowhere is this transformation more evident than the former Soviet Union and its former republics. There, we find truth in the western stereotypes of the Soviet city as cold, faceless, and soul-crushingly nondescript — so much so that the plot of a 1975 Russian TV film called The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, hinges on a man drunkenly traveling to Leningrad by mistake and falling asleep in a stranger’s apartment, thinking it’s his own place in Moscow. Russians found the joke so relatable, they began a tradition of watching the film each year on Christmas, as the City Beautiful above video on Soviet urban architecture points out.

Once it had eliminated private property, the experiment of the Soviet Union began with good intentions, architecturally-speaking. Constructivism, the first form of distinctly Soviet architecture, was developed first as an art movement by Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko. Constructivists sought to balance the nation’s need to build tons of new housing under harsh economic conditions with “ambition for using the built environment to engineer societal changes and instill the avant-garde in everyday life,” points out the Designing Buildings Wiki. Drawing from Bauhaus and Futurism, the movement only lasted into the 1930s. Many of its finest designs went unrealized, but it left a significant mark on subsequent architectural movements like Brutalism.

The synthesis of beauty and utility would fall apart, however, under the massive collectivizing drives of Stalin. When his reign ended, public housing blocks known as “Krushchyovkas” sprang up, named after the premier “who initiated their mass production in the late 1950s,” writes Mark Byrnes at Bloomberg CityLab. This was “a distinctly banal architectural type” built quickly and cheaply when Moscow “had twice the population its housing stock could accommodate. Five-story Krushchoyvkas popped up in newly planned microdistricts.” These, as you’ll see in the explainer video, could be added on to existing cities indefinitely for maximal urban sprawl “in hopes of alleviating the severe housing crisis exacerbated under Joseph Stalin.”

As the popularity of The Irony of Fate demonstrates, Krushchoyvkas introduced serious problems of their own, including their grimly comic sameness. The film begins with an animated history lesson on Soviet urban planning. “The urban design was not flexible,” author Philipp Meuser tells Byrnes. “This was the first critique of them dating back to the early ‘60s.” Later versions built under Brezhnev and called “Brezhnevkis” introduced different shapes and sizes to break up the monotony. All of the housing blocks were built to last 20 to 25 years and were not well-maintained, if they were maintained at all. The earliest began deteriorating in the ‘70s.

At their height, however, Krushchoyvkas “were popular because it was revolutionary for housing politics.” One U.S. official put it in 1967: “What the Russians have done is to develop the only technology in the world to produce acceptable, low-cost housing on a large scale.” Cities around the world followed suit in buildings like the Japanese danchi, for example, and the infamously awful American public housing projects of the 60s and 70s, built along similar lines as the Krushchyovkas and the misguided urban design theories of Swiss architect Le Corbusier, another modernist who, like the Constructivists, reimagined city space according to a model of mass production.

The original Constructivist manifesto, published in 1923, promised art and building “of no discernible ‘style’ but simply a product of an industrial order like a car, an aeroplane and such like.” The reality of Constructivist designs — like the designs of cars and aeroplanes — involved a great deal of imagination and creativity. But the architectural legacy of what Constructivists touted as “technical mastery and organization of materials” — under the massively centralized bureaucracy of the fully realized one-party Communist state — created something entirely different than the idealistic avant-gardists had once intended for the modern city.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Utopian, Socialist Designs of Soviet Cities is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

In 1926, Nikola Tesla Predicts the World of 2026

Por Colin Marshall

Not long after Nikola Tesla died in 1943, the world seemed to forget him. The first public tribute paid to his considerable research and development in the realm of electricity thereafter came in 1960 with the introduction of the tesla, the SI unit of magnetic flux density. But in the decades since Tesla has enjoyed an afterlife as an icon of under-appreciated prescience. Some of this reputation is based on interviews given in the 1920s and 1930s, when he was still a celebrity. Take the short Colliers magazine profile from 1926 in which he foresees the emergence of devices that will allow us “to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance”; a man, Tesla predicts, “will be able to carry one in his vest pocket.”

This article is one source of the words spoken in the Voices of the Past video above. In it, Tesla also speaks of a future hugely enriched by the “wireless energy” he spent much of his career pursuing. It will power “flying machines” in which “we shall ride from New York to Europe in a few hours.” A household’s daily newspaper “will be printed ‘wirelessly’ in the home during the night.”

Thanks to instant worldwide communication, “international boundaries will be largely obliterated and a great step will be made toward the unification and harmonious existence of the various races inhabiting the globe.” All the while, new generations of ever better-educated women “will ignore precedent and startle civilization with their progress.”

Many will applaud Tesla’s views on the advancement of women, though here his thinking takes a turn that may give pause even to the most forward-thinking among us today: “The acquisition of new fields of endeavor by women, their gradual usurpation of leadership, will dull and finally dissipate feminine sensibilities, will choke the maternal instinct, so that marriage and motherhood may become abhorrent and human civilization draw closer and closer to the perfect civilization of the bee.” The inventor of alternating current has much to say in favor of apian society, “the most highly organized and intelligently coordinated system of any form of nonrational animal life.” And so why not restructure human civilization around a single queen?

This video also draws on a 1937 interview with Tesla in Liberty magazine, which features even more discomfiting propositions. “The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct,” Tesla insists. “The Secretary of Hygiene or Physical Culture will be far more important in the cabinet of the President of the United States who holds office in the year 2035 than the Secretary of War.” Despite perhaps having crossed the line into mad-scientism, Tesla remained incisive about the persistent condition of humans under high technology. “We suffer from the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age,” he claims. “The solution of our problems does not lie in destroying but in mastering the machine.” Here in the 21st century, of course, many of us would be content simply to gain mastery over the one in our vest pocket.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

In 1926, Nikola Tesla Predicts the World of 2026 is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

David Lynch Directs a New Music Video for Donovan

Por Josh Jones

I often feel Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan has been misunderstood. When he shows up these days, it’s in songs like his creepy “Hurdy Gurdy Man” and “Season of the Witch,” in films and TV series about serial killers. This may leave younger viewers with the impression that the psychedelic folk hero went down some scary musical paths. But those who remember Donovan in his heyday remember him as the singer of “Sunshine Superman,” his biggest hit, and “Mellow Yellow,” which hit Number 2 in the U.S. in 1966. The following year, he urged his listeners to wear their love like heaven, in verses that rivaled Syd Barrett’s for their love of color: “Color in sky, Prussian blue / Scarlet fleece changes hue.”

Maybe it’s hard to entertain the sentiments of flower power in 2021. But maybe, also, Donovan’s sunniest songs have always had darker threads woven through them. Take “Sunshine Superman”: kind of a creepy tune, with its Lou Reed-like observation about “hustlin’ just to have a little scene,” and its hippie lothario’s confession that he’ll use “any trick in the book” on the object of his desire. Maybe it was early fans who got him wrong. Donovan has always been a weirdo’s weirdo, if you will. And so, it stands to reason that he would pick David Lynch to produce his track, “I Am the Shaman,” and to direct a video for the song for his 75th birthday this past Monday.

The song itself is not new, but was produced by Lynch in 2010 for the album, Ritual Groove, a collection of recordings, “some dating as far back as 1976,” writes one reviewer, held together by the “premise… that the planet is stuffed, the Goddess won’t care if we drift off into oblivion but wait, a saviour appears in the form of the previously humble minstrel Donovan, now a true poet.” (If fans of the cult psychedelic horror film Mandy are reminded of Jeremiah Sand, then we are in grim territory, indeed.) The collaboration gets even more interesting when we learn that “I Am the Shaman” was largely improvised, as Donovan himself wrote on Facebook:

He had asked me to only bring in a song just emerging, not anywhere near finished. We would see what happens. It happened! I composed extempore… the verses came naturally. New chord patterns effortlessly appeared.

This way of working suited him perfectly, as did the backwards-talking production Lynch applied to the track. “David and I are ‘compadres’ on a creative path rarely traveled,” he noted. It is a path that leads straight through the wilds of Transcendental Meditation, for which the video is intended to raise money and awareness. Despite its lack of color, another affinity shared by Donovan Leitch and David Lynch, “I Am the Shaman” shows both artists vibrating at the same frequency, which may either confirm or unsettle what you thought you knew about the mystical poet/singer/shaman Donovan.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

David Lynch Directs a New Music Video for Donovan is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Pink Floyd’s First Masterpiece: An Audio/Video Exploration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971)

Por Josh Jones

Of the many things that can and have been said of Pink Floyd’s 1973 masterpiece, The Dark Side of the Moon, one consistently bears repeating: it set a standard for how a rock album could function as a seamless, unified whole. There have been few releases since that meet this standard. Even Floyd themselves didn’t seem like they could measure up to Dark Side’s maturity just a few years earlier. But they were well on their way with 1971’s Meddle.

Meddle is really the album where all four of us were finding our feet,” said David Gilmour. The observation especially applied to the 23-minute odyssey “Echoes,” the “masterwork of the album — the one where we were all discovering what Pink Floyd was all about.” All four members of the band learned to compose together in the rehearsal room, Nick Mason recalled, “just sitting there thinking, playing… It’s a nice way to work — and, I think, in a way, the most ‘Floyd-ian’ material we ever did came about that way.”

“Echoes,” indeed, was the band’s “first masterpiece,” argues Noah Lefevre in the Polyphonic “audio/visual companion” above. The song was originally titled “The Return of the Son of Nothing” because the band had gone into the studio with “nothing prepared,” Nick Mason remembered later that year. As they struggled to find their way forward after the experiments of Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, touring constantly, they felt uninspired, calling all their ideas “nothings.” They expected little from inspirations like the “ping” sound that opens “Echoes.”

Instead, they created the most substantial material of their career to date. Inspired by Muhammad Iqbal’s poem “Two Planets,” Roger Waters “wrote lyrics to an epic piece” about being at sea, in every sense, yet glimpsing the potential for rescue and connection. Richard Wright wrote “the whole piano thing at the beginning and the chord structure for the song,” he told Mojo in his final interview, showcasing his serious compositional talents. And the range of tones, effects, and styles that Gilmour pioneered on “Echoes” have become legendary among guitarists and Floyd fans.

“Echoes,” says Lefevre above, changed the band’s direction lyrically and musically, helping them break out of the critical box labeled “space rock.” Instead of  “another song about looking upwards to the stars, Waters looked down into the cold, strange depths of the ocean.” It wasn’t the first time rock and roll had visited what Lefevre calls the “psychedelic underwater.” Hendrix was there three years earlier when he turned into a merman. But Floyd found something entirely their own in their exploration. Learn how they did it in the stylish video above, cleverly synced to the whole of “Echoes.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Pink Floyd’s First Masterpiece: An Audio/Video Exploration of the 23-Minute Track, “Echoes” (1971) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

The History of the Guitar: See the Evolution of the Guitar in 7 Instruments

Por Josh Jones

A thoroughly modern instrument with an ancient heritage, the history of the guitar dates back some 500-plus years. If we take into account similar stringed instruments with similar designs, we can push that date back a few thousand years, but there is some scholarly disagreement over when the guitar emerged as an instrument distinct from the lute. In any case, stringed instrument historian Brandon Acker is here to walk us through some of the significant differences, with “seven checkpoints along the way of the history of the guitar,” he says above in a guest visit to Rob Scallon’s YouTube channel.

The guitar is part of the lute family, which dates back some “5,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia.” Similar instruments existed all over the ancient world. Which of these eventually becomes the guitar? That is a question, says Acker, for another day, but the first instrument actually identified as a guitar dates from around 1500. Acker doesn’t toe a strict musicological line and begins with an oud from around 700 CE, the bowl-like stringed instrument still played today in Turkey, the Middle East, and North Africa. Like nearly all guitar precursors, the oud has strings that run in courses, meaning they are doubled up in pitch as in a mandolin.

Strings would have been made of gut — sheep intestines, to be exact — not metal or nylon. The larger oud is not much different in shape and construction from the Renaissance lute, which Acker demonstrates next, showing how polyphony led to the advent of fingerpicking. (He plays a bit of English composer John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears” as an example.) We’re a long way from country and blues, but maybe not as far you might think. The lute was ideal both for solo accompaniment as an ensemble instrument in bands and helped usher in the era of secular song.

The lute set the course for other instruments to follow, such as the Renaissance guitar, the first instrument in the tour that resembles a modern guitar’s hourglass shape and straight headstock. Tuned like a ukulele (it is, in fact, the origin of ukulele tuning), the Renaissance guitars of Spain and Portugal also came in different sizes like the Polynesian version. A versatile instrument, it worked equally well for strumming easy chords or playing complex, fingerpicked melodies, sort of like… well, the modern guitar. Through a few changes in tuning, size, and number of strings, it doesn’t take us long to get there.

The guitar is so simple in construction it can be built with household items, and so old its ancestors predate most of the instruments in the orchestra. But it also revolutionized modern music and remains one of the primary compositional tools of singers and songwriters everywhere. Ever since Les Paul electrified the guitar, high-tech experimental designs pop up every few years, incorporating all kinds of keys, dials, buttons, and extra circuitry. But the instruments that stick around are still the most traditionally styled and easiest to learn and play. Acker’s survey of its history above gives us a better understanding of the instrument’s staying power.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The History of the Guitar: See the Evolution of the Guitar in 7 Instruments is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Sonic Explorations of Japanese Jazz: Stream 8 Mixes of Japan’s Jazz Tradition Free Online

Por Colin Marshall

“Man,” a fellow working the checkout counter at Los Angeles’ Amoeba Music once said to me, “you sure do like Japanese jazz.” His tone was one of faint disbelief, but then, this particular record-shopping trip happened well over a decade ago. Since then the global listenership of Japanese jazz has increased enormously, thanks to the expansion of audiovisual streaming platforms and the enterprising collectors and curators who’ve used them to share the glory of the most American of all art forms as mastered and re-interpreted by dedicated musicians in the Land of the Rising Sun.

High-profile Japanese-jazz enthusiasts of the 2020s include the Turkish DJ Zag Erlat, creator of the Youtube channel My Analog Journal, whose short 70s mix of the stuff we featured last year here on Open CultureBut it was only a matter of time before the musical minds at London-based online radio station NTS broadcast the definitive Japanese Jazz session to the world.

Previously, NTS have dedicated large blocks of airtime to projects like the history of spiritual jazz and a tribute to the favorite music of novelist Haruki Murakami — a Japanese man and a jazz-lover, but one whose America-inspired cultural energy hasn’t been particularly directed toward jazz of the Japanese variety.

“Japanese jazz” refers not to a single genre, but to a variety of different kinds of jazz given Japanese expression. Hence NTS’ Japanese Jazz Week, each of whose bilingually announced broadcasts specializes in a different facet of the music. The first mix is dedicated to the late guitarist Ryo Kawasaki; the second, to traditional Japanese instruments like the shakuhachi, and the koto; the third, to Three Blind Mice, often described as “the Japanese Blue Note“; the fourth, to jazz fusion, one of the musical currents in Japan that gave rise to city pop in the 1980s; the fifth, to pianist Masabumi Kikuchi, who played with the likes of Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis; the sixth, to modal jazz and bop from the 1960s to the 1980s; and the seventh, to free-improvising saxophonist Kaoru Abe, “a true maverick of late 70’s Japanese jazz.”

Japanese Jazz Week also includes a special on spiritual and free jazz as played in Japan “from its earliest stirrings in the 1960s until it reached international recognition in the 1970s.” The 70s, as the international fan consensus appears to reflect, was the golden age of Japanese jazz; as I recall, the heap of LPs I set down before that Amoeba clerk came mostly from that decade. The decade’s players, producers, labels, and concert venues continue their work today, the current pandemic-related difficulties of live performance aside. When the shows start and travel resumes again in earnest, no small number of Japanese-jazz fans will be booking their tickets to Tokyo at once, all in search of an offline Japanese Jazz Week — or two or three — of their own.

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The History of Spiritual Jazz: Hear a Transcendent 12-Hour Mix Featuring John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock & More

Hear a 9-Hour Tribute to John Peel: A Collection of His Best “Peel Sessions”

Hear a Six-Hour Mix Tape of Hunter S. Thompson’s Favorite Music & the Songs Name-Checked in His Gonzo Journalism

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Sonic Explorations of Japanese Jazz: Stream 8 Mixes of Japan’s Jazz Tradition Free Online is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Foo Fighters Perform “Back in Black” with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson: When Live Music Returns

Por OC

At Saturday’s benefit concert, “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” the Foo Fighters took the stage and performed “Back in Black” with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. It’s a tantalizing taste of the world to come, if we all do our part…

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Foo Fighters Perform “Back in Black” with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson: When Live Music Returns is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch the Most Expensive Scene in Silent Film History: The Train Wreck From Buster Keaton “The General” (1926)

Por Ayun Halliday

Were it filmed today, the set piece of Buster Keaton’s The General (watch it online here) would surely be computer generated.

The studio would insist upon that.

We like to think Keaton, who both directed and starred, would fight them tooth and nail.

Elaborate stunts thrilled him, and what could be more thrilling — or costly — than sending a 26-ton locomotive over a burning train trestle in hopes the structure would crumble, plunging the locomotive into the river below?

The fact that he had but one chance to get it right must’ve upped the ante in a good way.

The Cottage Grove, Oregon Sentinel reported that the silent legend, having spent the summer filming on location in and around town, was “happy as a kid” to have nailed this most challenging shot.

The making of silent film’s most expensive stunt seems like it would make an excellent subject for a movie, but for the fact there was very little drama surrounding it.

Keaton ingratiated himself with the residents of Cottage Grove, hosting weekly baseball games and presiding over the wedding reception of a local and a crew member. 1500 locals — half the town’s population — found work behind the scenes or as extras.

His relationship with his his 24-year-old costar, Sennett Bathing Beauty Marion Mack, was strictly professional.

When his wife raised objections to his plans to ride the locomotive across the trestle as cameras rolled, he capitulated, installing a papier-mâche dummy as engineer. (At least one of the 3000 spectators who lined the banks to witness the stunt was fooled, when the dummy’s severed head floated past.)

And although the sequence cost a shockingly expensive $42,000 — roughly $600,000 in today’s money — it left little to chance. Carpenters spent two weeks building a 215-foot-long trestle 34 feet above the Row River, then sawed partway through the supporting structures to make them extra vulnerable to the explosive charge that would be triggered soon after action was called. Engineers constructed a downstream dam so the water level would be high enough to receive the train.

The community was so invested by the time cameras rolled, the local government declared July 23 a holiday, so the entire town would be free to attend. (The Sentinel noted how earlier in the summer Keaton himself approached overzealous onlookers to “courteously request, ‘Will you please stand back so as not to cast a shadow on the picture?’”)

The stunt went off without a hitch, its one and only take captured by six strategically positioned cameramen, but The General, one of the American Film Institute‘s top 20 films of all time and Keaton’s personal favorite, flopped with both critics and the public. Its domestic box office returns were a mere $50,000 above the $750,000 it cost to make. It caused studios to rethink how much control to grant Keaton.

The train remained where it had landed until WWII, when it was fished up and salvaged for its iron. According to a representative of the Cottage Grove Historical Society, a few leftover pieces of track and steel were still visible as recently as 2006. A mural in town commemorates The General, its star, and the 10 weeks of 1926 when Cottage Grove was the “HOLLYWOOD OF OREGON” (or so the Cottage Grove Sentinel claimed at the time.)

The General enjoys a sterling reputation with silent film buffs, though its Civil War storyline is out of step with 2021 — Keaton’s character aspires to join the Confederacy, and the Union soldiers are the bad guys whose train plummets into the Row.

Perhaps nostalgia will shift to Cottage Grove’s role in Stand By Me — another picture in which trains loom large.

Failing that, the Chamber of Commerce has a replica of Animal House‘s Deathmobile they could put on display …

Learn more about the filming of The General’s most celebrated scene and Keaton’s visit to Cottage Grove in Julien Smith‘s fascinating article for the Alta Journal.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Most Expensive Scene in Silent Film History: The Train Wreck From Buster Keaton “The General” (1926) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

David Hockney Shows Us His Sketch Book, Page by Page

Por Colin Marshall

Still working and exhibiting in his eighties, and indeed seeming to grow more and more productive with age, David Hockney has become a living symbol of what it is to live as an artist. This entails not just making a lot of paintings, or even making a lot of paintings with an immediately recognizable style under a well-cultivated image. It means constantly and instinctively converting the reality in which one lives into art, an activity evidenced by Hockney’s sketchbooks. In the video above, the artist himself shows his sketchbook from 2019, one of the sources of the work in the exhibition Drawing from Life held last year at the National Portrait Gallery. (To accompany the exhibition, Hockney published a book, also called Drawing from Life, which features 150 drawings from the 1950s to the present day.)

Focused on Hockney’s renderings of himself and those close to him, Drawing from Life could run for only a few weeks before the NPG had to close due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though filled up the previous year, the artist’s sketchbook depicts a quiet world of domestic spaces and unpeopled outdoor scenes that will look oddly familiar to many viewing it after 2020.

He even appears to have included in its pages an exercise in the style of Giorgio de Chirico, whose aesthetic prescience about our locked-down cities we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture. The Bradford-born Hockney’s American city of choice has long been Los Angeles, and certain of his sketches evoke its distinctive pockets of near-pastoral quietude amid urban massiveness.

As befits an internationally renowned artist, Hockney lives in more than one part of the world. It was at home in the more thoroughly pastoral setting of his native Yorkshire that he created the drawings constituting My Window, a limited-edition artist book published by Taschen in 2019. Those images don’t come from his sketchbook, or rather, they don’t come from his analog sketchbook: he executed them all on his iPhone and iPad, devices whose artistic possibilities he’s been enthusiastically exploring for more than a decade. In this readiness to use any medium available, he shows more comfort with technology than do many younger artists. And however many of them have, under the limitations of the past year and a half, got used to sketching the view from their bedroom window, Hockney was doing it long before.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Hockney Shows Us His Sketch Book, Page by Page is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Who Invented Heavy Metal Music?: A Search for Origins

Por Ted Mills

Where exactly did “heavy metal” start? Like a similar question—“what is the first rock and roll song?”–there’s not so much a direct answer as a spreading of ingredients over a number of years, all of which combine to create “heavy metal,” and its numerous sub-genres that have sprung forth from it. There’s not so much a year of origin as there is a year after which one cannot claim a beginning. (Now that’s a sentence!)

If you’re confused, this quick history by Polyphonic will answer all of your questions, and hopefully turn you on to a few tracks you’ve never heard before.

So what makes a heavy metal track? Well, first you have to have some loud, heavy, distorted guitars. Polyphonic goes back to blues musicians, as so many rock guitarists continue to do, to suggest the guitar sounds of Pat Hare and Joe Hill Lewis as precursors to that sound. Next you have to have some lighting-fast fingerwork all over the frets—maybe the hyperfast riffage of surf rock legend Dick Dale will do?

That’s all fine and good. But we need to get *heavy* in this metal. And it was the Brits who took on this job. Creating a mood and experimenting with sound marked bands like the Beatles, Stones, and The Who, as they tried to out-do each other. When Paul McCartney heard that The Who had delivered the heaviest song so far in “I Can See for Miles” (which now sounds surprisingly twee compared to later Who songs), he sat down with the band and blasted out “Helter Skelter.” Take that, Pete Townshend.

The Beatles weren’t steeped in the blues, but so many other British bands were, and here’s where blues picked up the gauntlet thrown down by these heavy, droning, bass-laden sounds. While the British Invasion bands wore their Englishness on their (record) sleeves, trad- and psych-blues bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin wanted to sound American. Things got louder, crunchier, slower, and darker. They got really dark with Black Sabbath, which named themselves after the Mario Bava horror film, and brought another ingredient to the stew: dark, fantastic, Satanic imagery. Finally, Deep Purple brought the banshee screechings of Ian Gillan as a final part to the puzzle. Put it all together and what you have is heavy metal, man.

Heavy Metal has gone on to delight generations and piss off all the right people at the same time. It’s given rise to a new sub genre every year, and come out of it with a hard-earned respectability.

The above animated video from Pitchfork will get you caught up with the evolution into chart domination and back out into purist obscurity.

And for those who would rather listen to a history rather than watch one, check this out.

Polyphonic hits most of the well known signposts on the journey, but if you think an essential song is missing, let us know in the comments.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Who Invented Heavy Metal Music?: A Search for Origins is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

An Immersive Pink Floyd Museum Exhibition Is Coming to the U.S.: Get Tickets Online

Por Colin Marshall

While it’s not technically incorrect to call Pink Floyd a rock band, the term feels somehow unequal to the descriptive task at hand. One doesn’t so much listen to albums like The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall as experience them, and this went even more so for their elaborate, increasingly colossal live performances. A retrospective of Pink Floyd’s history, which stretched back to 1965, must do justice to Pink Floyd’s transcendent ambition: this was the goal of Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains, an exhibition that first opened at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in 2017 and is now preparing to make its United States debut at Los Angeles’ Vogue Multicultural Museum this summer.

“You arrive into Their Mortal Remains via a life-size replica of the band’s Bedford van, their black-and-white touring vehicle in the mid-Sixties,” Rolling Stone‘s Emily Zemler writes of the V&A show. “The story is told by letters, drawings, posters, video footage, newspaper clippings, music instruments, ticket stubs and odd objects, some of them replicas.”

The items on display come not just from the professional life of the band but the personal lives of it members as well: “Syd Barrett’s red-orange bicycle,” for instance, or “the actual cane used on Waters during his early years” to deliver punishment for misbehavior at school.

Also on display are no few notable musical instruments, including a kit painted for drummer Nick Mason with ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. “Once it’s behind glass, it just looks a million dollars,” Mason says in one of Their Mortal Remains’ trailers, appearing in his capacity as a consultant to the project. It main curator, graphic designer Aubrey “Po” Powell, co-created the cover art for The Dark Side of the Moon, and brings to bear a thorough knowledge of Pink Floyd’s music, their history, and their sensibility. “It’s way out of scale to anything that you’ve ever seen before,” he says of the exhibition’s design, “and that sort of journey is very reminiscent of psychedelia, of being on psychedelic drugs.”

In its way, the alteration of consciousness is as essential to the Pink Floyd phenomenon as the incorporation of technology (subject of a recent Mason-hosted BBC podcast series) and the expansion of rock music’s sonic territory. On a deeper level, there’s also what V&A director Tristram Hunt calls “an English pastoral idiom,” which will certainly make for an intriguing juxtaposition when Their Mortal Remains completes its installation in the thick of Hollywood Boulevard. There it will run from August 3rd to November 28th, though tickets are already on sale at the Vogue Multicultural Museum’s web site. Though in Los Angeles the consciousness-altering substances that have traditionally accompanied their music are now more legal than ever, be warned that what Salvador Dalí said of himself also holds true for Pink Floyd: they are drugs.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Immersive Pink Floyd Museum Exhibition Is Coming to the U.S.: Get Tickets Online is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Japanese Carpenters Unearth 100-Year-Old Wood Joineries While Taking Apart a Traditional House

Por Josh Jones

According to myth, the first Japanese poet, Susano-o, the storm god, named the activity of building as equal to the works of nature. Travel blog Kansai Odyssey writes, “Susano-o felt rather inspired” while at Suga Shrine in Shimane Prefecture, “and recited the first poem in Japanese literature.” Roughly translated, it reads: “In Izumo, where the clouds form, / I see a fence of clouds. / To protect my wife, I too, built a fence. / These clouds are as my fence.”

An embrace of the natural world intermingles in Japanese culture with a craft tradition renowned the world over, not least in the building arts. “Since the 12th Century,” Grace Ebert writes at Colossal, “Japanese artisans have been employing a construction technique that uses just one simple material: wood. Rather than utilize glue, nails, and other fasteners, the tradition of Japanese wood joinery notches slabs of timber so that the grooves lock together and form a sturdy structure.”

Although mostly practiced in the repair and preservation of historic buildings these days, Japanese joinery still inspires modern woodworkers, engineers, and architects for its incredible precision and endurance. Traditional Japanese buildings are “structures built from natural materials and the knowledge and skills passed down generations,” writes Yamanashi-based carpenter Dylan Iwakuni. “Through the fine skills and knowledge, Japanese Wooden Architecture has been standing for (thousands of) years.”

In the video at the top, you can see Iwakuni and his team’s excitement as they discover traditional joinery while disassembling a 100-year-old Japanese house. The video shows each joint in close-up, adding a title that names its particular type. “As it became a tradition in Japan,” wrote Colin Marshall in a previous post on Iwakuni’s craft, “this carpentry developed a canon of joining methods.” All of the joints, from the very simple to the mind-bogglingly puzzle-like, were of course cut by hand. No power tools in medieval Japan.

Just above, see Iwakuni introduce the art of joinery, and see several more of his demonstrations here. Those interested in going further should see our previous posts at the links below. Find even more hands-on resources at the Japan Woodcraft Association.

via Twisted Sifter

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Japanese Carpenters Unearth 100-Year-Old Wood Joineries While Taking Apart a Traditional House is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Watch “Colette,” the Oscar-Winning Short Documentary (2021)

Por OC

Thanks to The Guardian, you can now watch online “Colette,” the film that recently won the Academy Award in the category of best documentary short. The British newspaper sets the stage as follows:

90-year-old Colette Marin-Catherine confronts her past by visiting the German concentration camp Mittelbau-Dora where her brother was killed. As a young girl, she fought Hitler’s Nazis as a member of the French Resistance. For 74 years, she has refused to step foot in Germany, but that changes when a young history student named Lucie enters her life. Prepared to re-open old wounds and revisit the terrors of that time, Marin-Catherine offers important lessons for us all.

In a separate interview, filmmakers Anthony Giacchino and Alice Doyard “explain how they found out about the story of Colette and why they decided to make a documentary about her.”

“Colette” will be added to our list of online documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Watch “Colette,” the Oscar-Winning Short Documentary (2021) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Wendy Carlos Demonstrates the Moog Synthesizer on the BBC (1970)

Por Colin Marshall

We can break popular music into two periods: before the Moog and after the Moog. Upon its debut in 1964, that synthesizer made a big splash in the small but long-established electronic-music world by, among other innovative qualities, being smaller than an entire room. Over the next few years, inventor Bob Moog (whose previous line was in theremins) refined his eponymous brainchild to the point that it became accessible to composers not already on the cutting edge of music technology. But for Wendy Carlos, the cutting edge of music technology was where she’d spent most of her life; hence her ability to create the first bestselling all-Moog album, 1968’s Switched-On Bach.

By the beginning of the 1970s, great public curiosity had built up about these new music-making machines, thanks to Carlos’ work as well as that of composers like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s Daphne Oram. It was the BBC that produced the clip above, in which Carlos explains the fundamentals of not just the Moog but sound synthesis itself.

She even plays a bit of the second movement of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto #4, Carlos’ rendition of which on Switch-On Bach‘s follow-up The Well-Tempered Synthesizer moved no less an authority than Glenn Gould to call it “the finest performance of any of the Brandenburgs — live, canned, or intuited — I’ve ever heard.”

In this footage, more than half a century old as it is, only an evident skill at operating the Moog and understanding of the principles of synthesizers suggest Carlos’ identity. At that time in her career she was still known as Walter Carlos, and she has since spoken of having maintained that image by applying a pair of fake sideburns for public appearances. (She would return to the BBC to do another Moog demonstration as Wendy nineteen years later.) Today one dares say those mutton chops look a bit obvious, but it isn’t as a master of disguise that Carlos has gone down in history. Rather, her work has showed the way for generations of musicians, well outside of campus laboratories, to make use of electronically generated sounds in a manner that resonates, as it were, with the wider listening public.

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The Scores That Electronic Music Pioneer Wendy Carlos Composed for Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and The Shining

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How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Wendy Carlos Demonstrates the Moog Synthesizer on the BBC (1970) is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or get our Daily Email. And don't miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

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