Brian Eno Presents a Crash Course on How the Recording Studio Radically Changed Music: Hear His Influential Lecture “The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool” (1979)

The rapid development of studio technology in the 1960s could seem like something of an avalanche, started, say, by Phil Spector, expanded by Brian Wilson, who spurred the Beatles and George Martin, who inspired dozens of artists to experiment in the studio, including Jimi Hendrix. By the time we get to the 70s it begins to seem like one man drives forward the progress of studio as instrument, Brian Eno—from his work with Robert Fripp, to the refinement of almost fully synthetic ambient music, to his groundbreaking work on David Bowie's "Berlin Trilogy" and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light in 1980.

Eno called himself a “non-musician” who valued theory over practice. But we know this to be untrue. He’s a profoundly hypnotic, engaging composer, player, and even singer, as well as a virtuoso practitioner of the studio recording arts, which, by 1979, he had honed sufficiently to expound on in a lecture titled “The Recording Studio as a Compositional Tool.” By '79, when Eno delivered the talk captured above at the Inaugural New Music American Festival in New York, he had already done so three times. In 1983, Down Beat magazine published the influential lecture (read it here).

Eno displays the critical acumen of Walter Benjamin in discussing the history and cultural significance of his art form, with philosophically punchy lines like his take on jazz: “the interesting thing about improvisations is that they become more interesting as you listen to them more times. What seemed like an almost arbitrary collision of events comes to seem very meaningful on relistening.” A very Eno-like observation, underlining his central thesis, which he delivers in a measured series of clauses to construct a sentence as long as some of his compositions, but one, nonetheless, with perfect clarity:

In this lecture, I want to indicate that recorded music, in certain of its aspects, is an entirely different art form from traditional music, and that the contemporary composer, people like me, those who work directly in relation to studios and multi-tracking and in relation to recording tape, are, in fact, engaged in a different, a radically different, business, from traditional composers.

How does Eno make his case? Recorded music substitutes the “space dimension” for the “time dimension,” and thus has a “detachable aspect,” it’s portable—and never more so than now. Eno seems to anticipate the current technological moment in 1979 when he says, “not only is the whole history of our music with us now, in some sense, on record, but the whole global musical culture is also available.” This results in a break with the European classical tradition as composers acquire “a culture unbounded, both temporally and geographically.”

Before the development of recording technology in the late 19th century, limitations of time and space ensured that every musical performance was a one of a kind event, over forever when it ended. In the 20th century, not only could recording engineers reproduce a performance infinitely, but with the medium of tape, they could cut, splice, rearrange, manipulate, and otherwise edit it together. With multi-tracking, they could create a unified whole from several disparate recordings, often from different times and places. And, as the audience for recorded music was a mass consumer market, popular musical tastes, to some extent, began to shift the kind of music that got made. (Eno has since expressed highly negative criticism of contemporary music that relies too heavily on studio technology.)

Eno begins rather drily, but once he gets going, the lecture becomes totally engrossing. He covers the mixing of Sly and the Family Stone’s Fresh, discusses Sly Dunbar and Lee “Scratch” Perry’s studio inventions, and those of his own Another Green World and Music for Airports. He offers a crash course on basic studio technology, and describes owning a recording of a recorded telephone message from Germany that sought apprehension of the Baader Meinhoff gang by playing a recording of one of their voices. He may be one of the most coolly dispassionate artists in modern popular music, but Brian Eno is never boring. Read a transcript of the lecture here.

via Techcrunch

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Brian Eno on Why Do We Make Art & What’s It Good For?: Download His 2015 John Peel Lecture

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

Stream 74 Sun Ra Albums Free Online: Decades of “Space Jazz” and Other Forms of Intergalactic, Afrofuturistic Musical Creativity

He was born Herman Poole Blount, but the many who appreciate his music and the otherworldly philosophy behind it know him only as Sun Ra. Or rather, they don't just appreciate it but find themselves transported to other places by it, even places located far beyond this Earth. Often space, as the title of the 1975 Afrofuturist science-fiction film that stars Sun Ra states, is the place, and if you seek to take such an interstellar journey through jazz music yourself, doing so has become easier than ever: just steer your ship over to Bandcamp, where you can stream the music of Sun Ra and his ever-shifting "Arkestra" for free.

Since you'll have no fewer than 74 albums to choose from, you might consider charting your voyage with Bandcamp Daily's guide to Sun Ra and his Arkestra's prolific and varied output.

It begins with his "Chicago Space Jazz" years in the 1950s, many of the recordings from which "sound a lot like jazz with traditional forms, rich ensemble writing, and plenty of swing," but which already show such characteristic choices and tools as "peculiar intervals and juxtapositions, the newly-developed electric piano, lots of percussion, extra baritone sax, group shouts, and so forth," as well as the influence of "exotica and mood music," the Bible, "occult philosophy," and cosmology.

The guide continues on to Sun Ra's time in New York in the 1960s, where "the 'space jazz' or quirky hard-bop of the Arkestra’s Chicago days starts to morph, reflecting the new 'free jazz' ideas being developed literally all around them by Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and others." This period culminates in The Magic City, "a nearly 28-minute tone poem, collectively improvised under Ra’s cues and direction, without preconceived themes; at times it is brooding and spare, at others it is full-on screeching saxophones." Thereafter came a time of solo and small-group work, and then of mind-bending live performances that the Arkestra, under the direction of longtime saxophonist Marshall Allen, continues to put on to this day.

Sun Ra himself ascended to another plane almost a quarter-century ago, but if you believe the elaborate mythology that remains inseparable from his musical work, he still exists, in some form and in some galaxy, no doubt imagining new kinds of jazz that the mere human mind may never sufficiently evolve to comprehend. Streaming these dozens of albums that Sun Ra left us on this Earth, you may not immediately think to compare them with the music of David Bowie, but as far as 20th-century outer space-oriented self-reinventors go, those two are in a class of their own. As Blount became Sun Ra in the 1940s, so David Jones transformed from Ziggy Stardust into the Thin White Duke into Aladdin Sane in the 1970s. Both remained musical experimenters all their lives, as their discographies will always attest, but when Sun Ra reinvented himself, he stayed reinvented.

Stream Sun Ra's albums at Bandcamp, and know that you can also purchase digital downloads of these albums (in MP3 and FLAC formats) for a reasonable price.

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A Collection of Sun Ra’s Business Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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.

Academic Journal Devotes an Entire Issue to Prince’s Life & Music: Read and Download It for Free

Image by Ann Althouse, via Flickr Commons

For decades now, academics have made popular culture a worthy area of study, from hip hop, comic books, and Hollywood film and television to video games and internet culture. And for just as long, there have been those who sneered at the disciplines emerging around pop culture studies. But really, what are we to do with someone like Prince, someone so clearly, profoundly, a musical genius, with such an outsized impact on popular culture, that he cannot help being a major historical figure just a year and a half after his death?

Devote an entire journal issue to him, of course, as the Journal of African American Studies did this past September. This is not, by far, Prince’s first appearance in a scholarly publication. And a slew of academic conferences devoted to the artist this past year has raised him to the academic status achieved by other megastars like Bruce Springsteen and Pink Floyd. This special journal issue, however, may be one of the most comprehensive collections of Prince scholarship you’re likely to find online. And unlike the majority of academic articles, these are all free. Just click the “Download PDF” link under each title found on this page.

The issue was published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Prince’s signing with Warner Brothers in 1977, the day he “turned pro.” The following year, he released the debut album For You, to modest critical success. While it didn’t make him a star overnight, For You announced him as a virtuoso, “as Prince played every instrument and sang all the vocals, something unheard of, then and now.” Prince’s musical skill could be taken for granted. It is easy to do with an artist who reconfigured culture in so many ways that had nothing to do with playing guitar or piano.

Prince’s radical, if very complicated, redefinition of gender and cultural expression provides an example, writes Deirdre T. Guion Peoples, of “Optimal Distinctiveness,” in the way he “negotiated his social identity.” He lived an ardent, consistently utopian vision in his music and also in his life; and his “singular vision of utopia cast women as essential to its creation,” notes H. Zahra Caldwell. And Prince’s “creative practices,” James Gordon Williams argues, “were linked to his covert, but avid, support of social justice initiatives that support black humanity.”

These ten articles elaborate things we thought we knew about Prince, but maybe didn’t, and introduce us to aspects of his life and work we’ve never considered. They are joined by seven essays and personal reflections and two book reviews. Read online or download the special Prince issue here.

via @WFMU

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

Depression & Melancholy: Animated Videos Explain the Crucial Difference Between Everyday Sadness and Clinical Depression

“Depression,” the TED-Ed video above informs us, “is the leading cause of disability in the world.” This may be a hard fact to swallow, the product, we might think, of pharmaceutical advertising. We all feel down from time to time, we think. “Then circumstances change, and those sad feelings disappear.” Isn’t it like this for everyone? It is not. “Clinical depression is different. It’s a medical disorder, and it won’t go away just because you want it to.”

Depression can linger for up to two weeks, and become so debilitating that sufferers cannot work or play. It interferes with important relationships and “can have a lot of different symptoms: a low mood, loss of interest in things you’d normally enjoy, changes in appetite, feeling worthless or excessively guilty,” restlessness and insomnia, or extreme lethargy, poor concentration, and possible thoughts of suicide. But surely we can hear a paid promotional voice when the narrator states, “If you have at least 5 of those symptoms, according to psychiatric guidelines, you qualify for a diagnosis of depression.”

What we don’t typically hear about in pharmaceutical ads are the measurable physiological changes depression writes in the brain, including decreased brain matter in the frontal lobe and atrophy of the hippocampus. These effects are measurable in humans and rats, in study after study after study. But while most of us know the names of a neurotransmitter or two these days, not even neuroscientists fully understand the biology of depression. They do know that some combination of medication, therapy, and, in extreme cases electroconvulsive treatment, can allow people to more fully experience life.

People in treatment will still feel “down” on occasion, just like everyone does. But depression, the explainer wants us to understand, should never be compared to ordinary sadness. Its effects on behavior and brain health are too wide-ranging, pervasive, persistent, and detrimental. These effects can be invisible, which adds to an unfortunate social stigma that dissuades people from seeking treatment. The more we talk about depression openly, rather than treating as it as a shameful secret, the more likely people at risk will be to seek help.

Just as depression cannot be alleviated by trivializing or ignoring it, the condition does not respond to being romanticized. While, indeed, many a famous painter, poet, actor, etc. has suffered from clinical depression—and made it a part of their art—their examples should not suggest to us that artists shouldn’t get treatment. Sadness is never trivial.

Unlike physical pain, it is difficult, for example, to pinpoint the direct causes of sadness. As the short video above demonstrates, the assumption that sadness is caused by external events arose relatively recently. The humoral system of the ancient Greeks treated all sadness as a biological phenomenon. Greek physicians believed it was an expression of black bile, or “melaina kole,” from which we derive the word "melancholy." It seems we’ve come full circle, in a way. Ancient humoral theorists recommended nutrition, medical treatment, and physical exercise as treatments for melancholia, just as doctors do today for depression.

But melancholy is a much broader term, not a scientific designation; it is a collection of ideas about sadness that span thousands of years. Nearly all of those ideas include some sense that sadness is an essential experience. “If you’ve never felt melancholy,” the narrator says, “you’ve missed out on part of what it means to be human.” Thinkers have described melancholia as a precursor to, or inevitable result of, acquiring wisdom. One key example, Robert Burton’s 1621 text The Anatomy of Melancholy, "the apogee of Renaissance scholarship," set the tone for discussions of melancholy for the next few centuries.

The scientific/philosophical/literary text argues, “he that increaseth wisdom, increaseth sorrow,” a sentiment the Romantic poets turned on its head. Before them came John Milton, whose 1645 poem Il Penseroso addresses melancholy as “thou Goddes, sage and holy… Sober, stedfast, and demure.” The deity Melancholy oversees the contemplative life and reveals essential truths through “Gorgeous Tragedy.”

One of the poem’s loftiest themes showed the way forward for the Romantics: “The poet who seeks to attain the highest level of creative expression must embrace the divine,” write Milton scholars Katherine Lynch and Thomas H. Luxon, "which can only be accomplished by following the path set out in Il Penseroso.” The divine, in this case, takes the form of sadness personified. Yet this poem cannot be read in isolation: its companion, L’Allegro, praises Mirth, and of sadness says, “Hence loathed Melancholy / Of Cerberus, and blackest midnight born, in Stygian Cave forlorn / ‘Mongst horrid shapes, and shrieks, and sights unholy.”

Rather than contradict each other, these two characterizations speak to the ambivalent attitudes, and vastly different experiences, humans have about sadness. Fleeting bouts of melancholy can be sweet, touching, and beautiful, inspiring art, music, and poetry. Sadness can force us to reckon with life’s unpleasantness rather than deny or avoid it. On the other hand, in its most extreme, chronically intractable forms, such as what we now call clinical depression, sadness can destroy our capacity to act, to appreciate beauty and learn important lessons, marking the critical difference between a universal existential condition and a, thankfully, treatable physical disease.

Related Content:

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

Watch “The “Art of Flying,” a Short Film Capturing the Wondrous Murmurations of the Common Starling

In the tradition of Andrew Sullivan's Dish, we start the week--before it even gets a bit hectic--with a Mental Health break. Above, watch The Art of Flying, Jan van Ijken's short film that captures the mysterious flights--or murmurations--of the Common Starling. A blurb accompanying the film adds a bit more context:

It is still unknown how the thousands of birds are able to fly in such dense swarms without colliding. Every night the starlings gather at dusk to perform their stunning air show. Because of the relatively warm winter of 2014/2015, the starlings stayed in the Netherlands instead of migrating southwards. This gave filmmaker Jan van IJken the opportunity to film one of the most spectacular and amazing natural phenomena on earth.

Also, over at janvanijken.com, you'll find a longer seven-minute version of this film, featuring "wonderful close-ups and a spectacular final scene." The €2,99 fee for watching that full-length film goes toward supporting van Ijken's work as an independent filmmaker.

Enjoy.

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The Proof That Mel Blanc–the Voice Behind Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck & Porky Pig–Was a Genius

Bugs Bunny is a talented mimic.

His effortless impersonations of the celebrities of his day are not always politic (see Al Jolson) but  there’s no denying that his impressions of Liberace, Edgar G. Robinson, Bing Crosby, and Hollywood Bowl conductor Leopold Stokowski introduced these personages to subsequent generations.

Clearly he was not working alone. In the 1981 interview with David Letterman below, Mel Blanc, who voiced Bugs, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn and many other animated favorites demonstrated his versatility.

Blanc shaped the characters from the get go, inventing voices for character sketches and storyboards, though it was clear to him that tough nut Bugs should have an equally tough  accent - either Brooklyn or the Bronx. (Rather than split hairs, he invented a hybrid.)

Hank Azaria, who is as central to The Simpsons’ mythology as Blanc is to Warner Brothers, marvels (up top) at Blanc’s ability to mimic one character imitating another, as Bugs and Daffy Duck do above.

Regionalism steered many of Blanc’s most memorable creations, from Foghorn Leghon’s Texas drawl to French loverboy, Pepe Le Pew.

Nice Maurice Chevalier, Bugs...

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

The Map of Biology: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Biology Fit Together

Of all the science classes required throughout primary and secondary school, most students seem to like biology the best. Maybe, dealing as it does with such familiar things as plants, animals, and human beings, the popularity of biology has to do with its clear relevance to their life — or more to the point, to life itself. But any biology-loving youngster who decides to go take their studies more deeply into their favorite subject must sooner or later make a difficult choice: what kind of biology will they focus on? Biophysics, cellular biology, ecology, environmental biology, biomechanics, molecular biology, biochemistry, evolutionary biology... the list seems endless.

So instead of looking at the world of biology as a list, why not look as it as a map? Domain of Science, the Youtube channel previously featured here on Open Culture for their map of mathematics, map of physics, map of chemistry, and map of computer science, have just recently put together one for biology, a video tour of which appears above.

It begins with "the most basic unit in the foundation of all life," the cell, continues on to molecular, chemical, and physical processes, then to genes, populations, anatomy, the immune system, genetic engineering, paleontology, and even the search for life in outer space, with many other stops along the way besides.

"If there's one word that describes biology, it's complexity," says series creator and narrator Dominic Walliman. "There's a huge amount we still don't understand about how life works, how it started, and how it ended up with intelligent apes like us who are able to look back and try and work out. I feel like we'll be making new biological discoveries for many, many years to come." Encouraging words for those students now considering going into one of the many biological sciences, although they'll still have to decide exactly which biological science to go into — bearing in mind how many of those subfields have yet to emerge. It doesn't take that intelligent an ape to understand that, before long, biology's going to need a bigger map.

You can purchase Domain of Science's maps as posters here.

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Free Online Biology Courses 

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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.

Giant Clown Sings a Creepy Cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”

You can't unsee this. You can't get it out of your head. Tonight, in your dreams, you'll see Puddles Pity Party, the 6'8" clown, singing a creeped out version of Radiohead's "Creep." He's backed by Matthew Kaminski, organist for the Atlanta Braves. You've been warned.

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The “True Size” Maps Shows You the Real Size of Every Country (and Will Change Your Mental Picture of the World)

We all understand, on some level, that as adults we must go back and correct the oversimplifications we learned as schoolchildren. But for a sense of how large the scale of those quasi-truths, you must imagine the whole world: that is, you must imagine how you imagine the whole world, a mental picture probably taken straight from the map hung on the classroom wall. And the lines of that map came straight, in a sense, from the work of 16th-century cartographer Gerardus Mercator.

Though Mercator's world-mapping method came as a revolution, it has also given generation after generation after generation very much the wrong idea about how big the world's countries actually are. Mercator Projection, as Citymetric describes it, "re-imagines the earth as the surface of a cylinder.

When laid out flat, it’s pleasingly rectangular, and its eastern and western edges line up neatly." But while "in reality, lines of longitude converge at the poles; on the map, they're parallel. As a result, the closer you get to the poles, the more distorted the map becomes, and the bigger things look relative to their actual size."

Hence the need for such re-imaginings of the world map as The True Size, "a website that lets you compare the size of any nation or US state to other land masses, by allowing you to move them around to anywhere else on the map." Just search for any country in the box in the map's upper-left corner, and that country's borders will appear highlighted in color. When you click and drag those borders to another part of the world, specifically a part of the world at a different latitude, you'll notice that the shape of the dragged country seems to deform.

But that appearance of distortion is only relative to the shapes and sizes we've long internalized from the Mercator map: when you move Australia up and it covers a third of Russia, or when you move the vast-looking Greenland down and it doesn't even cover Argentina, you're looking — perhaps for the first time — at a geographically accurate size comparison. Does that (to quote the humorless representative of the Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality in the West Wing episode cited as one inspiration for the True Size Map) blow your mind?

Explore the True Size Map here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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.

Why So Many People Adore The Room, the Worst Movie Ever Made? A Video Explainer

Not since the height of the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s midnight screenings have I seen a crowd go so nuts for a film, but 2003’s The Room seems to have really hit a cultural nerve. And it’s only going to get bigger with the upcoming release of The Disaster Artist, James Franco and Seth Rogen’s retelling of how writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau made his so-bad-it’s-brilliant film, based on the book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell.

Whereas Rocky Horror was an adaptation of an already successful East End musical, and a knowingly camp one at that, The Room is sui generis. As The Disaster Artist’s co-author Tom Bissell describes it, “It’s like a movie made by an alien who has never seen a movie but had movies thoroughly explained to him.”

The above video from Vox takes the uninitiated into the phenomenon of this piece of “paracinema”--any film that lies outside the mainstream--and tries to explain why The Room is so beloved while so many other bad films disappear into the ether.

One reason is its campy nature, though never knowingly so--Wiseau thought he was making something great. And because it’s so hard to find somebody so driven, yet so unaware of the basics of acting, storytelling, and moviemaking, The Room stands out compared to other films that try to be intentionally bad. You just can't fake that kind of thing.

The other reason is what critic Pierre Bourdieu would call cultural capital. That’s the shared joy between fans, and the importance placed on dressing up like the characters, going to midnight screenings, and seeing who knows the most lines.

The current trailer for The Disaster Artist reframes the story as a typical Hollywood story, where one follows their dreams no matter what, and hints at how The Room’s plot mirrored actual events in Wiseau’s life.

Meanwhile, what is really getting the buzz is James Franco’s uncanny and spot-on portrayal of Wiseau and some of The Room’s recreated footage. It’s almost exact down to the second.

People’s love of The Room has led some to treat it like the work of art it so wanted to be. In YouTube essayist This Guy Edits' video, he examines Wiseau’s blocking of a scene much like The Nerdwriter broke down Hitchcock’s blocking of Vertigo. Camp in this instance has birthed irony, but in the most loving way.

If you are new to The Room, please follow Tom Bissell’s advice and watch it for the first time at home, not at a midnight screening when you won’t hear any dialog and spoons are thrown at the screen. Hell, don’t even watch The Disaster Artist until you’ve sat down and watched Wiseau’s...masterpiece. (Yeah, we said it.)

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.





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