Norwegian Musician Creates Ice Instruments with a Chain Saw and Sub-Zero Weather

Most professional musicians have a very special relationship with their instruments. Male guitarists treat their favorite guitars like girlfriends—maybe better in some cases. Traveling cellists buy airline tickets for instruments. It’s just too risky to put your livelihood in cargo.

Not so for Terje Insungset, a Norwegian musician who, among other things, carves instruments out of ice. His background is in jazz and traditional Scandinavian music, but he’s built a reputation as an artist who makes music on unconventional materials. Considering where he is from, it’s not surprising that he has turned his attention to ice and its musical potential.

Turns out the sound of an ice xylophone is lovely—soft, deep, tinkly. The ice horn sounds like a lonely beast calling out across the tundra. Insungset collaborates with vocalist Mari Kvien Brunvoll. Together they perform around the world, sometimes indoors and sometimes in the snow, with elaborate microphone cords draped around and beautiful lighting.

There’s even an ice guitar.

Insungset has also built instruments out of arctic birch, slate, cow bells and granite. His interest in ice as a material developed when he was commissioned to play music in a frozen waterfall at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Unlike most musicians, he has to build his instruments in situ, as he did for recent concerts in Canada where the temperature was 36 below zero with a light wind. Perfect weather for ice music.

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Kate Rix writes about digital media and education. Visit her website, .

Édith Piaf’s Moving Performance of ‘La Vie en Rose’ on French TV, 1954

Édith Piaf's life was anything but rosy. Born in a Parisian slum, she was abandoned by her mother and lived for awhile in a brothel run by her grandmother. As a teenager she sang on the streets for money. She was addicted to alcohol and drugs for much of her life, and her later years were marred by chronic pain. Through it all, Piaf managed to hold onto a basically optimistic view of life. She sang with a lyrical abandon that seemed to transcend the pain and sorrow of living.

On April 3, 1954 Piaf was the guest of honor on the French TV show La Joie de Vivre. She was 38 years old but looked much older. She had recently undergone a grueling series of "aversion therapy" treatments for alcoholism, and was by that time in the habit of taking morphine before going onstage. Cortisone treatments for arthritis made the usually wire-thin singer look puffy. But when Piaf launches into her signature song, "La Vie en Rose" (see above), all of that is left behind.

Nine years after this performance, when Piaf died, her friend Jean Cocteau said of her: "Like all those who live on courage, she didn't think about death--she defied it. Only her voice remains, that splendid voice like black velvet."

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“Don’t Try”: Charles Bukowski’s Concise Philosophy of Art and Life

bukowski graveIn 1994, Charles Bukowski was buried in a Los Angeles cemetery, beneath a simple gravestone. The stone memorializes the poet's name. It recites his dates of birth and death, but adds the symbol of a boxer between the two, suggesting his life was a struggle. And it adds the very succinct epitaph, "Don't Try."

There you have it, Bukowski's philosophy on art and life boiled down to two words. But what do they mean? Let's look back at the epistolary record and find out.

In October 1963, Bukowski recounted in a letter to John William Corrington how someone once asked him, "What do you do? How do you write, create?" To which, he replied: "You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.”

So, the key to life and art, it's all about persistence? Patience? Timing? Waiting for your moment? Yes, but not just that.

Jumping forward to 1990, Bukowski sent a letter to his friend William Packard and reminded him: "We work too hard. We try too hard. Don't try. Don't work. It's there. It's been looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb. There's been too much direction. It's all free, we needn't be told. Classes? Classes are for asses. Writing a poem is as easy as beating your meat or drinking a bottle of beer."

The key to living a good life, to creating great art -- it's also about not over-thinking things, or muscling our way through. It's about letting our talents appear, almost jedi-style. Or is it?

In 2005, Mike Watt (bass player for the Minutemen, fIREHOSE, and the Stooges) interviewed Linda Bukowski, the poet's wife, and asked her to set the record straight. Here's their exchange.

Watt: What's the story: "Don't Try"? Is it from that piece he wrote?

Linda: See those big volumes of books? They're called Who's Who In America. It's everybody, artists, scientists, whatever. So he was in there and they asked him to do a little thing about the books he's written and duh, duh, duh, duh, duh. At the very end they say, is there anything you wanna say, you know, what is your philosophy of life, and some people would write a huge long thing. A dissertation, and some people would just go on and on. And Hank just put, "Don't Try." Now, for you, what do you think that means?

Watt: Well for me it always meant like be natural.

Linda: Yeah, yeah.

Watt: Not like...being lazy!

Linda: Yeah, I get so many different ideas from people that don't understand what that means. Well, "Don't Try? Just be a slacker? lay back?" And I'm no! Don't try, do. Because if you're spending your time trying something, you're not doing it..."DON'T TRY."

It's Monday. Get out there. Just do it. But patiently. And don't break a sweat.

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Listen to James Franco Read from Jack Kerouac’s Influential Beat Novel, On the Road

"Movie star, conceptual artist, fiction writer, grad student, cipher." These roles, and others, New York magazine attributed to the subject of their profile, "The James Franco Project." If you regularly read Open Culture, you've surely had your own areas of interest touched by the literarily inclined young Hollywood maverick. Maybe you've seen him appear in a book trailer, read the Paris Review in bed, narrate an animation of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, or direct and star in a docudrama about poet Hart Crane. Above you can hear him give a ten minute reading from a work of literature that, whether or not it made a permanent dent in your own consciousness, we've all encountered: Jack Kerouac's On the Road. When Lapham's Quarterly excerpted the novel for a travel issue, Franco turned up to perform.

"It was drizzling and mysterious at the beginning of our journey," Kerouac wrote and Franco reads. "I could see that it was all going to be one big saga of the mist. 'Whooee!' yelled Dean. 'Here we go!' And he hunched over the wheel and gunned her; he was back in his element, everybody could see that." Hearing this particular voice interpret this particular novel reminds you of both Franco and Kerouac's images as thoroughly American creators, though each expresses that American-ness in very much their own way: Kerouac, of course, actually comes from a French-Canadian family, and Franco leads the kind of cultural renaissance-man career the modern United States tends to frown upon. But given the places they've both secured for themselves in the American zeitgeist — and the best sort of places: unlikely ones — wasn't it inevitable that their crafts would intersect?

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

David Foster Wallace’s 1994 Syllabus: How to Teach Serious Literature with Lightweight Books


Note: click here to see the full syllabus and other related teaching materials.

As anyone who’s ever done it knows, the art of syllabussing is a fine one. (Yes, it’s a word; don't look it up, take my word for it—Syllabussing: creating the perfect syllabus for a college-level course). It requires precision planning, stellar formatting and copy-editing skills, and near-perfect knowledge of the college-student psyche. For one, the syllabus must explain in clear terms what students can expect from the class and what the class expects from them. And it must do this without sounding so dry and pedantic that half the class drops in the first week. For another, the perfect syllabus (there’s no such thing, but one must strive) should function as both an FAQ and a contract: need to know how to format your papers? See the syllabus. Forgot when the paper was due? Too bad—see the syllabus. And so on. Most teachers learn over time that a class can stand or fall on the strength of this document.

Which brings us to the syllabussing skills of one David Foster Wallace, encyclopedic literary obsessive, modern-day moralist, English professor. Love his work or hate it, it may be safe to say that Wallace was perhaps one of the most careful (or care-full) writers of his generation. And given the criteria above, you might just have to admire the fine art of his syllabi. Well, so you can, thanks to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center, which has scans available online of the syllabus for Wallace's intro course “English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction” (first page above), along with other course documents. These documents---From the Fall ’94 semester at Illinois State University, where Wallace taught from 1993 to 2002---reveal the professionally pedagogical side of the literary wunderkind, a side every teacher will connect with right away.

The text in the image above is admittedly tiny (you can request higher resolution scans on the UT Austin site), but if you squint hard, you’ll see under "Aims of Course" that Wallace quotes the official ISU description of his class, then translates it into his own words:

In less narcotizing words, English 102 aims to show you some ways to read fiction more deeply, to come up with more interesting insights on how pieces of fiction work, to have informed intelligent reasons for liking or disliking a piece of fiction, and to write—clearly, persuasively, and above all interestingly—about stuff you’ve read.

Having taught my own versions of such a class, I’m a little jealous of his (uncharacteristically?) informal concision.


Wallace’s choice of texts is of interest as well—surprising for a writer most detractors call “pretentious.” For his class, Wallace prescribed airport-bookstore standards—what he calls “popular or commercial fiction”—such as Jackie Collins’ Rock Star, Stephen King’s Carrie, Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, and James Elroy’s The Big Nowhere. The UT Austin site also has scans of some well-worn paperback teacher’s copies, with the red-ink marginal notes, discussion questions, and underlines one finds behind every podium. In the image above, Wallace has underlined a line of dialogue in Carrie, annotating it with the word "victim" in all-caps. Of the books Wallace requires, he writes in a section of the syllabus above called “Warning”:

Don’t let any potential lightweightish-looking qualities of the texts delude you into thinking that this will be a blow-off-type class. These “popular” texts will end up being harder than more conventionally “literary” works to unpack and read critically. You’ll end up doing more work in here than in other sections of 102, probably.

Something about that “probably” at the end grabs me (again: the precision... the college-student psyche). I admire this brave approach. Having taught conventionally “literary” stuff for years, I can say that some so-called literary fiction is formulaic in the extreme, all but containing checkboxes for the standard lit-crit categories. The commercial stuff isn’t always so careful (which is why it's so often more fun).

UT Austin's Harry Ransom Center houses David Foster Wallace's library and papers, but you'll have to make a trip to Texas (and present some academic credentials) to access most of the archive. They have scanned a few other choice pieces, however, such as the handwritten first page from a draft of his literary masterpiece/dorm-room doorstop, Infinite Jest.

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Josh Jones is a writer, editor, musician, and oftentime English teacher to easily-distracted undergraduates. Follow him @jdmagness

33 Oscar-Winning Films Online

Personally, I'd rather watch a good movie than an awards show about good movies. If you're like me, then consider spending tonight watching a long list of Oscar-winning films on the web. 33 films, to be precise. The list includes many great short films, animated films, documentaries, and a few feature-length movies. We start you off above with Why Man Creates, the classic animated film by Saul Bass and his wife/collaborator Elaine, which won the 1968 Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. You can get the full list of Academy Award winners on the web here. And don't forget to peruse our ever-growing list of 500 Free Movies Online. It'll keep you busy for weeks, if not months.

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Captivating Collaboration: Artist Hubert Duprat Uses Insects to Create Golden Sculptures

Once upon a time, the larvae of the Caddis Fly were considered pretty unassuming creatures, freshwater dwellers whose appeal was limited to trout and trout fishermen. That is until French artist Hubert Duprat came along with an aesthetic offer they couldn't refuse.

Left to their own devices, Caddis larvae construct protective cases from natural materials found in their habitat, patching small pieces together with silken thread. A chance encounter with some prospectors at a river in southwestern France led Duprat to wonder how the Caddis larvae might adapt if gold figured more prominently among their building supplies. Thus began The Wonderful Caddis Worm: Sculptural Work in Collaboration with Trichopteras, an ongoing artistic experiment in a carefully controlled, scientific setting.

Basically these birds are spinning their own gilded cages with whatever luxury materials Duprat introduces into their artificial environment. The resulting jewel encrusted creations would not be out of place in a Madison Avenue window, though it's possible a nearsighted dowager might mistake the tiny jeweler for a cockroach.


Whether or not one would opt to wear one of these blinged-out insect casings were money no object, one has to admit their engineering is a most unusual feat. It would make for one humdinger of a Science Fair project if only Duprat hadn't patented the technique in 1983.

via Laughing Squid

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Ayun Halliday is slowly figuring out how a writer homeschools a graphic novel enthusiast in subjects of a scientific nature. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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