Brian Eno Explains the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music

In music, as in film, we have reached a point where every element of every composition can be fully produced and automated by computers. This is a breakthrough that allows producers with little or no musical training the ability to rapidly turn out hits. It also allows talented musicians without access to expensive equipment to record their music with little more than their laptops. But the ease of digital recording technology has encouraged producers, musicians, and engineers at all levels to smooth out every rough edge and correct every mistake, even in recordings of real humans playing old-fashioned analogue instruments. After all, if you could make the drummer play in perfect time every measure, the singer hit every note on key, or the guitarist play every note perfectly, why wouldn’t you?

One answer comes in a succinct quotation from Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which Ted Mills referenced in a recent post here on Miles Davis: “Honor Your Mistakes as a Hidden Intention.” (The advice is similar to that Davis gave to Herbie Hancock, “There are no mistakes, just chances to improvise.”) In the short clip at the top, Eno elaborates in the context of digital production, saying “the temptation of the technology is to smooth everything out.”




But the net effect of correcting every perceived mistake is to “homogenize the whole song,” he says, “till every bar sounds the same… until there’s no evidence of human life at all in there.” There is a reason, after all, that even purely digital, “in the box” sequencers and drum machines have functions to “humanize” their beats—to make them correspond more to the looseness and occasional hesitancy of real human players.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as singing or playing well or badly—it means there is no such thing as perfection. Or rather, that perfection is not a worthy goal in music. The real hooks, the moments that we most connect with and return to again and again, are often happy accidents. Mills points to a whole Reddit thread devoted to mistakes left in recordings that became part of the song. And when it comes to playing perfectly in time or in tune, I think of what an atrocity would have resulted from running all of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street through a digital audio workstation to sand down the sharp edges and "fix" the mistakes. All of its shambling, mumbling, drunken barroom charm would be completely lost. That goes also for the entire recorded output of The Band, or most of Dylan’s albums (such as my personal favorite, John Wesley Harding).

To take a somewhat more modern example, listen to “Sirena” from Australian instrumental trio Dirty Three, above. This is a band that sounds forever on the verge of collapse, and it’s absolutely beautiful to hear (or see, if you get the chance to experience them live). This recording, from their album Ocean Songs, was made in 1998, before most production went fully digital, and there are very few records that sound like it anymore. Even dance music has the potential to be much more raw and organic, instead of having singers' voices run through so much pitch correction software that they sound like machines. (witness the obscure disco hit "Miss Broadway," for example, or LCD Soundsystem's career.)

There is a lot more to say about the way the albums represented above were recorded, but the overall point is that just as too much CGI has often ruined the excitement of cinema (we’re looking at you, George Lucas) ---or as the digital “loudness wars” sapped much recorded music of its dynamic peaks and valleys---overzealous use of software to correct imperfections can ruin the human appeal of music, and render it sterile and disposable like so many cheap, plastic mass-produced toys. As with all of our use of advanced technology, questions about what we can do should always be followed by questions about what we’re really gaining, or losing, in the process.

Related Content:

Brian Eno on Creating Music and Art As Imaginary Landscapes (1989)

Brian Eno Creates a List of His 13 Favorite Records: From Gospel to Afrobeat, Shoegaze to Bulgarian Folk

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 18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

Meditate_Tapasya_Dhyana

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This year’s crazed election got you stressed out? Or just life in general? “It’s never too late,” Allen Ginsberg reminds us, “to meditate.” On Monday, we brought you several versions of Ginsberg’s meditation instructions, which he set to song and recorded with Bob Dylan and disco maven/experimental cellist Arthur Russell, among others. Ginsberg’s “sugar-coated dharma,” as he called it, does a great job of drawing attention to meditation and its benefits, personal and global, but it’s hardly the soothing soundtrack one needs to get in the right posture and frame of mind.

For that, you might try Moby’s 4 hours of ambient music, which he released free to the public through his website last month. Traditionally speaking, no music is necessary, but there’s also no need go the way of Zen monks, or to embrace any form of Buddhism or other religion. Wholly secular forms of mindfulness meditation have been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, help manage physical pain, improve concentration, and promote a host of other benefits.

Still skeptical? Don’t take my word for it. We’ve pointed you toward the vast amount of scientific research on the subject of mindfulness meditation, much of it conducted by skeptical researchers who came to believe in the benefits after seeing the evidence. If you too have come around to the idea that, yes, you should probably meditate, your next thought may be, but how? Well, in addition to Ginsberg’s witty Vipassana how-to, UCLA has a series of short, guided meditations available on iTunesU. And just above, we have an entire playlist of guided meditations—18 hours in total. It was put together by Spotify, whose free software you can download here.

These include more religiously-oriented kinds of meditations like “Guided Chakra Balancing” and the mystical philosophies of Deepak Chopra, but don’t run off yet if all that’s too woo for you. There are also several hours of very practical, non-religious instruction from teachers like Professor Mark Williams of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, who offers meditations for cognitive therapy. See Williams discuss mindfulness research and meditation as an effective means of managing depression in the video above. (Catch a full mindfulness lecture from Professor Williams and hear another guided meditation from him on Youtube).

You’ll also find a 30-minute guided meditation for sleep, sitar music from Ravi Shankar, and many other guided meditations at various points on the spectrum from the mystical to the wholly practical. Something for everyone here, in other words. Go ahead and give it a try. No matter if you can manage ten minutes or an hour a day, it’s never too late.

Related Content:

Daily Meditation Boosts & Revitalizes the Brain and Reduces Stress, Harvard Study Finds

Allen Ginsberg Teaches You How to Meditate with a Rock Song Featuring Bob Dylan on Bass

Free Guided Meditations From UCLA: Boost Your Awareness & Ease Your Stress

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

Test Your Literary Mettle: Take a 50 Question Quiz from The Strand Bookstore

640px-Strand_Bookstore

Image by Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons

Think you know literature inside and out? If you're feeling confident, then we'd suggest taking the literary matching quizzes that the great Strand Bookstore (located in New York City, of course) has given to its prospective employees since the 1970s. Click here, and you can take a series of 5 quizzes (each with 10 questions) where you're asked to match authors and titles. When you're done, let us know how you did in the comments section below. Best of luck.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

Download 55 Free Online Literature Courses: From Dante and Milton to Kerouac and Tolkien

900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kindle & Other Devices

Joseph Priestley Visualizes History & Great Historical Figures with Two of the Most Influential Infographics Ever (1769)

A_New_Chart_of_History_color

Not a day now goes by without the appearance of new infographics, each of them meant to bring its viewers a fuller understanding of a subject or phenomenon (or convince them of an argument) at a glance. Modern technology has made it possible for us to see, as well as create, a wider variety of infographics filled with more data than ever, but their creation as an artistic and intellectual pursuit began longer ago than you might think. Here we have two handmade infographics by the 18th-century English polymath Joseph Priestley, notable not just for their earliness, but for the fact that they remain among the most impressive examples of the form.

Priestley's 1769 A New Chart of History appears at the top of the post (click for larger version or see this one too). Accompanied by a description and subtitles, "A View of the Principal Revolutions of Empire that have taken place in the World" literally illustrates its creator's view, unconventional at the time, that to truly understand history requires more than just examining the history of one country or one people. It requires examining the history of all the civilizations of Earth, which he divided into Scandinavia, Poland, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, France, Italy, "Turkey in Europe" and "Turkey in Asia," Germany, Persia, India, China, Africa, and America.

PriestleyChart

His earlier A Chart of Biography (1765), a piece of which appears just above, had visualized not the fortunes of empires but the fortunes of individuals, more than 2000 statesmen, warriors, divines, metaphysicians, mathematicians, physicians, poets, artists, orators, critics, historians, and antiquarians who lived between 1200 BC and his own day. "What makes this viz especially amazing," says a presentation by Tableau Software on the five most influential data visualizations of all time, "is that we can still learn from it at the aggregate level when we combine it with the second part of his two-part visualization" — the New Chart of History.

"Together, they weave an intricate story. They explain and document both the rise and fall of empires, and the unique thinkers that defined those nations," the leading lights of the Greeks, the Romans, the Enlightenment, and other civilizations and periods besides. They make history, at least as Priestley and his students knew it, quickly graspable at a combination of scales seldom considered before, and one which has influenced thinking ever since about how civilizations grow, collapse, expand, and collide. After their initial publication, the Chart of Biography and New Chart of History met with great acclaim and decades of popular demand, and they still read as not just historical, geographical, and political, but somehow poetic — poetic in the manner, specifically, of Shelly's Ozymandias.

You can read more about both charts at MIT's Digital Humanities site.

Related Content:

An Interactive Timeline Covering 14 Billion Years of History: From The Big Bang to 2015

10 Million Years of Evolution Visualized in an Elegant, 5-Foot Long Infographic from 1931

6,000 Years of History Visualized in a 23-Foot-Long Timeline of World History, Created in 1871

4000 Years of History Displayed in a 5-Foot-Long “Histomap” (Early Infographic) From 1931

5-Minute Animation Maps 2,600 Years of Western Cultural History

The History of Philosophy, from 600 B.C.E. to 1935, Visualized in Two Massive, 44-Foot High Diagrams

The Tree of Languages Illustrated in a Big, Beautiful Infographic

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Last Known Photos of Jim Morrison, Taken Days Before His Death in Paris (June 1971)

It’s got to be one of my favorite ledes of all time: “The Doors legend Jim Morrison ‘faked his own death’ and is living as an aging homeless hippy in New York, according to a conspiracy theorist.”

This deadpan gem from wacky UK tabloid Express might convince the credulous, with its photo spread comparing white-bearded “Richard”---the aged, supposedly re-surfaced Morrison---with those of Morrison in his last years: bearded, bloated, and looking ten years older.




These are often the images we remember, but the photos in the video montage above (set to some inexplicably un-Door-sy music that you might want to mute) show us a more youthful, clean-shaven, baby-faced, and much healthier lizard king, traveling through Paris with his girlfriend Pamela Courson and their friend Alain Ronay, who took the photos on June 28th, 1971. (See a photo spread here at Vintage Everyday.)

Morrison was “clearly not in a good way,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock, “when he headed off for Paris,” but in these images, he appears fully ready to embark on a new career as a published poet instead of joining the “27 Club,” as he would just days later, when Courson awoke to find him dead in the bathtub of their Paris apartment on July 3rd.

Part of the reason fans have doggedly held on to the theory Morrison faked his death has to do with the mysterious circumstances surrounding that discovery--the “naggingly non-specific ‘heart failure’” ascribed as the cause by French authorities, the lack of an autopsy, and the “dozens of rumors—many of them unfounded” that proliferated around the mystery.

It turns out that circumstances of Jim Morrison’s death were sordidly predictable, if we believe onetime Doors publicist Danny Sugerman, who wrote in his 1989 memoir Wonderland Avenue about conversations with Courson, who “stated that Morrison had died of an accidental heroin overdose, having snorted what he believed to be cocaine,” writes The Vintage News.

Her account is supported by the confession of Alain Ronay---in a 1991 issue of Paris Match, where many of these photos appeared---who wrote that Courson nodded off instead of getting help for Morrison. Ronay also describes in his account (read it in full, translated, here), how he and filmmaker Agnes Varda helped mislead authorities as to Morrison’s identity, covered up his prior drug use, threw the press off track, and guided the investigation away from the drugs and Courson’s involvement.

Ronay seems credible enough, but whatever the circumstances surrounding Morrison’s death, it’s clear he had a lot of writing left in him. In his last interview with Rolling Stone, he talked about his poetry and his admiration for Norman Mailer and revealed he’d been working on a screenplay. While in Paris, he made several recordings of his poetry with some unnamed musicians. Last year, a handwritten poem found in his Paris apartment went up for auction. Its final, ominous line read, “Last words, Last words out.”

via The Vintage News/Dangerous Minds

Related Content:

“The Lost Paris Tapes” Preserves Jim Morrison’s Final Poetry Recordings from 1971

The Doors Play Live in Denmark & LA in 1968: See Jim Morrison Near His Charismatic Peak

A Young, Clean Cut Jim Morrison Appears in a 1962 Florida State University Promo Film

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

 

What Are the Most Stolen Books? Bookstore Lists Feature Works by Murakami, Bukowski, Burroughs, Vonnegut, Kerouac & Palahniuk

most-stolen-books

In 1971, Abbie Hoffman published his countercultural how-to/”hip Boy Scout handbook,” Steal This Book. Since then, millions of people have queued up to pay for it. Did they misread the very clear instruction in the title? Or did most of Hoffman’s readers think of it as another Yippie hoax, not to be taken any more seriously than Pigasus, the 145-pound pig Hoffman and his merry band of pranksters nominated for president in 1968? Seems to me Hoffman was dead serious about the pig, and about his call for shoplifting, or “inventory shrink.”

Nevertheless, millions of people have needed no unambiguous prodding from the Andy Kaufman of political theater to steal millions of other books from shops worldwide, to the detriment of publishers and booksellers and the edification of penurious readers. The books most stolen from bookstores happen to also be those that might best appeal to the kind of radical anarcho-hippies Hoffman addressed, including Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and anything by Bukowski and Burroughs.




Also high on the list is Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, not a novel we necessarily associate with dumpster-divers and boxcar-hoppers, but one of many Murakamis book thieves have taken to lifting nonetheless. Kurt Vonnegut ranks highly, including his very popular Cat's Cradle and Breakfast of Champions. Other favorite authors include hyper-masculine seers of societal decadence, Chuck Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis.

How do we know this? One source is simply an image, above, tweeted out by Vintage/Anchor Books—a photo of a “Most Stolen Books” shelf at an unnamed bookstore. We might assume whichever store it is has all the evidence it needs from a consistently shrinking inventory of these titles. And another major bookstore confirms much of the anonymous shelf above.

Melissa MacAulay at The Editing Company blog writes that during a part-time gig at Canadian giant Indigo books, Palahniuk’s Fight Club ended up behind the counter. Readers looking for a copy instead found “a small sign directing you to ‘please ask for assistance.’” In addition to Palahniuk, Indigo’s big three most stolen authors are Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, and Bukowski, who tops out as the “reigning king of ‘Shoplift Lit.’”

In yet another “Most Stolen” list, blogger Candice Huber---inspired by Markus Zusak’s 2013 novel The Book Thief---undertook her own informal research and came up with similar results, with Bukowski and Burroughs in the top spot and Kerouac at number two. “All of the books listed,” notes Kottke, “are by men and most by ‘manly’ men” (whatever that means). See her list, with commentary, below.

Anything by Charles Bukowski or William S. Burroughs. Book sellers tend to keep books by these authors behind the counter because they get swiped so often.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac. If you notice a theme here, Bukowski, Burroughs, and Kerouac books all share, shall I put it bluntly, content of sex and drugs. It seems that those most likely to commit a reckless act (stealing) are also interested in reading about reckless acts.

Graphic Novels. The majority of book thieves are young, white males, and this is what they read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Which was actually one of the most commonly stolen books long before the movie came out.

Various Selections from Ernest Hemingway, including A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises.

Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. David Sedaris? Really?

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. I wouldn’t have thought this was the stuff of the five-finger discount.

Steal this Book did not crack the top seven, though it did receive honorable mention, along with Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, and “anything by Martin Amis.” Having been a poor college student myself once (not that I lifted my books!), and having taught many a cash-strapped undergrad, I’d assume a good number of the missing Fitzgeralds and Hemingways left bookstores in the hands of thieves bearing syllabi.

A 2009 Guardian list gives us an entirely different image of British book thieves with a penchant for boxer Lenny McLean’s memoirs, Yolanda Celbridge’s “modern S&M classic” The Taming of Trudi, comic books Tintin and Asterix, Banksy’s coffee table book Wall and Piece, and Harry Potter. Hoffman comes in at number six.

When it comes to books stolen from libraries, on the other hand, Huber points out this dynamic: “library theft leans more toward the practical than the popular, whereas bookstore theft leans toward the popular.” The top seven here include expensive art books, The Bible, The Guinness Book of World Records, textbooks/reference books/exam prep books, and, naturally, books on university reading lists. Also, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and "other racy books/magazines"—many stolen, perhaps, to avoid the embarrassment of prying librarian eyes.

We do not assume that you, dear upstanding reader, have ever stolen a book, or anything else. And yet, did you find anything on these lists surprising? (I thought Henry Miller might make the cut....) What books would you expect to see stolen often that didn’t appear? What about a list of “most borrowed” (and maybe never returned) books from friends/acquaintances/family/roommates? Let us know your thoughts below.

via Vintage/Anchor/Kottke

Related Content:

The 20 Most Influential Academic Books of All Time: No Spoilers

28 Important Philosophers List the Books That Influenced Them Most During Their College Days

The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors (Download Them for Free)

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

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Painting the Earliest Form of Cinema?

A few years ago, Werner Herzog's acclaimed Cave of Forgotten Dreams pulled off an unlikely combination of technology and subject matter, using the latest in 3D cinema to capture the oldest known manmade images. But in the view of French archaeologist and filmmaker Marc Azéma, it must have made perfect sense as a kind of closing of a grand cultural loop. More than twenty years of research has made him see the kind of up to 32,000-year-old cave paintings shown in Herzog's film as sequential images of man and beast, not just static ones — moving pictures, if you like — that emerge when arranged in a certain way.

Azéma's short video "Sequential Animation: The First Paleolithic Animated Pictures" does that arranging for us, revealing how the early anatomical sketches found on the walls of caves in France and Portugal depict animal movement as the human artists perceived it. The connection to modern cinema, if you go through Eadweard Muybridge's nineteenth-century studies of motion and then on to the products of the Lumière brothers' early movie camera, looks clear indeed. Once we figured out how to satisfy our ages-long curiosity about how things move, we then, human ambition being what it is, had to find a way to turn the discovery toward artistic ends again.

"I don't think it's too much to call it an early form of cinema," says Azéma in the segment from PRI's The World embedded above. "It was the first grand form of communication, with an audience and pictures." He points to the key concept of retinal persistence, or persistence of vision, "when you've got an image, then a successive image, and another image, and the retina follows what's coming next," which makes cinema possible in the first place — and which early man, who "had the need to get the images out of his brain and on the wall," seems to have known something about. And what, we can hardly resist wondering, will cinema look like to the future generations who will regard even our biggest-budget 3D spectacles as, essentially, prehistoric cave paintings?

Related Content:

The History of the Movie Camera in Four Minutes: From the Lumiere Brothers to Google Glass

Watch the Films of the Lumière Brothers & the Birth of Cinema (1895)

We Were Wanderers on a Prehistoric Earth: A Short Film Inspired by Joseph Conrad

Hear the World’s Oldest Instrument, the “Neanderthal Flute,” Dating Back Over 43,000 Years

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Quantcast