Hieronymus Bosch Figurines: Collect Surreal Characters from Bosch’s Paintings & Put Them on Your Bookshelf

Few painters have created as rich a world as Hieronymus Bosch did in The Garden of Earthly Delights. The late 15th- or early 16th-century triptych, which depicts the creation of man, the licentious frolicking of all creatures on a paradisiacal Earth, and the subsequent fall into damnation, draws a scrutiny — and causes an amusement — as intense as ever. As we've previously featured here on Open Culture, you can now take a virtual tour of the painting (there's even an app for it), see it brought to life with modern animation, and hear the song tattooed on the posterior of one of the work's many characters.

 

Bosch not only created a world with The Garden of Earthly Delights, he populated it thoroughly. And despite the human-centric story the work appears to take as its basis, the cast with which it retells it extends far beyond mere humanity: the panels feature not just wildlife of all shapes and sizes but a variety of mythical grotesques, from imps to chimeras to hybrids of man and animal to much more besides. He drew from the same surreal imaginative well to fill his other paintings, and you can now pull out a few of these colorful, menacing, preposterous, and darkly humorous characters yourself in collectible figurine form.

Though "not a big knickknack person," Dangerous Minds' Tara McGinley admits to digging this selection of "tiny objects" straight from the mind of Bosch, all "kinda cool-looking in their own obviously weird way" and none "too expensive. The figurines start at around $45, depending on quality, size and detail." (You can find them on Amazon.) She highlights such issues as "Helmeted Bird Monster," which according to manufacturers Parastone features a severed foot "swinging from the bird's helmet referring to the horrible corporal punishments which could be expected in hell."

"Devil on Night Chair," one of the most recognizable denizens of The Garden of Earthly Delights' third panel, comes cast in his famous position, "eating a person on a chair where he will excrete the human remains." The considerably less satisfied "Fat Belly with Dagger" comes from the third panel of a different triptych, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, the dagger in his belly showing "the consequences of intemperance. His eyes look out at you in acknowledgment." Its makers promise that "you will look at it in wonder as to how Bosch's mind conceived of such an unusual little fellow." Have a look at Dangerous Minds' original post and Amazon's Bosch figurine page for more information on how to obtain them, whether for yourself or as gifts for friends and family. They certainly won't look at them the same way they do Hummel figurines.

via Dangerous Minds

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Listen to a Recording of a Song Written on a Man’s Butt in a 15-Century Hieronymus Bosch Painting

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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.

Download 437 Issues of Soviet Photo Magazine, the Soviet Union’s Historic Photography Journal (1926-1991)

The early years of the Soviet Union roiled with internal tensions, intrigues, and ideological warfare, and the new empire’s art reflected its uneasy heterodoxy. Formalists, Futurists, Suprematists, Constructivists, and other schools mingled, published journals, critiqued and reviewed each other’s work, and like modernists elsewhere in the world, experimented with every possible medium, including those just coming into their own at the beginning of the 20th century, like film and photography.

These two mediums, along with radio, also happened to serve as the primary means of propagandizing Soviet citizens and carrying the messages of the Party in ways everyone could understand. And like much of the rest of the world, photography engendered its own consumer culture.

Out of these competing impulses came Soviet Photo (Sovetskoe foto), a monthly photography magazine featuring, writes Ksenia Nouril at the Museum of Modern Art’s site, “editorials, letters, articles, and photographic essays alongside advertisements for photography, photographic processes, and photographic chemicals and equipment.”

Soviet Photo was not founded by artists, but by a photojournalist, Arkady Shaikhet, in 1926 (see the first issue's cover at the top). Though its audience primarily consisted of a “Soviet amateur photographers and photo clubs,” its early years freely mixed documentary, didacticism, and experimental art. It published the “works of international and professional photographers” and that of avant-gardists like Constructivist painter and graphic designer Aleksander Rodchenko.

The aesthetic purges under Stalin---in which artists and writers one after another fell victim to charges of elitism and obscurantism---also played out in the pages of Soviet Photo. “Even before Socialist Realism was decreed to be the official style of the Soviet Union in 1934,” Nouril writes, “the works of avant-garde photographers,” including Rodchenko, “were denounced as formalist (implying that they reflected a foreign and elitist style).” Soviet Photo boycotted Rodchenko’s work in 1928 and “throughout the 1930s this state-sanctioned journal became increasingly conservative,” emphasizing “content over form.”

This does not mean that that the contents of the magazine were inelegant or pedestrian. Though it once briefly bore the name Proletarskoe foto (Proletariat Photography), and tended toward monumental and industrial subjects, war photography, and idealizations of Soviet life during the Stalinist years. After the 60s thaw, experimental photomontages returned, and more abstract compositions became commonplace. Soviet Photo also kept pace with many glossy magazines in the West, with stunning full-color photojournalism and, after glasnost and the fall of the Berlin wall, high fashion and advertising photography.

Fans of photography, Soviet history, or some measure of both, can follow Soviet Photo’s evolution in a huge archive featuring 437 digitized issues, published between 1926 and 1991. Expect to find a gap between 1942 and 1956, when publication ceased “due to World War II and the war’s aftereffects.” Aside from these years and a few other missing months, the archive contains nearly every issue of Soviet Photo, free to browse or download in various formats. “Dig deep enough,” writes photo blog PetaPixel, “and you’ll find some really interesting (and surprisingly familiar) things in there.” Enter the archive here.

 

via PetaPixel

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

Jim Henson’s Commercials for Wilkins Coffee: 15 Twisted Minutes of Muppet Coffee Ads (1957-1961)

Drink our coffee. Or else. That's the message of these curiously sadistic TV commercials produced by Jim Henson between 1957 and 1961.

Henson made 179 ten-second spots for Wilkins Coffee, a regional company with distribution in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. market, according to the Muppets Wiki: "The local stations only had ten seconds for station identification, so the Muppet commercials had to be lightning-fast--essentially, eight seconds for the commercial pitch and a two-second shot of the product."

Within those eight seconds, a coffee enthusiast named Wilkins (who bears a resemblance to Kermit the frog) manages to shoot, stab, bludgeon or otherwise do grave bodily harm to a coffee holdout named Wontkins. Henson provided the voices of both characters.

Up until that time, TV advertisers typically made a direct sales pitch. "We took a different approach," said Henson in Christopher Finch's Of Muppets and Men: The Making of the Muppet Show. "We tried to sell things by making people laugh."

The campaign for Wilkins Coffee was a hit. "In terms of popularity of commercials in the Washington area," said Henson in a 1982 interview with Judy Harris, "we were the number one, the most popular commercial." Henson's ad agency began marketing the idea to other regional coffee companies around the country. Henson re-shot the same spots with different brand names. "I bought my contract from that agency," said Henson, "and then I was producing them--the same things around the country. And so we had up to about a dozen or so clients going at the same time. At the point, I was making a lot of money."

If you're a glutton for punishment, you can watch many of the Wilkins Coffee commercials above. And a word of advice: If someone ever asks you if you drink Wilkins Coffee, just say yes.

Note: This post first appeared on our site in 2012. We found a video featuring a much larger collection of Henson's original commercials, so we're bringing it back to the homepage.

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Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Concerts: Intimate Performances from The Pixies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

In times past, happening upon just the right radio station, record store, or tape trading community were some of the few serendipitous ways of discovering new music. And in those days, one faithful curator of innovative new sounds, BBC DJ John Peel, never disappointed. Because of a law limiting the amount of recorded music radio could play, his name became synonymous with the hundreds of intimate performances punk, new wave, reggae, and other bands recorded live in his studio. While the “Peel Sessions” will forever live in legend (stream some here), the man himself passed away in 2004, and the musical landscape he helped create has changed irrevocably.

And yet, Peel’s animating spirit lives on, most especially in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, live in-studio performances recorded “at the desk of All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen.” Since 2008, Boilen has invited established and up-and-coming artists alike to his desk, capturing loose, unguarded, stripped-down, performances that sound like they’re happening in your living room.

Guitarists unplug, drummers trade their sticks for brushes, and we not only get to listen to old and new favorites; we get to watch them---like the Pixies at the top—up close as well. This performance, from 2014, garnered “the largest crowd we’d ever assembled for a Tiny Desk Concert,” writes Boilen, and featured newest member Paz Lenchantin trading her bass for violin.

Where the Pixies usually fill arenas with their eerily-quiet-to-deafeningly-loud songs, the group further up, Dirty Dozen Band, can easily fill public squares, football fields, and parade routes without stacks of overdriven amps. Hearing them explode in Boilen’s office with their rambunctious funk is a real treat, as is the larger-than-life voice of Adele, above, scaled down to college coffeehouse levels of closeness.

Though Tiny Desk Concerts often showcase pop, hip-hop, folk, country, and indie stars—like Wilco, below—and even classical stars like Yo-Yo Ma, above, it just as often introduces us to musicians we’ve never heard, or seen, before, and gives us the chance to get to know them without the usual trappings of marketing and boilerplate PR, or loud, crowded clubs with bad acoustics and no visibility.

The current homepage features a handful of incredibly talented musicians you’re unlikely to run across in most major venues. At least for now. Had he lived to see Tiny Desk Concerts, and its preservation of a radio curatorial tradition, John Peel, I think, would have been proud. See more performances from The National, Susan Vega, Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens, Steve Earle, and many, many more---450 concerts in all---at NPR Music on Youtube.

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

Hear Jimi Hendrix’s Virtuoso Guitar Performances in Isolated Tracks: “Fire,” “Purple Haze,” “Third Stone from the Sun” & More

A garden of musical curiosities---lush with rarities, outtakes, obscurities, and live performances spanning the globe---Youtube has fulfilled many a superfan's dream of instant access to recorded musical history. One rarified bloom, the isolated track, can prove a divisive strain. Why, aesthetes and purists ask, rip a performance from its setting, place it before listeners in a way musicians never meant for it to be heard? Though at times expressed in ranty tones, the criticism has merit.

Thinking of the “isolated track” as pure solo virtuosity does great injustice to the processes that produce these performances. As musicians well know, whether live or recorded at separate times in the studio, most group performances result from countless hours of rehearsal, revision, sometimes numbing repetition, and deviations that become standard over time.

For any band that plays together regularly, parts emerge from the matrix of group dynamics or musical “chemistry.” Throw a different musician into the mix, and other individual performances change as well.

That’s not even to mention the role of producers, recording and mixing engineers, etc. on shaping and refining the sound. Many studio productions nowadays come from the layering of beats, sequences, and samples produced in isolation from each other. The results can sound sterile and inorganic. But in the 60s and 70s heyday of album-oriented rock, it was about the band, and almost no one put together bands that better complemented his playing than Jimi Hendrix. Conversely, no one played guitar like Hendrix, in any context.

I would offer this in defense of hearing isolated tracks from Hendrix, or from Freddie Mercury and David Bowie (who bucked the trend and wrote, arranged, rehearsed, and recorded "Under Pressure" in the same night), Paul McCartney, Grace Slick, or any other hugely talented performer: We know these songs well enough already. So many of us have internalized how their parts fit together into something greater than themselves. To have the individual tracks revealed only enhances our appreciation for the whole. When we return to the full arrangement we may hear nuances and quirks we’d never noticed before, and notice afresh how these moments call and respond to the other players.

The isolated Hendrix guitar tracks here are subjects of study and appreciation, for guitarists, musicologists, critics, and ordinary fans. They allow us to hear very clearly what Hendrix was doing in these songs under his captivating vocal delivery, Mitch Mitchell’s rolling fills, and Noel Redding’s traveling lines. We gain a new appreciation for his rhythm playing, his deft transitions, and how his cool underplaying in verses made space for his indelibly flashy leads and intros.

Is it artificial? Sure, but so is the recording process. And so is excerpting parts of, say, Citizen Kane or Vertigo to analyze their editing, camera work, or use of color. We don’t do it because we only want see part of the film, but because we want to better understand the technical intricacies of the work as a whole. Hear Hendrix’s isolated guitar takes above (with some faint bleed from other instruments) in “Fire,” “Purple Haze,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Spanish Castle Magic,” “Stone Free,” and, my personal favorite, “Third Stone from the Sun.”

You can listen to many more isolated Hendrix performances, and those from several other musicians, at the Daily Motion channel of Joh Phe. Then, by all means, return to the full recordings and see how little bits of color, shape, and texture that you hadn’t heard before now leap out at you.

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

200-Year-Old Robots That Play Music, Shoot Arrows & Even Write Poems: Watch Automatons in Action

The robots, as we all know, are coming for our jobs. We might regard that particular anxiety as distinctive of the digital age, but the idea of machines that perform what we've long considered specifically human tasks has a long history — as does the reality of those machines. The BBC video above offers a look at "The Writer," which the New York Times' Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop describes as an "early humanoid robot of carved wood" who, "seated at a small mahogany table, could write on paper using a goosefeather quill." The date of this impressive curiosity's creation? The decidedly pre-digital year of 1768. The Writer has at his core a system of intricate clockwork, and so it stands to reason that its inventor Pierre Jaquet-Droz spent his career as a Swiss watchmaker.

"In the following years, working with the help of his son, Henri-Louis Jaquet-Droz, and his fellow clockmaker Jean-Frédéric Leschot," writes Kolesnikov-Jessop, "he also created The Musician, a mechanical young woman who could play five tunes on an organ, and The Draughtsman, a 'child' able to draw four separate images including that of a dog and a portrait of a man."

But The Writer, with its ability to dip its quill in ink, its moving eyes, and the wheel that makes it "programmable" to write any short message, remains both Jaquet-Droz's most intricate and most important mechanical achievement. You can see more pieces of his work, automatons and otherwise, put into context in the short film just above, a production of the Jaquet Droz luxury watch brand still in existence today.

Upon hearing word of such "automatons," other inventors followed suit. Artificial writing remained a goal: more than forty years after The Writer, for instance, Henri Maillardet built one capable of "hand"-reproducing four drawings and three poems stored in its "brass memory." But other automaton-builders had chosen to widen the field of mechanical capabilities: in 1784, the famed German cabinetmaker David Roentgen presented to King Louis XVI a dulcimer-playing automaton modeled after Queen Marie Antoinette. While the Queen thrilled to musical performances from her own miniature likeness, automata made another kind of progress on the other side of the world in Japan, a land that had almost no contact with the West until the mid-18th century but whose traditions of craft stretch even deeper into history than Europe's.

You can witness in the video just above an unboxing, operation, and internal examination of the best-known such Japanese karakuri, a spring-powered archer that can load arrows into its bow and fire away. Its creator Tanaka Hisashige, also known as "the Thomas Edison of Japan," built a fair few of these clockwork amusements that still impress today, but also many more useful things, including a pneumatic fire pump, a universal clock, and the first Japanese steam locomotive and warship. His company Tanaka Engineering Works, founded in 1875, would later evolve into the electronics firm called Toshiba — developers of Aiko Chihira, who in 2015 became the world's first robotic department-store employee. Retail is one thing, but will her even more advanced descendants find it in themselves to pick up the quill, the dulcimer hammers, or the bow and arrow?

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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.

Free eBook Lets You Read Stories from 75 Up-and-Coming Sci-Fi Authors (Available for a Limited Time)

Image by Dave Revoy, via Wikimedia Commons

A quick heads up for sci-fi fans. Writes Wired UK:

Speculative fiction author Jake Kerr has edited and released Event Horizon 2017, a huge anthology of short fiction by 75 authors eligible for this year's John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Kerr, who assembled the book over a weekend, said: "I knew it wouldn't look like a ‘bookstore’ book, but I also knew it would look nice and something a young author would be proud to have: their first paperback book with their name in it." Event Horizon 2017 is available as a free ebook, or as two physical volumes at the cost price of $10.33 apiece.

Find the free ebook here. Get more details on the collection at The Verge.

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