Hear Moby Dick Read in Its Entirety by Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, John Waters & Others

"Moby-Dick is the great American novel. But it is also the great unread American novel. Sprawling, magnificent, deliriously digressive, it stands over and above all other works of fiction, since it is barely a work of fiction itself. Rather, it is an explosive exposition of one man’s investigation into the world of the whale, and the way humans have related to it. Yet it is so much more than that."

That's how Plymouth University introduces Herman Melville's classic tale from 1851. And it's what set the stage for their web project launched back in 2012. Called The Moby-Dick Big Read, the project featured celebrities and lesser known figures reading all 135 chapters from Moby-Dick -- chapters that you can start downloading (as free audio files) on iTunesSoundcloud, RSS Feed, or the Big Read web site itself.




The project started with the first chapters being read by Tilda Swinton (Chapter 1), Captain R.N. Hone (Chapter 2), Nigel Williams (Chapter 3), Caleb Crain (Chapter 4), Musa Okwonga (Chapter 5), and Mary Norris (Chapter 6). John WatersStephen Fry, Simon Callow, Mary Oliver and even Prime Minister David Cameron read later ones.

If you want to read the novel as you go along, find the text in our collection of Free eBooks. We also have versions read by one narrator in our Free Audio Books collection. And, as always, you can download a professionally read version of Moby-Dick (or most any other novel), if you want to take part in Audible.com's 30-Day Free Trial program.

Tilda Swinton's narration of Chapter 1 appears right below:

An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.

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Hear Siouxsie and the Banshee’s Raw & Completely Improvised First Show, with Sid Vicious on Drums (1976)

We could argue all day about whether punk started in the US or UK (it’s the US), but why bother? Why not spend our time doing more interesting things—like digging up rare historical artifacts from the earliest days of punk rock in London, New York and, yes, Detroit. Punk may have devolved into a prêt-à-porter signifier, but its golden age was dominated by bespoke personalities the size of Texas. And no origin story (except maybe this one) better exemplifies punk’s founding ethos than that of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ first gig in London in 1976, which you can hear in all of its definition-of-lo-fi glory in two parts above and below.

Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Janet Dallion) already stood out as one of the Sex Pistols’ dedicated followers, her Egypt-inspired eye makeup and black lipstick staking out the Goth territory she would conquer in just a few short years. She was a born performer, but up until this first appearance at 19, had never been on stage before or fronted a band.




The "band" itself didn’t exist until the last minute, when Siouxsie and bassist Steve Severin (then “Steve Spunker”) decided they should take the place of a group that pulled out of the 100 Club Punk Festival, a showcase for the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and a handful of other unsigned (at the time) bands.

“Suzie and the Banshees,” as they were billed, consisted of the magnificently shrill Siouxsie, Severin, future Adam Ant guitarist Marco Pirroni, and the most infamous non-musician in punk, Sid Vicious, on drums, before he pretended to play bass in the Sex Pistols. They hadn’t written any songs, and so they smashed through a 20-minute medley of “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Twist and Shout,” and the Lord’s Prayer. Show promoter Ron Watts called it “performance art,” and not in a good way.

Summing up the eternal interplay between punk bands and club owners, Watts remembered their debut as “weak, it was weedy. You couldn’t say it was a gig…. It was just people, getting up and trying to do something. I let them do it, you know.” The supremely confident Siouxsie didn’t care. In an interview a couple of months later (above) she admits, “it got a bit boring in some parts, but it picked up.” So did the band, picking up actually very good drummer Kenny Morris and cycling through a few guitarists, including The Cure’s Robert Smith for a spell. A couple of the other bands at that notorious show made good as well. (One even got their own credit card.) Hear The Clash’s set from the night here, here, and here, and see a photo set of Siouxsie and friends from 1976 here.

via Post Punk

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

Accidental Wes Anderson: Every Place in the World with a Wes Anderson Aesthetic Gets Documented by Reddit

Wes Anderson's immaculately art-directed, immediately recognizable films may take place in a reality of their own, but that doesn't mean a reality with no connection to ours. To go by their results, the director of The Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel (to name only three of his most visually distinctive pictures) and his collaborators have clearly immersed themselves in the very real history of the West in the twentieth century, drinking deeply of its fashion, its architecture, and its industrial and graphic design.

So no matter how fanciful his constructed settings — The Royal Tenenbaums' dream of New York City, The Darjeeling Limited's train crossing India in quirky old-school splendor, The Grand Budapest Hotel's unspecific Alpine mitteleuropa — Anderson always assembles them from precedented elements.




And so the habitués of a subreddit called Accidental Anderson have set out to post pictures of his sources, or places that might well pass for his sources, all over not just Europe, of course — where they found the Viennese cafe at the top of the post and the Berliner delivery van with wagon just above — but America, Asia, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

Much of a location's accidental Andersonian potential comes down to its geometry and its colors: deep reds, bright yellows, and especially pale pinks and greens. Many of Anderson's preferred hues appear in the Gold Crest Resort Motel just above, which may strike a fan as having come right out of an Anderson picture even more so than the motel he actually used in his debut feature Bottle Rocket. The director has since moved on to much finer hostelries, which thus form a strong thread among Accidental Anderson's popular postings: Florida's Don CeSar Hotel (known as the "Pink Lady"), Cuba's Hotel Saratoga, Switzerland's Hotel Belvédère, Italy's Grand Hotel Misurnia.

Berlin's humbler Ostel, a themed tribute to the design sensibilities of the former East Germany, might also resonate with the ever-deepening historical consciousness of Anderson's movies. (Remember The Grand Budapest Hotel's titular building, sadly redone in a utilitarian, faintly Soviet avocado-and-ochre during the film's 1960s passages.)

To think that Anderson came from a place no less impossibly distant from the realm of midcentury Europe than Texas, home of the Dallas music store pictured below. Given his increasing popularity, it's hardly a surprise to see his signature aesthetic being not just reflected but adopted around the world. If life continues to imitate art, Accidental Anderson's contributors will long have their work cut out for them. Pay a visit to Accidental Anderson here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, 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.

Introducing the New PEN America Digital Archive: 1,500 Hours of Audio & Video Featuring 2,200 Eminent Writers

Image via Pen.Org

The recently launched PEN America Digital Archive is an Aladdin’s cave of literary treasures. An incredible amount of cultural programming has grown up around the organization’s commitment to championing writers’ civil liberties–over 1,500 hours worth of audio and visual files.

Delve into this free, searchable archive for previously inaccessible lectures, readings, and discussions featuring the leading writers, intellectuals, and artists of the last 50 years. Many of these New York City-based events were planned in response to the oppression and hardship suffered by fellow writers around the world.




Feeling overwhelmed by this all-you-can-eat buffet for the mind? The archivists have your back with featured collections–an assortment of raucous, political conversations from the 1986 PEN World Congress and a thirty year retrospective of Toni Morrison.

We are lucky that Nobel Prize-winner Morrison, a vigorous cultural observer and critic, still walks among us. Also, that the archive affords us a chance to spend quality time with so many great literary eminences who no longer do:

John Steinbeck reads excerpts of The Grapes of Wrath and his short stories, "The Snake," "Johnny Bear,"  and "We're Holding Our Own."

Jerzy Kosinski discusses teaching, and the autobiographical elements of his controversial 1965 novel, The Painted Bird.

Madeleine L'Engle considers myth, science, faith, and the connection between art and fear.

Saul Bellow tackles how intellectuals influence and use technology, a particularly interesting topic in light of the dystopian fiction’s current popularity.

Nadine Gordimer relives the publication, banning and swift unbanning of her political historical novel, Burger's Daughter.

Susan Sontag uses a PEN International Congress press conference to draw attention to ways in which the host country, Korea, was falling short in regard to freedom of expression.

Gwendolyn Brooks reveals the backstory on her poems, including "The Lovers of the Poor," and "We Real Cool."

Begin your adventures in the PEN America Digital Archive here.

via Electric Literature

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

When J.M. Coetzee Secretly Programmed Computers to Write Poetry in the 1960s

Before J.M. Coetzee became perhaps the most acclaimed novelist alive, he worked as a programer. That may not sound particularly notable these days, but bear in mind that the Nobel laureate and two-time Booker-winning author of Waiting for the Barbarians, Disgrace, and Elizabeth Costello held that day job first at IBM in the early 1960s — back, in other words, when nobody had a computer on their desk. And back when IBM was IBM: that mighty American corporation had brought the kind of computing power it alone could command to branch offices in cities around the world, including London, where Coetzee landed after leaving his native South Africa after graduating from the University of Cape Town.

The years Coetzee spent "writing machine code for computers," he once wrote in a letter to Paul Auster, saw him "getting so deeply sucked into the process that I sometimes felt I was descending into a madness in which the brain is taken over by mechanical logic." This must have caused some distress to a literarily minded young man who heard his true calling only from poetry.




"I was very heavily under the influence, in my teens and early twenties, of, first, T.S. Eliot, but then, more substantially, Ezra Pound, and later of German poetry, of Rilke in particular," he says to Peter Sacks in the interview above, remembering the years before he put poetry aside as a craft in favor of the novel.

"Under the shadowless glare of the neon lighting, he feels his very soul to be under attack,"Coetzee writes, in the autobiographical novel Youth, of the protagonist's time as a programmer. "The building, a featureless block of concrete and glass, seems to give off a gas, odourless, colourless, that finds its way into his blood and numbs him. IBM, he can swear, is killing him, turning him into a zombie." Only in the evening can he "leave his desk, wander around, relax. The machine room downstairs, dominated by the huge memory cabinets of the 7090, is more often than not empty; he can run programs on the little 1401 computer, even, surreptitiously, play games on it."

He could also use these clunky, punchcard-operated computers to write poetry. "In the mid 1960s Coetzee was working on one of the most advanced programming projects in Britain," writes King’s College London researcher Rebecca Roach. "During the day he helped to design the Atlas 2 supercomputer destined for the United Kingdom’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Aldermaston. At night he used this hugely powerful machine of the Cold War to write simple 'computer poetry,' that is, he wrote programs for a computer that used an algorithm to select words from a set vocabulary and create repetitive lines."

These lines, as seen here in one page of the print-outs held at the Coetzee archive at the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, include "INCHOATE SHARD IMAGINE THE OUBLIETTE," "FRENETIC AMBIENCE DISHEARTEN THE ROSE," "PASSIONATE PABULUM CARPET THE MIRROR," and "FRENETIC TETANUS DEADEN THE DOCUMENT." Though he never published these results, writes Roach, he "edited and included phrases from them in poetry that he did publish." Is this a curious chapter in the early life of a prominent man of letters, or was this realm of "flat metallic surfaces" an ideal forge for the sensibilities of a writer now known, as John Lanchester so aptly put it, for his "unusual quality of passionate coldness" — a kind of brilliant austerity that hardly deadens any of his documents.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, 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 Oldest Unopened Bottle of Wine in the World (Circa 350 AD)

Image by Immanuel Giel, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s an old TV and movie trope: the man of wealth and taste, often but not always a supervillain, offers his distinguished guest a bottle of wine, his finest, an ancient vintage from one of the most venerable vineyards. We might follow the motif back at least to Edgar Allan Poe, whose “Cask of Amontillado” puts an especially devious spin on the treasured bottle’s sinister connotations.

If our suave and possibly deadly host were to offer us the bottle you see here, we might hardly believe it, and would hardly be keen to drink it, though not for fear of being murdered afterward. The Römerwein, or Speyer wine bottle—so called after the German region where it was discovered in the excavation of a 4th century AD Roman nobleman’s tomb—dates “back to between 325 and 359 AD,” writes Abandoned Spaces, and has the distinction of being “the oldest known wine bottle which remains unopened.”




A 1.5 liter “glass vessel with amphora-like sturdy shoulders” in the shape of dolphins, the bottle is of no use to its owner, but no one is certain what would happen to the liquid if it were exposed to air, so it stays sealed, its thick stopper of wax and olive oil maintaining an impressively hermetic environment. Scientists can only speculate that the liquid inside has probably lost most of its ethanol content. But the bottle still contains a good amount of wine, “diluted with a mix of various herbs.”

The Römerwein resides at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, which seems like an incredibly fascinating place if you happen to be passing through. You won’t get to taste ancient Roman wine there, but you may, perhaps, if you travel to the University of Catania in Sicily where in 2013, scientists recreated ancient wine-making techniques, set up a vineyard, and followed the old ways to the letter, using wooden tools and strips of cane to tie their vines.

They proceeded, writes Tom Kingston at The Guardian, “without mechanization, pesticides or fertilizers.” Only the organic stuff for Roman vintners.

The team has faithfully followed tips on wine growing given by Virgil in the Georgics, his poem about agriculture, as well as by Columella, a first century AD grower, whose detailed guide to winemaking was relied on until the 17th century.

Those ancient winemakers added honey and water to their wine, as well as herbs, to sweeten and spice things up. And unlike most Italians today who “drink moderately with meals,” ancient Romans “were more given to drunken carousing.” Maybe that’s what the gentleman in the Speyer tomb hoped to be doing in his Roman afterlife.

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

Google Launches Free Course on Deep Learning: The Science of Teaching Computers How to Teach Themselves

Last Friday, we mentioned how Google's artificial intelligence software DeepMind has the ability to teach itself many things. It can teach itself how to walk, jump and run. Even take professional pictures. Or defeat the world's best player of the Chinese strategy game, Go. The science of teaching computers how to do things is called Deep Learning. And you can now immerse yourself in this world by taking a free, 3-month course on Deep Learning itself. Offered through Udacity, the course is taught by Vincent Vanhoucke, the technical lead in Google's Brain team. You can learn more about the course via Vanhoucke's blog post. Or just enroll here. (You will need to create an account with Udacity to get started.)

The free course takes about 3 months to complete. It will be added to our list of Free Computer Sciences courses, a subset of our larger collection,  1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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.

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