Hear the Original, Never-Heard Demo of John Lennon’s “Imagine”

Imagining a “brotherhood of man” sounds Pollyannaish and painfully naïve when even an “uneasy truce of man” seems hardly possible. But when John Lennon sings about it with conviction in “Imagine,” we sit up and listen. Such is the power of “Imagine”’s utopian vision, and Lennon later admitted it “should be credited as a Lennon/Ono song,” since “a lot of it—the lyric and the concept—came from Yoko,” specifically from Grapefruit, her little book of whimsical “instructions.” For decades the pair’s collaborations have received withering scorn from Beatles fans, but no greater testament to their combined humanist vision exists than “Imagine,” a product of Ono’s conceptual dream verse and Lennon’s earnest songcraft.

So much has been said and written about the song, so many great and not-so-great covers performed since its 1971 release, that we might think we know all there is to know about it. We even have behind the scenes footage in the documentary Gimme Some Truth of the sometimes tense recording sessions. Yet it turns out that the original demo version Lennon recorded at his own Ascot Sound studios went unnoticed in a box of tapes for 45 years. We can celebrate its 2016 rediscovery and now hear it for ourselves, that eight-track tape transferred to digital and enhanced by engineer Paul Hicks, above.




The recording was discovered by Rob Stevens who found it, reports Jason Kottke, “while sifting through boxes upon boxes of the original tapes for Yoko Ono.” It seems that improper labeling damned the tape to decades of obscurity. “There’s a one-inch eight-track,” remembered Stevens, “that says nothing more on the ‘Ascot Sound’ label than John Lennon, the date, and the engineer (Phil McDonald), with DEMO on the spine. No indication of what material was on the tape.” The find was “true serendipity,” he remarks.

Hearing this moving, stripped-down solo version reminds me of David Bowie telling an audience in 1983—just before singing the song on his Serious Moonlight tour—of how Lennon approached his songwriting: “’It’s easy,’ he said, ‘you just say what you mean and put a backbeat to it.’” Even without the backbeat, “Imagine” says exactly what it means. Imagine all the people living for today.

A set of “Ultimate Mixes” of the Imagine album will be released in October (pre-order here) and will of course include the newly-unearthed demo along with many other demos and rarities. Till then, enjoy this amazing discovery, as well as Lennon’s live television performance from 1972 on the Mike Douglas Show, just above.

via Kottke

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

How Jim Jarmusch Gets Creative Ideas from William S. Burroughs’ Cut-Up Method and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies

As the nameless assassin protagonist of Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control makes his way through Spain, he meets several different, similarly mysterious figures, each time at a different café. Each time he orders two espressos — not a double espresso, but two espressos in separate cups. Each time his contact arrives and asks, in Spanish, whether he speaks Spanish, to which he responds that he doesn't. Each conversation that follows ends with an exchange of matchboxes, and each one the assassin receives contains a slip of paper with a coded message, which he eats after reading, containing directions to his next destination.

All these elements remain the same while everything else changes, a structure that showcases Jarmusch's interest in theme and variation as clearly as anything he's ever made. "Some call it repetition," he says in the page above from fashion and culture biannual Another Man, "but I like to think of the repetition of the same action or dialogue in a film as a variation. The accumulation of variations is important to me too." But to enrich the repetition and variations, he also makes use of randomness, "the idea of finding things as you go along and finding links between things you weren't even looking to link."




Jarmusch credits this way of thinking to William S. Burroughs (author, incidentally, of an essay called "The Limits of Control"), and specifically the "cut-up" technique, which Burroughs and the artist Brion Gysin came up with, literally cutting up texts in order to then "mix words and phrases and chapters together in a random way." He's also found a source of randomness in the Oblique Strategies, the deck of cards published in the 1970s by artist and music producer Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt. "You just pick one card and it might say something like, 'Listen from another room.' One of my favorite cards says, 'Emphasize repetitions.'" That last comes as no surprise, and he surely also appreciates the one that says, "Repetition is a form of change."

Those who know both the Oblique Strategies and Jarmusch's filmography — from his breakout indie hit Stranger Than Paradise to recent work like Paterson, the story of a bus-driving poet in William Carlos Williams' hometown — could think of many that apply to his signature cinematic style: "Disconnect from desire," "Emphasize the flaws," "Use 'unqualified' people," "Remove specifics and convert to ambiguities" (or indeed "Remove ambiguities and convert to specifics"). His next project, which will feature regular collaborators Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton as well as such newcomers to the Jarmusch fold as former teen pop idol Selena Gomez, should offer another satisfying set of variations on his usual themes. And given that it's about zombies, it will no doubt come with a strong dose of randomness as well.

via Dark Shark

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How David Bowie, Kurt Cobain & Thom Yorke Write Songs With William Burroughs’ Cut-Up Technique

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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.

Japanese Musicians Turn Obsolete Machines Into Musical Instruments: Cathode Ray Tube TVs, Overhead Projectors, Reel-to-Reel Tape Machines & More

In the 1940s and 50s, experimental composers like Halim El-Dabh, Pierre Schaeffer, and Pierre Henry began making experimental compositions that Schaeffer would call musique concrete. They used tape recorders, phonographs, microphones and other analog electro-acoustic devices to create music, as Henry put it, from “non-musical sounds.” These techniques became mainstays of more familiar audio art, such as the radio and television sound designs of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. With the advent of synthesizers, electronic music overtook these sound experiments, just as other new technologies replaced the playback and recording devices used to make them.

A Japanese group called Open Reel Ensemble recalls this legacy of musique concrete, deploying reel-to-reel tape machines, cathode ray tube TVs, overhead projectors, and other analog technology to make 21st century music with “non-musical sounds.” Headed by programmer-turned-composer Ei Wada, the group embraces a very different compositional philosophy than the experimental electro-acoustic composers of the past, who worked in reaction to European classical music, opposing “concrete” sounds to abstract musical ideas. Wada, on the other hand, was first inspired by hearing a gamelan ensemble at a performance in Indonesia as a very small child.

Given a collection of 70s reel-to-reel recorders by a family friend, he attempted to re-create the polyphony of those traditional Javanese gong ensembles. He has, writes Motherboard, “been on a quest to reproduce otherworldly sounds with tech that nobody wants.” But he freely combines these outdated machines with contemporary mixers, amplifiers, light shows, beats, and tempos. Formed with friends Haruka Yoshida and Masaru Yoshida, Wada’s Open Reel Ensemble might be compared to both the avant-garde experiments of composers like John Cage and the popular experiments of hip hop turntablists, both of whom used analog technology in innovative, unconventional ways.

Some of the group’s work is a kind of experimental dance music, as you can see in the live performance further up; some is more ambient sound art, as in Wada’s solo ventilation fan performance above, with implicit commentary on Japan’s economy and the disposable nature of consumer technology. “All these tech objects are a symbol of Japan’s economic growth,” says Wada. “but they also get thrown away in great numbers. It’s good to not just say bye to things that are thrown away but to instill old things with new meaning, and celebrate their unique points.”

The detourning of technology that would otherwise end up as landfill requires some ingenuity, given the increasing rarity of such instruments. In the performance above, we see Wada play with invented devices his group calls in English the “Exhaust Fancillator” and in Japanese a kankisenthizer, a neologism formed from the word for ventilation fan. “We used laser cutters and 3D printers to design the ventilation fans,” he says. This willingness to improvise, invent, and repurpose whatever works makes for some fascinating experiments that are as much performance art as sound composition.

In the Wada performance above from 2010, he uses old tube TVs as drums, hitting the screens to trigger both sound and light effects and bringing to mind not only the sound art of the early 20th century, but also the 1980s video installations of Nam June Paik, fully immersive experiences that foreground their technological artifice even as they produce an inexplicable kind of magic.

via This is Colossal 

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

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

What turns people into science-fiction fans? Many enter through the gateway of Star Trek, an early 1960s television series "set on the worlds visited by a giant Spaceship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, and on the ship itself. Its crew is on a mission to explore new worlds and 'to boldly go where no man has gone before.'" Though "not particularly successful in the ratings," Star Trek nevertheless "attracted a hard core of devoted fans, 'Trekkies,' who made up in passionate enthusiasm what they lacked in numbers." Perhaps creator Gene Roddenberry's signature "blend of the mildly fantastic with the reassuringly familiar, and his use of an on the whole very likeable cast, attracted viewers precisely because its exoticism was manageable and unthreatening."

Those quotes come from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, a free online resource featuring more than 17,500 entries explaining all things sci-fi, whether new or old, mainstream or obscure. Some of its pages deal with works of doubted status as science fiction at all: Star Wars, for example, "an entertaining pastiche that draws upon comic strips, old movie serials, Westerns, James Bond stories, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Errol Flynn swashbucklers and movies about World War Two" whose "gratifyingly spectacular – at the time – special effects and martial music hypnotized the audience into uncritical acceptance of the basically absurd, deliberately Pulp-magazine-style conflict between Good and Evil."




That sort of thing is a long way indeed from the work of, say, a science-fiction grandmaster like Isaac Asimov, who wrote prolifically in "the clear unerring voice of a man speaking reason, uttering tales about how to solve the true world." Some readers of Open Culture might well have found their way into science fiction through Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, which despite its "many narrative flaws" remains "one of the most important sf movies made," having showed "almost for the first time – though fans had spent years hoping – how visually sophisticated sf in film form can be."

Blade Runner's entry includes, of course, a reference to the script's basis on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, "a figure who helps define by contrast those identified in this Encyclopedia as Mainstream Writers of SF: writers, that is, whose comprehension of the significant literatures of the last century has sometimes seemed less than full. An author like Thomas Pynchon, who is not described in this encyclopedia as mainstream, will understand what he owes Dick; a mainstream author like Margaret Atwood has worked to make it clear that she does not."

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, "the most ambitious sf film of the 1960s and perhaps ever," has also done its part to propagate a sci-fi way of looking at the world, exploring as it does "the idea of human deficiency in the twenty-first century." Kubrick developed it in collaboration with novelist Arthur C. Clarke, another of the genre's titans, indeed "the very personification of sf. Never a 'literary' author, he nonetheless always wrote with lucidity and candour, often with grace, sometimes with a cold, sharp evocativeness that produced some of the most memorable images in sf."

Other entries tell of writers not so closely associated with traditional science fiction but highly regarded and enduringly influential in the wider world of speculative literature: Jorge Luis Borges, for instance, with his "'sense of ecstatic enclosedness in the Word Incarnate' that may be uniquely intense in world literature," or J.G. Ballard, "revered (and detested) for the corrosively inescapable vision of the late twentieth-century world, which his stories seemed not so much to reflect in a distorting mirror as (alarmingly) to reflect, for the first time, without defensive evasions."

"Originally published in physical form in 1979," writes Lithub's MH Rowe, "the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction won a Hugo award for best nonfiction book in 1980. A second edition followed in 1993, with a CD-ROM supplement a few years later. The encyclopedia won another Hugo in 1994, and a decade later began its migration online, where it launched in 2011 as a precursor to its current digital form" — albeit a far cry from a crowdsourced, objectivity-oriented resource like Wikipedia. "Making no effort to avoid the partisanship that’s a hallmark of being a fan, the SFE possesses the kind of purity you can only get from corrupt endeavors. It’s by turns cranky, self-doubting, and ultra-confident, but it couldn’t be more deeply engaged with the genre of science fiction." And if anything characterizes science-fiction fandom more than deep engagement, even the genre's most powerful imaginations haven't dreamed of it.

via Lithub

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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.

Conserve the Sound, an Online Museum Preserves the Sounds of Past Technologies–from Typewriters, Electric Shavers and Cassette Recorders, to Cameras & Classic Nintendo

The unmistakable zip and whirr of a rotary phone, the ungodly squeal of dial-up modems, the satisfying thunk of a cartridge in a classic Nintendo console, a VCR rewinding, the click-clack sound of a Walkman's buttons…. I date myself in saying that these sounds immediately send me back to various moments in my childhood with Proustian immersion. The sense of smell is most closely linked to memory, but hearing cannot be far behind given how sound embeds itself in time, and most especially the sounds of technologies, which are by nature fated for obsolescence. A museum-quality aura surrounds the Walkman and the first iPods. These are triumphs of consumer design, but only one of them makes distinctive mechanical noises.

As analog recedes, it can seem that noisy tech in general becomes more and more dated. It is hard to hear the rubbing of thumbs and fingers across screens and touchpads. Voice commands make buttons and switches redundant. How much tech from now will one day feature in Conserve the Sound, the “online museum for vanishing and endangered sounds”?




Its collection gives the impression of a bygone age, quaint in its dozens of examples of mechanical ingenuity. The visual juxtaposition of handheld film cameras, typewriters, car window handles, electric shavers, boom boxes, stopwatches, and so on has the effect of making these things seem all of a piece, assorted artifacts in a great hall of wonders called “the Sound the 20th Century.”

At the top of the site's "Sound" page, timeline navigation allows users to visit every decade from the 1910s to the 2000s, a category that contains only two objects. Other displays are more plentiful, and colorful. The 1960s, for example showcases the incredibly sexy red Schreibmaschine Olivetti Dora further up. It sounds as sleek and sophisticated as it looks. The virtual display case of the 30s holds the sounds of a twin-engine propeller plane and a handful of beautiful moving and still cameras, like the Fotokamera Purma Special above. It also features the humble and enduring library stamp, a sound I pine for as I slide books under the self-checkout laser scanner at my local branch.

Given just the few images here, you can already see that Conserve the Sound is as much a feast for the eyes as for the ears, each object lovingly photographed against an austere white background. In order for the full nostalgic effect to work, however, you need to visit these pages and hit “play.” It even magically works with objects from before our times, given how prominently their sounds feature in film and audio recordings that define the periods. You’ve likely also noticed how many of these products are of European origin, and many of them, like the robotic head of the Kassettenrekorder Weltron Model 2004, are perhaps unfamiliar to many consumers from elsewhere in the world.

Conserve the Sound is a European project, funded by the Film & Medienstiftung NRW in Germany, thus its selection skews toward European-made products. But the sound of a fan or an adding machine in Germany is the sound of a fan or adding machine in Chile, China, Kenya, or Nebraska. See a trailer for the project at the top of the post, and below, one of the many interviews in which German public figures, scholars, librarians, technicians, and students answer questions about their mnemonic associations with technological sound. In this interview, radio presenter Bianca Hauda describes one of her favorite old sounds from a favorite old machine, a 1970s portable cassette recorder.

via WFMU

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

NASA Captures the World on Fire

"The world is on fire. Or so it appears in this image from NASA's Worldview. The red points overlaid on the image designate those areas that by using thermal bands detect actively burning fires."

The image and caption above come from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. On a related page, they go into some more detail, explaining why good parts of Africa, Chile, Brazil and North America are aflame this summer. Droughts, extreme temperatures, agricultural practices--they're all part of a worrying picture. View NASA's picture in a larger format here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

via Atlas Obscura

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Legendary Studio Musician Carol Kaye Presents 150 Free Tips for Practicing & Playing the Bass

The work required to become an accomplished singer or instrumentalist can seem burdensome. Many an aspiring musician may seek to avoid years of apprenticeship, especially now that getting famous for being famous has become a real career ambition, soon to appear in a course catalog at your local college. But there are still plenty of hard-working players hacking away at building up their chops. Next to a good in-person music teacher, their best resources are materials put out by a rare breed of musicians’ musicians, expert players who also teach—not only for a paycheck but also from a desire to share their enthusiasm for their art.

When it comes to playing electric bass, there are lessons online aplenty, some of them from big names like Jaco Pastorius and Marcus Miller, both of whom have recorded solid advice on video. But if you really want to dig deep into the fine nuances of bass playing, and learn from a world-renowned player who is also a master teacher, you cannot miss Carol Kaye’s Playing Tips. Packaged in a charming Web 1.0 format on her website, these tips--150 in total--preserve her responses to message board questions from the 90s. The format may be dated, but her discussions of technique are timeless.




Some of the tips tackle very specific issues, and others, like the essential #40 below, describe musical wisdom of the ages in encouraging, succinct, accessible writing.

PRACTICING. Set aside a quiet time, about 1 hour day if you can… Try going over a difficult pattern at slow tempos, and put a "loop" on it, play it over and over and over... until it feels comfortable for you. Make your practice time a fun time by mixing up the various things you have to do, and do them first before allowing yourself some "jam" time.... Tho' you might not feel like practicing, not in the mood, have tensions of many things on your mind, tell yourself: "this is my time away from everyone and everything, I deserve this time to myself" and make yourself get on the instrument. By focusing in on the music and practicing, your fingers will thank you, your brain will relax and you'll get some good work done to help you play better -- no better feeling than this, even if it's just 45 min. a day, it's "your time," a little of this, a little of that, and you're playing better and better....

Not only does Kaye answer questions about practice and theory, but she also addresses important issues of tone. Her advice below in #100 on techniques for muting the strings may come as a revelation to many players who have relied on using their palm.

The way I mute the strings is by folding over a piece of felt muting (buy at the sewing section at Target, Walmart etc.) so it's doubled to a width of about 1-1/2". Take it and tape it (I use masking tape) to on top of the bridge area, but laying slightly ahead of the bridges.... Thus, it lays on top of the strings and kills the over- and under-tones, making your bass sounds more defined....

“You'll notice an immediate difference in sound,” she assures her readers/students, “and your band will too as well as the audience.... In recording, it's a must.” Kaye advises on “chordal thinking," soloing, playing jazz patterns, and, of course, “groove,” in tip #1:

A good way to get your groove-sense together is to take a piece of music (a chord chart of some kind), put an electric metronome on, and have it beat on every beat (at first) while you pat your left foot. Now, with the metronome beating 1-2-3-4, count the bars while patting your left foot 1-2-3-4. Count: 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, then start over on the next 4 bars…. Now start over and reduce the speed of the metronome to 1/2 that speed… try to place it on beats 2 and 4 by counting 1-1234... so you can feel its beats as off-beats 1 and 3 while it beats on 2 and 4 (like a drummer's snare drum beat). This is critical that you leave the holes of 1 and 3, those are your spots to play (no pun intended)….  I guarantee it that you will start to feel a groove and be able to find your place in the music a lot better as you aim for the downbeats in the bars.

It's important to note that Kaye’s tips are not meant as standalone lessons but were generally supplementary to her many books, teaching CDs, and DVD courses, which you can purchase here. Kaye also offers private Skype lessons for $65 each (note: “no punk or heavy metal players”), a fairly modest price given the stature of the instructor.

If somehow you haven’t heard the name Carol Kaye, you have definitely heard the playing of this most prolific of session musicians, on classic albums from the Beach Boys to Neil Young to Ike & Tina Turner to Ray Charles to… too many classic artists to list. Part of the legendary L.A. group of musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, Kaye brought to rock and R&B a prodigious talent for playing jazz, her first love, and even her simplest bass lines shine with perfect timing and unforgettable hooks. Learn more about Kaye in the short documentary at the top, at her site’s biography, and at the links below.

You can find Kaye's 150 bass playing tips on three separate pages: here, here and here.

via Tina Weymouth

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

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