Peter Jackson’s New Film on World War I Features Incredible Digitally-Restored Footage From the Front Lines: Get a Glimpse

Perhaps one of the most criminally overlooked voices from World War I, Siegfried Sassoon, was, in his time, enormously popular with the British reading public. His war poems, as Margaret B. McDowell writes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, are “harshly realistic laments or satires” that detail the grisly horrors of trench warfare with unsparingly vivid images and commentary. In lieu of the mass medium of television, and with film still emerging from its infancy, poets like Sassoon and Wilfred Owen served an important function not only as artists but as moving, firsthand documentarians of the war’s physical and emotional ravages.

It is unfortunate that poetry no longer serves this public function. These days, video threatens to eclipse even journalistic writing as a primary means of communication, a development made especially troubling by how easily digital video can be faked or manipulated by the same technologies used to produce blockbuster Hollywood spectacles and video games. But a fascinating new use of that technology, Peter Jackson shows us above, will also soon bring the grainy, indistinct film of the past into new life, giving footage of WWI the kind of startling immediacy still conveyed by Sassoon’s poetry.




Jackson is currently at work on what he describes as “not the usual film that you would expect on the First World War,” and as part of that documentary work, he has digitally enhanced footage from the period, “incredible footage of which the faces of the men just jump out at you. It’s the faces, it’s the people that come to life in this film. It’s the human beings that were actually there, that were thrust into this extraordinary situation that defined their lives in many cases.” In addition to restoring old film, Jackson and his team have combed through about 600 hours of audio interviews with WWI veterans, in order to further communicate “the experience of what it was like to fight in this war” from the point of view of the people who fought it.

The project, commissioned by the Imperial War Museums, “will debut at the BFI London Film Festival later this year,” reports The Independent, “later airing on BBC One. A copy of the film will also be given to every secondary school in the country for the 2018 autumn term.” No word yet on where the film can be seen outside the UK, but you can check the site 1418now.org.uk for release details. In the meanwhile, consider picking up some of the work of Siegfried Sassoon, whom critic Peter Levi once described as “one of the few poets of his generation we are really unable to do without.”

Learn more about the war at the free course offerings below.

via Twisted Sifter

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

Margaret Atwood to Teach an Online Class on Creative Writing

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

The problem of dystopian fiction is this: quite often the worst future creative writers can imagine is exactly the kind of present that has already been inflicted on others—by colonialism, dictatorship, genocidal war, slavery, theocracy, abject poverty, environmental degradation, etc. Millions all over the world have suffered under these conditions, but many readers fail to recognize dystopian novels as depicting existing evils because they happen, or have happened, to people far away in space and time. Of course, Margaret Atwood understands this principle. The nightmares she has written about in novels like The Handmaid’s Tale have all already come to pass, she tells us.

In the promo video above for her Masterclass on Creative Writing starting this fall, Atwood says, “when I wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, nothing went into it that had not happened in real life somewhere at some time. The reason I made that rule is that I didn’t want anybody saying, ‘You certainly have an evil imagination, you made up all these bad things.’” And yet, she says, “I didn’t make them up.” In a Swiftian way, she implies, we did—“we” being humanity writ large, or, perhaps more accurately, the destructive, greedy, power-mad individuals who wreak havoc on the lives of those they deem inferiors or rightful property.




“As a writer,” she says above, “your goal is to keep your reader believing, even though both of you know it’s fiction.” Atwood’s trick to achieving this is a devious one in what we might call sci-fi or dark fantasy (though she spurns these designations): she writes not only what she knows to be true, in some sense, but also what we know to be true, though we would rather it not be, as in Virginia Woolf’s characterization of fiction as “as spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

Atwood says that writers turn away from the blank page because they fear something. She has made it her business, instead, to turn toward fear, to see dark visions like those of her MaddAddam Trilogy, an extrapolation of horrors already happening, in some form, somewhere in the world (and soon to be a fun-filled TV series). What she feared in 1984, the year she began writing The Handmaid’s Tale, seems just as chillingly prescient to many readers—and viewers of the TV adaptation—thirty-four years later, a testament to Atwood’s speculative realism, and to the awful, stubborn resistance reality puts up to improvement.

As she put it in an essay about the novel’s origins, “Nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already.” The same, perhaps, might be said of novelists. Do you have some truths to tell in fictional form? Maybe Atwood is the perfect guide to help you write them. Her class starts this fall, sign up here.

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

Steven Van Zandt Creates a Free School of Rock: 100+ Free Lesson Plans That Educate Kids Through Music

When I think of rock ‘n’ roll high school, I think of the Ramones, but in the 1979 Roger Corman film no one really learns much. In reality, however, another legendary musician, still going strong after five decades in the business, has put his cred to serious use, leveraging stardom as a musician and actor to create a music curriculum teachers can use for free, with lessons on rock history, Native American politics, Bob Dylan’s poetry, immigration and the blues, civil disobedience, the fight to end Apartheid, and much more. That man is Steven Van Zandt—aka Little Steven of the E Street Band, or Silvio Dante of The Sopranos, or Frank Tagliano of Lilyhammer, or a few other aliases and fictional characters.

“For the past decade,” writes John Seabrook at The New Yorker, the bandana-clad guitarist has been “working on a way to recreate” a “dynamic, out-of-school learning experience inside classrooms, through his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.” Working, that is, to recreate his own experience as a disaffected youth who “had no interest in school whatsoever,” he recalls. What interested him was music: the Beatles, at first, but as he learned more about them, he picked up “bits of information” about Eastern religion and orchestration. He learned about literature from Dylan.




“You didn’t get into it to learn things,” he says, “but you learn things anyway.” At least if you’re as curious and open-minded as Van Zandt, who came to value education through his non-traditional course. Over ten years ago, when the National Association for Music Education told him that “No Child Left Behind legislation was really devastating art classes,” he confronted Ted Kennedy and Mitch McConnell, telling them, “did you ever hear that every kid who takes music class does better in math and science?" They apologized,” he says, “but they said they weren’t going to fix it.”

So Van Zandt decided to do it himself with a program called TeachRock. Working with two ethnomusicologists, he built the curriculum to connect with kids through music. “Instead of telling the kid, ‘Take the iPod out of your ears,’” he told a crowd of teachers gathered at Times Square’s Playstation Theater in May, “we ask them, ‘What are you listening to?’” Van Zandt calls his curriculum “teaching in the present tense,” and while his own back catalog may not necessarily be streaming on kids’ current playlists, he incorporates not only his music and the fifties and sixties rock ‘n’ roll he loves, but also hip-hop, pop, punk, and the “Latin rhythms of ‘Despacito.’” He even uses Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video to prompt a discussion on the slave trade.

The focus on popular music as a force for change is fully in keeping with Van Zandt’s own path. His self-education led him into activism in the 80s when he wrote and recorded “Sun City” with 50 other artists to protest South African Apartheid. Unlike some other benefit songs of the time (like the cringe-inducing “Do They Know It’s Christmas”), “Sun City,” with its accompanying video (above), took effective political action—a blanket boycott of the Sun City resort—and didn’t sugar-coat the issues one bit (“relocation to phony homelands/separation of families, I can’t understand”). The Sun City boycott gets its own module.

As Van Zandt told Fast Company in 2015, “I had been researching American foreign policy post-World War II just to educate myself, which I had never done, being obsessed with rock ‘n’ roll my whole life. I was quite shocked to find that we were not always the good guys.” His discoveries compelled him to visit South Africa and to “dedicate my five-record solo career to that learning process, and also combine a bit of journalism with the rock art form.” That same passion for justice informs all of the TeachRock lessons, which you can browse and download for free at the TeachRock site. The multi-media units incorporate video, audio, images, activities, informative handouts, and other resources.

Each lesson also explains how its objectives meet Common Core State Standards (or the state standards of New Jersey and Texas). “TeachRock is rooted in a teaching philosophy that believes students learn best when they truly connect with the material to which they’re introduced,” notes the site's “Welcome Teachers” page. “Obviously, popular music is one such point of connection.” Perhaps not every kid who learns through music as Van Zandt did will go out and try to change the world, but they’re more than likely to stay engaged and stay in school. And that’s exactly what he hopes to accomplish.

“Teaching kids something they’re not interested in,” he told the teachers in New York, “it didn’t work then, and it’s even worse now. We have an epidemic dropout rate.” Then, in his refreshingly honest way, he concluded, “Where are we going to be in twenty years? How are we going to get smarter looking at this Administration? You know, we’re just getting stupider.” Not if Little Steven has anything to say about it. He's currently on tour with his Disciples of Soul, and offering free tickets to teachers, provided they show up early for a TeachRock workshop. Sign up here!

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New Research Shows How Music Lessons During Childhood Benefit the Brain for a Lifetime

The Concept of Musical Harmony Explained in Five Levels of Difficulty, Starting with a Child & Ending with Herbie Hancock

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

 

Teaching Tolerance to Activists: A Free Course Syllabus & Anthology

The waters of academia have grown choppy of late, and many veteran sailors have found themselves ill-equipped to navigate the brave new world student activists are forging at a breakneck pace.

Trigger warnings. Safe spaces. Curricula restructured with an eye toward identity. Swift judgments for those who fail to comply.

Admissions brochures and campus tours make frequent mention of their institution’s commitment to social justice. They have to—many high schoolers share the undergrads' beliefs.

Those of us whose college years are but a distant memory shouldn't depend on our school’s alumni mag to paint an accurate picture of the battles that may be raging within. Sustainability, preferred pronouns, and inclusive bathroom facilities may get a mention, but the official organ's unlikely to peek into the abyss where tolerance goes to die.

Cultural scholar Frances Lee, a queer trans person of color recovering from a forced conversion to evangelical Christianity, took a hard look at the problem of intolerance within activist circles as a second year Masters student in Cultural Studies at the University of Washington.

Published exactly one year ago, their essay, Kin Aesthetics: Excommunicate Me from the Church of Social Justice, was plainspoken about the negative side effects of social progress in activist circles, and by extension, on campus:

Telling people what to do and how to live out their lives is endemic to religious and to dogmatic activism. It’s not that my comrades are the bosses of me, but that dogmatic activism creates an environment that encourages people to tell other people what to do. This is especially prominent on Facebook. Scrolling through my news feed sometimes feels Iike sliding into a pew to be blasted by a fragmented, frenzied sermon. I know that much of the media posted there means to discipline me to be a better activist and community member. But when dictates aren’t followed, a common procedure of punishment ensues. Punishments for saying/doing/believing the wrong thing include shaming, scolding, calling out, isolating, or eviscerating someone’s social standing. Discipline and punishment have been used for all of history to control and destroy people. Why is it being used in movements meant to liberate all of us? We all have made serious mistakes and hurt other people, intentionally or not. We get a chance to learn from them when those around us respond with kindness and patience. Where is our humility when examining the mistakes of others? Why do we position ourselves as morally superior to the lowly un-woke?

The essay’s viral success gives extra oomph to "Woker Than Thou: Leftist Activist Identity Formations," a community course Lee designed and taught earlier this year.

Intended for community leaders, political activists, and organizers, Lee welcomed anyone with any interest in the subject, provided they were willing “to stay open to dissenting or unpopular ideas for the sake of discussion, instead of foreclosing certain topics or ideas by judging them as not worthy of attention.”

The 10-week syllabus delved into such relevant topics as Call-out Culture, the False Promises of Empathy, and of course “wokeness,” a term Lee takes care to attribute to Black culture.

While not all of the required readings can be found online, Lee provides a wealth of links to those that can.

Titles include University of San Francisco Professor Rhonda Magee’s "Addressing Social Injustice with Compassion," author Andrea Smith’s "The Problem with Privilege," Trauma Stewardship Institute founder Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s TEDx Talk on systematic oppression and liberation theory.

There’s even a Sufjan Stevens song that evolved from cheap shots at skater Tonya Harding’s expense to something that considered the “wholeness of the person… with dignity and grace.”

Following Lee’s course materials seems a much more rational way to confront the current social climate than binging on confessional essays by liberal arts professors who feel hamstrung by not-unfounded fears that their students could cost them their jobs … and the good reputation required to secure another.

For further reading, Lee offers free downloads of Toward An Ethics of Activism: A Community Investigation of Humility, Grace and Compassion in Movements for Justice, an anthology that “seeks to disrupt dogmatic, exclusionary activist culture with kindness and connection.”

Find Frances Lee’s "Woker Than Thou" syllabus here.

Download a PDF of the anthology Toward An Ethics of Activism here. (A screen reader accessible version is also available.)

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

Cheap Trick’s Bassist Tom Petersson Helps Kids With Autism Learn Language With Rock ‘n’ Roll: Discover “Rock Your Speech”

You can’t fault people for turning away from current events these days, but there are many pockets of light, even if they rarely make headlines or get curated by gloom and doom algorithms. Some optimism has come to us by way of musicians like David Byrne, whose good-news aggregator “Reasons to Be Cheerful” showcases positive developments around the world. Indie rock drummer Thor Harris has encouraged fans with tips on how to stay healthy in trying times, and he has announced a run for governor of Texas. And last fall, Cheap Trick’s bassist Tom Petersson started a project called Rock Your Speech, which “leverages the power of music to build language skills in children who are working to overcome speech delay associated with autism.”

As Petersson and his wife Alison explain above, they were inspired by their experience with their son, Liam, who, “until the age of five,” reports David Chiu at Huffington Post, “had difficulty communicating,” They discovered that music could help when Liam began singing along to one of her favorite Elton John songs. Petersson wanted “to help other parents,” he told HuffPo, “and to let people know they’re not alone.” An L.A. benefit concert harnessed the collective power of celebrities and indie artists to jumpstart the project, with bands like the Dandy Warhols and Red Kross and actors Ed Asner and Billy Bob Thornton participating.




Rock Your Speech is not the only such initiative, but it is probably the most high-profile, and could bring attention to similar efforts like Auditory-Motor Mapping Training, developed by Dr. Gottfried Schlaug of the Music and Neuroimaging Laboratory. At the Autism Speaks blog, Schlaug writes, “as many as three in ten children with autism are nonverbal. Yet many children with autism have superior auditory skills and a particular attraction to music.” Like Rock Your Speech, his approach uses “forms of music-making that encourage vocalization as a pathway to developing language.” Musician and psychologist Adam Reece has also written about his research showing the positive role music therapy can play in language acquisition for kids on the spectrum.

Petersson’s project puts a rock star face on music therapy and comes “from the point of view of the parent,” he says. Rock Your Speech not only raises autism awareness but also offers original music and videos designed to stimulate and inspire kids. Hear "Blue" from the Rock Your Speech, Volume 1 album above, one of several songs Petersson wrote that “employs actual rock music," Chiu writes, "not necessarily the gentle, kiddie-type of sounds that are generally prevalent in children’s music.” Videos on the Rock Your Speech site for “Blue” and other songs “not only show the words but also demonstrate to kids how those words are formed and mouthed.”

The project’s Vimeo channel shows the Petersson family involved in Liam’s speech development through music, including his older sister Lilah coaching her brother with a song called “Wash Your Hands.” (See Lilah's video above for her song "All the Same," written for Liam.) Liam, now ten, has come a long way. “He’s in school,” says Petersson, “He loves music… He’s definitely on the autism spectrum, but he speaks, he’s social. He’s the sweetest little guy.” His musical family has a lot to do with that, but Rock Your Speech offers even non-musician parents a wealth of catchy tools to help kids struggling with speech to connect with language through rock ‘n’ roll. For many families, that could be very good news indeed.

via HuffPo

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

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Oldest Writing System in the World: A Short, Charming Introduction

Teaching child visitors how to write their names using an unfamiliar or antique alphabet is a favorite activity of museum educators, but Dr. Irving Finkel, a cuneiform expert who specializes in ancient Mesopotamian medicine and magic, has grander designs.

His employer, the British Museum, has over 130,000 tablets spanning Mesopotamia’s Early Dynastic period to the Neo-Babylonian Empire “just waiting for young scholars to come devote themselves to (the) monkish work” of deciphering them.




Writing one’s name might well prove to be a gateway, and Dr. Finkel has a vested interest in lining up some new recruits.

The museum’s Department of the Middle East has an open access policy, with a study room where researchers can get up close and personal with a vast collection of cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia and surrounding regions.

But let’s not put the ox before the cart.

As the extremely personable Dr. Finkel shows Matt Gray and Tom Scott of Matt and Tom’s Park Bench, above, cuneiform consists of three components—upright, horizontal and diagonal—made by pressing the edge of a reed stylus, or popsicle stick if you prefer, into a clay tablet.

The mechanical process seems fairly easy to get the hang of, but mastering the oldest writing system in the world will take you around six years of dedicated study. Like Japan’s kanji alphabet, the oldest writing system in the world is syllabic. Properly written out, these syllables join up into a flowing calligraphy that your average, educated Babylonian would be able to read at a glance.

Even if you have no plans to rustle up a popsicle stick and some Play-Doh, it’s worth sticking with the video to the end to hear Dr. Finkel tell how a chance encounter with some naturally occurring cuneiform inspired him to write a horror novel, which is now available for purchase, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Begin your cuneiform studies with Irving Finkel’s Cuneiform: Ancient Scripts.

via Mental Floss

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her solo show Nurse!, in which one of Shakespeare’s best loved female characters hits the lecture circuit to set the record straight premieres in June at The Tank in New York City. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold the MusicMap: The Ultimate Interactive Genealogy of Music Created Between 1870 and 2016

A Pandora for the adventurous antiquarian, the highly underrated site Radiooooo gives users streaming music from all over the world and every decade since 1900. While it offers an aural feast, its limited interface leaves much to be desired from an educational standpoint. On the other end of the audio-visual spectrum, clever diagrams like those we’ve featured here on electronic music, alternative, and hip hop show the detailed connections between all the major acts in these genres, but all they do so in silence.

Now a new interactive infographic built by Belgian architect Kwinten Crauwels brings together an encyclopedic visual reference with an exhaustive musical archive. Though it’s missing some of the features of the resources above, the Musicmap far surpasses anything of its kind online—“both a 23and me-style ancestral tree and a thorough disambiguation of just about every extant genre of music,” writes Fast Company.




Or as Frank Jacobs explains at Big Think, Crauwels’ goal is “to provide the ultimate genealogy of popular music genres, including their relations and history.”

With over 230 genres in all—linked together in intricate webs of influence, mapped in a zoomable visual interface that organizes them all at macro and micro levels of description, and linked to explanatory articles and representative playlists (drawn from YouTube)—the project is almost too comprehensive to believe, and its degree of sophistication almost too complex to summarize concisely (though Jacobs does a good job of it). The Musicmap spans the years 1870-2016 and covers 22 major categories (with Rock further broken into six and “World” into three).

In an oval around the colorful skyscraper-like "super-genres" are decades, moving from past to present from top to bottom. Zoom into the "super-genres" and find “a spider’s web of links within and between the different houses” of subgenres. “Those links can indicate parentage or influence, but also a backlash (i.e. as ‘anti-links’).” Clicking on the name of each subgenre reveals “a short synopsis and a playlist of representative songs.” These two functions, in turn, link to each other, allowing users to click through in a more Wikipedia-like way once they’ve entered the minutiae of the Musicmap’s contents.

The map not only draws connections between subgenres but also between their relatives in other "super-genres" (learn about the relationship, for example, between folk rock and classic metal). On the left side of the screen is a series of buttons that reveal an introduction, methodology, abstract, several navigational functions, a glossary of musical terms, and a bibliography (called "Acknowledgments"). Aside from visually reducing all the way down to the level of individual bands within each subgenre, which could become a little dizzying, it's hard to think of anything seriously lacking here.

Anything we might find fault with might be changed in the near future. Although Crauwels spent almost ten years on research and development, first conceiving of the project in 2008, the current site “is still version 1.0 of Music map. In later versions, the playlists will be expanded, perhaps even community-generated.” Crauwels also wants to sync up with Spotify. Although not a musician himself, he is as passionate about music as he is about design and education, making him very likely the perfect person to take on this task, which he admits can never be completed.

Crauwels does not currently seem to have plans to monetize his map. His stated motives are altruistic, in the same public service spirit as Radiooooo. “Musicmap,” he says, “believes that knowledge about music genres is a universal right and should be part of basic education.” At the moment, the education here only applies to popular music, although enough of it to acquire a graduate-level historical knowledge base.

The four categories at the top of the map—the strangely named “Utility” (which includes hymns, military marches, musicals, and soundtracks), Folk, Classical, and World—are zoomable but do not have clickable links or playlists. Given Crauwels’ completist instincts, this may well change in future updates. In the TED talk above, see him tell the story of how he created Musicmap, a DIY effort that came out of his frustration that nothing like it existed, so he had to create it himself.

Enter the Musicmap here and try not to get lost for several hours.

via Big Think

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

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