Watch Choirs Around the World Simulate the Rainstorm in Toto’s “Africa” Using Only Their Hands

The Los Angeles-based choir, Angel City Chorale, above, captured the Internet’s imagination in a big way with their 2013 cover of Toto’s 1982 hit, "Africa," in which the group’s 160 performers created a realistic-sounding thunderstorm using only their hands.

Delightful! And more common than you may at first think.




The Chorale acknowledges that they owe a great debt to Slovenian vocal group Perpetuum Jazzile’s thunderous 2008 rendition. Stagehands accustomed to creating credible thunderclaps by waving wiggly sheets of aluminum backstage may want to switch to hundreds of feet hopping up and down in unison, as heard at the 1-minute mark, below.

Go a bit further back to find an actual African choir’s finger-snapping, thigh-smacking "Africa."

The Kearsney College Choir is based near Durban, South Africa, and they appear to have been the first to open this number with the now-famous rainstorm effect. Its members are school boys ranging in age from 13 to 18. The video below shows them performing the tune in the 2008 World Choir Games, an annual competition that will be taking place on their home turf this year.

Interestingly, there’s not that much rain in the original. Over the years Toto’s songwriters, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro have made various statements about its origins—a guy transfixed by images of suffering Africans on TV, a lonely missionary, a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair’s Africa pavilion …

There’s a bit of rain to be seen in the very 80’s official music video, but nothing that rivals the choirs’ spectacular downpours.

If you’re moved to whip up a tempest of your own, Jbrary’s children's librarians, Dana Horrocks and Lindsey Krabbenhoft, have created an instructional video that shows just how simple the effect is to master. The real trick is enlisting 100s of friends to do it at the same time.

Buy Perpetuum Jazzile’s "Africa" CD and vocal arrangements here.

Download Angel City Chorale’s "Africa" single on iTunes or CDBaby.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Shazam for Nature: A New Free App Helps You Identify Plants, Animals & Other Denizens of the Natural World

Do you ever long for those not-so-long-ago days when you skipped through the world, breathless with the anticipation of catching Pokémon on your phone screen?

If so, you might enjoy bagging some of the Pokeverse’s real world counterparts using Seek, iNaturalist’s new photo-identification app. It does for the natural world what Shazam does for music.

Aim your phone’s camera at a nondescript leaf or the grasshopper-ish-looking creature who’s camped on your porch light. With a bit of luck, Seek will pull up the relevant Wikipedia entry to help the two of you get better acquainted.




Registered users can pin their finds to their personal collections, provided the app’s recognition technology produces a match.

(Several early adopters suggest it’s still a few houseplants shy of true functionality…)

Seek’s protective stance with regard to privacy settings is well suited to junior specimen collectors, as are the virtual badges with which it rewards energetic uploaders.

While it doesn’t hang onto user data, Seek is building a photo library, composed in part of user submissions.

(Your cat is ready for her close up, Mr. DeMille…)

(Ditto your Portobello Mushroom burger…)

Download Seek for free on iTunes or Google Play.

via Earther/My Modern Met

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

The History of the U.S. Civil War Visualized Month by Month and State by State, in an Infographic from 1897

There’s been a lot of handwringing over the i-Generation’s lack of map reading skills.

While we’re at it, let’s take a cold, hard look at the Gilded Age infographic, above....

... and conclude that people who live in glass houses should stop reaching for stones.

Published in 1897 by the Comparative Synoptical Chart Company, this now unfathomable document--History of the Civil War in the United States: 1860-1865--achieved its goal of squeezing the maximum amount of content onto a single sheet.

This is in direct opposition to today’s generally accepted rules for creating successful infographics, one of which is to simplify.




Another holds that text should be used sparingly, lest it clutter up strong visuals. Consumers have a limited attention span, and for content to be considered shareable, they should be able to take it in at a glance.

Modern eyes may be forgiven for mistaking this chart for the world’s most convoluted subway map. But those aren’t stops, friend. They’re minor engagements. Bloodier and better-known battles are delineated with larger circles—yellow centers for a Union victory, pale green for Confederate.

The fastest way to begin making heads or tails of the chart is to note that each column is assigned to a different state.

The vertical axis is divided into months. Notice all the negative space around Fort Sumter.

And the constant entries in Virginia's column.

The publisher noted that the location of events was “entirely governed” by this time scale.

You’ll have to look hard for Lincoln’s assassination.

Consumers who purchased the History of the Civil War in the United States 1860-1865 presumably pored over it by candlelight, supplementing it with maps and books.

It would still make a superb addition to any history teacher’s classroom, both as decoration and the tinder that could ignite discussion as to how we receive information, and how much information is in fact received.

Explore a larger, zoomable version of the map here.

via Slate

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

Mister Rogers, Sesame Street & Jim Henson Introduce Kids to the Synthesizer with the Help of Herbie Hancock, Thomas Dolby & Bruce Haack

Does your child have a musical instrument? That’s good. Taken a few music lessons? Even better. If they’re so inclined, learning music is one of the best things kids can do for their developing brains, whether or not they make a career of the endeavor. But one doesn’t need classical training or jazz chops to make music, or even to become a musician. Those skills have served many an electronic musician, sure, but many others have created moving, complex music with ingenuity, finely-tuned ears, tech smarts, and wildly experimental attitudes.

Then there are electronic artists, like Bruce Haack, Herbie Hancock, and Thomas Dolby, who combined fine musicianship with all of the above qualities and made people stop and wonder, people who were not necessarily fans of electronic music, and who didn't know very much about it.




None of these artists felt it beneath them to bring their art further down to earth, to the level of the kids who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or Sesame Street. On the contrary, they're natural educators, with a performer’s instinct for timing and audience and a geek’s instinct for highlighting the coolest technical bits. But leave it to Mister Rogers himself, above, to celebrate the music and the playfulness of synthesized sound in his mild-mannered Cole Porter-ish way, to the accompaniment of a good-old fashioned piano and one of his mother’s signature handknit sweaters, in green.

Above, we have the weird wonky Haack, a musical prodigy who studied at Juilliard, and who loved nothing more than making children’s records with his partner, children’s dancer Esther Nelson, and creating musical instruments from household objects and handwired circuitry that was activated by human touch. Fred Rogers was so taken with Haack’s playfulness that he had the composer and Nelson on a long segment of his show. You may or may not know that Haack’s work was inspired by peyote and that he recorded a rock opera called The Electric Lucifer about a war between heaven and hell, but you’ll probably sense there’s more to him than meets the eye. Rogers and the kids are mesmerized (see Part 2 of the segment here.)

Herbie Hancock’s appearance on Sesame Street operates much more on a get to know you level than the gestalt dance therapy performance art of Haack and Nelson. He jams out; charms future Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star Tatyana Ali by turning her name into high-pitched chorus of voices; and explains the many functions of his Fairlight CMI, a digital synthesizer born in the same year as the young actress. The technology isn’t nearly as interesting as Haack’s homemade curios, given that every one of the Fairlight functions can be fit into an app these days. The joy lies in watching the kids warm to Hancock and the then-new technology.

When it comes to Thomas Dolby’s appearance on the Jim Henson Company’s The Ghost of Faffner Hall program, we are in the position of the child audience. Dolby, with his peculiar English intensity, plays a mad scientist character who stares into the camera as he demonstrates his collection of synthesizers, analog and digital, for viewers. Dolby’s performance might have been aided by some real kids to play off of, but his “fly in a matchbox” example will easily help you and your young ones understand the basic principles at work in synthesizing sound. These playful tutorials were made for kids in 1968, 83, and 89 respectively, and maybe they can still work magic on young 21st century minds. But, as Fred Rogers says, “grownups like to play too, sure. And if you look and listen carefully through this world, you’ll find lots of things that are playful.” Few grownups have been better authorities on the subject.

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

A Digital Archive of 1,800+ Children’s Books from UCLA

In the early 18th century, the novel was seen as a frivolous and trivial form at best, a morally corrupting one at worst. Given that the primary readers of novels were women, the belief smacks of patriarchal condescension and a kind of thought control. Fiction is a place where readers can imaginatively live out fantasies and tragedies through the eyes of an imagined other. Respectable middle-class women were expected instead to read conduct manuals and devotionals.

English novelist Samuel Richardson sought to bring respectability to his art in the form of Pamela in 1740, a novel which began as a conduct manual and whose subtitle rather bluntly states the moral of the story: “Virtue Rewarded.”




This moralizing expressed itself in another literary form as well. Children’s books, such as there were, also tended toward the moralistic and didactic, in attempts to steer their readers away from the dangers of what was then called “enthusiasm.”

“Prior to the mid-eighteenth century,” notes the UCLA Children’s Book Collection—a digital repository of over 1800 children’s books dating from 1728 to 1999—“books were rarely created specifically for children, and children’s reading was generally confined to literature intended for their education and moral edification rather than for their amusement. Religious works, grammar books, and ‘courtesy books’ (which offered instruction on proper behavior) were virtually the only early books directed at children.” But a change was in the making in the middle of the century.

Pamela attracted a ribald, even pornographic, response—most notably in Henry Fielding’s satire An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews and the Marquis de Sade’s Justine Meanwhile, the world of children’s literature also underwent a radical shift. “The notion of pleasure in learning was becoming more widely accepted.” Illustrations, previously “consisting of small woodcut vignettes,” slowly began to move to the fore, and “innovations in typography and printing allowed greater freedom in reproducing art.”

That’s not to say that the didactic attitude was dispelled—we see codes of conduct and overt religious themes embedded in children’s literature throughout the 19th century. But as we pointed out in a post on another children’s book archive from the University of Florida, the more staid and traditional books increasingly competed with adventure stories, works of fantasy, and what we call today Young Adult literature like that of Mark Twain and Louisa May Alcott. You can see this tension in the UCLA collection, between pleasure and duty, leisure and work, and education as moral and social training and as a means of achieving personal freedom.

Of the adult literary imagination of the time, Leo Bersani writes in A Future for Astyanax that “the confrontation in nineteenth-century works between a structured, socially viable and verbally analyzable self and the wish to shatter psychic and social structures produces considerable stress and conflict.” I think we can see a similar conflict, expressed much more playfully, in books for children of the past two hundred years or so. Enter the UCLA collection, which includes not only historic children's books but present-day exhibit catalogs and more, here.

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

The Colors of Mister Rogers’ Hand-Knit Sweaters from 1979 to 2001: A Visual Graph Created with Data Science

Writer Owen Phillips may be a solid data analyst, but I suspect he’s not much of a knitter.

The software he used to run a scientific analysis of 22 years worth of Fred Rogers’ sweaters ultimately reduces the beloved children’s television host’s homey zip-front cardigans to a slick graphic of colorful bars.

A knitter would no doubt prioritize other types of patterns - stitch numbers, wool weight, cable variations…the sort of information Mister Rogers’ mother, Nancy, would have had at her fingertips.

As Mister Rogers reveals in the story of his sweaters, his mom was the knitter behind many of the on-air sweaters Phillips crunched with R code. Whether their subtly shifting palette reflects an adventurous spirit on the part of the maker or the recipient’s evolving taste is not for us to know.




After Mrs. Rogers’ death, producers had to resort to buying similar models. Many of her originals had worn through or been donated to charity events.

“Not an easy challenge in the 80’s and 90s,” Margy Whitmer, a producer of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood told Rewire. “It certainly wasn’t in style! But we found a company who made cotton ones that were similar, so we bought a bunch and dyed them.”

(A moment of silent gratitude that no one tried to shoehorn Fred Rogers into a Cosby Show sweater…)

It would be interesting to see what Phillips’ code could do with faulty viewer memories.

His input for the Mister Rogers’ Cardigans of Many Colors project was a chart on super fan Tim Lybarger’s Neighborhood Archive detailing the hue of every sweater Mister Rogers changed into on-camera from 1979 to 2001.

Without samples of the actual sweaters, Lybarger’s color chart could only be approximate, but unlike viewers’ fading memories, it’s rooted in his own visual observations of distinct episodes. Aging fans tend to jettison Rogers’ spectral reality in favor of a single shade, the bright red in which he greeted Wicked Witch of the West Margaret Hamilton in 1975, say, or the pleasant mouse-colored number he sported for a 1985 breakdancing session with a visiting 12-year-old.

For those who’d rather code than purl, Phillips shares MrRogers.R, the program he used to scrape the Neighborhood Archive for Mister Rogers daily sweater colors.

Then have a look at Rogers’ sweaters as rendered by Phillips’ fellow data geek, Alan Joyce, who tinkered with Phillips’ code to produce a gradient image.

via Kottke

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her current project is Theater of the Apes Sub-Adult Division’s fast approaching production of Animal Farm at the Tank in New York City.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Art of Explaining Hard Ideas: Scientists Try to Explain Gene Editing & Brain Mapping to Young Kids & Students

If you’ve seen Bong Joon-ho’s film Okja, about an Agribusiness-engineered gargantuan mutant pig and her young Korean girl sidekick, you may have some very specific ideas about CRISPR, the science used to edit and manipulate genes. In fact, the madcap fictional adventure’s world may not be too far off, though the science seems to be moving in the other direction. Just recently, Chinese scientists have reported the creation of 12 pigs with 24 percent less body fat than the ordinary variety. It may not be front-page news yet, but the achievement is “a big issue for the pig industry,” says the lead researcher.

There’s much more to CRISPR than bioengineering lean bacon. But what is it and how does it work? I couldn’t begin to tell you. Let biologist Neville Sanjana explain. In the Wired video above, he undertakes the ultimate challenge for science communicators—explaining the most cutting-edge science to five different people: a 7-year-old, 14-year-old, college student, grad student, and—to really put him on the spot—a CRISPR expert. CRISPR is "a new area of biomedical science that enables gene editing,” Sanjana begins in his short intro for viewers, “and it’s helping us understand the basis of many genetic diseases like autism and cancer.”

That’s all well and good, but does he have anything to say about the pig business? Watch and find out, beginning with the adorable 7-year-old Teigen River, who may or may not have been primed with perfect responses. Play it for your own kids and let us know how well the explanation works. Sanjara runs quickly through his other students to arrive, halfway through the video, at Dr. Matthew Canver, CRISPR expert.




From there on out you may wish to refer to other quick references, such as the Harvard and MIT Broad Institute’s short guide and video intro above from molecular biologist Feng Zhang, who explains that CRISPR, or “Clustered Regularly Intersperced Short Palindromic Repeats,” is actually the name of DNA sequences in bacteria. The gene editing technology itself is called CRISPR-Cas9. Just so you know how the sausage is made.

Enough of pig puns. Let’s talk about brains, with neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Kasthuri of the Argonne National Laboratory. He faces a similar challenge above—this time explaining high concept science to a 5-year-old, 13-year-old, college student, grad student, and a “Connectome entrepreneur.” A what? Connectome is the product of the NIH's Human Connectome Project, which set out to “provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data” and “achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.” This brain-mapping science has many objectives, one of which, in the 5-year-old version, is “to know where every cell in your brain is, and how it can talk to every other cell.”

To this astonishing explanation you may reply like Daniel Dodson, 5-year-old, with a stunned “Oh.” And then you may think of Philip K. Dick, or Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode. Especially after hearing from “Connectome Entrepreneur” Russell Hanson, founder and CEO of a company called Brain Backups, or after listening to Sebastian Seung—“leader in the field of connectomics”—give his TED talk, “I am my connectome.” Want another short, but grown-up focused, explanation of the totally science-fiction but also completely real Connectome? See Kasthuri’s 2-minute animated video above from Boston University.

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

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