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.

Related Content:

Discovering Electronic Music: 1983 Documentary Offers a Fun & Educational Introduction to Electronic Music

How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

The History of Electronic Music in 476 Tracks (1937-2001)

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

 

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.

Related Content:

Enter an Archive of 6,000 Historical Children’s Books, All Digitized and Free to Read Online

The First Children’s Picture Book, 1658’s Orbis Sensualium Pictus

The Anti-Slavery Alphabet: 1846 Book Teaches Kids the ABCs of Slavery’s Evils

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

Related Content:

Mr. Rogers Takes Breakdancing Lessons from a 12-Year-Old (1985)

Mr. Rogers Introduces Kids to Experimental Electronic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nelson (1968)

Mister Rogers Turns Kids On to Jazz with Help of a Young Wynton Marsalis and Other Jazz Legends (1986)

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.

Related Video:

Reality Is Nothing But a Hallucination: A Mind-Bending Crash Course on the Neuroscience of Consciousness

Richard Feynman Creates a Simple Method for Telling Science From Pseudoscience (1966)

125 Great Science Videos: From Astronomy to Physics & Psychology 

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

Calm Down & Study with Relaxing Piano, Jazz & Harp Covers of Music from Hayao Miyazaki Films

Calling all pediatric dentists!

Cat Trumpet, aka musician and anime lover Curtis Bonnett, may have inadvertently hit on a genius solution for keeping young patients calm in the chair: relaxing piano covers of familiar tunes from Studio Ghibli’s animated features.

The results fall somewhere between pianist George Winston’s early 80s seasonal solos and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack for the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence. Let us remember that most of these tunes were fairly easy on the ears to begin with. Composer Joe Hisaishi, who has collaborated with director Hayao Miyazaki on every Studio Ghibli movie save Castle of Cagliostro, isn't exactly a punk rocker.




Many listeners report that the playlist helps them stay focused while studying or doing homework. Others succumb to the emotional riptides of childhood nostalgia.

Tender prenatal and newborn ears might prefer Cat Trumpet’s even gentler harp covers of seven Ghibli tunes, above.

Meawhile, the Japan-based Cafe Music BGM Station provides hours of jazzy, bossa-nova inflected Studio Ghibli covers to hospitals, hair salons, boutiques, and cafes. You can listen to three-and-a-half-hours worth, above. This, too, gets high marks as a homework helper.

 

Cat Trumpet’s Relaxing Piano Studio Ghibli Complete Collection

00:00:03 Spirited Away - Inochi no Namae

00:04:14 Howl's Moving Castle - Merry Go Round of Life

00:07:16 Kiki's Delivery Service - Town With An Ocean View

00:09:31 The Secret World of Arrietty - Arrietty's Song

00:13:29 Laputa Castle In The Sky - Carrying You

00:17:05 Porco Rosso - Theme

00:19:55 Whisper of the Heart - Song of the Baron

00:22:33 Porco Rosso - Marco & Gina's Theme

00:26:19 Only Yesterday - Main Theme

00:29:07 From Up On Poppy Hill - Reminiscence

00:34:12 Spirited Away - Shiroi Ryuu

00:37:06 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - Tori no Hito

00:41:14 Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind -  Kaze no Densetsu

00:43:25 My Neighbor Totoro - Kaze no Toori Michi

00:47:48 Castle of Cagliostro - Fire Treasure

00:51:38 Princess Mononoke - Tabidachi nishi e

00:53:07 Tales From Earthsea - Teru's Theme

00:58:17 My Neighbor Totoro - Tonari no Totoro

01:02:35 Whisper of the Heart - Theme

01:06:03 Ponyo - Rondo of the Sunflower House

01:10:34 Howl's Moving Castle - The Promise of the World

 

Cat Trumpet’s Relaxing Harp Studio Ghibli Collection Playlist

00:03 Spirited Away - Inochi no Namae

04:01 Spirited Away - Waltz of Chihiro

06:43 Howls Moving Castle - Merry Go Round of Life

09:45 Howl's Moving Castle - The Promise of the World

13:15 Laputa Castle In The Sky - Main Theme

16:55 Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea - Main Theme

20:15 Tonari no Totoro - Kaze no Toori Michi

 

Cafe Music BGM’s Relaxing Jazz & Bossa Nova Studio Ghibli Cover Playlist (song titles in Japanese)

0:00 海の見える街  〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

4:10 もののけ姫  〜もののけ姫/Princess Mononoke

7:28 君をのせて 〜天空の城ラピュタ/Laputa, the Castle of the Sky

11:09 風の通り道 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

16:26 ひこうき雲 〜風立ちぬ/THE WIND RISES〜

19:48 空とぶ宅急便 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

25:05 人生のメリーゴーランド

〜ハウルの動く城/Howl's Moving Castle

28:07 いつも何度でも 〜千と千尋の神隠し/Spirited Away

32:08 となりのトトロ 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

36:40 さんぽ 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

38:40 崖の上のポニョ 〜崖の上のポニョ/Ponyo

42:08 ねこバス 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

46:06 旅路 〜風立ちぬ/THE WIND RISES

49:16 アシタカとサン 〜もののけ姫/Princess Mononoke

53:38 おかあさん 〜となりのトトロ/My Neibour Totoro

58:19 旅立ち 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

1:02:25 風の谷のナウシカ 〜風の谷のナウシカ/Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind

1:06:59 やさしさに包まれたなら 〜魔女の宅急便/Kiki's Delivery Service

 

Tune in to Cat Trumpet’s Spotify channel for his relaxing takes on Disney and anime, as well as Studio Ghibli. They are available for purchase on iTunes and Google Play, or enjoy some free downloads by patronizing his Patreon. He takes requests, too.

Tune in to Cafe Music’s BGM Spotify channel for Studio Ghibli jazz, in addition to some relaxing Hawaiian guitar jazz and a selection of nature-based mellow tunes. They are available for purchase on iTunes.

Related Content:

Insanely Cute Cat Commercials from Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki’s Legendary Animation Shop

Hayao Miyazaki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

How the Films of Hayao Miyazaki Work Their Animated Magic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

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

“Goodnight Moon,” as Read to Neil deGrasse Tyson by LeVar Burton

Metafilter sets the stage for the cute, newly minted video above:

At 1:00pm on May 17th, 2017, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that he occasionally longed for someone to read Good Night Moon to him as he falls asleep. Six minutes later, LeVar Burton tweeted "I got you... Let's do this!" And do it they did.

Some background: LeVar Burton hosted the children's TV show Reading Rainbow for two decades, reading to children and encouraging them to read. His new podcast, LeVar Burton Reads, is like Reading Rainbow for adults. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a famous dancer yt /astrophysicist.

You can see Susan Sarandon read her own version. Find it in the Relateds below. Enjoy.

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.

Related Content:

Susan Sarandon Reads an Animated Version of Good Night Moon … Without Crying

A Terrifying Reading of the Sweet Children’s Story Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Keith Moon: “The Most Inappropriate Bedtime Story Ever”

A Reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in 100 Celebrity Voices

For every august personage who’s taken a crack Edgar Allan Poe’s evergreen poem, "The Raven," there are thousands more who haven’t.

Humorist Jordan Monsell is doing what he can to close that gap, providing a sampling of 100 mostly male, mostly white, mostly human celebrity voices. It’s a solo recitation, but vocally a collaborative one, with a fair number of animated characters making their way into the credits, too.

He certainly knows how to cast outside the box. Traditional Poe interpreters such as Vincent Price and John Astin bring some well established creep cred to the enterprise. Monsell picks Christopher Walken and Christopher Lee already have existing takes on this classic, and Anthony Hopkins and Willem Dafoe are welcome additions.




But what to make of Jerry Seinfeld, Pee-Wee Herman, Johnny Cash… and even poetry lover Bill Murray? Manic and much missed Robin Williams may offer a clue. What good is having an arsenal of impressions if you’re not willing to roll them out in rapid succession?

While some of Monsell's impersonations (cough, David Bowie) fall a bit short of the mark, others will have you regretting that no one had the forethought to record Don Knotts or JFK reciting the poem in its entirety.

The titles offer a bit of a misnomer. In many instances, it’s not really the performers but their best known characters being aped. While there may not be too great a vocal divide between playwright Wallace Shawn and Vizzini in The Princess Bride, The Dude is not Jeff Bridges, any more than Captain Jack Sparrow is Johnny Depp.

The project seems likely to play best with nerdy adolescent boys… which could be good news for teachers looking to get reluctant readers onboard. Show it on the classroom Smart Board, and be prepared to have mini-teach-ins on Katharine Hepburn, Walter Matthau, the late great Robert Shaw, and other big names whose day has passed. Shrek, Gollum, and Harry Potter’s house elf, Dobby, are on hand to keep the references from feeling too moldy.

The specter of Poe gets the coveted final word, a balm to the ears after the triple assault of Christian Bale’s Batman, Mad Max’s Tom Hardy, and Heath Ledger’s Joker. (It may be a matter of taste. You’ll hear no complaint from these quarters with regard to Mickey Mouse, Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion, or The Simpson’s Krusty the Klown, wonderfully unctuous.)

The breakneck audio patchwork approach doesn’t do much for reading comprehension, but could lead to a lively middle school discussion on what constitutes a successful performance. Who served the text best? Readers?

Furthermore, who’s missing? What voice would you add to the Monsell’s roll call, below?

Morgan Freeman

Kermit the Frog

Johnny Cash

Ringo Starr

David Bowie

Rick Moranis

Gary Oldman

Peter Lorre

Adam Sandler

Don Knotts

William Shatner

George Takei

Michael Dorn

Daffy Duck

Ricky Gervais

Foghorn Leghorn

Liam Neeson

Nicholas Cage

John Travolta

Anthony Hopkins

Rod Serling

Cookie Monster

Jay Baruchel

Jeff Bridges

Johnny Depp

Archer

Dr. Phil

Gollum

Mandy Patinkin

Wallace Shawn

Billy Crystal

Owen Wilson

Dustin Hoffman

Krusty the Klown

Apu

Christian Bale

Michael Caine

Tom Hardy

Heath Ledger

Mickey Mouse

John Wayne

Jerry Seinfeld

Phil Hartman

Goofy

Al Pacino

Marlon Brando

Jack Lemmon

Walter Matthau

Christopher Walken

Rowlf the Dog

John Cleese

Robin Williams

Katharine Hepburn

Woody Allen

Matthew McConaughey

Cowardly Lion

Jimmy Stewart

John C. Reilly

James Mason

Sylvester Stallone

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Stewie

Daniel Day Lewis

Maggie Smith

Alan Rickman

Dobby

Jack Nicholson

Christoph Waltz

Bill Murray

Dan Aykroyd

Sean Connery

Bill Cosby

Christopher Lloyd

Droopy Dog

Kevin Spacey

Harrison Ford

Ronald Reagan

JFK

Bill Clinton

Keanu Reeves

Ian McKellen

Paul Giamatti

Sebastian

Stan Lee

Jeff Goldblum

Hugh Grant

Kenneth Branagh

Larry the Cable Guy

Pee-Wee Herman

Shrek

Donkey

Charlton Heston

Michael Keaton

Homer Simpson

Yoda

Willem Dafoe

Bruce Willis

Robert Shaw

Christopher Lee

Edgar Allan Poe

Related Content:

Hear Classic Readings of Poe’s “The Raven” by Vincent Price, James Earl Jones, Christopher Walken, Neil Gaiman, Stan Lee & More

Edgar Allan Poe’s the Raven: Watch an Award-Winning Short Film That Modernizes Poe’s Classic Tale

The Grateful Dead Pays Tribute to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” in a 1982 Concert: Hear “Raven Space”

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

More in this category... »
Quantcast