Introducing The Radiohead Public Library: Radiohead Makes Their Full Catalogue Available via a Free Online Web Site

Radiohead remained relevant longer than any of their peers not only because they adapted to technological change but because they’ve just as often been a force behind it, whether musically or otherwise. Yet when it comes to their release strategies, we might call them increasingly conservative--they have embraced one of the oldest traditional features of the internet: the ability to give away free content to huge numbers of people all at once, and to archive that content in freely accessible repositories.

At least since In Rainbows, Radiohead has seen the internet as an opportunity to give away their work or sell it at a low-cost sliding scale, often with profits benefitting charities. Last year, when hackers stole demos from 1997’s OK Computer, Radiohead countered by releasing 18 hours of the material free to stream or buy for a limited time, with all proceeds going to climate action. Then they released every single studio album, including dozens of rarities, live sessions, and more, on YouTube, making everything free to stream for anyone with the bandwidth.

Now, concerned with the integrity of Radiohead collections online, they’ve gone full Internet Archive and started a “public library” (complete with a printable library card). And for any fan of the band—from the most casual to the most terminally dedicated—it’s an experience. “The band has brought nearly the entirety of their catalog to one place,” writes Rob Arcand at Spin, “which doesn’t contain ads and doesn’t use algorithms or obtrusive design gestures that could encourage myopic listening.” Dive in and you never know what you’ll find.

I stumbled upon OK Computer’s “Paranoid Android” and was reminded of how inexplicably weird the video is; crossed paths with 1992’s Drill, the band’s surprising power-pop-punk first EP (hear “Thinking About You” at the top); found a recent live performance of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, and a drum machine—the two demonstrating with electric guitars and voice why even the band’s most abstract and foreboding songs still have at their heart the delicate melodies that made up the entirety of their achingly earnest second album, The Bends.

Other rarities include the King of Limbs remix EP TKOL RMX 8 (“not to be confused with their King of Limbs remix album TKOL RMX 1234567”) and a 2005 track titled “I Want None of This” made for war relief compilation Help!: A Day in the Life. The “stress” here in this archive “is on ‘Public,’” notes Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone. “The library is free to enter and audio and video files are accessible even to those without premium streaming services.” Each member of the band served as a “librarian” for the first week of the archive’s existence, curating their favorite selections of material for posting on social media from January 20th to the 24th.

Check out the Radiohead Public Library here.

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

The Neuroscience of Drumming: Researchers Discover the Secrets of Drumming & The Human Brain

An old musician’s joke goes “there are three kinds of drummers in the world—those who can count and those who can’t.” But perhaps there is an even more global divide. Perhaps there are three kinds of people in the world—those who can drum and those who can’t. Perhaps, as the promotional video above from GE suggests, drummers have fundamentally different brains than the rest of us. Today we highlight the scientific research into drummers' brains, an expanding area of neuroscience and psychology that disproves a host of dumb drummer jokes.

"Drummers," writes Jordan Taylor Sloan at Mic, "can actually be smarter than their less rhythmically-focused bandmates." This according to the findings of a Swedish study (Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm) which shows "a link between intelligence, good timing and the part of the brain used for problem-solving." As Gary Cleland puts it in The Telegraph, drummers "might actually be natural intellectuals."

Neuroscientist David Eagleman, a renaissance researcher The New Yorker calls “a man obsessed with time," found this out in an experiment he conducted with various professional drummers at Brian Eno's studio. It was Eno who theorized that drummers have a unique mental makeup, and it turns out "Eno was right: drummers do have different brains from the rest." Eagleman's test showed "a huge statistical difference between the drummers' timing and that of test subjects." Says Eagleman, "Now we know that there is something anatomically different about them." Their ability to keep time gives them an intuitive understanding of the rhythmic patterns they perceive all around them.

That difference can be annoying—like the pain of having perfect pitch in a perpetually off-key world. But drumming ultimately has therapeutic value, providing the emotional and physical benefits collectively known as "drummer's high," an endorphin rush that can only be stimulated by playing music, not simply listening to it. In addition to increasing people's pain thresholds, Oxford psychologists found, the endorphin-filled act of drumming increases positive emotions and leads people to work together in a more cooperative fashion.

Clash drummer Topper Headon discusses the therapeutic aspect of drumming in a short BBC interview above. He also calls drumming a "primeval" and distinctly, universally human activity. Former Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley have high hopes for the science of rhythm. Hart, who has powered a light show with his brainwaves in concerts with his own band, discusses the "power" of rhythm to move crowds and bring Alzheimer's patients back into the present moment.

Whether we can train ourselves to think and feel like drummers may be debatable. But as for whether drummers really do think in ways non-drummers can't, consider the neuroscience of Stewart Copeland's polyrhythmic beats, and the work of Terry Bozzio (below) playing the largest drumkit you've ever seen.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

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

The Anti-Conformist, Libertarian Philosophy That Shaped Rush’s Classic Albums

“Throughout their career, Rush have been proudly anti-conformist and anti-authoritarian,” notes the Polyphonic video on recently departed drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, above. “This philosophy is clearly reflected in many of their finest works.” Since the addition of Peart in 1974 after their first, self-titled album, Rush’s philosophy has also been unambiguously Libertarian.

Of course, Peart also turned Rush into the most literary of progressive rock bands. Steeped in fantasy, science fiction, and moral philosophy, he translated his influences into a sprawling sci-fi vision all his own, and one that consistently exceeded the sum of its parts. Yet early Rush was also very much a band that wrote earnest, epic songs about Ayn Rand’s Objectivism.

Peart drew heavily on her work in the first three albums he recorded with the band, including 1975’s Fly by Night, which included the song “Anthem,” an ode to towering creative geniuses that cribs from Rand's dystopian novel of the same name. Rush’s breakout masterwork, 2112, released the following year, expanded dramatically on the theme, as you’ll see in the Polyphonic breakdown of its lyrics.

The 20-minute opening title track tells the story of a futuristic, fictional city of Megadon, a place, writes Rob Bowman in the 40th anniversary edition liner notes, “where individualism and creativity are outlawed with the population controlled by a cabal of malevolent Priests who reside in the Temples of Syrinx.” Based on a short story by Peart, he himself credited its inspiration in the original liner notes to “the genius of Ayn Rand.”

These references don’t seem to make Rush fans love their career-defining mid-seventies concept albums any less. But it has meant that a great deal of talk about Rush has forever linked Peart with this phase in his life. Asked about it in Rolling Stone almost four decades after 2112’s release, he disavowed a lasting influence.

Oh, no. That was 40 years ago. But it was important to me at the time in a transition of finding myself and having faith that what I believed was worthwhile…. On that 2112 album, again, I was in my early twenties. I was a kid. Now I call myself a bleeding heart libertarian.

The change came about, he says, after he saw how libertarian ideals get “twisted by the flaws of humanity.” Peart, and Rush, however never wavered from their anti-authoritarian championing of individual rights. And denials aside, the Randian influence lingered, especially in songs like “Freewill” from 1980’s Permanent Waves:

You can choose from phantom fears  
And kindness that can kill  
I will choose a path that's clear  
I will choose free will 

Rush’s libertarian streak—both the early Objectivist and later “bleeding heart” varieties—can broadly be called their guiding political philosophy. But it should not be mistaken for Peart’s sole obsession. His songs are full of huge themes, as well as the “thorny questions” of everyday life, writes Annie Zaleski at NPR. “Like the best songwriting, Peart’s body of work was also malleable enough to grow with its listeners—his songs often mused about aging and the importance of dreaming.”

Sometimes Rush spoke even more directly to their aging fans. “The ominous ‘Subdivisions’ railed against the conformist suburbs that ‘have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth.’” Whether or not Rush fans themselves have had an early Ayn Rand phase, all of them identify with Peart’s lifelong desire to seize his own destiny and escape the mundane.

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

How Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring Incited a Riot? An Animated Introduction

There was a time when a ballet could start a riot — specifically, the night of May 29th, 1913. The place was Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, and the ballet was The Rite of Spring, composed by Igor Stravinsky for the Ballets Ruses company. Popular history has remembered this debut performance as too bold, too daring, too avant-garde for its genteel audience to handle — and so, with the bourgeois duly épaté, we can freely appreciate Stravinsky's radical work from our position of 21st-century sophistication. But whether The Rite of Spring incited a riot, a "near-riot" (as some source describe it), or merely a wave of dissatisfaction, what aspects of its art were responsible?

May 29th, 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées comes alive again in the animated TED-Ed lesson above, which examines all the ways The Rite of Spring broke violently with the ballet form as it had established itself in the 19th century. Lesson creator Iseult Gillespie (previously featured here on Open Culture for her explanatory work on everything from Shakespeare and Guernica to Frida Kahlo and Haruki Murakami) writes of its "harsh music, jerky dancing, and uncanny staging," all in service of a highly un-genteel Pagan premise that "set audiences on edge and shattered the conventions of classical music."

Among Stravinsky's musical provocations — or rather, "formal experiments," — Gillespie names "syncopation, or irregular rhythm," "atonality, or the lack of a single key," and "the presence of multiple time signatures," as well as the inclusion of aspects of the Russian folk music that was Stravinsky's cultural inheritance. Along with the music, already startling enough, came visual design by Nicholas Roerich, a painter-philosopher "obsessed with prehistoric times" and professionally concerned with human sacrifice and ancient tomb excavation.

Wearing Roerich's awkwardly-hanging peasant garments in front of his "vivid backdrops of primeval nature full of jagged rocks, looming trees, and nightmarish colors," the ballet's dancers performed steps by Vaslav Nijinsky, whose sense of rigor brought him to create dances "to rethink the roots of movement itself." His choreography "contorted traditional ballet, to both the awe and horror of his audience" — but then, that possibly overdetermined awe and horror could have arisen from several number of artistic sources at once. The Rite of Spring's tension and urgency still today reflects the historical moment of its composition, "the cusp of both the first world war and the Russian revolution," and we could also take the early reaction to its innovations as a reflection of its creators' genius — or perhaps those first viewers, as Stravinsky himself put it, were simply "naïve and stupid people."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, 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.

How a Philip Glass Opera Gets Made: An Inside Look

Most fever dreams require very little pre-planning and coordination. All it takes is the flu and a pillow, and perhaps a shot of Ny-Quil.

A fever dream on the order of composer Philip Glass’ 1984 opera, Akhnaten, is a horse of an entirely different color, as "How An Opera Gets Made," above, makes clear.

For those in the performing arts, the revelations of this eyepopping Vox video will come as no surprise, though the formidable resources of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, where the piece was recently restaged by director Phelim McDermott, may be cause for envy.

The costumes!

The wigs!

The set!

The orchestra!

The jugglers!

… wait, jugglers?

Yes, a dozen, whose carefully coordinated efforts provide a counterpoint to the stylized slow motion pace the rest of the cast maintains for the duration of the three and half hour long show.

This maximalist approach to minimalist modern opera has proved a hit, though the New York Timescritic Anthony Tommasini opined that he could have done with less juggling…

We presume everyone gets that bringing an opera to the stage involves many more departments, steps, and heavy labor than can be squeezed into a 10-minute video.

Perhaps the biggest surprise awaiting the uninitiated is the playful offstage manner of Anthony Roth Costanzo, the supremely gifted countertenor in the title role. As the pharaoh who reduced ancient Egypt’s pantheon to a single god, Atenaka the sun, he makes his first entrance completely nude, head shaved, flecked in gold, facing the audience for the entirety of his four-minute descent down a 12-step staircase.

(One step the video doesn't touch on is the workout regimen he embarked on in preparation for his nude debut, a 6-day-a-week commitment that inspired him to found one of the first American businesses to offer fitness buffs training sessions using Electrical Muscle Stimulation.)

His dedication to his craft is obviously extraordinary. It has to be for him to handle the score’s demanding arpeggios and intricate repetitions, notably the six-minute segment whose only lyric is “ah.” His breath control on that section earns high praise from his longtime vocal coach Joan Patenaude-Yarnell.

But—and this will come as a shock to those of us whose concept of male opera stars is informed nearly exclusively by Bugs Bunny cartoons and the late Luciano Pavarotti—his outsized talent does not seem to be reflected in outsized self-regard.

He treats viewers to a self-deprecating peek inside the Met’s wig room while clad in a decidedly anti-primo uomo sweatshirt, gamely dons his styrofoam khepresh for close range inspection, and cracks himself up by high-fiving his own pharaonic image in the lobby.

There’s incredible lightness to this being.

As such, he may be more effective at attracting a new generation of admirers to the art form than any discounts or pre-show mixer for patrons 35-and-under.

For further insights into how this musical sausage got made, have a gander at the Metropolitan Opera’s pre-production videos and read star Anthony Roth Costanzo’s essay in the Guardian.

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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, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain celebrates New York: The Nation’s Metropolis (1921). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Celebrating Women Composers: A New BBC Digital Archive Takes You from Hildegard of Bingen (1098) to Nadia Boulanger (1979)

Recently, we published a post about Nadia Boulanger, the 20th century's most influential music teacher. While a composer and conductor in her own right—indeed, she was the first woman to conduct major symphonies in Europe and the U.S.—Boulanger is best known for her list of illustrious students, including Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Philip Glass, and Quincy Jones.

One reader of the post rightly pointed out a not-so-glaring irony in the way Boulanger has been remembered. While celebrated as a powerful woman in music, in a sea of more famous men, her many distinguished female students go unmentioned, perhaps more due to ignorance than prejudice (though this may be no great excuse). Most people have never heard of former Boulanger students like Grażyna Bacewicz, Marion Bauer, Louise Talma, Peggy Glanville-Hicks and Priaulx Rainier.

Not many have heard of Lili Boulanger, Nadia’s sister, a child prodigy who died at 24, after composing two dozen innovative choral and instrumental works and becoming the first woman to win the Prix de Rome in 1913, at the age of 19, for her cantata Faust and Hélène, with lyrics, by Eugene Adenis, based on Goethe's Faust (top).

Polish composer Bacewicz, who began studying with Nadia Boulanger’s former student Kazimierz Sikorski at 13, traveled to Paris to “learn from the great pedagogue herself,” notes the BBC Music Magazine.

Bacewicz was an incredibly talented violinist (see her further up in 1952) and a widely admired composer, just one of many noteworthy female composers, of the past and present, who don't often turn up in conversation about classical and avant-garde music. The BBC aims to correct these major slights with their “Celebrating Women Composers” series, which features archival interview clips from legends like Nadia Boulanger, Dame Ethel Smyth (profiled above), and Elisabeth Lutyens.

You’ll also find interviews with dozens of contemporary female composers, a series on composers’ rooms, profiles of historical greats, links to performance recordings, and several informative articles on women composers past and present. Most of the composers profiled have found some measure of fame in their lifetime, and renown among those in the know, but are unknown to the general public.

Some of the composers you'll learn about, like the five in a feature titled “The Women Erased from Musical History,” might have disappeared entirely were it not for the work of archivists. Learn about these rediscovered figures and much, much more at the BBC’s Celebrating Women Composers, one of many such projects making it harder to plead ignorance of women’s presence in classical music.

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

Art Record Covers: A Book of Over 500 Album Covers Created by Famous Visual Artists

The list of musicians who are also visual artists goes on and on. We’re all familiar with the biggest names: David Bowie, Patti Smith, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, etc, etc, etc. Lesser-known alternative and indie artists like Stone Roses guitarist John Squire and Austin singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston created iconic imagery that adorned their album covers and merchandise.

Such multitalented individuals embody the kinship of sound and vision. But so too do the many collaborations between musicians and fine artists—hundreds of whom have gifted their talents to album covers of every conceivable kind.

Aside from obvious, historic examples (Andy Warhol’s Velvet Underground covers come immediately to mind) such collaborations are often hiding in plain sight. Perhaps you did not know, for example, that the alluring yet mysterious deep blue photograph of Björk on the cover of her remix album Telegram is by Nobuyoshi Araki, one of Japan’s most admired and prolific fine art photographers.

Maybe you were unaware of how Conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, whose work “speaks truth to power,” contributed to the look of the 90s activist industrial hip-hop group Consolidated. Or how Yayoi Kusama leant her eye-popping dots to Towa Tei’s bouncy, electronic pop for the former Deee-Lite DJ’s 2013 album Lucky.

We all know that Patti Smith’s debut album, Horses, features an iconic cover photo by her friend Robert Mapplethorpe. But did you know that the cover of Metallica’s 1996 album Load is a photographic study by artist Andreas Serrano—of Piss Christ fame—that mingles cow blood and his own semen between sheets of plexiglass?

You’ll find hundreds more such collaborations, though few as visceral, in Taschen’s new book Art Record Covers, a celebration of sound and vision in popular music. True to the arts publisher’s reputation for coffee table books the size of coffee tables, this survey is a comprehensive as they come.

The book presents 500 covers and records by visual artists from the 1950s through to today, exploring how modernism, Pop Art, Conceptual Art, postmodernism, and various forms of contemporary art practice have all informed this collateral field of visual production and supported the mass distribution of music with defining imagery that swiftly and suggestively evokes an aural encounter.

Along the way, we find Jean-Michel Basquiat’s urban hieroglyphs for his own Tartown record label, Banksy’s stenciled graffiti for Blur, Damien Hirst’s symbolic skull for the Hours, and a skewered Salvador Dalí butterfly on Jackie Gleason’s Lonesome Echo.

Editor Francesco Spampinato, an art historian studying at the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, has mostly kept the focus on pop, rock, punk, metal, alternative, and indie. Including the full breadth of jazz, avant-garde, and other world musics would offer examples enough to justify another volume or two of Art Record Covers.

The focus is suitably broad, nonetheless, to show how “visual and music production have had a particularly intimate relationship… since the dawn of modernism…. From Luigi Russolo’s 1913 Futurist manifesto L’Arte dei Rumori (The Art of Noise) to Marcel Duchamp’s 1925 double-sided discs Rotoreliefs.” It's also a great way to discover new art and new music, and to see the interrelationships between them in entirely new ways. Order a copy of Art Record Covers here.

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

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