When Kraftwerk Issued Their Own Pocket Calculator Synthesizer — to Play Their Song “Pocket Calculator” (1981)

Kraftwerk put out their eighth studio album in 1981, and they titled it presciently: Computer World was released into what humanity had only just begun to realize would become a world of computers. But back then, most people either had never used a computer at all, or had used no computer more advanced than a pocket calculator. But the boys from Düsseldorf had a song for them too: the album's first single "Pocket Calculator." And it wasn't just a name: the Casio fx-501P programmable calculator appeared on the list of "instruments" used in its recording.

Kraftwerk had become world-famous by the early 1980s, and on the international music scene they parodied the stiff, precision-obsessed German stereotype to perfection. You'd think that they would thus demonstrate allegiance to the formidable Dieter Rams-designed Braun ET55 calculator, but by the time Computer Love came out, Japanese companies like Casio had come to dominate the personal-electronics market. Kraftwerk even recorded a Japanese version of "Pocket Calulator," "Dentaku," along with ones in German ("Taschenrechner"), French ("Mini Calculateur"), and Italian ("Mini Calcolatore").

"I'm the operator with my pocket calculator," go the song's English lyrics. "I am adding and subtracting. I'm controlling and composing." And whichever language you listen to it in, it has a line equivalent to, "By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody."

Kraftwerk actually commissioned as a promotional item a special calculator from Casio that could do just that, a version of the company's VL-80 model that was also a musical synthesizer. You can see and hear the basic, non-Kraftwerk model demonstrated in the video above. Casio, a name that in the music world would become a byword for simple, inexpensive synthesizers, had already brought to market in 1979 the VL-1, the first commercial digital synthesizer (which itself included a calculator function).

With a Kraftwerk taschenrechner, even those without technical or musical knowledge, let alone a full-fledged synthesizer, could make music. "Kraftwerk was eager for fans to play Kraftwerk hits on their own calculators," writes Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider, "so they issued these special instructions — OK, let’s call it 'sheet music' — to play not just the new material but also classics like 'Trans Europa Express' and 'Schaufensterpuppen.'" Today, Kraftwerk continues to perform all over the computer world in which we now live. With the 40th anniversary of Computer World approaching, perhaps the time has come to bring the calculators back on stage.

(via Dangerous Minds)

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch the First Trailer for Martin Scorsese’s New Film, Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story 

Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story "captures the troubled spirit of America in 1975, and the joyous music that Bob Dylan performed that fall [during the Rolling Thunder Revue tour]. Master filmmaker Martin Scorsese creates a one-of-a-kind movie experience: part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream. Featuring Joan Baez, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Sam Shepard, Allen Ginsberg, and Bob Dylan giving his first on-camera interview in over a decade. The film goes beyond mere reclamation of Dylan’s extraordinary music—it’s a roadmap into the wild country of artistic self-reinvention."

Watch the brand new trailer above, and mark June 12th on your calendar when the film arrives on Netflix.

Relatedly, June 7th is when Dylan will release The Rolling Thunder Revue: The 1975 Live Recordings, a 14CD box set that features all five sets from the Rolling Thunder Revue tour that were professionally recorded.

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Watch John Bonham’s Blistering 13-Minute Drum Solo on “Moby Dick,” One of His Finest Moments Live Onstage (1970)

Sometimes I play air drums, when at home before a roaring pair of speakers. No one would know it, but I’m not half bad. Except when it comes to jazz. Then it’s too ridiculous even for solitary goofing off. But I’m just competent enough to fake most basic rock beats… most… that is, but those of the most loudly sung drummers in classic rock: Keith Moon and John Bonham.

In categories all their own, it’s no surprise both drummers loved jazz, especially the hyperkinetic Gene Krupa. (Tragically, they also shared an interest in fatal overindulgence.) They took some common influences, however, in very different directions.

For one thing, Moon hated drum solos, that staple of the jazz drummer’s kit. The one exception to his rule may be Moon’s last appearance onstage in 1977, playing percussion in a cameo on Bonham’s solo on “Moby Dick,” one of the Led Zeppelin drummer’s finest moments. “Bonham was known to solo on this song for up to 30 minutes live!” writes Drum! magazine. It’s even said he “sometimes drew blood performing ‘Moby Dick’ from using his bare hands to beat his snare and tom toms.”

The live version above, clocking in at a mere 15 minutes, comes from a 1970 show at Royal Albert Hall. Robert Plant introduces the drummer with his full name, John Henry Bonham, before he even names the song. Then, after a minute of Page, Bonham, and Jones playing the opening riff together, the solo begins.

Bonham leads us in slowly at first, then, with jaw-dropping skill, puts on display what made him “a very special drummer” indeed, as the site Classic Rock writes: “doing things with a bass pedal that it took two of James Brown’s drummers to try and emulate—and they knew a bit about rhythm.”

His “pioneering use of bass drum triplets” is only a small part of his “important discovery that all drumming is just triplets, or should be,” declares Michael Fowler’s reverently tongue-in-cheek McSweeney’s tribute. “The next step, he saw, was in speeding up the beat without losing the basic triplet pattern… flying around the kit with blinding speed, hitting every drum and cymbal in those negligible spaces.”

Bonham’s ridiculously fast and complex patterns—whether deployed in half-hour solos or five-second drum fills (as above in “Achilles Last Stand” from 1979)—“shouldn’t be humanly possible,” Dave Grohl once said. But they were possible for the great John Bonham, born on May 31st, 1948.

“Let’s face it,” writes Fowler, “no one else does or ever will” sound like Led Zeppelin’s drummer. Celebrate his just-belated birthday by revisiting more of his greatest live moments at Drum! and, just below, hear Robert Plant sing “Happy Birthday” to his celebrated bandmate in 1973.

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

Elton John Takes Us Through the Creative Process of His Early Hit “Tiny Dancer” (1970)

We all have our favorites from Elton John’s vast catalog, and I’ll admit that 1970’s "Tiny Dancer" has never been one of mine.

Call me crass, but I tend to get it confused with 1973's "Candle in the Wind," which John retooled so swiftly for Princess Diana’s 1997 funeral.

But then Sir Elton—or “Reg” as close friends and long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin call the artist formerly known as Reginald Kenneth Dwight—has always had a knack for working quickly, as Taupin explains above.

I’d never been curious enough to investigate, but assumed, correctly, that the lyric “seamstress for the band” referred to an actual person.

John actually seems a bit blasé, explaining that it’s about Taupin’s then girlfriend and eventual first wife, Maxine Feibelman, whom I must thank for inadvertently supplying the title of my favorite track, "The Bitch is Back," which was her code phrase for “Elton’s in a mood.”

As per Sir Elton, "Tiny Dancer"’s lyrics informed the sound, which is more ballerina than pirate smile.

And while the original liner notes’ dedication suggests that "Tiny Dancer" is indeed a tribute to Feibelman, three wives later, Taupin revised things a bit, telling author Gavin Edwards:

We came to California in the fall of 1970, and sunshine radiated from the populace. I was trying to capture the spirit of that time, encapsulated by the women we met—especially at the clothes stores up and down the Strip in L.A. They were free spirits, sexy in hiphuggers and lacy blouses, and very ethereal, the way they moved. So different from what I'd been used to in England. And they all wanted to sew patches on your jeans. They'd mother you and sleep with you—it was the perfect Oedipal complex.

Writer-director Cameron Crowe must’ve absorbed that message, to go by his memorable use of the song in Almost Famous’ tour bus scene,

Those communal good vibes permeate director Max Weiland’s winning entry in a recent John-sponsored contest on The Cut, which, like the opening scene of La La Land, gets a lot of mileage from LA’s reputation for traffic jams.

Can ticket buyers expect to find the song featured prominently in the just released John biopic, Rocketman?


(Just kidding. Why else would John and his Rocketman doppelgänger, actor Taron Egerton choose that one for a duet at John’s annual Oscar party?)

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Cure Performed the Entire “Disintegration” Album on the 30th Anniversary of Its Release: Watch The Complete Concert Online

30 years after its original release, The Cure performed the entirety of their 1989 album Disintegration at a concert held this past Thursday at The Sydney Opera House. Disintegration remains the band's best-selling album to date, and it now ranks #326 on Rolling Stone's list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." You can watch the show, from start to finish, above. Find a setlist, with timestamps, below.

17:15 Delirious Night

23:44 Fear of Ghosts

30:45 No Heart

34:20 Esten

38:17 2 Late

41:10 Out of Mind

44:46 Babble

54:42 Plainsong

59:25 Pictures of You

1:06:44 Closedown

1:11:00 Lovesong

1:14:40 Last Dance

1:19:52 Lullaby

1:24:46 Fascination Street

1:29:47 Prayers for Rain

1:35:34 The Same Deep Water as You

1:44:47 Disintegration

1:53:11 Homesick

2:00:16 Untitled

2:10:55 Burn @​

2:17:52 Three Imaginary Boys

2:21:30 Pirate Ships

via Laughing Squid

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Metallica, REM, Led Zeppelin & Queen Sung in the Style of Gregorian Chant

Gregorian chants became a thing very briefly in the early 1990s, when German electronic group Enigma combined them with the Soul II Soul “Keep On Movin’” drum loop and that everpresent shakuhachi sample for “Sadness Part One”. And then that song was *everywhere* for the first half of the 90s, giving rise to chillout music like the Orb and The Future Sound of London.

Gregorian music faded away as a trend in dance music, but it’s never really gone away. Bolstered by some claims that the soothing voices help increase alpha waves in the brain, groups like Gregorian (created by Enigma’s Frank Peterson) set about arranging pop songs in the Gregorian style, starting in 1999.

Others have followed suit, or should I say followed cowl (such as Auscultate, which created the Queen cover below).

But Gregorian (the group) is the king of them all, and Petersen’s project has gone on to sell over 5.5 million albums.

Corny or not, the project is immensely popular worldwide, and has produced ten “Masters of Chant” albums, along with Christmas CDs and such. And while our current pop stars have to get into athletic condition for their Vegas-like shows, there’s something to be said for a group of blokes just standing around on stage singing in unison like they’re in a crypt. Looks like a decent gig. Here's a full concert:

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

1980s Metalhead Kids Are Alright: Scientific Study Shows That They Became Well-Adjusted Adults

In the 1980s, The Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), an organization co-founded by Tipper Gore and the wives of several other Washington power brokers, launched a political campaign against pop music, hoping to put warning labels on records that promoted Sex, Violence, Drug and Alcohol Use. Along the way, the PMRC issued "the Filthy Fifteen," a list of 15 particularly objectionable songs. Hits by Madonna, Prince and Cyndi Lauper made the list. But the list really took aim at heavy metal bands from the 80s -- namely, Judas Priest, Mötley Crüe, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., Def Leppard, Black Sabbath, and Venom. (Interesting footnote: the Soviets separately created a list of blackballed rock bands, and it looked pretty much the same.)

Above, you can watch Twisted Sister's Dee Snider appear before Congress in 1985 and accuse the PMRC of misinterpreting his band's lyrics and waging a false war against metal music. The evidence 30 years later suggests that Snider perhaps had a point.

A study by psychology researchers at Humboldt StateOhio State, UC Riverside and UT Austin "examined 1980s heavy metal groupies, musicians, and fans at middle age" -- 377 participants in total -- and found that, although metal enthusiasts certainly lived riskier lives as kids, they were nonetheless "significantly happier in their youth and better adjusted currently than either middle-aged or current college-age youth comparison groups." This left the researchers to contemplate one possible conclusion: "participation in fringe style cultures may enhance identity development in troubled youth." Not to mention that heavy metal lyrics don't easily turn kids into damaged goods.

You can read the report, Three Decades Later: The Life Experiences and Mid-Life Functioning of 1980s Heavy Metal Groupies here. And, right above, listen to an interview with one of the researchersTasha Howe, a former headbanger herself, who spoke yesterday with Michael Krasny on KQED radio in San Francisco.

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

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

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

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