Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

In 2001 or 2002, guitarist and singer David Gilmour of Pink Floyd recorded a musical interpretation of William Shakespeare's "Sonnet 18" at his home studio aboard the historic, 90-foot houseboat the Astoria. This video of Gilmour singing the sonnet was released as an extra on the 2002 DVD David Gilmour in Concert, but the song itself is connected with When Love Speaks, a 2002 benefit album for London's Royal Academy for the Dramatic Arts.

The project was organized by the composer and conductor Michael Kamen, who died a little more than a year after the album was released. When Love Speaks features a mixture of dramatic and musical performances of Shakespeare's Sonnets and other works, with artists ranging from John Gielgud to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Kamen wrote much of the music for the project, including the arrangement for Sonnet 18, which is sung on the album by Bryan Ferry. A special benefit concert to celebrate the release of the album was held on February 10, 2002 at the Old Vic Theatre in London, but Ferry did not attend. Gilmour appeared and sang the sonnet in his place. It was apparently around that time that Gilmour recorded his own vocal track for Kamen's song.

"Sonnet 18" is perhaps the most famous of Shakespeare's 154 sonnets. It was written in about 1595, and most scholars now agree the poem is addressed to a man. The sonnet is composed in iambic pentameter, with three rhymed quatrains followed by a concluding couplet:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

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Newly-Discovered John Coltrane Album, Blue World, To Be Released in September: Hear the Title Track Now

In the photo on the cover of soon-to-be-released Coltrane album Blue World, the legendary saxophonist and composer is shown in profile, gazing into the middle distance, resolute, vigilant, and searching—a ship’s captain sighting a new shore. Recorded at Rudy Van Gelder’s study in New Jersey in 1964, the collection of songs sees Coltrane guiding classic quartet of McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones between 1964's “epic albumCrescent and their 1965 masterpiece, A Love Supreme.

Like the “lost album,” Both Directions at Once—made in 1963 and released just last year—the newly-discovered Blue World showcases some excellent alternate takes of famous Coltrane compositions, as well as new (to most listeners) original material in the form of the title track, which you can hear in the video above. The album was recorded as a soundtrack to the film Le chat dans le sac by Quebecoise director Gilles Groulx, and the session’s “date had gone unnoticed” for decades “in session recordings logs” reports Nate Chinen at NPR. “The music has occupied a blind spot for Trane-ologists, archivists and historians.

The full album, to be released on September 27th, features two alternate takes of Giant Steps’ “Naima,” three takes of “Village Blues” and alternate recordings of “Like Sonny” and “Traneing In.” Blue World “offers a special opportunity,” notes Ashley Kahn in the album’s liner notes, “to compare these versions with previous perspectives, revealing both Coltrane’s personal progress and the interactive consistency and sonic details the Classic Quartet had firmly established as their collective signature.”

Fans of Groulx’s film will have heard 10 minutes of Blue World in the film, which is all the director ended up using of the 37-minute session, though the movie's first viewers may not have known exactly what they were hearing in the title track, whose “methodical yet unscripted push into different tonal centers,” writes Chinen, expresses “a form of incantatory fervor” as a prelude to A Love Supreme. This posthumous release presages Coltrane’s modal forms moving into what is arguably the greatest, and most personal, work of his career.

The album also joins the distinguished company of jazz soundtracks for French New Wave films, like the Miles Davis-scored Elevator to the Gallows, directed by Louis Malle. Inspired by Godard and his jazz-loving contemporaries, Groulx’s very New Wave style can be seen in the excerpts from Le Chat dans le sac in the video at the top (and in the full film here). Coltrane’s restless energy continues to surprise and inspire over fifty years after his death, showing, perhaps, that there really “is never any end,” as he told Nat Hentoff around the time of Blue World’s recording. “There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at” in his timeless sound.

Look for Blue World from Impulse! records on September 27th. See a full tracklist, courtesy of Spin, below.

01 Naima (Take 1)
02 Village Blues (Take 2)
03 Blue World
04 Village Blues (Take 1)
05 Village Blues (Take 3)
06 Like Sonny
07 Traneing In
08 Naima (Take 2)

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

How Joni Mitchell Wrote “Woodstock,” the Song that Defined the Legendary Music Festival, Even Though She Wasn’t There (1969)

Among the slew of iconic late-60s acts who played Woodstock 50 years ago, one name stands out conspicuously for her absence: Joni Mitchell. Was she not invited? Did she decline? Was she double-booked? Mitchell was, of course, invited, and eagerly wanted to be there. The story of her non-appearance involves alarming headlines in The New York Times and an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show the day after the festival that her manager, Elliot Roberts and label head David Geffen, decided she simply couldn’t miss.

Her significant other at the time, Graham Nash, reached the upstate New York festival with CSNY, “by helicopter and a stolen truck hot-wired by Neil Young,” reports the site Nightflight. But Geffen and Mitchell, seeing the headline “400,000 People Sitting in Mud,” and a description of the roads as “so clogged with cars that concertgoers were abandoning them and walking,” decided they shouldn’t take the risk. (She described the scene as a “national disaster area.”) Instead, they watched news about the mud-splattered event from Geffen’s New York City apartment (other accounts say they holed up in the Plaza Hotel).

So how is it Mitchell came to write the definitive Woodstock anthem, with its era-defining lyric “we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”? In the way of all artists—she watched, listened, and used her imagination to conjure a scene she only knew of secondhand. CSNY’s version of “Woodstock” (live, below, at Madison Square Garden in 2009) is the one we tend to hear most and remember, but Mitchell’s—her voice soaring high above her piano—best conveys the song’s sense of youthful hippie idealism, mystical wonder, and just a touch of desperation. (At the top, she plays the song live in Big Sur in 1969.) David Yaffe, author of Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell describes the song as “purgation. It is an omen that something very, very bad will happen with the mud dries and the hippies go home.”

Mitchell did make the Cavett Show gig, alongside Stephen Stills, David Crosby, and Jefferson Airplane, all just returning from the festival. But she didn’t have much to say. Instead, the gregarious Crosby does most of the talking, describing Woodstock as “incredible, probably the strangest thing that’s ever happened in the world.” Surveying the scene from a helicopter, he says, was like seeing “an encampment of a Macedonian army on a Greek hill crossed with the biggest batch of gypsies you ever saw.” Later on the show, Mitchell played “Chelsea Morning” and other songs, after performances by Jefferson Airplane.

“The deprivation of not being able to go,” she remembered, “provided me with an intense angle” on the festival. “Woodstock, for some reason, impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day fishes-and-loaves story. For a herd of people that large to cooperate so well, it was pretty remarkable and there was tremendous optimism. So I wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ out of these feelings, and the first three times I performed it in public, I burst into tears, because it brought back the intensity of the experience and was so moving.”

She did finally get the chance to play “Woodstock” at Woodstock, in 1998 (above, on electric guitar), for an appreciative long-haired, tie-dyed audience—many of them nostalgic for a moment they missed or were too young to have experienced. The performance highlights the “sense of longing that became essential to the song’s impact,” as Leah Rosenzweig writes at Vinyl Me, Please. “Sure, it was the irony of the century”: the song that best captured Woodstock for the people who weren’t there was written by someone who wasn’t there. “But it was also a perfect recipe for Mitchell to do what she did best: draw humans together while remaining completely on the sidelines.”

Related Content:

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Young Joni Mitchell Performs a Hit-Filled Concert in London (1970)

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

Hear Laurie Anderson Read from The Tibetan Book of the Dead on New Album Songs from the Bardo

Laurie Anderson began her career as an artist in the late 1960s, and since then she's made connections both personal and professional with many of the most influential cultural figures of the past five decades. She has also, inevitably, seen a fair few of them depart this earthly existence, including her husband Lou Reed. The question of what happens to the dead is, for Anderson, apparently not without interest, even in the case of the non-human dead: the 2015 documentary Heart of a Dog traces the journey of Anderson's late pet Lolabelle through the bardo, in Tibetan Buddhism the liminal state between death and rebirth.

The bardo is the central theme of Bardo Thodol, better known to Westerners in translation as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. On the new album Songs from the Bardo, Anderson reads from that eighth-century text with improvisational accompaniment by, among others, Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal and composer Jesse Paris Smith.

Stereogum's Peter Helman writes that "Smith, the daughter of punk legend Patti Smith" — one of the many still-living influential artists in Anderson's wide network — "first met Choegyal in 2008 at the annual Tibet House US Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall." Seven years later, they enlisted Anderson to narrate the first performed version of what would become Songs from the Bardo.

"Anderson narrates text from the Tibetan Book Of the Dead while Choegyal, Smith, cellist Rubin Kodheli, and percussionist Shahzad Ismaily provide the musical accompaniment," writes Helman. "Smith plays piano and creates drone beds using a collection of crystal bowls, while Choegyal incorporates traditional Tibetan instruments like lingbu (a bamboo flute), dranyen (a lute-like stringed instrument), singing bowls, gong, and his own voice." In the record's liner notes, Choegyal writes of trying to "channel the wisdom and traditions of my ancestors through my music in a very contemporary way while holding the depth of my lineage." The music, Anderson explains, "is meant to help you float out of your body, to go into these other realms, and to let yourself do that without boundaries."

You can get a taste of this transcendence from "Lotus Born, No Need to Fear" the first sample track from the album the group has released. On it Anderson reads of the experience of the bardo, where "consciousness becomes airy, speeding, swaying, and impermanent." For a Metafilter user named Capt. Renault, listening brings to mind another of Anderson's artworks: her virtual-realty piece Aloft, which "has you sitting in an empty airplane which disintegrates around you, leaving you high, high above the ground with no support. You are aware of the possibility of death, but Laurie's smooth, comforting voice leads to a complete absence of fear, and you are free to explore this world she's created. Because of Laurie, I faced my death and I didn't mind it."

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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.

Science Shows That Snowball the Cockatoo Has 14 Different Dance Moves: The Vogue, Headbang & More

We humans think we invented everything.

The wheel…

The printing press…


Well, we’re right about the first two.

Turns out the impulse to shake a tail feather isn’t an arbitrary cultural construct of humanity but rather a hard-wired neurological impulse in beings classified as vocal learners—us, elephants, dolphins, songbirds, and parrots like the Internet-famous sulphur-crested cockatoo, Snowball, above.

Animals outside of this elite set can be trained to execute certain physical moves, or they may just look like they’re dancing when tracking the movements of their food bowl or shimmying with relief at being picked up from doggy daycare.

Snowball, however, is truly dancing, thanks to his species’ capacity for hearing, then imitating sounds. Like every great spontaneous dancer, he’s got the music in him.

Aniruddh Patel, a Professor of Psychology at Tufts who specializes in music cognition, was the first to consider that Snowball’s habit of rocking out to the Backstreet Boys CD he’d had in his possession when dropped off at a parrot rescue center in Dyer, Indiana, was something more than a party trick.

Dr. Patel notes that parrots have more in common with dinosaurs than human beings, and that our monkey cousins don’t dance (much to this writer’s disappointment).

(Also, for the record? That goat who sings like Usher? It may sound like Usher, but you'll find no scientific support for the notion that its vocalizations constitute singing.)

Snowball, on the other hand, has made a major impression upon the Academy.

In papers published in Current Biology and Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Patel and his co-authors John R. Iversen, Micah R. Bregman, and Irena Schulz delved into why Snowball can dance like … well, maybe not Fred Astaire, but certainly your average moshing human.

After extensive observation, they concluded that an individual must possess five specific mental skills and predilections in order to move impulsively to music:

  1. They must be complex vocal learners, with the accompanying ability to connect sound and movement.
  2. They must be able to imitate movements.
  3. They must be able to learn complex sequences of actions.
  4. They must be attentive to the movements of others.
  5. They must form long-term social bonds.

Cockatoos can do all of this. Humans, too.

Patel’s former student R. Joanne Jao Keehn recently reviewed footage she shot in 2009 of Snowball getting down to Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust" and Cyndi Lauper’s "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," identifying 14 distinct moves.

According to her research, his favorites are Vogue, Head-Foot Sync, and Headbang with Lifted Foot.

If you’ve been hugging the wall since middle school, maybe it’s time to take a deep breath, followed by an avian dancing lesson.

How did Snowball come by his astonishing rug-cutting confidence? Certainly not by watching instructional videos on YouTube. His human companion Schulz dances with him occasionally, but doesn't attempt to teach him her moves, which she describes as "limited."

Much like two human partners, they’re not always doing the same thing at the same time.

And the choreography is purely Snowball’s.

As Patel told The Harvard Gazette:

It’s actually a complex cognitive act that involves choosing among different types of possible movement options. It’s exactly how we think of human dancing.

If he is actually coming up with some of this stuff by himself, it’s an incredible example of animal creativity because he’s not doing this to get food; he’s not doing this to get a mating opportunity, both of which are often motivations in examples of creative behavior in other species.

You can read more science-based articles inspired by Snowball and watch some of his many public appearances on the not-for-profit, donation-based sanctuary Bird Lovers Only’s website.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Listen Online to Every Minute of the Original Woodstock Festival

Image of Joe Cocker by Derek Redmond and Paul Campbel, via Wikimedia Commons

Lifehacker has this great tip. "Starting at 5:07 p.m. EST today, August 15, you can listen to every minute of the three days of concerts, courtesy of Philadelphia radio station WXPN. It will include all of the festival’s archived audio: from the iconic performances to the stage announcements to the rain delays. The exclusive broadcast will feature newly reconstructed audio archives of each of Woodstock’s 32 acts, starting with Richie Havens’ opening set, and continuing through to Jimi Hendrix’s closing performance on Sunday morning. According to a release from the station, it will be broadcast in as close to real time as possible.” To listen, go to this page, scroll down, and launch the media player.

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.

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Watch John Entwistle’s Bass-Playing Genius on Display in Isolated Tracks for “Won’t Be Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Reilly”

I guess it’s easy to be “The Quiet One” in The Who when surrounded by a preening singer with golden locks, a guitarist with a windmill arm who smashes his equipment, and a completely insane drummer (on and off stage). But John Entwistle helped root the band by standing still and delivering some of the meatiest and beatiest licks and melodic runs in ‘60s rock.

The above footage salvaged from the doc The Kids Are Alright shows the master at work. “Won’t Be Fooled Again” isn’t known as a bass-forward song, so this isolated track from a live take show will make you hear it anew. Entwistle plays his bass like an electric lead, doubling the drums sometimes, other times mimicking the vocals. He plays triplets and runs. He zooms up the neck, slides down, arpeggiates, the lot. It’s thick. Just hit play.

As some YouTube wag points out, it’s something of a bass player joke come to life at the end, where Entwistle leaves his bass onstage and walks off, while a girl rushes out of the audience to embrace the lead singer. Such is life in a band.

From the same shoot, you can also check out his isolated bass from “Baba O’Reilly.” Entwistle has a three-note riff to work with. He stays true to it while filling in spaces here and there with distortion turned way up. At the end he has a sip of (I assume) water and looks about as excited as when he started.

In the mid-nineties, Entwistle was interviewed for a book on drummer Keith Moon. Author Tony Fletcher caught him in an honest mood:

“I wasted my whole fucking career on The Who,” he said between gulps of Remy Martin brandy, his favourite tipple. “Complete fucking waste of time. I should be a multi-millionaire. I should be retired by now. I’ll be known as an innovative bass player. But that doesn’t help get my swimming pool rebuilt and let me sit on my arse watching TV all day. I wouldn’t want to, but I’d like the chance to be able to.”

Not all rock bands consist of best friends, and some are downright rancorous. But that’s often what brings out the best in people. So as you gaze at Entwistle stifling a yawn during these two clips, consider his confession and enjoy.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

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