The Internet Archive Is Digitizing & Preserving Over 100,000 Vinyl Records: Hear 750 Full Albums Now

There seems to be widespread agreement—something special was lost in the rushed-to-market move from physical media to digital streaming. We have come to admit that some older musical technologies cannot be improved upon. Musicians, producers, engineers spend thousands to replicate the sound of older analog recording technology, with all its quirky, inconsistent operation. And fans buy record players and vinyl records in surprisingly increasing numbers to hear the warm and fuzzy character of their sound.

Neil Young, who has relentlessly criticized every aspect of digital recording, has dismissed the resurgence of the LP as a “fashion statement” given that most new albums released on vinyl are digital masters. But buyers come to vinyl with a range of expectations, writes Ari Herstand at Digital Music News: “Vinyl is an entire experience. Wonderfully tactile…. When we stare at our screens for the majority of our days, it’s nice to look at art that doesn’t glow and isn’t the size of my hand.” Vinyl can feel and look as good as it sounds (when properly engineered).

While shiny, digitally mastered vinyl releases pop up in big box stores everywhere, the real musical wealth lies in the past—in thousands upon thousands of LPs, 45s, 78s—relics of “the only consumer playback format we have that’s fully analog and fully lossless,” says vinyl mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves. Few institutions can afford to store thousands of physical albums, and many rarities and oddities exist in vanishingly fewer copies. Their crackle and hiss may be forever lost without the intervention of digital preservationists like the Internet Archive.

The Archive is “now expanding its digitization project to include LPs,” reports Faye Lessler on the organization’s blog. This will come as welcome news to cultural historians, analog conservationists, and vinyl enthusiasts of all kinds, who will mostly agree that digitization is far better than extinction, though the tactile and visual pleasures may be irreplaceable. The Archive has focused its efforts on the over 100,000 audio recordings from the Boston Public Library’s collection, “in order to prevent them from disappearing forever when the vinyl is broken, warped, or lost."

“These recordings exist in a variety of historical formats, including wax cylinders, 78 rpms, and LPs," though the project is currently focused on the latter. "They span musical genres including  classical, pop, rock, and jazz, and contain obscure recordings like this album of music for baton twirlers, and this record of radio’s all-time greatest bloopers.” The method of rapidly converting the artifacts at the rate of ten LPs per hour (which you can read more about at the Archive blog) serves as a testament to what digital technology does best—using machine learning and metadata to automate the archival process and create extensive, searchable databases of catalogue information.

Currently, the project has uploaded 1,180 recordings to its site, “but some of the albums are only available in 30 second snippets due to rights issues,” Lessler points out. Browse the "Unlocked Recordings" category to hear 750 digitized LPs available in full: these include a recording of Gian Carlo Menotti's ballet The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore, further up; The Begetting of the President, above, a satire of Nixon's rise to power as Biblical epic, read by Orson Welles in his King of Kings' voice; and Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto no. 1 in B-flat minor, played by Van Cliburn, below.

The range and variety captured in this collection—from fireworks sound effects to Elton John’s second, self-titled album to classic Pearl Baily to 80s new wave band The Communards to Andres Segovia playing Bach to the Smokey and the Bandit 2 soundtrack—will outlast copyright restrictions. And they will leave behind an extensive record, no pun intended, of the LP: “our primary musical medium for over a generation," says the Archive's special projects director CR Saikley, "witness to the birth of both Rock & Roll and Punk Rock... integral to our culture from the 1950s to the 1980s." Vinyl remains the most revered of musical formats for good reason—reasons future generations will discover, at least virtually, for themselves someday.

via Kottke

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25,000+ 78RPM Records Now Professionally Digitized & Streaming Online: A Treasure Trove of Early 20th Century Music

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

An Animated Leonard Cohen Offers Reflections on Death: Thought-Provoking Excerpts from His Final Interview

A month before Leonard Cohen died in November, 2016, The New Yorker's editor David Remnick traveled to the songwriter’s Los Angeles home for a lengthy interview in which Cohen looked both forward and back.

As a former Zen monk, he was also adept at inhabiting the present, one in which the shadow of death crept ever closer.

His former lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, had succumbed to cancer earlier in the summer, two days after receiving a frank and loving email from Cohen:

Well, Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.

The New Yorker has never shied from over-the-top physical descriptions. The courteous, highly verbal young poet, who’d evinced “a kind of Michael Corleone Before the Fall look, sloe-eyed, dark, a little hunched” was now very thin, but still handsome, with the handshake of “a courtly retired capo.”

In addition to an album, You Want It Darker, to promote, Cohen had a massive backlog of unpublished poems and unfinished lyrics to tend to before the sands of time ran out.

At 82, he seemed glad to have all his mental faculties and the support of a devoted personal assistant, several close friends and his two adult children, all of which allowed him to maintain his music and language-based workaholic habits.

Time, as he noted, provides a powerful incentive for finishing up, despite the challenges posed by the weakening flesh:

At a certain point, if you still have your marbles and are not faced with serious financial challenges, you have a chance to put your house in order. It’s a cliché, but it’s underestimated as an analgesic on all levels. Putting your house in order, if you can do it, is one of the most comforting activities, and the benefits of it are incalculable.

He had clearly made peace with the idea that some of his projects would go unfinished.

You can hear his fondness for one of them, a “sweet little song” that he recited from memory, eyes closed, in the animated interview excerpt, above:

Listen to the hummingbird

Whose wings you cannot see

Listen to the hummingbird

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the butterfly

Whose days but number three

Listen to the butterfly

Don’t listen to me.

Listen to the mind of God

Which doesn’t need to be

Listen to the mind of God

Don’t listen to me.

These unfinished thoughts close out Cohen's beautifully named posthumous album, Thanks for the Dance, scheduled for release later this month.

Dianne V. Lawrence, who designed Cohen’s hummingbird logo, a motif beginning with 1979's Recent Songs album, speculates that Cohen equated the hummingbird’s enormous energy usage and sustenance requirements with those of the soul.

Read Remnick’s article on Leonard Cohen in its entirety here. Hear a recording of David Remnick's interview with Cohen--his last ever--below:

Related Content:

Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Interview: Recorded by David Remnick of The New Yorker

Leonard Cohen’s Last Work, The Flame Gets Published: Discover His Final Poems, Drawings, Lyrics & More

How Leonard Cohen Wrote a Love Song

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

Lou Reed’s Mixtape for Andy Warhol Discovered by Cornell University Professor: Features 12 Previously Unreleased Songs

Image via Wikimedia Commons

It’s every researcher’s dream: that somewhere among the pile of materials lies gold, an undiscovered masterpiece, or an unknown piece to a puzzle that complicates conventional knowledge. That’s what Cornell University’s Judith Peraino discovered while going through some of the 3,500 cassettes in the Andy Warhol archive. Here she found a mix-tape cassette that Lou Reed had made for Andy in the mid-seventies, with one side a selection of songs from recent live gigs, the other side containing 12 unknown and unreleased songs by Reed, accompanied by only his guitar, recorded at home in New York City.

Labeled “The Philosophy Songs (From A to B and Back),” the songs are Reed’s response to Warhol’s 1975 book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, which his mentor had sent to Reed in galley proof. Their relationship was always difficult. After an unpleasant breakup after the Velvet Underground came out from under Warhol’s shadow, the two never worked together again. But they kept in touch in the way that certain bitter exes do: keeping it cordial, possibly considering working together again, then realizing why they broke up in the first place.

Prof. Peraino surmised that the tape is related to a musical Warhol wanted to create with Reed based on Warhol’s book. And in fact Reed uses passages from the book as jumping off points for the lyrics, she found. There’s a song each about “fame, sex, and the business of art,” and two about drag queens. But Reed used other songs to criticize Warhol for his seeming indifference to the deaths of Factory stars Candy Darling and Eric Emerson, adding that he should have died after being shot in 1968. Reed then apologies to Warhol at the end of the song.

Because her research was about the beginnings of mixtape culture, queerness, and Warhol’s endless boxes of cassettes, she is excited about both sides of the tape. Mixtapes, she explains, were a way for people to communicate complex emotions without having to simply write them down. Songs strike emotional chords in so many ways.

The tape “is an example of Lou Reed curating himself, putting together an ideal set list for Andy Warhol,” Peraino says in Cornell’s video interview. “I see the message of the tape as being both courtship and breakup in a sense. The one side is saying, look at me, what I’ve able to do this year...and now look at you.”

Apart from a 30-second excerpt, found on Variety’s web page, there are no current plans to release something so rough, and with so many rights issues at stake.

Lou Reed did go on to make something similar however, when in 1990 he wrote Songs for Drella with fellow Velvet John Cale.

via Cornell

Related Content:

Watch Andy Warhol Eat an Entire Burger King Whopper–While Wishing the Burger Came from McDonald’s (1981)

Andy Warhol Demystified: Four Videos Explain His Groundbreaking Art and Its Cultural Impact

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Meet the Characters Immortalized in Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”: The Stars and Gay Rights Icons from Andy Warhol’s Factory Scene

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.

Watch J.S. Bach’s “Air on the G String” Played on the Actual Instruments from His Time

There is no wrong way to listen to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. You may prefer the austere, idiosyncratic piano interpretations of Glenn Gould; you may prefer the groundbreaking analog-synthesizer renditions painstakingly recorded by Wendy Carlos (whose early fans included Gould himself); or you may prefer faithful performances using only the instruments extant in the late 17th to mid-18th century period in which Bach lived. In that last case, the San Francisco early-music ensemble Voices of Music has you covered. You may remember us previously featuring their performances of Vivaldi and Pachelbel; in the video above, you can hear and see them play Bach.

More specifically, you can hear them play the second movement, Aria, from Bach's orchestral suite in D Major, BWV 1068. The instruments they play it on include an Italian baroque violin from 1660 and an Austrian baroque viola from 1680, as well as more recently crafted examples rigorously modeled after instruments from that same era. "As instruments became modernized in the 19th century, builders and players tended to focus on the volume of sound and the stability of tuning," says VoM's explanation of their use of period instruments. "Modern steel strings replaced the older materials, and instruments were often machine made. Historical instruments, built individually by hand and with overall lighter construction, have extremely complex overtones — which we find delightful."

Any lover of Bach's music has heard this piece many times, not least due to its popularization in the late 19th century, in an arrangement by German violinist August Wilhelmj, as "Air on the G String." The original work dates to "some time between the years 1717 and 1723," writes music blogger Özgür Nevres, when Bach composed it for his patron Prince Leopold of Anhalt. It also holds the honor of being the first work by Bach ever recorded, "by the Russian cellist Aleksandr Verzhbilovich and an unknown pianist, in 1902 (as the Air from the Overture No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068)." But no matter how many different recordings from different eras of Bach's orchestral suite in D Major in which you've steeped yourself, if you've only heard it played on modern instruments, a performance like Voices of Music's shows that it still has surprises to offer.

Related Content:

Hear the Sounds of the Actual Instruments for Which Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and Handel Originally Composed Their Music

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The Authentic Pachelbel’s Canon: Watch a Performance Based on the Original Manuscript & Played with Original 17th-Century Instruments

Watch Glenn Gould Perform His Last Great Studio Recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (1981)

All of Bach for Free! New Site Will Put Performances of 1080 Bach Compositions Online

How a Bach Canon Works. Brilliant

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.

Oscar-Nominated Composer Danny Elfman Teaches an Online Course on Writing Music for Film: A Look Inside His Creative Process

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

To have watched some of the greatest film and television in the last thirty-five years is to have been immersed in the music of Mark Mothersbaugh and Danny Elfman—two artists who have scored Hollywood blockbusters and indie hits alike since the mid-eighties when they started on TV’s Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Tim Burton’s 1985 comedy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, respectively. They also happen to have played in two of the 1980’s weirdest, most experimental New Wave bands, Devo and Oingo Boingo.

Mothersbough went on to score everything from Rugrats to Thor: Ragnarok, but he’s maybe best known for his work with Wes Anderson. Likewise, Elfman—who has worked with everyone from Gus Van Sant to Brian De Palma to Peter Jackson to Ang Lee—formed a creative bond with Burton, to such a degree that it's near impossible to imagine a Tim Burton film without a Danny Elfman score.

When Burton first approached him for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, the Oingo Boingo frontman was just about to release “Weird Science,” for the infamous John Hughes film of the same name. Already a band with a massive cult following, they became pop stars, and Elfman became one of the most distinctive film composers of the last several decades.

He scored Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and, most recently, Burton’s Dumbo. Now he’s sharing his secrets for aspiring film composers everywhere with his very own Masterclass. “I’m going to tell you from my perspective,” he says in the trailer above, “how I do these things": things including instrumentation, orchestration, melody, and tone—"the most important thing you’re going to capture in a film score."

In the screenshots here, see excerpts of the course topics, which include units on the films Milk, The Unknown Known, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, an example of “writing specifically for a character”—a character, Jack Skellington, whose singing voice Elfman also provided.

For those who feel they’ll never measure up to a career like Danny Elfman’s, he introduces all important units on insecurity and failure. Perhaps the most important lesson of all, he says above, with infectious enthusiasm, is learning that “it’s okay to fail, to feel insecure. Doubting yourself, finding confidence and moving forward, and then doubting what you’ve just done…. I think this is the life of a composer. I think it’s the life of an artist.”

Can such things be taught, or can they only be lived? Each teacher and student of the arts must at some point ask themselves this question. Perhaps they only learn the answer when they try, and fail, and try again anyway. Register for Elfman’s class for a single fee of $90, or pay $199 for an all-access pass to 60+ masterclass courses taught by other moviemaking greats like Hans Zimmer, Samuel L. Jackson, David Lynch, and more.

Related Content:

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

Bowie’s Bookshelf: A New Essay Collection on The 100 Books That Changed David Bowie’s Life

Like some rock stars of his generation, David Bowie had a literary cast of mind; unlike most of those colleagues, he also made his association with books explicit. (Not for nothing did he appear on that READ poster.) Whenever this subject arises, it's tempting to bring up the story of how The Man Who Fell to Earth director Nicolas Roeg poked fun at the extreme number of books with which Bowie surrounded himself during the time he was acting in that film, as we did when we posted about the David Bowie book club. Launched by Bowie's son, the filmmaker Duncan Jones, that project was meant to read through Bowie's own list of top 100 books, previously featured here on Open Culture. Now, thanks to the work of music journalist John O'Connell, Bowie's love of books has a book of its own.

Published in the UK as Bowie's Books and in the US as Bowie's Bookshelf, O'Connell's essay collection takes the 100 books the man who was Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke named as favorites. In each he finds the relevant questions (or at least fascinating ones) to ask about each book's relationship to Bowie's life and work: "How did the power imbued in a single suit of armor in The Iliad impact a man who loved costumes, shifting identity, and the siren song of the alter-ego?" Or, "How did the poems of T.S. Eliot and Frank O’Hara, the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov and Anthony Burgess, the comics of The Beano and The Viz, and the groundbreaking politics of James Baldwin influence Bowie’s lyrics, his sound, his artistic outlook?"

Kirkus Reviews notes that "many of Bowie’s selections speak to his obvious passion for music, especially early rock ’n’ roll and R&B (Greil Marcus, Gerri Hershey), his famous Japanophilia (Yukio Mishima, Tadanori Yokoo), and his stint in Germany (Alfred Döblin, Otto Friedrich)." O'Connell's completist analysis of Bowie's top-100-books list, composed for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum just six years ago, also reveals "the range and playfulness in Bowie’s reading, from hefty tomes on the Russian Revolution to laddish comic books like The Beano." Other essays cover LolitaThe Gnostic GospelsA Confederacy of Dunces, and White Noise, all part of a mixture that would tantalize any cultural critic — much like the work of David Bowie, who still constitutes a culture unto himself.

Bowie's Bookshelf: The Hundred Books that Changed David Bowie's Life will be published in the US on November 12. The UK version comes out two days later. Both can be preordered now.

Related Content:

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The Story of How David Jones Became David Bowie Gets Told in a New Graphic Novel

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David Bowie Picks His 12 Favorite David Bowie Songs: Listen to Them Online

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.

The Entire Archive of Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music Has Been Digitized and Put Online

FYI on a new digitization project:

"Contact: A Journal for Contemporary Music was active from 1971–1990 and independently published by its editors. As with many independent print publications of that era, this has meant that, for readers and researchers operating in a contemporary digital landscape, the richness of its resource has been all but inaccessible. In recognition of this situation, in the years 2016–2019, the entire journal was digitised and made available over the course of a three-year research project.."

"Contact’s basic intentions – as set out fully in the first issue, dated Spring 1971 – were to promote informed discussion of 20th-century music in general and the music of our own time in particular. Among the original concerns of the founders of the magazine were that popular musics, jazz and contemporary folk music should play a part in our scheme. In the earlier days, especially, we continually sought for good writing in these fields, as well as contributions on ‘serious’ music."

Enter the Contact online archive here...

via @ideoforms

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