Hear Glenn Gould Channel Marshall McLuhan and Create an Experimental Radio Documentary Analyzing the Pop Music of Petula Clark (1967)

Glenn Gould, that intellectually intense, aesthetically austere interpreter of Johann Sebastian Bach, had little time for pop music. He had especially little time for the Beatles: "Theirs is a happy, cocky, belligerently resourceless brand of harmonic primitivism," he wrote in High Fidelity in 1967, when the Fab Four had reached the top of the zeitgeist. "The indulgent amateurishness of the musical material, though closely rivaled by the indifference of the performing style, is actually surpassed only by the ineptitude of the studio production method," he declares, likening "Strawberry Fields Forever" to "a mountain wedding between Claudio Monteverdi and a jug band."

But the Beatle-bashing was incidental to the purpose of the article, a paean to English singer Petula Clark. At first listen, her four singles on which Gould focuses his analysis — 1964's "Downtown," 1956's "My Love," and 1966's "A Sign of the Times" and "Who Am I?" — sound like nothing more than adolescent-oriented pop hardly touched by any of that decade's musical (or indeed social) revolutions. But "this quartet of hits," in Gould's view, "was designed to convey the idea that, bound as she might be by limitations of timbre and range, she would not accept any corresponding restrictions of theme and sentiment," with the result that she came to command an audience "large, constant, and possessed of an enthusiasm which transcends the generations."




Gould says all this in The Search for Petula Clark, a 23-minute radio documentary that aired on the CBC on December 11, 1967, less than three weeks before his much better-known experimental documentary The Idea of North. He situates his analysis of the singer he calls "Pet Clark," which gets into not just her songs' themes and lyrics but their technical qualities as music, in the context of a solo road trip around Lake Superior when "Who Am I?" first hit the airwaves. So compelled did he find himself that he timed his drive to get within range of one of the radio stations scattered across the vastness of his homeland at the top of each hour in order to hear the song over and over again, after 700 miles he got to "know it if not better than the soloist, at least as well, perhaps, as most of the sidemen."

Though born within two months of each other in 1932 and thereafter living lives dedicated to music, Gould and Clark would seem to have little else in common. While Gould died at 50, Clark, at the age of 85, continues to both record and perform. Gould, as J.D. Connor writes in an essay on The Search for Petula Clark, "stopped performing for live audiences in 1964. Freed from the rigors of the concert circuit, he dove into radio and television at just the moment when he and Canadian state media could parlay his immense musical popularity into something more."  This and the more intricate radio productions that would follow both sprang from and allowed Gould to construct "a media theory of his own. In print, on television, and, most important, on radio, Gould became the great complement to Marshall McLuhan." And like McLuhan, when Gould obsesses over something that never seemed to merit serious attention, we'd do well to heed the insights he draws from it.

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

Listen to Glenn Gould’s Shockingly Experimental Radio Documentary, The Idea of North (1967)

If genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains, Glenn Gould merits each and every one of the many applications of the word "genius" to his name. The world knows that name primarily as one of a genius of the piano, of course, especially when interpreting the genius of Johann Sebastian Bach, but he also made an impression in his homeland of Canada as a genius of the radio editing suite. Having recorded for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's classical-and-jazz record label CBC Records placed him well to realize his ideas on the CBC's airwaves, most memorably in the form of The Idea of North, an hourlong meditation on the vast, cold expanse that constitutes the top third of the country, which first aired on December 28, 1967.

The broadcast's fiftieth anniversary has prompted Canadians and non-Canadians alike to have another listen to Gould's best-known radio project, back then shockingly experimental and still boldly unconventional today. "The pianist used a technique he called 'contrapuntal radio,' layering speaking voices on top of each other to create a unique sonic environment situated in the space between conversation and music," says the site of CBC's Ideas, which recently aired a new episode about the making of The Idea of North called Return to North.




The page quotes Gould biographer Geoffrey Payzant as describing it and Gould's subsequent documentaries as "hybrids of music, drama, and several other strains, including essay, journalism, anthropology, ethics, social commentary, [and] contemporary history."

One might might well compare The Idea of North's form to that of a fugue, the type of complex contrapuntal composition so closely associated with Bach and thus with Gould as well. But the form also serves the substance, "that incredible tapestry of tundra and taiga which constitutes the Arctic and sub-Arctic of our country," as Gould himself puts it in the broadcast's introduction. "I've read about it, written about it, and even pulled up my parka once and gone there," he continues, but like most Canadians remained ever "an outsider" to the North, "and the North has remained for me, a convenient place to dream about, spin tall tales about, and, in the end, avoid."

The North also offered Gould a powerful symbol of solitude, a condition which he sought throughout his life, especially after quitting live performance to focus exclusively on the studio shortly before making The Idea of North. In the decade thereafter he made two more formally and thematically similar documentaries, one on coastal Newfoundlanders and another on Mennonites in Manitoba, and the three together make up his "Solitude Trilogy." A television film of The Idea of North, co-produced by the CBC and PBS, appeared in 1970, layering images of the North atop of the words about the North Gould had collected. It certainly adds a dimension to Gould's painstakingly constructed audio collage, but somehow pure radio, the old "theater of the mind," still suits it best: the images of the North he wanted to evoke, one senses just as well now as half a century ago, exist only in the mind.

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

Hear the Christmas Carols Made by Alan Turing’s Computer: Cutting-Edge Versions of “Jingle Bells” and “Good King Wenceslas” (1951)

Alan Turing (right) stands next to the Ferranti Mark I. Photo courtesy of the University of Manchester

This Christmas, as our computers fast learn to compose music by themselves, we might gain some perspective by casting our minds back to 66 Christmases ago, a time when a computer's rendition of anything resembling music at all had thousands and thousands listening in wonder. In December of 1951, the BBC's holiday broadcast, in most respects a naturally traditional affair, included the sound of the future: a couple of much-loved Christmas carols performed not by a choir, nor by human beings of any kind, but by an electronic machine the likes of which almost nobody had even laid eyes upon.

"Among its Christmas fare the BBC broadcast two melodies that, although instantly recognizable, sounded like nothing else on earth," write Jack Copeland and Jason Long at the British Library's Sound and Vision Blog. "They were Jingle Bells and Good King Wenceslas, played by the mammoth Ferranti Mark I computer that stood in Alan Turing's Computing Machine Laboratory" at the Victoria University of Manchester. Turing, whom we now recognize for a variety of achievements in computing, cryptography, and related fields (including cracking the German "Enigma code" during the Second World War), had joined the university in 1948.




That same year, with his former undergraduate colleague D. G. Champernowne, Turing began writing a purely theoretical computer chess program. No computer existed on which he could possibly try running it for the next few years until the Ferranti Mark 1 came along, and even that mammoth proved too slow. But it could, using a function designed to give auditory feedback to its operators, play music — of a kind, anyway. The computer company's "marketing supremo," according to Copeland and Long, called its brief Christmas concert "the most expensive and most elaborate method of playing a tune that has ever been devised."

Since no recording of the broadcast survives, what you hear here is a painstaking reconstruction made from tapes of the computer's even earlier renditions of "God Save the King," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and "In the Mood." By manually chopping up the audio, write Copeland and Long, "we created a palette of notes of various pitches and durations. These could then be rearranged to form new melodies. It was musical Lego." But do "beware of occasional dud notes. Because the computer chugged along at a sedate 4 kilohertz or so, hitting the right frequency was not always possible." Even so, somewhere in there I hear the historical and technological seeds of the much more elaborate electronic Christmas to come, from Mannheim Steamroller to the Jingle Cats and well beyond.

via The British Library

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

Hear The Cinnamon Bear, the Classic Holiday Radio Series That Has Aired Between Thanksgiving and Christmas for 80 Years

Eighty years ago, just after Thanksgiving, children across America turned on their radios and heard a couple of voices very much like their own: those of Judy and Jimmy Barton, a sister and brother eagerly composing their wish lists to send off to Santa Claus. Judy asks for a velocipede, seemingly a hot item in 1937 but not even a recognizable word to most of the children who've listened to the broadcast in holiday seasons since. Despite the occasional such archaism, The Cinnamon Bear, the series in which Judy and Jimmy star, continues to enchant not just generation after generation of kids, but also those grown-ups among us who savor the opportunities this time of year affords to more fully appreciate timeless childhood pleasures.

The Cinnamon Bear follows the adventures of Judy and Jimmy as they search for the lost silver star that tops their Christmas tree. They first check the attic, there encountering the title animal: Paddy O'Cinnamon, an Irish-accented teddy bear with a tendency to greatly overestimate his own fearsomeness but an indefatigable spirit of service as well. He even helps the Barton children "de-grow" to miniature size in order to take the hunt to his home of Maybeland, a hidden fantasy realm inhabited by such eccentrics, harmless and otherwise, as the Crazy Quilt Dragon, the Roly-Poly Policeman, the Wintergreen Witch, Oliver Ostrich (prepared with a musical number about his love of scrambled alarm clocks and bacon), a flying hat, and even Santa Claus himself.

But Paddy O'Cinnamon and the kids don't meet jolly old Saint Nick until the proper time: Christmas day, on which the original broadcast of The Cinnamon Bear concluded. The first fifteen-minute episode aired on November 26, 1937, with the story continuing six days a week until the big holiday. Produced in Hollywood by radio syndicator Transco and written, songs and all, by the husband-wife team of Glanville and Elizabeth Heisch, it initially found local sponsorship across the country from department stores, some of whom paid for many years of repeat broadcasts and even put up Cinnamon Bear-themed displays and events along with their Santa Clauses. (The now long-defunct Lipman's of Portland, Oregon got into it in a big way, establishing the show as something of a tradition in the city, where Cinnamon Bear Christmas river cruises run to this day.)

With Christmas over, the children of 1937 had no choice but to wait almost an entire year before they could hear The Cinnamon Bear again. Growing up myself about half a century later, I had the show as a box set of cassette tapes to which I binged-listened on a few different holiday seasons. But now, with seemingly the entire golden age of radio freely available on the internet, kids and anyone else besides can listen however and whenever they like. You'll find all 26 episodes of The Cinnamon Bear on the Internet Archive, as a Youtube playlist, and even as a podcast on iTunes. (You can stream them all above.) This year, on the 80th anniversary of the original broadcast, why not "air" it for you and yours as those first listeners heard it, once an evening except Saturdays, until December 25th? Though each episode may be in doubt as to whether Judy and Jimmy will ever recover the silver star, it's no spoiler to say that, with the assistance of Paddy O'Cinnamon, they d0 find their way to a memorable Christmas indeed.

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

Hunter S. Thompson Chillingly Predicts the Future, Telling Studs Terkel About the Coming Revenge of the Economically & Technologically “Obsolete” (1967)

Image  via Wikimedia Commons

Half a century ago, Hunter S. Thompson got his big journalistic break with a book called Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. In it he provided a curious and fearful public with a look into the inner workings of one of the most outwardly menacing social movements of the day, based on knowledge gained not by merely observing the Hell's Angels but by getting on a hog and spending a year as a quasi-member himself. This gave him opportunity both to develop what would become his style of "gonzo journalism" in the long form and to catch an early glimpse of bigger trouble ahead in America.

"To see the Hell’s Angels as caretakers of the old 'individualist' tradition 'that made this country great' is only a painless way to get around seeing them for what they really are," Thompson writes in that book, calling them "the first wave of a future that nothing in our history has prepared us to cope with. The Angels are prototypes. Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment... and to translate it into a destructive cult which the mass media insists on portraying as a sort of isolated oddity" destined for extinction.

Studs Terkel, after reading that passage out loud in a 1967 interview with Thompson, calls it "the key" to the entire book. "Here we have technology, we have the computer, we have labor-saving devices," he says to Thompson, but we also "have the need for more and more college education for almost any kind of job, and we have this tremendous mass of young who find themselves obsolete." But Thompson replies that the real consequences have only started to manifest: "The people who are being left out and put behind won't be obvious for years. Christ only knows what'll happen in, say, 1985 — a million Hell's Angels. They won't be wearing the colors; they'll be people who are just looking for vengeance because they've been left behind."




The Angels, wrote Susan McWilliams in a much-circulated Nation piece late last year, "were clunky and outclassed and scorned, just like the Harley-Davidsons they chose to drive." And "just as there was no rational way to defend Harleys against foreign-made choppers, the Angels saw no rational grounds on which to defend their own skills or loyalties against the emerging new world order of the late 20th century." The result? An "ethic of total retaliation. The Angels, rather than gracefully accepting their place as losers in an increasingly technical, intellectual, global, inclusive, progressive American society, stuck up their fingers at the whole enterprise. If you can’t win, you can at least scare the bejeesus out of the guy wearing the medal."

Six years later, Terkel invited Thompson back into his studio for another interview (click here to listen) that followed straight on from the first. Ostensibly there to talk about Thompson's book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 (which followed his best-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), the two, having cracked open a beer, get into what the Studs Terkel Radio Archive blog describes as "the sense of surrealism in 'real' life," which becomes "a very serious conversation about the direction in which our country was heading. After Thompson recounted his experience of talking to Richard Nixon about football" — the only subject permitted — "Studs responds, 'Isn’t this what we’re faced with now? … That fantasy and fact become one.'"

What's a reporter to do in such an environment? Terkel seems to see in Thompson the perfect kind of "subjective" journalist, one "who can make literal what is psychic in our lives," for a time that has lost its own objectivity. "Has there ever been any such thing as objective journalism?" he asks. "It's probably the highest kind of journalism, if you can do it." Thompson replies. "Nobody I know has ever done it, and I don't have time to learn it." But the distinctive suite of journalistic skills he did possess primed him to perceive certain realities — and perceive them with a distinctive vividness — that have only become more real in the decades since. What, for instance, did he learn from covering the 1972 presidential campaign? "Power corrupts… but it’s also a fantastic high."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Sci-Fi Radio: Hear Radio Dramas of Sci-Fi Stories by Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin & More (1989)

Image by Mr.Hasgaha, via Flickr Commons

If you dig through our archives, you can find no shortage of finely-produced radio dramatizations of your favorite science fiction stories. During the 1950s, NBC's Dimension X adapted stories by the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and even Kurt Vonnegut. Later in the '50s, X Minus One continued that tradition, dramatizing stories by Robert A. Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Poul Anderson and others. By the 1970s, Mind Webs got into the act and produced 188 adaptations--classics by Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke. And the BBC did up Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Those productions will keep you busy for a good while. But if you're wondering what the 1980s delivered, then tune into Sci-Fi Radio, a series of 26 half-hour shows which aired on NPR Playhouse, starting in 1989. Some of the adapted stories include: "Sales Pitch" and "Imposter" by Philip K. Dick, "Diary of the Rose" and "Field of Vision" by Ursula K. LeGuin, "Wall of Darkness" by Arthur C. Clarke, and "Frost and Fire" by Ray Bradbury.

You can stream all episodes below, or over at Archive.orgSci-Fi Radio will be added to our collection, 900 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free. Hope you enjoy.

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American Archive of Public Broadcasting Lets You Stream 7,000 Hours of Historic Public TV & Radio Programs

An archive worth knowing about: The Library of Congress and Boston's WGBH have joined forces to create The American Archive of Public Broadcasting and "preserve for posterity the most significant public television and radio programs of the past 60 years." Right now, they're overseeing the digitization of approximately 40,000 hours of programs. And already you can start streaming "more than 7,000 historic public radio and television programs."

The collection includes local news and public affairs programs, and "programs dealing with education, environmental issues, music, art, literature, dance, poetry, religion, and even filmmaking." You can browse the complete collection here. Or search the archive here. For more on the archive, read this About page.

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.

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