Mister Rogers Demonstrates How to Cut a Record

When I was a little boy, I thought the greatest thing in the world would be to be able to make records. — Fred Rogers

By 1972, when the above episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aired, host Fred Rogers had already cut four records, including the hit-filled A Place of Our Own.

But a childlike curiosity compelled him to explore on camera how a virgin disc could become that most wondrous thing—a record.

So he borrowed a “special machine”—a Rek-O-Kut M12S overhead with an Audax mono head, for those keeping score at home—so he could show his friends, on camera, “how one makes records.”

This technology was already in decline, ousted by the vastly more portable home cassette recorder, but the record cutter held far more visual interest, yielding hair-like remnants that also became objects of fascination to Mister Rogers.




What we wouldn’t give to stumble across one of those machines and a stash of blank discs in a thrift store...

Wait, scratch that, imagine running across the actual platter Rogers cut that day!

Though we’d be remiss if we failed to mention that a member of The Secret Society of Lathe Trolls, a forum devoted to “record-cutting deviants, renegades, professionals & experimenters,” claims to have had an aunt who worked on the show, and according to her, the "reproduction" was faked in post.

(“It sounded like they recorded the repro on like an old Stenorette rim drive reel to reel or something and then piped that back in,” another commenter promptly responds.)

The Trolls’ episode discussion offers a lot of vintage audio nerd nitty gritty, as well as an interesting history of the one-off self-recoded disc craze.

The mid-century general public could go to a coin-operated portable sound booth to record a track or two. Spoken word messages were popular, though singers and bands also took the opportunity to lay down some grooves.

Radio stations and recording studios also kept machines similar to the one Rogers is seen using. Sun Records’ secretary, Marion Keisker, operated the cutting lathe the day an unknown named Elvis Presley showed up to cut a lacquered disc for a fee of $3.25.

The rest is history.

More recently, The ShinsThe Kills, and Seasick Steve, below, recorded live direct-to-acetate records on a modified 1953 Scully Lathe at Nashville's Third Man Records.

(Legend has it that James Brown's "It's A Man's World" was cut on that same lathe… Cut a hit of your own during a tour of Third Man's direct-to-acetate recording facilities.)

via @wfmu

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine, current issue the just-released #60.  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.

Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse Videos Let You See Daily Life As You’ve Never Seen It Before

There are apps to track the number of daily minutes you habitually fritter away on social media, but can your smartphone help you get a handle on the automotive color preferences of midday San Diego drivers?

Or the number of planes landing at San Diego International Airport on the day after Thanksgiving?

Or, for that matter, the traffic patterns of non-professional surfers hoping to catch a wave at at Point Loma?

No, but filmmaker Cy Kuckenbaker can.




His "time collapse” videos stemmed from a desire to get to know the city in which he lives with the same vigor he brought to bear as a Peace Corps volunteer in his 20s, exploring Iraq, Africa, and Eastern Europe.

This impulse might lead others to join a club, take a class, or check out restaurants in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

For Kuckenbaker, it means setting up his camera for a fixed shot, uncertain if his experiment will even work, then spending hours and hours in the editing room, removing the time between events without altering the speed of his subjects.

It’s a form that requires a lot of patience on the part of its creator.

He estimates that he spent 2 hours editing for every second of Midday Traffic Time Collapsed and Reorganized by Color: San Diego Study #3, above, providing him ample time to listen to the following audiobooks (get your free Audible trial here):

Revolution 1989 by Victor Sebestyen

How Music Works by David Byrne

Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

1493 by Charles Mann

1491 by Charles Mann

With the Old Breed by E. Sledge

The Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

Each car was keyed out of the original shot, then ranked and reinserted based on color. 28 of the raw footage’s 462 didn’t make the cut due to erratic shape or movement. See if you can spot them in the extremely ordinary-looking original footage, below. Extra credit for spotting the empty Gatorade bottle that made it into every frame of the compression:

His studies may not reveal much about his home city to the average tourist, but Kuckenbaker himself is able to interpret the numbers in ways that go beyond mere quantity and averages, such as San Diegans’ apparent vehicular color preference:

Nationally, red is a more popular color than blue. But not San Diego. San Diego, there’s more blue than red, so it’s like, you know, an outlier. And I thought about that for a while and it’s like, personally, the way I understand the city, that makes sense to me. The sort of tone of the city, the attitude of the city—it’s an ocean city. I can see why people would think, “Well, I live in San Diego. Why would I have a red… I want a blue car!”

His Point Loma compression boiled an hour's surfing down to 2 minutes and 15 seconds that KPBS’ David Wagner heralded as “a surfer's wildest dream come true, a fantasy break where perfect waves roll in one after another like clockwork, no lulls in between.”

The raw footage and Kuckenbaker’s documentation of the After Effects technique used to composite the waves speaks to a slightly more tedious reality. No word on what audio books got him through this one, though he goes into the technical specs and quotes Joseph Conrad on his blog.

The compression of the nearly 70 arriving Black Friday flights that kicked off Kuckenbaker’s San Diego-based time collapses in 2012 feels a bit martial, especially if Ride of the Valkyries just happens to be playing in the background. It makes me worry for San Diego, and also wish for a Kuckenbaker to come collapse time in my town.

See more of Cy Kuckenbaker’s Time Collapse videos here.

via Twisted Sifter

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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.

Hear Glenn Gould Sing the Praise of the Moog Synthesizer and Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach, the “Record of the Decade” (1968)

Glenn Gould made his name as a pianist with his stark, idiosyncratic interpretations of the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and especially Bach. He left behind not just a highly respected body of work in the form of recorded performances, but also a host of strong opinions about music itself and all that culturally and commercially surrounded it. His enthusiasms weren't always predictable: in 1967 he went on CBC radio to lavish praise on the pop singer Petula Clark, and the next year he returned to the airwaves to make a hearty endorsement of a record for which not everyone in the classical music world would admit to an appreciation: Wendy Carlos' Switched-On Bach.

After voicing his distaste for compilation albums, comparing them to Reader's Digest condensed literature, Gould informs his listeners that "the record of the year — no, let's go all the way, the decade — is an unembarrassed compote of Bach's greatest hits." The whole record, he claims, "is one of the most startling achievements of the recording industry in this generation, certainly one of the great feats in the history of keyboard performance," and "the surest evidence, if evidence be needed, that live music never was best." Gould had retired from the "anachronistic" practice of live performance four years earlier, seeking his own kind of musical perfection within the technologically enhanced confines of the recording studio.




On that level, it makes sense that a meticulously, painstakingly crafted recording — not to mention one impossible, at the time, to reproduce live — like Switched-On Bach would appeal to Gould. He also takes the opportunity on this broadcast to introduce the Moog synthesizer, which Carlos used to produce every note on the record. "Theoretically, the Moog can be encouraged to imitate virtually any instrumental sound known to man, and there are moments on this disc which sound very like an organ, a double bass or a clavichord," Gould says, "but its most conspicuous felicity is that, except when casting gentle aspersions on more familiar baroque instrumental archetypes, the performer shuns this kind of electronic exhibitionism" — a sure way of scoring points with the restraint-loving Gould.

The broadcast includes not just Gould's thoughts on Switched On-Bach and the Moog but two interviews, one with poet and essayist Jean Le Moyne on "the human fact of automation, its sociological and theological implications," and one with Carlos herself. Asked about the choice of Bach, Carlos frames it as a test of how the new technology of the synthesizer would fare when used to play not avant-garde music, as it then usually was, but music with the most impeccable aesthetic credentials possible. "We're just a baby," Carlos says of the enterprise of synthesizer-driven electronic music. "Although now we can see that the child is going to grow into a rather exciting adult, we've still got to take one step at a time. It will become assimilated. The gimmick value — thank god — is going to be lost, and true musical expression, and that alone, will result."

via Synthtopia

Related Content:

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

Watch a 27-Year-Old Glenn Gould Play Bach & Put His Musical Genius on Display (1959)

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

Glenn Gould Explains the Genius of Johann Sebastian Bach (1962)

Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach Turns 50 This Month: Learn How the Classical Synth Record Introduced the World to the Moog

Leonard Bernstein Introduces the Moog Synthesizer to the World in 1969, Playing an Electrified Version of Bach’s “Little Fugue in G”

How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

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.

NASA Enlists Andy Warhol, Annie Leibovitz, Norman Rockwell & 350 Other Artists to Visually Document America’s Space Program

It’s hard to imagine that the space-crazed general public needed any help getting worked up about astronauts and NASA in the early 60s.

Perhaps the wild popularity of space-related imagery is in part what motivated NASA administrator James Webb to create the NASA Art Program in 1962.

Although the program's handpicked artists weren’t edited or censored in any way, they were briefed on how NASA hoped to be represented, and the emotions their creations were meant capture—the excitement and uncertainty of exploring these frontiers.

NASA was also careful to collect everything the artists produced while participating in the program, from sketches to finished work.




In turn, they received unprecedented access to launch sites, key personnel, and major events such as Project Mercury and the Apollo 11 Mission.

Over 350 artists, including Andy Warhol, Norman Rockwell, and Laurie Anderson, have brought their unique sensibilities to the project. (Find NASA-inspired art by Warhol and Rockwell above.)

(And hey, no shame if you mistakenly assumed Warhol’s 1987 Moonwalk 1 was created as a promo for MTV…)

Jamie Wyeth’s 1964 watercolor Gemini Launch Pad includes a humble bicycle, the means by which technicians traveled back and forth from the launch pad to the concrete-reinforced blockhouse where they worked.

Photographer Annie Leibovitz offers two views of NASA’s first female pilot and commander, Eileen Collins—with and without helmet.

Postage stamp designer, Paul Calle, one of the inaugural group of participating artists, produced a stamp commemorating the Gemini 4 space capsule in celebration of NASA's 9th anniversary. When the Apollo 11 astronauts suited up prior to blast off on July 16, 1969, Calle was the only artist present. His quickly rendered felt tip marker sketches lend a backstage element to the heroic iconography surrounding astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. One of the items they carried with them on their journey was the engraved printing plate of Calle’s 1967 commemorative stamp. They hand-canceled a proof aboard the flight, on the assumption that post offices might be hard to come by on the moon.

More recently, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has enlisted a team of nine artists, designers, and illustrators to collaborate on 14 posters, a visual throwback to the ones the WPA created between 1938 and 1941 to spark public interest in the National Parks. You can see the results at the Exoplanet Travel Bureau.

View an album of 25 historic works from NASA’s Art Program here.

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NASA Digitizes 20,000 Hours of Audio from the Historic Apollo 11 Mission: Stream Them Free Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  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.

How Margaret Hamilton Wrote the Computer Code That Helped Save the Apollo Moon Landing Mission

From a distance of half a century, we look back on the moon landing as a thoroughly analog affair, an old-school engineering project of the kind seldom even proposed anymore in this digital age. But the Apollo 11 mission could never have happened without computers and the people who program them, a fact that has become better-known in recent years thanks to public interest in the work of Margaret Hamilton, director of the Software Engineering Division of MIT's Instrumentation Laboratory when it developed on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo space program. You can learn more about Hamilton, whom we've previously featured here on Open Culture, from the short MAKERS profile video above.

Today we consider software engineering a perfectly viable field, but back in the mid-1960s, when Hamilton first joined the Apollo project, it didn't even have a name. "I came up with the term 'software engineering,' and it was considered a joke," says Hamilton, who remembers her colleagues making remarks like, "What, software is engineering?"




But her own experience went some way toward proving that working in code had become as important as working in steel. Only by watching her young daughter play at the same controls the astronauts would later use did she realize that just one human error could potentially bring the mission into ruin — and that she could minimize the possibility by taking it into account when designing its software. Hamilton's proposal met with resistance, NASA's official line at the time being that "astronauts are trained never to make a mistake."

But Hamilton persisted, prevailed, and was vindicated during the moon landing itself, when an astronaut did make a mistake, one that caused an overloading of the flight computer. The whole landing might have been aborted if not for Hamilton's foresight in implementing an "asynchronous executive" function capable, in the event of an overload, of setting less important tasks aside and prioritizing more important ones. "The software worked just the way it should have," Hamilton says in the Christie's video on the incident above, describing what she felt afterward as "a combination of excitement and relief." Engineers of software, hardware, and everything else know that feeling when they see a complicated project work — but surely few know it as well as Hamilton and her Apollo collaborators do.

Related Content:

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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.

Moonlight Strikes 107,000 Solar Mirrors & Creates a Portrait of Apollo 11 Computer Programmer Margaret Hamilton

In the middle of the Mojave Desert, Google has created a high-tech tribute to Margaret Hamilton, the lead software engineer of the Apollo space program. Google writes: "The tribute was created by positioning over 107,000 mirrors at the Ivanpah Solar Facility in the Mojave Desert to reflect the light of the moon, instead of the sun, like the mirrors normally do. The result is a 1.4-square-mile portrait of Margaret, bigger than New York’s Central Park." You can learn more about Hamilton and her contributions to the 1960s space program here.

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. 

Related Content:

Margaret Hamilton, Lead Software Engineer of the Apollo Project, Stands Next to Her Code That Took Us to the Moon (1969)

How 1940s Film Star Hedy Lamarr Helped Invent the Technology Behind Wi-Fi & Bluetooth During WWII

Meet Grace Hopper, the Pioneering Computer Scientist Who Helped Invent COBOL and Build the Historic Mark I Computer (1906-1992)

How Ada Lovelace, Daughter of Lord Byron, Wrote the First Computer Program in 1842–a Century Before the First Computer

NASA Puts Its Software Online & Makes It Free to Download

 

Can Artificial Intelligence Decipher Lost Languages? Researchers Attempt to Decode 3500-Year-Old Ancient Languages

Image by Olaf Tausch via Wikimedia Commons

We may not see warp drives any time soon, but another piece of Star Trek tech, the universal translator, may become a reality in our lifetime, if it hasn’t already. Machine learning “has proven to be very competent” when it comes to translation, “so much so that the CEO of one of the world’s largest employers of human translators has warned that many of them should be facing up the stark reality of losing their job to a machine,” writes Bernard Marr at Forbes.

But the fact that AI can do things humans can doesn't mean that it does those things well. One Google researcher put the case plainly in an interview with Wired: “People naively believe that if you take deep learning and… 1,000 times more data, a neural net will be able to do anything a human being can do, but that’s just not true.” AI translators have advanced significantly in the past few years, with Google’s Translatotron prototype (yes, that’s its real name), promising to interpret “tone and cadence.” Still, AI translations are often stilted, awkward, and occasionally incomprehensible approximations that no human would come up with.




Does AI’s limitations with living language hinder its ability to decipher very long dead ones, whose orthography, grammar, and syntax have been completely lost? Yuan Cao from Google’s AI lab and Jiaming Luo and Regina Barzilay from MIT put machine learning to the test when they developed a “system capable of deciphering lost languages.” They took a very different approach “from the standard machine translation techniques,” reports the MIT Technology Review, using less data instead of more, a technique they call "minimum-cost flow."

The researchers tested their translation machine on both the 3500-year-old Linear B and Ugaritic, an ancient form of Hebrew, both of which have already been deciphered by people. Still, the AI was “able to translate both languages with remarkable accuracy,” with a rate of 67.3% in the translation of cognates in Linear B. The far older Bronze Age Minoan script Linear A, however (see it at the top), “one of the earliest forms of writing ever discovered… is conspicuous for its absence.” No human has yet been able to decipher it.

A lost language translator machine that only works on languages that have already been translated (it needs preexisting data on the progenitor language to function) may not seem particularly useful. Then again, it could be one step in the direction of what the authors call the “automatic decipherment of lost languages," those that humans can’t already work out on their own. Read the paper “Neural Decipherment via Minimum-Cost Flow: From Ugaritic to Linear B” at arXiv.

via MIT Technology Review

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

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