Hundreds of Classical Sculptures from the Uffizi Gallery Now Digitized & Put Online: Explore a Collection of 3D Interactive Scans

As the mighty House of Medici amassed works of art between the 15th and 18th centuries, could its members have imagined that we would still be enjoying their collection in the 21st? Perhaps they did, given the tendency — sometimes fatal — of business and political dynasties to imagine themselves as eternal. But the Medicis could scarcely have imagined how people all around the world have just gained access to the sculpture they collected, now displayed at Florence's Uffizi Gallery and elsewhere, through the Uffizi Digitization Project.

A collaboration between Indiana University's Virtual World Heritage Laboratory, the Politecnico di Milano, and the University of Florence, the five-year project, which began in 2016, has as its goal the complete digitization of Greek and Roman sculpture in the Uffizi Gallery, Pitti Palace, and Boboli Gardens. Though not yet finished, it has already managed to digitize more works of classical sculpture than any other effort by a single museum, and at its site you can take a look at every complete piece and fragment already digitized — and not just a look, as you'd get while passing by on a walk through a museum, but a closer and more detailed look than you may ever have thought possible.

"The genuinely easy-to-navigate website proves more interactive than many computerized museum archives," writes Hyperallergic's Jasmine Weber. "Users are given the opportunity to travel inside tombs and inside every nook of the figures’ construction. The interface allows users to travel around and within the sculptures, getting closer than visitors often can in the museum space itself thanks to three-dimensional rendering from every imaginable angle." The collection, notes the Uffizzi Digitization Project's about page, contains "works of exceptional interest to students of Greek and Roman art, notably the Medici Venus, the Medici Faun, the Niobids, and the Ariadne."

The Uffizi Digitization Project has so far made more than 300 works available to view as 3D models, and you can find them by either searching the collection or scrolling down to browse by category, a list that includes everything from altars and busts to statuettes and vases. And though no more technologically impressive collection of virtual classical sculpture may exist on the internet, after experiencing it you might nevertheless feel the need to see these pieces in an environment other than the black digital void. If so, have a look at the virtual tour of the Uffizi Gallery we featured earlier this year here on Open Culture. But be prepared: from there you may want to book a ticket to Florence and see the sculpture collected by the House of Medici in the very city where it rose to such vast economic and cultural power.

via Hyperallergic

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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 Singers from the Metropolitan Opera Record Their Voices on Traditional Wax Cylinders

Vinyl is back in a big way.

Music lovers who booted their record collections during the compact disc’s approximately 15 year reign are scrambling to replace their old favorites, even in the age of streaming. They can’t get enough of that warm analog sound.

Can a wax cylinder revival be far behind?

A recent wax cylinder experiment by Metropolitan Opera soprano Susanna Phillips and tenor Piotr Beczala, above, suggests no. This early 20th-century technology is no more due for a comeback than the zoetrope or the steam powered vibrator.




Beczala initiated the project, curious to know how his voice would sound when captured by a Thomas Edison-era device. If it yielded a faithful reproduction, we can assume that the voice modern listeners accept as that of a great such as Enrico Caruso, whose output predated the advent of the electrical recording process, is fairly identical to the one experienced by his live audiences.

Working together with the New York Public Library’s Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound and the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, the Met was able to set up a session to find out.

The result is not without a certain ghostly appeal, but the facsimile is far from reasonable.

As Beczala told The New York Times, the technological limitations undermined his intonation, diction, or performance of the quieter passages of his selection from Verdi's Luisa Miller. In a field where craft and technique are under constant scrutiny, the existence of such a recording could be a liability, were it not intended as a curiosity from the get go.

Phillips, ear turned to the horn for playback, insisted that she wouldn't have recognized this recording of "Per Pieta" from Mozart's Così fan tutte as her own.

Learn more about wax cylinder recording technology and preservation here.

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

Filmmaker Wim Wenders Explains How Mobile Phones Have Killed Photography

Smartphones have made us all photographers — or maybe they've made it so that none of us is a photographer. A century ago, merely possessing and knowing how to use a camera counted as a fairly notable accomplishment; today, nearly all of us carry one at all times whether we want to or not, and its operation demands no skill whatsoever. "I do believe that everybody's a photographer," says celebrated filmmaker Wim Wenders, director of movies like The American FriendParis, Texas and Wings of Desire, in the BBC clip above. "We're all taking billions of pictures, so photography is more alive than ever, and at the same time, it's more dead than ever."

Wenders made this claim at an exhibition of his Polaroid photographs, which we've previously featured here on Open Culture. In a sense, the Polaroid camera — easy to use, near-instant results, and highly portable by the standards of its era — was the smartphone camera of the 20th century, but Wenders doesn't draw the same kind of inspiration from phone shots as he did from Polaroids. "The trouble with iPhone pictures is that nobody sees them," he says, and one glance at the speed with which Instagram users scroll will confirm it. "Even the people who take them don't look at them anymore, and they certainly don't make prints."




Having worked in cinema for around half a century now (and for a time with the late cinematographer Robby Müller, one of the most respected and idiosyncratic in the industry), Wenders has seen firsthand how our relationship to the image has changed in that time. "I know from experience that the less you have, the more creative you have to become," he says, asked about the preponderance of photographic filters and apps. "Maybe it's not necessarily a sign of creativity that you can turn every picture into its opposite." Still, he has no objection to camera-phone culture itself, and even admits to taking selfies himself — with the caveat that "looking into the mirror is not an act of photography."

If selfie-taking and everything else we do with the cameras in our smartphones (to say nothing of the image manipulations we perform) isn't photography, what is it? "I'm in search of a new word for this new activity that looks so much like photography, but isn't photography anymore," Wenders says. "Please, let me know if you have a word for it." Some commenters have put forth "fauxtography," an amusing enough suggestion but not one likely to satisfy a creator like Wenders who, in work as in life, seldom makes the obvious choice.

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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 Freddie Mercury & Queen’s Isolated Vocals on Their Enduring Classic Song, “We Are The Champions”

In the age of Auto-Tune, it’s a pleasure to have proof that certain greats had no need of pitch correction.

Queen front man Freddie Mercury’s legendarily angelic, five octave-range pipes deliver extra chills on the isolated vocal track for "We Are the Champions."

Playback.fm, a free online radio app, stripped the beloved Queen hit of everything but the vocal wave form, then synched it to footage from four concert films and a rare recording session, above.




You’ll also hear backing vocals courtesy of guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and Mercury himself.

Their practice was to record two takes of each background part—high, medium and low—in unison, yielding an eighteen voice backing choir. Bassist John Deacon, inventor of the Deacy amp, left the singing to his bandmates, though he did compose several of their top ten hits including "You're My Best Friend" and "Another One Bites the Dust."

Cowing though it may be, don’t let these accomplished musicians’ abundance of talent keep you from singing along. Remember that in 2011, a team of scientific researchers voted “We Are the Champions” the catchiest song in pop music history, thanks in part to Mercury’s “high effort” vocals. As participant and music psychologist Daniel Müllensiefen observed:

Every musical hit is reliant on maths, science, engineering and technology; from the physics and frequencies of sound that determine pitch and harmony, to the hi-tech digital processors and synthesisers which can add effects to make a song more catchier. We’ve discovered that there’s a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, math and cognitive psychology that can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song.

When the audience is allowed in at the three minute mark, you can pretend that that thunderous applause is partly due to you.

Enjoy more Freddie Mercury isolated vocal tracks here and here.

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

Watch Kraftwerk Perform a Real-Time Duet with a German Astronaut Living on the International Space Station

Last Friday, Alexander Gerst, an astronaut living aboard the International Space Station, welcomed Kraftwerk and 7500 attendees to the Jazz Open Festival in Stuttgart. There, writes the European Space Agency, "Kraftwerk founding member Ralf Hütter and Alexander played a special duet version of the track Spacelab, for which Alexander had a tablet computer configured with virtual synthesizers on board." You can watch the far-out scene play out above.

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via Consequence of Sound

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Behold the Art-o-Mat: Vintage Cigarette Vending Machines Get Repurposed & Dispense Works of Art

It’s a well known fact that anyone who’s quitting smoking will need to find something to occupy their hands.

Many experts suggest holding a pencil or another vaguely-cigarette-shaped object.

Others prescribe busy work—cracking nuts and peeling oranges.

Hardcore cases are advised to keep those paws busy with a hobby such as painting or woodworking.

But from where we sit, the most spiritually rewarding, symbolic activity for someone in this tender situation would be creating a tiny artwork prototype to sell in an Art-o-Mat®, one of over 100 vintage cigarette vending machines specifically repurposed to dispense art.




Located primarily in the US, the machines are the brainchild of artist Clark Whittington, who loaded the first one with black & white, block-mounted photos for a 1997 solo show in a Winston-Salem cafe.

These days, there are a hundred or so Art-o-Mats, stocked with the work of artists both professional and amateur, who have successfully navigated the submission process.

A variety of mediums is represented—painting, sculpture, fine art prints, jewelry, assemblages, cut paper, and tiny bound books.

Worthington encourages would-be participants to avoid the ease of mass production in favor of unique items that bear evidence of the human hand:

The vending process is only the beginning of your Art-o-Mat® art. Once purchased and two steps away from the machine, your work is solely a reflection of you and your art. Many pieces have been carried around the globe. So, think of approaches that do not convey “a Sunday afternoon at the copy shop” and consider ways that your art will be appreciated for years to come.

The guidelines are understandably strict with regard to dimensions. Wouldn’t want to kill the blind box thrill by jamming a vintage vending machine’s inner workings.

Edibles, magnets, balloons, glitter, confetti, and anything processed alongside peanuts are verboten materials.

A certain popular decoupage medium is another no-no, as it adheres to the mandated protective wrap.

And just as cigarettes carry sternly worded warnings from the Surgeon General, artists are advised to include a label if their submission could be considered unsuitable for underage collectors.

If you need a hand to walk you through the process, have a look at crafter Shannon Greene’s video, above.

Greene became enthralled with the Art-o-Mat experience on a heavily documented trip to Las Vegas, when she put $5 in the Cosmopolitan Hotel’s machine, and received a box of string and painted canvas scrap bookmarks created by Kelsey Huckaby.

(Witness artist Huckaby treating herself to one of her own creations from an Austin, Texas Art-o-Mat on her birthday, below, to see a machine in action. Particularly recommended for those who came of age after these once-standard fixtures were banned from the lobbies of bars and diners.)

Other repurposed machines in the Art-o-Mat stable include the zippy red number in Ocala, Florida’s Appleton Museum of Art, a cool blue customer residing in Stanford University’s Lantana House, and a 6-knob model that periodically pops up in various arts-friendly New York City venues.

As the jolly and self-deprecating crafter Greene observes, at $5 a “yank,” no one is getting rich off this project, though the artists get 50% of the proceeds.

It’s also worth noting that these original artworks cost less than a pack of cigarettes in all but six states.

We agree with Greene that the experience more than justifies the price. Whatever art one winds up with is but added value.

Greene does not regret the considerable labor that went into the 100 tiny journals covered in retired billboard vinyl she was required to crank out after her prototypes were greenlit.

To determine whether or not you’re prepared to do the time, have a peek at Katharine Miele’s labor-intensive process, below. Even though the artist’s contact information is included along with every Art-o-Mat surprise, there’s no guarantee that she’ll hear back from anyone who wound up with one of the geometric chair linocuts she spent a week making.

Other Art-o-Mat artists, like Susan Rossiter, have figured out how to play by the rules while also realizing a bit of return beyond the Pippi Longstocking-like satisfaction of creating a nifty experience for random strangers. The machines are stocked with originals of her tiny multi-media chicken portraits, and she sells prints on her website.

Or perhaps, you, like mononymous physicist Colleen, find a meditative pleasure in the act of creation. To date, she’s painted 1150 cigarette-pack-sized blocks for inclusion in the machines.

Still game? Get started with an Art-o-Mat prototype kit for $19.99 here.

(As Greene joyfully points out, it comes with such goodies as a little journal, a pencil, and an official Art-o-Mat eraser.)

Take inspiration - or dream about what $5 might get you - in the collector’s show and tell, above.

Feeling flush and far from the nearest Art-o-Mat location?  Support the project by dropping a Benjamin on an Art-o-Carton containing 10 tiny artworks, custom selected in response to a short, personality-based questionnaire.

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

Find the Address of Your Home on Pangaea: Open Source Project Lets You Explore the Ancient Land Masses of Our Planet

A cool tool. Software engineer Ian Webster has created a website that lets you see how the land masses on planet Earth have changed over the course of 750 million years. And it has the added bonus of letting you plot modern addresses on these ancient land formations. Ergo, you can see where your home was located on the Big Blue Marble some 20, 100, 500, or 750 million years ago. Webster's project (access it here) is open source. Enjoy.

via Kottke

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. 

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