What Happens When Artificial Intelligence Listens to John Coltrane’s Interstellar Space & Starts to Create Its Own Free Jazz

Some enjoy free jazz as soon as they first hear it; others think it sounds like music from an alien civilization, a listening experience fit only for a jazz fan as high as a kite. But how about as high as a space probe? Outerhelios, a 24/7 stream of artificial intelligence-generated free jazz, comes designed for broadcast into outer space by Dadabots, a collaboration between musicians-turned-programmers CJ Carr and Zack Zukowski (or, according to their about page, "a cross between a band, a hackathon team, and an ephemeral research lab"). Having previously built an AI-generated death metal stream (about whose creation you can read in this computer science paper), they've looked to the skies and trained their neural network on John Coltrane's Interstellar Space.

"These duets between Coltrane on tenor (and bells) and Rashied Ali on drums sound like an annoyance until you concentrate on them," writes Robert Christgau in his original review of the 1974 album, "at which point the interactions take on pace and shape." The neural network "listened to the album 16 times," says the official Databots description on the Outerhelios stream, "then continued to make music in the style."




The project draws inspiration from NASA's probes Voyager 1 and 2, which "launched in 1977 carrying a mixtape Carl Sagan made called The Sounds of Earth. It featured Blind Willie Johnson, Chuck Berry, recordings of laughter, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky, along with diagrams of human reproductive organs," all "intended for an audience of intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms."

Whereas The Sounds of Earth "used a static music format previously recorded by people," Outerhelios follows on Brian Eno's ideas about generative music by inventing a Coltrane album that never sounds the same twice. "For a few minutes, it’ll produce plausible-sounding free jazz," writes Futurism.com's Jon Christian. "Then the drums will segue into an inhuman trill, or the horns will disintegrate into a cacophonous wash of sound. Let’s just say that it’s not your dad’s jazz" — even if your dad happens to be John Coltrane, or indeed Brian Eno. But perhaps it will give NASA just the inspiration it needs to get the next Voyager launched. The sound of the original Interstellar Space got Christgau thinking beyond nations: "European, Oriental, African — I don't know. But amazing." Could the likes of Outerhelios get us thinking beyond the solar sytem?

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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.

Buckminster Fuller Tells the World “Everything He Knows” in a 42-Hour Lecture Series (1975)

History seems to have settled Buckminster’s Fuller’s reputation as a man ahead of his time. He inspires short, witty popular videos like YouTuber Joe Scott’s “The Man Who Saw The Future,” and the ongoing legacy of the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI), who note that “Fuller’s ideas and work continue to influence new generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a sustainable planet.”

Brilliant futurist though he was, Fuller might also be called the man who saw the present and the past—as much as a single individual could seemingly hold in their mind at once. He was “a man who is intensely interested in almost everything,” wrote Calvin Tomkins at The New Yorker in 1965, the year of Fuller’s 70th birthday. Fuller was as eager to pass on as much knowledge as he could collect in his long, productive career, spanning his early epiphanies in the 1920s to his final public talks in the early 80s.

“The somewhat overwhelming effect of a Fuller monologue,” wrote Tomkins, “is well known today in many parts of the world.” His lectures leapt from subject to subject, incorporating ancient and modern history, mathematics, linguistics, architecture, archaeology, philosophy, religion, and—in the example Tomkins gives—“irrefutable data on tides, prevailing winds,” and “boat design.” His discourses issue forth in wave after wave of information.




Fuller could talk at length and with authority about virtually anything—especially about himself and his own work, in his own special jargon of “unique Bucky-isms: special phrases, terminology, unusual sentence structures, etc.,” writes BFI. He may not always have been particularly humble, yet he spoke and wrote with a lack of prejudice and an open curiosity and that is the opposite of arrogance. Such is the impression we get of Fuller in the series of talks he recorded ten years after Tomkin’s New Yorker portrait.

Made in January of 1975, Buckminster Fuller: Everything I Know captured Fuller’s “entire life’s work” in 42 hours of “thinking out loud lectures [that examine] in depth all of Fuller’s major inventions and discoveries from the 1927 Dymaxion house, car and bathroom, through the Wichita House, geodesic domes, and tensegrity structures, as well as the contents of Synergetics. Autobiographical in parts, Fuller recounts his own personal history in the context of the history of science and industrialization.”

He begins, however, in his first lecture at the top, not with himself, but with his primary subject of concern: “all humanity,” a species that begins always in nakedness and ignorance and manages to figure it out “entirely by trial and error,” he says. Fuller marvels at the advances of “early Hindu and Chinese” civilizations—as he had at the Maori in Tomkin’s anecdote, who “had been among the first peoples to discover the principles of celestial navigation” and “found a way of sailing around the world… at least ten thousand years ago.”

The leap from ancient civilizations to “what is called World War I” is “just a little jump in information,” he says in his first lecture, but when Fuller comes to his own lifetime, he shows how many “little jumps” one human being could witness in a lifetime in the 20th century. “The year I was born Marconi invented the wireless,” says Fuller. “When I was 14 man did get to the North Pole, and when I was 16 he got to the South Pole.”

When Fuller was 7, “the Wright brothers suddenly flew,” he says, “and my memory is vivid enough of seven to remember that for about a year the engineering societies were trying to prove it was a hoax because it was absolutely impossible for man to do that.” What it showed young Bucky Fuller was that “impossibles are happening.” If Fuller was a visionary, he redefined the word—as a term for those with an expansive, infinitely curious vision of a possible world that already exists all around us.

See Fuller’s complete lecture series, Everything I Know, at the Internet Archive, and read edited transcripts of his talks at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

Everything I Know will be added to our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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

The Walkman Turns 40: See Every Generation of Sony’s the Iconic Personal Stereo in One Minute

Do you remember your first Walkman? If you grew up after the cassette era, of course, you might have owned a CD-playing Discman instead, or maybe — just maybe — even a Minidisc Walkman. Nowadays you probably have an iPod or iPod-like digital audio player as well as a cellphone equipped to serve the same purpose. But all the ways in which you've ever taken your tunes on the go evolved from a common technological ancestor: Sony's TPS-L2, which debuted on the market 40 years ago this month. First marketed in the United States as the Soundabout and the United Kingdom as the Stowaway, it didn't take long to achieve worldwide success under the Japanese-English brand name that long ago became a byword for the personal stereo.

"To celebrate the Walkman's 40th anniversary, Sony has opened an exhibition in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district," writes designboom's Juliana Neira. "Titled #009 WALKMAN IN THE PARK 40 Years Since 'the Day the Music Walked,' the exhibition focuses on the people for whom the Walkman has been a part of their everyday life."




It also includes a wall "featuring around 230 versions of the Walkman throughout its 40-year history. From the nostalgic older models, all the way up to the latest models, the exhibit allows visitors to take in the changes in designs, specifications, and media formats over the years." You can see all the representative Walkman models from throughout the device's four decades of history in the minute-long official video above.

The Walkman defined an era of personal technology, but its brand hasn't weathered so well in the 21st century. "The beautifully designed, easy-to-use TPS-L2 was the device that liberated the cassette from living room hi-fis and car tape decks to truly make music portable," writes Quartz's Mike Murphy. But "a great many of the products that Sony once dominated with have been replaced, or have been consolidated into other devices. Over the years, Sony has made fantastic camcorders, stereo components, cameras, portable media players, and phones. Relatively few people buy most of these products anymore, with the smartphone usurping many of these devices’ functions." Today's Walkman devices don't reflect "the influential (and often experimental) Sony of yesterday. And with Apple grappling with its own existential questions about its future, who is left to take up the mantle of the king of consumer electronics?"

Still, when we put on our headphones or pop in our earbuds on the morning commute and see that everyone else around us has done the same, we have to admit that we live in the world the Walkman created. This has its downsides, as Amanda Petrusich acknowledges in a New Yorker piece on public headphone-wearing: these include "the disconnection they facilitate" (and the hand-wringing about that disconnection they encourage) as well as the engineering of music itself to accommodate low-quality audio reproduction. But then, "ambling down a city street with headphones on — you know, maybe it’s dusk, maybe it’s midsummer, maybe you had a really nice day — is, without a doubt, one of life’s simplest and most perfect joys." Sony's music-loving co-founder Masaru Ibuka, commissioner of the original Walkman's design, must have known similar joys himself. But what would he make of podcasts?

via designboom

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City of Eight Million Soundtracks

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.

When Kraftwerk Issued Their Own Pocket Calculator Synthesizer — to Play Their Song “Pocket Calculator” (1981)

Kraftwerk put out their eighth studio album in 1981, and they titled it presciently: Computer World was released into what humanity had only just begun to realize would become a world of computers. But back then, most people either had never used a computer at all, or had used no computer more advanced than a pocket calculator. But the boys from Düsseldorf had a song for them too: the album's first single "Pocket Calculator." And it wasn't just a name: the Casio fx-501P programmable calculator appeared on the list of "instruments" used in its recording.

Kraftwerk had become world-famous by the early 1980s, and on the international music scene they parodied the stiff, precision-obsessed German stereotype to perfection. You'd think that they would thus demonstrate allegiance to the formidable Dieter Rams-designed Braun ET55 calculator, but by the time Computer Love came out, Japanese companies like Casio had come to dominate the personal-electronics market. Kraftwerk even recorded a Japanese version of "Pocket Calulator," "Dentaku," along with ones in German ("Taschenrechner"), French ("Mini Calculateur"), and Italian ("Mini Calcolatore").

"I'm the operator with my pocket calculator," go the song's English lyrics. "I am adding and subtracting. I'm controlling and composing." And whichever language you listen to it in, it has a line equivalent to, "By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody."




Kraftwerk actually commissioned as a promotional item a special calculator from Casio that could do just that, a version of the company's VL-80 model that was also a musical synthesizer. You can see and hear the basic, non-Kraftwerk model demonstrated in the video above. Casio, a name that in the music world would become a byword for simple, inexpensive synthesizers, had already brought to market in 1979 the VL-1, the first commercial digital synthesizer (which itself included a calculator function).

With a Kraftwerk taschenrechner, even those without technical or musical knowledge, let alone a full-fledged synthesizer, could make music. "Kraftwerk was eager for fans to play Kraftwerk hits on their own calculators," writes Dangerous Minds' Martin Schneider, "so they issued these special instructions — OK, let’s call it 'sheet music' — to play not just the new material but also classics like 'Trans Europa Express' and 'Schaufensterpuppen.'" Today, Kraftwerk continues to perform all over the computer world in which we now live. With the 40th anniversary of Computer World approaching, perhaps the time has come to bring the calculators back on stage.

(via Dangerous Minds)

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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.

MIT Robot Breaks Rubik’s Cube World Record, Solving It in 0.38 Seconds

A robot created by MIT students Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo managed to solve a Rubik’s Cube in a record-breaking, lightning-fast 0.38 seconds. The video above shows it happening in real time, then in progressively slower times. By comparison, Yusheng Du, a Chinese speedcuber, holds the [human] record for solving a 3x3x3 cube in 3.47 seconds.

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via BoingBoing

Discover Friedrich Nietzsche’s Curious Typewriter, the “Malling-Hansen Writing Ball” (Circa 1881)

During his final decade, Friedrich Nietzsche’s worsening constitution continued to plague the philosopher. In addition to having suffered from incapacitating indigestion, insomnia, and migraines for much of his life, the 1880s brought about a dramatic deterioration in Nietzsche’s eyesight, with a doctor noting that his “right eye could only perceive mistaken and distorted images.”

Nietzsche himself declared that writing and reading for more than twenty minutes had grown excessively painful. With his intellectual output reaching its peak during this period, the philosopher required a device that would let him write while making minimal demands on his vision.

So he sought to buy a typewriter in 1881. Although he was aware of Remington typewriters, the ailing philosopher looked for a model that would be fairly portable, allowing him to travel, when necessary, to more salubrious climates. The Malling-Hansen Writing Ball seemed to fit the bill:




In Dieter Eberwein’s free Nietzches Screibkugel e-book, the vice president of the Malling-Hansen Society explains that the writing ball was the closest thing to a 19th century laptop. The first commercially-produced typewriter, the writing ball was the 1865 creation of Danish inventor Rasmus Malling-Hansen, and was shown at the 1878 Paris Universal Exhibition to journalistic acclaim:

"In the year 1875, a quick writing apparatus, designed by Mr. L. Sholes in America, and manufactured by Mr. Remington, was introduced in London. This machine was superior to the Malling-Hansen writing apparatus; but the writing ball in its present form far excels the Remington machine. It secures greater rapidity, and its writing is clearer and more precise than that of the American instrument. The Danish apparatus has more keys, is much less complicated, built with greater precision, more solid, and much smaller and lighter than the Remington, and moreover, is cheaper."

Despite his initial excitement, Nietzsche quickly grew tired of the intricate contraption. According to Eberwein, the philosopher struggled with the device after it was damaged during a trip to Genoa; an inept mechanic trying to make the necessary repairs may have broken the writing ball even further. Still, Nietzsche typed some 60 manuscripts on his writing ball, including what may be the most poignant poetic treatment of typewriters to date:

“THE WRITING BALL IS A THING LIKE ME:

MADE OF IRON YET EASILY TWISTED ON JOURNEYS.

PATIENCE AND TACT ARE REQUIRED IN ABUNDANCE

AS WELL AS FINE FINGERS TO USE US."

In addition to viewing several of Nietzsche’s original typescripts at the Malling-Hansen Society website, those wanting a closer look at Nietzsche’s model can view it in the video below.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2013.

Ilia Blinderman is a Montreal-based culture and science writer. Follow him at @iliablinderman.

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The Medieval City Plan Generator: A Fun Way to Create Your Own Imaginary Medieval Cities

The Medieval City Plan Generator. It's the free online tool you've always wanted. It doesn't create maps of actual medieval cities--only nice looking maps of imaginary cities, with the ability to add plazas, castles, rivers, city walls, and even shanty towns. Enter the Medieval City Plan Generator 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.

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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. 

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