Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” Played With 167 Theremins Placed Inside Matryoshka Dolls in Japan

Back in 2011, in Tokyo, 167 musicians performed some classic Beethoven with the "Matryomin," a new-fangled instrument that lodges a theremin inside a matryoshka. A matryoshka, of course, is one of those Russian nested dolls where you find wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. As for the theremin, it's a century-old electronic musical instrument that requires no physical contact from the player. You can watch its inventor, Leon Theremin, give it a demo in the vintage video below. Or via these links you can see the Matryomin Ensemble performing versions of Amazing Grace and Memory of Russia. Enjoy.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on Open Culture in July, 2013. It's like the Olympics. It comes back once every four years.

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Ian McKellen Chokes Up While Reading a Poignant Coming-Out Letter

"In 1977, Armistead Maupin wrote a letter to his parents that he had been composing for half his life," writes the Guardian's Tim Adams. "He addressed it directly to his mother, but rather than send it to her, he published it in the San Francisco Chronicle, the paper in which he had made his name with his loosely fictionalised Tales of the City, the daily serial written from the alternative, gay world in which he lived." The late 1970s saw a final flowering of newspaper-serialized novels, the same form in which Charles Dickens had grown famous nearly a century and a half before. But of all the zeitgeisty stories then told a day at a time in urban centers across America, none has had anything like the lasting impact of San Francisco as envisioned by Maupin.

Much of Tales of the City's now-acknowledged importance comes from the manner in which Maupin populated that San Francisco with a sexually diverse cast of characters — gay, straight, and everything in between — and presented their lives without moral judgment.

He saved his condemnation for the likes of Anita Bryant, the singer and Florida Citrus Commission spokeswoman who inspired Maupin to write that veiled letter to his own parents when she headed up the anti-homosexual "Save Our Children" political campaign. When Michael Tolliver, one of the series' main gay characters, discovers that his folks back in Florida have thrown in their lot with Bryant, he responds with an eloquent and long-delayed coming-out that begins thus:

Dear Mama,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I'm not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.

I have friends who think I'm foolish to write this letter. I hope they're wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who love and trust them less than mine do. I hope especially that you'll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn't have written, I guess, if you hadn't told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.

I'm sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief — rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.

You can hear Michael's, and Maupin's, full letter read aloud by Sir Ian McKellen in the Letters Live video above. In response to its initial publication, Adams writes, "Maupin had received hundreds of other letters, nearly all of them from readers who had cut out the column, substituted their own names for Michael’s and sent it verbatim to their own parents. Maupin’s Letter to Mama has since been set to music three times and become 'a standard for gay men’s choruses around the world.'"

Those words come from a piece on Maupin's autobiography Logical Family, published just last year, in which the Tales of the City author tells of his own coming out as well as his friendships with other non-straight cultural icons, one such icon being McKellen himself. "I have many regrets about not having come out earlier," McKellen told BOMB magazine in 1998, "but one of them might be that I didn't engage myself in the politicking." He'd come out ten years before, as a stand in opposition to Section 28 of the Local Government Bill, then under consideration in the British Parliament, which prohibited local authorities from depicting homosexuality "as a kind of pretended family relationship."

McKellen entered the realm of activism in earnest after choosing that moment to reveal his sexual orientation on the BBC, which he did on the advice of Maupin and other friends. A few years later he appeared in the television miniseries adaptation of Tales of the City as Archibald Anson-Gidde, a wealthy real-estate and cultural impresario (one, as Maupin puts it, of the city's "A-gays"). In the novels, Archibald Anson-Gidde dies closeted, of AIDS, provoking the ire of certain other characters for not having done enough for the cause in life — a charge, thanks in part to the words of Michael Tolliver, that neither Maupin nor McKellen will surely never face.

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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.

John Ashbery Reads “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

Poet John Ashbery has passed away, at the age of 90. About the poet, Harold Bloom once said. “No one now writing poems in the English language is likelier than Ashbery to survive the severe judgment of time. He is joining the American sequence that includes Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens and Hart Crane.” In 1976, Ashbery won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection, Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror. Above, you can hear him read the title poem, his masterpiece. The Guardian calls "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror," a densely written epic about art, time and consciousness that was inspired by the 16th century Italian painting of the same name." The text of the poem appears on the Poetry Foundation website.

Find other poetry readings in our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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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Watch “Adam,” an Award-Winning Short Claymation That Wonderfully Re-Tells the Story of Creation

Above, watch 'Adam,' a short claymation made by Evelyn Jane Ross while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. As she points out in a recent interview, 'Adam' is "nothing like Wallace and Gromit; it’s neither a children’s story nor does it have a distinct character. Instead, it’s a poetic narrative depicting love and emotional sincerity. It uses the malleable nature of clay to emphasize the main idea, creation. 'Adam' also defies the perception that animation is a children’s medium. The film could easily be rated “R” for “MATURE” audiences only." She then adds:

I read a quote by Stanley Kubrick, 'A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings. The theme, what's behind the emotion, the meaning, all that comes later'. This quote really guided my progression. It seemed like a wonderful way to think of structure and timing. The meaning, yes, came later.

Although Ross made the film mainly to fulfill some senior year requirements at RISD, she got some extra mileage out of the claymation. Among other awards, it won Best Animated Film at the Yale Student Film Festival, the Berlin Flash Film Festival, and Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. And it was a BAFTA Student Awards Finalist. Enjoy.

"Adam" will be added to our list, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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See New York City in the 1930s and Now: A Side-by-Side Comparison of the Same Streets & Landmarks

The New Yorker has posted a very neat split-screen tour of the same streets in New York City, letting you see the Big Apple in the 1930s and today. Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge--they're all on display. What a difference 80 years make.

Below you can find other historical videos and photos of NYC ... and London and Berlin too. Enjoy.

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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Watch Clouds Roil Through the Grand Canyon: A Beautiful Timelapse Film Captures a Rare Full Cloud Inversion

From producer and editor Harun Mehmedinovic comes a pretty breathtaking timelapse film of a rare phenomenon at the Grand Canyon. Writes Mehmedinovic:

Millions of visitors a year come to Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the most visited national park in the western United States. However, on extremely rare days when cold air is trapped in the canyon and topped by a layer of warm air, which in combination with moisture and condensation, form the phenomenon referred to as the full cloud inversion. In what resembles something between ocean waves and fast clouds, Grand Canyon is completely obscured by fog, making the visitors feel as if they are walking on clouds.

This video was filmed as part of SKYGLOW (, an ongoing crowdfunded quest to explore the effects and dangers of urban light pollution in contrast with some of the most incredible dark sky areas in North America. This project is being produced in collaboration with International Dark-Sky Association (, a non-profit fighting for the preservation of night skies around the globe.

The film was shot on Canon 5DSR & 5DIII cameras and lenses. You can download high resolution stills via this zip file. Enjoy.

via Twisted Sifter

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Noel Coward’s “Alice (Is At It Again)” Gets Reimagined as a Very Modern Fairy Tale: A Short Film Starring Sarah Snook

English playwright, lyricist, actor and raconteur Noel Coward (1899 –1973) is still remembered for his plays such as the wife-after-death comedy Blithe Spirit and Private Lives; his playlet Still Life, which became the classic David Lean film Brief Encounter, and his scripting and co-direction of the WW2 morale-booster In Which We Serve, also directed by Lean, for which Coward won an Honorary Academy Award. However, he’s perhaps better known now more as an image of archetypal mid-20th century Englishness, replete with dressing-gown and cigarette-holder, and the hundreds of witty songs and poems he wrote, such as Mad Dogs and Englishman and Mrs Worthington, which he performed in cabaret in his distinctively clipped English manner to much acclaim in London and, latterly, in Las Vegas.

His 1946 song Alice (Is At It Again), written and then cut from his flop musical Pacific 1860, became a standard of his cabaret act and, with its suggestive lyrics, risqué subject matter and sly wit, is typical of his oeuvre. It’s thus a surprising choice perhaps by rising Australian actress Sarah Snook for the subject of her new short film Alice, co-devised with director Laura Scrivano, and the second film of The Passion, a new online series of performed poetry films coming out of Australia. The first film in the series, A Lovesong, starring Daniel Henshall (from AMC’s Turn: Washington Spies), featured T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (watch it below), so Alice is a change both in style and tone for the series, but continues the project’s experimentation in rendering poetry on film for a digital audience.

Sarah, who won critical acclaim for her genderswitching role in the 2015 science-fiction thriller Predestination, found the Coward text in a bookshop in San Francisco, while sourcing a text for her film for the series.

Says Sarah:

(Director) Laura and I were interested in the ideas of femininity and how that is expressed, particularly in sexual or sensual terms. When I read the poem, I was charmed by it and excited by the potential and challenge of contemporizing it for The Passion. Coward’s themes are very much of the time and place of the original lyrics’ writing, as is his take on them, while our adaptation is an updating, an exploration of female sexuality and empowerment that Coward plays with, and the wildness and freedom of discovering that. Our Alice, who I think nods to Coward’s, is breaking out of the strictures of her background, and being free and true to herself.

Originally Alice, as read by Coward, would have been performed with a patter, a rhythm of its own, with a sense of irony and a lot of wit, and certainly in his very particular RP accent. It’s hard to escape that as it’s written so well and embedded so deeply into the lines, with a particular scansion, but I wanted to go against that somewhat, while retaining and respecting Coward’s sparkle and playfulness.

Alice is the second film of The Passion series, in which actors select a text which has a personal significance for them or strikes a particular chord, and then work closely in collaboration with director Laura Scrivano to develop it as a new performance piece for film. A third film is currently in development. More information about the series can be found at this website.

Dan Prichard is an online film and webseries producer, based in Sydney, whose work explores identity, place, and the space between film and performance in the digital arena. Visit his website and follow him on twitter @georgekaplan81

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