Is the Live Music Experience Irreplaceable? Pretty Much Pop #11

Surely technological advances have made it unnecessary to ever leave the house, right? Is there still a point in seeing live people actually doing things right in front of you?

Dave Hamilton (Host of Gig GabMac Geek Gab) joins Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss what’s so damn cool about live music (and theater), the alternatives (live-streamed-to-theaters or devices, recorded for TV, VR), why tickets are so expensive, whether tribute bands fulfill our needs, the connection between live music and drugs, singing along to the band, and more.

We touch on Rush (and their tribute Lotus Land), Damien Rice, Todd Rundgren, The Who, Cop RockBat out of Hell: The MusicalHedwig and the Angry Inch, the filmed Shrek The Musical, and Rifftrax Live.

We used some articles to feed this episode, though we didn’t really bring them up:

You know Mark also runs a music podcast, right? Check out Erica doin’ her fiddlin’ and singin’. Listen to Mark’s mass of tunes. Here’s Dave singing and drumming some Badfinger live with his band Fling, and here’s Mark live singing “The Grinch.”

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Ric Ocasek and The Cars Perform Live in Concert After Their Groundbreaking Debut Album: Watch the Complete Show (January 13, 1979)

Legendary musician and producer Ric Ocasek passed away on Sunday, and the whole rock world mourns his loss. Greatly respected not only by fans but by fellow musicians (and Stephen Colbert), Ocasek achieved a very rare position in the music business—one almost unheard-of: an international superstar in the 80s with his band The Cars, formed in Boston in the late 70s, he thrived in the era of the video star, at the dawning of the music video age alongside 80s juggernauts like Van Halen, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.

Ocasek was also one of the most revered producers in 80s punk and 90s alt-rock, with as much credibility in such circles as producers like Steve Albini and Butch Vig. (His credits include Bad Brain’s Rock for Light, Weezer’s Blue Album and Green Album, and records by Suicide, Hole, Bad Religion, Jonathan Richman, Guided by Voices, etc. etc.) He had a daunting work ethic, but he also had a great deal of humility and an enduring sense of what recorded music does for us.




He may have mastered the art of making hit records and slick videos, but as he told Rolling Stone in 1980, “music’s a powerful emotional force” that is, most importantly, “a way to communicate without alienating people, a way to get beyond loneliness. It’s a private thing people can have for themselves any time they want. Just turn on the radio and there it is: a sense of belonging.” That’s what The Cars gave their fans.

They created a sense of familiarity, blending synth pop, punk, and New Wave with classic rock and roll moves; five ordinary-looking joes who’d paid their bar band dues. They also sustained an air of alienation and intrigue. Willing to be silly, yet unapproachably cool, with the most weirdly oblique of pop radio hits. “With their debut album in 1978,” writes Rolling Stone’s Mikal Gilmore, “the Cars created one of the rarest phenomena of late-Seventies rock & roll: a pop artifact that unified many factions of a pluralistic rock scene.”

“Conservative radio programmers jumped on it because of Ocasek’s consonant pop symmetry and Roy Thomas Baker’s polished, economical production; New Wave partisans favored it for its terse melodicism and ultramodern stance; and critics applauded it for its synthesis of prepunk art-rock influences, including Lou Reed, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Brian Eno.” The band's reputation with critics would suffer with their sophomore album, Candy-O. And what Gilmore called the “technopop” of their third record came to define their sound in the 80s.

The Cars in 1978 were raw and edgy, even as their debut album spawned some of their most radio-friendly hit songs, including “Good Times Roll,” “My Best Friend’s Girl,” and “Just What I Needed” (the first three tracks on the first record, and some of the biggest songs of their entire seven-album run). See them play the early hits and more  at the University of Sussex, Brighton in 1979 in the full concert film above, and let the good times roll.

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Hear John Malkovich Read Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” Set to Music Mixed by Ric Ocasek, Yoko Ono & Sean Lennon, OMD & More

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

Learn the Number One Rule of Funk: Bootsy Collins Explains the Importance of “Keeping It on the One”

We all want the funk, but do we even really know what it is? Most every style of music has its distinctive rhythmic properties, from waltzes to samba to the offbeat ska guitar of reggae. But what is it that primarily defines the music of James Brown and other funk greats—music we cannot seem to hear without moving some part of our bodies? If you don’t know the answer, don’t worry—not even the great Bootsy Collins understood the fundamental principle when he first backed the Godfather of Funk in the early 70s.

Though funk is purpose-built to make people get loose and has produced some of the freest spirits in popular music, it must be played a certain way, its high practitioners proclaim. No less a master of funk than Prince put it best, as Austin Kleon notes: “Funk is the opposite of magic. Funk is about rules.” Collins learned the number one rule in Brown’s band, the sine qua non of all funk: You’ve got to keep it on the one. In other words, the bass has to hit the first beat of every bar.




Hit the one, Collins learned (and teaches us in the short lesson at the top) and you can blast into the wild pyrotechnics that made him famous. Miss the one, and no amount of fancy fretwork is going to impress James Brown, who told him, “you give me the one, you can do all those other things.” (See Collins tell the story in the video clip below.) Brown had an elaborate theory of “the one,” according to his biographer RJ Smith: “The ‘One’ is derived from the Earth itself,” he said, “the soil, the pine trees of my youth. And most important, it’s on the upbeat…. never on lowdownbeat.”

It’s the one, according to Brown, that gives funk its root and its fruit: a seismic, earthy pulse and sexy, uplifting optimism. “I was born to the downbeat, and I can tell you without question there is no pride in it.” Unlike his mentor, Bootsy doesn’t shade the blues when talking about the one. But he does have a message to deliver and it’s this: once you get the “basic funk formula, you can do anything you want to do with it.” Booty’s been bringing the funk since it began and took it places James Brown would never tread in Parliament/Funkadelic. Who better to carry the message to would-be funkateers out there?

In order to reach as many as possible, Collins decided to found a school, “Funk U.,” in 2010. Still going strong, the program has featured such guest online lecturers as Flea, Les Claypool, and Victor Wooten. The lessons of Funk U. are about music, he says, but they’re also about something else: about the deep truths he learned from James Brown. “You need the discipline and you also need to know that you can experiment, and you can open up and let your creative juices flow.” All that from the simple rhythmic beauty of keeping it on the one.

via Austin Kleon

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The Neuroscience of Bass: New Study Explains Why Bass Instruments Are Fundamental to Music

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

Art Trips: Visit the Art of Cities Around the World, from Los Angeles & London, to Venice and New York

When first we visit a city, even a small one, we can't hope to see all of it. Hence the need for strategies of approach and exploration: do we walk its main streets? Eat its food and drink its drinks? Visit its most beloved bookstores? Sarah Urist Green gets into cities through their art, hardly a surprising habit for the creator of the PBS Digital Studios series The Art Assignment. We first featured The Art Assignment five years ago here on Open Culture, and Green and her collaborators have kept up the good work ever since. In that time their mission of "traveling around the country, visiting artists and asking them to give you an art assignment" has expanded, taking them outside America as well. On the road they've collected not just material for regular episodes, but for special Art Trips as well.

Their first Art Trip to Los Angeles, for instance, takes Green and company to the Hammer Museum, the galleries of Culver City (one of which has a show up of Andy Warhol's shadow paintings), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (where they walk under Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass and through Chris Burden's much-Instagrammed Urban Light), and the then-newly-opened Broad Art Museum. In between they take side trips for refreshment at the noted ice cream sandwich shop Coolhaus (named in honor of the Dutch architect) and deep into the Inland Empire city of Bakersfield. This combination of places expected and unexpected comes not without the occasional tourist cliche, such as Green's description of "the most quintessential of Los Angeles experiences: driving."




The Art Assigment's return visit to the southern Californian metropolis focuses on "the Los Angeles hiding in plain sight" with Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a series of exhibitions all over the city on Latino and Latina artists at institutions like the Craft and Folk Art Museum, the Los Angeles Central Library, and the Geffen Contemporary. All the while Green and her team eat plenty of tacos, as any Angeleno would advise, and the final night of their stay finds them in Grand Park among the shrine-like handmade offerings set up for Día de los Muertos, all of them crafted with an eeriness matched only by their good humor.

Los Angeles has become an acknowledged art capital over the past half-century, but London, fair to say, has a bit more history behind it. The Art Assignment's time in the English capital coincides with Frieze Week, when galleries from all over the world descend on Regent's Park to show off their most striking artistic wares. Not coincidentally, the museums and galleries based in the city use the same part of the year to schedule some of their most anticipated shows, turning the few days of this Art Trip in London into a mad rush from Trafalgar Square to the National Portrait Gallery to the Royal Academy of Arts to the Courtauld Institute of Art, by which point Green admits the onset of "masterpiece overload " — but also has several galleries, not to mention the main event of Frieze itself, to go.

Frieze Week doesn't come to Detroit, the onetime capital of American auto manufacturing whose population peaked in the middle of the 20th century and whose subsequent hard times, culminating in the city's 2013 bankruptcy, have been chronicled with both fascination and despair. But The Art Assignment finds a Detroit apart from the ruined factories, theaters, and train stations, the stuff of so many internet slideshows, at the Motown Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts (home to Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals), as well as in folk-art environments like the famous Heidelberg Project and public-art environments like downtown Detroit, whose recent revival has proven as compelling as its long decline. But many ruins remain, and artists like Scott Hocking have found in them not just their subjects but their materials as well.

More striking than Detroit's urban desolation is that of another unlikely The Art Assignment destination, Marfa, Texas. In his essay "The Republic of Marfa," Sean Wilsey describes it as "a hardscrabble ranching community in the upper Chihuahuan desert, sixty miles north of the Mexican border, that inhabits some of the most beautiful and intransigent countryside imaginable." In the mid-1970s "the minimalist artist Donald Judd moved to Marfa, exiling himself from what he termed the 'glib and harsh' New York art scene, in order to live in a sort of high plains laboratory devoted to building, sculpture, furniture design, museology, conservation, and a dash of ranching," and his influence — as well as the presence of his large-scale installations — helped to make Marfa "a sort of city-state of cattlemen, artists, writers, fugitives, smugglers, free-thinkers, environmentalists, soldiers and secessionists."

In Marfa Green explores the monumental work Judd left behind as well as the monumental work other artists have since contributed, including a project in a converted military barracks by neon artist Dan Flavin and a fake Prada store. Other Art Trip destinations include the likes of Chicago and Columbus, Indiana (modern-architecture mecca and setting of the recent feature film by video essayist Kogonada) as well as Tijuana and the Venice Biennale, all of which you can find on one playlist. Green has even done an Art Trip right where she lives, the "bland-leaning, chain restaurant-loving" Midwestern city of Indianapolis — which boasts the Museum of Psychphonics, an under-freeway art installation by Vito Acconci, and a fair few bike-share book-share stations as well. We can never fully know the cities we don't live in, but nor can we ever fully know the cities we do live in either — which, if we nevertheless enjoy the attempt as much as Green does, is no bad thing at all.

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Electric Guitars Made from the Detritus of Detroit

Video Essayist Kogonada Makes His Own Acclaimed Feature Film: Watch His Tributes to Its Inspirations Like Ozu, Linklater & Malick

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 or on Facebook.

25 John Lennon Fans Sing His Album, Working Class Hero, Word for Word, and Note for Note

A working class hero is something to be
If you want to be a hero well just follow me

- John Lennon, “Working Class Hero

Artist Candice Breitz knows that a true fan’s connection to a beloved musical artist is a source of power, however lopsided the “relationship” may be.

Favorite albums are touchstones that get us through good times and bad.

They pin us to a particular place and time.

There are patches when it feels like a singer we’ve never met is the only one in the world who truly knows us. Just ask your average teenager.

A dime will net you dozens upon dozens of Beatles fans, but a person who knows all the words to John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band, the 1970 solo album that followed hard on the heels of the Fab Four’s break up inhabits a far more rarified strata of fandom.




That person has earned the mantle of tried-and-true John fan.

And 25 of those earned a spot in Breitz’s 2006 "Working Class Hero (A Portrait of John Lennon)," above, a multi-channel singalong of the aforementioned John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band.

As with Breitz’s previous portraits of Bob MarleyMadonna, and Michael Jackson, the singer is the elephant in the room, the only voice absent from the choir that forms when the participants’ solo recording sessions are played simultaneously, as they are in the finished piece.

Recruited by notices in papers throughout the UK, including the Liverpool Echo, the fans’ degree of devotion, as evidenced by their responses to an in-depth questionnaire, mattered far and above training, talent, or appearance:

I want people who've been fans for 30 years or more, who aren't shy in front of a camera and want to pay tribute to John Lennon.

We'd love some Scousers, it would be a great pity not to have a group of Liverpudlians.

Those who made the cut were reimbursed for travel to a recording studio at Newcastle University, and filmed wearing their own clothes, free to emote or not as they saw fit. Some may have  fallen shy of the “30 years or more” requirement, and indeed, may not even have been born at the time of Lennon’s 1980 murder.

Just more proof of this legend’s staying power.

Their stamina is to be congratulated. It’s no easy feat to open with "Mother," a literal screamer born of Lennon’s forays into Primal Therapy.

And the tenderness they bring to quieter numbers like "Love" and "Hold On" is touching indeed. It’s not hard to guess who they’re singing to.

(It’s also really fun to witness them fumbling through "Hold On"’s ad-libbed “cookies,” a salute to Cookie Monster that also harkens to the childhood regression Lennon underwent as part of his Primal Therapy.)

Readers, if you were given the opportunity to contribute to one of Candice Breitz’s composite celebrity portraits, who would you want to pay tribute to, living or dead?

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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, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

How Sergio Leone Made Music an Actor in His Spaghetti Westerns, Creating a Perfect Harmony of Sound & Image

Nearly everyone who's heard music has also received intense feelings from music. "We know that music activates parts of the brain that regulate emotion, that it can help us concentrate, trigger memories, make us want to dance," says Evan Puschak, better known as the Nerdwriter, in his latest video essay. "Music fits so well with the patterns of thought, it's almost as if that lyrical quality is latent in life, or reality, or both. In film, no one understood this better than Sergio Leone, the Italian director of operatic spaghetti Westerns." And though you may not have seen any spaghetti Westerns yourself — even Leone's Clint Eastwood-starring trilogy of A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — you've surely heard their music.

The fame of the spaghetti Western score owes mostly to composer Ennio Morricone, whose collaboration with Leone "is arguably the most successful in all of cinema," thanks to "the deep respect Leone had for Morricone's work, but also his general feeling for how music should function in film." Unlike most filmmakers, who then, as now, commissioned a picture's score only after they completed the shooting, and sometimes even the editing, Leone would get Morricone's music first, "then design shots around those compositions.




The music, for Leone, really was a kind of script." Using scenes from Once Upon a Time in the West, Puschak shows that music was also an actor, in the sense that Leone brought it to the set so his human actors could react to it during the shoot. Often the music we hear in the background is also what the actors were hearing in the background, and what Leone used to orchestrate their actions and expressions.

Puschak calls the result "a perfect harmony of sound and image," whether the visual element may be a soaring crane shot or the kind of extended close-up he favored of a human face. Among living filmmakers, the spaghetti Western-loving Quentin Tarantino has most clearly followed in Leone's footsteps, to the point that he incorporated Morricone's music in several films before commissioning an original score from the composer for his own western The Hateful Eight. He goes in no more than Leone did for the "temp score," the standard Hollywood practice of filling the soundtrack of a movie in production with existing music and then asking a composer to write replacement music that sounds like it — a major cause of all the bland film scores we hear today. To go back to Once Upon a Time in the West, or any other of Leone's Westerns, is to understand once again what role music in film can really play.

Related Content:

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Hear 5 Hours of Ennio Morricone’s Scores for Classic Western Films: From Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns to Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight

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Watch the Opening of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey with the Original, Unused Score

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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 or on Facebook.

John Milton’s Hand Annotated Copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio: A New Discovery by a Cambridge Scholar

Perhaps the most well-read writer of his time, English poet John Milton “knew the biblical languages, along with Homer’s Greek and Vergil’s Latin,” notes the NYPL. He likely had Dante’s Divine Comedy in mind when he wrote Paradise Lost. His own Protestant epic, if not a theological response to the Divine Comedy, had as much literary impact on the English language as Dante’s poem did on Italian. Milton would also have as much influence on English as Shakespeare, his near contemporary, who died eight years after the Paradise Lost author was born.

In some sense, Milton can be called a direct literary heir of Shakespeare, though he wrote in a different medium and idiom (almost a different language), and with a very different set of concerns.




Milton’s father was a trustee of the Blackfriar’s Theatre, where Shakespeare’s company of actors, the King’s Men, began performing in 1609, the year after Milton’s birth. And Milton’s first published poem appeared anonymously in the 1632 second folio of Shakespeare’s plays under the title “An Epitaph on the admirable Dramaticke Poet, W. Shakespeare.”

Now known as “On Shakespeare,” the poem laments the sorry state of Shakespeare’s legacy—his monument a “weak witness,” his work an “unvalued book.” It may be difficult to imagine a time when Shakespeare wasn’t revered, but his reputation only began to spread beyond the theater in the early 17th century. Milton’s poem was one of the first to proclaim Shakespeare’s greatness, as a poet who should lie “in such pomp” that “kings for such a tomb would wish to die.”

Now, it seems that significant further evidence of Milton’s admiration, and critical appreciation, of Shakespeare has emerged: in the form of Milton’s own, personal copy of the 1623 First Folio edition of Shakespeare's plays, with annotations in Milton’s own hand. Moreover, it seems this evidence has been sitting under scholar’s noses for decades, housed in the public Free Library of Philadelphia’s Rare Book Department, one of over 230 extant copies of the First Folio.

In a blog post at the Centre for Material Texts, the University of Cambridge’s Jason Scott-Warren makes his case that the annotated First Folio is Milton’s own, primarily, he writes, on the basis of paleography, or handwriting analysis. “This just looks like Milton’s hand,” he says, then walks through several comparisons with other known Milton manuscripts, such as his commonplace book and annotated Bible.

There is also the copious evidence for dating the book to the time Milton would have owned it, from the many marginal references to contemporary works like Samuel Purchas’ 1625 Pilgrimes and John Fletcher’s The Bloody Brother. Milton “added marginal markings to all of the plays except for Henry VI 1-3 and Titus Andronicus,” notes Scott-Warren. His corrections—from the Quarto—emendations, and “smart cross-references” are “intelligent and assiduous.”

Anticipating blowback for his Milton theory, Scott-Warren asks, “wouldn’t his copy be bristling with cross-references, packed with smart observations and angrily censorious comments?” It would indeed, and “several distinguished Miltonists” have agreed with Scott-Warren’s analysis, many contacting him, he writes in a postscript, to say they’re “confident that this identification is correct." He adds that he has “been roundly rebuked for understating the significance of the discovery.”

This kind of self-reported validation isn’t exactly peer review, but we don’t have to take his word for it. Said scholars have made their approval publicly, enthusiastically, known on Twitter. And Penn State Assistant Professor of English Claire M.L. Bourne has written a congratulatory essay on her blog. It was Bourne who spurred on Scott-Warren’s investigation with her own essay “Vide Supplementum: Early Modern Collation as Play-Reading in the First Folio,” published just months earlier this year.

Bourne was one of the first few scholars to thoroughly examine the Free Library of Philadelphia’s copy of the First Folio. But, she admits, she completely missed the Milton connection. “You can work for a decade,” she writes ruefully, “as I did, on a single book… and still be left with gaping holes in the narrative.” This new scholarship may not only have filled in the mystery of the book’s first owner and annotator; it may also show the full degree to which Milton engaged with Shakespeare, and give Milton scholars “a new and significant field of reference” for reading his work.

via MetaFilter

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

Imagined Medieval Comics Illuminate the Absurdities of Modern Life

In 2005, the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised its famous food pyramid, jettisoning the familiar hierarchical graphic in favor of vertical rainbow stripes representing the various nutritional groups. A stick figure bounded up a staircase built into one side, to reinforce the idea of adding regular physical activity to all those whole grains and veggies.

The dietary information it promoted was an improvement on the original, but nutritional scientists were skeptical that the public would be able to parse the confusing graphic, and by and large this proved to be the case.




Artist Tyler Gunther, however, was inspired:

I started thinking about the messaging school children in 1308 were force fed to believe was part of a heart healthy diet, only to have the rug pulled out from under them 15 years later when some monk rearranged the whole thing.

In other words, you’d better dig into that annual goose pie, kids, while you’ve still got 6 glasses of ale to wash it down.

The imagined overlap between the modern and the medieval is a fertile vein for Gunter, whose MFA in Costume Design is often put to good use in his hilarious historical comics:

Modern men’s fashion is so incredibly boring. A guy wears a pattered shirt with a suit and he gets lauded as though he won the super bowl of fashion. But back in the Middle Ages men made bold, brave fashion choices and I admire them greatly for this. It’s so exciting to me to think of these inventive, strange, fantastic creations being a part of the everyday masculine aesthetic.

The shapes and structures of women’s headwear in the dark ages are truly inspiring. Where were these milliners drawing inspiration from? How were they engineered? How comfortable were they to wear? How did they fit through the majority of doorways? What was it like to sit behind a particularly large one in church? I’m still scrolling through many an internet history blog to find the answers. 

Kathryn Warner’s Edward II blog has proved a helpful resource, as has Anne H. van Buren’s book Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands.

The Brooklyn-based, Arkansas-born artist also makes periodic pilgrimages to the Cloisters, where the Metropolitan Museum houses a vast number illuminated manuscripts, panel paintings, altar pieces, and the famed Unicorn Tapestries:

On my first trip to The Cloisters I saw a painting of St. Michael and the devil almost immediately. I don’t think my life or art has been the same since. None of us know what the devil looks like. But you wouldn’t know that based on how confidently this artist portrays his likeness. After gazing at this painting for an extended period of time I wanted so badly to understand the imagination of whoever could imagine an alligator arms/face crotch/dragon ponytail combo. I don’t think I’ve come close to scratching the surface.

Every time I go to that museum I think, “Wow it’s like I’m on Game of Thrones” and then I have to remind myself kindly that this was real life. Almost everything there was an object that people interacted with as part of their average daily life and that fascinates me as someone who lives in a world filled with mass produced, plastic objects. 

Gunther’s drawings and comics are created (and aged) on that most modern of conveniences—the iPad.

The British monarchy and the First Ladies are also sources of fascination, but the middle ages are his primary passion, to the point where he recently costumed himself as a page to tell the story of Piers Gaveston, 1st Earl of Cornwall and Edward II’s darling, aided by a garment rack he’d retooled as a medieval pageant cart-cum-puppet theater.

See the rest of Tyler Gunther’s Medieval Comics on his website and don’t forget to surprise your favorite hygienist or oral surgeon with his Medieval Dentist print this holiday season.

All images used with permission of artist Tyler Gunther

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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, October 7 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates the art of Aubrey Beardsley, with a special appearance by Tyler Gunther. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Bob Moog Demonstrates His Revolutionary Moog Model D Synthesizer

There are far better players of Bob Moog’s wonderous analog synthesizers than Bob Moog himself--from Wendy Carlos, who reinterpreted Bach for the newfangled instrument in the 60s to Rick Wakeman and Richard Wright to Giorgio Moroder to Gary Numan, to virtually anyone who has ever recorded music with a Moog. Bob Moog was not a musician, he was an engineer who took piano lessons before earning his B.A. in physics, M.A. in electrical engineering, and Ph.D. in engineering physics from Cornell.

Academic credentials have no bearing on what moves us musically, but it’s always worth noting that the Moog synthesizers—which did more to change the sound of modern music than perhaps any instrument since the electric guitar—came out of decades of dogged scientific research, beginning when Moog was only 14 years old and built a homemade Theremin from plans he found printed in the magazine Electronics World. That was 1949. Almost thirty years later, the Minimoog Model D appeared, the revolutionary portable version of studio-sized machine Carlos used to reimagine classical music in the late 60s.




“It’s an analogue monophonic synthesizer,” says Moog in the video above. “That means it makes the waveforms by electronic means and it plays one note at a time.” Sounds rather primitive by our standards, but watch the demonstration below by Marc Doty, who walks us through the sweeping range of functions in the compact machine, made between 1970 and 1981 (and reissued for a limited run in 2016). Its banks of waveform selectors, oscillators, filters, and envelopes produce “something sweeter,” says Doty, than your average synthetic sounds, though he can’t quite put his finger on what it is.

We’ve all heard the difference, whether we know it or not, and discriminating ears can pick a Minimoog out of any lineup of analogue synths. It is, Doty declares in the description for his video, “perhaps the most beautiful, beautiful sounding, and functional synthesizer ever produced.” Called the Model D because it was the fourth iteration of previous versions made in-house between 1969-70, it was truly, says author and composer Albert Glinsky, “the first portable synthesizer where everything is contained in one unit. It really is the prototype, the ancestor, of every portable keyboard in every music shop today.”

One of its innovations, the pitch wheel, now standard issue on almost all of those mass-produced successors of the Minimoog, was the first of its kind. If Moog “had patented [the pitch wheel],” says David Borden, one of the first musicians to play the Minimoog live, “he would have been an extremely wealthy man.” Others have made similar observations about Moog’s pioneering sound-shaping technologies, but as Richard Leon points out at Sound on Sound, it’s a good thing for us all that the inventor wasn’t motivated by profit.

Competition nearly buried the company Moog sold in the mid-70s (only reacquiring rights to his own name in 2002), but had Moog “tried to create a monopoly on these fundamentals,” Leon writes, “it’s likely the synth industry as we know it today would never have happened.”

Related Content:

How the Moog Synthesizer Changed the Sound of Music

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

A 10-Hour Playlist of Music Inspired by Robert Moog’s Iconic Synthesizer: Hear Electronic Works by Kraftwerk, Devo, Stevie Wonder, Rick Wakeman & More

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

Watch Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig Taking Batting Practice in Strikingly Restored Footage (1931)

How would Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and other famous ballplayers of bygone eras fare if put on the diamond today? Variations on that question tend to come up in conversation among enthusiasts of baseball and its history, and different people bring different kinds of evidence to bear in search of an answer: statistics, eyewitness accounts, analogies between particular historical players and current ones. But the fact remains that none of us have ever actually seen the likes of Ruth, who played his last professional game in 1935, and Gehrig, who did so in 1939, in their prime. But now we can at least get a little closer by watching the film clip above, which shows both of the titanic Yankees at batting practice on April 11, 1931.

What's more, it shows them moving at real-life speed. "Fox Movietone sound cameras made slow-motion captures of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig at batting practice during an exhibition practice in Brooklyn, New York," writes uploader Guy Jones (whose other baseball videos include Ruth hitting a home run on opening day the same year and Ruth's last appearance at bat a decade later). "With modern technology, we can witness this footage adjusted to a normal speed which results in a very high framerate."




In other words, the film shows Ruth and Gehrig not just moving in the very same way they did in real life, but captured with a smoothness uncommon in newsreel footage from the 1930s. For comparison, Jones includes at the end of the video "more footage of the practice (shot at typical fps) and the original un-edited slow-mo captures."

Unfortunately, what this film reveals doesn't impress observers of modern baseball. "Ruth and Gehrig in no way look like a modern ballplayer," writes The Big Lead's Kyle Koster. "Ruth is off-balance, falling into his swing. Gehrig routinely lifts his back foot off the ground. Again, it’s batting practice so the competitive juices weren’t flowing. But even by that standard, the whole exercise looks sloppy and inefficient." Cut4's Jake Mintz gets harsher, as well as more technical: "Tell me Ruth's cockamamie swing mechanics would enable him to hit a 98-mph heater." As for the Iron Horse, his "hack is a little better," but still "absurdly low" by today's standards. It goes to show, Mintz writes, that "these two legends, while undeniably transcendent in their time, would be good Double-A hitters at best if they played today." We evolve, our technologies evolve, and so, it seems, do the games we play.

Related Content:

Home Movies of Duke Ellington Playing Baseball (And How Baseball Coined the Word “Jazz”)

Read Online Haruki Murakami’s New Essay on How a Baseball Game Launched His Writing Career

Fritz Lang’s M: The Restored Version of the Classic 1931 Film

Immaculately Restored Film Lets You Revisit Life in New York City in 1911

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 or on Facebook.





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