Special David Bowie MetroCards Get Released in New York City

Some pretty famous faces ride the New York City subway. Was David Bowie’s ever among them?

If so, he succeeded in dodging the cameras of the curious.

His home stop would have been SoHo’s Broadway/Lafayette—close to the Angelika Film CenterHousing Works Bookstore Cafe, and an upscale men’s clothing store that opened on the sacred ground of CBGB, where Bowie and Bianca Jagger once arrived by limousine to see Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

From there, it’s not exactly a straight shot to the David Bowie Is exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, but the Metropolitan Transit Authority will get you there for the price of a single $2.75 subway fare.

Given that the MTA stopped accepting tokens 15 years ago, you’ll also need to cough up $1 for a MetroCard. You may want to even if you already own one.

In celebration of all things Bowie, the MTA has teamed with Spotify to create 5 limited edition MetroCards, available in vending machines throughout the station for a New York minute—about as long as it takes Bowie fans to descend en masse to snag the instant collectibles of their hero in some of his many guises:

Ziggy Stardust

Aladdin Sane

The Thin White Duke

Scary Monsters’ Pierrot

and, most touchingly, the teenage David Jones, aka Bowie, saxophonist for the Kon-Rads.

Underground Bowie mania extends way beyond MetroCards. Until Mother’s Day, the unusually lofty station is festooned with Bowie—everything from fan art to giant reproductions of photos from the current exhibition.

Many of the images are accompanied by a scannable Spotify code to transport riders to a relevant sound file, a nifty echo of the progressive audio museum-goers experience through their headphones.

The global exhibit has London roots, but the MTA is focused on Bowie’s ties to New York with photos and video stills from such locations as Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, and the late, lamented Magic Shop studio.

Civic pride is also on display in the form of city-specific Bowie quotes posted throughout the station:

I have a great time here: we can go where we want, eat where we want, walk out with our child, go to the park, ride the subway, do the things that any family does.

Ah ha! So he did ride the subway here, as well as in Japan (below).

According to a fan on Bowery Boogie, he also popped up at the New York Public Library’s Mulberry Street branch, just around the corner from the subway’s entrance. To find your way there, consult the bright orange "Bowie’s Neighborhood Map" before leaving the station, where your location is denoted with a lightning bolt.

See riders’ photos of the subway takeover here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Salvador Dalí Action Figure

First came the Frida Kahlo Action Figure, the Edvard Munch Scream Action Figure, and the Vincent Van Gogh Action Figure, Complete with Detachable Ear. And soon they can all pal around with the Salvador Dalí Action Figure.

With six days to go, 693 backers have pledged $15,676 to a Kickstarter campaign that's hoping to raise a total of $26,158. Should they reach that goal, a company called Today Is Art Day will put into production a charming Dali figure. Standing five inches tall, the figure "comes with 3 sets of wacky interchangeable mustaches" and "deluxe mustaches made of stainless steel." The Dalí figure "holds his signature melting clock," and there are five Dalí masterpieces to display on a miniature easel. Apparently endorsed by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, the figure should go into production this August. Help Kickstart things here.

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

Other than one or two of the world's supercentenarians, nobody remembers New York in 1911. Plenty of living historians and enthusiasts of the city have paid intensive attention to that booming time period when the city's population fast approached five million, but none experienced it first-hand. They, and we, can get no closer to it than watching the footage above, originally shot by a Swedish documentary team which set out to capture the most celebrated places in the world at the time, a list also including Niagara Falls, Paris, Monte Carlo, and Venice. The practically immaculate condition of the film highlights both the similarities and differences between the street life of New York over a century ago and of New York today.

Take a look at the tailored or tailored-looking clothing on nearly everyone, even the one-legged man making his deliberate way past the Chinese grocery. Then as now, most New Yorkers got around on foot, and since the city's first subway line had opened just seven years before, the dominant public transit options remained streetcars and elevated trains.

In the realm of private vehicles, horse-drawn carriages had only just begun to give way to motorcars. (Since 1911 was still the age of silent film, the ambient sound of all this was added later.) "Take note of the surprising and remarkably timeless expression of boredom exhibited by a young girl filmed as she was chauffeured along Broadway in the front seat of a convertible limousine," says the Museum of Modern Art's notes.

MoMA, which exhibited the footage last year, also points out familiar landmarks: "Opening and closing with shots of the Statue of Liberty, the film also includes New York Harbor; Battery Park and the John Ericsson statue; the elevated railways at Bowery and Worth Streets; Broadway sights like Grace Church and Mark Cross; the Flatiron Building on Fifth Avenue; and Madison Avenue." Any modern New Yorker halfway interested in the city will know all those places, and even if the city has changed in countless other ways, they'll sense the very same characteristic vitality in these clips that they feel there today. Will New Yorkers of the future have the same reaction, to, say, the Japanese high-definition video demo footage shot on those very same streets in the 1990s? It'll take about eighty years to find out. We probably won't be here by then, but New York certainly will.

via Kottke

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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.

Download an Archive of 16,000 Sound Effects from the BBC: A Fascinating History of the 20th Century in Sound

I was crate digging at my local used vinyl emporium a little while ago and came across some sound effects records from the early ‘60s. Nothing amazing, until I checked the track list and noticed “Sounds of Football Match -- ‘Block that Kick!’”

If you’re a Beatles fan like me, you’ll know what I suspected and then found to be true: I was holding the source of not just one, but several of the sound effects used in “Revolution 9” as well as the bird effects heard on "Across the Universe" and “Blackbird.” Apparently this must have been a popular disc at Abbey Road.

Now I mention this as a preamble to this amazing website by the BBC, in which they’ve opened their archive of 16,000 (technically 16,016) sound effects, many of which have surely been used over and over on various radio plays. (For the Americans out there, yes, BBC Radio still produces radio plays!)

The sounds, each of which you can download, are being released under a non-commercial use license as part of their RemArc program, which is “designed to help trigger memories in people with dementia using BBC Archive material as stimulation.”

The archives run from the nightmarish “South American parrot talking and screeching” which I actually never want to hear again:

to “Zeppelin bomb-drop mechanism. (Comedy Spot Effect),” which doesn’t *sound* funny, but who knows how it was used:

There’s also sounds of the 1966 F.A. Cup Final between Everton and Sheffield Wednesday:

Plenty of these sound effects were relevant at the time. However, a lot of them are now remnants of a time long past, from sounds of offices--noisy then, dead silent now--to high streets (much less music). How many kids would recognize a dial tone or a busy signal, let alone the majestic alien weirdness of a Creed Machine operating:

Back to my opening musing. I would suspect those sound effects also found their way into any number of television shows.

Could we assume, then, that Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam raided these archives for his animations? Or David Attenborough’s crew for any number of nature documentaries? Sound detectives, start digging. Enter the BBC Sound Effects Archive here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Kind of Blue: How Miles Davis Changed Jazz

Why is it, as Brian Gilmore writes at JazzTimes, that “even people who hardly listen to jazz adore this album”? Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue hardly needs an introduction. Many thousands of words have been written about its legendary composition and recording, about the extraordinary ensemble responsible for its existence—Davis, John Coltrane, “Cannonball” Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, and a young Bill Evans—and about the year of its release, 1959, a watershed moment in the history of jazz, and of nearly all modern music.

“It’s no longer necessary to remind music lovers that Kind of Blue is essential listening,” argues The Guardian’s John Fordham, “and that everybody who wants to make sense of the music of our time ought to have at least some idea of what’s good about it.” Should your education in Kind of Blue be lacking, you can get caught up on the basics in the Polyphonic video just above, which quickly gets to the heart of Davis’ musical innovation: making the definitive break with bebop and setting the standard for modal jazz, and thus the explosion of free jazz innovations to come.

Where most forms of jazz had built increasingly complex chord changes over which soloists improvised, Davis shifted to using modes (the seven modes of modern music) as the basis for song structure. Without needing to get overly technical with music theory, you can understand immediately upon listening to the album that modal composition allowed Davis and his band to slow down, simplify, and create subtle, complex shifts in mood that can be at once lilting, cool, and kind of… blue. Davis had experimented with blues-based modal forms before. Here, he integrates that knowledge with classical ideas and improvisatory brilliance.

“As is now part of jazz folklore,” notes Fordham, “the New York sessions that produced this remarkable album were completed in a handful of takes over just a few hours, with a minimum of compositional materials.” From there, a revolution. It is "The most exquisitely refined of ambient music," writes Richard Williams in his definitive monograph The Blue Moment, and the one record many music fans would rescue "from a burning house." It may be the best-selling jazz album of all time. Steely Dan's Donald Fagen called it "the Bible." Quincy Jones called his "orange juice," because he listens to it every day

"No one could disagree with Williams when he connects this with the developments of John Coltrane," writes Sholto Byrnes, from his "shocking demolition of the dainty brickwork of Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'My Favorite Things,'" to his masterpiece A Love Supreme. Its influence, according to Williams, runs through the work of Ornette Coleman Steve Reich, John Cale, the Velvet Underground, James Brown, Sly Stone, Soft Machine, Brian Eno, Moby, and so on and so on. If you've never quite understood what makes Kind of Blue so great, get a crash course in the video explainer above. Then sit down and listen to it a few hundred times.

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

Watch Choirs Around the World Simulate the Rainstorm in Toto’s “Africa” Using Only Their Hands

The Los Angeles-based choir, Angel City Chorale, above, captured the Internet’s imagination in a big way with their 2013 cover of Toto’s 1982 hit, "Africa," in which the group’s 160 performers created a realistic-sounding thunderstorm using only their hands.

Delightful! And more common than you may at first think.

The Chorale acknowledges that they owe a great debt to Slovenian vocal group Perpetuum Jazzile’s thunderous 2008 rendition. Stagehands accustomed to creating credible thunderclaps by waving wiggly sheets of aluminum backstage may want to switch to hundreds of feet hopping up and down in unison, as heard at the 1-minute mark, below.

Go a bit further back to find an actual African choir’s finger-snapping, thigh-smacking "Africa."

The Kearsney College Choir is based near Durban, South Africa, and they appear to have been the first to open this number with the now-famous rainstorm effect. Its members are school boys ranging in age from 13 to 18. The video below shows them performing the tune in the 2008 World Choir Games, an annual competition that will be taking place on their home turf this year.

Interestingly, there’s not that much rain in the original. Over the years Toto’s songwriters, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro have made various statements about its origins—a guy transfixed by images of suffering Africans on TV, a lonely missionary, a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair’s Africa pavilion …

There’s a bit of rain to be seen in the very 80’s official music video, but nothing that rivals the choirs’ spectacular downpours.

If you’re moved to whip up a tempest of your own, Jbrary’s children's librarians, Dana Horrocks and Lindsey Krabbenhoft, have created an instructional video that shows just how simple the effect is to master. The real trick is enlisting 100s of friends to do it at the same time.

Buy Perpetuum Jazzile’s "Africa" CD and vocal arrangements here.

Download Angel City Chorale’s "Africa" single on iTunes or CDBaby.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, April 23 for the third installment of her literary-themed variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics, The Most Popular Physics Book Ever Written, Is Now Completely Online

Image by Tamiko Thiel, via Wikimedia Commons

In years past, we let you know that Caltech and The Feynman Lectures Website joined forces to create an online edition of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. They started with Volume 1. And they've since followed up with Volume 2 and Volume 3, making the collection complete.

First presented in the early 1960s at Caltech by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, the lectures were eventually turned into a book by Feynman, Robert B. Leighton, and Matthew Sands. The text went on to become arguably the most popular physics book ever written, selling more than 1.5 million copies in English, and getting translated into a dozen languages.

The new online edition makes The Feynman Lectures on Physics available in HTML5. The text “has been designed for ease of reading on devices of any size or shape,” and you can zoom into text, figures and equations without degradation. Dive right into the lectures here. And if you’d prefer to see Feynman (as opposed to read Feynman), we would encourage you to watch ‘The Character of Physical Law,’ Feynman’s  seven-part lecture series recorded at Cornell in 1964.

The Feynman Lectures on Physics is now listed in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Textbooks.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in August, 2014.

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Cornell Creates a Database of Fugitive Slave Ads, Telling the Story of Those Who Resisted Slavery in 18th & 19th Century America

While the value of slaves in the U.S. from the colonial period to the Civil War rose and fell like other market goods, for the most part, enslaved people constituted the most valuable kind of property, typically worth even more than land and other highly valued resources. In one study, three University of Kansas historians estimate that during most of the 18th century in South Carolina, slaves “made up close to half of the personal wealth recorded in probate inventory in most decades.” By the 19th century, slaveholders had begun taking out insurance policies on their slaves as Rachel L. Swarns documents at The New York Times.

“Alive,” Swarns writes, “slaves were among a white man’s most prized assets. Dead, they were considered virtually worthless…. By 1847, insurance policies on slaves accounted for a third of the policies in a firm”—New York Life—“that would become one of the nation’s Fortune 100 companies.” Given the huge economic incentives for perpetuating the system of chattel slavery, the fact that people did not want to be held in forced labor for life—and to condemn their children and grandchildren to the same—presented slaveholders with a serious problem.

For over 250 years, countless numbers of enslaved people attempted to escape to freedom. And thousands of slaveowners ran newspaper ads to try and recover their investments. These ads are likely familiar from textbooks and historical articles on slavery; they have long been used singly to illustrate a point, “but they have never been systematically collected,” notes Cornell University’s Freedom on the Move project, which intends to “compile all North American slave runaway ads and make them available for statistical, geographical, textual, and other forms of analysis.” While the database is still in progress, examples of the ads are being shared on the @fotmproject Twitter account.

The ongoing project presents a tremendous opportunity for historical scholars of the period. “If we could collect and collate all of these ads,” the project’s researchers write, “we would create what might be the single richest source of data possible for understanding the lives of the approximately eight million people who were enslaved in the U.S.” It is estimated that 100,000 or more such ads survive “from the colonial and pre-Civil War U.S.,” though they might represent a fraction of those published, and of the number of attempted, and successful, escapes.

Many of the ads casually reveal evidence of brutal treatment, listing scars and brands, missing fingers, speech impediments, and halting walks. They show many of the escaped slaves to have been skilled in several trades and speak multiple languages. A large number of the escapees are children. As University of New Orleans historian Mary Niall Mitchell tells Hyperallergic, “ironically, in trying to retrieve their property—the people they claimed as things—enslavers left us mounds of evidence about the humanity of the people they bought and sold.” (Mitchell is one of the projects three lead researchers, along with University of Alabama’s Joshua Rothman and Cornell’s Edward Baptist, author of The Half Has Never Been Told.)

The slaveholders who ran ads also left evidence of what they made themselves believe in order to hold people as property. One ad describes a runaway slave named Billy as having been “persuaded to leave his master by some villain,” as though Billy must surely have been contented with his lot. In the overwhelming majority of cases, we will never know with certainty what most people thought about being enslaved. Yet the fact that hundreds of thousands attempted to escape at great personal risk, often without any help—to such a degree that extreme, inflammatory measures like the Fugitive Slave Act were eventually deemed necessary—should offer sufficient testament, if the relatively few written narratives aren’t enough. “For some” of the people in the ads, says Mitchell, “this may be the only place something about them survives, in any detail, in the written record,”

Freedom on the Move, writes Hyperallergic’s Allison Meier, “expands on the history of resistance against slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries.” It offers a compelling picture of two intolerably irresolvable views—those of slaveholders who viewed enslaved people as proprietary investments; and those of the enslaved who refused to be reduced to objects for others’ pleasure and profit.

Visit Freedom on the Move and find out more.

via Hyperallergic

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

Martin Scorsese Teaches His First Online Course on Filmmaking: Features 30 Video Lessons

Last September, online education company Masterclass announced that they'd soon launch Martin Scorsese's very first online course, "Martin Scorsese Teaches Filmmaking." Now it has opened for enrollment, at the usual Masterclass cost of $90 for the individual course or $180 for an all-access pass to all the courses on the site, a list that also includes Spike Lee and Werner Herzog's takes on the same subject. For a company that has quickly made its name by enlisting famous instructors, they could hardly do better than Scorsese, whose own name has become a byword for auteurism in late 20th- and early 21st-century American cinema.

"If you're intrigued by moviemaking as a career, this isn't the class for you," Scorsese says in the class' trailer above. "But if you need to make movies, if you feel like you can't rest until you've told this particular story that you're burning to tell, then I could be speaking to you." Its 30 lessons, which cover everything from his life and education to developing a style to casting actors to shooting on a low budget, might also appeal to those who simply love Scorsese's movies.

He illustrates his instructional points by drawing on his own formidable filmography and the vast experience that has gone into it (including the physical illness that descends upon him before viewing each rough cut), a process that no doubt provides countless insights into what makes his work so powerful.

But the curriculum also goes well beyond Scorsese-on-Scorsese, as one might expect from a man unabashedly driven by a pure love of cinema — of, seemingly, all of cinema. In the final section of the course, Scorsese breaks down scenes from Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, François Truffaut's Jules and Jim, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, and Federico Fellini's 8 1/2, examining the technical elements that fill them with their distinctive magic. His enthusiasm has surely inspired almost as many of his fans to go into filmmaking as has his work itself, but even those who lack the burning desire to tell cinematic stories themselves know that if there's any viewing experience as compelling as watching a Scorsese movie, it's watching Scorsese talk about movies.

Note: MasterClasss and Open Culture have a partnership. If you sign up for a MasterClass course, it benefits not just you and MasterClass. It benefits Open Culture too. So consider it win-win-win.

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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.

How the Iconic Eames Lounge Chair Is Made, From Start to Finish

In 1956, Charles and Ray Eames unveiled a lounge chair that did something special. It took modern design and made it comfortable. It placed “the sitter into a voluptuous luxury that few mortals since Nero have known.” Below, you can revisit the original unveiling of the Eames Lounge Chair, which took place on the Home Show, an American daytime TV program hosted by Arlene Francis. And above, you can watch the making of the Eames Lounge Chair, which remains very much in production and demand today. It's still a staple of the Herman Miller furniture collection. Some aspects of the production have gotten a bit more high tech, of course. And the original Brazilian rosewood has been replaced by a more sustainable Palisander rosewood. But the high-touch process remains otherwise largely the same. Originally priced at $310, the Eames Lounge Chair will now set you back $5,295.

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