The Rise and Fall of the Great Library of Alexandria: An Animated Introduction

The demise of the Library of Alexandria has for centuries been cast as one of history’s greatest tragedies, an incalculable and senseless loss of ancient knowledge in an act of war. “Once the largest library in the ancient world,” writes Brian Haughton at Ancient History Encyclopedia, “containing works by the greatest thinkers and writers of antiquity, including Homer, Plato, Socrates and many more, the Library of Alexandria, northern Egypt, is popularly believed to have been destroyed in a huge fire around 2000 years ago and its voluminous works lost.”

Ancient accounts, including those of Julius Caesar himself, that detail the multiple burnings of Alexandria seem to support this story. But in truth, the Library's disappearance has been a historical mystery, “perpetuated by the fact that no architectural remains or archaeological finds that can definitely be attributed to the ancient Library have ever been recovered.” The TED-Ed lesson above tells the story of the Library’s rise and fall, which is, as history tends to be, “much more complex.”

Built 2300 years ago by Alexander the Great’s successor, Ptolemy I, the Library was intended to rival any scholarly institution in Athens, and by all accounts, it did. Alexandria’s rulers attempted to collect a copy of every manuscript in the world. Any ship that docked in the city had to “turn over its books for copying.” Book hunters were sent all over the Mediterranean. The Library was in fact, notes Haughton, “two or more libraries,” one of them named the “Temple of the Muses,” or “the Musaeum,” (Greek, Mouseion), from which the modern word “museum” derives.

As a cultural center, it was unusually democratic. “Unlike the many private libraries that existed in the palaces of the wealthy in the ancient world,” writes Annalee Newitz at io9, “the library at Alexandria was open to anyone who could prove themselves a worthy scholar.” Among them were Callimachus of Cyrene, who created the first library catalog to help navigate the vast collection, and Eratosthenes, one of the Library’s directors, who calculated the Earth’s circumference and diameter (and knew that it was round) within only a few miles of their actual size.

The Library thrived for around 300 years before it went into a very long period of decline. Though Julius Caesar’s siege of Alexandria in 45 BCE has been blamed for its destruction, and may have decimated part of its collection, we know that it survived and that scholars continued to visit it for several hundred more years. Its last recorded director was scholar and mathematician Theon, father of famed female philosopher Hypatia, who was murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE. As the city became ruled by a succession of empires—Greek, Roman, Christian, and Muslim—the Library seemed increasingly to pose a threat to its rulers.

The TED-Ed video implicates the ravages of time and the fear of knowledge as historical culprits in the Library’s demise. Newitz points to a much more mundane cause, budget cuts. She quotes library historian Heather Phillips’ explanation of its downfall as “gradual, often bureaucratic, and by comparison to our cultural imaginings, somewhat petty.” The causes of its fall included abolishing stipends and expelling foreign scholars. While we have imagined the Library burning down or torn to pieces by religious fanatics, the truth may be that it slowly fell victim to other ancient ills: institutionalized greed, short-sightedness, bigotry, and ignorance.

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

Did Lennon or McCartney Write the Beatles 1965 Song “In My Life”? A Math Professor, Using Statistics, Solves the Decades-Old Mystery

In 2009, guitarist Randy Bachman of the Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive had the rare opportunity to hear the individual tracks that make up that mythic opening chord in the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” an enigma that has baffled musicians for decades. Bachman found that it’s actually made up of a combination of different chords played all at once by George, John, and Paul. The discovery made for a great story, and Bachman told it the following year on his CBC radio show. Unbeknownst to him, it seems, another Canadian Beatles lover, Dalhousie University math professor Jason Brown, claimed he had cracked the code the previous year, without setting foot in Abbey Road.

Instead, Brown used what is called a Fourier Analysis, based on work done in the 1820s by French scientist Joseph Fourier, which reduces sounds into their “constituent sine or cosine waves.” The problem with Bachman’s explanation, as Eliot Van Buskirk notes at Wired, is that the chord “contains a note that would be impossible for the Beatles’ two guitarists and bassist to play in one take.” Since there was no overdubbing involved, something else must have been happening. Through his mathematical analysis, Brown determined that something else to have been five notes played on the piano, apparently by George Martin, “who is known to have doubled on piano George Harrison’s solo on the track.”

After ten years of work, Brown has returned with the solution to another longtime Beatles mystery, this time with a little help from his colleagues, Harvard mathematicians Mark Glickman and Ryan Song. The problem: who wrote the melody for “In My Life,” Rubber Soul’s nostalgic ballad? The song is credited to the crack team of Lennon-McCartney, but while the two agreed that Lennon penned the lyrics, both separately claimed in interviews to have written the music. Brown and his collaborators used statistical methods to determine that it was, in fact, Lennon who wrote the whole song.

They present their research in a paper titled “Assessing Authorship of Beatles Songs from Musical Content: Bayesian Classification Modeling from Bags-Of-Words Representations.” In the NPR Weekend Edition interview above, you can hear Stanford mathematician Keith Devlin break down the terms of their project, including that odd phrase “bags-of-words representations,” which “actually goes back to the 1950s,” he says. “Bags-of-words”—like the word clouds we now see on websites—take text, “ignore the grammar” and word order and produce a collection of words. The method was used to generate the first spam filters. Rather than use words, however, the mathematicians decontextualized snippets of sound.

In an analysis of “about 70 songs from Lennon and McCartney... they found there were 149 very distinct transitions between notes and chords.” These are unique to one or the other songwriters. “When you do the math,” Devlin says, it turns out “the probability that McCartney wrote it was .o18—that’s essentially zero.” Why might Paul have misremembered this—even saying specifically in a 1984 Playboy interview that he recalled “going off for half an hour and sitting with a Mellotron… writing the tune”? Who knows. Mashable has reached out to McCartney’s publicist for comment. But in the final analysis, says Devlin, “I would go with mathematics” over faulty human memory.

via NPR

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

How Leonard Cohen Wrote a Love Song

So many songs take love as their topic, almost by default, that we hardly even think of the "love song" as a distinct type of musical work anymore. And when we do, we often do it out of a desire for alternatives: lyrics and compositions of a more complex, cerebral, and iconic nature, escapes from the simple paeans to infatuation, romance, and couplehood with which we can easily feel fed up. Few singer-songwriters in recent history would seem more capable of providing such escapes than Leonard Cohen, who never shied away from looking at life (and when the time came, death) straight on, refusing to shrink from its infinite emotional chiaroscuro.

But Leonard Cohen, too, wrote love songs now and again. In "How Leonard Cohen Writes a Love Song," the video essay from Polyphonic above, we learn just how he tackled that most common of all musical subjects without abandoning his inimitable sensibility. It first examines Cohen's song "Suzanne," which has its origins in a poem he wrote in 1966 and appeared on his debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen the following year. Unlike almost all love songs, "Suzanne" deals with a Platonic relationship, in this case the one between Cohen and a woman with whom he regularly drank tea and took walks around his native Montreal.

From "Suzanne" the analysis moves on to "Famous Blue Raincoat" from Cohen's 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate. The necessary balance between those forces implied in the album's title reflects Cohen's worldview, which in the 1970s led him into an involvement with Buddhism. But he'd also looked into Scientology, which explains the song's then-cryptic question "Did you ever go clear?" That counts as only one of the many cultural references with which Cohen layers "Famous Blue Raincoat," as he layered so much of his work; even a song ostensibly about love was also about much else in the world besides love.

After an unpromising initial release in 1984, "Hallelujah," would go on to become Cohen's signature song. (Malcolm Gladwell tells the story on his podcast Revisionist History). Despite the religious themes on its surface, "Hallelujah" has a deeper meaning, so the video reveals, as a love song, albeit a love song of a multivalent kind. Last comes "I'm Your Man," the title track from Cohen's uncharacteristically synthesizer-heavy 1988 album, and itself an uncharacteristically love song-like love song. But, in the words of Pitchfork's Dorian Lynksey, it takes its "sentimental clichés — I’m addicted to love, I’ll do anything for love — to brutal extremes." Though Cohen ultimately had to admit his inability to fully understand, much less tame, the forces of love, never did he give up trying to master it in song, approaching it in all the ways typical love songs teach us never to expect.

Related Content:

Hallelujah!: You Can Stream Every Leonard Cohen Album in a 22-Hour Chronological Playlist (1967-2016)

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Hear Leonard Cohen’s Final Interview: Recorded by David Remnick of The New Yorker

Malcolm Gladwell on Why Genius Takes Time: A Look at the Making of Elvis Costello’s “Deportee” & Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Listen to Nick Cave’s Lecture on the Art of Writing Sublime Love Songs (1999)

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.

Aretha Franklin’s Most Powerful Early Performances: “Respect,” “Chain of Fools,” “Say a Little Prayer” & More

Surely you’ve heard, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is gravely ill with terminal cancer and has been moved to hospice care. The news has brought tearful tributes from celebrities and fans; lengthy retrospectives of her almost sixty-year career will follow. In a life as rich, troubled, and glamorous as hers, with so many intense highs and lows, it’s almost impossible to know where to begin, though a number of biographers have already told her story—or stories. She kept many of the details of her life private for years, and denied the sensational details in a recent biography by David Ritz, who collaborated with her on an earlier bio, 1999’s Aretha: From These Roots.

Her struggles with alcohol and overeating, pregnancies at 12 and 14 years old, tumultuous and abusive relationships… describing her challenges and her wilder times, claims Ritz in his defense, throws her incredible talent and success into even higher relief. It probably won’t hurt sales, either. In any case, there's no doubt that Aretha is a survivor. She sang anthems of self-reliance like “Respect” and “Think” from deep wells of personal feeling and experience. Music, she told Essence magazine in 1973, “is my way of communicating that part of me I can get out front and share. It’s what I have to give; my way of saying, ‘Let’s find one another.’”

A musical prodigy as a singer and pianist, America’s reigning diva “grew up surrounded by gospel greats,” notes, “such as Mahalia Jackson, Sam Cooke and Clara Ward, as well as civil rights icons including Martin Luther King Jr.," whom she mourned in song at his funeral. She’s won 18 Grammys, sung at the inauguration of three presidents, became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had 43 singles in the top 40 charts… this list of accomplishments seems to just scratch the surface. What matters in the end, and what will endure, are not the honors, awards, and chart positions, but her incredible musicianship and voice. Her gospel roots drove every performance, giving even the lightest of songs, like Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “I Say a Little Prayer,” a stirring power and conviction.

As millions around the world offer prayers for Aretha, revisit some of the finest live moments in her early career in the clips here— “Respect” in 1967, at the top, the year she won her first Grammy for best R&B recording. See her perform “Chain of Fools” in 1968—the year she appeared on the cover of Time magazine under the headline “The Sound of Soul"—and "Say a Little Prayer” on The Cliff Richard Show in 1970. Just above, catch a stunning performance of one of her most beloved hits, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” And below, see her soulful take on Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the Fillmore West in 1971. Our thoughts are with Aretha and her family. May she continue to inspire new generations for many decades more after she leaves us.

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

The Surreal Paintings of the Occult Magician, Writer & Mountaineer, Aleister Crowley

I am not equipped to judge whether the notorious Aleister Crowley—whom the British press once called “the wickedest man in the world”—was an overrated magician (or “Magick-ian”). His banishment from the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, by none other than William Butler Yeats, may not speak well of him. But this is an area of debate best left to experts in the mystic arts.

Nor do I feel qualified to venture an opinion on Crowley’s mountaineering. It’s true, he did not reach the summit of K2, but he gets more than partial credit as part of the first expedition to make the attempt in 1902.

As for Crowley the poet… well, he was a lesser literary talent than his rival Yeats, whom he supposedly envied. One writer remarks of the conflict between them that Crowley “was never able to speak the language of poetic symbol with the confidence of a native speaker in the way Yeats definitely could.”

Still, many of his poems have an undeniably enchanting quality. Their obscure mythic depths show the prominent influence of William Blake. Others, like the obscenely puerile “Leah Sublime” derive from the libertine tradition of John Wilmot.

What of Crowley the painter? I must say, until recently, I knew little of this side of him, though I’ve had many encounters with this weird character’s life and work. While longtime fans and followers surely know his visual art well, the casually curious rarely get a glimpse.

Crowley, writes Robert Buratti at Raw Vision, “has never been as well known for his artistic pursuits as for his more esoteric interests,” and that especially goes for his painting. His art apparently did not pique the prurient interest of the tabloids, the primary source of his popular fame, but maybe it deserves at least as much attention as his spellwork and sex magic.

Buratti, a Crowley disciple of Thelema and member of the Art Guild of Ordo Templi Orientis Australia, curated a 2013 exhibition called Windows to the Sacred that featured several of Crowley’s paintings. He argues that Crowley’s “significance as an artist lies in his reconsideration of art as a central component in his magical theory of the universe and, in particular, its ability to awaken, as he put it, ‘our Secret Self—our Subconscious Ego, whose magical Image is our individuality expressed in mental and bodily form.”

As for the formal properties of the paintings themselves, Buratti references the Surrealists, and notes in an interview that Crowley “was quite inspired by Paul Gaugin.” The paintings’ rough, childlike primitivism also resembles the technique of artists like Georges Rouault and the early, pre-abstraction Wassily Kandinsky.

Who knows whether “The Great Beast 666,” as Crowley liked to call himself, would take these comparisons as a compliment. But I expect it takes a true adept to unravel the mysteries of enigmatic works from 1920-21 like The Sun (Auto Portrait), at the top, The Moon (Study for Tarot), further down, or The Hierophant, below. Avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger is such an adept, a convert to Crowley’s religion, which exerted much influence on his work.

Above, see Anger’s “Brush of Baphoment,” a short film in which his camera zooms and pans over Crowley’s paintings, picking up mystical symbols and intriguingly indecipherable symbolism. And learn more about Crowley's visual art in this radio interview with Buratti and his edited collection of Crowley's work, The Nightmare Paintings.

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Aleister Crowley Reads Occult Poetry in the Only Known Recordings of His Voice (1920)

The Thoth Tarot Deck Designed by Famed Occultist Aleister Crowley

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

Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking with His New Online Masterclass

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

The historian Stephen Ambrose once said that “more Americans get their history from Ken Burns than from any other source.” That quote sounds plausible enough, and Burns' company Florentine Films certainly hasn't hesitated to put it to promotional use. For almost four decades now, Burns has indeed demonstrated not just his skill at crafting long-form documentaries about American history — most famously, 11 hours on the Civil War, 18 hours on baseball, and 19 hours on jazz — but his skill at placing his work, and that of his collaborators, centrally in the culture as well. What can we learn from his career in documentary filmmaking, with its seeming infinitude of both historical material and critical acclaim? Masterclass now offers one set of answers to that question with the online course "Ken Burns Teaches Documentary Filmmaking."

Priced at $90, the course covers every step of the documentary-filmmaking process, from writing a script to finding source materials to interviewing subjects to designing sounds and recording voiceovers. Most of this has, in a technical sense, become vastly easier since Burns began his career in the late 1970s, and iMovie has made his signature pans across still photos effortlessly implementable with the "Ken Burns Effect" option. But it takes much more than pans across photographs to make the kind of impact Burns does with his documentaries, and the most valuable insight provided by a course like this one is the insight into how its teacher sees the world.

"People are realizing that there's as much drama in what is and what was as anything that the human imagination dreams of," says Burns in the course's trailer, "and you have the added advantage of it being true." But at the same time, Burns also believes that "there's no objective truth. This is human experience. We see things from different perspectives. And that's okay." This brings to mind a line from Burns' Jazz, originally spoken by Wynton Marsalis but quoted by Burns in a New Yorker profile last year: "Sometimes a thing and the opposite of a thing are true at the same time." A tolerance for contradiction, in Burns' book, makes you a better documentarian, but it may also make you a sharper observer of the world around you. Now, in what Burns calls "one of the most challenging moments in the history of the United States," the world needs the sharpest observers it can get.

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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.

Watch 13 Comedians Take “The Bob Ross Challenge” & Help Raise Money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

The late Bob Ross, the almost laughably calm host of PBS’ popular how-to series, the Joy of Painting, was a boss of many things—business, branding, the 16th-century wet-on-wet ”Alla Prima” technique...

Also speed, as thirteen New York City comedians recently discovered firsthand.

Invited to participate in The Bob Ross Challenge, a web series-cum-fundraiser hatched by comedians Micah Sherman and Mark Stetson, they gamely plunged ahead, regardless of artistic talent or familiarity with the master.

Some like, Julia Duffy, are simply too young to have encountered Ross in his public television heyday.

(For the record, all 403 episodes of Ross' painting show are now viewable online for free.)

Others, like Aparna Nancherla, above, chanced upon reruns screened for ironic effect in dive bars...

Or, like Keisha Zollar, they’re in a romantic relationship with someone who uses The Joy of Painting to combat insomnia.

The majority seem to share a latch key kid’s fondness for the gentle Ross, whose show proved a chill pairing with afterschool snacks.

“We spent about $1000 on official Bob Ross supplies,” Sheman reports. From easel to the fan brush, everything was set up for the participating comedians’ success. Like Ross, who typically shot a season's worth of episodes over a single weekend, the first season's shoot transpired over a few days.

The ground rules were simple. Armed with an arsenal of officially sanctioned supplies, each comedian entered a studio where a Joy of Painting episode was screening, charged with recreating that canvas in real time. At the end of the episode, it was “brushes down” whether or not the canvas bore passing resemblance to Bob’s.

“Our original title was Bob Ross Fails, but people were actually succeeding,” Sherman confesses.

That said, there’s a definite edge. The participants may be trained in improv, but as performers, there's an imperative to get over, and, as stated, Ross moves fast. In the time it takes an average mortal to apply a sky wash, he’s likely fan brushed in a couple of happy little trees.

Tough nuts.

The rules of the game decree that the stopwatch abides.

As Ralf Jean-Pierre observes, it’s a race against time.

Though not everyone plays by the rules…

David Carl, above, creator of Trump Lear, declares (in character) that he not only defeated Bob Ross, but that “no one’s ever had a better tree than that” and that his clouds are “beautifully tremendous.”

Sherman and his co-creator Mark Stetson have conceived of The Bob Ross Challenge as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Like Ross, Stetson’s father was prematurely claimed by lymphoma. Make a donation in their honor here.

Watch the first season of The Bob Ross Challenge here.


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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Her recent trip to Mexico City is the inspiration for her latest short play at The Tank in New York City on August 23, Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Free Course from MIT Teaches You How to Speak Italian & Cook Italian Food All at Once

At MIT, Dr. Paola Rebusco usually teaches physics to freshmen. But, on behalf of the MIT Experimental Study Group, Rebusco has devised an appealing course -- Speak Italian with Your Mouth Full -- where she combines teaching two things many people love: learning to speak Italian and cooking Italian food. The course summary reads:

The participants in this seminar will dive into learning basic conversational Italian, Italian culture, and the Mediterranean diet. Each class is based on the preparation of a delicious dish and on the bite-sized acquisition of parts of the Italian language and culture. A good diet is not based on recipes only, it is also rooted in healthy habits and in culture. At the end of the seminar the participants will be able to cook some healthy and tasty recipes and to understand and speak basic Italian.

As Rebusco explains in a short video, this course has the advantage of making the language lessons a little less abstract. It gives students a chance to apply what they've learned (new vocabulary words, pronunciations, etc.) in a fun, practical context.

Above, we start you off with the first language lesson in the seminar. It begins where all basic courses start -- with how to say your name. Below, you can watch the class learn to cook fresh pasta. Along the way, the course also teaches students how to make espressorisottohomemade pizzabruschetta, and biscotti. Lectures for the course can be found on the MIT web site, YouTube and iTunesSpeak Italian with Your Mouth Full also appears in our collection of Free Foreign Language Lessons and 1200 Free Courses Online. Buon Appetito!

Ingredients & Cooking Instruction:

Food Preparation

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site way back in 2012.

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

Vinyl is back in a big way.

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

Can a wax cylinder revival be far behind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about wax cylinder recording technology and preservation here.

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

See Ancient Greek Music Accurately Reconstructed for the First Time

Imagine trying to reconstruct the music of the Beatles 2,500 years from now, if nothing survived but a few fragments of the lyrics. Or the operas of Mozart and Verdi if all we had were pieces of the librettos. In a 2013 BBC article, musician and classics professor at Oxford Armand D’Angour used these comparisons to illustrate the difficulty of reconstructing ancient Greek song, a task to which he has set himself for the past five years.

The comparison is not entirely apt. Scholars have long had clues to help them interpret the ancient songs that served as vehicles for Homeric and Sapphic verse or the later drama of Aeschylus, almost all of which was sung with musical accompaniment. In a recent article at The Conversation, D’Angour points out that many literary texts of antiquity “provide abundant and highly specific details about the notes, scales, effects, and instruments used,” the latter including the lyre and the aulos, “two double-reed pipes played simultaneously by a single performer.”

But these musical instructions have proved elusive; “the terms and notations found in ancient sources—mode, enharmonic, diesis, and so on—are complicated and unfamiliar,” D’Angour writes. Nonetheless, using recreations of ancient instruments, close analysis of poetic meter, and careful interpretation of ancient texts that discuss melody and harmony, he claims to have accurately deciphered the sound of ancient Greek music.

D’Angour has worked to turn the “new revelations about ancient Greek music” that he wrote of five years ago into performances that reconstruct the sound of Euripides and other ancient literary artists. In the video at the top, see a choral and aulos performance of Athanaeus’ “Paean” from 127 BC and Euripides Orestes chorus from 408 BC. D’Angour and his colleagues break in periodically to talk about their methodology.

In the 2017 interview above from the Greek television channel ERT1, D’Angour discusses his research into the music of ancient Greek verse, from epic, to lyric, to tragedy, to comedy, “all of which,” he says, “was sung music, either entirely or partly.” Central to the insights scholars have gained in the past five years are “some very well preserved auloi,” he notes, that “have been reconstructed by expert technicians” and which “provide a faithful guide to the pitch range of ancient music, as well as to the instruments’ own pitches, timbres, and tunings.”

Determining tempo can be tricky, as it can with any music composed before “the invention of mechanical chronometers,” when “tempo was in any case not fixed, and was bound to vary between performances.” Here, he relies on poetic meter, which gives indications through the patterns of long and short syllables. “It remains for me to realize,” D’Angour writes, “in the next few years, the other few dozen ancient scores that exist, many extremely fragmentary, and to stage a complete drama with historically informed music in an ancient theater such as that of Epidaurus.” We’ll be sure to bring you video of that extraordinary event.

via The Conversation

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

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