Noam Chomsky Talks About How Kids Acquire Language and Ideas in an Animated Video by Michel Gondry

These days Noam Chomsky is probably most famous for his consistent, outspoken criticism of U.S. foreign policy. Yet before the War on Terror and the War on Drugs, Chomsky became internationally famous for proposing a novel solution to an age-old question: what does a baby know?

Plato argued that infants retain memories of past lives and thus come into this world with a grasp of language. John Locke countered that a baby’s mind is a blank slate onto which the world etches its impression. After years of research, Chomsky proposed that newborns have a hard-wired ability to understand grammar. Language acquisition is as elemental to being human as, say, dam building is to a beaver. It’s just what we’re programmed to do. Chomsky’s theories revolutionized the way we understand linguistics and the mind.

A little while ago, film director and music video auteur Michel Gondry interviewed Chomsky and then turned the whole thing into an extended animated documentary called Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?.

Above is a clip from the film. In his thick French accent, Gondry asks if there is a correlation between language acquisition and early memories. For anyone who’s watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know that memory is one of the director’s major obsessions. Over Gondry’s rough-hewn drawings, Chomsky expounds: “Children know quite a lot of a language, much more than you would expect, before they can exhibit that knowledge.” He goes on to talk about new techniques for teaching deaf-blind children and how a day-old infant interprets the world.

As the father of a toddler who is at the cusp of learning to form thoughts in words, I found the clip to be fascinating. Now, if only Chomsky can explain why my son has taken to shouting the word “bacon” over and over and over again.

To gain a deeper understanding of Chomsky's thoughts on linguistics, see our previous post:  The Ideas of Noam Chomsky: An Introduction to His Theories on Language & Knowledge (1977)

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Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The 10 Commandments of Chindōgu, the Japanese Art of Creating Unusually Useless Inventions

Back in the 1990s I'd often run across volumes of the Unuseless Japanese Inventions series at bookstores. Each one features about a hundred ostensibly real Japanese devices, photographed and described with a disarming straightforwardness, that mash up other consumer products in outwardly bizarre ways: chopsticks whose attached miniature electric fan cools ramen noodles en route to the mouth; a plastic zebra crossing to unroll and lay across a street at the walker's convenience; an inverted umbrella attached to a portable tank for rainwater collection on the go. Such things, at once plausible and implausible, turn out to have their own word in the Japanese language: chindōgu (珍道具), or "curious tool."

"There's an essence to chindōgu that can't be ignored," writes Michael Richey at Tofugu, where you can view an extensive gallery of examples. "They need to be useful, but only just so. Something people could use, but probably won't because of shame," a famously powerful force in Japanese society.

They also adhere to a set of principles laid down by Kenji Kawakami, former editor of the country housewife-targeted magazine Mail Order Life, who first revealed chindōgu to Japan by showing off his prototypes in the back pages. These ten commandments of chindōgu are as follows:

  1. A Chindōgu Cannot be for Real Use — They must be, from a practical point of view, useless.
  2. A Chindōgu Must Exist — A Chindōgu must be something that you can actually hold, even if you aren’t going to use it.
  3. There must be the Spirit of Anarchy in Every Chindōgu — Chindōgu inventions represent the freedom to be (almost) useless and challenge the historical need for usefulness.
  4. Chindōgu Tools are for Everyday Life — Chindōgu must be useful (or useless) to everyone around the world for everyday life.
  5. Chindōgu are Not for Sale — Chindōgu cannot be sold, as this would go against the spirit of the art form.
  6. Humor is Not the Sole Reason for Creating a Chindōgu — Even if Chindōgu are inherently quirky and hilarious, the main reason they are created is for problem solving.
  7. Chindōgu are Not Propaganda — Chindōgu are, however, innocent and made with good intentions. They should only be created to be used (or not used).
  8. Chindōgu are Never Taboo — Chindōgu must adhere to society’s basic standards.
  9.  Chindōgu Cannot be Patented — Chindōgu cannot be copyrighted or patented, and are made to be shared with the rest of the world.
  10. Chindōgu Are Without Prejudice — Everyone should have an equal chance to enjoy every Chindōgu.

These principles resulted in the kind of inventions that drew great fascination and amusement in their home country — you can watch a short Japanese television broadcast showing Kawakami demonstrate a few chindōgu above — but not only there. The Unuseless Japanese Inventions books came out in the West at just the right time, a historical moment that saw Japan's image shift from that of a fearsome innovator and economic powerhouse to that of an inward-looking but often charming nation of obsessives and eccentrics. Of course such people, so Western thinking went, would come up with fashionable earrings that double as earplugs, a cup holder that slots into a jacket pocket, and shoes with toe-mounted brooms and dustpans.

Kawakami has continued to invent and exhibit chindōgu in recent years, and even now his work remains as analog as ever. "There’s always some process in analog products, and these processes themselves can be their purpose,” he told the Japan Times in a 2001 interview. "If you look at digital products, they all isolate people and leave them in their own small world, depriving them of the joy of communicating with others... I can’t deny that they make life more exciting and convenient, but they also make human relationships more shallow and superficial." Those wise words look wiser all the time — but then, you'd expect that degree of insight into 21st-century life from the man who may well have invented the selfie stick.

via Messy Nessy

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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.

A New Academic Hoax–Complete with Fake Articles Published in Academic Journals–Ventures to Show the “Corruption” of Cultural Studies

We should be suspicious when researchers assume their conclusion; when the results of an academic study merely confirm the author’s pre-existing biases. Humans are wired to seek confirmation, a cognitive deficit so deeply engrained that it can be exploited among laypeople and specialists alike. Art historians have been fooled by forgeries, historians by fake manuscripts, and paleontologists by phony fossils. Physicist Steven Weinberg referenced such high-level hoaxes in a 1996 essay in The New York Review of Books, and he placed that year’s academic scandal—known as the “Sokal Hoax”—among them.

The gist of the Sokal affair runs as follows: NYU mathematical physicist Alan Sokal suspected that post-structuralist-influenced cultural studies was jargon-laden, obfuscating BS, and he set out to prove it by authoring his own “postmodernist” text, an article full of misused terminology from quantum physics. He sent it off to the journal Social Text, who published it in their Spring/Summer issue. Sokal then revealed in another journal, Lingua Franca, that the article had been a fraud, “liberally salted with nonsense,” and had only been accepted because “(a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editor’s ideological preconceptions.”

Sokal’s hoax, it was roundly claimed, demonstrated that certain fashionable quarters of the academic humanities had deteriorated into babble, signifying nothing more than rigid ideological commitments and a general disregard for the actual meanings of words and concepts. Weinberg wasn’t so sure. At most, perhaps, it showed the editorial failings of Social Text. And while humanists may abuse scientific ideas, Weinberg points out that scientists of the stature of Werner Heisenberg have also been prone to slipshod, quasi-mystical thinking.

But the Sokal hoax did expose to the wider public a tendency among a coterie of academics to indulge in mystifying language, including the misuse of jargon from other fields of study, usually in imitation of French theorists like Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva, or Jacques Derrida—whom, it must be said, all wrote in a very different intellectual culture (one that expects, Michel Foucault once admitted, at least “ten percent incomprehensible”). For a good many people in the academic humanities, this wasn’t much of a revelation. (Sokal has since published a more thoroughly critical book with the apt title Beyond the Hoax.)

Part of the problem with his hoax as a serious critique is that it began with its conclusion. Cultural studies are rife with crap arguments, ideology, and incomprehensible nonsense, Sokal believed. And so, when his paper was accepted, he simply rested his case, making no effort to engage charitably with good scholarship while he ridiculed the bad. Which brings us to the current state of the academic humanities, and to a contemporary, Sokal-like attack on them by a trio of writers who rest their case on a slightly broader base of evidence—20 fraudulent articles sent out to various niche cultural studies journals over a year: four published (since retracted), three accepted but not published, seven under review, and six rejected.

The authors—academic philosopher Peter Boghossian and writers Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay—revealed the hoax this week in an article published at the Pluckrose-edited Areo magazine. One needn’t read past the title to understand the authors’ take on cultural studies in general: “Academic Grievance Studies and the Corruption of Scholarship.” While all three hoaxers identify as left-leaning liberals, the broad-brush characterization of whole fields as “grievance studies” reveals a prejudicial degree of contempt that seems unwarranted. In the article, they reveal their motivations and methods, outline the successes of the project, and post the comments of the articles’ referees, along with a video of themselves having a good laugh at the whole thing.

This last bit is unnecessary and obnoxious, but does the new hoax—“Sokal Squared” as it’s been called—genuinely undermine the credibility of cultural studies as a whole? Is it “’hilarious and delightful,’” asks Alexander C. Kafka at The Chronicle of Higher Education, or “an ugly example of dishonesty and bad faith?” Harvard political scientist Yascha Mounk tactfully finds in it a serious case for concern: “Some academic emperors—the ones who supposedly have the most to say about these crucial topics [discrimination, racism, sexism]—have no clothes.”

This is a point worth pursuing, and certain recent scandals should give everyone pause to consider how bullying and groupthink manifest on the academic left at the highest level of prestige. But the great majority of academics are not "emperors" and have very little social or economic power. And Mounk is careful not to overstate the case. He points out how the hoax has unfortunately given welcome “ammunition” to right-wing conservative axe-grinders:

Many conservatives who are deeply hostile to the science of climate change, and who dismiss out of hand the studies that attest to deep injustices in our society, are using Sokal Squared to smear all academics as biased culture warriors. The Federalist, a right-wing news and commentary site, went so far as to spread the apparent ideological bias of a few journals in one particular corner of academia to most professors, the mainstream media, and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Federalist specializes in irresponsible conspiracy-mongering, the kind of thing that sells ads and wins elections but doesn’t belong in academic debate. The question Mounk doesn’t ask is whether the hoaxers’ own attitudes encourage and share in such hostility, an issue raised by several of their critics. As physicist Sean Carroll wrote on Twitter, “What strikes me about stunts like this is their fundamental meanness. No attempt to intellectually engage with ideas you disagree with; just trolling for the lulz.” McGill University political theorist Jacob T. Levy expressed similar reservations in an interview, notes The New York Times, saying

even some colleagues who are not fans of identity-oriented scholarship are looking at the hoax and saying ‘this is potentially unethical and doesn’t show what they think it is showing.’ Besides, he added, “We all recognized that this kind of thing could also be done in our disciplines if people were willing to dedicate a year to do it.”

Therein lies another problem with Sokal Squared. Hoaxes have been perpetuated by smart, dedicated forgers, con-artists, and pranksters in nearly every field, showing up all sorts of experts as potential dupes. The singling out of cultural studies for particular ridicule—the characterization of studies of race, gender, disability, etc. as “grievance studies”—reveals an aggrieved agenda all its own, one that ignores the serious problems corrupting other disciplines (e.g. industry funding in academic sciences, or the gross overuse of undergraduate students as the main subjects of studies—groups that hardly represent the general population.)

Some, but not all, of the successfully-published hoax papers sound ludicrous and terrible. Some, in fact, do not, as Justin Weinberg shows at Daily Nous, and should not shame the editors who published them. Some of the journals have much higher editorial standards than others. (An early hoax attempt by Boghossian targeted an ill-reputed, pay-to-play publication.) The whole affair may speak to broader failures in academic publishing that go beyond a tiny corner of the humanities. In part, those failures may stem from a general trend toward overworked, underpaid, increasingly precarious scholars whose disciplines, and funding, have been under relentless political attack since at least the 1990s and who must keep grinding out publications, sometimes of dubious merit, as part of the overall drive toward sheer productivity as the sole measure of success.

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

The Origins of the Death Growl in Metal Music

When Arab-Spanish Sephardi Jewish merchant Abraham ben Jacob first encountered the Vikings in Denmark, he had this to say:

"Never before I have heard uglier songs than those of the Vikings in Slesvig. The growling sound coming from their throats reminds me of dogs howling, only more untamed."

Now what Mr. ben Jacob actually heard we will never know, but the description does sound a lot like the “Death Growl” familiar to fans of death metal. (The appearance of Vikings and the preponderance of Scandinavians within the genre certainly make this tale sound true.)

Cheekily referred to by non-metal fans as the “Cookie Monster Voice,” this particular style has evolved over time as metal changed in the 1980s, from the piercing screams of Dio and Iron Maiden to the growl of Sepultura and Cannibal Corpse. And that’s matched by the demonic and doom-laden sound of the music and the Grand Guignol horror of the lyrics, which delight fans with its depravity and disgust, the grosser the better.

Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, you have to admit that the ‘80s and ‘90s saw the growth of a brand new vocal style that seemed to come out of nowhere.

YouTuber Polyphonic tries to unravel its origins in the video above, which, we have to admit, follows the Wikipedia article on the Death Growl point by point. But that’s okay--imagine if all Wikipedia articles had their own videos...would that be a bad thing?

On the other hand, Polyphonic’s video does leave out some antecedents to this style, all of who get named checked by various folks in the comments. (Yes, YouTube comments that are worth reading!)

In particular, there’s no mention of African-American artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, or Clarence Frogman Henry. Wolf in particular became a huge influence on another incredibly gruff and guttural singer, Tom Waits, who often sings like the Devil has his larynx.
And do the distorted vocals on Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” or on King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” really count? Or the various screams on Pink Floyd songs?

When Polyphonic returns to the 1980s, he’s on firmer ground. Lemmy from Motörhead makes more sense as an influence, and by the time we get to Venom, then Death, then Mantas, it is easier to see where the Death Growl came from. (But come on, no mention of Napalm Death? They were the first growling band I ever heard, and hats off to BBC DJ John Peel for not only playing them when the debuted, but he had them in session.)

If interested, I would recommend exploring the YouTube comments further and make up your own mind. And if you are interested in learning this technique, there are folks who will teach you.

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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 and/or watch his films here.

The Cornell Note-Taking System: Learn the Method Students Have Used to Enhance Their Learning Since the 1940s

How should you take notes in class? Like so many students who came before me and would come after, I had little idea in college and even less in high school. The inherently ambiguous nature of the note-taking task has inspired a variety of methods and systems, few of them as respected as Cornell Notes. Invented in the 1940s by Cornell University education professor Walter Pauk, author of How to Study in College, Cornell Notes involves dividing each page up into three sections: one to paraphrase the lecture's main ideas, one to summarize those ideas, and one to write questions. After writing down those main ideas during class, immediately summarize and add questions about the content. Then, while studying later, try to answer those questions without looking at the main body of notes.

You'll find a complete and concise explanation of how to take Cornell Notes at Cornell's web site, which includes information on the "Reflect" stage (in which you ask yourself broader questions like “What’s the significance of these facts?" and "What principle are they based on?") and the "Review" stage (in which you "spend at least ten minutes every week reviewing all your previous notes" to aid retention).

For a more detailed visual explanation, have a look at teacher Jennifer DesRochers' instructions for how to take Cornell Notes in the video above, which now approaches one million views on Youtube. Her own version encourages taking down main-idea summaries in drawings as well as text, and including things like "key points" and "important people or ideas" in the question column.

That DesRochers' video now approaches one million views suggests students still find the Cornell Notes system effective, as much as or even more so than they did when Pauk first published it. Over time, of course, its users have also augmented it: take Doug Neill's video "Improving Cornell Notes With Sketchnoting Techniques" above, which combines standard Cornell Notes with his system of "sketchnoting," also known as "visual note-taking and graphic recording."

He provides examples of what such Cornell-formatted sketchnoting might look like, explaining that "having the option of doing something more visual in your mind triggers a different type of processing power, so that you're more active in the way that you're responding to the ideas. You're not just passively taking in information." The nature of school, as students in every era have known, can often induce a state of passivity; systems like Cornell Notes and its many variations remind us of how much more we can learn if we have a way to break out of it.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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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.

The History of Philosophy Visualized in an Interactive Timeline

The connections we make between various philosophers and philosophical schools are often connections that have already been made for us by teachers and scholars on our paths through higher education. Many of us who have taken a philosophy class or two leave it at that, content we’ve got the gist of things and that specialists can parse the details perfectly well without us. But there are those curious people who continue to read abstruse and difficult philosophy after their intro classes are over, for the sheer, perverse joy of it, or from a burning desire to understand truth, beauty, justice, or whatever.

And then there are those who embark on a thorough self-guided tour of Western philosophical history, attempting, without the aid of university departments and faddish interpretive schemes, to weave the disparate strains of thought together. One such autodidact and academic outsider, designer Deniz Cem Önduygu of Istanbul, has combined an encyclopedic mind with a talent for rigorous outline organization to produce an interactive timeline of the history of philosophical ideas. It is “a purely personal project,” he writes, “that I’m doing in my own time, with my limited knowledge, for myself.”

Önduygu shares the project not to show off his learning but, more humbly, to “get feedback and to make it accessible to those who are interested.” It may be precious few people who have both the time and inclination to teach themselves the history of philosophy, but if you are one of them, this incredibly dense infographic is as good a place to start as any, and while it may appear intimidating at first glance, its menu in the upper right corner allows users to zero in on specific thinkers and schools, and to confine themselves to smaller, more manageable areas of the whole.

As for the timeline itself, “viewers can zoom in and out,” notes Daily Nous, “and see philosophers listed in chronological order, with ideas they’re associated with listed beneath them. These ideas, in turn, are connected by green lines to similar or supporting ideas elsewhere on the timeline, and connected by red lines to opposing or refuting ideas elsewhere on the timeline. If you hover your mouse cursor over a single idea, all but it and its connected ideas fade. You can then click on the idea to bring those connected ideas closer for ease of viewing.”

The designer admits this is a “never-ending work in progress” and mainly a source for reminding himself of the main arguments of the philosophers he’s surveyed. The major sources for his timeline are “Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, along with other works for specific philosophers and ideas.” But many of the connections Önduygu draws in this extensive web of green and red are his own.

He explains his rationale here, noting, “The lines here do not always depict a direct transfer between two people; I think of them as tracing the development of an idea throughout time within our collective conception." Spend some more time with this impressive project at the History of Philosophy Summarized & Visualized (the site works best in Chrome), and feel free to get in touch with its creator with constructive criticism. He welcomes feedback and is open to opposing ideas, as every lifelong learner should be.

via Daily Nous

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

Museum Discovers Math Notebook of an 18th-Century English Farm Boy, Adorned with Doodles of Chickens Wearing Pants

We are trained by tradition to think of history as a series of great men’s (and some women’s) lives, of great wars and royal successions, conquests and tragic defeats, revolutions and world-changing discoveries. The ordinary, everyday lives of ordinary, everyday people seem tedious and unremarkable by comparison. But archivists know better. Their jobs are not glamorous, but what they lack in fame or academic sinecures, they make up for with chance discoveries of the kind that we see here—doodles in the 1784 math notebook of one Richard Beale, a 13-year-old farm boy from rural Kent, England.

The archivists at the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) were so excited about this find they made a Twitter thread about it, explaining its provenance in a bundle of eighteenth-century farm diaries, which “are a lot like normal diaries but with more cows.”

The museum’s program manager, Adam Koszary, has a good ear for the medium, tweeting out other witticisms about Richard’s adventures in taking notes: “But, like every teenager, mathematics couldn’t fill the void of Richard’s heart. Richard doodled.” He drew pictures of his dog, incorporated drawings of ships into his equations, and impeccably illustrated his word problems.

One can almost imagine the listicle: “Rural 18th-Century English Folk: They’re Just Like Us!” They think about their pets a lot. They draw when they get bored. They doodle tiny sketches of chickens in pants…Wait what? Yes, a chicken in trousers appears among Richard’s doodles, one of the many charming features that landed MERL’s story in The Guardian and garnered famous fans like JK Rowling. Like seemingly everything on the internet, the chicken in pants has sparked conspiracy theories, such as “Why do the trousers appear to be solid like Wallace’s in The Wrong Trousers?” and “Was Richard Beale acquainted with the town of Hensbroek in the Netherlands?”

These questions, writes Guy Baxter, associate director of archive services at MERL, are only partly tongue-in-cheek. The Dutch town of Hensbroek, does indeed have a coat of arms featuring a chicken in pants that bears a very close resemblance to Richard’s drawing, though it is entirely unlikely that Richard ever traveled to the Netherlands. The arms of Hensbroek “are a famous example of ‘canting’, which uses a pun on a name to inspire the design,” notes Baxter. (Hensbroek literally means “hens pants.”) The origin of Richard’s design is more mysterious. “It is possible that he knew about canting arms,” Baxter admits. “Or maybe he just had a vivid imagination.”

The little story of Richard Beale and his math homework doodles shows us something about our fractured, fragmented world and the anxious, divided lives we seem to lead online, says Ollie Douglas, curator of MERL’s object collections: “Social media is awash with highly personalized engagements and commentaries on the world…. You only need to look through the responses to this single Twitter thread (and that fact that a readymade chicken-in-trousers gif was available for us to shamelessly retweet) to see that the messy complexity of our world is still being shared and that we are all still doodlers at heart.”

Follow the Museum of English Rural Life for updates to this story.

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

Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach Turns 50 This Month: Learn How the Classical Synth Record Introduced the World to the Moog

When the Moog synthesizer appeared in the late 60s, musicians didn’t know what it was for, so they found some very creative uses for it, including making novelty tracks like “Pop Corn,” a huge hit for Gershom Kingsley from the 1969 album Music to Moog By. But the Moog was more than a quirky new toy. It was a revelation for what synthesized sound could do, of a technology that seemed like it might have unlimited possibility if harnessed by the right hands. The Moog showed up in 1967 on albums by the Doors, the Monkees, the Byrds—psychedelic bands who understood its futuristic promise.

Yet it also entered the homes of millions of listeners through a classical album. In 1968, the Moog featured solo on the highest-selling classical album of all time, Switched on Bachby electronic composer and pianist Wendy Carlos, known for her work with Stanley Kubrick on the scores of films like Clockwork Orange and The Shining. Carlos met Moog in 1964 at a conference for the Audio Engineering Society and had the chance to investigate one of his early modular synths. “It was a perfect fit,” she says, “he was a creative engineer who spoke music: I was a musician who spoke science. It felt like a meeting of simpatico minds.”

Carlos helped Moog develop his designs, he helped her find her voice, the fuzzy, buzzing, droning, humming sound of an analog synth, which somehow made a perfect fit for selections from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Two-Part Inventions. When Carlos released Switched on Bach, her first studio album, it was “an immediate success,” as Moog himself said. “We witnessed the birth of a new genre of music”—fully synthesized keyboard music, without any acoustic instruments involved whatsoever. The Moog proved itself, and Carlos impressed both pop fans and the classical community, many of whom fully embraced the phenomenon.

A recording of Switched on Bach premiered at Carnegie Hall, Leonard Bernstein presented an arrangement of Bach’s “Little” Fugue in G minor arranged for Moog, organ, and orchestra at one of his Young People’s Concerts, and no less a Bach authority than Glenn Gould praised the album, noting that it had “made electronic music mainstream” even as it introduced entire new audiences to Bach. Carlos has since preserved her mystique through intense personal privacy and strict control of her copyright. You’ll find precious little of her music on the internet: a snippet here and there, but no Switched on Bach streaming online.

It is well worth paying for the pleasure (I’d recommend doing so by tracking down an original vinyl pressing.) Carlos released a follow-up the next year, The Well-Tempered Synthesizer, then another interpretation of Switched on Bach for the album’s 25th anniversary. This year it turns 50. You can celebrate not only by listening to the original, but checking out its equally majestic follow-up albums, the Special Edition Box Set, and a recent “spiritual successor” to Carlos’ original, Craig Leon’s 2015 Bach to Moog, a re-interpretation of Bach using the very same synthesizer Carlos did those many years ago. Almost.

The System 55, the collection of large, clunky banks of patch bays, oscillators, filters, envelopes, etc. that Carlos used, was reissued three years ago. In the short documentary above, you can see producer and composer Leon talk about Carlos’ contributions to modern, and classical, music and his own hybrid use of the early synthesizer with midi and a string section. He demonstrates how radically the distinctive Moog sound can be shaped by its wonky dials and switches, but also how it can subtly color the sound of other instruments without imposing itself. Such a revolutionary instrument required a truly revolutionary album to announce it to the world.

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

A Radical Map Puts the Oceans–Not Land–at the Center of Planet Earth (1942)

We all learn the names, locations, and even characteristics of the oceans in school. But unless we go into oceanography or some other body-of-water-centric profession, few of us keep them at our command. Maybe the loss of that knowledge has to do with our land-centricity as a species: not only do we live on the stuff, we also put it before water intellectually. You can see how by taking a glance at the design of most any world map, whose framing, details, and color scheme all work together to highlight the land, not the water. Only the map above, the "Spilhaus Projection," dares to reverse that scheme, putting Earth's water at the center and turning it from negative space into positive.

Named for its creator, the South African-born oceanographer, geophysicist, inventor, urban designer (having come up with Minneapolis Skyway System), and comic artist Athelstan Spilhaus, the Spilhaus Projection "reverses the land-based bias of traditional cartographic projections," writes Big Think's Frank Jacobs, placing "the poles of the map in South America and China, ripping up continents to show the high seas as one interrupted whole." The resulting "earth-sea" is "perforated by Antarctica and Australia, and fringed by the other land masses." If you look closely at the top and lower right of the map, you'll find triangular symbols indicating the Bering Strait, perhaps the best landmark to orient your perception of this radically new view of planet Earth.

But the view provided by the Spilhaus Projection (rendered here by graphic designer Clara Dealberto for Libération) isn't as new as it may look. Spilhaus designed it back in 1942, as a side project while working on the invention for which he is perhaps most remembered: the bathythermograph, a device for measuring ocean depths and temperatures from moving vessels like boats and submarines. But Jacobs credits it with a new relevance today: "Our oceans produce between 50% and 85% of the world's oxygen and are a major source of food for humanity. But they are in mortal danger, from overfishing, acidification, plastic pollution and climate change. Maritime 'dead zones' – with zero oxygen and zero marine life – have quadrupled since the 1950s."

In other words, our world and the oceans that cover more than 70 percent of its surface already look quite a bit different than they did when Spilhaus designed this re-prioritized way of visualizing them. Spilhaus lived until 1998, long enough to see the emergence of current ideas about climate change, but one does wonder whether we in the 21st century have developed the kind of ocean-consciousness for which he must have hoped. Perhaps our times call for even more drastic mapping action, not just showing the centrality of the oceans but, as we've previously featured here on Open Culture, showing what might happen if they change much more.

via Big Think

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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.

Aphex Twin’s Massive Catalog, Including Rare Unreleased Tracks, Is Now Free to Stream Online

Few things connect the electronic music of the 90s to that of today like Aphex Twin. The long career of Richard D. James—he of the sinister grinning face plastered on buxom models and a gang of violent children in his early NSFW videos—anticipated and in some ways invented the glitchy, clattering, squelching, cacophonous, alien sound of the digital 21st century. The release of his entire catalog, including several unreleased tracks, on his website to buy or stream for free shows his clear awareness of how seminal his music has been for over three decades.

James became a crossover superstar in the late 90s, grew irritated with imitators, got lumped in with so-called IDM ("intelligent dance music"), and threatened retirement many times. Then he did retire the Aphex Twin name in 2001 after releasing Drukqs and making music for the next few years under other monikers. He also claimed he’d never release his most innovative music “because I don’t want people ripping me off.”

In the meanwhile, a couple or so major global economic changes came about, new younger fans came of age, and bedroom producers armed with laptops instead of the battery of synthesizers James commanded sprang up around the world. It might have seemed—as it did for a number of people who grew up making, buying, and dancing to electronic music at the end of the 20th century—that it was time to pass the baton to another rave generation.

Instead, James returned in 2014—after his infamous logo popped up on NYC sidewalks—with a new album, Syro, a huge suite of songs that won Aphex Twin near-unanimous critical adoration and a Grammy. The hermetic musician had previously summed up his relationship with his audience by telling an interviewer he hated them. He appeared to hate the press even more. Returning thirteen years later as a 43-year-old father seemed to have mellowed him.

James is positively chatty in a lengthy Pitchfork interview. He begins by explaining the origin of the word “syro.” It came from his son, who “doesn’t know what it means, either. But it means something. And it sounds cool.” He might have been talking about the titles of nearly every track on the album, his latest EP, or his retirement album, Druqks.

For James, a blanket contempt for the status quo manifests in scramblings of sense and sound.  Syro’s only decipherable title, “minipops 67 [120.2] [source field mix],” may or may not refer to the 1983 British children’s show featuring preteens singing contemporary pop songs while dressed up like the original performers. Could be a pisstaking nod to his generation or an earnest visit to childhood memories through the portal of his own kids’ nonsense word, or both.

The Aphex Twin comeback saw James opening up about his process in interviews and releasing a list of synth instruments used on Syro in the form of a dense infographic, above. (The dots in concentric circles “line up with the track list,” notes Synthtopia, “so they graphically indicate the gear that was used on each track.”). These gestures to his fans presaged the release of his entire catalog for streaming on his site, “a near-complete collection of James recording output since 1991,” as Ars Technica writes, including “hours of previously unreleased material from pretty much every phase of his career.”

Check out the site here to stream Aphex Twin’s recorded output in chronological or random order, buy each track in a number of formats, including the unreleased rarities, and read the extensive Aphex Twin interview at Pitchfork, a conversation that sees him musing on abandoning all previous human influences and making music from outer space.

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

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