How Glenn Gould’s Eccentricities Became Essential to His Playing & Personal Style: From Humming Aloud While Playing to Performing with His Childhood Piano Chair

The cultural law that we must indulge, or at least tolerate, the quirks of genius has much less force these days than it once did. Notoriously perfectionistic Stanley Kubrick’s fabled fits of verbal abuse, for example, might skirt a line with actors and audiences now, though it’s hard to argue with the results of his process. Many other examples of artists’ bad behavior need no further mention, they are now so well-known and rightly reviled. When it comes to another legendarily demanding auteur, Glenn Gould was as devoted to his art, and as doggedly idiosyncratic, as it gets.

But the case of Gould presents us with a very different picture than that of the artist who lashes out at or abuses those around him. His eccentricities consisted mainly of hermetic habits, odd attachments, and a tendency to hum and sing loudly while he played Bach, Mozart, Schoenberg, or any number of other classical composers whose work he re-interpreted. While Leonard Bernstein praised Gould as a “thinking performer” (one with whom Bernstein sharply disagreed), he was also a particularly noisy performer, a fact that bedeviled recording engineers.

As music critic Tim Page says in the interview clip at the top, the habit of humming also troubled Gould, who saw it as a liability but could not play at his best without doing it. “I would say that Glenn was in sort of an ecstatic transport,” during a lot of his performances. “When you look at him, he’s almost auto-erotic…. He is clearly having a major and profound reaction to it as he is also making it happen.” The trait manifested “from the beginning” of Gould’s life, his father Bert once said. “When you’d expect a child to cry, Glenn would always hum.” (He may or may not have had Asperger’s syndrome.)

“On the warm summer day of the first recording session” of his first recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, writes Edward Rothstein at The New York Times:

He arrived at the recording studio wearing a winter coat, a beret, a muffler and gloves. He carried a batch of towels, bottles of spring water, several varieties of pills and a 14-inch high piano chair to sit on. He soaked his arms in hot water for 20 minutes, took several medications, adjusted each leg of his chair, and proceeded to play, loudly humming and singing along. After a week, he had produced one of the most remarkable performances of Bach's Goldberg Variations on record.

See a young Gould further up play J.S. Bach’s Partita #2, loudly humming and singing expressively as though it were an opera. Another of Gould’s incurable quirks also threatened to be a detriment to his performances, especially after he renounced performing live and retreated permanently to the studio. Gould insisted on performing for over 21 years on a “chair that has become an object of reverence for Gould devotees,” explains the podcast Ludwig van Toronto. Gould was “obsessed” with the chair and “wouldn’t perform on anything else.”

In the video above, you can see Gould defend the diminutive chair—built by his father for his childhood practice—telling a TV presenter, “I’ve never given any concert in anything else.” The chair, he says, is “a member of the family! It is a boon companion, without which I do not function, I cannot operate.”

Along with his exactly specified height for the piano, over which he hovered with his chin just inches from the middle C, a rug under his feet, and a very warm studio, which he often sat in wearing winter clothes, Gould’s chair is one of the most distinctive of his oddities. The chair is “one of the most famous musical objects in the history of classical music,” Kate Shapero writes at Gould interview site Unheard Notes. But it caused considerable consternation in the studio.

Now residing in a glass case at the National Library of Canada, Gould’s chair is so dilapidated that “the only thing that kept it from falling apart,” says Ludwig van Toronto, “is some duct tape, screws, and piano wire.” Even before it acquired the noisy hardware of the metal brackets holding up its two front legs, Gould’s animated playing made the chair rock and creak in distracting ways. But while Gould’s unintentional accompaniments turn some people off, his true fans, and they are multitude, either find his vocalizations charming or completely tune them out. (They disappear when he begins performing above.)

Gould’s “singing authenticates and humanizes his performances,” composer Luke Dahn argues. “It reveals a performer so entirely absorbed in the music’s moment and reminds us that this is a performance, even if within the confines of the studio.” His unusual qualities “distinguish his recordings from those of countless note-perfect recordings available today that take on a fabricated, sterile, and even robotic quality. (Is perfection ever very interesting?)” Like the greatest musical innovators—John Coltrane especially comes to mind—Gould has wide appeal both inside his genre circles and far outside them.

“I can put him on for hours,” says noted Gould devotee John Waters, “he’s like nobody else. He was the ultimate original—a real outsider. And he had a great style, the hats and the gloves and so on.” Whatever the origins of Gould’s quirks, and whatever his misgivings about them, Gould lovers perceive them not as flaws to be overlooked or tolerated but essential qualities of his passion and utterly unique personal style. See him "say something original" about Beethoven above, then deliver a tremendous performance, mostly hum free but totally enthralling, of Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor—a piece whose nickname captures Gould's musical effect: "The Tempest."

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Listen to Glenn Gould’s Shockingly Experimental Radio Documentary, The Idea of North (1967)

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

The Journal of Controversial Ideas, Co-Founded by Philosopher Peter Singer, Will Publish & Defend Pseudonymous Articles, Regardless of the Backlash

Photo of Peter Singer by Mat Vickers, via Wikimedia Commons

Australian bioethicist Peter Singer has made headlines as few philosophers do with claims about the moral status of animals and the “Singer solution to world poverty,” and with far more controversial positions on abortion and disability. Many of his claims have placed him outside the pale for students at Princeton, his current employer, where he has faced protests and calls for his termination. “I favor the ability to put new ideas out there for discussion,” he has said in response to what he views as a hostile academic climate, “and I see an atmosphere in which some people may be intimated from doing that.”

For those who, like him, make controversial arguments such as those for euthanizing “defective infants," for example, as he wrote about in his 1979 Practical Ethics, Singer has decided to launch a new venue, The Journal of Controversial Ideas. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reports, the journal aims to be “an annual, peer-reviewed, open-access publication that will print worthy papers, and stand behind them, regardless of the backlash.” The idea, says Singer, “is to establish a journal where it’s clear from the name and object that controversial ideas are welcome.”

Is it true that “controversial ideas” have been denied a hearing elsewhere in academia? The widely-covered tactics of “no-platforming” practiced by some campus activists have created the impression that censorship or illiberalism in colleges and universities has become an epidemic problem. No so, argues Princeton’s Eddie Glaude, Jr., who points out that figures who have been disinvited to speak at certain institutions have been welcomed on dozens of other campuses “without it becoming a national spectacle.” Sensationalized campus protests are “not the norm,” as many would have us believe, he writes.

But the question Singer and his co-founders pose isn’t whether controversial ideas get aired in debates or lecture forums, but whether scholars have been censored, or have censored themselves, in the specialized forums of their fields, the academic journals. Singer’s co-founder/editor Jeff McMahan, professor of moral philosophy at Oxford, believes so, as he told the BBC in a Radio 4 documentary called “University Unchallenged.” The new journal, said McMahan, “would enable people whose ideas might get them in trouble either with the left or with the right or with their own university administration, to publish under a pseudonym.”

Those who feel certain positions might put their career in jeopardy will have cover, but McMahan declares that “the screening procedure” for publication “will be as rigorous as those for other academic journals. The level of quality will be maintained.” Some skepticism may be warranted given the journal’s intent to publish work from every discipline. The editors of specialist journals bring networks of reviewers and specialized knowledge themselves to the usual vetting process. In this case, the core founding team are all philosophers: Singer, McMahan, and Francesca Minerva, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Ghent.

One might reasonably ask how that process can be “as rigorous” on this wholesale scale. Though the BBC reports that there will be an “intellectually diverse international editorial board," board members are rarely very involved in the editorial operations of an academic journal. Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous has some other questions, including whether the degree, or existence, of academic censorship even warrants the journal’s creation. “No evidence was cited,” he writes “to support the claim that ‘a culture of fear and self-censorship’ is preventing articles that would pass a review process” from seeing publication.

Furthermore, Weinberg says, the journal’s putative founders have given no argument “to allay what seems to be a reasonable concern that the creation of such a journal will foster more of a ‘culture of fear and self-censorship’ compared to other options, or that it plays into and reinforces expertise-undermining misconceptions about academia bandied about in popular media that may have negative effects…. Given that the founding team is comprised of people noted for views that emphasize empirical facts and consequences, one might reasonably hope for a public discussion of such evidence and arguments.”

Should scholars publish pseudonymously in peer-reviewed journals? Shouldn’t they be willing to defend their ideas on the merits without hiding their identity? Is such subterfuge really necessary? “Right now,” McMahan asserts, “in current conditions something like this is needed…. I think all of us will be very happy if, and when, the need for such a journal disappears, and the sooner the better.” Given that the journal’s co-founders paint such a broadly dire picture of the state of academia, it’s reasonable to ask for more than anecdotal evidence of their claims. A few high-profile incidents do not prove a widespread culture of repression.

It is also “fair to wonder,” writes Annabelle Timsit at Quartz, “whether the board of a journal dedicated to free speech might have a bias toward publishing particularly controversial ideas in the interest of freedom of thought” over the interests of good scholarship and sound ethical practice.

via Daily Nous

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

A Map of the U.S. Created Out of 1,000 Song Titles That Reference Cities, States, Landmarks & More

According to Leonard Cohen, songwriting is a lonely business, but there’s nothing for it, he sings in “Tower of Song,” when you’re “born with the gift of a golden voice" and when “twenty-seven angels from the Great Beyond” tie you to a table and make you write. Just where is Cohen’s tower? Maybe Montreal, his hometown, or his adopted city of L.A.? He doesn’t tell us, though we do know Hank Williams lives 100 floors above, so there's a good chance that it's not a place on earth.

Cohen the poet had a gift for making metaphysical trips seem perfectly natural, but most songwriters, lonely or otherwise, rely on more realist conventions of narrative storytelling, including specific settings, whether mentioned in passing or forming a central theme.

Songs like "Little Old Lady from Pasadena," “Rockaway Beach,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville,” or “Straight Outta Compton” helped put their respective locales on the map.

Design house Dorothy has taken that phrase literally, creating a map of the U.S. “made up entirely from the titles of over 1,000 songs” that “reference states, cities, rivers, mountains and landmarks.” In the playlist below, you can listen to the country’s geography, as sung by Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie, R.E.M., Pink Floyd, George Strait, Kings of Leon, Jay Z,  Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, and hundreds more artists who have little in common other than their use of a U.S. city, state, landmark, natural formation, etc. as an anchor for their lyrics.

Like Homer’s Iliad, which maps the ancient Greek world with its copious references to ports, cities, mountains, and so on, the pop canon could be used by some future civilization to reconstruct the geography of the U.S. And if so, it might look quite a lot like this. But not only does the map situate well-known songs about well-known places in their proper coordinates, it also locates somewhat obscure locations name-checked  in songs like The Band’s “The Weight,” whose mention of Nazareth refers not to the Biblical town, but rather to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, home of Martin Guitars. (The city gets another boost, though not on this map, in Mark Knopfler’s “Speedway at Nazareth,” which refers to another local landmark.)

“Some of our favorite song choices are the ones which require you to think a little harder about connections,” Dorothy admits, “such as ‘Space Oddity’ (David Bowie) which signposts Cape Canaveral, ‘After the Gold Rush’ (Neil Young) which references Sutter’s Mill, and ‘Homecoming’ (Kanye West) which is placed near the rapper’s home town of Chicago.”

Perusing the map (zoom into a high-res version here) and playlist will doubtless alert you to other choices with oblique or implied references. In one instance, on the map of Florida, we see Green Day’s “American Idiot,” whose lyrics take on the whole nation, “under the new mania.” Dorothy finds a single address for the song's vitriol, one suspiciously close to the so-called “Winter White House.” Somehow I doubt the band would object to this creative geographical interpretation.

You can purchase your own copy of the map here.

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

Jazz Deconstructed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Groundbreaking and Radical?

John Coltrane bore an unusual burden. Many experimental artists who radically change their forms of music, and music in general, are so out on the edge and ahead of their time they elude the public’s notice. But Coltrane was responsible for both “furthering the cause” of free jazz and “delivering it to an increasingly mainstream audience,” as Lindsay Planer writes at Allmusic. This meant that he achieved the kind of recognition in his short life that most musician/composers only dream of, and that his every attempt was heavily scrutinized by critics, a listening public, and record companies not always ready for the most forward-thinking of his ideas.

His immense popularity makes Coltrane’s accomplishments all the more impressive. While 1959 is often cited as the “year that changed jazz” with a series of landmark albums, two releases by Coltrane in 1960—My Favorite Things and Giant Steps—completely radicalized the form, with repercussions far outside the jazz world. In the latter recording, writes Planer, Coltrane was “in essence, beginning to rewrite the jazz canon with material that would be centered on solos—the 180-degree antithesis of the art form up to that point. These arrangements would create a place for the solo to become infinitely more compelling,” culminating “in a frenetic performance style that noted jazz journalist Ira Gitler dubbed ‘sheets of sound.’”

The saxophonist’s “polytonal torrents” upend the “cordial solos that had begun decaying… the genre, turning it into the equivalent of easy listening.” There was nothing easy about keeping up with Coltrane. The title track of Giant Steps has become known for a rapid chord progression that cycles through three keys, built on an earlier technique known as the “Coltrane Changes.” Improvising over these chords has become “a rite of passage for jazz musicians” explains the Vox Earworm video above, making the tune "one of the most revered, and feared, compositions in jazz history.”

We can intuit the difficulty of Coltrane’s compositions by listening to them, but without a background in music theory, we won’t understand just what, exactly, makes them “so legendary.” Earworm’s “crash course” in theory from musicians Adam Neely and Braxton Cook demystifies Coltrane’s intimidating progression—so challenging it tied up pianist Tommy Flanagan during his solo, and his halting stabs can be heard on the record, followed by Coltrane’s astonishingly fluid cascade of notes. “That’s messed up,” says Braxton, in sympathy. “I would want another shot.” What, besides the maddeningly fast tempo, sent Flanagan into the weeds?

As with most music based in Western harmony, the song’s structure can be demonstrated by reference to the circle of fifths, a method of organizing notes and scales that Coltrane made his very own. His brilliance was in taking recognizable forms—the standard II-V-I jazz progression, for example—and pushing them to their absolute limit.

“There are 26 chord changes in the 16-bar theme of ‘Giant Steps,’” notes Jazzwise magazine in its history of the album. (Watch them all fly by in the animated sheet music above). The progression “provides a formidable challenge for the improvisor with its quickly changing key centres.” Coltrane himself, “handled patterns derived from pentatonic scales, transposed to fit each chord as it flew by, exceptionally well.”

Keep watching the Earworm video to find out how the “Giant Steps” progression is like a “musical M.C. Escher painting,” and to understand why Coltrane is considered a god, or at least a saint, by so many who have followed—or struggled to follow—his work.

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

R.I.P. Stan Lee: Take His Free Online Course “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture”

"I grew up in an exurb where it took nearly an hour to walk to the nearest shop, to the nearest place to eat, to the library," remembers writer Adam Cadre. "And the steep hills made it an exhausting walk.  That meant that until I turned sixteen, when school was not in session I was stuck at home.  This was often not a good place to be stuck. Stan Lee gave me a place to hang out." Many other former children of exurban America — as well as everywhere else — did much of their growing up there as well, not just in the universe of Marvel Comics but in those of the comics and other forms of culture to which it gave rise or influenced, most of them either directly or indirectly shaped by Lee, who died yesterday at the age of 95.

"His critics would say that for me to thank Stan Lee for creating the Marvel Universe shows that I’ve fallen for his self‐promotion," Cadre continues, "​that it was Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and his other collaborators who supplied the dynamic, expressive artwork and the epic storylines that made the Marvel Universe so compelling."

Marvel fans will remember that Ditko, co-creator with Lee of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, died this past summer. Kirby, whose countless achievements in comics include co-creating the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk with Lee, passed away in 1994. (Kirby's death, as I recall, was the first I'd ever heard about on the internet.)

Those who take a dimmer view of Lee's career see him as having done little more artistic work than putting dialogue into the speech bubbles. But like no small number of other Marvel Universe habitués, Cadre "didn’t read superhero comics for the fights or the costumes or the trips to Asgard and Attilan. I read them for fantasy that read like reality, for the interplay of wildly different personalities — ​and for the wisecracks." And what made superhero stories the right delivery system for that interplay of personalities and those wisecracks? You'll find the answer in "The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture," an online course from the Smithsonian, previously featured here on Open Culture and still available to take at your own pace in edX's archives, created and taught in part by Lee himself. You can watch the trailer for the course at the top of the post.

If you take the course, its promotional materials promise, you'll learn the answers to such questions as "Why did superheroes first arise in 1938 and experience what we refer to as their “Golden Age” during World War II?," "How have comic books, published weekly since the mid-1930’s, mirrored a changing American society, reflecting our mores, slang, fads, biases and prejudices?," and "When and how did comic book artwork become accepted as a true American art form as indigenous to this country as jazz?" Whether or not you consider yourself a "true believer," as Lee would have put it, there could be few better ways of honoring an American icon like him than discovering what makes his work in superhero comics — the field to which he dedicated his life, and the one which has taken more than its fair share of derision over the decades — not just a reflection of the culture but a major influence on it as well.

Enroll in "The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture" here.

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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.

Stan Lee (RIP) Gets an Exuberant Fan Letter from 15-Year-Old George R.R. Martin, 1963

martin-LETTER

The letter above goes to show two things. George Raymond Richard Martin, otherwise known as George R.R. Martin, or simply as GRRM, had fantasy and writing in his blood from a young age. Decades before he wrote his fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO adapted into Game of Thrones, a 15-year-old George R. Martin sent a fan letter to the now departed Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the legendary creators of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four (called "F.F." in the letter).

When you read the note, you can immediately tell that young Martin was steeped in sci-fi and fantasy literature. He could also string together some fairly complex sentences during his teenage years -- sentences that many adults would struggle to write today. Above, you can watch Martin read his 1963 fan letter note, and Stan Lee's short reply: "We might want to quit while we’re ahead. Thanks for your kind words, George." We're all surely glad that Lee and Kirby kept going.

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British Doctors To Prescribe Arts & Culture to Patients: “The Arts Are Essential to our Health and Wellbeing”

Photo by Adam Jones, via Wikimedia Commons

The arts and humanities are afterthoughts in many American schools, rarely given priority as part of a comprehensive education, though they formed the basis of one for thousands of years elsewhere. One might say something similar of preventative medicine in the U.S. healthcare system. It’s tempting to idealize the priorities of other wealthy countries. The Japanese investment in “forest bathing,” for example, comes to mind, or Finnish public schools and France's funding of an Alzheimer’s village.

But everyplace has its problems, and no country is an island, exempt from the global pressures of capital or hostile interference.

But if we consider such things as art, music, and dance as essential—not only to an education, but to our general well-being—we must commend the UK’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, for his “social prescribing” initiative.

Hancock wants “the country’s doctors to prescribe therapeutic art- or hobby-based treatments for ailments ranging from dementia to psychosis, lung conditions and mental health issues,” reports Meilan Solly at Smithsonian. The plan “could find patients enrolled in dance classes and singing lessons, or perhaps enjoying a personalized music playlist.”

In a speech Hancock delivered on what happened to be election day in the U.S., he referred to a quote from Confucius that represents one particularly ancient educational tradition: “Music produces a kind of pleasure, which human nature cannot do without.” (He also quotes the Rolling Stones' “Satisfaction.”) Hancock’s idea goes beyond aristocratic traditions of old, proclaiming a diet of the arts for everyone.

They’re not just a right in their own terms as the search for truth and expression of the human condition. We shouldn’t only value them for the role they play in bringing meaning and dignity to our lives. We should value the arts and social activities because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing. And that’s not me as a former Culture Secretary saying it. It’s scientifically proven. Access to the arts and social activities improves people’s mental and physical health.

We’ve likely all come across research on the tremendous health benefits of what Warnock calls “social activities,” maintaining friendships and getting out and about. But what does the research into art and health say? “The medical benefits of engaging with the arts are well-recorded,” Solly writes, citing studies of stroke survivors making great strides after performing with the Royal Philharmonic; dance lessons improving clarity and concentration among those with early psychosis; and those with lung conditions improving with singing lessons. Additionally, many studies have shown the emotional lift museum visits and other cultural activities of a social nature can give.

Similar trials have taken place in Canada, but the UK project is “simultaneously more comprehensive and less fleshed-out,” aiming to encourage everything from cooking classes, playing bingo, and gardening to “more culturally focused ventures.” The proposal does not, however, fully address funding or accessibility issues for the most at-risk patients. Hancock’s rhetoric also perhaps heedlessly pits “more prevention and perspiration” against “popping pills and Prozac,” a characterization that seems to trivialize drug therapies and create a false binary where the two approaches can work well hand-in-hand.

Nonetheless, a shift away from “over-medicalising” and toward preventative and holistic approaches has the potential to address not only chronic symptoms of disease, but the non-medical causes—including stress, isolation, and sadness—that contribute to and worsen illness. The plan may require a rigorously individualized implementation by physicians and it will "start at a disadvantage," with 4% cuts per year to the NHS budget until 2021, as Royal College of Nursing public health expert Helen Donovan points out.

Those challenges aside, given all we know about the importance of emotional well-being to physical health, it’s hard to argue with Hancock’s premise. “Access to the arts improves people’s mental and physical health,” he tweeted during his November 6th roll-out of the initiative. “It makes us happier and healthier." Art is not a luxury, but a necessary ingredient in human flourishing, and yet "the arts do not tend to be thought of in medical terms," writes professor of health humanities Paul Crawford, though they constitute a "shadow health service," bringing us a kind of happiness, I’d argue with Confucius, that we simply cannot find anywhere else.

via The Smithsonian

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

Hundreds of Wonderful Japanese Firework Designs from the Early-1900s: Digitized and Free to Download

The Japanese term for fireworks, hanabi (花火), combines the words for fire, bi (), and flower, hana (). If you've seen fireworks anywhere, that derivation may seem at least vaguely apt, but if you've seen Japanese fireworks, it may well strike you as evocative indeed. The traditional Japanese way with presenting flowers, their shapes and colors as well as their scents, has something in common with the traditional Japanese way of putting on a fireworks show.

Not that the production of firecrackers goes as far back, historically, as the arrangement of flowers does, nor that firecrackers themselves, originally a product of China, have anything essentially Japanese about them.

But as more recently with cars, comic books, consumer electronics, and Kit-Kats, whenever Japan re-interprets a foreign invention, the project amounts to radical re-invention, and often a dazzling one at that.

These Japanese versions of non-Japanese things often become highly desirable around the world in their own right. It certainly happened with Japanese fireworks, here proudly displayed in these elegant and vividly colored English catalogs of Hirayama Fireworks and Yokoi Fireworks, published in the early 1900s by C.R. Brock and Company, whose founding date of 1698 makes it the oldest firework concern in the United Kingdom.

These Brocks catalogs been digitized by the Yokohama Board of Education and made available online at the site of the Yokohama Public Library. (Though I've never seen a fireworks show in Yokohama, that city, dotted as it is with impeccably designed public gardens, certainly has its flower-appreciation credentials in order.) Even if you don't read Japanese, you can easily download them: just click here and scroll down until you see their cover images, click on their English titles, and click the "本体PDF画像" link on the next page to get the PDF.

Organized into such categories as "Vertical Wheels," "Phantom Circles," and "Colored Floral Bomb Shells," the catalogs present their imported Japanese wares simply, as various patterns of color against a black or blue background. But simplicity, as even those only distantly acquainted with Japanese art have seen, supports a few particularly strong and enduring branches of Japanese aesthetics.

No matter where you take in your displays of fireworks, you'll surely recognize more than a few of these designs from having seen them light up the night sky. And as far as where to look for the next firework innovator, I might suggest South Korea, where I live: at this past summer's Seoul International Fireworks festival I witnessed fireworks exploding into the shape of cat faces, whiskers and all. Such elaborateness many violate the more rigorous versions of the Japanese sensibility as they apply to hanabi — but then again, just imagine what wonders Japan, one of the most cat-loving countries in the world, could do with that concept.

via Boing Boing/Present and Correct

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A Firework’s Point of View

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.

Living Paintings: 13 Caravaggio Works of Art Performed by Real-Life Actors

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, the father of Baroque painting, shocked the upper class aesthetes of his day by drafting prostitutes and proletariats as models for his primarily Biblical subjects.

Ten years ago, under the direction of founder Ludovica Rambelli, eight members of the Italian company, Malatheatre, discovered first hand the insanely rigorous poses Caravaggio demanded of his models, creating 23 tableaux vivants inspired by the master’s oeuvre.

The company sought less to reproduce the paintings than the scene Caravaggio would have gazed on from behind his easel.

The 13 stagings in the video above make one aware of the intense physicality evident in Caravaggio’s work.

All those extended arms and inversions are agony for a model. After 30 seconds or so, even a sharply inclined neck or bent back can serve up a small taste of what it’s like to be crucified.

The result is exquisite. The eight players are not just extraordinarily fit specimens, they have clearly devoted much thought to the emotional life of each character they embody, sustaining the moment with great focus and determination.

The action unfolds in the suitably ancient setting of Naples’ Church of Santa Maria Donnaregina Nuova.

When not called upon to model, the performers become stage hands, helping each other to arrange the simple, well chosen props and flowing mantles.

(I enjoyed the small joke of a female Bacchus.)

Performed live to selections from Mozart, Bach, and Vivaldi, this company has settled on the Lux Aeterna section of Mozart’s Requiem to accompany their archival footage.

The next opportunity to see the show performed live will be in Naples on December 28.

Have a look at the video below, for some comparisons between the original paintings and the 13 tableaux vivants seen in the video:

The Entombment of Christ

Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy,

Crucifixion of Saint Peter

The Beheading of St John the Baptist

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Flagellation of Christ

The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew

Annunciation

Rest on the Flight into Egypt

Narcissus,

The Raising of Lazarus

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy

Bacchus

via This Kids Should See This

Related Content:

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Batman & Other Super Friends Sit for 17th Century Flemish Style Portraits

Why Babies in Medieval Paintings Look Like Middle-Aged Men: An Investigative Video

Ayun Halliday is a former artist’s model turned author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

 

“A Great Day in Harlem,” Art Kane’s Iconic Photo of 57 Jazz Legends, Celebrates Its 60th Anniversary

Image by Art Kane, via Wikimedia Commons

Sixty years ago, Art Kane assembled one of the largest groups of jazz greats in history. No, it wasn’t an all-star big band, but a meeting of veteran legends and young upstarts for the iconic photograph known as “A Great Day in Harlem.” Fifty-seven musicians gathered outside a brownstone at 17 East 126th St.—accompanied by twelve neighborhood kids—from “big rollers,” notes Jazzwise magazine, like “Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Count Basie, Sonny Rollins, Lester Young, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins and Pee Wee Russell to then up-and-coming names, Benny Golson, Marion MacPartland, Mary Lou Williams and Art Farmer.”

Sonny Rollins was there, one of only two musicians in the photo still alive. The other, Benny Golson, who turns 90 next year, remembers getting a call from Village Voice critic Nat Hentoff, telling him to get over there. Golson lived in the same building as Quincy Jones, “but somehow he wasn’t called or he didn’t make it.”

Other people who might have been in the photograph but weren’t, Golson says, because they were working (and the 10 a.m. call time was a stretch for a working musician): “John Coltrane, Miles, Duke Ellington, Woody Herman.” And Buddy Rich, whom Golson calls the “greatest drummer I ever heard in my life” (adding, “but his personality was horrible.”)

The next year, everything changed—or so the story goes—when revolutionary albums hit the scene from the likes of Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman, and Charles Mingus. These records pushed experimental forms, leaving behind the confines of both swing and bebop. But Kane’s jazz class photo shows us, Matthew Kessel writes at Vulture, “a portrait of harmony, old and new guard alike peaceably intermingling. The photo suggests that jazz is as much about continuity and tradition as it is about radical change.” The photo has since become a tradition itself, hanging on the walls of thousands of homes, bookshops, record stores, barbershops, and restaurants. (Get your copy here.)

Originally titled "Harlem 1958,"  Kane's image has inspired some notable homages in black culture. In 1998, XXL magazine tapped Gordon Parks to shoot “A Great Day in Hip Hop” for a now-historic cover. And this past summer, Netflix gathered 47 black creatives behind more than 20 original Netflix shows for the redux “A Great Day in Hollywood.” The photo also inspired a documentary of the same title in 1994 (at whose website you can click on each musician for a short bio). At the Daily News, Sarah Goodyear tells the story of how Kane conceived and executed the ambitious project for a special jazz edition of Esquire.

It was his “first professional shooting assignment and, with it, he ended up making history by almost by accident.” Goodyear quotes Kane’s son Jonathan, himself a New York musician, who remarks, “certain things end up being bigger than the original intention. The photograph has become part of our cultural fabric.” For longtime residents of Harlem, the so-called Capital of Black America, and a spiritual home of jazz, it's just like an old family portrait. See a fully annotated version of "A Great Day in Harlem" at Harlem.org, and at the Daily News, an interactive version with links to YouTube recordings and performances from every one of the 57 musicians in the picture.

This month, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the photo, Wall of Sound Gallery will publish the book Art Kane: Harlem 1958, a retrospective with outtakes from the photo session and text from Quincy Jones, Benny Golson, Jonathan Kane, and Art himself. "The importance of this photo transcends time and location," writes Jones in his forward, "leaving it to become not only a symbolic piece of art, but a piece of history. During a time in which segregation was very much still a part of our everyday lives, and in a world that often pointed out our differences instead of celebrating our similarities, there was something so special and pure about gathering 57 individuals together, in the name of jazz."

  1. Hilton Jefferson (1903-1968)
  2. Benny Golson (1929-)
  3. Art Farmer (1928-2003)
  4. Wilbur Ware (1923-1979)
  5. Art Blakey (1919-1990)
  6. Chubby Jackson (1918-2003)
  7. Johnny Griffin (1928-2008)
  8. Dickie Wells (1909-1985)
  9. Buck Clayton (1911-1993)
  10. Taft Jordan (1915-1981)
  11. Zutty Singleton (1898-1975)
  12. Henry “Red” Allen (1908-1967)
  13. Tyree Glenn (1912-1972)
  14. Miff Mole (1898-1961)
  15. Sonny Greer (1903-1982)
  16. J.C. Higginbotham (1906-1973)
  17. Jimmy Jones (1918-1982)
  18. Charles Mingus (1922-1979)
  19. Jo Jones (1911-1985)
  20. Gene Krupa (1909-1973)
  21. Max Kaminsky (1908-1994)
  22. George Wettling (1907-1968)
  23. Bud Freeman (1906-1988)
  24. Pee Wee Russell (1906-1969)
  25. Ernie Wilkins (1922-1999)
  26. Buster Bailey (1902-1967)
  27. Osie Johnson (1923-1968)
  28. Gigi Gryce (1927-1983)
  29. Hank Jones (1918-2010)
  30. Eddie Locke (1930-2009)
  31. Horace Silver (1928-2014)
  32. Luckey Roberts (1887-1968)
  33. Maxine Sullivan (1911-1987)
  34. Jimmy Rushing (1902-1972)
  35. Joes Thomas (1909-1984)
  36. Scoville Browne (1915-1994)
  37. Stuff Smith (1909-1967)
  38. Bill Crump (1919-1980s)
  39. Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
  40. Rudy Powell (1907-1976)
  41. Oscar Pettiford (1922-1960)
  42. Sahib Shihab (1925-1993)
  43. Marian McPartland (1920-2013)
  44. Sonny Rollins (1929-)
  45. Lawrence Brown (1905-1988)
  46. Mary Lou Williams (1910-1981)
  47. Emmett Berry (1915-1993)
  48. Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)
  49. Vic Dickenson (1906-1984)
  50. Milt Hinton (1910-2000)
  51. Lester “Pres” Young (1909-1959)
  52. Rex Stewart (1907-1972)
  53. J.C. Heard (1917-1988)
  54. Gerry Mulligan (1927-1995)
  55. Roy Eldridge (1911-1989)
  56. Dizzy Gillespie (1917-1993)
  57. William “Count” Basie (1904-1984)

Related Content:

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s Highly Controversial Film on Jazz & Race in America (With Music by Sun Ra)

Hear 2,000 Recordings of the Most Essential Jazz Songs: A Huge Playlist for Your Jazz Education

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





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