John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” Played With Bagpipes: The Artistry of Rufus Harley

I submit to you the proposition that a sufficiently masterful composition can survive in not just any key, but any context, any time, any sensibility, or any instrumentation. To allow you to evaluate this proposition, I submit to you John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” The saxophonist’s half-hour suite, an artistic freedom-embracing hymn to the higher power Coltrane saw as having imbued him with not just life but a formidable skill on his instrument, came as an eponymous album from Impulse! Records in 1965. (Listen here.) Having won innumerable accolades in the near-half-century since, it now seems to have a permanent place on everyone’s list of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. About such a pillar of a work, only one question can remain: how would it sound on the bagpipes?

Here to satiate your curiosity comes Rufus Harley, the first jazz musician ever to take up the Scottish great Highland bagpipe as his main, er, horn. At the top of the post, you can hear him play a bit of “A Love Supreme” live on that signature instrument. He would also work other well-known pieces into his act, such as “Amazing Grace,” a song most commonly played in funerals. And indeed, it took a funeral to turn Harley on to the bagpipe’s untapped potential. “Moved by the pipes of the Black Watch Scottish Marching Band who were playing for the funeral of slain President John F. Kennedy in November, 1963,” says his bio at Hip Wax, he lined up “a $120 set of pipes from a pawn shop and help from musician-teacher Dennis Sandole,” and “the world’s only jazz bagpipist was on his way” — to places like the CBS game show I’ve Got a Secret, three years later, an appearance you can watch just above. You can learn more about Harley’s remarkable life and surprisingly funky career on Jazz City TV’s The Original Rufus Harley Story below.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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Watch the Films of the Lumière Brothers & the Birth of Cinema (1895)

When Auguste and Louis Lumière unveiled their invention, the Cinématographe, at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris on December 28, 1895, the art form of film was born. Prior to that, other inventors looked for ways to photographically capture motion in a commercially successful way but failed. Thomas Edison, for instance, hawked a device called the Kinetoscope that looked a bit like a View-Master strapped to a pulpit. It was big, bulky and, most importantly, offered an experience to a single viewer at a time. The Cinématographe, on the other hand, projected images on a wall, creating, for the first time ever, a movie audience.

Cinématographe_Lumière (1)

The Lumière brothers screened 10 short films that night, each running about 50 seconds long. They are, as you might expect, about as primitive as you can get. Basic elements of cinema like editing or camera movement were decades away from evolving into the cinematic grammar that we take for granted today. You can see some of those early films above.

The Lumière brother’s first film was called Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon (La Sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon) and that’s entirely what the short shows: a single static shot of dozens of men and women, all of whom seem to be wearing hats, leaving a factory for the day. It is a documentary in its most elemental form.

Above is The Waterer Watered (L’Arroseur arrosé), cinema’s first comedy. It shows a gardener watering some plants before a naughty kid steps on the hose, cutting off its flow. When the gardener looks down the nozzle, the kid takes his foot off the hose and Bam! — the world’s first example of someone getting punked on camera.

And below you can see the Lumière’s most famous early short, screened in early 1896. It shows a train arriving at a station. The camera was placed right at the edge of the platform so the train sweeps past the frame on a strong, dynamic diagonal. Legend has it that audiences thought that the train was coming straight at them and panicked. That’s probably not true but it did, for the first time, demonstrate the visual drama that can be created by a well-placed camera.

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily. 


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The Five Best North Korean Movies: Watch Them Free Online

According to official propaganda, Kim Jong-Il was a remarkably impressive individual. He learned to walk when he was just three weeks old; he wrote 1,500 books while at university; and, during his first and only game of golf, he scored 11 holes in one. Yet for some reason becoming the world’s first North Korean professional golf player didn’t seem to interest Kim. He wanted to make movies. So, in 1978, while his father Kim Il-Sung was still the country’s supreme leader, Kim set out to modernize the film industry of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The North’s filmmakers are just doing perfunctory work,” Kim said to South Korean film director Shin Sang-ok. “They don’t have any new ideas…their works have the same expressions, redundancies, the same old plots. All our movies are filled with crying and sobbing. I didn’t order them to portray that kind of thing.”

the-flower-girl.480.270.s

Of course, Kim’s bold plan to jumpstart the industry was to kidnap Shin and his wife, both celebrities in South Korea. He was abducted in Hong Kong and, when he had the temerity to try to escape, he ended up spending four years toiling in prison, subsisting on little more than grass and a little rice. Eventually, Shin was approached by Kim and given an offer he dare not refuse: make movies in North Korea.

Like the films cranked out in China during the height of the Cultural Revolution, North Korean movies are largely propaganda delivery systems designed exclusively for a domestic audience. After Shin’s kidnapping, DPRK movies started to get just a bit less didactic. Simon Fowler, who writes probably the only English-language blog on North Korean cinema, just wrote an article for The Guardian where he selected the best films to come out of the Hermit kingdom. You can watch a few of these movies here and find the others at The Guardian. They might be goofy, maudlin and ham-fisted, but for movie mavens and aficionados of Communist kitsch, they are fascinating.

Perhaps the most important North Korean movie ever is The Flower Girl (1972). Watch it above. Set during Japan’s colonial occupation of Korea, the film follows a young woman who endures one injustice after another at the hands of the Japanese before Kim Il-Sung’s army marches into her village and saves the day. The movie set the template for many of the movies to come afterwards. As Fowler writes, “the importance of The Flower Girl within the DPRK cannot be overestimated. The star, Hong Yong-hee, adorns the one won bank note in North Korea, and is revered as a national hero. Although not always an easy watch, those wanting to learn more about the average North Koreans’ sensibilities could do far worse than to watch this picturesque but tragic film.”

Hong Kil Dong (1986) is clearly one of the movies Shin Sang-ok influenced; it foregrounded entertainment over ideology, a rarity at that point in the country’s film history. The movie is about a character from Korean literature who, like Robin Hood, not only robs from the rich and gives to the poor but knows how to deliver a beatdown. Hong plays out like a particularly low-budget Shaw Brothers kung fu spectacle with plenty of flying kicks, sword play and wire work.

And finally, there’s Pulgasari (1985), North Korea’s attempt at making a kaiju movie. Set in feudal times, the film is about a statue that comes to life, grows to monstrous proportions and, unable to sate its unquenchable thirst for metal, starts to smash things. Shin managed to get technical help for the movie from Toho, the same Japanese studio that cranked all those Godzilla movies. In fact, they even got veteran kaiju actor, Kenpachiro Satsuma, to don a rubber suit for this movie. Years later, Pulgasari was released in Japan about the same time as Roland Emmerich’s god awful Hollywood remake of Godzilla (not to be confused with Gareth Edward’s god awful Hollywood remake from earlier this year). Satsuma publically stated what a lot of Japanese privately thought – Pulgasari is better than Emmerich’s big-budget dud.

Not long after Shin completed Pulgasari, he and his wife managed to escape in Vienna thanks to the help of the CIA and a host of other unlikely parties.  Kim Jong-Il might have had super human abilities, but talent retention did not seem to be one of them.

You can watch the three films listed above, plus Marathon Runner and Centre Forward over at  The Guardian.

More free films can be found in our collection, 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

via Coudal

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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 @jonccrowAnd check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring one new drawing of a vice president with an octopus on his head daily. 


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David Lynch Takes the ALS Ice Coffee Bucket Challenge

Thanks to Laura Dern, David Lynch took the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. And, of course, there’s a twist — which involves a double shot of espresso and Lynch playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the trumpet. If you ever wondered what Lynch looks like without his classic quiff, you won’t want to miss this one minute bit.

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Andy Warhol’s 85 Polaroid Portraits: Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simpson & Many Others (1970-1987)

warhol polaroids

Polaroid photography, which looked about to fade out forever for a while there, has in recent years made a comeback. Chalk it up, if you must, to a grand revaluing wave of the physically analog in our age of digital ephemerality — the same tide on which enthusiasm for vinyl, zines, and even VHS tapes has risen again. But we must acknowledge that Andy Warhol, in a sense, got there first. It hardly counts as the only matter on which the mastermind of the Factory showed prescience; take, for instance, his quip about everyone in the future getting fifteen minutes of fame, a prediction which, as Jonathan Lethem put it, has in our present hardened into “drab processional.” Some of these very 21st-century people now enjoying (or enduring) their own fifteen minutes — most of them presumably not even born within Warhol’s lifetime — surely keep a Polaroid camera at hand. They acknowledge, on some level, what the consummate 20th-century “pop artist” sensed: that the ostensibly cheap and disposable, including self-developing film used for untrained vacation snapshots and mere reference material for “real” works of art, has its own kind of permanence.

Here we have a selection of Warhol’s own works of Polaroid photography, a medium he took up around 1970 and used to further his interest in portraiture. The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, just one of the institutions to put them on display, says that “these images often served as the basis for his commissioned portraits, silk-screen paintings, drawings, and prints.” The wide subset they showed “reveals that superstars were not the only figures that Warhol photographed with his Polaroid Big Shot, the distinct plastic camera he used for the majority of his sittings. Over half of those who sat for him were little known or remain unidentified.” Whether of Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simpson, Debbie Harry, himself, a row of bananas, or someone faintly recognizable yet ultimately unnamable, each of Warhol’s Polaroids remains “fully identified with the artwork that ultimately grew out of it; the face depicted becomes a kind of signifier for larger cultural concepts of beauty, power, and worth.”

You can see at least 85 of Warhol’s polaroid portraits at a site called These Americans.

Now what would Warhol, a known early enthusiast of computer art, have said about the arrival of Instagram filters meant to make our instantaneous, high-resolution digital photos look like Polaroids again?

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.


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How to Listen to the Radio: The BBC’s 1930 Manual for Using a New Technology

BBC Good Listening

Click to enlarge

A comparison between the invention of radio and that of the Internet need not be a strained or superfical exercise. Parallels abound. The communication tool that first drew the world together with news, drama, and music took shape in a small but crowded field of amateur enthusiasts, engineers and physicists, military strategists, and competing corporate interests. In 1920, the technology emerged fully into the consumer sector with the first commercial broadcast by Westinghouse’s KDKA station in Pittsburgh on November 2, Election Day. By 1924, the U.S. had 600 commercial stations around the country, and in 1927, the model spread across the Atlantic when the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) succeeded the British Broadcasting Company, formerly an extension of the Post Office.

Unlike the Wild West frontier of U.S. radio, since its 1922 inception the BBC operated under a centralized command structure that, paradoxically, fostered some very egalitarian attitudes to broadcasting—in certain respects. In others, however, the BBC, led by “conscientious founder” Lord John Reith, took on the task of providing its listeners with “elevating and educative” material, particularly avant garde music like the work of Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. The BBC, writes David Stubbs in Fear of Music, “were prepared to be quite bold in their broadcasting policy, making a point of including ‘futurist’ or ‘art music,’ as they termed it.” As you might imagine, “listeners proved a little recalcitrant in the face of this highbrow policy.”

In response to the volume of listener complaints, the BBC began a PR campaign in 1927 that sought to train audiences in how to listen to challenging and unfamiliar broadcasts. One statement released by the BBC stresses responsible, “correct,” listening practices: “If there be an art of broadcasting there is equally an art of listening… there can be no excuse for the listener who tunes in to a programme, willy nilly, and complains that he does not care for it.” The next year, the BBC Handbook 1928 included the following castigation of listener antipathy and restlessness.

Every new invention that brings desirable things more easily within our reach thereby to some extent cheapens them… We seem to be entering upon a kind of arm-chair period of civilisation, when everything that goes to make up adventure is dealt with wholesale, and delivered, as it were, to the individual at his own door.

It’s as if Amazon were right around the corner, and, in a certain sense, it was. Like personal computing technology, the wireless revolutionized communications and offered instant access to information, if not yet goods, and not yet on an “on-demand” basis. Unlike Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, however, British commercial radio strove mightily to control the ethics and aesthetics of its content. The handbook goes on to elaborate its proposed remedy for the potential cheapening of culture it identifies above:

The listener, in other words, should be an epicure and not a glutton; he should choose his broadcast fare with discrimination, and when the time comes give himself deliberately to the enjoyment of it… To sum up, I would urge upon those who use wireless to cultivate the art of listening; to discriminate in what they listen to, and to listen with their mind as well as their ears. In that way they will not only increase their pleasure, but actually contribute their part to the improvement and perfection of an art which is yet in its childhood.

It seems that these lengthy prose prescriptions did not convey the message as efficiently as they might. In 1930, BBC administrators published a handbook that took a much more direct approach, which you can see above. Titled “Good Listening,” the list of instructions, transcribed below, proceeds under the assumption that any dissatisfaction with BBC programming should be blamed solely on impatient, slothful listeners. As BBC program advisor Filson Young wrote that year in a Radio Times article, “Good listeners will produce good programmes more surely and more certainly than anything else… Many of you have not even begun to master the art of listening. The arch-fault of the average listener is that he does not select.”

GOOD LISTENING

Make sure that your set is working properly before you settle down to listen.

Choose your programmes as carefully as you choose which theatre to go to. It is just as important to you to enjoy yourself at home as at the theatre.

Listen as carefully at home as you do in a theatre or concert hall. You can’t get the best out of a programme if your mind is wandering, or if you are playing bridge or reading. Give it your full attention. Try turning out the lights so that your eye is not caught by familiar objects in the room. Your imagination will be twice as vivid.

If you only listen with half an ear you haven’t a quarter of a right to criticise.

Think of your favourite occupation. Don’t you like a change sometimes? Give the wireless a rest now and then.

All maybe more than a little condescending, perhaps, but that last bit of advice now seems eternal.

via WFMU

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


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Brian May’s Homemade Guitar, Made From Old Tables, Bike and Motorcycle Parts & More

It’s called “The Red Special.” Or sometimes “The Fireplace.” That’s the guitar that Brian May (guitarist of Queen and physics researcher) began building with his father circa 1963, when Brian was about 16 years old. Lacking money but not ingenuity, the father-son team built the guitar using materials found around the home. The neck of the guitar was fashioned from an 18th-century fireplace mantel, the inlays on the neck from a mother-of-pearl button. For the body, they used wood from an old oak table. Then the bricoleurs combined a bike saddlebag holder, a plastic knitting needle tip, and motorbike valve springs to create a tremolo arm. It’s a kind of magic! But here’s perhaps the most amazing part of the story. The resulting guitar wasn’t a rickety novelty. May used The Red Special during Queen’s recording sessions and live performances, and he still apparently plays a restored version today. If you find yourself inspired by this DIY story, you can head over to BrianMayGuitars and buy your own Red Special replica.

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Paris Through Pentax: Short Film Lets You See a Great City Through a Different Lens

Maison Carnot, an ad studio in France, has produced a delightful short film that lets you see Paris through the viewfinder of the classic Pentax 67 camera. Antoine Pai, one of the filmmakers, told Petapixel, “As Parisians, we are so used to the charm of our city that we forget sometimes to take a minute and observe.” “Marcel Proust once said, ‘Mystery is not about traveling to new places but it’s about looking with new eyes.’ That is totally what we felt while shooting this film.” To see Paris through a differnent lens, watch Paris Through Pentax above. To get the backstory on the contraption Maison Carnot jerry-rigged to shoot the film, head over to Petapixel.


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

The-Feynman-Lectures-on-Physics-e1379099712949

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

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

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

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

Photograph by Tom Harvey. Copyright © California Institute of Technology.

via Metafilter

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Philosopher Alain Badiou Performs a Scene From His Play, Ahmed The Philosopher (2011)

Alain Badiou occupies an odd place in contemporary philosophy. Showered with superlatives like “France’s greatest living philosopher” and “one of the greatest thinkers of our time,” he somehow doesn’t merit even a cursory entry in that definitive academic reference site, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Whether this is simply an editorial oversight or an intentional slight, I am not qualified to say.

Perhaps one of the difficulties of writing concisely on Badiou is that Badiou himself roams far and wide—from Hegel to Lacan, Kant, Marx, Descartes, and even St. Paul. Not easily identifiable as belonging to one school or another, Badiou’s work, though staunchly politically left, resists anti-humanist postmodernism and seeks to ground truth in universals. It’s an unsurprising tack given that he first trained in mathematics.

As if his philosophical work weren’t enough, Badiou also writes novels and plays. Of the latter, his Ahmed the Philosopher: 34 Short Plays for Children & Everyone Else has recently appeared in an English translation by Joseph Litvak. Just above, you can see Litvak as Ahmed and Badiou himself as “a curmudgeonly French demon,” writes Critical Theory, “who takes joy in informing for the police.” Filmed in Germany in 2011,

This scene, entitled “Terror,” serves as a commentary on French xenophobia towards Arab immigrants. Badiou at one point also draws reference to Nazi-occupied France, a sort of “good old days” for Badiou’s callous character.

Badiou as the “demon of the cities” spotlights the brute limitations imposed by violent, unjust police, who summarily execute innocent people in the streets. Taking perverse pleasure in describing such an occurrence, the demon leers, “I like to imagine that I’m hidden behind a curtain. I salivate!” before going on to describe with relish the even uglier scenario of a “bungled” shooting. The audience giggles uneasily, unsure quite how to respond to the exaggerated evil Badiou performs. It seems unthinkable, absurd, their nervous laughter suggests, that anyone but a cartoon devil could take such sadistic delight in this kind of cruelty, much less, as the demon does, initiate it with anonymous libel. It’s an unnerving performance of an even more unnerving piece of writing. Below, you can see more scenes from Ahmed the Philosopher, performed in English sans Badiou at UC Irvine in 2010.

If you like Badiou as an actor, this may be your only chance to see him perform. However, the extroverted philosopher hopes to break into Hollywood in another capacity—bringing his translation of Plato’s Republic to the screen, with, in his grand design, Brad Pitt in the leading role, Sean Connery as Socrates, and Meryl Streep as “Mrs. Plato.” I wish him all the luck in the world. With the blockbuster success of religous epics like Noah, perhaps we’re primed for a Hollywood version of ancient Greek thought, though like the former film, purists would no doubt find ample reason to fly up in arms over a guaranteed multitude of philosophical blasphemies.

via Critical Theory

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


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