College Presidents Lampooned on Saturday Night Live’s Cold Open

Ouch!

Glen Hansard & Lisa O’Neill Perform a Stirring Version of “Fairytale of New York” at Shane MacGowan’s Funeral: Watch Their Send-Off

On Fri­day, Glen Hansard & Lisa O’Neill per­formed “Fairy­tale of New York” at Shane Mac­Gowan’s funer­al, giv­ing the Pogues’ front­man quite the send-off. The mov­ing per­for­mance took place before a packed church in Nenagh, a coun­try town in Ire­land. And it all ends, per­haps fit­ting­ly, with mourn­ers danc­ing in the aisles. Below, you can also watch Nick Cave per­form a Pogues song from 1986, “A Rainy Night in Soho.”

Relat­ed Con­tent

The Sto­ry of The Pogues’ “Fairy­tale of New York,” the Boozy Bal­lad That Has Become One of the Most Beloved Christ­mas Songs of All Time

Shane Mac­Gowan & Sinéad O’Connor Duet Togeth­er, Per­form­ing a Mov­ing Ren­di­tion of “Haunt­ed”

RIP Shane Mac­Gowan: Watch the Celtic Punk Rock­er Per­form with Nick Cave, Kirsty Mac­Coll & the Dublin­ers

The Won­drous Night When Glen Hansard Met Van Mor­ri­son

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The Oldest Voices That We Can Still Hear: Hear Audio Recordings of Ghostly Voices from the 1800s

What his­to­ry nerd doesn’t thrill to Thomas Edi­son speak­ing to us from beyond the grave in a 50th anniver­sary repeat of his ground­break­ing 1877 spo­ken word record­ing of (those hop­ing for lofti­er stuff should dial it down now) Mary Had a Lit­tle Lamb?

The orig­i­nal rep­re­sents the first time a record­ed human voice was suc­cess­ful­ly cap­tured and played back. We live in hope that the frag­ile tin­foil sheet on which it was record­ed will turn up in someone’s attic some­day.

Appar­ent­ly Edi­son got it in the can on the first take. The great inven­tor lat­er rem­i­nisced that he “was nev­er so tak­en aback” in his life as when he first heard his own voice, issu­ing forth from the phono­graph into which he’d so recent­ly shout­ed the famous nurs­ery rhyme:

Every­body was aston­ished. I was always afraid of things that worked the first time.

His achieve­ment was a game chang­er, obvi­ous­ly, but it was­n’t the first time human speech was suc­cess­ful­ly record­ed, as Kings and Things clar­i­fies in the above video.

That hon­or goes to Édouard-Léon Scott de Mar­t­inville, whose pho­nau­to­graph, patent­ed in 1857, tran­scribed vocal sounds as wave forms etched onto lamp­black-coat­ed paper, wood, or glass.

Edison’s plans for his inven­tion hinged on its abil­i­ty to repro­duce sound in ways that would be famil­iar and of ser­vice to the lis­ten­ing pub­lic. A sam­pling:

  • A music play­er 
  • A device for cre­at­ing audio­books for blind peo­ple
  • A lin­guis­tic tool
  • An aca­d­e­m­ic resource of archived lec­tures
  • A record of tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions
  • A means of cap­tur­ing pre­cious fam­i­ly mem­o­ries. 

Léon Scot­t’s vision for his pho­nau­to­graph reflects his pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the sci­ence of sound.

A pro­fes­sion­al type­set­ter, with an inter­est in short­hand, he con­ceived of the pho­nau­to­graph as an arti­fi­cial ear capa­ble of repro­duc­ing every hic­cup and quirk of pro­nun­ci­a­tion far more faith­ful­ly than a stenog­ra­ph­er ever could. It was, in the words of audio his­to­ri­an Patrick Feast­er,  the “ulti­mate speech-to-text machine.”

As he told NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Léon Scott was dri­ven to “get sounds down on paper where he could look at them and study them:”

…in terms of what we’re talk­ing about here visu­al­ly, any­body who’s ever used audio edit­ing soft­ware should have a pret­ty good idea of what we’re talk­ing about here, that kind of wavy line that you see on your screen that some­how cor­re­sponds to a sound file that you’re work­ing with…He was hop­ing peo­ple would learn to read those squig­gles and not just get the words out of them.

Although Léon Scott man­aged to sell a few pho­nau­to­graphs to sci­en­tif­ic lab­o­ra­to­ries, the gen­er­al pub­lic took lit­tle note of his inven­tion. He was pained by the glob­al acclaim that greet­ed Edison’s phono­graph 21 years lat­er, fear­ing that his own name would be lost to his­to­ry.

His fear was not unfound­ed, though as Conan O’Brien, of all peo­ple, mused, “even­tu­al­ly, all our graves go unat­tend­ed.”

But Léon Scott got a sec­ond act, as did sev­er­al uniden­ti­fied long-dead humans whose voic­es he had record­ed, when Dr. Feast­er and his First Sounds col­league David Gio­van­noni con­vert­ed some pho­nau­to­grams to playable dig­i­tal audio files using non-con­tact opti­cal-scan­ning tech­nol­o­gy from the Lawrence Berke­ley Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry.

Dr. Feast­er describes the eerie expe­ri­ence of lis­ten­ing to the cleaned-up spo­ken word tracks after a long night of tweak­ing file speeds, using Léon Scot­t’s pho­nau­to­grams of tun­ing forks as his guide:

I’m a sound record­ing his­to­ri­an, so hear­ing a voice from 100 years ago is no real sur­prise for me. But sit­ting there, I was just kind of stunned to be think­ing, now I’m sud­den­ly at last lis­ten­ing to a per­for­mance of vocal music made in France before the Amer­i­can Civ­il War. That was just a stun­ning thing, feel­ing like a ghost is try­ing to sing to me through that sta­t­ic.

Scan­ning tech­nol­o­gy also allowed his­to­ri­ans to cre­ate playable dig­i­tal files of frag­ile foil record­ings made on Edi­son devices, like the St. Louis Tin­foil , made by writer and ear­ly adopter Thomas Mason in the sum­mer of 1878, as a way of show­ing off his new-fan­gled phono­graph, pur­chased for the whop­ping sum of $95.

The British Library’s Tin­foil Record­ing is thought to be the ear­li­est in exis­tence. It fea­tures an as-yet uniden­ti­fied woman, who may or may not be quot­ing from social the­o­rist Har­ri­et Mar­tineau… this gar­bled ghost is excep­tion­al­ly dif­fi­cult to pin down.

Far eas­i­er to deci­pher are the 1889 record­ings of Pruss­ian Field Mar­shall Hel­muth Von Multke, who was born in 1800, the last year of the 18th cen­tu­ry, mak­ing his the ear­li­est-born record­ed voice in audio his­to­ry.

The nona­ge­nar­i­an recites from Ham­let and Faust, and con­grat­u­lates Edi­son on his aston­ish­ing inven­tion:

This phono­graph makes it pos­si­ble for a man who has already long rest­ed in the grave once again to raise his voice and greet the present.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Down­load 10,000 of the First Record­ings of Music Ever Made, Cour­tesy of the UCSB Cylin­der Audio Archive

Suzanne Vega, “The Moth­er of the MP3,” Records “Tom’s Din­er” with the Edi­son Cylin­der

A Beer Bot­tle Gets Turned Into a 19th Cen­tu­ry Edi­son Cylin­der and Plays Fine Music

400,000+ Sound Record­ings Made Before 1923 Have Entered the Pub­lic Domain

The Web Site “Cen­turies of Sound” is Mak­ing a Mix­tape for Every Year of Record­ed Sound from 1860 to Present

Stream 385,000 Vin­tage 78 RPM Records at the Inter­net Archive: Louis Arm­strong, Glenn Miller, Bil­lie Hol­i­day & More

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Why Violins Have F‑Holes: The Science & History of the Renaissance Design

Before elec­tron­ic ampli­fi­ca­tion, instru­ment mak­ers and musi­cians had to find new­er and bet­ter ways to make them­selves heard among ensem­bles and orches­tras and above the din of crowds. Many of the acoustic instru­ments we’re famil­iar with today—guitars, cel­los, vio­las, etc.—are the result of hun­dreds of years of exper­i­men­ta­tion focused on solv­ing just that prob­lem. These hol­low wood­en res­o­nance cham­bers ampli­fy the sound of the strings, but that sound must escape, hence the cir­cu­lar sound hole under the strings of an acoustic gui­tar and the f‑holes on either side of a vio­lin.

I’ve often won­dered about this par­tic­u­lar shape and assumed it was sim­ply an affect­ed holdover from the Renais­sance. While it’s true f‑holes date from the Renais­sance, they are much more than orna­men­tal; their design—whether arrived at by acci­dent or by con­scious intent—has had remark­able stay­ing pow­er for very good rea­son.

As acousti­cian Nicholas Makris and his col­leagues at MIT announced in a study pub­lished by the Roy­al Soci­ety, a vio­lin’s f‑holes serve as the per­fect means of deliv­er­ing its pow­er­ful acoustic sound. F‑holes have “twice the son­ic pow­er,” The Econ­o­mist reports, “of the cir­cu­lar holes of the fithele” (the vio­lin’s 10th cen­tu­ry ances­tor and ori­gin of the word “fid­dle”).

The evo­lu­tion­ary path of this ele­gant innovation—Clive Thomp­son at Boing Boing demon­strates with a col­or-cod­ed chart—takes us from those orig­i­nal round holes, to a half-moon, then to var­i­ous­ly-elab­o­rat­ed c‑shapes, and final­ly to the f‑hole. That slow his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment casts doubt on the the­o­ry in the above video, which argues that the 16th-cen­tu­ry Amati fam­i­ly of vio­lin mak­ers arrived at the shape by peel­ing a clemen­tine, per­haps, and plac­ing flat the sur­face area of the sphere. But it’s an intrigu­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty nonethe­less.

MIT-Violin-Design-02

Instead, through an “analy­sis of 470 instru­ments… made between 1560 and 1750,” Makris, his co-authors, and vio­lin mak­er Roman Bar­nas dis­cov­ered, writes The Econ­o­mist, that the “change was gradual—and con­sis­tent.” As in biol­o­gy, so in instru­ment design: the f‑holes arose from “nat­ur­al muta­tion,” writes Jen­nifer Chu at MIT News, “or in this case, crafts­man­ship error.” Mak­ers inevitably cre­at­ed imper­fect copies of oth­er instru­ments. Once vio­lin mak­ers like the famed Amati, Stradi­vari, and Guarneri fam­i­lies arrived at the f‑hole, how­ev­er, they found they had a supe­ri­or shape, and “they def­i­nite­ly knew what was a bet­ter instru­ment to repli­cate,” says Makris. Whether or not those mas­ter crafts­men under­stood the math­e­mat­i­cal prin­ci­ples of the f‑hole, we can­not say.

What Makris and his team found is a rela­tion­ship between “the lin­ear pro­por­tion­al­i­ty of con­duc­tance” and “sound hole perime­ter length.” In oth­er words, the more elon­gat­ed the sound hole, the more sound can escape from the vio­lin. “What’s more,” Chu adds, “an elon­gat­ed sound hole takes up lit­tle space on the vio­lin, while still pro­duc­ing a full sound—a design that the researchers found to be more pow­er-effi­cient” than pre­vi­ous sound holes. “Only at the very end of the peri­od” between the 16th and the 18th cen­turies, The Econ­o­mist writes, “might a delib­er­ate change have been made” to vio­lin design, “as the holes sud­den­ly get longer.” But it appears that at this point, the evo­lu­tion of the vio­lin had arrived at an “opti­mal result.” Attempts in the 19th cen­tu­ry to “fid­dle fur­ther with the f‑holes’ designs actu­al­ly served to make things worse, and did not endure.”

To read the math­e­mat­i­cal demon­stra­tions of the f‑hole’s supe­ri­or “con­duc­tance,” see Makris and his co-authors’ pub­lished paper here. And to see how a con­tem­po­rary vio­lin mak­er cuts the instru­men­t’s f‑holes, see a care­ful demon­stra­tion in the video above.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

 

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

RIP Norman Lear: Watch Full Episodes of His Daring 70s Sitcoms, Including All in the Family, Maude, The Jeffersons, and More

On the evening of Jan­u­ary 12, 1971, CBS view­ers across the Unit­ed States sat down to a brand new sit­com pre­ced­ed by a high­ly unusu­al dis­claimer. The pro­gram they were about to see, it declared, “seeks to throw a humor­ous spot­light on our frail­ties, prej­u­dices, and con­cerns. By mak­ing them a source of laugh­ter, we hope to show — in a mature fash­ion — just how absurd they are.” There­after com­menced the very first episode of All in the Fam­i­ly, which would go on, over nine full sea­sons, to define Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. It did so not just by dar­ing to find com­e­dy in the issues of the day — the Viet­nam War, the gen­er­a­tion gap, wom­en’s lib, race rela­tions, homo­sex­u­al­i­ty — but also by spawn­ing a vari­ety of oth­er major sit­coms like Maude, The Jef­fer­sons, and Good Times.

Even if you did­n’t live through the sev­en­ties, you’ve prob­a­bly heard of these shows. Now you can watch full episodes on the offi­cial Youtube chan­nel of Nor­man Lear, the tele­vi­sion writer and pro­duc­er involved in the cre­ation of all of them and many oth­ers besides.

If you’ve ever seen San­ford and Son, Fer­n­wood 2 NightDif­f’rent Strokes, or One Day at a Time (or if you hap­pened to catch such short-lived obscu­ri­ties as Hang­ing In, a.k.a. Pablo, and Sun­day Din­ner), you’ve seen one of his pro­duc­tions. His death this week at the age of 101 has pro­vid­ed the occa­sion to acquaint or reac­quaint our­selves with Archie and Edith Bunker, George and Louise Jef­fer­son, Flori­da and James Evans, and all the oth­er char­ac­ters from what we might now call the “Nor­man Lear mul­ti­verse.”

The best place to start is with the pre­miere of All in the Fam­i­ly, which intro­duces the Bunker clan and the cen­tral con­flict of their house­hold: that between bois­ter­ous­ly prej­u­diced work­ing-class patri­arch Archie Bunker and his bleed­ing-heart baby-boomer son-in-law Michael “Meat­head” Stivic. Lat­er episodes intro­duce such sec­ondary char­ac­ters as Edith Bunker’s strong-willed cousin Maude Find­lay, who went on to star in her own epony­mous series the fol­low­ing year, and the Bunkers’ enter­pris­ing black next-door neigh­bors the Jef­fer­sons, who them­selves “moved on up” in 1975. (So far did the tele­vi­su­al Lear­verse even­tu­al­ly expand that Good Times and Check­ing In were built around the char­ac­ters of Maude and the Jef­fer­sons’ maids.)

An out­spo­ken pro­po­nent of lib­er­al caus­es, Lear prob­a­bly would­n’t have denied using his tele­vi­sion work to influ­ence pub­lic opin­ion on the issues that con­cerned him. Yet at their best, his shows did­n’t reduce them­selves to polit­i­cal moral­i­ty plays, show­ing an aware­ness that the Archie Bunkers of the world weren’t always in the wrong and the Meat­heads weren’t always in the right. By twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry stan­dards, the jokes volleyed back and forth in All in the Fam­i­ly or The Jef­fer­sons may seem blunt, not least when they employ terms now regard­ed as unspeak­able on main­stream tele­vi­sion. But they also have the forth­right­ness to go wher­ev­er the humor of the sit­u­a­tion — that is to say, the truth of the sit­u­a­tion — dic­tates, an uncom­mon qual­i­ty among even the most acclaimed come­dies this half-cen­tu­ry lat­er. Watch com­plete episodes of Nor­man Lear shows here.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Revis­it “Turn-On,” the Inno­v­a­tive TV Show That Got Can­celed Right in the Mid­dle of Its First Episode (1969)

Watch Mad Magazine’s Edgy, Nev­er-Aired TV Spe­cial (1974)

Watch Between Time and Tim­buk­tu, an Obscure TV Gem Based on the Work of Kurt Von­negut

Watch the Open­ing Cred­its of an Imag­i­nary 70s Cop Show Star­ring Samuel Beck­ett

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 Busy Person’s Introduction to Large Language Models (LLMs)

You’re busy. You don’t have much time to fig­ure out the deal with Large Lan­guage Mod­els (aka LLMs). But you have some curios­i­ty. Enter Andrej Karpa­thy and his pre­sen­ta­tion, “A Busy Per­son­’s Intro­duc­tion to Large Lan­guage Mod­els.” It’s a one-hour tuto­r­i­al that explains “the core tech­ni­cal com­po­nent behind sys­tems like Chat­G­PT, Claude, and Bard.” Designed for a gen­er­al audi­ence, the video explains what Large Lan­guage Mod­els (LLMs) are, and where Karpa­thy sees them going. Andrej knows what he’s talk­ing about. He cur­rent­ly works for Ope­nAI (the mak­er of Chat­G­PT), and, before that, he served as the direc­tor of arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence at Tes­la.

As one YouTube com­menter put it, “Andrej is hands-down one of the best ML [Machine Learn­ing] edu­ca­tors out there.” At Stan­ford, he was the pri­ma­ry instruc­tor for the first deep learn­ing class, which has become one of the largest cours­es at the uni­ver­si­ty. Enjoy.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Gen­er­a­tive AI for Every­one: A Free Course from AI Pio­neer Andrew Ng

Neur­al Net­works for Machine Learn­ing: A Free Online Course Taught by Geof­frey Hin­ton

Google Launch­es a Free Course on Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence: Sign Up for Its New “Machine Learn­ing Crash Course”

Stephen Fry Reads Nick Cave’s Stir­ring Let­ter About Chat­G­PT and Human Cre­ativ­i­ty: “We Are Fight­ing for the Very Soul of the World”

Noam Chom­sky on Chat­G­PT: It’s “Basi­cal­ly High-Tech Pla­gia­rism” and “a Way of Avoid­ing Learn­ing”

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A Visit to Tianducheng, China’s Eerily Empty $1 Billion Copy of Paris

Not quite a cen­tu­ry ago, Shang­hai was known as “the Paris of the East.” (Or it became one of the cities to enjoy that rep­u­ta­tion, at any rate.) Today, you can catch a high-speed train in Shang­hai and, just an hour lat­er, arrive in a place that has made a much more lit­er­al bid for that title: Tian­ducheng, a dis­trict mod­eled direct­ly on the French cap­i­tal, com­plete with not entire­ly uncon­vinc­ing faux-Hauss­mannian apart­ment build­ings and boule­vards. Strug­gling to attract res­i­dents in the years after its con­struc­tion on farm­land at the out­skirts of Hangzhou in 2007, Tian­ducheng soon came to be regard­ed as one of Chi­na’s over-ambi­tious ghost towns.

Bizarre as it may seem to those unfa­mil­iar with recent trends in Chi­nese city-build­ing, Tian­ducheng actu­al­ly belongs to a kind of imi­ta­tive tra­di­tion. “On the out­skirts of Bei­jing, a repli­ca of Jack­son Hole, Wyoming, is out­fit­ted with cow­boys and a Route 66,” writes Nation­al Geo­graph­ic’s Gul­naz Khan.

“Red tele­phone booths, pubs, and stat­ues of Win­ston Churchill pep­per the cor­ri­dors of Shanghai’s Thames Town. The city of Fuzhou is con­struct­ing a repli­ca of Strat­ford-upon-Avon in trib­ute to Shake­speare.” To get a sense of how Tian­ducheng fares today, have a look at “I Explored Chi­na’s Failed $1 Bil­lion Copy of Paris,” the new video from Youtube trav­el chan­nel Yes The­o­ry.

The group of friends mak­ing this trip includes one French­man, who admits to a cer­tain sense of famil­iar­i­ty in the built envi­ron­ment of Tian­ducheng, and even seems gen­uine­ly stunned by his first glimpse of its one-third-scale ver­sion of the Eif­fel Tow­er. (It sure­ly pleas­es vis­it­ing Parisians to see that the devel­op­ers haven’t also built their own Tour Mont­par­nasse.) But apart from Chi­nese cou­ples in search of a wed­ding-pho­to spot, this ersatz Eif­fel Tow­er does­n’t seem to draw many vis­i­tors, or at least not dur­ing the day. As Yes The­o­ry’s trav­el­ers dis­cov­er, the neigh­bor­hood does­n’t come alive until the evening, when such locals as have set­tled in Tian­ducheng come out and enjoy their unusu­al cityscape. The street life of this Champs-Élysées is a far cry indeed from the real one — but in its way, it also looks like a lot more fun.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A 5‑Hour Walk­ing Tour of Paris and Its Famous Streets, Mon­u­ments & Parks

A 3D Ani­ma­tion Reveals What Paris Looked Like When It Was a Roman Town

Japan­ese Guid­ed Tours of the Lou­vre, Ver­sailles, the Marais & Oth­er Famous French Places (Eng­lish Sub­ti­tles Includ­ed)

A Chi­nese Painter Spe­cial­iz­ing in Copy­ing Van Gogh Paint­ings Trav­els to Ams­ter­dam & Sees Van Gogh’s Mas­ter­pieces for the First Time

The Sights & Sounds of 18th Cen­tu­ry Paris Get Recre­at­ed with 3D Audio and Ani­ma­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Central Park Was Created Entirely By Design & Not By Nature: An Architect Breaks Down America’s Greatest Urban Park

New York­ers have a vari­ety of say­ings about how they want noth­ing to do with nature, just as nature wants noth­ing to do with them. As a coun­ter­point, one might adduce Cen­tral Park, whose 843 acres of trees, grass, and water have occu­pied the mid­dle of Man­hat­tan for a cen­tu­ry and a half now. Yet that “most famous city park in the world,” as vet­er­an New York archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er puts it in the Archi­tec­tur­al Digest video above, is both nature and not. Though Cen­tral Park may feel as if it has exist­ed since time immemo­r­i­al, organ­i­cal­ly thriv­ing in its space long before the tow­ers that sur­round it, few large urban spaces had ever been so delib­er­ate­ly con­ceived.

In the video, Wyet­zn­er (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his expla­na­tions of New York apart­ments, sub­way sta­tions, and bridges, as well as indi­vid­ual works of archi­tec­ture like Penn Sta­tion and the Chrysler Build­ing) shows us sev­er­al spots in Cen­tral Park that reveal the choic­es that went into its design and con­struc­tion.

Many were already present in land­scape archi­tects Fred­er­ick Law Olm­st­ed and Calvert Vaux’s orig­i­nal plan, which they sub­mit­ted to an open design com­pe­ti­tion in 1857. Of all the entries, only theirs refused to let the park be cut apart by trans­verse roads, opt­ing instead to round auto­mo­bile traf­fic under­ground and pre­serve a con­tin­u­ous expe­ri­ence of “nature” for vis­i­tors. (If only more recent urban parks could have kept its exam­ple in mind.)

Cen­tral Park would be wel­come even if it were just a big of expanse of trees, grass, and water. But it also con­tains many dis­tinc­tive built struc­tures, such as the much-pho­tographed mall lead­ing to Bethes­da Ter­race, the “sec­ond-old­est cast-iron bridge in the Unit­ed States,” the dairy that once pro­vid­ed fresh milk to New York’s chil­dren, and Belvedere Cas­tle. That last is built at three-quar­ters scale, “which makes it appear fur­ther away than it actu­al­ly is, and gives it this sort of mag­i­cal fairy-tale qual­i­ty,” the same trick that the builders of Dis­ney­land would employ inten­sive­ly about a cen­tu­ry lat­er. But the pri­or­i­ties of Walt Dis­ney and his col­lab­o­ra­tors dif­fered from the design­ers of Cen­tral Park, who, as Vaux once said, put “nature first, sec­ond, and third — archi­tec­ture after a while.” If a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial deal could be struck between those two phe­nom­e­na any­where, sure­ly that place is New York City.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

An Archi­tect Breaks Down the Design of New York City Sub­way Sta­tions, from the Old­est to Newest

An Immer­sive Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of New York City’s Icon­ic Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Inter­ac­tive Map That Cat­a­logues the 700,000 Trees Shad­ing the Streets of New York City

Archi­tect Breaks Down Five of the Most Icon­ic New York City Apart­ments

A Whirl­wind Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of the New York Pub­lic Library — “Hid­den Details” and All

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Take a Virtual Tour of the Lascaux Cave Paintings

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

The Las­caux Caves enjoyed a qui­et exis­tence for some 17,000 years.

Then came the sum­mer of 1940, when four teens inves­ti­gat­ed what seemed to be a fox’s den on a hill near Mon­ti­gnac, hop­ing it might lead to an under­ground pas­sage­way of local leg­end.

Once inside, they dis­cov­ered the paint­ings that have intrigued us ever since, expand­ing our under­stand­ing of pre­his­toric art and human ori­gins, and caus­ing us to spec­u­late on things we’ll nev­er have an answer to.

The boys’ teacher reached out to sev­er­al pre­his­to­ri­ans, who authen­ti­cat­ed the fig­ures, arranged for them to be pho­tographed and sketched, and col­lect­ed a num­ber of bone and flint arti­facts from the caves’ floors.

By 1948, exca­va­tions and arti­fi­cial lights ren­dered the caves acces­si­ble to vis­i­tors, who arrived in droves — as many as 1,800 in a sin­gle day.

Less than 20 years lat­er, The Collector’s Rosie Lesso writes, the caves were in cri­sis, and per­ma­nent­ly closed to tourism:


…the heat, humid­i­ty and car­bon diox­ide of all those peo­ple crammed into the dark and air­less cave was caus­ing an imbal­ance in the cave’s nat­ur­al ecosys­tem, lead­ing to the over­growth of molds and fun­gus­es that threat­ened to oblit­er­ate the 
pre­his­toric paint­ings.

The lights that had helped vis­i­tors get an eye­ful of the paint­ings caused fad­ing and dis­col­oration that threat­ened their very exis­tence.

Declar­ing this major attrac­tion off lim­its was the right move, and those who make the jour­ney to the area won’t leave entire­ly dis­ap­point­ed. Las­caux IV, a painstak­ing repli­ca that opened to the pub­lic in 2016, offers even more verisimil­i­tude than the pre­vi­ous mod­el, 1983’s Las­caux II.

A hand­ful of researchers and main­te­nance work­ers are still per­mit­ted inside the actu­al caves, now a UNESCO World Her­itage site, but human pres­ence is lim­it­ed to an annu­al total of 800 hours, and every­one must be prop­er­ly out­fit­ted with ster­ile white over­alls, plas­tic head cov­er­ings, latex gloves, dou­ble shoe cov­ers, and LED fore­head lamps with which to view the paint­ings.

The rest of us rab­ble can get a healthy vir­tu­al taste of these vis­i­tors’ expe­ri­ence thanks to the dig­i­tal Las­caux col­lec­tion that the Nation­al Arche­ol­o­gy Muse­um cre­at­ed for the Min­istry of Cul­ture.

An inter­ac­tive tour offers close-up views of the famous paint­ings, with titles to ori­ent the view­er as to the par­tic­u­lars of what and where  — for exam­ple “red cow fol­lowed by her calf” in the Hall of the Bulls.

Click the but­ton in the low­er left for a more in-depth expert descrip­tion of the ele­ment being depict­ed:

The flat red col­or used for the sil­hou­ette is of a uni­for­mi­ty that is sel­dom attained, which implies a repeat­ed ges­ture start­ing from the same point, with com­ple­men­tary angles of pro­jec­tion of pig­ments. The out­lines have been cre­at­ed with a sten­cil, and only the hindquar­ters, horns and the line of the back have been laid down with a brush…The fact that the artist used the same pig­ment for both fig­ures with­out any pic­to­r­i­al tran­si­tion between them indi­cates that the fusion of the two sil­hou­ettes was inten­tion­al, indica­tive of the con­nec­tion between the calf and its moth­er. This duo was born of the same ges­ture, and the image of the off­spring is mere­ly the graph­ic exten­sion of that of its moth­er.

The inter­ac­tive vir­tu­al tour is fur­ther com­pli­ment­ed by a trove of his­toric pho­tographs and inter­views, geo­log­i­cal con­text, con­ser­va­tion updates and anthro­po­log­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions sug­gest­ing the paint­ings had a func­tion well beyond visu­al art.

Begin your vir­tu­al inter­ac­tive vis­it to the Las­caux Cave here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Archae­ol­o­gists May Have Dis­cov­ered a Secret Lan­guage in Las­caux & Chau­vet Cave Paint­ings, Per­haps Reveal­ing a 20,000-Year-Old “Pro­to-Writ­ing” Sys­tem

Was a 32,000-Year-Old Cave Paint­ing the Ear­li­est Form of Cin­e­ma?

Alger­ian Cave Paint­ings Sug­gest Humans Did Mag­ic Mush­rooms 9,000 Years Ago

40,000-Year-Old Sym­bols Found in Caves World­wide May Be the Ear­li­est Writ­ten Lan­guage

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

All the Rivers of the World Shown in Rainbow Colors: A Data Visualization to Explore

Even if you’ve nev­er trav­eled the seas, you’ve sure­ly known at least a few rivers in your time. And though you must be con­scious of the fact that all of those rivers run, ulti­mate­ly, to the sea, you may not have spent much time con­tem­plat­ing it. Now, thanks to the work of map­mak­er and data ana­lyst Robert Szucs, you won’t be able to come upon at a riv­er with­out con­sid­er­ing the par­tic­u­lar sea into which it flows. He’s cre­at­ed what he calls “the first ever map of the world’s rivers divid­ed into ocean drainage basins,” which appears just above.

This world map “shows, in dif­fer­ent col­ors, all the rivers that flow into the Atlantic, Arc­tic, Indi­an or Pacif­ic oceans, plus endorhe­ic riv­er basins which nev­er reach the coast, most­ly due to dry­ing up in desert areas.”

Szucs has also bro­ken it down into “a set of 43 maps in this style for dif­fer­ent coun­tries, states and con­ti­nents,” all of them avail­able to down­load (and to pur­chase as large-for­mat posters) from his web site Grasshop­per Geog­ra­phy.

We pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Szucs here on Open Cul­ture back in 2017, when he pub­lished a riv­er-and-stream-visu­al­iz­ing map of the Unit­ed States made accord­ing to a sim­i­lar­ly col­or­ful and infor­ma­tive scheme. Exam­in­ing that work of infor­ma­tion design gave me a rich­er con­text in which to imag­ine the rivers around which I grew up in Wash­ing­ton State — the Sam­mamish, the Sno­qualmie, the Colum­bia — as well as a clear­er sense of just how much the Unit­ed States’ larg­er, much more com­plex water­way net­work must have con­tributed to the devel­op­ment of the coun­try as a whole.

Of course, hav­ing lived the bet­ter part of a decade in South Korea, I’ve late­ly had less rea­son to con­sid­er those par­tic­u­lar geo­graph­i­cal sub­jects. But Szucs’ new glob­al ocean drainage maps have brought relat­ed ones to mind: it will hence­forth be a rare day when I ride a train across the Han Riv­er (one of the more sub­lime every­day sights Seoul has to offer) and don’t imag­ine it mak­ing its way out to the Pacif­ic — the very same Pacif­ic that was the des­ti­na­tion of all those rivers of my west-coast Amer­i­can youth. Ocean­i­cal­ly speak­ing, even a move across the world does­n’t take you quite as far as it seems.

Relat­ed con­tent:

All the Rivers & Streams in the U.S. Shown in Rain­bow Col­ors: A Data Visu­al­iza­tion to Behold

The Mean­der­ing Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er and How It Evolved Over Thou­sands of Years Visu­al­ized in Bril­liant Maps from 1944

That Time When the Mediter­ranean Sea Dried Up & Dis­ap­peared: Ani­ma­tions Show How It Hap­pened

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

The Moth­er of All Maps of the “Father of Waters”: Behold the 11-Foot Traveler’s Map of the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er (1866)

Tour the Ama­zon with Google Street View; No Pass­port Need­ed

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Shane MacGowan & Sinéad O’Connor Duet Together, Performing a Moving Rendition of “Haunted” (RIP)

We’re tak­ing you on a wist­ful trip down mem­o­ry lane. Above, Shane Mac­Gowan and Sinéad O’Con­nor per­form “Haunt­ed” on the British music show, The White Room. Orig­i­nal­ly record­ed in 1986 with Cait O’Ri­or­dan on vocals, “Haunt­ed” got a sec­ond lease on life in 1995 when Mac­Gowan and O’Con­nor cut a new ver­sion, com­bin­ing her ethe­re­al vocals with his inim­itable song­writ­ing and whiskey-soaked voice. Below, they both appear in an inter­view record­ed dur­ing the same peri­od.

The two Irish musi­cians first met in Lon­don dur­ing the 1980s, start­ing a friend­ship that would have its ups and downs. Their col­lab­o­ra­tion on “Haunt­ed” marked a high point. Then, in 1999, O’Con­nor called the police when she found Mac­Gowan doing hero­in at home. Angered at first, Mac­Gowan lat­er cred­it­ed the inter­ven­tion with help­ing him kick his habit. When Sinéad gave birth to her third child in 2004, she named him Shane, in hon­or of her friend.

Mac­Gowan and O’Con­nor both died this year, just months apart from one anoth­er. As you watch their duet, you can’t help but feel the sand run­ning through the hour­glass. It leaves you feel­ing grate­ful for what we had, and sad for what we have lost. May they rest in peace.


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