The Geometry of Sound: Watch Artist Kenichi Kanazawa Make Amazing Geometric Designs Out of Sand, Using Sound Waves Alone

Before our eyes, Japanese artist Kenichi Kanazawa creates crisp shapes and geometric patterns with no special tools but sand and sound, the kind of work that at first looks expressly designed to go viral on social media. But he’s been at it much longer than that: “Originally a sculptor by trade,” according to Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Waldman, “Kanazawa began working with steel and sound in 1987 after collaborating with the late sound artist Hiroshi Yoshimura. Today, his work primarily involves elements like sound, vibration and heat: making the invisible, visible.” Or in other words, using what critic and music Ted Gioia calls, in a tweet of one of Kanazawa’s short tabletop performances, “the power of sound to create order out of chaos.”

Kanazawa doesn’t use just any old tables, but special ones made of steel, the better to resonate when he taps and strokes them with his variety of mallets. Nor does he use just any old sand, opting instead for either a pure white — for maximum visual starkness against the black steel — or a set of bright colors, as in the video at the top of the post.

Whatever its place on the spectrum, the stuff seems to rearrange itself across the surface in response to the tones created by the artist. The striking precision of the effects produced by this interaction of sand, steel, and sound gets viewers wondering what, scientifically, is going on here. The underlying set of phenomena has a name: cymatics, coined in the 1960s by a Swiss doctor named Hans Jenny.

In his book Healing Songs, Gioia calls Jenny’s study of cymatics “the most impressive and rigorous inquiry yet made into the nature of vibrations and their impact on physical objects of various sorts.” In such a medium sensitive to sonic vibrations, Jenny himself writes, “a pattern appears to take shape before the eye and, as long as the sound is spoken, to behave like something alive.” This also fairly describes Kanazawa’s dancing sand, whether seen from up close or at a distance. Physically speaking, sound is, of course, a form of vibration, which is itself a form of motion. But for an observer like Jenny — an adherent of esoteric philosopher Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, a school of thought oriented toward the observation of the spiritual world through sensory experience — Kanazawa’s work would surely have, as it were, much deeper resonances.

via @TedGioia

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A Curious Herbal: 500 Beautiful Illustrations of Medicinal Plants Drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell in 1737 (to Save Her Family from Financial Ruin)

Sometimes beautiful things come out of terrible circumstances. This does not justify more terrible circumstances. But as evidence of the resilience, resourcefulness, and creativity of human beings—and more specifically of mothers in dire straits—we offer the following: A Curious Herbal, Elizabeth Blackwell’s finely illustrated, engraved, and colored “herbal,” the term for a “book of plants, describing their appearance, their properties and how they may be used for preparing ointments,” the British Library writes.

Born sometime around 1700 to a successful merchant family in Scotland, Elizabeth married Alexander Blackwell, a “shady character” who proceeded to drag her through a series of misadventures involving him posing as a doctor and a printer, despite the fact that he’d had no training in either profession.

Blackwell incurred several hefty fines from the authorities, which he could not pay, and he was finally remanded to debtor’s prison, an institution that often left women with young children to fend for themselves.

“With Alexander in prison, Elizabeth was forced to rely on her own resources to keep herself and her child.” Fortunately, she had been prepared with life skills during her prosperous upbringing, having learned a thing or two about business and “received tuition in drawing and painting, as many well-to-do young women then did.” Blackwell realized a publishing opportunity: finding no high-quality herbals available, she decided to make her own in “a rare triumph of turning desperation into inspiration,” Maria Popova writes.

After befriending the head curator Chelsea Physic Garden — a teaching facility for apprentice apothecaries established several decades earlier — she realized that there was a need for a handbook depicting and describing the garden’s new collection of mysterious plants from the New World. A keen observer, a gifted artist, and an entrepreneur by nature, she set about bridging the world’s need and her own.

The gorgeous book, A Curious Herbal (1737-39), was not all Blackwell’s work, though she completed all of the illustrations from start to finish. She also enlisted her husband’s help, visiting his cell to have him “supply each plant’s name in Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and German.” Blackwell produced 500 illustrations in total. She advertised “by word of mouth,” notes the British Library, “and in several journals” and “showed herself an adept businesswoman, striking mutually advantageous deals with booksellers that ensured the financial success of the herbal.”

Blackwell not only benefited her family and her readers, but she also gave her book to posterity—though she couldn’t have known it at the time. Her herbal has been digitized in full by the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The herbal will also give back to the natural world she lovingly rendered (including plants that have since gone extinct). Popova has made a selection of the illustrations available as prints to benefit The Nature Conservancy. See Blackwell’s digitized book in full here and order prints at Brain Pickings.

via BrainPickings

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

Watch How to Be at Home, a Beautiful Short Animation on the Realities of Social Isolation in 2020

I think, as social primates, we want to feel a strong sense of belonging either in a relationship or to a community—or both. But also intrinsic to our humanity is a feeling that we are truly alone.

—Filmmaker Andrea Dorfman, 2010

When they first became friends, poet Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman talked a lot about the pleasures and hardships of being alone. Davis had just gone through a break up, and Dorfman was just embarking on a relationship after four years of flying solo.

These conversations led to a collaboration, 2010’s How to Be At Alone (see below), a whimsical videopoem that combines live action and animation to consider some of solitude’s sweeter aspects, like sitting on a bench as signal to the universe that one is available for impromptu conversation with a stranger.

That bench reappears in their 2020 follow up, How to Be At Home, above. Now it is cordoned off with black and yellow caution tape, a familiar public health measure in 2020.

As with the earlier project, a large part of Davis’ purpose was to reflect and reassure, both herself, and by extension, others.

Although she has become a poster child for the joys of solitude, she also relishes human contact, and found herself missing it terribly while sheltering alone in the early days of the pandemic. Writing the new poem gave her “an anchor” and a place to put her anxiety.

Dorfman notes that the project, which was commissioned by the National Film Board of Canada as part of a short film collection about Canadians navigating life during the pandemic, was “essentially catalyzed by COVID.”

As she embarked on the project, she wondered if the pandemic would be over by the time it was complete. As she told the CBC’s Tom Power:

There was this feeling that this could go away in a month, so this better be finished soon, so it’s still relevant. So as an artist, as a filmmaker, I thought, “I have to crank this out” but there’s no fast and easy way to do animation. It just takes so long and as I got into it and realized that this was going to be a marathon, not a sprint, the images just kept coming to me and I really just made it up as I went along. I’d go into my studio every day not knowing what lay ahead and I’d think, “Okay, so, what do we have up next? What’s the next line? And I’d spend maybe a week on a line of the poem, animating it. 

It appears to have been an effective approach.

Dorfman’s painted images ripple across the fast turning pages of an old book. The titles change from time to time, and the choices seem deliberate—The Lone Star Ranger, Le Secret du Manoir Hanté, a chapter in The Broken Halo—“Rosemary for Remembrance.”

“It’s almost as though the way the poem is written there are many chapters in the book. (Davis) moves from one subject to another so completely,” Dorfman told the University of King’s College student paper, The Signal.

In the new work, the absence of other people proves a much heavier burden than it does in How To Be Alone.

Davis flirts with many of the first poem’s settings, places where a lone individual might have gone to put themselves in proximity to other humans as recently as February 2020:

Public transportation

The gym

A dance club

A description from 2010:

The lunch counter, where you will be surrounded by chow-downers, employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town, and they, like you, will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

In 2020, she struggles to recreate that experience at home, her phone serving as her most vital link to the outside world, as she scrolls past images of a Black Lives Matter protests and a masked essential worker:

I miss lunch counters so much I’ve been eating [pickles and] toasted sandwiches while hanging unabashedly with my phone.

See How to Be at Home and the 29 other films that comprise The Curve, the National Film Board of Canada series about life in the era of COVID-19 here.

How to be at Home

By Tanya Davis

If you are, at first, really fucking anxious, just wait. It’ll get worse, and then you’ll get the hang of it. Maybe. 

Start with the reasonable feelings – discomfort, lack of focus, the sadness of alone

you can try to do yoga

you can shut off the radio when it gets to you

you can message your family or your friends or your colleagues, you’re not supposed to leave your home anyway, so it’s safe for you

There’s also the gym

you can’t go there but you could pretend to

you could bendy by yourself in your bedroom

And there’s public transportation

probably best to avoid it

but there’s prayer and meditation, yes always

employ it

if you have pains in your chest ‘cause your anxiety won’t rest

take a moment, take a breath

Start simple

things you can handle based on your interests

your issues and your triggers

and your inner logistics 

I miss lunch counters so much I’ve been eating [pickles and] toasted sandwiches while hanging unabashedly with my phone

When you are tired, again of still being alone

make yourself a dinner

but don’t invite anybody over

put something green in it, or maybe orange

chips are fine sometimes but they won’t keep you charged 

feed your heart

if people are your nourishment, I get you

feel the feelings that undo you while you have to keep apart

Watch a movie, in the dark

and pretend someone is with you 

watch all of the credits

because you have time, and not much else to do

or watch all of the credits to remember 

how many people come together

just to tell a story

just to make a picture move

And then, set yourself up dancing

like it’s a club where everyone knows you

and they’re all gonna hold you

all night long

they’re gonna dance around you and with you and on their own

it’s your favourite song 

with the hardest bass and the cathartic drums

your heart pumps along/hard, you belong

you put your hands up to feel it

With the come down comes the weeping

those downcast eyes and feelings

the truth is you can’t go dancing, not right now

not at any club or party in any town

The heartbreak of this astounds you

it joins old aches way down in you

you can visit them, but please don’t stay there

Go outside if you’re able, breathe the air

there are trees for hugging

don’t be embarrassed

it’s your friend, it’s your mother, it’s your new crush

lay your cheek against the bark, it’s a living thing to touch

Sadly, leave all benches empty

appreciate the kindness in the distance of strangers

as you pine for company and wave at your neighbours

savour the depths of your conversations

the layers uncovered

in this strange space and time

Society is afraid of change

and no one wants to die

not now, from a tiny virus

not later from the world on fire

But death is a truth we all hate to know

we all get to live, and then we all have to go

In the meantime, we’re surrounded, we’re alone

each a thread woven in the fabric, unravelling in moments though

each a solo entity spinning on its axis, forgetting that the galaxy includes us all

Herein our fall

from grace from each other from god whatever, doesn’t matter

the disaster is that we believe we’re separate 

we’re not

As evidenced by viruses taking down societies

as proven by the loneliness inherent in no gatherings

as palpable as the vacancy in the space of one person hugging

If this disruption undoes you

if the absence of people unravels you

if touch was the tether that held you together

and now that it’s severed you’re fragile too 

lean into loneliness and know you’re not alone in it 

lean into loneliness like it is holding you

like it is a generous representative of a glaring truth

oh, we are connected

we forget this, yet we always knew.

How to Be at Home will be added to the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

David Lynch Explains How Simple Daily Habits Enhance His Creativity

At first glance, Madame Bovary and Blue Velvet would seem to have little in common, as would their creators. But the artistic life Gustave Flaubert led and the one David Lynch now leads share a basic precept: “Be regular and orderly in your life,” as the former once put it, “so that you may be violent and original in your work.” Lynch has spoken about his ways as an artistic creature of habit many times over the years, as demonstrated by the interview clip compilation above. “Some people have heard the story that I went to Bob’s Big Boy for seven years every day at 2:30 and had the same thing,” he told Jay Leno in 1992. “That was my longest habit pattern, I think.”

Lynch’s regularity at that Los Angeles burger joint is just one of the routines that has structured his existence. “I like habitual behavior because it’s a known factor,” he says, “and then your mind is free to think about other things.” When life has an order, he later told Charlie Rose, “then you’re free to mentally go off any place. You’ve got a safe sort of foundation, and a place to spring off from.”

More recently, on a phone Q&A for the David Lynch Foundation, the auteur described his routine thus: “I wake up and I brush my teeth and I use the bathroom. Then I have a cappuccino and some cigarettes. Then I mediate, and then I have either some amrit nectar or a small smoothie with protein powder and blueberries and peaches. And then I go to work.”

However contradictory they may seem, Lynch’s long-standing twin loves of smoking and meditation both express themselves as routine actions. And if the backgrounds of his Youtube videos — including his little-varying daily Los Angeles weather reports — are anything to go by, he performs them in the kind of uncluttered physical space he’s long preferred: “The purer the environment,” as he puts it, “the more fantastic the interior world can be.” His 1980s and 90s comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World took place in such an environment, its nearly unchanging visuals and increasingly bizarre text an artistic correlative to his ideas about daily life and the imagination. But whatever their interest in his methods, Lynch’s fans want to know one thing above all: what the imagination of this least angry of all artists will bring forth next.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Lou Reed Concert Film Berlin Streaming Free Online for the Next Week

Last laughs can be sweet, and according to music journalist, Anthony DeCurtis, his friend, the late Lou Reed, “reveled” in the critical drubbing that greeted his 3rd solo album, 1973’s Berlin.

Not immediately, however.

Berlin, which followed hard on the heels of Reed’s widely adored Transformer, had a painful, protracted delivery.

This was due in part due to RCA execs getting cold feet about releasing Reed’s grim concept record as a double album. This necessitated a lot of pruning, a week before deadline.

Producer Bob Ezrin, who had planted the idea for a concept album based on a track from Reed’s eponymous first solo effort, was detoxing in the hospital, and thus not present for the final mastering.

But much of the hell leading to Berlin’s release was a hell of Reed’s own making.

His dependence on drugs and alcohol hampered the writing process, as per Reed’s first wife, Bettye Kronstad, who filed for divorce midway through the process.

If you want a glimpse of what that marriage’s final days might have been like, look to Berlin.

Kronstad was distressed to find many private details from their relationship on display in the tragic rock opera. There was some fictionalization, but Reed also put his thumb on the scales when it suited him, in songs like “The Kids,” which recast Kronstad’s late mother in a particularly unfair way.

Reed once took a shot at the album’s critical reception, suggesting that people didn’t like it because its depiction of a miserable couple, whose union is marred by infidelity, domestic abuse, addiction, and suicide, was “too real”:

It’s not like a TV program where all the bad things that happen to people are tolerable. Life isn’t like that. And neither is the album.

Sometimes he bluffed:

I have never been interested in critical receptions, deceptions, hellos, goodbyes, huzzahs, hurrahs. I don’t read them, so I don’t care.

At other times, he raged:

There are people I’ll never forgive for the way they fucked me over with Berlin. The way that album was overlooked was the biggest disappointment I ever faced.

In a more vulnerable mood, he admitted:

Berlin was a big flop and it made me very sad. The way that album was overlooked was probably the biggest disappointment I ever faced. I pulled the blinds shut at that point, and they’ve remained closed.

Unsurprisingly, his early plans for staging a theatrical companion piece to the album, with possible participation by Andy Warhol, were shelved.

34 years later…

Cue director Julian Schnabelthe Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and St. Ann’s Warehouse, the New York City venue that had previously co-commissioned Songs for Drella, a musical Warhol tribute by Reed and John Cale.

In 2006, Reed took centerstage in Brooklyn for a 5-night theatrical run of Berlin that also featured a 35-piece ensemble, original guitarist Steve Hunter, and dreamy videos by the director’s daughter, Lola, starring Emmanuelle Seigner as an abstract sketch of the doomed protagonist, Caroline.

The resulting concert film, which St. Ann’s Warehouse is streaming for free through November 29, proved far more popular with critics than the 1973 record had been. (Three years prior to the St Ann’s staging, Rolling Stone upgraded its original opinion of the album from career ending disaster to 344th Greatest Album of All Time.)

Stephen Holden’s glowing New York Times review of the film made multiple mention of angels and demons, as is perhaps to be expected when a work combines Lou Reed, a Sid and Nancy-ish romance, a children’s choir, and the ethereal voice of Anohni, late of Antony and the Johnsons.

Readers, see for yourself, and let us know—did RCA’s promotional poster for the original album get something right nearly 50 years ago? Is this “a film for the ears?”

Listen to the original 1973 album and the live concert version at St. Ann’s for free on Spotify.

Stream Julian Schnabel’s Lou Reed’s Berlin, Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse here through November 29.

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

Behold One of the Earliest Known Color Charts: The Table of Physiological Colors (1686)

The period called the Enlightenment produced a revolution in which one sense, vision, became privileged above all others. As a result, Sachiko Kusukawa writes at The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, “science is supremely visual. Indeed, one might say, excessively so.” Kusukawa situates English naturalist and illustrator Richard Waller at the beginning of her history about how sight came to dominate, and Sarah Lowengard places Waller’s color chart, presented at the Royal Society in 1686, at a formative moment in “the creation of color in Eighteenth-Century Europe.”

That’s not to say, of course, that color didn’t exist before charts like Waller’s, but it didn’t exist in neat taxonomies that divided color discretely, named and categorized it, and mapped the natural world by means of color theory. Waller’s “‘Table of Physiological Colors Both Mixt and Simple’ would permit unambiguous descriptions of the colors of natural bodies. To describe a plant, for example, one could compare it to the chart and use the names found there to identify the colors of the bark, wood, leaves, etc. Similar applications of the information collected in the chart might also extend to the arts and trades, he suggested.”

The naturalist approach to color would inform the artificial creation of color, helping “manufacturers to produce consistent dyes and paints,” notes the Smithsonian Libraries. Waller’s system was not precise enough for the task, but many others, including board game pioneer Milton Bradley, picked up his work and refined it, producing not only scientific and industrial color guides, but also pedagogies like Bradley’s Elementary Color textbook for children. Keith Moore, Head of Library & Information Services at the Royal Society, traces Waller’s color dots through the arts, “from the low art Ben-Day dots in the vintage comic books I used to read as a child to the high art pointillism and divisionism pioneered by Georges Seurat.”

Dozens of color systems, wheels, charts, and tables appeared over the next few hundred years, from the elaborate to the very simple. All of them have encountered the same basic issue, namely the subjectivity of visual perception. “Waller’s visual system exhibits the same conceptual problem… that plagued nearly all eighteenth-century classification systems. Which colors can be included and what is their ‘correct’ order? The answer was always tempered by available coloring materials and choice of media.” As more pigments became available, so too did more colors in the color charts.

Is the making of color classification systems more of a science or an art? It depends, perhaps, on what they’re used for, but “color remains elusive to scientists and color experts,” the Smithsonian points out, over 400 years after Waller’s chart. Since then, however, the language of color has evolved, as he envisioned, into a practical and poetic syntax and vocabulary.

See a larger version of the chart here and read about it in detail in Lowengard’s excellent article.

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Werner’s Nomenclature of Colour, the 19th-Century “Color Dictionary” Used by Charles Darwin (1814)

A Pre-Pantone Guide to Colors: Dutch Book From 1692 Documents Every Color Under the Sun

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

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