Meet Frank Catalfumo, the Shoemaker Who Has Been Mending Souls in Brooklyn Since 1945

Frank Catalfumo, now 90-and-a-half years old, opened F&C Shoes in 1945, a shoe repair store in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. During the past 70+ years, everything around Frank has changed. Prices have gone up; neighboring stores have come and gone, probably many times over. But one thing has remained the same. Frank “keeps moving forward,” coming to work five days a week and bringing worn souls back to life. His hands tell the story.

You can get to know Frank with the short film above and this accompanying photo essay, both created by filmmaker Dustin Cohen. The Shoemaker is the latest installment in Cohen’s film series called “Made in Brooklyn.” Previous installments include The Violin Maker, The Watchmaker, and The Jewelry Maker.


Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

Whistled language is a rare form of communication that can be mostly found in locations with isolating features such as scattered settlements or mountainous terrain. This documentary above shows how Dr. Mark Sicoli, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, conducts field studies among speakers of a Chinantec language, who live in the mountainous region of northern Oaxaca in Mexico. The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexico has recorded and transcribed a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec between two men in different fields. The result can be seen and heard here.

The most thoroughly-researched whistled language however is Silbo Gomero, the language of the island of La Gomera (Canary Islands). In 2009, it was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The UNESCO website has a good description of this whistled language with photos and a video. Having almost died out, the language is now taught once more in schools.

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By profession, Matthias Rascher teaches English and History at a High School in northern Bavaria, Germany. In his free time he scours the web for good links and posts the best finds on Twitter.

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Watch Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ Performed on a Gayageum, a Traditional Korean Instrument

Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 song “Voodoo Chile” is already a classic. But it becomes all the more so when you see it performed by Luna Lee on a Gayageum, a traditional Korean stringed instrument. The first Gayageum dates back to the 6th century. If you like seeing western rock standards reimagined within an Asian aesthetic, then you won’t want to miss: The Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Performed on Traditional Chinese Instruments.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newsletter, please find it here.

If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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Horses Wearing Nick Cave’s Soundsuits Stampede Into Grand Central Station

Pa, the horses got out of the barn again, and danged if they don’t appear to have passed through the Museum of Natural History on their way to Grand Central.

The otherworldly beasts are occupying the famed New York City transit hub’s Vanderbilt Hall this week as Heard NYC, a collaboration between artist Nick Cave and Creative Time, which commissions work for presentation in public spaces. For his latest feat, Cave took his Soundsuits—wearable sculptures with an organic sonic component—in a direction both equine and ethnographic. Sixty dancers from the Ailey School bring the herd of thirty to life, stamping raffia-sheathed legs and tossing black heads augmented with festive Rajasthani embroidery. Their twice daily performances occur during off-peak hours. Chance interactions with midday travelers are one thing, but an unscripted encounter with an exhausted commuter rushing for the Metro North bar car? That’s a horse of a different color, my friend.

They’ve a far better likelihood of crossing paths with your average, unsuspecting Joe than actress Tilda Swinton, a-slumber in her glass coffin at the nearby Museum of Modern Art (see below), but as of yet, the monsters are not viewed as constituting a major security threat.

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Ayun Halliday, having communed with the horses, is off to celebrate her birthday at Spa Castle. @AyunHalliday

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Staggering Genius of Isaac Newton

Genius — these days, we bandy the term about ever so freely. Everyone’s a genius, including this 2-year-old wielding a pair of nail clippers. Then, Neil deGrasse Tyson comes along and reminds us what a genius really looks like. Asked “Who is the Greatest Physicist in History,” he responds, Isaac Newton, without any hesitation. Newton discovered the laws of optics, proving that white light is actually made up of colors, the colors of the rainbow. He mapped out his three laws of motion and the universal laws of gravitation. And then he invented differential and integral calculus to explain why planets orbit in an elliptical fashion. Now get ready for the kicker. This all happened before Newtown turned 26. That, my friends, is what genius looks like.

This clip comes from an extended Big Think interview, which you can watch in full here.

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William Faulkner’s Newly-Discovered Short Story and Drawings

New Faulkner story

Just when it seemed, after decades of scholarship, criticism, and commentary on the life’s work of William Faulkner, that there was nothing more to say, along comes The New York Times with a report of an early unpublished story and a batch of letters to his wife Estelle, recently uncovered in a box found in the barn at the Faulkner family farm in Charlottesville, Virginia. The new work, discovered last year, will go on auction at Sotheby’s this June, along with hand-corrected manuscripts, a hand-bound poetry book, Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel prize medal and diploma, and a handwritten draft of his acceptance speech.

The Times comments that the Nobel items are “likely to be the most sought after” by collectors, but for scholars and us lovers of the writing, it’s the unpublished work that holds the most interest. Says Faulkner scholar Sally Wolff-King: “In literary circles a newly discovered first draft of a famous story or novel can be as significant as an early version of the Gettysburg Address to American historians.”

New Faulkner

In addition to his Nobel-winning literary skill, Faulkner was quite the illustrator, often including pen-and-ink drawings in his letters and postcards, such as the self-portrait at left, drawn on the back of a draft of a story, with newly-grown beard and pipe. “My beard is getting along quite well,” he writes. Faulkner sent illustrated letters and postcards to his parents from his sojourn in Paris, signing them “Billy.”

The image at the top shows the unpublished story—about a fur trapper’s trip to the city—typed on the back of University of Mississippi letterhead, where Faulkner was a student for three semesters between 1919 and 1920.

via The New York Times

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Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

Meet Delia Derbyshire, the Dr. Who Composer Who Almost Turned The Beatles’ “Yesterday” Into Early Electronica

The March issue of UK monthly music magazine Q recently hit newsstands, featuring a Beatles 50th anniversary cover with an inset promising “Macca Speaks!”. Did we need another Paul McCartney interview, you may well ask? Is there anything Beatles-related left to tell? It seems there is. McCartney reveals that he once gave serious consideration to using an electronic backing for the 1965 recording of “Yesterday” instead of the string arrangement he ended up with. Now, in itself, this may not seem noteworthy except that, well, it was 1965… what did “electronic” even mean in music at the time?

To find out, we should get acquainted with Delia Derbyshire, composer and arranger at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, who would have scored McCartney’s electronic “Yesterday.” Derbyshire is now best known as the composer of the classic 1963 theme to the original Dr. Who series (above), a fact we will return to. But first, let Q reader and record producer David Mellor explain why he thinks that when McCartney says electronic, he doesn’t mean synthesized music:

The reason I don’t think that synthesizers would have been contemplated is that the Radiophonic Workshop only acquired their first synthesizer in 1965. Perhaps it was already available for use at the time of the recording of Yesterday in 1965, but the historical reports I can find don’t give sufficient level of precision to confirm this. I would contend however that unless the Radiophonic Workshop immediately went synth-crazy as soon as the synthesizer was delivered, most work would have been accomplished using their existing techniques.

So what were the “existing techniques” before the use of synthesizers? McCartney himself alludes to them in saying that Derbyshire had a “hut in the bottom of her garden… full of tape machines and funny instruments.” What McCartney saw were the implements of radio sound effects and also of what was called musique concréte, an early form of electronic music developed by French composer Pierre Schaeffer, Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh, and others (most notably Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen). Musique concréte composers manipulated natural sounds with basic recording technologies—microphones, tape recorders, film cameras—to create complex electroacoustic arrangments through careful editing and effects like reverb, echo, and overdubbing. The excerpt below from the BBC’s 1979 documentary The New Sound of Music demonstrates.

It so happened that Delia Derbyshire had mastered these techniques, using them in her arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Dr. Who theme, composed entirely of musique concréte effects. The work of Derbyshire and her colleagues at the BBC sound effects unit captured the imaginations of thousands of science fiction fans and lovers of radio drama, including McCartney, who is quoted from his Q interview saying:

The Radiophonic Workshop, I loved all that, it fascinated me, and still does… there came a time when John (Lennon), because of his association with Yoko and the avant garde, became thought of as the one who turned us all on to that. But that early era was more mine.

Macca can take the credit, but the early era of experimental electronic music belonged to Delia Derbyshire. See her demonstrate her craft below, using tape machines to create a rhythm track.

Derbyshire did, of course, also embrace the use of synthesizers as they became more widely available. Branching out from her BBC work, she began to make music with another composer, Brian Hodgson, under the name Unit Delta Plus. The two soon joined with classical bass player David Vorhaus to form the experimental electronic band White Noise in 1968. The following year, the band released their now-classic album An Electric Storm, which used the tape manipulation techniques Derbyshire demonstrates above as well as the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3.  This record, notes Allmusic, is renowned “as one of the first albums to fuse pop and electronic music.” Check out the White Noise song “Love without Sound” below to get a taste of what they were about.

Whatever your interest in the place this song occupies within the wider history of electronic music, there’s no doubt that Derbyshire and company were simply making fantastic experimental pop. If they sound well ahead of their time, that’s because of the influence they’ve had on so many musicians since (why, Pitchfork even gives the White Noise album an 8.6!). After several more productive years, Derbyshire became disillusioned with the state of electronic music in the seventies and withdrew to work in a bookshop and art gallery, but with the mid-nineties revival of the sounds she helped create, she saw a resurgence of recognition as both a genre pioneer and a hero to female musicians and engineers. For an extended look at Derbyshire’s life and art, be sure to watch the documentary Sculptress of Sound, on YouTube in seven parts.

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Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness

Read, Hear, and See Tweeted Four Stories by Jennifer Egan, Author of A Visit from the Goon Squad

Though definitely a writer, and an acclaimed one at that, Jennifer Egan does not allow the traditionally written word to contain her. In 2010, her book A Visit from the Goon Squad turned readerly heads by presenting itself neither as a novel nor a short story collection. It also contained an entire — chapter? story? — section in the form of a Powerpoint presentation. If you find yourself on the fence about plunging into Egan’s formally irreverent, Pulitzer Prize-winning work, you can sample its first section (not the Powerpoint one, you may feel relieved to hear) as “Found Objects,” the way the New Yorker ran it in 2007. If the loose-ends music-industry worker protagonist’s brush with kleptomania intrigues you, and if you value authorial interpretation, you can watch Egan herself read a bit of the section above. The New Yorker has also run two other pieces of Egan’s Goon Squad-era writing on its fiction pages: “Safari” and “Ask Me if I Care.” Then comes “Black Box.”

Egan composed “Black Box” for Twitter, where it ran over ten nights on the New Yorker‘s NYerFiction account. But she didn’t write it on Twitter, opting instead for longhand in a Japanese notebook printed with rectangular boxes. You can find all the tweets that comprise the story collected at Paste, and New Yorker subscribers can read the whole thing in a slightly more traditional form here. Egan spent a year on the story, which she describes as “a series of terse mental dispatches from a female spy of the future, working undercover by the Mediterranean Sea.” I’ve seen many a literary academic go into raptures about the implications of Twitter, but here we have an artist executing a genuinely intriguing project with “the odd poetry that can happen in a hundred and forty characters.” Certain generations of writers and thinkers make such a big deal about that 14o-character limit, but I notice that nobody under 35 blinks an eye at it. It’s just the way we communicate now — Egan must understand this makes it one of the most important mediums for writers to take on. You can hear her discuss that and more with New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman on the magazine’s podcast.

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Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los AngelesA Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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