The Geometric Beauty of Akira Kurosawa and Wes Anderson’s Films

Last month, we fea­tured Every Frame a Paint­ing, Tony Zhou’s series of video essays exam­in­ing the film­mak­ing tech­niques of direc­tors like Mar­tin Scors­ese, Edgar Wright, Steven Spiel­berg, and David Finch­er. His newest piece looks at just one ele­ment of just one scene, but one direct­ed by one of the high­est fig­ures, if not the high­est fig­ure, in the cin­e­mat­ic pan­theon: Aki­ra Kuro­sawa. Zhou, as any cinephile might expect, has a full-length exam­i­na­tion of “the Emper­or” of Japan­ese film in the works, but for now he’s put out a short video essay on the geom­e­try of a cou­ple min­utes from The Bad Sleep Well (1960).

That 1960 release, a non-peri­od piece not quite as well known as Kuro­sawa films like Sev­en Samu­raiRashomon, and Kage­musha, tells a Ham­let-like tale against the cul­tur­al back­drop of post­war Japan­ese cor­po­rate cor­rup­tion.

Despite its non-epic nature, it has drawn my own atten­tion again and again over the years, just as it seems to have drawn Zhou’s. Here, he uses it to illus­trate Kuro­sawa’s pen­chant for con­struct­ing scenes not out of, as Hitch­cock once put it, “pho­tographs of peo­ple talk­ing” — a dull prac­tice that more than per­sists on screens today — but out of geo­met­ri­cal shapes.

You might like to com­pare this brief study of Kuro­sawa’s geom­e­try with video essay­ist Kog­o­na­da’s look at the geom­e­try of Wes Ander­son­’s movies. Just as you can’t watch the Every Frame a Paint­ing mini-episode on The Bad Sleep Well with­out look­ing for shapes in the next Kuro­sawa pic­tures you watch, you can’t watch “Cen­tered” with­out draw­ing a men­tal line down the cen­ter of your next screen­ing of Bot­tle Rock­etRush­moreThe Roy­al Tenen­baums, or their Ander­son­ian suc­ces­sors. Zhou says he feels bored when sub­ject­ed to the undis­ci­plined visu­al com­po­si­tion in most major films, but here we have two film­mak­ers one can always rely on for the anti­dote.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every Frame a Paint­ing Explains the Film­mak­ing Tech­niques of Mar­tin Scors­ese, Jack­ie Chan, and Even Michael Bay

Sig­na­ture Shots from the Films of Stan­ley Kubrick: One-Point Per­spec­tive

Watch 7 New Video Essays on Wes Anderson’s Films: Rush­more, The Roy­al Tenen­baums & More

The Per­fect Sym­me­try of Wes Anderson’s Movies

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma 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.

Hear Isolated Guitar Tracks From Some of Rock’s Greatest: Slash, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton & More

It seems like near­ly every­thing that’s ever been record­ed even­tu­al­ly makes its way to Youtube—at least for a while. From his­toric speech­es by Gand­hi and Mar­tin Luther King, Jr. to the ram­bling con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries of obscure base­ment dwellers, you can hear it all. One par­tic­u­lar phe­nom­e­non in recent years is that of the “iso­lat­ed track,” the vocal and indi­vid­ual instru­ment record­ings from well-known songs, usu­al­ly tak­en direct­ly from the mas­ter tapes. We’ve fea­tured many of these, from famous drum­mers like John Bon­ham and Stew­art Copeland to bassists like Sting, Paul McCart­ney, and Queen’s John Dea­con.

Today, we bring you iso­lat­ed tracks from some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most cel­e­brat­ed gui­tarists, and we do so in full antic­i­pa­tion of a slew of out­raged “What about so and so!” com­ments. So to pre-empt some inevitably hurt feel­ings, bear in mind that the selec­tion of iso­lat­ed tracks online is—despite Youtube’s many riches—rather lim­it­ed. We’re work­ing with what’s avail­able here. And if you don’t see your Joe Pass or Bonamassa—two gui­tarists I great­ly admire—or any oth­er jazz or blues play­ers, it’s because we’re focus­ing specif­i­cal­ly on rock gui­tarists.

That said, let’s begin with what is arguably the most rec­og­niz­able gui­tar line since Jim­my Page’s work in “Stair­way to Heav­en.” You’ve heard the intro to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” an uncount­able num­ber of times—played beau­ti­ful­ly by Slash and his tal­ent­ed imi­ta­tors, and bad­ly by strug­gling stu­dents in music stores. But have you ever real­ly heard what the pre­mier 90s rock gui­tarist is doing in the rest of the song? Once Axl Rose starts wail­ing, it’s a bit hard to lis­ten to any­thing else. So take six min­utes and play through the entire iso­lat­ed track above. It’s a pret­ty stun­ning mix of del­i­cate arpeg­gios, punchy over­driv­en rhythms, and, of course, the soar­ing sus­tained lead lines and wah-wah mad­ness we know from those oh-so mem­o­rable solos. OnStage mag­a­zine has a nice lit­tle break­down of Slash’s tech­nique and tone. For a very thor­ough dis­sec­tion of the exact rig he used in the stu­dio to make these sounds, check out this arti­cle.

Before the mighty Slash, the most influ­en­tial rock gui­tarist was with­out a doubt Eddie Van Halen, whose sig­na­ture maneu­vers and tech­ni­cal inno­va­tions com­plete­ly changed how rock and met­al gui­tarists approached the instru­ment. Van Halen, writes Ulti­mate Clas­sic Rock, “vir­tu­al­ly sin­gle-hand­ed­ly re-invent­ed the entire rock gui­tar lex­i­con with his blend of tone, tech­nique and sheer musi­cal­i­ty.” He did it two-hand­ed­ly also, more-or-less invent­ing two-hand­ed tap­ping, “a tech­nique in which Van Halen uses the fin­gers of his right hand to fret notes on the neck of the gui­tar, which allows him to phrase pas­sages very rapid­ly with­out the lim­i­ta­tions of a pick.” You can hear sev­er­al exam­ples in this list of top 10 Eddie Van Halen solos.

Just above, in the iso­lat­ed gui­tar track for “Pana­ma,” hear an often unre­marked aspect of Van Halen’s playing—his excep­tion­al rhythm work. Punc­tu­at­ed with grit­ty slides, dives, and bends, and the song’s famil­iar three-note riff, Van Halen’s rhythms are extra­or­di­nar­i­ly flu­id, musi­cal­ly expres­sive, and com­mand­ing­ly dynam­ic. His solo work here is subtle—not near­ly as flashy as in so many oth­er songs—but that allows us to focus all the more on how bril­liant his rhythm play­ing real­ly is. Like Slash, Van Halen had to com­pete with a ridicu­lous­ly flam­boy­ant singer, and like Slash, he often emerges as band’s real main attrac­tion.

Play “Free Bird,” man. No, I won’t. Well, not the whole thing. But lis­ten to that solo, all 4 plus min­utes of it, above, played by Allen Collins. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s three-gui­tar attack of Collins, Ed King, and Gary Ross­ing­ton may have seemed extrav­a­gant, or just plain indul­gent, but it served an impor­tant pur­pose: dupli­cat­ing the album record­ings per­fect­ly onstage. Band­leader Ron­nie Van Zandt “was such a stal­wart and stick­ler for perfection—so much so that every­one was sup­posed to play more or less the same solos they did on the album,” writes the blog One Week//One Band, “because that’s what the audi­ence came to hear.” Collin’s scream­ing solo—num­ber 3 in Gui­tar World’s top 100—came about by chance, as did the entire song, in fact, pieced togeth­er impromp­tu by the band dur­ing rehearsal. But why does “Free Bird” nev­er, ever seem to end? Ross­ing­ton has the sto­ry:

… We start­ed play­ing it in clubs, but it was just the slow part. Then Ron­nie said, “Why don’t you do some­thing at the end of that so I can take a break for a few min­utes?” so I came up with those three chords at the end and Allen played over them, then I soloed and then he soloed… it all evolved out of a jam one night. So, we start­ed play­ing it that way, but Ron­nie kept say­ing, “It’s not long enough. Make it longer.”

On the stu­dio ver­sion, “Collins played the entire solo him­self on his Gib­son Explor­er.” Says Ross­ing­ton, “He was bad. He was super bad! He was bad-to-the-bone bad… the way he was doin’ it, he was just so hot! He just did it once and did it again and it was done.” And there you have it.

If this list didn’t have any Clap­ton on it, I’d prob­a­bly get death threats. Luck­i­ly we have an iso­lat­ed Clap­ton track, but not from a Clap­ton band. Instead, above, hear his guest work on the George Har­ri­son-penned and ‑sung Bea­t­les’ song “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” from 1968. In a pre­vi­ous post on this mas­ter­ful­ly icon­ic record­ing, Mike Springer described Clapton’s tech­nique and gear: “For the impres­sion of a per­son weep­ing and wail­ing, Clap­ton used the fin­gers on his fret­ting hand to bend the strings deeply, in a high­ly expres­sive descend­ing vibra­to. He was play­ing a 1957 Gib­son Les Paul, a gui­tar he had once owned but had giv­en to Har­ri­son, who nick­named it ‘Lucy.’”

I’ll admit, I grew up assum­ing that Har­ri­son played the leads in this song, an assump­tion that col­ored my assess­ment of Harrison’s play­ing in gen­er­al. But while he’s cer­tain­ly no slouch, even he admit­ted that this was bet­ter left to the man they call “Slow­hand” (a nick­name, by the way, that has noth­ing to do with his play­ing). Typ­i­cal­ly hum­ble and under­stat­ed, Har­ri­son described to Gui­tar World in 1987 how Clap­ton came to guest on the song:

No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not inter­est­ed in it at all. And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song. The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the ses­sion, and I said, “We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it.” He said, “Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Bea­t­les records.” I said, “Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.” So Eric came in, and the oth­er guys were as good as gold–because he was there. Also, it left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal. So Eric played that, and I thought it was real­ly good. Then we lis­tened to it back, and he said, “Ah, there’s a prob­lem, though; it’s not Beat­ley enough”–so we put it through the ADT [auto­mat­ic dou­ble-track­er], to wob­ble it a bit.

It’s the wob­ble, I think that made me think of Har­ri­son, but now lis­ten­ing to it again above, pulled from its Beat­ley con­text, I just hear Clap­ton.

Just above, we have a gui­tarist most peo­ple have prob­a­bly nev­er heard of. But for cer­tain 90s music fans and play­ers, myself includ­ed, John Squire was an unsung hero of a British band many felt deserved more atten­tion than Blur and Oasis com­bined. I’m talk­ing about The Stone Ros­es, Mad­ch­ester col­leagues of bands like The Hap­py Mon­days and The Chameleons. Although the scene as a whole thrived on six­ties-revival dance grooves with hard­er drugs, Squire stood out for his qui­et self-con­fi­dence, sec­ond career as a painter, and bluesy, Hen­drix-inspired play­ing. I learned by heart his out­ro solos on the band’s barn­burn­er “I Am The Res­ur­rec­tion,” a wicked­ly inven­tive bit of work that any­one who knows the band knows well.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fol­low-up to their 1989 self-titled debut, 1994’s The Sec­ond Com­ing, was crit­i­cal­ly shunned and almost ignored by for­mer fans. Unfor­tu­nate tim­ing, I’d say. Jack White and the Black Keys had yet to make blues rock cool again, and the band had most­ly moved from play­ing like the Byrds to play­ing like the Yard­birds. Just above from that unloved sec­ond and final record, hear Squire’s iso­lat­ed play­ing on “Love Spreads,” a song sec­ond only to “Dri­ving South” as the band’s most potent appro­pri­a­tion of the blues. Squire, in my book, is a crim­i­nal­ly under­rat­ed gui­tarist who did some of his best work on a crim­i­nal­ly under­rat­ed album.

Final­ly, some excel­lent gui­tar work by a gui­tarist I love, play­ing with a band I don’t. But as much as I may dis­like the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers songs, I stand in awe of their mind-blow­ing musi­cian­ship. While bassist Flea gets most of the atten­tion, their long­time on-again, off-again gui­tarist John Frus­ciante is just as much, if not more, of a stand­out play­er. A musi­cal prodi­gy, Frusciante—who replaced Hil­lel Slo­vak after the latter’s 1988 overdose—joined the band at just 18 and com­plete­ly trans­formed their sound overnight with, writes Rolling Stone’s David Fricke, “Hen­drix­i­an force.”

In RHCP’s once inescapable ballad—“Under the Bridge”—he con­cocts a “poignant Beat­lesque melody” joined with funk licks and cho­rus-drenched chordal phras­es. Frus­ciante plays with a dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ty that’s instant­ly rec­og­niz­able, whether it’s with the Chili Pep­pers, The Mars Vol­ta, Duran Duran (!), or his own total­ly odd­ball solo records. An always unpre­dictable musi­cian, his once ama­teur­ish exper­i­ments with elec­tron­ic music have grown into full-blown acid house that sounds noth­ing like John Frus­ciante. Great stuff, but I hope he picks up the gui­tar again soon.

So yeah, I could have includ­ed iso­lat­ed tracks from Dime­bag Dar­rell or Jake E. Lee, bril­liant gui­tarists both. And lots of peo­ple seem to like those Avenged Sev­en­fold guys, though it ain’t my cup­pa tea. But this list is just a sam­pling and doesn’t pre­tend to be com­plete by any stretch. If you hap­pen to find some iso­lat­ed gui­tar tracks online that you think our read­ers should hear, by all means post them in the com­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Iso­lat­ed Tracks From Five Great Rock Bassists: McCart­ney, Sting, Dea­con, Jones & Lee

Iso­lat­ed Drum Tracks From Six of Rock’s Great­est: Bon­ham, Moon, Peart, Copeland, Grohl & Starr

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

The Paintings of Filmmaker/Visual Artist David Lynch

I Burn Pinecone and throw it in your house

David Lynch

It was 1967, and David Lynch, a stu­dent at the Penn­syl­va­nia Acad­e­my of the Fine Arts, was up late in his stu­dio when he had a vision. The plants in the paint­ing he was work­ing on seemed to be mov­ing. “I’m look­ing at this and hear­ing this,” he recalled, “and I say, ‘Oh, a mov­ing paint­ing.’ And that was it.”

That thun­der­bolt of an idea put him on the road towards cre­at­ing some of the most unset­tling and sur­re­al images in cin­e­ma from the danc­ing dream dwarf in Twin Peaks to those freaky lit­tle peo­ple in Mul­hol­land Dri­ve. His first step was the mul­ti­me­dia work “Six Men Get­ting Sick” – a large-scale work con­sist­ing of paint­ing, sculp­ture and a one-minute film loop, Lynch’s first for­ay into film. His sub­se­quent ear­ly film work, from The Grand­moth­er to Eraser­head, feels like an exten­sion of his fine art work. “As a painter, you do every­thing your­self, and I thought cin­e­ma was that way,” Lynch said, “like a paint­ing, but you have peo­ple help­ing you.” Of course, by the time he made his big bud­get dud Dune, he was thor­ough­ly dis­abused of that notion.

Yet while becom­ing one of Hollywood’s most influ­en­tial direc­tors, he con­tin­ued to paint. Last year his alma mater unveiled a ret­ro­spec­tive of his art­work from 1965 to the present called “David Lynch: The Uni­fied Field.” Much of the work is from the late-90s on, a time when Lynch found him­self detach­ing more and more from Hol­ly­wood. His last fea­ture film, Inland Empire, came out in 2006. Appar­ent­ly, he was spend­ing much of his free time in the stu­dio.

At 3 A.M. I Am Here With The Red Dream

David Lynch

His work dur­ing this peri­od is inten­tion­al­ly crude and child­like, com­bin­ing car­toon­ish images with preg­nant, semi-intel­li­gi­ble text. Sure, his paint­ings don’t have the pri­mal, psy­cho­sex­u­al pow­er of his movies, but there is still some­thing com­pelling about them. Take, for insis­tence, the mul­ti­me­dia work “I Burn Pinecone and throw it in your house” (top). It looks like a dement­ed children’s book nar­rat­ed by a crazed moun­tain man.

“At 3 A.M. I Am Here With The Red Dream” (mid­dle) looks like the prod­uct of a men­tal patient, com­plete with smudged out text and Hen­ry Darg­er-esque girl legs.

Grim Augury

David Lynch

Of course, Lynch didn’t restrict him­self to paint­ing. He has also worked in dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy. In his 2009 work, Unti­tled (Grim Augury #1), (bot­tom) Lynch depicts a Sun­day din­ner gone hor­ri­bly, inex­plic­a­bly, wrong.

You can watch a video of the exhib­it below. Find an online gallery of Lynch’s artis­tic works here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch’s Unlike­ly Com­mer­cial for a Home Preg­nan­cy Test (1997)

David Lynch Teach­es You to Cook His Quinoa Recipe in a Weird, Sur­re­al­ist Video

What David Lynch Can Do With a 100-Year-Old Cam­era and 52 Sec­onds of Film

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 @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

Stanford Launches Free Course on Developing Apps with iOS 8

i0s8 apps stanford

Quick note: When­ev­er Apple releas­es a new ver­sion of iOS, Stan­ford even­tu­al­ly releas­es a course telling you how to devel­op apps in that envi­ron­ment. iOS 8 came out last fall, and now the iOS 8 app devel­op­ment course is get­ting rolled out this quar­ter. It’s free online, of course, on iTunes.

You can now find “Devel­op­ing iOS Apps with Swift” housed in our col­lec­tion of Free Com­put­er Sci­ence Cours­es, which cur­rent­ly fea­tures 117 cours­es in total, includ­ing some basic Har­vard cours­es that will teach you how to code in 12 weeks.

As always, cours­es from oth­er dis­ci­plines can be found on our larg­er list, 1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties.

Fol­low us on Face­book, Twit­ter and Google Plus and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. Or bet­ter yet, sign up for our dai­ly email and get a dai­ly dose of Open Cul­ture in your inbox.

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Arthur C. Clarke Predicts in 2001 What the World Will Look By December 31, 2100


“Clarke sm” by Amy Marash. Licensed under Pub­lic Domain via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

When you want a vision of the future, I very much doubt you turn to Read­er’s Digest for it. But Arthur C. Clarke did once appear in its small-for­mat pages to pro­vide just that, and when Arthur C. Clarke talks about the future, you’d do well to lis­ten. Last year, we fea­tured a 1964 BBC doc­u­men­tary in which the sci­ence-fic­tion lumi­nary pre­dict­ed the inter­net, 3D print­ers, and trained mon­key ser­vants. Today, we’d like to link you up to his Read­er’s Digest pre­dic­tions from the com­par­a­tive­ly recent year of 2001 — one in which, for obvi­ous rea­sons, Clarke made the media rounds — which you can read in full at Some high­lights of his spec­u­la­tive time­line from 2001 to 2100:

  • By 2010, com­mer­cial nuclear devices, house­hold quan­tum gen­er­a­tors, and ful­ly re-engi­neered auto­mo­bile engines will have end­ed the Fos­sil Fuel Age. We’ll have seen the first acknowl­edged human clone and seen off the last human crim­i­nal.
  • By 2020, we’ll have dis­cov­ered a 76-meter octo­pus, fly on “aero­space-planes” (one of which will car­ry Prince Har­ry), and trade in “mega-watt-hours” instead of any now-known cur­ren­cies, and tsunamis caused by a mete­or will wreck the coasts of Green­land and Cana­da (prompt­ing the devel­op­ment of new mete­or-detect­ing tech­nolo­gies).
  • By 2030, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence will have reached human lev­el, we’ll have land­ed on Mars, com­put­er-gen­er­at­ed DNA will make pos­si­ble a real-life Juras­sic Park, and the neu­ro­log­i­cal “brain­cap” will allow us the direct sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence of any­thing at all.
  • By 2040, the “uni­ver­sal repli­ca­tor” will allow us to cre­ate any object at all in the com­fort of our own homes, result­ing in the phase-out of work and a boom in arts, enter­tain­ment, and edu­ca­tion.
  • By 2050, Buck­min­ster Fuller-style self-con­tained mobile homes become a real­i­ty, and humans scat­tered as far as “Earth, the Moon, Mars, Europa, Ganymede and Titan, and in orbit around Venus, Nep­tune and Plu­to” cel­e­brate the cen­te­nary of Sput­nik 1.
  • By 2090, Hal­ley’s comet will have returned, and on it we’ll have found life forms that vin­di­cate “Wick­ra­mas­inghe and Hoyle’s cen­tu­ry-old hypoth­e­sis that life exists through space.” We’ll also start burn­ing fos­sil fuels again, both as a replace­ment for the car­bon diox­ide we’ve “mined” from the air and to fore­stall the next Ice Age by warm­ing the globe back up a bit.
  • By 2100, we’ll have replaced rock­ets with a “space dri­ve” that lets us trav­el close to the speed of light. And so, Clarke writes, “his­to­ry begins…”

You’ll notice, of course, that we’re already behind Clarke’s vision, accord­ing to which many a still-improb­a­ble devel­op­ment also lies ahead in the near future. In any case, though, the end of crime, the begin­ning of pri­vate space trav­el, and the era of the Dymax­ion home must come soon­er or lat­er, must­n’t they? And as Clarke him­self admits, one plays a mug’s game when one pre­dicts, even when one does it with uncom­mon astute­ness. “In 1971 I pre­dict­ed the first Mars Land­ing in 1994,” he remem­bers in the pre­am­ble to his list. “On the oth­er hand, I thought I was being wild­ly opti­mistic in 1951 by sug­gest­ing a mis­sion to the moon in 1978. Neil Arm­strong and Buzz Aldrin beat me by almost a decade.”

But to this day, Clarke’s score­card looks bet­ter than most of ours: “I take pride in the fact that com­mu­ni­ca­tions satel­lites are placed exact­ly where I sug­gest­ed in 1945, and the name “Clarke Orbit” is often used (if only because it’s eas­i­er to say than ‘geo­sta­tion­ary orbit’).” Who knows what he could tell us to watch out for now if, as he pre­dict­ed in 2001, he’d lived to see his hun­dredth birth­day aboard the Hilton Orbiter Hotel?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Arthur C. Clarke Nar­rates Film on Mandelbrot’s Frac­tals; David Gilmour Pro­vides the Sound­track

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Free Sci­ence Fic­tion Clas­sics on the Web: Hux­ley, Orwell, Asi­mov, Gaiman & Beyond

Bet­ter Liv­ing Through Buck­min­ster Fuller’s Utopi­an Designs: Revis­it the Dymax­ion Car, House, and Map

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture as well as the video series The City in Cin­e­ma 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.

Stream Classic Poetry Readings from Harvard’s Rich Audio Archive: From W.H. Auden to Dylan Thomas

harvard poetry

Found­ed in 1931, the Wood­ber­ry Poet­ry Room at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty fea­tures (among oth­er things) 6,000 record­ings of poet­ry from the 20th and 21st cen­turies. There you can find some of the ear­li­est record­ings of W. H. Auden, Eliz­a­beth Bish­op, T. S. Eliot, Denise Lev­er­tov, Robert Low­ell, Anais Nin, Ezra Pound, Robert Penn War­ren, Ten­nessee Williams and many oth­ers.

In the “Lis­ten­ing Booth,” a sec­tion of the Poet­ry Room web­site, you can lis­ten to record­ings of clas­sic read­ings by near­ly 200 authors, includ­ing John Berry­man, Robert Bly, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Brod­sky, Jorie Gra­ham, Sea­mus Heaney, Jack Ker­ouac, Adri­enne Rich, Anne Sex­ton, Wal­lace Stevens, Dylan Thomas, Anne Wald­man, William Car­los Williams and more. The sound files are all free to stream. And if this is your kind of thing, make sure you vis­it the Penn Sound archive at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, which is an equal­ly rich and amaz­ing audio archive. We pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured it here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

Bill Mur­ray Reads Great Poet­ry by Bil­ly Collins, Cole Porter, and Sarah Man­gu­so

13 Lec­tures from Allen Ginsberg’s “His­to­ry of Poet­ry” Course (1975)

Son­ic Youth Gui­tarist Thurston Moore Teach­es a Poet­ry Work­shop at Naropa Uni­ver­si­ty: See His Class Notes (2011)

Down­load 55 Free Online Lit­er­a­ture Cours­es: From Dante and Mil­ton to Ker­ouac and Tolkien

An Illustration of Every Page of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick


Her­man Melville’s Moby Dick, the work he is most known for in death, had the effect in life of ruin­ing his lit­er­ary rep­u­ta­tion and dri­ving him into obscu­ri­ty. This is but one of many ironies attend­ing the mas­sive nov­el, first pub­lished in Britain in three vol­umes on Octo­ber 18, 1851. At that time, it was sim­ply called The Whale, and as informs us, was “expur­gat­ed to avoid offend­ing del­i­cate polit­i­cal and moral sen­si­bil­i­ties.” One month lat­er, the first Amer­i­can edi­tion appeared, now titled Moby Dick; Or, The Whale, com­piled into one huge vol­ume, and with its cen­sored pas­sages, includ­ing the Epi­logue, restored. In both print­ings, the book sold poor­ly, and the reviews—save those from a hand­ful of Amer­i­can crit­ics, includ­ing Melville’s fel­low Great Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Nathaniel Hawthorne—were large­ly neg­a­tive.

"God keep me! — keep us all!" murmured Starbuck, lowly.

Anoth­er irony sur­round­ing the nov­el is one near­ly every­one who’s read it, or tried to read it, will know well. We’re social­ized through visu­al media to approach the sto­ry as great, trag­ic action/adventure. As Melville’s friend, pub­lish­er Evert Augus­tus Duy­ck­inck, described it, the nov­el is osten­si­bly “a roman­tic, fan­ci­ful & lit­er­al & most enjoy­able pre­sent­ment of the Whale Fish­ery,” dri­ven by the revenge plot of mad old Cap­tain Ahab. And yet, it is not that at all, or not sim­ply that. Despite the fact that it lends itself so well to adven­tur­ous retelling, the nov­el itself can seem very obscure, pon­der­ous, and digres­sive to a mad­den­ing degree. The so-called “whal­ing chap­ters,” notably “Cetol­ogy,” delve deeply into the lore and tech­nique of whal­ing, the anato­my and phys­i­ol­o­gy of var­i­ous whale species, and the his­to­ry and pol­i­tics of the ven­ture.

Through­out the nov­el, ordi­nary objects and events—especially, of course, the whale itself—acquire such sym­bol­ic weight that they become almost car­toon­ish tal­is­mans and leap bewil­der­ing­ly out of the nar­ra­tive, forc­ing the read­er to con­tem­plate their significance—no easy task. Depend­ing on your sen­si­bil­i­ties and tol­er­ance for Melville’s labyrinthine prose, these very strange fea­tures of the nov­el are either indis­pens­ably fas­ci­nat­ing or just plain excess bag­gage. Since many edi­tions are pub­lished with the whal­ing chap­ters excised, many read­ers clear­ly feel they are the lat­ter. That is unfor­tu­nate, I think. It’s one of my favorite nov­els, in all its baroque over­stuffed­ness and philo­soph­i­cal den­si­ty. But there’s no deny­ing that it works, as they say, “on many lev­els.” Depend­ing on how you expe­ri­ence the book—it’s either an incred­i­bly grip­ping adven­ture tale, or a very dense and puz­zling work of his­to­ry, phi­los­o­phy, pol­i­tics, and zool­o­gy… or both, and more besides….


Rec­og­niz­ing the pow­er of Melville’s arrest­ing imagery, artist and librar­i­an Matt Kish decid­ed that he would illus­trate all 552 pages of the Signet Clas­sic paper­back edi­tion of Moby Dick, a book he con­sid­ers “to be the great­est nov­el ever writ­ten.” He began the project in August of 2009 with the first page, illus­trat­ing those famous first words—“Call me Ishmael”—above. (At the top, see page 489, below it page 158, and direct­ly below, page 116). Kish com­plet­ed his epic project at the end of 2010. He used a vari­ety of media—ink, water­col­or, acrylic paint—and incor­po­rat­ed a num­ber of dif­fer­ent graph­ic art styles. As he explains in the com­ments under the first illus­tra­tion, he chose “draw­ing and paint­ing over pages from old books and dia­grams because the pres­ence of visu­al infor­ma­tion on those pages would in some ways inter­fere with, and clut­ter up, my own obses­sive con­trol over my marks.” All in all, it’s a very admirable under­tak­ing, and you can see each indi­vid­ual illus­tra­tion, and many of the stages of draft­ing and com­po­si­tion, at Kish’s blog or on this list we’ve com­piled. (You can also find links to the first 25 pages at bot­tom of this post.) The entire project has also been pub­lished as a book, Moby-Dick in Pic­tures: One Draw­ing for Every Page, a fur­ther irony giv­en the obses­sive lit­er­ari­ness of Melville’s nov­el, a work as obsessed with lan­guage as Cap­tain Ahab is with his great white neme­sis.


Nonethe­less, what Kish’s project fur­ther demon­strates is the seem­ing­ly inex­haustible trea­sure house that is Moby Dick, a book that so rich­ly appeals to all the sens­es as it also cease­less­ly engages the intel­lect. Kish has gone on to apply his won­der­ful inter­pre­tive tech­nique to oth­er clas­sic lit­er­ary works, includ­ing Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Dark­ness and Ita­lo Calvino’s Invis­i­ble Cities. These projects are equal­ly strik­ing, but it’s Moby Dick, “the great unread Amer­i­can nov­el,” that most inspired Kish, as it has so many oth­er artists and read­ers.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Moby Dick Big Read: Celebri­ties and Every­day Folk Read a Chap­ter a Day from the Great Amer­i­can Nov­el

A View From the Room Where Melville Wrote Moby Dick (Plus a Free Celebri­ty Read­ing of the Nov­el)

How Ray Brad­bury Wrote the Script for John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956)

Orson Welles Reads Moby Dick

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

The Little Albert Experiment: The Perverse 1920 Study That Made a Baby Afraid of Santa Claus & Bunnies

The field of psy­chol­o­gy is very dif­fer­ent than it used to be. Nowa­days, the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion has a code of con­duct for exper­i­ments that ensures a subject’s con­fi­den­tial­i­ty, con­sent and gen­er­al men­tal well being. In the old days, it was­n’t the case.

Back then, you could, for instance, con sub­jects into think­ing that they were elec­tro­cut­ing a man to death, as they did in the infa­mous 1961 Mil­gram exper­i­ment, which left peo­ple trau­ma­tized and hum­bled in the knowl­edge that deep down they are lit­tle more than weak-willed pup­pets in the face of author­i­ty. You could also try to turn a group of unsus­pect­ing orphans into stut­ter­ers by method­i­cal­ly under­min­ing their self-esteem as the folks who ran the apt­ly named Mon­ster Study of 1939 tried to do. But, if you real­ly want to get into the swamp of moral dubi­ous­ness, look no fur­ther than the Lit­tle Albert exper­i­ments, which trau­ma­tized a baby into hat­ing dogs, San­ta Claus and all things fuzzy.


In 1920, Johns Hop­kins pro­fes­sor John B. Wat­son was fas­ci­nat­ed with Ivan Pavlov’s research on con­di­tioned stim­u­lus. Pavlov famous­ly rang a bell every time he fed his dogs. At first the food caused the dogs to sali­vate, but after a spell of pair­ing the bell with din­ner, the dogs would even­tu­al­ly sali­vate at just the sound of the bell. That’s called a con­di­tioned response. Wat­son want­ed to see if he could cre­ate a con­di­tioned response in a baby.

Enter 9‑month old Albert B., AKA Lit­tle Albert. At the begin­ning of the exper­i­ment, Albert was pre­sent­ed with a white rat, a dog, a white rab­bit, and a mask of San­ta Claus among oth­er things. The lad was unafraid of every­thing and was, in fact, real­ly tak­en with the rat. Then every time the baby touched the ani­mals, sci­en­tists struck a met­al bar behind him, cre­at­ing a star­tling­ly loud bang. The sound freaked out the child and soon, like Pavlov’s dogs, Lit­tle Albert grew ter­ri­fied of the rat and the mask of San­ta and even a fur coat. The par­tic­u­lar­ly messed up thing about the exper­i­ment was that Wat­son didn’t even both to reverse the psy­cho­log­i­cal trau­ma he inflict­ed.


What hap­pened to poor baby Albert is hard to say, in part because no one is real­ly sure of the child’s true iden­ti­ty. He might have been Dou­glas Mer­ritte, as psy­chol­o­gists Hall P. Beck and Shar­man Levin­son argued in 2009. If that’s the case, then the child died at the age of 6 in 1925 of hydro­cephalus. Or he might have been William Albert Barg­er, as Russ Pow­ell and Nan­cy Dig­don argued in 2012. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 87. He report­ed­ly had a life­long aver­sion to dogs, though it can­not be deter­mined if it was a last­ing effect of the exper­i­ment.

Lat­er in life, Wat­son left aca­d­e­mics for adver­tis­ing.

You can watch a video of the exper­i­ment above.

via Men­tal Floss

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es

How To Think Like a Psy­chol­o­gist: A Free Online Course from Stan­ford

Watch Footage from the Psy­chol­o­gy Exper­i­ment That Shocked the World: Milgram’s Obe­di­ence Study (1961)

Her­mann Rorschach’s Orig­i­nal Rorschach Test: What Do You See? (1921)

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 @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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