Kurt Vonnegut Maps Out the Universal Shapes of Our Favorite Stories

Imag­ine a hat. Flip it upside down, and you’ve got your­self the out­line of a sto­ry the pub­lic will nev­er weary of, accord­ing to author Kurt Von­negut, who maps it on out a chalk­board in the video above.

His Y‑axis charts a range between good and ill for­tune. Von­negut rec­om­mends posi­tion­ing your main char­ac­ter slight­ly clos­er to the good (i.e. wealth and bois­ter­ous health) end of the spec­trum, at least in the begin­ning. He or she will dip below mid­line soon enough.

As for the X‑axis, Von­negut labels it B‑E, from begin­ning to end.

Now plot your points, remem­ber­ing that it’s all about the curves.

Some pop­u­lar themes include peo­ple get­ting in and out of trou­ble, and the ever­green boy gets girl. (The always pro­gres­sive Von­negut reminds his view­ers that the gen­ders in the lat­ter sce­nario are always open to inter­pre­ta­tion. Again, it’s the curves that count…)

Think­ing about my favorite books and films, it seems that most do fol­low Vonnegut’s upside-down hat nar­ra­tive arc.

Are there excep­tions?

Hor­a­tio Alger’s rags to rich­es sto­ries, for exam­ple. We should all be so lucky to find our­selves pow­er­ing up such a steep uphill grade.

Of course there are excep­tions!

Von­negut him­self iden­ti­fies a par­tic­u­lar­ly high pro­file one, whose geom­e­try is less an ele­gant curve than a stair­case that ter­mi­nates in a free fall. (SPOILER: it involves a fairy god­moth­er and ends in an infin­i­ty sym­bol.

Those weary of pars­ing sto­ry using the Hero’s Jour­ney tem­plate should inves­ti­gate Vonnegut’s graph­ic approach. It works!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Tips on How to Write a Good Short Sto­ry

Kurt Von­negut Explains “How to Write With Style”

Kurt Von­negut Urges Young Peo­ple to Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

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

What Beatboxing and Opera Singing Look Like Inside an MRI Machine

Beat­box­ing, the prac­tice of pro­duc­ing drum machine-like beats (espe­cial­ly TR-808-like beats) with one’s voice, has long since made the tran­si­tion from par­lor trick to acknowl­edged musi­cal art form. But we still have much to under­stand about it, as the recent­ly-emerged first gen­er­a­tion of beat­box­ing schol­ars knows full well. “A team of lin­guis­tics and engi­neer­ing stu­dents at USC want­ed to learn more about the mechan­ics behind the rhythms,” writes Los Ange­les Times music crit­ic Ran­dall Roberts. “By using MRI tech­nol­o­gy, they record­ed an unnamed local beat­box­er work­ing his mag­ic, broke down the most com­mon­ly employed sounds by exam­in­ing the move­ments of his mouth and then ana­lyzed the data.”

This result­ed in a paper called “Par­alin­guis­tic Mech­a­nisms of Pro­duc­tion in Human ‘Beat­box­ing’: A Real-Time Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance Imag­ing Study.” Roberts describes it as “pre­dictably heavy with lin­guis­tic jar­gon, but even to a civil­ian, the results are illu­mi­nat­ing,” espe­cial­ly the video the research team record­ed, “which reveals how the human mouth can so con­vinc­ing­ly cre­ate the pop of a snare drum.” At the top of the post, you can see this sort of thing for your­self: in this video “The Diva and the Emcee,” fea­tured at the Inter­na­tion­al Soci­ety for Mag­net­ic Res­o­nance in Med­i­cine (ISMRM) Sci­en­tif­ic Ses­sions in Seat­tle, we see how a beat­box­er’s tech­nique com­pares to that of an opera singer.

You can find out more at the site of the Speech Pro­duc­tion and Artic­u­la­tion Knowl­edge group (SPAN), the USC team that per­formed this pio­neer­ing research into an impor­tant com­po­nent of one of the pil­lars of hip hop. Keep their find­ings in mind next time you watch a beat­box­ing clip that goes viral (such as the Gold­berg Vari­a­tions one we fea­tured back in 2012) for a rich­er lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence. After all, it does no harm to the romance of the beat­box, to para­phrase Carl Sagan, to know a lit­tle bit about it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Beat­box­ing Bach’s Gold­berg Vari­a­tions

All Hail the Beat: How the 1980 Roland TR-808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music

Langston Hugh­es Reveals the Rhythms in Art & Life in a Won­der­ful Illus­trat­ed Book for Kids (1954)

Do Rap­pers Have a Big­ger Vocab­u­lary Than Shake­speare?: A Data Sci­en­tist Maps Out the Answer

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Patti Smith Plays at CBGB In One of Her First Recorded Concerts, Joined by Seminal Punk Band Television (1975)

The pic­ture of punk as the domain of boor­ish nihilists who can’t play their instru­ments has been as much a cre­ation of mar­ket­ing (via Mal­colm McLaren) as it has been a virtue-of-neces­si­ty min­i­mal­ist pose and a form of avant garde DIY exper­i­men­tal­ism. But there have always been, since the coin­ing of the term “punk” as a musi­cal genre, stel­lar musi­cians and thought­ful, poet­ic lyri­cists shap­ing the scene. Of the for­mer, we must men­tion Tele­vi­sion, with their mag­nif­i­cent gui­tar inter­play between leader Tom Ver­laine and Richard Lloyd. And, of the lat­ter, we need look no fur­ther than the god­moth­er of punk her­self, Pat­ti Smith, who has always com­mand­ed stage and stu­dio with her smart, arrest­ing lyri­cism and pow­er­ful set of pipes.

Years before the Sex Pis­tols invad­ed the States, these two bands played reg­u­lar­ly at CBG­Bs (Tele­vi­sion was, in fact, the very first band to play there) with a loose col­lec­tion of mis­fits who re-invent­ed rock and roll. In Decem­ber, 1975, Smith released her first album, Hors­es, a hybrid of punk and spo­ken word pro­duced by the Vel­vet Underground’s John Cale.

But before that record made her famous—in April of that year—the Pat­ti Smith Group took the stage with Tele­vi­sion, and two teenage fans were there to record both sets from both bands. First appear­ing as a boot­leg CD gener­i­cal­ly titled “Ear­ly Gig ’75,” the disc has since been reis­sued as We Can’t Do Any­more… Cause I’m Just Too Tired!, with anoth­er set of Smith cov­ers tacked on from a ’78 con­cert in San­ta Mon­i­ca.

We get clas­sic tracks from both bands, such as Television’s “Mar­quee Moon” and “Lit­tle John­ny Jew­ell” and Smith’s cov­er of “Hey Joe” and Van Morrison’s “Glo­ria” as well as her own “Hors­es” and “Piss Fac­to­ry.” At the top of the post, you can hear her do six songs from that night in 1975, the last three with Tele­vi­sion join­ing her onstage: “We’re Going to Have a Real Good Time Togeth­er” (Vel­vet Under­ground cov­er), “Redon­do Beach,” “Bird­land,” “Space Mon­key,” “Dis­tant Fin­gers,” and “Glo­ria.” You’ll also hear the two young tapers chat­ting it up in the first few min­utes of the tape.

Smith’s band, writes boot­leg blog Doom & Gloom From the Tomb, “was tran­si­tion­ing from a cabaret-lean­ing trio to a ful­ly-fledged rock band sound,” and the ram­shackle per­for­mances show us a tal­ent­ed bunch of musi­cians still find­ing their foot­ing as a group. The fol­low­ing year, Smith and band would appear in Stock­holm after the release of Hors­es. As you can see and hear above (after a brief inter­view) they’d become a tighter, and some­what more con­ven­tion­al, rock and roll machine, but the ear­ly per­for­mances at the top—for all the lo-fi murk­i­ness and intru­sive crowd noise—have a raw appeal only height­ened by the fact that they are now impor­tant doc­u­ments of a now-leg­endary musi­cal era. See this review of the boot­leg CD reis­sue for a blow-by-blow descrip­tion of this his­toric ’75 con­cert from two sem­i­nal, and phe­nom­e­nal­ly tal­ent­ed, punk bands.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Talk­ing Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

The Ramones, a New Punk Band, Play One of Their Very First Shows at CBGB (1974)

Blondie Plays CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vin­tage Clips

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

Brooklyn–Based Makers of Artisanal Water Let You Sip From America’s Great Cultural Waters

The Tim­my Broth­ers, based in Brook­lyn, cre­ate hand­craft­ed water. It’s not just any water. It’s water that lets you trav­el to dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al times and places. Want to drink water that evokes mem­o­ries of Mark Twain’s Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er? Or the great jazz that came out of New Orleans? Well, the Tim­my Broth­ers have just the prod­uct for you.

If you’re in Brook­lyn, also con­sid­er mak­ing a side trip to Bea­con, NY where David Rees lov­ing­ly cre­ates arti­sanal hand­craft­ed pen­cils. You’ll nev­er look at pen­cils the same way again. :-)

via Digg

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1,000 Musicians Perform Foo Fighters’ “Learn to Fly” in Unison in Italy

Despite break­ing his leg dur­ing a gig ear­li­er this sum­mer, Dave Grohl and the Foo Fight­ers have blitzed their way through Europe and Amer­i­ca, play­ing some­times 5–6 shows per week, in cities often large, but some­times small.

On Sep­tem­ber 16th, the band will make a pit­stop in my home­town, Moun­tain View, CA (pop­u­la­tion 75,000). So it does­n’t seem implau­si­ble for the res­i­dents of Cese­na, Italy (pop­u­la­tion 100,000) to ask the Foo Fight­ers to play a show in their small city, which sits right near the Adri­at­ic Sea.

And boy did they make the request in style. I get chills when I watch this, every time.

Fol­low us on Face­book, Twit­ter, Google Plus and LinkedIn and share intel­li­gent media with your friends. And if you want to make sure that our posts def­i­nite­ly appear in your Face­book news­feed, just fol­low these sim­ple steps.

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Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake Recipe Hints at How Baking Figured Into Her Creative Process

Emily Dickinson Coconut Cake

The Emi­ly Dick­in­son Muse­um will tell you that “The kitchen appears to be one of the rooms where [Emi­ly] Dick­in­son felt most com­fort­able, per­haps most at home.” But the “many drafts of poems writ­ten on kitchen papers tell us also that this was a space of cre­ative fer­ment for her, and that the writ­ing of poet­ry mixed in her life with the mak­ing of del­i­cate treats.”

We still have access to Dick­in­son’s gin­ger­bread and dough­nut recipes. But if you want to see an exam­ple of how bak­ing nour­ished her cre­ative process, then look no fur­ther than Emi­ly’s recipe for Coconut Cake. The image above shows the ingre­di­ents scratched out in her hand­writ­ing:

1 cup coconut
2 cups flour
1 cup sug­ar
1/2 cup but­ter
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
1/2 tea­spoon soda
1 tea­spoon cream of tar­tar

On the flip side of the recipe, Dick­in­son then wrote the begin­ning of a poem, “The Things that nev­er can come back, are sev­er­al” (read the tran­script here). Pre­sum­ably the recipe inspired the poem, but per­haps it was the oth­er way around?


If you’re look­ing for your own source of cre­ative inspi­ra­tion, you can try out Dick­in­son’s recipes for Black Cake and also Rye and Indi­an Bread here. (Accord­ing to The Pub­lic Domain Review, “her loaf of Indi­an and Rye won sec­ond prize in the Amherst Cat­tle Show of 1856.”) And you can even head up to the Emi­ly Dick­in­son Muse­um in Amherst, MA and take part in their annu­al bak­ing con­test.

Over at NPR, Dick­in­son schol­ar Nel­ly Lam­bert has more on the poet­’s rela­tion­ship to bak­ing and food.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Online Emi­ly Dick­in­son Archive Makes Thou­sands of the Poet’s Man­u­scripts Freely Avail­able

The Sec­ond Known Pho­to of Emi­ly Dick­in­son Emerges

Watch an Ani­mat­ed Film of Emi­ly Dickinson’s Poem ‘I Start­ed Early–Took My Dog’

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12 Classic Literary Road Trips in One Handy Interactive Map

on the road mapped

Fan­ta­sy fic­tion invari­ably includes a map for read­ers to under­stand the hero’s jour­ney, lit­er­al­ly. We know that Hob­bits had to walk a long way into Mor­dor, but see­ing it car­to­graph­i­cal­ly real­ly hits home. But what of the great road trip nov­els, where the coun­try is Amer­i­ca, the jour­ney is long and often cir­cu­lar, and self-actu­al­iza­tion awaits the hero, and not an army of orcs?

Atlas Obscu­ra, Joshua Foer and Dylan Thuras’ blog of dis­cov­ery and adven­ture in the mod­ern world, have come to the res­cue with an inter­ac­tive map that plots out the trav­els of road trip-filled books, some non-fic­tion, oth­ers fic­tion­al­ized real­i­ty. Where a loca­tion is men­tioned in a text, it has been pinned to the map, and by click­ing on the pin, the rel­e­vant text is revealed. Clever stuff.

For exam­ple, the map for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (see snap­shot above) plots out the five trips con­tained in the nov­el, and one can see the main hubs of the sto­ry: NYC and San Fran­cis­co, of course, but also Den­ver and the crazed detour town to Mex­i­co City, where Sal, Dean, and Stan Shep­hard par­ty hard in a bor­del­lo and Sal winds up with dysen­tery for his trou­bles.

zen road trip
For some­thing more straight­for­ward, check out the North­west trav­els at the heart of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motor­cy­cle Main­te­nance. Writ­ten in the first per­son, the novel’s nar­ra­tor trav­els by motor­cy­cle with his son from Min­neso­ta to North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, end­ing up in San Fran­cis­co, tak­ing 17 days. The philo­soph­i­cal jour­ney, how­ev­er, cov­ers wider ter­rain.

koolaid road trip
Anoth­er Bay Area tale, Tom Wolfe’s account of Ken Kesey and the Mer­ry Pranksters in The Elec­tric Kool-Aid Acid Test starts in La Hon­da, Cal­i­for­nia, a moun­tain get­away to the west of San Jose, and, as one can see, com­pletes a cir­cle of the States, includ­ing trips to both Cal­gary, Cana­da and Man­zanil­lo, Mex­i­co, where every­body is “uptight,” man, head­ing north­east to both Gua­na­ju­a­to and Aguas­calientes, where Acid Tests are admin­is­tered.

There’s more at the link, includ­ing maps for Wild, A Walk Across Amer­i­ca, and Trav­els with Charley. It might inspire a repeat read­ing of a favorite book. Or it might inspire you to just light out for the ter­ri­to­ries.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Acid Test Reels: Ken Kesey & The Grate­ful Dead’s Sound­track for the 1960s Famous LSD Par­ties

Jack Ker­ouac Reads from On the Road (1959)

The Books You Think Every Intel­li­gent Per­son Should Read: Crime and Pun­ish­ment, Moby-Dick & Beyond (Many Free Online)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Orson Welles Reads From Moby-Dick: The Great American Director Takes on the Great American Novel

If you took a poll to deter­mine in whose voice most read­ers would like to hear their audio books, I imag­ine Orson Welles would land pret­ty high on the list. And if you took a poll to deter­mine which book most read­ers would rather approach in audio form than paper form, I imag­ine Her­man Melville’s weighty but unde­ni­ably impor­tant (and still lit­er­ar­i­ly fas­ci­nat­ing) Moby-Dick would land pret­ty high on the list. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for us, Welles nev­er sat down to get the entire­ty of Moby-Dick on tape, but he did give the book a few read­ings on film, round­ed up today for your enjoy­ment.

Most famous­ly, Welles appeared in John Hus­ton’s 1956 adap­ta­tion of the nov­el as Father Map­ple, deliv­er­er of the ser­mon on Jon­ah heard by the nar­ra­tor Ish­mael and his bunk­mate Quee­queg ear­ly on in the sto­ry, just before they sign on to the Pequod. Pos­sessed of an inter­est of his own in Melville’s mas­ter­work, Welles used his pay­check from the cameo to bring Moby-Dick to the stage. But he also want­ed to do some­thing cin­e­mat­ic with the mate­r­i­al, as evi­denced by the oth­er two videos here: read­ings he shot in 1971, dur­ing pro­duc­tion of The Oth­er Side of the Wind. In them, he speaks the nov­el­’s immor­tal open­ing line, “Call me Ish­mael.”

Though he may sound even more com­pelling in Ish­mael’s role than in Father Map­ple’s, these clips do make you won­der what, or which char­ac­ter, stoked Welles’ fas­ci­na­tion with Moby-Dick in the first place. Cer­tain­ly we can draw obvi­ous par­al­lels between him and the Pequod’s Cap­tain Ahab in terms of their ten­den­cy toward grand, all-con­sum­ing, impos­si­ble-seem­ing projects. Then again, Ahab labors under the idea that man can, with suf­fi­cient will, direct­ly per­ceive all truths, while Welles made F for Fake, so per­haps he was a ques­tion­ing, skep­ti­cal Ish­mael after all. Whomev­er he iden­ti­fied with, this pil­lar of Amer­i­can cin­e­ma must have had big plans for this pil­lar of Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture — which, alas, we can now only strug­gle to per­ceive, just as Ahab and Ish­mael strug­gle to per­ceive the form of the whale deep in the water.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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)

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

Orson Welles Reads Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in a 1977 Exper­i­men­tal Film

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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