John Cleese on The Importance of Making and Embracing Mistakes


Cre­ative Com­mons image by Paul Box­ley

In his essay “The Rel­a­tiv­i­ty of Wrong,” Isaac Asi­mov argues per­sua­sive­ly against the com­mon belief that “’right’ and ‘wrong’ are absolute; that every­thing that isn’t per­fect­ly and com­plete­ly right is total­ly and equal­ly wrong.” Instead, he says, “it seems to me that right and wrong are fuzzy con­cepts,” and that cer­tain ideas can be true in a sense, but still in need of fur­ther cor­rec­tion with new infor­ma­tion. I can’t tes­ti­fy as to the strength of his argu­ment when it comes to the­o­ret­i­cal physics, but as far as basic induc­tive rea­son­ing goes it seems per­fect­ly sound to me, and a point worth mak­ing fre­quent­ly. We don’t expe­ri­ence a world of bina­ries, but one full of “fuzzi­ness” and near miss­es of all kinds.

As in science—argues for­mer Mon­ty Python mem­ber, com­e­dy writer, and intel­lec­tu­al gad­fly John Cleese—so in busi­ness. Cleese gave a moti­va­tion­al speech called “The Impor­tance of Mis­takes” in 1988 to an audi­ence of 500 busi­ness­man at the British-Amer­i­can Cham­ber of Com­merce, a demo­graph­ic he has addressed remote­ly since 1972 with a series of busi­ness train­ing videos made by his com­pa­ny, Video Arts. (“Bet­ter job train­ing through enter­tain­ment,” as Kate Callen at UPI describes the com­pa­ny’s mis­sion. Videos have titles like “Meet­ings, Bloody Meet­ings,” and “If Looks Could Kill.”)

In “The Impor­tance of Mis­takes,” Cleese explains that we do not veer wild­ly off course into total wrong­ness every time we make an error. Instead, our mis­takes pro­vide us with oppor­tu­ni­ties for feed­back, which enables us to make course cor­rec­tions, where we will inevitably make anoth­er mis­take, receive more feed­back, etc., until we hit the mark. These metaphors are not mine; Cleese uses a sto­ry called Gor­don the Guid­ed Mis­sile as his pri­ma­ry example—which he dubi­ous­ly claims was “the first nurs­ery sto­ry I ever remem­ber my moth­er read­ing to me”:

Gor­don the guid­ed mis­sile sets off in pur­suit of its tar­get. It imme­di­ate­ly sends out sig­nals to dis­cov­er if it is on the right course to hit that tar­get. Sig­nals come back: “No, you are not on course. So change it. Up a bit and slight­ly to the left.” And Gor­don changes course as instruct­ed and then, ratio­nal lit­tle fel­low that he is, sends out anoth­er sig­nal. “Am I on course now?” Back comes the answer, “No, but if you adjust your present course a bit fur­ther up and a bit fur­ther to the left, you will be.” He adjusts his course again and sends out anoth­er request for infor­ma­tion. Back comes the answer, “No, Gor­don, you’ve still got it wrong. Now you must come down a bit and a foot to the right.” And the guid­ed mis­sile goes on and on mak­ing mis­takes, and on and on lis­ten­ing to feed­back and on and on cor­rect­ing its behav­ior until it blows up the nasty ene­my thing. And we applaud the mis­sile for its skill. If, how­ev­er some crit­ic says, “Well, it cer­tain­ly made a lot of mis­takes on the way”, we reply, “Yes, but that didn’t mat­ter, did it? It got there in the end.” All its mis­takes were lit­tle ones, in the sense that they could be imme­di­ate­ly cor­rect­ed. And as a results of mak­ing many hun­dreds of mis­takes, even­tu­al­ly the mis­sile suc­ceed­ed in avoid­ing the one mis­take which real­ly would have mat­tered: miss­ing the tar­get.

The sto­ry illus­trates, Cleese says, the impor­tance of a “tol­er­ant atti­tude towards mistakes”—even, a “pos­i­tive atti­tude.” To take any oth­er view would be to behave “irra­tional­ly, unsci­en­tif­i­cal­ly, and unsuc­cess­ful­ly.” Cleese more or less rec­om­mends his audi­ence adopt Asimov’s sci­en­tif­ic per­spec­tive on error: mis­takes are not dis­as­trous­ly irrecov­er­able mis­steps, but ways of learn­ing how to get things “less wrong.”

Some clar­i­fi­ca­tion: Cleese means to val­i­date only “those mis­takes which, at the time they were com­mit­ted, did have a chance.” A rea­son­ably good try, in oth­er words. There are some absolutes in the world, after all, and there are “true cop­per bot­tomed mis­takes, like spelling the word ‘rab­bit with three m’s or … start­ing a land war in Asia.” But the point stands. We’re usu­al­ly in the realm of in-between, and instead of let­ting the anx­i­ety of inde­ter­mi­na­cy over­whelm us, Cleese rec­om­mends we take risks and “gain the con­fi­dence to con­tribute spon­ta­neous­ly to what’s hap­pen­ing,” thus over­com­ing inhi­bi­tions and the fear of look­ing ridicu­lous.

Cleese deliv­ered this speech to a body of peo­ple not typ­i­cal­ly known for act­ing spon­ta­neous­ly. And while it seems to me that these days top exec­u­tives can make egre­gious errors (or com­mit egre­gious fraud) and land square­ly on their feet, I won­der if those on the tiers below have the priv­i­lege of dar­ing to make errors in most indus­tries. In any case, whether an assem­bly of cor­po­rate man­agers can afford to loosen up, the rest of us prob­a­bly can, if we’re will­ing to adopt a “pos­i­tive atti­tude” toward mis­takes and consistently—scientifically, even—view them as oppor­tu­ni­ties to learn.

All of this requires a fine bal­ance of the con­fi­dence to screw up and the humil­i­ty to take con­struc­tive feed­back when you do. “Healthy behav­ior actu­al­ly aris­es out of con­fi­dence,” Cleese observed in an inter­view after his speech, and yet, “the worst prob­lem in management—in fact, the worst prob­lem in life—is the ego.”

Read many more excerpts from Cleese’s speech here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cleese on How “Stu­pid Peo­ple Have No Idea How Stu­pid They Are” (a.k.a. the Dun­ning-Kruger Effect)

John Cleese Explores the Health Ben­e­fits of Laugh­ter

John Cleese’s Phi­los­o­phy of Cre­ativ­i­ty: Cre­at­ing Oases for Child­like Play

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

How Old School Records Were Made, From Start to Finish: A 1937 Video Featuring Duke Ellington

We’re mov­ing back in time, before the mp3 play­er and the CD. We’re going back to the ana­log age, a moment when the shel­lac (and lat­er vinyl) record reigned supreme. The month is June 1937. And the short film you’re watch­ing is “Record Mak­ing with Duke Elling­ton and His Orches­tra.”  How the film came into being was described in the July 1937 edi­tion of Melody News:

Last month, a crew of cam­era­men, elec­tri­cians and tech­ni­cians from the Para­mount film com­pa­ny set up their para­pher­na­lia in the record­ing stu­dios of Mas­ter Records, Inc. for the pur­pose of gath­er­ing ‘loca­tion’ scenes for a movie short, now in pro­duc­tion, show­ing how phono­graph records are pro­duced and man­u­fac­tured. Duke Elling­ton and his orches­tra was employed for the stu­dio scenes, with Ivie Ander­son doing the vocals.

Nar­rat­ed by Alois Havril­la, a pio­neer radio announc­er, the film shows you how records were actu­al­ly record­ed, plat­ed and pressed. It’s a great rel­ic from the shellac/vinyl era, which you will want to cou­ple with this 1956 vinyl tuto­r­i­al from RCA Vic­tor.

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.

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Relat­ed Con­tent

How Vinyl Records Are Made: A Primer from 1956

A Cel­e­bra­tion of Retro Media: Vinyl, Cas­settes, VHS, and Polaroid Too

How to Clean Your Vinyl Records with Wood Glue

How Film Was Made in 1958: A Kodak Nos­tal­gia Moment


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Pioneering Electronic Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen Presents “Four Criteria of Electronic Music” & Other Lectures in English (1972)

Where did mod­ern elec­tron­ic music come from? What­ev­er the genre markers—EDM, house, glitch, dub­step, ambient—any dis­cus­sion of the his­to­ry will inevitably pay homage to a few found­ing names: Bri­an Eno, Kraftwerk, Afri­ka Bam­baataa, syn­the­siz­er inven­tor Robert Moog, Daft Punk’s per­son­al hero Gior­gio Moroder, super­star DJs Lar­ry Lev­an and Frankie Knuck­les… the list could go on. In most main­stream dis­cus­sions, it will often leave out the name Karl­heinz Stock­hausen. And yet, though he decid­ed­ly did not make dance music, no his­to­ry of elec­tron­i­ca writ large is com­plete with­out him, some­thing film­mak­er Iara Lee rec­og­nized when she fea­tured him promi­nent­ly in her 1999 elec­tron­i­ca doc­u­men­tary Mod­u­la­tions.

In an intro­duc­tion to Lee’s tran­scribed inter­view with Stock­hausen, James Wes­ley John­son describes the exper­i­men­tal Ger­man elec­tron­ic com­pos­er and the­o­rist as “his own best spokesman,” for the way he “describes the the­o­ret­i­cal under­pin­nings of his work with a sim­ple clar­i­ty which belies its com­plex­i­ty.”

Try­ing to describe Stock­hausen’s work proves dif­fi­cult, since “he’s always exper­i­ment­ing.” Any­one who thinks they “ ‘know’ what to expect from him,” John­son remarks, is “des­tined to be sur­prised by fur­ther muta­tions.”

Stock­hausen, who died in 2007, began his career as a stu­dent in the 1950s, study­ing under influ­en­tial French com­pos­er Olivi­er Mes­si­aen while devel­op­ing his own con­cept of musi­cal spa­tial­iza­tion. Through­out the fifties and six­ties, he pio­neered live per­for­mance and record­ed com­po­si­tions with tape recorders, micro­phones, ring mod­u­la­tors, Ham­mond Organ, and oth­er ana­log elec­tron­ic devices, along with tra­di­tion­al instru­ments, voice, and musique con­crete tech­niques.

Stock­hausen com­bined—writes Ed Chang at the Stock­hausen blog Sounds in Space—the results of his exper­i­men­ta­tion with the “har­mon­i­cal­ly-lib­er­at­ing meth­ods of the 2nd Vien­nese School (basi­cal­ly Arnold Schön­berg, Alban Berg and Anton Webern, who explored the chro­mat­ic scale through the use of unique ordered tone rows and inter­vals).” This fusion gave rise to the lec­ture at the top of the post, deliv­ered at the Oxford Union in Eng­land on May 6th, 1972, in which Stock­hausen lays out his “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music.” They are as fol­lows:

  1. Uni­fied Time Struc­tur­ing
  2. Split­ting of the Sound
  3. Mul­ti-Lay­ered Spa­tial Com­po­si­tion
  4. Equal­i­ty of Sound and Noise

Chang pro­vides a detailed, tech­ni­cal sum­ma­ry of each point. Much more enter­tain­ing, how­ev­er, is watch­ing the eccen­tric and enthu­si­as­tic Stock­hausen elab­o­rate his the­o­ry. “One might ask,” he says at the open­ing of his lec­ture, “why are [the four cri­te­ria] inter­est­ing, as there is elec­tron­ic music, and every­body can make up his mind about what to think about this music?” His answer is clas­sic Stockhausen—cryptic, ellip­ti­cal, intrigu­ing­ly vague yet self-assured:

New means change the method; new meth­ods change the expe­ri­ence, and new expe­ri­ences change man. When­ev­er we hear the sounds we are changed: we are no longer the same after hear­ing cer­tain sounds, and this is the more the case when we hear orga­nized sounds, sounds orga­nized by anoth­er human being: music.

Thus he launch­es into his fascinating—if not always ful­ly comprehensible—theory of music as “orga­nized sound,” with ani­mat­ed ges­tures and sev­er­al exam­ples from his own com­po­si­tion from the late 50s, Kon­tak­te, which you can hear above. “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” is the fifth in a long series of lec­tures Stock­hausen deliv­ered in Lon­don that year. If you have any inter­est in music the­o­ry, avant-garde com­po­si­tion, or in how elec­tron­ic music—and hence how our world—came to sound the way it does, you should not miss these. You can watch them all on Youtube (or below) or at Ubuweb. If you can­not sit in front of the screen and watch Stock­hausen’s strange­ly com­pelling deliv­ery, you can also down­load a PDF of a pub­lished ver­sion of “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” at Mono­skop.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Fas­ci­nat­ing Sto­ry of How Delia Der­byshire Cre­at­ed the Orig­i­nal Doc­tor Who Theme

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938- 2014)

Meet the “Tel­har­mo­ni­um,” the First Syn­the­siz­er (and Pre­de­ces­sor to Muzak), Invent­ed in 1897

Mr. Rogers Intro­duces Kids to Exper­i­men­tal Elec­tron­ic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nel­son (1968)

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

Celebrate Edgar Allan Poe’s Birthday With Three Animations of “The Tell-Tale Heart”

Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birth­day, or would be had he lived to be 207 years old. I can’t imag­ine he would have rel­ished the prospect. When Poe did meet his end, it was under mys­te­ri­ous and rather awful cir­cum­stances, fit­ting­ly (in a grim­ly iron­ic sort of way) for the man often cred­it­ed with the inven­tion of detec­tive fic­tion and the per­fect­ing of the goth­ic hor­ror sto­ry.

“True!” begins his most famous sto­ry, “The Tell-Tale Heart”—“ner­vous, very, very dread­ful­ly ner­vous I had been and am,” and we sure­ly believe it. But when he fin­ish­es his inti­mate intro­duc­tion to us, we are much less inclined to trust his word:

But why will you say that I am mad? The dis­ease had sharp­ened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hear­ing acute. I heard all things in the heav­en and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hear­ken! and observe how healthily—how calm­ly I can tell you the whole sto­ry.

Have we ever been con­front­ed with a more unnerv­ing and unre­li­able nar­ra­tor? Poe’s genius was to draw us into the con­fi­dence of this ter­ri­fy­ing char­ac­ter and keep us there, rapt in sus­pense, even though we can­not be sure of any­thing he says, or whether the entire sto­ry is noth­ing more than a para­noid night­mare. And it is that, indeed.

In the ani­ma­tion above by Annette Jung—adapted from Poe’s chill­ing tale—the mad­man Ed resolves to take the life of an old man with a creepy, star­ing eye. In this ver­sion, how­ev­er, a cen­tral ambi­gu­i­ty in Poe’s sto­ry is made clear. We’re nev­er entire­ly sure in the orig­i­nal what the rela­tion­ship is between Poe’s nar­ra­tor and the doomed old man. In Jung’s ver­sion, they are father and son, and the old man is ren­dered even more grotesque, Ed’s psy­cho­log­i­cal tor­ments even more… shall we say, ani­mat­ed, with clear­ly com­ic intent. Jung pub­lish­es a web com­ic called Apple­head, and on her short film’s web­site (in Ger­man), she refers to her “Tell-Tale Heart” as “an ani­mat­ed satire.”

Poe’s tal­ent for sus­tain­ing con­trolled hyper­bole and for cre­at­ing unfor­get­table images like the old man’s evil eye and loud­ly beat­ing heart make his work espe­cial­ly invit­ing to ani­ma­tors, and we’ve fea­tured many ani­ma­tions of that work in the past. Just above, see the orig­i­nal ani­mat­ed “Tell-Tale Heart” from 1954. Nar­rat­ed by the ide­al­ly creepy-voiced James Mason, the film received an “X” rat­ing in the UK upon its release, then went on to an Acad­e­my Award nom­i­na­tion for Best Ani­mat­ed Short (though it did not win). Just below, Aaron Quinn—who has also ani­mat­ed Poe’s “The Raven” and oth­er 19th cen­tu­ry clas­sics by Oscar Wilde, Lewis Car­roll and others—updates Mason’s nar­ra­tion with his own fright­en­ing­ly stark, ani­mat­ed take on the sto­ry. Poe, had he lived to see the age of ani­ma­tion, may not have been pleased to see his sto­ry adapt­ed in such graph­ic styles, but we, as his devot­ed read­ers over 150 years lat­er, can be grate­ful that he left us such won­der­ful­ly weird source mate­r­i­al for ani­mat­ed films.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Edgar Allan Poe & The Ani­mat­ed Tell-Tale Heart

New Film Extra­or­di­nary Tales Ani­mates Edgar Poe Sto­ries, with Nar­ra­tions by Guiller­mo Del Toro, Christo­pher Lee & More

Edgar Allan Poe Ani­mat­ed: Watch Four Ani­ma­tions of Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries

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

Artist Turns Famous Paintings, from Raphael to Monet to Lichtenstein, Into Innovative Soundscapes

I’ve long won­dered what it would feel like to have synes­the­sia, the neu­ro­log­i­cal phe­nom­e­non — this straight from Wikipedia — “in which stim­u­la­tion of one sen­so­ry or cog­ni­tive path­way leads to auto­mat­ic, invol­un­tary expe­ri­ences in a sec­ond sen­so­ry or cog­ni­tive path­way.” A synes­thete, in oth­er words, might “see” cer­tain col­ors when they read cer­tain words, or “hear” cer­tain sounds when they see cer­tain col­ors. Non-synes­thetes such as myself have trou­ble accu­rate­ly imag­in­ing such an expe­ri­ence, but we can get one step clos­er with the work of Greek artist-musi­cian-physi­cist Yian­nis Krani­d­i­o­tis, who, in his “Ichographs” series, turns the col­ors of famous paint­ings into sound.

“Exam­in­ing the rela­tion­ship between col­or and sound fre­quen­cies,” writes Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Claire Voon, “Krani­d­i­o­tis has recent­ly com­posed a sound­scape for Raphael’s ‘Madon­na del Pra­to’ (1505), or ‘Madon­na of the Mead­ow.’ His result­ing video work, ‘Ichographs MdelP,’ visu­al­izes the break­ing up of the paint­ing into 10,000 cubic par­ti­cles that cor­re­spond to var­i­ous sounds, hon­ing in on spe­cif­ic parts of the can­vas to explore the dif­fer­ent tones of dif­fer­ent col­ors.” You can view that video at the top of the post, and see even more at Krani­d­i­o­tis’ Vimeo chan­nel.

Voon quotes Krani­d­i­o­tis as explain­ing the basic idea behind the project: “Each col­or of a paint­ing can be an audio fre­quen­cy. Each par­ti­cle, like a pix­el in our com­put­er screen, car­ries a col­or and at the same time an audio fre­quen­cy (sinu­soidal wave).” He chose a Renais­sance paint­ing “to gen­er­ate a high con­trast between the clas­si­cal aes­thet­ics and the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tions that occur,” as well as to make use of its “blue and red col­ors that help to cre­ate a com­plex and inter­est­ing audio result.”

The artist has more to say at The Cre­ators Project, explain­ing that “there are areas of sound and col­or (light) that humans can per­ceive with their eyes and ears (hear­ing and vis­i­ble range) and areas where we need spe­cial equip­ment (like infrasound—ultrasound and infrared—ultraviolet ranges). As a physi­cist, I was always fas­ci­nat­ed by these com­mon prop­er­ties and I was inves­ti­gat­ing ways to high­light and jux­ta­pose them.”

You can enjoy more Icho­graph­ic expe­ri­ences in the oth­er two videos embed­ded here, the first an overview of the process as applied to a vari­ety of paint­ings from a vari­ety of eras, and then a piece focused on trans­form­ing into sound the col­ors of Claude Mon­et’s 1894 “Rouen Cathe­dral, West Facade.” While Krani­d­i­o­tis’ process does­n’t draw from these works of visu­al art any­thing you’d call music, per se, the son­ic tex­tures do make for an intrigu­ing­ly incon­gru­ous ambi­ent accom­pa­ni­ment to these well-known can­vas­es. If the Lou­vre offered his “com­po­si­tions” loaded onto those lit­tle audio-tour devices, maybe I’d actu­al­ly use one.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic/The Cre­ators Project

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Course: An Intro­duc­tion to the Art of the Ital­ian Renais­sance

Take a 3D Vir­tu­al Tour of the Sis­tine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca and Oth­er Art-Adorned Vat­i­can Spaces

Bach’s Bran­den­burg Con­cer­to #4, Visu­al­ized by the Great Music Ani­ma­tion Machine

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch a Luthi­er Birth a Cel­lo in This Hyp­not­ic Doc­u­men­tary

The Art and Sci­ence of Vio­lin Mak­ing

Why You Can Nev­er Tune a Piano

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

Dave: The Best Tribute to David Bowie That You’re Going to See

Bel­gian DJs Soul­wax (aka 2ManyDJs) have been blend­ing rock and dance since 1995. You may have heard some of their mashups or remix­es over the years. But in 2012 they cre­at­ed Radio Soul­wax, a com­bi­na­tion app and live expe­ri­ence, and went big with a series of 24 hour-long mix­es, all with accom­pa­ny­ing music videos. The most rel­e­vant to our cur­rent inter­ests, and very much wor­thy of an hour of your time, is their re-mix­tape of David Bowie’s career, called Dave.

In the above video, mod­el Han­nelore Knuts plays a very faith­ful look­ing 1976-era Bowie, nav­i­gat­ing a mys­te­ri­ous hotel in which every room con­tains some recre­ation of a clas­sic (or rare!) Bowie record cov­er, and is laced through­out with sym­bol­ism and nods to the artist’s life and career. It’s a con­ceit that builds through­out this phan­tas­magoric tale into a spec­tac­u­lar, heart­break­ing, and round­ly sat­is­fy­ing pay­off, all the while bol­stered by Radio Soulwax’s clever blends of Bowie’s back cat­a­log, includ­ing rare cuts and cov­ers. (I espe­cial­ly love the mix of “Heroes” of “Absolute Begin­ners,” one of his most famous songs along­side his most under­rat­ed one, which now seem to be flip­sides of the same sto­ry).

A labor of love accord­ing to direc­tor Wim Rey­gaert, the film con­tains oth­er dop­pel­gangers that inter­act with Bowie: William S. Bur­roughs, Iggy Pop, Fred­die Mer­cury, Lulu, Tony Vis­con­ti, John Lennon, and rock pho­tog­ra­ph­er Andy Kent all make an appear­ance, along with numer­ous Bowie incar­na­tions. Of all the trib­utes to the Thin White Duke out there in the last week, this is one of the few that will ful­ly assuage the soul. Check it out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Bowie & Bri­an Eno’s Col­lab­o­ra­tion on “Warsza­wa” Reimag­ined in Com­ic Ani­ma­tion

David Bowie Recalls the Strange Expe­ri­ence of Invent­ing the Char­ac­ter Zig­gy Star­dust (1977)

David Bowie Releas­es 36 Music Videos of His Clas­sic Songs from the 1970s and 1980s

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 and/or watch his films here.

The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, the Pre-Civil Rights Guide to Traveling Safely in the U.S. (1936–66)

Green Book Cover

Pop­u­lar enter­tain­ment has roman­ti­cized the idea of the road trip as a whol­ly spon­ta­neous adven­ture, but for mid-cen­tu­ry African Amer­i­can motorists, plan­ning was essen­tial. The lodg­ings, restau­rants, and tourist attrac­tions where they could be assured of a warm wel­come were often few and far between in the era of seg­re­ga­tion.

The Negro Trav­el­ers’ Green Book, first print­ed in 1936, was an invalu­able resource for trav­el­ers of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly when their route took them out­side of urban areas. In the pre-Inter­net age, pub­lish­er Vic­tor Green, a Harlem-dwelling mail­man, relied on read­ers to sup­ply feed­back and new loca­tions for sub­se­quent edi­tions:

There are thou­sands of first class busi­ness places that we don’t know about and can’t list, which would be glad to serve the trav­el­er, but it is hard to secure list­ings of these places since we can’t secure enough agents to send us the infor­ma­tion. Each year before we go to press the new infor­ma­tion is includ­ed in the new edi­tion. When you are trav­el­ing please men­tion the Green Book, in order that they might know how you found their place of busi­ness, as they can see that you are strangers. If they haven’t heard about this guide, ask them to get in touch with us so that we might list their place. If this guide has proved use­ful to you on your trips, let us know. If not, tell us also as we appre­ci­ate your crit­i­cisms and ideas in the improve­ment of this guide from which you ben­e­fit. There will be a day some­time in the near future when this guide will not have to be pub­lished. That is when we as a race will have equal oppor­tu­ni­ties and priv­i­leges in the Unit­ed States. It will be a great day for us to sus­pend this pub­li­ca­tion for then we can go wher­ev­er we please, and with­out embar­rass­ment. But until that time comes we shall con­tin­ue to pub­lish this infor­ma­tion for your con­ve­nience each year.

- from the intro­duc­tion to the 1949 edi­tion

The New York Pub­lic Library’s Schom­burg Cen­ter for Research in Black Cul­ture has dig­i­tized 21 vol­umes of its Green Book col­lec­tion for your brows­ing plea­sure. It’s a trip back in time.

Green Book Points of Interest NYC

1936’s pre­mier edi­tion is geared toward vis­i­tors spend­ing time in and around New York City. In appear­ance, it resem­bles a church bul­letin or com­mu­ni­ty the­ater pro­gram, with busi­ness card ads for beau­ty salons spe­cial­iz­ing in mar­cel wav­ing and restau­rants serv­ing South­ern home cook­ing. Pub­lish­er Green extols the won­ders of Coney Island, Chi­na­town, and the The­atri­cal Dis­trict, even as he notes that “the col­ored show hous­es are in Harlem.” He also seeks to give read­ers a laugh with “How to Keep From Grow­ing Old,” a dri­ver-spe­cif­ic list that could be read aloud from the pas­sen­ger seat for the mer­ri­ment of every­one in the car. (“In slop­py weath­er, dri­ve close to pedes­tri­ans. Dry clean­ers appre­ci­ate this.”)

Green Book Westchester

The Green Book soon swelled to include nation­al list­ings, as tourists and busi­ness trav­el­ers heed­ed Green’s call to beef up the info.

1961’s 25th anniver­sary edi­tion includes a his­to­ry of the enter­prise, a fair amount of typos, newsy updates on the staff, and a renewed promise to list the best places on the moon, should lunar trav­el become an option.

Green Book Pg 5

Green Book 25th Anniversary

Arm­chair trav­el­ers can take the NYPL’s dig­i­tized col­lec­tion out for a spin by enter­ing coor­di­nates into a map­ping fea­ture for 1947 or 1956.

Start­ing in my Indi­ana home­town with sights set on Man­hat­tan took me to the Cot­tage Restau­rant in Colum­bus, Ohio, the Jones Restau­rant in Grafton, West Vir­ginia, and the beau­ti­ful­ly named Trott Inn in Philadel­phia, before I final­ly lay my vir­tu­al head at the Amer­i­ca Hotel. (These days, it would be the Mil­len­ni­um Broad­way.)

Green Book 1956

Enjoy your trip. In the words of Vic­tor Green, “let’s all get togeth­er and make motor­ing bet­ter.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read Mar­tin Luther King and The Mont­gomery Sto­ry: The Influ­en­tial 1957 Civ­il Rights Com­ic Book

Robert Penn War­ren Archive Brings Ear­ly Civ­il Rights to Life

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She doc­u­ment­ed her mis­ad­ven­tures on the road in No Touch Mon­key! And Oth­er Trav­el Lessons Learned Too Late Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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