Call Me Burroughs: Hear William S. Burroughs Read from Naked Lunch & The Soft Machine in His First Spoken Word Album (1965)


Image by Chris­ti­aan Ton­nis, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Where did you first hear the voice of William S. Bur­roughs? Weary yet vig­or­ous, flat yet pow­er­ful, wry yet haunt­ing, it has, to a good-sized seg­ment of sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions now, defined a cadence for the coun­ter­cul­ture. Many of those enthu­si­asts (most of whom would have come to know the grand old man of the Beat Gen­er­a­tion’s post­mod­ernist wing through his writ­ing, like the nov­els Naked Lunch and Junky) had their first gen­uine Bur­roughs lis­ten­ing expe­ri­ence through the record album Call Me Bur­roughs, first released in 1965, and more recent­ly re-issued by Supe­ri­or Viaduct.

In these ses­sions, record­ed in the base­ment of The Eng­lish Book­shop in Paris, Bur­roughs reads from Naked Lunch as well as Nova Express, the third book in the “Nova Tril­o­gy” that the author con­sid­ered a “math­e­mat­i­cal con­tin­u­a­tion” of his best-known work. Both emerged as the fruits of the “cut-up” tech­nique of lit­er­ary com­po­si­tion Bur­roughs devel­oped with artist Brion Gysin, cre­at­ing new texts out of decon­tex­tu­al­ized and reassem­bled pieces of exist­ing text found in the mass media.

“Bur­roughs believed that lan­guage and image were viral and that the mass-dis­sem­i­na­tion of infor­ma­tion was part of an arch-con­spir­a­cy that restrict­ed the full poten­tial of the human mind,” writes Glenn O’Bri­an at Elec­tron­ic Beats. “With cut-up, Bur­roughs found a means of escape; an anti­dote to the sick­ness of ‘con­trol’ mes­sages that mutat­ed their orig­i­nal con­tent. If mass media already func­tioned as an enor­mous bar­rage of cut-up mate­r­i­al, the cut-up method was a way for the artist to fight back using its same tac­tics.”

Call Me Bur­roughs, which at one point became a deep-out-of-print col­lec­tor’s item, has now come avail­able free on Spo­ti­fy. (You can down­load its free soft­ware here.) You can also stream it on Youtube. Coun­ter­cul­ture chron­i­cler Bar­ry Miles notes that the Bea­t­les all had copies (and Paul McCart­ney, par­tic­u­lar­ly impressed with it, went on to hire its pro­duc­er him­self), and “art deal­er Robert Fras­er bought ten copies to give to friends such as Bri­an Jones and Mick Jag­ger. Mar­i­anne Faith­ful and Kei­th Richards’ deal­er had copies, as did numer­ous painters and writ­ers.” So what­ev­er inspi­ra­tion you draw from this “tal­is­man of cool in Green­wich Vil­lage in the mid-1960s,” as Greil Mar­cus once called it, you’ll cer­tain­ly join a long line of dis­tin­guished lis­ten­ers.

Call Me Bur­roughs will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

via Elec­tron­ic Beats

Relat­ed Con­tent:

William S. Bur­roughs Reads & Sings His Exper­i­men­tal Prose in a Big, Free 7‑Hour Playlist

How William S. Bur­roughs Used the Cut-Up Tech­nique to Shut Down London’s First Espres­so Bar (1972)

William S. Bur­roughs Teach­es a Free Course on Cre­ative Read­ing and Writ­ing (1979)

William S. Bur­roughs Reads Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death”

How David Bowie, Kurt Cobain & Thom Yorke Write Songs With William Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Tech­nique

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. 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.

Becoming Bilingual Can Give Your Brain a Boost: What Recent Research Has to Say

From the time my daugh­ter was born, my wife and I took her out to restaurants—not to annoy the oth­er din­ers, mind you, she was usu­al­ly very well behaved—but to expose her palate to as much vari­ety as pos­si­ble and social­ize her ear­ly to new and unfa­mil­iar envi­ron­ments. At one estab­lish­ment, dur­ing her sec­ond year, anoth­er tod­dler her age approached us, her moth­er trail­ing behind. “Can we say hi?” the moth­er asked. We said, “of course.” “What lan­guages does your child speak?” the woman polite­ly inquired.

We looked at each oth­er, a lit­tle cha­grined. Par­ents of young chil­dren often play sub­tle games of one-ups­man­ship, whether they mean to or not, and most par­ents fret over whether they’re offer­ing their kids the rich­est learn­ing expe­ri­ences they can.

At that moment we felt slight­ly inad­e­quate. “She just knows the one lan­guage,” we mum­bled, turn­ing back to our menus after a few more pleas­antries. I may have stud­ied Latin for sev­er­al years, learned to read a lit­tle French and Ital­ian and speak enough Span­ish for some halt­ing small talk, but for all intents and pur­pos­es, we’re a mono­lin­gual house­hold.

And accord­ing to cur­rent research on infant brain devel­op­ment, this may put our poor preschool­er at a dis­ad­van­tage to chil­dren who can greet her in two or more tongues. That’s not only because those chil­dren will grow up able to eas­i­ly con­duct busi­ness across coun­tries and con­ti­nents, but also because, Big Think reports, “a new study shows that babies raised in bilin­gual envi­ron­ments devel­op more cog­ni­tive skills like deci­sion-mak­ing and problem-solving—before they can even speak.” The brains of bilin­gual (and trilin­gual, etc.) peo­ple “look and act dif­fer­ent­ly,” the TED-Ed video at the top of the post claims, than those of the mono­lin­gual. (The New York Times puts things more blunt­ly: “Being bilin­gual, it turns out, makes you smarter.”)

Is this real­ly so? Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty neu­ro­sci­en­tist Sam Wang explains why it may be in the short Big Think video fur­ther up. Wang and oth­er researchers have acquired their find­ings by con­duct­ing research on some of the most adorable sci­en­tif­ic sub­jects ever. One study, con­duct­ed at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, test­ed 16 babies—half from only Eng­lish-speak­ing fam­i­lies and half from Eng­lish- and Span­ish-speak­ing house­holds. As you can see in the video clip above, the tots were mon­i­tored via a mag­ne­toen­cephalo­graph­ic hel­met designed spe­cial­ly for babies, as they lis­tened to sounds spe­cif­ic to one or both lan­guages.

Lead author of the study Naja Fer­jan Ramirez writes, “results sug­gest that before they even start talk­ing, babies raised in bilin­gual house­holds are get­ting prac­tice at tasks relat­ed to exec­u­tive func­tion.” Her co-author Patri­cia Kuhl elab­o­rates:

Babies raised lis­ten­ing to two lan­guages seem to stay ‘open’ to the sounds of nov­el lan­guages longer than their mono­lin­gual peers, which is a good and high­ly adap­tive thing for their brains to do.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton researchers are but one team among sev­er­al dozen who have drawn these kinds of con­clu­sions about the ben­e­fits of grow­ing up bilin­gual. Both The New York Times and The New York­er sur­vey and link to much of this research. The New York­er also pro­files a skep­ti­cal study by psy­chol­o­gist Angela de Bru­in that under­cuts some of the enthu­si­asm and pos­si­ble over­state­ment of the ben­e­fits of bilin­gual­ism; and yet her research doesn’t deny that they exist. What­ev­er their degree, the ques­tion might arise for anx­ious par­ents like myself: Is there any­thing we can do to help our mono­lin­gual chil­dren catch up?

Nev­er fear, they can still prof­it from expo­sure to oth­er lan­guages, though you may not speak them flu­ent­ly at home. Big Think offers a cou­ple point­ers for rais­ing a bilin­gual child, even if you’re not bilin­gual your­self.

Lots of for­eign words make their way into Eng­lish. You can point out for­eign foods every time you have them, or watch a bilin­gual show with your child. As long as you expose them to the for­eign words in a con­sis­tent way with the same con­text, they’ll reap the ben­e­fits.

Try using a Lan­guage Exchange com­mu­ni­ty, where you and your child can speak anoth­er lan­guage with native speak­ers togeth­er. You’ll both reap the ben­e­fits with con­stant prac­tice.

Every lit­tle bit of expo­sure helps, and no amount of lan­guage train­ing will ever do any harm. “Basi­cal­ly,” writes Big Think, “there is no down­side to being bilin­gual.” The ear­li­er we start, the bet­ter, but there’s no rea­son not to engage with oth­er lan­guages at any age. We can help you do that here with our expan­sive col­lec­tion of lessons in 48 lan­guages. And to learn even more about bilin­gual­ism and its preva­lence amidst rapid­ly chang­ing demo­graph­ics in the U.S. and around the world, see the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois Span­ish lin­guis­tics pro­fes­sor Kim Potows­ki’s TEDx talk below, “No Child Left Mono­lin­gual.”

via Big Think

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More 

Learn Latin, Old Eng­lish, San­skrit, Clas­si­cal Greek & Oth­er Ancient Lan­guages in 10 Lessons

200 Free Kids Edu­ca­tion­al Resources: Video Lessons, Apps, Books, Web­sites & More 

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

What Miles Davis Taught Herbie Hancock: In Music, as in Life, There Are No Mistakes, Just Chances to Improvise

One of my favorite Bri­an Eno quotes, or rather one that became an Oblique Strat­e­gy, is “Hon­or Your Mis­take as a Hid­den Inten­tion.” (Or to be pedan­tic, the orig­i­nal ver­sion was “Hon­or Thy Error…”).

As a teenag­er grow­ing up and try­ing to make art (at that time music and comics) there was no advice more free­ing. It was the oppo­site of what I thought I knew: mis­takes were shame­ful, the sign of an ama­teur or of the lack of prac­tice. But the more art I made, the more I ref­er­enced Eno’s idea, and the more I read and lis­tened, the more I real­ized it wasn’t just Eno. The Bea­t­les left in an alarm clock meant for the musi­cians on “A Day in the Life” and the sound of emp­ty booze bot­tles vibrat­ing on a speak­er was left in at the end of “Long Long Long” (along with tons more). The Beast­ie Boys left in a jump­ing nee­dle intend­ed for a smooth scratch on “The Sounds of Sci­ence.” Radio­head left in Jon­ny Greenwood’s warm-up chord that became essen­tial to “Creep.” (There’s a whole Red­dit thread devot­ed to these mis­takes if you choose to go down the rab­bit hole.)

But those exam­ples relate to the record­ing process of rock music. What about jazz? Sure­ly there’s “wrong” notes when it comes to play­ing, espe­cial­ly if you’re not the soloist.

In this very short video based around an inter­view with pianist Her­bie Han­cock, the mas­ter impro­vi­sor Miles Davis hon­ored Hancock’s mis­take as a hid­den inten­tion by play­ing along with it. It’s both a sur­pris­ing look into the arcane world of jazz impro­vi­sa­tion and a reveal­ing anec­dote of Davis, usu­al­ly known as a dif­fi­cult col­lab­o­ra­tor.

“It taught me a very big les­son not only about music,” says Han­cock, “but about life.”

h/t Jason W‑R

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Miles Davis Impro­vise Music for Ele­va­tor to the Gal­lows, Louis Malle’s New Wave Thriller (1958)

Watch Ani­mat­ed Sheet Music for Miles Davis’ “So What,” Char­lie Parker’s “Con­fir­ma­tion” & Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

Her­bie Han­cock Presents the Pres­ti­gious Nor­ton Lec­tures at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty: Watch Online

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

Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

Soviet Map

Stan­ford University’s been in the news late­ly, what with expand­ing its tuition waiv­er last year and now fac­ing renewed scruti­ny over its ultra-low admis­sions rate. These sto­ries have per­haps over­shad­owed oth­er Stan­ford news of a more aca­d­e­m­ic nature: the arrival of the David Rum­sey Map Cen­ter, which cel­e­brat­ed its grand open­ing yes­ter­day and con­tin­ues the fes­tiv­i­ties today and tomor­row. While these kinds of uni­ver­si­ty improve­ments are rarely of much inter­est to the gen­er­al pub­lic, this one high­lights a col­lec­tion worth giv­ing full atten­tion. Well, for those of us, that is, who love maps.

Twelve Perspectives

You do not need to be a Stan­ford stu­dent or fac­ul­ty or staff mem­ber to access the vast trea­sures of the Rum­sey Map col­lec­tion, nor do you need to vis­it the uni­ver­si­ty or its new Cen­ter. Since 1996, the Rum­sey collection’s online data­base has been open to all, cur­rent­ly offer­ing any­one with an inter­net con­nec­tion access to 67,000 maps from all over the globe, span­ning five cen­turies of car­tog­ra­phy.

Rumsey’s hold­ings con­sti­tute, writes Wired, “the dopest map col­lec­tion on Earth,” and though its phys­i­cal hous­ing at Stan­ford is a huge boon to aca­d­e­m­ic researchers, its online archive is yours for the brows­ing, search­ing, and down­load­ing, who­ev­er and wher­ev­er you are.

Pages like the 1867 map “Twelve Per­spec­tives on the Earth in Orbit and Rota­tion,” fur­ther up, con­tain detailed pub­li­ca­tion infor­ma­tion, the abil­i­ty to zoom in and exam­ine the tini­est details, and an “export” func­tion allow­ing users to down­load a vari­ety of res­o­lu­tions up to 12288 pix­els. (The same holds true for all oth­er maps.) There’s also a new fea­ture for many maps called “Geo­ref­er­enc­ing” (see a short intro­duc­to­ry video above), which match­es the map’s con­tours with oth­er his­toric maps or with more accu­rate, mod­ern satel­lite images.

Yosemite Valley

In the case of “Twelve Per­spec­tives on the Earth in Orbit and Rota­tion,” the geo­ref­er­enc­ing func­tion returns an error mes­sage stat­ing “this is not a map.” But in ter­res­tri­al images, like the topo­graph­i­cal map of the Yosemite Val­ley above, we can choose spe­cif­ic por­tions to geo­ref­er­ence, use the “visu­al­ize” func­tion to see how they match up to con­tem­po­rary views, and con­duct an accu­ra­cy analy­sis. (Geo­ref­er­enc­ing requires sign-in with a free account, or you can use your Google, Face­book, or Twit­ter log-ins.) Geo­ref­er­enc­ing is not avail­able for all maps, yet. You can help the Rum­sey col­lec­tion expand the fea­ture by vis­it­ing this page and click­ing the “Ran­dom Map” link.

1900 NYC Map

The Rum­sey Col­lec­tion con­tains a seem­ing­ly inex­haustible sup­ply of car­to­graph­ic images, such as the col­or­ful aer­i­al view of New York City from 1900, above, and the 1949 com­pos­ite map of the Sovi­et Union, at the top of the post. In addi­tion to the maps themselves—most works of art in their own right—the data­base is full of oth­er beau­ti­ful images relat­ed to geog­ra­phy, such as the fab­u­lous, full-col­or title page below for the 1730 Atlas Novus sive Tab­u­lae Geo­graph­i­cae by Matthaeus Seut­ter.

Atlas Novus

David Rum­sey—cur­rent­ly Pres­i­dent of the dig­i­tal pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny Car­tog­ra­phy Associates—began col­lect­ing maps and “relat­ed car­to­graph­ic mate­ri­als” in 1980. Since then, his phys­i­cal col­lec­tion has grown to include over 150,000 maps, to be housed at the Stan­ford Cen­ter that bears his name, and he has received sev­er­al awards for mak­ing his col­lec­tion avail­able online. The car­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts among us, and the hard­core schol­ars, can like­ly look for­ward to many more maps appear­ing in the web archive. For now, there’s no short­age of fas­ci­nat­ing mate­r­i­al.

rumsey map

On the site’s home­page, they high­light these areas worth explor­ing:

The his­tor­i­cal map col­lec­tion has over 67,000 maps and images online. The col­lec­tion includes rare 16th through 21st cen­tu­ry maps of Amer­i­caNorth Amer­i­caSouth Amer­i­caEurope, Asia, Africa, Pacif­ic and the World.

Pop­u­lar col­lec­tion cat­e­gories are celes­tial, antique atlas,globe, school geog­ra­phy, mar­itime chart, state, coun­ty, city, pock­et, wall & case, chil­dren’s, and man­u­script maps. Search exam­ples: Pic­to­r­i­al maps, Unit­ed States maps, Geol­o­gy maps, Cal­i­for­nia map, Afghanistan map,Amer­i­ca map, New York City map, Chica­go map, andU.S. Civ­il War maps. Browse  map cat­e­gories: What, Where, Who, When. The col­lec­tion is used to study his­to­ry, art, geneal­o­gy, explo­rations, and fam­i­ly his­to­ry.

Get to brows­ing… and geo­ref­er­enc­ing….

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New York Pub­lic Library Puts 20,000 Hi-Res Maps Online & Makes Them Free to Down­load and Use

The His­to­ry of Car­tog­ra­phy, the “Most Ambi­tious Overview of Map Mak­ing Ever,” Now Free Online

A Plan­e­tary Per­spec­tive: Tril­lions of Pic­tures of the Earth Avail­able Through Google Earth Engine

19th Cen­tu­ry Maps Visu­al­ize Measles in Amer­i­ca Before the Mir­a­cle of Vac­cines

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

Hear the Vintage Sherlock Holmes Radio Drama, Starring John Gielgud, Orson Welles & Ralph Richardson

Can there ever be such a thing as too much Sher­lock Holmes? Since Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s cre­ation of the char­ac­ter in 1887, he’s nev­er gone out of style; there are often sev­er­al adap­ta­tions of Sher­lock Holmes—in film, tele­vi­sion, and otherwise—running simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and I nev­er hear any­one com­plain about Holmes over­load. In fact, Holmes holds the Guin­ness World Record for the most-por­trayed lit­er­ary char­ac­ter ever, with over 70 actors (but alas, no actress­es, yet) play­ing the bril­liant detec­tive in 254 screen adap­ta­tions. And that’s not even to men­tion the thou­sands of detec­tives and detec­tive-like char­ac­ters inspired by Holmes, or his many cameo appear­ances in oth­er fic­tion­al uni­vers­es.

Com­ments sec­tions may quib­ble and snipe, but it seems to me that we’ll nev­er run out of oppor­tu­ni­ties to make more Sher­lock Holmes films, tele­vi­sion shows, video games, ful­ly immer­sive holo­graph­ic vir­tu­al real­i­ty sim­u­la­tions…. But there’s one medi­um that seems to have slowed when it comes to adapt­ing Holmes—and every­thing else lit­er­ary: Radio. (Though sev­er­al pod­casts have picked up the slack.) And as much as we love to see the arch looks on Holmes actors’ faces as they aston­ish and per­plex their var­i­ous Watsons—radio is a medi­um well suit­ed to the dia­logue-dri­ven dra­ma of Conan Doyle’s sto­ries. One clas­sic demon­stra­tion of this is a series of Holmes radio plays that ran from 1939 to 1947 and starred for a time per­haps the quin­tes­sen­tial screen inter­preters of Holmes and Wat­son, Basil Rath­bone and Nigel Bruce.

The New Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes, as it was called, took a light­heart­ed approach to the char­ac­ters and, as one review­er puts it, could feel “quite rushed,” with the actors giv­en lit­tle time to rehearse. Although the orig­i­nal series has many mer­its, in the ‘50s, NBC decid­ed to improve upon it, tak­ing the radio tran­scrip­tions of the Conan Doyle sto­ries and re-record­ing them with new actors. Which actors? In many episodes, two of the finest British stage actors of their gen­er­a­tion: Sir John Giel­gud as Holmes and Ralph Richard­son as Wat­son. And in one episode, an adap­ta­tion of “The Final Prob­lem,” the pro­duc­ers found to play their Pro­fes­sor Mori­ar­ty an actor whose voice dom­i­nat­ed some of the most pop­u­lar radio broad­casts of the age: Orson Welles.

You can lis­ten to “The Final Prob­lem” with Giel­gud, Richard­son, and Welles at the top of the post; hear all of the 1950’s New Adven­tures of Sher­lock Holmes episodes (125 in all) just above, and down­load them at the Inter­net Archive. And, fur­ther up, hear thir­ty-two broad­casts of the orig­i­nal New Adven­tures star­ring Rath­bone and Bruce. Like all com­mer­cial media then and now, each episode fea­tures its share of… well, com­mer­cials. But they also fea­ture some very fine voice act­ing and excel­lent music and sound design. Most impor­tant­ly, they fea­ture the genius of Sher­lock Holmes, who will live for­ev­er, it seems, in our imag­i­na­tive media, what­ev­er form it hap­pens to take.

These fine record­ings will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read the Lost Sher­lock Holmes Sto­ry That Was Just Dis­cov­ered in an Attic in Scot­land

Down­load the Com­plete Sher­lock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Mas­ter­piece

Arthur Conan Doyle Dis­cuss­es Sher­lock Holmes and Psy­chics in a Rare Filmed Inter­view (1927)

Sher­lock Holmes Is Now in the Pub­lic Domain, Declares US Judge

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

Hear Rufus Wainwright Sing Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A New Album Featuring Florence Welch, Carrie Fisher, William Shatner & More

How to clas­si­fy the singing-song­writ­ing of Rufus Wain­wright? Pop? Folk? Sure­ly we’ll have to throw a “neo-” or two in there. And we can’t ignore the impor­tance of all things oper­at­ic to the work of this musi­cian who grows more sui gener­is with every album he puts out — and indeed, with every stage pro­duc­tion he puts on. His inter­est in opera dates back to his youth, and as ear­ly as his self-titled 2001 debut we can hear its direct influ­ence in a song like “Barcelona,” whose lyrics bor­row from Verdi’s Mac­beth. Ver­di, of course, was also work­ing with some pret­ty rich inspi­ra­tional mate­r­i­al him­self, and Wain­wright has found an occa­sion to pay more direct trib­ute to William Shake­speare this April 22nd, on almost the 400th anniver­sary of that most influ­en­tial Eng­lish play­wright’s death.

On that date, he’ll release Take All My Loves: 9 Shake­speare Son­nets, an album that finds him, in the words of NPR’s Stephen Thomp­son, “tack­ling the Bard’s work in a grand­ly sweep­ing col­lec­tion of record­ings” fea­tur­ing the tal­ents of “an assort­ment of singers and actors to per­form these 16 tracks, many of which pair rich orches­tral pieces with dra­mat­ic read­ings by the likes of Hele­na Bon­ham Carter, Car­rie Fish­er, and even William Shat­ner.” Yes, Wain­wright has some­how man­aged to bring Star Wars and Star Trek togeth­er — and in the least like­ly of all pos­si­ble con­texts, one in which we also hear Aus­tri­an sopra­no Anna Pro­has­ka, Flo­rence of Flo­rence + the Machine, Wain­wright’s sis­ter Martha, and a fair bit of Ger­man.

Fans of both the ambi­tious and near­ly uncat­e­go­riz­able singer, fans of the (if you believe Harold Bloom) human­i­ty-invent­ing drama­tist, and many in-between will find in Take All My Loves many more feats of musi­cal crafts­man­ship, lit­er­ary cre­ativ­i­ty, and sheer clev­er­ness. And they don’t have to wait until the actu­al anniver­sary (or in any case the day before) to do it. You can hear “A Wom­an’s Face Reprise” (based on Son­net 20, for those play­ing the Shake­speare-schol­ar­ship home game) at the top of the post; “When in Dis­grace with For­tune and Men’s Eyes” (Son­net 29) below that; and for a lim­it­ed time, the entire album avail­able to stream free from NPR, which gives every­one a chance to hear what one of our age’s most inter­est­ing bards has done in part­ner­ship with the Bard him­self.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Shakespeare’s Satir­i­cal Son­net 130, As Read By Stephen Fry

Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour Sings Shakespeare’s Son­net 18

The Late, Great Alan Rick­man Reads Shake­speare, Proust & Thomas Hardy

A Sur­vey of Shakespeare’s Plays (Free Course)

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Such Sweet Thun­der: Duke Elling­ton & Bil­ly Strayhorn’s Musi­cal Trib­ute to Shake­speare (1957)

Lou Reeds Sings “Blue Christ­mas” with Lau­rie Ander­son, Rufus Wain­wright & Friends

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. 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.

A Short Animated History of Zero (0): How It Started in India, Then Made Its Journey to the West

Zilch. Nada. Bup­kis. Yes, I’m tak­ing about Zero (0), a num­ber that seems so essen­tial to our sys­tem of num­bers, and yet it has­n’t always enjoyed such a priv­i­leged place. Far from it.

In this short ani­ma­tion, Britain’s ven­er­a­ble Roy­al Insti­tu­tion traces the his­to­ry of zero, a num­ber that emerged in sev­enth cen­tu­ry India, before mak­ing its way to Chi­na and Islam­ic coun­tries, and final­ly pen­e­trat­ing West­ern cul­tures in the 13th cen­tu­ry. Only lat­er did it become the cor­ner­stone of cal­cu­lus and the lan­guage of com­put­ing.

India, we owe you thanks.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Math Cours­es

Free Math Text­books

The Short­est-Known Paper Pub­lished in a Seri­ous Math Jour­nal: Two Suc­cinct Sen­tences

The Math in Good Will Hunt­ing is Easy: How Do You Like Them Apples?

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Behold the First Electric Guitar: The 1931 “Frying Pan”

Frying Pan Schematic

The names Leo Fend­er and Les Paul will be for­ev­er asso­ci­at­ed with the explo­sion of the elec­tric gui­tar into pop­u­lar cul­ture. And right­ly so. With­out engi­neer Fend­er and musi­cian and stu­dio wiz Paul’s time­less designs, it’s hard to imag­ine what the most icon­ic instru­ments of decades of pop­u­lar music would look like.

They just might look like fry­ing pans.

Though Fend­er and Paul (and the Gib­son com­pa­ny) get all the glo­ry, it’s two men named George who should right­ly get much of the cred­it for invent­ing the elec­tric gui­tar. The first, naval offi­cer George Breed, has a sta­tus vis-à-vis the elec­tric gui­tar sim­i­lar to Leonar­do da Vinci’s to the heli­copter.

In 1890, Breed sub­mit­ted a patent for a one-of-a-kind design, uti­liz­ing the two basic ele­ments that would even­tu­al­ly make their way into Stra­to­cast­ers and Les Pauls—a mag­net­ic pick­up and wire strings. Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Breed, his design also includ­ed some very imprac­ti­cal cir­cuit­ry and required bat­tery oper­a­tion, “result­ing in a small but extreme­ly heavy gui­tar with an uncon­ven­tion­al play­ing tech­nique,” writes the Inter­na­tion­al Reper­to­ry of Music Lit­er­a­ture, “that pro­duced an excep­tion­al­ly unusu­al and ungui­tar­like, con­tin­u­ous­ly sus­tained sound.”

Like a Renais­sance fly­ing machine, the design went nowhere. That is, until George Beauchamp, a “musi­cian and tin­ker­er” from Texas, came up with a design for an elec­tric gui­tar pick­up that worked beau­ti­ful­ly. The first “Fry­ing Pan Hawai­ian” lap steel gui­tar, whose schemat­ic you can see at the top of the post, “now sits in a case in a muse­um,” writes Andre Mil­lard in his his­to­ry of the elec­tric gui­tar, “look­ing every inch the his­toric arti­fact but not much like a gui­tar.” Giz­mo­do quotes gui­tar his­to­ri­an Richard Smith, who dis­cuss­es the need in the 20s and 30s for an elec­tric gui­tar to be heard over the rhythm instru­ments in jazz and in Beauchamp’s pre­ferred style, Hawai­ian music, “where… the gui­tar was the melody instru­ment. So the real push to make the gui­tar elec­tric came from the Hawai­ian musi­cians.”

Beauchamp devel­oped the gui­tar after he was fired as gen­er­al man­ag­er of the Nation­al Instru­ment Man­u­fac­ture Com­pa­ny. Need­ing a new project, he and anoth­er Nation­al employ­ee, Paul Barth, began exper­i­ment­ing with Breed’s ideas. After build­ing a work­ing pick­up, they called on anoth­er Nation­al employ­ee, writes, “to make a wood­en neck and body for it. In sev­er­al hours, carv­ing with small hand tools, a rasp, and a file, the first ful­ly elec­tric gui­tar took form.” (An ear­li­er elec­tro-acoustic gui­tar—the Stromberg Elec­tro—con­tributed to ampli­fi­er tech­nol­o­gy but its awk­ward pick­up design didn’t catch on.)

Need­ing cap­i­tal, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and dis­tri­b­u­tion, Beauchamp con­tract­ed with tool­mak­er Adolph Rick­en­backer, who mass pro­duced the Fry­ing Pan as “The Rick­en­bach­er A‑22″ under the com­pa­ny name “Elec­tro String.” (The com­pa­ny became Rick­en­backer Gui­tars after its own­er sold it in the 50s.) Although the nov­el­ty of the instru­ment and its cost dur­ing the Great Depres­sion inhib­it­ed sales, Beauchamp and Rick­en­backer still pro­duced sev­er­al ver­sions of the Fry­ing Pan, with cast alu­minum bod­ies rather than wood. (See an ear­ly mod­el here.) Soon, the Fry­ing Pan became inte­grat­ed into live jazz bands (see it at the 3:34 mark above in a 1936 Adoph Zukor short film) and record­ings.

How does the Fry­ing Pan sound? Aston­ish­ing­ly good, as you can hear for your­self in the demon­stra­tion videos above. Although Rick­en­backer and oth­er gui­tar mak­ers moved on to installing pick­ups in so-called “Span­ish” guitars—hollow-bodied jazz box­es with their famil­iar f‑holes—the Fry­ing Pan lap steel con­tin­ues to have a par­tic­u­lar mys­tique in gui­tar his­to­ry, and was man­u­fac­tured and sold into the ear­ly 1950s.

The next leap for­ward in elec­tric gui­tar design? After the Fry­ing Pan came Les Paul’s first ful­ly solid­body elec­tric: The Log.

Learn More about the inven­tion of the elec­tric gui­tar in the short Smith­son­ian video just above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The World’s First Bass Gui­tar (1936)

The Sto­ry of the Gui­tar: The Com­plete Three-Part Doc­u­men­tary

Bri­an May’s Home­made Gui­tar, Made From Old Tables, Bike and Motor­cy­cle Parts & More

Oxford Sci­en­tist Explains the Physics of Play­ing Elec­tric Gui­tar Solos

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

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