An Animated Introduction to George Orwell

When his short and (by his own account) often mis­er­able life came to an end in 1950, could the Eng­lish polit­i­cal writer Eric Arthur Blair have known that he would not just become a house­hold name, but remain one well over half a cen­tu­ry lat­er? Giv­en his adop­tion of the mem­o­rable nom de plume George Orwell, we might say he had an inkling of his lit­er­ary lega­cy’s poten­tial. Still, he claimed to choose it for no grander rea­son than that it sound­ed like “a good round Eng­lish name,” and would have loathed the pre­tense he sensed in the use of the phrase “nom de plume,” or, for that mat­ter, any oth­er of con­spic­u­ous­ly for­eign prove­nance.

The atti­tudes that shaped the author of Ani­mal Farm and 1984 come out in this ani­mat­ed intro­duc­tion to Orwell’s life and work, new­ly pub­lished by Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life. In explain­ing the moti­va­tions of this “most famous Eng­lish lan­guage writer of the 20th cen­tu­ry,” de Bot­ton quotes from the essay “Why I Write,” where­in Orwell, with char­ac­ter­is­tic clar­i­ty, lays out his mis­sion “to make polit­i­cal writ­ing into an art. My start­ing point is always a feel­ing of par­ti­san­ship, a sense of injus­tice. When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, ‘I am going to pro­duce a work of art.’ I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw atten­tion, and my ini­tial con­cern is to get a hear­ing.”

Orwell hat­ed his fel­low intel­lec­tu­als, whom he accused of “a range of sins: a lack of patri­o­tism, resent­ment of mon­ey and phys­i­cal vig­or, con­cealed sex­u­al frus­tra­tion, pre­ten­sion, and dis­hon­esty.” He loved “the ordi­nary per­son” and the lives led by those “not espe­cial­ly blessed by mate­r­i­al goods, peo­ple who work in ordi­nary jobs, who don’t have much of an edu­ca­tion, who won’t achieve great­ness, and who nev­er­the­less love, care for oth­ers, work, have fun, raise chil­dren, and have large thoughts about the deep­est ques­tions in ways Orwell thought espe­cial­ly admirable.” Though raised mid­dle-class and edu­cat­ed at Eton, Orwell eschewed uni­ver­si­ty and believed that “the aver­age pub in a coal-min­ing vil­lage con­tained more intel­li­gence and wis­dom than the British Cab­i­net or the high table of an Oxbridge col­lege.”

One might want to call such an intel­lec­tu­al a poseur or even a sort of fetishist, but Orwell backed up his pro­nounce­ments about the supe­ri­or­i­ty of the work­ing class with his years spent liv­ing and work­ing in it, and, with books like Down and Out in Paris and Lon­don and The Road to Wigan Pier, writ­ing about it. He praised news­pa­per comics, coun­try walks, danc­ing, Charles Dick­ens, and straight­for­ward lan­guage, all of which informed the attacks on ide­ol­o­gy and author­i­tar­i­an­ism that would keep his writ­ing mean­ing­ful for future gen­er­a­tions. The hol­i­day sea­son now upon us makes anoth­er work of Orwell’s espe­cial­ly rel­e­vant: his Christ­mas pud­ding recipe, one blow in his less­er-known strug­gle to, as the Lon­don-based de Bot­ton puts it, write “brave­ly in defense of Eng­lish cook­ing” — a project which would, by itself, qual­i­fy him as a cham­pi­on of the under­dog.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

For 95 Min­utes, the BBC Brings George Orwell to Life

George Orwell’s Final Warn­ing: Don’t Let This Night­mare Sit­u­a­tion Hap­pen. It Depends on You! 

What “Orwellian” Real­ly Means: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son About the Use & Abuse of the Term

Try George Orwell’s Recipe for Christ­mas Pud­ding, from His Essay “British Cook­ery” (1945)

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.

Watch Georges Méliès’ The Dreyfus Affair, the Controversial Film Censored by the French Government for 50 Years (1899)

His­to­ry resounds with events so momen­tous they can be con­jured with a sin­gle word: Water­loo, Water­gate, Tianan­men, Brex­it.…

In the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, one sim­ple phrase, J’Ac­cuse!the title of an open let­ter pub­lished by nov­el­ist Emile Zolastood for a seri­ous injus­tice that inflamed the polit­i­cal pas­sions of artists, jour­nal­ists, and the pub­lic for decades after­ward, and pre­saged some of the 20th century’s most incred­i­ble state crimes.

Zola wrote in defense of French artillery cap­tain Alfred Drey­fus, who was accused, court-mar­shalled, and sen­tenced to life impris­on­ment on Devil’s Island for sup­pos­ed­ly giv­ing mil­i­tary secrets to the Ger­mans. It was the tri­al of the cen­tu­ry, writes Adam Gop­nik at The New York­er, and after­ward, Drey­fus, “a young Jew­ish artillery offi­cer and fam­i­ly man.… was pub­licly degrad­ed before a gawk­ing crowd.”

His insignia medals were stripped from him, his sword was bro­ken over the knee of the degrad­er, and he was marched around the grounds in his ruined uni­form to be jeered and spat at, while piteous­ly declar­ing his inno­cence and his love of France above cries of “Jew” and “Judas!”

Two years lat­er, com­pelling evi­dence came to light that showed anoth­er offi­cer, Fer­di­nand Ester­hazy, had com­mit­ted the trea­so­nous offence. But the evi­dence was buried, and the offi­cer who found it trans­ferred to North Africa and lat­er impris­oned. The Drey­fus Affair marked a major turn in Euro­pean civ­il soci­ety, “the moment where [Guy de] Maupassant’s world of ambi­tion and plea­sure met Kafka’s world of inex­plic­a­ble bureau­crat­ic suf­fer­ing.” After a per­func­to­ry two-day tri­al, Ester­hazy was unan­i­mous­ly acquit­ted by a mil­i­tary court, and Drey­fus con­vict­ed of addi­tion­al charges based on fal­si­fied doc­u­ments.

Five years after Drey­fus’ con­vic­tion, his sup­port­ers, the “Drey­fusards,” includ­ing Zola, Hen­ri Poin­care, and Georges Clemenceau, forced the gov­ern­ment to retry the case. Drey­fus was ulti­mate­ly par­doned, and lat­er ful­ly exon­er­at­ed and rein­stat­ed in the French army. He went on to serve with dis­tinc­tion in World War I.


Drey­fus’ accusers’ have most­ly sunk into obscu­ri­ty. His sup­port­ers— some car­i­ca­tured above as “the twelve apos­tles of Dreyfus”—included some of the most illus­tri­ous men of arts and let­ters in France. They can count among their num­ber the great French direc­tor and cin­e­mat­ic vision­ary Georges Méliès. Dur­ing the heat­ed year of 1899, “Méliès made a series of eleven one-minute non-fic­tion films about the Drey­fus Affair as it was still unfold­ing,” writes Eliz­abth Ezra,” por­tray­ing sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly Drey­fus’ arrest,” impris­on­ment, and retri­al. You can watch Méliès’ com­plete Drey­fus film at the top of the post.

It may be dif­fi­cult to appre­ci­ate the dar­ing of Méliès’ project from our his­tor­i­cal dis­tance, and in the some­what alien idiom of silent film. “For today’s view­ers,” writes Ezra, “it is not always easy to dis­cern the sym­pa­thet­ic ele­ments of the films, but the abun­dance of huffy ges­tur­ing and self-right­eous facial expres­sions on the part of Drey­fus make of him a dig­ni­fied hero who refus­es to be degrad­ed by the accu­sa­tions made against him.” (In this respect, Méliès antic­i­pat­ed anoth­er silent film about anoth­er unjust tri­al in France, Carl Dreyer’s The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc.)

Like­wise, we may find it hard to under­stand the sig­nif­i­cant social import of “Méliès’ only known expres­sion of polit­i­cal com­mit­ment.” But to under­stand the Drey­fus Affair, we must under­stand, as the Nation­al Library of Israel points out, that “France was already a divid­ed coun­try and the case act­ed as a casus bel­li.… ‘The Jew from Alsace’ encap­su­lat­ed all that the nation­al­ist right loathed, and there­fore became the sym­bol of the nation’s pro­found divi­sion.” Land­ing in the mid­dle of this polit­i­cal firestorm, Méliès’ Drey­fus series “pro­voked par­ti­san fist­fights,” writes Ezra.

Not only did the Drey­fus case intro­duce into the pub­lic eye a vicious anti-Semit­ic show-tri­al, but it also served as a test case for cen­sor­ship and media sen­sa­tion­al­ism. Méliès’ film, says author Susan Daitch in the On the Media episode above, was the first docu­d­ra­ma, the “first recre­ation based on pho­tographs and illus­tra­tions in week­ly news­pa­pers in France at the time.” And it proved so con­tro­ver­sial that it was banned, along with all oth­er Drey­fus films, for fifty years, and only shown again in France in 1974.

The film, says Daitch—who has writ­ten a nov­el based on the Drey­fus Affair—emerged with­in a par­ti­san mass media war of the kind we’re far too famil­iar with today. “Both sides,” Daitch tells us, “used and altered the media,” and Drey­fus was both suc­cess­ful­ly rail­road­ed into prison and suc­cess­ful­ly retried and exon­er­at­ed part­ly on the strength of his sup­port­ers’ and accusers’ pro­pa­gan­da cam­paigns.

The Drey­fus Affair will be added to our list of Free Silent Films, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

The film is con­sid­ered to be in the pub­lic domain in the Unit­ed States and comes to us via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The First Hor­ror Film, George Méliès’ The Haunt­ed Cas­tle (1896)

Watch After the Ball, the 1897 “Adult” Film by Pio­neer­ing Direc­tor Georges Méliès (Almost NSFW)

Carl Dreyer’s The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc (1928) Gets an Epic, Instru­men­tal Sound­track from the Indie Band Joan of Arc

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

British Advertisers Predict in 1935 What the World Will Look Like in 2500: Wireless TV, Atomic Cars & More


Back before the pub­lic came to terms with the grim causal rela­tion­ship between cig­a­rettes and can­cer, smok­ing was a jol­ly affair, whose plea­sures extend­ed well beyond the phys­i­cal act.

Smok­ing was socia­ble. Yes, there were cer­tain sit­u­a­tions in which three on a match could spell doom, but a far greater like­li­hood that light­ing an attrac­tive stranger’s cof­fin nail might kin­dle con­ver­sa­tion, and more.

If you were at a loss for words, you might break the ice with the trad­ing cards man­u­fac­tur­ers slipped inside cig­a­rette packs, such as these mid-30s beau­ties that came inside packs of Greys, a now-defunct British cig­a­rette brand, and favorite of WWI vets.

The sub­ject is unusu­al. Sports, cin­e­ma stars, and mil­i­tary scenes were com­mon themes of the time. The “Greys Antic­i­pa­tions” series took cre­ative lib­er­ties, by imag­in­ing a (can­cer-free) year 2500, in which Lon­don­ers would be privy to such inno­va­tions as solar-light­ing, mov­ing side­walks, and wire­less tele­vi­sion…

Great Scott! Were they psy­chic!?

Hope­ful­ly not.

Hope­ful­ly, we’ve still got 484 years to find out…


“Pica­dil­ly, Lon­don, A.D. 2500: Roofed-in under non-con­duc­tive mica glass . . mov­ing path­ways . . rub­ber road­ways avenued into 50, 100, 150 and 200 miles per hour . . sus­pend­ed mono rail­ways . . motors dri­ven by atom­ic ener­gy . . pho­net­ic spelling . . wire­less tele­vi­sion . . light­ed by cap­tured solar rays . . excur­sions to Mars.”

I’m fine with excur­sions to Mars and mono­rails but atom­ic ener­gy is as prob­lem­at­ic as the health claims once put for­ward by cig­a­rette ads.


“At the Cus­toms House on the Roof of Lon­don, A.D. 2500: The rail­way train has fol­lowed the ichthyosaurus into extinc­tion. Mighty aer­i­al lin­ers trans­port pas­sen­gers in their thou­sands, with great car­goes of mer­chan­dise from con­ti­nent to con­ti­nent. Mankind, liv­ing amidst such tremen­dous achieve­ments, thinks, plans, and acts with cor­re­spond­ing big­ness.”

Hmm…I was kind of root­ing for train trav­el to make a come­back


“The Plea­sure City, Lon­don, A.D. 2500: Plea­sure-seek­ing has been raised to a fine art … muti­tudes when the short day’s work is done find a sat­is­fy­ing means of relax­ation in smok­ing “GREYS” Cig­a­rettes and lis­ten­ing to the mam­moth mechan­i­cal orches­tra … char­ac­ter­is­tic of the music of the peri­od … music so com­plex that it can be ren­dered only by won­der­ous mech­a­nism.”

This does sound rather fun, depend­ing on who’s doing the pro­gram­ming… per­haps we should just stick with head­phones and a busker on every cor­ner.


A Hive of Indus­try, A.D. 2500: Lit­er­al­ly a “hive” in that it is a city unto itself … radi­at­ing from the mam­moth super-fac­to­ry are work­ers’ dwellings and asso­ci­at­ed insti­tutes … archi­tec­ture gov­erned by the pre­vail­ing mate­r­i­al — con­crete … no smoke (oth­er than from tobac­co!) … no house­hold cook­ing . . meals deliv­ered by pneu­mat­ic tube from cen­tral cook­house.

Um…I strong­ly sug­gest revis­it­ing Ter­ry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil,  before sign­ing off on the whole pneu­mat­ic tube thing.

Dar­ran Ander­son, author of  Imag­i­nary Cities, took a clos­er look at one of the cards in the above talk about imag­i­nary Lon­don. I share his opin­ion that “phonet­ic spelling… is the best thing that they envis­aged of the future.”

He also notes that the card is about 20 years ahead of its time in pro­mot­ing a mid-50s‑style vision of the future, but that it failed to pre­dict the demise of Greys Cig­a­rettes, by promi­nent­ly adver­tis­ing them on the side of a sus­pend­ed mono­rail.


via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1900, Ladies’ Home Jour­nal Pub­lish­es 28 Pre­dic­tions for the Year 2000

Niko­la Tesla’s Pre­dic­tions for the 21st Cen­tu­ry: The Rise of Smart Phones & Wire­less, The Demise of Cof­fee, The Rule of Eugen­ics (1926/35)

Cig­a­rette Com­mer­cials from David Lynch, the Coen Broth­ers and Jean Luc Godard

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Great 19 Century Poems Read in French: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine & More


Here’s how Smith­son­ian Folk­ways describes this 1961 album now made avail­able by Spo­ti­fy. (If you need their free soft­ware, down­load it here):

Paul A. Mankin recites the most famous French poet­ry from the 19th Cen­tu­ry. Gérard de Ner­val, Vic­tor Hugo and Alphonse de Lamar­tine, the main poets from the roman­tic peri­od are rep­re­sent­ed, as well as pre­cur­sors of Sym­bol­ism, Paul Ver­laine and Stéphane Mal­lar­mé. In addi­tion, the album includes poems writ­ten by the tor­tured Charles Baude­laire and the unclas­si­fi­able Arthur Rim­baud.

Note: The image above is of Charles Baude­laire.  This album will be added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free. Oth­er albums fea­tur­ing Mank­in’s read­ings can also be found there, includ­ing:

  • Mul­ti­ple Authors — 20th Cen­tu­ry French Poet­ry, Nar­rat­ed by Paul Mankin — Spo­ti­fy
  • Mul­ti­ple Authors — French African Poet­ry, Read in French by Paul Mankin — Spo­ti­fy

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:

Free French Lessons

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

Hear Bill Murray’s Favorite Poems Read Aloud by Mur­ray Him­self & Their Authors


Watch Animations of Two Italo Calvino Stories: “The False Grandmother” and “The Distance from the Moon”

There are those books we go to not to escape this world, but to expe­ri­ence the truth of a mys­te­ri­ous­ly attrib­uted quote, “There is anoth­er world, and it is this one.” That is to say that the worlds we find in cer­tain nov­els are no less filled with dread, ambi­gu­i­ty, and moral freight than our own. But these sorts of sto­ries offer new maps for real­i­ty. They may at first be those of the Protes­tant the­ol­o­gy and Vic­to­ri­an moral­i­ty of C.S. Lewis, whose Nar­nia books (avail­able in a free audio for­mat here) rather lit­er­al­ly give us anoth­er world in this one.

But we may soon find our­selves cat­a­pult­ed into the neu­rot­ic night­mares of Kaf­ka, the sci-fi para­noia of Philip K. Dick, the postin­dus­tri­al ennui of J.G. Bal­lard, the scholas­tic labyrinths of Borges, and.… Well, what are we to call the work of Invis­i­ble Cities and If on a Winter’s Night a Trav­el­er author Ita­lo Calvi­no? Jonathan Galas­si iden­ti­fies Calvi­no as a post­mod­ern folk­lorist, drawn into the mature idiom of his best-known books by his sus­tained engage­ment in “the mag­is­te­r­i­al anthol­o­gy Ital­ian Folk­tales” in 1956, a task that made him into “a mod­ern-day Grimm.”

Calvino’s facil­i­ty with the light mag­ic of folk­lore infus­es his work with a fleet-foot­ed­ness and brevi­ty that can mask its high seri­ous­ness. Two years after com­pil­ing his anthol­o­gy, he wrote that his “true direc­tion” was “the cri­sis of the bour­geois intel­lec­tu­al seen crit­i­cal­ly from the inside.” This accounts both for the the­o­ret­i­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion of his prose and the exper­i­men­tal form. Calvi­no bests even Borges as an exper­i­men­tal­ist, writ­ing large parts of If on a Winter’s Night a Trav­el­er in the impe­ri­ous sec­ond per­son, and pulling it off bril­liant­ly.

How­ev­er, Calvi­no will often break into the nov­el to remind us of the arti­fice, and at one point declare his desire “to fol­low the men­tal mod­els through which we live our human events.” Those mod­els, Calvi­no sug­gests, are not orga­nized and sys­tem­at­ic. They are as mean­der­ing and episod­ic as fairy tales, filled with irrel­e­vant detail that we pick up in fas­ci­na­tion then quick­ly for­get. It’s a dis­com­fit­ing idea for ratio­nal­ists. But for those who know that life is lived in sto­ries, it rings per­fect­ly true.

In the two ani­mat­ed videos here, we see Calvino’s genius for con­jur­ing irra­tional fables. At the top John Tur­tur­ro reads Calvino’s “The False Grand­moth­er” from his folk­lore anthol­o­gy, a ver­sion of the “Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood” sto­ry. And in the (sub­ti­tled) Hebrew-lan­guage ani­ma­tion above (per­fect­ly scored by Erik Satie), we see an adap­ta­tion of Calvino’s “The Dis­tance from the Moon” from Cos­mi­comics, a col­lec­tion whose fic­tions, writes Ted Gioia, “are absurd and inco­her­ent, yet the plot lines are filled with romance, dra­ma, and con­flicts that draw the read­ers deep­er and deep­er into the text.”

They are also filled with sci­en­tif­ic ideas: “Each sto­ry in Cos­mi­comics begins with a sci­en­tif­ic premise.” Like many a crit­i­cal human­ist before him, from Michel de Mon­taigne to Jonathan Swift, Calvi­no seems to won­der if our best intel­lec­tu­al efforts, even the sci­ences, fall sub­ject to “the foibles and fan­cies of humans,” and to the askew nar­ra­tive log­ic of folk­lore.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ita­lo Calvi­no Offers 14 Rea­sons We Should Read the Clas­sics

Hear Ita­lo Calvi­no Read Selec­tions From Invis­i­ble Cities, Mr. Palo­mar & Oth­er Enchant­i­ng Fic­tions

Invis­i­ble Cities Illus­trat­ed: Three Artists Paint Every City in Ita­lo Calvino’s Clas­sic Nov­el

Expe­ri­ence Invis­i­ble Cities, an Inno­v­a­tive, Ita­lo Calvi­no-Inspired Opera Staged in LA’s Union Sta­tion

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

The Only Surviving Behind-the-Scenes Footage of I Love Lucy, and It’s in Color! (1951)

The endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of come­di­an Lucille Ball’s 6‑season sit­com, I Love Lucy, has result­ed in so many full-col­or col­lectibles, occa­sion­al view­ers may for­get that the show was filmed in black and white.

More ardent fans may have tuned in for the spe­cial col­orized episodes CBS aired a cou­ple of years ago, but the only exist­ing col­or footage of Lucy and her hus­band and co-star, Desi Arnaz, was cap­tured by a stealthy stu­dio audi­ence mem­ber.

The ubiq­ui­ty of smart phones have made unau­tho­rized celebri­ty shots com­mon­place, but con­sid­er that this reg­u­lar Joe man­aged to smug­gle a 16mm movie cam­era into the bleach­ers of pro­duc­er Jess Oppen­heimer’s tight­ly con­trolled set. This covert oper­a­tion on Octo­ber 12, 1951 shed light on the true col­ors of both the Trop­i­cana night­club and Ricar­do apart­ment sets.

Oppenheimer’s son, Jess, even­tu­al­ly obtained the footage, insert­ing it into the appro­pri­ate scenes from “The Audi­tion,” the episode from which they were snagged.

The Har­po Marx-esque Pro­fes­sor char­ac­ter Lucy plays is a holdover from both the pilot and the vaude­ville show she and Arnaz cre­at­ed and toured nation­al­ly in 1950, in an attempt to con­vince CBS that audi­ences were ready for a com­e­dy based on a “mixed mar­riage” such as their own.

In addi­tion to Arnaz’ unbri­dled con­ga play­ing, the home movie, above, con­tains a love­ly, unguard­ed moment at the 2:40 mark, of the stars calm­ly await­ing slat­ing, side by side on the sound­stage.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bat­girl Fights for Equal Pay in a 1960s Tele­vi­sion Ad Sup­port­ing The Equal Pay Act

Watch the First Com­mer­cial Ever Shown on Amer­i­can TV, 1941

Watch Dragnet’s 1967 LSD Episode: #85 on TV Guide’s List of the Great­est Episodes of All Time

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

1905 Fairground Organ Plays Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and It Works Like a Charm

First built in Paris by Charles Marenghi in 1905, the organ above quick­ly found a home in a Bel­gian restau­rant. And there it remained for many years … until 1967, when it trav­eled abroad, to a Texas fair­ground. Imag­ine the cul­ture shock it must have felt. But that’s not where it ends.

Nowa­days, you can watch the 81-key organ play Queen’s 1975 hit “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody,” quite dif­fer­ent than what­ev­er it was play­ing in Antwerp a cen­tu­ry ago. Alex­ey Rom wrote the arrange­ment for the song, and pro­grammed it using the strip of cards being fed through the instru­ment. Hope­ful­ly this isn’t the last stop on this organ’s grand jour­ney.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Expe­ri­ence Queen’s “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody” in Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty: Down­load the Free App Cre­at­ed by Queen & Google

Inside the Rhap­sody: A Short Doc­u­men­tary on the Mak­ing of Queen’s Clas­sic Song, ‘Bohemi­an Rhap­sody’ (2002)

Gui­tarist Bri­an May Explains the Mak­ing of Queen’s Clas­sic Song, ‘Bohemi­an Rhap­sody’

Queen Doc­u­men­tary Pays Trib­ute to the Rock Band That Con­quered the World

The Music of Queen Re-Imag­ined by “Extra­or­di­nary” Clas­si­cal Pianist, Natalia Pos­no­va

The Physics of Playing a Guitar Visualized: Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” Viewed from Inside the Guitar

Give it a chance, you won’t be dis­ap­point­ed. While the first 30 sec­onds of the video above may resem­ble an ama­teur iPhone prank, it soon becomes some­thing unex­pect­ed­ly enchanting—a visu­al­iza­tion of the physics of music in real-time. The Youtu­ber places his phone inside an acoustic gui­tar, then plays Metallica’s “Noth­ing Else Mat­ters” against a back­drop of clouds and blue sky. Due to what Twist­ed Sifter iden­ti­fies as the phone camera’s rolling shut­ter effect, the actu­al waves of the vibrat­ing gui­tar strings are as clear­ly vis­i­ble as if they were on an oscil­lo­scope.

The com­par­i­son is an apt one, since we might use exact­ly such a device to mea­sure and visu­al­ize the acoustic prop­er­ties of stringed instru­ments. “A gui­tar string”—writes physi­cist and musi­cian Sam Hokin in his short explanation—is a com­mon exam­ple of a string fixed at both ends which is elas­tic and can vibrate.

The vibra­tions of such a string are called stand­ing waves, and they sat­is­fy the rela­tion­ship between wave­length and fre­quen­cy that comes from the def­i­n­i­tion of waves.”

Those with a physics back­ground might appre­ci­ate The Physics Class­room’s tech­ni­cal descrip­tion of gui­tar string vibra­tion, with sev­er­al tech­ni­cal dia­grams. For oth­ers, the video above by Youtube physics teacher Doc Shus­ter may be a bet­ter for­mat. Shus­ter explains such enti­ties as nodes and antin­odes (you’ll have to tell me if you get any of his jokes). And at about 2:25, he digress­es from his mus­ings on these phe­nom­e­na to talk about gui­tar strings specif­i­cal­ly, which “make one note for a giv­en tight­ness of the string, a giv­en weight of the string, and a giv­en length of the string.”

This is, of course, why chang­ing the length of the string by press­ing down on it changes the note the string pro­duces, and it applies to all stringed instru­ments and the piano. Oth­er fac­tors, says Shus­ter, like the body of the gui­tar, use of pick­ups, etc., have a much small­er effect on the fre­quen­cy of a gui­tar string than tight­ness, weight, and length. We see how the com­plex­i­ty of dif­fer­ent stand­ing wave forms relates to har­mon­ics (or over­tones). And when we return to the Metal­li­ca video at the top, we’ll have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how the strings vibrate dif­fer­ent­ly as they pro­duce dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies at dif­fer­ent har­mon­ics.

Shuster’s video quick­ly laps­es into cal­cu­lus, and you may or may not be lost by his expla­na­tions. The Physics Class­room has some excel­lent, free tuto­ri­als on var­i­ous types of waves, pitch fre­quen­cy, vibra­tion, and res­o­nance. Per­haps all we need to keep in mind to under­stand the very basics of the sci­ence is this, from their intro­duc­tion: “As a gui­tar string vibrates, it sets sur­round­ing air mol­e­cules into vibra­tional motion. The fre­quen­cy at which these air mol­e­cules vibrate is equal to the fre­quen­cy of vibra­tion of the gui­tar string.” The action of the string pro­duces an equal and oppo­site reac­tion in the air, which then cre­ates “a pres­sure wave which trav­els out­ward from its source.” The pres­sure waves strike our eardrums, our brains inter­pret sound, and there you have it.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Physics Cours­es

Oxford Sci­en­tist Explains the Physics of Play­ing Elec­tric Gui­tar Solos

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Ein­stein & Coltrane Shared Impro­vi­sa­tion and Intu­ition in Com­mon

The Math Behind Beethoven’s Music

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

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.