Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles: A Radio Drama Starring Derek Jacobi & Hayley Atwell (Free Audio Book)

Image by Futurilla, via Flickr Commons

For your weekend listening pleasure, we present a 70 minute radio dramatization of The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury’s “timeless fable of doomed Martian colonisation.” Aired by the BBC, this production stars Derek Jacobi and Hayley Atwell. Read this little blurb, which helps set the stage. Then stream the embedded Spotify audio below.

When the first expedition to Mars mysteriously disappears, Earth sends a second to find out what happened. But the real mission is classified. And only Captain Wilder knows the truth. Spender, an anthropologist on Wilder’s crew, attempts to prevent the colonisation that she believes will eradicate the last of an ancient people living on Mars. But to what lengths will she go?

As the honourable but duty-bound Captain Wilder tracks the now rogue Spender into the Martian mountains, the future of this ancient planet is at stake. Meanwhile, Earth itself teeters on the brink of its own global catastrophe as the very survival of humanity hangs in the balance….

If you need Spotify, download it here.

This production will be added to our collection, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Download Great Books for Free.

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Animated Introductions to Edward Said’s Groundbreaking Book Orientalism

For a few years, many people—those who might these days be called a “self-satisfied liberal elite” (or something like that)—believed that the arguments in Edward Said’s 1978 book Orientalism were becoming generally accepted. Put broadly, Said argued that our conceptions of cultural and historical differences between “the West” and “the East” are produced by European intellectual and literary traditions that have exaggerated and distorted such differences, creating a narrative in which “the West” is civilized, disciplined,  industrious, and enlightened and “the East” is exotic, backward, sensualist, lazy, passive, dangerous, irrational….

The tradition of Orientalism—which stretches back into the middle ages—came to justify colonialism, land and resource theft, slavery, and imperial aggression in the name of civilization and salvation, Even where European Orientalist scholars and writers had a nuanced understanding of other cultures, such nuance was lost in the popularizing and instrumental use of their ideas.

Said’s theoretical intervention into Orientalist discourse showed us how the “clash of civilizations” trope that pervades hundreds of years of interactions between “the west and the rest” of the world itself has a history—as a rationalization for dominance and exploitation. The short animated Al Jazeera video above neatly summarizes Said’s major arguments in the book, and asks us to “unlearn the myth.”

Casting West and East as two distinct civilizations makes little common sense on its face. Christianity, one key supposed bedrock  of Western Civilization, is an Eastern religion. Aristotle, a foundation of Western thought, was preserved for many years by Islamic scholars, who were in frequent dialogue with Greek thinkers, who were themselves in frequent dialogue with North Africans…. the interrelationships and correspondences between continents and cultures are innumerable, the boundaries between the categories highly permeable. But with the rise of what we’re calling “populism” in the past decade or so, the nuances of intellectual history have been lost. Old false dichotomies, always haunting the margins, have once again moved firmly to the center.

In the realm of cable news punditry, corporate security conferences, and congressional committees not only do we rarely see actual scholars represented, but we almost never see scholars like Edward Said, a Palestinian intellectual who spoke and wrote critically as a person from the Middle East with expertise in Western literature and history. This fact is itself central to the construction of Orientalist discourse, as Said wrote in 1978:

The Orient and Islam have a kind of extrareal, phenomenologically reduced status that puts them out of reach of everyone except the Western expert. From the beginning of Western speculation about the Orient, the one thing the Orient could not do was to represent itself.

We can accept nothing about “the East,” in other words, unless it is first filtered through the lenses of Euro-American administrative “experts,” who often have extremist views, very little scholarly expertise, and whose ideas often still come directly from Orientalist novels and philosophies.

Said’s theories in Orientalism have received ample criticism from across the political spectrum. He’s been cast by the right as a kind of reverse racist against “Caucasians,” an anti-intellectual accusation that distorts his views and makes ad hominem attacks. Said traced Euro-American colonial history with a level of depth that demonstrated the remarkable continuity in the way major European colonial powers and the U.S.—their successor by the late 20th century—constructed ideologies of exceptionalism and superiority through very similar rhetoric.

For a slightly drier overview of Said’s Orientalism, watch the short video above from educational company Macat, a self-described “global leader in critical thinking.” Neither of these explainers can substitute for actually engaging with the arguments in Said’s book. His history of Orientalist fables is itself an adventurous tale. As a literary product, “the Orient was almost a European invention,” he writes in his Introduction, yet as a region, it “is an integral part of European material civilization and culture.” There is no one without the other.

Related Content:

Edward Said Recalls His Depressing Meeting With Sartre, de Beauvoir & Foucault (1979)

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Clash of the Titans: Noam Chomsky & Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature & Power on Dutch TV, 1971

Middle Eastern History: Free Courses

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

The M.C. Escher Mirror Puzzle: Test Your Imagination & Concentration with an Artistic Brain Teaser

The art of M.C. Escher apparently makes for some good puzzles. Head over to Amazon and you’ll find a number of ornate Escher works of art turned into traditional 1,000-piece puzzles. They’ll keep you busy for hours on end. But will they challenge you as much as the M.C. Escher Mirror Puzzle featured above? This puzzle takes things to another level. The directions read like this: “Use the slanted mirror inside each cube to reflect the image on the side of an adjacent cube. Once you place all nine cubes in the right pattern, a complete Escher image will appear.” Finish the first puzzle, and then start on the next one. There are five puzzles in this set.

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The Philosophy of The Matrix: From Plato and Descartes, to Eastern Philosophy

Do you take the red pill or the blue pill? The question, which at its heart has to do with either accepting or rejecting the illusions that constitute some or all of life as you know it, became part of the culture almost immediately after Morpheus, Lawrence Fishburne’s character in The Matrix, put it to Keanu Reeves’ protagonist Neo. That film, a career-making success for its directors the Wachowski sisters (then the Wachowski brothers), had its own elaborate vision of a false reality entrapping humanity as the actual one surrounds it, a vision made realizable by the finest late-1990s computer-generated special effects. But the ideas behind it, as this Film Radar video essay shows, go back a long way indeed.

The first and by far the most respected of the trilogy, The Matrix “largely interprets Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Imagine a cave. Inside are people who were born and have spent their entire lives there, chained into a fixed position, only able to see the wall in front of them. As far as they know, this is the entire world.” The Wachowskis ask the same question Plato does: “How do we know what our reality really is?”

When they have Morpheus bring Neo out of his “cave” of everyday late-20th-century existence, they do it in a manner analogous to Plato’s Analogy of the Sun, in which “the sun is a metaphor for the nature of reality and knowledge concerning it,” and the eyes of the fearful few forced out of their cave need some time to adjust to it.

But when one “unplugs” from the illusion-generating Matrix of the title — a concept now in consideration again thanks to the popularity of the “simulation argument” — a longer journey toward that really-real reality still awaits. The second and third installments of the trilogy involve a dive into “religious philosophy from the East,” especially the idea of escape from the eternal soul’s reincarnation “into other physical forms in an infinite cycle where the soul is left to wander and suffer” by means of a spiritual quest for “enlightenment, by uniting body and mind with spirit.” This leads, inevitably, to self-sacrifice: by finally “allowing himself to die,” Neo “is reunited with spirit” and “becomes the true savior of humanity” — a narrative element not unknown in religious texts even outside the East.

These count as only “a few of the philosophical ideas the Wachowskis explore in the Matrix trilogy,” the others including Robert Nozick’s “Experience Machine,” Descartes’ “Great Deceiver,” and other concepts from Kant and Hume “questioning reality, causality, and free will, not to mention the obvious commentary on technology or a submissive society.” Of course, philosophical exploration in The Matrix involve countless flying — and gravity-defying — fists and bullets, much of it performed by characters clad in reflective sunglasses and black leather. Perhaps that datedness has prompted the recent announcement of a Matrix reboot: though the styles may change, if it happens, the ideas would no doubt remain recognizable to Plato himself.

Related Content:

Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?: An Introduction to the Mind-Boggling “Simulation Argument”

Philip K. Dick Theorizes The Matrix in 1977, Declares That We Live in “A Computer-Programmed Reality”

Daniel Dennett and Cornel West Decode the Philosophy of The Matrix

The Matrix: What Went Into The Mix

Free Online Philosophy Courses

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.

Kurt Vonnegut on Bob Dylan: He “Is the Worst Poet Alive”

Image by Daniele Pratitand Ben Northern via Flckr Commons

As if life weren’t fraught enough, we’re barreling toward the 10th anniversary of author Kurt Vonnegut’s death.

So it goes.

Several years before he died, Vonnegut penned an essay called “Knowing What’s Nice,” in which he stated:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.’

“If I should ever…God forbid…”

Bless his cranky humanist heart, if that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

Those outside the inner circle can only speculate as to whether his remains rest eternally beneath his preferred epitaph. Their whereabouts are not a matter of public record. As one Internet wag surmised, he “probably didn’t want some vandal sonofabitch writing Everything was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt on it.”

The widely circulated Armistice Day passage from Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions supports the notion of music as something he revered universally:

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance. And all music is. 

In reality, the amateur clarinet player’s ear was a bit more discerning:

 I hate rap. The Beatles have made a substantial contribution. Bob Dylan, however, is the worst poet alive. He can maybe get one good line in a song, and the rest is gibberish.

So he told Hustler in 1991, in response to a question about his musical tastes. Never did get around to telling the interviewer what he actually liked. According to his daughter, Nannette, the list would’ve included Dave Brubeck, the Statler Brothers, and The Music Man soundtrack.

Vonnegut didn’t live to see Dylan win the Nobel Prize for Literature last year, but several commentators exhumed his dismissive quote to underscore that not everyone was happy to see a singer-songwriter awarded such a prestigious literary prize.

Meanwhile, Dylan’s fans are not waiting for him to die to talk about the ways in which his music has helped them navigate through life, much as the jazzmen Vonnegut saw playing live in Depression-era Indianapolis transported him to a better place:

…what music is, I don’t know. But it helps me so.

Fans have created eleven playlists inspired by Vonnegut on the music sharing site 8tracks, including one that features Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. (“Perfect for capturing Vonnegut’s vibe” enthused one innocent young commenter.)

Related Content:

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

Watch the Trippy Screen Projections Used by Pink Floyd During their Dark Side of the Moon Tours

Even in the early years of Pink Floyd’s career, the band was experimenting with the possibilities of the live experience. Already dazzling audiences with booming sound, colorful light shows, and bubbling translucent oil projections, the group called in Abbey Road engineers to design a quadrophonic sound system in 1967 to send Rick Wright’s keyboards around the concert hall, along with nature sounds, footsteps, or maniacal laughter.

By the time of Dark Side of the Moon, the band had even more of a budget, and began to screen short films, some animated, during their world tour concerts. Not really promotional videos, these films haven’t been seen outside their live context since. But the Internet has a way of finding these things.

Earlier this month, several YouTube users uploaded the film reels used on Pink Floyd’s 1974 North American Tour, with music from Dark Side of the Moon added back in to give an indication of how it was used in the show. (The mixes are also quite different from the album–maybe a fan can tell us from where these come?)

We get some very Kubrick-like traveling shots down both an empty hospital corridor and of Heathrow’s arrival lounge, and later a fist punching a bowl of eggs, Zabriskie Point-like exploding televisions, shots of Nixon and Idi Amin, and finally back to opening shots of the moon for the finale.

But there’s also moments of animation created then-unknown filmmaker Ian Emes.

The up-and-coming and self-taught artist had already made an animation “French Windows” set to the Floyd song “One of these Days,” filled with trippy landscapes and rotoscoped dancers. It won awards at animation festivals and was shown on British TV. According to Emes:

“Having seen my film French Windows on BBC’s The Old Grey Whistle Test, the band commissioned me to make their first-ever animated film, which they subsequently toured the world with. The Time sequence is used to this day. It was a breathtaking experience to see my film projected live at Wembley Arena before a huge crowd of tripped out fans.”

The concert films differed from country to country, sharing 75 percent of their footage, which means if you are a true fan, you’ll have to watch the British Tour version and the French Tour to know what you’re missing. The British version features more information, but it’s not clear if it’s also by Emes.

After Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd continued to bring visuals into their live shows, most notably another animation for “Welcome to the Machine,” seen below. This time they used another up-and-coming illustrator and animator called Gerald Scarfe to create the harrowing graphics. Scarfe, of course, would later create many more works for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and those animations would be used in concert and later in the Alan Parker film, The Wall.

via Boing Boing

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

Hear the Prog-Rock Adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds: The 1978 Rock Opera That Sold 15 Million Copies Worldwide

Since the 1950s at least, Americans have embraced science fiction of all kinds—from the high concepts of 2001 to the high kitsch of Barbarella—even if sometimes only among devoted cult fans. The Queen-scored Flash Gordon, for example, did not do well in U.S. theaters on its release in 1980, though it was a hit in the UK. But not long after, its iconic, pulsing theme song, with its operatic blasts, became an unmistakable callback to the final days of 70s rock opera’s glorious excesses.

And yet somehow, another equally bombastic sci-fi rock opera produced in 1978, Jeff Wayne’s musical adaptation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, has been denied proper cult status in the States. At the time of its release, U.S. audiences, primed by the previous year’s colossal hit, Star Wars, perhaps sought more swashbuckling fare, not prog-rock double concept albums based on classic novels. American indifference, however, in no way hindered the album’s popularity abroad.

According to its clunky website, Wayne’s adaptation, “is one of the best known and best-selling musical works of all time.” This is no empty boast; it had “sold approximately 15 million records around the world” by 2013 and in 2009 was named the 40th best-selling album ever. And for good reason! While you may never have heard of Wayne—he wrote music for TV commercials for much of his career, and once struck it big by producing David Essex’s 1973 hit “Rock On”—you know the “cast” of his War of the Worlds.

Richard Burton narrates, lending the proceedings the gravitas Orson Welles gave The Alan Parsons Project’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe (and, many years earlier, brought to his own infamous War of the Worlds adaptation). The songs prominently feature Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and The Moody Blues’ Justin Hayward, both huge stars at the time, as well as David Essex, “musical theater vet Julie Covington,” writes Dangerous Minds’ Ron Kretsch, and “guitar ace and Sex Pistols demo producer Chris Spedding.”

Supplementing the album’s musical charms, and they are many, the original LP also came “packaged in a gatefold with a book containing the complete script and some awesome paintings, mostly by noted Lord of the Rings cover artist Geoff Taylor.” For many of us, Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds will seem like a lost masterpiece, a brilliantly kitschy sci-fi, prog-disco classic that never got its due. For fans, however, in “no less than 22 countries,” as the album’s site proclaims, where it charted, reaching number one in half of them, the strangely inspired rock opera may well be very familiar.

You can hear the complete double LP at the playlist above (or click here), along with two more “sides” of alternates, outtakes, and demos. (If you need Spotify, download it here.) One of the songs, Hayward’s “Forever Autumn,” above, was originally written for a “late-‘60s LEGO commercial,” but warranted inclusion because “Wayne simply wanted a ballad to be included.” The move is typical of his more is more production approach to War of the Worlds, and yet, somehow, it all comes together into an engrossing experience. For some reason, in 2012, Wayne decided to remake the album, with Liam Neeson taking on the narration duties. Judging by its Amazon reviews, the new version is just as beloved by many fans as the old.

via Dangerous Minds

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

The Origins of Anime: Watch Free Online 64 Animations That Launched the Japanese Anime Tradition

Japanese animation has a way of seeming perpetually new and daring, but it now goes back at least a century. Having carved out its own aesthetic and intellectual space in world culture, anime (even foreigners who’ve never watched so much as a minute of it know the Japanese term) continues to generate a distinctive kind of excitement in its viewers. That goes for relatively recent features that have already attained classic status, like the lush, simultaneously realistic and fantastical works of Hayao Miyazaki, the darker, deeper visions like Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell, and the diversity of works in between. But how did those qualities manifest in the very earliest anime? We can now easily see for ourselves, thanks to the selection of 64 Japanese animated film classics made freely available online, as a celebration of the centenary of the form, by Japan’s National Film Archive.

“The most exciting of these are the two earliest extant anime The Dull Sword (Namakura Gatana, 1917) and Urashima Tarō (1918),” writes Nishikata Film Review’s Cathy Munroe Hotes, “films which were considered lost until copies were miraculously discovered in an antique shop in Osaka in 2008.  As the vast majority of pre-war films have been lost due to natural disaster, war, and general neglect, each of these 64 films is an important glimpse into early anime history and early 20th century Japanese culture.”

You can also browse the National Film Archive’s online collection of early animation by director. Watching the works of certain especially prolific ones like Noburō Ōfuji and Yasuji Murata (whose 1929 The Old Man’s Lump Removed, not available in the collection, appears above), you might come away convinced that, even in its first decades, Japanese animation had developed its auteur culture.

The movement (which sometimes barely qualifies as such) and sound (if any) in some of these shorts could hardly impress today, at least on a technical level. Nevertheless, those of us who’ve felt the excitement of the best of anime will recognize in the presentation of the images themselves — in its dynamism, its humor, its creativity — the special animating spirit, as it were, that first sparked our interest. Whether the sometimes slapdash likes of Speed RacerRobotech, or Kimba the White Lion, which introduced generations of Westerners to anime in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, really marked that much of an improvement on crude production of, say, Murata’s My Ski Trip from 1930 remains open to debate, but through them all we can trace the development of the style and sensibility that, to this day, no animation but the Japanese variety has truly mastered.

Enter the National Film Archive anime collection here.

(NOTE: the National Film Archive assures us that the English version of the site “will be available in a month or two,” but you can find English-subtitled films there even now.)

via coudal.com

Related Content:

Early Japanese Animations: The Origins of Anime (1917-1931)

How the Films of Hayao Miyazaki Work Their Animated Magic, Explained in 4 Video Essays

The Philosophy, Storytelling & Visual Creativity of Ghost in the Shell, the Acclaimed Anime Film, Explained in Video Essays

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.

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