Judy Blume Now Teaching an Online Course on Writing

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After announcing that Martin Scorsese will be teaching an online course on filmmaking, MasterClass made it known today that Judy Blume has created an online course on Writing. In 24 lessons, the beloved author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing will show you “how to develop vibrant characters and hook your readers.” The individual course costs $90 and is now ready go. You can also buy an All-Access Annual Pass for $180 and explore every course in the MasterClass catalogue. Some courses worth exploring include:

You can take this class by signing up for a MasterClass’ All Access Pass. The All Access Pass will give you instant access to this course and 85 others for a 12-month period.

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When John Cage & Marcel Duchamp Played Chess on a Chessboard That Turned Chess Moves Into Electronic Music (1968)

Photograph by Lynn Rosenthal

When is a chess game not a chess game?

When it’s played between Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.

Both the man who turned a urinal into a piece of modern art and the man who reduced musical composition all the way down to silence were fans of taking things to absurd conclusions. And they were both fans of chess; Duchamp the grand master and Cage the dutiful student. Asked in 1974 whether Duchamp was a good teacher, Cage replied, “I was using chess as a pretext to be with him. I didn’t learn, unfortunately, while he was alive to play well.”

But Cage seemed to have little interest in competition. “Duchamp once watched me playing and became indignant when I didn’t win,” he said. “He accused me of not wanting to win.” Instead, he approached chess as he approached the piano—as a decoy, a feint, that leads into another kind of game entirely. In a 1944 tribute to Duchamp, he painted a chessboard that was actually a musical score, and, in 1968, he arranged a public game as a pretext for a musical performance called Reunion, performed in Toronto with Duchamp and his wife Teeny (we have no film of the game-slash-concert; you can see Cage play Teeny in the video above).

Cage was an admirer of the elder artist for over 20 years, playing chess with him frequently. But he “didn’t want to bother Duchamp with his friendship,” writes Sylvere Lotringer, “until he realized that Duchamp’s health was failing. Then he decided to actively seek his company.” Playing on an electronic chess board designed by Lowell Cross, known as the inventor of the laser light show, the two created an extemporaneous composition that lasted as long as the audience, and Duchamp, could tolerate. “The concert,” Cross remembered on the fortieth anniversary of the piece, “began shortly after 8:30 on the evening of March 5, 1968, and concluded at approximately 1:00 a.m. the next morning.”

Debunking a number of misconceptions about the chessboard, Cross explains that its operation “depended upon the covering or uncovering of its 64 photoresistors.” It also contained contact microphones so that “the audience could hear the physical moves of the pieces of the board.” When either player made a move, it triggered one of several electronic “sound-generating systems” created by composers David Behrman, Gordan Mumma, David Tudor, and Cross himself. Additionally, “oscilloscopic images emanated from… modified monochrome and color television screens, which provided visual monitoring of some of the sound events passing through the chessboard.”

As Lotringer describes the scene, the two modernist giants “played until the room emptied. Without a word said, Cage had managed to turn the chess game (Duchamp’s ostensive refusal to work) into a working performance…. Playing chess that night extended life into art—or vice versa. All it took was plugging in their brains to a set of instruments, converting nerve signals into sounds. Eyes became ears, moves music.” Duchamp had given the impression he was done making art. “Cage found a way to lure him into one final public appearance as an artist,” notes the Toronto Dreams Project blog.

Indeed, Cage may have been formulating the idea for over twenty years, each time he sat down to play a game with Duchamp, and lost. When Duchamp arrived in Canada for the performance at what was called the Sightsoundsystems Festival, he had no idea that he would be participating in the headlining event.

What he found when he arrived was a surreal scene. Two of the greatest artists of the twentieth century took their seats in the middle of the stage at the Ryerson Theatre, bathed in bright light and the gaze of the audience. Photographers circled around them, shutters snapping; a movie camera whirred. The stage was a mess of gadgets. There were wires everywhere; a tangle of them plugged right into side of the chessboard. A pair of TV screens was set up on either side of the stage. The Toronto Star called it “a cross between an electronic factory and a movie set.”

Cage lost, as usual, though he was more evenly matched when he played Duchamp’s wife. The three of them, wrote the Globe, were “like figures in a Beckett play, locked in some meaningless game. The audience, staring silently and sullenly at what was placed before it, was itself a character; and its role was as meaningless as the others. It was total non-communication, all around.” The wires running from the chessboard connected to “tuners, amplifiers and all manner of electronic gadgetry,” the Star wrote, filling the room with “screeches, buzzes, twitters and rasps.”

The Star pronounced the event “infinitely boring,” a widely shared critical assessment of the night. (Cage explains the Zen of boredom in his voice-over at the top.) But we can hardly expect most reviewers of either artist’s most experimental work to respond with less than bewilderment, if not outright hostility. It was to be Duchamp’s last public appearance. He passed away a few months later. For Cage, the evening had been a success. As Cross put it, Reunion was “a public celebration of Cage’s delight in living everyday life as an art form.”

Everyday life with Duchamp meant playing chess, and there were few greater influences than Duchamp on Cage’s conceptual approach to what music could be—and what could be music. “Like Duchamp,” writes PBS, “Cage found music around him and did not necessarily rely on expressing something from within.” Further up, see Cage’s 1944, Duchamp-inspired “Chess Pieces” performed on harp and accordion, and above hear a piece he wrote for Duchamp for a sequence in Hans Richter’s 1947 surrealist film Dreams that Money Can Buy.

To delve deeper, you can explore the book, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Chess by Francis M. Naumann.

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

Watch Brian Eno’s Experimental Film “The Ship,” Made with Artificial Intelligence

“How is Brian Eno still finding uncharted waters after half a century spent making music?” asked The Verge’s Jamieson Cox after the release of Eno’s 25th album, The Ship. Calling it a “dark near-masterpiece,” The Onion’s A.V. Club expressed similar astonishment. The album “can hold its own among the very best in a career full of brilliant work…. Forty-one years after Another Green World, Eno is still foraging for new musical ground, and what he’s able to come up with is nothing short of miraculous. When listening to The Ship, we get the sense that he will never stop.”

Should you think that an exaggeration, note that since The Ship, Eno has already released yet another critically acclaimed ambient album, Reflection—like its predecessor, a somber soundtrack for somber times. And like another endlessly productive multimedia artist of his generation, Laurie Anderson, Eno hasn’t only continued to make work that feels deeply connected to the moment, but he has adapted to wave after wave of technological innovation, this time around, harnessing artificial intelligence to create a “generative film” drawn from The Ship’s title track (below).

You can see a trailer for the film at the top of the post, but this hardly does the experience justice, since each viewer’s—or user’s—experience of it will be different. As Pitchfork describes the project: “On a website, ‘The Ship’ plays, and the user can click on tweets of news stories, which appear alongside historical photos.” The film utilizes “a bespoke artificial intelligence programme,” the site explains, “developed by the Dentsu Lab Tokyo,” exploring “various historical photographic images and real-time news feeds to compose a collective photographic memory of humankind.” (Dentsu received a prestigious prize nomination from the European Commission for their work.)

It’s a conceptually grandiose project—which makes sense given its source material. The Ship, the musical project, takes its inspiration from the Titanic, “the ship that could never sink,” Eno told The New York Times, “and… the First World War was the war that we couldn’t possibly lose—this mentality suffused powerful men. They get this idea that, ‘We’re unstoppable, so therefore, we’ll go ahead and do it….’ And they can’t.” Eno continues in this vein of tragic exploration with the film, remarking in a statement:

Humankind seems to teeter between hubris and paranoia: the hubris of our ever-growing power contrasts with the paranoia that we’re permanently and increasingly under threat. At the zenith we realise we have to come down again… we know that we have more than we deserve or can defend, so we become nervous. Somebody, something is going to take it all from us: that is the dread of the wealthy. Paranoia leads to defensiveness, and we all end up in the trenches facing each other across the mud.

The interactive visual representation takes these themes even further, asking how much we as spectators of hubris and paranoia are complicit in perpetuating them, or perhaps changing and shaping their direction through technology: “Does the machine intelligence produce a point of view independent of its makers or its viewers? Or are we—human and machine—ultimately co-creating new and unexpected meanings?”

You be the judge. See your own personalized version of Eno’s The Ship film here.

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

Watch the New Anime Prequel to Blade Runner 2049, by Famed Japanese Animator Shinichiro Watanabe

The run-up to Blade Runner 2049, befitting what now looks like the cinematic event of the decade, has consisted of not just marketing hype (though it does include plenty of that) but genuine artistic material as well. Last month we featured Nexus: 2036, the first of three short “prequels” to Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Blade Runner sequel. That one and its follow up 2048: Nowhere to Run, both directed by Luke Scott (son of Blade Runner director Ridley Scott), use live action to fill in some of the story between the 2019 of the first movie and the 2049 of the second. The just-released third short, Black Out 2022, from Cowboy Bebop director Shinichirō Watanabe, brings the Blade Runner universe into the realm of Japanese animation.

Blade Runner was definitely the movie that influenced me the most as an anime director,” says Watanabe in the preview of his prequel down below. He and other Japanese viewers understood the film’s power long before most anyone in the West (with the notable exception of Philip K. Dick, author of its source material), and Japanese artists began paying tribute to it almost immediately.

In a sense, Blade Runner took anime form thirty years ago: Katsuhito Akiyama’s animated series Bubblegum Crisis, the story of artificial humans (called “booomers” instead of replicants) run amok and the advanced police team (called “Knight Sabers” instead of “Blade Runners”) who hunt them down in a Tokyo of the future rebuilt after a disastrous earthquake, could hardly wear its influence more openly.

Filled with visual, sonic, and thematic references to the original Blade Runner while taking the story in new directions — and also introducing two new replicant characters — Watanabe’s Black Out 2022–viewable up top–depicts the events leading up to the detonation of an electromagnetic pulse that destroys the electronics and machinery on which humanity has become so reliant. Humanity blames the replicants, and so begins a period of prohibition on replicant production, only brought to an end by the efforts of Niander Wallace, the character so eerily played by Jared Leto in Nexus: 2036Blade Runner 2049 will pick things up 26 years after the EMP attack. What shape will Los Angeles be in then? What shape will the cat-and-mouse game between replicants and Blade Runners take there? We’ll find out, and surely in no small amount of detail, next month.

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Watch Tears In the Rain: A Blade Runner Short Film–A New, Unofficial Prequel to the Ridley Scott Film

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Marilyn Monroe & Elvis Presley Star in an Action-Packed Pop Art Japanese Monster Movie

Designed by Erik Winkowski, this wild cut-out animation, called “Scary Prairie,” features pop icons, an Andy Warhol aesthetic, Japanese monsters, homages to Wild West films, all in one action-packed minute. What more could you want?

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If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Messy n Chic

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Photo Archive Lets You Download 4,300 High-Res Photographs of the Historic Normandy Invasion

Taxis to Hell – and Back – Into the Jaws of Death, by Robert F. Sargent, via Wikimedia Commons

In the mid-20th century, theorists like Roland Barthes and Pierre Bourdieu exploded naive notions of photography as “a perfectly realistic and objective recording of the visible world… a ‘natural language,’” as Bourdieu wrote in Photography: A Middlebrow Art. Bourdieu himself wielded a camera during his ethnographic work in Algeria, taking dozens of conventional and unconventional photographs of the nation’s struggle for independence from France in the 50s. Yet he urged us to see photography as formally mediating social reality rather than transparently representing the truth.

We have been trained to interpret the perspectives most photographs adopt as objective views, when in fact they are “perfectly in keeping with the representation of the world which has dominated Europe since the Quattrocento.” Photography, in other words, tends to give us art imitating Renaissance art. It can be difficult to bear this in mind when we look at individual photographs—what Barthes calls “the This.”

Whether they document our own family histories or such momentous events as the Normandy Invasion that began on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, photographs elicit powerful emotional reactions that defy aesthetic categories.

At the Flickr account PhotosNormandie, you can browse and search over 4,300 high resolution photographs from the pivotal Normandy campaign, “From iconic images like Into the Jaws of Death by Robert F. Sargent,” My Modern Met writes, “to troops interacting with locals as they liberate areas of Normandy.” The photos are deeply affecting, often awe-inspiring. When we look with a critical eye, we’ll find ourselves asking certain questions about them.

The skewed perspective and ominous sky in Sargent’s “Into the Jaws of Death,” for example, at the top of the post, might make us think of the Sturm und Drang of many a dramatic shipwreck painting from the Romantic period. Was Sargent aware of the similarity when he looked through the lens? Did he position himself to heighten the effect? In photos like that further up, of a French home displaying a pro-U.S. sign on July 11th, 1944, we might wonder whether the residents made the sign or whether it was given to them, perhaps for this very photo op. As always, we’re justified in asking about the role of the photographer in staging or framing a particular scene.

For example, the photo of a German soldier surrendering to American G.I.s, above, looks staged. But what exactly these soldiers are doing remains a mystery. How much do these external details matter? Photography is unique among other visual arts in that “the Photograph,” Barthes writes, “reproduces to infinity” what has “occurred only once.” It is the meeting of infinity with “only once” that engages us in more existential explorations.  All of these soldiers and civilians, sharing their joy and anguish, most of them now passed into history. Who were these people? What did these moments mean to them? What do they mean to us 70 years later?

The bombed-out cathedrals and defeated tanks make us ponder the fragility of our own built environment, though the destructive forces threatening to undo the modern world now seem as likely to be natural as man-made—or rather some new, frightening combination of the two. In the faces of the wounded and the displaced, we see specific manifestations of the same tragic invasions and migrations that reach back to Thucydides and forward to the present moment in world history, in which some 60 million people displaced by war and hardship seek sanctuary.

The images draw us away into general observations as they draw us back to the unrepeatable moment. This project began on the 60th anniversary of D-Day “as a way,” My Modern Met explains, “to crowdsource descriptions of images on the now defunct Archives Normandie, 1939-1945. Thus, users are encouraged to comment on photos if they are able to improve descriptions, locations, and identifications.” History may rhyme with the present—as one famous quote attributed to Mark Twain has it—but it never exactly repeats. The photograph, Barthes wrote, “mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.” Moments forever lost to time, transmuted into timelessness by the camera’s eye. Enter the PhotosNormandie gallery here.

via My Modern Met

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

The Strange Story of Dr. James Barry, the Pioneering 19th Century British Doctor Who Was a Woman in Disguise

The work of many recent historians has brought more balance to the field, but even within heavily masculinist, Eurocentric histories, we find nonwhite people who slipped past racial gatekeepers to leave their mark, and women who made it past the gender police—sometimes under the guise of male pen names, and sometimes in disguise, as in the case of Dr. James Barry, who, upon his death in 1865, turned out to be “a perfect female,” as the surprised woman who washed the body discovered.

What makes Dr. Barry—born in Ireland as Margaret Bulkley, niece of the painter James Barry—such a noteworthy person besides passing for male in the company of people who did not tolerate gender fluidity? As the Irish Times writes in a review of a new biography, “her life as James Barry was a succession of audacious firsts—the first woman to become a doctor; the first to perform a successful caesarean delivery; a pioneer in hospital reform and hygiene; and the first woman to rise to the rank of general in the British Army (Barry’s commission, signed by Queen Victoria, still exists).”

When Barry’s sex was discovered, it caused a sensation, inspiring everyone from muckraking anonymous journalists to Charles Dickens to weigh in on the case. The tale “was explored in novels,” notes The Guardian, “and even a play,” but the “true story is both more prosaic and infinitely more strange.” The video at the top of the post walks us through Barry’s career serving the Empire in South Africa, where she treated soldiers, lepers, and ailing mothers. Margaret’s story as Dr. Barry begins in Cork when, longing for adventure at 18, she first decided to take on the persona of “a hot-tempered ladies’ man,” Atlas Obscura writes, “donning three-inch heeled shoes, a plumed hat, and sword.” When her wealthy uncle passed away and left the family his fortune, she also took his name.

Three years later in 1809, with the encouragement of her mentor and guardian, Venezuelan general Francisco Miranda, “she decided to embody a smooth-faced young man in order to attend the men’s-only University of Edinburgh and practice medicine—a guise that would last for 56 years.” Margaret’s early years were marked by hardship and tragedy. In her teens she had been raped by a family member and had born a child. When she became James Barry, a physician attending to pregnant women, she “had a secret advantage,” her biographers Michael du Preez and Jeremy Dronfield write. “There was not another practicing physician in the world who knew from personal experience what it was like to bear a child.”

But of course, she did not need to experience leprosy or gunshot wounds to treat the many hundreds of patients in her care. Her sex was incidental to her skill as a physician. Margaret Bulkley’s transformation may be “one of the longest deceptions of gender identity ever recorded,” writes du Preez. Barry “is remembered for this sensational fact rather than for the real contributions that she made to improve the health and the lot of the British soldier as well as civilians.” The doctor’s wild personal story weaves through the lives of commoners and aristocrats, soldiers and revolutionaries, duels and illicit love affairs, and is surely worthy of an HBO miniseries. Her medical accomplishments are worthy of public memorialization, Joanna Smith argues at CBC News, along with a host of other accomplished women who changed the world, even as their legacies were elbowed aside to make even more room for famous men.

via The Guardian

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

A Virtual Tour of Japan’s Inflatable Concert Hall

After the massive Fukushima earthquake in 2011, architect Arata Isozaki and artist Anish Kapoor created the Ark Nova, an inflatable mobile concert hall, designed to bring music to devastated parts of Japan. Made of a stretchy plastic membrane, the Ark Nova can be inflated within two hours. Add air in the afternoon. At night, enjoy a concert in a 500-seat performance hall. Afterwards, deflate, pack on truck, and move the gift of music to the next city.

Marc Kushner, author of The Future of Architecture in 100 Buildings, takes us on a virtual tour of the concert hall in the video above. Over on the website Dezeen, you can see an array of photos, showing both the interior and exterior of this ingenious structure.

via Swiss Miss

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If you would like to support the mission of Open Culture, consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, and Venmo (@openculture). Thanks!

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