Leonard Bernstein Introduces the Moog Synthesizer to the World in 1969, Playing an Electrified Version of Bach’s “Little Fugue in G”

When Wendy Carlos released Switched-On Bach in 1968, her “greatest hits” compilation of the Baroque composer’s music, played entirely on the Moog analog synthesizer, the album became an immediate hit with both classical and pop audiences. Not only was it “acclaimed as real music by musicians and the listening public alike,” as Bob Moog himself has written, but “as a result, the Moog Synthesizer was suddenly accepted with open arms by the music business community.” There’s some exaggeration here. Stars like the Doors, the Monkees, and the Byrds had already recorded with Moogs the year before. And some classical purists (and classical Luddites) did not, in fact, hail Switched-On Bach as “real music.”

But on the whole, Carlos’s innovative demonstration of the electronic instrument’s capabilities (and her own) marks a milestone in music history as the first classical album to go Platinum, and as the first introduction of both Baroque music and the Moog synthesizer to millions of people unfamiliar with either.

Were it not for Carlos’s “use of the Moog’s oscillations, squeaks, drones, chirps, and other sounds,” as Bruce Eder writes at Allmusic, it’s unlikely we would have the video clip above, of Leonard Bernstein giving his own demonstration of the Moog (dig his hip “HAL” reference from the prior year’s 2001: A Space Odyssey), during one of his popular televised “Young People’s Concerts.”

Having just begun moving out of the studio, the Moog was still a collection of modular boxes and patch cables—an engineer’s instrument—and it takes four men to wheel it out on stage. (The easily portable, self-contained Minimoog wouldn’t appear until 1970.) Most people had no idea what a Moog actually looked like. But, its forbidding appearance aside, the sounds of the Moog were everywhere.

Bernstein mentions Carlos, and those stuffy purists, and makes a few more sci-fi jokes, then, instead of sitting at the keyboard, hits play on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. This pre-recorded version of Bach’s “Little Fugue in G” was actually arranged by Walter Sear (sample Carlos’s version here), and the recording lacks some of the panache of Carlos’s playing while the tinny playback system makes it sound like 8-bit video game music. But for this audience, the musical wizardly was still decidedly fresh.

The choice of Bach as Moog material was not just a matter of taste—his music was uniquely suited for Moog adaptation. As Carlos explains, “it was contrapuntal (not chords but musical lines, like the Moog produced), it used clean, Baroque lines, not demanding great ‘expressivo’ (a weakness in the Moog at the time), and it was neutral as to orchestration.” The Moog could also, it seems, make Bach’s fugues fly at almost superhuman speeds. Hear the “Little Fugue” played at a much more stately tempo, on a traditional pipe organ, further up, and hear it break into a run in the majestic performance just above.

Organs and harpsichords, strings and horns, these are still of course the instruments we think of when we think of Bach. Despite Carlos’s inventive foray—and its follow-up, The Well-Tempered Synthesizerthe synthesizer did not radicalize the classical music world, though its avant-garde offspring made much use of it. But it sure changed the sound of pop music, and wowed the kids who saw Bernstein’s program, some of whom may have gone on to popularize both electronic instruments and classical themes in prog-rock, disco, and yes, even video game music. See the Moog segment in the context of the full, one-hour “Young People’s Concert” here.

via Synthtopia

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

What Makes Flea Such an Amazing Bass Player? A Video Essay Breaks Down His Style

When punk rock began to wend its way out of the three-chord guitar attack and into a new generation of mannerisms, it tended to be bass players who led the way. Joy Division’s Peter Hook, Public Image Ltd’s Jah Wobble, The Cure’s Simon Gallup, Bauhaus’s David J. With their moody takes on dub reggae, chord-driven melodicism, and lead lines on the upper frets, these were innovative players, but they still embraced the relative simplicity of punk at their core. Across the pond, then across the continent, however, in Southern California, punk bass took a much more animated, virtuosic character, thanks to jazz and funk-inspired legends like Minutemen’s Mike Watt and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, who has become, since his early 80s beginnings one of the most famous rock musicians in the world for his speed and unparalleled technique.

The shirtless wonder, who comes across both onstage and off as incredibly gregarious, yet humble, was once voted by Rolling Stone readers as the second best bassist of all time, and it’s not hard to see why, for example, in the mind-blowing video just above. But it is hard to see how. How does he do it? And what exactly is “it,” that incomparable Flea style? Where did it come from?

The Polyphonic video at the top breaks it down for us, the combination of funk slapping and popping and punk speed and aggression, combined with a melodicism Flea developed as a counterpoint to John Frusciante’s rhythmic guitar lines. Flea’s incredibly detailed attacks stand out for their novelty and precision, but it’s his ear for melody that makes his playing so distinctively musical, even when pared down and slowed down in RHCP’s ballads.

Some bassists weave lines around guitars and vocals, some mostly synchronize with the drummer’s kicks and hits—Flea does both, shifting from style to style within songs, and sometimes sounding like he’s playing two basses at once. His syncopated slap bass hits, courtesy of Sly Stone’s Larry Graham, create a secondary backbeat slightly ahead or behind Chad Smith’s drumming; his use of strummed chords, wild leaps around the neck, and beautifully melodic voicing make his bass playing an essential element of every song, rather than a just a low-end harmonic underpinning for more noticeable instrumentation. Funk music has always been bass-driven, and the Chili Peppers’ funkiest tracks, and most excellent covers, follow the tradition. But in rock the bass can feel “like an afterthought.”

In Flea’s more than capable hands, a simple rock bass riff, as in “Snow,” just above, can suddenly become a thing of wonder (check it out at 1:51), even on its own and unaccompanied. Perhaps no bassist since Paul McCartney or John Paul Jones has done as much to turn rock bass into a lead instrument or has written as many memorable bass lines, only Flea can play them ten times faster while leaping several feet in the air. His “astounding instrumentalism” has always been amazing to behold, and not easy to imitate, to say the least. But why try? Bass players can learn a lot from watching Flea and incorporating his expressive techniques into their repertoire. But even Flea himself, perhaps the most recognizable bass player in rock, understands the instrument first and foremost as a supporting player. His best advice? Play in the “spirit of givingness,” as he says in his video lesson below, and listen to the subtleties of the other musicians’ playing. “You want to make everyone else sound good.” Hey, if it’s good enough for Flea….

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

Watch the Making of the Dymaxion Globe: A 3-D Rendering of Buckminster Fuller’s Revolutionary Map

Last year, we shined a light on Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Map. Unveiled back in 1943, the Dymaxion Map (shown below) revolutionized map design, allowing us to see our world in an entirely new way. As the Buckminster Fuller Institute describes it:

Also known as the “Dymaxion Map,” the Fuller Projection Map is the only flat map of the entire surface of the Earth which reveals our planet as one island in one ocean, without any visually obvious distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the land areas, and without splitting any continents.

Fuller’s map has since inspired the award-winning AuthaGraph World Map, created by Japanese architect and artist Hajime Narukawa. And it led robotics engineer Gavin Smith to fashion The Dymaxion Globe, essentially by dividing the Dymaxion Map into triangles and and folding them into a three-dimensional figure. Smith explains the process of making a Dymaxion Globe over at Make Magazine. But above, you can watch it all happen in a video produced by Adam Savage’s Tested YouTube channel. They walk you through the creation of a laser-cut Dymaxion Globe. Enjoy.

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Wim Wenders Explains How Polaroid Photos Ignite His Creative Process and Help Him Capture a Deeper Kind of Truth

Wim Wenders began his prolific feature filmmaking career in 1970, and nearly half a century later — having directed such cinephile favorites as Alice in the CitiesThe American FriendParis, Texas, and Wings of Desire along the way — he shows no signs of slowing down. Known for his collaboration with cinematographers, and with Robby Müller in particular, Wenders has worked in everything from black-and-white 16-millimeter film, when he first started out, to digital 3D, which he’s spent recent years putting to a variety of cinematic ends. But we can trace all of his visions back, in one way or another, to the humble Polaroid instant camera.

“Every movie starts with a certain idea,” says Wenders in the short “Photographers in Focus” video above, and the Polaroid was just a collection of constant ideas.” The auteur speaks over images of some of the Polaroids he’s taken throughout his life, relating his history with the medium.

“My very first Polaroid camera was a very simple one. Mid-sixties. I was 20, and I used Polaroid cameras exclusively until I was about 35 or so. Most of them I gave away, because when you took Polaroids, people were always greedy and wanted them because it was an object, it was a singular thing.”

Wenders describes his Polaroids as “very insightful into the process of my first six, seven movies, all the movies I did through the seventies,” the era in which he mastered the form of the road movie first in his native Germany, then in the much-mythologized United States. He not only shot Polaroids in preparation, but during production, snapping them casually, much as one would on a genuine road trip. “Polaroids were never so exact about the framing. You didn’t really care about that. It was about the immediacy of it. It’s almost a subconscious act, and then it became something real. That makes it such a window into your soul as well.” Polaroid photographs, as Wenders sees them, capture a deeper kind of truth. It’s no surprise, then, even in age of the 3D digital camera, to see them making a comeback.

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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.

Hear Hours of Lectures by Michel Foucault: Recorded in English & French Between 1961 and 1983

Tucked in the afterward of the second, 1982 edition of Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow’s Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, we find an important, but little-known essay by Foucault himself titled “The Subject and Power.” Here, the French theorist offers what he construes as a summary of his life’s work: spanning 1961’s Madness and Civilization up to his three-volume, unfinished History of Sexuality, still in progress at the time of his death in 1984. He begins by telling us that he has not been, primarily, concerned with power, despite the word’s appearance in his essay’s title, its arguments, and in nearly everything else he has written. Instead, he has sought to discover the “modes of objectification which transform human beings into subjects.”

This distinction may seem abstruse, a needlessly wordy matter of semantics. It is not so for Foucault. In key critical difference lies the originality of his project, in all its various stages of development. “Power,” as an abstraction, an objective relation of dominance, is static and conceptual, the image of a tyrant on a coin, of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan seated on his throne.

Subjection, subjectification, objectivizing, individualizing, on the other hand—critical terms in Foucault’s vocabulary—are active processes, disciplines and practices, relationships between individuals and institutions that determine the character of both. These relationships can be located in history, as Foucault does in example after example, and they can also be critically studied in the present, and thus, perhaps, resisted and changed in what he terms “anarchistic struggles.”

Foucault calls for a “new economy of power relations,” and a critical theory that takes “forms of resistance against different forms of power as a starting point.” For example, in approaching the carceral state, we must examine the processes that divide “the criminals and the ‘good boys,’” processes that function independently of reason. How is it that a system can create classes of people who belong in cages and people who don’t, when the standard rational justification—the protection of society from violence—fails spectacularly to apply in millions of cases? From such excesses, Foucault writes, come two “’diseases of power’—fascism and Stalinism.” Despite the “inner madness” of these “pathological forms” of state power, “they used to a large extent the ideas and the devices of our political rationality.”

People come to accept that mass incarceration, or invasive medical technologies, or economic deprivation, or mass surveillance and over-policing, are necessary and rational. They do so through the agency of what Foucault calls “pastoral power,” the secularization of religious authority as integral to the Western state.

This form of power cannot be exercised without knowing the inside of people’s minds, without exploring their souls, without making them reveal their innermost secrets. It implies a knowledge of the conscience and an ability to direct it.

In the last years of Foucault’s life, he shifted his focus from institutional discourses and mechanisms—psychiatric, carceral, medical—to disciplinary practices of self-control and the governing of others by “pastoral” means. Rather than ignoring individuality, the modern state, he writes, developed “as a very sophisticated structure, in which individuals can be integrated, under one condition: that this individuality would be shaped in a new form and submitted to a set of very specific patterns.” While writing his monumental History of Sexuality, he gave a series of lectures at Berkeley that explore the modern policing of the self.

In his lectures on “Truth and Subjectivity” (1980), Foucault looks at forms of interrogation and various “truth therapies” that function as subtle forms of coercion. Foucault returned to Berkeley in 1983 and delivered the lecture “Discourse and Truth,” which explores the concept of parrhesia, the Greek term meaning “free speech,” or as he calls it, “truth-telling as an activity.” Through analysis of the tragedies of Euripides and contemporary democratic crises, he reveals the practice of speaking truth to power as a kind of tightly controlled performance. Finally, in his lecture series “The Culture of the Self,” Foucault discusses ancient and modern practices of “self care” or “the care of the self” as technologies designed to produce certain kinds of tightly bounded subjectivities.

You can hear parts of these lectures above or visit our posts with full audio above. Also, over at Ubuweb, download the lectures as mp3s, and hear several earlier talks from Foucault in French, dating all the way back to 1961.

When he began his final series of talks in 1980, the philosopher was asked in an interview with the Daily Californian about the motivations for his critical examinations of power and subjectivity. His reply speaks to both his practical concern for resistance and his almost utopian belief in the limitless potential for human freedom. “No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us,” Foucault says.

We have to rise up against all forms of power—but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power.

Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good.

Read Foucault’s statement of intent, his essay “The Subject and Power,” and learn more about his life and work in the 1993 documentary below.

Foucault’s lecture series will be added to our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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

Artificial Intelligence May Have Cracked the Code of the Voynich Manuscript: Has Modern Technology Finally Solved a Medieval Mystery?

What is it about the Voynich Manuscript—that cryptic, illustrated 15th century text of unknown origin and meaning—that has so fascinated and obsessed scholars for centuries? Written in what appears to be an invented language, with bizarre illustrations of otherworldly botany, mysterious cosmology, and strange anatomy, the book resembles other proto-scientific texts of the time, except for the fact that it is totally indecipherable, “a certain riddle of the Sphinx,” as one alchemist described it. The 240-page enigma inspires attempt after attempt by cryptologists, linguists, and historians eager to understand its secrets—that is if it doesn’t turn out to be a too-clever Medieval joke.

One recent try, by Nicholas Gibbs, has perhaps not lived up to the hype. Another recent attempt by Stephen Bax, who wrote the short TED Ed lesson above, has also come in for its share of criticism. Given the investment of scholars since the 17th century in cracking the Voynich code, both of these efforts might justifiably be called quite optimistic. The Voynich may forever elude human understanding, though it was, presumably, created by human hands. Perhaps it will take a machine to finally solve the puzzle, an artificial brain that can process more data than the combined efforts of every scholar who has ever applied their talents to the text. Computer scientists at the University of Alberta think so and claim to have cracked the Voynich code with artificial intelligence (AI).

Computer science professor Greg Kondrak and graduate student Bradley Hauer began their project by feeding a computer program 400 different languages, taken from the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” While “they initially hypothesized that the Voynich manuscript was written in [ancient] Arabic,” reports Jennifer Pascoe, “it turned out that the most likely language was [ancient] Hebrew.” (Previous guesses, the CBC notes, “have ranged from a type of Latin to a derivation of Sino-Tibetan.”) The next step involved deciphering the manuscript’s code. Kondrak and Hauer discovered that “the letters in each word… had been reordered. Vowels had been dropped.” The theory seemed promising, but the pair were unable to find any Hebrew scholars who would look at their findings.

Without human expertise to guide them, they turned to another AI, whose results, we know, can be notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, feeding the first sentence into Google translate yielded the following: “She made recommendations to the priest, man of the house and me and people.” It’s at least grammatical, though Kondrak admits “it’s a kind of strange sentence to start a manuscript.” Other analyses of the first section have turned up several other words, such as “farmer,” “light,” “air,” and “fire”—indeed the scientists have found 80 percent of the manuscript’s words in ancient Hebrew dictionaries. Figuring out how they fit together in a comprehensible syntax has proven much more difficult. Kondrak and Hauer admit these results are tentative, and may be wrong. Without corroboration from Hebrew experts, they are also unlikely to be taken very seriously by the scholarly community.

But the primary goal was not to translate the Voynich but to use it as a means of creating algorithms that could decipher ancient languages. “Importantly,” notes Gizmodo, “the researchers aren’t saying they’ve deciphered the entire Voynich manuscript,” far from it. But they might have discovered the keys that others may use to do so. Or they may—as have so many others—have been led down another blind alley, as one commenter at IFL Science suggests, sarcastically quoting the wise Bullwinkle Moose: “This time for sure!”

You can find the Voynich Manuscript scanned at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Copies can be purchased in book format as well.

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

Literary Theorist Stanley Fish Offers a Free Course on Rhetoric, or the Power of Arguments

Stanley Fish, the well-known literary theorist and legal scholar, now has a short online course called “Rhetoric and Reality” that’s being offered through AIA Academy. The course (which requires a username and password) covers the following ground:

Arguments are woven throughout our public and private lives. What determines which win the day? Renowned literary and legal theorist Stanley Fish leads us through literature, politics and the domestic to reveal the power – and inevitability – of rhetoric.

From the courtroom to the bedroom, arguments are woven throughout our private and public lives: they are how we decide what’s right, what’s true and what we should do. With examples ranging from Milton’s Paradise Lost to the legalization of same sex marriage and Donald Trump, Fish shows us how the rules of engagement shift between contexts – and how rhetoric is the key to success in all of them.

Drawing from his bestselling book Winning Arguments, Fish makes the controversial claim that facts are merely opinions that have been made to stick – and what makes them stick is nothing more than successfully deployed arguments.

Take the course to learn:

–What Milton’s Paradise Lost teaches us about the power of rhetoric and the first ever domestic quarrel
–The techniques Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony uses to provoke his audience to violence
–What characterizes Donald Trump’s rhetorical style – and how it breaks all the rules
–How the case for same sex marriage was really won through a cultural shift rather than careful legal argument
–The tricks climate change deniers use to sow doubt
–The Five Key Truths about domestic quarrels – and why self-help guides to marital harmony almost never work

“Rhetoric and Reality” will be added to our big list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Boston Public Library Launches a Crowdsourced Project to Transcribe 40,000 Documents from Its Anti-Slavery Collection: You Can Now Help

We can hardly understand America without understanding American history. Can we understand American history without understanding slavery? Many a historian would answer with an unqualified no, and not simply because they want to see Americans meditate on the sins of their ancestors: plunging into the controversies around slavery, seeing how Americans made arguments for and against it at the time, can help us approach and interpret the other large-scale legal and moral battles that have since raged in the country, and continue to rage in it today.

The Boston Public Library’s Anti-Slavery Collection, one particularly important resource in that intellectual effort, could use our help in making its considerable resources more readily available. “For the past several years, we have been diligently cataloging and digitizing manuscript correspondences from our Anti-Slavery collection,” writes the BPL’s Tom Blake, all of which “document the thoughts, transactions, and activities of the abolitionist movement in Boston, Massachusetts, and throughout New England.”

Now, “in order to make this collection more valuable to researchers, scholars, and historians we are pleased to announce the launch of a new website which will make these handwritten items available for you to transcribe into machine readable text.”

It’s no small job: the collection contains roughly 40,000 pieces of “correspondence, broadsides, newspapers, pamphlets, books, and memorabilia from the 1830s through the 1870s,” including the work of some of the most notable American, British, and Irish abolitionists of the day. But the combined efforts of everyone willing to transcribe a few documents, will, in Blake’s words, “allow the text corpus to be more precisely searchable and better suited for natural language processing applications – helping researchers better understand patterns, relationships, and trends embedded in the linguistics of this particular community.” Which, ultimately, will help us all to better understand America. If you’d like to lend a hand, you can create an account and start transcribing at the Anti-Slavery Collection’s site today.

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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.

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