The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time: A Playlist Curated by Pitchfork

What makes a good ambi­ent record? I’m not sure I can even begin to answer that ques­tion, and I count myself a long­time fan of the genre, such as it is. Though con­ceived, osten­si­bly, by Bri­an Eno as mod­ernist mood music—“as ignor­able as it is inter­est­ing,” he wrote in the lin­er notes to 1978’s Ambi­ent 1: Music for Air­ports—the term has come to encom­pass “tracks you can dance to all the way to harsh noise.” This descrip­tion from com­pos­er and musi­cian Kei­th Fuller­ton Whit­man at Pitch­fork may not get us any clos­er to a clear def­i­n­i­tion in prose, though “cloud of sound” is a love­ly turn of phrase.

Unlike oth­er forms of music, there is no set of standards—both in the jazz sense of a canon and the for­mal sense of a set of rules. Rever­ber­at­ing key­boards, squelch­ing, burp­ing syn­the­siz­ers, dron­ing gui­tar feed­back, field record­ings, found sounds, lap­tops, strings… what­ev­er it takes to get you there—“there” being a state of sus­pend­ed emo­tion, “drift­ing” rather than “dri­ving,” the sounds “sooth­ing, sad, haunt­ing, or omi­nous.” (Cheer­ful, upbeat ambi­ent music may be a con­tra­dic­tion in terms.)

Giv­en the loose­ness of these cri­te­ria, it only stands to rea­son that “good” ambi­ent must be judged on far more sub­jec­tive terms than most any oth­er kind of music. Next to “atmos­pher­ic,” a pri­ma­ry oper­a­tive word in an ambi­ent crit­i­cal lex­i­con is “evoca­tive,” and what the music evokes will dif­fer vast­ly from lis­ten­er to lis­ten­er. “No one agrees on the lan­guage sur­round­ing this music,” Whit­man admits, “not the musi­cians who make it, not the audi­ence.”

Ambient’s close asso­ci­a­tion with trends in avant-garde min­i­mal­ism, from Erik Satie to Steve Reich, La Monte Young, and Charle­magne Pales­tine, may pre­pare us for its many crossover strains in elec­tron­ic music, but not, per­haps, for the seem­ing syn­er­gy between ambi­ent and cer­tain devel­op­ments in heavy met­al (though Lou Reed seems to have pre­saged this evo­lu­tion). “There are many roads one can take into this par­tic­u­lar sec­tor,” writes Whit­man, “vir­tu­al­ly every extant sub- and micro-genre has an ambi­ent shad­ow.”

Such ecu­meni­cal­ism is a fea­ture: it means that a list like Pitchfork’s “50 Best Ambi­ent Albums of All Time” (stream most of those albums on the Spo­ti­fy playlist above) can pull from an impres­sive­ly wide array of musi­cal domains, from the ear­ly exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic music of Lau­rie Spiegel to the spir­i­tu­al jazz of Alice Coltrane; the chill-out elec­tron­i­ca of The Orb and The KLF to the ethe­re­al indie post-folk dream­pop of Grouper, a very rare entry with vocals.

If the genre has stars, Tim Heck­er and William Basin­s­ki might be con­sid­ered two of them; if it has august fore­bears, Pauline Oliv­eros, Ter­ry Riley, and of course Eno are three. (Music for Air­ports comes in at num­ber one, though anoth­er very well-cho­sen inclu­sion here is Eno and Harold Budd’s utter­ly gor­geous The Pearl.) Oth­er entries I’m very pleased to see on this list include albums by Gas, com­pos­er Max Richter, and vocal exper­i­men­tal­ist Juliana Bar­wick, artists who might nev­er share a stage, but sit quite com­fort­ably next to each oth­er here.

What’s miss­ing? Maybe the glacial­ly slow, gui­tar and bass drones of Sunn O))) or the deeply unnerv­ing noise of Pruri­ent or the lush elec­tro-acoustic com­po­si­tions of Ash­ley Bel­louin, I don’t know. These aren’t com­plaints but sug­ges­tions on the order of if you like Pitchfork’s “50 Best Ambi­ent Albums of All Time,” check out…. I could go on, but I’d rather leave it to you, read­er. What’s on your list that didn’t make the cut?

Vis­it Pitch­fork’s list here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The “True” Sto­ry Of How Bri­an Eno Invent­ed Ambi­ent Music

10 Hours of Ambi­ent Arc­tic Sounds Will Help You Relax, Med­i­tate, Study & Sleep

Hear “Weight­less,” the Most Relax­ing Song Ever Made, Accord­ing to Researchers (You’ll Need It Today)

Moby Lets You Down­load 4 Hours of Ambi­ent Music to Help You Sleep, Med­i­tate, Do Yoga & Not Pan­ic

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

When Pinball Was Deemed Immoral & Outlawed in Major American Cities

I remem­ber the ear­ly days of the video arcade, where my friends and I went to have fun and spent our par­ents’ cash on Gala­ga, Robot­ron 2084, or–if you were a real­ly big spender–Dragon’s Lair. Then, when we’d get home, and we would see scare pieces on the nation­al news about the evils of the very arcades we had just vis­it­ed, dens of drugs and deprav­i­ty! Where were *those* arcades, we won­dered.

Noth­ing has changed, it seems. Let’s go back near­ly 80 years to anoth­er moral pan­ic: pin­ball.
As these two mini docs show, in the 1930s and ‘40s pin­ball was banned in cities like New York (by may­or and future air­port Fiorel­lo LaGuardia) and Chica­go because of its asso­ci­a­tion with orga­nized crime, but also the appeal it had to the chil­dren of the work­ing class.

They kind of had a point: ear­ly pin­ball machine were pure­ly games of chance, which put it very close to gam­bling. (A mod­ern pachinko machine is clos­er to these ear­ly ver­sions.) Like a carny game, you paid your mon­ey, and you watched as the ball careened down the table, out of your con­trol.

But with the inven­tion of user-con­trolled flip­pers that sent the ball back in play, these games of chance became games of skill. But that didn’t stop some moral cru­saders.

And, as sev­er­al pin­ball fans have found out–like the gen­tle­man in the VICE doc below who want­ed to open a pin­ball museum–antiquated laws remained on the books from those ear­ly years and had nev­er been changed for mod­ern times.

Roger Sharpe, known as “The Man Who Saved Pin­ball,” even went to a Chica­go court in 1976 to prove that pin­ball was a game of skill. In a scene that sounds per­fect for a final act in a movie, Sharpe, with his bar­ber­shop quar­tet mus­tache and groovy out­fit, played pin­ball in front of leg­is­la­tors. Call­ing shots like a pool play­er might, he soon con­vinced the court that skill was every­thing. Sharpe would go on to become a star wit­ness in sim­i­lar hear­ings in Ohio, West Vir­ginia, and Texas over their pin­ball laws.

Iron­i­cal­ly, while video games replaced pin­ball in most arcades, home sys­tems and com­put­ers replaced the need for arcades. It’s now a per­fect time for these pure­ly ana­log and tac­tile machines to make a come­back. Hell, a rock band might even make a musi­cal about it one day.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Orson Welles Teach­es Bac­carat, Craps, Black­jack, Roulette, and Keno at Cae­sars Palace (1978)

Sad 7‑Foot Tall Clown Sings “Pin­ball Wiz­ard” in the Style of John­ny Cash, and Oth­er Hits by Roy Orbi­son, Cheap Trick & More

Play a Col­lec­tion of Clas­sic Hand­held Video Games at the Inter­net Archive: Pac-Man, Don­key Kong, Tron and MC Ham­mer

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 and/or watch his films here.

Hear Philip Roth Read from Five of His Major Novels: Sabbath’s Theater, The Ghost Writer and More

“I saw and heard some­thing remark­able just a few hours ago,” wrote New York­er edi­tor David Rem­nick a lit­tle over five years ago, “some­thing I’m not like­ly to for­get until all the mech­a­nisms of remem­ber­ing are shot and I’m tucked away for good.” He had attend­ed an eight­i­eth-birth­day cel­e­bra­tion for the late Philip Roth at the Newark Muse­um. There, after a series of trib­utes from fel­low lit­er­ary fig­ures includ­ing Jonathan Lethem, Hermione Lee, and Edna O’Brien, the Newark-born-and-raised nov­el­ist gave what Rem­nick described as “the most aston­ish­ing lit­er­ary per­for­mance I’ve ever wit­nessed.”

Roth began by nam­ing all the mem­o­ries of his Newark child­hood about which he would not speak that evening, from “the news­reels at the Roo­sevelt The­atre” to “the fights at Lau­rel Gar­den” to “see­ing Jack­ie Robin­son play for the Mon­tre­al Roy­als against the Newark Bears, at Rup­pert Sta­di­um” and much else besides. Then, after admit­ting that he had com­mit­ted par­alip­sis, the rhetor­i­cal tech­nique of bring­ing up a sub­ject by say­ing that you won’t, “Roth final­ly set­tled into his real theme of the night: death. Hap­py birth­day, indeed!”

You can hear Roth’s per­for­mance in its 45-minute entire­ty in this video, in which he also reads a pas­sage from 1995’s Sab­bath’s The­ater. You can see Roth giv­ing anoth­er read­ing from that book, which he calls his favorite (and also “death-haunt­ed”), in the 92Y video at the top of the post.

Its title char­ac­ter, the sex-obsessed 63-year-old pup­peteer Mick­ey Sab­bath, exists as a law unto him­self. He lives a chaot­ic, sor­did­ly plea­sure-seek­ing life in response, Roth explains, “to a place where noth­ing keeps its promise and every­thing is per­ish­able.”

Among Roth’s 31 books, the stand­alone Sab­bath’s The­ater lays a fair claim to the title of his mas­ter­piece. But unlike oth­er mem­o­rable Roth pro­tag­o­nists, Sab­bath starred in no oth­er books. The most sprawl­ing char­ac­ter-con­nect­ed series Roth wrote, which spans nine books writ­ten over near­ly three decades, fea­tures nov­el­ist and autho­r­i­al alter ego Nathan Zuck­er­man.

You can hear Roth read selec­tions from the first three Zuck­er­man nov­els, 1979’s The Ghost Writer (also known as Zuck­er­man Bound), 1981’s Zuck­er­man Unbound, and 1983’s The Anato­my Les­son, in the three videos above. Roth’s last cycle of nov­els were con­nect­ed not by com­mon char­ac­ters but by their short length and, in their brevi­ty, even more intense explo­rations of the themes, or theme, always dear to him: what it means to have grown up Amer­i­can at a cer­tain peri­od in his­to­ry, and how that mean­ing trans­forms and deep­ens with age.

In the video above, Roth reads the end of 2010’s Neme­sis, his final nov­el­is­tic med­i­ta­tion on that theme. In it sev­er­al char­ac­ters of his gen­er­a­tion, then young boys, watch their teacher throw a javelin. “Run­ning with the javelin aloft, stretch­ing his throw­ing arm back behind his body, bring­ing the throw­ing arm through to release the javelin high over his shoul­der, and releas­ing it then like an explo­sion, he seemed to us invin­ci­ble.” The awe Neme­sis’ nar­ra­tor and his friends feel wit­ness­ing that ath­let­ic mas­tery, Roth’s read­ers feel — and will con­tin­ue to feel — wit­ness­ing his lit­er­ary mas­tery.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Philip Roth (RIP) Cre­ates a List of the 15 Books That Influ­enced Him Most

What Was It Like to Have Philip Roth as an Eng­lish Prof?

Philip Roth Pre­dicts the Death of the Nov­el; Paul Auster Coun­ters

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.

19-Year-Old Russian Guitarist Plays an Ingenious Cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”

Alexan­dr Misko, only 19 years old when this video was made, comes from a small town in Rus­sia. There, he steeped him­self in the music of mod­ern Amer­i­can com­posers, includ­ing Steve Reich and Philip Glass. And he taught him­self a fin­ger­style tech­nique of play­ing gui­tar, he tells the web site Cal­i­for­nia Rock­er, that involves “tap­ping,” or play­ing notes on the fret­board of the gui­tar. (It’s a tech­nique that has a long tra­di­tion, but reached its apoth­e­o­sis, if you will, with the 70s and 80s work of Eddie Van Halen.) While tap­ping with one hand, Misko also plays per­cus­sion with the oth­er, using the body of the gui­tar to cre­ate a drum-like rhythm. And then he real­ized, “Hmm, and I can put a lit­tle scrunchy on 2 low strings to mute them and cre­ate that sig­na­ture sound,” known to every­one who’s heard Michael Jack­son’s 1982 hit, “Bil­lie Jean.”

Misko’s “Bil­lie Jean” arrange­ment took a cou­ple of days to work out, then a week to prac­tice play­ing with­out flaws. The result, you have above.

Vis­it Misko’s Youtube channel to see his take on oth­er pop hits like George Michael’s “Care­less Whis­per,” The Cran­ber­ries’ “Zom­bie,” and A‑ha’s “Take on Me,” to name a few. You can pur­chase his new album, Beyond the Box, on iTunes.

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.

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!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A One-Man Pink Floyd Band Cre­ates Note-Per­fect Cov­ers of “Echoes,” “Com­fort­ably Numb,” “Moth­er” & Oth­er Clas­sics: Watch 19-Year-Old Wun­derkind Ewan Cun­ning­ham in Action

What Hap­pens When a Musi­cian Plays Ste­vie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” on a $25 Kids’ Gui­tar at Wal­mart

One Man-Band Plays Amaz­ing Cov­ers, Note-for-Note, of Yes, CSNY, Zep­pelin & More

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David Lynch Made a Disturbing Web Sitcom Called “Rabbits”: It’s Now Used by Psychologists to Induce a Sense of Existential Crisis in Research Subjects

David Lynch has stayed pro­duc­tive in recent years — putting out an album and reviv­ing Twin Peaks, to name just two projects — but more than a decade has gone by since his last fea­ture film. Still, images from that one, 2006’s Inland Empire, may well linger in the heads of its view­ers to this day. Some of the most haunt­ing sequences that com­pose its three hours include clips of Rab­bits, a tele­vi­sion show about those very crea­tures. Or rather, a tele­vi­sion show about humanoid rab­bits who exchange lines of cryp­tic dia­logue in a shad­owy liv­ing room locat­ed, as the show puts it, “in a name­less city del­uged by a con­tin­u­ous rain” where they live “with a fear­ful mys­tery.”

So far, so Lynchi­an. Part of the direc­tor’s sig­na­ture atmos­phere aris­es, of course, from the men­ac­ing­ly pre­sent­ed 1950s domes­tic­i­ty and the bizarre appear­ance of human actors wear­ing expres­sion­less rab­bit heads. But just as much has to do with sound: along with an omi­nous score by fre­quent Lynch col­lab­o­ra­tor Ange­lo Badala­men­ti we hear that con­stant del­uge of rain, with occa­sion­al son­ic punc­tu­a­tion from an inex­plic­a­bly timed laugh track. You can binge-watch Rab­bits’ episodes on YouTube, an expe­ri­ence which will give you a fuller sense of why Uni­ver­si­ty of British Colum­bia psy­chol­o­gists used it to induce a sense of exis­ten­tial cri­sis in research sub­jects.

Lynch shot Rab­bits in 2002 on dig­i­tal video, a medi­um whose free­dom, com­pared to tra­di­tion­al film, he had recent­ly dis­cov­ered. (When he went on to use it for the whole of Inland Empire, the choice seemed as cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly star­tling, at the time, as any he’d ever made.) The shoots hap­pened at night, on a set built in his back­yard. Its prin­ci­pal cast of Nao­mi Watts, Lau­ra Har­ring, and Scott Cof­fey had all appeared the pre­vi­ous year in Lynch’s crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, which itself began as a prospec­tive tele­vi­sion series. (Even the singer Rebekah del Rio, star of Club Silen­cio, turns up in one episode.) Lynch first “aired” the series on his web site, which must place him among not just the artis­tic but tech­ni­cal pio­neers of the web series form.

But why, exact­ly, did he make it in the first place? “Rab­bits is a sit­com,” writes a con­trib­u­tor called Peek 824545301 at The Arti­fice. “It is not mere­ly par­o­dy or satire; it exists as per­haps the most bizarre and arguably lit­er­al sit­com imag­in­able, though still an oppos­ing force that chal­lenges and defa­mil­iar­izes basic con­cepts.” Abstract­ing the basic ele­ments of the sit­com form while strip­ping them of nar­ra­tive, the show also sig­nals com­e­dy on one lev­el and dark­ness on anoth­er, putting itself “simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in align­ment with sit­u­a­tion come­dies in its essence while also serv­ing as a destruc­tive crit­i­cism.” In this view, Lynch moves from medi­um to medi­um not just as a sin­gu­lar kind of cre­ator but — with his imag­i­na­tion that has some­how come up with even stranger things than this rab­bit sit­com — a sin­gu­lar kind of crit­ic as well.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Lynch Posts His Night­mar­ish Sit­com Rab­bits Online–the Show That Psy­chol­o­gists Use to Induce a Sense of Exis­ten­tial Cri­sis in Research Sub­jects

What Makes a David Lynch Film Lynchi­an: A Video Essay

Ange­lo Badala­men­ti Reveals How He and David Lynch Com­posed the Twin Peaks‘ “Love Theme”

Dum­b­land, David Lynch’s Twist­ed Ani­mat­ed Series (NSFW)

Dis­cov­er David Lynch’s Bizarre & Min­i­mal­ist Com­ic Strip, The Angri­est Dog in the World (1983–1992)

David Lynch’s New ‘Crazy Clown Time’ Video: Intense Psy­chot­ic Back­yard Crazi­ness (NSFW)

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.

Explore 7,600 Works of Art by Edvard Munch: They’re Now Digitized and Free Online

If there were ever an exhi­bi­tion of artis­tic “one-hit-won­ders,” sure­ly Edvard Munch’s The Scream would occu­py a cen­tral place, maybe hung adja­cent to Grant Wood’s Amer­i­can Goth­ic. The ratio of those who know this sin­gle paint­ing to those who know the artist’s oth­er works must be expo­nen­tial­ly high, which is some­thing of a shame. That’s not to say The Scream does not deserve its exalt­ed place in pop­u­lar culture—like Wood’s stone-faced Mid­west farm­ers, the wavy fig­ure, clutch­ing its scream­ing skull-like head, res­onates at the deep­est of psy­chic fre­quen­cies, an arche­typ­al evo­ca­tion of exis­ten­tial hor­ror.

Not for noth­ing has Sue Prideaux sub­ti­tled her Munch biog­ra­phy Behind the Scream. “Rarely in the canon of West­ern art,” writes Tom Rosen­thal at The Inde­pen­dent, “has there been so much anx­i­ety, fear and deep psy­cho­log­i­cal pain in one artist. That he lived to be 80 and spent only one peri­od in an asy­lum is a trib­ute not only to Munch’s phys­i­cal sta­mi­na but to his iron will and his innate, robust psy­cho­log­i­cal strength.” Born in Nor­way in 1863, the sick­ly Edvard, whose moth­er died soon after his birth, was raised by a harsh dis­ci­pli­nar­i­an father who read Poe and Dos­to­evsky to his chil­dren and, in addi­tion to beat­ing them “for minor infrac­tions,” would “invoke the image of their blessed moth­er who saw them from heav­en and griev­ed over their mis­be­hav­ior.”

The trau­ma was com­pound­ed by the death of Munch’s sis­ter and, lat­er, his broth­er, and by the insti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion of anoth­er sis­ter, Lau­ra, diag­nosed with schiz­o­phre­nia. Munch’s own child­hood ill­ness made his school­ing errat­ic, though he did man­age to receive some artis­tic train­ing, briefly, at Oslo’s Art Asso­ci­a­tion, an artist’s club where he “learnt by copy­ing the works on dis­play.”

From there the young Munch launched him­self into an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly pro­duc­tive career, punc­tu­at­ed by leg­endary bouts of drink­ing and carous­ing and intense friend­ships with lit­er­ary fig­ures like August Strind­berg.

If we count our­selves among those who know lit­tle of Munch’s work, a new ini­tia­tive from the Munch Muse­um in Oslo aims to cor­rect that by mak­ing over 7,600 of Munch’s draw­ings avail­able online. “The online cat­a­log, free to all,” notes Hyperallergic’s Sarah Rose Sharp, “rep­re­sents a tremen­dous feat of logis­tics, and fea­tures draw­ings that go back as far as the artist’s child­hood, sketch­books, stud­ies of tools, coins, and keys that demon­strate Munch’s ded­i­ca­tion as a dis­ci­plined drafts­man, and water­col­ors of build­ings that were some of the first bod­ies of work devel­oped by the artist in his youth.”

Over 90% of the draw­ings on dig­i­tal dis­play come from the Museum’s hold­ings, the rest from oth­er pub­lic and pri­vate col­lec­tions. “The goal is to make Munch’s art known and eas­i­ly acces­si­ble to as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” Magne Bruteig, Senior Cura­tor for Prints and Draw­ings, tells Hyper­al­ler­gic. “Since the major­i­ty of the draw­ings had nev­er been exhib­it­ed or pub­lished in any way, it has been of spe­cial impor­tance to reveal this ‘hid­den trea­sure.’” The online col­lec­tion, then, not only serves as an intro­duc­tion for Munch novices but also for long­time admir­ers of the artist’s work, who have hith­er­to had lit­tle to no access to this huge col­lec­tion of stud­ies, prepara­to­ry sketch­es, water­col­ors, etc., which includes the mis­er­able fam­i­ly group­ing of Angst, at the top, the reprise of his infa­mous Scream fig­ure, fur­ther up, from 1898, and The Sick Child, above, a por­trait of his sis­ter Sophie who died in child­hood.

The draw­ings date back to 1873, when Munch was only ten years old and insert­ed a series of his own illus­tra­tions into a copy of Grimm’s Fairy­tales. The final works date from 1943, the year before the artist’s death, when he made the self-por­trait above in pas­tel cray­on. Munch’s work, writes Rosen­thal, “is com­pul­sive­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal.” Remain­ing a com­mit­ted bach­e­lor all of his life, he said that “his paint­ings were his chil­dren, even though he gave many of them a some­what Spar­tan upbring­ing, delib­er­ate­ly leav­ing them not only unvar­nished but exposed to the ele­ments in his vast out­door stu­dio or hung on walls, unframed and with nails through them.” The sev­er­al thou­sand draw­ings he fathered seem to have been treat­ed with more care. Delve into the enor­mous col­lec­tion at the Oslo Munch Muse­um site here, where you can also view many of the artist’s paint­ings and learn much more about his life and work through arti­cles and essays.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

30,000 Works of Art by Edvard Munch & Oth­er Artists Put Online by Norway’s Nation­al Muse­um of Art

Edvard Munch’s Famous Paint­ing “The Scream” Ani­mat­ed to the Sound of Pink Floyd’s Pri­mal Music

The Edvard Munch Scream Action Fig­ure

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

Watch the Rise and Fall of the British Empire in an Animated Time-Lapse Map ( 519 A.D. to 2014 A.D.)

The genre of ani­mat­ed time-lapse video maps—portraying the rise and fall of empires, the spread of peo­ple groups, the suc­ces­sion of rulers over hun­dreds of years, and oth­er his­to­ries that used to fill entire textbooks—is one of those inter­net-only phe­nom­e­na with use­ful, if lim­it­ed appli­ca­tion. As the bom­bas­tic music that some­times accom­pa­nies these videos sug­gests, one pri­ma­ry effect is the pro­duc­tion of max­i­mal­ly sweep­ing his­tor­i­cal dra­ma through map­ping, which cap­tures the imag­i­na­tion in ways dry pro­sa­ic descrip­tions often can’t.

The sub­ject of the video above—the British Empire—seems to jus­ti­fy such an approach, giv­en that, as one edu­ca­tion­al web­site notes, “the British Empire was the largest for­mal empire that the world had ever known.” Whether one cel­e­brates or deplores this fact is a mat­ter for polit­i­cal or moral debate—categories that have lit­tle seem­ing rel­e­vance to the pro­duc­tion of ani­mat­ed video maps.

“At its height in 1922,” writes Jon Stone at The Inde­pen­dent, “the British Empire gov­erned a fifth of the world’s pop­u­la­tion and the quar­ter of the world’s total land area.” His com­ment that this lega­cy “divides opin­ion” gross­ly under­states the case. Yet as bare his­tor­i­cal fact, the spread of the Empire is aston­ish­ing, an achieve­ment of mil­i­tary and mar­itime pow­er, unprece­dent­ed com­mer­cial ambi­tion, bureau­crat­ic sys­tem­iza­tion, trade maneu­ver­ing, and the mas­sive dis­place­ment, deten­tion, and enslave­ment of mil­lions of peo­ple.

How did it hap­pen? To para­phrase an often-divi­sive British singer, empire began at home.

The video begins in 519 A.D., after the end of Roman rule in Eng­land, when the so-called Hep­tarchy formed, the sev­en Anglo-Sax­on trib­al king­doms ruled by Ger­man­ic peo­ples who killed off or enslaved the native Celts. From there, we pro­ceed through the Nor­man inva­sion, the Eng­lish attempts to take French ter­ri­to­ry in Europe, Hen­ry VIII’s inva­sion and annex­a­tion of Ire­land, and oth­er col­o­niz­ing and empire-build­ing events that pre­cede British entry onto the far-flung glob­al stage with the found­ing of the British East India Company’s first post in Surat, India in 1612 and Puri­tan set­tle­ment at Ply­mouth in 1620.

We see these events unfold in a split screen map show­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the world, with a box on the side pro­vid­ing con­text and a col­or-cod­ed leg­end. This rush through Impe­r­i­al his­to­ry occurs at a rel­a­tive­ly break­neck speed, tak­ing only 18 min­utes to cov­er 1,500 years.

The long, slow rise of the British Empire was fol­lowed by a pre­cip­i­tous fall. By the mid-20th cen­tu­ry post­war years, Britain saw its major colonies in India, Africa, and the West Indies achieve inde­pen­dence one by one. “By 1979,” writes Adam Tay­lor at The Wash­ing­ton Post, the Empire “was reduced to a few pock­ets around the world.” And by the cur­rent year, the for­mer glob­al power’s over­seas colo­nial hold­ings com­prise 14 small ter­ri­to­ries, includ­ing most­ly unpop­u­lat­ed Antarc­tic land and the Falk­land Islands.

See many more fas­ci­nat­ing ani­mat­ed time-lapse maps, doc­u­ment­ing all of world his­to­ry, at the cre­ator Ollie Bye’s YouTube chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

5‑Minute Ani­ma­tion Maps 2,600 Years of West­ern Cul­tur­al His­to­ry

Watch the His­to­ry of the World Unfold on an Ani­mat­ed Map: From 200,000 BCE to Today

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC – 2000 AD)

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

Hip Hop Fan Freaks Out When He Hears Rage Against the Machine’s Debut Album for the Very First Time

I con­sid­er myself lucky to have been a child of the nineties. As you know from Port­landia’s trib­ute to the decade of slack, it was a time when “peo­ple were con­tent to be unam­bi­tious and sleep to 11 and just hang out with their friends.” Start a band, start a t‑shirt com­pa­ny, build a web­site, go to clown school, or don’t, what­ev­er, no pres­sure…. In con­trast to the hyper­com­pet­i­tive, social media-sat­u­rat­ed, pre­car­i­ous gig econ­o­my lives of har­ried, over­worked, under­paid mil­len­ni­als, we had it pret­ty easy. But we knew things were poised to explode. At the same time, it was a decade of cul­tur­al pas­sion for rev­o­lu­tion, peace, and justice—conscious hip hop, Riot Grrrl, Lilith Fair, and Rage Against the Machine, maybe the most rad­i­cal­ly uncom­pro­mis­ing band since Crass. The rap/rock/metal hybrid seam­less­ly blend­ed the rev­o­lu­tion­ary funk and polit­i­cal fury of Pub­lic Ene­my with the vir­tu­oso riffage of Eddie Van Halen.

I only wish that, like the guy in the video above, I could hear them again for the first time, blast­ing from the car stereo, blow­ing my mind every few sec­onds. How is it that this guy had nev­er heard Rage’s incred­i­ble self-titled debut? For one thing, I guess, he prob­a­bly hadn’t even been born when it came out in 1992.

For anoth­er, he’s a hip-hop head who didn’t lis­ten to rock and met­al until recent­ly, when, as his YouTube chan­nel doc­u­ments, he decid­ed to start sam­pling bands in his car and upload­ing his real-time reac­tions. How very 2018. He’s exposed him­self to some great stuff—Megadeth, Deftones, Iron Maid­en, Metal­li­ca, Motör­head. He’s sam­pled Audioslave, gui­tarist Tom Morello’s post-Rage super­group. And some oth­er bands I won’t com­ment on.

He also put togeth­er a mix­tape of met­al he thinks would cross over to his hip hop friends. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, many of the bands he rec­om­mends pull heav­i­ly from Rage Against the Machine, who them­selves pulled from the Beast­ie Boys, AnthraxSui­ci­dal Ten­den­ciesFaith No More.… Rage didn’t come from nowhere—we’d heard con­scious rap and met­al meet before, even just the pre­vi­ous year when Anthrax and Pub­lic Ene­my put out their ver­sion of “Bring the Noise.” The late eighties/early nineties pro­duced organ­ic rap/metal crossovers before the prob­lem­at­ic advent of “nu met­al.” But when YouTu­ber YouY­ouY­ou!!! hits pause at 3:38 and screams “WHAT IS THIS! WHAT IS THIS!” I relate. It was more or less my reac­tion when I first heard “Know Your Ene­my,” “Take the Pow­er Back,” and “Killing in the Name” blast from the tape deck. YouY­ouY­ou!!! takes rec­om­men­da­tions. I rec­om­mend he work his way through all of Rage’s cat­a­log.

via Twist­ed Sifter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear a 4 Hour Playlist of Great Protest Songs: Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Bob Mar­ley, Pub­lic Ene­my, Bil­ly Bragg & More

What Makes This Song Great?: Pro­duc­er Rick Beato Breaks Down the Great­ness of Clas­sic Rock Songs in His New Video Series

A Mas­sive 800-Track Playlist of 90s Indie & Alter­na­tive Music, in Chrono­log­i­cal Order

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

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