Watch Patti Smith’s New Tribute to the Avant-Garde Poet Antonin Artaud

The force of Artaud, you couldn’t kill him! — Pat­ti Smith

Found sound enthu­si­asts Sound­walk Col­lec­tive join forces with the God­moth­er of Punk Pat­ti Smith for “Ivry,” the musi­cal trib­ute to poet and the­ater­mak­er Antonin Artaud, above.

The track, fea­tur­ing Smith’s hyp­not­ic impro­vised nar­ra­tion, alter­nate­ly spo­ken and sung over Tarahu­mara gui­tars, Cha­pareke snare drums, and Chi­huahua bells from Mex­i­co’s Sier­ra Tarahu­mara, the region that pro­vid­ed the set­ting for Artaud’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal The Pey­ote Dance, has the sooth­ing qual­i­ty of lul­la­bies from such pop­u­lar children’s music Folk Revival­ists as Eliz­a­beth Mitchell and Dan Zanes.

We’d refrain from show­ing the kid­dies this video, though, espe­cial­ly at bed­time.

It begins inno­cent­ly enough with mir­ror images of the beau­ti­ful Artaud—as the Dean of Rouen in 1928’s silent clas­sic The Pas­sion of Joan of Arc, and lat­er in the pri­vate psy­chi­atric clin­ic in Ivry-sur-Seine where he end­ed his days.

Things get much rougher in the final moments, as befits the founder of the The­ater of Cru­el­ty, an avant-garde per­for­mance move­ment that employed scenes of hor­ri­fy­ing vio­lence to shock the audi­ence out of their pre­sumed com­pla­cen­cy.

Noth­ing quite so hairy as Artaud’s vir­tu­al­ly unpro­duce­able short play, Jet of Blood—or, for that mat­ter, Game of Thrones—but we all remem­ber what hap­pened to Joan of Arc, right? (Not to men­tion the gris­ly fate of the many peas­ants whose names his­to­ry fails to note…)

In-between is footage of indige­nous Rará­muri (or Tarahu­mara) tribes­peo­ple enact­ing tra­di­tion­al rit­u­als—the mir­rors on their head­dress­es and the film­mak­ers’ use of reflec­tive sym­me­try hon­or­ing their belief that the after­life mir­rors the mor­tal world.

“Ivry” is the penul­ti­mate track on a brand new Artaud-themed album, also titled The Pey­ote Dance, which delves into the impulse toward expand­ed vision that pro­pelled the artist to Mex­i­co in the 1930s.

Pri­or to bring­ing Smith into the stu­dio, mem­bers of Sound­walk Col­lec­tive revis­it­ed Artaud’s jour­ney through that coun­try (includ­ing a cave in which he once lived), amass­ing stones, sand, leaves, and hand­made Rará­muri instru­ments to “awak­en the landscape’s sleep­ing mem­o­ries and uncov­er the space’s son­ic gram­mar.”

This mis­sion is def­i­nite­ly in keep­ing with Smith’s prac­tice of mak­ing pil­grim­ages and col­lect­ing relics.

The Pey­ote Dance is the first entry in a trip­tych titled The Per­fect Vision. Tune in lat­er this year to trav­el to Ethiopia’s Abyssin­ian val­ley in con­sid­er­a­tion of anoth­er Smith favorite, poet Arthur Rim­baud, and the Indi­an Himalayas, in hon­or of spir­i­tu­al Sur­re­al­ist René Dau­mal, whose alle­gor­i­cal nov­el Mount Ana­logue: A Nov­el of Sym­bol­i­cal­ly Authen­tic Non-Euclid­ean Adven­tures in Moun­tain Climb­ing end­ed in mid-sen­tence, when he died at 36 from the effects of tuber­cu­lo­sis (and, quite pos­si­bly, youth­ful exper­i­ments with such psy­choac­tive chem­i­cals as car­bon tetra­chlo­ride.)

You can order Sound­walk Collective’s album, The Pey­ote Dance, which also fea­tures the work of actor Gael Gar­cía Bernal, here.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Antonin Artaud’s Cen­sored, Nev­er-Aired Radio Play: To Have Done With The Judg­ment of God (1947)

Iggy Pop Reads Walt Whit­man in Col­lab­o­ra­tions With Elec­tron­ic Artists Alva Noto and Tar­wa­ter

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Why You Should Read Crime and Punishment: An Animated Introduction to Dostoevsky’s Moral Thriller

A des­per­ate­ly poor law stu­dent kills a pawn­bro­ker. There we have the sto­ry, max­i­mal­ly dis­tilled, of Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­mentOr at least we have the cen­tral event, to which every­thing in Dos­to­evsky’s best-known nov­el leads and from which every­thing else fol­lows. But as with so many 19th-cen­tu­ry Russ­ian nov­els, there’s much more to it than that; some Dos­to­evsky enthu­si­asts see the book as not just the sto­ry of a mur­der’s med­i­ta­tion and after­math but an inci­sive por­tray­al of the eter­nal moral con­di­tion of human­i­ty. But since such grand-sound­ing claims no doubt put off as many read­ers as they bring in, we’d do bet­ter to ask a sim­pler ques­tion: Why should you read Crime and Pun­ish­ment?

The ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son by Alex Gendler above answers that ques­tion in four and a half ani­mat­ed min­utes. “Though the nov­el is some­times cit­ed as one of the first psy­cho­log­i­cal thrillers,” Gendler says, its scope reach­es far beyond the inner tur­moil of the stu­dent-turned-killer Raskol­nikov. “From dank tav­erns to dilap­i­dat­ed apart­ments and claus­tro­pho­bic police sta­tions, the under­bel­ly of 19th-cen­tu­ry Saint Peters­burg is brought to life by Dostoyevsky’s sear­ing prose.”

With its large cast of ful­ly real­ized and often not-quite-savory inhab­i­tants, this “bleak por­trait of Russ­ian soci­ety reflects the author’s own com­plex life expe­ri­ences and evolv­ing ideas” — expe­ri­ences that includ­ed four years in a Siber­ian labor camp as pun­ish­ment for his par­tic­i­pa­tion in intel­lec­tu­al dis­cus­sions of banned social­ist texts.

You might assume that such a back­ground would pro­duce a bit­ter writer con­cerned only with revenge against the state, but Dos­to­evsky’s social cri­tique, Gendler says, “cuts far deep­er. Raskol­nikov ratio­nal­izes that his own advance­ment at the cost of the exploita­tive pawnbroker’s death would be a net ben­e­fit to soci­ety,” which “echoes the doc­trines of ego­ism and util­i­tar­i­an­ism embraced by many of Dostoyevsky’s con­tem­po­rary intel­lec­tu­als.” And all of us, not just intel­lec­tu­als and polit­i­cal lead­ers, have the poten­tial to cut our­selves off from our own human­i­ty as Raskol­nikov does. Some of us face pun­ish­ment for the crimes we com­mit, but many of us don’t — or not offi­cial, exter­nal­ly applied pun­ish­ment, in any case, but “Dostoyevsky’s grip­ping account of social and psy­cho­log­i­cal tur­moil” still shows us how the harsh­est pun­ish­ment comes from with­in.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Dig­i­tal Dos­to­evsky: Down­load Free eBooks & Audio Books of the Russ­ian Novelist’s Major Works

Dos­to­evsky Draws Doo­dles of Raskol­nikov and Oth­er Char­ac­ters in the Man­u­script of Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Fyo­dor Dostoyevsky’s Life & Lit­er­a­ture Intro­duced in a Mon­ty Python-Style Ani­ma­tion

The Ani­mat­ed Dos­to­evsky: Two Fine­ly Craft­ed Short Films Bring the Russ­ian Novelist’s Work to Life

Bat­man Stars in an Unusu­al Car­toon Adap­ta­tion of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

Todd Rundgren’s Advice to Young Artists: Be Free and Fearless, Make Art That Expresses Your True Self, and Never Mind the Critics

The Inter­net has redeemed grad­u­a­tion sea­son for those of us whose com­mence­ment speak­ers failed to inspire.

One of the chief dig­i­tal plea­sures of the sea­son is truf­fling up words of wis­dom that seem ever so much wis­er than the ones that were poured past the mor­tar­board into our own ten­der ears.

Our most-recent­ly found pearls come from the mouth of one of our favorite dark hors­es, musi­cian, pro­duc­er, and mul­ti­me­dia pio­neer Todd Rund­gren, one of Berklee Col­lege of Music’s 2017 com­mence­ment speak­ers.

Rund­gren claims he nev­er would have passed the pres­ti­gious institution’s audi­tion. He bare­ly man­aged to grad­u­ate from high school. But he struck a blow for life­long learn­ers whose pur­suit of knowl­edge takes place out­side the for­mal set­ting by earn­ing hon­orary degrees from both Berklee, and DePauw Uni­ver­si­ty, where the new­ly anoint­ed Doc­tor of Per­form­ing Arts can be seen below, study­ing his hon­oris causa as the school band ser­e­nades him with a stu­dent-arranged ver­sion of his song, All the Chil­dren Sing.

Rundgren’s out­sider sta­tus played well with Berklee’s Class of 2017, as he imme­di­ate­ly ditched his cer­e­mo­ni­al head­dress and con­ferred some cool on the sun­glass­es dic­tat­ed by his fail­ing vision.

But it wasn’t all open­ing snark, as he praised the stu­dents’ pre­vi­ous night’s musi­cal per­for­mance, telling them that they were a cred­it to their school, their fam­i­lies and them­selves.

His was a dif­fer­ent path.

Rund­gren, an expe­ri­enced pub­lic speak­er, claims he was stumped as to how one would go about craft­ing com­mence­ment speech­es. Reject­ing an avalanche of advice, whose urgency sug­gest­ed his speech could only result in “uni­ver­sal jubi­la­tion or mass sui­cide if (he) didn’t get it right,” he chose instead to spend his first 10 min­utes at the podi­um recount­ing his per­son­al his­to­ry.

It’s inter­est­ing stuff for any stu­dent of rock n roll, with added cool points owing to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame’s fail­ure to acknowl­edge this musi­cal inno­va­tor.

Whether or not the Class of 17 were famil­iar with their speak­er pri­or to that day, it’s prob­a­ble most of them were able to do the math and real­ize that the self-edu­cat­ed Rund­gren would have been their age in 1970, when his debut album, Runt, was released, and only a cou­ple of years old­er when his third album, 1972’s two disc, Rital­in-fueled Something/Anything shot him to fame.

After which, this proud icon­o­clast prompt­ly thumbed his nose at com­mer­cial suc­cess, detour­ing into the son­ic exper­i­ments of A Wiz­ard, a True Star, whose dis­as­trous crit­i­cal recep­tion belies the mas­ter­piece rep­u­ta­tion it now enjoys.

Rolling Stone called it a case of an artist “run amok.”

Pat­ti Smith, whose absolute­ly manda­to­ry Creem review reads like beat poet­ry, was a rare admir­er.

Did a shiv­er of fear run through the par­ents in the audi­ence, as Rund­gren regaled their chil­dren with tales of how this delib­er­ate trip into the unknown cost him half his fan­base?

How much is Berklee’s tuition these days, any­way?

Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal urges from the com­mence­ment podi­um run the risk of com­ing off as inap­pro­pri­ate indul­gence, but Rundgren’s per­son­al sto­ry is sup­port­ing evi­dence of his very wor­thy mes­sage to his younger fel­low artists :

  • Don’t self-edit in an attempt to fit some­one else’s image of who you should be as an artist. See your­self.
  • Use your art as a tool for vig­or­ous self-explo­ration.
  • Com­mit to remain­ing free and fear­less, in the ser­vice of your defin­ing moment, whose arrival time is rarely pub­lished in advance.
  • Don’t view grad­u­a­tion as the end of your edu­ca­tion. Think of it as the begin­ning. Learn about the things you love.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Byrne’s Grad­u­a­tion Speech Offers Trou­bling and Encour­ag­ing Advice for Stu­dents in the Arts

John Waters’ RISD Grad­u­a­tion Speech: Real Wealth is Nev­er Hav­ing to Spend Time with A‑Holes

The First 10 Videos Played on MTV: Rewind the Video­tape to August 1, 1981

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Mueller Report Released as a Free Well-Formatted eBook (by The Digital Public Library of America)

Boing Boing writes: “Back in April, Andrew Albanese from Pub­lish­ers Week­ly wrote a col­umn deplor­ing the abysmal for­mat­ting in the DoJ’s release of the Mueller Report, and pub­licly request­ing that the Dig­i­tal Pub­lic Library of Amer­i­ca pro­duce well-for­mat­ted ebook edi­tions, which they have now done!”

The Dig­i­tal Pub­lic Library of Amer­i­ca adds:

The Report On The Inves­ti­ga­tion Into Russ­ian Inter­fer­ence In The 2016 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion, or the Mueller Report, is now freely avail­able in ebook for­mat to read on your phone or tablet from DPLA’s web­site and the Open Book­shelf col­lec­tion. The Mueller report was released to the pub­lic by the Depart­ment of Jus­tice as a PDF last month, ini­tial­ly in a for­mat that was not text-search­able. By mak­ing the report avail­able as an ebook in our Open Book­shelf col­lec­tion, any­one can down­load and read it for free, all in the Sim­plyE app — no library card or sign in required.

One of the pri­ma­ry objec­tives of DPLA’s ebooks work is to make the best open­ly-licensed e‑content avail­able to libraries and their patrons. For libraries offer­ing New York Pub­lic Library’s Sim­plyE app, the Mueller Report can be eas­i­ly inte­grat­ed into the ebook offer­ings made avail­able to their patrons. Sim­plyE and Open Book­shelf are freely avail­able to any­one with an iOS or Android device.

Read the Mueller Report today

Down­load on the web: Vis­it, down­load it in one click, and read it with your computer’s e‑reader like iBooks.

Read in Sim­plyE on your phone or tablet:

  1. Down­load the Sim­plyE app to your iOS or Android device.

  2. Use the library selec­tor icon in the upper left cor­ner, select Man­age Accounts, then Add Library, and select Dig­i­tal Pub­lic Library of Amer­i­ca.

  3. Find the Mueller Report in the top row.

To learn more about Open Book­shelf and oth­er DPLA ebooks offer­ings, vis­it DPLA’s Ebook work and the pro­duc­tion of the Mueller Report ebook is sup­port­ed by the Alfred P. Sloan Foun­da­tion.

You can also down­load The Mueller Report in an epub ver­sion here.

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!

via Boing Boing

Relat­ed Con­tent

1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free

800 Free eBooks for iPad, Kin­dle & Oth­er Devices

1,300 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.


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How Computers Ruined Rock Music

There are purists out there who think com­put­ers ruined elec­tron­ic music, made it cold and alien, removed the human ele­ment: the warm, war­bling sounds of ana­log oscil­la­tors, the unpre­dictabil­i­ty of ana­log drum machines, syn­the­siz­ers that go out of tune and have minds of their own. Musi­cians played those instru­ments, plugged and patched them togeth­er, tried their best to con­trol them. They did not pro­gram them.

Then came dig­i­tal sam­plers, MIDI, DAWs (dig­i­tal audio work­sta­tions), pitch cor­rec­tion, time cor­rec­tion… every note, every arpeg­gio, every drum fill could be mapped in advance, exe­cut­ed per­fect­ly, end­less­ly editable for­ev­er, and entire­ly played by machines.

All of this may have been true for a short peri­od of time, when pro­duc­ers became so enam­ored of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy that it became a sub­sti­tute for the old ways. But ana­log has come back in force, with both tech­nolo­gies now exist­ing har­mo­nious­ly in most elec­tron­ic music, often with­in the same piece of gear.

Dig­i­tal elec­tron­ic music has virtues all its own, and the dizzy­ing range of effects achiev­able with vir­tu­al com­po­nents, when used judi­cious­ly, can lead to sub­lime results. But when it comes to anoth­er argu­ment about the impact of com­put­ers on music made by humans, this con­clu­sion isn’t so easy to draw. Rock and roll has always been pow­ered by human error—indeed would nev­er have exist­ed with­out it. How can it be improved by dig­i­tal tools designed to cor­rect errors?

The ubiq­ui­tous sound of dis­tor­tion, for exam­ple, first came from ampli­fiers and mix­ing boards pushed beyond their frag­ile lim­its. The best songs seem to all have mis­takes built into their appeal. The open­ing bass notes of The Breeder’s “Can­non­ball,” mis­tak­en­ly played in the wrong key, for exam­ple… a zeal­ous con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­er would not be able to resist run­ning them through pitch cor­rec­tion soft­ware.

John Bonham’s thun­der­ing drums, a force of nature caught on tape, feel “impa­tient, ster­ile and unin­spired” when sliced up and snapped to a grid in Pro Tools, as pro­duc­er and YouTu­ber Rick Beato has done (above) to prove his the­o­ry that com­put­ers ruined rock music. You could just write this off as an old man rant­i­ng about new sounds, but hear him out. Few peo­ple on the inter­net know more about record­ed music or have more pas­sion for shar­ing that knowl­edge.

In the video at the top, Beato makes his case for organ­ic rock and roll: “human beings play­ing music that is not metro­nom­ic, or ‘quantized’”—the term for when com­put­ers splice and stretch acoustic sounds so that they align math­e­mat­i­cal­ly. Quan­tiz­ing, Beato says, “is when you deter­mine which rhyth­mic fluc­tu­a­tions in a par­tic­u­lar instrument’s per­for­mance are impre­cise or expres­sive, you cut them, and you snap them to the near­est grid point.” Overuse of the tech­nol­o­gy, which has become the norm, removes the “groove” or “feel” of the play­ing, the very imper­fec­tions that make it inter­est­ing and mov­ing.

Beato’s thor­ough demon­stra­tion of how dig­i­tal tools turn record­ed music into mod­u­lar fur­ni­ture show us how the pro­duc­tion process has become a men­tal exer­cise, a design chal­lenge, rather than the pal­pa­ble, spon­ta­neous out­put of liv­ing, breath­ing human bod­ies. The “present state of affairs,” as Nick Mes­sitte puts it, is “key­boards trig­ger­ing sam­ples quan­tized to with­in an inch of their human­i­ty by pro­duc­ers in the pre-pro­duc­tion stages.” Any­one resist­ing this sta­tus quo becomes an acoustic musi­cian by default, argues Mes­sitte, stand­ing on one side of the “acoustic ver­sus syn­thet­ic” divide.

Whether the two modes of music can be har­mo­nious­ly rec­on­ciled is up for debate, but at present, I’m inclined to agree with Beato: dig­i­tal record­ing, pro­cess­ing, and edit­ing tech­nolo­gies, for all their incred­i­ble con­ve­nience and unlim­it­ed capa­bil­i­ty, too eas­i­ly turn rhythms made with the elas­tic tim­ing of human hearts and hands into machin­ery. The effect is fatigu­ing and dull, and on the whole, rock records that lean on these tech­niques can’t stand up to those made in pre­vi­ous decades or by the few hold­outs who refuse to join the arms race for syn­thet­ic pop per­fec­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Mistakes/Studio Glitch­es Give Famous Songs Their Per­son­al­i­ty: Pink Floyd, Metal­li­ca, The Breed­ers, Steely Dan & More

The Dis­tor­tion of Sound: A Short Film on How We’ve Cre­at­ed “a McDonald’s Gen­er­a­tion of Music Con­sumers”

Bri­an Eno Explains the Loss of Human­i­ty in Mod­ern Music

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

Johannes Kepler Theorized That Each Planet Sings a Song, Each in a Different Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mercury, a Soprano; and Earth, an Alto

Johannes Kepler deter­mined just how the plan­ets of our solar sys­tem make their way around the sun. He pub­lished his inno­v­a­tive work on the sub­ject from 1609 to 1619, and in the final year of that decade he also came up with a the­o­ry that each plan­et sings a song, and each in a dif­fer­ent voice at that. Mars is a tenor, Mer­cury is a sopra­no, and Earth, as the BBC show QI (or Quite Inter­est­ing) recent­ly tweet­ed, “is an alto that sings two notes Mi and Fa, which Kepler read as ‘Mis­e­ri­am & Famem’, ‘mis­ery and famine’ ” — two phe­nom­e­na not unknown on Earth in Kepler’s time, even though the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion had already start­ed to change the way peo­ple lived.

Not all of the best minds of the sci­en­tif­ic rev­o­lu­tion thought pure­ly in terms of cal­cu­la­tion. The blog Thats­Maths describes Kepler’s mis­sion as explain­ing the solar sys­tem “in terms of divine har­mo­ny,” find­ing “a sys­tem of the world that was math­e­mat­i­cal­ly cor­rect and har­mon­i­cal­ly pleas­ing.” Tru­ly divine har­mo­ny could pre­sum­ably find its expres­sion in music, an idea that led Kepler to explain “plan­e­tary motions in terms of har­mon­ic rela­tion­ships, a scheme that he called the ‘song of the Earth.’ ”

Accord­ing to this scheme, “each plan­et emits a tone that varies in pitch as its dis­tance from the Sun varies from per­i­he­lion to aphe­lion and back” — that is, from the near­est they get to the sun to the far­thest they get from the sun and back — “pro­duc­ing a con­tin­u­ous glis­san­do of inter­me­di­ate tones, a ‘whistling pro­duced by fric­tion with the heav­en­ly light.’ ”

Kepler named the com­bined result “the music of the spheres,” but what does it sound like? Switzer­land-based cor­net­tist Bruce Dick­ey wants to give us a sense of it with Nature’s Whis­per­ing Secret, “a project for a CD record­ing explor­ing the ideas about music and cos­mol­o­gy of Johannes Kepler.” Demand­ing the musi­cian­ship of not just Dick­ey but com­pos­er Cal­liope Tsoupa­ki, singer Hana Blažíková, and a group of singers and instru­men­tal­ists from across Europe and Amer­i­ca as well, all “among the most dis­tin­guished musi­cians per­form­ing 16th-cen­tu­ry poly­phon­ic music today.” The Indiegogo cam­paign for this ambi­tious trib­ute to Kepler’s ideas at the inter­sec­tion of sci­ence and aes­thet­ics, which involves an album as well as a series of live per­for­mances into the year 2020, is on its very last day, so if you’d like to hear the music of the spheres for your­self, con­sid­er mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion.

via Quite Inter­est­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Declas­si­fied, Eerie “Space Music” Heard Dur­ing the Apol­lo 10 Mis­sion (1969)

NASA Puts Online a Big Col­lec­tion of Space Sounds, and They’re Free to Down­load and Use

Relax with 8 Hours of Clas­si­cal Space Music: From Richard Strauss & Haydn, to Bri­an Eno, Philip Glass & Beyond

The Sound­track of the Uni­verse

Kepler, Galileo & Nos­tradamus in Col­or, on Google

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

New Web Project Immortalizes the Overlooked Women Who Helped Create Rock and Roll in the 1950s

“For six­ty years, con­ven­tion­al wis­dom has told us that women gen­er­al­ly did not per­form rock and roll dur­ing the 1950s,” writes Leah Branstet­ter, Ph.D. can­di­date in musi­col­o­gy at Case West­ern Reserve Uni­ver­si­ty. Like so many cul­tur­al forms into which we are ini­ti­at­ed, through edu­ca­tion, per­son­al inter­est, and gen­er­al osmo­sis, this pop­u­lar form of West­ern music—now a genre with sev­en­ty years under its belt—has func­tioned as an almost ide­al exam­ple of the great man the­o­ry of his­to­ry.

It can seem like set­tled fact that Chuck Berry, Elvis Pres­ley, Jer­ry Lee Lewis, Lit­tle Richard, Bud­dy Hol­ly, and their cel­e­brat­ed male con­tem­po­raries invent­ed the music; and that women played pas­sive roles as fans, stu­dio audi­ence mem­bers, groupies, per­son­i­fi­ca­tions of cars and gui­tars.…

The recog­ni­tion of rare excep­tions, like Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe, does not chal­lenge the rule. But Branstetter’s Women in Rock and Roll’s First Wave project almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly does.

The real­i­ty is, how­ev­er, that hundreds—or maybe thousands—of women and girls per­formed and record­ed rock and roll in its ear­ly years. And many more par­tic­i­pat­ed in oth­er ways: writ­ing songsown­ing or work­ing for record labels, work­ing as ses­sion or tour­ing musi­cians,design­ing stage wear, danc­ing, or man­ag­ing tal­ent…. [W]omen’s careers didn’t always resem­ble those of their more famous male coun­ter­parts. Some female per­form­ers were well known and per­formed nation­al­ly as stars, while oth­ers had more influ­ence region­al­ly or only in one tiny club. Some made the pop charts, but even more had impact through live per­for­mance. Some women exhib­it­ed the kind of wild onstage behav­ior that had come to be expect­ed from fig­ures Jer­ry Lee Lewis or Lit­tle Richard—but that wasn’t the only way to be rebel­lious, and oth­ers found their own meth­ods of being rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Branstetter’s project, a dig­i­tal dis­ser­ta­tion, cov­ers dozens of musi­cians from the peri­od, just a frac­tion of the names she has uncov­ered in her research. Some of the women pro­filed were nev­er par­tic­u­lar­ly well-known. Many more were accom­plished stars before the 60’s girl group phe­nom­e­non, and con­tin­ued per­form­ing into the 21st cen­tu­ry.

Meet rock­ers like Sparkle Moore (see up top), born in Oma­ha, Nebras­ka and inspired by Bill Haley in the mid-fifties to play rock­a­bil­ly in her home­town. She went on to tour the coun­try, putting out record after record. “By 1957,” writes Branstet­ter, “she had about forty song­writ­ing cred­its to her name.” Teen mag­a­zine Dig wrote that Moore had “an amaz­ing resem­blance to the late James Dean… Presley’s style and Dean’s looks.” She is still a “favorite with rock­a­bil­ly fans,” notes her biog­ra­phy. Moore “has been induct­ed into the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and also made a new album in 2010 enti­tled Spark-a-Bil­ly.”

Meet Lil­lie Bryant, one half of duo Bil­lie & Lil­lie, whose breezi­er R&B sounds and more whole­some image res­onat­ed with ear­ly rock and roll fans, pro­mot­ers, and stars. Bryant began per­form­ing in New York City clubs as a teenag­er. Then pro­duc­ers Bob Crewe and Frank Slay turned her and singer Bil­lie Ford into a duo who went on to star in leg­endary DJ Alan Freed’s stage shows, “includ­ing a six-week tour with Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon” and an appear­ance on Amer­i­can Band­stand. Bryant still per­forms in her home­town of New­burgh, New York.

Meet The Chan­tels. “Formed in the Bronx, New York in the ear­ly 1950s,” they were “among the first African-Amer­i­can female vocal groups to gain nation­al atten­tion.” They also toured with Alan Freed and appeared on Amer­i­can Band­stand and The Dick Clark Show. In 1961, their hit “Look in My Eyes” went to num­ber 14 on the pop charts and 6 on the R&B charts. (Thir­ty years lat­er, it appeared on the Good­fel­las sound­track.)

Most peo­ple who grew up on the music of the 50s and 60s have like­ly heard of many of these women rock­ers, or have at least heard their music if they didn’t know the names and faces. But Branstetter’s project does more than tell the sto­ries of individuals—in biogra­phies, inter­views (with, for one, Jer­ry Lee Lewis’s sis­ter, singer and piano play­er Lin­da Gail Lewis), blog posts, playlists (hear one below), song analy­ses, and essays.

She also sub­stan­ti­ates her larg­er claim that women’s “con­tri­bu­tions shaped the cul­ture and sound of rock and roll,” in numer­ous well-doc­u­ment­ed ways. This despite the fact that women in ear­ly rock were told ver­sions of the same thing Joan Jett heard 20 years later—“girls don’t play rock and roll.” They some­times heard it from oth­er women in the music busi­ness. Pop singer Con­nie Frances, for exam­ple, offered her opin­ion in a 1958 issue of Bill­board: “A girl can’t sing rock and roll. It’s basi­cal­ly too sav­age for a girl singer to han­dle.”

Atti­tudes like these per­sist­ed so long, and became so uncon­scious, that one of the largest gui­tar mak­ers in the world, Fend­er, and sev­er­al oth­er musi­cal instru­ment mak­ers, may have lost mil­lions in sales before they final­ly real­ized that women make up half of new gui­tar play­ers. Women in Rock and Roll’s First Wave will inspire and enlight­en many of those young musi­cians who did­n’t grow up know­ing any­thing about Sparkle Moore or The Chan­tels, but should have. Unless rock his­to­ri­ans will­ing­ly ignore the work of schol­ars like Branstet­ter, sub­se­quent accounts should reflect a more expan­sive, inclu­sive, view of the ter­ri­to­ry. Start here.

via WFMU

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Hot Gui­tar Solos of Sis­ter Roset­ta Tharpe, “America’s First Gospel Rock Star”

How Joan Jett Start­ed the Run­aways at 15 and Faced Down Every Bar­ri­er for Women in Rock and Roll

33 Songs That Doc­u­ment the His­to­ry of Fem­i­nist Punk (1975–2015): A Playlist Curat­ed by Pitch­fork

Chrissie Hynde’s 10 Pieces of Advice for “Chick Rock­ers” (1994)

Four Female Punk Bands That Changed Women’s Role in Rock

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

The Creative Life of Jim Henson Explored in a Six-Part Documentary Series

What is a Mup­pet? Homer Simp­son once offered this expla­na­tion: “It’s not quite a mop and it’s not quite a pup­pet, but man…” — before crack­ing up with amuse­ment. “So to answer your ques­tion, I don’t know.” That episode of The Simp­sons aired in the mid-1990s, a some­what fal­low peri­od for Jim Hen­son’s pup­pet-like (though less so mop-like) cre­ations, but the decades between now and then have shown them to be at least as cul­tur­al­ly influ­en­tial as Matt Groen­ing’s fam­i­ly of Spring­fiel­dians. What gives the Mup­pets, who made their tele­vi­sion debut in 1955 and have now sur­vived their cre­ator by near­ly thir­ty years, their pow­er to endure?

Insight into that ques­tion is on offer right now in a new six-part doc­u­men­tary series on Jim Hen­son’s life and work. It comes as a part of Defunct­land, “a YouTube series dis­cussing the his­to­ry of extinct theme parks and themed enter­tain­ment expe­ri­ences” that has recent­ly expand­ed its cul­tur­al purview.

The first episode of Defunct­land’s Jim Hen­son explores “the his­to­ry of Jim’s begin­nings and his first tele­vi­sion show, Sam and Friends”; the sec­ond “the ori­gins of Sesame Street, the Mup­pet­land spe­cials, and the failed Mup­pet pilots”; and the third the prop­er begin­nings of The Mup­pet Show, whose cre­ators did­n’t know they were “about to make the most pop­u­lar show in the world.” After you’ve caught up with the first three episodes of Jim Hen­son, the next three episodes will appear on the series’ Youtube playlist.

As you’ll know if you’ve seen the sur­re­al ear­ly filmsexper­i­men­tal ani­ma­tions, and vio­lent cof­fee com­mer­cials made by Jim Hen­son pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, the man behind the Mup­pets hard­ly sought to pro­duce enter­tain­ment for chil­dren alone: one of the pilots of The Mup­pet Show, in fact, was titled “Sex and Vio­lence.” Defunct­land’s doc­u­men­tary series gets into that and all the oth­er aspects of Hen­son’s life and work, two con­cepts hard­ly sep­a­ra­ble for such a famous­ly ded­i­cat­ed cre­ator. There’s much more to Hen­son’s lega­cy than a child­hood full of Sesame Street — now in its 50th year on the air — would sug­gest. As for how rig­or­ous a def­i­n­i­tion of “Mup­pet” the series will leave us with, we’ll have to wait until it con­cludes to find out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim Hen­son Cre­ates an Exper­i­men­tal Ani­ma­tion Explain­ing How We Get Ideas (1966)

Jim Henson’s Vio­lent Wilkins Cof­fee Com­mer­cials (1957–1961)

A Young Jim Hen­son Teach­es You How to Make Pup­pets with Socks, Ten­nis Balls & Oth­er House­hold Goods (1969)

Watch Twin Beaks, Sesame Street’s Par­o­dy of David Lynch’s Icon­ic TV Show (1990)

Watch The Sur­re­al 1960s Films and Com­mer­cials of Jim Hen­son

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, 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, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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