How Quentin Tarantino Steals from Other Movies: A Video Essay

“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” goes a line we often attribute to Pablo Picas­so — even those of us who know lit­tle of Picas­so’s work and noth­ing of the work from which he may or may not have stolen. Quentin Taran­ti­no’s ver­sion of the line adds anoth­er obser­va­tion about great artists: “They don’t do homages.” The direc­tor of Reser­voir Dogs, Pulp Fic­tion, and Jack­ie Brown may well have spo­ken those words in frus­tra­tion, the frus­tra­tion of hav­ing his every pic­ture described as an “homage” to some ele­ment or oth­er of cin­e­ma his­to­ry. He puts it more blunt­ly: “I steal from every sin­gle movie ever made.” A bold claim, to be sure, but if any­one is like­ly to have seen every film ever made, sure­ly it’s him.

“How Quentin Taran­ti­no Steals from Oth­er Movies,” the INSIDER video essay above, sur­veys the range of his cin­e­mat­ic sources, from The Searchers to The War­riorsBand of Out­siders to City on FireMetrop­o­lis to The Flint­stones.

In each of his ten fea­tures so far, Taran­ti­no has bun­dled all this mate­r­i­al into pack­ages describ­able most suc­cinct­ly with the adjec­tive Taran­ti­noesque, which the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary defines as “char­ac­ter­ized by graph­ic and styl­ized vio­lence, non-lin­ear sto­ry­lines, cinelit­er­ate ref­er­ences, satir­i­cal themes, and sharp dia­logue.” Taran­ti­no’s lat­est film Once Upon a Time… in Hol­ly­wood (sub­ject of its own INSIDER video essay) exhibits all those qual­i­ties, and both crit­i­cal and audi­ence response so far sug­gests that we have yet to tire of the Taran­ti­noesque.

How has Taran­ti­no’s cin­e­mat­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty, prac­ti­cal­ly text­book in its post­mod­ernism, worn so well? As this video’s nar­ra­tor puts it, Taran­ti­no “nev­er steals from one source. He rather steals from mul­ti­ple sources span­ning decades, and then stitch­es them togeth­er to cre­ate some­thing new,” for­ti­fy­ing the process with his strong under­stand­ing of the source mate­r­i­al (honed dur­ing his pre-fame days as a video-store clerk) and his “unique vision and writ­ing.” Roger Ebert once wrote of Lars Von Tri­er, anoth­er notable film­mak­er of Taran­ti­no’s gen­er­a­tion, that “he takes chances, and that’s rare in a world where most films seem to have been banged togeth­er out of oth­er films.” But Taran­ti­no takes his chances pre­cise­ly by mak­ing films out of oth­er films, and as even his detrac­tors have to admit, it’s paid off so far.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Films of Quentin Taran­ti­no: Watch Video Essays on Pulp Fic­tion, Reser­voir Dogs, Kill Bill & More

Quentin Taran­ti­no Tells You About The Actors & Direc­tors Who Pro­vid­ed the Inspi­ra­tion for “Reser­voir Dogs”

Does Quentin Tarantino’s First Film, Reser­voir Dogs, Hold Up 25 Years Lat­er?: A Video Essay

How Famous Paint­ings Inspired Cin­e­mat­ic Shots in the Films of Taran­ti­no, Gilliam, Hitch­cock & More: A Big Super­cut

“Lynchi­an,” “Kubrick­ian,” “Taran­ti­noesque” and 100+ Film Words Have Been Added to the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary

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.

An Introduction to Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda: Romantic, Radical & Revolutionary

Does pol­i­tics belong in art? The ques­tion arous­es heat­ed debate about cre­ative free­dom and moral respon­si­bil­i­ty. Assump­tions include the idea that pol­i­tics cheap­ens film, music, or lit­er­a­ture, or that polit­i­cal art should aban­don tra­di­tion­al ideas about beau­ty and tech­nique. As engag­ing as such dis­cus­sions might be in the abstract, they mean lit­tle to noth­ing if they don’t account for artists who show us that choos­ing between pol­i­tics and art can be as much a false dilem­ma as choos­ing between art and love.

In the work of writ­ers as var­ied as William Blake, Muriel Rukeyser, James Bald­win, and James Joyce, for exam­ple, themes of protest, pow­er, priv­i­lege, and pover­ty are insep­a­ra­ble from the sub­lime­ly erotic—all of them essen­tial aspects of human expe­ri­ence, and hence, of lit­er­a­ture. Fore­most among such polit­i­cal artists stands Chilean poet Pablo Neru­da, who—as the TED-Ed video above from Ilan Sta­vans informs us—was a roman­tic styl­ist, and also a fear­less polit­i­cal activist and rev­o­lu­tion­ary.

Neru­da won the Nobel Prize for Lit­er­a­ture in 1971, and, among his many oth­er lit­er­ary accom­plish­ments, he “res­cued 2,000 refugees, spent three years in polit­i­cal exile, and ran for pres­i­dent of Chile.” Neru­da used “straight­for­ward lan­guage and every­day expe­ri­ence to cre­ate last­ing impact.” He began his career writ­ing odes and love poems filled with can­did sex­u­al­i­ty and sen­su­ous descrip­tion that res­onat­ed with read­ers around the world.

Neruda’s inter­na­tion­al fame led to a series of diplo­mat­ic posts, and he even­tu­al­ly land­ed in Spain, where he served as con­sul in the mid-1930s dur­ing the Span­ish Civ­il War. He became a com­mit­ted com­mu­nist, and helped relo­cate hun­dreds of flee­ing Spaniards to Chile. Neru­da came to believe that “the work of art” is “insep­a­ra­ble from his­tor­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­text,” writes author Sal­va­tore Biz­zarro, and he “felt that the belief that one could write sole­ly for eter­ni­ty was roman­tic pos­tur­ing.”

Yet his life­long devo­tion to “rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideals,” as Sta­vans says, did not under­mine his devo­tion to poet­ry, nor did it blink­er his writ­ing with what we might call polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Instead, Neru­da became more expan­sive, tak­ing on such sub­jects as the “entire his­to­ry of Latin Amer­i­ca” in his 1950 epic Can­to Gen­er­al.

Neru­da died of can­cer just weeks after fas­cist dic­ta­tor Augus­to Pinochet seized pow­er from elect­ed pres­i­dent Sal­vador Allende in 1973. Today, he remains a beloved fig­ure for activists, his lines “recit­ed at protests and march­es world­wide.” And he remains a lit­er­ary giant, respect­ed, admired, and adored world­wide for work in which he engaged the strug­gles of the peo­ple with the same pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty and imag­i­na­tive breadth he brought to per­son­al poems of love, loss, and desire.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Pablo Neruda’s His­toric First Read­ing in the US (1966)

Pablo Neruda’s Poem, “The Me Bird,” Becomes a Short, Beau­ti­ful­ly Ani­mat­ed Film

The Lost Poems of Pablo Neru­da: Help Bring Them to the Eng­lish Speak­ing World for the First Time

Hear Pablo Neru­da Read His Poet­ry In Eng­lish For the First Time, Days Before His Nobel Prize Accep­tance (1971)

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

David Bowie Picks His 12 Favorite David Bowie Songs: Listen to Them Online

Admit it, your list of favorite Bowie songs is full of the big hits. Hell, maybe it’s all hits; there’s no shame in that. Dig­ging deep into the crates will yield many an over­looked sur­prise, many a sub­tle sleep­er, cut-up clas­sic, and elec­tron­ic exper­i­ment. But if all you’ve got is Changes­bowie—the 1990 com­pi­la­tion that became, for some gen­er­a­tions, a defin­i­tive state­ment of his career—you’ve still got a col­lec­tion of songs the likes of which have nev­er been heard before or since in mod­ern pop.

Com­pletists may grouch, but even res­i­dent Bowie scholars/local record store clerks have an “Ash­es to Ash­es,” “’Heroes’,” “Changes,” or “Mod­ern Love” in their top ten. Whether ardent or casu­al fans, we con­nect with Bowie’s music through mile­stones, both in his career and in our own lives. This truth has been exploit­ed. In 2008, Mike Schiller at Pop­mat­ters bemoaned the fact that almost 20 Bowie com­pi­la­tion albums had been released, a few of which “don’t real­ly seem to court any greater pur­pose what­so­ev­er.”

Giv­en this sur­feit of Bowie com­pi­la­tions on the mar­ket, Schiller’s ini­tial groan­ing reac­tion to news of yet anoth­er (“Oh, good Lord. Anoth­er David Bowie col­lec­tion?”) seems appo­site. Except this col­lec­tion, iSE­LECT: BOWIE, released in 2008 to read­ers of the U.K.’s Mail on Sun­day, then lat­er in an offi­cial CD and dig­i­tal edi­tion, “is actu­al­ly some­thing spe­cial.” Bowie “picked the track­list him­self. Even more than that, the track­list actu­al­ly looks like some­thing he’d have picked him­self, rather than hav­ing a man­ag­er or pub­li­cist pick it for him.”

1. “Life On Mars?” (from the album Hunky Dory)
2. “Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing” (from the album Dia­mond Dogs)
3. “The Bewlay Broth­ers” (from the album Hunky Dory)
4. “Lady Grin­ning Soul” (from the album Aladdin Sane)
5. “Win” (from the album Young Amer­i­cans)
6. “Some Are” (cur­rent­ly exclu­sive to this com­pi­la­tion)
7. “Teenage Wildlife” (from the album Scary Mon­sters)
8. “Rep­e­ti­tion” (from the album Lodger)
9. “Fan­tas­tic Voy­age” (from the album Lodger)
10. “Lov­ing The Alien” (from the album Tonight)
11. “Time Will Crawl (MM Remix)” (new remix by David Bowie)
12. “Hang On To Your­self [live]” (from the album Live San­ta Mon­i­ca ’72)

See the full track­list above and hear a playlist of his picks at the top. If we put all our lists of favorites togeth­er, we might see a very high per­cent­age of “Life on Mars?” picks. We’re in excel­lent com­pa­ny; it’s Bowie’s num­ber one favorite song of his. But how many of his oth­er picks might we choose? The eight-and-a-half minute “Sweet Thing”/”Candidate”/”Sweet Thing (Reprise)” from Dia­mond Dogs? “Win” from Young Amer­i­cans or “The Bewlay Broth­ers” from Hunky Dory?

Aside from “Life on Mars?” and the far less­er-col­lect­ed “Lov­ing the Alien” and “Time Will Crawl,” none of his twelve selec­tions were released as sin­gles. There are no songs from two of the most acclaimed Bowie albums, Low and ’Heroes’, unless we count “Some Are” a bonus track includ­ed on the Low 1991 rere­lease. There are two tracks from Lodger, the third and least acces­si­ble of his vaunt­ed Berlin tril­o­gy, and only one selec­tion from Zig­gy Star­dust, and it ain’t “Zig­gy Star­dust.”

If any­one else hand­ed you this list of favorite Bowie tracks, you’d be skep­ti­cal. Who puts “Hang On to Your­self” (Live in San­ta Mon­i­ca ’72) above any of the stu­dio tracks on that clas­sic 1972 break­out album? David Bowie, that’s who. And who knows, if you’d asked him the day before or after, he might have picked twelve dif­fer­ent songs. There’s no telling how seri­ous­ly he took the exer­cise, but in the news­pa­per release, he did “casu­al­ly [pen] his inspi­ra­tions for the songs and the record­ing process­es behind them,” notes Allmusic’s Jason Lyman­grover.

On his choice of “Teenage Wildlife,” for exam­ple, Bowie com­ment­ed: “So it’s late morn­ing and I’m think­ing, ‘New song and a fresh approach. I know. I’m going to do a Ron­nie Spec­tor. Oh yes I am. Ersatz just for one day.’ And I did and here it is. Bless. I’m still very enam­oured of this song and would give you two ‘Mod­ern Love’s for it any­time…” Bowie got to expe­ri­ence his own music in a way no one else could. iSE­LECT: BOWIE gets behind the great­est hits col­lec­tions for a glimpse at the way he heard and remem­bered his cat­a­logue.

via Rolling Stone

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How David Bowie Used William S. Bur­roughs’ Cut-Up Method to Write His Unfor­get­table Lyrics

The “David Bowie Is” Exhi­bi­tion Is Now Avail­able as an Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty Mobile App That’s Nar­rat­ed by Gary Old­man: For David Bowie’s Birth­day Today

How David Bowie Deliv­ered His Two Most Famous Farewells: As Zig­gy Star­dust in 1973, and at the End of His Life in 2016

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

Watch Pink Floyd Play Live Amidst the Ruins of Pompeii in 1971 … and David Gilmour Does It Again in 2016

Pink Floyd is one of few bands in rock his­to­ry who could play the ruins of Pom­peii with­out seem­ing to over­reach, but it wasn’t their idea to put on a con­cert for Roman ghosts in 1971, the year before they record­ed their mag­num opus Dark Side of the Moon. Accord­ing to the direc­tor Adri­an Maben, who filmed the per­for­mance in the ancient necrop­o­lis, he decid­ed upon the loca­tion after los­ing his pass­port dur­ing a hol­i­day in Italy in 1971. He wan­dered Pom­peii alone in search of it and had an epiphany.

It was strange. A huge desert­ed amphithe­ater filled with echo­ing insect sounds, fly­ing bats and the dis­ap­pear­ing light which meant that I could hard­ly see the oppo­site side of this huge struc­ture built more than two thou­sand years ago.

I knew by instinct that this was the place for the film. It had to be here.

Mak­ing cre­ative deci­sions from a chance encounter with echoes and shad­ows was, nonethe­less, ful­ly in keep­ing with the band’s process. Despite their deci­sion to write acces­si­ble lyrics fit­ting togeth­er under a loose con­cept for their cur­rent album, serendip­i­ty and chance oper­a­tions had always played crit­i­cal roles in the com­po­si­tion of their post-Syd Bar­rett sound­scapes, and became inte­gral to Dark Side’s cre­ation.

As David Gilmour told Gui­tar World’s Alan Di Per­na, ear­ly exper­i­ments like “Saucer­ful of Secrets” (inspired by “weird shapes” drawn by Roger Waters and Nick Mason) gave rise to “Atom Heart Moth­er” and Med­dle’s “Echoes,” which the band played in two parts at the begin­ning and end of the Pom­peii con­cert film. These songs, Gilmour says, “all lead log­i­cal­ly to Dark Side of the Moon.”

And they led through Pom­peii, where the band was first “unleashed on film,” as one the­atri­cal poster put it, before they were unleashed on thou­sands of new fans after Dark Side’s release in Decem­ber. Where the filmed con­cert high­light­ed the band’s mas­tery of exper­i­men­tal space rock, the album brought this sen­si­bil­i­ty under the dis­ci­pline of Roger Waters’ sharp song­writ­ing and Gilmour’s stun­ning gui­tar play­ing and arrang­ing.

Though he is mod­est about it, Gilmour’s con­tri­bu­tions came increas­ing­ly to define the band’s mas­sive sound in the ear­ly 70s. His role, as he told Di Per­na, was “to help cre­ate a bal­ance between form­less­ness and struc­ture, dishar­mo­ny and har­mo­ny.” He was, writes Rolling Stone, “a fiery, blues-based soloist in a band that hard­ly ever played the blues,” but he was just as “adept at dron­ing avant-garde improv,” “Chic-like flour­ish­es,” and “float­ing, dreamy tex­tures,” all qual­i­ties ensur­ing that Pink Floyd’s music rose to the lev­el of their cre­ative ambi­tions.

So when Gilmour returned to Pom­peii in 2016, with­out his Pink Floyd band mem­bers, to play the first live pub­lic con­cert the city’s amphithe­ater had seen in almost 2000 years—and the only laser light show it had ever seen—the per­for­mance didn’t seem like over­reach at all. Above, see him play “Shine on You Crazy Dia­mond” and “Com­fort­ably Numb” with a full back­ing band (includ­ing Chuck Leavell on key­boards, singing Roger Waters’ parts on the lat­ter song). The mas­sive stage show and huge, smart­phone-tot­ing audi­ence makes this footage more are­na rock show than the per­for­mance art of the orig­i­nal con­cert film, but the grandeur of the music, and Gilmour’s soar­ing solos, still jus­ti­fies the grandeur of the set­ting.

You can pur­chase online the Direc­tor’s cut of Pink Floyd — Live at Pom­peii.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Pink Floyd’s “Com­fort­ably Numb” Was Born From an Argu­ment Between Roger Waters & David Gilmour

Hear Lost Record­ing of Pink Floyd Play­ing with Jazz Vio­lin­ist Stéphane Grap­pel­li on “Wish You Were Here”

When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with House­hold Objects: Hear Two Sur­viv­ing Tracks Made with Wine Glass­es & Rub­ber Bands

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

How Ladies & Gentlemen Got Dressed in the 18th Century: It Was a Pretty Involved Process

We can iden­ti­fy most of the last few cen­turies by their styles of clothes. But it’s one thing to know what peo­ple wore in his­to­ry and quite anoth­er to know how, exact­ly, they wore it. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured videos that accu­rate­ly re-enact the whole process of of how sol­diers and nurs­es dressed in World War I, and how women got dressed in the four­teenth and eigh­teenth cen­turies. Today we go back again to the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry with two videos from Nation­al Muse­ums Liv­er­pool, one that shows us how Euro­pean gen­tle­men got dressed in those days, and anoth­er that shows us how ladies did.

One obvi­ous way in which dress­ing points to changes over the past few hun­dred years: both the gen­tle­man and the lady require the assis­tance of a ser­vant. The gen­tle­man begins his day wear­ing his long linen night­shirt and a wrap­per over it, Japan- and India-inspired gar­ments, the nar­ra­tor tells us, that “reflect British inter­ests abroad.”

To replace them comes first a volu­mi­nous, usu­al­ly ruf­fled shirt; over-the-knee stock­ings held in place with breech knee­bands; occa­sion-appro­pri­ate shoe buck­les and cuf­flinks; option­al linen under­draw­ers; many-but­toned and buck­led knee breech­es; a waist­coat (whose top few but­tons remain open to reveal the shirt’s ruf­fles); a linen cra­vat; a buck­led stock; a coat on top of the waist­coat; and of course, a fresh­ly-dust­ed wig.

Get­ting clothes on for a day in the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry was even more com­pli­cat­ed for ladies than for gen­tle­men, as evi­denced by the fact that its video requires two addi­tion­al min­utes to show every step involved. We begin with the shift, an under­gar­ment worn with­out knick­ers. Like the gen­tle­man, the lady wears over-the-knee stock­ings, but she ties them with rib­bon garters (at least for days not involv­ing much danc­ing). Over that, “a knee-length white linen pet­ti­coat worn for warmth and mod­esty,” and over that, a stay made using whale baleen. Pock­ets were added in the form of bags worn at the hips, but bags known to get lost if their ties came undone — hence the nurs­ery rhyme “Lucy Lock­et lost her pock­et.”

Prop­er eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry female dress also required pet­ti­coats of var­i­ous kinds, a ker­chief, a stom­ach­er (often high­ly dec­o­rat­ed), more pet­ti­coats, a gown, a linen apron (with a bib pinned into posi­tion, hence “pinafore”), a day cap, and then anoth­er apron that “serves no pur­pose oth­er than to indi­cate the fine sta­tus of the indi­vid­ual wear­ing it.” Con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion mat­tered even back then, but so did the painstak­ing cre­ation of the ide­al female fig­ure, or at least the impres­sion there­of. Not only do these videos show us just the kind of cloth­ing that would have been worn for that pur­pose and how it would have been put on, they also show us high­ly plau­si­ble atti­tudes pro­ject­ed by dressed and dress­er alike: the for­mer one of faint­ly bored expec­ta­tion, and the lat­ter one of resigned indus­tri­ous­ness tinged with the sus­pi­cion that all this can’t last for­ev­er.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Get­ting Dressed Dur­ing World War I: A Fas­ci­nat­ing Look at How Sol­diers, Nurs­ers & Oth­ers Dressed Dur­ing the Great War

How Women Got Dressed in the 14th & 18th Cen­turies: Watch the Very Painstak­ing Process Get Cin­e­mat­i­cal­ly Recre­at­ed

The Sights & Sounds of 18th Cen­tu­ry Paris Get Recre­at­ed with 3D Audio and Ani­ma­tion

The Dress­er: The Con­trap­tion That Makes Get­ting Dressed an Adven­ture

How to Make and Wear Medieval Armor: An In-Depth Primer

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.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

“In forty years of med­ical prac­tice,” wrote Dr. Oliv­er Sacks near the end of his famous career, “I have found only two types of non-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ‘ther­a­py’ to be vital­ly impor­tant for patients with chron­ic neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases: music and gar­dens.” The com­ment might not sur­prise us, com­ing from such an unortho­dox thinker as Sacks. But we might be sur­prised by the con­sid­er­able amount of tra­di­tion­al sci­en­tif­ic research link­ing music and men­tal health.

Six­ty years ago, when Sacks was still in med­ical school, avant-garde jazz band­leader Sun Ra had a very Sacks-like expe­ri­ence when he played for an audi­ence of patients in a men­tal hos­pi­tal, and inspired a cata­ton­ic woman who hadn’t spo­ken for years to stand up and say ‘Do you call that music?’” The gig, booked by his man­ag­er, con­sti­tut­ed a fringe exper­i­ment in alter­na­tive med­i­cine at the time, not a seri­ous sub­ject of study among med­ical doc­tors and neu­ro­sci­en­tists.

How things have changed in the last half-cen­tu­ry.

Sev­er­al recent stud­ies, for exam­ple, have linked drum­ming, the old­est and most uni­ver­sal form of music-mak­ing, to reduced anx­i­ety, pain relief, improved mood, and improved learn­ing skills in kids with autism. Lis­ten­ing to and play­ing jazz and oth­er forms of syn­co­pat­ed music, have been shown in study after study to pro­mote cre­ativ­i­ty, enhance math skills, and sup­port men­tal and emo­tion­al well-being.

But what about ambi­ent music, a genre often char­ac­ter­ized by its lack of syn­co­pa­tion, and almost cer­tain to fea­ture as back­ground music in guid­ed med­i­ta­tion and stress reduc­tion record­ings; in slow, relax­ing yoga videos; and thou­sands of YouTube videos pro­mot­ing sup­pos­ed­ly stress-reduc­ing fre­quen­cies and stereo effects? Ambi­ent seems pur­pose-built to com­bat ten­sion and dis-ease, and in a sense, it was.

Bri­an Eno, the artist who named the genre and often gets cred­it for its inven­tion, wrote in the lin­er notes to Ambi­ent 1: Music for Air­ports, “[this record is] designed to induce calm and space to think.” Whether he meant to make a sci­en­tif­ic claim or only an artis­tic state­ment of pur­pose, research has val­i­dat­ed his infer­ences about the salu­tary effects of long, slow, atmos­pher­ic music.

Noisey Asso­ciate Edi­tor Ryan Bassil, a long­time suf­fer­er of anx­i­ety and pan­ic attacks, found the state­ment to be true in his own life, as he explains in the video above (illus­trat­ed by Nathan Cowdry). Music from ambi­ent com­posers like Eno, William Bassin­s­ki, and Fen­nesz helped him “ground” him­self dur­ing extreme­ly anx­ious moments, bring­ing him back into sen­so­ry con­tact with the present.

When Bassil looked into the rea­sons why ambi­ent music had such a calm­ing effect on his over-stim­u­lat­ed ner­vous sys­tem, he found research from artist and aca­d­e­m­ic Luke Jaaniste, who described an “ambi­ent mode,” a “per­va­sive all-around field, with­out any­thing being pri­or­i­tized into fore­ground and back­ground.” Immer­sion in this space, writes Bassil, “can help the lis­ten­er put aside what’s on their mind and use their sens­es to focus on their sur­round­ings.”

We may not—and should not—ask music to be a use­ful tool, but ambi­ent has shown itself par­tic­u­lar­ly so when treat­ing seri­ous neu­ro­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tions. Foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist Dr. John Tul­ly of London’s Insti­tute of Psy­chi­a­try, Psy­chol­o­gy and Neu­ro­science traces the form back to Bach and Chopin, and espe­cial­ly Erik Satie, who “was the first to express the idea of music specif­i­cal­ly as back­ground sound,” and who had no qualms about music serv­ing a spe­cial­ized pur­pose.

The pur­pose of what we broad­ly call ambi­ent has evolved and changed as clas­si­cal, min­i­mal­ist avant-garde, and elec­tron­ic musi­cians have penned com­po­si­tions for very dif­fer­ent audi­ences. But no mat­ter the intent, or where we draw the genre bound­aries, all kinds of atmos­pher­ic, instru­men­tal music has the ther­a­peu­tic pow­er not only to reduce anx­i­ety, but also to ease pain in sur­gi­cal patients and reduce agi­ta­tion in those suf­fer­ing with demen­tia.

When he per­formed with his group Dark­room at the Crit­i­cal Care Unit at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don Hos­pi­tal, writer and psy­chol­o­gist Charles Fer­ny­hough found out that ambi­ent music had sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits for patients trapped in what he calls “a sub­urb of hell”: the ICU. Stays in inten­sive care units cor­re­late close­ly with lat­er PTSD and what was once called “ICU psy­chosis” in the midst of trau­mat­ic emer­gency room expe­ri­ences. Seda­tion turns out to be a major cul­prit. But music, espe­cial­ly ambi­ent music, brought patients back to them­selves.

Hear the 2016 Dark­room per­for­mance at the Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don Hos­pi­tal ICU fur­ther up, and read more about Fernyhough’s research and per­for­mance at Aeon. The sci­ence of how and why ambi­ent works the way it does is hard­ly set­tled. Where Fer­ny­hough found that patients ben­e­fit­ed from a lack of pre­dictabil­i­ty and an abil­i­ty to “escape the present moment,” Bassil’s research and expe­ri­ence uncov­ered the opposite—a sense of safe pre­dictabil­i­ty and enhanced sen­so­ry aware­ness.

Phys­i­o­log­i­cal respons­es from per­son to per­son will vary, as will their tastes. “One person’s easy lis­ten­ing is another’s aur­al poi­son,” Fer­ny­hough admits. But for a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of peo­ple suf­fer­ing severe anx­i­ety and trau­ma, the dron­ing, min­i­mal, word­less sound­scapes of ambi­ent are more effec­tive than any med­ica­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Stream 72 Hours of Ambi­ent Sounds from Blade Run­ner: Relax, Go to Sleep in a Dystopi­an Future

The Health Ben­e­fits of Drum­ming: Less Stress, Low­er Blood Pres­sure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Con­scious­ness

Why Do Sad Peo­ple Like to Lis­ten to Sad Music? Psy­chol­o­gists Answer the Ques­tion in Two Stud­ies

This is Your Brain on Jazz Impro­vi­sa­tion: The Neu­ro­science of Cre­ativ­i­ty

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

Behold Color Photographs Taken During the Aftermath of San Francisco’s Devastating 1906 Earthquake

If a city has been around long enough, it will more than like­ly have suf­fered some sort of cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly destruc­tive event: the Great Fire of Lon­don in 1666, the Great Chica­go Fire of 1871, the Great Kan­tō earth­quake that dev­as­tat­ed Tokyo in 1923. Most of their names, come to think of it, include the word “great,” though not every source refers to San Fran­cis­co’s 1906 earth­quake that way. Not, of course, to min­i­mize its destruc­tive­ness: with a force that would mea­sure 7.8 on the Richter scale, the earth­quake ulti­mate­ly destroyed 80 per­cent of the city — about 25,000 build­ings, with lost prop­er­ty equiv­a­lent to $11.2 bil­lion in today’s dol­lars — and killed 3,000 peo­ple.

Six months after the dis­as­ter, an inven­tor named Fred­er­ick Eugene Ives arrived to doc­u­ment the still-fresh after­math of the dis­as­ter. He had in hand some­thing called a brr, a 3D col­or cam­era he designed him­self. Its “sys­tem of mir­rors and fil­ters behind each lens split and fil­tered the light to cre­ate one pair of slides for each pri­ma­ry col­or of light (red, green, blue).

The slides were bound togeth­er in a spe­cial order with cloth tapes into a pack­age known as a Krőm­gram,” view­able only with a Krőm­scőp, “the appa­ra­tus used to rebuild the image allow­ing the view­er to see in three-dimen­sion­al col­or.”

Antho­ny Brooks dis­cov­ered Ives’ Krőm­grams of San Fran­cis­co in ruins only in 2009, reports the Tele­graph. Most of its pic­tures were tak­en from a hotel rooftop, and “although hand-col­ored pho­tographs of the quake’s destruc­tion have sur­faced before, Ives’ work is prob­a­bly the only true col­or doc­u­men­tary evi­dence.” Such images would have aston­ished any con­tem­po­rary view­er, not just for the dev­as­ta­tion they showed but the life­like col­or and depth with which they ren­dered it. And yet the Pho­tochro­mo­scope sys­tem nev­er caught on, Brooks writes: “The Krőm­scőp view­ers were expen­sive ($50 in 1907 or about $1000 today adjust­ing for infla­tion), required strong sun­light or arc light for view­ing, and were tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex to use, despite Ives’ asser­tions to the con­trary.”

But even though few prob­a­bly saw these pic­tures in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, Ives was hard­ly for­got­ten in the realm of pho­tog­ra­phy. The recip­i­ent of sev­er­al major sci­en­tif­ic and engi­neer­ing awards in his life­time, he left behind such more wide­ly adopt­ed inven­tions as one of the sev­er­al vari­eties of “halftone process” that allowed pho­tographs to be repro­duced in news­pa­pers — just as news­pa­pers around the coun­try did after the earth­quake struck, com­bin­ing them with head­lines like “WATER FRONT BURNS ALMOST TO THE FERRY,” “3,000 PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS,” and “SAN FRANCISCO ANNIHILATED.” But H.G. Wells, who was on a vis­it to the Unit­ed States at the time, sensed more of a san­guin­i­ty in the Amer­i­cans around him: “There is no doubt any­where that San Fran­cis­co can be rebuilt, larg­er, bet­ter, and soon.”

via Mash­able

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dra­mat­ic Footage of San Fran­cis­co Right Before & After the Mas­sive­ly Dev­as­tat­ing Earth­quake of 1906

Rome Comes to Life in Pho­tochrom Col­or Pho­tos Tak­en in 1890: The Colos­se­um, Tre­vi Foun­tain & More

Take a Visu­al Jour­ney Through 181 Years of Street Pho­tog­ra­phy (1838–2019)

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Behold the Very First Col­or Pho­to­graph (1861): Tak­en by Scot­tish Physi­cist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

Voltaire & the Lis­bon Earth­quake of 1755

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.

Sir Ian McKellen Reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter to High School Students: Make Art and “Make Your Soul Grow”

Author Kurt Von­negut was pos­sessed of a droll, unsen­ti­men­tal pub­lic speak­ing style. A son of Indi­anapo­lis, he nev­er lost his Hoosier accent, despite lengthy stints in Cape Cod and New York City.

Actor Ian McK­ellen, on the oth­er hand, exudes warmth. He’s a charmer who tells a sto­ry with a twin­kle in his eye, alter­ing his voice and facial expres­sions to height­en the effect. (Check out his Mag­gie Smith.) Vocal train­ing has only enhanced his beau­ti­ful instru­ment. (He can make a tire repair man­u­al sound like Shake­speare.)

These two lions may have come at their respec­tive crafts from dif­fer­ent angles, but Sir Ian did Von­negut proud, above, as part of Let­ters Live, an ongo­ing cel­e­bra­tion of the endur­ing pow­er of lit­er­ary cor­re­spon­dence.

The let­ter in ques­tion was penned the year before Vonnegut’s death, in reply to five stu­dents at a Jesuit high school in New York City, regret­ful­ly declin­ing their invi­ta­tion to vis­it.

Instead, he gave them two assign­ments.

One was fair­ly uni­ver­sal, the sort of thing one might encounter in a com­mence­ment address: make art and in so doing, learn about life, and your­self.

The oth­er was more con­crete:

Write a 6 line rhyming poem

Don’t show it or recite it to any­one.

Tear it up into lit­tle pieces

Dis­card the pieces in wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed trash recep­ta­cles


A chance for Xavier High School’s all male stu­dent body to air roman­tic feel­ings with­out fear of  dis­cov­ery or rejec­tion?

May­haps, but the true pur­pose of the sec­ond assign­ment is encap­su­lat­ed in the first—to “expe­ri­ence becom­ing” through a cre­ative act.

This notion clear­ly strikes a chord with Sir Ian, 17 years younger than Von­negut but by the time of the  2016 per­for­mance, clos­ing in on the igua­na-like age Von­negut had been when he wrote the let­ter.

Should we attribute the quiver on the clos­ing line to act­ing or gen­uine emo­tion on Sir Ian’s part?

Either way, it’s a love­ly ren­di­tion.

Novem­ber 5, 2006

Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lock­wood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Bat­ten, Mau­r­er and Con­gius­ta:

I thank you for your friend­ly let­ters. You sure know how to cheer up a real­ly old geezer (84) in his sun­set years. I don’t make pub­lic appear­ances any more because I now resem­ble noth­ing so much as an igua­na. 

What I had to say to you, more­over, would not take long, to wit: Prac­tice any art, music, singing, danc­ing, act­ing, draw­ing, paint­ing, sculpt­ing, poet­ry, fic­tion, essays, reportage, no mat­ter how well or bad­ly, not to get mon­ey and fame, but to expe­ri­ence becom­ing, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.

Seri­ous­ly! I mean start­ing right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a fun­ny or nice pic­ture of Ms. Lock­wood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the show­er and on and on. Make a face in your mashed pota­toes. Pre­tend you’re Count Drac­u­la.

Here’s an assign­ment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lock­wood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about any­thing, but rhymed. No fair ten­nis with­out a net. Make it as good as you pos­si­bly can. But don’t tell any­body what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to any­body, not even your girl­friend or par­ents or what­ev­er, or Ms. Lock­wood. OK?

Tear it up into tee­ny-wee­ny pieces, and dis­card them into wide­ly sep­a­rat­ed trash recep­ti­cals. You will find that you have already been glo­ri­ous­ly reward­ed for your poem. You have expe­ri­enced becom­ing, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.

God bless you all!

Kurt Von­negut

(Ian McKellen’s oth­er Let­ters Live per­for­mance is a fic­tion­al com­ing out let­ter from Armis­tead Maupin’s Tales of the City, from a gay char­ac­ter to his Ani­ta Bryant-sup­port­ing par­ents.)

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1988, Kurt Von­negut Writes a Let­ter to Peo­ple Liv­ing in 2088, Giv­ing 7 Pieces of Advice

Why Should We Read Kurt Von­negut? An Ani­mat­ed Video Makes the Case

Kurt Von­negut Offers 8 Tips on How to Write Good Short Sto­ries (and Amus­ing­ly Graphs the Shapes Those Sto­ries Can Take)

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Sep­tem­ber 9 for anoth­er sea­son of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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