Radiohead Covers The Smiths & New Order (2007)

If you grew up at a certain time, with a certain melancholic disposition and morbid sense of humor, you grew up listening to the music of the Smiths. Coincidentally, you’re roughly around the same age as the members of Radiohead, who also grew up listening to the Smiths. Ergo, there’s a good chance you’re a fan of Radiohead, a band whose own melancholic, morbid mood draws from the best Alternative bands (as they were called once) of the 80s and 90s, while updating the sound of that mood on every successive album.

On the 20th anniversary of Radiohead’s massive-selling Ok Computer, guitarist Ed O’Brien remembered their humble beginnings in a Rolling Stone oral history, invoking those bands whose records you likely own in hard copy if you fit the profile above:

We started off at the time of the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, that era. By the end of that period, or the middle of that period, there was the Pixies, Happy Mondays and Stone Roses and all these things. We dipped our toe, not very effectively, in each. But in doing so we came out with a sound. We came up with our thing. And that’s how we got signed.

No matter how far they ended up straying from guitar rock, their early influences have always been an integral part of their creative DNA. On the 10th anniversary of Ok Computer, well into their transformation from alt-rock superstars to experimental electronic band, Radiohead filmed a two-and-a-half-hour webcast, playing old and new songs, taking turns DJing, and covering one of my favorite Smiths’ songs, “The Headmaster Ritual” from 1985’s Meat is Murder.

It’s a track tailor-made for them—a song that “expresses fury at a kind of school life that has been forgotten,” writes Katharine Viner, but which the fiercely anti-authoritarian Thom Yorke remembered well. Years into his successful career, he still smarted from his unpleasant school years.

In interviews, writes Will Self at GQ, he’s often “waxed disconsolately about his discombobulated childhood, the frequent changes of school, and the bullying at those schools because of his paralysed eye.” If you grew up listening to the Smiths, you too may have a personal affinity for “The Headmaster Ritual.”

And you probably also frequently wallowed to Joy Division—a band that, like Radiohead, radically changed musical direction, albeit for a much more tragic reason. After the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis, Joy Division reformed as New Order, synth-pop superstars and progenitors of acid house. On their first record, Movement, they had a lot of post-punk brooding to get out of their system, with songs like ICB (which stands for “Ian Curtis Buried”) and “Ceremony,” originally a Joy Division song.

Further up, see Radiohead cover “Ceremony,” a song that defines an era—one, coincidentally, in which Radiohead grew up. And maybe you did, too. But chances are, if you grew up listening to Radiohead, you know their influences no matter when you were born. See the full 2007 webcast just above.

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

When IBM Created a Typewriter to Record Dance Movements (1973)

Increasingly many of us in the 21st century have never used a typewriter — indeed, have never seen one in real life. But despite being deep into its obsolescence, the machine has a long cultural half-life. Seeing typewriters in classic and period films, for example, keeps an idea of their look and feel in our minds. Naturally it gets entangled with the romance of the writer, or rather the Writer, whom we imagine pounding away on a culturally iconic model: an Underwood, an Olvetti. “If Olivettis could talk, you’d get the novelist naked,” writes Philip Roth in The Anatomy Lesson. From the then-new electric IBM typewriters, however, you’d hear “only the smug, puritanical workmanlike hum telling of itself and all its virtues: I am a Correcting Selectric II. I never do anything wrong.”

Yet we underestimate the influence of the IBM Selectric, on not just writing but late-20th-century American life in general, at our peril. Introduced in 1961, this technologically revolutionary typewriter replaced the old “typebars” — those thin metal arms that whack a letter onto the page with each keystroke — with a “typeball,” a “compact unit containing all the letters and symbols of a keyboard, rotated and pivoted to the correct position before striking.”

So writes IBM’s Justine Jablonska in an essay on the versatility of the typeball, which could be swapped out and modified according to the needs of the user. In 1973, IBM could say even to those users who needed to type out not words, sentences, and paragraphs but dances that, yes, there’s a typeball for that.

Developed in collaboration with New York City’s Dance Notation Bureau, this unusual typeball “had special Labanotation symbols, developed in the 1920s by Hungarian dancer/choreographer Rudolf Laban to analyze and record movement and dance.” Each symbol’s location “showed which part of the body — arm, leg, torso — was to be used. The symbol’s shape indicated direction. The symbol’s shading showed the level of an arm or leg. And its length controlled the time value of a movement.” In total, writes Karen Hill at Zippy Facts, Labanotation had “88 different symbols, which could be arranged to form a complete vocabulary for recording movement of any kind, from ballet and modern to ethnic, even folk.” Beyond dance, the system could also record “movements in areas like sports, behavioral sciences, physical therapy, and even industrial operations.”

This particular typeball showcased the Selectric’s versatility, but some had higher hopes. In a 1975 paper, dance scholar Drid Williams compares its potential impact to that of “Gutenberg’s invention several centuries ago,” signaling that “the graphic linguistic sign can now be joined by its obvious counterpart, the printed human action sign.” But she also expresses regret that “‘the ball’ is being looked on by many as a mere practical aid to recording human movement and it is being associated with specialist fields like dance. As usual, concern with the syntagmata obscures the real issues of the paradigms.” Indeed. A more practical-minded assessment comes from Charles Ditchendorf, employed at the time at IBM’s Office Products Division. “To the best of my knowledge,” Jablonska quotes him as saying, I didn’t sell one.” But then, when has dance ever been enslaved to the market?

via Ted Gioia on Twitter

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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.

Watch Free Plays from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre: Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth & More

As depressing articles about the upcoming Summer of COVID-19 begin to proliferate, our hopes for beach days, concert series, and summer camp begin to dim.

Here in New York City, the Public Theater’s announcement that it is cancelling the upcoming season of its famed Shakespeare in the Park was met with understandable sadness.

You don’t have to like Shakespeare to enjoy the ritual of entering Central Park shortly after dawn, prepared to sit online for several hours awaiting noon’s free ticket distribution, then returning to the Delacorte later that night with snacks and sweater and wine.

Performing a quick Internet search to brush up on the plot can enhance the experience, but—and I saw this as someone whose degree included a metric heinieload of The Bard—it can be equally satisfying to spend the final acts enjoying an impromptu, al fresco nap.

Bonus points if a raccoon runs across the stage at some point.

Alas all this must be denied us in the summer of 2020, but it’s still within our power to replicate that summer feeling in advance of the equinox, using the past productions that London’s Globe Theatre is screening on its YouTube channel as our starting place.

First up is Romeo & Juliet from 2009, starring Ellie Kendrick and Adetomiwa Edun, though according to the Independent’s Michael Coveney, the show belongs to Penny Layden as the Nurse:

Far removed from the fussing tradition of comic garrulity and the Patricia Routledge factor, Layden plays her as a scrubbed, middle-aged, sensible woman carrying a history of sadness. The bawdy assault on her by Philip Cumbus‘s melancholy Mercutio is both shocking and plausible, and she retains her quiet dignity while at the same time mourning its sacrifice.

Back to New York City…

Prior to starting your screening, you’ll want to approximate a seat at the Delacorte (which, like the Globe, is authentically circular in shape). I recommend a metal folding chair.

Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of water onto the seat if you want to pretend it rained all afternoon leading up to the performance.

Definitely have some wine to pour into a plastic cup.

Slather yourself in insect repellent.

Silence your cell phone.

If your housemate’s cell phone goes off mid-performance, feel free to tsk and sssh and roll your eyes. Honestly, how hard is it to comply with the familiar instructions of the house manager’s speech?

At intermission, stand outside your own bathroom door for at least 15 minutes before letting yourself into a “stall” to use the facilities.

Doze all you want to…. arrange for your housemate to tsk and sssh at you from an appropriate distance, should your snoring become audible.

You have until Sunday, May 3 to stumble sleepily away from the screen, and pretend you’re wandering to the subway with 1799 other New Yorkers.

Then make plans to wake up at 5:30 and sit on the floor with a thermos of coffee for several hours, hoping that they won’t run out of tickets for The Two Noble Kinsmen before you make it to the top of the line.

(Spoiler alert: they won’t.)

Others in the Globe’s free series:

MacBeth, May 11 until UK schools reopen

The Winter’s Tale (2018), May 18 – May 31

The Merry Wives of Windsor (2019), June 1 – June 14

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2013), June 15 – 28

Clicking the red “discover more” lozenge beneath each show’s photo on the Globe Watch’s landing page will lead you to a wealth of supporting materials, from pre-show chats with the Globe’s Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Will Tosh to photos, articles, and a student challenge specifically tailored to the times we find ourselves living through now.

Subscribe to the Globe’s YouTube channel to receive reminders.

Donate to the Globe here.

Americans can make a tax-deductible donation to The Public Theater here.

via My Modern Met

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Depending on how long this thing goes on, she may look into giving Penny Layden a run for the money by live-streaming her solo show, NURSE. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Picasso Create a Masterpiece in Just Five Minutes (1955)

“One day in Paris a wealthy woman goes into a café and sees Picasso,” writes Alastair Dryburgh in Everything You Know About Business Is Wrong.

After a few minutes, she summons up the courage to approach him. ‘Monsieur Picasso,’ she asks, ‘would you make a portrait of me? I’ll pay you anything you want.’ Picasso nods, grabs a menu, and in five minutes has sketched the woman’s portrait on the back of it. He hands it to her.

‘Five thousand francs,’ he says.

‘But Monsieur Picasso, it only took you five minutes.’

‘No, Madam, it took me my whole life.’

This anecdote has been elevated, in books like Dryburgh’s, to the status of a “Picasso Principle.” Individuals and businesses alike, this principle states, should price their goods and services in accordance not just with the time and effort required to do the job, but the time and effort required to make doing the job possible in the first place.

Whether Picasso ever actually charged a rich lady in a café 5,000 francs for an impromptu portrait, nobody knows. But that he possessed the skills to create a fully realized work of art in five minutes is a matter of cinematic record, and you can witness such an act in the Royal Academy of Arts video above.

The video’s source is Le Mystère Picasso, a documentary by Henri-Georges Clouzot, the filmmaker best known for 1950s thrillers like The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques. Officially declared a French national treasure and previously featured here on Open Culture, the film captures Picasso in action, creating original artworks right before the camera. “Not many of the works he created for the documentary survive,” say this video’s notes, but three of them were recently displayed in the Royal Academy’s exhibition Picasso and Paper, a virtual tour of which appears just above. In Le Mystère Picasso the artist paints 1955’s Visage: Head of a Faun in just five minutes, a severe time constraint imposed by Clouzot’s supply of film stock.

The director’s tension comes across as clearly as the painter’s concentration. While Clouzot puffs away on his pipe, Picasso gets right down to work. “Picasso plays with the drawing,” says the video’s onscreen commentary, “taking it from flower to fish to chicken to face and builds up from a monochrome drawing with bright, saturated colors.” As the rolling counter on Clouzot’s camera ticks off the final meters of film, Picasso transforms the work-in-progress almost completely, conjuring up a wild-eyed figure in silhouette, neither man nor beast, to dominate the foreground. He executes every brushstroke unflinchingly, filled with the confidence of a painter long since assured of his mastery. In one sense, Visage: Head of a Faun took Picasso five minutes; more truthfully, it took him 74 years and five minutes.

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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.

Hear Classic Rock Songs Played on a Baroque Lute: “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “White Room” & More

In the 60s and 70s, rock and folk bands introduced early European music to the masses, with Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque strains running through the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Fairport Convention, and even Led Zeppelin. For the most part, however, arrangements stayed modern, save the appearance of a few, still-relevant folk instruments like mandolins, dulcimers, and nylon-string guitars.

One can draw many lines in popular culture from this development—to prog-rock balladry, goth rock’s dirges, metal’s medieval obsessions, and whatever that techno Gregorian chant thing was in the 90s. In so many of these evolutionary moves, the trend has been toward more technology and away from acoustic music. So, how can players of old European instruments interest contemporary audiences in their sound?

One popular way they’ve done so is by playing hits from bands who drew from the tradition (and from a few who very much didn’t)—hits like Procul Harum’s Chaucer-referencing “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

At the top, Baroque lute player Daniel Estrem gives a solo instrumental performance of the soulful tune, throwing in a section of Bach’s “Air on the G String,” to which “A Whiter Shade of Pale” alludes. (I wasn’t consciously combining rock with classical,” composer Gary Brooker later said. “It’s just that Bach’s music was in me.”) The song’s contrapuntal structure translates beautifully to the lute, as does the sinister musicality of Cream’s “White Room,” above, a song with a vaguely Medieval-sounding descending melody in its classic psych-rock verses.

Of course, European folk and classical informed the increasingly complex compositions of the Beatles, including George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (or at least its first fingerpicked acoustic guitar demo version). In his take on the classic, above, Estrem recovers the song’s folk influence and retains its shifts in mood, from mournful lament to hopeful melody. Of course, Estrem not only has to translate these songs to a different musical idiom but to a very different instrument—one with a tuning unlike the guitar on which so many pop songs are written.

Common lutes at the end of the Renaissance had 10 courses (a “course” is a set of two strings tuned to the same pitch). These instruments used “a more harmonically based ‘D minor tuning,’ instead of the more ‘guitar-like’ tuning that continued to be used for the viol in the baroque era,” notes Case Western Reserve’s Early Music Instrument Database. They were suited to a very different kind of music than, say, the blues. But whether or not we fully understand the challenge of arranging “House of the Rising Sun” (called “the first folk rock song” when the Animals recorded it) for the Baroque lute, we can certainly appreciate the results. Estrem makes a gently plucked, eloquently wordless argument for giving the instrument a starring role in popular music again.

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

Watch 12 Classic Chinese Films Online, Complete with English Subtitles (1920s-1940s)

The Chinese film industry began around the turn of the 20th century, but unfortunately nothing survives of those first two decades–films lost to fire, to age, and just plain lost. Any person wanting to study this history must make do with synopses, photos, and imagination. However, after that? This YouTube playlist curated by the Department of Asian Studies of the University of British Columbia features a dozen notable films and influential classics from two and half decades of Chinese history, some of the most tumultuous years for that nation. China ousted the British, fought off the Japanese, and began a revolution under Mao. The print quality varies here and there, but all are entertaining, from musicals to horror movies to social dramas.

The collection begins with the oldest surviving film in the series, Labourer’s Love, a two-reeler from 1922 directed by Zhang Shichuan. Most of the original Chinese filmmakers were trained by Americans, so early shorts like this tended to be silent comedies filled with visual gags–this one features a carpenter who opens up a fruit stand to woo a woman, and uses his woodworking skills and tools to increase his business.

By the late 20s however, China was already developing its own genres and styles, just as it was developing a modern nationalist pride away from colonial influence. The first martial arts film would be produced in 1928. Other studios opted for folklore tales or family melodramas.

Trained and educated in the United Stated, Sun Yu was one of the major filmmakers of the 1930s (a group of directors known as the Second Generation filmmakers) until the invasion of Japan sent him fleeing Shanghai for the interior. But the films he made for the leftist film studio Lianhua are now classics. Three of his are represented here: 1933’s Daybreak, a tale of a young country couple who get corrupted in the big city; Queen of Sports, a 1934 drama of a plucky track star who has to navigate class stratas as well as competitions; and maybe Sun Yu’s most famous film The Big Road (above), a story of six young men building a road for the Chinese army to battle the Japanese. Yes, it’s wartime propaganda, but Sun Yu was always focused on working men and women. These three films also star Li Lili, considered by some to be the “Chinese Mae West,” and who lived to a ripe age (as did Sun Yu). She has a role in Stanley Kwan’s Center Stage from 1992, his ode to the movie stars of the 1930s.

China’s first horror film is also in this list: 1937’s Song at Midnight, Ma-Xu Weibang’s retelling of Phantom of the Opera (with a bit of Frankenstein thrown in–the Universal Studios influence is very apparent here). It’s also a musical, with karaoke-like subs for you to sing along if you know Cantonese.

Lastly, Fei Mu’s Spring in a Small Town from 1947 is one of the most influential on this list. A sickly man’s friend visits in the aftermath of the Sino-Japanese war, and the wife recognizes him as a lover from long ago. Romantic tensions soon begin to smolder. Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love borrowed its repressed, longing mood. And filmmaker Tian Zhuangzhaung remade it in 2002, keeping the original setting. Many Chinese filmmakers and critics consider it one of the best of all time, China’s Casablanca.

Hopefully this dozen will whet your appetite for more Chinese cinema and provide an alternative to watching another binge-worthy but shallow Netflix series.

via Metafilter

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Launch a 24/7 Livestream on YouTube, Featuring Rare Footage from the Band’s Archives

Last week, Nick Cave announced “It’s 10.30 Wednesday evening, and if the world wasn’t in lockdown, I’d be onstage in Toulouse, France singing my heart out with The Bad Seeds. But I’m not. I’m doing the next best thing—sitting at home watching Bad Seed TeeVee. Pure non-stop joy!” And you can too. Above, watch a new 24/7 YouTube livestream that will feature, writes NME, “rare and unseen footage from the band’s archives,” including “promo videos, interviews, live footage, outtakes and other exclusive unseen footage from the band’s archives.” Enjoy.

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New Hilma af Klint Documentary Explores the Life & Art of the Trailblazing Abstract Artist

It’s not often an entire chapter of art history textbooks needs rewriting, but as fans of Hilma af Klint see it, one such time has come. A Swedish artist and mystic who lived from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, af Klint left behind a body of work amounting to more than 1,200 paintings — all of which she insisted not be taken out of storage until 20 years after her death. She suspected the public wouldn’t be ready for them before then, and she was more right than she knew: offered the paintings as a donation in the 1970s, Stockholm’s Moderna Museet turned them down. Only in the following decade did the art history world begin to understand that, far from just a productive amateur painting in obscurity, af Kint might be the very first abstract artist.

Today af Klint’s abstract paintings, the first of which she produced in middle-age in 1906, have appreciators all over the world. Some, we’d like to think, came because of all the times we’ve previously featured her here on Open Culture; others were brought in by the Guggenheim’s recent retrospective Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future.

These paintings, says the museum’s web site, “were like little that had been seen before: bold, colorful, and untethered from any recognizable references to the physical world. It was years before Vasily KandinskyKazimir MalevichPiet Mondrian, and others would take similar strides to rid their own artwork of representational content.” This year the story of af Klint and her work is told cinematically in Beyond the Visible, a new documentary by German filmmaker Halina Dyrschka whose trailer appears at the top of the post.

In his review of the filmNew York Times critic A.O. Scott briefly recounts af Klint’s early years: “Born in 1862 to an aristocratic Swedish family and raised partly on the grounds of the military academy where her father was an instructor, she trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, mastering the traditional genres of portrait, still life and landscape. By the late 1880s, her notebooks and paintings began incorporating forms that, while they sometimes evoked natural phenomena (like snail shells, flower petals and insect wings), did not resemble anything in the visible world.” This change in the artist’s aesthetic sensibility came along with her growing interest in mysticism and ways of accessing a realm beyond human senses. (She even offered a painting to the Anthroposophical Society founder Rudolf Steiner, who rejected it.)

Scott calls Beyond the Visible “a chapter in the wholesale revision of the critical and historical record that began only recently, and it enlists a passionate and knowledgeable cadre of curators, scholars, scientists and artists to press the argument for af Klint’s importance.” But “the paintings themselves are the best evidence — even through the mediation of a home screen, their vibrancy, wit and formal command is thrilling.” With many movie theaters temporarily shut down by the coronavirus epidemic, you can watch the documentary through Kino Marquee’s “virtual cinema,” a service that streams over the internet but also supports local art houses. Most of us may be no closer to the unseen world into which af Klint yearned to tap than were any of her everyday compatriots. But as far as historical moments in which her work and life can find a fascinated audience, there’s never been a better one.

via Colossal

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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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