Saxophonist Plays into Large Gas Pipes & Then Uses the Echo to Accompany Himself

The best saxophonists play just as well unaccompanied as they do accompanied — but they also know that, in the act of musical creation, it certainly helps to have even a little bit of sound to play off coming your way. German musician Armin Küpper discovered more than a little bit of sound coming his way when he tried playing his saxophone into a gas pipe he happened across near his home. Kept at a construction site and not currently in a state to pipe any gas, it served him as a kind of echo device, one distinctive in both sound and appearance. On his Youtube channel he’s posted a dozen videos so far of the “concerts” he’s given at the pipe: playing into it, standing beside it, sitting in it.

“This sound on the tube, in this loneliness always gives me the feeling: Hey, you’re not alone there!” writes Küpper. “Sometimes I just can’t stop playing. The nice thing is, when it gets cool in the evening, I sit down in the tube heated up during the day and enjoy the sunset playing the saxophone.”

These sentiments appear in the description of the video at the top of the post, in which Küpper demonstrates the style of music he calls “Pipelinefunk,” or in his native German Röhrensound. He’s also tried his hand at “Pipelineblues,” pipeline guitar, and a composition called “Walking on the Pipeline” — during his performance of which he does just that, the sound of his saxophone changes with every step he takes toward the opening.

When played directly into the pipe, Küpper’s saxophone comes back sounding uncannily like a classic call-and-response. But what’s truly impressive is the range of effects he discovers while approaching the pipe differently each time, producing whole new soundscapes by changing little more than the angle of his playing. Alas, his time with the pipe seems to have lasted only so long.  The building project that brought the pipe in the first place would sooner or later have to make use of it, and in one video description Küpper mentions that “‘my pipe’ was laid in the ground.” There could be no better sendoff for this unusual musical partner — and a collaborator in the creation of this surprising variety of, literally, German industrial music — than Küpper’s dusk performance of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”?

via Laughing Squid

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Acclaimed Japanese Jazz Pianist Yōsuke Yamashita Plays a Burning Piano on the Beach

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.

Nile Rodgers Tells the Story of How He Turned David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” from Folk to New Wave Funk

When David Bowie invited Chic guitarist and all-around funk/disco guitar genius Nile Rodgers to make an album of “hits” in Switzerland, Rogers remembers thinking, “okay, ‘hits’ with David Bowie, that’s an awesome project.” The way he deadpans might make us think he wasn’t super stoked about it, but the fact is, it’s hard to impress Nile Rodgers. He has produced, written, and played guitar—the very Stratocaster he’s holding in the video above—on “hundreds, maybe thousands” of records, he says. What’s one more, with one more superstar?

The album, it turned out, would become Let’s Dance, runner-up to Thriller for album of the year in 1984, containing such danceable hits as the title track, “Modern Love,” and “China Girl.” It was to be Bowie’s best-selling album—as he described it, “a rediscovery of white-English-ex-art-school-student-meets-black-American-funk.” He certainly brought the first part of that equation, a tune he strummed for Rogers on his 12-string acoustic that “sounded like folk music to me,” the guitarist says.

“Since I knew David loved jazz and he understood the vernacular, I said to him, ‘David, can I do an arrangement of this song?’” (What he has remembered saying elsewhere is much funnier: “I come from dance music. You can’t call that thing you just played ‘Let’s Dance.’”) Rodgers shows how he substituted and moved Bowie’s chords, giving the song its distinctive voicing. “Running away from funk because of the whole disco sucks thing,” Rodgers says, he simplified his strumming, letting a delay effect “make the groove.”

While he may not have gone into the experience expecting much more than the usual hit-making collaboration, the experience, “changed my life,” he says, “it changed David’s life, and we wound up working together on another five projects over the next five years.” In an NPR interview last year, Rogers debuted the first demo of “Let’s Dance” with Bowie singing over his new arrangement. You can hear just above.

The video at the top is part of Fender Guitars’ educational series, so Rodgers wraps up with an essential takeaway for guitarists about the importance of “good theoretical knowledge,” the basis of his “Let’s Dance” transformation from folk to jazz to New Wave post-funk. Sadly, we cannot hear from Bowie himself or from his other famous guitarist-collaborator on “Let’s Dance,” Stevie Ray Vaughan. But Bowie also credited the Texas legend for helping him access his inner American to create music, as he once observed, with a “European sensibility, but owed its impact to the blues.”

via Boing Boing

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

Get a First Glimpse of Foundation, the New TV Series Being Adapted from Isaac Asimov’s Iconic Series of Novels

Five years ago we told you about the plans to create a mini-series out of Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi series Foundation, while also pointing you in the direction of the 1973 BBC radio dramatization. Back in 2015, Jonathan Nolan, brother of Christopher, was attached and HBO was set to produce. And then we all forgot about it. (Well I did, anyway.)

Fast forward into the COVID tsunami of this week and AppleTV just dropped the first trailer for the series. Nolan is out and David Goyer is in as showrunner. Goyer loves his pulp, and wrote or co-wrote the Blade trilogy, the Dark Knight trilogy, Dark City, and a lot of the recent DC Universe films. Also on board as executive producer is Robyn Asimov, Isaac’s daughter.

Production had started in Ireland on the series, but it closed up shop in March due to COVID-19. We have no idea how much of the 10-episode first season was shot, which might explain a preponderance of footage in the above trailer of people walking down corridors, walking into rooms, and staring out of windows, along with purely CGI establishing shots of spaceships and a black hole straight out of Interstellar.

On the other hand, we get a glimpse of Jared Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) as Hari Seldon, a mathematician who has developed a theory called “psychohistory” that allows him to see the future. And he does not like what he sees–empires collapsing, and a long dark age of 30,000 years. There’s also his protege called Gaal, played here by newcomer Lou Llobell; Lee Pace (Halt and Catch Fire) plays Brother Day, the emperor; and Leah Harvey plays Salvor, the warden of Terminus, where Seldon and Gaal are exiled. (Spoiler alert…we think.)

Two large questions to ask right now: will this ever get finished? And do we really need Foundation, or has its time passed?

For the first, AppleTV has put a date of 2021 for the hopeful premiere, but all the arts are on hold now. We might be looking at films that are even more CGI than they are now, shot totally on greenscreen in large socially distant studios, and assembled by a gigantic crew of remote animators. (Ireland is down to less than 10 cases of COVID-19 per day, so who knows.)

The second is more a matter of taste and a case of who’s adapting the books. Goyer’s filmography shows he’s much more of an action guy, and Asimov was more of an intellectual. We might see something between the international trade tariff skullduggery of The Phantom Menace and some Game of Thrones court intrigue.

The discussion on Metafilter certainly deserves a look, as it brings up issues like Asimov’s history of sexual harassment, the idea of Grand Old White Men of Sci-Fi, and a need to keep prestige television churning out product. And, of course, there’s a discussion of how much we might need some of Asimov’s optimism.

Asimov’s Foundation series was influenced by Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and we are certainly thinking about empires falling right now, especially as we can hear Nero’s fiddle off in the distance, getting louder every day.

Related Content:

Isaac Asimov Predicts the Future of Civilization–and Recommends Ways to Ensure That It Survives (1978)

Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: A Witty, Erudite Atheist’s Guide to the World’s Most Famous Book

Isaac Asimov Laments the “Cult of Ignorance” in the United States: A Short, Scathing Essay from 1980

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.

Hear Brian Eno’s Rarely-Heard Cover of the Johnny Cash Classic, “Ring of Fire”

“Ring of Fire” has been covered many times and in many ways since Johnny Cash released it in 1963. But for all its recognition as one of his signature songs, Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is itself a cover — or another interpretation, in any case, of a tune originally written by Cash’s wife June Carter and songwriter Merle Kilgore for June’s sister, Anita Carter. Though it made nothing like the mark Cash’s recording did, the original “Ring of Fire” has its appreciators, a group that may well include Brian Eno. Or at least one feels an affinity between Anita Carter’s take on the song and Eno’s own, the latter of which you can listen to above.

Unlikely enough to begin with, in an artistic sense, the recording’s availability on the internet has saved it from near-complete obscurity. “In 1990, Brian Eno and John Cale made a wonderful experimental pop/art rock record called Wrong Way Up, released by Warner Bros. Records,” writes Boing Boing’s David Pescovitz.

“At the time, the label would send out 7″ records to alt.rock/college radio stations to promote their new releases. The promo series, called Soil Samples, featured different artists on each side of the record performing songs that weren’t included on their new albums.” Cale’s contribution to the sample was an instrumental called “Shuffle Down to Woodbridge,” and the flip side of this translucent-vinyl rarity featured “Merry Christmas” by the two-man Americana group House of Freaks.

As the legend goes — for every story connected with Johnny Cash becomes a legend — the idea for how to do “Ring of Fire” came to the Man in Black in a dream. The “Mexican horns” that had risen up from his subconscious “sound like they’ve stumbled in from somewhere else on the radio dial and are trying desperately not to fall over Cash’s standard shave-and-a-haircut clomping beat,” writes The Atlantic‘s Noah Berlatsky. “Cash, for his part, turns in one of the most awkward vocals of his career.” And yet “all those elements knocking against each other,” he continues “fit the song’s lyrics perfectly.” Eno’s flowing, languid, Mexican-horn-free recording may sound more like the original “Ring of Fire” than any other cover, but it also befits its artist, the man who popularized ambient music. Neither Cash nor Eno sing like men especially subject to “wild desire,” but what song isn’t enriched by a bit of counterpoint?

via Boing Boing

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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 the Voices of Americans Born in Slavery: The Library of Congress Features 23 Audio Interviews with Formerly Enslaved People (1932-75)

“During the last three decades of legal slavery in America,” writes Lucinda MacKethan at the National Humanities Center, “African American writers perfected one of the nation’s first truly indigenous genres of written literature: the North American slave narrative.” These heavily mediated memoirs were the only real firsthand accounts of slavery most Americans outside the South encountered. Their authors were urged by abolitionist publishers to adopt conventions of the sentimental novel, and to feature showy introductions by white editors to validate their authenticity.

Fugitive slave narratives did not necessarily give white Americans new information about slavery’s wrongs, but they served as “proof” that enslaved people were, in fact, people, with feelings and intellects and aspirations just like theirs. Ex-enslaved writers like Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs sensationalized readers with stories of the physical and sexual violence of slavery, and their stories became abolitionists’ most potent weapon. The form succeeded as much on dramatic effect as on its documentary value.

Douglas and Jacobs were exceptional in that they had learned to read and write and escaped their terrible conditions through strength of will, ingenuity, the kindnesses of others, and sheer luck. Most were not so fortunate. But we now have access to many more firsthand accounts—thanks to the work of the Federal Writers Project (FWP) of the Works Progress Administration and others, who recorded thousands of interviews with formerly enslaved people living well into the 20th century, all from the first generation to outlive slavery.

Ted Koppel debuted some clips of those recordings to his Nightline audience in the 1999 episode above. “They are haunting voices,” he says, then prefaces the tape with “brace yourselves for a minor miracle.” What is miraculous about the fact that people who were born in slavery lived into the age of audio recording? Perhaps one reason it seems so is that we are conditioned to think of legal enslavement and its effects as receding further back in time than they actually do. In the 1930s, the FWP filed transcripts of over 2,300 interviews and 500 black-and-white photographs of people born into slavery.

Also, in the 30s, ethnologists like Zora Neale Hurston and the Lomaxes began recording audio interviews with formerly enslaved people like Fountain Hughes, further up, born in Charlottesville, Virginia. Recorded in 1949, he is fearfully reluctant to talk about his experience but vocal about it nonetheless: “”You wasn’t no more than a dog to some of them in them days. You wasn’t treated as good as they treat dogs now. But still I didn’t like to talk about it. Because it makes, makes people feel bad you know. Uh, I, I could say a whole lot I don’t like to say. And I won’t say a whole lot more.”

The Library of Congress puts the 23 surviving recordings in context:

The recordings of former slaves in Voices Remembering Slavery: Freed People Tell Their Stories took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine states. Twenty-three interviewees discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom. Several individuals sing songs, many of which were learned during the time of their enslavement. It is important to note that all of the interviewees spoke sixty or more years after the end of their enslavement, and it is their full lives that are reflected in these recordings. The individuals documented in this presentation have much to say about living as African Americans from the 1870s to the 1930s, and beyond.

Only seven of these voices have been matched with photographs. Many of these mean and women were interviewed elsewhere, but on the whole, little biographical information about them exists. The final interviewee, Charlie Smith, recorded in 1975, was the subject of a book and numerous magazine articles. He died four years later at 137 years old. Hear all of the audio interviews with formerly enslaved people at the Library of Congress’s Voices Remembering Slavery project and find resources for teachers here.

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

The End of an Era: A Short Film About The Last Day of Hot Metal Typesetting at The New York Times (1978)

This is usually what happens when I write a piece for Open Culture: As I drink an overpriced coffee at my local coffee shop, I research a topic on the internet, write and edit an article on Microsoft Word and then copy and paste the whole thing into WordPress. My editor in Open Culture’s gleaming international headquarters up in San Francisco gives it a look-over and then, with the push of a button, publishes the article on the site.

It’s sobering to think what I casually do over the course of a morning would require the effort of dozens of people 40+ years ago.

Until the 1970s, with the rise in popularity of computer typesetting, newspapers were printed the same way for nearly a century. Linotype machines would cast one line at a time from molten lead. Though an improvement from handset type, where printers would assemble lines of type one character at a time, linotype still required numerous skilled printers to assemble each and every newspaper edition.

The New York Times transitioned from that venerated production method to computer typesetting on Sunday, July 2, 1978. David Loeb Weiss, a proofreader at the Times, documented this final day in the documentary Farewell – Etaoin Shrdlu.

The title of the movie, by the way, comes from the first two lines of a printer’s keyboard, which are arranged according to a letter’s frequency of use. When a printer typed “etaoin shrdlu,” it meant that the line had a mistake in it and should be discarded.

Watching the movie, you get a sense of just how much work went into each page and how printers were skilled craftsmen. (You try spotting a typo on a page of upside down and backwards type.) The film also captures the furious energy and the cacophony of clinks and clanks of the composing room. You can see just how much physical work was involved. After all, each page was printed off of a 40-pound plate made of lead.

The tone of the movie is understandably melancholy. The workers are bidding farewell to a job that had existed for decades. “All the knowledge I’ve acquired over my 26 years is all locked up in a little box now called a computer,” notes one printer. “And I think most jobs are going to end up the same way.” Someone else wrote the following on the composing room’s chalkboard. “The end of an era. Good while it lasted. Crying won’t help.”

You can watch the full documentary above. It will also be added to our list of 200 Free Documentaries, a subset of our meta collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in August 2015.

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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

How Georgia O’Keeffe Became Georgia O’Keeffe: An Animated Video Tells the Story

When Georgia O’Keeffe first saw the home in Abiquiú, in Northern New Mexico that she would purchase from the Catholic Church in 1945 “the 5,000-square-foot compound was in ruins,” writes the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The artist immediately seized on its potential: “As I climbed and walked about in the ruin,” she remembers, “I found a patio with a very pretty well house and bucket to draw up water. It was a good-sized patio with a long wall with a door on one side. That wall with a door in it was something I had to have.”

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998, the “pueblo-style adobe (mud brick) hacienda” became one of the most renowned of artists’ houses, associated as closely with O’Keeffe as Frida Kahlo’s Blue House is with her work. O’Keeffe moved to the Southwest for good in 1949, three years after her husband Alfred Stieglitz’s death. Her spiritual connection to the region began with a visit to Taos in 1929, and she continued to visit and paint the area throughout the 30s and 40s.

The story about her discovery of the famous house—photographed hundreds of times by her and dozens of others—seems emblematic of the decades of decisive, mature painting and photography. Her vision seems supremely confident and entirely sui generis—a passionate way of seeing as distinctive as van Gogh’s. But like van Gogh, and every other famous artist, O’Keeffe served an apprentice period, which at the turn of the 20th century meant learning classical techniques. Once in New York, she became known for experimental paintings of skyscrapers and her stunning abstract flowers.

In the TED-Ed lesson above by Iseult Gillespie, we learn how O’Keeffe turned her early formal training into her first series of abstract drawings, in charcoal. These works “defy easy classification, suggesting, but never quite matching, any specific natural reference.” O’Keeffe mailed the drawings to a friend in New York, who showed them to Stieglitz, who “became entranced.” Soon after, he arranged her first exhibit. Her student days at an end, she moved to New York in 1918 and quickly became associated with a circle of American Modernists.

She married Stieglitz, but O’Keeffe’s path would take her away from her husband, and from the metropolitan centers most associated with early 20th century Modernism, and into the hermetic desert solitude for which she became known—a path the painter Agnes Martin would follow decades later. O’Keeffe’s process was that of a desert ascetic—“based on ritual and close observation. She paid meticulous attention to small details, and spent hours mixing paints to find exactly the right colors.” She kept track of her blazing palette with handmade color cards.

O’Keeffe’s work has often been reduced to prurient speculation about the resemblance of her flowers to female genitalia, a Freudian lens she categorically dismissed: “She resented the male gaze that dominated the art world and demanded her work be respected for its emotional evocation of the natural world.” See high-resolution scans of O’Keeffe’s body of work, from the 1900s to the 1980s, at the Georgia O’Keeffe Collections Online and learn more about her at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Library and Archive.

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Frida Kahlo Writes a Personal Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe After O’Keeffe’s Nervous Breakdown (1933)

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

Martin Amis Explains His Method for Writing Great Sentences

Why does Martin Amis writes sentences well? As a novelist, he naturally has a high degree of professional interest in the matter. But why does he write sentences so well? One might put forth the influence of his father Kingsley Amis, author of Lucky Jim, an enduring contender for the title of the funniest novel in the English language. But given how seldom one acclaimed novelist sires another — an event, in fact, nearly unheard of — the heritability of literary talent remains unknowable. As for the direct influence of Amis père on Amis fils, we can almost entirely rule it out: not only did Kingsley never encourage Martin to follow in his footsteps, only once did he offer any kind of writerly advice.

“We sat in high-bourgeois splendor, my father and I,” writes the younger Amis in his memoir Experience, “having a pre-lunch drink and talking about his first published story, ‘The Sacred Rhino of Uganda’ (1932: he was ten).” The father-son dialogue runs as follows:

— It was awful in all the usual ways. And full of false quantities. Things like: ‘Raging and cursing in the blazing heat …’

— What’s wrong with that? I mean I can see it’s old fashioned …

— You can’t have three ings like that.

— Can’t you?

— No. It would have to be: ‘Raging and cursing in the … intolerable heat.’

You couldn’t have three ings like that. And sometimes you couldn’t even have two. The same went for –ics, –ives, –lys and –tions. And the same went for all prefixes too.

43 years later, Martin Amis would find himself in the role of literary advice-giver, delivering his father’s principle of writing onstage at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The process of imbuing every sentence with “minimum elegance and euphony,” he says in the clip above (drawn from a longer interview viewable here) involves “saying the sentence, subvocalizing it in your head until there’s nothing wrong with it. This means not repeating in the same sentence suffixes and prefix. If you’ve got a confound, you can’t have a conform. If you’ve got invitation, you can’t have execution. You can’t repeat those, or an –ing, or a –ness: all that has to be one per sentence. I think the prose will give a sort of pleasure without you being able to tell why.”

Clearly writing a sentence that has “nothing wrong with it” goes well beyond adhering to the rules of spelling and grammar. And even after you’ve eliminated all ungainly repetition, you may still have considerable work to do before the sentence rises to a standard worth upholding. There are other questions to ask: do you, for example, truly possess each and every one of the words you’ve used, not just in meaning but sound and rhythm? In order to do so, Amis recommends acquainting yourself more intimately with the dictionary and thesaurus. If all this makes the task of the aspiring writer sound needlessly daunting, follow instead the much simpler advice Amis provides in the clip just above: “Get to the end of the novel, then worry, because you’ve got something in front of you that you can work on. Save the anxiety for the end.”

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Martin Amis Explains How to Use a Thesaurus to Actually Improve Your Writing

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V.S. Naipaul Creates a List of 7 Rules for Beginning Writers

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5 Wonderfully Long Literary Sentences by Samuel Beckett, Virginia Woolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald & Other Masters of the Run-On

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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