Masterclass Is Running a “Buy One, Give One Free” Deal (Until November 30)

FYI: Mas­ter­class is run­ning a Buy One, Share One Free until Novem­ber 30.

Here’s the gist: If you buy an All-Access pass to their 90+ cours­es, you will receive anoth­er All-Access Pass to give to some­one else at no addi­tion­al charge. An All-Access pass costs $180 (or $15 per month), and lasts one year. For that fee, you–and a fam­i­ly mem­ber or friend–can watch cours­es cre­at­ed by Annie Lei­bovitz, Neil Gaiman, Mal­colm Glad­well, Wern­er Her­zog, Mar­tin Scors­ese, David Mamet, Jane Goodall, Mar­garet Atwood, Helen Mir­ren, Her­bie Han­cock, Alice Waters, Bil­ly Collins and so many more. If you’re think­ing this sounds like a pret­ty good way to get through quar­an­tine, we’d have to agree. The deal is avail­able now.

Note: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent

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Famed New Orleans Music Producer Mark Bingham Discusses His Songs and Collaborations: A Nakedly Examined Music Conversation (#136)

You’re most like­ly to know Mark’s work from the string intro­duc­tion to REM’s “Shiny Hap­py Peo­ple,” but he’s been a sta­ple of the New Orleans record­ing scene since he moved there in 1982, pro­duc­ing groups like Flat Duo Jets, Glenn Bran­ca, John Scofield, Mar­i­anne Faith­ful, and the Rebirth Brass Band. He and his stu­dio were also fea­tured on the HBO show Treme. He had a whole life­time of musi­cal devel­op­ment before then, though, first get­ting signed as a teenag­er in Los Ange­les and record­ing a sin­gle as a solo artist. He then left to study music in Indi­ana where he was one of two gui­tarists and sev­er­al singers for the very adven­tur­ous, the­atri­cal Scream­ing Gyp­sy Ban­dits, who released their one album, In the Eye, in 1973. Fol­low­ing the times, he eschewed pro­gres­sive rock for a more min­i­mal­ist but still very arty style in New York City with a band called Social Climbers. He’s released two albums since then under his own name in between pro­duc­tion work: A jazz-rock inflect­ed singer-song­writer album called I Passed for Human in 1989, and then a more root­sy endeav­or called Psalms Of Vengeance in 2009. He is due for a sig­nif­i­cant archive release with­in the next year with some­thing like ten albums of addi­tion­al com­po­si­tions.

In this episode of Naked­ly Exam­ined Music, we pick four of his songs to play in full and dis­cuss. After a short intro­duc­tion over the song “Flies R All Around Me” by Scream­ing Gyp­sy Ban­dits from Back to Dog­head (1970, but not released until 2009), the first full dis­cus­sion cov­ers “” (fea­tured in the video link in this post) from Psalms of Vengeance (2009). We then turn to “Ash Wednes­day and Lent” by Ed Sanders (music by Mark Bing­ham) from Ed’s album Poems for New Orleans (2007). We then look back to “That’s Why” by Social Climbers from their self-titled album (1981). We con­clude with “Blood Moon,” a group impro­vi­sa­tion by Michot’s Melody Mak­ers from Cos­mic Cajuns from Sat­urn (2020). This is a band that plays most­ly tra­di­tion­al cajun music that Mark was pro­duc­ing and has now for two albums joined as their gui­tarist.

Want more? Lis­ten to “Flies” in fullHear the whole Social Climbers album (1981). Mark’s first solo album fea­tured this Coltrane clas­sicLis­ten to Mark back­ing Aaron Neville and John­ny Adams on a Hal Will­ner album of Kurt Weil tunes. Expe­ri­ence one of the tunes he wrote for Allen Gins­berg to read poet­ry over. Watch him live with Michot’s Melody Mak­ers.

Naked­ly Exam­ined Music is a pod­cast host­ed by Mark Lin­sen­may­er, who also hosts The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life Phi­los­o­phy Pod­cast and Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast. He releas­es music under the name Mark Lint.

The Story Behind “Alice’s Restaurant,” Arlo Guthrie’s Song That’s Now a Thanksgiving Tradition

Around the coun­try today, along with a food-coma induc­ing serv­ing of turkey, ham, stuff­ing and all the trim­mings, a great many of you will be fol­low­ing anoth­er tra­di­tion: lis­ten­ing to Arlo Guthrie’s 1968 song “Alice’s Restau­rant.” Accord­ing to one YouTu­ber, when her kids were young, she’d “sit them down togeth­er and play this/torture them with it from begin­ning to end.” The replies sug­gest she’s not alone. Some­where a child has now grown up and is pass­ing the song down to a younger gen­er­a­tion.

“Alice’s Restau­rant” is about Thanks­giv­ing in the same way that it’s about a restau­rant owned by Alice–very lit­tle. Instead, it’s a long shag­gy but true tale about Guthrie and his friend Rick Rob­bins help­ing their friends out after a Thanks­giv­ing din­ner that “couldn’t be beat”. With trash fill­ing up the gut­ted for­mer small-town Mass­a­chu­setts church where Alice and her hus­band were liv­ing, the two fill up their VW van with the refuse and ille­gal­ly dump it in the back woods. Guthrie gets arrest­ed, tak­en to court, and fined for lit­ter­ing, only to have his new crim­i­nal record lat­er dis­qual­i­fy him for the draft.

That’s the des­ti­na­tion, but it’s the jour­ney that makes the song, an 18-plus minute “talk­ing blues” that Guthrie would have learned from his dad, folk leg­end Woody Guthrie. Woody in turn learned it from a 1920s coun­try and Blues musi­cian called Chris Bouch­illon, who talked his way through songs because his singing voice wasn’t all that good. And the sim­ple pick­ing style Guthrie traces from Mis­sis­sip­pi John Hurt to Pete Seeger and Ram­blin’ Jack Elliot all the way back to the moth­er­land: “In its infan­cy, that’s an African style approach to a six-string gui­tar and I have always loved it,” he told Rolling Stone.

Guthrie start­ed writ­ing the song, titling it “Alice’s Restau­rant Mas­sacree,” an eso­teric word mean­ing a series of absurd events. He work­shopped it in cof­fee hous­es and live venues, adding to it, tak­ing bits out that weren’t work­ing, play­ing with the time, from 18 min­utes all the way up to 35. In Feb­ru­ary of 1967 Guthrie was invit­ed to play live on New York City’s WBAI-FM. The record­ing became a hit, and helped the non-prof­it sta­tion fund-raise, broad­cast­ing the song when a total dol­lar amount was hit. When the song got too much air­play, they also fund-raised to stop play­ing the song.

Then came the New­port Folk Fes­ti­val, where the day­time crowd of 3,500 loved it so much that Guthrie returned for the evening set to play it to 9,500, joined on stage with a who’s‑who of folk leg­ends includ­ing Pete Seeger and Oscar Brand. This was a big deal for an 18-year-old musi­cian. The album came in Octo­ber of that year, where the song took up a whole side. A movie adap­ta­tion appeared two years lat­er, with the actu­al peo­ple from the song–including police chief William Oban­hein (Offi­cer Obie in the song) and the blind Judge James Hannon–playing them­selves in the movie.

The song might not have its stay­ing pow­er if it wasn’t for its themes of resist­ing author­i­ty and bureau­cra­cy, pos­si­bly even more than the anti-war mes­sage at its end.

“I’ve remained dis­trust­ful of author­i­ty for my entire life,” Guthrie told Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine, “I believe it’s one of the great strengths of a democ­ra­cy, that we take seri­ous­ly our role as the ulti­mate author­i­ties by our inter­est and our votes. Younger peo­ple have always had a rebel­lious streak. It goes with the ter­ri­to­ry of grow­ing up.”

Guthrie retired from tour­ing, and had retired the song even ear­li­er than that. But it lives on every Thanks­giv­ing in many house­holds. As he told Rolling Stone, that’s a fine lega­cy:

“Hey if they’re gonna play one song of yours on the radio one day a year, it might as well be the longest one you wrote!”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Two Leg­ends, Lead Bel­ly & Woody Guthrie, Per­form­ing on the Same Radio Show (1940)

William S. Bur­roughs Reads His Sar­cas­tic “Thanks­giv­ing Prayer” in a 1988 Film By Gus Van Sant

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 13 Tips for What to Do with Your Left­over Thanks­giv­ing Turkey

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.

A Flying Car Took to the Skies Back in 1949: See the Taylor Aerocar in Action

“A secret ques­tion hov­ers over us, a sense of dis­ap­point­ment, a bro­ken promise we were giv­en as chil­dren about what our adult world was sup­posed to be like,” the late anthro­pol­o­gist David Grae­ber once wrote in the Baf­fler. This refers to “a par­tic­u­lar gen­er­a­tional promise — giv­en to those who were chil­dren in the fifties, six­ties, sev­en­ties, or eight­ies — one that was nev­er quite artic­u­lat­ed as a promise but rather as a set of assump­tions about what our adult world would be like.” In the con­fus­ing­ly dis­ap­point­ing future we now inhab­it, one ques­tion hov­ers above them all: “Where, in short, are the fly­ing cars?”

Even those of us not yet born in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry can sense the cul­tur­al import of the fly­ing car to that era, and not just from its sci­ence fic­tion. Chuck Berry was singing about fly­ing cars back in 1956: His song “You Can’t Catch Me” tells of rac­ing down the New Jer­sey Turn­pike in a cus­tom-made “air­mo­bile,” a “Flight DeV­ille with a pow­er­ful motor and some hide­away wings.”

This was­n’t whol­ly fan­tas­ti­cal, giv­en that an actu­al fly­ing car had been built sev­en years ear­li­er. Demon­strat­ed in the news­reel from that year at the top of  the post, the Aero­car came designed and built by a solo inven­tor, for­mer World War II pilot Moul­ton Tay­lor of Longview, Wash­ing­ton, who in 1959 would appear on the pop­u­lar game show I’ve Got a Secret.

The pro­gram’s pan­elists attempt to guess the nature of Tay­lor’s inven­tion as he puts it togeth­er onstage, for the Aero­car required some assem­bly. Though con­sid­er­ably more com­pli­cat­ed than the push-but­ton mech­a­nism imag­ined by Berry, the process took only five min­utes to con­vert from auto­mo­bile to air­plane, or so the inven­tor promised. Despite secur­ing the Civ­il Avi­a­tion Author­i­ty’s approval for mass pro­duc­tion, Tay­lor could­n’t find a suf­fi­cient num­ber of buy­ers, and in the end only built six Aero­cars. But one of them still flies, as seen on the first episode of the 2008 series James May’s Big Ideas. “I wouldn’t have flown it if I’d seen the wings were attached with elab­o­rate paper­clips,” writes the for­mer Top Gear co-host, “but by the time I real­ized this, we were already at 2,000 feet.”

“As an air­plane, it was actu­al­ly pret­ty good,” May admits, “but then, it would be, because an air­plane is what it was.” As a car, “it was dia­bol­i­cal. Worse than the Bee­tle, to be hon­est, and not helped by the require­ment to drag all the unwant­ed air­planey bits behind you on a trail­er.” Still, the expe­ri­ence of fly­ing in the Aero­car clear­ly thrilled him, as it would any car or plane enthu­si­ast. Even in a non-air­wor­thy state the Aero­car cer­tain­ly thrills Matthew Burchette, cura­tor at Seat­tle’s Muse­um of Flight. In the video above he intro­duces the muse­um’s Aero­car III, the last one Tay­lor built. “If you’re about my age, you real­ly want­ed your jet­pack,” says the gray-haired Burchette, though a fly­ing car would also have done the trick. Alas, more than half a cen­tu­ry after Tay­lor’s ambi­tious project, human­i­ty seems to have made no appar­ent progress in that depart­ment; jet­packs, how­ev­er, seem to be com­ing along nice­ly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New­ly Unearthed Footage Shows Albert Ein­stein Dri­ving a Fly­ing Car (1931)

The Time­less Beau­ty of the Cit­roën DS, the Car Mythol­o­gized by Roland Barthes (1957)

A Har­row­ing Test Dri­ve of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s 1933 Dymax­ion Car: Art That Is Scary to Ride

178,000 Images Doc­u­ment­ing the His­to­ry of the Car Now Avail­able on a New Stan­ford Web Site

NASA Puts 400+ His­toric Exper­i­men­tal Flight Videos on YouTube

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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 Beatles Create an Abstract Collaborative Painting, Images of a Woman, During Three Days of Lockdown in Japan (1966)

One of the ear­li­est known non-human visu­al artists, Con­go the chim­panzee, learned to draw in 1956 at the age of two. Moody, fierce­ly pro­tec­tive of his work, and par­tic­u­lar about his process, he made around 400 draw­ings and paint­ings in a style described as “lyri­cal abstract impres­sion­ism.” He appeared sev­er­al times on British tele­vi­sion before his death in 1964. He count­ed Picas­so among his fans and, in a 2005 auc­tion, out­sold Warhol and Renoir.

One won­ders if who­ev­er gave the four-head­ed beast known as the Bea­t­les can­vas and paint (“pos­si­bly Bri­an Epstein or their Japan­ese pro­mot­er, Tats Nagashima”) remem­bered Con­go as the fab four bounced off the walls in their hotel rooms in Tokyo dur­ing their last, 1966 tour, when extra secu­ri­ty forced them to stay inside for three full days. Or per­haps their keep­ers were inspired by the humane prac­tice of art ther­a­py, com­ing into its own at the same time in men­tal health cir­cles with the found­ing of the British Asso­ci­a­tion of Art Ther­a­pists in 1964.

“Accord­ing to pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Whitak­er,” David Wol­man writes at The Atlantic, the Bea­t­les’ man­ag­er “brought the guys a bunch of art sup­plies to help pass the time. Then Epstein set a large can­vas on a table and placed a lamp in the mid­dle. Each mem­ber of the group set to work paint­ing a corner—comic strip­py for Ringo, psy­che­del­ic for John.” Paul’s cor­ner resem­bles an odd­ly erot­ic sea crea­ture, George’s the spir­i­tu­al abstrac­tions of Kandin­sky. Accord­ing to the Bea­t­les Bible, it was Nagashima “who sug­gest­ed that the com­plet­ed paint­ing be auc­tioned for char­i­ty.”

Whitak­er doc­u­ment­ed the exper­i­ment and lat­er pro­nounced it an imme­di­ate suc­cess: “I nev­er saw them calmer, more con­tent­ed than at this time… They’d stop, go and do a con­cert, and then it was ‘Let’s go back to the pic­ture!’” Once fin­ished, the lamp was lift­ed, all four signed their names in the cen­ter, and the paint­ing was titled Images of A Woman, which may be no indi­ca­tion of the artists’ inten­tions. Who knows what kind of scouser humor passed between them as they worked.

The paint­ing then passed to cin­e­ma exec­u­tive Tet­sus­aburo Shi­moya­ma, whose wid­ow auc­tioned it in 1989 to wealthy record store own­er Takao Nishi­no, who had seen them at Budokan in 1966 dur­ing the same his­toric tour that pro­duced the paint­ing. Then it end­ed up under a bed for twen­ty years before being auc­tioned again in 2012. It’s cer­tain­ly true the band, most espe­cial­ly Paul and John, had always tak­en to visu­al art, as artists them­selves or as col­lec­tors and appre­ci­a­tors. But this is some­thing spe­cial. It rep­re­sents their only col­lab­o­ra­tive art­work, aside from some doo­dles on a card sent to the Mon­ter­rey orga­niz­ers.

When look­ing at Whitaker’s pho­tographs of the band at work (see video mon­tage above), one doesn’t, of course, think of Con­go the chimp or the patients of a psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Instead, they look like stu­dents in a ‘60s alter­na­tive school, set loose to cre­ate with­out inter­rup­tion (but for the occa­sion­al mega-con­cert) to their hearts’ con­tent. Maybe Epstein or Nagashima had just seen the 1966 Nation­al Film Board of Cana­da doc­u­men­tary Sum­mer­hill, about just such a school in Eng­land? What­ev­er inspired the zeitgeist‑y moment, we can see why it nev­er came again. That year, they played their final con­cert and retired to the stu­dio, where they could lock them­selves away with their pre­ferred means of cre­ative dis­trac­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When the Bea­t­les Refused to Play Before Seg­re­gat­ed Audi­ences on Their First U.S. Tour (1964)

Meet Con­go the Chimp, London’s Sen­sa­tion­al 1950s Abstract Painter

How “Straw­ber­ry Fields For­ev­er” Con­tains “the Cra­zi­est Edit” in Bea­t­les His­to­ry

Audio: The Bea­t­les Play Their Final Con­cert at Can­dle­stick Park, 1966

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

Nikon Offers Free Online Photography Courses During the Holidays

A quick heads up. From Novem­ber 23rd through Decem­ber 31st, you can stream for free all class­es offered by Nikon School Online. Nor­mal­ly priced at $15-$50 per course, this 10-course offer­ing cov­ers Fun­da­men­tals of Pho­tog­ra­phy, Dynam­ic Land­scape Pho­tog­ra­phy, Macro Pho­tog­ra­phy, Pho­tograph­ing Chil­dren and Pets, and more.

Find­ing the cours­es on the Nikon site is not very intu­itive. To access the cours­es, click here and then scroll down the page until you see a yel­low but­ton that says “Watch Full Ver­sion.” From there you will get a prompt that allows you to sign up for the cours­es…

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 PetaPix­el

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Annie Lei­bovitz Teach­es Pho­tog­ra­phy in Her First Online Course

Take a Free Course on Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy from Stan­ford Prof Marc Lev­oy

Learn Dig­i­tal Pho­tog­ra­phy with Har­vard University’s Free Course

1,700 Free Online Cours­es from Top Uni­ver­si­ties

Stevie Ray Vaughan Gives a Blistering Demonstration of His Guitar Technique

What made Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an such a great gui­tarist? If you ask Metallica’s Kirk Ham­mett, a devot­ed stu­dent of the blues, it’s “his tim­ing, his tone, his feel, his vibra­to, his phrasing–everything. Some peo­ple are just born to play gui­tar, and Ste­vie was def­i­nite­ly one of them.” This may come as dis­ap­point­ing news to gui­tar play­ers who want to sound like SRV but weren’t born with his genes. Ham­mett assures them it’s pos­si­ble to approx­i­mate his style, to some degree, with the right gear and mas­tery of his sig­na­ture tech­niques. Ham­mett lays out the SRV reper­toire thor­ough­ly, but there is no sub­sti­tute for the source.

SRV’s dual edu­ca­tion in both the British blues and the Amer­i­can blues of his heroes gave him “less reser­va­tions and less rea­sons to be so-called a ‘purist,’” he says in the video above. He then pro­ceeds to blow us away with imi­ta­tions of the greats and his own par­tic­u­lar spin on their tech­niques.

You could call it a gui­tar les­son, but as his stu­dent, you had bet­ter have advanced blues chops and a very good ear. As he runs through the styles of his idols, Vaugh­an doesn’t slow down or pause to explain what he’s doing. If you can keep up, you prob­a­bly don’t need the lessons after all.

Although com­pared, favor­ably or oth­er­wise, to his idol Jimi Hen­drix dur­ing his life and after his trag­ic death at 35, Vaugh­an also “incor­po­rat­ed the jazz stylings of Djan­go Rein­hardt, Ken­ny Bur­rell and Wes Mont­gomery,” Gui­tar mag­a­zine notes, and was “a keen stu­dent of Mud­dy Waters, Albert King, Fred­die King, Chuck Berry, Lon­nie Mack and Otis Rush.” Mud­dy Waters, in turn, was a great admir­er of Vaugh­an. “Ste­vie could per­haps be the great­est gui­tar play­er that ever lived,” the blues leg­end remarked in 1979. But like his hero Hen­drix, Vaughan’s tal­ent could be over­shad­owed by his addic­tions. “He won’t live to get 40 years old if he doesn’t leave that white pow­der alone,” Waters went on.

The drugs and alco­hol near­ly killed him, but they didn’t seem to cramp his play­ing. The video above comes from a Jan­u­ary 1986 sound­check, the same year Vaughan’s sub­stance abuse hit its peak and he entered rehab after near­ly dying of dehy­dra­tion in Ger­many. He would get sober and sur­vive, only to die in a heli­copter crash four years lat­er. While his ear­ly death may have some­thing to do with the way he has been dei­fied, what comes through in his albums and per­for­mances thir­ty years after he left us is the brute fact of his orig­i­nal­i­ty as a blues play­er.

Per­haps the the most con­cise state­ment of this comes from John Mayer’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induc­tion speech:

There is an inten­si­ty about Stevie’s gui­tar play­ing that only he could achieve, still to this day. It’s a rage with­out anger, it’s devo­tion­al, it’s reli­gious. He seam­less­ly meld­ed the super­nat­ur­al vibe of Jimi Hen­drix, the inten­si­ty of Albert King, the best of British, Texas and Chica­go Blues and the class and sharp shoot­er pre­ci­sion of his old­er broth­er Jim­mie. Ste­vie is the ulti­mate gui­tar hero.

If you’ve ever had rea­son to doubt, see it for your­self above.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

How B.B. King & Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an Dealt With Break­ing Strings Onstage Mid-Song: A Mas­ter­class in Han­dling Onstage Mishaps

Ste­vie Ray Vaugh­an Plays the Acoustic Gui­tar in Rare Footage, Let­ting Us See His Gui­tar Vir­tu­os­i­ty in Its Purest Form

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

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

A Mysterious Monolith Appears in the Utah Desert, Channeling Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Peo­ple do weird things in the desert. A spokesman for the Utah Divi­sion of Wildlife Resources acknowl­edges that wide­ly under­stood truth in a recent New York Times arti­cle about a mys­te­ri­ous mono­lith dis­cov­ered in Red Rock Coun­try. “A team that was count­ing bighorn sheep by heli­copter spot­ted some­thing odd and land­ed to take a clos­er look,” writes Alan Yuhas. “It was a three-sided met­al mono­lith, about 10 to 12 feet tall, plant­ed firm­ly in the ground with no clear sign of where it came from or why it was there.” What­ev­er the dif­fer­ences in size, shape, and col­or, this still-unex­plained object brings to mind noth­ing so much as 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its most famous mono­lith of all.

Though Stan­ley Kubrick shot that par­tic­u­lar scene in Lon­don’s Shep­per­ton Stu­dios, plen­ty of oth­er pro­duc­tions have made use of the Utah Desert, includ­ing install­ments of the spec­ta­cle-dri­ven Indi­ana Jones and Mis­sion: Impos­si­ble series. But as far as any­one knows, the mono­lith isn’t a piece of set dress­ing.

Crowd­sourc­ing guess­es on social media, the Utah High­way Patrol received such respons­es as “a ‘res­o­nance deflec­tor,’ ‘an eye­sore,’ ‘some good met­al.’ Some the­o­rized, vague­ly, that it was a satel­lite bea­con. Oth­ers joked that it was a Wi-Fi router.” Who­ev­er assem­bled and installed it, they did so with “human-made riv­ets” and a skilled enough hand to cut a per­fect­ly shaped hole into the rock — the kind of com­bi­na­tion of appar­ent skill and inex­plic­a­bil­i­ty that once stirred up so much fas­ci­na­tion over crop cir­cles.

Image by Utah Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safe­ty

The Art News­pa­per’s Gabriel­la Angeleti describes the mono­lith as “resem­bling the free­stand­ing plank sculp­tures of the late Min­i­mal­ist artist John McCrack­en.” Though McCrack­en nev­er offi­cial­ly made an instal­la­tion in the Utah desert, he did spend the last years of his life not far away (at least by the stan­dards of the south­west­ern Unit­ed States) in north­ern New Mex­i­co, and any­one famil­iar with his work will sense a cer­tain affin­i­ty with it in this new­ly dis­cov­ered object. “While this is not a work by the late Amer­i­can artist John McCrack­en,” says a spokesman for the gallery that rep­re­sents him, “we sus­pect it is a work by a fel­low artist pay­ing homage.” Whether or not the mono­lith has an intend­ed mes­sage, the reac­tions now going viral around the world already have many of us won­der­ing how far we’ve real­ly evolved past the apes.

The mono­lith is appar­ent­ly view­able on Google Earth here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

When Michel Fou­cault Tripped on Acid in Death Val­ley and Called It “The Great­est Expe­ri­ence of My Life” (1975)

The CIA Puts Hun­dreds of Declas­si­fied Doc­u­ments About UFO Sight­ings Online, Plus 10 Tips for Inves­ti­gat­ing Fly­ing Saucers

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

Watch a New­ly-Cre­at­ed “Epi­logue” For Stan­ley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.