Bass Sounds: One Song Highlights the Many Different Sounds Made by Different Bass Guitars

If you’re a seasoned bass player, the diversity of bass sounds in the “Bass Sounds” videos here will hardly surprise you. Most other people — including many musicians — have little understanding of the range of the bass, an instrument thought to just hold down the low end. Yes, it does do that, but it doesn’t always do it with bass frequencies. Bass tones and overtones fall anywhere in the range of 40hz — a low rumble more felt than heard — to a snappy 4000hz, the high-midrange frequency of snare drums and guitars.

That’s a lot of sonic territory for an instrument to explore. It includes the sound of Paul McCartney’s Hofner Violin Bass on “Penny Lane,” a “bass-heavy tone with almost no mids or treble,” Joel McIver writes at MusicRader; the smooth top end of Jaco Pastorious’ homemade fretless Fender Jazz bass; and the buzzsaw power chords of Lemmy Kilmister’s Rickenbacker 4001, which he played with midrange turned to 11 and bass controls completely off.

Of course, amplifiers and effects make all the difference in famous bassists’ tones, but it starts at the fingers, the body, the pickups, and the frets, as bass player Bart Soeters demonstrates with a series of classic, modern, and obscure bass guitars, accompanied by the music of Joris Holtackers. Basses here include such recognizable shapes as the Hofner, with its chambered body and f-holes, the Fender Jazz and Precision basses, and the Gibson SG. They also include unusual or unique instruments like the NS Design Basscello and Soeters’ own Adamovic FBC signature bass.

Boomy, woody, even reedy — bass guitars can rumble and they can croon. They can be imitated by an electric cello — as Soeters demonstrates in the follow-up Bass Sounds II video at the top — make lovely acoustic thumps, and generally sound as percussive or melodic as you like. Will educating others about the range of bass guitar tones change unfortunate stereotypes about bass players (demonstrated below via interpretive dance and spoken word by The Kids in the Hall’s Kevin McDonald and Bruce McCulloch)? Only time will tell. But it can certainly  sharpen the music appreciation skills of musicians and non-musicians alike. See all the different basses listed on the Bass Sounds YouTube pages here and here.

via Laughing Squid

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

Behold the Astronomicum Caesareum, “Perhaps the Most Beautiful Scientific Book Ever Printed” (1540)

Art, science, and magic seem to have been rarely far apart during the Renaissance, as evidenced by the elaborate 1540 Astronomicum Caesareum — or “Emperor’s Astronomy” — seen here. “The most sumptuous of all Renaissance instructive manuals, ” the Metropolitan Museum of Art notes, the book was created over a period of 8 years by Petrus Apianus, also known as Apian, an astronomy professor at the University of Ingolstadt. Modern-day astronomer Owen Gingerich, professor emeritus at Harvard University, calls it “the most spectacular contribution of the book-maker’s art to sixteenth-century science.”

Apian’s book was mainly designed for what is now considered pseudoscience. “The main contemporary use of the book would have been to cast horoscopes,” Robert Batteridge writes at the National Library of Scotland. Apian used as examples the birthdays of his patrons: Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and his brother Ferdinand I. But the Astronomicum Caesareum did more than calculate the future.

Despite the fact that the geocentric model on which Apian based his system “would begin to be overtaken just 3 years after the book’s publication,” he accurately described five comets, including what would come to be called Halley’s Comet.

Apian also “observed that a comet’s tail always points away from the sun,” Fine Books and Collections writes, “a discovery for which he is credited.” He used his book “to calculate eclipses,” notes Gingerich in an introduction, including a partial lunar eclipse in the year of Charles’ birth. And, “in a pioneering use of astronomical chronology, he takes up the circumstances of several historical eclipses.” These discussions are accompanied by “several movable devices” called volvelles, designed “for an assortment of chronological and astrological inquiries.”

Medieval volvelles were first introduced by artist and writer Ramón Llull in 1274. A “cousin of the astrolabe,” Getty writes, the devices consist of “layered circles of parchment… held together at the center by a tie.” They were considered “a form of ‘artificial memory,’” called by Lund University’s Lars Gislén “a kind of paper computer.” Apian was a specialist of the form, publishing several books containing volvelles from his own Ingolstadt printing press. The Astronomicum Caesareum became the pinnacle of such scientific art, using its hand-colored paper devices to simulate the movements of the astrolabe. “The great volume grew and changed in the course of the printing,” Gingerich writes, “eventually comprising fifty-five leaves, of which twenty-one contain moving parts.”

Apian was rewarded handsomely for his work. “Emperor Charles V granted the professor a new coat of arms,” and “the right to appoint poets laureate and to pronounce as legitimate children born out of wedlock.” He was also appointed court mathematician, and copies of his extraordinary book lived on in the collections of European aristocrats for centuries, “a triumph of the printer’s art,” writes Gingerich, and an astronomy, and astrology, “fit for an emperor.”

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

Meet the Linda Lindas, the Tween Punk Band Who Called Out Racism & Misogyny and Scored a Record Deal

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,” we chanted as kids, but “words will never hurt me.” The saying seems to both invite physical violence and deny the real effects of verbal abuse. Maybe this was once effective as a stock playground retort, but it’s never been true, as anyone who’s been picked on as a child can attest. When the taunts are racist, the damage is exponentially multiplied. Not only are kids being singled out and mocked for immutable characteristics, but their family and entire culture of origin are being targeted.

What to do? Lash out? Fight back? Ignore it and pretend it isn’t happening? To quote another cliche, “the best revenge is success.” More appropriately for the case at hand, take an original line from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke: “Be constructive with your blues.”

The Linda Lindas, a four-piece punk band ranging in age from 10 to 16 would agree. When one of the girls was harassed by a classmate, they got bummed about it, then rallied, wrote a song, went viral, and scored a record deal. Dealing with bullies will rarely lead to such joyful results, but it’s worth paying attention when it does.

The song, “Racist, Sexist Boy” has “become something of a 2021 anthem,” writes NPR, with its gleeful call-outs (“Poser! Blockhead! Riffraff! Jerk face!”) and crunchy power chords. “In what has become a very familiar cycle to music-industry watchers, the band landed a record deal almost as soon as its video went viral,” signing with L.A.’s Epitaph Records. “By Friday, the band’s performance of ‘Racist, Sexist Boy’ had been posted on Epitaph’s YouTube channel.” The video comes from a performance at the Los Angeles Public Library, which you can watch in full above, with an introduction and interview with the band. (See a setlist on YouTube and don’t miss their cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” at 35:56.)

So, who are the Linda Lindas? On their Bandcamp page, they describe themselves as “Half Asian / half Latinx. Two sisters, a cousin, and their close friend. The Linda Lindas channel the spirit of original punk, power pop, and new wave through today’s ears, eyes and minds.” You can meet the multi-talented tweens and teens in the video above, made in 2019 by a fifth grade teacher to inspire his students. The girls are hardly new to the music business. Clips in the video show them performing with Money Mark and opening for Bikini Kill. They got their start in 2018 at Girlschool LA, “a celebration of females challenging the status quo,” and they’ve been mentored by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The Linda Lindas also captured the attention of Amy Pohler, who featured the band in her Netflix documentary Moxie. See a clip above. Not every kid who fights bullying with music — or art, science, sports, or whatever their talent — can expect celebrity, and we shouldn’t set kids up to think they can all win the internet lottery. But the Linda Lindas have become heroes for millions of young girls who look like them, and who dream not of fame and fortune but of a united front of friendship and fun against racism, misogyny, and the pains of growing up.

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

What Makes the Art of Bonsai So Expensive?: $1 Million for a Bonsai Tree, and $32,000 for Bonsai Scissors

During the past year’s stretches of time at home, quite a few of us have attempted to introduce more plant life into our surroundings. By some accounts, indoor gardening ranks among the most cost-effective ways of increasing the quality of one’s domestic life. But those of us who get too deep into it (aggressive pursuit of interests being a known characteristic of Open Culture readers) may find themselves getting more than they bargained for, or at any rate paying more than they intended to, especially if they go down the road of bonsai. Though it has its origins in the Chinese practice of penzai, one must look to Japan to find the practitioners who have made the greatest investments in the art of growing proportionally impeccable dwarf trees — investments of time and money both.

Buying a mature work of bonsai can cost up to nearly one million U.S. dollars, according to the episode above of Business Insider’s “So Expensive” series. That was the price of one tree at the 2012 International Bonsai Convention, but others have received valuations nearly as impressive. This reflects the enormous amount of labor a proper bonsai demands: not just daily watering, but “years of pruning, wiring, repotting and grafting,” as the narrator puts it.

“Many of these techniques require years to master, and any errors made can result in permanently ruining the shape, or even killing a plant that has been growing for centuries.” The work of bonsai is the work of generations, a fact embodied by Chieko Yamamoto, the fourth-generation bonsai master shown explaining the pursuit in which she’s spent more than half a century.

Even Yamamoto’s relatively simple-looking bonsai have taken fifteen, perhaps 25 years to take their shape. When executing a new idea, she must wait about five years just to see how it turns out, and the outcome isn’t always to her satisfaction. “There are no immediate answers,” she says, “so I need to live a long life to see the results.” Bonsai has on its side the famous longevity of the Japanese population, as well as the equally famous dedication of Japanese civilization to cultivating master craftsmanship. But even so, the now-diminishing number of bonsai businesses aggravates an already severe limitation of supply versus demand, and the trade itself has certain formidable barriers to entry. “The bonsai parts and the tools are often handmade,” says the Business Insider video’s narrator, “and can cost thousands of dollars themselves.”

In the case of Sasuke scissors, profiled in the Great Big Story documentary short just above, they can cost tens of thousands of dollars. In his shop of that name outside Osaka, blacksmith Yasuhiro Hiraka — a fifth-generation scissormaker, and the last of his kind in Japan — works for a week or longer, ten hours a day, just to make one pair. A standard model runs about $1,100 and a deluxe one costs more than $32,000, but a full-fledged bonsai master cannot settle for less. “I never thought I would be able to have them,” says one such adept, Masakazu Yoshikawa, of his first Sasuke scissors. “It was very emotional.” But the mere act of taking them in hand, he adds, “makes me want to make good bonsai.” For Hiraka’s part, he says, after 50 years of scissor-making, “I finally think I am starting to reach my peak.” As we Westerners say, you can’t rush quality.

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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 or on Facebook.

De-Mystifying Mindfulness: A Free Online Course by Leiden University

From Chris Goto-Jones–now Dean of Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Victoria–comes a free course which was named ‘one of the best online courses of all time’ in 2020. The course description for De-Mystifying Mindfulness reads:

Interest in meditation, mindfulness, and contemplation has grown exponentially in recent years. Rather than being seen as mystical practices from ancient Buddhism or esoteric philosophy, they are increasingly seen as technologies rooted in evidence from psychology and neuroscience. Mindfulness has become the basis for numerous therapeutic interventions, both as a treatment in healthcare and as a means of enhancing well-being and happiness. For millions around the world, mindfulness has become a life-style choice, enhancing and enriching everyday experience. Mindfulness is big business.

But, what actually is mindfulness? Is it really good for you? Can anyone learn it? How can you recognize charlatans? Would you want to live in a mindful society, and would it smell like sandalwood? What does it feel like to be mindful? Are you mindful already, and how would you know?

Evolving from the popular Honours Academy course at Leiden University [in the Netherlands], this innovative course combines conventional scholarly inquiry from multiple disciplines (ranging from psychology, through philosophy, to politics) with experiential learning (including specially designed ‘meditation labs,’ in which you’ll get chance to practice and analyze mindfulness on yourself). In the end, the course aims to provide a responsible, comprehensive, and inclusive education about (and in) mindfulness as a contemporary phenomenon.

You can take De-Mystifying Mindfulness for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

De-Mystifying Mindfulness will be added to our list, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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The Creation & Restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral, Animated

With The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, Victor Hugo intended less to tell a story than to mount a defense of Gothic architecture, which in the early 19th century was being demolished in cities all across France. The book‘s original purpose is more clearly reflected by its original title, Notre-Dame de Paris. 1482, and the titular medieval cathedral’s importance to the capital for nearly two centuries now owes a great deal to the novelist’s advocacy. Hugo would no doubt be pleased by the effort that has gone into preserving Notre-Dame into the 21st century, share in the feelings of devastation that followed the fire of April 2019, and admire the spirit that motivated commencement of the restoration work immediately thereafter.

Or rather, the commencement of the stabilization work immediately thereafter: given the extent of the damage, the then-674-year-old structure had first to be made safe to restore. The AFP News Agency video above explains and visualizes that process, a complex and difficult one in itself. The first priority was to protect the exposed areas of the cathedral from the elements and shore up their flying buttresses (a signature structural element of Gothic architecture) to prevent collapse.

Melted together by the fire, sections of scaffolding that had been set up for previous restoration work also posed considerable difficulties to remove without harming the building. As for the rubble heaped inside, sorting through it required conducting a 3D scan, then bringing in remote-controlled robots and a team of archaeologists.

“I saw the disaster unfolding before me,” says one such archaeologist, Olivier Puaux, in the Radio France Internationale video just above. “It was so sad that I went home before the spire fell.” But just a month later he returned to work on the ambitious restoration project, several of whose workers appear to share their experience with its challenges, dangers, and perhaps unexpected learning opportunities. Removing and sorting through all the fallen wood, stone, and other materials — some of which came through the blaze in re-usable condition — has provided new insights into the cathedral’s construction. Even its very nails, says Puaux, turn out on close inspection to be “very large, very well forged.” As distressed as Victor Hugo may have felt about Notre-Dame’s future, its original builders were surely confident that they were creating a survivor.

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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 or on Facebook.

Real D-Day Landing Footage, Enhanced & Colorized with Artificial Intelligence (June 6, 1944)

Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan drew great acclaim for its harrowing depiction of “D-Day,” the 1944 Allied landing operation that proved a decisive blow against Nazi Germany. More specifically, Spielberg and his creators recreated the landing on Omaha Beach, one of five code-named stretches of the Normandy coast. The video above depicts the landing on another, Juno Beach. This, its uploader stresses, “is not the famous movie D-day the Sixth of June but actual and real footage.” No wonder it feels more realistic than that 1956 Henry Koster spectacle — and, in another way, more so than Spielberg’s picture, whose use of not just color and widescreen dimensions but advanced visual effects made World War II visceral in a way even those who’d never seen combat could feel.

The taking of Omaha Beach was assigned to the United States Army, with support from the U.S. Coast Guard as well as the U.S., British, Canadian and Free French navies. As such, it made a suitable inclusion indeed for an American war story like Saving Private Ryan. Juno Beach, however, was primarily a Canadian job: that country’s army landed there under support from the Royal Canadian Navy (with additional help from several other Allied navies).

As on Omaha Beach, the troops who first landed on Juno Beach came under heavy German fire and sustained serious casualties. But within two hours the Allied forced managed to overcome these coastal defenses and began making their way inland — a direction in which the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division managed to push farther than any of D-Day’s other landing forces.

These Juno Beach D-Day clips benefit from a technology unavailable even in Saving Private Ryan‘s day: artificial intelligence-based enhancement and colorization processes. Originally shot in black-and-white like most (but not all) Army footage of the 1940s, it’s been “motion-stabilized, contrast- and brightness-enhanced, de-noised, upscaled, restored to full HD and artificially colorized.” The result looks crisp enough that anyone without first-hand memories of the Western Front — a generation, alas, now fast leaving the stage — may well forget that it isn’t a war film but a film of war. None of the participants are re-enactors: not the Allied troops boarding their boats by the hundreds, not General Dwight D. Eisenhower, not the German prisoners of war, and certainly not the wounded and dead. What’s more, none of their actions are rehearsed: as the 77th anniversary of D-Day approaches, we should remember that, whatever the bravery on their faces, not one of these men could have felt assured of victory.

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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 or on Facebook.

Who Decides What Words Get Into the Dictionary?

DICTIONARY, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

Once upon a time, we were made to believe that words could never acquire sticks and stones’ capacity to wound.

Talk about a maxim no longer worth the paper it was printed on!

Language is organic. Definitions, usage, and our response to particular words evolve over time.

Lexicographer Ilan Stavans’ TED-Ed lesson, Who Decides What’s in the Dictionary?, rolls the clock back to 1604, when schoolmaster Robert Cawdrey assembled the first English language dictionary “for the benefit of Ladies, Gentlewomen, and other unskilled folk.”

Other English dictionaries soon followed, expanding on the 2,543 words Cawdrey had seen fit to include. His fellow authors shared Cawdrey’s prescriptive goal of educating the rabble, to keep them from butchering the high-minded tongue the self-appointed guardian considered it his duty to protect.

Wordsmith Samuel Johnson, the primary author of 1775’s massive A Dictionary of the English Language, described his mission as one in which “the pronunciation of our language may be fixed, and its attainment facilitated; by which its purity may be preserved, its use ascertained, and its duration lengthened.”

Lest we think Johnson overly impressed with the importance of his lofty mission, he submitted the following gently self-mocking definition of Lexicographer:

A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

150 years later, Ambrose Bierce offered an opposing view in his delightfully wicked dictionary:

LEXICOGRAPHER, n. A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of a language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods.

Stavans points to brothers George and Charles Merriam’s acquisition of the rights to Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) as a moment when our concept of what a dictionary should be began to shift.

Webster, working by himself, set out to collect and document English as it was used on these shores.

The Merriams engaged a group of language experts to curate subsequent editions, striking a blow for the idiom by including slang and regional variants.

A good start, though they excluded anything they found unfit for the general consumption at the time, including expressions born in the Black community.

Their editorializing was of a piece with prevailing views — see “wife.”

But humans, like language, evolve.

These days, lexicographers monitor the Internet for new words to be considered for upcoming editions, including profanity and racial slurs.

If a word’s use is judged to be widespread, sustained and meaningful, in it goes… even though some might find it objectionable, or even, yes, hurtful.

Stavans wraps his lesson up by drawing our attention to Merriam-Webster’s tradition of anointing one entry to Word of the Year, drawn from statistical analysis of the words people look up in extremely high numbers.

“They” got the nod in 2019, a testament to how deeply non-binary gender expression has permeated the collective consciousness and national conversation.

The runner up?


Care to guess which word 2020 placed in the dictionary’s path?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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