Listen to Freddie Mercury & David Bowie on the Isolated Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pressure,’ 1981

In the summer of 1981, the British band Queen was recording tracks for their tenth studio album, Hot Space, at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. As it happened, David Bowie had scheduled time at the same studio to record the title song for the movie Cat People. Before long, Bowie stopped by the Queen sessions and joined in. The original idea was that he would add backup vocals on the song “Cool Cat.” “David came in one night and we were playing other people’s songs for fun, just jamming,” says Queen drummer Roger Taylor in Mark Blake’s book Is This the Real Life?: The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen. “In the end, David said, ‘This is stupid, why don’t we just write one?'”

And so began a marathon session of nearly 24-hours–fueled, according to Blake, by wine and cocaine. Built around John Deacon’s distinctive bass line, the song was mostly written by Mercury and Bowie. Blake describes the scene, beginning with the recollections of Queen’s guitarist:

‘We felt our way through a backing track all together as an ensemble,’ recalled Brian May. ‘When the backing track was done, David said, “Okay, let’s each of us go in the vocal booth and sing how we think the melody should go–just off the top of our heads–and we’ll compile a vocal out of that.” And that’s what we did.’ Some of these improvisations, including Mercury’s memorable introductory scatting vocal, would endure on the finished track. Bowie also insisted that he and Mercury shouldn’t hear what the other had sung, swapping verses blind, which helped give the song its cut-and-paste feel.

“It was very hard,” said May in 2008, “because you already had four precocious boys and David, who was precocious enough for all of us. Passions ran very high. I found it very hard because I got so little of my own way. But David had a real vision and he took over the song lyrically.” The song was originally titled “People on Streets,” but Bowie wanted it changed to “Under Pressure.” When the time came to mix the song at Power Station studios in New York, Bowie insisted on being there. “It didn’t go too well,” Blake quotes Queen’s engineer Reinhold Mack as saying. “We spent all day and Bowie was like, ‘Do this, do that.’ In the end, I called Freddie and said, ‘I need help here,’ so Fred came in as a mediator.” Mercury and Bowie argued fiercely over the final mix.

At one point Bowie threatened to block the release of the song, but it was issued to the public on October 26, 1981 and eventually rose to number one on the British charts. It was later named the number 31 song on VH1’s list of the 100 greatest songs of the 1980s. “‘Under Pressure’ is a significant song for us,” May said in 2008, “and that is because of David and its lyrical content. I would have found that hard to admit in the old days, but I can admit it now…. But one day, I would love to sit down quietly on my own and re-mix it.”

After listening to the isolated vocal track above, you can hear the officially released 1981 mix below:

Note: An earlier version of this classic post appeared on our site in 2013.

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Quentin Tarantino Reviews Movies: From Dunkirk and King of New York, to Soul Brothers of Kung Fu & More

Some of the most influential directors of the French New Wave, like Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, and Éric Rohmer, first stepped into the world of film as critics. They found their voices by publishing in the Paris cinephile institution of Cahiers du cinéma; a few decades later, Quentin Tarantino found his own by working at the Manhattan Beach cinephile institution of Video Archives. Stories of all the myriad ways in which he would express his enthusiasm for and expertise on cinema there have passed into legend. But just like the critics Godard, Truffaut, and Rohmer, the video-store clerk Tarantino ultimately seems to have signed on to the old proposition that the best response to a work of art is another work of art.

Tarantino’s endorsements of and introductions to the work of other directors (for example, the one he recorded for Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express) have given us a sense of his cinematic taste. So, in an even more telling manner, do the elements he steals — by his own admission — from other movies.

A look at the dance scene in Pulp Fiction, for example, reveals a filmmaker well acquainted with the French New Wave, and even more so with the work of Italia master Federico Fellini that came out in the same era. And even if you think you could go head-to-head with Tarantino on midcentury European auteurs, could you match his understanding of A Man Called TigerFatal Needles vs. Fatal Fists, or Soul Brothers of Kung Fu?

Those are just three of the films Tarantino has reviewed at the web site of the New Beverly Cinema, the theater he owns in Los Angeles. Published in a low-profile manner, these short essays on the kind of 1970s Hong Kong martial-arts pictures that rightfully belong on downtown triple-bills (and that Tarantino surely first saw on downtown triple-bills) exude the kind of fan-critic energy that brings to mind bygone days of the internet.

Not that Tarantino eschews more recent movies and movie media. In late 2019 and early 2010, he appeared three times on The Ringer’s The Rewatchables podcast to share his thoughts on three pictures worth seeing again: Christopher Nolan‘s Dunkirk from 2017, Tony Scott’s Unstoppable from 2010, and Abel Ferrara’s King of New York from 1990. Listen and you may just feel like a Video Archive customer in the 1980s, getting recommendations from an oddly persuasive clerk.

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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.

Building Without Nails: The Genius of Japanese Carpentry

Traditional Japanese carpentry impresses us today, not so much with the tools its practitioners use as with the ones they don’t: nails, for example. Or glue, for that matter. Here on Open Culture we’ve previously featured introductions to Japanese wood joinery, the art of cutting wood in a manner such that pieces slide together and solidly interlock without the aid of any other materials. Though it may seem like magic, it’s really just physics — or rather, physics, and engineering, and the branches of biology relevant to growing the right wood. For the traditional Japanese carpenter himself, it all comes down to extensive training and practice.

Traditional Japanese carpentry need not even be done in Japan. Take Miya Shoji, the New York City shop profiled in the China Uncensored video above. Under current owner Hisao Hanafusa, who came to the United States in 1963, it makes and sells furniture crafted using canonical techniques, but in service of particular pieces quite unlike any found in Japan.

Part of the difference comes from the wood itself: as it would be sourced only locally in Japan, so it’s sourced only locally in the United States. This video shows the felling of a 300-year-old tree, killed by Dutch elm disease, and its transformation into slabs destined to become Miya Shoji tables.

Thereafter, the drying process could take twenty years. “By the time the wood hits the cutting bench, it is already nearing the end of its journey.” But the carpenter still has to craft the joints needed to hold the finished piece together “like a three-dimensional puzzle” — and with a set of hand tools, at that. The very same techniques have been used to construct temples in Japan that can stand for a millennium, and indeed go back even deeper into history than that, having evolved from carpentry performed in 6th- and 7th-century China. Here in the 21st century, connoisseurs of every nationality have come to appreciate the wabi-sabi aesthetic and transcendent simplicity of furniture so constructed — a simplicity that surely doesn’t come cheap.

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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.

Beethoven’s Unfinished Tenth Symphony Gets Completed by Artificial Intelligence: Hear How It Sounds

Few symphonies are as well-known as Beethoven’s Ninth, an assertion supported by the fact that it’s no doubt playing in your head even as you read this. Few symphonies are less well-known — at least by Beethoven’s standards — than his Tenth, primarily because he never actually got the thing finished. He did make a start on it, however, and at his death in 1827 left behind notes and drafts composed alongside the Ninth, which had also been commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society. Such is Beethoven’s stature that his enthusiasts have been speculating ever since on what his incomplete symphony would sound like if completed, employing any techniques to do so that their time put at hand.

“In 1988, musicologist Barry Cooper ventured to complete the first and second movements,” writes Rutgers University Art & AI Lab director Ahmed Elgammal at The Conversation. “He wove together 250 bars of music from the sketches to create what was, in his view, a production of the first movement that was faithful to Beethoven’s vision. Yet the sparseness of Beethoven’s sketches made it impossible for symphony experts to go beyond that first movement.”

When Beethoven’s milestone 250th year approached, however, the age of artificial intelligence was well underway. To Matthias Röder, the director of Salzburg’s Karajan Institute, uniting this towering composer and this promising technology had become an irresistible proposition.

Elgammal and Röder were just two of the team that came together to take on the formidable task of engineering a form of machine learning capable of helping to complete Beethoven’s Tenth. The others included composer Walter Werzowa (“famous for writing Intel’s signature bong jingle”), computational music expert Mark Gotham, and musicologist-pianist Robert Levin, who “had previously finished a number of incomplete 18th-century works by Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach.” Deutsche Telekom provided funding for the project, and also produced the short documentary video on its result above. However conceptually intriguing, this A.I.-driven musical endeavor could finally be put to the test in only one way: hearing it performed by a 100-percent human orchestra. As Werzowa puts it, looking skyward, “We hope when he hears it now that he smiles.”

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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.

Andy Warhol’s Vibrant, Impractical, Illustrated Cookbook from 1959: A Feast for the Eyes

Gorgeously illustrated cookbooks featuring sumptuous images of fancy desserts and other special occasion food can be quite an intimidating proposition to self-doubting beginners.

The recipes themselves are daunting, and as every Great British Baking Show viewer learns, watching the top contestants squirm in advance of co-host Paul Hollywood‘s icy judgment, flavor can’t save an edible creation that fails as art.

Andy Warhol’s approach to cookery appears rather more blithe.

His 1959 cookbook, Wild Raspberries — the title is a play on Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries — displays little interest in its readers’ cooking ability… or, for that matter, its authors.

Fanciful representations of such delicacies as Gardoons a la Mousseline are pretty as a picture… and stress free given that no one is actually expected to make them.

Wild Raspberries is all about attitude… and ambition of a purely social nature.

Warhol’s co-author, interior decorator and society hostess Suzie Frankfurt, recalled hatching the idea for this collaboration, shortly after encountering the young artist at New York City’s fabled sweet spot, Serendipity: “We thought it would be a masterpiece and we’d sell thousands. I think we sold 20.”

It’s possible the endeavor was a few decades ahead of its time. We can imagine Wild Raspberries doing quite well as an impulsive lifestyle type buy at Urban Outfitters.

Secondhand copies of a 1997 reprint occasionally resurface, as do auction lots of the original 34 lithograph sets, hand-colored by four schoolboys who lived upstairs from Warhol, prior to hand-binding by rabbis on the Lower East Side.

After consigning a few copies to Doubleday and Rizzoli bookstores, Warhol and Frankfurt gave the bulk of the first edition away as Christmas presents to friends, who were no doubt well equipped to appreciate the tongue-in-cheek nature of its “recipes,” hand-lettered by Warhol’s mother, Julia — whose spelling boo-boos were purposefully allowed to stand.

The instructions eschew crass mention of measurements or cooking times… perfect for anyone with hired staff, standing reservations at Upper East Side hot spots, or a social X-Ray diet regimen.

Instead, readers are directed to send the Cadillac round to Trader Vic’s tiki bar for a suckling pig of sufficient size for a party of 15, or to gather morels should they find themselves holidaying in the vicinity of Normandy.

Salade de Alf Landon, a bombe of lobster tails named for FDR’s opponent in the 1936 Presidential election, crowned with asparagus tips and hardboiled plover eggs, seems like it could double as a fetching chapeau, especially when paired with one of Warhol’s whimsical fantasy  for footwear company I. Miller’s weekly ads in The New York Times.

In fact, nearly everything in this vibrantly hand colored “cookbook” makes for plausible mid-century millinery, from Torte a la Dobosch to an impractically vertical arrangement of Hard Boiled Eggs.



Wild Raspberries may have been a swipe at aspirational, hostess-oriented late-50s cookbooks, but Greengages a la Warhol’s reference to hyperlocal produce would fit right in with with Portlandia’s 21st century foodie spoofs.

High and low combine to great effect with winking references to Greta Garbo and gossip columnist Dorothy KilgallenLucky Whip dessert topping, a “Seared Roebuck,” and store-bought supermarket sponge cake (the latter in Wild Raspberries’ most legit-sounding recipe, something of an upgrade from the recipe for “cake” Warhol shared in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol — a chocolate bar served between slices of bread.

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

Watch a Gripping 10-Minute Animation About the Hunt for Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann

In February 2018, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany conducted interviews with 1,350 American adults, aged 18 and up.

Their findings, published as the Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study, reveal a sharp decline in Americans’ awareness of the state-sponsored extermination of six million Jewish men, women, and children by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.

This knowledge gap was particularly pronounced among the millennial respondents. Sixty-six percent had not heard of Auschwitz — the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers, where over a million perished. Twenty-two percent of them had not heard of (or were unsure if they had heard of) the Holocaust.

This is shocking to those of us who grew up reading The Diary of Anne Frank and attending assemblies where Holocaust survivors — often the older relative of a classmate — spoke of their experiences, rolling up their sleeves to show us the serial numbers that had been tattooed on their arms upon arrival at Auschwitz.

The study did make the heartening discovery that nearly all of the respondents — 93% — believed that the Holocaust should be a topic of study in the schools, many citing their belief that such an education will prevent a calamity of that magnitude from happening again.

(In defense of millennials, it’s worth noting that in the decades since 1977, when more than half of the country tuned in to watch the miniseries Roots, the Civil War and the horrors of slavery had all but disappeared from American curriculums, a direction the Black Lives Matter movement is fighting to redress.)

The Holocaust is such a huge subject that there is a question of how to introduce it, ideally, in such a way that young people’s interest is sparked toward continuing their education.

The Driver is Red, Randall Christopher‘s animated short, above, could make an excellent, if somewhat unusual, starting place.

The film’s text is drawn from Israeli Mossad Special Agent Zvi Aharoni’s first person account of the successful manhunt that tracked Adolf Eichmann, a member of Heinrich Himmler’s inner circle and architect of the Nazi’s “final solution,” to Argentina.

This event transpired in 1960, fifteen years after Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz.

Aharoni, voiced by actor Mark Pinter, recalls receiving the tip that Eichmann was living in Argentina under an assumed name, and locating him in a modest dwelling on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Filmmaker Christopher builds the tension during the ensuing stakeout with effective, noir-ish, pencil sketches that take shape before our eyes, mapping surveillance points, a couple of happy accidents, and one harrowing moment where Aharoni feared his foreign accent might give him away.

There’s more to the story than can be packed in a fourteen minute film, but those fourteen minutes are as gripping as any tightly plotted spy movie.

Christopher is less interested in directing the next James Bond flick than putting Holocaust education back on the table for all Americans.

2016 New York Times article about the handwritten letter Eichmann sent Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, begging for clemency, paved the way for the film by motivating Christopher to fill in some gaps in his education with regard to the Holocaust.

As the then-46-year-old told Leorah Gavidor of The San Diego Reader in 2018:

I (felt) so dumb, so ignorant, being an adult in America and not knowing the history of it.

My friends, people I told this story to, they were fascinated. They would start listening very carefully when I started to talk about this Nazi from Germany that was found 15 years after the war, halfway around the world. They didn’t know anything about it. That’s how I knew I was on to something.

Before the film was completed, Christopher staged a live reading of the script at San Diego’s Verbatim Books, then passed the mic to Holocaust survivor Rose Schindler, who told the audience about surviving Auschwitz.

As Christopher recalled:

People were tripping. There’s three lines about Treblinka in the film, and this Nazi war criminal, and then they see someone there, with the tattoo on her arm, in front of them, who experienced this firsthand.

Mrs. Schindler became a Holocaust educator in 1972, when her son’s teacher invited her to share her story with his middle school classmates.

She is now 91.

via The Atlantic

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

Masterclass Is Running a “Buy One, Share One Free” Deal Giving You Access to 100+ Courses (Available Until September 29)

Heads up: Masterclass is running a Buy One, Share One Free until Sept 29 at 11:59pm PST.

Here’s the gist: If you buy an All-Access pass to their 100+ courses, you will receive another All-Access Pass to give to someone else at no additional charge. An All-Access pass starts at $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. 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.

A Gigantic Violin Floats Down Venice’s Grand Canal with a String Quartet on Top

It looks like something out of a Fellini movie: a string quartet floating down the canals of Venice on a gigantic violin. Not a boat masquerading as a violin, like when you dress up your pet for Halloween and just slap some funny ears and coat on it, but an actual 39-foot long violin, made of several kinds of wood and metal by master boatbuilder/wood sculptor Livio De Marchi.

“Noah’s Violin,” as it is called, did have a tiny motor inside to propel it, and its trip down the Grand Canal was intended as a portent of a post-COVID world. De Marchi told the New York Times that the violin was a “sign of Venice restarting,” and like Noah’s Ark, would bring hope after the deluge.

Musicians on board played works by Vivaldi, who was also an inspiration to the woodworker/boatmaker, and who was likewise born in Venice. The surprise is not so much that a string quartet is playing on top of the violin, but that it all seems so sturdy and safe. There are no hand rails or life jackets to be seen. (According to the Times, wind blew some of the score into the canal, where it was quickly rescued).

De Marchi has made several surreal boats, starting with a large wooden replica of a paper ship, a floating origami crane, a large high-heeled shoe, and recently an all-wood recreation of a Ferrari that puttered up and and down the canal.

The violin boat was followed by crowds in gondolas and other tourist boats, floated about for an hour, and then was docked, where it was blessed by a priest. A museum in China and an Italian company expressed interest in finding the violin-boat a home.

Who knows what might happen to it, but why not strap some powerboat motors on it, hire Apocalyptica and let ‘er rip?

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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.

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