Hear the World’s Oldest Known Song, “Hurrian Hymn No. 6” Written 3,400 Years Ago

Do you like old timey music?


You can’t get more old timey than Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6, which was dis­cov­ered on a clay tablet in the ancient Syr­i­an port city of Ugar­it in the 1950s, and is over 3400 year old.

Actu­al­ly, you can — a sim­i­lar tablet mak­ing ref­er­ence to Lip­it-Ishtar, a hymn glo­ri­fy­ing the 5th king of the First Dynasty of Isin, in what is now Iraq, is old­er by some 600 years, but as CMUSE reports, it “con­tains lit­tle more than tun­ing instruc­tions for the lyre.”

Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 offers meati­er con­tent, and unlike five oth­er tablets dis­cov­ered in the same loca­tion, is suf­fi­cient­ly well pre­served to allow arche­ol­o­gists, and oth­ers, to take a crack at recon­struct­ing its song, though it was by no means easy.

Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia emer­i­tus pro­fes­sor of Assyri­ol­o­gy Anne Kilmer spent 15 years research­ing the tablet, before tran­scrib­ing it into mod­ern musi­cal nota­tion in 1972.

Hers is one of sev­er­al inter­pre­ta­tions YouTu­ber hochela­ga sam­ples in the above video.

While the orig­i­nal tablet gives spe­cif­ic details on how the musi­cian should place their fin­gers on the lyre, oth­er ele­ments, like tun­ing or how long notes should be held, are absent, giv­ing mod­ern arrangers some room for cre­ativ­i­ty.

Below archaeo­mu­si­col­o­gist Richard Dum­b­rill explains his inter­pre­ta­tion from 1998, in which vocal­ist Lara Jokhad­er assumes the part of a young woman pri­vate­ly appeal­ing to the god­dess Nikkal to make her fer­tile:

Here’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly love­ly clas­si­cal gui­tar spin, cour­tesy of Syr­i­an musi­col­o­gist Raoul Vitale and com­pos­er Feras Rada

And a haunt­ing piano ver­sion, by Syr­i­an-Amer­i­can com­pos­er Malek Jan­dali, founder of Pianos for Peace:

And who can resist a chance to hear Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 on a repli­ca of an ancient lyre by “new ances­tral” com­pos­er Michael Levy, who con­sid­ers it his musi­cal mis­sion to “open a por­tal to a time that has been all but for­got­ten:”

 I dream to rekin­dle the very spir­it of our ancient ances­tors. To cap­ture, for just a few moments, a time when peo­ple imag­ined the fab­ric of the uni­verse was woven from har­monies and notes. To lux­u­ri­ate in a gen­tler time when the fragili­ty of life was tru­ly appre­ci­at­ed and its every action was per­formed in the almighty sense of awe felt for the ancient gods.

Samu­rai Gui­tarist Steve Onotera chan­nels the mys­tery of antiq­ui­ty too, by com­bin­ing Dr. Dumbrill’s melody with Dr. Kilmer’s, try­ing and dis­card­ing a num­ber of approach­es — syn­th­wave, lo-fi hip hop, reg­gae dub (“an absolute dis­as­ter”) — before decid­ing it was best ren­dered as a solo for his Fend­er elec­tric.

Ama­ranth Pub­lish­ing has sev­er­al MIDI files of Hur­ri­an Hymn No 6, includ­ing Dr. Kilmer’s, that you can down­load for free here.

Open them in the music nota­tion soft­ware pro­gram of your choice, and should it please the god­dess, per­haps yours will be the next inter­pre­ta­tion of Hur­ri­an Hymn No. 6 to be fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture

Relat­ed Con­tent 

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

The Evo­lu­tion of Music: 40,000 Years of Music His­to­ry Cov­ered in 8 Min­utes

Watch an Archae­ol­o­gist Play the “Litho­phone,” a Pre­his­toric Instru­ment That Let Ancient Musi­cians Play Real Clas­sic Rock

A Mod­ern Drum­mer Plays a Rock Gong, a Per­cus­sion Instru­ment from Pre­his­toric Times

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth: Watch the Six-Part Series with Bill Moyers (1988)

The twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry encour­ages us to regard our­selves as hav­ing evolved beyond heroes, to say noth­ing of myths. Such things were only use­ful in the pre-mod­ern world, as yet unblessed by the con­ve­niences, plea­sures, and cer­tain­ties of sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy. What, then, explains how devot­ed peo­ple are to Star Wars? For schol­ar of mythol­o­gy Joseph Camp­bell, author of The Hero with a Thou­sand Faces, George Lucas’ block­buster space opera — and the tril­o­gy it began — demon­strat­ed mod­ern man’s undi­min­ished need for myth. Lucas returned the com­pli­ment, say­ing that could nev­er have made it with­out the knowl­edge of arche­typ­al heroes and their jour­neys he drew from Camp­bel­l’s work.

Camp­bell him­self lays out this knowl­edge in the six inter­views with jour­nal­ist Bill Moy­ers that con­sti­tute The Pow­er of Myth. That doc­u­men­tary series has just come avail­able free to watch on the Youtube chan­nel of dis­trib­u­tor Kino Lor­ber, 34 years after its orig­i­nal broad­cast on PBS in 1988.

At that time, Moy­ers says in an updat­ed intro­duc­tion, “when mil­lions of peo­ple were yearn­ing for a way of talk­ing about reli­gious expe­ri­ence with­out regard to a reli­gious belief sys­tem, Camp­bell gave them the lan­guage for it.” For decades — for cen­turies, real­ly — once-invi­o­lable nar­ra­tives of the world and man’s place in it had been break­ing down. The inabil­i­ty to trace a mytho­log­i­cal arc in their own lives has dri­ven peo­ple in var­i­ous direc­tions: toward cults, toward health fads, toward ther­a­py, toward pop cul­ture.

In the mid-to-late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, this cre­at­ed the most oppor­tune of con­di­tions for Camp­bel­l’s rise as a pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al. Though formed by the Depres­sion rather than the Age of Aquar­ius, he could adapt his teach­ings about ancient myth, as if by instinct, for lis­ten­ers hop­ing to raise their con­scious­ness. “Fol­low your bliss,” he said, think­ing of the Hin­du Upan­ishads, and the New Age made into a cliché. But the Camp­bell of The Pow­er of Myth has much still-rel­e­vant wis­dom to offer, even for those who feel plunged into a despair unique to our moment. “The world is a waste­land,” he admits. “Peo­ple have the notion of sav­ing the world by shift­ing it around and chang­ing the rules and so forth.” But “the way to bring it to life is to find, in your own case, where your life is, and be alive your­self.” A hero’s jour­ney awaits each of us, but nev­er has there been so much to dis­tract us from mak­ing it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear 48 Hours of Lec­tures by Joseph Camp­bell on Com­par­a­tive Mythol­o­gy and the Hero’s Jour­ney

How Led Zeppelin’s “Stair­way to Heav­en” Recre­ates the Epic Hero’s Jour­ney Described by Joseph Camp­bell

Updat­ing Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Jour­ney” to Cov­er Female Action Heroes–Pretty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #33

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 Only Written Eye-Witness Account of Pompeii’s Destruction: Hear Pliny the Younger’s Letters on the Mount Vesuvius Eruption

Though my shocked soul recoils, my tongue shall tell. — Pliny the Younger

A great deal of what we know — or think we know — about the destruc­tion of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum in 79 AD comes fil­tered through mod­ern mytholo­gies like the 1834 nov­el The Last Days of Pom­peii. Writ­ten by Edward Bul­w­er-Lyt­ton (the first nov­el­ist to start a tale with “It was a dark and stormy night”), the book’s Roman­tic fas­ci­na­tion with civ­i­liza­tion­al decay was one stream of think­ing that blames Pom­pei­ians them­selves, in part, for their destruc­tion. That blame man­i­fests as explic­it, or more sub­tle, sug­ges­tions of divine pun­ish­ment. Or it can look like chid­ing imprac­ti­cal res­i­dents who did­n’t get out in time or took the wrong route out of town to avoid the heavy down­pour of molten rock and ash, as though a vol­canic erup­tion were a traf­fic jam in a thun­der­storm.…

Blame is a reflex­ive defense against the hor­ri­fy­ing pos­si­bil­i­ty that the scream­ing fig­ures frozen in ash could be us. There’s lit­tle to counter our cer­tain­ty from Pom­pei­ians them­selves. Some­where between 10,000 to 12,000 peo­ple got out in time (approx­i­mate­ly 2,000 were killed), but there are no exist­ing accounts from the city’s for­mer res­i­dents-turned- refugees. If they had any­thing to say about it lat­er, we’ll nev­er know. We do, how­ev­er, have an eye­wit­ness account of the destruc­tion. Its author, Pliny the Younger, watched from a van­tage point above the imme­di­ate scenes of pan­ic and death: his vil­la across the bay of Naples in Mis­enum. He also hap­pened to be nephew to the great Roman nat­u­ral­ist and mil­i­tary cam­paign­er Pliny the Elder, and an adept writer and keen observ­er of nature him­self.

Pliny the Younger’s let­ters — pub­lished in 9 vol­umes dur­ing his life­time, 10 after­ward — hold more inter­est for his­to­ri­ans than their descrip­tions of Vesu­vius. In his long life, “he was a poet, a sen­a­tor, a pub­lic offi­cial,” Joan Aco­cel­la writes at The New York­er. He had first­hand knowl­edge of “cel­e­brat­ed crimes” among the Roman elite. But the destruc­tion of Pom­peii was for­ma­tive: his uncle died in an attempt­ed evac­u­a­tion of the city by sea, a major event for Pliny and for Roman arms and let­ters. While the Younger had been at leisure in Mis­enum, the Elder had been at work, “in active com­mand of the fleet,” his nephew writes in a let­ter to his friend, fel­low lawyer, and lat­er famed his­to­ri­an Pub­lius Cor­nelius Tac­i­tus. Pliny begins with an expla­na­tion, more or less, for why he’s still alive.

When his uncle saw the “cloud of unusu­al size and appear­ance” ris­ing over the bay, he “ordered a boat made ready, telling me I could come with him if I wished.” Had the cau­tious nephew accept­ed his invi­ta­tion, Pliny the Younger would prob­a­bly have died at the age of 18, some­thing he sure­ly med­i­tat­ed upon from time to time in lat­er life. In the let­ter, he styles his uncle as a “hero” for his res­cue attempts. Pliny was­n’t there him­self to see these events, but he imag­ines what his uncle said and did. He even describes Pliny the Elder’s dra­mat­ic col­lapse and death in Stabi­ae, sev­er­al miles away across the Bay. It’s hard to sift the facts from lit­er­ary embell­ish­ment, but Pliny’s descrip­tions of Vesu­vius itself are vivid and ter­ri­fy­ing. The moun­tain, he writes, was cov­ered in “broad sheets of fire and leap­ing flames… their bright glare empha­sized by the dark­ness of night.”

His obser­va­tions of the ini­tial erup­tion seem high­ly cred­i­ble giv­en his actu­al loca­tion:

It was not clear at that dis­tance from which moun­tain the cloud was ris­ing (it was after­wards known to be Vesu­vius); its gen­er­al appear­ance can best be expressed as being like an umbrel­la pine, for it rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branch­es, I imag­ine because it was thrust upwards by the first blast and then left unsup­port­ed as the pres­sure sub­sided, or else it was borne down by its own weight so that it spread out and grad­u­al­ly dis­persed. In places it looked white, else­where blotched and dirty, accord­ing to the amount of soil and ash­es it car­ried with it.

Pliny seems to want to write more about what he saw, but he oblig­es Tac­i­tus’ request to tell the sto­ry of his uncle’s death. “You will pick out of this nar­ra­tive what­ev­er is most impor­tant,” he con­cludes. “For a let­ter is one thing, a his­to­ry anoth­er; it is one thing writ­ing as a friend, anoth­er thing writ­ing to the pub­lic.” You can hear the let­ter read in full in the YouTube video above from Voic­es of the Past.

The line between pub­lic his­to­ry and pri­vate cor­re­spon­dence may not be so clear as Pliny imag­ined, espe­cial­ly when his let­ters are the only eye­wit­ness sources we have. In a sec­ond mis­sive to Tac­i­tus, per his friend’s request, Pliny describes the scene back in Mis­enum on the sec­ond day of the erup­tion. He and his moth­er had debat­ed what to do, and final­ly decid­ed to evac­u­ate. Here, writ­ing about events he expe­ri­enced first­hand, he strays from the nar­ra­tive con­ven­tions of his first let­ter, con­vey­ing the chaot­ic atmos­phere of ter­ror all around him as they left. The let­ter is har­row­ing, and worth quot­ing at length.

Though Pliny him­self, at the end of the let­ter, pro­nounces it unwor­thy of inclu­sion in Tac­i­tus’ his­to­ry, it remains the one first­hand account to which we can turn when imag­in­ing the expe­ri­ence.

Ash­es were already falling, not as yet very thick­ly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was com­ing up behind us, spread­ing over the earth like a flood. ‘Let us leave the road while we can still see,’ I said, ‘or we shall be knocked down and tram­pled under­foot in the dark by the crowd behind.’ We had scarce­ly sat down to rest when dark­ness fell, not the dark of a moon­less or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wail­ing of infants, and the shout­ing of men; some were call­ing their par­ents, oth­ers their chil­dren or their wives, try­ing to rec­og­nize them by their voic­es. Peo­ple bewailed their own fate or that of their rel­a­tives, and there were some who prayed for death in their ter­ror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imag­ined there were no gods left, and that the uni­verse was plunged into eter­nal dark­ness for ever­more.

There were peo­ple, too, who added to the real per­ils by invent­ing fic­ti­tious dan­gers: some report­ed that part of Mis­enum had col­lapsed or anoth­er part was on fire, and though their tales were false they found oth­ers to believe them. A gleam of light returned, but we took this to be a warn­ing of the approach­ing flames rather than day­light. How­ev­er, the flames remained some dis­tance off; then dark­ness came on once more and ash­es began to fall again, this time in heavy show­ers. We rose from time to time and shook them off, oth­er­wise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight. I could boast that not a groan or cry of fear escaped me in these per­ils, but I admit that I derived some poor con­so­la­tion in my mor­tal lot from the belief that the whole world was dying with me and I with it.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

The Last Morn­ing in Pom­peii & The Night Pom­peii Died: A New Video Series Explores the End of the Doomed Roman City

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes–As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

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

Every Style of Beer Explained: An Expert Breaks Down 100 Types of Beer, from Malty Lagers, to London Brown Ales, to Bock Beer

There was a time when one could hard­ly hope to enter polite soci­ety with­out know­ing one’s Caber­nets from one’s Pinots and one’s Chardon­nays from one’s Ries­lings. That time has not quite gone, exact­ly, and indeed, a greater vari­ety of plea­sures await the oenophile today than ever before. But in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, and espe­cial­ly in twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry urban Amer­i­ca, one must com­mand a cer­tain knowl­edge of beer. Even those who par­take only of the occa­sion­al glass will, after a decade or two, devel­op a sense that they pre­fer a lager, say, or a stout, or the peren­ni­al­ly trendy IPA. Yet many will also be at a loss to explain what they like about their pre­ferred beer’s fla­vor, let alone its ori­gins.

Enter Mas­ter Cicerone Pat Fahey, whose title bespeaks his vast knowl­edge of beer: of its nature, of its mak­ing, of its his­to­ry. He puts his mas­tery of the sub­ject on full dis­play in the hour­long Wired video above, in which he breaks down every style of beer. Not most styles: every style, begin­ning with lagers malty and hop­py, mov­ing through an even wider vari­ety of ales, and end­ing with an extend­ed con­sid­er­a­tion of less­er-known beers and their vari­a­tions. Most all of us have sam­pled Amer­i­can lager, Eng­lish porter, and even Ger­man pil­sner. But can you remem­ber when last you threw back a Flan­ders red ale, a dop­pel­bock, or a wee heavy?

Fahey knows his beers, but he also knows how to talk about them to the gen­er­al pub­lic. His explana­to­ry tech­nique involves pro­vid­ing gen­er­ous amounts of con­text, not just about the parts of the world in which these beers orig­i­nate (a geog­ra­phy and lan­guage les­son in itself) but about the ways they’ve been con­sumed and pro­duced through­out his­to­ry. Of that last he has a fair amount to work with, since the old­est recipe for beer, pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture, dates to 1800 B.C. The near­ly four mil­len­nia of beer evo­lu­tion since then have pro­duced the for­mi­da­ble tap rows with which the bars of Port­land, Austin, and San Diego con­front us today — and which, with Fahey’s guid­ance, we can more cred­i­bly nav­i­gate.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Sci­ence of Beer: A New Free Online Course Promis­es to Enhance Your Appre­ci­a­tion of the Time­less Bev­er­age

Beer Archae­ol­o­gy: Yes, It’s a Thing

Dis­cov­er the Old­est Beer Recipe in His­to­ry From Ancient Sume­ria, 1800 B.C.

The Art and Sci­ence of Beer

Watch Beer Fer­ment in Time-Lapse Motion, and Then Learn How to Make Beer with an Ani­mat­ed Video

An Archae­ol­o­gist Cre­ates the Defin­i­tive Guide to Beer Cans

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.

Why 80s British Pop Queen Kate Bush Owns 2022

Kate Bush has been lying in wait for us on this side of the mil­len­ni­um – espe­cial­ly for those of us on the U.S. side of the pond, who paid too lit­tle atten­tion when she became pop roy­al­ty in the UK (and Japan!) at the turn of the 80s.

Bush was too quirky, too British, and maybe too much her own woman for U.S. audi­ences, maybe. But now they’re ready. Final­ly, in the mil­lions, Amer­i­cans are catch­ing up to the bril­liance of her 1985 sin­gle “Run­ning Up That Hill” thanks to its res­ur­rec­tion by Stranger Things Sea­son 4.

Thus far, the Inter­net has pre­ferred her ear­ly stuff. Her first album and its epony­mous sin­gle, Wuther­ing Heights, gar­nered atten­tion online because of its beloved, bizarre video, an inspi­ra­tion to Kate fans world­wide. 1979 was the last time that she toured and the last time she appeared onstage until a 2015 come­back appear­ance.

Bush relied on elab­o­rate music films to car­ry her image. Her ear­ly turn to video, we might say, helped make her a cult favorite when she declined to be a celebri­ty for a few decades. Now video has killed the tour­ing super­star, and Bush is an Amer­i­can pop queen.

In 2022 — almost 40 years after its release — “Run­ning Up That Hill” has hit No 1 on the Hot Bill­board 100 Song­writ­ers charts, the first song by a female artist to top the chart this year. Her 1985 album Hounds of Love has become Bush’s first Bill­board No. 1 album, this sum­mer, rank­ing at the top for alter­na­tive albums and No. 2 for top rock albums.

“Run­ning Up That Hill (A Deal with God)” first peaked at No. 3 on British charts in 1985. The  album, Hounds of Love — one of her very best among a long string of great records — was hailed as “f**ing” bril­liant” by NME. “Our Kate’s a genius, the rarest solo artist this coun­try’s ever pro­duced,” wrote Jane Solanas.

Over here in the States, we were hard­ly unaware of Kate. Although “Run­ning Up That Hill” only hit No. 30 on the charts, her music con­tin­ued to thrive in under­ground scenes yet unmea­sured by sales and chart posi­tions. (Hounds of Love’s “Cloud­bust­ing” invad­ed U.S. raves and clubs in 1992 via sam­ples in British group Utah Saints’ “Some­thing Good,” a song most peo­ple heard on sketchy dance floors and rat­ty cas­sette mix­tapes).

As for the main­stream U.S. press, well… “The Mis­tress of Mys­ti­cism has woven anoth­er album that both daz­zles and bores,” wrote a Rolling Stone crit­ic in 1985. “Her vision will seem sil­ly to those who believe chil­dren should be seen and not heard.” A New York Times’ review called Hounds of Love “slight­ly pre­cious, cal­cu­lat­ed female art rock.”

There’s noth­ing slight about Kate Bush’s work, but Cheers to the sounds of f***ing bril­liant chil­dren at work. See why Bush’s revival — or endur­ing stay­ing pow­er — should come as no sur­prise in the Poly­phon­ic video above.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Kate Bush Enjoys a (Long-Over­due) Revival, Sparked by Sea­son 4 of Stranger Things

Revis­it Kate Bush’s Pecu­liar Christ­mas Spe­cial, Fea­tur­ing Peter Gabriel (1979)

300 Kate Bush Imper­son­ators Pay Trib­ute to Kate Bush’s Icon­ic “Wuther­ing Heights” Video

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

How a Dutch “Dementia Village” Improves Quality of Life with Intentional Design

Peo­ple suf­fer­ing from demen­tia lose their abil­i­ty to take an active part in con­ver­sa­tions, every­day activ­i­ties, and their own phys­i­cal upkeep.

They are prone to sud­den mood swings, irri­tabil­i­ty, depres­sion, and anx­i­ety.

They may be strick­en with delu­sions and wild hal­lu­ci­na­tions.

All of these things can be under­stand­ably upset­ting to friends and fam­i­lies. There’s a lot of stig­ma sur­round­ing this sit­u­a­tion.

Tak­ing care of a spouse or par­ent with demen­tia can be an over­whelm­ing­ly iso­lat­ing expe­ri­ence, though no one is more iso­lat­ed than the per­son expe­ri­enc­ing severe cog­ni­tive decline first­hand.

While many of us would do any­thing to stay out of them, the sad fact is res­i­den­tial mem­o­ry care facil­i­ties are often the end-of-the-line real­i­ty for those liv­ing with extreme demen­tia.

Dur­ing the first sum­mer of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic, nurs­ing home deaths attrib­uted to Alzheimer’s dis­ease and demen­tia increased by more than 20 per­cent, owing to such fac­tors as chron­ic staffing short­ages and a ban on out­side vis­i­tors.

As DeAnn Wal­ters, direc­tor of clin­i­cal affairs for the Cal­i­for­nia Asso­ci­a­tion of Health Facil­i­ties, told Politi­co:

We’re try­ing to be sup­port­er, social work­er, care­giv­er, friend and house­keep­ing for the res­i­dent. It’s putting a lot of pres­sure on the care­givers and the oper­a­tion of the facil­i­ty to make sure every­one has what they need. Before the pan­dem­ic we couldn’t even get socks on peo­ple and you’d see them walk­ing around bare­foot.

Not the vision any of us would choose for our parent’s gold­en years, or our own.

The Hogeweyk, a planned vil­lage just out­side of Ams­ter­dam, offers a dif­fer­ent sort of future for those with severe demen­tia.

The above episode of By Design, Vox’s series about the inter­sec­tion of design and tech­nol­o­gy, explores the inno­va­tions that con­tribute to the Hogeweyk’s res­i­dents over­all hap­pi­ness and well­be­ing.

Rather than group­ing res­i­dents togeth­er in a sin­gle insti­tu­tion­al set­ting, they are placed in groups of six, with every­one inhab­it­ing a pri­vate room and shar­ing com­mon spaces as they see fit.

The com­mon spaces open onto out­door areas that can be freely enjoyed by all housed in that “neigh­bor­hood”. No need to wait until a staff mem­ber grants per­mis­sion or fin­ish­es some task.

Those wish­ing to ven­ture fur­ther afield can avail them­selves of such pleas­ant quo­tid­i­an des­ti­na­tions as a gro­cery, a restau­rant, a bar­ber­shop, or a the­ater.

These loca­tions are designed in accor­dance with cer­tain things proven to work well in insti­tu­tion­al set­tings —  for instance, avoid­ing dark floor tiles, which some peo­ple with demen­tia per­ceive as holes.

But oth­er design ele­ments reflect the choice to err on the side of qual­i­ty of life. Hand rails may help in pre­vent­ing falls, but so do rol­la­tors and walk­ers, which the res­i­dents use on their jaunts to the town squares, gar­dens and pub­lic ameni­ties.

The design­ers believe that equip­ping res­i­dents with a high lev­el of free­dom not only pro­motes phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, it min­i­mizes issues asso­ci­at­ed with demen­tia like aggres­sion, con­fu­sion, and wan­der­ing.

Co-founders Eloy van Hal and Jan­nette Spier­ing write that the Hogeweyk’s crit­ics com­pare it to the Tru­man Show, the 1998 film in which Jim Car­rey’s title char­ac­ter real­izes that his whole­some small town life, and his every inter­ac­tion with his pur­port­ed friends, neigh­bors, and loved ones, have been a set up for a high­ly rat­ed, hid­den cam­era real­i­ty TV show.

They describe The Hogeweyk as a stage for, “the rem­i­nis­cence world”, in which actors help the res­i­dents live in a fic­ti­tious world. Many Alzheimer’s experts have, how­ev­er, val­ued The Hogeweyk for what it real­ly is: a famil­iar and safe envi­ron­ment in which peo­ple with demen­tia live while retain­ing their own iden­ti­ty and auton­o­my as much as pos­si­ble. They live in a social com­mu­ni­ty with real streets and squares, a real restau­rant with real cus­tomers, a super­mar­ket for gro­ceries and a the­atre that hosts real per­for­mances. There is no fake bus stop or post office, there are no fake façades and sets. The restau­rant employ­ee, the handy­man, the care­tak­er, the nurse, the hair­dress­er, etc.—in short: every­one who works at The Hogeweyk uses their pro­fes­sion­al skills to actu­al­ly sup­port the res­i­dents and are, there­fore, cer­tain­ly not actors.

Pro­fes­sion­al care and sup­port goes on around the clock, but rarely takes cen­ter­stage. Nor­mal life is pri­or­i­tized.

A vis­i­tor describes a stroll through some of the Hogeweyk’s pub­lic areas:

In the shade of one of the large trees, a mar­ried cou­ple gazes hap­pi­ly at the activ­i­ty in the the­atre square. An elder­ly gen­tle­man, togeth­er with a young lady, intent­ly study the large chess board and take turns mov­ing the pieces. At the foun­tain, a group of women chat loud­ly on colour­ful gar­den chairs. The sto­ry is clear­ly audible—it is about a mem­o­ry of a vis­it to a park in Paris which had the same chairs. Passers-by, old and young, greet the women enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly. A lit­tle fur­ther on, a woman is talk­ing to a man oppo­site her. She is ges­tur­ing wild­ly. After a while, anoth­er woman joins the con­ver­sa­tion. The two women then walk through the open front door of Boule­vard 15. 

The cov­ered pas­sage smells of fresh­ly-baked cook­ies. The scent is com­ing from De Bonte Hof. Amus­ing con­ver­sa­tions can be heard that pause for a moment when the oven beeps in the kitchen that has been dec­o­rat­ed in an old-fash­ioned style. A tray of fresh cook­ies is removed from the oven. Two women, one in a wheel­chair, enter the venue, obvi­ous­ly seduced by the smell. They sam­ple the cook­ies. 

The super­mar­ket across the street is very busy. Shop­ping trol­leys loaded with gro­ceries are pushed out of the shop. The rat­tle of a shop­ping trol­ley dis­si­pates into the dis­tance as it dis­ap­pears from view towards Grote Plein. A man reluc­tant­ly push­es the full trol­ley while two women fol­low behind him arm in arm. The trio dis­ap­pear behind the front door of Grote Plein 5.

A staffer’s account of a typ­i­cal morn­ing in one of Hogeweyk’s hous­es reveals more about the hands-on care that allows res­i­dents to con­tin­ue enjoy­ing their care­ful­ly designed home, and the autonomous lifestyle it makes pos­si­ble:

Mr Hen­dricks wakes up on the sofa. He unzips his fly. I jump up and escort him to the toi­let just in time. I grab a roll of med­ica­tion for him from the med­ica­tion trol­ley. He is now walk­ing to his room. We pick out clothes togeth­er and I lay them out on his bed. He wash­es him­self at the sink. I watch briefly before leav­ing. Fif­teen min­utes lat­er, I poke my head through the door. That’s not how elec­tric shav­ing works! I offer to help, but Mr. Hen­dricks is clear­ly a bit irri­tat­ed and grum­bles. He’ll be a lit­tle less shaven today. We’ll try again after break­fast…

We help Mrs Sti­j­nen into the show­er chair with the hoist. She is clear­ly not used to it. Dis­cussing her exten­sive Swarovs­ki col­lec­tion, dis­played in the glass case in her room, turns out to be an excel­lent dis­trac­tion. She proud­ly talks about the lat­est piece she acquired this year. On to the show­er. The two oth­er res­i­dents are still sleep­ing. Great, that gives me the chance to devote some extra time to Mrs Sti­j­nen today. 

The door­bell rings again and my col­league, Yas­min, walks in. She’s the famil­iar face that every­one can rely on. Always present at 8 a.m., 5 days a week. What a relief for res­i­dents and fam­i­ly. She, too, puts her coat and bag in the lock­er. The wash­ing machine is ready, and Yas­min loads up the dry­er. The table in the din­ing room is then set. Yas­min puts a flo­ral table­cloth from the cup­board on the table. Mr Hen­dricks lends a hand and, with some guid­ance, puts two plates in their place, but then walks away to the sofa and sits down. A Dutch break­fast with bread, cheese, cold cuts, jam, cof­fee, tea and milk is served. Yas­min is mak­ing por­ridge for Mrs Smit. As always, she has break­fast in bed. Yas­min helps Mrs Smit. It is now 08:45 and Mr Hen­dricks and Mrs Sti­j­nen are sit­ting at the din­ing table. Yas­min push­es the chairs in and sits down her­self. They chat about the weath­er, and Yas­min lends a help­ing hand when need­ed. 

Mr Hen­dricks is real­ly grumpy today and is cur­rent­ly grum­bling at Mrs Jansen. I’m won­der­ing if we’re over­look­ing some­thing?

Learn more about the Hogeweyk, the world’s first demen­tia vil­lage here.

Watch a playlist of Vox By Design episodes here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Restau­rant of Mis­tak­en Orders: A Tokyo Restau­rant Where All the Servers Are Peo­ple Liv­ing with Demen­tia

How Music Can Awak­en Patients with Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

Demen­tia Patients Find Some Eter­nal Youth in the Sounds of AC/DC

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Pink Lady and Jeff: Japan’s Biggest Pop Musicians Star in One of America’s Worst-Reviewed TV Shows (1980)

In 1963, Kyu Sakamo­to’s “Sukiya­ki” proved that a song sung in Japan­ese could top the charts in the Unit­ed States. Not that the Amer­i­can record­ing indus­try was quick to inter­nal­ize it: anoth­er Japan­ese sin­gle would­n’t break the Bill­board Top 40 for six­teen years, and even then it did so in Eng­lish. The song was “Kiss in the Dark” by Pink Lady, a pop duo con­sist­ing of Mit­suyo Nemo­to and Keiko Masu­da, bet­ter known as Mie and Kei. In 1978 they’d been the biggest pop-cul­tur­al phe­nom­e­non in their native coun­try, but the fol­low­ing year their star had begun unmis­tak­ably to fall. And so, like many passé West­ern acts who become “big in Japan,” Pink Lady attempt­ed to cross the Pacif­ic.

Mie and Kei made their Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion debut per­form­ing “Kiss in the Dark” on Leif Gar­ret­t’s CBS spe­cial in May 1979. Accounts dif­fer about what hap­pened next, but less than a year lat­er they had their own prime­time vari­ety show on NBC. Offi­cial­ly titled Pink Lady, it tends to be referred to these four decades lat­er as Pink Lady and Jeff. This owes to the role of its host, ris­ing (and NBC-con­tract­ed) young come­di­an Jeff Alt­man, who brought to the table not just his com­ic tim­ing and skill with impres­sions, but also his com­mand of the Eng­lish lan­guage. That last hap­pened not to be pos­sessed to any sig­nif­i­cant degree by Mie or Kei, who had to deliv­er both their songs and their jokes pho­net­i­cal­ly.

In the video at the top of the post, you can see a com­pi­la­tion of the high­lights of Pink Lady and Jeff’s entire run. Then again, “high­lights” may not be quite the word for a TV show now remem­bered as one of the worst ever aired. “Pink Lady and Jeff rep­re­sents an unpalat­able com­bi­na­tion of insti­tu­tions that were on their way out, like vari­ety shows, dis­co, and the tele­vi­sion empire of cre­ators and pup­peteers Sid and Mar­ty Krofft,” writes the AV Club’s Nathan Rabin. The Krofft broth­ers, cre­ators of H.R. Pufn­stuf and Land of the Lost, tell of hav­ing been tapped to devel­op a pro­gram around Mie and Kei by NBC pres­i­dent Fred Sil­ver­man, who’d hap­pened to see footage of one of their sta­di­um-fill­ing Tokyo con­certs on the news.

Sid Krofft remem­bers declar­ing his ambi­tion to make Pink Lady “the strangest thing that’s ever been on tele­vi­sion.” The star­tled Sil­ver­man’s response: “Let’s do Don­ny and Marie.” Don­ny Osmond him­self end­ed up being one of the show’s high-pro­file guest stars, a line­up that also includ­ed Blondie, Alice Coop­er, Sid Cae­sar, Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Roy Orbi­son, Jer­ry Lewis, and even Lar­ry Hag­man just a week before the epochal shoot­ing of his char­ac­ter on Dal­las. None of them helped Pink Lady find enough of an audi­ence to sur­vive beyond its ini­tial six episodes (all avail­able to watch on Youtube), a dis­com­fit­ing mélange of gener­ic com­e­dy sketch­es, unsuit­able musi­cal per­for­mances (with pre­cious few excep­tions, Mie and Kei weren’t per­mit­ted to sing their own Japan­ese songs), and broad ref­er­ences to sushi, samu­rai, and sumo.

The main prob­lem, Alt­man said in a more recent inter­view, was that “the vari­ety show had run the gaunt­let already, and real­ly was not a for­mat that was going to live in the hearts and homes of peo­ple across Amer­i­ca any­more.” Not only had that long and earnest tele­vi­sion tra­di­tion come to its igno­min­ious end, it would soon be replaced by the iron­ic, ultra-satir­i­cal sen­si­bil­i­ty of Alt­man’s col­league in com­e­dy David Let­ter­man. But here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, Alt­man guess­es, the time may be ripe “for a vari­ety-type show to come back.” We live in an era, after all, when a piece of for­got­ten eight­ies Japan­ese pop can become a glob­al phe­nom­e­non. And how­ev­er dim the prospects of the vari­ety show as a form, Mie and Kie them­selves have since man­aged more come­backs than all but their most die-hard fans can count.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Bowie and Cher Sing Duet of “Young Amer­i­cans” and Oth­er Songs on 1975 Vari­ety Show

Famed Art Crit­ic Robert Hugh­es Hosts the Pre­miere of 20/20, Where Tabloid TV News Began (1978)

Andy Warhol’s 15 Min­utes: Dis­cov­er the Post­mod­ern MTV Vari­ety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Tele­vi­sion Age (1985–87)

How Youtube’s Algo­rithm Turned an Obscure 1980s Japan­ese Song Into an Enor­mous­ly Pop­u­lar Hit: Dis­cov­er Mariya Takeuchi’s “Plas­tic Love”

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 Brooklyn Public Library Gives Every Teenager in the U.S. Free Access to Books Getting Censored by American Schools

We have cov­ered it before: school dis­tricts across the Unit­ed States are increas­ing­ly cen­sor­ing books that don’t align with white-washed con­ser­v­a­tive visions of the world. Art Spiegel­man’s Maus, The Illus­trat­ed Diary of Anne Frank, Alice Walk­er’s The Col­or Pur­ple, Toni Mor­rison’s The Bluest Eye, and Harp­er Lee’s To Kill a Mock­ing­bird–these are some of the many books get­ting pulled from library shelves in Amer­i­can schools. In response to this con­cern­ing trend, the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library has made a bold move: For a lim­it­ed time, the library will offer a free eCard to any per­son aged 13 to 21 across the Unit­ed States, allow­ing them free access to 500,000 dig­i­tal books, includ­ing many cen­sored books. The Chief Librar­i­an for the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library, Nick Hig­gins said:

A pub­lic library rep­re­sents all of us in a plu­ral­is­tic soci­ety we exist with oth­er peo­ple, with oth­er ideas, oth­er view­points and per­spec­tives and that’s what makes a healthy democ­ra­cy — not shut­ting down access to those points of view or silenc­ing voic­es that we don’t agree with, but expand­ing access to those voic­es and hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and ideas that we agree with and ideas that we don’t agree with.

And he added:

This is an intel­lec­tu­al free­dom to read ini­tia­tive by the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library. You know, we’ve been pay­ing atten­tion to a lot of the book chal­lenges and bans that have been tak­ing place, par­tic­u­lar­ly over the last year in many places across the coun­try. We don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly expe­ri­ence a whole lot of that here in Brook­lyn, but we know that there are library patrons and library staff who are fac­ing these and we want­ed to fig­ure out a way to step in and help, par­tic­u­lar­ly for young peo­ple who are see­ing, some books in their library col­lec­tions that may rep­re­sent them, but they’re being tak­en off the shelves.

As for how to get the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library’s free eCard, their Books Unbanned web­site offers the fol­low­ing instruc­tions: “indi­vid­u­als ages 13–21 can apply for a free BPL eCard, pro­vid­ing access to our full eBook col­lec­tion as well as our learn­ing data­bas­es. To apply, email booksunbanned@bklynlibrary.org.” In short, send them an email.

You can find a list of Amer­i­ca’s most fre­quent­ly banned books at the web­site of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion.

NOTE: We’re see­ing reports on Twit­ter that a teacher in Nor­man, OK has been ter­mi­nat­ed for let­ting a stu­dent know about the Brook­lyn Pub­lic Library’s free library. While this report has­n’t been ful­ly sub­stan­ti­at­ed, teach­ers who want to rec­om­mend this resource should pro­ceed with cau­tion. Par­ents could seem­ing­ly refer BPL’s free library to stu­dents with less con­cern about retal­i­a­tion.

via KTVB

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!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Texas School Board Bans Illus­trat­ed Edi­tion of The Diary of Anne Frank

Ten­nessee School Board Bans Maus, the Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Graph­ic Nov­el on the Holo­caust; the Book Becomes #1 Best­seller on Ama­zon

The 850 Books a Texas Law­mak­er Wants to Ban Because They Could Make Stu­dents Feel Uncom­fort­able

Umber­to Eco Makes a List of the 14 Com­mon Fea­tures of Fas­cism

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 10 ) |

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.