Liam Neeson Stars as Raymond Chandler’s Legendary Detective Philip Marlowe: Watch the Trailer for the New Film

Behold the new trail­er for Mar­lowe, a new film direct­ed by Neil Jor­dan. As the title sug­gests, the film cen­ters around Philip Mar­lowe, the gumshoe detec­tive that Ray­mond Chan­dler first unveiled in The Big Sleep in 1939. Between then and now, Mar­lowe has been por­trayed in films by Humphrey Bog­a­rt, Robert Mitchum, Elliott Gould, and James Gar­ner. Now, Liam Nee­son takes his turn. Here’s how the pro­duc­ers pitch the film:

MARLOWE, a grip­ping noir crime thriller set in late 1930’s Los Ange­les, cen­ters around a street-wise, down on his luck detec­tive; Philip Mar­lowe, played by Liam Nee­son, who is hired to find the ex-lover of a glam­orous heiress (Diane Kruger), daugh­ter of a well-known movie star (Jes­si­ca Lange). The dis­ap­pear­ance unearths a web of lies, and soon Mar­lowe is involved in a dan­ger­ous, dead­ly inves­ti­ga­tion where every­one involved has some­thing to hide.

Mar­lowe arrives in the­aters on Feb­ru­ary 15.

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 

Ray­mond Chandler’s Ten Com­mand­ments for Writ­ing a Detec­tive Nov­el

Hear Ray­mond Chan­dler & Ian Fleming–Two Mas­ters of Suspense–Talk with One Anoth­er in Rare 1958 Audio

Ray­mond Chandler’s 36 Great Unused Titles: From “The Man With the Shred­ded Ear,” to “Quick, Hide the Body”

Watch Ray­mond Chandler’s Long-Unno­ticed Cameo in Dou­ble Indem­ni­ty

via Boing­Bo­ing

When Orson Welles Denounced Elia Kazan as a Traitor for Giving Other Filmmakers’ Names to Joe McCarthy (1982)

As we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly not­ed here on Open Cul­ture, Orson Welles was not giv­en to minc­ing words about his col­leagues. And the old­er he got, the few­er words he minced, as evi­denced by the clip above from a talk he gave at a Paris film school in 1982. Dur­ing the Q&A, he took a ques­tion that quot­ed Elia Kazan’s remarks on the dif­fi­cul­ty of rais­ing mon­ey in Amer­i­ca for a film about Puer­to Ricans. Or rather, he heard part of the ques­tion and launched right into his thun­der­ing response: “Made­moi­selle, you have cho­sen the wrong met­teur en scene, because Elia Kazan is a trai­tor.”

Welles took a minute to elab­o­rate: “He is a man who sold to McCarthy all his com­pan­ions at a time when he could con­tin­ue to work in New York at high salary. And hav­ing sold all of his peo­ple to McCarthy, he then made a film called On the Water­front which was a cel­e­bra­tion of the informer. And there­fore, no ques­tion which uses him as an exam­ple can be answered by me.” Welles made a habit of pub­licly demon­strat­ing his prin­ci­ples, both artis­tic or polit­i­cal. It was the lat­ter that had decades before got his name into the jour­nal Red Chan­nels, one ele­ment of the larg­er Amer­i­can anti-Com­mu­nist move­ment per­son­i­fied by Welles’ fel­low Wis­con­si­nite, Unit­ed States Sen­a­tor Joseph McCarthy.

“When Stal­in­ism was fash­ion­able, movie peo­ple became Stal­in­ists,” wrote New York­er film crit­ic Pauline Kael. “They per­formed pro­pa­gan­da ser­vices for the var­i­ous shifts in Russia’s for­eign pol­i­cy and, as long as the needs of Amer­i­can and Russ­ian pol­i­cy coin­cid­ed, this took the form of super-patri­o­tism. When the war was over and the Cold War began, his­to­ry left them strand­ed, and McCarthy moved in on them. The shame of McCarthy­ism was not only ‘the shame of Amer­i­ca’ but the shame of a bunch of new­ly rich peo­ple who were eager to advise the world on moral and polit­i­cal mat­ters and who, faced with a test, informed on their friends — and, as Orson Welles put it, not even to save their lives but to save their swim­ming pools.”

This pas­sage comes from “Rais­ing Kane,” Kael’s well-known essay on Cit­i­zen Kane that plays down Welles’ influ­ence on the film and plays up that of screen­writer Her­man J. Mankiewicz. But what­ev­er ground Welles had to resent Kael, he had more to resent Kazan, who gave tes­ti­mo­ny as a wit­ness before the House Com­mit­tee on Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties in 1952. That marked the height of the “Hol­ly­wood black­list” that put a tem­po­rary hold on, or per­ma­nent end to, the careers of sus­pect­ed Com­mu­nists or sym­pa­thiz­ers in the enter­tain­ment indus­try. Nev­er­the­less, Welles pos­sess­es sound enough artis­tic and polit­i­cal judg­ment nev­er to let the one inter­fere with the oth­er, as evi­denced by what he said of Kazan after receiv­ing a round of applause from the audi­ence: “I have to add that he is a very good direc­tor.”

via Michael War­bur­ton

Relat­ed con­tent:

Orson Welles Trash­es Famous Direc­tors: Alfred Hitch­cock (“Ego­tism and Lazi­ness”), Woody Allen (“His Arro­gance Is Unlim­it­ed”) & More

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to McCarthy­ism: What Is It? And How Did It Hap­pen?

What Hap­pened Hazel Scott? Meet the Bril­liant Jazz Musi­cian & Activist Who Dis­ap­peared into Obscu­ri­ty When She Was Black­list­ed Dur­ing the McCarthy Era

Bertolt Brecht Tes­ti­fies Before the House Un-Amer­i­can Activ­i­ties Com­mit­tee (1947)

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.

Download 10,000 of the First Recordings of Music Ever Made, Courtesy of the University of California-Santa Barbara 


Three min­utes with the min­strels / Arthur Collins, S. H. Dud­ley & Ancient City. Edi­son Record. 1899.

Long before vinyl records, cas­sette tapes, CDs and MP3s came along, peo­ple first expe­ri­enced audio record­ings through anoth­er medi­um — through cylin­ders made of tin foil, wax and plas­tic. In recent years, we’ve fea­tured cylin­der record­ings from the 19th cen­tu­ry that allow you to hear the voic­es of Leo Tol­stoy, Tchaikovsky, Walt Whit­manOtto von Bis­mar­ck and oth­er his­toric fig­ures. Those record­ings were orig­i­nal­ly record­ed and played on a cylin­der phono­graph invent­ed by Thomas Edi­son in 1877. But those were obvi­ous­ly just a hand­ful of the cylin­der record­ings pro­duced at the begin­ning of the record­ed sound era.

Thanks to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-San­ta Bar­bara Cylin­der Audio Archive, you can now down­load or stream a dig­i­tal col­lec­tion of more than 10,000 cylin­der record­ings. “This search­able data­base,” says UCSB, “fea­tures all types of record­ings made from the late 1800s to ear­ly 1900s, includ­ing pop­u­lar songs, vaude­ville acts, clas­si­cal and oper­at­ic music, comedic mono­logues, eth­nic and for­eign record­ings, speech­es and read­ings.” You can also find in the archive a num­ber of “per­son­al record­ings,” or “home wax record­ings,” made by every­day peo­ple at home (as opposed to by record com­pa­nies).

If you go to this page, the record­ings are neat­ly cat­e­go­rized by genre, instru­ment, subject/theme and ethnicity/nation of ori­gin. You can lis­ten, for exam­ple, to record­ings of JazzHawai­ian MusicOperas, and Fid­dle Tunes. Or hear record­ings fea­tur­ing the Man­dolinGui­tarBag­pipes and Ban­jo. Plus there are the­mat­i­cal­ly-arranged playlists here.

Host­ed by Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia-San­ta Bar­bara, the archive is sup­port­ed by fund­ing from the Insti­tute of Muse­um and Library Ser­vices, the Gram­my Foun­da­tion, and oth­er donors.

Above, hear a record­ing called “Three min­utes with the min­strels,” by Arthur Collins, released in 1899. Below that is “Alexan­der’s rag­time band med­ley,” fea­tur­ing the ban­jo play­ing of Fred Van Eps, released in 1913.

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!

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Singers from the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Record Their Voic­es on Tra­di­tion­al Wax Cylin­ders

A Beer Bot­tle Gets Turned Into a 19th Cen­tu­ry Edi­son Cylin­der and Plays Fine Music

Opti­cal Scan­ning Tech­nol­o­gy Lets Researchers Recov­er Lost Indige­nous Lan­guages from Old Wax Cylin­der Record­ings

Bell Telephone Launched a Mobile Phone During the 1940s: Watch Bell’s Film Showing How It Worked

“Here comes a trail­er truck out on the open high­way, miles from the near­est town,” says the nar­ra­tor of the short film above. Sud­den­ly, it becomes “impor­tant for some­one to get in touch with the dri­vers of this out­fit. How can it be done?” Any mod­ern-day view­er would respond to this ques­tion in the same way: you just call the guys. But Mobile Tele­phones dates from the nine­teen-for­ties, well before the epony­mous devices were in wide use — about four decades, in fact, before even the mas­sive Motoro­la DynaT­AC 8000X came on the mar­ket. The idea of call­ing some­one not at home or the office, let alone a truck­er on the road, would have seemed the stuff of sci­ence fic­tion.

Yet the engi­neers at Bell had made it pos­si­ble, using a sys­tem that trans­mits con­ver­sa­tions “part­way by radio, part­way by tele­phone lines.” This neces­si­tat­ed “a num­ber of trans­mit­ting and receiv­ing sta­tions con­nect­ed to tele­phone lines,” installed “at inter­vals along the high­way so that one will always be in range of the mov­ing vehi­cle.”

As dra­ma­tized in Mobile Tele­phones, the process of actu­al­ly ring­ing up the dri­ver of a vehi­cle involves call­ing a clas­sic for­ties switch­board oper­a­tor and ask­ing her to make the con­nec­tion. But oth­er­wise, the process won’t feel entire­ly unfa­mil­iar to the mobile phone users today — that is, to the major­i­ty of the peo­ple in the world.

Cell­phones have become such an inte­gral part of life in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry that few of us real­ly feel the need to under­stand just how they work. But three quar­ters of a cen­tu­ry ago, the idea of tak­ing or mak­ing calls on the go was unfa­mil­iar enough that view­ers of a film like this would have want­ed the mechan­ics laid out in some detail. Sure­ly that held espe­cial­ly true for the indus­tri­al clients of Bel­l’s ear­ly mobile-tele­phone sys­tem, for whom its reli­able func­tion­al­i­ty would trans­late into greater prof­its. Tak­ing the longer view, this tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ment marks, as the nar­ra­tor reminds us over swelling music, “one more step toward tele­phone ser­vice for any­one, any time, any­where”: a once-futur­is­tic vision that now sounds prac­ti­cal­ly mun­dane.

Relat­ed con­tent:

“When We All Have Pock­et Tele­phones”: A 1920s Com­ic Accu­rate­ly Pre­dicts Our Cell­phone-Dom­i­nat­ed Lives

The World’s First Mobile Phone Shown in 1922 Vin­tage Film

A 1947 French Film Accu­rate­ly Pre­dict­ed Our 21st-Cen­tu­ry Addic­tion to Smart­phones

In 1953, a Tele­phone-Com­pa­ny Exec­u­tive Pre­dicts the Rise of Mod­ern Smart­phones and Video Calls

The First Cell­phone: Dis­cov­er Motorola’s DynaT­AC 8000X, a 2‑Pound Brick Priced at $3,995 (1984)

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.

Robots Are Carving Replicas of the Parthenon Marbles: Could They Help the Real Ancient Sculptures Return to Greece?

Art forgery is a stur­dy trope of film and fic­tion. We’re all famil­iar with the spec­ta­cle of a rar­i­fied expert exam­in­ing a work, while a wealthy col­lec­tor anx­ious­ly wrings their hands near­by.

As Mag­gie Cao observes in the Guardian:

Forg­eries expose some of the art world’s most psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex fig­ures: the col­lec­tor and the coun­ter­feit­er. What com­pels the pro­to­typ­i­cal col­lec­tor to accu­mu­late objects of beau­ty is usu­al­ly a pecu­liar devo­tion to the pow­er of sin­gu­lar­i­ty. The col­lec­tor wor­ships art’s pow­er to move us, a pow­er we imag­ine emanates from unique objects. Mean­while, what moti­vates the coun­ter­feit­er is an undue con­fi­dence in the pos­si­bil­i­ties of repli­ca­tion. To deceive a view­er with a copy is to affirm that copy’s inter­change­abil­i­ty with the orig­i­nal.

But what if art forgery can be used for good?

That’s the hope of Roger Michel, founder of the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy, who employs tech­no­log­i­cal advances to pre­serve cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant objects and offer acces­si­ble tac­tile expe­ri­ences to those with vision impair­ment.

Short­ly after ISIS destroyed the Mon­u­men­tal Arch of Palymyra, he har­nessed 3D tech­nol­o­gy to recre­ate the 1800-year old land­mark in two-thirds scale Egypt­ian mar­ble.

The pub­lic was able to get up close and per­son­al with the mod­el in var­i­ous loca­tions around the world, includ­ing New York’s City Hall Park, Florence’s Piaz­za del­la Sig­no­ria, and London’s Trafal­gar Square, where Michel enjoyed watch­ing passers­by touch­ing and pho­tograph­ing the repli­ca Arch:

There are guys in Carn­a­by Street suits mixed with young peo­ple in hip-hop clothes and Syr­i­ans in tra­di­tion­al dress. It’s the cross­roads of human­i­ty, and that was what Palym­ra was.

Michel is also striv­ing to con­vince the British Muse­um that all will not be lost, should it choose to repa­tri­ate the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Mar­bles to Greece, much as the Smith­son­ian returned 29 Benin bronzes tak­en dur­ing an 1897 British raid to the Nation­al Com­mis­sion for Muse­ums and Mon­u­ments in Nige­ria.

Michel made his case with a robot­i­cal­ly carved fac­sim­i­le of the head of the Horse of Selene, above, which is all the more remark­able when one learns that he was work­ing from pho­tos tak­en on an iPhone and iPad while vis­it­ing the gallery in which it is dis­played, after the muse­um refused his request for an offi­cial scan.

The item descrip­tion on the museum’s collection’s por­tal notes that the Horse of Selene was pur­chased from Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, who took pos­ses­sion of it while serv­ing as Britain’s ambas­sador to Ottoman Turkey from 1799–1803.

(The descrip­tion neglects to men­tion that rather than allow him to adorn his home with this and oth­er ill-got­ten antiq­ui­ties, a par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee ordered Lord Elgin to sell his vast col­lec­tion to the British gov­ern­ment for £35,000, which is how they wound up in the muse­um.)

Orig­i­nal­ly a part of the Parthenon’s east ped­i­ment, the Horse of Selene is such a fan favorite that the muse­um shop sells an “exquis­ite” hand-cast resin repli­ca for £1,650, promis­ing that it will make “a show-stop­ping point of focus in any home.”

Perhaps…though we’re will­ing to bet it can’t match the verisimil­i­tude of the tiny chips and chis­el marks painstak­ing­ly cap­tured by the robot carv­er, which took about about 8 days to cre­ate a rough mod­el once it received the scans, fol­lowed by some 3 weeks of refin­ing. The robot got an assist at the very end from human arti­sans, whose hand­i­work Michel calls “the cru­cial 3 to 5 per­cent.”

Gia­co­mo Mas­sari, founder of Robot­or, who part­nered with Michel on this recre­ation, vaunts the pre­ci­sion tech­nol­o­gy makes pos­si­ble:

You can rec­og­nize every scratch. You can see the flaws of the stone and you can see the chal­lenges our col­leagues from 2,000 years ago were fac­ing. It’s like going back in time — you can feel the strug­gles of the artist.

The muse­um brass appears unmoved by the prospect of swap­ping repli­cas, no mat­ter how excel­lent, for the frieze pan­els, sculp­tures, archi­tec­tur­al frag­ments and oth­er trea­sures of antiq­ui­ty Elgin shipped home from the Acrop­o­lis in the ear­ly 1800s, though the New York Times report­ed last week that secret talks with Greece’s prime min­is­ter may indi­cate the two par­ties are edg­ing clos­er to res­o­lu­tion.

This col­lec­tion has been a cul­tur­al hot pota­to since Lord Byron, tour­ing the Parthenon short­ly after Elgin made off with so many its trea­sures, denounced his avarice in a poem titled The Curse of Min­er­va:

Lo! here, despite of war and wast­ing fire,

I saw suc­ces­sive Tyran­nies expire;

‘Scaped from the rav­age of the Turk and Goth,

Thy coun­try sends a spoil­er worse than both.

Sur­vey this vacant, vio­lat­ed fane;

Recount the relics torn that yet remain:

‘These’ Cecrops placed, ‘this’ Per­i­cles adorned,

‘That’ Adri­an reared when droop­ing Sci­ence mourned.

What more I owe let Grat­i­tude attest—

Know, Alar­ic and Elgin did the rest.

That all may learn from whence the plun­der­er came,

The insult­ed wall sus­tains his hat­ed name:

For Elgin’s fame thus grate­ful Pal­las pleads,

Below, his name—above, behold his deeds!

The New York Times quot­ed a mid­dle-aged Lon­don bus dri­ver who voiced the opin­ion, as did the vast major­i­ty of respon­dents to a British sur­vey, that the Parthenon sculp­tures should be returned to their land of ori­gin, remark­ing, “It’s like the Crown Jew­els. If some­one took those, you’d want them back, wouldn’t you?”

His argu­ment is a hard one to refute in an age when the inno­v­a­tive tech­ni­cal solu­tions pro­mot­ed by Michel and the Insti­tute for Dig­i­tal Archae­ol­o­gy cre­ate oppor­tu­ni­ties that Lord Elgin and muse­um vis­i­tors of yore could nev­er have envi­sioned.

The pub­lic invi­ta­tion to the Novem­ber 2022 unveil­ing of the Selene Horse repli­ca stat­ed that “Britain’s stew­ard­ship of the Elgin mar­bles embod­ies a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly com­plex sto­ry of obses­sion, pos­ses­sion, and assim­i­la­tion — so far with­out res­o­lu­tion”, ask­ing:

Might per­fect copies, ren­dered in sacred Pen­tel­ic mar­ble, sug­gest a pos­si­ble path for­ward?

Read­ers, what say you?

Relat­ed Con­tent

John Oliver’s Show on World-Class Art Muse­ums & Their Loot­ed Art: Watch It Free Online

Take a Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Tour of the World’s Stolen Art

The British Muse­um Is Now Open To Every­one: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour and See 4,737 Arti­facts, Includ­ing the Roset­ta Stone

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

The Only Footage of Mark Twain: The Original & Digitally Restored Films Shot by Thomas Edison

We know what Mark Twain looked like, and we think we know what he sound­ed like. Just above see what he looked like in motion, strolling around Storm­field, his house in Red­ding, Connecticut—signature white suit draped loose­ly around his frame, sig­na­ture cig­ar puff­ing white smoke between his fin­gers. After Twain’s leisure­ly walk along the house’s façade, we see him with his daugh­ters, Clara and Jean, seat­ed indoors. Below you can see the orig­i­nal murky ver­sion, fea­tured on our site way back in 2010. A dig­i­tal restora­tion (top) does won­ders for the watch­a­bil­i­ty of this price­less silent arti­fact, so vivid­ly cap­tur­ing the writer/contrarian/raconteur’s essence that you’ll find your­self reach­ing to turn the vol­ume up, expect­ing to hear that famil­iar cur­mud­geon­ly drawl.

Shot by Thomas Edi­son in 1909, the short film is most like­ly the only mov­ing image of Twain in exis­tence. We might assume that Edi­son also record­ed Twain’s voice, since we seem to know it so well, from por­tray­als of the great Amer­i­can humorist in pop cul­tur­al touch­stones like Star Trek: The Next Gen­er­a­tion and par­o­dies by Alec Bald­win and Val Kilmer.

Kilmer’s sur­pris­ing­ly fun­ny in the role, but he doesn’t come near the pitch per­fect imper­son­ation Hal Hol­brook had giv­en us for the bet­ter part of six­ty years in his mas­ter­ful Mark Twain Tonight. Holbrook’s vocal man­ner­isms have become a defin­i­tive mod­el for actors play­ing Twain on stage and screen.

Giv­en the num­ber of Twain vocal imper­son­ations out there, and Edis­on’s inter­est in doc­u­ment­ing the author, we might be sur­prised to learn that no orig­i­nal record­ings of his voice exist. Twain, we find out in the short film below, exper­i­ment­ed with audio record­ing tech­nol­o­gy, but aban­doned his efforts. It seems that none of the wax cylin­ders he worked with have survived—perhaps he destroyed them him­self.

As nar­ra­tor Rod Rawlings—himself a Twain imper­son­ator and afi­ciona­do—informs us, what we do have is a record­ing made in 1934 by actor and play­wright William Gillette,  an able mim­ic of Twain, his patron and long­time neigh­bor. Like Hol­brook, Gillette spent a good part of his career trav­el­ing from town to town play­ing Mark Twain. Below, you’ll hear Gillette address a class of stu­dents at Har­vard, first in his own voice, then in the voice of the author, read­ing from “The Cel­e­brat­ed Jump­ing Frog of Calav­eras Coun­ty.” Gillet­te’s per­for­mance is like­ly the clos­est we’ll ever come to hear­ing the voice of the real Twain, whose major works appear in our col­lec­tion of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mark Twain Pre­dicts the Inter­net in 1898: Read His Sci-Fi Crime Sto­ry, “From The ‘Lon­don Times’ in 1904”

Mark Twain Wrote the First Book Ever Writ­ten With a Type­writer

Mark Twain’s Vicious­ly Fun­ny Mar­gin­a­lia Took Aim at Some Lit­er­ary Greats

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

Watch Classic Performances by Yellow Magic Orchestra, the Japanese Band That Became One of the Most Innovative Electronic Music Acts of All Time

Music changes when tech­nol­o­gy changes. Few musi­cians have demon­strat­ed as keen an aware­ness of that fact as Haruo­mi Hosono, Yuk­i­hi­ro Taka­hashi, and Ryuichi Sakamo­to, who togeth­er as Yel­low Mag­ic Orches­tra (YMO) burst onto the scene mak­ing sounds that most lis­ten­ers of the late nine­teen-sev­en­ties had nev­er heard before — nev­er heard in a musi­cal con­text, at least. They’d nev­er seen a band employ a com­put­er pro­gram­mer, nor bring onstage a device like Roland’s MC‑8 Micro­com­pos­er, an ear­ly musi­cal sequencer designed strict­ly for stu­dio use. That YMO did­n’t hes­i­tate to make these uncon­ven­tion­al choic­es, and many oth­ers besides, won them years as the most pop­u­lar band in their native Japan.

It would be unimag­in­able for YMO to have emerged in any oth­er place or time. “Japan had long since remade itself as a post­war eco­nom­ic engine, but by the late 1970s it was becom­ing some­thing else: a glob­al emblem of tech­no-utopi­anism and futur­is­tic cool,” writes the New York Times’ Clay Risen. “Sony released the Walk­man in 1979, just as Ken­zo Taka­da and Issey Miyake were tak­ing over Paris fash­ion run­ways with their play­ful, vision­ary designs.”

Japan had become eco­nom­i­cal­ly, tech­no­log­i­cal­ly, and cul­tur­al­ly for­mi­da­ble on a glob­al scale, and YMO were placed to become its ide­al rep­re­sen­ta­tives: they had the askew hip­ness and the cut­ting-edge sounds, but it was their sense of humor, evi­dent in the play­ful­ness of their music, that took the rest of the world by sur­prise.

You’ll find no bet­ter intro­duc­tion to YMO’s work than the hour-long YMO con­cert at the Nip­pon Budokan at the top of the post. It took place in 1983, not long before Hosono, Taka­hashi, and Sakamo­to packed the band up and returned to their already well-estab­lished solo careers. As a unit they’d achieved glob­al star­dom, play­ing for­eign venues like Los Ange­les’ Greek The­atre in 1979 and, unbe­liev­ably, going on Soul Train in 1980. Their ear­ly hit “Behind the Mask” even caught the atten­tion of Michael Jack­son, who record­ed his own ver­sion of the song for Thriller but left it unre­leased until 2010 — by which time YMO had reunit­ed to per­form in Japan, Europe, and Amer­i­ca, play­ing for new gen­er­a­tions of lis­ten­ers who had grown up immersed in their music, direct­ly or indi­rect­ly.

Influ­ences on YMO includ­ed the work of Bri­an Wil­son and Gior­gio Moroder, as well as music from India, Chi­na, the Caribbean, the late-fifties-ear­ly-six­ties “exot­i­ca” fad, and even arcade games. But their own influ­ence has spread out far­ther still, shap­ing not just var­i­ous sub­gen­res of elec­tron­ic music but also cer­tain for­ma­tive works of hip hop. If you lis­ten to YMO’s albums today — near­ly 45 years after their com­mer­cial debut, and just a few weeks after the death of co-founder Taka­hashi — their music still, some­how, sounds thor­ough­ly Japan­ese. Like Isao Tomi­ta (whose assis­tant became their com­put­er pro­gram­mer), YMO under­stood not just that music changes with tech­nol­o­gy, but also that it emerges from a spe­cif­ic cul­ture, and in their discog­ra­phy we hear those prin­ci­ples pushed to their thrilling lim­its.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Infi­nite Esch­er: A High-Tech Trib­ute to M.C. Esch­er, Fea­tur­ing Sean Lennon, Nam June Paik & Ryuichi Sakamo­to (1990)

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

Hear the Great­est Hits of Isao Tomi­ta (RIP), the Father of Japan­ese Elec­tron­ic Music

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

The Roland TR-808, the Drum Machine That Changed Music For­ev­er, Is Back! And It’s Now Afford­able & Com­pact

Kraftwerk’s First Con­cert: The Begin­ning of the End­less­ly Influ­en­tial Band (1970)

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.


The Mystery Finally Solved: Why Has Roman Concrete Been So Durable?

Image by Ben­jaminec, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Rome may not have been built in a day, but it was built to last — or at least its con­crete was, giv­en that the pieces of the Roman Empire that have stood to our time, in one form or anoth­er, tend to have been built with it. That mate­r­i­al has proven not just durable but endur­ing­ly fas­ci­nat­ing, hold­ing a great deal of not just his­tor­i­cal inter­est but tech­ni­cal inter­est as well. For ancient Roman con­crete appears to out­last its much more tech­ni­cal­ly advanced mod­ern descen­dants, and the com­plex ques­tion of why is one we’ve fea­tured more than once here on Open Cul­ture. Just this year, researchers at MIT, Har­vard, and lab­o­ra­to­ries in Italy and Switzer­land have found what seems to be the final piece of the puz­zle.

“For many years, researchers have assumed that the key to the ancient concrete’s dura­bil­i­ty was based on one ingre­di­ent: poz­zolan­ic mate­r­i­al such as vol­canic ash from the area of Poz­zuoli, on the Bay of Naples,” writes MIT News’ David L. Chan­dler. “Under clos­er exam­i­na­tion, these ancient sam­ples also con­tain small, dis­tinc­tive, mil­lime­ter-scale bright white min­er­al fea­tures.”

Pre­vi­ous­ly assumed to be noth­ing but imper­fec­tions in the process or the mate­ri­als, these “lime clasts,” in light of this most recent research, con­sti­tute evi­dence of “hot mix­ing,” which involves heat­ing to a high tem­per­a­ture ingre­di­ents includ­ing quick­lime (or cal­ci­um oxide), a pur­er and more reac­tive form of lime.

Under­go­ing hot mix­ing, “the lime clasts devel­op a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly brit­tle nanopar­tic­u­late archi­tec­ture, cre­at­ing an eas­i­ly frac­tured and reac­tive cal­ci­um source” that “could pro­vide a crit­i­cal self-heal­ing func­tion­al­i­ty.” In prac­tice, this means that “as soon as tiny cracks start to form with­in the con­crete, they can pref­er­en­tial­ly trav­el through the high-sur­face-area lime clasts. This mate­r­i­al can then react with water, cre­at­ing a cal­ci­um-sat­u­rat­ed solu­tion, which can recrys­tal­lize as cal­ci­um car­bon­ate and quick­ly fill the crack, or react with poz­zolan­ic mate­ri­als to fur­ther strength­en the com­pos­ite mate­r­i­al.” Here we have a con­vinc­ing expla­na­tion of the reac­tions that, in ancient Roman con­crete, “auto­mat­i­cal­ly heal the cracks before they spread.”

No such self-heal­ing hap­pens in mod­ern con­crete, the pro­duc­tion of which has not involved quick­lime for a very long time indeed — but per­haps it could once more. Dur­ing their research process, writes Dezeen’s Rima Sabi­na Aouf, the team “pro­duced sam­ples of hot-mixed con­crete using both ancient and mod­ern for­mu­la­tions, cracked them, and ran water through the cracks. With­in two weeks, the cracks had healed and water could no longer flow through, while iden­ti­cal con­crete blocks made with­out quick­lime nev­er healed.” Such find­ings “could help increase the lifes­pan of mod­ern con­crete and there­fore mit­i­gate the noto­ri­ous envi­ron­men­tal impact of the mate­r­i­al,” and the researchers “are now work­ing to com­mer­cial­ize their more durable con­crete for­mu­la.” Even in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, the build­ing indus­try could well ben­e­fit by doing as the Romans did.

via MIT News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Did the Romans Make Con­crete That Lasts Longer Than Mod­ern Con­crete? The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved

How to Make Roman Con­crete, One of Human Civilization’s Longest-Last­ing Build­ing Mate­ri­als

How Did Roman Aque­ducts Work?: The Most Impres­sive Achieve­ment of Ancient Rome’s Infra­struc­ture, Explained

How the Ancient Romans Built Their Roads, the Life­lines of Their Vast Empire

The Beau­ty & Inge­nu­ity of the Pan­theon, Ancient Rome’s Best-Pre­served Mon­u­ment: An Intro­duc­tion

Roman Archi­tec­ture: A Free Course from Yale

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.

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