Clocks Around the World: How Other Languages Tell Time

When we start learn­ing a lan­guage, we soon find our­selves prac­tic­ing how to ask for the time. This can feel like a point­less exer­cise today, when each glance at our phone tells us the hour and minute with pre­ci­sion, but it can be jus­ti­fied as a prac­ti­cal way of get­ting the lan­guage’s num­bers down in a famil­iar con­text. Yet not every cul­ture’s way of time-telling is equal­ly famil­iar: in Tan­za­nia, for exam­ple, so near the equa­tor that “the sun ris­es around the same time every morn­ing, six in the local time zone,” and “every­one’s up and start­ing their day at sev­en. With such a reli­able stan­dard time-keep­er, that winds up being 1:00 Swahili time.”

“Swahili time” is just one of the con­cepts intro­duced by Youtu­ber Joshua Rud­der, cre­ator of the chan­nel Nativlang, in the video above.

He also touch­es on the medieval six-hour clocks of Italy; the Thai time-tellers who “count the hours from one to six, four times a day”; the ancient Egypt­ian method of let­ting the length of hours them­selves expand and con­tract with the amount of day­light; the Nahua divi­sion of divid­ing the “day­light day” into four parts and the night into sev­en; the bewil­der­ing­ly many Hin­dus­tani units of time, from the aayan, ruthu, and masa to the lava, renu, and tru­ti, by which point you get down to “divi­sions of microsec­onds.”

To a native­ly Eng­lish-speak­ing West­ern­er, few of these sys­tems may feel par­tic­u­lar­ly intu­itive. But most of us, from whichev­er cul­ture we may hail, will see a cer­tain sense in the Japan­ese way of allow­ing late nights to “stretch to twen­ty-five o’clock, twen­ty-nine o’clock, all the way up to thir­ty. Maybe you feel like if you’re up past mid­night, it’s not tomor­row yet, not real­ly, and you haven’t even gone to bed.” Hence this extend­ed clock, whose last six hours “over­lap with what will have been the tech­ni­cal start of your twen­ty-four hour day when you wake up tomor­row” — but, with any luck, don’t over­lap onto any ear­ly-morn­ing lan­guage class­es.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Clocks Changed Human­i­ty For­ev­er, Mak­ing Us Mas­ters and Slaves of Time

Why Time Seems to Speed Up as We Get Old­er: What the Research Says

An Ani­mat­ed Alan Watts Wax­es Philo­soph­i­cal About Time in The Fine Art of Goof­ing Off, the 1970s “Sesame Street for Grown-Ups”

The Rarest Sounds Across All Human Lan­guages: Learn What They Are, and How to Say Them

Was There a First Human Lan­guage?: The­o­ries from the Enlight­en­ment Through Noam Chom­sky

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.

Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” Performed on the Gayageum, a Korean Instrument Dating Back to the 6th Century

Every now and then, we check in on the fas­ci­nat­ing musi­cal world of Luna Lee–a musi­cian who per­forms West­ern music on the Gayageum, a tra­di­tion­al Kore­an stringed instru­ment which dates back to the 6th cen­tu­ry. Over the years, we’ve shown you her adap­ta­tions of Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile;’ David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World;” Leonard Cohen’s “Hal­lelu­jah;” blues clas­sics by John Lee Hook­er, B.B. King & Mud­dy Waters; and Pink Floy­d’s “Com­fort­ably Numb,” “Anoth­er Brick in the Wall” & “Great Gig in the Sky.” To keep the tra­di­tion going, we bring you today Luna’s take on Steely Dan’s 1972 clas­sic, “Do It Again.” The orig­i­nal record­ing fea­tured an elec­tric sitar solo by Den­ny Dias. Above, you can hear how Lee trans­lates that same solo to the gayageum. Enjoy!

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 

Talk­ing Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Per­formed on Tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese Instru­ments

Pak­istani Musi­cians Play a Won­der­ful Ver­sion of Dave Brubeck’s Jazz Clas­sic, “Take Five”

Watch Rare Videos Show­ing Steely Dan Per­form­ing Live Dur­ing the Ear­ly 1970s

A‑ha’s “Take On Me” Per­formed by North Kore­an Kids with Accor­dions

A Mid­dle-East­ern Ver­sion of Radiohead’s 1997 Hit “Kar­ma Police”


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How the Human Population Reached 8 Billion: An Animated Video Covers 300,000 Years of History in Four Minutes

Hav­ing come out less than two weeks ago, the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry video above incor­po­rates up-to-date infor­ma­tion on the num­ber of human beings on plan­et Earth. But what’s inter­est­ing here isn’t so much the cur­rent glob­al-pop­u­la­tion fig­ure (eight bil­lion, inci­den­tal­ly) as how we reached it. That sto­ry emerges through an ani­mat­ed visu­al­iza­tion that com­press­es a peri­od of 300,000 years — with all its migra­tions, its grow­ing and declin­ing empires, its major trade routes, its tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments, its plagues, and its wars — into about four and a half min­utes.

“Mod­ern humans evolved in Africa about 300,000 years ago,” says the video’s explana­to­ry text. “Around 100,000 years ago, we began migrat­ing around the globe,” a process that shows no signs of stop­ping here in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry.

The same can’t be said for the way our num­bers have increased over the past few hun­dred years, at least accord­ing to the pro­jec­tion that “glob­al pop­u­la­tion will peak this cen­tu­ry” around ten bil­lion, due to “aver­age fer­til­i­ty rates falling in near­ly every coun­try.” For some, this is not entire­ly unwel­come, giv­en that “as our pop­u­la­tion grows, so has our use of Earth­’s resources.”

It’s been a while since the devel­oped world has felt a wide­spread fear of over­pop­u­la­tion, which had a cli­mate change-like pow­er to inspire apoc­a­lyp­tic visions in the nine­teen-sev­en­ties. Nowa­days, we’re more like­ly to hear warn­ings of immi­nent glob­al pop­u­la­tion col­lapse, with low-birthrate coun­tries like South Korea, where I live, held up as cau­tion­ary demo­graph­ic exam­ples. From anoth­er per­spec­tive, the pat­terns of human­i­ty’s expan­sion thus far could also be used to illus­trate calls to explore and col­o­nize oth­er plan­ets, not least to secure our species a path to sur­vival should some­thing go seri­ous­ly wrong here on Earth. How­ev­er our pop­u­la­tion graph changes in the future, we can rest assured that we’ll always think of our­selves as liv­ing at one kind of deci­sive moment or anoth­er.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hans Rosling Uses Ikea Props to Explain World of 7 Bil­lion Peo­ple

How Humans Migrat­ed Across The Globe Over 200,000 Years: An Ani­mat­ed Look

Buck­min­ster Fuller Cre­ates an Ani­mat­ed Visu­al­iza­tion of Human Pop­u­la­tion Growth from 1000 B.C.E. to 1965

Col­or­ful Ani­ma­tion Visu­al­izes 200 Years of Immi­gra­tion to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Who Is the World’s Most Typ­i­cal Per­son?

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.

Brian Eno on the Loss of Humanity in Modern Music

In music, as in film, we have reached a point where every ele­ment of every com­po­si­tion can be ful­ly pro­duced and auto­mat­ed by com­put­ers. This is a break­through that allows pro­duc­ers with lit­tle or no musi­cal train­ing the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly turn out hits. It also allows tal­ent­ed musi­cians with­out access to expen­sive equip­ment to record their music with lit­tle more than their lap­tops. But the ease of dig­i­tal record­ing tech­nol­o­gy has encour­aged pro­duc­ers, musi­cians, and engi­neers at all lev­els to smooth out every rough edge and cor­rect every mis­take, even in record­ings of real humans play­ing old-fash­ioned ana­logue instru­ments. After all, if you could make the drum­mer play in per­fect time every mea­sure, the singer hit every note on key, or the gui­tarist play every note per­fect­ly, why wouldn’t you?

One answer comes in a suc­cinct quo­ta­tion from Bri­an Eno’s Oblique Strate­gies, which Ted Mills ref­er­enced in a post here on Miles Davis: “Hon­or Your Mis­takes as a Hid­den Inten­tion.” (The advice is sim­i­lar to that Davis gave to Her­bie Han­cock, “There are no mis­takes, just chances to impro­vise.”) In the short clip at the top, Eno elab­o­rates in the con­text of dig­i­tal pro­duc­tion, say­ing “the temp­ta­tion of the tech­nol­o­gy is to smooth every­thing out.”

But the net effect of cor­rect­ing every per­ceived mis­take is to “homog­e­nize the whole song,” he says, “till every bar sounds the same… until there’s no evi­dence of human life at all in there.” There is a rea­son, after all, that even pure­ly dig­i­tal, “in the box” sequencers and drum machines have func­tions to “human­ize” their beats—to make them cor­re­spond more to the loose­ness and occa­sion­al hes­i­tan­cy of real human play­ers.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as singing or play­ing well or badly—it means there is no such thing as per­fec­tion. Or rather, that per­fec­tion is not a wor­thy goal in music. The real hooks, the moments that we most con­nect with and return to again and again, are often hap­py acci­dents. Mills points to a whole Red­dit thread devot­ed to mis­takes left in record­ings that became part of the song. And when it comes to play­ing per­fect­ly in time or in tune, I think of what an atroc­i­ty would have result­ed from run­ning all of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street through a dig­i­tal audio work­sta­tion to sand down the sharp edges and “fix” the mis­takes. All of its sham­bling, mum­bling, drunk­en bar­room charm would be com­plete­ly lost. That goes also for the entire record­ed out­put of The Band, or most of Dylan’s albums (such as my per­son­al favorite, John Wes­ley Hard­ing).

To take a some­what more mod­ern exam­ple, lis­ten to “Sire­na” from Aus­tralian instru­men­tal trio Dirty Three, above. This is a band that sounds for­ev­er on the verge of col­lapse, and it’s absolute­ly beau­ti­ful to hear (or see, if you get the chance to expe­ri­ence them live). This record­ing, from their album Ocean Songs, was made in 1998, before most pro­duc­tion went ful­ly dig­i­tal, and there are very few records that sound like it any­more. Even dance music has the poten­tial to be much more raw and organ­ic, instead of hav­ing singers’ voic­es run through so much pitch cor­rec­tion soft­ware that they sound like machines.

There is a lot more to say about the way the albums rep­re­sent­ed above were record­ed, but the over­all point is that just as too much CGI has often ruined the excite­ment of cin­e­ma (we’re look­ing at you, George Lucas) —or as the dig­i­tal “loud­ness wars” sapped much record­ed music of its dynam­ic peaks and valleys—overzealous use of soft­ware to cor­rect imper­fec­tions can ruin the human appeal of music, and ren­der it ster­ile and dis­pos­able like so many cheap, plas­tic mass-pro­duced toys. As with all of our use of advanced tech­nol­o­gy, ques­tions about what we can do should always be fol­lowed by ques­tions about what we’re real­ly gain­ing, or los­ing, in the process.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2016.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Bri­an Eno Cre­ates a List of 20 Books That Could Rebuild Civ­i­liza­tion

Bri­an Eno Shares His Crit­i­cal Take on Art & NFTs: “I Main­ly See Hus­tlers Look­ing for Suck­ers”

Bri­an Eno Lists the Ben­e­fits of Singing: A Long Life, Increased Intel­li­gence, and a Sound Civ­i­liza­tion

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

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Watch Rare Videos Showing Steely Dan Performing Live During the Early 1970s

The band per­form­ing in the video above is Steely Dan. Yet it does­n’t sound quite like Steely Dan, an impres­sion par­tial­ly explained by it being a live show rather than the kind of per­fec­tion­ist stu­dio record­ings for whose metic­u­lous con­struc­tion (and repeat­ed recon­struc­tion) the group’s very name has long been a byword. But its found­ing mas­ter­minds Wal­ter Beck­er and Don­ald Fagen had­n’t yet set­tled into that com­plex­ly pris­tine aes­thet­ic at the time of this appear­ance, which aired fifty years ago next week on The Mid­night Spe­cial. Back then, hav­ing put out only their first cou­ple of albums, they could still present their project as a rel­a­tive­ly con­ven­tion­al ear­ly-sev­en­ties rock band.

It helped that they had a rel­a­tive­ly con­ven­tion­al front­man in singer David Palmer, who han­dles lead vocals on their Mid­night Spe­cial per­for­mance of “Do It Again,” Steely Dan’s first hit. That he did­n’t do so on the stu­dio record­ing under­scores that the band is gen­uine­ly play­ing live, not mim­ing to a back­ing track, as was stan­dard prac­tice on oth­er music shows.

It also con­sti­tutes anoth­er rea­son this ver­sion sounds “off” to a seri­ous Dan­fan, but it would take a tru­ly blink­ered purism (a con­di­tion wide­spread among the ranks of Dan­fans, admit­ted­ly) not to appre­ci­ate this per­for­mance, espe­cial­ly when it gets around to the solo by the band’s orig­i­nal gui­tarist Den­ny Dias — anoth­er of which comes along in “Reel­in’ in the Years,” played in the video just above.

Not that one gui­tarist could suf­fice for Steely Dan, even in this ear­ly line­up: they also had Jeff “Skunk” Bax­ter, now regard­ed as one of the finest stu­dio play­ers in the sub­genre of “yacht rock.” Bax­ter appears promi­nent­ly in their live ren­di­tion of “Show Biz Kids,” albeit as just one ele­ment of the full stage nec­es­sary to repro­duce that song live. Unlike “Do It Again” and “Reel­in’ in the Years,” two sin­gles from Steely Dan’s album Can’t Buy a Thrill, “Show Biz Kids” comes from their then-new­ly released fol­low-up Count­down to Ecsta­sy, which offered a rich­er real­iza­tion of both Steely Dan’s dis­tinc­tive sound and even more dis­tinc­tive world­view. To the refine­ment of that sound and world­view Beck­er and Fagen would devote them­selves less than a year after their Mid­night Spe­cial broad­cast, when they quit live per­for­mance entire­ly for the com­forts and rig­ors of their nat­ur­al habi­tat: the record­ing stu­dio.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Decon­struct­ing Steely Dan: The Band That Was More Than Just a Band

How Steely Dan Wrote “Dea­con Blues,” the Song Audio­philes Use to Test High-End Stere­os

Steely Dan Cre­ates the Deadhead/Danfan Con­ver­sion Chart: A Wit­ty Guide Explain­ing How You Can Go From Lov­ing the Dead to Idol­iz­ing Steely Dan

How Steely Dan Went Through Sev­en Gui­tarists and Dozens of Hours of Tape to Get the Per­fect Gui­tar Solo on “Peg”

Watch David Bowie’s Final Per­for­mance as Zig­gy Star­dust, Singing “I Got You Babe” with Mar­i­anne Faith­full, on The Mid­night Spe­cial (1973)

Chuck Berry & the Bee Gees Per­form Togeth­er in 1973: An Unex­pect­ed Video from The Mid­night Spe­cial Archive

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.

A Surprising Animation Revisits the Miracle on the Hudson & the Cause of US Airways Flight 1549’s Crash

Near­ly 15 years ago, US Air­ways Flight 1549 took off from New York City’s LaGuardia Air­port, bound for Seat­tle by way of Char­lotte, North Car­oli­na.

Short­ly after take­off, the air­craft plowed into a flock of migrat­ing birds, and its engines failed.

In less than four min­utes, Cap­tain Ches­ley “Sul­ly” Sul­len­berg­er guid­ed the ves­sel down to the frigid Hud­son Riv­er.

Office work­ers on Man­hat­tan’s west side were riv­et­ed by the spec­ta­cle of pas­sen­gers stand­ing on the wings, await­ing res­cue by two NY Water­way fer­ries and oth­er local boats.

Every­one on board sur­vived, and few of their injuries were seri­ous.

The inci­dent was quick­ly framed as “the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son” and Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er was hailed as a hero.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er cred­it­ed his suc­cess­ful maneu­ver to his 42 years as a pilot:

I’ve been mak­ing small, reg­u­lar deposits in this bank of expe­ri­ence, edu­ca­tion and train­ing. And on Jan­u­ary 15, the bal­ance was suf­fi­cient so that I could make a very large with­draw­al.

Such mod­esty only empha­sized his hero­ism in the eyes of the pub­lic.

Such nar­ra­tives pre­oc­cu­py ani­ma­tor Bernar­do Brit­to, whose 2020 short Hud­son Geese comes at this his­toric event from anoth­er angle:

Nar­ra­tives become our way of explain­ing and under­stand­ing the world. They are a part of how we build our iden­ti­ties and the sto­ries we tell about our­selves. And sto­ries by def­i­n­i­tion are exclu­sion­ary. Because you can’t fit it all in a sto­ry. They’re reduc­tive. They’re sim­pli­fied, eas­i­ly digestible ver­sions of a chain of events that’s way too com­plex for us to wrap our heads around.

(His inter­est in look­ing beyond estab­lished nar­ra­tive bound­aries car­ries over to the land acknowl­edg­ment in his short’s final cred­its: ”Before Ches­ley, before air­planes, before the apart­ment in which this short was con­ceived, “New York City” was the home of the Lenape, Canar­sie, and Wap­pinger peo­ple.”)

Revis­it­ing the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son in the thrall of the Rashomon effect may mute your rage­ful impuls­es the next time a flock of Cana­da geese toi­lets its way across your favorite green space.

Even though Hud­son Geese clocks in at a tight five, we get enough time with its name­less lead to become invest­ed in his trav­els, his ded­i­ca­tion to his life part­ner, Sharona, his migra­tion his­to­ry, and his con­nec­tion to his ani­mal essence:

As we take to the air, I feel a famil­iar emo­tion, a deep sense that this is where I real­ly belong, more so than the lake in Shaw­ini­gan, much more so than the golf course on the Potomac, I belong here, in the air, fly­ing safe­ly over all the noise, high above the city, that unin­tel­li­gi­ble mess of spires and sky­scrap­ers, that island that became for rea­sons unknown to a sim­ple goose like me, the very cen­ter of all the world.

Cap­tain Sul­len­berg­er and co-pilot Jeff Skiles receive ani­mat­ed cameos in Hud­son Geese, as do Tom Han­ks and Clint East­wood, leav­ing our anti-hero to won­der who will immor­tal­ize Sharona and who will remem­ber the day’s “fall­en fowl.”

(With regard to the last ques­tion, pos­si­bly, Tom Haueter, the Nation­al Trans­porta­tion Safe­ty Board’s for­mer head of major acci­dent inves­ti­ga­tion. The Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion failed to imple­ment many of his pro­posed safe­ty mea­sures fol­low­ing the crash.)

The human media’s hot take was that “thank­ful­ly no one was hurt.

The goose can only con­ceive of the Mir­a­cle on the Hud­son as a “com­plete and utter mas­sacre.”

Watch more of Bernar­do Britto’s ani­ma­tions on his Vimeo chan­nel.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Sal­vador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Short Ani­mat­ed Film, Des­ti­no, Set to the Music of Pink Floyd

Shel Silverstein’s The Giv­ing Tree: The Ani­mat­ed Film Nar­rat­ed by Shel Sil­ver­stein Him­self (1973)

The Employ­ment: A Prize-Win­ning Ani­ma­tion About Why We’re So Dis­en­chant­ed with Work Today

– 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.

Hokusai’s Action-Packed Illustrations of Japanese & Chinese Warriors (1836)

Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai cre­at­ed his best-known wood­block print The Great Wave Off Kana­gawa — or rather he fin­ished its defin­i­tive ver­sion — when he was in his ear­ly six­ties. That may sound some­what late in the day by the stan­dards of visu­al artists, but as Hoku­sai him­self saw it, he was just get­ting start­ed. At the Pub­lic Domain Review, Koto Sadamu­ra quotes the artist’s own words, as includ­ed in the book One Hun­dred Views of Mt. Fuji: “Until the age of sev­en­ty, noth­ing I drew was wor­thy of notice. At sev­en­ty-three years, I was some­what able to fath­om the growth of plants and trees, and the struc­ture of birds, ani­mals, insects and fish.”

Sadamu­ra goes on to intro­duce a dif­fer­ent, less­er-known, and even lat­er series of Hoku­sai’s art­works: “Wakan ehon saki­gake, which assem­bles images of famous Japan­ese and Chi­nese war­riors, both his­tor­i­cal and leg­endary. The Japan­ese term saki­gake in the title sig­ni­fies out­stand­ing fig­ures or lead­ers (Wakan means Japan­ese and Chi­nese, and ehon is a pic­ture book).”

Like many a hard­work­ing ukiyo‑e artist, Hoku­sai cre­at­ed these images to order, his pub­lish­er hav­ing asked him to “fill three vol­umes with ‘wis­dom’ [chi], ‘human­i­ty’ [jin] and ‘brav­ery’ [], using exam­ples of wide­ly cel­e­brat­ed mighty heroes as reminders of mil­i­tary arts even in times of peace.”

The results, which you can see both at the Pub­lic Domain Review and the site of the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, clear­ly ful­fill their man­date of reviv­i­fy­ing from a glo­ri­ous past, real or imag­ined. But they also exude a cer­tain aes­thet­ic famil­iar­i­ty even today: in Hoku­sai’s depic­tion of the Heian-peri­od war­rior Hirai Yasumasa “sub­du­ing a mon­ster spi­der,” for exam­ple, “lines in the back­ground trace the motion of the gigan­tic arach­nid as it tum­bles and its sick­le-like legs flail in the air, empha­siz­ing the move­ment and force in a way that res­onates with the visu­al effects of mod­ern man­ga.”

All the more sur­pris­ing, then, not just that the Wakan ehon saki­gake (or at least two of its planned three vol­umes) are now 187 years old, but also that Hoku­sai him­self was sev­en­ty-six at the time. “Each tiny leaf grow­ing on the rocks and each tex­tur­al mark on the ragged sur­face is ani­mat­ed, fill­ing the pic­ture with vibrat­ing ener­gy,” Sadamu­ra writes. “Every sin­gle strand of hair is charged with life.”

But the mas­ter fore­saw greater achieve­ments ahead, only after attain­ing the expe­ri­ence that would attend an even more advanced age: “At one hun­dred and ten, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.” Alas, Hoku­sai died in 1849, at the ten­der age of 88, leav­ing us to imag­ine the lev­el of artistry he might have attained had he reached matu­ri­ty.

via Pub­lic Domain Review

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Great Wave Off Kana­gawa by Hoku­sai: An Intro­duc­tion to the Icon­ic Japan­ese Wood­block Print in 17 Min­utes

The Evo­lu­tion of The Great Wave off Kana­gawa: See Four Ver­sions That Hoku­sai Paint­ed Over Near­ly 40 Years

Thir­ty-Six Views of Mount Fuji: A Deluxe New Art Book Presents Hokusai’s Mas­ter­piece, Includ­ing The Great Wave Off Kana­gawa

View 103 Dis­cov­ered Draw­ings by Famed Japan­ese Wood­cut Artist Kat­sushi­ka Hoku­sai

Hand-Col­ored 1860s Pho­tographs Reveal the Last Days of Samu­rai Japan

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 Psychedelic Animated Video for Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” (1979)

Ah, yes, “Auto­bahn.” From the moment the door slams and the igni­tion starts, prog rock­ers and pre-new wavers know a jour­ney is afoot. Though the mem­bers of Kraftwerk made three albums before this, the mem­bers still look­ing like well mean­ing book­ish hip­pies, 1974’s “Auto­bahn” is con­sid­ered Year Zero for the denizens of the elec­tric cafe, the four Ger­man robots who made human music with machines.

Cre­at­ed in 1979, but bop­ping around again in pop cul­ture orbit is this cel-drawn ani­ma­tion by Roger Main­wood, cre­at­ed to pro­mote “Auto­bahn” after most of the cul­ture had caught up. By that last year of the ’70s Omni mag­a­zine was a year old, music was sift­ing through the shock­waves left by Bowie’s Low and Heroes, ana­log was flirt­ing with dig­i­tal, and the world was ready to dri­ve on that long, elec­tric high­way.

Mainwood’s pro­tag­o­nist is part alien, part human, and he begins look­ing around in awe in his hip gog­gles, then set­ting off for a run straight out of a Muy­bridge loop, only to wind up float­ing, fly­ing, sail­ing and swim­ming through a land­scape indebt­ed to Peter Max, Push­Pin Stu­dios, under­ground comix, and 1930 mod­ernism.

Main­wood had just grad­u­at­ed from London’s Roy­al Col­lege of Art Film and Tele­vi­sion School, and was com­mis­sioned by John Halas, the Hun­gar­i­an immi­grant who became known as the Father of British Ani­ma­tion, for Kraftwerk’s record label. The label want­ed to put out one of the first music Laserdiscs. (Halas, by the way, direct­ed a very UPA-influ­enced short called “Auto­ma­nia” in 1963). Accord­ing to Main­wood, he still doesn’t know if the band liked the short or even if they watched it.

Main­wood avoid­ed any direct rep­re­sen­ta­tion of dri­ving or auto­mo­biles, much to his cred­it, which may be why the film holds its fas­ci­na­tion. The ani­ma­tor con­tin­ued in his field, wind­ing up a pro­duc­er of sev­er­al clas­sics of British ani­ma­tion, includ­ing The Snow­man and the chill­ing When the Wind Blows. As for the mean­ing of “Auto­bahn,” we’ll let Main­wood have the last word:

Think­ing back to my thought process­es at that time, I remem­ber want­i­ng to specif­i­cal­ly not have con­ven­tion­al cars in the film. I want­ed a sense of a repet­i­tive jour­ney, and alien­ation, which I took to be what the music was about…hence the soli­tary futur­is­tic fig­ure, pro­tect­ed by large gog­gles, mov­ing through and try­ing to con­nect with the jour­ney he is tak­ing. The auto­mo­bile “mon­sters” are delib­er­ate­ly threat­en­ing (I have nev­er been a big fan of cars or motor­ways!) and when our “hero” tries to make human con­tact (with dif­fer­ent coloured clones of him­self) he can nev­er do it. In the end he realis­es he is mak­ing the repet­i­tive and cir­cu­lar jour­ney alone but strides for­ward pur­pose­ful­ly at the end as he did in the begin­ning. All of which sounds rather pretentious…but I was a young thing in those days!

You can read more of an inter­view with Main­wood here.

Find more ani­ma­tions in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

When Kraftwerk Issued Their Own Pock­et Cal­cu­la­tor Syn­the­siz­er — to Play Their Song “Pock­et Cal­cu­la­tor” (1981)

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” Per­formed by Ger­man 1st Graders in Cute Card­board Robot Cos­tumes

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.