The Recorder Played Like You’ve Never Heard it Before: Hear a Stunning Solo from Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in C Major

Owing to its simplicity and inexpensiveness, the recorder has become one of the most commonly taught instruments in grade-school music classes. But that very position has also, perhaps, made it a less respected instrument than it could be. We may vividly remember the hours spent fumbling with the holes on the front of our plastic recorders in an attempt to master the basic melodies assigned to us as homework, but did we ever learn anything of the instrument’s long history — or, for that matter, anything of what it can sound like in the hands of a virtuoso instead of those of a frustrated ten-year-old?

The recorder goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages, and with its pastoral associations it remained a popular instrument throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods. But then came a period of widespread disinterest in the recorder that lasted at least until the 20th century, when musicians started performing pieces with instruments from the same historical periods as the music itself.


Despite the instrument’s going in and out of style, the list of composers who have written for the recorder does boast some formidable names, including Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frideric Handel, Claudio Monteverdi, Henry Purcell, and Antonio Vivaldi, whose Recorder Concerto in C Major you can see performed in the video at the top of the post.

“After a few measures, musician Maurice Steger stepped up to the microphone and with amazing skill, shredded several serious solos on the recorder,” Laughing Squid’s Lori Dorn reports of the spectacle. “Steger rested for a few bars to catch his breath and then start all over again. Simply a wonder to behold.” We also, in the video just above, have Lucie Horsch’s also-virtuosic performance of Vivaldi’s Flautino Concerto in C Major, albeit transposed to G major transposition for soprano recorder. Even among those who learned to despise the recorder in school, there will be some who now can’t get enough. But even if it hasn’t become your favorite instrument, you’ve got to admit that we’re a long way indeed from “Hot Cross Buns.”

via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Huge Notebook Collections, the Codex Forster, Now Digitized in High-Resolution: Explore Them Online

It may seem like a bizarre question, but indulge me for a moment: could it be possible that the most famous artist of the Renaissance and maybe in all of art history, Leonardo da Vinci, is an underrated figure? Consider the fact that until relatively recently, a huge amount of his work—maybe a majority of his drawings, plans, sketches, notes, concepts, theories, etc.—has been unavailable to all but specialized scholars who could access (and read) his copious notebooks, spanning the most productive period of his career.

“Leonardo seems to have begun recording his thoughts in notebooks from the mid-1480s,” writes the Victoria & Albert Museum (the V&A), “when he worked as a military and naval engineer for the Duke of Milan. None of Leonardo’s predecessors, contemporaries or successors used paper quite like he did—a single sheet contains an unpredictable pattern of ideas and inventions.” He worked on loose sheets, which were later bound together in books, or codices, by the artists who inherited them. As we have been reporting, these notebook collections have been coming available online in open, high-resolution digital versions.


Now the V&A has announced that all three of its Leonardo codices, called the Forster Codices after the collector who bequeathed them to the museum, are available to view “in amazing detail.” Click here to see Codex Forster 1, Codex Forster 2, and Codex Forster 3. Here we see further evidence that Leonardo was a supreme draughtsman. As Claudio Giorgione, curator at the Leonardo da Vinci National Science and Technology Museum in Milan, points out, “Leonardo was not the only one to draw machines and to do scientific drawings, many other engineers did that,” and many artists as well. “But what Leonardo did better than others is to make a revolution of the technical drawing,” almost defining the field with his meticulous attention to detail.

What’s more, notes University of Oxford Professor Martin Kemp, “while other artists might have been probing some aspects of anatomy—muscles, bones, tendons—Leonardo took the study to a new level.” Such a level, in fact, that he “can be regarded as the father of bioengineering,” argues John B. West in the American Journal of Physiology.

Little attention has been paid to [Leonardo] as a physiologist. But he was an outstanding engineer, and he was one of the first people to apply the principles of engineering to understand the function of animals including humans.

Giorgione warns against seeing Leonardo as a prophetic visionary for his innovations. He was not a man out of time; “the artist engineer is a known figure in Renaissance Italy.” But he perfected the tools and methods of this dual profession with such restless ingenuity and skill that we still find it astonishing over 500 years later. His lengthy explanations of these exceptional technical drawings are written, naturally, in his famous mirror writing.

Of Leonardo’s odd writing system, we may learn something new as well, though we may find this part, at least, a little disappointing. As the V&A points out, his idiosyncratic method might not have been so unique after all, or have been a sophisticated device for Leonardo to hide his ideas from competitors and future curious readers. It might have come about “because he was left-handed and may have found it easier to write from right to left…. Writing masters at the time would have made demonstrations of mirror writing, and his letter-shapes are in fact quite ordinary.”

Nothing else about the man seems to warrant that description. See all three Forster Codices the Victoria & Albert Museum site here: Codex Forster 1, Codex Forster 2, and Codex Forster 3. And see one codex from the collection, as the V&A announced on Twitter, live in person at the British Library’s Leonardo da Vinci: A Mind in Motion exhibit.

h/t AtzecLady

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

Meet Gerda Taro, the First Female Photojournalist to Die on the Front Lines

Gerda Taro by Anonymous, via Wikimedia Commons

We may know a few names of historic women photographers, like Julia Margaret Cameron, Dorothea Lange, or Diane Arbus, but the significant presence of women in photography from its very beginnings doesn’t get much attention in the usual narrative, despite the fact that “by 1900,” as photographer Dawn Oosterhoff writes, census records in Britain and the U.S. showed that “there were more than 7000 professional women photographers,” a number that only grew as decades passed.

As photographic equipment became smaller, lighter, and more portable, photographers moved out into more challenging and dangerous situations. Among them were women who “fought tradition and were among the pioneer photojournalists,” working alongside men on the front lines of war zones around the world.


War photographers like Lee Miller—former Vogue model, Man Ray muse, and Surrealist artist—showed a side of war most people didn’t see, one in which women warriors, medical personnel, support staff, and workers, played significant roles and bore witness to mass suffering and acts of heroism.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons


Before Miller captured the devastation at the European front, the horrors of Dachau, and Hitler’s bathtub, another female war photographer, Gerda Taro, documented the front lines of the Spanish Civil War. “One of the world’s first and greatest war photographers,” writes Giles Trent at The Guardian, Taro “died while photographing a chaotic retreat after the Battle of Brunete, shortly after Franco’s troops had one a major victory,” just days away from her 27th birthday. She was the first female photojournalist to be killed in action on the frontline and a major star in France at the time of her death.

Woman Training for a Republican Militia, by Gerda Taro, via Wikimedia Commons

“On 1 August 1937,” notes a Magnum Photos bio, “thousands of people lined the streets of Paris to mourn the death” of Taro. The “26-year-old Jewish émigré from Leipzig… was eulogized as a courageous reporter who had sacrificed her life to bear witness to the suffering of civilians and troops…. The media proclaimed her a left-wing heroine, a martyr of the anti-fascist cause and a role model for young women everywhere.” Taro had fled to France in in 1933, after being arrested by the Nazis for distributing anti-fascist leaflets in Germany. She was determined to continue the fight in her new country.

Republican Soldiers at the Navacerrada Pass, by Gerda Taro, via Wikimedia Commons

Taro met another Jewish émigré, well-known Hungarian photographer Robert Capa, just getting his start at the time. The two became partners and lovers, arriving in Barcelona in 1936, “two-and-a-half weeks after the outbreak of the war.” Like Miller, Taro was drawn to women on the battlefield. In one of her first assignments, she documented militiawomen of the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia training on a beach. “Motivated by a desire to raise awareness of the plight of Spanish civilians and the soldiers fighting for liberty,” her clear sympathies give her work depth and immediacy.

Republican Dinamiteros, in the Carabanchel Neighborhood of Madrid, by Gerda Taro, via Wikimedia Commons

Taro’s photographs “were widely reproduced in the French leftist press,” points out the International Center of Photography. She “incorporated the dynamic camera angles of New Vision photography as well as a physical and emotional closeness to her subject.” After she was crushed by a tank in 1937, many of her photographs were incorrectly credited to Capa, and she sank into obscurity. She has achieved renewed recognition in recent years, especially after a trove of 4,500 negatives containing work by her and Capa was discovered in Mexico City.

Although she had been warned away from the front, Taro “got into this conviction that she had to bear witness,” says biographer Jane Rogoyska, “The troops loved her and she kept pushing.” She paid with her life, died a hero, and was forgotten until recently. Her legacy is celebrated in Rogoyska’s book, a novel about her and Capa by Susana Fortes, an International Center of Photography exhibition, film projects in the works, and a Google Doodle last August on her birthday. Learn more about Taro’s life and see many more of her captivating images, at Magnum Photos.

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

Oliver Sacks Promotes the Healing Power of Gardens: They’re “More Powerful Than Any Medication”

Early European explorers left the continent with visions of gardens in their heads: The Garden of Eden, the Garden of the Hesperides, and other mythic realms of abundance, ease, and endless repose. Those same explorers left sickness, war, and death only to find sickness, war, and death—much of it exported by themselves. The garden became de-mythologized. Natural philosophy and modern methods of agriculture brought gardens further down to earth in the cultural imagination.

Yet the garden remained a special figure in philosophy, art, and literature, a potent symbol of an ordered life and ordered mind. Voltaire’s Candide, the riotous satire filled with gardens both fantastical and practical, famously ends with the dictate, “we must cultivate our garden.” The tendency to read this line as strictly metaphorical does a disservice to the intellectual culture created by Voltaire and other writers of the period—Alexander Pope most prominent among them—for whom gardening was a theory born of practice.


Exiled from France in 1765, Voltaire retreated to a villa in Geneva called Les Délices, “The Delights.” There, writes Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker, he “quickly turned his exile into a desirable condition…. When he wrote that it was our duty to cultivate our garden, he really knew what it meant to cultivate a garden.” Enlightenment poets and philosophers did not dwell on the scientific reasons why gardens might have such salutary effects on the psyche. And neither does neurologist Oliver Sacks, who also wrote of gardens as health-bestowing havens from the chaos and noise of the world, and more specifically, from the city and brutal commercial demands it represents.

For Sacks that city was not Paris or London but, principally, New York, where he lived, practiced, and wrote for fifty years. Nonetheless, in his essay “The Healing Power of Gardens,” he invokes the European history of gardens, from the medieval hortus to grand Enlightenment botanical gardens like Kew, filled with exotic plants from “the Americas and the Orient.” Sacks writes of his student days, where he “discovered with delight a very different garden—the Oxford Botanic Garden, one of the first walled gardens established in Europe,” founded in 1621.

“It pleased me to think,” he recalls, referring to key Enlightenment scientists, “that Boyle, Hooke, Willis and other Oxford figures might have walked and meditated there in the 17th century.” In that time, cultivated gardens were often the private preserves of landed gentry. Now, places like the New York Botanical Garden, whose virtues Sacks extolls in the video above, are open to everyone. And it is a good thing, too. Because gardens can serve an essential public health function, whether we’re stressed and generally fatigued or suffering from a mental disorder or neurological condition:

I cannot say exactly how nature exerts its calming and organizing effects on our brains, but I have seen in my patients the restorative and healing powers of nature and gardens, even for those who are deeply disabled neurologically. In many cases, gardens and nature are more powerful than any medication.

“In forty years of medical practice,” the physician writes, “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” A garden also represents—for Sacks and for artists like Virginia Woolf—“a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life,” as Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, a pace “so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity.”

Voltaire’s prescription to tend our gardens has made Candide into a watchword for caring for and appreciating our surroundings. (It’s also now the name of a gardening app). Sacks’ recommendations should inspire us equally, whether we’re in search of creative inspiration or mental respite. “As a writer,” he says, “I find gardens essential to the creative process; as a physician, I take my patients to gardens whenever possible. The effect, he writes, is to be “refreshed in body and spirit,” absorbed in the “deep time” of nature, as he writes elsewhere, and finding in it “a profound sense of being at home, a sort of companionship with the earth,” and a remedy for the alienation of both mental illness and the grinding pace of our usual form of life.

via New York Times/Brain Pickings

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

Watch The Meaning of Life: One of the Best Animated Short Films Ever Made Traces the Evolution of Life, the Universe & Beyond

They say creativity is born of limitations. If that’s true, then is any animator working today more creative than Don Hertzfeldt? “The stars of his movies are all near-featureless stickmen with dots for eyes and a single line for a mouth,” writes The Guardian‘s David Jenkins in an appreciation of Hertzfeldt, whose “method of making grand existential statements with almost recklessly modest means” — animating everything himself, and doing it all with traditional hand-drawing-and-film-camera methods that at no point involve computer-generated imagery — “has made his cinematic oeuvre one of the most fascinating and enjoyable of all contemporary American directors.”

As an example Jenkins holds up 2005’s The Meaning of Life, which “tackled nothing less than the nature of organic life in the known universe, addressing the painstaking development of the human form through a series of (often highly amusing) Darwinian transmutations.”


You can glimpse its four-year-long animation process, which appears to have been almost as painstaking, in time-lapse making-of documentary Watching Grass Grow. At Short of the Week, Rob Munday writes that, though The Meaning of Life takes on “a subject already familiar to the format (evolution has also been portrayed in short film by animators Michael MillsClaude Cloutier and I’m sure many more),” it also sees Hertzfeldt adding “his own distinct take to proceedings with his unmistakable style and injections of dark humor.”

That special brand of humor has long been familiar to the many viewers who have stumbled across Hertzfeldt’s earlier Rejected, a short composed of even shorter shorts originally commissioned — and, yes, rejected — by the Family Learning Channel. As one of the first animations to “go viral” in the Youtube era, Rejected not only made Hertzfeldt’s name but paved the way for projects at once more ambitious, more surreal, more comic, and more serious: take the 65-minute It’s Such a Beautiful Day, which follows one of his signature stickmen into prolonged neurological decline. The Meaning of Life might seem positive by comparison, but its cosmic sweep belies Hertzfeldt’s underlying critique of all that evolution has produced. As Jenkins paraphrases it,  “Were we really worth all that effort?”

The Meaning of Life–which Time Out New York named the film one of the “thirty best animated short films ever made”–has been added to our list of Free Animations, a subset of our collection, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, Documentaries & More

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Watch 3,000 Films Free Online from the National Film Board of Canada, Including Portraits of Leonard Cohen, Margaret Atwood & Jack Kerouac

What, exactly, is Canada? The question sometimes occurs to Americans, living as they do right next door. But it might surprise those Americans to learn that Canadians themselves ask the very same question, living as they do in a country that could be defined by any number of its elements — its vastness, its multiculturalism, The Kids in the Hall — but never seems defined by any one of them in particular. Many individuals and groups throughout Canadian history have participated in the project of explaining Canada, and indeed defining it. Few have done as much as the National Film Board of Canada and the filmmakers it has supported, thanks to whom “three thousand films, from documentaries to narrative features to experimental shorts, are available to stream free of charge, even for Americans.”

Those words come from The Outline’s Chris R. Morgan, who writes that, “for the ‘Canuckophile’ (not my coinage but a term I happily own), the NFB’s Screening Room is one of the supreme pleasures of the internet. Since 1939, the NFB has facilitated the telling of Canada’s story in its people’s own words and images.”


Morgan points up to such NFB-supported productions as 1965’s Ladies and Gentlemen … Mr. Leonard Cohen, which “follows the titular 30-year-old poet giving witty readings, partying, and living around Montreal,” and the 2014 Shameless Propaganda, described at the Screening Room as an examination of “Canada’s national art form.” That art form developed in the years after the NFB’s founding in 1939, a time when its founding commissioner John Grierson called documentaries a “hammer to shape society.”

Not that most of what you’ll find to watch in the NFB’s screening room comes down like a hammer — nor does it feel especially propagandistic, as we’ve come to understand that term in the 21st century. Take, for instance, the documentary portraits of Canadian writers like Margaret Atwood and Jack Kerouac.

The latter lead a life described by filmmaker Herménégilde Chiasson as “a Franco-American odyssey,” which will remind even the most Canada-unaware Americans of one thing that clearly sets Canada apart: its bilingualism. That, too, provides material for a few NFB productions, including 1965’s Instant French, a short about “the adventures of a group of businessmen who are forced into taking French lessons to stay competitive in their field.”

“At first put out by this news,” continues the description at the Screening Room, “one by one they begin to realize that gaining fluency in another language has its benefits.” Hokey though it may sound — “definitely a product of its time,” as the NFB now says — a film like Instant French offers a glimpse into not just Canada’s past but the vision for society that has shaped Canada’s present and will continue to shape its future. You can browse the NFB’s large and growing online archive by subject (with categories including literature and language, music, and history) as well as through playlists like “Expo 67: 50 Years Later,” “Extraordinary Ordinary People,” — and, of course, “Hockey Movies,” which  reminds us that, elusive though Canadian culture as a whole may sometimes feel, certain important parts of it aren’t that hard to grasp.

via The Outline

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

Andy Warhol Explains Why He Decided to Give Up Painting & Manage the Velvet Underground Instead (1966)

In Good Omens—the six-episode adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s satirical fantasy about the Biblical end of the world—a running joke relies on the viewer’s offhand knowledge of the Velvet Underground’s significance. A refined, rare bookshop-owning angel calls the band “bebop” and has no idea who they are or what they sound like, a forgivable sin in the 70s, but seriously out of touch decades later in the 21st century.

The scheming supernatural agent should probably know that the Lou Reed (and briefly Nico)-fronted, Andy Warhol-managed late-1960s-70s experimental New York art rock band had an outsized influence on human affairs. Bridging a divide no one even knew existed between beat poetry, avant-garde jazz, psychedelic garage rock, doo-wop, and European folk music, the band is anecdotally credited with launching thousands of others—having as much impact, perhaps, on modern rock as Charlie Parker had on modern jazz.


Warhol could not have known any of this when he decided to sponsor and promote the Velvet Underground in 1966. He only managed the band for a year, in what seemed like both a stunt and a performance art project, part of his traveling multimedia show Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which he calls “the biggest discotheque in the world” in the 1966 interview above. Warhol acted, and the band reacted, shaping themselves around his provocations. He projected high-contrast films at them onstage, they put on sunglasses. He pushed deadpan German model and singer Nico on them, they wrote and recorded what some consider the greatest debut album in history.

Warhol couldn’t have known how any of it would pan out, but in hindsight his patronage can seem like a prescient, almost metaphysical, act of cultural subversion—and the work of a guileless savant compelled by vague intuitions and whims. He preferred to give off the latter impression, then let critics infer the former. Warhol explains that he has abandoned painting and started managing the band because “I hate objects, and I hate to go to museums and see pictures of the world, because they look so important and they don’t really mean anything.”

Few people doubt the management of his public persona was at least partially calculated. But so much of it clearly wasn’t—as evidenced by his own exhaustive recording of every detail of his life. Despite the amount of calculation ascribed to him, a quality the interviewer awkwardly tries to ask him about, he seems to have been stupefied about his own motivations much of the time, beyond the fact that he strongly liked and disliked certain simple things—Elvis, Campbell’s Soup, obscure blonde femme fatales. At other times, Warhol issued aphorisms as cryptic and profound as an ancient sage or post-war critical theorist.

Was the Velvet Underground more like Warhol’s uncomplicated love of cheeseburgers and Batman or more like his sophisticated deconstruction of film, media, and fashion, or are these not mutually exclusive ways of looking at his work? The question may not really concern music historians, for whom Warhol’s early influence was formative, but maybe musically marginal. But if we think of him as a motive force behind the band’s look and early sound—a kind of conscious creative reagent—we might be curious about what he meant by it, if anything.

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

Jeff Tweedy Explains How to Learn to Love Music You Hate: Watch a Video Animated by R. Sikoryak

Punk rock peer pressure forced Jeff Tweedy, founder of Wilco, to shun Neil Young and other  “hippie”musical greats.

Ah, youth…

Were Tweedy, now a seasoned 51-year-old, to deliver a commencement speech, he’d do well to counsel younger musicians to reject such knee jerk rejection, as he does in the above animated interview for Topic magazine.


Not because he’s now one of those grey beards himself, but rather because he’s come to view influence and taste as living organisms, capable of interacting in surprising ways.

That’s not to say the youngsters are obliged to declare an affinity for what they hear when venturing into the past, just as Tweedy doesn’t fake a fondness for much of the new music he checks out on the regular.

Think of this practice as something similar to one millions of childish picky eaters have endured. Eat your vegetables. Just a taste. You can’t say you don’t like them until you’ve actively tasted them. Who knows? You may find one you like. Or perhaps it’ll prove more of a slow burn, becoming an unforeseen ingredient of your maturity.

In other words, better to sample widely from the unending musical buffet available on the Internet than conceive of yourself as a wholly original rock god, sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus, capiche?

The narration suggests that Tweedy’s got some problems with online culture, but he gives props to the digital revolution for its softening effect on the ironclad cultural divide of his 70s and 80s youth.

Was it really all just a marketing scheme?

Unlikely, given the Vietnam War, but there’s no denying that educating ourselves in our passion includes approaching its history with an at-least-partially open mind.

If you want to snap it shut after you’ve had some time to consider, that’s your call, though Tweedy suggests he’s never comfortable writing something off forever.

If nothing else, the stuff he dislikes teaches him more about the stuff he loves—including, presumably, some of his own impressive catalog.

Kudos to director Keith Stack and Augenblick Studios, animator of so many Topic interviews, for matching Tweedy with cartoonist R. Sikoryak, an artist who clearly shares Tweedy’s creative philosophy as evidenced by such works as Terms and Conditions and Masterpiece ComicsHere is another who clearly knows how to make a meal from mixing old and new, traditional and experimental, high and low. One of the bonus joys of this animated life lesson is catching all of Sikoryak’s musical Easter eggs—including a cameo by Nipper, the face of His Master’s Voice.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist ofthe East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City June 17 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How David Bowie Delivered His Two Most Famous Farewells: As Ziggy Stardust in 1973, and at the End of His Life in 2016

When David Bowie left us on January 10, 2016, we immediately started seeing the just-released Blackstar, which turned out to be his final album, as a farewell. But then, if we looked back across his entire career — a span of more than half a century — we saw that he had been delivering farewells the whole time. Throughout much of that career, Bowie’s observers have reflexively compared him to a chameleon, so often and so dramatically did he seem to revise his performative identity to suit the zeitgeist (if not to shape the zeitgeist). But periodic creative rebirth entails periodic creative death, and as the Polyphonic video essay above shows us, no rock star could die as creatively as Bowie.

The video concentrates on two of Bowie’s most famous farewells, in particular: his last, on Blackstar and the musical Lazarus, and his first, delivered onstage 43 years earlier in his last performance in the character of Ziggy Stardust. “Not only is it the last show of the tour,” he announced to 3,500 screaming fans at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, “but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do.”


There followed a closing performance of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” a song described by the video’s narrator as “Ziggy Stardust’s final moments, washed up and exhausted from life as a rock star.” Though only 26 years old at the time, Bowie had already released six studio albums and experienced more than enough to reflect eloquently in song on “a life well lived.”

But then, if the phenomenon of David Bowie teaches us anything, it teaches us how a life can be composed of various discrete lifetimes. Bowie understood that, as did the other artists whose work he referenced in his farewells: names cited in this video’s analysis include Jacques Brel, Charles Bukowski, and the Spanish poet Manuel Machado. And as any fan knows, Bowie was also adept at referencing his own work, a tendency he kept up until the end as in, for example, the reappearance of his mid-70s character (and subject of a previous Polyphonic study) the Thin White Duke in the “Lazarus” music video. In that work he also left plenty of material to not just inspire subsequent generations of creators, but to send them back to the realms of culture that inspired him. We may have heard David Bowie’s final farewell, but in our own lifetimes we surely won’t hear the end of his influence.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include 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.

What Did Old English Sound Like? Hear Reconstructions of Beowulf, The Bible, and Casual Conversations

What is the English language? Is it Anglo-Saxon? It is tempting to think so, in part because the definition simplifies a linguistic history that defies linear summary. Over the course of 1000 years, the language came together from extensive contact with Anglo-Norman, a dialect of French; then became heavily Latinized and full of Greek roots and endings; then absorbed words from Arabic, Spanish, and dozens of other languages, and with them, arguably, absorbed concepts and pictures of the world that cannot be separated from the language itself.

Shakespeare and other writers filled in the gaps (and still do), inventing words where they were lacking. Why do we then refer to the long-dead Anglo-Saxon language as “Old English,” if it is only a distant ancestor, and one, you’ll note, no English speaker today understands? There are many technical reasons for this, but to put it in plain terms: if English were a body, Anglo-Saxon might be the bones and ligaments: not only for the hardness of its consonants and its blunt, unadorned poetry, but because it contains the most common words in the language, the structural bits that hold together all those pan-linguistic borrowings.

Observe the piece of verse known as Cædmon’s Hymn, below. Amidst the tangle of unfamiliar phonemes and extinct letters like the “þ,” you cannot miss such bedrock words as “and,” “his,” “or,” “He,” and “to.” In other texts, you’ll find recognizable equivalents of “father,” “mother,” “husband,” “wife,” “good,” “god,” and many other common household words.

Nu sculon herian     heofonrices Weard,
Metodes mihte     and his modgeþanc,
weorc Wuldorfæder,     swa he wundra
ece Dryhten,     or onstealde.
He ærest scop     eorþan bearnum
heofon to hrofe     halig Scieppend.
þa middangeard     mancynnes Weard
ece Dryhten,     æfter teode
firum foldan     Frea ælmihtig.

Despite sharing many words with modern English, however, Anglo Saxon is another language, from an entirely different world long disappeared. No one living, of course, knows exactly what it sounded like, so scholars make their best educated guesses using internal evidence in the scant literature, secondary sources in other languages from the time, and similarities to other, living languages. Now that you’ve seen what Old English looks like, hear how it sounds to modern ears.

In the video at the top, student of the language Stephen Roper reenacts a casual conversation with an Anglo-Saxon speaker, one who can understand but cannot speak contemporary English. The other examples here come from literary contexts. Further up, Justin A. Jackson, Professor of English at Hillsdale College, reads the opening lines of Beowulf, and just above, hear an unnamed narrator read the epic poem’s full Prologue.

Just below—backed by a dramatic, droning score and recited over footage of misty English moors—a reading of “The Lord’s Prayer” in 11th century Old English. In this text, you’ll pick out quite a few more familiar words, though the fact that most readers know the modern English equivalent probably doesn’t hurt. But if you feel confident after listening to these speculative reconstructions of the language, enough to take a crack at reading it aloud yourself, head over this University of Glasgow collection of Old English readings.

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

A New Photo Book Documents the Wonderful Homemade Cat Ladders of Switzerland

There are days when Calgon is not escape enough

Days when one longs to be a cat, specifically a free-ranging feline of Bern, Switzerland, as featured in graphic designer Brigitte Schuster’s forthcoming book, Swiss Cat Ladders

Some American cats come and go freely through—dare we say—doggie doors, those small apertures cut into existing points of entry, most commonly the one leading from kitchen to Great Outdoors.

The citizens of Bern have aimed much higher, customizing their homes in alignment with both the feline commitment to independence and their fearlessness where heights are concerned.

As Schuster documents, there’s no one solution designed to take cats from upper residential windows and patios to the destinations of their choosing.

Some buildings boast sleek ramps that blend seamlessly into the existing exterior design.

In others, surefooted pussies must navigate ramshackle wooden affairs, some of which seem better suited to the hen house.

One cat ladder connects to a nearby tree.

Another started life as a drain spout.

Humans who prefer to outsource their cat ladders may elect to purchase a prefabricated spiral staircase online.

Pre-order Swiss Cat Ladders for 45 € using the order form at the bottom of this page. The text, which is in both German and English, includes diagrams to inspire those who would cater to their own cat’s desire for high flying independence.

All photographs © Brigitte Schuster

Via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. And congratulations to her homeschooled senior, Milo Kotis, who graduates today! Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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