Brain Pickings

3 Iconic Film Directors Interpret Classic Operas

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What arias have to do with Cousin It, cinematic pathos and eccentric Germans.

To celebrate six years of collaboration between Sky Arts and the English National Opera, Sky Arts commissioned an unlikely trio to produce Sky Arts Opera Shorts — three opera short films by three of today’s most celebrated film directors: Dougal Wilson, Sam Taylor-Wood and Werner Herzog. The films are set to a popular aria of ENO’s 2008/2009 season, capturing each director’s distinct visual style. And, as big proponents of the cross-pollination of the arts and the creative intersections of past and present, we’re loving them.

DOUGAL WILSON

Rossini’s The Barber of Seville may be among the world’s best-known, most widely loved operas, but when Dougal Wilson (we’re longtime fans) reenvisions it in his characteristically mischievous fashion, it’s a different kind of treat entirely. Hovering between classic silent film, hipster music video — that is, after all, Wilson’s specialty — and Adams Family reunion, the film is equal parts quirky and delightful.

I’m used to working with artists such as Goldfrapp and Will Young, so working with ENO presented me with a really fresh challenge. Directing an opera short allowed me to apply modern artistic disciplines to a traditional source to hopefully create a really engaging piece of work.” ~ Dougal Wilson

SAM TAYLOR-WOOD

British filmmaker and conceptual aritst Sam Taylor-Wood never ceases to amaze. Last year, we were head-over-heels with Nowhere Boy, her poetic chronicle of John Lennon’s little-known early life. Here, she brings that same cinematic pathos to a simple yet powerful interpretation of Pagliacci’s Vesti la Giubba (On with the Greasepaint).

I’m really happy to be involved in such a great project. I think by capturing one of opera’s most moving moments in a film short, we have put a modern spin on the aria.” ~ Sam Taylor-Wood

WERNER HERZOG

Our long-running love for Werner Herzog continues unabated as the eccentric German director brings his signature this-is-looking-very-bizarre-and-I’m-not-quite-getting-it-but-can’t-stop-looking touch to O Soave Fanciulla (Oh you vision of beauty) from Puccini’s iconic La Bohème.

I’ve no doubt that the film shorts will generate interest from a whole new generation of music lovers — the results are fantastic. Filming in High Definition in Africa allowed us to juxtapose the traditions of opera with a real innovative setting, the uniqueness of which is hopefully reflected in the final film.” ~ Werner Herzog

via Coudal

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Jad Abumrad on Sound, Science & Mystery

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We’re big fans of WNYC’s Radiolab and its producer, Jad Abumrad. In this excellent talk from PopTech — one of our favorite cross-disciplinary conferences — Abumrad shares some fascinating examples of how sound has been used to facilitate scientific discovery and how audio can serve as the trial-and-error mechanism fundamental to scientific inquiry. From what a monkey brain sounds like when playing rock-paper-sciessors to how crayfish “hear” their way to survival, Abumrad takes us on a delightfully geeky journey into biology guiding behavior.

You will find scientists who will tell you — and they deeply believe it — that we’re quantifiable. We are knowable. That if I can take a high enough resolution picture of all of you — not just your outsides, but your genes, your DNA, all the way down to your atoms — I can know everything about you and everything that you will be. There are people who believe this. And what this tells me is, no. No! All the way down, to the bottom of our thoughts, there’s just more mystery.” ~ Jad Abumrad

For more on the intersection of sound, science and being human, don’t miss our selection of 7 must-read books about music, emotion and the brain from earlier this morning.

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Vision Revolution: Why We See The Way We Do

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Why do we see the way we do? Since the dawn of humanity’s fascination with the brain, scientists have tried to answer this question. But, as it turns out, much of what they thought to be true was wrong. In The Vision Revolution: How the Latest Research Overturns Everything We Thought We Knew About Human Vision, neuroscientist Mark Changizi — whose work has graced the pages of merchants of culture like TIME, Newsweek, New Scientist and The New York Times — offers groundbreaking insights into the science of how and why we see as we do through thoughtfully curated highlights from breakthrough research, complete with illuminating illustrations and diagrams that visualize his conclusions.

To understand how culture interacts with vision, one must understand not just the eye’s design, but the actual mechanisms we have evolved, for culture can tap into both the designed responses of our brains and the unintended responses.” ~ Mark Changizi

Changizi focuses on four fundamental “why” questions — why do we see in color, why do our eyes face forward, why do we see illusions, and why does reading come so naturally to us — the answers to which will surprise you.

For instance, scientists used to believe that color vision evolved to help our ancestors spot ripe fruit. It turns out, however, that it actually evolved to give us greater insight into the mental, emotional and physical states of other people: People who can see color changes in skin have a competitive edge over those who can’t because they can detect the reddening of rashes and know when others are blushing with embarrassment or purple-faced with exertion. (It’s unsurprising, then, that primates who have color vision are the ones who have no fur or hair on their faces and other instrumental body parts.) Even more interestingly, Changizi reveals that the cones in our eyes are exquisitely designed to see these skin color changes.

Perhaps most fascinatingly, Changizi illuminates the neuropsychology of illusions, which are the result of our brains’ evolutionary need to micro-predict the motion of objects. (You know a baseball is about to hit you in the face before it does, because you can project its trajectory, which allows you to react accordingly.) Simply put, illusions happen when the brain is tricked into believing a static two-dimensional picture has a moving element, projecting that element into the future and seeing not what is actually on the page but what our brain thinks will be there a fraction of a second later.

If our brains simply created a perception of the way the world was at the time light hit the eye, then by the time that perception was elicited — which takes about a tenth of a second for the brain to do — time would have marched on, and the perception would be of the recent past.” ~ Mark Changizi

Deeply fascinating yet absorbingly readable, The Vision Revolution comes as a necessary foundation for better understanding one of our most fundamental tools for navigating the world and, in the process, better understanding ourselves.

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