Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

15 NOVEMBER, 2010

Andrew Zuckerman’s Powerful Portraits of Music Icons


What the power of curiosity has to do with the most universal human language.

We’re longtime fans of photographer Andrew Zuckerman. Last year, he brought us Wisdom — an absolutely beautiful, both aesthetically and conceptually, book and film capturing profound existential insights by 50 of our time’s greatest writers, artists, philosophers, politicians, designers, activists, musicians, religious and business leaders over the age of 65. This year, we’ve been anxiously awaiting his latest project and it has finally arrived: Music — a fascinating journey into the souls of 50 of today’s greatest living music icons.

The book, a breathtaking hardcover beauty, features portraits of the 50 musicians — including Yoko Ono, Common, David Crosby, Ani DiFranco, Ben Gibbard, Philip Glass, Herbie Hancock, Karen O, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and Iggy Pop — photographed in Zuckerberman’s signature style of intimate closeups on crisp white background, alongside interviews that reveal everything from their creative process to intimate insight into their relationship with music and the world.

My curiosity, I think, is the thing that drives everything.” ~ Herbie Hancock

Of all the languages that human beings use to communicate with each other, [music] is the language which is the most eloquent and the most universal.” ~ Philip Glass

Each copy of the book comes with a unique code for downloading the companion film, which features beautifully shot, deeply moving interviews with the 50 music icons:

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music. And I will never have enough time to know what I want to know and to be able to contribute what I possibly could. So, I keep working at it.” ~ John Williams

The project even comes as an iPad app, for a touch of smart transmedia storytelling.

Zuckerman recently spoke at the excellent Creative Mornings series by Swiss Miss. Keep an eye out on their Vimeo channel, where his talk — a guaranteed blockbuster — should appear shortly.

The impressive behind-the-scenes footage demonstrates just how much work, thought and creativity went into the project:

Zuckerman’s work remains a Brain Pickings favorite and Music is among the best books you could give, get and indulge in this holiday season. Do.

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11 NOVEMBER, 2010

East + West + Gershwin: Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang Perform Rhapsody In Blue


Herbie Hancock, one of America’s great jazz pianists, landed on the jazz scene in the early 1960s, starting out with Miles Davis, and then working as a solo musician who released his great jazz standards — Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man. Thirty years later, and across a big ocean, Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist, takes the stage. Only 13, he wins the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, and then quickly starts dazzling Western audiences with performances of Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky.

Finally, the two musicians, the two musical worlds, meet in 2009. Performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, along with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Hancock and Lang Lang work their way through Debussy, Ravel and then, appropriately enough, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The jazz concerto. Jazz inflections layered onto a classical composition. A perfect meeting in the middle.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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09 NOVEMBER, 2010

The Music Animation Machine


In the 1970s, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski had a hallucination. He envisioned an easier, more visual way of reading music scores. A friend of his suggested he animate the bar-graph scroll and another proposed doing it with a… gasp… computer. In 1985, Malinowski created the first version of the Music Animation Machine and, a quarter century later, it remains a treasure trove of mesmerizing music visualizations. From Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairync to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, the project brings an intuitive, visceral, almost synesthetic understanding to some of the most musically complex masterpieces in history.

Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski

Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as freeware (sadly, Windows-only) so you can download it and create your own visualizations.

You can support the project by buying a DVD of the visualizations, but Malinowski has kindly offered the DVDs free of charge to any public schools, libraries, music schools and educators of music theory, appreciation, or history. Many of the animations are also available on the Music Animation Machine YouTube channel.

As a hidden treat, the site also features a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.

via Quipsologies

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03 NOVEMBER, 2010

Smigly: Jazzy Tales of Misfortune


What giant logos have to do with the digestive difficulties of the Twitter bird.

We’ve been longtime admirers of writer, director and animator Allen Mezquida‘s Smigly series — the animated tales of a lovable misfit (or, to reach into our bag of cross-cultural linguistic treats, a Shlemazl — that’s Yiddish for “unlucky person”) who, despite his smarts, somehow always manages to have his dreams crushed for your comedic benefit. It’s Droopy with getting the girl, Dilbert without the office supplies, Frasier without the pompous dialogue and laugh track.

If you pay attention, life’s a soul-crushing shit storm. Smigly pays attention.”

Mezquida, whose work has previously graced Disney, Warner Bros., Sony and Nickelodeon, happens to also be a talented saxophonist, so he scores most of the films himself.

Today, we’ve curated five of our favorite Smigly episodes – enjoy.


Smigly spins in the existential hamster wheel and we hope you aren’t. (If you are, see this.)


Timely, in light of this week’s U.S. elections, a time when economic and political fluff phrases are being tossed around like giant balls of toxic cotton candy.


So many phones, so little talking.


Somewhere between Big Brother, Uncle Sam and The Man, Smigly is on the brink of pushing daisies.


If you happen to have a bit of a social media…problem (and we should know), you’ll no doubt reluctantly relate to this one.

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