Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘remix’

01 AUGUST, 2013

A Eulogy to Words: The Only Recording of Virginia Woolf’s Voice, Adapted for Chamber Orchestra

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“Our unconsciousness is their privacy; our darkness is their light.”

In April of 1937, Virginia Woolf delivered a beautiful treatise on language and craftsmanship as part of a BBC broadcast, which remains the only surviving recording of the author’s voice. Composer Brian Mark has enchanted it with new life in A Eulogy to Words — a mesmerizing multimedia mashup of Woolf’s recording and a composition for chamber orchestra, featuring horn, harp, piano, tape, and electronics. The 10-minute gem, written for London’s Royal Academy of Music and conducted by Michael Alexander Young, is the best thing since the Solar System set to Bach and Carl Sagan adapted as a three-movement choral suite. “I have wanted to write this piece for 8 years,” Mark tells me — and how glad I am that he did.

All we can say about [words], as we peer at them over the edge of that deep, dark and only fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live — the mind — all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think and to feel before they use them, but to think and to feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self-conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. … They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Hear Woolf’s original broadcast, along with the complete transcript, here.

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23 JULY, 2013

Brian Cox on Why Science Is Essential to Modern Democracy

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“For a democracy to function correctly, we need as many citizens as possible to at least have an understanding of the scientific method.”

In the fall of 2012, Brian Coxquantum physics wunderkind, whimsical explainer of science, champion of the wonders of life — was awarded the prestigious President’s Medal in London. His acceptance speech addressed the epidemic of promoting bad science in popular culture and the desperate importance of continuing to fund science education, echoing Richard Feynman’s timeless words on the role of scientific culture in modern society and scientists’ universal responsibility to remain open to the unknown. This magnificent short film by Brandon Fibbs remixes the most poetic portion of Cox’s speech — an eloquent case for science as a prerequisite for democracy, one that Ray Bradbury made for reading some years ago — with awe-inducing footage that captures the glory of science, technology, and space exploration.

We live in a society — as the great physicist and communicator Carl Sagan always emphasized — a society that is entirely based on science, it is based on technology and engineering. All the great, important decisions that our democracy will be forced to take in the next decades, and all the way into the 21st century, are based on science — they’re based on scientific method, they’re based on an understanding what reason and reaching conclusions based on evidence is. And if the presentation of science is a Frankenstein presentation of science — a misrepresentation of what we do, a complete misselling of the wonder of exploration — then we have a problem in our democracies. And it’s the same problem that we have if we don’t have an educated population.

For a democracy — a modern scientific democracy — to function correctly, then we need as many citizens as possible to at least have an understanding of the scientific method, if not the fact. When asked, “Why do you want to continue to explore?” Humphry Davy said, “Nothing is more fatal to the progress of the human mind than to presume that our views of science are ultimate, that our triumphs are complete, that there are no mysteries in nature and there are no new worlds to conquer.”

Watch Cox’s full speech below:

Pair with this fantastic read on how ignorance drives science, one of the best science books of 2012, and this wonderful mashup celebrating NASA by way of Walt Whitman.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

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19 JULY, 2013

If Gorey and Sendak Had Illustrated Kafka for Kids

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A hauntingly beautiful black-and-white adaptation of the beloved author in children’s verses.

Sylvia Plath believed it was never too early to dip children’s toes in the vast body of literature. But to plunge straight into Kafka? Why not, which is precisely what Brooklyn-based writer and videogame designer Matthue Roth has done in My First Kafka: Runaways, Rodents, and Giant Bugs (public library) — a magnificent adaptation of Kafka for kids. With stunning black-and-white illustrations by London-based fine artist Rohan Daniel Eason, this gem falls — rises, rather — somewhere between Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and the Graphic Canon series.

The idea came to Roth after he accidentally started reading Kafka to his two little girls, who grew enchanted with the stories. As for the choice to adapt Kafka’s characteristically dark sensibility for children, Roth clearly subscribes to the Sendakian belief that grown-ups project their own fears onto kids, who welcome rather than dread the dark. Indeed, it’s hard not to see Sendak’s fatherly echo in Eason’s beautifully haunting black-and-white drawings.

Much like Jonathan Safran Foer used Street of Crocodiles to create his brilliant Tree of Codes literary remix and Darwin’s great-granddaughter adapted the legendary naturalist’s biography into verse, Roth scoured public domain texts and various translations of Kafka to find the perfect works for his singsong transformations: the short prose poem “Excursion into the Mountains,” the novella “The Metamorphosis,” which endures as Kafka’s best-known masterpiece, and “Josefine the Singer,” his final story.

“I don’t know!”
I cried without being heard.

“I do not know.”

If nobody comes,
then nobody comes.

I’ve done nobody any harm.
Nobody’s done me any harm.
But nobody will help me.

A pack of nobodies
would be rather fine,
on the other hand.

I’d love to go on a trip — why not? –
with a pack of nobodies.

Into the mountains, of course.
Where else?

In a way, the book — like most of Kafka’s writing — also bears the odd mesmerism of literary history’s letters and diaries, the semi-forbidden pleasure of which swells under the awareness that their writers never meant for us to read the very words we’re reading, never sought to invite us into their private worlds. Kafka wished for his entire world to remain private — he never finished any of his novels and burned the majority of his manuscripts; the rest he left with his closest friend and literary executor, Max Brod, whom he instructed to burn the remaining diaries, sketches, manuscripts, and letters. It was out of love that Brod chose not to, possibly displeasing his friend but eternally pleasing the literary public.

Though Kafka never wrote for children (in fact, one might argue, he never wrote for anyone but himself), My First Kafka transforms his surviving work into a fine addition to other notable children’s book by famous authors of “adult” literature, including Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Anne Sexton, T. S. Eliot, and John Updike.

Thanks, Sharon

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