Brain Pickings

The Ragged Edge of Silence: The Art of Listening

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What 17 years of silence have to do with National Geographic and your ringtone.

In 1971, after the devastating 800,000-gallon oil spill in the San Francisco Bay, John Francis, then a young man, pledged to never ride a motorized vehicle again. Two years later, he added voluntary silence to his vow, spending 17 years in silence as he walked the world and became known as The Planetwalker. The first words that he spoke again were in Washington, D.C., on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. In 2009, Francis, by then a National Geographic fellow with a Ph.D, told his remarkable story in the candid and deeply inspirational Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence.

This year, Dr. Francis is back with the highly anticipated and most excellent follow-up, The Ragged Edge of Silence: Finding Peace in a Noisy World — a powerful and poetic exploration of the beauty of our world and our place in it, and a timely antidote to our increasingly networked, ping-scored existence.

The Ragged Edge of Silence explores the art of listening through a beautiful collage of personal accounts, interviews, science, storytelling, and a fascinating historical perspective on the role of silence across Hindu, Buddhist and Native American cultures. Francis transcends the purely philosophical to offer practical ways of building constructive silence into our everyday routines as micro-oases of self-discovery amidst our stimulus-overloaded lives.

The Ragged Edge of Silence digs deeply into the phenomenology of silence and the practice of listening. As in Planetwalker, I followed a methodology that recognizes the importance of personal documents, explanations, and interpretation of silence. This story, then, is my personal account and interpretation of silence as I experienced it.” ~ John Francis

For a moving glimpse of Francis’ unusual story, don’t miss his excellent 2008 TED talk:

Part adventure story, part philosophical reflection, part heartfelt memoir, The Ragged Edge of Silence is a pure joy to read, lacking the self-righteous preachiness this line of thinking often festers into and instead extending a humble but powerful invitation to reexamine your worldview.

Thanks, Jim

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Edward Burtynsky’s Oil

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What vintage airplanes have to do with Chinese bridges and tire retirement.

As we revisit the Gulf oil spill on its first anniversary, its gruesome and deep-running consequences are more uncomfortably palpable than ever. And no one exposes the underbelly of this oil economy more viscerally than environmental photographer Edward Burtynsky. In his 2009 book, Oil, he explores the scale and reach of these politicized resourced through a decade’s worth of images from the world’s largest oil fields, refineries, auto plants and freeway interchanges.

State Oil Company of the Republic of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) oilfields, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006

Image: Edward Burtynsky /Courtesy HASTD HUNT KRAEUTLER, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Nanpu Bridge interchange, Shanghai, China, 2004

Image: Edward Burtynsky /Courtesy HASTD HUNT KRAEUTLER, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Alberta oil sands, Fort McMurray, Alberta, 2007

Image: Edward Burtynsky /Courtesy HASTD HUNT KRAEUTLER, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Oxford tire pile, Westley, California, USA, 1999

Image: Edward Burtynsky /Courtesy HASTD HUNT KRAEUTLER, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Centre (AMARC), Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 2006

Image: Edward Burtynsky /Courtesy HASTD HUNT KRAEUTLER, New York / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto

Images via The Guardian

In 1997 I had what I refer to as my oil epiphany. It occurred to me that all the vast, man-altered landscapes I had been in pursuit of for over 20 years were all possible because of the discovery of oil and the mechanical advantage of the internal combustion engine.” ~ Edward Burtynsky

Burtynsky offers a fascinating closer look at the Oil project in this short but powerful 2009 TED talk:

Gripping and post-apocalyptic, the images in Oil reveal many facets of our petroleum lust with unprecedented breadth, depth and intimacy.

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Hello, I Like You: Abstracting Happiness

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We’re deeply fascinated by the art and science of happiness, its origin and sources and the secret to its attainment. Hello, I Like You is a lovely short film by Brooklyn motion graphics outfit Mixtape Club, exploring happiness in an abstract way through the art of finding joy in everyday details.

The project was commissioned for the recent F5 motion graphics unconference.

The film feels like the motion graphics version of the lovely Everything Is Going To Be OK — a simple, and powerful in its simplicity, reminder that life is as good as we allow it to be.

via Short of the Week

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Celebrating Ella Fitzgerald

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Five ways to celebrate The First Lady of Song, from illustration to rare concert footage.

On April 25, 1917, the world welcomed the great Ella Fitzgerald, nicknamed The First Lady of Song. Her remarkable recording career spanned 59 years, garnered 13 Grammys and forever changed the face of jazz with her signature improvisational scat singing. Today, we celebrate Lady Ella five ways.

ONE NOTE SAMBA

Ella’s legendary scat singing springs to life in this rare recording from June 22, 1969. Here, she performs One Note Samba with Ed Thigpen on drums, Frank de la Rosa on bass, and Tommy Flanagan on piano.

ELLA + LOUIS

As far as artistic collaborations go, hardly does it get more iconic and powerful than Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. While sifting through YouTube’s annoying array of static-photo-with-low-quality-audio-recording non-videos for a decent example, we stumbled upon this lovely animation from BBC4, a charming take on one of their most beloved duets, Dream A Little Dream Of Me:

SKIT-SCAT RAGGEDY CAT

It’s no secret we have a soft spot for children’s books. So we love Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald from author Roxanne Orgill and mixed-media artist Sean Qualls — the wonderfully illustrated rags-to-riches story of how Lady Ella sang her way from the streets of Yonkers to jazz history.

Bonus points: Interwoven throughout the eloquent biographical narrative are snippets of Fitzgerald’s most iconic songs.

But what makes Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat most noteworthy is the very concept of engaging kids with jazz — another facet of the kind of cross-disciplinary curiosity that’s fundamental to true “education” and creativity.

SUMMERTIME

It hardly gets more classic than Lady Ella belting George Gershwin’s Summertime, as she does in this rare and powerful footage from a 1968 concert in Berlin:

ELLA BY HERMAN LEONARD

This rare photograph of Ella on stage in New York in 1948 comes from Jazz — the humbly titled yet absolutely amazing retrospective of the work of legendary photographer Herman Leonard, which we reviewed last year. Leonard had been photographing jazz musicians since the 1950s and developed close friendships with greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, which gave him unique access to these innovators and their larger worlds beyond the stage. The book reveals a rare glimpse of the underbelly of a cultural revolution through stunning, luminous never-before-seen images of icons like Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and more.

Leonard captures, with his signature visual eloquence, the grace and elegance with which Lady Ella was able to command a room’s attention, transfixing the audience like the vocal hypnotist that she was.

Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, NYC, New York, 1948

Image courtesy of Herman Leonard

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