Brain Pickings

Railway Maps of the World

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What the evolution of standardized time zones has to do with train travel in Zimbabwe.

We love maps, especially subway and train-related maps. So we’re all over Mark Ovenden’s Railway Maps of the World — the fantastic follow-up to his excellent 2007 Transit Maps of the World and 2009 Paris Underground. The lavish, large-format tome culls the world’s most interesting railway maps, posters and related ephemera, from the historical to the modern.

From early maps-printing techniques to beautiful vintage travel advertising ephemera to the latest digital real-time maps for mobile devices, Ovenden scours rare archives and architectural dreams alike, from the Liverpool and Manchester Railway of 1830 to China’s proposed 2020 high-speed train networks, to explore the evolution of cartography and the social role of train travel. Besides the lust-worthy design candy, the book also offers fascinating historical context and tells the story of how railroads became the vehicle for cultural change, bridging nations, driving economic growth, changing our diets by putting previously unavailable foods on the table, and even giving us standardized time zones.

With over 500 images and maps representing more than 120 countries from Algeria to Zimbabwe, Railway Maps of the World is a beautiful treasure chest of fascination for map lovers, design aficionados and history geeks alike, a rare record of a civilization in perpetual motion.

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Let England Shake: One Album, 12 Short Films

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What the last rose of England has to do with war photography and The Velvet Underground.

English singer-songwriter PJ Harvey is among the most prolific yet ceaselessly innovative musicians of the past 20 years, reinventing herself completley, almost unrecognizably, with each new album. But release of her latest record, Let England Shake, goes beyond merely redefining her own sound, reinventing the very definition of what an album or a music video is as well.

For the project, PJ Harvey partnered with award-winning photojournalist Seamus Murphy, whose work in Afghanistan and The Middle East has garnered him international acclaim, to create short films for each of the album’s twelve tracks.

Ranging from the bizarre to the breathtakingly beautiful, the films — gathered in the below video playlist for your viewing pleasure — are some of the most creatively exquisite “music videos” we’ve seen in a long time, though calling them that feels somewhat pejorative in the face of how innovative the project’s entire approach is. (Our favorite has to be The Last Living Rose.)

Written over a period of two-and-a-half years and recorded over five weeks in an old Dorset church, Let England Shake is a florilegium of inspirations, ranging from the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot to the art of Salvador Dalí and Francisco de Goya to the music of The Doors, The Pogues, and The Velvet Underground — easily the most interesting and layered dark horse of an album to come by this year.

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A World Without Moms

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What going to school without underwear has to do with ruling the world.

A few months ago, our friends from Acumen Fund launched the Search for the Obvious initiative — a quest to find everyday objects and ideas that dramatically improve quality of life. In its latest iteration, SFTO challenged people to imagine a world without moms in an effort to raise awareness about the 7 million women who are injured and 350,000 women who die from complications due to childbirth every year — yet of the world’s 1,000 childbirth deaths per day, 800 are preventable by providing simple, basic maternal health care.

The challenge received dozens of submissions from all over the world across a variety of categories, from video to tweet to guerrilla. This poignant entry by the Jubilee Project, reminiscent of the beautiful Fifty People One Question, won the video category with its candid, deeply human journey into the richness and multiplicity of mothers’ impact on who we are and how we go through the world.

This video was inspired by our desire to help moms around the world because of the love and care we received from our own moms. We wanted to capture a genuine and raw spectrum of voices that spoke to just how much moms mean to all of us.”

See the other category winners and find out about ways to help save moms around the world on the official challenge page. For more on Acumen Fund’s work for maternity hospitals, don’t miss this excellent ABC News interview with founder Jacqueline Novogratz, whose TED talk on the life of immersion remains an all-time favorite.

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Notations 21: 165 Musicians Visualize Sheet Music in Unusual Ways

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What the color wheel has to do with Beethoven and supporting arts education.

There’s something especially mesmerizing about the cross-pollination of the senses, particularly in visualizing music. That’s exactly what Notations 21 explores. Inspired by John Cage’s iconic 1968 Notations and originally released for its 50th anniversary, the ambitious 320-page volume by Theresa Sauer and Mark Batty Publishers reveals how 165 composers and musicians around the world are experiencing, communicating and reconceiving music visually by reinventing notation.

From acclaimed musicians like Karlheinz Stockhausen, Earle Brown, Halim El-Dabh, Joan La Barbara, and Yuji Takahashi to emerging global talent, this magnificent tome examines how both the technology and the expectations of this unique synesthetic language have changed over the past half-century.

I sincerely hope that this book motivates the reader to further research contemporary music and the artists that compose it, to seek out their recordings, attend performances, and support the arts in education. We live in an incredible time in music history — here is only a small sampling of the evidence.” ~ Theresa Sauer

With its visual eloquence and remarkable diversity of perspectives, Notations 21 isn’t merely an anthology but also an ambitious thesaurus of sensemaking for the art and science of neo-notation.

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