Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

26 MAY, 2011

Michael Meets Mozart: Piano, Cello and Mashup Magic


What’s wrong with copyright law, or how neurological supremacy channels 100 cello revelations.

This week, a new study suggests musicians’ brains may be more developed than other people’s. And while I’m all for a healthy dose of skepticism in reacting to research headlines, terrific performances like this Michael Meets Mozart gem by pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson make it difficult to believe that just any old brain is capable of such creative enormity. Jon and Steve blending the piano with over 100 cello textures never thought possible and creating extraordinary sound effects with just the instruments featured in the video: piano, cello, mouth percussion and kick drum.

After the enthusiastic reception of their Taylor Swift / Coldplay mashup, Schmidt and Nelson set out to do a hip-hop/classical remix. But when they couldn’t get permission to use the two tracks they had in mind — this right here, by the way, is a powerful and tragic testament to the brokenness of today’s copyright law and the need to find new ways to foster remix culture — they decided to create an original tune instead, weaving together inspirations from a handful of known influences, including Michael Jackson, Mozart and U2. The result is nothing short of magic.

If this has you hungry for more virtuoso mesmerism, you won’t be disappointed by Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang’s duet at the Royal Albert Hall in London or this fantastic take on Beethoven reimagined as jazz.

via Wimp

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

26 MAY, 2011

Follow For Now: A Time-Capsule of Contemporary Thought


What the changing guard of design has to do with evolutionary theories of network dynamics.

Much of today’s fixation on retrofuturism and the paleofuture meme has to do with the pleasure we take in fact-checking the visions and predictions of the past against the commonly agreed upon reality of the present. And while there’s an undeniable luster to the shiny jetpack visions of yesteryear’s gadget-dreaming, what I find even more fascinating are the cultural and intellectual movements that powered these visions. In Follow for Now: Interviews with Friends and Heroes, Roy Christopher collects over seven years’ worth of conversations with contemporary cultural luminaries, including TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, street artist and remix culture frontman Shepard Fairey, science fiction author Bruce Sterling, Brain Pickings favorite DJ Spooky and 39 more.

The book was originally published in 2007, which makes it a rare, paradoxical and infinitely fertile cross between sort-of-contemporary cultural critique of the present and near-prophetic time-capsule of the recent past, swiftly fluttering across disciplines and ideologies to deliver a powerful cross-pollinator of modern intellectual and creative curiosity.

I love Steven Johnson, so it’s no surprise his interview is one of my favorites. Here, he captures precisely where I stand on the debate on what the internet is doing to our brains and the future of information:

Popular culture, on average, has been growing more cognitively challenging over the past thirty years, not less. Despite everything you hear about declining standards and dumbing-down, you have to do more intellectual work to make sense of today’s television or games — much less the internet — than you did a few decades ago.” ~ Steven Johnson, No Bitmaps for These Territories

The time elapsed since the book’s publication makes it particularly fascinating to reverse-engineer how the ideas in recent popular books by these thinkers originally germinated. For instance, Albert-László Barabási‘s interview presages his excellent 2010 book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do:

For many decades we believed that networks are random. Whenever we had to face a very complex system, such as people are connected by social links (society), chemicals in the cell connected by chemical reactions, webpages connected by URLs, we assumed that the links are thrown randomly around. In the last few years, we learned that this is not the case. Instead, networks hide wonderful order and are described by rather rigid evolutionary laws. These laws lead to the emergence of hubs, nodes with an extraordinary large number of links, that partly dominate real networks but they also keep them together.” ~ Albert-László Barabási, Think Networks

And as a longtime fan of Shepard Fairey‘s (whose portrait of Blondie’s Debbie Harry is my favorite piece of art that I own), I enjoyed this 2002 peek inside his creative reservoir, pre-Obama notoriety.

I like people who blur the line between fine art and graphic design. There are a lot of people who have grown up with a lot of advertising and sensory over-stimulation from video games and MTV, who are making very smart and engaging art and graphics. I don’t know what to call this movement [but] I really think the changing of the guard in the art and design world is beginning.” ~ Shepard Fairey, Giant Steps

Relentlessly stimulating and insight-packed, Follow for Now is the kind of book I’d like to see published every decade, and devoured every subsequent decade, from now until the end of humanity.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

25 MAY, 2011

Content Is Queen: A Generative Portrait of Democracy


What YouTube favorites have to do with British royalty, David Hockney and the Grammys.

I’m relentlessly fascinated by generative art, especially when it offers more than mere gawk-worthy code-slinging to instead enlist algorithms in telling a human story or making compelling social commentary. That’s exactly what artist Sergio Albiac does in Content Is Queen — a remarkable generative painting, using the most popular videos on the web at any given time to paint a portrait of the Queen, playing on the paradoxical duality of tension and interdependence between populism and monarchy. (Coincidentally, a fine complement to the Ralph Waldo Emerson line of thinking earlier today.)

[This project] is a video art series of generative portraits that reflects on the foundations of democracy against the resilient nature of structures of power. At the same time, [it] is a paradoxical dialogue and strange marriage between the banal and the utterly majestic.” ~ Sergio Albiac

Albian uses an original technique he has developed, called “generative video painting.” Unlike previous takes on video collage, like David Hockney’s multi-POV collages or video mosaics like the recent GRAMMYs We’re All Fans project, Albiac’s approach uses selected regions of video content to “paint”” heterogeneous regions of the image, making both the partial content of the videos and the whole image fully visible at the same time.

via Etre

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

25 MAY, 2011

Past Objects: Excavated Curiosities from New York’s Forgotten Past


What landfills have to do with ivory craftsmanship and existential questions of impermanence.

Since 1969, Scott Jordan has been digging around New York City for buried treasures. More than four decades later, Jordan has turned the childhood hobby into a curious career as a self-trained historian and restorer at the intersection of history, archeology and urban scavenger hunting. In Past Objects, Jordan offers a fascinating look at the most interesting objects from his massive collection, which he has excavated using shovels, mesh sieves, canvas rucksacks, and sheer ingenuity from across New York’s five boroughs.

Jordan’s passion for strange and wonderful collectible remnants dates back to his childhood, when he and his brother used to roam the woods of Connecticut in search of fossils. When he was five, his family moved to NYC, which made him adamant not to become a “city kid.” So he simply repurposed his unusual hobby to his new urban surrounding and began his forty-year search for New York City’s past.

I daydream about what our present time will seem like to people in the future. How our landfills will be a great source of well-preserved materials forty, fifty, sixty feet down in the bread-loaf shaped mounds that we create. Its’ a strange thing to think that everything we know and see will come to pass, that our lives and everything we do and use every day will one day be old-fashioned and outdated.” ~ Scott Jordan

At once haunting and relentlessly fascinating, Past Objects is as much a journey into the past as it is an invitation to consider the footprint of the present, both for us as individuals and our culture as a civilization.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.