Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘media’

06 JANUARY, 2011

Sound Unbound: DJ Spooky Explores Remix Culture

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We’re big proponents of remix culture as the great enabler and cross-pollinator of creativity. Musician, producer, filmmaker and author Paul D. Miller, better-known as DJ Spooky, is one of remix culture’s most vocal and avid beacons, a rare champion of both its creative practice and its sociopolitical theory. In Sound Unbound, he curates a provocative and intelligent collection of essays drawing on the last 500 years of collaborative creation across music, art and literature and tracing everything from the history of stop-motion photography to Muslim influences on early hip-hop.

From an introduction by BoingBoing co-founder and open culture advocate Cory Doctorow to Brian Eno‘s exploration of the history of bells in Europe as a regulator of time to an investigation of the evolution of copyright law by Google’s senior legal counsel, the book features a wide and fascinating spectrum of texts by 36 of today’s most compelling, controversial and creative thinkers on remix culture.

Accompanying the book is a 45-track collage of a CD featuring fantastic, unexpected remixes blending rare historical recordings with modern music to deliver gems like “The Western Land” (William S. Burroughs and Iggy Pop with Techno Animal), “Erratum Musical (Score for Three Voices)/Voyage for Three” (Marcel Duchamp/George Lewis and Aki Takase) and “Eolian Episode/Gnossiene” (James Joyce/Erik Satie).

You can sample audio clips from it here, here and here, and catch an exclusive interview with DJ Spooky about the project.

As an artist, I’m a gatherer of personalities. I like pulling together radically different people and seeing what everybody has to say, and just kind of let it be a social sculpture.” ~ DJ Spooky

Sound Unbound is as much a research project into humanity’s propensity for non-linear thinking and co-creation as it is bold affirmation for the democratization of media and what we call combinatorial creativity.

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06 JANUARY, 2011

The History of Forgotten Phenomena: RIP Cliff Doerksen

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What award-winning journalism has to do with the hallucinations and the history of mince pie.

Cliff Doerksen, who wrote for the Chicago Reader and contributed to This American Life, died last month at the age of 47. Doerksen covered all kinds of topics — film, fatherhood, the wonders of old newspaper clippings — but his epic reports on long-forgotten phenomena read unlike anything else you’ll encounter in a newspaper. Here’s Ira Glass on Doerksen’s storytelling style:

Hanging out with Cliff for an evening meant that now and then he’d ease his way into a long story. It could be the history of some movie, or some cultural trend. It could be something from the history of radio, about which I knew nothing and Cliff seemed to know everything—he even wrote a book on the subject. Often it was just a story from the office, all the characters rendered with a great eye for detail and a delightfully mean ear for dialogue. He was a far better storyteller than me. Sure, on the radio, with the benefit of editing and background music, I could hold my own. But in person, after dinner, it was no contest. He kicked my ass. He could kick yours too.” ~ Ira Glass

Each of Doerksen’s long features is worthwhile, but start with these two:

“When Zion Ruled the Airwaves” tells this history of WCBD, one of the most powerful stations in the country during the early days of radio. WCBD broadcast from Zion, Ill., a fundamentalist Christian enclave just north of Chicago, and built its audience with “programming that combined faith healing, classical music, sentimental Victorian parlor ballads, fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist preaching, and zealous advocacy of the notion that the earth is flat.”

“The Real American Pie” is an award-winning history of mince pie. Once considered more American than the apple variety, mince pie was a culinary staple despite the fact that nearly everyone who ate it agreed that the dish “reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death.”

For more of Doerksen’s writing, check out his Chicago Reader archive.

Max Linsky is a journalist, the co-founder of Longform.org, and an enthusiastic supporter of Jewish professional athletes.

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28 DECEMBER, 2010

Susan Sontag: A Trifecta Remembrance

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What frontpage news has to do with graphic design and the craftsmanship of the self.

Today marks the 6th anniversary of the death of Susan Sontag, one of my big intellectual heroes and favorite authors. From her seminal treatise On Photography, required reading in any serious photography class around the world, to her poignant observations on human suffering in Regarding the Pain of Others to her status as an honorary citizen of Sarajevo due to her relentless activism during the Sarajevo Siege of the mid-90s, Sontag’s cultural legacy is as far-reaching as it is wide-spanning.

Today, I take a moment to remember her with three essential cultural artifacts that celebrate her work and capture her spirit — an interview, an essay and an animated short fim.

THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEW

Earlier this year, the iconic Paris Review opened up its archive to make available half a century worth of interviews with literary legends and cultural luminaries. In the journal’s 137th issue, published in the winter of 1995, Susan Sontag gives a priceless interview that reveals more of her countless facets than any other public inquiry into her rich, fascinating persona.

Of course I thought I was Jo in Little Women. But I didn’t want to write what Jo wrote. Then in Martin Eden I found a writer-protagonist with whose writing I could identify, so then I wanted to be Martin Eden—minus, of course, the dreary fate Jack London gives him. I saw myself as (I guess I was) a heroic autodidact. I looked forward to the struggle of the writing life. I thought of being a writer as a heroic vocation.” ~ Susan Sontag

DESIGN OBSERVER REMEMBERS

The day after Sontag passed away in 2004, Design Observer founder Bill Drenttel wrote a thoughtful and personal essay on his experience of knowing Sontag as her son’s close friend and how her keen intellectual curiosity applied to the essence of the design profession.

Susan was the most intelligent person I have ever met. She was intense, challenging, passionate. She listened in the same way that she read: acutely and closely. There was little patience for a weak argument. She assumed, often wrongly, that you possessed a general level of knowledge that would challenge even most college-educated professionals. She assumed you knew a lot and that you were interested in everything precisely because she was so interested in everything. Anything less left her unsatisfied, and, as she would not suffer fools, she wanted every encounter to be one in which she learned something.” ~ William Drenttel

REGARDING THE PAIN OF OTHERS

Regarding the Pain of Others was Sontag’s final book, published a few months before her death in 2004. In what’s partly a sequel to On Photography, a quarter century later, partly a tremendously important larger conversation about the role of visual media in war. In it, Sontag sets out to answer the quintessential question posed in Virginia Woolf’s book Three Guineas: “How in your opinion are we to prevent war?”

This simple yet beautifully crafted and powerful short animation, narrated by Sontag herself, uses the single most universal touchpoint with war — mass media — as a raw visual metaphor for the cultural criticism at the heart of Sontag’s book: Our media-driven desensitization and diminished capacity for empathy towards those truly suffering in the world.

BONUS

On Self is a priceless selection of Sontag’s private journal entries, first published in New York Times Magazine in 2006. It offers a rare glimpse of Sontag’s “four selves,” revealing the meticulous craftsmanship of her public persona and the raw tenderness of her private self. For more of that, see the excellent Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947–1963.

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