Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

05 AUGUST, 2015

Neil Armstrong’s Heartbeat and the Sound of Venus in a Beautiful Cover of Lennon’s “Oh My Love”

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A cosmic serenade to the human heart’s capacity for uncontainable emotion.

Music, Carl Sagan asserted as he sent the Golden Record into space, is “a creditable attempt to convey human emotions” — a sentiment at the heart of an uncommonly enchanting project by Berlin-based artist and space-lover Louise Gold. In the orchestration for her beautiful cover of John Lennon’s “Oh My Love,” she used a NASA recording of Neil Armstrong’s heartbeat during his trailblazing moon walk and the sound of Venus’s orbit, as captured by the Voyager spacecraft. Gold originally intended to transform the archival audio into a purely instrumental track — something that would capture what Armstrong must have felt upon stepping onto this unvisited world, a kind of serene elation she imagined to be “a bit like being in love with someone and finding out that this person loves you back.” But as she was working on the track, the universe winked — “Oh My Love” came on the radio. Although she had heard the song many times before, in that instant of creative receptivity, it came alive in a new way — as Lennon sang “everything is clear in my heart,” Gold instantly recognized the very feeling she was hoping to channel through Armstrong’s heartbeat.

There is something astoundingly poetic in the result, far beyond the sheer mesmerism of the music: Armstrong’s famous 1969 lunar proclamation — “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — bears the inexorable gendered language of an era that folded women into the universal “he,” and yet here is a woman reimagining the Lennon classic, reaching across time and space, by way of Venus, to add her voice to humanity’s musical legacy that the Voyager carried into the cosmos.

Complement with a breathtaking chamber orchestra arrangement for the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf, then revisit the story of Carl Sagan and the Golden Record.

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04 AUGUST, 2015

Blair Sets Emily Dickinson’s “Farewell” to Song Shortly Before His Death

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“And kiss the hills for me, just once…”

Perhaps because poetry, in the shimmering words of Elizabeth Alexander, “is the human voice,” something magical happens when musicians set beloved poems to song — from Natalie Merchant’s adaptations of Victorian nursery rhymes to Tin Hat’s songs based on e.e. cummings to The Wraiths’ musical celebration of William Blake.

One of the most unusual and wonderful such reimaginings comes from the late and great poet, musician, and activist David Blair, better known as Blair and aptly anointed by GLAAD as “a gay black Renaissance man.” Blair set Emily Dickinson’s poem “Farewell,” found in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson (public library), to song — acapella, no less — live at the Detroit Institute of Arts, filmed by Erik Proulx. Blair’s sudden death of heat stroke shortly after this performance, at the age of only forty-three, lends the poem a new solemn poignancy.

FAREWELL

Tie the strings to my life, my Lord,
Then I am ready to go!
Just a look at the horses—
Rapid! That will do!

Put me in on the firmest side,
So I shall never fall;
For we must ride to the Judgment,
And it’s partly down hill.

But never I mind the bridges,
And never I mind the sea;
Held fast in everlasting race
By my own choice and thee.

Good-by to the life I used to live,
And the world I used to know;
And kiss the hills for me, just once;
Now I am ready to go!

Complement with a very different musical adaptation of Dickinson by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur and these lovely illustrations of the celebrated poet’s work.

Thanks, Jonathan

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30 JULY, 2015

Neil Gaiman’s Philosophical Dream, in a Whimsical Animation Narrated by Amanda Palmer

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A weird and wonderful journey into the woodland of the subconscious.

“A dream can be so strange that it seems that another subject has come to dream with us,” philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed in his reflection on dreams and reverie. And yet our dream-selves and our waking selves are somehow the same person, linked by an even more mysterious continuity of consciousness than that between our childhood selves and our present selves. As scientists continue to probe the enigma of why we dream, we continue dreaming and interpreting our dreams, hoping to find in them answers to our greatest existential perplexities.

Beloved writer Neil Gaiman may be a sage of storytelling in his wakeful life and one of the most interesting people alive, but he is also a masterful weaver of whimsical, intensely interesting stories while asleep. Over the years, his wife — musician, patronage crusader, and friend-of-Brain-Pickings Amanda Palmer — has been his dutiful dreamkeeper. She regularly amuses herself by engaging half-asleep Neil in semi-sensical conversation, plunging into this unguarded rabbit hole into the surreal wonderland of his mind and writing down the best such conversations in a notepad.

One day, when she didn’t have paper on hand, Amanda slipped into the bathroom and quietly recounted a particularly fantastic dream of Neil’s in a voice memo. A year later, she discovered the recording on her phone. Newly enchanted by its whimsy, she decided to bring it to life in a short film, enlisting the help of her Patreon supporters, of whom I am proudly one. (All of Amanda’s work is freely offered and, like Brain Pickings, relies on audience support.)

She composed an original score and teamed up with animator Avi Ofer to create something utterly magical — something weird and whimsical and strangely philosophical, partway between that curious vintage children’s book about dreaming, illustrated by Freud’s eccentric cross-dressing niece, and Mark Strand’s beautiful poem “Dreams.” Please enjoy:

Complement with the science of dreams and why we have nightmares and the story of how Dostoyevsky discovered the meaning of life in a dream, then revisit Ofer’s wonderful animations of the fluid dynamics of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Jane Goodall’s remarkable life-story.

Join me in supporting Amanda on Patreon, where she has written about how this piece of magic came to be.

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13 JULY, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Transcendence of the Universe, Adapted in Jazz for Kids Based on “Saint James Infirmary”

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A love letter to the cosmos, in a cut-paper stop-motion musical animation.

“I know that I am mortal by nature and ephemeral,” Ptolemy marveled, “but when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies … I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia.” Eighteen centuries later, Neil deGrasse Tyson — Ptolemy’s contemporary counterpart — echoed the ancient astronomer as he reflected on the most astounding fact about the universe: “When I look up at the night sky and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe … the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, because they’re small, the Universe is big — but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.”

When Portland-based jazz pianist, singer-songwriter, and children’s music composer Lori Henriques came upon Tyson’s words, she was stirred to set his sentiment to song, using the captivating melody of “Saint James Infirmary,” which she had always wanted to incorporate into children’s music. The result is the infinitely delightful “When I Look Into The Night Sky,” found on Henriques’s science album for children, The World Is a Curious Place to Live (iTunes).

Complement The World Is a Curious Place to Live, which is an absolute treat in its totality, with Henriques’s marvelous jazz adaptation of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and her musical homage to Jane Goodall.

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.





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