Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

19 NOVEMBER, 2010

Sounds of HIV: Music Made of AIDS Virus Nucleotides


A few months ago, we spotlighted 7 fascinating experimental music projects, but this is positively the strangest album you’ll ever hear. And possibly one of the most conceptually ingenious. To draw attention to the AIDS epidemic, which claims more than 2 million lives every year, composer Alexandra Pajak decided to capture the “sonic beauty” deep in the genome of the virus. Sounds of HIV “plays” the patterns of the AIDS virus nucleotides and amino acids transcribed by HIV in 17 eerie, mesmerizing tracks.

To create the recording, Pajak used the National Institutes of Health’s record of the retrovirus’ genome to identify the thousands of coded letters transcribed onto DNA once a cell is infected. She then assigned specific pitches to the 20 amino acids manufactured in an infected human cell, ordering them according to their affinity for water. To reflect the profound sadness of the disease, Pajak composed the work in the A minor scale and meticulously double-checked that each of the 9,181 nucleotide-notes was in the right place.

Just knowing that the disease is so devastating and personal, I just wanted to make sure all the notes were right.” ~ Alexandra Pajak

Proceeds from Sounds of HIV benefit breakthroughs in HIV vaccine research at Emory Vaccine Center.

via SciAm

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16 NOVEMBER, 2010

Jay-Z’s Decoded: A Real-Life Rags-to-Riches Story


Sure, it’s overpublicized. And, sure, it’s overpopculturized. Between the Bing push and the Andy Warhol cover art, Jay-Z’s autobiography (the genre seems to be a recurring theme today) runs a high risk of being overhyped. But overexposure aside, Decoded, out today, is a candid memoir that offers a rare first-hand account of a modern rags-to-riches story.

As part of the Bing promotion, 300 pages of the book were placed in the streets where the events they describe actually took place, for fans to locate and decode. So far, 298 of the 300 pages have been released, found and deciphered.

When you’re famous and say you’re writing a book, people assume that it’s an autobiography — I was born here, raised there, suffered this, loved that, lost it all, got it back, the end. But that’s not what this is. I’ve never been a linear thinker, which is something you can see in my rhymes. They follow the jumpy logic of poetry and emotion, not the straight line of careful prose. My book is like that, too.” ~ Jay-Z

When I first started working on this book, I told my editor that I wanted it to do three important things. The first was to make the case that hip-hop lyrics-not just my lyrics, but those of every great MC-are poetry if you look at them closely enough. The second was I wanted the book to tell a little bit of the story of my generation, to show the context for the choices we made at a violent and chaotic crossroads in recent history. And the third piece was that I wanted the book to show how hip-hop created a way to take a very specific and powerful experience and turn it into a story that everyone in the world could feel and relate to.” ~ Jay-Z

The tome is also an aesthetic masterpiece, designed by Steve Attardo:

While expectations of profound existential insight might fall flat, you may find yourself immersed in the fascinating non-linear narrative of Decoded and emerge with a more intimate, faceted understanding of a world whose media representation is wrapped in and warped by superficiality and bling-glam.

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15 NOVEMBER, 2010

Andrew Zuckerman’s Powerful Portraits of Music Icons


What the power of curiosity has to do with the most universal human language.

We’re longtime fans of photographer Andrew Zuckerman. Last year, he brought us Wisdom — an absolutely beautiful, both aesthetically and conceptually, book and film capturing profound existential insights by 50 of our time’s greatest writers, artists, philosophers, politicians, designers, activists, musicians, religious and business leaders over the age of 65. This year, we’ve been anxiously awaiting his latest project and it has finally arrived: Music — a fascinating journey into the souls of 50 of today’s greatest living music icons.

The book, a breathtaking hardcover beauty, features portraits of the 50 musicians — including Yoko Ono, Common, David Crosby, Ani DiFranco, Ben Gibbard, Philip Glass, Herbie Hancock, Karen O, Kid Rock, Lenny Kravitz and Iggy Pop — photographed in Zuckerberman’s signature style of intimate closeups on crisp white background, alongside interviews that reveal everything from their creative process to intimate insight into their relationship with music and the world.

My curiosity, I think, is the thing that drives everything.” ~ Herbie Hancock

Of all the languages that human beings use to communicate with each other, [music] is the language which is the most eloquent and the most universal.” ~ Philip Glass

Each copy of the book comes with a unique code for downloading the companion film, which features beautifully shot, deeply moving interviews with the 50 music icons:

Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music. And I will never have enough time to know what I want to know and to be able to contribute what I possibly could. So, I keep working at it.” ~ John Williams

The project even comes as an iPad app, for a touch of smart transmedia storytelling.

Zuckerman recently spoke at the excellent Creative Mornings series by Swiss Miss. Keep an eye out on their Vimeo channel, where his talk — a guaranteed blockbuster — should appear shortly.

The impressive behind-the-scenes footage demonstrates just how much work, thought and creativity went into the project:

Zuckerman’s work remains a Brain Pickings favorite and Music is among the best books you could give, get and indulge in this holiday season. Do.

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.

11 NOVEMBER, 2010

East + West + Gershwin: Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang Perform Rhapsody In Blue


Herbie Hancock, one of America’s great jazz pianists, landed on the jazz scene in the early 1960s, starting out with Miles Davis, and then working as a solo musician who released his great jazz standards — Cantaloupe Island and Watermelon Man. Thirty years later, and across a big ocean, Lang Lang, the Chinese concert pianist, takes the stage. Only 13, he wins the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, and then quickly starts dazzling Western audiences with performances of Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky.

Finally, the two musicians, the two musical worlds, meet in 2009. Performing at the Royal Albert Hall in London, along with the Philharmonia Orchestra, Hancock and Lang Lang work their way through Debussy, Ravel and then, appropriately enough, George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

The jazz concerto. Jazz inflections layered onto a classical composition. A perfect meeting in the middle.

Dan Colman edits Open Culture, which brings you the best free educational media available on the web — free online courses, audio books, movies and more. By day, he directs the Continuing Studies Program at Stanford University, and you can also find him on Twitter.

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