Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

25 MAY, 2010

Strange Sounds: 7 Experimental Projects Making Music from Natural Elements


Solar-powered guitars, salty vocals, and what bonsai has to do with liquid music for the deaf.

Yesterday, we challenged what art creation means in the context of experimental media. Today, we’re turning to music, spotlighting seven unorthodox ways to create and think about “music” and the art of sound.


Steve Mann, founder of MIT’s Wearable Computers Group, may be better-known as “the world’s first cyborg”, but he is also a passionate sound experimenter. His latest invention, the hydraulophone, is a mellifluous, highly tactile instrument that, Mann hopes, could offer a new self-expression platform for music creation for the deaf and blind — the skills required for reading Braille, it turns out, are quite similar to those required for playing the hydraulophone.


California-based artist Diego Stocco is a master of sound abstraction. A sound designer and composer, he creates unusual sound experiences using anything from everyday objects to contraptions he builds from scratch. From outfitting a tree with a stethoscope, a plastic pipe and a microphone, to blending an old piano with the sounds of sunset, his work has a beautiful nature-grounded quality to it whilst really pushing the technologies and conception of modern sound design.

Follow Diego’s latest experimentation on SoundCloud and keep an eye on his Vimeo channel for even more neo-musical goodness.


French artist and composer Céleste Boursier-Mougenot creates sound by drawing on the rhythms of daily life in unexpected ways. In her installation for the Barbican Centre in London, she placed a flock of zebra finches in an aviary equipped with electric guitars and other instruments, creating a technological playground for nature’s lo-fi songsters. As the birds go about their ordinary business, perching on the various pieces of equipment, they inadvertently create curious soundscapes.


Sound designer, instrument builder, and singer Meara O’Reilly intersects art and science as she explores the fringes of auditory percetion. In her Chaldini Singing project, inspired by the famous scientist’s 18th- and 19th-century experiments, she creates songs based on sequences of patterns of salt scattered on a metal plate.


The Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which we first featured a couple of years ago, is all about the music of Carrot Top. No, the other carrot top. Since 1998, the Austrian alt-music getup has been play anything you can buy at your local farmer’s market and has even released a couple of albums.


When we first saw Felix Thorn and his incredible machines at TED last summer, it made us unable to look at a broom and a colander the same way again. Under Felix’s Machines, the 24-year-old Brit performs on a fascinating instrument made of household objects like candle holders and shower caddies. His experimental music plays with synchronized light and sound, aiming to remove the human performer.


From musician and composer Craig Colorusso comes an unusual take on one of the decade’s most buzz-worthy technologies: solar panels. Sun Boxes is “an environment to enter and exit” — an installation of 20 speakers powered by solar panels, with a different guitar sample in each box adding to the cumulative composition, encouraging participants to walk among them and experience the dimensional soundscape.

The sound the installation produces is absolutely haunting and eerily hypnotic, like the breath of the desert itself.

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.

21 MAY, 2010

Music Philosophy: Famous Lyrics as Typographic Art


Love is all you need, worry vs. laughter, and why Plato’s got nothing on Jay Z.

Music is the quintessential vehicle for modern philosophy, a poetic gateway into our most deepest existential truths and sincerest beliefs. Add to it the visual treat of superb art direction, and you’ve got a powerhouse of cerebral-creative indulgence. That’s exactly what UK-based designer Mico Toledo does in his wonderful Music Philosophy project, bringing together three of our favorite things — music, philosophy and typography — in weekly typographic renditions of famously profound song quotes.

From Judy Garland to Jay Z, by way of Lennon and Dylan, the project captures in the minimalism of lyrical candor what ancient philosophers did in voluminous tomes — the timeless human quests for love, happiness and the meaning of life. And, okay, rock’n’roll.

The posters look fantastic as iPhone wallpaper — you can grab them for free right from the site. And for the t-shirt aficionados among us, some of the quotes are available on screen-printed tees.

See more of Toledo’s work on his Flickr stream. And if there’s a song lyric you’d like immortalized, you can submit it for consideration.

via Coudal

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.

20 MAY, 2010

Remix Culture Spotlight: Walking on Eggshells


What legal anachronism has to do with Bob Dylan, Picasso and Family Guy.

We’re big proponents of remix culture here because at the core of our mission lies the idea that creativity is merely the ability to combine all the existing pieces in our head — knowledge, memory, inspiration — into incredible new things. Last year, we featured a brilliant panel with Shepard Fairey and CreativeCommons founder Lawrence Lessig titled Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, followed closely by the excellent documentary RiP: A Remix Manifesto.

Today, we bring you Walking on Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age — a new documentary from Yale Law & Technology, offering 24 densely compelling minutes of insight into various facets of intellectual property in the age of remix. From appropriation to sampling to creative influence to reuse, the film is an anthology of conversations with some of today’s most notable remix artists and media theorists, exposing the central paradox of contemporary copyright law: How can something originally intended to incentivize people to create serve to hinder new forms of creativity?

You’re not gonna tell me ‘oh, that’s not creative because you’re using someone’s sampled piano note’ There’s no question that at some point using other people’s recordings is 100% your creativity, and at some points it’s 0% your creativity. Then it’s even trickier because sometimes it’s just this recognition — you recognize that this fits, and isn’t that recognition something amazing that maybe no one else recognized?” ~ DJ Earworm

Let’s just take Bob Dylan or somebody like that, whom we take for granted. Does he have a grocery list, an inventory of all of his influences, all the people he has plagiarized and taken from and sampled? These are things that are part of creativity. They are previous things, previous artworks, previous entities. They already exist. Nothing comes out of your ear, out of thin air.” ~ Joy Garnett

For those of us living on the remix side of things, the film’s thesis is hardly groundbreaking. But what makes it important is that it adds another voice to one of the most necessary and urgent creative conversations of our time, building on a narrative that will continue to bend an antiquated law until it breaks and makes room for a more inclusive, era-appropriate conception of creativity.

via GOOD

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.