Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

25 SEPTEMBER, 2008

You Better Believe It

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Why we drink, scandal!, the world’s most expensive clock, theft-worthy animation, what Radiohead and Goldfrapp have in common, and how diarrhea can save the planet.

LIFE & BEER, EXPLAINED

Enough said.


Inspired by the ever-amusing Indexed blog — if you’re not already familiar, we strongly suggest you fix that cultural mistake ASAP.

I’M A MAC, AND I’M A MAC POSING AS A PC

The horror! The scandal! You know those annoying new “PC Pride” TV spots for Microsoft that attempted to shove the Seinfeld fiasco under the carpet? Well, an overzealous conspiracy theorist decided to look at the EXIF information of the campaign photos sent to the media — that’s the little piece of file information that shows what program the file was created in.

Guess what — those Microsoft ads were made on…gasp…a Mac. And if you think Microsoft and Crispin, their ad agency, have the relationship equivalent of a Catholic priest caught with his pants down at a gay bar, it gets worse. Turns out, Dell’s agency, Enfatico, did the exact same thing with their client’s campaign. Except in their case, those Macs were actually bought on the Dell dollar.

And just when we thought no one could out-whore-out the ever-irreverent Improv Everywhere…who actually revered quite quickly at the sight of corporate bling.

via Tribble Ad Agency

WE EAT TIME FOR BREAKFAST

Speaking of Seinfeld, here’s something that sounds like one of Kramer’s ideas but is, in fact, completely real:

Corpus Chromophage

One of our heroes, brilliant physicist Stephen Hawking, has just unveiled the world’s strangest clock. Called

Chronophage, which means “time-eater,” the beastly time-keeper cost $2 million and was developed over 5 years in Cambridge’s Corpus Christi College by Dr. John Taylor, a renowned inventor and horologist.

Its shtick: It has no hands — time is displayed by a series of blue LED lights illuminating the 24-carat gold surface through various slits and lenses. The design itself was inspired by the work of legendary innovator John Harrison, who came up with the “grasshopper escapement” mechanism almost 300 years ago.

The clock is only accurate every five minutes, but is wired up to an electric motor that will keep it running for the next 25 years.

We’re fascinated by the idea of a device that captures the relativity of time and how its passage mercilessly eats away at our lives. That, and we like shiny things.

via BBC Technology

AND THEN THERE WAS FLASHLIGHT

On the cool-LED-stuff note, we’re obsessed with chronophage art collective PIKA PIKA. They make abstract animation using LED flashlights, which “draw” an image by tracing its outline over and over. Their movement is recorded in a series of photographs using long exposures, which are then spliced together into an animated sequence.

In 2005, the team was invited to a conference, where they presented the back-end of how the animation worked. They noticed that the audience of people interested in the concept was incredibly diverse, so they came up with a way to make the animation more interactive and inclusive, recruiting audience members in its production.

PIKA PIKA Today, PIKA PIKA films are made by that audience: Each person gets a flashlight and becomes a part of the animation. The films have since traveled the world and won various awards across a number of art and film festivals.

So that’s where Sprint stole the idea from.

SOLAR-POWERED MUSIC

From one cool audience-made light-employing video to another: After Radiohead’s In Rainbows fan-made video contest, a Goldfrapp fan got inspired to animate the track “Lovely Head” from their first album.

It’s essentially a visualization of the sound data, with the lyrics superimposed, producing the visual equivalent of what we’d imagine goes on in one’s brain when listening to the track on psychedelic drugs.

It was made through a process that’s way over our head, which makes us dig it all the more. It also reminds us of binary data sculptor Paul Prudence his video stream data visualizations.

via Coudal

BEYOND THE WC

And since we’re getting into things way over our head, here’s something that blows everything else out of the water. Or, as it just so happens, out of the oil.

Plastic-Producing E. coli

Scientists have developed a new strain of that same pant-pooping E. coli bacterium that can make butanediol (BDO), the material used in stuff like spandex, car bumpers and plastic cups, from scratch. Which basically means they can make plastic without using oil or natural gas, taking a huge energy load off the current plastic production methods.

That’s what we call research-grant-justifying progress. (Unlike, say, the one that measured methane emissions from farting cows.)

Now, if they can only get them to make tacos…

via PSFK

18 SEPTEMBER, 2008

Globe-Trotting Goodness

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The big picture gets bigger, P2P filesharing gets legal, why the Japanese are better smilers than us, what Kentucky and Lithuania have in common, and how to replace the White House with a potato.

EARTH IS IN THE AIR

Today, we tour the world of ideas by touring the world of, well, the world — and we start our cultural journey in France, with photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

His entire body of work comes from an incredibly inspired humanistic and planetarian perspective, but we’re particularly taken with his project Earth From Above, a collection of 500,000 breathtaking aerial photographs shot across 100 countries on 6 continents. (You may recall our fascination with aerial photography from the Birdseye Visionaire special issue a while back.)

Each photograph in Earth From Above includes a caption by an expert on sustainable development, making the bigger picture all the clearer: the world is a precious, fragile being whose beauty and heritage we must try our hardest to preserve.

In Holland, for example, chemicals have seeped into the water and are causing a deterioration of the soil, endangering the 5-century-old tradition of flowering bulbs and The Netherlands’ astonishing crop of over 800 tulip varieties.

In 2005, Yann Arthus-Bertrand founded GoodPlanet.org, a nonprofit aimed at promoting and educating about sustainable development across the world through various creative projects.

Our favorite: the Alive Exhibition, a collection of stunning photographs that raise awareness about biodiversity and the need to look beyond our own species in caring for the planet.

MUSIC GOES DUTCH

Next, we move a little north towards those tulip-covered lands of Holland, where we take a look at up-and-coming Dutch indie rock band Silence Is Sexy.

Besides loving their sound — it’s distinctly unique, yet somehow makes us think of what would happen if Thom Yorke sang to the beats of Coldplay with the lyrical sensibility of Vampire Weekend — we have tremendous respect for their industry-revolutionizing choice of distribution.

We’ve long been singing the same old song about how the music industry’s business model is undergoing massive tectonic shifts. Now, Silence Is Sexy are joining our choir — their new album, This Ain’t Hollywood, was just released as a free, legal download on peer-to-peer torrent network Mininova.

Mininova actually has a powerful, free Content Distribution service aimed at doing just that: Helping indie artists and filmmakers discover new audiences, and helping musicologists discover up-and-coming acts.

Take that, Steve Jobs.

via Mininova Blog

KEYBOARD SAYS CHEESE

In honor of brilliant Japanese director Nagi Noda, who passed away at the pitiful age of 35 last week, we bring you a more obscure piece of Japanese culture you probably never knew about: Japanese smileys. These little weirdos are Japan’s answer to the sideways smileys that we all know (and often abuse), invented by Scott Fahlman in 1982.

Japanese Smileys Unlike those, Japanese smileys are read upright and their method of interpretation has a stronger focus on the expression of the eyes — which makes a lot of sense, since we remember from behavioral psych class that much of human emotion is indicated by the muscles surrounding the eye, just like we’re wired to distinguish a genuine smile — also known as a Duchenne smile — from a fake one through the presence (or absence) of those small crows-feet wrinkles in the outer corner of the eyes.

Most Japanese smileys can be created with a Western keyboard and your usual UTF-8 character set. For ones you can start texting to your friends immediately, check out this list. Meanwhile, a few of our favorites:

(^_^) Hi

(#^_^#) Blushing

(-¡-)y-~~~~ Smoke a cigarette

((+_+)) Ummmh

o(^-^o)(o^-^)o o(^-^o)(o^-^)o Dancing

(^_^)/~~ Bye

via Google Blogoscoped

ACCENT ON THE U

Are feeling all worldly and cultured yet? Don’t let it get to your head — let the good folks of Language Trainers Group show you who’s who with the Accent Game, an interactive quiz that puts your knowledge of different accents to the test: Folks from across the globe read Rudyard Kipling to you, then ask you to guess where they come from.

It’s harder than you think — take it from us and our ego-devastating score. Think you know a Finish accent from a Norwegian one, or Lithuanian from Estonian?

Don’t think you’ll get away with just the country, either. After each correct guess, you’re drilled on the country region the person comes from — Kentucky vs. Chicago may be on the easy side, but let’s see you do Cape Town vs. Pretoria or York vs. Birmingham.

And if you’re reaching for the map just reading this, shame on you and your middle school geography teacher.

via Very Short List

THE WORLD IN THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

Eifel TowerWe’ll wrap up with an ultimate culture-crosser: Since 1999, London-born, Berlin-based photographer Michael Hughes has been trekking the world and dabbling in the simple wonders of perception — his collection Souvenirs playfully replaces some of the world’s greatest landmarks with their toy replicas using nothing but a camera and some strategic perspective.

In much of the collection, Hughes’ subtle and not-so-subtle snark comes through — like the image of the Trabant car model, a brand synonymous with all the ills that lurked behind the Iron Curtain, seemingly bursting through the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Souvenirs is part of an ongoing book project, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye on Hughes. Meanwhile, we got the sudden urge to go photo-replace the White House with a potato.

via Very Short List

15 SEPTEMBER, 2008

Hidden Music Top 3

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Dr. House gets down, web design goes hip hop, and your salad performs at Carnegie Hall.

IT’S NOT LUPUS, BUT IT’S GOOD

For the most part, we have nothing but contempt for today’s tabloid-driven, paparazzi-infested, mind-blowingly superficial celebrity culture. So when we stumble across celebrities who surprise us with true talent and unexpected substance, we can’t help digging.

Plus, we love House.

We’re talking, of course, about The Band from TV — a multi-talented lineup of Hollywood A-listers (and, okay, some reality show B-listers) including drummer Greg Grunberg (of Heroes, Alias and Felicity fame), guitarist James Denton (Desperate Housewives), vocalists Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives), Bonnie Somerville (Cashmere Mafia), and Bob Guiney (The Bachelor), violinist Jesse Spencer (House), plus a few more musically talented actors, and our favorite: Dr. House himself, the ever-talented, agelessly hot Hugh Laurie on the keyboards.

These guys rock it out on stage like you wouldn’t believe it. And although they don’t have any full-length studio albums yet, you can catch them on the House soundtrack — for the ultimate Laurie in all his glorie, you know.

Any profit they make goes to a number of charities that hit close to home for some of the band members and their families. (Greg Grunberg’s son has epilepsy and Teri Hatcher is living with lifelong childhood trauma.)

We recently heard BFTV’s mean cover of the The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” — and we’re believers.

DROP IT LIKE IT’S CODE

Musical talent hides where you least expect it. Just ask Mo Serious, the Poetic Prophet a.k.a. SEO Rapper — he’s not your average code-wrangling designer.

He’ll teach you all about CSS, web standards and proper design practice with lovably cheesy hip-hop beats and rhymes delivered straight from the trenches of your typical cubicle farm.

Because, you know, ain’t no street cred in rapping about the ghetto if you don’t live there, yo.

Gotta give it to the man for original lyrics like “Everyone will wanna follow you like Twitter” and “client satisfied like they eating on a Snicker.”

Also great: the two seemingly unfazed cubicle ladies going about their cubicle day in the background.

THE OTHER CARROT TOP

Ok, so we’ve learned music can be in your TV and in your CSS. One more place it can be: your kitchen. Enter the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, a symphony performing solely on vegetables.

Vegetable Orchestra: Remixed Carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, leek-zucchini-vibrators, cucumberophones, celery bongos, you name it (and eat it), they play it. The orchestra, founded 10 years ago in — you guessed it — Vienna plays across a number of genres: contemporary music, beat-oriented house tracks, experimental electronic, freestyle jazz, noise (we can see that one), dub, and more.

We must say their music is rather… interesting. (Just a heads-up: our 8th grade English teacher used to say that “interesting is what you call an ugly baby” — we concur on this one.)

And while we encourage you to look for yourself, we’ll take our asparagus grilled for now.

12 SEPTEMBER, 2008

Retro Blast

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Saggy superheroes, dance lessons from James Brown, what chickens have to do with the roots of hip hop, how to fix all your marriage troubles, and why Springfield, MO is a nerd hotspot.

SUPERSENIORS

Let’s face it, we’re all headed for the nursing home. Superheroes included. And despite all those “aging gracefully” shenanigans, we don’t think there’s anything particularly super about old age.

Luckily, Italian cartoonist Donald Soffritti is there to put some funny in the grim prospect of it all.

In his line of senior superhero illustrations, he shows Iron Man’s discrediting golf habit, Wonderwoman’s so-not-Madonna arms, and what happens when Aquaman forgets the dentures at home, among other don’t-really-wanna-see-but-can’t-help-looking stuff.

Quick, before you choke on the potent combination of hilarity and gag reflex, rinse your eyes out with the reglorifying stuff of our Superhero Superdose issue.

>>> via Comunicadores

DANCE LIKE A LEGEND

Speaking of cultural legends, life… well, death, really… sure did a number on the one, the only James Brown. We hate seeing a living legend grow old — first arthritis steals the swagger, then before you know it, they stop being, well, living.

So when the Godfather of Soul went down at the Apollo last year, it was an acid rain on our holiday parade. Good thing YouTube was there to lift us out of our mourning by reviving Mr. Dynamite from those most dynamitous days, full of energy and ready to show Soulja Boy who’s who.

Watch the great James Brown teach you some dance moves you won’t see in your Hip Hop Abs fitness class.

Now that’s a blast from the past that puts the present to shame.

>>> via Very Short List

THE ROOTS OF THE ROOTS

But if hip hop really is your thing, you might as well learn a thing or two about the genre’s own heritage and origin — who knew it had to do with chickens. Straight from the source:

Courtesy of the folks at Nokia N-Series. (Remember when we said Nokia was the underdog to keep an eye on?)

FDA SAYS OMG WTF

Speaking of advertising and the past, we’re continually befuddled by the level of idiotic pseudo-PC stuff drowning today’s advertising. (A Snickers commercial pulled off the air for being too “homophobic” springs to mind.) One thing’s for sure: today’s regulatory bodies would have a field day with the ads of yore.

Thanks to Weirdomatic’s Old Creepy Ads collection, we can gawk at sedated elderly people (Senile agitation? Pop gramps some Thorazine.), sedated children (Forget Adderall, Nembutal is the name of the game.), self-butchering pigs, the long-lost cousin of the Geico cavemen, and — divorce lawyers behold — the solution to all marriage problems: a bit of Lysol you-know-where.

The irony: Some of these products, along with the delightfully absurd cheesiness they’re framed in, are all to reminiscent of, say, late-night informercials today. Hey, we’re already plotting bringing back the Beauty Micrometer as an As Seen on TV hit.

>>> via Very Short List

PAC MAN & CO

It’s not like the olden days don’t have their nostalgic appeal. Who doesn’t love nerdy retro games?

And if you happen to love them enough to go out of your way, consider a place that’s just there: Springfield, Missouri. That’s where you’ll find the 1984 Arcade, a wonderland of classic games from Asteroids to Zaxxon.

The arcade is particularly famed for its glorious pinball machines, already an endangered species in retroland. You can even book an event there — how’s that for an unforgettable all-you-can-play birthday party for your neo-nerd friend?

So put on your acid-wash high-waist jeans, unleash the big hair, and head over for some nostalgic revival of that era — as far as “best of the 80’s” type of stuff goes, VH1 has nothing on the 1984 Arcade.