Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘remix’

19 OCTOBER, 2012

Sailing to Byzantium: 13 Songs Based on the Poetry of W. B. Yeats

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“A pity beyond all telling / Is hid in the heart of love”

The intersection of music and literature is an enchanting place — from Tin Hat’s 17 songs based on the poetry of e. e. cummings to Emily Dickinson’s poetry set to song by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur to Natalie Merchant’s soulful musical adaptations of Victorian children’s poetry, and even my ongoing Literary Jukebox side project. Now comes Sailing to Byzantium (iTunes) by jazz vocalist and composer Christine Tobin, a collection of thirteen songs — some soothing, some disquieting, some cinematic, all spellbindingly soulful — based on the poetry of W. B. Yeats.

Thanks, @Aleatorus

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11 OCTOBER, 2012

A Message to Humanity: Charlie Chaplin’s Iconic Speech, Remixed

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“We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery.”

From the same remix artist who brought us yesterday’s Alan Watts meditation on the meaningful life comes “A Message for all of Humanity” — a stirring mashup of Charlie Chaplin’s famous speech from The Great Dictator and scenes of humanity’s most tragic and most hopeful moments in recent history, spanning everything from space exploration to the Occupy protests, with an appropriately epic score by Hans Zimmer.

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible; Jew, Gentile, black men, white. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls; has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge as made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in man; cries out for universal brotherhood; for the unity of us all.

Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women, and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me, I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people. And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men—machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have a love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate; the unloved and the unnatural.

Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty! In the seventeenth chapter of St. Luke, it’s written “the kingdom of God is within man”, not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy, let us use that power.

Let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill their promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people! Now let us fight to fulfill that promise! Let us fight to free the world! To do away with national barriers! To do away with greed, with hate and intolerance! Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.

Soldiers, in the name of democracy, let us all unite!

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10 OCTOBER, 2012

Transformation as Authorship: From Igor Stravinsky to Philip Glass by Way of Disney and Beck

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On incremental change and “unresisting imbecility.”

As a proponent of combinatorial creativity and remix as a tool of innovation, I am always fascinated by how famous creators think about inspiration, influence, and the origin of ideas, recognizing their combinatorial nature — and how bystander critics often dismiss these creative transmutations with terms as derisive as “recreativity.”

Catherine Opie for The New York Times

In a recent New York Times conversation about their forthcoming collaborative record celebrating the composer’s 75th birthday, Philip Glass and Beck explore the line between mere reworking and originality by way of transformation:

BECK: I love that story you told me, it was the first time we met, we were talking about the remix project. And someone had done a cello piece of yours, and then when you went to go see it, you didn’t recognize it.

GLASS: It was Arthur Russell. And he was a very good cellist. I was doing a theater piece for the Mabou Mines, it was some Beckett piece, and I wrote him a cello piece, and he liked the work and was playing it. And I came back about three months later, and I heard it and I said, ‘Arthur, that’s beautiful, but what happened to the piece?’ And he said, ‘No, no, that is what you wrote,’ and I said, ‘Arthur, it’s no longer what I wrote, it’s your piece now.’ And he thought I was being upset, he apologized and I said, ‘No, no, no, I think we should put you down as the composer.’ He had reached the point of transformation. The incremental changes had turned it into this other thing. I love the fact that he did that. And I love the fact that he didn’t know that he did it.

This notion of iteration and incremental change is, in fact, an essential piece of the history of innovation — and yet it’s much less glamorous and bombastic than the Eureka! myth of ideation, which can lead many to dismiss it entirely.

Glass’s remarks reminded me of something I recently read in Hello Goodbye Hello, the wonderful daisy chain of famous encounters, which recounts a very different reaction another iconic composer, Igor Stravinsky, had to his music being transformed beyond recognition — by none other than Walt Disney.

In 1939, at the height of Disney’s success, Walt met Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, at a dinner party. The two became enchanted with each other’s work and the potential each of their mediums of mastery had for amplifying that of the other, and began collaborating on a version of Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring Mickey Mouse — an idea Disney had been toying with for some time. That’s when Stravinsky steps in:

Disney wants a sequence showing the creation of the world, full of volcanoes and dinosaurs. But what music to use? His researchers can only come up with Haydn’s Creation, but Disney thinks it doesn’t carry quite enough oomph. At this point, Stokowski alerts him to Le Sacre du printemps by Igor Stravinsky. Disney listens to it, and is immediately gripped. He offers Stravinsky $ 5,000 for the rights, though Stravinsky will remember it as $ 10,000. According to Stravinsky, Disney hints that if permission is withheld he will use the music anyway: pre-Revolutionary Russian copyrights are no longer valid.

Stravinsky accepts; Disney steams ahead. Before long the human inhabitants of the Burbank studio find themselves working alongside animals in cages, including iguanas and baby alligators, with skilled animators studying their movements close-up. ‘It should look as though the studio has sent an expedition back to the earth six million years ago,’ enthuses Disney. He is so excited that he starts free-associating to the music: ‘Something like that last WHAHUMMPH I feel is a volcano – yet it’s on land. I get that UGHHWAHUMMPH! on land, but we can look out on the water before this and see water spouts.’ As he listens to the music, he gets so worked up that he suddenly blurts, ‘Stravinsky will say: “Jesus, I didn’t know I wrote that music!”’

Which, as it turns out, is roughly what Stravinsky does say. In December 1939, he drops into the Burbank studio for a private screening of Fantasia. The experience leaves him with the most awful memories. ‘I remember someone offering me a score, and when I said I had my own, that someone saying, “But it is all changed.” It was indeed. The instrumentation had been improved by such stunts as having the horns play their glissandi an octave higher in the Danse de la terre. The order of pieces had been shuffled, too, and the most difficult of them eliminated, though this did not save the musical performance, which was execrable.’

So heated was the disagreement and so violent Stravinsky’s outrage, indeed, that when Disney tried to assuage him by pointing out what a great number of people would hear his music, the composer famously grunted:

The numbers of people who consume music … is of no interest to me. The mass adds nothing to art.

Some twenty years later, Stravinsky was still indignant when he and Disney clashed on the pages of The New York Times about the incident, where the composer called Disney’s transformation of his “Rite of Spring” an “unresisting imbecility.”

Granted, as was likely the case with Disney, not every transformation improves upon the original or has creative merit. But modern copyright law — not to mention an unfortunate portion of today’s cultural critique — continues to err on the side of Stravinsky in an era ripe for the Glass mindset. To criticize and criminalize transformative creation and remix is, at best, itself an “unresisting imbecility” and, at worst, an enormous hindrance to creative innovation.

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03 OCTOBER, 2012

The Famous Grids of Iconic Cities, Deconstructed and Remixed

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Great metropolises, dissected and tidied up.

Some of the world’s most iconic cities define themselves by their famous grids. So what happens to the sense, notion, and identity of a city if the grid were dissolved and rearranged? That’s exactly what French artist Armelle Caron explores in her playful series “Everything Tidy,” doing to cities what Ursus Wehrli does to art — deconstructing the familiar grid representations into “tidy” graphic anagrams of famous metropolises.

New York City

Paris

Berlin

Istanbul

Krulwich Wonders @alexgoldmark

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