Is ‘to Andersonize’ a new French verb?

Let’s stay in France with these articles about Wes Anderson’s new film, The French Dispatch, based loosely on The New Yorker’s writers and editors. Whilst it’s fascinating to read about the real life editors and reporters that inspired the film, I’m more interested in its aesthetics.

The New Yorker writers and editors who inspired “The French Dispatch”The New Yorker
According to David Brendel, who worked closely with Anderson on “An Editor’s Burial,” an anthology of New Yorker articles and other writing that inspired the film, the filmmaker discussed the significance of the movie’s vibrant visual language during post-production. “This is a world where all of the eccentricities are preserved, and it’s as if the magazine’s offices and culture back then were as colorful as its covers,” Brendel said.

When Wes Anderson comes to town, buildings get symmetricalThe New York Times
The top floors of the building, which include a sign so wordy (The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun) that it continues across the upper-floor windows, were actually designed as a miniature. That miniature was digitally merged with the real building to give the top of it a more stylized look. The townscape of buildings in the background to the left is also a digitally added miniature. But on the ground level, the fronts were constructed for the film.

I noticed that this photo of the original building is credited to Accidentally Wes Anderson, the website that highlights similarly interesting and idiosyncratic places from across the globe. It was nice to see some local architecture featured there, amongst all the others.

Accidentally Wes Anderson: Instagram finds stylised symmetry in real citiesThe Guardian
He says his account, @AccidentallyWesAnderson, has found favour with “an engaged group of explorers with a keen eye”, who send him thousands of submissions every week. The community he has built around Anderson’s aesthetic was recognised last month, when Koval was able to exclusively share the artwork for Anderson’s upcoming film, Isle of Dogs: “not accidental, but very much intentional Wes Anderson”.

That’s all been gathered up in book form, now.

‘Accidentally Wes Anderson’, a book of real locations that look like they’re made specifically for his filmsLaughing Squid
Wally Koval, the man behind the popular Accidentally Wes Anderson Instagram account that features real-life locations that look like they’re made in the distinct style of Wes Anderson specifically for his films, has put their photographic collection into a hardcover book with a sewn binding. The book showcases 200 different locations over 368 pages and features a foreword by Anderson himself.

But back to the movie, or rather the music video of the movie (with Jarvis Cocker!).

Watch Wes Anderson’s animated music video for The French Dispatch’s ‘Aline’Dazed
Wes Anderson has directed a new, animated music video for Jarvis Cocker’s rendition of the 1965 Christophe track “Aline”, performed as the fictional pop star Tip Top. The song is one of several French pop covers to feature on Cocker’s musical counterpart to Anderson’s The French Dispatch. Titled Chansons d’Ennui, the record will also include versions of tracks by Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, Marie LaFôret, Jacques Dutronc, and more.

I note its style is very similar to the design of the initial movie poster, though they seem to have gone in a very different direction for this new set of posters.

12 new posters for The French Dispatch feature each of its characters within the wonderful world of print journalismIt’s Nice That
The New Yorker is known for its beautiful covers. Each month, the publication delivers a new painted or illustrated cover for its readers, so it was important for the creative team behind the posters to emulate the covers and making sure the fonts stand out on the poster design. The result is clean and punchy posters which facilitate design elements to shine through, thus allowing for a clear and consistent design identity to be born of the cinematic world.

Looks like we’re heading off to Spain for the next one.

Wes Anderson is shooting a new film in Spain this summerDazed
Sets for Anderson’s as-yet-untitled project can be seen on the outskirts of the town in south east Madrid, says the Spanish newspaper, ready for shooting in July, August, and September. These sets reportedly include a mock train station and landscapes typical of a classic Western (though the film isn’t said to be of that genre).

So, farewell then, [o-O]

My knowledge of product design starts and stops with Dieter Rams. Up until recently, I had no idea who Lou Ottens was or the extent of his impact.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94The Guardian
As product development manager at Philips, Ottens twice revolutionised the world of music, but he remained modest to the end. “We were little boys who had fun playing,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were doing anything big. It was a kind of sport.” […]

Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

This is what an EL 3585 looks like, perfect for its time.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

I like the idea that it’s irritation and not necessity that’s the mother of invention. But as we’ve seen before, time is unstoppable, change is inevitable, people are fickle. As Things Magazine says, “How strange to have seen your invention lauded and adopted worldwide, before slowly and inexorably fading out of view, only to have a strange reemergence right at the end of your life.” At least he got to see 90.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, has diedNPR
The resurgence is driven by a mix of nostalgia and an appreciation for tapes’ unique status as a tangible but flexible format. For decades, music fans have used mixtapes to curate and share their favorite songs. Unsigned bands have also relied on them as a way to promote their music. Those who have used cassettes to quickly record music include the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who famously said he captured one of his band’s biggest songs in the middle of the night.

“I wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in my sleep,” Richards wrote in Life, his 2010 autobiography. Adding that he had no memory of writing the song, Richards said he woke up one morning to find that his Philips cassette recorder was at the end of its tape — apparently, he concluded, he had written something during the night. When Richards rewound the tape, he heard the song’s now-iconic guitar riff and his voice saying, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Here’s more from the man himself.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape – Documentary Film Trailer (2016)YouTube
Cassette inventor Lou Ottens digs through his past to figure out why the audiotape won’t die. Rock veterans like Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and Ian MacKaye join a legion of young bands releasing music on tape to push Lou along on his journey to remember.

Mixtapes are wonderful things, so evocative. Can clicking on a link to a Spotify playlist come anywhere near the feeling of being handed a mixtape?

‘Mixture of Jane’s trendy records!!!’: discover readers’ cherished mixtapesThe Guardian
Following the death of Lou Ottens, creator of the cassette tape, Guardian readers share the romances, friendships and discoveries his invention generated.

Rubbish mixtape: fan reunited with cassette 25 years after losing itThe Guardian
Stella Wedell was 12 when she took the tape on a Spanish holiday to listen to songs by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Bob Marley on her Walkman. Wedell, from Berlin, lost the tape either on the Costa Brava or in Mallorca and was astounded when she spotted it a quarter of a century later in an exhibition by the British artist and photographer Mandy Barker, who specialises in creating pieces out of plastic marine debris.

Musical meanderings #2

Here’s a simple idea perfectly executed. Tracklib’s Sample Breakdown video series visualises for us the art of sampling — where they’re from, and how they’re combined.

Sample Breakdowns of Kanye West, DJ Premier, Nujabes, J.Dilla, 9th Wonder & moreTracklib Blog
For his biggest hit to date, Moby reversed the order of four chords of the epic battle cry “Fight For Survival” from the 1960 film Exodus. At first, the producer/singer didn’t really think the outcome of ‘Porcelain’ was quite, well, epic, at all… “I actually had to be talked into including it,” he told Rolling Stone 10 years after its release. “When I first recorded it, I thought it was average. I didn’t like the way I produced it, I thought it sounded mushy, I thought my vocals sounded really weak. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it. When the tour for Play started, ‘Porcelain’ was the song during the set where most people would get a drink.”

Years ago (ten?!) I found an online recreation of an iPod, complete with click wheel. But let’s go back further with this, an interactive turntable interface for playing music on YouTube. A Radiohead album is cued up initially, but use the link to point it wherever you like.

Needledrop: A turntable interface for music playbackThomas Park
With Needledrop, I went for the Dieter Rams school of design. It’s inspired by unapologetically skeuomorphic interfaces like Apple’s original Podcasts app, which featured a reel-to-reel tape machine. While I preferred the digitally native approach of Overcast for day-to-day use, Apple’s approach was visually striking. Podcast’s interface wasn’t just veneer; the reels would progress as the podcast did, providing a subtle visual cue alongside the progress bar. Likewise in Needledrop, the tone arm travels across the record. But Needledrop takes the interactivity one step further. Drop the needle and find your favorite track, more or less. It’s fuzzy and inexact, and emphasizes the continuous listening experience an album can be.

Here’s another way of visualising music, reminiscent of those synchronised Line Rider videos.

That’s pretty cool. But do you know what’s cooler? This.

Playing it cool: these artists make music with iceNational Geographic
Brittle bursts that mimic cymbals. Deep hollowed notes reminiscent of metal drums. These are some of the surprising sounds that Siberian percussion group Ethnobeat created from Russia’s frozen Lake Baikal in a 2012 viral video that introduced millions around the globe to ice music.

But similarly haunting melodies had been filling dark Arctic nights across Norway and Sweden for several years. In 2000 Norwegian composer and percussionist Terje Isungset performed the world’s first ice music concert inside a frozen waterfall in Lillehammer.

Six years later Isungset founded the annual Ice Music Festival Norway, drawing curious adventurers willing to brave subzero temperatures in order to experience this unique way of bonding with nature through music.

Speaking of cool …

Take five

I think I’ve mentioned the Morning Briefing (Europe edition) newsletters from The New York Times before, but they’re a great way to start the day, I think — a wider, less inward-looking summary of current affairs. As well as the usual news roundup, a recent email included links to this marvellous series.

Hooking readers on classical music, five minutes at a timeThe New York Times
Now two and a half years and a dozen segments into the project, Mr. Woolfe said he had been surprised at readers’ appetite for the series, regardless of the theme. “It’s like, ‘OK, ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Mozart’ is super appealing,’” he said. “But ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Baroque Music’? Or ‘5 Minutes That Will Make You Love 21st-Century Composers’? But those both did terrifically as well.”

The name for the series came to him in the shower in 2018 as he was pondering ways he could make The Times’s classical music coverage accessible to a broader audience. “I was thinking about being at a concert or listening to a recording, and being like, ‘OMG, that note she hit!’” Mr. Woolfe said. “Then I had the idea of asking different people to pick their favorite little five-minute nuggets and presenting them like a playlist.” […]

Mr. Woolfe also credited the appeal to the series’s vibrant, eye-catching animations, like pulsating cello strings or a silhouette of Mozart caught in a colorful confetti storm. “They enhance the playfulness and accessibility of the series,” he said. Angie Wang, the freelance illustrator who creates them, said she watched videos of the musicians and noted their characteristic movements, paying particularly close attention to wrist and elbow articulation. “I wanted to render them with delicacy,” she said. “The animations are a kind of visualization for the music.”

5 minutes that will make you love MozartThe New York Times
Mark Hamill, actor I was in the first national tour of “Amadeus,” then I finished my run on Broadway. I did it for 11 months, the longest run I’ve ever had in a play. Beforehand, my wife and I went to Salzburg. You can tour Mozart’s house, and they even had a lock of his hair; it was a sort of reddish brown. That was chilling, hundreds of years later, to be so physically close to him. So much of the play is underscored with his music, which is more common to do in film. I never got tired of the sound; I could use it to inform my performance. And to underplay, because the music was doing a lot of the work. Particularly at the end, when he’s on his knees, wondering whether he’s really been so wicked. He’s so vulnerable, and his Requiem is playing.

5 minutes that will make you love the celloThe New York Times
Yo-Yo Ma, cellist Dvorak’s Cello Concerto is perhaps the most beloved work for cello and orchestra. It is an astounding piece. But as a performer, I am always looking for the preconditions of a composer’s creativity, the genealogy of a work. A very short story: In March 1894, Dvorak heard the New York Philharmonic perform his friend Victor Herbert’s new E-minor cello concerto. Afterward, Dvorak is said to have rushed backstage, telling Herbert it was “splendid, absolutely splendid.” Almost exactly a year later, Dvorak finished writing the concerto that we know so well. […]

Andrew Lloyd Webber, composer I love the cello. My brother was a concert cellist, and I wrote my “Paganini Variations” for him. Although my favorite work for the instrument is Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto, the most moving musical experience I have ever had was at the BBC Proms. It was the night Mstislav Rostropovich played the Dvorak Cello Concerto with the Soviet State Symphony Orchestra on the day Russia invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968. While demonstrators chanted outside the hall, Rostropovich’s tears poured down as he played this most deeply nationalistic of Dvorak’s works. The closing minutes will forever remain with me.

Musical meanderings

One of the pieces of classical music on YouTube I keep replaying is this performance of Dvořák’s String Quartet No 12, played by the wonderful Pražák Quartet. It’s such a lyrical piece, played with passion and vigour.

It’s fun to compare that early video of the four of them with this performance of Schubert’s String Quartet No 15 several years later.

Time marches on for all of us, though sadly it didn’t march for very long for Schubert himself.

A lost paradise of purityStandpoint
Of all the premature deaths among the ranks of the creative, none is more painful to contemplate than Franz Schubert’s. His cutting off in November 1828 at the age of 31 was not as brutal in strictly chronological terms as Keats’s at the age of 25 in 1821, but there is with Schubert a yearning to know the music which he never composed that is even greater than the regret for Keats’s unwritten poems. All Schubert’s works are in a sense early works, and it is striking to think that by the time Haydn reached the age at which Schubert died, he had written none of the music for which we now revere him.

Let’s move from Schubert to Bach, and from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Boomwhacker Bach: Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicauxThe Kid Should See This
This performance by Les Objets Volants is a wonderful mix of work and play… an exercise in “juggling” that requires an immense amount of concentration and teamwork. Boomwhacker Bach! In front of an audience in Luxeuil les Bains, France, this is Prélude n°1 aux tubes musicaux, or Johann Sebastian Bach’s first prelude played with boomwhackers.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too male-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

New documentary Sisters with Transistors tells the story of electronic music’s female pioneersOpen Culture
“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

“The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

All good stuff, but perhaps this musical post has been too human-dominated so far? Let’s address that.

Composer transcribes animal sounds to sheet musicBoing Boing
Alexander Liebermann, an accomplished composer living in Berlin, has been challenging himself to transcribe the sounds of penguins, whales, and other animals as an exercise for ear training.

Ear training challenge – Emperor PenguinYouTube
During courtship, the male and female penguins trumpet loudly to each other, thus learning each other’s call (They recognize each other amidst breeding colonies that consist of up to 40,000 penguins because of their calls). Emperor penguins typically use both sides of their syrinx simultaneously, producing vocalizations using ‘two-voices’. In the videos I have seen, calls of adult penguins mostly consisted of two-voice vocalizations using three different intervals: M2, m3, M3. In contrast, those of the chicks consisted of single voices outlining numerous intervals: m3, M3, P4, TT, P5, m6.

A Christmas singalong like no other

Missing live music? Make some yourself, with another interactive musical thing from Google.

Google’s Blob Opera lets you conduct a quartet of singing blobs for instant festive joyIt’s Nice That
Whatever you’re doing right now, it can wait – because Blob Opera is probably the most fun you’ll have today. A new machine learning experiment by David Li for Google Arts & Culture, the online interactive instrument features four animated blob characters which you can conduct to create your own music.

Try it for yourself!

Blob OperaGoogle Arts & Culture
Create your own opera inspired song with Blob Opera – no music skills required! A machine learning experiment by David Li in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture.

it’s all very silly, but you have to admit, they do make a wonderful sound. That’s due, no doubt, to some clever coding, but also to the skills of the real humans behind these machine-learned voices.

You can now create your own 4-part ‘Blob Opera‘ with this addictive Google appClassic FM
The voices are those of real-life opera singers, tenor Christian Joel, bass Frederick Tong, mezzo-soprano Joanna Gamble and soprano Olivia Doutney, who recorded many hours of singing for the experiment. You don’t hear their actual voices in the tool, but rather the machine learning model’s understanding of what opera singing sounds like, based on what it learned from the four vocalists.

It’s all great fun. And I hadn’t realised how extensive the Google Arts & Culture site is. Lots to play with, whilst we wait for all the real galleries and museums to get back to normal.

And now for something completely different

OK, never mind all that, here are some little videos, courtesy of Laughing Squid and Futility Closet, to take your mind of it all for a while. We’ve just had Halloween, so let’s start with this from our favourite melancholic.

Edward Gorey talks about when he designed sets and costumes for ‘Dracula’ in a brilliantly animated shortLaughing Squid
The artist explains that he didn’t consider it to be his best work at all. Several years later both the set and costumes were brought out again for a production in Boston, were Gorey won two Tony Awards in 1978 for both costumes and scenic design.

Let’s keep the spooky vibe going with this. Reminds me a little of Chris Eckert’s work.

Disney uses an animatronic bust with cameras in its eyes to create realistic interactive humanlike gazesLaughing Squid
A team at DisneyResearch in Los Angeles used a proprietary Audio-Animatronics humanoid bust that had responsive cameras in its eyes and subjected it to interactive situations. The goal of this experiment was to learn how to create highly realistic gaze engagement for true character believability in films.

Speaking of films, here’s a trailer for a new documentary from Alex Winter, one half of Bill and Ted, about the incredible Frank Zappa. Apparently, the Kickstarter campaign for this project was the highest funded documentary in crowdfunding history.

The exceptional musical genius of Frank Zappa explored in a definitive biographical documentaryLaughing Squid
To tell the whole story, Winter makes use of previously unreleased tapes, video clips, film footage, and other items that Zappa kept in a private archive, along with in-person interviews with those who knew him best, in order to provide a comprehensive inside look Zappa’s multi-faceted life.

An incredible musician. What would he have made of this, I wonder.

A reflective electric guitar built with infinity mirrorsLaughing Squid
Burl, the creative luthier of Burls Art appeared to be feeling rather reflective and decided to build an incredibly sleek Infinity Mirror Guitar. Like his other guitars, Burl first formed a mold that would give the initial shape. he then built a special frame that would hold the mirrors in place. He then added the custom neck, bolted the bridge in, and polished the whole thing up before playing a short riff.

And I would love to hear him bring these clever and surprisingly musical tunes to life.

World musicFutility Closet

I thought this one was very catchy — a new EU anthem?

Here’s something sillier than a piano-playing map, a fluffy fluffball fluffing his lines.

Hilarious blooper footage from an Elmo and Robin Williams sketch for a 1991 Sesame Street specialLaughing Squid
During the 1991 Sesame Street special “Big Bird’s Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake”, the late, greatly missed Robin Williams hilariously showed a curious Elmo the many fun things one can do with a stick.

What’s that? You want something fluffier? Ok then.

Animated Tetris with fuzzy softbody stacking piecesLaughing Squid
In his ongoing quest to create the perfect softbody game of Tetris, German computer animator Chris of C4D4U has released his 19th iteration of the game. Rather than the gummy shapes of his previous games, this version features very soft looking, fuzzy animated tiles that appear snuggly enough to hug.

Making music again #2

Back in July I shared a few ways we could still see live music in spite of the pandemic, but it was marvellous to experience it for myself recently.

Orchestra of Opera North: The Four SeasonsOpera North
From baroque Mantua to mid-20th century Buenos Aires, two radiant evocations of place and the passing of time. Celebrated British violinist Chloë Hanslip joins musicians from the Orchestra of Opera North as soloist/director in Vivaldi’s tour de force.

Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is so well known as to be almost cliche, but Chloe’s performance, together with a slimmed-down (though no less powerful) version of the Orchestra of Opera North, was stunning — so joyful and energetic. And following it with Piazzolla’s version was great fun, too.

Written in the mid to late 1960s, Argentine composer and bandoneon virtuoso Ástor Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas are a witty and playful tribute in tango to Vivaldi’s concerti.

I had never heard this piece before. My knowledge of Piazzolla starts and ends with Libertango, so it was wonderful to be introduced to some more. Here’s a performance of it by the Curtis Institute of Music.

I wasn’t the only one to appreciate being back in the Town Hall again, however different the seating arrangements might be now.

But let’s not forget opera and ballet. 25 October was World Opera Day, swiftly followed by World Ballet Day on 29 October.

Celebrating opera freelancers for World Opera DayOpera Holland Park
At Opera Holland Park, we know the most exciting part of the year has arrived when our team grows from just under twenty to around 300, as we’re joined by the talented freelancers who work onstage, backstage, Front of House and in our Box Office. For World Opera Day 2020, we want to share a few of the projects some of those freelancers have been working on over the last few months.

Calling all ballet lovers! World Ballet Day 2020 is on October 29Pointe
“Now, more than ever, the digital celebration of dance promises to unite us all as we face new, shared challenges across the world,” says Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare, adding that he looks forward to “bringing our art form to audiences who are missing live performances.”

2020, eh? Will things ever be the same again?

How hundreds of freelance musicians asked for help with a socially distanced protest and performance at WestminsterITV News
Parliament Square echoed to the sound of classical music today as 400 musicians staged a mini concert to highlight the impact of coronavirus. The pop-up performance of Gustav Holst’s Mars was limited to 90 seconds by the police to avoid attracting a crowd.

‘Being told to retrain is an insult’: 150 opera singers fight for the arts in Parliament protestClassic FM
“This protest today is really one of the largest musical gatherings in the UK since coronavirus,” said Romaniw, speaking to Classic FM. “It’s about coming together and singing together in unison, to really protest for the future of our industry, and to celebrate the importance of art and live music. There’s nothing quite like it.

Can you keep it down?

Some positive news about the global response to coronavirus, for a change.

Coronavirus in Africa: Five reasons why Covid-19 has been less deadly than elsewhereBBC News
Many African countries have been praised for waging an effective campaign to combat the spread of coronavirus despite their reputation for having fragile state heath systems. The continent, which has a population of more than one billion, has had about 1.5 million cases, according to data compiled by the John Hopkins University. These figures are far lower than those in Europe, Asia or the Americas, with reported cases continuing to decline.

They list the following reasons — quick action, public support, young population and few old-age homes, favourable climate, good community health systems — but I think they’ve missed one out. No yodelling!

Finger pointed at Swiss yodelling ‘superspreader’ concertFrance 24
“We can’t do anything about what happened with this yodelling group. We found out nine days after the performances that several people from the group were infected,” event organiser Beat Hegner told RTS public television. Now the pandemic has spread through the region, with 1,238 cases compared with just 500 in mid-September. On Wednesday alone, 94 people tested positive, twice as many as the day before.

Worth the wait?

Well, I’m back in the office for the first time in six months, surrounded by hand sanitisers and risk assessments, one child has returned to school for her final year after in effect six months off, another will be leaving home in a week to start university in a place currently under a local lockdown, so my head’s full of concerns and anxieties I don’t wish to think more about here thank you very much. So let’s put all that to one side and relax with some music.

John Cage, the man behind a much loved piece of nothing, perhaps hadn’t realised how literally some people would take his instruction to play ‘as slow as possible’ when performing one of his compositions. Piano notes eventually fade away, but notes on an organ can be held indefinitely.

A 639-year-long John Cage organ performance has a long-awaited chord change todayClassic FM
Organ2/ASLSP, ‘As Slow as Possible’ is a keyboard work written by John Cage in the mid-1980s. The score consists of eight pages of music, to be played at the piano or organ, well, very, very slowly. […] Up until this time, the most recent note change occurred on 5 October 2013, and the next change will sound on 5 September 2020, with the organ playing a G sharp and an E, until the next scheduled chord change on 5 February 2022.

The concert (installation art performance? sculptural exhibition?) is taking place in Halberstadt, in Germany, thought to be the place where the first modern keyboard organ was built in 1361, 639 years before the turn of the 21st century, hence the duration of this piece.

A 639-year concert, with no intermission for coronavirusThe New York Times
Andreas Henke, the town’s mayor, said that most of Halberstadt’s inhabitants probably didn’t even know about the piece, or, if they did, they referred to it as “that cacophony.” But, he added, “John Cage carries Halberstadt’s name out into the world.”He said the performance raises “philosophical questions about how we confront time.” “We are all so consumed by our daily working lives,” he said. “This forces us to stand back and slow down. It is very special to be a part of an art project that will connect generations and last for generations,” Mr. Henke added. He said that it was “his great hope” that the project would make it to 2640.

Of course it was livestreamed, but see if you can resist the urge not to fast-forward to the chord change moment, three hours and twenty minutes in…

Too subtle a change for me, I think. It’s an interesting idea, though: if you remove the human from the music-making process, you remove the need to constrain time to human scales. But without the human, can we still comprehend it as music? A drone that lasts for years and years just reminds me of my tinnitus.

Playing around

I know nothing about guitars (or ukuleles, for that matter), but I can tell that playing this “self-playing” guitar would not be as simple as that description suggests.

Self-playing electric ‘circle guitar’ can pick at up to 250 bpmdesignboom
Anthony Dickens has built the circle guitar with the help of a team of brilliant engineers to generate sounds, textures, and rhythms that would be impossible with a conventional electric guitar. What differentiates the new design from other electrics, is the motor-driven spinning disc in its body that rotates at up to 250 bpm under the strings. This innovative feature makes it possible to exceed what the musician’s hand can achieve alone.

OK, so I can’t pretend to understand even half of this—mechanical step sequencer discs? hexaphonic pickups?—but it’s great to see the start of what is in effect a brand new type of instrument, one I reckon Wintergatan’s Martin Molin would love to get his hands on.

If redesigning musical classics is your thing, check out this other designboom post I came across, via Moss and Fog. Looking closer, you can see it’s from 2017, so I’m not sure if this ever took off, but I’m smitten, to say the least.

The Elbow cassette player is a turntable tonearm for tapesdesignboom
In an industry obsessed with nostalgia, the humble cassette seems to have missed out on the craze that turned old school records back into a music must-have. Yet Brainmonk, the design team behind the Elbow clip-on casette player, have other plans to give the traditional tape the attention it deserves. Described as a ‘portable cassette player reduced to the core,’ Elbow gets rid of the heavy plastic casing that’s usually found on a tape players and strips it back to a single clip-on pulley that almost leaves the cassette to play itself.

After looking into this a little more, I can see that it didn’t take off. According to its Facebook page, the project is suspended, and they’ve not bothered renewing their website domain. This Verge write-up perhaps gives us a clue why.

The Elbow cassette player concept is as impractical as a cassette tape – The Verge
I’m curious what kind of battery life you could get out of an object like this. My guess is not much. But, really, this concept is more of a fashion accessory than a 21st century sequel to the Walkman — just like the cassette tapes that it will theoretically play.

A more poetic AI

I’ve a number of posts here tagged AI and art, but not so many about its impact on music or poetry. Let’s put that right. But first (via It’s Nice That), a quick recap.

The A-Z of AIWith Google
This beginner’s A-Z guide is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford and Google, intended to break a complex area of computer science down into entry-level explanations that will help anyone get their bearings and understand the basics.

Topics include bias and ethics, as well as quantum computing and the Turing test. Nothing about Shakespeare though.

This AI poet mastered rhythm, rhyme, and natural language to write like ShakespeareIEEE Spectrum
Deep-speare’s creation is nonsensical when you read it closely, but it certainly “scans well,” as an English teacher would say—its rhythm, rhyme scheme, and the basic grammar of its individual lines all seem fine at first glance. As our research team discovered when we showed our AI’s poetry to the world, that’s enough to fool quite a lot of people; most readers couldn’t distinguish the AI-generated poetry from human-written works.

I think they’re better off sticking to the visuals.

Beck launches Hyperspace: AI Exploration, a visual album with NASAIt’s Nice That
The project was made possible by AI architects and directors OSK, founded by artists Jon Ray and Isabelle Albuquerque, who began the project by asking, “How would artificial intelligence imagine our universe?” In answering this question it allowed the directors to create “a unique AI utilising computer vision, machine learning and Generative Adversarial neural Networks (GAN) to learn from NASA’s vast archives.” The AI then trained itself through these thousands of images, data and videos, to then begin “creating its own visions of our universe.”

Some of them can really hold a tune, though.

What do machines sing of?Martin Backes
“What do machines sing of?” is a fully automated machine, which endlessly sings number-one ballads from the 1990s. As the computer program performs these emotionally loaded songs, it attempts to apply the appropriate human sentiments. This behavior of the device seems to reflect a desire, on the part of the machine, to become sophisticated enough to have its very own personality.

Lastly, it’s good to see that you can still be silly with technology and music.

A rewriting of history too good to be true?

Olympic-sized hoax? ‘Lost’ Krautrock warm-up tapes mysteriously surfaceSPIN
Neither interview includes photographs of Zeichnete, and he doesn’t appear in a series of promotional videos for the release … And the more you listen to the music, the more it begins to sound both too pristine, given the tapes’ alleged age, and too stylistically perfect in its aping of Neu! and Kraftwerk. The resemblance is almost uncanny.

Making music again

Our concert halls might be re-opening in the summer, but in the meantime:

A cello concert in a swimming pool – this is classical music during COVID-19 distancingClassic FM
The concert took place south of Stuttgart, in the empty swimming lanes of the Entringen outdoor pool. We fancy the shape of the pool, with its steady slope and cellist against a wall, would have provided quite a fantastic acoustic.

Some people are staying indoors, though.

IndoorsScottish Ballet
With 28 doors and 36 dancers, Indoors is a playful new work by Sophie Laplane, set to Mozart’s ‘Papageno, Papagena’. Rehearsed via Zoom and recorded in lockdown, the short film explores ways we can open our doors to new possibilities, all in Laplane’s distinctly unique style.

A taste of things to come?

Around the world, we’re getting a glimpse of what live music looks like post-lockdownClassic FM
Theatres reopen in Europe and concert halls around the world have started to implement social distancing policies to stem the spread of coronavirus – here’s how music, of all genres, looks in a new era.

Making (mindful) music

A while ago I shared a post about brainy music. Here’s some mindful music of a different kind.

Can biofeedback help to unlock the mysteries of music’s therapeutic effects? – Aeon Videos
The US musician and research scientist Grace Leslie works at the frontiers of biotechnology and experimental music. From her Brain Music Lab at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, Leslie and her students probe the physiological effects of sounds and rhythms, including how biofeedback could potentially be used to create new sonic therapies.

So can a mind sing? Filmmaker Vier Nev thinks so.

Staff Pick Award at Annecy 2020: “A Mind Sang” by Vier NevVimeo Blog
Seeing a shape in the clouds, a face on Mars, or Jesus in your toast is called “pareidolia.” Our tendency to perceive objects, patterns, and meanings incorrectly is a psychological phenomenon filmmaker Vier Nev turned into hypnotizing art in his transfixing animated film, “A Mind Sang.” Leading the audience through themes of transformation, perspective, and rebirth, this work of art kept us visually engaged through each second of the film with stunning optical illusions and a haunting and rich musical score. (via Kottke)

That felt like an eye exam. Let’s have something more … relaxing?

ToccataOptical Arts
The film is an exploration on the nature of time, the relentless violence of entropy and creative energy and its relationship to music itself. The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has a cinematic history going back to the silent film era, when orchestras played music to films. The piece became often used in the horror genre and famously as the opening to the 1970’s film Rollerball. (via Laughing Squid)

I love this, the slo-mo timing is perfect. Here’s some more.

Orchestra instruments captured in super slow motionLaughing Squid
A performer with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra demonstrated what the performance of a stand-up double bass looks like in super slow motion. The footage captures how the bow connects with and releases from the string in order to make beautiful music.

Careful with those bows.

Man in Japan arrested for attacking pedestrian with violin bow Classic FM
The man, who was wielding a horsehair bow, was also reported to be holding a violin. He has no known address and is reported by police to have been intoxicated at the time of the incident.

Maybe he wasn’t a classical music fan. How about something light and carefree?

How the ‘Oh Yeah’ song in Ferris Bueller came to beGreat Big Story
“Oh Yeah.” You’ve heard this song—full of oh yeah, bow bow and ch-ch ch-ch ch-ka!—who knows how many times over the years. Recorded by the Swiss synth pop duo known as Yello, “Oh Yeah” became a pop culture phenomenon after being featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” In the 1986 movie, the percussive piece is the soundtrack to the scene where Cameron shows off his father’s prized Ferrari to his friend Bueller. And we all know what happened after that. (via Laughing Squid)

Or something just as poppy but perhaps less carefree?

A brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated video for the Sparks song ‘The Existential Threat’Laughing Squid
Cyriak Harris, the creative mind behind many wonderful surreral short films, created a brilliant but appropriately anxiety-inducing animated music video for the song “The Existential Threat” by the Los Angeles band Sparks, from their album “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip”.

Or some vintage rock?

Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” gets a video after 43 yearsBoing Boing
On Thursday, on his Instagram account, Iggy Pop announced that, after a 43 year wait, his classic track, “The Passenger,” has a video.

Let’s end how we began, with something mindful. Kind of.

Buddhist monk performs a badass cover of the Judas Priest song ‘Breaking the Law’ on classic instrumentsLaughing Squid
Buddhist monk Kossan1108, who does amazing, minimalist covers of classic rock songs with traditional instruments, performed a pretty badass cover of the classic Judas Priest song “Breaking the Law”. He used the wooden fish to keep the beat, a standing bell to add color and his own voice to cover the lyrics.

Puccini and the plants

Something else I’d found around my birthday then forgotten to male a note of here was news of this wonderful concert. If playing music to plants helps them grow, there are thousands of ficus trees, palms and plants in Spain that must be feeling pretty healthy at the moment.

The artist Eugenio Ampudia inaugurates activity at the Liceu with a concert for 2,292 plantsLiceu Opera Barcelona
On the first day after the state of alarm instituted due to the pandemic ends, the Gran Teatre del Liceu reopens its doors, but it does so for an unusual audience. Conceptual artist Eugenio Ampudia is preparing an original, unique and different concert, in which the 2,292 seats of the auditorium will be occupied on this occasion by plants. It will be on 22 June at 5:00 p.m., broadcast live online, when the UceLi Quartet string quartet performs Puccini’s “Crisantemi” for this verdant public, brought in from local nurseries.

2,292 plants fill the audience in opening performance at Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del LiceuColossal
A collaboration with Madrid-based artist Eugenio Ampudia and the Max Estrella gallery, the concert was meant to reflect on humans’ relationship with nature. “I thought why don’t we go into the Liceu like weeds, take it over and let nature start growing everywhere and turn it into something alive even when there are no people,” Ampudia said in an interview.

Plants fill seats at Barcelona opera house concertAssociated Press
“I heard many more birds singing. And the plants in my garden and outside growing faster. And, without a doubt, I thought that maybe I could now relate in a much intimate way with people and nature,” he said before the performance.

At the end of the eight-minute concert, the sound of leaves and branches blowing in the wind resonated throughout the opera house like applause.

Here’s the performance in full, complete with “please silence your mobile phones and no pictures please” announcement.

It’s strange seeing these places, designed especially for large crowds, being so empty.

Plush seats and ornate balconies sit empty in Joanna Vestey’s unobstructed photographs of London theatersColossal
In Joanna Vestey’s Custodians for COVID series, one worker poses idly amid an otherwise unobstructed shot of a historic venue. The Oxford-based photographer has been capturing the empty seats and balconies of London theaters, which have been closed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. For the timely series, Vestey visited 20 venues, including Royal Albert Hall, The Globe, and National Theatre, to photograph the breadth of the vacant architecture.