An Artist with Synesthesia Turns Jazz & Rock Classics Into Colorful Abstract Paintings

For those in the arts, few moments are more blissful than those spent “in the zone,” those times when the words or images or notes flow unimpeded, the artist functioning as more conduit than creator.

Viewed in this light, artist Melissa McCracken’s chromesthesia—or sound-to-color synesthesia—is a gift. Since birth, this rare neurological phenomenon has caused her to see colors while listening to music, an experience she likens to visualizing one’s memories.

Trained as a psychologist, she has made a name for herself as an abstract painter by transferring her colorful neurological associations onto canvas.

John Lennon’s "Julia" yields an impasto flame across a pale green field.

The bold daffodil and phlox hues of Jimi Hendrix’s "Little Wing" could have sprung from Monet’s garden at Giverny.

McCracken told Broadly that chromesthetes’ color associations vary from individual to individual, though her own experience of a particular song only wavers when she is focusing on a particular element, such as a bass line she’s never paid attention to before.

While her portfolio suggests a woman of catholic musical tastes, colorwise, she does tend to favor certain genres and instruments:

Expressive music such as funk is a lot more colorful, with all the different instruments, melodies, and rhythms creating a highly saturated effect. Guitars are generally golden and angled, and piano is more marbled and jerky because of the chords. I rarely paint acoustic music because it's often just one person playing guitar and singing, and I never paint country songs because they're boring muted browns.

Her favorite kind of music, jazz, almost always presents itself to her in shades of gold and blue, leading one to wonder if perhaps the Utah Jazz’s uniform redesign has a synesthetic element.

Certainly, there are a large number of musicians—including Duke Ellington, Kanye West, and Billy Joel—for whom color and music are inextricably linked.

View Melissa McCracken’s portfolio here.

via Broadly

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Goethe’s Theory of Colors: The 1810 Treatise That Inspired Kandinsky & Early Abstract Painting

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Rare 1915 Film Shows Claude Monet at Work in His Famous Garden at Giverny

Long ago, we showed you some startling footage of an elderly, arthritic Pierre-Auguste Renoir, painting with horribly deformed hands. Today we offer a more idyllic image of a French Impressionist painter in his golden years: Claude Monet on a sunny day in his beautiful garden at Giverny.

Once again, the footage was produced by Sacha Guitry for his project Ceux de Chez Nous, or "Those of Our Land." It was shot in the summer of 1915, when Monet was 74 years old. It was not the best time in Monet's life. His second wife and eldest son had both died in the previous few years, and his eyesight was getting progressively worse due to cataracts. But despite the emotional and physical setbacks, Monet would soon rebound, making the last decade of his life (he died in 1926 at the age of 86) an extremely productive period in which he painted many of his most famous studies of water lilies.

At the beginning of the film clip we see Guitry and Monet talking with each other. Then Monet paints on a large canvas beside a lily pond. It's a shame the camera doesn't show the painting Monet is working on, but it's fascinating to see the great artist all clad in white, a cigarette dangling from his lips, painting in his lovely garden.

Note: This beautiful clip and post originally appeared on our site in 2012.

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How Seinfeld, the Sitcom Famously “About Nothing,” Is Like Gustave Flaubert’s Novels About Nothing

"A show about nothing": people have described Seinfeld that way for decades, but creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David didn't set out to create anything of the kind. In fact, with Seinfeld himself already established as a stand-up comedian, they originally pitched to NBC a show about how a comic finds material in his day-to-day life. But in its 43rd episode, when the series had become a major cultural phenomenon, Seinfeld's character and Jason Alexander's George Costanza (whom David based on himself) pitch a show to television executives where "nothing happens," and fans seized upon the truth about Seinfeld they saw reflected in that joke.

In the video essay above, Evan Puschak, known as the Nerdwriter, figures out why. It's a cultural and intellectual journey that takes him back to the 19th-century novels of Gustave Flaubert. "Flaubert was a pioneer of literary realism, in large part responsible for raising the status of the novel to that of a high art," says Puschak.

In 1852, Flaubert wrote a letter describing his ambition to write "a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style." Instead of wanting to "string you along with multiple suspense-heightening narrative developments," in Puschak's view, "he wants to bring you into the text itself, to look there for the carefully constructed meanings that he's built for you."

And so, in their own way, do Seinfeld and David in the sitcom that became and remains so beloved in large part with its numerous departures from the traditions the form had established over the past forty years. "It wasn't until Seinfeld that the conventions of the sitcom were deconstructed fully, when all forms of unity, familial and especially romantic, were wholeheartedly abandoned. For Seinfeld, these additional elements were just so much fluff," distractions from telling a story "held together by the internal strength of its comedy." The critic James Wood, quoted in this video, once wrote that "novelists should thank Flaubert the way poets thank spring: it really all begins with him." By the same token, two epochs exist for the writers of sitcoms: before Seinfeld and after. Not bad for a show about nothing — or not about nothing.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear a Complete Chronological Discography of Patti Smith’s Fiercely Poetic Rock and Roll: 13 Hours and 142 Tracks

Patti Smith has always aligned herself with artists who were outsiders and experimentalists in their time, but who have since moved to the center of the culture, where they are often reduced to a few biographical notes. Arthur Rimbaud, Virginia Woolf, William Blake…. As much motivated by art and poetry as by the aggression of rock and roll, Smith’s 1975 debut album reached out to people on the margins of popular culture. “I was speaking to the disenfranchised, to people outside society, people like myself,” she says, “I didn’t know these people, but I knew they were out there. I think Horses did what I hoped it would do. It spoke to the people who needed to hear it.”

It’s hard to imagine who those people were. In the process of its canonization, unfortunately, punk has come to be seen as a rejection of culture, a form of anti-art. But Smith’s amalgam of loose, rangy garage rock brims with artiness, making it “the natural link between the Velvet Underground and the Ramones,” writes Jillian Mapes at Pitchfork, “in the continuum of downtown New York rock.” Pitchfork situates Smith’s first record at the top of their “Story of Feminist Punk in 33 Songs,” more “influential in its attitude” perhaps than in its particular style. “Her presence at the forefront of the scene was a statement in itself,” but a statement of what, exactly?

One of the fascinating things about Smith was her subversion of gendered expectations and identities. In the epic medley “Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mar (De),” her protagonist is an abused boy named Johnny. She slides into a sinuous androgynous vamp, portraying a “sweet young thing. Humping on a parking meter” with the dangerous sexual energy she appropriated from idols like Mick Jagger. Yet in her twist on the performance of a classically masculine sexuality, vulnerability becomes dangerous, survival a fierce act of defiance: “Life is filled with holes,” she sings, “Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin, angel looks down at him and says, ‘Oh, pretty boy, can’t you show me nothing but surrender?”

Johnny shows the angel, in a gritty West Side Story-like scene that illustrates the razor edges at the heart of Smith’s musical poetry. He gets up, “takes off his leather jacket, taped to his chest there’s the answer, you got pen knives and jack knives and switchblades preferred, switchblades preferred.” Horses is so foundational—to punk rock, feminist punk, and a whole host of other countercultural terms that didn’t exist in 1975—that it’s unfair to expect Smith’s subsequent albums to reach the same heights and depths with the same raw, unbridled energy. Her 1976 follow-up, Radio Ethiopia, disappointed many critics and fans, though it has since become a classic.

As William Ruhlmann writes at Allmusic, “her band encountered the same development problem the punks would—as they learned their craft and competence set in, they lost some of the unself-consciousness that had made their music so appealing." The music may have become mannered, but Smith was a profoundly self-conscious artist from the start, and would remain so, exploring in album after album her sense of herself as the product of her influences, whom she always speaks of as though they are close personal friends or even aspects of her own mind. Who is Patti Smith speaking to? Her heroes, her friends, her family, her various selves, the men and women who form a community of voices in her work.

We get to listen in on those conversations, and we find ourselves torn out of the familiar through Smith's detournment of classic rock swagger and beatnik poses. You can hear her many voices develop, refine, and sometimes stumble into creative missteps that are far more interesting than so many artists’ successes in the playlist above, a complete 13-hour chronological discography (save some rarities and live albums that aren't on Spotify) of Smith’s work—a lifetime of what her father called a “development of the country of the mind” as she remarked in a 1976 interview. “He believed that the mind was a country, and you had to develop it, you had to build and build and build the mind.”

These are not the kinds of sentiments we might expect to hear from the so-called “Godmother of Punk.” Which might speak to how little we understand about what Smith and her motley compatriots were up to amid the grime and squalor of mid-seventies downtown New York.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A Touching Animated Documentary About the Rise, Fall & Second Coming of the 60s Psych-Folk Musician Richard Atkins

One wonders what might have become of Richard Atkins’ musical career had he come of age in this millennium, when youngsters suffering from acute stage fright regularly attract stadium-sized followings on Youtube.

This was most definitely not the case in 1968, when Atkins, aged 19, took the stage in a small Hollywood club filled with music industry brass, there specifically to see him.

Unfortunately, talent could only take him so far. Having learned to play guitar only a couple of years earlier in the wake of a disfiguring motorcycle accident, he and partner Richard Manning had recorded an album, Richard Twice, for Mercury Records. The presence on that record of several members of the Wrecking Crew, an informal, but legendary group of LA session musicians, conferred extra pop pedigree. The Acid Archives later called it "a virtually perfect pop album, the kind of thing that would have ruled the charts if the wind had been blowing the right way that month."

Alas, one tiny technical difficulty at the start of the gig caused Manning to flee, leaving the freaked out and frighteningly ill equipped Atkins to deal with the yawning chasm that had opened between him and the audience. The only fix that occurred to him was a Bugs Bunny-inspired soft shoe, a move that apparently went over big with his Mom, prior to the accident, when he had two legs and could balance without a crutch.

As recounted in Matthew Salton’s animated documentary, above, this soul crushing moment is not without humor. Atkins, affably narrating his own story, has had 50 years to mull that night over, and realizes that blown opportunities are probably more universal than successfully snagged brass rings (American Idol, anyone?)

Over the ensuing years, Atkins found fulfillment as a woodworker and family man, but music remained a painful what-if, addressed largely through avoidance.

Salton’s exuberantly scratchy animation comes as Atkins is taking steps to conquer his stage fright, performing out at small cafes, festivals, and potluck suppers near his Pacific Northwest home.

He’s been posting old songs, gently reminding listeners, “before I'm judged too harshly, remember that I was 18 and living in North Hollywood, probably raging hormones and in the music business to boot!”

He’s also writing and sharing new songs, including the touching “Life Is A Rollercoaster,” above.

Performing on Facebook Live in conjunction with Salton’s New York Times Op-Doc essay, he tears up when the interviewer informs him that his daughter has just posted an encouraging comment, and eagerly confirms his availability when another commenter asks if he’d be up for a gig.

It’s only too late when you’re in the grave.

Travel back in time with a couple more psych-folk cuts from Richard Twice, above, or buy the album in digital form on Amazon.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Classical Music Come to Life in Artfully Animated Scores: Stravinsky, Debussy, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart & More

Stephen Malinowski has cultivated his own patch of YouTube ground over the years with the Music Animation Machine, slowly scrolling visual representations of classical music. The videos, like the one above, use shape and color to interpret pitch, duration, and more recently dynamics and intervals in a hypnotic style that references both Oskar Fischinger and Guitar Hero.

Personally, I’ve been a fan for years and watched his style evolve from the basics of a “piano roll” scroll to these much more complex animations, just as smalin (his YouTube name) has gone from working with solo piano works to the density of Beethoven’s symphony scores or the chaos of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Many music lovers who are not musicians but understand enough about composition will often follow a printed score when listening to classical music; I would suggest that this is one better than the traditional notation, as smalin’s method makes individual instruments in a quartet easy to follow; or show the interplay between left and right hands in a Debussy piece; or lay out in visual terms the variations on a theme or pattern (especially in Bach). For those who love but “don’t get” classical music, these videos are a step towards clarity.

The Music Animation Machine started long before the Internet. Malinowski (a graduate of my alma maters SBCC and UCSB!) dates the beginning to 1982, and the inspiration came from a "hallucination" he had while listening to Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin.

“As I listened to the music, the notes on the page were dancing to the music -- but at the same time, they were the music. It was so charming and graceful -- the flag of an eighth note extending like a ballet dancer's arm; pairs of notes, moving in parallel thirds and sixths, like dancers stepping hand-in-hand ... I was delighted!”

The idea to animate was suggested by a friend and dovetailed into the technology of the time, especially the birth of MIDI. Too self-critical to be a performer and too forgetful to be a composer, Malinowski turned to computer programming and visualizing scores as the listener, not the performer, understands them. It’s been his life’s work. Explore his big collection of animations and also his animation techniques.

Be wary, though. Watching one isn’t enough--writing this article was a continual struggle between the deadline and animated bliss. You just may find yourself similarly and pleasantly lost.

Note: Here's a list of Malinowski favorite and most popular videos:

Grainger, Children's March
Mozart, Sonata for Two Pianos, K 448, first movement
Bach, "Little" Fugue in G minor, Organ
Debussy, First Arabesque
Rimsky-Korsakov, Flight of the Bumblebee
Debussy, Prelude to 'The Afternoon of a Faun'
Beethoven, Symphony 7, Allegretto, mvt. 2
Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring
Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor
Sousa, Semper Fidelis
Debussy, Syrinx
Ligeti, 6 Bagatelles, III. Allegro grazioso
Bach, Brandenburg Concerto 4, 3rd mvt.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Herbie Hancock Now Teaching His First Online Course on Jazz

A quick update to something we first mentioned last June. On Masterclass, jazz legend Herbie Hancock is now teaching his first online course on jazz. In 25 video lessons, the 14-time Grammy winner shares his approach to improvisation, composition, and harmony, and gives students access to 10+ original piano transcriptions, including 5 exclusive solo performances. Plus there's a downloadable workbook. The cost is $90. You can enroll yourself, or give the course as a gift. Check it out here.

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An Interactive Map of Every Record Shop in the World

Arriving in a new city usually means finding the nearest decent grocery, pharmacy, coffee shop, bookstore, laundry, etc. And before nearly every musical whim could be satisfied with a few clicks, it also meant for many people finding the nearest record store. Even the local strip mall chain might hold a surprise or two. But the true finds appeared among the small proprietors, merchandisers of dusty LPs in wooden bins and keepers of local music scene lore. Entering a well-curated music shop can feel like walking into a medieval apothecary. Whatever ails you, you’re sure to find a remedy here. If it doesn’t work, there remains a certain magic in the transaction. We continue to believe in music even when it lets us down.

But have we lost faith in the record shop? I hope not. Online streaming and buying has the regrettable effect of flattening everything into the same two dimensions without the aura of physical media and the musical paraphernalia we find in real life stores. Should you be among the unlucky who lack a local music store, fear not.

You can recover the romance by traveling to any one of the thousands of shops worldwide that are catalogued and mapped on VinylHub, a crowd-sourced “endeavor,” Ron Kretsch writes at Dangerous Minds, "to create an interactive map of every brick-and-mortar record store on Earth, a perfect resource for the world-traveling vinyl obsessive.”

Brought to us by masterminds behind Discogs and their similar spin-off online catalogs for books, movies, etc., this project might get us out of our chairs—maybe even out the country—and into new places to dig through the crates. But even if we’re not inclined to leave the house, VinylHub offers a wealth of fascinating information. “The single city with the largest density of shops,” we learn, “is Tokyo,” though “had you asked me,” Kretsch writes, “I’d have probably said London.” I’d have guessed New York, which comes in at a surprising 7th pace.

The most remote record store on Earth is a cluster of CD stalls above a produce market in the tiny Pacific Island Kingdom of Tonga, but Vinyl Run, located on the tiny Indian Ocean island of Réunion, sure looks like a contender. The northernmost is in Alta, Norway; the southernmost is in Invercargill, New Zealand.

The UK is currently second in number of shops by country: 537, with .8443 shops per 100,000 inhabitants. The United States at number one has almost triple that number, but also over five times the population. These figures are provisional. Much of the world remains uncharted—at least as far as record shops are concerned—and Discogs members continue to submit new entries. Should you find a blank spot on the map that needs a little record icon, you can join for free and contribute to the VinylHub community. While there’s nothing like a trip to a new music store, even if you’re only in it for the data, you’ll find much here to inspire.

Over at the Discogs blog, we learn several more facts, such as the two shops that are farthest apart (Madrid’s Citadel Records and Star Second-Hand Book-Music in Palmerston North, New Zealand: 19,978 km) and the location of that most remote shop (the market in Nuku’alofa in Tonga, address: “Upstairs of wet market”). VinylHub’s “Explorer” map utilizes Google Maps features to give you unlimited access to every region in the world. Zoom in to see the numbers by city and the individual locations of each and every shop in the database. You can even find record stores listed in Pyongyang—or rather record sections of several hotel bookshops. I wouldn't necessarily recommend making the trip, but it’s interesting to imagine what odd treasures we might find there—or at any of the other several thousand shops from around the world.

via Dangerous Minds

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Beautiful & Outlandish Color Illustrations Let Europeans See Exotic Fish for the First Time (1754)

Whether in the tanks into which we gaze at the aquarium or the CGI-intensive wildlife-based gagfests at which we gaze in the theater, most of us in the 21st century have seen more than a few funny fish. Eighteenth-century Europeans couldn't have said the same. The great majority passed their entire lives without so much as a glance at the form of even one live exotic creature of the deep, and most of those who have a sense of what such a sight looked like probably got it from an illustration. But even so, some of the illustrated fish of the day must have proven unforgettable, especially the ones in Louis Renard's Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes.

First published in 1719 with a second edition, seen here, in 1754, Renard's book, whose full title translates to Fishes, Crayfishes, and Crabs, of Diverse Colors and Extraordinary Form, that Are Found Around the Islands of the Moluccas and on the Coasts of the Southern Lands, showed its readers, in full color for the very first time, creatures the likes of which they'd never have had occasion even to imagine. The book's 460 hand-colored copper engravings depict, according to the Glasgow University Library, "415 fishes, 41 crustaceans, two stick insects, a dugong and a mermaid."

The specimens in the first part of the book tend toward the realistic, while those of the second "verge on the surreal," many of which "bear no similarity to any living creatures," some of which bear "small human faces, suns, moons and stars" on their flanks and carapaces, most possessed of colors "applied in a rather arbitrary fashion," though brilliantly so. In the short accompanying texts, "several of the fish" — presumably not the mermaid — "are assessed in terms of their edibility and are accompanied by brief recipes."

Renard himself, who lived from 1678 to 1746, seems to have had a career as colorful as the fish in his book. "As well as spending some seventeen years as a publisher and bookdealer," he also "sold medicines, brokered English bonds and, more intriguingly, acted as a spy for the British Crown, being employed by Queen Anne, George I and George II." Far from keeping that part of his life a secret, "Renard used his status as an 'agent' to help advertise his books. This particular work is actually dedicated to George I while the title-page describes the publisher as  'Louis Renard, Agent de Sa Majesté Britannique.'"

You can behold more of Poissons, Ecrevisses et Crabes at the Public Domain Review. "If the illustrations are breathtaking to us now, with all the hours of David Attenborough documentaries under our belts," they write, "one can only imagine the impact this would have had on a European audience of the eighteenth century, to which the exotic ocean life of the East would have been virtually unknown."

Though received as a respectable scientific work in its day — and even, as the Glasgow University Library puts it, "a product of the Enlightenment" — the book now stands as an enchanting tribute to the combination of a little knowledge and a lot of human imagination.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Are we truly in the midst of a human-caused sixth mass extinction, an era of “biological annihilation”? Many scientists and popular science writers say yes, using terms like “Holocene” or “Anthropocene” to describe what follows the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous periods. Peter Brannen, author of extinction history The Ends of the Earth has found at least one scientist who thinks the concept is “junk.” But Brannen quotes some alarming statistics. Chilling, even. “Until very recently,” he writes, “all vertebrate life on the planet was wildlife. But astoundingly, today wildlife accounts for only 3 percent of earth’s land animals; human beings, our livestock, and our pets take up the remaining 97 percent of the biomass… almost half of the earth’s land has been converted into farmland.”

This state of affairs does not bode well for the millions of remaining species getting edged out of their environments by agribusiness and climate change. We learn from extinctions past that the planet rebounds after unimaginable catastrophe. Life really does go on, though it may take millions of years to recover. But the current forms of life may disappear before their time. If we want to understand what is at stake besides our own fragile fossil-fuel based civilizations, we need to connect to life emotionally as well as intellectually. Short of globe-hopping physical immersion in the earth’s biodiversity, we could hardly do better than immersing ourselves in the tradition of naturalist writing, art, and photography that brings the world to us.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), an “open access digital library for biodiversity literature and archives,” has for many years been making it easy for people to connect to nature through nature writing and illustration. In 2012, they announced the “success story” of their Flickr streams, both containing thousands of illustrations and photographs uploaded by the BHL staff and readers from their huge collections of books.

The first stream, currently at 122,281 images, has been carefully curated, and includes searchable galleries and albums divided by book title or subject, such as “Exotic botany illustrated,” “The Birds of Australia v.1,” and “Bats!” The second stream, consisting of over 2 million images, is a massive grab-bag of photos, illlustrations from nature, advertisements, and imaginative renderings.

Though far less useful for the scholar—or the very purposeful user—this second photostream offers more potential for chance discovery, through the aimless wandering that often leads to serendipitously sublime experiences. The formal BHL stream does not disappoint, though it may offer fewer surprises. Both of these image archives offer expansive views of humanity's encounter with the natural world, not only through statistics and academic jargon, but through the artistic recording of wonder, scientific curiosity, and deep appreciation.

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Watch 50 Hours of Nature Soundscapes from the BBC: Scientifically Proven to Ease Stress and Promote Happiness & Awe

The British Library Puts 1,000,000 Images into the Public Domain, Making Them Free to Reuse & Remix

Download for Free 2.6 Million Images from Books Published Over Last 500 Years on Flickr

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness





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