Weekend Reads: Ambient Music's Origins, Country Music's Reckoning, NFTs, Christian Films

Recommended weekend reading material for March 20, 2021.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.

I listen to a lot of ambient music, and if you read Opus, then chances are, you listen to quite a bit of it, too. But how did Brian Eno come up with the term?

The album of “18th century harp music” was too quiet. He couldn’t turn it up over the sound of rain outside his window. At first, Eno says, he was frustrated by his lack of control over the environment. But as he “started listening to the rain and listening to these odd notes of the harp that were just loud enough to be heard above the rain,” it became for him “a great musical experience…. I suddenly thought of this idea of making music that didn’t impose itself on your space in the same way.”

Country music is changing as the increasing prominence of streaming services is forcing it to reckon with its lack of diversity.

The unprecedented streaming success of Morgan Wallen — which continues unabated — suggests streaming is hardly a cure-all for country’s diversity and inclusion problem. While fans can’t hear Wallen on many country radio stations right now, his music is still available via streaming. All that on top of the fact that streaming services rely on algorithms that reinforce existing biases — like, for example, country music is for white people. But streaming still has the potential to remake at least a corner of country music in its global, relatively inclusive image.

The Treblezine staff have compiled a playlist of 40 essential “alt-country” songs.

If there are any defining traits to alt-country, they ultimately boil down to two things: 1. a sense of creative independence outside of the mainstream Nashville sound (and sometimes an outright hostility to the industry); and 2. a penchant for fusion, whether with punk rock, metal, slowcore, soul or psychedelia. We chose to survey the history of alt-country through its songs, charting its story in playlist form through songs that showcase both its most significant breakthroughs as well as its most radical reinventions. We stopped at 40, and it still seems like nowhere near enough.

It seems like NFTs have become increasingly ubiquitous in the last two weeks or so. Marc Hogan examines the potential impact (both good and bad) that these virtual collectibles could have on the music industry.

The NFT sales boom has touched off a mainstream music industry gold rush, which some proponents argue could become a long-term boon to artists who have suffered economically under the streaming-era status quo. But the frenzy also raises difficult questions about class and the value of art in the age of digital reproduction.

Related: Aphex Twin’s Richard D. James recently sold some artwork in NFT form for $128,000.

After finding success with family friendly Christian films like Confessions of a Prodigal Son and The Unlikely Good Samaritan, Nathan Clarkson has resolved to stop making Christian films.

[A]s I go back and watch over the films I’ve created, I also think over the real and personal life events I’ve both experienced in my own life and witnessed in the ones around me. I think over the struggle, pain, despair, doubt, heartbreak and angst I’ve endured (all of which have served to deepen my faith), and then I think how rarely those things were ever explored in depth in my films — and when they were, they were done at a safe distance or a comfortable separation. It seems there has been a stark contrast between the reality I exist in and the one I created in my films.

If you’ve read Opus for any length of time, then you know how I feel about the creative “ghetto” that Christian art can so easily fall into, where the message becomes all that matters and artistry is exchanged for propaganda. Suffice to say, I wish Mr. Clarkson nothing but good fortune in his new endeavor.

Christopher Nolan is a huge proponent of the theatrical experience as the ideal way to watch movies, even going so far as to insist that his last film, Tenet, be released in theaters in the midst of a pandemic (which didn’t go so well). So I wonder how he’d react to this video of somebody watching Tenet on a Game Boy Advance.

This movie was intended to be seen on the big screen. So let's put it on a really tiny Game Boy Advance screen and blow those pixels up so we can barely see anything.

Via The AV Club.

The 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism has been called the world’s first computer, and scientists think they’ve finally figured out how it works.

Michael Wright, a former curator of mechanical engineering at the Science Museum in London, pieced together much of how the mechanism operated and built a working replica, but researchers have never had a complete understanding of how the device functioned. Their efforts have not been helped by the remnants surviving in 82 separate fragments, making the task of rebuilding it equivalent to solving a battered 3D puzzle that has most of its pieces missing.

The thing I love about this story is that even if scientists are successful in their efforts — which would be really impressive — plenty of mysteries will remain concerning the device’s origins and purpose.

Scientists predicted the existence of a strange phenomenon dubbed the odderon nearly 50 years ago — and earlier this month, they found evidence that it really does exist.

The discovery contributes to physicists’ understanding of how all the matter in the universe interacts at the smallest levels. Unlike the famous Higgs boson, which was officially discovered in 2012, the odderon isn’t a particle exactly. Instead, it’s the name for a compound of three gluons that gets exchanged between protons (or a proton and its antimatter twin, the antiproton) when they collide violently but aren’t destroyed… The odderon, for mysterious reasons, is very rarely produced, and though hints of it have popped up over the decades, the evidence was never quite strong enough to say it existed for sure. But the generally accepted theory of quantum physics says odderons should exist, so scientists have continued to hunt for them.

After discovering a cachet of his grandfather’s thought-to-be-lost WWII recordings, Jason Burt has devoted himself to salvaging it.

A World War II recording that had been lost for nearly a half-century was discovered in an attic — and it’s believed to be the only known recording by a frontline military band stationed with troops near a battlefield. The band was spontaneously celebrating the end of WWII by laying down a track of music — and now one of their grandsons has rediscovered it, and remastered the discs, with the hopes of winning a Grammy.

Luke T. Harrington considers the strange history of “Kilroy was here.”

For those looking to extract a Big Lesson from this, KILROY is a reminder that the small things — the jokes, the art, the moments — are what bind a culture together. The seemingly meaningless things are often the most meaningful, in that they orient the participants toward the big, important meanings.

Never underestimate the power and value of the humble comma.

The English language is fluid, evolving and highly subjective. Arguments have been fought over the value of so-called Oxford commas (an optional comma before the word “and” or “or” at the end of a list). There might be good arguments on either side of the debate, but this doesn’t work for the law because there needs to be a definitive answer: yes or no. In high-stakes legal agreements, how commas are deployed is crucial to their meaning.

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