Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Spotify playlist for just Chapter 12 (“Grimes! Grimes!” The Passion of Benjamin Britten) from Alex Ross’ The Rest is Noise


beach sunrise by thornypup on flickr
"beach sunrise" by thornypup

I’m an avid Spotify fan and an avid classical music fan. Over Christmas it was great to finally sit down and get reading Alex Ross’ amazing book "The Rest is Noise" in which he surveys twentieth century classical music. It is an amazing work, stretching to 591 pages. At times it’s too good. One reads Ross describing the works he loves and get so swept up in his descriptions that when you stop and listen to the piece you are left wondering what medications he’s on, and where to buy them 😉

In the book each chapter focuses on a composer, an event, a piece, or a period and brings in piece after piece to contrast and explain the historic people and events. As an appendix he also includes a list of key recordings, and he does the same thing on his blog.

And there’s the problem. Today I found (thanks to a twitter shout out from @spotify retweeting @afront) a fabulous looking blog presenting classical music playlists on spotify: One of ulyssestone’s posts is a Spotify playlist of Ross’ book. Here it is (you’ll need spotify for this to work, sorry. I do have some spare invites if you are in the UK and cannot get in). But although @ulyssestoone has rendered Ross’ iTunes playlist into Spotify, neither capture anything like the wealth of information and the texture of the book. So I’ve attempted to render just one chapter, my favourite, chapter twelve titled "Grimes! Grimes!" to a Spotify playlist. It’s enormous, and even so I had to miss a few pieces that Ross mentions but Spotify do not have (e.g. Britten’s Curlew River). What started out as an exercise to build a companion playlist to the chapter ended up, I think, too huge to be of use (with 664 tracks!), but here it is. Enjoy!

The Rest Is Noise photo by marklarson
"The Rest Is Noise" photo by marklarson

Art from books as objects


I’ve been meaning to collate all the fantastic sculptures I’ve stumbled across recently into a blog post but now I don’t need to as Richard just shouted out this amazing post on WebUrbanist: “A Picture is Worth … 10 Brilliant Book Artists“. The strange thing is that all the art that Steve mentions in the post is mostly stuff I hadn’t seen (like the wonderful Jonathan Callan piece at the head of this post), and many of those I was going to list are not included! In fact, trawling around trying to find that picture the Jonathan Callan piece I discovered another great post by Sean Flannagan over at Deeplinking: “Book Art All-Stars“.

The only one we have in common is Brian Dettmer who did the piece above.

The beginning of something ...

So what were the pieces I was going to mention? The first one I haven’t actually seen, but Su Blackwell has some beautiful work in Craft Magazine’s July/August issue like her piece “The beginning of something …” pictured above.

Aysegul Turan - All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - Books and Magnifying Glass

Then there’s the work I have seen, much of it at this year’s Central Saint Martins MA in Communication Design degree show. For example, Aysegul Turan’s “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” above. Though that might be cheating as it isn’t really an adaptation of an old book like the rest are. How about this one.

Haein Song - Books of the Absurd

Haein Song’s “Books of the Absurd” a wonderful playful piece which put me in mind of this work from last year’s New Designers:

Lucy Norman - book lightshade

Lucy Norman‘s book lightshade

My favourite poetry anthologies


When Kate and I eventually shacked up together we found ourselves combining our album and our book collections. Surprisingly, given how similar our tastes are, there was only one book (other than the bible) that we both owned: Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes poetry anthology “The Rattle Bag”. It’s great, a real classic. New, old; complex, simple; funny, serious; frivolous, deep; … it’s all there. My favourite (but probably not Kate’s) is Thomas Hardy’s “The Fallow Deer at the Lonely House”

One without looks in to-night
     Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in to-night
     As we sit and think
     By the fender-brink.

We do not discern those eyes
     Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
     Wondering, aglow,
     Fourfooted, tiptoe.

“The Rattle Bag” was first published in 1982, which in my head sounds recent, though clearly it isn’t!

Next up is Neil Astley’s anthology “Staying Alive”. Viv & Scott got me this one for Christmas 2002 when we were living out in Klahanie, Washington. Some of the poems in “Staying Alive” are truly awful, but that is part of what makes it such a good collection – it’s a brave collection. It also started Kate and my habit of reading a poem out loud at bedtime. Some of the poems in “Staying Alive” are really tantalising: you might read one through and know it’s good while not knowing what it’s about or even how to read it properly. So you have to read it and read it again until it starts to fall into place. Choosing a favourite is hard too, but “Sonnet” by Hayden Carruth.

Well, she told me I had an aura. “What?” I said.
“An aura,” she said. “I heered you,” I said, “but
you ain’t significating.” “What I mean, you got
this fuzzy light like, all around your head,
same as Nell the epelectric when she’s nigh read-
y to have a fit, only you ain’t having no fit.”
“Why, that’s a fact,” I said, “and I ain’t about
to neither. I reckon it’s more like that dead
rotten fir stump by the edge of the swamp on misty
nights long about cucumber-blossoming time
when the foxfire’s flickering round.” “I be goddamn
if that’s it,” she said. “Why, you ain’t but sixty-
nine, you ain’t a-rotting yet. What I say
is you got a goddamn naura.” “Ok,” I said. “Ok.”

The last one’s more recent. I was browsing Heffers in Cambridge and found a crazy anthology. It’s all the poems that Benjamin Britten set to music, called “Benjamin Britten’s Poets” and editted by Boris Ford. It’s another anthology that’s impressive for its breadth. It runs from anonymous thirteenth century works, through lots of folk songs, to Auden (of course). It even has poems in German. There’s the latin requiem mass, Shakespeare, Keats, Burns, psalms, … I haven’t yet read it through enough times to have a favourite but Gerard Manley Hopkins “God’s grandeur” is one Kate’s always liked.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
        And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
        And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Two new book visualizations


Since my recent post on work providing abstract computer rendered visualizations of biblical texts I’ve noticed are two more book visualizations, though this time neither are done on the bible. I came across them both in Andrew Vande Moere‘s amazing Information Aesthetics blog.

The first is Stefanie Posavec‘s On The Map, now showing as part of the On The Map exhibition at Sheffield’s Millennium Galleries. Stefanie’s visualizations are discussed and photographed on and look very beautiful. Like Linda Becker she is a graduate of Central Saint Martins – they are clearly covering some fascinating stuff there. The sentence drawing are amazing and I cannot wait to get up to Sheffield and see them in full size and work out how they are constructed and how to read them. I should really have used one of the great photos of Stephanie’s visualizations on NOTCOT but I choose instead their picture of her copy of On The Road since that really shows the painstaking work that must have gone into this, and hints that she did the work through detailed reading rather than computer based statistical analysis (though that cannot be true).

The second is by Tim Walter and I think it forms his diploma project (I’m not sure how that maps on to the education system in England or the USA). It’s called Textour and as an example text Tim renders President Bush’s speech announcing the war against Iraq. There are similarities with the visualizations I mentioned before (especially with TextArc) but one thing Tim does very differently is that his visualization really does rely on animation. The still shots on his site are interesting – but you need to watch through the video to get a sense of how it works.

I’m getting excited about Linda Becker‘s forthcoming internship with me at Microsoft Research in Cambridge – this niche field of book visualization seems to be one that is generating more and more examples of interesting projects.

Bible Visualizations


A while ago Anab posted about the Institute for the Future of the Book, which lead to a discussion of information visualizations of book texts. One book that receives repeated attention is The Bible. This interest stems in part from the religious nature of the book itself (i.e. believers and academics are keen to gain new perspectives and new study aides), and in part from the ready availability of multiple versions of the text (e.g. through The Online Parallel Bible Project or The Bible Gateway). Over the years I’ve come across a number of inspiring abstract visualizations of the Bible, for example:

Anh Dang's 'Gospel Spectum' example
Anh Dang’s "Gospel Spectum"

 Kushal Dave's 'exegesis' example
Kushal Dave’s "exegesis"

Linda Becker’s 'In Translation' example
Linda Becker’s ‘In Translation’

Philipp Steinweber and Andreas Koller's 'Similar Diversity' example
Philipp Steinweber and Andreas Koller’s "Similar Diversity"

Recently two more have popped up on Andrew Vande Moere’s information aesthetics blog.

The first is old and not computer based. It’s Clarence Larkin’s "Dispensational Charts". Done over 75 years ago they map out various concepts by visually plotting the relevant biblical passages. E.g.:

Clarence Larkin's 'The Second Coming'
Clarence Larkin’s "Dispensational Charts"

The second gives rise to the picture heading this post. It’s Chris Harrison’s "Visualizing The Bible". Chris starts with an arc diagram plotting cross-references through the bible and then adds some network graphs of the people and places in the bible.

Bible cross references arc visualization
Chris Harrison’s "Visualizing The Bible"

Although Chris develops a visual aesthetic reminiscent of much of the work done with Processing he is in fact just using the Java 2D libraries.