Watch a Never-Aired TV Profile of James Baldwin (1979)




In 1979, just a couple of months into his stint with 20/20, ABC’s fledgling television news magazine, producer and documentarian Joseph Lovett was “beyond thrilled” to be assigned an interview with author James Baldwin, whose work he had discovered as a teen.

Knowing that Baldwin liked to break out the bourbon in the afternoon, Lovett arranged for his crew to arrive early in the morning to set up lighting and have breakfast waiting before Baldwin awakened:

He hadn’t had a drop to drink and he was brilliant, utterly brilliant. We couldn’t have been happier.

Pioneering journalist Sylvia Chase conducted the interview. The segment also included stops at Lincoln Center for a rehearsal of Baldwin’s play, The Amen Corner, and the Police Athletic League’s Harlem Center where Baldwin (and perhaps the camera) seems to unnerve a teen reporter, cupping his chin at length while answering his question about a Black writer’s chances:

There never was a chance for a Black writer.  Listen, a writer, Black or white, doesn’t have much of a chance. Right? Nobody wants a writer until he’s dead. But to answer your question, there’s a greater chance for a Black writer today than there ever has been.

In the Manhattan building Baldwin bought to house a number of his close-knit family, Chase corners his mother in the kitchen to ask if she’d had any inkling her son would become such a success.




“No, I didn’t think that,” Mrs. Baldwin cuts her off. “But I knew he had to write.”

Baldwin speaks frankly about outing himself to the general public with his 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room and about what it means to live as a Black man in a nation that has always favored its white citizens:

The American sense of reality is dictated by what Americans are trying to avoid. And if you’re trying to avoid reality, how can you face it?

Nearly 35 years before Black Lives Matter’s formation, he tackles the issue of white fragility by telling Chase, “Look, I don’t mean it to you personally. I don’t even know you. I have nothing against you. I don’t know you personally, but I know you historically. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t swear to the freedom of all mankind and put me in chains.”

The finished piece is a superb, 60 Minutes-style profile that covers a lot of ground, and yet, 20/20 chose not to air it.

After the show ran Chase’s interview with Michael Jackson, producer Lovett inquired as to the delay and was told that no one would be interested in a “queer, Black has-been”:

I was stunned, I was absolutely stunned, because in my mind James Baldwin was no has-been. He was a classic American writer, translated into every language in the world, and would live on forever, and indeed he has. His courage and his eloquence continue to inspire us today.

On June 24, Joseph Lovett will moderate James Baldwin: Race, Media, and Psychoanalysis, a free virtual panel discussion centering on his 20/20 profile of James Baldwin, with psychoanalysts Victor P. Bonfilio and Annie Lee Jones, and Baldwin’s niece, author Aisha Karefa-Smart. Register here.

H/T to author Sarah Schulman

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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 an Accurate Reconstruction of the World’s Oldest Computer, the 2,200 Year-Old Antikythera Mechanism, from Start to Finish




There’s nothing like an ancient mystery, especially one as seemingly insoluble as the origins of “the world’s first computer,” the Antikythera mechanism. Discovered off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera in 1901, the corroded collection of gears and dials seemed fake to scientists at first because of its ingeniousness. It has since been dated to 100 to 150 BC and has inspired decades of research and speculative reconstruction. Yet, no one knows who made it, and more importantly, no one knows how it was made.

“The distance between this device’s complexity and others made at the same time is infinite,” says Adam Wojcik, a materials scientist at the University College of London. “Frankly, there is nothing like it that has ever been found. It’s out of this world.”




The expression should not make us think of ancient aliens — the Antikythera mechanism contains more than enough evidence of human limitation, showing a geocentric model of the cosmos with the only five planets its maker would have known.

The 2,000-plus year-old device continues to reveal its secrets, including hidden inscriptions found during CT scans of the object, as Smithsonian reported in 2015. The mechanism is “similar in size to a mantel clock, and bits of wood found on the fragments suggest it was housed in a wooden case. Like a clock, the case would’ve had a large circular face with rotating hands. There was a knob or handle on the side, for winding the mechanism forward or backward. And as the knob turned, trains of interlocking gearwheels drove at least seven hands at various speeds. Instead of hours and minutes, the hands displayed celestial time.”

If the Antikythera mechanism is a “celestial clock,” who better to design and build its reconstruction than a clockmaker? That is exactly what we see in the videos above, created for the clockmaking YouTube channel Clickspring. Using the best scientific model of the mechanism to date — published this year by Dr. Tony Freeth and colleagues of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project — Clickspring shows how the device might have fit together and makes educated guesses about the right placement of its dozens of small parts.

You can see a preview of the Antikythera reconstruction project at the top, watch the full project above, and see individual episodes showcasing different phases of construction on YouTube. The model “conforms to all the physical evidence,” Freeth writes, “and matches the descriptions in the scientific inscriptions engraved on the mechanism itself.” What no one can figure out, however, is just how the ancient Greek artisans who made it shaped precision metal parts without lathes and other modern tools of the machine-makers trade. Researchers, and clockmakers, may have pieced together the Antikythera puzzle, but the mystery of how it came into existence at all remains unsolved.

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Modern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vases & Artisanal Glass

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

Wikipedia’s Surprising Power in Shaping Science: A New MIT Shows How Wikipedia Shapes Scientific Research




If you were in high school or college when Wikipedia emerged, you’ll remember how strenuously we were cautioned against using such an “unreliable source” for our assignments. If you went on to a career in science, however, you now know how important a role Wikipedia plays in even professional research. It may thus surprise you to learn that students still get more or less the same warning about what, two decades later, has become the largest encyclopedia and fifth most-visited web site in the world. “Many of us use Wikipedia as a source of information when we want a quick explanation of something,” say MIT’s citation guidelines. “However, Wikipedia or other wikis, collaborative information sites contributed to by a variety of people, are not considered reliable sources for academic citation.”

That quotation appears, somewhat ironically, in a recent MIT research paper called “Science is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial.” Its authors, Neil C. Thompson from MIT and Douglas Hanley from the University of Pittsburgh, use both “Big Data” and experimental approaches to support their claim that “incorporating ideas into a Wikipedia article leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature.”




Testing the existence of an underlying causal relationship, they “commissioned subject matter experts to create new Wikipedia articles on scientific topics not covered in Wikipedia.” Half of these articles were added to Wikipedia, and half retained as a control group. “Reviewing the relevant journal articles published later, they find that “the word-usage patterns from the treatment group show up more in the prose in the scientific literature than do those from the control group.”

In other words, Wikipedia does indeed appear to shape science — or as Wharton professor Ethan Mollick put it on Twitter, “The secret heart of academia is… Wikipedia.” Expanding on the idea, he added that “Wikipedia is used like a review article,” which surveys the current state of a particular scientific field. “Review articles are extremely influential on the direction of scientific research, and while Wikipedia articles are generally less influential, there are more of them, they are more up-to-date, and they are free.” That last point — and the implied contrast to traditional, scientific journals with their often shockingly high subscription fees — becomes a key point in Thompson and Hanley’s advocacy for public repositories of knowledge in general, with their power to galvanize research across the whole world. The power of open culture is considerable; the power of open science, perhaps even more so.

You can read Hanley and Thompson’s study on the power of Wikipedia free online: “Science is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial.”

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

The Age of Cathedrals: A Free Online Course from Yale University

From Yale professor Howard Bloch comes Age of Cathedrals, an online course that offers “an introduction to some of the most astonishing architectural monuments the world has ever known—Gothic cathedrals,” including Notre Dame, Chartres, and Saint-Denis. The course description adds: “We shall study the art, literature, intellectual life, economics, and new social arrangements that arose in the shadow of the cathedrals and that were such an important part of the revival of cities in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The goal of the course is a better appreciation of the High Middle Ages, a world that is still recognizably our own.”

You can take Age of Cathedrals for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

Age of Cathedrals has been added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Blockchain and Money: A Free Online Course from MIT

Taught by MIT professor Gary Gensler, Blockchain and Money is “for students wishing to explore blockchain technology’s potential use—by entrepreneurs and incumbents—to change the world of money and finance. The course begins with a review of Bitcoin and an understanding of the commercial, technical, and public policy fundamentals of blockchain technology, distributed ledgers, and smart contracts. The class then continues on to current and potential blockchain applications in the financial sector.”

You can watch all 23 lectures above, or on YouTube. A syllabus and other course materials can be found on MIT’s website. More related courses are listed below.

Blockchain and Money has been added to our list of Free Business Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

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Hear the Amati “King” Cello, the Oldest Known Cello in Existence (c. 1560)

The Stradivari family has received all of the popular acclaim for perfecting the violin. But we should know the name Amati — in whose Cremona workshop Antonio Stradivari apprenticed in the 17th century. The violin-making family was immensely important to the refinement of classical instruments. “Born around 1505,” writes Jordan Smith at CMuse, founder Andrea Amati “is considered the father of modern violinmaking. He made major steps forward in improving the design of violins, including through the development of sound-holes” into their now-familiar f-shape.

Among Amati’s creations is the so-called “King” cello, made in the mid-1500s, part of a set of 38 stringed instruments decorated and “painted in the style of Limoges porcelain” for the court of King Charles IX of France.




The instrument is now the oldest known cello and “one of the few Amati instruments still in existence.” And yet, calling the “King” a cello is a bit of a historical stretch. “The terminology referring to the early forms of cello is convoluted and inconsistent,” Matthew Zeller notes at the Strad. “Andrea Amati would likely have referred to the ‘King’ as the basso (bass violin).”

Images courtesy of National Music Museum

The instrument remained in the French court until the French Revolution, after which the basso fell out of favor and the “King” was “drastically reduced in size” through an alteration process that “stood at the forefront of musical instrument development during the last quarter of the 18th century and throughout the 19th,” a way transform obsolete forms into those more suitable for contemporary music. “By 1801,” Zeller writes, “the date that the ‘King’ might have been reduced, large-format bassos were obsolete, discarded in favour of the smaller-bodied cellos.”

Zeller has studied the extensive alteration of the “King” cello (including a new neck and enlargement from three strings to four) with CT scans of its joints and examinations of now-distorted decorations. The reduction means we cannot hear its original glory — and it was, by all accounts, a glorious instrument, “a member of a larger family of instruments of fixed measurements related together by profound mathematical, geometrical, and acoustical relationships of size and tone,” writes Yale conservator Andrew Dipper, “which gave the set the ability to perform, in unison, some of the world’s first orchestral music for bowed strings.”

We can, however, hear the “King” cello (briefly, at the top) in its current (circa 1801), form, and it still sounds stunning. Cellist Joshua Koestenbaum visited the cello at its home in the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota in 2005 to play it. “It didn’t take much effort to find the instrument’s naturally sweet, warm sound,” he says. “It was incredibly easy to play — comfortable, pleasurable, forgiving, and user-friendly…. I felt at home.” Learn more about the latest research on the “King” cello at Google Arts & Culture and the Strad.

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

A Beautiful, High-Resolution Map of the Internet (2021)


The beginnings of the Internet were uncharted territory, especially before the days of graphic browsers. You had a number, you dialed up to a location. Certain locations were named after their host universities or government sites and that made sense in an old-school telephone exchange way. But the rest was just a vast ocean of data, of strange lands, and many, many barriers. How big, exactly, is the internet? And how do we measure it? What is the “space” of cyberspace?

There have been maps that overlay the internet’s main landlines onto the map of the earth—this Vox article shows the spidery web growing from the first four locations of ARPANET until the whole world is connected. But that’s not how we think of it. Surely Open Culture is always where you, dear reader, reside, and this writer’s undisclosed location has nothing to do with it. Maybe the internet is really the space that it takes up in our minds, in our lives, and in the amount of internet traffic.




Amateur graphic designer Martin Vargic visualized those spaces as countries on a vast globe inspired by National Geographic Magazine. (Although National Geographic borrowed its cartographic style from some of the first printed maps of the world.) Vargic first published his map in 2014 when he was a student in Slovakia. And now he has decided to update the map for 2021. (See the map in high resolution here.) Large continents represent the main websites of the Internet: Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon. The seas represent the aforementioned ocean of data under different names: Ocean of Information, North Connection Ocean, etc. To compare his relatively spare original map to the one he just released is to notice how much more crowded this world has become, and how divided.

First, his methodology.

Vargic based the relative size of each website on its average traffic between January 2020 and January 2021, according to Alexa Rank, the Amazon-owned Alexa Internet’s measure of how popular a website is, calculated by unique users and page views.

However, the center of the map is now different. This now depicts the “core and backbone of the Internet as we know it,” Vargic said. This means a core of service providers surrounded by larger islands of web browsers (Chrome, Firefox, et al).

While the 2014 map considered website size as the main organizer and contained around 200 websites, this version contains 3,000. The north of the globe features country clusters: a grouping of academic, research, and free education sites (wikipedia, archive.org, etc.), governmental websites to the east and conspiracy QAnon lands to the west.

The Antarctica of the map? The Dark Web, where the Onion isn’t a parody news site and TOR isn’t the sci-fi/fantasy publisher.

You might find some of Vargic’s decisions odd, or you might just spend your time wondering how much of the internet is indeed an unknown land, with large “countries” you’ve never heard of, but with millions of “residents”. It might not be real, but Vargic’s map will put you in an exploratory mood while you light off for the territories. You can view it in a high resolution format here. Purchase it as a poster here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

A Side Splitting Medieval TikTok Account: Get a Laugh at Medieval Yoga Poses & Much More

@greedypeasant🧘‍♀️ Medieval Yoga 🧘 #medievaltiktok #yoga #yogalover #peacewithin #fyp #foryou #foryoupage♬ original sound – Tyler Gunther

TikTok, the short-form video-sharing platform, is an arena where the young dominate — last summer, The New York Times reported that over a third of its 49 million daily users in the US were aged 14 or younger.

Yet somehow, a fully grown medieval peasant has become one of its most compelling presences, breezily sharing his yoga regimen, above, his obsession with tassels and ornate sleeves, and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s plans to upcycle his era’s torture devices as New York City subway exit gates.




30-year-old Brooklyn-based artist Tyler Gunther views his creation, Greedy Peasant, as “the manifestation of all the strange medieval art we now enjoy in meme form”:

Often times medieval history focuses on royals, wars, popes and plagues. With this peasant guide, we get to experience the world through the lens of a queer artist who is just trying to make sure everyone is on time for their costume fittings for the Easter pageant. 

Earlier, Gunther’s medieval fixation found an outlet in comics that he posted to Instagram.

Then last February, he found himself quarantining in an Australian hotel room for 2 weeks prior to performing in the Adelaide Festival as part of The Plastic Bag Store, artist Robin Frohardt’s alternately hilarious and sobering immersive supermarket installation:

My quarantine plans had been to work on a massive set of illustrations and teach myself the entire Adobe Creative Suite. Instead I just wandered from one corner of the hotel room to the next and stared at the office building directly outside my window. About 4 days in, Robin texted, “Now is your time to make a TikTok.” I had avoided it for so long. I always had an excuse and I was genuinely confused about how the app worked. But with no alternatives left I made a few videos “just to test out some of the filters” and I was instantly hooked. 

Now, a green screen and a set of box lights are permanently installed in his Brooklyn studio so he can film whenever inspiration strikes, provided it’s not too steamy to don the tights, cowls, wigs and woolens that are an integral part of Greedy Peasant’s look.

@greedypeasant🕷🕷🕷 (to be continued) #medievaltiktok #fyp #foryoupage #foryou #spiderman♬ original sound – Tyler Gunther

One of Gunther’s most eye popping creations came about when Greedy Peasant answered an ad post in the town square seeking a Spider Man (i.e., a man with spiders) to combat a bug infestation:

As a former costume design student, I’m intrigued by how superhero uniforms fit within the very conservative world of Western men’s fashion. We’re supposed to believe these color blocked bodysuits are athletic and high tech. These manly men don’t wear them just because they look great in them, they wear them for our protection and the greater good.  But what if one superhero did value style over substance? Would he still retain his authoritative qualities if his super suit was embroidered and beaded and dripping with tassels? This medievalist believes so. 

About that tassel obsession

To me tassels represent ornamentation for ornamentation’s sake at its peak. This decorative concept is so maligned in our current age. 21st century design trends are so sleek and smooth, which does make our lives practical and efficient. But soon we’ll all be dead. Medieval artisans seemed to understand this on some level. I think if iPhones were sold in the middle ages they would have 4 tassels on each corner. Why? Because it would look very nice. A tassel looks beautiful as a piece of static sculpture. It adds an air of authority and polish to whatever object it is attached to. If that were all they provided us it would be enough. But then suddenly you give your elbow a little flick and before you know it your sleeve tassels are in flight! They are performing a personal ballet with their little strings going wherever the choreography may take them. It’s a gift.

@greedypeasant(not) FACTS. ##medievaltiktok ##nyc ##newyorkcity ##nychistory ##fyp ##foryou ##foryoupage♬ original sound – Tyler Gunther

Gunther’s keen eye extends to his green screen backgrounds, many of which are drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s online image collection.

He also shoots on location when the situation warrants:

Especially in New York City, where it seems like every neighborhood has at least one building dressed up to look as if it survived the Black Plague. I love this blatantly false illusion of a heroic past. We American’s know it’s a façade. We know the building was built in 1910, not 1410, but somehow it still pleases us. Even when I went home to Arkansas to visit family, we were constantly scouting filming locations which looked convincingly medieval. Our greatest find were the back rooms and the choir loft of a beautiful gothic revival church in our town.

While Gunther is obviously his own star attraction, he alternates screen time with a group of “reliquary ladies,” whose main trio, BridgetteAmanda and Susan are the queen bees of the side aisle. Even before he used a green screen filter to animate them with his eyes, lips, and a hint of mustache, he was drawn to their hairdos and individual personalities during repeat visits to the Met Cloisters.

“As reliquaries, they embody such a specific medieval sensibility,” he enthuses. “Each housed a small body part of a deceased saint, which people would make a pilgrimage to see. This combination of the sacred, macabre and beautiful includes all my favorite medieval elements.”

@greedypeasantWill the real St. Catherine’s lower jaw please stand up. ##medievaltiktok ##historytok ##fyp ##foryou ##foryoupage ##reliquary ##peasant ##arthistory♬ original sound – Tyler Gunther

Get to know Tyler Gunther’s Greedy Peasant here.

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

The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe: A Free Online Course from the University of Colorado

Dr. Roger Louis Martínez-Dávila and Ana B. Sanchez-Prieto–two academics working out of the University of Colorado and Universidad Complutense Madrid (Spain)–have teamed up to present Deciphering Secrets: The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe. The free course covers the following ground:

Perhaps no other relic of the European Middle Ages captures our imagination more than illuminated medieval manuscripts, or those documents decorated with images and colored pigments. Serving as windows unto a lost world of kings, ladies, faith, war, and culture, they communicate complex visual and textual narratives of Europe’s collective cultural heritage and patrimony. In this fashion, illuminated manuscripts are dynamic messages from our communal past that are still relevant today in fields like graphic design and typography.

In this seven-week course, students will explore the material creation, content, and historical context of illuminated medieval European manuscripts. Students will acquire an introductory knowledge of their distinguishing characteristics, their cataloguing and periodization (when they were created), the methods utilized to produce them, and their historical context and value.

You can take The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe for free by selecting the audit option upon enrolling. If you want to take the course for a certificate, you will need to pay a fee.

The Illuminated Manuscripts of Medieval Europe has been added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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800 Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Are Now Online: Browse & Download Them Courtesy of the British Library and Bibliothèque Nationale de France

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Ethan Hawke Explains How to Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative

The most creative people, you’ll notice, throw themselves into what they do with absurd, even reckless abandon. They commit, no matter their doubts about their talents, education, finances, etc. They have to. They are generally fighting not only their own misgivings, but also those of friends, family, critics, financiers, and landlords. Artists who work to realize their own vision, rather than someone else’s, face a witheringly high probability of failure, or the kind of success that comes with few material rewards. One must be willing to take the odds, and to renounce, says Ethan Hawke in the short TED talk above, the need for validation or approval.

This is hard news for people pleasers and seekers after fame and reputation, but in order to overcome the inevitable social obstacles, artists must be willing, says Hawke, to play the fool. He takes as his example Allen Ginsberg, who appeared on William F. Buckley’s Firing Line in May of 1968 and, rather than answer Buckley’s charge that his political positions were “naive,” pulled out a harmonium and proceeded to sing the Hare Krishna chant (“the most unharried Krishna I’ve ever heard,” Buckley remarked). Upon arriving home to New York, says Hawke, Ginsberg was met by people who were aghast at what he’d done, feeling that he made himself a clown for middle America.




Ginsberg was unbothered. He was willing to be “America’s holy fool,” as Vivian Gornick called him, if it meant interrupting the constant stream of advertising and propaganda and making Americans stop to wonder “who is this stupid poet?”

Who is this person so willing to chant at William F. Buckley for “the preservation of the universe, instead of its destruction”? What might he have to say to my secret wishes? This is what artists do, says Hawke, take risks to express emotions, by whatever means are at hand. It is the essence of Ginsberg’s view of creativity, to let go of judgment, as he once told a writing student:

Judge it later. You’ll have plenty of time to judge it. You have all your life to judge it and revise it! You don’t have to judge it on the spot there. What rises, respect it. Respect what rises….

Judge your own work later, if you must, but whatever you do, Hawke advises above, don’t stake your worth on the judgments of others. The creative life requires committing instead to the value of human creativity for its own sake, with a childlike intensity that doesn’t apologize for itself or ask permission to come to the surface.

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

Scientists Create an Interactive Map of the 13 Emotions Evoked by Music: Joy, Sadness, Desire, Annoyance, and More

Most of our playlists today are filled with music about emotions: usually love, of course, but also excitement, defiance, anger, devastation, and a host of others besides. We listen to these songs in order to appreciate the musicianship that went into them, but also to indulge in their emotions for ourselves. As for what exactly evokes these feelings within us, lyrics only do part of the job, and perhaps a small part at that. In search of a more rigorous conception of which sonic qualities trigger which emotions in listeners — and a measurement of how many kinds of emotions music can trigger — scientists at UC Berkeley have conducted a cross-cultural research project and used the data to make an interactive listening map.

The study’s creators, a group including psychology professor Dacher Keltner (founding director of the Greater Good Science Center) and neuroscience doctoral student Alan Cowen, “surveyed more than 2,500 people in the United States and China about their emotional responses to these and thousands of other songs from genres including rock, folk, jazz, classical, marching band, experimental and heavy metal.” So writes Berkley News’ Yasmin Anwar, who summarizes the broader findings as follows: “The subjective experience of music across cultures can be mapped within at least 13 overarching feelings: Amusement, joy, eroticism, beauty, relaxation, sadness, dreaminess, triumph, anxiety, scariness, annoyance, defiance, and feeling pumped up.”

Many listener responses can’t have been terribly surprising. “Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ made people feel energized. The Clash’s ‘Rock the Casbah’ pumped them up. Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’ evoked sensuality and Israel (Iz) Kamakawiwoʻole’s ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ elicited joy.

Meanwhile, heavy metal was widely viewed as defiant and, just as its composer intended, the shower scene score from the movie Psycho triggered fear.” The cultural influence of Hitchcock, one might object, has by now transcended all boundaries, but according to the study even Chinese classical music gets the same basic emotions across to Chinese and non-Chinese listeners alike.

Still, all respectable art, even or perhaps especially an abstract one such as music, leaves plenty of room for personal interpretation. You can check your own emotional responses against those of the Berkeley survey’s respondents with its interactive listening map. Just roll your cursor over any of point on its emotional territories, and you’ll hear a short clip of the song listeners placed there. On the peninsula of category H, “erotic, desirous,” you’ll hear Chris Isaak, Wham!, and a great many saxophonists; down in the netherlands of category G, “energizing, pump-up,” Rick Astley’s immortalized “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Alien Ant Farm’s novelty cover of “Smooth Criminal.” Anwar also notes that “The Shape of You,” Ed Sheeran’s inescapable hit, “sparks joy” — but if I have to hear it one more time at the gym, I can assure you my own emotional response won’t be quite so positive.

Related Content:

Daniel Levitin Shows How Musicians Communicate Emotion

Watch Classical Music Get Perfectly Visualized as an Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

Neurosymphony: A High-Resolution Look into the Brain, Set to the Music of Brain Waves

An Interactive Map of the 2,000+ Sounds Humans Use to Communicate Without Words: Grunts, Sobs, Sighs, Laughs & More

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.





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