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The Late Movies: Daniel Johnston, Beautiful Singer of Broken Dreams

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Daniel Johnston is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and visual artist...who happens to suffer from crippling bipolar disorder. His songs are generally sweet, vulnerable, and at least a little weird. As Johnston has aged, his delivery has become increasingly warbly, though his youthful spirit shines through: the man radiates a wonderful mixture of joy and grief. There's a quality to his work that's disarming in the extreme -- assuming you're along for the ride. Among my friends, Daniel Johnston is either someone who makes you cry with joy or makes you hit the STOP button promptly. I hope that tonight I will turn you into the former kind of person by showing you ten lovely songs.

(By the way, if you look Johnston up you'll note the Hi, How Are You art which was popularized to many music fans via Kurt Cobain's shirt featuring the frog. You'll also come across the excellent, heartbreaking documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston -- if you're at all interested in this man, watch the trailer and then rent the film.)

"Story of an Artist"

From the Don't Be Scared album. "Listen up and I'll tell a story about an artist growing old. Some would try for fame and glory; others aren't so bold." Clips from The Devil and Daniel Johnston.


"To understand and be understood is to be free." One of the most tender, heartbreaking performances I've seen. From The Angel and Daniel Johnston - Live at the Union Chapel, a live concert recording.

"Life in Vain"

With Swell Season and a children's choir on Austin City Limits. Beautiful. "It's so tough just to be alive when I feel like the living dead. I'm giving it up so plain, I'm living my life in vain, and where am I going to?"


"And I saw you at the funeral, you were standing there like a temple. I said 'Hi, how are you, hello,' and I pulled up the casket and crawled in. Yes, I did." Stick around for the brief discussion at the end.

"True Love Will Find You in the End"

Live at the Black Cat in DC, February 2008. "Ladies and gentlemen, merry Christmas, thank you very much, good night."

"I Live My Broken Dreams"

From one of the times Johnston was on MTV. 1985, Austin, Texas. "My hopes lay shattered like a mirror on the floor; I see myself and I look really scattered. But I live my broken dreams."

"Worried Shoes"

"I took my lucky break and I broke it in two; put on my worried shoes." 2009. "Okay, thanks, but maybe that song's a little bit too long for you."


Live on the Henry Rollins Show, with a somewhat awkward intro explaining a bit about who Johnston is. "Another day in the past, and every hour I'm haunting. Everybody is wearing a mask, playing skip-to-the-lou, my darling."

Piano Improvisation

2008. Johnston improvises at The Smokebrush Gallery in Colorado Springs. My favorite part starts about two minutes in. Watch him pull together all sorts of melodies and styles into a sort of freeform ragtimey jazz.

Interview and Snippets of Songs

"Just because I drew a boxer doesn't mean I want to box." Check out the bit of "Mean Girls Give Pleasure" around 2:30.

Post Your Favorites

YouTube is full of beautiful Johnston performances. Post your favorites in the comments! Also, very special thanks to my friend Kelli Rule, a painter and graphic artist who found most of these videos.

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ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 


If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”


Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.


Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.


What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.


Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”


Art made by a robot.

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”


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