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Getty Images / Rialto Pictures

11 Movie Soundtracks by a Single Artist

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Getty Images / Rialto Pictures

Whether it’s a large orchestral score or the hushed strumming of a lone guitar, the music in a film is an essential part of the whole. But sometimes, instead of a traditional score or multi-artist soundtrack, filmmakers choose a single act to provide the music for their movie. 

1. Miles Davis // Ascenseur pour l'échafaud

When looking for music for his debut feature, a crime thriller called Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (released as Elevator to the Gallows in the U.S. and Lift to the Scaffold in the UK), French director Louis Malle, then 24, approached legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis at a Paris gig in November 1957 at the suggestion of his assistant. Surprisingly, the normally volatile Davis agreed. Before Davis and his quintet took to the studio, they were given only a brief outline of the film’s plot, and once they got there, they completely improvised the entire soundtrack as they watched a rough cut of the film live.

2. Bob Dylan // Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

In 1972, screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer approached singer/songwriter Bob Dylan to create songs for a movie he was writing called Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. The revisionist western starred James Coburn as sheriff Pat Garrett, who is hunting down outlaw Billy the Kid, played by Kris Kristofferson, in New Mexico. While it didn’t receive rave reviews, and Dylan’s time on the film wasn’t exactly memorable (director Sam Peckinpah had allegedly never even heard of Dylan before), his country music-tinged contributions to the movie included “Knockin' on Heaven’s Door,” one of the singer’s best-loved tunes. Dylan even has a cameo in the film as a mysterious wanderer called “Alias” who joins up with Billy’s gang.

3. Curtis Mayfield // Superfly

Though it was released a year after singer Isaac Hayes’ classic soundtrack for the movie Shaft, Curtis Mayfield’s album for the 1972 blaxploitation movie Super Fly is now regarded as a pioneering concept album about social justice, influencing countless soul artists after it. The album went on to sell more than two million copies, and Mayfield would continue his soundtrack career by penning the music for six more films, culminating in his soundtrack for the film The Death of Super Fly in 1990.

4. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers // She’s the One

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers reunited after squabbles over Petty’s solo output to make the music for the soundtrack to director Edward Burns’ 1996 dramedy She’s the One. It is officially listed as the band’s ninth studio album, and features guest vocals by Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham and covers of Lucinda Williams’ “Change the Locks” and Beck’s “Asshole.”

5. Eddie Vedder // Into the Wild

The Pearl Jam frontman had previously contributed songs to 1995’s Dead Man Walking and 2001’s I Am Sam, movies both starring actor Sean Penn. But when Penn was looking for music for his fourth directorial effort, Into the Wild, he handpicked the singer to do the whole soundtrack. The folksy acoustic album was Vedder’s first solo effort. He later released a second solo record called Ukelele Songs in 2011.

6. Aimee Mann // Magnolia

Director Paul Thomas Anderson first met singer/songwriter Aimee Mann when he asked her husband, musician Michael Penn (Sean Penn’s brother), to do the score for his first film, Hard Eight. While only two songs were written specifically for Magnolia—“You Do” and “Save Me,” the latter of which was nominated for “Best Original Song” at the 72nd Academy Awards—many of the songs are shared with Mann’s third studio album, released after Magnolia, called Bachelor No. 2. The soundtrack also features Mann’s cover of the Harry Nilsson song, “One.”

7. Air // The Virgin Suicides

French electro-pop band Air provided the music for director Sofia Coppola’s debut feature The Virgin Suicides, which was later named the 49th best French rock album by the French edition of Rolling Stone. Coppola’s fondness for French pop groups goes beyond her movies: She eventually married French band Phoenix’s lead singer Thomas Mars, whose band also provided songs for her 2010 film Somewhere.

8. Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle // One From the Heart

Sofia wasn’t the only Coppola to have a single artist make music for a movie. Her father, the great Francis Ford Coppola, had singers Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle sing soulful duets and solo compositions for his 1982 musical, One From the Heart. Not very many people heard the songs when the film was released in 1982, though. The movie was a gigantic box office bomb, making only $636,796 against a $26 million budget.

9. Neil Young // Dead Man

Similar to Miles Davis’ music for Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, musician Neil Young improvised the solos he made for director Jim Jarmusch’s unorthodox 1995 western Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp. As Young watched the film, he sat in a circle surrounded by his instruments and would pick up and play what he felt reflected the action onscreen. Young likened this method to the way in which organists or piano players would accompany silent films before the sound era.

Director Jarmusch later experimented further with single-artist soundtracks. The RZA from the Wu Tang Clan provided the music for Jarmusch’s 1999 film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Jarmusch’s own band SQÜRL conveniently did the music for his most recent film, Only Lovers Left Alive.

10. Karen O // Where the Wild Things Are

Karen O, lead singer of the indie rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, created the music for director Spike Jonze’s 2009 film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, along with contributions from her Yeah Yeah Yeahs bandmates and members of Queens of the Stone Age, Liars, The Raconteurs, and Deerhunter, among others. Karen O later reteamed with Jonze for “The Moon Song,” the Academy Award nominated song from Jonze’s 2013 film Her, which also happened to be scored entirely by the band the Arcade Fire.

11. Badly Drawn Boy // About a Boy

Who better to provide the music for the film About a Boy than Badly Drawn Boy (aka British singer/songwriter Damon Gough)? Co-directors and screenwriters Chris and Paul Weitz listened to Gough’s music while writing the screenplay, and were so inspired that they approached the singer to do the music for the film. Gough would again do the music for Paul Weitz’s 2012 film Being Flynn, starring Robert DeNiro.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.