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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Ten Inspiring and Insightful TED Talks by Musicians

Amanda Palmer isn't the only industry luminary with a penchant for both lyrics and discourse.

By Hannah Ongley
March 25, 2013
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By Hannah Ongley
March 25, 2013
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The merits of her ethics and her music are subjective, but the amount of power Amanda Palmer wields in the music industry is conclusive. Even those who found it most difficult to stomach her Kickstarter campaign would probably have little trouble swallowing her claims about the current state of the music business and the appropriateness of asking fans for financial aid, which she recently compiled into one persuasive TED talk titled 'The Art of Asking'.

But Amanda Palmer isn't the only industry luminary with a penchant for both lyrics and discourse. Here are nine other thought-provoking, though slightly less controversial, TED talks by famous musicians.

1. AMANDA PALMER: THE ART OF ASKING

Start googling 'Amanda Palmer Kickstarter' and it's not long before you're prompted to search 'Amanda Palmer Kickstarter shitstorm'. When the musician took to crowdsourcing last year to raise money for her solo album, people wasted no time in branding her as selfish. 'The Art of Asking' is Palmer's side of the story and raises some interesting points about the difference between 'asking' and 'making' fans pay for music. Palmer is master of the anecdote, and one of the most memorable here is the guy who gave her $10 after a show because he had burned her CD off a friend.

2. DAVID BYRNE: HOW ARCHITECTURE HELPED MUSIC EVOLVE

Artists have always had a grand old time of blaming sound systems for poor performance, but the irrepressible David Byrne puts forth quite a different argument for the venue shaping the music. For examples he turns to everything from bird calls and African drumming to Mozart and iconic New York punk venue CBGB — even tying in voting — and by the end of it you're convinced that we make nearly everything with a specific venue or context in mind.

3. BENJAMIN ZANDER: THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER OF CLASSICAL MUSIC

In a TED talk that could equally be called 'The Transformative Power of Benjamin Zander', the magnetic conductor attempts to make every listener realise his or her untapped love for classical music. And after 20 minutes of interesting facts interspersed with heart-melting anecdotes and piano playing that you just don't want to stop, you're pretty sure he's succeeded.

4. ITAY TALGAM: LEAD LIKE THE GREAT CONDUCTORS

Conductor of both music and business Itay Talgam leads a talk on how to create harmony without saying a word. He explores the unique styles of six 20th-century conductors and shows what we can learn from each, and in doing so makes some compelling points about control: how to retain it, when to loosen it and how not to lose it.

5. TOD MACHOVER AND DAN ELLSEY PLAY NEW MUSIC

Tod Machover of MIT's Media Lab often incorporates new technologies into his works as part of his commitment to bringing musical expression to everyone. Here he presents a talk with Dan Ellsey, a composer with cerebral palsy, to demonstrate how a piece of software called Hyperscore allows people to write music by humming or wielding a mouse. It's a beautiful testimony to music's powers of healing and communication and also features some epic Guitar Hero battles.

6. ANNIE LENNOX: WHY I AM AN HIV/AIDS ACTIVIST

Annie Lennox is the founder of SING, a voice for women and children living with AIDS/HIV that raises money to prevent the spread of the disease and support those currently living with it. In this TED talk she shares some of the experiences that inspired her to raise awareness of the AIDs/HIV crisis and explains the meaning behind the 'HIV Positive' T-shirt that sent the rumour mill spinning when she wore it on American Idol three years ago.

7. EMMANUEL JAL: THE MUSIC OF A WAR CHILD

"When the rest of the children were learning how to read and write / I was learning how fight". Here Emmanuel Jal reveals the incredible story about his journey from child soldier in the Sudan to world recognised hip hop star and humanitarian. He bounces between speech and lyrics in broadcasting his message about the power, both spiritual and intellectual, of music.

8. ROBERT GUPTA: MUSIC IS MEDICINE, MUSIC IS SANITY

Robert Gupta had just completed his undergrate and was studying Parkinson's disease at Harvard when he came to a crossroads at his life, caught between choosing to continue studying neuroscience or to pursue his other love — the violin. He chose the violin, but when a violinist friends suffering from schizophrenia ended up living on the street, he found musical therapy can be a powerful medical instrument itself.

9. EVELYN GLENNIE: HOW TO TRULY LISTEN

In this illustration of how listening to music involves more than letting sound waves hit your eardrums, award-winning deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie makes the argument that listening to music is about being aware of how your whole body takes in and reacts to sound. A decade after this talk was filmed, in the light of Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud and iTunes, her points about the difference between hearing and listening are more relevant than ever.

10. ADAM SADOWSKY ENGINEERS A VIRAL MUSIC VIDEO

The reason Adam Sadowsky doesn't look like a member of an alternative rock band is because he isn't, but he is the guy behind the amazing video for OK Go's 2010 single 'This Too Shall Pass', which has been watched almost 40 million times on YouTube. The video is 3 minutes and 54 seconds of Rube Goldberg machine action, painstakingly constructed by smashing two pianos and four televisions and making over 100 trips to Home Depot. There are no magic tricks involved, but the physics will blow your mind.

Published on March 25, 2013 by Hannah Ongley

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