Revisiting the Music of the Pioneering German Composer Klaus Schulze (RIP), the “Godfather of Techno,” Ambient, German Experimental Psych Rock & More

This past Tuesday, April 26, experimental German electronic composer and musician Klaus Schulze died, leaving a musical legacy as significant as they come in the past half-century or so. Crowned the “godfather of techno,” Pitchfork writes, he was integral to both Krautrock (as 1970s German progressive rock was unflatteringly called) and the “Berlin School” of techno, and he “laid the groundwork for ambient, IDM, and many other sub-genres of contemporary electronic music. His relevance never waned.” Although a legend among those in the know, Schulze isn’t known in broader popular culture.

He should be, and will be, says Oscar-winning Dune composer Hans Zimmer, who worked parts of Schulze’s 1978 composition “Frank Herbert” (below) into the 2021 film’s score. “Klaus Schulze’s music has never been as relevant as it is now,” said Zimmer.

Soon afterward, Schulz recorded a new album, Deus Arrakis, scheduled for release on June 10. “I needed more of that spice,” the 74-year-old composer said. (See him above, sitting cross-legged, with blonde Prince Valiant ‘do, performing “For Barry Graves” live in Köln in 1977.) “From there I felt completely unleashed and just played and played…”

Given Schulze’s staying power and influence, it may be puzzling that he isn’t mentioned with household names like Brian Eno and Kraftwerk, or even hipper names to drop like Karlheinz Stockhausen or Jean-Michel Jarre. This is in part because he rarely stuck with one sound long enough for praise and couldn’t have cared less whether anyone knew who he was. Though an early member, as a percussionist, of Tangerine Dream, Schulze left after their 1970 debut, Electronic Meditation to form the band Ash Ra Tempel, which he also left after their stellar self-titled debut, a psychedelic classic (though he’d return occasionally over the decades) to form and dissolve project after project, while also consistently releasing albums under his own name.

Moving from band to band was hardly unusual in the 1970s German music scene. Two of Kraftwerk’s founding members split off to form major post-punk influence NEU! (then further split for other projects); the list of current and former Tangerine Dream members runs over two score entries. Schulze’s “almost allergic response to the past,” Pitchfork writes, set him apart. “The composer refused to release reworks of his catalog, instead preferring to push forward and discover new sounds.” His experimentation started as a drummer in the 1960s for Berlin bands, when he began “placing his guitar on the ground and playing it with unlikely objects such as metal tubes and copper plates.”

“His first solo release was Irrlicht in 1972,” The Guardian notes, “a composition in four parts that involved Schulze manipulating a broken organ, recordings of an orchestra and an amplifier to create a towering wall of sound.” His next album, 1973’s Cyborg, began his use of synthesizers, which continued throughout his 50-album run (including live albums and soundtracks) but never typecast him. After CyborgRolling Stone writes:

Schulze and his labelmates formed the Krautrock supergroup Cosmic Jokers and their eponymous debut album. That collaboration segued into the most vital period of Schulze’s solo career, as the mid-to-late Seventies saw the release of electronic music classics like 1975’s Timewind, 1976’s Moondawn and 1978’s “X.”

The list of solo albums and collaborations continues (including an all-Moog interpretation of Pink Floyd titled Dark Side of the Moog), stacking up into a must-hear list of titles for those unfamiliar with Schulze’s work. “I hope never to get boring,” he said in 1997, and he meant it. “If an artist cannot amaze people anymore, that’s the end.”

Reaching the end of his own life, after a long illness, Schulze did deign to revisit a moment from his past. It propelled him forward into his final work. “At the end of that second private Dune journey,” he said, “I realized: Deus Arrakis became another salute to Frank Herbert and to that great gift of life in general.”

Schulze lived and still lives in the music he inspired, performed, and recorded. “There was still so much to write about him as a human and artist,” concludes a statement from his family, “but he probably would have said by now: nuff said!… You know what he was like: his music matters, not his person.” Or maybe it was that the two were inseparable. Hear music from his upcoming and final album, Deus Arrakis, just above.

Related Content: 

Pioneering Electronic Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen Presents “Four Criteria of Electronic Music” & Other Lectures in English (1972)

The History of Electronic Music in 476 Tracks (1937-2001)

The History of Electronic Music, 1800-2015: Free Web Project Catalogues the Theremin, Fairlight & Other Instruments That Revolutionized Music

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

Watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films Free Online: Stalker, The Mirror & Andrei Rublev

The stench of Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine shouldn’t taint everything Russian, especially some of its finest cinema. So we’ll give you this heads up: Mosfilm, the largest and oldest film studio in Russia, has posted several major films by Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986), on its official YouTube channel. Above, you can watch Stalker, which we’ve covered amply here on Open Culture. Below, stream The Mirror, Andrei Rublev, and Ivan’s Childhood. Stream other Mosfilm movies here.

The Mirror

Andrei Rublev

Ivan’s Childhood


The Passion According to Andrei

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Coca-Cola Was Originally Sold as an Intellectual Stimulant & Medicine: The Unlikely Story of the Iconic Soft Drink’s Invention

We all know that sweetened, carbonated soft drinks have effects on those who drink them. The most conspicuous, among especially avid consumers, include obesity and its associated health troubles. This, fair to say, was not the intention of John Stith Pemberton, the Georgia pharmacist who in the 1880s came up with the drink that would become Coca-Cola. In that era, writes’s Kat Eschner, “people overwhelmed by industrialization and urbanization as well as the holdover of the Civil War and other social changes struggled to gain purchase, turning to patent medicines for cures that doctors couldn’t provide.” And it was in a patent medicine, one of the countless many dubiously ballyhooed in the nineteenth century, that Coca-Cola first appeared.

Injured in the Civil War, Pemberton developed a morphine addiction for which he fruitlessly sought treatment. But then he got word of a new substance with the potential to cure his “morphinism”: cocaine.  At the time, cocaine was an ingredient in a wine-based beverage enjoyed by Parisians called Vin Mariani.

“It actually made people feel great, and it was sold as medicine,” writes Eschner. “Combining cocaine and alcohol produces another chemical more potent than what’s normally found in cocaine, enhancing the high.” Adapting Vin Mariani for his own local market, Pemberton introduced what he called “French Wine Coca”: a treatment, as he promoted it, for everything from dyspepsia to neurasthenia to constipation, as well as a “most wonderful invigorator of the sexual organs.”

Coca-Cola carries many associations today, few of them having to do with the life of the mind. Yet it was to upper-class intellectuals, their minds disordered by the rapid development of nineteenth-century America, that Pemberton promoted his invention. It would be called “a valuable Brain Tonic, and a cure for all nervous affections.” Its supposed mental benefits became the main selling point in 1886, when temperance laws in Atlanta prompted a re-engineering of the formula. Even the non-alcoholic version contained “the valuable TONIC and NERVE STIMULANT properties of the Coca plant and Cola nuts,” as advertisements put it, but in the early decades of the twentieth century (long after Pemberton’s death in 1888, by which time he’d sold off his rights to the drink), the Coca-Cola Company phased that ingredient out. If it weren’t illegal, a cocaine-fortified soft drink would now benefit from the retro appeal of the eighties — the eighteen-eighties and nineteen-eighties alike.

Related content:

Do You Drink Soda, Pop or Soft Drinks?: 122 Heatmaps Visualize How People Talk in America

“Soda/Pop/Coke,” A Creative Visual Remix of Harvard’s Famous 2003 Survey of American Dialects

The Museum of Failure: A Living Shrine to New Coke, the Ford Edsel, Google Glass & Other Epic Corporate Fails

“The Virtues of Coffee” Explained in 1690 Ad: The Cure for Lethargy, Scurvy, Dropsy, Gout & More

The Birth of Espresso: The Story Behind the Coffee Shots That Fuel Modern Life

Discover the Oldest Beer Recipe in History From Ancient Sumeria, 1800 B.C.

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Hear The Beatles’ Abbey Road with Only Paul McCartney’s Bass: You Won’t Believe How Good It Sounds

In addition to playing the beating human heart on the Beatles’ glorious swan song Abbey Road, Paul McCartney’s bass provides melodic accompaniment, harmony, counterpoint, emphasis… and sometimes it just sings a little tune up and down the neck, the sort of thing a bass player can turn into needless showboating in rock and roll.

That’s not at all the case on “Something,” where McCartney runs, slides, and bounces through the guitar solo, a moment when a support player might conserve his musical energy…. McCartney totally goes for it, as he does on every song, Fender amps pushed into overdrive through Abbey Road Studio’s famous compressors.

Go on… put your LP on the Hi-Fi and listen to the way he swings on “Oh! Darling,” how he anchors “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” so heavily he almost makes Ringo’s bass drum redundant (but it isn’t), how he bounces through Ringo’s “Octopus’s Garden” with an exaggerated music hall lilt, then, in the bridge, obliquely turns the song into an almost fuzzed-out rocker.

Do I even need to mention “Come Together”….? Do we need to talk about Side 2?

“Ngl,” writes Reddit commenter karensellscoke on the site’s “Loudest and Most In-Tune Community of Bassists,” r/Bass. “I’ve been sleeping on Paul for a bit and calling him overrated and a ‘dad’ bassist but I think this may have changed my tune.”

By this, our commenter refers not to Abbey Road proper, but to the isolated bass tracks of the entire album, just above (with plenty of microphone bleed from the rest of the band). I don’t know what a dad bassist is, but I agree with the sentiment, “These are some well crafted basslines executed with personality.”

Paul plays with a feeling rarely heard on modern recordings. Much is due to his guitar-like playing style. Much is due to the absolutely distinctive tone he achieved on the instrument. And much is due to the technical limitations of recording at the time.

“The limitations of Beatles-era technology were substantial,” writes Justin Lancy at The Atlantic, “and they forced a commitment to creative choices at earlier stages of the recording process.” No infinite number of takes as in our digital audio workstation times. Paradoxically, in the right hands, at least — most especially those of the white lab coat-clad technicians at Abbey Road — lower tech made for better recordings.

When you listen to recordings from a generation or two ago… you often hear all sorts of rough edges: large dynamic transitions between loud and quiet, the sounds of oversaturated tape and tubes, instruments bleeding together. Chunked notes. Vocals that are out of pitch. Drums that drift in and out of time. Mistakes. Lots of mistakes.

Do you hear McCartney’s mistakes? Surely he did. “It was because artists were stuck with the mistakes they made that they sometimes decided to embrace them.” This explains why another r/Bass commenter found the isolated bass tracks “inspiringly sloppy…. There’s a great roughness that’s absent today.” Musical_bear describes being “blown away” on “Oh! Darling” by “how sloppy the isolated bass is…. Things I’ve never noticed before, like a random power chord starting verse 2 I think, and even some botched/missing notes completely… but it all somehow sits great in the final mix.” (Read legendary recording engineer Geoff Emerick’s track by track analysis of how he helped make all that happen here.)

We feel every note of McCartney’s playing, instead of just admiring its precision or whatever. “I listened to this entire thing in one sitting, just his bass,” writes a converted karensellscoke (recalling the adage that there are Beatles fans and there are people who just haven’t heard enough Beatles), “and loved it.”

Related Content:

Hear the Beautiful Isolated Vocal Harmonies from the Beatles’ “Something”

Watch Preciously Rare Footage of Paul McCartney Recording “Blackbird” at Abbey Road Studios (1968)

How “Strawberry Fields Forever” Contains “the Craziest Edit” in Beatles History

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

Watch Sir Ian McKellen’s 1979 Master Class on Macbeth’s Final Monologue

If only we could have had a teacher as insightful as Sir Ian McKellen explain some Shakespeare to us at an impressionable age.

Above, a 38-year-old McKellen breaks down Macbeth’s famous final soliloquy as part of a 1978 master class in Acting Shakespeare.

He makes it clear early on that relying on Iambic pentameter to convey the meaning of the verse will not cut it.

Instead, he calls upon actors to apply the power of their intellect to every line, analyzing metaphors and imagery, while also noting punctuation, word choice, and of course, the events leading up to the speech.

In this way, he says, “the actor is the playwright and the character simultaneously.”

McKellen was, at the time, deeply immersed in Macbeth, playing the title role opposite Judi Dench in a bare bones Royal Shakespeare Company production that opened in the company’s Stratford studio before transferring to the West End. As McKellen recalled in a longer meditation on the trickiness of staging this particular tragedy:

It was beautifully done on the cheap in The Other Place, the old tin hut along from the main theatre. John Napier‘s entire set cost £200 and the costumes were a ragbag of second-hand clothes. My uniform jacket had buttons embossed with ‘Birmingham Fire Service’; my long, leather coat didn’t fit, nor did Banquo‘s so we had to wear them slung over the shoulder; Judi Dench, as Lady Macbeth, wore a dyed tea-towel on her head. Somehow it was magic: and black magic, too. A priest used to sit on the front row, whenever he could scrounge a ticket, holding out his crucifix to protect the cast from the evil we were raising.

The New York Times raved about the production, declaring McKellen “the best equipped British actor of his generations:”

Mr. McKellen’s Macbeth is witty; not merely the horror but the absurdity of his actions strikes him from the outset, and he can regard his downfall as an inexorable joke. His wife pulls him along a road that he would travel anyway and he can allow himself scruples, knowing that she will be there to mop them up. Once her prosaic, limited ambition is achieved, she is of no more use to him and he shrugs her off; “she would have died hereafter” is a moment of exasperation that dares our laughter.

What fuels him most is envy, reaching incredulously forward (“The seed of Banquo kings?”) and backward to color the despair of “Duncan is in his grave.” The words, and the mind behind them, are rancid, and it is this mood that takes possession of his last scenes. Everything disgusts him, and his only reason for fighting to the death is that the thought of subjection is the most disgusting of all.

McKellen begins his examination of the text by noting how “she would have died hereafter” sets up the final soliloquy’s preoccupation with time, and its passage.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

McKellen makes a true meal of  “out, out, brief candle”,  relating it to Lady Macbeth’s final appearance, the fools proceeding to their dusty death earlier in the monologue, and Elizabethan stage lighting.

He speculates that Shakespeare’s description of life as a “poor player” was a deliberate attempt by the playwright to give the actor an interpretive hook they could relate to. In performance, the theatrical metaphor should remind the audience that they’re watching a pretense even as they’re invested in the character’s fate.

The production’s success inspired director Trevor Nunn to film it. McKellen recalled that everyone was already so well acquainted with the material, it took just two weeks to get it in the can:

The claustrophobia of the stage production was exactly captured. Trevor had used a similar technique with Antony and Cleopatra on the box. No one else should ever be allowed to televise Shakespeare…There is so much I was proud of: discovering how to play a soliloquy direct into the eyes of everyone in the audience; making them laugh at Macbeth’s gallows humor; working alongside Judi Dench’s finest performance.

For more expert advice from McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley and other notables, watch the RSC’s 9-part Playing Shakespeare series here.

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most recently of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Dracula Daily: Get the Classic Novel Dracula Delivered to Your Email Inbox, in Small Chunks

On Substack, starting on May 3 and ending on November 7, Studio Kirkland is running a project called Daily Dracula, where you can get Dracula delivered to your email inbox, in small chunks. They write:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an epistolary novel – it’s made up of letters, diaries, telegrams, newspaper clippings – and every part of it has a date. The whole story happens between May 3 and November 10. So: Dracula Daily will post a newsletter each day that something happens to the characters, in the same timeline that it happens to them.

Sign up here.

via Boing Boing

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Jon Kabat-Zinn Presents an Introduction to Mindfulness (and Explains Why Our Lives Just Might Depend on It)

The practice of cultivating mindfulness through meditation first took root in Europe and the U.S. in the 1960s, when Buddhist teachers from Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, and elsewhere left home, often under great duress, and taught Western students hungry for alternative forms of spirituality. Though popularized by countercultural figures like Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg, the practice didn’t seem at first like it might reach those who seemed to need it most — stressed out denizens of the corporate world and military industrial complex who hadn’t changed their consciousness with mind-altering drugs, or left the culture to become monastics.

Then professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn came along, stripped away religious and new age contexts, and began redesigning mindfulness for the masses in 1979 with his mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. Now everyone knows, or thinks they know, what mindfulness is. As meditation teacher Lokadhi Lloyd tells The Guardian, Kabat-Zinn is “Mr Mindfulness in relation to our secular strand. Without him, I don’t think mindfulness would have risen to the prominence it has.”

His secularization of mindfulness, however, has not, in practical terms, taken it very far from its roots, which explains why Kabat-Zinn’s groundbreaking 1990 book Full Catastrophe Living receives high praise from Buddhist teachers like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzburg, and Kabat-Zinn’s own former Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh.

While Kabat-Zinn says he himself is not (or is no longer) a Buddhist, his definitions of mindfulness might sound just close enough to those who study and practice the religion. As he says in the short segment at the top: “It’s paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” And then, “sometimes,” he says, “I like to add, as if your life depended on it.” The quality of our lives, the clarity of our lives, and the depth and richness of our lives depend on our ability to be aware of what’s happening around and inside us. This ability, Kabat-Zinn insists, is the inheritance of all human beings. It can be found in spiritual practices around the world. No one owns a patent on awareness.

Nevertheless, Kabat-Zinn is particularly leery of what he calls McMindfulness, the commodity-driven industry selling coloring books, apps, puzzles, t-shirts, and novelties touting mindful benefits. Mindfulness based stress reduction is “not a trick,” he says. It isn’t something we buy and try out here and there. “MBSR is exceedingly challenging,” Kabat-Zinn writes in Full Catastrophe Living. “In many ways, being in the present moment with a spacious orientation toward what is happening may really be the hardest work in the world for us humans. At the same time, it is also infinitely doable.” It can also be highly unpleasant, forcing us to sit with the things we’d rather ignore about ourselves. Why should we do it? We might consider the alternatives.

MBSR began (“in the basement of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center,” notes NPR) helping patients with chronic pain recover. It proved so effective, Kabat-Zinn applied the insight more globally — “using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness.” This is not a cure-all, but a way of living that reduces unnecessary suffering caused by overactive discursive thinking, which traps us in patterns of blame, shame, fear, regret, judgment, and self-criticism (illustrated in Scottish psychologist R.D. Laing’s book of neurotic narratives, Knots) — traps us, that is, in stories about the past and future, which affect our physical and mental health, our work, and our relationships.

The medical evidence for mindfulness has only begun to catch up with Kabat-Zinn’s work, yet it weighs heavily on the side of the outcomes he has seen for over 40 years. MBSR also comes highly recommended by Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar and trauma expert Bessel Van Der Kok, among so many others who have done the research. The evidence is why, as you can see in the longer presentations above at Dartmouth and Google, Kabat-Zinn has become something of an evangelist for mindfulness. “If this is another fad, I don’t want to have any part of it,” he says. “If in the past 50 years I had found something more meaningful, more healing, more transformative and with more potential social impact, I would be doing that.”

As Kabat-Zinn’s 2005 book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, shows, we can bring what happens in meditation into our everyday life, letting assumptions go, and “letting life become both the meditation teacher and the practice, moment by moment, no matter what arises,” he tells Mindful magazine. This isn’t about escaping into blissed out moments of Zen. It’s fostering “deep connections,” over and over again, with ourselves, families, friends, communities, the planet we live on, and, in turn, “the future that we’re bequeathing to our future generations.”

Related Content:

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Stream 18 Hours of Free Guided Meditations

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

An Online Archive of Beautiful, Early 20th Century Japanese Postcards

The world thinks of Japan as having transformed itself utterly after its defeat in the Second World War. And indeed it did, into what by the nineteen-eighties looked like a gleaming, technology-saturated condition of ultra-modernity. But the standard version of modernity, as conceived of in the early 20th century with its trains, telephones, and electricity, came to Japan long before the war did. “Between 1900 and 1940, Japan was transformed into an international, industrial, and urban society,” writes Museum of Fine Arts Boston curator Anne Nishimura Morse. “Postcards — both a fresh form of visual expression and an important means of advertising — reveal much about the dramatically changing values of Japanese society at the time.”

These words come from the introductory text to the MFA’s 2004 exhibition “Art of the Japanese Postcard,” curated from an archive you can visit online today. (The MFA has also published it in book form.) You can browse the vintage Japanese postcards in the MFA’s digital collections in themed sections like architecture, women, advertising, New Year’s, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau.

These represent only a tiny fraction of the postcards produced in Japan in the first decades of the twentieth century, when that new medium “quickly replaced the traditional woodblock print as the favored tableau for contemporary Japanese images. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced to meet the demands of a public eager to acquire pictures of their rapidly modernizing nation.”

The earliest Japanese postcards “were distributed by the government in connection with the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), to promote the war effort. Almost immediately, however, many of Japan’s leading artists — attracted by the informality and intimacy of the postcard medium — began to create stunning designs.” The work of these artists is collected in a dedicated section of the online archive, where you’ll find postcards by the commercial graphic-design pioneer Suguira Hisui; the French-educated, highly Western-influenced Asai Chi; the multitalented Ota Saburo, known as the illustrator of Kawabata Yasunari’s The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa; and Nakazawa Hiromitsu, creator of the “diver girl” long well-known among Japanese-art collectors.

Surprisingly, Nakazawa’s diver girl (also known as the “mermaid,” but most correctly as “Heroine Matsuzake” of a popular play at the time) seems not to have been among the possessions of cosmetics billionaire and art collector Leonard A. Lauder, who donated more than 20,000 Japanese selections from his vast postcard collection to the MFA. “In 1938 or ’39, a boy of five or six, or maybe seven, was so enthralled by the beauty of a postcard of the Empire State Building that he took his entire five-cent allowance and bought five of them,” writes the New Yorker‘s Judith H. Dobrzynski. The youngster thrilling to the paper image of a skyscraper was, of course, Lauder — who couldn’t have known how much, in that moment, he had in common with the equally modernity-intoxicated people on the other side of the world.

via Flashbak

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An Eye-Popping Collection of 400+ Japanese Matchbox Covers: From 1920 through the 1940s

View 103 Discovered Drawings by Famed Japanese Woodcut Artist Katsushika Hokusai

Download 2,500 Beautiful Woodblock Prints and Drawings by Japanese Masters (1600-1915)

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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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