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

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s Advice to Young Film­mak­ers: Sac­ri­fice Your­self for Cin­e­ma

Andrei Tarkovsky Calls Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey a “Pho­ny” Film “With Only Pre­ten­sions to Truth

Slavoj Žižek Explains the Artistry of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films: Solaris, Stalk­er & More

Watch Stalk­er, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Mind-Bend­ing Mas­ter­piece Free Online

Andrei Tarkovsky Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Films (1972)


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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

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hor­ror Leg­end Christo­pher Lee Reads Bram Stoker’s Drac­u­la

Watch Nos­fer­atu, the Sem­i­nal Vam­pire Film, Free Online (1922)

Christo­pher Lee Reads Five Hor­ror Clas­sics: Drac­u­la, Franken­stein, The Phan­tom of the Opera & More


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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:

Dai­ly Med­i­ta­tion Boosts & Revi­tal­izes the Brain and Reduces Stress, Har­vard Study Finds

How Mind­ful­ness Makes Us Hap­pi­er & Bet­ter Able to Meet Life’s Chal­lenges: Two Ani­mat­ed Primers Explain

De-Mys­ti­fy­ing Mind­ful­ness: A Free Online Course by Lei­den Uni­ver­si­ty 

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

Relat­ed con­tent:

Adver­tise­ments from Japan’s Gold­en Age of Art Deco

Vin­tage 1930s Japan­ese Posters Artis­ti­cal­ly Mar­ket the Won­ders of Trav­el

Glo­ri­ous Ear­ly 20th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Ads for Beer, Smokes & Sake (1902–1954)

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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