Jazz-Zither-Piano-Man Laraaji Discusses His Decades of Meditative Improvisations: A Nakedly Examined Music Podcast Conversation (#134)

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Edward Larry Gordon Jr. became Laraaji around the same time he started releasing meditative zither music in the late 70s and was then discovered by Brian Eno, who produced “The Dance No. 1” from  Ambient 3: Day of Radiance (1980). Laraaji has since had around 40 releases of largely improvised music, and this interview (below) explores his approach toward improvisation on numerous instruments, playing “functional” music intended to aid meditation and reflection, and the evolution of Laraaji’s unique musical vision.

Each episode of Nakedly Examined Music features full-length presentations of four recordings discussed by the artist with your host Mark Linsenmayer. Here we present “Hold on to the Vision” and “Shenandoah” from Laraaji’s latest release, Sun Piano (2020), the single edit of “Introspection” from Bring On the Sun (2017), and “All of a Sudden,” a 1986 vocal tune released on Vision Songs, Vol. 1 (2017). Get more information at laraaji.blogspot.com.

Want more? Hear all of “The Dance No. 1.” Watch the live TV version of “All of a Sudden” we discuss, as well another episode of Celestrana featuring Dr. Love the puppet. Watch a similar, recent isolation stream also featuring Dr. Love and much more. Listen to the full glory of “Introspection” and the trip that is “Sun Gong.” Check out some live gong playing. Here’s a remix of “Introspection” by Dntel.

Find the archive of songwriter interviews at nakedlyexaminedmusic.com or get the ad-free feed at patreon.com/nakedlyexaminedmusic. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Nakedly Examined Music is a podcast. Mark Linsenmayer also hosts The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast and Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, and releases music under the name Mark Lint.

Chris Matheson, “Bill & Ted” Writer, Talks Cosmic Satire with Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #65

Chris Matheson has written a bunch of comic movies including the new Bill & Ted Face the Music, and he’s converted religious texts into funnier books on three occasions, most recently with The Buddha’s Story. Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt talk with him about what unifies these projects: Why the big ideas of science fiction, fantasy, religion, and philosophy are begging in a similar way to be made fun of.

We get into the big questions: How does humor relate to fear? Would a society based on Bill and Ted (or Keanu Reeves) actually be desirable? How bad is the evident literal absurdity of many religious texts? Plus, the B & T joke that has not aged well, and much more!

A few articles that we found but didn’t really draw on included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

“The Last of Us” Franchise: Can Video Games Be Cinema? A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#64)

Your Pretty Much Pop hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Brian Hirt, and Erica Spyres all played both The Last of Us, and more recently immersed themselves in the lengthier The Last of Us 2, which has been generating a lot of acclaim but also controversy. Actually, Erica just watches her husband Drew Jackson play these things, but he showed up to this discussion too. Yes, these creations of Neil Druckmann with the Naughty Dog team are groundbreaking, and riveting, but by design not necessarily “fun,” or thereby involving much “playing.”

The franchise is ostensibly about a zombie apocalypse and an immune girl that might be its cure, but it’s really a drawn-out drama about loss, family, and the cycle of revenge… You know, in between running around looking for scraps to craft weapon upgrades and skulking around driving shivs through the necks of numerous monsters and people.

We compare The Last of Us to other zombie media like Walking Dead, address the shifting points of view in the game (playable flashbacks!), representation, fan and critical reaction, the effectiveness of the game’s message, and more.

This conversation should work both for listeners who’ve actually played the games and those who are just curious about what the fuss is about. There are some plot spoilers about the end of the first game and events near the beginning of the second game necessary to discuss the narrative.

Listen to the official Last of Us podcast. For another player perspective, check out the Besties podcast.

Other resources:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

What Can Superhero Media Teach Us About Ethics: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#63) Discussion with Philosophy Professor Travis Smith

Is there no end to the seemingly endless fascination with superhero media? Your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt are joined by Travis Smith, who teaches political philosophy at Concordia University, to discuss. Travis sees their resonance as a matter of metaphor: How can we do more with the abilities we have? His book Superhero Ethics: 10 Comic Book Heroes, 10 Ways to Save the World, Which One Do We Need Now? matches up heroes like Batman vs. Spider-Man for ethical comparison: Both “act locally,” but Batman would like to actually rule over Gotham, while Spider-Man engages in a more “friendly neighborhood” patrol.  What philosophy should govern the way we try to do good in the world?

Lurking in the background is the current release of season two of the Amazon series The Boys, based on Garth Ennis’ graphic novels, which assumes that power corrupts and asks what regular folks might do in the face of corporate-backed invulnerability. This cynical take is part of a long tradition of asking “what if super-heroes were literally real?” that goes through Watchmen all the way back to Spider-Man himself, who faces financial and other mundane problems that Superman was immune to.

Given Travis’ book, we didn’t really need supplementary articles for this episode, but you can take a look at this interview with him to learn more about his comic book loves and the Canadian heritage that led him to start fighting crime (you know, indirectly, through ethical teaching).

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts

Chris Frantz Breaks Down How He Crafted Songs for Talking Heads & Tom Tom Club: A Nakedly Examined Music Interview

Chris founded Talking Heads in the early ’70s with his wife Tina Weymouth and David Byrne, and he focuses heavily on these early years of his career in his new memoir Remain in Love, describing it as very much a group effort, even though they intentionally put the spotlight on David, who in turn pretty early on announced that he had to write all the lyrics, that he couldn’t sing other people’s songs.

On the Nakedly Examined Music Podcast, Mark Linsenmayer interviews songwriters about their creative decision-making, and in this interview, Chris tells how he and Tina and David collaborated on lyrics for their early single “Psycho Killer,” and then how Chris’ lyrics were used for “Warning Sign,” a song (played in full as part of the podcast) that appeared on the Heads’ second album, 1978’s More Songs About Buildings and Food.

Also surprising is that Chris and Tina’s spin-off band, Tom Tom Club, formed in an interval when both David and the Heads’ lead guitarist Jerry Harrison wanted to pause Talking Heads to record solo albums, actually had its best-selling single, “Genius of Love,” prior to the Talking Heads real financial success with hits like “Burning Down the House” and “And She Was.”

The interview includes a detailed treatment of the composition and arrangement of two Tom Tom Club songs that are also played in full: “Bamboo Town,” a reggae-inspired track from their second album Close to the Bone (1983); and “Who Feelin’ It,” a dance track replete with record scratch percussion from The Good the Bad and the Funky (2000). This song was later remixed by The interview concludes with a song that Chris sings: the title track from Tom Tom Club’s most recent release, Downtown Rockers (2012).

Both these last two tracks have as their main lyrics lists of artists that Chris and Tina wanted to pay tribute to, both in influencing their musical sensibilities and/or playing shows with them at CBGB’s during their formative years as Talking Heads in New York City. Chris’ book gives us a vivid glimpse of that scene, as well as the excitement of their first album, working with Brian Eno, their first European tour, and other milestones all the way up to their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, which was their first time playing together since the group’s split in 1991.

For more Nakedly Examined Music in-depth interviews about songwriting, arrangement, and the musical life, visit nakedlyexaminedmusic.com.

Mark Linsenmayer is also the host of The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast and Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast. He releases music under the name Mark Lint.

 

Mulan Re-Disneyfied: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast (#62) Discussion with Actor Michael Tow

Is the new Mulan the equivalent for Asian-Americans what Black Panther was for African-Americans? The largest entertainment machine we have featured an all-Asian cast telling a traditional Chinese story aimed at the widest possible audience. Did it work?

Actor Michael Tow joins your hosts Erica Spyres, Mark Linsenmayer, and Brian Hirt to discuss the development, aesthetics, and political controversies surrounding the film. The vision of feminism changed between the original poem from ca. 550 C.E. (“When the two rabbits run side by side, how can you tell the female from the male?”) to the present, and the “just be you” ethic (with your magical chi!) is not the norm for China in any period. Was the project in its very conception doomed to fall short of some of its goals? Was the live-action an improvement over the 1998 animated version?

Read the poem, and watch a reading of the illustrated 1998 Robert San Souci book Fa Mulan that the films were based on. There have been many adaptations of the story in China.

Other sources we read to prepare included:

Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelctow and check out his imdb credits. Michael hosted a Q&A with the Mulan cast shortly after the film’s release.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts

The Philosophy of Photography with Amir Zaki on Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #61

Amir Zaki teaches at UC-Riverside and has had his work displayed in numerous galleries, in his recent book California Concrete: A Landscape of Skateparks, and profiled via a short film.

Amir joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to consider this common act that can stretch from the mundane to the sublime. How have our various purposes for photography changed with the advent of digital technology, the introduction of social media, and the ready access to video? What determines what we choose to take pictures of, and how does taking photography more seriously change the way we experience? We touch on iconic and idealized images, capturing the specific vs. the universal, witnessing vs. intervening via photography, and more.

See more of Amir’s work at amirzaki.net.

A few of the articles we looked at to prepare included:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Follow Amir on Instagram @amir_zaki_.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts

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