David Lynch Explains Why Depression Is the Enemy of Creativity–and Why Meditation Is the Solution

David Lynch has a vari­ety of notions about what it takes to make art, but suf­fer­ing is not among them. “This is part of the myth, I think,” he said in one inter­view. “Van Gogh did suf­fer. He suf­fered a lot. But I think he did­n’t suf­fer while he was paint­ing.” That is, “he did­n’t need to be suf­fer­ing to do those great paint­ings.” As Lynch sees it, “the more you suf­fer, the less you want to cre­ate. If you’re tru­ly depressed, they say, you can’t even get out of bed, let alone cre­ate.” This rela­tion­ship between men­tal state and cre­ativ­i­ty is a sub­ject he’s addressed over and over again, and the video above assem­bles sev­er­al of those instances from over the decades. It may come as a sur­prise that the auteur of Blue Vel­vetTwin Peaks, and Mul­hol­land Dri­ve, rec­om­mends med­i­ta­tion as the solu­tion.

That cer­tain­ly won’t come as a sur­prise, how­ev­er, to any­one famil­iar with Lynch’s world­view. Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Lynch’s expla­na­tion of how med­i­ta­tion boosts cre­ativ­i­ty, his draw­ing depict­ing how med­i­ta­tion works, his method of get­ting ideas through med­i­ta­tion, and his con­ver­sa­tions about med­i­ta­tion with the likes of Paul McCart­ney and Moby.

In the video below, he lays out how his favorite kind of med­i­ta­tion, the Tran­scen­den­tal vari­ety, has the poten­tial to dri­ve out not just depres­sion, but also neg­a­tiv­i­ty, ten­sion, stress, anx­i­ety, sor­row, anger, hate, and fear. These are grand promis­es, but not with­out inter­est to the non-med­i­tat­ing Lynch fan curi­ous about the mind behind his work, both of which were once wide­ly assumed to be deeply trou­bled indeed.

“Do you think you’re a genius, or a real­ly sick per­son?” CBC cor­re­spon­dent Valerie Pringle asks him in a Blue Vel­vet-era inter­view includ­ed in the com­pi­la­tion at the top of the post. “Well, Valerie,” he responds, “I don’t know.” He did not, at that time, speak pub­licly about his med­i­ta­tion prac­tice, but by the late nineties he’d begun to dis­cuss per­son­al mat­ters much more freely. In one Char­lie Rose inter­view, a clip from which appears in the video, he even tells of the time he went to ther­a­py. The begin­ning of this sto­ry makes it in, but not the end: Lynch asked his new ther­a­pist “straight out, right up front, ‘Could this process that we’re going to go through affect cre­ativ­i­ty?’ And he said, ‘David, I have to be hon­est with you, it could” — where­upon Lynch shook the man’s hand and walked right back out the door.

Relat­ed con­tent:

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Boosts Our Cre­ativ­i­ty (Plus Free Resources to Help You Start Med­i­tat­ing)

One Hour of David Lynch Lis­ten­ing to Rain, Smok­ing & Reflect­ing on Art

David Lynch Visu­al­izes How Tran­scen­den­tal Med­i­ta­tion Works, Using a Sharpie & Big Pad of Paper

Are We All Get­ting More Depressed?: A New Study Ana­lyz­ing 14 Mil­lion Books, Writ­ten Over 160 Years, Finds the Lan­guage of Depres­sion Steadi­ly Ris­ing

David Lynch Mus­es About the Mag­ic of Cin­e­ma & Med­i­ta­tion in a New Abstract Short Film

Charles Bukows­ki Explains How to Beat Depres­sion: Spend 3–4 Days in Bed and You’ll Get the Juices Flow­ing Again (NSFW)

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 or on Face­book.

Sun Ra Plays a Music Therapy Gig at a Psychiatric Hospital & Inspires a Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

For some time now it has been fash­ion­able to diag­nose dead famous peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness­es we nev­er knew they had when they were alive. These post­mortem clin­i­cal inter­ven­tions can seem accu­rate or far-fetched, and most­ly harmless—unless we let them col­or our appre­ci­a­tion of an artist’s work, or neg­a­tive­ly influ­ence the way we treat eccen­tric liv­ing per­son­al­i­ties. Over­all, I tend to think the state of a cre­ative individual’s men­tal health is a top­ic best left between patient and doc­tor.

In the case of one Her­man Poole Blount, aka Sun Ra—com­pos­er, band­leader of free jazz ensem­ble the Arkestra, and “embod­i­ment of Afro­fu­tur­ism”—one finds it tempt­ing to spec­u­late about pos­si­ble diag­noses, of schiz­o­phre­nia or bipo­lar dis­or­der, for exam­ple. Plen­ty of peo­ple have done so. This makes sense, giv­en Blount’s claims to have vis­it­ed oth­er plan­ets through astral pro­jec­tion and to him­self be an alien from anoth­er dimen­sion. But ascrib­ing Sun Ra’s enlight­en­ing, enliven­ing mytho-theo-phi­los­o­phy to ill­ness or dys­func­tion tru­ly does his bril­liant mind a dis­ser­vice, and clouds our appre­ci­a­tion for his com­plete­ly orig­i­nal body of work.

In fact, Sun Ra him­self discovered—fairly ear­ly in his career when he went by the name “Sonny”—that his music could per­haps alle­vi­ate the suf­fer­ing of men­tal ill­ness and help bring patients back in touch with real­i­ty. In the late 50’s, the pianist and composer’s man­ag­er, Alton Abra­ham, booked his client at a Chica­go psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal. Sun Ra biog­ra­ph­er John Szwed tells the sto­ry:

Abra­ham had an ear­ly inter­est in alter­na­tive med­i­cine, hav­ing read about scalpel-free surgery in the Philip­pines and Brazil. The group of patients assem­bled for this ear­ly exper­i­ment in musi­cal ther­a­py includ­ed cata­ton­ics and severe schiz­o­phren­ics, but Son­ny approached the job like any oth­er, mak­ing no con­ces­sions in his music.

Sun Ra had his faith in this endeav­or reward­ed by the response of some of the patients. “While he was play­ing,” Szwed writes, “a woman who it was said had not moved or spo­ken for years got up from the floor, walked direct­ly to his piano, and cried out ‘Do you call that music?’” Blount—just com­ing into his own as an orig­i­nal artist—was “delight­ed with her response, and told the sto­ry for years after­ward as evi­dence of the heal­ing pow­ers of music.” He also com­posed the song above, “Advice for Medics,” which com­mem­o­rates the psy­chi­atric hos­pi­tal gig.

It is sure­ly an event worth remem­ber­ing for how it encap­su­lates so many of the respons­es to Sun Ra’s music, which can—yes—confuse, irri­tate, and bewil­der unsus­pect­ing lis­ten­ers. Like­ly still inspired by the expe­ri­ence, Sun Ra record­ed an album in the ear­ly six­ties titled Cos­mic Tones for Men­tal Ther­a­py, a col­lec­tion of songs, writes All­mu­sic, that “out­raged those in the jazz com­mu­ni­ty who thought Eric Dol­phy and John Coltrane had already tak­en things too far.” (Hear the track “And Oth­er­ness” above.) But those will­ing to lis­ten to what Sun Ra was lay­ing down often found them­selves roused from a debil­i­tat­ing com­pla­cen­cy about what music can be and do.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Col­lec­tion of Sun Ra’s Busi­ness Cards from the 1950s: They’re Out of This World

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

When Sun Ra Went to Egypt in 1971: See Film & Hear Record­ings from the Leg­endary Afrofuturist’s First Vis­it to Cairo

Sun Ra Applies to NASA’s Art Pro­gram: When the Inven­tor of Space Jazz Applied to Make Space Art

Watch a 5‑Part Ani­mat­ed Primer on Afro­fu­tur­ism, the Black Sci-Fi Phe­nom­e­non Inspired by Sun Ra

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

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Download 9,200+ Free Films from the Prelinger Archives: Documentaries, Cartoons & More

Depend­ing on how you reck­on it, the “Amer­i­can cen­tu­ry” has already end­ed, is now draw­ing to its close, or has some life left in it yet. But what­ev­er its bound­aries, that ambigu­ous peri­od has been cul­tur­al­ly defined by one medi­um above all: film, or more broad­ly speak­ing, motion pic­tures. These very words might start a series of clips rolling in your mind, a high­light reel of indus­tri­al devel­op­ments, polit­i­cal speech­es, protest march­es, sports vic­to­ries, NASA mis­sions, and for­eign wars. But that rep­re­sents just a tiny frac­tion of Amer­i­ca on film, much more of which you can eas­i­ly dis­cov­er with a vis­it to the Prelinger Archives.

Rick Prelinger found­ed the Prelinger Archives in 1982 with the mis­sion of pre­serv­ing “ephemer­al films.” Accord­ing to the pro­gram of a 2002 series he intro­duced at the Berke­ley Art Muse­um and Pacif­ic Film Archive a cou­ple of decades lat­er, these are “typ­i­cal­ly edu­ca­tion­al, indus­tri­al, or ama­teur films,” often made to serve a “prag­mat­ic and nar­row pur­pose. It is only by chance that many of them sur­vive.”

These pieces of “throw­away media” — of which the Prelinger Archives now has some 30,000 — include news­reel-type doc­u­men­taries, works of polit­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da, instruc­tion­al pro­duc­tions for use in schools and work­places, and a great many home movies that offer can­did glimpses into every­day Amer­i­can lives.

As any enthu­si­ast of mid-twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can cul­ture would hope, the Prelinger Archives also has its odd­i­ties: take the 1923 Felix the Cat car­toon at the top of the post, over­dubbed with voic­es (and a ref­er­ence to “hip­pies”) in the nine­teen-six­ties. Their free online col­lec­tions at the Inter­net Archive (which con­tains 9,229 films as of this writ­ing) and Youtube, con­tain every­thing from a 1942 pro­file of the art scene in San Fran­cis­co (the Prelinger Archives’ cur­rent home); to “You and Your Fam­i­ly,” the kind of home-life primer that would be ridiculed half a cen­tu­ry lat­er on Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000; to “While Brave Men Die…,” sure­ly the only pro-Viet­nam War doc­u­men­tary to fea­ture Joan Baez.

If you real­ly want to see the Unit­ed States, as we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly said here on Open Cul­ture, you’ve got to dri­ve across the coun­try. What holds true in life also holds true in film, and the Prelinger Archives’ dig­i­ti­za­tion and upload­ing have made it pos­si­ble to expe­ri­ence the his­to­ry of the great Amer­i­can road trip through the eyes — or the eight-mil­lime­ter cam­eras — of trav­el­ers who took it in the for­ties, fifties, and six­ties, rolling through sites of inter­est from the Grand Canyon and Mount Rush­more to the Corn Palace. If a cul­ture is pre­served most clear­ly through its ephemera, then there’s a whole lot more Amer­i­ca await­ing us in the Prelinger Archives.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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 or on Face­book.

Is America Declining Like Ancient Rome?

Pur­sued to any depth, the ques­tion of whether the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca counts as an empire becomes dif­fi­cult to address with clar­i­ty. On one hand, the coun­try has exert­ed a strong cul­tur­al influ­ence on most of the world for the bet­ter part of a cen­tu­ry, a phe­nom­e­non not unre­lat­ed to the mil­i­tary pres­ence that extends far beyond its bor­ders. (In Korea, where I live, I once met a for­mer KATUSA, the branch of the Kore­an Army sec­ond­ed to the US Army, who told me he’d joined because he “want­ed to see what it was like to be a mod­ern Roman sol­dier.”) On the oth­er hand, we can’t quite say that it rules the known world — at least, not in the way that the Roman Empire did twen­ty cen­turies ago.

Yet the temp­ta­tion to draw par­al­lels between Amer­i­ca and Rome remains irre­sistible, not least when it comes to the sub­ject of impe­r­i­al decline. In this video from Told in Stone, his­to­ri­an Gar­rett Ryan eval­u­ates “the idea that mod­ern Amer­i­ca is des­tined to decline and fall like ancient Rome.” The argu­ments for this motion tend to involve “an increas­ing­ly unset­tled inter­na­tion­al land­scape” and  “domes­tic divi­sion,” lead­ing to the dis­so­lu­tion of Pax Amer­i­cana — the suc­ces­sor of Pax Bri­tan­ni­ca, which itself suc­ceed­ed Pax Romana. Amer­i­cans, Ryan explains, “have a sense that Rome is in their polit­i­cal DNA. The con­sti­tu­tion, after all, rep­re­sents an attempt to cre­ate a new and per­fect­ed Roman Repub­lic. Anx­i­eties about Roman-style decline have been present since the begin­ning.”

Rome and Amer­i­ca: each “was the great­est pow­er of its time,” each “had a strong legal sys­tem and a soci­ety that left room for social advance­ment,” and each “pro­fessed to be guid­ed by Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ples.” Their polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, tech­no­log­i­cal con­di­tions could hard­ly be more dif­fer­ent, of course, but when observers “say that Amer­i­ca is falling like Rome, the under­ly­ing assump­tion is not that Amer­i­ca is specif­i­cal­ly like Rome; it’s that all empires, ancient and mod­ern, fol­low a sim­i­lar course from great­ness to grave.” The Roman Empire fell because “Ger­man­ic tribes over­came its fron­tier defens­es,” because “a series of ruinous civ­il wars sapped its strength,” because “it had lost the loy­al­ty of provin­cial elites,” and for many oth­er rea­sons besides — few of which are like­ly to play major parts in a notion­al Amer­i­can col­lapse.

But the fact that “the decline of Rome has no pre­cise par­al­lels in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry does not mean that it has no lessons to offer mod­ern Amer­i­ca.” To learn those lessons, we could do worse than to turn to eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry his­to­ri­an Edward Gib­bon, whose The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is the sub­ject of the School of Life video above. “The immense sto­ry that Gib­bon tells us moves from one dis­as­ter to anoth­er, cen­tu­ry after cen­tu­ry,” says nar­ra­tor Alain de Bot­ton: failed reforms, insti­tu­tion­al cor­rup­tion, break­downs in civ­il-mil­i­tary rela­tions, plagues, poor har­vests, eco­nom­ic col­lapse. And yet the Renais­sance, the Enlight­en­ment, and the arrival of moder­ni­ty, as we know it, all lay ahead. “You aren’t going to like what comes after Amer­i­ca,” Leonard Cohen once wrote, but maybe our descen­dants will like what comes a mil­len­ni­um or so after Amer­i­ca.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Splen­did Book Design of the 1946 Edi­tion of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The Rise & Fall of Roman Civ­i­liza­tion: Every Year Shown in a Time­lapse Map Ani­ma­tion (753 BC ‑1479 AD)

Howard Zinn’s “What the Class­room Didn’t Teach Me About the Amer­i­can Empire”: An Illus­trat­ed Video Nar­rat­ed by Vig­go Mortensen

When Iggy Pop Pub­lished an Essay, “Cae­sar Lives,” in an Aca­d­e­m­ic Jour­nal about His Love for Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)

Do You Think About Ancient Rome Every Day? Then Browse a Wealth of Videos, Maps & Pho­tos That Explore the Roman Empire

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 or on Face­book.

Goethe’s Theory of Colors: The 1810 Treatise That Inspired Kandinsky & Early Abstract Painting

I doubt I need to list for you the many titles of the 18th cen­tu­ry Ger­man savant and poly­math Johann Wolf­gang von Goethe, but allow me to add one or two that were new to me, at least: col­or the­o­rist (or phe­nom­e­nol­o­gist of col­or) and prog­en­i­tor of abstract expres­sion­ism. As a fas­ci­nat­ing Book­tryst post informs us, Goethe’s book on col­or, Zur Far­ben­lehre (The­o­ry of Col­ors), writ­ten in 1810, dis­put­ed the New­ton­ian view of the sub­ject and for­mu­lat­ed a psy­cho­log­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal account of the way we actu­al­ly expe­ri­ence col­or as a phe­nom­e­non. In his account, Goethe describes how he came by his views:

Along with the rest of the world, I was con­vinced that all the col­ors are con­tained in the light; no one had ever told me any­thing dif­fer­ent, and I had nev­er found the least cause to doubt it, because I had no fur­ther inter­est in the sub­ject.

But how I was aston­ished, as I looked at a white wall through the prism, that it stayed white! That only where it came upon some dark­ened area, it showed some col­or, then at last, around the win­dow sill all the col­ors shone… It did­n’t take long before I knew here was some­thing sig­nif­i­cant about col­or to be brought forth, and I spoke as through an instinct out loud, that the New­ton­ian teach­ings were false.

Schopen­hauer would lat­er write that “[Goethe] deliv­ered in full mea­sure what was promised by the title of his excel­lent work: data toward a the­o­ry of colour. They are impor­tant, com­plete, and sig­nif­i­cant data, rich mate­r­i­al for a future the­o­ry of colour.” It was a the­o­ry, Schopen­hauer admits, that does not “[fur­nish] us with a real expla­na­tion of the essen­tial nature of colour, but real­ly pos­tu­lates it as a phe­nom­e­non, and mere­ly tells us how it orig­i­nates, not what it is.”

Anoth­er lat­er philo­soph­i­cal inter­preter of Goethe, Lud­wig Wittgen­stein—a thinker great­ly inter­est­ed in visu­al perception—also saw Goethe’s work as oper­at­ing very dif­fer­ent­ly than New­ton’s optics—not as a sci­en­tif­ic the­o­ry but rather as an intu­itive schema. Wittgen­stein remarked that Goethe’s work “is real­ly not a the­o­ry at all. Noth­ing can be pre­dict­ed by means of it. It is, rather, a vague schemat­ic out­line, of the sort we find in [William] James’s psy­chol­o­gy. There is no exper­i­men­tum cru­cis for Goethe’s the­o­ry of colour.”

Yet a third lat­er Ger­man genius, Wern­er Heisen­berg, com­ment­ed on the influ­ence of Zur Far­ben­lehre, writ­ing that “Goethe’s colour the­o­ry has in many ways borne fruit in art, phys­i­ol­o­gy and aes­thet­ics. But vic­to­ry, and hence influ­ence on the research of the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry, has been New­ton’s.”


I’m not fit to eval­u­ate the rel­a­tive mer­its of Goethe’s the­o­ry, or lack there­of, ver­sus New­ton’s rig­or­ous work on optics. Whole books have been writ­ten on the sub­ject. But what­ev­er his inten­tions, Goethe’s work has been well-received as a psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly accu­rate account that has also, through his text and many illus­tra­tions you see here, had sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry painters also great­ly con­cerned with the psy­chol­o­gy of col­or, most notably Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, who pro­duced his own “schemat­ic out­line” of the psy­cho­log­i­cal effects of col­or titled Con­cern­ing the Spir­i­tu­al in Art, a clas­sic of mod­ernist aes­thet­ic the­o­ry. As is usu­al­ly the case with Goethe, the influ­ence of this sin­gle work is wider and deep­er than he prob­a­bly ever fore­saw.

You can find an afford­able ver­sion of Goethe’s The­o­ry of Col­ors on Ama­zon. Or find scans of the book at Archive.org.

Note: This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our site in 2013. We have updat­ed the post with new images and links.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Book of Colour Con­cepts: A New 800-Page Cel­e­bra­tion of Col­or The­o­ry, Includ­ing Works by New­ton, Goethe, and Hilma af Klint

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Goethe, Germany’s “Renais­sance Man”

Har­ry Clarke’s 1926 Illus­tra­tions of Goethe’s Faust: Art That Inspired the Psy­che­del­ic 60s

Watch Goethe’s Haunt­ing Poem, “Der Erlkönig,” Pre­sent­ed in an Art­ful Sand Ani­ma­tion

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

Learn the Korean Language with Hundreds of Episodes of Let’s Speak Korean Free Online

What with the rise of Kore­an pop cul­ture over the past decade or so — the viral­i­ty of Psy’s “Gang­nam Style,” BTS’ rise on the Bill­board chart, Bong Joon-ho’s Acad­e­my Award for Par­a­site, and the world­wide Net­flix phe­nom­e­non that was Squid Game — the Kore­an lan­guage is now avid­ly stud­ied around the world. Back in the nineties, few in Korea would have imag­ined that pos­si­ble, and few­er still in the West. I vivid­ly remem­ber the first day of an extracur­ric­u­lar com­put­er-pro­gram­ming class I took in high school, whose instruc­tor began his lec­ture by say­ing, “Look, cod­ing is hard. I don’t expect you to learn it in two weeks any more than I’d expect you to learn Kore­an in two weeks.” Sure, I thought. But who would want to learn Kore­an?

Fast-for­ward 25 years, and — irony of ironies — here I am liv­ing in Seoul. Not only do I now speak Kore­an (with con­sid­er­able room for improve­ment, mind you), I pub­lished a book in Kore­an last month. In the seem­ing­ly unend­ing round of news­pa­per, radio, and tele­vi­sion inter­views I’ve sub­se­quent­ly had to give about it, I’ve often been asked how I man­aged to learn the lan­guage. There is, of course, no one per­fect­ly effec­tive strat­e­gy, no mat­ter what sub­ject you’re study­ing, but I do feel as if I received a lot of help ear­ly on by binge-watch­ing a show called Let’s Speak Kore­an. Orig­i­nal­ly aired on Ari­rang, Kore­a’s Eng­lish-lan­guage tele­vi­sion net­work, it soon made its way to Youtube, where you can watch hun­dreds of episodes that start teach­ing the Kore­an lan­guage from the very basics onward.

The most recent Let’s Speak Kore­an series, which ran for five sea­sons in the mid-two-thou­sands, is avail­able in this set of playlists. You can also watch ear­li­er ver­sions of the show made in 1999 and 1997, each of which has its own teach­ing style employ­ing dif­fer­ent gram­mat­i­cal forms and sam­ple dia­logues — as well as hosts and for­eign par­tic­i­pants in the roles of the stu­dents. I feel per­ma­nent­ly cast in the role of the stu­dent in my real Kore­an life, despite resid­ing here for the bet­ter part of a decade now, speak­ing Kore­an (and indeed writ­ing in it) on a dai­ly basis. It’s been a jour­ney, and like any attempt to mas­ter a lan­guage, the end is nev­er in sight. But at least I can look back at Let’s Speak Kore­an and fond­ly remem­ber that there was a time when I did­n’t know 은/는 from 이/가, 하면 된다 from 해도 된다,  or ‑거든 from ‑더라고. (Admit­ted­ly, I still have trou­ble with those last.)

Relat­ed con­tent:

Learn 48 Lan­guages Online for Free: Span­ish, Chi­nese, Eng­lish & More

Watch More than 400 Clas­sic Kore­an Films Free Online Thanks to the Kore­an Film Archive

How a Kore­an Pot­ter Found a “Beau­ti­ful Life” Through His Art: A Short, Life-Affirm­ing Doc­u­men­tary

How Kore­an Things Are Made: Watch Mes­mer­iz­ing Videos Show­ing the Mak­ing of Tra­di­tion­al Clothes, Teapots, Bud­dhist Instru­ments & More

The Writ­ing Sys­tems of the World Explained, from the Latin Alpha­bet to the Abugi­das of India

Let’s Learn Japan­ese: Two Clas­sic Video Series to Get You Start­ed in the Lan­guage

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 or on Face­book.

Gertrude Stein Gets a Snarky Rejection Letter from a Publisher (1912)


Gertrude Stein con­sid­ered her­self an exper­i­men­tal writer and wrote what The Poet­ry Foun­da­tion calls “dense poems and fic­tions, often devoid of plot or dia­logue,” with the result being that “com­mer­cial pub­lish­ers slight­ed her exper­i­men­tal writ­ings and crit­ics dis­missed them as incom­pre­hen­si­ble.” Take, for exam­ple, what hap­pened when Stein sent a man­u­script to Alfred C. Fifield, a Lon­don-based pub­lish­er, and received a rejec­tion let­ter mock­ing her prose in return. Accord­ing to Let­ters of Note, the man­u­script in ques­tion was pub­lished many years lat­er as her mod­ernist nov­el, The Mak­ing of Amer­i­cans: Being a His­to­ry of a Fam­i­ly’s Progress (1925). You can hear Stein read­ing a selec­tion from the nov­el below.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gertrude Stein Sends a “Review” of The Great Gats­by to F. Scott Fitzger­ald (1925)

No Women Need Apply: A Dis­heart­en­ing 1938 Rejec­tion Let­ter from Dis­ney Ani­ma­tion

Alice B. Tok­las Reads Her Famous Recipe for Hashish Fudge (1963)

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The Song From the 1500’s That Blows Rick Beato Away: An Introduction to John Dowland’s Entrancing Music

In 2006, Sting released an album called Songs from the Labyrinth, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with Bosn­ian lutenist Edin Kara­ma­zov con­sist­ing most­ly of com­po­si­tions by Renais­sance com­pos­er John Dow­land. This was regard­ed by some as rather eccen­tric, but to lis­ten­ers famil­iar with the ear­ly music revival that had already been going on for a few decades, it would have been almost too obvi­ous a choice. For Dow­land had long since been redis­cov­ered as one of the late six­teenth and ear­ly sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry’s musi­cal super­stars, thanks in part to the record­ings of clas­si­cal gui­tarist and lutenist Julian Bream.

“When I was a kid, I went to the pub­lic library in Fair­port, New York, where I’m from, and I got this Julian Bream record,” says music pro­duc­er and pop­u­lar Youtu­ber Rick Beato (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) in the video above. Beato describes Bream as “one of the great­est clas­si­cal gui­tarists who ever lived” and cred­its him with hav­ing “pop­u­lar­ized the clas­si­cal gui­tar and the lute and renais­sance music.” The par­tic­u­lar Bream record­ing that impressed the young Beato was of a John Dow­land com­po­si­tion made exot­ic by dis­tance in time called “The Earl of Essex Gal­liard,” a per­for­mance of which you can watch on Youtube.

Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, Beat­o’s enjoy­ment for this piece seems undi­min­ished — and indeed, so much in evi­dence that this prac­ti­cal­ly turns into a reac­tion video. Lis­ten­ing gets him rem­i­nisc­ing about his ear­ly Dow­land expe­ri­ences: “I would put on this Julian Bream record of him play­ing lute, just solo lute, and I would sit there and I would putt” — his father hav­ing been golf enthu­si­ast enough to have installed a small indoor putting green — and “imag­ine liv­ing back in the fif­teen-hun­dreds, what it would be like.” These pre­tend time-trav­el ses­sions matured into a gen­uine inter­est in ear­ly music, one he pur­sued at the New Eng­land Con­ser­va­to­ry of Music and beyond.

What a delight it would have been for him, then, to find that Sting had laid down his own ver­sion of “The Earl of Essex Gal­liard,” some­times oth­er­wise known as “Can She Excuse My Wrongs.” In one espe­cial­ly strik­ing sec­tion, Sting takes “the sopra­no-alto-tenor-bass part” and records the whole thing using only lay­ers of his own voice: “there’s four Stings here,” Beato says, refer­ring to the rel­e­vant dig­i­tal­ly manip­u­lat­ed scene in the music video, “but there’s actu­al­ly more than four voic­es.” Songs from the Labyrinth may only have been a mod­est­ly suc­cess­ful album by Sting’s stan­dards, but it has no doubt turned more than a few mid­dle-of-the-road pop fans onto the beau­ty of Eng­lish Renais­sance music. If Beat­o’s enthu­si­asm has also turned a few clas­sic-rock addicts into John Dow­land con­nois­seurs, so much the bet­ter.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of the Gui­tar: See the Evo­lu­tion of the Gui­tar in 7 Instru­ments

Bach Played Beau­ti­ful­ly on the Baroque Lute, by Pre­em­i­nent Lutenist Evan­geli­na Mas­car­di

Watch All of Vivaldi’s Four Sea­sons Per­formed on Orig­i­nal Baroque Instru­ments

Hear Clas­sic Rock Songs Played on a Baroque Lute: “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps,” “White Room” & More

Renais­sance Knives Had Music Engraved on the Blades; Now Hear the Songs Per­formed by Mod­ern Singers

What Makes This Song Great?: Pro­duc­er Rick Beato Breaks Down the Great­ness of Clas­sic Rock Songs in His New Video Series

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 or on Face­book.

The Beautiful Art of Making Japanese Calligraphy Ink Out of Soot & Glue

Found­ed in 1577, Kobaien remains Japan’s old­est man­u­fac­tur­er of sumi ink sticks. Made of soot and ani­mal glue, the ink stick—when ground against an ink­stone, with a lit­tle water added—produces a beau­ti­ful black ink used by Japan­ese cal­lig­ra­phers. And, often, a 200-gram ink stick from Kobaien can cost over $1,000.

How can soot and ani­mal glue com­mand such a high price? As the Busi­ness Insid­er video above shows, there’s a fine art to mak­ing each ingredient—an art honed over the cen­turies. Watch­ing the arti­sans make the soot alone, you imme­di­ate­ly appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ty beneath the appar­ent sim­plic­i­ty. When you’re done watch­ing how the ink gets made, you’ll undoubt­ed­ly want to watch the arti­sans mak­ing cal­lig­ra­phy brush­es, an art form that has its own fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry. Enjoy!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Down­load 215,000 Japan­ese Wood­block Prints by Mas­ters Span­ning the Tradition’s 350-Year His­to­ry

Learn Cal­lig­ra­phy from Lloyd Reynolds, the Teacher of Steve Jobs’ Own Famous­ly Inspir­ing Cal­lig­ra­phy Teacher

The Mod­el Book of Cal­lig­ra­phy (1561–1596): A Stun­ning­ly Detailed Illu­mi­nat­ed Man­u­script Cre­at­ed over Three Decades

Hear the Evolution of Mozart’s Music, Composed from Ages 5 to 35

More than a quar­ter of a mil­len­ni­um after he com­posed his first pieces of music, dif­fer­ent lis­ten­ers will eval­u­ate dif­fer­ent­ly the spe­cif­ic nature of Wolf­gang Amadeus Mozart’s genius. But one can hard­ly fail to be impressed by the fact that he wrote those works when he was five years old (or, as some schol­ars have it, four years old). It’s not unknown, even today, for pre­co­cious, musi­cal­ly inclined chil­dren of that age to sit down and put togeth­er sim­ple melodies, or even rea­son­ably com­plete songs. But how many of them can write some­thing like Mozart’s “Min­uet in G Major”?

The video above, which traces the evo­lu­tion of Mozart’s music, begins with that piece — nat­u­ral­ly enough, since it’s his ear­li­est known work, and thus hon­ored with the Köchel cat­a­logue num­ber of KV 1. There­after we hear music com­posed by Mozart at var­i­ous ages of child­hood, youth, ado­les­cence, and adult­hood, accom­pa­nied by a piano roll graph­ic that illus­trates its increas­ing com­plex­i­ty.

And as with com­plex­i­ty, so with famil­iar­i­ty: even lis­ten­ers who know lit­tle of Mozart’s work will sense the emer­gence of a dis­tinc­tive style, and even those who’ve bare­ly heard of Mozart will rec­og­nize “Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major” when it comes on.

Mozart com­posed that piece when he was 32 years old. It’s also known as the “Sonata facile” or “Sonata sem­plice,” despite its dis­tinct lack of eas­i­ness for novice (or even inter­me­di­ate) piano play­ers. It’s now cat­a­loged as KV 545, which puts it toward the end of Mozart’s oeu­vre, and indeed his life. Three years lat­er, the evo­lu­tion­ary lis­ten­ing jour­ney of this video arrives at the “Requiem in D minor,” which we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for its exten­sive cin­e­mat­ic use to evoke evil, lone­li­ness, des­per­a­tion, and reck­on­ing. The piece, KV 626, con­tains Mozart’s last notes; the unan­swer­able but nev­er­the­less irre­sistible ques­tion remains of whether they’re some­how implied in his first ones.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

Hear the Pieces Mozart Com­posed When He Was Only Five Years Old

Read an 18th-Cen­tu­ry Eye­wit­ness Account of 8‑Year-Old Mozart’s Extra­or­di­nary Musi­cal Skills

Mozart’s Diary Where He Com­posed His Final Mas­ter­pieces Is Now Dig­i­tized and Avail­able Online

What Movies Teach Us About Mozart: Explor­ing the Cin­e­mat­ic Uses of His Famous Lac­rimosa

See Mozart Played on Mozart’s Own Fortepi­ano, the Instru­ment That Most Authen­ti­cal­ly Cap­tures the Sound of His Music

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 or on Face­book.

Radiohead’s “Creep” Sung by a 1,600-Person Choir in Australia

Every­body can sing. Maybe not well. But why should that stop you? That’s the basic phi­los­o­phy of Pub  Choir, an orga­ni­za­tion based in Bris­bane, Aus­tralia. At each Pub Choir event, a con­duc­tor “arranges a pop­u­lar song and teach­es it to the audi­ence in three-part har­mo­ny.” Then, the evening cul­mi­nates with a per­for­mance that gets filmed and shared on social media. Any­one (18+) is wel­come to attend.

Above, you can watch a Pub­Choir per­for­mance, with 1600 choir mem­bers singing a mov­ing ver­sion of Radio­head­’s “Creep.” On their YouTube chan­nel, you can also find Pub Choir per­for­mances of Cold­play’s “Yel­low,” Toto’s “Africa,” and The Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love.”

Find oth­er choir per­for­mances in the Relat­eds below.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent

A Big Choir Sings Pat­ti Smith’s “Because the Night”

A Choir with 1,000 Singers Pays Trib­ute to Sinéad O’Connor & Per­forms “Noth­ing Com­pares 2 U”

Watch David Byrne Lead a Mas­sive Choir in Singing David Bowie’s “Heroes”

Pat­ti Smith Sings “Peo­ple Have the Pow­er” with a Choir of 250 Fel­low Singers

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