You Can Have Your Ashes Turned Into a Playable Vinyl Record, When Your Day Comes

Even in death we are only limited by our imagination in how we want to go out. There are now ways to turn our corpse into a tree, or have our ashes shot into space, or pressing our ashes into diamonds–I believe Superman is involved in that last one. And now for the music lover, a company called And Vinyly will press your ashes into a playable vinyl record.

You like that punny company name? There’s more: the business lets the dear departed to “Live on from beyond the groove.” Hear that groan? That’s the deceased literally spinning in their grave…on a turntable.

The UK-based company has been around since 2009, when Jason Leach launched it “just for fun” at first. But a lot of people liked the idea and have kept him in business.

It will cost, however. The basic service costs around $4,000, which gets you 30 copies of the record, all of which contain the ashes. However, you cannot use copyright-protected music to fill up the 12 minutes per side, so no “Free Bird” or “We Are the Champions,” unfortunately. But you can put anything else: a voice recording, or the sounds of nature, or complete silence. For an additional fee, you can hire musicians through the company to record a track or tracks for you.

Other extras include cover art either supplied by the deceased or their family or painted by James Hague of the National Portrait Gallery in London and/or street artist Paul Insect; extra copies to be distributed worldwide through record shops (has anyone seen one? Let us know.); and a £10,000 “FUNeral,” where your record will be played at your funeral, surrounded by loved ones.

Joking aside, the service can provide comfort and a memory trigger for those left behind. The above video, “Hearing Madge” is a short doc about a son who took recordings of his mother and used And Vinyly to make a record out of them. It’s sweet.

“I’m sure a lot of people think that it’s creepy, a lot of people think it’s sacrilegious,” the man says. “But I know my mother wouldn’t have. She would’ve thought it was a hoot.”

Jason Leach, a musician and vinyl collector himself, talks of the immediacy of sound and what it means to many.

“Sound is vibrating you, the room, and it’s actually moving the air around you,” he says. “And that’s what’s so powerful about hearing someone’s voice on a record. They’re actually moving the air and for me that’s powerful.”

via Mental Floss/Aeon

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Bertrand Russell Writes an Artful Letter, Stating His Refusal to Debate British Fascist Leader Oswald Mosley (1962)

Image by National Portrait Gallery, via Wikimedia Commons

Changing the minds of others has never counted among humanity’s easiest tasks, and it seems only to have become an ever-stiffer challenge as history has ground along. Increasingly many, as Yale professor David Bromwich recently argued in the London Review of Bookshave had no practice in using words to influence people unlike themselves. That is an art that can be lost. It depends on a quantum of accidental communication that is missing in a life of organised contacts.” We might find ourselves in reasonably fruitful debates with basically like-minded friends, acquaintances, and strangers on the internet, but can we ever convince, or be convinced by, someone truly different from us?

Bertrand Russell doubted it. In 1962, long before the structures of the internet allowed us to build tighter echo chambers than ever before, the Nobel-winning philosopher “received a series of letters from an unlikely correspondent — Sir Oswald Mosley, who had founded the British Union of Fascists thirty years earlier,” writes Brain Pickings’ Maria Popova.

“Mosley was inviting — or, rather, provoking — Russell to engage in a debate, in which he could persuade the moral philosopher of the merits of fascism.” Even at the age of 89, with little time and much else to do, Russell declined with the utmost force and clarity in a piece of correspondence featured on Letters of Note:

Dear Sir Oswald,

Thank you for your letter and for your enclosures. I have given some thought to our recent correspondence. It is always difficult to decide on how to respond to people whose ethos is so alien and, in fact, repellent to one’s own. It is not that I take exception to the general points made by you but that every ounce of my energy has been devoted to an active opposition to cruel bigotry, compulsive violence, and the sadistic persecution which has characterised the philosophy and practice of fascism.

I feel obliged to say that the emotional universes we inhabit are so distinct, and in deepest ways opposed, that nothing fruitful or sincere could ever emerge from association between us.

I should like you to understand the intensity of this conviction on my part. It is not out of any attempt to be rude that I say this but because of all that I value in human experience and human achievement.

Yours sincerely,

Bertrand Russell

Russell passed on eight years later, in 1970, and Mosley a decade thereafter. “His final message to the British people appeared in a letter to the New Statesman written only a week earlier,” remembers journalist Hugh Purcell in that newspaper. It concerned an article’s description of the “Olympia rally,” the 1934 debacle that lost the British Union of Fascists much of what public support it enjoyed. “The largest audience ever seen at that time assembled to fill the Olympia hall and hear the speech,” Mosley insisted. “A small minority determined by continuous shouting to prevent my speech being heard. After due warning our stewards removed with their bare hands men among whom were some armed with such weapons as razors and knives. The audience were then able to listen to a speech which lasted for nearly two hours.”

The New Statesmen, printing Mosley’s letter posthumously, ran it under this introduction: “Throughout his life he was intent on persuading people that their view of history was mistaken.” Despite his unceasing efforts, he ultimately persuaded few — and it would hardly have required as keen an observer as Russell to see that someone like Mosley certainly wasn’t about to let himself be persuaded by anyone else.

via Letters of Note/Brain Pickings

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Did Nietzsche Become the Most Misunderstood & Bastardized Philosopher?: A Video from Slate Explains

Is there a more misunderstood philosopher than Friedrich Nietzsche? Granted, the question makes two assumptions: 1) That people read philosophy 2) That people read Friedrich Nietzsche. Perhaps neither of these things is widely true. Many people get their philosophy from film and television: Good Will Hunting, True Detective, Coming to America…. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I don’t read medical books. Most of my knowledge of medicine comes from hospital dramas. (If you ever hear me make unsourced medical claims, please remind me of this.)

But back to Nietzsche…. If few people read philosophy in general and Nietzsche in particular, why is his name so well-known, why are his ideas so badly mangled? Because some of the people who read a little Nietzsche write films and television shows. In many of them, he emerges as a twisted nihilist with no scruples and little regard for human life. In the most infamous case of Nietzsche-twisting, the philosopher’s sister extracted from his books what she wanted them to say, which sounded very much like the ideas of the Nazis who later quoted him.

Nietzsche’s mastery of the aphorism and his fiercely polemical nature have made him supremely quotable: “God is dead,” “What does not kill us, makes us stronger.” And so on. Bring the context of these statements to bear and they sound nothing like what we have imagined. The video above from Shon Arieh-Lerer and Daniel Hubbard explains how Nietzsche became “the most absurdly bastardized philosopher in Hollywood.” It leads with a tellingly hilarious clip from The Sopranos in which A.J. calls the philosopher “Niche” and Tony tells him, “even if God is dead, you’re still gonna kiss his ass.”

We might half expect Tony to embrace the German philosopher. The way Nietzsche’s been interpreted seems to justify the principles of sociopaths. This should not be so. “In reality,” the video’s producers write at Slate, “Nietzsche was a very subtle thinker.” The two biggest misconceptions about Nietzsche, that he was a nihilist and an anti-Semite, get his philosophy grievously wrong. Nietzsche “wrote letters to his family and friends telling them to stop being anti-Semitic” (and calling anti-Semites “aborted fetuses.”) He famously broke off his intense friendship with Richard Wagner in part because of Wagner’s anti-Semitism. His work is not kind to Judaism, but he rages against anti-Semitism.

Far from endorsing nihilist ideas, Nietzsche feared their rise and consequences. So how did he become “a darling of Nazis and sad teenagers?” The caricature arose in part because readers from his day to ours have, like Tony Soprano, found his complete and total rejection of Judeo-Christian morality too shocking to get beyond, mischaracterizing it as tantamount to the rejection of all human values. On the contrary, Nietzsche argued for the “revaluation” of values, “the exact opposite of what one might expect,” he wrote,” not at all sad and gloomy, but much more like a new and barely describable type of light, happiness, relief, amusement, encouragement, dawn.”

Of course, the fact that Nietzsche—or a butchered version thereof—was co-opted by the Nazis did more to sully his name than anything he actually wrote. “By the time Nietzsche made his way into American pop culture,” says Arieh-Lerer, “we were predisposed to getting him wrong.” Nietzsche may have had some strange quasi-mystical conceptions, and he believed in a definite hierarchy of cultures, but he was not a racist or a psychopath. He has been as misunderstood as many of the sad teenagers who love him. Perhaps you will be moved to read him for yourself after seeing his rehabilitation above. If so, we can point you toward online editions of nearly all of his books here.

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

Watch Leonard Bernstein Conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Using Only His Eyebrows

Perhaps you’ll recall the episode from Seinfeld when Bob Cobb, a conductor for The Police Orchestra, insists that everyone call him “maestro”–and only “maestro.” The pretentiousness of the suggestion makes for some good comedy, that’s for sure.

But occasionally the honorific title is fitting. Here’s one such instance. Above, watch Leonard Bernstein conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, leading them through Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 … with only his eyebrows and small facial gestures. No baton, thank you. A maestro indeed.

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“Stop It and Just DO”: Benedict Cumberbatch Reads Advice on Overcoming Creative Blocks, Written by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (1965)

A quick fyi: this video is a little not safe for work.

You know you want to create something, but how on Earth to get it out of your mind and into reality? Sometimes you simply can’t see the way forward, a situation in which every creator finds themselves sooner or later. When the sculptor Eva Hesse hit a creative block in 1965, she wrote of her problem to a close friend, the conceptual artist Sol Lewitt. He emphatically suggested that she “just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder,” and furthermore that she stop

wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just


You can read Lewitt’s reply in full, which offers much more colorful advice and supporting verbiage besides (as well as a far bolder “DO” than HTML can render), at Letters of Note. Though personally tailored to Hesse and her distinctive sensibilities, Lewitt’s suggestions also show the potential for wider application: “Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.'” “Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool.” “If you fear, make it work for you — draw & paint your fear & anxiety.” “Practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty.” “Try to do some BAD work — the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell — you are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work — so DO IT.”

Though all this has plenty of impact on the page, it has an entirely different kind when performed by actor (and champion letter-reader) Benedict Cumberbatch, as seen and heard in the Letters Live video above. Putting on a not-overdone New York accent, the English star of Sherlock and The Imitation Game delivers with all necessary force Lewitt’s advice to “leave the ‘world’ and ‘ART’ alone and also quit fondling your ego,” to “empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing,” to know “that you don’t have to justify your work — not even to yourself.” Be warned that this creative coaching session does gets a little NSFW at times, but then, so do some of the finest works of art — and so do the truths we need to hear to make them.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Beer Archaeology: Yes, It’s a Thing

Travis Rupp is a classics instructor at The University of Colorado. He’s also a “beer archaeologist” who works on a special projects team at the Avery Brewing Company (in Boulder) where they “brew beers the way that ancient Egyptians, Peruvians and Vikings did.” If you can understand the beer an ancient people drank, you can better understand their overall culture.  That’s assumption at the heart of beer archaeology.

Above, watch a three minute introduction to Rupp’s work. Below, find information on some of the world’s oldest beer recipes from Ancient Egypt and China.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and Flipboard and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

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Rare Recordings of Burroughs, Bukowski, Ginsberg & More Now Available in a Digital Archive Created by the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

Image via Christiaan Tonnis

Americans can be quite ignorant of the richness of our country’s cultural history. Part of this ignorance, I suspect, comes down to prejudice. Innovative American artists throughout history have come from groups often demonized and marginalized by the wider society. The dominance of corporate commerce also impoverishes the cultural landscape. Poetry and experimental art don’t sell much, so some people think they have little value.

Imagine if we were to invert these attitudes in public opinion: American poetry and art allow us to gain new perspectives from people and parts of the country we don’t know well; to enlarge and challenge our religious and political understanding; to experience a very different kind of economy, built on aesthetic invention and free intellectual enterprise rather than supply, demand, and profit. Creativity and finance are not, of course, mutually exclusive. But to consistently favor one at the expense of the other seems to me a great loss to everyone.

We find ourselves now in such a situation, as public universities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting face severe cuts or possible de-funding.

Such a political move would devastate many of the institutions that foster and preserve the country’s art and culture, and relegate the arts to the private sphere, where only sums of private money determine whose voices get heard. We can, however, be very appreciative of private institutions who make their collections public through open access libraries like the Internet Archive.

One such collection comes from the Digital Initiatives Unit of Decker Library at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), one of the oldest art colleges in the U.S., and one of the most highly regarded. They have digitally donated to “a number of rare and previously unreleased audio recordings,” they write in a press release, “spanning the 1960s through the late 1990s” and consisting of “over 700 audiocassette tapes” documenting “literature and poetry readings, fine art and design lectures, race and culture discussions” and college events.

These include (enter the archive here) a two hour poetry reading from Allen Ginsberg in 1978, at the top, with several other readings and talks from Ginsberg in the archive, the reading below it from Eileen Myles in 1992, and readings and talks above and below from Amiri Baraka, Anne Waldman, and William S. Burroughs. The collection represents a “strong focus on literature and poetry,” and features “a symposium on the Black Mountain poets.” Given the school’s mission, you’ll also find in the archive “a large selection of talks and lectures by visual artists, such as Elaine de Kooning, Alice Neel, Gordon Parks, Ad Rhinehart and Ben Shahn.”

Collections like this one from MICA and the Internet Archive allow anyone with internet access to experience in some part the breadth and range of American art and poetry, no matter their level of access to private institutions and sources of wealth. But the internet cannot fully replace or supplant the need for publicly funded arts initiatives in communities nationwide.

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

Alexis De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America: An Animated Introduction to the Most Insightful Study of American Democracy

We cannot rightly see ourselves without honest feedback. Those who surround themselves with sycophants and people just like them only hear what they want to hear, and never get an accurate sense of their capabilities and shortcomings. And so the best feedback often comes from people outside our in-groups. This can be as true of nations as it can be of individuals, provided our critics are charitable, even when unsparingly honest, and that they take a genuine interest in our well-being.

These qualities well describe one of the sharpest critics of the United States in the past two centuries. Alexis de Tocqueville, aristocratic French lawyer, historian, and political philosopher, who traveled to the fledgling country in 1831 to observe a nation then in the grip of a populist fever under Andrew Jackson, a president who became notorious for his expropriation of indigenous land, ruthless relocation policies, and embrace of Southern slavery. But the groups who flourished under Jackson’s rule did so with a tremendous enthusiasm that the French thinker admired but also viewed with a very skeptical eye.

De Tocqueville published his observations and analyses of the United States in a now-famous book, Democracy in America. Though we’ve come to take the idea of democracy for granted, for the young Frenchman, a child of Napoleonic Europe, it was “a highly exotic and new political option,” as Alain de Botton tells us in his animated video introduction above. De Tocqueville “presciently believed that democracy was going to be the future all over the world, and so he wanted to know, ‘what would that be like?’”

With a grant from the French government, De Tocqueville traveled the country (then less than half its current size) for nine months, getting to know its people and customs as best he could, and making a series of general observations that would form the vignettes and arguments in his book. He was “particularly alive to the problematic and darker sides of democracy.” De Botton discusses five critical insights from Democracy in America. See three of them below, with quotes from De Tocqueville himself.

1. Democracy Breeds Materialism.

For De Tocqueville one kind of materialism—the excessive pursuit of wealth—disposed the country to another, “a dangerous sickness of the human mind”—the denial of a spiritual or intellectual life. “While man takes pleasure in this honest and legitimate pursuit of well-being,” he wrote, “it is to be feared that in the end he may lose the use of his most sublime faculties, and that by wanting to improve everything around him, he may in the end degrade himself.”

De Tocqueville, says De Botton, observed that “money seemed to be quite simply the only achievement that Americans respected” and that “the only test of goodness for any item was how much money it happens to make.”

2. Democracy Breeds Envy & Shame

“When all the prerogatives of birth and fortune have been abolished,” wrote De Tocqueville, “when every profession is open to everyone, an ambitious man may think it is easy to launch himself on a great career and feel that he has been called to no common destiny. But this is a delusion which experience quickly corrects.” Unable to rise above his circumstances, and yet believing that he should be equal to his neighbors in achievements, such a person may blame himself and feel ashamed, or succumb to envy and ill will.

De Tocqueville was far too optimistic about the abolishment of “prerogatives of birth and fortune,” but many Americans might recognize themselves still in his general picture, in which “the sense of unlimited opportunity could initially encourage a surface cheerfulness.” And yet, De Botton notes, “as time passed and the majority failed to raise themselves, Tocqueville noted that their mood darkened, that bitterness took hold and choked their spirits, and that their hatred of themselves and their masters grew fierce.”

3. Tyranny of the Majority

De Tocqueville, De Botton says, thought that “democratic culture… often ends up demonizing any assertion of difference, and especially cultural superiority, even though such attitudes might be connected with real merit.” In such a state, “society has an aggressive leveling instinct.”

It wasn’t only attacks on high culture that De Tocqueville feared, but what he called the “Omnipotence of the Majority,” a phrase he used to denote the power of public opinion as an almost totalitarian means of social control. In volume two of his study, published in 1840, De Tocqueville devoted particular attention to “the power which that majority naturally exercises over the mind…. By whatever political laws men are governed in the ages of equality, it may be foreseen that faith in public opinion will become for them a species of religion, and the majority its ministering prophet.”

From this prediction, De Tocqueville foresaw “two tendencies; one leading the mind of every man to untried thoughts, the other prohibiting him from thinking at all.”

De Botton goes on to discuss two closely related critiques: democracy’s suspicion of all authority and its undermining of free thought. Rather than encountering the kind of marketplace of ideas the country prides itself on fostering, he found in few places “less independence of mind, and true freedom of discussion, than in America.” The criticism is harsh, and De Tocqueville did not flatter his hosts often, and yet for all of its “inherent drawbacks,” De Botton writes at the School of Life, the Frenchman “isn’t anti-democratic.”

His aim is “to get us to be realistic” about democratic society and its tendencies to inhibit rather than enlarge many freedoms. As Arthur Goldhammer observes at The Nation, De Tocqueville believed that “True freedom lay not in the pursuit of individualistic aims, but “in ‘slow and tranquil’ action in concert with others sharing some collective purpose.”

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

Slavoj Žižek Expounds on His Hatred of Teaching, Grading Papers, and Particularly Holding Office Hours

“Those who can, do,” so we often used to hear, “and those who can’t, teach.” Nowadays the situation seems to have transformed into something more like, “Those who can, do, at least in the occasional free moments when they don’t have to teach.” At first you just take a teaching gig on the side to supplement your real career, and before you know it teaching has usurped that real career almost entirely. We’ve all heard complaints from academic friends about the seemingly unbreakable cycle of lecturing, grading, and holding office hours, but how many have put it in terms as stark as Slavoj Žižek does in the interview above?

“I hate, I hate, I hate — okay, talks are okay, but I hate giving classes,” says the Slovenian philosopher-critic-showman at a 2014 University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning conference devoted to his work. “I’m proud to say, I did teach a couple of semesters here, and all the grading was pure bluff. I even openly told the students. I told them, I remember — at the New School, for example, in New York, ‘If you don’t give me any of your shitty papers, you’ll get an A. If you give me a paper, I may read it and not like it, you can get a lower grade.’ And it worked — I got no papers.” And so he solves the problem of grading.

But what of office hours? These he calls “the main reason I don’t want to teach,” because “students, they’re like other people; the majority are boring idiots, so I cannot imagine a worse experience than some idiot comes and starts to ask you questions.” In other countries one might find a way to endure it, but “the problem is, here in United States, students tend to be so open that if you’re kind to them, they even start to ask you personal questions, like private problems, could you help them, and so on. What should I tell them? ‘I don’t care. Kill yourself. Not my problem.'”

These teaching experiences led Žižek’s to one conclusion: “I like universities without students.” But not everyone cheers his pronouncement: “Whenever something like this pops up, I worry that some people will see it and say, ‘You see? That’s what I’ve been saying about those ivory tower types all along,'” writes one anonymous academic in response. “Žižek is an outlier, in terms of both his stature and his attitude. Most working academics can’t get away with being dismissive of students, and even if we could, almost all of us wouldn’t.”

Slate’s Rebecca Schuman argues that the “real problem with Žižek isn’t that he feels this way or that he says these things aloud. It’s that he does so and people think it’s hilarious. It’s that his view is, believe it or not, a common ‘superstar’ view of students — so common, in fact, that if you work at a research university and actually like teaching, you should maybe pretend you don’t, lest you appear not ‘serious’ enough about your research.” A semi-frequent critic of Žižek, most recently of his endorsement of Donald Trump (“after all, the two thrice-married, outspoken older gentlemen do have quite a bit in common, a fact that would surely horrify them both”), Schuman knows that the fault lies never so much with the provocateur himself as it does with our tendency to take his provocations at face value.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Bach’s Most Famous Organ Piece Played on Wine Glasses

Robert Tiso takes stemmed wine glasses and turns them into a magical musical instrument–or what he calls the “glass harp.” As his website explains, “each glass is tuned by adding a precise amount of water (watch a tutorial here), while the sound is produced by rubbing the fingertips around the rims, simulating the friction of a violin bow.” Above you can watch him play Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor” (BWV 565), the free sheet music for which you can find here. And if you head over to Tiso’s YouTube channel, you can watch him tackle Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Pachelbel, and much more. Enjoy.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and Flipboard and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

via @WFMU

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