Today, my guest is Kenji Williams, a composer and director for multimedia live theater, mixed reality, and interactive data visualization. What does that mean? Well, I met Kenji at an event in San Francisco where he showed me through VR a view of the planet earth that just blew my mind. It helped me to experience not only the beauty but the interconnectivity, the fragility of planet earth, and I was absolutely blown away. Since that time I have learned more from Kenji and this conversation was awesome. He talks about his journey as a multidisciplinary artist beginning at age six as a classically trained violinist, the son of a Buddhist and a Quaker. As he was raised, he pursued film. He also became a DJ, was in the rave culture, made a documentary about indigenous rituals, lived for a while in the psychedelic culture, did an artistic production with artist Alex Gray. You will find this conversation useful, interesting, inspiring. So with that, please enjoy this conversation with Kenji Williams.
00:02:16 – The San Francisco Forbes Magazine event.
00:04:59 – How does Kenji explain who he is?
00:13:44 – Film school and beyond.
00:21:12 – Moment Utopia
00:30:35 – Why is this your life’s work?
00:38:31 – Connecting with NASA.
00:48:51 – Lightening round.
00:55:53 – Next big project?
01:19:29 – How to remain an optimistic
Bryan: 00:00:53 Today, my guest is Kenji Williams, a composer and director for multimedia live theater, mixed reality and interactive data visualization. What does that mean? Well, I met Kenji at an event in San Francisco where he showed me through VR a view of the planet earth that just blew my mind. It helped me to experience not only the beauty but the interconnectivity, the fragility of planet earth, and I was absolutely blown away. Since that time I have learned more from Kenji and this conversation was awesome. He talks about his journey as a multidisciplinary artist beginning at age six as a classically trained violinist, the son of a Buddhist and a Quaker. As he was raised, he pursued film. He also became a DJ, was in the rave culture, made a documentary about indigenous rituals, lived for awhile in the psychedelic culture, did a artistic production with artist Alex Gray. Also worked some with Ken Wilber. You will find this conversation useful, interesting, inspiring, so with that, please enjoy this conversation with Kenji Williams.
Bryan: 00:02:11 Kenji, welcome to The School For Good Living Podcast.
Kenji: 00:02:14 It’s great to be here. Thank you for having me.
Bryan: 00:02:16 It’s good to see you again. So we met earlier this year, I think it might’ve been the last day of May. We met in San Francisco at a, at an event that was produced by Forbes magazine. And I’m really interested to know, you were the first person I met when I walked in. We were at an event at a private residence in the bay area and I walked up four stories and you were standing right there at the top of the stairs and you looked friendly. I would have introduced myself anyway, but we started talking and uh, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you just a little bit that night and then online. But tell will you tell me first, what were you doing at that event? Why were you there and how did he go by the way?
Kenji: 00:02:55 So, uh, I was invited to present, a, Bella Gaia as a live thing. I was actually doing a small performance at the entrance as people were walking in. And then uh, was sort of giving people some VR experiences of our Bella Gaia, our show in VR. And, and I was really just there to, to meet people. I was invited, um graciously by a Jennifer King, the, the owner of the house. And um, yeah, it was, it was sort of a, a pre-conference get together at her house.
Bryan: 00:03:32 Awesome. So you just mentioned Bella Gaia and of course we’re going to talk a lot more about that. I think people who don’t already know about it will be interested to learn. Before we do though, I want to ask you a question I love to open most of my interviews with, which is; what’s life about?
Kenji: 00:03:48 Starting big? I think life is about making connections, making connections with each other, with other things, uh, both physical and metaphysical. Um, and, and really, uh, evolving learning. We’re here to learn and to progress and to become better people and to get to that next level, no matter what level you’re at. And so, uh, you know, I’ve tried my life to, to really, uh, translate that into every part of my life, including my career. And so Bella Gaia uh, in itself is translating and communicating the interconnectedness of our planet. It’s all about those connections, uh, and it gives you this visceral, emotional journey like exploration of the interconnectedness of the planet and how we are connected to other things, everything. Um, so yeah, perhaps in a nutshell, it’s about connection.
Bryan: 00:04:59 I happen to think so too. And I know it often occurs, like creating connections, but at the same time it might be simply realizing the connections that already exist. Right? Which is part of what I love about, about your work. Let me ask you, when people, when you meet someone for the first time. And I realized the answer to this might change a little bit from context to context or person to person. But generally if somebody, if you meet somebody and they ask you who are you and what you do, what do you tell them?
Kenji: 00:05:35 It’s um, uh, I, I take out my phone and just show a video trailer. It’s, it’s, it’s really difficult to explain in words. I mean, um, an elevator pitch would be to is I’m a multimedia, theatrical, immersive design director and producer. Uh, of which you know, my, my biggest project currently, is Bella Gaia (Beautiful Earth). And so I, but, you know, it’s, it’s, I always inevitably bring up on my phone and just show them and then they get it, you know. So this is, this is a challenge. Well, it’s, it’s, it’s both the, uh, advantage and the challenge of Bella Gaia is that it’s very unique, but there isn’t really a reference point for people to really see it. And it’s becoming easier actually with, with things like VR and um, the term immersive is now becoming quite well known. And people are really starting to understand that that sort of a vernacular. And so immersive is, is um, it’s experiential. So it’s the whole point is that it’s not supposed to be described with words. Uh, so yeah, I try to, I try to explain as best I can and that it’s, it’s about transformation. I always, what, what does help is the story behind Bella Gaia, which um.
Bryan: 00:07:04 Yep. Yeah, tell, tell me that. I’ve read about it, but of course people listening might not know. And I understand you traveled to Kazakhstan at one point. Is, and I think that’s part of the story and I’m getting the sense that you have a background, like maybe you have a love for space or maybe you missed your calling as an astronaut or something. Like, tell me, tell me all about that.
Kenji: 00:07:25 Yes. Uh, well, like many boys, as a boy, I was fascinated by space. I loved when Star Wars was like a transformational movie for me and I, yeah, it was a dream to be an astronaut or a pilot. Um, but I guess I’m sort of translating that in the art world. I was very much. I mean I was classically trained in violin since I was six years old. Very serious with music and uh, got into composition in high school and electronics in high school, but as well visual communication. So I actually ended up going to film school for, for college and university.
Bryan: 00:08:06 Where did you go?
Kenji: 00:08:07 I went to, I split my Undergrad between York University in Toronto and Boulder, Colorado. CU Boulder.
Bryan: 00:08:15 What was the biggest thing you took away from film school by the way?
Kenji: 00:08:18 Um, it’s really about working with talented people. I learned way more from, from the talented students than I did from the teachers.
Bryan: 00:08:29 Hmm. Like what?
Kenji: 00:08:31 Well, it was really, um, I mean film, I mean like many things you learned from doing, you know. And if you’re doing surrounded by peers that are also talented, producing great ideas on the moment and just see creativity in action. That is really how you learn. I mean, that’s what’s the most fun thing about creativity is, is creating with others and inspiring each other, you know. Uh, I think you need to be around inspiring people to be inspired and to, and to sort of reciprocate that energy. So I really, um, and it was a great balance. Actually. York is, uh, is sort of like Hollywood North. Very big sound stages and lots of equipment. Boulder is this experimental niche. Um, Stan Brakhage, uh, who, who has passed, but he was sort of the, the uh, father of the film department there. And he’s sort of this very well known experimental filmmaker. So CU boulder is known for their, for their experimental, like small experimental nature.
Bryan: 00:09:41 It’s kind of its own colony, right? Almost. Okay. So you’ve got Star Wars, you’ve got the violin from six years old. You got film school somewhere in there. You want it to be a pilot or an astronaut. So keep going.
Kenji: 00:09:55 So I was uh, I was releasing this project called World Spirit, which was this multimedia, a show that we produce live in Oakland, California. It was animating this painter, Alex Grey and his in his artwork, uh, with me directing and producing the whole show. We did it for a live audience in 2000. We documented it, released it as a DVD.
Bryan: 00:10:19 How did you, how did you get connected with Alex and why did this become a live thing? I mean, I know Alex has worked with Tool, right? But I haven’t. There’s not many, many visual artists are many painters that I know of that are like, “Hey, let’s get an audience.” Right? And connect it with some kind of experience. But tell me how did all that come about?
Kenji: 00:10:38 That was really another really interesting story. I was living in San Francisco at the time at this, at this crazy and awesome artist warehouse. A like collective.
Bryan: 00:10:47 What was it called?
Kenji: 00:10:49 Um, Infinite Chaos.
Bryan: 00:10:50 Okay. I’m guessing that’s probably an appropriate name.
Kenji: 00:10:54 Actually, it was very. There was, it was. It was actually very well run for a name like Infinite Chaos. Very, very talented artists.
Bryan: 00:11:03 Does it still exist?
Kenji: 00:11:04 I, I’m not sure. I don’t think so. It was in, it was in the Tenderloin. San Francisco has gone through a really big, uh, gentrification as you know. Um, but, you know, a lot of great artists are still. I’m connected with them, but anyway, we did this, we did this, this almost impromptu last minute collaboration. I was in contact with Alex and we were like, Hey, let’s do some live performance art. I’ll put together some, some loops and music and uh, and projects, some of your paintings as a slideshow sort of a thing. And, you know, let’s just invite some people. And so we did this really last minute, uh, at this underground warehouse, it’s word of mouth and I think like 100 people showed up. And basically from that underground thing in the audience was a sponsor who came forward to me and said, I’d like to sponsor you to make, make this on a production level and document it and sell it as a DVD.
Bryan: 00:12:13 That’s amazing. Somebody you didn’t know before.
Kenji: 00:12:16 Yes. Right.
Bryan: 00:12:18 And one showing just the first time.
Kenji: 00:12:21 And it was just very rough, like very, like, you know, last minute sort of a thing. And so I, um, and then we, so we produce this live show for 2,000 people in Oakland. It was a, it was a lot of production and animation of, of Alex’s artwork. Um, and he, you know, he, he does a lot of spoken word, he’s written a lot of poetry so we sort of organize the evening in, into a sort of narrative. And uh, so there was some structure to it and um, yeah, it was, it was extremely successful. And uh, we were releasing this as a DVD. And then at that time, this was, I think around 2005, I was living in Tokyo at the time releasing the Japanese version. And a, and at that time I was also a performing at very large outdoor Raves, techno parties in the Japanese countryside mountain. I mean, that was amazing.
Bryan: 00:13:26 Yeah. You, I saw some videos of you on youtube where you seem to have really in an innovative way, merged the violin with a DJ and like electronic. Tell me how did that evolution come about? How did you get, how did you get into that?
Kenji: 00:13:44 So I was, uh, I mean all through film school, actually I was, I, I started my label in college and was very much involved in the underground rave scene both in Toronto and in Denver. And then my, actually my, my film, uh, my senior film project was a documentary about rave culture and indigenous culture. The meaning of ritual and music in a culture, whether it’s aboriginal or, uh, or future or modern.
Bryan: 00:14:16 What was the biggest thing you’ve learned from doing that project?
Kenji: 00:14:20 Well, that was again, a massively transformative project. I mean, I, I, um, it, it extended well beyond graduation. Actually. It turned it into this personal transformative journey where I traveled through the United States to the Dakotas, went to reservations, interviewed elders, um, attended several powwows and sun dances.
Bryan: 00:14:44 Any, any vision quest,
Kenji: 00:14:45 Uh, did not do vision quest, but perhaps. I mean, my involvement in a Sundance as a, uh, as a fire keeper, that whole. That was, and that was in Oregon. I mean, I just had this crazy transformative experience.
Bryan: 00:15:03 Tell me about it. What? I mean, I’ve never, I’ve heard of sun dances, but I’ve never been to one. I’ve never participated in one.
Kenji: 00:15:09 Oh goodness. I mean it is, um, it is their most sacred ritual of the Lakotas. And uh, it is, it is three days and nights of dancing outdoors. To essentially to almost sacrifice your blood for your ancestors, for your loved ones, for your, for the sick. But also to renew the cycle of life, giving back to nature. Um, but it’s, it’s serious because you’re not actually drinking or, or, uh, eating food for three days and nights. I mean it’s, it’s exhausting, almost dangerous.
Bryan: 00:15:53 Yeah. I was going to. So if I, if I understand right, you’re merging these indigenous traditions in this ritual that has a long history with what some might see as this kind of modern self indulgent kind of escapist rave culture. Where it’s almost the meeting of these two, two tradition, you know, an ancient tradition with the modern search, I suppose. Is that. I mean, how, how did, how did that occur for you?
Kenji: 00:16:19 I think, I think rave culture is, it’s, it’s often or it was misinterpreted in many ways. In the sense that there was the commercial side, but then there was very much of an underground, actually more spiritual side of rave culture, of techno culture, of trans culture. And so I was really more involved in that underground side, which for me was really the beginning of my spiritual journey I think, you know. In that, yes, I was, I was raised, my father was Quaker, actually my mother, Buddhists, Japanese. And so.
Bryan: 00:17:00 How did they meet? How did it quaker in a Buddhist get together?
Kenji: 00:17:04 Uh, they met in Japan at a, at a, um, at a, uh, social work. My Dad was there helping, uh, volunteering to set up shelters, I think for, it was for asylum or some sort of like. It was some sort of social activity, good works program. But he met mom there. Yeah. So at that time, I mean, I mean, my and my dad has a total hippie. Uh, and uh, my mother, you know, for Japanese at that time to leave Japan and get married with a foreigner was quite radical. So she’s quite open minded as well herself. Um, they both joined me at Burning Man.
Bryan: 00:17:48 Amazing.
Kenji: 00:17:49 Uh, so I’ve unusual parents, um, and um, I love them very much. Uh, but yeah, so, so for me, rave culture, including the psychedelics attached with it, was very much of the beginning of my spiritual journey. Bringing into account both my Buddhist background and Quaker, a Christian background. Um, and which is, you know, sort of how I got introduced to Alex Grey’s artwork. Very, very psychedelic, a transformative. So this documentary, this documentary was about the potential spiritual potential of rave culture. Uh, so it wasn’t really, I mean, it was very critical of rave culture too. Because there’s a lot of escapism and, and drug abuse in that world as well. But I was really highlighting more the people, the smaller communities. And I highlighted one community, for example, called Moon Tribe in LA where it was very noncommercial. They would go out into the desert every full moon. It’s already connected to the, um, the moon cycle. And it was very like family run, but it was every moon, every full moon, they would go out to the desert, set up a sound system and dance all night.
Bryan: 00:19:07 Sounds amazing.
Kenji: 00:19:07 Yeah. So, and these people were very, you know, wanting to almost redefine the idea of a commune. Where not, it’s not the sixties version of the commune, but it’s like, okay, we all have our, our normal lives, you know, we have jobs, we have normal lives. But we all, we also have this strong community that is really needed in this modern disenfranchised and disconnected world. Um, so this documentary explores that. But also in my visitations to the Dakotas and these powwows in these interviews with these elders. Just, I got some incredible quotes of Howard Bad Hands, for example, talking about, uh, the meaning of ritual. And how, um, humans need ritual, uh, to, to create community, but also in the indigenous need was really to connect to nature. It was, it was to remind ourselves of our place in the natural world and in the universe. And so this really hits to the heart of my really my spirit. And, and a mission in life is always going back to this thing of, well, how do we re reestablish this connection with the natural world? And look, indigenous peoples have done this for eons. They have these, these rituals that allow us to reconnect with the natural world, to understand the dialogue between humans and nature and our place in the natural world.
Bryan: 00:20:45 How effectively, just to interrupt real quick. Um, do you, how effectively do you think this documentary is? How, how effective is it in helping its viewers make that connection or find it within themselves? I’m wondering now that you’ve gone through the journey, you’ve done the piece that exists. It’s been a number of years.
Kenji: 00:21:04 Yeah, it’s on Youtube now. I upload recently on Youtube, it’s like 15 years ago, but I uploaded recently. It’s called Moment Utopia.
Bryan: 00:21:12 Moment, Moment Utopia. People can find it on Youtube.
Kenji: 00:21:14 Yeah. It’s still like 16 millimeter. Even some eight millimeter film mixed with some video. It’s like he can get the, the age of it.
Bryan: 00:21:23 And what, what kind of response have you had to it?
Kenji: 00:21:26 Oh, I mean it was, it was amazing. I won several awards for it and I really, you know, I would go to parties and just hand out this movie for free to people on the dance floor. And people still now today remember it and I get just random emails saying like, “oh, I first was introduced to like so many years ago through this movie called Moment Utopia.” I mean, it’s really quite amazing. Um, but this was really also how, I mean, this led to, to World Spirit and then Bella Gaia. I mean these artists like Alex Grey, really. I mean, they, they, they valued this movie, this Moment Utopia movie. They could really relate to it. I was, I was also connected with a, you know, great thinker and philosopher Ken Wilber through Moment Utopia. So it was really a door opener for me to a new world. Um, and uh, and so yeah. So let’s see. So with, with World Spirit, with this, was with Alex Grey. This was being released in Japan. I was performing and you know, with my violin, with dance music. I was producing dance music, ambient music, a sort of progressive house, trans sort of sort of stuff. I released some music on John Digweeds Bedrock label and also released music with Japanese labels. And then I get this random phone call from this dot com millionaire, 30 something guy. He helped start Live Door in Japan. Which was like a Yahoo of Japan. And um, he is a raver and he’s like, I really, I’m a big fan of yours. I also really love Alex Grey. I love this DVD. Um, let’s have lunch. And so when we had lunch, he was like, yeah, I’m paying 20 million dollars to go to the space station as a space tourist and as, as I’m up there, I’d like to collaborate with you somehow. It was not your typical lunch meeting. And so I was like, oh my goodness, seriously. And he says, so to get things started, let me sponsor you on this trip to see my friend Greg Olson fly on the so used to the space station in Kazakhstan. So we basically went on this epic journey with this was all a program, a business through this company called Space Adventures, which is the first space tourist company that basically leased a seat. There’s three seats on the Soyuz, two for Russian cosmonauts, one was basically leased to Space Adventures for paying tourists. The price is 20 million to go to the space station.
Bryan: 00:24:16 And he did it didn’t he.
Kenji: 00:24:17 Well actually, so that’s another story. He actually ended up not going, but the trip to Kazakhstan to see the launch of Greg Olsen on the Soyuz, uh, that was, that trip was what inspired Bella Gaia. So we did go on this trip, it was just a memorable experience going on these like, um, these Russian Soviet era, like private military planes. That inside was just like the, I just remember, I mean, it is a wooden velvet, you know, like really, I mean it was like.
Bryan: 00:25:01 Just like you think of Russian fighter jet with smell.
Kenji: 00:25:05 And, and we were given, you know, a private tour of, uh, Baikonur, which is the launch area. And were, watched the launch from 200 meters away, which is a lot closer than the, the public viewing spot. Which is I think, a thousand kilometer away. And so it was very close, very loud, very bright, very powerful. Uh, I brought my violin actually to serenade the rocket at, at T -30 seconds, which is also on, on Youtube. We, you can just search Kenji Williams. Uh, uh, Soyuz launch. And so, so after that launch we went to Moscow to mission control. Uh, where we saw the Soyuz dock with ISS. Um, and really learned of the really the Russian, um resourcefulness of, uh. I mean, I think at the time I could see down below me in mission control. They were still using MS-DOS, I think, um, and you know, the Russian space programs, uh, a budget is equal to the masses, um, landscaping budget. And so, you know, just the Russian, you know, spirit of, of being able to do a lot with very little is, was in, was in full view. Uh, and as part of the tour we ended up in Star city, which is where they train the astronauts. And at that time was actually right after the Columbia accident, the shuttle accident. So NASA was collaborating and working with the Russian space program and, and the Russians were helping NASA astronauts train and, and, uh, go on the Soyuz because the shuttle was grounded. So at that time there was an American area to Star city where we basically had a barbecue thing with some American astronauts. One of them was Mike Fincke who, uh, I just started talking with, uh, it was the first time meeting an astronaut was very excited. And, and this was the moment of the seed in genesis of Bella Gaia, where I asked Mike, what is it that changed when you went to space? And he told me how before he went to space, uh, well he was a planetary scientist and his favorite planets for Mars and Jupiter and Saturn. Uh, but once he went to space and looked out the window and saw our earth with this atmosphere just 20 miles thick, this borderless living blue bubble of life floating in the blackness of space, he had this life changing experience. The overview effect is what it’s called. And he came back to Earth with a much greater appreciation for our planet.
Bryan: 00:27:52 Tell me about that. I read that term, the overview effect. And I had never heard it before, but tell me a little bit about what that means and why that was so impactful for Mike.
Kenji: 00:28:03 So it’s actually a book written by Frank White, uh, called The Overview Effect. Uh, it’s basically documenting, you know, various, many astronauts who have this life changing experience, seeing the earth from space. It’s, it’s, it’s almost like a religious experience, a life changing experience. Um, that is, uh, became basically my inspiration of how could I replicate, how can I simulate that transformative effect to those of us who can’t yet go to space. And so this was really my meeting Mike and his story of transformation was my inspiration to figure out how can I bring this, how can I democratize this very exclusive, a transformative experience to the rest of the world. You know, God, it’s, it’s desperately needed right now. And what if that can be translated, I mean, yeah, you know, there can be um, drug induced or other ways to do it. But you know, I really actually coming from the underground rave scene, I really became a inspired to figure out more mainstream ways of communicating these more esoteric topics and a mainstream ways of transformation.
Bryan: 00:29:27 Because non, helping people achieve non ordinary states of consciousness is definitely one way. Right. And it sounds like you’d been, you’d been down that path to some degree and and seen its power yet it sounds like. What I’m getting what I’ve seen of your work online and a little bit I know of you, that you wanted to find something that could be more embraced by especially mainstream society. And integrated into our science the way we teach science technology, right?
Kenji: 00:29:55 Exactly. Yes.
Bryan: 00:29:56 Like all of this. And one thing I love too is I came across something that was either in something you wrote or on a page associated with you. It was one of the astronauts who said something that was right in line with things I’ve heard great spiritual teachers of all ages talk about especially the Dalai Lama. Talking about look beyond differences, look beyond nationality, looked beyond race, look beyond, you know, any other differentiating factor. And this astronaut had said something like, when we were in space, the first day we were pointing to our countries and, and the second, the second and third day we were pointing to our continent. And by the end of the week, we were all just like in awe of this one planet.
Kenji: 00:30:34 Just pointing out one earth.
Bryan: 00:30:35 Yeah, it’s really beautiful. So why is this, why is it so important to you? I mean, why? Basically this is your life’s work of helping people understand the oneness that we are with this earth that we’re privileged to inhabit. But why is that? Why does that matter to you? Why is it, why is it so important?
Kenji: 00:30:55 Uh, I, I can’t seem to escape it in everything that I do in my life. I am born here to deliver this message because if in everything that I’ve done, it has always, always come back to this message and mission. Uh, and I don’t know, I’ve always really, um, I’ve been a lover of nature and a lover of human culture as well at the same time. I don’t take the stance that, that many environmentalist take, that humans should just be eliminated from the earth. I think we do, you know, we do a play a role in the magic of the universe. And, uh, I think that, you know, we are just so caught up in, you know, in the drama of secular life and of a, of these differences that we construct around ourselves that complicate things and.
Bryan: 00:32:02 Yeah, and the pursuit of, of materialism, right? Of accumulation consumption. Right? And, and I saw something in a video you produced online that I really loved what you said. If I can just read three sentences. Um Bella Gaia. So first of all, it’s a profoundly global vision of the interconnectedness of our world. Bella Gaia is an emotional experience of the planet that’s beyond words. Instead of telling people that the earth is alive, we can just show you. Right. Which I love and, and, and I didn’t say this earlier in our conversation, but when I met you that day in San Francisco as I on my way out, you had established this is VR in the garage. And, and I realize people listening to this, they might have enjoyed hearing your story it’s very interesting. It’s unique. I think a lot of people wish me, myself included. We could have been along with you, you know, for parts of the journey, but I, I suspect that people still might be like, Huh, I don’t get it. Like it is it, is it just a youtube video or is it, can I watch it, you know, on Netflix or something. And I understand that it’s you produced it and you still are in dome theaters around the country with live, with like a live orchestra. But you’re also, and you can correct me or expand on that, but you’re also, you’ve gone to showing it like helping people to experience this through virtual reality. Which I got a taste of just for two minutes and I was blown away. Because it really was like I was an astronaut and I had a view of the planet that yeah, I’ve seen posters of the earth from space and stuff like that. But I’d never been immersed in it and it was really, really cool and it’s something I wish everyone would have that experience. But tell me, tell me about, tell me a little bit more about the dome productions and a little bit more about what you’re doing with VR.
Kenji: 00:33:52 Yeah. So, uh, so the production. So after meeting Mike, you know, it was really a couple of years of gestation. I didn’t know what I wanted to produce, what it would look like, how it get there. And eventually I, uh, I became friends with a person at the Natural History Museum here in New York who was developing the software. Uh, that is a, a flight simulator of the universe for, for planetariums.
Bryan: 00:34:20 Kenji, let me, let me jump in and just ask one question and I want to pick up right where you are. But what I love is I love your, what I would call courage. It might not be courage, it might be you know, stubbornness or just sheer willpower, whatever. But the fact that you’re saying like, I didn’t even know what I wanted or how I would get there or what it was like. I think a lot of people give up at that point, like, yeah, I don’t know. And then they just go back to whatever. Who’s playing football this weekend or whatever obligations they have. What I want to know, and I think people might benefit from who were listening is how did you persevere in the face of this ambiguity and what was your creative support system like? Like did you have good friends or at this time were you in any kind of artistic collective or how did you navigate through all of that uncertainty to produce, to end up producing something that’s really freaking awesome?
Kenji: 00:35:10 Oh, it’s a good question. And um, I guess it’s, it’s, it’s luck, but it’s also just a, I am just that kind of a person. I’m a real, I’m a radical, almost revolutionary. I’ve been like this my whole life and some people as they get older sort of give up or, or you know. I’ve sort of become more motivated to change the world. Um, so it, you know, by my very nature doesn’t allow me to sort of give up and, and it was a very strong emotion after meeting Mike. Like I couldn’t get rid of it. And, uh, and when he, you know, I really do believe in, when you have something on your mind, when you’re really focused on something, things emerge out of your life, out of your journey through life. They present themselves to you and you have a choice to take up these opportunities or not, you know. So, um, so as it went along, I, I, you know, I was introduced to the software at my friend at Natural History Museum through, through a recommendation of someone else in the planetarium dome community. And then, um, at the same time I did, I was very lucky I was working making these actually meditation videos for this, this foundation called the foundation for global community based in San Francisco. And I, they had a video that was similar. It was like astronaut quotes and satellite images. And, and I was like, I just came back from this, this journey in, in, uh, in Russia. And um, do you mind if I just present a proposal for funding? And I was very lucky. They granted me a $50,000 grant at the time, which allowed me to take time off from other, everything that else I was doing and focus straight on production. So I basically started a rendering out, you know, images, orbital images of floating above the earth with the software. Which looked extremely real. Uh, I mean, you showing it to people. People will think I’m remote controlling a camera on a space station. It’s all real satellite data that’s mapped on a 3D world. But you can, you can make it move as you like. And like for example, remove the clouds, which a lot of people don’t realize the, a real image of the earth. A lot of it is obscured by clouds if you want to see the detail of the terrain, it helps to be able to remove the clouds. But you can also add literally yesterday’s clouds on top of it to make it look, it’s like an MRI of the planet, of what’s happening right now. And then, um, so I started building out, you know, uh, a flight paths rendered movies, composing the music to it. And then I started performing it here and there, and at the same time I, I another significant contact with NASA popped up at an underground party in DC.
Bryan: 00:38:31 That is so random.
Kenji: 00:38:31 So random. And this lady was walking around with a camera, interviewing the artists and she started interviewing me. And at that time I was, you know, this was on my mind. So she’s like, what are you working on now? Is like, I want to make an experience that simulates the overview effect. I met this astronaut, I told her the whole story and she almost dropped the camera. She’s like, oh my God, I worked for NASA. So…
Bryan: 00:38:57 That is amazing.
Kenji: 00:38:58 She, she, uh, she then introduced me to her boss and I presented the idea to the boss and then she invited me to present in front of their top earth scientists at NASA Goddard. Uh, which is where they process most of the earth satellite data. And so it was, you know, and then when I presented it at NASA, these, these scientists were just floored. I, all I did was this combine one of their produced a data visualizations with music. No words. And performed as a short five minute sample and they were just like jumping off the walls. Uh, I mean it was a room full of frustrated earth scientists.
Bryan: 00:39:42 Nerds. Really smart, smart people. Right. But what, you know, one thing I love so much about that story is that when she asked you, your answer wasn’t just like, I think maybe I want to make, I want to just want to keep making music or maybe some movies or even it wasn’t as vague as, well, I want to do something with space. It was like I want to do something about the overview effect, you know? And it was like boom, your clarity and specificity made that connection all the more powerful. I mean, that is awesome.
Kenji: 00:40:08 Yeah. Just goes to show you, like if you really want to do something, just communicate it to people. You never know who you’re going to talk to, you know?
Bryan: 00:40:14 Yeah. Yeah. And you weren’t even asking her, right? You weren’t saying like, can you help me or will you help me? Or do you know anyone you were just sharing? It was like a natural self expression to true desire with specificity and then boom, that’s awesome. That’s great. And it’s proof to me, by the way, I’ve seen this and I actually teach this. When I work with people one on one or in workshops, I lead that, like you said, the more we share our ideas, the more real they become, number one. And number two, people want to help. Like we’re naturally right? We’re naturally predisposed when we hear someone in pain or we hear someone who has a desire like we want to alleviate that pain, we want to help facilitate that desire and, and the story you’re sharing is for me, again, just confirmation to that fact. It’s, it’s really cool.
Kenji: 00:40:57 Thank you. Yeah, I mean I luck has a lot to do with it as well. I think these, these two moments were very pivotal. There’s no way that I could have preconceived interplanted in advance. So, um, but again, opportunities come up to you, you know, being able to recognize them and take advantage of them is a very important part of finding your path. And so, and so after this NASA thing, you know, they were really understanding. I mean I was basically my pitch was that you have to present climate science, science general in a way that humans understand. Which is not just left brain a statistics, but there has to be this right brain emotional channel as part of it.
Bryan: 00:41:43 So let me, let me, let me explore that for just a minute. And, and I, I’m really trying to be diplomatic about how I set this up and I don’t want to be a Trump basher. And I don’t want to beat up people who are like global warming, climate, climate, climate change deniers. But what I wonder is when there’s someone like, okay, because we know data alone doesn’t convince, right? You can present more facts, you can shout louder, but that’s not going to change somebody’s perspective. Tell me what’s your view about somebody like Donald Trump and I have this great photo. I don’t know who took it, but he’s in the Oval Office and he’s got his arms crossed and right behind him are these images of climate change, of global warming. And it’s like he’s, it’s like a little, like a solon child doesn’t want to believe it is what it looks like to me. Right. But where I’m going with this is with somebody, let’s take him, because he’s conspicuous and he’s vocal, but somebody who is so, uh, outspoken about the fact this isn’t really happening. What, what do you think is effective in get, what I would say getting through to somebody like that.
Kenji: 00:42:49 Well, let me give you a story. I directly had with a climate denier who, you know, it was a, uh, it was, uh, at a NASA event on the Washington Mall for Earth Day. And we were in a, in a, a dome on the mall. So it was sort of people walking through. So in that sense, I was lucky in that there was this person who walked through, happened to be walking through and we started talking about climate change. And he was like, oh, I don’t know, I don’t believe it. It’s, it was a typical argument. Um, and I was actually setting up for my show and I was like, hey, why don’t you just sit down and, and, and check out my show because I’m about to perform. And so he sat down and like, and I, I performed a 20 minute 30 minute Bella Gaia show and afterwards he came up to me and said, you know what, I think you just changed my mind. And he walked away.
Bryan: 00:43:47 Wow. On that topic too, by the way. One thing that I’m struck by is how there was zero making wrong. Like you weren’t challenging him, like in, you know, you were inviting him. It was a true invitation with no expectation. No, like telling him, well you’re an idiot or you’re wrong, or given him facts. And, and I think there’s something really profound about that.
Kenji: 00:44:08 I think. I think there’s problems on both sides of the argument. Yeah. Um, and just, just pointing fingers of that you’re a climate denier is not good enough. You know,
Bryan: 00:44:21 The other thing about that too, and I don’t, I don’t, I don’t mean to be flippant, but I think there’s something about it is you were in a dome, right? Like something, there’s something special about a dome already isn’t there? Really. There really is. I remember reading Buckminster Fuller’s a biography and reading that he thought that we in the future and maybe we still will, that we will all be living and working in domes. You know, I’m still working for that day. The other thing about that, that I’m interested to get your perspective about, because I also use the word climate change all the way until literally about two weeks ago when I interviewed Paul Hawken for this show. And you probably, do you know Paul, by the way?
Kenji: 00:45:06 Uh, I don’t know him personally. No,
Bryan: 00:45:08 I, yeah, that was the first time I’ve talked to him directly and I love that guy already. I really love that guy. But we were talking about the power and importance of language when, you know, sharing anything. And he helped me see that, to speak about it in terms of climate change is actually inherently ineffective. Because climate change has been, as you know, has been happening before humans. But he talked about global warming. Right? And I’d actually, I don’t know why, but somewhere in the past I shied away from the term global warming in favor of climate change. And he was like, wait, global warming is the thing that’s happening. Yeah, climate change is a natural part of existence, but if we’re going to be effective in communicating, maybe global warming is the more per, like the more accurate term. What, what’s your view on that?
Kenji: 00:45:52 Right. Well, I mean, I mean there’s problems with both of them because you hear people saying, well it’s cold outside. So obviously global warming doesn’t exist.
Bryan: 00:46:03 I know that’s one of the Donald Trump things that I’m like, come on man.
Kenji: 00:46:07 And, and then climate change. You’re right, I mean I guess a more of a correct term is anthropogenic caused climate change, right? Human caused climate change, which is really the proper term for it.
Bryan: 00:46:20 But nobody can pronounce that or spell it. So that one’s probably not going to. Yeah.
Kenji: 00:46:25 But here’s what it comes down to. Okay. I am not really here. I mean climate change, global warming, these are still abstract concepts way out there. The best that environmentalists have, you know, done in communicating something emotional is maybe like polar bears are dying and like an image of a polar bear. But what, you know, what I am here to do is to establish relationships. I’m a relationship builder. Okay. I’m not an environmentalist because, and this goes back to the indigenous peoples. Their rituals were there to establish relationship with the earth, with the universe. And make that a relative and personal. Okay. And, and if you have a relationship with someone or something, you will naturally protect it.
Bryan: 00:47:15 Right? And care care for it, nurture it.
Kenji: 00:47:17 Right? Right. Exactly. So this is the problem with our modern culture is we are disconnected from the natural world. I mean, maybe for us, for those of us who, who have a lot of experience in nature or camping or you know, we have our relationships. But for the most part and part of the economic system which is also detached from valuation, correct valuation of nature, which is what’s killing the earth. Is, yeah, there’s no feedback loop with the natural world. And so it continues to just eat away at natural resources. And, and our culture, our modern systems view the earth still as a commodity, you know. Um, so I, I’m really here to establish relationship and from that protecting it will be natural.
Bryan: 00:48:09 Yeah. Almost inevitable, right? When the relationship. Yeah.
Kenji: 00:48:14 And in the long term that’s what’s needed anyway. We won’t be a future civilization from regulations. We will be future civilization from. It’s the hard way. It is changing our consciousness, changing our culture. Culture is the most pervasive thing for the future. And it’s not regulations. It has to be. We have to change who we are and the way that we relate to other things and the planet.
Bryan: 00:48:39 I, I, I totally agree with you. Let me totally shift gears for a moment now, a few minutes now and ask you a series of questions that are totally unrelated to what we’ve been talking about.
Kenji: 00:48:51 Sure
Bryan: 00:48:51 Okay. So this is the lightning round. Okay. So it’s about 10 questions. I’ve designed them to be a short question. You can take as long as you want to answer them, but my aim in this portion is to minimize or even completely eliminate my commentary. Okay. So I’m going to ask the question that you answer. So. Alright. Are you ready?
Kenji: 00:49:12 Ready as I’ll ever be.
Bryan: 00:49:14 Okay. Number one, please complete the following sentence using something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a?
Kenji: 00:49:26 A whirlwind with a jewel at the middle.
Bryan: 00:49:29 Okay. Number two, what’s something you wish you were better at?
Kenji: 00:49:35 Humor and comedy.
Bryan: 00:49:36 Okay. Number three, if you were required everyday for the rest of your life to wear a t-shirt on it. T-shirt with a slogan or a saying or a quote or a quip on it. What would the shirt say?
Kenji: 00:49:49 Uh, love your mother.
Bryan: 00:49:53 Okay. Number four, what book, you have that shirt already don’t you? Okay. Number four, what book other than your own have you gifted most often? Gifted or recommended, most often?
Kenji: 00:50:07 Uh, Ken Wilber’s, A Brief History of Everything.
Bryan: 00:50:17 Why?
Kenji: 00:50:18 It really helped me understand the problems of our, of, of humanity right now. Uh, yeah.
Bryan: 00:50:28 Number five. So you travel a ton. What’s one travel hack, something you do or maybe something you take with you when you travel to make your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Kenji: 00:50:42 Uh, I, I’m sort of an avid biohacker so I bring a lot of supplements. Um, I feel they really helped me. So anywhere from vitamins to all sorts of amino acids and things to help you sleep and fix your jet lag, like Melatonin. And um, yeah. Uh, I think it really helps.
Bryan: 00:51:03 Caffeine or no caffeine.
Kenji: 00:51:05 Oh yes caffeine.
Bryan: 00:51:07 What’s your preferred method of delivery?
Kenji: 00:51:11 A coffee and then, and then macha.
Bryan: 00:51:16 Number six, what’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Kenji: 00:51:22 I have started a to, since I love by hacking. I started taking Bacopa at night.
Bryan: 00:51:31 What is that?
Kenji: 00:51:31 Bacopa is a Himalayan herb that is most typically used for, uh, by, by um, Buddhists monks actually to stay awake. It’s a great neural enhancer. But I have a friend who is working with Stanford researchers on Telomeres, extending telomeres. Your DNA strands that supposedly is the key to longevity and taking Bacopa is a effective in extending your telomeres.
Bryan: 00:52:03 Interesting. Where do I get my hands on? Some of that.
Kenji: 00:52:07 It’s, it’s very cheap. You can get it. Um, it’s the, the company is called a Himalayan Herbs, I think.
Bryan: 00:52:14 And how do we spell Bacopa
Kenji: 00:52:17 B, a, c, o, p a.
Bryan: 00:52:19 Just like it sounds. Okay. What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Kenji: 00:52:31 Hm. Good question. That, um, our democracy is at great risk right now. And the, uh, a promise of this country is yet to be fully realized and it’s in great danger right now.
Bryan: 00:52:53 And what is your recommendation, given that risk, given that reality, what’s your recommendation or your exhortation to use a $5 word, for people?
Kenji: 00:53:06 Um, vote. Vote and also, um, organize, educate, communicate, connect with each other. Um, surprise yourself and reaching out to the other side and. Yeah, I mean I think and, and also, you know, I mean for humanity in general, I think we, you, we put our belief in technology too much. And there still needs to be this human consciousness evolution, you know. I think technology is only as useful for the positive sense when it grows or evolves in tandem with human consciousness. And we, we tend to sort of look at technology, you know, just very naively, um, as the answer to all our problems. So, um, yeah, I mean this is, you know, with I’ve been very much getting into blockchain, its potential. I think there’s a lot of naïveté around blockchain to honest. In that, again, we’re like putting all our eggs in the blockchain basket, like us going to solve all our problems, all this kind of stuff. But there’s not enough understanding that actually, you know, decentralized cooperatives have actually existed in America, in Europe and these…I mean, in some ways America, democracy is pretty decentralized as compared to European democracies. Yet we don’t realize his value and take advantage of it. And so in many ways, um, we need to strengthen what’s right and try to understand how to fix the things that are wrong. But even just understanding what’s right and wrong, this is an educational challenge, you know?
Bryan: 00:55:15 Yeah, for sure. Especially because people’s perspectives on that differ so much. Right. Okay. Number eight, what’s one piece of advice that your parents have given you that has made an impact on you or sit with you?
Kenji: 00:55:31 I, I mean, I think by my parents were a great part of my success in that they were always supportive of what I did. And so that in itself I realize, you know, a lot of people don’t have. And so I feel I’m very lucky in that way. Yeah. I have a lot to thank for my parents. So…
Bryan: 00:55:53 What is your next big project?
Kenji: 00:55:57 So, um, you know, people ask me that a lot and there’s really nothing more that excites me then growing Bella Gaia. Like Bella Gaia is the culmination of my visual, uh, passions with, with a film. My musical passions, with composition of music and my live performance passions. Which brings that sort of real human ritual component and the power. There’s nothing more powerful than a live experience. So I basically want to continue to scale this. I the most common comment I get after Bella Gaia shows, oh my God, everybody in the world needs to see this. And so it has been, you know, that’s the next step is how can I scale Bella Gaia. It’s, it’s, it’s gone 10 years growing and evolving from just me performing the solo to now an ensemble of dancers and, and, and live musicians. Planetarium shows, the VR thing, um, but it’s mostly been in the art world. We tour to art performing art centers. But I really to scale it needs to enter now and the entertainment business. So it has been the plan to, how can I, on a production side make Bella Gaia an entertainment product that is now more competitive with like Broadway or Cirque du Soleil. So that means raising the production value in, uh, in the way that we give people the experience. The overview effect doesn’t change. It’s more the live performance and dance components where we visit different countries around the world and have this cultural exploration. But I’ve developed a holographic projection method of interactive holograms with dancers.
Bryan: 00:57:57 No big deal. I’ve just developed this hologram. I mean, that’s pretty awesome. Tell me about like, how did that happen?
Kenji: 00:58:04 That, that happened uh, through again, an invitation from the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University Colorado, Boulder. Ironically. Um, it wasn’t because I was alumni or anything. I was performing at this, at this a science conference for the Executive Board for CU Boulder. And the dean came up to me and asked, we’ve never had an artist in residence, but would you be our first artist in residence for just write a proposal and whatever I wanted to do. And basically it was like, I’ve always wanted to develop an R and D, a, a holographic projection system and methodology and the creative direction behind that. So that’s what I did for two years, was developing this, this, uh, R and D of holograms interacting with dancers and performers. And we presented it at the conference on world affairs in April of, um, of last year. And actually somebody from Cirque du Soleil Innovation Department was there and said this is beyond even what we’re doing.
Bryan: 00:59:12 Wow.
Kenji: 00:59:12 And certainly, you know, we’ve seen holograms enter the entertainment space. I think Beyonce had some holograms are, you know, in some concerts, but nothing yet to the sort of detailed refined interaction and storytelling that we’re developing. So what our holograms are doing are is real interaction, but with a story, you know. We’ve seen a lot of eye candy, a lot of playing around, but nobody yet developing things around a meaningful story. And so, um, this is the super exciting. You can see actually a three minute video on our site. If you go to holograms, a on bellagaia.com, you can see a sample. So basically I want to combine these holograms in a dome to tell the whole Bella Gaia story. Um, and so this is what we want to scale up as a production in a destination, location based entertainment venue that we run ourselves. Like a Cirque du Soleil tent. We run our own theater. People come to us. We have daily shows. That is a, is a ticket revenue model that can scale. I totally believe that this will be a legacy hit show. I mean, if you think of the Lion King, for example, 25 years, the same show everyday, 2000 people sold out. I mean, it’s pretty incredible how many people over 25 years have now experienced, you know, Lion King. Um, what if we could do that with a transformative story? I think, I think people are hungry for something more, uh, you know, timely and more meaningful, more deeper. And what if we could attach to that a entertainment show, a way for people to actually get involved and act. And that is also the whole back end that we want to develop. Is as another thing and problem right now with Bella Gaia is after the show, everyone’s like jumping off the walls. Like, what can I do? I mean, sure, I can give them a list of things to do, but what if we could actually create through blockchain applications um very easy ways to make change in the world and verify that change. So people have this sense of agency that they can make a difference. That’s also part of the problem is “Oh, I can never make a difference with climate change, it’s too big.” It’s this sort of fatalist um, mentality and I think, you know, that’s part of the problem. We need to give people this feeling that they can make a difference and they are making the difference. You know.
Bryan: 01:02:00 Yeah. Yeah I totally agree with you and I think it. I think it is a form of insanity at some level that we know that we’ve created this as a collective, you know, as a group of individuals. It’s happened yet we’ll sit back and say, well, I’m just one person. What I do doesn’t matter. It’s like you know it, you know, so I totally get that. Well, if people. So I do have a few more questions for you about your creative process, but before we turn to that, I want to, I want to make sure we get this in here. Um, if people want to learn more from you or connect with you, what should they do?
Kenji: 01:02:37 Email me. Um, I, I try to reply to every email I get [email protected], k e n j I @ b e l l a g a i a .com. Or come to one of our shows. We have a whole, a big tour lined up already for this coming winter and spring on. You can find it on our events page.
Bryan: 01:02:57 Yep. And this is 2018 as we record. We’re in December of 2018 is we record. This will probably be released in January of 2019 just to give people an understanding when they’re listening to this.
Kenji: 01:03:09 So yeah, we have February shows, uh, April shows. Um, so yeah, a lot happening June in Houston I think. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:03:17 That’s great. And they can find, as we’ve talked about already, some of your videos on Youtube. They can also find your music in Itunes. Yes. And, and elsewhere online. Yes. I’m sure. Awesome. So I also, to be sure that I communicated this to you before our time is up, I want to let you know that as an expression of gratitude to you, Kenji, for making time to talk with me and share your wisdom and your experience with everyone listening. That I have gone online and through Kiva.org, uh, where I have a lending team and I have made a $100 micro loan to an, a, a female entrepreneur. A named Saraswati who lives in Nadia, India. It turns out this is a 29 year old married woman who’s raising a household of three. And her monthly income is only about 120 US dollars. So I believe she’ll be able to make a significant difference in the life of her herself, her family, her community. Because she will use this money to help expand her clothing business by purchasing an additional stock of shirts and pants and, and things. So one, express my gratitude to you in that way.
Kenji: 01:04:27 It just gave me chills. Amazing. Amazing. Thank you for what you’re doing. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:04:32 It’s my pleasure. Okay. So the last part of this I want to turn to is just a few questions as I said about your creative process. I’ve got, as I was zeroing these questions in yesterday, I was like, man, we could do a whole interview just on this. But um, let me, let me start by asking you, because you’re such a multi faceted artist, you know, music and visuals, like you said, and you’ve done stuff with the spoken word and you do things around the world. What’s a typical day for you like?
Kenji: 01:05:07 It’s very boring. It’s a lot of emails and communication. Yeah. I mean, you know, actually these days the life of an artist is mostly managing and your creative time is quite little. Um, but yeah, I my creative time is in bursts, you know, like there it is centered around projects. And uh, so, so most of my time is, is coordinating schedules, emails, management, and writing proposals.
Bryan: 01:05:41 Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that’s probably the less sexy side, but a critical side if the work is to reach an audience. Right. And, and I actually think of a metaphor that I saw when my dad spent a whole bunch of money to build a motorsports park, a big race, a place for cars and motorcycles to drive. And I saw this thing that people who were extraordinarily talented racers. It actually didn’t matter how good they were if they couldn’t find sponsorship, right? Then they couldn’t find the money they needed to get on the track to support the cars and motorcycles and stuff like that. And I think art is in some ways the same way where maybe that model of a patron, you know, the artists and the patron. Whether the patron is a general public buying tickets or books really hasn’t changed a lot. But how do you, how do you think about that and balance and also balance your creative time. If it takes both administrative and the creative, how do you not let the management impinge on the creative and how do you think about that kind of patron model that I just talked about?
Kenji: 01:06:45 Yeah, I mean it’s a challenge sort of switching, you know, modes from, from left brain to right brain. Right. You know, um, I, you definitely, I definitely need time to switch to more creative mode. I sometimes just dedicate the whole day to that or a series of days.
Bryan: 01:07:01 When you do that, what does it look like? Do you work alone? Do you start early? Do you brew tea? Do you like, what is it? What do you do?
Kenji: 01:07:08 I, I mean, I, I have to be alone and it’s, it’s challenging. I’m a father, I have two kids, young kids, so uh, there’s a lot of juggling going on. Uh, so and, and also when I do travel a lot, so that actually does help me in sort of finding a different mental space. Um, so I do find myself creative a lot on the plane or when I’m traveling. Um so, so that really helps. And also when you do collaborate with other artists, you’re now creating like a dedicated space and time with a deliverable, you know. You’re also taking other people’s time so that, that really is a great way to create focus and focusing with other artists. There’s just something really amazing about that. Uh, on the funding end, I mean, it’s, that is always the challenge, right? I mean, I think I was very lucky at the start of this and winning actually not just one $50,000 dollar grant, but two of them, so it’s a total 100,000, which, which got me off the ground. And then, um, we ended up, I didn’t mention this, but we ended up a winning a NASA grant and half a million dollar grant to use Bella Gaia for four K through 12 education for kids. Um, I took, it took four tries applying through the NASA portal. These are 100 page proposals each. I mean it’s no joke, um, but we won and frankly this was the most artistic, you know, based program that NASA has ever funded. Um, and then, and then the administration changed and the education budget dried up. Uh, so since then we have, you know, I’ve basically a grown Bella Gaia just from, from booking fees and then occasional commissions from universities, uh, occasional small grants here and there. And we just set up our 501C3, Beautiful Earth Foundation. So we are going to start to put energy into that in, in building out a board and fundraising through that. And then there’s the for profit side. Uh, now we have a business plan for, for Bella Gaia LLC, which is, which is going to be created. Uh, and, and also I am partnering with this amazing Japanese Company, a that does exhibits. Uh, like immersive exhibits, projection, mapped exhibits. They’re called Naked Incorporated. And they do these amazing, amazing, um, all nature based themes. The most famous one is called Flowers. So it’s a whole sort of walk through exhibit of digital flowers, physical flowers, you know, like, uh, just everything you can imagine.
Bryan: 01:09:58 It’s sounds amazing. Where can, where can we see that?
Kenji: 01:10:01 Um, if you maybe google Flowers Naked Tokyo, some, some videos might come up.
Bryan: 01:10:08 I’ll bet some interesting things would come up with that search.
Kenji: 01:10:14 Yeah, I think their homepage is. Let’s see. Naked Inc. Naked-inc. Yeah, if you do Naked inc, naked.com or something else…
Bryan: 01:10:26 That sounds amazing. And my wife is a master gardener and we’ve actually gone to the Chelsea Royal Flower Show before.
Kenji: 01:10:35 Okay.
Bryan: 01:10:35 I’ll bet this would be amazing. It sounds cool.
Kenji: 01:10:38 So these guys, I mean they, they got 100,000 people coming through a month. Um, so this is actually a really great combination package that I’m wanting to bring to the US is a Bella Gaia theater surrounded by a Naked Flowers exhibit. So…
Bryan: 01:10:55 It sounds incredible.
Kenji: 01:10:56 Um, Yeah, it’s, it’s turning out to be a really great partnership.
Bryan: 01:11:00 Kenji, one thing you didn’t say, so I’ll go ahead and say it and again you can add to this or correct anything that I might get wrong, but Bella Gaia and you have won science media awards, the Fiske Fulldome Film Festival, the My Hero Award, the Macau International Fulldome Festival, the Transformational Film Festival. You’ve been at Sundance, right? I mean this is not like just your kind of side project as people who’ve listened all the way to this point know. But what they might not know is this thing really is freaking awesome and if they get a chance or make the, make the time, exert the effort to go see it, um, I think they’ll love it.
Kenji: 01:11:36 I think so too. Uh, it’s, it’ll really always surprises people past their expectations, you know. It’s hard sort of separating our image from, “oh, it’s another environmental film” or something like that. It’s completely different and it is a, it is deep. It is a journey. It is uplifting as well as meaningful. And so you know, it as a prerequisite to a future culture and I think everybody should see it. Be inspired by it and yeah, I’d love to meet, meet you there.
Bryan: 01:12:12 Yeah. Awesome. Okay. So the last very last couple questions. I want to turn in a very, like intentionally turn our thinking and um Kenji, I’m kind of enlisting, you’re help in even formulating the question to ask. Which is, if you now imagine that people listening to this who are maybe working in a nine to five, maybe they’re not, maybe they don’t have a job, maybe they’re a stay at home parent, um, maybe they’ve done charitable or philanthropic work to this point. But they know they want to use their strengths, gifts and talents in service to others doing what they love probably through some kind of creative expression. What, but for whatever reason, financial or just they haven’t had confidence in themselves or you know, maybe they’ve been told that that to, to do something practical or whatever. What kind of advice do you give to somebody who has this? They maybe even felt this calling for years, but they haven’t followed it. Like, what are you, what kind of encouragement or advice do you have for them? What should they do? What should they definitely not do?
Kenji: 01:13:13 Just do it and never give up. I mean, uh, that’s, those are the two recommendations I can give, you know, if, if you feel this calling and have these fears of, oh, how am I going to make money, how, how will I support myself? These are really just a constructed fears. If you truly believe in what you want to do, there has to be a point where you have to take that risk. And um, and it’s not an easy path. You know, my life is not easy. I’m not independently wealthy. I took a lot of risks. It’s up and down, but at least I’ll die knowing that I did my passion. I followed my passion in my life. I will have a sense of self worth. I will feel satisfied if I die tomorrow. And that’s how I live my life, as you know, I might die tomorrow. What do I want to do, um, I think that’s how everyone wants to live their life. And so, you know, don’t waste your life. If you’re not happy with their job, quit and, and you know, and do what you want to do. Follow your passion. Don’t give up. It won’t be easy, but um, and it’s never a straight line, you know. Um, but I would just say follow and listen to your feelings and your emotion and your, your deep sense of motivation, you know. Meditate, meditate, and understand where you want to go, what your true self is telling you. If you truly do want to fill, live a fulfilling life, um, and if, if just making money is your passion, then that’s fine. Uh, so just follow your passion and don’t give up.
Bryan: 01:15:04 I love, I love that advice and I love what you say about, it’s not a straight line, right? Because that’s part of the magic and sometimes the misery of the creative process is that it’s definitely not a linear, a linear thing. But you mentioned the word passion and that’s something I used to encourage people a lot as well. And I still am a proponent of. But what I’ve, what I’ve discovered is it, some people find that to be kind of a heavy word. That like, what if I don’t know my passion, you know, or how, how will I know? How can I find out what my passion or I have a lot of passions, you know, like I’m just so curious. Like what, what do you say to somebody that, that responds with something like that, like passions not actually a useful, you know, piece of the advice. What would you say then.
Kenji: 01:15:46 Oh, what tickles your fancy? Try whatever interests you have, try it. And if it’s pottery, you know, um, try a little pottery and a, if you like it, keep going forward with that. Um, I, I think it is really. You never know. You can never preconceive everything anyway. And, and finding your passion is the journey that is, that is the joy of, of life, is finding your passion. And um, when I first met Mike Fincke, I, it was just a feeling I didn’t know what it would be. I never, I never realized it would be like a career, uh, in delivering the overview effect to people. But it was just this sort of feeling inside of me and a drive. And I guess part of that is more on a deeper level as a human being, being more in touch with yourself. If you’re completely disconnected from yourself, then yeah, you will be able to listen to yourself or listened to your own, you know, your, your own feelings. And so part of this is self development, uh, of, of, of meditating, I guess, or finding your own way of, of therapy. For me, the, the opening of the door was, was psychedelics, the kind of the rave culture of the nineties. The dancing, you know, and Japan’s induced collective feeling of being one with a bunch of people in an ecstatic state. Uh, you know, these sorts of things allow you to go deeper into yourself and to really find your true spirit I think. It is an internal journey to find your passion. I think so.
Bryan: 01:17:42 I think so. Tell me about if you ever had a moment where, because I’ve had this and I’ve talked to other people who’ve, who’ve actually had this as like a moment where it got like it became very clear that there are certain people who will lift me up and certain people who will like bring me down. And if I want to go a certain place, it’s going to, it’s going to be conducive to me getting there. To consciously surround me with a certain kind of people or even in some cases a certain person. And to let go of or diminish other relationships. I know that’s kind of an abstract thing, but I’m wondering how like first of all, if you ever had a specific instance where that became clear to you and second, like if that would factor into any advice you would give people also who who want to be or who may be already are on a creative path about a community or relationships deliberately. You know,
Kenji: 01:18:33 It’s all about relationships and surrounding yourself with the right people, you know. And that is the only way how Bella Gaia has survived this long. It’s not like I’ve had a regular patron. It, this is my team is still with me after 10 years because of relationships of, because of healthy relationships. And that’s both personal and financial, you know. You have to have good business relationships, but also good personal and sort of have this emotional intelligence and social intelligence. Um, and, and certaInly surrounding yourself with other inspiring, inspiring people who uplift you is so much a part of it, you know. Um, you know, just if someone’s bringing you down or just mocking you or making bad jokes about you just leave them. I mean, there’s no purpose for them to be in your life. And so you have to surround yourself with good people. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:19:29 Okay. So I think this is my last question. Um, but what I, what I will really want to know also is how, because I heard you talk about yourself. You’re like, well, I’m just a person that I never give up. I, you know. And in some ways it’s admirable, but in some ways I think for people listening it’s not useful. Because they might be like, well that’s him, but that’s not me. Right. So maybe what could be useful is how do you manage your own psychology, right? Like how do you preserve whatever, however you would term it, remain an optimist, preserve enthusiasm, like get up, pick yourself up when you’re down. Like what kinds of things do you do, you know, consciously or even naturally that weren’t necessarily conscious. That help you to really effectively manage your, your state.
Kenji: 01:20:14 Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really tough sometimes. It’s really about these relationships. It’s, it’s if you’re feeling down or hopeless, um, if you have established these relationships with other people who will come back to you with a piece of news that you know, you had talked about earlier and you know, there will be more. You’re sort of like, I’m spreading your good intentions among more people that will later come back to you in a time of need. And so, uh, that I think really has been critical for me. Um, and this also comes in the form of business, you know, I, I may put out a proposal or a request. In the interim, I feel really bad, uh, through something else and then maybe when that proposal is successfully comebacks, it helps. Of course most proposals are denied, um, which, you know, people should get used to like literally I think, I mean this is the artist’s life, you know, get ready to receive a no answer. Most of the time, you know, like 80, 90 percent of the time it’s, it’s hard. So you have to get used to no most of the time. So it really is so important to believe in yourself. To know that you are, you are doing the right thing and that you are talented. And, and here’s the thing, you know, okay, I’m going to bring up Trump. Okay. Because as, as, as controversial as he is, as much problems as is creating, I do like find inspiration and one thing that he does, which is he is able to convince people of anything.
Bryan: 01:22:06 Oh yeah.
Kenji: 01:22:07 He is a very good a convincer.
Bryan: 01:22:11 And why? Why do you think that is?
Kenji: 01:22:13 I mean he, he has like re-engineered his brain to literally believe in anything and the problem is I don’t think most humans are like that. But we can take inspiration from when you talk to people, you have to put on this confident feeling and you have to know it and feel it. And, and Trump is so good at that. I mean he sort of ingrained in, into, into his DNA even if it’s completely false.
Bryan: 01:22:43 Yeah, I mean just yesterday that, that thing about his words, the beautiful clean coal industry. That’s such an oxymoron like jumbo shrimp because you know. It’s not even a thing but, but the thing. And, and I love what you’re saying too because I think there. This is something I teach and I’m fascinated by is that we ultimately believe whatever it is we believe because we choose to, but most people don’t choose their beliefs consciously. Right? And when we choose our beliefs consciously, we live a different life or it’s available. It’s possible. We can do it at any moment, but going back to what you were saying about rejection, because I think this is one of those almost paradoxes. But it’s also a place that exposes that ability to be conscious in our choices. Which is this asking, asking, asking, realizing that a majority of these asks are going to be declined. But nevertheless, asking with the expectation of a yes, right? Because I think, and I know there’s a little bit maybe metaphysical, but if somebody asks, expecting to be shot down, more likely to be shot down. RIght? so how do you ask with the expectation of a yes. While you have the awareness that this statistics are the majority, these are going to be declined.
Kenji: 01:24:01 Yeah. Uh, you have to really, um, make sure that you’re in check that put things in perspective. Um, it’s hard because you, you have this dream and if we just get this then this can happen and I really want to do it. And so I obviously get down if I, if there’s a rejection of something I really care about, of course. Um, but you have to always get back on it, up on your feet. It’s a new day every day. Um, and, you know, smile. I mean actually scientists have proven that just physically smiling actually does change your brain.
Bryan: 01:24:42 It does. Yeah. Your physiology, your physiology. Absolutely.
Kenji: 01:24:45 So, uh, you have to figure out some tricks that will sort of gets you out of this. Um, I mean for me, yoga really helps, uh, exercise really helps. Um, and I mean my, my two daughters just are completely full of life and uplift me. Um really surrounding people that love you, uh, in your life is, is critical.
Bryan: 01:25:13 Yeah. It makes all the difference. Let me ask you if you ever have this experience, because I see this as I observe myself and it, it actually bothers me a little bit. Which is when I receive good news, like something that pleases me and then I feel good. I feel good. Like re, reactively, I’m like, “oh yeah, that proposal, you know, that I got that deal closed or, or whatever that good thing happened.” And then I feel good and then I actually hate that I feel good because I hate that my, like my emotional response is dependent upon something that happened. Do you ever have that?
Kenji: 01:25:47 Yeah, I mean that’s sort of verging on a little bit over analytical like analyzing yourself, but I know what you’re talking about. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:25:53 Because in the same way like if you feel down because something didn’t go your way, the inverse of that is just feeling good because something did go your way and I find myself going, I want to be free from both. You know what I mean? Like as I’m wondering if you ever have that experience. Yeah.
Kenji: 01:26:08 Yeah. I mean I think I’m part of the challenge and goal is to, is to detach yourself personally from your projects.
Bryan: 01:26:19 Not always easy. Right? Especially when you’ve invested years and years in this. Yeah. But who was it that said high intention, low attachment, something like that.
Kenji: 01:26:29 That’s a good one.
Bryan: 01:26:30 Well beautiful.
Kenji: 01:26:32 That’ll be my new, my new t-shirt.
Bryan: 01:26:34 Okay. You can put it on the back. Awesome. Well Kenji, this, this has been so awesome. I really appreciate you making time to talk with me and to share. Like I said, your wisdom and your experience and to allow us all along on the creative journey that you’re on. I’ve had, I’ve had so much fun. Yeah, it’s privileged.
Kenji: 01:26:56 Thank you. Yeah, it’s an honor to be here and really great conversation and inspiring talking to you and, and this has been really fun.
Bryan: 01:27:05 Yeah, I think so. Okay, and to everybody listening, thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. I really hope that you connect with Kenji and see a show of Bella Gaia. I believe for you as it has for me, it wIll change your life. It was like I said, two minutes on a VR headset in a garage. And a, I knew it was something I wanted to share with other people. I want to experience it in a dome. I hope you do too. I hope that you’ve taken something away from this, that you will apply in your own creative pursuits to make the difference that you’re capable of making. So with that I’ll say thank you for listening and until next time everybody take care.
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