My 33 1/3 book, on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume II, was the 5th bestselling book in the series in 2014. It's available at Amazon (including Kindle) and via your local bookstore. • F.A.Q.Key Tags: #saw2for33third, #sound-art, #classical, #juntoElsewhere: Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram

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tag: software

The Eternal Life Aquatic with Laraaji

An interview with the ambient grandmaster in his 72nd year

Larrajii

In recent years, there has been much discussion about distinctions between “ambient” music and “new age” music. It is quite likely that the primary distinction between the two is a matter of just how foregrounded are spiritual matters — in the music’s conception, and in its presumed consumption.

If anyone can weigh in authoritatively on such distinctions, it is Laraaji, the longtime, holistic-minded musician whose most prominent release, 1980’s Ambient 3: Days of Radiance (Editions EG), was produced by a world-famous skeptic: ambient godfather Brian Eno. As has been well documented over the years, Eno came upon Laraaji playing his electric-enhanced zither in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park. That chance encounter helped introduce Laraaji to the world, and to this day he travels widely and records and performs frequently, often as part of spiritual conferences.

Born Edward Larry Gordon in 1943, and later taking the name Laraaji as part of a spiritual awakening, he studied music at the historically black college Howard University and then moved to New York City to pursue a career in standup comedy. The impetus for this interview was the announced release of three of his archival cassette tapes by Leaving Records, dating from just before and just after Days of Radiance.

The collection is titled All in One Peace, and it contains the lush, aquatic, and deeply trippy Lotus Collage (1978), Unicorns in Paradise (1981), and Connecting with the Inner Healer Through Music (1983). They are being made available as cassettes not simply because the audience for cassettes has expanded in recent years, but because cassettes — easy to transport, inexpensive to reproduce — were the medium on which Laraaji originally sold his music when he busked in Washington Square Park.

all-in-one-peace

In advance of the interview, which was spurred on by Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin, with whom I share an enthusiasm for Laraaji, I asked her and several musicians I admire if they had any questions for Laraaji. To begin with, his name is pronounced as three straight, even syllables, none of them emphasized. In addition to Jardin’s question about the connection between music and healing, I asked for Scanner (aka Robin Rimbaud) about Laraaji’s thoughts on melancholia in music — this due to Laraaji’s profound emphasis on laughter — and for Greg Davis I asked about the origins of a specific record album, Essence Universe.

In the interview, Laraaji talks about many things, including what Washington Square Park was like back in the day, how he achieves his watery sonics, bridging the spiritual gap with the great skeptic Brian Eno, finding peace in the process of tuning the zither’s 36 strings, and his early career as a standup comic.

Marc Weidenbaum: How did this reissue collection, these three albums, come to be?

Laraaji: I think it stared with a gentleman named Douglas Mcgowan of Yoga Records who, maybe two years ago, when he was releasing an LP of mine he mentioned some people in California who might be interested, as an independent company, to release my music. Over about a year or two, eventually he connected me with Matthewdavid McQueen, in Los Angeles. Well, actually, I met David and his wife at an event that myself and a partner and music collaborator gave in Los Angeles — I think a year and a half ago, in October. And he met me there and handed me a CD and I met his wife, and maybe about a half year later he contacted me and mentioned that he was very much interested in checking out my early music on cassette, and asked if I sent him out whatever I had he would go over them and examine them and take it from there, on what to do with them. I sent him out a bunch of my old cassettes and he found three that he wanted to release immediately and he got my approval, very easy agreement, and he began to work on preparing the cassettes as close to the way they looked back when I did them myself. With Leaving Records and Stones Throw and all of our connections since I met him in Los Angeles, about a year and a half ago, have been through email and phone.

Weidenbaum: It’s a beautiful collection, and the packaging is gorgeous. I was familiar with two of the albums through YouTube, but of the three cassettes, one I had never heard of before. It’s titled Connecting with the Inner Healer Through Music

Laraaji: For that one I had a limited release on it because it was really for the people who are familiar with that annual excursion conference that takes in Greensboro – the South Eastern Spiritual Conference. I occasionally presented workshops for music for these conferences over the years. One year, 1983, I offered a three-day workshop called “Connecting with the Inner Healer,” and I prepared music for the people in the class. This is the music that came out of that experience. So I hadn’t tried to release that set too widely, mostly for people who are familiar with my workshop programs.

Weidenbaum: It’s incredible how little mention of it there is on Google as of now, just nine search returns as of today [July 21, 2015], several of which are for the phrase but have nothing to do, actually, with your album.

Laraaji: Yes, I’m not a great big promoter. I delegate that to other qualified people. I’m surprised there’s that many mentions.

Weidenbaum: I’d imagined it must have some sort of unique provenance. Please elaborate on Connecting with the Inner Healer. I want to also talk about your music and life, but because of the timing of these re-releases, I want to focus first on these albums, especially this one, about which so little is known. Was the music recorded at the conference?

Laraaji: It’s either I did the conference and it inspired me to do the music, or at the time I was preparing to give the workshop this recording happened as part of my preparation. I don’t remember the exact sequence. It was 1983. If I knew the month that would tell me more. The conferences were usually in July. The theme of this particular conference was healing, consciousness, and transition. My music was always being invited to be shared at these conferences. Connecting with the Inner Healer was a way for me to get deeper into the therapeutic side of music. These kinds of conferences offer many different speakers around the idea of spirituality, altered life, consciousness — so, I was constantly being exposed to ideas of healing, ideas of healing, healing lifestyle. I’m being reminded that my music had healing qualities, which I wasn’t surprised by, because it grew out of my experience with meditation in the early ‘70s. It grew out of my exposure to imageries and visions of altered states of consciousness in the mid-‘70s. That started me exploring for a music experience, or musical sound, on this side of the veil that would complement what I heard in altered states. The result was through yoga, meditation, metaphysics, and other modalities. My music began to reflect an inner sense of reality that I contacted through meditation, an inner sense of constant stillness, quiet, harmony, peace and serenity, and universal oneness. These themes found their way into my musical expression, along with, still I did jazz and bop and jam-alongs when I lived in Park Slope, New York. Coffee house jams, loft music jams. We’d go through the whole gamut of music, but my electric zither at that time was surfacing and the music that I offered into all these experiences was usually this flowing ambient textural continual kind of atmospherical space music. That was around the late ’70s. Read more »

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Disquiet Junto Project 0169: HTML505

Make a track using only an HTML5 drum machine.

20150326-html505

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.com and at Disquiet.com, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate.

Tracks will be added to this playlist for the duration of the project:

This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, March 26, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, March 30, 2015.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0169: HTML505
Make a track using only an HTML5 drum machine.

Every Junto project is about, to some degree or another, exploring the freedom to be found within constraints. This week’s project takes a piece of software as its constraint.

Step 1: Go to the following webpage in a browser that supports HTML5:

http://html5drummachine.com

Step 2: Create an original track using only this tool.

Step 3: Upload your track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 4: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This assignment was made in the evening, California time, on Thursday, March 26, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, March 30, 2015.

Length: The length of your finished work should be roughly between one and four minutes.

Upload: Please when posting your track on SoundCloud, only upload one track for this assignment, and include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Title/Tag: When adding your track to the Disquiet Junto group on Soundcloud.com, please include the term “disquiet0169-html505” in the title of your track, and as a tag for your track.

Download: It is preferable that your track is set as downloadable, and that it allows for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution).

Linking: When posting the track, please be sure to include this information:

More on this 169th Disquiet Junto project — “Make a track using only an HTML5 drum machine” — at:

http://disquiet.com/2015/03/26/disquiet0169-html505/

More on the drum machine at:

http://html5drummachine.com/

More on the Disquiet Junto at:

http://disquiet.com/junto/

Join the Disquiet Junto at:

http://soundcloud.com/groups/disquiet-junto/

Disquiet Junto general discussion takes place at:

http://disquiet.com/forums/

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Fuzzy Metric Logic

A rhythmic experiment by Mint Loader of Hampshire, Britain

One person’s test run is another person’s listen-on-repeat. Case in point: a rhythmic experiment by Mint Loader, who describes the sonic event as follows: “Test run of code I am working on, to create rhythms with phased control arrays in SuperCollider.”

The result is a cool bit of fuzzy metric logic, under two minutes’ running time. The on and off of the beat has a semblance of binary to it, but each step has the fritz of a laundry room’s threadbare neon sign. This means the on is never fully on and the off never fully off, and the transitions between are not as clear cut as they might be. In addition, the resulting broken shimmy has an elegant randomness to it, like the neon sign has absorbed lessons from decades of hip-hop and r&b hits produced by Timbaland.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/mintloader. Mint Loader is based in Hampshire, Britain.

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This Week in Sound: Misophonia, Fridays Are the New Tuesday

Also: Google crowd-surfing and Wikipedia activism

A lightly annotated clipping service:

— Misophonia Home: At the New York Times, Barron H. Lerner, M.D., a professor at the NYU Langone Medical Center, writes about the condition that makes some individuals hypersensitive to specific sounds, often sounds associated with the human mouth. He discusses how the existence of the diagnosis is itself a source of comfort to sufferers, an idea that connects to something I often focus on in relation to noise pollution complaints: to the cultural context that makes noises seem louder or quieter.
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/23/please-stop-making-that-noise/

— Aphex Activity: I was happy that Flavorwire’s Jesse Jarnow covered my proposed Selected Ambient Works Volume III, a playlist culled from the 173 tracks currently up on Aphex Twin’s rogue SoundCloud account. As Jarnow notes, one particularly effusive collation of Richard D. James’ off-label activity is a crowd-sourced effort to identify characteristics, such as era and source audio, for the numerous tracks. The hive mind’s tool of choice? A massively shared Google spreadsheet:</br? https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/11ouNaaVrNp60Ib34Kp0TO1n1XSc7-9DvfiZ9ZiTiD2c/edit?pli=1#gid=0
http://flavorwire.com/507391/alternate-routes-aphex-twin-gives-it-away-the-dude-sleeps

— Industrial Calendar: Whether with a whimper or a bang, it is as of yet unclear, but the “global music industry” has decided, as reported in Billboard, that Friday is now the official release date for record albums, in order to fight piracy. In the U.S. it has historically been Tuesdays, followed the next day by comic-book Wednesday. What effect this will have, aside from making lower-level record-industry employees work over the weekend playing whack-a-mole with piracy sites, is not clear. What effect this will have on the growing legion of musicians who post their releases as they see fit to Bandcamp, SoundCloud, and other such services, or who pre-sell through campaigns on Kickstarter and PledgeMusic and the like, is all the more unclear. Quite likely they’ll simply ignore it:
http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/retail/6487290/industry-sets-friday-as-global-record-release-day

— Wikipedia Activism: At ArtNews, Robin Cembalest covers an effort by 600 volunteers to contribute to an “edit-a-thon” to significantly increase the presence of women artists on Wikipedia, among them Cosima von Bonin and Aviva Rahmani, both of whom work with sound. This is a tremendous effort, and one worth emulating in various fields and disciplines. (Found via Shane Myrbeck.)
http://www.artnews.com/2014/02/06/art-and-feminism-wikipedia-editathon-creates-pages-for-women-artists/

This first appeared in the March 3, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet “This Week in Sound” email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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This Week in Sound: Superheroes, Maps, Freesound(s), …

A lightly annotated clipping service

• Heroic Jingle: Kudos to readers of ign.com for noticing the small text on the poster for the Avengers: Age of Ultron movie and discerning from it that Spider-Man may very well be in the film. Why? Because there’s a credit for composer Danny Elfman, who wrote the theme for the modern Spider-Man films:
http://www.ign.com/articles/2015/02/24/behold-the-new-poster-for-marvels-avengers-age-of-ultron

• Sound Trip: My friends Nick Sowers and Bryan Finoki are now using sound to investigate the urban environment with a series at Design Observer. The first takes them to San Francisco’s Mission District:
http://designobserver.com/feature/infringe-01-the-new-mission-soundtrack/38775

• Tracking Sound: This is a bit old, dating from late December, but I just came across the news that Freesound.org, a massive shared database of field recordings and other sounds, now allows users to track specific tags and users. Useful if you have a fetish for creaking doors, foghorns, or particular species of bird:
http://blog.freesound.org/?p=532

• Mapping Sound: The National Park Service has mapped the quietest places in the United States of America. The word “sonification” is a useful one in discussing the way sound can be employed to explain data, but in this case it is, in turn, a simple visualization that best depicts how the west is far more quiet than the east:
http://www.citylab.com/commute/2015/02/the-quietest-places-in-america-mapped/385620/

This first appeared in the February 24, 2015, edition of the free Disquiet email newsletter: tinyletter.com/disquiet.

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