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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Monthly Archives: August 2015

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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The Least Digital Music You Will Hear These Days

Tape cassettes as halls of mirrors, courtesy of Black Thread

The black thread from which the act Black Thread takes its name is the thin spool of magnetic tape in a standard cassette.

That tape is Black Thread’s medium, modus operandi, and muse. He works the material into dense, ever-shifting cathedrals of murky noises. It is some of the least digital music you will hear these days, the foundation ever slightly moving, like it exists in a state of permanent subtle earthquake aftershocks. This is music that is incapable of perfection, devoid of a metronomic pulse. It isn’t free like free jazz. It isn’t free like a hand-drawn line. It’s free like a machine that was once a source of documentary purpose, and that now lingers in gadget retirement as a folk instrument.

That insistent, unpredictable bleed is the origin of the effect from which these two pieces take their name: “Seeping Pitch.” The accompanying art is a parallel effort — same aesthetic, different medium — exploring the inaccuracies inherent in photocopy machines:

20150824-blackthread

Tracks originally posted at soundcloud.com/magneticassemblage. More from Black Thread, aka Gregory Gorlen, who is based in San Francisco, at soundcloud.com/blackthread.

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When Microsound Isn’t Too Micro

A mini master class from Taylor Deupree

Gorgeous fragment from Taylor Deupree’s ongoing 2015 Studio Diary. Little tones, apparently from an electric piano, refract and poke and flitter at semi-regular intervals, all through a sweet veil of echoing ambience. This piece is quiet, expressly so. It isn’t deep, granular microsound quiet, in which the quiet gets loud, like how electron microscopy exposes a busy, itchy world unto itself. It’s simply “closely mic’d” quiet, in which the action of the piano, and other elements — both tactile ones and artifacts of the production process — almost become as prominent as the playing itself, in fact become part of the playing, since for Deupree the studio is his instrument as much, if not more, than the pianos, synthesizers, and effects boxes that the studio happens to house.

Track originally posted to soundcloud.com/12k. More from Deupree at taylordeupree.com

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The “Buddha” Expands and Recedes

A playlist of reworkings of my "Six-String Buddha" ambient guitar loop

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I’ve written about some of these individually, but now that there are six of them, I’ve started collating them. This is a playlist of tracks that remix or otherwise utilize as source material a simple minute of looping layers of electric guitar that I recorded. The original track is titled “Six-String Buddha.” It was created for the 189th Disquiet Junto project. The 190th project used tracks from the 189th project as source audio, and several of the tracks in this playlist came out of the 190th project.

In the 190th-project versions, my piece is one of at least three elements, and thus has varying degrees of relative presence. It’s a real learning experience hearing part of what you’ve done become part of something larger, something to which you provided little if any input, even if technically it wouldn’t have existed without your effort. It’s a great pleasure.

Playlist originally posted at soundcloud.com/disquiet.

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Loop These 45 New Seconds from DJ Krush

A brief/endless taste of the forthcoming Butterfly Effect

djkrush

Now, 45 seconds isn’t much on which to judge a track, let alone a record. But it’s been over a decade since DJ Krush released an original full-length studio album, 2004’s 寂 -Jaku-, so we’ll take what we can get. A full three years since he last updated his SoundCloud page (soundcloud.com/dj-krush-official) comes a pair of samples from the forthcoming Butterfly Effect.

The lounge-friendly, self-forwardly romantic “Future Correction” is on the more populist end of Krush’s approach to hip-hop/soul production: steady beat, lilting piano, shimmery washes of sound. It’s very much W Hotel lobby music, but a dramatic fissure early on suggests some promise, as do stereoscopic effects and the way that piano at times pierces the background-music veil and risks irritating the ear at a high register.

The real treat is the far more muddy, dire, and percussively inventive “Probability.” I played this on loop for an hour shortly after Krush announced the upload on his Facebook page. At first the track is marked primarily by the fundamental loping beat common to downtempo instrumental hip-hop. But on repeat listens, so much emerges from the darkness: deep glottal chanting, castanet-like finger snaps, backward-masked sweeps of nervous sound, deliciously peculiar sonic squiggles, and many more delectable little touches. After an 11-year lull, the sheer detail of “Probability” is proof that DJ Krush has, in fact, been very, very busy in the recording studio.

Butterfly Effect is due out September 26. “Probability” segment originally posted at soundcloud.com/dj-krush-official. More from Krush at his official page, sus81.jp/djkrush. Bonus: the album cover is by accomplished anime director Koji Morimoto, who cut his teeth on Akira.

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