Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mixing Part 3: Nietzsche, Crowley and the Will to Power

This episode of Learning To Mix is an overview looking at the mixer as an artist and how that might affect the world at large. 

 In the codes that structure noise and its mutations [i.e. music] we glimpse a new theoretical practice and meaning: establishing relations between the history of people and the dynamics of economy on one hand, and the history of the ordering of noise in codes [music] in the other; predicting the evolution of one by the forms of the other; combining economics and aesthetics; demonstrating that music is prophetic and that social organization echoes it.
 - Attali, Noise

We affirm the ability of music to produce large and small scale changes in the world; actual changes.  The amorphous violent war/jihad of terrorism from any kind of ideological fanaticism also declares a war against music.  This is vividly shown toward the end of the documentary, Music In Mali: Life Is Hard, Music Is Good in the segment on the takeover of the north in Mali by Islamic fundamentalists.   We see that imposition of Sharia law attacks, arrests and stops the production and playing of music there. A singer gets told, " we will cut out your tongue if you continue to sing," so she flees to the south. This exposure of  musicians reacting to life in a country going through coup d'etats and fighting a war poignantly illustrates the inverse relationship between music and war.

Music that becomes Art acts, it doesn't react.  It acts by staying true to its creative, exploratory aesthetic, staying true to itself, forging new tracks, lines of flight to other realities.  Music can act as a non-bloody, non-killing war machine against terrorism and other destructive insanities and pathologies just by existing and proliferating, generating affective force.  How this might get accomplished follows below.   In Noise, The Political Economy of Music, Attali hypothesizes that at one time in pre-history music was ritually used to channel violence away from war and destruction  into sound spaces of equal intensity.  To verify that he says would require an in-depth analysis of music and myth and admits that virtually nothing is known about the status of music in society during that period. I do know that you can't play or fully listen to music when local human bodies are busy fighting something.  Music requires physical non-violence to be made and heard.

My instrument is a tool, an object… used to build, construct and deconstruct…
used to express ideas, options, light, dark, make it rain…
Art is not a mirror, it is a hammer.

                                                              - Bill Laswell, 2015

Music of a certain aesthetic becomes a powerful weapon against the facism and strictures of the State, any State of  Control upon others, in that, among other things, music inspires individual will and self-determination over one's destiny, freedom and liberty. Music provides the opportunity for gnostic breakthroughs - direct experiences of profound wisdom and understanding that greatly accelerates spiritual intelligence.  A gnostic moment at a Who concert is documented here.  Obviously music has a multiplicity of uses, functions and possibilities.  It can act as a legominism, an artifact encoded with esoteric data which can be unlocked with the right combination of mood, posture and emotion - finding the right mode of receptivity to receive the encoded data.  In other words, music can be psychometrized to great advantage.

We note with interest the Amnesty International music concerts organized by Bill Graham  that brought an All Star show of Western rock music to the Soviet Union and Poland about 6 months or so before the Solidarity movement accelerated that lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  Those concerts apparently contributed significantly to opening the floodgates of Western culture and goods into the Eastern Bloc.  Hilary Clinton remarked to a CNN interviewer that Solidarity leader Lech Walsea told her that the desire for Western culture is what ultimately brought the change, the people demanded the freedom to participate in the world economy.  The instigation of the collapse of the Soviet empire seemingly had nothing to do with political diplomacy which only facilitated it after it was in motion.   It started with the will of the people who somehow, for some reason ( rock concerts?) took it upon themselves to create and follow enough avenues demanding freedom that the politicians had no choice but to respond.

Will to Power

"Will, this is what the liberator and the messenger of joy is called '
- Thus Spake Zarathustra

Nietzsche expanded upon Percy Shelley's line, "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" to include all artists.

In Nietzsche, "we the artists" = "we the seekers after knowledge or truth" = 'we the inventors of new possibilities of life."

... art is a "stimulant of the will to power", "something that excites willing."
 - Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche & Philosophy

In his philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche viewed the world as a dynamic play of forces ("all sensibility is a becoming of forces") beneath the phenomenal world habitually represented to ourselves through various linguistic models, maps and metaphors.  This view of forces looks at 'things' as constantly changing processes in motion in energetic states that more closely follow the models described by Relativistic and Quantum physics than the block-like "objects" of the Newtonian world.

The "will to power" seems a commonly misunderstood concept.  Power used in this sense has nothing to do with dominance over others.  It also has nothing to do with desiring or accumulating power.  The will to power  is what Nietzsche called the genus or originator of forces.  In other words, the will to power = the true creative act that brings forces into being, into play.  Consider it as the will to power up forces in the electrical sense, to turn them on.  Mixing music can be a "will to power," a truly creative act that brings to life a multiplicity of affective forces both virtually and actually to reach a broad audience.  If combined with an intention of some kind, however specific or abstract, the song mix can cause change to occur in accordance with will, Aleister Crowley's definition of Magick.

Nietzsche describes two general types of forces operant in the world, active and reactive. Active forces = affirmation, reactive forces = negation. "Affirmation takes us into the glorious world of Dionysis, the being of becoming and negation hurls us down into the disquieting depths from which reactive forces emerge." (Deleuze N&P ).  The great majority of human behavior now and down through recorded history describes a tangle of reactive forces.  Reactive forces interfere with active forces and prevent them from going as far as they could.  That's one definition of a reactive force - a force that blocks an active force from full expression.  Music that becomes a superficial consumer commodity, i.e. most or all contemporary pop music, expresses forces reacting to and determined by the formulas and demands of the marketplace.  Music that becomes Art creates active forces, but, of course, subject to the interference of reactive forces.  The difficulty of making active forces either in Art or in one's life lead Gurdjieff to say that "WoMan's chief delusion is her conviction that she can DO.  Most humans appear to spend much of their lives reacting to external stimuli according to the programming and conditioning of the belief systems they've been fed and have assimilated unless actively finding a way out - Ariadne's thread.  The phrase synonymous with Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," echoes Gurdjieff's meaning of "do" emphasizing the primacy of creating affirmative, active forces as genuine expression.

Crowley thought highly of Nietzsche,  "Nietzsche to me was almost an avatar of Thoth, the god of wisdom" ( Confessions, p. 746).  Both identified with the anti-Christ and both had deeply held notions regarding the reconciliation and unity of opposites, Crowley through Taoism and Nietzsche via his ideas about the creation of the Overman through one form of nihilism.  Both also advocated strenuously and forcefully against the restrictive conditioning of organized religions.

Viewing all phenomena as the dynamic play of forces reflects Crowley's vision which declared in one instance that the only stability is change:

 Know that the Universe is not at rest, but in extreme motion whose sum is Rest. And this understanding that Stability is Change, and Change Stability, that Being is Becoming, and Becoming Being, is the Key to the Golden Palace of this Law. 
- Liber CL 

This also seems how William Burroughs and  Brion Gysin saw things as epitomized in their statement, "we are Here To Go," ( also the name of a book they co-wrote).  It appears cognate with Buckminster Fuller's observation, " I seem to be a verb."  Constantly changing, always in motion.  This view describes the space known as the Bardo in the Tibetan and American Books of the Dead. It's also called the Transit space due to the feeling and sensation of always traveling, always in motion.  We have been programmed and conditioned in this culture to inherit a world view that only sees solid matter formed into static discrete objects which we represent to ourselves in different ways through different maps and models and then usually mistake the representation for the actuality, the map for the territory.

We can change this common view of the world to see things more continuously as a play of interconnected forces by taking the perspective of a subatomic particle.  The last time I saw Timothy Leary talk he urged the audience to see like a quark would see, view life as a quark might.  This vision, described in the ABD as "the key that opens the door of solid form" has a liquid, malleable feel to it as forms appear to dissolve in energetic undulations.  This might explain one reason James Joyce began Finnegans Wake with the word "riverrun" that succinctly and perfectly describes this liquid view of forces in motion.  As is well known, the book's ending cycles back to the beginning, back to riverrun implying the whole book as a symbolic river flowing.  Less well known is the function of Finnegans Wake as a book of the dead.  It is suggested to always assume we are in the Bardo and from the perspective beyond solid form, it appears true.  Even without that perspective it seems obviously so when considering that bardo means the space in-between, the space in-between death and rebirth.  Anyone actively engaged in brain change experimentation of any kind always seems ever in-between the death of what they once were and the rebirth of what they are becoming. 

Certain films accurately illustrate the vision of continuous energetic flow.  Two that spring to mind: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when they time travel in the phone booth and the cult classic Buckeroo Banzai Through the 8th Dimension when he penetrates the wall of solid matter and goes through a mountain near the start of the film.  Different kinds of music can simulate the dynamic flux of forces tearing down the wall of solid matter and can help to get you in that zone.  A Love Supreme, Cosmic Music and Om by Coltrane all have a flowing continuity of different, sometimes extreme intensities of sound coding.  The music seems greatly aided to reach a continuous liquid state by the constantly moving drum patterns, the swirling brush stir, riding the cymbals, micro-rhythms within each beat; walking bass lines also help.  My Favorite Things gets to the liquid state in a cool, gentle familiar way, more like a plunge in cool water as opposed to the sometimes  fiery, volcanic intensities of the three other albums. Two more recent cds by Bill Laswell, Arc of the Testimony and Space/Time Redemption will also key in to the transit spaces of forces in motion.  They both also feature incredible jazz drummers, Tony Williams and Milford Graves respectively.

The present is the point of power.
                                                   - Jane Roberts, The Nature of Personal Reality

The ultimate point of power of a mix is the moment it's recorded, finalized for posterity, bound across time.  Of course, every moment while working on the mix can be a point of power, a will to power in Nietzsche's sense as the creator of active forces.  Music can profoundly affect and change someone's life.  How a song is mixed bears a direct relationship with how much musical content is conveyed.  This content can consist of a various mixture of percepts (sensations), affects (feelings) and ideas or concepts.

Gyms, physical fitness books, sports, exercise - activities and institutions of that nature develop, maintain and educate the physical body.  Universities, libraries, research centers, technical schools are places that can do the same for the intellect.  The feeling centrum, the heart, can receive an education, development and maintenance from the fine arts: literature, painting, music, films etc.  Playing and/or listening to music can help to activate Gurdjieff's Higher Emotional Center, what Timothy Leary called Circuit 6 in his schematics of personal evolution.

The overman is defined by a new way of feeling: he is a different subject from man, something other than the human type. 
                                              - Deleuze, N & P

Nietzsche shares the alchemist's perspective regarding the possibility of creating higher forms of life out of ordinary humankind; the activation and eventual crystalization of spiritual bodies. Zarathustra gives the √úbermensch as the next step in spiritual development.   √úbermensch translates more accurately as Overman than as Superman because it descibes a mode of becoming beyond "man" both as a gender and as a species.  The Overman = Leary's E.T. circuits ( 5 - 8) and also designates the level of initiation that Crowley calls NEMO ( No Man).  The job of Nemo is to "tend the garden" (Vision & the Voice 13th Aeyther).  Crowley reveals the job in the spelling of the name:

 NEMO = Death, The Star, The Hanged Man and Pan through tarot associations.

Death means death of the "man," temporary death of the "human," the ego, the personality, the machine, Leary's terrestrial circuits (1-4), whatever you want to call it.  Death of the ego, the ordinary identity, however temporary (seconds, minutes, hours, days) appears requisite in both Nietzsche's and Deleuze's philosophies as well as in virtually every mystical system.  The Star's function appears in The Book of Thoth - definitely worth looking up.  It relates to the third line of the Book of the Law, "Every man and every woman is a star."  The Hanged Man appears in conjunction with the death of man angle and correlates to the element Water (Yin).  Pan means all and everything and also signifies primal creative male energy.  Look up The Devil Atu in The Book of Thoth.  Male, yang force isn't discarded or repressed in this formula, but rather is qualified, transformed and used for fuel.  This describes a process aligned with the will to power, a process that can generate strong affective forces, forces that can get recorded along with music, also when the mix is recorded; these affects and percepts translate as mood, feel, and atmosphere; they work in the domain described by quantum and relativistic physics, the Quantum and Einsteinian worlds (more on this later).

"... for Nietzsche, the capacity for being affected is not necessarily a passivity but an affectivity, a sensibility, a sensation.  It is in this sense that Nietzsche, even before elaborating the concept of the will to power and giving it its full significance, was already speaking of a feeling of power.  Before treating power as a matter of will he treated it as a matter of feeling and sensibility.  But when he had elaborated the full concept of the will to power this first characteristic did not disappear - it became the manifestation of  the will to power.  This is why Nietzsche always says that the will to power is the "primitive affective form" from which all other feelings derive.
  - Deleuze, N & P, p.62

The heart when activated, maybe through being affected by the last amazing mix you did, begins to harmonize and helps to power the other centrums.  Real will, according to Gurdjieff, occurs when the centrums are all going in the same direction aligned to a mutual aim.  It seems that the growth of a spiritual body forms around the activation, of the Higher Emotional Center, it starts in the middle (C6) then expands out (C5, C7 and beyond) which Deleuze observes is how various morphogenetic processes begin - starting from the middle.  This might explain why many ancient cultures ascribe the heart as the seat of the soul.  The feeling centrum when turned on provokes the growth of Conscience.  Certain actions become impossible to even consider when active empathy for the well-being of others comes into play.

It's my belief that music has a strong role to play for the survival of the planet. The economic climate has turned against the production of new music compared to what it was up through the 1990s while worldwide wars have amped up since 9/11.  If all or even half of all the funding given to political campaigns was channeled into the production of music and performances as well as other programs supporting the proliferation of the Fine Arts then we'd be living in a vastly different world.  I realize that's a fantasy, the point being that it's at least as equally valid to do music as it is to engage in political causes for the betterment of life on Earth.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Learning To Mix Part 2: Percepts, Affects and the Sixth Sense

 Yeah, you got to mix it child
You got to fix it must be love, it's a bitch
Yeah, you got to mix it child
You got to fix it, but the love, it's a bitch, all right.
- the Stones, Live in Texas, 1972

Experienced engineers develop a sixth sense about their mixes.  They can tell when it sounds good, when it's working in a way that goes beyond  the physical sound waves coming out of the speakers. They know, or at least begin to suspect, when the tracks they've been mixing turn into music.  They can be completely fatigued from long hours of concentrated listening, their ears verging on meltdown and still know when a mix feels good or not.  It goes beyond hearing; mix engineers experience the music with their whole body, feel the mood and atmosphere it creates and whatever sensations might arise. Developing this sixth sense seems crucial to understanding when the musical aesthetic has arrived or descended into the mix.  It's the same sense musicians tap into when playing together, especially improvising musicians who create as they go.  They necessarily tune into a musical telepathy to keep the entity afloat, alive and moving.  Improvising music, getting familiar with the zen of that skill can definitely help in the creative mixing situation which has it's own kind of improvisation.  A good look at various kinds of improvisation can be found in Derek Bailey's book, Improvisation: It's Nature and Practice in Music.  Some examples from this book that apply to mixing:

"... means that the exact size of the sruti is in many instances purely a matter of personal choice, a choice depending upon the musician's knowledge, experience and instinct." -p. 2

Sruti, a Sanskrit word,meaning to 'to hear' is the smallest interval used in Indian music.  Substitute 'exact size of the sruti' with 'exact nature of the mix.'

"Most musicians learn to improvise by accident; or by a series of observed accidents; by trial and error.  And there is of course an appropriateness about this method, a natural correspondence between improvisation and empiricism.  Learning improvisation is a practical matter: there is no exclusively theoretical side to improvisation.  Appreciating and understanding how improvisation works is achieved through the failures and successes involved in attempting to do it."   - p.8

" Ours is a very intuitive music, you learn intuitively, the feeling for a raga (or a mix) is acquired intuitively." - p.9

You can hasten the development of this sixth sense by opening up the nervous system to receive more input becoming increasingly sensitive to subtler energies.  The specifics of how to do this appear largely individual, everyone figures it out for themselves depending upon inclinations, circumstances and other factors.  I've been using a floatation tank for years to aid this; in my younger days I did a lot of yoga that had the same effect; practicing Magick.  There are thousands of techniques and practices and you can make up your own.  You just want to ensure that the nervous system is opening up to more received signal not closing down.  One way to tell is to look at a piece of art before and after an expansion practice.  You will notice more, receive more of the artwork, input a clearer, more direct signal after a successful experiment; your perceptions will be heightened.  The same principle applies to music.  I used to float for an hour before going to the studio and this definitely improved the job performance.  Conversely, you should be able to notice when the nervous system's sensory apparatus narrows or closes down - fatigue being one common cause of that.  

Everything that you do in this regard, all the work, all the pain for the gain, accrues.  In fact, any effort, discipline, practice you do to become a better engineer accrues, it adds up, no effort is wasted even the so-called mistakes; you automatically get better in the studio by doing it a lot.  Not long after I started recording my first record with The Now Feeling in 1985 I realized that I needed to basically camp out in a recording studio for a period of months or years to get the knowledge and experience seeping deep down into my bones, to saturate my body with studio savvy so that this wisdom became instinctual, not something I had to think about.  That's what I did.  I relocated to New York City and got hired on at Platinum Island working constantly, up to 120 hour weeks for a period of about three years.  It illustrates a principle I noticed a long time ago, namely that you will get better at anything by doing it regularly, consistently and as frequently as possible.  The corollary of this in an open-ended, constantly changing and expanding discipline like mixing music is that you never stop learning, you can, and do, always get better.

I said in the previous post that mixing is almost always collaborative.  That means learning how to communicate with the Producer and Artist, learning how they communicate their musical vision, what metaphors they use to describe it and translating that into a technical approach.  It doesn't hurt to ask if they have any musical references they'd like to play to give an idea of the direction and sound.  Comparing a mix to a painting, putting the sound into a visual context becomes a common referent.  The mix can have a foreground, midground and background.  It can range in multiple intensities from dark to bright, warm or cold i. e. bass to treble.  It can get described in colors - someone once asked me to make their rhythm guitar sound more brown.  I knew exactly what they meant, more lower mids.

Collaboration encounters disagreements from time to time.  My practice is to get a mix to a point that I like, print it, then let the Artist or Producer have me change things to their heart's content.  You will save every mix.  Most often their changes make a definite improvement.  I'll also let them know if I think they're making a bad choice or if they're obsessing over detail, but I'll always apply their request if I don't convince them otherwise.  The credo of High Velocity Sound Engineering is the effective interpretation of the artist's vision.  If the artist gets in the way of their own vision or if your vision of what it could be goes further, you have to put that aside if they're not open to your input; go with what they say or drop out.  Ultimately, they are paying for it and they're going to have to live with it forever while you nomadically move on.  Finding a way to become detached from the end result, setting aside the mask called the engineer's ego can prove helpful in such situations.  Empathy for what the artist is going through doesn't hurt either.  It can prove helpful to remember that you're doing this all the time; you are comfortable and at home in the recording studio whereas the studio can get intimidating to people less accustomed to it.  However comfortable they are, the artist opens up, goes deep and bares their creative soul in the studio.  You want to respect and be sensitive to that soul-searching to protect the intimacy of the space.  Clients can tell when you respect their art.

Why mix music?  What is it about music that moves us so?  How is it that a specific arrangement of sound vibrations can dramatically lift our mood, make us feel better, even inspire creative activities?  If we had some inkling of a direction to go in to answer these questions it might aid us in our job of mixing, of formulating and defining that specific arrangement or assemblage of audio and quantum wave vibrations and intensities.

In between the loudspeakers and the brain something happens that engenders these reactions, that affects us sometimes quite profoundly.   Gilles Deleuze wrote prominently as a philosopher of the in-between.  He is pragmatic and considers effective philosophy always to be an attempt at a solution to one kind of problem or another.  For the purposes of this essay we will say the problem looked at here is how to mix a piece of music most effectively and most affectively.  Affects and percepts are terms Deleuze introduced and used to describe the feelings and sensations produced by art of all kinds. 

  "Art thinks no less than philosophy, but it thinks through affects and percepts."
 -Deleuze and Gutttari, What Is Philosophy, p. 66 

"What is preserved - the thing or work of art ( the mix) is a bloc of sensations, that is to say a compound of percepts and affects.  Percepts are no longer perceptions; they are independent of a state of those who experience them.  Affects are no longer feelings or affections, they go beyond the strength of those who undergo them.  Sensations, percepts and affects are beings whose validity lies in themselves and exceeds any lived.... The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself."
 - op cit. p. 164

The second quote agrees with both the tenets of Magick and of Taoism.  In Magick, percepts, affects and thoughts are known as spirits, angels, archangels, demons, elementals and various other archiac sounding names.  The point being that music contains a realm of non-human entities that you, the mixer, help to bring into sensible focus.  Music appears alive; it gets brought to life by musicians. This apparency of life, this assemblage of percepts and affects with varying discernability depending upon the sensitivity of the sensory apparatus might help explain why we can listen to a favorite piece of music multiple times over a period of years and still get something new out of it.   That life can be recorded, replicated, distributed and broadcast around the world by audio technicians and a marketing network.

High Velocity Sound Engineering views the recording studio as a landing pad for the descent of higher entities.  This requires an invocational approach.  Regarding music as a living non-human Intelligence involves a much different approach than treating it as another commercial disposable product for mass consumption.  The studio that Bill Laswell and I recorded classical violinist L. Shankar in Madras (now Chennai) India made you remove your shoes at the front door.  The only other places in India with the same rule were Hindu Temples.  When you entered the Control Room from the foyer you passed through an antechamber containing a large altar filled with portraits and statues of deities and gurus, garlands of flowers and a constantly lighted oil lamp.  Incense seemed always burning with a fragrance resembling jasmine orange.  A female employee was present whose only job was attending this altar.  I'm not advocating this same approach here in the West, but a healthy respect for the sacredness of the music-making endeavor can't hurt.  An interesting coincidence happened when we started on the first day.  There was a movie voiceover session running late when it was our scheduled time.  A large screen projected the film behind the actor reading his lines in the darkened studio..  After about 20 minutes with no end in sight, the movie's dialogue read, "get out, get out now!!!," and they abruptly stopped.  I guess they took the hint from Coincidence Control.

Mixers can be considered special case musicians.  How a mix gets constructed and balanced bears a direct relationship to how musical the piece turns out; it has a direct relationship to the nature, quantity and strength of the percepts and affects that generate from it. Tuning in and paying more attention to the mood altering aspects of a mix relates to the development of the sixth sense, the mixing intuition mentioned earlier - opening the nervous system to getting more affected by music, receiving increased signal,  helps to create mixes strong and resonant with mood and atmosphere.  When successful, it becomes a transmission of a range of percepts and affects, actual and virtual; actual in the moment of listening, virtual in that they always appear different to a greater or lesser extent with every different moment of listening.  The virtual field with its multiplicity of combinations of percepts and affects offers one explanation of  why we can listen to a great piece of music hundreds of times in a lifetime and continue to get different and new things, new gnosis from it.

Musical intuition also naturally develops through  long time spent mixing.  Music itself shows how to unlock the nervous system to receiving greater and more subtle forces and energies.  The theory behind these gnostic awakenings applies the idea of entering the space/mood/atmosphere of a piece of music - the chamber that music exists in.  The mix is one critical determinate of that chamber; or even the mix = the chamber.  The chamber is alive, a singular entity containing  a diversity of everything in it.  Consider it a non-human teacher.  It generates percepts and affects creating an electrical circuit between the music and the receiving apparati in the listener.  Music that affects you strongly can change and alter different parts of the nervous system; it can increase sensations, feelings, and intuitive ideas.  The next time you hear the same piece of music, even a recording of the same performance, you will hear it differently, both because the context of listening will be different, and because your nervous may be changed from the previous listening, slightly more sensitive and aware of the deeper layers the music has to offer.  Listening to music attentively creates an alchemical feedback loop; by alchemical we mean, among other things, the growth and expansion of spiritual functioning ( to use a vague general phrase) or what Deleuze called transcendental empiricism.  Opening up the nervous system to receive and transmit greater signal.
The affect is not the passage from one lived state to another but wo-man's nonhuman becoming.
- op cit. p.173 (slightly paraphrased)

We at HVSE regard the printing of the mix as the most critical juncture point of the mixing process.

The chamber, the space, mood and atmosphere of the moment when the mix is printed also gets recorded, it's not just the audio. 

This can get experimentally verified.  Take a two track recorder of any kind and record the ambience of any intense space - a shamanic or magick ritual, a house burning down, an intense meeting of some kind, then play it back later to someone who wasn't there, but who is able to listen attentively and get their reaction. 

Awareness of the zen moment the mix is printed when the Invocation occurs, naturally creates an aversion to recalling the mix and making changes at a later date.  Sometimes this can't be helped if the client or producer isn't present at the recording of the mix.  If the changes are minor then the integrity of the initial pass doesn't seemed adversely affected.  Mixes that get recalled and tweaked to death (both a figurative and literal phrase) seriously hinders the invocational affects.  Ideally, the final decision makers of the mixes future prolongation and use are present when the mix is printed.  The first few years working with Bill Laswell I engineered a lot of mixes he did and we never recalled a  mix, not once ever.  That's because there was always full presence at the moment of printing; never a need to go back and fix something later.  Expanding the nervous system to receive more signal, more percepts and affects, more communication from the music can also be viewed as a penetration into the present.

To put it in less philosophical terms, it's simply understanding when the mix feels right.  That doesn't always mean when every element is perfectly processed and balanced.  I can vividly recall mixing Nicky Skopelitis' Ekstasis project with Bill and Nicky.  I was not quite ready of getting a balance on one of the songs when Bill suddenly said, "this feels great."  I said something to the effect that I wasn't ready with the mix and he told me not to do anything else to it, "whatever is going on, it feels really great."    Nicky also got way into it when he heard it.  We printed it in that moment as it was.  I'd been too busy doing all the proper things you're supposed to do to a mix to pay attention to the strong feeling and presence it had in that moment.

And now for something completely different...


Recently I looked at a number of youtube videos of more well-known mix engineers taking questions on their craft.  Many of them were from the Mixing with the Masters workshop series.  It was interesting and informative to see the different approaches they take.  One of them, I don't remember who sponsored it,  was a Q & A session with Chris Lord Alge and Bob Clearmountain.  They were asked what three unique qualities they brought to the mixing sessions to make them better and Lord Alge's response was " CONFIDENCE CONFIDENCE CONFIDENCE!!!"   I  find CLA highly entertaining when he talks about engineering.  I think he's absolutely right on this point.  Confidence in your abilities to get the best possible mix goes a long way.  When you're confident, you're not worried or intimidated which are basically fear reactions and make you less present in the moment.  When you're confident and on top of it, the well-equipped recording studio can feel like a sports car that you rev up to a smooth cruising speed; high velocity.  The presence and attention a mixer brings to their job cannot be underestimated.  Confidence in what you're doing helps put you solidly in the moment.  The first time I met Jason Corsaro at the beginning of the mix sessions for The Swans, The Burning World album he immediately struck me as someone with the large presence of a star engineer and I instinctively knew it for a significant quality to bring to a session.  Just confidence that he could do the job better than anyone else; not arrogance or ego which confidence sometimes gets mistaken for.

It's So Easy

Here's a mix I really like, I don't know who did it.  It's a great garage band performance by Paul McCartney of Buddy Holly's, It's So Easy from the Rave On tribute album released in 2011.  The mix noticeably highlights the garage band aspect with overdriven vocals, massively compressed drums and exaggerated solo levels.  I love it!

Optional listening exercise: find a copy of John Coltrane's, My Favorite Things, the studio album, and for at least one pass listen closely to Coltrane's saxophone tone.  He subtly bends notes for emotional emphasis almost like an Indian musician searching for the exact right sruti to play -  the smallest interval of indeterminate size.  This seems particularly evident in the first two pieces, the title track and Everytime We Say Goodbye.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chaos Across the Sky

Material with The Master Musicians of Jajouka 
Live In Belgium and Warsaw.

The rhythms driving the lives of animals and humans are a means of countering chaos and its threats of extinction.  This arrangement of an environment responding to chaos gives rise to a chaos-rhythm or chaosmos.

 - Deleuze & Gutarri, Mille Plateaux

 courtesy of Yoko Yamabe

photo by Cherie Nutting 

The task of art, philosophy, and science involves confronting chaos according to Deleuze and Guttari in What Is Philosophy?  This dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks, the first philosophers, who endeavored to put systems of order over the apparent randomity of the natural world.  Chaos, however, does not go down without a fight. It resists order.  The jungle takes back its own - chaos always comes back to break down order.  Science calls that entropy.

Magick mixes elements of art, science and philosophy into a singular approach diving deep into chaos for negentropic purposes.  Powerful music = powerful magick.  This might explain the inevitable chaos that arises when two vigorous musical entities such as Material and the Master Musicians of Jajouka combine forces.  It should come as no surprise.  As Bill Laswell remarked on the way to the Warsaw soundcheck, "When you ride with Jesse James you can expect that you might get shot."  We didn't get shot in that instance, but the drivers did leave three of our musicians back at the hotel. Later, Laswell talked about using chaos as part of the process.  You don't run and hide from it or curse its calamity.  Chaos isn't the enemy, complacency is the enemy.  Art, science, philosophy, and their bastard child magick stay in motion creating coherent trajectories of flight through the chaos endeavoring to stay one step ahead. Always keep the Void at your back is the advice they give you when you get your wings.  The see-saw struggle between order and disorder makes for the chaos-rhythm mentioned in the opening quote, the chaosmos - a word borrowed from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, literature's epic confrontation with chaos. 

Where do I begin?  The efforts to get the proper traveling visas for the Moroccan musicians began months in advance for this latest musical deployment.  They were finally issued days before we had to leave.  The Arabic names probably didn't help along with all their passports showing the same birthday, January 1, due to the common practice in Africa at the time of not recording the day a child is born.  Payments from the promoters were delayed because of their reluctance to fund the operation if half the group couldn't make it.  I received my plane ticket the day before departure.  I was flying on United which had a widespread systems crash with their computers the morning I flew out that fortunately had been straightened out in time for my afternoon flight.  The promoter of the festival in Gent, Belgium had gone to extra lengths and expense to organize a soundcheck and rehearsal the day before our concert, but due to the chaos, half the band couldn't make it.  Material with Jajouka were the headliners for the festival's first night yet we had to go on with a minimal soundcheck, and no rehearsal.  They hadn't played together since the shows in Italy last year.  Its difficult to get together in advance when the group lives on three different continents.

The chaos apparently affected Lady Gaga who headlined the third night of the festival with Tony Bennett.  A story was circulating amongst the festival staff that she requested a Rolls Royce to pick her up to make the 40 minute transit from the Brussels airport to Gent.  Nary a Rolls could be found so they asked for a Bentley instead - also unavailable, but they were able to hire a Maserati for the drive.  When chaos strikes, it really hits hard.  Trooper that she is, Gaga settled for the Maserati.

The performance venue in Gent was situated underneath an extremely large white tent beside a cultural arts building built in the 16th century as a monastery and used as a maternity ward.  It looked to hold about 2 - 3000 people.  I was delighted to discover two front of house sound desks, an analog Midas Heritage board (my favorite)  for the headliner acts and a digital one for the support groups.  I only had Aiyb, Peter and Graham (percussion and horns) for the soundcheck and a stage tech enlisted to bang on the drums.  I pleaded with the Stage Manager and Promoter for a soundcheck the next day before doors opened, and was rewarded with a lecture regarding all the chaos involved in arranging time for us the day before the show.  The Promoter did agree to allow us to check the bass rig and the Jajoukans in the 45 minute change-over between acts.  When it came time to do that, the Stage Manager attempted to block it by saying we couldn't check through the P.A.  I argued with him vehemently, so the two of us marched off like children to the Principal's office, in this case the Promoters trailer, to have him resolve the dispute, which he did in my favor.

I made sure to get to the site early enough to catch some of Jack Dejohnette's group, Made In Chicago that, besides Jack on drums consisted of Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Roscoe Mitchell (saxophone), and Larry Gray (contrabass and cello).  I loved what little I've heard of Dejohnette's drumming from Bitches Brew (Miles Davis) and from a show I mixed in Frankfurt with him, Laswell, guitarist Derek Bailey, and DJ Disk formerly of the Invisibl Skratch Picklz.  Perhaps it was the mood I was in, but Made In Chicago did absolutely nothing for me - staid, subdued, lackluster except when they took unaccompanied solos, I could really feel the soul in Muhal's piano playing.  By contrast, a strong vital current infused the Green Room  - located far from the stage in the former maternity ward - where Material was working out its set.  Bachir and Mustapha were playing their rhaitas, banishing the chaos.  The acoustics in the stone-walled Green Room, that was actually white, reverberating making them sound like a whole orchestra.

When it came time for the change-over, James was on top of it getting the bass rig checked out and up - the SVT classic head had to be swapped out due to a faulty screaming tube, but the backline company had a spare that worked.  My biggest concern was getting levels for the Jajoukans; to start with, only four chairs were in place for the five musicians.  Straightening, that out, I dashed back to the Green Room to find them outside furiously inhaling nicotine and drinking coffee for their pre-concert stimulants.  They obviously didn't share my sense of urgency, but I was able to get them to the stage and soundchecked before we started.

The media was all over both festivals, the one in Gent broadcast the show on television late at night, probably the same in Warsaw as there was a mobile TV studio in a long truck that someone said was worth $10,000,000 parked behind the venue.  Bill gave several interviews it seemed.  In one of them I heard him give the well-known quote, "writing about music is like dancing about architecture," an interesting thing to say to a music journalist!  I'm not up to dancing about architecture so here's a short clip to give a feel for the music.  The sound isn't high fidelity by any means, recorded on someone's camera mic - I don't know who to credit - but, rest assured, this is just a teaser for the live album to come.  I got a good 96k digital  mix board recording of both concerts.

The spirit of Ornette Coleman was in attendance for both shows, especially in Gent when Bachir Attar gave a passionate account of playing in the procession that brought in Ornette's coffin at his funeral then treated to audience to the same music.  The whole group also played an extensive improvisation of the main theme from Dancing in Your Head, Ornette's 1977 album that included a 1973 recording of Ornette playing with the Master Musicians in Jajouka with William Burroughs present.  That piece is called Midnight Sunrise.  The show in Gent was an overwhelming success and for a few short hours the chaos abated, subsumed by the music.

Our set in Gent ended at midnight. Catering had left us some good food for a post show meal.  We arrived back to the hotel around 2 am.  The Moroccans had a lobby call for 4 am - hardcore!  Bill got a phone call from them at 5 am saying, "We are at the airport, they don't have tickets for us. What should we do, return to the hotel?"  Bill told them that they did indeed have tickets and that going back to the hotel wouldn't do any good.  The confusion stemmed from the budget airline's policy that boarding passes be printed out before going to the airport.  They figured it out and even got their extra luggage on board without charge, but were told to sit near the front of the plane to balance out the load.  I guess they took that advice because the plane successfully got off the ground.  More chaos at the hotel in Warsaw, a problem with currency exchange.  The hotel only accepted Euros in exchange for Polish Zlotys, American dollars were verboten except at the official Currency Exchange vendor down the street.  That's where I went, but it was closed by the time they realized the need for local money.  How are we going to eat?  Room service was a last resort due to the pricy hotel.  Somehow the problem got solved.

The venue in Warsaw was a converted industrial factory that reminded me of a small airplane hanger.  There wasn't any house lights.  All illumination came from theatrical lights.  A bank of lights were placed on the floor in a semi-circle behind the stage bathing the space in the same shade of blue as the winged saxophone in the photo.  The mixing desk was a digital SSL  which I hadn't used before.  I told the PA tech that I would need a guided tour of the board.  He said he was learning it too; had only used it for three days ...  uh oh!  Fortunately, there was a younger assistant who knew it and patiently ran me through its uniquely obtuse protocol until I had it down.  SSL desks sounds great, but they love complexity.  For instance, it's a five step procedure to turn up an auxilliary send ( i.e. an effects send like reverb, delay, or my Kosmos low end machine) whereas on an analog mixing board, like the Midas one in Gent, it's only a matter of reaching over and turning a knob.  It was interesting to compare the board mix recordings from the two shows, one from an analog, the other from a digital desk.  They both sound good with the analog one being distinctly warmer.  Analog still rules in this case, however I doubt the average listener will know the difference after they've both been mastered.

During our set-up I noticed an old friend walk in, Nils Petter Molvaer, a Norwegian jazz trumpet player who has played with Material in the past.  He was part of the support act, billed as Sly & Robbie meet Nils Petter Molvar - Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, the archetypal reggae rhythm section who became known to the world when they anchored Black Uhuru in the late '70s, early '80s.  The name of this group had me flashing on old monster movies - Godzilla meets King Kong, two musical heavyweights destroy Warsaw.  That's an exaggeration, metaphors only go so far; sometimes the map only suggests the territory.

The real destruction came when  Bill Laswell began playing his bass at the start of the Material set.  Backstage, Bill reminded me of the Sierra Nevada reggae festival we played at years ago with Tabla Beat Science when I'd been instructed to make sure the bass sound shook the foundations, a task I was only too happy to oblige.  I had checked out Shakespeare's sound, also quite huge as is his style.  I made sure the factory performance space was filled with low end when Bill began playing and was rewarded with about five people coming up to the mix position distressed by the massiveness, the other 995 or so attendees seemed ok with it, I scan the audience for reactions.  It remained in context with the music and varied dynamically throughout the set.  I was fortunate not to have a tech standing over me with an SPL meter (sound pressure, measures loudness) as was the case in Gent where they were trying to enforce a ridiculous 93 dB limit.  By comparison, the street traffic in New York averages around 90 dB.

When I initially said hello to Nils, he said, " Oh, we were just talking about you regarding mixing Painkiller (John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Mick Harris) concerts."  I felt a little ambivalent hearing that, but took it as an indication to go for the volume. 

Lots of media at this event too.  I overheard Bill being interviewed by an intense individual asking weighty questions like, "What is the purpose of music?"  Didn't hear Bill's answer, but at another point he was talking about watching an old horror film very late at night in Ethiopia with the typical kind of soundtrack that genre has.  As the end credits rolled, the prayer calls from the Koran started up outside blending with the soundtrack to form a unique musical moment.  Now if you had a recording of that... then he mentioned my ambient field recordings.  It's true, I look for those moments.

Conversations in the car: Bill and Peter driving back to the hotel after soundcheck, started with a discussion of what keys to play in to match the untempered pitches of the rhaitas, the Jajoukan horns and the liras, their flutes.  Untempered music, free from the prison of the piano with its fixed tonal center notes not allowing pitches in-between.  Polytonal might be another way to describe it.  At one point while listening to the recording I thought I heard 3 different keys going on.  We cross a bridge and Peter mentions an architect who made a bridge design he has seen in different places that resembles a harp.  They are called Cable-Stayed bridges and were orignally designed by a 16th Century architect named Faust Vrancic.  I don't recall if that's the architect he mentioned, might have been someone more contemporary.  Driving to the airport the following day with Hamid and Graham I am treated to a short explication, history and conflicts of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) a group formed in the mid 60's in Chicago.  Muhal Richard Abrams, the pianist who played with Dejohnette before us in Gent was one of its founders.  I sensed I was privy to some inside information that won't make it into the history books.

The MC for Warsaw was the head promoter who looked like a cross between Dr. John and Roy Rogers for his physical appearance and his white Western suit complete with an arty cowboy hat that would have fit in perfectly with the old Wild Wild West TV show.  I remember him from years ago when we started playing in Warsaw, at first with Praxis and later with Ekstasis.  At that time we played in a formal theater otherwise used as an opera hall from what I remember.  He seemed the same as ever though I don't recall the Western attire back then.

Ten minutes before showtime chaos struck when Cherie announced that the Jajoukans didn't have plane tickets out of Warsaw the next day.  I had given her their plane tickets the day before at the hotel after Yoko had forwarded them to me to print out.  I don't know what happened, but expect Cherie got distracted by the currency exchange/food crisis.  I was at the sound board by then so don't know exactly what went down, but it didn't detract them from the music, and might have even contributed.  Sometimes a little shot of chaos stirs things up forcing one to lock into the presence of the moment to shake it off and move forward - move forward or sink into chaotic dispersion.  For whatever reason or contributing factors, the concert was once again incredible.  Sufi trance music meets American jazz, though jazz seems an inadequate term.  I'll let those who can dance about architecture come up with a suitable genre label.  Maybe something like post-structural jazz which is only saying we don't know what it is except that it's beyond jazz.

Personally, I managed to avoid most of the direct hits of chaos until the shows were over and we were flying home.  I will cop to calling upon occult assistance in the hotel room each show day, something I've done for years and is probably the main reason I've survived long enough on these crazy musical adventures to relate these tales.  Going through security at the Warsaw airport I passed the metal detector okay yet they made me go back to take the Kosmos out of its bag and run it through the X-ray machine again; first time I've ever had to do that.  This time going through the metal detector I set it off even though I was exactly the same when I passed through a moment before.  So they frisked me and in all the confusion I didn't see my small, non-electronic notebook, not realizing it was missing until a few minutes later when buying some tea.  I rushed back, but it had vanished.  It had all my notes for this blog.  No big deal, I remembered most of them anyway and started writing them down again.  The chaos really hit two days later checking into a motel in Ojai, California to begin supervising mixes for a Johnny Boyd record  still in progress.  My laptop computer was perched on my roll away suitcase like many times before when gravity beckoned and the suitcase toppled.  I thought the laptop would be undamaged, it was in a padded case and it fell on carpet, but when I powered it up the monitor display was crazy and unreadable despite no visible sign of damage.  My laptop and cell phone constitute my office on the road so it was a bit of a setback.

When you ride with Jesse James you can expect you might get shot.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger (quotes from Bill Laswell and Fred Nietzsche respectively).  If you survive riding with the James gang you might get to share in the loot.  Powerful creative types attract chaos.  Bachir Attar and the Master Musicians of Jajouka, Sufi heirs to the musicians of the Sultan's Royal Court of Morocco, profoundly influencing counter-cultural giants such as Brion Gysin, Paul Bowles, William Burroughs, Brian Jones and the Rolling Stones among many others can be expected to leave chaos in their wake.  Chaos doesn't seems nihilst or evil to a vital creative endeavor.  Its resistance acts as a pushing force, pushing one ahead to stay above it.  Pushing the artist to the edge to either sink or swim.  Chaos-rhythm, chaosmos.

photo by Cherie Nutting, Warsaw

 photo by Cherie Nutting

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Learning to Mix

Mixing is an artform.  It is that stage of making a record that most determines its final sound.  All of the recorded tracks are assembled, processed, added to with effects, balanced, and placed in a stereo field to create an affective, musical aesthetic; a final stereo or surround mix of how it's going to be.  Spatial coordinates can be inferred by each track's  register and timbre (pitch and harmonics), its pan position in the stereo or surround mix, and its relative volume level in the mix.  Dynamic range determines depth, panning marks the width of the field while the frequency range stakes out the vertical axis.  The spatial coordinates of the sound in a mix constantly changes in one dimension or another with the movement of the song.  Both rhythm, and the duration of any individual sound belong to the dimension of time.   The relationship of each track's position in the space, each separate sound in the mix, forms geometries though not necessarily Euclidean geometries.  As the song moves along, these ever-shifting geometries can give an impression or a simulation of traveling through space.  These spaces appear affective in ways that range from triggered gnostic experiences to just making you feel better, a mood change of some kind.

This perspective on mixing takes an architectural, spatial approach to the construction of the sound environment that becomes the final mix of a song.  With mixing we are creating a space for the music to live in, for the music to become alive in.  There are many different perspectives and approaches to mixing possibly as many as there are competent mix engineers though with some overlap between them.  An individual mix engineer can utilize multiple perspectives and take completely different approaches depending upon the music.

The best way to learn how to mix is by doing it ... a lot.  You can read about it all you want, watch YouTube videos of star engineers explaining their techniques, sit in on sessions with experienced mixers - all that is fine and can be helpful but only if you have a way of applying it to mixes of your own; putting it into practice.   Old school animators have something they call pencil mileage - skill at drawing comes from doing it over and over again.  So I strongly recommend getting mixing mileage by mixing as much as possible.  When I started mixing in the studio all my mixes sucked.  One day they stopped sucking.  I don't know why except maybe for the mixing mileage that slowly accrued.

Mixing is almost always a collaborative venture in one way or another.  It's rare, outside of home studios, that the same person engineering the mix is the same person who gives final approval.  It could also be said that mixers collaborate with the equipment they use.  In professional studios, freelance engineers join an unspoken alliance with the techs and assistants who maintain the gear.  For us taoist vitalists who acknowledge the lifeforce in inorganic as well as organic matter, the equipment becomes alive in its own dimension allowing a mutual collaboration between human and machine; between one kind of machine and another.  It's not much different from B.B. King naming his guitar Lucille and making love with her playing notes of the blues.  A good mix engineer will "play" his studio equipment, his instrument, with the same passion, determination and openness to experimentation as any master musician.

The first, most basic thing a becoming-mixer has to do is to learn to listen.  Start with training the ear to differentiate the various instruments in a track, then the various pitch and harmonic relationships, the balance between the melody and the rhythm.  In other words, learn how to hear a mix, learn how to enter the space of a mix by deep, concentrated listening.  Listening is a function of attention.  The more attention you have the better you'll be able to hear, sense, and feel a mix.  I wrote three posts that expand these comments under the series title The Art of Listening, first, second, and third.

Another line of listening development that should begin right away is to learn to correlate the sound you hear with the audio frequency spectrum as measured in cycles per second commonly called hertz abbreviated hz.  What does 200 hz sound like as opposed to 2Khz?  You start by separating sound into the fundamental ranges of bass, midrange and treble then zeroing in from there - lower mid, upper mid etc.   Next would be to learn to hear the different ranges of a ten band equalizer which are set an octave apart from each other followed by a 1/3rd octave, 32 band eq eventually graduating to a fully parametric eq which means it has a sweepable frequency range and a sweepable bandwidth.

To make a good mix you need to know what a good mix is for you.  So listen to lots of music, music that you like, music that moves you.  What is it about a particular mix that affects you?  Listen to good productions on headphones and by good I mean what sounds good to you not necessarily what is commercially popular or what "experts" consider good.  It could be good 'lo-fi.'  In my early days the album Aja by Steely Dan was considered the ultimate sounding hi-fidelity studio record but I didn't care for it or the way it sounded; too clean, pristine and in a space without life to my ear.  I learned much about the space of a mix listening to Love You Live by the Rolling Stones believe it or not.  That served as a primary reference for  mixing live rock-n-roll in nightclubs in the early '80s.

The kind of music you wish to get involved with will suggest which songs or albums to reference,  So if the aim is to mix commercial pop songs then you'll want to listen to music of that ilk, but it can also prove helpful to check out music contrary in style to introduce different influences into the genre.  If you're looking to do all kinds of music and going for the best possible sound then I suggest listening to music that has lots of dynamics and depth, mixes that create a large space for the listener to enter.  It should also be music that strongly moves you, if possible.

Led Zeppelin's sound influenced me a lot for creating huge sonic landscapes with vast affective panoramas.  Listen to any album that Jimmy Page produced on headphones and hear the techniques employed to create powerful, otherwordly sound environments from the fairly limited (you would think) palette of heavy blues rock.  For instance, he does all kinds of studio wizardry to create interesting, diverse and dynamic vocal arrangements with basically just one singer, Robert Plant.  Jimmy Page was an invocational producer with Led Zeppelin, he practiced magick with the studio.  He intentionally, and quite successfully put his experience of magick into the album productions.  Led Zeppelin IV, the one named by four singular sigils, is probably the strongest in that department, but also III, II, I, Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti show Thelemic influence; even In Through the Out Door, which Page didn't produce but did play on, carries the same current.

Going into those spaces by listening to Led Zeppelin increases the probability that you'll absorb some of that flavor consciously or subconsciously.  You can pick up the thread or baraka or jump into the current of Thelemic magick without ever knowing anything about it or even knowing that occurred.  One effect of this contact - you get more in touch with your deepest desires, i.e. what is it that you want to do?  what do you really want to do?  As opposed to external pressures, cultural and societal expectations of how to live and other such outside controlling factors like economic slavery, etc.  Getting in touch with basic essence desires describes one meaning of 'do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law; the second half of that equation or the response being, 'love is the law, love under will.'

The point is not to convince anyone to listen to Led Zeppelin and wake up inner spiritual desires while experiencing good mixes - they are hardly the only music that will do this - the point is to examine the area of percepts and affects in music; how does it make you feel (affects) and what sensations does it cause (percepts); how does music affect and change your consciousness, how does it heal or cleanse?  Through percepts and affects.  More on this later, but first a word from our sponsor.

I began this audio odyssey mixing live sound for touring nightclub bands in Western Canada.
The very first mix lesson I had was with a soundman for a bar band that I was temporarily helping to run lights for. This was 1979 and he was mixing on a Soundcraft 1 board, i.e. the first series of Soundcraft mixing boards.  It was the old scoop out the lower mid register in the bass drum trick to get a punchier and better sound.  The eq on that board had a boost or cut potentiometer (pot) at four different fixed frequency points, 60 Hz, 250 Hz, 2Khz, 10Khz, if memory serves.  Those limited eq choices were a good way to get the ear familiar with the different areas of the frequency range.

The first steady full time soundman job I had was with the band Sargent.  The audition, doing sound for them in a club, was hilarious ... in retrospect.  Their departing soundman told me that the 10 band graphic equalizer used to tune the P.A. to the room was wired backwards - the bass and treble frequencies were in the mid bands, while the midrange bands were where the bass and treble sliders were supposed to be.  He played a tape through it and managed to convince me he was right.  So I spent the night guessing at the eq settings as if they were backwards ... unbelievable!  Not only do I barely know what I'm doing at this point, but I'm given this complete nonsense as I later discovered it to be.  I still don't know if it was a big con and he was messing with me or if he really was that out of touch with how the eq worked.  For some reason they hired me anyway.  Later, I heard that they were going to pass on me but for some reason their manager at the time, whom I didn't know, lobbied hard to them to give me a chance and they did.  I have no idea why that guy went to bat for me, maybe my Guardian Angel whispered something in his ear?  It worked out for me, but not so much for the manager who got fired not much longer after that.  I learned a lot working with them and became close friends with everyone in the band. 

The next memorable mix lesson came a couple of years later.  I was mixing for The Tickets in the Riveria Hotel in Edmonton when the band's manager Don Destafano came up up to me while they were playing and said, " it sounds good, well balanced, but try turning up something in the midrange on Doug's vocal.  I'm looking for a little more definition in it,"  By then I was mixing on a Soundcraft 1S board which had semi-parametric equalization on the channel strips.  I turned up one of the mid-range bands 1dB and swept the frequency select pot until I found the right spot for better definition in his vocal.  Don came back and said I'd nailed it.  It's an eq technique I still use to this day from time to time - do a slight, narrow band eq boost and sweep the spectrum until you find the sweet spot that brings an edge of definition or clarity in the mix if a track needs it.

The first, and one of the only semi-formal mixing lessons I had in the studio took place at the close of the mix sessions for The Burning World by The Swans and it was with Jason Corsaro.  We had to do two more mixes of  alternate versions of two songs that only had Michael Gira singing and playing acoustic guitar.  Jason just turned me loose and said go ahead and mix them then gave me some good constructive criticism while I did it.  It also felt like something more subtle was being transmitted, a passing of  the baton.

Within a couple of years after that, I did my first album mixes for a Bill Laswell production with the French pop group FFF; their first release, Blast Culture.  Recorded in the Greenpoint studio we took the tracks back to my old stomping grounds, Studio East at Platinum Island to mix.  Jason Corsaro mixed the first three tracks which had greater priority  I assisted him on those then assumed the helm to mix the remainder of the record.  The first song after Jason left wasn't going well, it wasn't falling into place and sounded chaotic and unorganized.  Bill had me take all the faders down then start bringing up the instruments and working on them one at a time starting with the drums.  The process we went through to get that song into shape became another valuable mixing lesson for me.  That track worked but the next night I felt stuck on another song; it sounded flat and uninteresting to me.  Bill had left for the evening and I was charged with getting the mix ready or nearly ready for the start of the following day.  I took a break and did a short ritual to clear my head and regain focus.  When I started back up again all these ideas of how to make the mix more dynamic and exciting began flowing in, a breakthrough in the mixing logjam had occurred.  Bill liked the mix when he heard it the next morning; the excitement in the track was palpable to everyone.  We never looked back, the rest of the mixes flowed smoothly.  A few months ago I met up with Nicolas Baby, FFF's bass player at a dinner party in Montmarte.  We hadn't seen each other for about 25 years.  He told me that Blast Culture was an important album for them paving the way and helping to successfully establish the popularity of the band in France.  It was good to hear that the mixes had translated well to the marketplace.

I took away a few things of value from the FFF sessions.  One was having fresh ears at the end of the mix when it gets printed and finalized.   It's amazing how much better you can hear when you haven't been mixing and listening for 8 to 10 to 12 hours.  We timed it so that the FFF song mixes were 90% finished by the end of the night then broke and made final adjustments in the morning with fresh ears.  Of course, that was back in the day when record budgets afforded the luxury of mixing a song a day.  In present time, it's not uncommon to mix multiple songs in a day especially since many projects are self financed, yet there are things you can do to refresh the ears before printing a mix.  When mixing Blind Idiot God's Cyclotron album with Laswell at the Hit Factory in New York I would take a 10 minute break just before printing a mix and stand on my head.  The rush of blood to the head has the effect of massaging the ears so that you begin to hear in a whole new way.  I no longer do that, but sometimes get the same effect by lying on a couch with the legs raised above the head.  It only takes about five minutes to make a noticeable difference.  Even just taking a five minute break can help to recharge auditory functionality.  In the old days mixing from analog tape, you automatically had a two to three minute listening break when the tape rewound to the beginning of the track.  Now with the majority of music mixed from the platform of Digital Audio Workstations ( DAWs) you can loop the song or a portion of the song so that it constantly repeats.  It's not hard to get caught up and not take a break for hours at a time.  I used to joke to my assistants that someone should design a plug-in to simulate tape rewinding that would periodically turn off the program for a few minutes and force an ear break.

Another thing I learned is that it can prove useful to take a short break and do something completely different, introduce the energy of a different octave as it were.  I'll often bring in books when mixing, books of a an abstract or difficult nature slightly beyond my full comprehension. Some examples include Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, The Cantos by Ezra Pound, Burroughs cut-ups, poetry by William Blake or various titles on philosophy, etc.  My practice is to take at least a 5 - 10 minute ear break every couple of hours and at that time I take a refreshing plunge into a literary pool.  It seems incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating to break completely in thought and emotion as well as physically from the task of mixing.  I return to the task with a fresh outlook along with fresh ears; often this is enough to inspire new ideas for the mix.  It's like cleaning the palette when wine-tasting so that each vintage tastes fresh.  When working as a perfumer blending up essential oils for people on the street you would clean the olfactory palette by smelling fresh ground coffee brought along for that purpose.

Introducing the energy of a different octave harkens back to the cosmology of G.I. Gurdjieff and his Law of Octaves.  The theory gets convoluted in its details, but I'll give a simplified overview.  Every intentional cycle, every process trying to get to a destination of some kind can get divided into the eight steps of the octave common to Western musical notation.  They use the common solmization of do, re, mi, fa ,sol, la, ti, do to designate the steps.  Taking the process of mixing a song for example, you begin or "sound the do" of that process by going into a studio with your multitrack files or tape (analog files) and patching up all the gear you want to use.  The final "do," the octave above the starting point represents the completion of the process, a successful final mix approved by the client and one that hopefully rocks the world.  There are two points in between the first '"do" and the octave above where it is said that the energy starts to go off course and these occur at the "mi-fa" interval and at the "ti-do" interval.  These correspond to the points in the scale where the intervals are semi-tones (half steps) as opposed to the full tones of the other intervals.  According to G's Law these intervals require a shock of some kind to prevent them from going off course.  These shocks don't have to possess the jolting nature of electrical shocks or become scary surprises; shocks of this kind consist of the introduction of energy from a different octave.  Finnegans Wake introduces a completely different octave, the octave of reading that book, into the song mixing process.  I must add the caveat that I use this theory, G's Law of Octaves, in any application more as a guideline to intuitively reference or ignore rather than as a rigid code to dogmatically follow.

I'll use literature to inject outside energy because I'm inclined that way, but other things could work just as effectively - playing video games, looking at visual art; drawing something, watching a film clip etc. whatever turns you on outside of music.  I will make an argument for injecting literary content into the sound studio situation.   Good books introduce different perspectives, moods and spaces, different lines of freedom that can influence the creation of your mix.  When mixing the dub pieces for Cyclotron, Bill Laswell, after playing a lengthy sound montage of various dub experiments, gave me Naked Lunch as a reference to tap into.  Burroughs, the prototype dub engineer with his cut-up transitions and satirical deterritorialization of the status quo.  Dub rivals free jazz in its methodology of deterritorializing music and sound - shifting sonic spaces through radical editing, sound effects, overdriven reverbs with massive ambience, delays feeding back and forth to infinity like a hallway of mirrors, tasteful distortion and whatever else the unchained audio imagination can do to make this new music by processing sound.  For one dub piece I marked off a 16 bar instrumental section, randomly cut it up (razor blade and tape back in the day) then flung all the pieces into the air, picked them up and spliced them back into the track.  Some of the pieces were backwards; the experiment worked the first time, no further modifications were needed, and it sounded incredible. That's one way literature can affect a mix.

 At another time in the Blind Idiot God mix sessions, it might have been a different dub song, I tried loading a sample of an elephant crying that I'd recorded at a temple in Madras, India into the AMS Delay then triggering it at a good, dramatic moment.  The first time I heard it I couldn't stop laughing because of how ridiculous it sounded in context.  Not every experiment works out, but you won't know until you try it.

End of Part 1.  Stay tuned for Part 2 where the subjects include using found ambience, percepts and afffects, mixing with confidence and more.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman

One of the most profound musical geniuses to ever grace this planet, Ornette Coleman shed his mortal coil yesterday, June 11, 2015 at the age of 85 and moved on to destinations and becomings unknown.  Ornette was a huge inspiration for me long before we met and it only increased after that; not less than two weeks ago I cited his comment that he wanted to make music like Bucky Fuller's Synergetics as highly influential for me. 

Ornette Coleman
 photo by  AP/Harry Cabluck

 Ornette once told me that he made his music to conquer death.  That's pretty much a direct quote as I remember it.  I'd have to look back into journals or dive deep into memory cells to remember how the conversation got to that point; it wasn't non-sequitur nor did it take long for him to construct a context for the comment so that it sounded completely natural in that space; not dramatic, just factual.  This took place the first time we met.  Bill Laswell had been invited to Ornette's loft in Soho to see the artwork and meet an artist Coleman was helping out and Bill took me along.  That Ornette would talk about music and death to me the first time we met shows an extraordinary level of esp or intuition.  Music and research into death, not always together - those two subjects have been a primary focus of my attention for years.  He seemed to be able to instantly zero in on that.  I was transparent to him in that regard.  It shows to me that he was a master, an informal teacher of the mysteries who taught just by doing what he did.

John Coltrane on Ornette Coleman:

Mr. Coleman’s music had such force that even Coltrane said in 1961 that the 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to “the most intense moment of my life.”

- quoted from the New YorkTimes Ornette Coleman obituary by Ben Ratliff

Did it work?  Did Ornette conquer death with his music? This question can likely never get answered with 100% certainty, however we now have a unique time for anyone interested to intuitively answer the question for themselves with some measure of probability.  Experienced labyrinth readers, people trained to make contact and deliver instructions to voyagers who have left their planetary bodies know from experience that contact with the being of the departed can be strongest the closer it occurs to physical death.  Contact can get made in a variety of ways, it doesn't have to be formal.  Play some of his music, light a candle, say a prayer, there's a million ways to make contact.  Contact can go in two directions; indications of how he is doing may get discerned.  People who were especially close to him will likely experience intense being contact with him for the next few months or more.

1968 Ornette Coleman album with Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison and Dewey Redman.
photo by Francis Wolff

Death, from one perspective, can seem like a free fall; the image of Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  Whatever presence, will, and attention the Being can muster up might act like a parachute or maybe like a jet pack that can steer and guide the voyager's trajectory by the force of intention.  You can be anybody you want next time around.  Readings, prayers, kind intentions, anything of that nature directed to the being of Ornette Coleman can help assemble the parachute/jet pack effect.  Even in the bardo if someone calls your name it will grab your attention and help you to focus.  Playing Ornette's music at this time is like calling his name.  That could be one way he used his music to conquer death.

painting by Massimo Chioccia and Olga Tsarkova

Ornette was low key whenever I saw him with a humble, but very warm demeanor, or should I say radiance because it was sensed and felt as much as observed.  Even when harshly critical to Julian Schnabel for a few moments listening to his album mixes, he did it in a kind, compassionate way, not intending to belittle Julian or destroy the music, but rather speaking from on high as a foremost philosopher of music, a provocateur of innovative change responding to the repetitive nature of folk/rock/country song structures.  I couldn't detect any arrogance or elitism either just one genius' opinion about something outside his common milieu; another classic Laswell juxtaposition.  It was during that meeting that Ornette verbally responded to comments/arguments I made against his point of view.  Except the thing was, I only made those objections internally with no idea anyone could hear my thoughts; a startling display of telepathy.

The first time I recorded Ornette playing his horn was for the same Schnabel album.  Though I had heard him play quite a bit on recordings, his saxophone tone through a vintage tube mic over the studio monitors felt so unbelievably rich and alive after hearing only a few notes; the very sound of his tone generated percepts and affects, i.e. those things that give cause to sensation and feeling; his very being, full of heart and soul came through both the tone of his horn and how he used it to navigate the melodic/rhythmic/harmonic storytelling corridors of musical content and expression.  It was like being next to the sun.

Another time Ornette was visiting Bill's Grrenpoint recording studio in Brooklyn when I asked him to explain Harmolodics.  I listened closely to his explanation and at one point I thought I understood.  I told him my conclusion and he answered, "no, no, no, that's not it at all.  Harmolodics is music intended to bring out the fundamental of the listener without modulation."  Sounds a lot like Crowley's 'Do what thou wilt' to me.

Some earlier blog posts about Ornette Coleman:

Ornette and Synergetics

Harmolodics: Meeting Ornette Coleman 

Recording Ornette Coleman 

Artwork by Elisabeth Atnafu



Tuesday, June 9, 2015

HuDost Sufi Kirtan

Sufi Kirtan, the new musical assemblage from HuDost is now available for digital download ahead of the  official July 31st release.  Kirtan is the Sanskrit term for devotional singing or chanting.  The core HuDost dyadic cyclone of Moksha Sommer and Jemal Wade Hines bring their considerable musical skills to this endeavor along with a distinguished roster of guest musicians to make this diverse, eclectic blend of nonsectarian religious expression.  As is apparent from the album title, this offering crosses boundaries, abolishes borders, deterritorializes dogma to get at common musical values found in various sacred traditions.

You can preorder a CD, buy a digital download and/or hear a sample HERE

When I mixed the sixth track, Abrahamic Zikr  I experienced a strong flash back to the energy of Jerusalem's Western Wall which I visited last year and wrote about somewhere in this post .  Other tracks recalled fond memories of the daily morning kirtan at the Sivananda Yoga Center when I lived there while going to school.

This is what HuDost says about Sufi Kirtan:

Sufi Kirtan delves into the depth of the human heart and how phenomenally accessible it is through music. Zikr is the Sufi term identifying a practice of chanting and singing; it literally means remembrance of breath, sound, love, consciousness, and of people, places, and situations needing one's awareness. Sufi Kirtan explores remembrance through interfaith chanting, songs, and is a total celebration of love, harmony, and beauty through music; it embraces the essence of zikr.

This album truly comes from the heart and from the work of ongoing practice. We began the process of recording this a few years ago and it, unlike any of our other records, has had a life of its own; the songs and the power of the music guiding us and, at times, forcing us to wait until we were ready. In this time we have grown as people, musicians, and family. The album contains this growth, the pain and longing that all humans experience, and the absolute joy that entered our lives with the birth of our son Kaleb. We hope that this translates to you and your own practice. Toward the One...