Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Little Love and More New Releases

A Little Love, the soulful new release from Erin and the Project has hit the airwaves for anyone to tune in and listen.  Jazz inflected, funky expressions from the diary of life, lived and loved, the pain and the joy made known by passionately sung poetry in motion and upheaval. Blues and rhythms containing crucial statements about the depth of human experience in different situations.

Seems obvious from their album cover that Erin & The Project are here to go.

This time core Project members Erin and Paul Ezekiel are joined by guitarists Eric McFadden and Matt Heulitt, Jason Langly on bass, Phil Bennett on organ, and Ram Kaundinya playing tablas.

This group has some serious funk credentials.  Matt Heulitt is currently a member of Zigaboo Modaliste's band and has played with Taj Mahal, Sting, Santana, and Mickey Hart among others.  McFadden recently toured with Eric Burdon and the Animals.  He was in George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic for 3 years and has also recorded with Fishbone, Reverend Horton Heat, and Joe Strummer to list just a few.  Jason Langley has toured with Elvin Bishop, Shemekia Copeland and played with B.B. King and Coco Montoya.  He also toured with the Broadway National Tour of the musical DREAMGIRLS.

The first single, Promises, was mixed by Tchad Blake who not so long ago won an engineering Grammy for his work with the Black Keys.  A Little Love was recorded at Prairie Sun, Cotati, CA by yours truly.  I mixed the other songs and mastered it at Ancient Wave in Nevada City, CA.

You can download or preview (prehear?) the songs HERE

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 The latest release from KSK features amazing guitar playing by Malian artist Tiécoro Sissoko.          Here's the press release:

Our latest album, Keme Borama is now available for purchase online. Buy it digitally at Itunes or the physical copy here.

The album highlights one of the golden voices of Griot singing from Mali - Tiécoro Sissoko.  Tiécoro is an exceptional solo artist and an intricate guitar player with a true Djeli soulful voice. He performed every week with the multi GRAMMY award winning kora player Toumani Diabaté at the famous Bamako club ‘The Diplomat’. Throughout his career, Tiécoro toured West Africa and France and played weddings, ceremonies and concerts in Bamako up until the last days of his life. 

This album is Tiécoro’s only recording to be published and it’s a testament of his role as a Griot and a protector of his lineage. Despite the attempt to ban music, Griots and other Malian musicians continue to produce some of the world’s greatest music and Tiécoro’s final recording is a shinning example of storytelling through music. 

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  Mohawk by John Sinclair

"to take the hair off
the sides of the head

&leave just a strip
along the top,
scalping pretense
for the baldness of statement

building a new music
on the bones of the old" 

- from the title track Mohawk 

This is jazz poetry, poetry about jazz as jazz returning to the be-bop beauty of the beats; the lifestyle,the transcendence delivered with swing jazz syncopated rhythms in the flavor of "Bird and Monk and Dizzy" who appear the guardian spirits  of this document.  Words and vocals by John Sinclair, ex-manager of the MC5, famous '60's political prisoner, and leader of the White Panthers.  Music by Steve Fly, dj, musician, literary collage artist, futurist philosopher, etc.
You can listen to Mohawk here.

Make sure to listen to the hidden track at the end of California Moon to hear a classic historical recording.

* * * * * *  
 Dreams Get You Nowhere or Dreams Get You No Where, either or both, is the new release by Jack and the Bear the recording of which I wrote about here.  I'm very happy with the way this one turned out, with the way it sounds.  The music and songs hold up as classic American roots based compositions, passionately sung and performed; food for thought and for unthought; rousing melodies, anthemic at times, sparking some kind of revolution, what can I say ... listen to it here.  There's a good, more articulate review here  Discordians may wish to take note that the 3rd song is called and sings about Eris, the Goddess of Chaos and Discord.

Jack and the Bear

Quick, Efficient & Deadly is a new 6 song EP from The DeCamp Sisters produced by Adam Schreiber of Jack and the Bear.  The music sounds folky, rootsy, a little jazz swing lope in one, a sailor's sea chanty in another, timeless like it was written 100 years ago.  Some of it reminds me of old Carter Family recordings.  Atmospheric with rich poetic imagery that dips deep into the collective memory.  Makes me remember vague hints and traces of moods and moments from long ago - the presence of the past - useful from a bardo training perspective this music being truly quick, efficient and deadly.

The Decamp Sisters are Libby and Riley.  You can get a physical copy of the EP  here.  Or a metaphysical download here.

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Some other new releases I highly recommend: 

 Muscle Shoals - an excellent documentary about the Muscle Shoals sound - the recording studios and musicians and all the hit records recorded there.  Great interviews with Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Jimmy Cliff, Aretha Franklin and others about recording there.  They suggest that the birth of Southern Rock happened at Muscle Shoals when Duane Allman suggested to Wilson Pickett and producer Rick Hall that they do a cover of Hey Jude.  At first they thought he was crazy but it turned into a rocking southern soul standard with the combination of Allman and Pickett doing their respective things backed up by the Swampers - the original Muscle Shoals band.  All the non-music segments look high aesthetic, artistic, sometimes psychedelic feeling visually capturing the musical spirit found in nature.  The documentary ends with a reunion of the remaining Swampers and Rick Hall who had split up years ago.  Hall produces and the Swampers play behind Alicia Keys singing Bob Dylan's song Pressing On.  Dylan had cut the original version at Muscle Shoals, and the Director had a strong experience listening to it in a plane so he chose to close the documentary with it. 

"Call Me Burroughs," Barry Miles' warts and then some biography of probably the most influential writer and literary theorist of the late 20th/early 21st Centuries, William S. Burroughs.  A study of a genius, in my opinion, a complicated, sometimes tormented genius.  We get in this book a transparent look at how he lived, worked, played and experimented.  Thoughts, opinions, philosophies.  His extensive experimentation with sound recording, audio cut ups and collages and any intended effects on the environment they might produce gets a good examination.  Lots of great material. 

Reading how Burroughs interviewed Jimmy Page for Crawdaddy Magazine got me to find it online.  Some of the most articulate writing on magick and music your correspondent has seen.  For example:

“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco, which is magical in origin and purpose–that is, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco, musicians are also magicians. Gnaoua music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Joujouka evokes the God Pan, Pan God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts–music, painting and writing–is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. In the Led Zeppelin concert, the result aimed at would seem to be the creation of energy in the performers and in the audience. For such magic to succeed, it must tap the sources of magical energy, and this can be dangerous.”

 You can consider the entire interview required reading - when time permits - for anyone who claims to be a sound engineering student of mine.

Jimmy Page & William Burroughs 1975

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good

Do a google search for music + healing and you'll get "about 174 million results in .27 seconds", or at least that's what I got just now.  Maybe  it will show a different number for another search.  Much information could be gained on the subject by going through those results though it might take awhile to get through all 174 million, ... or one could go to the country of Mali, located in Sub-Saharan West Africa, and get the experience of music and healing in daily practice.  Except that going to Mali appears no picnic these days, especially with the rebels in the north getting rowdy and destructive from time to time - boys will be boys, you know.   But soon you won't have to go there to see how music works in Mali to facilitate well-being, social harmony, and spiritual nourishment.  Soon the film Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good will be out to show the world the strength and power of their music to effect positive change.

Mali makes an ideal environment and testing ground for music because of the harsh conditions there.  Most people in Mali live in poverty.  It often ranks as one of the 3 - 5 poorest countries in the world.  Of course, I speak of poverty in the common Western way as lack of material goods.  In that way, Mali is poor.  Not a malnutrition or starvation kind of poverty, just not a lot of basic material goods we take for granted, like stoves or air conditioning.  However, the people of Mali appear quite rich in two things - spirit and music.  It seems a connection exists between the two.

An example of their rich spirit might be that the majority of Malians I met could see energetically, see people's auras, or their moods.  A very talented kora player I know, Adama Couloubally, used to play these incredible riffs on the kora and watch with delight the effect it had as I used his music as a sort of Jacob's Ladder to get high and expand the vision.  He kept trying to outdo himself and take me higher, and it usually worked.  He played and I played.

Life is hard in Mali. Many of our musician friends died prematurely, in their late 40's, due to toxic environmental conditions.  The pollution in Bamako, Mali's capital and only major city, seems completely out of control.  No infrastructure exists for handling garbage collection and disposal much less recycling.  All the trash, including tons of plastic, gets taken to local dump sites, right next to where people live, and burned.  Burning plastic fumes  combined with the vehicular air pollution makes a toxic cocktail.  Driving through downtown Bamako in the evening rush hour after my first recording session there I started hallucinating visions out of Dante's Inferno, it was so bad.  I didn't know to wear some cloth over my face to filter the fumes, but learned pretty quick. I immediately passed out back in my room.

Music in Mali: Life is Hard, Music is Good.shows how music functions there to assuage, alleviate, and transcend daily hardships.  The music goes way beyond the struggle and pain of the human condition subsisting with limited resources.  The musicians tell the stories in their own words and their own language.  They talk about life and music in Mali yet the message they give from their experience is universal.  They speak the language of music which transcends social and cultural boundaries.  By watching this film anyone can learn much about the essential qualities of music and how it dynamically works to effect changes in the world.  As one musician succinctly sums it up:

The people don't have gold and diamonds, but the music can transform us into anything.

You'll have to see the film to witness the sincerity of his delivery.

Valuable history permeates this document especially related to the roots of Jazz and Blues.  The West Africans brought their music to America when they were exported as slaves in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  You will hear he story about the evolution of the banjo from the n'goni - the stringed instrument griots play. The origin of the djembe, their primary hand drum, gets told.  You'll see instrument makers hand crafting their products while discussing what goes into each one and how they get the best sound. 

As far as the roots of blues, before ever hearing this notion, I recorded Lobi Traore's acoustic album at Abdoul Doumbia's house in Bamako and as he was playing, I really got the feeling of being at the African version of the Mississippi Delta; country blues from the source a la Son House, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson or early Muddy Waters.  Lobi played with the same gut-wrenching intensity, but in his own, more African, style.

We cleared out the front room of Abdoul's house to make enough space for Lobi and another acoustic guitar accompanist.  It was just the two of them.  The sparsely decorated stone walls made the acoustics bright and lively which worked well for this instrumentation.  I used both close mics and room mics, and recorded both guitars in stereo.  My control area was set up just outside the door on the front porch.  We started recording around 1pm.  Even in the shade the heat was pretty intense, you could physically feel it beating upon your body.  Not long after Lobi started playing, while the recording went down, I flashed on the similarity in mood with Delta Blues.  It seemed the roots of the blues could really have come from here, but I also sensed his playing showed the influence of American Blues.  Musically regenerative feedback loops across time and space.

Baking in the Sub-Saharan heat, breathing in the dust, listening to an African version of Robert Johnson playing live in the next room while in full alertness recording mode, it seemed that this might be similar in flavor or mood to what John and Alan Lomax experienced on their recording expeditions into the Deep South.of the United States.

There is a short clip of Lobi playing in that style in the film.  You can hear samples from the album or buy the album here.  It's called Lobi Traore Barra Coura.

Music in Mali gives a historical overview of Mandig culture and the Mali Empire that flourished in West Africa from the time of the 13th century.  It starts in that era and proceeds all the way up to the political upheavals of the last few years, the coup d'etat and hostile takeover in the north. 

The range of music appears equally as broad.  From traditional tribal drumming and dancing- "the language of dance, the language of movement" - to a look at what might be a dj hip hop show or a rave, their version of the Electronic Dance Music scene.  Popular Malian musicians are well represented, Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, etc. We sit in on a master kora class given by Toumani Diabate who won a Grammy in 2006 for Best Traditional World Music Album.

One of my favorite sections uses a song by Nabintou Diakate, a very popular singer there, to cut in and out of narration discussing the role and difficulties of being a woman in Mali.  It's a beautiful song to the Mother of Creation with the chorus plaintively expressing, "My mother, the bird is crying."  We recorded her singing it beside a small waterfall on the grounds of what had once been the President's residence.  More on that recording here.

Not long after that comes the section on war.  The war that just happened in Mali last year.  After an apparently nonchalant, nonviolent, bloodless coup d'etat in Bamako, the rebels in the North took advantage of the disorganization to sieze control up there.  For some ungodly reason they decided to join forces with Islamic Fundamentalists who set about doing what they do, imposing strict sharia law and being very unpleasant to anyone who disagreed with them.  One musician interviewed in the film said she "left after the extremists threatened to cut out her tongue if she sang again."  Later, she says that : "music will be the reconciliation of Mali."  She may be right.  I believe the situation has stabilized considerably since spoke.

This trailer says it all:

The mastermind and motivator behind Music in Mali is its director Aja Salvatore.  He first began going to Mali to study its music sometime around the mid 2000s and quickly hooked up with a number of top musicians.  It soon became obvious to him that they could use some help and support to get their music out there.  So he formed KSK Records and learned how to record and promote them.  They adopted Fela Kuti's statement, "MUSIC IS THE WEAPON OF THE FUTURE" for a motto.  KSK (Kanega System Krush) describes itself as:  "an independent record label, operating on a fair-trade principle, focused on the preservation and promotion of traditional music from West Africa. By bringing this music to the world market, KSK is opening new channels to an old tradition, as well as providing direct support to the carriers of this ancient knowledge."

I met Aja when I recorded a jazz band he played guitar with called LSJ, their last names being Lois, Salvatore, and James.  He mentioned that he liked Jali Kunda, Griots of West Africa and Beyond, a griot music travelogue that I had recorded with Bill Laswell and Foday Musa Suso.  Not long after, Aja asked me to show him and his brother Eo how to operate Pro Tools along with some basic micing techniques in preparation for their first recording expedition to Mali.  We mixed those recordings at Prairie Sun and they became the first KSK releases.  The following year Aja expanded his recording set up and brought me to Mali to engineer.  The music recording naturally evolved into a film project. Industry professionals were brought on board such as Producer/Director of Photography/Editor David Nicholson.

Like a good anthropologist, Aja completely immersed himself in West African culture becoming fluent in Bamana, the local language while also learning and participating in many of the local traditions.  He tells their story from the inside, not as a musical tourist.  Actually, most of the time he encourages the musicians and locals to tell their own stories in their own words.  Salvatore's success gets measured not only by the worldwide attention he's brought to his artists, but also by the great respect those same artists hold for him.

Aja Salvatore and drummer

 The music industry is taking notice as this journalist points out:

Kanega System Krush is doing African music right!  For 8 years they've been visiting Mali - one of the richest musical nations in the world - and not just meeting the known stars, but really listening and exploring.  The artists KSK has recorded and filmed are exceptional sincere, authentic, and absolutely worthy of global attention.  Some are known to an extent, others not at all, but this is not about celebrity.  It's about the quality, power and emotional impact of the music.  I am a fan of the releases and supporter of the spirit in which they have been made.
  - Banning Eyre, host of Afropop, music journalist, author, NPR contributer, guitarist

Some more images and quotes from Music in Mali:

Opening scene: night in Bamako, close-up of a woman with a child on her back wrapped in a blanket cuts to a high energy concert shot, Samba Diallo and band, still night time, outdoors in Bamako, concrete ampitheater, flags and emblems signifying cooperation painted on the back wall alongside Keith Haring-like characters.
"Drum and dance are like history books " Village life ... fishing the river with long low dugout boats.
"Humanity is a lot of days
Humanity is a lot of episodes
Once it's been heard, it's for the whole world"
Beautiful black eyes. 1/3rd of it's population sold into slavery.  Secret of weaving.
Hunting reenactments, buffalo evoked with masks and costume in dance and drumming.
Blacksmiths made the first djembe inspired by the rhythm of pounding millet .
The spirit music of Timbuktu.
Fires burning in the bush by the side of the road.
"There are forces that make things happen.  We are here to save the past.  I am a Griot."
Village music, one string violin riffs and melodies by the river in 110 degree heat.
War sucks.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Yemen Blues in Israel

Stardate 2014: Recording good music in the heart of the Middle East with Bill Laswell and James Dellatacoma.  Tel Aviv, Israel.  Everything is going according to plan.  First time for your reporter in the recording studio with Laswell since working with O Rappa in Rio de Janerio circa 1998.  Time to get serious.

The band, Yemen Blues, is really good.  Most of them aren't from Yemen nor do they play the blues, but that's besides the point.  Lead singer/lyricist Ravid Kahalani is a Yemenite whose family transplanted to Israel not long before he was born.    He carries the tradition and culture of his ancestry expressing it in World Music.  He also signifies a Middle Eastern artist culture you don't hear about much in the mainstream media.  People fed up with politics and fighting finding other solutions.  Creative solutions.

Ravid used to work as a gourmet chef.  He takes us out to the 5 star restaurant where he once ran the kitchen to celebrate the successful conclusion of the sessions.  Nearly an entire album recorded in 4 days.  Non-stop work, though if you love what you do, the work turns into play.  You don't work music, you play it.  The restaurant's panoramic view through full length glass windows looks out upon the Mediterranean Sea.  Best food I've had in Israel.  It's there that Bill, upon questioning, reveals an amazing music story, one of the best I've heard because it ended up drastically changing my life, and likely many others as well.  The time he met Brian Eno.  Had to wait 26 years and fly to Israel to find the moment to ask the right question.  We'll get there.

The trip started on a rocky note due to a missed flight connection delaying my arrival by a day.  Stringent questioning by Israeli border guards - entering Israel to record Yemen Blues seemed to raise  alarms - marked another obstacle to cross.  I showed them a sigil to describe my work in Israel recently given to me by Yoko Yamabe, Bill's production assistant, who designed it based on Austin Osman Spare's Language of Desire.  Just in time for this trip.  Despite it, or because of it, not sure which, they let me through.

 It appears incredibly, intuitively accurate.

No one to meet me after customs that I could see.  Walked around, waited for only 10 minutes or so then spied a rotund gent near a distant exit with a sign that had the same name as the one in my passport.  What a coincidence, I thought, have to see what that's all about.  I identified myself then mentioned Yemen Blues.  That did not ring a bell. He showed the sign again which read "Oswald Fritz" and asked if I was sure that was me.  His face did look a little like the hookah smoking caterpillar out of Alice in Wonderland, so I answered that I was pretty sure that's who I was when I woke up this morning but had changed so much since then that I wasn't certain about it now.  After all, I'd been traveling for going on 46 hours by now, and was just going by memory.  I pulled out my passport, the names matched, he made a phone call that registered approval, and we headed out through exit 23 to the car.  As we pulled out, I asked him where he was taking me.  Wasn't sure if we were going to the hotel first or directly to the studio.  The session started at 10 am, the clock read 10:05; I hate being late except for my own funeral.  The driver chuckled and said, "we're going to the hotel, don't worry you're not getting kidnapped."  Terrorism jokes at the airport from someone I've never met before always crack me up.  Welcome to Israel.

Cleaned up quickly at the hotel then called Ravid who who sent the band's Production Manager, Noga Majar, to get me in a cab.  A 15 minute drive brought us to Kicha Studios located in an industrial, funkier part of town.  Later, sharing the Ancient Egyptian's and C.G. Jung's respect for the power of names, I asked how the studio got its name, what did it mean? Studio assistant Daniel Motolola didn't know, he thought it got named after someone's pet dog, and that it meant a prison in Russian.  The austere, greyish-beige walls of the poorly lit stairwell - it was a 3 floor walk up - did suggest the ambience of a prison in its exterior as did the compartmentalized, multiple rooms, multiple doors of the interior.  Every room except the entrance had double doors.  to go from the lounge to the control room required negotiating 6 heavy glass doors, some with handles falling off.  Going through all the doors to the Control Room reminded me of the opening sequence of the old Get Smart TV show.  However, I never experienced a sense of confinement or lack of freedom you would expect in a prison.  The music opened up aesthetic spaces that transcended the institutional-like environment much like the creative arts that can transcend the high-security, contentious environment of Israel and Palestine. 

I arrived around 12:30pm.  Bill and James had scoped out the studio the day before and had come up with a game plan.  All the mics were in place, most of the sound check had been done.  James gave me a tour of the room and microphone set up.  I fully agreed with most of the mics he selected - not surprising as we both had trained under Laswell's long time, rock solid engineer, Bob Musso with additional input from the mad genius of recording, Jason Corsaro.

The moderate size Control Room, a box-like space with acoustic diffusors (parallel surfaces are anathema to a smooth frequency response) resided in one corner of the studio.  The front and right walls had double glass windows running the entire width giving excellent visual contact to the 4 isolated recording areas they looked out upon.  The mixing board, a vintage Harrison desk had a warm, punchy sound.  It fed Pro Tools HD converters using v.8 software in a MacPro  intel tower.  Outboard we used included "Signal" tube mic pres, Tube Tech, Urei LA 3A, 1176, compressors and a couple of esoteric tube limiting amplifiers, all stereo.  I brought a Kosmos subharmonic synthesizer to help with the bass sound.

The Control Room has a small square window that looks out to a view of rows upon rows of corrugated metal roofing.  It reminds me of a ships cabin window.  Outside sounds sometimes filter in - jack hammers, air pressure hoses, drills, sirens, dogs barking, traffic - the ambience of working class Israeli life.

The first two days was dedicated to getting all the rhythm section tracks; the whole band, except the keyboardist, played live for reference tracks and to give cues.  Drumming and percussion, both playing and arranging was handled by a pair of very talented and experienced musicians, Rony Iwryn and Itamar Doari.  These guys are percussion scientists that know how to play.  Grooves locked to the tempo with great syncopated feeling.  They have a World Music percussion synergy comparable in cohesion to the guitar intertwinings of Keith Richards and Ron Wood.  Two voices musically fusing into one dynamic entity.  Ginger Baker and Aiyb Djieng formed a rhythm combo that did this on the Material tour of Japan in 1992.  I remember after the first show they played together in Tokyo backstage they congratulated and praised each other like long lost brothers.  Itamar and Rony reminded me of that ... the brotherhood of percussion.

Their percussion instruments included: a surdo - a big bass drum played with a mallet, the national instrument of Yemen, doholla - a special type of dumbek, kalabash - a hollowed out gourd that produces a bass drum sound, LP congas, sogo - an African conga, tan tan - like a high pitched conga, bombo leguero - a drum in the lower tom range lined with sheepskin and played with a mallet, cashishi - a shaker, shereke - another African shaker made from a dried gourd with beads affixed to it.  There were various cymbals and bells.  One of the metal sounds they played is called a torpedo,  Another is just known as "tin" - basically an L-shaped large tin can with a low frequency resonator chamber on the bottom end; it gave both the percussive metal clang and a much lower harmonic. There was no trap set.

The drummers set up side by side in the room with the liveliest acoustics located to the far right of the control room.  Three of the walls is this smallish box room were brick, the fourth was glass doors and windows.  The floor was wood, don't know what kind, pine or cedar, with throw rugs on it,  The room had a nice, clear sound.  It could have been a little more lively sounding for my taste.  I used an old trick of putting room mics high up in the corners focusing away from the instruments toward the walls to capture maximum reflections.

Bassist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz was positioned in front of the drum room, his bass amp just outside in the hallway for isolation.  James set up direct lines both pre and post his bass pedal effects to allow balancing options later.  The pre effects DI ( direct injection) channel had an auxiliary send feeding the Kosmos.  The bass cabinet, miced with a Beyer ribbon mic gave us 4 bass tracks all together.  Shanir didn't have his regular Fender bass due to touring restrictions, but brought a Dan Electro which we were able to get an amazingly deep sound out of with help from the Kosmos.

Shanir alternated the bass with an electric oud recorded with the same 4 lines.  He also played a gimbri, the Gnawa bass, on one song.  Incidentally, he has a great new album out with another project, Abraxas on John Zorn's Tzadik label.  They cover Zorn's Masada Book Two.  Recorded and mixed by James, it's clear, punchy, articulate, well played prog rock.

Ravid sang and played gimbri in an isolated room to the left of the bass area. The gimbri was miced with a U67 and run direct.  Horn arranger Itamar Borochov played reference horn parts on the trumpet in another isolated chamber behind the vocal room.  Glass walls on both sides afforded visual contact with him through the vocal room. Boro had brought his own mic, an AEA ribbon, a great sounding mic on the trumpet. Had the same vibe as an old RCA.

Jumping into this session already in motion, my brain felt at half speed compared to the pace of flow.  I balanced and panned the monitor mix in Pro Tools, worked on some of the drum and bass sounds, changed and repositioned the drum room mics, and set up the Kosmos as my brain started to focus on the new board, outboard, monitoring, and the fast North African rhythm they were playing.  The first song's working title was Gimbri Fast and probably is the fastest track we recorded. 

It became quickly obvious to me that Bill and James had a high paced, established dynamic and system of communication with each other. I wasn't exactly sure how to integrate so when we had a second I took James aside and asked how he worked with Bob Musso in New York.  Bill, Bob and James have been a consistently working production team for years, something like 16.  I figured I would play the Bob Musso position.  Big shoes to fill, but my feet are always growing from all the food and vitamins I take in - 'remember what the dormouse said, feed your head' - it affects your feet too.  Bob was busy in New York recording his own music.  He also was recently back from doing some mixing at the Super Bowl.

James became the primary Pro Tools operator, the helmsman. He has an uncanny, almost photographic memory of non-standard song arrangements, and is a very fast editor.  I mainly got the sounds, set control room monitoring and handled communications with the musicians.  I was the Lieutenant Uhura on the bridge of that ship.  Daniel, our assistant engineer, was as professional and on top of it as any assistant in New York, Los Angeles, London or Tokyo.  Noga kept us fortified with snacks and water with platters of fresh pear slices, apple slices, dates, figs, apricots, almonds, pecans, homemade tahini, pita bread, feta cheese, swiss cheese, and a soft sour cheese, an Israeli specialty similar to cream cheese.

The only major technical issue occurred when a 192 - a Pro Tools convertor, gave up the ghost.  It started putting out strange digital noise, alien signals of some kind, after our lunch break.  It took 2 - 3 hours to track down and resolve the issue, fortunately the studio had a replacement 192 that worked fine.  All the gear sailed along finely after that, no more technical problems.

We got all the drumming parts, and most of the bass, gimbri and oud for 9 songs in 2 long days.  Right on schedule.  The next day was shabbat and a day off.  Shanir asked if I'd like to go to Jerusalem, to see the old town and the Western Wall of the Temple.  I said, "yes, definitely."  James and Bill were intohhh it.  Ravid starting making some arrangements and promised to meet us at noon tomorrow.  Going to the site where King Solomon built the Temple seemed just as important for my esoteric researches as going to Cairo to see Aleister Crowley's Stele of Revealing.  It had nothing to do with religion.  I suspected that the Temple wall would be a great place to experiment with psychometry, the science of receiving information through contact with ancient artifacts.

Shabbat: the normally sedate breakfast room at the hotel is filled with families dressed for  Synagogue.  A nice feeling.  I take a stroll on the beach and record the random rhythms of people bouncing balls to each other with wood paddles.  The weather is beautiful, sunny but not too hot, this could be California, lots of people out doing various beach activities.  I catch up on the Allen Ginsberg bio I'm reading, always looking for clues for becoming a writer.

Ravid arrives shortly after noon with Shanir, two cars, and 3 other guides - Yossi Fine, his girlfriend Meytal, and a top Israeli music producer whose name also might be Ravid, we weren't ever formally introduced.  Yossi also produces top Israeli groups.  He's done a lot of work at a studio in Northern California where I recorded two albums with Tom Waits.  We have at least one mutual musician friend, a singer  named Deja.  Small world. I suspect that  Yossi and the producer Ravid volunteered in part - besides just being nice guys - to experience darshan with Bill Laswell. Bill is wearing a fine art t-shirt depicting Aleister Crowley showing his horns in a posture called Vir which indicates the Hierophant post.

Bill and I ride in the back seat of Yossi and Meytal's car at first talking amongst ourselves about various music projects and people.  Bill mentions introducing Chad Smith, the drummer for the Red Hot Chili Pepper's to the gimbri, and I guess to Moroccan music.  Bill and Chad, and some other musicians recently recorded a progressive album with assistance from Jay Bulger who brought them together.

I notice Meytal giving me a direct look like she's seeing through me - beyond appearances.  I say hello.  She says hello.  We don't get introduced to each other until reaching Jerusalem's old city.  Getting close to Jerusalem the conversation opens up to include all 4 of us.  Yossi talks about some of his approaches to recording, and also about the Burning Man festival held every year in the Nevada desert.  We compare notes about recording with portable 2 track devices.  Yossi had brought the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart to the Temple wall about 2 weeks before where they discreetly made a recording of some kind.  Meytal says that the latest Chili Pepper's single, recently released, has drumming that sounds Moroccan to her and figures that's due to Bill's influence on Chad.  Later, I ask Meytal if she is a musician.  She replies no, but says they call her something, a word I don't remember, which means she has Big Ears.  I can relate to that.  She also recognized Shanir's playing on a single that's currently getting a lot of radio airplay in Israel.

The entrance to the old city takes us into narrow passageways lined with merchants selling all kinds of things.  Reminds me of Morocco but a bit more upscale.  I see a t-shirt that shows the word Israel in a google search with a caption that reads, "did you mean Palestine?"  Free speech seems alive and well.  Not really any interesting sounds, but market places are something I always record so I pull out my Tascam.  As I do, some great sounding bells start ringing, different pitches in an unusual sequence sounding rich, and resonant with more lower frequencies than most bells.  Right after the bells, these very serious looking priests dressed in black robes clear a way down the corridor with the one in front stomping a large black staff as he walks.  They are Greek Orthodox.  Yossi tells the story of the Greek Orthodox bishop who did something the Church didn't like so (pointing up) he's been locked up in one of those apartments for years and years.  People put food for him in a basket which he pulls up with a rope.

 I'm on a mission to buy beads for a friend who makes jewelry.  Meytal sees me negotiating with a merchant and steps in to get a much better deal.  I ask what her name means,  She gives an explanation saying it's a combination of cultures, French and Moroccan, I think, but that it essentially means 'God's dew.'  Very appropriate name as I discover later.  God's dew gets described in Crowley's Book of Lies, chapter 18, Dewdrops.  Meytal, an Israeli from a small town whose heritage is 3/4s Morrocan, 1/4 French,  has a degree in communications and once had a high administrative position for all of the Hilton hotels in Israel.  After 4 years she realized that corporate life wasn't for her and now manages a tennis club working with many  children.  At lunch, she pursues a line of questioning  that leads to her making a suggestion that strikes to the core of my being, something no one had ever mentioned to me before except for an African shaman in Mali who was reading off of some oracular shells.  I conclude Meytal is either incredibly intuitive or psychic or Coincidence Control is working overtime.

After lunch we go down the hill to the Western Wall that marks the border of the old Temple site.  It being Shabbat there are a lot of people, most of them Orthodox Jews chanting, praying and rocking in a forward bowing motion to get the feeling of God inside their bodies.  There are soldiers with submachine guns walking about looking relaxed.  Because of Shabbat, it's not allowed to take pictures or record with any device.  On any other day it would be fine.  Yossi says I can record by keeping the recorder out of sight so I put it under my sweater.  That's what he did with Mickey Hart here a couple of weeks ago.

I asked Ravid it it was ok to get close to the wall and touch it.  That was fine. Saw small pieces of paper rolled up and put into crevices, some kind of magic no doubt.  I put my right hand on the wall for about 10 minutes and diffuse the vision.  Focussed on connecting with King Solomon's Temple. Almost immediately I felt a tremendous force of energy from far away.  'Saw" what can get described as some kind of huge "battery" coming from great depths below.  Did have a clear vision of a completely non-human, technological, if you can call it that, kind of space.  Saw nothing remotely anthropomorphic, or any kind of familiar iconography, religious, or otherwise.  I was recording the whole time but haven't heard the playback yet.

Walked around the spacious square recording various groups of worshippers doing their thing.  A group of young men loudly chanting Hebrew holding hands in a circle and dancing around.  Ornate scroll holders recalling Egyptian Steles, probably holding the Torah, rapidly intoning soft chanting prayers.  Went and attempted psychometry on the Wall again, this time a little longer.  Didn't feel the same energy source, or have as deep and clear a vision - the first hit is free -  but did have an interesting "voyage," what we call a journey of awareness and attention through alternate spaces.  I did feel interference, opposition of some kind.  Maybe related to the conflicts over these sacred sites.  Ravid and Shanir pointed out later that this location marked the source of all the religious conflict.  The interference felt like excessive yang to me, too much male, not enough female influence.  Noticed then that it was all men here, men and women were segregated by a partition.

Followed Ravid into a large arched room to our left, lots of people praying all dressed in black, altars and scrolls.  He said that just below us existed an intricate series of tunnels which one could get a tour of.  Dusk now, starting to get dark. We head to the far right side of the square to a walking bridge that goes to the Moslem side where the Dome of the Rock that contains the Foundation Stone is located.  Everyone looks altered, mellow, outside the common.  Time seems slower and elongated to me.  I remember a similar mood when visiting some sacred sites in Uzbekistan when on The Flying Mijinko tour with Akira Sakata.

The bridge is closed.  Shanir thought it would be, but wanted to try anyway.  We start back up the hill through the market to go back home.  I find a few more beads on the way.  Back in Tel Aviv, Bill asks about an African part of town he'd heard about.  It's a favorite spot for Yossi and right on the way.  We stop and walk through the area; reminds me of Dakar.

This trip begins to feel like an extension of the Morocco trip, like somehow that trip helped make this one possible.   Recording the gimbri, walking through the Moroccan style market - discovering later that this had been the Moroccan quarter for over 770 years before it got bulldozed after the war in 1967;  our guide, Meytal, is 3/4 Moroccan, she hears a Moroccan influence in the drumming of Bill's friend Chad Smith.  So in that spirit I'll interrupt this account to announce the upcoming festival in Morocco with Bachir Attar and The Master Musicians of Jajouka in Jajouka featuring Bill Laswell on May 17th and 18th this year.

Back in  the studio on Sunday we started by finishing all the bass and oud parts with Shanir.  Next came keyboard overdubs courtsey of Hod "Space" Moshonov.  Bill had told him to think space for one of the parts. Hod told us then that Space was his middle name.  Hod, shares his name with the 8th Sephiroth on the Tree of Life  where all the Gods of Communication hang out.  Mercury, Lt. Uhuru and the electric switchboard gang.  Hod got most of his synth patches from a later model Nord synthesizer  He also had an instrument someone called a Kitar, a keyboard played like a guitar that offered a wide variety of "cheese."  Herbie Hancock and George Duke used to play these; George called his a "Dukie stick."  Hod laid his parts down quickly with alacrity and finesse.  He played very well adding depth, dimension and atmospheric textures to the music.  After a few hours Hod took a break to allow for vocal, then string overdubs from two lovely ladies named Hela and Karen playing cello and violin respectively.  Doubling their parts produced a string quartet effect.  Later, Boro put down his trumpet solos invoking the spirit of Miles Davis into his soulful statements.

All the keyboard parts were finished the next morning.  Several hours then went into horn section overdubs with Boro on trumpet, a tenor sax, and a trombone.  Parts were doubled, sometimes tripled, and some arrangement editing was done on the spot.  We finished the evening with Ravid's vocals.  The entire album had been recorded in 4 days with the exception of 4 vocal tracks and an Egyptian string orchestra for one song.  Two of those vocal tracks still required the lyrics to be written.  Everyone was in a tired, but celebratory mood at the end.  Ravid arranged for a good meal at a gourmet restaurant on the Mediterranean.

At dinner conversation turned to Martin Bisi's legendary BC recording studio in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn, NY where a lot of classic punk and alternative music had been recorded.  Bill mentioned that he was with Martin the day he found that space and ended up living there.  The neighborhood was so rough at the time that he got robbed nearly every time he went home but convinced them not to take his bass because that's how he earned the money they took.  Bill's solution was to bring Afrika Bambaataa around the neighborhood to talk to the kids who left him alone after that.

I had heard that Brian Eno helped finance the studio, originally known as  OAO for Operation All Out, a Burroughs acronym from Naked Lunch.  Bill said that Eno had bought the mixing board.  The first recordings there became Eno's 4th in his ambient music series, On Land.

 I asked Bill how he met Eno.  He said that one day he walked out of his apartment on 8th Street, across from Electric Lady recording studio and saw Eno talking to Hassan Heiserman.  Hassan was carrying a script based on the Burroughs book, The Ticket that Exploded trying to interest Eno in the project.  Bill gave Eno his contact information who soon went on his way.  Hassan and Bill struck up a conversation beginning a long association together.  Hassan personally knew and worked with a wide variety of counter-cultural icons, everyone from Kerouac and Ginsberg to Robert Anton Wilson, Tim Leary and E.J. Gold.  He introduced Bill to Ornette Coleman beginning another lifelong friendship and important musical contact.  I wrote about Hassan HERE.

In my last blog, Marrakech, I brought up the idea of "power spots," certain locations where extraordinary events occur.  The example I used was Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady recording studio built on the same location as a bar where Gurdjieff and Buckminster Fuller met and had long discussions.  I had been reminded of that coincidence recently when E.J. Gold told a story about  a place he went to right across from where Electric Lady was built.  Consequently, it felt quite astonishing to hear Bill tell this account of meeting Hassan and Eno at that same location.  Bill's first session with Eno was My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, the album that persuaded me to become a recording engineer after I swore to never do that.  Hassan was one of the reasons I moved to California as described in the link.  The Ticket that Exploded describes some of Burroughs' tape recorder magick experiments that strongly influenced me.  Three people who profoundly altered the course of my life chanced to meet for a brief moment on 8th Street in New York across from Electric Lady.  That meeting profoundly affected each of their lives too, and who knows how many others.

Bill and James left for the airport early the next morning at 6:30 am.  I had until 8pm before going.  Spent the day catching up on business and writing.  Looking out the window upon the row of high rise seaside hotels and the Mediterranean, I reflected that the Marina Hotel had been a good place to establish a temporary High Velocity World Headquarters.  Watching the western horizon rise to meet the setting sun I decide to take a break for a walk by the sea.  I strolled out on the marina's rock fortified  walkway that went out over the water.  The wind was blowing strongly sending waves crashing against the rocks spraying me with salt water at one point.  Took the opportunity to invoke the forces of the Sea.  Turned out to be very effective.  I felt the coolness of water all the way home.  It occurred to me that the idea of walking on water symbolizes riding on top of powerful forces of nature.  This idea also resonates with the contemporary Thelemic attitude as shown in psalm 93.

The headline on the Jerusalem Post the day I left, February 25th, my 54 and a half birthday, read:

Merkel: Reaching two-state solution is 'part and parcel' of securing Israel's future.

Netanyahu says Israel wants a 'real peace' that ends the conflict and gets Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state.

Obviously you've got to recognize them if you want them to recognize you.  Whoever puts together the Post's headlines figured that out.  Netanyahu was at the White House yesterday meeting Obama for further peace discussions.  Let's do it.

Music played while writing this report was Bernie Worrell's  Elevation - The Upper Air, solo piano renditions of some classic jazz pieces, and original compositions.  The first track is In A Silent Way, the last one is Redemption Song.  Produced by Bill Laswell and recorded by Jason Corsaro.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


 Continues from HERE.

12/12/13 Essaouri

Feeling good at breakfast reverberating from the yesterday's powerful music and ritual, aware that something major happened last night. Still feeling quite altered from it, open and expansive.  Not sure if anyone else realized how strong it registered, except Bill. It's business as usual, on with another day.   In an attempt to clue people in, Bill points out that the equipment began working shortly after the music started .

Open the Gnawa Pro Tools session in my room with no problem.   All the files are there but scattered over the drive.  I collect them and listen, pleased with the results.  I am infinitely more relaxed now that Pro Tools works.  Light shooting day, some exteriors, one interior then drive to Marrakech.  Walking with Bill to the square at the beginning of the medina area, the camera crew is already there with Jay, Mahmoud, and Malika.  Passing the shops with exotic looking goods, empty of people except for the proprietors gazing deep, looking ancient and alert.  Out of a dark arched entrance to a restaurant very faintly I hear an old song, I Put A Spell On You, not the Creedance version, some old bluesman, I forget who.

I'm relaxed as we begin driving in the false security of what I believe to be a working recording system.  Driving in an orange SUV with Adil and Adam, everyone else has gone ahead to film something along the way.  Outside Essaouira is an odd tourist attraction, goats in trees.  I look for them, but don't see anything.  Heard lots of talk about them and saw pictures.  One version I heard claimed that the goats didn't really climb trees but were hoisted there by locals to entrap tourists.  Other Moroccans swore up and down that the tree climbing goats were a real phenomena..  Whether people put them in trees, or the goats have figured out how to leave the earth a little by climbing them, it still sounds strange to me.

Well, the arbiter of truth, the internet, also claims it's real saying they go up there in search of food.  So, it must be true.

It's dark when we pull into the large, elegant hotel in Marrakech.  Plush greenery in front and around in what seems like a residential area.  Most of the local crew live in Marrakech. They get a brief evening in their homes with family.  Bill and I eat in  the stately, but subdued hotel dining room.  Everyone else staying here went out ... so we thought.  A small live band plays Gnawa style music, the Holiday Inn version of Gnawa.  The acoustics are quickly absorbed in the room so that the music drops off sharply  like it's muffled, it doesn't ring out.   Even when the waiter talks, it sounds hushed like you're in a library.  I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone a little.

After eating and talking for about a half hour to forty minutes, we notice Austin, the B camera operator, seated at a table right beside us facing the other way.  Neither of us had seen him come in, we're both surprised.
"How did that happen?"  Bill asks.
Things suddenly pop up here, like a cut-up segue.  In quantum physics terms, two parallel Universes unexpectedly meet, or overlap, maybe.  I know that appears a contradiction, but this is Morocco.  Austin also is oblivious to our presence.  About ten minutes later he notices us and apologizes for being absorbed in his phone computer.  We talk for a few more minutes before going our separate ways.

12/13/13 Marrakech

I hear birds singing first thing in the morning, jump out of bed and record them.  Later, Bill says that the birds sound amazing in the garden area by the pool.  He heard this just after it starting getting light between 6 and 6:30 am.

Breakfast, then bring Pro Tools up to the room.  Still on the criminal computer, I try to open a session, but it's a no go.  It starts to open then gives the error message, "Pro Tools has unexpectedly quit."  My heart sinks and I feel dazed.  After several attempts of trying I conclude that the computer is either really stupid, or lying.  How can it be unexpected when it happens every single time?  I go downstairs, Jay and Bill are having breakfast outside.  Jay asks how I'm doing, I say not so good, Pro Tools isn't working, it won't open. Silence.

In an earlier email communication with Paul, the support tech at Dreamhire, I had mentioned that the Macbook Pro still acted quirky.  His reply was, and I quote, " I've seen cracked programs do monstrous things to computers."

I set up Pro Tools in the production office Kasbah Films had rented out in the hotel.  Adam tries opening the program a few times with the same result.  Fortunately, it's not needed for today.  Everything on the day's schedule can get handled with the two track.  A plan formulates to transfer the Pro Tools 10 software from the renegade Mac to Adam's computer and see if it will open there.  This will have to wait until we get back tonight as it's time to go.

The location today is in and around the main square of Marrakech known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Wikipedia says about the name:

The origin of its name is unclear: Jemaa means "congregational mosque" in Arabic, probably referring to a destroyed Almoravid mosque. "Fanâʼ" or "finâ'" can mean "death" or "a courtyard, space in front of a building." Thus, one meaning could be "The mosque or assembly of death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World".

Apt name.  The square looked like a major transit, or bardo hub.  Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Man Who Knew Too Much here.  A few groups of musicians are scattered throughout set up on rugs.  I hear rhaitas - the double-reed, high-pitched Moroccan horns - and drums, and move closer to record.  A couple of cobras are on the ground, hoods flared and their heads raised swaying, apparently enchanted by the music.  It seems safe here, but appearances can deceive in the bardo.  A terrorist attack killed 17 people at one of the cafes bordering the area in 2011.  The government has reportedly built an underground interrogation center for terrorists beneath the square.

All kinds of unusual sights - woman selling water dressed in colorful, traditional Berber garb.  A young man with a frisky monkey on a chain passes by.  Austin mentions seeing a vulture chained to a post.  Bill said that one outpost of musicians had a hawk.

The hawk sighting reminds me of Horus, the hawk-headed God from the Egyptian pantheon, and Aleister Crowley's pick to represent the reigning deity of the modern era.  Burroughs knew about Horus, naming one of the characters in The Western Lands after him:

Horus Neferti is a bit tired of being the perpetual ingenue, the eternal reflection of unbearable radiant boyishness.  But then radiance is a potent weapon that has served him in a number of awful engagements, a light weapon.  You have to conserve and pace your kilowatts.  Otherwise you can blow a fuse in a tight spot. -p. 131

 The Western Lands influenced the genesis of this film project after Bill gave a copy of the Material album Seven Souls to the producers, an album that features Burroughs reading from it. The initial working title of the film was Five Souls.  I couldn't find anyone who admitted to coming up with that title or what it was supposed to mean, but speculation held that it related to Seven Souls.  Two of the souls must have gotten knocked off or abandoned ship along the way.

Death seemed forefront in WSB's mind when he wrote The Western Lands.  It's dedicated to his long-time friend and collaborator, Brion Gysin, who had recently died.  He also revisits the accidental death of his wife Joan, years ago in Mexico City, a death which turned Burroughs into a writer.  The number 23 sees frequent use in the book, a number which indicates that maybe the bardo lurks nearby, as I attempt to demonstrate in an analysis of this ideogram.

Writer Robert Anton Wilson delved deep into the 23 conspiracy after hearing about it from Burroughs. Burroughs honors Wilson by naming a character in The Western Lands after him, an expert on the centipede cult.

The last words of The Western Lands, Hurry up please.  It's time.,"  echo the last words of Timothy Leary's Flashbacks, "... it's about time."  Time anomalies seem a regular occurrence when traveling through bardo spaces.  After working on this film for two days in Morroco, it felt like I'd been there for weeks.  At the time, the 3 weeks in Morocco passed more like 3 months.  Once back home in a different time frame, the trip felt like it had gone by fast yet the reverberations from it, the processing of all information received carries a lingering notion that somehow time had stretched out on the trip like the huge arching dome of the sky over the desert.

Synchronicities, unusual anomalies in time and space, are to occultists or bardo voyagers what a Wilson Cloud Chamber is to a physicist, evidence of the invisible through visible interactions.  Horrific exaggrrations of centipede size, and a cult devoted to them play the role of Bardo monsters in The Western Lands.  Qabalists might connect this fictional centipede cult with Gurdjieff's idea of 'food for the moon.'  Recently rereading The Western Lands hoping to gain a better understanding of this Moroccan experience, I came home to find a centipede crawling on the rug in the middle of my room.  I can't remember the last time I saw one.  It looked ok, not the gross oversize ones out of WSB's imagination, but still gave me a queasy feeling as I escorted it out of my room back into the wilderness.

Recording the ambience of the main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa, was the first order of the day. Recording the ambience of the 'Mosque of Death, the Mosque at the End of the World.'  I started recording environmental ambience and the ambience of shrines, temples and interdimensional outposts in 1990 after E.J. Gold gave me a demonstration of how sound could be used to navigate the Bardo.  My first ambient recording was at the Basilica du Sacre Couer in Paris.  By coincidence or synchronicity, a group of monks came out about 10 minutes in to the recording of this cavernous cathedral space and began singing a canticle.  Don't know what they sang/chanted but it sounded like collected devotion.  Concentrated musical attention echoing and reverberating  - multiple fast echos stacked up on each other - off the high arched stone columns and colorful stained glass.

The ambience of the Mosque of Death had a rich variety of music and sounds.  In the night, outposts of different groups  scattered throughout this Grand Central Station-like chamber played music set up on rugs that start to remind one of flying carpets out of 1001 Nights.   Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride.  Bedecked with flowers, gas lamps, small decorative artifacts and snow-white doves looking like ad hoc pagan altars. 

The music groups played close enough to overlap at a distance yet not too close to interfere with each other.  Sometimes it seemed the musical baton was being passed from group to group, the thread of musical transmission handed off to each other.  This idea gets explored in a John Zorn improv form called Lacrosse.

It's hard to describe the richness of musical communication going on there in the Mosque of Death unless you happen to be William Burroughs who described it perfectly in excerpts from The Western Lands cut-up and reformulated by Laswell for the track Ineffect, the first piece on Seven Souls:

Musical intelligence, information and directives in and out through street singers, musical broadcasts, jukeboxes, records, high school bands, whistling boys, cabaret performers, singing waiters, transistor radios. Red sails of the sunset way out on the sea.

Next location took us into a network of narrow streets and alleyways leading off from the square where various souks or marketplaces sold hand and tool-crafted goods of all kinds.  Filming occurred at one specific souk which I won't reveal to avoid a possible spoiler.  The ambience and mood of it conjured the image of the home of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and volcanoes. Suddenly and dramatically a muezzin's voice plaintively cried out - loud, amplified and distorted -  the Muslim call to prayer coming from the direction of the Mosque of Death.  Naturally, I recorded it. Later, in Tangier, I got the assignment to record as many prayer calls as possible.  Nice to start fulfilling an assignment before it's been given.  Strange loops in time.

That completed the daytime filming, the main musical event still awaited, to take place after dusk.  That event would be a recording of Heddaoua, Berber storytellers who bark out oral history in an aggressive, assertive style that recalls freestyle rap or the records of The Last Poets.   The Heddaoua at one time were considered subversive and anarchistic with their socially and politically critical commentaries. Until fairly recently they were banned, illegal, outside the law. Now it seems.they are viewed as crazy by the establishment and so left alone.

Walking back across the square to our base camp in the far corner I meet the fabled Richard Horowitz for the first time.  A name I've heard of for years, Horowitz has long been a liaison between Moroccan music and the West.  He was Led Zeppelin's guide when they visited Marrakech for the first time.  Page and Plant returned later and recorded tracks for their Unledded collaboration somewhere in or around the square.

As a musician, Horowitz has been part of a duo with Iranian singer/composer Sussan Deyhim for more than 30 years.  I worked with Sussan once when she did guest vocals for Tabla Beat Science at a concert in Beruit in between wars there.  Richard also helped Bill Laswell organize Night Spirit Masters, the first Gnawa music Bill recorded, also tracked just off the Jemaa el-Fnaa nexus point.  Horowitz's credits appear extensive so I'll mention a couple of my favorites - he and Sussan played with The Grateful Dead at an event for Jospeh Campbell.   The two helped ghostwrite the sound track for the old sci fi show Max Headroom for Dead drummer Mickey Hart.  Finally, Paul Bowles recommended him to Bernardo Bertolucci to compose the score for The Sheltering Sky film, which he ended up doing.

It wasn't clear to me exactly what his role with the film was.  A little shadowy and marginal.  He had introduced two of the producers, Karim and Andy to each other so must have had some part in the early development.  At the moment he was involved in trying to find us an alternate recording system if we couldn't get Pro Tools going.  He had a connection with a local film school that had equipment.  Unfortunately, it was the same equipment driven down to Essaouira which we turned back so they were reluctant to help us out.  We didn't pursue it.

Catering had a meal prepared for us when we returned to our base corner in the square, where production had their trucks.  Our base corner in the Mosque of Death ...  I just like the way that sounds!  We have 90 minutes or so before the main event.  The square starts to fill up, it's dusk now and the shadows of night are falling fast.  The square really comes alive at night.  Lots of food stalls, more musicians, fortune tellers, snake charmers, dancers, singing waiters, throngs of people.  I know this will be a chaotic night, a challenging recording.  The Heddaoua perform on a carpet turned into a stage set near the middle of the square surrounded by people listening and watching.  There's already an alternate plan to bring them back to the hotel afterwards to get a cleaner recording.

I miced the first poet with a small lavalier clip-on mic and ran the cable on the inside of his djellaba.  While often working in pairs, rapping their stories back and forth, in rapid, machine-gun-like patter, at the moment it was just one.  An older man in Berber costume looking ancient and weathered but vigorously holding forth, passionately giving his message to the gathered audience.  I ran a 50 ft. mic cable around the edge of the rug through the crowd to where I would be stationed with the 2 track recorder.  Plugged the mic in, pressed the headphones against my ears to hear if the mic was working.     All I heard was an electronic high pitched buzz.  Went and reseated the connection between the lavalier tiny output pin and its XLR adaptor, thankfully it now worked.  I was surprised by how well it picked up the poet's voice over the cacophony of the surrounding square.  Very good signal to noise ratio.

Finishing this mic check when an AD (Assistant Director) or someone else from Production screamed at me: OZ, YOU HAVE TO MIC THE OTHER ONE!!  Just what I was about to do, but they couldn't have known I was trouble-shooting.  Both of them miced up, I retreated to my post outside the circle hunched over on a folding chair headphones glued to my ears to make sure the voices were being picked up.  ADs and other crew stood around me protecting from crowd encroachment.  The Heddaoua seemed allergic to microphones, they kept falling off.  Went into the circle to reattach a mic.  From a rooftop some 100ft away, cutting through the roar of the crowded square ambience I heard my name screamed once again at high decibel piercing pitch.  I took it to mean, get the hell out of the frame of the picture.  It didn't seem they were shooting picture just then because later I was barred by an AD from entering the stage area to fix a mic.  They were filming, the mic had fallen to the ground.  Fortunately, these dpa mics are quite sensitive, the poets voice still picked up without overly extraneous noise.  I could still hear him, but at a lower level than his partner whose mic stayed in place.  I verified this  a few days later when reviewing audio in my room.  The mic on the ground was 13dB quieter but that could be compensated.  The voice was clear.

It had been an intense shoot, you don't get second takes at a live performance.  No one wanted to bring the Heddaoua back to the hotel for a controlled recording including myself.  I was more interested in getting the Pro Tools system to work. It was already after 10pm.

They say the 3 most important things in retail sales are location, location, location though this might  pertain more to a pre-internet era.  Location is also an essential factor in recording.  We would have obtained a cleaner recording at the hotel, for one thing I could have used real vocal mics as it wouldn't be filmed, but it wouldn't have the same ambience and mood as the recording on the square.  From what I've observed over the years,  locations resonate with past events.  A dramatic example of this is Electric Lady, the recording studio that Jimi Hendrix put together on 8th St. in New York.  Earlier in the century that location had been a speakeasy then a popular bar where G.I. Gurdjieff had met with Buckminster Fuller several times.  One source for this factoid is a bio on Fuller, the other came from an account of the history of that building, but I don't recall where I read that.  Electric Lady was also the location where Jimi Hendrix gave some sage advice and encouragement to a young, unknown Patti Smith.  Bill Laswell and I mixed a Buckethead track, part of the soundtrack for the film Last Action Hero at Electric Lady to take advantage of the location's resonance and history.  Buckethead is also a guitar virtuoso for those who may not know.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the Mosque of Death, Marrakech's main square has incredible history to it.  Recording politically subversive raps and rantings at the site of a terrorist target, just that alone gives it a unique mood, something you wouldn't get anywhere else.  The importance of location gets demonstrated moreso as these Moroccan adventures proceed.

Fried, frazzled but greatly relieved that the recording worked, I moved on to the next crisis to solve, getting Pro Tools to work.  I felt the key lay in trying it on a different computer, one that hadn't played host to a hacked program.  Back at the hotel, we tried to open the program again on the same computer with the same non-functioning results.  Adam brought down his MacBook Pro.  Fortunately, we found we could transfer the Pro Tools 10 demo program to his computer via a thumb drive.   I say fortunately because there was only one spot in the hotel, right by the front desk, where wi fi would connect to the net, and that appeared sporadic.  Downloading anything didn't seem possible.  Pro Tools opens on Adams computer.  The Pro Tools 10 drivers load without a problem.  They were already on his computer from the download in Essaouira.  It works, I am ecstatic!  What a day it had been.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


This continues the story of recording in Morroco. The first installment is HERE.

Gnawa music is a rich repertoire of ancient African Islamic spiritual religious songs and rhythms. Its well preserved heritage combines ritual poetry with traditional music and dancing. The music is performed at 'Lila's', entire communal nights of celebration, dedicated to prayer and healing, guided by the Gnawa M'aalem (master) and his group of musicians and dancers.

Here's a more inside and nuanced, less white-washed view, a quote I found in Traveling Spirit Masters by Deborah Kapchan:

The Gnawa call themselves people of the khla, the hidden part of creation where the genies reign.  They are in fact and in essence marginals playing the game of the strange stranger ( in the double sense that is contained in the Arabic term gharib).  Gatekeepers of a counter world, the Gnawa move in the night and on the limits of the licit.  Marked by a fundamental ambiguity, they are transgressors who can handle blood with impunity and can control the most dangerous of forces.  Embodying a "troubling strangeness," these descendants of black slaves see themselves as invested with the most powerful supernatural powers. (Hell 1999a: 160)

The first series of scenes we filmed in Essaouira concerned a Gnawa music ritual to heal a young girl of about 14.  It was never clear to me what she was being healed from, whether it was something physical, psychological, or something else.  In a way, it's beside the point because the ritual became a powerful healing force for a lot of things.  There were two days shooting Gnawa, much of it with M'allem Mahmoud Ghania and his wife Malika.  The first day saw a preparatory ritual involving the sacrifice of a goat.  The second day was the Lila (lee-la).

Before telling the full story I have to say that the night of the Lila was one of the strongest experiences of both music and magick I've ever had ... by far.  I was given a laptop computer that had an illegal, pirated copy of Pro Tools ( our music recording software) on it that wouldn't work with our hardware. Even after it was uninstalled, the computer wouldn't recognize legitimate Pro Tools software brought from New York.  Coincidentally, we got the program to work with a different PT version shortly after the Gnawa music started.  Immediately, like within 30 seconds after they stopped playing and I saved, the program crashed.  It had worked for exactly the five hours they played, and the hour they warmed up.  I was able to open, verify, and make sure the audio files were all there the next morning.  I thought the laptop would continue to work even though it acted quirky.  The following morning in  Marrakech, Pro Tools wouldn't open.  It never worked again on that computer.  It had functioned only one time, to record the Gnawa music.

My bias should get restated. One primary purpose of magick aims to alleviate and ameliorate death in all its forms.  The way to do that involves simulating death and experiencing it.  This has been illustrated here in past blogs.  This aspect of magick can be called bardo training.  Powerful magick = intense bardo training.  The word bardo comes via Tibetan Buddhism to designate the space personal consciousness enters after death and before rebirth.  The meta-programming level of multiple choice-points.  Powerful music or powerful magick, synonymous at times, can access this space.  Death doesn't have to mean physical death but the training will apply when the time comes.  Psychological death, ego death, personality death all kinds of metaphorical deaths can place awareness front and center in the bardo.  Bardo spaces can get recorded and electronically transmitted, but appreciation of such remains in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Kapchan's quote from the previous post about the value of musical trance:

Possession requires an alchemical reaction, a transmission of subtle and dense matter as two different substances encounter and change each other.

also directly relates to bardo training.

From one of our guiding spirits:

Just as the Old World mariners suddenly glimpsed a round Earth to be circumnavigated and mapped, so awakened pilgrims catch hungry flashes of vast areas beyond Death to be created and discovered and charted, open to anyone ready to take a step into the unknown, a step as drastic and irretrievable as the transition from water to land.  That step is from word into silence.  From Time into Space.

The Pilgrimage to the Western Lands has started, the voyage through the Land of the Dead. Waves of exhilaration sweep the planet, awash in seas of silence.  There is hope and purpose in these faces, and total alertness, for this is the most dangerous of all roads, for every pilgrim must meet and overcome their own death.

- The Western Lands, William S. Burroughs

Dec. 10  Essaouira,  Morocco

The call was early, 7am, a light breakfast was served, hot fried bread pockets similar to Indian chapatis, butter and jam or fresh olive oil. The coffee was strong similar to pugent Turkish or Lebanese coffee.  I had a cup, which I don't normally do and got into this very exhilarated mood as we walked down the narrow streets and corridors of the medina to the bus and the first location.  I looked up, the sky seemed open to anything, vast, clear and expansive like the sky over the desert.  Seagulls periodically crying echoed off the stone walls above the rhythmic murmur of the softly lapping ocean.  No sounds of traffic.  Fragments of conversation:  segments of Star Wars were filmed in Essaouira.  There was a Yoda sighting, someone with the right stature wearing a similar djellaba.  The Force was here.

We walked about 10 minutes to the first location.  More of the crew turns up.  Earlier I had met Adil Abdelwahad, the First Assistant Director who seemed the crew chief, the main organizer.  He had worked on many top productions, the one most known to me being The Last Temptation of Christ with Martin Scorcese.  Later Adil would switch roles and make his acting debut playing a contemporary Boujeloud, the Pan-like deity that that the Master Musicians of Jajouka manifest with their music.

Everything filmed in Essaouira dealt with the Gnawa healing ritual which would culminate with the Lila the next night.  The first scene was going to be Mahmoud and Malika getting driven in a cab to a market about 30 minutes out of town where they would buy a goat for the a prepatory ritual.  In the taxi they would talk about Gnawa music and the healing ceremony.

The shotgun seat of the cab had been removed and replaced with a camera brace holding a very expensive looking camera.  My first audio assignment was to record the couple talking in the back of the taxi while  driving to the market, and I wouldn't even ride in the car.  There was no room, the car could only hold the driver, the two in the back and Eric, the DP, who found a way to crouch behind the camera in the front seat.  I definitely wasn't prepared for this.  I placed the recorder with its built in condenser mics as close as possible without getting it into the frame of the shot, and gaff taped it securely down.  I knew the mics would pick up their voices but didn't know how the signal to noise ratio would turn out, ie how much their voices would be heard over the roar of traffic and the automobile.  Fortunately, the traffic doesn't roar in most of Morocco.  They've got lions for that.

We drove to the market having to stop every 15 minutes for something to do with the camera.  The caravan of cars was modest, only 3.  Besides Adil, the new crew members I noticed were additions to the camera department, two Moroccan women both named Asma.  At the market, they both worked in tandem like a technical Tweedledee and Tweedlebright scurrying about doing god knows what, but looking very professional and efficient.  Later, I found out they shared an apartment in Marrakech.

A memorably ironic moment came for me when we were about to shoot Mahmoud and Malika walking through the market.  Dark-haired Asma asked me with some concern, "How are we going to synch up the sound?"  I just thought, here I am in a field in Morocco doing something I've never done before or even prepared for - in charge of production sound for film - and she's asking me how we will synch sound to picture?  I had a little experience in Mali working on the KSK documentary: Music in Mali though the production there was on a much smaller scale.  They always used a slate even when time code was generating to synch up audio and visual.  With a slate and no time code it's easy to line up the audio snap of the slate with the image of it then maybe joggle it a few frames either way to get perfect synch.  So that's what I told Asma, make sure to slate every scene, old school style. I thought it was a given because they always did it in Mali.  It wasn't.  Part of my job turned into making sure there was a slate, and that it could be heard.

That the first scene filmed was a drive in a car has significant Bardo repercussions. It seems axiomatic, or at least experientially highly consistent, that whenever one is in transit some degree of the Bardo environment gets simulated.  To put it more plainly, whenever you travel, whenever in transit, you can recognize the Bardo more easily.  The Bardo space also goes by "the Transit space," or sometimes just "Transit."  You can get the strong flavor of the Bardo by riding a subway in New York going to the very front or back car and looking out over the tracks.  In the Bardo it often feels like you travel very, very, very fast though that slows down with repeated experience and stronger attention ... though sometimes it gets even faster.  In the Bardo you are here to go.

The first scene filmed occurred in transit.  Going to the market to purchase a goat for a sacrificial offering, the ultimate sacrifice of life, which  happened later in the afternoon.  Death seemed a strong background element this first day of live action.  Later, when listening to the car interview to determine if the voices could be heard over the noise, it definitely felt spooky and otherworldly, like a dream.  The constant deep white noise of the car engine, nearly as loud as the Arabic words, and long pauses of just noise and distant sounds, gave me an image of people speaking or trying to connect through a thick fog.  Listening to it strongly reminded me of doing a Bardo reading for someone difficult, but still possible to reach.  However, as far as I know, not many noise reduction plug-ins exist for the Bardo although I can recall one.

The market bustled with activity. A large farmer's market booming with business.  Livestock being carted around by donkeys -  chickens, sheep, and goats.  I made several passes recording the ambience of the market.  Jay said to make sure to get goat sounds then said he wanted to make a symphony of goat sounds in post-production.  Kind of an interesting idea when you consider that we are here to get a goat who will soon die.  Jay also said to make sure to communicate to Bill, this and other ideas he had.  When I told Bill about the goat symphony, he also thought it interesting.  This later evolved into a symphony of birds, giving a far broader musical scope.  I would get up just before dawn and record them at the break of light when their singing seemed at its peak.  A couple of times Bill gave me specific locations to go where he had already heard them.  The bird music was strongest in Essaouira and Marrakech.

A woman at the market who looked like she might be part of the production offered me some kind of pastry bread out of a plastic bag.  "Try it, it's good, Moroccan home baked."  This was Assistant Art Director Nazik Boukmakh.  The bread was dense and fortifying and had a "goodness" to it that reminded of lembas, the Elvish bread from The Lord of the Rings.  It was delicious too!

While setting up a shot at the market I heard Jay urgently call out to Adam for some hand sanitizer.  Concern for keeping his hands clean in the midst of an intense shoot greatly boosted my respect for our Fearless Director.  In Magick in Theory and Practice, Aleister Crowley starts out his chapter on Banishings and Purifications: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness, and had better come first."   Adam had some hand sanitizer in his pack and gave it to him.

We had lunch at a scenic lookout point on a ridge overlooking Essaouira and combined it with some filming.  I didn't realize it at the time, but the caterers who served us would travel everywhere we went even going by mule to Boujeloud's cave outside of Jajouka. They were part of the production, always dressed impeccably in elegant serving attire.  We became great friends. They made healthy food I could eat.

After lunch setting up began at the M'allem's house for a smaller ritual with the girl to be healed. A prelude to tomorrow's Lila.   As soon as we got there, Mahmoud asked about Bill and said he wanted to see him.  More of the crew joined us at this location to set up lights.  Two large equipment trucks were parked down the street.  A goat and a lamb were tethered outside, both of them about to get imminently slaughtered.  I looked into each of their eyes, one at a time, and had a little talk about the adventure they were about to go on.  A little later I noticed Jay crouched down making direct eye contact with the goat, what some Sufis call 'a confront,' and holding it for a bit of time.

I don't believe the animal slaughters got filmed.  Wiping fresh blood from the recently deceased goat on the girl in question did get recorded.  About 6-8 percussionists were there to accompany Mahmoud, everyone in traditional costume.  They prepared by lighting charcoal in large incense censors then using liberal amounts to cense around their instruments and the area they played in.  Thick plumes of incense smoke rose from the floor and crawled up the walls.  It smelled like frankincense to me, pungent with a crisp high tone.  It didn't fill the room just the area where the musicians sat.

The only people I noticed in the small house were film production people, the musicians, the girl, and Malika who seemed to play a hostess role.  The music started after the subject was anointed by the fresh goat's blood.  Mahmoud began a line on the gimbri, the Gnawa 3 string acoustic bass instrument played like a guitar.  The percussionists soon joined him playing large metal castanets known as qraqabs.  It sounded good and strong in that small space, not too overpowering.  The girl stood before them swaying and moving, letting the music take her somewhere else.  It didn't seem long before she fell back and collapsed, caught by Malika.  After taking care of the girl, Malika took her place in front of the musicians and also let the music possess her or let it open a door for something to possess her.  She too, fell back and was caught by another woman who then attended to her.  I have to say that I did question the authenticity of the spirit possession, especially the second time.  After all, the cameras were rolling.  I looked directly at Malika after she fell back to get a read on her state of mind.  The whole ceremony only seemed to last 30 or 40 minutes. This just marked the beginning of the wind up.  It sounded a "doh," the first note of the octave.

That was the day's filming after they wrapped at Mahmoud's.  At the hotel I received a MacBook Pro laptop computer from Adam via Karim.  If it worked then the portable recording studio I had ordered would be complete.  Adam said, "It already has Pro Tools, you might not need to install it."  I immediately brought it to my room along with the 003 interface (the hardware) to see if it would work.  The Pro Tools program on the laptop did open but wouldn't "talk" to the 003.  It only gave me 4 inputs and outputs, I needed 16.  I uninstalled the Pro Tools that was on the laptop and tried to install the version brought from New York.  That's when I started to run into trouble.

The MacBook was set up for the French language.  Instructions to install the program showed up in French on the computer.  Got as far as I could until reaching a prompt I couldn't understand. So I went into System Preferences to change the language, normally an easy switch, but the selection wouldn't stay on English.  First sign that we weren't in Kansas anymore with this box ( reference from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy enters the Bardo, when she realizes all is not normal).  I brought it downstairs to get some help. No one was around, everyone had gone for dinner.  I went to a restaurant next door and asked if anyone could help.  At this point I hoped the issue just had to do with my lack of French.  Someone at the restaurant said they could help then proceeded to do what I had just tried.  It still wouldn't switch to English.  The restaurant fellow got someone else but they also encountered the same issue.  Saw Adam back at the hotel and told him the situation.  He found a back door solution by de-selecting every language except English.  I could now understand the software installation prompts.

Tried to install Pro Tools in English.  It started ok then reached a point giving a prompt that said it couldn't read the Pro Tools install software.  I cleaned the dvd install disc and tried again. No luck... tried a third time, the same. That morning, in a brilliant move, we'd all been given local cell phones.  I called Adam and told him the problem.  He had the number for Dreamhire in New York so I went to the restaurant they were at to get it.  It was there I met Production Assistant Seloua El Gouni who would soon become the Sound Department's best friend, friendly guide, and most valuable player.  She was young, 22, managed a recording studio when not working on films, and was able to get things done.  It was now 11pm.  I'd been working 16 hours and hadn't eaten since lunch.  Too involved with this issue to care about food, but Seloua insisted I order dinner before the kitchen closed and arranged a meal of delicious fresh pasta that fit my diet.  At least the food was good as my life was ending.

Got voicemail at Dreamhire.  Adam tried and did get through to Paul  Oliveira in Tech Support.  Paul told me that I could use the Pro Tools 9 program that had come with the computer and make it talk to the 003 by installing drivers for it which was on the dvd from Dreamhire.  That sounded easy enough.  He also said that the PT8 program from New York should have worked.  After dinner I tried to reinstall the PT9 that was on the Mac.  The program went along merrily until requesting the authorization code from an iLok.  An iLok is a USB device that allows one to download this code from the internet.  I reached Adam and asked for the iLok.  He said that there probably wasn't one.  He said it was probably an illegal "cracked" copy of the Pro Tools software that had come with the computer.  That turned out to be right.  That's as far as I got that night.  Tomorrow I would try a different computer.

Dec. 11

The details of this day became a blur, one of the most challenging and difficult days ever in my experience.  It started on a good note.  Able to get wi fi in the lobby, I checked my messages.  First email I read in Morocco came from Peter Vandengerghe of  Too Noisy Fish informing me that the record of theirs I'd recorded and produced earlier in the year, Fight  Eat Sleep had been named Jazz Album of the Year for 2013 by a magazine called New York Jazz Record.

The call was little little later this morning, 9 am.  Breakfast the same as yesterday.  We went back to Mahmoud's house and taped some interviews.   That went until almost lunch.  The job then became to find a way to record the Gnawa Lila that evening one way or another.

Tried Adam's MacBook Pro computer, it wouldn't even recognize the dvd install disc.  Got another laptop from one of the Asmas.  It also wouldn't read the disc.  Now, it appeared we'd been given a faulty dvd from Dreamhire, though in hindsight I'm not sure that's true.  Later, I tried burning a cd on Adam's computer and the drive also wouldn't recognize the cd.

Next, we tried Dreamhire hoping they could direct us to a Pro Tools download site, but it was too early in New York.  I didn't know it was possible to download Pro Tools from the internet but it seemed logical that this would be possible.  Adam, Seloua and I went into full crisis mode.  Bill, Jay and Karim were also involved.  At one point Bill came downstairs and said it looked like the Nebuchadnezzar in the lobby, referencing the bridge of the spacecraft in The Matrix film.  People furiously typing on laptops, making phone calls, tweeting on twitter for dear life, jacked into the internet searching for a download site that will save our day.  The Matrix seemed an apt comparison.  It was the humans pitted against the machines, and the machines were winning.  The Nebuchadnezzar, led by Morpheus, took its name from the Biblical character who was a king of Babylon around the time Buddha and Plato walked the Earth and who constructed the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  The Akkadian name, Nabû-kudurri-uṣur, means "O god Nabu, preserve/defend my firstborn son"  O god Nabu give me a Pro Tools program that works.

I didn't see Nabu in the vicinity but we did have Facebook.  People sometimes deride social networking, but in this case it came through and really showed its usefulness.  We couldn't find anywhere to download Pro Tools. Contacted a music store in Marrakech to buy it there.  I don't remember what happened with that, apparently a dead end.   Seloua connected with a friend on Facebook after some back and forth trying to discover a Pro Tools download site.  He was able to find a free download for a Pro Tools 10 trial version.  The demo version would work, I only needed it for very basic recording operations, and it would last for 30 days before expiring.  Our shoot was scheduled for 22.

The internet ran slooow, really....really..., really.......slow.  I found out that if you lose a download, you can reconnect and pick up where it left off.   Bill, Jay, and I devised an alternate recording plan if we couldn't get a Pro Tools system up.  It consisted of recording the two most important tracks onto my small Tascam, and using a Zoom 2 track digital recorder for ambience, along with audio inputs into the C300 camera they had brought for B roll footage, the only camera that recorded sound.

While the download was happening, Bill and I went to the space where the Lila would take place to check it out.  It was just down the way, around a corner from the hotel.  It wasn't a mosque but was considered a sacred space of some kind.  A large room at one end of the main space had been set aside for prayer, we couldn't go in there or put anything in it.  Mahmoud and his sister were there having an animated discussion.  Bill filled me in a little on the background of this highly respected Gnawa music family.  Bill also knew and worked with Mahmoud's younger brother, Mokhtar.

Back at the Command Center Post in the hotel lobby Seloua looked distraught.  She had just received news that newlywed friends of hers had been in a fatal car accident.  I spoke with her and suggested something she could to maybe help them.  Everyone was being put through the wringer today.

After we got the Pro Tools 10 file we found out that we still needed an iLok to download an authorization code.  I didn't think we had one. I hadn't ordered it, hadn't anticipated a need for one.   Avid, the company that makes Pro Tools, is ruthless in the battle against piracy and our computer had been in the company of  pirates.  It didn't seem possible to find an iLok in Essaouira.  It was decided that I would go set up all the mics and everything for a multitrack Pro Tools recording except the computer in case we got the program to work.  A vision of some hope soon arrived when Jay showed up waving an iLock at me saying with much gusto, " Oz, is this an iLok?!"  I couldn't believe this, it was an iLock, but for me it was like finding a key to hidden treasure.  On its own initiative, Dreamhire had provided an iLok with some mixing plug-ins

I continued setting up, it was getting late, close to when the Gnawa musicians would start.  I was given an assistant to work with named Allah.  I believe he was related to Karim.  He had some kind of audio experience and turned out to be a big help. He was accompanied by his beautiful European wife who spoke English.  They worked as a team to help me.  I would tell her what I wanted him to do and she would translate it to him if needed, he knew some English. Without them, I wouldn't have had the mics up and cables run in time.

I had been warned by Bill that the mics would have to be inconspicuous when they filmed but didn't realize that Jay and Eric didn't want to see any mics or mic stands at all.  Not being able to position microphones where I wanted definitely created a challenge.  My favorite and most expensive mic, the AKG C24 stereo tube mic couldn't find a suitable place out of frame.  I was at a bit of loss as to where to put it so that it would at least be in the same room as the musicians when Jay pointed to the ceiling above the stage and said "Why don't you  hang it from there."  I asked," how?"  He said, "tell the grips where you want to put it and they'll rig it."  And  by golly they did, exactly where I wanted it, a stereo overhead for the stage.  Grips are magicians, they can rig anything!

 At the hotel lobby, Adam had taken over trying to get a working program up on the pirate computer. He was in constant communication with Paul Oliveira from Dreamhire in New York who was helping direct this rescue operation.  Karim and Seloua had arranged alternate recording equipment to be driven in from Marrakech, 3 hours away.  It wouldn't arrive until 7:30 pm.  We would probably miss recording some of the performance if that turned out to be the solution.   Adam came back with an authorization code on the iLok. The program opened but wouldn't talk to the 003 interface.  I couldn't get any input signal from the mics.  Phone call to New York.  It's getting very loud in the space filling up with people, festive but serious atmosphere; people playing instruments; hard to hear on the phone. Paul says to load the drivers Dreamhire provided.  We discover an issue with the 003, the host light indicator, which means that it's working, won't come on.  Paul tells us to pop the lid off of it and reseat all the ribbon connectors.  Power it back up, and it works!  However, the drivers install into the laptop but won't work with PT 10.  Paul says we have to download different drivers from the internet.  Adam goes back to the hotel to do this.  

Ever since arriving on set to set-up for the Lila ceremony I had used every resource at my disposal to get through this night with a recording.  I wasn't trying to influence or make anything happen.  I didn't resort to prayers or supernatural supplications of any kind.  After all, it's bad luck to be superstitious.  The energy in this space felt charged beyond belief.  I wasn't riding it, at least not yet, more like trying to keep my head above the water and not get overwhelmed.  I completely focused on the present, not allowing random thoughts, concerns or worries to interfere; relying on habits and instincts to guide me through.  Fortunately, I had developed good habits for crisis management.  It's called bardo training.  Everything I'd ever done in the area of mind and body expansion was to prepare for this moment, it seemed.  It was all on the line.

It was getting very close to shooting the first scene with the Gnawa musicians.  They would start with a procession about a half block away form the entrance to the Lila space.  Mahmoud played a large, low, booming drum with mallets.  There were a few of these drums and the metal percussion clappers typical of Gnawa music.  I would record them with the portable Tascam two track.

M'allem Mahmoud Ghania

It was starting.  The narrow street was packed with musicians and people.  The drumming began.  Loud, powerful, booming, somatically shaking, hammering, rattling, all encompassing, tactile, intimate rhythms enveloped the street.  I followed Adil and Eric as they charged into the crowd figuring that if I was behind the camera then I wouldn't be in the frame.  However, I couldn't keep up.  The chaos of the crowd separated  me from them.  I realized that they planned to go through the procession, turn the camera around and shoot the other way, toward me, in which case I would definitely be in the frame.  I ducked into a recessed doorway out of sight and recorded the procession as it ambulated by.  Then a breakthrough. Something happened. It shifted.  I was on top of it, riding the energy now instead of reacting and getting battered by it. Still no Pro Tools, but at that moment I knew that whatever happened, it would work, we would get a recording, it would be a success.  I broke through to a space I index as 'the song remains the same ' because I grew up on Led Zeppelin and Aleister Crowley.  That feeling never left me.

I followed the musicians into the Lila site.  They continued to play moving about the large room.  After a few minutes Adam came up and said, "It's working,  Pro Tools is up," and indeed it was.  Adam had been on the phone with Paul configuring the new drivers, and I wondered how he could possibly hear anything against the loud Gnawa drumming.  Coincidentally, the rig started working very soon after the Gnawa music began.  Rhythms that rang across the night.  I quickly connected the mics, already in place, and began checking the sound through them.  Miraculously, every line worked.  The group took their positions seating themselves in the stage area. and resumed playing, now with Mahmoud playing the gimbri, the Gnawa bass.  This wasn't the official ceremony yet, more like warming up to it.  It wasn't being filmed, so I used it for a sound check.  They played for about a half hour then broke for dinner.

The equipment from Marrakech arrived about 15 minutes after we got Pro Tools running.  Bill asked if I needed it, and I  said no.  He asked if I was sure, and I said yes confidently.  It was sent back.  Though Pro Tools worked, the laptop still acted strange.  The keyboard keys were positioned in French style, slightly different than American 'qwerty' keyboards but the configuration was American making it so that not all of the keys registered correctly from how they read.  When you hit the "q" key it typed "a."  This added to the chaos factor, but I was able to get around it.

The hardest part about recording live Gnawa music is making sure the gimbri is heard over the rattling percussion.  Mahmou's gimbri didn't have a pick-up but a few minutes before starting his son placed a pick-up on the gimbri, nestling it where the strings attached to the bridge then plugged it into a small amplifier.  I quickly set up a DI, a direct line for it.  Most of the time it sounded great but because it wasn't affixed in any way, just resting between the strings and the bridge, and Mahmoud is a vigorous player, it was prone to getting knocked around.  Every once in a while you'd hear these electronic explosions as the pick-up got hit.  I also had a small clip-on dpa condenser mic normally used to record cellos taped to his gimbri.  A lavalier mic was clipped to his collar to pick-up his singing.  I was surprised by how well it sounded.  Jay loved it too when he heard it a couple of days later in Tangier.

My recording booth was in a recessed alcove in the back part of the main room beside the prayer space.  As everything in the room could potentially get in the frame, it was blocked off by a black curtain.  All the participants were told to ignore that man behind the curtain.  They did, to the point where I had to forage for some food which fortunately proved easy.  I went upstairs where the makeshift kitchen was, made the international sign for 'I am starving' and promptly got served fresh lamb, couscous and bread.  That deliciously filled the void.  I noticed a small room on that floor filled with men smoking kif.  Naturally, for an Islamic event, no alcohol appeared to be around.

After dinner the ceremony began.  For most of the 5 hours they played I sat behind the curtain with the recording controls, glued to my headphones.  On the rare instances they stopped playing I would go to the stage area and reposition mics.  I would also stop the Pro Tools recording whenever I could and SAVE.  You only get audio files after they're saved.  As stated above, the recording program crashed soon after the music stopped.  I backed up, packed up with help from Bill and Seloua, and called it one incredible night.

The next morning I opened up the Gnawa session to make sure I hadn't hallucinated the whole thing.  The computer, our pirate computer, was acting funny but the session opened.  The audio files, however, got scattered to 3 different locations.  Normally they all go in a single Audio Files folder inside the session folder but not this time.  Fortunately, after searching around, all the files were found.  Everything was there.  That was the last time Pro Tools would work on that computer.


Two days ago was the first time I got to my studio to go through, check and index all the audio recorded for the film.  Of course, I checked it as much as I could on the trip but it wasn't often possible to monitor Pro Tools in my room.  I listened to the Gnawa procession, the first music of the Lila, recorded outside on the two track before we knew if Pro Tools was going to function.  To my astonishment, I discovered a low frequency audio anomaly happening at about the moment the procession passed by when I was in a recessed doorway.  Low harmonics from the bass drums start taking off, droning and modulating like a strange, but natural effect. It's not distorted, and could be controlled with compression and filtering.  It sounds like rolling thunder, or a very deep non-human voice.  Maybe Nabu finally did show up?  The more mundane explanation probably has to do with recording in that doorway, basically recording inside a bass trap.

Joe the Dead belongs to a select breed of outlaws known as the NOs, natural outlaws dedicated to breaking the so-called natural laws of the universe foisted upon us by physicists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists, and, above all, the monumental fraud of cause and effect, to be replaced by the more pregnant concept of synchronicity.
 - The Western Lands, William S. Burroughs

To be continued...