Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Financing the Production of Music

How to do it?  Record company budgets for developing new artists are virtually nonexistent compared to 25 years ago before the internet changed the way music reproduction gets monetized.  Prior to that, a certain percentage of profits got fed back into the music making machine. This allowed the process to continue as well as providing funds for new artist development.  The profits from one hugely successful group could finance a whole roster of less commercial, but aesthetically brilliant artists.  That all changed with the advent of free, downloadable music files.  The previous model may have been far from ideal - the nature of Capitalism exploits and dupes the unaware - but at least it sustained an economy of music with enough leeway to finance more adventurous, esoteric, and experimental projects.

We live in challenging times.  There appears far less optimism in the world for a progressively greater humanity now then in the 60's and 70's when it seemed that anything was possible.  Music with the intention of causing change to occur, either in self or in the world, was prevalent back then.  The Grateful Dead passionately sang to Turn On Your Love Light while Led Zeppelin suggested building a Stairway To Heaven in their ode to "becoming-woman" - the first shamanic step away from Maya, Samsara, or World Illusion.  Songs could change your life, and they did.  The right song heard at the the right time becomes extremely potent magick - causes change to occur.  Not so much now in the mainstream where music panders to the lowest common denominator.  Yet, this isn't a call for nostalgia. Outside the mainstream, a diverse sub-culture of talented musicians are able to make music that catalyzes change of all different kinds. The current problem is to adequately supply them with the resources so they can do that.

Many people seek a political solution to world problems, or lament that one appears unlikely.  I stand with Shelley, Nietszche, Deleuze, John Lennon and a host of others (a veritable Communion of Saints, Radicals and Miscreants) in acknowledging that Music, Poetry and the Arts in general can make a significant and affirmative difference in the world. We propose an experiment to test this hypothesis that Music and Magick can make both an immediate and long-term difference in the World.

Last year I was fortunate to meet Sarah Nutting and Karisha Longaker of Ma Muse when  they toured Ancient Wave Studio.  I didn't know of them until then.  I heard Sarah's voice from the other room before I met her and instantly recognized that sound as something very familiar.  Reflexive skepticism inherited from my scientist father instantly dismissed any significance.  After getting the lowdown on Ancient Wave from owner Saul Rayo, they presented the studio with their latest cd, Heart Nouveau.  I saw Ma Muse written on the cover and a light turned on as I finally understood their name.  I told them that I got what they were trying to do with their music, though that may have been more of a prognostication than actually true at that point.  I meant that I get their invocational work.

Sarah is recording a solo album and I'm helping with the production.  A crowd funding campaign has been initiated to finance this project: Wild Belonging: A Song Pilgrimage.  As I write this, there are 30 days left in the campaign with 25% of the goal raised, so far.  The pilgrimage is literal; it's a 3 week, 200 mile walk in Southern California from Mono Lake to Los Angeles, for the general purpose, as I understand it, of healing the environment through prayers and actions in support of Water.


The songs on Wild Belonging connect with the spirit and intent of the Walking Water pilgrimage.

Here's a preview from the new album, a live version of Little Baby:


I first heard about the Walking Water project last fall at a Ma Muse concert in Occidental, California. I drove to the coast basically to see if they were for real or not.  I've worked with bands who display all kinds of occult signs without a clue they're putting their fingers in the socket.  The show started with percussionist Mike Wolfchuck giving a brief talk on the Walking Water movement connecting it to the recent rain bringing relief to the worst drought in recorded California history.  He noted that many efforts were being made by healers, ritualists, and other like-minded spiritual activists (including yours truly) for an abundant economy of water.  Indicating the rain periodically pouring from the sky that night, Wolfchuck pointed out that it seems to be working.

No matter how much success experienced in the past with magic, I still get wonderfully astonished  whenever it works.  The amount of skepticism regarding the efficacy of magic seems inversely proportional to the quantity and quality of experiments made.  Speaking of transcendental empiricism, I experienced an extremely delicate, fragile, vulnerable, and celebratory space, at the Ma Muse concert, a very high feminine chamber as the name suggests.  I thought, if only you could transplant the peace and undercurrent of joy in this space to Iraq, Syria or the whole World.

John Lilly mentions in Center of the Cyclone that his father told him at one point that if he wanted to be a serious scientific researcher, he'd have to learn how to ask for money to fund it.  This crowd funding campaign supports my ongoing research into the Aesthetic Arts and their influence on the general condition.  None of this money raised goes to me, it all goes toward supporting the record production - studio and musician fees, cd production etc., and to covering the expenses for the walking water trek through the desert. 

And for a final proof of concept, I give you this video, Just Fine.  It's a simple folk song remedy for shedding your worries.  For further proof, do a You Tube search for Ma Muse, Calling All Angels at California World Fest 2010.  Anyone in the field will recognize this as powerfully invocational.  I've used it for lift off repeatedly.




Friday, August 5, 2016

An African girl and the North Sea

Exactly a year ago today a young girl, Jessica Phiri on vacation from Zambia, tragically died off the coast of Holland.  My friend, Ruud Houweling, a longtime resident of the resort town where the family was staying, wrote Night Falls On The Town to mark the mood and atmosphere of the the three days that Rescue Crews searched the Sea in vain.  Ruud's story of the song's genesis is here.

We recorded Night Falls On The Town and the other songs that make up Houweling's forthcoming album release, Erasing Mountains, at E-Sound Studio in a suburb of Amsterdam and mixed it at Prairie Sun.  It's an ambitious artistic endeavor that's been successfully realized, we'll go into that another time.  This one song will give a strong clue of the poignant affectivity of this music.

Interestingly enough, just after we mastered the album, shortly after Ruud returned from California, Jessica's family traveled from Zambia to Zandvoort to attempt more explanation and get a sense of closure with her death.  Together with the German family host Jessica had lived with for a year, and a delegation from the student exchange program, Ruud informed the authorities about the song.  They invited him to be a part of a meeting between the mayor and the families. He hoped that sharing the song would show them the accident had an impact on the local community, as well.  Houweling, being a local veteran windsurfer, was also able to explain to the parents the nature of the rip currents on the Dutch coast.  It was a very special meeting resulting in new friendships.

The video does an outstanding job of visually reinforcing the bardo space Night Falls On The Town evokes.  The story contrasts the carefree life of the tourists against tragic death and what goes in between:


Friday, July 15, 2016

Atomic Love Bomb and other Synchronicities

We are in the dog days of summer, I'm active in a Cosmic Trigger online discussion and Coincidence Control is working overtime (over time) on the case.  Cosmic Trigger, for those who may not know, is a richly entertaining classic in the literature of High Intelligence and Alchemical Transformation.  Among its multiplicities, the various avenues of spiritual research author Robert Anton Wilson reported on in the book, is a look at synchronicities, meaningful coincidences - but meaningful for what?  Wilson reports on the '23 enigma,' a phenomena he first heard about from William Burroughs where the number 23 pops up more often then usual and in surprising, unexpected ways. Wilson compared his experience with the 23  enigma to the key for cracking the genetic code of DNA.  This insightful observation suggests paying more attention to coincidences as a form of spiritual guidance.  Cosmic Trigger is perhaps the first, and still one of the only philosophical treatises I know of that valorises synchronicities, but not without much cautious skepticism.  It's also one of the most lucid and rational introductions to the work and mission of Aleister Crowley - to turn the switch ON i.e. illuminate the world.  Not only does it make Crowley's work known, Cosmic Trigger provides key data for penetrating into and practically applying this work such as the enigmatic Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, or, as I call it, the lazy person's approach to finding a spiritual guide.

Went to look at studios yesterday.  When asked how long he'd been in business, the first studio owner replied, "almost exactly 23 years." One meaning of 23 = "a new life," which bodes well for a new project - see the Iggy Pop quote below. As we were meeting the second studio owner, he heard a hawk cry above us and mentioned it in the introductory flow.  Hawks are familiar to me as a symbol of the life force; the will-to-power as the power to create or heal. The hawk-headed God is Horus.  The first time I experimented with invoking Horus was in a hotel room in Zurich.  After the ritual, I turned on the television to find a documentary on Horus in English; synchronicities as affirmations.

Joe Mitch brought his neo-psychedelic, alternative rock band, The Atomic Love Bombs into Ancient Wave a few weeks ago to record their next album.  Up to this second, I thought they were called Atomic Love Bomb thinking one was enough, but plural atomic love bombs couldn't hurt in these troubled times.  As Spinoza put it, passions and feelings directed by reason create affects of active joy that increase our ability and power to act; love under will. "The word blessedness should be reserved for these active joys: they appear to conquer and extend themselves within duration.", (Deleuze, Spinoza, Practical Philosophy p. 51) Love under will means that these affects can get directed. Spinoza's first name, Baruch, means blessed.

Joe was familiar with Cosmic Trigger.  He also had the air of connection with some kind of occult conspiracy though I don't know exactly what.  It could also be my projecting imagination, nevertheless, it cannot be denied that for three days, just before the solstice in June, visionary music of a powerfuly affective nature found its way out of the virtual and into the audio reproduction realm courtesy of the Atomic Love Bombs assemblage.  Guitarist Rich Williamson had a style that reminded me of Gang of Four, Joy Division, and Sisters of Mercy really raising the energy level in thoughtful riffing trance.  I had specific lyrics and song titles to quote, lost those notes.  I do remember the first song suggesting to build a sun machine.  That should give an idea of our shared vision.


 Atomic Love Bomb drummer Mike Brown setting-up

To get a vocal sound I asked singer Courtney Ballardo to sing a verse acapella.  She surprised me with the first verse of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, a song that carries a powerful association with death, for me.  The first time I really heard that song occurred when mixing a cover of it by West African artist Wasis Diop on 1/11/07, the day Robert Anton Wilson died.  I didn't know that until afterwards, yet when mixing the song, I felt a strong sense of sacredness and holiness every time the chorus played; didn't even understand the lyrics in the verses, they were in French.  Not much later, I heard Jeff Buckley's version tastefully used in a death montage scene in the television show West Wing.  The best version of Cohen's Hallelujah, for my money, is the one Courtney sang for Atomic Love Bomb for this new lp.  Segue to an Iggy Pop quote: "A good lp is a Being, it is not a product.  It has a life force, a personality and a history just like you and me.  It can be your friend."  This is what their lp is shaping up to become.

Three days before getting keyed into the memory of Robert Anton Wilson's death through Hallelujah, a post appeared on the RAWIllumination.net blog called RAW's Poignant Goodbye. One week later, a very close friend died. It was expected, but still surprising and very shocking when it happened. Synchronicities can prognosticate though often that can't be seen until after the fact.  I listened to a synchronicity 22 years ago and rushed to a hospital in Canada to spend one last night and a moment in the morning with my father before he transitioned 12 hours later post-surgery.

After one of those horrific school shootings a few years back I wrote a position paper advocating for occult atomic love bombs, in so many words.  It also presents a scientific argument for spooky action at a distance.  I absolutely had to respond at that time, it seemed like emergency conditions.  Looking at the news of the latest tragedy in France coupled with the racial violence in America ( and all the rest of it)  brings up the same necessity to respond.  By "atomic" it means not so much a big explosion, but the supposition that magick occurs on the atomic and subatomic scales.  Magick finds material explanations in some models of quantum physics.  Magick finds verification through experimentation and observation.  Tell someone (verbally, emotionally, thoughtfully, musically, etc. -however you communicate) across the country, or across the ocean or across the room that you love them and you've practiced love under will.  It doesn't have to be a big explosion - to quote Led Zeppelin, "everything that's small has to grow, and it always grows."

I mixed a set for Ma Muse at the World Music Festival today, we went on at 10 am.  One of the songs they did for soundcheck was their song Hallelujah, completely different than Cohen's though equally as poignant and moving.  When they opened their set with a song sounding like a prayer or invocation, I had the sensation that all activity in the fairgrounds, all activity known to me, stopped and was listening silently.  There had been a loud soundcheck happening and lots of chatter immediately prior that all suddenly stopped.

They didn't play this today, but it fits the theme of this post, so I leave you with this:

 







Friday, July 1, 2016

Bernie Worrell

Bernie Worrell could play keyboards like Jack Kerouac could write or Robin Williams could do comedy, it flowed out of him spontaneously and effortlessly.  It was almost always brilliant the first time, first take.I don't remember doing a lot of retakes with him.  He was a master of improvisation, only it didn't seem like improvisation more like tapping into an immanent field of musical choices  he could directly access.  He was a storyteller in song.  This was demonstrated in the many concerts he opened with a 10 - 15 minute tour of the musical universe quoting a range of references from Bach to Cosmic Slop, from Monk to the theme from Ghostbusters, or the current top 40 pop hit.  It always sent you on a journey at the speed of sound, musical affect and the imagination.

Bernie makes a good argument for reincarnation.  He gave his first concert at the age of 4, wrote a piano concerto at 8, and performed with a Symphony Orchestra when he was 10.  These two quotes from an excellent interview by Torsten Schmidt candidly describes Bernie's approach and talent in his own words:


I don't deal with realization. I was born with perfect pitch, so anything I hear I can play. Whatever the gift God gave me, I don't sit and decipher; I just do it. And the way I hear - everyone has a different way of hearing - so the way I hear, I can hear the relationships. I can hear the same scale or mode in a classical piece, you can find the same mode in a gospel hymn. Same mode in a Indian raga, same mode in a Irish ditty, same mode in a Scottish ditty, or whatever you wanna call it. Same mode in Latin music, African. It's all related. It's how you hear it. And then on hearing and recognising, "Oh, yeah. I heard that in a pop song." Same chord progression, you know? Everything is related. I just happen to be able to hear that.

Bernie on his influences:

I didn't look up to them, I was influenced. No one should look up to anybody. What's that mean? OK, Ray Charles, Keith Emerson, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock. Victor Borge, he was this Danish keyboardist who's one of my favorite, my antics on-stage now, where I get a lot of my stuff from, because he'd be a serious classical piece and then fall off the bench. Just stuff. And that's my other way of... I guess... so serious. Have some fun. Put some humor into it. That's what I like to do. I play, ’Nah nah nah nah', in the middle of a classical piece. I'll do it on purpose, just to, "Man, wow, where'd that come from?" Make you think. "Don't be so uptight, we have a song now. If you want things to be alright, stop being so uptight and move on." Part of the uptightness in you, if you don't let it go, you're gonna be... It's like a P-Funk song: "Free your ass and your mind will follow" Breathe

Bernie had a thing for purple, always wearing either a purple scarf, hat, jacket or something else.  I don't know why. He was wearing a purple cowboy hat when a small group of us went to Disneyland in Tokyo. Spike Lee was criticized for wearing a purple outfit to an awards ceremony a day or two after Bernie moved on. The media reported as being a tribute to Prince, but I suspect it was just as much an homage to G. Bernard Worrell Jr.

 Coincidentally enough, today I read a summary of Goethe's color theory and how figure comes into existence:

From Goethe's color theory, then, we can extract a three-tiered genesis of the visible, a passage from an invisible, blinding pure light, through an indistinct halo or atmosphere of black and white to the colors and contours of distinct figures, white darkening into yellow, black into blue, yellow and blue reaching their maximum intensity in purple. 
                                                                         - Ronald Bogue, Deleuze on Literature

Purple is the royal color.  It served as an important signifier in the magick I used to become a better engineer; it corresponds on the King Scale to Mercury, the Roman trickster god of communication and psychopomp to the dead.  Bernie could be a trickster.

 Worrell moves to the organ and plays a long, improvisational sequence that blends big dynamic moments with nursery rhymes and other musical references, ending with snatches of "Let It Be" and "The Wind Cries Mary." Worrell goes back to the couch and sits down / applause
(from Schmidt's interview )
"I communicate better through music and song than I do with words," to paraphrase from the interview.

With his connection to purple and that fact he had quite a lot of genius mojo going on, it hardly surprises me to find him wearing a winged Mercury helmet, flashing the famous Worrell grin.

photo credit unknown
 
Don't know if it was somehow due to this archetypal connection we shared with purple, but he always seemed interested in my extracurricular activities and did what he could to support them.  For instance, there was a day of press interviews while Material was touring Japan.  Bernie asked me to sit with him.  The journalists would start to ask the same predictable questions, whereupon he would say something like, "What I'm really excited about and want to talk about today is my friend Oz's art gallery."  A big chunk of the Bernie Worrell interview would then be about the gallery."  He could care less about self-promotion.  They sent me the magazines when the articles were published.  They were in Japanese, obviously, so I couldn't tell how they segued from Mr. Worrell's music career to his friend's art gallery in Brooklyn.

In the early days of working with Bernie at Platinum Island and Greenpoint I frequently experimented with placing art images around the studio and control room.  At some point I acquired a shoebox full of Alien All-Stars bardo trading cards.  These were laminated, baseball-card sized abstract drawings of aliens by E. J. Gold.  I gave a dozen or so of these to Bernie and later, from a photo, saw that he had placed these around his Hammond B3 at a gig in similar fashion that I did at the mixing desk.

By bardo trading cards, it indicates that the images had one intention of subtly familiarizing the viewer to the intensity consciousness faces after the body and brain permanently die.  In other words, the space Bernie might hang out in right now according to several ancient traditions ranging from Tibet to Egypt to Peru.  Who fucking knows, really?  The point is that Bernie took to this material like a fish to water, not because he needed it - I suspect he was well-prepared for death long before I met him - but from some kind of resonance or recognition.  Out of any musician I've ever worked with, he seems the most equipped to deal with the high stresses and intensities of life without a body and brain.  Still, I do Clear Light bardo runs for him with the PP Orbs.  It's a video game-like environment on a platform hovering in a virtual sky.  Colors serve as important signifiers and mood changers in these orbs.  Got a sense of surprised recognition to observe that the platform that holds the whole thing up is purple.

Bernie seemed like he could cross over between the two worlds with ease.  He would draw out musical ideas, atmospheres, moods, textures, dialogue, etc. from some wholly Other place as easily as flipping a switch.  Though it couldn't be proven, in my opinion, he's the best example of how a life devoted to music and its mastery can alchemize a powerful spiritual being, a force of nature.   

It felt like he might have taken me over to the other side one night in Europe, or perhaps we visited it together? Late at night, after eating, after a gig, a group of us walking to the hotel.  Bernie tells me I can go to the studio to meet Keith Richards when he's recording with him in the near future in NY ( I never made it.)  Somehow, we start talking about UFOs and possible Intelligence from Outer Space, that kind of thing.  I start to tell him something along those lines when I get this realization that he already knows what I'm talking about, I say something like that to him adding: "because you are a Space Brother!"  He just flashes the famous Worrell grin and we both laugh.

Bill Laswell wrote this for him (ingenio ingenium in):



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Do You Have A Car - Riley Pinkerton

It's a statement, not a question, though it appears as a question disguised as a statement.  Do You Have A Car.  Without the defining punctuation of a question mark or exclamation point, it could be either.  The ambiguity in the title of Riley Pinkerton's new five song EP hints at the labyrinthian depths  explored in her songs. I also interpret it to ask/demand of the listener whether they're equipped with the necessary aesthetic vehicle to follow where the music will take you. This offering sounds like pages from a diary of artistic experimentation expanded through the eyes and understanding of an apprentice seer finding her vision; a folk musician ascending, like a young Joni Mitchell, but with her own voice and musical sensibility.  Do You Have A Car became a catch-phrase as part of the events surrounding Riley's decision to become a solo artist and move from Michigan to New York City.  A major change, a big transition, a death from an old life into a new that bore intriguing musical fruit along the way - hauntingly evocative folk songs that reach deep inside exposing the pain and mysteries of life.  She explains further in a short interview I did with her below.  Riley was formerly a member of the DeCamp Sisters whose EP, Quick, Efficient and Deadly, I wrote about here.


 
The songs on DYHAC seem a little deceptive at first because the presentation is sparse yet the songs take on mythic proportions the more you listen, sink into and connect with the archetypal spaces this music accesses.  It's not a bad idea to read the lyrics while listening to get full immersion into the space.  The EP's production is quite different and interesting sounding like it was recorded in Notre Dame Cathedral or some other huge church space.  It creates a dreamy, otherwordly atmosphere that seems appropos of the subject matter.  Sometimes the thick ambience creates a fog for the attentive listener to penetrate and dig in which only adds to the mysterious quality.  I get the feeling of Sherlock Holmes looking for clues in the street on a foggy London evening.  One gets the same sense of forboding, unseen evil lurking in the background in the third song, In His Image.

Go  here. to buy or listen to it.  Head to the website to see the DYHAC lyrics.

The first song, Marina, is one of the best songs about the oceanic depths of Woman I've ever heard.  It also expresses how dangerous that can be if the humans diving into it are unable to swim in those depths.  It's aligned with the doctrine that even well-intentioned male energy is disruptive and destructive in higher (oceanic) spaces - " He had not meant to hurt her. Of this, oh, she was sure." she sings at the end.  The name Marina is brilliant for the protagonist as it conjures both the sea, the female and of something getting marred.  It's a song that both invokes an archetypal, nonhuman space, and warns of the danger of plunging to quickly into it.

The second track, Frankenstein, takes a personal and empathic point of view of one of the more relevant myths of modern times, the creation of the  √úbermensch, the Overman or Beyond-Man as it's been translated. Pinkerton reveals that she isn't simply using Mary Shelley's gothic tale as a jumping off point, but is connecting to the deeper myth in the story with the lyric: "Oh modern Prometheus, Unbreakable, Unbreakable, and better made than me."  Anyone on any kind of transformational path - artistic, spiritual, or what have you, can relate to the personal turbulence and alienation of trying to stay true and change into the ideal being aimed for, whatever that may be.  Pinkerton succinctly expresses these emotions in Frankenstein.

In His Image, is a powerful, defiant song of liberation from pain and oppression, but not without ambiguous feelings.  The title puts a sharp, perhaps critical, twist on the biblical passage, "God made man in his image," though it also points to the identification of the macrocosm (God) with the microcosm (man).  Looked at in this way, in archetypal fashion, the song goes beyond one individual scenario.  It becomes a statement about the current world situation.  It becomes every woman's voice defiantly saying no to the insanity and pain created by Brute World male animal diseases like war, anger, and oppression.

We're All Wild shows us different kinds of wildness from the fine and fair lady in her garden to the worm in the dirt with other wild things in between.  It's told with the lyrical imagery of an adult fairy tale and contains as much useful information as any classic fairy tale or fable. The melody draws you in.

The Queen's Brigade continues in the allegorical fairy tale style of imagery, but with the confrontational edge of a Bob Dylan song from a distinctly female point of the view.  And not just any woman - The Queen - who reminds me in this song of a contemporary form of Edmund Spenser's The Fairy Queene, the epic 16th Century prose poem.that influenced Shakespeare and Crowley among many others, including, on an intuitive level at least, Riley Pinkerton.

These songs are mythic poetic sketches - hierophantic; an education for the heart both pro and con, good and bad. Guides for teaching the spirit coalescing into Essence.  What doesn't kill you makes you stronger especially if you can sing about it.  The connecting thread is Riley's voice.  It's unique, I find it hard to describe - pure, strong and emotive with the intensity of a young Joan Baez, yet different.  Her voice communicates much more than words she's singing.


Riley graciously and candidly answered a few questions I posed about her new EP and future recording plans:

1. What inspired the title Do You Have A Car?

I had a car: The Rat Mobile. A 97’ Honda Accord, which essentially blew up on the side of I-75 in Auburn Hills, MI, a few months before my move to NYC and leading up to my transition into becoming a solo artist. Living where I did in Michigan meant I was borrowing cars and asking for rides regularly up until my move to a city where having a car would end up a major inconvenience. So, the question "Do you have a car?" became a running joke between myself and friends and family. The question mark was then dropped as if to suggest that it was more of a demand than a question, and the phrase ended up being used in social situations with a connotation of "I want to get out of here." Over time it transitioned into the acronym "DYHAC," which appears on the back cover of the CD and is stamped on the CD itself. It felt appropriate to title my debut EP after what had developed into a sort of "catch-phrase" and give a nod to an event that marked the start of a very transitional time in my life.


2. What are some of your musical influences?  Your melodies sound like you might be familiar with traditional Irish or English folk ballads?

My very first musical love was The Beatles; that's what I was raised with and it's the foundation of my influences. I have strong childhood memories of listening to Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Lyle Lovett, and the Squirrel Nut Zippers on a pretty regular rotation with my mother. In my teens I found myself drawn to music by Nick Drake, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beck, Nirvana, and Jeff Buckley. Later on I was introduced to the music of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and then somehow stumbled into a Black Sabbath phase along the way. In regards to your second question: I’ve never felt as though the music I listen to has managed to make itself very influentially apparent within my own songwriting; perhaps I have enough Irish blood in me that it’s filtered out elements of traditional folk ballads in what I listen to and into my melodies. Ha!


3.  You recently moved from Michigan to New York City.  How has that affected your musical direction?

My move from Michigan to New York City coincided with my transition from performing as one half of a duo act to pursuing a solo career, so the move has really been almost a complete redirection. I’ve had to learn to become comfortable with being completely alone on stage and performing my songs in a way that I feel they can stand all on their own, along with writing new material while bearing in mind that it will need to be able to do the same. So far it’s been equal parts liberating and terrifying. It feels wonderfully gratifying to be entirely responsible for my own act, and the transition has definitely caused me to grow as an artist and as a performer quickly to fill in the gap left behind after having become accustomed to having a partner to “share the load,” if you will. I believe, because of my move and because of the caliber of artists that saturate the communities I’ve become acquainted with, I’ve been driven to grow that much faster. I’m learning a lot from the musicians around me, especially in the realm of managing the business side of things. I’m not sure if I would’ve received the same amount of guidance from local musicians if I’d stuck around Michigan, so I feel very fortunate to have been able to relocate to the East Coast and have the experiences I’m having now.


4. My only criticism of Do You Have A Car is that it's too short, I want to hear more.  When can we expect more songs from you?  Can you give us an idea of how the new songs or production might be different?  Conversely, do you foresee any connecting links between Do You Have A Car and your next release?

    Thank you, Oz; that is very kind. I have a considerable amount of new material which I’ve been regularly taking out for a spin at live shows. There’s been a shift in my songwriting concerning subject matter; I went through a phase of focusing almost entirely on writing fictional/metaphorical story-songs. Lately, my writing has shifted into a first-person, more cathartic or emotionally analytical mindframe. As far as recording, I’m aiming to get back into the studio to record my first full-length album this September. The arrangements on Do You Have A Car were extremely minimal and sparse; I plan to work with a band (drums/electric bass/guitar) for my full-length. DYHAC is definitely reverb-heavy and I would like to experiment with different approaches in that regard; I don’t plan on reverb playing a key role in my sound, though I suppose I won’t know for sure until I get there. As far as links between DYHAC and my full-length: while as much as I’d love to go hog-wild with a band, I want to be sure to maintain a sense of intimacy and feature songs recorded as simply and honestly as those on DYHAC. Two of the tracks on DYHAC I was able to record completely live (playing and singing simultaneously), and that’s something I’d like to put into practice as much as physically possible while recording my album.

A further description and additional reviews of DYHAC is here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

By the Book: Folklore by Jack and the Bear

Pulling inspiration for sound from a lucid nightmare also proved to be one of the biggest contributors to the aesthetic of this record. I realize I will always hear the songs a little differently in the sense that I am revisiting once subconscious thought now translated through sound. 
                                                                                                    - Adam Schreiber 

By the Book: Folklore by Jack and the Bear revives the fine art of musical theater to great dramatic effect. - as great and as effective as an ancient Greek tragedy or a David Lynch film.  A vision presented of a dark dystopia in a not so distant industrial future.  The story is set in 2076 with the events leading up to it appearing eerily prescient to one potential future in our (so-called) real world considering that President Trump quite possibly looms on the horizon. (Just today I spoke to an intelligent educated older California lady trumpeting Trump - scary!!) This is a concept album, a concept that directly confronts the ills of Corporate State sanctioned modern civilization, brainwashing and Control; programming the robots. The whole story behind the album is told in great detail here where you can also stream the album.

This excerpt from the Prologue rings a little to close to home for my comfort, but perhaps that's the point of this darkly evocative Music Theater - to serve as an Early Warning System: Humans of Planet Earth get Your Shit Together And Start Treating Each Other Right.  Systems of Industrial Control proceed to a Dead End.  The dangers of complacently clinging to outdated tradition out of fear for change. I know it sounds an awful lot like the Republican Party yet the message seems to go far beyond a strictly political interpretation.  The horror of the situation can be felt in the music.

Not long after the turn of the millennium, a self-inflicted apocalypse of sorts takes place due to human activity, tradition and corporate gluttony. Corrupted political rule led to World War III; nukes were launched, governments were demolished, traditional (by the book) economics were failing more than ever before, but that didn't stop people from practicing tradition, after all, it's what they were taught.
After roughly twenty years of warfare, a select group of "self-elected, self-praising, privileged business enthusiasts took it upon themselves to plot and start a new civilization.

  


Jack and the Bear describe this music as Industrial Folk with a "Dark Disney" vibe to it.  They say it's inspired by Grimm's Fairy Tales, Aesop's Fables, musical theater, and the industrial landscape they found in their immediate environment.  I would describe it as resonant with a particular style of Music Theater - Bertolt Brecht as filtered through the sonic and storytelling sensibilities of Tom Waits ... and then some.  The visual imagery is so strong that I pick-up more cinema references than I do musical ones.  The music is like a really, really good film soundtrack.  Not only should this receive a fully staged theatrical production, preferably before the next election (in my dreams), but someone could quite easily make a provocative and compelling film based on this dramatic music.  The opening song, Greed's Theme Part 1, makes me think of the 99% vs 1% sloganeering of Bernie Saunders and the Occupy Movement.  The music has the atmosphere of an ominous Orwellian march of workers bound to industrial slavery as shown in the 1984 commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh computer.  Other films that come to mind include Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Terry Gilliam's Brazil and the film version of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Here's one video interpretation, a tragic love song called Smokestacks that might be a play on words as Smoke is also the name of a female character in this saga:



This sound of this production is spacious with vast rooms of depth to get immersed into.  It makes for easy induction into their self-described lucid nightmare.  Maybe they should call upon Tim Burton to direct the By the Book film? The sonic environment is always interesting especially with the connecting link of industrial machinery stomping, clanking, and letting off sharp whistling blasts of steam in the background.  

Jack and the Bear

The process of how this Art came into existence is fascinating.  I asked one of the writers in Jack, Brandon James, about this:

We began writing the first few songs in North Carolina (while visiting family), and ended up with about 10 - 15 brand new song ideas within about a week (this is unusual for me, as I normally take about a month per song idea before I find any desire of possible revealing it to the world.) After returning home, I found myself in the best writing state I've ever experienced. To make a long story short, I wrote close to fifty songs within the span of a month and a half. Adam and I whittled it down to the best twenty tracks, as we began to brainstorm a story. How it became a futuristic warning on industrial greed, I'm not really sure how to explain in a concise manner. But I will say Adam and I became very aware of our industrial surroundings, living south of downriver, across from a looming pair of smokestacks kind of shaped my mind to create the futuristic industrial folklore story we ended up with. Having our recording setup right next I-75, what would usually be a nuisance, ended up really working to our advantage, because if any industrial sounding noise found its way into our recordings, we found it only assisted with bringing our story to life more and more

As complex as the album’s sound turned out to be, I felt more at ease, or rather a more “natural” experience while writing the story/lyrics. Dealing with many different forms of corruption, each song deals with its own corporate woe - “Don’t Look Down” for example deals with the disenchanting world of factory farming. Being “quiet” vegetarians for a little of a year now, I based the lyrics off a dream of Adam’s that was so vivid, it actually turned him away from eating meat in the first place. The song really came together with the company of Chloe Feoranzo (mostly noted for her work with Pokey Lafarge) – I remember sending her “All the World is Green” by Tom Waits as a reference.  

I asked producer/engineer Adam Schreiber if their environment played any part in the sound:

Yes, I would say the house where the rehearsals, tracking, mixing and mastering took place had a very large influence on the sound of the record. We couldn’t seem to do a take in this house without getting some type of industrial ambiance bleed over or wind or crows in the microphones. We ended up making our own factory inspired sounds to help emphasize and embrace our surroundings. For example, I ended up flipping over a 1920’s Leedy bass drum on its side and patched it to an LA-610 to a Pro Co Rat pedal to a short verb chamber to a UAD Rev A 1176 fixed at a high ratio to achieve the pulsing “Machine” sounds. 

I asked Adam about his vocal processing. The narrator goes through a variety of characters and situations each with a distinctive sound. He was quite candid:

 It was a lot of subtle gain staging of harmonic distortion from multiple units that all added up to create the final sound. Most of the more unconventional vocal sounds were achieved with a 3 microphone set up, a stereo room pair of 1970’s SM81’s running through the UAD Neve 1073 modules just on the verge of break up placed in a hallway plus either an Sm7b or Neumann TLM-49 as the primary vocal mic running through a 610 pre in a high gain stage, all lightly hitting the UAD ATR-102. For any further exaggeration, I would re-amp the vocals through a toilet bowl “Reflection chamber” with a pa speaker and a vintage EV RE16 patched into Sansamp and parallel processed the signals to taste. There were also a few instances where I re-amped or even doubled the vocal outside, recording the signal with my Zoom h6 to capture from different perspectives at multiple locations. For Example, the intro of “From Below” was recorded at a bird sanctuary in Danville, KY and “A Man Lost” bridge double was recorded at a very reflective swamp in Awendaw, SC with a Mid-Side binaural capsule.

Brandon told me what they learned making this album:

I think as a band, we finally learned the proper way to make an album (as far as doing everything ourselves) – As a writer, I found my niche with basing everything off a strong concept I feel connected with. Aside from writing, I also experimented with playing a lot of instruments outside of my comfort zone such as accordion, melodica, tenor saxophone and upright bass as well as arranging choir parts. 

 The other musicians in Jack and the Bear, Christina Nielsen and Evan Close contributed their own parts. The guest musicians in what came to be known as the Industrial Ensemble were also encouraged to improvise their parts. They get credited on Jack's bandcamp page linked to above.

I recorded their first album and wrote about it here.

Facebook Page with booking and press contact info; and their website.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Cross Sections - Libby DeCamp

Fans of the music of Tom Waits will love this album.  Musically stark and often dark,  it recounts a broad range of the often painful vicissitudes of life in a variety of characters and situations.  Yet some unspeakable quality in Libby DeCamp's vocal delivery, the affects produced by the sound of her voice, invariably hints at redemption of some kind, if only by telling the tale, immortalizing the tragedy, immortalizing humanity with all its flaws, thus affirming life. 

Mavis Staples speaking of a young Bob Dylan wonders how anyone that young could speak with such authority and experience about subjects beyond his years.  Libby DeCamp has a similar quality of wordly wisdom in her voice and an ability to assume characters far outside her lived experience.  She makes them and their stories real: the rise and fall of the ghetto sage in Seattle; the farmer in Put The Kettle On; the Old Witch in a twisted adult Nursery Tale; Elroy, the failed hero; the outlaw in Black Suit Man - perhaps a speakeasy operator, singing to his  nemesis, Mr. Hoover likely J. Edgar, but could also apply to Herbert.  The lyrics throughout contain much rich, suggestive imagery; poetic, sometimes whimsical and offbeat, a mixture of ironic comedy and profound tragedy without being the least bit cynical or nihilistic.  The authentic, weathered flavor of the music for each song provides the atmosphere and movement to draw the listener in to the intimacy of the stories - the delicate fragile scarred emotions of fractured, unfulfilled lives  - lives that get some measure of glory and validity by having their stories told.   Cross Sections - slices of life and death from odd, different and unusual angles; cross sections exposing the depths of the ancient American underbelly.


 You can get it HERE

This is a warm and clear production with lots of spatial depth courtesy of Adam Schreiber who also provided drums and percussion.  His brother, Brandon James, anchored the Upright Bass.  They're both from the Michigan based band Jack and the Bear whose new release, By the Book, I'll be writing about fairly soon.  I wrote about the album I recorded with them here.

The warm sound and seductive grooves of Cross Sections makes you want to listen, it draws the attention in.  Musically you could loosely describe this as folk blues aesthetically related a bit in sound and mood to the Tom Waits Mule Variations era.  DeCamp calls this music "Broken Folk."  The second track, Seattle, recalls the production values of the T. Bone Burnett produced Raising Sand by Alison Krause and Robert Plant.  The starkness of the sixth track, Charlie, just a very close vocal and pump organ telling the old drifter's story, carries the same sense of desolate emptiness as Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska.

Adam Schrieber & Libby DeCamp

DeCamp's ability as an artist to absorb and express a wide range of diverse influences, to convincingly invoke the struggles of the human condition, invites comparison to other epic works of art with similar aims.  Fanciful or not, I couldn't help but noticing the opening lyrics of Elroy, the first song on Cross Sections has the character say: " I could have crossed the river deep..." which suggests to the literary mind the "riverrun.." that begins James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.  Both use the river as a metaphor for life; cross sections from the river of life.

Related to this album - A concept I've been struggling to understand the past few months, comes from Deleuze in Nietzsche and Philosophy: "The tragic is the aesthetic form of joy, not a medical phrase or a moral solution to pain, fear or pity."  While I'm still not to the point of being able to explain that further, listening to Cross Sections will impart an experiential feeling for that idea.  DeCamp's sings against a plaintive, sometimes slow, bano-picking, blues-based musical environment that underscores the tragic elements, but also moves and emotionally communicates an aesthetic form of joy.  In Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche illustrates the importance of tragedy in making relevant art.  He signifies the wild, instinctual, chaotic depths of artistic creation after the Greek god, Dionysus.  Good music, real music makes known this Dionysian current. Under the heading The Essence of the Tragic, ibid., Deleuze writes: " Dionysus affirms all that appears, 'even the most bitter suffering,' and appears in all that is affirmed.  Multiple and pluralist affirmation - that is the essence of the tragic.  This will become clearer if we consider the difficulties of making everything an object of affirmation. ... When anguish and disgust appear in Nietzsche it is always at this point: can everything become an object of affirmation, that is to say of joy?"  I submit that the music of Cross Sections fulfills this function magnificently with elegance and soul.  Paradoxical as it may sound, it brings joy to listen to these tragic tales; the proactive listener, moved by this music to affirm life, plays just as much of a redemptive role as the singer and musicians. Listening to and connecting with Cross Sections brings clandestine joy into the world in the form of tragedy redeemed and immortalized.

DeCamp and her choice weapon of affirmation


I've said very little about DeCamp's writing influences and musical history.  Her Facebook page reveals it most eloquently:

Out from the quiet orchards of Romeo, Michigan, Libby DeCamp has spent an adolescence in close companionship with bodies of music and literature, among hinterlands of horses and history. Driven by a will to connect on a raw, human level and stir to compassionate action, she has been writing and playing songs since her early teens under several different outfits, namely Michigan folk duo, "The DeCamp Sisters." After its dissolve in spring of 2015, she has harnessed experience and verve into a new sound to be shared.

Honeyed vocals ride atop of primarily banjo-crafted ballads, chanties, toe-tappers, and blues propelled by unconventional percussion and accent instruments. Steeped in the rich cuttings of American roots music and sprigs of inspiration from the curiosities of man and nature, Libby delivers a heartfelt and engaging live performance with a passionate, playful relevance to causes both near and dear, and dusty bygones. Dabbling in an array of genres, the soundscape is captivating; innocently dark and best described as “Broken Folk.”


Libby posted all the lyrics to Cross Sections on her website. Enjoy!