Saturday, June 27, 2015

Learning to Mix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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










Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman

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

Ornette Coleman
 photo by  AP/Harry Cabluck

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

John Coltrane on Ornette Coleman:

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

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

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

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

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


painting by Massimo Chioccia and Olga Tsarkova

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

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

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

Some earlier blog posts about Ornette Coleman:

Ornette and Synergetics

Harmolodics: Meeting Ornette Coleman 

Recording Ornette Coleman 



Artwork by Elisabeth Atnafu




  





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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

HuDost Sufi Kirtan

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


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

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

This is what HuDost says about Sufi Kirtan:

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

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


Enjoy!



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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Transition from Assistant to First Engineer

Here is a first draft excerpt from my forthcoming book, Music, Magick and the Game of Life:

In the late '80s, the next step for a successful staff engineer at a commercial New York recording studio was to become a freelance engineer.  To accomplish this one needed a regular clientele. I began engineering low budget sessions at Platinum Island  within a month or two of bring hired as an assistant.  Ironically, the first project they turned me loose on involved a therapist who made tapes intended to reprogram the victim's (patient's) habits in a floatation tank through binaural cross-synchronization.  He would tell two stories that were hard panned left and right to the extreme sides of the stereo field.  Now and then a word from the left  story would subliminally connect with a word from the story on the right imparting subconscious messages like "DON'T DRINK" or whatever subject was being covered, there were a number of them.  The subject's deep relaxation in the floatation tank would help the message sink in that much better.  It was ironic for two reasons - I had heard of floating, but hadn't tried it, yet within a year I would have a tank at home and become an enthusiastic long time user.  The second irony was that the therapist seemed in urgent need of his own techniques.   An Otari 8 track recorder with dbx noise reduction was rolled in the control room, a poor cousin to the majestic Studer A80 24 track recorder that normally assumed the duties. 

The New York studio training system was highly disciplined and rigorous;  a great apprenticeship.  I didn't realize how disciplined it was until I started working in studios outside of the City.  An assistant engineer in a state-of -the-art recording facility in New York is expected to be fully aware of what's going on at all times down to the smallest detail - how many tracks are open, is the recording level good, does it sound good, at what number does the second chorus start at etc. etc. etc. to such a degree that if the main engineer were to suddenly drop dead, the assistant would be able to jump into their shoes and seamlessly continue.  The assistant engineer knows the room inside and out, knows which gear is a little funky or which hidden audio weapons sound great and isn't reluctant to suggest them when appropriate.   She is the liaison between the client and the studio.  Assistants make the studio work allowing the engineer, producer and musicians to maximize their creativity.  Assistant engineers started getting credited as second engineers because that's what they did, a second engineer on the session backing up the main engineer, always observing and looking out for mistakes or oversights while also making sure the musicians and producers are comfortable and have what they need.  Assistant/second engineers are invaluable to the process of making a record.

As mentioned, I began assuming the first engineer post from time to time almost as soon as getting hired on staff at Platinum Island.   Not only with the low budget projects which were fairly steady, but also in the higher profile sessions I assisted on.  Engineering background vocals for the Meat Loaf Live at Wembley record while producer/engineer Tom Edmonds took leave of the board and produced; engineered all the vocals for Information Society's self-titled release which had a couple of tracks that cracked the top 5 on the Pop Charts and went platinum.  A lot of engineering work came through from having done that including mixing a song for Information Society used in the film Earth Girls Are Easy.



At a certain point I began experimenting in the recording studio with approaches and techniques that would distinguish my engineering from every other competent engineer out there.  I bought a used 1500 watt tri-amped P.A. which I used to reamp sounds in the live room.  This was the era of drum machines, triggered drum samples and  sequenced synthesizer patterns.  The P.A. helped give those sounds some non-linear character.  I usually miced the room the reamp was in with a cardiod condenser pair aimed at the corners of the room focused 180 degrees away from the P.A. to minimize the direct sound.  Once I did mic the P.A. fairly close with a Neumann FET 47 when Bill Laswell was doing a fretless bass overdub for Anton Fier on a Golden Palominos record.  Bill played in the control room going direct into the board with the P.A. functioning as a huge amp for the sound.  It sounded good and worked out well.

Another series of experiments involved using visual images and graphics in the control room to influence the listening aesthetic in a creative way.  John Lilly documents his audio/visual repeating word tape loop experiments in The Center of the Cyclone with the verified conclusion that what you see affects how you hear.  I wrote an article for TapeOp magazine, later reproduced in their book, Visual Images in the Recording Studio  that covers some of my research in this area.  Bill encouraged this and was open to whatever I wished to try so I got permission to take it as far as possible by covering up every possible inch of wall space in the control room for a Bootsy Collins overdub session.  I arrived three hours early to set it up and used Tibetan mandelas, art pictures by Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, psychedelic images, graphics from an illustrated Egyptian Book of the Dead and all kinds of other esoteric and fine art pictures.  It ended up feeling very intense in there, almost uncomfortably so.  You could feel the walls pulsating with light and image producing a natural high, a waking state. I was concerned that I'd gone too far, but the session went quickly and smoothly. Bootsy and Bill didn't seem to mind.

Effective invocational recording depends upon setting up a space.  Invocation, that aspect of magick concerned with "drawing down from above," in this case music, is a science that has much to offer the creative artist. You could just as easily say that good creative recording depends upon setting up a space.  The first thing we learn in ritual magick is to draw a circle which divides the Universe into the area of our working and everything outside of it.  Anything not concerned with our objective aim gets banished outside the circle.  Similarly, we conceptually draw a circle demarcating the recording studio environment and banish anything not useful to the endeavor including any concerns, worries, or emotional issues about mundane life problems.  We want to be fully present in the space, fully receptive to whatever might come through.

We learn from J.G. Frazer's research of primitive folklore in The Golden Bough that there appear two basic laws of magic, the Law of Similarity and the Law of Contagion.  The Law of Similarity, resonance magic, operates under the principle of like attracts like.  Or as E.J. Gold puts it, the model of a thing becomes the thing itself.  A space consecrated to ritual or explicitly dedicated to an intentional music session can be called a chamber.  We set up a space in the recording studio that appears resonant with the musical aim or resonant with a chamber where all musical possibility exists.  This can get done materially (artworks, figurines, statues, incense, lighting etc anything that creates a particular mood), astrally (through visualized imagination) or both.  The chamber where all musical possibility exists is also known as 'the crossroads' as in the Robert Johnson legend where he suddenly acquired mastery of the blues.  The crossroads legend also got attached to Bob Dylan as, according to peers, he went from being an amateurish wannabe to a talented, charismatic performer within a few months.  You can tell in any interview where he talks about his early songwriting process or his own writings that Dylan appeared directly wired to the crossroads chamber, able at any time to access a rich flow of musical content and expression.

Every once in awhile we get tangible evidence that the resonance of the space set up in the studio influences the physical world.  I was fortunate to assist for a week on overdubs for the first Danzig album produced by Rick Rubin which I've been told is a classic by aficionados.  They brought in some occult paraphenalia, I don't remember exactly what, but typical of what many heavy metal/hard rock bands incorporate in their graphics.  They also set all the digital readouts, mostly digital delays, to read 666.  One night I wore a T-shirt adorned with a large upright pentagram and they told me it was upside down so I think they were going for the darker side of occult iconography.  That was the extent to which they set the space, there wasn't any other visible reference to the occult or ritual other than making music.  The space didn't feel particular sinister to me though it did create a unique mood.  The music was great and everything flowed well.  I engineered a session the day after Danzig left.  Everything was going well, I'd just finished recording a couple of tracks with multiple drop-ins along the way when the logic circuit of the multitrack remote freaked out, automatically rewound the tape to the beginning then started playing, going into record and erasing the two tracks we'd just finished.  Fortunately, I was right there and caught it before any damage was done.  The remote was powered down which reset it making it fine again.  That never happened to me before or since so I've always been tempted to attribute the logic freakout to leftover reverberations from the Danzig chamber.

One of the most powerful shamanistic recording sessions I've engineered, Yothu Yindi in Sydney, Australia was also one of the more elaborately created chambers I've experienced in a recording studio.  The indigenous Australians (they consider the term "Aborigines" insulting) brought in a lot of relics, banners, and traditional instruments from their 40,000 year-old culture transforming the Control Room and the live space into a different world.  After 10 - 12 hour sessions I felt completely altered and naturally high like after an extended floatation tank session. They didn't have to be told to set up a space, they were experienced shamans and knew that is what you do to tap into the magic, to go to the crossroads. Read this for more details, continued here.

One attribute that set me apart as an engineer was that I knew how to set up an invocational space.  Another overall approach to becoming a better engineer consisted of fine tuning my brain and nervous system as much as possible for maximum alertness, attention, presence and focus in the studio environment.  To this end, I practiced a lot of yoga and did other exercises to increase the concentration of my attention.  I experimented with diet though didn't get consistently disciplined with this until later on.  Things changed dramatically after purchasing a used floatation tank from my friend, Sam Zeiger.  I would float in it everyday for about an hour before a session and get out with  sharpened perceptions, able to process information rapidly and clearly; High Velocity.   The recording studio is a high energy environment even if it doesn't always appear that way.  Every electrical circuit generates a magnetic field at right angles to the electric flow and those fields impinge upon the electromagnetic field that surrounds the human biological machine which has always been regarded by me as the most complex piece of equipment in the recording studio.

Staying at the top of your game, being as present as possible in the studio because that's what the job demanded meant that your brain was thinking ahead, anticipating what might be needed next, allowing the flow to go as quickly and smoothly as possible; staying out of the way.  Working fast and efficiently is a big plus to clients who are paying anywhere from $1,000 - $2,000 a day just for the room.  It's also a big plus to musicians to not get slowed down by technical considerations once they've turned on their creative tap.  I remember taking over engineering duties to record horns with Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker for  the Bootsy's Rubber Band album Jungle Bass.  Everyone was waiting while I set up the song.  I put on a pair of "cans" (headphones) and dialed up a headphone mix on the fly taking a second to balance each track, getting it ready in less than a minute.  I noticed that Nicky Skopelitis saw the speed it took to get a good balance and pointed it out to Bill Laswell.  Previous years of mixing live sound certainly helped there. 

Going freelance is scary.  I recall my friend Knut Bohn's trepidation at the prospect.  At the time, Knut worked mostly as Nile Rodger's engineer.  It was a prestigious and steady gig, but he was wanting to move on.  We had met at the Institute of Audio Research, the recording wing of NYU.  Knut dropped out after the first quarter and got an internship at Skyline, a major studio then.  I completed the full year of school then moved back to Canada for a couple of years trying, and mostly failing to get studio jobs.  One night I got booked to assist a session for Arto Lindsay's group Ambitious Lovers when in waltzes Knut, the engineer I was to assist.  He was moonlighting from his Niles gig to fill in for another engineer.  At that moment it seemed that one of us had made the wiser career move.  We had a good time reconnecting on breaks.  Knut graciously invited me to visit him at Skyline where he showed me the new Sony digital multitrack they had with programmable punch in/punch out features and introduced me to his boss.  At Skyline we talked about working freelance which we both seemed to view as jumping off a cliff.

I'd had some previous experience with the anxiety of working independently, going off the fix of a guaranteed steady income, when moving back to Canada after recording school.  This was 1985 and I was seriously researching Buckminster Fuller and magick and keeping up a regular yoga practice.  To help get my engineer career going I made a 10 day retirement where I didn't leave my apartment spending the time studying Synergetics and practicing magick focusing on an invocation of Mercury as an archetype of communication.  It was at that time that I wrote the High Velocity Sound Engineering Manifesto where I defined my direction with the first paragraph:

"The essential aim of High Velocity Sound Engineering is clear aesthetic communication.  The information is communicated through the form of music.  Music is taken to be a high order language containing the possibility of evolutionary change.

The idea to name this operation High Velocity came from Dr. Tim Leary's book, The Game of Life.

I understood very little of Syngertics, the little I did seemed valuable.  Reading it definitely put me into a different kind of receptive space quite different from what I was used to.  At night, there were wild geometrical interdimensional chambers in my dreams of a totally alien kind.  I didn't have any noticeable epiphany or tremendous realization with the Mercury workings though only a couple of months later Terry Tompkins enlisted me to record his band The Now Feeling, my first time multitrack engineering an album in a professional studio.  It was recorded on an 80 series Neve console at the Columbia School of Recording in Calgary, Alberta.  The sessions went great even though I was moonlighting from my live sound gig at night and was getting a little stretched thin; burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.  The Neve board sounded amazing.  The people who ran the place, Mark Goodman and Lanny were mostly helpful and friendly guides though Lanny started scaring me with warnings about recording the cymbals too loud that would make the record skip.  I was dubious of this advice but didn't really know so I called Bernie Grundman Mastering down in LA to get their advice.  Bernie himself answered assuring me saying, "hell no, we can take care of it, we get tapes in here to master where the VU meters are pinned and don't even move.  Be reasonable with your levels and you won't have a problem." 

One night in a movie theatre, distracted by paranoid thoughts regarding the uncertainty of income, I flashed back to Buckminster Fuller's story of going independent and how he dedicated himself completely to working for what he called Scenario Universe.  He anticipated an effect of precession to support himself and family with their basic needs.  By precession he meant a scientific term for a "side effect." though that's a simplification.  Basically, he felt that by working for Scenario Universe with great integrity, that Scenario Universe would indirectly provide ways and means to support him and his family.  Fuller lived in poverty for a few years but eventually became a millionaire without ever directly trying to make money.  This memory eased my worried mind.  I felt encouraged and empowered.  If I worked for Music always with the greatest possible integrity then my basic needs would indirectly get taken care of.  So far, I've been right, knock on wood.

A new student of sound recording recently asked me for one piece of career advice. I told him to try to find some idealistic reason or higher purpose for choosing this line of work beyond looking to get rich and/or famous.  There's a lot of hard work and long hours ahead so it seems helpful to find enjoyment and reward from the process rather than waiting for a superficial goal that may or may not ever happen.  It could be as simple as you just love music and want to see more of it of better quality in the world.

Serving in the citadel of Music has turned out well for me.  Though unprovable, I suspect the wide diversity and tremendous amount of incredible music and musicians I've been exposed to results from adhering to the vision of the power of music over industry politics and the lust for success and recognition.  One turning point to this direction occurred in the early '90's.  Bernard Fowler asked Bill Laswell to recommend a mix engineer for an album he was co-writing and co-producing with Ron Wood for his fifth solo album, Slide On This.  Bill asked me if I wanted to be considered for this project.  The scheduling of it meant that I would miss working on another project that Ornette Coleman was producing.  I had only met Ornette, never worked with him.  The Ron Wood project would have been much higher profile if I'd been chosen but it had been an ambition of mine to engineer Ornette Coleman since I heard him say in a film that he wanted to make music like Bucky Fuller's synergetic geometry.  Jason Corsaro got the Ron Wood gig and did an excellent job, far better  than I would have been able to pull off at that time.  I got to hear some of it in Howie Weinberg's mastering suite at Masterdisk and it sounded huge.

to be continued...





Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Prairie Sun Interview

What follows is an interview I recently gave for the Prairie Sun newsletter.  The photo is by John Baccigaluppi and the graphic courtesy of TapeOp magazine.  The interview was conducted and assembled by Andrew Mastroni for Prairie Sun Recording.

Oz Fritz Tone Master and Spiritual Pilgrim

Prairie Sun has been reading Oz's blog and realized that one of our regular engineers has unusual reasons for working with music compared to most in the industry. Oz attributes to music the power to heal on a large scale and instigate significant changes in the world.  Fritz believes that every artist who has something to say changes the world to some degree. Here is how Oz ended up beginning his relationship with Prairie Sun:



"Tom Waits called me up, introduced himself and said that he needed an engineer for his next record.  I believe this was in  the spring of 1998.  He told me to meet him at Prairie Sun for an interview.  I hadn't heard of it before.  I got there before Tom and met Mooka for the first time who showed me around.  I remember Mooka mentioning that Waits' last record, done at Prairie Sun, had won a Grammy.  I thought to myself, 'great, no pressure here...' and silently laughed."



Oz's credit list is very impressive and his full discography can not be viewed here. To name a few noteworthy credits, he has worked with Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, The Ramones, Meat Loaf, Paris ComboGinger Baker, Bob Marley, Bill Laswell, Primus, Nataly Dawn, Oysterhead, Tom WaitsRupa & the April Fishes, Iggy Pop, John Hammond JR., Praxis / Buckethead, Kanaga System Krush. Some noteworthy artists Oz has worked with at Prairie Sun include Nataly Dawn, Tom Waits, Primus, Eric McFadden, Mike Sopko, Thomas Pridgen, KSK, BABX, and Too Noisy FishWe always knew Oz was a tone master, but didn't realize the regard he holds for music as a powerful humanistic and spiritual force to affect change in the world.
How does spirituality and your world views play into your approach to a project and more specifically a mix?


"Besides organizing all the technical requirements for a session, I will set up a space in the studio that resonates with the mood of the music's spirit to be recorded or mixed.  Music has its own spirit, its own particular mood that you feel when its really working.  It's alive in a nonhuman way.  I view the recording studio as a special kind of chamber or a 'landing pad' for the descent of this spirit into a musical expression.  The same holds true for a mix, you set up a space in the control room that resonates with something higher, the life force of the music.  This invocational approach is known as sympathetic magic.  The music is viewed as sacred.  The recording or mixing session is a special case ritual designed to translate the virtual musical vision of the artist into the material actuality of a reproducible musical form." 

Over the years we have noticed you request when possible for the artist to provide some visual art for you to reference while you mix we would like to know how this method affects the production. 

"It contributes to the mood of the space and affects the aesthetics of hearing.  It's been demonstrated that what you see affects how you hear so I offer artists the chance to customize the space of the studio environment making it conducive to their musical vision with art, artifacts or whatever.  One artist took my suggestion to the extreme and brought in a bedraggled chicken in a cage that looked like it had been wrung through an old fashioned washing machine.." 

Do you find that your approach is compatible with all artists and genres or does it best suit certain people or styles of music?

"It's compatible with all genres of music, but not necessarily all artists, I've found out.  My aim is the effective translation of the artist's vision as opposed to putting any kind of signature stylistic stamp on a production.  As a result my approach is compatible with almost all artists.  I once worked with a group of people with fundamentalist beliefs who kept complaining about a previous producer they had worked with.  I told them that incense could be used to banish all past influence from a space.  The next morning they let me know my approach was incompatible with theirs so I voluntarily left the project on good terms.  Later, they hired me to do some overdubs and mixing."

Why do you choose to mix some projects in studio B as apposed to studio A? We have noticed you choose to mix some projects on the Neve with flying faders in studio B as opposed to other projects mixed in studio A on the SSL. What is the criteria for these decisions? 

"Part of the criteria is how big the projects are, how many tracks in the session files.  If it's much more than 24, then I prefer to mix it on the larger desk in Studio A.  Also, some projects go for that old school, audiophile sound.  Usually the music is more acoustic.  Often it will have been tracked on analog and/or they want it mixed down to analog.  Studio B has consistently given me outstanding results with those types of projects.  Studio A is great for music with a harder edge - rock, punk, even reggae and dub.  The SSL provides a more contemporary sound if that's what's wanted.  Studio A, with the board and ouboard, has greater resources for refining and sculpting the sound as desired."

When you travel out to Prairie Sun to work on a project you usually stay on the property. How does staying in the same location as the artist you are working with affect the project and is there any part of the property of the Prairie Sun staff that influences the production?

"Staying on the property has several advantages, for one, you stay more focused on the work.  The state of a person's body and mind obviously plays a critical role in how good you can do your job.  I always remind my students that the human biological machine is the most complex piece of equipment in the studio.  Time normally spent commuting to work can be spent preparing and fine tuning my machine for optimum studio performance.  I'm able to get up every morning and go for a jog in the exquisitely beautiful rural countryside around the property to clear my head and get ready for the day.  The vibe of the staff and generally of all the other characters that come and go on the property always feels supportive.  The staff seems genuinely interested in the music and eager to help or contribute in any way.  Everyone seems aligned to a clandestine conspiracy to create great music and thus make the world a better place."

The Prairie Sun echo chambers in studio C have been a part of your process for mixing here for years. What about the spaces and the setup helps your productions? Does the Prairie Room or the Waits room have any special characteristics your would like to mention?


"Those echo chambers give my productions a unique sound.  I know definitely that projects have worked at Prairie Sun specifically due to the sound of those rooms.  It's impossible to recreate their sound with any digital reverb, that partially accounts for their uniqueness.  They give the mixes a depth that can't be manufactured in any other way.  The Prairie Room has a bigger sound and is ideal for drums.  The size of that room is adjustable using baffles.  The Waits room is probably the ideal small to mid room size acoustic space.  It's live, but not huge; great for anything acoustic - strings, acoustic guitars, vocals etc.  Also can work well for a snare reverb as well as percussion instruments." 

You have been using Prairie Sun for 17 years. We would like to know what about this studio keeps you coming back? Why does it work for you and your unique approach? 

"I've been working at Prairie Sun since 1998 - 17 years.  I keep coming back because it has everything I need to record and mix the way I want to.  Prairie Sun has all the right audio tools.  It has a great combination of vintage and contemporary technology that gives many options for different kinds of productions.  The mic selection is outstanding, all the food groups are amply covered.  You can't beat a good mic, mic pre combination.  The vintage Neve and API mic pres give two excellent choices to make distinctive recordings.  There is also something intangible about why I keep returning to Prairie Sun that has to do with the atmosphere and energy of the place.  It's always been very comfortable to work there even in high stress situations.  And then there's the track record.  Every project I do there works, the client's usually happier than their expectations.  When the late, great Doug Sax mastered the Jack and the Bear project recorded and mixed at Prairie Sun about 18 months ago he personally emailed to let me know how much he liked the sound of the production.  Prairie Sun delivers those kinds of results."

When we listen to your mixes there is a certain depth that is hard to pin point where exactly it comes from. Can you speak for a moment on your use of distortion, panning and reverbs, and do these techniques tie into your unique spiritual approach to audio production?

The depth comes from the deep end.  The reason for using distortion is to introduce nonlinear harmonics and acoustic texture into the sound.  The use of error correction in digital recordings tends to make the sound a little artificially smooth to my ear so I try to counter that using analog  equipment such as tape delays, plate and spring reverbs, reamping, guitar pedals, overdriven tube equipment etc.  For me, it makes the sound more authentic taking it out of the flatness of the mathematically precise digital world by introducing microtonalities and textures.  That's part of what gives my mixes added dimension. The depth also seems a result of my approach which uses high attention to detail regarding every moment of the mix like a frame in film.  I approach the creation of the soundscape in a mix like an architect aiming to maximize the use of space.  When you walk into a cathedral you experience a sense of majesty whether you're religious or not because of the way the space was built, the architecture of it.  When you listen to a track I've mixed hopefully you experience the mood of the song in the same way due to the space of the mix  you've entered."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism & Schizophrenia Part 1 - Deleuze & Guattari

"We must die as egos and be
born again in the swarm, not
separate and self-hypnotized, but 
individual and related."
 - Henry Miller, Sexus

So begins Mark Seem's introduction to Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia book one.  The blurb on the back from Michel Foucault's preface calls it an "introduction to the nonfascist life."  Reporting on the 10% or so of this book I did understand, it seems, on one hand, a complex multifaceted attack on conventional psychotherapy and in particular the tendency to relate all problems back to the family either literally or figuratively using the model of the Oedipus Complex.  They contrast psychoanalysis with "schizoanalysis" which seems related to the multidimensional nature of consciousness.  Schizoanalysis seeks to remove all repressive programming from the psyche so that a person can be free to follow ones deepest inclinations, to do what thou wilt.  

Destroy, destroy.  The task of schizoanalysis goes by way of destruction - a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage.  Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, the law, castration.  It is not a matter of pious destructions, such as those performed by psychoanalysis under the benevolent neutral eye of the analyst.  For these are Hegel-style destructions, ways of conserving.

This all out attack on psychotherapy and the Oedipus model maybe doesn't seem as revolutionary as when the book was published in 1972.  Psychotherapeutic models don't appear as all encompassing and dominant in our culture as they did in the '50s, '60s, and '70s when it seem expected that everyone go through analysis.  For instance, Israel Regardie, who ended up becoming a Reichian influenced therapist, strongly recommended (in the 1970s)  some kind of psychoanalysis before undergoing initiation into the Golden Dawn.  Delueze and Guattari repudiate conventional psychotherapy with an intensity reminiscent of Aleister Crowley's war machine efforts against the stifling programming of unquestioned Christian belief and practice.  Both of them sought to empower people to shake off the shackles of external Control and programming to become free to find their own voice.  Free to engage upon the endless process of becoming, a spiritual awakening that vastly expands experience and capability.... and never stops unless you stop.  Perhaps the move away from psychotherapy in underground and esoteric circles (maybe the mainstream too??) has something to do with Anti-Oedipus?  It certainly had a strong impact in philosophical circles and it looks like it has contributed to a change in certain cultural elements.  Philosophy in its function of causing change to occur in accordance with Will.  Deleuze and Guattari hold a high regard for  pragmatic ideas.

Felix Guattari and  Gilles Deleuze

An interesting aspect of D & G's writings is that they draw from multiple disciplines and sources outside of philosophy and psychology to present their arguments - literature, theater, music, art, science, archeology, etc.  A good example of schizoanalysis in action can be seen in the recurring sections of Mary Lou Cervix's acid trip in Illuminatus! by Wilson and Shea.  These occur somewhere in the area of p.650 - 700 in the novel.

For those who read the previous blog on the war machine and magick, it appears obvious from the above quote that schizoanalysis performs a war machine task.  To be crystal clear, the war machine as we examine it in the context of magick, alchemy and transformation , has absolutely nothing to do with fighting other people on any level whatsoever.  It's about the fight to live a nonfascist life, to follow one's bliss, to start up the perpetual motion machine of endless becoming who you are, etc. etc. etc.   D & G call this "desiring-production", find out your deepest desires and produce them... do what thou wilt. 

Schizoanalysis = a method of defiance against the control systems of State and society, the ones that tell you what you're supposed to do and think.  Schizoanalysis = solve of solve et coagula, the alchemical formula of dissolution and reformation or what D & G might term deterritorialization and reterritorialization.

Like Wilhelm Reich, who shows up a few times in Anti-Oedipus, D & G maintain that psychological factors and the therapeutic models used to treat them strongly influences society in its economic and political manifestations, hence the references to Marx's writings and the subject of Capitalism in relation to Freud and the Oedipus Complex.

Schizoanlysis seems about going beyond limits, crossing boundaries, expanding into unknown quadrants but without any specific goal in mind.  It's nongoal orientated, or so they say.  Like John Lilly, D & G appear very careful not to program the trip though they describe an affirmative, creative philosophy of endless becoming and forging ahead omnidirectionally to make new connections.

Anti-Oedipus ends with:

Completing the process and not arresting it, not making it turn about in the void, not assigning it a goal.  We'll never go to far with the deterritorialization, the decoding of flows. For the new earth (" In truth, the earth will one day become a place of healing") is not to be found in the neurotic or perverse reterritorializations that arrest the process or assign it goals; it is no more behind than ahead, it coincides with the completion of the process of desiring-production, this process that is always and already complete as it proceeds, and as long as it proceeds.  It remains therefore for us to see how, effectively, simultaneously, these various tasks of schizoanalysis proceed.

What they call the process seems identical to True Will.

Suggested listening:

Karl Heinz Stockhausen - Stimmung 

John Coltrane - Cosmic Music and A Love Supreme

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The War Machine and Magick


3. Now let it be first understood that I am a God of War and of Vengeance.  I shall deal hardly with them.
4.  Choose ye an island!
5. Fortify it!
6. Dung it about with enginery of war!
7. I will give you a war engine.

- The Book of the Law chapter 3

Aleister Crowley, or whoever wrote these words, advises building a war machine in no uncertain terms.  The war machine, a concept from post-structuralist, guerilla ontologists Deluze and Guttari describes (among many other things) a strategic course of action useful for alchemical transformation.

The first theoretical element of importance is the fact that the war machine has many varied meanings, and this is precisely because the war machine has an extremely variable relation to war itself.  The war machine is not uniformly defined, and comprises something other than increasing quantities of force.  We have tried to define two poles of the war machine: at one pole, it takes war for its object ... war represents not at all the supposed essence of the war machine but only, whatever the machine's power, either the set of conditions of which the States appropriate the machine ... or the dominant order of which the States themselves are now only parts.  The other pole seems to be the essence; it is when the war machine, with infinitely lower "quantities," has as its object not war but the drawing of a creative line of flight, the composition of smooth space and of the movement of people in that space.  At this other pole, the machine does indeed encounter war, but as its supplementary or synthetic object, now directed against the State and against the worldwide axiomatic expressed by the States.

- A Thousand Plateaus, p. 422

When Robert Anton Wilson taught Crowley 101 in 2005 (the 101st anniversary of the reception of the Book of the Law, aka Liber Al) he asked the group how they interpreted the beginning of the third chapter of the Book of the Law, the one that advocates building a war machine.  A consensus of opinion decided it was a metaphor for a war against the inner forces and resistances (i.e. "nature") that block efforts to work on self.  These resistances can be very strong, hence the need for a war machine; not to make literal war on anything, especially yourself, but to draw a creative line of flight from the old set pattern of things to something new.  The old patterns won't give up without a fight.  The war machine, in this context, requires strategy, subtlety, cunning and panache among other things.  To use the war machine effectively we dissociate it from the common, brute practices and violence of literal war.  Only a few pages before the introduction of the war machine in the second chapter of Liber Al we see the instructions:

Be not animal; refine thy rapture!  If thou drink, drink by the eight and ninety rules of art: if thou love, exceed by delicacy; and if thou do aught joyous, let there be subtlety therein!

 - Liber Al 2:70

Apply that to the war machine!

A war machine appears a necessary mechanism whenever something wishes to break out of an established mileau or assemblage of any kind, or in other words, deterritorialize from a particular set, the current assemblage, establish a line of flight, make new connections, form new assemblages and reterritorialize into a different order.  The similarity to ritual magick appears evident.  The candidate for Initiation enters a specially created space, the ritual chamber, mentally and emotionally deterritorializes from consensual reality then establishes a creative line of flight into the magickal domain through the actions of the ritual, makes new connections and hopefully  a new assemblage of some kind takes shape according to the ritual's intention.  This type of activity, along with behavior reinforcement and the formation of different habits can reprogram and/or metaprogram the human biological machine.  It takes a war machine approach along with time and perseverance to make any real, permanent change.

Deleuze and Guttari speak in terms of the State versus Nomads to differentiate between that which is sedentary and seeks to maintain the inertia of the status quo ( the State), and that which is in motion, those aiming to deterritorialze from the State's strictures, overcodings, and mechanisms of control to explore different territorities and expand into new domains (Nomads).   They say it's the difference between striated space - the State's overcodings (laws, rules and regulations) and smooth space, no longer restricted by external control mechanisms.  Now "the State" can range in meaning from the literal political State, to the mainstream cultural mileau with its taboos and political correctness to any other agency imposing their own order and agenda.  The anti-war, counter-cultural movement of the late '60s and early '70s was nomadic by these definitions and used war machine tactics to fight to change State policy.  Looking back to the beginnings of modern civilization, D & G say that the war machine began with Nomads wishing to break free from the State.  The first axiom in their Treatise on Nomadology - The War Machine says:  The war machine is exterior to the State apparatus.  Later they say  the State can and does appropriate the war machine for its own ends, but it originally and continues to be used by maverick artists, explorers, free-thinkers, outsiders, radicals - nomads of all kinds to break free of established political and social order and create their own autonomous zones, their own ways of being - never at rest, always becoming anew.

The concept of the war machine lies deeply embedded all over the ideology of Thelema.  Somewhere early on in Confessions Crowley says (paraphrasing) that as soon as an aspirant sets foot on the path of Initiation they get beset by a host of complexes and resistances as if the denizens of the astral world recognize a new presence and go about rejecting it.  Similarly, Ouspensky says that as soon as the student begins to observe their sleep and begin the initial process of waking up, they will catch themselves falling into deeper sleep and unconsciousness.  The human machine seems fine cruising along on remote control but as soon as efforts get made to observe and change then it puts up a fight, a fight for what it considers its own survival.  Even doing the beginning yoga exercises Crowley suggests will make the body put up a strong fight.  The discipline to hold the posture and endure the pain and discomfort of the body shows  the war machine in action creating a line of flight. 

Horus, the deity or cosmic force that guides this age in the Thelemic pantheon, basically describes a war machine.  Horus = a war machine.  In the qabalistic table of Egyptian deities Horus is attributed to Geburah, a sephira corresponding to Mars ( Roman God of war) and the other war gods.  Horus is also attributed to Pe, another Mars correspondence, and the Tower, a tarot key that shows a clear picture of the war machine.  Again I stress that the war machine, most of the time, and in the context of alchemy, has nothing to do with the violence and bloodshed of literal war.  Rather, it has to do with a vigorously activated and applied force to overcome past programming, obstacles, challenges, laziness etc that impedes us from whatever we wish to do or become.

It's been said and observed, that the quality we consider the worst about ourselves will eventually become our greatest strength.  Perhaps this results from the necessity of a powerful war machine to transform or harness our worst qualities?  You need something to fight against.  Teachers like Gurdjieff and Crowley would sometimes deliberately place obstacles and challenges before their students to create the necessary friction that eventually produces a pearl, a crystallized formation of something new and precious.

In the Invocation of Horus Crowley and his wife Rose composed ( Magick 1st edition p. 413) which lead to the reception of  the Book of the Law, sections I,II,IV begin with, and they include in section III:
Strike, strike the master chord!
Draw, draw the Flaming Sword!
Crowned Child and Conquering Lord,
Horus, Avenger!

The war machine appears evident in this couplet.  The flaming sword refers to the synergy of high kinetic energy and highly concentrated and focused attention used as a weapon.  The master chord suggests music which gets confirmed in part E of section III: Mine are the dark blue waves of music in the song that I made of old to invoke Thee - then they give the couplet.  Here we see music attached to, or a part of the war machine.  

 Punk rock operated as a war machine briefly.  The U.S. Army used loud rock music as a weapon against Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to get him to surrender.  A lot of the music and concerts of the 50's, 60's, 70's and still in the '80's made creative lines of flight outside social and cultural norms and expectations. 

The war machine turns up in the Four of Disks from the Thoth tarot.  It's titled POWER and suggests protection and defence. "... the suggestion of the card is that of a fortress."  Compare that with Crowley's Book of the Law advice quoted at the top of this post.  The Four of Disks is attributed to 125 in Sepher Sephiroth.  125 = 5 x 5 x 5 or 5 cubed.   5 = Geburah = War.  It seems to be saying that creating a fortress of protection and defence becomes a war machine activity.

Though I've emphasized the war machine concept, we remember the necessity of equilibrium and balance in our magickal endeavors.  Geburah, home of the war machine gets balanced on the Tree of Life by Chesed home of compassion and mercy.  The fire of Geburah tempered and cooled by the water of Chesed.  The path that connects them, Teth, corresponds with Horus in the table "Complete Practical Attributions of Egyptian Gods" from 777.  This tells us that Horus appears not only a god of force and fire, but of other multiplicities of characteristics which could include the loving kindness and mercy of Chesed.  Horus is a twin god, with an active, outgoing side ( Ra Hoor Kuit) and a passive, silent side ( Hoor pa Kraat).  Ra Hoor Kuit takes charge of the war machine, but we see this as only one half of the Horus equation.

Not a lot of the Deleuze and Guttari commentators I've read ( actually none so far) go into the spiritual/magickal/bardo implications of their concepts, but it seems obvious from Mark Seem's Introduction to Anti-Oedipus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia Part I (p. xix - xx) that these strata also make up their presentation:

"Like Laing, they [ D & G ] encourage mankind to take a journey, the journey through ego-loss.  They go much further than Laing on this point, however.  They urge mankind to strip itself of all anthropomorphic and anthropological armoring, all myth and tragedy, and all existentialism, in order to perceive what is nonhuman in man, his will and his forces, his transformations and mutations.  The human and social sciences have accustomed us to see the figure of Man behind every social event, just as Christianity taught us the see the Eye of the Lord looking down upon us.  Such forms of knowledge project an image of reality at the expense of reality itself.  They talk figures and icons and signs, but fail to perceive forces and flows.  They blind us to other realities, and especially the reality of power as it subjugates us.  Their function is to tame, and the result is docile and obedient subjects
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Though it may look and sound a little dated, The Changeling by The Doors nicely shows a combination of the direction of D & G's musings and some sense of the Horus invocation.  This could be a Nomad manifesto of sorts.