Friday, October 21, 2016

Recording Diary: Riley Pinkerton and Signs

 And life was black and white; the Technicolor was just around the corner, but it wasn't there yet in 1959.  People really do want to touch each other, to the heart.  That's why you have music.  if you can't say it, sing it. - Keith Richards, Life, p.56 

Every time I tried the lock on the glass door at night, the key wouldn't turn the deadbolt over.  It was like trying to pull Excalibur out of the stone, it wouldn't budge.  There were other doors and other locks guarding the studio so it wasn't a problem until I got back late Saturday night from a dinner in the City and realized the glass door would likely be locked Sunday morning when we were planning to work.  Passing by the studio that night, the door was locked so I thought to try it to see ... and it worked, the sword was pulled from the stone.  It even continued to open the door the next morning allowing us to use the studio.  That's a good sign.

The experiment is to find the most musical (magical) person or group available and allow an assemblage between musicians and recording studio to form over a period of time with the intention of drawing down a musical current, a living presence of higher, non-human intelligence; i.e.  a cool song or 11!  The artist, in this case, Riley Pinkerton, armed with her songs and their performance expression, plays the role of the chief invocant, the magnetic center to which the assemblage assembles.  It's an intuitive leap of faith to travel across the country into an unknown laboratory situation.  You hope Fate isn't rehearsing for a Marx Brothers film at your expense and that the experiment is worth the while, worth the travel.  How do you tell if something that's basically invisible, i.e. the spiritual implications and explications of the event called "recording an album" is bonafide or bogus? Or perhaps a mixture of both?  Maybe by reading the signs?

 Riley Pinkerton
 photo by Bryan Thunderheart Spitzer

When you hear all the details, it appears obvious that something extraordinary was going on, something in the realm that William Burroughs called The Magical Universe.  Last spring, Riley sent me her EP, Do You Have A Car, hoping I'd write a few paragraphs about it. I did a review and told her she should get me to help her with the production on her next recording.  I was a fan of her previous band, The DeCamp Sisters, and told her I'd help out however I could, not really expecting she would take me up on the offer.  There is a lot to organize with recording a record, not to mention all the expenses involved.  Circumstances and human generosity worked out such that I was able to bring the project into Bill Laswell's Orange Music sound studio (OM) for virtually nothing.  Riley organized everything else and made it happen.

I had never known anyone named Riley before.  Within a month of signing on to the project a college student named Riley took an internship at Ancient Wave, the local studio where I mix and master.  I was reading Henry Miller's, Time of the Assassins and came across the expression: "living the life of Reilly" so I asked intern Riley if she was really living the life of Reilly?  She said that her parents seem to think so.  There were a couple of other  strange synchronicities with Riley's name.  I got into the habit of randomly putting on acoustic Dylan from my laptop while getting ready in the morning and got a little startled when choosing Bootleg #2 to hear Dylan bellowing the opening words, "O'Reilly, stole a stallion ..."  Began telling this coincidence in the studio, but only got as far as saying, "first song on Bootleg #2" when Henry, the guitar player broke out into: "O'Reilly stole a stallion...;" it seemed amazing that someone would have instant recall of Dylan lyrics just by hearing the song position or perhaps the energy of the synchronicity with Riley's name invoked the lyrics out of his mouth.  Riley Pinkerton is someone who quite possibly might have stolen a stallion in a former life as you can see from the above photo and the fact that she loves horses in this life.  She is also an artist not unlike a very young Bob Dylan, but different, with her own singular style.

Everything looked fine getting on the flight at the start of the journey to the East until the plane remained motionless on the tarmac waiting for some mechanical indicator to be reset.  The connecting flight in Denver became questionable; the flight arrived at one end of the B gates (B4) with the connecting gate on the opposite side of the airport (B666 or something like that). Traversing that long corridor of B gates felt akin to a subatomic particle crossing the central horizontal path on the Tree of Life from Chesed (Glory) to Geburah (Power).  I made it to the gate just as they called for my boarding group (5); another good sign. 

I stayed in the beautiful, lush,verdant suburbs of West Orange, New Jersey off of Eagle Rock Road at an Air bnb, the first time for me.  Took a nightime jet lagged walk to the Whole Foods to stock up; the air smells sweet and it's quiet, no traffic, human or auto until the mall.  Later I record the silence of of this soundscape on my portable recorder framing it against the balance of crickets and distant traffic to mark its depths.

A morning train into the City to meet Riley for the first time at a small cafe/bar in the East Village.  I get to Penn Station with enough time to make the nostalgic walk there through my old neighborhood, Chelsea, and follow the route I took many times to Platinum Island, the studio where it all began.  Even had time to indulge in a visit to the Strand, one of the best bookstores on Earth.  I found a book I had been looking for, Friedrich Nietzsche's, Twilight of the Idols for $6.

 Riley texted me her location. I arrived right on time; the Virgo in me couldn't help it.  Riley was reserved at first, I was reserved, the table wasn't reserved, but they let us sit there anyway.  We talked some procedural details, options for mixing and I inflicted upon her some of my theories regarding music changing the world. Forget about politics.  Of course, the real communication occurred nonverbally in the spaces and silences in between the conversation, in between the words and phrases of the conversation, just as in music; music occurs in the spaces or the intervals between the notes; it's the relationship of the notes.  I told Riley I was glad we had the time to meet before recording to establish and get to know better the musical connection, the musical relationship.

The East Village remains a music hotspot on this planet.  We ate within a few blocks of where Bill Graham ran his legendary Fillmore East concert venue.  After our days diverged following the meal, I followed my ear up the street to the live music coming from the center of Tompkins Square Park; another trip down bardo memory lane - at the age of 12 in 1972 listening to this new (for me) thing called Underground FM radio; the show was Tom Tompkins from Tompkins Square Park and he would do things like play the entire cut of Inna Gadda Da Vida.  I first heard Stairway to Heaven on that show and remember feeling that it sounded like the music of angels.  Another time, listening live to some great funk band in Tompkins Square Park when living in New York, I saw a middle aged gentleman who strongly resembled G.I. Gurdjieff with the bald cranium and bushy mustache.  It shocked me into a waking state.  The music now, along with the atmosphere of the park, was as good as ever.  I didn't want to leave.

Rimbaud called.  I decided to try to get The Time of the Assassins for Riley.  The subtitle is: a study of Rimbaud by Henry Miller; a concise, easy-to-read book that nicely summarises  much of the artist's misson, a subject I brought up in conversation with Riley.  Rimbaud, the French symbolist poet whose most famous works are A Season In Hell and Illuminations, of course, became a major influence on Bob Dylan, Patti Smith and others. I had forgotten my copy or I would have given it to her.  I did notice a well-used edition on the shelf at the Air bnb room where I was staying.  Some highlights:

We must go through a collective death in order to emerge as genuine individuals.  If it is true, as Lautreamont said, that "poetry must be made by all" then we must find a new language in which one heart speaks to another without intermediation.  Our appeal to one another must be as direct and instantaneous as is the WoMan of God's to God.

Miller rants about his current (1940's and '50's yet still relevant) state of Art:

The cult of art reaches its end when it exists only for a precious handful of men and women.  Then it is no longer art but the cipher language of a secret society for the propagation of meaningless individuality.  Art is something which stirs WoMan's passions, which gives vision, lucidity, courage and faith.  Has any artist of recent years stirred the world as did Hitler? Has any poem shocked the world as did the atomic bomb recently?  Not since the coming of Christ have we seen such vistas unfolding, multiplying dailey.  What weapons has the poet compared to these?  Or what dreams? ... Is there a poet of  even the fifth magnitude visible?  I see none.  I do not call poets those who make verses, rhymed or unrhymed.  I call that woman poet who is capable of profoundly altering the world.  If there be such a poet living in our midst, let hir declare hirself. Let hir raise hir voice.  But it will have to be a voice which can drown the roar of the bomb.  SHe will have to use a language which melt's men's hearts, which makes the blood bubble.

If the mission of poetry is to awaken, we ought to have been awakened long ago.  Some have been awakened, there is no denying that.  But now all WoMan have to be awakened - and immediately - or we perish.

'Ol Henry probably would have been delighted to see Bob Dylan win a Nobel prize for Literature.

I stopped in at the Barnes and Noble off of Union Square.  The music department grabbed my attention first.  Prominently displayed on a magazine rack at the entrance to the music section was a cover photo of an old friend, Tom Waits, tipping his hat in greeting.  The photo appeared to have been taken in the era when I worked with him; the byline read: The bizarre secrets of his greatest albums.  Well, that was something I could fact check so I picked up a copy along with cds of The Ramones first album and David Bowie's Station to Station.  It proved an interesting article but the "secrets" on the albums I recorded with him appear exaggerated, inaccurate, and sometimes completely wrong.  The magazine came with a compilation cd called Ones From The Heart.  One of the artists on it is Ryley Walker.  The store had a good Henry Miller selection that didn't include The Time of the Assassins.  I've never read anything else by Miller, have never been interested in his popular titles, but I did pick up a slim volume by him that looked intriguing called The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder.

The first day of recording was with Riley and drummer Dylan Sevey.  We met in the parking lot outside the Orange studio.  On the way up to the third floor I told Dylan that a famous jazz drummer, Joe Morelleo, used to give lessons on the second floor.  Morello played on Dave Brubek's jazz hit, Take 5 that appeared on the 1959 album Time Out,written to showcase Morello's mastery of the 5/4 time signature; drummer's resonance, connect with the morphogenetic field of great drumming.  It can't hurt to invoke the masters.  Dylan told me a dream he's had a couple of times relating to a song I recorded for Tom Waits called Filipino Box Spring Hog.  In the dream he gets a call from his 5 year old son's kindergarten teacher telling him that his son is disturbing the other children by singing Filipino Box Spring Hog.  This sounded a little farfetched to me, but Dylan swore it was true and recounted the dream again.  The drum sound on that track is one of the secrets from recording Mule Variations, another coincidence.

We met staff engineer and old friend James Dellatacoma in the studio and started setting up mics and the foam baffling I would use to shape the acoustic space to isolate Riley's vocal and acoustic guitar mics from the drums. Riley:  "My guitar is a 1962 Gibson LG-1 that I grabbed for a steal from a weird pawn shop in Michigan."  They would be tracking live together in the same room.  Before starting, James gave us a brief history of the studio prior to Bill Laswell moving in.  Built for Frankie Vali and the Four Seasons, recordings for Jethro Tull, Carole King, The Kinks and Aerosmith had been done there.

Dylan Sevey at Orange Music
photo by Riley Pinkerton

Everything sounded good almost right away as soon as I brought up the mics.  There were a few mic placement adjustments to make, but technically everything was quick and easy.  Dylan played on a drum kit belonging to Steve Jordan.  The drums sounded great, the room sounded great, I was incredibly happy to be back in the driver's seat in the Orange Music studio, a totally professional studio with great gear that all works.  I had forgotten how good that room sounded.  I last recorded there in 2009 with John Hammond Jr. the son of the legendary Columbia A & R man who had first signed Bob Dylan to a record contract.  Hammond Sr. had been alerted to Bob Dylan through his son who was friends with Dylan.  Now I was recording a drummer named Dylan, who was well aware, and took inspiration from his namesake.  

Riley and Dylan had great chemistry in the studio.  I don't think they had much of a history playing together, yet Dylan perfectly complemented Riley's musical sensibility like they were siblings.  She brings a strong Beatles influence to her songwriting  while Dylan rates Ringo Starr as one of his favorite drummers.  I remember us working on one of his drum fills to get it sounding more Ringoesque.  We got four master takes that first day, a good count as we had also spent a few hours setting up.  James and I catching up had probably taken at least a half hour before we even started.  Riley seemed relaxed, collected and focused throughout despite having stayed up late to bake lemon cookies which made for incredible studio snacks.  She dressed elegantly as if performing on stage.  A total professional, so it came as a complete surprise to me that this occasioned her first time in a real recording studio.

 Riley checking out a take
photo by Bryan Thunderheart Spitzer 

On Day 2 of the recording we were joined by a bass player, Bryan Spitzer, and cut 5 more master takes.  Bryan is a music professional who mostly works on a computer these days so he mildly lamented about being out of practice with the physicality of playing a bass guitar.  I'd heard this refrain once before when recording Stewart Copeland for Oysterhead.  Stewart hadn't played drums for 10 years prior to making that record, but still sounded amazing to me, I certainly never would have known.  I once caught him over-editing his drums to change the timing of some snare notes and had to remind him, "Don't you know that you're Stewart Copeland?!" Spitzer was the same; a very solid bass player who came up with great bass lines; melodic, fluid, foundational.  You would never know, although he did, that he didn't play the instrument every day. You can tell by a musician's tone, how they touch their strings to make the notes, whether they're legit or not.  Bryan had a great tone, warm and well-defined.  He had a Fender Musicmaster bass which we ran direct and paralleled into the studio's Ampeg B15 bass amp combo reissue.  These are the old flip-top amps, if anybody remembers.  Recording through Neve 1073 mic preamps directly into Pro Tools, no compression, no muss, no fuss.  Bryan was another total pro - had practiced the songs, made chord charts for himself and played with a critical ear, not letting any mistakes get by.  He knew what he was doing.  In the world of D.I.Y. indie music, a musician like Bryan Thunderheart Spitzer is a godsend.  I didn't know his middle name when we worked, but it certainly fits. This project was becoming more fun every day to record due to the excellent songs, great performances, and the collective high level of expertise from everyone including the recording studio itself.  It felt like a canvass was being painted, a collage of songs, though I didn't know who or what was holding the brush.

Bryan gave us a strong warning on the neighborhood, concerned for our safety after dark.  I wasn't that concerned about the area in the immediate vicinity of the studio figuring that James would have mentioned something.  It being Jersey, we took ubers everywhere, no wandering around questionable neighborhoods.  As we were clearing out on the last night, we ended up on the street at about 2am waiting for our cars.  Within seconds a police cruiser drove into the gas station across the street and parked directly facing us, then turned off its lights.  The anarchist in me had an instinctive paranoid reflex, but, remembering Spitzer's warning, I decided to take the opposing view that the cops were positioned there to protect us until the uber cars arrived and we departed safely; and that's what happened.  I regarded this as a particularly good sign.  The quasi-cause of the giver of signs in the Thelemic system goes by the name, Holy Guardian Angel, the knowledge and conversation of which communicates with signs.  The bardo guards (the cops) protecting our transition to going mobile seems the kind of business a guardian angel would be up to if such a thing exists.

On break, the conversation drifted around to the American and Tibetan Books of the Dead.  That's where the word "bardo" originates, it's the space between lives.  I gave my standard rap to Riley about singing as if she was delivering bardo instructions to the dead.  The point being that there is a certain kind of intensity of emotive force needed to make being to being contact through the veil of death.  Bryan expressed interest in this area which he hadn't heard of before and knew nothing about. I promised to send more information at a later point - I promise I still have to keep!  Even with time dilation, the subject was too vast for our short break.

Day 3 saw the arrival at different times of musicians Riley called her posse - musicians she had met at "open mics" and other performances since moving to New York a year ago.  Her posse all lived in Harlem.  First to arrive was Henry Black who added some very tasty electric guitar rhythms and  atmospheric slide guitar embellishments.  He played a G&L ASAT Classic guitar and we alternated between a Fender Princeton and an old Beatles era Vox amp and cabinet.  We also took full advantage of the studio's beautiful tremolo pedal called a "Tremvelope." Henry played in the control with a tie line feeding his signal to the amp in the studio - the better for us to distract him with direction!  All his parts were made up/improvised/invoked on the spot with encouragement/interference from the production team (aka "the peanut gallery").  He did a great job!

Arriving with Henry in the morning.was the infamous "Reggie" aka Ryan Servis a friend and musical collaborator of Rileys from Michigan.  He had been dispatched by Riley to stay with her people in Harlem after getting into LaGuardia on a late flight from Denver. I had spent time with Reggie a few years back in the recording trenches of Prairie Sun working on a Jack and the Bear production which came out exceptionally well.  Reggie had composed string arrangements for at least five of the songs and would also contribute keyboards - Orange's Hammond C3 organ with Leslie cabinet, and a Rhodes electric piano.  He has a great ear, I was happy to have him as a co-conspirator on the production team.  Of course, Reggie's name figured into the synchronicities.  I had thought Reggie was Ryan's given name, but it turned out to be a nom de guerre he had acquired when the band played at a club called Reggies in Chicago.  There were two Ryans in the band so he became Reggie, a persona born at that club so to speak.   Riley always knew him as Reggie too.  Coincidentally, there was a small show poster from that same club by the door at Bill's studio.  Without knowing any of this or meeting Reggie, Bill Laswell told a story about John Zorn playing that same venue, Reggies, at dinner a few nights later.

The rest of Riley's posse that would record on this album, Jesse Flammond and Jeremy Rompala, got there in the late afternoon to add a variety of background vocal harmony parts both individually and with a group that included Henry and Reggie.  Henry added a harmony on his own for one song in a very distinctive, americana sounding voice.  These kids all had great ears for pitch and timing and just had to be coached a little on how near or far from the mic to stand for an optimal blend.  I recorded the group vocals with two ADK mics (U87 clones) facing each other about ten feet apart set to a cardiod proximity pattern.  The parts were arranged and practiced a bit beforehand so it all flowed smoothly with no mystery about what to do - a very good use of studio time.  Their warmth and presence with obvious love and respect for Riley's songs translated into the music.  They were indeed her crew, her assemblage, her family.

Florence Wallis arrived a couple of days later on a train from Providence, Road Island. Armed with a violin and bow, through the magic of multitrack recording she became our string section, overdubbing all the parts of the 3 -  5 voice string arrangements Reggie had composed, layering one on top of another.   Florence is in the group, The Low Anthem who just began an English and European tour to support their theatrical concept album Eyeland.  Riley had met her through a mutual friend somewhere on the road.  Some of the violin parts seemed like they would be hard to play, but Florence mastered everything skillfully.  She was of the same professional caliber, and had as strong a connection with Riley's music as everyone else.  Rimbaud was mentioned again.  Florence confessed to having run through the English woods when she lived there reciting Arthur's words in French to the trees. No word on the reaction from the trees.

 Control room view of Florence Wallis recording underneath a Neumann U47
photo by Riley Pinkerton

Riley set Florence up to stay the night at a Jersey Air bnb, there were more parts to record the following day.  She asked Riley for a book to read, hers was almost done.  Riley loaned her The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder which lead down a rabbit hole of synchronicity to some small degree.  I had picked up Miller's book because it reminded me of Timothy Leary's S.M.I.2L.E. formula: Space Migration + Intelligence Increase + Life Extension.  On the surface, this formula usually gets interpreted as outer space exploration as for example Obama's recent call for a manned mission to Mars + getting smarter, unlocking latent potentials, concsciousness studying itself + prolonging the human life span.  We see alternate interpretations that dive into the depths of this formula, such as this one.  But, also, in my opinion: Music = Space Migration (changing moods, going into different interior spaces) + Intelligence Increase (gnostic experiences, etc) + Life Extension (time dilation; temporal effects).  Music = S.M.I.2L.E.

The book begins with:

Nothing could diminish the lustre of that extraordinary smile which was engraved on Auguste's sad countenance. In the ring this smile took on a quality of it's own, detached, magnified, expressing the ineffable.

The synchronicity of The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder, first published in 1959, beginning with a smile on a character named Auguste with the event of my birth in August of 1959 was another reason for the purchase.  Florence and I took the bus into the city after the next day's session swapping music industry stories for the 50 minute ride.  I was going to meet Bill Laswell, Yoko Yamabe and Mike Sopko for dinner.  Florence was on her way back to Rhode Island.  She told me she was a literary writer as well.  Later, when I saw an example on her wordpress blog, the phrase: smiling, smiling, smiling, near the top stood out to me.  The last synchronicity came about a week after the session when Florence told me the engineer at the pre-tour rehearsal studio her band was using in England had pasted a copy of my sound engineering manifesto on the wall.

We met for dinner at a sushi restaurant on 23rd Street and 8th Avenue.  Meeting up with Bill was one of the reasons I had taken this job out east.  Mike Sopko drove in from Cleveland and managed to get Bill to tell the story of how the classic electro funk song Rockit by Herbie Hancock came about.  Bill said of the restaurant ambience that it felt like being in a time machine.  The neon pastel lights and Japanese atmosphere had me flashing on Tokyo in the late 80's.

Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell and myself on 23rd Street.
photo by Yoko Yamabe

The last day of recording at Orange Music was spent mainly with Riley nailing four or five lead vocal overdubs.  She also played a part on an electric guitar going through a pedal that emulated a mellotron.  We finished in time to catch a train into the City to meet up with Riley's father, John McCurry at another sushi restaurant in Alphabet City.  Riley's nonstage name is Riley Pinkerton-McCurry.  John McCurry is a longtime New York resident and worked as a top session guitar player for many years including a 6 year tenure in Cyndy Lauper's band.  We had mutual close friends in the business including Jason Corsaro and Jeff Bova, both old time Laswell cohorts.  He had worked at Platinum Island studios where I had started out.  McCurry had that paradoxical Irish quality of genuine sincerity mixed in with a bit 'o the blarney to much good humor.  He treated Riley, Reggie and myself to dinner along with an uber ride back to Jersey.  It was a dinner of celebration.

Gilles Deleuze constructs  a taxonomy of signs in Proust & Signs, his study of Marcel Proust's magnum opus, In Search of Lost Time.  Signs, nonverbal communications, can run from the mundane to the extraordinary.  Odors can be signs - it smells like rain becomes a sign that it could rain.  The cheese smells funky is a sign that it's not good to eat.  According to Deleuze, the intelligence of the heart communicates in signs.  He connects it with the path of Initiation:

The scent of a flower, when it constitutes a sign, transcends at once the laws of matter and the categories of mind.  We are not physicists or metaphysicians; we must be Egyptologists ... Everything exists in those obscure zones that we penetrate as into crypts, in order to decipher hieroglyphs and secret languages.  The Egyptologist, in all things, is the person who undergoes an initiation - the apprentice."

Interpreting the language of signs from the environment hardly seems new.  In The History of Magic, Eliphas Levi tells us that Oswald Crollius, an alchemist in the 14th Century wrote The Book of Signatures, or True and Vital Anatomy of the Greater and Lesser World.  Levi writes:

Crollius seeks to demonstrate that God and Nature have, so to speak, signed all their works, that every product of a given natural force bears the stamp of that force printed in indelible characters so that she who is initiated n the occult writings can read, as in an open book, the sympathies and antipathies of things, the properties of substance and all other secrets of creation. ... an attempt to discover the fundamental principles obtaining in the universal language of the creative Word.

Levi expresses skepticism with Crollius' conclusion and indeed one is advised to be armed with a healthy but balanced amount of skepticism when interpreting signs.  It's very easy and tempting to read too much into things, on the other hand, it's just as easy to reject any form of this type of communication.  The adepts at reading signs that I have studied, Aleister Crowley, Robert Anton Wilson and Gilles Deleuze all acquired strong influence from the 18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume, one of the main proponents of stringent philospohical skepticism. Deleuze's first book was on David Hume.

I've said nothing about the actual music because it's still in process awaiting final overdubs and a mix.  Why saddle it with representation (i.e. a classification or even a description) before it has been born?

I  had very little idea of who Riley was before agreeing to the project and certainly wasn't doing it for a big payday; just going on intuition.  By the end of the recording I was having dinner with her father who was a good friend of Jason Corsaro, the engineer, more than any other, who showed me to how to mix and put me on track as a professional mixer.  There was almost like a family connection going on way before I knew about it.  Yet another good sign.  Watching this whole process unfold made me realize how much independent MUSICIANS TAKE CARE OF THEIR OWN!!

ps  On the train ride into New York for our last supper Reggie asked me to recommend some books to read.  The ones I can remember suggesting are:

1. Cosmic Trigger, The Final Secret of the Illuminati by Robert Anton Wilson
2. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
3. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
4.  A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari.

Florence, Oz, Riley, Reggie

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 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.