Going to temporarily interrupt the Qabalah broadcast to give this report from the city of Perm in central Russia near the Ural Mountains.
Friday, July 1, 2011
The flight to Moscow then onward to Perm leaves at 8am which means I have to leave at 4am to get to the airport by 6. I decide to stay up all night to make it easier to relax on the plane. Received an email earlier in the day that a guide would meet us in Moscow to help with the transfer to the Perm flight. I'm the only one coming from California so expect to meet everyone in Moscow.
Get an email at midnight, 4 hours before leaving, from the Russian backline company saying that they can provide everything requested except a table for Graham Hayne's rack and a road case to set up Doc's dubbing mixer. First I've heard from anyone technical connected to the festival though they had been advanced our requirements weeks ago. They can't provide a road case, and the festival can't find a small table? Probably just that company can't. I'm not too worried.
Listening to an audio book of Life by Keith Richards and James Fox on the plane. Two things stand out initially: 1) that he considered the advent of recording technology to be the emancipation of music, and 2) his first guitar was a Rosetti. Looked at qabalistically: rose corresponds with Tiphareth, so, in a way, Keith started out playing music in Tiphareth.
Flight to Washington D.C. then the next one to Moscow mostly uneventful. Security is high. Checks, double checks, triple checks, the Russian visa in my passport gets scrutinized before they will give me a seat assignment at the gate. Russia has its own terrorism situation to deal with from the Chechan separatists.
This incarnation of Method of Defiance known as Column IV has Guy Licata on drums and delay pedal, Bill Laswell on bass and effects, Graham Haynes on trumpet, and Doctor Israel on vocals, loops and dubbing effects.
Saturday, July 2
Arrived in Moscow sometime around 10am. Customs was a breeze, they didn't even look at the bags. As long as the visa was good there was no problem.
Looking for the guide who said she would have a sign reading "Bill Laswell" at the exit from customs. Nowhere in sight. She did give a time of 12:25pm, it's only 11:30am now, so I wait. At nearly 1pm with no sign of anyone, I look at the Arrivals readout to see when the New York flight gets in. No New York flight is listed. I figure they must be arriving at a different airport in Moscow. Fortunately, they post departing information in both Russian and English so I have no difficulty checking in. Scored some roubles, 25 to a dollar, and made the flight.
There was someone to meet me in Perm. She called herself an administrator and wanted to know why I traveled separately from the band. Twenty minute ride to the hotel accompanied by two administrators seated in the back, and the driver. The hotel Front Desk keeps my passport for administration purposes. I'm told not to forget to get it back - good advice. Given a call sheet with our soundcheck and gig times, the festival guide departs to administrate elsewhere. I go up to the room and connect to the World Wide Web. It took about 27 hours to go from my house in California to the hotel in Perm. I feel good, even if somewhat psychically scattered from there to here.
About an hour later I recognize Doc Israel's voice outside my door, so I soon head down to the lobby and meet up with Bill, Guy, and Bill's stage tech, James Dellatacoma. We are sooned joined by Graham and Doc. Graham and I figure out that we haven't seen each other for about 10 years, not since Toshinori Kondo's Peace festival outside Hiroshima, Japan in 2001
Usually in a situation like this one of the festival promoters, or at the very least, one of its administrators will be with us to help handle crucial survival issues like where to eat and how to change money. No such luck at the moment. As we meet up, some of the guys are attempting to purchase something to drink at the bar without success. Nowhere to exchange currency, the hotel won't do it, and they won't accept a credit card.
At Bill's urging one of the main festival organizer's is found, I recall his name as Sacha. Sacha directs us to a restaurant in the hotel complex. To get there you must pass through a darkened bowling alley and another bar. The restaurant is kind of tucked in the back. Sacha pulls out a stack of Roubles and gives us 3000 each for expenses. He also picked up the dinner.
During the long wait for our food, Bill mentions a music festival he's organizing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia next February for his group Material featuring Gigi that will also include other incredible bands. Stevie Wonder was talked about as one possibility but apparently he can't make it. Bill is returning to Ethiopia near the end of July with his son Aman, and videographer Skiz Fernando to continue setting it up among other things. They also plan to go up to the north of Ethiopia to the city of Axum to look for the lost Ark of the Covenant rumored to be there.
Michael Lang, one of the organizers of Woodstock, is involved with the Addis festival. The plan includes bringing a PA in from Istanbul to avoid the problems we had last time. It will probably be held in a sports stadium with a capacity of about 28,000 people.
Bill, as he often does, gave me a package with some of his newest work. This one had the new Lee Scratch Perry cd he produced, called Rise Again.
It also had a great book, Nomad Codes: Adventures In Modern Esoterica by Erik Davis, a Best Of collection by a well-informed and intrepid journalist. It included an article on Lee Scratch Perry which I highly recommend for its history of Jamaican dub. More on Nomad Codes later.
If that wasn't enough, Bill mentioned that he had a copy of the relatively rare new biography of British occultist and artist Austin Osman Spare by Phil Baker, definitely a book on my wish list. Spare seems one of the few occultists, along with Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Grant, to explicitly explore bardo related themes in their work.
I checked it out a bit while waiting for the food to arrive, and ended up having quite the synchronicity with the opening pages. It starts out with Spare's father going somewhere and seeing a boy on the street hawking newspapers and holding a placard with the headline, "Man Hung." The elder Spare observes that this reads improperly and should really say, "Man Hanged." Then he realizes it's his son, Austin.
Sunday, July 3rd
Early the next morning doing my yoga, drinking in Russian prana, I began looking at a dvd of a new show from BBC called Sherlock which sets the London detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusty cohort, Dr. John Watson in modern times. The episode started out with Holmes in a jail cell listening to a story by an inmate and getting annoyed with the prisoner's butchering of the English language. At one point he says something like "...and the man was hung..." Sherlock interrupts to exclaim, "It's hanged, not hung... the man was hanged." Shortly after that Holmes says something about Russia.
The coincidence reminded me of the tarot and also of the N.O.X. formula from Crowley's Book of Lies.
Retrieved my passport and left for the soundcheck around 10am. Problem with Graham's passport, the front desk had given it to someone else. At the moment they're not sure whom. Graham had changed rooms a couple of times which had thrown them off. Nothing like being in the heart of Russia without a passport home!
A one hour bus ride outside Perm through the gentle green slopes and forested countryside got us to the festival site. It's called the MOVEMENT FESTIVAL.
Unexpectedly met two old friends on the bus, Omar Torrez, whose group was slated to begin the festival's music today, and Eric McFadden who was playing with Omar. I had co-produced and engineered Alektorophobia ( fear of chickens) with Eric and Wally Ingram a few years ago at Prairie Sun. It's a very nice, bluesy, world music, alternative folkish, acoustic, non-genre specific album that also had some incredible guest talent including Keb Mo, Nels Cline, and Les Claypool.
I'd done some mixing for Omar last year at Prairie Sun, not too long after he came off a tour with Tom Waits, and had enjoyed his gypsy flamenco influenced sound. Both Eric and Omar qualify as guitar virtuosos.
Sound check went smoothly. The mixing desk was a Yamaha PM5D digital console - not my favorite especially for the effects which were all in board. At least it had dynamics processing and every channel. The front speaker cabinets were L-Acoustics made by a French company.
The stage for this outdoor venue was at the bottom of a small grassy hill that could accomodate something like 2- 3000 people. The sound was loud, clear and punchy enough though slightly under powered in the low end for trying to get a significantly signifying reggae/dub bass sound. I got around this with judicious application of the ROLAND KOSMOS SUB HARMONIC SYNTHESIZER, that I'd brought along for just these kinds of occasions.
At one point in the check Graham asked me what had been ordered for him for backline. In other words, what kind of equipment had he asked for to supplement what he brought. I said that the only request had been for a table to support his rack of electronics. He replied that he no longer brings his rack, but said that was ok and asked me just to put some repeat delays on his horn. I was kind of glad to go without the electronics as it would highlight and bring out his rich tone. Haynes' tone reminds of Louis Armstrong's tone though he plays much differently.
Hanging around backstage after the sound check 10 minutes before the Omar Torrez group is about to commence, his manager approaches - could I please mix their set? Their mix was too heavy on the drums and bass for her taste at the check, can't hear the guitars properly. My appointment calendar in Russia appears open until this evening, so I agree. Briefly go over some instrumentation and music details with Omar and Eric, then head back to the mixing tent.
Omar starts solo with a flamenco boulerias on acoustic guitar before the band joins him. Eric and Omar interact well on guitars, both have great tones - the whole band plays well together, easy to mix, in this the first date of a two week Russian tour for them. Their bluesy, rock, alt rock, party time music is met with a small but enthusiastic audience. The audience slowly builds and the whole area seems to begin stirring with life as the boys rock out.
After their set I just barely manage to make the bus taking Method of Defiance back to town. Graham's passport has been found much to his relief. The weather seems about as perfect as it can get for an outdoor concert - warm and sunny without sweltering heat, a slight breeze usually blowing but not so strong to wreak havok with the sound.
We end back at the festival around 8:15pm for a 9pm start and find the schedule lagging about 20 minutes behind. We are the penultimate band of the day. The two acts that proceed Method of Defiance seems about as incongruous as you could possible get with M.O.D. . I would call them world music pop. Not bad, just a whole different aesthetic, a more superficial sensibility. Music to get distracted by. The group following us that closes the day sound like a Russian Limp Bizkit.
This time around we are Method of Defiance Column IV. I'm reminded of the various King Crimson offshoots. Turns out the amazing bassist Tony Levin from King Crimson is just a couple of tents down backstage with his group The Stick Men, whom I've been told all play Chapman bass sticks.
The M.O.D. set starts with a recording of the intro to OM by John Coltrane then seamlessly segues to a Bill Laswell bass solo. Guy picks up the beat on the ride cymbal after the solo, Doctor Israel introduces us to the World: METHOD OF DEFIANCE REFUSE COMPLIANCE and the band kicks in full on with a heavy drum and bass fast funk groove.
The audience area has filled up to near capacity. All these sound wave absorbers (ie people) that weren't there at soundcheck has me turning up the low end more to give the bass its proper respect. About 10 minutes into the set the house tech, Alexi, suddenly gets upset and starts yelling- "it's too loud, it's too loud." The PA doesn't sound distorted or like it's peaking out, and the output of the Yamaha isn't going into the red and clipping. I ask him, "where's your SPL (sound pressure level) meter? I also look out into the crowd. People are dancing, swaying to the groove, having a good time, no one shows signs of distress with the volume, quite the contrary.
Alexi pulls up a bank of meters on an Ipad like tablet that shows I'm definitely pumping electrons toward maximum headroom, but doesn't show signs of system overloading as far as I can tell. He abruptly reaches over and turns down the master fader on the desk 5 db. For a brief microsecond I consider complying but then remember who I'm mixing and turn it back up. Alexi pushes me over with his shoulder and turns it back down. I push back with my body, and turn it back up.
Feels like I've shifted into two simultaneous but radically different worlds at once: 1) the heavily anchored low end and mindmeldingly dense polyrhythmic atmospherics of dubbed out effects, loops, feedback modulation and power. The force of rhythm . . . and more power - spaces emerging through spontaneous recombinant audio contours making new environments available for discovery and exploration. Sometimes guided by the crystal clear, soaring, swooping sound of a horn, cutting swathes through the mix like a bell ringing in the bardo. The heavy but articulate sound from Method of Defiance vibrates and massages this part of Earth from the depths of the tectonic substrates all the way through the ozone and beyond, and 2) this ridiculous tableaux of small, dot-sized characters in a mixing tent imagining that they're fighting for control of sound wave amplitude and distribution. Time heavily dilated all around.
I didn't feel angry, just got real quiet inside waiting from a great cognitive distance away to see what would happen next. As might be inferred, most of my attention seemed quite far from this petty human situation below. It's hard to have a transcendent musical experience with someone on your case but I didn't seem to have much choice. For some reason Alexi quickly did an about face and completely backed off. The master fader stayed at 0, unity gain, where it had started. I did back off on some of the sub lows; the rest of the show proceeded without incident in the mixing tent.
After our set I apologized to Alexi for causing consternation - just doing my job. He was fine. We shook hands and parted in peace. International good will was restored in this instance. The healing power of music once again.
I checked in with the band, the mood was ecstatic and righteously so. They had just carved new frontiers in the audio wilderness, musically going to new places and spaces. Grabbed the first bus back to the city. Eric McFadden and I were the only early escapees from the party on the bus apart from an English band celebrating a birthday transporting their merriment elsewhere into the Russian night. I had to catch a flight in 6 hours.
In this spot on the planet at this time the sun doesn't go down until 11:30pm or midnight. At 11pm it felt like it was only 6pm. More tricks on our sense of time.
Monday, July 4th
Fireworks light up the early morning Russian sky in Perm celebrating the historic American Independence from British ... just kidding, it was very quiet, actually. I stay up all night working and getting packed for a 5:50am Lobby call. The phone rings as I'm getting into the shower at 5:20am.
"Yes, the bus to take you to the airport is here, could you come down right away?"
" I was told 5:50, it's only 5:20."
"Yes, the bus is early, could you come down right away?"
"I'll be down as soon as I can."
" Ok, we will wait for you."
Total time in Perm - 35 hours.
6 hour layover in the non-temperature controlled Moscow airport; hot but not unbearable. Keith Richard's Life becomes the soundtrack as the bustling flow of travelers parade by. How the Stones' songs come to be written is fascinating, to me. "Jumping Jack" was Keith's gardner.
When giving my ears a break from the audio book I devour Nomad Codes, the book I received from Bill. Erik Davis is a brilliant essayist, writing from first hand experience which he's had plenty of. Along with Lee Scratch Perry, it has excellent articles on Phillip K. Dick, Terence McKenna, Peter Lamborn Wilson, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Matrix among others.
When I first opened the book, I was immediately drawn to the Coda, a travel essay called Bardo Flight. Davis begins with recounting a conference he lectured at in Costa Rica:
At the conference I gave a talk on Philip K. Dick and led a vigorous group discussion about the filmaker Richard Linklater's essayistic dream-film Waking Life, which is kinda like Sans Soleil for stoners. One of my major themes in these discussions was what Tibetans call the bardo: the insubstantial in-between state said to comfort the soul after death, when the contents of the mind return to seduce and terrify the ego's disoriented after-image as it reverberates into rebirth. A Dante-esque funhouse of ravenous demons, smoky lights, and copulating parents-to-be, the bardo is no doubt one of the most evocative sacred accounts of the afterlife. It may also be one of the most useful.
My other point was that there are bardos everywhere - not just in death ...
I noticed three interesting similarities between this essay and a recent posting here called Top of the World.
1. We both make the point that, as Davis puts it:
Traveling, in its many guises, can be another bardo rehearsal, offering up hints and foreshadows, perhaps even a few tricks.
2. We both quote Timothy Leary on death
3. I brought up the album Led Zeppelin IV. Erik Davis wrote a short book on Led Zeppelin IV that's quite good, I've read it.
Total time to return home: 31 hours.