Bill Laswell would usually pick me up in a car to drive out to our sessions in Greenpoint when I lived in New York. One evening he asked if I would care to join him on a visit to Ornette Coleman's SoHo loft to see some art by an African artist Ornette was promoting. Since I didn't have anything better to do besides meeting one of my all-time music heroes who shares the top of the list with Dylan of artists I'd like to record that I haven't yet already, I said, "why not?"
When we got there, some of the artwork was spread out on a mat on the ground near the far wall. I don't recall the artist's name but remember that the smallish pieces, some of them on cloth, had a subtle shamanistic quality to them, a certain "otherness" without being jarring or brutally strange. More of a mellow "otherness" that seemed to indicate or intimate a substantial depth beyond superficial appearance. Bill acquired a couple of the pieces on the spot.
Some of our discussion that evening involved Ornette's dissatisfaction with every single recording he had ever done and expressing the view of the virtual impossibility of getting a good harmolodic recording. He said the only good harmolodic recording he had ever heard was of a Frank Sinatra rehearsal. What a "harmolodic recording" meant exactly, I do not know, but nonetheless I debated him a little based solely on my suspicion that anything reasonable is possible. "WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY" as the 6 Million Dollar Cyborg was fond of saying. I told him how I'd do it.
However, the most interesting thing Ornette said came not long after the initial greetings. While Bill began checking out the art, out of the blue, Ornette approached me and said,
" You won't believe this, nobody does ... what I am trying to do with my music is conquer death."
I told him that I was one of the few people who could relate to that idea. He definitely didn't mean that he would achieve immortality with the legacy of his music, but to actually use music in a practical way to train the voyager to survive the shock of biological termination. I'll explain how this can be done. It has to do with using sound to explore space.
A little more elaboration on that meeting with Ornette is here.
The bardo, the territory consciousness enters post-mortem, seems 'as if' a sudden immersion into the subconscious mind both individual and collective. Reports say that the experiences include extreme sensations and discombobulations bordering on unbearable intensity. Scintillating lights, roaring and piercing sounds, bells, whistles, searing and scorching radiations, disorientating visions, and everything goes way too fast. It seems like some biological mechanisms filter this out when we have a body to drive around in, but when our bodies terminate, these filters cease to work and all kinds of energies come flooding in. Robert Anton Wilson refers to this phenomena with the title of his book, When the Walls Came Tumbling Down, as the description from Amazon makes clear:
The Walls Came Tumbling Down deals with the scary things that happen to those who stumble into a borderless or other-worldly consciousness without any intent to go there and without any preparation or Operating Manual to tell them how to navigate when the walls tumble, the doors of perception fly open and the bottom falls out of their mental filing cabinet, leaving the brain suddenly free of the limits of mind.
If one can learn to penetrate the subconscious realms before the biological filters get stripped away, one can begin to learn the territory before death doesn't give you a choice.
Music can serve a shamanic purpose of documenting and communicating inner spaces. Bill Laswell has said for years that he views music as a particular kind of language. It can function as a higher-order language to penetrate and communicate the deep stratas of the subconscious mind, a mind that appears both individual and collective. Our individual subconscious mind connects with all other subconscious minds to form what Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious. In more modern terminology, this territory is known as the Labyrinth because of its maze-like puzzling nature where it becomes easy to get lost or get trapped running repeated dead-end loops, programmed and conditioned habits that may bear a relationship to what Hindus refer to as karma.
Robert Anton Wilson on Art and the Reality Labyrinth: (DISCLAIMER - I did not make this video and I have absolutely no intention of sending out secret insulting messages with it to any of the highly esteemed and respected readers of this humble blog. Please take it at face value.)
Using sound, and the guidelines of musical form, musicians voyage into the labyrinth and bring back a report which they communicate with their music. That's what I mean by the shamanic function. Anyone receptive enough who knows how to listen can contact the same space. It will have a specific mood connected with it. Of course, the spaces aren't static, they move and change with the music.
To conclude, music can act as a doorway or gateway to the Collective Unconscious, or the labyrinth. if you prefer. One advantage of having a biological platform to launch these explorations from, ie the advantage of entering the labyrinth pre-mortem, is that they can be entered at will, at one's own pace and comfort level.
This post is dedicated to Levon Helm, the former drummer and singer for The Band who very recently shuffled off his mortal coil.