photo by Márcia Lessa. Caption supplied by Bill Laswell and Yoko Yamabe
Rising out of the ground behind the stage in a lush, verdant, natural forest setting the three musicians that make up Massacre step onto the crisply lit stage, same shade green as the photo, and take up their instruments very casually, understating, and in stark.contrast to the upcoming musical excursion. Here to go and kill some time. We, the mixing board, my Kosmos subharmonizer, and I, - are eleven rows back and elevated in an outdoor stone ampitheater that sounds almost as good as the ancient Roman ampitheaters it was designed after. Seated in front of me in row ten is Fred and Charles' wives Heika and Lesley lending moral, magical, and mystical support in subtle electrical ways that only women know about. After the initial applause, a soft silence descends upon the 360 or so passengers that have signed up for this trip.
The concert is part of the Jazz em Agosto 2014 festival sponsored by Gulbenkian Musica. The mission statement of their Foundation is:
We are an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests, based in Lisbon with offices in London and Paris. The purpose of the is to bring about long-term improvements in well-being, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries (national borders, communities, disciplines and sectors) which deliver social , cultural and environmental value.
They got started from a huge amount of money willed to them by Calouste Gulbenkian, an Armenian who made his money with oil. This garden ampitheater is just one part of a huge complex that also includes an "auditorium, an exhibition space, a congress area with auditoriums and other rooms as well as a large building that houses the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum and the art library. The entire complex is set in Gulbenkian Park, which was designed by Ribeiro Telles. In 1983, the Modern Art Centre, consisting of a museum and an education centre, was opened at one end of the park. The Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (a science institute) is situated inside a multi-building complex in Oeiras (outskirts of Lisbon), near the palace of the Marquis of Pombal."
They may call it Gulbenkian Park, but I called it Horus Park not knowing it's official name. Walking with Fred and the band MMM the night before to a fresh seafood restaurant we passed by the front of the park which had a statue of a man seated in a chair in front of a huge, upright hawk, the totem of the Egyptian god Horus said to represent the energies of this new era, the limitless potential of the expanded being. I asked the festival Promoter about the statue, he said they based it on a photo taken of Gulbenkian in Egypt confirming it as a symbol of Horus. That got me looking into their Foundation more. I found out that they also sponsored an Orchestra, a major one in Portugal.
,,, improvements in well-being, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries
Large amounts of money, time and peoplepower invested in making possible all kinds of cutting edge progressive music from around the planet. A permanent Orchestra, or as Sun Ra calls it, an Arkestra. More on this later.
Horus also kills time:
"Behold! I am Yesterday, To-day, and Tomorrow!
I am born again and again
I travel upon high!
I tread upon the firmament of Nu"
- The Great Invocation from Magick p. 673
in lines likely borrowed from The Papyrus of Ani, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, an old bardo guide book. To kill time by transcending local conditioning/brainwashing of all experience measured by the clock. Kill the monkey mind and time goes with it. Kill time and there goes the monkey mind. No time in the bardo. To see a Massacre show means to face certain death ... if only temporarily forever, death to clock tempo, death to the mind. Something else takes its place.
Killing time also means it's common expression, just killing time, something to do while waiting for the next thing to come along, maybe the Apocalypse, the total collapse of civilization which for the moment seems to be collapsing just fine in Israel, Palestine, Syria, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Mali, Afghanistan, Pakistan with the United States barely holding on. Perhaps I don't expect civilized people to kill each other and engage in continued violence. CNN reports that the "most vulnerable" currently ( at the time of the show) seem to be the Palestinians and the Yezidi, an ancient magic based culture that inspired both Gurdjieff and Crowley. Maybe we won't have long to wait?
Buckminster Fuller wrote a book in 1969 called Utopia or Oblivion which basically says that the inhabitants of this planet have to get their act together or face self-destruction, and that they could get their act together so successfully that it would seem like Utopia compared to how it is now. He makes several good suggestions. It doesn't look good, the locals can't even figure out how to keep that book in print.
The music is about to start, right on time, 9:30pm local time, 21:30 as they say here. The audience sees three anonymous figures coming up from the ground, no building around, just stairs emerging from subterranean depths. The green room is underground. No wall or backdrop on the back of the amplifiedtheater stage to block the view of the musicians approaching. Applause, then expectant, pregnant hush. The music starts, rises vertically more like a stellar vehicle lift-off than a plane ramping up speed on a runway to begin the voyage. Escape velocity seems to occur almost right away. The sound is good, dynamically weaving reaching a peak massacre in not much time. Zero to infinity in the flash of an eye. I have to turn up the drums to meet the loud stage volume (LSV, as we professionals call it), fortunately, the drums sound much better turned up - clear, articulate punchy and tight, a cohesive pillar of rhythm, sound, and motion against the bass and guitar's harmonic/noise excursions into Space via chordal, rhythmic dialogues in sound wash tapestries of processing effects, tempo accelerated loops, delays, chorai, harmonic pedals with angelic asian choruses, envelope filters, backwards time modulators, fuzztones, etc. etc, etc. Worlds created and destroyed while you listen. Space, Sun Ra quite fervently and cosmelodically wants us to know, is the place.
So far, the decibel watchdogs are leaving me alone. Issues and calm but strong words exchanged regarding the subject of volume at soundcheck. Like meter maids of the future, which is now in Lisbon, the decibel cops have SPL and Real Time Spectrum Analyzer apps for their Apple Tablets. I was clocking in peaks at 103 -104 dB SPL at soundcheck. The laws in Portugal mandate a maximum of 96 dB SPL so thy said. I told them I would try to keep it from going over 96. To me, it was louder in concert. I did turn up the bass and drums a fair amount, and the guitar when it played quiet and fast. The Promoter stood to the right of the sound desk for the whole show, absorbed in the music, obviously enjoying it. He didn't say a word to me about the volume but let me know he was having a good time. At one point, Joao Paulo Nogueira, the house sound system tech who helped and watched over me, he with the enforcer Apple Tablet app, got up from where he sat beside me, and pointing to the output meters frantically exclaimed, "It's not possible, it's not possible" about four times with little breaks in between. The meters appeared perfectly fine to me, the sound was clear and clean; by his admission we were doing the impossible. I put my hand on the master fader but didn't move it, the music moved on as it does, it's very dynamic, maybe the music naturally got a little quieter? The extreme Massacre volume moments don't last all that long unless you're completely involved, time has been killed and you've entered a moment of eternity. Maybe that's what Joao meant when he said "it's not possible" repeatedly. He seemed satisfied, sat down and didn't say anything for the rest of the concert. He had been extremely helpful getting me set up with the digital mixing board.
Bass pedals, guitar pedals sometimes used like Burroughs cut-up text, sonically jaunting into a different dimension at the flick of a switch. Jaunting- a futuristic, Horus-like, mode of travel from Alfred Bester's, The Stars, My Destination sf classic where one can teleport vast intergalactic distances instantaneously through visualization ... or changing pedals in this case. I was adding in big Hall reverbs and killing time delays. Bill has a pedal with the sound of an Arkestra.
Earlier in the Hotel Acores lobby (named after the volcanic Azores Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean) Bill gave me a treasure trove of new music that includes 8 discs of rare Sun Ra recordings, studio and live from the '50's and '60's which I've been playing whenever possible. For me, that's like hitting the jackpot! Sun Ra changed my life when I saw him perform with over a hundred musicians and dancers in a small East Village cabaret in 1982. I was visiting New York and had never heard of him before, but liked the name. Besides the music being very loud and powerful, most powerful jazz I'd heard up to that point, it was the first time I'd seen someone doing the whole schmuru/School/teacher trip in the context of a Big Band. Also, to me, it appeared obvious that he was whipping up and using the energy of the music for some other, far flung magickal motive, I don't know what. I suspected he was sending the energy somewhere, but who knows? It did give me ideas. The music and theater Sun Ra choreographed and created made the event a powerful magick ritual and I felt initiated afterwards. The cds Bill gave me seem like postcards from an old friend. I was delighted to read a note regarding Rocket Number Nine Blast Off for the Planet Venus: "covered by NRBQ, this 1966 version was picked by Ra-fan Bob Dylan as his favorite Sun Ra tune, and included it on the third volume of CD compilations from Dylan's radio show "Theme Time Radio Hour."
Much High Definition blood on CNN at this time on this day. Breaking News .... Lots of Palestinian blood. Thousands of Yezidi fleeing up a mountain. Breaking News ... the US bombing again in North Iraq fighting against their own weaponry and they're all just killing time in very boring, repetitive and painful ways. ,,, improvements in well-being, particularly for the most vulnerable, by creating connections across boundaries ... hands across the water, water, heads across the sky; sound can act as painkiller; music can act as a time killer to resurrect another day.
Soundcheck: learning exactly what buttons to press to program this Yamaha digital desk. No outboard except my Kosmos, everything loaded into the Yamaha - dynamics (noise gate and compression) on every channel which sound good and help. All the effects are also on outboard, they sound non-descript, a little wooly but they do something. Serious lack of power in the low end is my first impression. The sound is tight and clear, but lacking punch. Thankfully, Joao sees what I'm trying to do with the system and has the excellent idea to move the sub woofer cabinets together to create a coupling effect. There were four cabinets spread out which got moved to two cabinets coupled together on each side of the stage. After all, the dude brought a subharmonizer halfway across the world, let's give him his money's worth, I hear him thinking. This changed everything and solved the problem giving me good low frequency response that you could feel.
Second day back home transferring the concert recording this music seems like the most progressive I've ever heard. After hearing one piece that started slow and kind of funky, starts and stops (around 20: in) then went to a jazz ride cymbal rhythm, a spontaneous subconscious message swam up from below saying that this is the one of the most important documents of music to come out in the last 30 years. I don't know where I got that number from; this music sounds way far ahead of anything else. Some of it reminded me of post post Bitches Brew - where that music could have gone if they had kept going in that direction. Even that can't adequately describe it.
Statue of a man sitting perfectly still in a chair in front of a giant Horus hawk looks like a Guardian to the entrance of Gulbenkian Park where we are playing. Charles Hayward seated on his drum throne in constant, driving motion measuring time at the drum kit in front of the entire Universe represented by a pastoral forest glade. Charles gave a brief post mortem:
almost seems to be something happening beyond the telepathy, like a sort of strobing between sounds, constant interlocking, but with shapes to help the listener make sense. Don't know about you but I know where I am in the structure at the same time as being lost in the waves and pulses.
Fighting slows down in Gaza the day after Massacre plays. A 3 day truce gets signed a day after that which is still holding. I guess that situation rings closer to home from just having worked in Israel. The contact still feels strong. I remember my friend, Mustapha, and wonder how he's doing?
The environment helps shape the music. Always seem to have amazing shows in Lisbon. My favorite Painkiller show was here years ago in an airplane hanger when all the theaters were dark from a strike. Now, the beautifully landscaped glens and gardens and balmy Mediterranean air evokes for me the naturalist poetry of Walt Whitman to describe the Massacre concert:
I have heard what the talkers were talking ... the talk of the
beginning and the end,
But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.
There is never more any inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now;
And never will be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.
Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance ... Always substance
Always a knit of identity ... always distinction ... always a breed of life.
To elaborate is no avail ... Learned and unlearned feel that it is so.
Sure as the most certain sure ... plumb in the uprights, well
entretied, braced in the beams,
Stout as a horse, affectionate, haughty, electrical,
I and this mystery here we stand.
Clear and sweet is my soul ... and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.
Lack one lacks both ... and the unseen is proved by the seen, Till that becomes unseen and receives proof in its turn.
- Leaves of Grass
One theme of Jazz Em Agosto 2014 was guitar players. They presented concerts by James "Blood" Ulmer with Vernon Reid, Marc Ribot and two trios and a quartet with Fred Frith. Now, a qabalist might look at the genre "Guitarist" or the word "Guitar" and decide that this discipline could correspond with the path called Gimel which connects Tiphareth with Kether on the Tree of Life. Gimel, which translates as "camel", travels across a barren desert called the Abyss, known to be difficult, chaotic, and treacherous. Especially so those guitarists who used the instrument experimentally to explore different spaces with sound like Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Robert Fripp, Townshend, or Fred. It can be seen as an elaborate metaphor for exploring the Unknown, breaking new ground. Guitar playing guided tours across the sandstorm, dry, dusty desert of the dark night. The whole principle of creative excursions into the Abyss gets an explanation in Chapter 42 from The Book of Lies.
Returning from the soundcheck Bill gives each of us blue envelopes that contain mastered cd copies of last year's second Massacre concert in Tokyo. Blueprints for the future of music ... one future of music, one that goes out beyond planetary considerations and suggests new modes of space travel. Aural documentation of jaunts to different worlds. Time also dies in Tokyo, goes off the grid. I wrote about that show here. Charles wrote:
The Tokyo gig CD Bill gave me is on the player all the time, it seems to just move into the next arena like shifting gear/tape splice/ hairpin bend. Total excitement, strangely emotional. Tunes stuck in my head. Sounds great.
8:30pm August 8, The day before the Massacre concert I go down to the lobby to meet Pedro for a ride to the venue. I'd already been there a couple of hours before to get a lay of the land. I meet Fred and Heika for the first time in Lisbon and ride over with them catching up. Fred will perform with the M.M.M.Quartet: Joelle Leandre- double Bass and voice, Urs Leimgruber - tenor and soprano sax, Alvin Curran - piano, keys and samples.
I had arrived in Lisbon that morning coming from Grass Valley, Sacramento, LA, and Philadelphia. Got to rest for a few hours so was in a pleasant, slightly nonlinear jet lag space. Waiting for the show, Heika turned into a Friendly Bardo Guide and told me about an exercise called "Morning Pages" from a book called The Artist's Way. This involves writing 3 pages of stream of consciouness, no matter what, as a way to create the habit of writing.
I've never heard anything like M.M.M. before, futuristic, post modern, post present, past pluperfect, as non-linear as Finnegans Wake except with instruments making sounds not word flow sound generation. It's so far out that I wonder how music like this is allowed to be performed, but grateful for it ... there is still hope. A plane flies over at the start of the 2nd piece fitting right in to the soundscape. Reading nearly an entire biography on Madame Blavatsky on the flights over has my head swimming with thoughts about the music of the Hidden Masters sounding like M.M.M., and later a 4th M - Massacre. The music reminded me of dreams I've had where a lot of information has been downloaded to me, but I only understand a little of it. Same feeling the first and second times reading Finnegans Wake (hasn't been a third time yet). Heika points out a tree she likes swaying in the wind on a hill behind the audience. Through her eyes I can see its personality, its dryad spirit dancing with life.
I am amazed by the way M.M.M. improvises that the music always stays in the same key. Usually music as "free" as this has moments of dissonance and atonality, but I don't hear any of that. I remark about this to Fred afterwards as we walk to the restaurant and without hesitation he says, " I'm a rock musician, I play changes, it's my job to establish a key." I look to the right and see a statue of a man seated hierophantically in a chair like Abraham Lincoln without the beard. Behind him stands a giant bird statue; the head gives it away as a hawk. I wonder if this relates to Egyptian mythology?
In the restaurant there is some speculation from the band about what M.M.M. could stand for. I forgot the one that sounded most logical, but there was a consensus that M.M.M. didn't stand for anything in particular. That night I read that Aleister Crowley named his first O.T.O. order with the initials M.M.M. which stood for Mysteria Mystical Maxima. Back home the shirt I randomly choose to wear the next day is from a John Zorn/Bill Laswell O.T.O. event called Musica Mystica Maxima.
Post Massacre: talking a bit with Fred about his days going on long walks and talks with Brian Eno in London. Eno still is a big inspiration for me and has been almost from the start. I discovered in his biography, On Some Faraway Beach by David Sheppard that Fred had done a lot of work on Before and After Science. Fred said that Eno was always someone you wanted to talk to because he always had interesting ideas on all kinds of things. I mentioned the rumor that Eno experimented with altering the tape chemically. Fred said that he and other collaborators had tried physically altering tape in a variety of ways including burying it underground once for 3 days. He said it's amazing how resilient the tape was, it never changed appreciably.
Last instruction from Heika while saying goodbye - "Do the morning pages exercise, ritualize it."