Saturday, October 30, 2010

Recording Ornette Coleman

I engineered a few sessions with Ornette acting as Producer . He was working with a female Japanese singer who's name escapes me at the moment, at Laswell's Greenpoint studio. I don't recall the other musicians except that Jamaaladeen Tacuma was playing bass. Also don't know if anything got released from these sessions. Coleman didn't seem particularly focused or even comfortable in the role of Producer at that time, more understated and abstract. Sometimes I felt we were drifting in space with little or no discernible direction. I remember once the drummer playing a basic 4/4 beat and Ornette asking him what it would sound like if he was to reverse the beat, play the bass drum where he was hitting the snare and vice versa.

It wasn't until Bill Laswell produced a record for artist, now director, Julian Schnabel, that an opportunity arose to record Ornette playing his horn. Schnabel had approached Bill asking for help in getting his songs recorded. Bill put together a top notch backing band that included himself on bass, one of my favorite drummers, Anton Fier of Golden Palominos fame, on drums, Nicky Skopelitis on guitars, and Bernie Worrell on keys. The usual suspects, as it were.

There's a few stories to tell about the making of this one which I'll get to in their time. Ornette comes in when the album was nearly done. Most of the songs had been mixed but there were still a couple that had spots that could have used a solo and/or embellishments of some kind on the whole track. Bill suggested to Schnabel, "Why don't we ask Ornette to play?"

That began a whole process and somewhat of a drama. Apparently Ornette didn't say yes or no when asked but agreed to consider it. One morning as we were getting underway, Bill mentioned that Ornette had agreed to come down to the studio to meet. The songs had been tracked at Greenpoint, but at this point we were at Campeau Studio on West 3rd Street just east of Broadway to mix on their SSL.

So it was arranged for Ornette to come down to Campeau one evening to meet Schnabel and get to know the music. He arrived before Julian, I saw him waiting in the lounge seated on the black leather couch with Bill, and Michael Lang who was helping Julian in some music management capacity.

Michael Lang was one of the organizer's of the Woodstock festival. If you've ever seen the film, he's the brash young kid with a head full of long brown frizzy hair riding about on a motorcycle. He had mellowed considerably since that time but was still a formidable, if quiet, presence in the room.

I was in and out of the lounge setting up for the evening's playback session and couldn't help but overhear Ornette discussing a peyote ritual he had participated in. I remember him giving the opinion that he considered psychedelic plants to be essential nutrients for the soul in the same way that vitamins are for the body and brain.

When Schnabel arrived, we moved into the control room to play Ornette the songs that had already been mixed. Bill stayed in the lounge but we left the intercom open so he could hear the conversation. So it was myself, Ornette Coleman, Julian Schnabel and Michael Lang in the control room for the playback session.

Ornette was extremely critical of the music and didn't hold back telling Schnabel so. He wasn't aggressive about it and seemed as critical of the music's genre as much as the songs. Not too suprising, one wouldn't expect a Free Jazz icon to appreciate alternate country/folk/rock with impassioned, but very raw vocals singing love songs and tragicomic episodes from life. The room was dark and the atmosphere very intense, difficult to describe. Everyone was very serious but I also had a sense of surreal absurdity with the whole scenario.

Schnabel took the criticism well, he stayed calm and respectful through some of Ornette's more piercing comments. What could he say? Though on top of the game in the art world, this was his first foray into the world of music whereas Ornette was a master and genius. Michael Lang's quiet but alert presence had a calming effect. I don't recall the exact comments but Ornette's criticism was never like, this is garbage, you should stop what you're doing etc. but more in the nature of intellectually questioning why certain musical decisions were made. The criticism, though quite strong, was never thoroughly discouraging.

Coleman also telepathically picked up on my thoughts. I didn't say anything but at one point, reacting to something Ornette was complaining about, I thought, 'but Ornette, this music is about the 'feel' more than anything...' A few minutes later, as if addressing this thought, Ornette said, "Well some people will say that it's about 'feel' but ..." and proceeded to give a cogent rebuttal to my thought. Perhaps the extra nutrients made him more sensitive?

The evening ended on a comic note for me. Julian's father had come to the studio, to meet Ornette, I guess. After the session, Julian brought him back to the control room with Bill. After introductions all around, Julian's dad looks at everyone: Ornette Coleman, Bill Laswell, Julian Schnabel, Michael Lang, and myself and says with a mischievous grin, "I know who's really running the show here," pointing at me, " he is," apparently because I was the technician.

Everyone parted that night on a friendly note. Ornette still hadn't agreed to play on the record but also had not ruled it out. He agreed to come back a couple of days later.

When Ornette showed up, Bill said, "He brought his horn. That's a good sign."

The issue of whether Ornette would contribute to Schnabel's album had nothing to do with compensation or anything else except the music. Only if it felt musically right would he agree to do it.

Ornette said that he didn't know if he could play on the album until he could tell if there was a musical relationship between him and Schnabel. So they went into the studio and began improvising together on the country blues song Apartment #9 written by Johnny Paycheck. The two of them clicked and easily entered into a unique musical dialog with each other. I recorded it with a room mic for posterity's sake. It went well, Ornette appeared comfortable playing with Schnabel and it looked like we were on.

The next day it looked like I was going to finally realize my dream of recording Ornette Coleman playing the saxaphone on a record. I had set up a Neumann U47 vintage tube microphone for him and put some light compression on it with a Urie LA2A Tube Limiting Amplifier. As Ornette entered the live recording area of the studio I was very conscious that this was the moment I had long waited for. Exactly at that moment, Schnabel walked into the control room, saw a small piece of framed art that I'd set up beside the SSL mixing desk, and began to make severely critical comments to me about it. I certainly didn't need that distraction and barely heard what he was saying though I do remember that he gave me an open invitation to his home for an art appreciation lesson. Regretfully, perhaps, I didn't follow up on his offer. At that moment, I was more interested in a self-taught 'recording Ornette Coleman' lesson.

And now for the hard part of this missive, trying to effectively convey the incredible beauty and richness of Ornette's sound. Perhaps David Toop or Rafi Zabor could have given this experience literary justice. I'm a novice at writing of the musical and sonic realms that go beyond words.

I was completely blown away from the moment he stepped up to the microphone. Suprisingly and unexpectedly so. I had listened to Coleman enough on record and cd but now it was like hearing him for the first time. It was if the man, Ornette Coleman, disappeared, and a higher order being of some kind with what felt like a feminine or androgynous presence, took shape. His adventurous blues based playing had its own coherent language telling a story from the heart and soul of these songs, communicating their essential nature.

At least that's how I saw it. I thought Ornette took two somewhat mediocre songs and completely transformed them into something compelling to listen to. Schnabel saw it differently. After I mixed the two Ornette songs, he asked for mixes without the sax. I could hardly believe it. And that's what he used on the record. Nothing Ornette played made it on. I never did hear the reason. Maybe it was too good?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Harmolodics: Meeting Ornette Coleman

I don't remember the first time I met Ornette but it may have been when Bill Laswell brought me to his apartment in Soho to see some pieces by an artist that Ornette was promoting. Ornette was soft spoken and relaxed but he also seemed kind of otherwordly to me as if he had access to whole ranges and depths of experience that most people could barely imagine, and he probably did!

I have little recollection of the art or the artist, who was there also, except that there were a number of pieces laid out on the floor. I believe it was African or strongly African influenced, and I sensed a Shamanic flavor to them. Bill purchased a couple of them that night.

At one point Ornette mentioned that he'd never had an album of his recorded to his standard of Harmolodics.

Harmolodics is the musical philosophy of jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and is therefore associated primarily with the jazz avant-garde and the free jazz movement, although its implications extend beyond these limits.

As an engineer who had wanted to record Ornette for a number of years, I was thinking, what's the problem?! Let's get into the studio and make a harmolodics record! I'm sure Bill was having a similar reaction.

Ornette mentioned that he'd never even heard a harmolodics recording except for one rehearsal recording by Frank Sinatra which no longer existed. After the successful sonic documentation of the Master Musicians of Jajouka with Bill, I felt confident recording music that supposedly couldn't be recorded.

Out loud I told him something to the effect that it was definitely possible to make a harmolodics record and we should just do one. I wasn't at all worried that I had no idea what constituted a harmolodics record. I used my Sherlock Holmes-like deductive reasoning to infer that it must be possible to record one otherwise he wouldn't keep trying. And he actually had heard one before - the Sinatra rehearsal. I therefore reasoned that the problem must lie with Ornette not being able to communicate his harmolodic vision or the engineer's inability (in Coleman's view) to successfully translate that vision into an audio format.

The primary intention of High Velocity Sound Engineering is to successfully interpret and translate the artist's vision into an audio product. I didn't know to convince Ornette that Bill and I could pull this off so I just told him that with a high amount of focused attention, and clear communication, we could get him the harmolodics recording he had yet to realize.

This conversation and challenge led me to an investigation of: exactly what is Harmolodics?
I have yet to find an adequate definition. The one at Wikipedia currently says:

Coleman defines harmolodics as: "the use of the physical and the mental of one's own logic made into an expression of sound to bring about the musical sensation of unison executed by a single person or with a group." Applied to the particulars of music, this means that "harmony, melody, speed, rhythm, time and phrases all have equal position in the results that come from the placing and spacing of ideas."

quoted from: Coleman, Ornette. Prime Time for Harmolodics. Down Beat, July 1983, pp. 54-55

The physical and mental of logic to make a musical sensation of unison?? Sounds to me like he's saying that it's music intended to engender a religious or mystical experience of unity. This is all very nice and I agree that this is what real music can do and constitutes a noble aim but how does that make harmolodics different from other magically potent music? For instance, I almost always get a "musical sensation of unison" whenever I hear Stairway to Heaven. Does that make it harmolodic? I don't think so.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

Harmolodics seeks to free musical compositions from any tonal center, allowing harmonic progression independent of traditional European notions of tension and release. Harmolodics may loosely be defined as an expression of music in which harmony, movement of sound, and melody all share the same value.

The first sentence makes sense, to me. The second one, saying that those musical constituents "all share the same value," sounds like vague, poetic gobbledygook ( to use a technical expression). What scale of measurement gets used to place valuation on "movement of sound?" Decibels?? So then, how could a melody share the same decibel value as movement of sound? It doesn't make sense. Maybe I just don't get it. Anyone who does, feel free to enlighten me in the comments section.

I once directly asked Ornette to explain Harmolodics to me. He went into an elaborate musical theory (that didn't resemble any of the definitions above) that involved the transposition of notes from one instrument to another. I was really trying hard to follow what he was saying and at one point I thought I got it.

"So harmolodics is the melody that the harmonics of various instruments make," I said to him.

"No, no, no," Ornette replied, "Harmolodics is music intended to bring out the fundamental of the listener without modulation."

The fundamental in music mean the root note of the chord. The fundamental in an E chord is the note E. It also means the root frequency of an instrument's sound wave. When a sax plays an E note an octave above middle C, the frequency of that note is 659.26 Hz assuming the use of the common A = 440 Hz tuning calibration. But that E note on the sax generates a range of harmonics all mathematically related in whole number ratios to the E's fundamental frequency of 659.26 Hz. So, in effect, every note has its own inner chord. These harmonics are not at equal amplitudes (ie volume) but make up their own mix determined by the instrument and how it's played. This mix of harmonics within a note is known as the instruments timbre ( pronounced tamber, we're not cutting down trees here) and explains why an E played on a saxophone sounds different than an E played on a trumpet.

Modulation means change. Coleman's intention for Harmolodic music is to bring out the essential nature of the listener without changing it. In my estimation, this appears completely congruent to the notion of discovering and aligning to one's True Will. Still not a concrete definition of Harmolodics, but perhaps it can only get defined musically?

Back at Ornette's apartment that night after the discussion about harmolodic recordings, he said that what he was trying to do with his music was conquer death. Ornette said that whenever he told this to people they often had an adverse reaction so he stopped mentioning it. I told him that I had no problem with this idea, that it was, in fact, right up my alley.

Other musicians I've worked with that fall under the Harmolodics umbrella include James "Blood" Ulmer and Ronald Shannon Jackson. I had the pleasure of traveling to India with Shannon. Bill Laswell brought us. Me, to work with him recording classical Indian violinist L. Shankar and other traditional musicians, and Shannon, to explore new parts of the Earth and religious and social culture. Shannon is one of the most consciously shamanic musicians that I've ever worked with. Blood is very shamanic also, more informally but just as richly via the blues.

Stay tuned ...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ornette and Synergetics

From early on, I had a wish to work with Ornette Coleman, iconoclastic composer, and one of the true High Priests of the saxophone. I’ll explain why.

Learning the craft of audio engineering sparked a thirst in me for all kinds of knowledge. Going on the road mixing bar bands at night gave a lot of free time in the afternoons for study. I began with basic text books on physics, electronics, sound engineering, and acoustics. Discovering wave propagation theory, how sound waves “interfere” both constructively and destructively with one another, gave some valuable clues for getting a better sound in the acoustically challenged clubs that I worked in.

For some reason, the study of basic geometry and other apparently unrelated subjects like quantum physics, psychology, philosophy, and mathematics became important to me. I checked out loads of books from the library whenever we were home. To instill a sense of discipline, purpose and form, I outlined a course of study which I called Space-Time University.

I remember telling a friend at the time that I didn’t really know why I was studying geometry but that it seemed necessary to do so. Sure enough, I found out just a few weeks later.

Robert Fripp, the renowned guitarist and erstwhile student of Gurdjieff, used to write a column in Musician magazine back in the ‘80’s. In one of them he talked about producing an album for The Roches. He wrote that while mixing it, he approached the sound field as a 3 dimensional matrix which could represent the music as geometric forms.

The width dimension in the mix is defined by the panorama postion, ie where the pan pot is set. Your frequency range represents the height dimension - low frequencies at the bottom, highs at the top. The depth dimension is determined by the dynamic range. The quieter sounds are further away, louder sounds more upfront. As an aside, this is one reason why over-compressed music sounds so flat, the dynamic range becomes severely reduced, (“squashed” as we say in the biz) so that the track ends up with little or no depth.

Discovering that sound has a definable geometry was like a light turning on for me. I began to realize that the sound field has it’s own architecture. I could approach mixing music as an aesthetic designer of space in the same way that a sculptor or architect would.

Some time later, I got into R. Buckminster Fuller’s energetic system of geometry called Synergetics which he claimed was far more practically applicable in the real world than our standard Euclidian geometry with its abstract axioms. I agree with Fuller about this, Synergetics seems several steps beyond and much more functional than regular geometry. I know that I was having a lot of strange dreams, reminiscent of tapping into alien Parallel Universes when I went on a retreat to study it.

The integration of geometry and philosophy in
a single conceptual system providing a
common language
and accounting for both the
physical and metaphysical.
Synergetics 251.50

Synergy gets defined as that mysterious principle that makes “the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts. “

Synergetic geometry is responsible for the Geodesic Dome which led to portable housing and other architectural innovations including the Houston Astrodome and all the subsequent Coliseum like domed sports mega structures like the Kingdome in Seattle where I saw the Rolling Stones in 1981.

So I began applying Fuller’s whole systems approach to sound engineering. I started to view the musical geometric forms in the mix along the lines of Synergetics rather than the Euclidean approach that Fripp wrote about.

Not too long after this, geologically speaking, I saw the documentary Ornette Coleman: Ornette Made In America produced by an esoterically minded theater group in Texas called the Caravan of Dreams led by a rascal guru (according to the sensationalistic press) known as Johnny Dolphin. Dolphin is also influenced by Buckminster Fuller, among others. He’s most well-known to the public for the Biosphere II experimental project which he initiated.

The film was based on the premiere of a piece composed by Ornette Coleman called Skies of America for the opening of a new cultural and performing arts center in Fort Worth, Texas. One comment in the film inspired a years long dream to record Ornette that eventually came true. He said that he wanted to make music that sounded like Fuller’s Synergetics geometry. It kind of floored me because I wanted to mix music like Fuller’s geometry.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Ladder to the Sky

Sometimes the random juxtaposition of sound and image can inform and enlighten. Driving home yesterday morning after mixing a show the night before for Rupa & the April Fishes at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco, I saw a Fire Engine truck in a field by the road with its ladder extended straight up to the sky. I didn't see anyone around it - there weren't any buildings nearby or any other obvious reason for the ladder to be all the way up. The radio was playing the medley from the second side of The Beatles Abbey Road and as I passed the Fire Engine their 4 part harmonies sang,
"Because the wind is high ...." in a a long, drawn out phrase. A song singing the wind is high at a space/time conjunction with a ladder reaching high. Well, this is California after all!

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Recently finished recording overdubs for Cherisha Heart, mostly vocals, some guitars, and percussion, for her forthcoming album produced by her brother Chris. Heart's songs are sincere and direct, candidly reflecting her personal experience. I would put them in the genre of Adult Orientated Rock except that these songs have a quality of freshness and aliveness that most AOR lacks. Her vocals range from sultry and soulful to powerfully soaring. All the music tracks - drums, bass, guitars and keys, were played by Chris who also adds backing vocals. Stylistically, it goes from sensitive and delicate ballads all the way to some songs with a hard rock feel along the lines of Zeppelin or Sabbath. It was a real pleasure to work with both of them.
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E. J. Gold's latest efforts include crafting up and selling stage magic tricks and illusions. The website he set-up for this is:

He has some interesting blog postings on using Magic as a Way of Service etc.

When I hear of Magickman, it reminds of the song by the Seattle rock band Heart called Magic Man. I never liked the song or the band but it was forever branded in my brain when lead singer, the devastatingly intelligent and beautiful Rhonda Trodd, dedicated the song to me for engineering efforts during my second week ever of mixing sound. It was with the first band I ever worked for, White Alice. I really didn't know what I was doing with the sound, just learning through experimentation, not even knowing if I was part of the problem or part of the solution to getting a decent sound in a working class bar with horrible acoustics.

Somehow that song dedication was enough of a confidence builder to get me to consider the possibility of making sound engineering a career path. This was still a few years before I encountered the discipline of Magick so maybe it was a bit of a prognostication as well?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

My Dinner with Paul Bowles

wasn't as dramatic as the film My Dinner with Andre ( a 4th Way classic and existential shocker) but the one exchange I had with him is worth mentioning.

Paul Bowles isn't as well known as he should be. He's primarily remembered as an author, perhaps his best known work being The Sheltering Sky which is about three young Americans of the postwar generation who go on a walkabout into Northern Africa's own arid heart of darkness. In the process, the veneer of their lives is peeled back under the author's psychological inquiry.

quoted from here.

Yet Bowles was also a prolific music composer early on in his career, working with Orson Welles on scores for productions by The Mercury Theater, among others. He was also the one who translated Satre's classic existential work No Exit from French into English. No Exit is not the literal translation of the French title Huis Clos which means "in camera." Bowles said that he had a difficult time coming up with a title until one day he got off the subway train in New York and couldn't leave the platform because the only door was locked and had a sign that said No Exit.

It was from reading a book set in North Africa by Paul Bowles that inspired William Burroughs to move to Tangier where he wrote the novel that put him on the literary map, Naked Lunch.

Bowles was also, briefly, a sound engineer. He was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation to travel around Morocco to record indigenous music which varied a lot from area to area. He did this in August and September of 1959 which, coincidentally, is when I assumed this present human incarnation. These recordings still exist in the Library of Congress.

I was part of a group of about 10 people who had dinner with Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco in early November 1991. I was in Tangier with Bill Laswell, Nicky Skoplelitis, Jean Touitou, Bernard Zakri and a French film crew on our way to Jajouka, a small village in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, to record the Master Musicians of Jajouka. It was Paul Bowles, who, in 1951 took Brion Gysin to a festival in Morocco where they both heard the Master Musicians of Jajouka for the first time. It changed their lives, especially Gysin's, who subsequently opened a restaurant in Tangier for the sole purpose of giving them somewhere to play where he could hear them every night. It was called A Thousand and One Nights.

The dinner was made even more unusual by the film crew setting up their lights and reflectors and filming it. I remember very little about the restaurant except that it was very dark and seemed sparsely adorned. Being in the lights surrounded by darkness gave the feeling of dining in an isolated chamber separated from the rest of the world.

For much of the time people were asking Bowles to tell famous stories from his past. He indulged these requests graciously. Having researched Jajouka and its background extensively, I knew all these stories which Bowles was faithfully recounting. I had the sense of being in the presence of a 'living artifact' of unique knowledge and experience and thought it would be a missed opportunity if I couldn't pry some of it out of him.

Aware of his travels doing field recordings in Morocco years ago, I asked him what he did, if anything to induce or encourage creativity from the artists he recorded.

"Why, it's simple" Bowles replied, "I make them comfortable. I do whatever I can to make them comfortable."

He then told a story of recording a group of 3 women in a strict, fundamentalist region of Morocco where alcohol was forbidden under penalty of death. He asked the women if he could get them anything before they recorded and one of them requested a shot of whiskey. He said that he went out and risked his life to get her a shot of whiskey for the recording.

Unfortunately, I didn't get the opportunity to converse with him further.

I have found this to be excellent advice. The comfort of the artist can make all the difference in a performance. If they request a mic different from my choice, I'll usually give it to them to help out with the comfort factor.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Simulations of God

This is a PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT brought to you by Radio Station


AROUND THE CLOCK...................................... AROUND THE DIAL

Oh my god!, am I here all alone?

- Ballad of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan from Highway 61 Revisited

It's purely coincidental that the Highway Dylan chooses to revisit is 61 , the same number that Crowley uses as the keynote to begin the Naples Arrangement which is his Qabalistic model of the Universe and of how Creation and Existence manifest out of the Void.

In the Tree of Life, therefore, is found the first attempt to connect the Ideal with the Actual.

Then what is the true meaning, in the category of the Real, of these planets and signs? Here again is one faced with the impossibility of exact definition, because the possibilities of research are infinite; also, at any moment in any research, the one idea merges into the other and clouds the exact definition of the images. But this, of course, is the objective. These are all blind steps on the way to the Great Light: when the Universe is perceived as one, yet with all its parts, each necessary and each distinct.

- from The Book of Thoth

The other day I was editing an audio file of actress and blues singer Cynthia Henderson reading the new Introduction to the new edition of the HBM aka The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus by E.J. Gold and came across a passage on the nature of God which reminded me of John Lilly's book Simulations of God.

In that book, Lilly looks at the various models people have of God and defines these models not as their religious beliefs but of what they hold most dear and precious in their life; what they choose to make their God. For instance, if someone spends all their time and is most concerned with making money, then their simulation of God is Money despite whatever religious denomination they may belong to. Some people make their family God, others chase after sex, or status or fame. It can be anything. As Crowley says, Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Buddhists will say they don't believe in God, but their God, their Highest Ideal, is unlimited compassion for all beings.

What is your God?

By the way, I highly recommend picking up this latest edition of the HBM even if you already have the first edition because the new Introduction encapsulates an overview of the entire body of Gold's work and the Teaching he transmits in a holographic, information rich way.

The passage I saw goes like this:

God is actually more of an activity than a person, place or thing. So you think of God as a verb rather than as a noun, and you'll get closer to it.

Buckminster Fuller used to say, I seem to be a verb and this is cognate with Burroughs, Gysin and Crowley's aphorism, We are here to go.

Thou art God, is the greeting people give to one another in Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein's science fiction novel intended to popularize and present Thelemic philosophy.

God as a verb, an omnidirectional vector of endlessly Becoming seems in line with how theoretical physicists model the Universe.

Of course, a pantheist ( pan = all, theist = God) can be pan-devotional or pan-worshipful to just about anything. Or no-thing at all.

Crowley, in the aptly titled Liber Oz, declares There is no god but man right below the quote, Every man and every woman is a star. In an online Crowley class with Bob Wilson I changed it to There is no god but WoMan. He replied that his wife Arlen had made the same change in an article she wrote. The way I see it, that statement puts the onus on us.

There's also beautiful new Charcoal illustrations in the new HBM. The drawing that follows the Introduction is called Seeing The Invisible, a multi-perspective zen essence portrait that shows the beginning key. On the next page is a drawing of of an Angelic figure playing either a harp or an uprite bass with both hands. The neck of the bass, or top of the harp continues up past the figure's head to morph into its wings. It's called Music of the Heavens.

For me, music, when it reaches that magick space, when it's the real thing, is one way that God says, here I am.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Coincidence or Magick?

One last thing about the sound engineering lineage (see last 3 posts):

I helped Jason record two of the top drummers of all time, Elvin Jones at Sorcerer Sound for Ask the Ages, and Tony Williams at Greenpoint for The Word. Later, I recorded Tony Williams on my own at Sorcerer for Blacktronic Science. These were all produced and brought into existence by Bill Laswell. When I recorded Williams at Sorcerer, I used the double micing technique on all the toms as discussed in the interview with Jason Corsaro I linked to. Jason had told me about this technique although weren't able to try it when we recorded Elvin or Tony. I miced the toms, top and bottom, with U87's and flipped the bottom mics out of phase. Sorcerer was one of the only studios that had that many U87s. Toward the end of the session during a playback on the big speakers, Tony commented to me that the drums sounded good. High praise indeed!

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Driving to Prairie Sun the other day I noticed numerous Highway Patrol cops on the road in an apparent crackdown on speeders and other vehicular miscreants. Luckily I saw the one on the shoulder shooting his radar gun at us soon enough to slow down. Just outside of Sacramento I saw a motorcycle cop on the shoulder writing someone a ticket and thought it unlikely to be pulled over by him. He must of picked up on my slight paranoia because he quickly jumped on his bike and maneuvered himself to follow me for a long two minutes. Then, just as quickly, he pulled away from me and nabbed someone else in another lane who was obviously pushing the envelope of highway driving propriety.

The job at Prairie Sun was to sweeten the audio on a video short for KSK's documentary on West African music. The video has clips of various incredible African musicians talking about their craft and playing music, interspersed with other scenes of African life. In one shot, I noticed that Sibiri Samake, KSK's resident donso (shaman) was doing a casual sympathetic magick ritual to keep the cops from harassing the KSK video crew as they did their work. Getting pulled over frequently by the police in West Africa is not uncommon as they will do so for any reason to get their 2 or 3 dollar bribe. I wonder if his magick kept the cops off of my back or was it just a coincidence?

Sibiri Samake in donso gear

Back home the next day, I was checking a favorite blog, RAW Illumination, which covers Robert Anton Wilson related news, and clicked on a link posted that day that led to Wilson's unfinshed follow-up to the Illuminatus! trilogy. It was to be called Bride of Illuminatus and was published in the newsletter Trajectories assembled and put out by Wilson fans in the early '90's. My friend, Bob Bachtold, a very competant jazz drummer in his own right, is listed on the masthead as Computer Wizard.

Just now, as I pull up Bride to relate this tale, I see that Chapter One is titled 'Like A Virgin,' - a bit of a coincidence there with this blog. The other day, though, I didn't notice this but rather my attention was drawn to the first character's name which is Winifred. My client that day was also named Winifred. Then I realized that the opening scene takes place, apparently, in a bardo of some kind:

"Great day: I wake up and have to decide if I'm dead or bombed out of my skull. Just like the Tibetan Book of the Dead . . .

I felt right at home!

Not sure what this means, if anything. Synchronicities seem to multiply exponentially around Wilson related material. Coincidence or magick?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Power Station Lineage

This post is the third in a series of three.

I was once asked by a high profile client to state my engineering/musical pedigree. This got me pondering about the idea of a lineage of audio engineering knowledge and praxis passed on/transmitted from Master to Apprentice through direct contact and experience.

Jason Corsaro "grew up" (as they say about one's apprenticeship) at the famed Power Station recording studio, "a former Consolidated Edison plant located in what was then the deserted stretch of 53rd Street between Ninth and 10th Avenues, squarely in Hell's Kitchen."

quoted from this article

At the time, the Power Station was above and beyond every other studio in terms of setting the standard for audio innovation and excellence. Or as Mix Magazine puts it:

In the 1980s, New York's Power Station Studios (now Avatar Studios) was Mecca for the recording industry.

It's where the famed Bob Clearmountain did much of his early work. In fact he was one of the studio's founders. He was my favorite mix engineer from very early on (in fact he was the only mix engineer whose name I knew) particularly for his work with The Talking Heads, King Crimson and The Rolling Stones.

Jason Corsaro started out assisting for Clearmountain. One of the first clients Clearmountain brought to the Power Station was the R & B band that Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards started called Chic. Jason eventually became Nile Rodger's engineer. The first Nile Rodger's produced album that Jason recorded and mixed was by a new, fairly unknown artist named Madonna. The album was called Like A Virgin.

According to Wikipedia:

Jason Corsaro, the record's audio engineer, persuaded Rodgers to use digital recording, a new technique at the time which Corsaro believed was going to be the future of recording because test pressings always sounded consistent.

The album was extremely successful and basically launched Madonna's career.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified it diamond, for shipment of ten million copies across the United States. Worldwide it has sold 21 million copies, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time.

According to author J. Randy Taraborrelli, "Every important artist has at least one album in his or her career whose critical and commercial success becomes the artist's magic moment; for Madonna, Like a Virgin was just such a defining moment".

For most of the time that I worked with Jason I had no idea that he engineered Like A Virgin. It was a chance comment by Bill Laswell that clued me in. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to come across an interview with Jason where he candidly discusses some of his techniques, working with Bob Clearmountain and Nile, and working with Madonna. It's very enlightening. I highly recommend it to all audio engineers reading this here in The Mix.

When I picked up and read the very first issue of Spin Magazine back in 1985 I knew rather quickly that Madonna was going to be very successful. It had a photo layout of her in various settings in which she, or the art director, was making a clear and obvious connection to the Jungian archetype called the Great Mother. And, to top it off, a woman with the name Madonna makes an album and a single called Like A Virgin. I don't know how much more aligned to an archetype - a deeply ingrained patterning in the substrata of the collected consciousness - one can get. What a brilliant marketing strategy, I thought.

It's of great interest to my sociological, cosmological, and hermetic researches and applications that it was Jason who engineered the record that made Madonna ( the contemporary singer) a cultural and quasi-religious icon. This doesn't mean I like, endorse, or recommend her music, by the way.

In the same way that Madonna played the role and function of the "Madonna" archetype, all of the forces that put her on top of the pop charts could be said to have fulfilled the function of another earth-moving archetype known as The Chariot in the Tarot.

The Chariot is best studied in Aleister Crowley's Book of Thoth book on Tarot though he briefly says, "The Charioteer is the bearer of the Holy Grail" in the commentary to chapter 8 in the Book of Lies.

According to Aleister Crowley we entered a new Aeon of spiritual and cultural development in the Spring of 1904. He called it the Aeon of Horus after the Egyptian God who was the son of Isis and Osiris. Through his Qabalistic calculations Crowley determined that The Chariot, that particular archetype, is the formula of this new Aeon.