Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Beat Goes On

Preparing the last post on Ginger Baker made me realize the incredible fortune I have had recording drummers in general, and how much I owe them. I have worked with an extraordinary number of world-class drummers, drumming groups, and percussionists of all varieties.

Before getting into that, here's a well done, proper review of Beware of Mr. Baker from a link LJ posted in the comments section.

The person responsible for getting me into sound engineering is a drummer named Mark Kosman. Mark put together a band of High School friends that rehearsed in the house we both lived in. I used to hang out and watch them practice for hours on end whenever they were at it. After one rehearsal Mark asked me what I was going to do with my life. I had just quit a job as an apprentice Millwright ( heavy-duty construction) and had this idea to join the Peace Corps or something like that, and work in Africa. That would have combined two of my interests at the time, traveling and helping to save the world. "No, no, no," was Mark's reply, " we've got something better for you." His band, which they named White Alice - some kind of telecommunications term they found by opening a reference book at random - finally got a gig in Okotoks, a suburb of Calgary. Would I help out running their sound and lights? It meant that I could add a third primary interest, listening to music AND get paid for it ... eventually. Quite an epiphany. I never looked back. Mark was also an incredibly good drummer. You could feel the electricity in his playing even in some of the top-40 songs I didn't particularly like. White Alice only lasted a few months but he soon found his way to a hot, up and coming " new wave" (this is late '70s) band called The Models and recorded an album with them at the famous Le Studio facility north of Montreal. The album sounded good and did well in Canada.

My education into all the intricacies of the drum kit, the heads, the tuning, the type of shell wood, etc really began in earnest when I started mixing for Frantic and met Joel Anderson, a very polyrhythmic, agile, dexterous drummer with above average talent and a great love and passion for his chosen craft. Joel was pretty obsessed with drums in a good way and loved to talk with great enthusiasm about all the detailed things that made them sound the way they did. He once showed me the difference between Paiste and Zildjian cymbals in a drum shop, talked about what made them different, and why he preferred Zildjian. I took it all in and quite appreciated getting this drums 101 education. Joel's drummer guru at the time was Stewart Copeland. I later worked with Stewart as a producer on a Primus record, and as a drummer/producer for a month out in Vermont. I thought Stewart and I worked well together, perhaps the early education from Joel paved the way.

When I did live sound for various bands up in the Canadian bar band circuit every drummer wanted their drums to sound like John Bonham's. I had no problem with that. Then, in the mid-80's, a drummer for a band called Blade Runner said he wanted his drums to sound like the drums from the Power Station. That album was recorded and mixed by Jason Corsaro who a few years later became a drum engineering mentor for me. That drum sound got drummer Tony Thompson a gig with Led Zeppelin at Live Aid.

Elvin Jones is a drummer I'll never forget. In my memory, it's the best I've ever seen anyone play on a trap set. A complete natural individual style, hard to describe ... authoritative without overpowering ... taking you places but you never feel rushed or lost ... out in space traveling with a time machine propelled by human passion and life-long skill. You'll just have to hear the recording - it's called Ask the Ages.

Elvin's drums were tracked at Sorcerer Sound in New York by Jason Corsaro with a quartet that included Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Pharoah Saunders on sax, and Charnett Moffett on uprite bass. I was brought in by Bill Laswell to help out Jason but suspect it was also to give me the opportunity of working with those musicians. It wasn't common to bring in an assistant from a different studio. I ended up being in charge of their headphone mixes.

Watching Jason work with Elvin was quite interesting. I didn't ever hear Jason ask Elvin to do anything for a soundcheck. Jones somehow knew when to start playing and Jason got the sound on the fly, as he was playing. There wasn't any individual checking of each drum like you normally do. The respect Jason showed toward Elvin Jones, and the band as a whole, was really quite apparent and good for me to see. He stayed out of the way and did his work transparently to capture the moment.

Those Sorcerer sessions were on two consecutive nights. Each night I left the studio feeling wired to the max on nothing more than incredible music. Seemed like I'd just been through an intensive in some invisible college of higher learning. I was buzzing with energy. Ask the Ages is now considered a jazz classic masterwork by many people who write reviews on Amazon, and just about everybody who hears it.

Watching Stewart Copeland produce a Primus track with Brain (Brian Mantia) on drums was another highlight. I loved Brain's drumming, powerful but also tight, fast, and funky, and knew it quite well from recording Praxis and mixing them live. I also knew that Stewart was a big influence on him. Naturally, Brain was at the top of his game on that song. Stewart coaxed him to go further. He came up with a particularly difficult fill for Brain to play. Brain tried several times but couldn't quite make it. You could feel that tension in the air when someone gives it their all to push beyond limits. Finally, Brain aced it, both he and Stewart knew it, no question. Stewart admitted that he didn't know if he could have played that fill. It reminded me of the saying from Tibetan Buddhism that the greatest joy for a teacher is to see a student go beyond them. That's when they know that the baton has been passed on.

Working with Stewart was great when I recorded the Oysterhead project - the band with Copeland, Claypool and Anastasio - in the Phish studio, a vintage barn with exotic ornate doors imported from India and other cool interior design accoutrements, located out in the wilds of Vermont. That studio wasn't traditional by any means. There wasn't a separate control room, all the recording gear and mixing desk was in the same large room the band recorded in. I was familiar working this way from my years at Bill Laswell's Greenpoint studio which also didn't have a separate control room.

Oysterhead composed their tracks by playing together and improvising, finding the musically interesting parts that would emerge then building those into songs. So the first two weeks recording was spent about 2o feet away from Stewart Copeland and his drums watching him play for 10 - 12 hours a day. Pretty incredible ... I don't really have words for it ... it's like being taken up into a rareified atmosphere of sound and music exploration on a daily basis ... definitely alters your sense of time. Stewart mentioned not having played the trap set for the last 10 years being busy programming drums for film and television scores (which he does extremely well, I might add) but I couldn't tell the difference.

Stewart was more of a digital guy, and I'm more of an analog guy when it comes to the recording process, especially at that time. I think we agreed to disagree about some things. We would work from about 2pm to 2am. I remember Stewart coming in a few days 3 hours earlier at 11am to work on the editing. Once, when I arrived, he was moving his snare to be more "in time." I said to him jokingly, "what are you doing, don't you know that you're messing with Stewart Copeland's drums?" The perfectionist was driving him on. My objection to changing parts excessively in the computer is that it then becomes more of a machine created performance coming from the head - i.e. thinking about how the performance should be rather than feeling/intuiting it when playing live. The electrical connection is different when editing on a computer as opposed to the circuit made with live musicians. I suspected my advice might have been heard somewhat when I later ran into Les Claypool at the airport who said he was on his way to L.A. to help Stewart "unedit" some of the songs. Also, the final product doesn't sound over-produced. I still get the feeling of those initial live jams whenever I listen to Oysterhead.

Apart from those mentioned, drummers I've recorded or mixed live include (in no particular order):

Tony Williams, Jack deJohnette, Milfred Graves, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Ziggy Modaliste, J.T. Lewis, Aiyb Dieng, Joey Baron, Steve Smith, Charles Hayward, Karsh Kale, Zakir Hussein, Hamid Drake, Jerome Brailey (Parliament/Funkadelic), Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel, Paul McCartney), Matt Chamberlain, Omar Hakim, Anton Fier, Hideo Yamaki, Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello), Jaki Liebezeit (Can), Buddy Miles (Jimi Hendrix), Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Painkiller), Guy Licata (Method of Defiance), Michael Shrieve (Santana), Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits, Mavis Staples), and Andrew Borger (Tom Waits, Norah Jones)

These are the ones that I can remember that might be known to a wider public. I'm probably leaving some out because I'm only going off of my own dodgy memory. I've also worked with a lot of excellent less well-known drummers.

Case in point, Aaron Keirbal, whom I just tracked and mixed for up and coming singer/songwriter/guitar player/sound engineer Wesley Morgan at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. Wesley writes gritty songs of brutal honesty that reach to the core; one of the musical progeny of Tom Waits but with a uniquely individual voice. Aaron was the perfect choice to get that percussive junkyard sound and slow, tension-filled groove that creates such a thick and deep atmosphere for marking time for the song he was brought in to play on, Backroom in Tulsa. I've also worked with Aaron with Rupa and the April Fishes live and in the studio and really enjoy his tasteful jazz-flavored playing whenever we get the chance to work together. One of San Francisco's finest keepers of time.

I have also been quite lucky to have mixed and recorded a number of drumming groups, almost all of them in North or West Africa except when mixing North Africans in Japan or Europe. The most well-known of these is The Master Musicians of Jajouka from Morocco. I'll have to write up a full account, I don't think it's been done yet, or at least not published. For now I'll just mention setting up the recording for the first day. We left Tangier in the early afternoon for what I thought was going to be a 50 or 60 mile drive to Jajouka. For some reason it took all afternoon to get to where you leave the road and climb up the mountain to Jajouka. At that time, maybe still is, Jajouka was completely off the grid in every way, no electricity, no roads going to it, no telephones, nothing resembling anything of modern civilization except a battery operated P.A. system used for prayer calls. There wasn't even a sign from the road we drove in on to indicate how to get to Jajouka. You have to know someone who knows or you would never get there. It was dusk when we arrived at the spot to climb the mountain. We rode up on horses which they had waiting for us. The equipment was put on a large flatbed trailer and pulled up the mountain by a huge, ancient-looking tractor via a rocky, treeless ravine that served as a road.

It was completely dark when we reached Jajouka, but still early, 7 or 8 pm maybe. We enjoyed a simple meal of lamb, fresh bread and mint tea before unpacking and setting up the gear. The plan was to get it set up, make sure it all worked so it would be ready to start recording the next day. The film crew had arrived earlier in the day, driving down from France the past few days, and had their lighting and generator all set up providing ample illumination in the Moroccan night. The musicians were hanging about so ... no better way to test the gear than do a run through with the actual players. Everything worked fine, much to my relief. The musicians kept playing and playing, they didn't want to stop, and we didn't want them to stop. I was surprised to hear the 5 am prayer calls sound off. We had worked all night though it only seemed a few hours, and I had a tremendous amount of energy. The musicians ignored the calls, they wanted to keep playing. We told them we had to wait because they would bleed onto the tracks. The group had about 6 drummers and and about the same number of rhaita (a simple double reed horn with a very bright timbre) players. Their music definitely warped consciousness in interesting ways. You can get some idea here:

For about the last 6 - 7 years I've enjoyed a productive association with the KSK record label which features much traditional West African music. I've been to Mali four times for 2 - 5 weeks at a time making field recordings, recording in a local studio, and mixing for concerts. I've been exposed to quite a bit of masterful drumming in that time. I wrote about one of the more powerful experiences here. In Mali, music functions as much more than entertainment. Certain rhythms are designed to serve specific purposes. In the West we might go to a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst to help deal with emotional or mental issues affecting us. In Mali, they might play a certain drum rhythm to appease or drive away the evil spirits. I'll let you decide which is more civilized. I do know which one appears more cost effective.

Another drummer, Dru Kristel, helped me out a lot about 7 - 8 years ago when I was experiencing some shamanic difficulties which I'll call wave interference. It was suggested I talk to Dru because he was one of the few people who could relate to what I was going through. I barely knew him at the time, and heard that he could be difficult to reach but when I told him the situation, he understood right away and became very generous with his time and energy for me. He passed on a technique to me called The Medicine Wheel which helped immensely. I felt very fortunate to have made that contact when I did because he died about a year later. I wrote up a memorial tribute to him which led to his daughter, Ami, passing on to me a small dumbek (African drum) Dru had made.

Dru also wrote one of the best books on drums and drumming I've seen called, Breath Was the First Drummer. Here's a good review of it. It's roughly divided into two parts, practical and metaphysical. This is what he says regarding the magick of drumming. He sets it up by quoting an existential statement: The essential self does not have an electrical field, it is an electrical field which is from The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus by E.J. Gold. Followers of Tim Leary's 8 circuit model will recognize Gold's quote as referring to the 6th circuit of consciousness. Here's Dru from his book:

Drum rhythms set up muscle rhythms which set up breathing rhythms which set up heartbeat rhythms which set up electromagnetic rhythms ( this is the "evocational" part) which set up corresponding electromagnetic rhythms in the environment which feedback by reflex to the muscles, to the oxygen, to the blood, to the eliminative and respiratory systems. This reciprocating feedback( this is the "invocational" part), leaves reverberating effects up to 48 - 72 hours after a session.

In other words, from essential self, through the body into the environment, from the environment through the body by reflex, back to the essential self is the whole crux of the process known as self-initiation.

The emphasis is Dru's

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beware of Mr. Baker

One of the best music documentaries ever made about one of the best drummers of all time, Ginger Baker!

A confession before proceeding: I have toured and recorded with Mr. Baker and love him dearly. He is, as Eric Clapton says, " a loveable rogue."

Beware of Mr. Baker honestly presents Ginger in all his glory and tragedy sometimes at the expense of filmmaker Jay Bulger's pride and self-esteem. Make sure to let the end credits roll to catch a choice selection of Ginger's caustic insults to Jay which comes across as quite humourous rather than mean-spirited. However, you won't have to wait that long to get the idea and why to "Beware." First thing you see in the film is Ginger hollering at the top of his lungs then clobbering Jay on the nose with his metal cane. That Bulger or his cameraperson had the good sense to turn on the camera in the heat of the moment and catch the exchange with an interestingly disorientating camera angle indicates serendipitous good fortune; sometimes called a "god shot" - an unpremeditated random chance capture of a defining moment.  It seems likely that Bulger goaded Baker into this and deserved what he got, sacrificing his nose for the sake of art.

Some things I didn't know about Ginger before seeing this doc:

Cream was Ginger's band. He put it together. He called Eric Clapton then decided to hire Jack Bruce despite having fisticuffed and fired him from the Graham Bond Organization. Music won out over personal friction, at least for two years.

I didn't know that Ginger had instigated "drum battles" with such heavyweight jazz drummers as Elvin Jones and Art Blakely. There's a snippet of some incredible footage showing what that was about. Unlike political or military battles, these drum battles would take both participants to a higher level of musicianship concluding with the two "combatees" becoming life-long friends out of mutual respect and morphological kinship.

I wasn't aware that Ginger suggested slowing down and reversing a Jack Bruce riff which became one of Cream's most popular songs, Sunshine of Your Love. He also turned White Room into a 5/4 bolero. Bruce composed it in 4/4 time.

I knew that Bill Laswell went to Italy to pull him out of retirement but didn't know that the trip was instigated by Mr. Mouth himself, the incorrigible Johnny Rotten. John Lydon, in his Johnny Rotten persona, introduces and closes the film. Rotten gives a very sweet testimonial to Ginger in both his brief appearances. Lydon really earned my respect with what he says.

It's interesting how Baker views things in terms of time. He was attracted to his first wife by watching her dance - "she had time," he says. He chose Eric Clapton to play guitar in his new super-group because he had time. He hits it off musically with Stevie Winwood at the first Blind Faith rehearsal for the same reason - Stevie has time.

You get some idea with this preview:

Jay Bulger says that one of his favorite comments from Ginger comes when asked to compare himself with John Bonham and Keith Moon. Ginger chuckles and says, "if they were alive you could ask them."

Baker spent much of his musical life in a quest to further the knowledge and understanding of his craft, what drumming is all about. A question from Jay highlights this aspect:

"So here you are at the height of your career, you battle all the greatest drummers, you became a bandleader ... and you decide to go to Africa?"

Baker drove across the Sahara, filmed it, and finally ended up in Nigeria after a visit to a master drummer in Ghana. He stayed in Nigeria for about 7 years, reconnected with his friend Fela Kuti and built a recording studio. He left Africa when he saw some thugs from a political faction he had offended drive up to his recording studio. He dove out the window and jumped in his land rover while hearing the sounds of bullets ricocheting and whizzing past - he tells this story in the film. Another great moment in Beware... juxtaposes footage showing the violent chaos and unrest in Nigeria in the '70s against Ginger saying what a great place it was at that time.

My only criticism of Beware of Mr. Baker is that they left out some of his best work, the albums and concerts he did with Bill Laswell. It's mentioned that Bill went to Italy to find Ginger but leaves out that he brought him back to play on one of the more classic post-punk records, Public Image Limited's Album at The Power Station with Jason Corsaro engineering and mixing. Bill assembled all the musicians which, besides Ginger, also included Tony Williams and Steve Vai.

Next Laswell and cohorts made the greatly underrated Horses and Trees album with Baker. One reviewer wrote:

The drumming is controlled while still revealing definite flashes of the deftness and intuition that has kept Baker such a compelling drummer all these years. Each track is enhanced by backing musicians of the finest calibre, all wrapped up in a beautiful clear mix that works particularly well with percussion, highlighting crystalline cymbals, thundering toms and a crisp, bright snare. The drums sound immaculate. So does nearly everything else on this CD

One of my first sessions engineering for Bill Laswell involved doing 2" tape edits on Ginger's drumming. I was pretty nervous because I had minimal experience with multitrack tape editing at that time and Ginger's drumming wasn't the easiest to follow. This album became Middle Passage, one of my all time favorites. It has a strong North African feel. A reviewer wrote:

Awesome mixture of exotic acoustic and electric elements, rhythms and tonalities. Ginger Baker is a world traveler and this has heavy leanings to African themes but Bill Laswell's production brings it out of the village into the studio, but just barely.
The drumming and percussion throughout the album goes beyond the boundries of both rock and world music. Bass duties are handled by Laswell and Jah Wobble, often both on the same track...

I got to accompany Bill, Ginger and Nicky Skopelitis out to Martin Bisi's studio in Brooklyn when they tracked Ginger's drums for one of Middle Passage pieces. The room Martin had his drums in sounded incredible, basically a large stone bathroom no longer in use. That's a big reason the drums sound as huge as they do. I was reading Tape Op the other day and they asked a producer what his "go-to" pieces of gear were for a great drum sound. He answered, "A good drummer, a good set of drums, and a good room. I couldn't agree more.

Ginger only played one or two takes. He played solo, no click track (ie a metronome) to play off of. He doesn't need it, he has time. In fact the third track is called Time Be Time. This album was put together this way - Ginger laying down drum parts with Bill arranging everything else on top of them. The melodies were composed mostly by Bill and Nicky though Jah Wobble has a writing credit on two of the six pieces.

I recorded some of the overdubs at Platinum Island - Nicky's guitars, Aiyb Dieng's percussion, and Bill playing the Eventide H910 Harmonizer on the snare drum in Under Black Skies to create a springy metallic texture through a combination of excessive feedback and abrupt pitch-shifting - one of his trademark techniques for audio mutation. I also assisted with the mixing which I wrote about here.

I hardly saw Ginger during the making of Middle Passage but did get to know him better later when I mixed the Ginger Baker Band that toured Japan in the summer of '91. It was a band Bill put together with himself playing bass, Ginger, Foday Musa Suso on electrified kora, dousongoni, and vocals, and Anton Fier playing a Fairlight synthesizer.

Here's a clip of the band with a live mix - pretty good angle to see Ginger's playing at around 3:30:

We also recorded an album at Toshinori Kondo's Metal Box studio in the suburbs of Tokyo. It was called The Map Is Not The Territory and they called the "artist" Autonomous Zone because it was a unique collaborative zone of musicians as opposed to a band or group with set members. You can find out the players who entered this zone here.

I never had any issues with Ginger about the drum sound. He played them and I recorded them. The only thing he said once during a playback was that he liked the sound but that the 2nd bass drum needed to be turned up in the balance. Of course he was right. Also remember that we were delayed a bit because he wouldn't play until he smoked some grass or hash. He felt he was at his best after a couple of puffs of herb. It being Japan, this wasn't readily available. At that point, these were the only drugs Ginger was imbibing apart from the occasional drink and his beloved English tea.

The first track on The Map Is Not the Territory is called Invoke probably because that's what they did. You can listen to it:

Next year Bill brought Ginger Baker back to Japan with one of the best versions of Material ever. Besides the core of himself, Suso and Ginger, Bill added Aiyb Dieng on percussion, Nicky Skopelitis - guitars, and Bernie Worrell - keys.

The excitement was high after the first Material concert in Tokyo. I remember Ginger praising Aiyb for keeping up with him which he said was quite rare for percussionists. Aiyb was clearly overjoyed to play with a master drummer who brought out his best, and told Ginger so. John Zorn was at that gig - he enjoyed it and also gave some useful feedback on the mix that helped me out for the rest of the tour.

Ginger wasn't having the easiest time in Japan this time. Almost as soon as we arrived he had to get some emergency dental work done that was causing a lot of pain. We also had some down time in Tokyo, days with no scheduled agenda. I took in the local culture but don't think that interested Ginger much. He expressed regret about missing the best part of the polo season - his passion for polo and horses is covered in the documentary. He might have gotten a little bored and frustrated at the slow pace. I remember once getting out of the elevator at the Tokyo Prince Hotel and hearing Ginger's unmistakable voice at full raised volume coming from the lounge at the other end of the huge lobby, " THEY CAN'T MAKE A BLOODY CUP OF TEA IN JAPAN!!!!!

Once the rest of the tour started Ginger seemed ok, to me, until Kyoto. Something happened to him just before the concert, not sure what, but he played as if on fire even more so than usual, and had that mad look in his eyes like you can see in the film where he seems to tune out everything except the drumming invocation. Kyoto has the reputation of being the spiritual center of Japan. It does have an abundance of Zen Monasteries. I suspect one of the omnipresent monks slipped an explosive neuro-transmitter into his food. Whatever happened, it clearly looked like it worked. A couple of months later Bill and I were going through the concert DAT recordings I had made from the board mix to compile what became Material Live in Japan. We listened to all of Ginger's drum solos and picked that one from Kyoto - it sounded above and beyond all the rest.

The next day, he seemed in rough shape so I offered to carry his luggage along with my luggage to the bullet train. Here's an example of their unique sound, note the space migration theme in the title, Leaving Earth:

Visiting E.J. Gold once I happened to mention working with Ginger, and he said he knew him from the L.A. musician's scene in the late'60's. Apparently there was a place called the Psychedelic Supermarket in Los Angeles (not to be confused with the entertainment venue in Boston) where various vendors set-up and sold their wares. Gold sold essential oils and books there. Late night music jams frequently occurred in the basement that attracted top notch players. Clapton was friends with the owner of the Psychedelic Supermarket. I don't know if that's how Ginger found out about it, but he played there too. Gold offered to do a portrait of Ginger playing the drums. While not literally resembling Ginger, I thought it captured the spirit of his muse quite well. I sent it to him. A couple of weeks later I came home to find a fairly lengthy, somewhat rambling phone message expressing appreciation and gratitude for the portrait. It was very nice.

Well I suppose the makers of "Beware of Mr. Baker."can be forgiven for not including all this in their film. Maybe if it comes out on DVD they'll show extras of more of Ginger's work with Bill and co. My only regret with this subject is that I have no idea where one can get or see this film. As mentioned, it just had it's World Premiere at South by South West. No idea if a distributer picked it up or where they're at with that. Maybe someone with the film will read this and let us know.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Material Live In Italy featuring Bernie Worrell

In a small rehearsal room in Milan, Italy, Bill Laswell, Hamid Drake, and Aiyb Dieng set up the rhythmic foundation for the next incarnation of Material scheduled to perform early the next day, Sunday, circa 11am. The covalence of their musical chemistry quickly merges into one blended harmonic force whose driving rhythms move and define the time and key. In 20-30 minutes they have the arrangements for 6 pieces worked out - maybe 1/2 - 2/3rds of the concert. They are making up the set list almost from scratch - "almost," because they're working off of ideas played together in the past.

For nearly a year this show was going to be Material featuring Gigi but that changed about a week ago because, as my friend John Brown said, "things are never what they seem." Gigi couldn't make it, I don't know why, but she is OK. At the last minute it changed to Material featuring Bernie Worrell. It's the same band that played with Gigi last year in Addis Ababa except that Abegasu, the other keyboard player, also couldn't make it.

Bernie and Dominic, the guitarist, were the next to show up at the rehearsal space. Bernie's only difficulty was getting the wah pedal for the clavinet to work which proved no more challenging than changing a battery. As long as he can hear himself and everyone else Bernie needs little or no instruction with the arrangements, he just does what he does with inimitably fortifying funkadelia and great class.

Bernie remains a musical prodigy. On the way to the airport early in the morning the day after the show, Bernstein mentions to Bernie that Bill sent him a copy of Blacktronic Science and how much he enjoyed the opening string composition called Revelation in Black Light. Bernstein asks him if he used to arrange for Parliament/Funkadelic and Bernie says that yes, he did string arrangements and horn arrangements until the synthesizer came along and then 'they wanted to save money and have me play everything on the synthesizer.'

Rewind to Gianni, one of the colorful Italian promoters enroute in transit in a van starts talking about Walter/Wendy Carlos. First Gianni points out the gender change, then mentions having met Walter ( at that point he would have been Wendy) at Lenny Bernstein's house. Gianni points out that Switched On Bach, classical music played on a Moog synthesizer, was bigger than any rock record when it came out, and that Walter Carlos made much more off it than Robert Moog. Not exactly sure why he brought this up or what the point was but I did say that I'd never heard Leonard Bernstein referred to as "Lenny" by anyone. Gianni said that he used to work for him. Later, Bill told me that he also worked with or for Sun Ra. He turned out to be a very gracious host, a friendly guide, though I wish I was able to talk to him more.

Before the rehearsal started Bill gave me a package of his recent music productions, his copy of a Ginger Baker DVD documentary, which I'll get to, and a copy of The Exegesis of Philip K Dick. Gianni was there as I received the book and mentioned how important music was to PKD and saying that he liked to have Cecil Taylor playing when he wrote. I have no idea if this is true or how Gianni knew this but it sounds plausible. Dick based characters on Brian Eno and David Bowie in VALIS ( Vast Active Living Intelligence System). He speaks of the beauty of Beethoven in the Exegesis.

The final two musicians to arrive at the rehearsal were the horns, Steve Bernstein on trumpet and slide trumpet and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor saxophone and flute. These guys grew up together in Berkeley and have been playing together off and on ever since. They are an instant, cohesive, solid horn section, no question about it.

The band started running through the songs. After about 10 - 15 minutes, by my temporal calculations, they gelled into a single unit that started to stretch its wings and fly, musically speaking. A small group of onlookers gathered and attentively went along for the ride. It became a small intimate show for the few in attendance. The band sounded great and the energy was high, feeling electric. Everyone left upbeat and in a good mood retiring to a restaurant with classically delicious Italian food alla Milanese.

Waiting to go to the restaurant, a dedicated fan, who drove down from Munich to see the Material rehearsal and show, asked Bernie, "who started the funky clavinet through a wah wah pedal technique? Billy Preston? You?" Bernie said that it wasn't him ... I didn't hear him affirm that it was Billy Preston. Unfortunately, I was pulled away to do something and didn't catch that funkological chronology lesson. By chance, last night I did discover a documentary on Bernie which I hadn't realized existed:

Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth is on Netflix or you can get it here.

The full house that packed Teatro Manzoni gave a robust round of applause and cheers at the end of the concert. The musicians of Material emerged from behind their respective instruments, congregated at the front of the stage and took a bow. It had been a good show, very different, too. I could tell by the feeling in the house at this moment that both the band and the audience (the aviators and passengers, if you will) enjoyed the musical journey they had just been through and felt good about where they arrived.

Material started the end of the encore with Voodoo Chile, Bernie began a roaring, Marshall-stack-feedback inspired solo on the growling Leslified B3 Organ adding thick midrange weight to Dominic's guitar who held the front line with only a distortion pedal and Twin Reverb for amplification. Bill doubled this iconic line giving it a thick, solid, harmonic foundation anchoring it to earth. Dominic went into the verse melody invoking the super-human mood of Jimi's lyrics:

Well, I stand up next to a mountain
And chop it down with the edge of my hand ...

The encore was actually Voodoo Chile (slight return) because Dominic quoted the Hendrix riff earlier in the morning during his solo portion of the show. The line drew a healthy cheer of recognition when he first served it up. It grabbed their attention and Dominic held on to it with some soulfully elegant lead guitar concluding with the most famous riff from Ginger's band, Cream - you know the one I mean, you can hear it right after the lyrics: "It's getting near dawn ... (riff here)." I thought this might sound cliche, however the Italian audience ate it up. Bill immediately launched into the heaviest dub bass line that I've ever heard in my life.

Everyone in the band had their turn to shine multiple times, and shine they did as demonstrated by mid-song applause after solos. This was the first time I heard Bernstein and Peter really step out and show their free jazz chops. They both make very clear statements with their solos and both surprise with the unexpected. When they play sectional parts together, they sound like brothers - two halves of a unified sound.

Another highlight was the drum/percussion solo by Hamid and Aiyb later joined by Peter on a metallic clanker that kept steady time while the other two forayed out even further to the edge of rhythmic frontiers and beyond as they defined time in this space and defined the space by their time. Syncopation never sounded this sweet. The drummers handed off the baton to a Bill Laswell ambient bass solo that sounded from a different world.

The audience seemed remarkably alert and attentive for the whole show. Maybe the early hour helped. The concert goers, many of them middle-aged or older, appeared rather upscale, to me. Not necessarily wealthy, tickets were only 20 euros, but upscale in demeanor - a crowd of sophisticated aestheticians out to enjoy some quality music in a distinguished theater. The performance rose to the occasion and everyone left with more material wealth than when they arrived.

Bernie started the show with one of his classic solos setting the pace by lifting the ground out into space, a gentle lift-off into parts unknown. For much of the concert Bernie had that swing like Duke Ellington, both rhythmically and harmonically, though not stylistically. He had his own thing going on. His musical language gets more precise with age, and he's always listening.

Sound check was fairly easy. The Italian sound crew was professional and on point. Teatro Manzoni is a thousand seat venue owned by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The acoustics are warm and clear if a bit on the muted side. The PA was a little light on the bass response so I ended up liberally augmenting it with my Kosmos Subharmonic synthesizer.

The idea of these inexpensive late Sunday morning concerts is to draw people in from the suburbs to shop post-concert, so I was told. The theater stands close to the center of Milan's fashion district, not that far from La Scala. Here is a link to a number of photos from this show.

Post concert found us back at the same restaurant as the night before. We were joined by a grande formaggio, somehow, I didn't catch how, related to Berlusconi. She had a bit of a severe look and a passing resemblance to Joan Rivers. She sat at one end of a line of tables about 20 feet long, I was at the other. I can't eat garlic or I'll get sick. The waiter serving the food assures me there is no garlic in it and lists the ingredients. I'm about to dig in when il grande donna in commanding voice says, "don't eat that, there's garlic in it." I was surprised as much as I was grateful to be watched out for in this way. That was the only interaction I had with her.

For some reason quite unknown to me, the after-lunch discussion also sees Dominic criticizing the Rolling Stones for being amateurs. He cites an appearance on Saturday Night Live as being particularly bad. I remember that performance well, they played the song Shattered, their dystopic ode to New York City. This was 1977 or '78 and they sounded and looked very punk rock but in their own way. Bernie begins defending his friend, Keith Richard's guitar playing, "Some people say Keith can't play solos, but if you listen to what he's doing, he's playing three parts at once on the guitar." Bill agrees that Keith has something going on with his playing.

Later in the afternoon I got out for a walk - my mission to get into the world famous opera house, La Scala to get a sense of the acoustics. As I move through the fashion district passing all the designer stores, Versace, Prada, Gucci's, Valentino's etc. amongst the crowds of shoppers, a verse from Shattered plays around my brain:

Life is just a cocktail party on the street
You've got people dressed in plastic bags
Directing traffic, some kind of fashion...

Must be my contrariness. I didn't get into La Scala but had a nice walk there. Weather perfect, life good.

Just down from La Scala is a long street that's been turned into a pedestrian mall. A glass roof spans across the two rows of buildings on either side of the street connecting them to make it quasi-indoors. Exactly halfway down, another street crosses it at a right angles. It's also a pedestrian mall with a glass roof. On the ground in the very center of this whole complex had been painted a shield like you might see on a coat of arms with a Celtic cross on top of it. Celtic style spirals and knots and infinity signs surround it. Real Da Vinci Code type stuff here. As a matter of fact, a regal statue of Leo lives right across from La Scala.

I spent part of the evening watching the excellent Beware Mr. Baker documentary, a superb portrait of the cantankerous but incomparable Ginger Baker. More on that soon.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Life Extension - Magick

Unity uttermost showed!
I adore the might of Thy breath,
Supreme and terrible God, Who makest the gods and death.
To tremble before Thee: -- I, I adore thee!

This comes from of Aleister Crowley's translation of an ancient Egyptian funerary text called the Stele of Revealing, which serves as the central altar piece in the school called Thelema. Some of the text on the Stele directly quotes the Egyptian Book of the Dead. At the moment, I'm not sure if that includes the passage above. Crowley did insert this paragraph and a few others from the Stele of Revealing into the Book of the Law, the Thelemic bible. This text above clearly suggests a contactable level of consciousness, or field of energy if you like, that transcends death. Crowley calls this transcendental level of consciousness Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child. In a ritual he wrote called The Great Invocation, intended to contact and draw down the energies of Horus, Crowley has you repeat this passage after every line in the first section.

As mentioned earlier, Horus represents a twin god with an active, or exoteric aspect and a passive, or esoteric side known as Ra Hoor Khuit and Hoor Pa Kraat, respectively. In my eyes, this indicates an archetype, or pattern that shows up in other ways. Speaking very broadly, I would say that the exoteric side of Thelema has to do with the individual discovering their True Will and learning how to apply it, if they wish. On a societal level it tries on some level to create T.A.Z's (Temporary Autonomous Zones) where liberty can flourish and allow individual growth to do the same. In my opinion, the esoteric side of Thelema has a largely hidden agenda to survive death. The esoteric side of Magick seems all about prolonging life beyond biological limits, space migration and intelligence increase.

Magick can get considered as a unique approach to bardo training. Crowley borrowed liberally from the Egyptian Book of the Dead when composing his rituals and exercises. In the Book of the Law, dictated to him from a nonhuman Intelligence by his account, the line:

I:56 ...But thou hast all in the clear light, and some, though not all, in the dark.

appears. This suggests the Clear Light of the Bardo Thodol.

Golden Dawn and/or Crowley's exercises and rituals (often modified G.'. D.'. rituals) focus your attention in a particular way which strengthens it. Your presence also comes into play in a different way, and that gets strengthened as well. Presence and attention comprise the two primary qualities of the death-survivable bardo voyager.

An exercise found in the AAA section of Liber HHH in Magick Book 4 p. 589 comprises a practice that recreates the death/bardo/rebirth journey along the lines of the Egyptian Book of the Dead scenario. I can't recommend this exercise highly enough. Just to give you an idea . . . Crowley starts out quoting one of the Holy Books and then goes right into the meditation:


"These loosen the swathings of the corpse;
these unbind the feet of Osiris, so that the flaming God may rage through the firmament with his fantastic spear."
Liber Lapidis Lazuli. VII. 3.

0. Be seated in thine Asana, or recumbent in Shavasana, or in the position of the dying Buddha.

1. Think of thy death; imagine the various diseases that may attack thee, or accidents overtake thee. Picture the process of death, applying always to thyself.
(A useful preliminary practice is to read textbooks of Pathology, and to visit museums and dissecting-rooms.)

Crowley gives the whole exercise which includes 2 rebirths, the second one an identification with the Hawk-headed Horus. He then suggests learning to practice it incrementally before finally saying:

Then being prepared and fortified, well fitted for the work, perform the whole meditation at one time. And let this be continued until perfect success be attained therein. For this is a mighty meditation and holy, having power even upon Death, yea, having power even upon Death.

You find this mindset showing up all over Crowley's writings. In the Book of the Law, Thelema's central sacred text according to Wikipedia, Crowley's muse describes what I call the master key for immortality. It's from chapter 1:

24. I am Nuit, and my word is six and fifty.

25. Divide, add, multiply, and understand.

26. Then saith the prophet and slave of the beauteous one: Who am I, and what shall be the sign? So she answered him, bending down, a lambent flame of blue, all-touching, all penetrant, her lovely hands upon the black earth, & her lithe body arched for love, and her soft feet not hurting the little flowers: Thou knowest! And the sign shall be my ecstasy, the consciousness of the continuity of existence, the omnipresence of my body.

Before commenting I just want to say that these are my own opinions/speculations/interpretations and don't in any way suggest that other interpretations are equally or perhaps more valid. I'm also looking at this from the unique angle of instructional life extension.

I'm going to look at the 6 and 50 both numerically and from the viewpoint of very basic qabalistic associations. 6 denotes the key number of Tiphareth. 50 = Nun = Death in the tarot.

6/50 = 0.12 - interpret that as you will, I'm going to look at it backwards in a second. Tiphareth divided by Death reminds me of the line that occurs 3 lines later:

29. For I am divided for love's sake, for the chance of union.

50/6 = 8.3333333333 ad infinitum. 8 = the number of communication. 3 = Nuit = Infinite Space. Death divided by Tiphareth seems a life extension goal.

6 + 50 = 56 = Nu (Nuit) . Ch 56 in The Book of Lies is worth reading in regard to this. Tiphareth + Death recalls Crowley's mention of the Dying Buddha posture above.

6 x 50 = 300. 300 = mystic number of key 24 = Death in the tarot. 300 also = Shin - associated with the element Fire and with the tarot card The Aeon, a pictorial glyph of Crowley's Cosmology as told in the Book of the Law. It has Horus in the foreground in the posture of silence.

Tiphareth multiplied by Death and vice versa suggests a very basic formula for a personal transformation timeline.

The result of all this: "the consciousness of the continuity of existence."(My emphasis above)

Out of the office for a few days. More on magick and life extension when I get back.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Life Extension - Films, Literature & Gaming

This continues a series of posts on Life Extension with the radical idea that some part of us can be educated to survive the death of the body. Getting familiar with the mood and atmosphere around death makes up part of this education.

We find certain films help to get that mood, perhaps the most classic example being Beetlejuice. Some others that I like include Death Takes A Holiday and its updated version, Meet Joe Black, Carnival of Souls, La Jette, The Addams Family tv episodes, Third Man, Touch of Evil, and Lady From Shanghai by Orson Welles, Orphée by Jean Cocteau, Bladerunner, 2001 A Space Odyssey, American Beauty, Million Dollar Hotel and others I don't recall right now. Feel free to add some in the comments if you know of any others.

In literature you have quite a few good examples. Right now I'm reading Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon. Fairly regularly in the text he goes into bardo sequences, or bardo runs, for a few pages at a time. He's very good at it, demonstrates sophisticated voyaging knowledge, and presents/teaches it quite well. I highly recommend this book for a good bardo education. It's also fun to read if you appreciate how surrealistic writing can play with your consciousness. I have a number of posts over at pointing out the bardoesqueness in Against The Day.

Even the staunchly conservative Wall Street Journal agrees, saying with a blurb on the back cover:

Against the Day is a major work of art, and like all creations of surpassing greatness, something to be studied.

Another book I just finished reading for the third or fourth time is the classic, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester, also highly recommended. Every time I read it I find deeper levels of meaning. The story basically covers the transformation of one man from a brute animal to the other end of the spectrum, but the final transformation doesn't happen until the very end. A very intense bardo sequence takes place in the "burning man" section toward the end. Bester uses experimental graphic layout techniques to help get the feeling across. He even has a character playing the role of a reader delivering instructions. Also some interesting distortions of time.

I found the next part I'm about to quote closely related to the ideas discussed here on the S.M.I.2L.E. scenario. You'll recall that in one of my first postings I linked to an essay by Robert Anton Wilson on our robotic nature. Stars My Destination p.188:

He ignored his enemies and examined the perpetual beam carved in the robot face of the bartender, the classic Irish grin.
"Thank-you," Foyle said.
"My pleasure sir," the robot replied and awaited its next cue.
"Nice day," Foyle remarked
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed.
"Awful day," Foyle said
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot responded.
"Day," Foyle said
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot said.
Foyle turned to the others. "That's me," he said motioning to the robot. "That's all of us. We prattle about free will, but we're nothing but response . . . mechanical reaction in proscribed grooves."

I'll quote one more relevant passage - the protagonist Gully Foyle has to decide what to do with his newly realized ability to space-jaunte. Jaunting, in this tale, is the ability to travel instantaneously by visualizing a distant location - a quantum leap with the whole body - but people can only do this a few hundred miles at a time until Gully Foyle spontaneously did it for 600,000 miles across the vast reaches of space when his life was endangered. Part of his dilemma is whether he should teach others how to do it:

"... But I'm not a robot. I'm a freak of the universe . . . a thinking animal . . . and I'm trying to see my way clear through this morass. Am I to turn PyrE over to the world and let it destroy itself? Am I to teach the world how to space-jaunte and let us spread our freak show from galaxy to galaxy through all the universe? What's the answer?"

The bartender robot hurled its mixing glass across the room with a resounding crash. In the amazed silence that followed, Daghenham grunted: "Damn! My radiation's disrupted your dolls again, Presteign."
"The answer is yes," the robot said, quite distinctly.
"What," Foyle asked, taken aback.
"The answer to your question is yes."
"Thank-you," Foyle said ...
"Completely haywire," Dagenham said impatiently. "Switch it off, Presteign."
"Wait," Foyle commanded. He looked at the beaming grin in the steel robot face. "But society can be so stupid. So confused. You've witnessed this conference."
"Yes sir, but you must teach, not dictate. You must teach society."
"To space-jaunte? Why? Why reach out to the stars and galaxies? What for?"
"Beacuse you're alive, sir. You might as well ask: Why is life? Don't ask about it, Live it."
"Quite mad,' Dagenham muttered.
"But fascinating," Y'ang-Yeovil murmured.
"There's got to be more to life than just living," Foyle said to the robot.
"Then find it for yourself, sir. Don't ask the world to stop moving because you have your doubts." ...
"Thank-you very much."
"My pleasure, sir."
"You've saved the day."
"Always a lovely day somewhere, sir," the robot beamed.
Then it fizzed, jangled, and collapsed.

The story of Gulliver Foyle reminds me a bit of Leary's story as he tells it in Flashbacks. This classic Science Fiction story, first published in 1956 in Galaxy magazine, appears a literary precursor in spirit to the S.M.I.2L.E. formulation.

After one of his lectures, I asked Timothy Leary how I could get a job in the work that he did, ie being a cheerleader for change, etc. He gave me a quizzical look for a second then said that he didn't know, but that if I should ever find out to let him know. The he asked if I had a computer.
This was in 1990 a few years before the internet and computer devices became ubiquitous. At that time he was championing computers as the next breakthrough tool for expanding consciousness.

His prediction looks to be vindicated by the use of computer gaming technologies for bardo training by E.J. Gold and his crew of programmers and game designers. They've been using and recommending video games as a training device ever since the days of Super Mario Brothers and Zelda. Playing these games develops skills at solving mazes. Learning how to solve one maze helps to navigate other, more complex mazes. The bardo appears to have intricate, maze-like, labyrinthian qualities. Learning to figure out mazes and solve puzzles makes for a definite bardo skill set. Other advantages can be had by playing these games.

As you play these games you may come to recognize that you appear as if in a game yourself. Leary called his book of Qabalistic correspondences, "The Game of Life".

Diablo II is another commercial game used a lot for purposes of bardo training. Quake Team Fortress saw a lot of use in its day. Not all games work so well for this. Gold wrote a book, Spiritual Gaming, that covers the subject in detail.

Gold and his team have also been developing their own gaming engine for a number of years under the banner of G.O.D.D., an acronym which stands for Gamemakers of Diabolical Distinction. Lately they've been releasing junior kits of the G.O.D.D. engine for a beginner's course on programming and designing computer games, or what they call "world making."

Here's a short interview with Gold about his gaming background. It also reveals a little bit of his participation in the S.M.I.2L.E. scenario back in the day.

The subject of E.J. Gold and bardo training can easily become inexhaustible. I've participated in some small percentage of it, but also have the fortune of looking after his archive of recorded talks, so I know what's out there, for the most part. One of the most effective methods of bardo training I've done was going on a bardo run with him and a group of people up in Reno, Nevada.

One of the outcomes of the gaming training was something called bardo safaris in which a group of online people participate in a shared gaming adventure. That lead to "real life" (as opposed to online) bardo safaris in what were called Afterlife Adventures set against the backdrop of the casinos up in Reno. Here's what some people have to say about it. Not sure if you'd call it magic realism or real magicism. Whatever it was, it proved quite effective.

Michael Johnson has an excellent recent post on various aspects of Immortality and Death at the Overweening Generalist blog.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Life Extension - The Master Key

Continuing our discussion about surviving death ... we have formulated two axioms, so far:

1. Some part of us can survive death. We call that part a bardo voyager.

2. Work on self helps the death-survivable bardo voyager grow stronger.

Our third axiom will go something along the lines of how the Tibetans perceive the initial transition of the bardo voyager from the human biological contraption they've been renting out for this lifetime. They say you go into an intense space called the Clear Light, a space very difficult to maintain consciousness in. The common tendency seems to result in blacking out after a very short time and getting bounced out of it. Part of bardo training consists of learning to tolerate and stay in this space longer by simulating it before death.

English artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare gives a resonant description in his book, The Focus of Life (p. 36):

Death is named the great unknown. Assuredly, death is the great chance. An adventure in will, that translates into body. What happens after death? Will it be more surprising than this world? Could I say? My experience may not be the commonplace . . . Without doubt all will experience the 'rushing winds' that blow from within, the body beyond perspective, into cosmic dust, - till consciousness again develops.

I just received a copy of The Writings of Austin Osman Spare yesterday. He is a bit of a new discovery for me though I've long considered him quite knowledgeable in affairs of the bardo from reading of his methods in the works of Kenneth Grant. Along with that book came a copy of Last Words by William S. Burroughs which consist of the transcripts of his final journals.

The last word in Last Words echoes the last words of both Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary. These last words all give the Master Key for surviving death. It can also be found in the ecstatic poetry of Sufi mystics, Finnegans Wake, Illuminatus!, Schrodinger's Cat, Against the Day, some Woody Allen films, The Beatles, John Coltrane, Crowley, the popcorn exercise, the Starship Enterprise, and countless other places. Wake up and smell the roses burning.

Why would Leary and Wilson freeze their entropic carcasses if they each apparently had the Master Key for surviving ecstatically, that is to say, without a body?

Woody Allen, whose main concern about the afterlife at one time was how far it was from Midtown, confronts death a couple of times accidentally with the character he plays in Hannah and Her Sisters. It wakes him up a bit and leads to an amusing search for meaning and God before discovering the Master Key. It's the same key for death that Hemingway speaks of in Allen's recent Midnight in Paris film, reviewed here. Fans of Robert Anton Wilson's Maybe Logic might especially appreciate how Allen agnostically resolves the God issue in Hannah...

This Master Key seems like something you can learn about in a very short time but spend a lifetime learning how to apply. This Master Key, willing it into existence and functionality, represents our fourth axiom for surviving death

Bardo training includes getting familiar with the conditions, feelings, and sensations of death before dying. This can be done in a variety of ways and we'll cover some of those ways in the course of this examination. It does NOT include any kind of life threatening risk taking to get closer to death.

One technique recommended across the board in a variety of different systems and teachings aims to constantly remember that death is always only one heartbeat away. Don Juan says that Death is always just over your left shoulder, if you turn around fast enough you can see it. Remembrance of death becomes a shamanic aid because, personal observation will show, that all kinds of spiritual energies get activated and accelerated - that's the best way I have of putting it right now - around death. When someone dies, the Star that they are shines forth and radiates powerful spiritual energies, a cyclone of energy especially felt by their loved ones ... and not always easy to handle.

Robert Anton Wilson places a quite vivid reminder of death in his play Wilhelm Reich in Hell. He has a computer monitoring the growth of nuclear arms and emitting an ear-splitting whistling sound every time the firepower goes up equivalent to the bomb at Hiroshima. At the beginning of the play it goes off every few lines ... very chilling. Here's an excerpt to show what kind of resistance the Master Key works against:

"SADE: And what is the truth Freud dared not speak?

REICH:Everybody knows it by now. Look at the crime news on TV --

Computer whistles again.

REICH:or go into the emergency clinics and talk to the rape victims. Talk to the battered wives and the abused children. Our whole species is mad, emotionally plagued. We have been mad so long that every attempt to break out of the Trap just unleashes unconscious rage and increases the violence.

Computer whistles again.

REICH:We all know we're in the Trap, but nobody knows how to get out of it. We attack each other thinking that's the way out.

SADE: What? That is the truth Freud dared not speak? I thought he said all that in Civilization and its Discontents.

REICH:He would not say there was a way out of the Trap -- one way only --

SADE: Your way, of course.

REICH:The way I discovered, gradually, after many mistakes.

SADE: Which is?

REICH:Work on the breathing and the muscle tensions. And tell people frankly that there is no metaphysical Good and Evil in the human world any more than there is in the animal world or the chemical world or the physical world of gravity and mass."

I would add to that, deep relaxation. The final posture we did in every yoga class was called the Corpse pose and just consisted of laying on the ground with arms and legs comfortablely placed and deeply relaxing every muscle. It can become a great way to practice dying if one can arrest and slow down the headbrain chatter. Floatation tanks are also great places to relax deeply and practice death.