Friday, April 27, 2012

Recording the Master Musicians of Jajouka part 2

Welcome, dear partridge -- how you strut with pride
Along the slopes of wisdom’s mountain-side;
Let laughter ring out where your feet have trod,
Then strike with all your strength the door of God;
Destroy the mountain of the Self, and here,
From ruined rocks a camel will appear;
Beside its new-born noble hooves, a stream
Of honey mingled with white milk will gleam --
Drive on this beast and at your journey’s end
Saleh will greet you as a long-lost friend.
Rare falcon, welcome! How long will you be
So fiercely jealous of your liberty?
Your lure is love, and when the jess is tied,
Submit, and be for ever satisfied.
Give up the intellect for love and see
In one brief moment all eternity;
Break nature’s frame, be resolute and brave,
Then rest at peace in Unity’s black cave.

 - The Conference of the Birds

Riding with Bill Laswell in a black limousine to Narita airport outside Tokyo after my first visit to Japan, I thought things can't get any better than this.  It had been an eventful trip from the very start.  After the 14 hour flight from New York we got a car that took us on a 2 hour drive to a suburb on the far side of Tokyo which deposited us at a hotel that hosted a recording studio in the basement and went immediately into a session with a Jamaican dancehall rapper named Cutty Ranks.  Bill arranged to record him for Material's The Third Power cd because he happened to be there for a nearby reggae festival scheduled to begin the next day.  The session turned out short and sweet, Cutty was on point and on fire, recording his rap and some ad libs 3 or 4 times on different tracks for it to be edited and compiled back in New York.  He was a real pro with no attitude.  I could even understand his thick patois most of the time.  We had some time the next day before embarking to Bill's Tokyo headquarters, The Tokyu Prince Hotel in the Roppongi district, so we decided to see if we could get in the festival.  We hoped to not have to purchase a pass because we could only stay for a couple of hours so Bill told the attendant at the front gate that he was a music producer and a friend of Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records - the one person most responsible for introducing reggae music, Bob Marley in particular, to the world.  To my astonishment, the wise young gatekeeper accepted Bill's (true) story at face value and let us in without paying.  The sound system there had some of the loudest, cleanest, and tightest bass response that I've heard in a concert setting to this day.

That was just the first day.  The whole 3 weeks or so touring and recording with the two bands Bill had assembled, The Ginger Baker Band, and Bill Laswell's Drop Zone turned out equally exciting, enrichening and musically enlightening.  It was on that trip that I met Toshinori Kondo who remains an inspiring friend to this day.  Also met Akira Sakata, one of Japan's premeire free jazz alto sax players who would later hire me for The Flying Mijinko tour of Central Asia and Mongolia.  So how could things get any better, I thought?  At that point Bill turned to me and said, "Billy is not going to make the Jajouka trip, how would you like to engineer it?"  Of course, I immediately said yes without showing any of the fear that I might be getting myself into something over my head.

The job of recording the Master Musicians of Jajouka in Jajouka meant assembling an entire field recording complement including a generator to provide electricity.  The village itself had no electricity, running water or any kind of modern convenience.  It didn't even have a proper road going to it.  I had never been involved in a such an undertaking.  Fortunately for me, Billy Yodelman had already drawn up a detailed list of requirements.  He was an old hand at this.  He was also very friendly and helpful with any questions I had.  We spoke at length on the phone.  I felt lucky to be mentored into this by a real pro.  

The tape recorder we brought was an Akai digital 12 track device that recorded onto Hi 8 video cassettes.  At the time, it was the world's only reasonably portable digital multitrack recorder.  The Alesis ADAT was still a few years away.  I'm known as an old school analog recording engineer, and I still find analog recordings to have a superior audio quality when properly set up in a controlled studio environment, but if we hadn't gone digital in Jajouka it never would have turned out as good.  Good analog recordings need to utilize the maximum headroom available to sound their best which means having a clear grasp of the instrument's dynamic range in order to record at the highest level without overloading.  Recording musicians, many of whom being introduced to a microphone for the first time, doesn't lend itself to this very well.  Recording digitally means it's not as crucial to push the level.  You can record at a lower level to allow for a greater dynamic range and any unexpected signal peaks without distortion, and without incurring excessive analog tape hiss.  In other words, the extended signal to noise ratio of a digital recording allows for a greater and cleaner dynamic range.  Of course, you audio professionals know that already.

Apart from getting all the technical details together, I did my best to research the history of the Master Musicians and the scene around them.  I found out that writer Paul Bowles was the one most responsible for bringing  wider attention to them.  He brought Brion Gysin to a festival in 1951 where they both heard them for the first time.  Gysin became so taken with the music that he opened a restaurant in Tangier called A Thousand and One Nights for the express purpose of providing a venue for them to play every night.

A surprise awaited us at JFK airport on our way to Morocco in the presence of Brian Cullman, a freelance journalist/musician on assignment for Details magazine.  It surprised us because he hadn't been invited.  It turns out Nicky may have said something that could have been construed as an invitation though he denied actually telling Cullman that he was welcome to join us.  But that's how Brian found out what flight we were on. Bill magnanimously welcomed him to join our group.  I knew Cullman from having worked with his group O.K. Savant.  He told us that he had tried to go to Jajouka years ago on his own and traveled to the region but couldn't find his way to the village.  The only way to get there is to have someone who lives there or has lived there show you the way.

We flew overnight into Casablanca arriving early in the morning then caught a connecting flight to Tangier.  Bachir Attar and his wife at the time, Cherie Nutting, met us at the airport.  They expedited our passage through Customs by speaking to one of the Officials.  Otherwise, it seemed like it might take us hours to get through.  For some reason, one of the Customs Agents already had copied an old Japanese entry stamp of Bill's, and he must have had 70 - 80 of them in his passport at that point.  We got in ok but they refused to release our equipment which had been previously shipped over.  Tracy McNight, who helmed the Material office in New York, and Nicky had made countless visits to the Moroccan Embassy spending hours making sure all the visas and paperwork was right but that made absolutely no difference to the Customs Officials.  The Moroccan Embassy in New York might have been on a different planet for all they cared.  I don't remember what reason they gave but they did give us the address to a local office to go to that turned out to be the first a bureaucratic labyrinth.  Elated to have made it to Morocco, we didn't care, it seemed like just a few more hoops to have to jump through and we had a few days in Tangier before trekking to Jajouka.

Caught a couple of cabs, went to the El Minzah hotel and checked in.  Met up with Bernard Zakri, a daredevil freelance journalist and old friend of Bill's along with Jack Massadian publisher of the French magazine Le Actuel. They had organized a film crew to document the recording under the direction of Francois Bergeron.  Bernard also intended to research and write a piece on the hashish industry in Morocco, a rather dangerous undertaking so they said, not so much from the people in the industry but from the government who allegedly covertly allowed it but certainly discouraged any publicity.  This was also the first time I met with Jean Touitou, (pronounced "twee-too") owner of the French APC designer label, enthusiastic amateur music producer, and another old friend of Bill's.  He had a video camera with him and soon took on the role as "the maker of the making of the film," meaning that he filmed the documentary crew filming us.  Touitou himself was later immortalized in film when Sofia Coppola made a picture about their friendship in Japan called Lost In Translation.  Actor Bill Murray played Touitou's part in the film.

After checking in, we went for a walk down the steep stairways and streets through the Tangier open air market to the beach where I had a small meal of couscous, and heavily sugared mint tea, a Moroccan specialty.  As we sat at the restaurant, a seemingly endless procession of children approached our table trying to sell us cigarettes or handcrafted clothing.  They cajoled and pleaded with us to make a purchase greatly reducing their initial asking price in the course of making the pitch.  They left without too much fuss after it became clear we had no interest.  I was told that in other parts of North Africa the peddlers sell much more aggressively. 

After eating, we walked up the hill toward the area they call the Kasbah built on the highest part of Tangier and the location of what once served as the Sultan's Palace in the 17th Century but has since been turned into a museum.  We stopped and browsed at various shops.  I picked up a pair of ceramic bongos and a white djellaba, a long traditional hooded robe that serves as the threads of choice for the locals.  After returning to the hotel, I cleaned up then went out alone with my video camera for a second excursion.  Immediately after stepping outside I discovered myself tailed by an older Moroccan boy who hailed me in about five different languages, French, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic until he realized I understood English.  He clearly wished to be my guide.  I initially said no, but he made some useful navigating suggestions so I hired him on.  He introduced himself as Abdul, took me around the open market, then up into the Medina eventually making our way to the Kasbah.  I soon became quite glad for Abdul's guidance as the streets in the older section appeared incredibly maze-like and would be easy to get thoroughly lost in for anyone unfamiliar with the turf.  The view just outside the Kasbah courtyard is magnificent and stunning.  High on the hill, it looks out over the Strait of Gilbraltar where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea.  I breathed deeply and drank in the watery expanse.  You could see Spain across the way.

The streets of the Medina were copiously lined with vendors selling beautiful handmade items of all kinds.  Haggling and bartering were the accepted means for transacting a purchase.  One man was selling pieces of baked sesame seed pie for a dirham each, roughly equivalent to 15 cents.  The water sellers in the Medina looked like Tibetan natives in their colorful costumes selling drinks of water out of animal pouches.  Abdul insisted that I go with him to what he called the Berber Art School, a four story store specializing in beautifully hand-woven Moroccan rugs.  This vendor had probably the best sales rap I've yet encountered which included taking me up to the roof that showed a bird's eye view of the Kasbah area, sharpening my senses with some exquisitely fine hash, and serving mint tea before showing me about a dozen of the psychedically stimulating rugs.  By the time he was through I felt obligated to buy something, but had no intention of spending a couple of hundred dollars on a rug even though they now looked like flying carpets. So I picked up a black djellaba. At night a couple of times in Tangier, I would don the black djellba thus disguising my foreigner presence and head out, making my way to the twisting, winding streets and alleyways around the Kasbah, learning how to negotiate that maze without a guide.  I got lost a couple of times, but only temporarily.

Another day, on my way out the door to explore the city some more I noticed Brian Cullman in the lobby reading a book about North Africa.  I asked him if he was going out?  He replied that he preferred to stay in and read.  Since we were in North Africa, I wondered why he opted to read about it when he could just step outside and experience it firsthand?

Getting the equipment through Customs proved quite a challenge.  Some days were spent going from one government agency to another to no avail. Waiting outside one of these offices, I chanced to look up and noticed a flock of birds, I don't know what kind, moving about here and there in no pattern I could discern as if dancing across the sky.  What grabbed my attention was that they always moved together as a group no matter how apparently erratic they shifted direction, they always stayed together.  It reminded me of an esoteric mystery School staying together through various convoluted maneuvers to penetrate the Unknown.  The first time I visited E.J. Gold's school in California for a workshop, following up on a suggestion from Robert Anton Wilson, he repeatedly emphasized the usefulness of forming small autonomous groups as a life strategy for working and helping each other out in our spiritual aims and encouraged us to stay in touch and form such groups when we returned home.  Not long after I got back to New York I attended a lecture by Dr. Timothy Leary who emphasized the exact same points about group work providing confirmation to me.  I found that groups formed through online courses that I took from the Maybe Logic Academy equally effective.  In bardo training circles these groups are known as "the pack of green"  because in some of the computer video games where groups have shared online adventures known as bardo safaris, when you click on a map, all the participating individuals show up as green blobs of pixels.  Back in Tangier, I stared entranced at these birds seemingly telepathically connected in their navigation.  The coincidence I had regarding this came a couple of months later when I went to Paris to mix the Jajouka documentary soundtrack.  Upon first entering the studio, someone brought me to a film editing suite, I had yet to see any of the footage.  The first thing I saw on the screen was a flock of birds doing the exact same kind of dance, always staying together.  The filmmaker had chosen this to accompany the flute piece from the record, which is my favorite.

One evening in Tangier was arranged to have dinner with Paul Bowles probably most well-known for his book, The Sheltering Sky.  I wrote about that night here.

After awhile it seemed our equipment would stay dry-docked in the Customs bay, and the Master Musicians of Jajouka would once again fail to get an accurate, high-quality document of their music.  Time to call in a heavy hitter.  Princess Lalla Fatima Zohra was the sister of the King of Morocco and sympathetic to their cause.  She was contacted and told of the situation.  Within a day our equipment cleared customs and we were ready to go.  Bachir told us that this happened to everyone who had brought equipment in to record them - getting blocked by Customs until the Princess stepped in.  I wondered why, if it happened every time, they didn't go to her in the first place?  Maybe this was the protocol and had to get done this way?

Stay tuned for more...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Recording the Master Musicians of Jajouka part I

I first heard about Jajouka at the age of 12 from my friend and initiator into many of music's mysteries, Steve Spalding. These musicians from Jajouka, Morocco couldn't be recorded, so the story went. Their music was so powerfully magical that it defied accurate documentation. Brion Gysin often spoke of the legend that said if the Master Musicians of Jajouka ever stopped playing, the world would end. They were the Royal Musicians at the court of the Sultan apparently from the 14th Century until 1912 when the Europeans moved into Morocco.

Bachir Attar who inherited the leadership of the group from his father, El Hadj Abdesalam el Attar, may have been descended from the Sufi saint Farid ad-Din Attar who penned the classic, Conference of the Birds. Little evidence supports this except that the poet Attar likely traveled in the region and they have the same name. I found enough similarities between this Sufi poetry and Jajouka's music that I brought a copy for Bachir to sign which he was glad to do.  Also had an interesting coincidence with birds which I'll relate in due course.

From a translation by Afham Darbandi and Dick Davis

The Conference of the Birds, as in a great deal of sufi poetry, the
true idol to be destroyed is the Self. Of especial significance is Attar’s use of the imagery
of fire to indicate religious exaltation; pre-Islamic Iran had been Zoroastrian, and the
Zoroastrians worshipped fire; the “fire-worshippers” of Persian mystical poetry are yet
another symbol for an antinomian religious fervour scandalous to the orthodox. In the
same way Persian poets, including Attar, use the intoxication induced by wine -- forbidden
to Moslems -- as a metaphor for the “forbidden” intoxications of mysticism.

The Master Musicians used intoxication brought upon by their music to temporarily bypass the normal everyday self.  It can induce a trance though I find this a poor choice of words because the word trance implies loss of volition and conscious awareness.  That kind of trance can and does occur with their music sometimes but you also can have a trance state with awareness still fully operational yet far removed from the regular ego and personality.  This kind of trance I would call an induction.   The Conference of the Birds starts out:

 Dear hoopoe, welcome! You will be our guide;
It was on you King Solomon relied
To carry secret messages between
His court and distant Sheba’s lovely queen.
He knew your language and you knew his heart --
As his close confidant you learnt the art
Of holding demons captive underground,
And for these valiant exploits you were crowned.
And you are welcome, finch! Rise up and play
Those liquid notes that steal men’s hearts away;

Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones went to Jajouka in 1969 with Brion Gysin and made a recording credited in some circles as being the first instance of what now is known as World Music. When Jones mixed the tracks back in London he attempted to recreate the sound he heard in his head, however chemically altered that may have been, and thus processed it heavily with phasing effects which produced a further swirling psychedelic effect on what already sounds like psychedelic music.   It ended up as a product of the recording studio not an accurate, transparent document of their music. Ornette Coleman brought a crew there in 1973 and made some recordings releasing one cut that year on his album Dancing In Your Head. The recording sounded ok but also included Ornette playing sax and music writer Robert Palmer playing clarinet over it. It also only featured one style of their sound which has at least 4 distinct variations with completely different instrumentation.

Coleman fueled the legend of their magic with a story about a large sum of cash he brought to Jajouka for their payment.  Concerned about it getting stolen, he placed the satchel with the cash underneath his pillow when he went to sleep.  He awoke the next morning to find it gone with no idea of how it had been taken.  As soon as he stepped out into the common area courtyard he saw the satchel on the ground in the middle of it with all the money intact.  A few of the elders sat around the square chuckling at him as he went to pick it up.

Sometime in the late 80's, based on the Brian Jones connection, the musicians leader, Bachir Attar approached the Rolling Stones camp basically looking for work.  Jagger and Richards were receptive and went to Morocco in 1989 recording the Master Musicians for 3 days in Tangier for the track Continental Drift which opens their Steel Wheels album.  They also used a recording of the Jajoukan music to introduce their set on the subsequent Steel Wheels tour.

Still, the Master Musicians of Jajouka were in search of someone to help make a full-fledged accurate documentation of their music.  Enter Bill Laswell.  Not sure how they first made contact, it may have been through Jagger whom Bill knew from having produced half of his solo album a few years prior.  At that time Bill had a record label called Axiom which existed as an imprint at the Island Records under the auspices of Chris Blackwell.  He quickly agreed to assign a budget for recording the Master Musicians and started organizing the project sometime in 1990 I believe.  Usually each record on Axiom had a modest (in those days) budget of $50k.  Bill realized that the Moroccans needed help, so along with his partner in crime, Nicky Skopelitis, devised a plan to make the recording as inexpensively as possible so that the balance of the budget could go to Jajouka as their fee.  It seems they pulled off the album for the miraculously low cost of $15k allowing Jajouka to receive the $35k balance which was a huge sum for them, enough to sustain the entire village for a year.  That meant that Bill and possibly Nicky as well would have waived any fee for themselves taking on the project solely for the sake of the music and to help out the village.

The initial plan involved hiring veteran engineer Billy Youdelman to assemble a portable recording set-up and go to Jajouka to record the Master Musicians in their home environment.  He got his start recording World Music accompanying Mick Fleetwood to Africa sometime in the '70's.  Laswell and Youdelman had already worked together on a couple of field recordings for Axiom - an album of Moroccan gnawa music and one of griot music from West Africa.  To my great delight I was asked to join the project and travel to Jajouka to assist Youdelman.

To be continued ...

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Harry Nilsson, Music & the Bardo

I'll be writing a lot more about Bardo Training over the next several days, months, years and eternities. It  all counts as Life Extension but I'll stop titling it as such.

To reiterate and recap, we came up with some Axioms regarding the notion of surviving death:

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 and more capable.

3. Ancient Tibetan Buddhists developed an accurate map for this territory called the Bardo Thodol, more commonly known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Ancient Egyptians also have much of value to offer on the subject in the Papyrus of Ani, aka The Egyptian Book of the Dead.

4. The bardo is color-coded. Not only color-coded, but also qabalistically-coded.

5. Magick, the system of brain change developed by Aleister Crowley and his School presents a unique and efficacious method of bardo training. There exists a level of consciousness, or field of energy that transcends death. Crowley anthropomorphed this field into Horus, the Crowned and Conquering Child, a designation inspired by Egyptian mythology as given in its Book of the Dead. James Joyce and Robert Anton Wilson refer to this as the non-local field.

6. There exists a Master Key for surviving death.

7. The bardo has intricate, maze-like, labyrinthian qualities. Learning to successfully negotiate mazes and solve puzzles makes for a definite bardo skill set. Solving one maze helps to navigate other, more complex mazes.

8. None of these axioms require to get taken solely on faith. They are all verifiable.

9. Preparing for death gives positive results long before we take our last breath. Bardo training can significantly increase the quality of life and help to handle the maze of life. The late Steve Jobs testified to this in his commencement address at Stanford University: "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool that I've ever encountered to help make the big choices in life."

 I assume a great likelihood exists that a large percentage of people reading this blog will have their biological machines die on them before the normal human lifespan gets significantly extended. If true, bardo training may extend the individual conscious life past the point of death anywhere from a few seconds to immortality.

A note on process before continuing. From time to time I will deliberately repeat myself. The value of repetition was succinctly put by Buckminster Fuller regarding Synergetics:

Author's Note on the Rationale for Repetition in This Work 

 It is the writer's experience that new degrees of comprehension are always and only consequent to ever-renewed review of the spontaneously rearranged inventory of significant factors. This awareness of the processes leading to new degrees of comprehension spontaneously motivates the writer to describe over and over again what-to the careless listener or reader-might seem to be tiresome repetition, but to the successful explorer is known to be essential mustering of operational strategies from which alone new thrusts of comprehension can be successfully accomplished. 

To the careless reader seeking only entertainment the repetition will bring about swift disconnect. Those experienced with the writer and motivated by personal experience with mental discoveries-co-experiencing comprehensive breakthroughs with the writer-are not dismayed by the seeming necessity to start all over again inventorying the now seemingly most lucidly relevant. 

Universe factors intuitively integrating to attain new perspective and effectively demonstrated logic of new degrees of comprehension that's the point. I have not forgotten that I have talked about these things before. It is part of the personal discipline, no matter how formidable the re-inventorying may seem, to commit myself to that task when inspired by intuitive glimpses of important new relationships-inspired overpoweringly because of the realized human potential of progressive escape from ignorance.

To continue with music and bardo training, this passage from A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari gives an interesting overview:

A child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under
his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients
himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a rough sketch of a
calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos. Perhaps
the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the song itself
is already a skip: it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos
and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment. There is always sonority
in Ariadne's thread. Or the song of Orpheus.

Ariadne's thread, of course, refers to the Greek myth where Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread so that he might find his way out of the Minotaur's labyrinth after he slew the beast.

Harry Nilsson wrote the kind of songs that our child in the dark may have been singing.  Check out this one called Mourning Glory Story which effectively conjures a bardoesque atmosphere and illustrates Axiom #4 quite well.   It's only about two minutes long:

A lot of his tunes have a similar quality of innocence and simplicity but still communicate a sonorous, if not always a happy, mood.  To my knowledge, Harry never attempted anything resembling conscious bardo training yet intuitively still tapped into that teaching, and I have to wonder if the association with his friend E.J. Gold played a role. 

Though not widely known to the general public, Harry was, nonetheless, quite an influential singer/songwriter affecting the likes of the Beatles, particularly John Lennon and Ringo Starr, and Tom Waits.  Gold was working as a photographer and writer in the music industry at the time he knew Harry, and was commissioned to take some photos for one of Nilsson's album covers.  I don't know how the two first met, or how Gold got that gig but it might possibly have been through his step-father Donner Spencer who worked as an executive at Capitol Records at the time.  They drifted apart over the years but reconnected sometime in the early 90's when Gold, now a respected world-class artist and sculptor, had the idea for a series of paintings based on lyrics from some of his songs.  This became The Moonbeam Show from the title of one of the songs off of Nilsson Schmilsson.  It first opened at the Troov Gallery which was a gallery a group of us built and opened above Bill Laswell's Greenpoint Recording Studio in Brooklyn.  I named it Troov after a character in Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson,  Hadji Asvatz Troov who has an underground laboratory where he experiments with the effects of sound and light vibrations on the human nervous system. 

For Christmas of 1993, Gold invited Nilsson and his large brood up for the holidays.  Harry had a lot of health issues at the time but decided to go anyway.  They arrived on the afternoon of Christmas Eve.  First order of business was an all night music session in Gold's home recording studio with Harry and a small group of local musicians.  Though Harry's health and body was wracked up from years of heavy partying, and his voice was pretty shot, his spirit was indomitable and he sang with more soul than most contemporary pop singers.  At the end of the session Harry appeared quite rejuvenated.  Before he left, he pulled Gold aside and thanked him. His exact words were: " E.J., you are magic for me."

You get a little taste of the session with this clip even though the lighting turned out way too dark:

Toward the end of Nilsson's visit a little more than a week later, several of us were gathered in Gold's dining room listening to the two old friends recount tales of the old days.  At one point as Gold was talking, Harry interrupted him with the non sequitur question, " but I what really want to know is, why do we have to die?"  Gold basically ignored the question and carried on with his story.  About a half hour later, again completely out of the blue, Harry says more urgently, " but why do we have to die?"  For a second time E.J. didn't respond to the question steering the subject into a different direction.  About the same amount of time goes by and Harry can no longer restrain himself.  " WHY DO WE HAVE TO DIE, I HAVE TO KNOW!!"  Now quite apparent that this wasn't an idle philosophical question but something of dire necessity to Nilsson, Gold seemed required to respond.  He spent the next four hours discoursing on the subject into the late night.  The first thing he did was to establish his credentials by pulling out the American Book of the Dead, The Lazy Man's Guide to Death and Dying (one of George Carlin's favorites when researching death for his act) and maybe one or two other books on the subject.  Nilsson had no idea of Gold's standing in that area only knowing him as a former rock photographer turned visual artist.  He began his talk by saying, "nobody knows why we have to die, and nobody knows what will happen to us when we do."

Harry, wife Una, and their clan left a day or two later.  Two weeks after that, Harry died peacefully in his sleep at his home near Los Angeles.  He was only 52, the age I am right now.  Earlier that day he had finished the final overdubs for his last album, still unreleased, unfortunately.  I was personally very upset.  Harry was a very sweet and lovely man with a strong will and spirit for life.  E. J. requested that Jimmi Accardi, Bob Bachtold and myself hold a working vigil in the recording studio for Harry.  We spent the next 12 -14 hours in there recording a variety of Nilsson compositions, and at E.J.'s suggestion, a couple of Beatles tracks, Only Sleeping and Good Day Sunshine.  Gold said that he used our musical efforts in the studio as a springboard or platform for his work with Harry on his bardo voyage.

Harry's death had further unexpected, extremely strong, reverberations for me.  One evening during his visit, I believe it may have been New Years Eve, Menlo Macfarlane and I accompanied Harry outside while he had a smoke.  He told us about his medical situation what options the doctors were suggesting and what he wanted to do regarding them.  Two weeks after Harry died, I received an unexpected phone call from my Father who had similar cardiac health issues.  My dad had a major heart attack 6 years earlier when he was 52 that necessitated a drastic change in lifestyle.  He adapted fairly easily and seemed pretty steady health-wise.  He had plans to visit my little sister later in the Spring. Rosey was only 4 or 5 at the time living with her Mother who was on sabbatical in New Zealand.  After I got off the phone I had a strange feeling, then realized that it was almost exactly the same conversation that I'd had with Harry about various medical options.  Being an observer of patterns, I had the sudden flash that he would die soon and said that to my housemate.  Two weeks later I got a call from a hospital in Calgary saying that my dad had been admitted and was scheduled for an emergency triple bypass heart operation that afternoon.  I finally got him on the phone and he told me he'd gone in for a routine check-up but the doctor became quite alarmed and told him his condition was such that he could drop dead any moment from a heart attack.  They told him that if they did the operation right away that the chances of success was 80% so he agreed to it.  Because of my premonition I immediately booked a flight to Canada and went straight to the hospital.  It turned out that they had postponed the operation until the following morning which meant that I got to spend time with him that evening.  Despite the high chance for success, it looked quite clear from the way he was behaving that he knew, or at least strongly suspected that he would die.  His sister, my Aunt Toni, had flown up from L.A.  We spent the night at my dad's house.  I only got a couple hours of sleep occupying most of my time by trying to figure out what I would tell him if I only got to see him one last time.

We saw him in his room before they prepped him for the operation.  I told him about a camping trip he had brought our family on near the B.C./Alberta border when I was about 12.  One day, just the two of us went on a long hike.  At one point we veered off the trail to climb to the top of a mountain because it looked easy to do.  It turned out harder than expected but we made it.  I had the feeling of being on top of the world.  It was a very important event for me, I told him, and mentioned that I'd returned a few times in my early 20's to that exact location for Crowley type spiritual retirements.  The last thing I remember him saying as he was on the gurney about to go in was a request to my Aunt to play a particular piece of opera music at his funeral if he didn't make it.  He'd always been a big opera lover.

The doctors said the operation went well except that when they took him off the machine, his heart wouldn't start back up.  So they kept him on the machine hoping that his heart would kick in.  Your consciousness gets quite altered when someone close to you hovers at death's door.  They had a radio playing at a low volume in the ICU but I could hear it loud and clear from the other end where the waiting room was.  Two songs, which I previously hadn't cared for, Hotel California by the Eagles, and Moon Dance by Van Morrison made a strong impression on me.  Now, whenever I hear them, they patch me directly back into that space.  After about 12 hours with no improvement the doctor told me that a decision had been made to take him off of the life support.  It was about 1am now, my Aunt was on the floor below resting.  It was just my dad and me.  I was holding his hand and reading to him from the American Book of the Dead.  At one point, I felt an alteration in the lighting and experienced a strange sensation.  About 5 minutes later I asked the doctor to please let me know the exact moment of death.  He told me it had occurred about 5 minutes ago.

Well, this has been a little tangential to the subject, but still related.  I'll leave you with a little homage to Harry Nilsson that E. J. Gold put together.  It's basically a trailer for a longer piece but I can't find the whole thing online.  I believe there were copyrite issues preventing him from using any of Harry's music for the soundtrack.  I was quite surprised to see that it begins with a close-up of me in the studio back when I had hair:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Life Extension - Music Spaces

This continues an examination of the Life Extension aspect of the S.M.I.2L.E. game plan.

Bill Laswell would usually pick me up in a car to drive out to our sessions in Greenpoint when I lived in New York.  One evening he asked if I would care to join him on a visit to Ornette Coleman's SoHo loft to see some art by an African artist Ornette was promoting.  Since I didn't have anything better to do besides meeting one of my all-time music heroes who shares the top of the list with Dylan of artists I'd like to record that I haven't yet already, I said, "why not?"

When we got there, some of the artwork was spread out on a mat on the ground near the far wall.  I don't recall the artist's name but remember that the smallish pieces, some of them on cloth,  had a subtle shamanistic quality to them, a certain "otherness"  without being jarring or brutally strange.  More of a mellow "otherness" that seemed to indicate or intimate a substantial depth beyond superficial appearance.  Bill acquired a couple of the pieces on the spot.

Some of our discussion that evening involved Ornette's dissatisfaction with every single recording he had ever done and expressing the view of the virtual impossibility of getting a good harmolodic recording.  He said the only good harmolodic recording he had ever heard was of a Frank Sinatra rehearsal.  What a "harmolodic recording" meant exactly, I do not know, but nonetheless I debated him a little based solely on my suspicion that anything reasonable is possible.   "WE HAVE THE TECHNOLOGY"  as the 6 Million Dollar Cyborg was fond of saying.   I told him how I'd do it.

However, the most interesting thing Ornette said came not long after the initial greetings.   While Bill began checking out the art, out of the blue, Ornette approached me and said,
" You won't believe this, nobody does ... what I am trying to do with my music is conquer death."
I told him that I was one of the few people who could relate to that idea.   He definitely didn't mean that he would achieve immortality with the legacy of his music, but to actually use music in a practical way to train the voyager to survive the shock of biological termination.  I'll explain how this can be done.  It has to do with using sound to explore space.

A little more elaboration on that meeting with Ornette is here.

The bardo, the territory consciousness enters post-mortem, seems 'as if' a sudden immersion into the subconscious mind both individual and collective.  Reports say that the experiences include extreme sensations and discombobulations bordering on unbearable intensity.  Scintillating lights, roaring and piercing sounds, bells, whistles, searing and scorching radiations, disorientating visions, and everything goes way too fast.  It seems like some biological mechanisms filter this out when we have a body to drive around in, but when our bodies terminate, these filters cease to work and all kinds of energies come flooding in.  Robert Anton Wilson refers to this phenomena with the title of his book, When the Walls Came Tumbling Down, as the description from Amazon makes clear:

The Walls Came Tumbling Down deals with the scary things that happen to  those who stumble into a borderless or other-worldly consciousness  without any intent to go there and without any preparation or Operating  Manual to tell them how to navigate when the walls tumble, the doors of  perception fly open and the bottom falls out of their mental filing  cabinet, leaving the brain suddenly free of the limits of mind.

If one can learn to penetrate the subconscious realms before the biological filters get stripped away, one can begin to learn the territory before death doesn't give you a choice.

Music can serve a shamanic purpose of documenting and communicating inner spaces.  Bill Laswell has said for years that he views music as a particular kind of language.  It can function as a higher-order language to penetrate and communicate the deep stratas of the subconscious mind, a mind that appears both individual and collective.  Our individual subconscious mind connects with all other subconscious minds to form what Carl Jung called the Collective Unconscious.  In more modern terminology, this territory is known as the Labyrinth because of its maze-like puzzling nature where it becomes easy to get lost or get trapped running repeated dead-end loops, programmed and conditioned habits that may bear a relationship to what Hindus refer to as karma.

Robert Anton Wilson on Art and the Reality Labyrinth:  (DISCLAIMER - I did not make this video and I have absolutely no intention of  sending out secret insulting messages with it to any of the highly esteemed and respected readers of this humble blog.  Please take it at face value.)

Using sound, and the guidelines of musical form, musicians voyage into the labyrinth and bring back a report which they communicate with their music.  That's what I mean by the shamanic function.  Anyone receptive enough who knows how to listen can contact the same space.  It will have a specific mood connected with it.  Of course, the spaces aren't static, they move and change with the music.  

To conclude, music can act as a doorway or gateway to the Collective Unconscious, or the labyrinth. if you prefer.  One  advantage of having a biological platform to launch these explorations from, ie the advantage of entering the labyrinth pre-mortem, is that they can be entered at will, at one's own pace and comfort level.

This post is dedicated to Levon Helm, the former drummer and singer for The Band who very recently shuffled off his mortal coil.