Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How I Met E.J. Gold (part II)

To continue where I left off... earlier in that same workshop where I asked Wilson about the necessity of finding a School, he mentioned that he thought Crowley and Gurdjieff  presented the same system but with different approaches, something I had long suspected.  He was asked if he thought the two Masters had ever met and said the only reasonable account he heard had them meeting in a Parisian cafe where they were both wary, didn't say much and sniffed each other out like dogs checking out the competition.  This is the account Crowley archivist Gerald Yorke gives based on something he found in Crowley's papers.  I asked Wilson if he was aware that Buckminster Fuller met Gurdjieff several times in a bar on 8th Street in New York, something I had recently read in a Fuller biography.  He hadn't heard about this.  Apparently, Fuller was put off by the followers and their adulation that swarmed around Gurdjieff vowing he would never tread the guru path.  I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall that could overhear those conversations.  They both shared altruistic ideals toward making the world a better place to live in.  Gurdjieff tried to show people how to evolve out of the cattle path of their ordinary mechanical and predictably self-destructive behavior.  Fuller felt that you can't really change people directly but you can change their environment to make it more conducive for them to change themselves.

Early in1990 our study group leader, Jimmi Accardi, moved to California to work more directly with Gold.  Jimmi, an accomplished musician and home recording enthusiast, was a perfect fit to help out with E.J.'s musical and recording endeavors.  Gold, similar to his friend Ken Kesey whom he has been compared with, is a technophile who began acquiring audio and video recording equipment about as soon as it became available on the market back in the '60's.  One part of his large home was set aside as a recording studio giving Jimmi a place to work on a daily basis.  Largely through his efforts aided with the help of some others, Jimmi re-established the musical output of I.D.H.H.B. through the creation of a indie record company called The Union Label.

Just to backtrack a second, recently I was listening to a podcast by an old friend of Gold's, Poke Runyon, about a recent book release called Inside Solar Lodge-Behind the Veil wherein he told an anecdote about Jeff Gold, as E.J. was known at the time, and described him as a "merry prankster."  I don't think Runyon meant that God was part of Kesey's gang, the Merry Pranksters, just that he is merry and a prankster.

Before he left, Jimmi sold me his essential oils kit and bequeathed his job of going to psychic fairs to blendi and sell fragrance oils for people.  This was something completely new for me, I'm more of a behind-the-scenes guy.  Sometimes I would go alone, sometimes with my wife at the time.  It was most educational, an exercise of intuition to choose what oils would work well on someone; a great way to establish a rapport with a complete stranger.  Working with the oils also required an increase of attention to keep them free from getting inadvertently contaminated with one another.To get into character, I established a different persona, bought some special clothes and had cards printed that gave my name as Mick Anubis.  Mick was my nickname growing up, Anubis, the ancient Egyptian jackal-headed god is a psychopomp in their mythology, the guide through the Land of the Dead.

Another thing Jimmi bequeathed me was the Sufi Movie Club.  He had encouraged me to start a discussion group to introduce these ideas to anyone who might show an interest.  A discussion group was much looser and more informal than a study group.  Films were a great medium to base it on.  We put up fliers advertising it at Weiser's and Esoterica bookstores and a few other places; the promo graphics had already been designed when Jimmi ran it.  We held it in our apartment, a rent-controlled high rise on South Street in the Lower East Side with a magnificent view of the East River and a balcony to appreciate it.   Attendance was modest, averaging about half a dozen.  We would show the film, serve light refreshments, then have a discussion about any esoteric ideas we may have noticed.  I had a lot of fun with this.  For me it meant watching the film at least 3 times in order to prepare to lead the discussion. We opened with Blade Runner.  Some of the other films included Duck Soup by the Marx Brothers, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and 2001, A Space Odyssey.

Following Jimmi's departure the study group moved to Evan Lurie's penthouse apartment on 29th and Lexington.  He held it in the same room where he composed music.  One of the projects we undertook consisted of reading the Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus a chapter at a time.  I had already been through the book and had done the exercises but hearing it read aloud gave a whole new experience and new cognitions. 

Some time in spring of 1990 we got word of the annual IDHHB Convention scheduled for the Labor Day weekend.  A week-long pre-convention intensive workshop was offered and another workshop following the convention was made available.  My wife and I signed up for everything.

The first day of the workshop was August 25th, 1990 my 31st birthday.  By that time I had read enough of their Talks of the Month to pick up on the birthday question tradition.  You could ask anything you liked on your birthday.  I didn't really have a pressing question at the time so tried to come up with a good one on the flight out to take advantage of the opportunity.  Gold wasn't around the first day, the workshop was being handled by some of his senior students, Claude Needham, David Franco, and Julia Glasse.  At dinner I asked the question anyway which was something along the lines of " how does one learn to navigate in the macrodimensions?"  There wasn't much discussion about it but I did get a great answer from Claude, a suggestion to watch the film They Might Be Giants.  It's an excellent film about a millionaire, Justin Playfair,  who becomes convinced that he's Sherlock Holmes.  He's taken to a psychiatrist named Watson, coincidentally, who instead of curing him enters his world and participates in the search for Moriarty through a series of unusual clues.  The title derives from the story of Don Quixote who saw windmills as monstrous giants.  At one point Playfair reveals that he's not completely mad when he says:

Of course, he carried it a bit too far. He thought that every windmill was a giant. That's insane. But, thinking that they might be... Well, all the best minds used to think the world was flat. But, what if it isn't? It might be round. And bread mould might be medicine. If we never looked at things and thought of what they might be, why, we'd all still be out there in the tall grass with the apes.

You can see that same kind of navigation through an unusual clue at the beginning of The Matrix film when Neo gets advised to follow the white rabbit.

Most of the workshop took place on this lot in Penn Vally that had two rows of small warehouse-like spaces.  One of them had been turned into a plant shop.  The first time I saw E.J. Gold in person was one evening when he came down to check how things were going.  He entered the space like a slapstick comedian.  A large wide metal door had been pulled halfway down the entrance.  There was a loud crash as Gold feigned banging his head by walking straight into the door.

The main thrust of the workshop was learning how to grow, sculpt and care for Japanese bonsai plants, basically miniature trees.  Gold gave a thorough demonstration of how to go about working with bonsai and also tied it in to the business of transformation.  When Gold selects a field of endeavor to work with, he really plumbs it to it's depths, finding out absolutely everything there is to know about the subject, and then some.  I know several people who have launched careers and businesses inspired by one or another of Gold's activities.  I am one of them.  My interest in recording the ambience of spaces originated from this workshop.  One fellow, Werner Erhard, took a workshop from Gold in the late '60's or early '70's and developed only one small aspect of the workshop into a personal training system called EST. For good or ill I'm unqualified to say.

Other main topics of this workshop included the importance of teamwork and the value working in small groups.  The way it was put seemed quite similar to Hakim Bey's concept of temporary autonomous zones. All of the participants were encouraged to stay in touch with one another after we left.  Most of us still do some 22 years later.  I would have more to say if I hadn't waited 22 years to write about it.  I did make notes but don't have that notebook available at the moment.  It's probably in storage. I do remember another talk where I was surprised to hear Gold mention the superiority of Neve mixing desks.  It's true, nothing sounds as good as a vintage Neve, the console that Bill Laswell had at Greenpoint and which Prairie Sun has in two of there three studios.

Another item at the forefront was the B.B.C. audio recording of the SF classic, the  Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  It was listened to repeatedly over and over again and the subject of ongoing discussion. One of the characters,  a suave 2 headed, 3 armed ex-President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, lent his name to a band  formed by Accardi, Gold, and drummer Bob Bachtold called Zaphod and the New Harmonics.  They released several albums noted for Gold's improvisational exploration of Harry Partch's 43-tone scale on the saxophone.

One evening saw a presentation of Gold's play, Creation Story Verbatim, a divine comedy consisting of a dialogue between The Lord God Herself and the Archangel Gabriel concerning humans on the solar moon Earth.  Before the play started they prepared the space by censing it, that is they walked around the room with two incense censors burning frankincense, benzoin, and myrrh on charcoal bricks.  The large censors were beautiful pieces of crafted metalwork.  I asked about them and was told they were handmade in Africa.  I enquired as to where one could be found for purchase.   They graciously sold me one of theirs for a nominal cost.  Each one had a lid with a small metal sculpture on top.  Mine showed man seated and smoking a pipe under an umbrella with a group of smaller pygmy men standing around him in different poses, one of them playing a horn.  To this day I bring this incense lid into the studio and set it on one of the speakers when I mix.  I've been doing this for years.  The first time I mixed for  KSK, a traditional African music label, one of them looked at the sculpture and said, "Oh, that's Dogon."  I had no idea.  The Dogon tribe, of course, is connected to the Sirius Mystery.

The Convention was also scheduled to take place in Penn Valley but at the last minute, and I mean last minute, like the day before, it was moved to the Sacramento Inn in Sacramento resulting in all kinds of chaos and confusion.  People had to scramble to change their accommodations.  They were told to just go to Sacramento and their luggage would be brought down later.  Of course, the luggage got all mixed up and took some time to sort out. 

The theme and title of the Convention was The Union Label - Voyaging through Sound and Music.  Gold gave the keynote talk with help from Jimmi Accardi.  They had spent many long hours in the studio ever since Jimmi arrived seven months earlier.  He talked about how listening to certain kinds of far-out music changes a listener's perception as they learn to appreciate and process it.  This can take some time.  The music of Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Harry Partch, Charles Ives, and the eccentric blind street musician Moondog (an old friend ) were given as examples.  At the close of the talk Gold asked all of the musicians present if they would like to come to his house for a mixing session.  He casually asked me if I'd like to join them. I said yes.

Gold's home studio had a 16 channel Soundcraft mixing board.  I''m still partial to Soundcraft mixers.  The first board I purchased for live mixing was a Soundcraft 1S back in 1980, and I also brought a Soundcraft to Jajouka for the remote recording there.  At that time, the Union Label studio worked off of an Otari analog 8 track with dbx noise reduction.  I watched as Jimmi Accardi mixed an album called Evolver which consisted of instrumental Beatles songs with free jazz horns playing on top.  I was quite shocked by how quickly he mixed it, a 30 minute side only took 45 minutes  to an hour to mix.  It seemed random and cavalier, to me, not what I was used to when mixing in New York.  That album has since been extensively reworked.

I never did make it back to the Convention.  Jimmi enjoyed having me in the studio to help out, so I went straight there the next morning.  I'm not sure if Gold ever went back, either.  My wife did, so I got the report, that the Work Circle, as it was called, was being broken up.  With just a couple hundred or so attendees it had become too large and unwieldy.  It was suggested that folks form smaller groups local to their area to hold any future conventions as this would be the last one in California near the home base.  I later found out that disbanding the group when it reached a certain size or inertia was something that occurred from time to time.  Gold isn't interested in building up a large organization. 

Part of this disbandment involved creating a sense of emergency about upcoming dire conditions in the world at large.  A film about Nostradamus was shown that dramatized his apocalyptic predictions which included scenes of New York City being attacked by war planes.  This upset my wife.  It was predicted that terrorism would rise dramatically and become a major concern.  This was in 1990 when most of the media portrayed a cautious optimism with the recent events of glasnost, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  Yet it was only a year or so before violence reescalated in Israel after a lull of some years followed by Iraq invading Kuwait and the start of the war there.  Eleven years later sees 9/11, the attack upon the World Trade Center towers and the beginning of the War on Terror.

The post-Convention workshop was cancelled and attendees were asked to hand over their plane tickets so they could be rescheduled to leave immediately after the Convention.

Stay tuned for part III

I'll tide you over with Robert Anton Wilson on Belief Systems apropos to some of the flavor of the pre-convention intensive:

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