Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Musical Gnosis: Bill Laswell - Means of Deliverance

 Bass is the Place

Science tells us an individual's growth receives evolutionary instructions through the activation of different stages of the DNA code found in each cell.  It's been suggested that higher modalities of consciousness result from uncovering and activating further into the DNA code.  Another, maybe less scientific theory, states that all of one's experiences affect and modifies that person's DNA code so that their children will have those experiences passed on to them even if at a subtle and deep level.  If the World Body of Music has a DNA code of some sort, then Bill Laswell's new solo acoustic bass album, Means of Deliverance, represents the latest transmission of instructions from that code. The title gives it away.

Means of Deliverance presents the musical spaces of a seasoned traveler.   Laswell travels both in the sense of going to and becoming immersed in various global cultures, and as a musical explorer of the intrepidly eclectic persuasion.  When we worked with Yothu Yindi in Australia, leader/shamen Mandawuy Yunupingu called him " the Man from Nowhere. "   I would call him one of the Invisibles.

The weapon of choice for this audio equivalent of an illuminated scroll is a Warwick Alien 4-string fretless acoustic bass.  It's not a stand-up bass but is played and held the same as an acoustic guitar.  An excellent article on the recording and musical genesis of Means of Deliverance appears here.  The title of the article calls it a "Groundbreaking Solo Bass Record" which I agree with but, contrariwise, would also call it Spacecreating.  The ground breaks when the space creates.  Bass is the place of this space (cf Crowley's Book of Lies ch. 57)

The sound of Means of Deliverance certainly lives up to the Laswell standard.  Rich, deep and very clean.  Also very clear and open.  The nuanced touch of the fingers on the strings gives an almost tactile sensation at times.  I'm guessing that this resulted from using minimal compression in the recording process, a wise decision in my opinion.

 The first composition, Against the Upper House has a mood that recalls for me the mysterious Sarmoung Monastery: ( the site of a Sufi Brotherhood - a legendary source of Gurdjieff's teachings) contemplative at first then slowly spiraling into a faster tempo suggestive of the sacred movements and dances native to that Monastery; its esoteric language communicating in posture.  The musical themes and figures suggest postures of sound communicating information below or above the bandwidth range of mental apprehension.  These sonic postures shift and move in the same gracefully intentional way as Gurdjieff's movements, with a great deal of presence and awareness.

This quote from J.G. Bennett about the meaning of Sarmoung helps describe this mood I heard in the track:

 "The word can be interpreted in three ways. It is the word for bee, which has always been a symbol of those who collect the precious 'honey' of traditional wisdom and preserve it for further generations. A collection of legends, well known in Armenian and Syrian circles with the title of The Bees, was revised by Mar Salamon, a Nestorian Archimandrite in the thirteenth century. The Bees refers to a mysterious power transmitted from the time of Zoroaster and made manifest in the time of Christ.... Man is Persian meaning as the quality transmitted by heredity and hence a distinguished family or race. It can be the repository of an heirloom or tradition. The word sar means head, both literally and in the sense of principal or chief. The combination sarman would thus mean the chief repository of the tradition." Yet another possibility was "those whose heads have been purified."

Lately I've been listening to a fair amount of the Armenian composer and sacred music collector Komitas.  Komitas was kind of an Alan Lomax of Armenia, traveling extensively in search of traditional music handed down for generationsHe also wrote and arranged a lot of chorale and Church music. Komitas and his music was another source of Gurdjieff's knowledge.   Against the Upper House has a strong affinity with his music, that same kind of meditative, prayerful space but dynamic and active.

A Dangerous Road  reminds me of the Material album Seven Souls or Laswell's earlier solo album, Hear No Evil - slightly otherwordly, slightly Sufi, slightly backwoods of Kentucky or Mississippi and a dash of Jaco Pastorius virtuosity.
Ouroboros  - arpeggiated lines weave in and out of one another creating a circular feeling that matches the title image, the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail.  An ebow sustains a distant hint of melody imparting a sense of mystery and depth to this track.

The fifth track, Bagana Sub Figura X, features Bill's wife Ejigayehu Shibabaw aka Gigi singing delicate phrases in her original, Ethiopian-based language.  To me, it sounds like a duet - one voice being Bill's Warwick bass, the other Gigi's.  A dyadic dance treading the razor's edge between the Void and the Manifest. Shiva and Shakti creating, destroying, and preserving Universes while you wait.

Every song on Means of Deliverance can be approached like a puzzle box that contains a great jewel or pearl of wisdom, to be unlocked and opened by the attentive listener.  Often the song, this living artifact, gets unlocked just by repeated playbacks.  This one time you put it on something clicks. Emotional resonance with the music starts to pick up maybe going into an amplified circular oscillation cycle, or "feedback" mode, then the gnosis floods in.  Maybe there was something different about the lighting in the room, or maybe the sum total of the days' events prior to listening created a receptive mood resonant with the music allowing a coupling factor to be made between the artistic vision of the piece and the listener who can then use the energy received from this experience in a variety of ways.

In a few reviews I've read, it's been reported that Means of Deliverance sounds different every time you hear it.  I made the same observation.  Obviously the information on the cd or the file doesn't change, what changes is the listener's perception.  In this way, ie by playing repeatedly, we observe that the music changes us slightly long before the breakthrough into the full musical gnosis.

Means of Deliverance offers a rare opportunity to make direct contact with Bill Laswell's vast aggregate of experience.  Most people aren't going to have much of an idea what this means, ie what that experience contains, so they may not appreciate the opportunity - one reason why I call him an Invisible.  Someone should write a book. 

This release is progressive, on the cutting edge.  I don't mean technique or form, I mean in force of presence; in music that communicates vital information in the language of being.  It can be studied, grokked, psychometrized and metabolized or casually listened to, played softly in the environment, barely noticed like Eno's Ambient music.  Subtly, subconsciously, aesthetically lifting the space.


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