Thursday, February 13, 2014


 Continues from HERE.

12/12/13 Essaouri

Feeling good at breakfast reverberating from the yesterday's powerful music and ritual, aware that something major happened last night. Still feeling quite altered from it, open and expansive.  Not sure if anyone else realized how strong it registered, except Bill. It's business as usual, on with another day.   In an attempt to clue people in, Bill points out that the equipment began working shortly after the music started .

Open the Gnawa Pro Tools session in my room with no problem.   All the files are there but scattered over the drive.  I collect them and listen, pleased with the results.  I am infinitely more relaxed now that Pro Tools works.  Light shooting day, some exteriors, one interior then drive to Marrakech.  Walking with Bill to the square at the beginning of the medina area, the camera crew is already there with Jay, Mahmoud, and Malika.  Passing the shops with exotic looking goods, empty of people except for the proprietors gazing deep, looking ancient and alert.  Out of a dark arched entrance to a restaurant very faintly I hear an old song, I Put A Spell On You, not the Creedance version, some old bluesman, I forget who.

I'm relaxed as we begin driving in the false security of what I believe to be a working recording system.  Driving in an orange SUV with Adil and Adam, everyone else has gone ahead to film something along the way.  Outside Essaouira is an odd tourist attraction, goats in trees.  I look for them, but don't see anything.  Heard lots of talk about them and saw pictures.  One version I heard claimed that the goats didn't really climb trees but were hoisted there by locals to entrap tourists.  Other Moroccans swore up and down that the tree climbing goats were a real phenomena..  Whether people put them in trees, or the goats have figured out how to leave the earth a little by climbing them, it still sounds strange to me.

Well, the arbiter of truth, the internet, also claims it's real saying they go up there in search of food.  So, it must be true.

It's dark when we pull into the large, elegant hotel in Marrakech.  Plush greenery in front and around in what seems like a residential area.  Most of the local crew live in Marrakech. They get a brief evening in their homes with family.  Bill and I eat in  the stately, but subdued hotel dining room.  Everyone else staying here went out ... so we thought.  A small live band plays Gnawa style music, the Holiday Inn version of Gnawa.  The acoustics are quickly absorbed in the room so that the music drops off sharply  like it's muffled, it doesn't ring out.   Even when the waiter talks, it sounds hushed like you're in a library.  I feel like I'm in the Twilight Zone a little.

After eating and talking for about a half hour to forty minutes, we notice Austin, the B camera operator, seated at a table right beside us facing the other way.  Neither of us had seen him come in, we're both surprised.
"How did that happen?"  Bill asks.
Things suddenly pop up here, like a cut-up segue.  In quantum physics terms, two parallel Universes unexpectedly meet, or overlap, maybe.  I know that appears a contradiction, but this is Morocco.  Austin also is oblivious to our presence.  About ten minutes later he notices us and apologizes for being absorbed in his phone computer.  We talk for a few more minutes before going our separate ways.

12/13/13 Marrakech

I hear birds singing first thing in the morning, jump out of bed and record them.  Later, Bill says that the birds sound amazing in the garden area by the pool.  He heard this just after it starting getting light between 6 and 6:30 am.

Breakfast, then bring Pro Tools up to the room.  Still on the criminal computer, I try to open a session, but it's a no go.  It starts to open then gives the error message, "Pro Tools has unexpectedly quit."  My heart sinks and I feel dazed.  After several attempts of trying I conclude that the computer is either really stupid, or lying.  How can it be unexpected when it happens every single time?  I go downstairs, Jay and Bill are having breakfast outside.  Jay asks how I'm doing, I say not so good, Pro Tools isn't working, it won't open. Silence.

In an earlier email communication with Paul, the support tech at Dreamhire, I had mentioned that the Macbook Pro still acted quirky.  His reply was, and I quote, " I've seen cracked programs do monstrous things to computers."

I set up Pro Tools in the production office Kasbah Films had rented out in the hotel.  Adam tries opening the program a few times with the same result.  Fortunately, it's not needed for today.  Everything on the day's schedule can get handled with the two track.  A plan formulates to transfer the Pro Tools 10 software from the renegade Mac to Adam's computer and see if it will open there.  This will have to wait until we get back tonight as it's time to go.

The location today is in and around the main square of Marrakech known as Jemaa el-Fnaa.  Wikipedia says about the name:

The origin of its name is unclear: Jemaa means "congregational mosque" in Arabic, probably referring to a destroyed Almoravid mosque. "Fanâʼ" or "finâ'" can mean "death" or "a courtyard, space in front of a building." Thus, one meaning could be "The mosque or assembly of death," or "The Mosque at the End of the World".

Apt name.  The square looked like a major transit, or bardo hub.  Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Man Who Knew Too Much here.  A few groups of musicians are scattered throughout set up on rugs.  I hear rhaitas - the double-reed, high-pitched Moroccan horns - and drums, and move closer to record.  A couple of cobras are on the ground, hoods flared and their heads raised swaying, apparently enchanted by the music.  It seems safe here, but appearances can deceive in the bardo.  A terrorist attack killed 17 people at one of the cafes bordering the area in 2011.  The government has reportedly built an underground interrogation center for terrorists beneath the square.

All kinds of unusual sights - woman selling water dressed in colorful, traditional Berber garb.  A young man with a frisky monkey on a chain passes by.  Austin mentions seeing a vulture chained to a post.  Bill said that one outpost of musicians had a hawk.

The hawk sighting reminds me of Horus, the hawk-headed God from the Egyptian pantheon, and Aleister Crowley's pick to represent the reigning deity of the modern era.  Burroughs knew about Horus, naming one of the characters in The Western Lands after him:

Horus Neferti is a bit tired of being the perpetual ingenue, the eternal reflection of unbearable radiant boyishness.  But then radiance is a potent weapon that has served him in a number of awful engagements, a light weapon.  You have to conserve and pace your kilowatts.  Otherwise you can blow a fuse in a tight spot. -p. 131

 The Western Lands influenced the genesis of this film project after Bill gave a copy of the Material album Seven Souls to the producers, an album that features Burroughs reading from it. The initial working title of the film was Five Souls.  I couldn't find anyone who admitted to coming up with that title or what it was supposed to mean, but speculation held that it related to Seven Souls.  Two of the souls must have gotten knocked off or abandoned ship along the way.

Death seemed forefront in WSB's mind when he wrote The Western Lands.  It's dedicated to his long-time friend and collaborator, Brion Gysin, who had recently died.  He also revisits the accidental death of his wife Joan, years ago in Mexico City, a death which turned Burroughs into a writer.  The number 23 sees frequent use in the book, a number which indicates that maybe the bardo lurks nearby, as I attempt to demonstrate in an analysis of this ideogram.

Writer Robert Anton Wilson delved deep into the 23 conspiracy after hearing about it from Burroughs. Burroughs honors Wilson by naming a character in The Western Lands after him, an expert on the centipede cult.

The last words of The Western Lands, Hurry up please.  It's time.,"  echo the last words of Timothy Leary's Flashbacks, "... it's about time."  Time anomalies seem a regular occurrence when traveling through bardo spaces.  After working on this film for two days in Morroco, it felt like I'd been there for weeks.  At the time, the 3 weeks in Morocco passed more like 3 months.  Once back home in a different time frame, the trip felt like it had gone by fast yet the reverberations from it, the processing of all information received carries a lingering notion that somehow time had stretched out on the trip like the huge arching dome of the sky over the desert.

Synchronicities, unusual anomalies in time and space, are to occultists or bardo voyagers what a Wilson Cloud Chamber is to a physicist, evidence of the invisible through visible interactions.  Horrific exaggrrations of centipede size, and a cult devoted to them play the role of Bardo monsters in The Western Lands.  Qabalists might connect this fictional centipede cult with Gurdjieff's idea of 'food for the moon.'  Recently rereading The Western Lands hoping to gain a better understanding of this Moroccan experience, I came home to find a centipede crawling on the rug in the middle of my room.  I can't remember the last time I saw one.  It looked ok, not the gross oversize ones out of WSB's imagination, but still gave me a queasy feeling as I escorted it out of my room back into the wilderness.

Recording the ambience of the main square in Marrakech, Jemaa el-Fnaa, was the first order of the day. Recording the ambience of the 'Mosque of Death, the Mosque at the End of the World.'  I started recording environmental ambience and the ambience of shrines, temples and interdimensional outposts in 1990 after E.J. Gold gave me a demonstration of how sound could be used to navigate the Bardo.  My first ambient recording was at the Basilica du Sacre Couer in Paris.  By coincidence or synchronicity, a group of monks came out about 10 minutes in to the recording of this cavernous cathedral space and began singing a canticle.  Don't know what they sang/chanted but it sounded like collected devotion.  Concentrated musical attention echoing and reverberating  - multiple fast echos stacked up on each other - off the high arched stone columns and colorful stained glass.

The ambience of the Mosque of Death had a rich variety of music and sounds.  In the night, outposts of different groups  scattered throughout this Grand Central Station-like chamber played music set up on rugs that start to remind one of flying carpets out of 1001 Nights.   Steppenwolf's Magic Carpet Ride.  Bedecked with flowers, gas lamps, small decorative artifacts and snow-white doves looking like ad hoc pagan altars. 

The music groups played close enough to overlap at a distance yet not too close to interfere with each other.  Sometimes it seemed the musical baton was being passed from group to group, the thread of musical transmission handed off to each other.  This idea gets explored in a John Zorn improv form called Lacrosse.

It's hard to describe the richness of musical communication going on there in the Mosque of Death unless you happen to be William Burroughs who described it perfectly in excerpts from The Western Lands cut-up and reformulated by Laswell for the track Ineffect, the first piece on Seven Souls:

Musical intelligence, information and directives in and out through street singers, musical broadcasts, jukeboxes, records, high school bands, whistling boys, cabaret performers, singing waiters, transistor radios. Red sails of the sunset way out on the sea.

Next location took us into a network of narrow streets and alleyways leading off from the square where various souks or marketplaces sold hand and tool-crafted goods of all kinds.  Filming occurred at one specific souk which I won't reveal to avoid a possible spoiler.  The ambience and mood of it conjured the image of the home of Hephaestus, the Greek god of fire and volcanoes. Suddenly and dramatically a muezzin's voice plaintively cried out - loud, amplified and distorted -  the Muslim call to prayer coming from the direction of the Mosque of Death.  Naturally, I recorded it. Later, in Tangier, I got the assignment to record as many prayer calls as possible.  Nice to start fulfilling an assignment before it's been given.  Strange loops in time.

That completed the daytime filming, the main musical event still awaited, to take place after dusk.  That event would be a recording of Heddaoua, Berber storytellers who bark out oral history in an aggressive, assertive style that recalls freestyle rap or the records of The Last Poets.   The Heddaoua at one time were considered subversive and anarchistic with their socially and politically critical commentaries. Until fairly recently they were banned, illegal, outside the law. Now it seems.they are viewed as crazy by the establishment and so left alone.

Walking back across the square to our base camp in the far corner I meet the fabled Richard Horowitz for the first time.  A name I've heard of for years, Horowitz has long been a liaison between Moroccan music and the West.  He was Led Zeppelin's guide when they visited Marrakech for the first time.  Page and Plant returned later and recorded tracks for their Unledded collaboration somewhere in or around the square.

As a musician, Horowitz has been part of a duo with Iranian singer/composer Sussan Deyhim for more than 30 years.  I worked with Sussan once when she did guest vocals for Tabla Beat Science at a concert in Beruit in between wars there.  Richard also helped Bill Laswell organize Night Spirit Masters, the first Gnawa music Bill recorded, also tracked just off the Jemaa el-Fnaa nexus point.  Horowitz's credits appear extensive so I'll mention a couple of my favorites - he and Sussan played with The Grateful Dead at an event for Jospeh Campbell.   The two helped ghostwrite the sound track for the old sci fi show Max Headroom for Dead drummer Mickey Hart.  Finally, Paul Bowles recommended him to Bernardo Bertolucci to compose the score for The Sheltering Sky film, which he ended up doing.

It wasn't clear to me exactly what his role with the film was.  A little shadowy and marginal.  He had introduced two of the producers, Karim and Andy to each other so must have had some part in the early development.  At the moment he was involved in trying to find us an alternate recording system if we couldn't get Pro Tools going.  He had a connection with a local film school that had equipment.  Unfortunately, it was the same equipment driven down to Essaouira which we turned back so they were reluctant to help us out.  We didn't pursue it.

Catering had a meal prepared for us when we returned to our base corner in the square, where production had their trucks.  Our base corner in the Mosque of Death ...  I just like the way that sounds!  We have 90 minutes or so before the main event.  The square starts to fill up, it's dusk now and the shadows of night are falling fast.  The square really comes alive at night.  Lots of food stalls, more musicians, fortune tellers, snake charmers, dancers, singing waiters, throngs of people.  I know this will be a chaotic night, a challenging recording.  The Heddaoua perform on a carpet turned into a stage set near the middle of the square surrounded by people listening and watching.  There's already an alternate plan to bring them back to the hotel afterwards to get a cleaner recording.

I miced the first poet with a small lavalier clip-on mic and ran the cable on the inside of his djellaba.  While often working in pairs, rapping their stories back and forth, in rapid, machine-gun-like patter, at the moment it was just one.  An older man in Berber costume looking ancient and weathered but vigorously holding forth, passionately giving his message to the gathered audience.  I ran a 50 ft. mic cable around the edge of the rug through the crowd to where I would be stationed with the 2 track recorder.  Plugged the mic in, pressed the headphones against my ears to hear if the mic was working.     All I heard was an electronic high pitched buzz.  Went and reseated the connection between the lavalier tiny output pin and its XLR adaptor, thankfully it now worked.  I was surprised by how well it picked up the poet's voice over the cacophony of the surrounding square.  Very good signal to noise ratio.

Finishing this mic check when an AD (Assistant Director) or someone else from Production screamed at me: OZ, YOU HAVE TO MIC THE OTHER ONE!!  Just what I was about to do, but they couldn't have known I was trouble-shooting.  Both of them miced up, I retreated to my post outside the circle hunched over on a folding chair headphones glued to my ears to make sure the voices were being picked up.  ADs and other crew stood around me protecting from crowd encroachment.  The Heddaoua seemed allergic to microphones, they kept falling off.  Went into the circle to reattach a mic.  From a rooftop some 100ft away, cutting through the roar of the crowded square ambience I heard my name screamed once again at high decibel piercing pitch.  I took it to mean, get the hell out of the frame of the picture.  It didn't seem they were shooting picture just then because later I was barred by an AD from entering the stage area to fix a mic.  They were filming, the mic had fallen to the ground.  Fortunately, these dpa mics are quite sensitive, the poets voice still picked up without overly extraneous noise.  I could still hear him, but at a lower level than his partner whose mic stayed in place.  I verified this  a few days later when reviewing audio in my room.  The mic on the ground was 13dB quieter but that could be compensated.  The voice was clear.

It had been an intense shoot, you don't get second takes at a live performance.  No one wanted to bring the Heddaoua back to the hotel for a controlled recording including myself.  I was more interested in getting the Pro Tools system to work. It was already after 10pm.

They say the 3 most important things in retail sales are location, location, location though this might  pertain more to a pre-internet era.  Location is also an essential factor in recording.  We would have obtained a cleaner recording at the hotel, for one thing I could have used real vocal mics as it wouldn't be filmed, but it wouldn't have the same ambience and mood as the recording on the square.  From what I've observed over the years,  locations resonate with past events.  A dramatic example of this is Electric Lady, the recording studio that Jimi Hendrix put together on 8th St. in New York.  Earlier in the century that location had been a speakeasy then a popular bar where G.I. Gurdjieff had met with Buckminster Fuller several times.  One source for this factoid is a bio on Fuller, the other came from an account of the history of that building, but I don't recall where I read that.  Electric Lady was also the location where Jimi Hendrix gave some sage advice and encouragement to a young, unknown Patti Smith.  Bill Laswell and I mixed a Buckethead track, part of the soundtrack for the film Last Action Hero at Electric Lady to take advantage of the location's resonance and history.  Buckethead is also a guitar virtuoso for those who may not know.

Jemaa el-Fnaa, the Mosque of Death, Marrakech's main square has incredible history to it.  Recording politically subversive raps and rantings at the site of a terrorist target, just that alone gives it a unique mood, something you wouldn't get anywhere else.  The importance of location gets demonstrated moreso as these Moroccan adventures proceed.

Fried, frazzled but greatly relieved that the recording worked, I moved on to the next crisis to solve, getting Pro Tools to work.  I felt the key lay in trying it on a different computer, one that hadn't played host to a hacked program.  Back at the hotel, we tried to open the program again on the same computer with the same non-functioning results.  Adam brought down his MacBook Pro.  Fortunately, we found we could transfer the Pro Tools 10 demo program to his computer via a thumb drive.   I say fortunately because there was only one spot in the hotel, right by the front desk, where wi fi would connect to the net, and that appeared sporadic.  Downloading anything didn't seem possible.  Pro Tools opens on Adams computer.  The Pro Tools 10 drivers load without a problem.  They were already on his computer from the download in Essaouira.  It works, I am ecstatic!  What a day it had been.