Saturday, December 5, 2015

Greenpoint Part I

A good example of what went on at Greenpoint, the recording studio Bill Laswell and Jonas Helborg assembled in Brooklyn in 1990, occurred in 1992 when I took a friend of mine, Chris Schell to see the space above the studio we were going to renovate and turn into a temporary art gallery.  It later became a performance space.  I'd made an arrangement with Bill to finish the construction on the third floor in exchange for 6 months rent-free occupancy.   Chris was a huge fan of Parliament/Funkadelic and I'd told him those guys often recorded at Greenpoint - Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Gary "Mudbone" Cooper, Gary Shider, and probably some others.  I had no idea who would be recording so it was quite a shock and surprise to see that everyone from Funkadelic was there that day including George Clinton, it was basically a reunion of the old school Parliament.  I don't know if they were recording or just meeting, when we poked our heads in they were casually chilling around the studio.  Chris seemed a little awestruck by the group as was I.  That was the only time that ever happened in my presence though I did work with them all individually at various times.

Greenpoint was the nexus, focal point and audio laboratory for some radical breakthroughs in music assemblage and production; recording and mix translation; the working spot for an informal community of musicians, engineers and technicians; rappers and poets, crazy Sufis and serious magicians; rock royalty (Ginger Baker, Buddy Miles) and jazz (Ornette Coleman, Tony Williams, Herbie Hancock etc.) and punk (Iggy Pop, The Buzzcocks) legends.  I've barely scratched the surface. Once I mixed an album for the English band God.  Yes, at Greenpoint I mixed God.  Painkiller (Laswell, Zorn, Harris) was born there.  Greenpoint was where Bill Laswell brought musicians together to forge new connections, modes and territories in music; it was a way station.  The current of music flowing out of there was always strong, highly charged, powerful, sensitive and diverse; buzzing with electricity; resplendently radiating musical multiplicities; sound constructions; expression of soul content.  

Geography plays a crucial role in all forms of creativity. I've noticed this most in music.  For a long time I've experienced and experimented with the notion of "power centers,"certain locations on Earth more conducive to artistic flow.  I didn't hear about this elsewhere until much later when watching a video Reshad Feild' made about ley lines while visiting his Sufi based school in Switzerland.  Praxis (Buckethead/Brain/Laswell/Worrell) was playing a festival nearby.

Touring as a soundman with The Tickets in the early '80s I began to notice that certain places brought out different qualities both personally and artistically.  We played a regular circuit in Western Canada repeating the same venue about every three months.  Saskatoon was where most of the band was from and was one of those cities where an inordinate number of musicians hail from for it's size.  Loverboy, Streeheart, Iron Maiden, all big Canadian bands at the time came out of Saskatoon.  We looked forward to the shows at the A4 Club there, they always seemed a notch above anywhere else; there was a different,very poignant vitality there. Whenever we played Saskatoon I had a strong urge to do a lot of yoga and magick, much more than anywhere else and so I did.  My first really successful ritual invocation occurred in Saskatoon and it scared me senseless.  I got the communication to not try that kind of thing for a couple of years; to make a foundation in the meantime.

I will state and affirm with 93% certainty that Greenpoint Studio was one such power center.  Not just because all kinds of world class musicians worked there, nor was it by any means lavish and expensive in its design.  It had a modest amount of really good equipment and the acoustics were good, but not great for a big room sound.  There was something intangible about Greenpoint, a vibe, that caused people to open up more than usual.  Things were channeled from the Outside and other things were dredged up from interior depths; invocation and evocation.  Near the start of one session with Bootsy Collins and Stevie Salas, Buddy Miles began to go off on an emotional rant about how the music business had destroyed Jimi Hendrix by giving him drugs, etc.  Buddy got so worked up that he began crying, a cathartic release.  Bootsy went over to calm him down.  Buddy wore Jimi Hendrix like a badge of honor and obviously had issues to resolve that spontaneously got evoked out of him.  A clearly evident sign of channeling happened at the recording for Painkiller's debut album when Mick Harris was screaming his nonsense vocalizations - they weren't words, just sounds.  One sound, "scud" got repeated a few times, one sequence going "scud, Scud, SCUD SCUD SCUD!!! in rising intensity.  About three or four days later the phrase "scud missiles" was all over the news at the start of Gulf War I.  I had never heard of them until then.  

More testimony to Greenpoint as a creative hotspot came from Jonas Helborg who told a friend of mine at a NAMM show that the sessions we did together at Greenpoint were some of the best he's ever done in terms of vibe  Jonas did a lot of sessions there, he was partners with Laswell in the studio until 1993, but I believe he may have been referring to his acoustic bass solo album The Silent Life.  I recall a strong mood of otherness during those recordings so I can guess at what he was talking about.  Dissident, the album Helborg put together under the group named Deadline also had strong moments.  His Laswell produced album for Axiom, The Word, with Tony Williams and The Soldier String Quartet was recorded entirely at Greenpoint by Jason Corsaro and myself.  It's an underground classic.  Helborg's record label since 1997 is Bardo Records.

I first heard about the Greenpoint studio when working on tracking sessions at Platinum Island for an album Bill Laswell was producing for Masabumi Kikuchi called Dreamachine.  Kikuchi had a rehearsal space that he rented in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn that he was going to give up.  I don't know if Bill had been actively looking for a space to set up his own recording studio or if it was a spontaneous decision responding to the opportunity, but I soon heard the news that Bill was acquiring the space to set-up a recording studio in partnership with Jonas Helborg who owned quality recording equipment including a vintage Neve desk.  Bill rented the entire 3 floor building though only the second floor with the studio had been completely finished.

Kikuchi naming his album Dreamachine, the album that lead to Bill making a studio seems like one of those strange coincidences that follows extra-dimensional (XD) explorers around.  I found out later that it had been a dream of Laswell's for many years to establish a self-sufficient production studio for his projects.  A recording studio can be poetically viewed as a machine for dreams to be expressed.  Bill had all the Material he needed (i.e. musicians, engineers, technicians, equipment, ideas) and with Greenpoint he was now in possession of the technical means to put a recording studio dreamachine together and make it work.  Also, for much of Greenpoint's existence, a bonafide dreamachine sat on a table in the control room area.  This is the stroboscopic light flickering dreamachine designed and thoroughly explored by Ian Sommerville, Brion Gysin, and William S. Burroughs in their various experiments to stay high without drugs.

Dreammachining - from

The front door to the street at Greenpoint opened to stairs that led up to the second floor where the studio was and the third floor which eventually became an art gallery/floatation center/performance space/ and bohemian living quarters at different times for artists like Umar Bin Hassan, Anton Fier, DJ Spooky and yours truly.  The entrance to the second floor was on the left  and it opened to a foyer with a large black wood table in the center and shelves on the sides that stored cables and mics.  An ancient but fully functional freight elevator occupied most of the side facing the street.  The one telephone was mounted on the wall right beside the wide doors that opened into the studio proper.

Greenpoint was a former warehouse that had been reterritorialized first as a rehearsal space for Kikuchi then as a recording studio by Bill and Jonas.  The studio was completely open, one big room, with different zones set aside for different functions.  Most of the studio had a hardwood floor except the zone to the immediate left when you walked through the doors which was a carpeted control room area with a black leather couch in the corner.  Six foot by six foot by one foot blocks of greyish-black thick foam were stacked around the outer perimeters of the control room zone that faced the recording area to establish some sound baffling.  A large window was left open in the foam walls so that the engineer working behind the sound desk could look between the large Urei 813 monitors and have unimpeded sightlines to most of the studio.  As an engineer, there was never any doubt when you were recording that you were in the same room as the musicians.  This made the experience of recording far more immediate, direct and electric.  Since experience has led me to conclude that the consciousness and mood of the engineer affects the recording, the continuous space of control room/recording area seems a highly likely contributing factor to the extraordinary recordings Greenpoint produced.  In most commercial studios the control room is a completely isolated room.  The better ones will have lots of windows with clear sightlines to the recording zones and good communication systems in place so that you don't feel like it's a separate room.  However, there's always some sense of clinical isolation from the musicians when the tape or digits are rolling.  Not at Greenpoint.

The way I dialed in the tones in that situation, especially drum sounds, was to monitor loudly on the Ureis and then guesstimate the settings in  the signal chain as obviously the sound of the drums in the room will interfere with what you're hearing through the mics.  When the settings seem right you then record for a couple of minutes and check the reality of the recording without the live bleed, without the band playing.  You could then make further adjustments and check it again though as we went along most of the time the initial settings worked just fine.  You could learn to hear through the ambient bleed of the sound of the musicians in the same room.  Adjusting the recording controls and setting up the space became as intuitive as deciding what note to play next on an instrument.

Opposite the control room, to the right when you walked in, were shelves storing a modest tape library with both Laswell's archive and current projects.  Some of the titles were historic and tantalizing with labels that read Hendrix/Davis or Bambaattaa/Lydon.  That corner also stored instruments, amps, speaker cabinets and mic stands when not in use like the Hammond B3 Organ and Leslie cabinet that Bernie Worrell made extensive use of.  The far back wall had tables covered with Bill's vast collection of unusual and obscure pedals and stomp boxes, each one its own universe of sound variation and alteration; harmonic schizoanalysis, oscillation overthrusters and sounds too delicate and ephemeral to write about; the sound of a butterfly's wings.

Kikuchi had built a shell around the inside walls of the building to help the acoustics.  Sections of it were angled to offset parallel surfaces and subsequent standing waves.  A space for a closet size storage area had been left between the shell and the wall in the back left of he studio.  It ran about half the length of the studio but got progressively narrow.  It was big enough by the door that opened to it to put a bass amp and cabinet for isolation as was often done.  I was also able to put my PA in there and position mics far enough down to reamp sounds from the board during a mix to get a great small room/closet type of ambience.

The back right corner of the studio had a small raised platform to set up drums on.  Three  4 x 6  sheets of an unknown kind  of wood, maybe plywood, had been affixed to the back corner behind the drum platform to increase reflections, to make the drum sound bigger.  I had help discovering the sweet spot of the room early on.  Simon Shaheen was playing a violin while walking around the room then stopped in one spot remarking that it sounded much better there than anywhere else.  It was near the center of the room and a little to the left.  It became the go-to place to overdub vocals and solo acoustic instruments.

As there wasn't a dedicated iso booth, isolation was achieved by building small  "houses" around the speaker cabinets.  There were extra large blocks of thick foam which fit together real well for the walls of the house then furniture blankets could be draped over that.  This way you could have a loud 100 watt Marshall amp and cabinet in the same room as everyone else and still get great isolation.  Sometimes the front door of the house would be left open to let some intentional bleed into the room or to enable the guitar player to get feedback tones.  As mentioned, the back closet was often used to isolate the bass rig.  Occasionally speaker cabinets would get put outside in the foyer.  Since the room wasn't highly reverberant you could get away with putting an entire band in the same room including vocals with acceptable levels of bleed.  I once recorded a full live band for free jazz saxophonist Ivo Perelman.  Brazillian singer Flora Purim was also recording live with the band which included drums, percussion, guitar, sax and bermbau.  I created a vocal zone with a baffle by the tape library as far away as possible from the drums and it worked fine.

I recorded and mixed this at Greenpoint in 7 days; produced by Jean Touituo for A.P.C.  This photo, probably by Touitou, was taken within a block of the studio.  This was the neighborhood.

I wasn't around for the installation of the studio equipment, the transformation from a rehearsal space into a recording studio.  My friend, Ian Linault, a maintenance tech I knew from Platinum Island worked at Greenpoint fairly early on, he might have helped with the installation for all I know.  I don't know exactly what Ian did.  He told me that Bill would come in, surveil the scene then often make all kinds of lists - projects to assemble, things to get for the studio, etc.  I used to drop by after the gear was wired, but before being booked on any sessions to get the lay of the land, see the new territory  Bob Musso was around a lot, I think he was the one who showed me the new patchbay and signal flow.  I expect he had something to do with the equipment installation even if only in an advisory capacity.  Eddie Ciletti, now a world renowned audio angel through all his magazine articles eventually became the regular maintenance technician.

The first sessions I was booked on at Greenpoint were overdubs for The Third Power album Bill was putting together for an Axiom release.  Quite appropriate as Greenpoint became the third power over time, however you want to take that.  The Third Power started its life as a Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare record before mutating into a Material record with a broad selection of the funk, rap, and jazz elite including: Herbie Hancock, Henry Threadgill, Olu Dara,The Jungle Brothers, Shabba Ranks, Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, and Pee Wee Ellis among others; of course many of the Usual Suspects (Bill's go-to musicians) joined the assemblage, in this case: Nicky Skopelitis, Bernie Worrell, Aiyb Djieng, Karl Berger and Jeff Bova.  Much of it was recorded at Greenpoint, but there were also sessions at Platinum Island and B.C. Studio.  It was mixed by Jason Corsaro at Platinum Island.

Various models of quantum physics, the philosophical exposées of Deleuze and Guatarri, and multiple occult systems all refer to immanent fields of virtuality that surround and possibly influence actual events.  In quantum mechanics you have Heisenberg's notion of potentia - "'objective tendencies,' or 'propensities,' connected to an impending actual event."   The parallel worlds model also applies to the virtual.  "In Deleuze's ontology, the virtual and the actual are two mutually exclusive, yet jointly sufficient, characterizations of the real" (Boundas, The Deleuze Dictionary).  Magick has various qabalistic worlds as well as the practice of scrying the astral planes to explore the virtual worlds immanent to the actual.  The shamanism of Carlos Castenada talks about the non-material, unknown world of the nagual that surrounds the material tonal world.  I will say what I can of the nagual at Greenpoint along with the tonal.

Exploring qabala becomes a way of reaching into the nagual or the bardo; extracting affects and information.  While assisting Jason Corsaro on a mix at Platinum Island, for Ginger Baker's Middle Passage, Nicky and Bill showed me a paper with large letters that read AXOM.  It looked very powerful, but I was a little confused because I didn't know what it meant.  I told them it reminded me of axiom without the i.  I guess they had just decided on the name for Bill's new label forming under the auspices of Chris Blackwell's Island Records.  They put in the i (eye) and it became Axiom.  It is indeed a powerful name especially for a rhizomatic source of creativity; creation of new worlds; records that are veritable monastaries of rare musical content and expression.  Yes, monastaries, which means they should get collected and preserved in anticipation of the upcoming apocalyptic breakdown of society expected any day now if we don't get it together.  Axiom adds to 201 which makes it equivalent to RA, the Egyptian Sun God; "... the axiomatic deals directly with purely functional elements and relations whose nature is not specified, and which are immediately realized in highly varied domains simultaneously ...  The immanent axiomatic finds in the domains it moves through so many models termed models of realization. " (Deleuze & Guatarri, Mille Plateau, p.454.).

Many Axiom releases weren't recorded at Greenpoint yet several important ones that I worked on were or had overdubs done there including Jonas Helborg - The Word, Material - The Third Power, Sonny Sharrock - Ask the Ages, Praxis -Transmutation, Nicky Skopelitis - Exstasis, Material - Hallucination Engine, Sola  - Blues Across the East, Mantra and I'm probably leaving some out.   Before we went to Jajouka to record Apocalypse Across the Sky (Master Musicians of Jajouka) I used Greenpoint as a staging area to set up all the equipment we were bringing including the generator.  It all worked as history has made obvious.  I did the same thing when we went to West Africa to record Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa and Beyond.  It was done for Ellipses Arts and not for Axiom yet the process was similar to any other Axiom field recording.  This is considered an important album in the West African music genre and was an important one for my career as it to led directly to meeting Aja Salvatore of KSK records and a lot more West African field recording. 

The first session I engineered at Greenpoint was with Bootsy Collins playing electric rhythm guitar.  We wanted that super clean funky rhythm guitar sound so the guitar was plugged in direct and Bootsy played in the control room right behind where I sat at the console.  Bootsy was playing as soon as the music started, coming up with an outpouring of ideas for a part as if directly wired to a fountainhead.  Easily a dozen different rhythm ideas flowed from the the guitar within the first couple minutes which Bootsy would forget almost instantly, like painting on a river, but I knew from experience to start recording right away.  After the first run-through we rolled the tape back listened to the different ideas until a pattern was chosen to structure a part for the song.  Looking back, this appears a reasonably clear indication of Greenpoint as a recording hot spot as we were about to find out over time.

The timing of the opening of Greenpoint perfectly coincided with my leap into the unknown of freelance engineering.  Actually it was probably the catalyst, whether I was conscious of this or not, for quitting a reliable and secure job as staff engineer at Platinum Island to become independent.  One significant technical difference was that Platinum Island had a lot more equipment.  Greenpoint had gear every bit as good as a major studio there was just less of it.  Jonas Helborg had managed to pick up two small (16 channels each as I recall) vintage Neve 8058 mixing desks with 1066 channel strips for a song somewhere in Eastern Europe.  Apparently after the Iron Curtain was lifted you could get amazing deals on vintage audio gear in the former Soviet Bloc countries that was often sitting unused with their owners totally unaware of the treasure trove they were sitting on, getting rid of it at far below the market value it would bring in the West.  Neve consoles or channel strips of that era  just simply make the best sounding recordings you will find in this engineer's opinion.  Most of my favorite sounding projects have had a vintage Neve involved either at Greenpoint or later at Prairie Sun in California.  The tape recorders, both multi-track and the  1/2" 2 track for mixdowns were Studer A80's, state-of-the-art at the time.  I can't remember the full outboard assemblage.  I know there was an Eventide H3000 multiprocessor, a AMS RMX reverb, a Yamaha Rev 7 and SPX 90 multiprocessors.  There was a dbx 160x compressor and maybe one or two other compressors that I'm not recalling.  When we mixed we would rent the Neve 33609 for transparent stereo buss compression until one was purchased.  Jason Corsaro's Massenberg stereo parametric EQ ended up there before too long.  The Massenberg was and still remains the holy grail of analog precision equalization.

One of the earliest basic tracking sessions at Greenpoint was recording the album that became The Word by Jonas Helborg.  In the beginning was the word, and the word is ... listen to the album if you can find it.  It's an instrumental record with Jonas, Tony Williams on drums, and the Soldier String Quartet.  There are no words in The Word.  I assisted Jason Corsaro recording the basic tracks, Tony and Jonas facing each other playing live with Jonas set up about 25 away from the drums behind a few of the foam baffles.  Jonas played a Wechter acoustic bass guitar that he had helped design.  It's not an upright bass, but rather looks more like an oversize 4 string acoustic guitar and is held and played in a similar fashion as an acoustic guitar.  

The microphone selection wasn't that extensive yet so I learned a valuable lesson watching how Jason improvised with the drum mics.  Jason asked if there were any paired condenser mics for recording the drum overheads and I replied that we only had the stereo Sony ECM 959 condenser mic that I used with a DAT recorder for ambient field recordings.  It was a good sounding mic, but ran on batteries and only had a stereo male mini plug connector hard wired to it.  I didn't consider it a professional studio mic so was surprised when Jason went ahead with it and got a great recording, pristinely capturing the incredible rhythmic articulations of Tony's cymbals and the ambience of the rest of the kit.  Later, I used that mic a lot for recording drums with Bob Bachtold at E.J. Gold's studio.  As far as I know, that was the only time it was used for that purpose at Greenpoint as someone, probably Bill, got an endorsement with Shure which included a pair of SM81s that sound excellent on overheads.

After a couple of days tracking with Tony we had enough pieces for an album.  Most of the masters were first takes; everything he played was absolutely amazing; king of the jazz drummers.  I only remember one brief rhythmic straying off course which Bill easily fixed by putting a Fairlight bass drum sample on one downbeat.  I took over engineering on the third day overdubbing with Jonas who was also blowing my mind with the reach, originality and fluidity of the melodic voicings he was playing while rhythmically locking with Tony.   They say consciousness has magnetic properties therefore musical consciousness and expression would also be magnetic to bodies that could respond to it.  I can't help but consider that Tony's playing spurred Jonas to greater heights.  Likewise, I can imagine that Tony knew or intuited that Jonas had the potential to play at that level inspiring him to drum in peak form.  A few nights later I recorded string parts arranged by Jonas and played by the Soldier String Quartet. Jason's mix of  The Word at Platinum Island was as stellar as every other musical contribution to the album.  He created this ethereal reverb for the strings that made them sound like they were both floating and fluid at the same time.  Jason is a genius at discovering completely unique ambient spaces by processing reverbs and delays, combining effects with effects bringing forth unknown synergies of sound.  My guess is that he started with the Breathing Canyon program in the Eventide H3500 and went from there.  This treatment of the strings gave them a quality as equally fluid as the drums and bass.  One overall affect of this music thus emphasizes the continuous, hydraulic nature of energetic forces as opposed to the static, block-like objects we commonly view the world as.  "Treating reality as a set of flows rather than a series of discrete objects results in a very different account of reality." (Adkins, Guide to A Thousand Plateaus).  Listening to The Word could result in a very different account of reality.  It also seems a spiritual milestone.  I don't know what it was exactly, but Jonas brought that kind of depth both to the compositions and the atmosphere at the recording.  I did lend him two books by E..J. Gold, The Joy of Sacrifice: Secrets of the Sufi Way, and The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus.  Bill thought he might have picked up some song titles from them.  I can't really tell.  

Speaking of the nagual ... Time at Greenpoint often seemed to operate in a different way.  Since this wasn't a commercial studios, all of the sessions were projects for Bill, Jonas or for friends that Bill lent the studio to.  In that case, he would never ask for a studio fee only asking that the engineer and tape costs get covered.  This meant that there was never the pressure of being on the clock, of having to link creative production with a set period of clock time like you would at a shoe factory.  That pressure having been lifted, it seemed that you got a lot more done at Greenpoint in a lot less time.  There were never marathon sessions, we usually worked six to eight hours at a time.  Yet there was an enormous amount of work accomplished there.  Much of that can definitely get attributed to Bill's focused intentions as a Producer and the magnetic pull that had on the sessions, but still there were many times in my experience where we got more done than should have been possible in the amount of clock time that went by as if time dilated

When two observers are in relative uniform motion and uninfluenced by any gravitational mass, the point of view of each will be that the other's (moving) clock is ticking at a slower rate than the local clock. The faster the relative velocity, the greater the magnitude of time dilation. This case is sometimes called special relatavistic time dilation.

In our case, one observer is in Greenpoint making music without much awareness of clock time boundaries (a form of micro-fascism) while the other observer is outside entirely governed by clock time.  Different rates of velocity.  The name of my engineering company is High Velocity.  I got this name from the Tim Leary book, The Game of Life.  The last sentence in Leary's autobiography Flashbacks is: "It's about time."

A clear incident relative to time stands out.  I don't remember the artist or who the overdubbing musician was, but it was a rare session that had a deadline for some reason.  The musician was having a little trouble with the part and getting anxious, he didn't know about the deadline.  Bill told him with complete sincerity that there was no rush, that he had all the time in the world, and not to worry about how long it took.  I had to mix the song after the overdub and Bill knew that so it was interesting to observe his total disregard for ordinary time constraints, confident that it would all get done in time.  It did.  The musician relaxed, knocked out the overdub and I had no problem or extreme rush to mix it in time.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Freedom vrs Fascism

 Most of this was written immediately after hearing about the events in Paris.

I am struck at the moment by the curious coincidence of two completely opposite polar expressions, one of freedom, the other of fascism happening on the same day.  We define fascism as anything that imposes a stricture, censorship or limitation on individual expression. "The word of sin is restriction," to quote a famous freedom fighter.  Taking another life or causing injury to another makes for the ultimate act of fascism.  The cowardly attacks on innocent people in the name of some malefic ideology or cause shows how out of control the diseased black hole of fascism has become in recent years.  It's a severe sociopathic disconnect to take innocent lives in justification for some so-called religious viewpoint: a curse upon violent terrorism.

Contrasted with the news of the attacks in Paris is a video of "sacred begging" from Alejandro Jodorowsky to help finish funding his latest film project, Endless Poetry.  It was sent to me earlier today by Yoko Yamabe.  I watched this passionate affirmation of life before resting for a few hours catching up from long hours in the studio this past week.  When I got up I heard the news of the violence in Paris.  The only time I met Jodorowsky was at his apartment in Paris with Bill Laswell and Michael Lemesre.  Paris is a city I love and am deeply influenced by.  The bardo philosopher Gilles Deleuze was born and lived in Paris his whole life after the war.  He pragmatically advocates "lines of flight," often through art and culture outside the fascist rules of any system or authority of control - what he calls "the state". Jodorowsky's film project plea gives a perfect example of what these lines of flight to individual freedom might look like.  My response to the sickness of the recent violence is to highly recommend a viewing of this sacred begging.  Philosopher/magician/hierophant that he is, naturally Jodorowsky communicates on multiple levels transmitting signals far beyond a plea for financing.  For example:

A true piece of art has to change the very spirit of people.  The very soul.  When I go to the theater I should exit a different person.  The movie must give me something, hope, knowledge, a hidden beauty kept inside that I didn't even know was there.  ... We need to make movies that heal, optimistic, joyful, creative marvelous movies.

Again I highly recommend watching the whole video.  It's only six minutes and two seconds long.  At the end you can see Jodorowsky laughing at himself  for the passionate dramatic delivery he just did.

About six weeks ago I wrote: "The amorphous violent war/jihad of terrorism from any kind of ideological fanaticism also declares a war against music."  The attack on music is now as direct and literal as it gets.  We have argued that the will to power of the creative act can effect changes in the world at large starting with rippling strings of quantum entanglement on the sub-molecular scale that eventually surface as alterations of human behavior on the Einsteinian/Newtonian level of everyday reality. Fight fascism with creativity; Endless Poetry.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Is A Recording Studio?

A specialized environment to record light and/or sound.  A tabla rasa, whatever you want it to be.  A contained vessel for shamanic journeys into sound spaces bringing back a souvenir (the recording) to communicate those spaces.  An experimental laboratory generating compound sonic assemblages with resulting quantum entanglements.  A landing pad for the descent of higher entities, i.e. the living percepts and affects - the sense, feeling and mood of the music; the intuitive ideas it inspires; the baraka it communicates; the gnosis released when lightening strikes.  We'll be looking at a particular sound studio, Ancient Wave, the one I work at locally, the new World Headquarters for High Velocity Sound Engineering.

The intention of a recording studio is to bring great music into the world.  Music can come from anywhere, but certain conditions help increase the odds.  When  I asked Paul Bowles what, if anything, he did to help inspire creativity in the people he recorded his immediate answer was, "make the musicians comfortable."   Usually the first thing people remark about when visiting Ancient Wave studios for the first time refers in some way to the high aesthetic of the space.  That may have something to do with the quality of craftsmanship, planning and tender loving care that went into the construction, design and finish of the studios.  It's warm, organic, and woody.  It also sounds really good in every room.  You can get some idea by visiting the website.  It has a little bit of a Tibetan or Japanese Zen quality to it. A Lamasery or Dojo for sound recording. Dojo translates literally as "place of the way."

All processing done via electronics in a recording studio, everything done in that domain, directly affects and changes things at the quantum level.  Having some recognition and understanding of that level can help get one more inside the music.  The quantum level is where magick occurs; Bell's Theorem and quantum entanglement offer explanations for "spooky action at a distance." The quantum level is a level of forces, intensities and speeds in a riverrun of ever-changing motion; here to go.  Consciousness affects the making and recording of music at the quantum level and music in turn affects consciousness at its quantum level.  The architecture and environment of the studio, the space it creates or allows to be created also affects consciousness. Feng shui for the quantum level, the realm poetically and affirmatively seen as sacred and holy by mystics and explorers of all stripes  because of its far-reaching effects; its power of will to create.   The name Ancient Wave reflects this awareness and sensibility.

Comparison of classical and quantum harmonic oscillator conceptions for a single spinless particle.

The crown jewel of Ancient Wave is the 40 channel vintage Trident TSM desk.  It has a rich, clear analog sound with extraordinary depth and dimension.  Its friendly, musical sounding EQ paints in broad strokes as is common with boards of that era ('70s and early '80s).  The sound is so good out of that desk that it seems to negate any need for tape to get that classic analog sound though a Studer 1/4" analog tape recorder is available for people, like myself sometimes, still in the cult of tape.

I  rely heavily albeit lightly on the Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor, a $7.7k boutique unit with a modern, warm sound, and subtle, but effective transparency of operation.  It's the Buddha of compression, a silent, glowing affinity with all sound and vibration.  It cracks me over the head with a stick whenever I fall asleep.  Another machine, a $10k Sony reverb computer (I don't remember model numbers only how much they cost!) has a virtual library simulating some of the best acoustic spaces on this planet: King's College Chapel, Power Station Studio A, Cello, the Parthenon, Sydney Opera House,  etc. etc.  I can add acoustics from spaces all over the world.

 Ancient Wave Studio B

I've been describing Studio B where I work with my Pro Tools HD upgraded by Ancient Wave to accommodate 40 outputs and boosted with increased computer speed on my Mac Pro.  Studio A is the recording room and also features a vintage Trident desk, a Series 24, I believe, with 40 channels.  It's a smaller desk, but still has the trademark rich Trident sound and extra-dimensionality (XD); great vintage sounding mic pres too! All of the microphone food groups are well represented at Ancient Wave - tube, ribbon, condensor, dynamic - and there is an excellent selection of instruments and amplifiers available to use which includes a 1924 Steinway Grand Piano, a Hammond B3 Organ with a Leslie cabinet, and a vintage pump organ from the 1920s.  A full microphone, instrument, and amplifier list is on the website.  Services at Ancient Wave include recording, mixing, mastering and production consultation

Ancient Wave is a labor of love, skill and intelligence assembled by the dyadic cyclone Saul and Elena Rayo, prolific solo recording artists of local, regional, and universal renown.  Together they bring a musician's sensibility and aesthetic to the design and operation of the studios.  Saul, in particular, has a passion for the art of recording.  He is also a talented producer.   Technician and engineer Michael Eaton is the one who literally put it all together and remains a vital cog in day-to-day studio operation.  Miguel is a veteran of the LA and Las Vegas music scenes with a background owning and operating a recording studio.

A few well-known clients already have benefited from the facilities at Ancient Wave.  Evolutionary Minded: Furthering the Legacy of Gil Scott-Heron  produced by Kentyah Fraser was one of the first projects mastered there.  American philosopher Dr. Cornel West called that album "... prophetic art at its highest level."  Rappers and poets featured on that include Dead Prez, Chuck D., Killah Priest and Abiodun Oyewole from The Last Poets.  Another early mastering job was done for the piano jazz trio Too Noisy Fish for their album Fight Eat Sleep, recorded, mixed, mastered and produced by your extremely humble reporter.  New York Jazz Record magazine named it album of the year for 2013. Two albums by the Sufi and psychedelia inspired Neo Folk World Rock ensemble HuDost were mixed at Ancient Wave this year.  The first one, The Word Is... is a collaboration with Steve Kilbey the lead singer from The Church.  One song, Omega, features additional lead vocals from Jon Anderson of Yes.  A personal favorite of mine, a cover of Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning was recorded as a homage to Lou Reed the day he died.  The second HuDost album mixed there is Sufi Kirtan which expands the Sufi practice known as zikr (remembrance) to include prayers and chants from the esoteric side of all the major religions.  It's only been out a few months and is in the running for a Grammy nomination.

 The soundtrack for Retour, a contemporary dance performance by the German dance collective laborgras was mixed and mastered at Ancient Wave in 2014; music composed and arranged by Phoebe Killdeer.  Also, some interestingly evocative soundtrack mixing was recently completed for L.A.'s Blasting Company.  The animated show is called Over the Garden Wall and will air on the Cartoon Network.  New releases were mixed this summer for Austin James and the free jazz trio Bro Jazz.

This summer also saw mixing for a few up and coming rappers with Aja Salvatore for KSK records in Studio B.  These were Cyhi the Prynce (signed to Kanye West's label and a guest on his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), Fat Trel (signed to Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group), and Jon Connor (signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermatch label and performs on Dre's new album, Compton).  Aja and I also mixed a track with local singer Deja Solis (Hamsa Lila).  Deja is renowned in burner circles for being the model for the huge statue at Burning Man every year.  She's also an incredibly soulful singer.

Other local Ancient Wave projects include Rustler's Moon, the well received, debut release by novelist and singer/songwriter Sands Hall.  This one was produced by Saul Rayo.  The medieval, celtic, pagan, psychedelic folk group Lasher Keen recorded their vinyl limited edition Mantic Poetry, Oracular Prophecy in Studio A.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Electronic Dance, Hip Hop and Rap Music

For an up and coming New York studio engineer in the 80's it seemed impossible not to work a lot in the genre collectively known as Dance Music which included  hip hop, rap, house, and what is now known as EDM - electronic dance music.  It formed the soundtrack and raison d'etre for an urban, underground sub-culture assembling in clubs to dance, drink and drug the night away.  Taking a page out of Rimbaud to instigate a systematic derangement of the senses to reach a visionary space.  Loud, repetitive, hypnotic thundering beats usually synched with flashing, strobing, kaleidoscopic lights creating a contemporary trance music; a platform for activities ranging from shamanic voyaging to inebriated zombie numbness.  Save the Robots was the name of a well-known after-hours club in the East Village at the time.  I worked with artists like Nocera and Mantronix who had huge hits on Billboard's Hot Dance/Club Play charts, but were virtually unknown in the pop world.  This was the scene that Madonna came out of before hooking up with producer Nile Rodgers who made her breakthrough album, Like A Virgin, mixed by my engineering mentor Jason Corsaro.  It was not my preferred kind of music which sounded to me like different versions of disco.

Like much of the world outside of urban America I first encountered rap music from Blondie's song Rapture introducing Fab Five Freddy with a rap in the middle.  A year later while visiting New York for the first time I caught a bus out to the Meadowlands arena in Jersey to catch a Blondie concert (Buster Poindexter aka David Johansen from the New York Dolls warmed them up - incredible show!) and Debbie Harry introduced Fab Five Freddy in living flesh to do a rap of his own in the Rapture extended jam.  Blondie was a lot better and more street than I expected them to be from hearing their slick radio hit productions.  About an hour after getting back to the city someone attempted and failed to mug me while walking around in Times Square.  I was staying on 43rd street and in an elevated, somewhat ecstatic mood from the buzz of the concert, strolling about contemplating art and life while gazing up at the tall buildings and the skyline, definitely not paying attention to what was happening on the street when this guy jumped me on 8th Avenue.  I still had lots of adrenaline flowing from the concert which only increased so the immediate reaction was to shove him off of me and push him into the the wooden wall of the construction zone beside us.  It was only about midnight and there were people around also not paying attention, but the dude appeared to be offended saying "what's wrong with you, what's wrong with this guy," in NY jivese to the nonresponsive passerbys before stalking off in a feigned huff.  An initiation into the musical side and the violent side of NY street life all in one night.

Walking around New York in 1982 exposed me to lots of unknown beats and raps on the street blasting loud, proud and distorted out of boom boxes while kids break-danced to the pounding rhythms.  I could never make out the rhymes, but watching this spontaneous street art felt exhilarating nonetheless. 

My initial foray into proto-EDM as an engineer earned a Gold Record; an auspicious beginning especially considering the first statement on the record.  It was for the self-titled major label debut of Information Society and ended up charting a number one single on the Billboard Dance Charts with a number three on the Pop Charts.  The record was excellently produced and engineered by Fred Maher who seemed to be channeling a Kraftwerk production sensibility.  Fred was a drummer and music programmer who had worked with Massacre, Material, Scritti Politti, and Lou Reed.  It was my impression that he hadn't engineered a record before; my role as second engineer included recording all the vocals.  It's a good record, one of the best in that genre in my opinion.  The very first words you hear are a sample of Spock saying "pure energy"  with other Star Trek samples used liberally throughout.  It became an important record for my career advancement.  Later, I mixed two InSoc singles produced by their main writer, Paul Robb one of which made it onto the Earth Girls Are Easy film soundtrack.  I also engineered a record for the band Red Flag which Robb produced.  The success of the InSoc record scored a steady engineering gig with the Latin freestyle group TKA, fellow label mates on Tommy Boy records.  They were produced by Joey Gardner and the album that resulted was  Louder Than Love.  All of this took place at Platinum Island Recording in Greenwich Village. 

Some of the first rappers I recorded were about as removed from the streets of the Bronx as you can imagine - they were professional wrestlers from the World Wrestling Federation. The song was, If U Only Knew from Piledriver: The Wrestling Album 2 produced by Rick Derringer and David Wolfe (Cyndi Lauper's husband and manager at the time), Tom Edmonds was the engineer.  Most of the songs on the album were well-crafted rock songs with the wrestlers brought in at the end to add vocals.  Derringer recut his hit Rock-n-Roll Hootchie Koo turning it into a duet with himself  and "Mean" Gene OkerlundIt was exciting to witness the original artist rerecording a classic song that I grew up with.  If U Only Knew, a pseudo rock meets rap mashup featured an all-star line-up of wrestlers each contributing one or two lines in the verses, a We Are the World of wrestling.  The wrestlers all showed up the same morning and added their contributions in a three hour session.  Some of them seemed to have partied hard the night before one notable exception being Hollywood Hulk Hogan as he was known at the time.  What surprised me about Hogan was that he was a regular, easy-going nice guy until he got on the mic.  When the cue came for his part he immediately turned into this comic book, larger than life, superhero character just for that moment, delivered his lines, then went back to being a regular, laidback guy.  I'd never seen anyone so quickly turn on a larger than life personae as if at the flick of a switch then turn it back off just as quickly and easily.

In those early years of my recording career I engineered a lot of EDM type music much of it with a producer named Craig Kafton who was eccentrically pleasant to work with. At different times he brought in a couple of the genres top mixers, Roey Shamir and his protege Angela Piva.  Another highlight was a mix I did for Mantronix (Kurtis Mantronik).  I was the the third or fourth engineer who attempted to mix that track and it was successful.  At some point the club dance music sessions were so constant that I began seriously considering alternate career choices.  I didn't want to get locked into a genre that I had little appreciation for even though I was grateful for the work and did enjoy the sessions for the most part.  Things began to look up when I started assisting sessions for Bill Laswell.

I was unaware of Bill Laswell's extremely influential contributions to hip hop and rap.  Two years before Run DMC became famous for combining rap with rock in their cover of Aerosmith's Walk This Way, Laswell created a project called Time Zone that released the rock/rap single, World Destruction featuring John Lydon and Africa Bambaataa.  Musical activism at its best: punk meets rap for a world destruction.  I knew the single Rockit from Herbie Hancock's Future Shock album, but didn't realize that Laswell was the mastermind that put it together.  Rockit is credited with introducing turntable scratching and turntablism - the art of using the turntable as a musical instrument - into mainstream musical consciousness.

Laswell opened the door to my involvement with the politically subversive and revolutionary form of rap music.  What it had started out as before the music industry co-opted and diluted it into a market driven consumer commodity. Seven Souls, the first Material album I assisted on closes with Equation, an abstract, futurist, world music rap jam that has performance artist/poet-philosopher RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ trading lines with a radio-sampled Christian evangelist - the nomadic poet's multiple lines of flight outside the box versus the hellfire, damnation and moral strictures of religious orthodoxy; the algebraic equation of personal freedom.  Ramellzee's fits right in and expands the William Burroughs Western Lands context (guided death and immortality) that informs most of the rest of the album.  Ramellzee lines sound like cut-ups.  His second line: "Take it to the beat," already points the listener in multiple directions acknowledging Sly Dunbar and Laswell's hip hop rhythmic foundation taking off as well as nod to Burroughs' profound influence on beat writers despite not being one himself. Even 25 year plus years after this recording was bound in time it sounds like a next level broadcast.  You get some idea why:

Rammellzee's ... theory of Gothic Futurism, which describes the battle between letters and their symbolic warfare against any standardizations enforced by the rules of the alphabet. His treatise, Ionic treatise Gothic Futurism assassin knowledges of the remanipulated square point's one to 720° to 1440°, details an anarchic plan by which to revise the role and deployment of language in society.

 - Mark Dery

Both Ramellzee and Burroughs intend to deconstruct language.  Burroughs had studied and was strongly influenced by Alfred Korzybski's General Semantics which among other things looks at various ways that language shapes our perceptions and interpretations of reality. 

"... we read unconsciously into the world the structure of the language we use." - Korzybski, Science & Sanity p.60

We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of an habitual use of language has.  It is not an exaggeration to say that it enslaves us through the mechanism of s[emantic] r[eactions] and that the structure which a language exhibits, and impresses upon us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us." - ibid, p. 90

Apart from Burroughs, General Semantics has influenced a number of cutting edge cultural innovators including Buckminster Fuller, Robert Anton Wilson, Robert Heinlein, Stockhausen, and Richard Bandler (co-originator of Neuro Linguistic Programming).  The idea that language affects consciousness is hardly limited to General Semantics.  Around the same time and independently of Korzybski, Benjamin Whorf introduced the term linguistic relativity to describe the same effect that language has on consciousness. Burroughs and Rammelzee's efforts to subvert the habitual use of language, along with many other experimental writers ( Joyce, Proust, Kafka, Pynchon, Wilson, etc.) seems equivalent to subverting habitual belief systems and tunnel realities; deconstructed language as an effective tool (sledgehammer) for transformation.

Rap music subverts, disconnects and permutates standard English making a new minor language inside the major dominant language, a cultural war machine against the dominant order and its "order-words" of control, judgement and obeyance that enforce the accepted moral code of how to live and be inside the strait-jacket of society. Rap offers lines of flight out.

They are great writers by virtue of this minorization: they make the language take flight, they send it racing along a witch's line, ceaselessly placing it in a state of disequilibrium, making it bifurcate and vary in each of its terms, following an incessant modulation.... This means that a great writer is always like a foreigner in the language in which he expresses himself, even if this is his native tongue.  At the limit, he draws his strength from a mute and unknown minority that belongs only to him.  He is a foreigner in his own language: he does not mix another language with his own language, he carves out a nonpreexistent language within his own language.  He makes the language itself scream, stutter, stammer or murmer." - Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, p. 109-110.

Engineering for The Third Power by Material was the next major chapter in my rap music education.  I recorded Shabba Ranks for the opening track, Reality at Laswell's newly minted Greenpoint studio in Brooklyn. Ranks was there with a crew of about 6 or 8, I could understand about 60% of their thick Island patois; perfect example of a minority language.  He starts the track addressing and thanking the world for making him who he is and all the TLC; as sincerely gracious in person as he sounds on the track; a likeable, affable, professional who had a sense of danger about him.  He lays it down in a few hours complete with ad libs.  Keeping it very real.

Around the time The Third Power was in progress I recorded Cutty Ranks, another Jamaican Dancehall rappper, with Bill immediately after we arrived in Tokyo on a flight from New York.  We took a car from Narita to a hotel on the far outskirts of Tokyo, about a 3 hour drive and met the rapper and his manager shortly after arriving.  The hotel had a studio in the basement and we got right to work.  Cutty Ranks was another total professional, we got what was needed quickly and easily.  My memory has it that this was for a song on The Third Power, but that's wrong, Cutty Ranks doesn't show up in the credits.  I can't remember what it was used for.

The Third Power was where I first encountered the Jungle Brothers - Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G.  The track they contribute their rhymes to, Playin' With Fire, ranks as one of the best and most aesthetic rap songs that I know of.  It's a cautionary, motivating tale set in the 'hood and features a Herbie Hancock electric piano solo.

Later, I engineered a number of sessions for what was to be the Jungle Brothers third album, Crazy Wisdom Masters.  Mike G and Afrika Baby Bam, who in the course of the Crazy Wisdom sessions would change his name to Af Next Man Flip (Lord of the Paradox) were seriously in the thralls of Crazy Wisdom largely due, it seems, to Laswell introducing them to his record collection and turning them on to free jazz and other progressive music.  At one point an attempt was made to recruit Cecil Taylor to overdub, but he wasn't available.  As you might have guessed from his name change, Af really took to this musical awakening like an astronaut to space.  He got on a mission to create the most "out there" rap music ever integrating elements of jazz, chaos, collage and dissonance over more traditional rap forms.  I felt compelled to give him the black djellaba I had used to walk around Tangier incognito at night.  The wisdom turned out to be a little too crazy for Warner Bros. which never released it.

The sessions that I engineered for the Jungle Brothers at Greenpoint were much different than I was used to.  Allowing them to use his studio was the extent of Bill's direct involvement with the tracking when I was around.  They would typically begin about 3 hours after the scheduled start time.  Often the first to show up was Torture, a young kid, maybe 17, who wasn't officially part of the group, but who would go on to guest rap on at least one track.  Torture would get to the studio a good hour before anyone else, get me to put up a track on the tape machine then play around with it on the Neve desk until everyone else showed up.  To be blunt about it, if you catch my drift, the sessions were often painfully slow accustomed as I was to the focus of Laswell produced projects.  I recall spending one entire night programming a hi hat pattern.  A few months later Bill and I did mix enough songs for an album up at Quad Recording in Times Square - not too long after Tupac was attacked and nearly killed in the lobby there - though I don't know if they were ever used for anything.  One track, Simple As That (remixed) found its way onto Excavation, Bill Laswell: Unauthorized Cut-Ups Vol. 1.

I did manage to find a track from the original sessions on You Tube, one that features Torture if you care for a three minute taste of rap far outside the norm:

I met Flavor Flav for the first time on my 34th birthday.  I had engineered a session for Bill in the afternoon and had agreed to stay on to work with Flavor Flav, Hank Shocklee and the Bomb Squad for an evening session.  Flav was the first to show up.  I introduced myself, "I'm Oz, I'll be your engineer tonight."  Hearing my name inspired Flav to go into an impromptu Wizard of Oz oration: "Oz, Oz ... where is my heart ... and  Oz ... where is my brain ... and, and ... where is my ..."  Assuming the role, I told him he already had everything he needed.  Needless to say, I've heard that reference many, many times, but never as colorful as Flav's delivery.

Flav was a total pro, always nice, respectful, easy to work with and stone-cold sober.  He was on his best behavior.  Most of the time we tracked vocals though occasionally Hank and the Bomb Squad would work out a beat.  Flav often, but not always, wore his trademark clock.  I was told we were recording for a Flavor Flav solo project, but the songs ended up getting used for a Public Enemy record, Muse Sick-N-Hour Message.

Digital Underground was the other notable rap group I worked with, doing a mix for them on the SSL in Platinum Island's Studio East, an alternate take of one of their hits. If memory serves, I recall it being a version of The Humpty Dance for the film Nothing But Trouble.  Shock G is the only person I remember dealing with from the band.  He was pleasant, easy to work with and liked the tones; a causal, low key event.  I liked that it was a rap resurrection of Lewis Carrol's Humpty Dumpty complete with the fall and the crack in the egg evoking the Stoics comparison of philosophy to an egg: "The shell is Logic, next comes the white, Ethics, and the yoke in the center is Physics." (Diogenes Laertius).  Common logic gets cracked here in this jam, nonsense surfacing into rhymes creating a sense of a particular joyous, unifying kind. Ethics of breaking down the gangsta lie for a grander, less violent way out. The yoke and joke at the center of this song is definitely physics, transforming at the end to a call for a world dance, ("Underground in the house...") and respect "to the ladies" while acknowledging the shining buddha emptiness at the core of their being - "humptiness" appearing as a Carroll-style portmanteau word combining "hum" and "emptiness;" Hum suggests the repetitious buddhist chant loop "Om mani padme hum".  Run some of the Prosperity Path orbs to experience a virtual reality example of that.

Laswell not only created new directions in the rap/hip hop world, he also helped keep its roots alive and working most notably with various projects for The Last Poets.  "With their politically charged raps, taut rhythms, and dedication to raising African-American consciousness, the Last Poets almost single-handedly laid the groundwork for the emergence of hip-hop." (Jason Ankeny).  I was fortunate to record and mix Bebop or Be Dead, a solo effort by Last Poet Umar Bin Hassan released on Bill's Axiom label.  The poetry is about as real as it gets coming from Umar's lived experience translated into images of revolution, survival, and life on the street.  Musicians playing on the backing tracks include Buddy Miles, Amina Myers, Bootsy Collins, Anton Fier, Foday Musa Suso, Bernie Worrell and Bill Laswell among others.  Fellow Last Poet Abiodun Olewole contributed some vocals.  The blogsite Digital Meltdown wrote: "This release is a true over-looked classic that has somehow remained relatively obscure."  I also did some tracking at Greenpoint for the Last Poets1993 album Holy Terror.  At that point the Last Poets consisted of Umar and Abiodun with guest rapper Grandmaster Melle Mel.

Umar Bin Hassan & Abiodun Olewole
(photo credit unknown) 

Turntablism, the art of turning a turntable and vinyl into a musical instrument got its start in the hip hop culture, but has been deployed by Bill Laswell in a variety of musical contexts beginning with Grandmaster DST's (now DXT) inclusion in Herbie Hancock's Rockit single.  I got to mix live sound for a couple of different versions of Material that included DXT.  At a festival in Gent, Belgium  I recall one lively conversation over dinner where he was spinning Illuminatti conspiracy theories and connecting it to a piece of jewelry worn by a woman at another table. Meanwhile, I was telling him about Finnegans Wake which I was reading for the first time.  At the Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee DXT deftly played a theremin along with the turntables.  

DJ Disk is the turntablist I've worked with the most, usually live, though I also recorded and mixed his solo album Live at Slims with musical support from Buckethead, Brain and Les Claypool.  I first met Disk when he was a member of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz, a hip hop DJ collective. Bill Laswell asked them to play a show with Praxis.  Later, Disk toured with Praxis on his own before joining another Laswell project, Tabla Beat Science.  The rhythmic interplay between Disk and Zakir Hussein on tablas had many spectacular moments.  One of my favorite shows with Disk was a one off in Frankfurt, Germany with a band that also included Jack DeJohnette, Bill Laswell, and Derek Bailey.

Heavyweight Dub Champion (HDC) is a electronic music/rap based collective I first became involved with in the summer of 2008 when helping to mix their album Rise of the Champion Nation.  Founding members Resurrector (aka Grant Chambers) and Patch were joined by sax and keyboardist Totter Todd and a lot of rappers including KRS-One, Killah Priest, Dr. Israel, A.P.O.S.T.L.E., Lady K and Stero-Lion.  Working out of Prairie Sun's Studio A, I would set up the mix and initial balance, leave Grant and Patch to go at it it for a few hours adding effects (mostly analog and many from the echoplex food group), editing the arrangement, and other sound design considerations.  When they were ready, I would tweak the mix into it's final form.  

Their music is what Mark Goodall calls Heavy Conscious Creation. Grant is an experienced navigator of shamanic spaces having gone on extensive retreats with native shamans in Peru's Amazon Rainforest.  He brings that experience to the music:

The foundation of the band's musical presentation is a method they call "Sonic Shamanistic Alchemy." As defined by Resurector, it involves, "taking a range of vibrational materials, from tribal instruments to electronic instruments, and manipulating them through devices like tape delays and old analog stomp boxes to try to find the personality of each piece... looking for particular voices, particular vibrations that would contribute to the spectrum of sound we're trying to bring forth, a spectrum of liberational revolutionary energy... to change the chemistry of the planet leading to unconditional liberation of the human race."

In recent years, Heavyweight Dub Champion changed personal and morphed into Liberation Movement.  Patch retired to New Mexico to pursue solo music, domestic bliss, and the precision craft of a luthier.  The most prominent new member is Sasha Rose, a recognized favorite on the Rainbow Gathering circuit and now Resurector's better half. I recently mixed for them at two festivals in California and Oregon.  The MC/ rapping duties were held down by Noah King with additional assistance from Wailer B at Symbiosis.  A chorus of chanting Peruvian shamen made sonorous appearances via electronic sampling.  Soriah, a live Tuvan throat singer also performed at Symbiosis, further uniting world music and electronic, trance dance music for a potent transformative cocktail.  Audience response was extremely positive; it got across!  Liberation Movement is scheduled to go into Prairie Sun in December to mix their first release with yours truly.

Elsewhere and elsewhen, Dr. Israel fronted Method of Defiance (MOD), a Bill Laswell musical force of expression willed to life - something Che Guevara might have put together if he were a musician  and not an armed revolutionary with attendant dire results.  Method of Defiance shapeshifts band members from performance to performance, but most of the time I mixed them apart from Bill and Doc they consisted of Bernie Worrell, DJ Krush, Toshinori Kondo, Garrison Hawk and Guy Licata. Hawk adds a mellifluous contrast and Jamaican dancehall rhyming to Israel's street revolution delivery.  Doc also operated an 8 channel Mackie mixer fed by SM57's placed strategically about the stage to dub out and fold in random sounds generating multiplicities of rhythms with feedback delays and the occasional reverb bomb exclamation point.  Licata is the best live "drum & bass" drummer I've mixed.

Krush scratches in a softer (less saw-tooth waves) more sustained style than DJs who scratch fast and always rhythmic.  He is the most musically diverse and melodic turntablist I've worked with made quite evident at a trio gig in Milan with Bernie and Bill.  Imagine a combination of players on the scale of Beethoven, Mingus and Dr. Dre with a sensibility of infinite Japanese depths, heights and surface tensions to suggest some idea of his musically coded soundscaping that night.

At a 2009 MOD gig at the Montreaux Jazz Festival I got a short live mix review from industry icon Chris Blackwell via Bill Laswell.  "He said it was loud ... but good."  Here's a clip featuring Garrison Hawk from that show:

Gil Scott-Heron was a radical poet and musician credited as a seminal influence on hip hop and with raising social and political awareness in the African-American community.  I didn't ever meet him or get to work with him, but I did master a post-mortem tribute project Kentyah Fraser put together with Scott-Heron's longtime musical collaborator, Brian Jackson, called Evolutionary Minded: Furthering the Legacy of Gil Scott-Heron.  Rappers and poets featured on that include Dead Prez, Chuck D., Killah Priest and Abiodun Oyewole.  There's also some incredible historical recording samples from Bobby Seale and Scott-Heron.  Cornel West gave it a positive review saying, "This is prophetic art at its highest level."  This was the first project at my new local studio, Ancient Wave in 2013.

I first met Kentyah a few years earlier when he organized a live tribute to Miles Davis' electric years  featuring some of the musicians who had played on those sessions including guitarist Mike Stern and Brazilian percussionist Airto Moreira.  Killah Priest and Brian Jackson were also on hand for that tribute.  Other musicians included Mike Clark ( Headhunters and Brand X) and Vince Wilburn ( Miles' nephew).  I was hired to mix the Front of House and to make a multitrack recording.  To my knowledge, that recording hasn't been mixed.

More recent hip hop/rap style projects to have come my way include tracking Les Nubians with producer Aja Salvatore for an alternative take on one of their recent releases which hasn't seen the light of day so far.  Aja also records up and coming rappers which I've had the privilege to mix at Ancient Wave.  These include Cyhi the Prynce (signed to Kanye West's label and a guest on his album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), Fat Trel (signed to Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group), and Jon Connor (signed to Dr. Dre's Aftermatch label and performs on Dre's new album, Compton).

My favorite rap song is Subterranean Homesick Blues.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mixing Part 3: Nietzsche, Crowley and the Will to Power

This episode of Learning To Mix is an overview looking at the mixer as an artist and how that might affect the world at large. 

 In the codes that structure noise and its mutations [i.e. music] we glimpse a new theoretical practice and meaning: establishing relations between the history of people and the dynamics of economy on one hand, and the history of the ordering of noise in codes [music] in the other; predicting the evolution of one by the forms of the other; combining economics and aesthetics; demonstrating that music is prophetic and that social organization echoes it.
 - Attali, Noise

We affirm the ability of music to produce large and small scale changes in the world; actual changes.  The amorphous violent war/jihad of terrorism from any kind of ideological fanaticism also declares a war against music.  This is vividly shown toward the end of the documentary, Music In Mali: Life Is Hard, Music Is Good in the segment on the takeover of the north in Mali by Islamic fundamentalists.   We see that imposition of Sharia law attacks, arrests and stops the production and playing of music there. A singer gets told, " we will cut out your tongue if you continue to sing," so she flees to the south. This exposure of  musicians reacting to life in a country going through coup d'etats and fighting a war poignantly illustrates the inverse relationship between music and war.

Music that becomes Art acts, it doesn't react.  It acts by staying true to its creative, exploratory aesthetic, staying true to itself, forging new tracks, lines of flight to other realities.  Music can act as a non-bloody, non-killing war machine against terrorism and other destructive insanities and pathologies just by existing and proliferating, generating affective force.  How this might get accomplished follows below.   In Noise, The Political Economy of Music, Attali hypothesizes that at one time in pre-history music was ritually used to channel violence away from war and destruction  into sound spaces of equal intensity.  To verify that he says would require an in-depth analysis of music and myth and admits that virtually nothing is known about the status of music in society during that period. I do know that you can't play or fully listen to music when local human bodies are busy fighting something.  Music requires physical non-violence to be made and heard.

My instrument is a tool, an object… used to build, construct and deconstruct…
used to express ideas, options, light, dark, make it rain…
Art is not a mirror, it is a hammer.

                                                              - Bill Laswell, 2015

Music of a certain aesthetic becomes a powerful weapon against the facism and strictures of the State, any State of  Control upon others, in that, among other things, music inspires individual will and self-determination over one's destiny, freedom and liberty. Music provides the opportunity for gnostic breakthroughs - direct experiences of profound wisdom and understanding that greatly accelerates spiritual intelligence.  A gnostic moment at a Who concert is documented here.  Obviously music has a multiplicity of uses, functions and possibilities.  It can act as a legominism, an artifact encoded with esoteric data which can be unlocked with the right combination of mood, posture and emotion - finding the right mode of receptivity to receive the encoded data.  In other words, music can be psychometrized to great advantage.

We note with interest the Amnesty International music concerts organized by Bill Graham  that brought an All Star show of Western rock music to the Soviet Union and Poland about 6 months or so before the Solidarity movement accelerated that lead to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.  Those concerts apparently contributed significantly to opening the floodgates of Western culture and goods into the Eastern Bloc.  Hilary Clinton remarked to a CNN interviewer that Solidarity leader Lech Walsea told her that the desire for Western culture is what ultimately brought the change, the people demanded the freedom to participate in the world economy.  The instigation of the collapse of the Soviet empire seemingly had nothing to do with political diplomacy which only facilitated it after it was in motion.   It started with the will of the people who somehow, for some reason ( rock concerts?) took it upon themselves to create and follow enough avenues demanding freedom that the politicians had no choice but to respond.

Will to Power

"Will, this is what the liberator and the messenger of joy is called '
- Thus Spake Zarathustra

Nietzsche expanded upon Percy Shelley's line, "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world" to include all artists.

In Nietzsche, "we the artists" = "we the seekers after knowledge or truth" = 'we the inventors of new possibilities of life."

... art is a "stimulant of the will to power", "something that excites willing."
 - Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche & Philosophy

In his philosophy, Friedrich Nietzsche viewed the world as a dynamic play of forces ("all sensibility is a becoming of forces") beneath the phenomenal world habitually represented to ourselves through various linguistic models, maps and metaphors.  This view of forces looks at 'things' as constantly changing processes in motion in energetic states that more closely follow the models described by Relativistic and Quantum physics than the block-like "objects" of the Newtonian world.

The "will to power" seems a commonly misunderstood concept.  Power used in this sense has nothing to do with dominance over others.  It also has nothing to do with desiring or accumulating power.  The will to power  is what Nietzsche called the genus or originator of forces.  In other words, the will to power = the true creative act that brings forces into being, into play.  Consider it as the will to power up forces in the electrical sense, to turn them on.  Mixing music can be a "will to power," a truly creative act that brings to life a multiplicity of affective forces both virtually and actually to reach a broad audience.  If combined with an intention of some kind, however specific or abstract, the song mix can cause change to occur in accordance with will, Aleister Crowley's definition of Magick.

Nietzsche describes two general types of forces operant in the world, active and reactive. Active forces = affirmation, reactive forces = negation. "Affirmation takes us into the glorious world of Dionysis, the being of becoming and negation hurls us down into the disquieting depths from which reactive forces emerge." (Deleuze N&P ).  The great majority of human behavior now and down through recorded history describes a tangle of reactive forces.  Reactive forces interfere with active forces and prevent them from going as far as they could.  That's one definition of a reactive force - a force that blocks an active force from full expression.  Music that becomes a superficial consumer commodity, i.e. most or all contemporary pop music, expresses forces reacting to and determined by the formulas and demands of the marketplace.  Music that becomes Art creates active forces, but, of course, subject to the interference of reactive forces.  The difficulty of making active forces either in Art or in one's life lead Gurdjieff to say that "WoMan's chief delusion is her conviction that she can DO.  Most humans appear to spend much of their lives reacting to external stimuli according to the programming and conditioning of the belief systems they've been fed and have assimilated unless actively finding a way out - Ariadne's thread.  The phrase synonymous with Aleister Crowley, "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," echoes Gurdjieff's meaning of "do" emphasizing the primacy of creating affirmative, active forces as genuine expression.

Crowley thought highly of Nietzsche,  "Nietzsche to me was almost an avatar of Thoth, the god of wisdom" ( Confessions, p. 746).  Both identified with the anti-Christ and both had deeply held notions regarding the reconciliation and unity of opposites, Crowley through Taoism and Nietzsche via his ideas about the creation of the Overman through one form of nihilism.  Both also advocated strenuously and forcefully against the restrictive conditioning of organized religions.

Viewing all phenomena as the dynamic play of forces reflects Crowley's vision which declared in one instance that the only stability is change:

 Know that the Universe is not at rest, but in extreme motion whose sum is Rest. And this understanding that Stability is Change, and Change Stability, that Being is Becoming, and Becoming Being, is the Key to the Golden Palace of this Law. 
- Liber CL 

This also seems how William Burroughs and  Brion Gysin saw things as epitomized in their statement, "we are Here To Go," ( also the name of a book they co-wrote).  It appears cognate with Buckminster Fuller's observation, " I seem to be a verb."  Constantly changing, always in motion.  This view describes the space known as the Bardo in the Tibetan and American Books of the Dead. It's also called the Transit space due to the feeling and sensation of always traveling, always in motion.  We have been programmed and conditioned in this culture to inherit a world view that only sees solid matter formed into static discrete objects which we represent to ourselves in different ways through different maps and models and then usually mistake the representation for the actuality, the map for the territory.

We can change this common view of the world to see things more continuously as a play of interconnected forces by taking the perspective of a subatomic particle.  The last time I saw Timothy Leary talk he urged the audience to see like a quark would see, view life as a quark might.  This vision, described in the ABD as "the key that opens the door of solid form" has a liquid, malleable feel to it as forms appear to dissolve in energetic undulations.  This might explain one reason James Joyce began Finnegans Wake with the word "riverrun" that succinctly and perfectly describes this liquid view of forces in motion.  As is well known, the book's ending cycles back to the beginning, back to riverrun implying the whole book as a symbolic river flowing.  Less well known is the function of Finnegans Wake as a book of the dead.  It is suggested to always assume we are in the Bardo and from the perspective beyond solid form, it appears true.  Even without that perspective it seems obviously so when considering that bardo means the space in-between, the space in-between death and rebirth.  Anyone actively engaged in brain change experimentation of any kind always seems ever in-between the death of what they once were and the rebirth of what they are becoming. 

Certain films accurately illustrate the vision of continuous energetic flow.  Two that spring to mind: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure when they time travel in the phone booth and the cult classic Buckeroo Banzai Through the 8th Dimension when he penetrates the wall of solid matter and goes through a mountain near the start of the film.  Different kinds of music can simulate the dynamic flux of forces tearing down the wall of solid matter and can help to get you in that zone.  A Love Supreme, Cosmic Music and Om by Coltrane all have a flowing continuity of different, sometimes extreme intensities of sound coding.  The music seems greatly aided to reach a continuous liquid state by the constantly moving drum patterns, the swirling brush stir, riding the cymbals, micro-rhythms within each beat; walking bass lines also help.  My Favorite Things gets to the liquid state in a cool, gentle familiar way, more like a plunge in cool water as opposed to the sometimes  fiery, volcanic intensities of the three other albums. Two more recent cds by Bill Laswell, Arc of the Testimony and Space/Time Redemption will also key in to the transit spaces of forces in motion.  They both also feature incredible jazz drummers, Tony Williams and Milford Graves respectively.

The present is the point of power.
                                                   - Jane Roberts, The Nature of Personal Reality

The ultimate point of power of a mix is the moment it's recorded, finalized for posterity, bound across time.  Of course, every moment while working on the mix can be a point of power, a will to power in Nietzsche's sense as the creator of active forces.  Music can profoundly affect and change someone's life.  How a song is mixed bears a direct relationship with how much musical content is conveyed.  This content can consist of a various mixture of percepts (sensations), affects (feelings) and ideas or concepts.

Gyms, physical fitness books, sports, exercise - activities and institutions of that nature develop, maintain and educate the physical body.  Universities, libraries, research centers, technical schools are places that can do the same for the intellect.  The feeling centrum, the heart, can receive an education, development and maintenance from the fine arts: literature, painting, music, films etc.  Playing and/or listening to music can help to activate Gurdjieff's Higher Emotional Center, what Timothy Leary called Circuit 6 in his schematics of personal evolution.

The overman is defined by a new way of feeling: he is a different subject from man, something other than the human type. 
                                              - Deleuze, N & P

Nietzsche shares the alchemist's perspective regarding the possibility of creating higher forms of life out of ordinary humankind; the activation and eventual crystalization of spiritual bodies. Zarathustra gives the Übermensch as the next step in spiritual development.   Übermensch translates more accurately as Overman than as Superman because it descibes a mode of becoming beyond "man" both as a gender and as a species.  The Overman = Leary's E.T. circuits ( 5 - 8) and also designates the level of initiation that Crowley calls NEMO ( No Man).  The job of Nemo is to "tend the garden" (Vision & the Voice 13th Aeyther).  Crowley reveals the job in the spelling of the name:

 NEMO = Death, The Star, The Hanged Man and Pan through tarot associations.

Death means death of the "man," temporary death of the "human," the ego, the personality, the machine, Leary's terrestrial circuits (1-4), whatever you want to call it.  Death of the ego, the ordinary identity, however temporary (seconds, minutes, hours, days) appears requisite in both Nietzsche's and Deleuze's philosophies as well as in virtually every mystical system.  The Star's function appears in The Book of Thoth - definitely worth looking up.  It relates to the third line of the Book of the Law, "Every man and every woman is a star."  The Hanged Man appears in conjunction with the death of man angle and correlates to the element Water (Yin).  Pan means all and everything and also signifies primal creative male energy.  Look up The Devil Atu in The Book of Thoth.  Male, yang force isn't discarded or repressed in this formula, but rather is qualified, transformed and used for fuel.  This describes a process aligned with the will to power, a process that can generate strong affective forces, forces that can get recorded along with music, also when the mix is recorded; these affects and percepts translate as mood, feel, and atmosphere; they work in the domain described by quantum and relativistic physics, the Quantum and Einsteinian worlds (more on this later).

"... for Nietzsche, the capacity for being affected is not necessarily a passivity but an affectivity, a sensibility, a sensation.  It is in this sense that Nietzsche, even before elaborating the concept of the will to power and giving it its full significance, was already speaking of a feeling of power.  Before treating power as a matter of will he treated it as a matter of feeling and sensibility.  But when he had elaborated the full concept of the will to power this first characteristic did not disappear - it became the manifestation of  the will to power.  This is why Nietzsche always says that the will to power is the "primitive affective form" from which all other feelings derive.
  - Deleuze, N & P, p.62

The heart when activated, maybe through being affected by the last amazing mix you did, begins to harmonize and helps to power the other centrums.  Real will, according to Gurdjieff, occurs when the centrums are all going in the same direction aligned to a mutual aim.  It seems that the growth of a spiritual body forms around the activation, of the Higher Emotional Center, it starts in the middle (C6) then expands out (C5, C7 and beyond) which Deleuze observes is how various morphogenetic processes begin - starting from the middle.  This might explain why many ancient cultures ascribe the heart as the seat of the soul.  The feeling centrum when turned on provokes the growth of Conscience.  Certain actions become impossible to even consider when active empathy for the well-being of others comes into play.

It's my belief that music has a strong role to play for the survival of the planet. The economic climate has turned against the production of new music compared to what it was up through the 1990s while worldwide wars have amped up since 9/11.  If all or even half of all the funding given to political campaigns was channeled into the production of music and performances as well as other programs supporting the proliferation of the Fine Arts then we'd be living in a vastly different world.  I realize that's a fantasy, the point being that it's at least as equally valid to do music as it is to engage in political causes for the betterment of life on Earth.