Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Greenpoint Part 2

Crime and rescue at Greenpoint.  I would seriously doubt this story if I hadn't heard it separately from both parties, corroborating point for point.  Shin Terai was getting ready to take a car to the airport from the studio.  He had flown in from Tokyo to visit and record vocal sounds and heavily processed spoken word for Chaos Face; the chaos was about to catch up with himI can't conceive of anyone doing this: he put his briefcase with money, plane tickets, passport, and a video camera down on the street by the front door and left them going back upstairs to get his bag.  Naturally, when he returned they were gone.  Shin Terai was, and probably still is, a soft-spoken, overly polite, upper-middle class Japanese businessman who owned and managed a hair salon.  He was also a loyal and stellar fan of jazz and avant-garde music who managed to make friends with serious musicians like Bill Laswell and Herbie Hancock by being a very helpful guide lending assistance in the local ways when they played Japan.  Shin Terai, though his name means fire of the earth, at that moment appeared completely unaware of how to deal with American urban survival.  He freaked and began repeating "O my Buddha, O my Buddha' over and over.'  DST, as he was known at the time - turntablist, troublemaker, and hip hop composer - happened by, saw what was going on and immediately jumped on a bicycle in pursuit of the stolen goods.  I don't remember if D actually saw the thief, but he managed to track him down to an abandoned building a block or so away and recover the briefcase and camera.  He saved the day for Shin Terai.  You could call it coincidence that someone who grew up in the South Bronx was around at exactly the right time to rescue a Japanese tourist from a devastating robbery or you could entertain the idea that the collective assemblage that worked out of Greenpoint took care of its own.  Protection by coincidence control?  The school works in mysterious ways.  To my knowledge, that was the only time anyone was ever assaulted or criminally aggressed upon around the studio.

Speaking of Herbie Hancock, the first time I met and recorded him was at Greenpoint.  He came there to lay down a piano solo for a track on The Third Power.  Not knowing that much about him I had no expectations of what he would be like.  As soon as he walked in I got a strong feeling that I beheld the presence of a star.  He radiated that quality immediately upon walking through the door. When he began playing the Yamaha CP 80 electric piano you could hear it in his touch of the keyboard, by the way the piano notes came out. With the trained listening abilities of an audio professional or a musician you can hear not only the notes, but also the way they're played.  No entourage of any kind or any other celebrity trappings, only accompanied by his manager, Tony Meilandt, yet there was a distinct sensation of being in the room with an extraordinary talent.  That was the only time I worked with Herbie at Greenpoint.  I did record him later at another studio and was also around him when he curated the Tokyo Jazz festival that Material played at, but I didn't even remotely have a similar kind of experience.  Something about that slice of time at Greenpoint.

One night driving back to Manhattan after a session, Bill told me about this freak guitar player who grew in a chicken coop somewhere in the Ozarks.  For some unknown reason his backwoods family confined him to the large chicken coop and didn't let him have anything except food, a Les Paul electric guitar and a 50 watt Marshall stack.  For years he did nothing but play the guitar for the chickens who were apparently a tough crowd to please.  As a result he became a world class shredder on the guitar.  When they finally uncooped him, he vowed to never forget his poultry brethren and sistren by taking a bucket designed to contain Kentucky Fried Chicken cooked body parts, symbollically turning it upside down then placing it on his head to become Buckethead.  No one knew his real name or if he even had one, he was just Buckethead.  Bill told me this as if it were literally true.  At the time it reminded me of something like an old blues legend ala the Robert Johnson Crossroads story put into a contemporary comic book adaptation.  I thought this would be an interesting person to record, but it seemed about as remote as the ghost of Robert Johnson showing up.

Buckethead; photo credit unknown

Some months later Buckethead walked through the front door of Greenpoint and I met the legend in person. His guitar playing definitely lived up to the back story.  We hit it off right away.  He arrived with his friend Brain who I knew as the drummer for the Limbomaniacs, one of the first projects that I started to engineer for Bill over at Platinum Island.  They were there as part of the musical group  Bill put together called Praxis that also included two old-school funksters, Bootsy Collins and Bernie Worrell, as well as dj turntablist Af Next Man Flip (Lord of the Paradox).  Next Man Flip, the artist formerly and currently known as Africa Baby Bam from the Jungle Brothers might have changed his name for this project. Next Man Flip seems, in conjunction with the album title, a dead on accurately poetic way of characterizing this project.  The album Praxis made, Mutatis Mutandis, became a classic series of experiments in sound/music construction  connecting and conjugating various mixtures of the funk, rock, ambient, and electronica genres into previously unheard of musical territories; creation of new spaces with sound/rhythm/melody/noise; supple segments of guitar shreds; different rates of sonic  intensities and speeds ebbing and flowing; sounds of false start and tape rewind; funky liquid bass lines transmitting feel; new information from autonomous zones close and far.  Song titles provide descriptor clues: War Machine, Black Science Navigator, Dead Man Walking, The Interworld..., .../Godzilla etc.  Classic because it sounds as fresh and on the cutting edge now as when it was made.  It raised the bar and the bar is still there.  I haven't heard anything else quite like this genre collage/mash-up.

Four of the musicians had  intertwined musical relationships with each other both virtual and actual.  Next Man Flip was the wild card, maybe thrown in to meet the Discordian Law of Fives while injecting randomity and chaos into the proceedings; he contributed static transmissions through electronic whooshes, blips and beeps; atonal sound phrases naturally cut-up and stitched back together for new combinations and connections.  Buckethead and Brain were old friends who used to play together whenever Brain visited the Ozarks.  Bootsy and Bernie had a long history together, Funkadelic and beyond.  Bootsy was a major influence and virtual mentor to Bucket long before they met; Buckethead got to work with one of his heroes.  Both Bootsy and Bucket counted Jimi Hendrix as a major influence; both could be considered part of the Hendrix musical lineage.  Bill once brought us to Electric Lady studios (originally built for Jimi Hendrix) to mix a single Buckethead recorded for the Last Action Hero film.  Brain too was well stewed and soaked in funk influence via Limbomaniacs.  Bernie shapeshifts to sound like he's instantly at home playing with anyone.  Though there was considerable slicing and dicing sound construction when it came to the mix, much of the initial recording was done live.  All five musicians set-up around the room playing together as a unit, each one occupying a separate edge point of a pentagram star.

 Bernie, Af, Bootsy, Buckethead, Brain; photo by Thi-Linh Le

Mutatis Mutandis is an archaic Latin phrase that means 'the necessary changes have been made.'  The liner notes assembled quotes from Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone.  Hakim Bey with his ontological anarchy would later sign on as Axiom's resident philosopher.  Bey is the alter ego of Peter Lamborn Wilson, a (mostly) respected Sufi scholar among other vocations having absorbed source teachings while on staff at the University of Tehran.  Besides Sufism, Wilson has written about Hassan I Sabah, Angelology and a few other recondite esoteric subjects.  Occultists and conspiracy theorists should pay no attention to his middle name, Lamborn, referring to Lam, one of the more significant XD (Extradimensional) characters Aleister Crowley communicated with.  Wilson, in the service of ontological anarchy regularly utilized concepts from Deleuze and Guttari.  The second part of the first track on Mutatis Mutandis is called War Machine, an important D&G concept I wrote about here.

The other pole seems to be the essence; it is when the war machine, with infinitely lower "quantities," has as its object not war but the drawing of a creative line of flight, the composition of smooth space and of the movement of people in that space.

  - A Thousand Plateaus, p. 422

The necessary changes have been made.

Ira Cohen, a friend of Lamborn Wilson's - they worked with the same guru, Ganesh Baba, at different times - was another cultural heavyweight to make his way into the Greenpoint orbit.  Cohen was a beat poet, publisher, filmmaker and shamanic photographer.  When living in Kathmandu, Cohen started the Bardo Matrix publishing imprint.  I recorded him reading one of his poems about that time.  He also successfully experimented with mylar photography on the third floor at Greenpoint hanging the mylar sheets on the wall that previously showcased featured paintings when I ran the space as an art gallery.  At that time, my friend Wade Hines (HuDost) was visiting and we were both staying at Greenpoint to master, after my regular session, his album that we had mixed in Florida.  Ira's photography is on several Axiom releases including T.A.Z., the one Bill made with Hakim Bey.  He might be called the official, though not exclusive, Axiom photographer.  Definitely something going on when you include Hakim Bey and Ira Cohen as part of the creative assemblage.

In Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf the protagonist, Harry Haller, encounters an electric sign over a theater which reads: MAGIC THEATER. ENTRANCE NOT FOR EVERYBODY. FOR MADMEN ONLY.  If there had been a similar sign over the entrance to Greenpoint in all likelihood it would read: NOTHING IS TRUE. EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.  This magical motto, supposedly the last words of Hassan I Sabbah, leader of a sect of Nizari Ismailis known as Hashisheen in the 11th and 12 Centuries was adopted and used quite extensively by Bill Laswell around the time Axiom  came into existence. I used to have a t-shirt with the Axiom logo on the front, red graphics on a black background, and that signifier on the back.  I wore it when mixing live sound for Material eventually giving it to Gigi, Bill's wife, when she was pregnant with their son Aman.

What the phrase means exactly is for people to find out on their own, because, after all, nothing is true; probably multiple meanings; multiple artistic possibilities.  We get some clues by looking at how other writers have used it.  William Burroughs used it to dedicate or consecrate his novel, Cities of the Red Night:

To all the scribes and artists and practitioners of magic through whom these spirits have been manifested….NOTHING IS TRUE. EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED.” 

Robert Anton Wilson riffed on the phrase and Hassan I Sabbah's unique metaprogramming
techniques in Sex, Drugs, and Magick and also in the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Bill created a remix album of ambient versions from the Axiom catalog called Lost In The Translation that had a suite called Cosmic Trigger, the title of one of Wilson's best books. The suite consists of ambient mixes of Through The Flames, Cosmic Slop and Animal Behavior.
Laswell with Janet Rienstra explored the Hashisheen in depth in a spoken word/ambient/trance soundscape collection of readings from 25 different scholarly, historical, and underground sources on the subject.  It's called Hashisheen - The End of Law and features the voices of Burroughs, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, Hakim Bey, and Ira Cohen among others.  The second track introduces The Old Man Of The Mountain (Hassan I Sabbah) with Genesis P Orridge intoning Nothing Is True. Everything Is Permitted.  After Percy Howard (Meridiem) reads a historical text, circa 1210, the phrase repeats, only differently.

This clip is the tenth track on Hashisheen called Sinan's Boast later reterritorialized into Sinan's Boat due to a typo that got picked up and repeated.  Boat seems much more accurate.  It's read by Ira Cohen.  Laswell reterritorialized it again to introduce a Pharoah Saunders track on Excavation - Unauthorized Cut-Up Vol. I. It's only 1:47 in length;  In a classic Tom Waits spoken word track he asks, repeatably as a refrain, "what's he building in there? ... what the hell is he building in there?"  If anyone ever asked that question about the activities at Greenpoint, they might want to listen to Sinan's Post for one answer.

 YouTube lists yet another variation on the title that also fits.

Another modern prophet turned up in spirit at Greenpoint when Bill, at the behest of Chris Blackwell and with the blessings of the Marley estate, did ambient mixes of classic Bob Marley and the Wailers tracks for what became Dreams of Freedom.  I engineered about half the mixes and Robert Musso engineered the rest (or vice versa?) and mastered it.  The mixes were constructed with what I call "poor man's automation" meaning that it was mixed manually in sections to 1/2" tape then spliced together.  I would set-up effects on the different Neve auxiliary and bus sends for Bill to trigger as the mix recorded to tape.  Mixing each section down after it was prepped and balanced was like a live performance.  Rarely was it done more than once.

Mixing Dreams of Freedom in May of 1996 coincided with the15th anniversary of Marley's death.  Photos of him appeared everywhere on the streets of New York. His visage was spotted at magazine kiosks, advertisements on buses, people's t-shirts and jackets, billboards, Times Square etc.  Working with the pristinely recorded master tapes of Marley's biggest songs eight hours a day resulted in a strong sense of contact with his spirit, for me. I pretty much felt like I was going through an ever-changing bardo space the whole time; voyaging through Dreams of Freedom.  I was crashing in a room above the studio so would stay an extra hour or so after the session listening to out takes and any alternate tracks.  How often do you get to examine Bob Marley's master tapes like an audio forensic scientist?  I learned something useful engineering-wise just by soloing and listening to how the tracks were recorded.  A superb job by the original engineers.

No doubt this bardo experience got aided and abetted through Bill's conceptual approach to the mix construction.  Bob Marley's voice does not appear in this collection, the only vocals you'll hear are the Wailers singing backgrounds and choruses usually in a dense ambient atmospheric background.  This demonstrates a brilliant use of a literary technique applied to music:  Bob Marley becomes extremely present by his absence.  Present in spirit, heart and soul.  This is a ghost album, a conjuration, an invocation of Bob Marley's presence in the present.  He showed up and remained; it's all recorded; a legominism of his life's work.

Image designed by Russell Mills

Tetsou Inoue was also on hand contributing his electronic insect soundscaping calling forth a Burroughs Interzone environment; something completely alien, Other, and outside of any time reference; could be futuristic, from the ancient past, or simultaneous on another planet. He would set up his machines, filters and processors to run automatically with micro variability and randomity programmed into the flow then, once ready, we would go straight to tape sometimes crossing over into the Marley music translated into the Laswell dimension..  A good example is the intro to the first track.  His techno bardo ambience is heard elsewhere and may be the reason that every song is sonically connected; a continuous voyage through the dreams.

 Various aspects of the Laswell/Inoue/Musso/Fritz sound design for Dreams of Freedom remind me of Antonin Artaud writing about Balinese Theater music:

"There is also the broad pounding rhythm of the music - an extremely insistent, droning, and fragile music, in which the most precious metals seem to be ground, in which springs of water seem to gush up as if in their natural state, and armies of insects march through vegetation, in which one seems to hear captured the very sound of light, in which the sound of deep solitudes seems to be reduced to flights of crystals, etc. etc."

Deep solitudes reduced to flights of crystals brings us through a smooth space to Nûs. I first met Percy Howard, Hassan I Sabbah's narrator, when Bill brought me in to Greenpoint to record, mix and master Inside is the Only Way Out by Nûs.  Howard was the lead singer and principle writer for the group. He brought a strongly developed poetic and literary sophistication to the songwriting table citing Milton's Paradise Lost as one overt influence.  He also proved to be an extremely passionate singer. One amazing take, it might have been for Absolution, leaving him literally in tears from the intense emotional experience of delivering that vocal.  Nûs, as I understand it, is a gnostic term representing that part of the discerning mind that recognizes what is real.  Perhaps not unrelated to what gets known in modern parlance as a bullshit detector.  Nûs has also been likened to the intuitive mind.

Howard has a rich, pure, baritone voice that compares in strength and resonance with Robert Goulet or Tom Jones but in much more interesting musical contexts than pop schlock.  He's also been compared to Nina Simone.  After he left Nûs, Percy started his Merdiem troika of albums by assembling a band comprising Fred Frith, Charles Hayward, and Bill Laswell.  The four musicians playing Howard's mystically inspired songs proved a potent combination as reviews here testify.  Though Frith and Laswell were long time collaborators, they hadn't played together with Hayward before whom Howard had become acquainted with at a music festival in Italy.  Howard's nûs, his intuition to connect the three proved both prescient and far-reaching. Frith, Laswell, and Hayward gelled instantly both inside and outside the Merdiem framework and became a reformation of Frith's free jazz improv band Massacre, currently one of the most interesting and instructive expressions of progressive music on the planet as I've attempted to describe elsewhere in this blog flow.

To be continued ...



  1. Wow! So much information there. I really enjoyed reading that a lot. Thank you so much.

  2. amazing ! - i remember visiting Greenpoint at this time ( i believe the day of the Shin Terai incident ) I stared at the Marley 2" masters for a long time....

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