Friday, March 18, 2016

Greenpoint Part 3

Layng Martine III was the main assistant engineer at Greenpoint for a number of years in the latter part of the studio's existence.   He lived in the basement; maybe why I sometimes sensed a subterranean, troll-like quality about him from time to time like he didn't get out enough.  He was very good at what he did, on the world professional level like anyone else at Greenpoint; efficient, and pleasant to work with; very dry humor.  When he moved out following his tenure, he left behind a complete facsimile collection of Aleister Crowley's original Equinox, the thick, hardbound periodicals Crowley put out every 6 months in the early 1900s presenting the magical instruction he was hawking, i.e. his School in the guise of a literary journal. Clearly, those books, a University course of magick, belonged more to the space at Greenpoint than they did to Layng.

Imad Mansour was the full time assistant engineer before Layng.  I remember him as always distinguished and well-dressed, formal and intellectual like he was attending a college lecture by a respected professor.  Kind of opposite to Layng in that regard, but also extremely good at his job, always present and on top of it.  Imad got the gig through his uncle Simon Shaheen whose album, Turath, I recorded and mixed at Greenpoint shortly before Gulf War I. Simon is from Palestine and the music is folk music from that area of the world. I experienced a strong bittersweet moment when listening to the rich, acoustic story-telling nature of the music from this region in my apartment shortly after the country I lived in began bombing and invading the land over there.

After  the first Praxis record Buckethead became a regular fixture in the Greenpoint orbit.  He might have been the most recorded guitar player there next to Nicky Skopelitis.  He also communicated frequently with Bill about life, the Universe and everything including the music biz. The record company corporate dinosaurs, still freely roaming the Earth back in the early '90s, predictably wanted to market Bucket as another rock jock guitar hero ala Yngwie Malmsteen, but he had his own vision to follow a direction less traveled.  Bill suggested making outrageous demands to the label heads as a strategy to avoid contractual economic capture.  At a meeting with Polygram, they offered Buckethead a seven album deal.  The story I heard is that he stipulated a $5,000,000 recording budget for the first album saying that he needed $4,000,000 to build the Bucketheadland amusement park for thematic inspiration then another $1,000,000 to actually make the album.  Polygram withdrew the offer

He was serious about the amusement park.  I accompanied Bucket, Bernie Worrell, and our interpreter, Mari Kono to Tokyo Disneyland for ten hours of Japanese Disneyfied alternate realities, wombs, tombs, funhouses, fireworks and marching bands, an experience I will never forget.  At one point Bernie disappeared into another dimension for awhile.  We had to go around asking if anyone had seen a wiry black funkster wearing a purple cowboy hat.  As we were about to go into "It's A Small World," with its elaborate exterior showing people and cultures from all over the world getting along, Bucket told me that is what he wanted for a set design when he had the tour support; world healer vision.

The night before, sitting at a low table in a dark, candlelit, Japanese restaurant with Buckethead and Ginger Baker, Bucket told me he was fascinated by the subject of death and thought about it, but not in a morbid or self-destructive way.  Some months earlier, I had gifted him with The Handbook for the Recently Deceased by Claude Needham.  The title is derived from the handbook in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice film.  Needham's version came wrapped in cellophane with a warning sticker reading "Only Break Wrapper If You Are Dead."  Bucket took the warning very seriously.  It took some time before he felt dead enough to break the seal and even then he did it very cautiously - good voyaging habits.  Disneyland felt like a massive bardo rebirth terminal, a transit station.

Bill eventually negotiated a record deal for Buckethead with Sony for the release that became Giant Robot.  It has the amusement park theme running throughout.  The second track is Welcome to Bucketheadland and it closes with Last Train to Bucketheadland.  Bucketheadland - a metaphor construct/bardo domain of visions transmitting through the artist called Buckethead; that's the land of Buckethead.  The songs invite listeners to dive in and traverse about the virtual reality of Bucketheadland; what Deleuze and Gutarri call a "smooth space;"  what I call a bardo space.  Amusement parks and carnivals have a strong bardoesque quality to them, the revolving feeling of life, death and rebirth.  All kinds of choicepoints, wombs to take rebirth in - each ride is a different lifetime, you take on a temporary micro-identity when the ride starts which dies when it's over and you go back out on the midway between lives looking to find the next womb to take rebirth in; funhouse mirrors, dark tunnels, haunted houses, sudden surprises of death looking at you in the face.

Chop Top (actor Bill Mosely from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2) was flown in from L.A. to do some narration. Mosely was mellow and great to work with.  On break he told a spooky story about a play in L.A. he'd just been in where he played Timothy Leary incarcerated in Soledad Prison's solitary confinement next to Charles Manson.  The play was based on an essay Leary wrote about the harrowing encounter with Manson published in his book Neuropolitique.  Mosely said Leary saw the play a few times and was upbeat and supportive.  He said it got quite freaky and eerie when a few Manson family members turned up occasionally, sometimes heckling and creating a scene.

Iggy Pop came by Greenpoint one day for a few hours to lay down some narration for Giant Robot.  He seemed a little reserved at first, but then got completely into character as the proprietor of Buckethead's Toy Store starting with the intro premise that the Universe is doomed "unless the force of cruelty can be conquered by an influx of fun" via a special delivery of toys from Japan to Buckethead's Toy Store, " a true wonderland of joy..."  Interesting theurgic chaos magick, more to it in the song.  Iggy got so into character that he doesn't sound like Iggy, he sounds like a Bucketheadland character.  Later on in the album he plays the Post Office Buddy frustrated in love leaving increasingly desperate, forlorn messages on an answering machine.  There's an interesting twist at the end, of that song both in the story and for me personally.  The final voice, which is supposed to be a different male character from Iggy's, sounds like I made a vocal appearance though I don't remember recording it.

Giant Robot was completely recorded at Greenpoint then brought to Platinum Island's Studio East to mix on the SSL along with their copious outboard gear.  The mixing went smoothly and on schedule.  I would set up a mix then Bill and Bucket would give input from there.  Everything was recorded well, big, full and deep through the vintage Neve at Greenpoint so the starting point was already high fidelity.  I added in Platinum Island's secret weapon, the live room with all panels removed used as a reverb chamber to get the big drum sound.  I really like the way Giant Robot turned out, an amalgamation and varying mixture of righteous funk (Bootsy Collins, Jerome Brailey), rock riffs (Bucket, Ted Parsons), the absurd (Pinchface, Throatrake), along with instances of child-like innocence and sweet melodies all in the various chambers that make up Bucketheadland. A track I had much fun mixing is the very beautiful I Love My Parents.  Karl Berger came up with a gorgeous string arrangement based on a melody Bucket wrote.  We only tracked a quartet, but doubled and tripled the parts to virtually create an actual sounding string orchestra.  I would hazard a guess that the Angel in charge of marshaling parental emotions would requisition I Love My Parents as a theme song such is the powerful affects and percepts the song emits.

Buckethead and Bill used to leave the studio in the early evening and I would spend a few more hours setting up the next track usually leaving between 10 and 11pm.  On my way out one night getting into the elevator I joined a trio coming from a party above, a couple and a tall, honey-haired woman who began looking at me like an apparatus of capture.  There was a strong floral scent like expensive soap.  They were mildly, playfully inebriated, bantering and joking with me.  As we exited the building onto Broadway, the single lady looked at me and announced, "you're coming home with me."  I quickly said, "no, I'm not," and began walking uptown toward Spanish Harlem where I lived at the time.  In bardo terms that's called closing the entrance to a womb door which in that case is a pun.  You don't want to jump into any old rebirth that happens by especially the immediately seductive ones, or at least that's what my Grandmother used to say.  The next morning I told the guys the story, Bucket's jaw literally dropped in astonishment, he looked at me like I was crazy.  I told him, "I have an album to mix," by way of explanation.  They exchanged a look.

Giant Robot in front of Bucketheadland

I have many pleasant memories of working with Bucket. I did a lot of live mixing with him, both with Laswell and with a trio he had with Brain and House, ex-drummer and bassist from the Limbomaniacs.  My first time seeing anything by film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky occurred at Bucket's house in Sonoma, CA.  We'd been recording all day with Les Claypool at his Rancho Relaxo studio in the hills near Occidental and he invited me back to stay the night at his house before returning to the studio in the morning.  His house interior reminded me of Bucketheadland.  He got me a sleeping bag for the couch and set me up to watch Holy Mountain, Jodorosky's classic surrealist take on alchemy which looked extremely interesting though a bit of a blur at that late hour.  I fell asleep watching it and had strange dreams about monsters and heroes subconsciously programmed by Holy Mountain.  I awoke in the morning a different person.

In 1989 I started working with a group lead by Jimmi Accardi based on the books and ideas of E.J. Gold.  Jimmi ran it in a quasi-underground fashion as if it were a secret society.  I was "tested" at a couple of public events before the existence of the group was made known to me. An invitation to join was extended at my own considerable risk.  The meeting place was a long subway ride out to Jackson Heights, Queens and if you were one minute late the door was barred and you would be turned away.  It very much appealed to my sense of theater and drama and met my expectations of how an arcane secret conspiracy might work. You could say that the general focus of this group was the observation and study of the inner workings of the human machine.  Exercises were given to this end.

This eventually lead to meeting and working with E.J. Gold out in California as described elsewhere.  At one point he asked for help in getting his art exposed.  He said it would help a lot if I could get 10 recognized celebrities in a room with his art.  I agreed to help him with this.  Doing a brief survey of the art gallery scene in New York I quickly concluded that the quickest way to get this into action was to find my own room to display his paintings i.e. set up an art gallery.  The first possible space I thought of was the third floor at Greenpoint which was rented by Bill with the building, but unused as it wasn't completely finished.  It almost seemed like a foregone conclusion.  Bill agreed to allow me the use of the space rent free for six months in exchange for finishing the construction work. That was a generous deal as there wasn't a whole lot to do.  Plumbing was already installed to a bathroom in the back and the framework was already in place that divided the floor into one large front space with six bedroom sized spaces in the back half.  We only had to install some electrical wiring, track lighting for the gallery, do some dry walling and painting. Shortly after this arrangement  was made Nicky approached me and asked what I thought about giving up one of the back rooms for Anton Fier to move into?  I thought it was a great idea, one less room to finish and the advantage of having someone there full time.  He took the back room on the right which was the size of a large master bedroom.

The circle of dedicated New Yorkers interested in publicizing Gold's art rallied to help to make the Greenpoint gallery a reality in a very short amount of time, about 2 months.   That included not only finishing the construction and getting the space up to code, but also mounting a major show which became The Moonbeam Show, E.J. Gold's monumental paintings inspired by the lyrics of Harry Nilsson.  The two were close friends from the '60's beginning when Gold took photos for one of his albums.  I named the space The Troov Gallery after Hadji Asvatz Troov, a character from Gurdjieff's Beelzebub's Tales To His Grandson, an old science fiction classic.  Asvatz Troov ( Hadji is an honorific indicating he made the pilgrimmage to Mecca) was a dervish who had an underground laboratory where he designed unusual musical contraptions to experiment with the effect of sound vibrations on the human body, psyche and nervous system, and other organic life.  Gurdjieff in his Pythogorean, Harry Partch phase.  Troov's lab reminded me of Greenpoint's recording studio.  I felt the art gallery would have the same kind of Troovian experimental slant only with light waves instead of sound waves.  Many of the works were based on music, the songs of Harry Nilsson who definitely drank deep from the dionysiac well. This strengthened the connection between light and sound experimentation.

The Moonbeam Show occupied the front room upstairs at Greenpoint.  Much of the art was monumental sized - 36" x 72", 6 foot high paintings, some hung on the walls, many of them were set-up in triads on small 18" high black pedestals.  With several of these positioned about the room it made the art seem more 3D enhancing the sense of immersion into the mood and atmosphere of the space; virtual reality - the holodeck tuned to a Nilsson/Gold artistic frequency.   Song lyrics were displayed besides paintings of the same name to aid crossover.

Typical of the artwork in the show

 Four of the other five rooms also displayed Gold's art.  The fifth held a Samadhi floatation tank.  Jnanes, my wife at the time, had arranged to get a brand new loaner tank from Samadhi sent to the gallery as a demonstration model.  An ad was placed in a Brooklyn publication and float sessions were rented out by the hour.  It attracted regular, but not overwhelming use.  I floated in it a few times (had another one in my apartment), once right before the show's opening.

The first room on the right as you walked down the hallway was painted completely black and it had no windows.  This room was used to display the Dark Hours series of lithographics by E.J. Gold - a voyage through heavy moods and darkside spaces, what Nietszche calls tragedy in The Birth of Tragedy, the archetypal journey through the Underworld that seems necessary to see the whole picture complete.

"Bare Bulb" from the Dark Hours series.

Later on, I found this space excellent for ritual practice.

The opening for the Moonbeam show was attended by about 300 people including a handful of music industry professionals and at least one other iconoclastic performance artist - the infamous Rammellzee.  John Zorn turned up to give support as well as Evan Lurie, formerly of the Lounge Lizards, also a musical collaborator with E.J.Gold.  Bill Laswell and Anton Fier swung through for a minute then hung out in Anton's room.  Engineer Robert Musso made it along with the San Francisco based band The Bomb who he had been recording downstairs.  Also in attendance was former Celluloid Records A&R man Robert Soares who had co-produced the Brazillian band Kaoma which brought the lambada dance craze to the world.  Years later when looking through the Guest Book I discovered that the infamous punk rocker Cheetah Chrome form the Deadboys had signed the book and checked it out.  Quite an eclectic crowd.

A few days before the opening, with the show all set-up and ready to go, Ornette Coleman paid a visit to Bill in the studio and Bill brought Ornette upstairs for a private viewing of the art and to see the completed space.  Ornette walked slowly through the front room upstairs casually scanning the paintings.  He took a look down the hallway then turned around and came back through the big room taking a different path through a different row of paintings.  He was expressionless and completely silent the whole time making not the slightest indication of appreciation or criticism.  In one sense it seemed like he wasn't even there - no ego, no personality, not the slightest trace of the "Ornette Coleman" cultural icon identity.  In another sense he was there far more than most - pure presence, in a state of what John Lilly and Franklin Merrell-Wolff call 'High Indifference' mingling with the otherworldy presence and radiations of the paintings made even stronger in a room empty of people.  There were a lot of large paintings with bright colors on black canvas in a small space so anyone with the least sensitivity would feel the same kind of clarity and altered awareness as meditating or one hour in a floatation tank when walking through the space.  The feeling I had when Ornette walked through, though mostly indescribable, the word reverence comes closest; at home in another world.  As they were leaving Bill commented to Ornette about how quickly it had come together saying it was an example of what could be accomplished in a short amount of time with intention and will.

After 6 months The Moonbeam Show moved to Los Angeles and the Troov Gallery changed forms becoming curators of shows at the Cedar Tavern and at the H. Heather Edelmann gallery in Soho.  The latter was a collaboration between E.J. Gold and John Cage called A Lecture On Nothing from Silence.  The Edelmann gallery contact came as a result of Jnanes hitting the streets canvassing art establishments for a suitable venue.  Gold and his staff arranged the show from California, Cage was an old family friend.  I was extremely excited for the opportunity to meet and work directly with John Cage, one of my biggest influences, but alas, he died about a week after the show was announced.  I remember the paintings in that space being incredibly intense, the room was much smaller than Greenpoint, but it's just now that I wonder if Cage's recent death contributed to that atmosphere at all?  One afternoon Menlo McFarlane performed a reading of A Lecture On Nothing from Silence while I accompanied him on the Roland 201 Space Echo (borrowed from Greenpoint) with tape delay multiplicities echoplexing feedback loops reverberating; tonal and atonal; M.C. Escher-like sound drawings all from 1/4" magnetic tape and several record and playback heads in series with feedback circuitry; nothing from silence.

The upstairs at Greenpoint became became a combination storage area and a place to crash for any friend of Bill's who needed somewhere inexpensive to stay in New York like myself later on.  I kept a room after the gallery closed which stored a lot of the art that hadn't been shipped out.  I also set up a table for a desk and made a place to work.  Not long after I moved out of my apartment on 26th street and 2nd Avenue and established a dual residence taking a room in Spanish Harlem and another one in Northern California as part of the I.D.H.H.B. community.  I was on each coast about 50% of the time depending upon my schedule.  I would go to Greenpoint when in New York even when not booked on sessions and work in my room upstairs.  As noted earlier, Greenpoint was a geographical hotspot for creative endeavor.  I did a lot of research into magick there.

For awhile, Bernard Fowler had a whole recording studio boxed up and stored upstairs at Greenpoint.  In 1989 he began touring with the Rolling Stones as their main male background vocalist, a job he still holds to this day.  The steady gig afforded the recording gear, but didn't give him enough time to set it up and use it at that time.  I did some recording at Greenpoint for a project Bernard had with Stevie Salas on a rare break from the Stones tour.  When cleaning up toward the end of Greenpoint I found two large duffel bags completely full of hundreds of cassette tapes, apparently demos of music sent to Bill.

Anton Fier lived there quite awhile, I don't know exactly how long.  He became the ipso facto Guardian of Greenpoint, but also took advantage of the facility working on Golden Palominos projects or producing Lori Carson.  I engineered for him there from time to time.  He also brought in a Power Station engineer.  Sometimes, when not recording, I'd hear him practicing on the drum kit for hours on end.  Last Poet Umar Bin Hassan also took up residence for some months at Greenpoint.  He's one of the most unabashedly passionate people I've ever known.  I recall watching the Yankees play in the World Series with him in Anton's room feeling almost a religious experience from the intense enthusiasm he was expressing for the game.  I had stopped paying attention to sports a few years back, but seeing that game with Umar gave a whole new viewpoint as if seeing its Buddha nature, if that makes any sense?

At one point the residents at Greenpoint included Anton, Umar, D.J. Spooky, and myself.  I didn't see Spooky there very much and never had a direct conversation with him. It seems he only lived there a few weeks.  We met when he came to the mastering session at Masterdisk for the Julian Schnabel record that Bill produced.  He was there to meet Schnabel about possibly playing the lead in the film Basquiat Julian was beginning to work on.  Another time Spooky popped into the studio when Bill and I and a few others were hanging out.  He started giving his rap and I realized I couldn't follow him at all, it was like a different language harder than Jamaican patois to understand yet all the words were in English.  I thought that I must be getting too isolated, that a whole development of street jargon had passed me by.  As soon as he left Bill said, "does anyone know what he was talking about?"  I felt relieved to hear that. Spooky was on a whole different level.

It seems I engineered the last project at Greenpoint - mixing Chakra: Seven Centers for Meta Records.  This is a spoken word record, produced by Bill Laswell and Janet Rienstra, telling the story of  the rise of kundalini through the seven energetic centrums called chakras.  Each track represents one of the chakras.  Some of the background music is outstanding as well, hardly surprising with the likes of Pharoah Saunders, Graham Haynes, and Trilok Gurtu in the mix along with some of the usual suspects - Laswell, Skopelitis, Jah Wobble and Jeff Bova contributing sonic atmospherics and their indomitable spirits to this assemblage.

The first record I worked on at Greenpoint was The Third Power by Material, the last one was Chakra: Seven Centers.  Coincidentally, in Gurdjieff's cosmology the two biggest concepts are the "Law of Three" and the "Law of Seven."  One alleges to explain how phenomena gets manifested, the other to describe patterns of change and is also known as the "Law of Octaves."

At the end of it all there were three artifacts left: an Eye of Horus design atop a small bell, a Zen Buddha, and a Dreamachine.  Bill said, "Janet you take the Buddha, Oz, the Eye of Horus, and I'll keep the Dreamachine. That Eye of Horus currently lives in Studio B at Ancient Wave studios in Nevada City, a little piece of the Greenpoint lineage and a contact point to that current.


  1. These blog posts are so great. Keep them coming! The Laswell world has always seemed to mysterious and foreign to me - this helps shed some light on music I literally grew up with and listen value very much.

  2. Seconded. I really enjoy them too.

  3. By the way Oz, I don't know what you found so special about Tokyo Disneyland, its an exact copy of Disneyland in Florida (I think) except for one building on Japanese history, which conveniently glosses right over the 30s-40s war period.(can't have the kids knowing about that stuff eh?) ; )

  4. Thanks Monte & tony. I tried to communicate my experience of Disneyland as a transit rebirth station, or a bardo space. That's what made it special, not so much that it was in Japan. That has been the only time I've been to any Disneyland as an adult so I had nothing to compare it with. However, the fact that it was in Japan definitely made a difference though I didn't know how to communicate that very well. To someone who lived in Japan for awhile and was acclimatized to the country it probably wouldn't seem so incredible, but for anyone there for the first or second time (Buckethead and myself) just watching and participating in the daily activities of the Japanese culture feels very special even when that activity is the very model of crass American consumerism.

  5. Yeah I can understand that. I guess I've been here too long to see it like that. Though not Kyoto. Still my favourite city, just for the amazing gardens and temples, no matter what season.

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