Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Music and The Resistance: The SIMRIT Tour

 The fingers paused at a page of ideographs that evoked shapes of distant galaxies. Austin Spare had delineated the architecture of cosmic dimensions in the picture I had found in the attic, and the wizard Crowley had left marginal indications in  one of his writings concerning sonic notations which acted as keys to other spaces. - Kenneth Grant, Against the Light, p. 84

Grant tricks the reader with the title of the book, Against the Light, playing on assumptions, when he reveals its source from Finnegans Wake:

Yet on holding the verso against a lit
rush this new book of Morses responded
most remarkably to the silent query of
our world's oldest light - James Joyce

Taking a break from the Crowley/Deleuze series for an update on the current situation as seen by this traveling reporter.  Pragmatic philosophy aims to bring about social change.  The practical application of philosophy changes the world we live in.   Intelligent social activism becomes a significant application of philosophy and magick.  Music seems an ideal vehicle for that kind of activism.

I'm Oz Fritz and this is The Resistance.  I stand solidly with Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and other investigative journalists, brothers and sisters in arms, who form the social memory complex called The Resistance as a response against the destructive anti-humanitarian policies and sociopathic, schizophrenic behavior of the current political administration. The deception and corruption  appears so obvious that I get completely bewildered why it's taking so long for the safeguards of the political system to root it out and shut it down.  Unless, heaven help us, the political system itself has corrupt elements, or doesn't remember that denial is not a river in Egypt. The process proceeds at a ridiculously slow pace.  Impeachment proceedings should begin now for the Russian collusion that helped get Trump elected.  We include in The Resistance the insightful comic observations of Seth Myers, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Trevor Noah who point out and document the absurdities, inconsistencies, and contradictions of the situation. Oliver's strategy is particularly noteworthy - buying ad time in the morning Fox news shows as a way to communicate his incisive comic points to the Television-Viewer-In-Chief.  We leave the politicians to their political games and hope that the corruption has not completely taken over.  In the philosophy/magick game we play music as a method of defiance.

Music wears down and removes barriers, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently, that prevent empathic connections from being made.  Music works to break down what Wilhelm Reich called character armor - obstacles and blockages of energetic flows to and from the properly, therefore powerfully, functioning emotional centrum. In The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich attributes the rise of fascism to sexual repression.  Fascism is very much on the rise again, to a dangerous degree.  We stand by the notion that sexual energy and spiritual energy represent different ways of measuring and/or applying the same energy.  Sexual repression = spiritual repression.  Music lifts the spirits.  In other, very simple words, music tries to enlighten people by making them feel better.

I was fortunate to join a musical assemblage known as SIMRIT for part of their Songs of Resilience, Global Unity TourThe band is based around singer/songwriter Simrit Kaur whose music evolved out of a multiplicity of diverse influences starting at an early age with the dark, heavy, mystical chanting of the Greek Orthodox Byzantine church choir she joined.  Strong contemporary influences include reggae and the music of Led Zeppelin, both of which include dark, heavy, and mystical attributes.  Her long time studies and experimentation with Kundalini Yoga exposed Simrit to the culture of yoga mantra chanting which became another influence.  These and other music lineages get blended into an eclectic mix to encompass the broad genre of World Music.  Her singing contains the devotional, sacred, bhakti aspect of cyclic chanting transplanting it into a framework that includes the sounds, beats and melodies of World Music.  A visit to her website reveals outstanding endorsements from her peers both in the music business and the mantra singing culture.  I first met Simrit about three years ago to discuss a possible recording project.  It soon became clear that we both were interested in producing music of a healing and transformative nature; music that reached deep into the listener's soul.  That project didn't happen, the circumstances weren't right, but a musical connection had been made that apparently planted the seed for this future collaboration. In retrospect, looking back, as we sat in a metal box traveling 600 plus mph some 30,000 feet in the air, our divergent paths from three years ago until now resulted in connections being made crucial to making the band SIMRIT what it is today.  The web of synchronicity and Angelic, or Bardo guidance became very strong on this tour as you will soon read.

SIMRIT consists of percussion, bass/background vocal, kora, electrified cello/acoustic guitar and Simrit plays harmonium as well as singing.  I knew Salif, the kora player, the longest, though I hadn't really heard him play that much until this tour.  We spent time together as part of a recording crew in Mali, West Africa for Aja Salvatore's KSK Records.  Salif was also in Mali to study with his kora teacher, Mamadou Diabate, and plug into his long lineage, dating back centuries, of kora playing.

I met Jared May, the bass player, when a mutual friend, Isaac James, brought him to a studio I work at to record improvised music with E.J. Gold.  We must have recorded two or three hours of material straight off without looking back.  I was very impressed with his sound and musicianship.  Frankly, being a New York bred elitist snob, I was surprised that someone of his caliber was around and about these here country parts. I recently had the pleasure of recording Jared again for Sarah Nutting's (MaMuse) recently released solo outing, Wild Belonging.  He played a crucial role in that project.

I met Tripp Dudley, our percussionist, and Shannon Hayden, mademoiselle cellist, when we assembled in Miami for the first rehearsal.  Hayden is an extremely creative solo artist in her own right.  She would open the concerts with a 15 - 20 minute solo set of classically inspired songs combined with loops, samples and her whispery ambient singing.  She had a "looper," a pedal that repeats sound cycles, allowing her to create multiple symphonic layers.  Shannon knew she wanted to be a cellist from the age of three.  It took a few more years for her parents to realize it wasn't just a phase she was going through before they set her up with the instrument.  Her post-secondary education included studying with two of the top cello teachers in the country, who, incidentally, had radically different styles and approaches to the instrument..  This may partly explain her ability for improvisation, rare in classically trained musicians, and her ease with crossing over into the world of electronics, sampling and looping.

Tripp was the most technically-minded amongst the musicians regarding issues of sound reinforcement which helped considerably as I was definitely an old dog learning new tricks.  On our first day, he gave me a wi-fi receiver to plug into Soundcraft Impact digital desk with an ethernet cable.  This enabled him, or anyone on stage, to remotely control their monitor mixes with an e-tablet.  I was fine with that, you can't really mix the stage monitors from the Front of House mixing position except to do what the musicians request.  If the musicians themselves can remotely control their own mixes, then that's one less thing I have to lose hair over.  I was only mildly concerned that Russian hackers would interfere with the monitor mixes to subvert our aesthetic subversion.  Tripp and I had a few other things in common - a knowledge and love for New York City - he lives in Brooklyn; we are both one-eighth Irish and both our surnames end with the suffix: III - "the third," as it's pronounced.  Most importantly, he was stalwart at keeping time, driving the band when they were revving up and keeping a steady thread of metrical consciousness during the slower, ecstatic trance pieces; he set the foundation.  Everyone in SIMRIT is a master of their craft, and as masters they are dedicated, life-long apprentices.  Even more critical than individual skill is the fact that their collective chemistry - a term used in attempt to describe the unknown and unpredictable synergies within the assemblage - is undeniable.  Their whole is substantially greater than the sum of its parts.

We were joined in this enterprise by Matt Hagan (the Pagan) who administered the front of house ticket and merchandise sales as well as helping with the set-up and load-out.  Matt is an accomplished musician also and seemed well-experienced with road life, battle-hardened, as it were. He became an indispensable part of the team helping me out numerous times in small and large ways.  I poetically visualized his role for the concerts as the "strong force" in subatomic physics, responsible for binding together the quarks and gluons to become protons and neutrons in the atomic nucleus.  He philosophically endeared me when I overheard him pun Matt with Maat, the ancient Egyption Goddess of Truth, and then correctly ascribe its attribution on The Tree of Life.

The Voyage Begins 

With a lyric from a Beatles' song: "there's a fog upon LA..." delaying our flight and causing a missed connection that resulted in getting rerouted through Dallas, Texas.  Salif and I traveled together. The rest of the lyrics from Blue Jay Way, could have aptly applied to our multiple departure delays in Dallas. When your intention is to use music to resist the law of the jungle, there's bound to be push-back.  As I see it, the forces of political chaos stuck out their tongue at us and laughed when we saw the bizarre sight of former Republican candidate Ted Cruz walking around the Dallas airport by himself!  This sounds like I'm making it up, but I have Salif for a corroborating witness.  He was the one who first spotted Cruz, dressed casually in jeans and a sports coat.  I had my back turned when Cruz first strolled by, Ted responded to Salif's look of recognition with a look of his own which seemed to say, "Yep, it's me."  We pulled up a photo of Cruz from the internet ... yep, that was him.  He passed by a few minutes later, still by himself, going the opposite direction and I caught a glimpse of this infamous politician whom I'm told is slightly to the right of Mussolini.  Other travelers began recognizing him and having him pose for "selfies."  This occurred only a couple of days after he'd had dinner with Trump.  Maybe he need to boost his self-esteem with some "spontaneous" public recognition?  

The wait in Dallas began to play out like a bardo sequence especially when they switched our gate at 10 pm to one on the other side of this Texan-sized airport because they changed our plane for one considered mechanically fit to fly - quite decent of them, I thought!  We got to our Miami air bnb house at about 2:30 am.  The house had very little furniture apart from beds, a kitchen table and a washer/dryer.  The house was all completely white, all the walls and the bedding, no paintings or wall hangings to splash a dash of color.  It reminded me of John and Yoko Lennon's famous "white room" they had at the Dakota building minus the white grand piano.  I also became cognizant of the poetic congruence that this was a Southern White House which is what Donald Trump calls his Mar-a-Lago resort located a mere 69 miles north of Miami.  Proximity does have a stronger effect when employing the affective qualities of music to good cause. Our white house and DT's White House are maybe only a casual coincidence, yet one that lends itself to sympathetic magic through resonance.  After the rehearsals and into the night, Tripp and Salif would stay up until early in the morning improvising music with kora and tabla. It reminded me of being back in Africa.

The First Concert

We had two rehearsal days followed by the first concert in a new age center called the Sacred Space located in the Wynwood Arts district of Miami. It was an unusual venue.  On the first day there, we entered a large, completely empty, L-shaped room, with, again, all white walls.  There was no stage or seats.  It had a very expensive oak floor recently installed which meant maintaining a cool temperature in the room (slightly above a meat freezer) to keep out the humidity.  To help keep the floor from getting dinged or nicked, I tried slightly levitating when moving about by telling lots of jokes.  This rectangular, paralleled-walled, parallel ceiling and floor space was very reverberant; somewhere between a church and a gymnasium.  I got a pleasant surprise the day of the concert when entering the space to immediately hear the acoustics being less echoey.  John, their audio/visual technician, had installed sound diffusors along the length of the walls which were hard to detect as they had the same creamy white shade of the walls. He had also taped down our ethernet snake cable that ran from the FOH mix postion to the stage area with white gaffer tape.

I began by learning to program and use the Soundcraft Impact digital mixing desk and getting to know the QSC PA and stage monitor systems before dialing in the sound of the band with a nice, lengthy soundcheck.  At that point, the music was largely unknown to me.  In a recent article in the New York Times Style Magazine, Tom Waits discusses songwriting: "If you want to catch songs, you gotta start thinking like one and making yourself an interesting place for them to land like birds or insects." That guided my approach to invocationally connecting with SIMRIT before I heard their music.

The first concert was a success on every level, and I mean every level; we were off and running.  I inferred its success on the metaphysical/spiritual level by the fact that Coincidence Control significantly entered the picture after that concert.  It first came to my attention the following morning when I read the story of Brian Jones going to Morocco and recording The Master Musicians of Jajouka in The Sun &The Moon, & The Rolling Stones by Rich Cohen.  I had just told Simrit the same story, with a little more detail, the day before.  Though not knowing so at the time, the story was told before the concert, it became apparent afterwards that The Master Musicians of Jajouka and SIMRIT, though differing radically in sound and content, had a similar intensity for reaching into the unknown and bringing something useful back; they both use music to cast a wide butterfly net through the intensity of ecstatic trance-like percepts and affects.  Shortly after I returned home, an announcement was posted on social media of an upcoming release of the Material/Master Musicians of Jajouka show I recorded in Gent, Belgium in 2015.  A live SIMRIT concert album from this tour is currently in the planning stages.  All of the shows on this tour were recorded multitrack into Pro Tools via a MADI usb output from the Soundcraft. 

The day after the first concert was a watershed day in other ways and I blame it all on the music.  SIMRIT played their first concert and the next day I felt hardwired into contact with the friendly nonhuman guide I vaguely call the HGA - Holy Guardian Angel - as some attempt to explain the extremely bizarre series of synchronicities and coincidences that blew my mind and woke me up to the recognition of transiting through the bardo. That kind of direct contact rarely happens to me outside of a special environment like a floatation tank or an invocational chamber ... and just when you least expect it; the music opened a portal.

At breakfast, I read Simrit the short paragraph about Brian Jones recording the Master Musicians.  Some music history commentators reckoned that this was the beginning of "World Music," and it very well could have been in the sense of that genre becoming a marketable brand to expose Westerners to different cultures of music.  I heard that story from Bill Laswell in Jajouka.  SIMRIT is a devotional world music group with strong Indian, African, and European influences along with ties to hip hop and dub reggae.  Storytelling to pass along the Jajouka baraka, all completely unplanned and unexpected.

I continued to read the Rolling Stones book while everyone got ready to get on the road to St. Petersburg and was startled to read a line directly lifted from E..J. God's Clear Light Prayer: "Nothing is happening, nothing ever has happened or ever will happen." This is the prayer from The American Book of the Dead to be read to the voyager immediately upon physical death, and that is the second line.  Cohen changed it by making it three separate sentences.  It was in a chapter that went into Gram Parson's last days and death.  It told the story of how his manager drove a hearse into the airport and hijacked Parson's body so he could burn it at Joshua Tree based on a pact they had made.  Joshua Tree, in the desert outside of Los Angeles, was the location of SIMRIT's first concert after I finished this tour.

As I continued to devour The Sun & The Moon & The Rolling Stones over the next few days it became apparent that this was no ordinary rock star biography.  Without being morbid or sensationalistic, Rich Cohen writes about death far more that you see in a book of this kind, as if he's a covert bardo agent sugar-coating death with popular culture.  Chapter titles include, The Death of Brian Jones  Part 1, The Death of Brian Jones Part 2, Death Fugue, Thanatos in Steel. The first chapter title really gives away it as a bardo guide book: Rock Stars Telling Jokes.

Also included are close encounters with death seldom reported before. For instance, the time Sonny Barger stuck a gun into Keith Richards' gut at Altamont and told him to play or he would kill him.  Barger reports that Keith proceeded to play his heart out.  Another time, during a Stones concert in Paris, Richards received the tragic news that his infant son had just died from crib death.  It was immediately before he had to sing the lead vocal for the song Happy.  Cohen wonders about the emotions going through him as he sings.  It seems to me that through circumstance, intentional or not, that the song became a way to deliver bardo instructions to his son.  The song Happy became his Clear Light Prayer for that moment

Cohen makes himself a character in the book relating childhood memories, his experiences as a reporter covering the Stones, and his journeys to significant locations in their history.  I realized that this book was his bardo journey.  Coming of age as a live sound technician with the former Stones cover band, The Tickets, I could strongly relate ... and resonate, one bardo sequence keys in another, or as Deleuze puts it, a resonance across different series (of events and states of affairs ) to create a disjunctive synthesis.

Through The South

Finally on the road to St. Petersburg. Simrit mentioned that she read my review of Led Zeppelin's Celebration Day that I had sent to her yesterday after she described them as a strong influence.  She also mentioned having read up somewhat on Aleister Crowley hoping to gain more insight into Jimmy Page.  Being uncharacteristically unfiltered in the mouth that morning, I attempted to distill the essence of the initial stage of Crowley's teaching in a few sentences: Thelema = an ancient Greek word that means Will.  It qabalistically adds to 93, the same enumeration as Agape - divine love; therefore Thelema = love under will - love as a material force that can be concentrated, placed and directed, often in some type of healing modality like a traveling group of musicians.  This is The Resistance.  Crowley strongly advised that all initial experiments in magick be directed toward the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, an absurd philosophical term he appropriated to avoid speculation and debate about what it actually "is."  As Deleuze and Guatarri emphasize in Anti-Oedipus regarding the contents of the unconscious mind, it's not a question of what it means, but rather, how does it work, how does it function, what can it do?  At its most accessible point of contact, the HGA functions as a spiritual guide.  The HGA operation occurs in Tiphareth - I used the chakra attribution to characterize it that day.  The realization of the HGA = the discovery of one's True Will, the dynamic process that becomes an answering to the question, why are we here?  Carlos Casteneda put it plainly when he had Don Juan say: "follow the path with heart."  Crowley's genius was to realize and present a framework for the intelligence of the heart to act as an (apparently) external guide.  This is The Resistance.

At that point I told Simrit that Thelema  had to do with surviving death.  To skeptics of this notion, I suggest reading the quote from Pythagoras that begins the Introduction to Magick in Theory and Practice (Aleister Crowley). Simrit mentioned that her husband, Jai Dev, had just finished teaching a workshop on death.  Within about a minute of saying that, he called.

The conversation ended, to be continued, and I resumed my perch watching the highway traffic, signs and scenery flow by like a river.  I was sitting in the last row in the Mercedes van sharing it with guitars, tablas and other more delicate band equipment.  That became my spot for the entire tour.  I greatly enjoyed the view of the road from there, it felt like being in the crow's nest of a sailing ship. Approximately ten to twelve minutes after our conversation, a semi-truck with large, white, stenciled letters that read CROWLEY drove by.  All of these incredible synchronicities made me realize that we were in the bardo in this journey through Southeast America.  The Miami edition of SIMRIT had died, shed that particular skin, and were transiting toward rebirth as a new iteration of SIMRIT in the next town.

St. Petersburg was our next stop.  I kept imagining P.D. Ouspensky introducing G.I. Gurdjieff to the local Intelligentsia there just before the Russian Revolution, but it was nothing like that at all.  The venue was a small theater with nice acoustics though a little on the dead side (no pun intended)   I opted to plug our mixing desk into their sound system gambling, but with a high probability, that it was better than our portable QSC front end.  Their speakers did sound good, but were completely unbalanced between left and right.  The liason for the venue knew nothing about the sound system, their technician was on vacation, but he was able to show me where the amp room was and between the two of us, we got the P. A. balanced for all practical purposes.  Also ran into a logic problem with the Soundcraft, I'm still not convinced it wasn't Russian hackers; either that, or a ghost in the machine.  These issues kept me scrambling to finish the soundcheck before the doors opened and I made it by five minutes.  The show went well though I did get get a complaint from an elderly gentlemen who said he was leaving due to the level of bass in the house.  That comment got emotionally cancelled out for me when Simrit introduced the Sound Engineer. Someone turned around and locked eyes with such a deep look that the world disappeared for a second or two.

Heading north on Highway Three Oh One enroute to Asheville, North Carolina.  Led Zeppelin's How The West Was Won live soundtrack blasts through the van's stereo at about 110 dB for about an hour followed by Creedence Clearwater Revival.  The signs along the highway tell ten thousand stories: many of the billboards are hand drawn:


Reminds me of magick. A while up the river/road we see:


We pass a roadside tombstone business with its wares on display, conveniently located a quarter mile from a funeral home where I'm told the clients are just dying to get in.  Location, location, location is the key to sales.  The van's soundtrack has changed to Shannon practicing guitar along with Electric Howling Wolf.  Germination of another strange coincidence:  Tripp and I are talking at one of the pit stops.  I ask him if he needs any catfish bait - a bottle of such substance reposes on a shelf nearby.  He mentions that Catfish was one of his childhood nicknames bestowed on him by a friend.  I told him of Dylan's song Catfish about the famous Oakland A's/New York Yankee's pitcher who was the first baseball player to make a million dollars a year and was from North Carolina.   Two days later, I received a FB friend request from a woman named Cathe' Fish.

The venue in Asheville was a small theater in an historic Masonic Hall that held about 400 people including the balcony.  The ceiling was domed, resulting in some interesting acoustics that made it feel like surround sound in certain spots.  The stage was very deep with a dark multi-layered forest set that looked like it had been there for years.  I kept wondering if something like a creature from a Lovecraft novel might jump out of the shadows.

Another unusual occurrence took place that goes in the category of contact with the HGA.  Our local promoter and producer, Joshua, offered to run some errands.  My small flashlight that I rely heavily upon was on the fritz and I asked for a replacement.  He came back saying that he'd looked for one in the store, but they had nothing.  When he came out, there was a guy there asking if anyone wanted a small pocket flashlight, and gave it to Joshua.  It was exactly what I'd requested, didn't cost a cent, and served well for the rest of the tour; thank-you, Coincidence Control!

The next concert landed in Washington, D.C, the heart of the insurrection.  This venue was a nondenominational church of some kind or maybe a church that had been deterritorialized from its native religion; no pews or altar props yet still the form and acoustics of a church.  It did have some beautiful stained glass windows filtering the light and the overall ambience of a Benedictine monastery.  The music from the show went another step up; the synergy of the musicians becoming greater each time.

 New England

The theater we played in Westbury, Connecticut is one of the oldest in America.  It had been saved, restored and its history kept alive by Paul Newman and his family some years before.  The walls in the hallway between the Green room and the dressing rooms were lined with publicity shots of performers who had worked there over the years - many, many stars.  I was most proud to be setting up on the same stage that Gene Wilder and Groucho Marx had graced.  The ghosts of actors past seemed to positively condition the present with the gravitas of serious theatrical tradition . The transcendental empiricism of this night's music altering moods and banishing all sorts of worries and concerns for a 2 1/2 hour timeless moment of presence.  I mixed this show from above, in the balcony.

The Boston concert was in a church that looked less secular.  The band played extremely well.  Simrit sounded very strong and expansive, reaching all dimensions. It's considered one of the best shows of the tour. During the concert, I walked upstairs to the balcony-like area to check the sound and was surprised to see a pair of women stretching out in yoga asanas, one of them in the Lion's Pose.

Return Home

We decamped from our hotel and drove down to New York City the day after playing Boston, going straight to Norfolk Street in the Lower East Side.  The venue was to be one of the best of the tour, the Angel Orensanz Foundation for the Arts located less than a block south of Houston Street (pronounced "house-ton," unlike the city in Texas).  It had a very heavy (meaning extremely light) vibe in the space.  It had been the oldest synagog in New York prior to reterritorializing as an Arts center for Special Events.  I had mixed this room before for the 1997 release party of Material's Seven Souls cd that included additional remixes.  Off the top of my head, the musicians that played that night included Bill Laswell, Laariji (electric zither),  Bill Buchen (tablas) and Nicky Skopelitis.  Russell Mills constructed a Light Sound Installation while the music played, and, befitting the bardo nature of Seven Souls, there was a good supply of the Moroccan delicacy, majoun on hand.  It had been a memorable evening, and for me in this space, a good omen for tonight's concert.

SIMRIT at Angel Orensanz, NY
photo by Theresa Banks

It often seems that performances in music centers like New York or Los Angeles become showcases for your peers in the business and tonight was no exception.  The stakes always seem a little higher.  I heard that the incredible singer, India Arie was in attendance.  A highly regarded vocal teacher was there.  My friend, percussionist Daniel Moreno took a break from producing Awa Sangho's next album to catch the show.  He had been invited by Salif.  Up and coming musicians will also drop in to check you out.  Riley Pinkerton and Henry Black, both of whom have new recordings being prepared for release, made it out.  The band delivered a moving and powerful concert.

The sound system was perhaps the most powerful on the tour as befitting a New York venue.  Again, I plugged in our desk to the venue's front end.  We also used our own stage monitors.  The house sound tech, Maidson, wanted me to set up the mix position by the side of the stage, he actually had a board for me there, but I easily persuaded him to let me set up in the room so that I could hear what I was mixing.

It felt great to be back in New York again! We had rooms at the same hotel in Chelsea where I had stayed for the Exploring the Hidden Music performance put together by Christopher Janney and Bill Laswell a year and a half before.  My top floor window had a great view of midtown Manhattan including the looming presence of the Empire State building (a bardo marker, for me) a mere eight blocks away, its crown illuminated by white spotlights.  The next morning, the top of that building disappeared from view due to a thick fog rolling in.  I walked about lower Manhattan, enjoying the sights, sounds, and vigorous energy of New York, making my way to St. Mark's Place to rendezvous with Riley for a visit.  She wasn't able to make it, but I was able to indulge in my latest favorite drug, matcha green tea latte, in a specialist tea shop called Physical Graffiti.  It got its name because it was in the center of a row of buildings photographed and graphically designed for the front cover of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti.  I stepped outside and took a look.  Sure enough, there was the foundation of the Led Zeppelin cover still recognizable after all these years.  Another bardo trigger: Physical Graffiti had been a gift from my stepmother on my fifteenth birthday.  It was wonderful coincidence that the matcha latte there remains the best one I've had to date.

The next big city performance would be in Toronto, but first a show in Ithaca, NY (not the long sought home of Odysseus in Ancient Greece) on the way north.  We dropped the equipment off at the theater then went out to find some lunch in the downtown outdoor mall area.  Maybe it was the contrast from the City that made the streets of Ithaca seem almost deserted.  The older, faded, colonial-style buildings and the ghostown-like ambience provided a very strong, bardoesque quality to the proceedings.  It felt like being on the set of a Twilight Zone episode, or Lost In Space when they encounter a simulated earth environment.  Another strange coincidence tipped me off: on the ride into downtown I read an anecdote about Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and the film Easy Rider from the book, Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Legendary Neighborhood, and as soon as I stepped out of the van, I spied a film theater down the road with Easy Rider on the marquee.  This timing made it seem that the book was projecting itself out of its pages in 3D.  Or maybe I had projected myself into the book and was partially living in that reality, that parallel Universe, as Robert Anton Wilson might speculate.  Even the lunch spot felt like a bardo chamber.  Part of it was under construction.  Construction areas almost always feel like bardo zones to me, buildings in transition, but that might be partially explained by my past history as an apprentice millwright.  After lunch we watched a street magician doing tricks and illusions on the mall.  Apart from the magician, we were the only people on the street

The theater felt like television studios I've been in without the big cameras.  The show felt quite intimate.  The rows of seats were tiered like a Roman or Greek amphitheater, so that even at the back, you felt like you were close, hovering over the band.  I tied into their speakers and the sound was quite good.  The intimacy of the space meant that the mix position was close to the mains for a change.  The sound system did give some push back to the invocation in the last half hour of the show with the loud distorted cry of an ailing speaker or amplifier.  It happened only about a half dozen times on certain transients, but it was loud in one area of the theater; an uninvited, random audio guest had joined us.  Both the theater's tech and I backed off on the volume which may have mitigated the problem. It didn't appear to interfere with the enjoyment of the concert.  I was a little frustrated and silently questioned why certain theaters couldn't get their sound together.  Then I remembered where I was and put it in perspective: there had been a lot less obstacles and we got to the home-space in Ithaca much quicker and easier than Odysseus had in the Illiad. 


Toronto is another city I love, though this was only my third time visiting.  Growing up in Calgary, Toronto became a kind of Promised Land where young bands could travel, put on a showcase in a local club, like the El Mocambo where the Stones played, and hopefully get signed by a major record label.  My first visit to T.O. was with such a band.  This time it was a sold-out concert in a small church just north of the Kensington Market area.  During one transition between songs, Simrit explained the origins of her elaborate head dress from the Minoan civilization of Ancient Crete.  She said that their remarkably advanced culture was guided by women who wore these head dresses when they met in council.  This is part of Simrit's biological lineage.  She connects and resonates with this ancient matriarchal wisdom communicating it through her being in the music. 

Whenever possible, I like to step out of the venue after soundcheck and go for a short exploratory walk to get a lay of the land; find out where we our situated in space/time, scope out the local environment.  R.U. Sirius recounts in Timothy Leary's Trip Through Time that Leary stressed the importance of being aware of your geographical coordinates at all times.  Where are you on the body of the Earth at this moment?  This seems especially important when constantly traveling, and also seems like good bardo voyaging advice.  I soon found myself in the Kensington Market district with its wide range of ethnic diversity reflected in the restaurants, food bars and shops.  I noticed a large white building prominently advertising itself as a medical marijuania dispensary which I thought a little bold, but then reflected that the mother of the current Prime Minister used to party with the Rolling Stones in Toronto.  I found a good hot matcha drink on the way back to the church to clear the mind  and invoke presence in preparation for the night's music.  

Our nomadic troop checked into a hotel late at night following the concert and loadout. We had the next day off.  I went out mid-morning for a long walk up Yonge Street, a walk I'd taken on my initial visit to this town.  The temperature was brisk, but not too cold if one kept to a vigorous pace.  A lot had changed in the 35 years since walking this way before.  It had an air of faded glory, like it had seen it's time, but the real action was now somewhere else.  I ended up walking over to the famed Maple Leaf Gardens which is like the Vatican, the holy shrine, to young Canadian kids growing up in the culture of ice hockey in the '60's, '70's and 80's.  Maple Leaf Gardens is to Toronto what Madison Square Garden is to New York, iconic spaces for special events - not only sports, they've both held their fair share of rock concerts.  Why "Gardens?" Maybe it suggests a space or a perception of primal paradise, perhaps the natural state after the ego programming gets temporarily dismantled and removed due to a powerful music event.  Back at the hotel, I noticed some construction zones where they were renovating some of the floors..

In Gurdjieff's scheme of things, to keep the intention of on ongoing process from going off course, one requires, at certain critical moments, an influx of energy or stimulus from something outside that process, or what he called a "shock."  These shocks, when they work, allow the process to pass through the critical final interval and reach the next octave.  I was fortunate to get this influx of energy in a big way when meeting up with my friends Terry, Lisa and Jody Tompkins, first at the SIMRIT concert, then again the next night over a delicious Japanese dinner.  Terry and Lisa are songwriters and musicians who have been in and around the Canadian music industry for many years.  Jody is a rising sound engineer star.  Their review of the concert was very positive.  They gave me some excellent feedback, particularly Lisa, who explained the importance of the reverb effects on Simrit's voice, something Simrit and I had spent time fine tuning.  Terry described a sense of blissfulness that the music guided him toward.  It was great to get this kind of educated viewpoint from people who know, and really appreciate diverse types of music and who are players themselves.

A large, Universalist Church was the site of our next concert in Ottawa.  A massive, working pipe organ took up the whole back wall behind the stage/altar area.  Most of the pipes were vertical except for a small row in the middle set on a horizontal plane.  I imagined them as small trumpets for the cherubim when they got really cooking.  The acoustics were amazing, quite possibly the best on the tour.  I took some moments to quietly sit in the space about an hour before the doors opened after almost everyone left for dinner.  Salif was playing his kora in an antechamber to the church we had reterritorialized as a concert space.  The door was open between the two rooms.  The kora has a soft, delicate sound when not amplified like a mezzo-piano African harp.  Yet the reverberations in the large room from the kora's indirect sound filled it with a distant, guiding refrain.  A sound promising a distant road home.

These glorious acoustics inspired me to relay a memory to Simrit of seeing a Canadian hippie folksinger named Valdy play the Jubilee Auditorium many years ago.  Valdy had departed from the form of his first song to vocally improvise like scat singing, almost yodeling at times.  He apologized to the audience afterwards saying it was a rare treat to have golden acoustics like these to bounce his voice off of.  It seemed like Simrit really stretched out that night taking full advantage of the room's natural sound.  To my perception, SIMRIT, the collective assemblage, went to a whole new level, breaking out of a certain stasis to try different things, taking more musical risks. A moderate snow storm didn't keep the hardy souls of Ottawa away.  It did make loading out a little trickier especially when it became apparent that this was the perfect weather for a snowball fight.

A club called Lion d'Ors in Montreal was our next and last stop on the tour.  It was unique for being the only venue that wasn't a church, theater or an amorphous performance space.  It was a cabaret.   I experienced one more incident of Coincidence Control providing extraordinary help.  The power supply for Simrit's  "in ear" monitor system had gone missing. It would be much more difficult for Simrit to hear herself without it, the whole band would have to adjust.  It seemed that musically the shows had climbed another notch each time.  I was concerned that this issue would throw that evolution off course.  We tried another power supply, but it was the wrong voltage and didn't work.  It was a Sunday and the music stores weren't open yet.  I mentioned this to the house sound tech.  He took a look through the flotsam and jetsam of spare cables, turn-arounds, and adaptors, and found a power supply that worked.  Another band had left it behind, he had no use for it so he gave it to us. A crisis and major inconvenience averted.

This was our only afternoon show though the nightclub ambience and shuttered windows made it seem like it could have been any time after the show began.  I took a quick walk around the neighborhood and discovered the Sacre Coeur church just down the street.  Across from that, a little further down, was the modest Sacre Coeur medical clinic.  This was another bardo marker for me.  I had begun my experiments recording the ambience of sacred spaces at the Basilica du Sacre Coeur in Paris in 1990 as a way of investigating the use of sound for bardo navigation.  At the time, I didn't know enough French to translate "sacre coeur" and had only chosen it because its prominence in the Parisian skyline showed it to be an interesting piece of architecture.

It was yet another stellar concert by SIMRIT.  I perceived it as a continuation of the level of quality they reached in Ottawa.  After the show, an attractive woman, one of the volunteers, approached and asked if she could help me in any way.  I said, " no, I was good," whereupon she excxlaimed, "this was the best sound I ever heard.  She qualified this extravagant statement by saying that she had worked in the music biz for twenty years with artists like Led Zeppelin (the L.Z. refrain again) and Jethro Tull, and had a close friendship with Robert Plant.  I was grateful to hear this comment and attributed it to the ecstatic place the music had brought her to - you know, that place where everything is the best you've ever experienced.

I don't know the effect SIMRIT's music had on the current American political regime, it's not measurable.  I did have direct personal experience on several occasions of people being profoundly moved such as Robert Plant's friend.  For a brief period of time, during these eleven concerts, a portal had been opened into another dimension, i.e. another way to measure space and time, taking them out of the world-illusion of egos, countries, and the grinding capitalist machine  (the Trump regime) to connect with something real.  This is The Resistance.  Peace.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Finnegans Wake and Music

Waywords and Meaningsigns is an ongoing project run by Derek Pyle that invites musicians and sound artists to construct a piece of music or create an audio environment of some kind set to a passage from Finnegans Wake.  The deadline for the 20017 edition is looming, it's May 4th -  I am late in getting this posted - but there's still time for a submission.  As those familiar with this epic work know, Finnegans Wake, apart from including actual songs with musical notation, has many passages that sound like music when read aloud.  At times, it seems that James Joyce places more value in the rhythm, sounds and implied melodies the words make, relegating their meaning to a secondary role.  James Joyce was an accomplished singer who had the literary ability to sing through his text.

This amazing project follows the hallowed footsteps of no less a musical icon than John Cage who composed Roarotorio, an Irish circus on Finngeans Wake.  I intend to participate though my submission will be for next year's edition.

I plugged in the word "music" to a Finnegans Wake concordance and this was the first entry, from page 48:

a choir of the O'Daley O'Doyles doublesixing
the chorus in Fenn Mac Call and the Seven Feeries of Loch Neach
Galloper Troller and Hurleyquinn the zitherer of the past with his
merrymen all, zimzim, zimzim.  Of the persins sin this Eyrawyg-
gla saga (which thorough readable to int from and, is from tubb 
to bottom all falsetissues, antilibellous and nonactionable and this
apllies to its whole wholume) of poor Osti-Fosti, described as 
quite a musical genius in a small way and the owner of an
exceedingly niced ear, with tenorist voice to match, not alone,
but a very major poet of the poorly meritary order (he began
Tuonisonian but worked his passage up as far as the we-all-
hang-together Animandovites) no end is known.

Text like this almost begs for musical accompaniment to frame and enhance the music already there.

Here is the official press release about the project:

A diverse cast of musicians, readers, and artists are creating what may be the year's most innovative musical-literary project: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake set to music. 

An ongoing project with over 100 contributors from 15 different countries, Waywords and Meansigns features original music and readings from punk rock icon Mike Watt, Mercury Rev veterans Jason Sebastian Russo and Paul Dillon, Joe Cassidy of Butterfly Child, psych-rockers Kinski, vocalist Phil Minton, poet S.A. Griffin, Martyn Bates of Eyeless in Gaza, Little Sparta with Sally Timms (Mekons) and Martin Billheimer, composer Seán Mac Erlaine, Schneider TM, and many more.

“James Joyce basically invented his own language when writing Finnegans Wake,” explains project director Derek Pyle. “It's the kind of thing that demands creative approaches — from jazz and punk musicians to sound artists and modern composers, each person hears and performs the text in a way that’s totally unique and endlessly exciting.”

With the 2017 release debuting on May 4, Waywords and Meansigns utilizes their independent digital platform to make Joyce’s text more accessible to 21st century audiences. Waywords and Meansigns also aims to release future musical recordings of Finnegans Wake on an ongoing basis — interested individuals are encouraged to contact project director Derek Pyle. All audio from the project is distributed freely under Creative Commons licensing at www.waywordsandmeansigns.com

Waywords and Meansigns: Recreating Finnegans Wake in its whole wholume. James Joyce's Finnegans Wake set to music unabridged. Musical adaptation audiobook.