THEIR MASTER’S VOICE: the impact of Pandit Pran Nath on Western minimalists, by Peter Lavezzoli (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

Terry Riley and Pandit Pran Nath relaxing at the Houston Astrodome, 1981. Photo courtesy Marcus Boon.


The life, work and astounding impact of North Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath, guru to Western minimalists La Monte Young and Terry Riley.

By Peter Lavezzoli

Excerpted from  The Dawn of Indian Music in the West by Peter Lavezzoli by permission of the Continuum International Publishing Group.

On Sunday, July 13, 2003, an intimate audience congregated at the Community Music Center in Portland, Oregon, to hear a vocal recital of North Indian ragas on a full-moon night. On the riser were a pair of tablas, two tambouras, and a sarangi, situated around a cushion reserved for the vocalist. When the audience was seated, Terry Riley, father of repetitive electronic music, entered in full Indian dress, followed by his accompanists. After making their bows to the audience, the musicians were seated. Riley announced that it was the evening of Guru Purnima, a sacred holiday celebrated in India and throughout the world. Every year on the full moon of July, students and disciples pay homage to their respective gurus and celebrate the spirit of the ancient guru Vyasa, the Indian saint who edited the Vedas and authored the Puranas and Upanishads. It is a day of gratitude for the teacher’s guidance along the spiritual path. Although a disciple gives thanks to his or her guru throughout the year, Guru Purnima is a special observance of all gurus past, present and future.

This performance concluded several days in Portland, where Riley gave a series of vocal classes. Tonight, Riley would sing in honor of Pandit Pran Nath, who brought North Indian vocal music to the West. A month earlier, two of Riley’s longtime friends and fellow disciples of Pran Nath, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, gave a similar vocal recital in their New York City loft: an annual memorial concert held every June in honor of Pran Nath, who passed away seven years earlier on June 13, 1996.

Riley resurrected his guru with a performance of evening ragas, his sonorant voice resonating throughout the hall. The meticulous manner in which Riley manifests each raga stems from his training with Pran Nath; at the same time, it is pure Terry Riley. Riley’s raga is a natural extension of his definitive minimalist composition In C, his extended keyboard improvisations such as A Rainbow in Curved Air, or his string quartets such as Salome Dances for Peace. On a fundamental level, each of these works reflects the same spirit of creating magic through sound, transporting the listener out of linear time and into a realm of transcendent beauty. In tonight’s case, Riley was working with the oldest and most intimate instrument in music: the human voice.

It is no coincidence that Riley and La Monte Young committed 26 years to the study of North Indian vocal music with Pran Nath. The music that became known in the West as minimalism often shared the aims of Indian classical music: a cyclical approach to rhythm and melody; a sense that both performer and audience are involved in a transformative ritual that induces trance; an emphasis on purity of tone and precision of tuning; and an investigation into the nature of sound itself. For Young and Riley, the arrival of Pran Nath was a confirmation of principles already evident in their work, but Pran Nath also guided them to the next step.

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Terry Riley and Pandit Pran Nath relaxing at the Houston Astrodome, 1981.

Photo courtesy Marcus Boon. Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006) to accompany the 5-page article “Master of Breath: The life, work and inspiration of Pandit Pran Nath, guru to Western minimalists La Monte Young and Terry Riley” by Peter Lavezzoli, an excerpt from his book The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Arthur No. 22 is available for $5 from the Arthur Store

“Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch” by Peter Relic (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)


Rage, Rage Against the Stuffing of the Couch
Two poets delve deep into worlds of work and non-work


Alex Mitchell
Life Is A Phantom K-Mart Horse Starting Up In The Middle Of The Night
(Yahara Design Press, Madison, WI)

John Tottenham
The Inertia Variations
(Kerosene Bomb Publishing, Los Angeles)

If their styles couldn’t be more contrary, they do have one thing in common: poets Alex Mitchell (neckburned nailgun grindhouse tripper) and John Tottenham (couch-crowned prince of lethargy) have both created, by force of will or resigned declension, their own poetic form.

Mitchell is a rock’n’roll addicted sweetly emotional fellow traveler. His poems are as much about himself as the characters they co-star: a mushroom-juicing buddy from back in Pompano Beach with a suicidal brother; a friendly transvestite crackwhore outside a Hollywood 7-11. He is as much of the barroom as he is anti-boardroom, his impulsive tales [impulsions] leading us through corners of associative memory emotional and imagistic. There is a lot of power in his poems—they inspire you to write, my highest praise. In a poem called “if penguins could talk” Mitchell is a bruiser with a bruised heart (“once a speedfreak, always a speedfreak,” he writes) trying to quit Starbuck’s. After going without coffee for two weeks (“although I was feeling better physically I was jonesing for a blast”) he caves: “I greedily slammed down some of / evil black poison.” And then he’s off on a tale that goes for five pages.

Tottenham’s eight line withdrawals from ambition barely give the reader time to get out of bed, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. A resigned indentation is what he wishes to leave (if he aspires to anything at all). In poems like “Time Moves, But Not I” and “I’m Not Tired,” he discharges himself of will, while subtly sublimating his own state of stagnation. He declares he lacks the energy required to laugh, and one chuckles. The brief nature of his poems allow him to maintain the guise that he isn’t doing shit—but when you read them together, you feel the import of the block he pushes up against the eternal pyramid of poetic ambition, and one realizes: all progress is incremental…to the point of imperceptibility..despite any onanistic self-recrimination.

“Weird Shit’s Still Going Down: Notes From Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 2006” by Gabe Soria (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

Our tipsy author, right, with fellow revelers at the Rex Parade, Mardi Gras morning.

Weird Shit’s Still Going Down: Notes From Mardi Gras in New Orleans, 2006
By Gabe Soria

I’ve been in love with New Orleans since the day in May, 1993 when I first set foot on its soil. Since then, I’ve been a resident of the city three times and have gone back over and over when I wasn’t. Mardi Gras, for all its faults and gross public image, is important to New Orleans residents and expatriates alike, so when the chance came to visit my city for the first time after Katrina during Carnival, I jumped at it, but not without some second-guessing trepidation. What follows are rough impressions of my experience being back in town from Saturday, February 25 through Mardi Gras to March 1, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent…

Touching Down
Disembarking from the plane and already the Twilight Zone schisms from reality are apparent. This scene happens in the first couple minutes of the episode, the part right before the credits when the Rod Serling voice-over comes in and lets the viewing audience know that some crazy shit is about to go down. What’s Louis Armstrong International without its perpetually open souvenier stands and ersatz French Quarter bars? Too much like the Salt Lake City airport, that’s what. Outgoing passengers ain’t got nowhere to buy their last minute cans of Tony Chachere’s seasoning, authentic cookbooks or Hurricane mix. Incoming passengers don’t have anything, except for the baggage claim, and that is hardly a picnic. Everybody seems a bit hunted, a bit guilty.

Nothing makes you realize how much you’ve given up until someone’s taken away the lights, and the “Arriving Flights” underpass of Louis Armstrong International is a third world kick in the nuts: the absence of ambient light is palpable, and the illumination provided by taxis, shuttles and pick-up cars feels like interrogation by headlight. At the same time, though, it’s kinda eerily beautiful, as though everything is powered by steam and gaslight. We hear later that they’re still working to restore normal power. The airport of a major American city still doesn’t have full power six months after a disaster? What the fuck is going on here, I ask myself, resigning myself to joining the chorus of people asking that same question.

T-Shirt Slogans
The town is aswarm with bootleg political shirts, jockeying for space in Decatur Street tourists shops with your typical novelty T-shirts about states of tequila intoxication. Most of these shirts feature embattled mayor Ray Nagin in Photoshopped Willy Wonka drag, making some sort of sport about his now infamous Martin Luther King Day “Chocolate City” speech, possibly the biggest effect a George Clinton song’s ever had on the political scene. React how you want to the speech—reading a transcript in retrospect, it’s obvious to this writer at least that Mr. Nagin’s frustration with his black contemporaries left him feeling a bit loose at the mouth, but I ain’t mad at him—you can’t help but realize that there’s a little bit of smug racism at the core of the these shirt’s makers, that they finally feel justified at putting the screws to a black mayor who, admittedly, said some dumb-ass shit. But then I realize an important fact: I don’t think I’d ever really want to hang out with someone who wears their politics, left or right or straight up centrist, on their literal shirt-sleeve. I mean, I’m all for band t-shirt propaganda, but this? Nah. One T-shirt maker has gone the extra satire mile, though: for sale at the Circle Bar are “Ernie K-Doe for Mayor” tees, featuring the smiling face of the late and lamented Emperor of the Universe. Bumper stickers can be had, too. One drunken night, I find myself fervently wishing that K-Doe wins in a write in. In the storied history of corrupt Louisiana politics, the election of a deceased and much loved R&B singer has got to be an improvement.

Chased on a Bike
Weird shit’s still going down, though. On a perfectly fine afternoon, the wife and I mount bikes to ride down to a parade to meet a friend. Normally, yours truly is a bit more savvy about the safe routes to travel, but the hurricane-depleted lack of population has thrown me for a loop. Why not take a jaunt down a clear street a block closer to the river? The answer becomes clear when we make a left on Josephine Street towards St. Charles. A group of kids—12 to 14, black—are hanging out in front of a corner grocery/liquor store and begin shouting out warnings about how “Y’all don’t know where you ridin'”, etc., etc., and one kid’s bold enough to do a little mock run after the wife, who’s trailing behind on a too-small borrowed bike. The kid’s pursuit is half-assed, and he stops almost as soon as he starts, but it’s a neon-lights reminder that New Orleans is still a fucked-up place, race-wise.

In fact, this little incident is an anomaly. While statistics may not prove me right, the general impression one gets during Mardi Gras is of détente, peace. Sure, fratboys might get beaten down by cops along Bourbon Street after one Huge-Ass beer too many, but for the rank and file of the city, a “we’re all in this together and ain’t it fine” feeling pervades, usually. If you say “Happy Mardi Gras,” to anybody, they respond in kind, and mean it. But this little incident… well, they’re kids, so it doesn’t really mean much. It means that they’re acting like they think they’re supposed to act; it means that they actually think that their corner store is something to be protected; it means that they’ve learned that being young and black and aggressive can freak the fuck out of people going about their own business. Still, it’s days before I can stop picturing kicking the kid’s head in if he tried to touch the wife, and my subsequent murder at the hands of his numerous cronies. Yikes.

The 9th Ward Marching Band
Not that it needed saving by anybody, but the wife’s and my Mardi Gras is definitely given a soul-rousing boost by seeing the Mr. Qunitron-led 9th Ward Marching Band parade with the Krewe of Proteus on Lundi Gras night. For the uninitiated, Quintron and his wife Ms. Pussycat were and remain the owners and operators of the Spellcaster Lodge, a house/venue located on St. Claude Avenue in the 9th Ward. They’re both musicians, as well as puppeteers. Long time fixtures of the weird underground of New Orleans, they’re more like good spirit elementals rather than impeccably dressed scenesters, which they are as well. The 9th Ward Marching Band started as a loose-knit, almost renegade marching assemblage, but over the years they’ve gotten their weird act together, and while sharp and somewhat professional, they still make the squares nervous. While watching them march in their smart red and white outfits, playing “Rock me Like a Hurricane,” I notice that the crowd lining the parade route is going BANANAS for them. Everybody can feel that this ain’t no sarcastic, ironic hipster bulllshit—it’s true American weirdness and beauty at its finest. But you can also tell that they make some folks delightfully nervous. This can probably be best attributed to the bands in-between, resting music. When there’s a lull in their routine and things calm down, the 9WMB’s glockenspiel players start tapping out the theme from the slasher film “Halloween,” with the tubas coming in every now and then to deliver an ominous “bruuummmmmm.” It’s the film score equivalent of the fabled brown sound—you can tell by the looks on people’s faces that they recognize the minor key tune, and they like it, but don’t like it at the same time. It’s a brilliant moment, and I want to buy whoever thought of it a beer or ten.

The Dead Zone
The night of Lundi Gras finds the wife and I and our friends Judson and Courtney taking a shortcut on a drive downtown to hit a Quintron/Peaches show. The shortcut takes us through the area of town known and Mid-City, where Courtney lived previous to Katrina. Her new home features a handful of possessions salvaged from her house and cleaned of mold, but she’s basically begun anew. But driving through her old neighborhood… yikes. Once you get a few blocks off St. Charles, heading away from the river, a frightening change takes over the streets. They’re empty. They’re dark. Everything looks haunted and miserable. A few FEMA trailers are parked here and there, and on occasion someone seems to have managed to get a porch light working, but on the whole, it feels as if we’ve driven directly in a George Romero zombie flick. Any moment now I expect to see a shambling corpse slouch into the street, attempting to suck the brains out of our car’s passengers. No such thing happens, of course, but I am glad when we eventually make a right turn onto relatively populated, lighted Esplanade. The fact that a few moments earlier I was half-joking about wishing I was armed with a shotgun kinda makes me want to cry. I’ve NEVER wanted a gun in New Orleans, not even in my worse moments.

Mardi Gras Day (and on into the night)
Mardi Gras morning rolls around and all seems to be aback to normal in the city, at least for a few hours. Working on a few hours of sleep, the wife and I roll out of bed and into our costumes (I’m going as a jerk dressed in a jumpsuit and furry cap; the wife’s going the classy route by masquerading as a magical French schoolgirl). Walking over to St. Charles, we begin to see a parade of friends walk by; everybody seems to be well on their way to drunk before noon, but nobody’s got a mean buzz on. It’s all hugs, everywhere. Families lining the filthy parade route in their chairs and ladders look bleary-eyed and happy. When Rex starts to roll, you see people catching beads… and handing them to little old ladies and kids next to them. Everybody’s saying, “Hey, darlin’,” and “Excuse me,” and you’d be hard-pressed to spot your usual line of sweaty guys being led plastic-cuffed into a paddywagon (though I’m sure it’s happening somewhere—you can’t buck tradition in one year). The hours melt away—at one point, the wife and I are eating hamburgers with friends, the next, we’re at our home base eating red beans and rice cooked with a nice hamhock, the next, we’re being dropped off downtown. But by the time the Morning 40 Federation hits the stage at Checkpoint Charlie’s for their annual Mardi Gras night show, as the festival comes to its natural inevitable end, the feeling in the air is undeniably powerful, completely ecstatic. You can feel the desperate urge in the club to let loose, to raise one’s arms high above and scream. And as the Federation lurches into their first amplified ode to boozing and 9th Ward living, everybody in the room does exactly that. I’m grinning from ear to ear—it’s the feedback and the beer, most definitely—but it’s also the hope and love I’m seeing right now, that I’ve seen all weekend. Sure, folks are cynical and tired, but they still believe, much more so than I think anybody else in any city would or could, for they know that’s there’s an ineffable something to New Orleans, something that just can’t and won’t quit, ever.

C and D: Two fellas reason together about some new records (Arthur No. 22/May 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

C and D: Two fellas reason together about some new records

D: We have some severe time and space restrictions today because there’s 25 records to examine and I only brought four beers.
C: [disbelieving] I told you all week.
D: Yes, well. We’ll have to be efficient and precise, like the German defense.
C: Always with the soccer metaphors when he’s supposed to bring the beer.
D: [looks at stack of CDs] Hmm, I like this pitch. [smiles broadly, uncaps a Foster’s] Come on man! It’s time for kickoff.

The Real Thing: In Performance, 1964-1981 DVD
D: Marvin Gaye, the sweetpeacelovevibetenormaster of all time.
C: Sometimes things really are essential, and this nine-dollar DVD is one of those times. Or things. Anyways, the reason I’ve been watching this all week long is pretty obvious. There’s nobody like Marvin, no one even close; it’s a blessing just to watch him lip synch.
D: [grabs DVD case] Give me that. Especially when it’s Marvin duetting with Tammi Terrell at something called “Swinging Sounds of Expo 67,” singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in a futuristic phone booth under a plastic dome with a people mover going by in the background.
C: Look at those Dentyne smiles. It’s like a commerical for some future utopia where they are the fertility king and queen.
D: [thoughtfully] A world where you’re not afraid to have a baby
C: Hey, you’ll like this: the a capella option lets you hear Marvin singing in the shower.
D: No it doesn’t.
C: Okay it’s actually just isolated studio tracks. Beautiful. He really can make you swoon with just a voice and a snapped finger. That’s all he needed.
D: Very efficient.
C: “War is not the answer/for only love can conquer hate… we’ve go to find a way/to get some understanding here today”—man, if you sing that today, you’re called a master of the obvious, and yet maybe it’s only a lovesinger who can bring the super-commentary that lasts. He reminds us there’s better things to do with our time.
D: [musing] Lovers and poets make the best peace advocates.
C: This is footage from the film Save the Children—
D: —which should be released on DVD immediately—
C: —which includes live renditions of “What’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother” from a 1972 concert where they did the whole album, and you get Marvin at the piano and the legendary James Jamerson on bass guitar.
D: [sipping beer] Unbelievable. Total butterland.
C: Total ethnographic film of Black America in the early ‘70s: broken windowed skylines and gang grafitti, soul food joints and black pride bookstores, men in dashikis, women in flares and kids in corduroys with spaghetti on their faces, street basketball and barbecue, balloons and checker pants and sweaters.
D: Excellent fashion!
C: He sings like his voice is a horn—and his voice actually has the grain of one. So amazing. Plus there’s multiple appearances on the Dinah Shore show—[notices puzzled D]—that was an afternoon TV show for bored housewives back in the ‘70s.
D: That was the time before they started making all the women work all the time too, in addition to the men. What happened?
C: [ignoring] He talks about What’s Goin On: “I don’t recall much about making it. I feel it was very personal, very divine. I don’t hardly remember writing the songs, it was like I was in some sort of other dimension when we did it, so I know it was a very spiritual.” We could spend weeks talking about everything on here: the polyester jumpsuit future-Chic-soul-P-funk—
D: Somewhere The Juan Maclean is crying.
C: —about getting down on the moon with floor fog that is the promotional video for “A Funky Space Reincarnation”— “COME ON BABY, let’s go peace loving and check out this new smoke/Naw this thing I got, it ain’t classified as dope/Smoke I got from Venus/Have had it all week, it’s getting old/come on and try this new thing with me baby….”
D: This song is my new national anthem.
C: And your new wardrobe, if the world is lucky.

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BULL TONGUE by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore from Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

first published in Arthur No. 22 (May, 2006)

Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore

Richard Youngs opened the new year with a sweet drop on the Jagjaguwar label, The Naïve Shaman. It’s hard to tell where Youngs is going to go with each release. The dude travails in more numerous far-out tundras than mere mortals can only hope to experientially glimpse in a single lifetime. And lucky for us, he docu-records these tripped excursions. This is one of his more excellent forays—with percolating electronic bass guitar and frazzed guitar spuzz creating beds for lyrics of gentle fire thought.

And Jagjaguwar has other new goodnesses in LP form. Pink Mountaintops’ Axis of Evol is another nice Funhouse/Barrett blend from Canada with a dollop of Bob Dylan blues overlays. Parts & Labor’s Stay Afraid only has its CD version on Jagjaguwar, the LP is actually on Cardboard Records. But we’re sure it sounds best on vinyl, so hear its beautifully spazzed prog-pummel in that format and you’ll be happiest. It has been said that these Chicagoites sound best when they’re instrumental, but the yammer here is really quite pleasing. Lastly, there’s an Oneida/Plastic Crimewave split pairing Brooklyn muzz-harmonics with the metallic kraut shimmy of Chicago to surprisingly wonderful effect. On a related note, Oneida’s Kid Millions guests on the new LP by Ex Models. Dunno if that’s the reason that Chrome Panthers (Troubleman Unlimited) is such a lovely chalice of prog-raunch aggression, but it’s a possibility. Still, Troubleman’s best recent Brooklyn-related release must remain Mouthus’ Slow Globes LP. Spaced as they sound on this platter, the duo always stuns.

From a kozmik holler betwixt Massachusetts and Vermont comes the second release by The Bummer Road, Suncatcher Mountain (Child of Microtones). It’s in all ways a patient (‘though not without underlying stovetop rage) unfolding wind of charm-soul music. Each of these CDs is handmade with paper finger love in an edition of 99. Gorgeous. Paper finger love is just what brims from the new issue of Sleep Tight, as well. The content is mostly single page illustrations this time, and the visuals have really jumped up a notch on the intensity scale. They’re much more disturbed and quite bodacious—just the kind of thing to read when you’re deep inside your personal holler.

It’s been too long since we’ve scratched our heads to an Idea Fire Company record and out of nowhere lands this hot rock—Stranded (Swill Radio). We were sick excited, thinking maestro Scott Foust was treating us to a new-mind rendition of Roxy Music’s uber-classic. And this time surrounding hisself not only with his lovely betrothed Karla Borecky, but the twin dyna-beautyism of Feathers’ Meara O’Reilly and The Believers’ Jessi Leigh Swenson. Indeed it is obvious that Roxy Music circa ’71 is a primo informant for Foust aesthetically, but what IFC toss off here is from a whole other inner glam strata. Boss minimalism and true star experimentalism (O’Reilly plays pencil on one track, yeah!) make this one of the coolest blasts from Swill Radio’s “The Anti Naturals” community ever.

Taurpis Tula is David Keenan (guitar) and Heather Leigh Murray (vocals, pedal steel)—proprietors of UK distribution wonderland Volcanic Tongue—abetted by drummer Alex Nielson (who’s played with Jandek, Directing Hand). They’ve released a couple of fine dark drift noise docs, most notably the LP Sparrows (Eclipse) from a year or two back. Since Nielsen joined them on skins they’ve really let their brain-muse glowingly expand and it’s all there in a fine smoosh of Scottish spotted dick and Texas BBQ on the newly minted I Can’t be Satisfied / Kingdoms Come to Birth CDR (American Tapes). Angel vision vox celebrate rising noise cloud guitar/amp and free fire drumming action to blast forth a wholly glorious spontaneity. Ruling, and the CDR is one of two, the other being label boss John Olson’s ongoing zap journey sound world endubbed Spykes. Can’t miss.

There’s a good, funny interview with Olson (by Since 1972 label honcho, Drew Demeter) in the debut issue of a great new ‘zine called Ong Ong. It also features a CD of Yann Novak field recordings, and words on Jennifer Gentle, Sublime Frequencies, a useful (if small) guide to European beers and a lovely silkscreened cover. Very eye worthy. It’s available from dragon’s eye.

A couple of nice spurts from two distinctive Carsons. First Carson being Carson Cistulli who has published a staple-bound book called Assorted Fictions (The Chuckwagon), which is an amusing collection of paragraphs steeped in sardonic philosophies—gentle, absurd and always with a slight bite. To wit: “On May 3rd 1993, Pierre Boulez asked the question, ‘Does the Zeitgeist even exist?’ You’d call it poetic justice, I guess, if the Zeitgeist said the same about Pierre Boulez. Unfortunately, this won’t ever happen: the Zeitgeist is an abstract concept and possesses no faculty of speech.”

The other Carson is Carson Arnold out of Vermont with his musical foray, Starbird, releasing a debut CDR on his boss-looking Frost label. Starbird is Carson and his wife Becky and they’ve recorded a beautiful personalized soundtrack to the 1922 Robert Flaherty film Nanook of the North. Great, yet modest, swooshes of thought-tone composition. A second Frost release called chorals has just landed and it’s Carson doing “all voice,” though you’d be hard-pressed sometimes guessing some of these tracks are voice as source as they are waaaaay out there in the processed sound world. But it has an organic maple-like blend keeping it close and real to the earth.

Believe it or not, New Jersey is spearheading some new excitement on the noise band scene, particularly with the dark and dogjaw blasting skuzzicity of acts like 2673 and Ladderwoe. We’re just guessing Ladderwoe is part of this scene as they seem to be connected via Larry Hernandez of Scientific Explanation Of Despair and Dave Sutton of Current Amnesia, both of whom we think are Jersey freaks. Whatever. Who cares where they’re from? They’re all seemingly pals and have a certain united aesthetic towards grey noise felch which’s pretty damn jake in its wretch. Ladderwoe, in particular, have knocked our asses to the ice with their latest killer, Rowboat Virgins on the Water (Bone Tooth Horn). What sounds like overgrown kittens mewling through rusted vocorders in a bag of Don Dietrich’s chomped-to-shit reeds develops into tight and tense improvisations that really have that freaked edge so often missing from newcomer noise mung. Exciting shit on a label that seems bent on exposing more along these lines. They already have a handful of cool jammers from Asps, Human Adult Band, Penis In Vagina, Gerritt, the aforementioned 2673 and a sizzler from L.A.’s busy busy busy The Cherry Point. Totally recommended.

Bennifer Editions is a label outta Canada run by the fine fuck-noise gang who roam the Canuck basement world as Gastric Female Reflex. Some nice CDR puh has been squirted by such legendary groovesters as id m theftable, Brian Ruryk and Witcyst, but the label’s sweaty hands-down mama-mia disk is the beautifully OUT THERE jammer by Tovah Olson. This is Tovah making moves both classic Dead Machines style and altogether beyond what we’ve come to expect—sheer heart grenade and supremely killer. Another sweet meat Bennifer Edition expulsion is the 7” by Pan Dolphinic Dawn which is pretty much just James Ferraro, he being of groove n’ ‘grease spatial harmony heavies, Skaters. Rich, textured and lo fidelity lovely. Gastric Female Reflex themselves have unleashed their first vinyl LP, Lovers in the Midst of Eating Fries (Bennifer Editions/Absurd/Gold Soundz/Humbug), and it’s a beeyootiful earful of sput n’ blonk not too unlike Prick Decay’s Very Good LP from moons back. A-side starts with a pencil point jabbed in your vestibular cochlear nerve and the B-side ends with a gorgeous femme hum with magnetic tape wave wash.

Third issue of new oversized art rag called ANP Quarterly is out and it’s pretty badass. It’s a freebie, edited by skate/zonk artist Ed Templeton, super Dogg and Pony visionary Brendon Fowler and Aaron Rose who runs the rogue Alleged Gallery. Alleged was the place, no matter where it was, that we first encountered such art babes as Mark Gonzales and Chris Johanson. Johanson and his wife, fellow artist Jo Jackson, grace this issue’s cover with their dog Raisin. Inside is full-on interviews with them by Rose, a piece on collecting by Templeton, a review of book stores that rule, and an interview with ex-Scissor Girl Azita, which alone should make you hunt this sucker down. It’s filled with nice layouts of new art and photo miasma. The previous issue with Raymond Pettibon on the cover was as choice. In the same vein are a couple more great homemade books by Matt Chambers, combining text, squibbly line drawings (often based on photos) and beautifully surrealist weevil to massive effect. These ones are called I Taught Myself to Survive and Warm Pessamisum (Hello Trudi), but there are certainly more by now. And they surely RULE!

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The Center for Applied Magic(k): DONUT POWER (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (April 2006)

Applied Magic(k): Donut Power
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Although people often associate the word “occult” with secret magical orders, demon-worshipers and ancient alchemical scrawlings, its root definition is simply “secret, concealed, or hidden.” But strangely enough, “occult” is rarely associated with those who are perhaps most invested in secrets and concealments: that is, government, military, corporations and even performing magicians. Perhaps this popular tendency to view “occultism” through an anachronistic mist is ultimately a concealment of its own accord.

If we regard an occult force as “that which is hidden,” it should come as no surprise to realize that we are constantly surrounded by the occult. Everywhere we look we don’t see it…at least not at first. Otherwise it wouldn’t be occult; it would be obvious and apparent. Unseen forces are indeed at play all around us. We often fail to recognize their presence for any number of reasons: the forces may seem insignificant to the situation, we are distracted by other factors, etc. Whether one favors ritual magick or performing magic, the first challenge is to recognize which forces are present, hidden or otherwise.

Fortunately, occult forces sometimes have a funny way of revealing themselves. In 2001, members of the Center for Tactical Magic were enjoying a leisurely tromp through downtown San Francisco with a few thousand other people protesting the 21st Century’s first major display of government occultism: George W. Bush’s inauguration. At the end of the trolley line at Powell and Market, the march lost momentum and gradually slowed to a jiggle. Some protesters scurried into cafes to get their latte fixes while others started break-dancing to boom boxes in the streets. Meanwhile, riot police began to huddle in the doorways of the GAP. There were other big department stores and icons of global capitalism nearby, but for reasons unknown the GAP seemed to be getting the bulk of police attention. (Perhaps it was one of those rare instances where Power reveals itself, as if the cops were hinting, “You’re already gathered to fight injustice, you might as well protest conformist fashion produced by sweatshop labor, too.”) At first, no one seemed to care, except possibly the few shoppers who hurried away at the first signs (namely, armored cops) that something might be amiss. Gradually though, activists seemed to take to the idea, and soon a small group settled down at the feet of the police line to sip their lattes and eat their lunches.

Please see exhibit A, the photo we’ve provided for your entertainment…

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Jeremy Narby on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us (Arthur, 2006)

Canadian-Swiss anthropologist JEREMY NARBY on what hallucinogens like LSD and the Amazonian drink ayahuasca have to teach us

Introduction by Erik Davis
Q & A by Jay Babcock
Illustration by Arik Roper

Originally published in Arthur No. 22/May 2006

by Erik Davis

The anthropologist and author Jeremy Narby hit the intellectual freak scene in 1998 when he published The Cosmic Serpent, an audacious, intriguing, and entertaining dose of righteous mind candy that grew out of his decades-long explorations—both personal and scholarly—of the ayahuasca-swilling tribes of the upper Amazon. A Canadian living in Switzerland—at least when he’s not researching in the jungle or working on indigenous rights—Narby is no bug-eyed hippie prophet of “the tea.” He is a grounded, sensible fellow with a dry wit, an unromantic but respectful view of shamanism, and an allergy to vaporous supernatural claims. (In Europe he also sometimes performs with the guys behind the Young Gods, a seminal Swiss industrial band that led the Wax Trax pack back in the day.) While Narby’s head has definitely been broken open, his book does not spend a lot of time on the “spiritual” import of the jungle brew. Instead, Narby focuses on one of the biggest claims made by the Amazonian shamans: that their ritual ingestion of the hallucinogenic brew not only brought them contact with the spirits of animals and healing forces, but actually gave them knowledge—actual data—about the workings of the jungle around them.

After all, some sort of weird data transfer is going on in the jungle (though its hard to say it reaches the increasing numbers of spiritual tourists who are now hustling down to the Amazon and transforming shamanic culture with first world dollars). The existence of ayahuasca itself may be one of the greatest mysteries. Ayahuasca is not one plant, but a relatively complex brew that requires a fair amount of preparation. How did the old ones know that, out of the 80,000 some species of plants in the jungle, only this vine, combined with that shrub, and then boiled down into black gook, can produce the mother of all trips (not to mention some grade-A karmic Drain-O)?

Narby takes the mystery one step further: could the shamans be right? Could the brew, which one informant calls “the television of the jungle,” facilitate the knowledge of the jungle? To approach this question, Narby attempts to “defocalize” his gaze so that he can perceive science and indigenous understandings at more or less the same time. This trippy conceptual exercise leads him to the central mindfuck of the book: that the serpents that commonly slip into the visual field during ayahuasca trips are a figurative expression of the ultimate source of ayahuasca’s visionary communiqués: the coils of DNA. Ayahuasca is not just a head trip – it is a communication with the “global network of DNA-based life.” Narby is no true believer, and he is somewhat startled by his own hypothesis, but that makes it all the more compelling, and the lengthy notes in the back of the book prove he is doing more than riffing.

After co-editing a powerful collection of first-hand reports of Western encounters with shamans, Narby came out with the book Intelligence in Nature. Rejecting the idea that plants and “lower” animals are mute mechanisms, Narby uncovers scientific evidence that impressive feats of cognition are going on outside the precious smartypants club of the higher primates. Narby looks at bees capable of abstract thought, and unicellular slime molds who are able to solve mazes. Perhaps inevitably, the book is not as wild a ride as The Cosmic Serpent, and Narby spends too much time describing his mundane journeys to research labs and too little time wrestling with how “intelligence” relates to choice, or awareness, or intention. Nonetheless, the book is a worthwhile example of Narby’s “defocalized” gaze – an undeniably scientific appreciation whose inspiration lies with the fundamental shamanic belief that other creatures, and even some plants, are, in their own world, “people” like us.

Cby Jay Babcock over the telephone in late January, 2006

Arthur: You attended the conference on LSD held in Basel this past January to coincide with the 100th birthday of the father of LSD, Dr. Albert Hoffman. What happened there?

Jeremy Narby: What didn’t happen? I think one needs metaphors to get at it, really. When LSD hit in the ‘60s, it was like a drop of mercury that went in all kinds of directions, broke into a lot of different shards. Because LSD affects consciousness and consciousness affects everything, LSD had an impact in art, in music, in thinking, in the personal computer industry, in biology, and so on. In Basel all the different little pieces came back together and arranged themselves in a kind of mosaic that was psychedelic, multi-faceted and beautiful. All the chickens came home to roost after 40 years, looking good. One of my favorite moments was when Christian Ratsch came on the big stage with Guru Guru, which is the original Krautrock band. He was walking around with amber incense and stuff, providing incantations and shamanistic energy during the set, and these sprightly gentlemen, who must be about 55, just rocked the house down. It was fantastic.

Arthur: So, where does it go from here?

Jeremy Narby: One of the aims of the symposium was a kind of explicit political aim at getting psychedelic research back on the scientific map, and I think the point’s well taken. But you know, I’ve been working as an activist to get recognition for the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples and essentially despite a couple of decades of work and a lot of clear data (it seems to me), there’s really a fundamental resistance coming out of rationalism, coming out of Western cultures, coming out of the political systems. So I have the feeling of having led the horse to water but it didn’t want to drink. Sure, we can talk to the horse nicely and try and get it to drink the water some more, but finally I feel like more drastic tactics are needed. Like kicking the horse in the butt, or telling it to go and take a hike, or turning your back on it.

So I applaud these efforts to legalize psychedelic research, but… There are those among us who have wanted to use hallucinogens how indigenous people use them—in a serious way to understand the world. And we’ve been doing it, underground, for the last bunch of decades, and getting results that are richer and more interesting than what the Western rationalists are producing. So, I’d say that I’d rather take hallucinogens and then write stunning books than make speeches about hallucinogens.

Arthur: What was the response of Western rationalists to your hypothesis in The Comsic Serpent—that Amazonian shamans were actually receiving information at the molecular level via the ayahusaca trance?

Jeremy Narby: Scientists said that I hadn’t tested my hypothesis. Well, okay : I was just happy to have it considered testable! [chuckles] So how do we test it? Well, you try to falsify your hypothesis. You come up with a test to try to demonstrate that it’s wrong. That’s the scientific method. So, I thought, let’s send three Western molecular biologists with questions in their labwork down to the Amazon and put them into ayahuasca-induced trances. If they didn’t come up with any information then my hypothesis would start to look falsified. Now, it is a heavy thing to ask people who have never taken mindbending hallucinogens before to submit themselves to the experience in the name of science. These people are making their psyches available to you and then you distort them with these powerful hallucinogenic plants. In terms of ethics, this is even worse than experimenting on animals. It’s experimenting on humans. They were consulting subjects and all, but sheesh, this is serious business. I mean, the first thing that ayahuasca does, before it answers whatever questions you might put to it, is it tells you about yourself. It puts its finger on your weak spots, fast. It encourages you to clean up your act. This makes it a hard path to knowledge for somebody who’s into ‘being objective’ in the lab. As a scientist, you’re not supposed to pay attention to your subjectivity—you’re supposed to jettison it. But when you end up in an ayahuasca experience, it’s your little subjective self that is the hot point. Your subjective self comes to the forefront in your acquisition of knowledge. For a scientist, that’s a rough one.

Arthur: You were able to find volunteers, nonetheless. I gather they were colleagues… ?

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Molly Frances on the best condiment: VINEGAR (Arthur, 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (April 2006)

The Best Condiment
by Molly Frances, “New Herbalist” columnist

In February, Mrs. Susie Potts Gibson of Tuscumbia, Alabama, passed away at a youthful 115, the third oldest person on the planet at the time. Mrs. Gibson was by all accounts a spirited and healthy SuperCentenarian who lived on her own until she was 106. So what did Mrs. Gibson attribute her extended stay on the big blue marble to?


That’s right young’uns: the “sour wine” just may be what flows from the fountain of youth. Not only has vinegar been revered for thousands of years for its life-extending property, but also as a remedy for a host of ailments: arthritis, digestive disorders, high blood pressure, weight control, laryngitis, migraines, chronic fatigue, warts, acid-reflex and sore throat. Hippocrates, ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Julius Caesar, Christopher Columbus and Japanese samurai warriors all made use of its awesome tonic properties.

Longevity’s not your bag, you say? Then how about a little spring cleaning? Not only is vinegar a naturally-occurring antibiotic that heals your insides, it is also an antiseptic that will spruce you up on the outside too. It fights germs, bacteria, mold and viruses. Hot date coming up? Surprise your lady with a mold-free shower, sparkling faucets and streak-free mirrors and windows. A 50/50 combo of vinegar and water administered through a spray bottle beats any industrial cleaning product hands down and keeps you from trudging down the least savory supermarkets aisles. By using vinegar as your prime cleaning agent you are also saving money and reducing the amount of unnecessary chemicals in our water supply.

If you’re feeling dull and down, ditch the coffee and booze and reach for a glass of apple cider vinegar instead. This potassium and enzyme-rich concoction made from fermented apples is the nutritive powerhouse of the vinegars and the primary variety for internal use and personal hygiene. Dry skin, fungal infections, ear infections, poison ivy, shingles, varicose veins, insect bites, sunburn and gray hair are all at your mercy when armed with nature’s tangy nectar. Susie Potts Gibson knew this; not only did she splash it on everything she ate, but according to her granddaughter, she applied it topically to chase away those meddlesome aches and pains. So go ahead and ask for that vinegar massage you’ve always wanted. It also makes an excellent de-toxifier when added to a hot bath, or a reinvigorating shampoo. Lord Byron consumed loads of the stuff to maintain the pale complexion that drove the ladies, as well as the boys, hog wild.

Every science nerd knows that vinegar is the essential ingredient in any homemade volcano, but did you know that a splash of vinegar followed by a quick dust of baking soda makes an unbeatable homespun, non-Alzheimer’s-causing underarm deodorant? Just be aware of the possibility that in addition to long-lasting, non-toxic odor protection, you may also experience the aforementioned “volcano effect.” Do not panic. This is normal.

If you can’t be bothered with using vinegar out of vanity, do it for the animals! A few teaspoons slipped into their water bowl will send the fleas and parasites in search of a new host. Your old dog may finally muster up the energy to learn a new trick or two.

What kind of vinegar should you buy? As you know, the industrial powers-that-be have found devious ways to produce visually appealing products while robbing them of their inherent benefits. Vinegar has not escaped this fate. The most common form of commercially produced vinegar is distilled, a process that destroys the spongey cobweb-like particles—known as “Mother” in vinegar lore—that linger in properly fermented vinegar. Don’t be afraid of Mother. Mother is good for you. So do your part to crush the dominant paradigm, and embrace your Mother. Go for the cloudiest, most particle-ridden vinegar brew you can find. This will usually require a trip to your local health food store or farmer’s market, or find it online at

You can drink two teaspoons daily of apple cider vinegar straight up, add honey and water to make a healing elixir, or just drizzle it generously over your veggies. It also makes a mean salad dressing when paired with olive oil and fresh spices. The prophet Muhammed didn’t declare it “the best condiment” for nothing.

North American droners GROWING, profiled by Peter Relic (Arthur, 2006)

Happy Mediums
How nature droners Growing found their flow

Text by Peter Relic
Photography by Eden Batki
Layout by W.T. Nelson

originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)

If Plato had had the necessary resources back in the day, he would have definitely buffed out his philosopher’s cave with black lights and fog machines. The old Greek dude never got the chance, but in the new millennium, Growing have done it for him, figuratively speaking.

Growing is Joe DeNardo, 26, and Kevin Doria, 27, two gentlemen who met at Evergreen University in Olympia, Washington. DeNardo is originally from the suburbs of Chicago, while Doria grew up in Richard Nixon’s hometown of Yorba Linda, tucked deep inside Southern California’s Orange County. Together they play a slug-paced, ocean-deep drone music without drums or traditionally recognizable melodies that nonetheless projects a palpable pulse and a sense of pro-biotic harmony. Over three albums, and assorted tapes and EPs, Growing have united the foreboding heaviness of doom metal with the reassuring beauty of placid ambience in songs stretching up to 20 minutes in length. The unlikely arranged marriage actually works. Call it life metal, or nature drone.

“We chose the name Growing because it seemed all-encompassing,” Joe DeNardo says, on the cel phone from the duo’s live-in bunker in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. “A lot of people didn’t like it at first because they thought it was a reference to marijuana or boners. Not so. It does seem to describe the process of living and dying without being heavy and ominous. Which is nice.”

For their newest album, The Color Wheel, Doria and DeNardo have expanded the Growing sound to encompass even more: now, discord and rhythm join the Edenic shimmerblasts and underlying thrum of their past work. If Growing is an entity, The Color Wheel is the sound of it in adolescence: the bucolic innocence of childhood mostly lost, replaced by awkwardness, dark intimations of mortality and, of course, new joys. Adolescence is beyond volition—it just happens, whether or not you want it to—and Growing’s growth seems to have happened in the same way: the band’s sound has unfolded in ways its makers didn’t contrive or foresee, yet nonetheless accept.

Speaking with DeNardo and Doria is not unlike listening to Growing: it ain’t gonna work if you’re in a hurry, and the less you pry for insight, the more revelations are likely to come. Then again, these guys are don’t confine the big slowdown to their guitarwork. They do everything slowly, including going though college (Doria: “Took me seven years and I’m not even a doctor!”).

“We’re not very conscious guys,” says DeNardo. “Like, we’re not very aware of ourselves. We just kind of…float. We don’t articulate ourselves all that well. We don’t talk to each other much about this stuff; we don’t line everything up like ‘Okay this is the idea: I’m thinking about the French Alps right now, I spent time in the caves, we can make some music like…’

“We don’t do that. It’s just all kind of melts and flows together.”

* * * * *

Growing was birthed in Olympia, Washington. For two years—or maybe three years, no one’s really sure—DeNardo and Doria lived in a house with Joe Preston, a legendary musician with arguably the heaviest resume in guitar history, one that includes work with early Earth, mid-‘90s Melvins, White1/2-era Sunn0))) and now, High On Fire (which features an ex-member of Sleep), as well as his own one-man noise-drone-riff unit, Thrones.

“For the most part it was really just mellow times,” says Kevin Doria. “We played video games, went to Taco Bell…just hung out for the most part. He never practiced, not once. Okay, I think he did once when no one was around, for like 15 minutes. I guess he just didn’t like the way it sounded in the basement.”
DeNardo and Doria didn’t mind the basement sound.

“Before Growing, we had a little tape thing called 1,000 A.D.,” says Doria. “It started out as Joe [DeNardo] and me fucking around in the basement: a lot more riffage, no drums or anything, just guitars and bass, really long tedious parts that went on for hours. We were simultaneously doing this other band called Black Man White Man Dead Man which, when it started was more hardcore stuff: fast, loud. As time went on, it evolved into slower heavier jams. Finally we realized that having two bands comprised of the same members was really stupid, so whatever, let’s just have one band. The writing didn’t dramatically change as far as the songs were concerned, but everything did get slower. I’m not particularly good at playing fast, or playing parts even—that had something to do with us getting slower—but also, we just kind of got bored playing hardcore. We got older. It was natural.”

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