There’s a good reason that Inter-Dimensional Music is the number one New Age radio broadcast in the Big Bend region of Far West Texas: Since we first started transmitting on Marfa Public Radio back in the spring of 2010, each song we’ve played has been selected with the goal of offering all the souls passing through the Chihuahuan Desert a soundtrack worthy of our luminescent high country vistas.
So whether you’re waiting in line at the Sierra Blanca Border Patrol checkpoint; watching the lights of Boquillas from the South Rim of the Chisos; channeling the spirit of curandera Jewel Babb deep in the Quitman Mountains; decoding starlight vibrations at the McDonald Observatory; vibing on the sky island rhythms of the Davis Mountains Preserve; documenting rock art sites off Casa Piedra Road; or if you’re just another lonely backpacker waiting for your man down by the Rio Grande, we’re here to score your time under the radiant heavens of the Trans-Pecos with a soundtrack of expansive ambience and transcendent psychedelic drone.
Thus, in collaboration with our old friends at Arthur Magazine, ID Music presents this first edition of Backcountry Chillout, a collection of contemporary New Age music hand-picked for arid wilderness viewing stations. So light that special incense you’ve been saving, reposition your moonlight gemstones however the plant mind directs you, point the speakers toward the screen door and adjourn to the porch. Leave us on repeat until everything’s back to tranquilo again.
And be sure to join me, Daniel Chamberlin, the first Sunday of every month from 9-11p (CST) on KRTS. That’s 93.5FM if you’re fortunate enough to dwell out here in the Big Bend. We’re also streaming live worldwide at marfapublicradio.org and archived at interdimensionalmusic.com
Liner notes and cover artwork by DANIEL CHAMBERLIN.
Engineered by BOBBY TAMKIN at The Sound Ranch.
This new mixtape is now available direct from Arthur to your internet connection as a $3.00 digital download. As an added bonus, each download comes with liner notes by Daniel Chamberlin, along with a large-size image file of his cover artwork.
Click the following linkage to purchase using a debit card, credit card or Paypal account.
A Slow, Strange and Grueling Thing Writer-photographer Daniel Chamberlin ventures behind California’s Redwood Curtain to experience the three-day triathlon of the arts that is the Great Arcata-to-Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race
In the late 1930s frustrated residents of Northern California declared their intention to wage “patriotic rebellion” against California and Oregon. Tired of dealing with state governments that seemed more concerned with distant population centers—and not with repairing the decrepit bridges and mud-choked roads leading to their sparsely populated mining, fishing and timber communities—the people of Northern California and Southern Oregon took steps to secede from their respective states. The new state would be called Jefferson—a name arrived at by way of a newspaper contest—in honor of Thomas Jefferson, third president of the U.S. and patron saint of Libertarians and states’ rights crusaders. On December 4, 1941, Jefferson State’s residents set up barricades on the highway and elected Judge John L. Childs governor. At his inauguration he was photographed with a bear on a chain that appears to have a severed human hand in its jaws. Three days after Childs’ inauguration Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor and the Jefferson State movement was swept aside as the United States entered World War II. Though small in number, benign Jefferson State secessionists still hold meetings, run a Web site and paint slogans on their barn roofs. Recently, they tried to use the California’s gubernatorial recall fiasco to drum up support for their cause.
The Jefferson State movement points to a spirit of individualism that thrives in Northern California, especially in Humboldt County. People who live up in northernmost California like being away from it all: there’s time to develop interesting ideas, and enough of a community for those ideas to take root. Hobart Brown, a tiny, impish, 69-year-old man who lives in Humboldt, at the southern end of what could’ve been Jefferson State, is one of those people. He’s an aircraft mechanic, astrologer and wild pig hunter. He’s also the self-styled “Glorious Founder” of an event called The Great Arcata-to-Ferndale Kinetic Sculpture Race (KSR), an event has run every year since 1969.
The KSR is a vigorous all-terrain art parade held over the course of Memorial Day Weekend. Participants take three days to travel 38 miles in vehicles known as kinetic sculptures—usually recumbent bicycles frames mounted with some sort of sculptural art that’s often conspicuously wacky: poop-filled toilet, braying donkey, KISS Army Camaro, etc. For the 2003 race, the least noteworthy of the entries appearing on the starting line in Arcata is a gray-haired, bearded guy wearing a suit and riding a bicycle. The most imposing sculpture-vehicle is the 2,000-pound “Surf & Turf,” a dramatically psychedelic Day-Glo lobster. A bull’s head that bears a close resemblance to the distressed animal in Picasso’s “Guernica” is grafted on to the back of its abdomen. Six pilots sit inside dressed as chefs, complete with poofy white hats.
In order to complete the full race course in accordance with all of the rules—to “Ace” the course, in KSR terminology—the machines must maneuver over city streets and sand dunes, navigate across a mile of open water in Humboldt Bay and slog through the murky depths of a backwoods bog. They do all of this at an average speed somewhere around 2-3 mph, meaning the race never gets much faster than the wheelchair-bound vets in the Memorial Day Parade that precedes them at the finish line in Ferndale. The KSR combines the tedious pace and muddy wallowing of a tractor pull with the budget-minded engineering of a demolition derby and the physical punishment of an Iron Man triathlon. Dozens of participants return every year. Some have two decades of consecutive races behind them. The race means many things to many people, but as far as Hobart is concerned its primary purpose is to serve as a weapon against suicide.
* * *
You have to be seeking Humboldt County in order to get there. Garberville, the largest town in southern Humboldt, is 200 miles from San Francisco. The two largest towns in Humboldt—Eureka and Arcata—are over 70 miles further north. Though Jefferson State is now mostly history, it is a given with locals that Northern California, particularly Humboldt, is separate from the rest of California. This is attributed to a phenomena known as “the Redwood Curtain.” Thousands of people do make the trip to Humboldt though; tourism is one of the area’s trademark industries along with timber, fishing, folk art and marijuana cultivation. For his part, Hobart Brown subscribes to the theory that, along with Hawaii, Humboldt is one of the last outposts of Mu, a mythical lost civilization akin to Atlantis.
The best road to Humboldt from the rest of California is U.S. 101, though what is an eight-lane river of traffic down in Los Angeles is a two-lane trickle 500 miles up the coast in Hopland. The same freeway serves as a 25 mph main street further north in Willits and Laytonville. The towns stay charming, but as you move north there are fewer high-priced bistros and more stores selling generators, solar panels and livestock supplies. Outside towns, the road is flanked on either side by acres of farmland and deep forests. Country lanes open up throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, lined by roadside invitations to join the landed gentry in their wine tasting rooms from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Once you’re in Humboldt, the grape arbors are mostly gone, replaced by what local drug folklore suggests is the scent of local marijuana crops wafting over the highway. The Eel River rides alongside the 101, and in the summer it’s not uncommon to see people pulled off to the side of the road and going for a dip. “Bigfoot Country” coin purses and redwood burl carvings are readily available, and there are several opportunities to drive your car through hollowed-out redwood trees. Local highway cleanup projects are sponsored by the Harley Riders Association, the Humboldt Area Pagan Network and a store called The Blessed Thistle. Logging trucks hauling gargantuan pieces of timber, farmers driving tractors between their fields and rusted VW buses filled with vintage hippies discourage speedy drivers. The archetypal Humboldt vehicle is a mud-spattered 4WD pickup truck with a Grateful Dead sticker and a National Rifle Association decal sharing the same bumper.
In Denis Johnson’s metaphysical California noir, Already Dead, the suicidal philosopher Carl Van Ness wanders this stretch of highway and describes these remote towns as “like little naps you might never wake up from—you might throw a tire and hike to a gas station and stumble unexpectedly onto the rest of your life, the people who would finally mean something to you, a woman, an immortal friend, a saving fellowship in the religion of some obscure church.” I didn’t begin to understand the Kinetic Sculpture Race until I was drunk, stoned and stumbling with a party of veteran racers spewing history and KSR gospel in equal measure as they camped on an isolated, driftwood-strewn beach. You don’t call yourself a local up here until you’ve been dug in for at least a generation, but there’s no better description of the appeal of Humboldt life to an outsider—or a more dead-on assessment of the cult that has risen up around the race that Hobart Brown started in 1969—than that of Johnson’s troubled pilgrim.
* * *
Hobart Brown claims the title of Glorious Founder of the Kinetic Sculpture Race, but race director Bill Croft runs the thing. Croft is a sewing machine repairman who moved to Humboldt County with his wife when he retired from the Coast Guard ten years ago. Although the racers are following an arcane set of rules that Hobart and others have developed over the last three decades, it’s up to Croft to make sure the race follows the rules in terms of city permits, traffic safety, insurance and crowd control. In a phone interview a week before the race he tells me that he knows a lot about Porta-Potties, that Hobart is “the worst businessman ever,” and that without his organizational assistance it was only a matter of time before the race was going be shut down.
Join me, Arthur Vaultkeeper Daniel “Chambo” Chamberlin, this Sunday 5 December 2010 on KRTS Marfa, 93.5 FM for a fresh edition of “Inter-Dimensional Music.”
Listen for cosmic vibes from Dylan Ettinger, Atlas Sound, Michael Hoenig and Dolphins Into The Future, as well as other radiant jams perhaps best exemplified visually by the above image from the Bottomless Lakes outside of Roswell, New Mexico, a recent stop on my Thanksgiving tour of the riparian canyonlands, high altitude meadows and desert cenotes of the American Southwest.
“Inter-Dimensional Music” floats through the Far West Texas air at 93.5 FM from 9-11pm (CST), and is often available streaming live online at www.marfapublicradio.org.
Country Life For the beatific country-soul musicians of Brightblack Morning Light, there’s no place like Nature By Daniel Chamberlin Photography by Eden Bakti
Originally published in Arthur No. 23 (2006)
When they weren’t slumming it with us youngsters at the all-ages hardcore shows, the older dudes at my Indiana high school would spend their weekend nights going “country cruisin’, reminiscin.” They’d all pitch in on a six-pack, score a dime-bag and then pile into somebody’s old car—preferably a late ’70s model sedan with stained plush upholstery and bench seating in front—and drive slowly down the deserted gravel roads and empty dirt tracks that criss-crossed the corn and soybean fields that spread for miles in every direction from the small town we called home. Though I never went on these sentimental rides—I was too young, pot-phobic and already knew that drunk driving was trouble—I was in love with their soundtrack: long-form blues from the Allman Brothers and heartbroken redneck ballads from Lynyrd Skynyrd.
These days, I score my drives back from walks in the San Gabriel Mountains north of my home in Los Angeles with the same music, maybe a bit more Neil Young and Fairport Convention in the mix. It sets the tone for the silent trekking to come and eases the re-entry into the urban landscape on the way back down. The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty and Will Oldham’s Ease Down The Road are ideal albums to soundtrack trips to the deserts and mountains. I’ve added Brightblack Morning Light’s new album of organic wilderness soul to the list of music perfect for such peaceful expeditions.
The two core members of Brightblack are Rachel “Rabob” Hughes, 29, and Nathan “Nabob” Shineywater, 30. Their self-titled debut for Matador Records has the dense harmonic blur of My Bloody Valentine but the music is made with the kind of instruments you’d expect to find the world famous session musicians—the Swampers—of Muscle Shoals putting to good use behind Aretha Franklin or Mavis Staples. (The album actually features two of the Staples Singers along with a trombone player from Nashville, Andy McLeod of White Magic on bongos and Paz Lenchantin—the Argentinean-American multi-instrumentalist known for her work with A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews and Entrance—on guitar.) It’s perfect for coming down from the mountains, and custom made for coming down on Sunday morning. It has an almost gospel feel—since soul music is just gospel without as much god—that invites comparisons to the lonely space-age-blues of Spaceman 3 or Spiritualized. But where Jason Pierce put opiates on the altar formerly occupied by the Holy Trinity, Brightblack has placed a respect for nature, an amalgam of environmental convictions and Native American spiritual practices. Which is sort of obvious from song titles like “A River Could Be Loved” and “We Share Our Blanket With The Owl.”
Their live performance is as quiet and intimate—maybe even more so—than their album. The most recent incarnation of their touring band includes Oregonian Elias Reitz on congas and tablas and West Virginian Ben McConnell behind the kit, with their friend Mariee Sioux, who Nabob is careful to identify as a full-blooded Paiute, opening each show. They often bring sticks and other woodland artifacts onto the stage, erecting small lean-tos or tipi-like structures. All of it swirls and refracts in the rich, resinous sound of Rabob’s Fender Rhodes organ. The vocal harmonies are chorus of whispers, while the brushed percussion is more of a sparkle than a clatter. The instruments are so quiet that cash registers at the bar interrupt the spell. Nabob’s slide guitar work hangs in the dim lights of the stage, glowing and vibrating in the air. On his instrument, a wolf cub suckles at a woman’s breast.