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.

MASTER OF BREATH

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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WIZARDS OF OZMA: Stewart Voegtlin and Beaver on MELVINS’ heaviest record (Arthur, 2013)

As originally published in Arthur No. 34 (April 2013)

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WIZARDS OF OZMA
What made MELVINS’ 1992 beercrusher Lysol the most unlikely religious record ever built? STEWART VOEGTLIN pays attention to the men behind the curtain…
Illustration by BEAVER

Discussed:

Melvins
Lysol
Boner Records, 1992

Melvins
Gluey Porch Treatments
Alchemy Records, 1989

Melvins
Ozma
Boner Records, 1987

Melvins
Eggnog
Boner Records, 1991

Earth
Extra-Capsular Extraction
Sub Pop, 1990

Melvins
Joe Preston
Boner Records, 1992

Thrones
Alraune
The Communion Label, 1996

Used to fight flu in early 1900s. Used as douche, disinfectant, “birth-control agent.” Toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. But commonly consumed by alcoholics as alternative to more expensive tipple. Taken off grocer’s shelf. Popped open. Sprayed into its cap. Thrown back. Used and reused because—or in spite of—its overpowering carbolic taste worsened with a burn weaponized and wince inducing. And, finally, used, infamously—but not orally—by Buzz Osborne (guitar, vocals), Joe Preston (bass), and Dale Crover (drums) as title of Melvins’ fourth full-length record, Lysol, released in 1992.

Lysol is Melvins’ biggest record. It’s their heaviest. While being “big” and “heavy,” Lysol inadvertently questions what exactly constitutes “big” and “heavy” records. While being intentionally cryptic, Lysol questions what it means for records to be unintentionally accessible, and why a record’s content must posit a “message” that not only means something, but also purports to uncover some semblance of truth. The dialectic is reluctant. That it’s as “big” and “heavy” as the record itself, and actually does threaten to posit a “message” that masquerades as truth, is an unexpected payoff from a record that satisfies as many aesthetic criteria as it eliminates.

Harold Bloom could’ve been talking about Lysol when he praised the completeness and finality of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book fulfilled Bloom’s idea of the “ultimate western.” All genre criteria were not only satisfied; they were eliminated. Anything published on its heels was not a western at all, but futility in the form of mechanics, ink, paper. Lysol was released in 1992; the two “heaviest” records released that year other than itself are Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and Eyehategod’s In the Name of Suffering. Their sound is distinct. They work within the confines of their carefully cultivated worlds, and thrive in doing so. Lysol’s sound? Also distinct. Also works within its world. But does so in such manner that the construction that defines its world falls, like a ladder kicked away after its ascendant looks down on what they’ve climbed out of, and becomes not meaningless, but too meaningful.

What Melvins accomplish with Lysol, particularly its 11-minute opener, “Hung Bunny,” is a sort of Heavy Metal as religious music. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t stomping inchoate distillations of “God’s silence,” it’s spreading śūnyatā out as endless horizon. When “Hung Bunny” isn’t indifferent about “theophany,” it’s providing the conditions necessary to understand, or receive, the divine in the first place. Not surprisingly, it’s an attentive record. A concentrated record. A ceremonial record. It’s the most unlikely religious record ever built, as its cover tunes (which account for half of the program) easily constitute the band’s bulletproof belief system, while “Hung Bunny,” recreates Tibetan Buddhism’s ritual music, and stillbirths one of the more unfortunate subgenres, “stoner doom,” without even taking a toke.

It’s a risky hyperbole. (Aren’t they all?) Somewhere in a suburban basement, a kid’s pulling tubes, crushing beers, Lysol spraying through ear-wilting wattage. It may not initially present as enigma, even in the midst of buzz, but it will always require interpretation. How that kid understands Lysol may be no different than how orthodox monks understand the Jesus prayer. In a deceptively simple way, the kid and the monk make sense of their lives through external power, with or without what Richard Rorty calls “an ambition of transcendence.” That we struggle, unprovoked, through these self-imposed puzzles, is what binds us, despite the disparity of aesthetics we are geared towards through fate’s random generation. Ultimately we gravitate towards that which lends our lives meaning—even if meaning is undone in its meaninglessness. Realizing the kid’s and the monk’s “road” to sense is the same path carved out by, and because, of the “big” and the “heavy” is the first step out onto the yellow brick.

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AH, MAN: A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE by Brian Rademaekers (Arthur, 2013)

As published in Arthur No. 33 (Jan 2013)

Photo by Michael Chaiken

AH, MAN
A career-spanning conversation with JACK ROSE, American musician, recorded just a few months before he died in 2009
By Brian Rademaekers

When I started covering music in Philadelphia in 2007, my beat—the city’s crumbling post-industrial river wards—felt like a veritable nexus of weird folk and psychedelic experimentation. The Espers clan and their compound, Fern Knight, Fursaxa, and heavy-hitters like Bardo Pond were all there, churning out a storm of beautiful, strange music that seemed in part a product of the ancient, twisted alleyways of Fishtown and Kensington.

Here, Jack Rose was the benevolent, unassuming King—a master set apart from his peers by a massive presence and an indomitable, mystical talent that elevated him from mere musician to magician. He was a dark alchemist, transforming calloused flesh, polished wood and taut steel into the intoxicating, intricate worlds of sound that were his music. Not that Jack — Jack the giant, hulking Virginian — would ever presume to wear a crown; it was just something that he brought into the room with him, disarming all with a humble warmth offset by a blunt, caustic confidence that he wielded like a knife at just the right moments. These days, most of the musicians from that scene are gone from the neighborhood, though none as gone as Jack.

When I first heard Jack’s 2005 album Kensington Blues, I was thunderstruck, lost in awe that such a masterpiece not only existed, but that it was made in my time, by a man whose elbows polished the same bar counters as mine. Listening to Jack’s recordings was great [see sidebar for a complete discography] but best of all was seeing Jack live, spreading his gospel in church halls or little clubs or living rooms and, finally, along the banks of the Delaware River for a summer concert series shortly before he died.

Watching him amble up to his chair with guitar in hand signaled the start of near-religious experience. He would hunch over the instrument, cock his head to the side and, with closed eyes, unleash wild syncopated layers of rhythms, leaving listeners rapt in a sort of devastated trance. Here was this giant bearded man suddenly becoming seamlessly enmeshed in his guitar to create these idiosyncratic spells that were at once as delicate as flowers and as forceful as hurricanes. Seeing that miracle in the flesh, there was nothing else like it in the world. For me, it was like being a jazz freak in the ’40s and living down the street from Charlie Parker.

So began a years-long obsession. I felt compelled to document this genius quietly living in our midst. And Jack obliged. It never seemed to bother him that some reporter from a little local paper was always pestering him, asking for details about a show or politely begging for an advance copy of a record. In that way, Jack betrayed the appearance of a dominating, cocksure master and revealed a man with a very big heart.

My pretext for interviewing Jack in the summer of 2009 was his forthcoming long-player on Thrill Jockey, Luck in the Valley. Jack was elated. He and his wife, Laurie, had just bought a tidy little brick rowhouse a few blocks from the city’s blasted Port Richmond waterfront. He bragged about his new car, a Honda that he loved for its efficiency in carrying his guitars from gig to gig. He raved about a pizza joint he’d found down the street, about how quiet his block was. To him, the Thrill Jockey release was the milestone he’d been awaiting, a culmination of years of hard work and mastery that meant he could finally say he was making good bread on the merit of his music.

For three hours, he let me follow him around the house, tape recorder in tow, as he smoked and poured tea and pulled LPs from his wall of records. He was a man satisfied, a musician reveling in the feeling that his art was finally about to find the place in the world that it deserved.

When Jack died a few months later, I groped through the shock, looking for some way to respond to the ugly, gaping hole that had so suddenly appeared, and decided on transcribing the whole of our conversation from that summer day on Ontario Street. That tape is presented here, and captures Jack in a bright mood at the peak of his career, ruminating on everything from his first lessons to his labor on “Kensington Blues” to the joy of landing the Thrill Jockey deal.

* * *

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Two hours with Terry Riley, in the 1970s

The first hour of this program is a conversation with Terry Riley, outdoors on his land. The second half is performance.

More info on the series this is from, via Ubu:

Music with Roots in the Aether, an artwork by Robert Ashley, is comprised of seven two-hour programs featuring noted American experimental composers, created during the 1970’s.

Each program is two hours long and consists of one part Landscape / Interview (one hour) and one part live performance (one hour).

TERRY RILEY & PANDIT PRAN NATH, 1981.

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

Arthur Radio Transmission #31 w/ ARP

When you close your eyes, music emanating from speakers takes on its full 3D form. Physical vibrations reach your muscles in invisible waves, aiding in relaxation. The laser arc of a new sound being introduced pierces your mind’s eye and opens visions; it is possible to recreate an entire scene, part imaginary, part from memory. An isolated ocean in a desert, palm trees swaying against an open horizon. Circuits producing not only the sound of wind, but the feel of it brushing up against your skin, the filling of a vast expanse of sky…

Above: A teaser from this episode’s live set by special guest ARP (aka Alexis Georgopoulos), who recently released his LP The Soft Wave on Norway’s Smalltown Supersound. Order it in the US here.

STREAMING: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Arthur-Radio-31-w_-ARP1.mp3%5D

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #31 w/ ARP 9-26-2010

Playlist below…

☾☾☾☾☾☾☾ Hairy Painter + Ivy Meadows DJ set @ 00:00 ☽☽☽☽☽☽

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Arthur Radio Transmission #23 w/ Prince Rama of Ayodhya

At the center of a wind tunnel, we find ourselves stuck between perspectives. Is the world moving at a million miles around us, or are we the ones who are flying? This week, join hands with Hairy Painter and Ivy Meadows as they plunge into the unknown, fortified by Prince Rama of Ayodhya‘s ancient primordial howls, growling synthesizer moans and consciousness-melting pulsations, which swirl like electrified streams of sonic debris in the positively charged atmosphere… “Give yourself. Lose yourself.

DOWNLOAD: Arthur Radio Transmission #23 w/ Prince Rama of Ayodhya 6-27-2010

playlistum lyeth beneathio…

[HAIRY PAINTER + IVY MEADOWS DJ SET]
keiji haino – look, darkness and light both begin to copy
clara rockmore – the swan
conrad schnitzler – electric garden
s.d. batish – raga tilang alaap
far east family band – live in l.a. 1978
seltaeb – nug mraw a si ssenippah
alejandro jodorowsky – tarot will teach you/burn your money
arthur russell – the name of the next song
robert johnson (on speed? <—–http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Johnson_musician Playback_issues_in_extant_recordings) – – hold my body down
rusty santos – feel radio signals (botanical mix)
pocahaunted – time fist
julian lynch – topi garden 2
mawan te dhiyan – surinder kaur & parkash kaur
sun ra – celestial road
albert ayler – the wizard
sonny sharock – black woman
nagane aki – the wind that flows through the trees
paul metzger – the uses of infinity (side a)

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Arthur Radio Transmission #10 with live jam by Blondes

(Above: This episode’s collage — double-click to view fullscreen + scroll)

For Transmission #10 of Arthur Radio, we started by visualizing ourselves in a black void, lost in time somewhere between the 1970s and today. Using LED-powered building blocks, we constructed a musical pathway in order to make sense of our surroundings. Brick by colorful brick, we bridged the gap between the oily rainbow pools of German psychedelic krautrock jazziness all the way to the shimmering mists of other-worldly electronic noise being produced by the likes of contemporaries Jonas Reinhardt, Arp, Stellar Om Source, and our very special time-traveling guests, Blondes.

Standing on the other side of the bridge in the murky “now,” we found that transversing between the two realms was easier than we thought. In fact, it seemed that they were always connected by an invisible passage, for the electronic explorers of today were born of very same primordial space sludge that spawned krautrock pioneers Dorothea Raukes, Jean Michel Jarre, Manuel Göttsching and friends, some 40 years ago.

The following description was taken from the back of “The LYTE,” one of the very first audiovisualizers of its kind made in the 1980s. Its sentiment echoes how listening to Transmission #10 makes us feel, and we recommend that you meditate on it for a second before you take that irrevocable plunge, hit “play,” and start time-traveling on your own:

The written word cannot fully describe what the eye and ear can perceive. Tone by tone you see an exact, shimmering definition in light of what you hear. Exotic patterns are born, grow, contract and change shape through an infinity of dazzling complexity; each momentary image a precise electronic expression of the sound you hear…


Stream: [audio:http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Arthur-Radio-Transmission-10-with-live-jam-by-Blondes-3-21-2010.mp3%5D

Download: Arthur Radio #10 with live jam by Blondes 3-21-2010

Songs played this week…
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May 28: Dublab Presents All-Night Ambient Music Happening in Big Sur (CA)


Dublab has done it again! California’s favorite non-profit radio collective has been bringing choice, culturally responsible programming to the Los Angeleno airwaves for around ten years now, but its mission to foster “the growth of positive music, arts, and culture” takes place both on the air and off. Among the many live events on the Dublab calendar this Spring, the TONALISM mini-fest in Big Sur on May 28th is bound to knock your socks off– or at least lull you into a smiley, sound-drunk dream-state.

A description of TONALISM from the Dublab family:

Inspired by La Monte Young’s “Dream House” as well as the work of musicians and composers such as Terry Riley, Yoko Ono and John Cage, Tonalism combines harmonious textures with visual elements to create an atmosphere where the audience is encouraged to bring pillows, cushions and sleeping bags to lay down, listen and watch for an extended period of time. DJs, live musicians and VJs play and perform throughout the night; starting at sunset and ending at sunrise. Complimentary tea and water are provided to all who attend.

ON THE REDWOODS STAGE:

Live Performances by:
Windy and Carl (Kranky)
Pharaohs (members of Languis and Big Swell)
Matt Baldwin / Inner Beauty
Lyonnais
White Rainbow (Kranky)
Nudge (Kranky)

DJ Sets by:
Obrian System (very special guest)
frosty (dublab)
Jimmy Tamborello (Dntel, Postal Service, dublab)
Part TIme Punks DJ Michael Stock
Andy Cabic (Vetiver)
Katie Byron (dublab)
Nanny Cantaloupe (dublab)
Turquoise Wisdom (dublab, Small Town Talk)
matthewdavid (dublab, Leaving Tapes)

Visuals by:
Matt Amato (The Masses)

ON THE CANYON STAGE:

Performances Curated by Carlos Niño for dublab:
Mia Doi Todd
Carlos Niño & Jesse Peterson
The Nick Rosen/Brian Green Duo
The dublab Drone-Dreamers
DJ Cool Chris of Groove Merchant
GB
Life On Earth! (of Dungen)
and Special Guests

Set Design by:
Katie Byron

TONALISM
Thursday, May 28, 4:20 pm – 5:00 am
Henry Miller Library
Highway One, Big Sur, CA 93920
$20, all ages (does not including venue fees)
Complimentary tea will be served throughout the night.
Bring pillows, blankets, beanbags, sleeping bags, cushions, lay down and listen.
There will be a fire pit and heat lamps but make sure to bring warm clothes because it gets cold at night.

Buy tickets


La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela’s “Dream House”, Mela Foundation, Tribeca, NYC. Find out more about La Monte Young and the Mela Foundation here.