Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Some Questions for Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance
The forthcoming Six Organs Of Admittance album Luminous Night (Drag City) is a wonderful mix of Eastern and Western influences, and incorporates both electric and acoustic sounds to good effect. There is even a flute, an instrument I am a sucker for, particularly when used alongside the feedback of an electric guitar. But to much of this Mr. Chasny was a bit bemused: "See, I guess I just don't understand how people listen to music. I thought this last record was sort of a more acoustic Cure's Disintegration or Joy Division or something." But we did have an enjoyable back and forth over email, although with each note, I wanted nothing more than to be sitting with him in person, listening to music, and discussing esoteric ideas and esoteric music.
The mix of flute and electric guitar is a disconcerting but ultimately satisfying and evocative pairing. Why do you think the flute often gets a bad rap?
If the words "Sitting on a park bench" mean anything to you than I think you know the answer to that question. But flute can be pretty killer. I would point people towards Brainticket, Comus or Samurai movie scores. Not to mention a few scenes in El Topo.
On this current album you are actually able to achieve much more complex and deeper feelings than in your noisier incarnations. Why do you think more and more underground musicians are moving away from noise towards much more complex melody and sonic landscapes?
It feels to me that more and more bands are making noise. The No Fun Festival seems to be more popular than ever. It seems like nearly every city has a noise festival now. I guess I haven't been noticing the some things as you. And I know for a fact that some people hate this record much more than noisier ones I have done, so it's all in the eye (or ear as it may be) of the beholder I guess. But thanks for saying that.
Noise was a great shot of energy to music, just as punk was. But forms that are pure and have no cross pollination are likely to become stagnant after a while. I mean, KK Null's Ultima Materia LP is one hell of a blast of pure noise and I love it, but since that music is about motion and energy it is bound to loose it's power eventually and I haven't really heard a record like that recently, not even from KK Null. When that energy pollinates with, oh, say rock, then you get things like Caspar Brotzmann's Masakker or something, and that has a bit more lasting power. It's basically musical Eugenics! ha (please, no letters from the National Front). But terms like "noise" and "psychedelic" and "experimental" are highly relative.
For instance, when I was obsessed with Harry Smith years ago I got into taping my neighbors, who were very obnoxious college kids and had horrible parties that used to keep me up at night. So to make it better and since I couldn't sleep, I used to record the people who were having conversations outside (I like to imagine what it looked like from the other side with the bathroom window slowly opening and an SM 57 mic slowly being placed on the window sill). Anyway, as one truly observant party goer that I recorded one night said, "Dude. What about Radiohead? I mean, I used to like their old stuff, but now? I don't know man. Now, they're fuckin' weeeiiird." Indeed.
It seems early psychedelic music and culture was deeply influenced by Eastern philosophy and music, everyone from Incredible String Band to the Beatles. Contemporary psychedelic folk music, particularly those that are trying to infuse some kind of spiritual or religious imagery seem much more tied to Western pagan and occult ideas. I am thinking of alot of Jewelled Antler folks.
I don't think of the veneration of nature as particularly pagan. There's a great tradition of American Transcendentalist that really have nothing to do with pagan rituals and are much closer to the Deists, who were of course Christian. One need only look at the similarity between Glenn Donaldson's beard and Henry David Thoreau's beard to realize that the Jewelled Antler guys are sailing much closer the shores of Walden Pond than any pre-christian ideas. I do see what you mean about pagan imagery in other so called psych bands. I don't know. Metal definitely made that much more interesting. Let's hope it's because of that.
What are you reading these days?
During the Summer time I always re-read Bachelard's work on Earth or Air or Water. I think if everyone woke up and read a little Bachelard every morning this world would run a lot smoother and people would be in a much better mood. It's the reading equivalent of taking a valium and a vicodin and a Vodka Tonic all at once.
Bachelerd wrote alot about architecture and living inside spaces. Do you see writing music as a kind of architecture, creating spaces that the listener can dwell inside?
Yeah, Bachelard's Poetics of Space dealt specifically with those themes. Oddly, that is one book I don't go back to in the summertime, though it is great. I guess that music can build or illuminate a certain psychological architecture for sure, though I don't think in the same manner that Bachelard talks about architecture and space. Bachelard talks about a real and physical space that initiates but also participates in that reverie, not a psychological space built by a reverie that was created by music. It's almost the opposite. Not taking into account his views of science and epistemology, Bachelard was most concerned with Reverie and the Active Imagination. I think THAT corresponds more with music.
Who is making music right now that not many people know about that you think should be heard?
Mick Flower for one. His work with Chris Corsano is THE ecstatic music of the 21st century so far. Joshua Burkett in Western Massachusetts is continually making some of the most beautiful outsider music around. There's a great band called Son Of Earth that has a new record out just this month and they are one of my favorites, though I haven't heard the new one yet. One of my favorite folk type records that came out this year is a band called Head of Wantastiquet and is the project of one Paul Labrecque. It's really gorgeous 4am trance type folk with great electric guitar feedback passages. As far as killer solo electric guitar, I just saw Bill Nace play and it was totally mind boggling and inspiring. Dredd Foole just dropped an incredible LP on Apostasy Records called Songs to Despond Ya that is amazing Tim Buckley meets Kan Mikami type music.
What are you listening pre-1975 if anything?
This week? Ali Akbar Khan's 80 minute raga, Sun Ra's Cosmic Tones For Mental Therapy, AMM music 1966, and probably some others. Those are the ones I see in a stack by the stereo...
What has it been like working with other musicians who I imagine have very definite visions of what they want, like David Tibet [of Current 93]?
Working with David is crazy. First he makes you watch all these Reese Witherspoon movies, because he loves her. Actually, he makes some references to her on his new record. Then there is like a 3 hour discussion about Crowley, then some Christian Gnostic talk. Then some flash cards involving the Coptic Language. By the time all that is done, it's usually about 2 in the morning, which is when all his records are recorded. So yeah, it's kind of weird.
Do any spiritual or religious ideas find their way into your music?
Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm certainly not going to advertise it or talk about it. The people who are self proclaimed mystics and spiritualists are either trying to sell something or start a cult.
Do you think spirituality should only be a personal thing?
That word is covers pretty broad ground so it is hard to answer that question. It sort of means different things to different people. What I see is a general trend to try to appear mystical or spiritual when it comes to certain music and that is mostly a ruse or an image and that has has always bothered me. In terms of people outside of bands and people living their lives, I think people should do what is best for them. A church or mosque or temple is a shared spiritual experience. Even a Sufi needs a master to teach him, so that is also a shared thing. I guess that is hard to answer because what do you mean by "personal thing" and "spirituality?" Of course all spirituality is personal. It's between the person and their beliefs. Should they talk about it? That probably depends on why they would want to do that. And do you mean spirituality such as the general feeling of there is something else out there but can't really put your finger on it? Or are you being more specific and talking about the actual Spirit, which was abolished by the 4th Council of Constantinople in 869 as part of the tripartite anthropology of the spirit/soul/body which set up the duality of body and soul, which some believe led the way to Cartesian dualism? That is a pretty specific Spirit that has been banished to make room for the idea of the Soul, which needs to be saved of course! Point being, the word "Spirit" has, or used to have, meaning. It still does for some gnostics and Sufis and such, when you get into various neo-platonic ideas of correspondences and things like that.
How does making music correspond do your own ideas about what spirit means?
To be honest, I don't feel my music has much to do with my own personal concept of what Spirit means at all. Making music is a very social thing for me. I make a sound which is to be heard by other people on a social level. Though, one might say that where there is communication, there is communion. But when I am making music I don't think about that.
Do you think music can capture some kind of transcendence, some kind of meaning beyond the material?
Ask Hazrat Inayat Khan and Sun Ra about that one. I mean, the universe is made of music. Atoms are atoms because of their movement, their vibrations. So called solid matter is mostly empty space and it is the vibrations that makes it something. And music is vibrations. That is what they would tell you. Is it possible to tie that together with personal music and vibrations? Sun Ra would answer that it depends on the frequency that you are dialed into. I think everything has another meaning if one wishes to engage it.
(above photo by by Elisa Ambrogio)