Laraaji was born Edward Larry Gordon and as a youth he learned to play a variety of instruments and did voice training before going to college at Howard University. In the 70s Gordon was living in New York City and studying Eastern spirituality and mysticism when he picked his first zither in a pawn shop. From there he modified the instrument to be electronic and performed and composed with the zither in unconventional ways. He was busking in Washington Square Park when he met Brian Eno and the two came to work on one of the first several albums in the “Ambient” series released by Eno in the 70s and 80s. 1980’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance was markedly different from other entries in the series as the zither as processed through effects was still fairly organic and brought endlessly fascinating textures to the collaboration.
Laraaji has gone on to have quite a prolific and varied career as an artist and spiritual practitioner. He has done albums with Michael Brook, the inventor of the “infinite guitar,” with Roger Eno, Bill Laswell, Jonathan Goldman (a practioner of healing through sound) and avant-garde noise folk sculptors Blues Control. In the mid-80-s Laraaji released recordings collectively called Vision Songs and broadcast on his public access television show as a practice and example of raising spiritual consciousness through music. He also holds workshops in Laughter Meditation worldwide. Laraaji will perform at Rhinoceropolis on Saturday, July 12 with Free Music, J. Hamilton Isaacs, Goo Age and Fragrant Blossom.
We recently interviewed Laraaji via email and discussed his blending of music and spirituality, the aforementioned Vision Songs and Laughter Meditation as well as his more high profile collaborative projects.
Tom Murphy:When you were studying Eastern mysticism did you find any connections between what you learned that route and the music around you at the time? How would you describe those connections?
Laraaji: I observed that drone music at that time reflected the sensation of eternal present time which is emphasized in eastern philosophy—the continuum of consciousness. Also deep yogic level relaxation and meditation as reflected in the music of Stephen Halpern. The heightened sensation of bliss and ecstasy as reflected in the music of Iasos at the time in the late 1970’s. Terry Reilly.
How did you turn a zither into an electronic instrument? Was anyone doing anything comparable at the time you started doing that? Did you process those sounds early on or was it more for amplification?
My first autoharp/zither was acoustic. And after exploring alternative tunings I investigated ways to amplify it. [I then purchased] an electric pickup made especially for autoharps. I dove into amplified autoharp/zither research and decided to add sound treatment with the MXR 90 Phase shifter. After recording the album Day of Radiance with producer Brian Eno my interest in other [effects] pedals expanded to include chorus, delays, flangers and reverb.
How did you meet Brian Eno and as a producer how involved was in shaping the sound of Day of Radiance?
Brian introduced himself to me while I was playing Washington Square Park [in New York City in] 1978 and extended the invite to join him in his Ambient album productions. His suggestions to depend more on live studio microphones and Eventide effects, mixing as well as overdubbing a second zither helped to shape the Day Of Radiance sound.
You’ve worked with Michael Brook. How did you become familiar with his music and what lead to that collaboration?
Michael Brook was involved in my initial collab performance tours with Opal Evening, a tour project in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. Michael was a performer as well as sound engineer for the tour. As a result his live recordings of all the shows contributed to eventual record releases.
Tell us about Laughter Meditation and why you think it is beneficial to people in practicing it.
Daily Laughter as a mindful practice treats our energy presence to heightened functioning. Included in this is our immune system, our blood flow, our hormone flow, our breath flow. The reduction of stress and emotional tension through mindful laughter prepare us for meditative relaxation and stillness. In this practice our focus is not to find something funny at which to laugh but to explore self-willed laughter as a force for therapeutic recreation and and inner spiritual self connection.
Vision Songs seems like a further expansion of music and art as spiritual practice. Did you broadcast performances of that music on your public-access show in New York? Why were you drawn to that way of putting the music and those ideas out there? What about performing Vision Songs in the live show format do you find interesting and powerful now?
Vision Songs is where I was at the time in the early 1980s seriously investigating spiritual consciousness and sharing my awakening through [spontaneously] inspired songs and music with an expanding spiritual community in the USA. Sharing the songs in live show allows me to free sing the themes and lyric contents of these songs into fresh listening.
Certainly artists like John Coltrane and Alice Coltrane have had their music described as spiritual in philosophy, practice and in the impact of the music itself. Nusraat Fateh Ali Khan and others have been practitioners of Qawwali as part of their fusion of musical and spiritual practice. Who are some artists now that you feel are operating in those modes that you find compelling?
Artists who seem to be performing in these deep intentional spiritual modes [include] Don Conreux, Gong Master, Jon Serrie, Constance Demby, Stephen Halpern and Pauline Oliveros to name a few.
Who:Frankie Cosmos w/Lomelda and Ashley Koett When: Thursday, 04.05, 8:30 p.m. Where: The Fox Theatre Why: Frankie Cosmos released its third album Vessel on March 30, 2018. Like it’s predecessors there’s a tender sensibility to the songwriting that recalls the lo-fi introspection of Exile In Guyville period Liz Phair and the peek-into-a-strikingly-insightful diary quality of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Sure, Kline had famous parents (Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) and was once a member of Porches. But Frankie Cosmos doesn’t sound like it’s resting on any of those laurels. Kline uses everyday details as a vehicle for exploring feelings and thoughts long hidden. The results are a refreshing frankness and intimacy even in the context of a pop song without the overpolishing and overproduction that the musical form often gets.
Who:Glasss Presents the Speakeasy Series 2: Brother Saturn and Vahco When: Thursday, 04.05, 7 p.m. Where: Hooked On Colfax Why: This edition of the new season of the Speakeasy Series (all in the basement of Hooked on Colfax) includes some of the most mind-calming artists of the entire programme. Brother Saturn’s dreamlike soundscapes are an entrancing synthesis of ambient and dream pop. Vahco is the solo project of Vahco Before Horses from Demoncassettecult and Gold Trash. Whereas those other two are more in the realm of noise and experimental electronic music, Vahco is more in the realm of pop music with soulful vocals.
Who:Liza Anne w/Valley Queen and Down Time When: Thursday, 04.05, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Liza Anne’s 2018 album Fine But Dying may sound upbeat and bright and, well, like a conventionally commercial pop record I some ways. But not at all beneath the surface of the music is the fact that, according to a recent interview with Billboard, Anne just laid out her struggles with “panic disorder and depression,” articulating them in a way that could be relatable to almost anyone and hopefully at least putting to rest some of her own anxiety and shame regarding those issues. In putting the struggle in very specific personal terms without sensationalizing it or making it seem like a special taboo subject, Anne brilliantly makes it all seem like something anyone might experience without judgment. Joining Anne for this tour is Los Angeles’ Valley Queen who take a folk/acoustic music foundation to songwriting and make it warm and energetic. There’s plenty of post-neo-Laurel Canyon stuff around in the world today but Valley Queen frontwoman Natalie Carol doesn’t sound like she’s copping someone else’s vibe. Rather, her voice, sometimes quavering from the well of emotion, provides a compelling narrative and vivid imagery. One might compare her in that regard to Esmé Patterson’s own knack for creative storytelling that aims at bigger issues through the language of personal experience.
Who: Ty Segall w/Dirty Few ogdentheatre.com/events/detail/347251
When: Thursday, 04.05, 8 p.m.
Where: The Ogden Theatre
Why: Probably anyone that’s been paying attention to modern rock music knows who Ty Segall at this point. If not, pick up pretty much any of his records (they’re all worth listening to) and you’ll get an idea of what music Segall makes but keep in mind that he is clearly a songwriter who wants to explore a wide variety of tones, moods, dynamics and songwriting styles. On his 2018 album, Freedom’s Goblin, Segall explores a more lush songwriting style without waxing into the fake soul and ersatz R&B that is being peddled a little too much of late. Covering Hot Chocolate’s 1978 hit “Every 1’s a Winner” was an interesting choice for the record but it all fits in with an album that sounds like Segall is trying to create for himself an emotionally comfortable space in which to express feelings that are out of step with some of the more hard-edged rock and roll that some may have come to expect from Segall who is too much of a creative chameleon to ever fully embody, all the better for fans of musicians who evolve whether their fans are ready for the changes or not. People have been trying to pigeonhole Denver’s Dirty Few for any manner of reasons for years as just rock and roll hooligans. And they are that but bottom line, the band actually writes solid, surprisingly thoughtful, songs that fit in the context of a rowdy live show.
Who:Kitty Crimes album release w/GVgrace When: Thursday, 04.05, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Maria Kohler has been performing as Kitty Crimes for several years now and it seems as though many of her fans never really knew her as a talented musician and singer in various past bands including Houses, Science Partner and Mercuria and the Gem Stars. Kitty Crimes sometimes seemed like a goof and a gimmick. The whole white-presenting woman doing “dirty” rap thing. But Kohler isn’t someone easily clowned and she turned an interesting project into something powerful and well-composed beyond the obvious appeal. Her new record, Crimes of the Kitty, Volume 2 has soul, the expected deft wordplay, personal insight and lush production. For fans of K’Valentine and Kari Faux.
Who:Entrancer, Cities of Earth, Staggered Hooks, Glissline When: Thursday, 04.05, 8 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: This fundraiser for Project Worthmore, an organization dedicated to aiding the refugee community, is also a great chance to catch some of Denver’s most interesting experimental electronic projects. Entrancer’s music is grounded in the production and sensibility of 90s hip-hop and Detroit techno as well as the full breadth and depth of synthesizer music as someone who has more than a passing experience with modular synths. Cities of Earth’s Tangerine Dream-esque IDM sounds like what should be on the soundtrack to a documentary about Warp Records. At least if his 2017 EP Tangra is any indication. Staggered Hooks is probably the latest project from Dean Inman whose up-to-now-most-recent project, Dream Hike, was responsible for some of the most beautifully hypnotic deep house/ambient going. Glissline is the name Tommy Metz (formerly under his given name as well as Iuengliss) is using for his music these days. Metz has a gift for melodies that soothe the mind and his beats seem to employ the interval that releases endorphins. But whatever his music really does, fans of Aphex Twin and Clark should make an effort to see Glissline sometime if not tonight.
Who:Built to Spill w/Rituals of Mine, Black Belt Eagle Scout When: Thursday, 04.05, 7 p.m. Where: Gothic Theatre Why: Coming out of post-punk/post-hardcore band Treepeople, Doug Martsch put together a band that could synthesize his musical interests and a path of sonic curiosity that wouldn’t fully congeal in underground culture in quite the same way until the late 90s/early 2000s. He cited Caustic Resin as an influence and brought that band’s brilliant guitar player into the new band, Built to Spill, on bass as well as Ralf Youtz on drums. The group’s 1993 debut album Ultimate Alternative Wavers was an oblique thumbing of the nose at how their music culture had been co-opted and marketed as product rather than a culture parallel to the mainstream. The music sounded like a blend of Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr (a band clearly influenced by Young) and underground Pacific Northwest rock. But inside all of that, Martsch had found a way to bring in extended guitar jams that were emotionally charged and expressive rather than purely self-indulgent and wanky. The development of that sound and dynamic perhaps reached its apex on Built To Spill’s 1997 masterpiece, Perfect From Now On and the 1999 follow-up, Keep It Like A Secret. Along with the visionary indie pop of the Elephant 6 collective, the bands on Merge Records, K and Kill Rock Stars, and unlikely “alternative rock” star bands post-alternative collapse like Pavement, Built To Spill helped to shape indie rock in the first decade of the 2000s by offering yet another alternative vision to what was being pumped by large commercial outlets for music.
Seeing Built To Spill in 2018 is a bit like a glimpse back to a time when it was more easily possible to have a viable career in music without having to get commercially huge or over compromise or have to fit in with a trendy subgenre of the moment and ride that wave. Sure, BTS has been on Warner Brothers since Perfect From Now On but if they’re being encouraged to get more commercial you sure can’t tell from even its most recent record, 2015’s Untethered Moon. If the group’s showing at Treefort Music Fest 2018 is any indication, the trio is still capable of weaving its gritty, hypnotic magic today. And its sonic DNA is in music of most modern indie rock bands whether those bands know it or not.
Friday | April 6, 2018
What:Immediate Music Festival When: Friday, 04.06, 7 p.m. Where: Metropolitan State University of Denver Why: The Immediate Music Festival celebrates collaborative improvisation. Throughout the day (for more information click here) there will be workshops on group improvisation, soundpainting, noteworthy avant-garde musician Pauline Oliveros’ presentation Deep Listening. That night, at the King Center, there will be a concert from the avant-garde-improv band Sone which includes some of the local luminaries of that world with Jane Rigler, Janet Feder, Evan Mazunik, Gil Selinger and Mark Harris as well as a performance from Grammy-nominated jazz drummer extraordinaire Matt Wilson.
Who:Steve Gordon Art Show When: Friday, 04.06, 6-9 p.m. Where: Vertigo Gallery 960 Santa Fe Why: Master sculptor, painter and drawing artist Steve Gordon is having what may be one of his last art shows into the foreseeable future. Gordon is also a significant artist in Denver’s experimental music world mostly notably with improvisational composition band Animal / object, which often includes Violent Femmes frontman Gordon Gano.
Who:Doug Spencer: Cave Lovers When: Friday, 04.06, 6-11 p.m. Where: Dateline Gallery 3004 Larimer St. Why: This is the latest art show from painter Doug Spencer whose creative use of texture and lighting has made his work desired by connoisseurs of the artform wherein Spencer combines 2D design with 3D, sculptural/diorama elements to create truly unique works. Some may know Spencer as the imaginative guitarist in notable Denver and Fort Collins rock bands Snake Rattle Rattle Snake, Monofog and Sweet Tooth Meat Tooth.
Who:Nocturnal Presents: Exos w/Talien and Alex Whittier When: Friday, 04.06, 11 p.m. – 5 a.m. Where:TBA Why: Nocturnal is a long-running event that puts together deep house/experimental electronic dance events akin to a classic rave. So there will be long sets with the artists listed above going from late night until the early morning.
Who:Slugger, Henry and the Kissingers, Galleries, Pelvis Presley When: Friday, 04.06, 9 p.m. Where: Mutiny Information Cafe Why: After too many bands embraced the less interesting aspects of 60s and 70s rock a little too much a group of bands were bound to come along that embraced the more interesting aspects of that music including original songwriting that isn’t so obviously beholden to an earlier band. This is a show that includes a handful of those groups on the local level including Slugger, the band fronted by former Silver Tone songwriter/guitarist Gabriel Albelo.
Saturday | April 7, 2018
Who:Cut Chemist w/El Dusty and Chris Karns (Pretty Lights Live Band) When: Saturday, 04.07, 8 p.m. Where: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom Why: Cut Chemist is perhaps best known for his long term stint as a DJ/turntablist in Jurassic 5 and his involvement in the early era of Ozomatli. His tasteful breaks and ear for unusual and evocative samples brought a an uncommon elegance and depth to Jurassic 5’s beats. But the call to do something outside the context of the influential hip-hop group drew Cut Chemist to a solo career in 2004. His 2006 debut album under his own name was an eclectic and borderline world music and downtempo record called The Audience’s Listening. Since then the turntablist has served as a producer on numerous records, performed live DJ sets including opening for Shakira on her 2007 tour, collaborated with DJ Shadow and, in 2017, started doing a bi-weekly radio show, A Stable Sound, on dublab / 99.1 FM KZUT. In March 2018, Cut Chemist released his second solo album, Die Cut. The record continues Cut Chemist’s masterful treatment of samples into songs with a Dilla-esque use of motes of white noise in the mix, samples processed to sound like you’re getting intermittent transmissions of old radio programs, vintage television shows and commercials and ambient IDM glitch-hop.
Who:Nina Storey w/Michael and Sarah Hornbuckle When: Saturday, 04.07, 7 p.m. Where: Soiled Dove Underground Why: Nina Storey spent years cultivating her sound, songwriting and live show in Denver before relocating to Los Angeles in the 2000s. If you caught Storey in the 90s you probably got to see a singer whose voice was perfectly suited to the bluesy rock music she was writing then. Also, that her powerful voice seemed unlikely coming from someone with such a relatively small frame. Since then (and likely even at that time), Storey has explored the range of her voice and where it fit in and discovered it was well-suited to jazz and R&B as well. On her most recent full-length album, 2013’s Think Twice, Storey blended all her musical impulses into well-crafted modern pop songs. These days Storey still comes through Denver and on this date she is joined by local luminaries in the Denver blues world, Michael and Sarah Hornbuckle.
Who:Suss Law, Rotstrotter, Sentry Dogs, Berated and Florida Man When: Saturday, 04.07, 8 p.m. Where: Bar Bar / Carioca Café Why: Portland, Oregon’s Suss Law could be where power violence, noise and grindcore meet. Its recently released seven inch is a chaotic and relentless assault on the senses with few concessions to accessibility. If you go to this show you can also catch local grind/hardcore luminaries like Rotstrotter and Sentry Dogs. And given the set times of most of these groups, who don’t waste our time by dragging things out, the show may be over by midnight even with five bands.
Monday | April 9, 2018
Who:Acid Mothers Temple w/Yoo Doo Right and Emerald Siam When: Monday, 04.09, 7 p.m. Where: Larimer Lounge Why: Acid Mothers Temple in its Melting Paraiso U.F.O. incarnation is now on the Electric Dream Ecstasy Tour. The long-running Japanese psychedelic rock band manages to continuously bring a unique show every tour because its roots can be traced back mainly back to fairly experimental western music whether rock or avant-garde (i.e. Can, Karlheinz Stockhausen and King Crimson) but members of the band past and present have been instrumental, literally and figuratively, in comprising and shaping underground music and noise in Japan. The composition of the band’s songs is influenced more by concept than technique. It is bombastic and wild and simultaneously as gorgeous and as mysterious as an other-dimensional spirit incarnate. A list of the band members and their official role and their real title clues you into the fact that leader Kawabata Makoto has a sense of humor to match his imagination and technical prowess as a musician.
Kawabata Makoto : guitar, voice, synth, voice, speed guru
Higashi Hiroshi : synthesizer, harp, noodle god
Jyonson Tsu : vocal, guitar, bouzouki, electronics, midnight whistler
Satoshima Nani : drums, another dimension
Wolf : bass, space & time
Prepare to be taken to otherworldly emotional spaces during the show if you surrender to the music some. Also on the bill is Denver’s Emerald Siam which has become refreshingly difficult to pigeonhole. Ever since singer/guitarist Kurt Ottaway and the rest of the band has seemingly tapped deeper into a creative muse, the songs have gotten darker yet more open and spacious. Expect a full-length release in 2018.
Who: Primitive Man, Spectral Voice, Prison Glue and Cadaver Dog When: Monday, 04.09, 9 p.m. Where: Syntax Physic Opera Why: Primitive Man is celebrating its return from a long tour with this show at Syntax with like-minded death/doom/grind band Spectra Voice. Joining both bands will be hardcore band Cadaver Dog as well as noise/performance artist Prison Glue.
Tuesday | April 10, 2018
Who:Luna w/Flaural When: Tuesday, 04.10, 8 p.m. Where: Fox Theatre Why: Luna split for around ten years after its 2005 tour. The disappointment and despair and reality of the music industry at that time is documented in the 2006 film Tell Me Do You Miss Me. If you got to see Luna on that until now final tour, those feelings radiated from singer/guitarist Dean Wareham’s eyes when he looked out into the crowd. And not just because the late-night-hours lush pop that has been Luna’s hallmark ever since Wareham left influential dream pop band Galaxie 500 (which also never got its due during its time together or much since except by aficionados of deeply evocative, melancholy and ethereal gorgeous guitar rock). Wareham genuinely seemed like he was looking out on the last days of his career with plenty of life left to lead knowing he’d created some great music that would only be appreciated in the past tense. You couldn’t help but feel for him unless you’re one of those people for whom music is merely entertainment made not by humans but by functionaries of some kind of Distraction Industrial Complex.
But Wareham didn’t give up. He wrote music with then bandmate now wife Britta Phillips as well as noteworthy solo albums. He also wrote one of the best and most well-written and thoughtful rock autobiographies of all time with 2008’s Black Postcards. The book reads like all the music Wareham has been a part of making, warm and not detached but able to examine one’s feelings and intimate thoughts and express them in a way that is immediate relatable with a passionate yet gentle spirit even when the music is in moments of high feeling. Luna reconvened in 2015 and in 2017 released an album of interesting and not predictable covers called A Sentimental Education as well as an EP of originals, A Place of Greater Safety. That latter being some of the best music Luna has yet released so this would be a tour on which to catch one of the great rock bands of the last 27 years.
Who:Animal / object live on KGNU Radio Kabaret: Kurt Bauer, Steven Gordon, George Figgs and Karen Sheridan When: Tuesday, 04.10, 7-8 p.m. Where: Streaming on KGNU.org and broadcast on radio Why: Animal / object is Denver’s premiere avant-garde acoustic instrument band. For the last several years the group around the current core of Kurt Bauer, Steven Gordon has had a prolific and varied recorded output captured with various other noteworthy collaborators including the likes of Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes, Gordon Pryor, Paul Mimlitsch and for this show, Karen Sheridan formerly of all-female deathrock band 1980s Denver band Your Funeral, experimental rock band Corpses as Bedmates and R.O.C., a kind of deconstructionist pop band that incorporates elements of electronic industrial music and sampling. Over the weekend Sheridan did vocals for an incantation at Steven Gordon’s art show at Vertigo Gallery. So tune in to KGNU for this special performance from one of Denver’s great experimental bands.
Who:Lo Moon w/Kraus When: Tuesday, 04.10, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Lo Moon spent a great deal of time developing and percolating its sound and then waiting for the right opportunity and format to even let out its September 2016 single “Loveless.” A little under a year and a half later, the full-length self-titled album comes out on on Sony. The single came out at a time when many of the dream pop and neo-shoegaze bands were not drawing on the same inspirations as Lo Moon so it seemed especially sophisticated and sonically and emotionally deep by comparison. The full-length album including “Loveless” doesn’t capitalize on the promise of the single so much as showcase a sound the band had cultivated and perfected in this first stage of its development as a band. The record didn’t exactly blow the minds of critics but it was interesting to see a band not succumb to the pressure of putting out its music as quickly as possible, given the avenues in which to do so, before developing that music to the point it needed to be and without fully submitting to the de-mystifying tendency of the social media game most bands use to garner any excitement for its new material these days. Lo Moon distinguished itself playing larger venues when it toured with Ride in 2017 and getting to see a band with this large a sound on the small stage now would be a great time to see a group that may not be regularly playing such small clubs in the future.
Who:Timber Timbre w/Thor & Friends When: Tuesday, 04.10, 7 p.m. Where: Globe Hall Why: Timber Timbre has been described as psychedelic folk. But if that’s the case then its 2017 album, Sincerely, Future Pollution is more brooding and darker than that designation would suggest. More akin to Midlake’s artistically ambitious compositions or those of Six Organs of Admittance than Vetiver and early Animal Collective. Thor & Friends is a band lead by Thor Harris who some may know from his stints in Shearwater, Swans and Bill Callahan. Though largely known for his skills with a broad spectrum of percussion instruments, Harris is a multifaceted artist and multi-instrumentalist and this band displays that especially well with creative use of marimba prominent in the mix of percussion heavy, yet gently beautiful and atmospheric music.
Wednesday | April 11, 2018
Who:Wake, Vermin Womb, Call of the Void and Full Bore When: Wednesday, 04.11, 8 p.m. Where: Hi-Dive Why: Wake is a deathgrind band from Calgary, Canada. Currently on tour in support of its towering, brutal 2018 album Misery Rites, Wake is joined on this Denver date by like-minded locals. Vermin Womb is a band that includes Ethan McCarthy from Primitive Man as well as former Clinging to the Trees of a Forest Fire drummer J.P. Damron. Call of the Void took the blunt, abrupt, savage dynamic of deathgrind to another level of creative sonic violence.