In The Ancient World
Late in the spring of 1990 in the fairytale city of Varanasi we met, fell in love, hand in hand started walking away from our old privileges and beliefs.
To an accompaniment of temple bells and shuffling pilgrim feet, there our music was born as prayer, as worship, as a bridge to the unseen.
But our precious city stood no chance against the modern world. More cars meant more cows wore bloody gashes on their sides. Street vendors had hacking coughs, monkeys were bad tempered, women were no longer safe out alone at night.
While the local classical music scene, at first to us a source of wonder, was crashing. Teachers were preaching what they no longer believed, neither they nor the big city superstars had their fathers’ skills, no one could do the amazing things that first attracted us to Indian music. We stopped going to concerts, they were all so lame, Indian classical music was dying in front of our eyes.
By 1998 unhappiness with what was happening around us, dengue fever, malaria, chronic bronchitis and the shits, finally drove us out of India. Still with the years the disturbing images have faded, what’s stuck are memories of the ordinary Indians we came to so respect, the golden light on the giant steps leading down into the holy river.
Back in the West
Back in the West it wasn’t long before we realized all the music supposed to be “new”, sounded like something we’d heard before. Pop tunes were warmed over reruns from the 60’s and 70’s, the studied not improvised jazz was safe and timid. After India we couldn’t ignore the decay, in the West too music had lost its magic. The noble dream of one world had turned out a spooky nightmare.
Worse yet we started to suspect the music we’d grown up with was not as good as we’d once thought. Listened to carefully most acknowledged masterpieces, most of our old favorites, were underwhelming. Puzzling we’d failed to notice.
On a more mundane level we felt very vulnerable. Unspecialized, we can do many different things well, but with no marketable credentials how to support ourselves was unclear. Surrounded by dark clouds, all we could afford for our first rental was a dirt cheap sweet but rotting old trailer.
Our old friends claimed to be satisfied, to have reached an understanding of life, but a few inches down they were obviously disappointed. Though rich, they didn’t know and couldn’t give themselves what they needed. While everything was too big, the cars, the cookies, the people.
What We’re Playing Now
Still prayer, still a bridge to the unseen, what we’re playing now is open, naive, flowing, fearless, music from before the Fall.
Facing away from each other, a full 8 feet apart, lost in our own worlds, one in front of a big wooden Ganesh, the other a book case up against a different wall. Unamplified the sound of Dotara and Boxus Quartus so soft we’re listening like we never have before.
Each time we put them out it’s a new adventure, we have no idea what’s going to happen, nothing is planned, practiced, rehearsed, or studied. Eyes half closed, spaced out, listening for when we’re getting closer, for hidden magic, then we toss it back and forth.
Not what’s usually called playing music, it shouldn’t be working but it is.
Woven from sounds too complex to be called “notes”, sounds that even unexpected cause no problems, sounds that want to hold together, to fit.
And vocables, not Inuit gutturals, yodels, jazz singer scats, conventional imitations of tabla, but sounds we’d never dare make if anyone were listening, sounds beyond strange yet easy in our throats, sounds that enrich, give structure to our playing.
Work In Progress
That’s what happened after we finished our third CD, for 7 long years we lost our music.
We did our best, next to no one noticed, it stopped us.
Yet what outrageous music we’d recorded!
Listening now to Work In Progress, we’re blown away. Is that really us? Did we really play that?
Music so different it doesn’t slide easy into any existing genre.
Not minimalist, not conceptual, not musique concrete, not avant guard, not tonal, not atonal, not 12-tonal, not ambient, not electroacoustic, not bebop, not free jazz, not ethnic, not fusion, not psychedelic, not new age, not space music, not rap…
Stealth rad, it has none of the distinguishing features of most music called innovative.
It’s not crude, experimental, loud, busy, discordant, harsh, screechy, saturated with sensitive angst, not music reflecting a world experienced as nasty, brutish, mechanical, and unfair.
Not a manifesto, a pointing to what should be done, not a rough first try to be improved on in the future.
More like the sure confident product of an old established tradition, music so clean polished graceful, it’s hard to even hear it as new.
Yet we made it while consumed with anger, fried, threatened, losing friends left and right, to us too that doesn’t quite compute.
Still wherever it came from, there it is. Peaceful, soothing, deep chilled, easy, ever changing, rich with silence.
It’s the music playing here and on other pages of this site.
Right from when we made our first instruments in India, they’ve been tools for stopping thought, getting loose, getting lost.
And that’s what they still are.
They’ve grown bigger, more sophisticated, sometimes we’ve played them amplified, but with them we’re still looking for the sweet spot in time, for ecstasy, for the door into a cleaner more peaceful world.
Not objects to sell, we did the work of building them only because we wanted them to play.
Developed in parallel with our music, siblings in the same family, they’re our wild magic partners not our well trained servants.
Not engineered to put out only official notes, funky with strange harmonics, their rich complex sounds must be grokked in fullness.
Even our keyboards, our wildly tuned “quartertone” kalimbas, are bad news for old habits, skipping every other key it’s still impossible to play standard scales or chords.
Half an inch down that’s what we’ve always been after. Unhappy with most everything we heard, we wanted instruments that would play only deeply different music.
Instruments that would insist we work with the sounds they want to sing, that would make listening more useful than memory, feeling more important than thought.
Now we have them.
Our Shokis, Dotara and Bass Bowus, Boxus and Boardus Quartus.
a pot of strong green tea
Hyson or Sencha
a slice of pumpkin bread
baked at home