Matt Borghi & Michael Teager‘s new live album Awaken the Electric Air: Live from Star’s End, October 20, 2013 is now available.
The music on this CD comprises live renditions of several selections from Convocation, as well as new compositions that include fresh performances by Teager on flute. Recoreded live at Philadelphia’s WXPN in the World Café Live studio and housed in packaging that’s comprised of original photography by Star’s End host and veteran electronic musician Chuck van Zyl. Our brief time in Philly was magical and welcoming; it’s satisfying that we were able to truly represent these special moments musically, and with the help of Echoes producer Jeff Towne the recordings are superb.
We’re proud of this performance and happy to make this available to the public. The album is available for purchase digitally via iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic, or physically via Kunaki or at live performances. You can hear an excerpt of the recording below.
With everything that’s been going on with the musical endeavors of Michael Teager and myself I haven’t focused much on my solo work, but back in August I signed a deal with the Swedish label Sub.Stream and their subsidiary Mareld to release a new solo recording called After Otherwise.
After Otherwise is a very personal musical journey. It’s not the ambient music you might be used to from me, but rather it’s a downtempo release with songs, spoken poetry, vocals, something I haven’t done since Olagra, but more than it being a musical journey, it was a personal journey for me. This recording represents that the absolute pinnacle of my production and musical abilities. There are parts that are reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s Are You Going With Me, my delta blues influences crept in as I approached Own Way, and there’s also just a lot of straight-up funk that has a sort of Fila Brazillia vibe.
With all of the ambient-centric work that I’ve been doing with Teager and the prepping of the Star’s End release it was easy to loose track of the 4+ years I put into After Otherwise. I started and stopped After Otherwise at least a dozen times. Sometimes, I would just get to frustrating creative impasse and felt, because this work was so different than all of my other work, it was a waste of time. As an artist, constantly pushing the creative envelope and creative growth, it can be challenging. It can be doubly challenging when you feel like you need to pursue something, but there’s no precedent for the work that you’re trying to pursue. As Joseph Campbell says, “We create our precedents for our lives…” and in so doing, sometimes, you have to just jump in and keep at it.
With all of that said, I can say that when working on the recording, I was never anything totally inspired, as it was a project that refused to die. I kept getting sucked in and immersed in the project. I think that I probably recorded several dozen tracks, finally distilling it down to thirteen. This was also a great chance to record Michael Teager playing sax on a variety of tunes in less of ambient context, some of which you can hear in The Raven below.
I created all of the videos below to highlight the music, but also because I like editing video and putting it to music. Enjoy.
As I wrote about here, I stumbled across I Am the Center by accident and while I don’t write many record reviews these days, I still wanted to take a minute and write about this stellar new collection.
I Am the Center made me rethink what I thought I knew about the origin of new age music and instead put me on a completely different thought trajectory. After I wrote the article I refer to above, I posted it on Facebook and it received quite a few comments. A friend of mine, who was an active music aficionado near the time that new age music emerged referred to it as “mellow electronic music” when thinking about historically. Now, admittedly that definition has changed in the, nearly, four decades that have passed, depending on your interpretation of when it emerged. I’m thinking late 70’s, early 80’s. I was a mere pup at this time so all that I have for reference are romantic soliloquys of a simpler time and revised history made fact by sheer force of will – Neither of these can be looked to, honestly, for historical accuracy. However, Douglas Mcgowan’s fact-based liner notes in the booklet that accompaniges the two-disc set, I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950 – 1990, creates a different picture about the origin and intention of this music. The sticker on the cellophane wrapper states:
Forget everything you know, or think you know, about new age, one of the defining musical-archaeological explorations of the past decade. More than just a groundbreaking first major anthology of the golden age of new age, I Am The Center is a knowing but never cynical, prismatic portrait of music that can finally be recognized for what it is: great American folks art.
That pretty much sums it up, but only pretty much, otherwise I’d have nothing else to write here.
This collection, for me, has been as profound as my purchase of Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music was for me in 2000 when it came out. This collection has given me a perspective that, as I said above, I didn’t have. Even working at the fringe of new age and having written for various new age magazines, I never quite realized how wrong my understanding of this music was. Between years of a heaping helpings of bullshit marketing and weirdo positioning, new age music started to look more like a haven for flakes and space cadets, disingenuous souls on the make, spinning enlightenment, crystals, sound and other sacred, spiritual and religious practices to make a buck – All of this truly served to cheapen the depth of new age music and practices.
With I Am the Center, we’re back in the sacred space, and I applaud Light In the Attic Records for taking a chance on something that could have been construed as so uncool, but instead is a work of profound beauty and depth. Thank god for labels like Light In the Attic, who are still willing to take a chance on great art, no matter how deep the stigma… timeless is timeless. Respect.
I’ve heard of some of the artists on this collection before; folks like Iasos, Steve Halpern, Laraaji, Michael Stearns, and Constance Demby, the latter having one of the finest compositions on this recording with: Om Mani Padme Hum, which I’ve never heard before, but incidentally, I wear a silver ring that says just that in Sanskrit… My sister had a cassette of Demby’s Novus Magnificat that kicked around my house for years, but I only gave it a few cursory listens. I’ll be revisiting it.
Somebody recommended I listen to a podcast, Expanding Mind, that featured the curator of this collection, Douglas McGowan. The podcast is done a little differently than I would do it, for instance, I think it’s done via three-way cell phone conferencing or something, but nevertheless, I’m glad the recording is getting some exposure.
Since I started this write-up this collection has been getting a lot of attention and my will just be something more, maybe different, added to the echo chamber of positive comments for this recording. In any case, this is an interesting recording that really changed my mind and gave me a new perspective on what I thought I knew about new age music.
As an aside, I was recently at an estate sales where I picked up a cassette of Ray Lynch’s Deep Breakfast, something that I had only heard referenced on old Music from the Hearts of Space programs. For two bucks, I couldn’t go wrong. I haven’t listened to it yet, mostly because tape players are in short supply, but I’m eager to put it on and see what kind of new age goodness will come out of the speakers. I say this, because if anything, I am the Center, has given somewhat of a collectable perspective on the deluge of cassette-only releases in the new age genre that came out in the 80s and 90s and have been languishing in bargain bins of stores with too much room to pitch ‘em – what other plastic nuggets lie, dusty, in heaps and bins still waiting to be discovered by new ears? Kind of exciting.
The recent success and attention that Convocation has received has had me having a lot of conversations about the music, creative origins, etc… and all of this made me want to revisit the history of the music I make, how I came to it and the origin of the music.
Ambient music, as it’s defined in the United States is very different than the way it’s defined in the United Kingdom. This has always been the case. The Ambient Music Guide has done an exceptional job providing a history here. It could be argued that US ambient is more along the lines of the work that Eno created, following his original intentions than the UK flavor of ambient, but then it also seems that UK ambient took more of a nod from electronic and beat-oriented music with ambient music whereas the US took things in a New Age direction. I don’t believe that this was just a curious divergence of paths, rather I believe that the New Age-influenced music of the US spoke to a hopeful awakening born of the religious and/or spiritual ambiguity that has always been at issue in the US, whereas I believe that the UK, with a much longer history, religious and otherwise, had been through all of that, and the orientation of dance aligned with psychedelics and transcendence was present-moment living to the core. I believe both were driven by socio-economic conditions and were responses to historical events and I’m waiting for someone to write that book so I can read the rest.
However, we got to things, the fact remains, particularly with beatless ambient music, that there’s more New Age influence floating around in this music than many of us, ambienteers, would like to admit. Or maybe I’ll just speak for myself — There’s more than I’d like to admit.
At the time I was thinking about all of this I stumbled upon a new recording that cast New Age music in a different light, or provided a different narrative than I had been familiar with – I Am the Center – Private Issue New Age Muisc in America 1950 – 1990 – A compilation put out by Light in the Attic Records – The timing of where my thinking was and finding this recording couldn’t have been more serendipitous. This recording got me thinking about New Age music and what it means to make New Age music.
When making my gritty style of ambient music, I certainly thought that it was as far away from New Age music as a music could be, but then on the other hand, I wouldn’t be averse to the idea of coming out to do a show in a dashiki with sandals, and setting up in front of my guitars in the full lotus position on a meditation pillow, ala Ravi Shankar – ready to play for 48 hours straight – sadly I can’t quite pull off the full lotus without some injury to my person, but the idea is appealing to me.
With this in mind, I started to wonder what it was to be a New Age musician. I imagined a slightly open button-up shirt, wind blowing my longish hair back as I stood on a craggy mountain-top with a blue sky behind me with wood flute or a flamenco guitar held against my torso while I smiled widely, knowingly, but again I Am the Center took me away from this idea and so I decided to look up New Age music and its qualities. The first page I went to was the first entry that Google gave me, the Wikipedia entry, which defines New Age music thusly:
New Age music is downtempo music intended to create artistic inspiration, relaxation, and optimism. It is used by listeners for yoga, massage, meditation, and reading as a method of stress management or to create a peaceful atmosphere in their home or other environments, and is often associated with environmentalism and New Age spirituality.
The harmonies in New Age music are generally modal, consonant, or include a drone bass. The melodies are sometimes recordings of nature sounds and used as an introduction to a track or throughout the piece. Pieces of up to thirty minutes are common.
New Age music includes both electronic forms, frequently relying on sustained synth pads or long sequencer-based runs, and acoustic forms, featuring instruments such as flutes, piano, acoustic guitar and a wide variety of non-western acoustic instruments…
Check, check, and check… Oh, shit, Houston, we have a problem!
Matt Borghi’s (now referring to myself in the third-person just to be objective) music is downtempo, intended for relaxation and meditation… the music is usually modal and consonant and always has a drone… It’s also frequently electronic with lots of sustained synth guitar pads and volume swells…
I’ll pause briefly for a memory as I contemplate my new ageyness. I remember when my friend Jason Sloan came to my wedding. He was like ‘This is the first time that I’ve ever seen Matt not wearing sandals…” I always wondered: Was that an allusion to my hippy-ness? I always fancied myself a hippie with a buzzcut, kind of like a Vermont hippie with the beard and short hair (full disclosure: I went to school in Vermont), rather than the west coast-flavored hippie with the long hair and optional beard… Was I a hippie or was I just a new age guy? Hmm… I’m beginning to wonder.
My primary impetus to make the music I make came from the music of Pink Floyd, well, that’s what I used to believe… then I dug a little deeper into my repressed memories and revised past to recall a portly lad of nine years old riding to fifth grade on the school bus through a dark wintery Michigan morning trying to convey the profundity of the chrome cassette tape (Seriously audiophile stuff in 1984) dupe that he had just gotten of his dad’s favorite record, George Winston’s December. Oh, but it doesn’t end there, friends, another memory has just crept like a foreign body up out of my creaky psyche – I spent hours listening to Enya’s Watermark and Shepherd’s Moon recordings when I first began to dabble in Zen meditation when I was 19. I still love those recordings, but they’re such a part of me that I’ve just come to take them for granted. In any case, those are both very positive memories and real doorway musical experiences that I had forgotten. I need to pause and let this sink in.
Perhaps, I was always destined to be a new age musician, but I veiled it in some bullshit contextualization’s to make myself feel less flakey.
I thought a little more about this and my beliefs… Energies, holistic healing, meditation, yoga, the relationship between mind, body and spirit… All of a sudden I started to realize that I believed a lot of the things that people in the New Age movement believed. I like reading A Course in Miracles, even if I don’t always know what to make of it’s origin, and I’ve read my fair share of Ram Dass, Eckhart Tolle and Alan Watts… Esalen, Omega Institute and Findhorn all appeal to me greatly as sacred places I’d love to perform and meet with other like-minds…
I don’t know that I can come to terms with casting myself in the same light as Zamfir and Yanni. I don’t know that I can reconcile the idea of my CD being next to one about music for your chakras. It’s not that I think Yanni and Zamfir aren’t cool… they’re not my taste, but hell, Zamfir made a King of the Hill episode… Yep, that’s none other than Hank Rutherford Hill holding that recording of Zamfir below… and as for chakras and stuff, it’s not that I’m opposed to it or don’t believe in it, I just don’t know anything about chakras, or color therapy, or reiki healing… I can’t criticize what I don’t know anything about. I’ll also note that Yanni has a lot of gigs lined up… what the hell is so bad about that? I wish I had a lot of gigs lined up playing the music I love, taking it to the people. I’ve got gigs, but he’s doing it for real. Looks pretty appealing from here.
New Age-types seem to smile a lot. I don’t smile a lot. I joke a lot. I think life is pretty funny and I laugh a lot, but to just smile disingenuously makes me feel inauthentic. There are enough fakers, I can’t be another one. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. It probably doesn’t have to be that way. It’s been characterized that way and that’s the caricature that’s come to be most prevalent when the New Age artist is considered.
Sitting here listening to I Am the Center there’s nothing bullshitty, or hucksterish, or phony, or disingenuous or smiley mountain top with a flute or guitar with this New Age music. This “New Age” music is more like me and the work that I hope to do than most of what I’ve been exposed to. If I Am the Center is New Age music, and categorically, it is, then I guess I would be proud to be a New Age artist. If being a New Age artist means reading much of what’s on my book shelf already, and being inspired by much of what has already inspired me and is in my music collection then I guess the last step is acknowledgement. That I never acknowledged this before is really more of a testament to the dissolution of my ego and/or my machismo, things that I don’t have much of an attachment to these days.
Honestly, it’s going to take me a while, when asked what kind of music I make, to let New Age, glide across my lips, but if I’m honest with myself, when I ask the question, am I a new age musician? I’ll probably just think if the sandals fit…