: I can see you're using the phrase radiant being deliberately. That's from a very yogic tradition. Am I correct? AR
: Yes, that's right. AAJ
: Your music has been called yogic.
Yogic Music AR
: Well I don't label it anything... However, I was a practitioner of hatha yoga for over forty years. And in the last two years I've gotten serious about the practice of tai chi chuan, and research into the Tao.
But what I meant by yogic music is that when we talk about yoga, yoga means limbs. It is the connection between limbsbody, mind, and spirit. In my music I want all of those elements to be resonant. They're not separated entities; they flow into one another.
The "mind" part of course is the fascination, and the pursuit that I learned from my mentors like Don Cherry, Charles Moore, and Yusef Lateef. This rigorous intellectual pursuit of music. It's not abstract; it's applied. The mind part. The fascination part.
The "body" part is the feeling. The movement. As an aside, I don't believe in a class system of music. So if I hear the "body" part, then there's a dance element to it. You know that's what Thelonious Monk
used to say"you can dance to my music." So when you hear James Brown or Sly Stone, to me that's high art. I don't think there is any differentiation between that and if I was listening to Stockhausen. AAJ
: Nor should anyone. AR
: I agree. Yet they do. And everything is class. I'm with you, I hear you. The class system of music needs to go. Even jazz has its own class system...and I'm automatically sort of an outsider in the jazz world because I play the hand drums, which is not a traditional, standardized, or codified instrument.
But just to plow through with this "body" part. I want the groove, the feeling of it, how the quality of the music works and how it moves you. That's what I'm talking about. It can touch us in a way that can't really be quantified. AAJ
: It hits emotional centers. AR
: There are emotional centers and there are also transcendent emotional centers. The funny thing is, if you watch a car commercial and if it has the right music it can make you cry. But that's not transcendent emotion, right?
Transcendent emotion has to go somewhere deeper. It has to do with a quality of music that you can take away from it. That is transformative in your life. It's not just a moment of "wow, that's so great."
Finally, when I speak about "spirit," I don't mean religion. We are born spiritual, we learn religion. To me, "spirit" references mysterythose things which cannot be parsed and questions which have no answer. The joy of living a spiritual life means to be awake to these mysteries and the challenge of living with the unknown, with change, the joy of developing intuition and cultivating creative imagination. And then there is compassion which is about connection with nature and our fellow beings and knowing love.
In my own aesthetic and in my process, I try to have all of those qualities really present and resonant. And that has to do with how I put the music together, with the musicians that are attracted to play with me, to perform together. That informs everything that has to do with process. And I do want to arrive at this thing called process. Because Go-Organic Orchestra is not just a group, it's also a process.
Go: Organic Orchestra AAJ
: What is your definition of the project? AR
: Go: Organic Orchestra? It's a group. There's the factual history and then there's the personal journey of my involvement with it, in my own creativity. Basically, I started it in 1999. My motivation was this. I had been so fortunate to have these incredible mentors, to have these transmissions. There were a lot of younger musicians who wanted to perform with me and learn with me. And I felt it was my turn to begin sharing, you know? Transmitting what I could, the best way I could. And these young musicians had backgrounds in music from all over the world. They played the tabla. They played Indian instruments. A lot of them were classical musicians, contemporary musicians. It wasn't just so-called jazz players.
I [began] thinking about a format and had always been interested in how one solves the issue of having a large ensemble [in the creative music context]. I was always interested in orchestral music, specifically how to utilize a large ensemble, but still to have musicians who can express their own voice in resonance with the bigger voice. So those two things came together, and I started the Go: Organic Orchestra in 1999 in Los Angeles
As I evolved this idea of the Go: Organic Orchestra, I was also evolving my interest in the process. The idea that when you generate a new creative process, your music is bound to be prototypical. This is the crucial idea. When we create a new process, we can generate prototypical art. An obvious example is Jackson Pollock.
That is what I mean when I say the Go: Organic Orchestra is a process. It has to do with the relationship between the musicians who are performing with me and the score materials. These are like the DNA of the interval and rhythmic materials that can be used spontaneously in a number of ways.
I also compose western-notated duos and trios that can unfold in the music based upon my cuing. Then there is my own spontaneous conducting that I do, an element I invented that uses a series of hand signals. The interaction in the moment, the relationship, the process of putting these things together, always generates music that is fresh, new, and of the moment.
The fact is, though, we're using words here and trying to transmit ideas that are linear. But it's actually the process of what Go: Organic is. It's about the relationships of these elements. The elements are the voices of the people who are performing and their humanity. AAJ
: As an example, how do the written elements unfold in the context of the organic process? Does that happen because some grouping of musicians has written material as a resource and when you cue it they play that as written? Or can they take that is written and do with it as they please? AR
: I would say both/and. AAJ
: I was afraid you would say that. AR
: Right. (laughs). The longer answer is this. Part of the process is my knowing and being in tune with what the musicians can bring to the table. So one of my models of Go: Organic Orchestra was this idea that in Balinese gamelan, which every village has, anybody can participate. Even the person who's not that musical but can hit a gong every 64 beats. Then there's the person who is composing the music and is an amazing virtuoso. And they're in the group together.
Let's translate that concept to the Go: Organic Orchestra. If I have an oboe player who comes with a classical music background, they [probably] love to read and interpret written music. In the same group I might have a jazz player or a rock 'n roll playerthey don't really like to read. They read cause they kind of have to, you know.
In this context, I might write an etude for the oboe player based upon a triple-diminished cosmogram, which is part of the score materials for the music. The score is the fundamental three-page score that everybody has. Then I can cue my pianist who is a deep master of spontaneously improvising with the triple-diminished, and I can cue the oboist to play together. Again, the idea is the process. The elements are the three-page score that has intervallic matrices that can be interpreted. And I conduct. I cue them. There's ten of them; I have ten fingers. I can direct the musicians to the matrices and what I call interval cosmograms. And then what I call ostinatos of circularity, which is the connection between the pitch material and the rhythm material. The rhythm material is based upon what I call signal rhythms. This is my concept of rhythm, how I combine the cycles that you find in North Indian music and the polyrhythms that you find in west African music. I create my own rhythm cycles that I call signal rhythms. Everybody in the orchestra needs to learn the signal rhythms. There's only a handful of them that manifest repeatedly in my music, in different aesthetic manifestations.
I might change the score from concert to concert. I'm always refining and changing it. But the elements have to work as a kind of DNA, from which the variety and freedom can evolve.
In sum, Organic means the integrity of the relationship between me conducting, the community of musicians present, and the score materials.
: Take us to how this process relates to your latest endeavor Ragmala
, which continues to receive a lot of positive critical attention. AR
: What's really amazing about working with the Brooklyn Raga musicians on Ragmala
is that Indian music has been a huge influence on what I do rhythmically, but also in terms of how I work with intervals as well. I love working with the musicians in Brooklyn Raga Massive. And my experience of them is that they are world class, outstanding north and south-Indian musicians. It's been humbling and beautiful for me to be with these musicians in the Brooklyn Raga Massive because I'm learning a lot about Raga and Tala that I did not know. Another thing that is really amazing about them is that they, being so grounded in their own tradition, are still really open and really desiring to learn and collaborate and create music of the now.
Let me give you a concrete example. In the three-page score for Ragmala, the third matrix is based upon the symmetric hexatonic scale. My Go: Organic musicians know this by now, and when I work with the BRM musicians, they too can look at and discover particular ragas which relates to the scale. Everyone is looking at it in their own way and can add their creative experience as they bring it to life. When we look at the combinations of interval, we find the feelings and aesthetic. in Indian music theory there is a Rasa which underlies the feeling of every Raga. AAJ
: The seed, or the nectar....right? AR
: That's correct. The aesthetic coloration. So, way back in 1999 when I started designing these intervallic matrices and cosmograms, I was already influenced by this idea of Rasa. I wanted every one of the matrices and cosmograms to have their own combination of intervals. Their own distinct emotional flavor that would be manifest by the performance of the musicians. My point being that the symmetric hexagonic scale has a very distinct Rasa and flavor to it that is distinct from a triple diminished cosmogram. And is distinct from Shri Rag. Right? They're all distinct. But here's the beauty. It only comes to life in the moment when the musician breathes life into it.