This record is the story of an intersection where Hollywood faux exotica (Scene: Memphis, the Fifties, me as a kid, sitting in the dark in the Normal (yes!) movie theater, Cobra Woman or the like reflecting off my eyeballs and seeping into my teenage libido) crosses paths with the real thing (me, 25 years later, sitting on the bank of the Ganges, listening to Pandit Pran Nath sing a centuries-old composition in the raga, 'Darbari', a composition never written down but passed on from voice to voice). And this is the story of my ongoing cultivation of that imaginary intersection where everything is shimmering and warm, jungle and city, sexy and funny and gracefully "spiritual" all at the same time.
And it's also the story of the CMI Fairlight, the first digital sampler with keyboard interface, which brought into focus the possibility of composing with little sound objects as the basis for new forms. And how all these things meet that Summer of '82 in Paris, living in a borrowed apartment in Pigalle with doglet Beeper, passing a secret note to that spicy Vietnamese secretary at the Polydor office (who was destined to decorate several years of my life and my imagination), and rehearsing with Abdou Mboup the great Senegalese drummer, for Peter Gabriel's first WOMAD Festival in Bath, UK. >>
This was Year Three since the impact of Possible Musics on the musical world and I began to hear certain musicians and critics speaking about how long ago they had actually been deeply interested in ethnic musics. True enough, perhaps, but just line up all the LP covers released during 1977–1980 and try to find evidence of that interest having been expressed musically. Then flash forward fifteen years and walk into that trendy restaurant in Soho or Paris or LA with arugula and Pellegrino in the air along with Deep Forest on the muzak. Caramba! What have the Yuppies done to the Pygmies...MY Pygmies!! Once they were part of my World Symphonies (my working title for this record) and now they're doing a cute Cirque du Soleil act. Is it any wonder that "world music" (the category not the music) has become slightly radioactive for me?
What to do except pull up the collar of my overcoat against the chill of the night air, light up a Gauloise with a world-weary shrug, and disappear among receding pools of yellow street light.
My days and nights in India—with Pran Nath showing me the holy caves and rivers and palaces where the art of raga unfolded—allowed me to time-travel back to an age of flickering candlelight, splashing water and laughter, with serpentine melodies unfurling in perfumed air. This pushed me further to think in terms of the imaginary world of beauty and sensuality that might have developed in our time if the "classical" model had been musics from warm climates instead of grey and cold northern Europe. The liner notes to this record, written in 1983, underline this idea while opening the window onto a field of new possibilities in the digital domain. >>
With my early Cobra Woman infatuations forever resonant, I wanted to sprinkle the fairy dust of Hollywood (in the liner notes, "exotic Hollywood orchestration of the 1950s" refers to a few looped seconds of an Yma Sumac track) onto the authenticity of my newer loves: the raga, the gamelan, and the Pygmies—allowing the near and the known, the distant and imaginary, to impregnate one another, to make them all burn with a new brightness and—with any luck—to forge a new alloy.
But not to forget, the subtitle for this record was "Magic Realism". As much as I loved getting lost in the throbbing digital collage which functioned as a kind of extended tambura, it took muscle and flesh and fingers and coordination to make the trumpet sound. And for Abdou to play the bugurubu. And Pran Nath's voice, teaching me 'Darbari', was always there inside. This record has always had a special place for me. I still think of the liner notes as a shooting script for a lot of yet-to-be-made music.
Extracts: Darbari Extension i | Empire ii | Darbari Extension ii •
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Thank god I kept agendas all these years. Jumbled together on a page are the mundane (daily notes to pick up things, career pitches, concerts, departure dates, deadlines) and the rhapsodic (ususally the rising and falling flares of love and sex and music). jh