Laraaji's celestial, ambient jewel, Vision Songs Vol. 1, is available now on Numero Group.
Your discography begins with your work in the early 80s on the Ambient series with Brian Eno. What was this experience like?
Having the welcomed opportunity to perform and record my musical sound (Prepared Electric Zither) in a high-end studio in Soho, N.Y. with Brian Eno producing was indeed a quantum uplift experience.
It felt hugely affirmative of the musical direction and lifestyle I was experimenting with at the time. Brian approached me in Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, 1979 one beautiful late summer evening through an impromptu note on paper placed in my zither/autoharp case. I was involved in closed-eyes performance seated in cross-legged posture on a ground mat doing hammered zither improvisation. When I was closing down for the evening and counting the money donations from listeners, in my zither case was a neatly hand-written note on a small piece of paper commanding my urgent attention...
"Dear Kind Sir, your music is captivating I would love to talk to you about collaborating on a music recording project of mine (and local NY phone number)
signed, BRIAN ENO
Intuitively, I knew this was a divinely orchestrated connection. I went with it, phoned the gentleman, and met with him the very next day. We introduced ourselves more formally and proceeded to wind our way through related discussion on the theme of ambient music and then into the agreement to go into a local recording studio. From those analog reel-to-reel recording sessions we brought forth the new music album Ambient #3/Day of Radiance which was released several months later.
Was it your first time formally recording a record?
Celestial Vibration, my first formal recording from 1978, preceded Ambient #3 by one year. It was released locally in USA and recently worldwide through Soul Jazz records. Ambient #3 was my first globally distributed formal recording from 1980. Up until that period, I had only produced music cassettes at home in New York.
How did your time with Eno impact your songwriting and recording?
My time with Brian extended into years of soft friendship, during which my attitude towards recording quality and in-studio experimentation evolved. His introduction of Eventide Harmonizer effects in the mixing process opened my imagination up to the world of modern sound processing. I continue to investigate new sound treatment ideas in recording performance. Working with Brian, I learned to trust spontaneity and experiments as an unlimited source of great new music. He was a mentor.
How has the ambient music changed as a genre since your earliest recordings?
My earliest recordings were contemplative, meditative ambient for peaceful deep listening performed with some classical sensitivity. I was not all that aware of what other artists outside of Opal Records artists were doing in the ambient genre. Even after meeting Brian, I do not know all of what the genre was putting out then. But over the years, I’ve heard new music classified as "ambient" that expresses a broader understanding of ambient. I would say that the ambient genre has inspired robust new voices. Musical voices that do not easily get confused with elevator music.
How has your understanding and relationship with ambient music adapted over the last few decades?
As the global quest for sustainable peace, compassion, and harmony intensified over the last few decades so has my commitment to conscious healing ambient music. A music that leaves space for breath, space for the five elements, space for harmonization of deep subconscious stress patterns, and space for visionary imagination to soar.
You'll be performing at this year's Marfa Myths music festival in Marfa, TX. What can the audience expect from this set?
Ultra beautiful multi-timbrel soundscape music featuring the signature ambient sound of electric zither-autoharp, kalimba, nature sounds, Vision Songs and gentle percussion with support from healer and long-time friend Arji Oceananda. This is what the audience can expect from this set at Marfa Myths music festival in April.
How has your live performance changed throughout your career?
With the advance of portable electronic effects pedals, I am always experimenting and searching for fresh new sound painting textures, moods, and colors with which to express the inexpressible in studio and in live performance. I am changing towards wider tonal imagination. That includes even the sound of laughter, invented light language, hi-fidelity nature sound loops and iPad orchestral apps. I'm also performing longer sets that occasionally include mounted Gong journey.
With such a spiritual and intimate style of music and meditation, is each performance a completely unique experience for you?
All performances are spontaneous, improvisational, and unique featuring the signature sound of Celestial-prepared zither-autoharp, inspirational voice, and more.
Have you always had the mindset and peaceful, spiritual demeanor that your currently exhibit?
Even way before I took my yoga-meditation practice seriously in the early 1970s, my approach to daily existence was peace-oriented, playful, optimistic, then and now. But then my peaceful attitude had not yet been grounded in a Cosmic Sound hearing initiation, therefore my peace was vulnerable and could, on the right occasion, get bent temporarily out of recognizable shape.
After the Cosmic consciousness initiation in 1974, and a period of mind science study-practice, yoga-meditation and major lifestyle shift, I enjoyed a much more sustainable and deep peace mindset.
Was there a moment in your youth that lead you to some type of spiritual awakening, if you will?
A major moment in the mid 1970s while experimenting with long hours of meditative stillness, Religious Mind Science, various yogic practices, and shamanic exploration of altered states, I had attracted my Cosmic Consciousness initiation replete with deepened meditative understanding of eternity, of cosmic oneness and of the role sound vibration can play in spiritual awakening. This initiation moment occurred spontaneously within less than 20 minutes.
Has age and experience been a condition that supports or challenges your inner tranquility?
After getting a handle on my inner meditation practice, I have accepted the aging of body with grace, along with lifestyle adjustments, mental, emotional, and physical diet. In these years, I find myself enjoying being still and non-talkative more and more.
The Numero Group is releasing Vision Songs, Vol. 1, a reissue of a collection of Casio synth recordings from 1984. What was this recording session like?
A series of live improvisational inspirational solo performances in Florida around 1984 for yoga meditation higher consciousness communities. Some performances were recorded with lo-fi equipment, others with superb hi-fidelity equipment. These were always in lovely homes of warm-hearted devotees or disciples .During those years, I would still perform seated in cross-legged posture. The Casiotone MT 70 electric keyboard and electric zither autoharp and a portable guitar amplifier were my main performance gear and for my chant and Vision Songs.
What motivated you to write these songs?
A very active meditative understanding, an active spiritual study that included reading the writings of various masters and spiritual traditions, and a constant passion for sharing insights and life affirming vision motivated my song writing as it still does.
How does it feel to have your work rediscovered and ruminated on by a new generation of listeners?
The many hearts that have expressed their appreciation for my work have confirmed the value of my having trusted inner guidance. It feels very good knowing that a music guided by meditative understanding is feeding the peace and beauty appetite of many many new and not so new listeners in the earth community.
You lead Laughter Meditation Workshops, a therapeutic call-and-response deep meditation and relaxing laughter-cise. What was your first experience with this type of meditation?
My first experience was one full of surprises. The surprise of how deep and long the breath and body can surrender to the energy of self-initiated laughter, the surprise of relearning the depth of my love of laughter. The early laughter meditation circles were less involved with laughter’s actual medically-documented health benefits.
How do your meditation exercises like this impact your music making?
Through these laughter meditation exercises, I’ve refined my sense of play, a sense which translates into freer music improvisation. I am also inspired in including laughter exercises in music performances as healing performance art.