...we determined at a certain point that our medium was time.
La Monte Young & Marian Zazeela:
an interview by Ian Nagoski. [Excerpted]
IN: One of the things which has always struck me as very exceptional about your work is its emphasis on Heavenliness. You once made a remark in an interview in the Theatre of Mixed Means book, something about people being swept away to Heaven, having the feeling...
LY: I said that if people didn't feel swept away to Heaven, I was failing. And I really feel that is an absolutely essential element. This concept of Heaven can be probably thought of in a fairly broad way. In essence, something Pandit Pran Nath used to point out when he was teaching us about intonation, he would say that when you become perfectly in tune in your singing, this is meeting to God. He said, at that moment that you become perfectly in tune, you leave your body, because your focus becomes so intense — the concentration that it takes to be exactly in tune is so enormous that you don't think any more about your body.
In order to sing that perfectly in tune you have to be a master, and you have to have mastered your body so that you can have it under such control that you can then let your focus go directly toward the frequency that you're singing, and through that frequency you tune directly into a higher state of universal consciousness. I think there are various ways of describing this phenomenon, but it relates to the concept of trance, and it relates to the concept of meditation, it relates to the concept of prayer, it relates to the concept of being in tune. Generally speaking, what I am interested in in music is becoming a receptor for a higher state of information that can flow through me and then become manifest physically as music, which then can be experienced by people who listen to it, whether it is an audience listening to a live concert or someone listening to a recording. And then, they, too, can have that experience of the truths that the physical manifestation presents to them.
IN: Your sense of beauty seems very much tied up in your
sense of time. I'd like to hear from you about how you've found your
sense of time to be different from the rest of the world.
LY: I was lead to the idea of working with long, sustained
tones totally by intuition. But I had heard some Eastern music, perhaps,
before I started doing it. Two interesting Eastern musics were important
early in my life: one is the student gagaku orchestra in UCLA (I went to
UCLA in, I believe, something like February of 1957,) and the other
important Eastern music very early on is a recording by Ali Akbar Khan,
Raga Sindh Bhairavi and Raga Pilu, and it had a tamboura. You got to
hear the tamboura alone for a few minutes, because Yehudi Menuhin was
announcing and introducing everything, so he introduced the sarod, and
the tabla, and then the tamboura. I found out that that record was
apparently released in '55. Now, I don't know when I first heard it and
bought it. I had thought maybe it was as late as '57, but now, knowing
that it came out that soon, I had the impression, because they were giving
it airplay on the radio, and because it was in the record store when I
went down to get it, that it was a new release. But I think in those
days, records were marketed in a more stable way than they are these days.
So, it's not possible to know for sure, but it could have been as early
as '55 and anytime thereafter.
Definitely I heard it sometime in the 50's and
bought it. It was a real breakthrough for Westerners to be able to hear
that. Even though it was not a composition made completely of long,
sustained tones, the way my Trio for Strings was (nothing ever before
the Trio was made that way), what was significant about it was to be
able to listen to the tamboura, which is a long, sustained chord. I
think that this kind of sense of time has to do with getting away from
the earthly sense of direction which goes from birth to death, in other
words, like developmental form, and has to do with static form and moving
up into, by up I mean like vertically, as in Vertical Hearing, moving,
then, up through the sound
of a chord or the sound of a tamboura or the sound of an interval that's sustained, using this to create a drone state of mind as I described. By using this to create a drone state of mind, it provides a means toward achieving a state of meditation or an altered state of consciousness that can allow you to be more directly in touch with universal structure and a higher sense of order. And that once one achieves this kind of state of consciousness, in order to maintain it, one is not trying to get back down to the earthly level and get back involved with directional, climactic form, developmental form, one wants to stay in this more static state. The drone constants are very supportive and allow you to use them as positioning points of reference, to remain aloft, so to speak, in this special state of consciousness and awareness.
For more information on La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela:
Photograph: La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, The Forever Bad Blues Band Tour, "Pop Goes Art, Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground Exhibition," Augsburg, Germany, August 1992. Photo (c) Ulrich Wagner 1992. From the liner notes to La Monte Young, The Forever Bad Blues Bad, Just Stompin', Live at the Kitchen. Released 1993, Gramavision.