Ambient music pioneer Edward Larry Gordon, aka Laraaji, conjures transcendent clouds of elevated sound on this very special FACT mix.
As the 1970s drew to a close, composer Edward Larry Gordon had a revelation. He’d spent the early part of his life studiously immersing himself in music, studying composition and piano at the prestigious Howard University in Washington D.C., but he was feeling limited by the structures imposed on his art.
He was in New York City pursuing acting and comedy when he became obsessed with the Autoharp. A traditional folk instrument primarily associated with bluegrass, it fascinated Gordon, who swapped his Yamaha 6-string acoustic guitar for one at a pawn shop and never looked back. Using a Japanese clay modeling stick he’d found in Tokyo, he approached the quirky instrument in a completely unique way, using open tunings and electrifying the output with a guitar amplifier.
This revelation coincided with an interest Gordon had developed in meditation as he searched for answers that were not emerging from his brushes with fame and New York society. His meditative practices and Autoharp experimentation converged and Gordon’s sound became more unique as he busked regularly at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. One admirer was ambient music pioneer Brian Eno, who in 1978 left a note in Gordon’s busker’s case asking if he would be interested in collaboration.
The result was 1980’s Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, a musical milestone that introduced listeners across the world to the transcendent sound of Laraaji. Since then, Gordon has never stopped performing, recording and sharing his thoughts and practices – encouraging deep listening, meditation and laughter with a series of incredible albums and shows.
Laraaji’s FACT mix is, as expected, a journey to the spiritual plane, with his own compositions layered around exceptional cuts from Tetsu Inoue, Albert Ayler, Alice Coltrane, Iasos and others.
On Record Store Day this Saturday, Laraaji will release Sun Transformations, a special album of remixes and edits of material from last year’s Sun Gong and Bring On The Sun from the likes of Ras G, DNTEL and Carlos Nino.
Listen and download below or subscribe to the FACT mix podcast on iTunes to get it delivered every week.
Tracklist (with notes):
Laraaji – ‘Introspection’
Laraaji: “One of my latest compositions, very easy floating, drifting. It reminds me of how much my approach to music comes from a sense of drifting, timeless, no real location, not really going anywhere, not really coming from anywhere, but savoring the moment of now as deeply as possible. Of course, when I listen to this type of music I drift on into daydream, my breathing is easier, I might just take a more relaxed posture if I’m sitting or standing.”
Erik Wøllo – ‘Prism’
Laraaji: “That wind instrument lends a sort of Celtic feeling, once again it takes my imagination out. Usually listening to music with my eyes closed, and even more so with blindfolds, and even more so movement, to actually do meditative or contemplative dance music movement with the music, help me to dive deeper into it as an interactive listening experience.”
Tetsu Inoue – ‘Background Story’
Laraaji: “His music is a multi-timbral journey of sounds, reminds me of overviewing civilization and its unfolding, with its many voices and its many songs.”
Albert Ayler – ‘Ghosts’
Laraaji: “‘Ghosts’ is an appropriate title for this one, it’s kind of eerie, spacey, open space jam free jazz ensemble. I never got really a chance to listen to much of Ayler’s music, but it sounds very spontaneous and spirit oriented.”
Ahmad Jamal – ‘Poinciana’
Laraaji: “One of my favorite performers and performances of all time. Very elegant and smooth, and once again just tapping my feet or even doing hand gestures, lets me become an interactive listener which greatly impacts my listening experience.”
Carlos Nino and Friends – ‘Flutes, Echoes, It’s All Happening!’
Laraaji: “It sounds like a hip-hop jam, I know Carlos and it sounds like a very happy, interactive music session. Once again it lends itself to hip-hop, dance movement.”
Laraaji – ‘I Am Sky’
Laraaji: “A delightful hammered zither performance made in the early ’80s, it reminds me of sort of celestial, very elevated, timeless drifting.”
Iasos – ‘Siren Shallows’
Laraaji: “For me it has a very dreaming affect, the sense of ascending and moving through tonal centers, very open, bright and positive. His music really lends itself to blindfolds, closing the eyes and letting the imagination soar. ”
Alice Coltrane – ‘Krishna Krishna’
Laraaji: “The album is very symphonic, it unfolds like an orchestral arrangement. Very lovely, very plush.”
Donny Hathaway – ‘I Love the Lord; He Heard My Cry (Parts I & II)’ / ‘Someday We’ll All Be Free’
Laraaji: “An old schoolmate, we went to Howard together, and his music is always intuitively wonderful and his voice is so fluid. It’s always a joy listening to his songs, especially these two.”
Laraaji – ‘Universe’
Laraaji: “The universe is very serene, harmonic, pad drone, one of my lovely expressions of music. Once again I might be doing Tai-Chi, or meditative dance movement, or with eyes closed going into a celestial dream state.”
Read next: Ambient music at 40 – Lawrence English examines the future of a drifting genre
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