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ID Music: Lama Rod Owens
North America's Gnarliest Mix for learning compassion from hopelessness
For this Inter-Dimensional Music twofer, we return to the work of Lama Rod Owens, a self-described Black Buddhist Southern Queen, and the author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger. I have a tendency to focus on simple, older teachings in my Zen practice, but I needed something new to help me understand and care for the disturbing feelings that pass through my brain during such difficult times as these.
It’s not one specific thing that gets me down. In addition to the garden variety daily suffering we all encounter while trying to eat, sleep, stay out of the rain, and generally take care of ourselves, there is no shortage of bad news on a macro scale. Bad things have always been happening, but we’ve never had so many opportunities to see them happen in real time: watching US leaders gleefully working to accelerate the climate crisis, provoke war with China, abandon the already feeble attempts to mitigate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, promote child labor, and to persecute and murder trans people, migrants, and other marginalized communities for the crime of existing.
Each of these things is bad enough on its own, but taken as a whole, they provoke a deep sense of anger and alienation. On the most basic level, these policy decisions are intentional refutations of kindness. And kindness is the most important thing to me. As friend and fellow practitioner Nick Terry wrote to me not long ago, “More and more I find the real point of meditation is to be kind. To everything.” It is painful to live in a culture that rejects this value so thoroughly. A society ruled over by people whose cruelty is intentional. The cruelty, as they saying goes, is the point.
“More and more I find the real point of meditation is to be kind. To everything.”
Lama Rod’s teachings have been helpful in processing these feelings. My approach to Buddhism is rooted in the Zen idea that one must learn from doing, and that it’s a mistake to think that a new idea is going to change everything. But words can be a reminder of how to practice. Lama Rod’s words link core Buddhist principles to our contemporary malaise in a way that I can hear, and sit with.
We used Lama Rod’s language about examining anger for our recent metal-focused “Impure Flow” session, as excerpted from an interview where he talks about his anger as “bodyguard for my hurt,” and in turn, identifies that hurt as “a deep sense of disappointment, a fundamental hurt that I’ve been born into something that’s not aligned with my intention to be free, safe, and happy.”
For these episodes, we’ve excerpted language about other things one can learn from difficult emotions from a 2021 episode of Action for Happiness, a series of videos “relating to happiness and wellbeing.”
“All of our difficult emotions are teaching us,” he says …
They're actually full of a lot of data. If we have this tendency to push these difficult emotions away we're losing teaching, we're losing wisdom. And so, of course, my deepest belief is that everything has to be embraced. The light and the darkness. We have to understand that difficult emotions are really based upon how we're relating to them. We struggle with certain things and the things that we struggle with we just label: dark, difficult. When in fact these difficult experiences are trying to teach us hopelessness, or sadness.
They're very draining emotional energies. But in hopelessness, in despair, I think they're teaching us how to live with much more open heartedness. They're teaching us to understand that we're not the only ones in the world who are experiencing really difficult emotions. And that opens the door to compassion.
This is another way for me to talk about the ways that the yin spectrum of music – not just metal, but anything labeled as dark or difficult – helps me to process difficult emotions. Sitting with sounds that provoke some form of discomfort through subject matter, tempo, volume, or duration is an opportunity to practice sitting with the dark and difficult emotions that arise from watching the world burn online and IRL. It’s a challenge for me to not retreat into a generalized sense of anger. This anger could be productive, but if I don’t embrace this feeling and take care of it, I often turn it against myself and end up tumbling down into a void of self-destructive thoughts and despair.
Not that everything has to come back to Lewis Richmond’s rephrasing of the Three Marks of Existence, but that language has grown no less useful through repetition.
Everything is connected. Nothing lasts. You are not alone.
By embracing both the light and the darkness, the yang and the yin, the easy and the difficult, we can perhaps find some comfort in knowing that we are not alone. That “we’re not the only ones in the world who are experiencing really difficult emotions.” To deny those feelings of frustration, sorrow, and anger – to pretend everything is OK and we’re feeling fine – is to attempt disconnection. The cruelty of the world is deeply alienating, but by admitting and sharing such difficult emotions, we can find reconnection.
While I’m not quite there yet, we might also recognize that those perpetuating such cruelties also suffer, and that such callous brutality and perpetual sadism are attempts to maintain control and create the defensive illusion of separation. There may be no redemption without reparations for those who create so much suffering for others, but at least we might pity them. Or at least manage to not follow in their footsteps and become shit-heads ourselves.
These two episodes are largely free of heavy metals, but they’re not Pure Flows of ambient drift either. I was going for something like “blackened balearic,” a more rugged and downward sinking riff on the hippie-driven and increasingly bougie laid-back psychedelia popularized by clubs on the Spanish island of Ibiza. It’s music for a seaside meditation session, but more like the grim vistas of Northern California than the Iberian Peninsula. A few highlights:
Abstract Black Jayve Montgomery’s florida (2023) is a counterintuitively warm embrace of difficult emotions. The music is the sort of sublime ambient jazz that has become an essential element of the Inter-Dimensional Music airwaves – a combination of breath, gauzy saxophone, rain sticks, field recordings, and other unidentified sounds. In contrast, the composition titles draw lines between the contemporary rise of deeply racist authoritarianism in Florida to its historical precedents, including two 1920s-era massacres of Black people by white residents. It is a most welcome addition to a genre overpopulated by white dudes connecting formless synthesizer gloop to pictures of Iceland. Montgomery is a Nashville sound artist and multi-instrumentalist of the Chicago school of Free, Creative, and Improvised musics, Sonic Healing Ministries sector.
Discovering the mournful organic jazz psychedelia of Mako Sica is one of examples of why I continue with this understandably unpopular yet remarkably persistent FM radio art project. I hadn’t seen their music discussed elsewhere often, but then again I’m fairly isolated here in the East Central Indiana Rust Belt, and only focused on a very narrow territory of the contemporary jazz landscape. I found their work by following the trail of Hamid Drake to their 2022 album Ourania. The legendary percussionist joins the core duo of Przemyslaw Drazek (trumpet, strings, percussion) and Brent Fuscaldo (voice, guitar, percussion, harmonica) once again for 2023’s Formless, along with Tatsu Aoki on bass and shamisen, and Thymme Jones on piano. In keeping with the album’s title, their sound drifts from sun-baked Morricone dirges through meditations for voice and percussion and other soundtracks for uneasy contemplation. “Rock, jazz and experimental textures are all allowed to roam freely throughout the session,” writes Byron Coley. “The result being a splendid sort of audio anarchy head birthing chunks of sound that are sculpted into boulders of cosmic beauty.”
While my first encounter with Mako Sica was followed by a good amount of reading about the long-standing Chicago-based artist (who will no longer be performing as Mako Sica after Formless, FYI) I had no such luck with Moon Juice following my initial encounter of Fuck Synchronization (2021). Like Mako Sica, the combo of Konrad Agnas, Johan Graden, and Cherif El Masri make a difficult-to-classify brew of, in their own words, “kraut grooves through minimalistic textures to free jazz harpsichord with guest appearances of Nadah El Shazly, Alan Bishop, Aya Hemeda and Omnia Hemeda.” Perhaps it’s the eff-word in the confusing title, or maybe it’s the ongoing death of The Good Internet, but cursory attempts to learn more about them yielded nothing but links to music streaming sites that I don’t use, and that don’t include any useful artist info anyway. I don’t know about you, but their self-mythologizing was good enough for me to dive in: “Recorded on a roof top in the neighborhood Al Dokki in central Cairo and post produced by the salt lakes of Siwa.”
Kaya North is a project by Caleb R.K. Williams, as released on the French label The Eagle Stone Collective. The description of the label applies just as well to the 2023 album, Throne: “… a musical project/collective on the fringes of ambient Americana, drone and other experiments. Influenced by the desert and natural areas of the wilderness of our world and beyond. A minimalist and emotional vision of a sensory universe.” This improvisational music is an extraordinary example of the sort of downward-facing ambient music that usually gets filed under the “dark ambient” category, but in this case the sound is less didactically ominous. These are uneasy metal-adjacent ritualistic soundtracks for exploration – embracing the darkness and the light – in search of wisdom, rather than exhortations of malevolence. Immediately brings to mind two of my favorite crunchy deep forest ambient artists of recent times: Timber Rattle, and our constant companion for 2022’s “Autumnal Melancholy” series, Common Eider, King Eider.
The imagery for the video accompaniment for these broadcasts is slow motion footage of the White River here in Muncie, Indiana. It’s a work in progress, and part of the (possibly?) forthcoming White River, Slow Flow series of videos. Lots more to watch in the Vimeo archive, which is made possible in part by listeners like you. Thank you.
As always, gratitude to those of you who share their thoughts via email, send me interesting cassettes in the physical mail, help me work out these scattered thoughts in real-time elsewhere online, share the newsletter with friends, lurk anonymously behind VPNs, upgrade their subs to paid, downgrade their subs to free, or unsubscribe and save themselves the minor irritation of another unwanted email. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to know you’re out there.
blessing up and blessing down,
If you know anyone who might find value or otherwise enjoy Void Contemplation Tactics or Inter-Dimensional Music, please pass it along. It means a lot to me!
Word of mouth is my primary form of promotion. My reach is limited on social media, which I’m increasingly convinced is a good thing. As Dōgen's teacher told him, “You don't have to collect many people like clouds. Having many fake practitioners is inferior to having a few genuine practitioners. Choose a small number of true persons of the way and become friends with them.”
Inter-Dimensional Music 202300303
North America's Gnarliest Mix for looking beneath our emotions
For this week's session, we'll hear thoughts on how to open the door to compassion using the data we collect by embracing difficult emotions, from self-described Black Buddhist Southern Queen Lama Rod Owens, the author of Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger.
Our soundtrack is a mellow drift of blackened balearic, with “sacramental secretions from the cosmic egg,” "right to roam" anthems, symbolic embraces of the aging process, Argentinian Gorge, and Nyacoustic roots music.
artist – work
Ambalek - Dark Pines Beachen Leaves
EMÆNUEL - LOST VOICES
Judah Eskender Tafari, McPullish - Journey (Niyacoustic Mix)
Deena Abdelwahed x Basile3 - Niacinamide
Abstract Black Jayve Montgomery - rosewood florida massacre
Batu - Built on Sand
Kaya North - Dead Fox (Eleven Days)
p1p1p13 - TREMBLE
James Holden - Common Land
Moon Juice - Hypnotoad Molokheyya
Brant Bjork - Defender of the Oleander
Ambalek - Dark Pines Beachen Leaves
☸️ Lama Rod Owens
🔉 Ambalek x EMÆNUEL
📹 Cosmic Chambo
”untitled WIP (White River/Slow Flow 20230301)”
Inter-Dimensional Music 202300310
North America's Gnarliest Mix for recognizing the complexity of our woundedness
For this week's session, we continue with language from self-described Black Buddhist Southern Queen Lama Rod Owens, as he suggests different ways for us to embrace difficult emotions, and offers strategies for using hopelessness and despair to open the door to compassion.
Over the course of the hour we'll also hear fourth world jazz from Jon Hassell, live in 1998 and 1985, and hybridized with Throbbing Gristle live at Scala Cinema, London in 1980. In the second half of the hour, a guided relaxation cassette from the Sahel, South American Gorge, and "boulders of cosmic beauty" sculpted by Mako Sica with Hamid Drake, Thymme Jones, and Tatsu Aoki.
artist – work
Jon Hassell and Bluescreen II – live (edit) Nice, France 1998
Throbbing Gristle – live (edit) Scala Cinema, London 19800229
Zvrra – Aberration
Maalem Mahmoud Guinia & Floating Points – Mimoun Marhaba
Sahel Sounds – Bambara affirmations, relaxation cassette
Chaircrusher – Nascent
Ceres – ATALANTA
Mako Sica with Hamid Drake, Thymme Jones, Tatsu Aoki – One Seeing Eye
Jon Hassell – live (edit) Oslo, Norway 1985
☸️ Lama Rod Owens
🔉 Jon Hassell
📹 Cosmic Chambo
”untitled WIP (White River/Slow Flow 20230301)”
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