- The name of this band is The Big Drum In The Sky Religion, shortened when desired to Big Drum Sky Religion, abbreviated BDSR. For some reason, people want to leave off the first “The”, which isn’t a big deal. One time, we were billed as Big Drum & The Sky Religion, which was a little silly. More than once, it’s been sliced down to Big Drum. Sometimes, the unwieldy name is lengthened to The Big Drum In The Sky Religion Is Not A Religion, but not often.
- Little known fact: the last two notes of the Boredoms’ “Melt Down Boogie” are the first two notes of the riff from Pussy Galore’s “Cunt Tease”.
- Harmonics are only supposed to be possible on the fifth, seventh and twelfth frets. I have gotten them on the third. It happened accidentally once and then I tried to do it again and it happened again. I have no explanation for this nor do I feel any need for one. Impossible things happen sometimes.
- The other day, I took the little girl to church and as we were getting out of the car, I spilled my coffee and said “Oh, shit”. The girl asked “Daddy, why did you say ‘Oh, shit’?” So I lied: “I said ‘Oh, shoot’ because I spilled my coffee.”
As we were walking into the church, holding hands, she looked at me and said “You know, Daddy, it isn’t very nice to say ‘Oh, fuck’.”
- I am male; therefore I have never experienced menstrual cramps. However, I would never say to any of the female people in my life “Your menstrual cramps are not real. You’re just imagining it.”
Atheists are people who have never had religious experiences and who claim that those of us who have are just imagining it.
- The spiritual battlecry of BDSR is “Kill the wounded; mutilate the dead”, but it’s meant in a purely metaphorical way. For now.
- It is not at all unusual for this Espresso Shaman paraphrase Smokin’ Joe Campbell’s theme that myth is poetry, that myth should be read figuratively, not literally. I absolutely affirm that it is so and I love it for being so. However, no one should infer from that that I like poetry. I do not. There was a period of my life when I thought I did like poetry, but really, I just liked my own poetry. I don’t think I was the only person at open mic poetry readings who was only there so they could read their own stuff and didn’t give a rat’s ass about anybody else’s shit. After I stopped smoking cheeba, I realized that my poetry sucked as much as everybody else’s. I do have a book of Japanese death poems, Japanese Death Poems, which has some great pieces, all of which are really short, and I like some of William Blake’s really short poems – “The Proverbs of Hell” are awesome, though The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, of which they are a chapter, is kinda tedious. Other than those few examples, I can’t think of any poetry off the top of my head that I like, but I love me some myth.
- BDSR had two local shows, a week apart. The flier for the first had a picture of a woman breastfeeding a baby; the second had a still from a ‘70’s disaster movie: a woman covered in her own blood. One business downtown wouldn’t put up the breastfeeding woman, but the other one was okay.
Our society is fucked up.
- Browny’s Vox Maxim: There is no vocal track so flat, off-key or otherwise terrible that it cannot be rendered awesome by the simple application of fuzz. (More than one coat may be necessary.)
- The last time I checked, the number of deities being worshiped in India was something like 3,600 which is awesome in and of itself. The thing that makes it even more awesome is the fact that the average Hindu on the street is cognizant of the fact that all those deities are metaphors, images that represent the incomprehensible Mystery which underlies and animates the Universe. They know that there isn’t a four-armed, blue-skinned magic man with an extra eye in the middle of his forehead dancing to keep the stars spinning or a chubby, elephant-headed dude riding around the cosmos on a rat or a flesh-eating, corpse-fucking chick lurking around looking for the chance to chop off their arms for her skirt. They know all that and they still keep right on going with it, century after century. That is fucking awesome.
- People used to say that the music of BDSR didn’t “go anywhere”. Maybe people still say that, but nobody’s said it to me for a few years.
I never understood what the fuck that was supposed to mean. Where is music supposed to go? Where can it go except from its source to your ears? I honestly do not understand. I listen to a lot of music - ragas, free jazz, old-time, punk, new wave, no wave, hardcore, pre-war country blues, anthropological field recordings of naked savages chanting and beating slit drums, bagpipe regiments, grebo, gospel, noise, gamelans, heavy psychedelic, probably some other stuff that I can’t think of. None of it “goes” anywhere. Some of it evokes emotions. I listen to that stuff when I want to experience the emotions it evokes. Some of it helps me enter into a mentally turned-off zone which I find pleasant. I listen to that stuff when I’m drawing or painting or just zoning out. It’s possible that I’m missing out on something, that other people are having some kind of listening experience that makes them feel like they’ve gone someplace, but I don’t think I want it. If I want to go someplace, I’ll take the little red truck. It’s got a cassette player – I can listen to Native American war chants along the way.
- Some great quotes by me:
“Atheists and fundamentalists are equally annoying and for the same reason.”
“Things are seldom as they should be, but they’re always as they are.”
“Unsought advice is insult; unrequested help is injury.”
“Better to suck originally than be great at copying.”
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t know any better.”
“I don’t hit on women. I avoid any situation in which success is the worst-case-scenario.”
“When you’re dealing with crazy people, it’s important to remember that they’re crazy.”
“If what you see is all you see, you’re missing most of it.”
“Honesty is the best policy if you don’t want friends, sex or money.”
“Fuck a bunch of irony.”
“The Universe is making music all the time.” – Tom Waits
Aye, and what a strange and terrible music it is: omnirhythmic, omnitonal, omniphonic, reverberating eternal through and through the inconceivable distances, burning, roaring, throbbing, whining, screaming, colliding, pounding, whistling, humming, groaning, booming, shrieking and echoing, echoing, echoing endlessly, infinite and on and on, coda, refrain ‘til the end of timeless time. Let the god be praised who made our ears so small to save us from hearing the aweful sound of Creation’s constant symphony. Such sounds were not meant for such as we, mere parasites on Gaia’s green skin. Like lice under Mozart’s wig, we may, at times, sense some sound beyond our ken and strain to understand, but we ain’t a-gonna get it, so there is little point in even trying. Then again, why the heck not?
The Big Drum In The Sky Religion assumes chaos as a starting point, as chaos is the starting point in all Creation stories, then attempts to impose some form of order, as Creators make the world. That’s the theory, at least, and generally it does kind of happen that way, but chaos has a wonderful way of spreading, especially when you make little or no effort to check it, and imposing anything on anything is incompatible with the general BDSR lifestyle. Hence, though there is, usually, some kind of vague concept or theme, it’s not rigidly adhered to.
There are two basic forms for BDSR releases: straight studio recording and a combination of studio and live. The straight studio stuff is fairly easily kept within pre-determined confines regarding tuning, mode, key &c. The ones that include live material less so. I don’t have any interest in telling people what to play or how, so I don’t. I invite people to participate based on my assumption that they will bring something to the mix and then I encourage them to bring it. Some people want a hint as to how they should proceed, a key or something. I give them as little instruction as possible. I know going into a show what I’ll be doing with the recording; I know what instrument I’m playing, how I’m tuning and what mode I’m using to fit the overall dynamic of the title I’m working on. Most of the time it works; others, the recording is terrible, but even then I usually use it, low in the mix or processed beyond recognition. Honest to gods, I start every show in tune and with all good intentions of staying in a mode, then my brain shuts off and whatever happens is what happens.
That, in a betel nut, is Shamanolodics. There is intention, but spontaneity is more important. Frets are useful. Keys make it easier to start. Musical traditions exist and can be drawn from. Reality does not happen in regular time. The spheres do not sing in fifths. God is not equally temperamental.
Within Shamanolodics, I employ a method I made up and named the Fauxdal System, outlined below.
The Modal System is based on ancient Greek music theory. There are seven modes: Aeolian, Locrian, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian and Mixolydian. Each mode divides the octave in a different way. Ionian, for example, divides the mode thus: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step, completing the octave and starting over. On a fretted instrument such as guitar or banjo, tuned to a modal tuning, DADGAD for instance, Ionian would be played using the following frets: open, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, completing the octave. So far, this is standard fair. It starts to get a little off the beam when one tunes differently. Dropping the A’s in the above tuning to G’s would alter the sound, creating more of a drone effect, but would still be in the mode.
At some point, before receiving the vision of BDSR, I started using non-modal tunings, but kept the modal frets. This is Fauxdality. It’s also contrary to how it’s “supposed” to be done. A guitar tuned C#G#C#FG#C# and played using the frets determined by the intervals of Dorian mode – 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12 – sounds weird. Some would say it sounds “wrong”, “bad” and/or “nightmarish”. Meh. The human ear is a surprisingly malleable organ and can adapt pretty quickly to anything if it’s owner isn’t determined to hold on to the arbitrary preconceived notions ground into their grey matter by music teachers, pop culture and other soul killers. It’s amazingly easy to learn other ways of hearing, seeing, thinking and experiencing if you wanna.
One time, at work, I was hit with an inspiration which knocked me off-balance. I said it out loud, “What if I recorded a full-length cd with all instruments tuned DD#GG#?” There was someone there who had enough musical knowledge to know what that meant and her response was quite amusing: a mix of shock, disgust and patronizing superiority, “Oh. My. God. That would sound horrible.” I went straight home and retuned the mandolin to DD#GG#DD#GG#. Sure enough, it sounded fucking terrible. I used that as the foundation for The High Lonesome Zounds Of The Big Drum In The Sky Religion. “Open Zounds” is the only tuning I can claim to have invented. (Open Zounds = all strings tuned to I I# V V#. The High Lonesome... is in D, but it could be any key.) All others I’ve used have been established tunings, some, such as G6, slightly modified. (Any asshole can throw together a random string of notes and call it a tuning, but A#BEA#GC# is going to be pretty hard to get on a guitar without re-stringing and it’s going to sound like shit, not in a good way. I won’t claim to have “invented a tuning” unless it’s significantly different from any established tuning, is practical and I’ve recorded with it.)
So. I show up at a gig carrying a tenor banjo which I have tuned to whatever tuning I’m using for whatever I’m working on, intending to improvise using the intervals that I’m using for whatever I’m working on. There may or may not be other tunable instrumentation at any given show. If there is, I may or may not tell the other musician(s) something about what I’m planning to do – if I’m tuned DGDGA#D and using the frets for Lydian, I might just say I’m playing “in G”, which isn’t a complete lie and will force the other(s) to either try real hard or just give up and do something else. Then, in the heat of it, I’ll almost certainly space out and completely forget whatever intention I had when I started. This is desired. Nothing I plan will ever be as good as what happens. Chaos is the starting point and chaos reigns. I also have a heavy right hand and even though I use the thinnest picks available, when I use picks, I bang and bend the strings all out of whack. How it’s tuned at the outset ain’t how it’s staying.
Improvised music is a small version of life. One shows up with a plan, communicates more or less with the other people involved and then forges ahead. Try too hard to stick with the plan and it probably won’t work. Even if it does work perfectly, it’s merely the plan. A life that only includes what I’m capable of planning isn’t one I want.
Under it all, Shamanolodics is a vehicle for spirit travel. BDSR aims for otherworldly adventures and I, for one, have and enjoy them, which is why I can’t possibly stay with a mode – sometimes, I’m not there.
See ya on the other side.
Brown Hat the Espresso Shaman
The pun is always intended.