Method of Defiance: Dub Arcanum Arcandrum

Dub Arcanum Arcandrum

Dub is smoke without mirrors, a realm in which a single beat, bass line, or keyboard riff might jettison you in the orbit of another planet. It is an axis of spirit and tactic, a philosophy shaped through strategic distribution of energies. In the context of Bill Laswell’s Method of Defiance, the parameters of dub take on new valences of initiation, and throughout this album, refashioned from the project’s first two appearances on its namesake label, their pressures equalize across a raw spectrum of possibility.

The Scientist, a remixer of exacting standards and enmeshed execution, conducts three laboratory experiments. At the outer rims are his “One World Dub” and “One World Disorder Dub,” each a head nodding across the mind’s eye, of which every bloodshot vein is a river. Rooted in groove, even as they groove into roots, their magickal patterns serve us a steaming bowl of get into it. If one is a body, the other is its soul. On the exhale, that same body basks in the smoke of “Herb 4” with enough justification to fill a book of harmony.

Sonic pedagogue extraordinaire Mad Professor gives us the first of two takes on “Elijah’s Lament.” While his is a mirrored consciousness that plays with time like Legos, the other, by MRC Riddims (a.k.a. Oktopus and MRC) is a love letter to Krooklyn that fills our legs like sun the Hudson. It is a world unto itself, one where phantom selves dance until they sweat themselves out of their minds and back into our own. Sub Code, who hails from Morocco, gives us a rarefied, immediate version of “Do or Die.” It is a breath given meaning through faith in the evergreen conflict of populations. These last two are among a handful of one-way communiques, the others being Perdurabo 6’s “One World First Claim Version” (a necklace strung with plaster footprints and hung around a lion’s neck) and “Encode Armour Feed” by the isosceles Prefuse 73, whose embrace of Laswell’s prime currents is a match made in outer space and brought to earth for an all-too-brief visitation.

Dr. Israel is a master oarsman in these waters, rowing as he does with entire trees in his hands. His plunges into “Taykeovah” and “No Salvation” remind us that exploration kills in the name of self. Where one is melodic glass shattered and re-glued for strength, the other is a spider’s web unchained and repurposed for flight.

At the topographic endpoint, meditating on a mountaintop, is Laswell’s binary star. “Quantum Echo Apparition” renders his bass an elliptical entity, by whose hands the heart of dub is massaged to tenderness, while an “Entombment Dub” of the same cut frames darkness as a stroke that gives life without need for validation but the listener’s undivided attention.

Reverberation is rebirth. Dig it.

(For ordering information, visit M.O.D. Technologies here.)

Method of Defiance: Jahbulon


The first release from the namesake project of bassist Bill Laswell’s M.O.D. Technologies label, Jahbulon introduces a collective freed by evolving membership yet united by a common prayer: to move. In this incarnation, Laswell island-hops with fellow travelers Dr. Israel and (Garrison) Hawk on vocals, Bernie Worrell on keys, and Guy Licata on the percussive front line. Yet the beacon of this record is Hawk himself, who, true to name, soars above every soundscape with sharp vision and dives for the kill at the slightest hint of escape.

In this respect, “Patterns of War” speaks less of outward aggressions than inner protections. Its opening whistle, reminiscent of a bomb in freefall, sends up a shock of hip-hop particles, shot through with reggae afterburn. The latter bronzes the words, each a fist against oppression that turns mass destruction on its head until weapons fall out of its pockets in two equidistant piles. In the shadow of this difficult introduction, the little flame of “Salvation” flickers into a full-fledged conflagration of brotherhood. God is not only in the details, it seems to say, but also born from them. This is glory in Creation, a circulation of nature as father, mother, and child in one.

Singularity further prevails in “One World,” a central, affirmative palette. Its vocal fingerprints litter the canvas until portraits of a city, a borough, and its denizens take discernible form. In their hands, a book of knowledge reads: Whenever you are disillusioned by what happens down here, know that reality never ceases up there. Such is the message of “Do or Die,” the halting beats of which serve to emphasize its corporate surgery before retexturing into smoother down midway through.

Whether spiraling through the tightness of “Revolution” or sending listeners on missions of the heart in “No Justice,” splashing the inner ache of “Taykeovah” or looking beyond skin into the stealth groove of “Elijah’s Lament,” each song blasts its refusal to be held down, translating technology of the rich into aid for the destitute. A testing of faith by the genocide of global interests. A scriptural circle in which judgment is swift only for those unworthy to wield it.

Each of these urban zones acts as a reflection of the body and its genetic recitations—rituals forged in breath and semantics. Even the illustrative affirmations of “Herb is Burnin’” and “Diss Never” breed a certain invincibility of purpose. Worrell’s sparkle and shine are particularly salient at expressing the changes of tomorrows, even as they nibble on leftovers at the table of survival. No soul should have to fend for sustenance on a planet united against its own iniquities. But this is exactly what’s going on, and why we need to open our ears like the pages of a book. We must rise above the power of difference not between each other but within ourselves before we can recognize what we all share.

Blood, music, love.

(For ordering information, visit M.O.D. Technologies here.)

Method of Defiance: Nahariama – 4th Column


The silver mouths of Method of Defiance inhale the first settings of Nahariama, exhaling the golden acid of “Anachronizer Reloded” as if it were an incantation for the artificially intelligent: a transmission of subterranean vibrations made palatable for aboveground receptors. The arms of this music squeeze visions of apocalypse so tightly of their judgment that by the end only light is left.

In these beginnings flutters a list, inscribed as if on papyrus. It is a roster of and for the ages: Bill Laswell on bass, DJ Krush, Bernie Worrell and Robert Burger on keyboards, Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, Graham Haynes (son of drummer Roy) on cornet, Guy Licata (purveyor of real-time drum ‘n’ bass) on drums, and master Senegalese percussionist Aiyb Dieng. Names and vocations are penned in accordance to their stations, solidifying the place of each in a universal unfolding of sonority. The rhythms thereof draw sweat even from heatwaves, gifting the knowledge of history made present as if it were a drop of night powering a thousand bodies.

The dub vibrations of “Unearthed” sail a river of lava, guided by the oar calls of a melodica. It’s all in the details of the vision: the sacred crotales, the snaking bass-speak, the keyboard riffs and reveries. All of these combine in one stable vessel, opening pores to the nourishment of uncertainty. The sun must set even as it rises, leaving the shed skin of some nominal mission to choke in moonlight. The volcano continues to complain, and the musicians can only hope you will hear it even when closing your eyes to what the day has brought back to life.

In the wake of this slumber, “Anathema” comes as a fluid shock to the senses, to which Kondo’s trumpet is a ghost summoning its own body before cremation. It turns sediment into wine of experience, inviting the shaman for a sip before the slip. In this act of transference, it’s as if the very sky were being wounded, leaking the cloudy plasma of “Dark Rain,” in which organ-breath and dub-tears fuse in a spiral of mutual interest. The mirage is as real as the groove pouring from its open veins, a conduit between flesh and earth that ignores the sky as the illusion it has always been.

Within the context of these downright mystical cymatics, it’s all the more sobering to be reminded of human folly by the remnants of “Fukushima.” Here the listening, being spun from molecular awareness, is as thick as a shroud of mourning. Laswell is the primary voice, a serpent whose skin wears the aftermath like a scar in ways the dead cannot. It has no wall of terminology to scale, no labyrinth of choice to solve. It has only internal radar and a desire to recalibrate its disturbances.

Hence, the resurrection of “Abyssos,” which shakes off the sadness like water from canine pelt and moves toward a healing world. Knowing that emptiness has always been its greatest threat, it smiles as the galaxy opens wide for a swallow of hope. Licata’s drumming keeps the iconography three dimensional, if only that we might better understand its ambient dispersion.

This leaves “Quantum Clash” to unleash the fullest groove of these all. Drilling into the ground for want of home, it proceeds at full tilt, keyboards and bass allowing the surrounding frictions plenty of singing room. This is catharsis as anti-catharsis, winking at its own reflection to demonstrate the whimsy of infinity.

It’s no giant leap, then, to surmise that album’s title comes from The Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, a Kabbalistic grimoire dating back to the 15th century. The word nahariama means “river of waters,” and describes the concepts of art occurring herein with far more veracity than the hundreds of other words in which I have cushioned it. Either way, its currents will flow, with or without us. Of that you can be sure.

(For ordering information, visit M.O.D. Technologies here.)

Jon Batiste/Chad Smith/Bill Laswell: The Process

The Process

Keyboardist Jon Batiste (Stay Human), drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and bassist Bill Laswell (the whole damn musical universe): three master musicians meeting for the first time in a studio to score a film that would never be made. Or so the EPK would have you believe. This is, however, something of a misrepresentation, one which assumes sounds exist strung like beads along continua of time. But a deeper listen reveals these men were already linked through the kinship of their sonic pursuits: different religions, if you will, offering sacrifice to the same gods. As for the unmade film, it too is a product of imagination that requires the screen of a listener’s mind on which to project itself before any semblance of narrative can occur.

At the molten core of this project is Batiste himself, who spins three original pillars of support at key intervals. Their titles—“B1,” “B2,” and “B3,”—read like the display of an elevator descending into some psychological archive, where the aisles between stacks are meant for kneeling in deference to those things unknown even to the self. Awash with suspension and slippage in equal measure, each digs deeper into the mind’s eye to pull out a retinal shift from axis to praxis.

Moving to the surface of this cross-section pulls us by the ears onto the igneous glyphs of trifecta minerals. “Timeline” feels like an extension of its surroundings, holding feet to flame until they crackle with the blisters of a million journeys. Batiste rocks the Hammond organ like a machete through vine, while in “Spiral” (best described as a dance party inside a giant didgeridoo) he adds harpsichord and strings in service of some parallel, cinematic reality. “Black Arc” is more radiant and composes its speech through Laswell’s harmonious eclipse.

From the album’s guest contributions, messages emerge weighted and secure. “Drop Away” features TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on vocals, for a vibe that puts one in mind of Peter Gabriel at his worldliest. A solid groove beneath it all, courtesy of an especially lucid rhythm section, urges Adebimpe’s voice through a netting of enhancements and inside-outing: a method of disappearance, whereby the self becomes something of an idol to its own destruction.

Killah Priest and Garrison Hawk pen a letter to interplanetary communication in “Turn on the Light/Ascent,” for which the Wu-Tang Clan rapper and Jamaican singer respectively harness the beat as a means of flooding channels beyond this marbled terrarium we call home. From heavy beat-drops arises a phoenix of celestial pianism, tenor sax (courtesy of Peter Apfelbaum), and liquid bass. Trumpeter Toshinori Kondo is no less vocal on “Haunted,” wherein structures contract and expand much like the air in his lungs. This one runs a knife blade along its own gums until they bleed. Guitarist Dominic James adds crunch to “Time Falls,” bringing about an urgent metamorphosis from bling to bang, as if in denial of the jazzy nocturnus that is “The Drift.”

Whereas the filaments of life burn slowly until the body swells with endings, the landscape of death is sustainable and verdant. And this is, perhaps, what the titular process is all about: understanding that everything is a transition into the next, without end.

Bernie Worrell: Phantom Soundclash Cut-up Method – Two

Phantom Soundclash 2

The single track of master keyboardist Bernie Worrell’s entry into the Phantom Soundclash multiverse carries the title “Purple World.” Bassist-producer Bill Laswell, percussionist Adam Rudolph, beat scientist Dr. Israel, and pioneering DJ Grandmixer DXT are Worrell’s transient crew—all of them suited to withstand a wide range of emotional impacts. Only here, they are interested less in the effects than causes of said impacts.

Worrell’s art is a wonder to behold, not least of all because on record he plays for us alone. Every detail rendered audible through his art is a treasure, from which unfolds the lotus of a gracious spirit. Touched by the light of more distant suns than ours, he lobs funk over galaxies in that brotherly way of his, seeking a universal blues. Yet there is something reverential and earthly, as internal as it is eternal, to his musical body, of which each gesture is more decipherable than the last. Worrell preserves these behaviors for future generations who might scour their contours with instruments no longer resembling the ones that produced them.

Laswell’s fluid bassing arises in womb-song, its umbilical cord shooting nebulae at the blade of conceptual silence. As these heavenly bodies comingle, they draw one another into a tantric lore spoken by the prophecy of technology. (The organ is inorganic because it can only exhale, but nevertheless speaks truths as only a machine can.) Through the vale of this nexus runs a river of beats, whose current glides across the bedrock of a thousand ages until it becomes a simulacrum, a world of worlds.

The underlying groove is likewise something more than itself—not merely an invitation to nod along but fully environmental attunement. Metals in the rhythm-sphere indicate an elemental core, which as the transmissions distort bleeds dark matter. Notes grow less pronounced, flashes of memory like so many solar flares as the bass fragments into override.

A rare color in nature, purple visualizes a living resonance as intimate as the copulation of time and space. It is the inherency of the groove incarnate, a cosmic wound healed through listening. And as this journey winds down into subterranean dream fronds, Worrell once again proves that music is something from which we were born…not the other way around.

Method of Defiance: Phantom Soundclash Cut-up Method – One

Phantom Soundclash 1

Harmony of the spheres is dead. Say hello to harmony of the tesseracts. A group of embodied souls, each the temporary manifestation of an endless truth, has given rise to this multidimensional mandala. Systemic remixologist Dr. Israel, dancehall ambassador Garrison Hawk, P-Funk pioneer Bernie Worrell, Gambian myth-keeper Foday Musa Suso, percussionist Adam Rudolph, trumpeter Graham Haynes, saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum, and drummer Guy Licata occupy its outer spectrum—a veritable band of bodhisattvas—while Bill Laswell mans the controls, his bass an anchor slung from an ancient Vimāna into the present.

The album consists of one 38-minute track called “Nebuchadnezzar,” a name conjuring buried secrets, unburied symbols, and, beneath all, a fluid skin shared by humanity and animality. Such is the vibe with which Worrell’s keyboarding paints a dream so tender and immediate that every tear it sheds produces another weeping eye. We are scraped into reality by a distant mechanical whir, one in which is sung all futures as if they were insects poised on the horizon’s mountainous tongue. Purification is the illusion by which they lash at anyone who would turn away. A charging rhinoceros of sound awaits those who remain, its horn tearing through the underbrush like a shark ready to breach its karmic enclosure and masticate enlightenment at the vector of its own cerebral cortex.

The ensuing beat is its signature. Like a chemical reaction without visible effect, it veils chaos with order. Suso’s kora comes as a voice of earth amid the stormy heavens, a bird of flesh and feather bound to metal, the frequency of which has a way of matching whoever chooses to listen. Haynes’s trumpet, meanwhile, is the trickster overhead, jumping from cloud to cloud in a matrix of its own design. But no matter the singularity grasped during the listening process, each instrument is but one star in a crop dusted with galaxies. For what should emerge from the smoke and thickness of being but a memory of organ and choir folded like an origami version of itself and glued into the pop-up book that birthed it.

Phantom Soundclash foregoes the lofty ideal of the mash-up as a blender switched to puree, favoring instead the chunky textures of a broken machine, the inputs of which yield discernible hybrids. This is music that treats its own skin as a tattooable surface, even as it grinds itself along an inkstone of modulation toward sacrifice.

Hideo Yamaki & Bill Laswell: Untaken Path

Untaken Path

Untaken Path is collision and collusion in one, an ad hoc meeting of drummer Hideo Yamaki and bassist Bill Laswell. Yamaki is a chameleonic musician, having worked across genres and continents and overlapping with many of Laswell’s past collaborators, including John Zorn, Bernie Worrell, and Hosono Haruomi, thus making him an inevitable, if ephemeral, partner in spacetime.

This duo gives fresher meaning to the term “drum ‘n’ bass,” stripping the rudimentary rhythmic expectations of the form by opening it to possibilities of unhindered emotion. And this is where both players excel: one by deepening the grooves laid before him, the other by grinding them to an even keel. They specialize in laying groundwork, doing so with such a feel for melody and color that full structures stand by the end of their exhalation. As they rack up the intensity, each finds an unlocked door in the other and proceeds through it, linking ouroboroses of metal, skin, and sweat. The locked-in jam that emerges is no small feat of confluence, but the result of a mutual regard that feels inherent to the context of this flame. They are the kindling shifting beneath the logs, sending up sparks with their audio sacrifice. Over the course of 15 and a half minutes, transformations occur second by second, Laswell’s enhancements rapid-fire one moment and glassine the next. It’s as if he and Yamaki were searching blindly through darkness, relying only on the sound of each other’s voices to guide them toward the light of a mutual ending which, when it does reveal itself, contracts with substance. There is pain but also healing, teetering but also equilibrium, which by the end of the performance reveals itself to be a reentry into its original spark. This is the solar system in a petri dish, spilled until it collects in the gutter of a black hole, only to be born again on the other side. Fantastic.

(For ordering information, please click here.)

Bill Laswell & DJ Krush: Shūen


DJ Krush, Japan’s premier turntablist, meets bassist Bill Laswell in a clash of styles that is continents apart yet seamless in drift. Beginning in the catacombs of some untapped well, it traces a spelunk in reverse from the depths of an archaeological never-mind, through a lost civilization’s most active spirits, and into the light of a blinding day. Laswell traces a frame of ambience while samples of flute contort in the background and record scratches twitch like nervous ley lines. Traditional Japanese instruments make their presence known: shakuhachi, shō (mouth organ), and the pluck of a biwa. A breakbeat kicks open the portal to declarations of bass, while mouth organs continue to swirl inside the head of an inebriated ghost, for all a flock of birds exhaling fire. Words like mantras must be spoken before they tear apart the city, but instead drown when the record trips and falls into itself all over again.

The title (終焉) may mean “demise,” but this single-track collaboration seeks only memory and rebuilding in the aftermath.

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