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Passed down through the ancestral food chain, a mind-kissing cousin of Soma, brain food of the gods.
Trance possessor of initiates into visions of desert ecstasy and love-the mysteries of muezzin and minaret.
Sacred geometries, spinning poets and wheels of tilting stars, revealed by the sweet taste of this Kif-powered Moroccan paste served with mint tea.
MONDO 2000: Is this the album you’ve always wanted to do?
RICHARD HOROWITZ: This is definitely one of the concepts we have been working on for quite some time and it’s taken a form that we are both really satisfied with. It’s not the most experimental work we have done but people keep telling us how original it is. I hear it as more melodic, harmonic and more beautiful than our previous work and therefore somehow more obvious. Yet I do feel it is deep and unique. Maybe it’s unique because it’s not experimental; maybe experimental doesn’t always equal original.
M2: What is majoun?
SUSSAN DEYHIM: It’s a sonic environment. It’s not about a song or a composed piece of music in the new music sense. That’s why it’s called Majoun, because it translates into a third, fourth or fifth dimension depending on where the listener… which dimension they listen to music from.
RH: What she means is that majoun for us is a metaphor. You don’t necessarily have to ingest a kif based product to enjoy the music. The music itself becomes…
SD: … a visceral experience…
RH: … It transcends without having to take the drugs.
M2: It’s a somatic experience.
RH: Exactly – that’s a good way to put it – they’ll like that in MONDO 2000. Did you read the liner notes?
M2: I did.
RH: Did you get the part about time squared = majoun?
M2: I did, in fact I was going to ask you about the physics of majoun?
RH: Love travels faster than the speed of light.
SD: You might be able to print the recipe. We were going to put the recipe for majoun [Arabic spies and pure hash] on the record. The record company accepted it, at first. But at the last minute they said that it was a little tricky for them. Maybe we could find that recipe to send to it you.
M2: That would be terrific. [Richard laughs]
RH: Now I’m not saying that I’ve never taken majoun…
SD: God forbid!
M2: Well, you’d have to have some reference point.
RH: Talking about karmic events, my daughter was conceived under the influence of majoun and I was completely conscious at the moment of conception. It was like an interdimensional travel agent was there.
M2: How long ago was that?
RH: Twenty years ago. She was born in a riad in Marrakech by candle light with two midwives. I buried her placenta in the garden beneath an orange tree. A little while later a datura plant grew where I planted it.
M2: Only in Morocco. What is it that attracts travellers to Morocco?
RH: It’s the beginning of the other world. In 1906, Casablanca was still a fishing village. It wasn’t until the French came in there with gatling guns and started wiping people out that things started to change. But the Rif tribes in the north were so furious, they kept people away for a long time. There’s still a lot of very intense, very real, very alive, deep culture there. I know that it attracts people who are interested in finding out about how things are on the planet.
SD: It’s the center of a whole different dimension of an experience. If you’re curious and you’re looking for other chemistries and other vibrations, there are still other places on the planet that are in touch with something that they’ve been in touch with for a long time and in a very intense way. You get a chance to actually enter into that dimension by simply being there. Of course it’s not provided by Holiday Inn. It’s the dichotomy of the traveller versus the tourist – the traveller is somebody who’s there to figure things out and be part of that environment and surrender. When you go to places like Morocco or India, a lot of the stuff happens on a psychic level because you don’t speak the language. It’s the vibration that you carry there. It’s a more irrational reality altogether. When you hang out the Gnawa musicians and others, the whole thing is a matter of chemistry and psychic communication. That’s what I find. Somehow I’ve always felt very protected. I never had any problems on any level.
M2: Richard, What about you relationship with Paul and Brion?
RH: I met Paul thanks to Brion Gysin. Brion was living at the Cité des Arts in Paris before he moved to the Rue St. Martin. It was not long after his operation in the winter of 1974/75. I had been working on my music in between Paris and Morocco since 1969 when I received my first infusion of magnetic ecstatic blood thunder and I knew I was on to something but I was still quite an insecure twenty-five-year-old. Meeting Brion really helped to put things in perspective. In a way he understood what I was trying to do better than myself. He had all of his quarter inch tapes recorded on his portable UHER and he was always pulling out amazing stuff to play and smoke and cut up. By the middle of the winter I was ready to head south again. The day before I left he handed me a letter and said this is from me about you to Paul. I had been reading Paul’s books since I was seventeen but in no way was I prepared to meet him. I was ready for someone dark, distant, forty years older, thoughtful, introspective, but he was warm, friendly, thoughtful, dark, funny, forty years younger and enchanting, with this wild untamed playful grin. Too bad so few pictures of him capture that grin. He was really interested in the work I had been doing in Morocco and the way it had influenced my music.
M2: What sort of influence did Bowles have on your music?
RH: He would sit and smoke kif and listen to tapes of pieces I was working on and really get into it. It was just the encouragement I needed at that point. Without it, I might not have continued. It was easy to tell when he was getting bored because he did this involuntary finger rapping on the kif cutting table. When he was happy he would sit on his Berber chest and swing his feet. I stayed in Morocco that time until the end of 1979 and Paul always had this elliptical tongue in cheek way of laying things on you, things you would never forget.
M2: A lot of people don’t know that he was a fairly accomplished composer as well as a writer. Did his compositions influence you at all?
RH: One day he played me tapes of his own music which I hadn’t heard before. I really didn’t know hat much about Paul or Brion before I met them. It was way before all the biographies and autobiographies came out. Anyhow his music was influenced by Ravel, Poulenc, Duke Ellington, de Falla. I realized that the nature of his real being can only be grasped when you put the writing and the music together. I especially liked “six Preludes for Piano” and “The wind Remains.” Lenny B. got the inspiration for West Side Story after playing some of the preludes. Paul and Henry Cowell were the first American composers to be interested in World music in the late twenties. He played tapes from all the music he recorded in Morocco in the 50’s for the Smithsonian and tons of frog recordings he had made from all over the world. One day he pulled out some very dense sound cut-ups he had done using turntables, DJ style for the music for the American High School’s Greek tragedy performed in Arabic – he does the music for them every spring. This was the mid-70’s.
M2: Did he work with you at all while you were working on The Sheltering Sky?
RH: That was in 1989 and I had a studio in my hotel room in Tangier during the shoot with an E-3 sampler, a Mac and some Lexicon effects. Paul would come over to visit and record his short stories for a limited edition Harvest Works in New York was putting out. Recording him was very easy because he would read the story all the way through in one fell swoop without stopping. I always tried to get him to play around with the keyboard and he would always refuse saying he was too old. One day he played some of what I call his “RavEllington” chords – he still had serious chops. Two years later he sent word to New York to ask me to help him set up a MIDI studio in his apartment in Tangier so he could the music for Agamemnon at the high school. He was over eighty and ended up staying up until four in the morning working with the Midi studio. Amazing.
M2: What about your relationship with Gysin?
RH: I would visit Brion whenever I went back to Paris from 1975 until his “unveiling” in 1986. Our track “Desert Equations” from the 1987 Crammed CD is dedicated to him. Too bad I never got to him with a camera or a tape recorder because now all I have are his letters – not pictures with him. But there was something about just staying in the moment that was more important. By the time he moved to the Rue St. Martin he had his Dream Machine set up and he was doing some great paintings – “The Calligraffiti de Feu” series and his Beaubourg photo collages among others. He was one of the century’s great raconteurs. It was always interesting to get Brion’s perspective. Brion would always say to me that his Morocco was not Paul’s. Brion was ten years younger than Paul and related to a combination of various hallucinogenic influences whereas Paul, although not a stranger to altered states of consciousness, still had his version of existentialism someplace in the mix. Whether it really was existentialism’s “observer of the observer” formula or just Paul’s natural instinct for self preservation I’m not sure, but Paul seemed to be able to protect himself by making the clear distinction between local beliefs in magic and its objective existence.
M2: And Gysin:
RH: Brion was more interested in total immersion. Paul is a very gifted musician and he has spent a good part of his life recording and transcribing music from around the world but I don’t think he spent much time trying to play the instruments. Who knows? Maybe he has and it’s one of the last secrets he’s keeping from me. Brion wasn’t a musician but he managed to immerse himself in other forms of magic. I would always tell Brion that I was more of the “the more you believe in power, the more power power has over you” school – that’s part of the difference between a shaman and a mystic I suppose. But there have also been times when I’ve disagreed with Paul and they’re usually when I feel the ghosts of existentialism in the air. After all existentialism or at least la nausée is really just a bad excuse for a bad mushroom trip.
M2: Could you trace the roots of Gysin’s belief in magic?
RH: Brion’s mind was highly rational. That’s why he was hired to crack Japanese code during WW2. This is what makes his interest in Moroccan magic all the more poignant. If anything, he was so aware of the processor part of his brain that he spent most of his life trying to get above it to the next level. Tristan Tzara’s influence may have kicked it off. Bowles and Burroughs fanned the flames.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF PERSEPOLIS
M2: Sussan, on the Loop Guru EP Sussantics, is dedicated to “people in exile.” I’m wondering if you still feel as if you’re in exile?
SD: I have always been in exile and will always be in exile. That collaboration was not really a collaboration. Loop Guru had access to a tape of mine and had worked on that piece and had sent it to me and I liked it. I let them release it. They’re pretty kind people and they wanted to dedicate it to people in exile. I don’t associate it with myself although I relate to being in exile in a metaphoric way. But it’s not a straight one-dimensional exile vibe of being a victim of this political thing. Not that I’m not. It’s just not how I deal with it. Those issues have two sides to them. One is that we have to get together and do something about it, that we have to fight that situation.
M2: How do you feel about those types of situations?
SD: Nobody should have to leave their home. That’s totally ridiculous. But on the other hand there’s the person that is in exile and has to deal with the reality ii it’s a very specific thing how each person deals with it. But the way a lot of people deal with it is in this nostalgia for the lost world they left, a mode of living the past. I understand it though. You’re born someplace, you spoke the language, were part of that vibration, wanted to become something there, had your passions there. Then you have no access to any of that information. Now you’re in a new place and you don’t have access to anything. You don’t speak the language and don’t understand anything. You happen to be kind of sharp in your own scene, but you experience this paralysis – mental, physical, psychological – they’re all linked together. You live twenty years in a state of paralysis until you can get it together, so that you can deal with things in a deep , pointed way . It’s ridiculous that people have to deal with that.
M2: But it’s made you what you are today.
SD: Yeah, but I haven’t been living in the past, because I’m so curious about what’s happening where I am. The paralysis happens anyway because I’ve been living in so many different cultures and at the whole level of psychic. Deep down though, I’m very Persian. It can still be a confusing thing.
RH: Sussan was kicking ass three years before the revolution. She was in Beijart’s school, with teachers from the London School of Drama, The Stuttgart Opera, Brazilian rhythm masters, at this incredible performance art school. She wasn’t forced to leave due to the revolution.
SD: No, I suppose that was my saving grace. To some extent I had already left. But many people don’t know what kind of cultural explosion was taking plan in Iran prior to the fall of the Shah. It was a pretty progressive cultural scene. They would have festivals in the ruins in Persepolis with people like John Cage, Stockhausen, and Ketjack from Indonesia, The Living Theater, Peter Brook, Robert Wilson, and an incredible variety of mystical and esoteric musical concerts from India, Turkey, Iran, Egypt – the great Whirling Dervishes. It’s deeply frustrating when people like myself come from places like Iran or India, that we get generally classified as pretty little things, coming from a folk land with dangling jewelry and a pretty smile. They tend to have a hard time dealing with my intelligence.
RH: Especially me! [trio of chuckles]
SOUND AND SILENCE
M2: How did you two meet?
RH: Late in 1981 I was working on a track for ney at Noise New York, a recording studio on Thirty-Fourth Street. When Frank Eaton, the engineer/owner, heard the music he said there was someone he wanted me to meet.
SD: It was a very funky but spirited recording studio.
RH: Sussan was slumped back in the chair of the control room when I walked in. Usually I’m pretty good at placing people from their accent but I couldn’t place her. Frank hadn’t told me anything about the person I was supposed to meet and there was something about the way he said “person” that made me not ask for any details. They were listening to some vocals she had done on someone else’s track. It was one of those awkward situations. Everyone was reserved. Sussan was definitely not talkative. Frank uttered some furtive, polite words of introduction. The vocals were interesting but I didn’t like the music at all and I could hear them hearing me not like it. I was just about to make an excuse and depart gracefully but there was something in the phrasing and inflection of the vocals that made me ask Sussan where her accent was from. She looked so impenetrable, fragile and slightly bothered.
M2: Could you tell if she was into it?
RH: It occurred to me that perhaps she didn’t like it either. She said she was Persian. I asked her if she knew tahrir style singing. She nodded, so I showed her my case of ney flutes. I played something in the Sabah mode. She turned to Frank and told him I was putting the desert into the music. Then she started to sing. Her whole face changed in an instant. Her thick dark eyebrows arched across her forehead like a river of frozen thoughts. her hands grasped the air as if she were pulling resonance down from some place above us. Frank ushered us into the studio where I added a 14/8 drum part and she added killer tahrir syncopations. Those were the original tracks for a piece called “Queen of Sabah” on the disc Eros in Arabia.
M2: What was your hit on him Sussan?
SH: He was humble and funny. I felt comfortable playing some of my vocal tracks. From the way he listened and from the way he played his ney, I knew that he had lived the sacred and the funk of an Afro-Islamic environment.
RH: She played me some of her own and tangled, with exquisite microtonal melodies and low. soft, sandy harmonies and an extended range of other melismatic phenomena and electro ecstatic and theater, she had a deep connection with the persona and mood he was creating that went way beyond the realm of a singer. When she used abstract sounds and extended/experimental vocal techniques they always sounded grounded in an inner old language that was intuitively understandable to me. After that first session Frank gave us the keys to his studio. Eventually quite a few pieces got recorded, mostly between one and ten in the morning. These became the sketches for a few different projects including Azax/Attra: Desert Equations.
SH: As modern composers, we had a very specific idea to create a radical and very personal sonic language that evoked the sacred, transcendental and futuristic. We wanted it to be emotional, intuitive and as far from formal as possible.
M2: Sussan, are you doing anything outside of the duo?
SD: I’m working on two records with Bill Laswell. One is the Adrian Sherwood, Keith LeBlanc and Skip McDonald project, that we’re finishing here with Bernie Worrell. Bill’s finishing it – producing it. The second record with Bill we’ll start from scratch. It’s going to be a record based on 13th century women piece that I did with Richard ten years ago called The Ghost of Ibn Sabbah which Richard just mentioned and which we originally performed at LA Mama. And I’ll also be touting with Richard, Skip [McDonald] and Will Calhoun.
M2: What’s Ibn Sabah about?
SD: It’s hard for me to explain what it’s about. It’s always a one woman show – a journey through hell, heaven and night and desert and love and betrayal.
M2: Betrayal in a romantic or a Judeo-Christian sense?
SD: No, neither. That’s why I don’t like the word. It feels so profoundly victim related. It just bugs me in every possible sense. It has more to do with love. Love is different – it travels through destruction. Love – at least in the Sufi tradition where I come from – is the acceptance of being nothing and losing oneself. It’s the courage for giving into something beyond you and – in a way – seductive. But these pieces are about solitude, about inner journeys, about the things that I don’t really get to experience in a city… like silence. For me, it’s tapping into that which the urban environment fundamentally lacks.
Richard Horowitz and Sussan Deyhim’s latest release Majoun is documented on Sony Classics.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 1985
Concert: ‘Azax/Attra’ Performed at Carnegie Hall
By Jon Pareles
Exotic atmosphere suffused “Azax/Attra,” a collaboration by Richard Horowitz and Sussan Deyhim performed Wednesday at Carnegie Hall. Mr. Horowitz’s music mixes electronic sounds with music for ney, a Near Eastern reed flute. Miss Deyhim, who was born in Teheran, Iran, has performed in modern and traditional dance styles and has sung Mr. Horowitz’s pieces since 1981.
The audio portion of “Azax/Attra” used synthesizers and tapes to create richly pulsing electronic tones and deep notes evoking heartbeats or hand drums. The fabric also included taped voices, Miss Deyhim’s solo singing – often with microtonal inflections – and Mr. Horowitz’s solos on ney. He played traditional-sounding melodies or urgent, long-held notes and trills.
The best stretches were sustained and meditative, with recurring patterns and sounds floating in and out of earshot; the closest equivalent is the music of Jon Hassell. The closing section, with a synthesized bass line and Miss Deyhim singing English lyrics, resembled a warped disco tune.
Using Indian mudras (hand gestures), the compulsive repetitions of such choreographers as Pina Bausch and the dreamy motions of Meredith Monk, Miss Deyhim’s choreography the flow of the music.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE, FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 1990
Taming the Musical Technology
By Mike Zwerin
PARIS – This is another chorus in the greening of the synthesizer.
Richard Horowitz was slaving over his Macintosh computer and Vision compositional software in his New York loft last summer when Bernardo Bertolucci called and asked him to be in Rome in a week to work on the North African music for his film “The Sheltering Sky.” At that point, says Horowitz, “my entire life began to make some sense.”
He would assist the Japanese technopop wizard Ryuichi Sakamoto, who won an Oscar for his score for Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor.” Shot in Morocco, Algeria, and Niger and scheduled for autumn release. “The Sheltering Sky” is based on a novel by Paul Bowles, the American writer, composer and scholar who has resided in Tangier for 40 years. Horowitz calls him “my mentor.”
Horowitz was in Paris this month to produce layering voices of Koranic singers over Sakamoto’s symphonic string music, representing two worlds in harmonic contrast. The voices would later be sped up, slowed down, spliced and sampled to sound as organically ethnic as possible. While balancing levels, adjusting tone controls and elimination sonic delay, Horowitz explained: “Bernardo has excellent ears, and he doesn’t want it to sound electronic. And please, don’t make me come across like a technician. I’m not a computer nerd.” There seems to be a certain amount of schizophrenia here.
In Paris in 1969 he was a jazzman with Alan Silva’s Celestial Communications Orchestra, which included such groundbreakers as Steve Lacy and Anthony Braxton, and 20 musicians playing chords that were more alchemical than harmonic. A spring break in Morocco and several return trips led to five years there learning traditional disciplines, modal intricacies and circular breathing on an indigenous oblique flute called the ney (he plays it on the soundtrack).
Tuning pianos in Rabat for a living, he formed a hand combining Berber and Gaouna and other local ethnic music with jazz. Paul Bowles’s feedback to work tapes was positive. Bowles recommended Horowitz as Moroccan music consultant for the film and Bertolucci attended one of his concerts in London. Months later, the call from Rome offered the credit “North African Music by –”
In Morocco he had been a purist, eschewing technology. Music had to be made by human breath and touch. Settling in New York, Horowitz found contemporary music increasingly wedded to electronics and he dusted off some of his own earlier experiments in order to “stick my Moroccan stuff into the hardware. Everybody else was sampling breaking glasses and snare drums and people would say to me, ‘What’s that? You’re not supposed to get sounds like that on this stuff.”
Horowitz had studied with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. He wrote music for the ABC television anti-nuclear documentary “The Fire Unleashed.” For the last few years, he has been performing with the charismatic Iranian singer and dancer Sussan Deyhim at such prestigious places as Town Hall and the Brooklyn Academy. They shared festival bills with avant-gardists Steve Reich, the Dronos Quartet and the Art Ensemble of Chicago. He recorded with pop stars Suzanne Vega and the Talking Heads’ David Byrne.
But he remains something of an outsider, perhaps too intense for his own good, too volatile even for these eclectic times. Bouncing between the United States, France and Morocco; between classical, jazz and world music: between digital mixing tables and the ney, he wears conflicting hats, a fez and a fedora, at the same party.
Is it possible for a composer to have feet in more than one world? Hanging on to his flute “like life boats in a sea of technology. Horowitz began to suspect it might be essential. Advance-technology, machine-generated music no longer necessarily has to sound mechanical.
Why work so hard to make the original sound like a synthetic imitation of the original? Horowitz wanted to “add another dimension to what’s already here.” “Force-feeding” himself technology, he was encouraged by a passage written in 1933 by the
American composer Henry Cowell, saying that the tendency to update ethnic elements is “obviously neoprimitive in its striving for vitality and simplicity. It is not an attempt to imitate primitive music but rather to draw on those materials common to peoples of the world to build new music particularly related to our century.” Paul Bowles was a student of Cowell.
As “The Sheltering Sky” was being filmed, Horowitz traveled ensembles and virtuosi with a DAT cassette machine. A makeshift studio in his hotel room included an emulator, three keyboards, a computer, mixing board and a CD player. Material sometimes synched with a scene shot the same week. Even Henry Cowell never dreamed of such “neo-primitive simplicity.”
The bulk of Horowitz’s contribution was recorded in professional studios with Sakamoto on one side working a Macintosh with Performer software facing Horowitz with his Vision. Their keyboards went through the same desk. With neither rehearsals nor scores, they kicked it back and forth, hearing themselves and each other through earphones. While Horowitz synthesized fragments of Arabic modes, Sakamoto was doing the same thing with Western harmonic and melodic elements. (Later, computer-generated orchestral sounds were put through headphones as a click-track to guide a 40-piece orchestra reading parts printed by a music printout program.)
For Horowitz 20 years of work had matured. “When it all came together,” he says. “I found myself on automatic pilot. Whatever was right came to the surface. I was stabilized.”
TIME OUT NEW YORK
AUGUST 14-21, 1997
MUSIC: CLASSICAL & OPERA
Richard Horowitz, piano; Sussan Deyhim vocals; Moroccan National Television and Radio Orchestra Strings (Sony Classical). Readers of Paul Bowles know majoun as a sort of North African hashish fudge. This recording by pianist Richard Horowitz and Iranian microtonal vocalist Sussan Deyhim offers a sweet Moroccan hallucinogenic of the musical variety. This disc defies easy categorization – too overproduced to be traditional, too ethno to be techno and too consistently stimulating to be New Age. But why, pray tell, is it on a classical label? – Ken Smith
THE WIRE – LONDON
For over ten years, American composer Richard Horowitz and Iranian vocalist Sussan Deyhim have been exploring the latent eroticism in the sacred trance musics of North Africa. Words: Simon Hopkins. Photography: Dean Belcher.
“In a lot of Western music there’s an exclusion of the ecstatic and erotic,” says American composer Richard Horowitz who, with the Iranian born singer/composer Sussan Deyhim, has just released Majoun, an album of ravishing music inspired by Moroccan art and culture. Like a heat mingle and then rise above insect hums and the submerged patter of percussion; or intertwine with snaking string arabesques. Just like the hashish sweet it’s named after, Majoun can be frighteningly disorientating if you try to resist its intoxicating properties. Best just let yourself go where the flow takes you. “Here we put the x back in xtatic,” Horowitz and Deyhim promise in their sleevenotes. Hyperbole aside, there’s definitely something in the shimmer of the voice and the slither of the strings that sends a shiver down you spine. The effect is fully intended.
Returning to the theme of loss in Western music, Horowitz continues: “Most of the dominant religions which created this sensibility had profound repercussions. They didn’t just take away the eroticism but specifically took away certain notes and created the tempered scale, taking away all the notes in between C and C sharp. The same mentality destroyed the Gothic cathedral, invented perspective and eventually made people live in skyscrapers.”
If psychoanalysis conceives desire in terms of lack, then it’s no surprise that Horowitz had to travel so far form Western traditions to recover the means of making the kind of music that could fully realise his desires. While ecstasy is increasingly absent from the ‘serious’ musics of the West, it still informs so much Islamic music, from Pakistani Quawwali to the trance music of the Gnawa brotherhoods of Marrakech.
Richard Horowitz first experienced the ecstasy of Islamic music in general and North African music in particular, back in his late teens. Its impact was immediate and profound. Appropriately enough, it was a psychoanalyst who set him off on the voyage of discovery through which he began to fulfil his musical desires. “I was living in Paris with a Lacanian psychoanalyst from Marrakech,” he recalls. “He suggested I go to Morocco. I’d already heard someone play the ney [a reed flute which Horowitz has gone on to make one of the cornerstones of his musical repertoire] so I thought, why not? I hitched from Paris to Morocco, a classic late 60s thing to do, and I was completely blown away by this other universe. I remember thinking, OK, this is what music is used for.”
Now, of course, thanks to the rediscovery of the Beats, Bill Laswell’s collaborations with Moroccan musicians (Horowitz co-produced the Gnawa musicians’ Night Spirit Masters album, released by Laswell’s Axiom label), Western tours and album releases from two different versions of The Master Musicians Of Jajouka, the music of North Africa is more widely heard and appreciated. But 20 years ago things were different, as Horowitz recalls: “When I arrived in New York in the late 70s Sussan and Jon Hassell were the only people I met who understood it.”
Horowitz revisited Morocco throughout the early 70s, eventually settling there in 1975. In the years since he has lived in New York and London, and worked in several diverse fields – free jazz, electroacoustic experimentation, film composition and sound design – but the Moroccan connection has always held good. His first real public recognition came with his contributions to the soundtrack for Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles’s classic novel plotting an American woman’s gradual disintegration in the North African dessert. “Around 1971 or 72 I met Brion Gysin, who became a great adviser and mentor,” Horowitz says, “Brion insisted I meet Bowles and wrote me a letter of introduction… I was filled with trepidation about meeting him, but Paul turned out to be warm and friendly and funny and truly interested. He wanted to hear the tapes I’d made, then played me his own music, and incredible combination of Ravel, Poulenc, Debussy and Duke Ellington. He really got it.”
Such was Bowles’s respect for Horowitz’s grasp of North African music that, some 20 years later, he insisted that Horowitz should put together The Sheltering Sky soundtrack, even though the producers had already slated Ryuichi Sakamoto for the job.
Ironically , at that point in his career, Horowitz had little interest in film music. “I wrote and directed a film when I was in Paris called The Fourth Person Singular…very influenced by Bergman,” He explains. “My girlfriend of the time looked like Liv Ullman and she was in it. It had a very heavy existential thing to it. Mmm. I realised then I didn’t want to have anything to do with a form that pressed those kind of emotional buttons and I decided to keep my music separate form anything visual. I maintained that for 20 years.”
But of course, this was one gig he couldn’t turn down. Though he half jokingly points out that Bowles has “never really forgiven me for using Algerian elements in the score” (a measure in itself of Bowles’s musical intelligence), his music remains one of the high points of a disappointing film.
By the time of The Sheltering Sky, Horowitz had known Sussan Deyhim for nearly a decade, and the duo had been at work on a body of music of which Majoun is only the most accomplished expression so far. “Late 1980 Sussan and I were both working at Noise New York studios, and the guy running the place, Frank Eaton, heard us both and suggested we meet.” Horowitz and Deyhim immediately began to develop a unique, if painstaking studio based technique aimed at making the most of the latter’s darkly beautiful voice, what Horowitz calls her “melismatic phenomena and electro ecstatic voca voca”. This technique, a combination of Horowitz’s highly imaginative editing and overdubbing of Deyhim’s melodies with her own responses to the results, was demonstrated at length on the groundbreaking, though overlooked Made To Measure album Azax/Attra: Desert Equations. Ten years on and Majoun’s opening title track again features her multi-tracked voice, barely accompanied, setting the tone for an album of rich, ornate beauty.
While it has not necessarily been the focus of its creators’ attention for the whole period, the record has nonetheless taken ten years to progress form its original conception to its final release, and in an age of ten-albums-per-year artists, it genuinely feels like the result of years of work. “I allowed myself the luxury of following every idea and every impulse to its logical conclusion to hear what it sounded like before it was rejected,” says Horowitz. “We spent a month mixing one track alone, “Whorl On The Mount Of The Moon”, and in the end had enough mixes literally for three albums.
Recorded in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Morocco, the record features a host of players with diverse backgrounds: On-U Sound stalwarts Keith Le Blanc, Doug Wimbush and Skip McDonald (of whom Horowitz says: “They’re an amazing rhythm section; actually ‘rhythm section’ barely begins to describe what they do”) alongside members of The Moroccan National Radio And TV Orchestra. This not to the more commercial areas of Moroccan music (or at least to areas other than its folk traditions) is in itself a departure.
“When I first went to Morocco the last thing I was interested in was the more Egyptian influenced string music. I was into trance and tribal music, and the music of the brotherhoods. But that string sound is so beautiful. And I really wanted to record the violinist Abdellah El Miry – a player at a very high level of the Islamic musical tradition.”
From an early age Horowitz was particularly aware of the latent eroticism hidden deep inside all music. “I started playing classical piano as a young kid and became very fond of Grieg and Debussy and Chopin, but at the same time I always had my own personal relationship with individual notes and keys. When I was about four years old I started to masturbate, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the influence of any female presence. It was simply a colour, and orange-yellow colour at the centre of my forehead. At the same age I remember first hearing the notes D and E on the piano and somehow they were the same thing to me as the colour. So right from an early age I had this erotic association with specific notes and keys.
“It was all about warmth, something expansive and compulsive coming over me. So while I was learning this classical stuff I was into just playing individual notes and getting an erotic hit off them. In my adolescence my big turning point was moving form D and E to F and F minor! But by then the yellow glow had been replaced by girls: the D and E phase of my life was over. It really wasn’t until I discovered the Arabic hijaz scale in D that this all came back to me.
“In all these deep religions from around the world and in black music in America you have this combination of the voice coming from a deep spirituality but at the same time being extremely sensual,” he continues. “The thing that’s interesting is to do something that’s erotic and spiritual. Majoun is about recapturing some of that lost warmth.
Horowitz and Deyhim are currently making plans to tour Europe and the US with a stripped down version of the Majoun line-up featuring Wimbish, Adbellah El Miry and Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun. It remains to be seen whether Sony Classical, who released Majoun, will want to work such a project, but Horowitz believes it somehow apposite that the record has come out through the label. “Although this doesn’t come out of the Western classical tradition it is compositionally rigorous, even though the timbres are taken form radically different cultures. Politically it’s interesting because it demonstrates that a company – an institution, even – like Sony Classical realise that classical music goes beyond the West – it’s the classical music of the world.” Œ
STALKING THE WILD GUEDRA FOR THE SHELTERING SKY
“So Bertolucci said, ‘Well, go to Ouazarzate and get a real guedra,’” recalls Richard Horowitz, “and I said, ‘But there’s no guedra in Ouazarzate, there’s only ahouache!”
This crazy exchange, sounding to the uninitiated ear like table talk from some mad tea party, took place between Horowitz and director Bernard Bertolucci. It happened in Morocco, where Bertolucci was adapting Paul Bowls’ novel The Sheltering Sky for the screen. Horowitz, a 41-year-old keyboardist, flutist, and new music composer, wrote what the on-screen credits call “original North African music” for the movie soundtrack, which was released by Virgin in January. Possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of Arabic music, he had been dispatched to the Moroccan hinterlands with car, driver, and DAT recorder, charged with the task of gathering authentic examples of local folk forms. These recordings, soon to be released on Virgin, would be used in the film, unadulterated, as background music, or integrated with cues composed by Horowitz, hybrid compositions informed by Arabic folk and classical traditions and spiced with samples of indigenous instruments. The results proved impressive enough to win Best Original Score honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association; a Golden Globe nomination in the same category was announced shortly before Keyboard went to press.
Everything had seemed so clear-cut in London, when Horowitz and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto had agreed on their mutual job descriptions. “It was understood that Ryuichi would do the parts that required Western orchestral writing,” says Horowitz. “I would provide the North African elements, and we would work together on the cues that incorporated both.”
On location, however, the nonlinear, non-Western dream logic that governs Moroccan thought began to affect the film company. One scene in the movie, set in a harem, features a blind dancer performing to the propulsive clatter of a guedra troupe. Guedra (“gay-druh”) is a highly percussive folk music common to the Moroccan lowlands; its name derives from the large drum which provides the sole accompaniment to its vocal melodies. Regrettably, the choreographer had scored the dance to inauthentic guedra music, performed by a group from Ouazarzate (“Wah-zer-zahf”). The musicians of Ouazarzate don’t perform traditional guedra music; they play ahouache (“Ah-hoo-ahsh”), a polymetric dance music native to the Grand Atlas mountains.
“When I explained the situation to Bernardo,” groans Horowitz, “he told me to go to Ouazarzate and find the real thing. Well, I go back to Ouazarzate and of course there’s no guedra, so I go another 800 kilometers into the desert to a town that has a real guedra troup, play them the phony guedra, and have them imitate it. I play the results for Bernardo, and he says, ‘That’s great, we’ll use it.’ Ultimately, however, he decides to use the phony guedra from Ouazarzate again! That’s an example of how absurd things got at times. But otherwise, it was a very interesting experience.”
Installed in a hotel room in Tangier, Morocco, Horowitz set up a digital studio consisting of a DAT deck, a Seck 18-track mixing board, a Macintosh SE/30, Opcode Vision sequencing software, a Lexicon PCM- 70 effects unit, and an E-mu Emulator Three used in conjunction with Optical Media hard disks and a handful of Proteus modules. “Since I wasn’t allowed to use electronic or orchestral sounds to build the intensity,” he says, “I had to resort to other methods. For one cue, ‘Fever Ride,’ I used a 20-man guedra troupe, chanting and clapping, as the basis of the piece. I sampled the guedra musicians and made a loop on the EIII that was only about three-and-a-half seconds long. I added an original melody on top of that, played on a sample of a Berber rebab [fiddle]. The melody was something I just sat down at the keyboard and played; the melodic idea is not something a Berber musician would ever play, which is the whole funny trick of doing this. You have to be open enough to experiment on some levels, keeping it authentic sonically, but at the same time you have to make it big-screen.
“After that was laid down, I added a harmony in the lower register, and another pass of Berber rebabs playing in fifths. Then I put down a percussion part played with a sample of a tarija [oboe-like Moroccan wind instruments] played by the Aissoua, a trance dance group from Marrakech. Here and there, I added a few notes from a santur [a Persian hammered dulcimer], and I brought in an ‘ud [Middle Eastern lute] player as well. Finally, I added ney [an obliquely-held, rim-blown cane flute found throughout the Middle East], played in a style that build in intensity. It sounded more like something [avant-garde composer Gyorgi] Ligeti would do than something you’d hear in Morocco. The final mixes were done to 32-track digital at Metropolis Studio in London, where I worked for tow months on post-production.”
There is an oneiric logic to the fact that Horowitz’s career, given a push in its early stages by Paul Bowles, has come full circle with the composer’s involvement in a movie of Bowles’ novel. “This is the Kind of thing that happens once in a lifetime,” Horowitz agrees. “I’ve know Bowles since the early ‘70s. When I found out about Bertolucci’s plans to film The Sheltering Sky, I wrote to Bowles and asked him what the story was, and he said that he’d already seen Bertolucci and had mentioned something to him about me. Then, in ’89, I got a call from Bertolucci, saying, ‘Can you come right over? We want you to work on the film.’ Getting a chance to go back to Morocco and see Bowles and be involved in this whole project was this incredible circle of events that really gave me a feeling of closure. It made me feel like my life mode sense.”
A MUSICAL JOURNEY FROM MOROCCO TO THE FOURTH WORLD
“There is drumming out there most nights,” writes Paul Bowles in his autobiography, Without Stopping. “It never my dream.” The expatriate American – once a composer, now best known as the author of The Sheltering Sky – is describing Tangier, Morocco, where he lives to this day.
Rhythm and magic go naturally together in most countries, but especially so in Morocco, where tourists can still find sorcerers’ apothecaries – marketplace stalls festooned with bones, beaks, bedraggled pelts, and dried lizards hung by their tails – and where intrepid souls can seek out Muslim brotherhoods whose members, in thrall to jabbering drums, dance themselves into trances. “Each brotherhood has its own songs and drum rhythms,” informs Bowles, in his collection of travel essays, Their Heads Are Green and Their Hands Are Blue. “In early child hood rhythmical patterns and sequences of tones become a part of an adept’s subconscious, and in later life it is not difficult to attain the trace state when one hears them again.”
Thus, when Richard Horowitz began rehearsing Western players and Moroccan folk musicians for a collaborative performance at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, he was understandably uneasy. One brotherhood, the Aissaoua, mesmerizes adepts with the nasal braying of rhaitas (oboe-like Moroccan wind instruments) and meshed rhythms thumped out on tbola (side-drums, played with sticks) and bendirs (hand drums consisting of goatskin stretched over wooden hoops). Glassy-eyed dancers have been known to gobble glass or gnaw cactus, prickles and all.
“The Aissaoua from Meknes are an intense, guarded brotherhood, one of the heaviest trance dance groups in the country,” recalls Horowitz. “When I heard they were coming, I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I don’t know if these guys are going to be able to relate to the idea of collaborating with Western musicians.’ When they’ve entered a trance state, they toss these big metal balls in the air, letting them land on their heads.” It seemed best, somehow, to allow the Aissaoua to perform alone.
When executives at the Moroccan national airline, Royal Air Maroc, decided to celebrate Morocco’s national day (July 12th) with a concert at the Expo, they thought immediately of Horowitz. The composer of North African-flavored cues for the soundtrack of The Sheltering Sky (Virgin) and co-producer of Night Spirit Masters: Gnawa Music of Marrakech (Island/Anxiom), Horowitz speaks Arabic and plays the ney (a rim-blown cane flute prevalent in Middle Eastern music). During the late ‘70s, he lived in Marrakech, during which time he warehoused a wealth of knowledge about Moroccan music.
Still, even he was daunted by the prospect of mapping common ground for roughly 170 Moroccan folk musicians, many of whom spoke only Arabic, and an electric band made up of panethnic jazz musicians from New York, Los Angeles, and Paris: trumpeter Jon Hassell, drummer Jamey Haddad, percussionist Steve Shehan, bassist Kip Reed, guitarist David Fiouzynski, and second keyboardist Alain Ehrlich (Horowitz himself played synthesizer and ney, in addition to conducting). Paul Wickliffe, the chief engineer of New York’s Skyline studios, had the unenviable job of mixing the rehearsals, conducted in the basement of a hotel in Marrakech, as well as the Seville performance.
Working with Royal Air Maroc and the office of the minister of tourism, Horowitz assembled exemplary representatives of country’s many musical traditions. The decision was made to emphasize the Berber music indigenous to Morocco rather than the Arabic classical music introduced by Muslim conquerers in the mid-seventh century. Unlike Arabic music, whose ornate, courtly improvisations on maqamat (melodic modes) are distinguished by an introspective air, Berber music is dizzily percussive, its repetitive pentatonic melodies fashioned from a few adjacent scalar notes.
Then there were aesthetic and philosophical considerations: How to reconcile the Western obsession with individual virtuosity and the ego-less, communal approach to music-making characteristic of rural, tribal peoples? How to avoid riding roughshod over thousand-year-old traditions, while circumventing the cliché of setting monophonic, polymetric folk against synthesizer drones and modal doodles? And how to fulfill all of these requirements in the allotted rehearsal time of a little under two weeks?
“When it wasn’t working, I’d think, ‘My God, we’re supposed to perform in a few days,’ and get scared shitless,” says Horowitz. “Most of the Moroccans weren’t used to singing with a tonal center, so one day they’d be in one key and the next day they’d be in another. We weren’t exactly sure what key each piece was going to be in right up until we went on stage!”
For that reason, Ehrlich’s two Esoniq VFXs, with their ability to tune every note individually and store each tuning, proved helpful. Horowitz used a borrowed Korg M1. “Alain and I were playing fourths and open fifths, adding glue in the midrange and bottom to hold things together,” he says. “I wanted to avoid the Eno thing of having tons of reverb and drone surrounding everything, although we did use a drone with the Ahaidous, from Khenifra, partly as a tip of the hat to Jon.”
Hassell, with whom Horowitz played for five years, likes a good drone now and then. The putative father of “worldbeat,” he coined the term “fourth world” to describe his music. It is a music of imaginary geographies, patched together from Stockhausen, On the Corner-era Miles Davis, the ragas of Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath, and La Monte Young-style minimalism.
“The first day Jon came to the rehearsals, a lot of the Moroccans were coming up to me and saying who is this guy? He just got here and he fits right in!” chuckles Horowitz. “Jon has developed an incredible embouchure to get a breathy, North Indian sound that translates well into the North African sensibility. His playing is incredibly majestic.”
Ritmos del Futuro (Rhythms of the Future), as the concert was called, was a rattling success, an undeniable high point in the Expo, which took place between Apr.20 and Oct. 12 last year and was the last world’s fair of the twentieth century. The Haouz, a group from the Marrakech plains, opened the concert with a thunderclap. Filing onto the pavilion’s enormous, open-air stage in flowing white djellabas (hooded overgarments), they unleashed a cataract of sound that swirled fiddle lines and the intricate syncopations of tiny hourglass drums called tarijas into an ecstatic jumble. As the singers’ hoarse ululations goaded the music to a crescendo, Hassell’s trumpet scribbled calligraphy in the high register.
There were others, among them the Akallal, from the oasis of Ouazarzate, whose reticulate rhythms are created by synchronized handclapping in which the backs of one set of hands strikes the backs of another; the Ahaidous, whose female soloists sang long, keening melodies that seemed to have blown down from Morocco’s wind-chiseled highlands; and the Gnawa, a religious brotherhood who play high-spirited songs propelled by clattering qrakach (large metal castanets) and buzzing sentir (a dark-toned rustic lute played with a plectrum). Now and again, the Moroccans in the audience erupted into jubilant, call-and-response Koranic prayers in honor of the musicians. Nearer to Allah, in the pavillion’s uppermost tiers, the young Moroccan prince beamed from the royal box.
Negotiations are underway regarding the release of a live recording. When it’s available, listeners will find themselves in that feverish crowd on that sweltering night in July, at a place where Moroccan drumming designed to drive away djinn meets machines that make music from electricity. As Jon Hassell once told an interviewer, “When the fragments are woven together into a different kind of mosaic, so that it has no clear geographic identity, you arrive at a place that doesn’t exist.” – Mark Dery
RICHARD HOROWITZ & SUSSAN DEYHIM
It’s been 10 years – way, way too long – since Horowitz and Deyhim did a duo album. In 1981 they released a wonderful LP called Azax Attra that blended her multilayered, Middle-Eastern-inflected vocal performances with his keyboards, percussion, and ney. World music wasn’t so trendy in those days, but their smoky, eclectic sound created its own context. And here they are again. Understated percussion adds an undulation groove, Deyhim’s voice keens and darts like a swallow on the wing, and a quiet sandstorm of ambience drifts across the background. Magical. – Jim Aikin (Sony Classical)
Richard Horowitz and Sussan Deyhim’s
Majoun is a collaboration of composer, performer, producer, American Richard Horowitz and Tehrani Sussan Deyhim. “Majoun” means potion in Persian and Arabic – it is also a Moroccan psychedelic delicacy made with 56 spices and pure paste of hashish. The fluidity of intertwining sounds of East and West summoned by Deyhim’s voice and Horowitz’s rhythms and orchestrations are as intoxication as the ingredients of this elixir.
The listener is both transmuted in geography and dimension. The vastness of space created by the special layering of instruments and voice is contrasted by the intimacy of their sound. Deyhim’s voice a finely trained gymnast, deftly gathering momentum and speed as it launches, spins and twists over the listeners head, and then lands elegantly. The interspersing vocal textures that resonate like gigantic springs are juxtaposed against a very personal harmonic sensitivity derived from her ancient melodic heritage.
Horowitz seamlessly unites human orchestrations and vocals with digitally enhanced instrumentation, blurring the listener’s ability to trace whether orchestration tracks vocals or vice versa and proving yet again that he is the consummate sorcerer of this form – the demons of Morocco pumping through his veins and music. (In 1992 in Seville he directed, composed and performed a piece with two hundred musicians from ten tribes and ten western musicians.)
The pacing of composition has an exacting control over mood ranging from frenzied ecstasy to the emotionally languorous. As the sonic landscape becomes more minimal, spotlighting a particular instrument or vocal passage, the emotional intensity is at its most audible.
This collaboration definitively confirms the lyrical possibilities of a collision of cultures. – Tim Nye