Laraaji (born as Edward Larry Gordon) may be most well-known for his 1980 album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, a collaboration with Brian Eno for his legendary ambient series of recordings, but Laraaji’s career has actually spanned more than 40 years and includes over 50 releases. However, music is only one element of this laughter artist, meditation practitioner, and mystic traveler. As Eno says, “Laraaji is one of the calmest and most serious people I have ever met, and also one of the most lighthearted. It’s an unusual combination, but somehow both qualities show in his work – it’s deep and bright at the same time.”
What got you interested in music in the first place?
I was in Philadelphia for my first two years of life on the planet, but I grew up mostly in New Jersey. I was exposed to music through the church, so it was celebration, prayer, and sacred music. Also, the radio; Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and whoever was popular. My mother, listening to soap operas and singing refrains from church music around the house. I felt that when music was happening, it was a livelier place to be; that music transformed the environment to an easier, more harmonious and uplifting space. I realized that music was a way for me to escape, journey, or go on fantasy worlds that would take some pressure off whatever situation I was experiencing as a child growing up. Music was a bridge to an expansive place and it helped me to realize why teenagers can go into their rooms, turn up the music, and block out the frequency of the parents. [laughs] Block out the frequency of the authoritarian world.
It’s interesting you say that you found it to be a retreat early on.
Yes. Music is a staple. Sometimes I’ll go a day or two without music and then I’ll remember, “Hey, I need music!” Music allows me to transfer my sense of identity from this heavy, corporal body to a weightless, spacious, timelessness. That I trade my body of flesh for a body of sound and music, and that the spirit soars much further and freer when it is identifying itself through a musical language rather than a physical body language.
At what point did that start to make sense to you in your musical journey?
It was most deeply impressed upon me in the mid-’70s of having an audio listening experience of an otherworldly paranormal, where I realized that music of another dimension could transport me to a dimension outside of, or even within, the third and fourth dimension. It was hearing a music that allowed my awareness to feel the nature of eternity, and to feel the unity of everything in the universe occurring in the same moment of now. That was probably the deepest and most profound realization of music’s power to transport the mind and to transform the environment within which the emotions are playing out.
Do you remember what that music was?
The best I can describe it was multiple layers of brass instruments weaving this timeless, symphonic celebration. It felt like a grand celebration of the reunion of all souls of sentient beings in the present moment. It brought me close to tears because of the excruciating beauty of the experience, of feeling the infinite absence of separation of all things in the universe, and it being celebrated by this music. It might have lasted five or ten minutes, and, while having the experience, my analytical mind was busy trying to figure out how this was happening. It wasn’t a sound coming from an external source, and I couldn’t record or write it down. I was mystified by the experience. It activated my awareness and my ability to be aware in another dimension than I was familiar with. Some might call it the fifth dimension, the transcendental field, or the void. But there I was, or here I am, experiencing this expanded consciousness emotional state, this expanded sense of love and adoration for the universe. And so that experience with music shifted my direction of music performance and composition. Of course, it deepened my appreciation for the power of music to transport a listener, or to stabilize a listener.
Was this something that you were hearing in your mind?
Well, it took me a little while of investigation and research to get a better understanding of what that was all about. I’ve come to a realization that it has a non-linear sound; no beginning and no ending. It’s not appearing in the three-dimensional realm. It’s the sound of the infinite field vibrating, so my hearing was not a linear hearing experience. It was all-immersive, as if I were the listener, the medium, and the music. I wasn’t using my ears, and I later learned that...