Mercury is retrograde in Gemini and it’s time for me to re-invigorate my blog. I did this interview ten-years-ago and recently re-connected with Richard Horowitz after staying up far-too-late one night last week watching Bertolucci’s cinematic rendering of The Sheltering Sky where Horowitz provided the exotic soundtrack.This Q&A was to appear in the last, which turned out to be the “lost” issue of MONDO 2000. For those of you who don’t know, MONDO was one of the greatest and most influential magazines of all time. It was redolent with early adopter themes, bursting at the spine with memes and strange attraction. I was part of the waning phase of MONDO’s glorious ascent. Not privy to all of the media buzz that surrounded the mag in the middle of the nineties, I nonetheless experienced the madness and genius of Queen Mu on a daily basis. I could go into a whole post simply on the complexity and brilliance of the MONDO maven. I will go on record and say that she is one of the great unknown and little recognized writers and minds of the 20th century. With Pluto moving into Capricorn, The Queen’s natal sign (she shares the same birth date as Elvis and Bowie), I think we will witness her rise once more.I spent two separate phone interviews with Richard and Sussan and one interview with Sussan alone and really got to know them. I appreciated truly their candor and vulnerability.The art was pure Heide Foley in all of it’s psychedelically inspired retinal overload. I actually found this on Heide’s website where much of the lost issue resides. Curiously, she has me named as “Rob Hall.” Enjoy.
Majoun—passed down through the ancestral food chain, a mind-kissing cousin of Soma, brain food of the gods.
Majoun—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 that’s mixed with mint tea.
In it’s aural manifestation, Majoun is three parts Adrian Sherwood’s On U Sound collective ( Keith LeBlanc, Skip McDonald and Doug Wimbish), world rhythmatist Steve Shehan, Gnawa rebel Hassan Hakmoun, virtual reality vulcan Jaron Lanier, a host of some of the finest players from Morocco and the core ingredients—Richard Horowitz and Sussan Deyhim. Horowitz is a master ney player. His musical influences include the likes of Bachir Attar, The Gnawas and other Moroccan mugicians. Psychically, he is linked to the famed boho expatriates Brion Gysin and Paul Bowles. It was Bowles who suggested that Horowitz, along with Ryuchi Sakamoto, co-score the film version of his classic tale, The Sheltering Sky. Deyhim is an expatriate as well. She fled her native Iran before the Shah’ s strings were cut by the puppet masters. Relocating in Europe, she studied voice, dance and theater with the legendary Maurice Beijart. Her other-worldly ululations mixed with her native Farsi echo the passionate yearnings of ancient muses reborn with an avant-garde intelligence crystallized in their cells.
But most of all, Majoun is the elixir of travellers. It is that quality of traveling, a circumnavigational displacement in space and time that unites all of its participants-—nomads in a virtual caravan of dreams–—that Horowitz and Deyhim have assembled. Through a filament of light and sound, from Berkeley to London and New York, they shared their journeys and their secret recipe for Majoun with MONDO.
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. But we do have a lot of interesting experimental work that hasn’t been released.
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 spices 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 inter-dimensional travel agent was there.
M2: How long ago was that?
RH: Twenty years ago. She was born in a riad in Marrakech by candlelight 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 with 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 your 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 esctatic 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 I did 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 that 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:T When I was working on The Sheltering Sky in 1989, I had a studio in my hotel room in angier 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 do 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 see him in Morocco. And too bad I never went to see him with a camera or a tape recorder because now all I have are his letters—no 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 secret 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.
Exile Exile You’re The Victim
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: 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 that real… 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 in 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 place 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 Ketjak 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 ! [triage 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.
SH: 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 more 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 vocal compositions. They were dark and tangled, with exquisite microtonal melodies and low, soft, sandy harmonies and an extended range of other melismatic phenomena and electro ecstatic voca voca. Because she was also coming from dance and theater, she had a deep connection with the persona and mood she 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 Sufi poets. Then there’s the resurrection of the performance art 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 touring with Richard, Skip [McDonald] and Will [former Living Colour Bassist] 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 release Majoun is documented on Sony Classics.an
You can get the streaming track, “Azax Attra” off of Desert Equations at emusic along with other great ethno-ambience. Simply click on the ad of my rocking son on the right side and dive right in.