Abre Ojos on Abre Ojos

This year I started writing for one of my favourite publications, Cyclic Defrost. I was motivated by the opportunity to speak with musicians and artists, learn more about their approaches, processes and techniques.

One of my first ideas was to write about my friend Scott Baker, who releases material as Abre Ojos. I've been a fan of his work for about a decade now and was curious about his influences. We had a lengthy conversation on Skype just before Burning Seed but I didn't take any notes. 
So I asked Scott if he'd write about these topics and received a few thousand words, which I've shoehorned into an Abre Ojos article on the Cyclic Defrost website.

Below is Abre Ojos' full text, reproduced with permission. It's great to read about influences and the article had to focus on a few, so here is more detail for those interested in Scott's art.

There always has to be an influence somewhere- as a digital media & graphic design teacher I see all too often students designing and creating in a vacuum- no references, no influences just sitting there blazing forward on their own. As an established artist/musician/whatever maybe the blazing forward on your own is ok because you have a foundation of influences and references made up from many years practice, but as a student it's rare that there is a depth of material to draw from. 

In terms of sound creation I still consider myself a student, visuals arts was the basis for me and from my uni degree and my visual arts practice I have a depth of material and references already and although I am always learning on the visual side of things, my depth of references and influences for sound creation is not as comprehensive. Granted I love music and sound and have been listening for decades, but it's the shift from consumer to producer time period that is much less, and being haunted by so many failed music lessons from my youth leaving me untrained and my sister telling me I was tone deaf keeps me firmly planted in my own perception of being an interloper in the sound creation world, an eternal student of sound!

There have been a few formative experiences that reduce this feeling of trespassing - working with Alan Lamb to create a wind organ, playing music with Rob Jones, developing a meditative audio-visual experience with Heath Myers and of course listening to the sounds that others have created.

Creating the wires with Alan Lamb just outside Wagga Wagga in rural NSW as part of Unsound was an experience that took years to sink in. I remember Alan continuously telling me to slow down, just sit and wait and then later once the wires were completed to just sit and listen. At the time there was plenty of glitch and IDM in my sound library and I was trying to emulate that kind of schizophrenic restless music, chopping and changing and abrupt halts. There is a beauty in digital artefacts, but it was possibly the furthest away from the sound experience of the wires. I wasn't ready for deep listening at that point, especially because my aural diet was 3-6 minute songs, a track of 20 mins in length was, I thought, forbidden. Understandably being exposed to Alan's compositions and direct listening on the wire planted a seed that slowly took root. An other thing that struck me was Alan's mention of the healing properties of sound and specifically the harmonics coming from the wires. He spoke of his desire to make a platform at some point that would allow a person to sit on it and have the sound of the wires travel through their body, this was something else I wasn't ready for but returned to later on. Being given a Sunn 0))) record by Adam Bell and then getting to see them live in London was fertilizer for that seed- long tracks, slight changes, intense harmonics, seemingly freeform improvisation. Added to the mix was the Lustmord & Robert Rich collaboration Stalker and then, quite appropriately while living in London, exposure to Coil, specifically Time Machines. 

Time Machines sent me down the rabbit hole both sonically and also into the back catalogue and esoteric practice of Coil. After to listening to TM, I was astounded at the simplicity and minimalism of the synth and changes and the mental, physical and spiritual effect it had. I read as much as I could about that album and it's creation and at that point still being firmly rooted into sampling as my main production method terms such as modular synthesizer, oscillators, control voltage etc were alien and mysterious. But it was the process that Jhonn and Sleazy described that made the most impact- they described how they would just sit there and listen making small almost imperceptible changes and be aware of the effect of the sound on themselves- a combination of deep listening and production.

While in London I started collaboration with Rob Jones (electronicshaman.com) where we formed Look To The Skies on a basic process of getting together once or twice a week, setting up whatever equipment we had, Rob on laptop with soft synths and other instruments, me with a Korg ES-1 Electribe and a rag-tag collection of effect units, and with minimal preparation just recording 20 minute jams, doing some basic level mastering and posting them to the web. We did over 60 tracks like this over a year. This marked the point where the 3-6 minute song was blown away and improvisation became an integral part of my process.

The synthesis side of Coil sent me in a search for a synth to learn on and I bought a desktop Dave Smith Evolver. Combined with the Anu Kirk's Definitive Guide to the Evolver I bunkered down and learnt it inside and out. Sampling fell away and synthesis replaced it.

Fast forward slightly and I returned from London and moved to Melbourne. The collaboration with Rob ended as he was still OS. I had to ignore the "no trespass" signs and start making music by myself. At this same moment I was reading a book called 1666 all about the visits to Australia by Europeans before the "official" discovery by Captain Cook. Being a open conspiracy theory junky a term in the book that Spanish sailors would say when sailing near the reef's of Western Australia was "Abre Ojos" - look out, keep your eyes open - seemed a fitting title for the new project. This was 2006-2007. The other thing I should mention about Abre Ojos is that I wanted it to be an audio-visual project, something that brought together my visual art roots and the sound. The intention is for it to be more than just a video for the music, but for both elements to be equally addressed and to be composed in a way that one is integral to the other. The key to making this happen was learning a visual programming application called Quartz Composer.

Being back in Oz with more space and no need for carry on luggage restrictions my synth collection grew, moving through virtual analogues like the Alesis Ion, to my trusty Korg 770, the cycle of buy and sell and keep and play and buy and sell started. Also in 2007 a group called VICMOD kicked off, started by Ross Healy, it was a collection of people from varied backgrounds all wanting to get into modular synthesis by building their own modules. Finally there was the opportunity to have access to the equipment that had made an album like Time Machines. We built Elby and CGS modules to start with and the combined experience from the group helped us get power supplies, racks and cases. In under a year I had a 6ru euro-rack modular with modules, a case and a power supply that I had all built myself. It was amazing! Not only sonically but also aesthetically, this ex-military suitcase covered in black tolex with cables vomiting out the front. The esoteric nature of a modular, the alchemy of electrical control voltage was mesmerising. This was right at the start of the modular revival, there were only a handful of manufacturers, modules had to be bought from OS (except the awesome Elby Designs and CGS stuff). Over a few years it grew to 15ru in size and it was my primary sound source. All of my other synths were sold off in the pursuit for more modules. Listening to oscillators drone on and making small changes, the experiences of listening to Time Machines and also the shifting harmonics of the wires were recalled and the interest in the science (and pseudo-science) of the effect of sound on the human organism was something I started researching.

I had done a release based on the Crowley tarot and the alchemical elements (http://vimeo.com/album/2560811) but that only touched the edges of the spiritual side of sound, it was the Chakras audio-visual project that pushed me further into the theory of frequencies. The Chakra system has multiple elements assigned to each chakra- colour, crystal or rocks, graphic symbols, yoga poses and musical notes or tones. So the Chakras project was a way to understanding the Chakra system and, in a weird way, experiment on myself with specific tones and frequencies. Having the visual elements of the symbols and colours also made it a perfect subject matter for an audiovisual outcome.

With the wealth of information on the internet, researching each chakra and finding specific notes or frequencies became a psuedo-science nightmare! I could find 3 or 4 different notes that each "expert" associated with a chakra, and then converting the note to a frequency was easy enough until then scratching the surface of the standard western tuning system of A = 440hz. This opened another can of worms when apparently sometime in the early 20th century someone decided that for the first time to fix a frequency to the musical scale. Before that point an A could've been 10hz either way depending on the composer, conductor or musician. So saying that a particular specific note with a particular specific frequency specified in the early 20th Century is something that resonates with an energy centre identified in spiritual teachings centuries old was a frustrating experience. I knew that sounds had an effect and I also knew that intention in creation was also crucial and trying to be exact in the creation process was proving frustrating. The answer was simply to forget the rules, forget the dogma, look at the focus of each particular chakra (eg. throat - speaking your truth) and use intution and intention gently sculptured by the research to build a track. Funnily enough the idea of strict following of dogma or ritual and process for spirituality was something that I had already discarded in regards to organised religions, but for the "new age" practices I fell back into the steps of enlightenment - Step 1: Meditate, Step 2: Cleanse with fasting and enemas, Step 3: Contort into excruciating posture... Fuck all that shit! So the lesson learnt for me was to worship how ever I want, to make my church where ever I lay my hat, that the keys to heaven are no longer held by gate keeper priests, swarmis, gurus or shaman- that sitting in the studio tuning an oscillator by using my ears, heart and spirit is as valid a path to enlightenment as a bed of nails or fasting in the desert for 40 days. For that matter riding a bike, a skateboard, listening to the sounds of a river all are valid forms of "worship".

The Chakra release led me to working with a transformational therapist and holistic health practitioner Heath Myers (http://agentofchange.com.au/). I had always found it frustrating playing ambient/drone things in a pub or bar environment. When performing live I wanted to give people a deep listening experience as opposed to background music catching up with friends drinking at the bar. After meeting Heath we talked about crafting a true meditative audiovisual experience, along the lines of a Robert Rich type sleep performance but with a stronger spiritual intention behind it. We formed Coalessence and we held 4 or 5 events. Using a healing system that Heath was trained in called the Liquid Crystals, each event was based on the crystal that aligned to the day the performance was going to be on. For example it might've been chrysoprase, clear quartz, or even gold. My part was to create the sound and vision. The process was research the crystal- the molecular structure, geometry and colours for the visuals and then to as said above, use my intuition and intention to craft the sound. Then there was three parts to the event- a simple movement  section based on Tibetan Yoga, a guided meditation from Heath and then the audiovisual journey. From the feedback from some of the audience members it worked well, so well that some people described out of body experiences and deep personal revelations, even physical healing to some degree. It was a blow out that in the right space with the right set up the sounds and images could have those kind of impacts. Seasons - https://vimeo.com/26057455  Earth Embrace https://vimeo.com/27530193 , Foresight https://vimeo.com/30041183 and The Solar Angel https://vimeo.com/32505654 are all studio recordings of the sound and vision for four of the Coalessence events.

After Chakras and Coalessence came Haxan. Haxan has been almost a correction of balance in my work between the light and dark. Based on the 1922 movie which is a documentary re-enacted by actors it was a wonderful piece to work with. Being public domain there was the rich visuals to manipulate and the opportunity to research and learn more about the witch hunts of the 15th Century. 500 years later and reading about the stoning, hanging and torture of women that still happens makes it relevant today. Even though things are moving towards balance both between males and females and internally between our own masculine and feminine aspects there is a ways to go. So the darker sound and darker vision felt right and still does moving into my latest release Gates.

Gates (http://www.secretsofgiza.com/?p=101) was recorded at the end of 2012, after my performances at the Eclipse Festival in Cairns and over the period of the end of the Mayan calendar into early 2013. The Eclipse festival was full of new age experiences, rainbows and dolphins and unicorns, but there was also a darker undercurrent, not the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure that was there, but a true understanding of our insignificance. The substance ingestion, constant dancing and guru workshops seemed to be shields against the truth of three massive celestial bodies creating a perfect alignment. So Gates is that personal journey of beginning to understand my place in the world, amongst the corruption, the conspiracies, the abominable abhorrent way we treat each other, the animals, the plants and our planet.

One of the changes in Gates was shorter track lengths, moving away from the meditation aspect of my music into something shorter, darker, more aggressive and to the point. Unlike previous releases there wasn't an external theme as such to research- eg Chakras, Haxan/Witchcraft/Elements etc. Instead there was a deeper personal research, how to find a point of stability again after busting through this artificial threshold of control structures with few strategies to deal with it.

With the sound creation something that was quite effective was including metallic percussion in Haxan, recordings of meditation bowls, chimes, crystal glasses etc. This expanded into incorporating ritual drumming into Gates a further extension of crafting my own rituals. The visuals are a combination of animated geometry and processed video from three different sci-fi films found on the amazing public domain resource Archive.org. (https://vimeo.com/72128994) The celestial theme definitely runs through the visuals, but more specifically the human response to the expanded universe we now find ourselves in; a universe of multi-dimensional beings, channelled messages from ascended masters and the breakdown of the control structures of the 0.01%. That scene in the first moments we see people in space in 2001- that female attendant walking with baby steps in a low gravity environment - learning the basics, just to walk, all over again in this unfamiliar environment. If we don't have our technology to rely on what is left? Is there an internal technology that we still have to realize, or even just to recognise our true selves outside of the burden of technology. This guy called Jeff Brown said: "After your beloved is gone, all efforts to find her outside yourself fail. You have only one choice- to find God within yourself."