Sun Gong & Bring On The Sun by Laraaji

Release date: September 22, 2017
Label: All Saints Records

In the 60s, Laraaji moved from Washington D.C. to New York to pursue a career in comedy. His early material centred on a love for slapstick and whacky deprecation, before his parallel love for yoga and meditation instigated a search for more wholesome forms of humour. Laughter has since become an important facet of his spiritual and sonic practice – including long workshops centred on chanting, deep listening and a premise known as “heavy laughter” – and it’s easy to see why an interest in comedy might lend itself to meditative and musical pursuits. They all rouse energy from the inanimate. Striking a gong liberates a wash of complex harmonics. Laughter unsettles those stagnant pools of internal stress.

In this sense, Laraaji is less a composer of sound and more an agent of energetic release; something that has been apparent throughout his output since the 80s, and that continues to find fresh resonance in these two recent instalments. Sun Gong and Bring On The Sun are two different prospects in terms of mood and texture, yet they are bound by this sense of teasing sound away from material and guiding it into the air, colouring stereo space with clouds of rich, emancipated frequency, wielding instrumental contrasts in a manner that feels at once joyous and jarring.

These records make for a seamless back-to-back listen, with Sun Gong acting as a period of meditative centring before the listener proceeds, senses sharpened, into the stranger annuls of Bring On The Sun. The former is two extended pieces for gong, voice and electronic manipulation – a work of patience and tempered unrest, in which the intermittent impacts of sticks and mallets provide the most gentle denial of absolute stillness.

The use of artificial processing is enhancive rather than transformative, swirling metallic vibrations in circles, sending strange clusters of harmony lapping against the stereo edges, using pitch-bending to reshape resonances into strange alien hymns. Voices howl and shakers shiver upon the currents, as Laraaji conjures a zone in which space is playfully scrunched and squeezed, expanding and contracting like breath filling and vacating the lungs. Amidst such flux, intense concentration acts as a constant – it hangs like a warmth, with every iota of Sun Gong saturated with Laraaji’s devotion to the eternal cycle of listening and responding.

The transition into ‘Introspection’, the opening track on Bring On The Sun, feels like an inevitability. Plucked strings replace gong decay, like clouds pulling back to let the summer rain through. Chimes ripple the air; synthesisers hang in mists. It’s like an idyllic tropical clearing – waterfall, luminous flowers, strange insects – vivid to the point where the listener is led to the hallucinatory evocations of senses other than hearing: sweet aromas, radiant colours, wafts of heat.

From here, Laraaji cartwheels into all manner of sonic territory: there’s the beautiful acoustic lull of ‘Change’, during which he seems to be playfully reciting life mantras down a drainpipe; there are the bouncing chordal breaths of ‘Harmonica Drone’, which bob upon pools of organ tones; there’s the buoyant improvisation of ‘Reborn In Virginia’, with nostalgic vocal recollection tumbling over plucked strings and pattering percussion, somewhat resembling a celestial blues tune. It’s wonderful to hear some of the quintessential tools of musical tranquillity utilised like this, adopting the garb of pop and jaunty Americana, recasting those jolts of strange energy as catalysts, not disruptors, of the meditative process. Through an effortless oscillation between joy and serenity, the listener is lifted out of the gravity of earthly concern.

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