Bill Laswell has made a career out of fighting these forms of decadence and stasis in the name of creativity and magic. In 1990 he formed Axiom Records, the ultimate vehicle and outlet for projects that consistently challenge beliefs in various networks and levels of the status quo, delighting and angering his fans and critics alike. His work is based first and foremost in daring and original ideas that consistently transcend existing boundaries of genre, geography, culture, and context.
Sorcery: the systematic cultivation of enhanced consciousness or non- ordinary awareness & its deployment in the world of deeds & objects to bring about desired results...Where our knowledge of beauty harmonizes with the ludus naturae, sorcery begins...Sorcery works at creating around itself a psychic/physical space or openings into a space of untrammeled expression -- the metamorphosis of quotidian place into angelic sphere. This involves the manipulation of symbols (which are also things) & of people (who are also symbolic) -- the archetypes supply a vocabulary for this process & therefore are treated as if they were both real and unreal, like words. Imaginal Yoga. The sorcerer is a Simple Realist: the world is real -- but then so must consciousness be real since its effects are so tangible. The dullard finds even wine tasteless but the sorcerer can be intoxicated by the mere sight of water. Quality of perception defines the world of intoxication -- but to sustain it & expand it to include others demands activity of another kind -- sorcery. Sorcery breaks no law of nature because there is no Natural Law, only the spontaneity of natura naturans, the tao. Sorcery violates laws which seek to chain this flow -- priests, kings, hierophants, mystics, scientists & shopkeepers all brand the sorcerer enemy for threatening the power of their charade, the tensile strength of their illusory web. -- Hakim Bey, TAZGenerated through an ever-growing community of artists from a vast variety of areas -- interacting and overlapping as they navigate unexplored territories -- Axiom's creations are dynamic and unpredictable, embracing the limitless possibilities of randomness along with the richness of countless traditions. Axiom consistently cultivates new environments for the illumi- nation and manifestation of transcendent activity, tapping into a natural flow of high-energy output: while having no substance of its own, Axiom -- as a process or practice -- is the artist. Existing parameters or limits of sound and art are constantly expanded or broken, their essential nature acting as mere vibrations in the natural chaos of harmony. The result is fresh, immediate, and inherently true.
In the Carlos Castaneda books, Don Juan makes a distinction between the tonal universe and the nagual. The tonal universe is the every day cause- and-effect universe, which is predictable because it is pre-recorded. The nagual is the unknown, the unpredictable, the uncontrollable. For the nagual to gain access, the door of chance must be open. There must be a random factor. -- W.S. Burroughs
Like all radical innovators, Laswell has been called blasphemous, destructive, and tasteless in his relentless pursuit of meaningful, imaginal statement. Consistently rendering obsolete the comfortable boundaries that separate genres, technologies, and cultures -- such as the use of synthesizers and drum machines in reggae and African music -- has resulted in controversy and uproar in the press.
Higher up in the credibility ratings, American funk producer Bill Laswell created a series of 'collisions' between African music, represented by Foday Musa Suso and Fela Kuti, and the whiplash electro funk of the day. 'Don't let him near Youssou N'Dour,' wrote British critic Graham Lock in a letter to Celluloid, the American label which released Laswell's collisions... Earthworks Records founder Jumbo Vanrenen dismisses Bill Laswell's work for the Celluloid label as imposing a foreign, New York sensibility on to African music...Bill Laswell, the New York producer whose work with artists like Fela and Mandingo marked out a new electro-Africa 'collision,' draws [British Afrophile DJ] Dave Hucker's especial contempt. 'He should have been locked up and not allowed near a mixing-desk." -- excerpts from African Rock - Pop Music of a Continent by British writers Chris Stapleton and Chris May
Though seemingly incongruous at the time, the use of small string "chamber" ensembles over funk and reggae grooves -- as introduced on Sly & Robbie's 1987 release Rhythm Killers and continued with Material's Third Power among others -- proved influential enough to be appropriated as a "trademark" sound for Soul II Soul years later. Bringing drum machines to well-known Jamaican artist Yellowman was just another "radical" idea in 1983, while today live drums are virtually nonexistent in Jamaican music dominated by the mechanical beats of "dancehall". The uniting of ex-Sex Pistol Johnny Lydon with early hip-hop and Zulu Nation leader Afrika Bambaataa on "World Destruction" was the first fusion of hard rock and rap musics, predating later "groundbreaking" collaborations that brought similar elements together, and which have ultimately been overused to the level of a cliche. Laswell's endless sonic explorations of the early 1980s -- such as the incorporations of DJ scratching with jazz on Herbie Hancock's Future Shock, and techno beats with the African and Afro-Cuban music of Aiyb Dieng, Foday Musa Suso, and Daniel Ponce on Hancock's Sound System, among others -- also laid much of the groundwork for what has been cloned repeatedly in the areas of "techno," "acid jazz," "ambient," "worldbeat," and any number of other "genre" labels.
In contrast to the kind of reductionist thinking that separates music into discrete categories with their own record store bins, Laswell heard the music whole, as a complex, dynamic system in which the components are dis- tinct but always subtly related. In terms of chaos theory, the latest imaginal construct of the theoretical physicists, the music then bouncing off the walls of various Manhattan canyons was a chaotic system; Laswell, -- to use the physicists' parlance -- acted as a "strange attractor," de- fining the system as a whole by holding it clear in his mind, containing its multitude of jostling interactions within...Laswell began to test various deconstructive/recombinant mix-and-match strategies, forging ever- more-unlikely but ultimately fruitful combinations from shards of the chaos ...Again and again, coming in at various oblique angles, he has kin- dled this pyro-magick in the heart of contemporary music -- Robert Palmer, from notes to Bill Laswell - Deconstruction: the Celluloid Recordings
Magic Calls Itself The Other Method For Controlling Matter and Knowing Space
Magic is neither white nor black, good nor bad. It is simply alive with what it is -- the real thing. What people really feel and want and are. Western man has been stifled in a non-magical universe known as the way things are.
By the time so-called "world music" and "worldbeat" came into vogue, Laswell had been developing various fusions and formulae for the movement. Where other labels, producers, and organizations simply bring in "guest" artists, or relegate traditional musics to a kid glove "ethnographic" or "ethnomusicological" context, Axiom cultivates relationships and working understandings with master artists from throughout the world. His produc- tions have always been vibrant with the energy of interactivity between players, consistently eschewing a patronizing display of legendary mu- sicians or cultural representations.
Trance music in Morocco is magical in origin and purpose, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco musicians are magicians. Gnauoa music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Jajouka evokes the God Pan, God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all arts -- music, painting, and writing -- is magical and evocative, and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. - W. S. Burroughs
Axiom's unprecedented field recordings in Morocco and Gambia (including The Master Musicians of Jajouka featuring Bachir Attar - Apocalypse Across The Sky, Mandinka & Fulani Music Of The Gambia - Ancient Heart, and Gnawa Music Of Marrakech - Night Spirit Masters) involve the live, digital multitrack recording of musicians outdoors as they have played for centuries, with a twist: the multitrack tapes, which capture the individual microphones on each member of the large ensembles, are then taken into premium recording studios, and mixed as any state-of-the-art album is, resulting in spatial ambience, depth, and separation that is a far cry from the "field recordings" made on two-track recorders.
The Laswell undertaking [in Jajouka] was a project within the realms of World Music, but it was no exercise in tokenism. It relates to the rap/dance crossover album that Laswell had done with Burroughs, SEVEN SOULS, and it relates to Laswell's own band of maverick avant gardeists, Material. Enthusing about what he managed to get down on tape, the morning after the night before, Laswell spoke of the recording sessions: "There are moments when you can actually hear the sounds and the instruments changing into music. It's right there on the tape...it's a different energy. Also, I found if you focus on the bass drum, and keep listening to what he's doing, you almost black out. He's the one holding it together, with time moving all around. He's the central point." Perhaps the whole point about that particular music is that time moves around, not traveling according to some linear pattern. It's hard to know what Gysin would make of it all. What would he have thought of Mick and Keith, two middle-aged family men, finally getting around to finishing something they had started 20 years before? He would undoubtedly have noticed the fact that a covenant entered into a different world was, at last, being honoured. The follow-up work done by Laswell, a scholarly and serious musician on the cutting edge of his field, served to complete an ambitious agenda dreamed up in the 60s, which had ended in tears. -- from "man from nowhere - storming the citadels of enlightenment with william burroughs and brion gysin" by J. Ambrose/T. Wilson/F. Rynne
According to his researches in North Africa, writer and composer Paul Bowles found that, in Morocco: "Music, literature, and even certain aspects of architecture have evolved with cannabis-directed appreciation in mind." This was the holy grail pursued by Brian Jones, William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, Ornette Coleman and Bill Laswell in the Rif Mountains, where the musicians of Jajouka smoked kif and played their swirling trance music from dusk to dawn. Clandestine lines of influence run from trance cults through to current music. Laswell's Axiom label has released recordings of the Jajouka musicians and the Gnawa brotherhood of Marrakesh, and on his own tracks he is making links between trance musics, dub and ambient. -- David Toop, "Dope Beats" - The Face
It is Laswell's incredible breadth of interest and involvement as a musician that allows Axiom to move so freely across perceived lines of culture, geography, genre, and generation. Hailing from the midwest, where he moved around a fair amount as a youth, performing in school ensembles and R&B groups, he developed his style and mastery of the electric bass. Solidity and groove were his initial credos, backing up soul, country and funk artists, and playing live in front of demanding audiences in all types of contexts. In his mid-teens, he toured the Midwest and South US with cover bands that played current soul and R&B hits by such groups as James Brown, Wilson Pickett, The Ohio Players, Temptations, and The Meters, among many others. An interest in the music of such revolutionary artists as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and Pharoah Sanders fed his growing perspective on the meaning of music and artistic expression. "Free jazz" -- and its ideas of improvisation and structure -- were an essential door to the consistent development and nurturing of compositional elements throughout his career.