Bill Laswell

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Bill Laswell at moers festival 2006, photo by Michael Hoefner http://www.zwo5.de

Laswell – a lot of writers tried to separate the music from the sound or the production, but those records were initially made by edits and putting things together in studios, and I think a lot of people from the critical side didn’t really realize how records were made, and in some cases weren’t listening. They were just remembering. So that wasn’t always too accurate – a lot of the criticism, as well as the praise. In the case of Marley, I think he had a much more religious following of diehard reggae fans, and if you tamper with their memory, it’s a little heavier. So there was probably more criticism on Marley, but it didn’t really affect the overall impact of the record or the sales. I think it also did well, and was received by people that were forward thinking. And I purposely didn’t use his vocal, because I didn’t want to chop up his songs, or his poetry, or his stories – for people that cherish them. So that’s why it was done in a sort of old school dub way, where you don’t use a lead vocal, you mostly just use chorus and instruments.
SAB – You just got onto my second question, which was that you didn’t use his vocal too often.
Laswell – That’s the reason, because I didn’t want to insult anyone’s idea, or their devotional feelings about him and his songs. It was more a dub record based on the sound, not the lyrics and the words.
SAB – There is some parts where you use his vocal, isn’t there?
Laswell – Very little. It’s mostly in the background, very little of him that’s audible.
SAB – Is that him on “The Heathen”?
Laswell – Yeah, but it’s also Bunny Wailer a lot. A lot of the stuff sounds like it could be him, but it’s pretty mixed in with other voices.
SAB – It’s very cool how you made – like what you said about tampering with memory – I think it’s really cool to hear that record, cause it’s like hearing Bob Marley in a dream.
Laswell – That was exactly the intention, to create a dream out of the thing. So from memory, you’re trancing on these songs. It’s funny, when I made the first mix – it was three pieces together – and I was in uptown New York, in a van, and I had this guy play the cassette really loud, and we were listening to one of the pieces which was a classic piece, a famous Marley piece that everyone knows. And these three Rastas were walking by the van, and they could hear this music, which is obviously Marley, but they’d never heard this take on it, so the feeling that I got from them was kind of reassuring. It was like they almost dreamed they were hearing that music. It exists, but it came into their heads somehow for a moment.
SAB – I think dub’s a lot like that. Like when I listen to dub music, there’ll be a rhythm from one song, and then I’ll hear it again on another song.
Laswell – A lot of the times it’s the same track, could be the same drum track. Dub really came into existence out of necessity. It was because an artist, or a company, or a producer needed a b-side, so they could press a vinyl of the single. So you make one song, and you only have time to do one song, so you just dub out the other version, which is the beginning of dub. It was called version. So that became the b-side of the single, so you didn’t have to record another song to put your record out. That’s really how it all happened. And then people really started to like that, when they were played at sound systems, and then they started making whole albums of them. It’s still a relatively new style and experiment. It literally doesn’t exist in Jamaica anymore.
SAB – Yeah, I heard about that, that you can’t buy dub in Jamaica.
Laswell – If you go to Jamaica, and ask, ‘Where can I buy dub records?’ They’ll tell you, ‘Brooklyn or London.’ There’s nothing in Jamaica.
SAB – What about this Bob Marley record? Was this for sale in Jamaica?
Laswell – I don’t know. I think, from what I heard, when I was there, people said they liked it. I think the real hardcore fan – none of them were Jamaican, they were mostly English, and most of them were white people – they were the ones that were down on it. I thought the Rastas that I played it for, and the friends of Bob Marley and the family – there was no problem. And Chris Blackwell, who supported the idea, who had produced the original records, was very supportive, and he actually made it happen.
SAB – Oh, is that right? Blackwell produced the original records. I was wondering who did that.
Laswell – Yeah, he was very much involved in creating the image, and the sound, and the songs, and the whole thing that was Bob Marley, which really propelled reggae into the future. I always give him the credit for being the person that had the vision to make that whole thing happen, which was a very historic thing.
SAB – It’s been said that the rock elements in the sound were pushed forward, to break it in America.
Laswell – They tried to sell them as a rock band, and they put them on tours with rock bands. The whole imaging wasn’t ethnic. It was pop. It was made to be a rock band.
SAB – Would you say removed that?
Laswell – Probably some of that, because I put in a more ambient style, and I referred more to dub records, which are very much their own thing, and not so rock-oriented. It’s more like trance records. So I didn’t think that was needed. They did that to blow him up, to make him happen. This was just a remix.
SAB – With the Marley material, were you working with the outtakes of the original masters, or just the original masters of the actual songs?
Laswell – Yeah, it was the safety copy of the original master of the original song, and I think there was probably not more than one outtake in the whole group of tapes, because I asked specifically for certain pieces. I didn’t go through the whole mountain of tape. I think I chose like 20 pieces, and then narrowed it down.
SAB – And were you in Jamaica to do it?
Laswell – No, the tapes were sent to New York from London. I went to Jamaica a little before that, and that’s where Chris had the idea to do the project. But I’ve never used the studios in Jamaica. I’ve been there a few times, but by the time I was doing records everything had changed. I was interested in dub and reggae, but that music is no longer there. It’s all just digital stuff now, and not very interesting music. Except for Sly & Robbie, I don’t really keep in touch with too many of those people.
SAB – Yeah, they don’t even use live drums on most of the records do they?
Laswell – No, never. Hardly even bass lines. It’s all programmed – programmed music with a vocal. All of it’s pretty similar. The only thing that keeps things different is the vocal.
SAB – What was the criteria for selecting the Marley songs – I know with the Miles Davis songs you were working from a specific period of three albums – with Marley, was there any …
Laswell – The deciding factor was usually the bass line, and then the strength of the chorus. Could it hold up as a repetitive idea that you could hear over and over? And just the overall texture of the song. It really got down to imagining the feel of it, once you emptied it out to a strong bass line and a beat, and if the chorus would make sense as the main theme. And I didn’t necessarily gravitate towLaswell – a lot of writers tried to separate the music from the sound or the production, but those records were initially made by edits and putting things together in studios, and I think a lot of people from the critical side didn’t really realize how records were made, and in some cases weren’t listening. They were just remembering. So that wasn’t always too accurate – a lot of the criticism, as well as the praise. In the case of Marley, I think he had a much more religious following of diehard reggae fans, and if you tamper with their memory, it’s a little heavier. So there was probably more criticism on Marley, but it didn’t really affect the overall impact of the record or the sales. I think it also did well, and was received by people that were forward thinking. And I purposely didn’t use his vocal, because I didn’t want to chop up his songs, or his poetry, or his stories – for people that cherish them. So that’s why it was done in a sort of old school dub way, where you don’t use a lead vocal, you mostly just use chorus and instruments.
SAB – You just got onto my second question, which was that you didn’t use his vocal too often.
Laswell – That’s the reason, because I didn’t want to insult anyone’s idea, or their devotional feelings about him and his songs. It was more a dub record based on the sound, not the lyrics and the words.
SAB – There is some parts where you use his vocal, isn’t there?
Laswell – Very little. It’s mostly in the background, very little of him that’s audible.
SAB – Is that him on “The Heathen”?
Laswell – Yeah, but it’s also Bunny Wailer a lot. A lot of the stuff sounds like it could be him, but it’s pretty mixed in with other voices.
SAB – It’s very cool how you made – like what you said about tampering with memory – I think it’s really cool to hear that record, cause it’s like hearing Bob Marley in a dream.
Laswell – That was exactly the intention, to create a dream out of the thing. So from memory, you’re trancing on these songs. It’s funny, when I made the first mix – it was three pieces together – and I was in uptown New York, in a van, and I had this guy play the cassette really loud, and we were listening to one of the pieces which was a classic piece, a famous Marley piece that everyone knows. And these three Rastas were walking by the van, and they could hear this music, which is obviously Marley, but they’d never heard this take on it, so the feeling that I got from them was kind of reassuring. It was like they almost dreamed they were hearing that music. It exists, but it came into their heads somehow for a moment.
SAB – I think dub’s a lot like that. Like when I listen to dub music, there’ll be a rhythm from one song, and then I’ll hear it again on another song.
Laswell – A lot of the times it’s the same track, could be the same drum track. Dub really came into existence out of necessity. It was because an artist, or a company, or a producer needed a b-side, so they could press a vinyl of the single. So you make one song, and you only have time to do one song, so you just dub out the other version, which is the beginning of dub. It was called version. So that became the b-side of the single, so you didn’t have to record another song to put your record out. That’s really how it all happened. And then people really started to like that, when they were played at sound systems, and then they started making whole albums of them. It’s still a relatively new style and experiment. It literally doesn’t exist in Jamaica anymore.
SAB – Yeah, I heard about that, that you can’t buy dub in Jamaica.
Laswell – If you go to Jamaica, and ask, ‘Where can I buy dub records?’ They’ll tell you, ‘Brooklyn or London.’ There’s nothing in Jamaica.
SAB – What about this Bob Marley record? Was this for sale in Jamaica?
Laswell – I don’t know. I think, from what I heard, when I was there, people said they liked it. I think the real hardcore fan – none of them were Jamaican, they were mostly English, and most of them were white people – they were the ones that were down on it. I thought the Rastas that I played it for, and the friends of Bob Marley and the family – there was no problem. And Chris Blackwell, who supported the idea, who had produced the original records, was very supportive, and he actually made it happen.
SAB – Oh, is that right? Blackwell produced the original records. I was wondering who did that.
Laswell – Yeah, he was very much involved in creating the image, and the sound, and the songs, and the whole thing that was Bob Marley, which really propelled reggae into the future. I always give him the credit for being the person that had the vision to make that whole thing happen, which was a very historic thing.
SAB – It’s been said that the rock elements in the sound were pushed forward, to break it in America.
Laswell – They tried to sell them as a rock band, and they put them on tours with rock bands. The whole imaging wasn’t ethnic. It was pop. It was made to be a rock band.
SAB – Would you say removed that?
Laswell – Probably some of that, because I put in a more ambient style, and I referred more to dub records, which are very much their own thing, and not so rock-oriented. It’s more like trance records. So I didn’t think that was needed. They did that to blow him up, to make him happen. This was just a remix.
SAB – With the Marley material, were you working with the outtakes of the original masters, or just the original masters of the actual songs?
Laswell – Yeah, it was the safety copy of the original master of the original song, and I think there was probably not more than one outtake in the whole group of tapes, because I asked specifically for certain pieces. I didn’t go through the whole mountain of tape. I think I chose like 20 pieces, and then narrowed it down.
SAB – And were you in Jamaica to do it?
Laswell – No, the tapes were sent to New York from London. I went to Jamaica a little before that, and that’s where Chris had the idea to do the project. But I’ve never used the studios in Jamaica. I’ve been there a few times, but by the time I was doing records everything had changed. I was interested in dub and reggae, but that music is no longer there. It’s all just digital stuff now, and not very interesting music. Except for Sly & Robbie, I don’t really keep in touch with too many of those people.
SAB – Yeah, they don’t even use live drums on most of the records do they?
Laswell – No, never. Hardly even bass lines. It’s all programmed – programmed music with a vocal. All of it’s pretty similar. The only thing that keeps things different is the vocal.
SAB – What was the criteria for selecting the Marley songs – I know with the Miles Davis songs you were working from a specific period of three albums – with Marley, was there any …
Laswell – The deciding factor was usually the bass line, and then the strength of the chorus. Could it hold up as a repetitive idea that you could hear over and over? And just the overall texture of the song. It really got down to imagining the feel of it, once you emptied it out to a strong bass line and a beat, and if the chorus would make sense as the main theme. And I didn’t necessarily gravitate towards hit songs, just whatever felt good, and it turns out that a couple of them were, but that’s because they fit into what I felt was needed.
SAB – So what’s it like now, if you’re sitting in a bar having a drink, and “One Love” comes on – how do you hear the song?
Laswell – Well, it’s interesting, because you’ve been inside the song, and you hear the hi-hat, you hear the bass, and you know how it all sounds unmixed and soloed. It’s a very interesting experience. And the same with the Miles Davis. You find things on the tapes that you heard twenty years ago, like there’s the sound of a glass falling and landing on the piano, and I used to hear that on the record, and I thought it was the guitar. And now twenty years later, you hear it, and you realize there’s a noise, and it’s actually a mistake. And you hear Miles talking at one point. Those were things that could have been taken out, if people were listening, but they weren’t, and they’ve become part of your memory of the sound. That’s why the whole concept of a purist, when it comes to sound, is completely irrelevant, because you’re already dealing with mistakes, and things that have been different. It’s all down to perspective, and the decisions that have been made at that moment in the studio.
SAB – Yeah, that’s how I think about it. Like once it’s in the studio, it’s all – well, fake’s not the word for it, but …
Laswell – It’s put together in another way. It’s not just based on the performance of an artist put together as a whole. There’s a whole lot more that goes into it. And people get used to a certain thing, and they start believing in it, and they think that’s the absolute way it has to be, when it can be a million different ways. The record Kind of Blue, which was done in the ‘60s – when they mixed it, or transferred it to make the record, the b-side was running at a slower speed, and for 20-30 years no one noticed that, and then all of a sudden someone found out. They found the original tape, and now they’ve put it at the speed it’s supposed to be, which changes the pitch, which changes everything. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. The way it existed for thirty years was a mistake. And there’s purists that are saying, they don’t want it like that, they want it the way it was, which is already a mistake, so it’s really funny to know how limited people are just in terms of how they judge records, because you can’t, unless you know exactly what goes into making them.
SAB – I know when I’m working myself with a sampler, and I’m working with a section of one of favorite songs, and I’m trying to morph the sound, it’s quite painful to hear it go through the bad edits, or effects that aren’t very good, on the way to getting what I want. Was it quite intimidating for you to go through these sounds, and try to morph these pieces?
Laswell – It’s a little intimidating to deal with Marley, just cause of the size of the audience that’s following the artist – not really because of the music. It’s pretty simple music, so that wasn’t so intimating. And the Miles – I actually got to know Miles, and I was going to work with him, but I didn’t pursue it, because of what he was doing at that time. He had already finished with the things that I was interested in. So I sort of had a feel for what he liked, and what he was trying to do, and I knew and worked with a lot of the people that played on those records. That was more natural. That felt like I was working with the people that I would work with anyway.
SAB – Did you sometimes forget that Miles Davis isn’t even here anymore?
Laswell – When I was working on it, I was kind of remembering talking to him, and the things he had done, and I had absorbed a lot of it from that period, so it felt like he was in on it the whole time.
SAB – In terms of processes, is there anything inherently different between your role in this and Teo Macero’s in the originals?
Laswell – Not particularly, because in some cases, there’s an outtake and there might be a theme or a solo that’s taken from another outtake and transplanted together. Teo Macero did a great deal of editing, and, in my opinion, I didn’t always think the editing served the music. It appeared to have been done very quickly. It felt like. I used to hear those records — when you don’t know anything about how records are made, you wonder, ‘How does the band do that? How do they change key so quickly? Why is it like that?’ It’s all him, doing editing, and I believe Teo Macero was more responsible for the results of the records than Miles was.
SAB – Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. That’s what’s been speculated.
Laswell – Yeah, but I don’t think Teo Macero necessarily worked for Miles. Miles didn’t pay him. Columbia paid him. He was a salaryman, and a record guy, who worked for a company, and his job was to get a record made, get it out, and move on so they can make another one. And I think that was pretty much his mentality. I think he was good in the sixties, and then when the seventies arrived, his ideas from the sixties and all of his manual edits and quick decisions, I don’t think it related to the music. A lot of people argued that, but those are people who are still living in the sixties.
SAB – So when you make these new tracks, are you actually playing on either of these albums?
Laswell – No, not really. I’m playing samples, or shifting things around, or putting things in place. It is producing music, but I didn’t want any human presence to enter into that picture. It should have just been the sound being processed through the technology of today, or what you intend to do with the technology of today. I also used really primitive technology doing it. I tried to keep it as close to the way it was done. There’s manual analogue editing, the same way they did it. They were doing it with quarter inch, and we were doing it with half inch on the Studer analog machine. Things were bouncing around from different formats, from analogue 24, which was originally an 8-track. In A Silent Way was originally an 8-track recording. Every musician had a track. The drums were on one track. Everybody had his own track. Then we bounced that to 24, and then back to analogue half inch to be mastered to DAT.
SAB – Apparently, lots of the work you do is still on analogue. Is that right?
Laswell – Lately, I’ve been using a few digital formats. But anytime it’s sort of heavy stuff, where the noise doesn’t bother anyone, I’m still using analogue.
SAB – Yeah, cause some people want it clean, like digital.
Laswell – Yeah, for soundtracks and ambient music now, and things that involve a lot of quiet music, I’m using digital.
SAB – It’s a totally different way of thinking from one to the other, isn’t it?
Laswell – It’s like when you start using DAT, and someone gives you a cassette, and you used to like cassettes, but there’s something about getting it back to it, you realize just how heavy the noise is. That’s a problem you have going back and forth between certain digital formats and analogue. And in some music, in rock music and dub, it doesn’t matter, cause noise is part of the sound. So I’m not against the noise, but it bothers some people, if they’ve been in the digital world, and they come back to analogue. All they hear is noise.
SAB – My problem is more in the production. It seems like, if you have an anologue track, you have to plan it from beginning to end, and on a digital track …
Laswell – Well, once you’re on a computer – very few people are even using tape – like, if you’re working with Protools, everything’s just in the computer. You can move things around. Everyone’s moving more in that direction, and I also want to move in that direction, but I want to remember the things that changed. Like what happened to reggae, I don’t necessarily want that to happen to all music, so I’m always trying to go forward, but also go back, and keep some other things happening, too. If you can create a balance – because it’s easier to work in Protools, it’s faster, people have sacrificed a lot of quality, a lot of music, and a lot of history, just of the necessity to work quicker and easier. But I don’t think this necessarily works like that. It shouldn’t have to be easy and quick. The more time that goes into something the better, and the pain of doing something, the stress of doing something, the bother, can produce results that you can’t get with efficiency.
SAB – Yeah, definitely. I always wish I could play an instrument. I get sick of the computer stuff.
Laswell – Yeah, it’s good to create a balance. It can drive you crazy, and it can get people into thinking only one way. It’s always good to not get too far into one direction, and you’ve got to remember that it’s controlled, because the computers are a control system, and they are eventually going to be controlling us.
SAB – Well, is someone going to be controlling the computers who control us?
Laswell – Who knows? It’s beyond the imagination how quickly things are evolving. I mean, obviously thought – energy follows thought, so there’s always going to have to be a directive, an idea, but who knows in the future, how ideas are going to be produced. What are they going to be based on? Data, information systems, we don’t know. It’s really beyond our perceptions.
SAB – Yeah, it’s all changing pretty quick, right now.
Laswell – Really quick. It’s changing everyday.
SAB – That said – with both of these albums, I think both of these artists, and it comes through in full force on these two CDs, they both make timeless music, right.
Laswell – It was timeless music, and I think it’s just another version, or take on it, to continue the flow.
SAB – But what you’ve done – were you consciously trying to maintain that, because it also sounds like it could be seventies or nineties?
Laswell – Yeah, I wasn’t trying to be conscious though. That was part of the idea.
SAB – Maybe that’s why it worked. I don’t know if you heard it. But there’s a double LP of Can remixes.
Laswell – I haven’t really heard the whole thing. I’ve just heard pieces of it.
SAB – Yeah, cause I heard that – and you don’t have to give your own opinion, cause you haven’t heard it – but lots of the tracks sound like they were just 1996 underground dance related remixes. Whatever flavo was going on at the time.
Laswell – That’s unfortunately how it is with most of those situations. Very few people can go back and tap into that energy. It’s energy. And regardless, you can’t just click on a button, and expect something to happen. It’s an art form. Something has got to go into it. Something has to be behind it. And in a lot of cases, it isn’t and that’s why you get those results. There’s a whole remix record of the Miles stuff coming out, with contemporary, so-called remix people from that culture – King Britt and DJ Krush – I haven’t heard Krush’s mix, but the other mixes were consistently lacking in one vital element, which should have been there, which was the music. It’s just a few loops, and somebody programming different effects on the loops, and it’s pretty bad. And if it was a remix of something that just came out, and an artist that just happened, but it’s not, it’s Miles Davis, who is an icon.
SAB – Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. Most of these tracks sound like they could be the b-side for an artist you’ve never heard of.
Laswell – Exactly, and there’s no element in there that would ever make me think that an artist the calibre of Miles Davis had anything to do with that, which is a little bit of a disappointment, and artistically it’s a failure. I’m always fighting against that kind of thing. But I can’t fight too hard, because I want to keep working on remixes, and keep working with the companies, but the real reality is that a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing.
SAB – I’m up against that myself with my own. That’s one of the problems with loop-based music. Eventually, you want to push it out.
Laswell – It’s really an art form, and I think inside the concept of samples, there’s a soul to that, an art to it. And the people think, because they’re just limited in their brain about sound and music, like older people, will say that there’s no way that a kid with a computer and samples will ever achieve what Charlie Parker did with a saxaphone. And I disagree. I think with a sampler and all these things, you can achieve more, but our brain is not set up to let us believe that, because everything has been hammered into us about a tradition, about what’s important, about what’s good and bad, and all that is completely irrelevant. It should just be expressive. What needs to happen is that there needs to be more expressive artists to express, and not just illustrators, and if there was that, then people could make the connection, and they could travel thinking-wise into the place that would allow them to be smarter, because the point is that people are stuck on what they grew up thinking, or were told.
SAB – Yeah, because you get handed down a complex, if you make records with a sampler, using other people’s records.
Laswell – It’s an artform and the more people do it creatively and expressively, then it’ll educate the people who don’t know, or not. Who cares?
SAB – Yeah, who cares? In terms of the technology in Miles, I’ve heard people say that techno really comes from Miles Davis’ stuff.
Laswell – Yeah, a lot of people felt they got a lot of stuff from On The Corner, in terms of repetition, because if you think back, what was that minimal and that repetitious in 1972. So, in a way, that makes a lot of sense. And also, even before, if you listen to the way Tony Williams played his ride cymbal. It’s not so different from the music that comes out of techno and repetitive music.
SAB – Does African music also come into that?
Laswell – It depends. I think it comes into a lot of it, but a lot of the things sound more European. Obviously, the German sound, to me, never sounded to African, except when it got to the rock stuff. Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay and those guys were very influenced by African and Indian music. But in the electronic music, like Kraftwerk – that always sounded like finally the machines were speaking, and it wasn’t so much tribal. Or, it was another kind of tribal, machine tribal. But I think any repetitive music, Indian music, tabla really well played, is accelerating the same kind of beats you hear in up-tempo techno or even drum’n’bass. The drum’n’bass idea could come right out of a drum solo that Tony Williams or Jackie Genette (check name) were doing in the 60s – same kind of rhythm, same kind of tempo.
SAB – Especially, with drum’n’bass, there’s supposed to be like six breaks, not so much from jazz, from the seventies, that everybody samples to death.
Laswell – And those are really just funk beats from fusion records, which you can now get on any breakbeat record.
SAB – With you being allowed access into the Bob Marley and Miles Davis archives – like when I first got the Can double disc, I thought, ‘What gives all these people making music, that’s not necessarily for the ages, to go into the vaults and get the original masters?’
Bill –It’s unfortunately business. I was lucky with the Miles thing, because Peter Shukat, Miles’ manager and his lawyer, and he’s my lawyer, too. He controls the Miles Davis estate. So for me to go to Columbia, and just say, ‘I want access to the tapes,’ probably wouldn’t have translated. The fact that Steve Berkowitz, now head of the Legacy reissues series, and that Peter Shukat was, too, really made it happen for me, and the fact that I had a relationship with Miles. All those went into making that happen. Otherwise, it would have never happened. Bob Marley – same thing. The idea was created by Chris Blackwell, who was not only the original producer but the owner of Island, and really the creator in some ways of popular reggae. So in those two cases, that’s how it happened. Otherwise, I would never have been able to do either. And in the case of the Can remixes, everybody from Can is still around, and they’re still experimenting, and they’re open-minded, and they’re crazy.
SAB – They could have even selected the mixers.
Laswell – They were probably into it, like ‘take it, we don’t care.’ Holger Czukay’s a nut, and I’ve worked with the drummer. They were probably very into it, cause that’ll make their old records sell, and it gets them back the money. In terms of royalties and publishing and copyright, they’ll benefit from it.
SAB – Can you ever see it happening, perhaps on a more advanced techology format, where they’ll release Miles Davis records with track separations, so you can get the drums by themselves, you can get the horns by themselves.
Laswell – I think that’ll happen to all music one day, and we’re probably not that far off.
SAB – And when that day happens…
Laswell – You can make your own mixes.
SAB – Well, it’s the end of the remix really, because there’s no point in buying someone else’s mix of something.
Laswell – That’s coming. I think you’ll be able to do that.

(Tape Side ends)

SAB – So what happens to the sanctity of the finished original version?
Laswell – TO me, there is no absolute version. There’s just mixes – one happened on a Tuesday, one happened the next week. One happened ten years ago. They’re just versions that someone has balanced, and it can be an endless interpretation of that. It can go on indefinitely, and all you’re going to get is different opinions from different people, in the same way you get different versions from different balances. Nothing gets finished. We live totally in a time of incompleteness. Nothing can be absolute – in sound, I mean. It’s absolute in the heads of record buyers, because they’re stuck in thinking, ‘That’s the original,’ or ‘That’s the way it was played,’ not understanding that half the shit might have been edited to death already.
SAB – Well, there’s one way to have an absolute, and that’s probably to destroy the masters, you know.
Laswell – Well, I think it would be really helpful to destroy the majority of the music’s that’s existed – that way people would be forced into new ways of thinking, new ways of constructing sound, their approaches would change. It’s the same way with a computer. You can back up only so much, and then you’re full, and you have to get rid of that. In some cases, you don’t back it up, because it’s over. I think we could really benefit from that, especially in terms of generic pop music, and the classic, and every song that sounds like every other song. It would be great to just completely annihilate that whole sensibility.
SAB – That would be excellent, to just go into a used record store, and get rid of 99% of the stuff.
Laswell – Just burn the shit, because that’s what it is. That’s what the futurists were saying in 1912 – destroy the museums, or the art – noise is the new music, and let’s get on with it. But no one has the courage to do that, because everyone’s worried about their security.
SAB – This is quite interesting. Cause I’m actually doing this interview with you to go inside an issue, that’s going to be a dub special on one side, and a remembrance-of-things-past on the other – and on the latter side, I’m researching film reissues and film restoration. Basically, all film until 1951 was made on a silver nitrate stock, which is a hazardous waste, and it’s sort of rotting, and they’ve lost 80% of all silents ever made, and 50% of all movies up to 1951.
Laswell – It’s funny, cause you don’t know if a format’s going to last. The only thing that can tell you is time. Like now that we’re burning CDs instead of tapes, we don’t know that in five years from now this shit might melt.
SAB – Well, it won’t last. It’ll last more than five, but it won’t last more than 20.
Laswell – Yeah, who knows? Like when people started using Beta format – when analogue stopped being the master, and everyone started using the F1 PCM digital format, which is the video format. Dropout started to happen on those almost immediately. Then everyone went to 16-30 digital tapes – those became the masters. You don’t know until the time when shit starts changing, then everyone scrambles to the next format.
SAB – From what you saw of the Miles Davis archives, was everything in good condition?
Laswell – Yeah, it was professionally done at the time in a big studio with professional people, and there’s nothing sloppy about it. Everything’s well recorded, but you had to record stuff well. That’s Columbia in the late sixties, early seventies – they have their own studios, their own engineers, staff people, like Teo Macero. So it’s all done very professional.
SAB – I was in Chicago, and I was talking to someone, who knew someone who had talked to you, and I got this impression that there was an absolutely staggering amount of stuff in the archive.
Laswell – There is. I didn’t go to the real storage place. I don’t know exactly where that is – it’s somewhere . upstate, called Black Mountain. That’s where there’s literally warehouses of tape. But where I went was the Sony studio, where they have a tape vault, and there was a lot of tape there. Of his stuff, there’s a lot of tape existing – obviously, the Bitches Brew box — they brought out quite a lot more outtakes, and there’s a lot more where that came from. And I probably have about six reels of outtakes from On The Corner alone.
SAB – How long is each reel?
Laswell – Each reel’s about sixteen minutes. And a lot of it doesn’t come together musically, but a lot of it didn’t come together anyway. That’s why the edits existed. Starting around 1969, it wasn’t just rehearsed – the band goes to the studio, and records the music – it was go to the studio, and experiment. Then, cut the tape up, and release the record. The same way people work now. But the year before that, it was, ‘let’s rehearse the quintet and do something really weird with it. We’ll add a guitar or something.’ It was really a straight format – rehearse, record, if the first takes great, they probably didn’t work on a record for more than three days. Two days, probably.
SAB – Hendrix was working on Electric Ladyland around the same time, wasn’t he?
Laswell – Yeah, he was doing that at exactly the same time.
SAB – So it wasn’t already out?
Laswell – They were building it. It was finished in early 70, or late 69. He worked at other studios before Electric Lady.
SAB – Which studio did he do Electric Lady at?
Laswell – Well, the space is still there. It’s on 8th Street. When they finally finished it, that was still a functioning studio. Alan Douglas was with him at the time, and I got all the stories from him, about where they worked and how they recorded, and I still have some 24 track tapes from when they were doing those recordings.
SAB – Outtakes?
Laswell – Not really outtakes, but just experiments of Hendrix working with Buddy Miles and the Last Poets that Alan Douglas had recorded, which he gave me about 15 years ago. That’s exactly the same time, when Miles was recording and experimenting with In A Silent Way. Hendrix was also experimenting with Buddy Miles, Dave Holland, McLaughlin, Tony Williams, Larry Young (CHECK NAMES) – all that experimenting was going on at exactly the same moment in 69-70. Hendrix died in September 1970, but up until that point, in New York, that’s where all this shit was happening.
SAB – So Electric Ladyland was his record right before his death?
Laswell – Not the record, that was the name of the studio. Right? He had three records that came out on Reprise, and those were all big records, and then Band of Gypsies came out on Capitol, and then he died. He really only released four records, but there’s hundreds of records people put out later, stuff that he was working on, and half of it wasn’t finished, just like Miles. So some of the most interesting music of our time wasn’t finished. In some cases, in the case of Hendrix, he never even got started. He wanted to go somewhere else, but he never had the opportunity to work with the right people. He hadn’t met the right musicians that he was looking for, and then that drastic transition and he’s starting a new company with Warner Brothers, and the first artist he planned to work with was Roland Kirk. The next one was going to be Gil Evans. They were planning on all this new music, but that never happened, but we have the seeds of it, in what they were doing in that 69-70 period in New York. You hear remnants of it in what Miles was doing, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, and eary McLaughlin, Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel – it’s all just energy. It wasn’t formatted, it wasn’t versioned, it’s just energy that exiards hit songs, just whatever felt good, and it turns out that a couple of them were, but that’s because they fit into what I felt was needed.
SAB – So what’s it like now, if you’re sitting in a bar having a drink, and “One Love” comes on – how do you hear the song?
Laswell – Well, it’s interesting, because you’ve been inside the song, and you hear the hi-hat, you hear the bass, and you know how it all sounds unmixed and soloed. It’s a very interesting experience. And the same with the Miles Davis. You find things on the tapes that you heard twenty years ago, like there’s the sound of a glass falling and landing on the piano, and I used to hear that on the record, and I thought it was the guitar. And now twenty years later, you hear it, and you realize there’s a noise, and it’s actually a mistake. And you hear Miles talking at one point. Those were things that could have been taken out, if people were listening, but they weren’t, and they’ve become part of your memory of the sound. That’s why the whole concept of a purist, when it comes to sound, is completely irrelevant, because you’re already dealing with mistakes, and things that have been different. It’s all down to perspective, and the decisions that have been made at that moment in the studio.
SAB – Yeah, that’s how I think about it. Like once it’s in the studio, it’s all – well, fake’s not the word for it, but …
Laswell – It’s put together in another way. It’s not just based on the performance of an artist put together as a whole. There’s a whole lot more that goes into it. And people get used to a certain thing, and they start believing in it, and they think that’s the absolute way it has to be, when it can be a million different ways. The record Kind of Blue, which was done in the ‘60s – when they mixed it, or transferred it to make the record, the b-side was running at a slower speed, and for 20-30 years no one noticed that, and then all of a sudden someone found out. They found the original tape, and now they’ve put it at the speed it’s supposed to be, which changes the pitch, which changes everything. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. The way it existed for thirty years was a mistake. And there’s purists that are saying, they don’t want it like that, they want it the way it was, which is already a mistake, so it’s really funny to know how limited people are just in terms of how they judge records, because you can’t, unless you know exactly what goes into making them.
SAB – I know when I’m working myself with a sampler, and I’m working with a section of one of favorite songs, and I’m trying to morph the sound, it’s quite painful to hear it go through the bad edits, or effects that aren’t very good, on the way to getting what I want. Was it quite intimidating for you to go through these sounds, and try to morph these pieces?
Laswell – It’s a little intimidating to deal with Marley, just cause of the size of the audience that’s following the artist – not really because of the music. It’s pretty simple music, so that wasn’t so intimating. And the Miles – I actually got to know Miles, and I was going to work with him, but I didn’t pursue it, because of what he was doing at that time. He had already finished with the things that I was interested in. So I sort of had a feel for what he liked, and what he was trying to do, and I knew and worked with a lot of the people that played on those records. That was more natural. That felt like I was working with the people that I would work with anyway.
SAB – Did you sometimes forget that Miles Davis isn’t even here anymore?
Laswell – When I was working on it, I was kind of remembering talking to him, and the things he had done, and I had absorbed a lot of it from that period, so it felt like he was in on it the whole time.
SAB – In terms of processes, is there anything inherently different between your role in this and Teo Macero’s in the originals?
Laswell – Not particularly, because in some cases, there’s an outtake and there might be a theme or a solo that’s taken from another outtake and transplanted together. Teo Macero did a great deal of editing, and, in my opinion, I didn’t always think the editing served the music. It appeared to have been done very quickly. It felt like. I used to hear those records — when you don’t know anything about how records are made, you wonder, ‘How does the band do that? How do they change key so quickly? Why is it like that?’ It’s all him, doing editing, and I believe Teo Macero was more responsible for the results of the records than Miles was.
SAB – Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. That’s what’s been speculated.
Laswell – Yeah, but I don’t think Teo Macero necessarily worked for Miles. Miles didn’t pay him. Columbia paid him. He was a salaryman, and a record guy, who worked for a company, and his job was to get a record made, get it out, and move on so they can make another one. And I think that was pretty much his mentality. I think he was good in the sixties, and then when the seventies arrived, his ideas from the sixties and all of his manual edits and quick decisions, I don’t think it related to the music. A lot of people argued that, but those are people who are still living in the sixties.
SAB – So when you make these new tracks, are you actually playing on either of these albums?
Laswell – No, not really. I’m playing samples, or shifting things around, or putting things in place. It is producing music, but I didn’t want any human presence to enter into that picture. It should have just been the sound being processed through the technology of today, or what you intend to do with the technology of today. I also used really primitive technology doing it. I tried to keep it as close to the way it was done. There’s manual analogue editing, the same way they did it. They were doing it with quarter inch, and we were doing it with half inch on the Studer analog machine. Things were bouncing around from different formats, from analogue 24, which was originally an 8-track. In A Silent Way was originally an 8-track recording. Every musician had a track. The drums were on one track. Everybody had his own track. Then we bounced that to 24, and then back to analogue half inch to be mastered to DAT.
SAB – Apparently, lots of the work you do is still on analogue. Is that right?
Laswell – Lately, I’ve been using a few digital formats. But anytime it’s sort of heavy stuff, where the noise doesn’t bother anyone, I’m still using analogue.
SAB – Yeah, cause some people want it clean, like digital.
Laswell – Yeah, for soundtracks and ambient music now, and things that involve a lot of quiet music, I’m using digital.
SAB – It’s a totally different way of thinking from one to the other, isn’t it?
Laswell – It’s like when you start using DAT, and someone gives you a cassette, and you used to like cassettes, but there’s something about getting it back to it, you realize just how heavy the noise is. That’s a problem you have going back and forth between certain digital formats and analogue. And in some music, in rock music and dub, it doesn’t matter, cause noise is part of the sound. So I’m not against the noise, but it bothers some people, if they’ve been in the digital world, and they come back to analogue. All they hear is noise.
SAB – My problem is more in the production. It seems like, if you have an anologue track, you have to plan it from beginning to end, and on a digital track …
Laswell – Well, once you’re on a computer – very few people are even using tape – like, if you’re working with Protools, everything’s just in the computer. You can move things around. Everyone’s moving more in that direction, and I also want to move in that direction, but I want to remember the things that changed. Like what happened to reggae, I don’t necessarily want that to happen to all music, so I’m always trying to go forward, but also go back, and keep some other things happening, too. If you can create a balance – because it’s easier to work in Protools, it’s faster, people have sacrificed a lot of quality, a lot of music, and a lot of history, just of the necessity to work quicker and easier. But I don’t think this necessarily works like that. It shouldn’t have to be easy and quick. The more time that goes into something the better, and the pain of doing something, the stress of doing something, the bother, can produce results that you can’t get with efficiency.
SAB – Yeah, definitely. I always wish I could play an instrument. I get sick of the computer stuff.
Laswell – Yeah, it’s good to create a balance. It can drive you crazy, and it can get people into thinking only one way. It’s always good to not get too far into one direction, and you’ve got to remember that it’s controlled, because the computers are a control system, and they are eventually going to be controlling us.
SAB – Well, is someone going to be controlling the computers who control us?
Laswell – Who knows? It’s beyond the imagination how quickly things are evolving. I mean, obviously thought – energy follows thought, so there’s always going to have to be a directive, an idea, but who knows in the future, how ideas are going to be produced. What are they going to be based on? Data, information systems, we don’t know. It’s really beyond our perceptions.
SAB – Yeah, it’s all changing pretty quick, right now.
Laswell – Really quick. It’s changing everyday.
SAB – That said – with both of these albums, I think both of these artists, and it comes through in full force on these two CDs, they both make timeless music, right.
Laswell – It was timeless music, and I think it’s just another version, or take on it, to continue the flow.
SAB – But what you’ve done – were you consciously trying to maintain that, because it also sounds like it could be seventies or nineties?
Laswell – Yeah, I wasn’t trying to be conscious though. That was part of the idea.
SAB – Maybe that’s why it worked. I don’t know if you heard it. But there’s a double LP of Can remixes.
Laswell – I haven’t really heard the whole thing. I’ve just heard pieces of it.
SAB – Yeah, cause I heard that – and you don’t have to give your own opinion, cause you haven’t heard it – but lots of the tracks sound like they were just 1996 underground dance related remixes. Whatever flavo was going on at the time.
Laswell – That’s unfortunately how it is with most of those situations. Very few people can go back and tap into that energy. It’s energy. And regardless, you can’t just click on a button, and expect something to happen. It’s an art form. Something has got to go into it. Something has to be behind it. And in a lot of cases, it isn’t and that’s why you get those results. There’s a whole remix record of the Miles stuff coming out, with contemporary, so-called remix people from that culture – King Britt and DJ Krush – I haven’t heard Krush’s mix, but the other mixes were consistently lacking in one vital element, which should have been there, which was the music. It’s just a few loops, and somebody programming different effects on the loops, and it’s pretty bad. And if it was a remix of something that just came out, and an artist that just happened, but it’s not, it’s Miles Davis, who is an icon.
SAB – Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. Most of these tracks sound like they could be the b-side for an artist you’ve never heard of.
Laswell – Exactly, and there’s no element in there that would ever make me think that an artist the calibre of Miles Davis had anything to do with that, which is a little bit of a disappointment, and artistically it’s a failure. I’m always fighting against that kind of thing. But I can’t fight too hard, because I want to keep working on remixes, and keep working with the companies, but the real reality is that a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing.
SAB – I’m up against that myself with my own. That’s one of the problems with loop-based music. Eventually, you want to push it out.
Laswell – It’s really an art form, and I think inside the concept of samples, there’s a soul to that, an art to it. And the people think, because they’re just limited in their brain about sound and music, like older people, will say that there’s no way that a kid with a computer and samples will ever achieve what Charlie Parker did with a saxaphone. And I disagree. I think with a sampler and all these things, you can achieve more, but our brain is not set up to let us believe that, because everything has been hammered into us about a tradition, about what’s important, about what’s good and bad, and all that is completely irrelevant. It should just be expressive. What needs to happen is that there needs to be more expressive artists to express, and not just illustrators, and if there was that, then people could make the connection, and they could travel thinking-wise into the place that would allow them to be smarter, because the point is that people are stuck on what they grew up thinking, or were told.
SAB – Yeah, because you get handed down a complex, if you make records with a sampler, using other people’s records.
Laswell – It’s an artform and the more people do it creatively and expressively, then it’ll educate the people who don’t know, or not. Who cares?
SAB – Yeah, who cares? In terms of the technology in Miles, I’ve heard people say that techno really comes from Miles Davis’ stuff.
Laswell – Yeah, a lot of people felt they got a lot of stuff from On The Corner, in terms of repetition, because if you think back, what was that minimal and that repetitious in 1972. So, in a way, that makes a lot of sense. And also, even before, if you listen to the way Tony Williams played his ride cymbal. It’s not so different from the music that comes out of techno and repetitive music.
SAB – Does African music also come into that?
Laswell – It depends. I think it comes into a lot of it, but a lot of the things sound more European. Obviously, the German sound, to me, never sounded to African, except when it got to the rock stuff. Jaki Liebezeit and Holger Czukay and those guys were very influenced by African and Indian music. But in the electronic music, like Kraftwerk – that always sounded like finally the machines were speaking, and it wasn’t so much tribal. Or, it was another kind of tribal, machine tribal. But I think any repetitive music, Indian music, tabla really well played, is accelerating the same kind of beats you hear in up-tempo techno or even drum’n’bass. The drum’n’bass idea could come right out of a drum solo that Tony Williams or Jackie Genette (check name) were doing in the 60s – same kind of rhythm, same kind of tempo.
SAB – Especially, with drum’n’bass, there’s supposed to be like six breaks, not so much from jazz, from the seventies, that everybody samples to death.
Laswell – And those are really just funk beats from fusion records, which you can now get on any breakbeat record.
SAB – With you being allowed access into the Bob Marley and Miles Davis archives – like when I first got the Can double disc, I thought, ‘What gives all these people making music, that’s not necessarily for the ages, to go into the vaults and get the original masters?’
Bill –It’s unfortunately business. I was lucky with the Miles thing, because Peter Shukat, Miles’ manager and his lawyer, and he’s my lawyer, too. He controls the Miles Davis estate. So for me to go to Columbia, and just say, ‘I want access to the tapes,’ probably wouldn’t have translated. The fact that Steve Berkowitz, now head of the Legacy reissues series, and that Peter Shukat was, too, really made it happen for me, and the fact that I had a relationship with Miles. All those went into making that happen. Otherwise, it would have never happened. Bob Marley – same thing. The idea was created by Chris Blackwell, who was not only the original producer but the owner of Island, and really the creator in some ways of popular reggae. So in those two cases, that’s how it happened. Otherwise, I would never have been able to do either. And in the case of the Can remixes, everybody from Can is still around, and they’re still experimenting, and they’re open-minded, and they’re crazy.
SAB – They could have even selected the mixers.
Laswell – They were probably into it, like ‘take it, we don’t care.’ Holger Czukay’s a nut, and I’ve worked with the drummer. They were probably very into it, cause that’ll make their old records sell, and it gets them back the money. In terms of royalties and publishing and copyright, they’ll benefit from it.
SAB – Can you ever see it happening, perhaps on a more advanced techology format, where they’ll release Miles Davis records with track separations, so you can get the drums by themselves, you can get the horns by themselves.
Laswell – I think that’ll happen to all music one day, and we’re probably not that far off.
SAB – And when that day happens…
Laswell – You can make your own mixes.
SAB – Well, it’s the end of the remix really, because there’s no point in buying someone else’s mix of something.
Laswell – That’s coming. I think you’ll be able to do that.

(Tape Side ends)

SAB – So what happens to the sanctity of the finished original version?
Laswell – TO me, there is no absolute version. There’s just mixes – one happened on a Tuesday, one happened the next week. One happened ten years ago. They’re just versions that someone has balanced, and it can be an endless interpretation of that. It can go on indefinitely, and all you’re going to get is different opinions from different people, in the same way you get different versions from different balances. Nothing gets finished. We live totally in a time of incompleteness. Nothing can be absolute – in sound, I mean. It’s absolute in the heads of record buyers, because they’re stuck in thinking, ‘That’s the original,’ or ‘That’s the way it was played,’ not understanding that half the shit might have been edited to death already.
SAB – Well, there’s one way to have an absolute, and that’s probably to destroy the masters, you know.
Laswell – Well, I think it would be really helpful to destroy the majority of the music’s that’s existed – that way people would be forced into new ways of thinking, new ways of constructing sound, their approaches would change. It’s the same way with a computer. You can back up only so much, and then you’re full, and you have to get rid of that. In some cases, you don’t back it up, because it’s over. I think we could really benefit from that, especially in terms of generic pop music, and the classic, and every song that sounds like every other song. It would be great to just completely annihilate that whole sensibility.
SAB – That would be excellent, to just go into a used record store, and get rid of 99% of the stuff.
Laswell – Just burn the shit, because that’s what it is. That’s what the futurists were saying in 1912 – destroy the museums, or the art – noise is the new music, and let’s get on with it. But no one has the courage to do that, because everyone’s worried about their security.
SAB – This is quite interesting. Cause I’m actually doing this interview with you to go inside an issue, that’s going to be a dub special on one side, and a remembrance-of-things-past on the other – and on the latter side, I’m researching film reissues and film restoration. Basically, all film until 1951 was made on a silver nitrate stock, which is a hazardous waste, and it’s sort of rotting, and they’ve lost 80% of all silents ever made, and 50% of all movies up to 1951.
Laswell – It’s funny, cause you don’t know if a format’s going to last. The only thing that can tell you is time. Like now that we’re burning CDs instead of tapes, we don’t know that in five years from now this shit might melt.
SAB – Well, it won’t last. It’ll last more than five, but it won’t last more than 20.
Laswell – Yeah, who knows? Like when people started using Beta format – when analogue stopped being the master, and everyone started using the F1 PCM digital format, which is the video format. Dropout started to happen on those almost immediately. Then everyone went to 16-30 digital tapes – those became the masters. You don’t know until the time when shit starts changing, then everyone scrambles to the next format.
SAB – From what you saw of the Miles Davis archives, was everything in good condition?
Laswell – Yeah, it was professionally done at the time in a big studio with professional people, and there’s nothing sloppy about it. Everything’s well recorded, but you had to record stuff well. That’s Columbia in the late sixties, early seventies – they have their own studios, their own engineers, staff people, like Teo Macero. So it’s all done very professional.
SAB – I was in Chicago, and I was talking to someone, who knew someone who had talked to you, and I got this impression that there was an absolutely staggering amount of stuff in the archive.
Laswell – There is. I didn’t go to the real storage place. I don’t know exactly where that is – it’s somewhere . upstate, called Black Mountain. That’s where there’s literally warehouses of tape. But where I went was the Sony studio, where they have a tape vault, and there was a lot of tape there. Of his stuff, there’s a lot of tape existing – obviously, the Bitches Brew box — they brought out quite a lot more outtakes, and there’s a lot more where that came from. And I probably have about six reels of outtakes from On The Corner alone.
SAB – How long is each reel?
Laswell – Each reel’s about sixteen minutes. And a lot of it doesn’t come together musically, but a lot of it didn’t come together anyway. That’s why the edits existed. Starting around 1969, it wasn’t just rehearsed – the band goes to the studio, and records the music – it was go to the studio, and experiment. Then, cut the tape up, and release the record. The same way people work now. But the year before that, it was, ‘let’s rehearse the quintet and do something really weird with it. We’ll add a guitar or something.’ It was really a straight format – rehearse, record, if the first takes great, they probably didn’t work on a record for more than three days. Two days, probably.
SAB – Hendrix was working on Electric Ladyland around the same time, wasn’t he?
Laswell – Yeah, he was doing that at exactly the same time.
SAB – So it wasn’t already out?
Laswell – They were building it. It was finished in early 70, or late 69. He worked at other studios before Electric Lady.
SAB – Which studio did he do Electric Lady at?
Laswell – Well, the space is still there. It’s on 8th Street. When they finally finished it, that was still a functioning studio. Alan Douglas was with him at the time, and I got all the stories from him, about where they worked and how they recorded, and I still have some 24 track tapes from when they were doing those recordings.
SAB – Outtakes?
Laswell – Not really outtakes, but just experiments of Hendrix working with Buddy Miles and the Last Poets that Alan Douglas had recorded, which he gave me about 15 years ago. That’s exactly the same time, when Miles was recording and experimenting with In A Silent Way. Hendrix was also experimenting with Buddy Miles, Dave Holland, McLaughlin, Tony Williams, Larry Young (CHECK NAMES) – all that experimenting was going on at exactly the same moment in 69-70. Hendrix died in September 1970, but up until that point, in New York, that’s where all this shit was happening.
SAB – So Electric Ladyland was his record right before his death?
Laswell – Not the record, that was the name of the studio. Right? He had three records that came out on Reprise, and those were all big records, and then Band of Gypsies came out on Capitol, and then he died. He really only released four records, but there’s hundreds of records people put out later, stuff that he was working on, and half of it wasn’t finished, just like Miles. So some of the most interesting music of our time wasn’t finished. In some cases, in the case of Hendrix, he never even got started. He wanted to go somewhere else, but he never had the opportunity to work with the right people. He hadn’t met the right musicians that he was looking for, and then that drastic transition and he’s starting a new company with Warner Brothers, and the first artist he planned to work with was Roland Kirk. The next one was going to be Gil Evans. They were planning on all this new music, but that never happened, but we have the seeds of it, in what they were doing in that 69-70 period in New York. You hear remnants of it in what Miles was doing, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, and eary McLaughlin, Funkadelic, Eddie Hazel – it’s all just energy. It wasn’t formatted, it wasn’t versioned, it’s just energy that existed at a particular time and a particular place.
SAB – So when we go back to the great works of art, they get praised for a quality called aura, but that is kind of the same as energy, isn’t it?
Laswell – I think so. It’s just that we don’t have absolute examples from that period. We should be able to take that energy right now, to look into it, to absorb it, and to put it into what we’re doing. It was not something they invented as people. They tapped into an energy that was existing. Henrix was just a collage of blues and electricity, and bad poetry, and crazy fashion, and drugs, and the times. He tapped into an energy that was happening then. Miles picked up on it. Sly Stone picked up on it. George Clinton, later on, picked up on it, and some other things. It’s all just a continuation of energy flow.
SAB – It’s almost like the Third Mind.
Laswell – It is, because you create out of the combination of something’s that existing that wasn’t there before.
SAB – I’m a big believer in that sort of stuff.
Laswell – Well, it’s magic. That’s the essence of it.
SAB – It’s interesting that in the period – you can see the early dub reggae coming – there’s no change in medium, or technology so much, but the whole territory of the studio just opens up to infinity. I wonder if it was the drugs.
Laswell – Well, drugs are obviously going to do quite a bit to the imagination, and people won’t be quite as complacent, and they won’t be as afraid. There’ll certainly be a lot of forward movement, and movement in all directions. So it certainly doesn’t hurt. People out of their mind on LSD with some equipment and some talent are probably going to produce something much more interesting than a bunch of people typing, I imagine. That’s probably the way it goes – not to say, that everyone has to OD to produce great art, but you certainly have to challenge yourself.
SAB – When you get into the studio, there’s a certain madness there. I think there’s a real link between madness and the studio. It drives people to madness, staring at infinity, it’s hard to come back to your body.
Laswell – You have to look at it as space travel. You’re going into space, you’re leaving your body. Just take it in the direction of out. That’s what it should be all about. That environment should project – could you hold on just a second? (he has a call on the other line come in. I wonder who it is?) Hello, sorry.
SAB – I was going to say that re-entry is the hardest part of space travel. I think I’ve asked basically everything. Oh yeah, I did have one more question. Are you doing a similar sort of project with Santana?
Laswell – Yeah, trying to get the business together – it’s a record he did with Alice Coltrane, and one he did with John McLaughlin – from my point of view, it’s based on ambient, or spiritual, devotion music, and hoping to bring out those qualities from what’s already there. It’ll be more like a trance record, like a real spaced out sort of thing. They’re from 73, 74.
SAB – So you just have to sort out the business part?
Laswell – Yeah, I think we’re there. The lawyers are just doing their version of remixing. I’m doing one of Tony Williams’ Lifetime Turn It Over – which is kind of a classic record, a really weird rock record. And there’s some blues remixing of Blind Willie Johnson, from the thirties, that’ll come, but that’s all on different labels.
SAB – That stuff’s great. I love to sample that old stuff.
Laswell – Yeah, there’s a lot of noise on it. But that’s what we’re battling with, at the moment, how to use the noise.

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