A musical bedtime

Bowerbird’s Liminal States series presents Laraaji

3 minute read
Laraaji laughs in his own world of sound. (Image courtesy of Bowerbird.)
Laraaji laughs in his own world of sound. (Image courtesy of Bowerbird.)

In an ode to the creative haze between waking and slumbering, Bowerbird has launched Liminal States, a livestream series designed to put its listener right to sleep. The third installment of the series streamed on February 14, and showcased an hour of New Jersey-based multi-instrumentalist Laraaji’s dulcet soundscapes. While the music itself seemed perfect for the occasion, livestreaming issues presented myriad audio hiccups, marring the overall mood.

A cosmic inner landscape

If you’re seeking music to induce calm, peace, creativity, and security, you can’t do better than Laraaji, a well-known pioneer of ambient music, a spiritual mentor, and practitioner of laughter meditation. This Bowerbird series seems designed for someone of his talents.

The music he generates can be described as a world of sound that envelops the listener. This time was no different. By utilizing pentatonic figures, alongside stacks of thirds and gentle triadic transformations, he created familiar, highly consonant harmonies. This allowed for tone color and melodic motion to be the primary expressive factors, such that a shift from bells to Laraaji’s genteel laughter is seismic, yet easily handled.

Critters in the night

One particularly effective combination was electric piano, mixed with a theremin-like sliding synthesizer, and looping, heavily reverberated plunks from a kalimba. The different types of melodic motion, and electroacoustic character, seemed to place each instrument in a different spot in the colorful swamp, each a unique critter and phenomenon within Laraaji’s world.

The interplay of his many instruments was set against sounds such as frog croaks, cricket chirps, and lapping water. This nature bed was always present: semi-repetitive but never overpowering the tones, and providing a strong sense of place.

Interrupted drifts

With the additional support of interspersed chimes, and bright-bodied singing of nigun-like figures, I found myself (at times) deeply comforted. The assumption that the listener will fall asleep is a brilliant conceit. By all means, we should be acknowledging that settling into a cozy collection of stuffed animals, pillows, and blankets and readying a warm cup of tea only makes music better.

However, if Bowerbird is encouraging patrons to drift off, it has to provide a technically sound presentation that meets the listeners’ heightened need for comfort. While I was trying to sink into these blissed-out tones, repeated audio hiccups made me lose focus. This could have been caused by an issue anywhere, from Laraaji streaming to Bowerbird’s Zoom, Bowerbird’s stream to Vimeo, or Vimeo’s stream to me. After a few dozen glitches, my mood went from relaxed, to bored, to somewhat angry. It was upsetting that I was so cozy yet so disconnected, distortions seeming to arrive just as I was getting into the music.

If I could obtain a recording of Laraaji’s playing, direct from his mixer, I would certainly use that as a sleep aid. While this series has great ideas, the technology to hone the delivery of these Liminal States isn’t quite working.

Bowerbird’s next Liminal States presentations feature Laura Baird on February 25, and Tatsuya Nakatani on March 10.

Image description: A photo of Laraaji, a Black man with a gray beard. He wears an orange jacket and an orange beanie. He smiles joyfully in the sun, playing an upside-down kalimba with his fingers.

What, When, Where

Bowerbird’s Liminal States series presented a livestream of Laraaji on February 14, 2021. For upcoming concerts, visit www.bowerbird.org.

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