Laraaji • Ambient 3: Day Of Radiance
Release Date: 23/10/2015
Cat-No: GBLP 027
Laraaji’s glistening album “Ambient 3: Day of Radiance” has from the beginning been considered an outlier. Though widely celebrated at the time of its release in 1980 — as the third installment of Brian Eno’s emerging ambient music series (Ambient 1-4) — the album also brought with it an aura of mystification. Where did it fit in? An uncharted synthesis of resonating zither textures, interlocking, hammered rhythms and 3-D sound treatments (courtesy of Eno) “Day of Radiance” seemed to push open many doors at once, ambient music being only one of them.
In an exclusive interview for Glitterbeat’s reissue of “Day of Radiance” Laraaji commented: Down the line I noticed that this album was sort of separated from the rest of his (Eno’s) ambient albums, and there was some debate whether this was really “ambient” in relationship to the other albums in the ambient series.
Though there are certainly aspects of the album that find sonic common ground with other Eno-related “ambient” projects (the tracks “Meditation #1 & “Meditation #2” in particular) the album is not easily boxed into a singular genre. “Day of Radiance” also mines the ethereal spiritualism of late 70’s New Age music (of which Laraaji is considered a pioneer), the harmonic and rhythmic repetitions of American classical minimalism (Terry Riley & Steve Reich) and traditional global sounds from India and Java (particularly gamelan music). And while Laraaji never explicitly embraced the “Fourth World” theories of fellow visionary and Eno collaborator Jon Hassell, “Day of Radiance” echoes a kindred exploratory exoticism.
Born Edward Larry Gordon, in Philadelphia in 1943, by the time Laraaji entered a Soho studio in 1980 to record in collaboration with Eno, he had already navigated many musical worlds and creative pursuits. As a child he learned to play violin, piano and trombone and eventually studied composition in Washington, D.C., at Howard University. After college, in the late 60’s, he relocated to New York City, where he took up stand-up comedy and acting, in addition to playing musical gigs. His music was increasingly influenced by both his studies of Eastern spiritualism and the presence of Eastern musical motifs in the Jazz and rock music of the time. When he entered a pawnshop in the early 70’s, hoping to hock his guitar, he instead listened to an “inner guidance” and traded it for an autoharp, an instrument that he later adapted into a zither (by removing the chord bars) and electrified by using the speaker on a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. This spontaneous decision brought on a fortuitous shift in Laraaji’s musical direction and led to his chance encounter with Eno several years later.
In the late 70’s Brian Eno — a cult producer/musician, at the time best known for his work with early Roxy Music and a series of idiosyncratic solo albums — had relocated to New York City from London and had begun a period of fertile intersections with musicians in his adopted home. These collaborators included The Talking Heads, Jon Hassell and experimental ensembles from the so-called No Wave scene. Laraaji recounts how him and Eno first crossed paths:
I was playing (zither) in Washington Square Park and I usually play with my eyes closed because I get into meditative trance states that way, and opening my eyes and collecting my little financial reward from that evening, there was a note, on notebook paper – it looked like it had been ripped form somebody’s expensive notebook – there was a note that says “Dear sir, kindly excuse this impromptu piece of message, I was wondering if you would be interested in talking about participating in a recording project I am doing, signed: Brian Eno.”
Laraaji called the phone number on the paper the very next day, and within a few weeks the duo had entered Greene St. Studio in New York and had begun work on the project that became “Day of Radiance.” Eno plied Laraaji in advance with his theories about the content and function of “ambient” music, and the pair reportedly fell naturally into their roles: Laraaji providing the compositions and the playing and Eno providing sound treatments and conceptual commentary. Compared to some Eno projects (“ambient” and otherwise), his sonic footprint is subtle and the transparency of Laraaji’s contribution is retained throughout. The album was completed in two sessions; the first one produced the faster, pulsing “Dance” compositions (side one) and the second session yielded something closer to Eno’s own ambient constructs: slow zither washes and waves with more pronounced sound enhancements (side two). While the album is deceptively simple in its construction, closer listening reveals its extraordinary depth of field and its polymath influences.
The appearance of “Day of Radiance” as part of Eno’s landmark ambient series massively elevated Laraaji’s musical profile. In the years following, while he maintained contact (both personal and musical) with Brian Eno, he delved deeper into projects that fused the ethereal qualities of his music with spiritual studies and teachings. Laraaji describes the purpose of such music this way:
I see music as an environment providing thinking, feeling and imagination, an alternative space, container, within which to behave differently. In the case of music as medicine, such music allows for thinking, feeling and imagery to reconnect to a deeper sense of integration, union, oneness…
Laraaji has experienced a resurgence in recent years, following a renewed interest in outsider new-age music (he appears on last year’s “I Am The Center” compilation on Light In The Attic) and a career spanning compilation (“Celestial Music 1978 – 2011”) and reissue project dedicated to his work by Eno’s All Saints label. Laraaji also continues to interface with other of musicians who have found inspiration in his work: Bill Laswell, Sun Araw, Blues Control, Julia Holter and many others.
He seems more than content with where he finds himself today: I find that people are having a chance to listen to a variety of the music I do and some of their eyes are opening to what they call the more spiritual side and some who thought they just liked the spiritual side are getting in touch with the artistic side, and the adventurous, exploratory side of myself. Young people are showing great interest…and people are asking for my other music and I am happy that “Day of Radiance” is getting back into the picture…
Glitterbeat is extremely proud to reissue Laraaji and Brian Eno’s seminal album “Ambient 3: Day of Radiance.” The album has been re-mastered and includes a lengthy interview with Laraaji. The LP is pressed on 180gm vinyl and is packaged in a gatefold sleeve.