Saturday, September 23, 2006

Drexciyan Philosophy

In a previous post I brought to your attention and explained why I believed the members of Drexciya had more than likely read ‘Space is the Place’, a life and times account of Sun Ra by John F. Szwed in and around it’s 1997 publishing date. On rereading it further myself, having probably not picked it up since 1998, I was fairly shocked to discover one of the names I had already mentioned as possible influences on their thinking while conceiving the ‘Storm Series‘, namely Rudolf Steiner. I really should also have mentioned Gurdjieff but at the time probably thought that would be going too far but now I wish I had. Luckily for me I can simply quote a chunk of the book for this link to be apparent as otherwise I fear a book would be the only thing to do full justice to the links between the two. I’m just saying that there’s a strong chance they would have followed up on some of these names which were such a strong influence on Sun Ra’s own thinking and philosophy. From this section of the book it’s also tempting to wonder if this would also have been the first time Gerald Donald came across the word gesamtkunstwerk, here mentioned in conjunction with Wagner, someone that an obvious germophile like him no doubt would have more sensitively picked up on.

“Through Blavatsky’s writings Sonny(Sun Ra) learned of all the secret societies, real and imagined, that were theosophy’s precursors...In the work of one of her offshoots, Rudolf Steiner, he read of a German who attempted to bridge the everyday and the spirit worlds by means of scientific methods. Even though he was a scientist, more than any other theosophist Steiner knew the arts and treated them as central to his spiritual project. he had studied architecture extensively, extended Goethe’s theory of colour, and drawing from Wagner’s notion of Gesamtkunstwerk - in which all arts would be incorporated into drama - he developed Mystery Plays which traced the spiritual development of characters through the use of music, colour, speech, movement and stage design...he recognised that dance rhythms had been involved in the creation of the cosmos, and saw the need to restore rhythm to modern life as a means of communicating with the spirit world. "

"Then through the Pyotr Demianovitch Ouspensky’s writings Sonny uncovered the strange Greek-Armenian mystic George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff. By means of a synthesis of number symbolism, Pythagorian musicology, cabbala, physics, esoteric Christianity, theosophy and an interest in theatre and music, Gurdjieff saw that man lives in habit, that he is asleep and must be wakened from this sleep, that there were other possibilities as yet unthought of in human life. It was necessary to shock people from their sleeping state, and music and dance were means of awakening emotional spontaneity. "

"Sonny was particularly impressed by Ouspensky’s ’A New Model of the Universe’, which took seriously his concern with the limits of scientific reasoning, especially in matters as important as the theory of evolution and the need to reach beyond the limits of what are called objectivity and subjectivity to answer questions which otherwise appear unanswerable. "

"The key ideas he received from his readings in theosophy were those which reinforced what he already held: that the Bible needed to be de-mythologized, decoded and brought in tune with modern life; that it was possible to unify all knowledge; that the universe was organized hierarchically, with forces or spirits which moved between the levels and affected life on earth; and that there were charismatic leaders who had the means to come to know these secrets."

"Now everything flowed towards him, one idea leading to another, connecting unpredictably...strange ideas, bizarre associations. Sometimes only a single word he read had meaning to him, but sooner or later it connected to others, so that everything was eventually related...relativity, synchronicity, telepathy, clairvoyance, levitation...all parts of the whole. After all the years of wandering he had done, all the blind spots and dead ends in which he had wound up, his reading was pointing him to the way; a golden road was opening up before him, leading him through the rubble of life, concentrating his dreams and fantasies, making clear what he must have always known, that there was something greater than Birmingham, than Chicago, greater than the earth itself, and in it he had an ordained role: he was a secret agent of the Creator. With music he would reach across the border of reality into myth; with music he could build a bridge to another dimension, to something better; dance halls, clubs, and theatres could be turned into sacred shrines, the sites of dramas and rituals, and though people would be drawn to hear the music, it was they who would become the instruments on which it would resonate, on which he would create the sound of silhouettes, the images and forecasts of tomorrow...all of it disguised as jazz."

If you substitute the last word for electro/techno then this could have been written about Drexciya. Certainly on reading this last particularly inspiring paragraph they would have recognised that this was what they had already been doing, “With music he would reach across the border of reality into myth.“, perhaps now they got a glimpse of the wider possibilities of what their next step could be, “with music he could build a bridge to another dimension.” 1999’s ‘Neptune’s Lair’ is the point where they most fully realised their music in myth and from here there was only one route for them to take without becoming a parody of themselves. This way out could only be dimensional and the wider possibilities of inner and outer space which this opened up for them.

I’ve one more piece almost ready to go which began from another piece of information I gleamed from this same source, but will get back to documenting the work of Gerald Donald soon after that.

John F. Szwed

Rudolf Steiner at Wikipedia.

Gurdjieff at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

James Stinson

A few days late but through one thing and another I never got to post anything to note the fourth anniversary of James Stinson's death but it's still well worth marking it with something here.

I've no doubt that whatever I and his fans may be feeling at this time about such a talented and loved human being departing this life at such a young age in such a sudden and unresolved fashion it can bear no relation to what his wife, seven children, family and friends must be experiencing, not only at this time but all the time. While life goes on, his absence for them becomes a part of their lives. To channel that sense of loss into something positive can only be done through their memories of him. As he is in their thoughts they are in ours.

With the re-issue of 'Neptune's Lair' this year it seems that at least one more of the labels which worked with Drexciya will not allow their records to go out of press entirely. I'm quite confidant that as long as there is a demand then it will be met by all of them from time to time in one way or another. As his music goes on, so will his memory.

James Stinson 14th September 1969 - 3rd September 2002 R.I.P.

In keeping with the archival side of DRL I thought it about time I included three appreciations written at the time to mark James Stinson's death. The first is by Tom Magic Feet, the second by UR's Mad Mike Banks, the third by Andrew Duke.

James Stinson, founder member of electro-techno outfit Drexciya, died on September 3rd in Newnan, near Atlanta, Georgia, from what have been described as 'heart complications'. Stinson, who was 32, had been ill for some time, even instructing record labels with whom he had deals to go ahead and release his music should he not live. Prior to his death he had been working as a truck driver, a job he said he enjoyed because of the time it gave him to think.

As a youth growing up on Detroit's East Side, James Stinson first encountered electro music through Cybotron's 'Alleys Of Your Mind' and became a regular listener to radio DJ The Electrifyin' Mojo. In 1989 he founded Drexciya (he claimed the idea came to him in a dream) with Gerald Donald, although it was several years before any Drexciya music was released. (The duo's first actual records were released under the names Glass Domain and L.A.M. in the early 90s.)

Drexciya's releases proper began in 1993 with 'Deep Sea Dweller' on Shockwave, which also established the mythological underwater theme which would characterise all their subsequent releases in the '90s through the UR, Warp, Rephlex, S.I.D., Submerge and Tresor labels. 1997's double CD 'best of ' collection, 'The Quest', was heralded as Drexciya's 'farewell release', but 1999's all-new 'Neptune's Lair' LP on Tresor proved that talk of the group's demise had been premature.

By shunning the usual means of promotion - interviews, publicity photos, live performances etc. - and working on a strictly need-to-know basis, Drexciya inadvertently cultivated a mystique that only added to their appeal and they became renowned as one of the classic 'faceless techno' acts. Yet this approach allowed Drexciya a level of artistic freedom - not to mention career longevity - that many would envy.

Instead of media overload, Drexciya created a fantasy world of slaves-turned-fishmen and underwater landscapes around their music, building on Stinson's fascination with the oceans and African-American history and his vivid imagination. Recently, however, his gaze seems to have turned outerwards: the last Drexciya release proper before his death was the 'Grava 4' LP earlier this year on Clone, named after a star Drexciya had 'adopted'.

Although a jazz and hip-hop listener, Stinson also deliberately isolated himself from other electronic music, especially when recording, for the simple reason that he didn't want to be unduly influenced by other peoples' ideas. He was a notorious perfectionist too, and earlier this year told Detroit Free Press writer Tim Pratt, "I'll never reach the point where I can say this is the best I can do." Yet his music was hugely influential. Futuristic, dark, textured and compelling, Drexciya were one of the keys to the resurgence of electro music in the '90s and one of the bedrocks of the Detroit electrobass style.

Although Drexciyan releases throughout the '90s had been few and far between, the last couple of years had witnessed an unprecedented level of activity. Stinson had finally begun to give occasional interviews, speaking of his concept of seven 'storms' - seven albums created in the same year to be released on different labels around the world. The first was Drexciya's 'Harnessed The Storm' album, the second and third were solo releases under the pseudonyms Transllusion and The Other People Place. More material is known to be forthcoming on Tresor and Kombination Research and Rephlex recently released the second Transllusion LP, 'L.I.F.E'. It's as if he was just hitting his stride when he died.

He is survived by his parents, his wife Andrea, a brother and seven children.


Born in 1969, James Stinson grew up on Detroit's east side and graduated from Kettering in 1989. His name may not share the familiarity of his Detroit techno peers, yet James Marcel Stinson anonymously produced some of the city's most celebrated recordings during the '90s as the primary member of Drexciya. For nearly a decade, he quietly produced numerous recordings as a loose affiliate of the Underground Resistance collective and also as part of the Tresor roster before succumbing to a heart complication in late 2002 and passing away on September 3. Stinson never sought personal fame or glory despite the international recognition of his music, instead emphasizing the music itself and shrouding his identity in fantastic and subtle ideology that further accentuated the wondrous nature of his work and earned him incredible respect among those who knew him personally.
Now there's a whole resurgence of electro, and James was the life force of it. He had a fascination with the ocean, and aquatic things, and African-American history, and the voyage African people had to make. He was fascinated with the strength and endurance you have to have to make a voyage. His best feature was that good enough wasn't enough. He always pushed the envelope. Even at UR, where pushing the envelope is the norm, he pushed it harder than any artist on the label. He would expect us to keep living on the edge.

James Marcel Stinson, musician, born September 14 1969; died September 3 2002. 'Negative evolution cycle completed. Now in sonic infinitum mode.' - UR


September 3 marks a sad anniversary--the passing of Detroit's James Stinson at the age of 32 from heart complications.

I remember clearly the day I heard the news; I ended up spending the day listening to my Drexciya records over and over. The raw power and passion of "Positron Island" has been not just one of my favourite Drexciya songs, not just one of my favourite electronic music songs, but one of my favourite songs of any genre since the first time I heard it; just as Drexciya remains one of my favourite bands--regardless of genre. Though I have been very lucky and have had the privilege of interviewing many of my electronic music "heroes" over the years, my interview with James stood out to me right after I spoke with him--and continues to resonate even more so since his passing. After hearing the news, I re-listened to the tape of that interview from December 13, 1999 and was reminded of how many plans Stinson had--to tour, to release even more material, to build relationships with those who connected with his music. Stinson's music continues to be released even after his death, such was his level of quality productivity. And we know from the Submerge mail outs that the spawn of Drexciya are hitting vinyl. But what struck me most about my interview with Stinson was that, despite the incredible focus he obviously had on music, more importantly, he was always able to achieve a balance. James told me that music was the *third* most important thing in his life. I asked him what was ahead of music; "My family and God," he replied. I am not a religious person, but I do understand the importance of family, and today, as I did the day I heard the news, I thought of James' family and wished them peace and strength.

We now have only James' music to remember him by. He was only here on earth for 33 years, but he managed to give us so much joy in the time he was here, and we can continue to keep his memory alive by thinking of him whenever we play and enjoy the music of Drexciya in the future. I am sure James is now in that calm and tranquil place he fondly spoke of--somewhere over the Red Hills. Rest in peace, James Stinson. Take care.

Andrew Duke