02 May Barn Owl Band Interview: A Bilateral Reflection On Meditative States
In Hinduism, there is a term called Shaktipat, in which a guru transmits enlightenment by their very presence. Considering the places that some of us here at REDEFINE Magazine have voyaged to while listening to the music of Jon Porras and Evan Caminiti, solo musicians who are also collectively known as Barn Owl, we decided to harangue the duo with a bunch of questions about meditation, to see how much they had seen in such altered spaces.
Barn Owl’s music seems custom-made for the sweat lodge or meditation hall. As you listen to an amalgam of tribal percussion, temple bells, cosmic synths, and rustic American transcendentalism, you can practically smell the sweet sage burning. Their music knows no bounds, and as such, is a ritual that everybody can take part in.
As increasing amounts of people and culture make demands on our time and attention, the ability to find a quiet, sacred space becomes essential. Barn Owl’s portable ashram is a precious resource — you can strap on a pair of headphones and find some space on a crowded train or a busy street to reflect. They encourage us to slow down, and find a little peace.
Barn Owl’s latest full-length album, V, is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.
PURCHASE BARN OWL’s V ON AMAZON
“Fading Dawn” from Dreamless Sleep
“Void Redux” from V
Barn Owl’s music has a way of slowing down attention, slowing down one’s perception of time. Meditation produces a similar result. What are your intentions with putting music out into the world? Are they aligned with such qualities?
Barn Owl Band Interview (cont’d)
What does meditation mean to you, and when did you first encounter the idea? Do meditative states influence the creation or consumption of your music?
Jon Porras: Over the years, we’ve developed performance habits that involve mindfulness and deep concentration. I’m not sure this could be considered meditation by definition, but we rely on deep concentration and intuition to guide our live and recorded performances. I would associate this more with Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening philosophy. I’ve read that some people see a difference between deep, focused performance and the act of deliberate meditation — so it may be important to make that distinction.
Meditative states absolutely influence our music. As a performer, I try to find that balance between losing myself in the music and being completely self-aware. It’s during these moments where I can experience a deeper quality of sound. There is a cathartic release involved, but it is balanced with intense focus.
Meditation produces a slippery sense of self, when you cease to identify your thoughts. Can you speak about the self and how it effects your creativity?
There are some studies about the ability to induce deep trance states (theta and delta states) by listening to tones (binaural beats). Theta states are also brought on by simple, repetitive tasks, and these states are attributed by artists and scientists as responsible for inspiration and clear insight. What are some things you do to clear your mind and allow for inspiration to occur?
Jon Porras: I completely agree with these theories, but connect with them on an intuitive level. The ability for music and tones to influence perception is a major factor in what keeps me interested in exploring sound. Repetition and extended tones have an elevating effect, a lulling quality that can induce trace-like states. Some people call it “zoning out” but I feel that when you’re in this state, there is a pathway to the subconscious that isn’t normally open. Some would argue that it is not the subconscious you become aware of; it’s a higher conscious. It certainly feels that way sometimes.
As far as work habits, I try to spend time in my home studio everyday — I guess this is also a repetitive task. It’s grounding for me to spend a few hours plugging away, experimenting with sounds, filters, effect chains. Not always, but there are those moments of clarity when things seem to align perfectly and you come away with a new sound.
BARN OWL INTERVIEW CONTINUES BELOW
Meditation emphasizes letting things arise, and letting thing go, without clutching or attachment. I have always found improvised music very similar to this. How do you compare the process of recording, versus just playing music in the moment?
Hardcore practitioners of meditation often advocate material renunciation. What is your take on creature comforts versus ascetic living? Materialism is to a degree necessary in the music industry; how, if at all, does that dialogue affect your creative process?
You recently played at the SF Zen Center. Can you describe how this came about and what the experience was like? Have you and do you wish to do more things like this in the future?
Your latest record is much more electronic than your previous outputs. How did this shift come about? Do you think that the shift between analog versus digital changes the meditative atmosphere at all?
Jon Porras: We’ve always pushed ourselves to find new sounds and new ways of expanding the project. After touring Europe, I was fascinated to see how embedded electronic music was into pop culture. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with being from the west coast, but I grew up with an ambivalent perspective on electronic music. Being exposed to it later in life was revelatory; I guess I wasn’t ready for it before. It helped to have a friend deep into electronics; I think his sensibilities sort of rubbed off.
Also, synthesizers can occupy a larger frequency range, so our live sets have been more dense since incorporating electronics. Synthesis allows for optimal sound design. You start with an oscillator and build from there, making artistic judgments along the way until you reach that perfect sound.
Do you have particular records that you use as a tool for getting into a meditative zone? Are there any positive or negative experiences of note stemming from meditative states in your life?