Monday, February 18, 2013

Through Dreams Beyond Humans: An Interpretation of Lumerians by Nicholas Zettel

Psychedelic music means “mind-manifesting” or “soul-manifesting,” an unfolding, or a becoming, an activity where the mind or soul can experience itself. The forms of psychedelic music fit this task, typically using repetition, extensive songs, and layers of sound to encourage reflection, to build a rich musical experience. One of the wonders of perception is that for each repetition of the same, each new point in time allows us to reflect on that experience. In this way, repetition in music builds fields for reflection and unfolding.

Frequently, psychedelic bands are compared to spacey or otherworldly phenomena, which translates the music’s potential for becoming into a realm that is entirely outside ourselves. Given the potential for psychedelic music to build templates for reflection and becoming, this focus on space or otherworldly features draws attention away from the ability of psychedelic music to transform our understanding or experience. Perhaps the best psychedelic music yields entirely internal rewards, rewards that encourage our minds, souls, our being to harmony or transcendence. Lumerians offer one such project, employing multiple releases and diverse sounds to explore the purposes of vitality (or, life-itself) and human creativity.

From critical vantage points, Oakland’s Lumerians are typically connected with otherworldly forms of psychedelic music, or space-rock. Throughout the course of 2012, Lumerians provided a set of EPs and a cassette that challenged their foundation of repetitive, driving rock music on their 2011 LP, Transmalinnia (Knitting Factory). While the second side of Transmalinnia dove into instrumentals that replicated the feeling of dream-states, the first side found the group translating their instrumental strengths into relatively short, catchy rock songs. The group’s execution of rhythmic excursions and organ and synth flourishes within compact statements was a testament to their songwriting ability, but their extended compositions on the second side would foreshadow their future. Taken in the context of their statement of purpose on Transmalinnia, the two shades of their sound would only be the beginning of their journey. This journey shows stronger ties to internal exploration, rather than otherworldly space rock.

Between their 2011 and 2012 releases, Lumerians explored their musical structures, backgrounds, and foundations, while completing the logic to their creative philosophy. Where the group’s philosophical and musical goals collide stands an underreported element of their music. While music fans focus on their spacey sonic developments, the group’s creative vision is typically not covered or explored. On Transmalinnia, for instance, the band offered a sonic program to translate the artistic vision of Eugene von Bruenchenhein into musical form. Similarly, their most recent releases offer detailed philosophical nuggets (or, opportunities for reflection).

While many psychedelic bands are christened with half-hearted, pass-the-bong colloquialisms, Lumerians offer a comprehensive creative vision alongside their music. Given the group’s musical development within their 2012 releases, their philosophical vision cannot be separated from their musical accomplishments. While one can certainly enjoy their music without thinking about their creative vision, their comprehensive vision enhances the experience of their music. Through their vision, we can understand how Lumerians stepped from celebrating the art of von Bruenchenhein, a man that created “a world of dreams, ideas, and visions traveling to far off undiscovered worlds beyond earth,” to exploring the structures and textures that allow us to experience alternate modes of consciousness. In this regard, Lumerians’ psychedelia is truly a manifestation of soul.

On their 2012 EP, Horizon Structures (Knitting Factory), Lumerians closed the year with a wicked set of angular, synth-driven dance music. One of the elements that sets Lumerians apart from other psychedelic acts is their embrace of key-based songs, as well as their robust approach to percussion. Accompanying their latest EP, the group offered another specific scenario for celebration and consideration (from their press summary at Knitting Factory records):

“Lumerians Horizon Structures EP leads off side A with 
“The Bloom” -- a long-fused charge of anti-apocalypse 
rock. Change is not the end. Life persists. The world is not 
ending, but YOU are. The notion of apocalypse places undue 
significance to the brief tenure of Homo sapiens. “Wintersong” 
affirms preparedness is acceptance of the inevitable. Side B 
closes with two heavily synth layered dance numbers. 
“Tawazula” and “Lazer Barn,” dances of creation and 
destruction in that order and out of order.”

Combined with Transmalinnia’s exploration of dreams, ideas, and visions traveling to undiscovered worlds, one might be forgiven for considering Lumerians to be spacey contributors to the psychedelic movement. Yet, their 2012 work deserves more attention for its emphasis on the earth itself, especially the idea that places the apocalypse in the center of a life-persisting change on earth. Not a change in which we focus on our own demise, but perhaps one in which we embrace the triumph of life in all its formations. Here we uncover the depth of vitality, and affirm that life itself persists in ways beyond our own understanding or existence. Accompanying their framework that embraces the use of dreams -- especially using forms of art to explore a world of dreams, ideas, and visions -- Lumerians add another dimension to their purposeful rock. We can use these artistic tools to explore life itself.

Telos is a purpose, or an end. One common mistake people make when they argue against telos is using the assumption that “an end” or “a purpose” results in some sort of pre-determination. Naturally, it is difficult for humans to wrap their minds around the idea that they are driven toward greater purposes without feeling that their ability to act or think is impaired. We want to feel “free” in some significant way --which, in itself, might suggest some specific human purpose -- but we do not want to focus specifically on the ends that humankind can achieve. Our own skepticism, or our perception of moral ambiguity in the world, leads us to ask, “whose end, or whose purpose?” How can we fully understand a greater human purpose without falling prey to humans that mislead us about our purposes?

In this regard, Lumerians’ embrace of dreams, exploring a world of ideals, as well as purposes or ends that disconnect the earth from humans, or disconnect our own sense of importance from vitality or life itself, provide a strong template for thinking about purpose. Remarkably, the goals of their releases in 2012 correspond with their philosophical statements. Between Transmalinnia and Horizon Structures, the group used Transmissions from the Telos: Vol IV EP (Permanent / Hands in the Dark) and The Weaning and The Dreaming tape (Sanity Muffin) to explore their own vision, expose the structures to their song-oriented LPs and EPs, to unveil their logic.

Following the second half of Transmalinnia, the four untitled cuts on Transmissions from the Telos show the band moving deeper into their instrumental territory. Here, the group combines laid-back grooves that show the fall-out of the dense sound of their LP, instead opting for rollicking percussion and playful key sequences. Alongside a playful fusion of psychedelic and jazz instrumental sounds on Transmissions…, the group present longform ragas and expansive, dark drones. It almost sounds like the band drew from each individual element that appeared on their LP, and expanded those elements into their own statements. With these instrumental sequences, Lumerians stretched their world, and added several different vantage points or signposts to their vision.

We can understand how to expand these vantage points by exploring the extreme poles. On The Weaning and The Dreaming cassette, the group presented two tantalizing titles for their tape manipulation compositions: “Consciousness without an Object,” and, “An Object without Consciousness.” Multiple sources have written about how the group built these compositions, which involved recording percussion, synth, and bass parts both forwards-and-backwards; each side of the tape is the full piece played in both directions (I call them “compositions,” even though there is basically one performance or construction, because the end result of the active tape manipulation is quite different on both sides. One wouldn’t necessarily know that it’s the same performance played forwards and backwards unless they were told). Their titles for these compositions provide the extreme poles for expanding our vantage points for exploring our purpose.

In philosophy, there are two extreme poles of perception that receive a lot of attention (and, form most traditional problems): realism and idealism. In their most exaggerated forms, realism upholds some realm of objects that exist independently of consciousness, while the most extreme idealists uphold perceivable realms that only exist through mind or consciousness. While these are extreme reductions on my part, Lumerians’ explorations of these two sides of reality are rich and continue to unfold with multiple listens. “Consciousness without an Object” leans heavily on sparse, backwards percussion, ultimately presenting structural outlines that lead into sparse synth drones and shimmering flourishes. These percussive blips, decaying in a surreal way thanks to the backwards tape, are beyond ritual or beyond repetition; they unleash sheer creativity, presenting a borderless plane for thought. By contrast, “An Object without Consciousness” is frantic, direct, vital, and engaging, emphasizing immediate, concrete experience that channels the rumbling, rattling hum of a world that exists through sheer independence.

These vantage points showcase numerous points of origin for a purpose-driven project. We need not conclude that humans striving toward a purpose results in one specific outcome. Rather, Lumerians show a strong communion with purpose-oriented projects by embracing the potential of each outcome, and ultimately, embracing the process that leads to those purposes. For this reason, Lumerians are one of the strongest psychedelic acts, not simply because their music corresponds to their philosophical and artistic vision, but also because their music offers a template for exploration that ultimately leads to action. This is why it’s important to take Lumerians’ philosophical hints seriously: if we follow their cues, and use our dreams, ideas, and visions to explore the world, and we investigate our purpose in a way that upholds life-itself (instead of simply upholding human existence), we can more meaningfully orient ourselves to the people, companions, objects, and places in our lives.

It is not a sucker’s game to associate psychedelic music with soul-building or mind-building exercises. Lumerians prove that through psychedelic exploration, we have a strong set of tools, sounds, and artistic forms that can orient ourselves to our universe. This orientation can ultimately lead us to better understand life and, as a result, become better humans, truly manifesting mind and soul.

Nicholas Zettel is a former contributing writer for Foxy Digitalis. He will be joining the rest of the Foxy D crew in the move over to the forthcoming Decoder website.

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