Akara: Songs of the Luminous Beings
- By Austen Bailey
- Published on April 25, 2012
|Photo Credit: Sequoia Emmanuelle|
You were there, among the luminous beings. You did not know you had arrived, or what language they were speaking, but you understood they meant no harm and they wished to sing you a story.
It was important.
Their words, somehow familiar, shimmered on the edge of meaning. And as their iridescent music enfolded you, you knew they longed for you to understand.
Then it was over, and you awoke, and you were back.
This is what you remember.
Thus is the goal of Akara, the brainchild of Joshua Penman, the conservatory-trained classical composer turned electronic producer who conducts Akara’s “mystical dancefloor symphonies.”
Technical difficulties notwithstanding, Headstash Magazine recently caught up with Penman to discuss who these luminous beings are, his Yale mathematics degree and creating music that encourages a ritualized transcendence.
Headstash Magazine: Hey Josh, thanks for taking the time to sit down with me today.
Joshua Penman: Thanks for having me.
HM: So, tell me a little bit about your musical background and how it subsequently influenced the creation of Akara.
JP: Well, I was raised in a house where there was no popular music. My mother is a cellist and I was raised almost entirely with classical music. I really fell in love with classical music and when I went to college, I started studying music and became a classical composer.
|Photo Credit: Thrilliam|
I started going to underground psy-trance parties in 1999, which at that time were the only flowerings of the electronic music culture that was really psychedelic and beautiful.
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That music was so amazing to me. On one hand it was so simple, but what it did to people – what it did to consciousness and what happened to the culture and the minds of people around that music – was just so attractive and transformative to me.
Very early on, I tried to figure out how I could put this type of music into classical music, and it took a long time for me to learn and evolve through things like going to Burning Man.
Eventually, my musical abilities, production technology, musical evolution and the visionary culture all caught up with each other in a way that allowed this project to be created.
HM: Akara’s music is described as “songs of the luminous extra dimensional beings, sung across the veil of reality.”After listening to the music, this resonates as such an appropriate description but begs the question: who or what are these extra dimensional beings all about?
JP: In a way, I’ve been trying to write the music of the luminous beings for 10 years. The idea of the songs of these entities – that idea is something that has been with me way before Akara.
There is all the technical stuff like the synth work and the harmonic intricacies, but there’s something else. There’s the melodies and some of the words, maybe all of the words if I do it right. Those come from a place that’s really beyond me.
There’s a frequency that I try to touch and have fidelity to. One of my favorite comments I get from listeners is, “It sounds like something I’ve heard before, but I’ve never actually heard it.”
And that’s what is so magical to me, because that makes me realize that other people are somehow in touch with that frequency as well.
HM: It looks as if there is great potential for a full, live-band performance of Akara’s music. Will we get to see some of this in the near future?
JP: Absolutely. We are doing full live band sets a few times this summer. We are going to do a full live ensemble at Symbiosis Festival [in Nevada] and a partial live ensemble at Lightning in a Bottle [in California] as well.
HM: With dubstep and heavy bass drops populating the EDM scene, forward-thinking acts like Shpongle, The Nadis Warriors and Govinda are carving out a nice niche for themselves. Why does this type of music have more of a spiritual quality?
JP: This sort of thing has really been going on for a long time. I think there’s always been a spiritual dimension to dance music. But of course, some music is more spiritually connected than others. It’s about the intent of the music creators, really.
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And while a lot of the music out there does have these kind of old-paradigm sex and power frequencies dominating, that’s partially just because those are effective frequencies for producers to tap in to make good dance music. But it doesn’t mean that that’s all people want to dance to, nor even only what the producers want to make.
So while I don’t know that we’re all going to evolve to some kind of utopia where no one samples anything about girls with large breasts or whatever, what I do think is that what a lot of people are actually looking for – a kind of ritualized transcendence, eventually – they are finding in music that is conceived differently.
HM: I noticed that in addition to your various musical concentrations during undergraduate and graduate studies, you also received a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Yale. Does that play any sort of role in your compositions or in the operation of the recently unveiled ‘Lightship’ stage design?
JP: I don’t think it plays much of a role in creating my music. A bit of familiarity with logical thinking can’t hurt, but likewise writing the software for the Akara Lightship did not require a Math degree.
What you actually learn in mathematics in college is this super beautiful abstract thing that’s its own little pod of knowledge. It more prepared my mind than taught me anything that I used later, because the technical knowledge in collegiate math really relates to these conceptual objects that don’t really exist in the physical world.
HS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you just describe math as beautiful?
JP: [Laughs.] Well, what I like to say about mathematics is “If we were crabs on Mars, all that stuff would still be true.”
It’s really independent of who we are as humans – it’s the opposite of music in that way. There are all these incredible symmetries and structures that exist within numbers and logic. So without describing actual equations and such that’s the best way I can put it. It’s been a long time since college, you know.
HM: I hear you’ve been working on a dazzling new light design to enhance the live performance, can you tell us a little bit more about what to expect or will we have to wait and see it for ourselves, and if we do have to wait, where will we have a chance to witness it in the live setting?
JP: It consists of four pieces – two 10-foot trees, each with three lanterns, containing two computer-controlled color-changing LED bulbs hanging from their branches. Then there is a circular “portal” flown about eight feet off the ground with a hanging lantern in the middle. And there are three “moonflowers” beaming out into the audience from the trees and the portal.
|Photo Credit: La Libelula|
There’s also this crystal that’s held in a spiraling tree stump that’s one of his sculptures as well and it’s just wonderful. All of this stuff is controlled, as I said, by software that I wrote, running on my laptop as we do the show.
HM: So what’s up next for Akara?
JP: We have an event that I’m really excited for: it’s May 4 at the Brava Theater in San Francisco. It’s going to be Phadroid, Akara, Human Experience and a string quartet playing really spiritual chamber music. I think it’s going to be a really fun night.
HM: Awesome. Well that about does it, thanks again Josh, it’s been a pleasure.
JP: This was a lot of fun. Thanks so much.