THE VOICE OF ENERGY VOL. 076
Greetings, friends. Looking outside at a beautiful Friday and looking forward to a three-day weekend. How are you holding up?
Been another mother of a week with stressful deadlines and procrastination clashing in my brain, and my desire to do about 10 different things at once pulling me in various directions. I came out of it all okay, though, and some work got done. I previewed the PDX Jazz Festival, which kicked off last night, via an interview with Nicholas Salas-Harris, the festival's booker, and a feature on The Cookers, a supergroup of old school musicians that includes Billy Hart, Cecil McBee, and Eddie Henderson.
As well, I'm gathering up a lot of great stuff for future newsletters. It's a good deal of work, but I am enjoying being beholden only to my own whims and curiosities. That said, I'm a completely independent operation over here. Which means I could use your support to keep the servers humming, my Skype account active, and the occasional cup of strawberry horchata from the taco truck up the street. If you have yet to do so, please consider becoming a premium subscriber. For a mere $5 / month, you'll get an additional newsletter every week with some recommendations of films / TV shows to check out, stuff to read, and free music to download. Get enough folks on board, and I'll start sending one of you a free vinyl record each month too. Just promise me you'll think about it.
This is an instance where I wish I were sharing this as a podcast or that this interview had an audio portion so you could read along with the conversation that I had with Brianna Sas and Troy Micheau, the couple behind the ambient electronic project Moss Wand. You'll no doubt appreciate reading their perspective on the creation and inspiration behind their beautiful work that combines modular synths, singing bowls, and other droning instrumentation for these sweeping compositions meant for sound baths, meditation, and other rituals. But what's missing is the sound of joy and delight in their individual voices. These are two artists who clearly relish their work and truly understand how sacred art is. They take nothing for granted when they invite people into their homes for "tea journeys," which they were doing up until the pandemic arrived, nor when Sas is including sound and music into her practice as an acupuncturist.
When we recorded this interview, it was ahead of what was supposed to be a sound ritual they were holding at The Old Church on the full moon in January that I was going to write about for Oregon Arts Watch. It got postponed until earlier this week — on a date that I could not attend — but I didn't want this conversation to molder in my external hard drive. So I have dusted it off for the newsletter in hopes of amplifying the carefully considered and gorgeous work these two are making, and to prepare us all for future performances / rituals by the pair.
What do you both do for work?
Brianna Sas: I'm an acupuncturist and body worker by trade. And then Troy does video and film stuff. You can talk more about what you do if you want.
Troy Micheau: We've been putting together a bunch of tutorial courses for Bri's acupuncture business so I'm just editing that stuff.
How long have you been involved in the acupuncture world, Bri?
BS: I graduated from my Master's program — I went to OCOM here in town — in 2017. I've been practicing since then, and I just got my doctorate last year. I started a little baby business last year, too, so it's been a year of having the business and trying to be my own boss lady.
Has that been a particular challenge, opening a business that relies on in person appointments during this time?
BS: Oh my gosh. 100%. The funny thing was that I took some time off after school before getting my license. By the time I actually did get my license, it was a month before COVID started. It just re-routed my whole idea of what my practice was going to be. I started doing a lot of stuff online and doing the virtual thing. I also do sound baths online. I've only recently started seeing patients in person. But now that cases are skyrocketing again, it's been interesting to navigate that all over again.
Troy, the number I called you on had a 702 area code. Are you originally from Nevada?
TM: Yeah, I grew up in Las Vegas.
And how long have you been here in Portland?
TM: I've been here for 11 years no. I lived in Reno for a while and I moved up here from there.
What drew you to Portland?
TM: I wanted to move to the Pacific Northwest when I was younger because of school opportunities. I ended up going to Reno. But after I finished school, it was like, "I'm finally gonna go there." I had friends here already from playing in bands. I'd been visiting Portland two or three times a year since I was 18 to play shows. It felt like a natural place to be that's less expensive than Seattle or the Bay Area. At the time, anyway.
What sort were you playing in before you started Moss Wand?
TM: All kinds of things. The earliest stuff was crust bands and grindcore bands. I was playing drums in some and then I sang in others. The kind of stuff where it took us three times as long to set up as it did to play a show.
Bri, have you been here for a while?
BS: I guess... I mean like, eight years.
Where were you before Portland?
BS: I'm originally from New Jersey. I came out here to study Chinese medicine and basically never went back.
Your backgrounds are so interesting to me, especially when it comes to you, Troy, because the music you're making in Moss Wand is a far cry from the music you used to make. How did you two meet and get this project underway?
BS: It honestly was probably the most natural thing that I think has ever happened, in regards to meeting each other / starting to play music together. I say that because we met at the tea shop that I frequented daily when I was studying for school and drinking tea constantly. He was one of the tea-tenders. There are various locations and I walked into a different location than the one he works at, but he just happened to walk in that day. The gal I was having tea with, they knew each other. He reached out to her to get my number, and it was the sweetest little reach out ever. I think two years after that we started playing music together, and it felt like the most natural thing. He bought me my first singing bowl, and the rest is history.
TM: We would play around on synthesizers, but before that, at the time, I had a studio in my bedroom and all the gear was there and easy to play around with. Then when there were singing bowls, it was like, "Let's set up one of these synths to drone and play the singing bowl over it."
BS: Also, now that I'm thinking of it, we lived in a basement at the time and I was in grad school and completely burnt out and stressed out most of the time. Like not in good shape. He just played these super beautiful drones for longform meditation that I would fall asleep to. He was the one who introduced me to Steve Roach and Pauline Oliveros and all these people that I owe every bit of our music to. I'm just having this really beautiful memory of falling asleep to your beautiful dronescapes.
How was it for you, Troy, to develop an interest in and a practice in playing this droning music after years of playing more aggressive sounds?
TM: I was concurrently into both at the same time in high school. I definitely played in a metalcore band, but was also trying to get my friends into synthesizers and listen to Skinny Puppy. But they would just make fun of me. I was just as equally down to listen to Dying Fetus as I was to Aphex Twin. As you get older, there's less people to play in bands with because everyone starts to have jobs or kids or whatever. I started working more and more on my own and made my own music with electronics and tape loops. It built from there. Over time, it became the main thing I was doing. I still make more aggressive music with a project called Contact Cult. Aside from that, I still make harsh noise stuff every once in a while. Occasionally, I'll make something and go, "Hey, Bri, is this a Moss Wand thing?" and she's like, "NOPE." [laughs]
Bri, did playing the singing bowls come easily to you or did that take some time to develop that skill?
BS: I've been playing music my whole life, too. I was in bands in fourth grade and doing lots of ensembles and marching band all throughout high school and college, so I really felt drawn to sound. I don't think I even realized how much it helped me growing up and surviving New Jersey and hard childhood things and navigating my parents' divorce. I started studying in a Master's program with a teacher who brought the idea of combining sound with your body work or acupuncture practice. So it kind of was the most natural thing. I mean, I've only been playing with them for five years now. I learn something new every single time I play, and I'm still learning how to hold myself correctly. Another part of what I do is practice Qigong. I have since I was 15 years old. I'm really discovering how that practice co-exists with my sound practice and my medicine practice. They all inform each other in a beautiful way that when I'm playing, I'm also doing Qigong and vice versa.
Did you always envision Moss Wand to have a ritualistic element to your performances and recordings or is that something that came later on?
BS: I feel like maybe both of those things. When we used to play music together, we would essentially have our own ritual. We would light candles and create this beautiful setting for us to be in. By the end of a track, I was usually asleep on the floor because I was so zen-ed out and in such a good space for receiving. It became a way that I took care of myself during school. I think it became a soft landing place for both of us. Then we got asked to play a friend's wedding and then we got asked to play a show at Psychic Sister. Things just started happening like that.
TM: That kind of meditative, ritualistic thing is always a part of it because when it comes to this kind of music, I prefer stuff that is longform and flowing. I spend a lot of time crafting parts and sounds and sequences with the intention that may or may not have an end. The length of time that it's going to happen is completely arbitrary. Really the test is: "Can I leave it on for an hour and not get bored?" That's the kind of stuff I have always been more drawn to. I like stuff that is textural and background sound, but my favorite are the old German guys. The stuff that really wants to go on a journey and zone out.
How was it to develop this for live performance? Is it pretty much the same of what you'd be doing at home or does it change depending on the space you're in?
TM: It's gonna be different for both of us because Bri has the singing bowls and vocals. For myself, I've always approached this project from a position where whatever I write for this is also going to be what we perform live. Then when we record, I might add some stuff, but it's more that we do long jams and then I edit them, More than adding new parts or sounds or anything like that. When I work on other kinds of music, I'll play with different kinds of stuff, but when we do Moss Wand, I'll be like, "Alright, today I'm gonna use the Octatrack with these samples and this Prophet and that's it. That's the palette for this particular piece of music." The live show is pretty much the same. They can sound wildly different even using the same couple sounds. Once you get going, the vibe can go in a totally different direction. Or sometimes I'll spend days making some sounds that I'm so stoked on and then we play a show and it never feels like the time for that sound to happen. [laughs]
BS: It's really fun how we often try to merge rehearsing together and playing just for fun. We'll have a basic outline or structure to follow knowing that there will be room for variation and exploration in the actual live thing. There's definitely been some instances of having to roll with something completely different but trying to find that pocket of, "Oh we can just be here for a minute and create a really beautiful space for folks to exist in for a little while. I'm also thinking about... you asked if it's different in different venues?
That was part of it, yeah.
BS: Because I'm thinking we've played so many different places. One that comes to mind, in particular, we did a Volt Divers at formerly The Lovecraft Bar. And Troy was like, "Just start with a mediation" because that's what I would generally do. We will do a meditation for ourselves before we practice or we go to play a set. To get grounded together and have that moment to arrive together. He encouraged me to do it at Volt Divers, which was probably the most nerve-wracking thing because I don't really love the idea of speaking to people. I've got to get better at it. But, yeah, this room full of people at Volt Divers, standing and watching and listening to all this heavy techno music. And I just invite everyone, "Let's stand together and connect with our breath and do a quick two minute meditation." The whole room fell silent besides some lingering voices. To do a meditation and then lead into the sound bath in a space like that was... Troy said it was one of the most punk things there's ever been. [laughs] I took that as a compliment.
TM: It was definitely one of those things that could have not worked out, but it worked out beautifully.
You were hosting events and performances in your home, at least into 2019. Sound baths and what you called "tea journeys." Can you walk me through what one of those evenings would be like?
BS: This was born out of the idea of bringing communities together and cultivating a space for folks to have a soft landing. To stop and rest for a moment. Tea ceremony became a huge part of both of our daily rituals. We both started drinking tea with other friends who pour tea for a living. It just naturally came together, "Oh, tea and sound. That's a really cool thing. We'll drink tea together and then we'll all lay for a sound bath together." It was so beautiful. We have a really small space so it was enough for eight people to lay comfortably. We would just drone out for an hour or so after drinking tea, and spend time after just being together. If people wanted to talk about it, they could, but mostly it was, "Drink some tea. Have some chocolate. Hang out with the cat" who very much loved it when people came over and she became the center of attention. She would visit every single person like, "I bestow my blessing upon you... and you..." It was a place to hang out with our cat and drink tea and listen to sounds and make it accessible to folks. It was a very easy setting. Not intimidating to go to.
TM: We also, at the time, had access to some really nice raw puer teas that were just... It felt like a shame for us to just sit and drink them all by ourselves. That was awesome to do with other people. Have you ever had that tea before?
Yes, I have.
TM: The good stuff can have nearly a psychedelic feel to it. You're not gonna trip balls or anything, but the body can definitely feel ecstatic. It was really nice to drink that and then play and have folks laying out here and listen to it. We had a loft where people could go and listen and lay where we had laser lights. We had a bigger one where Crystal Quartez played and there were 20 people packed into our place.
Is puer the tea you would generally serve?
TM: Yeah. Every once in a while we would serve an oolong. It didn't feel like it was super energizing. Those teas are caffeinated but it wasn't like we were getting people super hyped to then lay down. It was a good pairing. We'd also make a herbal tea for anyone that didn't want to partake in a caffeinated thing. It was also a cool alternative. A lot of ambient shows, at least in Portland, happen at show spaces. As much as I love a place like Holocene, most of the time everyone's standing around talking. It's hard to get into the vibe of something. So having a smaller space with a few people where everyone could actually lay down and fall asleep if they wanted to felt like a really appropriate way to listen to that kind of music, and perform that kind of music.
The most recent work you put on your Bandcamp page is an interesting development for this project. It's much more movement oriented music. Was that something you wanted to experiment with as Moss Wand?
TM: What it really came from was Bri freaking out that we couldn't go to a dance party anymore. It was like, "We have all the shit in our studio — drum machines and synthesizers — let's just make our own dance party. We had a number of jams over a while and recorded all of them. We probably sat on that for a year. After a while, Bri kept poking me, "When are you going to open back up those things? When are you going to work on those?" Sometime earlier this year, I was like, "Alright, I'm gonna sit down and work on these and dig through all the stems and start crafting it into something." And we just decided to put those out as Moss Wand. It's not really what we normally do or what we'll do all the time going forward, but it was a fun document. It felt like a natural document of what we were going through.
Is dancing and movement an important part of your world, Bri?
BS: Oh, absolutely. 100%. I started dancing in classes when I was three. The movement piece of sound, it's such a part of how I take care of myself. Now it's part of the spread of my existence. I was like, "Hey, let's make dance music," and we did. And that was when I felt very safe to start experimenting with vocals, too. I think there are some vocals with a meditation, and then Heart Meditation was the first time I ever sang on a track. I got a RACC grant at the beginning of COVID times and I purchased a SOMA Pipe with the intention of encouraging myself to step out of my comfort zone when it came to sharing music. I just started playing that while the dance music vibes were happening and it was like, "Ooh, this is really fun."
TM: I feel adding that element was the thing that really tied the dance tracks into the other stuff that we do. When I was doing the editing, that became the structure and the house that the rest of the pieces could live inside. It really helped to be like, "Alright, if I mute all these things and leave the drums," which is a thing in techno tracks. When I started what was going on with the voice, then we have a much more spacious, beautiful thing. You can even lose the rhythm and just get lost in it.
What comes next for this project?
TM: We've been invited to a couple of private events that have been cool to do. I've been in school and Bri has her business so for a little, especially when there wasn't shots, we kind of weren't really doing much with it. Having The Old Church show and a couple of other events to do has been like, "Oh, let's do this. Let's pick this back up." We actually have a bunch of recorded material that needs a little love and editing. It kind of feels overwhelming. There's quite a bit of stuff.
[MUSIC] Die! Die! Die!: This Is Not An Island Anymore (self-released)
Every moment on the new album by New Zealand noise-rock trio Die! Die! Die! feels like a slap to the face — painful or pleasurable depending on your predilections. Or maybe it's both. Maybe the pain is the pleasure, which is a fine way to explain away the desire to give one's eardrums a hearty scrub by way of this group's searing guitar tones and plundering rhythm section. We seek it out the gales of distortion and agonized energy for its astringent properties. And there are plenty of acts out there offering up those same musical blows. What helps push Die! Die! Die! to the center is the presence of guitarist / vocalist Andrew Wilson. Much like Fred Erskine (Hoover, The Crownhate Ruin) or Meredith Graves (Perfect Pussy), the higher register and reaching notes that Wilson aims for throughout run counter to the constant downstrokes surrounding it. Hearing him break through the pandemonium to almost shriek out the sneering title of the album closer "IMAGINE (Spending So Long Making Other People Feel Like Shit)" or strike an almost twee pose with his delivery on "15 Years" are the stings that that accompany the dull throb of the aforementioned blow to the chops. To succeed, which they do handily on Island, Die! Die! Die! need both. [Bandcamp]
[FILM] The Long Walk (2019, dir. Mattie Do)
The hyperbole that critics have been attaching to The Long Walk — and their insistence on referring to it as a horror film — feels illogical when faced with the meditative tone of what plays out on screen and the allegorical heft of the story that director Mattie Do and screenwriter Christopher Larsen tell. There are horrors simmering underneath the action, echoes of the continued human rights abuses that the Laotian government continues to engage in, but they are revealed through an air of quiet dread and a unsettling story of an old man shuffling through life in a Laotian village far removed from modern life, and a young boy who discovers the body of a woman in the woods as she dies even as she's walking along with the old man on his journey. The fantastical elements are right there but they are augmented by graceful sci-fi details (the old man has some kind of computer embedded in his arm) that sets the film in some unexplained future. Once time travel gets introduced, The Long Walk starts to slowly circle back on itself in an ever-tightening knot. To say much more about the plot or much else would be to give away too much and to drain this incredible film of its power. Somehow, Do and Larsen anticipate the Western reaction to this story in the form of people from an NGO that arrive at the boy's home, offering a free solar power array for them — a Band-Aid for the country's festering wound of oppression and poverty. Critics are seeing the surface level of dead bodies and futuristic gadgetry while ignoring the generational grief and the deep roots of injustice. Don't make the same mistake. [in select theaters now / available on VOD services beginning March 1]
Thank you, as always, for reading all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed all of the above material I put together for you. Next week: another edition of Deeper Into Movies where I dig into the one film Frank Sinatra directed in his lifetime as well as preview of the upcoming retrospective of the films of Iranian director Shahram Mokri that opens at the Brooklyn Academy of Music next week. And I'll be back on Monday with more goodies for the premium subscribers. Do no harm. Take no shit.
Artwork for this edition of the newsletter is from Heide Trepanier whose exhibition This is fine... is on display at Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, VA through March 11.