Ancient Future – Caged Lion Escapes

Matthew Montfort coined the term “world fusion music” to describe the music that he and the rest of the group Ancient Future sought to create. I found this album and had to grab it because I had never heard of the label Narada but it reminded me of Windham Hill so I figured I’d give it a shot only to find that Narada was actually started in nearby Milwaukee.

This track is enough to make you want to drop everything, put on a peasant shirt, and start learning about crystal healing (or maybe that’s just me). Montfort provides the guitar solo in the middle section that made me want to share this song, and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I like it considering Montfort’s interest in Indian music stems from a friend introducing him to a record from the Diga Rhythm Band, which was a collaboration between a number of Indian musicians and Americans, including Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The relationship was more than just one of influence, as the Ancient Future website lays out:

In the summer of 1977 [Benjy] Wertheimer and Montfort came to San Rafael to study North Indian classical music at the Ali Akbar College of Music. There they met the members of the Diga Rhythm Band, moved into the house that the group rehearsed in, and formed an offshoot called Greenhouse Intergalactic, which included Diga Rhythm Band members Tor Dietrichson (who later signed with Global Pacific Records), Jim Loveless, Ray Spiegel, and Arshad Syed (who joined Ancient Future’s touring lineup in 1993). Greenhouse Intergalactic rehearsed at the Grateful Dead studio and performed a number of concerts before splitting up into two groups: a Latin band called Sun Orchestra, and the world fusion music group Ancient Future.

So, Ancient Future can be thought of as an offshoot of an offshoot of an offshoot of the Grateful Dead

As a side note, I highly recommend poking around the group’s website, as it is a relic of a kind of web design that is all-to-rare now that every website wants to slip and slide you all over to various embedded videos instead of just using text and hyperlinks as God intended.

This song also features guitarist Alex De Grassi, whose son William Ackerman founded Windham Hill Records. Fans of this kind of music should check out this excellent piece by William Tyler on Windham Hill and its lasting influence on contemporary artists.

There’s another overlap with music covered elsewhere on this blog: Mindy Klein. Though she had left the group by the time this album was released, she appears on previous Ancient Future releases and has gone on to become a Fullbright Scholar of Balinese and Gamelan music (discussed in this post).

At a previous job I would usually ride the bus with a guy who was always wearing peasant shirts and reading about crystals and pyramid power. Other people would ridicule him and I’ll admit I thought he was goofy, but thinking back he looked a thousand times more serene than any of the other people listening to podcasts or staring into their phones. I’ll close this post by sharing a music video for an excerpt of one of my albums (full version here) that fans of this kind of New Age-y stuff might also enjoy:

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Henk Badings – Electronic Ballet Music “Cain and Abel” (Abridged Version)

Despite having little formal musical training, Henk Badings held teaching positions throughout the mid-20th centuries and remains one of the most prolific and influential Dutch composers. Unfortunately, he accepted a teaching post at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague in 1942 offered by the Dutch government, replacing a Jewish director who was ousted at the request of the Nazi regime. While this allowed him to remain productive during WWII, it largely destroyed his reputation in post-war Europe and his work has only recently been re-contextualized outside of this decision.

He was born in the then-Dutch colony of Java (present day Indonesia) and remarked later in his life that the native sounds he heard as a child influenced his compositions immensely. I find some of the repetitive elements of his “Cain and Abel” ballet are reminiscent of the gamelan music that was so important to man early 20th century composers. He wrote for more conventional instruments in addition to his electronic compositions, including a cycle of 15 symphonies and various radio operas which share the ominous and frenizied experimentation of this ballet piece.

Colin McPhee & Benjamin Britten – Balinese Ceremonial Music, For 2 Pianos

As Nadia Sirota said on her great music podcast from WQXR, Meet the Composer, the Indonesian Gamelan is perhaps the most influential Eastern tradition in terms of its effect on Western music. It was introduced to most Westerners at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, where, according to Sirota, it had an intense effect on composers like Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, and later American composers like John Cage and later American Minimalists. This track is in fact a transcription of Balinese gamelan music, which is played on an instrument called a gamelan, done for two pianists by Colin McPhee and British composer Benjamin Britten.

McPhee had become enamored with the music after hearing it in New York City and moved to Bali to study it further before moving back to the US, where he lived with Britten briefly and introduced him to the Balinese tradition which had so enthralled him. Evidently Britten shared his enthusiasm, and the two recorded these transcriptions. Traditionally gamelan is performed by a group on a series of percussive xylophone- and gong-like instruments with many performers playing together (check out this video) while smaller motifs are mixed in throughout. Though it would appear to be improvised, the tunes were passed down in oral form in a precise manner. It continues to be performed in Indonesia today, and each island in the country has different forms of gamelan.