From Aural Innovations #9 (January 2000)
Pseudo Buddha - "Motive"
(Uncle Buzz 1999, UBR08)
Pseudo Buddha is a San Antonio-based band that plays pure mind expanding psychedelia of the most spiritual sort. The band incorporates sitar, clarinet, fretless bass, guitar, didjeridoo, ebow bass, loop guitar, wind controller keyboards, flutes, and percussion to create gorgeously cosmic instrumental music that will both challenge and medicate you. There is no real end or beginning to each of the six tracks as they flow seamlessly from one to the next.
The disc opens with "Seven League Boots" which is just as trippy as trippy can be with floating sitar, didjeridoo, clarinet, flute, and percussion. All the instruments travel about jamming as a group, and the production is such that each musician can be heard distinctly. The flutes are really quite heavenly and play as important a role as the sitar and guitar. A smooth segue into "Evening Prayer" finds the guitar playing a very slow but beautiful lead line as the flutes continue on their journey and the didj plays a droning line in the background.
"Solo for Soprano Saxophone And Electronic Tape" is transcribed for the clarinet which takes the lead and proves it can be as psychedelic an instrument as any. I guess it's the 8-string bass and guitar that are producing the cosmic drones that provide the heavenly chorus over which the clarinet plays. One of my favorite tracks, "Moth Canal", features cosmic looped guitar/bass lines, faster-paced percussion, echoed chanting and wild screams. Kind of a "Careful With That Axe Eugene" in an Indian setting. Overall quite a bit more intense and freaky than the previous tracks and fantastic efx. A SERIOUS headphone track.
On "Gra" we hear crunchier wah-wah guitar and jazz fusion guitar which along with the clarinet sounds something like psychedelic Miles Davis. The didjeridoo reaches its lowest brain splitting drone levels yet and combined with tinkling bells makes for a seriously weird contrast. "Jehovah Rises Early" is an 18-minute journey of avant chamber music for your head. Gongs, an industrial drone, and somber but ear piercing waves of sound create a far darker atmosphere than the previous tracks. An ambient mantra piece for advanced meditation classes. Everyone else should just kick back and float away.
In summary, Pseudo Buddha has created an intriguing set of atmospheric Eastern influenced psychedelia utilizing a wide array of instrumentation and influences. Highly recommended. Head Buddha Bobdog gave us some further insight into the Pseudo Buddha realm.
AI: Part of your description of Pseudo Buddha is that it owes to both Hindustani music and the spirit of exploration of Miles and Coltrane. In addition to this being exploratory Eastern-influenced psychedelia, I do detect elements of Miles, classical music, and ambient-electronica.
Bobdog: When Pseudo Buddha started playing in late '96/early '97 we were basically playing electrified near-raga (I call it near-raga because I'm not good enough to play real raga). We would lift chalans & guts, the equivalent to what western musicians call heads & riffs, from old recordings of ragas or from melodies I had learned at the Ali Akbar College. Then we would improv variations as we tried to keep it all together. The original lineup was guitar/sitar, bass, two hand percussionists and electric violin. That lasted 2 gigs, from then on it's been changing almost constantly.
As the instrumentation and personalities changed over time, so did the melodic interplay. We started getting a bit jazzier; someone would throw the head to "well you needn't" out, Hendrix signatures would appear, Beatles vocal melodies, Coltrane riffs, any sort of thing. We would juxtapose these melodies, have them playing on top of each other in sonic layers, calling a jazz riff and responding with a subramanium lick, playing modes against one another. Fun.
The hindustani flavor is there throughout as we're playing over a 1/5 tampuraesque drone and the melodies are often based on altered modes & nifty pentatonics. We're really into creating a nice drony foundation to build on and since we all have a pile of echo units it does tend to get a bit ambient.
The classical side has a lot to do with Stephanie on the clarinet. She's got a great approach to mixing what we do and what she usually does (she has a group called the Soli Ensemble that plays a wonderful selection of 20th century music). We have an arrangement of a composition by Mladen Milicevic on track three of Motive which features Steph playing a piece for solo soprano sax with James Sidlo and I creating this big soft drone on processed bass & guitar underneath. It's the only tune on the CD that is entirely a live recording. The last track on Motive, "Jehovah Rises Early", has a bit of a neo-classical sountracky feel as it's more of a textural piece than a melodic/rhythmic number. My goal with that tune is to have the listener face down on the couch asleep tangled up in the headphones by the time the CD is over.
AI: Are you a guitar player first? You seem to be involved with numerous bands so I'm wondering if Pseudo Buddha is in part a vehicle for you to explore the Sitar's possibilities.
Bobdog: I've been playing guitar for 22 years, since I was a lonesome 13 year old white trash rock-n-roller. I'd been pretty heavily into music for a while though. When I was 9 or 10 years old my mother was sick of my constant air guitar playing to the likes of Bobby Sherman and the Jackson 5, so she gave me full length LP's of Ummagumma, Electric Ladyland, They Only Come Out At Night, and Santana 2. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid. I was also very into my father's Sgt. Pepper album which I would regularly steal from his record collection, especially "Within You Without You" and "Good Morning". Somewhere between Harrison's sitar work on "Within..." and McCartney's guitar solo on "Good Morning" is where I'd like to be when I grow up.
When Pseudo Buddha started I was playing alot of sitar, that was kind of the schtick I suppose, but lately I'm playing it a bit less than before. The sitar playing got me the Pigface gig and which led to my working alot with Martin Atkins, got me on the Test Dept live CD, helped me to stand out a bit in that industrial scene as more than just a metal guitarist riffing over beats, but the problem is that my sitar playing is really fairly bad. I love the modal ideas inherent in Indian music but I can express myself so much more easily on a more guitar-like instrument. I've dabbled a bit on sarod which I find to be more suited to me than sitar, but you really have to practice alot to keep your chops up on this instrument. I find a modified electric guitar to be the perfect compromise for me.
Having Pseudo Buddha has also forced me to become what I refer to as a sound mangler. I can't describe myself as a producer or an engineer because I'm faking it as I go along. There's no way we could've done a CD like Motive if we were paying hourly rate studio time, so Quinn and I spent the money to buy gear instead of renting time on someone else's gear. It was a long time coming cause I had to learn how to operate a Mac in addition to refining my abilities on more traditional recording gear like mixing boards and tape recorders. Unfortunately all of this recording nonsense keeps me from playing as much as I would like.
AI: You've got quite a roster of instrumentation. The clarinet, in particular, gives this a unique sound. Did you have a plan in terms of what instruments would make up Pseudo Buddha or did it all just kind of fall together?
Bobdog: The only plan I had with Pseudo Buddha was to be more ambient/spacey/psychedelic than rock. After (too) many years doing metal and hardcore and industrial my musical interests were ready to move on. If anything I wanted it to be a less busy, kinda stoned mahavishnu sort of a thing. We had the guitar/sitar, bass, percussion section from the onset, but fleshing out the lineup has been a bit haphazard.
I had been into the dijeridoo thru listening to Steve Roach and Stephen Kent, so I was very happy when Dandy started playing with us. I really wanted an electric violin, a wannabe-Ponty/Goodman to my wannabe-McLaughlin. Never could find anyone who was into trying some improvisation as almost all violinists here in San Antonio are symphony folks who are frightened of improv or country fiddle players who either have the wrong chops or want to get paid for every gig. Ha. But Stephanie, who is one of these symphony types, showed some interest in trying her hand with us. She's an amazing player and fearless about doing this sort of unplanned nonsense. The clarinet is probably one of the most highly featured instruments on Motive. She's actually been given some hassle by some of the more uptight people in the classical scene here in sleepyville for playing with the likes of us. Gossip gossip gossip, always ugly.
I didn't set out to mimic them, but Trance Mission out of SF, CA has been one of my favorite bands since I heard their first release. With Stephen Kent's dijeridoos and Beth Custer's clarinets as the main melody instruments, this is one of the coolest "rock" bands I've ever heard. It's a weird coincidence that Pseudo Buddha would have both of these hollow wooden shafts as two of our main voices, especially in a group put together by a guitarist. Go figure. Actually, we've ended up not sounding much like I expected in the beginning at all.
AI: Tell me about your studies in Hindustani and Persian Modal musics. Do these all involve you as a Sitar player, or other instruments as well?
Bobdog: While I was touring with the Evil Mothers, I was very unhappy with the situation; little fun, weird people, sunk capital, bad vibes. I started to focus on the Ali Akbar College of Music as a light shining in a dreary tunnel, a much better way to be spending the same amount of time and money. When I finally got around to going, the first semester that I went I was taking instruction on sitar. About halfway thru the session I blew up the sheath of tissue around the tendon to my right index finger. Ouch. Since learning the music was more important to me than the actual playing of the sitar, I finished the semester playing bottle-neck dobro. When I go out to class now I play a fretless classical guitar with two extra strings added. I'm able to concentrate on the music more than fighting the instrument (as I'm very bad on the sitar) and I don't get too much grief from the more traditional students.
When I was learning Persian music I was playing a saz, but I was fingerpicking instead of using a collar stay or a feather, as my right hand is fairly lame. I was studying with a gentleman I only knew as Mr. Zoulfonoun in Oakland and I would love to learn more. The compositions utilizing the microtones are a blast but I wasn't advanced enough to learn much of that from him.
AI: Tell me about the Pseudo Buddha live experience. There are lots of musicians on the CD. How many would typically make up the band live? Is the live performance primarily improvised?
Bobdog: When Pseudo Buddha plays a gig I really don't know how many of us will be there. Everyone involved is very busy with other things or downright forgetful, and we frequently have folks sit in (the honorable mention section on the CD liner notes is a list of people who have gigged with us that didn't get on the CD). We have been as many as 14 people on stage and as few as three. The current lineup hovers between six and ten. I'm the only one who has played every gig and James Cobb has played every gig since he joined up with us. All of the others play hookey from time to time. Lazy sods. Our sets are usually about 50/50 improv vs. outlined material. We only have one tune which is the same every time we play it, a number by Ali Akbar Khan called "Carnival In The Temple Of Mother Kali" from his Journey CD. We have lots of tunes that are outlined, where we know that these parts go together, this is the mode, this is the harmonic movement, but the way the puzzle gets together may be quite different on Satuday than it was on Wednesday.
"Gra" by Elliott Carter, track 5 on Motive, is an example of an improvisation morphed into form. It was a Jimi Hendrix birthday celebration gig. We were just going off, the riff had gotten into a heavy "One Of These Days..." kind of things, when Stephanie turns to me and asks "What should I play over this?" as it happens she had some sheet music with her. So I reached into the stack and pulled one out. "Play this, it'll be fine" I told her. She looked at me as if I was an idiot, but started to play what was on the page. I think it worked out nicely as it turned into some kind of 20th century call and response thing between Steph and Sidlo and I. And as we record almost all of the gigs, tape was rolling when it happened. Neato. Even within the confines of an outline there will be piles of improvising, and we will improv entire sets from time to time. I'm wanting to see more of that happening and I'd like to see more outlined material from the other folks in the band. I think that they're afraid of me, though...
AI: Tell me about the home-made and home-modified instruments mentioned in your bio.
Bobdog: One of my main instruments lately is an old aluminum neck Kramer bass, the frets yanked out and an aluminum attachment coming off the body where tuners for three extra strings are added. The design and machine work was done by my friend Kazem Kirkaldie at Paragon Machine Works. We call it the Magaptera Veena. It's tuned almost the same way as a Saraswati Veena (ccccgcf) and the bridge saddle for the lowest string has been replaced by a piece of tampura bridge carved by Brian Godden at Silverbush Music. This instrument can be heard on "Moth Canal" (track 4 on Motive), and on a tune that didn't make it to the CD called "Ephod" at www.pseudobuddha.com. It's also heard on "Walking Through The Tall Grass" and "Gravity Bugs", the first two cuts from our limited edition live CD-R Pseudo Buddha's live stereophonic hooka jooka revue, that's available thru the website for $10 including shipping U.S.
Another that is on "Moth Canal" that makes it out to gigs occasionally is the log. It's a 4x4 fencepost with three bass strings w/a 36" scale length. It's kinda my scaled down version of Matt Schultze's original anti-tank guitar he used in Lab Report and Pigface. Due to the long scale length it's got a sound similar to a Chapman Stick low end but it's played Hawaiian slide style.
One of my favorites is the Electric Duck. Quinn used to bring it out to gigs alot, but its only recorded appearance is on "Ephod". It's a 4-string door chime, the one's with beads attached to sewing thread that strike the strings and bounce on them. I bolted a lace sensor pickup to it and voila, Electric Duck. It's really a goose, but whatever...
There are several fretless guitars laying around here and a whole pile of works in progress. I'm very into the concept of harp guitars, sympathetic strings and crazy things like Linda Manzer's Picasso 2 that Pat Metheny uses on Imaginary Day, so I gather broken and weird guitars and basses for parts for some of these fantasy instruments. Right now, I'm working on a doubleneck that is two Hohner Steinberger copies bolted together, one with a normal fingerboard the other with a stainless steel finger board much like a sarod. I'm about this close to finally getting this one together. I've been using the fretless half at gigs for the last coupla months but I really need to finish it.
AI: Given the varied bands you're involved in, what other of them would listeners who enjoy the Pseudo Buddha sound be interested in?
Bobdog: Not too much of what I've had released is anything at all like Pseudo Buddha. The lack of self expression with some of those earlier things led to Pseudo Buddha happening and especially to Motive being realized.
The last two tracks on Evil Mother's Pitchforks & Perverts, "Insex" and "Miserable Finger", are pretty neat. "Insex" starts off with Matt Schultze and some of us in the Mothers manipulating his a.t.g. which is this really hip titanium sculpture with bailing wire stretched over Duncan bass pickups. The first seven minutes or so are good epic soundtrack stuff, but then Chris and Greg ruined it by layering all of this unimaginative industrial sampling nonsense over the top of it. "Miserable Finger" is a cute mellow sitar/handrum/bass number that is the predecessor to things like "Seven League Boots" from Motive and features Roland Robles who is on several cuts on the Pseudo Buddha CD.
On the Pigface front, "Suck (double dipped & plastered mix)" from Feels Like Heaven is really cool. Cynthia from the infamous Plaster Casters, Taime Downe from Faster Pussycat (?), and myself doing a totally psychedelic version of the Trent Reznor/Martin Atkins/Pigface hit. "Kiss King" & "More" from A New High In Low are nice trippy pop tunes. Very sexy vocals.
AI: Any final Pseudo Buddha news or future projects we should be aware of?
Bobdog: Two of the fellas in Pseudo Buddha, James Sidlo and Johnny Rodriguez, have a group called Dreamland. It's very nice thick ambient textural stuff that they've got me sound mangling for them. Their debut CD will be out later this year, probably on Uncle Buzz. It's very good dreamy mellow stuff. Keep your eyes peeled at unclebuzz.com and pseudobuddha.com for updates.
I'm almost done with my half of a collaboration CD with Martin from Pigface. It'll be interesting to see what he's gonna do with the material he's getting as it's much more pseudo buddhaesque than pigfaceish. I'm really overdue on my half so he's probably a little pissed...
Stephanie will be putting out some cd-r's of the Soli Ensemble soon, but the first is string trios only. Hopefully she'll pick some material that showcases her clarinet for the second one. These will be available at pseudobuddha.com for $10 when they happen.
Gabe Herrera is working on a CD that will feature a number of Pseudo Buddhites, but finding time to finish is posing him a problem.
Pseudo Buddha is in the process of culling thru a years worth of live recordings to find material to build into the second CD. It'll also have more studio creations than on the first as I'm figuring out how all of this nonsense works. Who knows when it'll be finished...
Pseudo Buddha's "Motive" is available through Uncle Buzz Records.
You can visit Pseudo Buddha at their web site.