I have been listening to this kind of music since about the age of twenty, when I found out that it existed. That discovery included current and recent groups, like Charalambides, Pelt and Steven R. Smith as well as leading me into the past to the strange music of Danny Ben-Israel.
The seemingly endless tributaries in the delta land of what is most often called psych-folk or drone music occupy a thinly populated land, one that is hard to travel and only extensively mapped by a few hardworking mail-order websites, shops and collectors. Despite the temporarily increased influx of the inquisitive, the scenester and the press following the rise to fame of a few, it remains an example of outsider music: partly because it is content to be that way and partly because not that many people will ever like it.
Despite including others within the group at one time or another, Six Organs of Admittance is effectively Ben Chasny (these days however one can expect the live show to most often include Elisa Ambroglio of Magik Markers). He is responsible for one of my all time favourite albums, School Of The Flower and one of my all time favourite melodies, 'Elk River' from the outstanding For Octavio Paz L.P.
So you can imagine the excitement with which I greeted the arrival of RTZ, a triple vinyl (double cd, for those of you stuck in the past, eighty-eight-part wax cylinder for the technophobes) collecting two hours worth of rare and out-of-print releases and some previously unreleased material. I had encountered none of it prior to this day, except for the Nightly Trembling LP which a friend lent me briefly. It has all been re-mixed and re-mastered by Chasny into the form of five sprawling twenty minute caverns and two shorter pieces. I am not sure if the longer passages merge music that was once segregated, or if they originally occupied this form. Either way, it is immaterial to me.
It was physically daunting to approach this as a journalist, but fortunately those concerns and divisions of role were swept away by the engrossing, indescribable atmospheres which Chasny provides to the listener. The music here is very much an act of giving and not convincing. My early experiences of RTZ are comparable to finding oneself awake in a dream, in a landscape beyond the concerns of the world of business, greed and pretence. The landscape around me shifts and bends and it takes time for one's eyes to adjust or remember the thoughts, memories and images that the music inspires.
The music has an equal amount of effect on me if I am relaxed and awake or distracted and hurrying. It amplifies and expands the state, rather than changing it. This is where RTZ differs from a Stars of the Lid album for instance. Their sweeping distant drones have a narcotic effect whereas RTZ is in the foreground and hence psychedelic in the true meaning of the word. For that reason it can be both nightmarish and invaluable.
For someone already acquainted with Six Organs of Admittance what I can say is this: It is much better than I imagined it would be and surprisingly works as a mountainous whole. The albums Dark Noontide and Manifestation would be the closest reference points for people who have only obtained the easier to acquire early releases that are still widely available on cd. However I would consider any two of these sides together (or one of the CDs) to be a better album than either of those two and not because it would be more 'accessible'. The fidelity and resolution of the sound is incredible, especially when compared with some of his other releases from the time. Considering that the title RTZ refers to a function on a four-track tape recorder I am even more impressed by the production.
This is some of the best acoustic guitar playing Chasny has put to tape. The style fluctuates between the ragged edge fury of the songs on Dust & Chimes and the clarity and focus of For Octavio Paz. Neither of those records featured as many solitary drone passages and backgrounds, but due to being recorded around the same time that much of RTZ is sourced from, they share other traits: The vocals are mostly multilayered chants and there is some similar simple hand percussion and chimes. But to be honest writing these details down is boring me and wasting your time. Although I should mention that those hoping for a dose of cacophonous electric maelstrumming will get it, though I can't remember precisely whereâ€¦
Taken as a whole the subtle balance that RTZ achieves also marks out Chasny's ability to compose, rather than rely on drug induced happy accidents like some. I hope I answered some questions for Six Organs fans, and for those interested this is a perfect place to start with a new and unique music. It is not the closed, narco-academic or mystics-only world that some make it out to be, nor is it facing backward in time. It is in fact open and although it often speaks of ancient customs and wisdom it is also an expression of now and is living in the same world as you.