12:26 pm May. 3, 2012
Most stars are only too thrilled to be bathed in the sound of applause. Then again, most stars aren’t as carefully attuned to higher vibrations as the “celestial musician” Iasos.
“It’s actually a harsh and destructive sound—randomly timed explosions,” Iasos explained gently, encouraging the appreciative audience at the Body Actualized Center in Bushwick on Friday night not to clap for him. “I want magic to build up over the course of the night and clapping shatters it. If you wish to express your gratitude, simply intone the syllable ‘la.’ It’s a smooth vibration.”
With his near-religious belief in the power of harmonious sounds (not to mention his perfect posture, shining chestnut curls, and moist eyes that, several times over the course of the evening's performance, welled up with sparkling tears), Iasos would be hard to confuse for a New York musician. Though Greek-born and technically a Sausalito resident, he actually gives the impression of having come from another sphere entirely. His music, among other things, was found in a study on near-death experiences to most closely approximate what people heard while out of their bodies; R. Buckminster Fuller declared that he needed "new words to describe it. I feel as though I were entering a new world—a new and very profoundly beautiful world." Perhaps the most out-there thing about Iasos is that this past weekend's series of three events in Brooklyn marked his New York debut.
Iasos is one of the originators of “New Age,” the pioneering music developed to promote healing, relaxation, and reaching higher states of consciousness. In 1975, he released his first album, Inter-Dimensional Music Through Iasos, a year before the term New Age would be coined to help market Will Ackerman’s first release, In Search of the Turtle’s Navel. Iasos also made the first New Age music videos, starting with Crystal Vista in 1982, where an illustration of the Buddha is transformed in waves of prismatic colors.
Although he has never enjoyed widespread fame, he has issued some thirty recordings, mainly self-released. His performances have taken him around the globe to virtually anywhere there's been a world peace festival, a harmonic convergence event, or a celebration of an equinox or a solstice. Now in his 65th year, he’s finally beginning to enjoy something of a cult status among young fans and musicians. There's even something of a New Age revival afoot, and one of its centers is Brooklyn (Tulsa, Oklahoma is another).
“I discovered Inter-Dimensional Music five years ago, back when New Age really wasn’t cool,” said Etienne Pierre Duguay from a cushion on the Center’s reclaimed wooden floor. The 26-year-old drums for the "transcendental boogie-pop" outfit Splash and is a veteran of bands Predator Vision and Real Estate. “I’d been into prog rock, then kraut rock, then New Age. I discovered Ashra: New Age of Earth. And, from there, Iasos was the next artist. At the time, I was just beginning to get into yoga and Eastern mysticism. I was hooked.”
The New Age revival, of which Duguay is evidence, appears to be driven by musicians exploring the world of analog synth soundscapes and, in many cases, releasing their relatively low-fi compositions on cassette. (Some of the top labels include Hanson, Trilogy, NNA (Nu New Age) Tapes, Tranquility Tapes, Hooker Vision, and Rotifer, which reissued Iasos' Inter-Dimensional Music on cassette in 2010, kicking off its rediscovery; Discriminate Music has a good listing of more labels).
Iasos’s audience was filled with members of aspiring bands and art students. Mark McGuire of the electronic trio Emeralds stood near the door of the Center listening with rapt attention and contributed a solo set later in the evening, long after Iasos had finished.
Resplendent in a purple silk tunic shining with gold threads, Iasos began his playing with a run of glissandos from a harp-like synthesizer hooked up to an old Commodore computer. There would be tuneful zither melodies, lithe synthetic reeds and strings, and swirling keyboards, controlled through a central, vintage Yamaha DX7. Kaleidoscopic landscapes of color, also composed by Iasos, twirled on the video screen behind him—mostly abstract although there were images of shimmering crystals, a large orange jellyfish, a lady dancing with a fiery veil, puffy white clouds, forests, and flowers, one dreamlike image melting into another. One merry tune employed two bamboo flutes played simultaneously, a feat Iasos later told me he learned directly from the god Pan while visiting his sanctuary on the Greek island of Thassos.
Although he studied piano and flute as a child and graduated with a cultural anthropology degree from Cornell, Iasos credits a higher dimensional being named Vista as his primary teacher. He explained the relationship in detail when we spoke in the Center’s back yard Sunday afternoon. “My job was to get born on Earth to learn music,” he said. “[Vista's] job was to transmit music and visual ideas.”
“The whole point," he continued, "is to facilitate people’s transition through an incredible up-shift in frequency that is now happening with our planet—from the third to the fourth dimension. Those people who want to come along can. Those who people who want to stay in a dense realm and play war games until they’re sick and tired of it can. No matter where you want to be, God loves everybody. He has a planetary home for you. Twenty years from now, Earth will be a distant memory. I know how this sounds, but don’t take my word for it. Stick around and you’ll see.”
Regardless of "how this sounds," in addition to the record collectors and synthesizer wonks, a new generation may be embracing how New Age sounds, mainly because of the premium it places on happiness, love, and positive energy.
“We thought it was okay to grow up sad and brooding and so many artists destroyed themselves willfully,” said Andrew Sellers after the show as the crowd relaxed and socialized. Sellers is a member of the Body Actualized’s 10-member board and performs as the anagrammatic Saredren Wells. “But something is happening in people’s minds now where they’re starting to think that maybe it’s OK to be content. That it’s actually cool. They’re interested in inner transformation. Iasos was already on that trip 40 years ago.”
In addition to his concert on Friday night, Iasos’s residence at the center included a Wednesday workshop titled “Using Sound for Light-Body Activation & Healing” and a live musical accompaniment for a Cosmic Yoga session Sunday (technically vinyasa yoga, but with the twist of new age music and an informal atmosphere). These activities fit the center’s larger goal to promote healthy living. They’re also part of a plan for the center by board member Brian Sweeny, who started his booking career with rooftop yoga parties at the Market Hotel three summers ago. (The Center's next performer is Laraaji, or Edward Larry Gordon, whose claim to fame was working with Brian Eno; Eno produced Laraaji's 1980 album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance as part of his ambient series.)
“We’re going to continue booking legendary New Age artists and cosmic music once a month,” Sweeny promised.
Body Actualized was only founded six months ago and spent most of that time closed for renovations. A former iron foundry, the space is around 1,200 square feet with skylights and walls of white-glazed brick, leading to a small backyard.
“There needs to be a home for this kind of music in New York City and there currently isn’t one in a concert setting that isn’t sterile,” Sweeny said. “People feel that there’s love here. I don’t feel that in many places really—well, not places that are open to the public.”
Love—and tranquility. Even with the M train rattling overhead nearby and the disruption from sirens and car alarms, vibrations coming from both the performer and the audience did indeed seem to grow over the course of Iasos’s 70-minute set. By the end of the evening, voices were raised in a resounding “La!”