Melodic Energy Commission gig, July 13th!
An interview with Don Xaliman and Randy Raine-Reusch
by Allan MacInnis
Flash forward 23 years – 23 years filled with musical and psychopharmacological experimentation – and I’m standing at Cathedral Square, listening to a city-commissioned art project by Mercury Theatre III. George McDonald is playing a homemade Theremin as part of a space-noise jam, but I don’t recognize his name. A few months later, local musician Dan Kibke introduces me to George, in the audience at an Acid Mothers Temple show at Richards on Richards, but I’m preoccupied with practicing my Japanese by offering Makoto Kawabata a “special” cookie and still don’t clue in. A few months later still, Dan plays me a disc George is on, and the penny drops: “Wait a second – didn’t these guys once record an album called The Migration of the Snails?”
Describing their music is no easy feat. It’s pop music, to be sure, and spacy, but difficult to pin down otherwise. Raine-Reusch, who makes a “full-time career in the music biz,” as composer, musician, and writer, lists influences from “the Beatles, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Dead,” to “African and Indian music, jazz, and blues.” He’s fronted a 30 piece didjeridu orchestra and has associated or played with avant-gardists as diverse as John Fahey, John Cage, Eugene Chadbourne, Mats Gustafsson, Jean Derome, and Pauline Oliveros. If you think you’re getting close to being able to categorize him, note that he also played various world instruments on Yes’ The Ladder and on Aerosmith’s album Pump (!), organized festivals in Borneo and has collaborated with Cirque du Soleil, Ann Mortifee, and Alpha YaYa Diallo. Like Don Xaliman (who recently “performed on faglung – a Filipino stringed instrument – for the governor general of Canada at the Chinese night market”), he is fond of traditional instruments from other cultures. On the new album he is credited with playing flutes, saling, balimbing, shakuhachi, dizi, duduk, and more – a pretty diverse list, given that the overall texture of the disc is electronic.
Raine-Reusch, as accomplished a musician as he is, points out that Don Xaliman is “really the core of it all. We all do our own thing and get together when Xaliman calls us.” Xaliman, who also plays guitar, keyboards, and writes the band’s lyrics, described his process via email: “Over the years Commissioners at improv sessions have been enticed to display a heightened state of creative bliss and it’s sonically frozen in time,” and added to Xaliman’s sound library. Xaliman “restructures the cream to form a composition that never existed before. It's really an extraction process. Harmless, but capable of enhancing or distorting reality. That's why some people refer to our music as psychedelic: we have found ways to create psychotropically appearing musical soundscapes with and without actually consuming the elixir. ‘Psychedelic’ refers to the experience the listener receives, rather than the experience the musician is having. It's really just about painting mystical, magical, sonic scenery… At times the sound is made up of many layers of almost subliminal instrumentation. I use that method to create full and unusual ambience rather than just throw a bunch of reverb effects into the mix.”
The band owes much of its popularity in “European space-rock circles” to Del Dettmar, who, Xaliman explains, “learned his chops from playing sheets of synthesized sounds with Hawkwind for their first five albums.” Dettmar was in BC to make some money planting trees when he struck up a friendship with the MEC, and “helped put the music together for the first two albums. He had a British analog EMS Synthi and is a true wizard with a wand – a woodsman double headed axe with a big bass string clamped to the handle… Melodic Energy Commission was fortunate to have a brief ride on his cloak-tail, and even though we never sounded much like Hawkwind, we were well received for our imaginative textures.” Their long out-of-print LPs fetch hefty collectors’ prices in Europe, and their CDs are easier to find in stores there than here.
Another reason Vancouverites may not be so familiar with the MEC, as Xaliman explains, is that they’ve “rarely performed live as the Melodic Energy Commission, either here or anywhere else.” In 2005, they did a “music and laser improvisation at the Planetarium,” called 'Nearly See Clearly,’ which Xaliman recorded and may yet release. Otherwise, they hadn’t performed with all three core members since the mid-1980s, when they opened for Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band on their farewell tour, at the Commodore Ballroom. Xaliman proudly reports that the band got a “heartfelt standing ovation and an encore,” got to say hello to the Captain, and were compared to Gong by one of the band members. They also had fun eating the food and drinking the beer on the Captain’s rider.
I asked Xaliman about his philosophy of music. “Music has the potential of moving energy within our being and altering moods. It's like a movie where you get caught up in the comedy, adventure and dramatic ride. We want you to leave the theatre feeling that you experienced a good story and will come back someday. Like after an invigorating sonic massage. A refreshing vacation to the space between particles of time.”
Xaliman is also interested in video and visual art, and has been “intermittently exploring photography and graphics for posters and album covers, recently for Mantravani Orchestra, Orchid Ensemble, Richard Hite and the recent designs for Melodic Energy Commission.” Some of his work can be seen on their website, http://www.melodicenergy.com/. The band is hopeful that the Internet will pave the way to their becoming better known; though Neptoon and Zulu stock their discs, most of their sales have, as of yet, happened through their site. Raine-Reusch’s website is at http://www.asza.com/. MP3s of a few of their tracks are available at http://www.myspace.com/melodicenergycommission.