Interviews

Planewalker Hypnotizes With New ‘Planes of Consciousness’ Album

Planewalker Hypnotizes With New ‘Planes of Consciousness’ Album
Tomas Serrano

 Our friend Sylvie Barnett recently had the opportunity to catch up with bass music producer Planewalker in support of his new EP Planes of Consciousness that was released at the end of 2017 on independent label Street Ritual. Read this interview to find out more about Planewalker, what makes him unique, and what inspires him to create his own unique genre of spiritualized psychedelic bass music.

Can you please tell us what inspired you to come up with the concept behind Planes of Consciousness?

The idea was incubating in my head for decades. My mother was a Hindu mystic and took me to India five separate times as a teenager, so I’ve been exposed to spectrum-of-consciousness ideas like the chakras since I was very young. But I never really comprehended what they meant until my college years when I read Georg Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and began to understand how those ideas actually apply to our learning and growth as human beings. The essential idea is that everything we experience rests somewhere on a spectrum between two extremes, and how learning to become aware of where certain aspects of your experience fall in that spectrum can help you discover how to achieve greater balance in life. Fulfillment definitely lies in the balance, not in the extremes. You have to move away from the extremes to achieve balance. That’s been a really hard lesson for me. Most of my life has been a drama of extremism, which has only recently seen any kind of real balance. This album really emerged from the newfound balance in my life, which is why it took so long for me to create it. I had to actually achieve a sense of overall balance in my own life in order to bring the concept to fruition, which was immensely challenging for me. Like a moth to a flame, I’ve always been drawn to the extremes. And that has been at my peril. I am glad to be done with that phase and that I’ve gone on from that plane of consciousness, so to speak.

Anyway, the specific idea to do an album based on the spectrum of consciousness entered into my head while I was studying the Western mystery tradition and actually doing energy work on people’s chakras. I had a vision of creating a stage show that could do that same kind of chakra-balancing energy work, but on a mass scale, bringing an entire crowd on a journey through the spectrum of consciousness with the intent of actually healing the crowd by infusing them with specific sound-healing frequencies, mantras, and keys of power. The whole thing is essentially a mystical attunement effected through sound and light patterns. By covering a wide spectrum of tempos, frequencies and tunings and correlating them with specific colors and words, the album and stage show is like a prism that breaks apart the white light of consciousness into a rainbow of colors, differentiating energies and making each person more aware of the aspects of their energy that need attention. That’s what this album and the stage show I’ve based on it actually does. It’s meant to put you in touch with the parts of yourself you might be out of touch with, which is why it starts so slowly at one end of the spectrum, then rises in and ends in a much faster and energetic frequency. Wherever you might currently be on that spectrum, some part of the album will meet you there and elevate you upwards. To achieve this, I actually wrote every song on the album in a different base tuning, starting with the first track having the A note set at 444Hz and the last track ending with A at 432Hz. There is a range of micro-tunings used in the songs that go from Pythagorean to equal-tempered to pure tuning, touching some micro-tunings that have never been used before, at least to my knowledge.

Planes of Consciousness Artwork
How would you describe the style of music you create?
The album truly traverses a broad range of styles and tempos. The songs as a group, therefore, do not all fall into any one specific genre. I’m not just saying that to make myself sound unique. A lot of musicians claim to have created new genres but that is not the claim I am making. What I’m saying is that it’s a huge blend of many genres. The rhythmical patterns in the album literally morph mid-song from ambient to dub, from to glitch-hop to drum and bass, and from moombahton to IDM. So even most of the individual songs can’t be categorized into a single style. There are a ton of diverse musical influences present. The whole idea with this album is to hold to a certain vibe just long enough to get you on the edge of a trance with the beat, then shift the vibe into a whole different feel so you can’t keep dancing the same way for so long that you begin to get bored or lose awareness of yourself. The only consistent elements that tie the album together are my harp playing, my voice, Ixchel’s voice, and a psychedelic sound design aesthetic. Every other musical element is there to invoke a specific vibe, and there is a vast diversity of ideas throughout the album. That’s why it’s called “Planes of Consciousness.” Each beat is its own little world that you get to explore for a few minutes. I did this because I wanted the live show to feel more like an eclectic DJ set than the typical live set where an artist just reiterates what is essentially the same kind of beat at the same tempo for the entire show. That’s all well and good for artists who are focusing on trying to develop a very specific style, but it would not have worked to realize the intention of this album. I hate boxing myself or the crowd with the same beat over hours of time. I’m not a genre junkie and I’m not appealing to the one-track mind.


Planes of Consciousness was released on Street Ritual. What was the experience working with them like?

I met Noah Chartier (a.k.a. Knowa Lusion), the founder of Street Ritual, way back in 2004 when I had first moved to Los Angeles. So, I’ve known him for over 13 years. I’ve witnessed his label grow from his side project to one of the most influential electronic music labels in America, with a truly stellar team that’s headed by label manager Rebecca Drylie-Perkins (a.k.a. Space Geisha). I think it’s important to point out that this is not my first release on Street Ritual. Another project of mine, Chaos Control, was released by Street Ritual back in 2008. But, this is the first Planewalker release on Street Ritual and my first full-length electronic dance album that isn’t psytrance. My experience working with Street Ritual has been fantastic this time around. It’s a lot of work to run a label, and I’ve seen Street Ritual go through plenty of growing pains. No label is perfect, but Street Ritual in its name and track record fits the idea of the album, which can be characterized as a balance between the profound and the profane, between seriousness and humor, between the streets and the temple, between meditation and booty-shaking. Since we’re all spiritual beings having a physical experience, this idea is very fitting. We can have high ideals, but unless we put them into practice and embody them, hitting the streets with our rituals, we’re nothing but armchair magicians. Street Ritual is in a really good place right now and I’m proud to be on the label. I see and hope for more releases in the future with them.

When you’re not working on your own music, you perform as part of your father Michael Martin Murphey’s band. What is that like? How does it compare to your own experiences in the transformational festival community?

I love playing in my father’s band! I’m probably one of the only harpists that play in a country-western band, and it seems like it wouldn’t work, but it really does! I have to play it more like a mandolin or a piano to fit that sound but it works surprisingly well with my father’s music. People are constantly coming up to me and telling me how much my harp playing adds to his show.

As far as how it compares to the Planewalker project, they are totally different worlds. Playing in any band is immensely different than playing electronic music, but particularly my father’s band. When you are in a band, you really have to make compromises so that your playing doesn’t step on the toes of the other musicians. You have to constantly be aware of how you are fitting in with the overall sound. It’s never just about you and what you want to express. And then you have to work with the sound engineers. The bottom line is that you’re just not really in control, even if you’re the front man, but especially as a supporting band member to a solo artist. It’s a team effort, and you have to do your best to support the vision of the main artist while still retaining your own dignity. It’s a very different kind of challenge.

When you are playing electronic music that you yourself produced, you control every aspect of the sound from the composition of the engineering. And it draws in a very different demographic. The experience itself is fundamentally different in all kinds of ways, from the nature of what you’re doing to the crowd you’re playing for. As Planewalker, I am the front man, and it’s mostly about the beat and about dancing. I’m playing mostly for people younger than me who want to party.

But with my father’s band, I am playing for older people (and their parents—as is our joke) who come to get a taste of the romance of the Old West and the cowboy life. There are no drums at all in his band, though there is the occasional show where we play upbeat music and people dance. The only thing that really ties the two together is my harp, which has a prominent place in the sound of both musical projects. It’s a real testament to the harp as the oldest of all stringed instruments that it is equally at home in a country-western band as it is in a psychedelic electronic bass music project. All in all, it is a nice balance to be involved in both because I get to touch every kind of person with my music, from babies in blankets to centenarians in wheelchairs; from wild teenage party kids in nightclubs to old cowboys in church. I feel very blessed that my music can find its place in so many different settings, and it keeps my mind open. I think it’s safe to say at this point, considering the wide range of roles I play in my musical life, that I’ll never be pigeonholed.

What are your plans for 2018 and beyond? Is there anything you’d like our readers to know?

I have the feeling that 2018 is going to be an amazing year for me. In 2017, I put together a stage show with intelligent lighting and projection mapping made specifically for the songs in Planes of Consciousness. But the really special part of this stage show is the choreographed group dance performances. I worked with the Ramla Taal Tribal Belly Dance troupe out of Albuquerque, New Mexico to create a whole set of group dance performances to Planes of Consciousness. We did a handful of performances with the whole troupe in New Mexico at Taos Mesa Brewing and Unify Fest that really went off and blew people’s minds, and I’m excited to bring this big stage show to some larger electronic music festivals in 2018. They’re not the only ones dancing in the show – I’ve got this sword that I light on fire and swing around. We’re working with a couple of other dance troupes to add fire and LED elements to it and really bring it over the top for the first big show we do in 2018, wherever that may be.

I’ve also got a handful of artists that have committed to remix the songs from Planes of Consciousness and I’m still looking for more artists to make remixes so that I can release a full-length remix album sometime in the first half of 2018.

Aside from those two things, I’m currently working on a follow-up album for Planes of Consciousness that explores tempos above 110 BPM. The idea is for me to be able to take the experience that I’ve created with the Planes of Consciousness and add an additional hour of more uptempo, energetic dance music to it that will be more along the lines of breakbeat, house, techno, and progressive psytrance, retaining the key elements of the Celtic harp and haunting vocal chants that define the overall sound of Planes of Consciousness. Together, both albums would make a two-hour stage show that would bridge an even wider spectrum of styles.

All in all, I am very excited for what the future holds in store!

Interview by Sylvie Barnett

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