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Udi Koomran Interviews daevid allen, 2005

It seems 2004 was a special year for the Gong family. The Acidmotherhood and Guru & Zero albums were a delightful and pleasant surprise. Right up there with the best of your works ever

Thank you. I respectfully agree.

So can you tell us what was it about Acid Mother's Temple that made you collaborate with them?

At first I didn't like it. It hurt my ears. Then I surrendered to the noiz and passed through the veil into the beautiful landscape I had known & loved before.

Being true to your initial decision of Gong being a multicultural band AcidmotherGong is a real melting pot of cultures and generations. How was the initial interaction between people who come with so different cultural backgrounds?

There was the dance party dj school.
There was the nothing good after 1970 school.
There was the anti drum program school.
There was the feminist school.
The school of quixotic exotica.
The prog suicide squad.
The pro & anti political schools.
The peace at any price school.
The perfectionist school.
The never look back school.
The classical harmonic school.
The totalatonal school.
The pro & no lyrics school.
The commercial world domination school.
The political rage & rap crew.
The hi tech sound crew.
The lo tech radical distortion & feedback crew.
The guitar freakout school.
The angelic choir group.

Everybody polarised into different crystals.

Everything changed.
How was the experience of playing with Tatsuya Yoshida (one of my all time favorite drummers)
He looks as though he is just driving to work in his car. But his beats are so individual & technically dazzling he is a delight to play with. He has a quirky humor & open mind & he has my full resp

Was the London gig with the AcidmotherGong recorded or filmed?

It was recorded on multitrack by graham the gnome of frome who has locked it in his vaults. It was videoed by 3 different cameramen who as yet have not combined their efforts. One day perhaps.

Tell us about the making of the Acid Motherhood cd was it difficult?

A gong cd is rarely easy. First comes the vision & then I must present it successfully & help it to manifest. Although the vision is complete when it first appears, it is not always going to work out exactly. We live in a malleable world full of spontaneous & fallible humans much like ourselves.

Creative projects are the most exciting of tightrope walks because they can change the world even if just one tiny bit. But there is no safety net. At one end it is a burning field. At the other end it is a field of learning. In the wise words of the great beer yogi "banana ananda", "nothing is guaranteed!" Too many minds have gone to madness this way.

How is the experience of having your son playing with you in Gong?

I love my sons. It is always harder to work with the ones you love. That's what makes it ultimately so valuable. It is a paradox. Both a blessing & a curse…

A blessing:
Because in fact, we share the same gene pool, we can more often & more deeply synchronise in that place before the mind kicks in. We just know about each other. A curse because when the father provokes the son & when the son confronts the father, the conflict becomes mythological, archetypal, initiatory. The father son axis is the most difficult thus the most valuable.

When the curse becomes the blessing you can see that conflict is only meaningless when it is not creative.

Does the current AcidmothersGong expand the original Gong philosophies of breaking down conditioning and challenging preconceptions?

Sonically & stylistically it cuts new ground for Gong. Structurally, it reminds me of the systems used in our early concert with Don Cherry at the Stockholm museum of modern art 1968. Then we used the "island" system.

We prearranged islands of group improvisation lead by each player in turn in random order. These islands were connected by passages of unguided group improvisation. With Acidmother's Gong, it went further. Nothing was ever rehearsed or even discussed. The unspoken understanding was that it should not be the same as the night before. Such inspired improvisation is a living demo of what we call floating anarchy. When world conditions can evolve to support some political form of floating anarchy we will know what it is like to live on Planet Gong.

Now that you mentioned ProtoGong (the very first formation of Gong formed in Paris early 1968). On which you wrote "no one we knew had ever heard music quite like this" I am curious to know Is there any recording documenting this band?

I believe there is a really bad recording of it out somewhere. No one had heard music like that because nobody had done it before with gliss guitar and spacewhisper by both Gilli & Ziska Baum & flute by Loren Stanlee all being heavily processed by the famous early model Semprini tape loop echo device operated by Taner Celensu.

Can you tell us a little about Tanner the original sound mixer of Gong?

He was a young Turkish gentleman spunk with a positive attitude & a sensitive ear extremely cool & intelligent with groovy sports car & a psychic connection with each of us.

Although I searched and searched I never found anything written about the Semprini echo chamber - how did it sound?

An Italian design, the Semprini no longer exists. its second model was a flop though the first model was pure magic. very similar (possibly superior to) the Binson space echo which I suspect was based on its design. It was capable of producing multiple waves of melted repeats via a series of spaced playback heads on a very long tape loop that disappeared into and re-emerged from a sort of cassette in to which it disappeared & at length returned.

How much did he contribute to the 2 main aspects of Gong's sound - the glissando guitar and the space whisper?

He took the radical risks & made the first experimental leaps into creative mixing & remixing.

I read somewhere that the first gig was attended by Yoko Ono & Ornette Coleman and that a TV crew filmed the show. Is there any footage of that?

I would love to find it. its worth remembering that Yoko & Ornette were doing performance art upstairs on the main stage & we were down in the newly christened & very avant garde psychedelic cellar. We didn't play together. Gilli was subsequently offered a role in the sound track as orgasmic special fx but the film was pretty standard & boring.

Now that we mentioned Gilli's space whisper style of singing can you tell us a little about how she developed it?

You Gilli didn't come from any outside influence that I know of. She just immediately began to sing like that. In fact I didn't want her to sing like that in the first place I was trying to get her to sing choruses like 'Yes We are - We're gonna change the world' and there was no way that I could get her to sing it in the traditional European harmonic scale. She had her own voice and her own way of singing from the word go. There was another woman who sang with us in that band called Ziska Baum she was a model from NY and she had the same way of singing like Gilli and the two of them were magical together. The two of them just created that style together out of thin air.

Have you ever been re united or met with your magic brother and mystic sister Loren & Ziska from ProtoGong?

Yes we hang out joyfully in Woodstock together in 2002. Loren has subsequently provided us with a dvd lightshow & is the author of Gilli's Gong Matrices new cd cover.

Going back even a little earlier - Can you tell us a little about your encounter with Terry Riley and about the Machine Poets. How did this effected your music later?

We met riding round Paris at night selling herald tribunes hot off the midnight press to the expats. Terry was my loop guru! he played me his piece 'Mescaline Mix' and opened a Pandora's box of possibility for me. Suddenly with two ordinary tape recorders so much was now possible that I wanted to explore that I was in heaven. The repeated motif & its variations became my obsession & profoundly influenced my band compositions (live loops like 'we did it again' etc.

Some of my loop works are available on 'The Death of Rock' on Voiceprint (bp114cd) which also includes the 30 min BBC 3 radio program called 'The Switch Doctor'. There will be more loop works & sound collage on my Bananamoon Obscura collectors limited edition series on voiceprint currently coming together. Also with all this came a deeper understanding of John Cage's contribution to music & an introduction to La Monte Young and the Fluxus group in NY. Machine poets 1962 at London I.C.A. was the first public fruiting of this direction. I composed voice loops containing parts of my poems & sound collages as backing tapes against which I performed live poems. There were slide projections including texts & surreal photos & paintings. It was a very early precursor (composed 1961) to the psychedelic light show & the rave party.

Tell us about your work with William Burroughs on 'The Ticket that Exploded'

This was a dramatization of certain parts of the book & was performed at a club in Montparnasse run by Buttercup Powell (wife of pianist Bud Powell). I was asked to play free jazz with my trio (bass drums & guitar) at certain moments during the performance.

Was the cut-up technique pioneered by Burroughs and Gysin an influence on your music specifically on your tape works?

No I think that it continues to influence the way I think compositionally in all performance formats & particularly with the use of my Boomerang & loop-station guitar loop pedals in improvisation.

How did you get involved in working at the Center for Electronic Music Research of Paris in 1968 and collaborate with Francois Bayle?

Francois Bayle invited me following my work with BBC radiophonics workshop which produced the 30 min program: the switch doctor.

The sound manipulation on Goldilox from those sessions (which appeared on the now sadly deleted 'Je Ne Fumme Pas De Bananes' cd is one of my favorites of your more 'experimental stuff'. Do you remember what exactly did you do with the drum track on it?

I simply played. Bayle manipulated the sounds.

The French TV used a Gong bass riff for the evening news - was it the opening of Fohat?

Yes it's The Continental Circus track 'What do you Want' which later evolved to 'Fohat Digs Holes in Space'

Any recordings of the collaboration with the Peter Peret contemporary orchestra?

I don't remember this at all

Was your first album 'Magic Brother' really recorded on a 3 track movie camera as you wrote on the sleeve of the lp?

13 Track actually. No but it was such a lo fi studio it might easily have been mistaken for that.

Was 'You' ever mixed in quad and anything interesting to tell about those mixes?

Yep but I wasn't there. Mike Howlett knows all.

Tell us about the time Gong spent at Chateau Du Thiel in 1970 (recording the Haunted Chateau session from the Camambert Eclectique CD) and the encounters you had with the local ghost.

In the rehearsal room there was a bust of Emile, a former owner of the house. It surveyed us with great suspicion as we rehearsed and was clearly unimpressed with our efforts until drummer Rachid Houri took an acid trip & became possessed presumably by Emile, grabbed a ladder & ran across the lawn & into a business luncheon party held by our hosts. Rachid pointed wildly up the ladder & into the clouds, presumably where Emile wished to go. After this the phantom landowner despite still being housebound, was more sympathetic to us & as reported, would often replay our rehearsals after we had stopped for his phantom friends.

Can you tell us the ideas that were behind the Gong Comet Kahoutek concert X-Mas 1973.

The proximity of the Kahoutek Comet (also called by Tim Leary comet star seed) was seen as an early warning sign of intense world changes ahead. Ours was an early attempt at encouraging the many & often opposed esoteric mystical & occult organizations to network amongst themselves. With the help of Richard Branson, we mailed two elegant silver free tickets to all the smaller spiritual groups, most of whom showed up, as well as about fifteen hundred Gong freaks. During the interval, a film shot during the Paris street riots was projected on a large screen. It showed my pro-situationist progress along the barricade strewn boulevard St. Michel. I wore a long black gown & a colonialist sun hat with a tiny french monachist flag stuck in its headband. I was clearly pro revolutionary however I presented an incomprehensible contrast of symbols. I was being filmed by a cameraman using official ORTF camera. Thus was my tenuous creditability. In front of a platoon of C.R.S paratroopers by rue de la Huchette, I performed a sound poem. (Je Ne fume pas de Banane.) It warned that the bourgoise nightmare was coming true thru the ritual smoking of the banana. Further along the boulevard I handed out two dozen teddy bears to bewildered C.R.S paratroopers sitting in a troop carrier. They didn't know how to deal with this. Embarrassment therapy can be a potent tool. At the end of the film, I am seen standing in the rue des Ecoles inspecting a burnt out Citroen diesel when a serious looking student police person approached me:

"What are you doing here, beatnik! This is no place for you! Why don't you go home & smoke your weed!"

Obviously not a situationist.
Or was he?

Anyway the Kahoutek concert was a psychic snake pit. Two mysterious characters appeared on stage & paralysed Steve Hillage's pedal board. When the sound returned & Steve could play again, different music came from his amp.

40 years later is the world any different in this matter?

Ah yes. Guy Debord is dead & now I would be shot.

As one of those who pioneered special recording and tape manipulations in the 60's & 70's. What do you think about the current technological computerized revolution.

It is the vision of absolute purity of sound. It is the apollonian search for acoustic perfection. The perfect male and female body of sound. It is more powerful than we know.

Are you using any of this current technology?

32 bit Orlando is there for that. I have gone back to a cheap 4 track cassette machine to record. Then I take into the outboard heaven of a high tech studio to mix.

How do you keep using meditation in your life daily for so many years and keep it fresh and alive?

  1. I give up meditating for a year & go to the pub instead.
  2. 2) When I get sick of the pub society I clean up my act & I start again.
  3. 3) I reinvent the surrounding rituals.
  4. 4) I use habit to steady my keel.
Why do I meditate?

To be alone with myself in a private space for a reasonable period once every day at least.


The advantage of meditation is always the larger vision & thus a broader view of history & each person's place in it. At the party but over it. Fact is whenever I stop meditating, I get sucked back into the trance of attraction & lose my connection. But I always bring some gold back to the shack on the hill where my soul waits patiently.

Which Sun Ra album did you 'discover' back in Australia did it have any influence on your vision on music?

Sorry. Don't now remember which.

Can you share with us the background and reasons for your 7 year retreat in the 80's

I was quite simply burned out by the American experience & in general by the decay of the alternative culture. I returned to my spiritual practice & studied with two different teachers who reawakened my latent abilities and preside over my own self initiation to the next level of active awareness.

And did this period provide you with a new perspective and new abilities and inspiration when the decided to return to the music?


I really enjoy to read your Free Mother Romania diaries there is something very human and warm about the way you share these experiences with the reader. What was it that made you get up and travel to Romania

I was actually intending to travel to Bulgaria in search of a particular teacher there but instead my path took me right around Romania instead. I also was acting as a contact on the ground to find specific orphanages to be targeted for toys & clothes to be transported from Glastonbury in the UK by truck.

My Word speller keeps correcting daevid to David - since when do you write your name this way?

When I was at art school in Melbourne in 1958/9 I added the e because I enjoyed the idea of imitating the ae in aesthetics. Later certain critics of my style said it meant e for ego.

Your book Gong Dreaming part one was published back in 1994. Will part 2 be published?

Yes. It is finished but I have not yet found the designer who can & will design it with me.

What are your plans for 2005? Are you working on anything new currently?

My pedals are covered with dust. My guitar is stashed away. I gave my acoustic guitar to Orlando. The fields of music are being rested.

We will see.
Meanwhile I only perform my poetry.

Any plans being made for a special Gong family gathering?

I await the offers of agent/promoters. My days of self promotion are over. I am not trying very hard. I have been flogging myself solidly for the last sixteen years. I have not seen the four seasons pass by me in one place since 1988. So if no offers come I will happily stay home

So Tell us a little about the Bananamoon Obscura series and what is planned for the future.

Bananamoon Obscura: it is a series of 20 collectors items cds limited to 1000 copies which represent the entire spectrum of my creative audio interests. There is no attempt to exclude items of low audio quality provided that the performances have that certain magic to them. Nos 19 & 20 will be a compilation of 'best of' tracks from the no. 1-18. Gilli Smyth & daevid allen 'Short tales & Tall', a collection of fairy tales both traditional & original read by Gilli, daevid, daevid's youngest son Ynys (11) and his granddaughter Jazzy (9) and Dubliner friend Willy Mcelroy. These are flavored by a wide selection of excerpts from Gong & related cds & include's a Childs story of Zero.

As for the early stuff that is on Camembert Eclectique and 'Je Ne Fume Pas Des Bananes' what was the conditions of those tapes and how and were did they survive for so long?

They survived on quarter inch tape & audio cassettes in the UK & Australia until 1993 when they were transferred to dat.

Gong have appeared in numerous TV programs and films such as the Amougies festival film the Glastonbury Fayre film 'The Nightmare of Mr. Respectable', 'Le Tarot' etc. Any chance of these ever to be compiled or released in the future?

No they are out of my hands & not available to me however I am currently compiling a dvd of gong which spans the recent era from 88 to 04. in this there are two brief clips from soft machine 66 & Gong 73. I am pulling together all the bits of video which I have kept for the last 20 years. There is not a lot of footage from the early days. It's mostly footage form the time I returned to Europe in 1988 some from performances I have done in America its almost like a documentary of the progress of the re invention of Gong from 1988 onwards. None of it is very professional mostly hand held camera but its fascinating stuff. I still have to negotiate the bits and pieces from all the different people and all this taking some time.

Orlando my son has left me his studio (at Gilli's house right along the beach not far from here) he is gone to Europe to work and play and I have been getting the chance to do some recording projects of obscure experimental pieces That I have been wanting to do for a long time.

We are just getting out together a live cd recoded this year of Acidmother's Gong (with the Japanese rhythm section) live at The Door's club in Tokyo.

Wow! With Tatsuya Yoshida right?

Yeah, its got your favorite drummer on it - He actually has mixed it off the multitrack tapes. And this album will be coming out in about 2 months its will be like the partner to Acidmotherhood.

Ok, daevid - great news! I wish to thank you for a life long inspiration and love you gave us with your art and poetry.

Thank You!
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