Rasa and The Evolution of Neon Egypt's Music
Neon Egypt's departure from mainstream jazz
began in 1992 when percussionist Steven Miller and 8-string guitarist
Ron Thompson formed the performance art collaborative Tabula Rasa
(from the Latin meaning literally "erased tablet", or more
colloquially, "blank slate") along with artists Harrison Goldberg,
saxophone, and Troy Silveira, keyboards. This four piece ensemble
undertook an intentional regimen of mental and musical exercises
designed to reach beyond the players' past programming as jazz
musicians, and augment it with the pure ability to create - by
inspiration as it were - through attentive, intuitive listening. (See
Intuitive Music) Each
weekly session was recorded and copies distributed for review to the
participants the following week.
The earliest experiments utilized graphical and symbolic notation for
"concept" pieces. The results were generally hesitant and
awkward, as the musicians struggled to escape their usual and familiar
chordal and rhythmic jazz frameworks and patterns of playing, while
attempting to create something unknown, something truly fresh.
At some point it was recognized that the conceptual designs themselves,
being based in thought, constituted impediments to the intuitive
process, and they were dropped in favor of silence (which is how each
session was begun) and pure listening.
As the players continued to develop their sensitivities week by week,
new, more natural "patterns" began to emerge and assert themselves. For
example, the four players found that even in the absence of any
conceptual framework they would consistently create music that had
apparent, albeit perhaps unconventional, structure. Diverse thirty-five
to forty minute pieces would often materialize that had three or more
clearly defined movements, each with a discernable beginning, middle,
and end. As all sessions were recorded, this structure became
more evident upon review.
work of refined listening progressed, a continual stream of new musical
information began to flow through and inform these flexible movements,
seemingly regulating itself in some unknown manner, so that the players
would each fully exercise their creative contributions, and yet all
somehow end up in the same musical "place" consistently. Previous
constraints such as time signature and key signature became essentially
irrelevant, as the musicians began to play in unusual, mixed scales and
rhythms. Pure, coordinated inspiration became the new glue holding the
pieces together. It was always apparent when a particular musical piece
was complete, and the players would reach a natural ending and simply
stop playing, at once.
The fruit of these years of musical experiment and growth are now
represented in Neon Egypt, a continuing collaboration of two of the
original members of Tabula Rasa. Neon Egypt's music revisits
certain sound-forms and characteristics of jazz, yet is fully and
spontaneously improvised, and recorded live without overdubs or retakes.