Jorge Reyes
IN SEARCH OF THE GODS: THE NEW MUSIC FROM MEXICO



"In order to lead living beings toward freedom,
The eagle created the Nagual,
a double being to whom the rule was revealed.
Whether it has the shape of a human being, of an animal, of a plant,
or of any other living being,
the Nagual is propelled to search for the hidden passage"
Carlos Castaneda, The Eagle's Gift

The enigmatic pre-Columbian civilizations of south central America, depositories of religious and scientific knowledge that remains indecipherable today, are the source of inspiration for a series of very interesting artists from Mexico City, authors of works in whic the esoteric myths, rituals and practices of the so-called "People of the Sun" come to life again.Promptly ignored by critics (above all by those whose views today fill the stunted brain of world music Ó la night club...) and loved beyond all measure by the usual handful of enlighte ╠ned esotericists, these artists have, in an unheard-of way, combined ingenious electronics and traditional Mayan and Aztec instruments (bone, bamboo and ceramic flutes, ocarinas, percussion instruments), writing luminous pages of avant-garde music. From among them all, I have chosen as a symbol Jorge Reyes, acknowledged ideologue of the movement. A charismatic individual, endowed with a very special magnetism, Reyes began as a flautist in a progressive rock group in Mexico City, the Chac Mol, with whom he recorded 4 LP's between 1981 and 1984: "Nadie en especial", "Suenos de metal", "Cintas en directo" and "Caricia digital". Very soon he left them, contesting their commercial intentions to dedicate himself to the preHispanic culture of his country, literally wiped out by the Spanish invasion. There is a desire to return to his origins, a sort of interior recall toward the history andexperiences of his people; he wants to reconstruct the atmosphere of the past splendors of the Empire of the Sun through a special use of electronics and of unusual instruments and to create an esoteric sound as close as possible to the ancestors and to the gods.In his early shows he introduced himself alone behind a few keyboards and Indios percussion; in time he added flutes and ocarinas, water-drums and clay pots, shells, fossilized stones, rainsticks, tortoise shells, until the stage was full, as in his latest shows, where he is literally surrounded by dozens of archaic instruments. His live sound is impressive, when you think that Reyes does it all by himself, as impressive are the emotional tension and the energy that he manages to radiate, the real shaman guide into obscure and impenetrable initiation ceremonies that he is. He started selling his records directly to the audience, at his shows and in the shops, mailing them himself worldwide. He organized gatherings of folk music to awaken the interest of Mexican aficionados and push thembeyond the rim of the known progressive music. His love for the culture and the traditions of his country and the bright past of his people comes from personal contact established in his youth, when he traveled extensively among the Indian populations of the highlands, learning the secrets of medicinal plants and of thehallucinogenic ones, studying animal behavior, the secrets of nature, and the history and archaeology of Mexico. The energy of sound, according to Reyes, opens to our self a secret door to a hidden vision of reality and the harmony of the primitive world, going thousands of years back in time. There's some magic, obviously, in all this; and there is the age-old knowledge of populations that have disappeared into the folds of history, but are still alive in the dreams of people and in the DNA helixes, in the backs of minds, in the ancestral memory, and in the subconscious, far remembrance of the initiates.He takes music as a therapeutic art close to magic: the wizard-artist, who has the knowledge and who is capable of seeing the invisible and of hearing the inaudible, recreates archaic atmospheres with the help of the digital delay and the sampler, while the ethnic instruments allow him to hook up with the past and call up the gods. In the civilization of twitching noise, Reyes the shaman manages to make the silence and the tropical forest sing, manages to recreate settings thousands of years old and to give shape to the fantasies closest to dreams. He seems to get inspiration from the fleeting moment of visions induced by peyote. He cites as mentor Jon Hassell and professes his love for "Zahmia Lehmanni" by SPK (a record cited by many artists of esoteric music); for a few years now he's being collaborating closely with Steve Roach and Suso Saiz, artists with whom he shares a vision of music and of the musician's role, towards the constant search for the mystery of life. This is happening exactly when humanity has to decide whether, in its jump into the third millennium, it's got to take its ethnic roots into account. He's played in volcanic craters, in the canyons and mesas of the American Southwest, in the Arizona deserts and in those of the Hopi Indians, in the Atlantic islands (all of them sacred sites); recently he's taken to putting on shows with Steve Roach, Robert Rich, Suso Saiz and Elmar Shulte. Between his parallel activities, he composes music for TV documentaries and theatrical shows, and he writes books. His first record was "Ek Tunkul", published in 1983 by Kollektiv Records. In it there are already all the magic-ritual elements of the art of Reyes, in a fusion of styles that appears instantly innovative. "Music is a catalyst for mental processes and, as such, ties together happenings far away in time and space; it's like a sacred circle in which the things of our life come together; it activates various levels of consciousness, allowing us to get to the places of the gods." A rich assembly of percussion, wind and string instruments melds into electronics (synth and digital delay); and out comes a peculiar sound that could be defined as techno-tribal.In 1986 "A la izquierda del colibrý" followed, in which Reyes was flanked by Antonio Zepeda, an ethno-musicologist that brings his experience in the field of Central-American traditional music. The wonderful cover art reflects the synthesis of the record: in a meadow of the tropical forest, in front of a Mayan pyramid, there arrive Reyes and Zepeda, surrounded by electronic and folk instruments. It is the first attempt at melding technology in the past tense and the first tentative at opening a door onto an unknown dimension. The music manages to communicate visions and atmospheres of a remote and fascinating world, thanks especially to the decisive contribution of Zepeda. With inspiration and devotion, he plays Indios percussion, bamboo flutes and ocarina. The electronic side, led by Reyes, echoes the sound of Cluster and of Klaus Schulze.I'd like to call attention to the double album by Antonio Zepeda, "Templo mayor", dedicated in full to the ritual music of the Mexican Indios, strongly ethnic but occasionally too philological and scholarly: it's a record that's recommended for collectors only.Jorge Reyes' masterpiece - the masterpiece of all Mexican music - comes with "Comala": the usual psychedelic mix of electronics, pre-Hispanic folk and ambient music in this recording reaches its artistic zenith, even better defining the field of action of the musician. With respect to the two previous albums, the artistic and technological coming of age is evident, as is a distinct move towards experimentation. All the tracks were born from and manage to retain a sense of tension, fearsome sounds and nightly landscapes. Heavily influenced by hallucinogenic substances and similar, in uncanny ways, to the mad tropical ambiences of "Apocalypse now", "Comala" is the triumph of witchcraft and of the myth of the forest, of the Indios and of the trance-induced states. Accompanied by Arturo Meza on voice and ceremonial drums, by the singing of Maria Sabina and by a group of Indios playing traditional instruments, Reyes reconstructs rituals of exceptional quality blowing hard on his flutes, violently hitting the skins of the Tarahumara and Raramuri drums and unleashing magical spirals of electronics, against a backdrop of natural noises of water and fire. The basic characteristic is the tribal singing, never as powerful and evocative as here, and often tied to percussion as rhythmic terrain. At times it feels like listening to the voices of ghosts lost in the wind and captured by the musician -medium."Comala", heavy with the sound of the beyond, lives in a temporal space all its own that opens itself every time toan unrevealed magic. The Cd contains two unreleased tracks, plus a track taken from "Ek Tunkul".Reyes is already a giant; his popularity grows among the cult followers of a certain avantgarde, as does interest in the man. He's been invited by musicians interested in his language and in his magic vision of music to go to Spain and the USA. He manages to communicate through sound and quickly becomes a symbol. His set at the Lanzarote festival in 1991 is ecstatically received by the public, which can later appreciate a joint jam session by Reyes with Laraaji, Roach, Rich and Saiz.Spain becomes his adopted land, and wonderful collaborations will happen with Suso Saiz and Francisco Lopez; in the States, Steve Roach is very keen on his magnetism and his inner richness; in Germany, Elmar Schulte wants him at his side on stage on several occasions.t's time for masterpieces. "Nierika" is published in Spain for Esplendor GeomÚtrico, historic label for post-industrial avant-garde. It's his darkest and most esoteric recording, where ghostly ululations and tense and sharp electronics join the usual dockful of percussion and native flutes. A didjeridoo, in which Reyes blows with uncanny strength, makes its appearance, as does harmonic singing. The sound is thin but at the same time illustrative. "Danza de los peyoteros", in particular, is unforgettable, where the hypnotic, spiraling electronics give homage to Neu and Harmonia. The atmosphere that the record builds up is similar to that of Werner Herzog's "Aguirre" movie. Silent Records have reprinted it, with new cover art.In 1990 the first collaboration with Suso Saiz, an artist from Madrid, yields "Cr˛nica de castas", and in 1991 one with Francisco Lopez bears the name "UAISCM4: Tlaloc".Suso Saiz's production cleans up the hidden corners in the music, amplifying the details and giving a new shine to the sound of traditional instruments, for the first time giving the feeling of a product more attentive to the quality of the sound than to our Mexican's characteristic spontaneity and savage thrust. There's a stricter control in the playing of the harmonic textures and in the shape of the musical solution.In all, it's a record where Saiz manages to capture the enormous shamanistic energy of Reyes in a tunnel of rarefied ritual-ambient music. Very pleasant are the timbres chosen for the guitar parts, as are the spacious, elegant and descriptive soundscapes created electronically. After many comparative listenings, "Cr˛nica de castas" defines itself as less than a success, due to its lack of immediacy, denatured of its essence by an overaccurate production that managed to suffocate the anarchic and uncontrollable power of Jorge Reyes' visionary art.Much different the encounter with Francisco Lopez, who experiments in the field of postindustrial and noise avant-garde. Trying to establish a contact, they lock themselves in the recording studio. Reyes takes with him his cultural heritage rich with the magic of Yaqui and Mazatech Indios and their traditional instruments; Lopez comes with the roomful of electronic instruments he's worked with in his many albums, a menacing and abyssal noise source, and his magnetic tapes. The result is "UAISCM4 Tlaloc", the darkest engine of sounds ever conceived by the Mexican, and for Lopez the most structured work of his career. Dedicated to Tlaloc, the God of the Sky in the Nahua mythology ("He who controls rain and thunder"), the album is a sublime territory of primeval sounds that take the shape of sinister crashes of water and of electronic echoes, of metallic noises and dark resonances. Among all the rituals made up by Reyes, this is certainly the most suggestive and real, the one that recreates more closely the atmosphere of a Mayan religious ceremony. Perhaps it's because of the oppressive electronic drone, or because of the relentless banging of war drums, of stones and of tortoise shells, perhaps it's because of the iced blows to be heard in the sacrificial grotto of Tlaloc, whose depths are scanned by Lopez with various electro-acoustic instruments: the fact remains that the power of the emotion caused by listening to it is unique and supernatural, as is the statue of the God of the Sky that appears on the cover. An unforgettable collaboration."Prehispanic: Mexican Music" reverts the path towards the ancient, a showroom of newly raw sounds from an impressive series of archaic instruments. There are war-Congs and war-dances, reproduction of animal voices, the arcane power of occultism, the communion of Man with Gods (made possible by mescaline), the long trip toward the light that each one of us undertakes after death. I wouldn't be able to pinpoint a specific track, the entire record is to be considered like a whole dream conceived to flow without interruption, just like a rite. For the first time, moreover, the tracks are accompanied by exhaustive notes that shed light into the compositional philosophy of Reyes and give a frame of reference for the pre-Hispanic period. There's even a very useful glossary of Mayan musical words. The good quality of the recording accentuates the esoteric sounds of the instruments that come alive and can almost be touched in the listening room.A new collaboration with Suso Saiz leads to "Bajo el sol jaguar", an aibum of extreme expressiveness and profound meaning inspired by the dualisms of day/night and light/shadow, and dedicated to the symbolic struggle between the Sky and the Earth, here represented by the Eagle and the Jaguar. Artfully made up by Saiz, this record finally frees all the potentialities and the lucid madness of Jorge Reyes; the percussion and the singing are perfectly integrated within the soundscape, offering musical progressions dripping with tension and insistent tribal phrases of trance minimalism. Synths, flutes and ocarinas evoke a crowd of ghosts "while the mouth of the Jaguar swallows the sun and the appearance of the moon extends the shadows and signals the beginning of the time of the Gods". It's the most heterogeneous album of the whole discography. It owes a lot to the mysticism of Popol Vuh and to the "possible musics" of Jon Hassell, as it does to the ambient fluctuations of Brian Eno and Harold Budd. It is also, in my opinion, the album that caught the ├fantasy of Steve Roach, and the one where the concept of the universality of music as a message of the soul finds a practical demonstration. His joining Roach and Saiz for the Suspended Memories project is recent history and I refer you to Issue 2 of Deep Listenings for the analysis of "Forgotten Gods", the first creature conceived by the trio. Also to be noted is his taking part in the latest Steve Roach album, "Origins", here reviewed in the department called "The chamber of dreams". After years of splendid anonymity, there finally comes the possibility of reaching a broader group of aficionados: Extreme, an Australian label specializing in a catalogue of avant-garde, publishes "El costumbre", a true summa of the work of this formidable artist. It's an ambitious project, realized by a group of producers and artists without equal: Andres Noarbe from Spain, Uwe Beetz from Germany, the American David Hodgson, Steve Roach and his wife Linda Kohanov, Forrest Fang, Elmar Schulte, Regina Quintero. And then there are the Huichol Indians to lend their voices, their prayer and their tales: tales of spirits and of dreams, of magic and of visions, of divinities with the bodies of animals, of ancient rituals, of contacts with the beyond made possible by hallucinogenic plants. It's a hermetic music, whose mystery only repeated listenings can penetrate, to join in the shiver of barely murmured prayers, to go down into the rarefied folds of sound, to give shape to the shadows that start appearing around you, and to start vibrating together with the voices and the drones of the instruments. Tibetan rituals, American Indian chants, musique concrete, loops and resonances build an underground ritual music that recalls O Yuki Conjugate and Raksha Mancham.

Listening will open the doors of perception, long sought by Albert
Hoffmann and Aldous Huxley.

Gianluigi Gasparetti, Deep Listenings