This is an album inspired by the quest for something "other"; through art or the spiritual, through peak experiences or paranormal investigations, in the realms of imagination or at large in the world; encounters with the unknown by chance or design.
Back a few years ago, I ran into trouble with my stand-alone CD burner and had to have the drive replaced. At about the same time, I began to have trouble with the capacity of the blank CDs I was buying. They wouldn't go much beyond 74 minutes- and would sometimes end even a couple of minutes before that. I was never able to figure out for sure whether these problems were related. At the time they both occurred, test burns of various albums on my computer's burner revealed similar problems with length; I assumed that it had to be the CDs. But with time and repeated efforts, troubles continued with stand-alone burns, and disappeared with the computer.
During this worrisome time, I made computer files of several longer CDs so that I could test them, and hopefully continue to burn them. Several went on the "currently unavailable" list, among them "In Search Of The Fantastic". That's one of the staples of the Phantom Airship catalog, so losing it hurt, and demanded continued attempts at a solution, until one was found.
Once the album was transferred into a format I could work with in my digital studio, I could not resist fixing some of the timing issues forced on me by my stand-alone burner's limit of no less than 4 seconds between tracks. As you may recall, this artificial pause-inducer was the main reason for the first of the PA remasters, "An Awareness Of Frameworks". There were numerous problems of that type with the existing master of ISOTF. So those got fixed immediately.
Shortly after that I fixed a few level problems- little parts that were way too soft, peaks which forced entire pieces to be mastered at levels much too low to suit their character, etc. Every effort was made to do this in a way which flowed, and didn't compromise the original feel too much.
And there it all sat for too many months to count, until recently. The one and only Bryan Davis told me he'd given away his copy to someone he'd converted into a fan, and that he'd have to buy another one soon. I decided at once to send him another copy, on the house. When I went to pull it from stock, I saw that this was the last one; no more of the originals remained, and if I was going to make more, it was time to get the version on the computer ready to go. This required some experimentation with new EQ, to see if any was warranted. The results really pleased me, and gave me a feeling of the album being revitalized. This was what I was after and I am happy to make it available.
The remaster will become the new standard release, with the old master going into the archive.
ANYONE WHO HAS A COPY OF THE ORIGINAL MAY CONTACT ME BY EMAIL FOR A FREE COPY OF THE REMASTER. Please include "2010 remaster" somewhere in the subject heading.
Featured instruments: bowed device; 12-string acoustic/7-string electric/6-string fretted and fretless electric guitars; Appalachian dulcimer; snare drum, floor tom, cymbal; African slit drum; toy xylophone, tambourine and assorted found percussion; vocals; and more effects than should be reasonably allowed by law.
The following notes owe a fair amount to the 2002 interview with me by David Aftandillan for Ink19 magazine. DISCLAIMER: If you're the kind of person who doesn't like to know the musician's thoughts on the music or what was behind its creation, don't read these. You won't hurt my feelings, honest.
“Alone” almost didn’t get put on, being the only piece with words. I thought it might break up the flow. But it ended up working really well at the beginning, with the bowed device it kinds of sets things up for “Looking for Paradise”. I thought its presence might irritate people but I’ve actually had complaints that there wasn’t more poetry! No one’s said “What the hell did you do that for?”, which is kind of what I was expecting.
The choice of this poem to start the album was a given, once the piece was recorded. I think it's just right to set up the music that follows. This has always been my favorite of Poe's poems, it has a lot of meaning for me.
With “Looking For Paradise”, I was partially going after a musical portrait of the “Shangri-La” idea, the place hidden from the world where life is a tranquil paradise. Shangri-La is fictional, of course, but Hilton almost certainly based it on Shambhala. But it’s not just the idea of the place itself that’s fascinating, it’s this image of searching the remote wastes of the world for it, devoting your life to it because the quest consumes you.
The music for “Looking” was intended to be very ethereal, and to bring to mind those places you might go through and the quest and possibly even the finding of it. If you had to lay any ethnicity on it, it’s difficult. You can hear low voices, which sound vaguely like Russian baritone choir voices or Tibetan monks chanting. And when the 12-string comes in, it’s played with a slide and so is kind of American sounding, but the effects on it put it outside nationality and in something other than earthly, mundane space. Musically, the point is then made, this is not about anyplace in particular, but about something which, though it may seem familiar, is very much “other”. This takes the “paradise” concept out of anybody’s grasp or agenda and places it back floating in the ether where it belongs.
The “Paradise” pieces- “Looking For Paradise”, “Sanctuary”, and “Paradise Is Where You Find It”- are all linked by the recurring melody played on 12-string. There are sets of recurring themes and variations throughout the album. Most of these occur in pairs but this one, being the main one, is in thirds, to bracket the album. They were placed roughly at the beginning, middle and end. I then built the album inward from the edges by taking the pairs of related pieces and placing them as equidistant as possible from the middle. Along with the matched pairs were pieces that stood alone; these were put in to provide variety and contrast from the repetition, yet were still (I felt) consistent with the conceptual focus and mood of the album. I placed these in between pieces that were part of sets.
“Nad” is the name for a real phenomenon, widely reported. The late, great D. Scott Rogo did a couple of really good books about it. It’s a kind of “music of the spheres” sound, the heavenly choir sort of thing. I’ve actually heard it, once, when I was very sick as a child, part of an experience that I later discovered had all the traits of a near death experience. Unfortunately I didn’t come anywhere close to capturing the sound on this track. I frankly don’t think it’s possible. It’s as if you’re hearing the fundamental vibration of everything in the universe. It’s actually not easy to focus on any one part of it, which is what makes it so hard to describe or duplicate. Just the same, it’s something I hope to try again to approximate, one day, in the hope that I might get closer.
The vocal/choir instrumentation of "Nad" is mirrored 3 tracks in from the end of the album by "Of Brief Stays", which also has a similar loop structure/arrangement.
I had originally intended to do a track around the idea of Aleister Crowley’s trip to Bou Saada in the Sahara in 1909. During this trip he encountered the demon Choronzon, spirit of dispersion, while “scrying the aethers”- a method of obtaining visions of increasingly higher symbolic realms through use of Enochian magick. But then I thought that maybe that was too specific and that I shouldn’t really tell people what to imagine. So before I started recording I decided to come up with a few more scenarios around this desert motif, so that while I worked I might produce a few more elements for people to work up their own interpretations around. I imagined a military expedition getting hopelessly lost and becoming a ghost brigade. Maybe they died in a sandstorm and reappear suddenly to claim people who wander solitary through the desert. Maybe they survived a battle, got lost and met Choronzon, who escaped the circle and was never successfully banished, and so roamed the area looking for victims. The Crowley story and the “expedition” motif were very present in my mind as I did the tracks. But the main things I tried to think about while I recorded were the time period, the location, and the feeling that something very intense and frightening and weird happened. Ultimately I didn’t want to get more specific than that. That’s why it ended up being “Sahara 1909” and not “Bou Saada”, Sahara being more general and so probably more evocative for a wider range of people.
The melody that’s whistled at the beginning just came out of me once the tape was rolling, and it felt almost like it came through me. I love moments like that, especially when they’re part of a recording.
"Sahara 1909" would seem to be a stand-alone, but the insect noises in it recur near the end of the album on "Wednesday 10 PM", and were created the same way, with guitar.
"Congruence Asserts Its Presence" got its name because it actually follows "Sahara" on the master tape, exactly as you hear it on CD, but how that happened was a freak thing. "Congruence" was all recorded on one track, but it was too long and I ended up wiping most of it so that I could record "Sahara". It turns out I must have wiped exactly 7:29. The last sound on "Sahara" was NOT on the same track as "Congruence" (I think it was on 2 and "Congruence" was on 4), and as I usually do to cut down on hiss, I'd stopped recording on the other tracks when I'd finished them. So anything underneath would have shown through. And I certainly hadn't timed either what I'd wiped off the tape or the new recording. Yet somehow I faded out the very last note of "Sahara" so that it coincided exactly with the sudden beginning of "Congruence"! Couldn't have planned it if I tried. So the segueway seems normal enough, but isn't- it was a very extreme sort of coincidence. Perfect for this album!
“Madstone” and “Around the Healing Spring” are both about healing magic. Madstone is from Ozark folklore and taking a trip around a healing spring is primarily Celtic. Both of those pieces are based around the dulcimer, which is why those titles were chosen, sounds like that are common to both cultures. And they’re upbeat, major key, happy sounding pieces overall, so I thought the healing reference was appropriate.
"Madstone" is mirrored 7 tracks in from the end by "Around The Healing Spring".
“Returns” and “What Once Was, Is” are related musically, so I thought they should be related thematically by their titles. They’re about the sort of ghost/psychic stain idea, which can actually cover a lot of territory- not just hauntings, but people suddenly finding themselves dislocated in time for a short while, things like that.
"Returns" is live solo guitar. It's mirrored 4 tracks in from the end by "What Once Was Is".
I first picked up the term “Snallygaster” from John Keel. A snallygaster is a nocturnal creature that’s half bird and half reptile, and it preys mostly on chickens, small livestock and children. The name’s derived from “schnell geist”, which means “quick spirit”. It was spotted mostly around rural Maryland, early in the 20th century, but things like it have been reported elsewhere too, and for a long time. Keel actually used the term very generally to refer to any type of monster sighting, including big, hairy red eyed creatures that give off bad odors- that’s a common type- and things like Mothman, flying creatures that are unidentifiable, things like that. There are usually dead livestock, animal mutilations and disappearing pets occurring at the same time as these sightings.
"Snallygaster" and "The Deros Discover King Solomon's Mines" are stand-alone pieces. Both were constructed to have a feel and mood that fit in with the rest of the album.
The title came after the music on this one, as it did on many of the tracks. It’s an all percussion piece that goes from these metalic robot-like sounds to this very African sounding percussion, and finally to what sounds like a temple bell high on a windy mountain plain. I finished this and thought, what the hell can I call this? My first idea was something like “percussion around the world!”- this sort of very early 20th century holdover from the 19th, about the wonders of exotic exploration. That motif kind of stuck around but just didn’t really fit the rest of the album well, although there is a real turn-of-the-last-century vibe to some of it, including the typeface, kind of art nouveau. Anyway I started working backwards from that- OK, there’s that “Wonders of darkest Africa!” vibe, and I thought, hmm…King Solomon’s Mines. You know, lost treasure/lost city and all that jazz. OK, but what about the robot sounds at the beginning? And I thought…mines…robots….underground robots? Deros! Bingo, I had my title and a good laugh all at once.
The Deros- short for “detrimental robots”- were part of “The Shaver mystery”. Richard Shaver was a fellow who believed that there were evil robots living in underground caverns, animated by the spirits of dead Lemurians. These deros caused all the world’s ills by the use of invisible rays that they aimed at people from their caverns. Shaver sent a letter about this to magazine editor and publisher Ray Palmer, who proceeded to capitolize on Shaver’s stories after the published letter brought a huge response. People were claiming they had their own experience with the deros. This sold a lot of magazines for Palmer, and Shaver was very active for a few years. There was a flying saucer angle in there too, apparently the Deros flew these and parked them in their secret caverns- if memory serves, the bases were at the poles and that’s where the main entrances were. Do I think they really existed? No. Do I think Shaver’s fantasies may have inadvertantly mirrored some other phenomena, specifically energy manifestations and UFO activity? Yes, and this is probably where some of the letters from readers came in. Granted, they may all have been crackpots too; but this broke before Kenneth Arnold’s sightings in ’47 ushered in the modern wave of UFO publicity. Before that, anyone dealing with that phenomenon would have been in need of some kind of framework to reference their experiences to, particularly if there was contact involved. Too bad for them it came from Shaver and Palmer!
Oh, and as for why the Deros would discover King Solomon’s mines- they operate underground in a worldwide network, supposedly, so if anyone was likely to find a lost mine, it would be a subterranean race with superior technology! All that’s missing now is Fu Manchu. But if we can believe what our ears tell us, after discovering the mines in Africa, the evil deros emerged with their loot at a mountaintop monastary in mysterious Tibet. Can Fu be far away?
“Sanctuary” could be a monastary- it does come right after what sounds like a monastery bell at the end of “Deros”, and that wasn’t an accident. But sanctuary is anyplace where you can get some quiet and find safety and peace.
"Sanctuary" is placed as close as possible to the middle of the album. It's a solo version of the same 12-string melody that occurs on "Looking For Paradise" and the last track, "Paradise Is Where You Find It".
A few titles on the album are based on surrealist or dada concepts; this is probably the main one. The music contains elements of both cultures- an American folk instrument used with Indian modality and rhythm. And there’s a chugging rhythm too. But there’s this air of the impossible to the piece, so I wanted to suggest all that with the title, which is something that would never exist- not in this reality, anyway.
I put "The India-Appalachia Railway" here in the running order because it's a hybrid of bowed-device and dulcimer pieces, and these are elements which occur strongly in both halves of the album. It's the most obvious case of that. The midway point of the CD actually occurs during this piece.
"Was It Childhood" is a stand-alone, and was constructed to fit this creepy childhood nightmare kind of feel that I wanted to make sure got represented as part of the overall concept.
"The Badass Ride" is, to me, the piece that is most strongly incongruent with the rest of the album. Even so, there are similarities to other tracks, particularly to the drum and guitar sounds on "Sahara 1909". Perhaps it's only the sound of the sessions, but I feel it carries through.
"Around The Healing Spring" expands on the themes begun in "Madstone" by including 7-string guitar (which is heard throughout the album). Both pieces are in 11- measures of 5 and 6- but I switched the order of the measures on "Around The Healing Spring" to be mostly backwards from "Madstone", for further variation.
“Bhoga” is an Indian spiritual approach where enlightenment is pursued through sensual pleasures. The music is definitely Indian sounding but it’s electric guitar, which fits the “hedonism” aspect better than, say, sitar, even though the tuning is pretty similar on this piece.
"Bhoga" is thematically a stand-alone, but was intended to have a kind of blissful, floaty feel something like "Looking For Paradise".
“The Backroads of Time” suggests a science fiction concept, hidden paths through and around normal linear realities. I was partially inspired by the beginning of the original movie version of “The Time Machine”, with these clocks floating around ticking in a void. I was going for something where there were really only sounds and textures interacting, I tried to avoid any trace of tonality or definite pitch.
"The Backroads Of Time" is a stand-alone, and was one of the ideas predating recording that inspired me to do the album. It seemed to work better being placed towards the end of the album than the beginning.
"What Once Was Is" mirrors "Returns" earlier on the album. Its sudden shifts from one section to the next were intended to be like the disorienting shift from one world to the next, or like some kind of sudden manifestation. Its original working title was "Intrusions", which I think is also appropriate.
This is actually a different take of "Returns" that was modified with a number of added sections- the original take now provides the glue between those.
"Of Brief Stays" mirrors the choir sound and structure of "Nad", from back near the beginning, and signals that the album is drawing to a close. I chose the position of each piece based on its emotional tone. "Nad" is major- light through darkness, with a rising sound indicating more to come. "Of Brief Stays" is minor, has a certain finality about it, and signals a descent down towards an end.
“Wednesday, 10 p.m.” is reputedly the beginning of the most common time for sighting UFOs in window areas, particularly remote stretches of road. But again, I didn’t want to tell people what they had to think that when they heard it. I almost called it “Window Area”, but that’s way too specific. Most people hear air raid sirens when they listen to it and that paints an entirely different picture in their heads, like maybe the title refers to an air raid at night.
This piece, shrieking siren-type sounds and all, was done with my (then future) wife sound asleep in the next room! Let's hear it for headphones! I thought it was really important for this be near the end of the album- it just has that feel to it.
I was originally going to call this “Paradise Begins At Home”, but that was vetoed for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that for people in abusive situations paradise definitely does not begin at home. OK, where then? Where you find it. I almost said, “Where you make it”, and in most ways I agree with that. But “where you find it” brings us back to the beginning, to the idea of looking for it in the first place, and it has a kind of Zen koan feel to it, which I liked. My point with the title is, don’t have a rigid view of these things. Rigidity is a death characteristic. Rigidity is also characteristic of fanatics. This is not a coincidence. If you really want to find paradise, you’d better lighten up and start looking in the little moments around you, at what makes life good. It may be that our only paradise is right under our noses, and we’ve steadfastly ignored it. Paradise isn’t tomorrow. Paradise is now.