photo: Daniel Ahrendt
Six Organs of Admittance is the project of Ben Chasny. Beginning as a solo endeavor, it now regularly features other musicians in concert and as guests on records. Original inspiration for the band came from wanting to merge the styles of fingerpicked acoustic guitar with more improvisational drone elements. A copy of Hans Peter Duerr’s Dreamtime book provided the early blueprint for the analogy of fingerpicked acoustic guitar as civilization vs. noise/drone as wilderness that was to dominate the first few records. The Six Organs sound has moved toward more electric styles through the years but the acoustic element is never too far away. Early records were recorded on a Tascam 424 mkII four-track and self-released on Ben’s own Pavilion label. In 2002 Six Organs hooked up with the label Holy Mountain, who released Dark Noontide.
A tour with the late great Jack Rose happened in 2000, as well as Ben’s move to Santa Cruz. It was there that he would begin hanging out and touring with (and eventually joining) the band Comets On Fire. Six Organs recordings continued to be made on the 4-track in Ben’s room resulting in the records For Octavio Paz and Compathia.
In 2003 Six Organs went into the studio for the first time and recorded School of the Flower. This record was notable for having drummer Chris Corsano (whom Ben would later form Rangda with) as well as being the first release with Chicago label Drag City.
Since then Six Organs has moved from city to city as well as touring across the USA and Europe many times, along with the occasional festival. One festival highlight was being invited by the band Neurosis to play their weekend of curation of Roadburn Festival in Tilburg, Holland, in 2009.
photo: Nash Cook
Tilburg seems to be friendly to Six Organs; in 2011 the band was invited to participate in a 2 week artist residency to draw inspiration for music from the local Chapels dedicated to the Virgin Mary that dot the south Netherlands countryside. The end result was the Maria Kapel LP, which was recorded from a live performance in a Church in Tilburg.
The following are a few personal notes by Ben Chasny on the records that Six Organs has done. Note – These are not the only Six Organs of Admittance releases. For a complete discography head to Discogs.
S/T – The second track, which features a long drone, was recorded with the intent to make it into an Eta Corina song with Aolani, who plays the drone on her detuned violin. I remember some people thinking Aolani must be the girl singing with me, but no, that was me as well. I’ve got a girl’s high register, what can I say? There was an obscene amount of coffee drank while recording this record. The last track has a 12-string guitar tuned to one note. It was an enormous thrill to put out my first record all by myself. I pressed 400 of them and still had copies 5 years later. The first pressing didn’t have my name in the notes at all. I hand painted each cover and made a stamp with the phrase “Six Organs Of Admittance.” This was an attempt to create the sort of mystery private press LP that I enjoy.
Dust and Chimes – I hadn’t planned on making a second record as Six Organs but one day I recorded the track “Dance Among The Waiting” and realized it would make a good template for a new record. At about this time I was steeping myself in records by Incredible String Band, early Tyrannosaurus Rex, Broselmachine etc. In that manner it was a more conscious effort to make a psych-folk record than the previous one. The song “Journey Through Sankuan Pass” was recorded at about 11 A.M. on my kitchen floor with a warm spring sunbeam illuminating the room in Arcata, CA. I remember it being something of an attempt to respond to Sir Richard Bishop’s Salvador Kali record. I still play it at almost every show.
Nightly Trembling – This record, first released as a lathe-cut in edition of 33, was originally going to be part of the Dust and Chimes record. You can hear a similar tone in the recording. I decided to break it up into two records, with one being the long drone one and the songs going on Dust and Chimes. All original copies of the record were given away as some sort of attempt at anti-sorcery or something (I had just read Bruce Kampferer’s Feast of the Sorcerer about Sri Lankan anti-sorcery practices and consciousness). It’s been amusing to watch the copies appear on ebay over the years. The record was later re-issued by Time-Lag and then as part of the RTZ triple LP collection on Drag City.
Dark Noontide – I took the photograph on the cover at Trinidad State Beach in Humboldt County. A few of the songs feature my good friend Ryan Hildebrand, who had played in bands in Southern California like Los Cincos and Volume 11. The record has songs that I recorded over a couple of years, so the subject matter varies a bit. The song “Awaken” was one of a series of guitar sketches I recorded that day, again, on my kitchen floor. The song “1000 Birds” was inspired by Attar’s visionary recital, Conference Of The Birds (I am aware that there are more than 1000 birds in that story). The song “Khidr and the Fountain” was inspired by the writer Henry Corbin, whom I was just beginning to get into at the time.
For Octavio Paz, Compathiá and the “lost” solo record – It’s often falsely thought that Nightly Trembling and For Octavio Paz were thematically related because they were both released by Time-Lag with similar covers. The truth is that Compathiá and For Octavio Paz are sister records. For one, the term Compathiá comes from Octavio Paz’s book The Double Flame. All the songs for all three of these records were recorded around the same time in my basement room in Santa Cruz. I separated them into instrumentals, songs with singing, and songs that perhaps had a nice melody but were too obvious. Originally I was going to release the solo record on the Ba Da Bing label, but a review of Compathiá came out that made it seem as if I wanted to be some sort of folk song guy, so I said “fuck that” and pulled the record from ever being made. The reason it floats around is because I made a copy for a friend, who made a copy for a friend and so it went until someone put it on the internet. I also remember the songs that ended up on For Octavio Paz being very influenced by the Mick Turner solo records that I was playing every morning. George Jones, Nikki Sudden and Bole Sete were other big influences at the time.
School of The Flower – This is the first studio album for Six Organs, recorded at Key Club Recording Company by Bill Skibbe and Jessica Ruffins. I was crazy sick the first half of the session and loaded on cold medicine. On some of those nights I would go to sleep early while Chris Corsano experimented in the studio. That is how the drums to the title track came about. The song “Words For Two” was inspired by a short film my friend Cam Archer made where too young boys fall in love and have a suicide pact. I’ve heard of people who wanted to use that song as a wedding song. I didn’t have the heart to tell them what it is about. “Saint Cloud” was really written in Saint Cloud, Minnesota in a hotel room on a night off from touring. Lisboa was written in the window of the ZDB gallery in Lisbon, a city that has been very supportive of Six Organs over the years.
Sun Awakens – The second record for Drag City. I wrote this while living in Oakland and recorded it in San Francisco with Tim Green at Louder Studios. It’s a conscious attempt to not ride the wave of acoustic music that was getting popular at the time, perhaps shooting myself in the foot. Tim had a lot of great ideas, such as wiring a dimmer switch to a leslie speaker so that we could use it to adjust the rate of the speaker as I played through it. We ended up running a lot of vocals through that leslie as well. The last song on the record was recorded with a great many friends that showed up to the studio one day, such as Rob Fisk, Al Cisneros, Ethan Miller, and Noel Von Harmonson. One person to play on the record was an old friend from my days working at Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz, John Connell. John played the Ney and Daf on the record.
Shelter From The Ash – After moving to San Francisco, I decided to record another record with Tim. A lot of this record was written in standard tuning. I was listening to a lot of Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac at the time. Elisa Ambrogio came by the studio and helped out with vocals and some electric guitar overdubs. Matt Sweeney swung by too, with an acoustic guitar, on his way to the airport. He had some sort of amazing chocolate from the Gods that he shared with us. I don’t believe in the myth of linear progression. I think that subsequent records proved that Six Organs releases are more rhyzomatic in nature and any one can be attached to any other one, in terms of songwriting. Maybe the sound fidelity has progressed a bit, but not always. Noel Von Harmonson, who usually plays noise in Comets, came by the studio to prove his prowess as a drummer, as he did on Sun Awakens. We slowed down the drums on the song “Coming To Get You,” inspired by Dale Crover’s drums on the Lysol record.
Luminous Night – This one was recorded with Seattle producer Randall Dunn while I was living in that city in 2009. Randall had a never ending supply of great ideas, such as putting a contact mic on the acoustic and running it through an echoplex and amp in another room. Randall suggested a few Seattle musicians to play on the record, including Eyvind Kang, who recorded violin on the record and as far as I am concerned, makes the record. Watching Eyvind work was truly inspiring. The guy breathes music. For one song on the record, “Cover Your Wounds With The Sky”, I recorded a drone on a 4-track cassette and buried it in my front yard at the beginning of Autumn. Toward the middle of Winter, when we started recording, we dug up the tape and hooked the 4-track up to a Sunn full stack, turned it up and recorded that.
Asleep On The Floodplain – This one was my move back to home-recording. I did half the album on 4 track cassette and the other half on computer. To smooth out the sound Randall Dunn and I went to London Bridge Studios in Seattle to mix it. Much of the record was recorded in my kitchen in Seattle. The sound at the beginning of the last song, Dawn, Running Home, is the sound of my tea kettle warming up on the stove. The title for the record comes from a recurring dream I have of the area where I grew up being flooded, as it actually often did in the winter. The track “S/word and Leviathan” began life in San Francisco as an improvised Saz piece from an instrument I was borrowing from Iambi Eras Logo.
Maria Kapel – The first Pavilion release in over 10 years. I was invited by the Incubate Festival and the city of Tilburg to participate in an artist residency where I would explore the region’s unique chapels built for the Virgin Mary, as mentioned above. After writing the music for about six months by drawing on memories of the encounters with the chapels and using techniques inspired by Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics Of Reverie, I flew back to Tilburg to perform the music at the Incubate Festival. We recorded the evening and I released the result on my Pavilion label. Each cover is hand painted white on white in the old Pavilion style. I created a stencil and used graphite powder to make the design that is inspired by the sun imagery in Athanasius Kircher diagrams.
Ascent – A return to Louder Studios (though it’s moved from SF to Grass Valley, CA) with Tim Green and the Comets boys. Ethan has already written about how these songs originated here. A lot of the guitar tone for this record comes from a Fender reverb unit belonging to Charlie from the band Assemble Head In The Sunburst Sound. Since it was recorded in January, I remember it being quite dark all the time. The title for this one came from a dream I had about a large space craft being built above Jupiter. Eventually I wrote a disjointed storyline about an astronaut who leaves his family for a mission and gets stranded on the moon Io. It was also influenced by the midnight tea that Elisa was making and the ever deepening swamp of bizarro conspiracy videos that pop up on youtube that range from the stupid to the entertaining to the probably true. That might be why some conspiracy hound eventually made a video about this record.