Armageddon It

Oakland noise nuts Axolotl school us in aliens, hash, and the end of the world as we know it

"Let me see if I understand this. According to the ancient calendar of the Mayans, some massive event, irrevocably altering humanity, is scheduled to occur on October 28, 2011."

"Yes. That's basically it."

"Well, then, what the fuck do you think is really going to happen, Karl -- global nuclear holocaust?"

"Possibly, but a hopeful thing that could happen is a total transformation in human consciousness. Then again, some say it will be permanent global blackout. There are actually infinite possibilities."

So here I am grilling -- quite relentlessly, mind you -- this experimental musician-dude named Karl Bauer about what exactly is going to occur when this date, Oct. 28, 2011, hits us all, discussion of which is all Bauer's fault. We are -- I mean, I am -- supposed to be conducting a professional journalistic interview, because Bauer, along with William Sabiston, is Axolotl (pronounced "ax-oh-lot-el"), Oakland-based creators of deeply meditative psych-noise. But we are both having a little trouble focusing on this because just minutes after Bauer entered my Ocean Beach digs for said interview two objects furtively appeared on the carpet that were not there before: a tiny but effective nugget of hash and a copy of the book The Mayan Calendar and the Transformation of Consciousness. I simply take all this in stride, because rapping with Bauer about such unabashedly New Age hippie-trippy subjects as violent cosmic realignment makes absolute sense considering how mind-fucking stoned and "out there" Bauer and Sabiston's music feels.

Axolotl, you see, is one of literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of super-obscure bands and collectives from all over mother Gaia. These groups have sprung forth just within the past five years, and they've spurned traditional song structures in favor of a brand-new electronic-based brand of mind-expanding tones and sounds inspired by '60s minimalism, feedback-packed experimental noise from early-'90s Japan, traditional Indian ragas, the faux world-music jams of the Sun City Girls, post-techno ambient electronics, fiery free jazz, field recordings of African and Asian tribal musicians, and ridiculously rare acid freakout psych-rock from the late '60s and early '70s that very few ears have ever heard save those belonging to fanatical record collectors.

"I feel like music has gotten real interesting since about 2001," Bauer explains just after presenting evidence for the existence of world-dominating extraterrestrials called "Archons." "Many bands these days, Axolotl included, seem to be inspired by world music -- music that is, to a large degree, spiritual music, sometimes even ritual music. It seems as though the thought of the Eastern Hemisphere is now permeating the Western Hemisphere." As you can plainly read, Bauer and I are now floating far, far above San Francisco, rapping about ultra-rare psych records, aliens, and Taoism. But for the uninitiated, here is a mental image explaining what Axolotl's droning psychedelic noise sounds like, or, more importantly, does.

First off, please relocate to the quietest place that you know of. Now listen to the beat of your heart, to the soft, persistent ring in your ears, to the hushed hum of your nervous system, to the air drifting through your nostrils, to the garbled contractions in your abdomen, to the saliva collecting in the back of your throat, and even to the silence encompassing your body. If you meditate hard enough (but not too hard), the clatter of individual metabolic processes slowly morphs into a single, organically nurtured movement of sound. This is precisely what Axolotl (and the new psychedelia) strives to create using jury-rigged electronics and just about any other object capable of producing noise. It's all about orchestrated sound flowing as a living, breathing organism.

"We want to feel the sound in our guts. We want to make huge gorgeous drones," Bauer enthusiastically says. "We do not want to hurt people, but we do want them to feel this expanse of sound. I want to create an incredible physical experience. We really like the idea of the visceral fused to really blessed-out sounds. We really like the way frequencies affect hearing, depth perception, and sense of space. We love powerful tones. We just love that feeling."

Of course, the evocation of all this patchouli-soaked yogi mysticism is not to imply that Bauer and Sabiston, while at home in their Oakland warehouse, wrap themselves up like a couple of Auntie Anne's hot pretzels and record the sound of their stomach acids dissolving pork chops and apple sauce (although someone does need to request that as an encore at the next Axolotl gig). On the contrary, the duo actually started as live-action improvisational performers when Bauer, a classically trained violinist, and Sabiston, a drummer, came together in 2002 not long after Bauer relocated to the Bay Area from New York.

"I used to take mushrooms with some of my musician friends in New York," Bauer recalls, "and we just wanted to have a bunch of shit in the room to find out what happened. We would just bang on lots of pots and pans with contact mikes. We just wanted to document weird human outbursts. That was a huge influence on all of us. Then I moved out here and I wanted to continue what I was doing back east."

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