Louise Landes Levi is a poet, translator, musician, and performer whose travels have charted an elaborate constellation of mystic and cosmic pathways. A founding member of Daniel Moore’s Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company, she participated—from 1967 to 1969, alongside Terry Riley and Angus Maclise—in multidisciplinary drama inspired by Artaud’s research with the Tarahumara, the Balinese Gamelan, Tibetan monastic ritual, and Indian dance. Following studies at Mills College with sarangi master Pandit Ram Narayan, Levi traveled alone from Paris through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to reach northern India for research into its musical and poetic tradition. There, she studied with Sri Annapurna Devi and Ustad Abdul Majid Khan, later becoming Ali Ak Bar Khan’s pupil at the Basel Conservatory of Music and in California. Completing her journey in her birthplace of New York, Levi studied with La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, monitoring their Dream House into the 21st century. Levi has translated the work of Henri Michaux and Indian mystic Mira Bai (whose Sweet On My Lips La Monte Young wrote the introduction for) and is responsible for the first English translation of Rene Daumal’s Rasa, or, Knowledge of the Self: Essays on Indian Aesthetics (New Directions, 1982). She has published over a dozen books of her own poetry, most recently Crazy Louise (or la Conversazione Sacra), a series of poems examining sexual trauma from the perspective of an initiate, delineating an oriental interpretation of lunacy to reclaim the notion of the feminine hysterical from its subordinate and abusive occidental role. Levi’s introverted lifestyle and reverence for musical tradition and attainment have left comparatively little space for musical dissemination, but the last decade has seen the reappearance of works from the ‘80s in addition to several contemporary releases featuring contributions from her friends, the late Ira Cohen and Catherine Christer Hennix. Whether alone or with accompaniment, Levi’s elegiac sarangi, bells, and flute exude the feeling of otherworldly, indeed forgotten ritual. Her invocation & interpretive sense of raga, in these recordings, overlaid with spoken and sung poetry, invoke threshold experience, railing against mono culture with a sincerity & presence as sardonic or mournful as it is devotional.
Blank Forms has curated a program of music and poetry as part of Josiah McElheny’s new solo show, Observations at Night. McElheny’s sonic sculpture, “Moon Mirror,” will function as both an acoustic reflector and an open stage-like platform for performances, as part of an exhibition of optically dynamic paintings and sculptures inspired by cosmic revolutionary figures like Joe McPhee and Sun Ra Arkestra singer June Tyson. Tyson’s optimistic communication of the potential for world-building beyond the painful alienation of presiding earthly visions serves as the focal point for the series’ interrogation of how music and poetry might illuminate new pathways of resistance to our troubled political climate. An international assembly of artists from a diverse spectrum of creative improvising idioms have been selected to use McElheny’s parabolic structure as a catalyst for explorations of both acoustic feedback and social interaction between performers and audiences from heterogeneous cultural spheres. Featuring performers pulling inspiration from black American free jazz as well as experimental music, deep listening, and folk traditions of Korean, Japanese, Iraqi, Indonesian, and Persian music, the surreal convergence of mysteries of light and sound proposes that we might today not only pass through what can feel like a dream or nightmare state but find something here, visible or audible in the twilight that can lead into a cosmic future.