Lucky Dragons – Overlapping Utopias
September 28, 2008 § Leave a comment
Published: Cyclic Defrost, #20, September 2008.
Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara seem to possess an innate, almost telepathic understanding of each other’s thoughts. The pair – better known as the curatorial heart of amorphous LA sonic phenomenon Lucky Dragons – eagerly expand on each other’s musings; they break off on rambling tangents; they finish each other’s sentences.
It’s a telling intimation of their strangely beautiful art. If there is one space neither of them could be accused of inhabiting, it’s that of creative isolationism.
“I think that’s the biggest rule we impose on ourselves,” muses Fischbeck. “The whole idea is to make things open to interaction and interpretation.”
He’s not kidding. The rare level of exchange between the pair represents only the starting point for their music’s intensively discursive course. Indeed, Fischbeck and Rara tread an artistic path entwined not in their own individualised creative processes, but in notions of ritual, interaction and personal and community interface.
Over the course of eight years and an incredible 19 releases under the Lucky Dragons nom-de-plume – the latest of which is the wondrously quixotic and surreal Dream Island Laughing Language, through Melbourne imprint Mistletone – 30-year-old Fischbeck has worked to reconfigure, if not totally reinvent, the correlation between artist and audience.
For he and Rara, who joined as a collaborative partner in 2005, Lucky Dragons’ oddly ornate electro-acoustic syntax is grounded in fashioning a context for artistic and communal expansion, rather than delivering a completed product. According to Fischbeck, who has a background in independent film, their music finds its bearing in “openness”; in its ability to foster exchange.
“It’s what drew me to making music and putting music out in the first place,” he says. “I mean, I used to do a lot of filmmaking and I soon realised that once you had a film, there wasn’t really anything you could do with it. It wasn’t something you could easily transfer or share; there wasn’t any real way of distributing it.”
“Music was something that was very easy to share,” he continues. “Like, it’s always been very easy to share – you can just play music with your friends or something. There’s been so many different ways of entering it and addressing it, especially coming from a punk background. There’s a resistance and there’s an alternative and these sort of multiple entrances to it that don’t really exist in other kind of creative expressions.”
Rara, who along with Fischbeck is chatting on speakerphone from their home in the central LA neighbourhood of Echo Park, articulates the sentiment in more practical terms.
“Shows have been five dollars since I can remember,” says the 25-year-old, who entered music via visual art. “And there’s something very democratic about that and very universally available.”
“When we play live shows, we try and play in really diverse places,” she continues, running with the theme. “We play everywhere from the local punk club to house shows to museums, and we try and bring people from each of those worlds to each new place, like bring them along with us.”
“I really hope, not for a specific community to hear the music, but for communities to overlap when they hear the music and for the end result to be all ages and all kinds of people and totally open,” she continues. “I guess the dream for it is to be something that can link communities which otherwise seem really different and really separate. It’s almost impossible to achieve that in the art world.”
This sensibility translates to Lucky Dragons’ recording process as equally as it does their routes of dissemination. The duo track their records on-location, utilising whomever and whatever is at hand – crowds, passers-by, friends, whistles, flutes, sticks, rocks, voices, toys, percussion and more conventional instrumentation.
“I like getting into musical situations where you don’t know what it sounds like until you try it,” says Rara. “I much prefer that game or that playing aspect, and just not knowing from the beginning where it’s going to go. But part of the game is that when you improvise music, every sound you make should always generate another sound and have something that follows it; something that forces a continuation or development.”
Fischbeck elaborates: “Usually our intentions are setting up a situation and then we can sort of play around in it and see what happens, and then we have something that comes out of it and we can look at that and it shows us a lot more than we ever could have imagined to begin with.”
“And other people’s reaction to that teaches us even more about what we were doing, and I think it just all expands outwards.”
The duo’s sonic palette is vast, both ethnographically and stylistically. Dream Island Laughing Language echoes with dynamics and intonations as disparate as Kabuki-esque Japanese folk, fragmented west coast psychedelia, minimalism, ambience and lithe, micro-rhythmic and melodic electronica. The effect is remarkable. The album’s 22 fleeting sketches oscillate between vastness and intimacy, synthesis and organics.
Whilst the pair acknowledge the influence of Japanese Kabuki and Noh theatre, they frame Dream Island Laughing Language in more figurative terms. “I see the record as a metaphor for a kind of turning point, where some sort of latent public sentiment becomes externalised,” says Fischbeck.
“The title is kind of two different titles squished together. In terms of the band name, Lucky Dragons, there’s sort of a legend that we’re using. It was a fishing boat that sailed into the hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in the ’50s, and was called the Lucky Dragon. It got immersed in radiation and everyone on board got radiation sickness. It eventually went back to Japan, where it came from, and the ship got cleaned up and renamed the Dark Falcon, which served out its life for about another 10 or 15 years. It was eventually destroyed and put onto a garbage island in Tokyo Harbour called Dream Island, and so this is sort of the continuation of that legend.”
“Up until the Lucky Dragon incident there was no real anti-nuclear movement; for 10 years after the end of WWII there was no real outcry about the use of atomic weapons. But then the Lucky Dragon, and these poor victims of radiation sickness, became like a rallying point for the world and anti-nuclear sentiment. It became a metaphor for a much wider idea.”
The second part of the title – Laughing Language – on the other hand, refers to an investigation into the possibilities of language. “It’s sort of a longstanding discussion that Sarah and I have had about language and about what language is, where it comes from, where it’s going, what is inside it and whether it is everything.”
“Or whether perfect communication is possible,” adds Rara. “Like directly transferring an idea from one person’s mind to another, or whether it always gets translated somehow. We constantly have agreements and disagreements about that. Also, it kind of refers to the idea of a language without words; a language of spontaneous sounds.”
“It all has a lot to do with the idea of spontaneous transmission and group awareness and stuff,” says Fischbeck. “Some things can be known and expressed by a group instantaneously.”
At the same time, the hazy, abstracted nature of Dream Island Laughing Language’s instrumentation and syntax make for anything but a prescriptive listen. Despite the fact that it stands as their fist ‘non-communal’ recording thus far – aside from a couple of fleeting guests, Fischbeck and Rara are the lone performers – they see it as their most unguarded work to date.
“We were trying to make something that was a little bit simpler,” explains Fischbeck. “I’d been kind of thinking about the record as a kind of minimalist thing, but it’s not always so much like that. It’s more about making something that people can put their own interpretations into, more than being a kind of didactic thing. It’s about, as much as possible, leaving some of the sounds up to interpretation and keeping these sort of ambiguous sources of sound.”
“With some of the past records we’ve made, we’ve tried to create a world that people can kind of enter into when they listen to it, and try to account for every element of that world. And this one was much more, like, we wanted it to enter into people’s worlds and be part of the outside world, rather than the other way around.”
Nonetheless, there is still an intoxicating sense of escapism – of dream-like immersion – to the record. But for Lucky Dragons, their sound worlds transcend mere imagination. “I think we would call it utopian,” offers Fischbeck, before Rara chimes in, as if on cue: “I guess when we make things, we think about the future and the past, and I guess we want to occupy a time that has the conditions for living that we desire,” she says.“ So maybe it’s less about escaping the world and more about trying our best to occupy a world that agrees with us, and hopefully that extends to other people.”
“It’s like an idea of overlapping utopias, where everyone we’re striving to live with wanted to live and lived how they wanted to live. I think people’s ideas of that wouldn’t ever be identical, but I think just that spirit, that approach; instead of looking to the future or looking back, just occupying the present as if it’s the way you want it to be already, like the future has arrived.”
“That’s maybe where I start playing music,” she pauses. “I start having that mindset.”
Dream Island Laughing Language is out through Mistletone/Fuse