New Age Icon Laraaji Discusses the Inward Path to His Cosmic Music

The NY-based New Age artist reflects on his psychic relationship to the color orange, his spiritual and musical practices, and his experiences with laughter meditation.

Laraaji has been constructing sonic temples since the 1970s, pointing to the ever-unfolding universe within every living being. A longtime New York resident with an interest in Eastern mysticism, Laraaji, né Edward Larry Gordon, began performing with electric zither and hammered dulcimer in the city’s public parks. Full of blissful drones, percussive tones, and chanted mantras, his discography has since expanded to over 50 releases, including collaborations with Brian Eno, Sun Araw, Blues Control, and Bill Laswell. Listening to the iconic new age musician’s output is akin to discovering an opening in a door to the cosmos.

Laraaji uses sound and laughter meditation to conjure deep meditative trance states in his recordings, live performances, and workshops, which have taken him all over the world. And though he’s in his seventies now, he’s showing no sign of slowing down. In 2018 alone, he put out Arrive Without Leaving, a collaboration with Arji OceAnanda and Dallas Acid; Vision Songs, Vol. 1, a reissue of a self-released collection of lyrical songs from 1984; and Sun Transformations, a collection of remixes of his music.

Ahead of his sold out January 24 performance at the Park Church Co-Op, AdHoc spoke with Laraaji about his spiritual and musical journey, as well as his work with color and laughter meditation, the latter of which he said was inspired by the teachings of Osho, a spiritual leader whose story is chronicled in the popular 2018 Netflix series Wild, Wild Country.

AdHoc: I’m curious about your work with color meditation.

Laraaji: Yes, the color—especially in my case, the color orange. I use it a lot and incorporate it into my wardrobe as a vibrant color significant of transformation, fire energy, positive psychology. I use [it] as a therapy color too.

Here on the East Coast, I understood years ago that even the incandescent lights were void of the color orange until they had full-spectrum lighting. It’s the sunrise and sunset colors that people in the East here have access to. Staring into the fireplace is another place of getting it—making eye contact with the soil, even. For me, it’s a happy cheerful color, and I was advised to wear more of it by a spiritual mentor in mid-’80s, when he psychically observed that I had an inner initiation sometime in the ’70s, and it was trying to surface in my experimenting with the color orange. He suggested I go all the way with orange to help speed up this inner initiation.

The inner initiation that he was speaking of was my being exposed to something called cosmic music, or Nadam: the inner sound current that one hears and can hear in deep meditation that allows the awareness to become immersed in [the] sensation of the eternal present moment.

This occurred in maybe a five or ten-minute post-meditation experience in the seventies. I didn’t know what to do with the experience, but it did inform the music I was reaching for in my performance, and the music was multiple layers of brass instruments weaving this glorious, textural, cacophonous ocean of sound—without the sound giving the impression that it had emanated from the linear plane. The awareness was immersed in the sensation of the entire universe, happening now, [the] cosmic union of all things.

This was a cosmic heart-opening experience. It was also kind of baffling, because I wanted to share this experience, but didn’t think I could do it on the linear earth plane with linear instruments. Shortly after that, I was guided kind of mystically to work with the electric autoharp zither, and through that instrument, I was able to access this inner, nonlinear hearing experience that drove the kind of music I was reaching for. This was not only through the zither, but every other instrument I worked with.

Your spiritual experiences have influenced the music you create—does the music you create, in turn, influence the spiritual experiences?

Yup, like a cycle. My musical experience is actually a sound temple for immersion in conscious awareness. When I contemplate without music within this awareness, I receive emotional [and] psychological inspiration for music. The music that tends to get suggested are drones for the continuum of consciousness—toned drones or harmonic drones. Indian classical music has tamburas and shruti boxes which hold drone tones. Indian classical music seems to be either conscious or unconscious—holding space for this eternal consciousness. My music holds space for spiritual experience, and my spiritual experiences hold space for my musical experiences.

Do you usually use your music as a way to meditate or get into these different levels of consciousness?

Music, tone, sound, and chanting are my dominant informal daily practice. Laughter is another way of going into mediation. It can release muscles and the breath and the mind from external involvement. There’s also movement meditation. And dancing, for me—New York offers a broad opportunity for this. There is something called the 5Rhythms movement meditation—it is across the world and in New York. It happens four or five times a week. I can go to a two-hour class there and be supported in going inward and breathing during movement.

[I also use] gongs to go inward—large, circular mounted gongs. I use breath work, yoga postures, and informal and sometimes formal yoga stretch sessions to help to prepare me to relax deeper into the meditation zone.

When I began practicing meditative sitting in the ’70s, there was the initial practice of learning how to sit still for 21 minutes without moving. Of course, you swallow saliva or blink if you have to, but during that 21 minutes, [you] stay focused on a point using a selected point on the wall [and resist] the urge to move. Learning to sit still for 21 minutes was a practice that took maybe a month or two.

There was the practice of taking all titles off before going into meditative sitting—just mentally [removing] all titles that have been used for me or are being used for me. For instance, if I say, “I’m not a musician, I’m not a composer, I’m not a male, not a New Yorker.” In other words, I’m not a license plate number, not a social security number—and as I peel off every single title or classification, I find that I’m left in this place of effortless stillness. Anxiety, stress, problems, and worries don’t belong to the self that remains when taking off the titles, and I am left with pure “I am” awareness. That place is without turbulence, without angst, without personal business or personal agenda. When I take off all the titles and I am left in this pure “I am” awareness, it is effortless to sit for hours, and that’s what I did in my initial practice in the ’70s. I sat for hours, from, like, 12 to 5 in the morning.

Up until then, I was unclear about what mediation was and what it was supposed to do. I was intimidated by Eastern teachers, and I felt like they were trying to teach something that was theirs and could never be mine—until I read a book by a Western yoga teacher named Richard Hittleman. He wrote a book called The Book of Yoga Meditation, and it demystified the meditation experience enough for me to begin exploring.

I had grown up in the Baptist church, being exposed to the Bible teachings and quotes from Jesus Christ, all of which was still mystical to me when I was young. During the meditation sitting, in pure “I am” awareness, much if not most of what was mystical to me became clear—the mystery or the mystical side of creation and the creator. That was in the early ’70s to the mid-’70s, until I had attracted that sound-hearing experience. I guess that was a milestone in my mediation: I had attracted the ability to hear Nadam, that musical sound current of the eternal universe.

And you’ve been creating music to reach those states and bring those states of mind to other people?

Exactly. I understand that I cannot reproduce that experience here, in the linear three-dimensional world, because that sound has no ending or beginning; it is called a “soundless sound.” However, the music that I reach for on this side is sort of like a finger pointing at that state of consciousness. [It] helps the listener relax, and if they’re practicing yoga or meditation already, then it’s the music that helps to confirm and affirm this still, inner quiet place where they can meet that nonlinear hearing experience. [It] also celebrates the bliss and joy of being made aware that consciousness is eternal and [exists] beyond a three-dimensional world where things seem to be born and then die—that there is a continuum. My belief is that this field in which I am aware is omniversal—it is everywhere—so that I am, in effect, pointing a finger at something that is where the listener already is.

I wanted to ask about the laughter meditation and the workshops that you’ve been doing.

That grew out of my earlier passion of doing stand-up comedy and writing comedy and laughing—enjoying the works of different comedians. In the early ’80s, during a time when I was doing mostly music performance and music workshops for healing, I was introduced to something called laughter meditation through the Osho Rajneesh people. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was a guru to a large following. He has since left the body, but he gave lectures and talks, and his disciples would write them down. The writings from one of the lectures comprised a book of meditations suggesting laughter meditation.

Because I had given myself to comedy and writing comedy when I was told about this meditation work, I was impressed with the idea of waking up in the morning, doing some stretches, and, without opening the eyes, just [entering] into laughter and letting your laughter unfold for 15 minutes. I tried this for seven days, and I was impressed. I discovered how much more my body was available. After that experiment on myself, I decided to [put together] a small, five to 10-minute laughter exercise to insert in my music healing lectures and workshops. It went over so well, and I kept input from participants of how to expand that, until it eventually became a two-hour workshop that involved exercises of directing the laughter into different energy centers in the body.

[At first, we use] staged, phony laughter, but eventually, real authentic laughter erupts, because the exercises are so hilarious. After a period of exercises, the participants are encouraged to lie down and do the laughter release as though they are waking up in the morning, so they are prepared with some techniques for how to get into their laughter. After the 15 minutes of laughter release, the participants are allowed to lie there in what could be a near-savasana yoga pose—just totally emptied, totally released, totality relaxed—and enjoy some meditative sounds from either the gong or other music I share.

The response is that it’s exhilarating and relaxing. So many of the participants reconnect with their authentic laughter and have dropped a lot of psychological weight, heaviness. They feel light, luminous, and ready to move forward in their lives with more joy. In other words, they’ve been de-funked. They get pulled out of a funky place.

Catch Laraaji at the Park Church Co-Op on January 24, with support from Rachika S.