Twenty Years with New Earth Records
It will soon be my 20th anniversary with New Earth Records and, as they are releasing my first ever compilation CD ‘Land of the Buddhas’, I feel it is time to have a glance backwards.
It all began in 1990 (when NER was Tao Music and based in Munich), when Bhikkhu invited a group of friends to record Tao’s first music CD. The six of us assembled in a large room in the country outside the city, and knowing nothing at all about recording and having only the most primitive equipment, proceeded to play each track ‘live’. This involved hiding ourselves behind piles of mattresses (so that sound wouldn’t ‘spill’ from one microphone to another), and recording endless takes until at last no-one had made an obvious mistake. ‘Terra Incognita –No Goal But the Path’ was released the following year, and while no longer available commercially, its innocent vibe and live feel still comes through today for those lucky enough to have a copy.
The following year the Terra Incognita team met up again in Italy to record the follow up ‘Tribal Gathering’. Prem Joshua, Ravi and I played a couple of concerts arranged by Tao Music in Munich’s ‘Gasteig’ (including as an opening act for Hariprasad Chaurasia) imbetween sessions, and earned enough to pay for a few additional hours in a real studio, so the record has a more professional feel. It was a hit and miss affair – we were still learning! – but there are a couple of tracks we can still be proud of.
It was over five years before I could offer NER a CD I could feel proud of; five years that I spent exploring, for minor labels in Germany, the East-West combination that would become my trademark. ‘Celtic Ragas’ came out in 1998, NER riding the Celtic ‘wave’. Recorded in a professional studio in Hamburg, Vidroha Jamie and I were able to take advantage of the first computer software to be able to edit without physically cutting tape –albeit with the help of our sound engineer! (This CD was picked up by Paul McCartney a couple of years later, which led, thanks to Waduda quickly assuming the role of my agent, to our playing his 2002 wedding in Ireland. Another story, as they say.)
In 1998 in Hawai’i I finally bit the bullet and got my own studio, a dedicated Roland hard disc recorder with all of eight tracks! I used it to make ‘Feng Shui – The Eightfold Path’ (2000), struggling with the technicals (SCASI, Midi sync, a screen the size of a large postage stamp), and with a range of new instruments –harp, santoor, bass – as well as my usual sarod and guitar. Bhikkhu and Waduda encouraged me to create a special Feng Shui meditation for the CD, and went town on cover artwork in support. The result was my best selling release ever.
‘Yoga on Sacred Ground’ (2001) was my first chance to experiment with a bit of electronica and drum loops, thanks to a tiny mini sequencer (the Yamaha QY70) which had just come out. The CD set a pattern which my next two CDs, ‘Sacred Temples of India’ (2002) and ‘Karma Circles’ (2003), would follow: exotic instruments – harmonium, accordion, sitar, bamboo flute etc – recorded in Pune, India; the whole thing put together in a garden in Hawai’i, where our outdoor kitchen doubled up as a recording studio.
In 2004 I got my first Mac and Logic software, moved to New Zealand, and a whole new world of possibilities opened up. I was able to use video for the first time on ‘Fragrance of the East , including clips showing the live ‘Concert for India’s Environment’ in Pune at which the live CD was recorded. (NER took a risk on this, their first live CD, especially as half the tracks had already featured as studio recordings on ‘Karma Circles’. It shows their strong support for environmental causes that they released it at all, and sad to say, it has not been much of a commercial success.)
Without Logic I doubt if I could have made ‘Yoga Lounge’ (2005) or ‘Buddha Moon’ (2007), both CDs being based on essentially live recordings from top Hindustani Classical artists. The Macs role on the former was to enable tight editing of the hip-hop grooves, electronics etc that provide the background to Niladri Kumars outstanding sitar playing; and for Buddha Moon to allow me to see on screen the variable tempo of the instrumentalists as I added my guitar and effects. (Guitarists might spot that all the guitar playing on the whole CD is done with harmonics, and will be able to imagine the tuning and retuning and broken strings involved!)
So this brings us up to the present, with Bhikkhu and Waduda continuing their 19 years of support by releasing ‘Land of the Buddhas’, a collection they chose that turns out to include all my favourite pieces. They’ve done their usual amazing job on the cover, and hopefully by the time our 20th anniversary comes around next summer there will be thousands of people all over the world enjoying it!