November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Finding “Darshan”/Fred Roberts

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Patrick McMahon

and the Spirit of Music:

Darshan (1983)

by Fred Roberts

My path to the music I share in this article is as meaningful to me as the music itself. In 1980, my last year of high school, I took Mrs. Wilson’s “World Literature” class. It made quite an impression on me. Mostly we read ancient literature: Greek classics, Persian poets, Omar Khayyam, the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest writings, and others. It showed the universality of human drama and passion and sparked an interest that I began to deepen after high school. I read Homer’s Odyssey and the Iliad. I began reading Tolkien, The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and especially the Silmarillion, written in the best tradition of Classic literature. I haunted my school library, the public library, and various bookshops around town. Aquarius Bookshop, on Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, is the place I invariably drifted to.

Aquarius_shopfront_1989                                                                                                        

Aquarius Bookshop was a new age bookstore at a time when the term was new to many people, and sometimes suspect. Entering the shop was a mystical experience, a step out of the fast-paced life of 20th century America into a microcosm of peace. The wooden floor, the aroma of incense, the soft sounds of music, never obtrusive, intertwined to form an indelible impression. In the center of all this, at the register, stood the store’s owner. His thoughtful manner of speaking, his enlightened expression, and total lack of negativity were unmistakable facets of the man. He glowed with serenity. I thought he might be the Buddha himself.

My days at the university were full and hectic and included a 75-minute bus ride each way, transferring in downtown Cincinnati. Sometimes I used the opportunity on the way home to stop by Aquarius. It was always like entering a sanctuary. I went to browse the shelves in a far side of the shop filled with a selection of books beyond the usual commercial offerings. There was ancient literature, philosophy, esoteric works and writings on the world’s religions. I might stand before the shelves an hour or longer, reading the back covers and introductions of various volumes before deciding on the one I wanted to buy. I don’t know if the shopkeeper ever noticed me. I assume he didn’t. I rarely spoke with him when I was in the shop, being generally shy. But I was conscious of him, usually as he was in conversation with one of his other customers. The shop seemed never to be empty. Virgil’s Aeneid, The Song of Roland, and translations by Professor Tolkien of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and of Pearl are a few titles I found there that engrossed me from the first word to the last, and that I still have today.

There was more to the shop than the books. It was adorned with American Indian artifacts, artwork, crystals, and a stand with record albums. In 1984, when I finished my studies and before moving to upstate New York, I took note of the records. There were several issues by a band with the curious name of Blacklight Braille, which I had never heard of. Blacklight Braille is best described as the Amon Düül II of the parallel universe, but that’s a topic for another article. I selected their first album Electric Canticles. Another album caught my eye: Darshan, by Patrick McMahon, of whom I also had not heard. The cover was a photograph of a virgin seashore, of the tide, of the light of a sun behind the horizon just about to engulf the world in light. It was a picture of peace and serenity, the kind I had felt while browsing in Aquarius. The music on that album has stayed with me the last thirty years and is as fresh and as timeless to me now as it was the first time I heard it.

Darshan                                                                                                     

Darshan is music from another age and place, a reflection of eternal beauty, contemplation, introspection, simplicity, innocence, all the aspects of life that have different meanings for every single person and that are so impossible to define. It slows life down. It quiets storms. It is an early, quintessential New Age album, without really belonging to that category. For all the countless times I have listened to Darshan, I still don’t know how best to describe the experience. The seven tracks feature Patrick McMahon’s vision of music as expressed via various flutes and other wind instruments. He is supported by Dan Murphy, soft accompaniment on acoustic and electric guitar as well as on electric piano. Despite the use of these modern instruments, the music sounds astonishingly ancient, originating even before time. The compositions and interpretations remain blissfully unaware of modern styles.

The first track, Divine Awakening, might be a call to prayer at an ancient temple. It is a duet on two flutes, both parts intertwining and mingling, calling and answering. The next track, Dharma (Righteousness) – flute, acoustic guitar and electric piano – is the sound of innocence and wonder, a Garden of Eden, eternal Spring, chirping birds, but without a serpent. After that, Cave of the Ancients, is slightly dissonant. The single flute, representing perhaps the Spirit of the Wind as it sounds out the spaciousness of the caverns, calling into the depths, is the essence of that composition. The next piece, Shanti (Peace) conveys a nostalgic mood, and reminds me most of the spirit and sanctuary I felt in Aquarius Bookshop. Side two of the record begins with the sound of the ocean, of the waves crashing onto the shore, the eternal rhythm that precedes the existence of music and out of which music was born. It is joined by the sound of chimes and the dissonant-harmonic cries of the gulls as they relate an enigmatic story. This is the title track Darshan (Vision of Light). Prema (Love) is a melodic composition whose expressive variations on flute evoke the image of the eternal musician. Sathya (Truth) concludes the album with bass flute, played as a deep-whisper. The album is so grand and unique in all its points, that I have no idea of what to compare it to. As a rough point of reference I can only think of Eden’s Island (Eden Ahbez).

                                Patrick McMahon1                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                       I listened to the music of Darshan many times. I listened to it alone, and it brought me home, to times so familiar. I listened with a girl who was dear to me and it sheltered us from the stresses and pressures of life, bringing us closer together. One time, in 1989, I returned for a visit to Cincinnati, and stopped by Aquarius Bookshop. It was still there, the same shopkeeper in attendance. There were fewer books, and more native American artifacts and art. I told him about the album I had found there and how much it had come to mean to me, asked him who Patrick McMahon was and if there was anything more by him. He began talking about the artist’s later releases, on cassette tape. I asked more and more questions about the music, and the shopkeeper continued to answer, appearing to know quite intimately the artist’s intentions, almost too intimately, at the same time appearing slightly embarrassed. It finally became obvious.“Well, it’s me,” he admitted. In that awkward, but beautiful moment I sensed the modesty of a grand spirit.

Patrick McMahon2                                                                                                       

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For a feeling of Patrick’s music:

Cape Breezyhead (with Blacklight Braille), a continuation of the spirit of Darshanhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9genSOgkpE

About Patrick McMahon: https://fandalism.com/patrickmcmahon

On Reverbnation: http://www.reverbnation.com/treeoflifeworldmusic

 

About the reviewer:

Fred Roberts, contributing Music Editor.  A native of Cincinnati living in Germany since 1987, Fred enjoys subverting the arbitrary commercial process in which great works often go unrecognized.  He is creator and designer of Elbot.com, an award-winning AI system. His interests include literature, film, photography and discovering all the well-kept secrets Europe has to offer. You can read more about him in About Us.

Email: indeterminacy@gmail.com