Coming Full Circle: Where The Future Meets The Past

When Simon Posford and Raja Ram first connected over fifteen years ago something in the universe shifted. The story starts in 1996 when the pair bonded after viewing a solar eclipse in India. They were so inspired that they decided to channel the experience into sound and Shpongle was born. It’s significant that this was their point of origin.

The mystical and spiritual infuse Shpongle through and through. The resulting track, …And the Day Turned to Night, clocked in at over 20 minutes. Shpongle’s unique sonic concoctions draw in influences as diverse as minimalism, downtempo, ambient, and psychedelic trance. Posford, who also produces Psy Trance under the name Hallucinogen, takes care of studio production and synths, and Ram contributes flute arrangements. The resuly is a unique sound that has brought them attention from around the world.

Shpongle are hitting Australian shores this month with a full ten-piece ensemble live show. It’s a true feat to get them out here after a few previous false starts, especially with their whole live act. Just coordinating shows in Europle is a feat – their drummer, Joe, plays with The Grateful Dead and both Posford and Ram are constantly touring. Talking with Ram, who was born in Melbourne in 1941, his delight about returning home is palpable – especially being able to bring their full live experience. "It’s unbelievable really!” he exclaims with a hint of glee, “After 70 years on the planet, to return home and play live is a dream. I could never have anticipated it all those years ago when I was studying at the Melbourne conservatory. It is an honour and I am so excited." Truly live and engaging electronic music can be hard to find these days. We’re so used to going out and seeing DJs spin tunes that our senses are somewhat dulled. The Shpongle live experience is a unique journey through sounds and beats.

For Posford and Ram their creative collaboration is at times specific but mostly mystical. The energy that flows between them is all that matters. "Everything to me is visual," says Ram in reflection. "I bring the ideas and samples to the session. Simon does the hard work but I see the piece and feel the vibe and direction before we start. We drink some good Burgundy and think where we want to go in Shpongle land." Most importantly Shpongle’s sound has continued to evolve over their four albums and they have frequently collaborated with others. The Australian tour will see the airing of the tunes from their past records and music from their next album due for release in 2012. "We have evolved as people and reflected that. We have gone deeper, weirder, druggier and more technical." Ram is quick to clarify his point: "A good sample sets an example. We rely heavily on computers but I just play my silver flutes. They’re so simple, so small, and so direct. I am in love with my flute."

Ram’s background contributes greatly to this aspect of the group and has allowed them to mine the depths of their music. He left Australia in the 1950s to follow the hippie trail but he returned to study flute at Melbourne Conservatory. In 1965 he went to New York to study with the maestro Lennie Tristano. It was a formative experience for him and he went on to found the band Quintessance in the late sixties. They played at the first two Glastonbury Festivals in 1970 and 1971 and over 300 shows during their time together. It’s quite a history and it means that the influences on Shpongle are diverse. There’s a kind of mutating structural element to Shpongle tracks that brings to mind the American minimalists like Steve Reich. "I love Steve Reich – he is an influence for repetitive beats and slight shifts in harmony and melody. But there have been a lot of others – Bach, Charlie Parker, Indian flautists, African, World and Electronic of course."

After a break from music in the seventies Ram decided to pursue electronic music and learn new creative methods. He was inspired by the developments in music technology that had taken place since he had been playing with Quintessance. Synthesisers and samplers were now the flavour of the day and his creative spirit was demanding to understand. "I loved the work of early synthesisers bands and always wanted to find out how to make those squidgy noises!" So he decided to get into it: "I got my first computer in the early eighties .and with a 303 and Yamaha CX5 Computer started getting into it about 1981."

Now, though, things have come full circle and Shpongle are interested in bridging the analogue and electronic domains in their music. It’s a creative challenge but it has produced some rich results. "Now we’re all about real playing in real time with different keys and time signatures," he explains. They have been influenced by things outside music too: "Our travels all over the globe and meeting and fusing with some other cultures have had an effect. But the music is channelled – it comes from the Pineal gland or from deep space. I don’t know. I try not to analyse it too much," he concludes with a quiet sigh.

2011 is going to be a busy year for Shpongle and for Ram with his other project, 1200 Micrograms: "We have The God Particle as our next mini EP release. I think it’s our most far out piece yet. I have tours all around the planet coming up – Mexico with 1200 Micrograms Live, Israel, an Indian tour in March, then Serbia, Greece, Brazil and maybe Ozora. I just got back from Berlin on New Year’s Eve which was amazing." Ram is energised by all the activity and his passion for Shpongle shines through. Their live shows in Australia will be a great homecoming for Ram and a wonderful introduction to many about their music. "The future is terrific. I just turned seventy and I feel it’s just beginning!"

Shpongle [UK] are joined by Cobblestone Jazz, Mathew Johnson and Radio Slave at the 2011 instalment of the Rainbow Serpent Festival, Friday January 21 until Monday January 24 in Beaufort. Sphongle will also be stopping by for a special sold out visit at the Forum Theatre this Friday January 14.