But in the current timeline, this octogenarian multi-instrumentalist — born Edward Larry Gordon in 1943 — is nothing short of indispensable to the history of ambient music, a New Age icon seemingly predestined to be heard around the world and guide the masses in deep, aural meditation. Predestination, after all, could explain the series of momentous serendipities that have propelled Laraaji’s career through five decades.
First came the mystical voice Laraaji claims to have heard in 1974, urging him to trade his guitar for a second-hand autoharp in lieu of much-needed cash at a Queens pawn shop. A classically trained jazz keyboardist until this point, the exchange would prove pivotal for Laraaji’s creative development after he inventively adapted the stringed instrument into an open-tuned, audio-processed electric zither.
“I found that its electrified sound allowed me to sound-paint my interior sensations of the invisible world,” Laraaji tells New Times. “When I had gotten a deeper creative vocabulary with this new electric sound, I began playing on the sidewalks, plazas, and parks of New York City.”
This brings us to the second great moment of kismet in Laraaji’s career, and that’s none other than Brian Eno happening upon the divinely ordained zither master while he was busking at Washington Square Park in 1978. Of course, the hugely influential British record producer would go on to release Laraaji’s 1980 studio album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance as the third installment of Eno’s seminal “Ambient” series, which gave the music genre its name.
If these seem like mere coincidences so far, and you’re not yet convinced that the universe was conspiring to make Laraaji’s music heard against all odds, that’s because you haven’t heard the story behind Segue to Infinity yet.
Released in 2023, this quadruple LP collection comprises a veritable treasure trove of studio recordings from the late ’70s, which had been lost in the sands of time. That’s until some mildewed acetates were discovered in an abandoned storage locker in 2021, auctioned, and acquired for a mere $114 by some college student called Jake Fischer after he recognized Laraaji’s given name of Edward Larry Gordon printed on them.
Laraaji, who today is also a practicing laughter meditation therapist — seriously, look it up — calls this fateful affair laughable. “It’s music that I pretty much totally forgot existed,” he says. “The story is vaguely familiar to me, but there’s some strange twists and turns in there that I still cannot account for. Now I just leave it at that. Segue to Infinity is a very honest picture of the experimental attitude with which I explored the electric zither in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Since that era, Laraaji has released dozens of albums’ worth of devotional music seeped in Eastern flavors. But he’s also very much a product of his Black Baptist upbringing in 1950s New Jersey, spiritually weaned on church organ and gospel choir music. “It was very early on that I noticed how music is a very quick and efficient vehicle for lifting me emotionally and psychologically into alternative spacetime,” he says.
Without waxing mystical, Laraaji’s music is a sort of syncretic spiritual fusion of East and West. His spiritual practice and his music practice are essentially the same. “I have been practicing meditative self-understanding for many years,” he says. “This practice influences the kind of sonic expressions that flow most naturally in improvisational spontaneity.”
“I believe this music helps the listener to target and inhabit their inner, nonverbal places,” he explains. “They are liberated from the tyranny of the thinking mind and from fierce formats and frozen fixtures of their outer personality. This music offers assistance by providing a setting within which the listener can withdraw into an anxiety-reduced space, relax, breathe easier, and entertain relaxational imagery through the inner imagination.”
That is the perfect soundtrack to an immersive audiovisual experience with Coral Morphologic’s aquatic visions unfolding at the Miami Beach Bandshell on Sunday, May 21.
Laraaji promises an “expanded opportunity to feel inner peace through water-body-music-listening, and a heightened sense of the living coral presence with whom we share this awesome bio habitat.”
Aqua Garden Flow: An Audiovisual Experience from Laraaji. With Coral Morphologic and Robert Beatty. 8 p.m. Sunday, May 21, at Miami Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; miamibeachbandshell.com. Tickets cost $46.35 via dice.fm.