One of the most special places in the Los Angeles area, as far as I’m concerned, is the Hahamongna watershed around NASA/JPL, on the hotly-contested border between La Cañada-Flintridge, Pasadena and Alta Dena. I went to summer camp there as a small child, and during my adult years, I found it to be the only reliable place of refuge from the churning madness that is LA. The association with Jack Parsons has long been of interest to me, and even if the occult history isn’t your cup of tea, it’s hard to deny there’s something a bit odd about the place.
One end of the park is bounded by a massive, imposing dam, christened Devil’s Gate, built to stall the water from the winter rains before allowing it to trickle down into the Arroyo Seco, and eventually into the LA River. Up top, this dam is ringed with barbed wire and menacing signs from the county, but accessed from below, one has only to wind one’s way through thick clumps of trees and boulders to access the terraced face of the structure. In my sometimes-daily wanderings around the area, the idea took root that, at one point or another, I needed to perform and record some music there, on the face of the dam.
And so it was that in late August 2019, I assembled a group of intrepid souls to accompany me on this, my last musical act as a resident of Los Angeles, before leaving for Vancouver in September. I was joined at dusk by Trevor Blake, Brian Griffith, James Lake, Sam Jones and Liza Patterson, armed with our battery of synthesizers, effects pedals and amps, along with the generator Trevor had picked up at the Home Depot earlier in the day. We hauled the gear a mile through the wash, over conrete, asphalt, dirt and sand, through bushes, groves and rocks, and finally up the steep staircase that scaled the face of the dam.
Trevor got the generator running, and set up his portable video projector to display the hallucinatory outpourings of his LVX video synthesizer directly onto the face of the dam. The rest of us hurriedly got our synths up and running, becoming increasingly aware of the illegality of our jam session, and of the fact that with the projector up and running, we were practically casting a search light out into the otherwise darkened night. Before beginning the jam, we were greeted by the playful swooping of bats around the overhangs above us, and our sonic transmission was fittingly brought to a close by the approaching call of a police siren (mercifully heading away from us, not towards us, as we’d feared).
The cover art was made by Trevor Blake, and is a manipulation of portraits he took of Sam, Brian, James and myself, at the top of the dam, after we’d hoisted our gear up the top end of the structure, rather than carrying it all the way back around the way we’d gone in.