Anticipation started the night at
Boston’s Avalon Ballroom. The air was brisk for the first
time of fall and a luminous haze was cast over the heavy sky. Inside
the heat was pumping straight from the celestial source to the huddled
crowd. When the first note rang through the sonorous hall, all inhabitants
of the room were transported to the realm of liquid melody. Fluxing
waves of current drained through the squirming bodies crammed in
the dance pit.
Sound Tribe Sector 9
is the shaman master of jam electronica bands. Members of the tribe
are as congruous as particles of water in a torrent river. Swerving
in and out of each other’s rhythm, the effect flows images
of the eternal river of life over our senses. Simple complexity
rings through their flowing phasing and if you listen closely, you
may start to understand the collective consciousness that contains
all human life.
On the front of the stage, the tribe focuses their
vision on a collection of geologic crystals. Ambiance from the light
cannons above enters the transparent shapes on stage and the celestial
groove is focused into a laser of intensity. “Activate your
mind. Focus…like a lotus….” Technological throbbing
dominates the rain of fire from the braided staccato sounds. Something
about this band ignites my senses into a flurry of philosophy. Events
of life and history seem to equate themselves metaphorically out
of the music.
This August, Meniscus Magazine had the chance to
sit down with Sound Tribe Sector 9’s (STS9) bass player, David
Murphy to discuss the sense of life conveyed by their music. Among
the lush trees and vibrant sounds of Gamelan’s Berkshire Mountain
Music Festival, the truth came out about their artistic philosophy,
the mind behind the music, and the search for wisdom that, above
all else, drives the band to be true to itself. While words can
never truly describe the Tao as explained by the ancient Tao de
Ching, Sound Tribe Sector 9 draws an audible pattern that explains
the eternal Way more than words ever could.
Tribe of Artists
STS9 does on stage, what any artist does with their work: relate
their life experience to the world. Murphy and his four band-mates
hope that by playing music and playing shows, there’s a group
of people that relate—who can listen and feel that relationship
and share in their life experience. Murphy explains, “We’re
not really here to say anything. We’re here to share our experience,
especially with people who resonate with that.”
Among the Atlanta-based band, there are a lot of
life experiences, and a vast array of ways to relate to different
people. From this, a tremendous creative energy is released, continually
reverberating and becoming more powerful.
In Murphy’s mind, staying in the comfort zone
is easy to do. Anyone can go out and do something that’s been
done before. “But to take risks is invigorating,” Murphy
continued. “It is why we’re artists: to take risks and
try things that have never been tried before. And if it doesn’t
work, if people don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. That’s
really not what we’re here to do.”
While there are many pressures in the world, distracting
them from music, a healthy perspective keeps their art on the top
of the priority list. In many ways, music is the only thing that
matters. And it pays off in everything they do.
“We got to go to Tokyo,” touts Murphy,
relating all the amazing things they do through art. “If we
have one thing to say to people, it’s follow your heart with
what you’re doing in life. So many gifts are given when you
learn to let go of your fears and securities in life.”
“We all have the potential. We were all brought
to this earth in the likeness of God. We all have the power within
ourselves to create and to cause creation. There is no one here
whose sole purpose is not to find themselves.”
Acquiesce on that statement. What do you need to
overcome to fully realize your potential? “For me,”
explains Murphy, “accepting that I didn’t understand
everything, in the whole of creation, was a liberating thing. At
that point I was able to live and experience life.”
David Murphy explains the dichotomy of modern day
science; it’s a philosophy that drives us forward, but also
holds us back. Science taught us to ask “Why?” and gave
us curiosity. On the other hand, we always have some body giving
us the answer, before we have a chance to find out for ourselves.
it’s the question that drives us.
That’s why we have to give into that question
and be that question. Just live right now. That’s our biggest
problem; we’re always living in the past and in the future.
“You’ll never have a life experience and gain that wisdom,
unless you can live— right—now. One will never
know the reasons why things happen unless they give up to it; just
Everybody wants to pursue his or her dreams. You’ve
got to let those answers come to you and to make those connections
that will further your life to the farthest reaches of your imagination—because
those things can be real.
At every next step however, the choice is ours. We
make the decision to take a new path or stay on the old one.
What comes from Sector
9’s philosophy of living? “Musically we hit on all those
depths. We try to show beauty and show anger and show frustration
and show ecstasy and all these different emotions through musical
existence. They all have their place. They all compliment each other.”
Uttering a complex, yet paradoxically simple rhythm begins with
the tools on stage. An array of percussion tools lie to the back
of the stage as a foundation to the primordial beats. Sounds from
the electronica family are brought by the help of Macintosh laptops
aside each player. In addition to David Murphy on bass, the band
is comprised of Hunter Brown on guitar, Zach Velmer on drums, keyboardist
David Phipps and percussionist Jeffree Lerner. To stand and stare
at the band, one would hardly notice the electronics if Zach did
not pause occasionally for a few bars of air drumming.
The advent of technology has allowed five people on stage to represent
a near infinite number of sounds. The diverse mixture of styles
and textures come across as a musical palimpsest.
The dictionary defines palimpsest as: “a manuscript written
over a partly erased older manuscript in such a way that the old
words can be read beneath the new.” The principle may apply
artistically to painting on top of an existing print, where many
new and existing layers blend to form a completely new piece of
art. Musically, STS9 is blending many past and present layers from
their diverse cultural backgrounds, and taking it to a new level.
“Everything has been done before in a way. Anything new that
is created is created off of an artifact that someone else created,”
explains Murphy. “But you are inspired by that soul-breaker,
that you can now create a song around. And that’s the way
we work a lot. It’s getting inspiration from the little things
and putting those together.”
On Sunday evening at Berkfest, Sector 9 shared that inspiration
with the frolicking crowd. In a beautiful display, a flower bearer
came out on stage to prepare a majestical bouquet in a coreographed
celebration of beauty. The ecstatic dancer ran among the towering
flowers like a happy young lamb gamboling in a sunny meadow. It
was quintessential beauty; the display brought a tear to my eye.
The beauty is intentional.
“Every next step
we have the decision to play any style of music. And there is a
lot of freedom living with that mentality. We’re not held
back by anything musically and we’re inspired by that,”
he said about the band.
“We’re Sector 9; if anything we are unique unto ourselves,”
he continued. “And we’re happy to be that. We’re
about getting up on stage and playing music.”
The crowd at Berkfest was in full agreement as they let loose the
largest cheer for an encore of all the acts playing the main stage
that weekend. It was a full on celebration.
Sector 9’s musical journey is much like anyone’s who
is trying to find their true path.
“On the new upcoming album, we’re trying to just be
ourselves. Its easy to get caught up in the ‘this is cool
right now’. Like hip-hop breaks are cool right now so lets
put a lot of that in our album, or cut-up vocals. ...Except in five
years that will be a fad, that will be a trend, we’ll listen
to that album and realize we weren’t being true to ourselves.
We weren’t using, or pulling that inspiration of putting in
our own music. We were being influenced by [what we were listening
to], we weren’t inspired by it. It’s two different
things. You have to find the inspiration. And that’s really
getting into the truth of the music for ourselves.”
wisdom is being able to see the real truth, despite your single peception.
When you understand this, you'll always see the truth."
the Music: Evolution and Wisdom
So what’s at the foundation of this band’s sense of
life? It seems much deeper than just music.
“We like to associate our music with owls,” begins
Murphy. “People consider owls to hold wisdom. They are the
wise ones in Native American culture and regarded in modern culture
as the symbol of wisdom. But the owl is really about perception;
not really wisdom. What owls are able to do is see through every
one’s perception—able to see through, and to your soul.
“The owl sees everything about you. It knows more about you
than you know about yourself. Therefore, it can not be deceived
by you. It’s the master of deception; you can’t deceive
“True wisdom is being able to see the real truth, despite
your single perception. When you understand this, you’ll always
see the truth. You won’t be easily deceived by things, or
fall into trickery, if you will. Whether that trickery be fads,
or styles of music, or ‘this is cool now’. Or like being
tricked into living a particular lifestyle.
“I feel like true wisdom is seeing the deception and lies
that we create for ourselves. There is no government conspiracy,
we do it to ourselves. We create these façades because some
part of our human culture is not ready to deal with ourselves. We’re
not ready to see that truth in each other.”
“We’re not ready to be on that level where we can share
that truth with each other. I know that inside of me is not ready
and pure enough for someone to come around and read my thoughts;
to be sharing the same universal frequency. That’s just where
the world is and it’s beautiful that we’re there. This
is the growth that we are going to incur. That really is true wisdom,
to be able to see that, and that’s something we really try
and portray in our music. We try to see through a lot of the facades
that are in art, and in life.
try to see through a lot of the facades that
are in art, and in life."
“In life we try
and see through all of those deceptions we put up in front of ourselves.
It’s easier to do as a group than it is for individuals. But
that’s real. It’s easier to sit there with your brothers
and to feel one way, but then to have four other people to help
me see the universal truth of what I really feel. You can easily
be caught up in passion, or being angry or overexcited about things,
and you can be one track-minded. I’ll feel one way about a
piece of music and they’ll help me to step back and see the
bigger picture—see the Truth. Get past the deception.
“What life has shown us, is that if you can be real, that’s
what people like. That’s that truth that we’re afraid
to deal with. We’re afraid to be ourselves in a system. That’s
what inhibits us.
“There isn’t anyone who’s life has’t broken
them down. Life just kicked you in the gut and you’re down
man, you’re hobbling. If we don’t share that, it’s
hard to get back up. I feel like as a people, we don’t share
that. That’s what the Sector 9 family is. It’s about
that group of people there to pick each other up off the ground,
to help uplift each other.
“We’ve got to embrace, because that’s what we
offer each other. That spans the globe. Our existence on the planet
really depends on whether we decide to pick people off the ground
Ayn Rand says in Romantic Manifesto that art is the most
important aspect of human life because it allows the artist to express
their sense of life. Now, seven years later, Sector 9 is here to
raise you to your feet and take your soul to the sky.
As genuine artists, they’ve put fear aside and laid their
collective soul down on the line. As David Murphy says, “Eventually
as artists, we say ‘Maybe what I produce is going to be embarrassing,
maybe people won’t like it, and maybe I’ll be an outcast
for it.’ But the fact of the matter is we’re called
to lay our souls down and say, ‘this is how I feel’.
Maybe its not right, maybe it’s the fault of human beings,
but this is what its all about; this is the nitty gritty of it.”
As the cheering finally subsided at the Berkfest stage, hugs flew
through the audience like football fans doing the wave. The stage
was littered with majestic bouquets; the whole scene looked like
a battle of love took place where everyone emerged a winner. The
geologic crystals on stage were being packed up, but the inspiration
had been transmitted; it was there for the audience to take home
Seeing Sound Tribe Sector 9 play live music is an amazing way to
enhance life. But it’s not just about joy, and its not always
easy. “Being in a physical body is about living those humanistic
experiences. Its about experiencing suffering, so you can know the
triumph of the other end. Its that realization that you create your
own reality. One who lives the blissful life, creates that for themselves.
The same goes vice versa. We create where we live. You do have the
choice to wake up happy everyday…Its very invigorating.”
Have long-reaching purpose in life and strive for that every day.
David Murphy and his four other tribe-mates have found that purpose
in life; but they can only tell you about it.
“I had to find for myself. You have to be driven by your
own heart’s desires and passions. Happiness is following your
dreams. We make art, that’s happiness for me.”
David Murphy, Jeffree Lerner, Hunter Brown of STS9.