Glorious Noise Interview with Owsley “Bear” Stanley

DeadBack in July 2006, I read somewhere that Owsley Stanley was still alive and selling jewelry in Australia. I found his website, read a bunch of his essays, and got in touch. I’m not sure what I was hoping for, but he wasn’t very interested in talking to me.

A year later, he did a couple of huge interviews with Rolling Stone (not online [Update: finally online! -ed.]) and the San Francisco Chronicle. Here are some choice bits:

• “By conservative estimates, Bear Research Group made more than 1.25 million doses of LSD between 1965 and 1967, essentially seeding the entire modern psychedelic movement.”

• “As the original sound mixer for the Grateful Dead, he was responsible for fundamental advances in audio technology, things as basic now as monitor speakers that allow vocalists to hear themselves onstage.”

• “Any time the music on the radio starts to sound like rubbish, it’s time to take some LSD,” he says.

Digging through the GLONO archives as we approach our tenth anniversary, I figured we might as well run what we got out of him…

GLONO: I would be interested in inteviewing you about your work in the field of recording (Wall of Sound system, live show recording, etc.).

Owsley: I have already been there, done that… I was never really a recordist, I am just a very (naturally) talented live sound mixer. I have never worked in a studio. I have only done a very non-pa recordings, like Old and In the Way. My main thing was to keep an accurate diary or ‘sonic journal’ of my PA mixes. I cannot tell you how I mix, nor have I been able to train anyone else to do what I do. It is something special in how I hear sound and music that others do not.

GLONO: I read your essay about music where you describe your experience in Watts with synesthesia. Had you done any sound mixing before this experience? Or is that what got you started?

Owsley: Neither.

GLONO: Do you have any theories of what might have caused you to experience it at that particular moment?

Owsley: LSD. It was not classic synaesthesia, it was totally unlike any episode described in medicine. I have never had a repeat. I have never heard of anyone else having such an experience.

GLONO: Why no studio recording? It seems like that would be a natural extension to your PA mixes. I realize that studio recording is very different from live mixing, but it seems like might be some you would have a good ear for…

Owsley: Studio work is a technique for the preparation of an artificial musical ‘art form’, which is sterile and bland, not in and of time. It is not ‘real’ music, which is dynamic and in time and exists only during a live performance. Real music is a transient, ephemeral, aural experience. It exists as a ‘pure’ art only during the performance- in the present. I am utterly uninterested in the artificiality of the studio.

GLONO: Do you still do any live mixing? Do you attend concerts? What are some recent shows that you’ve enjoyed?

Owsley: Yes, yes. That is all I am interested in sharing with you. I like modern music. Check out Wolfmother.



4 thoughts on “Glorious Noise Interview with Owsley “Bear” Stanley”

  1. On one hand, I’m impressed you got anything out of the patron saint of psychotropics. On the other hand, it sounds like he didn’t really want to talk to you. Nice work anyway.

  2. Dude is the patron saint of GloNo: “I always trusted what happened on acid. Everything that happens to you on acid is real. Everything you see is real, everything you experience is real, everything you think about is real. The thing about it is, that a lot of the stuff you see is not stuff you see when you’re straight, because when you’re straight you’re limited. The acid removes the “filters” and lets the noise through. That “noise” is as real a part of the universe as the other part that you do allow to pass through, it just hasn’t been important for you. That’s a survival issue, we discard a lot of sensory information to make our daily lives simpler. When you open those floodgates and let it all pass, you let in a lot of stuff that’s as real, and often more interesting than the stuff you usually let through. The patterns that you see when stoned, for instance, are an artifact of the way the nerves in your eyes are arranged and mapped into the brain. Beautiful noise!”

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