During a performance in Washington Square Park in the late 1970s, Laraaji was looking through the money he had made and saw a little note among the rattling change. It said, “Dear sir, please pardon this scraggly piece of paper, but I was wondering if you wanted to take part in a recording project that I am starting”. Laraaji, born Edward Larry Gordon, was just a small time musician and comedian at the time. He accepted the offer and then work began on one of the most underrated albums of all time. That project was, of course, the Ambient series and the writer of that mysterious note was Brian Eno.
In comparison to the other albums in the series, 1980’s Day of Radiance feels admittedly peculiar. This album is the only one in the entire series that features very little in the way of electronics, which was a decision made by Laraaji. All throughout the recording and producing process of the Ambient series, Eno used various methods to make the sound he was looking for. During the four years of creating On Land, the fourth and last addition to the project, Eno began to use field recordings of nature, off-kilter synthesizer notes, and unutilized sounds from his previous albums. The result was an album that felt more dismal and foreboding than any of its predecessors. Even the other two albums, Plateaux of Mirror and the more commonly recognized Music for Airports, dealt more in electronics than Day of Radiance.
Sonically, the album blends elements of new age, ambient, and world music. Laraaji handled all the instrumentation on the album, which consisted of, “aggressive, hammered zither music”, as he described in the documentary, Eternity or Bust: A Short Film about Laraaji. The zither is an instrument that is typically associated with European folk music in the early 19th century. With the help of Brian Eno, Laraaji was able to take this sound and reinvent it. When you take that into consideration, this distinction gives the entire album its own feeling separate from the other albums in the series. Given the title of the album, you can figure out the sonic palette of what Eno and Laraaji were trying to go for that music that is other-worldly. To this day, there isn’t an ambient album like it.
The album is split into two different sections. The first, titled the “The Dance”, is split into three separate tracks and contain the “aggressive hammered zither music” that Laraaji referenced in the aforementioned documentary. When examining the core of the ambient genre, Brian Eno described it as, “music that is ignorable as it is interesting”. In a sense, this definition is hard to apply to this section of Day of Radiance. Truth be told, the sounds on this album are far too lively to simply just ignore. As the title would suggest, these songs are very vibrant and energetic with Laraaji using the zither, dulcimer, and other instruments to evoke the feelings of enlightenment and personal well-being. “The Dance No. 1” starts the album off with these quickly ascending and descending zither notes that lead into an exciting melody that repeats for about a minute or so. The energy in this track is infectious and it honestly makes you want to, well, dance!
“Meditation” is the title of the second side of the album, and this side of the tracklisting features more subdued and melancholy soundscapes. You can hear Brian Eno’s influence coming into play here as the production shifts to a more universally known ambient sound. The tracks in this section feel as if they made for periods of reflection and introspection. “ Meditation 2” is this slow piece that sounds very similar to the later releases to come out in Laraaji’s career. The track feels very ethereal, almost as if you’re looking down at the planet from outer space. It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece and one of my favorite Laraaji songs.
It’s very hard to listen to this kind of music and not feel at peace with yourself and the world around you. This is something that Laraaji himself practices every day, the idea of being one with yourself and enjoying our everyday lives. He especially encourages laughter, which has been a common theme in his work for years. Laraaji’s music is meditative and often used to heal our inner self during tough times. I personally have listened to this album during some of the most tumultuous periods of my life and it has helped immensely. Happiness is a recurring theme in Laraaji’s music and personal life. If you ever see a picture of Laraaji he’s always finding something to smile about.With the world being as turbulent as it is these days, Laraaji will always be there with music to calm the soul and enrich our being.