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The Absence of Time

Richard Horowitz

January 6, 1949 - April 13, 2024

· The Lede

Brian Cullman

It was sometime shortly after we’d first met, that Richard Horowitz told me about ways he had of making himself disappear. The shimmer, I think he called it. We were outside of a concert hall, neither of us had tickets, and he gave me a look.

“I’ll see you inside,” he said. And then he proceeded to move forwards and backwards at the same time, perfectly still, like a hummingbird in flight, motionless but everywhere at once, like sound waves and static and the leftover notes from last night’s symphony. He shimmered right past the usher, and no one noticed.

“Bryon Gysin showed me that in Morocco,” he told me later. “It’s a pretty common trick amongst the Gnawa. Some of them can even get on planes without anyone noticing. Part of it is in misdirecting your intention. And part of it is being behind yourself and ahead of yourself at the same time, just messing a bit with the space time continuum. You know?”

That still seems like the best description of Richard’s music. It seems to move backwards and forwards at the same time, it hovers, motionless, and at first it seems static and still, but you look up a moment later and damn if you’re not on the other side of the room.

There are familiar reference points, and those points create a false sense of security, as if you’ve probably been here before. But you haven’t been here before. There are traces of Lou Harrison and Terry Riley and Sunda flute and gamelan music, and there is Jon Hassell’s patented method of walking around in a circle with such purpose and clarity that the circle disappears and all you’re left with is a pair of shoes and a broken compass. And there are bits of desert music, the sense of limitless quiet amongst the stutter of time.

This music is yearning and circular, yearning for a circle, and it manages to be both home-made and hi-tech, an analog breath in the digital night. Perhaps it’s just that you can sense the human touch on the machines, see where the wires were taped together and notice where the screws have come loose from the join. So if machines are part of the equation - and they are, machines of every sort - there is also a very real sense of what happens when machines get unplugged by mistake or forget what they were originally set up to do : a homing pigeon with a variable and expandable sense of home. The music doesn’t provide any answers, but it delights in upending the questions.

Speaking of questions ….we’d both been unsettled and shaken by Ornette Coleman’s question, the one he asked both with words and with music: “WHAT IS THE SOUND OF SOUND?” So while we were sometimes still recording pop songs and trying to get our collective baby back, we would also sit up all night in the control room trying to figure out …. if we found the lost chord, what the hell would we do with it? If certain sounds get put together, when do they become music? Does music have a gender? And do genders have their own music? What’s on the other side of silence?

We were in love with the promise of the airwaves. We wanted to live on the radio, and we wanted it to be big enough for us to move in alongside Prince and The Cars and Peter Gabriel; Miles Davis and Stravinsky.

We didn’t want to change, we just wanted the radio to let us in.

Richard arrived at the studio carrying a beautiful hand-carved ney, a ney being a small wooden flute, popular throughout the Middle East, and played by blowing straight into the end of it while walking into traffic.

The ney has a yearning, aching sound, like a bird caught in someone’s dream, and it’s the sound of breath and the sound of space and …. well, maybe not time, but the absence of time.

Richard had learned to play while living with Berber tribesmen in the Saharan desert, and I had just returned from Morocco, spending time with Paul Bowles in Tangier, so we had those points in common, though that was just a beginning. Our connections went deeper than names and places.

Bowles had given me a cassette of music he’d recorded by holding a small recorder just outside his window on the street near the American Embassy. Two brass bands were marching toward each other at sunset down the very same street, each seemingly oblivious to the other at first, until the sounds collided in a squall of brass and percussion worthy of Edgar Varese at his most cacophonous. The sounds sprawled together into a beautiful mess, and then the bands continued on their way, shaking off the dust of collaboration and chaos and acting as if nothing had happened. But something had happened, and music that was cheerfully predictable and static had been shaken alive by chance and happenstance, something wild and unexpected had been born, a language of uh-oh and whoops-a-daisy had come out of nowhere and literally stopped traffic : you could hear car horns bleating and tires maybe not squealing but grumbling to a halt as the parades converged.

Richard and our friend Sussan Deyhim and I sat at the console at the recording studio, Noise, for hours listening to that tape, finding the moment that the sounds turned into music, that the music devolved into chaos and then back again, and that moment became our North Star, our fixed point, our destination. Maybe we could live there, inside that moment. And maybe if we couldn’t live there, maybe it could live inside us.


Richard had grown up in upstate New York, traveled to Paris early on and glided between classical piano, Eastern philosophy and the experimental jazz of Steve Lacy, Anthony Braxton and Alan Silva, all of whom he performed with. But early on, Richard realized that you couldn’t ask Toscanini “what’s the sound of sound?” and he began imagining a music that was open ended, all encompassing, round as a circle and slow as the moon, thoroughly Western, thoroughly Eastern and thoroughly non-linear, that waved goodbye as it was saying hello.

“I didn’t come here, and I’m not leaving.”

The sound of that.

He and Sussan were imagining a music that had the energy of pop songs, the heartbreak of half heard melodies from far off in the night, and the rigor of a mathematical equation, but based on the sort of math a gifted child might invent : how many monkeys would it take to get from here to the end of the song if it’s not a very long song and if they’re very short monkeys?

broken image

Richard came along with me to see a concert somewhere in lower Manhattan. It must have been 1982, we’d both been recording at Noise, and a mutual friend was giving a solo piano concert.

The room was dark and smelled of smoke and bad decisions; and there were thirty or forty people spread out over sixty-five or seventy folding wooden chairs. Men with beards, women with tortoise shell glasses. Up front, there was a large man with a seeing eye dog. A woman was knitting.

The music had already started, the pianist hunched over an upright piano in the corner of the room, and notes emerged in fits and starts, stumbling over each other as if they were struggling to take off their shoes.


Tik Tik Tik


“Experimental,” Richard sighed. A woman near the front scowled, turned and scowled again.

Tik Tik Tik


Deedly Deedly Dee.


The woman who was knitting was knitting faster. The seeing eye dog turned to look at me, then quickly turned back.



That’s when Richard screamed. It was the sound of an animal in electric pain, desperate. He knocked over his chair, it crashed to the ground, and he bolted out of the room in a fury. The music didn’t stop, but it suddenly seemed much quieter, and I followed as silently and quickly as I could, mumbling apologies to no one in particular. Outside, the air was cool, and the streets were silent. A stray cat peeked out from under a parked car, then slipped back under. If there was a moon, I didn’t see it.

“That,” Richard said….and his voice trailed off.

I thought he was about to apologize.

I was wrong.

“That,” he said decisively, “that wasn’t a need. That was an obligation.”

We never mentioned it again.

broken image

Brian Cullman is the Journal's West Village editor.

Eros Never Stops Dreaming :::: Richard Horowitz

from the album EROS IN ARABIA on Freedom To Spend

Marnia’s Tent (from the film The Sheltering Sky) ::: Richard Horowitz

Queen of Saba ::: Richard Horowitz & Sussan Deyhim

from the album EROS IN ARABIA on Freedom To Spend

Whorl On The Mount of Moon ::: Richard Horowitz & Sussan Deyhim

(from the album MAJOUN on Sony Classics. We recorded this in London in 1996.)

Jum Jum ::: Richard Horowitz & Sussan Deyhim

from the album AZAX ATRA on Crammed Discs