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Ep. 1 - Dancing with the Muse of Space, Music, and Meditation - An Interview with Jonn Serrie

by Hearts Rise Up
February 24th 2019
In this episode, Jonn Serrie shares how he combines the timeless depths of space with music vision spanning the universe. A dominant force and pioneer in the space music category, Jonn's goal with his... More
Not anymore. No, Welcome to the Hearts Rise Up podcast. I'm carol chapman, your host for this episode, rising up to life's challenges and being your best self. Every day is hard work, especially in today's world. This podcast is all about elevating yourself to a higher level every day by rising up to your higher self. That's where an unlimited supply of your best self resides. And when you elevate yourself, you elevate your life and you elevate the world. So let's get right into today's episode with me. I have a very special guest. His name is john Serry. In fact, john's our very first guest on the show. I wanted jOHN on our show because not only have I known him for 30 years and admire his work, but he's a fabulous example of someone who rises up to his best self every day. He has truly elevated his life in the world through his music, which combines the timeless depths of space with spiritual musical vision spanning the universe.

John's goal with his music is to dissolve the veil between source and destination. So his audience feels the music, the way he does. A composer, musician and an inspirational performer, John is at the forefront of the electronic music industry with 25 recorded albums on to international record labels and millions in unit sales. He has truly touched the hearts of so many people across the globe through his music briefly. Some highlights of his career include having been featured in award winning world's Fair exhibits and he was commissioned to compose the music for the world's first interactive planetarium production with star Wars creator, George Lucas and the Hayden planetarium in new york city. He's also composed the imax film score for Galaxies across Space and time, which won first place at the large format academy awards in Los Angeles. John has contributed music to numerous television and media productions, including the award winning movie, What the Bleep Do We Know and the PBS production john glenn an american hero.

He's also written music for the US Navy Blue Angels and collaborated with famed Nasa astronaut story Musgrave to produce a unique program of educational narrative and live music called Space stories. Lastly, john is an F. A licensed pilot. He's flown for the US Air Force auxiliary as a search and rescue mission pilot. He also holds the coveted disaster Relief presidential award with Valor for his flying in the deepwater horizon gulf oil spill. Now it's time to chat with john, sorry john, welcome to the show. It's awesome to have you here. Thank you very much. It takes a lot to get to the level that you have achieved in your work and in your life. I imagine it hasn't been an easy road. We'd love to learn more about your personal story. We'd also love to know more about how you tap into your higher self, that inner power within you to bring your best self to the world when you compose and perform like you do so, first of all, how did you get your start in music?

I imagine there maybe there was someone or something that inspired you to pursue this path. Yeah. I grew up in an interesting family situation where my mother was a concert pianist and my father was an electric engineer or basically a marine engineer who worked at E. B. So I had the engineering side of that which is the deadline side of getting things done in a very logical kind of way. And he also had the artistic side from my mother about just sitting down and making a music as you went along. So she was a classical pianist. So she basically would play classical music for hours and hours a day. And I would always like sit beside a speaker and kind of look at it and say how does all of this work? And I really didn't know what I was thinking about but I just was kind of feeling like the music is coming from someplace but maybe not just the speaker, you know. So I had intuitive feelings that I had some talent because I would be able to sit down at the piano and listen to a piece of music and then play it back on the piano without knowing anything about the piano, which was kind of a hint there.

So you know, my mother encouraged piano lessons at the same time. There was a part of me who was interested in flight because I was growing up around the space program and that was all intellectual knowledge, mathematics, astronomy and that really interests me too. At the same time you had this artistic side. You know that was pushing me toward this cloud called music and then you had this super practical side about you need to get an education if you want to go into space or have anything to do with the space program. So there was a real polarity there tugging you but it didn't really feel like a tug. It felt more like a mesh like it went together somehow. But I didn't know exactly how yet. So I would take it out on the piano and I would go to the piano and say I feel comfortable with this instrument. I don't know why, but I just, I feel really comfortable with it and I would be able to listen. It's not the first instrument that you play. Yeah, that was the first one. And so I started piano lessons around five and formal piano. It's very simple, very simple child like stuff at the same time.

I would always wonder why do you have the ability to listen to a piece of music and immediately play it. And so the piano teacher will always say now you have to learn how to read music because if you don't know how to read music, you know you don't really know what you're doing. And I would always say to her, but I already hear it, what do I need to read it for? Listen play me something and she played and played back, she said, what leads that's all well and good little johnny, but you really need to have a practical, you know, inside of this. And so I was even back then a little rebellious and I would say I'm going to take this in my own direction and make music up. I love it the way I see it with maybe practicing with my eyes closed or maybe my eyes open. But I only looked at music, I don't want to do that because it was always a rebellious kind of sign, where do you think that was coming from? I think it came from an influence from maybe my father who was also known to go against the grain and throw people out of his office, including the Vice President, United States, who he did throw out of his office.

And so that went to me to the way I was looking at music, I'm going to take a hold of this myself and see where it goes. And even though, you know, I I did what my piano teacher told me to do and I did learn how music works and how it's structured because you had to know a little bit about that, but there was always a little bit of a rebel in me that went, I'm gonna take this in my own direction, how do you get your inspiration for the concept and the composition of an album, and for that matter, all of your music? Well, I had some good english teachers in school, especially early on, who would kind of point out to me the importance of words and how they go together and how words can draw pictures. So I would find interesting phrases, I can't remember what they were in childhood, but I just remember certain things and the way that people said them, and the way that it would instantaneously draw pictures for me inside my mind.

And then I started to come across some progressive music, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer and in the teenager years and stuff, and I would always look at their titles and they had fascinating titles that drew pictures instantaneously. And I said, well, maybe what you ought to do is start with the title, first, you come up with the title of the album, which draws this magnificent picture, and, you know, I would write a few of these down and maybe pick them out, you know, that kind of thing. But I would always say, start there, because that's the main focus of the album, it's kind of like the headlines and unbeknownst to me at that time, it was like when somebody pulls an album out of a bin and they're going to decide to buy it. The first thing they see is the picture on the album and the title, right? And you've got half a second, it's called the new york minute, you've got half a second to be able to convince that person to either buy that album or put it back in, you know? So I said the importance of that title is everything because that's where the music's going to originate.

And then from there you want the titles to the individual songs and they have to speak back to the main title of the album somehow, psychically spiritually, mechanically, whatever it is, those things have to talk to each other. And then the third thing is the album cover, the picture that's supposed to tie all three of those things together. And if you have that in your mind, it's a much easier map, that's your map, that you're gonna what's the path you're going to walk on to create this album. So In the 25 albums, I've used that formula all the time. You have quite a diversity of albums. You might want to share a little bit about some of the diversity. Well, my thing was how do you take a person into space using music? You can't follow a classical piano player or a progressive rock piano player who's playing at 97 mph. And if you want to get famous, you have to learn how to play at 98 mph, you know, and that just didn't seem right if you're going to go into space, Everything moves slow.

And I remember watching television and every time they would show something on television, the astronaut removing very slow, everything in space was slow. And that kind of intuitively went said, you can't go fast with your music, you have to go slow, so you have to stretch this whole thing out and expand it so that it wraps around a person's head. Instead, it focuses on the speed of the player, let's say. So that was a hit. It was like, that's how it's done, you know, So I would play slow passages on the piano, slow passages in the pipe organ, stretch things out, hold chords a little bit longer than normal. And and that would like to expand a person's listening ability out exponentially. And that way they were able to take a big picture instead of just another fast note. And so from there, it was like, that's a pathway about how to get a person into space using music. And that's a total different quality of music at the time, just a different quality of because everybody wanted to be fast, everybody wanted to be good, Everybody wanted to play like this guy, everybody wanted to sound like that guy on the radio, you know, at the same time, Way in the background back in the 60s, you would hear certain passages of music on FM radio when FM was new and they would play all this esoteric, slow moving music And I said, someone else is thinking like this.

Yeah, listen to that. You and the piano doesn't have to be played fast. Guitar doesn't have to be played fast. Not even the drums have to be played fast. Just slow it down and let a person's mind in consciousness rest on these slow movements so that they can feel comfortable. And then the mind gradually expands exactly. I mean, your music has just this magical ethereal quality to it that I can use it to meditate easily. Or if I'm driving in the car or if I'm just doing something listening to it while I'm cleaning the house or something, it just takes me to a whole new level. Yeah. And the reason that is is because instead of working with musical speed or musical complication, you're working with musical textures and textures worked. The musical textures work the same way that the experience of touch feels. You can take your hand and rub it against a concrete driveway and then the next minute take your hand and rub it against velvet.

And the difference between those two whose textures musically. It's the same way if you design your music with a certain texture, that sounds hard edge, you're trying to get some person's attention using, you know, either rough notes or weird stuff. That texture with me. It was like no smooth the edges of all these textures and get into the real subtleties of this. You know, And that was before even I had my hands on a synth because I would do that with a piano, I would very lightly touch it or I'd reach inside the piano, play with the strings a little bit while I'm playing the keyboards and I would do all this wacko stuff trying to create a musical texture of feeling that a person could rest on. And so now you've been using synthesizers for years. What's the process that you use to tap into that inner quality of the inner power? That higher self within you to draw that music from that space and create something. Music was made on acoustic instruments up until the mid 60s.

And then an engineer named robert Moog decided that he was going to take some electronic components that looked like any other electronic components. And he was able to make musical notes out of electricity. And that basically changed everything because now you could take an electric current and you could make a sound with it, but not only that you could make an infinite amount of sounds out of it. And if you look at the way that the human brain is designed, it runs on electricity. So all of a sudden your brain is playing with a very current that runs it electricity. So there was a real symbiosis between what was going on in the brain and what was going on with electronic music. And I saw that real clearly going back to my early piano days of slowing things down, learning how to play electronic music was a real complex process because it was mechanical. So I had an advantage in that. My father was a mechanical engineer and thought very logically, which is how electronic music put together.

You start with an oscillator and it moves to a filter and then that does certain things in the sound and it moves to like a something called an envelope which controls the duration of that sound, how long it lasts and that is further divided into attack, release, sustained. How long does it take for a sound to be heard? How long does it take for a sound to last in the eardrum? And how long does it that does sound to fade away into silence, you know? So you learned how to control all of that through your engineering side of your head at the same time, you were living in this spacey little environment inside your head of textures of images of song titles, things like that and the two blended together. And you mentioned silence. You've been a longtime meditator and you have utilize meditation extensively in your work. Can you just share with us how you do that? How do you use meditation to create?

It goes back to a moment I had with my grandmother and I was very young child in order to make a long story short, she invited me to sit down at the keyboard one day up at the church organ after mass and said, I'm going to tell you the secret to music and you're not going to understand it for a long time. But this is what it is. She said, silence is a musical instrument that you must learn to compose because silence without it, there is no music. Listen to this. And she laid her hands on the keys and went, oh, I love that. What are you not hearing like grandma? I don't know what you're talking about and what am I not hearing? And then she said, now listen to this. And she played this lovely little Mozart menu, etc. Stop now, what do you hear? You know? All right, I don't know. She said silence. It's the silence between the notes, that's where God lives now. She was 93 when she passed away and she still had a full students of church organ, Piano Inquire.

So, this girl, she was made of music. I was very fortunate in that I had a father as an engineer, a mother, as a classical pianist and a grandmother who was a Jedi knight of music and lived in, you know. So all of that influence went in. You say, okay, how do I get to the silence? And it was always a part of me that wanted to know what was running things Get this big universe out there. And he's putting the fly across the sky in 1957, you know, all of this was going on. You know, space is a big place and there's no sound in space. And then I would hear later on in high school and college about higher consciousness, ultimate reality. There was a lot of experimentation going on with certain chemical properties that we shall talk about alphabet soup, LSD N D A D M T. And on all these things were designed to do one thing, get you out of all the noise that your mind was making into a state of higher consciousness that was made of silence, bingo.

If grandma says that silence is a secret to music, then silence has to be the secret of higher consciousness. How do I get to silence? Well, there's this thing called meditation and how did you stumble upon that in college? I was your typical 19, late 60s, early 70s experimenter in all kinds of things. You know, I was a philosophy club major along with other people and we were exploring like higher levels of learning consciousness, knowing how does a person know things, how does the brain work in this kind of thing? And they said, you always have to be unafraid to challenge to explore, push the limits of what it is you really want to know? And to me it was like the push into higher consciousness, which meant that the pathway into higher consciousness was silenced. And then I would hear you have to silence your mind. You know, here's this method by which you silence your mind. And there were 10,000 methods now there's 50,000 methods.

Everybody's got a method, you know, but you have one that works for you. Yeah, so and then that's what people would tell me, and that's what I would read, since it's a shopping mall out there, then you have to decide what to buy and whatever feels right for you, Whatever feels good to you, you know, and being a philosophy major, being able to take a knowledge knife and just, you know, slice everything into nothing, which is what we were taught to do in philosophy, I would look at certain techniques and go, no, no, I don't want to do that, I don't I don't want to do a mantra. The last thing in the world I want to do is have my mind repeating a mantra that's not going to lead me to silence, you know, or I'm going to twist my body into a pretzel. Well, that's not going to lead me to something. I see that it doesn't feel, even though it might work for people who wouldn't feel right for me. And then there were other techniques, you know, you have to either believe in this, so you have to read this book or you have to study this method for years and years and years and then maybe, and I would go now it just feels right.

I need real techniques and I would go through techniques. And finally, I found a teacher who taught the correct techniques that felt right to me. They were all internal techniques. They were designed to silence the mind, not use the mind to try to get to silence, but to use these techniques to silence the mind. They were all biologically natural techniques. And I said, bingo, that sounds right. I'm already doing these things. I'm already using these techniques already. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be alive, you know? So those felt natural. So I said, okay, it ain't the teacher. It's the techniques throw the teacher out, get him out of the way. I'm not going to sit there and worship teachers and put them on pedestals and stuff like that. That's not the point. Even the teacher was saying that it ain't me. If you're not doing these techniques, you're not gonna get anything out of them. And of course, I went back to the engineers side of things. It says, you know, if you're not going to do it, you're not going to get it done. I used that philosophy. That said, all right, if you're really interested in higher consciousness, then you're really going to have to work at it.

You're going to have to have a work ethic at this, wake up in the morning, you don't feel like doing it, do it anyway, you're too tired at night to do that, do it anyway. I can relate to that. I do it every day if you're sick or something like that, you don't feel like that. Well, there's four of these techniques. Pick one that doesn't depend on whether you feel sick or not or tired or not or you don't feel like it or not. Well, you got too much and too many other things to do. You find a way around your hesitation and then hook it into your music. Music is not the technique, music as a result of the technique, that's how I express my higher consciousness. So after, I don't know, how long has it been? 46 years, something like that. You tend to make a little progress, you know, and certainly progress has been made. I can say pretty good confidence that I can stop all thought in my mind within five seconds, and sometimes even sooner that I can stop the train of thought immediately like that.

Silence. It goes back to my grandmother all of a sudden the keys to the universe are unleashed right there. But you can't get to that place without a lot of effort. The mind is an out of control horse and your techniques are the last su in the saddle and the bridal. Now that mind has had like 30 years, 20 years, 50 years to sit there and chatter away with no one telling it to stop and you're gonna walk out there and within two weeks, six months, five years and expect that you're going to stop that mind every time you got to pull it back into the silence. Ah but I'm hungry and I have something to eat now and pull it back into the sides. I don't feel like doing it and pull it back into silence. Whatever the mind is thinking, train that mind to pull it back and using your technique. So You've used that and you developed it over 46 years and I think it would be interesting for you to share with me what have you been most challenged in your work? I love challenge. So early on I said, how am I going to make a living at all?

This slowdown, textured music. I was working at electronic music labs at the time and I was demonstrating synthesizers and a friend of mine came up and said, have you considered taking any of this music to your planetarium? They might love this stuff because it deals with stars and they're looking for music. Your music might actually work there. The lights went off. And so we took a piece of music down to the planetarium and the director says, okay, this is the best space music we've ever heard. We're going to introduce you to like the regional guys, the national guys in International guys, we're going to hook you in to planetarium music production, you want to work on Star Wars. This is as close as it gets without knocking on Lucas's door and asking for a job? You've got 4000 planetariums in the world. Welcome to your future. And you do own that space because you focused on it. Yeah. And I and I asked the director at that time was 1977, I think Star Wars came out in March 77. I was at the planetarium and like by June 77, you know, and he just said, look, there's only three of the people making professional space music in the world and you're one of them.

And are you telling me that I have only two people in this entire world, out of all these planetariums. And I just said to myself, you own it, take it you want, it's yours. You can knock off this competition easy. So that was a challenge that you were ready to go after And so fine. You know, and they would come at me with scripts and tell me that I had two weeks to complete 90 minutes worth of music. And you talked about a challenge. And so pressure. Yeah. I said to myself, if George Lucas can do this, I can too, If his crew can work in impossible deadlines. And I kept hearing stories about how impossible these deadlines where they're working on. I challenged myself to say Yes, you're gonna stay up 20 hours a day and you're going to meet this challenge because you have the right stuff. The same way that those guys did. Did you have to step up your level of meditation? Yeah, absolutely. It's like the only way you're going to get through this, you know, is to like go to your source of strength which is inside, which is where that meditation and that silence lives and where that music lives and you're going to quiet your mind enough to let the music come in.

So when have you exceeded your own expectations? Every album I do because I can be satisfied with what I'm hearing or I can push a little bit more into really where I'm going, am I able to say to myself that's adequate? Maybe not. Maybe you ought to just take a little bit more of that microscope and look a little bit closer at it and maybe go a little bit deeper into it. Challenge yourself to go a little bit more challenge yourself physically because you're tired, challenge yourself mentally because you feel like you run out of steam on this thing. There are ways that I use to get out of that. One of them is reading science fiction. Another one is using science fiction artwork to look at pictures or to walk outside in the backyard and look at the stars and look at the rising moon and say, let it flow in, You let all this inspiration flow in you and then go back into your house and turn it into music. Has there been a time where you've fallen short of expectations in my own Monsoor, I've cut slack here and there.

A lot of it is because of time, the album is due in a week, you have to draw the line somewhere. Other times you pick and choose your shortcuts so that your audience can hear it, if you cut something off too soon, so that your audience knows that you're getting lazy, then you're in trouble. But if you use Jedi type techniques that you know of, because of your knowledge of electronic music, your knowledge of meditation, your knowledge of human nature and the ability to fool somebody's mind, Then do that, but don't do it too often, you know, you want perfection out of your music because you're dealing with 10,000 little kids that have Macintoshes that are convinced that they're going to take your job from you, you know, So you can't you can't rest on your laurels. I don't care how many albums you have, I don't care who you've worked with, you gotta keep on keeping on. So with that said, what advice or tips would you give others to bring their best self to the world, learn to meditate silence the mind.

So you can actually hear the inspiration going on inside your own soul for that, you have to learn how to listen and to learn how to listen. Things got to be quiet in there, then you can hear your own inspiration? You can bring that inspiration out without your mind fighting it? Ah you can't do that and you're not gonna no we're not gonna listen to you today, We're not going to listen to that. Oftentimes when I meditate I have as a result of that, I have my greatest insights that come out. It doesn't happen all the time, right? You're not going to see God, no matter what, you know, I will sit in meditation in that room sometimes and think and think and think and think for 58 minutes and get two minutes worth of meditation. Other times when I'm in the worst possible mood, I'll go into the meditation room and all of a sudden I'll have cosmic bliss light Everything pouring into me for 58 minutes and I think for two minutes and there's no way that you can judge, prejudge or make that or make it not happen.

It's it's a matter of grace and it's a matter of you placing yourself in the situation where either can happen or you're going to challenge yourself to happen and it's good to know that I'm not alone because it happens to me this happens and everybody walks this path. And the big thing is is that the mind In the brain that chatters away inside your head has been chattering away since the day you took your first breath and you're going to spend the next 25 years slowing that process down. Are you ready to walk that path? Do you really want the goal of cosmic consciousness? Do you really want to know? Well then yeah, you're going to take on ulysses in the Kraken, you're going to fight a big old monster inside your head and you're gonna throw that last su around it and you're gonna pull it back in and it's going to do what you tell it to do, not what it wants to do. That's the biggest challenge of human being has. So before we close, just a few other quick questions, what's a favorite album of yours?

I really don't have a favorite because each one of them represents a universe to me that I've lived, let's say, you know and the stars Go with you with my first album that was based on the shuttle Challenger explosion. And I lived through that and the story was that we were working on planetarium shows and we had all this music that was ready, you know? And the kids were going to witness this and shuttle blew up and I had all this music and I said I've got to do something with this music. I've got to make it mean something and the stars go with you became my gift to christa mcauliffe in the space program and everything, you know? And it was for me but people understood what that was and flight path is the same way the pilot stuff. Spirit keepers was a native american album that I was going up into the north Georgia mountains and learning about indians and building TPS with a friend of mine, which was the furthest thing from space you could possibly get. But you live each one of these, they are your Children. You poured your heart and soul into them and they live. So all of them are my face.

Your latest album is the Sentinel. Yes, that's the latest one that's been released. That was released last february. And what are you working on right now? Working on an album of tropical romance and it's called Azure. You put yourself in a situation that says, okay, I have all the means in the world. All the money, the learjets parked over there, the Lamborghinis parked over there and I'm going to go sit in a tropical beach and I'm just going to absorb what it feels like to have absolutely no worries in the world and just let the whole ocean breeze, seagulls, blue water, white sand wash through you. The record company wants to buy next january. So it's all sketched out and stuff. So now I'm at the sweetening phase and making it sound better. So That's January 2019, 2019. I'll be out probably April May as you're a well, there's nothing wrong.

It's turquoise. It's lovely. What a beautiful day, which is the direct opposite of the sentinel. The sentinel was this virtual reality trip into space where I threw the book at it. You know, there's so much sonic detail in an album, it's just layer upon layer of it. But Azure A has no more than five tracks per song. So I'm really challenging myself to use texture and long notes and everything. Don't complicate things there. People's lives who are wealthy beyond imagination or who have no worries there. Much, very uncomplicated. And so that's how the music is going to be an uncomplicated. I can't wait for it and I'm sure others can't wait for it as well. So just lastly, who do you look up to in terms of living their best self? I looked at some of the more successful keyboard musicians, sound designers, people who work with sound in movies, Hollywood, you know, things like that, rick Wakeman, the keyboard player for Yes, Had every reason to stop and all the money in the world in 1976.

But the guy is so in love with music and just continues to push the boundaries of incredible music. A lot of the people that work in Hollywood with the sound design, like Ben Burt, who did the sounds for Star Wars Gary Reid strum, who is his second in command. These people have every reason in the world to stop. They're wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. But they're in love and they push those boundaries and that's the level of expertise, excellence that I will always want to achieve. I love that. That's what keeps you going. This has been a wonderful conversation. I am so excited that you joined us today and I just can't. Thank you enough. Thank you very much. We sure hope today's show inspired you to awaken and unleash the power within you to elevate yourself your life and the world. Please leave us a review on Itunes because those reviews are important to our show and we love it for you to subscribe to our show and share this episode with others on your favorite social channels.

Finally, are you rising up to your best self every day, Let us know more by reaching out to us at www dot hearts rise up dot com. Mm hmm. Mhm. Mhm.

Ep. 1 - Dancing with the Muse of Space, Music, and Meditation - An Interview with Jonn Serrie
Ep. 1 - Dancing with the Muse of Space, Music, and Meditation - An Interview with Jonn Serrie
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