INTERVIEW // Random Rab :: The Guzheng, Community Vibes, and The Conundrum of Human Existence

We were blessed with the unexpected honor of chatting up Random Rab before his Sunday set at Lightning in a Bottle.  With a myriad of scented chakra-charging oils laid before us (the third chakra oil is for confidence and smells like sunscreen), we still weren’t quite prepared to go toe-to-toe with someone who was ready for any curveball question we threw.

So tell me, how is the universe treating you today? 

Well, the universe is chilling, somewhere over there with a sweet tie, hanging out, making the party fun.  So yeah, the universe is good.

I would definitely agree, seen a lot of things.  Have you been here all weekend?

Since Friday night.

What has been your impression of this weekend?

It’s been kind of like the Club Med of festivals for me, because I’ve been going to a lot of festivals and this one is the one where I feel like I’m taken care of.  I feel like the people attending are taken care of, and everyone’s feeling good and there’s good music.  You got an awesome crew, it’s pretty much what it’s about.  Yeah, love it.

What has been your favorite late-night spot to hang out?

My favorite late-night spot?  Well I guess it changes every year.  There was the little zone over here, I don’t even know what you call it, the clown zone or something? [The one where you have to wear a clown nose to get in].  I think that’s probably the sick spot.

When we first met, you were carrying a beautiful instrument in your hands.  What was that?

It’s called a guzheng [pronounced goo-jhung].  It’s from China, it’s a 21-stringed harp-type instrument.  Gu means ancient and zheng is like the basics form of it, and it’s a 21-stringed version of it and I’ve had it for like ten years.

It almost looks like a hammered dulcimer.

Yeah, it’s kind of like that.  You play on the right and you bend on the left.  It’s very traditional.  When you hear that “dung dung dung” in Chinese music, that’s what it is.  But it also has a harp-like sound to it.

Where is that going to show up in your set?  Are you going to play it throughout?

Not the whole time.  I play it a lot on my albums and finally figured out a good way to get it plugged in to a guitar amplifier and play some of the stuff live.  So this will be the second time I’ve played it live.

What other surprises do you have planned for your set?

Well, I’ve been working with a percussionist, Cedar Miller.  And this is one of the first sets that I’ve designed in a long time, usually I just kind of free-form it.  So he’s doing percussion and some other things, and we’re singing together, and I’ll be playing guitar, kalimba, guzheng, I have a violin player that’s going to sit in for a song, another friend who’s going to play some guitar.  I’m gonna break it down and do just some acoustic stuff for a second, bring it up.  So this song is really like a journey and the whole set is designed.

The phrase “lightning in a bottle,” in my opinion, is the idea of catching something fleeting, to find something that is transient or somewhat out of grasp and then bottle it.  Right?  I’m pretty sure that’s what the expression means.  If you were to capture lightning in a bottle at Lightning in a Bottle, what would that moment or feeling be?

I think probably the one that comes up for me is friendship that gets accentuated here.  Old friends, new friends, but real friendship and real conversations with people where it’s not super hardcore like “Rawr we’re at the party!”  There is that, but there’s a real sense of connecting with people.  As the years go by, I am realizing more and more that this is special,  more so than this is our lives like, all of the time.  Whereas I think before we were kind of like, “Whoa, we’re here!” but now I’m like “Oh man, we come together, and I haven’t seen these people in so long” and it feels really good.  So that’s what it is for me.

One of the challenges of going to a festival is that you get a glimpse of how beautiful it feels when we all come together around a certain thing, particularly a dance floor, but when we go back into our normal lives, it’s hard to recreate that.  So how do you make the things we do here more sustainable, how can we turn those things into habit rather than something we do three or four times a year?

Well, on a practical level, what I noticed at Lightning in a Bottle is that there’s a lot of awesome technologies that are demonstrated here.  Solar, and whatnot, and everybody’s doing these crafty projects around here they get to share.  And the conversation comes up about sustainability, probably the most important thing that does happen – y’know, composting helicopters that are totally fuel efficient [laughs].


But it’s about the convesation more so than it is about… y’know, there’s an inherent wastefulness about just getting together and throwing parties.  But when you can bring the consciousness and the conversation and really think about society at large, I think that’s where the most long-lasting change comes from.

Are you in to astral projection?

I mean, it’s hard not to be into it, because that’s all we’re doing all the time.  Finding the point of perception is quite impossible, so there’s no spot in our bodies that really defines that.  So I think we are always projecting the image of ourselves and recognizing the astral projection of others.  I mean, it seems like.  That’s my philosophy on it.

Sure.  Haven’t quite wrapped my head around parallel universes, but I did overhear someone up at the Temple talking about how a convergence of thousands of different realities constitutes what we see…


…but that it is prone to being skewed in one direction or another depending on our thoughts and actions.

For me, the key to understanding where the parallel universes exist is to really… the one thing that blocks us from seeing it is our concept of linear time.  Once we’re here completely in the present, completely in the now, and know that every universe that ever was or will be is here right now as well.  Once you find yourself completely present, then you can understand that all the parallel universes, all these concepts, are happening right now, and you’re in it.

Let’s take a step back to what you said before about everybody coming together and friendship being the essence of it.  I totally agree, the people I met this weekend have been some of the more amazing among my festival experiences.  But what you said intrigues me because I realize the lessons to learn here are internal, yet it seems they show themselves in an external way.  For example, being present and hyper-focusing on yourself can lead to relationships with others.

These festivals give people an opportunity to let their colors shine, good and bad, and it brings out the best and the worst but whatever it is, it’s raw.  And that’s what I love about doing this and being at these shows; music, or something about these places, it makes people raw, for good and bad.  And you get to see people for who they are, and I love that experience.  That’s why I think friendships can be bonded or broken in these places unlike anywhere else in life.

Speaking of raw, I heard some guy stripped completely naked during Tipper’s set and totally let loose.  The funny part was that after it was over he didn’t bother going back for his clothes, like I’m sure he was thinking “Well, it was cool for that hour and a half, might as well keep rocking it.”  That being said, where does the line sit between the good and bad you mentioned?

I think the most pervasive sense of bad is in judgment.  When people make judgments on other people based on either how people look or just for who they are, as soon as you start judging, then you become a point of friction for people to be themselves.  Then, people feel like they have to act in a certain way to satisfy the people who are judging.  Maybe the judgmental people have a different perspective and think that the people being themselves are the bad ones, but really it’s probably them.

I really think the look of festival culture is centered around larger-than-life, almost gimmicky types of things.  I think spirit hoods look great on a pretty girl, but the look of American festivals is starting to become pretty homogenous.  So I would argue that in a lot of situations, the pressure to conform to the people expressing themselves makes that come full circle.  And the “dust punk” look, that whole Burning Man obsession with leather chaps and goggles and whatever.  Do you see that as copycat-ing?

I think it’s just Nature Channel, y’know?


Just imagine David Attenborough here talking about everyone.  People just do that, people just do whatever it is they do.  We pretty much all wear the same thing.  If you get perspective and just look at the human species, we pretty much all look exactly the same.  We wear some pants, we wear some things on us… and all the different nuances of that.  I think style is one of the ways people communicate in our culture.  I love it, style is where it’s at.  Judgment… leave your judgment at home, though.  Just be what you want to be.  Look beautiful, but everyone is beautiful.

I think your style is your first word.  When someone walks up to you, your first word is what you’re wearing.  And you are saying how you want to be treated.  If this girl comes up and she’s wearing… y’know, some super-revealing thing, boobs hanging out everywhere… she wants you to look at her tits, y’know?  That’s just the way that it is, and she wants to be treated that way.  Someone else is more conservative, they don’t want to be treated like that.  It really just represents people’s idea of how they want to be treated, I think is what it comes down to.  People will find others that look like them because they all like to be treated like that, or whatever it is.

People in the main campground really look very much like a typical festival crowd, but take a trip up to the Temple of Consciousness and you get a completely different vibe.  I’m not saying they are static groups, or like them vs. us, but what I feel at the Temple is the deeper soul of what’s going on.  The motivation to come to a musical festival to do more than to listen to music, or to wear spirit hoods, for example.  Am I just imagining that?

You are imagining that [laughs].  No, I cannot confirm or deny.

Have you been up there? 

Yeah.  Different strokes for different folks, y’know?

That’s what self-expression is all about.

Yep, exactly.

It has been on our mind lately that we’re seeing a lot of really expensive clothing or costumes here.  Do you find it contradictory to the spirit of the whole thing?  Especially between things like attention to environmental issues and selling fox tails?

I think that’s just the great human conundrum, everything is a contradiction.  There’s a tendency for the environmental or conscious movement to think that everything human is bad, and everything else is good.  So whatever you can do to eradicate the footprint of humanity, well, you’re doing good for the earth.  But I think humans are just like anything else – we’re nature – and to really step back and accept the things that we do, good and bad.  And try and willfully move things in a direction that is beautiful for the planet, or sustainable.  But, ultimately, we’re here.  We’re here to stay until we’re gone, so we gotta have some sort of impact.  Let’s just hope that it’s a beautiful impact and was done consciously, and there will be hypocrisy and irony along the way.

You go to McDonalds and you don’t see the cow get slaughtered, but you wear the fox tail and it screams “fox.”  So it’s easier to pick and choose things that are more representative of the animal, because we don’t see animals anymore.  We just see packaged meat and whatnot.  But really, our impact is pretty heavy everywhere you look.  The cotton t-shirt may have killed more arctic foxes than actual foxtails, y’know?  You just never know.  It’s mysterious, and it is a conundrum.

Do you think there could be a sense nowadays where we’re trying to overcorrect for some things that we’ve done in the past, possibly creating new problems from that?

Well… we have two choices, I think.  We’re at a crossroads with humanity.  We can either A. go back to the third world, where we give up everything, all the plastics, all the everything, and go back to living in our own shit basically and we’ll have a pretty minimal impact at that point, or B. we can embrace the technologies that we have and use the things that we’ve created to actually help sustain the population as it is and hopefully make a better world with the technology.  Hopefully if we believe in what we’re doing, then good will come of it.

Of course, I just play music.  [Laughs].  So I don’t know.

I do think that’s really crucial, though.  Within festivals, it’s a bunch of like-minded people coming together, and without a central meeting place, or at least some kind of incentive, it would take however much longer for all of those ideas to transmit.


So I guess the music really is the keystone of all of it, then.

Yes, but if we can love each other as a community, and there’s less competition and less self-serving behavior, then if we all work together we can do a lot more than if we were all in it for money or for one cause.

My sister is a very devout Christian, and I am not but I can clearly see the beauty that it brings to her life.  The vibe at the Temple is like that, too.  It’s just so… vibrant, I guess.  You can really see it up there, that’s why it was created after all.  Well, I realized that from the outside you could say it looks like cultism.  I have enjoyed the random occurrence of the devotional, spiritual things that popped up this weekend.  However, if it wasn’t “I am divine love” and instead it was “Jesus loves me,” it might startle me a bit. 

But then I came to a realization yesterday I’d like to share with you, that the function of religion isn’t to create dogma or a set of rules, it’s to bring people together.  Religion’s main purpose has always been to bring people to one place; that’s why churches and temples were communal meeting spots throughout history, and continue to be so.  Religion brings people together so they can share something.  That’s what all major religions have accomplished, but where I think it breaks down is when people get hung up on the rules and the names.

People forget that the reason they are involved is so they can just be together.


Sorry, that wasn’t actually a question at all…

[Laughs] Excellent job.


One comment on “INTERVIEW // Random Rab :: The Guzheng, Community Vibes, and The Conundrum of Human Existence

  1. Pingback: REVIEW // Lightning in a Bottle :: Day 3 :: Sunday, May 27th 2012 | Unified Funk Option

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