If you’re acquainted with avant-garde music history, you might already know the story. One day in 1979, Brian Eno happened upon Laraaji meditatively busking with an electric zither in Washington Square Park and scrawled a short note inviting him to collaborate. Equally present in the online sphere is the counterpoint that Laraaji “discovered” Eno that day, a sentiment I tend to agree with. Although their partnership resulted in the shimmery album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, Laraaji had already released an otherworldly debut, Celestial Vibration, before Eno stumbled across his trance-state performance in the New York park. 

These days, Laraaji closes his emails with frog emojis and the phrase “vast field pervading,” which makes sense. The 81-year-old multiinstrumentalist and New Age pioneer creates poetry in each moment. Laraaji is also one of the genre’s warmest characters—he has worn primarily orange for decades, and his blissful DIY oeuvre includes laughter meditation “playshops” worldwide. 

Laraaji has opened for Solange, performed with plants at South by Southwest, and created hazy albums with fellow experimenters Sun Araw and Blues Control. Make no mistake: Laraaji is “out there,” but also a true New Yorker grounded in his vision, creating everything from guided meditation and reiki albums to force-of-nature instrumentals that have helped shape the New Age and ambient music landscapes for decades. 

His process is compact and portable. Using modified autoharps, electrified kalimbas, an array of pedals, and improvisational trance states, Laraaji channels an ambrosial, lilting sound that’s positioned him as something of a do-good sonic alchemist in musical history. His layered compositions stretch across whole vinyl sides but still feel light and luminous, like melodic affirmations. It’s music as experience: Laraaji leads you to the cosmic waters, all you’ve gotta do is drink. 

Laraaji and Sam Prekop (of the Sea and Cake) are performing as a duo on their Solar Reunion Tour in Portland and Seattle. The shows are curated and presented by Age of Reflections, an immersive event series for sound, light, and space. Ahead of the shows, I spoke to Laraaji (and his frog puppet, Dr. Love) about laughter and healing sounds.

MERCURY: You've participated in so many collaborations throughout your career. You’ve got upcoming shows with [The Sea and Cake musician] Sam Prekop in Portland and Seattle, but you've also worked with everyone from Solange to your partner, Arji Oceananda. Even going back to your time creating [the psychedelic ’80s-era public access TV show] Celestrana, you’ve invited collaborators into your sphere. If Celestrana existed in 2024, who would you invite onto the show?

Laraaji: Mmmm [laughs]. Yo Yo Ma! Michael Brook, jazz bassists, and jazz guitarists. Is Roberta Flack still with us? And some percussionists. Zakir Hussain. Yes! Can you imagine that? And some spontaneous, creative, dance movement people.

Speaking of Celestrana, do you find yourself relating to your older music differently now? What emotions come up when you listen to [your 1978 debut album] Celestial Vibration, for instance?

Laraaji: A heightened sense of present time, and an expansive sense of time, too, like eternalness. A field that is continuous and unbroken. A joy, a joy of acknowledging the self that extends beyond the physical body form.

Dr. Love (left) with Laraaji and interviewer Lindsay Costello. LC

Some of your most tried and true collaborators seem to be your frog puppets, Dr. Love and Dr. Peace, who you purchased from a toy store in Florida back in the ’80s. Oh, thank God, you’re going to bring out Dr. Love… I was so hoping this would happen.

Dr. Love: Hey. 

Laraaji: Dr. Love gets me into a transcendental place. In the ‘80s, I was in Florida for a conference and a performance. I stayed at the home of the secretary of one of the New Age centers. During the day, I was just watching television when she said, “Hey, let's get out of the house. I'm going to the mall, do you want to go with me?” I said yes without thinking. 

I walked across the mall and into this toy store. I walked down one aisle, turned left, turned another left, and looked down. There were these two friendly beings. I picked them up, walked to the counter, and paid for them. It was all as if by guidance, remote guidance.

I had so much fun interacting with these little friends before I even dared to think somebody else would enjoy me interacting with them. And they turned out to be… I don't know if the word is Gestalt, but I could go into a very nonlinear space and channel wisdom from that space. Dr. Love exposed me to a language for altering the function of the mind from a linear processing instrument into vertical field awareness. This is getting kind of technical, but from that perspective, I was able to bring forth information, details, and sometimes a lot of humor. If it's for entertainment only, I tend to shy away from it, but when I'm in the moment with a yoga group or a meditation community, it flows better.

Dr. Love: Dajenetko kokona nesovech anev. Songa tao donquaa sanech anev.

Laraaji: “While we're holding this conversation an unbroken unified field is permeating this whole technical apparatus, the digital, um…

Dr. Love: Degushi nuvi?

Laraaji: “...iPad Pro.”

[Pausing, speechless, enraptured.] We’re so blessed that Dr. Love is here. You share your meditation practice on your dublab show, Laraaji Laughs. You also teach “seriously playful” laughter workshops. During laughter meditation, when you feel that total dissolving of ego and boundaries… can that be sort of funny? Or is laughter more of a tool for the spirit?

Laraaji: I won’t leave funny out of the equation. The shortest distance between two people is laughter—boundaries come down and we become available and vulnerable. As I've laughed around the globe, I've noticed that even though I might not speak the language, when laughter is happening, there's no question that we're on the same page. The laughter that I've experienced is funny, it's infectious. When we're really into our laughter, it also triggers someone else's laughter. The word “funny” might also be examined here. When we say funny, we might mean playful, disarming, or lovable. We're lightening up, coming out of density and rigidity, and floating in a light or a buoyancy.

During the playshops, laughter is something to get going throughout the entire body. We work on the head, the throat, the endocrine system, the heart, the abdominal organs, and the lungs. The laughter goes for the entire energy field. [Laughs.] While doing this, I focus on scanning my entire body and seeing where there is any blockage or looseness. I send the luminous language of laughter into that area.


Laraaji: You have a nice mmm.

When I make that sound, I’m feeling it in my throat, and thinking about what you said about laughter in different areas of the body—I’m feeling the tone in my throat and how mmm might lead to a laugh.

Laraaji: Laughter is toning too, if we do our exercises. I call them laughtercizes. Eventually, our voice becomes softer and lighter. We can use these exercises to soften ourselves up before a conference, or before we talk with someone, or before going on stage. Laughter can lead to a lighter, lovely tone in our voice.

I love your devotion to wearing the color orange because it feels like the color of laughter.

Laraaji: Thank you! It's radiant. It's called the color of the second chakra. Creativity energy, sexual energy, fast food energy. 

Has wearing one color for so long brought anything surprising into your life? Do any interesting interactions or stories come to mind?

Laraaji: Quite a few. In Spain, I watched people look at me pretty intensely until I discovered that they use a lot of butane and the butane tank cleaners wear all orange. Sometimes I'd be walking in a city like Berlin and I'd hear somebody chanting “Hari Krishna!” very playfully. And crossing the street, a truck driver will shout, “Ain't nobody gonna hit you with all that color on!” 

I've been in the woods in upstate New York and seen a buck at a distance, looking at me and stomping his feet, probably associating me with the color of a hunter. Even butterflies and bees—when I'm out in the wooded area they'll come by, circle me, and sniff to see if I'm a flower or something. The color triggers them.

Speaking of these interspecies interactions, and thanks to the power of the internet, I've watched you talk with Iasos among California redwoods, perform with plants at South by Southwest, and play music in a cave with Harold Budd. Is there a flora or fauna being that you can still imagine playing music for, or with? Or perhaps there's a natural environment that you'd still love to play in.

Laraaji: On my list of things to do is to visit the Amazon, but I hadn't thought about playing music there… I didn't think of it as an acoustic place in which to experiment. I’ve been considering the idea of the Egyptian pyramids and the Taj Mahal, following the footsteps of Paul Horn, who made music in those very acoustically lively places.

You create these waves of vibratory, shimmering sound, and they remind me of this Buddhist concept that I've been trying to get my head around lately: paticca samuppada, the interdependent co-arising of all things. I hear an interdependent co-arising of all these instruments, layers, and sounds, but there's also something about your music that makes me think of silence itself. It makes me think of what I might hear if I were tuned into an underlying rhythm or pulse of the universe.

Laraaji: That's very intuitive of you because more and more silence is entering my live performances. I leave a very noticeable silence. I appreciate audiences accepting the idea of silence or stillness or clearing. Sometimes I call it “impressions of the clearing,” or music that points to the unstressed field. A universal present time; stillness from the activity of thought flow and sensing the universality of this moment. 

What, culturally, is pulling people back toward your improvisational healing sound?

Laraaji: I have found that improvisation is my go-to approach to being present, enjoying my presence, and enjoying the universe. Improvisation allows me to be in the moment without labored linear thinking. I contact worlds I could not have imagined through thinking. New music can show up if I am open enough and unprepared enough. Most of the meaningful music that has come through me has come through spontaneity.

All of the music I’ve released represents an improvisational trust and focus. I call it the celestial agenda or the celestial focus—by contemplating an absolute field or timeless presence, I massage, interact with, love, hold, embrace, and play with imagined absolute present time. It’s the imagined universal, or the imagined oneness, that's permeating every individual conscious being. Yeah, this is a very potent interview. You're bringing things out of me I haven't put into words before.

What do you still dream of learning? 

Laraaji: Teleportation. I once dreamt of learning to play the organ, and I achieved that through synthesizers. I also dream of learning to direct and produce a hilarious cinema film.

I can imagine that. Where would you teleport to if you could?

Laraaji: Well, I'd like to know there were stations on the West Coast, London, Tokyo, Melbourne, and Paris. I'd also like to check out Alpha Centauri A and B, just to see what it feels like. Or Keller—I hear it’s a planet, lightyears away, whose nature represents a habitat that could sustain human life. I’d also like to teleport to Bahia, where there are African descendants. It’s a very musical space. I’d like to use music or sound to teleport listeners far beyond their imagination, to places with no stress—where they could receive information and guidance on living their journey on Earth more fully.

That's beautiful. Teleportation for good.

Laraaji: Yes. But have you ever seen a movie called The Fly? There’s a lesson in there—be careful about your experiments!

Hahahahahahahahahaha! LC

Can we laugh together, for a minute or so?

Laraaji: Let’s see, we're usually in the chest, behind the breastbone. There's something called the thymus—it's been called the seat of our immune system, and it produces T cells. There’s a traditional practice of thumping the thymus. We can reproduce it with our laughter, and at my playshops, I invite participants into the “water body” first, to feel that the body is composed mostly of water. We feel that fluidity and send our voice into an area. I'm going to send it to that area behind the breastbone now.

[Laughing.] Yeah! So there's a whole-body laughter for the head [laughs] and the heart [laughs] and the abdominal organs. Doing these exercises should bring a new personality to your real authentic laughter. Make it fuller.

LC: [Laughing.]

Laraaji: [Laughing.]

See Laraaji with Sam Prekop at First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park, Friday, May 17, 7 pm, $58.71.