Florida Duo Fuse Spirituality, Performance Art and Dance Music in Winston-Salem
Time is an experimental electronic performance duo that blends performance art, dance and devotion from Florida. I spoke to the pair, Michael and Madhava Collins, both 32, who are a married couple, by phone last week during their recent tour stop outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Time plays at Test Pattern in Winston-Salem on Friday, Oct. 20.
Their music and touring lifestyle are informed and shaped on some level by their spiritual practice as Hare Krishna devotees. But this music doesn’t sound like the voice-and-cymbals chanting of Hare Krishnas that you may have seen or heard in London or New York, or in movies. The music of Time has pulsing mechanistic beats, arpeggiating retro synth sounds, whooshing echos and reverb. It sounds more like something you’d hear in a sci-fi movie than in an ashram. One can hear connections to the B-52s in the male-female vocal interplay, to the Eurythmics and the Ministry in the vaguely robotic overtones and even to Bollywood soundtracks, in the blend of a Hindu cosmology and dancefloor aesthetics. If you’ve ever heard the music of American singer Krishna Das, who performs Hindu devotional vocal music known as kirtan, you might put Time on a distant part of the same spectrum that includes Das’s recordings.
There are bands from the past, pre-internet-era bands, that accidentally chose names that would just get swept into the flow of digital data, bands with names like Country or Audience, which ended up being almost unsearchable unless you knew more about the artists. Time, which had its first show in early 2016, has done something similar. Search for the terms “time,” “band,” “Florida,” and you’re likely to get a bunch of generic event listings. You might also find yourself poring over back issues of a prominent newsweekly by that name.
It wasn’t that the band wanted to avoid being tracked down by interested potential listeners or to be verbally camouflaged in the digital underbrush. Instead, Time co-founder Michael Collins said that as they were trying to think of a name for their project he found that so many names had been used already.
“In this day and age, it feels like everything is taken,” he said. “What can you do that’s even original? But sometimes when you simplify and take on these grand monolithic principles, it can really work. Time is this overarching thing, this thing that defines our whole existence, but we really have no idea of how it even works. We were just totally captured by the mysticism of that, the beauty and almost the absurdity of our relationship to it. We really wanted to define our band by this searching, wanting to search out answers to big questions.”
Michael was raised an Episcopalian, but he said he got exposed to the Krishna consciousness movement after reading the writings of Carlos Castenada or “The Autobiography of a Yogi,” eventually taking an interest in meditation. Madhava was raised Catholic.
“I found myself getting into yoga, getting into the chanting,” she said.
Chanting and meditating and being a practicing Hare Krishna has helped her connect her religious upbringing with her present spiritual pursuits. “Now I see the unity, everyone is taking different paths to the divine,” she said.
Aside from their almost unsearchable name, that idea of getting lost — whether it be in the immensity of the cosmos, the idea of oneness, the transcendent experience of the eternal, or the ecstatic letting-go of the dance floor — is central to the music of Time.
“What people really seek on the dance floor is this suspension of time, this temporary utopia, where one forgets the every day,” Michael Collins said. “They’re seeking a place of non-time.”
Their music is also about time in the literal sense. One of their songs is called “Time I Am,” and it is inspired, in part, by a scene in the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture, in which Lord Krishna, the supreme manifestation or personality of the Godhead, says “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds.” Destruction being a fundamental aspect of creation in this cosmology.
“Sometimes songs are prayers that we’ve adapted,” Madhava Collins said of the range of their material, some of which is more secular. She points out that — across traditions, music has been used as a spiritual tool. “So many people use this art form to channel their deepest emotions and their attempt to connect to the divine.”
The duo’s music isn’t intended as some sort of aid to relaxation. It’s more likely to excite the heart rate, though the idea of ecstatic communion through music is not something that’s foreign to their spiritual practice.
Michael and Madhava Collins are both practicing Hare Krishnas, which can be at odds with the lifestyle often associated with the venues where they generally perform music. Devotees avoid intoxicants. They eat a vegetarian diet. They are encouraged to wake up early in the morning in order to begin their chanting and meditation (of which chanting is a form). Another one of the duo’s songs is called “Let Go,” which seems to be about the profound spiritual renunciation inherent to many forms of devotion.
“We’re practically straight edge,” said Michael Collins, who was a founding member of the indie-electronic band Prince Rama, which also had a connection to the Hare Krishna spiritual practice in its music.
If being in late-night rock clubs doesn’t necessarily lend itself to being a practicing early-rising Hare Krishna, there are other aspects of the music scene that do fit in with the Collins’ spiritual goals.
“I like connecting with people,” Madhava Collins said. “Part of our practice is about community.”
Lots of Western performers have chanted the name of Hare Krishna, either as an act of spiritual devotion or as a winking form of cultural appropriation or allusion. George Harrison did it. Twin City post-punks Husker Du did it. Gospel great Marion Williams did it. Pop star Boy George did it. A version of the chant was included in the hippie musical “Hair.”
Time is on what they call the Infinity Tour, which makes a kind of sense in a number of ways. One might have to do with the seemingly infinite nature of time itself, and the unending stretches of past-present-future. The other is more mundane and it relates to the fact that they are touring for a very, very long stretch. Most bands will view a six-week string of shows to be pretty epic, with late nights in clubs, days driving in a van, and the prospect of road food and crashing on couches to be taxing. Time’s Infinity Tour is almost three months long, but their spiritual practice, relative asceticism, and their connection to Krishna devotees around the country, with vegetarian meals and quiet places to sleep, may make it more feasible. The tour has its own figure-8, Mobius continuity to it, having started in mid-August in Gainesville, Florida, it will end there again, or loop back to its beginning if you will, on Halloween at the close of this month.
If the spiritual underpinnings and the temporal/chronic themes give listeners a lot to take in with Time, their visual/performance element is not insignificant.
“I’ve realized that the more of someone’s senses that you can engage, the more they can connect with what’s going on,” Madhava Collins said. “We want to appeal to more senses. We sometimes do fog.”
They’ve worked with artists and graphic designers to craft space-aged reflective reality-distorting headsets for previous tours. Their album art is definitely evocative of an early ‘80s video arcade vibe, part Asteroids, part Tron, retro fractiles and topographic grids. There are costumes and glitter as well. They have a stage worthy of a Sun Ra show for this tour.
“It’s a half-dome structure that we sort of fit in, underneath and in front of,” she said. “We point lasers at it and they reflect and refract in crazy ways. It’s definitely a spectacle.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Time at Test Pattern, 701 Trade St., Winston-Salem, on Friday, Oct. 20, 336-955-1888, facebook.com/testpatternbar