From the sound and visuals to the poetic track titles, what inspired the cosmic concept of Lost In Place?
From a sound perspective, Lost in Place is heavily influenced by the late trumpeter Jon Hassell, in particular his penultimate record ‘Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)’. The opening track of Lost on Place, Finding Place, was made right after I first heard that record, so it is a tribute to Jon in a way!
Visually, I collaborated with my dear friend Takashi Takiguchi, who is an incredible Japanese Butoh Dancer based in Melbourne. I’ve worked with Taka for years in various dance projects and I knew immediately that he would have the right eye for visually representing the music. Taka was inspired for the costume design by the Eikoh Hosoe (細江英公) film Navel and A-Bomb (へそと原爆), featuring Hijikata Tatsumi (土方巽) and we also collaborated with the incredible photographer and filmmaker (also my little brother) Jack Lewis.
The track titles started as a play on words that deliberately nodded to the 1960’s sci-fi television series ‘Lost in Space’ and the seminal 1973 record ‘Space is the Place’ by Sun Ra and his Arkestra. When read with a more poetic lens, the titles were an abstract way for me to articulate the personal journey I went through whilst making the album. I made Lost in Place in response to a growing personal need to find a ‘place for space’ where I could be open and vulnerable for myself and others, so my intention behind the titles ultimately was to help the listener find that place for themselves as well.
The album is a nod towards ‘iconic sci-fi’ and ‘intergalactic free jazz’ – what comprises these intriguing sub-genres and where do they come from?
Lost in Place is a (very) deep dive into a more electronic sound realm compared to previous Lion’s Paw releases. My debut Lion’s Paw record, Abstract Playgrounds, paid homage to albums like Live Evil by Miles Davis and Expensive Shit by Fela Kuti; these references still resonate throughout Lost in Place, but I would say albums like ‘Listening To Pictures (Pentimento Volume One)’ by Jon Hassell and ‘Dancing in your Head’ by Ornette Coleman & Prime Time were my pillars of influence this time.
I think it’s important to note that all of these references are their own unique window into a long and fascinating history of musical experimentation, expression and rebellion. They have also been cherry-picked and assembled by a white guy in so-called Australia thousands of kilometres away from their place of origin and often decades after the fact, so my history and relationship with this music is framed by that inherent abstraction and privilege. That’s the beauty of art, it can mean many different things to many different people at many different points in time.
You mention that you used the recording studio as a sonic laboratory. Talk us through the process of bringing the individual musical components of the album together to create the finished piece?
Lost in Place carries on the collaborative musical philosophy of I Hold the Lion’s Paw that has grown through live performance, but takes it to another planet in the studio. I started the group in 2016 essentially because I wanted to construct a musical playground where I could invite my closest friends into a live experiment that hoped to find hidden connections between composition and collective musical improvisation. Making the first record, Abstract Playgrounds, was a process of documenting those interactions, capturing moments in extended play that brought the listener into our world as we played.
Lost is Place is still very much about world making, but my process in producing this record became more about using the studio as the key compositional tool rather than simply a means to capture what was happening. I’m very inspired by producers like Teo Mecero, especially his contribution to the iconic records of Miles Davis’ electric period. I love how those records craft otherworldly soundscapes out of all sorts of improvised material and still manage to maintain the magic of those improvised moments in the process.
This ideal balance is something I explored deeply in making Lost in Place, both as an improviser and a producer, and have continued to explore in everything I do in the studio. The simplest way to describe the process is that the finished piece is a collage. I would start by recording improvisations by myself or with others, then edit and manipulate that material in a myriad of different ways. Then I would compose additional material inspired by those sounds, or make arrangements that weaved amongst that recorded material, or record more improvisations that responded directly to that edited material. I’d edit and manipulate the new layers, then that whole process would repeat again and again until something clicked into place that told me the work was finished.
The title is also a nod to the 1960’s sci-fi television series Lost in Space. It draws metaphorically from the Robinson family, bouncing around in space, dedicating each day (or episode) to finding home. Where is home for Reuben Lewis, and what does ‘home’ mean/feel like to you?
These days, after losing count of days spent in lockdown, home in a creative sense feels less like a sanctuary ‘fixed in space’ and instead more of a philosophy of making that generates a ‘place for space’ for whoever needs it. We all need a safe space to be open and vulnerable, I feel like making ‘Lost in Place’ made that space for me, and I hope it makes a ‘place in space’ for others too.
While Lost in Place is sequenced as eleven tracks, you mention it is best approached as two unbroken flows of music, divided into Side A and Side B – can you talk us through your thinking around this element and the purpose behind this approach?
This is a practical consideration as much as a creative one. I like making records, and you can generally make records up to around 22 minutes a side before you run into serious compromises in terms of sound quality within the vinyl medium. I also like that when listening to vinyl you have an ‘intermission’ imposed by having to flip the record. In a live setting, it’s very hard to stop Lion’s Paw once we get going, so we tend to play continuous sets and we’re often more interested in exploring the possibilities hidden within the transitions rather than the arrival of the next tune.
These elements are the creative backbone behind the two studio releases to date. In Abstract Playgrounds, I landed at about 22.5 minutes a side with the B-side acting as a quasi ‘remix’ of the A-side. In Lost in Place, I set myself the challenge of sticking to the same record length, but the narrative arc is much grander and the gap in the middle serves as a short intermission before the grand finale.
What’s next on the horizon for I Hold The Lion’s Paw?
I’m currently dreaming up a project that will allow Lion’s Paw to really stretch out. It’ll likely involve inviting Taka back on board and a 4-hour performance slot, so there is a bit to organise before I can say much more! We were also luckier than some and managed to sneak in a full weekend of recording between lockdowns, so I’m very excited to dive into that material when the moment is right.