Empty House is the moniker for multi-instrumentalist Fred Laird. A name conjured up to reflect the state of (no) mind called Mushin (Japanese) or Wuxin (Chinese). No-mind is a state of awareness practised by Zen and Taosist monks as well as martial artists and is achieved when a person’s mind is free from thoughts of anger, fear, or ego. This concept of no-mind is the aim of Laird to create ambient works devoid of any real influence, to go with to flow, with one’s own feelings. A musical dedication to Buddha.
Laird was born and still resides in the small seaside town of Fleetwood Lancashire. A sleepy place with one foot still firmly embedded in the Victorian sand. Brought up through the heady days of punk and post punk of the 70’s and early 80’s where he learned to pick up a chord or two enough to join local bands in search of noise enlightenment before venturing into the space rock scene of the early noughties fronting cosmic rockers Earthling Society. During the next 13 years Laird played alongside such luminaries as Julian Cope, Hawkwind, Arthur Brown and a host of other space rockers and cosmic freaks in their search for the two chord, hallucinogenic, cod spiritual high.
In 2018 Laird decided to end this period of music to concentrate on more spiritual music. This was influenced by two visits to China and the effect that the people’s spirituality had on his way of thinking. Returning just before the Covid outbreak, Laird decided on a change of lifestyle that would take him on the path of Buddhism, Taoism, sobriety and the martial arts. This would also reflect in the music being created in his DIY bedroom studio.
Laird has released 2 albums under the Empty House moniker – ‘Mushin’ and ‘Blue Bamboo’ which have seen releases via Echodelick and Cruel Nature records in vinyl and cassette formats as well as being available on his Empty House Bandcamp site.
Favourably compared to John Hassell’s 4th world music, Brian Eno and Harold Budd. Laird takes the ambience of these visionary musicians and mixes them with the non motorik aspects of Krautrock; especially Laird’s foremost influence Popol Vuh.
Laird creates music for peaceful reflection but can sometimes use the yin yang aspect to pull you away into darker territory. Ominous tones can spring out of the most serene moments of his music, like the disturbance of unwanted thought during meditation. Ethnic instruments and natural field recordings are used to give the listener a feel of nature, a feel of the Tao though the Tao cannot be touched.
Mushin was recorded over a three-day period in March 2021. The idea was originally based on the music set out by The Taj Mahal Travellers freeform soundscapes, Midori Takada’s marimba and harmonium excursions and Susumu Yokoto’s minimalistic rhythms.
The Zen Buddhist approach of No-Mind or Mushin was adopted in the freewheelin’ way the album was created which was in a consciously unconscious manner with no actual idea or blueprint beforehand. Pick up whatever instrument is around and play and see what happens.
The instruments that were around at the time of recording were – Organ, Guitar, Bouzouki, Shakuhachi Flute, Dizi Flute, Temple block, Tibetan bells, biscuit tin, a buddha radio, handpan, congas and a Gakken Synth.
Some field recordings were created by capturing a leaking faucet in a garden centre and the eerie sound of some bamboo chimes recorded in Laird’s garden the day after the first lockdown started (no traffic on the roads, up in the air or out in the street).
‘Mushin’ means no-mind or empty mind that you attain through meditation or if you’re a martial artist through your patterns (Poomsae, Kata etc). However, recording an album on achieving Mushin, would be the sound of silence.
So, the idea was to create drifting pieces of music like when tiny thoughts or images drift in and out of your head whilst trying to achieve Mushin – The distractions so to speak.
Blue Bamboo (2022)
Blue Bamboo consists of four improvised pieces for meditation or total chill out. Recorded over a few days in February and built upon drones created by the organ through a dream pedal or Tanpura box. The tracks were then splashed with colour and hues with treated piano, shakuhachi flute, bells, synth, field recordings and other instruments. Inspired by Laird’s faith in Buddhism as well as the music of Eno, David Sylvian, Midori Takada and Popol Vuh. This was recorded as the build up to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine took place where the studio became a calming environment to the doom and gloom atmosphere that was/is prevalent in the world.