Frank Perry Book

Our guest-blogger Frank Perry is a recording artist, composer, astrologer, mystic, Singing Bowl expert since the early 70’s and author of the compendium “Himalayan Sound Revelations”.  Now in its second printing of the second edition, his book is undoubtedly the most comprehensive book on Singing Bowls ever written. However, one subject I’d wished it had covered more was his take on bowls and the Chakras, which is a question I am asked almost every day. We’d been having a lively exchange on this subject for the past couple of years, so I asked him to give us his insights…

FP 8 smallMany persons involved with singing bowls consider them to be musical instruments – such as would be used to apply the 7 notes of our musical scale to the chakras. A few others and I do not subscribe to this belief and practice. If it works for you, then fine. If it doesn’t ‘rings true’ then please read on.

I have no desire to destroy the work of anybody in this field. Recent research challenges what had previously appeared to be a rock-solid system of the chakras. But I feel it is important to not shy away from truth. It is simply necessary to reconsider our position.
Outlined here are some issues I have regarding the current way of attributing the 7 white piano keys to the chakras and then to singing bowls:

  • There is one chakra system
  • The 7 white notes of our piano are those for the chakras
  • Himalayan singing bowls are made for working this way on chakras.

100 years ago, Arthur Avalon writing about the chakras published “The Serpent Power”. For a very long time this was established as being the only system of the ancient Tantrik chakra systems referred to. If the chakras were ever mentioned this system would come to mind. An entire industry of writers, yoga teachers, workshop leaders, yogis, sound healers and singing bowl suppliers is now firmly established around this one single system with many Western practices superimposed upon it for which nobody is to blame, and (in its original form one of the many genuine systems) all are certainly free to continue adhering to.

 

According to Christopher Tompkins (Sanskrit scholar and yogi – http://shaivayoga.com/Home.html), our current chakra system stems from Purnananda Swami who wrote about this one system (‘system of six chakras’) 500 years after the original source, the Kubjika Tantra, (itself one of nine Tantrik lineages) in 1577 CE. However, it now transpires there are many such systems (Tantras) with some being based on 5 chakras, or 6, 7, 9, 10, 15, 21, 28, etc – according to which Tantrik text you are looking at. Some of these chakras are in regions totally unfamiliar e.g. the palette. Then in 1918 Sir John Woodroffe (under his pen name Arthur Avalon) published his English translation of Purnananda’s book (‘The Serpent Fire’). Purnanada’s book had no information regarding what to do with that system.

 

Regarding the seven notes for the chakras, we should also bear in mind that the Sanskrit alphabet has 50 letters (the ‘Garland of Letters’) and in our familiar system the first six chakras have a total of fifty petals. Therefore, taking the Root chakra as our example, there are four petals each with its own sound. Then there is a Bija mantra linked to each chakra. So, in this Root chakra there are five sounds and not one, and with the Heart chakra 13 sounds, etc. Then a further complication arises with each Bija mantra, as these are those for the five elements. These can be placed in any chakra – only adhering to the same ascending sequence. For example, the Earth element could be placed in the Solar Plexus chakra and followed on with the Water element placed in the Heart chakra, and then Fire situated at the Throat, etc. This would result in the sounds of the Bija mantras being in different chakras to that of the current system. In addition to this, it further transpires that there is a translation error regarding the sound (spelling) of these Bija mantras. However, Woodroffe was a Sanskritist, and in Purnanada’s book the actual Bija mantras are missing their vowels. It was common parlance to assume the short ‘a’ in such instances. And so, we have inherited the sequence Lam, Vam, Ram, Ham, Om. But actually: – LAM, VIM, RUM, YAIM, HAUM, OM.

 

FP2-med

Working with music since 1964 and with singing bowls since 1971, I’ve yet to discover any ancient texts that put a musical note to the sounds for the chakras. Even were these ancient people to have done so, it is highly unlikely for this to be the seven notes of our C Major scale! – let alone in the pitch standard of today and in Equal Tempered tuning (which we only adopted in the 20th century) when one such unpublished system of five chakras (from the heart chakra upwards – no lower three chakras) comes from 500 – 700 CE. I contest that at such an early date any kind of familiarity with Western music (as it was then!) is most improbable.  It is undeniable that correspondences could have been found within the musical scales of India but I’m not yet aware of any tradition (ancient or modern) regarding this.

 

 

Tibetologist Dr. Alain Presencer (1981 LP ‘The Singing Bowls of Tibet’) and I believe singing bowls are not, and were never intended to be, musical instruments. The nature of the sound of singing bowls is such that several sounds are heard together when struck. This is not the case with musical instruments that produce a distinct musical note when struck (or blown or bowed or sung [apart from overtone singing]). In this regard, it matters little whether we refer to a system of 5, 6, 7, 10, 28 chakras, whatever, it will remain very demanding to fit any one singing bowl to one single exact frequency.

 

Even if we’re not concerned with ancient systems but are happy to link seven chakras to seven musical notes, singing bowls are a poor choice for applying this system. In my experience, apart from sounding several frequencies (more akin to a musical ‘chord’), hand-hammered singing bowls will often produce slight variations in their sound when struck at different points around the rim. When I first find a bowl, I will experiment to find that strike point which seems to produce the optimum sound from the bowl.  However, I also have a problem with these seven notes spanning one octave out of seven. This seems a narrow span of tones for seven chakras that refer to the spiritual evolution of our consciousness unfolded through initiatory experience. Fabian Maman uses seven notes in his model of sound healing although these follow a cycle of Fifths and so cover more than one octave: F, C, G, D, A, E, B (F2 to B5. 1997).  Then, James D’Angelo, another musician in the field, favours a pentatonic scale also beginning on F: F, G, A, C, D, F, G. This extends just beyond the octave (applied to seven chakras).

 

The system of chakras is part of our ‘nature’. An additional problem lies in our modern music (based, as it is, upon the ‘Fixed Pitch’ piano) being out-of-tune with the ‘nature’ of sound (harmonics or the overtone series). In the time of Pythagoras, the notes of our diatonic scale derived from the ratios found in the overtone series. E.g. 9/8, 5/4, 6/5, etc. This is called ‘Pure Tuning’. When a guitar string is plucked it is possible to hear the various overtones sounding harmoniously together. Furthermore, it is then possible to isolate one of these overtones through gently placing a finger upon the point of one of these ratios e.g. two thirds of the length of the string. When we then press the string down from this position upon a certain fret to hear this harmonic (pitch) it would not be quite the same sound frequency. This is because our current ‘Equal Tempered’ tuning system has derived the several notes of the scale from an algorithm. However, there have always been problems with tuning this scale stemming from trying to resolve the ‘Pythagorean Comma’. (Please see diagram/table below – courtesy of Wikipedia). This is not the case with other musical scales in the world that derive from different geometric progressions. It must also be said that bells and singing bowls don’t obey the same law that governs musical instruments. Each bowl has its own unique set of overtones.

 

This chakra system of our subtle body is just that – SUBTLE! As humanity moves from the fifth post-Atlantean root race towards the sixth, so we move from intellect to intuition. Accordingly, perhaps it is better to work intuitively with the bowls rather than applying an intellectual rationale or mechanistic paradigm.

 

So. If we drop this current system of finding a bowl close to a musical note, which is then said to be that for a certain chakra, how do we proceed?

 

We may feel the area of a chakra being affected directly by a certain singing bowl – a physical sensation or resonance within that chakra. Or we may listen to see if we can hear in the sound of a bowl something of the qualities or virtues of an individual chakra. The Heart chakra is concerned with love. Can we sense that the sound of a bowl helps us to feel in-tune with this loving quality? Does it enhance our love for our fellow beings (compassion), or does it awaken a spiritual aspiration towards divine love? Does it speak of a child-like simplicity or does the sound carry more of a reassuring, comforting, gentle, and safe quality to help us open our heart when it is closed due to past hurt? Does it centre our focus upon the Heart chakra stirring the seed-atom of that sacred centre? Does it inspire courage to deal with trials of life e.g. threatening illnesses such as Cancer? Does the sound echo the conscious awareness of living within a great ocean of love?

 

I’ve found bowls for twelve chakras (within the body) and 5 of these I only discovered existed some years after I had analysed the bowls. With my first singing bowls in 1971 there was no link between bowls and chakras or anything else. There were simply bowls for sale. You liked one or you didn’t. In the early 80s I found a few ancient bowls affected certain of my chakras and shared such insights in my workshops which certain merchants attended and then turned into selling points. When in the business of looking for bowls, I ignore any claims and simply find what any bowl does for me. Notices in shops stating the bowls are traditionally used for mediation and healing I pay no attention to. I’ve even been in a shop that advertised Healing Bowls. Full of lovely, old antiques with a good sound, but none I could use in my sound healing.

 

Maybe simply find a bowl (or however many) that you love. If it takes you on a journey into the mysteries of sacred sound, then enjoy that grace. If it relaxes you, or quietens your worldly mind, or reacts with any chakra of yours, or turns you inwards to your real Self, then you can go forward grounded in your own experience. You will be guided into how you may work with them. This is the Way of the Bowls.

 

Sound is related to the Throat chakra the name of which translates as ‘Pure’. To clearly experience the effect of a bowl one needs to have achieved a degree of purity to obtain a clear and true reflection.

 

These two diagrams (courtesy of Wikipedia) show how the natural Overtone series (Harmonics) differs in pitch to that of our musical scale as performed upon any Western musical instrument. Diagram #1 shows how different the pitch is between any one harmonic (aka. overtone) and the note in our musical scale (Up or Down – ‘Sharp’ or ‘Flat’ in musical terms).

 

Frank Blog photo 2

Diagram #2 shows the Variance in frequencies in (musical) cents between the Harmonics (1 – 31) of say, a string on the cello, and its musical Note (with + above the Note and Below it).

 

Harmonic 12TET Interval Note Variance cents
1 2 4 8 16 prime (octave) C 0
17 minor second C♯, D♭ +5
9 18 major second D +4
19 minor third D♯, E♭ −2
5 10 20 major third E −14
21 fourth F −29
11 22 tritone F♯, G♭ −49
23 +28
3 6 12 24 fifth G +2
25 minor sixth G♯, A♭ −27
13 26 +41
27 major sixth A +6
7 14 28 minor seventh A♯, B♭ −31
29 +30
15 30 major seventh B −12
31 +45

 

 

Copyright Frank Perry 13th October 2018


Back in 2012, I interviewed the recording artist who would come to be known as 33 Bowls after his 2012 recording of the same name. He had just recorded his initial collection of 33 bowls he got from Bodhisattva in the 2009-2011 time frame, and went on to do two of the most powerful recordings of singing bowls to date with them. Now, he has consigned the last of this remarkable collection back to us to find a new home, and we’re checking in with him again.

33bowls Joshua Tree.jpg

Shakti: I remember telling you that I didn’t resonate with Breathe the way I did with 33 Bowls. When you asked me why, I confessed that I didn’t really know because I kept falling asleep a few minutes into the recording.

33: (laughs) The intention was to unwind stress. Your body reacted by going into deep relaxation, which you obviously needed.

Shakti: How did you become attracted to working with matched pairs?

33: It happened synchronistically – it was amazing to me to find bowls from different centuries that were tuned so close to each other. The unique sound of the recording is at least part from the closely matched pairs – they beat against each other like a well-tuned piano. The subtleties of the strings will weave back and forth with each other, at the same rate as relaxed breathing, a contented heart beat or an ocean wave. You do not get this effect with a single bowl.

Shakti: How did you develop that approach?

33: Familiar with healing modalities such biofeedback and, deep body work, I got the same feeling. The sounds felt similar to the feelings in those modalities, and tend to induce similar states.

Shakti: How did you update your recording technology in Breathe from 33 Bowls?

33: The microphone technique was different. I designed 33 Bowls to put the listener in the room with the singing bowls. In the sequel, Breathe, I changed the technique to envelope you, the listener in the sound of the bowls. Listen to Breathe with headphones for a particularly juicy experience.

There’s something known as “First principle”. One of the first principles I followed in 33 Bowls and Breathe was to minimize the time smear in the entire recording chain. This means reducing the unwanted effects that are common in most recording equipment, in order to maintain the integrity of the nuances and subtle textures of the sound.

Shakti:  What did you like about playing the bowls live?

33: Facilitating people becoming more chilled out and contented. I did most of these events in 2012 through 2016. Several years at the Vibration Station at the Joshua Tree Music Festival, (2014 pictured). Lightning in a Bottle, Synchronicity Symposium, Glen Muse in Ojai, the Integraton and Furst World in Joshua Tree, many private living room concerts.

Shakti: Why are you letting them go?

33: Recordings and events happen when they happen. I’ve said what I had to say. I’m moving overseas and I don’t want to put these bowls in storage. I want them to be used and enjoyed.  Ever seen a buddhist sand mandala? It symbolizes the ephemeral nature of physicality, and the eternal nature of the experience.

From 2012:

Many of our customers at Bodhisattva are destined to share their singing bowls with their communities.  But few have put more research and energy into immortalizing these vessels of peace than our customer who is simply known as 33  Bowls.  A lanky, razor sharp Californian, he amassed a world class collection of singing bowls in quarter tone tuning (close to Solfeggio) in a breathless year and a half, over the course of maybe four or five collections.  Then he recorded.  33 Bowls, in our opinion, picks up where One Hand Clapping, the first digital recording of Tibetan Bowls and nature sounds, left off.  That torch has been passed.  Thank you, 33 Bowls, for lighting up the world with it.

If anything, 33 Bowls is a confluence of ancient bronze technologies and – as of today – state of the art high resolution recording technology.  Tell us about your technical and artistic background that brought these technologies together. 

I am in awe of the masters of constructed/studio soundscape, Thomas Dolby, the late Hector Zazou, Allan Parsons of Pink Floyd, Delerium, Michael Brook, to name a few; and yet the challenge of creating, capturing, or really facilitating a natural soundscape — antique musical instruments in a live acoustic space — is/was what intrigued me.

When younger, I hung out more with nerds and musicians than with motorheads or jocks, and somehow managed to avoid serious hearing damage. Nuance and subtlety in music and sound have always been fascinating to me, and have been an attraction as to how we hear, and how to reproduce or re-create the experience in recordings.

I have both a technical and Artistic background, and firmly believe in integrating both hemispheres. I think I innately understood electronics before I could speak! For many years I was with Laserium, combining visuals of bright clear laser light with music in Planetarium domes, and facilitated thousands of mind expanding trips without partaking in any hallucinogens. Later, I was part of an analog chip design group, and left the words “Don’t Panic” from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in micron sized letters on a chip that is part of the Internet backbone.

What is ongaku?

There is a word used in audiophile circles: “ongaku” which means soul or essence of sound and music. That also describes the presence of live un-amplified music in a good acoustic space that is felt as much as it is heard. Most recordings and systems fall short, one can easily hear from the next room if it is live or reproduced, regardless of what a famous tape company claimed in ’70s and ’80s ad campaigns.

What attracted you to the bowls initially?  And what inspired you to record them?

While studying massage with the many hours of practice, I put together some remixes for massage music that were popular with fellow practitioners and recipients, but the complexity and cost of multiple copyrights prohibited general release. The call for something more fluid, natural, timeless, ethereal, and original was sparked. So, 33 Bowls started out as a couple of questions: “what if” and “wouldn’t it be nice to” in the context of Singing Bowls. It is also a story which does not have a place in the realm of strict left brained linear planning: it was a mind blowing experience of serendipity or synchronicity to piece together a set of pitch matched antique metal Singing Bowls in a relatively short period of time once the intention was set and released or let go of if I may end a sentence with a preposition. The pitch is not western A440, it turns out to be closely aligned to an older scale which is harmonically related to terrestrial and cosmic cycles, that is referred to (and unfortunately hyped) as the Solfeggio Scale, but the ratios are harmonious to western ears. It is my contention that as we, through our ancestors, have heard these sounds for centuries, and there is something innately familiar, even sacred, about the sound of antique musical instruments tuned to this scale.

What attracted you to the antique singing bowls, as opposed to Crystal bowls?

Although the more modern crystal or glass Singing Bowls can sound quite nice, particularly when accompanied by female voice, and are easier to record as they are considerably louder, the resonances are less complex. It is also arguable whether they are truly crystalline, as they are crafted as a spun amorphous slurry at high temperatures which gives them their close to perfect radial symmetry. Ironically it is the slight imperfections in metal Singing Bowls that add the complex harmonics and sub harmonic beats. Take that as a metaphor about perfect imperfection. Antique metal Singing Bowls in particular can have a rich, sonorous, smooth sound quality. But the complex harmonies and particularly sub-harmonic beats that both match and induce deep, meditative states in the brain, mind, heart, and gut are what appealed to me.

Why 33 Bowls?

I was playing live for a thanksgiving day yoga class, and the Yogi, counting the class attendees noticed there were 33 students there, and that there were 33 Singing Bowls. So the name became obvious.

Tell us about the Artwork.

The cover Artwork is from a painting in a private collection by a relatively obscure, modest, and very talented Artist. I wanted something that looked like the music of 33 Bowls feels, and this painting matched in a way that was instantly “it”. This is what the Artist had to say about the music that her painting matches: “It connects me back to something, an older language of sound that just resonates in a way that doesn’t even have words. Feels like I’m joining an ancestry, it doesn’t feel like my emotion…something that’s been dormant, becomes enlivened.” I specifically do not put my name or image on/in the album cover Artwork or liner notes, as it is about the music and not the musician, and certainly not about the musician’s ego.

The bowls are notoriously difficult to record. Tell us in general terms your approach to engineering the recordings.  Were all the bowls recorded live?

Technology: I started off with the proverbial blank sheet of paper. There is no single facet or piece of equipment in the recording chain that makes the recordings sound the way they do. There is a gestalt or synergy of everything involved. None of it is “off the shelf”; all is either modified, custom, or built from scratch. The intention was/is to capture as much of the nuance as possible early on in the signal path. Once that is lost, it is “gone forever” and no amount of studio trickery can re-constitute the aliveness of the real thing. Particular attention was/is paid to minimizing time smear in each facet or component and the implementation of that component. There are a few unavoidable background noises of a live event, but it is close to what one would hear if relaxing in a room hearing the Singing Bowls live, with full ambience and presence. It is not a studio piece by piece creation, so the continuity of the live experience is there. On a reference system, 33 Bowls is the only recording of Singing Bowls that I am aware of that has consistently fooled a variety of listeners into thinking there was a live performance of Singing Bowls in the next room. The CD and high resolution 24 bit downloads provide the highest level of fidelity, but mp3 and iTunes versions sound surprisingly good, again as the recording started out early on with full nuance and resolution.

How do the bowls affect us? How does brainwave entrainment expand our consciousness? Tell us about your work with using bowls as bio feedback instruments.

I believe there is a poignant need for awakening, coherence, articulation, integration of complexity; and hope that music such as 33 Bowls contributes to that. Although statements like that do sound rather abstract, such phenomena provide an archetypal underpinning for “concrete” embodied experiences. They are not a luxury, they are essential for not only our survival, but our “thrival” as a species on this emerald earth. I also believe it is important for us to re-discover our innate embodied, yet environmentally interconnected wisdom and how it ties in with the flow of a bigger picture; whether we call it intuition or hunches, or listening to the heart, or splenic/sacral/plexus knowing.

There is a phrase that is popular to the point of being a cliche, but does have meaning: “holding the space”. Much, maybe most music is about communicating a message of sorts, usually emotional. 33 Bowls does not do that, it holds the space to facilitate and enhance whatever is present. What it is doing is providing a coherent, yet complex natural “signal” for the ears/brain/mind to entrain to and “drop” into a more relaxed, lower stress state of being. Our ears are not passive; they are active participants in sound, interacting with the environment in a way which leads to brain/mind entrainment with what we hear, whether it is shamanic drums, Singing Bowls, cacophonic city noise, or the breath and heartbeat of someone close to us.

Here’s something to try: while listening to Singing Bowls live or via a high resolution recording, notice the embodied sensation, physically, inside your ears. It may be subtle or it may be obvious, but there will be a sensation of the area inside your ears pulsing, or moving to the sub-harmonic beats. You may even notice background sounds modulating or phasing in and out inversely. That is the mechanism of brain/mind entrainment as your ears phase lock and entrain to sounds. Once you get it, Singing Bowls and possibly other sounds may never be quite the same again.

This is likely an evolutionary throwback of our physical ancestors by which our ears have an expanded dynamic range for greater sensitivity: predator and prey developed and favored an adaptive hearing ability while listening for each other in the context of background sounds; those that were more successful passed the epigenetics to future generations.

It is possible, even probable that temple meditation in ancient times was more than enhanced by the sounds of Singing Bowls through entrainment. Once one has consciously experienced a particular state, even if induced externally, it is possible to achieve it individually sans stimulation. The practice of Mindsight and the modern field of Interpersonal Neurobiology is confirming such a hypothesis. Compassion and empathy do naturally occur with expanded external and internal focus and concurrent integration.

I have heard from numerous healing practitioners of various modalities that their clients love 33 Bowls as background music, that it enhances the healing process. I do hold a special place in my heart for those who endeavor to make the world a better place one body/psyche at a time.

Your dedication to the artisans who made the bowls I found very moving.  Do you get a sense of the bowls’ history?   Do you get a sense of timelessness?  Do you get a sense of their future? 

Very much I get the perspective of standing on the shoulders of giants, the Artisans who crafted these Singing Bowls centuries ago; their focus, intention, timeless expression of beauty and beauty in expression. Hence the dedication of gratitude to them is included in the cover Artwork. Looking to the future, unless we figure out teleromes, the collection of Singing Bowls will likely outlast me as they have with their original Artisans. One benefit of the pandora’s box of modern technology is that many more can enjoy and benefit from the sounds of Singing Bowls, particularly if they are well recorded as described above.

How many downloads of 33 Bowls have you gotten so far? What other singing bowl projects are in the works?

Actually, with “just” word of mouth and zero advertising budget, 33 Bowls has been in the Amazon New Age downloads top ten for the past year. They seem to have a mind of their own! Sequels will be released when there is genuinely something worthwhile to say. I can say that the next release will segue with the end of “morning” to make a seamless extended session of 33 Bowls. Plus, maybe, something specifically for headphones. We shall see. For announcements, check back here or visit 33bowls.com.

 


10595_tibetan_singing_bowl_inside_LRG

When etched bowls started flooding the market a few years ago, I passed them up because neither the quality of art, nor the bowls it adorned, were up to our Master-quality standards. Considering the extra cost that the etching work commanded, how could we justify the expense?

But a couple of years ago, I became inspired by the quality of art I was seeing at the home of one of my suppliers. Although the subjects were not always in keeping with traditional designs, I inquired if I could custom order designs for the Master-quality bowls I had selected. My supplier was happy to pass along our requests to the artist’s workshop, which, it turned out, was just one young family: that of Suraj Shrestha his wife Neha. They were the artists who fulfilled all of my supplier’s etched singing bowl orders exclusively.


Compass side angle
We began to custom order designs, and Suraj’s artwork resonated with our customers. So for my September trip to Nepal, I had requested a visit to his workshop in Patan, the artistic center of traditional Newari arts, located in the former kingdom of Lalitpur.

Suraj (32) lives in a three-story home with Neha (28) and their 4 year-old son, Sujyan. The family welcomed us with characteristic Nepali hospitality. Neha graciously cooked and served vegetarian bean dumplings and a smoky local chai. The couple is emblematic of new Nepal, their livelihood rooted in Newari art, but they met on Facebook.

 

IMG_4737Having no formal training, Suraj became interested in art around the age of 14. His father passed away when he was 3, so he was raised in part by his grandfather, a Newari craftsman. So at an early age, Suraj was exposed to his grandfather’s work designing cast singing bowls and metal mala beads. Neha started producing art in 2012, and developed her natural talent for the work. Sujyan, while not taking pictures on the family smart phone, also practices the craft.

 

 

IMG_4674

Suraj’s studio takes up the northeast corner of his living room, where he and Neha design and paint the bowls. Their operation also involves a two-burner kitchen stove and a walk-in sink in the southeast corner of their living room. They complete the final phase of the acid bath on their roof.

Interior Bowl 1

 

Since I had requested to document the entire etching process during my two-hour visit, Suraj selected a 12″ Ultibati which would not require etching on the outside due to its pitch-covered exterior wall.  The interior of the bowl is harder to paint than the exterior, as it is difficult to angle the brush to navigate the curvature of the inside wall. 

Suraj started the process with a freehand cross in the center of the bowl’s basin, over which he placed a small piece of electrician’s tape. The tape acts as an anchor for the point of his compass, which was outfitted with a paint brush. He uses the brush, dipped in a cooked down, thick petroleum solution, to sketch out the ascending rings up the bowl’s interior wall. Rotating the bowl on a lazy susan, he draws a series of lines from the base to about an inch below the rim. As he works, Neha continuously stirs the petroleum mixture to keep it from settling. Suraj refines the lines as he draws them, dabbing them with a cotton towel. Before long, he has drawn seven concentric circles in the basin, leaving approximately a six-inch space in the middle for a central image.

IMG_4707In this bowl’s case, Suraj has chosen the central image to be the Buddha’s Eyes, also known as the Wisdom Eyes. This iconic Nepali image depicts the Buddha’s eyes and Third Eye, as well as a stylized nose that is the same shape as the Nepali numeral one. This symbol signifies the unity of all existing phenomena. The image reminds us that the Buddha is always watching us and our actions. The image is pervasive in Nepal, from tourist products and car decals to the steeples of Buddhist Stupas. At this point, Suraj removes the tape, and paints the rest of the work on the bowl in freehand. To create the central image, Suraj first sketches the eyes, nose and third eye with a red pen, then expertly fills it in with his brush. The inner 6 concentric circles of the basin pattern become a Yantra pattern, a mystical, geometric diagram from the ancient Tantric tradition said to be energized by the deity.

 

IMG_4727Returning to his original red reference lines, Suraj fills in perfectly straight connecting lines of the mandala image, visually measuring the distance between them with precision. These spokes will become flower petal shapes that become the next element of the central image: 12 windows which will house repetitions of the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum. The windows feature billowing curtains, a classic design that can be found in Newari thangkas.

 

To the next tier of the bowl’s inner wall, Suraj adds his signature ring of fire, representing protection from negativity. This is another traditional design component he integrates into most of his work. First he draws the outline of the fire, then fills in the lines within the flames.  The next tier is rows of petals, and the top row contains a traditional foliate pattern. When I asked him the Nepali term for the pattern, he simply replied “grass” with a chuckle.

crop of interior
burner

 

Now that the acid is painted on, Suraj inverts the bowl on the kitchen burner and bakes for about 5 minutes until it hardens. He then cools it in running water. From there, the operation relocates to the roof.

 

 

acid cropThere are tubs of nitric acid of varying sizes all around, but as this bowl will be etched only on the interior, Suraj pours the bright blue acid into the bowl up to the rim.  After a 15 minute soak, he empties the solution out and scours the bowl until all of the petroleum is removed. The pattern is now visible on a shiny and golden interior surface.

IMG_4816

IMG_4819Now comes the antique color which provides contrast to the image. This is Neha’s expertise. She coats the bowl in sodium sulfide flakes, giving the golden bowl a bronze finish. She then adds a dark brown pitch, burnishing the patina and giving the pattern more definition. Their helper, Sharan Shreshta, paints a black pitch on the bowl’s exterior, and then gives the bowl a final wash. Displaying the bowl proudly, he poses with the family for a portrait.

team cropThe pride the family puts into their work is so evident, and so worth it, in our opinion. The extra cost of our etched bowls are passed along to this family, and they lead a comfortable, middle-class life with a bright future. This is in keeping with Bodhisattva’s corporate mission: to keep the traditional Newari crafts alive and preserved for future generations.


Son Vo_Gong RecordingGongs are considered by audio engineers to be one of the most difficult instruments to accurately record due to their inherent multitimbral, transient tones. You can’t approach recording them like you would cymbals of a drum set (where you place two overhead condensers in L/R position). They’re more tonally complex.

I’ve recorded many kinds of gongs, either suspended gongs (the traditional Chao/Chinese gong, Burmese gong or Tibetan flat gong) or bowl gongs (which is actually another name for singing bowls, of which I’ve recorded nearly ten thousand). Today, I’ll primarily be focusing on Burmese and Tibetan flat gongs.

Burmese Nipple Gongs (or Bao Gong) can range from 12″ to 24″ and even larger. They have a rather large protrusion in the middle that is meant to be struck, sending out a rich, round, low-mid tone that’s a single tone. When you hit the Burmese gong just a couple inches from the nipple, you’ll bring out its more complex, thick multitimbral tones. Tibetan flat gongs, on the other hand, are more similar to a drum set’s cymbals but with much more complex, shimmering tones. Their sizes range in the same area as Burmese gongs; around 12″ to 24″ or much larger. These flat cymbals, as they can also be called, when struck fairly hard in the center, can explode a cacophony of notes around the room and through your body, making it an audible experience you won’t soon forget. Some flat gongs will even ring out feedback-like tones 5-8 seconds after striking them, creating almost cinematic, haunting sounds. These are personally my favorite gongs because of how dynamic they are and how their random tones will intermingle. Each strike can bring out a completely different audio experience.

In the last few years, I’ve had the privilege of recording gongs for Bodhisattva Trading Company. However, no matter the multiple configurations I’ve tried (stereo, mono, dual mono, Blumlein, etc.) I was never satisfied with the results. The recordings sounded flat and lacked spatial dimension (even with a great preamp and high-quality mics). I searched recording forums and discussion boards but still, nobody really had a solid formula they could share that could help capture that “3D” sound.  So I decided to trust my engineering instincts and dive in. What I came up with in my most recent recording sessions more than satisfied my ears. I could actually feel the gongs’ space on playback and felt like I had finally captured that elusive “3D” quality that had been missing in all my previous recording attempts. I wanted to share this “formula”, if you will, with all inquiring minds.

On the day of recording, I brought in my trusty ribbon mic and my coveted custom multi-pattern tube condenser mic (think Neumann U67). We recorded in a room that was approximately 22′ x 15′ with a high beveled ceiling reaching approx. 15′ high. I placed two mic stands about 5′ away from one wall and directly in the middle of the room length-wise. I placed the tube condenser to my right and positioned it about 5′ high. I selected a position between cardioid and hypercardioid to capture the mid to higher frequencies, giving the gong recordings a more present, up front and accurate representation without any sibilance (good tube condensers solve that issue).

Next I placed the ribbon mic on a shorter stand to the left of the condenser mic, about 12″ to 16″ away and about 3 ½’ high. Because a ribbon mic captures only the front and back (and not the sides), I knew there wouldn’t be any phasing issues. Its purpose was to capture the room ambiance and the large low tones, all the while smoothing out the higher frequencies.

Finally, I evened out the stereo image field, bringing up the ribbon mic’s level to 42db and the tube condenser’s level to 30db., panning them hard left/right (a ribbon mic typically needs higher levels from a preamp over other mics). While recording the gongs, my assistant stood about one foot in front of the mics while I struck them. Some of the gongs were larger so we had to move the ribbon mic 2″-4″ further left of the condenser. I struck each gong in slightly different areas (usually around the middle of the gong) with different levels of attack to find its inherent sweet spot (some have more than one). I also had to experiment with different gong mallet sizes as I didn’t want one too large of a mallet (which can make them sound muted and slightly dull) nor too small of a gong mallet (not enough weight for attack or volume). Once all those adjustments were determined for each gong, I pressed record and the rest is history – Voila! “Big Sounding” gong recordings! On each playback, I was impressed at the level of detail in the recordings. It was a huge breakthrough in terms of capturing the ambient breadth in recorded gongs. I can now consider this to be my new standard for all future gong recordings and I hope it helps other engineers in their quest to record gongs at the highest level .

 


Every singing bowl sound sample recorded on our web site has been played with the following variety of mallets.  Singing bowls can sound completely different whether they are struck with wool, leather or wood; and you can isolate completely different tones depending upon the mallet and the playing technique you use. All of the mallets produce different sounds from the bowls, and learning which ones to use with which bowls – and how to use them – is an ongoing discovery.

Back in the late ’70’s in Kathmandu, the Nepalese played singing bowls with Roti sticks. Historically, any plain wood dowel may have been used. But the harsh sound created by the wood striking the metal also had the effect of sharply kicking up the female overtone, and hence burying the deeper, more subtle sound of the fundamental tone. Hence, the wool padded mallet!

WOOL PADDED MALLET

This wooden mallet, padded with monk’s wool, softens the strike of a singing bowl.  A Bodhisattva basic, the padded mallet is designed to bring all of the bowls’ frequencies up at equal volume. We played with different thicknesses of the dowel, which is made of Sheesham, a Himalayan hardwood.  In time, we found if the dowels were roughly 30 mm. thick, that was about right for producing a balanced struck tone in most medium sized singing bowlsand even some of the Highwalls as well.  This type of mallet produces most of the bowl strikes you hear in the recordings on our web site. The wooden handle provides a rimming surface as well.

HOW TO USE IT FOR STRIKING:

Using the wool padded end, strike the singing bowl on its mid-exterior wall, or on the interior upper wall.  Acoustically, upper octave tones carry louder than deeper tones, due to their increased saturation of sound waves.  So when we strike a singing bowl with a padded mallet, we hear the richness of the fundamental tone much more clearly in the mix.  Avoid striking the bowl on the top of the lip, as this will produce too much of a percussive hit.

DSC_0029small bowl croppedHOW TO USE IT FOR RIMMING:

1. Sit as if you were sitting for meditation, with your spine straight and relaxed, your shoulders level and your breath generous but natural.  Make sure to release any unnecessary tension in your arms, shoulders and face, as singing bowls are bio-feedback instruments and they tend to be really quiet when we’re holding tension in our bodies.

2.  Hold the singing bowl on the palm of your non-dominant hand, with your fingers energized and held closely together.  This is important so that your fingers and thumb do not involuntarily wrap around the base of the bowl while playing, which will dampen the sound.  Hold the bowl about Solar Plexus level, slightly tilted so that the aperture of the bowl is opening into the direction your mallet is coming from.

3.  With your dominant hand, grasp the mallet in its center and hold it as if you were about to sign your name with the wooden end of the mallet. Make sure the covered part of the mallet is snuggled securely in the web between your thumb and index finger, and that there is never any gap there while playing.  Your grasp on the mallet should be firm, but never strained.

4.  Position the mallet at a 35 degree angle against the outside edge of the bowl’s lip.  With an even pressure, rub the mallet in at least 4 or 5 revolutions, or until you begin to hear the female overtone build.  Use a full arm motion, like you’re stirring a pot of soup. Try to keep your wrist as straight as possible.  Your angle should be consistent all 360 degrees around the bowl’s perimeter.

5.  Once the female overtone starts to come up bright and clear, reduce your speed and press a little bit more firmly.  If you hear “chattering” against the lip of the bowl, either reduce your speed even more, increase your pressure, or both. Watch the bowl as you continue to rub the rim, listening to the quality of the bowl’s tone.  It should sound pure; there should be no edge to it. Adjust your angle, pressure and speed accordingly. When you bring it all together, the female overtone should sound sweet and clear.

Although it is tempting to close your eyes when first starting to play, I find that it’s helpful at least in the beginning to keep them open and to observe what you’re doing. This practice also gives the focus necessary to clear the mind.  If there is chatter on the inside lap of the circle, then you have a visual cue see what adjustments are needed. Once the tone is even and smooth and you’re really connected to the bowl – then close your eyes if you like.

Remember to apply even pressure – the friction of the mallet against the outer rim produces vibrations which result in sound.  Experiment with your speed, slowing down as the female tone comes up. Usually people go too fast!  It you still hear chatter, look for the threshold of speed where the bowl’s rim tone sounds best.  Being hand forged, each bowl is constructed differently.  So each one will require a slightly different technique.

SUEDE MALLET

We first saw these coming out of Kathmandu in the late ’90s, and offer them as a dedicated rimming mallet.  They are made of a harder wood, so when used for rimming, they tend to bring up the female overtone faster and with less friction noise than the wooden end of the wool-padded mallet. We also make them in different widths, so we can also select a fatter or thinner one depending on the thickness of the bowl, This reduces “overloading” the bowl by using too heavy a mallet. These mallets come standard with our medium antique and contemporary bowls, as well as some Highwalls.

HOW TO USE IT FOR STRIKING:

The suede end of this mallet can also be used to soften a strike, but there won’t be as much low-end as with a wool-padded mallet. But they do bring out a superior tonal balance in cup bowls, which I’ll talk about below.

HOW TO USE IT FOR ISOLATING THE FUNDAMENTAL:

1560 Diatonic Set_450W

The suede end can also be used for isolating the singing bowl’s fundamental, or deepest tone.  It is produced by massaging the bowl’s outer wall with the suede end of mallet, with slightly lighter pressure and an initial, faster speed. When a set of singing bowls is based on fundamental tones, those tones will have been produced with this end of the mallet, which isolates the third octave frequencies in most medium-sized bowls.  To hear an example of a set played like this, check out this Chromatic Master Healing Set.  First you will hear a mix of struck tones in sequence, followed by a mix of the bowls played on the fundamental.

Isolating the fundamental requires a deeper level of awareness, breath and concentration.  Follow the instructions regarding your rimming technique for the female overtone, except use the suede end of the mallet and hold the mallet flush against the exterior of the bowl wall so that it is pointing straight up.  Experiment with your pressure and speed.  This technique may be used on all but the thickest Thadobatis, Highwalls and cups.  For a demonstration of this technique, watch the second half of my video How to Play a Singing Bowl.

10360 Set

We’ve also developed a smaller, 20 mm. width leather padded mallet specifically designed for use with cup bowls (pictured, the mallet on the left). Striking smaller bowls with a leather padded mallet is better because of the pressure vs. weight issue: wool padding softens the blow, and therefore it requires more force to create volume in a struck tone.  A medium size bowl will hold its ground, but smaller cup bowls will go flying!  So, leather mallets offer a more controlled strike on cups.  Also, the shorter length (about 6″) of the mallet creates a more manageable fulcrum when playing the rim of a cup bowl. We use these mallets to record most of the Cup bowls and Singing Bowl Cup Sets on our site.

FAT BOY

This is the consummate mallet for isolating the fundamental tone of Highwall singing bowls.  The fatter dowel (40 – 60 mm. wide) exposes more of the bowl’s wall to the surface of the suede, and adds enough extra pressure to get all that metal moving!  The wooden handle of this mallet can be used to get a rim tone on larger, Contemporary Highwalls, but are overkill for most antique Highwalls.

HOW TO USE IT:

For isolating the fundamental of a Highwall, use the suede end of the Fat Boy exactly as you would the suede mallet.  This technique will pull 2nd octave fundamental tones out of most larger Highwall singing bowls.  It sounds like monks chanting!  To hear this technique being used on Highwalls, check out this Chakra tuned set of Highwall singing bowls.  First you will hear a mix of the struck tones in sequence, followed by the fundamentals.

On Highwall bowls with triangulated lips, you have another option with a Fat Boy.  When you angle the leather of the fat boy on the lip with enough pressure, it can pull the mid-tone up and weave it into the mix with the fundamental, so that now you are playing an interval of the Highwalls’ lower major frequencies.  Delicious!

XCELITE MALLET

Yes, it’s a screwdriver handle, modified for playing singing bowl rim tones.  Producers Joe Sidaris and Dennis Ghiatis developed this alternative to a wooden mallet during the recording of the seminal singing bowl recording One Hand Clapping at Warner Brothers.  In a recording situation, the mikes have to be very hot in order to pick up the quiet, subtle nuances of singing bowl frequencies, so the friction noise of the wood against the metal becomes a major problem.  And so the Xcelite mallet was born!  We record most singing bowl rim tones with this mallet, and I also use them live in a miked situation.

HOW TO USE IT:

Gently gripping the handle, rim the singing bowl with its lip nestled in the curve of the Xcelite’s fluted edge.  The Xcelites are sold online, but they are molded with a couple of side seams that have to be sanded down in order to work.  The ones we provide are ready to go.  They require some practice, but they are worth it!

gong mallets_multi_LRG_FInal3GONG MALLET

These are for use with Highwall singing bowls only.  We have a variety of gong mallets available, but our best modifications for use with singing bowls are rubber headed, padded with wool.  There is more percussion on a gong mallet strike, but they can emphasize the deeper tones of the Highwalls. Thinner Highwalls require a smaller gong head.

HOW TO USE IT:

Strike the outer wall of a Highwall singing bowl.  Let sustain.  Ride the sound waves deep within, floating freely in the inner space devoid of thought and emotion.  Rest there a while.  Repeat!  Good for striking a bowl on a cushion or on the body. Thinner Highwalls sound better with the wool padded mallet because of the more controlled hit.

Our singing bowls product pages list which mallets were used in our sound samples. Mallets used in the recordings generally come free with each bowl sold online.  If you have been a customer of ours for a while, you are welcome to request different mallets you don’t already have.  So if you’re ordering a bowl from us, feel free to ask us about them.

Enjoy the sounds!


When I was in Kathmandu this past September, I was delighted when one of our oldest 7-metalssuppliers of singing bowls invited me to visit his factory in Patan, one of the three historic kingdoms of Kathmandu with an ancient tradition of metal work. He produces singing bowls of a seven metal alloy, and is the only supplier I’ve ever seen to produce a metallurgical analysis certification of the alloy content of his singing bowls. He is a major supplier to vendors in the Thamel section of Kathmandu, and also distributes to the US and Europe. As would be expected, his certification only lists trace amounts of lead, iron, zinc, silver and gold; the great majority of bell-metal bronze consists of copper and tin.

Our supplier built his factory at this location not far from the brown, sngarden-shivaaking Bagamati river some 7 years ago after moving closer to the city from its previous location in Kakarbhitta, Eastern Nepal. It was a sunny, hot and sticky day. The racket of clanging hammers on bronze and the whining of machines greeted us as we pulled up to a massive iron gate and headed into the compound. Perched lovingly in a small garden at the center of the courtyard was a Shiva statue, freshly bathed with milk earlier in the morning. Four small satellite buildings topped with corrugated tin roofs surrounded the courtyard.

discIt all begins with a super concentrated disc of bell-metal. This disc was approximately 5″ across. When he handed it to me, I wasn’t prepared for how heavy it was, but of course! That metal disc would be pounded into a hand-hammered 10′-12″ singing bowl later that day. This part of the manufacturing process hasn’t changed much in 2,500 years.

pounder-1-alt

We headed into an open structure lined with three coal-burning hearths. Directly in front of the hearth was a stone template used to model the disc into a bowl shape.  To the left of the hearth was a sunken tub of black, soupy water used to cool the bowls, and then another smaller basin in front of the hearth to clean them. Each hearth was also equipped a large rock, the top of which was carved out with two bowl shaped depressions, a larger one and a smaller one, which supported bowls as they were rotated during the hammering process. Using metal tongs, the worker super-heated the bowls, turning them
pounder-3over the fire until the bowl glowed a dark red. When the red- hot bowl becomes malleable, the worker takes it out of the fire and hammers it, repeating the process until the bowl’s basic form is complete. Once cooled, the worker continues to refine the bowl’s shape, rotating it with his bare hands as he hammers. The bowls are then further hammered and refined by other workers.  Then, the bowls are moved for lathing.

This room was recently rebuilt after the 2015 earthquakes, and the mortar still looks fresh between the enormous, concrete blocks of its walls. Turning the bowl by a hand-wheel, a worker expertly strips off the crusty, black outer layer of the bowls, creating mounds of metal shavings that fall to the side. Another lather-close-upworker uses a file to trim the tops of the bowls, and a third sands their edges for smoother playing. Finally, the bowls that are destined to stay golden are taken to another shed with a huge buffing machine, where they take on a mirror like finish. Others are semi-covered in black pitch, a traditional Nepalese style.

Many, if not most, of Nepal’s contemporary bowls are polished in this way, although often they are then covered with a golden brown patina to give them an antique-looking finish. That was the lpolishingook of our contemporary bowls for many years, until we decided to let them shine!  We have now integrated these Seven Metal bowls into our Sets and New offering-bowlSinging Bowls pages, although the antique finish contemporary bowls are still available for the near future and they still look and sound as beautiful as ever. Take a listen to our seven metal bowls. We hope you enjoy them!


FlagsIt had been 15 years since I’d been to Nepal. As a result our buy-out of my former partner, our supply chain had broken down on so many fronts: malas, tingshaw, Ghanta & Dorje, gongs: we had run out of most of these items in the past year. And although I managed to find antique bowls, it always meant pulling a numerous reproductions into the net as well.  So our supply chain had to be repaired. It was ambitious to the point of crazy, really.  How was I to pack a three-week buying trip to Nepal into just nine days? That, in a country itself still in repair after the horrific earthquakes of April and May of this year. Still, nine days, plus the onerous travel time on either end, was all I could be away.  So it had to work.

But as it turned out, the upheaval from the earthquakes was only the beginning.  After a decade or longer of political infighting, On September 20th, Nepal formally adopted a constitution; its first, following a civil war that killed 13,000 people and ending 239 years of monarch rule. But it was not to be a unifying event that we had hoped. The Madhesi people of the southern plains, on Nepal’s border with India, complained of becoming “second class citizens”, and protested that the constitution diluted their vote. Almost everyone I talked to had a different understanding of the Madhesi situation, but protests became violent almost immediately gave rise to paralyzing strikes and 40 deaths. Violence broke out in Western Nepal, also for the charge of under-representation. The constitution created a second class citizenship level for children born of Nepalese mothers and foreign fathers.  Some called the constitution a “conservative backlash”.

Vehicles queue for petrol as the nation undergoes oil and fuel crisis in Bhadrakali, Kathmandu on Wednesday. Photo:Skanda Gautam

Vehicles queue for petrol as the nation undergoes oil and fuel crisis in Bhadrakali, Kathmandu on Wednesday. Photo:Skanda Gautam

Then India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modri, spoke out against it, which created an uproar in Nepal and the great fuel crisis began. India, surrounding Nepal on three borders, closed their borders, and as Nepal was reliant for fuel from India, cars had no petrol; restaurants lacked cooking oil. The Nepali government rationed petrol to keep government and tourism vehicles running, but petrol sales to private vehicles slowed to a trickle. This created long lines of vehicles parked in the roads extending for blocks, some waiting for gas for two days. A competitor called me and asked it I was going to cancel my ticket.  “Jimmy Carter canceled,” he said.  “I’m not Jimmy Carter,” I observed.  I had to go. Canceling my ticket wasn’t an option, so off I went on my first buying trip to Nepal in 15 years in the middle of an unprecedented fuel crisis.

But the Nepalese are an endlessly resourceful people. As there were no taxis, I hired a driver to get around who procured

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gas from the black market. So much had changed in Kathmandu. The air was clogged with pollution.  Where once platoons of bicycles were the Nepali middle class mode of transport, now armies of motorbikes choked the streets; entire families often sandwiched together on them. Nearly everyone wore masks, respiratory illness was rampant. In addition to the gas shortage, restaurants taped limited selections to their menus due to lack of cooking oil. Getting milk was a problem, so I never knew if Chai would be served. So this was not the Nepal I remembered.

garden3

In Thamel, the tourist section of Kathmandu, my perch at the Kathmandu Guest House was an oasis. The first hotel in Thamel, it had a huge, manicured garden trimmed with pots of bright marigolds and dotted with garlanded statues of the Buddha. My nine day visit coincided with Navarati;  (meaning nine nights) a holiday commemorating the triumph of the Goddess Durga over the evil demon Mahishasura.  The Autumnal Navaratri precedes Nepal’s biggest festival, Deshain (meaning 10th day), when the country sacrificed goats and went back to the villages to celebrate the festival with their families. My goal was to be out of the country before the bloodletting began. I booked full days with my singing bowl suppliers, while trying to carve out time to locate the vendors of incense and mala beads, and to hopefully connect with Seejan’s family, as well as do a little pilgrimage to Pashupatinath.

Boudha cropAs I’d heard from my suppliers many of the small Tibetan dealers where we used to buy the findings for our malas were breaking early for the holidays due to the gas shortage.  So on the day after I arrived, I set off with a Nepali friend to go to Boudhanath Stupa to try to find a Mala supplier I had not seen in 15 years. The Stoupa had suffered damage on its dome, and I was crestfallen to see the dome completely barren – its brick steeple and been removed, and the aerial array of prayer flags missing from the empty sky above.

0001_tibetan_mala_LRG

Tibetan Mala #0001

The smooth, polished Bodhi seed malas we got from dealers 15 years ago were abundant – we used to sell them wholesale. Now shops and alleyways were overstuffed with garlands of malas with huge, course Bodhi seeds, and there was no evidence anywhere of our old quality.  We spent the afternoon flitting from shop to shop with samples, until, until we found one shop with one, lone mala of the smallest, smoothest Bodhi seeds I had seen in years. The young man behind the counter wanted a ransom for it, and it took us a little while to put it together, but he was in fact the son of our former supplier – in a new location. Once we were reacquainted, he combed his displays and pulled out some beads of our old quality – the last in stock he had.

ShaktiBowlsCropFifteen years ago, we had to go through rooms of antique bowls to find the good ones.  Now, I had to go through a warehouse of singing bowl reproductions – tens of thousands of them – just to find the real antiques, good or bad.  All of our suppliers had tons of this material – all of which, they insisted was “old”. Some of it was, but the great majority of it was new.  It was remarkable how beautifully crafted so much of it was.  Still, one supplier had been holding rare material for me for some months’ time.  When I got into the room with the material, a reverential feeling came over me.  I had never seen so much rare material in one place. My only limitations were time and budget, although I pushed the envelope on both. Then, The next push was to get it out before the city shut down.  I had so much competent help from my supplier’s workers!  I kept them working late until the Nepali equivalent of Christmas Eve.

CountrysideOn my one morning off, I paid a visit to Seejan in his village to see his Mother-in-law’s house and to meet his family.  Although his wife was doing Puja at their temple for Navaratri, I was able to connect with his daughter Ritisha, (9), and his son Yunish (6), and bring his mother-in-law a coconut from Pashupatinath. The countryside was rebuilding, but Seejan’s mother-in-law’s house was cobbled together by stacked bricks on a dirt floor.  They are still trying to amass enough funds to rebuild.  To rebuild a home in Nepal takes $3,000 – $5,000; they still have $2,500 to raise.  If you would like to help Seejan and his family rebuild, please donate to nagashakti@gmail.com and write “Seejan” in your notes.

seejans house

Seejan’s mother-in-law’s house, in her family for generations, has been cobbled together with bricks and no mortar. She earns 450 Rupees a week as a field worker, the equivalent of $4.50.

back side of house

Seejan’s Mother-in-law’s house, side view

Seejans momShakti & Seejan's kids


Buddha-Sakyamuni_LRG2_OP

Buddha Sakyamuni, 18th Century copper

At Bodhisattva, we list the approximate age of our singing bowls based on our evaluation of authentic wear on the metal, and date them “circa” their century of manufacture. “Circa” means “about”.  Absent a specific date inscribed on the piece, this term art historians use to indicate an approximate range 100 years before or after the manufacture.  For example, if we label a bowl “circa 18th Century”, that means we estimate that the date of manufacture could have occurred either 100 years prior to, or after, the 1700s.  It is important to note that even among art historians, experts sometimes disagree.

In the Eastern tradition, Indo-Tibetan painting and sculpture were considered to be a sacred art,
glorifying the subject rather than the artist, and hence were rarely signed by the artist or inscribed with a date.  In this cultural context, singing bowls also were rarely inscribed with any information. More often than not, inscriptions we see on antique bowls today appear to have been added after the original manufacture.

indotibetanbronzes_book_LRG1Bodhisattva’s system of dating singing bowls was developed based on the work of Indo-Tibetan bronze art historian Ulrich Von Schroeder, author of the authoritative volume “Indo-Tibetan Bronzes” published in 1981.  In an attempt to discover a system of dating Info-Tibetan sculpture, Von Schroeder assembled a collection of thousands of photographs of bronze sculptures acquired from collectors and museums  throughout the world.  Starting with the known, dated pieces, he identified them by stylistic characteristics and classified them together with other similar pieces. This body of work then showed similar levels of wear on the surface of the bronze from handling consistent with known ritual practices, such as touching and ritual washing.  Similarly, as we know how singing bowls were used and played throughout the centuries, we can observe the wear on the metal’s surface and conjecture an approximate date range of manufacture.

Tibetan Singing Bowl #8303 Circa 16th Century

Tibetan Singing Bowl #8303
Circa 16th Century

Over the past decade, due to the dwindling supply of authentic antique singing bowls, singing bowl manufacturers have taken to “aging” new bowls, adding fake patina, oxidation, and so forth. Patina, or the natural darkening of oxidizing bronze, is not a reliable way to determine the age of any antique bowl.  Conversely, if the patina of an antique has been stripped in the cleaning process before export, it will have a bright golden finish with little or no patina at all.  For example, the exterior surface of this circa 16th century singing bowl (pictured left) has been preserved beautifully, and has a lustrous, medium-gold, matte finish. Yet, on closer observation, its rim is bright, shiny gold with a reflective finish. This is because we gently sanded the exterior of the rim to remove any oxidation so we would record a clean rim tone. To the untrained eye, this bowl could appear new. So the presence of patina, or its absence, is a factor in the dating of singing bowls, but not a determining one.

3251_closeup_LRG2_logo

Click photo to enlarge

To make matters more challenging, in the last few years suppliers have been sanding the surface of singing bowls for export. We suspect this might be an attempt to shortcut cleaning process for oxidized antiques to make them more presentable for market.  We are working with our suppliers to try to discontinue this practice in order to conserve the beautiful, original surface of antique singing bowls. The other motivation for sanding the bowls may be simply fraudulent:  to smooth the appearance of brand new bowls to make them look old. The Highwall singing bowl pictured to the right was dated circa 18th century by a prominent singing bowl “expert”, despite the excessive sanding marks on its exterior. Sanding marks should not be confused with the lighter, surfaces scratches created by cleaning with the scruffy part of a kitchen sponge, which almost all singing bowls have by the time they reach us, unfortunately. Our policy regarding sanded bowls is that if so much of the original surface of a bowl has been removed that we can no longer make an educated estimate of a bowl’s date range of manufacture, we will discount these bowls and sell them as undated, Master-Quality® Bowls in the New Singing Bowl section of our website. We also offer some good sounding reproductions in this section as well.

We tend to be conservative in our dating.  In the art world, antiques are considered to be at least 100 years old, or older.  If a Master-quality® singing bowl presents some wear but not enough to substantiate 100 years of age, we will date it circa 20th century. We include some older looking, circa 20th century, Master-quality® bowls in our antique galleries, but we do not certify them as antiques. The truth is, the great majority of singing bowls sold online are newly manufactured. There are simply not enough antiques left for dozens of singing bowl providers to have a supply of hundreds of antique singing bowls year in and year out.

It is extremely hard to determine if a bowl is authentic by a picture, as pictures can be altered and are not high enough resolution to provide enough detail. We do not offer appraisals for that reason. But here are some considerations to keep in mind when buying an antique singing bowl on the internet:

  1.  Does the dealer offer an estimated date range of the antiques manufacture? If a dealer is reluctant to estimate the age of a bowl, it either means the dealer is not qualified to do so, or that the bowl may not actually be an antique at all. Saying a bowl is “old” can mean it’s one year, one month or one week old!  Saying its “vintage” doesn’t mean its antique, either.
  2. Look for a CERTIFICATE OF AUTHENTICITY. If a vendor is not able to offer one, again, it may be because the vendor is reluctant to put their claim of antiquity in writing. At Bodhisattva, we include a Certificate of Authenticity with all of our Master-quality® antique singing bowls.
  3. Look for a “MONEY-BACK” guarantee, as opposed to a “SATISFACTION GUARANTEE”. At Bodhisattva, we offer a 100% product refund (minus a 10% re-stocking fee) if a bowl is returned in re-saleable condition within 30 days of the date of the invoice.  Remember, if you buying directly from Asia, returns are not an option.
  4. Look for a track record. The longer a company has been in business, the better. Bodhisattva has been selling antique singing bowls at the museum and gallery level since 1996. Our products have been sold at the San Francisco Art Museum, the Mingei International Museum in San Diego and the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California.
8302_tibetan_singing_bowl_LRG3_logo

Rare Void Cup #8302
Circa 16th Century

As with everything else, the law of supply and demand controls the market – the less there is of something, the more it will cost.  If you are see antiques advertised for bargain-basement  prices, be aware there’s a reason.  They may not be antiques – or, often, there may be a qualitative reason the bowl is being offered cheaply.  For example, in our Special Deal section, we offer antiques that are lacking in sound qualities, and therefore they are sold for much less. After all, authentic age is only one of the five criteria we use for rating a Master-quality® singing bowl:  it must also have great balance of harmonics, good volume, long-lasting sustain and be easy to play.
Finally, remember that there are many wonderful, contemporary singing bowls available for very reasonable prices that need to be made into antiques for future generations. But if it’s a great quality, antique singing bowl you’re looking for now, the old adage “you get what you pay for” really applies. We welcome you to browse our Small, Medium, Large and Rare and Museum Quality galleries and be absolutely confident you’re getting among the finest, authentic antique singing bowls available in the world.


At 11:56 am Saturday, April 25th 2015, the Kathmandu valley and surrounding areas were devastated by a 7.8 earthquake.  The death toll mounts daily, so by the time you read this, today’s count of 7300 lives lost will be heartbreakingly out of date.  The country’s economy has left a vulnerable, impoverished population in the countryside without aid of its young men, who have emigrated to Gulf states for labor and are unable to return due to feudal government work policies of those governments.  So elderly villagers have been left to dig their dead out of the rubble, with aid supplies backlogged at the airport due to government red tape.

PATAN

I had dreaded this day for years.  Back in 2001, I had read in a New York Times article that Nepal was overdue for a major earthquake.  This article worried me, because so much of Kathmandu was built with brick construction.

A few weeks later, the morning of August 28th – also on a Tuesday morning – I awoke from an early morning nightmare.  I had seen people buried in mountains of bricks and rubble.  Panicked, I picked up the phone and called the Hotel Norbu Linka in Thamel where we stayed when in Nepal, and asked the staff if everything was OK.  Everything was fine.  But two weeks later to the hour, I would awake to news of September 11th, 2001.  That was also a Tuesday morning.

Things had changed so much in these 14 years.  By the time I got the news of the Nepal quake, I could log into Google’s People Finder app for the Nepal earthquake and knew instantly that my most reliable supplier and a good friend were marked as safe.  But it took days to learn the fate of others. I could not reach Seejan Basnet, my account rep for our shipping company, who was off-line on Skype.  For years, he was the one who arranged for our shipments and prepared my statements.  But business relationships are still relationships, and all weekend I was hammering away on Skype, Google and email trying to get any information I could. Finally, early Monday morning, my phone flared up.

Like so many thousands of other Nepalis, his family’s home was completely destroyed.  What follows are excerpts of four days worth of Skype exchanges, as we struggled to get him and his family out of open fields and into a temporary room.  At Seejan’s request, I have corrected some spelling.  The rest of the communications are as they happened:

[4/26/2015 2:26:09 PM] Shakti: Are you ok???
[4/27/2015 12:15:27 AM] *** Missed call from seejan basnet. ***
[4/27/2015 12:15:54 AM] *** Missed call from seejan basnet. ***
[4/27/2015 12:16:18 AM] seejan basnet: Im safe
[4/27/2015 12:16:33 AM] seejan basnet: But we lost a lot of lives…..
[4/27/2015 12:16:49 AM] seejan basnet: We are completely lost evthg
[4/27/2015 12:17:08 AM] seejan basnet: Pls pray for us
[4/27/2015 12:17:20 AM] seejan basnet: Tremor still hitting
[4/27/2015 12:17:36 AM] seejan basnet: We all are living outside in field
[4/27/2015 12:17:48 AM] seejan basnet: No home food water medicine
[4/27/2015 12:17:58 AM] seejan basnet: Situation is really bad
[4/27/2015 12:33:41 AM] Shakti: Seejan did everyone at Speedway survive? Is the building still there? I am trying to raise funds to send to disaster relief agencies. Please let me know if sending $$ will help u. I’m praying for u all
[4/27/2015 12:36:09 AM] Shakti: Also please let me know which agencies are helping the most-
[4/27/2015 1:19:28 AM] seejan basnet: One of our staff died today
[4/27/2015 1:19:33 AM] seejan basnet: Other safe
[4/27/2015 1:19:40 AM] seejan basnet: Crying for help
[4/27/2015 1:20:16 AM] seejan basnet: No food water medicine
[4/27/2015 7:58:40 AM] Shakti: I deeply regret your loss, Seejan. I am praying for you and your families. We will do everything we can to raise money to get you aid.
[4/27/2015 9:47:15 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you
[4/27/2015 9:49:29 PM] Shakti: I am sending our a newsletter tonight to 4,500 people asking for financial support to the major disaster relief organizations. Have you started to see some supplies yet?
[4/27/2015 9:49:56 PM] seejan basnet: Not yet
[4/27/2015 9:50:05 PM] seejan basnet: Every thg running out soon
[4/27/2015 9:50:19 PM] seejan basnet: Now serious issue is health problem
[4/27/2015 9:50:50 PM] seejan basnet: Epidemic disease like diarrhea fever n flu increasing
[4/27/2015 9:52:35 PM] Shakti: President just authorized 10 million in disaster relief for Nepal. there are many organizations like Red Cross UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, AmeriCares, etc who have teams there already. Help is coming.
[4/27/2015 9:58:52 PM] Shakti: Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you, Seejan.

Seejann family Seejan's family: Mother-in-law, background;  wife, Khadka; Raju, 14; younger boy Yunish, 6; Ritisha, 10.  At left, sister-in-law and nephew.

Seejan’s family: Mother-in-law, background; wife, Khadka; Raju, 14; younger boy Yunish, 6; Ritisha, 10. At left, sister-in-law and nephew.

[4/27/2015 9:59:29 PM] Shakti: Please have faith.
[4/27/2015 10:02:15 PM] seejan basnet: Ok shakti ….
[4/27/2015 10:03:01 PM] seejan basnet: Currently my wife’s house is completely damage and 4 children n two old age woman compel to live out in open sky

[4/27/2015 10:03:17 PM] seejan basnet: If u cld do some thg pls that wld be great
[4/27/2015 10:03:50 PM] Shakti: How can I help?
[4/27/2015 10:03:53 PM] seejan basnet: Its marter (sic) for lived one than the dead
[4/27/2015 10:04:25 PM] seejan basnet: Any fund more or less to rebuild temporary shelter
[4/27/2015 10:04:31 PM] Shakti: If I send you some money Western Union, will it help you?
[4/27/2015 10:04:47 PM] seejan basnet: Jst my plead dnt take it negativly
[4/27/2015 10:05:02 PM] seejan basnet: We have lost evythg
[4/27/2015 10:05:15 PM] Shakti: OK send me your Western Union details. We will send money tomorrow.
[4/27/2015 10:05:26 PM] seejan basnet: Thank u so much
[4/27/2015 10:05:53 PM] Shakti: Of course. I can’t send much but I will do my best. How are you re-charging your phone?
[4/27/2015 10:08:07 PM] seejan basnet: Any amount i would be thankful
[4/27/2015 10:08:27 PM] seejan basnet: Walking 5 km to chg battery
[4/27/2015 10:09:32 PM] Shakti: Ok no phone call then. Save your battery. Is your dog ok?

[4/27/2015 10:09:55 PM] seejan basnet: Dog ok both
[4/27/2015 10:10:04 PM] seejan basnet: Actually they saved us
[4/27/2015 10:10:20 PM] seejan basnet: They were one who noticed it first
[4/27/2015 10:10:58 PM] Shakti: Good news amidst so much bad.

[4/27/2015 10:11:28 PM] Shakti: How did you dogs save you?
[4/27/2015 10:12:33 PM] seejan basnet: They bark with untensionly (sic) we cld know somethg bad going to happen
[4/27/2015 10:12:37 PM] seejan basnet: We were alert
[4/27/2015 10:12:43 PM] seejan basnet: Alert save us
[4/27/2015 10:13:03 PM] Shakti: Good dogs! 🙂
[4/27/2015 10:13:17 PM] seejan basnet: They are
[4/27/2015 10:17:00 PM] Shakti: OK – one last question. Did Speedway survive? Is the buidling o?

[4/27/2015 10:17:04 PM] Shakti: OK?

[4/27/2015 10:17:24 PM] seejan basnet: Building ok
[4/27/2015 10:17:29 PM] seejan basnet: One staff dead
[4/27/2015 10:17:35 PM] seejan basnet: Buried alive
[4/27/2015 10:17:42 PM] seejan basnet: Dead after a day
[4/27/2015 10:19:07 PM] Shakti: It is so tragic. Was it someone I know?
[4/27/2015 10:19:21 PM] seejan basnet: He was new
[4/27/2015 10:19:31 PM] seejan basnet: 21 year of age in warehouse
[4/27/2015 10:21:03 PM] Shakti: I am so grateful the rest of you survived. OK I’m going to sign off and get this newsletter out. We are offering to give 5% of all singing bowl sales to disaster relief. I hope to raise more $$. I will be in touch tomorrow. Keep the faith! Good bye for now.
[4/27/2015 10:22:00 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you and good bye
[4/27/2015 10:22:04 PM] seejan basnet: Namaste

[4/27/2015 11:16:36 PM] Shakti: is this your family?
[4/27/2015 11:16:44 PM] seejan basnet: Yes

[4/27/2015 11:17:06 PM] seejan basnet: Mother in law n children
[4/27/2015 11:17:50 PM] seejan basnet: Water shelter n medicine 1st need
[4/27/2015 11:18:03 PM] seejan basnet: No government representative till now
[4/27/2015 11:18:20 PM] seejan basnet: So i m asking help directly from donortent
[4/27/2015 11:19:24 PM] Shakti: what is your email
[4/27/2015 11:19:46 PM] seejan basnet: Seejan.basnet@gmail.com
[4/27/2015 11:27:12 PM] Shakti: I heard it was raining – is that not true?
[4/27/2015 11:28:27 PM] seejan basnet: It was raining but not continuously
[4/27/2015 11:28:36 PM] seejan basnet: With pause
[4/27/2015 11:30:12 PM] Shakti: good thing
[4/27/2015 11:32:59 PM] seejan basnet: Specially children are at vulnerable

 

Tuesday April 28th, after some delays with Western Union due to difficulties on the Nepal side, I was able to wire a donation to Seejan. By then, the family was living in a tent encampment, alongside hundreds of displaced Nepalis riding out the aftershocks.

[4/29/2015 8:48:44 AM] seejan basnet: I got money and hand over to my mother in law she was very happy…..She was very pleased to you

[4/29/2015 8:48:57 AM] seejan basnet: She insisted me to show your pic

[4/29/2015 8:49:35 AM] seejan basnet: She thank u a lot

[4/29/2015 8:52:03 AM] Shakti: I hope this gift makes it a little easier for your family. Please let me know what happens with your family next. Is there other shelter you can find?

4/29/2015 8:55:00 AM] seejan basnet: She was very happy how outer world reacted to her needWestern Union

[4/29/2015 8:55:04 AM] Shakti: How can we get you out of that tent, Seejan?
[4/29/2015 8:55:27 AM] seejan basnet: Actual its nightmare to get fund or some aid from nepal government
[4/29/2015 8:55:47 AM] seejan basnet: There is corrupt people they use it for themselves
[4/29/2015 8:56:12 AM] seejan basnet: Still im trying to collect fund
[4/29/2015 8:56:20 AM] seejan basnet: Fund still far not enough
[4/29/2015 11:16:16 AM] Shakti: Let me know how much you need to rent a room in a flat so you can get out of the tent.
[4/29/2015 11:16:27 AM] Shakti: I will try to raise the $$ for you
[4/29/2015 12:48:58 PM] seejan basnet: Ok i will search room tomorrow
[4/29/2015 12:49:16 PM] seejan basnet: Let you know if i get some
[4/29/2015 12:49:20 PM] Shakti: Have a good night Seejan! 🙂
[4/29/2015 12:49:33 PM] seejan basnet: Thk you very much again
[4/29/2015 12:49:43 PM] Shakti: You’re so welcome
[4/29/2015 12:50:25 PM] seejan basnet: Good nite
[4/29/2015 12:50:36 PM] seejan basnet: Actually its late in nepal
[4/29/2015 12:50:44 PM] seejan basnet: We need to sleep
[4/29/2015 12:51:11 PM] seejan basnet: But this after shock compel us to wake whole night up
[4/29/2015 12:52:40 PM] Shakti: Oh. I can imagine the body is on alert. Try to rest your mind then. Your family is safe. Everything is going to be all right.
[4/29/2015 12:53:33 PM] seejan basnet: Every asleep im the one guarding
[4/29/2015 12:54:00 PM] seejan basnet: Every one asleep…

The next morning, I heard that Seejan had rented a room about 500 meters from his mother-in-law’s property.  Between widespread property damage and the crush of homeless families looking for shelter, the laws of supply and demand had more than tripled rents in the area.  It is difficult for the family to make the adjustment to living in one room, but they are grateful to have it.  Max and Lusi, the family dogs, are staying with Seejan’s brother for now. 

Family in roomBut Seejan’s family needs help. He has drained his account and does not make enough to build temporary housing, which he estimates would cost about $2,000.00.  If you wish to help Seejan and his family get back on their feet, please donate via PayPal to nagashakti@gmail.com and put “Seejan” in the notes.

We will be updating this blog regularly until we can help him build temporary housing.  We are grateful for any support you can give.

Max & Lusi, hero dogs

Max & Lusi, hero dogs

 

 


LetchoeAssistLiving2_blog_OP

Nancy sharing Tibetan singing bowls at Providence Valdez Hospital Long Term Care Facility.

Although she seems like a longtime customer, in fact I have only had the pleasure of knowing Nancy since June of ’12, when she made her first purchase of a few Master-quality bowls in quarter-tone tuning.  She was on fire with enthusiasm for the bowls, and within a month, I had put together a Pentatonic Set  for her based on the rim tones.  Soon, she began exploring her set’s diatonic fundamentals in a Chakra-tuned scale in the 3rd octave, and another Universe opened up for her.  Before long, we had put together a Pentatonic set of 3rd octave fundamentals to match her 5th octave Pentatonic rim set, so she could play tri-tone intervals between the two sets.  We are still working on a Cycle of Fifths set to round out her collection.

It was fun to work with Nancy because she followed her own road harmonically; expanding her set intuitively, guided by her inner ear.  But perhaps most gratifying of all was hearing about her visits to the Long Term Care Facility at Providence Valdez, and knowing she would share her singing bowls with the patients there.  I am grateful to her for sharing the gift of sacred vibration with her community, and I’m inspired by her generosity. ~Shakti

.

Every Tuesday, I take a collection of my singing bowls from the Bodhisattva Trading Company to the Valdez Providence Hospital Long-term Care Facility in Valdez. Each Tuesday is a new experience, just as the rich tones and harmonics bring out constantly changing tonal moments.

Some Tuesdays, residents stay in bed or lie in the recliners and just listen. A small smile and a briefly opening eye lets me know how much they enjoy the music. Often, I play slowly, letting the notes ring clearly then gradually fade as another replaces it forming overlapping harmonics, like gently falling snow flakes. My goal is to give them the joy of a special period of relaxation, dreams, comfort and a new experience.

Many of the residents suffer from various degrees of dementia. They hear the TV but they no longer can follow a story line. I think listening to the singing bowls eases their frustration. There is no melody or tune to remember from their childhoods, no words that have just slipped out of their minds — just the rich sounds to breathe in and release, over and over again.

Sometimes, I play a brief series of four to six notes then let them fade before repeating them again and again before introducing variations. My goal is to give the dreamers a short theme that they can recognize and follow.

Facility residents enjoying Nancy's Tibetan singing bowls.

Facility residents enjoying Nancy’s Tibetan singing bowls.

One of the residents who participates almost every Tuesday has memory, visual and coordination problems. She wants to strike a bowl and hear it ring, but she has difficulty connecting with the bowl. When at last she does connect, her smile is priceless.

Other residents, when they are not in physical therapy or having their hair cut, enjoy coming and playing the bowls. They listen with amazement as they experiment with striking various bowls and absorbing the ever-changing harmonics. There is no “right” or “wrong” note, no rhythm to follow — only the curiosity of wondering what will happen when they strike a different bowl. Best of all are the smiles when they discover bowls that sound especially well together or the surprise of discovering a minor tone.  Sometimes they will resolve the minor; other times they will just smile and let it fade.

If you have the opportunity to take some of your beautiful Bodhisattva Trading Company bowls to an extended care facility, I hope you will do so. For me, to see the residents’ enjoyment is one of the highlights of my week. Thank you Rain for collecting the bowls and Shakti for helping me to select them.

Nancy Lethcoe
Valdez, Alaska

Shakti


Antique Tibetan Singing Bowls do not merely sing. They communicate in a variety of ways, from their capacity as biofeedback instruments, to the informational subtext of their frequencies which we hear and feel in our bodies and energy fields as vibration. This blog will be based on my own experiences as well as those of customers and friends who have integrated the bowls into their healing and spiritual practices, and are guided by them as tools of discovery. I welcome all to share their experiences.

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