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Recently, while reading about the immolations that have been spreading through Tibet, I came across a video on YouTube of the Tibetan National Anthem. Even though I have been in the Dharma community since coming to Southern California in 1994, I had never knowingly heard it played or sung. Of all of the Sutras I have heard and all of the Tibetan gatherings I have attended, no one had ever identified any piece of music as the anthem of Tibet. I didn’t know they had one. So when I found it on YouTube, I was surprised; when I heard it, I was captivated.
Known as Gyallu, the lyrics are based on the teachings of the Buddha. They are attributed to Trijang Rinpoche, who was a spiritual guide to the 14th Dalai Lama for some 40 years. Apparently, the lyrics were set to an ancient piece of sacred music; I would love to know the Sutra it comes from. The melody was sinuous and elevating, and seemed to exude hope. It had a hook in it, too. The first version I ran across was Camerata of St. John’s version, a brilliant performance with a soulful lead cello accompanied by intervals of violent string arrangements. It sounded like it was in the key of F#. I listened to it over and over.
For the past few years at Bodhisattva, it has been my pleasure to play Christmas carols on a set of Tibetan singing bowls and shoot a little video of it. So every year as the Christmas season approaches, I start mulling which Christmas carol I’d like to play. But by now it was late November, and Gyallu was staying with me. I was headed to The Rubin Museum in New York for their Serai event right after Thanksgiving. The more I thought about it, visualizing myself spending a week there, cocooned in its spiraling galleries of Himalayan Sacred Art, the less likely I was going to feel like playing “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” on Tibetan bowls. As the immolations quickened, it seemed all the more important that this hymn should be heard.
So, Gyallu it was. The only trouble was going to be learning the melody in less than 7 days time, while flying to New York, setting up a booth at The Rubin Museum of Art, doing a five-day trunk show and giving some singing bowl workshops. I realized that as haunting as Gyallu was in the key Camerata had played it in, it was too hard a key for me. To begin with, I’m not at all gifted with the kind of ear where I can hear something once or twice and pick up on it. Learning Christmas carols on the bowls is easy: I’ve heard those melodies since I was in the womb. Although this melody had very simple scales in it, it seemed labyrinthian to me.
We know that music is a mnemonic device. What I didn’t realize is how handy it is to have words to find our way around a piece of music. There wasn’t time to learn both. Finally, I found the music in a G major key which simplified learning the tune. I hadn’t had the occasion to read music since I was around 14, and this music was charted by a Westerner. Although I heard wide variations in the recordings by Tibetan artists, I used it as a guide. It goes something like this:
The short time frame meant that would mean I had to practice it at night. As I had to commute out to my friend’s house in Staten Island every evening, that meant lugging about 15 pounds of bronze bowls on the subway and the ferry each night. Which I did, plugging into a Tibetan version on YouTube while steaming past the Statue of Liberty. It was an emotional juxtaposition for me, these nightly sightings of our national symbol of freedom, listening to this song of spiritual liberation sung by a people who are not free to sing it in their own homeland. I contemplated our own violent path to independence, and wondered what path Tibet can take to spiritual and cultural freedom. It seems that the quest for Tibetan autonomy is perennially pushed off the front page, with no artillery or rockets to attract headlines. It is a quiet struggle, where monks as well as laypeople feel the imperative to be free is more important than life itself. I stared at Lady Liberty’s face. She is steadfast, resolute, fearless. She inspired me to never give up hope for Tibet.
Halfway through the Serai trunk show, I approached Dawn Eshelman, programming manager at The Rubin, and asked if it would be possible to shoot our video at The Rubin. Graciously, she and the Rubin management allowed us to use the theater Sunday, at the end of the workshop. Theo Dorian, a friend from numerous film classes in our college days, generously gave us his time to shoot. Susan Lamoureaux supported us with access to lighting and the Rubin’s remarkable sound system, and let us keep shooting til the Museum’s doors were closed. Prisanee Suwanwatana, manager of the Rubin Shop, very kindly made sure our booth was covered, and stayed late that night so we could pack up our bowls and our gear. The staff at the Rubin were so amazingly supportive. My thanks to Tashi Choedron, the beautiful Tibetan museum tour guide, for her encouragement.
Although The Dalai Lama himself makes no call for Tibet’s independence from China in any way, he tireless asks of us to support Tibetans in their quest to win the basic human right to practice their religion in peace and to preserve their culture for future generations. If you would like learn more about what you can do to help, please visit International Campaign for Tibet.
Om Mani Padme Hum.
Initiated in 1999 by Jem Finer, this project is a composition of Tibetan singing bowls designed to play until 2999. Click on the link below to listen.
What is Longplayer?
Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again. Conceived and composed by Jem Finer, it was originally produced as an Artangel commission, and is now in the care of the Longplayer Trust.
Longplayer can be heard in the lighthouse at Trinity Buoy Wharf, London, where it has been playing since it began. It can also be heard at several other listening posts around the world, and globally via a live stream on the Internet. Longplayer started playing at three separate listening posts in London and Sydney at 00:00 hours (IDLE) on the 1st of January 2000 (i.e. midnight on the International Date Line – midday on the 31st of December 1999 in London).
Longplayer is composed for singing bowls – an ancient type of standing bell – which can be played by both humans and machines, and whose resonances can be very accurately reproduced in recorded form. It is designed to be adaptable to unforeseeable changes in its technological and social environments, and to endure in the long-term as a self-sustaining institution.
The listening post at the Lighthouse, Trinity Buoy Wharf, 2000. [Steve Pyke]
The Long Term
Longplayer grew out of a conceptual concern with problems of representing and understanding the fluidity and expansiveness of time. While it found form as a musical composition, it can also be understood as a living, 1000-year-long process – an artificial life form programmed to seek its own survival strategies. More than a piece of music, Longplayer is a social organism, depending on people – and the communication between people – for its continuation, and existing as a community of listeners across centuries.
An important stage in the development of the project was the establishment of the Longplayer Trust, a lineage of present and future custodians invested with the responsibility to research and implement strategies for Longplayer’s survival, to ask questions as to how it might keep playing, and to seek solutions for an unknown future.
Composition in Time
Longplayer is composed in such a way that the character of its music changes from day to day and – though it is beyond the reach of any one person’s experience – from century to century. It works in a way somewhat akin to a system of planets, which are aligned only once every thousand years, and whose orbits meanwhile move in and out of phase with each other in constantly shifting configurations. In a similar way, Longplayer is predetermined from beginning to end – its movements are calculable, but are occurring on a scale so vast as to be all but unknowable.
Longplayer’s composition uses a minimum amount of information and material to create the maximum amount of variety, in terms of both sound and form. While it is a system-based composition, it is made out of very expansive and resonant musical material, which in itself is not ‘systematic’ sounding. This material (the ‘source music’) is played on Tibetan singing bowls, which possess a simple but harmonically rich sound, and a quality which is at once both physical and ethereal. A simple form of synthesis arises from the interactions of these instruments’ waveforms, with the consequence that while Longplayer’s score is deterministic, its music at any given time is unpredictable.
At present, Longplayer is being performed mostly by computers. However, it was created with a full awareness of the inevitable obsolescence of this technology, and is not in itself bound to the computer or any other technological form.
Although the computer is a cheap and accurate device on which Longplayer can play, it is important – in order to legislate for its survival – that a medium outside the digital realm be found. To this end, one objective from the earliest stages of its development has been to research alternative methods of performance, including mechanical, non-electrical and human-operated versions.
Among these is a graphical score for six players and 234 singing bowls. The first performance based on this score took place over 1,000 minutes on 12 – 13 September, 2009, at the Roundhouse, London. Longplayer Live is performed on a vast, specially-constructed instrument by an orchestra of players working in shifts. A series of further performances are in planning for various venues around the world – see the Live page for more information.
The first Longplayer leaflet, 1999. [Artangel]
Who Created Longplayer?
Longplayer was developed and composed by Jem Finer between October 1995 and December 1999, with the support and collaboration of Artangel. It was managed by Candida Blaker, with a think tank comprising artist Brian Eno, British Council Director of Music John Keiffer, landscape architect Georgina Livingston, Artangel co-director Michael Morris, digital sound artist Joel Ryan, architect and writer Paul Shepheard and writer and composer David Toop. A full account of Longplayer’s development can be found in the 2003 book Longplayer, published by Artangel, London.
Jem Finer is a UK-based artist, musician and composer. Since studying computer science in the 1970s, he has worked in a variety of fields, including photography, film, music and installation. LongplayerÂ represents a convergence of many of his concerns, particularly those relating to systems, long-durational processes and extremes of scale in both time and space. Among his other works isÂ Score For a Hole In the Ground (2005), a permanent musical installation in a forest in Kent. Self-sustaining and relying only on gravity and the elements to be audible, the project continues Finer’s interest in long-term sustainability and the reconfiguring of older technologies.
Based in London and working both in the UK and internationally, Artangel has been commissioning and producing ambitious projects by contemporary artists for the last two decades. Often surprising in both conception and scale, each project begins with an invitation to an artist to develop a new work, inspired and given shape by a particular place. Artangel works closely with the artist to realise the full potential of the work in whatever form, medium and context seems best. Since the early 1990s, Artangel has produced over fifty major new commissions including Rachel Whiteread’s House (1992), Michael Landy’s Breakdown (2001), Francis Alys’ Seven Walks (2005) and Heiner Goebbel’s Stifters Dinge (2008). Artangel is supported by the Arts Council of England and The Company of Angels. Visit www.artangel.org.uk for more information.
William Ward, a former New Yorker who resides now in Pensacola, FL was a Chef for 13 years. To relieve his job related stress, he discovered meditation. He now has a full time sound healing practice and has been a Bodhisattva customer since 2009. William will be playing his collection of Bodhisattva singing bowls on the program shifthappensradio.com on 6/21/12. We are in the process of building William a two-octave Master Healing set.
How did you get involved with bowls?
That’s one of the most important questions. It started with a meditation. In a meditation, there was a sound that I can’t even begin to describe with words – it brought a knowing of an unconditional love that was there – just the deepest experience of peace I’d ever had. What it taught me was that God was real within us, which was what I was looking for and was the reason I was meditating. A few months later, I walked into a conscious living store, heard a CD playing and heard the bowls. Tears of remembrance of the sound I experienced flooded me, and I knew I had to look into it. And that’s how it all started.
You started with Crystal bowls?
The Crystal bowls and Tibetan bowls came at the same time.
What were you looking for?
I was looking for what I had experienced in that sound and I wasn’t finding it everywhere. That’s why I stuck with you guys. I’ve done a lot of research and looked around and you guys connected very well with everything I was looking for.
Did you study with any one?
I read some books, Mitchell Gaynor, “The Healing Power of Sound”, and Jonathan Goldman “Healing Sounds”. They were both very helpful, as they expressed my experience in ways I couldn’t yet grasp with my own words. Reading up on it helped me to find my own words, for which I am eternally grateful.
So you never studied with anybody, but you read the books and got started from there?
Yes. It was more an intuition that just brought everything together – the more I worked with them and shared them, the more intuition expanded from the experience. The experience was the knowing. I just followed that.
Please talk to me about how you integrate the Crystal and the Tibetan Bowls. Usually people resonate with one or the other.
What I was looking for was to recreate that sound in the experience I had – it is my wish for everyone to experience that for themselves. I found that to re-create that sound, I had to use more bowls, I had to fill in certain spaces. And it opened my eyes to see how chords were playing while I was filling in the spaces, and it expanded from there. I loved the harmonies and the timbres and the higher frequencies when I brought in the Tibetans.
Tell me how you work with the Chakras.
I was very skeptical about the Chakras and didn’t understand them in the beginning. So I really put some time into understanding them for myself. It’s psychosomatic, because our Chakras lie along our Central Nervous System. I realized what effects our nervous system the most is our thoughts about reality. Who I think I am affects every way in which I will express myself.
We’re all spirit having a human experience; however, if I’m too connected to the human experience it limits that awareness. Where our blocks happen is when we forget this reality. Reality is itself the seen and the unseen working hand in hand. I started seeing everything as vibration – whether you can see it or not, it is in vibrating form like an orchestra playing its song. So when I say reality, everything in existence has its song that it’s singing, each component or instrument is vital for the whole composition. And we as humans have that awareness of observation. So where and who we think we are, we are. But we don’t have to stay there. And that’s the correlation I was making with the Chakras being psychosomatic – reality is limitless, it always has been.
Usually when we hear the word psychosomatic, it refers to someone manifesting a physical condition simply by believing they have it. Is that what you mean be psychosomatic?
Not manifesting, but knowing it to be true. For example, our Root Chakra is connected with physicality. And we can stop there, which most of us do, or we can look to see energetic origins of physicality, which would raise our awareness of that Chakra more.
How did you choose working with the diatonic scale system as the basis of the Chakras as opposed to any other system?
I never put any thought to it, I just went where I was guided, which isn’t as simple as it sounds. I just went with my intuition. But I do love to learn how other people use their styles and techniques.
When you do your sessions, you just put the Tibetans on the body?
Almost always. Sometimes I’ll also place the crystal bowls on the body.
How do you decide that?
Each session is different. There’s a knowing in the moment. What I love about the bowls is that it’s not imparting a verbal knowledge to them, it’s sharing the experience with them, which is priceless.
Why do you do what you do?
It was important for me when I experienced that peace within, that became my new passion. And I know that when everyone can find that place that is within them, we will all know, so naturally, how we can move forward together, in a sustainable way for the environment, our children and their children.
Tell me about the show you’re doing.
El – the host of Shift Happens radio – called me and said that she’d heard from quite a few people about me, and she wanted me to come on for a two hour segment. It will be airing 10 PM EST 6/21 and will be available on podcast afterward. www.shifthappensradio.com.
Tell me about the collection from BTC you will be using tomorrow.
I’ll definitely be using my C# Highwall and the Pentatonic set, and then I’ll use Pentatonic cup set if I have the spacing. I have one E that was gifted to me that’s a 10 or a 12”, so I don’t know if I’ll have the space for it or not. For the crystal bowls, I have an Alchemy set.
So you will be giving us that experience tomorrow. We’re really looking forward to hearing it!
Marie Bergman, a musician and singer from Stockholm, Sweden, visited Bodhisattva on a quest to find a bowl. With great ease, she selected a 10 7/8″ with a slightly sharp G fundamental on the second octave – a perfect choice for a singer. As she bonded with her bowl, she began to sing – almost as if her process of getting to know the bowl was to sing with it. Ever ready with my trusty iphone, I captured the moment in video. Marie was also kind enough to give her an interview and talk about her work:
Can you tell us about your background in music?
I am a professional musician and singer/songwriter for some thirty years. I have made twenty recordings with my own compositions and three CDs with jazz music. I have been touring in Scandinavia for many years and have also represented Sweden in a European Song contest three times. My voice has a pretty wide range and I have always all the time been searching for more ways of expressing myself through the wonders of the voice. I find the voice has endless possibilities!
Your singing felt like a lullaby to me. Were you at all influenced by the folk music of Sweden?
Well, folk music is running in my blood but it is not the core of my expression. When I sing with the bowls it often shines through like an archetypal depth of the voice. But my toning comes out differently each time.
How did you come to explore harmonics?
In the mid-80’s I had a lot of problems with my voice. I was performing rock n roll and raw soul, and I was hard on the voice. I was also in pain from too much tension. This all together created a (very much needed…) breakdown. I silenced myself for a long time and when I returned to the sound again, I learned to sing and express myself differently. I also during this time experienced the healing power of the voice and learned to breathe much deeper. I started to meditate and take care of myself. I became fascinated of the voice´s capability to adjust and how it helped me mature my singing and through this I started to experience toning as a training method. It became my freedom. And that helped me keep the singing voice even more fresh and vital. I discovered there was a lot of power and life force in the harmonics. I started to listen to them very carefully.
How do you use harmonics in your music?
I differ my singing voice from the toning voice. My singing voice is a storyteller, where the words are important but also the sounds of the words. Songs are form. Harmonics makes my singing voice more clear and lifts the flow, making the singing physical and powerful without pressure. When I tone, I stay more purposely with the harmonics, letting them vibrate and resonate in their own frequency and time. Together with the bowls, the expression gets strong and spiritual. I use the mouth and the body resonators differently when I tone. I become like a wind instrument.
What attracted you to singing bowls?
The beautiful archetypal sound, the physical resonance, the timeless vibration, the beauty and the wisdom!
How do you use their vibration in sound healing?
I work with voice and Ssinging bowls in different settings. Sometimes more performance-like when the purpose is to gather people. When I do sound healing on the bodymind, I direct the sounds from the bowl and my voice to the body (my own or another’s) with a special intention. I also put the different bowls on different parts of the body of a client when I do ”singing bowl-massage”. I am trained in sound healing as well as in the ”Peter Hess method” of singing bowl-massage. I often combine sound healing and singing bowl-massage and train others as well. Peter Hess singing bowl-massage is a wonderful, deep relaxation method for regaining spiritual and physical health, to refresh and vitalize your cells as well as your muscles, tissues and organs. In the massage, I place different sizes of bowls on different specific parts of the body. I strike them gently and let the beautiful matching frequencies of the bowls do their magic wave work with elegance and grace.
Tell us of how you are using the bowls in your community.
My own voice school BERGMAN VOICE and the use of singing bowls has developed as an extension from my singing seminars and teaching at the Music Conservatories in Sweden, Norway and Denmark. I run seminars in toning and voice workshops all year round. I offer singing bowl-massage. Sometimes I perform with the bowls and let them illustrate a poem or resonate beautifully and sensually with a song. I always have them with me even when I give singer/songwriter performances solo or with the band. I use them in the concerts in at least one or two songs.
I use the bowls when I do my gatherings in one of the biggest churches in Stockholm, the Katarina church. I call it ”Come Together-Ceremonies”. Everyone is welcome. I always open this ceremony with the singing bowl and my voice, an improvisation where the resonance is flying freely under the heights in the cathedral. It always gives me and everybody goose bumps. Then I teach the audience how to tone and they gather in a circle with their voices and I also let them walk around in the church, singing freely. They are happy! It’s very beautiful. See the You Tube link.
How did you discover the language?
I was training a lot with the voice, also did a quite heavy sound therapy and sound healing to clean blockages and resistances in the beginning to allow myself to get out of the box. When I started to play the bowls it kind of powered up the voice by itself. I guess the voice was very happy about the good vibrations! I learned to keep out of pressure as much as possible and another language was discovered and created.
Do you find yourself at home in a certain key?
I try to widen the voice range as much as possible. I find that all the frequencies has its own fascination. I also find that harmonics has helped my voice to expand and move freely among the different keys as much as possible. Voice is the mirror of the life force!
Do you believe specific notes are associated with the Chakras?
Yes. But I found they differ a bit from person to person. But of course they range from low to higher and the other way around.
How can one purchase your recordings?
Spotify on my name: Marie Bergman. But I haven’t yet recorded my toning with the singing bowls. Maybe sooner than later hopefully…
We hope sooner, Marie!
Whenever I’m in New York City, I make a pilgrimage to the Rubin Museum. Housed in the old Barney’s Building on Sixth Avenue and 17th Street, I love to sit in its Cafe, eat vegetarian MoMo’s and think to myself “this used to be the hosiery department. This is where I used to buy my hose.”
More hours still, I’ve spent wandering its Galleries, gazing at the Bodhisattvas, permeating myself with their teachings. In one trip a few years ago, I was going through the Rubin’s Online Resources gallery and was so moved by a passage I found, I scribbled it down with the paper and pencils they had for put out for children’s art projects. I came across it last night, and thought I’d share it with you:
In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.
Buddhists believe that clinging to a sense of self is the fundamental cause of suffering. The antidote to that suffering is compassion for others. Compassion in action is having the desire to relieve them of suffering.
Impermanence is commonly associated with the negative, or death, the end of a lucky streak, or the termination of a relationship. But this is a limited view that does not account for the necessity of impermanence and the positive beginnings that arise from endings. Impermanence can be good news. The end of infancy is childhood, the end of war is peace, the end of loneliness is companionship. Without the end of day we would have no sunset, no moon, no stars.
As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has reminded us, impermanence is “an instrument to help us penetrate deeply into reality and obtain liberating insight. With impermanence, every door is open for change.” When we can let go and embrace the unknown, fear subsides.
Again, it is Thich Nhat Hanh who has said it best: “It is possible to find ease and grace in the world of change; it is possible to trust the mind of non-clinging and so find our liberation within the world of impermanence.” As we see impermanence clearly, we see that there is nothing real that we can actually cling to.
Many of our good 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 Hans. A lanky, razor sharp Californian, Hans amassed a world class collection of singing bowls in quartertone 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, Hans, 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.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama’s Teachings on The Heart Sutra
Bloomington, Indiana, May 11 – 13, 2010
The Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC) hosted His Holiness’s teachings in the lovely, storied campus of Bloomington, Indiana. Bodhisattva Trading Company had the opportunity to exhibit our authentic antique singing bowls, along with about 30 mostly Tibetan vendors, and were to set up in a 120’ x 60’ tent adjacent to the Indiana University Auditorium where the teachings were being held. We were wary of Indiana’s propensity for rain, having been soaked at a similar event three years ago. For good reason! As I went to the Budget counter to rent our van, footage of tornadoes ravaging Kentucky played on the monitors. Paling, I asked, “Those aren’t around here, right?” to the rental agent. “Well, not yet,” he replied. “But this is Indiana. It’s pretty cold right now and there’s a warm front is coming in. So anything can happen.” Great… we’re setting up in a tent in tornado alley!
The sky darkened, although sunset was not til after 9 PM. Rain (my business partner) and I reminisced about the teachings in Coral Gables, Florida, in November of 1999, when we watched anxiously as Hurricane Andrew wreaked havoc up the Florida coast just two days before His Holiness’ teachings were scheduled to begin there at the University of Florida. The Hurricane roughed up Coral Gables, took off up the East Coast as thousands streamed into Ft. Lauderdale from all over the country for the teachings. Under balmy breezes and sunny skies, His Holiness settled in to talk on the finer points of Atisha’a Lamp and Emptiness, answered the same questions everyone has been asking him for decades with grace and humor, gave a public talk in Ft. Lauderdale, and left. Meanwhile, Hurricane Andrew had taken a u-turn over the Carolinas, went south and blasted back into Coral Gables the night of the day we all went home. Synchronicity? We believed not. What might he be able to do for us now, we wondered.
Bleary, I climbed out of bed and found my way to the hotel lobby. There, contentedly planted in a rocking chair, a rosy faced Western nun and I exchanged greetings. Her name meant “Bliss of the Dharma”, but I called her Anni Chu for short. She was an ex-pat American from Texas, who had moved to Sweden 20 years ago to become a Buddhist nun. I asked if his Holiness had arrived in Bloomington yet. “He arrives at TMBCC around 3 today,” she answered brightly. Ah, yes. We had been invited!
His Holiness’ schedule was not announced to the vendors or the public at large. His arrival at the Center was merely the last stop on his schedule, and he would retire to his private quarters at the Center shortly after. The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center is the spiritual hub for the largest community of ethnic Mongolians in the world outside of Mongolia. It had been 3 years since His Holiness had been there to visit his elder brother and cultural center founder Thubten J. Norbu. Unfortunately, his brother succumbed to illness and left his body in September 2008. Due to his own illness and schedule constraints, His Holiness had been unable to come. So his arrival was a welcome and emotional moment for the Sangha.
By early afternoon, we had staked out our space in the tent and proceeded to try to strategize how to put the booth together without the coming weather ruining our thangka paintings. By 1:50, we had almost nothing done, but had ordered pipe and drape and loaded in our tubs, and took off for lunch in town, and then on to TMBCC.
Driving up the rural roads to the Center, Tibetan flags fluttered in the distance and a cloud of incense billowed up from a burner beneath TMBCC’s brightly painted entrance gate adorned with prayer flags. Beneath the gate was an exquisitely painted mandala, drawn in chalk by the monks. When we arrived, the press was poised at the gate, and Tibetan dancers in traditional costumes and musicians with drums and large Tibetan cymbals called Rolmo milled around, waiting for His Holiness to arrive. Secret service and police patrolled and the Sherriff’s department scrutinized all who entered.
The dancers were teenage Tibetan girls in traditional Hunters masks, heavy constructions fringed with huge white manes of fur. “I’ve got a fur ball,” one of them complained.
Women in their traditional silk dresses called “Chubas” stood by, some with vividly colored aprons, signifying their status as married. As the time for His Holiness’ arrival neared, they unfurled long, white silk scarves, called “khatas”, to offer to His Holiness, clasping them between their hands folded in prayer position. In the tradition, His Holiness accepts the scarf, and then puts it over the head of the person who offered it. Usually, he can’t take the time to do more than a few, but all are hopeful.
A second cluster of people had staked their positions out by the large prayer wheel in a shrine down the hill. The winds picked up. In the distance, sirens, wailing in the distance, seemed to approach. “Here he comes”, I said. The dancers took positions. Finally, following a squad car, a black sedan edged slowly through the gate. The musicians struck up and the dancers began dancing backward, waving their arms in oversize sleeves, yipping feisty Shamanic cries.
These girls began dancing backward down the road in front of the car, without being able to see where they were going, in huge, oversize masks. It couldn’t have been easy. As the car passed me, I felt a palpable blast of energy, enlivening and peaceful at the same time. All pranamed to His Holiness, as the car came to a rest at the prayer wheel shrine.
He got out of the car to applause, and greeted people while secret service moved him through the crowd, as he took a sacred circle around the shrine. Only two or three minutes later, he was whisked away back into the car, and headed down the hill for his last stop of the day at the Center. By now the girls had removed their masks, and hung the offered khatas on special handles mounted on the shrine. One stood with tears streaming down her face. Dancing for His Holiness is an honor of a lifetime.
We returned to the tent and set up before our 7 PM deadline. Back-breaking work isn’t so bad when you get to see the Dalai Lama on your lunch break!
Day 2 began with foreboding red dawn skies and a mob of raucous Starlings shrieking from the trees outside the hotel. As predicted, the rains came down hard, pounding against the tent all morning, providing an effective deterrent to customers. The rain on the tent did remind me of the monsoons in Maharashtra, India, during a meditation intensive I attended at the Syda Foundation in Ganeshpuri. We were in a similarly large, white tent at the top of a hill outside the Ashram, all dressed in our Shaivite whites, and practicing Mauna – in which we refrained from all speech except for the mantra. All that could be heard, almost the entire day except for the teachings, was the drone of hundreds of voices repeating the mantra – and, rain pounding on our tent like fingers on a drum.
By mid-afternoon, the sun came out, and attendees of the teachings started to find their way up the hill and through the aisles. Local and University TV crews were fascinated with the bowls, and our singing bowls made the news on Indianapolis’s Channel 13 that night. We worked from 7 AM to 10 PM that night, and were quite busy all day. As the crowds thinned out in the evening, we had the opportunity to work one-on-one with two different physicians – one a hand surgeon and the other, an oncologist specializing in Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer. I was excited to recommend Dr. Mitchell Gaynor’s book The Healing Power of Sound to the oncologist, and hope that the bowls find their way into his practice eventually.
Rain and I were able to share a ticket for the final session of His Holiness’ teachings. The morning Q & A session related to Emptiness, or the Buddhist principle of dependent origination. Buddhist philosophy holds that all phenomena are connected as an infinite process of cause and effect. The origin of all phenomena depends on sets of circumstances which created it, which, in turn, were created by other sets of circumstances, etc. So nothing exists independently of anything else, and therefore, is said to be devoid of intrinsic existence.
During this session, His Holiness spoke at length about Nagarjuna’s Middle Way, which refers to the middle ground between nihilism, school of Buddhist thought which rejected the objective reality of any phenomena, vs. our experience of daily life as an objective reality. For example, I always wondered why Buddhism rejected the existence of God. Until one morning, at the teachings in Pasadena, California, I went to a Starbucks determined to have two shots of espresso before the teachings so I would be able to stay awake. (His Holiness’s voice is resonant and melodic, and sometimes can put me into a deep sleep). When I got to the Starbucks, I knew I was on to something! The entire store was ablaze with red monk’s robes! Sure enough, that morning, His Holiness discussed God in the context of dependent origination, so then it made sense that what Buddhism rejected was the concept of God as Absolute Creator, apart from Creation itself. I was really happy I stayed awake for that point.
The final day was only a half day, so we spent the rest of that day breaking down and preparing to go up to the public talk at the Conseco Field House in Indianapolis. It’s fitting to close with a prayer for the long life of His Holiness, some form of which is always said at the teachings:
In the Land encircled by snow white mountains,
The source of all happiness and benefit.
Flows in your person, Chenresig, Tenzin Gyatso
Remain until Samsara ends.
Om Mani Padme Hum!