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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.
Bodhisattva Recording Project
Part of Bodhisattva’s mission is to archive the sound files of the thousands of antique singing bowls that have passed through our business in the past 16 years.
One of the ways we seek to preserve this legacy is to develop and maintain strict standards on the quality of the recordings we produce, recording both the struck and rim tones of each singing bowl and Master Healing Set that we sell on our site. In our Large Singing Bowl Galleries, we also record the fundamental (deeper) tones as well. These recordings have improved as technology and bandwidth have evolved, but improvement is a never ending quest. We try to give our customers the most faithful experience of the bowls possible. Our recording artist Son Vo (pictured left) has a wonderful hand on the bowls and scrubs the recordings clean of rim noise, sirens, aircraft, traffic, dogs, crows, and other sounds of West Los Angeles daily life.
But the real impetus for this project is more personal – a desire for the bowls to be heard as broadly as possible, and for their sound to endure beyond their lifetimes. So we’re creating an archive of this treasure trove of sound files, which will require a great deal of time to organize (we’re always looking for intern help with this project!). I’m driven by the awareness of how relatively rare it is that this cross current of antique singing bowls should all flow through this time and place; and a sense of responsibility to document them all. Especially the sets, as to our knowledge, there have never been recordings of singing bowl sets before. And as we craft these handmade, very individual pieces together to form intervals and scales, I’m struck with the reality that these sets will not stay together forever. So we seek to preserve the relationships of these bowls. And the basic fabric of our recording will be woven with these sounds.
The Bodhisattva recording will also feature live sessions as well. For the past two years, Son and I have been recording sessions with the bowls in the studios of Lotus Post, in Santa Monica, California. We did our first session with the inspiration to interweave one of our best diatonic sets together with one of our best pentatonic sets, utilizing not just striking tones, but all of the fundamental and rim tones as well. Lotus Post’s founder, Michael Perricone, a bowl master himself, has been a driving force in helping us with the project as producer, engineer and at the onset of the project, a co-musician as well.
In our last antique collection, we received a flurry of concert-pitch Highwalls, four tuned to concert pitch on the fundamentals (C, A & two matching Fs) and two tuned concert pitch on the rims (E & G). It was an anomaly that so many Highwalls tuned to whole tones should all come together in the same collection. I have only completed one antique Highwall set and it took about four or five years to complete. That set was matched on the rims, from a fifth octave C to a B (featured in our Crown Chakra Meditation video). However, we had no recording of anything with whole tones mixed between the rims and fundamentals. So, on a beautiful, late summer evening, we took the bowls to Lotus Post to capture their resonance together, before they parted ways forever.
What I loved about this collection is that they all had something to say to each other, and I felt as though I was sitting in on a conversation conducted in a universal tongue. Despite their varying densities, their timbres were well matched and I loved the interplay of the whole tones referencing each other across the octaves, with their flatted fifth harmonies dancing in between. I felt so blessed to have been in the room when they all came together.
Son and I have a rough layout of the sequencing, but our “day jobs” come first! So the project is slowly getting done as soon as the flow of work allows. Please stay tuned!
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!
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.