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.
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.
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.