“The fact is we are born with these primary cracks, cleavages, our fault lines, our fractional crystalline structure, just like any stone, igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic, we are marked by strata, vesicles, textures (just look at our labyrinthine brains) and these portals and pathways lead into our deep cavernous interior, with unrecognized fossils, generations of petroglyphs, symbols of old, our clandestine chambers full of passionate magma, our ancient water pockets, veins mineralized by silver, tungsten, copper, or flakes of gold…these ways in allow erosion to carve and expose us causing our souls secrets to stand out like cinder cones, monuments, mesas and cliff faces―landmarks for others to encounter. Somehow through weathering we become more visible. We are seen.”
– MATthew cochran
In the Autumn of 2016 I had the privilege to be invited to Soul Fire Sanctuary – the 18th Sound/Peace Chamber, located in Swannona, in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. You can read about the lineage of this Chamber here. There are about 70 of these incredible spaces in the world, and this one is guardianed by Mz. imani, who welcomed me to use the space for one of the most profound creative experiences of my life to date.
If you follow my work you will know I spent the summer of 2016 on a walking pilgrimage around the coast of Wales. This journey continued in a number of ways, one of them by ending up on the U.S east coast and walking my feet on some of the Appalachian Trail. It’s hard to put into words, but somehow I knew I would end up there, sooner rather than later. I had passed many signs around Wales for the IAT and discovered that the International Appalachian Trail was a thing. Over zealous dreams and plans about walking it all ensued, but those aside, it got me thinking about how the edges of these two continents used to be connected and about Pangea. I pondered on the significance and privilege of my feet walking on these separated yet very connected paths, on land that used to be undivided.
This pilgrimage was a Rite of Passage for me, and all Rites of Passage include three stages; separation, liminality and incorporation. When I was invited into the Chamber I knew, beyond words, that the journey I had been on was understood, and the opportunity to spend time alone creating and expressing in the Chamber became an ideal phase of incorporation.
The Chamber has incredible acoustics, and a collection of beautiful Handpans that I got to experience playing for the first time. It’s an instrument I had long wished to play and, to me, is the perfect instrument, incorporating both rhythm and tone in one incredible resonance. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this time alone, in the mountains, in the Chamber with the Handpans gave me a transcendent creative experience. What was even more special, is that the Chamber is filled with plants, and hooked up to a synthesiser to transmit the sounds. So, essentially, I was also jamming with the plants. Listen closely to the recording and you can hear them – in this instance they sound like rumbles, the first audible moment is in part one, 3 minutes 28 seconds in.
In so many ways this was a personal moment, which is why I never intended to share it in this form, but on another level it is not, because of the chamber, because of what happens there. In Imani’s words;
“Ceremonial Chambers are found all around the world. Whether built by human hands or naturally occurring in the wild, Chambers have offered a place of retreat and healing, celebration and unification with the wisdom residing in the earth, ourselves and the universe. As sound is what puts us in touch with our origins, and the nature of life. Kiva’s and Chambers provide access points where we can experience and embody this wisdom through our voice, prayer, rituals and purposeful listening. There have always been humans who know they must tend to the pristine frequencies of life, of spirit. From the deserts to the mountains, to the oceans and the sweet water springs, humanity has cultivated and discovered the people and the places where sound and silence teach us of our spiritual, ceremonial and artistic expressions. They teach us that these places and actions, are in fact, praise for life, and the divine. The WErk of this time, as I see it, is to cultivate and define our ceremonial roles and response-abilities to present ourselves as emissaries for peace, life and humanity itself.”
– Peace Matters – Mz. imani white – Curator of the 18th Peace Chamber
Whilst in the Chamber I used a small handheld recording device to capture a little piece of that experience. The piece I’m sharing now is 19 minutes of purely improvised sounds and words that were spewing out of me in response to the journey I’d been on. It was unprepared, spontaneous and raw. Some of it makes me cringe, and I make no assertions to be a proficient Handpan player, but something about this remains vital to me.
My initial thought was to take these fragments and ideas and come back and record an album in the Chamber, to make it all perfect and shiny. I’ve since let that idea go and welcomed in a different way, challenging my motives and desire to always want something bigger, better and more perfect. I’m aiming to deconstruct the ‘progress myth’ that dominates so much in this industrial growth society and slips into my creativity without me even noticing.
After a year I took this recording to Simeon Smith and we spent a few hours enhancing the sound and making the most of these 19 minutes. They play as a continuous flow through the 4 tracks, and have had very limited editing. You need to listen on good headphones as the acoustics in the space will never be transmuted on a recording like this, and certainly not on computer speakers.
I’m sharing it because it is a total antithesis to the over perfectionising insanity that I put myself through when recording music, especially as I did on my last album. I’m sharing it as a demonstration of my commitment to process over product. I’m sharing it as a celebration of spontaneous, improvised music, of finding diamonds in the rough and celebrating the power of technology to capture moments that will never be recaptured yet will forever transmute something of that moment. I’m sharing this because the Handpan is an extraordinary instrument, the Chamber an extraordinary space, and this was an extraordinary time in my life that has echoed and reverberated since, and this is the best way I know to honour it.
To me, pilgrimage and Rites of Passage create space and silence for our wild souls to live. I find that notion almost entirely counter cultural to the one I exist in and so forging that out takes resilience and belief in something beyond words. I think music captures and transmutes it a little more. This piece also provided a perfect way in to writing about the pilgrimage , as I had struggled to find a form that would represent such an experience. Spontaneous song became the gateway, The Fools Way, and one that took some time to hatch, like the turtle, burying her eggs in the sand and knowing when it is time for them to be born into something else. It was the Turtle that started this whole journey – she weaves her way into the music but it’s a story for another day, and I will share the writing when it is finished.
For now, this little E.P.
I know it won’t be for everyone, and I hope that someone, somewhere resonates. I wanted to pay forward the gifts that were given to me so I share this with you now. I’ve been reading a lot about Gift Economy recently – and so I’ve made this available to you to download and you can pay whatever it is worth to you. You receive the lyrics as a bonus gift when you do so.