Rudhyar in 1928 once said,"Gongs and Bells, in a sense represent
an aspect of the highest and most spiritual music, that of single
tones being one and many, which throb and live, which are at times
the perfect dynamic bodies of celestial entities, the chakras
of the Deity. Single living tones! of which there are two kinds;
those uttered by the human being, audibly or inaudibly, the AUM
of each being; and those produced by gongs and bells cast according
to hieratic forms."
A Personal Singing Bowl Adventure
There is always a special meaning behind an event
in which one is introduced to the world of singing bowls, as well
as bells, gongs and other Bronze Age tone producing instruments.
For me, it was 1969 when, during a meditation at the close of
a yoga class, I was first introduced to the Sacred Gong, Bell
and Conch. Ever since, I have been exploring the mysteries of
bronze disc-shaped gongs, singing bell bowls, bells, sea and animal
horns; and the human voice (breath), particularly sounding during
our gong yoga meditations, sacred ceremonial performances, remedial
therapy practice, and sound healing workshops. It was not until
the early 80s (Los Angeles) that I became a more dedicated bowl
player, and joined the Tibetan Singing Bowl Ensemble, One Hand
Clapping. In 1992 I co-founded and am director/composer of the
Mysterious Tremendum Consort and Sacred Tone Improvisation Ensemble,
in which we feature the singing bowls, gongs, bells, animal and
shell horns, and overtone singing. We create spontaneous and inspired
music, in a performance interface of archaic, indigenous and modern
instrumentation and spiritual philosophical temperament. The result
is what we call Spiritual Free Jazz.
Singing Bowls Go Global
the Tibetan bronze bowl-shaped singing bells first began to appear,
it was in shops around the world as "curious" acoustical
artifacts. This was after the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and the
exile of the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist Monks in the late nineteen
fifties. Today, many of the bowls we find will have come a long
way, then through Nepal, and arriving throughout the world in
their myriad shapes, styles, and harmonic resonance, each unique
to the Himalayan region from which they were originally forged.
Most of the bowls found in Europe and America today originated
in such countries as Bhutan, Nepal, India, and even Korea, Japan
and China, in addition to Tibet.
The Singing Bowl Myth
bell bowls, which became identified with Tibet, were actually
found there by the Buddhists who arrived after Gautama Buddha's
departure in 600 BCE. At that time the singing bowls were shrouded
in mystery and sounded primarily for religious and magical purposes
by the Bon Pot Shamans. It is believed that these shamanic practitioners
were the sacred metallurgists, and included 'recitation of mantric
formulas' (the actual meaning of Bon).
ancient artisans of earth magic are thought to have been the ones
who originated the method of rimming the bowls with a wooden wand
for purposes in their ceremonies. The striking style of sounding
in Buddhist tradition, between silent meditations, or upon entering
and leaving a temple may also have been used.
much information about shamanic formulas with the singing bowls
seems to have been lost, destroyed, or to this day kept well hidden,
their utilitarian use as begging bowl, eating bowl and sacrificial
bowl continues to last throughout the cultures. There is a theory
that from the Bronze Age on (3500 BCE) small groups of nomadic
alchemists and metallurgists traversed the Trans-Himalayan peaks
and countries. They were the mysterious ones who knew how to build
foundries, how to smelt bronze, in correct sequence, the metals
related to the 7 Sacred Planets of the Solar System, and how to
tap-tune the bronze until it revealed its most resonant release
of tone. Sometimes, they incorporated 9 or more different metals,
common to the times and regions in which they traveled.
7 Sacred Metals Used in Ancient Metallurgy and Planet Relationship
Gold/Sun Silver/Moon Mercury/Mercury Copper/Venus Iron/Mars Tin/Jupiter Lead/Saturn
Zinc, Nickel/Meteorite and other trace elements)
Recipes to this day are very closely
guarded, and the formulas for the most sacred alloys were never
shared. Finding a certain rare rock, known as Meteorite (Iron/Nickel
today), was considered to be a gift sent down from the heavens.
This mysterious metal lent a special resonance and was used in
only the most sacred of the singing bowls, bells and gongs.
metal smiths had to overcome many obstacles in making the bowls
because the quality and availability of metals differed at various
times wherever foundries were set up. As a result, each bowl varies
greatly in harmonic overtones and resonant sustain. Even with
secret recipes, there was a great difference in each individual
bowl, even from the same smelt, and crafted by the same craftsman.
Metallurgy distinguishes between Bronze alloys, which contain
mainly Copper and Tin, and Brass alloys which contain Copper and
Zinc. A Bronze alloy gives out a lower, more resonant tone, the
reason it is selected for creating Gongs and Bowls. A Brass alloy,
which gives out sharp and bright tones, is more commonly used
in fashioning small bells and cymbals. In the ancient process
of smelting and forging, the liquid bronze alloy was poured into
a shallow circular mold. A disc-shaped gong formed as the metallic
mass cooled. Afterwards, with the chanting of mantras, it would
be beaten, hammered, and curved into a bowl-shaped gong or a disc-shaped
gong during times of auspicious astronomical and lunar events.
Even today, master instrument makers meditate on a psycho-spiritual
energy so that the bowl or gong they hammer and tune can become
a proper vehicle for the high creative intelligence "held
When searching for a bowl, it is
good to be cautious about mistaking newly made bowls in the marketplace
for bowls of antiquity. The new bowls are usually made from a
cast and not hammered. Most of the oldest bowls have long been
off the market and coveted by collectors because ancient forging
techniques, passed on through generations, is essentially lost.
When you listen to older bowls, made before the Chinese invasion
of Tibet, you will discover their very special tonal qualities,
and can experience their shamanic power. However, if after striking
the bowl softly with a padded mallet, it doesn't feel loving to
you, try another bowl. Finally, if the bowl you choose to care-take
looks a little battle worn, don't try to shine it up with a solvent;
let it be and just wash it out with water and buff with a soft
cloth. Its naturally aged patina is part of its sound mystique.
After a time of meditation and practice you will find you may
well have smoothed out the rough edges.
we repeatedly tap a bowl with a soft mallet, we immediately notice
its aural bouquet, and tone clusters. Eventually you will hear
other tones, coming out from within the pleroma. "Rimming"
the bowl with a wooden wand, primarily expresses its multi-layered
hum-line, and we are able to experience what Dane Rudhyar called
a sonal ray. This sonal ray is like a gentle beam of tone that
takes the mind on a one pointed journey into timelessness. This
practice is particularly useful for those who find it difficult
to quiet the mind, and for those who work with their hands. Like
a yoga exercise, we are using our physical, mental and psychic
capacity simultaneously to enrich our immune system and reduce
tensions related to stress.
Bowl Playing Technique
With a wooden dowel of perhaps oak or aspen, also called a Puja,
tap the bowl gently, and before the tone fades away, catch the
wave of the sound, and begin to rub the wand around the outside
of the circular rim. It doesn't matter which direction, left or
right. Press firmly, and slowly increase the speed without lessening
the pressure. If you hear a shriiimmmm (a kind of rasping sound)
you have gotten ahead of the sound wave running around the rim.
Slow down and adjust your grip, and perhaps the angle of your
wand; be a bit firmer and rub slower. Make sure you are not over
holding the bowl with the fingers of your other hand as this causes
a dampening of the sound.
Ma! One Hand Clapping
the aspiring singing bell bowl player there are several techniques
to explore in regard to rimming the outer edge of a bowl. Experiment
with different types of wands, both soft and hard woods and soft
mallets, and discover the myriad of syntonic qualities inherent
in each individual bowl. Also important to explore are methods
of using the mouth as an acoustic chamber. This technique is used
to amplify and augment the tones, and to vocalize into and through
the bowl as it is being sounded with wand or soft mallet. Cloth,
leather or rubber covered mallets come in different designs and
sizes, and are primarily used to elicit the deepest harmonic tones
in the Spiritual Metals. To prevent accidental nicking of the
fragile metal of the outer rim of a bowl, remember to always invite
the bowl to sound with reverence and care. Although there are
many thoughtful ways to select a bowl for yourself, ultimately
it is an intuitive response that informs our choices. Ancient
bowls were not made to fit into the system of notes in modern
and western musical forms, and there are no set harmonies or discords.
The overtones of bells and gongs are called non-harmonics. They
are as different from one another as you are from your neighbor.
Yet, when two bowls play together at the same amplitude, a tone
alchemy occurs, in which a multitude of tones are born in the
acoustic space. We hear the resulting higher (summation) overtones
and lower (difference) undertones.
magnificent proliferating (living) tones are known as space filling
tones, or 'resultant' tones. They evoke a visceral presence, because
they are felt as well as heard. One becomes submerged in an ocean
of sound. When using a singing bowl for meditation, it doesn't
take long for its mysterious 'Hum Tone' to create an altered state
of consciousness in player and listener. In giving sound treatments
we play the bowls near a person, around the body and on the body
to more directly affect the cells and organs, and affect an enhanced
lymbic system response as well.
Why Not Take All Of Me
sounding the bowls in ensemble, or when performing sacred tone
improvisation with others, it is important to remember that in
the music of gongs, bells and bowls, there can be no wrong notes,
only a dynamic exchange of energy, which Dane Rudhyar described
as 'functional' harmony. Functional harmony is the distinctive
realm in which all tone differences are experienced as gifts of
spirit that find a way of working together with other tones to
generate energy, which results in an acoustical phenomenon understood
as Holistic Resonance. This Unity of Resonance is a special musical
power. It is a collective tone of tones, which is greater than
the sum of its parts . . . it's what is referred to as an AUM
tone. Bronze gongs, bells and bowls all express both the one tone
and the many, in modern musical terms they are classified as Idiophones.
This means that they vibrate with their entirety, like atoms or
planets. It is for this reason that they are believed to connect
the micro-cosmic with the macro-cosmic. For instance: human the
micro, and vast universe the macro.
discovering your first bowl, you may wish to form a family or
community of bowls; what Buddhists call a Sangha, a Community
of the Holy. Myth has it that Gautama Buddha had three large bowl
shaped gongs while in Nepal.
also come from Down Under.
in Australia we found distinctively different bronze bowl designs
native to the islands, countries and Nations of the Pacific Ring
of Fire, and which have religious connections to Buddhism, Taoism
Tools for Modern Use
2001 we can clearly see that the singing bowls have become important
for both holistic health practitioners, as well as lay people
opening themselves to their higher potential by improvising with
sacred tone, meditation, massage, self healing, stress reduction,
ceremonial music and more. The sonic wave qualities of bronze
bowls, along with their unique non-harmonic overtone frequencies,
are highly individual expressions found nowhere else in the musical
world. You will find that each bowl demonstrates a certain strength
of tone to energize, relax deeply, exorcise, facilitate astral
travel, assist access into lucid dream states, cleanse chakras,
enhance psycho-spiritual attunement and deep emotional release,
and more. In today's medical profession, vibro-acoustic therapies
are being used in progressive research and rehabilitation treatments
for spinal cord injury and bed-bound, as well as industrial and
are heartened that our National Institute of Health created a
Department of Alternative Medicine, and Columbia University Hospital
opened a building for a Department of Integrative Medicine. This
music of the spheres, (considered to be environmental, ambient,
and contemporary sacred music), is also turning up in pre-natal
care programs and labor rooms for mother and newborn, dental and
surgical offices, computer rooms and on airlines. We wish to acknowledge
New York City oncologist Mitchell Gaynor, M.D., author of the
book Sounds of Healing for his work in the field. I played Gong
for the CD component, and both are available at Border's. We are
all very fortunate today as so many people around the world are
investigating and exploring sound for healing, and have come to
acknowledge remedial benefits including practices using sound
for meditation, yoga exercise, stress reduction, pain management,
and psycho-spiritual easement. Through this kind of tone production,
brain waves naturally slow down. In this state we are able to
cleanse our subconscious of fear, depression and anger. Singing
bowls and gongs can become lifelong "supportive tools"
for personal and professional health care practitioners.
before modern psychology, ancient healers recognized the power
of sound and used it for communication as well as exorcism of
unnatural or negative influences, and for relief and blessing
rituals. The hammered bronze bowl is one such tool for the purification
of our thoughts, and for clearing negative emotional obstructions
(miasmas) from the psyche. Certain bowls might be selected, according
to their pitch, for specific chakra activation, or for release
and cleansing. When a Bell Bowl "sings," it almost instantly
causes the mind to slow down from the 13+ cycle per second (Hertz)
frequency of the rational mind to between 7-12 c.p.s.: (the Alpha
dreaming state), at times down to the Theta Visionary State of
4-7 c.p.s., and even slower to the .5-4 Hz. of deepest sleep.
However, no matter how much practical or scientific knowledge
we gain about the Singing Bowl, a journeyman player remains true
to the tradition of addressing each bowl as a shamanic power tool,
a vehicle of high creative intelligence, and not merely a musical
are few books available on singing bowls, but studying directly
with a teacher is still considered essential for in-depth learning.
Certain techniques can only be adequately understood through one
to one practice including: how to select a bowl, discovering bell
bowl qualities and attributes; exploring different applications
of combining singing bowls with mantra, toning, affirmation, color,
aroma and gem stones; therapeutic placement on and near the body;
selecting types of wooden wands; playing and practice including
the use of water and rice and playing in gamelan style. In our
Singing Bell Bowl workshops we explore the relationship of bowl
tones to ancient and esoteric systems such as astrology, sonal
feng shui, kinesiology, tarot, kaballah, runes, cosmology, sacred
geometry and more.
are very fortunate that so much practical information, gathered
bit by bit over a long period of time by the early bowl players,
is now accessible to all. The ancient sacro-magical space filling
music of pure living tones, holistic tones, can truly be called
"The Music of the Spheres," and simply playing a singing
bowl invites us into a oneness with the Universe, and some say
also the Deva Kingdom of Nature.