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The Musical Power of

The Bronze Singing Bowls
Article 4: Don Conreaux


The Rudhyarian Doctrine states that "The Transcendent, Spiritual Realm which antedates Material Existence must become a Release of Sound That Precipitates Archetypal Forms into the Materials that Constitute All Entities within Materiality."

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The Musical Power of the Bronze Singing Bell Bowls

Mysterious Tremendum 2001

Dane 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.

Himalayan Singing Bowls Go Global

When 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

Singing 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).

These 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.

Although 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.

The 7 Sacred Metals Used in Ancient Metallurgy and Planet Relationship


Gold/Sun    Silver/Moon    Mercury/Mercury    Copper/Venus    Iron/Mars    Tin/Jupiter   Lead/Saturn

(Plus Zinc, Nickel/Meteorite and other trace elements)

Quality Control

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.

Early 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 within."

Your First Bowl

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.

When 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.

Look Ma! One Hand Clapping

For 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.

These 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

When 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.

Grow A Family

After 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.

Bowls also come from Down Under.

While 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 and Shintoism.

Ancient Tools for Modern Use

In 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 entertainment environments.

We 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.

Spiritual Sound Psychology

Long 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 instrument.

Getting Started

There 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.

We 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.

Don Conreaux

Don Conreaux is a gong therapist and master teacher of the yoga of holistic resonance; internationally acclaimed with over 40 years experience using sound for stress reduction, pain management and personal transformation. His presentations and concerts have brought the healing power of the ancient bronze gong, singing bell bowl and sacred blowing conch to millions of listeners around the world. As director of the Mysterious Tremendum Consort and Sacred Tone Ensemble, he tours extensively in England and Australia, leading yearly gong yoga retreats, workshops and Artists for Humanity Concerts. Gongmaster Don Conreaux and Randee Ragin are Directors of The Mysterous Tremendum Consort.

Randee Ragin, co-writer of Don's article, is a singing bell bowl master, co-founder and creative artist for the Mysterious Tremendum Consort.

Visit Don's Web Site at: www.holistic-resonance. com

Photography by: Richard Manning, Steven Weinberg, Rosalind Richardson. Hannah Wallace, Rick, Renee and Salmieri.

Graphics by dwij

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