The need to communicate things beyond words and to express feelings made mankind invent music – long before the first civilizations emerged. Today, the use of sound in a spiritual context is the oldest tradition on planet Earth.
New York-based composer and musicologist Randall McClellan explored this largely unknown area and its ancient mystery schools between 1979 and 1983. His research culminated in the book The Healing Forces of Music: History, Theory and Practice, but it also led him to develop compositions that evoke altered states of consciousness.
Inspired by Indian ragas, McClellan developed a series of constantly evolving, multi-layered melodies, which he realized with two Moog synthesizers, drone box, tamboura, voice and tape delay. Its title The Healing Music of Rana (rana = breath of the sun) is an allusion to ancient philosophical concepts that recognize vibration as a fundamental creative force.
Throughout the USA, McClellan gave numerous improvisation concerts lasting up to three hours, during which the audience could rest on the floor in semi-darkened rooms in order to harmonize mind and body.
The composer Pauline Oliveros also recognized the healing effect of sounds. However, her focus was on the act of listening. She coined the term Sonic Meditations in 1971 when publishing a series of guidelines with this title. They were intended to challenge and improve people’s listening skills.
Some of her exercises were addressing individuals: “Take a walk at night. Walk so silently that the soles of your feet become ears”. Others were designed as group experiences that the composer had developed with the ♀ Ensemble.
Oliveros’ meditations on sound strive to create an awareness of the listener’s position within an environment, be it with other people, in nature or as part of the universe. According to her, listening consciously could bring about changes in physiology and psychology. The composer’s research into deep listening and sonic meditation is also part of Paul Paulun’s experimental approach in coping with the disorder misophonia.
The image for the title Horse Sings From Cloud came from a dream: a horse is scooped up in a cloth by a flock of bluebirds and carried up to a cloud to sing from there. The instruction for the performer is one of Pauline Oliveros’ sonic meditations from 1975: “Sustain a tone until any desire to change it disappears. When there is no longer any desire to change the tone, then change it”.
Together with Pauline Oliveros and others, Ramón Sender was active at the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the early Sixties. With a collaborative approach, the group explored the potential of tape recorders, often in combination with prototypes of synthesizers.
Already as a child, Sender had discovered that he could hallucinate whatever music he wanted when listening to the kind of pink noise he got when tuning a radio between signals. Much of his compositional activity is based on experimenting with such a meditative state of mind.
For his piece Worldfood VII (To See Him With My Eyes), Sender took the phrase of a soprano singing a chamber Easter cantata that he had written at the conservatory. The words “To See Him With My Eyes” are played simultaneously via seven tape loops of slightly different lengths. Supplemented by a second layer, the piece encourages listeners to create their own melodies from what they hear, exploring the border area between meditation and trance.
Randall McClellan – Solarwindplay
created in live performance (1983, Aguirre Records)
Pauline Oliveros – Horse Sings From Cloud (Encore Section)
live performance in Paris produced for French radio (1977, Black Pollen Press)
Ramón Sender – Worldfood VII (To See Him With My Eyes)
realized at the San Francisco Tape Music Center (1965, Locust Music)
First public performance at the Super Sport #02 happening in the garden area of the abandoned ΧΡΩΠΕΙ factory, Piraeus, Athens, 11 November 2023. The Minirig sound system is hidden in the piled-up bark.
Featured cover art: Ramón Sender – Worldfood