HARMONIC CHANT (HARMONIC SINGING)
"David Hykes has opened a new dimension in music; he has in fact, brought us the music of the spheres. As music, these sounds retain an extraordinary mystery. It is a wondrous sound, which would, as I always say, be appropriate to landing on the moon or Mars; it d must make every listener feel humble and yet part of the great system. David Hykes is spreading a form of knowledge which joins the sciences at their most intangible level, where what appears as matter turns out to be only energy. This music which David Hykes brings us, the harmonic series, as he says, being the musical DNA, the source of the music we know, which gives us life, also provides an extraordinary "Genesis Chapter" for music." --the late Lord Yehudi Menuhin
“David Hykes's music is haunting and transporting. It takes you somewhere completely otherworldly. It transports you to the Ancient Time. From the moment I heard it, there was no doubt." Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche
Music of the Spheres of Listening
and the Quest for Re-attunement
Notes on the Harmonic Presence work, 1975-2008
"All problems of life are essentially questions of Harmony."
A new listening… This 25th anniversary special edition of “HEARING SOLAR WINDS,” arises from the wish to celebrate the historic original recording released by Ocora Radio France in 1983, cast in the light of new listening-- and much finer audio tools. Close attention to the spectra of the original work in high-resolution digital audio (96kh) sharpened the focus on the music and allowed me very subtle ways to bring out key harmonic forms in the composition.
This release is also dedicated to another kind of celebration, not so easily located in time and space, that of a new level of listening awareness more and more alive in so many of us. This new listening awareness is more in tune with silence, with space, with real harmony, with openness and compassion. We aspire not only to be in accord with the music of the spheres, but with the spheres of listening.
The evolution of Harmonic Chant, the contemplative musical system I’ve developed since 1975, is paralleled by the evolution of the broader body of work, practices and teachings called “the Harmonic Presence work,” which blends art, science, meditation, and healing. This work can profoundly help our understanding of intrinsic relationships between Mind, Music, Meditation and the Medicine of deep harmonization.
We don't need to create harmony, but rather to hear it at work, to recognize it, and to attune to it. Such attuned listening comes naturally to life when we are in touch with our own silence and quietness.
The harmonics of sound are related to even deeper and higher harmonics—those of listening, of awareness and consciousness, of nature and the universe. The full-spectrum scale is that of all harmonics of Being.
All appears from… what? From where? What is the source of the very first vibration? Where does sound come from? And our consciousness ? How to hear from where it arises? And the source of listening? Perhaps song is also listening, and listening, a song of its own? Perhaps the song of the universe and our listening to it are part of the same music...
Cosmology, the vision of the universe as an ordered whole, looks back to an original moment of Creation, the famous Big Bang, or Big Ring. At the moment of the Big Ring, that first Note, unknown forces brought this universe into being.
Physicist David Bohm discussed in The Implicate Order how within a pre-Creation chaotic sea of vibrations arose a movement toward order, a coming-into-phase; from the cresting wave of that focused energy comes all this. So perhaps there is not only a music of the spheres but that music —the harmonic movement of energy— actually makes the spheres....including our own, this blessed but troubled one.
Astrophysics since 1968 makes finer and finer measurements of the "echo" of the Big Ring, the still-present cosmic microwave background radiation. In the first (1983) edition of this album, I spoke about the harmonics of the Big Ring, which scientists began detecting in 2002. The Big Ring IS this Creation. So, how to attune to that Beginning which is still here, the way the Pole Star guides voyage? Perhaps more conscious listening to the universe may be an awareness catalyst in its evolution.
The Harmonic Presence work concerns finding and listening to essential harmony. The quieter we are, the closer we get.
Finer listening can arise either from the shock of realizing how deaf I often am to Reality (how I didn't see), or from the fortuitous reception of some signal or message which so moves me that listening comes alive. Listening silently and deeply is a powerful contemplative practice. Not sound nor silence as object; but rather, with listening, to sound out the “first person” nature of the subject, of consciousness. To BE the listening, we need to find a quiet inner state where attention abides-- awareness, our ultimate home. Beyond the noise inside and out, pure listening is a receptivity of the whole person. The body is listening, a form of resonant consciousness.
Advaita Vedanta teaches that this apparent Creation is the spontaneous, irresistible leap of love of the Absolute, from non-being to being. This universe is the very wish to be. Yet a precious, boundless core of awareness remains totally free and is never taken by any of the sounds, vibrations or movements of life. We should train to center our listening There.
This recording was made in the Thoronet Abbey, a 12th-century Cistercian monastery in Provence, where I first brought Harmonic Chant in 1978. Its resonant space and luminous silence were our perfect guides in this intensive journey.
For more information about the Harmonic Presence work, our retreats in France and other countries, our international activities, concerts and online programs, please feel contact us at email@example.com, by mail at Harmonic Presence Foundation, Pommereau, Autainville, 41240 France, by phone at +1 203 843 3524 or +33 952 56 74 69, or visit us on the web at www.harmonicpresence.org.
October 16, 2008
©David Hykes 2008 All rights reserved.
Notes on HEARING SOLAR WINDS
by John Schaefer
An oft-quoted tale from The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan tells of a young school boy given his first lesson: drawing a straight line, the number One. But while the rest of his class quickly mastered the figure and moved on, this little boy kept on drawing it. After a few days, the teacher inquired about his progress, but the boy replied that he was still learning One. After a week, the teacher inquired again, and the boy simply said that he had not finished the lesson yet. Quite understandably, the teacher decided the boy was an idiot and sent him home. There, the boy drove his parents to distraction by continuing to draw the figure One. Eventually, they too got tired of the boy, and he left home to live in the wilderness – all the while working on his first sign. After a long time he returned to his old school. And when he saw the teacher he said to him, "I think I have learned it. See if I have. Shall I write on this wall?" And when he made his sign the wall split in two.
All music starts with One. The world’s many and varied traditions, no matter how complex they may get rhythmically, are based on the performer’s or ensemble’s ability to hit the One – that strong first downbeat that gives the rhythm its impetus and its form. And all of the world’s scales, even the most exotic, revolve around a home note, the tonic – the One of that scale. Physicists and acousticians have known for many years that this note, whatever it is, actually consists of many separate tones, all vibrating together to form the one note that the human ear is accustomed to hearing. But in music, especially in the Western music tradition, this acoustic reality didn’t figure into the way people made and listened to music. Middle C was middle C, and the fact that there was a G and a high C and a somewhat "bluesy" B-flat all lurking within it was at best a mildly interesting bit of trivia. We prized "purity" of tone; we’d built walls around our notes to keep them distinct. Into this world, twenty-five years ago, came David Hykes’s first major composition, Hearing Solar Winds. And the walls split in two.
Hearing Solar Winds was a revelation to those who heard it – dozens at first, then hundreds, then thousands. It brought Hykes and his Harmonic Choir to the attention of curious and thoughtful listeners around the world. Here was music that took nothing for granted, that questioned the most basic notions around which we built our experiences of music. What is the One? It’s not a One, after all, but a whole universe of vibrations, all ringing together to produce a fundamental tone. If Hykes sang a middle C, he might also produce an entire melody above it, pulled from the overtone series of that middle C, at the same time…. Hykes didn’t invent overtones; what he did was to ask us to listen in entirely new ways.
Hearing Solar Winds raised deep, new questions. If the One, the fundamental note, was really a collection of different vibrations, what was to stop us from viewing that note as simply an overtone of an even lower note? Every so-called fundamental could be seen as an overtone of an ever-lower series of vibrations, until you reached a place where the vibrations were so slow that the "notes" would be heard as rhythms instead.
This elemental relationship between "harmony" and "rhythm," viewed for so long as separate musical entities, would become a mother-lode of inspiration for Hykes in the following decades.
When David Hykes began the work that lead him to develop Harmonic Chant, using his voice to “refract” one note so that two or more of its component harmonics could be heard, he was continuing a trail blazed in places like Mongolia and Tibet, but rarely heard in the West. Hykes was really the first Western composer to realize the full implications of splitting the One into many: chief among them was the fact that these distinct overtones were by definition in harmony with each other. They lined up in a series of simple, elegant, whole number ratios. And the singer whose body produced these vibrations was entering a place where harmony wasn’t a sentimental idea peddled by soft-drink commercials but a real, physical force.
Despite the comforting implications of the name "Harmonic Choir,” and the suggestion of sun and light in the album’s title, this is not mild and relaxing music. Not only. Hearing Solar Winds is also a dark-hued work, hinting at profound depths and perhaps even at danger, at a kind of sonic vertigo. Through this work, Hykes and his group were facing challenging inner questions: What does it mean, really, to be "in harmony"? What is the role of the listener in the act of making music? What are the responsibilities of the listener and the musician, and what, ultimately, does the act of creating music mean? None of these are "dangerous" in the usual sense of the word, but they are provocative questions nonetheless, going against the grain of a long-established Western tradition of making, presenting, and marketing music.
In live performance, the physical impact of the Harmonic Choir is astonishing. When the "New Sounds Live" concert series (now one of America’s longest-running contemporary music series) began in New York, back in September of 1986, it seemed appropriate to feature the Harmonic Choir and their live performance of Hearing Solar Winds. I was trying to make an immediate statement about this not being a conventional concert series and so forth, and it was still, four years after its release, hard to imagine a more unconventional work. The sound of the Harmonic Choir completely filled the hall. Each voice’s set of vibrations resonated with the others’ – a grand sonic feedback loop where it was impossible to determine who was singing what. The sound seemed to take on a life of its own in midair, apart from the relatively few notes actually being sung by the singers below. It didn’t pierce the way the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus did, nor rumble up from the earth as the Gyuto Monks of Tibet do – nor was it a New Age-style sonic bubble bath. It felt like waves – or like winds – and while it was insistent, it was also beautiful.
There have been many live performances of Hearing Solar Winds in the David Hykes & The Harmonic Choir concerts over the years. They confirm that here is a thought-provoking, universal, yet somehow distinctly personal addition to the music world. Over the past thirty years, Hykes has continued to expand his musical explorations. The role of text; the interrelation of melodic and rhythmic vibrations; and the shared vocal and textual traditions of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) as well as of Buddhism— have all have figured prominently in his subsequent compositions. For me, Hykes’s music has an intense spirituality that has little to do with any specific religious tradition, although several of them are sources of inspiration. At a time of great distress – when the "New Sounds" radio series returned to the airwaves after the destruction of the nearby World Trade Center – Hykes’s music felt appropriate and… necessary, somehow. It is music that suggests that our similarities are much more fundamental than our differences. And it is a prayer for a harmony that continues to elude us.
John Schaefer, radio producer, author, and lecturer, is the founder and host of WNYC Radio’s "New Sounds" in New York; his writings include the book New Sounds: A Listener’s Guide to New Music.
A Musical Revolution
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
The giants to whom Isaac Newton was referring included Galileo, Copernicus and Kepler, the revolutionaries who advanced the heretical notion that the Earth is not the center of the cosmos. They showed us that our world is but one of several, who orbit the Sun in a manner dictated by a few profoundly fundamental laws of nature, exquisitely beautiful in their simplicity.
Insight, the ability to see beyond what has been accepted as "truth,” is the stuff of which discoveries are made. Only when one pauses to question the way things are, to challenge doctrine, to question whether heavy objects really do fall faster than light ones, can one bring to light something extraordinary. The most profound discoveries - whether geographical, scientific, or artistic - do not happen by accident. Discovery comes to pass when faith in an idea is marinated in blood, sweat and tears and subjected to relentless directed exploration.
Newton explained how he "discovered" calculus and the law of gravitation: "I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait until the dawning opens gradually, little by little, into a full and clear light." It was a glorious time, as rational, analytical thought revealed Nature's long-guarded secrets as to why the heavenly bodies move as they do. Ironically, it was during Newton's lifetime that the concept of equal temperament came into common usage in music. Equal temperament was such a useful and practical concept— in its day; indeed, it became the foundation upon which composers such as Mozart and Beethoven built their splendid works. But the success of equal temperament displaced the essential importance of harmonics as the actual "stuff" of which all musical sound —all music— is made. As a result, for three hundred years, most all of western music has been based on equal temperament, and harmonics have become those annoying things that make a piano impossible to tune. The Sun and stars once again revolved around the Earth. It was time for someone to question the way things are; it was time for a discovery.
Hearing Solar Winds is that discovery, made by David Hykes and The Harmonic Choir. The harmonic series is not new, the ability to "sing two tones at once" is not new. But the idea of harmonics as the music itself, rather than an annoying fact of life in the 12-tone scale, was revolutionary.
—Dr. Monika Kress, Physics Department, San José State University
Twenty-five years have passed since the hot, hazy summer night in Provence when David Hykes and The Harmonic Choir sat together in the Thoronet Abbey and created their remarkable recording of Hearing Solar Winds.
Twenty-five years is an eternity in the world of music. An entire generation comes of age in that time, bringing with it new currents of musical taste and style. Rare is the work that speaks to successive generations with an abiding freshness and feeling of revelation that endures after repeated listening. "Hearing Solar Winds" is such a work.
Two-and-a-half decades after its first release, it still offers an astonishing window into a different world of perception. It deserves to be regarded as a key work of the late twentieth century, both for the originality of its vision, and for the abiding influence that its revelatory approach to working with sound has had on diverse communities of musicians and artists, not to mention a broader circle of scientists and seekers, healers and musicians.
David Hykes was himself influenced by many kinds of music, notably the overtone-singing traditions of Mongolia, Tibet and Tuva, which were far less known in the 1970s and early 1980s than they are today. Yet Hearing Solar Winds represents not a simulacrum of Tuvan or Mongolian overtone singing, but the product of a global sensibility inspired by music's most powerful universal: the harmonic series.
Just as Tuvan and Mongolian overtone singing are rooted in the natural environment of mountains and grasslands that the south Siberian herders hold sacred, the Harmonic Chant of Hearing Solar Winds evolved in the environment of sacred indoor spaces, including New York City's neo-gothic St. John the Divine Cathedral, where the Harmonic Choir was in residence from 1979 until 1989, and the Thoronet Abbey. The Choir's music is perfectly suited to these spaces, which bring to life both the literal and metaphorical harmony created by well-tuned overtones. May the new release of this recording help David Hykes and The Harmonic Choir’s enduring sounds continue to ring and soar in spaces both inner and outer here on Earth, and one day, beyond.
Dr. Theodore Levin, PhD
Dartmouth College, USA