Meditating with Xopher

This week the Universe said to me, “Jude, you need to get your ears out of Ableton and out into the world.” So the User Profile Service service failed at log in and my computer is in the shop. Alright, then, no playing with “In C” for a while. On to other things I want to spend time with. I am so immersed in my own sculpting of this piece that I am in danger of losing perspective by getting too close in.

So, after dropping the computer off at Intrex, rehearsing with Jody Cassell for our ADF School Target Grant Program, and shampooing the carpets, I headed over to Durham Central Park to meditate with Xopher. Christopher “Xopher” Thurston has been a great inspiration to me both musically and spiritually since we met playing with the Triangle Soundpainting Orchestra. Xopher has shown me the basics of sound reinforcement, counseled me about playing live and was, thankfully, my sound man when I first played original tunes through a sound system at The Pinhook a few years ago. In addition to being a sound engineer, Xopher is an in demand bass man and a Buddhist teacher in the Dharma Punx tradition. He has been gathering a group of us together in the leaf shelter at Durham Central Park for meditation since summer 2013.

Tonight four of us sat under the starry sky with Jupiter and the moon shining brightly above. Xopher lead us through a body scan and then we settled in and opened up to the huge space we inhabit both within and without. I enjoy meditating outside because the environment is so distracting-just like life. It is such a great practice to observe the movement of awareness from breath to perception to story to waking and back to breath. Xopher rings a bell and gives appreciation for our time and attention. We stretch and move on into our respective evenings.

Xopher tells me he cued up “In C” following a local punk show and the rapid eighth note pulse that begins the recording turned a lot of heads in the bar. We talked about how “In C” moves and breathes like an organism. I would love to do an attunement at Motorco one Sunday afternoon. X thinks that would be possible. We talk about how he goes about tuning speakers in the venues where he works and how he has met some sound engineers who can listen to speakers and tell you which frequency to adjust on a parametric equalizer, just by ear.

Then Xopher told me how he came to play bass and that he played in symphonic orchestras in college. He attended a Land Grant school in Georgia, which meant the arts departments did a lot of community outreach. One night, the orchestra had a gig in Rome, GA, pop. approximately 30,000. The orchestra would play in the local armory, which -as it turned out -had been skillfully treated acoustically. As the orchestra played, they could hear perfect sevenths and ninths popping up in the room. These harmonics were not part of anyone’s score, they were being elicited in the room itself by the composition and voices. Xopher said he knew this was possible, but this was his only experience with this phenomenon.

This story reminded me of an experience I had last year that has been shaping my ideas about my sound practice. We were in Griffith Theatre at Duke where Alexander McCall Smith was accepting the Duke LEAF award. The theatre was packed and abuzz with people chatting excitedly. A man was on stage playing the kora (a 21 string harp-lute from West Africa) to honor McCall Smith and the light he has shone on Africa. Our seats were about 3/4 of the way up sort of in the middle. I sat and listened to the wash of human voices with the kora tones floating over them. The sounds merged together in my ear body and I started humming low and slow to myself. I reached a pitch that resonated more powerfully than the other pitches I had hummed to this point. Then moving beyond that pitch, the resonance dropped. So I went back to the resonant pitch and hummed it over and over to myself. It vibrated deep into my chest and I wondered what could happen if I had amplification. This tone seemed to be the resonant frequency of this room, these people talking, and the tones of the kora all meeting together.

Since I had this experience, I have played two soundscapes in rooms full of talking people. The first performance suffered from unusual room acoustics and poor speaker placement. The second one was more successful with improved speaker placement, a rectangular room and the addition of Steve Cowle’s sax and flute. I heard myself, and I heard from others who were present, that harmonics were singing in the room. Some heard chanting, some heard sweeping high tones. Now I am interested in orchestrating this type of aural experience with greater intention.

My plan is to couple room analysis with frequency spectrums to heighten the resonance amongst “In C”, the musicians, the listeners and the room being played.

This should be fun and a challenge!

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