A friend of mine recently passed along my Singing Bowl Music II to a friend of his, Charlotte, who is a yoga teacher. A few weeks later, Charlotte got in touch with me via email to say how much she and her students had been enjoying their practice with my music as background sound that “creates a contemplative, calm atmosphere.” The students were curious to know how I created the recording. They assumed that I had used a number of different bowls, each one of a different pitch, and even wondered if I had a YouTube video showing me making the music? For a second, I considered telling Charlotte that, yep, I had performed every tone myself by playing a vast collection of custom-tuned instruments ranging from four inches across to four feet around. It would have made for an impressive performance story, but the truth is that’s not how I made the music.
I explained to Charlotte how I recorded two tones from a single Nepalese singing bowl: the first, a long tone using a wooden dowel pulled around the bowl’s edge, and the second, a struck tone using a rubber mallet on the bowl’s side. These sounds I then put into Ableton Live software. From here I fashioned several Sampler instruments I could play using my keyboard (my controller of choice because my fingers know its terrain well), one for the long tone (Singing Bowl Music), one for the struck tone (Singing Bowl Music II), and two others to make the soft background “pad” chord sounds. In other words, all of the sounds were derived from one singing bowl. Then I explained how the pieces were built upon two improvisations: first, a chord sequence, and then a melody to go along with it. Other parts were derived from these initial performances. I also mentioned that the improvisations weren’t edited: I kept what I played or else ditched it and started anew.
After I wrote back to Charlotte I worried that I had taken the mystery out of the music. Does talking about music ever really help its case? Does music depend on our explanations of it? I was also revealing that though they were derived from performances, these singing bowl recordings are constructed and computerized things, sampled sound arrangements once removed from their acoustic source—even if they aren’t heard like that. But Charlotte’s question got me thinking and that’s why I decided to share the story of how I made the music. Explaining my process to an already engaged listener didn’t lessen the credibility of the sounds, and besides, the truth is that I could not have made these recordings any other way.