There are instruments and there are instruments. Among the latter is the gong, that instrument which can produce all the sounds within our hearing range. The oldest known gongs are over 5000 years old and come from Asia Minor. In the East, this instrument has been used in many different religious contexts, for example, in yoga meditation. The West, however, is only acquainted with it through its thunderous, yet seldom heard sounds in symphony orchestras. I only know of one westerner who has dedicated his life to this astounding instrument. He is the American music-maker and sound therapist Don Conreaux, a man who can even make the gong dance.
I have been aware of Don Conreaux' gong art for quite some time thanks to having once "accidentally" browsed through his home page. I noted his name and, lo and behold, I finally met the gong man live and in person while attending the Spirit, Mind and Body festival in London. He appeared on the festival stage with a large gong and asked several people in the audience to come onto the stage for some sound therapy.
The session began with some slow, majestic strikes of the gong which then sped up, going into variations as Conreaux demonstrated different techniques of playing the instrument. The gong came alive in the hands of the master. By closing one's eyes one could easily imagine that the gong is imitating a great process of creation in which hydrogen unites with helium, the stars and the planets are born and galaxies begin their spiral dance. The resonances were suddenly vibrating through the air in the festival's Royal Horticultural House.
Towards the end of the session, Conreaux removed the gong from its supports, shook it around his head by holding on to the rope encircling it and went around the stage like a twenty-first century shaman. The gong's circling motion around the gong master produced magnificent musical-acoustical phenomena which I myself had never before experienced. The event was electrifying and therapeutic not only for those who climbed up onto the stage for "treatment".
The sixty-five year old Conreaux is an imposing human being, an unusual combination of gentleness and power. His first contacts with the gong occurred during the flower children era of the sixties in Los Angeles. There he encountered a gong master from Big Sur in California and somewhat later, a yoga teacher who used gongs and bells in meditations.
Conreaux had originally wanted to be an actor, singer and yogin, yet finally found his life mission through the gong. He was deeply influenced by his encounter with astrologer-philosopher-composer Dane Rudhyar in the early seventies. Thanks to him, Conreaux was able to assimilate the principles of syntonic music according to which musical compositions are used as springboards of power. For example, in his publication of the forties entitled "Art as a Release of Power", Rudhyar wrote about the gong, gong music and the fact that his theories on syntonic music were actually based on the gong. The tonality of this instrument unites different elements into a resonating whole.
Rudhyar was one of the twentieth century's great humanistic astrologers and was interested in the galactic dimensions of spiritual astronomy. He also tried to bring about a synthesis between astrology and music. Conreaux has also continued the work of Rudhyar in this sense on account of his development of a great archetypal chart which he calls the Chiometer. This chart represents a giant synthesis between different esoteric systems.
The Chiometer brings together planetary frequencies, the "biological clock" and meridians of Chinese medicine, astrological energies, chakras, tarot cards, the tree of life of the Kabbalah as well as colours and tonalities, amongst others. It represents a great field of correspondences which can help us considerably in organizing our vision of reality. It also opens up fresh new horizons for astrology itself. With the aid of the Chiometer one can examine one's own astrological chart from a fresh viewpoint.
In his Chiometer, Don Conreaux has made use of researcher-musician Hans Cousto's calculations of the frequencies of planetary orbits which he then proceeded to raise by twenty octaves. These mathematically arrived at frequencies informed the construction of tuning keys after which the gong manufacturer Paiste produced custom-made gongs on the basis of the tuning keys. Conreaux calls these planetary gongs and they represent the musical correlates of the heavenly bodies of our solar system.
Don Conreaux communicates his gong philosophy through lectures, workshops and performances. He has, together with his partner Randee Ragin, established the Mysterious Tremendum Consort group whose music has been called "spiritual free-jazz". In addition to gongs, the music incorporates archaic instruments and those of aboriginal peoples, all of which aims to free the listener's and player's creative awareness. The group's name refers to the great Russian composer-mystic Alexander Skriabin who has been a source of inspiration to both Rudhyar and Conreaux.
According to Conreaux, the "sonic baths" produced by gong music "help people to move from the three-dimensional world of form to the fourth and fifth dimensions which lie beyond time and form. Healing music is born out of ecstasy, bliss and timelessness, all of which gives rise to a DYNAMIC peace. This is close to what I understand as the music of the spheres."
We are on the verge of a new millennium. I ask Don Conreaux how he sees the music of the coming millennium.
"Twenty-first century music will be evocative, mindful music. The idea is that musicians can get together to play without prior reflection and planning. This of course does not mean doing away with songs and compositions, yet the new music will bring with it the new dimension of channeling music without the presence of ego. Dane Rudhyar already believed that the music of the future would be a spontaneous channeling of the Great Spirit. Central to this endeavour is the fact that the artist frees him/herself from the chains of the ego."
Don Conreaux is currently completing a book in which he connects runic writing and the I Ching with the other elements of the Chiometer. I joyfully look forward to its publication.
Finnish magazine, "Mina Olen" translation by Kai Oka
MYSTERIOUS TREMENDUM CONSORT
P O Box 318 Village Station
New York,New York
Email: Don Conreaux
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