An Interview with the"London Sunday Times" 10 AUGUST 1997

In anticipation of our interview, Don Conreaux, a master gong therapist, was enjoying a relaxing gong bath-sitting in a deep trance as a devotee stroked the ancient instrument ever so softly with a sheepskin-covered mallet. When he had come round and realized I was standing there, this Willie Nelson look alike marched over to shake my hand, and asked forthrightly: "Would you like to be gonged?"

Feeling like an extra in some scene from The Gong Show, I nodded. This was, after all, the recent Mind, Body & Spirit Festival in London, where the outer reaches of the alternative movement gather to swap notes, (so just about anything goes.)

The singer Donovan had been gonged earlier in the day and left feeling decidedly Mellow Yellow, so I didn't see how a session would harm me. After five minutes of Conreaux playing, I was hooked. Not only did I feel deeply relaxed, but my hands felt on fire, red hot and full of energy.

I was one of 160 festival participants who lay down for a 45-minute deep gong bath. Nobody knew aging hippie circles, something else. It is not a bath in the watery sense of the word: you wallow, instead, in the waves of sound that wash over you. Lying flat on the floor, fully clothed, all you have to do is ''receive'' the deep vibrations of the gongs.

Once Conreaux started, these vibrations blocked out all other niggling sounds and thoughts. Different tones are supposed to induce different emotions, as well as physical responses, and for my gong bath, Conreaux was playing tones that promised to aid communication, which would, he felt, be useful for the interview to come.

At one point, it actually felt as though my body were being lifted off the ground by the sheer force of these great waves of sound, and afterwards I felt I could run a mile.

Weird, or what? Well, no, not really. Music therapy is now so well recognized, it has moved into mainstream practice. Gillian Stevens, of the Association of Music Therapists, says: "There is no question that vibrations and sounds affect us physically and emotionally. Sometimes, clients benefit from just holding a musical instrument."

Gong therapy works in the same way but is different because it is a completely spontaneous form of music. There are no scores to follow-gong masters say they play what they feel is needed-and both Tibetan monks and the Chinese have been using gongs to aid meditation for centuries.

Certainly, Conreaux claims he has helped deaf children with gong therapy. They don't need to hear the music because they can feel the resonance, and he maintains that some forms of hearing loss can actually be improved by the gong because its vibrations massage the thousands of tiny hair cells that fill the inner ear. These normally respond to sound vibrations, but in some forms of deafness, caused by exposure to loud noise, for example, they have been damaged. Conreaux believes that gently massaging them with the deep vibrations of the gong can help them heal.

Back home in New York City, Conreaux has also worked with a charity, Children at Risk, playing the gong for street kids and those with violent tendencies. There, too, he says, he has seen a definite shift away from aggressive and antisocial behavior.

Conreaux a 65-year-old former actor.... has witnessed some remarkable cures.....

The underlying philosophy is that because the gong covers the full spectrum of sound, it vibrates all the body's cells, bones and organs ......"We call the tone produced by the gong a 'feeling tone' because you feel it in your body, as well as hearing it. This musical touch turns the body into one big ear and creates a sense of well-being."

This gentle guru, with his long gray hair and beard, first discovered the gong when, as a small-time Hollywood actor in 1969. Conreaux bought his first gong in 1970, and gave up acting to follow the path. The power of the gong, he believes, lies in the fact that it can upstage a heavy metal rock band yet, the same instrument can lull people into a deep, restorative sleep. Conreaux views the gong as an instrument of peace and, inspired by the bronze-age tradition of melting down weapons of war and recasting them into bells and gongs, he is planning a global network of Peace Bell Gardens that he would like in place by the millennium. The plan has already been approved by 90 cities around the world (so far excluding the UK) and will see dismantled missiles fashioned into gongs and bells and placed in gardens. Conreaux believes that if enough gongs are rung at various times throughout the world, their healing tones will bring us back in tune with nature. All he needs now is sponsorship. He drops a heavy hint: "What we need now is for some of the multinational industries we accuse of ripping off the planet to square their consciences by sponsoring this project."

Perhaps Conreaux should offer all those fat-cat chief execs a deep gong bath first-it certainly left a packed room full of stressed out people on a sweltering London day feeling blissed out.