I had heard about “singing bowls,” and I had heard singing bowls sing, but I had never made a singing bowl sing.
Yes, I had set bowls vibrating with a strike of a wooden mallet. (I like the idea of releasing the sound as I pull the mallet away from the bowl rather than beating the sound out of the bowl. Perhaps this is just a particular mindset but, then again, what isn’t?)
I had not, however, made a bowl sing by running the mallet around the rim. Until recently…
The storekeeper gathered her inventory of singing bowls and laid them out on the counter in front of me.
With aplomb, she picked up a bowl, “released” its sound with a light strike of the mallet and then began to circle the mallet around the rim with a light but knowing touch. In a few moments, the sound began to transform, and soon we both enjoyed the multiphonic sounds that emerged: strong, rich, vibrant, and distinctly different from the tones released by the mallet’s initial touch.
With a bowl resting on my outstretched palm, I began to mimic what I had just observed.
Not much happened after the initial tonal release. No magical harmonic transformation, just a scratchy, raspy sound.
What I lacked at that point was the touch, the feel, the inexpressible tacit knowledge gained through experience and reflection.
Second attempt. Third attempt. Increased focus. Again. My surroundings began to fall away. I felt the bowl’s vibrations transmitted up my arm and throughout my body. Suddenly I was connected to the bowl in a new and different way: palm (left), bowl, mallet, hand (right), body, earth, all.
I try again, but I am no longer keeping track of my failed efforts, I am more keenly focused on my incremental improvements and the still-tentative but nevertheless instantaneous and deepening feedback system that I am discovering in union with the bowl.
We have begun working together, the bowl and I.
And then we sang.
A diaphanous column of multiphonic sounds, a nearly palpable tonal equivalent of a lightsaber extending without end, rose from the joined body/bowl instrument as energetic vibrations filled and then seemed to emanate from my body.
Soon, my conscious mind began to analyze everything I have just tried to describe to you in rather poetic terms, and the tones stopped.
Practice. Focus on the moment. Drop off thought.
“You picked that up quickly,” observed the proprietor, who had given me space, time, and encouragement to experiment, discover, learn.
I’m not sure what I picked up beyond this: I cannot make a bowl sing, but the two of us can sing together.