Sacred Vibrations (Music Review)
By Kelley Guiney
William Gilchrist has a pure mission behind his musical creations-to transform consciousness, heighten awareness and create healing on every level. (That's all. Nothing fancy.) His first two releases are impressive as a means of fulfilling this mission, and his future offerings promise to be diverse and high quality.
Gilchrist, a native of Philadelphia and now based in Seattle, has been drumming since he developed the basic motor skills to do so, (at one and a half, he says) and has studied the eastern musical traditions for the past fifteen years, with masters Allah Rakha and his son Zakir Hussein as his teachers.
"Music is the Nexus of the World," Gilchrist's first release, was a one-man project released in 1999 and is a diverse set of tracks, all of which feature the complex raga rhythms that are so dear to Gilchrist, layered over increasingly complex melodies. The sound on this release ranges from soothing and contemplative to joyful and upbeat. Some tracks are instrumental and some include earnest vocals that deliver consciousness-raising lyrics which at their best read like a sacred text.
"Nexus" delivers on Gilchrist's vision to offer music that shifts consciousness and creates healing. As fateful timing would have it, I was having a tough week as I listened to his music, preparing to write this article, so I had the chance to experiment with it first-hand, in a state of mind that seemed to defy any attempts at transformation. I felt myself respond to the power of this music to raise my vibration-the complexity of the rhythms and melodies intertwined easily took over my struggling consciousness to ease excessive worry and anxiety-while the lyrics were as soothing, encouraging and full of truth as a conversation with a loving, wise friend.
The second release, "Sonic Elements," also from 1999, was done with Gilchrist's brother Chris Hough and friend Wayne Newitt, who call themselves Brotherhood Salvage. "Sonic Elements" is pure meditation music that uses Tabla, hammered dulcimer, doumbek, guitars synthesizers and fifteen keyboards to orchestrate a reverent and calming atmosphere which pays tribute to the spirit of the natural world. In particular, rain, the ocean, wind and the sun are honored and invoked as the listener is invited to relax into stillness.
Gilchrist's current projects include working with his band "Spiral Axis," an innovative group that includes five drummers, flamenco guitar, flute, violin, and interpretive dance for a full performance experience. The project started out as an impromptu collection of artists for a performance at Folklife which came together magically and received a standing ovation. The band decided that a good thing should keep going, and plan to be performing around the Seattle area soon. In addition, Gilchrist teaches drumming and Tabla through the University of Washington.
I recently had the chance to talk with Gilchrist about his music, philosophy, studies, vision and his passion for sound healing that is at the heart of his many musical endeavors.
K: Is the music improvisational?
W: Yes and no. The music I play is based on the raga system from India.
K: Can you explain what raga rhythms are all about?
W: It's a northeastern Indian style of music that goes into different modes, and the belief is that the modes build upon themselves to create a holistic pyramid-like structure where the bottom of the raga is the foundation and the conclusion or the climax is at the top. And that the music builds upon itself in such a way where there's a foundation there and it [will] take you on a journey. And they say that when one truly understands what the law of raga is about one begins to understand the way life is actually created.
The idea with the Tabla is that there are two drums, one for each hand. By using the hands symmetrically, balance can occur in the left and right sides of the brain, giving the drummer more creative freedom to guide their own life and healing process.
The very first rhythm that Tablists are taught is a 16-beat rhythm that corresponds to the base of a pyramid, a foundation. The rhythm is actually called the rhythm of determination. And you've got to be determined to manifest music or anything that you have in your life. So the irony of it is that it's symbolic and literal at the same time. These rhythms have certain feelings and emotions, and when you're learning them you're told this is the emotion of this rhythm and when you dip yourself into this you're mastering that emotion by playing that particular rhythm.
A teacher of mine said that the rhythms from India date so far back they don't even know how old they are. These Eastern rhythms have certain codes to them that I guess you could say unlock certain places in the brain. It's the other 9/10s that we don't necessarily use consciously. What I'm learning is that the rhythms of India have a healing property to them because built within them are a way of balancing the mind and emotions. You use both hands to play them, and if you do mathematical formulas these rhythms force you to flow like a figure eight as you're playing.
Drums are the most primal instrument that alters consciousness. I believe that anyone who really wants to experience a new part of their spirituality-in the microcosm-can utilize rhythms to repattern their brains to basically negate the patterns in their lives that cause unsuccessful results, and then by using the rhythms with certain affirmations-by consciously putting in your mind and your emotions the affirmation that this rhythm is creating new neurological pathways and I am going to do such and such, whatever it needs to be for that individual-with these rhythms, it's like retraining.
William can be contacted at TransmutingRecords.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-781-4253 for Tabla lessons or to purchase his CDs. His Cds can also be purchased at Stonehouse Bookstore in Kirkland.