Himalayan Muse by Dattaa
Project Notes/About the Music
The first two tracks, Endless Beginning and Infinite Peace, first appeared on the Infinite Peace album as intro/outro and background music. We received a lot of interest from folks listening to this album who liked the music and wondered if it was available commercially. Thus, Himalayan Muse is really due to their positive feedback and desire to hear more. I therefore have to thank all of these wonderful seekers of highest awareness for their encouragement, appreciation and support! They gave me the initial inspiration to start and, ultimately, the sustaining enthusiasm to complete this musical project. Here’s your album. I sincerely hope you like it!
Mayank / Malcolm Reid, a New Zealander living long-term in our spiritual community, had a big hand in helping to create what was to eventually become the Muse that you now hear. A professional drummer/percussionist and brilliant recording engineer/production wiz, he co-produced the entire project with me. Throughout, he was very helpful, with useful feedback and creative ideas for what to add to the various tracks once we had the basic mix.
Actually, truth be known, throughout the entire project Malcolm was a constant source of inspiration and patient help. He has a very relaxed, easy way about him and, yet, is equally able to manage very complex technical tasks. He intuitively knew when to offer just the right amount of observations and overview whenever the project needed to be nudged forward to what you hear today. He was invaluable and REALLY earned his co-producer wings on this one.
Our mutual mantra throughout all this was ‘less is more’. Whenever we were presented with the opportunity to make the mix thicker and more complex we’d both pause and then, in unison, repeat those magical words. After a chuckle or two, we’d return back to the simplicity and clarity of a pure, straightforward arrangement.
There’s a big piece of Mayank on this recording and its just as much his manifestation as mine. Good on ya Malcolm! And I sincerely hope that you, the listener, enjoy this blissful bane of our dedicated and inspired labours!
About the Music
Endless Beginning originally started out as three tracks of nylon string guitar that I had recorded on my 4-track cassette recorder a few years earlier. I had composed this first version with the melody and metre of the ancient vedic prayer, the Gaiyatri Mantra, in mind. Gaiyatri Mantra is sung at the start of any important work and is associated with the image of the elephant god Ganesh. Since I was beginning a new project I put my attention on Ganesh, resonated the Gaiyatri Mantra inside and started to compose and play Endless Beginning. I later added keyboard sounds and Mayank played tabla and percussion to arrive at what you hear on the album.
Infinite Peace, in its first form, featured me multi-tracking swarsangam, a custom-designed Indian instrument—a cleverly-created combo of tanpura and swarmandal. Brian Sheen of Quantum Healing Center was kind enough to let me use his swarsangam for this original recording. With Mayank as engineer I added multiple keyboard tracks and Peeyush / Peter Follett, a pro-level studio musician from Toronto living in our community for over 20 years, played the divine-sounding santoor. Santoor, which resembles a hammered zither in design and functionality, is played with felt mallets using a striking motion, similar to marimba. Since each note is sounded on three, unison-tuned strings, it creates a a wonderfully rich, high, harmonically-resonant sound. Peeyush has truly mastered this challenging and formidable instrument (it has over 50 strings to tune, play and maintain) to produce some stunningly beautiful and beguiling musical performances.
Infinite Peace was originally composed and recorded as background music for the guided mediations on the Transformation Meditation Infinite Peace album. Its structure is simple, ambient and improvised in a very sensitive and meditative way. Malcolm and I kept the added performances and final mix in line with this original goal. This is music for meditation, transcendent musing and, ultimately, just good ol’ relaxing and taking easy. Sit back, close your eyes and enjoy some quality time inside!
Perfect One is based on the ancient vedic prayer, Om Poornaamidaa Poornaamidam… The English translation and overall song melody were originally composed by, we think, a talented gal from New Zealand called Dell, who has since become a Buddhist nun and moved to a monastery in Nepal. It’s a beautiful and captivating melody and I’ve always enjoyed singing and resonating its profound meaning inside. In simple words and direct meaning this prayer encapsulates the entire Vedic philosophical tradition. Being is One and can never be divided or dissolved, no matter how much you try to slice and dice it with human mind and hand. Perfect One features me on guitars, keyboards and vocals.
Mangal is based on a song composed by my Guru’s teacher, Swami Ramaanand. His sweet chant talks about how all manifestation is just, in essence, bliss. And the essential form of that bliss is Guru. It is a very profound and beautiful piece of poetry. This composition, Mangal, manifested slowly, but purposefully, while meditating on this poem and its meaning over many months. It’s an unusual, very contemporary composition, given the ancient source of the original poetry. It’s all me on keyboards and vocals—kinda catchy!
On the Cusp was a simple idea that grew into what you hear today. It was inspired by the rhythmically-melodic musical gem titled ‘Pahadi’ that appears on one of the most beautiful classical Indian musical recordings ever made, the famous 1968 release, Call of the Valley. This reference music mimics the movement of a Kashmiri shikari (canoe) as it gracefully moves across Dal lake. I laid down the original tracks with 12-string guitar and Peeyush added superb santoor and bamboo flute (bansuri) to the mix. Mayank and I put together the drum track loop using a combo of keyboard and tabla sounds.
So Suite was the most challenging composition on the album. It features 9 individual movements, each with their own time signature and musical space, that needed to be transparently stitched together into what you hear on the final version. It took Malcolm and I three tries, but, third time lucky, I think we finally nailed it. What do you think?
It started out as a cute little ditty that manifested one day on my open-tuned, high-strung, 6-string guitar. I got inspired to experiment with open guitar tunings after reading a fascinating article and interview with Joni Mitchell (written by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers for Acoustic Guitar, August 1996). Joni has used over 50 different guitar tunings during her amazing career and she describes how, while exploring and creating a new tuning, she’d, congruently, discover new chord patterns and melodic movements.
By consciously pushing herself into an alien and unfamiliar situation she was forced to re-kindle her ability to explore and design new instrumental pathways and fresh compositional solutions. I was definitely intrigued by this musical modus operandi. So Suite was, by and large, built from the ground-up through continuously exploring this simple, but powerful, premise. Thanks Joni—from one canuck to another! You’ve created such a rich and significant legacy, and continuously inspired me upwards and forwards. I can only hope and pray that there’s still more to come—from both of us!
In the Himalayan valley where I live, in the early morning during mid-winter, it takes awhile for the outside temp to heat up, even after the sun has risen over the mountains. So, each morning, I’d sit directly in the steadily-warming sunlight streaming into my living room window, with my cup of hot chai and pick away at this strange and unique open-tuning that I had come up with—D A D F# D F#. Progressively, over the 2006/07 winter months, playing by that window, I came up with all the various sections that you hear in So Suite’s final format.
Whenever I’d host a dinner during that period I’d informally perform whatever part of So Suite I was working on. Folks were so appreciative and encouraging that I just kept musically stitching away and fitting all the various parts together. Malcolm and I recorded all these various parts and, during the first two goes at getting them all down, we talked and reflected about how all 9 sections could best hang together. Based on that, I went back to my sunny morning window, which was starting to get hot by now—it was spring 2007—and nipped, tucked and picked-away at my guitar and vocals and came up with the final, definitive third version. Back to the studio and Malcolm and I worked long hours over many weeks to re-record and stitch it all back together as v3.
I play the main steel-string acoustic guitar parts, tanpura and keyboards on So Suite. Mayank plays some great percussion tracks—tablas, ghatam (clay pots), water gong, etc.—and Peeyush sprinkled his magical dust on the mix with his great nylon and electric guitar leads at the beginning and in the climatic middle section. All in all I think it came out pretty good—don’t you?
Memo to Self was originally conceived as the 10th section to So Suite. It would slowly fade-in after the ringing end to section 9. But as I worked on it, I realized that it stood on its own as an individual statement and a unique composition. It does come right after So Suite in the order of songs on the album, so it still naturally flows musically as planned. But it sits as a separate song.
When I was working on Memo to Self, I always had a spine-chilling, spirit-channelling feeling when singing the vocals. I don’t know where that came from? I guess the Himalayan Muse just wanted it to sound like that—really! And, when I finally went in to the studio to record this one, Malcolm and I were, literally, able to put it all together in one sitting! Everything you hear on Memo to Self was done quickly and easily in a single, 2-hour session!
That’s a first for me and I think for Malcolm too. It all just fell together so perfectly and effortlessly. Quite a contrast from So Suite which took so much planning, re-jigging and fooling-with to get the tracks to line-up and sound just right. I do all the keyboards, guitars and vocals on Memo to Self. Enjoy!
Guru Mantra is the summit. There is nothing more powerful or pure or profound as Guru-ji, Swami Shyam, singing these omnipotent vibrations of liberating mantra!
When you repeat these sounds—Amaram Hum Madhuram Hum—and resonate their meaning inside, with closed eyes—I am Immortal, I am Blissful—you reach the apex of your Being—Eternal Self—Pure Free Forever!
Himalayan Muse is based entirely on and dedicated to this fundamental and universal sound and meaning—Guru Mantra—the basis of all knowledge and experience. Repeat, imbibe and radiate!