A Sonambient Meditation

“A person does not hear sound only through the ears; he hears sound through every pore of the body. It permeates the entire being, and according to its influence, either slows or quickens the rhythm of the blood circulation; it either awakens or soothes the nervous system.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan

This past weekend I was lucky enough to catch the Harry Bertoia exhibit at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas.  I was particularly interested in seeing Bertoia’s Sonambient sculptures because Bertoia was a pioneer in experimental sound art.  What surprised me was that these sculptures provided a remarkable opportunity for meditation as well.

Many of the sculptures are built using multiple metal rods that sway and strike together, and some make ringing sounds while others make clashing sounds.  Bertoia used materials ranging from brass, bronze, beryllium copper, aluminum, and gold plating. He created thousands of sound sculptures ranging in height, with varying thicknesses of wires, and with some styles featuring cattail tops.  Gongs and singing bars were also designed for his Sonambient orchestra.

At intervals throughout the afternoon, museum employees performed a short composition as seen in this video.  The sculptures were beautiful to watch as they swayed, chimed, and clanked.  During the live performances, the sound reverberated against the museum’s walls and throughout our bodies.

As more and more sculptures began to sound the experience became an all-encompassing meditative experience. Much like mindfulness, the sculptures invited me to step into the present moment, my everyday concerns dropping away as I focused on the installation and let the sound penetrate every pore.

A little after three minutes the performer struck the suspended singing bars with a mallet and then stood aside as the sculptures continued to vibrate mystically.  A slow decrescendo followed as the sound peacefully rippled away.  I noticed that the chattering, distracting thoughts that usually run through my mind had also receded.


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