- A tantric jam session that touches on everything from prog rock to sonic healing to ambient music.
- Reiki master and sound healer Arji OceAnanda, a frequent associate of New Age music titan Laraaji since 2008, lives by the motto "sound plus intention equals healing." This idea is reflected in the therapeutic vibes of Circle Of Celebration, the final album from the NOUS project (a multi-day experimental ensemble formed by Christopher Bono). Arji and Laraaji were late additions to the affair, only receiving invitations after meeting with Bono at a yoga retreat. This off-chance encounter proved to be crucial, as the duo's sound healing and laughter immersion techniques became the focus of the final day of recording. It was through their calming demeanor, and dedication to uplifting others, that the group produced a truly transcendent experience through sound.
NOUS is a series of four albums compiled from five days of improvisation at Dreamland Studios in upstate New York, near Woodstock. The project itself was a sort of personal reset, as Bono had spent the previous few years producing classical music, occupying most of his time in the studio as a composer and editor. "I wanted to physically play instruments with other people again, live and vividly in the moment," he said.
15 musicians, many from the metal and avant-garde music scenes, recorded together each day after a round of morning yoga and meditation. At first spirits were high, with Bono calling those first few days "a magical creative period," and they made up the bulk of the first three albums. By the fourth day, though, tensions arose among the artists and the vibe was noticeably off. Luckily, Laraaji and Arji arrived that afternoon. Their techniques were essential in moving the group towards reconciliation. They even stayed on for two live performances after a day of rehearsal following the end of the recordings.
Although broken into different tracks, Circle Of Celebration is one continuous journey. You can feel the blend of traditions from the start, with indie rock guitar stylings intertwined with Buddhist chanting. Bono strings together melodies and chords on various keyboards, also taking a large share of vocal duties. Laughter and ambient sounds flow from Arji, as Laraaji's zither playing cuts through the wall of sound. All types of percussion, from gongs and drum kits to xylophones and more, are sprinkled throughout.
This emphasis on rhythm gives room for metal drummers Thor Harris and Greg Fox to work their usually harder sounds into a meditative pattern, while other players, like Anthony Molina of indie band Mercury Rev or Shahzad Ismaily, take on on guitar, bass and electronics. By working in an Eastern ceremonial routine, these trained Western musicians tap into an energy that reminds me of the spiritual jazz of the Coltrane school. "At some point Arji, Christopher and I started doing non-verbal expressions," remembers Laraaji. "It was just joyous scatting, really—certainly not intelligent chanting."
Circle Of Celebration feels like riding a wave, with points of intensity giving way to moments of rest and calm—the ensemble goes into full progressive rock mode before coming back down into a soundtrack for deep meditation. It's astounding that no one seems to be fighting for dominance. Every instrument is played at just the right time, never for too long. The group is tight and loose at the same time, resulting in a perfect blend of everyone's experiences and styles.
Things can get complicated, but letting go (and letting laughter burst free) is one way to persevere through tough times. As Laraaji reflects on the music, he says, "To me, these pieces feel like an invitation to look at what's going on in your life—or has gone on in your life—that's worthy of celebration while you're listening to this album." Seeing and appreciating the things to be thankful for is something all people need right now as we head into 2022. Times can be hard, dull and abrasive but if we make the right choices, even during the difficult moments, the warmth of a new day is always a few laughs away.
01. Into Nousness
02. Of Common Origin
04. In This Light
06. Hari Ram
07. Through the Veil
10. Giving Praise