Soothing Gong Bath for Stressful Souls: An alternative music guide

You’re tired from work, frazzled and on edge as your country heads towards political meltdown. Time for a gong bath to help alleviate our modern malaise. Go on, enjoy yourself. You deserve it. Sell your soul for some soothing resonance.

Image: David Pearson/Rex/Shutterstock

Image: David Pearson/Rex/Shutterstock

The guardian newspaper recently reported that gong baths are the new thing in workplace wellness, as our personal and collective anxieties continue to fuel an ever-expanding multi-billion dollar healthcare industry. That’s just wonderful. But what alternatives to these alternatives are on offer for the more adventurous consumer? Here are five theraputic treatments that present the intripid listener with gong resonance of a different kind:

1. Two Gongs [1971] by Rhys Chatham.

A physically-demanding sonic exploration, Two Gongs stands the test of time as a classic of 1970s minimalism-noise music. This recording, later released on The Table of the Elements, was made by Phill Niblock at his Experimental Intermedia Foundation on December 16th, 1988. Joyful noise.

2. Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, and Loudspeakers [1999] by Alvin Lucier

Combining studies in acoustics, music composition and theatre, across a career spanning nearly six decades, experimental composer Alvin Lucier has created a truly unique body of work. Several years ago I witnessed this piece live at the Feedback festival in London; a mesmerising experience for the eye as much as the ear, proving that even the purest exploration of sonic phenomena can give rise to a highly engaging theatrical performance.

3. Mikrophonie I [1964] by Karlheinz Stockhausen

I’d like to try the recording below as a score in a film, because it sounds fantastic. Especially with the audible artefacts of the magnetic tape - delightful crunchiness. Mikrophonie I is a study in microphones and objects set upon a tam-tam gong. “The microphone would have to become a musical instrument and, on the other hand, through its manipulation, influence the characteristics of the sounds” writes the composer. More than a science, this slice of classic electroacoustic Stockhausen theatre is well-worth witnessing in the flesh.

4. Tonggeret [1987] by Idjah Hadidjah

My introduction to Jaipong music and one of my favourite Indonesian records, Tonggeret is a beautiful suite of soothing tunes performed by Idjah Hadidgah and her West Java Gamelan ensemble. Originally released on Nonesuch in the late eighties at a time when contemporary and traditional Indonesian music was finding a wider audience, this record always take me back to santai times under the tropic sun.

5. Mangkunegaran Karawitan [2006] - practice recorded by Rob Szeliga

Gong Ageng is the largest hanging gong in Javanese gamelan. It is also the lowest-pitched gong in the gamelan. It is to believe that Gong Ageng is the spirit of the gamelan, hence, it is the most respected item in a gamelan. []

A selection of gong music just wouldn’t be complete without a full Gamelan ensemble. It’s difficult to know where to begin with so many recordings available. In the end I’ve decided to offer a piece from my own archives, something I recorded at The Mangkunegaran Palace in Surakarta in 2006.

Every Sunday morning performers would congregate inside the pendopo to practice the most elegant form of central Javanese court music. On one such occasion I attended the practice where I made this recording. Here you can hear the reverberant sound of children and birds intermingling with the sonorities of the gamelan. The following year I relocated to Yogyakarta, the other great centre of court tradition, to study Karawitan music for a year. More can be read about this time here.