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„The Five Elements – Electroacoustics meets Bön“ is an artistic research project that deals with the question in what way it might be possible to apply knowledge from the ancient Tibetan Bön tradition and Bön ritual music to the composing of electroacoustic music. In other words: What can we as composers of electroacoustic music possibly learn from the Tibetan Bön tradition?
The aim, of course, is not to re-compose Tibetan music. Nor is it mainly about extracting new material from the sonic environment of Bön ritual music for my own composition such as the creation of utopic sonic landscapes. Though this might turn out to be musically fruitful as well, it is not the focus of this project.
The core question instead is: Are there perspectives or views in Yungdrung Bön on sound and music or on the process of composing itself that might be of benefit to the production of Western electroacoustic music as well?
Cooperation with Ethnomusicology
A research project like this is not possible without serious investigation into what Bön actually is, nor is it possible without learning as much as possible about Bön ritual music in its original form and meaning.
So in cooperation with the institute of musicology (Prof. Dr. Andreas Meyer, ethnomusicology) this project would also like to investigate basic aspects of Bön ritual music in its original context – monastic life.
For this purpose with the kind help of Geshe Thupten Negi, director of Lishu Institute in India, it was possible to visit Menri Monastery, the main monastery of the Bön tradition, located in the Tibetan refugee settlement in Dolanji, India (Himachal Pradesh). The project evolved in a way that I could also visit the Bön monastery Triten Norbutse in Kathmandu, Nepal, and undertake three more trips to Dolanji during the course of 2017/2018.
Subject of the composition
The concept of the five elements (fire, water, air, earth, and space) can be regarded as a connective link between Tibetan Buddhism and Western philosophy of nature. As such they will be a leitmotif and inspiration for the artwork that flows from the artistic and ethnomusicological research.
The intention here is the production of a multipart electroacoustic composition „The Five Elements“ in which the qualities of the five Elements are meant to be expressed in music or sound.
Another reason for choosing the five elements as a subject for composing music was the deep impression reports about the visionary perceptions generated by the five elements during a dark retreat made on me. It has been my question for quite a time if it is possible to “translate” these experiences into a piece of sound art.
Interaction of art and science?
Dealing with a subject on two different levels, here on the level of composing music and the level of ethnomusicological field studies, guides one to consider the reciprocal interaction of both approaches.
Unfortunately it will not be possible within this project to investigate such interaction in an academically adequate way. Nevertheless to the extent possible I will try to document the ongoing development process of the electroacoustic artwork and the influences upon it from other levels of engagement.
I would like to thank all representatives of Yungdrung Bön for their help and encouragement as well as for their generous answering of my several questions. My particular thanks goes to Geshé Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche for his openness and support specially in the initial phase of this project. For the constant support and warm welcome I would like to express my sincere gratitude to His Holiness the 33. Menri Trizin Lungtok Tenpa’i Nyima Rinpoche, who recently passed away in September 2017, as well as his successor the 34. Menri Trizin Dawa Dargyal Rinpoche, Lopon Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, His Eminence the Menri Lopon Trinley Nyima Rinpoche, Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung Rinpoche and the Yungdrung Bon Monastic Centre. Furthermore, special thanks to Geshé Dawa Namgyal for ongoing collaboration.