British poet, children books writer, opera tenor, anthropologist and Tibet specialist Alain Presencer was born in 1939 in Canada. He studied Buddhism in Canada and in Great Britain when he moved there in the early 1970s. Presencer learned specific techniques of overtone singing and singing bowls during his various visits in the region of Tibet in the 1970s. In 1982, he collaborated with David Hykes and Tibetan singing bowl player Frank Perry, of Keith Tippett’s Ark and Ovary Lodge fame. As Presencer explains in the liner notes, Lamaism is Tibet’s official religion, but his research has led him to investigate the pre-Buddhist, Bön religion, whose adherents, the Bön-pos use a special singing technique as well as singing bowls during their ceremonies. The Bön-po religious tradition involves animism and shamanism (see here) – when they craft an instrument from a human femur, the rkang-gling used on track #5, it is for specific, religious reasons.
♫ These recordings are intended as an equivalent of the Bön-pos’ religious music and are played on genuine sacred instruments collected in or around Tibet. Instruments and music on this disc are quite distinct from Tibetan Lamas’ ceremonial music – the one we are familiar with when we think Tibetan music. For instance, Presencer’s playing doesn’t include Tibetan traditional instruments like the Dung-chen (large trumpet-like instrument), the Damaru (hand drum), the twist drum or the gyaling (double reed shawm), and no stringed or folk instruments. Presencer plays more primitive instruments like conch shells, gongs, singing bowls, flute and small percussion, in addition to overtone singing, to create his own version of the Bön-po rituals he heard in Tibet in the 1970s. Particularly noticeable are the moving, minimalist song Lullaby (tr. #4) and the monumental, side-long track #5, which starts with overtone chanting, followed by a short passage for gongs, handbells and human femur (Lamentation) and ends with the 15mn Symphony of the Bowls, for handbells, cymbals and singing bowls. Featuring fairly minimal but highly evocative music in the same family as David Hykes or Frank Perry, The Singing Bowls of Tibet was a pioneering LP where a Westerner musician embraced the secret musical tradition of the rare Bön-po music.
01 Invocation (3:11)
02 Shepherd’s Song (1:50)
03 Bowl Voices (12:03)
04 Lullaby (2:50)
05 Bön-Po Chant – Lamentation – Symphony of the Bowls (23:29)
Alain Presencer, conch shell, yak horn, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls, shepherd’s flute, hand cymbals, voice, human femur, bronze handbell
Total time 43:23
LP released by Saydisc, UK, 1981
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Above: Frank Perry demonstrating the ululation technique he learned from Alain Presencer.