Henry Wolff & Nancy Hennings—
Tibetan Bells

Released 1972 on Island
The Seth Man, January 2023ce
There are albums that are accessible and there are albums that are inaccessible. Fortunately, this is both.

The sounds within these recordings resonate with the remoteness of the instruments’ origins. Due to its altitude and location, Tibet is known as the roof of the world. The Himalaya mountain range, the highest in the world, aligned to the south keeping it naturally isolated and remote for centuries.

Singing bowls, shimmering in their tones, crystal clear in their resonance. Like playing a dampened wine glass circumference with a forefinger. Like a tuning fork for your head. Or sonic ASMR. It’s like sonor -- and those sonorous qualities lull and sooth and put a remote space between your ears and puts you in touch on an elemental level with things that make things finite forever. Like your mind. Or death. Or things that make things infinite for a moment. Like life. It’s almost like a tuning fork for your head; creating stillness with their resonance.

Henry Wolff and Nancy Hennings (accompanied by Drew Gladstone on two tracks) created sounds from their collection of Tibetan bells, cymbals and singing bowls. Oftentimes, many of these sounds seem to emerge from places of unknown origin, let alone what instrument it was struck, scraped or chimed from. The relative shortness of tracks on side one -- “Khumbu Ice-Fall,” “Rainbow Light,” “White Light,” “From The Roof Of The World You Can See Forever,” “Wrathful Deity” and “Clear Light” -- are contrasted with the entirety of side two, a single piece called “Choir Of Bells,” which is fifteen minutes of near-continuous bell bowing and scraping.

“Wrathful Deity” may include the striking of rolmo – also known as wrathful cymbals – but it’s difficult to know which sounds emanate from which of the many instruments listed: wind chimes, goat bells or tingshak bells or thilbu. Although the authenticity of the origins of these instruments are debated by scholars (some are of the belief they are not even of Tibetan origin, but rather; those of Newari merchants) what is undeniable is the spaciness, the richness of tone and the exquisite use of space between that the instruments produce. Running a padded pestle or mallet around their rim to produce a sustained ringing sound, Wolff and Hennings create entrancing soundscapes from these instruments, evoking the stark beauty of the Himalayas as well as the darkened spirit of the underworld. Once, after Wolff and Hennings performed their music for a Buddhist lama who was the highest religious authority in the Karma Kagyu lineage, he was reported to have said that it sounded like the “music of the Void.”

It certainly is. It's a useful album to spin on repeat on low volume for days on end or to play simultaneously over (or under) other recordings. Like The Ventures (VENTURES) IN OUTER SPACE. Or NO NEW YORK. Or while your chimes resound outside to the wind on blustery nights. It will always remind you of your being, of existence, and beyond that...of nothing at all.