A deep immersion into the musical traditions of many different cultures has inspired and nourished my creative journey. I’ve always been actively involved with new music and new projects, both as a soloist and in collaboration with other artists, but I’ve also loved the connection with ancient traditions, from the Zen temples of Japan to the Rainforest rituals of Brazil.
From a young age I was driven by a thirst for all things musical. A restless quest for new sounds and forms of music – from brass bands to Baroque chamber music, from big-band jazz to avant-garde classical music, from Celtic folk to Japanese ancient court music.
Alongside this musical quest there has been a spiritual odyssey and a search for personal peace and healing. This journey has led me far from rehearsal rooms and concert stages to a world of music for meditation, music for ritual and ceremony, medicine music. music for devotional practice and for spiritual healing.
I started off on the piano at the tender age 5, and then the violin from age 7, although my first real musical passion was the trumpet, which I fell in love with at age 9 when I first heard the jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong. I played trumpet all through high school, then I went on to study music at university where I was drawn into the world of composition and contemporary classical music, and at the same time deepened my love of Baroque instrumental music.
When I first came across the sounds of Japanese music, I felt a deep resonance with these exotic musical instruments and their different scales and tone colours. Even though the sounds came from such a distant culture they felt intimately familiar. I subsequently came to spend 7 years living in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, where I became absorbed in studies of the shakuhachi – bamboo flute of Zen. I was very fortunate to have a great teacher in the form of the legendary shakuhachi master Yokoyama Katsuya.
The shakuhachi is notoriously difficult to master, but if its captivating sound gets its hooks into you, and if you fall in love with the ancient repertoire of mysterious Zen pieces, and if that music becomes a part of your every waking and sleeping hour … then playing this simple instrument can change you in ways that go far beyond the simple learning of a musical instrument.
Playing the shakuhachi in its traditional Zen format is very much a solitary activity. Long hours of sitting quietly cross-legged on a cushion, playing the same long notes over and over again, going deeper with each breath … into the sound, and through the sound to what lies beyond the sound … into the Ma – the great silence from which all sounds rise and fall.
Solo shakuhachi concerts are intimate candle-lit evenings where the interweaving of subtle sound and silence creates a magical soundscape – the shakuhachi connecting on a profound level with the heart, and opening up the listener to a sense of inner space and an inner stillness that is sometimes difficult to find.
While living in Japan in the 1990’s I met some travelling Brazilian musicians and singers from a spiritual community deep within the Amazon Rainforest. This encounter opened up a new musical dimension for me – that of music for ritual and ceremony. Shortly thereafter I went to live in Brazil and became totally immersed in the sacred music of forest rituals and the world of plant spirit medicine. Living in Brazil I entered onto a personal path of healing and spiritual practice that deepened my understanding of the Zen music I had been playing in Japan, and of the meditative and devotional aspects of music-making in general.
On my journey I have found myself drawn to musical traditions where music has been used very consciously as an aid to spiritual practice, hence my attraction to the shakuhachi, which is sometimes referred to in Japan not as a gakki (musical instrument), but rather as a hōki (instrument of meditation), and hence my time spent in the plant medicine communities of Brazil, where channeled songs and focused silence are essential aspects of the healing rituals.
Both the world of the shakuhachi and the world of forest healing songs have one foot firmly grounded in well-established traditions, while the other foot is facing the future and open to new possibilities, new collaborations, and new sounds. Traditions like these flow freely like a river, allowing innovation and renewal to be born from continuity.
The message of my music has evolved as my own learning and my own healing journey has evolved. In a general sense you could say it’s a message for our times. What seems to be needed in these times is an opening of the heart, an awareness of the subtle vibrations of the heart, of the wisdom that lies deep within, and of the power and potential of this wisdom to really unify on the deepest level. I’d like my music to be part of the healing of the world, to promote harmony, peace and tranquility – a transcendental acoustic music of the heart.