This spring, All You Need is Bass went to Envision Festival in Costa Rica to bring back pictures, stories, and inspiration. Yoga Under the Earth Harp was one of the many workshops offered at Envision Festival 2013. The Earth Harp is the world’s largest stringed instrument, spanning over 50 feet. It becomes part of the landscape, using the architecture of its environment to create an all encompassing experience. At Envision it brought its inhabitants out to stretch and breath in the sunshine lifting our consciousness to new levels, and tuning us into higher frequencies of vibration. The experience was profoundly moving, changing my yoga practice and the way I dance, inspiring poetry from within. I asked Andrea Brook to talk to me about her beautifully orchestrated class. Anyone who has ever been moved by music will appreciate what this lovely lady has to say.
Brie: When did you get back from Envision?
Andrea: I stayed another week in Costa Rica; I ended up teaching a yoga retreat in Dominical at Bamboo Yoga Play. It was nice to stay a little longer. By the time I went home on Sunday night the following week, I was ready to go home – I stayed exactly as long as I needed. It was perfect. Did you stay for a while?
Brie: No, unfortunately I had to cut my trip much shorter than I would have liked to. I did stay for two nights longer than my flights allowed, to enjoy some of the post-festival festivities. It was nice to decompress afterward with people who had gone through similar experiences. I’ve never been so inspired than at Envision – it blew my mind wide open.
Yoga Under the Earth Harp was on the Thursday, I didn’t really know what to expect. I couldn’t believe you could teach the class and play the harp at the same time!
Andrea: That particular class, I was really in the flow. What usually happen is that I will play with other musicians alongside me; a drummer, a vocalist-violinist, sometimes a guitar or other instruments. Only one of us could attend Envision because of our budget. But, I actually found thanks to this festival, that I like it better when I play alone. Trying to teach, play the harp AND play along with other musicians, all while guiding the students too, I’m overly multitasking. Whereas, what I was doing at Envision was playing to what I was teaching and the emotion and expression in vibration that I’m trying to convey. I wouldn’t say that it was very easy, but it was a much more manageable. It allowed me to completely drop into the flow of the students, the harp, and the teaching. It was just perfect. For me, it felt a lot easier than having other musicians. It taught me that from this point forward, I should not have other musicians unless they feel comfortable really just following me and pulling in and out without my having to guide them, for them to really just listen.
Brie: Wow, it’s interesting that what started off as a budget limitation became an opportunity for discovery.
Andrea: I’ve done these workshops for many years. It used to be that William would play the harp for me while I led the workshop. I have to say, that class in particular on the Thursday, was probably my favourite Yoga Under the Earth Harp class that I ever offered.
Brie: Really? I’m so glad to have been there!
Andrea: It just felt like everything synched up, just beautifully.
Brie: It was very powerful. It was that calm before the storm as well… you could tell there was something brooding up there in the sky. It was really lovely – before it got super muddy.
Andrea: I did two of those classes: one on Thursday where the grass was so nice, the other on Sunday. Sunday it was different because that whole area had been so torn up… not quite as magical, everyone was so tired. It’s nice doing the workshop early in the festival because people have a lot of energy and are all exited, but by the end of the festival they are like: “Oh my god, I can barely move!”
When you were introducing the Earth Harp and yourself at the beginning of the workshop, you mentioned how the strings of the Earth Harp are made of the same material as singing bowls. So they’re brass? Is that right?
Andrea: Yes. The wire, which we call the string, is actually a brass wire. Traditional Tibetan singing bowls are made of brass. That’s what’s so fascinating about the wire, it’s of the same material. As a result, it has the same qualities as a Tibetan singing bowl, but instead of being one contained thing, you’ve stretched that brass out. Brass has a really warm tone, when working with it this tone has a warming effect on the body. You warm up to that sound. Singing bowls are made of either crystal or brass – you can find that same longitudinal vibration when you run your finger around the edge of a crystal wine glass. So, in terms of materials that conduct longitudinal vibration, the ones most traditionally used and the ones that have the richest quality to them are brass and crystal.
Brie: It’s fascinating how being conscious of these traditional materials and there encouragement of vibrations on the human body can really help people with their awareness of those particular physical effects.
This application is so new for such traditional materials. This instrument is quite new, right? When was the Earth Harp born?
Andrea: William first put one together in 1999. It’s a very recent creation. Other people have been working with long strings for a larger amount of time. In fact, my friend Anje was talking today about being in Fortworth, Texas, with the Earth Harp collective talking with a man there: he and a group of friends have been working with long strings creating a wind harp, back in 1969. Ellen Pullman has also been working with long strings since the 70s. William started working with them in the 90s. So, there’s a tradition of using them. But yes, the creation of the Earth Harp was in 1999.
How did you get involved with the Earth Harp? Where you there through its development or did you stumble upon it?
Andrea: I met William in 2001. William went to the Art Institute of Chicago, so he was building instruments, and created the Earth Harp while in Chicago. In 2001, he moved to Los Angeles. I met him about a month after he arrived in LA, at that point the company was called MASS Ensemble, which is an acronym for Music Architecture Sonic Sculpture. MASS Ensemble was doing a show down in San Diego for a festival there called San Diego Street Scene. I went down to see it – I was then an aerial dancer – and it ended up that they hired me to do aerial dance for that show because I showed up and they were already doing some aerial where they had drum sculptures suspended to be played from the air. These drum sculptures are called ‘drum clouds’. It made sense for me to then suspend down in the center over the Earth Harp and do aerial dance to balance it all out. And after that show, the principle dancer left the company and as a result I was asked to do some upcoming shows. And then (laughter) I fell in love with the project and the whole experience. So, here we are today – wow – almost 12 years later!
Brie: How serendipitous that you would get so interwoven like that.
Did you play other instruments before you started with the Harp?
Andrea: I didn’t – I was a dancer, not a musician. But I started playing the strings from the air. In addition, as one of the members of the ensemble, I had to learn how to play the long strings, so through the course of the years, I have learned how to do it. It’s such a physical practice playing the Earth Harp. I’m a very kinesthetic person, so the instrument made a lot of sense to me. It’s not in my brain, it’s in my body. A lot of different people have played the Earth Harp within our group. What we found is that it’s such a physical instrument and it’s so… you feel it. You feel that vibration. It’s really connecting with the instrument that creates such beauty. When really fantastic musicians play and are thinking about it like their instrument, like it’s their violin or guitar or whatever it is they play, they end up making it almost too complicated; overplaying. There’s an interest to those long tones and to cultivating the kinesthetic experience of the Harp that I found that dancers or people who are very in touch with their bodies tend to be able to convey more easily.
Brie: Wow. I like that. I can totally see how that’s very much the case and it does communicate to the people you play the instrument over, absolutely, your connecting to it and how organic that process is.
Brie: It seems so natural and effortless… I’m sure it’s full of effort, but it’s of a very natural quality.
Andrea: Thank you.
Brie: It was very beautiful.
How did this instrument blend with your yoga practice?
Andrea: I’ve been a yoga teacher, now, for 14 years. I was teaching yoga full time when I started working with the Earth Harp. At that point, I was looking for a second project. I really wanted to have both work as a teacher and as an artist. I wanted both sides of myself to have an avenue. Putting yoga together with the Earth Harp happened almost immediately, naturally, spontaneously. William was playing one of the smaller harps, which is 25 feet long! (Laughter) I was doing yoga as he was playing, and something happened. I had been very disciplined in my physical practice of yoga and it had a very linear or structured quality. As he began to play, that structure and that linear nature softened. I found myself really turning my yoga practice into more of a dance, and it became that kinesthetic expression of my emotions. I was fascinated. So, I went to Boulder, Colarado, where Naropa University is, as well as many different top sound healers. I took this information to learn from them, to ask “Why is it I feel this way when these long strings are played, and what’s taking place?” That’s where I learned about the longitudinal vibration and how the vibration was moving through the molecules of the wire, and as the vibration comes off of the strings and connected with us, it moved in that longitudinal way through the molecules of our bodies. They also taught me about ascending overtones. With this instrument you have those beautiful harmonics – ascending overtones – and how in sound healing, what’s most healing for the body are ascending overtones because they lift or transmute our energy from a lower vibration into a higher vibration. So the sound healers and the music therapy teachers at Naropa that I spoke with all said “Oh, yes, explore this, develop this. This is beautiful. This is perfect.” So, right from the start I began to put the two together.
Brie: And what an amazing result!
Andrea: Thank you.
Brie: Hearing you talk about your process is giving me chills – it feels right. You’re speaking some really honest truth, so thank you so much for sharing that all with us. That’s really beautiful. What an interesting process to have it be so interwoven and for it to happen so naturally and not be forced in any way. A totally ‘meant to be’ kind of thing.
Andrea: It’s not often we have the opportunity to be inside an instrument. Being able to feel that vibration, feel the experience, there within the instrument, for me, as a dancer, it had to turn into a physical process. You know, as a dancer and as a yoga teacher. It seems natural to me.
Brie: I completely understand. I am a yoga teacher – I haven’t been teaching for long, but I’ve been doing yoga for a long time – it was a very different experience for me, being at Envision and taking several movement workshops paired with sound, paired with music. It really does change the whole process. Even being out on the dance floor and incorporating yoga into my dance style and the quality of my movement totally transformed things for me. I don’t think I’ll ever dance the same way, or move the same way.
Andrea: Wow! That’s wonderful!
Brie: What you’re saying is very much speaking to my own personal experience.
Andrea: It’s interesting because one of the things I used to do was an entire choreographed piece to a piece of music called Indian Universe and all I did was dance during that and all it was was yoga, yoga choreography. You can see that piece on Youtube, if you search “Goddess of Yoga”. It was quite a few years ago, but that was always a part of the show, that yoga choreography completely as the dance. So fun!
Brie: I’m trying to learn now how to incorporate that fluid, full of motion, full of life, into my yoga practice and into my life, and also be able to convey that to my students. I’m not quite there yet. I’m just beginning, just starting on this journey, but those experiences at Envision have most definitely contributed to the quality of my learning experience as a teacher.
Brie: Thank you. I’m really appreciative of this time. I mean that – your class was really amazing. It opened me in a very gentle, very beautiful way.
Andrea: Thank you.
Are you going to go back to Envision next year?
Andrea: I would love to. I have a special fondness for Envison, and feel very close to all the Envision creators – in particular, Sophia and Brendan. I went last year and this year and I would love to go every year to continue to support them and cultivate this festival’s identity as Costa Rica’s ultimate festival.
Brie: It’s pretty ultimate! I’ve never seen so many different art forms come together with such synchronicity before. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I can only imagine as it matures and evolves and collects supporters and contributors, it can only grow to be better and better. I’m really excited. I hope to be there next year; setting the intention to go.
Andrea: I hope so, too.
Brie: Well, thank you so much, Andrea. This has been really fantastic. Everything you’ve said has been spoken straight from the heart and to a heart, as well. So thank you very much!
Andrea: Thank you! What a beautiful thing. I appreciate that. I hope to see you again!
1 GIANT MIND & THE EARTH HARP WILL BE AT LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE 2013
1 Giant Mind will be conducting a mass meditation session and experiment at LIB on Sunday, July 14th. During the meditation William Close will be playing his Earth Harp, using subtle harmonics to help take the meditation participants deep into non thought.
1 Giant Mind is a global non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the education and scientific research into the benefits of meditation.
The 1 Giant Mind Mission
To reduce the impact of the global stress epidemic and its effects on health and wellbeing, society and culture, the workplace, economy and the world at large through:
- promoting the practice and benefits of meditation
- teaching as many people as possible how to meditate
- advancing scientific research into the practice of individual and collective meditation
- motivating 100 million people worldwide to regularly practice meditation by 2020.