Shawn Feeney ~ Thin Places

Music for healing is a popular modern phrase, but the healing properties of music have been documented for millennia.  One of the earliest well-known stories is that of King Saul, who when “tortured in spirit” summoned David to play the harp.  On his toughest days, Saul tried to pin David with his spear, but David kept playing, having already slain a lion, a bear and a giant.

Fortunately musicians don’t have to be that tough these days, although Feeney has already proven his toughness in forensic science and earlier, rock-based ventures.  His outer musical shift arrived after delving into the oeuvre  of Pauline Oliveros, which led to a Certificate in Deep Listening® (remarkably similar to the name of this site).  Feeney is keenly aware of the science and psychology behind healing music, although little of that matters to the listener if the album works.

Feeney defines thin places as “sites where the veil between worlds grows thin and permeable, places where the distance between the mortal and eternal realms shrinks, and time collapses.”  One of these places is Skellig Michael, portrayed on the cover.  But it’s equally vital to create liminal spaces where contemplation might occur, psychically expanded by certain combinations of tones.  Quartz singing bowls form the basis of these explorations, but Himalayan bowls, shruti box, tuning forks and a few more well-known instruments expand the timbres.  If the very mention of these instruments prompts images of monks and chakras, all the better.

The best-known tone of singing bowls is the reverberation after a strike, as a mallet is rubbed around the rim of the bowl.  In the early pieces, Feeney concentrates more on percussion, using the bowls as bells.  In “King of Cups,” the combination of chime and percussion produces a trance-like vibe akin to a Buddhist ceremony via repeated melodies.  “Invocation” and “Devocation” border on drone, a genre in which time markers slip away.  Ironically, these pieces serve as bookends.  Only in “Vellstrom,” the album’s shortest piece, does Feeney’s background in rock seep through.  One can imagine lyrics like phantom limbs.  The album’s first half alternates between a sense of focus and purposeful drift: the very essence of mindfulness.

Beginning with “Jewels,” the distance between notes is stretched to allow their healing properties to sink in.  These pieces retain the melodic nature of their predecessors, but their strikes land like stones in a Zen garden.  While technically compositions, they are also contemplations: reminders of the calm, centered places we have ignored, and long to revisit.  The tuning forks of the closing piece suggest a higher plane.  The drone recedes, replaced by a fresh sense of clarity.  (Richard Allen)

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