“…Beyond Karma represents one of the most exotic aspects of what I and a few others I’ve known over decades seek and holds forth upon, in my cognizances, as a sonic analog to the books and philosophy of Nisargadatta Maharaj as an obtuse yet concrete expression that, as with the underpinnings of koans, can never be put into words, forever challenging to, and sharpening of, the self. What the Gyuto monks are doing with their phenomenal chorale practice is basically elaborating the Om, the sound that composes reality, something the Moody Blues, for one, musically impressed upon the West in their In Search of the Lost Chord LP, but which way the hell too many treacly New Age-neers have trampled under foot in ill-considered “artistic” marketing schemes they prefer to call “music” (are ya listening, Steven Halpern?).
The Gyuto monks are rightly deemed a world treasure, and you may have seen, on TV news and elsewhere, the unbelievable sand mandalas they create, gorgeous abstract sand “paintings” requiring immense skill and patience, in places shaded a few grains at a time, all of which is then ritually erased as a gesture of the impermanence of everything, even art. They performed the ceremony years ago in Santa Monica, I saw it on TV and went about in a bit of a daze for a week thereafter, contemplating the significance of destroying such beauty. There’s a deep salient there that I have yet to fully understand while marveling at the act.
In Beyond Karma, the monks were recorded in their gompa in Australia, over which high soprano Heather Lee has dubbed a clear, vibrant, and perfectly tuned voice piercing one’s defenses, cutting through the mind’s monkey-clutter to attune it to a higher vision. To her encanting, Kim Cunio has composed and arranged accompanying musics overlaying the monks chanting (which, it becomes apparent, forms the rhythm section). He and Lee also play a wealth of instruments: piano, harmonium, tanpura, santour, viola, cello, joza, violin, didjeridoo, wooden flute, and percussion, as well as occasional vocals from Cunio. At times, the timbre is dramatic, as in the quietly suspenseful “Tantric Grace”; other occasions see soporific beatitude, informed pensivity, and any number of emotional shades.”