David Hykes - Interview


David Hykes –  Composer, singer, teacher of contemplative music and meditation, visual artist. Founder of Harmonic Chant and the Harmonic Presence contemplative work, which blends music, meditation, open mindfulness and the medicine of healing harmonization, in the form of retreats, seminars and online programs. David has developed unique contemplative forms of vocal music and is justly famous for live concerts and 12 albums so far, as well as films scores in realms of the sacred, the mysterious and the wondrous, including “Travellers and Magicians” by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, “Meetings with Remarkable Men” by Peter Brook, “Baraka” by Ron Fricke and “The Tree of Life” by Terrence Malick. For more information about David’s work: Harmonic Presence Foundation.

NV: David, I think there are powerful connections between your work and the Nordic Højskole tradition. Grundtvig and the other founding fathers of the movement emphasized what they called “the living Word” — spiritually inspired, and socially embodied at the same time. Your work, the music as well as the workshops, seems to be exactly about the deep undercurrents connecting Life and Word, through the body and through the group. Does this description make sense?

Yes! I look forward to learning more about Grundtvig. By the way, I think it would be helpful if the project website could make some central writings of his available for us non-Scandinavian-speakers. From what I have gathered so far, he is resonant in many ways with the American transcendentalists who wrote around the same time – Thoreau, Emerson – I have always found them very inspiring because of their very direct, human, universal kind of spirituality.

In any case, you are right that “the Word“, in some deep sense, needs to be alive, or to become alive again – to be not always constrained or fixed in texts and conventions, though of course spiritual speech and the spiritual Word, even just Sacred Syllables, are equally alive.. In the realm of searching for good human communication and exchange, we can train that and explore that aliveness. One way is to explore the full process from living awareness, and connecting through body-mind’s voice and its harmonics, immersing into sound and meaning.

There is a lot of power in doing that together in a group, and I think it is a great, daring idea to make “the Word” (and therefore also “the Wordless!) the central theme of a training and exploration. A really wonderful topic. And yes, the embodied “living word” connection also points to communications amongst all beings, amongst all cultures – it is a really fantastic thing. There is a lot of interesting, creative ways we can work with this in workshops as well. I will be thrilled to be part of that.

NV: Me too! And I really like that you connect these contemplative voice explorations so directly with the idea of togetherness. Using the word harmonic as a central pointer to your work, I am sure you have been thinking of the Greek roots of the word…

Yes, I like the original meaning of harmony, “things fitting together, or fitting things together”. This suddenly makes me think of one of the most amazing theater experiences I’ve ever had – it was with a well-known avant garde group in New York, many years ago – and they did a chanting performance of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic. I had just started my work, really, in the other end of the spectrum, just working on pure group vibration sounds but no words – just harmonics, right? So I go to this show, and it just blew me away! They were chanting the epic, ten or fifteen of them chanting it in unison, not musically elaborate but reciting it in unison, creating the impression of one vast voice. I found this extraordinarily interesting and powerful, and just thought of this, thinking of the range of different exercises for groups working on this theme next summer.

This kind of experience may shed light on the way we spend most of our lives saying, you know, I this, I that… me the subject and then one verb or another. I did, I know, I thought, I ran – but all I-centered, self-centered. But to have a whole group reciting things with “I…” can be very interesting – it can become a collective resonance, and perhaps go beyond this litte “I”. And one way we can explore this further is with different persons in a conversation, where each voice is actually several voices. A sense of shared identity is part of this, but it is actually bigger than oneself…

NV: Absolutely. So that kind of play – of who or what or how much of the cosmos that is really resonating in any given utterance – could be taken up in philosophical exploration and dialogue running parallel to it.

Fantastic. And of course this very essentially involves listening, the essential work or play of receiving the whole package of the awareness, listening, speech, the vibratory and harmonic part. These elements are also what the words, or The Word are made of, aren’t they, but there is also the whole question of listening – what we hear, how we hear. This is a fantastic area, and deeply related to what is so difficult in the present-day world – in these days of what our Indian and Tibetan friends call “Kali-yuga” [a world age of disconnection and missing spiritual life]. Just communication, in the sense of really hearing what the other person is actually saying. This sort of thing is full of promising areas of inquiry.

NV: Great – and these two aspects together, word and listening, both wakeful and alive – seems to be exactly the rich phenomenon I have heard you talk about as “accompaniment”? 

If we can use this kind of work to support everyone in the seminar to allow and explore deeper listening-and-expressing, then this can be important for participants for finding the courage to really express what is at stake for them, existentially, in say, their education – and to give each other deeply meaningful feedback in poster presentation sessions or similar…

Yes, I agree. Real accompaniment, in the full sense — true, active listening — requires being alive in a full way – contemplative and creative but not so concerned with egos and conventions.

We can make joint and group sessions, training and playing with that. The whole thing with voice and groups is really fantastic. Once we work with voice, which is not exclusively verbal but a much broader nonverbal channel of expressive communication as well, it really helps to open things up. The realm of accompaniment is really co-creation as they love to say in California… a healthy, supportive creative dynamic in a group process.

So maybe we should make this the title of the two-days theme we will be running next summer: accompaniment, in voices and in groups and philosophical reflections. Or “the word and the wordless”?  Or what about “word, creativity and accompaniment”?