Beyond Completely Gone – chamber orchestra, overtone singer, 8.5'

SymphoNYC and Paul Fowler, conducted by Paul Haas | | perc | str | opt. overtone voice
Commissioned by Sympho. Premiered 5/22/10 by SymphoNYC with Paul Haas (cond.) at The Church for All Nations, NY, NY.

In the “Heart Sutra,” the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara, describes a fundamental concept in Buddhism (known as the “heart” of Buddhism): “Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.” Rather than go into a lengthy discussion of this seminal text, I’d like to say why its significant to me, and the way I understand it. This emptiness, this “luminous” emptiness, is the gateway to compassionate action. Once realizing that all things, ideas, and the whole of reality are empty (and that emptiness is all things), the mind is freed from the division of self and other and a quality of true compassion is unleashed into the world. Through emptiness we are inseparable, in turn, our experience of suffering is also inseparable. Simply put, we are all in this together. I think we all know this already but we are consistently forgetful and these ideas and practices are here to help us remember.

The piece uses the mantra given to us by Avalokitesvara at the end of the “Heart Sutra” as a guide on the path to exploring emptiness and compassion: “gate gate, paragate, parasangate, bodhi svaha.” Many people say mantras cannot – or should not – be translated, as they believe it is the sound of the words as a generator of consciousness that does the work...nevertheless, here it is: gone gone, beyond gone, beyond completely gone, awakened, so be it.

score excerpt
watch an explanation of overtone singing, using this piece