Martyn Cawthorne
Category: Gong Work

Gongs in the Mines – The Story of a Recording at Alderley Edge

Some of you maybe aware of the caves and mines at a rather wonderful wooded area just outsideof Manchester Alderley Edge.  I’ve been visiting the area for twenty yearsas a place to go for a glorious walk, to look out from wonderful vantage points across the vast landscapes, to sit and meditate in the woods, to lie under thestars and to check out the caves.  The area is rarely mentioned withouttalk of ‘The Legend’, ‘The Wizard’ and of the books of Alan Garner.  It’salso well known for being an area with strong ley lines, energy fields andPagan significance.  A brief Internet search will provide plenty to readon these subjects.


Recently, since giving regular gong baths at a wonderful venue in Alderley Edge called TheYard, I met a man (Dave from the National Trust) who kindly put me in touchwith Bill of the Derbyshire Caving Club.  I got talking with Bill and heagreed that it would be pretty special to take the gongs into the old coppermines in the woods at Alderley Edge.  I’d never been in the mines before. Brilliantly, the Caving Club leases the mines from the National Trust andthey maintain access and safety standards for the public.  So, we set up adate…..


 


Part One -Sounding Out An Idea


 


When the morningfinally came, I arrived at Artist’s Cottage (just over the road from the WizardInn) where Bill was waiting with Tina who is a rather wonderful, creative soul,author, painter and pixie lover!  Bill kitted us out with hard hats andheadlamps and we set off towards the mines. Along the way, they began to regale me with tales, old and new, ofgoings-on in the woods and in the mines.  Among the many things I didn’tknow before, it turns out that Marc Bolan was a huge fan of Alderley Edge!


 


So, with a coupleof small (24”) gongs on my shoulder, we entered the mines.  Tina pointedout how amazingly earthly and fresh the smell of the moist woodlands were justnear the entrance, and suggested that later, upon our exit, I would be amazedby that fragrance.


Oncewe were inside I realised that the tunnels were endless! Apparently I only sawa fraction of them and there are in fact miles of tunnels down there.  Ibelieve they maintain a steady temperature all year round (“a little less thanwarm” is the correct term I think), and here and there are little runningtrickles of water by the edges of the paths. 


Theatmosphere inside the mines is just tremendous.  It is (obviously) pitchblack, allowing the mind to run way with itself, imagining whatever it feelslike.  There is a damp and yet strangely fresh feeling in the smell of theair.  


With theheadlights on you can see lots of the blue colour of the oxidised copper in thewalls, and the occasional area covered in graffiti (the kind that makes youfeel that people have loved being there and want to leave their mark so as toleave part of themselves there forever).  


Occasional dropsof water make little tinkling sounds that enrich the atmosphere, though thereis little or no echo down there…. just a contained ambience, maybe a sense ofbeing watched…. :-)


Aftermuch walking with tilted head (are people just taller these days?) we approacheda fabulous cavern.  The first viewing ofit is from an opening above that looks down into the beautiful space. Walking around the corner and down the man-made stairway into the mainopen area one could see two or three tunnels heading off in various directions,one holding a small stream that wound its way into depths beyond the light ofmy headlamp.  There were little nooks and crannies in which to sit up highover the cavern and you could almost feel the resonance of parties that musthave been enjoyed in years gone by.  That feeling of history was immense. How long had these mines existed and how little had they changed? Here we were, in this moment, and we would be gone in the next, just asall the others who had been here were now gone….. and how many more were yet tocome…. and were the mines aware, keeping an eye on us over the years, thecenturies, the millennia (apparently the mines have been in use since thebronze age!)


So the moment hadarrived to let the gongs do their thing, as they are wont to do. I took thefirst gong out of her case and held her aloft, and gave her a gentle striking,building up to a low volume.  She just sounded amazing.  Dominant asever, she made the space her own, reaching out with her vibrations in alldirections, filling the ears and the mind and the body with her all-consumingreminder of the depths of our soul, of life and death, of release, of openingup, of that mysterious home that we’ve forgotten is ours and is more than all thatour imaginations can summon.  And as the gong’s vibrations reached out, sothe mines held their own too, timelessly solid, steadied across eons, absorbingand reflecting, resonating and embracing, sleeping and waking.  As outthroats are a sounding chamber for our voices, so the tunnels projected andshaped the sounds of the gongs, transmitting them far in each and everydirection.  And as our entire bodies are larger chambers that house ourthroats, so the earth was a bed for this slumbering giant that was the mines intheir entirety.  


Onour walk back to Artist’s Cottage for tea and cakes by the fire, Tina told ushow she could hear the gongs from way down in the tunnels and how she couldimagine people coming for a gong bath in the mines.  And thereupon begandiscussions of coming back, both to make a recording and to organise a gongbath in the mines (now set at Saturday 14th May 2016 – see www.gongspa.co.uk formore details as the date approaches).



Part Two – TheCreative Process


 


Onmy arrival home I immediately got in touch with Biff who had recorded my firstgong album (Gong Spa Experiences) inhis studio in Swinton (WR Audio).  Oddly enough, Biff already knew Billand was very keen to see him and work with him, so over the next few days weset a date to come back with recording gear and some select gongs.  


 


I decided tobring my 38” Paiste Symphonic Gong (the first gong I ever owned), who islovingly known as Lionheart, due to his tender, purring prowess, his warmthlike long days on the Masai Mara and his immense capacity for earth-shatteringroars!  Lionheart would be perfect for playing in the mines because of histremendous ability to generate a wide range of different voices, some of whichI have often thought over the years have sounded exactly as though he was in adeep underground cavern, even when being played in yoga studios aroundManchester!


 


Ialso decided to bring my Broder Oetken 24” Sound Creation Earth gong, whosename is Serafina, after the witch, Serafina Pekkala from Philip Pullman’s “HisDark Materials” trilogy.  Witches are known for using earthly elements tomanifest their powers, and to me, this gong sometimes sounds just as though awitch or wizard is casting powerful spells, combining the elements to flare upreactions that light the skies.  At other times she seems to sing alluringsongs, that possess a silver, slippery sensuality, seemingly so pure, but witha hint of something darker in repose, waiting for its moment…


It’sa wonderful thing, to bring gongs made (in part) of copper, and to play them inwhat were once copper mines.  As a friend said to me recently, it’s one ofthose full circle moments.  Perhaps it’s akin to a parent seeing in laterlife how the child of its loins has gone on to become someone in their ownright, someone who has taken all that life has given them, and forged it intosomething beautiful, through awareness, playfulness, hard work and love.  


A skilled gongmaker, such as the aforementioned Broder Oetken who brought Serafina into thisworld, must forge the gongs with these elements alive in his heart and mind….beauty, such that the gong is made with humbling awe in one’s heart; awareness,the light which lets us see that which can be seen and enjoy the mystery ofthat which cannot; playfulness, the carefree delight that lives in every momentof creation; hard work, the sincerity one brings into each hammering of red hotmetal; love, our fulfillment, the opening of the heart, the journey whosesoundtrack is written, moment after moment, with the sounds of gongs washingthrough our consciousness, taking us from one world into another, and another,and into the beyond….


Anyway, cutting a long story short ….. ;-)


I picked up Bifffrom a brekky cafe in Fallowfield and off we went in the P-Wagon, straight backto Artist’s Cottage where Bill and Tina were ready for us once more. Donning the hats and lights, we headed into the mines, this time loadedwith Lionheart, Serafina and enough stands and mallets to break a man’s back. I must admit to some inner-moaning which I quietly put to one side forthe benefit of the others; it was stirring within me at five moans per secondand gaining. Honesty with one’s self, I always say, is of great benefit to oneand all, but honesty with everyone else is sometimes a misery they could bespared.  OK, I’ve never said that before, but now that I’ve made it up, I dofind it quite appealing :-)


We arrived at the spot to be known from here on in as The Cavern of Gongs with acouple of hours on our hands to get down to business.  Tina left some pixie lights for us on the stairway, and we set up our hard-hat lights instrategic off-the-body positions such that we were able to do our thing withreasonable efficiency.  


Biff went aboutsetting up his recording gear, and I built a gong stand on the closest thing Icould find to level ground.  I hung Lionheart from the stand and he wasglory unto itself.  Directly behind him was a wall glistening with seepingwater and a small, trickling stream heading off into a tunnel.  


Oneither side, the rock face opened its gaping jaws and in front was the largestspace, the sounding chamber if you will, of The Cavern of Gongs (the wholearea, not including tunnels and paths which headed off in various directions,was probably about 5 metres wide by 6 metres across and about 8 metres high, ifmemory serves me correctly).  


 


 


 




With Lionheart was suspended in place, it became apparent that moisture was forming on hismirror like surfaces, and as much as I wiped him down, he just perspired again,one of the results being that it was impossible to successfully use any of therubber or silicon implements many of us gong players love so much for theirability to bring out the sounds often referred to as whale noises.  Still, I have always been one for enjoyinglimitations placed on art; it challenges us to delve deeper into our creativityand frequently produces very interesting results.


 


 


 


Andso, once again, the time was upon us. After a little testing of the recording equipment we got our game on andstarted recording. 


Thiswas when the real beauty began.


We’d planned to do a couple of 45 minute takes, but the second I startedplaying, any such plans were lost in the depths, replaced with an acute senseof my own heart, inspiration prickling my skin, and a silent mind wide open forthe experience to go deep beyond measure.  Time was a memory and playing wasall.  Every strike felt like a new idea was born within its momentum, andevery pause gave rise to a song of beauty forged in my heart and set free in myoutstretched arms, in the tunnels of the mines, in the deep, deep underground. A moment came when the gongs began to quieten and I hadn’t the heart tochange their direction, though I knew I’d not been playing long.  Therewas a sense of wonder so strong and a big smile inside that let myplans dissolve, replaced with this creative moment, alive and so sweet asthe gong’s tones slipped away into the expanse of everlasting silence. The 45 minute take turned out to be only 12 minutes long, butsometimes 12 minutes is just right!  


With lots of time left, we got back to it.  I thought that this time I would go for the45 minute take.  I started playing andonce again found myself adrift in worlds previously unexplored andfascinating.  Completely gripped andbursting with intense energy I followed the lead of the gongs as they took meon another amazing journey.  I couldn’tsay what it was that was allowing me to enter into these sounds with suchprofound completeness…. was it the ambience and spirits prevailing in themines, or the energy boost resulting from the pressing of the record button, orwas it just one of those days when everything falls into place?  I should imagine it was all of those andmore.  I think that when one is really inthe moment of creation, one ceases to exist in one’s own right, and all that isleft is the harmony of what is…. and there is no need to verbalise it, no needto analyse it. 


In truth, I think that we often comprehend realitythrough our own need to understand ourselves, but deep in the creative process,when the self is long gone, who needs to apply filters to reality?  It is enough unto itself.  Let it simply be said that beauty was thereand I’m a sucker for beauty.  


 


A great deal of the recording time was spent with Lionheart as I feltlike he had a story to tell that was not going to be complete in just a fewminutes.  In fact, on listening back tothe recordings, I feel as though Lionheart was really getting in touch withsomething about the mines.  Something todo with the slumbering giant I mentioned earlier.  Perhaps there is a great vast energy in thosemines that has spent eons sleeping, dreaming, sometimes tossing and turning,sometimes in deep, deep sleep for centuries…. and sometimes awakening.  And perhaps Lionheart was in touch with thatgreat being, expressing something of its slumber, its dreams and its awakening.  Who’s to say, but I find the idea of it veryinviting…. the kind of idea that seems to take shape seamlessly the more it isexplored.


 


 


Serafina, on the other hand, had gone feral and wasfrequently rearing up, telling stories of a wild and unpredictable nature.  I love her for this ability but after muchconsideration I decided to only allow a small amount of what she had to say togo onto the CD.  The voices of the gongsare very powerful, and some of these voices are only appropriate for certain occasions.  One has to take care where these matters areconcerned. 


 


 


Part 3 – The CD, and its tracks, explained.


 


Biff and I are over the moon with the finished product.  It’s a great and really quite unique soundthat brings across the atmosphere of the mines and all the energies that residethere.  We’re also delighted that in thequieter moments you can hear the water dripping off the walls!  What a lovely ambience…


After a careful selection process we decided in theend that we would use 49 minutes of the recorded material (thus producing it asa long E.P).


 



The tracks are as follows:


 


1.   A Giant’s Slumber (in three movements)


                    I.       40,000 Winks


                  II.       Hypnopompic Wavering


                 III.       Revivification


 


This medley is three of the Lionheart takes broughttogether into one longer take (a simple process of connecting ends to starts)thus making a ‘gong bath’ length of track (NB: these three were actually thefirst three takes of the day and remain in the order they were originallyplayed, thus keeping the integrity of the day’s unveiling of energies).


 


 


2.   Spirits, Spells and Shadows


 


This is Serafina, speaking of the her day’sactivities, her interactions and a few of her secrets.


 


3.   Elements and Eons


 


Here, Lionheart is on the other side of the cavern,conversing with the rocks about their knowledge of centuries of miningactivity, of witnessing the comings and goings of mankind, and, across abroader expanse of time, the comings and goings of minerals.


 


The Repeats


At this point on the CD, for the benefit of thosewho wish to experience the first tracks as short meditations in their own right,we have added the same material but as three separate tracks enabling you tochoose which to listen to.  Thus the CDis in fact over 78 minutes long with 6 tracks, but with 49 minutes of original materialand thus priced appropriately.


 


As an amusing final word, I should tell you that after one of the takes,Biff told me that whilst sitting and listening, he had wondered what curiouscreatures from around and about might be heading towards these amazing sounds!


 


I think it’s possible that Biff and I were the curiouscreatures!!


 


Oh, and one last thing….. Tina was right.  The world smelled gorgeous on the way backout of the mines.  The earth’s fragrance hasnever jumped out at you with such lung-filling vigour J


 


If you’d like to order a CD please contact me on supergongspa@gmail.com or find me at www.gongspa.co.uk or www.northernschoolofsoundsmiths.co.uk


 


Thanks for reading. 


Martyn J

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