Magic + Makers
Good Vibrations | Vocal Sound Baths with Odeya Nini
In daily life, we are bombarded with unintentional sounds – trash trucks, car alarms, clicking of keyboards, neighborhood dogs barking, traffic, the hum of our refrigerator, power surging through the lines, people chewing food (maybe that’s just my misophonia talking). If you really get quiet and listen, it’s enough to fry your nerves, all of the second-hand sounds that our minds and bodies are absorbing throughout the day. But what happens when you show up to a space to lie down, close your eyes, and fall into the healing vibrations from crystal bowls? You listen with intention, with your mind and soul, not with the added filter of visual stimulation. You don’t have to understand the science of sound to walk away feeling calm and renewed. Sound baths are aptly named, because I always walk away feeling calm, connected and like my nervous system took a warm, beautiful candle-lit bath. Performance artist Odeya Nini began combining her incredible voice with singing bowls and the effect is otherworldly. Her vibrations have allowed her to travel all over the globe – Canada, Israel, Australia, Vietnam, Ukraine (to name a few), and we had the honor of talking to her about the art of casting her vocal spell.
Many of our readers may not have previous experience with sound baths, so let’s start with the basics. I’m most familiar with purely sound baths, where just the beautiful bowls are played. But you do something a bit next level. So what is a vocal-sound bath?
A sound bath is a deep listening experience, while laying on the floor in a relaxed state with closed eyes. When one lays on the ground in this position, you leave the visual world – where the mind and eyes are constantly processing visual stimulation. You are receiving an experience non-judgmentally, as pure sensation and feeling. This situation is not one we normally have at a public musical event, since we aren’t generally in a pure listening state and therefore we are unable to commit ourselves fully to listening. The tones produced by the Himalayan and crystal bowls have a dense vibration, composed of difference tones, overtones, various harmonics, psycho-acoustic tones, and a vibration lasting beyond the moment a mallet is removed from the instrument. This type of vibration is piercing, enveloping, arresting and demanding of our attention. Once the ear, mind and body are captivated by sound, the chatter in our heads, the constant narration, the analyzing and judging, turns into pure feeling. Although this experience is offered, each individual needs to allow it be their own. It’s an invitation, not an imposition.
A voice bath is the sound of Himalayan and crystal singing bowls together with the long tones and melodies of the voice. Since we all have a voice, and it being so immediately connected to emotion, history, place and time, we have a more intimate and vicarious listening experience with it.
How is sound healing? On what level does it work?
Sound is a physical waveform that moves through space and touches objects, including our brain, blood and nervous system. Since our body is in constant movement, on the micro and macro level, this waveform enters our system causing an interruption. This interruption redirects the current of our flow in various directions. At times, this redirection can surface negative feelings that might be in the undercurrent, which allows us to recognize their existence and face them – a healing process in itself. At times the redirection takes us to a deeper state of imagination, a mental experience similar to the dream state. This pause in our usual automatic flow as humans is already a healing state, similar to sleeping when you are very tired. When there is a constant jittery movement within you, a relentless gripping of thoughts and feelings, and a good friend offers you a gentle voice, a warm embrace and a shared deep breath to calm you down – that is how I think of a sound bath. You have to trust that friend and feel their deep love to be able to reset and clear your mind. There are many ways to explain the healing power of sound, but I like to think of it poetically. Sound is love. When you pause with your love, the world around you transforms immediately into a beautiful, illuminated space of infinite possibilities.
What is your experience as the one performing the sound baths – do you go into a meditative space as a channel, or are you extremely present with all of the sounds you’re making?
I am coming to this work as a musician. I am very careful not to call myself a sound healer, channel, medium or any other otherworldly creature – as I have great respect for the people who do associate with that work! With that said, I think that as humans we have an ability to be in two states of being at the same time. I have learned as performer and especially as an improviser, a parallel state is not one you can enter by trying. It’s a state you enter by completely and honestly letting go, fully committing to the present moment and sensation. When I am giving a voice bath I completely feel between two worlds. I am sharing of my energy with the people in the room, carefully walking while playing my bowl and singing. The action of gently walking, awareness of my every step, and the steadiness I need to play the bowls evenly, along with the powerful strength I need to physically produce vocal sound is part of the meditation for me. I need to balance both of those dynamics which forces a presence. Simultaneously when I sing, I sing for myself and enjoy the pleasure of the sound and vibration. I believe, and as a mother I learned this best: we need to nurture ourselves to be able to nurture others. I am both sending the sound to others, visualizing a beam wrapping around them and the room, while I also giving the sound to myself, sending it deep into my bones and root.
How did your discovery of this gift come about?
My work as an artist and composer is an interdisciplinary practice of voice, movement and theater. It’s very experimental and abstract. I have also been teaching yoga since 2006. When I first started doing the kind of vocal performance that I do, I was often approached by people afterwards who really wanted to understand the work. They wanted to understand me and what I meant with the work I was doing. I was really bothered by that, because I wanted people to have their own experience for which I feel contemporary art should allow – it wasn’t about me. The viewer needs to decide what is it for them and it will be something different for everyone. After first experiencing a sound bath, I thought – what if people experienced my performance laying on the ground with their eyes closed? So I did just that, and afterwards people approached me with images of places they went in their heads, and talked about their feelings. No one asked me what I was feeling. This taught me about energy and when the intention is directed to a certain place, you transform the experience from a separate one of performer/observer, and it becomes a shared one. Since then, my voice baths have become more focused with certain tones and melodies serving the experience, and my artistic work has gained a lot of resonance and intention towards sending energy and holding space for others while performing a contemporary art.