A Bridge Between Souls (Part 1)
An interview with Lex van Someren
about his music
Tell us about your background and how you started as a musician:
I was born in Amsterdam in 1952, but although I have Dutch nationality, I am a traveller of the world. I have spent a lot of time of studying and working in many different countries.
When I was young we lived above a big restaurant where my father was manager. There was live music every day, and a different orchestra playing every month, which I loved. I could never get enough of watching, and did so whenever my parents allowed me to. The music made such a big impression on me that when I was six years old I built my own drum kit with old pots and pans and empty cans. After school I would come home and play along to the radio for hours.
I was also taken with anything that had to do with music, theatre, circus and clowns. Whatever I saw or heard inspired me to create my own little artistic projects, often involving the whole family – especially as an audience!
From the age of 10 to 13 I studied violin seriously, but then I got more interested in sports and this took up all my free time. The sports and physical education training I did at unversity brought me into the world of dancing, tai-chi and creative movement improvisation. Later I began to perform and teach the Sacred Art of Clowning, an art form which encourages a person’s own authentic clown to emerge and to communicate from a place of deep inner truth. Together with other trainings and experiences this has helped to give my music its unique identity.
Is there any country that you feel a special connection with?
Although I currently live in Germany, I still respect Norway as my real home, as I lived there for many years. It was there in the quietness and natural beauty and purity of that country, that I perfected my musical and theatrical talents and skills. It was the power of nature in Norway, which has a very strong feminine quality, that inspired me to start composing and singing my own music. One aspect of my music is a deep personal sharing of my love for nature, which has taught me so much about the dimensions of life beyond the everyday physical world.
Being aware of these dimensions within and around me, and longing to communicate them, has led me into a continuous process of trying to unfold and express ‘the sacred’. Music is a wonderful tool for this.
Can you say more about your relationship to music?
There are so many ways to answer this question. Music is a kind of language through which people can meet on a profound level. My music tells the story of my inner world – it‘s a way to reconnect with the core of me as a human being, an expression of my soul. Music has become what I call my soul - language. Those who listen with an open mind and heart will be able to tap into the ’soul attunement’ in the music, and this might help them to re-connect with their own Self – their soul dimension. When this happens, the music can serve to promote healing and positive transformation.
As I go deeper into music and dance – it may sound like a paradox, but I am discovering the silence within me, a still place of spiritual enrichment. Conveying the joy I experience in performing, singing and composing is a way to express my joy in existence itself. Besides dance and tai chi, music and singing have become my spiritual practice, since it is through these art forms that I am most easily able to reach what is highest in me.
When I am composing or performing music, I often enter an altered state of consciousness – like a trance state, but fully conscious – where I feel myself becoming one with existence, with the Divine if you like. This is my personal form of prayer. It is as its most powerful when I sing and dance and do my clowning. It’s my gift to the world, and the world’s gift to me.
What do you see as the role of your music in the world?
I strongly believe in the power of beauty and aesthetics and my intuition leads me to try to reflect that in all my art. I see it as a duty to play my part in restoring a balance in the world. In our western culture everything is strongly based on the worship of the rational mind, so much so that it has taken us far away from living through the heart and the intuition, and divorced us from beauty.
I follow a wholistic approach to life. My intention is that my art and music should touch the body, feelings, heart, mind and spirit. The strongest focus, though, is on heart energy: gentle, tender, harmonious, aesthetic and powerful. I have an intuitive urge, a passion, to create so-called heart music, with a reverence for the spirit of beauty in life.
I would like my music to express positive feelings about life, and I firmly distance myself from what I see as the many destructive trends in the music field. I am all too aware of the power in music and sound. Sound is a natural but very powerful tool which can change energies and moods. It can destroy or it can heal. Although I am a performance-artist and musician. I see myself first of all as a healer, using my arts as agents of healing. I am not interested in music merely as a consumer item. Music becomes interesting for me when it communicates something about the deepest and purest levels of our existence.
You have spoken about „healing“ more than once. What do you mean by healing in relation to music?
For me something is healing when it expands my sense of wholeness – of feeling whole in myself and at one with everything in and around me. I am a small particle in a larger whole, like a small fish in the ocean of the cosmic drama. This brings me in contact with feelings of awe and wonder, a sense of beauty, flow, harmony and humility. From that place inside me I create music. It’s a place where I feel in communion with the ‘beyond’ and with the beauty of the universe. This is what I call a ‘spiritual experience’, and because music is an expression of that experience, you could say that the music conveys a spiritual language.
Consciously or unconsciously the listener receives this language. If people play my music often, and preferably loud, so that it can resonate through the whole body, it can put them in touch with the place inside themselves that is in tune with ‘the whole’ – the universe inside. My hope is that the listener will feel more whole, which is the essence of healing.
What is the source of your music? Have you had any specific training to create it?
I see myself as mainly self-taught. The way I learn best is by observing, listening, trial and error. More important is that my life has become a path of unlearning, letting go of past conditioning and worn out patterns. This is a process of inner growth, an experience of emptying myself and detaching myself more and more from influences and teachings that are imposed from the outside. This letting go has empowered me to look much more within myself for guidance, inspiration and creative impulses. I now live more and more from an authentic place in me, with the result that my own spontaneous creative energy bubbles up out ot the emptiness. I feel in touch with my primal, natural power.
My art, the rituals I perform and my expressive forms of prayer come from this deep, primal power in me. I would call it „intuition“, as my mind is not involved. It happens beyond the mind: sounds, melodies, gestures, dance movements and strong impulses to move my hands in certain ways, in certain directions – all of these just come to me.
None of it is based on any cultural or traditional training I have had. Yet at the same time I experience it as strongly linked with – perhaps originating from – a number of cultural and spiritual traditions which all feel integrated in me. People in my audiences also seem to experience this. They hear and see elements of Native American traditions, Tibetan, Japanese, and other Oriental cultures, ancient Egypt, Spanish, Celtic, Inuit, just to name a few. I sense that too. I feel very close to those ancient traditions. It is as if they all flow through me as a natural, interconnected expression of art, even though I have hardly any training in any of them – at least not in this lifetime! It’s a purely intuitive process – I don’t have a better word for it.
Although there is an ethnic quality that bubbles up in my music, it sits quite naturally with the musical influences I grew up with. I can synthesise elements of pop, rock, jazz, classical and new age music with the more primal creative impulses in me, which seem to be linked with the indigenous music of various cultures. I like to create bridges between different types of music by using sounds, melodies and arrangements that are easy for western ears, and also bringing in undertones that may come from ancient or far-away cultures, carrying a deep message of remembering for people’s souls.
As always, I hope that whatever different elements there may be in the music, the resulting whole has the potential to turn people’s gaze inwards, to contemplate the world of spirit.
When you are in the process of composing, where do your ideas come from, and how do you achieve the end result you spoke about?
I feel that music is there all the time, within and around me. Everything in the universe has its own vibration, its sound. When I am silent and listen with awareness to the sounds around me – which might be in a busy town or a quiet forest – they can become music in my head. Just a simple sounds can become the beginning of a melody, a song.
Composing is a matter of being open, empty, aware and alert – able to start the process of composition whenever inspiration moves me. This is one way that the idea for a song can arrive. I also feel that music is constantly playing me. I sense so much melody and rhythm, so many beautiful sounds going on in me that I can’t help making music out of it. I have always been blessed with the sense of a bottomless source of creativity within me, which I can tap into at any time.
Melodies often come to me just before I fall asleep. Or I might wake in the morning with a new song or tune in my head. For this reason I always keep a small tape-recorder near me to record ideas which I can build on later.
Similary, when I meditate deeply, I easily go into a trance state where my whole being just wants to start singing. This I experience as prayer. The song becomes a response to God’s calling – that’s what prayer is about for me. The same often happens when I go alone into nature. It invites me to let go and just be – and in that beingness there is usually music. It pops up out of nothing – I feel compelled to sing and dance, rejoicing in my feeling of oneness with nature. I think singing like this becomes easy when I let go of the ego, allowing the all-encompassing creator within me to take over.
Music, singing and dancing are an expression of my deep reverence for life, for God. I would call it a religious feeling, a sense of merging into a divine ocean of beingness. Sometimes this wants to be expressed as cosmic playfulness, which is what happens through my clowning.
Sometimes one line of a song I hear on the radio will stick in my mind and I then create a new song out of it. Or else I might hear a rhythm that I like and use something similar for a song I already have in mind. It is a pre-requisite that a melody has to strike a strong chord in me. If it touches me deeply then I know it’s worth making a song from it.
Sometimes the first idea comes in a flash of inspiration. I was travelling through France in my van when I suddenly started to whistle the first lines of what later became the ‘Shangrila’ song. I knew at once that I was on the track of something very special. A few minutes later the word ‘Shangrila’ came into my mind, and I went to create the first few lines of text as I drove. It also often happens that a new song just arrives when I take my guitar and start playing around with chords, without thinking.
Although the musical ideas usually appear in an instant, I then have to work on building and perfecting a song. With some songs this goes quickly, but others can take hours, even days. While working on the structure and build-up, I start to hear ideas for arrangements – melody lines for specific instruments, voices or choirs. This is what happened with Shangrila – after the initial idea came while driving. I later had to work deeply on all the details.
In this process I depend on the help of other musicians, as I can only sing, whistle and play a bit of guitar, and I don’t read or write music. I have been fortunate to have a gifted musician, Frank Steiner, helping me to compose and arrange. We have an intuitive musical connection and don’t need many words to know what the other wants or feels about a paticular piece of music.
When it comes to making CD’s I aim to include only those songs which I feel very strongly about. While working on my first CD, The Northern Light, I learned that I can trust my strong intuition about music. At that time I didn’t know anything about making a record. However, after a lot of trial and error, sometimes wasting a lot of money and time, I now have confidence – having produced four CDs – that I know how to produce my music to greatest effect.
All my CDs are produced in close collaboration with a talented and highly skilled musician who plays keyboards and is also a computer programmer. He translates my ideas into music in the computer with sampled sounds from the keyboard. Later, in the recording studio, a lot of these sounds are replaced by real acoustic instruments. For this I hire musicians, and it is an art in itself to communicate my musical ideas to them in such a way that they play as I would like. I have learned that it is vital to give a musician a lot of freedom to create his or her own interpretation of my idea. That’s risky because it sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t!
The production process is clearly very important. Why don’t you have a record company producing for you?
That’s a good question. It first happend around 1990 that when I sang during my clown performances people would queue up afterwards to buy a cassette or CD of my music, which I did not have at that time. After a while this gave me the courage to take out a bank loan, and with the help of some generous musicians I completed my first CD, The Northern Light, in twenty days. I didn’t know anything about recording in a studio or producing a whole CD, but I learned fast.
I decided to release the CD myself, which meant getting another bank loan and then trying to get a contract with a company. I was lucky that the German Company, Nightingale Records, responded immediately and we came to an agreement. I had hoped that with the support of Nightingale I could continue with my next CD, but I had to learn that this is not how the music business works. I then had to produce the next CD, Shangrila, on my own, investing all my money I earned and taking out new loans. Fortunately I was selling my CDs at my concerts and shows, which reassured me that I was re-couping my investment.
Music is a big business nowadays – a tremendous amount is being produced, including so-called new age music. However, I felt then, and still feel such a strong urge to create music that, supported or not, I’m determined to keep on producing in the hope that one day it will take off and pay itself back. It is going that way now, though it still isn’t easy to get my work known on the music market. I will go on because I believe and trust that there will be growing public interest in the kind of music I make.
So much is involved in producing a CD. I think most people have no idea what it takes. First the composing process, then serveral phases of recording in a studio, hiring musicians, etc. It all takes a great deal of organising. Up until now it has taken me a year to make one CD – partly because I like to leave enough time for the songs to ripen and grow.
One more thing I would like to say about making CDs – for me a CD or cassette is a wonderful way to connect with people. I can communicate heart to heart, soul to soul with people without ever meeting them. The music travels and speaks on its own. I realised this when The Northern Light started spreading around the world. People began writing me letters, and on my travels I often met people who already knew my music, and through that already knew me. This was not just on a superficial level, because through my music I had already spoken to them from the deepest place in my heart. I realised that whatever message is in the music, it reaches the listener’s home when he buys the CD.
You said that your music carries high energy vibrations. Can you explain that further?
I know that in most of my music there are combinations of powerful sounds which can be used for healing and transformational work, and, of course, in spiritual practices like meditation. I am convinced that one day this will be proven scientifically, as scientists are one the way to constructing machines that will be able to measure these energy qualities, which I believe come from higher spiritual realms.
When I create or perform music, I go into an altered state where I experience being attuned to these higher levels of consciousness. From this state I can translate subtle energy vibrations into sound, melody and harmonic arrangements. It is as if I hear, and know clearly what wants to be expressed and how. These creative energies come from a non-personal level. You might say that my soul acts as a channel through which energies flow, in order to be expressed in music and sound.
It seems that the resonance of my singing can have a strong healing quality, for this reason I like to work with complex choir arrangements where my voice is dubbed many times over. This amplifies the vibrational intensity of a particular song or musical phrase. At times I can be very precise about a certain note or melody line, which I know has to be played in exactly the way I hear it inside me. If another musician changes even one note, the energetic pattern of that phrase collapses, the vibration is no longer effective. Other people, colleagues for example, see me as a perfectionist in this respect, but I often feel I have to be like this, otherwise the music will not achieve the particular quality I am looking for.
In my case I think the real artistry comes in the arranging rather than the composing. Using a simple basic framework, I then build in complex arrangements which transmit those subtle energies. When arranging I work very intuitively, packing the songs with powerful vibrations through the use of specific sounds, syllables, styles of singing, and the layering of several musical instruments and choirs. I cannot explain exactly how it happens, but I usually know when I am on the way to conveying something powerful.
Another thing that feels relevant here is that I see one of my tasks as building a musical brigde between the sacred and the mundane – to bring an awareness of the sacred into our daily lives through music. That is why I like to put elements of popular music together with more spiritually inclined music.
You say that a lot of your music is meditative. What does this mean for you?
Meditative music brings us closer to silence – to that still place deep inside us. However, this is not something that can only be attained by listening to very minimal, slow, quiet music. It can equally happen when hearing or playing dynamic music which has within it a deep quality of transcendence – music that has been composed from a sacred perspective.
Osho shared a wonderful insight about music when he said: ‘Music is determined by the gaps between the notes, beats, sounds and melodies. It is not the sound, but the gaps of silence that make music of a meditative quality.’ So after a very dynamic
piece of music, the silence can be experienced as extremely profound and powerful. That too can make it meditative.
In modern western society we are no longer used to appreciating real silence – it can even embarrass us. Instead, after hearing a wonderful piece of music or a poem being performed, or watching a deeply touching piece of theatre, people feel compelled to clap their hands. At my concerts I generally invite people to be very aware and to discriminate – to feel when it is right to clap and when not to. I ask them to feel and appreciate the silence after a particular song. After some songs the silence can be so powerful that loud applause would be wounding to a sensitive person – like an elephant in a china shop. I often ask my audiences to be quiet for one or two minutes and to really enjoy the quality of the silence that descends. I explain that this silence differs from the mere absence of sound – in that it is full of life, full of subtle vibration which can lead the open and sensitive person into a mystical experience.
On the other hand, after some songs it can be really uplifting when the audience applauds. The release of feelings through clapping can bring about another quality of silence inside us.
The way you whistle in some of your songs is magical – really extraordinary. It is reminiscent of many traditional cultures where the language of the gods is symbolically performed by whistling.
I have always loved whistling. Even as a child I used to whistle along with any music I heard. So the skill has developed over a lifetime of whistling whenever I felt like it. Now it has become a distinctive feature of my music, and most people respond to it strongly and positively.
I have noticed that whistling sets up a resonance with certain parts of the brain. It feels very soothing, relaxing and uplifting, and does something to my body and brain which I experience as healing. I have found out that this effect is stronger when I whistle, for example, in a cathedral or other large hall, where the reverberations are very expansive and long-lasting. As I’m not always able to play in such places I am fortunate that modern technical advances make it possible to buy reverb and effect machines. These allow me to re-create the sound of a cathedral or similar building at any time. I often use the effect machine as a musical instrument for my whistling and singing. I feel intuitively that using these big reverberations and effects contributes positively to our well-being, making it easier to reach altered states of consciousness. I have heard that scientific research confirms this.
Another very unusual aspect of many of your songs is that the lyrics sound like a melodic foreign language, but I understand that they don’t belong to any known language?
Yes and no. It is certainly not a language in the usual sense of the word, but for me it feels like a real language – jabbertalk – gibberish sounds that I make spontaneously in the moment. I don’t think about what I am going to say: my thinking mind is not involved. I sometimes call it a ‘no-mind language’, but really I prefer to call it my ‘soul - language’ or ‘language of the heart’. For me it has become the most powerful way to express myself verbally from a deep place within.
It sounds like a language, but it just consists of melodic syllables and sounds made
up on the spur of the moment. I got a lot of practice in doing this as a clown. It is really liberating to sing this way, as I am not limited by particular words in any specific language. Soul language is free from the conditioning and mental constructions that are present in other languages.
The Australian singer, Lisa Gerrard says that everyone should have two languages, one for everyday and one for singing, to express real feelings. More and more singers are starting to sing like this. You might call it an unorthodox technique to circumvent the rational mind, to gain access to other dimensions of our inner existence.
Is it very difficult to use this language?
It is not that difficult. It’s mainly a matter of letting go of inhibitions. You may need some courage at the beginning, but many years experience of encouraging people in my workshops to talk and sing like this, have proven to me that everyone can do it. It is a matter of practice, and having fun! It is like meditation and play, which can even develop into prayer and play. I believe our prayers should be playful and full of spontanelly.
I prefer an approach to prayer where I am not asking for something. For me it is about attunement with God, or with the divine if you prefer. As I said before, I like the expression, ‘prayer is answering God’s calling’ – instead of the other way around. That is what my singing and music are really about.
How did you start to sing this way?
Many years ago, when I was already composing music, my texts were never that strong. I then went through times of deep frustration and difficult processes, as most artists seem to do on the way to discovering their own unique form. In the end I decided to give up using lyrics in my songs and to just whistle, hum and sing la, la, la.
Then one day when I was on a Greek island, walking in nature – which is always a powerful source of inspiration for me – I started to sing sounds and nonsense syllables. My wife said: ‘If you sing like this, then I can listen to you for ever.’ I took this as a sign that I had found something essential, which belonged to me. That’s how it started.
Because it is not a mental language, I experience it as a way to communicate ‘energy’ through singing. Most of the time I feel it is energy of an impersonal, transcendental quality. It’s as if I am just the medium through which this energy can be transmitted. Just as with my clown acts, where I use mimes and jabbertalk, with my music I am independent of any national language. It is international, or even better, universal. It breaks through the many barriers we create with our minds.
But some of your songs have English lyrics ...
The interesting thing is that lately I have started writing lyrics again, mainly in English. I think that many years of practising without words has helped me to find a place inside, from which normal language can arise, which nonetheless has a link with the ‘beyond’. By this I mean that these texts are not only created from my mind, but again involve other dimensions of consciousness. This usually occurs when I am in a light trance state, where the lyrics arrive in a flow. I feel that they have a deep and strong meaning.