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Jerusalem Chonyd Bardo Bhavacakra
Somma - 23 Wheels of Dharma

We all want to get closer—to perfection, to bliss, to the truth, , sometimes even to the edge—and if the current trends of 21st-century technology are any guide, it seems a lot of us now want to get closer to each other. But the daily grind of text messages and tweets makes it easy to forget that the basics of social networking haven’t really changed all that much in the last 10,000 years or so. What’s different is there’s very little ritual to it anymore; the sanctified magic of a meaningful conversation or shared experience is in danger of becoming a casualty of the info wars. Or is it?

This is usually when art comes to the rescue. It begins with an idea—in this case, a journey into ancient magical tradition, with modern musical and visual cues lighting the way. Somma, or the Sacred Order of Magic, Music and Art, was first conceived in 1995 by Eraldo Bernocchi and Petulia Mattioli (who conceived the stunning album artwork for this package) as a real vehicle for cultural interaction, without any of the oppressive trappings of “world music” clichés, in fact it would be an injustice to put this musical composition into any particular genre.

Bring a group of Mahayana Buddhist monks together with a band of mostly Western musicians, and the results can be unpredictable to say the least. But when the booming long horns, prayer bells, and otherworldly growls and whistles of Tibetan throat singing are added to a modern blend of dub-style electronics, ethno-ambient soundscapes, low-end beats and avant garde improvisation—well, the points of connection begin to multiply. Take the whole ensemble and present it live in front of an open-minded audience, with a montage of lights, messages and image melts to enhance the trip, and all at once the event becomes more than just a fusion experiment. With the right conditions, a fully modernized ritual begins to surface, and just as suddenly, we might remember why we’re all here, and that what we’ve lost—a sense of connectedness, and an interior assuredness that anything is possible—is, for a moment at least, now found.

For anyone familiar with The Tibetan Book of the Dead, some of the song titles here will ring familiar. “Chonyd Bardo” is the second stage of Bardo (in Tibetan Buddhism, the intermediate state between death and rebirth), and refers to the glimpse of Reality that occurs after seeing the Clear Light, while “Sidpa Bardo” describes the seeker’s path to Rebirth. How these states might be interpreted musically is anybody’s guess—mixing the operatically layered vocals of Faraualla with the meditative chants of six Tibetan monks is certainly one way—but the sure thing about any Somma performance is that the music describes a journey. It’s in the Marley-inspired reggae of “Jerusalem,” or the celestial voicings of Nils Petter Molvaer’s trumpet in “Tenzin Travel.” It’s in the spaghetti western-style guitar of Bernocchi in “To The East,” or the thick four-on-the-floor groove laid down by Laswell and Drake on “Bhavacakra” (with Raiz and his confrère Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari weighing in with throaty conviction). But the song titles are mere signposts; the music itself is the real autostrada of the soul that stretches out here.

And yet like any live recording, 23 Wheels of Dharma is an artifact of an actual experience; as powerful as it is, it can only point to a shade of what happened on stage in one particular crowded theater, on one particular night when cultural barriers were temporarily dissolved so that like-minded artists could lean toward the creation of a new language, a new perspective and a new way of looking at the world. It might not be quite the same as being there, but if you’re seeking out a taste of what a truly modern ritual might feel like, this is the place to start.


Eraldo Bernocchi - guitars

Bill Laswell - bass

Nils Petter Molvaer - trumpet

Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari - vocals

Raiz - vocals

Faraualla - vocals

Hamid Drake - drums

Recorded Live in 2007 At Teatro Dal Verme, Milan.

Oz Fritz - engineer

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