Pro Artist

Cleveland, April 2006

Contributing writer - Terri Simons


Tell us about your Gongtopia project.

Gongtopia is something I've had in mind for a while, and it grew out of my solo percussion project, Percussion Chamber Music. About 5 years ago, I decided to work intensely on my own percussion music, instead of playing other people's music in a band format. I put together a solo project which used drums, percussion, and Gongs. It was about half composed and half improvised music. Now this was sort of a crazy thing to do, but I believed in the music and many of my musician friends were encouraging. So I played some concerts, recorded a CD, STARS SHOW THE WAY, and the response was fantastic!

The more I delved into this, the more the Gongs called out to me. I also became more fascinated with their potential. Eventually, I decided to work on a solo Gong project which became GONGTOPIA. And it's been amazing! On one hand, Gongs are energy portals. They are almost like a lens which focuses sound vibrations. Just playing them affects me intensely. I've also been able to tie together a lot of my interests, like sacred geometry, labyrinths, and spirituality - they all are directly connected to the Gongs. So it's been a journey of discovery as much as anything.

How are the gongs used as an intuitive healing art?

The Gongs have some amazing properties. They can actually affect us at a cellular level. They also can open up the Chakras and energy centers in the body, so that we can release a lot of blocked energy and feel cleansed/healed.

In what ways have some people been affected by the sound?

I have a very good drummer friend who I gave a copy of my Gong CD, LABYRINTH, to and he called me the next day saying that he'd had a headache and the music took it away. Other people have said that the music helps them sleep. At Gong Meditation Sessions, people have had many emotional experiences, like crying. The vibrations just seem to reach inside us and release a lot of things. People have also experienced being energized, inspired–a sort of vibrational high. I always tell people to drink a lot of water over the next day to help flush out the toxins that may be released into their systems.

What former bands did you work with?

So many over the years. The ones worth mentioning were back in the '70s & '80s: REENG, X-570, Camera, Alshia–all more or less progressive rock.

What factors shaped your involvement in music?

I'm a very visual person and I remember being attracted to how the drums looked. In fact, I've always thought all the variety of percussion instruments are fantastic to look at. And there's just something primal about the sound of percussion. There's almost like this deep connection to the past when you play. Percussion has also always had this very spiritual side, a sacred side. If we look at various societies around the world, percussion is used for special occasions: like births, deaths, weddings, etc. It's used in celebrations, healings, gatherings, and sacred ceremonies. So once you really start investigating percussion, it just gets deeper and deeper, drawing you in. With Gongs, there's a very deep spirituality. Even just their visual look is, to me, a lot like a Buddhist Mandala - they draw you in andpresent this whole Universe of possibilities.

Besides music, what are some of your other interests?

Writing is a big thing for me. I'm always writing. I've written for magazines for the past 23 years. I've also written some books on percussion, books of poetry, and I'm currently working on a couple of fiction books. So that's a big interest to me.

On the opposite end, reading is big to me. I'm always reading. I'm sort of an information junkie! I always have books with me because I have a lot of downtime when traveling or playing. I always joke that I've read more books between setting up and waiting to play. I like science books, biographies, poetry, science fiction, new age & spiritual books–lots of things.

I'm also interesting in things like photography, design (I design all my own CD covers and promo) and film–again, visual media. I really want to get into film making, which I see as the same thing as music, only done with light instead of sound.

What was your first concert?

The first real concert I went to? That would be Grand Funk Railroad and Black Oak Arkansas. I was a teenager and it blew me away.

The first real solo concert I played was maybe in Chicago. I had all my Gongs, a huge drum set, and lots of small percussion. It was liberating to play my music and not be in a band. There's a freedom to playing solo that's energizing. I haven't looked back since.

Thanks to?

Thanks to all the people I've met along the way who have listened to my music. So many people have been encouraging about what I do, about pursuing my own music. And thanks to the Gong makers like Paiste, Michael Paiste, Steve Hubback–their instruments are what inspire me. Also, in being a writer I've been able to interview most of the percussionists I admire, and many of them are now very close friends, which I'm very thankful for.

Good stories?

When I was about 20, I was in a band playing a lot of original musicthat was sort of progressive hard rock. I started adding Gongs, bells,orchestra bells, and all sorts of percussion to my drum set. I was exploring playing orchestrated music, not just beats. Another drummer, who was sort of a rival, came to a show one night and remarked, "That's not a drum set, that's an arsenal!" I knew I was on to something then and should keep going.

What events/zines should we know about?

I think in everyone's own community they should look for drums circles. Anyone can join in and shake a rattle or play a drum. It's a great sense of community and breaks down barriers. Also look for local dance/music/arts groups that are trying to do something different, something creative. They're made up of people like myself, who are not making millions of dollars like a big rock star, but really do it because they love it.

On a wider scale, look for the film Touch The Sound playing in small, arty theaters. It's a documentary about Scottish percussionist Evelyn Glennie. She's mostly deaf and is one of the best percussionists in the world. Although she's known for playing concertos with symphonies, the film is about her exploring sound, improvising. It really connected with me because what she does in the film is so much like what I do. She's amazing and has a wonderful spirit. It should be out on DVD in May.

There are also a lot of creative music festivals in many of the major cities. They tend to feature musicians who are on the edge, not signed to major labels. Check out Edgefest in Ann Arbor, Emptybottle Fest in Chicago, High Mayhem in New Mexico, High Zero Fest in Baltimore, and many others.

For zines, if you want to know about drumming, check out MODERN DRUMMER. I've written for it since 1983, and it covers a lot of musical ground. There's also a great one called GLOBAL RHYTHM. They cover what's known as world music and present a lot of interesting artists. On the web, check out www.tokafi.com, www.onefinalnote.comand www.paristransatlantic.com

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