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  • When I'm out recording, I just slip on my headphones and I am transported to an alternate universe.

    It's a world where your eyes matter much less than your ears -- ears that are super-powered to zoom into the nooks and crannies of a space, the intimacy of someone's voice, the rich notes of a musical instrument...even the absence of sound has a certain ring to it.

    Through my microphone, I can hear emptiness....color....joy....regret. It truly is a magical thing.

    My super-powered ears also grant me access to special places, because I hear my way to them. That's what happened this night, when I recorded this sound.

    I was at the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, a crematorium slash mausoleum slash funeral home that's over a 100 years old. On the summer solstice, experimental musicians gather here for a unique music festival called "Garden of Memory."

    The musicians are placed in every corner of the enormous building, and visitors wander around the labyrinth-like space to hear them. Inside, it is super elegant and delicate, kinda feels like walking through an antique armoir. Every wall of the building is divided into little compartments, from top to bottom, and all of them hold urns filled with human remains. The urns are often designed to look like books or works of art, so you can wander the hallways dotted with groves of palm trees and fountains and almost forget that this is a place of death and stillness.

    It's especially easy on a night like this, when the entire building is filled with hand-holding couples, grandparents chasing after little kids playing tag, well-dressed hipsters, former hippies, and everything in between.

    As I let my super ears guide me around, I hear a special ringing floating above all the chatter. I follow it to the top floor where people are singing in a circle. Each has their right hand on their chest, and their left on the back of the person next to them. Their task is to sing on an ah vowel, whatever song comes to their heart. Hence the name of the piece -- the Heart Chant. A person can join the circle or leave it as they wish, but five members remain to make sure the singing doesn't stop. They continue like this for three continuous hours.

    When I approach with my big microphone, the leader of the group motions for me to get in the middle. (What you're listening to right now is what I recorded.)

    As I kneel in the center of this cacophonous wonder, I have to close my eyes to fully take it in. Through my super ears, I hear specific voices, each with its own personality -- some shy, some deep, some singing with bravery and gusto, and others just a hair above a whisper. Harmonies formulate out of the dissonance, and then dissipate back into the random chorus as it echoes off the mausoleum's walls.

    After a few minutes, the sound starts to bleed into the rest of my senses. I start to feel these amazing swells of energy from the group in my own body, as if I were singing along with them. I hear emotions like confusion....longing....inspiration....love. I get to participate in all of it through my ears, which brings me an intense pleasure that spreads across my face in a silly grin. As I'm kneeling there, all I can think is, how gorgeous it is to be a part of this present moment, and how ridiculously grateful I am to get to call this "work."

    Special thanks to Julie Caine for taking this photo of me, and to Seth Samuel for alerting my ears to the chant. "The Heart Chant" was composed by Pauline Oliveros, and it was performed at the Garden of Memory concert by the Cornelius Cardew Choir.

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