In August 2009, Dan Cowan from Music Design In Review interviewed Sequoia Records recording artist, producer and co-founder, Steve Gordon, about Meditation Drum, about the latest album from David & Steve Gordon, their interest in drumming and where Sequoia Records is heading next.
What can listeners expect with your new album MEDITATION DRUM?
Meditation Drum is unlike any of our prior drumming albums because the drums are used to create a meditative state. Unlike our native-influenced drum albums such as Sacred Earth Drums or Drum Medicine, where the drums are surrounded by a full sound that includes, flutes, guitars, keyboards and global instruments, and unlike our most recent drumming release, Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire, where the drums are playing up-tempo grooves designed to give you energy, on Meditation Drum, the tempos are very slow and peaceful and we stripped down the sound to only global drums, crystal and Tibetan bowls and Native flutes. This gives the music a spacious quality that makes it really effective for creating a peaceful environment and for using as a tool for deep meditation.
Meditation Drum is an entirely new concept in music for meditation.
For the first time, instead of using synthesizers or other instruments, primarily drums are used to create a peaceful sound that can be used to cultivate the meditative state. We based each song on ancient Shamanic rhythms and then added Tibetan and Crystal bowls to provide drones conductive to meditation as well as just the right amount of Native flutes to inspire the mind with some melody.
Are there any other past albums that you could compare this to?
The only one that might be somewhat similar would be Shaman's Vision Journey since that one does have slower tempos and longer songs, and is meant for relaxation and meditation. However, Shaman's Vision Journey has a much fuller sound that includes guitars, keyboards and vocal chants. Also, Meditation Drum is not native influenced. It has a more global sound that includes rhythms from many cultures.
This album certainly has an introspective, thought-provoking quality to it. Was there anything that you did you prepare yourself for the composition of this album? To get into that mindset?
We recorded most of it in my studio. We put an Indian carpet in the middle of the studio and spread out our collections of drums from around the world. We added to that many ethnic drums that Kim Atkinson (one of our special guest collaborators) brought over as well as his collection of crystal and Tibetan bowls. Once we had that all set up we started playing some of the same ancient Shamanic rhythms that we had originally researched for Shaman's Vision Journey and immediately went into a deep meditative state. We used these rhythms because they are very conductive to getting into a trance-state of consciousness. When you are in the same room as these large tribal drums and bowls, the vibrations of sound have a powerful effect, which makes it very easy to meditate. After we recorded all our parts we mixed the album in a way that enables anyone who hears it feel some of that same resonance which allows them to also entire the meditative state easily.
Do you have any personal meditation practices that you do?
David and I have been meditating over 30 years. We both do sitting mantra meditation as well as Zen mindfulness meditation while doing activities such as walking, running, hiking or even while doing tasks around the house. We have found that meditation allows us to keep our minds clear in a midst of busy lives, which is really important, both in avoiding stress as well as staying in the receptive state of mind we need in order to write music. Meditation is more important that ever nowadays considering how much faster everything is going due to technology. Meditation allows you to keep a serene place inside while staying active in a sometimes-chaotic world.
Can you tell me a little about how you chose the drums & instruments that show up on the recording?
Over the last 15 years or so we have assembled a large collection of global drums and percussion. For the low drum sound we used African dun duns, Taos Pueblo drums, Egyptian Tar, Brazilian surdos, Native frame drums and Celtic Boudrans. For the other drums sounds we used Ashiko, Congas, Dumbek, Sangba, Bongo Madera, Adodo, Talking Drums, Box Drum, Repinique, Djembe, Moroccan Bongos and Gathering Drum. There are also some percussion sounds of Turtle Rattle, Seed Pod Rattle, Palm Leaf Rattle and Rainstick. There are also many different sizes of crystal and Tibetan bowls, gongs and some of our favorite Native flutes.
Did you know from the start that you wanted to create a meditative recording, or did it just evolve that way as you made the album?
We initially got the idea to make an album of meditation music featuring drums while we were recording our last drum album Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire. During the recording of one of the slower songs on the album, we had some large low-pitched Tribal drums and crystal bowls out and we enjoyed a very good meditation while listening back to what we had recorded. We talked about doing an album with nothing but these large soothing drums and bowl sounds. There is something very centering about the steady beat of a large tribal drum. Ancient cultures have used these types of drums for thousands of years to soothe their spirits and center their minds for healing. When we realized that no one had ever released an album of drum meditation music before, we knew we had to do it. We wanted to share the deep meditations these drums were allowing us to experience.
Last year you celebrated your 25th Anniversary with a pair of retrospective albums, EARTH DRUM, SOUND PEACE and a DVD, EARTH DRUM VISIONS. Where do you see Sequoia records going in the future? Any new directions?
It's been almost 2 years since the last Buddha Lounge, so we will be coming out with Buddha Lounge 7 next year. Buddha Lounge has become so popular that it is almost as though it is a beloved radio station that always has a great new collection of songs to hear. For this reason, we take great care in searching for just the right chill out songs from around the world for each new release. So far Buddha Lounge 7 looks like it will be the best of the series!
Also in 2010 we will release our first album of Native American Flute music. In the past we have only included Native American flute on our drumming albums like Sacred Spirit Drums. But this album will have only soothing Native American flute and serene guitar and keyboards without any drums. There will also be the very first Sequoia album of healing music for bamboo flute that is for meditation, yoga and massage. We also are working on a new concept of Celtic acoustic guitar and piano music that is still under wraps so I don't want to say too much about it other than that it will be another first in a new style of music from Sequoia. We really believe in the idea of creating and supporting music releases that are fresh, innovative and unique!
What is it that originally drew you to drum music? What made you want to start making albums of this sort?
In the 80's we released many albums of serene meditation music that really did not have any rhythm at all such as Garden of Serenity and Soothing Sanctuary. Then in the late 80's we started attending some events in the mountains where people would do hand drumming. We spent a few years studying hand drumming and collecting drums. We both felt a strong connection to tribal drums and world rhythms. When we played the drums we felt connected to the universe and ourselves.
After a while we realized that we could make an album that combined world drums and percussion with the lush textures of our meditation music. We wanted people to experience the same empowering feeling from the drums that we felt. The result of that idea was Sacred Earth Drums in 1994. We weren't sure how people would respond to it since at that time new age music was only non-rhythmic healing music. We were surprised and pleased when so many listeners loved it that it became our bestselling album. Since then we have released many more drumming albums such as Sacred Spirit Drums, Drum Medicine, Drum Cargo - Rhythms of Fire and Meditation Drum. Playing or listening to world drum rhythms is a great way to entrain the mind. Drumming is a form of meditation that connects you to your inner self but while you are engaged in the world.