Be Quiet – It’s a Gong
For most people, the Gong is a loud musical instrument, capable of producing crashing, splashing sounds of color and penetration.
And indeed, sometimes the Gong is played that way, with its sound becoming at times overwhelming to the listener. The Gong demands and gets your aural attention. No sound can stand up to the sound of the Gong.
Except the sound of Silence.
For many gong players, it’s not so much about learning to make the sounds but when not to make the sounds. The sound of the Gong works best in contrasts – every loud strike must at some time be followed by a soft strike or even a no-strike.
Sometimes it seems as if a gong playing session is constant tsunami of sound that never lets up to the last strike, leaving its listeners washed and exhausted upon some distant shore – transformed and still happy to be alive.
A powerful transition during the playing of the gong, from one sequence to the next, can simply be becoming still, allowing the sound to fully dissipate and then return with a new intentionality. It’s the intermission between the acts where the stage is reset and the audience is ready to take the next step along the sonic journey.
Gong players call this “stilling” or “muffling” the gong where the mallet is either held against the gongs, rubbed around the gong, or even pulled heavily along the gong. It’s a good thing to learn and a marvelous thing to hear when done well.
Yet the most profound use of silence when playing or listening to the gong is after the last strike is made.
It is actually during this silence the full effect of the sound of the gong takes place. It is a time of reentry, reintegration, and realization of the transformational effect that has taken place. It is a most precious time, the moments after climax, when there is a sense of oneness before the polarity of life returns.
This last period of Silence is held intuitively by the player. It may be 15 seconds or 15 minutes. It is felt, not measured. Too short and there is a shock to the parasympathetic nervous system. Too long and the sympathetic nervous system reasserts itself and there is a desire to move and change again.
The next time you play the gong, or hear the gong, listen to all the periods of silence that come and realize that is why the gong is played – to reminds us of that eternal void of deep silence that existed alone before the first sound was ever made, the sound that caused the universe to come into being.
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