Choying Drolma & Steve Tibbetts | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Choying Drolma & Steve Tibbetts 

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Even someone who's never left the States can feel familiar with Buddhist spiritual music these days: several domestically released recordings have captured the rarefied melodies, tintinnabulating rhythms, and guttural, multiphonic vocal techniques of Tibetan Buddhist monks, and groups of monks have toured the U.S. in protest of their homeland's occupation by China. But Minneapolis guitarist Steve Tibbetts developed his interest in Buddhist chant and religious song nearer the source: working in Nepal for the Naropa Institute in 1993, he was "entranced" by the singing of a young Buddhist nun named Choying Drolma, who accompanies him on his current tour, along with three of her fellow nuns and percussionist Marc Anderson. The nuns' music lacks the ostentation of the monks'; instead of throat singing, for instance, the women use the austere clarity of their voices to achieve an apparently effortless range of nuance. In 1994 Tibbetts recorded Choying with a choir of nuns at a monastery above Kathmandu, then returned home to add the dark velvet stain of his guitar and Anderson's cymbals and shakers; last year they released the results as Chš (Hannibal). (The title means "cutting," a reference to a form of yogic meditation that emphasizes the severing of attachment to worldly concerns.) Tibbetts has spent the last quarter century using low-tech electronics, tape manipulation, and overdubbing to create elaborate layered constructs from his guitar and the contributions of Anderson, who's been his constant sidekick, a sort of Tonto to his Lone Arranger. Their collaboration with the nuns is unusually effective: Tibbetts doesn't attempt to fuse the Buddhist vocal tradition with his weird science, or employ the foreign sounds merely as adornments. Rather he presents an alien music, colored by his own equally alien lens. Monday, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Steve Tibbets & Choying Drolma uncredited photo.

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