Art of Zen: Nat Evans rings a temple bell

A moving tribute to a lost master, and a new sonic adventure for Nat Evans

Nat Evans pays personal homage to a formative influence on his life and music through enchanting soundscapes with a new and unique instrumental work this week. The Seattle-area experimental composer’s new and transcendental endeavour Say Those Words is a vivid, deeply stirring sonic tribute, dedicated to Evans’ long time teacher in Zen Buddhism, Ryuzen Robby Pellett, who passed away unexpectedly at the age of 63 in August of last year. 

Ryuzen Robby Pellett (1956-2019) was a Soto Zen priest and teacher based in the Pacific Northwest. A student in the Suzuki Roshi lineage, he founded One Pine Hall in Seattle in 1994 and led the sangha until his death. At the time of Ryuzens passing he was compiling poems about his experience in Zen, to be published in the near future. Florida Cassette label Circuit Church, home to Model Plane (an artist we covered here at Revel a while back), has recently released these inspiring ambient works, beautifully pairing Pallett’s wisdom with Evans’ compositions. 

An accompanying chapbook, Moon Climbing The Temple Roof, is drawn from journals that span 40 years. Pellett’s haikus offer a compelling companion to Nat’s deeply personal, soulful soundscape. 

Say Those Words For Me is in two parts. Side A is a reverberating kaleidoscope of sound that slowly unfolds for the listener over time. Evans evokes a gorgeous bright, illuminated atmosphere, with the sound of temple bells he inherited from his teacher carried at the heart of the mix.

A long, stunningly composed improvisation with these bells forms the framework of the soundscape, and their presence in the recording is a theme Evans is passionate about, as he explains in this recent video. Side A ends with nine bells that represent the nine bows one makes to show respect for a deceased loved one. This sonic expression by Evans is a stunning appreciation, and no doubt cathartic for him to create. 

The first side is composed of vibrations, with sampled low frequencies that drift in out like ghostly apparitions. Echoes, pops and clicks, punctuated with the rattling of prayer beads. At other times, clusters of sounds enter; textures sampled from Evans’ archives of cassette tapes, flitting in between the tolling bells and whispering field recordings, as he describes in another recent video.

He conjures a mesmerizing atmosphere in such an accessible manner, enrapturing the listener as he draws on ethereal, otherworldly, yet always earthy and organic natural resonances. It’s a poignant piece of sonic exploration, and a moving evocation of a life lived by the Zen philosophy.    

Side B, entitled Hanamatsuri, is a field recording made on Hanamatsuri, a holiday celebrating the Buddha’s birth. Evans’ teacher would often have tea under a blooming cherry tree on this day to celebrate.

In his absence, Evans had tea under a blooming cherry tree in his stead, and made his recording. The natural sounds of birdsong, the breeze, and even distant traffic strongly evoke a vision of this heartfelt remembrance.

There is an absoluteness, a truth to these recordings, at once haunting, yet teeming with energy and life. These works are a fine representation of transformation and change, of how the process of death’s release carries energy forward. 

Even if a person is not spiritually inclined, it is difficult not to connect with the sonic content that Evans captures in his field recording. With hardly any interference, the purity of those moments captured are nothing short of magic. The consciousness-awakening chimes of those very special temple bells can’t help but strike true presence and alertness into the heart of anyone who listens.  

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Say Those Words For Me is out 14 August on digital and limited edition cassette.

Author: Miff Morris

In many senses, I am still discovering myself through the complex tapestry in which life continues to weave, gaining unique physical experience in order to aid the progression of my precious spirit, this will continue for the rest of my fated days and my understanding of who I am shall be determined through how I learn to react, act and adapt towards the circumstances I face. I do sincerely hope the span of this life is enough to fully come to terms with the potential of my unique existence, through deep-rooted understanding, compassion, and love, and that I may fully acknowledge the absolute full potential of my existence through the network of others. Thus far the core of my being has learned through unique experience and individual perspective that I am most certainly a creative soul who takes solace in the truth & liberty of artistic expression. Freedom lays behind the eyes within the evocative realm of one's imagination, transforming originality through individual perspective, this is when my art becomes yours. Inspiring, motivating different modes of expression to overall influence and shape a better world, to help elevate to a higher consciousness. We are part of the great web of life and in this way each and every one of us are interconnected, to create a major shift in consciousness. We must wholeheartedly start to believe in what can be created for the greater good of this world, in my view it is most certainly the power of thought and intention which connect us, no matter how near or how far. Being understood has always been of paramount importance to me, self-expression is something I have been aware of from a very young age. From my point of view, artistic expression has always been the most liberating and uniting mode. When I am not caught up in life's cogs I love to write poetry, short stories, and shoot photographs. I adore and feed off music, so I highly enjoy capturing the live music scene in the city of Glasgow, Scotland. I also enjoy writing for Uk Entertainments website, Louder than War, as well as run my own music blog www.Revel Rousers.org, Amalgamating my love of music, writing, as well as photographic expression (Music, Landscape, Street, Wedding), which gives me a great sense of creative release, therefore forging a strong sense of purpose in the way of documenting life's remarkable moments. I find working with creatives within the music industry is wholly inspiring even though at times it can be quite challenging, after all, the greatest realizations and lessons learned are born out of challenges. I figured, seeing as I have a platform for my music reviews, interviews and photography I thought it would be time to create a platform for my creative writing and poetry.....It takes courage to expose oneself through the intimacy of poetry, However, that is how we truly unite and grow in compassion and understanding of each other's true essence. I am a deep thinker, I understand the power of words and their meanings. I also understand how empowering artistic expression can be. There is a raw truth buried within each original idea combined with a power to help change the world. Artistic expression is forever transforming through interpretation, that is what I mean when I say "When My Art Becomes Yours" My philosophy is to understand more, in order to love more....... Love ~M~

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