Prayers to the Protector
by Matt Howarth, Sonic Curiosity
2001


Thupten Pema Lama is a venerable representative of the Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery in India. In 1996 Thupten visited Roach at his Timeroom studios on the outskirts of Arizona. During this visit, Roach recorded Thupten intoning Buddhist prayers, and they discussed the possibility of employing these recitations in tandem with Roach's ambient music to bring the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism into the 21st Century.

This CD features the end-result of that collaboration: 54 minutes of atmospheric soundscapes accompanied by Thupten's reverent chants. You may have heard the chants of Buddhist monks before, but certainly never as they are presented on this recording.

Roach's electronics are especially delicate here, carefully crafted to enhance Thupten's chanting. These atmospheric tones are hardly alone in this task, being accompanied by softly trembling timpani's and non-rhythmic tempos. Melodies ooze forth with inspirational cadence, wrapping themselves lovingly around Thupten's sacred vocal droning. Several passages are deeply immersed in a more-than-ambient tension that rings with astral drama.

Meanwhile Thupten's voice is rich with devotion and unfathomable mystery. These qualities phase perfectly with Roach's soundscapes, creating a wonderful union of religious tradition and contemporary electronics.


Prayers to the Protector

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Prayers to the Protector
Steve Roach, Thupten Pema Lama
2000 Fortuna 13183 (CD)
Reviewed by All Music Guide, Muze, Sonic Curiosity, The Raging Consciousness Desk

The relationship between Thupten Nyandak Pema Lama and Celestial Harmonies goes back to the mid-eighties when producer David Parsons recorded the first album by the monks of the Dip Tse Chok Ling Monastery in Dharamsala, India, for Fortuna Records, Sacred Ceremonies. At the time of this writing, there are three volumes in the Sacred Ceremonies series, with more in various planning stages. The recordings have been well received by a wide audience in many countries, from lay people interested in Buddhist culture to followers of the religion to listeners like director Bernardo Bertolucci who used some of their chants in 'Little Buddha'.

Likewise, Steve Roach's relationship with Fortuna Records and thus Celestial Harmonies goes back to the mid-eighties, and Roach has since assembled a veritable catalogue of recordings in his inimitable style of electronic and acoustic/electronic music.

It therefore came as no surprise that Thupten thought of visiting Tucson, Arizona, and spending the night at Steve's house (cum recording studio) on the outskirts of Tucson. During that visit in 1996 the chant portion of the present recording was made, having been inspired by Thupten's daily chanting of prayers from the Lama Chöpa, (also known as Guru Puja in sanskrit), and essential compendium of daily prayers for Tibetan buddhists.

"In Paris, I heard a recording of Tibetan singing with this more modern music, and I thought someday I would like to do this myself," Thupten said almost immediately. Steve set up a microphone and Thupten proceeded to sing from the Lama Chöpa that he carries with him wherever he goes. Some of these chants are devotions to the gurus and deities who assist seekers on the path to enlightenment. Others are PRAYERS TO THE PROTECTORs who deflect evil influences and cleanse the world of imbalances, negative emotions and ego-driven states of mind. The chants, which are sung formally at the monastery by all the monks twice a month, are an integral part of the individual's practice. Thupten told us that he recites these prayers alone at least once a day, sometimes letting them flow silently through his mind, other times feeling the compassion and strength they provide rising from his own voice. He sang his favorites during that impromptu session in the Timeroom. An hour later, after he closed his prayer book and recorded a brief interview, it was time for him to go. While there is an enduring quality of great power and comfort in these age-old chants, Thupten Pema Lama felt that Westerners and young monks taking the tradition into the 21st century would benefit from hearing them in an updated setting.

For Steve, it was an unexpected challenge: from the afternoon of December 31, 1999 through the first 18 days of 2000, he held vigil in the Timeroom, creating a sacred sonic space worthy of supporting, and at certain moments amplifying, the feelings of devotion, compassion, protection and unfathomable mystery resonating throughout Thupten's recitations. "When the chants were originally recorded, Thupten and I talked about how we could bring them to the West in a context of clear and direct understatement," Steve remembers. "I waited for the right moment to bring my own soundworlds into the picture, for a time when I was ready to devote myself to the task with the reverence it deserved. During those first weeks of a most auspicious new year, I absorbed Thupten's chants from day into night, adding sounds from the deep well of inspiration these ancient chants inspired in me, stripping away what was unecessary until finally the circle was complete. Considering the way in which the initial idea practically came knocking on my door, and the place I had to go in myself to contribute to the project, PRAYERS TO THE PROTECTOR is for me a very special release."
 
1. Gyab Do (refuge prayer for all sentient beings) / Ganden Lhagya (prayer for tsonkhapa, the founder of the gelugpa sect) 2:08 
2. Dechen Ngangle Rangnyi Lama Le (blessing of the place of meditation)RealAudioMP315:01 
3. Djew Takgya Lingchee Lhunbur Dje (prayer for the world or planet)RealAudio8:48 
4. Tokme Dune Meeke Dikbeele (purification prayer to dissolve all sins committed in past lives)RealAudio8:32 
5. Prayer to the Protector (instrumental) 4:58 
6. Yonden Jungne Tsultrim Gyatso Dje (prayer to wisdom, to knowledge and religious vows)RealAudio13:57 



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