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Gyuto Monks

gyuto monksIt's not every day you get seven monks in your studio! Well, a while ago we did and we thought you may find the story interesting. 

These guys are famous for their harmonic chanting and we recorded the monks for a CD release (for ABC Aust) mid last year.

First let's get one thing clear. That whole, lean life, no mod cons? I asked if they would mind me taking some pictures. "Of course not" they said and then promptly pulled out a series of digital cameras from under their robes so I could take pictures for them as well!! And monks like lollies. Our lolly basket took a beating. But hey, they were really lovely people.

So what is the chanting about? The Gyuto Monks of Tibet are the unique masters of a deep harmonic overtone chanting. Trained over many years, each monk has the capacity to chant in three octaves at once. The sound has been compared to the resonance of a drum or didgeridoo and is reputed to have a transformative effect on the physical as well as emotional body. The chanting goes way back in history, but first came to the attention of the Western World in 1967. Since then, the monks have been sort to chant in many countries. You can learn more about the monks, their history and rituals here.

So to the recording. They were to record a few pieces. first of all, a one hour practise then a few shorter twenty minute pieces. I can tell you, it looks like hard work, chanting that way for an hour, but these guys hardly raised a sweat! And, they are studio professionals. They seem very aware of the technology and processes involved in making a recording.


Glenn and Monks

Glenn with two monks listening to a replay

To say the sound is unique is an understatement. When you're right in front of them, it's loud and totally bewildering as to how they produce the sound. The monks aren't big men, some maybe as tall as me (six feet) but slight builds. The low notes they achieve are amazing. Have a listen to a sample below.     (click the 'play' arrow, second from left).


Glenn set up a stereo pair of microphones, plus a few extras to pull out the monks further toward the back of the room. The chanting is led by the chant master, but he passes the role on here and there to others. This is not the stuff of having a star out front with his backing band. Everyone is equal.


Monk Group

All set for recording - our studio rug matched their
prayer mats perfectly!

It took a short time to create a balance between the voices, but as usual when recording there are always unknowns. This turned out to be bells. Loud bells. But it was under control very quickly with no ill effect.

There are marked differences between the voices. even though the sound is a sort of drone, each person is unique and they blend their voices together to achieve what we do with standard harmony arrangement. How they do this while each person is singing a few tones (whereas we'd sing one only), I don't know.

The monks create a fascinating sound and are extremely devoted to their craft. It was great fun to be a part of the recording, even with the empty lolly basket!

We're hoping to bring you extended recordings that will become part of The Chill Sessions library. We'll keep you posted.

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