The Shaman's Heart by Byron Metcalf


Byron Metcalf

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The Shaman's Heart





AV:  Your latest CD The Shaman's Heart was recently released. The title gives listeners an idea as to what to expect from the CD but could you tell me that you wanted to create for yourself when you started work on this release?  

BM:   I've been involved in shamanic practice for many years and have envisioned doing a CD project that was based on the traditional 220 bpm shamanic journey tempo for quite a while. For journey work, I personally find the typical single or double drumming CDs, as generally used in core shamanism practice, to be pretty boring and they don't really support they type of journey experience I prefer. So I wanted to create something with varying subdivisons of the basic tempo along with various textures and other atmospheres that are inherent in this type of inner exploration. The overriding intention is to support the listener or journeyer in staying connected to their heart center while traveling through the various landscapes and sometimes challenging experiences one might typically encounter in deep journey work.  

AV:  When creating these kinds of spaces with your music do you have to be in a certain frame of mind while you are creating the music in your studio to be able to achieve the same sort of space within the music?


BM:  In my experience, yes, and I try to approach it much like a shamanic practice. One of the things that distinguishes the shaman from other traditional healers and medicine men and women, is the shaman's ability to move in and out of other dimensions of reality at will. So, with this in mind, for a project like The Shaman's Heart, when I step into the studio I imagine myself stepping into ritual or ceremonial space. This helps me to access the inner and outer resources that I'm wanting and needing for the process and project to unfold in a truly organic way, and to help maintain the integrity and authenticity of my vision. 

AV:  What was the purpose of making the piece a continuous 73 minutes of music as opposed to breaking it up into smaller segments like a traditional release?

BM:  Primarily for the listening experience to be as close to what a shamanic ceremony might be like as possible. Although the overall listening experience of the CD is continuous, there are seven different tracks. I created resting places between the tracks where the environmental sounds, atmospheres and other soundscapes continue in the same manner as if one was actually participating in a ritual or ceremony. Given that shamanic rituals often last for several  hours, obviously 73 minutes is quite condensed.

AV:  You use a wide variety of drums, rattles, clay pots and toms to achieve the soundscape that you created on this release. Do you have some idea as to what is going to work and what won't when you go into the studio or is it more feeling out the music as you progress within the work itself?

BM:  Well given the nature and intention of The Shaman's Heart project, I certainly knew that the primary drums and rattles would serve as the foundation and this worked as expected. Everything else was totally experimental and I've learned to trust the organic nature of where and how the project wants to go.

AV:  Once again Steve Roach joins you in this sonic adventure. Is it essential that when you work with someone on music like this that you both be of the same mind as to the journey that you are going on? How is it that you and Steve have achieved this mindset for the various projects that you work on together?

BM:  Steve and I have been collaborating in various ways since '99 and we have spent a great amount of time getting to know how each other thinks, feels, responds and approaches the creative process. This has evolved and matured into a relationship where both of us have an enormous amount of respect and appreciation for the skills, visions, styles, nuances and various sensitivities that each of us bring to the collaborative effort. And like any healthy relationship, there's a fundamental trust in where and how things will develop and unfold. Over time, we have developed a kind of our own personal language which facilitates a deeper understanding of each other. We also spend quite a lot of time attempting to communicate our individual and collective visions to one another on a regular basis ­ not just when we are collaborating on a project.

AV:  Did the two of you actually spend any time face to face working on The Shaman's Heart or was this a long distance collaboration between you and Steve?

BM:  It was mostly long distance. This was intentional because the project was originally my own personal vision ­ more of a solo effort than a collaborative one. Although I played some rough basic tracks for Steve in the Timeroom when we were working on the Mantram project, he really wanted to respond to The Shaman's Heart tracks from a totally spontaneous place and this is exactly what he did. All of his parts were created live in the Ravenšs Nest, his smaller studio at the Epona ranch. I sent him a rough mix sequence of the tracks and he just responded to them in the moment ­ no overdubs, secondary layers, second guessing or redoing any parts. What is on the CD is exactly what he played live. Pretty amazing! The end result was that Steve's contributions became more significant than in my original vision and the project evolved into the collaboration that it is.

AV:  During the process of creating The Shaman's Heart what is it about that process that you find most satisfying about working on a project like this?

BM:   Two things immediately come to mind: First­ When aspects of the vision I have for a project express and manifest in the way that I was hoping ­ the dream becomes a reality so to speak. Secondly ­ when the totally unexpected happens ­ something that I never thought about or heard in my mind, somehow finds its way onto the sonic canvas. There's an infinite variety of ways this can happen, from simple mistakes or stumbles to tedious hours of working at the surgical level of a particular sound or a mix parameter. This is where the magic happens ­ when the unknown and the non-visible find a clear and open channel into the process. This is when I know that I'm connected to, and in touch with the Mystery.

AV:  I would imagine that during the creation process that it might be difficult to know when something is done and doesn't need anymore tweaking. How is it that you knew that The Shaman's Heart was done and had achieved all that you had set out to achieve?

BM:  For me, there's kind of an internal knowing that tells me its complete. Its not really something that's objective or quantifiable. Of course, I do some critical listening on other sound systems and in different listening environments along the way. And in The Shaman's Heart project, I also asked others whom I trust to do some "field testing."  Some of these people are shamanic practitioners who work with individuals and groups and provided me with some good feedback. With the first complete mix that I was satisfied with, I also tested it with a small group myself and incorporated some of the feedback into subsequent mixing and tweaking ­ most of which involved just some minor adjustments to levels and eq. This is also the first project of my own that I've mastered and Steve provided valuable suggestions for some last minute brush strokes in that regard.

AV:  What is it that you would like your listeners to take away from the experience of immersing themselves in The Shaman's Heart for 73 minutes? Any suggestions to your listeners that would make The Shaman's Heart experience more powerful and meaningful on a personal level for each individual?

BM:  I would like listeners to come away with a more personal awareness of the different aspects or qualities of heart centered experience. Learning to live from the heart is a practice that is foundational to all spiritual disciplines and is especially important in shamanic initiation and training. As with any serious inner exploration, I would encourage the traveler to set a clear intention for their journey ­ in this case, to inquire into and explore the heart in a deep way from this shamanic perspective is what the CD is primarily intended for. Its very important that the listening space is ritualized or created with sacred intent, and try to set a couple of hours aside for the experience and some reflective and integrative time afterwards. And remember to breathe deeply and consciously. And although its certainly not necessary, this is an excellent CD to use headphones with as there are many levels and layers of subtle sonic material that can be experienced in a more 3-dimininsional way by using headphones. I was actually stunned by how well some of this came across and found that it can really enhance the experience in powerful way.

AV:  Do you follow the reviews and opinions very closely when it comes to a project like The Shaman's Heart? What kind of feedback have you been getting so far?

BM:  I'm always interested in reviews and journey reports. As you know, I'm also a transpersonal psychologist and the researcher part of me is very curious about how people respond to my music. So far, the reviews have been excellent and its on some radio play lists that my previous CDs didn't make. Also, many healers and therapists have reported using it and some have ordered multiple copies to sell to clients and workshop participants.

AV:  Is this project pretty much in line with what your listeners have come to expect from Byron Metcalf over the years?   

BM:  This is quite different than my other projects. As I said earlier, The Shaman's Heart is based on various sub-divisions of the classic 220 bpm shamanic journey tempo and is designed to support the extended heart exploration I talked about. Only one track really utilizes the type of polyrhythmic, multi-drum grooves and patterns that I've incorporated into most of my previous work. 

AV:  Is this release currently available and if so where can Ambient Visions' readers pick up a copy of their own?

BM:   Absolutely! Directly from my website and Steve is also selling it on his. 

AV:  To close this spotlight out is there anything else about this CD or your collaboration with Steve that stood out in your mind about this CD that you would like to share with our readers?

BM:  The Shaman's Heart is a very personal CD for me. Although I worked on it for almost 2 years, in a very real sense, it symbolizes and represents my entire life's journey and overriding quest ­ that is to develop the capacity to live fully in the world and remain heart-centered no matter what the circumstances may be. It's an immense and very difficult challenge in times like these and its not something I've mastered by any means. But creating this CD has helped me to apply a more focused discipline to this way of living and being. 

And working with Steve ­ The man is simply a genius at what he does! He embodies the wizard archetype like no one else I've ever met, and his passion and commitment to absolute pure authenticity and integrity in his music is beyond words. I'm extremely grateful to have worked with him in this way and I'm honored to know him as a friend and fellow tribesman along this incredible journey.

AV:  Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us and we wish you much continued success with your music.