six degrees
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Six degrees of separation is all that separates any human being from any other currently alive on Gaia. This popular notion underlies the San Francisco label's name and seems instrumental in its owners churning out many unique crossover releases of merit and contemporary commercial appeal. Its musician-producers might have a hard time finding an open door elsewhere for some of their unconventional concepts. Take today's Selwa. It combines Tibetan mantric vocals with ambient soundscapes. Predict a small audience for such a venture to throw the demo tape quickly into the dumpster? Six degrees didn't. Rightly so. In the hands of Steve Tibbetts, the expected singing-bowls-plus-synth-drones settings became something far more sophisticated and dimensional. Think Cheb i Sabbah's Hindu triptych or Hector Zazou's work with Usbekistani singer Sevara Nazarkan.

Dubbed the roof of the world, the Himalayan kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan conjure up endless lunar vistas of snow-capped mountains, high-desert starkness, sparse vegetation and a distinct sense of otherwordliness sustained in no small part by the spiritual emanations of centuries of meditative practices in temples, caves and homesteads. Those are exactly the expressions Steve Tibbetts crafts from his guitar and electronica seven years after their first encounter, to again provide a context for Chöying Drolma's song-chant prayers about Selwa | The Luminous Mind.

How to remain true to the contemplative spirit of authentic prayer practice while using Western-style concepts of musical scoring aimed at fulfilling expectations of Western listeners? Good question indeed. It's one to which most musicians would do best to cop silence and ignorance for an answer. But Tibetan Buddhist nun and monastic abbot Chöying Drolma picked her collaborator wisely and the results are a text-book example for how to blend these two worlds and open the door to a third dimension that manifests when the other two overlay perfectly. You can approach Selwa as simply a trippy soundscape journey or as an aural blueprint for Tibetan prayer practice set to music. Either way and under the guise of musical entertainment, you'll bring something of the Eternal Wisdom into your home. I'm sure that his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama would smile with approval. After all, did not his "Think Different" ad campaign for Microsoft suggest exactly this? Unlike most Microsoft programs, Selwa works without any glitches - but you might have to reboot your mind afterwards. And that's a good thing no matter how you slice it...