Sound Baths Helped Center Taleen Kali; Now She Pays It Forward With Free Songs For Meditation EP

Photo Credit: Devon Ingram

Last April, as soon as Taleen Kali and her bandmate Miles Marsico were vaccinated, they headed to a warehouse in Glendale, California, just outside of Los Angeles, with a bass, a harmonium, some synths and singing bowls. Then they hooked up the bass and synths to “a mess of pedals” and recorded a sound bath. On November 5, the fruits of that session were released as a five-track EP, Songs for Meditation, for free, a gesture that Kali describes as a “gift to the universe during these wild times.” 

Songs for Meditation is divided into five improvised compositions that take their titles from the components of narrative structures; it begins with “Prologue” and ends with “Denouement.” The EP is also structured similar to a traditional sound bath, although some of the techniques they use aren’t. “It’s a meditation record, a sound bath record, but sometimes it also sounds like a post-rock record or an ambient album,” Kali says on a recent phone call. It’s also a culmination of a rock musician’s journey into the healing power of sound baths. 

Back in 2013, Kali, who plays multiple instruments including piano and guitar, had been experiencing tendonitis and was noticing the beginning of carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s when she headed to her first yoga class, which quickly became a passion. In a class she took early on, the teacher played a singing bowl; Kali was instantly intrigued. “It sounded holy. It sounded beautiful,” she recalls. Kali wanted to learn everything about singing bowls, so she trained to become a sound bath practitioner. 

Singing bowls, particularly the crystal ones that Kali often plays, have some major differences from traditional rock instruments. “With rock and roll or punk, you can thrash. You can thrash on your guitar and it feels amazing. You can feedback. I feel like when I play traditional rock instruments, I can be really volatile with them and channel anger and channel all sorts of things that come up,” Kali explains. “However, with singing bowls, if I do that, I’m going to break the crystal bowl.”

In fact, Kali did have a crystal bowl once that broke when it fell, even though it was packed inside of a gig bag. The fragility of the instrument lends itself to a different type of playing style. “You really have to play the singing bowl with reverence and be very grounded while you play it, otherwise, you’re going to hurt the singing bowl or hurt yourself,” says Kali; it’s more like settling in to a balancing pose in yoga.

Still, there are elements of singing bowl techniques that Kali, who released the rock-oriented EP Soul Songs in 2018, has been able to transfer over to her work on guitar. “It was great practice for me for relearning to play guitar in a safer way in order to avoid injury,” says Kali. “The practice of playing the crystal singing bowl really has reeducated me in thinking, getting grounded, taking a few breaths before I play, so that I’m playing from a more centered place.” 

A few nights before our interview, I sat in on a virtual sound bath where she played three crystal quartz composite bowls that were tuned to the notes D, F and A, respectively. “They make up a perfect triad, a perfect chord, a major chord,” she explains. The bowls were already tuned to those notes in order to achieve the harmonic sounds that they can produce. 

In the sound bath, she encouraged viewers to set an intention and gave journal prompts. The latter activity, she says, is the result of the amount of people in the creative fields who attend the events. “They can be really creatively generative,” she says of sound baths. Something like a journal prompt can help direct that inspiration.

Kali has been creating sound baths for about three years now, but, for a while, she had put the practice aside due to touring. “My singing bowls were in the studio in the gig bags,” she says. “I didn’t have them out anymore.” That changed, though, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Kali brought her bowls home from the studio. “Within the first few weeks of the pandemic, I started doing these virtual sound baths because I needed them,” she says. “I needed to come down off of all the anxiety related to the start of the pandemic.”

She kept going with it, and has more recently started doing one-minute sound baths on Instagram, where she plays at times that are unannounced, although they typically come at the top of an hour. These mini sound baths are a response to the phenomenon of doomscrolling. “I also fell prey to so much doomscrolling and internet addiction, especially in the middle of the pandemic, when I couldn’t socialize normally,” Kali says, noting how she would end up spending time on social media networks even when she didn’t want to. “It started to not feel good. That’s how I knew that it was addictive.”

The Instagram pop ups are a way to offer some of her sound bath work for free, something Kali felt was important to do. “By playing the instruments, it’s actually helping me too,” she says. “It’s a fair exchange of energy. I’m not giving anything away. It’s helping me, it’s helping others, and that feels really good.” 

Follow Taleen Kali on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Ami Dang Makes Meditations Mixtape to Harness the Healing Power of Music

In April, Ami Dang’s family held a gathering on Zoom as both an observance of the Sikh holiday Vaisakhi and a prayer session for her aunt and uncle, who had both contracted COVID-19. Dang’s mother requested that she sing a hymn.

“It was an especially troubling time because my aunt and uncle were getting sick,” the Baltimore-based singer, sitarist and producer explained by phone. The request to sing for her family, which Dang had done many times in the past, reminded her of the power of “healing music and religious music,” though sadly, her aunt later died of the illness.

Dang says that, in the beginning of the pandemic, she hadn’t quite known what role a musician should play during this challenging moment. “I get into the technicalities, or the day-to-day of the logistics of being a musician, whether that’s being on tour or whatever, and I forget sometimes how uplifting it is for other people,” she says.

As a result of this experience, Dang was moved to make Meditations Mixtape, Vol. 1, an EP released on May 22 via Leaving Records, comprised of four tracks that were recorded over the course of ten days. It was a project that she wanted to get out into this world quickly. “I think that everyone is feeling their own anxiety during this time,” she says. “That drove me to do these.”

Dang first learned music via the Sikh community and gurdwara, and went on to study sitar and then electronic music and technology. Over the course of three full-length albums, the most recent being last year’s Parted Plains, she has earned critical acclaim and fans for developing a sound that incorporates elements of both North Indian classical and experimental electronic music. Her process of creating music, she says, has evolved a lot over the years.

“I started out processing my sitar and vocals through a handful of guitar pedals and playing these live experimental, distorted, noisy, avant-garde synths,” she says. “I was doing some of those loops live and then moved into using a sampler. For a couple albums, my process started with samples, making patterns out of them and then using those patterns as the basis for the songs.” More recently Dang says she’s become increasingly interested in a variety of different kinds of synths.

With Meditations Mixtape, Vol. 1, though, Dang worked in a different way, given the current pandemic-related circumstances. “It was a very interesting exercise in using what I had at home,” says Dang. “When I work on music, there are a lot of different equations that I think about. I often think about the live aspect of it because I do love performing live. I typically perform live a lot and I’ve toured a lot, but, without any future touring in sight, I was thinking that I don’t have to worry about that right now.” Instead, she says of the EP,  “These are just songs for people to listen to on their own.”

On “Tension Tension Release,” released earlier in May, Dang sings the syllables “ni, ni, sa,” a solfége in Hindustani classical music, to draw listeners into a possible moment of meditation. “I wanted that piece to be all around the breath and finding those moments of tension and really leaning into them and then releasing them either when you sing sa,” she explains. “If people want to sing along with it that would be awesome, or just breathe along with it.”

She adds that, while she did make this particular piece with classical meditation in mind, she had a different kind of experience while singing “ni, ni, sa” as she cooked. “It was just the most relaxing and really grounding cooking experience that I had ever had,” she says. “I think it’s nice to find those moments in your daily life.”

“I don’t want to put out music that dictates how people should listen to it,” says Dang. “If you want to meditate full-on with them, that’s great, but, also, don’t beat yourself up for not being someone who meditates in the very classical sense of the word.”

Elsewhere, Dang says, she composed less for traditional meditation. On “Simplicity Mind Tool,” she incorporated lyrics from Sikh scripture that are meaningful to her. “In the scripture, it says specifically that focusing on the divine is the way to find peace and stability. I interpret that a little more widely. My interpretation of the divine is more about universal consciousness and collective understanding,” she explains. “My feeling is that if you focus on yourself, your spirit and the context of this collective – our community, rather than our stuff – that’s a way for people to find tranquility within ourselves.”

Follow Ami Dang on Facebook for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: DJing is My Meditation

The author blisses out on the decks: Dolce Vita at The Lash in Los Angeles, 2018. Photo courtesy Liz Ohanesian

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Liz Ohanesian struggles to focus and live in the moment – until she realizes that’s exactly what she does when she’s spinning records. 

In the midst of a perfect night inside a downtown Los Angeles club, time faded. It didn’t stop or disappear. Seconds counted down toward the end of tracks spinning on the CDJs. Night hours flashed on the cell phone that I sporadically checked. Eventually, the bar lights flickered as last call approached. I was conscious of all that, but none of it mattered. I wasn’t thinking about what happened five songs ago or where I wanted to be in three songs’ time. In fact, I wasn’t really thinking about anything beyond the moment.

This happens a lot when I DJ, although I’m not sure how or why. Maybe it’s a song that pulls me deeper into the mix. Maybe it’s the sight of people vibing with the music. Regardless, I lock into a groove and go with it. The songs will change, the tempos will rise and fall. On this particular night, the genres changed. It was the rare gig with no stylistic restrictions, meaning that I could (and did) play everything from Missy Elliott to Hercules and Love Affair to Dolly Parton. By the end of the night, I couldn’t tell you much about what happened, just that it did happen. Over a year later, this still stands out as one of my favorite gigs. The details are fuzzy, but I remember a blissfulness that was overwhelming. And, mostly, I remember this as the night where I understood what it meant to be present.

By day, I’m a freelance journalist and my work hours – really, most hours that I’m awake – are a constant exercise in juggling multiple stories, in trying to finish assignments while finding new work, in managing an incessant onslaught of emails, multiple social media accounts and monthly/weekly/daily schedules. It’s a lot of work for what is, essentially, a one-person operation, and it often feels overwhelming when you’re the sort of person who is as easily distracted as I am.

I wasn’t always like that. I used to slide so deeply into books that I could finish reading thick ones in just a matter of days. I loved long, subtitled movies. I listened to albums until I had the lyrics memorized. Over the course of the past decade or so, my attention span has gradually shrunk to the point where I can barely get through a book chapter, half-hour television episode or a song without checking my phone. I catch myself thinking, “tl;dr” while reading newspapers. Unless I snapped pics or posted a status update, my memories of the previous day will be far more vague than those of events that went down 20 years ago. I wake up too many times in the middle of the night thinking about too many things that I have to do the next day.

I’ve slipped into this 21st century mind suck, giving away my brain power to platforms that will hold my memories, my time to tech that always wants more of it. On top of that, I’ve become this person who performs productivity, trying to show that I’m always alert, always aware and always working because #Ilovemyjob and want you to #hireme. All of this has come at the expense of my physical and mental well-being and, likely, my personal relationships. That has to stop. I’ve taken steps to do that in various ways from time management apps to yoga. To an extent, this has helped me regain some concentration skills on the daily. Still, nothing seems to push me towards mindfulness like DJing does.

I started DJing back in college and I still step into the DJ role at Los Angeles venues a few times a month. Music and clubs have been a constant throughout the bulk of my adulthood. Even though everything from technology to my own career and personal life have changed over the years, the way I work in the DJ booth hasn’t.

Whether you’re the DJ at a large dance club or an intimate bar, you have certain responsibilities for the night. Your main task is to keep the crowd engaged, which you do by reading the room and making snap decisions on what to play next. If the energy has been building for a few songs, it might be time to drop a big hit. If the crowd has been going hard for a while, you might want to ease up on them for a bit.

Next, and equally important, is that you have make sure everything sounds good. While your eyes are fixed on the floor, your ears are tuned into all the sonic nuances. You may have one ear directed at the monitor to hear the song that’s currently playing while your headphones are cupped to the other ear as you cue the next song. Meanwhile, your hands will be in action as you mix tracks together seamlessly and/or adjust the levels.

As you’re doing all this, you will probably be approached by friends. You may have to field a few requests, sometimes from people who are flat-out obnoxious. If your booth is set up near the dance floor, you’ll most likely have to deal with klutzes knocking into the gear. It takes a lot of focus to get through a DJ set. If someone annoys you, you have to let it go. If you mess up – and everyone does – you can’t dwell on it. If there’s a technical problem, you have to fix it fast and keep moving. You need to stay in the groove until your set ends.

In a way, everything I have been trying to learn from yoga videos and guided meditation recordings was stuff I already knew from my DJ life. I just didn’t have a word to describe the transformation that happens when I’m in the midst of a set. I couldn’t understand why I usually feel so elated when I’m finished or why my gig nights are the only ones followed by uninterrupted sleep. This practice of playing music for people had become a form of meditation. It just took a while to realize that.

It makes perfect sense. Dance music is designed not just to keep you moving, but to make you let go of the stresses and distractions that surround us during the day. Beat-matching is a standard DJ skill because you can keep the music going without people noticing that the songs have changed. Extended remixes of short pop songs exist to heighten the excitement of a tune you already love. There are so many songs about the joy of dancing that it could be its own genre. But, to be the person charged with bringing everyone into the moment is a little different.

Technically, I’m working and doing that in a space that’s surrounded by technology, with both digital and physical distractions – yet, they don’t have the same power over me that they do anywhere else. Maybe it’s not the tech that’s the problem, but the way I’ve trained myself to interact with it that’s become an issue I have to handle. I’m still not sure how to do that, but the answer might be in the club.

PLAYING DETROIT: Daniel Monk “Kite View” (feat. ISLA)


Jazz guitarist, producer, and ambient electronica explorer Dan Gruszka released his enchanting and contemplative solo EP 1121 earlier this month under his creative moniker Daniel Monk. The single “Kite View” quivers with fragility but not weakness. For a debut release, Monk finds a seasoned balance of self-control and self-assurance that is unexpectedly meditative and mature.

“Kite View” features up and coming female artist ISLA whose angel breath cadence swirls within the delicate framework of Monks sensitive production and arrangement. Sans vocals, the track would still sing in a voice tinged with melancholic flight. The addition of ISLA takes “Kite View” into a patient pre-dystopian lullaby.  A hint of acoustic guitar rolls in as ISLA’s voice escapes the atmosphere, leaving us abruptly to wade through the stillness left behind by the sensuous synths. In this case, minimalism isn’t boring or safe rather a lesson in space, spacing and the art of dipping your foot into waters before jumping.

Dive in and soar with “Kite View” below:

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