A large gong sounds and singing bowls ring as a man in linen pants steps softly around near-comatose Moogfest attendees and rings chimes over their supine forms. The smell of burning palo santo wood lingers in the air. I am lying on a cracked foam rubber camping mattress I scrounged from my trunk because I forgot my yoga mat.
The man officiating the ceremony is Garth Robertson, a professional musician turned sound shaman, and we are in the midst of a sacred sound bath, a music-as-medicine program he has honed for years since a meditative trip to work with shamans in Peru.
On his trip to Peru, Robertson and his wife were isolated deep in the Peruvian jungles for 10 days, hearing the sacred songs of shaman healers with very little to distract them. As he meditated on his experience, the idea kept coming back to him.
“You’re basically isolated all by yourself in the jungle for 10 days, and [the idea for the sacred sound baths] kept coming back up louder and louder,” Robertson said.
Running from my car to the event, I showed up late, sweaty and flustered from the oppressive humidity. Yet, as Robertson instructed us to come back to our breath, I gradually relaxed into the ground and drifted into a meditative rest, not unlike a deep savasana at the end of a yoga practice.
A professional musician by trade, Robertson originally got the idea for these sound healing workshops as he played in local venues around Raleigh-Durham.
“When you’re in a bar and you see someone that’s not having a good day, but they get the gumption to come up and ask for a song and I know it, it can actually change them,” Robertson said. “They can start actually enjoying themselves.”
Through working one-on-one with clients at his home near the Haw River, Robertson has developed his own personal brand of sound shamanism that is both intensive and dynamic, taking cues from the musical traditions of many countries and combining them into a unique medley that stays true to its multicultural roots.
While he works exclusively with non-electronic instruments, something out of place at Moogfest, a festival built around the legendary Moog synthesizer and its creator Bob Moog, the experience fits in to this year’s theme of “technoshamanism” – using technology to further spiritual practices.
Like the nature of sound healing, Robertson’s involvement with the festival itself is a beautiful mystery. He did not apply to be a part of Moogfest, and the booking agent was unsure of how they heard of him in the first place.
As the attendees and I continued to be soothed by Robertson’s musical offerings, the sounds seemed to come in waves. Dynamic chimes, droning didgeridoos, powerful gongs and chanting moved the room into a chilled out space I was not entirely prepared for, and when the experience came to an end, I was shocked at how peaceful I felt.
Although Robertson still plays a decidedly different style of music in local bars and restaurants around the Raleigh-Durham area, his dedication to his sound shamanism is paying off. While money is not his motivation behind offering these workshops, as more opportunities come his way, he has been able to focus on this calling.
“The universe really started to open up and give me a lot of avenues,” Robertson said.
You can find out more about Robertson and his sacred sound practice at www.songofthesacred.com