Laurie Anderson reads from the Bardo Thodol, the Tibetan “Book of the Dead,” against a backdrop of flute, piano and percussion on “Lotus Born, No Need to Fear.” The track will appear on Songs From the Bardo, an upcoming release on Smithsonian Folkways, that highlights her 80-minute collaboration with Tibetan musician Tenzin Choegyal and composer and activist Jesse Paris Smith, due out September 27th.
The passage comes from the section on “Characteristics of Existence in the Intermediate State,” which narrates what you supposedly would feel when you realize you are dead, including nothingness. “The lords of death are the natural form of emptiness,” she says at one point. “Your own confused projections, and you are emptiness, a mental body of unconscious tendency.” But the music is not scary, and her voice is calm. “At this moment, recognize everything as the Bardo,” she says at the end.
“The music is meant to help you float out of your body, to go into these other realms, and to let yourself do that without boundaries,” Anderson says in the release’s liner notes.
Anderson and her collaborators premiered the piece in February at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art. Choegyal chants, plays Tibetan singing bowls, gong, lingbu (a Tibetan bamboo flute), and dranyen (a Tibetan stringed instrument) on the album. Laurie Anderson provides spoken word and plays violin. Smith plays piano, crystal bowls, and gong. Cellist Rubin Kodheli and percussionist Shahzad Ismaily also perform on the recording.
The project came together when Choegyal met Smith at the Tibet House benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in 2008, and they first considered working together on something centered around the Book of the Dead in 2014. With Anderson on board, they performed an edited version of Songs From the Bardo in 2015.
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Choegyal, who grew up in India after his family was exiled there, explained his intention of the project in the record’s liner notes. “I have tried to channel the wisdom and traditions of my ancestors through my music in a very contemporary way, while holding the depth of my lineage,” he wrote.