‘The universe is singing if you listen.’ A brief Q&A with ‘Renew’ collaborator Ahrkh
Here at Camerata we are always interested in presenting classical music in new and exciting ways to as wide an audience as possible. With our project ‘Renew’ – in collaboration with HOME – we set out to do just that.
Working with sound therapist and guided meditation expert Ahrkh, we created four short guided meditation videos set to the gorgeous music of Glass, Whitacre, Panufnik and Walker, to bring a sense of stillness and wellbeing to our audience. We decided to catch up with Ahrkh to see how he enjoyed working on the project as well as learn a bit more about his practice.
Read the interview below.
Hi Alex, thanks for taking the time out to speak with us! Firstly, could you tell us a little bit about who you are, your background and how you got into sound therapy & meditation:
Hi, and thank you, the pleasure is mine.
So, my name is Alex Macarte, and I’m a musician and sound therapist, making solo music under the name Ahrkh, and with the experimental band/collective Gnod. I also run a record label and radio show under the name Golden Ratio Frequencies, which I use for the collective umbrella name for my Sound Therapy work too.
It’s difficult to make a short summary of the twists, turns and synchronicities of how I got into meditation and sound therapy, but I will try.
I’ve been predominantly playing in DIY experimental underground music scenes for the last 20 years as a touring musician, and suffice to say living that particular lifestyle on the fringes of society has its fair share of difficulties and stresses.
After speaking to my now wife, many years ago, it was established that playing music like I was; abrasive, repetitive, hypnotic, rhythmical and droning music on stage at an all-enveloping loud volume, was ultimately for the fact that it gave me a state of transcendence. For those 40 minutes or so on stage or in the rehearsal space, I could enter into a state beyond my material realities, struggles, worries and anxieties and for that short time – “escape the outside world” and go “inside”. My wife’s response was along the lines of “Mmm sounds a lot like meditation… have you ever thought about learning to meditate?” So that was the beginning of watering the seeds already within, so to speak. Fast forward a few years to 2015, and the opportunity arose for me to learn Vedic Meditation whilst I was in New York, a daily practice I am still devoted to all these years later. Vedic Meditation is a silent mantra based meditation, hailing from India some 5,000 years ago, which when practised daily, reduces stress reaction in the mind and body, and gradually over time expands consciousness into a state of wide spectrum awareness, enriching your life, and those around you. I could talk for hours about this, but I digress…
Parallel to this, my own solo music practice was becoming more meditative, transcendent and aligned with my consciousness state, and soon, a friend and collaborator brought up the topic of “Sound Healing” to my awareness, something I had never heard of at the time, but to which my friend assured me I was already doing without realising. He gifted me a book named “The Mysticism of Sound & Music” by the 19th Century Sufi teacher and musician, Hazrat Inayat Khan, which propelled me into the therapeutic and spiritual power of sound.
After a few more years of self research, experiential experimentation, self inquiry (and self hesitance!), I finally decided this was an avenue I wished to pursue seriously, not only as a plausible supplement income to my precarious musician’s lifestyle, but to share and put my innate abilities and passions to good use, in service of myself and others. There was a strong feeling that it was my Dharma (life’s purpose).
I then enrolled on an intensive two-year programme with the British Academy of Sound Therapy, who for the past 30 years have been leaders in the field, notable for their research into the science of sound’s relationship to brainwave states and consciousness. Their type of sound therapy combines talking reflective client-led processes with therapeutic sound which brings clients into a deeply relaxed altered state of consciousness, whereby they can experience fresh, objective insights into their lives, helping to empower them to make life-changing improvements to their health and well being. I graduated with distinction.
And Voila, here I am… continuing to work at navigating my passions of music, sound, meditation, self-care and wellbeing into some sort of cohesive living reality for myself that I can share with others.
Do you listen to classical music often / have much interaction with the world of orchestras?
I have to confess, I don’t listen to an awful lot of music that would be commonly classed as classical or orchestral. My father was big into classical music, and I remember as a child hearing Handel, Mozart and Beethoven… But growing up I was much more a part of outlier music; punk rock, and experimental electronics and the sort. I’m not adverse to classical music, quite the contrary, I just feel it’s a wealth of sound I have yet to fully dive into, which makes working with people like Manchester Camerata all the more exciting.
I love the idea of two different worlds interacting to create something new.
I have admiration for contemporary music that touches on classical or has a classical crossover, like soundtrack work by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson for example, or music from the Erased Tapes label which has Avante Garde classical feel mixed with electronics and things.
I do have a big love for the minimalist music of the ’60s and 70s such as Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Éliane Radigue and such, which in some ways is touching on Classical, and by proxy that has also led me to a love of Indian Classical music.
In my own musical process, I often use Modular Synthesisers, which in a technical kind of way can be quite orchestral; different modules serving as different voices or functions that all interact with each other to create a polyphony of sounds. Ultimately Classical is just an easy way to categorise, define and catalogue and I really just resonate with any music that can move me emotionally… I defy anyone to listen to Beethoven – Symphony No.7 or Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies without feeling deep emotion!
What have you enjoyed most about working on the ‘Renew’ Project?
I’ve enjoyed quite a few things about working on Renew. Firstly, the chance to expand my skill set and repertoire. Voiceover work has always been in the back of my mind as something to explore. So I’ve really enjoyed the process of learning to do that – writing, recording, editing and really getting into the narrator and guide role.
I’d never heard the majority of the pieces before, and I think what I really enjoyed, aside from hearing music that is new to me which I always love, was researching each piece and getting a little inside it. – to explore the intention or feel that the composer was working with and how that could be used as a platform for me to write a reflective relaxation practice to go with it, finding those deeper, human feelings, emotions, desires, needs and wants, that link the music, and all of us, together.
Music is food for the soul after all.
Find out more about Alex’s sound therapy Golden Ratio Sound Therapy here.
Listen to Alex’s latest album, New Album Bliss Waves (From the Heart Realm) here.
Listen to Alex’s monthly radio show on NTS Radio here.
Find out more about Alex’s record label, Golden Ratio Frequencies here.
You also run an excellent record label (Golden Ratio Frequencies), can you tell us a bit about how that came about and the sort of music you release?
The Golden Ratio Frequencies label was born out of my NTS Radio residency of the same name and came out of a want for me to explore my hand at curation and wanting to share wonderful music that I was hearing and ‘vibing out’ to for the show each month.
I release music from artists all over the world primarily digitally and on limited cassette editions, a physical format that is affordable to produce, and still holds quite the devoted enthusiast!
There is a common undercurrent in all of the releases of a trance-inducing quality, whether that be deep meditative vibes such as the delicate gongs and bells of Salvaticus Selvatico and vaporous drones of PJS, or the more ecstatic and uplifting vibes of synth wizard Polypores and recontextualised club sonics of Berlin producer Kris Vango or the contemplative Piano suites of Mark Wagner and choral vocal of Hathor Rose Choir… they’re all conducive to deep immersion and high transcendence, and I love every single one!
It began in 2017 as a hobby, but has now become a pretty demanding and engaging endeavour. It’s only myself working at the label and every month I receive emails and submissions of music from artists to consider for release, which I’m super thankful for. I wish I could release them all and dedicate more time to the label as a whole… I currently have a big list of artists I’m working with, gradually getting releases out there which I’m super excited about.
It’s kind of amazing, and a great example of how music becomes this global, borderless means of connection between people.
Finally, what are you listening to at the moment?
Oh, boy… I listen to so much music. I guess if you want the best picture of what I am listening to at any moment, is to tune into my NTS Radio show Golden Ratio Frequencies, where I play 2 hours of uninterrupted music for body, mind and spirit each month.
It’s a cross-genre show, but definitely leaning on the ambient, relaxation part of the musical spectrum.
I sequence, mix and blend tracks with great consideration, to create a kind of sonic journey, not unlike a Sound Bath, with tension and release, peaks and troughs, activation and contemplation, to produce a show that can be listened to immersively like some kind of cinematic experience for the ears, or equally just be on in the background while you work or get on with your day.
But to narrow it down to specific music, I’ve just received the vinyl copies of my new solo Ahrkh album, Bliss Waves (From the Heart Realm) which is made up of three long-form pieces of super relaxing music for synthesiser and voice which I recorded last year.
So as shameless a plug it is, I’ve genuinely been listening to that.
Some people can’t or won’t listen to their own music, but I love my own music, I made it after all!
And finally, I’ve actually enjoyed not listening to music recently. Going for a walk in a park at dusk and listening to the sounds and birds around me has been my favourite recent jam.
The world is alive with a chorus of sound, and sometimes it’s good to pause and just soak up the natural orchestra around you. The universe is singing if you listen.