Perfect Sound Forever

David Hykes

Although therapy is usually thought of as something administered to others, it's certainly also something that can be done by and for yourself. David Hykes had this idea in mind when he formed the Harmonic Choir, which he has led for over twenty years, travelling and teaching his methods and always finding new people who are receptive to his work. Hykes is also responsible for organizing musical seminars and workshops while remaining deeply committed to his work, constantly learning and refining his craft. I spoke with him about his teachings of Harmonics and Harmonic Chant and how they used by as a means of not just self-healing but also a spiritual path as much as a church does so with its hymns.

If you would like to study with David privately or organize group sessions, contact him at

all responses copyright David Hykes 1998. Subsequent reprinting without permission is illegal. Permission is granted for this one article.

PSF: Could you talk about the origins of the Harmonic Choir?

I became aware of the existence of vocal harmonics in 1971, hearing them in Gregorian chant recordings, LaMonte Young and Pran Nath concerts, and then, in 1973, in recordings of Mongolian, Tibetan and Tuvan chanting. In 1974 I began electronically "refracting" or "prismatising" voices as I called it with a harmonizer, my use of which was copied by Laurie Anderson...and "Darth Vader". I created a 'harmonic voices' soundtrack from one original recorded voice for my film "Moving Parts" which was shown at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1974.

Tired of electronics, in early 1975 in New York I formed the Harmonics Choir, as I first called it, having succeeded in being able to find the harmonics through my own voice, by listening and singing along with the Mongolian, Tuvan, and Tibetan recordings then available (on the Hungaroton (Mongolia), Melodya (Tuva) and Anthology and Nonesuch (Tibet) labels.

The ancient stream of chanting knowledge present still in the East deeply nourished and inspired us. Over time, this direct connection with the spiritual current has changed, deepened and evolved. It has helped the Harmonic Chant and the Harmonic Source Teachings find and cultivate real currents of musical truth, uniting in some moments in quite revelatory ways sound, meditation, the voice and voices, listening, breathing. It is a real practice, a real teaching, and we try to share it as deeply as humanly possible through the concerts, recordings, seminars, retreats and so on.

I do think Harmonic Chant is a very powerful healing art--in terms of sound healing, perhaps the most real and powerful. But wrongly practiced or understood, it leads to exactly opposite results--closedness, egotism, arrogance, increased non-wellness--in short, a worsening of all the forms of "deafness" which supposedly it can help eradicate. Most of the New Age plagiarism of our work seems to have this problem--or at least fails to recognize it.

For me working in a certain way with harmonics was and is work with something deeply part of not just musical sound, but life and the vibrational reality of the whole physical and metaphysical universe. I was consciously aware of the harmonics as being universal to all musical sound, whether sung or played, and felt that they were and are a key to that new, global sacred music which I call the Harmonic Chant. So it was clear to me from the beginning, as a pioneer of "world music" listening and study, that this was NOT sampling or imitation, but getting to work with a musical universal--as omnipresent as light, heat and gravity...

PSF: With your long-time work with the Harmonic Choir, what have been your goals?

1. Bringing to life for others and ourselves awareness of some of the wonders and mysteries of the harmonic universe of which we are a part.

2. Through studying harmonics, to know oneself and the universe better--and to strive ever more ardently for real attunement to the Unknown.

3. As an artist, to create vehicles not only of authentic "self-expression", but aerodynamically sound vehicles for spiritual experience. In other words, not Art for Art's sake, but Art for the sake of the sacred--and constantly trying to see all the traps of self-importance and deafness to the higher that are there as well.

4. To develop a body of work and a way of working that is deeply in harmony with the necessary Evolution of our species, which we are tirelessly exhorted to seek by all great Teachers. This work is necessary now in myself, in each of us and in the world as a whole. Our efforts are both individual and linked, and we must constantly hone our attunement to the forces which give us our essential orientation in life.

PSF: Could you talk about 'the harmonic series' that is a basis of your work?

The color spectrum of sound. Universal to all music, and to the entire SCALE of periodic vibration in the universe. How vibrational energy informs matter. The Axis Mundi, the thread from heaven to earth, the scale of vibrations from deepest Below to highest Above. Practically speaking, the infinite group of whole numbers which of which musical proportion is a most living manifestation. A note is a harmonic is a frequency is a number is a time cycle... In my music, the harmonic series is the DNA of the work. The harmonic series is the tower of music, and each floor is an octave; the high floors are "the harmonics" themselves, in the common sense definition as the "upper partials" of fundamentals. But the middle floors--notes, chords, harmonies, melodies-- are equally harmonic, they too are harmonic proportion, harmonic matter, in harmonic relationship. And the "lower" ('slower moving') floors-- rhythm, subharmonics, pulse-- are also harmonic.

PSF: How do you find that harmonic singing effects the soul (of the listener and performer)?

Harmonic Chant is definitely a gift of music for the soul--and for the body, and perhaps most of all, for the spirit. Many precise exercises and practices have appeared over the course of the organic evolution of the Harmonic Source Teachings which help one to physically sense these three aspects.

The aerodynamic 'aeration' of the body with the sound-teachings does seem to bring to life a soul-place where the body (Matter) and spirit can meet and, as it were, interpenetrate, interact, harmonize, perhaps even fuse.

This extensive, intensive line of DESCENDING work --that the goal of aspiration is the descent of Spirit into Matter--would seem to echo the essential demand of the teachings of Aurobindo, Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti, that a transformation given by the Above can take place within ourselves provided the very exact inner and outer conditions necessary for it have been respected.

One might say the inner work of Harmonic Chant is entirely within and below, not outside and above, while our modern minds dream of ever more complete escapes from the physical (and whether or not the soul comes along would seem a forgotten detail in our unquenchable thirst for "out of the body" experiences--our all-too-everyday state!)

To truly "hear" and attune to, harmonize with, these conditions requires a subtle and supple attitude which are difficult to find. In other words, of course this Evolution or Transformation is possible for each of us, just as the Harmonic Chant is possible, but perhaps it is not possible, or only partially possible, for me as I am. So acquiring real self-knowledge can never be just techniques, but is the overall presence of a workable attitude in my being which can gradually bring me the results I yearn for. This effort is actually silent and completely inner--though certain qualities of sound of course can help it along.

PSF: Why do you think that music is such a powerful force (on the listener and performer)?

Well, we are made of vibrations and therefore we correspond to --on whatever the level of attunement!-- some kind of complex vibrational symphony within which the octaves of sound have many subtle accords. As Rilke said, "music --pure, immense--is not for us to live in now"--except for moments.

PSF: What is your opinion of the music therapy field?

A vast subject. I think the Harmonic Chant has a lot to offer here, a tremendous amount, really. The laws and the knowledge at work are so clear, precise, subtle. The healing sounds movement, like the whole field of music therapy, has only begun to realize the importance of harmonics, and people should know that deep work has been going on now for years in this area--and not necessarily the work they hear about in New Age circles.

Cymatics Cycle
image: Cymatics Cycle by David Hykes

See the other Music Therapy articles