In 1982, musician, composer and writer Raphael Mostel was walking down Lexington Avenue, when a sweater in the window of a Himalayan gift shop caught his eye. Going inside for a closer look, Mostel heard a sound, unlike anything he’d heard before, that quickly chased all thoughts of the sweater from his mind. It was a Tibetan singing bowl, an instrument almost completely unknown in the West. It was, Mostel said, a wild kind of sound that became connected for him with shamanic magic and healing. At a lecture and performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Sunday, Mostel gave some insight into the way this magic works scientifically.
The subject, “The Mysteries of the Tibetan Singing Bowl,” was appropriate for a Halloween afternoon. “The world is just as full of magic as it has always been,” Mostel began, rubbing the edge of a large singing bowl to produce an eerie ring. He demonstrated what he meant with a brief explanation of the history and science of musical vibration. Using instruments from the museum’s collection, Mostel showed the sonic difference between gongs and bells, which resonate from the center and the edge respectively. He played a video of rice moving on a vibrating plate to show the physical effect vibration has in the real world. The images of the rice shifting into a series of mandala-like shapes as the vibration changed pitch proved Mostel’s point about magic almost single-handedly.