Jonathan Sale meets Frank Perry who has a rare collection of bells and gongs with which he makes music to meditate by
"At the last count, I had 65 bells. I’ve got about 50 cymbals, about 30 gongs and 22 chimes – solid pieces of metal, like parts of a glockenspiel,” says Frank Perry. He is a bell freak, and he makes music to meditate by.
“The lowest note I’ve got is from a gong two octaves below middle C, and another takes me up to top F sharp, and I have a variety of sounds between that range. With bells, I can play something like melodies, against a drone from using a bow on a ‘resting bell’ (on a stand). I can play something resembling chords by a variety of bells together.”
The pride of his collection is a Tibetan meditation cymbal, which he received from a yogi, who said that it had been made by a master of the Nyingmapa Sect who lived in a cave and handed it on to his successor. “It goes on through five octaves on the same note for over half a minute, it’s made from five metals and is struck with a piece of Tibetan bone. I was told the cymbal isn’t to be touched by a woman.”
Frank is happy to listen to a gong’s reverberations for 30 seconds, which makes it difficult for him to play with other musicians, who prefer to add something to the note and follow another tack but he does collaborate occasionally.
His motivations are different from those who make music for the sake of making music. He is more like a monk singing plainsong, for whom the music and the worship are intertwined. He is psychic. “Like me, my father was a trance medium, and at the age of 16 I started doing psychic portraits of people in the other world and gave them away to people whose spirit guides they were. I had started to play drums, and immediately these experiences took place, they transformed my music. I had to find new bottles for new wine.”
The new bottles took the form of solo performances in which the notes struck bear a complex relationship with the Theosophical and Rosicrucian beliefs which he holds.
Spelling this out to an outsider is rather like explaining the details of the Trinity to someone who has never heard of Christ; it is something to do with the seven globes of existence corresponding to the seven octaves of the piano, and with representing colours by sounds. All of this is not, to put it mildly, along orthodox lines as laid down by the Royal College of Music; for a start, one of his helpers in his music has been a “Shamanistic Tibetan who was upon earth several thousand years before Buddhism came to Tibet.” He is anxious to give credit where due: “I am deeply indebted to the aid of countless souls not incarnated in physical bodies for their help and encouragement.”
For the rest of us, Frank Perry has this advice. “In India certain yogis stand in the river up to their necks and try to attune themselves to the currents, and this is what a listener should do to my music. You have to bring the spirit to it.
“The music I play is not commercial; there are not millions of people wanting music to meditate to, are there? If there were, punk rock wouldn’t be where it is now. Now that I’m married and have a son, I have been working as a gardener, but I hope to pass my astrology diploma at the White Eagle Lodge (a place of esoteric worship in Kensington), which would help me to support myself.”
Frank Perry is an abstemious 30-year-old, but bells cost money. He once had to wait a year before having a spare £100 for a Zen resting bell that made up a trio. Sometimes he has what we would call luck and what he calls “an inner voice.” On a crockery stall in the Portobello Road he stumbled across (or was guided to) three bells from a Japanese temple which were at least 400 years old. In Edinburgh he bought at cost price a Chinese bell tree of five bells hung one inside the other; they were on the door of a violin shop and signalled the entrance of a customer. In Cornwall, an occultist antique dealer provided him with a horizontal Chinese temple gong weighting 70lbs. Courtesy of a friendly guitarist’s permanent loan, instruments once used by Burmese monks now grace his flat above a North London tobacconists.
With these, and with his other bells, cymbals and chimes, he tries to express his meditation in sound, and to paint in slow notes the pictures in his mind. “I hope to translate the conditions on the higher mental plane into music.” He says. “What I want to do is translate the shapes and colours of angels into notes,” he concludes, and he means it quite literally.
THE GUARDIAN June 1979