Musical Inquirer

I met my friend Markus Reuter 30 years ago on a Guitar Craft course with Robert Fripp. We played in a trio with Leander Reininghaus for a few years during the mid-90s, and together with Tobias Reber we even started a record label for algorithmic computer music at one point 🙂

Markus has become a world famous professional musician, composer, music teacher, and instrument designer in the meantime. I felt honored when he interviewed me for his new interview podcast series.

We chatted for more than 90 minutes about my music of course but also about my take on spirituality (and the meaning of ’spiritual inquiry‘) and my life.

Paper Crane

let us meet again
in this secret world
that our minds will never know

we can open the windows
and let silence in,
bird calls and wind in the grass

let us align ourselves with this
it has been patiently waiting
while we were dreaming

the autumn wind caresses the lake,
making little ripples of tenderness
birds swoop down, shouting with joy,
reeds and trees are swaying

wind, lake, birds, reeds
are all in love with you
and dance to remind you
to drop your imaginary baggage

and end your imaginary travels!
you have been home all the time
please be here with us
and dance with us again!

a dark pond in the woods –
over the years I’ve found out how to
still its ripples until
I can see the moon’s reflection:
by not doing anything.

Today I find myself
about to jump right in,
knowing I will dissolve
in the depth
where all knowing ends

tonight I dreamed
I was in love with a beautiful lion.
I knew I should be very afraid
but I decided to trust.

We lied in the dark and held each other very close.
In the morning she ran and turned
into a beautiful and dangerous creature again

jump into the endless glistening blue
sink beyond the multitudes of sunlit
movements and colors and forms.
In an ordinary ocean you’d now disappear
in a cold dark mostly lifeless abyss,

But in this kind of depth,
the deeper you sink, the more wonderful it gets –
it will be beyond your wildest dreams,
because this abyss is lit up by
something brighter than all suns

step aside and become quiet,
let this cat’s purr fill the universe
like each of these dew drops mirrors all creation

afterwards, you are free to resume your dream of self.
you are sitting in God’s lap and all is well,
even if you walk away from it,
but then it might be difficult to notice


Firefly Season

a sip of wine from my wife’s glass
late evening at the pond with the neighbours.
they are back, the tiny wandering lights
of pure magic. bats whizzing by very closely.
between the clouds: summer stars

fireflies stay home on the next night
they couldn’t compete with that
fantastic moon rising, almost full
outshining everything
making moon shadows

early sunday morning, sun and
warm enough for a breakfast outside.
It is quiet first, then it gets even quieter.
The stillness is palpable, a dense presence
underlying everything.

sparrows chirping, emphasizing the silence
stars twinkling, emphasizing the black velvet emptiness
thoughts thinking, emphasizing this presence.
a quiet fire of happiness
our birthright, our natural state

White Light

Charlotte Peters 1921 – 2012



It was no surprise to us that my mother left her body last Sunday – she was 91, had struggled with dementia for 10 years (since my father had died), and more and more severe health problems added to her suffering. Besides the obvious feelings of loss, we are glad that she finally made it, it must have felt like an enormous relief to her.

Sitting in the grass
on top of the hill
where I sat when my father had died.

Now both are gone
but both are inside of me,
father in the belly, mother in the heart

a quiet double presence of support
and strength and love
allowing sadness and joy to coexist.

What holds me, when I look closer,
actually extends to the horizon
and further than that.

The wind blows eternally
over the hill, bending the grass,
a few raindrops like kisses.

Yes, they are gone, and I’ll be gone
eventually, as will everyone else,
but that what is here will always be here

And always is now

Picking up the Leaves

this morning, the large bamboo in the attic
taught me a lesson, not for the first time:
it has taught for years, but I did not listen.

this morning, in a slightly pensive mood
(years whizzing by faster than ever, and not many left)
picking up the dried leaves from the carpet

suddenly remembered „only this“,
stopped trying to get the job done
and started doing it without going away, and of course

„only this“ then becomes obvious,
infinitely meaningful
an act of love

A Moon to Hug

depths of feelings,
a joy, a lightness, unfathomed landscapes,
a deciphering of messages,
maybe disappointment, sadness, hopes,
but what is really here?
some depth of an unknown quality, no doubt

plus some movie,
and if the movie doesn’t work, another movie
and a wondering – if the movies stop, what is here?
do we really need movies?
what if the movie that we love so much
is actually a prison? each movie another prison?

„what? I can’t let go of this,
without the movie life is cold and bleak,
disappointing, boring, a dark hole“
but is this true?
what if all of this is allowed to stop
and the wind blows right through?

Stepping out of the forest, long shadows
far horizon, clean and open sky
looking up into nothingness for no reason
finding my heart leap with joy,
at this unexpected sight. The moon!
An explosion of love. Oh to be able to jump high and hug it!

The moon and my heart are suddenly one,
and then the depth and the love spreads
and is suddenly everywhere,
the trees, the wind, the little blades of grass.
Outside of movies, everything is simple and infinitely deep
and true, and so real, so real.

In The Air Tonight

and then, after the first warm day with naked feet
and purring cats and coffees
beside the little pond inhabited by
toads madly in love,
it suddenly feels too cold to stay outside.

sun sets behind the hill, nightfall,
first bat flies through the empty dark blue
under a beautiful conjunction of
Venus and Jupiter, worlds
whirling out there in the eternal night

Scent of Mud


The ice cold wind bites. The mud is deep and soft
as I walk uphill.

Did I hear that familiar sound? Looking around in the vast
grey cloudscape, I finally find the V formation up high,
and while I watch, they suddenly start to loosen the form,
circling for a while.

I pass by my favorite oak, ears hurting from the cold wind
while thinking of the forest of sequoias inside my soul,
huge ancient beings, soft-barked,
holding and protecting me in difficult times
while I curl up underneath them.

The image vanishes, I look up again
the formation has disappeared somewhere in the vast grey.

Minutes later, more calls from above
and I find, looking around, more and more formations,
flying with the strong wind towards their
northern homes. Why does this sound speak to me
so strongly?

Later, back in car
drive home, heating up.
Mud underneath hiking shoes
slowly heats up. The scent of soil.

Full of Love

Another week with 100+ people in this place that I’ve written about several times before. We had a full schedule and very little time but I managed to take a few walks, some of them in the late evening, walking with a moon shadow. I don’t know if these photos manage to give an impression of the incredible beauty of this place. Especially the sunny September days are breathtakingly beautiful here.

The teachings and exercises were about topics that I won’t try to describe here in detail, but some of it had to do with the source of intelligence, as described in Almaas’s book about „Brilliancy“. And connected to that, complex stuff such as the oedipal complex and how it influenced our capacity to feel and express passionate love, or our tendency to sublimate this love into ways that were less difficult in the contact to our parents. Many participants, including myself, had very moving experiences of deep love. Amazing what capacities are waiting to be uncovered in us.

And no, even if these retreats take place in a Christian monastery, this stuff doesn’t have anything to do with Christianity 🙂

When The Wind Quiets Down

when the wind quiets down
there is a vast stillness all around.
some very distant sounds
of a crow or a car –
tiny streaks on
an wide empty blue canvas

from the hilltop
far away horizons, timeless
and silent.
mid-February sun begins
to warm up the world
stirring up fragrances of soil and grass

there is a promise
not only of spring
but also of something much larger
that my little brain can’t grasp
something too huge to take in
something wonderful

Solid Like Hematite

back at Kloster Schöntal with many old friends … each one a different color

deep in the west, a very thin moon
we’re very lucky to have a large moon like that
it stabilizes the earth rotation,
making regular seasons
and enabling life on earth

a walk under a very blue very wide empty sky
a sparkling sense of joy
little glowing dots seem to surround me
an exuberant lightness

the triangle of desire, self-rejection and hope
keeping us fixated in a prison.
it seems so human, so life-giving to have hope
„the life energy of it“
but then, no animal seems to need hope
and aren’t they the ones who are full of life energy?

the deep seated desire for love and acceptance
(we used to live in tribes without which survival was unlikely)
searching for it on the outside
getting some, losing it, never really safe
all the time unaware of the true love
until it comes to pick us up

sitting at the computer desk, waiting for the show to begin, chewing cardamom …

the conviction that I cannot do anything
the conviction that I have to do it all myself
how can both coexist?

I finally slept ok in the third night
to wake up at 6 out of a dream
in which I remembered myself as a young child
my own early childhood innocence and openness
was so moving that I had to cry.
images of old grown-ups in comparison
they were all distorted, grimacing, and sick of their lives,
sick of madness from having forgotten themselves for too long.

then that woman (not one that I know in real life)
she was like … the archetypal good mother
I embraced her and cried on her shoulder
moved by the beautiful memory of my own
long forgotten innocence,
and I woke up with this feeling. How strange
and completely unexpected

walking through the yard,
a friendly white cat comes to say hello
while the eternal flock of black birds
still circles the spires, shouting
as it will in a thousand years from now

spending much of the day taking care of
a dear friend who is in deep distress
did palpably consume some of my own energy.
I lie in bed after midnight with headphones
carried into sleep on the wings of an angelic lullaby
sung by another dear friend

coming from the toilet at 4am
the sky is full of bright large stars
reminding me of that painting
3 hours later, all is grey and wet from rain
and the birds sing early spring songs

still suffering from the previous day,
something becomes quiet.
What a luxury to be able to read a few Hafiz poems
before getting up.
It sets my mind back on track.
All is happening on its own.
And I know this. What a relief

later, the topic of hatred and the urge for revenge
the being cut off from all of this
(aggressive behaviour was forbidden, unthinkable
so there is something old and unresolved) –
I am unable to access this energy.
A major part of my unconscious seems to still be
mostly unresolved and packed away
while the sense for unicity and the nonconceptual
is already growing, all following its own plan,
bypassing this white spot on the map as it were
„you don’t need more experiences of unity“
i feel like a beginner
deficient and insecure. Why did I come here anyway?

„mindful work“ practice in this group can be anything
from needlework to cleaning up or gardening
to learning a choir piece
(I hear them down the hall, slowly getting there)
I sit alone in the hallway, mastering talk recordings.
The woman with the bell comes by and rings –
stop and be present …
resume work with the second bell signal
(it is so hard to stay present with computer work
at home almost impossible, it works better here)

and being present vs. being lost in the trance of thinking
can be heaven vs. hell – more than that
this goes way beyond what the mind can imagine

„dedicating this work to the awakening of all beings“

she feels stuck, without hope.
he asks her, is there anything you want to do?
she says, „yes there is.
I want to cry so loud that all the windows shatter at once“.
Yes! let us cry together, there are enough windows
for both of us to shatter. This energy
needs to be free.

early morning, the cathedral shrouded in mist
waking up after a good night’s sleep
my heart is still heavy
I can’t feel where this weight comes from
so often, this inner life is inexplicable
and so often, subject to change
on short notice
„stay with your experience“
rule of thumb
and always the wisest thing to do

an hour with a white-bearded man
looking at my heavy heart
doing various breathing exercises on the mattress
nothing spectacular or difficult,
but bright and light new rooms opened easily for a while,
rooms in myself that I had never entered before.
I want my body back.
when the convictions (saying I can’t do it) give way and dissipate
and the stories about deficiency and disconnection cease,
then I’m here, I’m at home, I lack nothing,
and something seems to reunite in love.
So easily!

„fake it till you make it“ I have to remember this advice.
Find a way, do whatever works
until the voices stop and the joyous simplicity
(that was there all the time)
can stabilize

another walk together over the hill
to the sacred spring cave
sitting in the bright February sun, talking, looking at it
and then back to coffee over muddy paths

positions and perspectives
how much they shape what we think we are
what would happen if they were all absent?

my two partners in the triad I worked in,
they both came to feel like newborn babies
one of them looking at her own hands in amazement
moving her feet
feeling insecure and happy

another foggy morning
rows of large trees along the river
populated with mistletoes
their tops fading into grey

the question of existence itself
inquiring into the feeling of existence
(grey and solid – like hematite? hmm)
different flavors of presence
still or exuberant
coming and going
the great joy of discovering together
what being home means

my black desperation when I lost it
my deep joy of finding it again
„hold it both at the same time“
getting beyond that dualism.
Ok, I’ll try that –

spacious presence without thinking or knowing
simplicity and peace
all the different flavors of the transcendent
and there are many more.

I come back from the walk
hiking shoes full of mud underneath

„when we know presence, when we are in touch with, and feeling presence, we are in touch with being“

Innocent Misunderstanding

That time of the year again – a Ridhwan retreat week in the Kloster Schöntal monastery, I’ve been blogging about these retreats before.

Sabine and me came directly here from our Lake Constance vacation. Since we spent a weekend here in June, she loves this wonderful place as much as I do, so she took the opportunity to take a nice walk (while I was busy setting up the recording for the talks) and spend another night in the monastery with me before taking the train home the next morning.

The weather was still warm and sunny although the nights got quite cold. Schöntal in autumn is full of beauty …

The week was wonderful again, it was a full week with very little time to take walks … but then, it often felt like we were taking inner walks. We were about 120 people, each of them somewhere in their inner process of finding themselves, but we did it together, so I sometimes thought of a large group of people climbing a high mountain together, each of them taking a different route, but feeling like a group nonetheless. I had several deep experiences that were completely new and unexpected – I surprised myself. How often does one surprise oneself?

„Because of an innocent misunderstanding you think that you are a human being in the relative world seeking the experience of oneness, but actually you are the One expressing itself as the experience of being a human being.“ Adyashanti

One Of Those Weeks

a grey field under a grey sky with one single tree on the horizon – muddy shoes – slushy ice – a woman with a yellow jacket – a very old roof – the smell of fresh paint – a hundred and thirty old friends – the whole spectrum of human folly, stupidity, intelligence, and divinity – squeaking wooden floors – securing cables across a large room with gaffa tape – hanging transparent glass images from a baroque railing – floating on a field of love

feeling tired and sick – too much coffee – people going from tears of pain to tears of joy – the shouting of playing children reverberating in long monastery hallways – subtle intricacies of a moment – a pain that seems to be hundreds of years old – is that me? no – is that me? no – who are you? what are you? – a hundred people chanting hu for half an hour, a shimmering pure soft chord hanging in the air – polishing cutlery that is already clean – the sun shining directly into my face – coughing sneezing coughing

many people having breakfast in silence – gazing into each other’s eyes for minutes (nobody seems to have eyes that are even and symmetric) – telling the truth ruthlessly – there’s that large shimmering, vibrating ball of light between us – old weeds frozen and brown – a light snowfall – suffering that i created without even noticing

constructed identities held up by self objects – a bell in space – a warmth – a wondering – confusion and ecstasy – the simplicity of stopping – a roaring storm that shakes the forest and that makes my tears violently flow with its energy – my face is wet in the wind and ice cold but i enjoy it – an opportunity half missed – her understanding goes much deeper than i can grasp – a simple openness, everything coming and going freely without disturbance, without grasping, without rejecting, without wanting, evaluating, judging, objectifying

idealization transference – this cake is not made by the monastery bakery – business emails and a half-nice cd review – throwing away everything old, but then using something new in the old way – being dumbfounded, without ideas – „becoming the world’s leading expert on myself has nothing to do with being fully present“ – a break in the routine – talking over a coffee – little girls, cuteness overload – a meeting on a floor, a glance, a smile, a nod – an unexpected tender touch – what is overlooked vastly outweighs that what is noticed – faraway voices, a glance to the watch, twenty minutes left to the next appointment – breathing happens by itself, thinking happens by itself – understanding with an added „of course“, what is it like without the „of course“? – an anonymous chocolate donator (but I think I know her) – new dates for 2011

„I do not care what others have said or experienced – I do not care what I have experienced in the past“ – old stories, questions about horizontal and vertical development, fund raising committees – a cheese sandwich – recording, transferring, cutting, compressing, normalizing, naming, and tagging talks – a man who is passionately in love with life – talks about music and blogging – a look across the room – sensory overflow and boredom – just sitting without doing anything (not even thinking) – the ikea model of identity formation – thinking of my father – a hand touching my back – a survival fighter with tears – tulip petals of timeless beauty

a sunset behind old pear trees – an ancient jewish cemetary – talks about relationships while walking fast – very muddy shoes – cable problems – a brown river flowing fast – a downloaded Bach piece that refuses to play – a thin layer of fresh snow – hugs and waving goodbye – we won’t see each other for a whole year – a last plate with warm food – he is already gone – back on the highway – the real world seems unreal

Nineteen Musicians

I was given a very rare and precious treat yesterday, coincidentally, one day after my birthday. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne currently shows a collection of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings, about 40 of them, mostly very large ones. Now Gerhard Richter is a big fan of Steve Reich’s music, and because the museum also shows an exhibition about the sixties (beat poets, hippies, minimalism) that contains some Steve Reich material, they thought it would fit in well to book him for a concert.

So yesterday, Steve Reich actually showed up, and was accompanied by the Ensemble Modern.

Their first piece was the first section from Drumming, played by four people (yesterday, one of them was Steve Reich, of course wearing his black baseball cap which is probably permanently adhered to his head) on 8 tuned small drums. They were playing in the hallway of the Museum Ludwig which was crowded with Steve Reich fans (I don’t know if the museum has ever been so full of people), watching the show from everywhere on the same floor, from the floor above, and from the stairways. The performance was stunning, lots of rhythmically difficult phase shiftings, lots of energy, wonderful.

After this short piece we had half an hour to walk around in the museum, and of course, take a look at the huge Richter paintings. This one called „Atem“ (Breath) was the one that I liked most. I have no idea how he does that, technically – the result of his layering and scraping is very three-dimensional but in a slightly unsettling way, my poor little mammal brain was not able to really understand what the eyes saw. I liked that 🙂

Then through a door in the basement into the wonderful Cologne Philharmonie which sits right next to the Museum Ludwig. The main act for this evening was none other than Music For Eighteen Musicians, a piece that is by far my favorite piece of music ever. In the early eighties (I think 1980, but I’m not sure), I saw the European premiere of this piece and I remember that it was almost a religious experience for me – and not only for me, but apparently for many people in the audience. I have never again experienced something like that – being lifted up by that pulsating rhythm, then going through a series of beautiful rhythmic/harmonic variations, and finally landing again. It stills brings tears to my eyes every time I remember the ending of the 1980 premiere – the audience was completely stunned after this trip, there was silence for almost 10 minutes … and then standing up and cheering for a long time … the presence of gratitude was overwhelming.

Yesterday’s performance was very close to that, it was almost perfect technically, good enough to transport the audience to that transcendental place, and back. For some reason I always think of this piece as a giant shimmering spaceship, not unlike the mothership from Close Encounters. It takes us slowly up, goes through these permutations, rotating and twinkling like a huge diamond, and then slowly getting down again after an hour. It is fuelled by the presence of the audience; the musicians are its engine – and they have to be totally present and totally committed to make this happen. This spaceship image was even more appropriate yesterday because the beautiful interior of the Philharmonie seems to have some similarity to the mothership.

What an evening, what a beautiful treat. This time, the silence after the piece lasted not 10 minutes, but only a few seconds – one person started to applaud, and the spell was broken and everyone started clapping and cheering. Maybe people are different today than they were 30 years ago, and also, the piece is a classic today, maybe the largest musical monument of the 20th century (for me it is), and many people know it and it is no longer so surprising.

While listening, I couldn’t help but noticing how my mind stayed in control most of the time, preventing me from being truly moved. Strange that so few music lovers talk about this, it is the most striking thing to me when listening to a concert like this (but maybe many people don’t have such a problem with their heads?) – how difficult it is to get beyond the mind and beyond thinking, analyzing, comparing, commenting, and to really listen with an open heart, and to be really moved. I found myself noticing this, and trying not to stay in the mind, and noticing that of course this doesn’t help.

Fortunately, at least for a while, my mind finally stopped yesterday, and as always when this happens, it happens completely on its own, completely beyond my control. Some sudden change in the music triggers something deep and before my mind can react, it is pushed aside, making room for being moved, being present and still. Then the tears flow, what a relief, I can finally be here without being encaged in my head. This is the „religious“ aspect for me – that this powerful piece of music with its merciless beauty, when executed so well, can stop my head, opening the door to what is real.

Now why is this blog entry called „Nineteen Musicians“? because yesterday, there were 19 musicians playing „Music For 18 Musicians“. Beyond all the stuff that was going on in my head, it was simply wonderful and very interesting to see the musicians at work, to watch how they managed to play these multiple interlocking rhythms, how they exchanged their positions at the various instruments during the various parts of the piece. Seeing this made the structure of the composition much more transparent – I wish there was a DVD showing the making of, maybe looking at the ensemble from an above position. But I bought a DVD showing the Ensemble Modern playing Reich’s City Life – looking forward to that!

Steve Reich, photo credit: Jeffrey Herman

Paradise is a state of mind

Our latest technological household item is a DVD recorder, several years old and bought used from eBay last weekend. It will eventually replace our crappy VHS tape recorder, and one of the wonderful things it can do is digitize VHS tapes and back them up to DVD.

The first tape to digitize that I grabbed this morning happened to be a 35 minute video from 1982 by Albert Falzon, called „Excerpt from The Kumbha Mela – Same As It Ever Was“. Falzon (who got known many years ago for his surf movie „Crystal Voyager“ with a Pink Floyd soundtrack) went to India in the early eighties to film various religious festivities, one of them being the famous Kumbha Mela, a Hindu festival and possibly the largest religious festival on Earth. This particular video shows part of his travel towards that place: on a boat across the waterways of Kashmir.

For an inhabitant of cold Europe like me, this magical landscape seems very close to paradise. Falzon’s movie is completely filmed in slow motion, and he often uses a fish-eye lens – and there is of course the soundtrack by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There are no words and there is no action – there is only a lush jungle landscape slowly drifting by, light reflections on water, people moving in slow motion. This stuff seems to come directly from a dream, from a timeless place. (Somehow it adds to the dreaminess that everything is lo-fi and blurry in an oldfashioned kind of way.)

How strange to enter this state of mind, watching this movie, while knowing that Kashmir has been the center and subject of wars for a long time, and is still far from being peaceful on many levels.

If you like the state of mind induced by Budd’s „The Pearl“ or Eno’s „On Land“, you will like this video. Someone has put it on Youtube in the meantime (see below). You can also get it used on VHS tape if you search for it. Apparently it was also rereleased on DVD under the title „Same as it ever was“, together with a movie about the Kumbha Mela festival.

Cat Silence

It’s slowly getting a bit warmer, the snow melts and everything is wet. Muckel is not amused. Last week while it was very cold he hardly went out to hunt mice and birds. He stayed in most of the time, but he was clearly in a bad mood.

Muckel belongs to our neighbours but since they are both away for work during the day, and I am at home in my office, pretending to work, he regularly comes to visit me in the morning and curls up in my lap for half an hour. When that gets too boring, he eventually goes out again.

I open the back door and let him out. We both listen without moving, Muckel sits on a dry spot under a chair, I stand at the door. We are alone. It is quiet, a far away plane hums, there are some birds trying to sing a spring song. There is a silence there that is much more than the absence of noise. It is palpable, there is the presence of silence.