Mixed Media Global Music


Composer Steven Chesne spent a year unearthing ancient, precious peace invocations and prayers from all over the world: words of the oneness of mankind, spoken by Buddha, Lao Tzu, Jesus, Mohammed, the Sikhs, the Hindus, the Jews, the Cheyenne, the Kikuyu, and the Baha’i. After studying the deeper meanings and pronunciation with linguists, monks, clergy, and scholars, each one was set to music in Chesne’s magically unique style and recorded with gifted vocalists from around the world.

Each tradition is represented by its own song, with varying degrees of influence from world traditions mixed with the  rich colors of Chesne’s unusual style of contemporary composition.




Nyansapo - the Wisdom Knot

In the finale, “Nyansapo – the Wisdom Knot,” phrases from all of the traditions are interwoven together—one on top of another—in an assemblage of blissful counterpoint, accompanied by the orchestra.

The Making of Nyansapo - The Wisdom Knot

A Kosmos Interview with Steven Chesne

Based on your experience of making Sapient, what notions or assumptions do you think we, as a collective humanity, need to unlearn?

It has often been said that the older we get, the less we know. Sometimes I think to myself that life is primarily a humbling process. The more we wake up to the hugeness of the universe, the more we realize that we perceive only the tiniest, most minuscule slice of the spectrum of reality. We know for a fact that we perceive less than 1/1000th of one percent of the spectrum of light. Just imagine the colors or light frequencies our eyes have never seen and will never be able to see.

So our most basic preconceptions about things, we should take very lightly. After having been proven wrong about matters great and small throughout our lives, from adding too much salt to a recipe to nearly getting killed on the freeway, we increasingly learn to question ourselves.

Among the most basic preconceptions that humans have are our tribal prejudices. This may have roots in early human yearning for survival of one’s own tribal group. Or, there may be other ancient causes of our primal fear of the unknown. But what we do know, and we know this well, is that our fears of interpersonal differences have become a dangerous character flaw.

Just as our knowledge of a round Earth supplanted previous misconceptions about a flat Earth, greater knowledge brings us to a richer experience of our very existence. If we truly want to appreciate the glory of the infinitude of creation, then we need to actually open our eyes to that which may challenge our tiny, finite minds.

So we need to apply this to those who appear different from us. Those who look or sound startlingly different from us. Those whose languages are unintelligible to us. Those whose clothing and customs challenge our sense of what is “typical” or “usual.”

Step one: we must acknowledge that we are as bizarre-seeming to the foreigner, as the foreigner is to us. There is no ‘normal.’ We must humble ourselves to take in the knowledge that we are simply a part of only one specific regional culture out of many, during one brief point in the long evolution of earth’s many civilizations.

Upon this realization, we may be moved to define higher qualities that we value beyond our tribal peculiarities. What values do we hold highest? Are they common to all of these various, seemingly disparate, cultures?

Many of our highest teachings are codified in what may be referred to as ‘sacred scripture.’ When thinking about organized religion—either from one’s own culture or that of a foreign culture—some may see it as a singular code of absolute truth, while others may see the same thing as a primitive assemblage of manipulative deceptions and illusions.

But at least we can all say this: it is certainly true that the original basic tenets of these belief systems contain at least some of our most prized moral certitudes.

So while historians and archaeologists may teach us facts about the co-opting of religious institutions and scripture by priests, biased translators and editors, kings, politicians, and those who thirst for power, there remains within the core of each cultural system of belief pearls of the absolute, highest wisdom of the human species. This is the treasure for which they’re all fighting to gain control.

And, perhaps, the great realization that comes from seeking out these pearls of wisdom is that they are not so different from culture to culture. In fact, vastly different types of people, when reaching the highest high of their cultural wisdom, have arrived at a surprisingly similar apex.

What effects did this project have on your own spiritual practice or journey? Where was the ‘edge’ for you in this journey, as a seeker and as an artist?

For me, this voyage is more of a reminder or an affirmation. There is a saying that “lies scream while the truth whispers.”

And this applies here in that we are well aware, all too much so, of the failings of our lower nature. We encounter selfishness, dishonesty, lazy reasoning, self-righteousness, etc., on a daily basis. We see it in ourselves and try desperately to avoid it in others.

But we can all take in a beautiful breath of sanctified relief at the contents of these various ancient and precious tablets and scrolls. They point to the highest reaching of our wisdom. You could call it our ‘collective wisdom,’ except that it has been arrived at individually by so many of our greatest thinkers.

There is no crown jewel or Fort Knox gold or hidden treasure that is worth one percent of the value of the wisdom in these ancient teachings. These teachings should be mounted on the highest pedestal—above money, above power, above fame, above victory.

Do you believe there is a common ‘consciousness’ to all mystic, divine, or revelatory traditions? If so, how is music a pathway to this unified field?

Even without lyrics, music is a great unifier. When you listen to music and you are deeply moved by it, you and the musician are on the same “wavelength” so to speak. You are meeting in another way, or, if it’s not too cliché, another “plane.” When a group of people takes in this music together, it is hugely unifying. But as etheric as it seems, it’s a rock solid aspect of the human experience.

Strangely, I actually like to hear vocalists sing in a language I don’t understand. To hear a human making these sounds, these mouth shapes, vowels, consonants—it’s like birds chirping or whales wailing. It’s almost psychedelic in an abstract sense. But without picturing what the words refer to, without the trained interpretations of the meanings of the words, you hear something fresh—the human spirit of reaching or questing—in effort to express feelings or abstract concepts.

Anyone can be drawn into this magic, but like anything, they must be open to it.

So when we add lyrics that we can understand, it’s an additional dimension. And with Sapient, of course, there is this other aspect of the profound meanings of the words themselves. And the meanings of these prayers or chants are unifying as well, both in their literal meaning, but also in that we understand them together.

About Steven Chesne

Steven Chesne’s career has spanned symphonic, historical, and world music, as well as music for film and television.

Chesne has composed the scores for over 300 episodes of prime-time, network shows including “Batman: the Animated Series,” “Family Man,” “Family Matters,” “Getting By,” “Girls Across the Lake,” “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper,” “The Hogan Family,” “Kirk,” “Life Happens,” “Perfect Strangers,” “Step by Step,” “Two of a Kind,” and “Valerie.” The orchestral score for “Batman: the Animated Series” was nominated for an award by the International Film Music Critics Association.

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