Power of sound | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Power of sound

Dylan Silver
Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily TribuneJames Wenzel strikes a gong at the Tahoe Wellness Center. Wenzel has traveled the country gonging thousands of people.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – After a summer of touring music festivals, James Wenzel and his girlfriend, Emily Wallis, came to South Lake Tahoe for the snow season late last year with hardly anything. They had barely any money and few possessions, but they had their gongs. The two took up residence in a small flat until the money was about to run out.

“I couldn’t get a job out here to save my life,” Wenzel said. “I literally started gonging on the streets.”

When rent came due, Wenzel gonged the proprietor and he gave the couple a free week of lodging. That was just enough to make it through to stable ground. Wallis was able to land a job and they found a house.

“We kept our heads up most of the time,” said Wallis. “If one of us was down in the dumps, the other tried to be high-spirited.”

Over the last four years, Wenzel’s and Wallis’ gonging have taken them across the country and into Canada as sound art group Gong the Planet. They’ve gonged thousands of people, including celebrities such as Bill Kreutzmann of the Grateful Dead, Kyle Gass from Tenacious D and the mayor of New Orleans.

“At Gong the Planet we focus on the performance side and kind of introduce people to the power of the gong,” Wenzel said.

They provide three types of gong services: sound meditation concerts, event environment enhancement and sonic massages. The sonic massage involves blindfolding a person and sitting them in the middle of a circle of ten or so gongs, crystal bowls, and chimes. He strikes the gongs that are tuned to various frequencies in a wavering pattern.

The vibrations rise and fall, reflecting and bouncing from one another, creating binaural beats, a perceived rhythm when frequencies within 30 kilohertz or less of each other are heard simultaneously. The thunderstorm of sound with crashes and downpours evolves into a slower pulse, reverberating and melting, sending invisible ripples through the person in the chair well after the last gentle strike.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Dr. Joshua Welch, who owns Safe Haven Chiropractic and has been gonged by Wenzel. “You have to experience it to understand it.”

Though there are a number of theories behind the healing power of sound, Wenzel insists he is not a healer. He gongs because he enjoys it and the people who are gonged enjoy it. They do try to create “an environment where self healing can take place,” he said.

“We never say that we heal,” Wenzel said. “If someone sits down and has a positive experience and it leads to a breakthrough, we encourage that.”

The waves of sound affect different people differently, Wenzel said. They’ve received countless different reactions. YouTube videos on Wenzel’s website, Gongtheplanet.ning.com, show people saying everything from the gongs relieved knee pain to the gongs relaxed them.

“For me, it put me into one of the deepest states of meditation I’ve ever experienced,” Welch said. “It definitely quieted the mind down.”

People have sat up from a gong session and began crying, Wenzel said.

“It’s pretty common where people have energy release,” he said. “When it first started happening we were like ‘oh my god, what do we do?'”

Deaf people have even taken the sonic massage.

“They jump up and down,” Wenzel said. “They have this instant where they can sense sound.”

Wenzel, originally from Connecticut, started gonging after friends introduced him to it at an East Coast music festival. He’s learned his own particular method from trial and error and a lot of reading science websites.

They have amassed their collection of gongs, which are made of nickel silver and can cost thousands of dollars, over the years from a company in Germany. Wenzel knows that gongs have been used in war and various customs, but there’s a lot that’s unknown about gongs, he said.

“The history is kind of neat, but it’s really about now, being here,” he said. “There’s so much myth and mysticism involved with what we do, I try to take a neutral approach.”

Wenzel and Wallis will set out on their summer jaunt around the country at the end of April. They already have four festivals booked. Two of which will pay them to show up rather than them having to work for tips, which is what Wenzel prefers.

“There is no reason the fans after forking over $250 for a ticket should have to come give us $5,” he said. “They don’t have to go put $5 in a hat for Bob Weir.”

Wenzel is in the process of making a documentary about gonging. He hopes their art will become a viable lifestyle. But for the time being he’s prepared to gong as much as he has to to get by.

“It’s purely a labor of love and interest for those involved,” he said.

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