Walking through the entry into the massive Meeting House at the Shaker Historical Society in Albany, NY, its expansive space echoing even in silence, its contrasting dark wood and white walls unable to contain the intense feel of history, instantly demands that you take it in. For a moment, it’s simply a grand room, until you understand what it represents and what events occurred there over a century ago. Then it becomes quite immense.
This room played a significant role in the Era of Manifestations, a period of spiritual revival during the Shaker movement. The Shakers built the Meeting House and a variety of other distinct buildings on the surrounding land after they arrived from England in the late 1700s. The Era of Manifestations was defined by “spirit gifts”, visions, healings, and trance-like episodes, many of which occurred in the Meeting House. The introduction to the Shaker Compendium of 1859 describes what they were experiencing:
The wonderful and almost incredible openings of light and truth pertaining to this and the external spiritual world, and which address themselves almost exclusively to the external man, by sensuous facts and physical demonstrations, and which, in former times and other ages, were suppressed and condemned, as the effect of unlawful communings with the powers of darkness, are now being received with joy and gladness by thousands of person, as proof of a telegraphic communication established between the two worlds; and no more to be disputed or doubted than is the existence of that marvelous submarine telegraphic cable that connects the Eastern and Western continents.
On May 23, 2016, Jon Mueller played four drums for over six hours in this Meeting House. Engineer Fred Weaver traveled by truck from Pennsylvania, hauling and then constructing a complete mobile recording studio to record the drums and the intense acoustics of the room by placing microphones throughout the space. dHrAaNwDn (read as ‘hand drawn’) offers a partial document of this session, featuring various long-form pieces from the day.
With dHrAaNwDn, Mueller, who has spent a great deal of his drumming career building a discography and performance reputation around ecstatic repetitive rhythms, brought a nearly impossible energy unheard in his previous work. In fact, two of Mueller’s earlier recordings, The Whole (Type Recordings, UK, 2010) and Alphabet of Movements (Type Recordings, UK, 2011) both pointed toward the Shakers. However, these were merely sketches compared to the severity found within dHrAaNwDn. As stark as these performances are, there is something in the patterns and acoustics, something in the feel and transmission of the sound that might have only been possible to occur in this room.
There is a long history of artists drawing upon Shaker history and material culture for inspiration. From Aaron Copland to Doris Humphrey and Richard Pettibone, Shaker influence cuts across all mediums and artistic traditions. Jon’s request to use the Meeting House for his performance was a continuation of this long-standing tradition. Yet hearing Jon drum took me off guard. I am familiar with meditative, drone and minimalist music forms but I did not anticipate the intense experience that dHrAaNwDn prompted. The drumming filled the historic space as if it always belonged there and it drew out unexpected visual and physical sensations that brought me closer toward understanding the Era of Manifestations than any other moment in my career. I am certain that the Shakers who built the Meeting House would have approved.
On dHrAaNwDn, relentless rhythms form a dissolved state between frenetic dance and Zen, driving both energy and contemplation simultaneously. The combination of movement and sound is almost palpable, yet easy to get lost within. From the perspective of the player, it’s a spiritual exercise. For the listener, it might not be much different.
Consider that in meditation, repetitive mantras lead toward an ideal state. In Rudolf Steiner’s Eurythmy, gestures relating to rhythm can be turned into “visible music.” In George Gurdjieff ‘s movements, cosmic truth is transmitted through different postures. And in Shaker dance, high energy syncopated movements drove participants into trance states. Drumming can operate similarly. It is an active ritual of giving and receiving. Giving, in its intentional form and movement. Receiving, in the sound that returns. It’s a focused call and response with the unknown.