MUSIC AS MEDICINE: DAVID PHIPPS

Music, or perhaps more accurately sound, has existed for at least as long as people have. In fact it is very likely that music has been around even longer than the human race--dwelling in the woods, waters, stars, and atoms. Going back to the birth of the first human heartbeat in Africa, drums along with song and dance have been used in virtually every indigenous culture as medicine. In today's technology-obsessed culture we have lost track of many of the world's most precious gifts; perhaps one of those treasures is the root of music and just what it is capable of.

While we in the West are blinded by what our televisions, doctors, and "presidents" tell us, there are people in the world who are connecting with ancient forms of healing, trying to work with the body not against it, and are not afraid to think outside the cold, sterile environment of the day. One of these men is world-renowned sound healer Fabien Maman. In 1988 Fabien founded Tama-Do - The Academy of Sound, Color and Movement, and through this institution Fabien has dedicated his life to "bring human beings into resonance with nature, community, and the cosmos through the use of sound, color, and movement."


STS9 by Liz O'Keeffe
While Fabien is using Tama-Do there are musicians around the world who, whether they consciously realize it or not, are helping to do the same thing: "bring human beings into resonance with nature, community, and the cosmos through the use of sound, color and, movement." And whether they would be willing to admit it, or if they even in fact believe it, one of the many bands engaged in this alchemy is Sound Tribe Sector 9. Consider a STS9 show, or any other show you have been to recently. There is a community that has gathered for the music (the sound), is bathing in the lights projected from the stage (the color), and are dancing (the movement).

On December 21st at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco, California, this concept will be taken out of the traditional "show" context most of us are familiar with and a true Winter Harmonizing Concert will unfold. Soulstice '03 will feature Fabien Maman with members of Sound Tribe Sector 9, Hamsa Lila, Trance Zen Dance, Sasha Butterfly Band, Foxgluv, Audio Angel, Arjun and Guardians, Shimshai, Tina Malia, and many more.

A main component in bringing this concert to fruition is David Phipps, who is most well known as the keyboardist for Sound Tribe Sector 9. David was kind enough to welcome me to his home in San Francisco to engage in a conversation about music in many of its wonderful forms. From his band and the upcoming highly anticipated album, to Tama-Do and more, we spoke at length. As I entered David's warm room and sat down next to his piano I couldn't help but stare at the Pro-Tools MBOX that sat on his desk and we instantly began talking about STS9's new album.

Kayceman: So have you guys been working on the upcoming album independently?


By Forrest Reda
David Phipps: Yeah we started like seven years ago on this album, [laughing] seems like it anyway. But we did like three weeks in a studio in L.A., it was actually a house. That was really fun, and we got a good start, as much recording as we did we learned about Pro-Tools. And we took these master files from that three weeks and have just been building on top of those. Most of my recording, you know a lot of keyboards and stuff, I've been doing at home. We're trying to get some good guitar sounds out of the house, but we're not really trying to record drums yet outside of the studio. We have a solid foundation.

Kayceman: When do you think it will be done?

David Phipps: It's one of those albums that I feel like we are going to say took a year to make. And when that year started I don't know, but it's not something that we just did in between tours.

Kayceman: Something that I am really fascinated with is this Winter Soulstice Concert coming up and what I've been reading about Tama-Do. I'd like to get a little history on Tama-Do from you if you don't mind.


Fabien Maman
David Phipps: Sure. Fabien Maman founded the Tama-Do Academy in I think 1988 after doing about ten years of research. He was actually a guitarist in a band called Pinja and they played concert halls and he was on world tour in Japan. And his whole band was jet lagged and sick and they called in an acupuncturist. And this was the first time he had ever seen acupuncture go down and it helped his band and he became interested in it and decided he wanted to study acupuncture. Which is actually pretty big in France [where Fabien is from]. But that is a six-year school, so after six years he had an acupuncture degree. And the story he tells is that his first patient was a little kid with a sore throat. And the point for the sore throat is like right next to the fingernail on the pinky or something like that. And he was like; "I have to put this needle in this little kid." And so he had a tuning fork on his shelf and he used the tuning fork instead. And that's where he had the idea, and he took the idea to scientists at universities and they did experiments on the affects of sound on cells and I could show you some pictures of cells being exploded just by sound.

  For this experiment Fabien played the Ionian scale on the xylophone note by note: C-D-E-F-G-A-B and then C and D of the next octave. I took one photograph per minute, looking at the same Hela cells. Fourteen minutes was enough time to explode the cell when I used these nine different frequencies.

And so between the acupuncture and the scientific research it's kind of like he is approaching it as an empirical method of healing through sound as opposed to "find your own song," which is a part of it, but the application of a practitioner who has charts and fundamentals, and concepts that reinforce each other behind it, makes it not so wishy-washy.

How did you get turned onto it?


Body Harp (used in Tama-Do)
I'd always been interested in sound healing and as a school project [at Georgia Tech] I wanted to make an environmental balancing machine, or a body-sound shower kind of thing. So that research led me into chakras or energy centers and what are the tones of those different energy centers. And if you look into that you run into a lot of... Well it starts with C as the root chakra and is a major scale. There are seven tones in the scale, seven chakras in the body so it must be a C Major scale. But this never seemed right to me, but you see this in a lot of different books. But Fabien is like, "No the root is F and it's the Cycle of Fifths." And if you play that... [He plays the piano in the room and demonstrates the difference between a C Major and an F.] So that was the first breakthrough. And if you ask him about that he tells you how F is closer to the resonance of the earth and the whole energy of [plays the F again] opens up the spacing and there's a reason behind that. And then I was on tour and saw that there was a Fabien Maman workshop in New York and I figured I have a friend in New York, go spend the weekend and that's how it all started. And once you meet someone like that, who holds that energy, it's like your guru.

And how long ago was this, when did you do the seminar?

Almost two and a half years ago. There are seven workshops in Level One that are offered as weekend courses, which is also offered in a week intensive program, and then Level Two is seven more but it's only offered in two weeks. It used to be in France but then they moved to Malibu and after you do that you are actually a practitioner.

Now Fabien brought this to light around 1988 but the nature of healing sounds goes back forever. So where is the root of this coming from?

It's ancient. But I think Fabien is the first to bridge it to a scientific method.

You had mentioned how you've met these older acupuncturists who had been doing that [acupuncture] all their lives and then found Tama-Do and they are learning from it and continuing their path. Do you think that this is part of your path in life?

For sure.

When you started getting into music was that something you thought about consciously?


By Ian Stone
Not consciously, but you know I just played piano. Since I was three years old and my brother did too, and my mom played piano and my dad sings so it was never really a career until some shit went down at school and I got spun around and spit out the other side. And finding these boys, and being in Sector 9 pulled me out of the deepest funk you could possibly be in, and it saved my life. So on that level, music is healing. Because it brought me out of some deep darkness.

And that speaks for musician or fan, you know for most of my friends and myself included music has been our religion for as long as I can remember. And I've found a lot of inspiration through people and music, encounters, and I think whether it's a conscious thought process or not the pull is there.

So how were you able to incorporate Fabien into the Winter Soulstice Healing Concert?

I just kind of threw it out there, almost in a lofty kind of a way. I just asked him if we got musicians practicing this mode and kids understanding these fundamental concepts, Cycle of Fifths, elements, elements supporting or hindering: water putting out fire, these basic things, and then bring it down to preschoolers so that when they learn shapes and colors they also learn the music and then that's the beginning of the shift. It happens practically like that. Bring it to the people and then to the kids.

You gotta start there.

You gotta start with the children. So he was like yeah, let's do a concert.

So have you been practicing?

Yeah I've been practicing really hard. We sent out invitations to musicians and we've got responses back from almost 35 people. So I'm working on the package to send out of what Fabien has outlined for the concert. Information on the modes, the concert format and what to expect.

So will you all rehearse the same parts and will you ever get together before the concert?

Yeah, the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before the concert we're having an all-day workshop for those three days. Saturday off to focus and Sunday is the concert.

Now I'm curious--do you bring these concepts to Sector 9's music as well?

Since I've started taking the workshops it's really evident in Seasons: 01, there are some Tama-Do modes in there. A lot of the stuff that I do in between songs, those little piano things are Tama-Do related and a lot of times before I end the show I'll play the Cycle of Fifths to clear space. And especially if it's been kind of a rough show for me, I don't want to leave my frustration as the last thing, both for me and the people. And Sector 9 is it's own thing, it's not a Tama-Do concert, it's not a healing concert, beyond what you take from it. We're using digital gear; we're using sound effects and doing what I call "space music." And I think there's a place for space music and there's a place for earth music and for sky music and so it's not like I'm ever going to stop being the keyboard player for Sector 9 and put on a white shirt and run off.

I also recall reading or hearing that Sector 9 tunes their instruments to the key of the day, right?


Tama-Do treatment
Yeah, that was like the very beginning of this whole journey. And that's related to the 13 Moon Calendar. There are 13 tones and 13 modes. And that's where it ends; there are 13 tones and 13 modes but why is tone number one C? Where does it really start? Maybe it is, it's hard to say. But there is nothing to check it against, and that is what Fabien holds for me is that it [Tama-Do] reinforces itself and draws circles that connect, instead of "take it or leave it." And I understand the concept that there is a wave from the center of the galaxy that is cycling and you would get a different frequency at different points. But what is tone one? What is the frequency to that? And if you could figure that out, and add it to Tama-Do then it's like a whole different chapter to the math book.

I was also reading about how the vibrations affect cells, and I'm curious if you think that has to do with the euphoric feeling people get at concerts, whether it be Sector 9 or whatever. Is that part of what we are feeling?


STS9 crowd by Liz O'Keeffe
For sure. I think it's probably one of the most powerful things you can do to your body. And part of that healing... I don't know if it's healing, well of course it's healing because it's love, it's based on love. I think we're all aware, everyone in the band is aware that if you are angry and you play your instrument it will translate and it will make someone else angry. And there's a place for that, to release that anger. And in that way that music is healing. So I guess what feels so good at a Sector 9 show is that we are aware of that. We don't want to make people feel angry or lonely, or like they can't do anything about the world around them, or it just sucks. Because that was where I was coming from when I got in the band and I thought, "this is great." So that's the tone of it for me all the time. So it's hard for me to use my band to be angry. But at the same time a lot of our newer songs are darker, and it's healing in that I can get over my girlfriend or I can make changes in my life or whatever.

And I think music like any art is a reflection of where the artist is, and life is not all roses and fairy wings, it's just never going to be. There are going to be dark times. And I think for a listener who devotes a great deal of time to any band they need to be able to explore all those feelings.

And it's a good time to be angry about a lot of shit.

Yeah, you're right. If you're not angry you might not be paying attention. So moving back to Tama-Do and acupuncture, how do the two really tie into one another?


Acupuncture using shu points
Well in the Level One workshop we learned about tuning forks on the shu points, which are the command points of the noble organs. So the idea is that, as opposed to the Western point of view where you would apply the sound directly to where you think the organ is, you take the Chinese point of view that the best way to enter that organ is through the meridian. And each meridian has a command point, or the strongest point that relates to that organ. So he's worked out through 20 years of research and his own guided intuition what frequencies go with those shu points. So it's pretty simple, there's no abracadabra, you just learn where those points are and the tuning forks to use and physics takes care of the rest.

How do you apply the tuning fork? You just put it where you would put the needle per se?


Crystal Balls
Yeah pretty much. The tip of the tuning fork is where the needle would go. And the amazing thing is that with the tuning fork you are stimulating the physical body but the tail of the tuning fork is extending out into the ethereal, into the astro-bodies. So instead of just a stimulus on the surface of the skin, which is huge, you are actually making a spiral of energy all the way out, and addressing that problem on higher psychological, or preventative levels, where it's really coming from. It's a core concept that disease starts outside of the body and you bring it in through various stresses, etc. But the core cause can be traced back to emotional issues, or even an emotional issue that has been handed down to you through trauma and can come back later in life to affect you.

So with the meridian point you are affecting something directly, so like with the Tama-Do concert would that be affecting your whole being?

Right. The outline of the concert is built to do that. The first movement that we will be playing is to realize the chakras. Then the Cycle of Fifths expands those so then you are open and ready to receive what's next. Then we go through three different modes, that are of course for winter, which are based on the Chinese root note D and the Hindustani, Gunkali and Dorian sliding modes which is basically a meridian, the modes are a meridian. So we remind you of what's about to happen, open it up, and then play the meridian. Then we close with a triple warmer sing along movement.

Now because it's in the mode of winter does that affect something in particular in the body as opposed to spring or summer?

It's the water element, so the kidneys and bladder.

Some of the stuff I've read on the cancer cells is absolutely mind blowing to me. And I'm curious, have there been any cases of people being cured through this? Is there any concrete evidence you could bring to somebody who doesn't agree?

All I can say is what he's [Fabien] shared in workshops. But the stories he's told have been amazing. I will repeat one story he told us. There was a lady in a mental institute who hadn't spoken in like ten years or something, and just sat in a wheel chair and didn't say a word. So he approached the lady and saw that she had something around her head that could be cleared with Chinese bells, just metal bells. So he rings the bells around her head and next to her ear and she turns and looks up to him and says, "That's the most beautiful sound I've ever heard." And that was the first thing she said in ten years. And I think that's more of the kind of clearing that goes on. But what he's said he has done for like a tumor is the power of dissonance, two notes right next to each other on the tuning and that is what's most effective in breaking apart cells.

[David takes out some of Fabien's books and shows me pictures]

Above is a experiment not with human cell, but with cotton. Cotton balls were photographed as "Jacques," a healer, first magnetized them while sending energy from his hands to them (picture 1). Next he added a prayer to the energy (picture 2). For the final photograph sound was added as he said his prayer (picture 3).

He put these pictures together and got this pretty solid thing going on, and he took it to medical journals and seminars in France and he was pretty much laughed out of the building. And he was just like, "Well I believe it but I can't change the world by myself." So he went to England for a few years and just continued his practice. But I think more and more... like the EKG Monitor, that machine can detect your heartbeat, or the magnetic field of your heart from 12 feet away. So that's the first Western clue that you have something outside of your skin that could affect that organ, and magnetics, magnetic fields, and electromagnetic fields, and quantum physics, all of that.

And there is a great deal to be said for everything being connected. Maybe it's not just sound, not just vibration, but just to be more open minded about things is the first step. Now I know that it is only done with acoustic instruments, can you explain why?

The acoustic instruments have overtone harmonics that are actually addressing the higher vibrations that would be in the aura. The sampled instrument or the electronic instrument doesn't have those overtones. Because like what we were just talking about the quantum physics or the highest vibrations that affect the lower vibrations of solid organ, tissue, and matter, that correlates to the chaotic infinite number of overtones that happen when you pluck a string in the air.

Has Fabien heard Sector 9?

Yeah he came to a House of Blues show in L.A.

What did he think?


By Liz O'Keeffe
He loved it. He was like front row balcony, and the House of Blues is a nice place, and the techno beam's going on, and we haven't even talked about light, he doesn't do anything with just sound, light is the next vibration, and color. So the simple analogy is that the music is the medicine for the wound and the light is the bandage to hold the medicine on. Otherwise you'd have this medicine on your body and then you walk outside and the bus goes by and it rubs off, or the rain washes it off, so to fix that you have to get the sound into your body and you put light on top of it.

You mean you literally put light on it?

Yeah different colors, he's basically got these light pens.

Wow, that's really cool. So obviously different colors serve different purposes?

Yup. They go from red to purple for the different energy centers. There are also colors in Chinese medicine so it doesn't always mean the same thing. Kind of like, "why am I affecting the liver from my big toe?" So there are colors that help organs and colors that help energy centers.

So there is sound and color, is there anything else that is major for Tama-Do?

Movement. It's like an adapted Qigong series, which is like a standing meditation using breath; the sound of the breath, and visualizing color to a point. So a full Tama-Do treatment has the sound, has color, and you learn the Qigong movement to prevent the return by movement.


For more information about Soulstice '03 Winter Harmonizing Concert, taking place Sunday December 21 at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco, check STS9.com. Tickets available at Cityboxoffice.com.

The Kayceman
JamBase | HeadQuarters
Go See Live Music!


Take full advantage of all JamBase has to offer by signing up for an account!


You'll receive

show alerts

when your favorite artists announce shows, be eligible to enter contests for

free tickets

, gain the ability to

share your personalized live music calendar

and much more. Join JamBase!