Spotlight on Soundings of the Planet
Soundings of the Planet founders Dean and Dudley Evenson recently sat down with Retailing Insight’s Editor,
Maggie Feeney, to reflect on their 35-year career as sound-healing pioneers and to share the latest chapter in their lives.
Maggie: How did Soundings of the Planet come to be?
Dudley: We had been making alternative culture videos throughout the 70s, but we had no way to distribute them since we pre-dated video cassettes and DVDs. In 1979 we were living in Tucson, Ariz., and we audiotaped a Ram Dass lecture. We arranged to sell the cassettes and got 50 orders right away. It was a big deal for us, because it meant we could distribute the music that was coming through us.
Dean: Our connections with Native Americans inspired us to find a way to honor Mother Earth. I recorded birds at dawn in the desert, added our music, and made our first cassette tape, Desert Dawn Song, which has been re-mastered and is being released this year on CD.
Dudley: It wasn’t like, “How are we going to create a record label,” except we ended up doing that with Soundings of the Planet. We sold cassettes at the Tucson swap meet—our first outlet. We would put up a table every weekend and sell 10 or 20 cassettes.
Dean: If we sold 10 it was amazing.
Dudley: Yes, 20 was a big deal! Eventually, we placed classified ads: “Send for a free catalog—music of the moment to take you beyond time.” Pretty soon we got orders, and then distributors contacted us.
Dean: One fellow said, “You’re going to have to create a market for this stuff.” He’d never heard anything like it; it didn’t fit anywhere. So we had to be pretty perseverant in our dream.
Dudley: We didn’t actually set out to make healing music, but within a few years we started getting that feedback from people. Many folks over the years have used our music in their healing process.
Maggie: Your music is filled with nature sounds. How do you decide what to record?
Dean: It becomes a meditation for me to sit there and press the button at the right time and find the place where the nature sounds are without a lot of background noise. You have to be in a quiet, meditative state and get in the vibration of the natural setting. That’s a joy to do, because you become part of nature and the music reflects that.
Maggie: How did you get your start in the music industry?
Dudley: Dean is a scientist; he has his Master’s in molecular biology. When I met him in Manhattan in 1968, he was full of dreams and visions of what he was going to do with his life, none of which happened to really relate to molecular biology exactly.
Dean: Well, we’re all made of molecules.
Dudley: We’ve got that part going on, yes (laughs). Dean wanted to be a filmmaker and a musician. He had been playing flute since he was nine or 10 years old. He was a recording engineer for many years, too, so he had training early on in 16-track recording studios.
Dean: I got to see the music industry from the inside out. I became an apprentice at a recording studio and eventually became a full-time engineer there.
Dudley: But, he ended up getting into video, too. We did a little film track for a Sam Shepard play at Lincoln Center, and we thought we wanted to do more of that. We ended up buying a Sony AV series Portapack, which recorded half-inch black and white video. It was a 35 pound deck with a cable that went to an 8 pound camera.
Dean: That was early portable video.
Dudley: This is my portable video now (holds up her iPhone) although Dean uses fancier, high-definition cameras.
Dean: We wanted people to see themselves on television. In those days, there was nothing like that happening, and it was disempowering to the people. We wanted to show the people themselves, let people feel their importance, their self-worth.
Dudley: We are in the middle of a major archiving project right now. We have hundreds of hours of video from the 70s through the 2000s. In fact, we have at least 10 different formats of video. We have amazing footage, including Native American footage from the 70s and, later, Dean playing flute with John Denver on the Pine Ridge Reservation, meeting the Dalai Lama, and traveling to Tibet and India. We were documenting the new consciousness as it was emerging, and all the gurus and healers and environmentalists. These were fresh, new ideas, even though many of them tapped into ancient wisdom, and we were right there with our cameras. It’s been quite a journey, and we’re looking forward to sharing those videos.
Maggie: Do you have any videos available right now?
Dudley: Our latest video is called Sonic Healing Meet the Masters Video Course. It’s a 10-DVD set of intimate interviews with all these amazing sound healers, scientists, researchers, therapists, and authors: Joan Borysenko, Larry Dossey, Tito La Rosa, Christine Stevens, Jonathan and Andi Goldman, Don Campbell, Michael Beckwith and Rickie Byars-Beckwith, Jeffrey Thompson, Joshua Leeds, Scott Huckabay, Deva Premal, and it just goes on and on. It has a curriculum that goes along with it, and it’s set up so people can use it to do programs since we have included public performance rights with the set. They can show the videos and get people involved in their local church, yoga center, store, and community. It’s a great format to bring people into the stores or for other musicians and sound healers to expand their audiences.
Maggie: What are some of your favorite memories through the years?
Dean: I was thinking of one the other day. In 1987, we went to the former Soviet Union as artist-ambassadors. We ended up being there for two weeks and had 18 recording sessions and performances with local Soviet musicians. That was fascinating—they understood where we were coming from; they were doing the same stuff.
Dudley: It was part of the citizen diplomacy movement during the 80s. We were coming to the tail end of the Cold War, and Americans were going over to the Soviet Union. The goal was simply to meet people and talk to them and become friends, which we were able to do through the music. We created an album called Music Makes the Snow Melt Down. It was a collaboration with some Soviet musicians, including a wonderful pianist named Sergey Kuryokhin and another named Vladimir Solyanick. It was very powerful. Our motto is “Peace Through Music,” so to find a way to interact with people who were our so-called enemies was pretty amazing.
Maggie: What does the future hold for you and for Soundings?
Dudley: Well, Dean was diagnosed with Parkinson’s a few years ago, which has opened up new pathways for us in understanding the mind-body connection. We have a tremendous, supportive staff, a great family, and we get to live next to this wild river surrounded by nature. We have a very high quality of life. We get to stay home together and be in this beautiful environment near our friends and still have access to the world. Dean has handed off many of his responsibilities so he can spend more time on his creative projects and inner work. He’s chosen not to take the Parkinson’s medication for now but is exploring alternative solutions, although the meds are always an option.
Dean: I have taken the path of doing qi gong and yoga and meditation and eating well and physical exercise—just treating my body with a lot of respect. The response of my tremor to energy around me, it’s amazing. It’s like a meter, a buzzer going off. So there’s a blessing to Parkinson’s in allowing you to see more of yourself than you did before.
So, I would ask for prayers, celebration prayers, that I feel the joy each moment, and that we all feel the joy each moment and aim for happiness in our lives, because the more we can share that good stuff, the more it is apt to happen around us.
Dudley: We are blessed to have been able to cultivate a life together and actually manifest our dreams. It’s been quite an adventure. We’ve had a really good time working hard, but now we get to relax a little bit.
Maggie: Well deserved.
Dudley: Well deserved. But don’t worry—the music will continue!
First published in Vol. 29 No. 2 of Retailing Insight. © 2015 Continuity Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.