Internal Spark – Interview with Zen Age Guitarist/Composer, Shambhu Vineberg
I am speaking today with guitarist Shambhu about his music and spiritual connection with Sri Chinmoy, technology and his working with producer, Will Ackerman.
Scot: Hello Neil, first off I would like to ask you how you got the name Shambhu?
Neil: Shambhu is my spiritual name given to me by Sri Chinmoy over three decades ago when I first started meditating with him. It’s the name of Lord Shiva, the presiding deity of the third eye. It’s this aspect of Shiva that represents intuition, which sort of defines the music that I play.
Scot: Will Ackerman of Windham Hill has produced both of your records, “Sacred Love” and your forthcoming release, tell me what it is like working with him as a producer.
Neil: Will is an incredible producer of acoustic music and well known founder of Windham Hill Records. Will has not only produced and distributed great music; he can take credit for a genre of music that we know as “New Age”. He has a giant legacy of elevating this genre of music into something we know and we love and we’ve had a wonderful time recently working on my upcoming CD.
Scot: Tell me more about Ackerman’s studio.
Neil: Will built his studio in Vermont with a focus on recording acoustic instrumentalists. As a great guitar player himself, he designed an impeccable sounding room for acoustic instruments. He fine-tuned his room with custom modified microphones and preamps to capture every nuance of an acoustic instrument and the soul of the artist.
Scot: In what way did Will help with producing your records?
Neil: As a producer, Will helps me convey who I am as an artist. His studio is a sandbox where you have to play your heart out and deliver music that touches the soul. If Will is moved by a performance that is executed well, then we’ve had a great day.
Scot: How did you feel about working in that type of environment?
Neil: It’s very challenging. As Will says, you have to come to the table with something. If the music and performance fail to convey your essence, you are back to the drawing board. Being a competitive guy, I enjoy it and appreciate the high bar Will sets for artist’s he produces.
Scot: How much did you prepare for your record before you went into Will’s studio.
Neil: I was very prepared. I try to know the music so well that I can focus on conveying a feeling and emotional quality in a song, without the interference of my mind. I don’t want to worry about hitting the notes. I want to feel a song for what it wants to be and to become an instrument for that expression.
Scot: Do you feel you are connected to Will when you are playing, in the manner of a symbiotic and transcendental relationship when you are performing?
Neil: We have a great connection that is built on trust. I trust his judgment, I trust his taste, his ears and his choices. We work as partners in a way that helps me execute the music to the best of my ability. Will has an idea of what I am capable of and he knows whether or not I am achieving it. Together we try to drive the performance to a level that is meaningful.
Scot: I can tell that the joy is there by the performance of the video recording you are sharing on your website. You can hear a lot of love, fun, joy and excitement from watching it.
Neil: Thanks. We had a wonderful week and everyone felt satisfied creatively.
Scot: You mention on your website that your Sacred Love album was created to reflect a beautiful, healing, uplifting and refreshing inner landscape, all at the same time for those who listen. Can you talk more about how you feel your music is a healing energy?
Neil: I spent over three decades meditating and studying meditation. When I was growing up I had this musical capacity that was directed into classical studies, jazz, playing in bands and listening to tons of pop music. While I played music casually and professionally, neither money nor fame was a compelling enough reason to turn music into a career for me. While meditating, it occurred to me that music could inspire people to a higher awareness. Sacred Love was intended to convey my own spiritual experiences of my meditative practice. I not only wanted to make music that inspired people, but also helped them get into a place where they could develop a greater sense of spiritual awareness and connectivity via the music.
Scot: That brings us to the next question. You use the words deep spirit to describe the engagement your music draws the listeners to. Tell me more about what “Deep Spirit” means to you.
Neil: Deep Spirit for me is music that conveys my soul and plays through me as if I were an instrument. My music is not something that I compose with my mind. And though I am a classically trained composer having studied at the Manhattan School of Music, I favor the elements of improvisation and the spontaneity of performance to get into the groove of writing. Oftentimes inside these grooves is a song waiting to be discovered. I have several hundred recordings of me jamming where songs emerge. I simply review these recordings to inspire me to write a new song found in these improvisational grooves. My music encompasses the melodies and chord patterns that emerge when I am in the heart and let go to that spirit in my life. That is what my albums convey and what “Deep Spirit” means to me.
Scot: So, are you saying that “Deep Spirit” arises from the subconscious of creativity when you are in the depth of that creative space?
Neil, Yes, that’s correct. It’s something I feel when I’m in the flow of a meditative music experience.
Scot: I would like to speak about how nature applies to your music. I heard the sounds of bird samples in your song Nirab Amare. In what way do you feel nature inspires your music?
Neil: Nirab Amare is based on a beautiful melody by Sri Chinmoy, which I performed with my dear friend Premik Russell Tubbs on flute. My intention is that my music is an expression of nature itself. I consciously seek to convey the perfection of nature. To me, nature’s music is like wind in the trees. I observe and seek to remain one with the flow of nature itself, which is its own perfection. Ocean waves break perfectly and for my music to be meaningful, it has to be as organic and natural as a breaking wave. That is what I try to accomplish when I am performing, by going into the heart and being spontaneous.
Scot: So do you feel the spontaneity is inspired by your thoughts on your surroundings, or more of an inner journey?
Neil: It’s all inner, it’s all feeling to me. I sit by the ocean and know that feels calming and powerful. When I am playing music, I am simply trying to be the ocean and let that perfect feeling and rhythm flow through me. I am trying to be an instrument for the music rather then let the music be a creation of mine. I am the instrument for the music from the moment it flows from the subconscious realm through my physical realm. What I try to achieve as an artist, is to make myself a perfect instrument in terms of practice and knowledge, so that when the music flows my own facility and dexterity can execute it without thought.
Scot: Sri Chinmoy believes we are all seekers and that God is everywhere. First we have to see Him within us and talk to Him inside our hearts. Do you believe that music is the internal dialogue that inspires you to create?
Neil: Music is the manifestation of the dialogue. The dialogue is between my soul and my life. My soul basks in the light of meditation and peace. And my life and music aspire to serve the source of music itself.
Scot: In your work as a technologist, how do you feel the new forms of digital and mobile communication are affecting the world of the universal consciousness?
Neil: Technology itself has impacted life on our planet. It’s driving people more into a mental realm, rather then a heart realm. People need to balance technology and music in productive ways. If you listen to soulful music, it will hopefully create more clarity inside you and allow you to connect with your own sense of purpose and soul, so that when you are creating with technology, at least you will be in a more soulful dimension. In this way, technology can help elevate consciousness. Unfortunately, many get lost inside technology and fail to live in the heart.
Scot: Do you feel that there is more unification among musicians because of the increased connectivity and will technology offer an opportunity for music to grow so that musicians can take it to the next level?
Neil: Technology can help socialize your music and reach a larger audience. Heartfelt music will help you reach soulful people. If we use technology to share soulful music that would present unification, that I could get behind.
Scot: Tell me about you new record and the premise behind it.
Neil: This record is almost three years in the making. It represents many shades of my musical offerings as a composer, guitarist and producer. It was recorded live in the studio with George Brooks on sax, Kai Eckhardt on bass, Celso Alberti on drums and Frank Martin on piano. We then added Jeff Haynes on percussion and Eugene Friesen on cello. We recorded 12 songs live at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, California. I took eight of those songs into Will Ackerman’s Imaginary Road Studios and re-recorded the guitars and added the cello. I am influenced by all the great composers, as well as folk pop, jazz, classical and the avant-garde. I feel this album brings my interest in these styles together.
Scot: Do you feel Sri Chinmoy’s influence on you as if he were a part of this process?
Neil: I always give Sri Chinmoy credit for all the goodness in my life. He inspired me to know God and he taught me faith. He gave me a first hand experience of the highest form of awareness and encouraged me to explore silence as a way of pursuing higher knowledge and awareness. That I should use my life to inspire, versus using my life to accumulate material wealth was a key learning experience for me.
Scot: Do you feel your music has a sense of historical reverence for what’s happening in the world today by featuring a culturally diverse group of musicians and styles on your album?
Neil: My music is culturally diverse with influences from Africa, Asia and South America. I am fortunate to have traveled the world many times over and the influences of the music I have heard during my travels always inspires me.
Scot: Thanks Neil for sharing you thoughts and music.
Watch a video from Shambhu’s upcoming album here