La Koro Sutra – The Path to Nirvana

A Sutra (Sanskrit: discourse or thread) is a literary form of Mahayana Buddhist scripture that describes the path you must take to achieve the pure distillation of wisdom (Nirvana). One of their most famous Sutras is the Heart Sutra (Koro Sutra) that since its existence has been recited by millions of Buddhists worldwide. La Koro Sutra, for 100 voices chorus with American Gamelan, harp and organ, was set to music by American composer Lou Harrison in 1973. It features the universal language of Esperanto and reflects the composers’ message of hope for a united world that transcends the ethnic and national boundaries – a hope I wholeheartedly share and that was the underlying inspiration for my latest album Lotus Dreams.

The nearly 30-minute title track uses distinct Javanese rhythms under a soaring vocal choir, and the bright and shimmering layered American Gamelan underneath.

The American Gamelan, a set of tuned percussion instruments, was designed by Harrison and lifelong partner Bill Colvig. It consists of four high bells called sarons after the Indonesian percussion instrument they resemble, two large genders and a collection of traditional Western percussion instruments and found instruments such as the sawed-off oxygen tanks and wash tubs. The sarons and genders are tuned to a scale that resembles the D Major scale, the Ptolemy’s Diatonic Syntonon, that by early Chinese and Greek theorists is considered mathematically “pure”.


La Koro Sutra

Lou Harrison

Ptolemy’s intense diatonic scale

American Gamelan

Album of the week – La Koro Sutro

Mahayana Buddhism – BBC