I first met Joe Tornabene when I attended his Sound Balancing class at Ilium Center of Light, a class that was described as somewhat “legendary” by various of my performer (musicians and actors) friends and not only. Having just actively returned to the world of sound healing after a session and interview with Soul Sounding practitioner David Kennet, I was eager to remain on the powerful flow of auditory therapy.
A New Yorker of Italian origin, Tornabene is an award-winning musician, stage and film actor and sound designer. He has been deeply connected to Greece since 1997, while also teaching workshops on performance, awareness, sound balancing, improvisation and energy perception in around 10 countries and performing solo and in duets, and playing the baritone saxophone in Europe and the USA.
A few weeks after trying his class, I visited Tornabene in the place where he was being hosted in a charming part of Plaka by his choreographer friend Anastasia Lyra. After I entered a beautiful rustic-style courtyard and then a small but cozy space where Tornabene was staying, he said “Before our interview, let me show you something” and led me through to a laundry room. “I’m not going to show you a laundry room!” he laughed, before heading through yet another door in the maze-like interior of this old Plaka mansion, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Intrigued, I followed him through to the other room, seeing mirrors with bubble lights and rows of costumes. “Er, this looks like a dressing room?” I said, confused. “Yes,” he said, opening yet another door, “come!” And on to the next area – dark, until he turned on the lights with a clack and saying “look!” swayed his hand forward to present to me an entire theatre down below us! “We are in the Mikroskopiko Theatro” he told me, as I looked down, completely amazed. “The walls and seats are 2000 year-old Roman walls!” he informed me, just adding to my surprise. It is here that Lyra presents dance and music performances she choreographs, and where Tornabene had the good fortune to rehearse any hour he liked. Back to his “bachelor pad” as he laughingly described it, we sipped our coffee and got on with our interview.
“We work with experiential anatomy, which is accessing the different energy qualities, the different body systems. It’s very powerful work for the performer and also of course on a therapeutic level,” Tornabene says. As he talks, I can’t help looking around me to “listen” to other parts of him spread across the space: his baritone saxophone, books on sound healing, tuning forks in their boxes, and alas, even a telescope. “I lived in Sounio for a summer, and wanted to see the stars from there,” he smiles.
“All the studies and research that I do, feeds into the central core idea of energy awareness – the awareness of the energy transforming, and being able to navigate with that, either in a therapeutic setting, with the intention of balancing and creating a healthy dynamic; in the performance work it’s about expanding your expressive range and getting a much stronger and deeper relationship with the dynamics of space, the rapport with the audience etc. So it’s quite a circular, radial way of researching and developing work as opposed to a linear approach.
HOW DID THIS AWARENESS AWAKEN WITHIN YOU AS A PERFORMER?
There were three major streams – in the Early 80s I was sound-designing and composing for a New York Choreographer, RoseAnne Spradlin, she’s an award-winning choreographer & still quite active in NY. She was studying the body-mind work, Bonnie Cohen’s work, and she started describing the music that I was bringing to her in those terms. I said “What the hell are you talking about?!” She would describe various musical textures as very “bone-like” or “very organ-like” or “accessing skin” and so forth and I got very, very curious about this, I said “what is this?”
“So we started doing Body-Level work at her apartment in NY and I started sensing a possibility of developing a much richer relationship with the movement, music, energetic thing that I was involved in. Then I also had a colleague who was studying the Laban work, and so Laban’s space and effort started to also be a stream in this. And then at the end of the ‘80s I went for therapy sessions with John Beaulieu who was working at Polarity Centre at that point (he shows me his book, Human Tuning, Sound Healing with Tuning Forks, published 2010). It was 1989 and we did speaking therapy, he worked with Tibetan bowls and with tuning forks that he designed and I purchased from him at that time, which are based on the Pythagorean numbers which have a very curative aspect, and also hands-on work. And at the end of these sessions he turned to me and said “Joe would you like to do this work on other people?” cause he had a sense that there was something starting to move in me. I got terrified! I couldn’t imagine working with a recipient on a massage table and actually using my voice and the forks. But he had this very interesting smile in his face when I had this reaction cause he knew that something would happen.
“So I started using that particular work – the fork work and voice work – and started developing it so that I could become a better musician, and it has very strongly informed my work through the years. And then I moved to Greece and in 1997 I met Jenny Colebourne.
WHY DID YOU MOVE TO GREECE?
I met a Greek woman in Amsterdam when I was teaching at the School for New Dance Development and using Amsterdam as a base to teach in other countries in Europe in theatrical work primarily. I had the Amsterdam working Group and we met once a week for two years, exploring a work called Experimental Listening, where you listen to a recorded piece of music and we would write down our reaction to it – on any level – the phenomenological level, the emotional level, and then we would do an hour to an hour and a half doing experiential anatomy exploration – for example we would work with the bones through touch, movement, accessing the energy of this body system. And then we would re-listen to the music and we would share and journal and process, and the results were quite astonishing – the perceptual changes, the relationship changes with how we entered the music and what we heard and what we were sensing and how the space transformed and so forth. These results were published in Contact Quarterly the year after in 1997.
“So as I said I met Jenny Colebourne and she said I’m going to organise a workshop for you at Ilium Center of Light. I said “you want me to teach this stuff?!” and she said, “Yes!! Do it!”. We had 17 people in the first workshop, and it was really marvellous – I felt a fluidity with it, an ease with teaching it and working with it.
“In late ’97 I also started teaching at a prominent theatre school here, where I taught for five years. I started integrating the experiences I was having in the therapeutic work, my own, by that point 20-something years in the performing arts, primarily with dance & theatre, and this integration started to occur. It worked very very well in the theatre setting, the students that i bump into now 20 years later still say they use the work, and how rich it was, etc.
IS IT MAINLY FOR PERFORMERS OR FOR ANYONE?
In the therapeutic work we are using a lot of explorations that I have developed and use in the theatrical training, but it’s designed to have a therapeutic base as well. So these two streams are by now quite integrated in my work.
WHICH PART OF YOU DO YOU FEEL IS MOST PROMINENT?
I think they’re pretty well balanced… In the article “Cycling through awareness protocols, creating music from a body-based energetic perspective” published in Berlin last year – that’s pretty much the essence for me – I create primarily solo work – my performance work and practice regime is driven by my awareness and sensibility of moving through varying body systems, energy systems and so forth, and witnessing the influence of these different energy transformations, and allowing this to manifest in the moment-to-moment creation of the work.
HAVE YOU STUDIED HOW YOUR MUSIC AFFECTS THE AUDIENCE?
I generally get very positive responses – that it’s very warm, and generous and has a healing aspect. But it’s in the development stage – I think in 30 years maybe it will have matured a bit. I’ve only been at it for 35-40 years – it takes a while! (laughs)
WITH YOUR MUSICAL PERFORMANCES YOU’VE WORKED WITH ALL KINDS OF MUSICIANS AROUND THE WORLD. HOW DO THOSE PARTNERSHIPS EMERGE?
I’ve worked primarily in dance & theatre and I choose the musicians I work with very, very carefully. They have to have a sensibility, they have to be very strong & confident improvisors. With dance & theatre I love entering this wider, energetic context – my sound goes out into a space, there’s a kinaesthetic aspect occurring, perhaps text, and I start to nurture what I call the third entity, this energetic thing that arises between the sound I’m creating and the other aspects on the stage.
SO THATS SOMETHING YOU CAN’T QUITE REHEARSE FOR
When there are rehearsal situations, it’s more about finding how we might walk into form, how we might inter-relate in those terms. But rarely are things set; I work with mature people so we trust our ability to interact moment-to-moment and witness the evolving form and to nurture that. When I do solo performances the only thing I plan is about the first 30 seconds so I can have a tiny bit of comfort to kind of cut the ice a bit. But for the next 30-40 minutes I’m travelling with this awareness process and how I’m sensing the audience, the space, how I’m listening to the silences, what came before the silence will inform what comes after it – and in the ideal situation I really trust this process.
SO EACH TIME IT’S DIFFERENT
Yeah. I try to continually break the syntax of my gestural work, that’s a large process for me. But it’s really driven a lot by how I’m sensing how my body is informing the process moment-to-moment. It’s challenging and quite an amazing energetic place to be.
IN OTHER PARTS OF YOUR LIFE HOW DO YOU FIND THAT PLACE?
The therapeutic work (laughs)…has saved my life, literally! I used it to balance my psychology and my inter-relationships with every aspect of my life. I’m constantly trying to learn; it’s a massive learning process of these minute changes that we continually absorb in our lives because of the complexity of our lives, and to really monitor those and to understand how they’re affecting my energy levels, my general health, my psychology – and to be able to transform the ones that are creating negative issues.
“I have this belief that ancient Shamanistic rites were also built around this premise. They were not only going through a curing ritual but also imparting to the health-seeker ways to understand his or her energetic body and all the other parameters of moment to moment life ways so that they could walk away and enter self-healing., If you study the way shamans worked, it’s such an energetic foundation to their work – even the herbs they used – all of this was energetic vibrational type of medicine and approach.
Interview by Alexia Amvrazi
TORNABENE’S SOUND BALANCING CLASS @ ILIUM CENTRE OF LIGHT (Dimocharous 18, Kolonaki) take place every Wednesday. It can be attended as a year-long series or as a one off. For more information call: +302107231397.
Tornabene describes the workshop as follows:
“My workshop at Ilium is really about empowering the individual to find ways to manage their health & psychology & emotional flow, giving the very simple techniques that they can start to travel with, so they can become more self-sufficient and more confident, and trusting in this innate aspect of human beings to balance & heal the energy body. I really believe that this process of healing was also a teaching process for the recipient to become a self-healer.”
Tornabene also teaches at SECRET PLACE in Maroussi
* 9 -12 December 2017@ KINITIRAS
A presentation of Kinitiras’ Residency for composers and choreographers, presented by Joe Tornabene and Thalia Ditsa.
Children’s performance Stin Hora Tou Giati (In the Land of Why) at Kinitiras Theatre as a musician / mover on December 17 & 24 and January 7 and 14 2018.
* Performance as actor / mover @ Kinitiras Theatre production Deep Sigh (Βαθύς Αναστεναγμός) which opens on February 9th, 2018 and will run until the beginning of March.
He also offers private Sound Therapy Sessions using Therapeutic Touch, tuning forks, voice, movement.
JOE TORNABENE ON YOUTUBE