Harps often evoke images of cherubs or angels gently and calmly plucking harmonious notes into the atmosphere. Not so with Andrea Brook’s self-designed acoustic chromatic long-string harp, dubbed Sonic Butterfly. With strings starting at sixty-feet-long, hers is a full-sensory instrument requiring complete body participation.
Andrea Brook is an international performing artist, yoga teacher, and public speaker who has toured her visually and sonically stunning performances for the past eighteen years. Using the architecture and natural environments of her performance locations to amplify her large-scale musical instruments, Andrea has transformed venues such as the Coliseum in Rome, the Space Needle in Seattle, the Temple at Burning Man, and the Grand Theatre in Shanghai.
Andrea amalgamated her talents in 2013 when she formed Sonic Butterfly Productions. Since then, her career and reach has taken flight as she continues to amaze audiences with her transcendent performances. FtC had the chance to sit down with Andrea and unearth more of her story as she shared some insights into the genesis of Sonic Butterfly and what it’s like to share her unique gift around the world.
This Face the Current Music Feature is published in Issue 24 / July-August 2019 Edition. Order PRINT here, SUBSCRIBE to digital membership for unlimited access, or continue reading this article below.
In Aztec culture the butterfly is not a creature of fairytales. Instead, butterflies are warriors that walk through the fire to fulfill their purpose.
Sasha Frate: What led you to decide that you wanted to create a visual, immersive musical experience with the harp?
Andrea Brook: Sonic Butterfly is my design of an acoustic, chromatic, long-string harp. The brass strings are a minimum of sixty feet long and transform indoor and outdoor theaters, buildings, and natural environments into an immersive musical instrument. The resonating chambers with butterfly wing shaped projection screens—“projection wings”—have two full octaves and the strings expand out over the audience, creating a full sensory experience.
The concept for it was born in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I was performing for La Calaca, a Day of the Dead festival. San Miguel is a truly wonderful place—a town filled with both Mexican artists and international artists, where old and new come together, blending contemporary Mexican society, Aztec traditions, and new artistic ideas from across the globe. Imagine stunning, unique altars set up all around the city, a huge crowd of people dressed in traditional costume with faces painted in a katrina mask, fire dancers and drummers, multi-colored flags flapping in the wind, and monarch butterflies everywhere.
I was entranced by the journey of the monarch butterfly. Each year five or six generations of caterpillars undergo chrysalis, a war of cells where their imaginal discs are ignited to become a butterfly so they can fulfill their purpose to fly their leg of the yearly migration from Mexico to Canada and back, acting as pollinators along the way. The final generation, a super generation, arrive back in Mexico around the time of the Day of the Dead, and it is believed that they are the spirits of loved ones returning home to celebrate. As I witnessed the astonishing completion of their yearly act of transformation and purpose, I felt a deep resonance and knew that it was time for me to do the same.
Meanwhile, a Rumi poem was recited me and one line made it all clear: “Jump into the fire, become the butterfly, become the butterfly.” I knew without any doubt that I wanted to build a Sonic Butterfly; to create an immersive musical chrysalis.
SF: What is your background in music and instruments, specifically the harp?
AB: I played a little piano and bass guitar, but I was a dancer. It wasn’t until I first played a long-string harp that I found “my instrument.” As a dancer, I am kinesthetic. The long-string harp is a fully kinesthetic instrument that requires you to dance as you play it. I have now been playing long-string harps for nearly eighteen years.
SF: Why the butterfly and had you considered any other visual before or was it the butterfly from inception?
AB: Sonic Butterfly has always been a butterfly. It’s interesting as I was never a “butterfly” or fairy girl. In fact, I grew up as more of a tomboy. Since becoming Sonic Butterfly, I learned that in Aztec culture the butterfly is not a creature of fairytales. Instead, butterflies are warriors that walk through the fire to fulfill their purpose. This rings true for me, as I have always walked right through the center of life.
SF: How would you describe the difference in the experience from a solo, duet, trio or full-band performance?
AB: Music for me is storytelling and each of my shows tells its own story. I have two solo shows, Butterfly Nature and Super Sonic Butterfly. The first, Butterfly Nature, is my story; the story of becoming Sonic Butterfly. The second, Super Sonic Butterfly, is a celebration and I have a great time playing Sonic Butterfly over dance tracks.
I have three duet shows that are each a dialogue with their own essence. Cherry Blossom is ethereal pilgrimage, InHERitance is about what it is to be a woman today, and String Duplexity is a complex layering to create a fabric of music.
My trio shows take it all to the next level. Blue Cocoon is a sexy, dreamy, superstar show. And the Multi-Media Trio brings into play gorgeous live visuals.
And last but not least, Kaleidoscope is my full-band show and is a world tour with songs inspired from around the globe and performed with intimacy and expansiveness, creating a journey of grace, beauty, and energy.
SF: How did yoga find its way into the Sonic Butterfly performances and why do you believe it to be such a good fit?
AB: I have been a yoga teacher for twenty years, so Sonic Butterfly found its way into my teaching. To me, yoga is a tool to support us to consciously, energetically, and physically set our intentions into motion and to live lives of well-being and authenticity. Combining Sonic Butterfly and yoga is extraordinary. Ascending overtones and healing harmonics of long string vibrations not only provide the perfect soundtrack for the yoga practice, they also transmute and sublime one’s energy to promote physical/energetic health and creative inspiration.
SF: The ecstatic dance workshop that is led with Sonic Butterfly is said to enable you to feel the five rhythms from “Flowing, to Staccato, then Chaos, Lyrical, and finally Stillness”. How would you further describe this experience?
AB: Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms is a dynamic movement practice—a practice of being in your body—that ignites creativity, connection, and community. I have created a set list of both solo songs and also playing along with tracks to create a soundtrack for dancers to interpret the 5Rhythms that Roth set forth in their own personal way.
SF: What is the cocoon, where is it located, who is welcome, and what is offered there?
AB: The Ojai Cocoon is my home studio in Ojai, CA, and I welcome everyone to come when you are visiting the wonderful town of Ojai. I offer a five-star experience called the Sonic Butterfly Ojai Musical Journey, which can be booked privately through me, or through Airbnb and a few of the local hotels. It is a two-hour experience that takes you through the sights, sounds, and story of Sonic Butterfly in a magical studio where the dragon meets the butterfly in a sea of fireflies.
I also offer a Guest Artist Series in the Ojai Cocoon, where I collaborate with amazing artists from a wide variety of genres including Grammy winner Mikael Jorgensen from the band Wilco, David Lynch’s vocal muse Chrysta Bell, Grammy and Academy Award winning bansuri flute player Steve Gorn, Carnegie Hall opera singer Rebecca Comerford, plus violin, guitar, tap dance, poetry, DJs, chapman stick, and the list goes on. I even had a magician levitate a guest! My next show in the series will be in the fall with Rebekah Del Rio, who is best known for her stunning performance in the movie Mulholland Drive, as she sang “Llorando”. We are still determining the date.
Send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get on my newsletter list to get the details for the Guest Artist Series or to come for a Sonic Butterfly Ojai Musical Journey.
SF: One description of your performance was: “Imagine being inside Yo-Yo Ma’s Cello…” What is it like being inside as the performer?
AB: This is such a great ending question, because at the end of my shows, wherever it is possible, I invite the audience to come up to play the harp. I want everyone to experience what it is like to be the performer of Sonic Butterfly.
Long-string harps are played not by plucking the strings which creates a horizontal vibration, but by running your fingers along the strings to create a longitudinal vibration. Singing bowls are also played to create a longitudinal vibration, and both long-string harps and singing bowls have an ascending overtone which lifts your vibration from a lower state into a higher state of being. What is so special about a long-string harp is that you are inside the instrument. And when you are the person running your fingers along the strings, it is honestly magical.
Tiffany Goodman, Goodman Artists: email@example.com