The Bardo Thodol is a text that’s been guiding Tibetan Buddhists through the phases between death and rebirth for centuries. And for a much shorter period of time, it has served as a jumping off point for creative endeavors as varied as Jacob’s Ladder, Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, and The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” In most of those cases, it’s also worth noting that Timothy Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience was also inspired by the Bardo Thodol, specifically the Walter Evans-Wentz translation that gave it the name by which it’s known in most of the Western world, The Tibetan Book Of The Dead.
While all of those works channel the words and themes of the Bardo Thodol, none are as faithful to its spiritual contents as Smithsonian Folkways’ Songs From The Bardo, a collaborative album from multimedia artist Laurie Anderson, Tibetan singer and multi-instrumentalist Tenzin Cheogyal, and activist and composer Jesse Paris Smith due September 27. Originally developed for a live performance at New York’s Rubin Museum of Art, Songs From The Bardo finds Anderson—herself a practicing Buddhist—reading passages from the Bardo Thodol over meditative soundscapes and enveloping drones from Choegyal, Smith, and cellist Rubin Kodheli. It’s best experienced as a whole, but you can get a good sense of that whole from “Listen Without Distraction,” premiering today at The A.V. Club. “The music is meant to help you float out of your body, to go into these other realms, and to let yourself do that without boundaries,” Anderson has said, and that’s definitely the case with “Listen Without Distraction,” in which she bids listeners to “give up pride, aggression, desire, and envy.” Singing bowls ping and strings saw as Anderson describes a host of otherworldly beings tempting the spirit to stray from its path. Don’t give into them. Stay focused on Anderson. Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.