this prayer wheel we spin

what does it mean to pray in this crazy modern world? on tour with the automated prayer machine

excerpted from the print magazine…

It is early February and a light snow covers the Eastern European countryside. We pass through low mountains and forests, past the tiled roofs of old villages. Castles sit majestically atop high rocky perches. New developments tear through the mountains, gray apartment buildings teetering on the brink of the factories they exist to serve. The hard edges of Communist functionality seem strangely at odds with the medieval towns that circle outward from their highest points of church and state.

Departing from Vienna, I am moving through the Czech landscape toward Prague. Anna Friz sits across from me as the train passes through cities, towns and countryside. We head toward our last stops on a month-long European tour to present our collaboration, a new media musical performance called The Automated Prayer Machine.

Fate has me traveling toward Slovakia, the landscape of my father?s heritage, as he, across the ocean, prepares to embark upon a six-hour open-heart surgery, scheduled in a few days? time. I got word of his imminent procedure in Vienna at the Kunstradio studio, immediately after our live broadcast on Austrian national radio. The news hit like a ton of bricks. Thankfully, I have a focus for the unfurling emotions. The music of the Prayer Machine is constantly purring through my body ? the building layers of violin harmonies, swooping satellite sounds, the enveloping drone of accordion. Snippets of its wise words spill into my mind, and I know that I will be performing with a heightened passion.

Anna and I created The Automated Prayer Machine as an antidote to the bombardment of disturbing news ? to broadcast hope, inspiration, potential. With our mutual love of electronic soundscape and traditional musical instruments, we set forth to perform a prayer wheel. We asked our friends and communities to send prayers by email or to record messages on our answering machines. Their replies became the fabric in a concert of live radio transmissions that, when performed, takes us on a challenging voyage toward a destination of rippling sound and lighted words.

When we first put out the call for prayers, we had no idea how it would be received. I pressed ?send? to an email list of hundreds, with a Ganesh mantra on the brain, but part of me was cynical, if curious and hopeful. Who prays these days? And how do they do it? The answering machine messages started pouring in almost immediately. As we digitized them, I could feel my heart centre moving. One of those rare glimpses of opening that almost tickles with a tear-jerking bliss.

* * *

The nervous jitters, the dim lights, the hush of the room. The Automated Prayer Machine performance begins with blips of short-wave radio noise bouncing through the space on portable radios that have been placed throughout the audience. Anna and I sit behind a table full of wires, samplers, effects pedals and mixers. The noise builds. This is our Radio Tower of Babel, the darkest moment in the piece, when we stir up the silt of the last few years of terror-heavy media reports and face the scourge of right-wing talk radio. We are taking a furious ride through a sonic climate of sensationalism, airing the stuff that makes us fearful and apathetic. Anna captures live radio and feeds it into a pulsating mass. I throw in snapshot samples of wild street drumming.

?I?m talkin? about war,? says the twangy fundamentalist preacher.

For this we pick up our instruments and pound out a tchardas, Anna on her accordion, and I with my violin, starting in time to a rhythm of words, a slow minor oompah, old country in the blood. Gradually we speed into a dancing frenzy. No longer numbed by the media, we stop ... and drop into a heartbeat of looping accordion.

Annabelle Chvostek is a musician, composer, videographer and songwriter living in Montreal. For info on The Automated Prayer Machine performances and other projects, check her website at; email Heartfelt thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts for providing plane and train fares to and around Europe, and to Studio XX for getting the Prayer Machine moving.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life