Rhyannon Styles is a writer, dancer, actress and performance artist who last spoke to our editor Soma Ghosh about shame and feminine sexuality. She runs healing sound gong baths in Berlin and online. She’s been a trans columnist for Elle and her new book, ‘Help I’m addicted’ is out later this year.
DG: Cities have been quieter during the pandemic. As a performer and dance student as well as a writer in Berlin, did you notice any changes in the sounds of the city?
I love living in cities, I need the beat of the metropolis to feel connected. Sound is a huge part of that. Whenever I’ve stayed in rural or suburban areas I tend to feel isolated by silence. That being said, I did notice that streets were quieter during the pandemic, particularly the absence of children playing and the sound of everyone heading off to work in the morning. I enjoyed the contrast in the beginning, it was like everyone took a collective pause, an interval from life. It was refreshing.
DG: Since we last spoke in 2018 for The Demented Goddess, you’ve become what I’d cheekily call a mistress of the gong, although I know your love of gong bathing goes back further. Can you describe how gong bathing affected you in those early encoutners?
I attended my first gong bath in a reconditioned church in east London circa 2012. It was the perfect setting to experience the expansive sounds of gong. Being in the beating heart of the east end, the timbre of the metal was offset by police sirens and shouting from passers by, adding to the acoustics of the space. I’ve always loved how environments impact sonic atmospherics; whether it be the excitement and frenzy of a punk rock gig, the deep bass at a rave or the delicate strings in an orchestra. I need to feel totally immersed in sound and gong baths provide that opportunity.
DG: We’ve also spoken previously about tackling the addictions that developed around the time we first ever met, way back in the Noughties when you were performing startlingly beautiful and inventive cabaret and performance art in London. This year your book, Help, I’m Addicted! is coming out. How has the gong helped you with addiction?
Initially, attending gong baths provided an escapist safe haven where the outside world and all my problems ceased to exist. For that hour I was able to relax, let go of any internal destructive narratives and enjoy being still. You see, my addictions always kept me busy, externally and internally. In a gong bath I literally had nowhere else to go, and I was able to process life events by grounding myself with the sound. I’d never experienced anything like it. I felt peace of mind because my body was busy with experiencing the sound. It was calm and cathartic.
DG: We encounter drone sounds and vibrational modes in electronic music and the transcendental vibe of club music. Such sounds slow down our attention, lifting us beyond our daily thoughts. Do you feel we might benefit from extending the quietness that has been enforced by the pandemic, or are you keen to get back to the hurly burly?
I am excited to emerge from lockdown and move into the next phase. But I am not in a rush to return to life at the same speed. I have missed going to places like the cinema and theatre, in many ways I feel starved of experience. Culture runs through my veins and I’ve grieved that absence. I want to dance with other people to songs I love. I want to travel again and listen to the sound of a streetcar climbing up a rusty track in Lisbon. I want to float in the swimming pool and hear the screams of children as they bomb into the pool. Sound equals life.
DG: What’s the single most pleasurable aspect of giving or receiving a gong bath?
Whether I’m facilitating or experiencing a gong bath, it’s the transformative element that people experience which I find most pleasurable. The truth is, you can enter a gong bath feeling one way and come through the next hour feeling completely different. The beauty is, all you need to do is lie still and enjoy the vibrations of sound. It could not be simpler. Seeing this transformation in people never gets tired, and I’m happy that I can allow people this little gift to themselves, especially during the pandemic.
‘Help, I’m addicted’ is due for release in October 2021. Exploring how the transition process can overlap with addiction to alcohol, food, sex, narcotics and the internet, Rhyannon shares her journey of recovery to offer a blend of memoir and advice to those stuggling with addiction.