by Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

innova 720


1. Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth

2. Stillness Flows Ever Changing

3. Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys

4. The Nothingness that is the Source of Everything


The word vipassana comes from the Pali language of early Buddhist texts. It means “to see things as they really are” but is often translated as “insight” or “clear-seeing.” The type of seeing denoted by vipassana is that of direct perception or observation, as opposed to knowledge derived from reasoning or argument. Today the term vipassana is most associated with a specific technique of Buddhist meditation.



Joseph C. Phillips Jr.


1. Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth   17:55


Amanda Monaco, Electric Guitar

Tom Beckham, Vibraphone

Deanna Witkowski, Piano


2. Stillness Flows Ever Changing   11:55


Ben Kono, Soprano Saxophone


3. Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys   9:58


Dave Smith, Trumpet


4. The Nothingness that is the Source of Everything   20:46

Words by Denise Levertov from

Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke


Julie Hardy, Voice

Dan Willis, Flute

Skye Steele, Violin



Ben Kono,

Piccolo, Flute, Alto Flute, Oboe, English Horn,

Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone

Dan Willis,

Piccolo, Flute, Oboe, English Horn,

Clarinet, Tenor Saxophone

Ed Xiques,

Flute, Alto Flute, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Baritone Saxophone


Dave Smith, Flügelhorn, Trumpet

Deborah Weisz, Trombone


Tom Beckham, Vibraphone

Mike Pinto, Vibraphone


Amanda Monaco, Electric Guitar

Sebastian Noelle, Electric Guitar


Deanna Witkowski, Piano

Brenda Earle, Piano


Peter Wise, Percussion

Luke Notary, Percussion

Charenee Wade, Voice

Amy Cervini, Voice

Sofia Koutsovitis, Voice

Julie Hardy, Voice

Monika Heidemann, Voice


Ana Milosavljevic, Violin

Skye Steele, Violin


Orlando Wells, Viola

Joshua Davidowitz, Viola


Jody Redhage, Violoncello

Lauren Riley-Rigby, Violoncello


Thomson Kneeland, Bass


Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Conductor, Composer

Recorded March and August 2007 at Systems Two, Brooklyn

Mixed and Mastered at Systems Two

Engineered by Michael Marciano

Produced by Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

Cover & Tray Photos Malaysian Forest #1 & 2 by Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

Photo of Joe by Marcy Begian


Thank you to Julie Hardy; Ben Kono; Amanda Monaco; Tom Beckham; Rebecca Ringer; Elizabeth Phillips; New Directions Publishing; Steve Kloser, for his friendship and my wonderful website; Philip Blackburn, Chris Campbell, and all of the great people at innova for their support of this project; Mike, Nancy, and Joe Marciano at Systems Two; all of the incredible musicians who continually offer inspiration by playing my music with such beauty and dedication; and a special thank you to Kristen for all of her love without which this Vipassana recording would not be a reality.


innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

Philip Blackburn: director, layout

Chris Campbell: operations manager



My Journey to Vipassana


Allwissend bin ich nicht; doch viel ist mir bewusst

(I do not know everything; still much I understand)

-Goethe, from Faust


Of Climbing Heaven and Gazing on the Earth came into focus after my visit to The Hague in the Netherlands for a two-week festival celebrating composer Steve Reich, where a number of my own compositions were also performed. Taking a break from the festival, I took a train north to Amsterdam. While walking around the city I stumbled upon Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s outdoor photography exhibition, Earth from Above. This powerful and moving exhibition featured aerial photographs of natural and man-made objects taken from many places over the globe. Ecological or societal dangers in the areas of the photograph are detailed in accompanying captions. One photo I was particularly drawn to was of a flock of scarlet ibis flying over the Amacuro delta in Venezuela. The photograph was taken from a perspective high above the flock. The very striking juxtaposition of the deep red birds against the rich black soil evoked a sense of ‘soaringness’ and beauty that found musical outlet when I returned to the States. The title comes from a line in one of Percy Shelley’s last poems:


Art thou pale for weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth

Throughout the creation of Stillness Flows Ever Changing, a recurring image of a river of sound cycled through my mind: beginning with a small ripple gradually flowing into waves of melodies that dance and weave around each other, with Ben Kono’s soprano saxophone surfing on and through the aural cascade.



Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys was partly inspired by Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces which illuminates how a “call to adventure” can send one on a path of trials and tribulations before reaching a final apotheosis, redemption and (sometimes) return. This physical journey is often a metaphor for an internal spiritual awakening from innocence to enlightenment. From Odysseus to Buddha to Anakin Skywalker, this dramatic arch is common to many stories and myths throughout the world.


Of the four compositions of Vipassana, The Nothingness that is the Source of Everything, took the longest to develop and was the last I wrote. Originally titled Ich bin der Neuen Welt abhanden gekommen (“I am lost in the new world”), it was partly inspired by both Gustav Mahler’s beautiful orchestral song from Rückertlieder, Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen and Björk’s haunting New World from Lars von Trier’s movie musical Dancer in the Dark. Although all of the melodies are original (except for one ‘sort of’ quote from Mahler), hints and refractions of the Mahler and Björk pieces are sprinkled throughout all four compositions.


I did not plan on using text for Vipassana until stumbling across the book Breathing the Water by Denise Levertov. The evocative title and minimalist cover design were instantly attractive but it was the description on the back cover that piqued my sensibilities: “Breathing the Water draws the reader deep into spiritual domains—not in order to leave the world behind, but to reanimate our sometimes dormant love for it.” Reading various poems in the book, I decided Variation and Reflection on a Theme of Rilke, with its self-reflective tone, would be a compelling and beautiful end to Vipassana.



Joseph C. Phillips Jr.

Brooklyn, New York



Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke

Denise Levertov




If just once the swing of cause and effect,

cause and effect,

would come to rest; if casual events would halt,

and the machine that supplies meaningless laughter

ran down, and my bustling senses, taking a deep breath

fell silent

and left my attention free at last...


then my thought, single and multifold,

could think you into itself

until it filled with you to the very brim,

bounding the whole flood of your boundlessness:


and at the timeless moment of possession

fleeting as a smile, surrender you

and let you flow back into creation.


There will never be that stillness.

Within the pulse of flesh,

in the dust of being, where we trudge,

turning our hungry gaze this way and that,

the wings of morning

brush through our blood

as cloud-shadows brush the land.

What we desire travels with us.

We must breathe time as fishes breathe water.

God’s flight circles us.






“Variation and Reflection on a Theme by Rilke” by Denise Levertov, from

BREATHING THE WATER, copyright (c) 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987

By Denise Levertov. Used by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation