Monday, 20 May 2013

Music, Meditation, and the Skull as a Sound Chamber

The following is a selection from the Umbris Idearum series on The Teeming Brain.
The ancient Tibetan metaphysical texts state that all sound is music, all music is mantra, and mantra is the essence of all sound. Through the use of ritual and mantric power, the Tibetans use sound to effect a specific change in the individual and the environment.

Mantra is a pattern of sound or sound vibration that is based upon primordial sound structures. By their sheer inherent potency and disciplined execution, these concentrated essential energies bring about direct spiritual phenomenon. –From the liner notes for Cho-ga, Tantric & Ritual Music of Tibet  (Teldec, 1974, LP).

When I was in college I worked at a small music store, often doing 10-hour days with no managerial supervision. This meant that for four years I was privy to an intense engagement with a wide range of music on a daily basis, including everything from Edith Piaf to Throbbing Gristle, and some of the more obscure pleasures in between.  Faced with my own predilections, as well as those of the regular customers, I became interested in deleting my preferences, or more importantly, my distaste for certain types of music.

When you work in an environment like that, it’s easy to become a smug connoisseur. While I won’t claim to have avoided that arrogance altogether, I did pursue a program to erase my preferences by using some of the insights I gained from my academic focus on ritual and cognitive philosophy.  After four years’ worth of 10-hour shifts, if you’re too picky about what you listen to, you’ll quickly go insane or become a raging asshole.

Each day while driving to work or school, I would randomly choose a radio station by spinning the dial and letting it land wherever it wanted. Then I would enjoy whatever music I encountered. I would enjoy it even if I hated it, and during commercials, because I was brainwashing myself and wasn’t interested in letting others brainwash me, I would turn the dial between stations and listen to white noise. White noise also replaced the station if I landed on talk radio during the random spin. Again, I was interested in brainwashing myself, not letting others do it to me, and this experiment was not about learning to enjoy propaganda but opening up my musical preferences.

When I described the experiment to my collegiate advisor, he warned me that I was playing with fire and could end up erasing preferences that were crucial for having a self-identity in society.  However, I knew that initiation, even self-initiation, is a dance with a purifying flame, so I ignored all warnings and continued on.

As you are reading this account many years after I conducted this exercise, you can tell that any irreparable harm to which I was subjected was not damaging enough to suck me into a completely anti-social malignancy.  Those self-designed exercises actually laid the groundwork for a much better understanding of sound and its effects on the way we understand ourselves.

Recently, I was excited to see that the sound artist Kim Cascone is developing a program that takes a more positive approach to this kind of aural meditation. He has designed what he calls a ‘Subtle Listening Seminar’ which engages people in developing a better understanding of the nuances of sound:

Subtle Listening is a mode of listening where one’s imagination is open to the sound world around them, helping their inner ear and outer world intersect.

The Subtle Listening workshop is an ongoing workshop for musicians, media artists, filmmakers, composers, producers, sound designers, or any type of artist who wants to sharpen their listening skills.

The workshop uses a wide range of techniques culled from Jungian psychology, Hermetic philosophy, paradox and Buddhist meditation, as well as thirty years of my own experience as a sound artist and electro-acoustic music composer.

Through guided meditation and various types of listening exercises, participants will learn techniques they can use any time to help heighten their sensitivity to the sounds around them.

This methodology brings out the depth of experience that is possible when we interact with sound. Cascone describes one of his recent compositions, “Lunar Gauzes – Alchemisphere One,” which was featured in the Hermetic Library’s audio anthology Magick, Music & Ritual 4, as “subtle lenses, azoth prisms & scrying mirrors to be listened to on headphones during meditation.”

While this may sound obscure, it plays on the fact that much of Cascone’s current work is created not just to be passively engaged but to be used. The inclusion of binaural sounds in these tracks effects an active change in the brainwave patterns of the listener, allowing these compositions to be what Stephan Schwartz, one of the scientists active in studying Remote Viewing, calls a “ground for working” with the ambient mental field.

Nuances of hisses, static, pure beats — all wash over the auditory field, activating a sort of sensory overload that heightens other forms of mentation. Increased ideation, mental visions, and the emergence of memories bring listening beyond melody into the space. Images appear unbidden, and a trans-cranial cinema emerges from the fully engaged senses.

Cascone’s creations are hand-crafted, psyche-summoning sound sculptures that indeed invite “a mode of listening where one’s imagination is open to the sound world around them, helping their inner ear and outer world intersect. ” These tracks act as substructures that bring about visualized equations of symbolic exchange, with sound acting as the ambient bed on which a lucid mental field emerges in which to work.

With this kind of active listening, the value derived from the experience is very much reliant on the capability of the listener him/herself. The delicate sound sculptures Cascone is creating for these meditative pieces develop from a deeper understanding of what he discusses in his 2000 essay “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music”:

Concepts such as “detritus,” “by-product,” and “background” (or “horizon”) are important to consider when examining how the current post-digital movement started. When visual artists first shifted their focus from foreground to background (for instance, from portraiture to landscape painting), it helped to expand their perceptual boundaries, enabling them to capture the background’s enigmatic character.

The basic composition of “background” is comprised of data we filter out to focus on our immediate surroundings. The data hidden in our perceptual “blind spot” contains worlds waiting to 14 be explored, if we choose to shift our focus there. Today’s digital technology enables artists to explore new territories for content by capturing and examining the area beyond the boundary of “normal” functions and uses of software.
--Kim Cascone, “The Aesthetics of Failure: ‘Post-Digital’ Tendencies in Contemporary Computer Music,” [] resonancias, 2002 (originally published in Computer Music Journal Vol. 24, No. 4 (Winter 2000)

One of the common critiques of the compositional methods outline by Cascone in this essay is that they forgo the long history of traditional musical development and the understanding of the complex interrelationships of harmonics that underlie Western music. However, Cascone has taken these “glitches” and re-envisioned them with a new kind of formalism that relates directly to a neurological harmonization moving far beyond expressionist abstraction.

To listen to these pieces with classical composition in mind is to miss their importance as meditation tools, which require the active intention of the listener to engage them through a contemporary matrix of science and the sacred.  This kind of work accesses all of the insights gained from contemplative traditions, such as the Hermetic and Buddhist influences that Cascone mentions, and brings them into a contemporary setting where they can interact in a relevant way with our current media-saturated culture. With a background that includes professional audio work for film and video games, Cascone brings a craftsmanship to these pieces that isn’t found in most contemporary music of this nature.

For me, Cascone’s work further develops the transformation of ambient urban noise into complex meditation with a delicacy that I’ve never found in the Futurists, the Musique Concrete movement, or the more recent sub-genres specializing in outre sounds. The focus on an active engagement with the soundscape has made me think more of my skull as a sound chamber, a place for an aural engagement that can lead to spaces in which it is possible to work directly with the mental states and symbolic imagery evoked through a dutiful attention to the art of listening.

“The ancient Tibetan metaphysical texts state that all sound is music, all music is mantra, and mantra is the essence of all sound.”  Accessing this timeless state is easy. It’s simply a question of what doorway you choose, and how dedicated you are to finding the right key.
Image by  Vilanova i la Geltrú courtesy of Creative Commons license.

Monday, 29 October 2012

The 432Hz is found every where in nature and the cosmos as well as in the work of Vernon Jenkins, Pythagoras, Joseph Puleo and Marko Rodin.
Modern Standard Tuning (A = 440 hz, C = 261.63 hz)

Note   Frequency (hz)  

- Mid Low (1 octave below middle C)

C   130.81  
D   146.83
E   164.81
F   174.61
G   196
A   220
B   246.94

- Mid (middle C)

C   261.63
D   293.66
E   329.63
F   349.23
G   392
A   440 
B   493.88

- Mid High (1 octave above middle C)

C   523.25
D   587.33
E   659.26
F   698.46
G   783.99
A   880.00
B   987.77

- - - - - - -

Stradivari/Verdi Tuning (A = 432 hz, C = 256 hz)
Calculated using the Pythagorean method of 3:2 ratio for dominants, 11:8 for sub-dominants, 2:1 for octaves.

Note   Frequency (hz)  

- Mid Low (1 octave below middle C)

C   128  
D   144
E   162
F   176
G   192
A   216
B   243

- Mid (middle C)

C   256  
D   288
E   324  
F   352
G   384  
A   432 
B   486

- Mid High (1 octave above middle C)

C   512
D   576
E   648
F   704
G   768
A   864
B   972

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The 'Undertone Series' (by José A. Sotorrio)

Previously regarded as only a theoretical inversion of the 'overtone' series', this short video presentation explains how the 'undertone series' (or 'sub-harmonic spectrum') can actually be generated spontaneously using a tuning-fork and a piece of paper. (Subharmonics are also generated by lamellophone (thumb-piano) instruments when the soundbox vibrates against a surface and when objects are placed on the keys or body. It is also possible to produce undertones on violin instruments through a skillfull bowing technique; the bow reacts against the string in a similar ways as a tuning fork against paper.)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Music Evolves from Noise


Scientists at London's Imperial College, headed by Bioinformaticist Robert MacCallum, developed a computer program they call DarwinTunes to show “how cultural dynamics can be explained in terms of competing evolutionary forces.”

The program produces 8-second clips of randomly generated sounds, which, in response to user ratings of likability, either move on to “reproduce” with other successful clips or disappear from the database. Each “generation” of songs begins with 100 clips, then chooses a random selection of twenty to present to the listener.

The remaining 80 as well as the top rated half of the 20 presented songs survive into the next generation, while the lowest rated 10 songs of those presented “die” and are removed from the gene pool. The 10 survivors are randomly paired and produce four offspring to replace themselves as well as the eliminated loops.

The initial study involved 2,513 generations of loops evolved under the preferential pressures of 6,931 consumers rating the loops’ aesthetic qualities, although the program is now available online at and the database continues to evolve. MacCallum and his colleagues hope that by uploading the program to the internet eventually millions of users will participate, dramatically increasing the evolutionary rate and thereby generating increasingly appealing music, as has been the trend so far.

"Evolutionary processes in DarwinTunes" courtesy of Robert M. MacCallum Matthias Mauch, Austin Burt, Armand M. Leroi/Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Psychic Sound Monuments


In the March edition of Popular Archaeology an article was published linking the construction of ancient monuments to create particular frequency range of sounds to induce altered states of consciousness and certain manipulations in sound effects.

The past few years has seen a surge in the creation of precision instruments thanks to explorations in the quantum realm, and exciting revelations have been made by altering light into sound, and sound into light.These include the creation of music from supernovas in Mickey Hart's project Rhythms of the Universe, to the subtle frequencies physicists have found beaming from pyramids around the world, and the possibilities of Stonehenge being designed for accoustic interferance to create a "magical auditory illusion.

The article begins by highlighting research of the subterranean, "6,000 year-old stone complex known as the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum on the island of Malta." The "underground" of the Safieni phase in Maltese history was estimated to be carved out of "2,000 tons of stone," by means that traditional archaeologist believe "with hammers and antler picks." The beauty of this three-leveled structure is that words and sound emitted in certain locations can be clearly heard throughout, and scientists are now suggesting that certain vibratory frequencies actually alter brain function.

Those familiar with shamanic practices and sound healing, or anyone who has every been to a live concert, particularly the improvisational sonic journeys of jam bands and the repetitive beats of the electronica-tribal culture, will not be surprised at this. Though the the researchers neglect to study the so-called "Theta Range" of 4-10 Hz (cycles per second) that are utilized by shamanic cultures to enter the theta state of consciousness (a state that is utilized for journeying due to its altered effects on consciousness), or the other subtle ranges that have been monitored in the King's Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza; their findings are noteworthy none-the-less.

According to Linda Eneix of the Old Temples Study Foundation, an expert on the Malta temple, they monitored regional brain activity of volunteers with EEGs and their exposure to different sound frequencies. They found that, "at 110 Hz the patterns of activity over the prefrontal cortex abruptly shifted, resulting in a relative deactivation of the language center and temporary shifting from left to right-sided dominance related to emotional processing and creativity… it appears that an atmosphere of resonant sound in the frequency of 110 or 111 Hz would have been 'switching on' an area of the brain that bio-behavioral scientists believe relates to mood, empathy, and social behavior. Deliberately or not, the people who spent time in such an environment… were exposing themselves to vibrations that may have actually impacted their thinking."

New findings at the ceremonial center at "Chavín de Huántar, in the central highlands of Peru, practiced a fine art and science of manipulating sound with architecture to produce desired sensory effects. With the assistance of architectural form and placement, and sounds emitted from conch-shell trumpets, the 'oracle' of Chavín de Huántar 'spoke' to the ancient center's listeners." A central duct built into the connecting area of the Lanzon monolith, a sacred statue depicting the main deity of the ancient Chavín culture, with "an open-air place of ceremonial activity" known at the Circular Plaza was designed to amplify sound. Though "the reasons for the acoustic configurations are not entirely understood," studies indicate that the frequency range intentionally induce auditory hallucinations.

Another site referenced is that of Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, which dates to about 10,000 B.C. Believed to be built by "hunter-gatherers" on a hilltop in an area believed to be the transitional site of agricultural development and domesticated livestock, "it consists of 20 round stone-built structures." Excavations revealed "massive, T-shaped, standing limestone pillars." At the center of the circular shrine, a "limestone pillar 'sings' when smacked with the flat of the hand," and the structure itself is apparently "made to represent a human with a decorated belt and hands carved in relief at its waits, it bears unexplained symbols in the area of the throat."

Symbolic of the power of the human voice?

If archeologist incorporated the depictions of mythology and legend documented by anthropologists, like those rich in Egypt and corresponding with the building of pyramids, they may find important keys to activating these structures that are more than just elaborate designs of an aesthetic value, but actual "living" constructs designed to harness the bio-rhythmic machines of human beings. For now archaeology is stuck on the mystery of how cultures entirely disconnected have developed such similarities in ceremonial structures. The key lies in the biology of the human experience, and the uniformed knowledge understood by all shamanic cultures and expressed through all of the worlds religions and mythology, and that is of the power and interconnection of sound and reality, the vibratory pattern that sparked the motion of the universe, whether it is "the Word of God," or AUM.

Image: "Electrified Void" by Chris Kaplan

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Secret Life of Singing Bowls

Uploaded by on 4 Sep 2011

For thousands of years, cultures around the world understood the creative and destructive power latent in vibration. The ancient technologies that they left behind reflect a profound understanding of these forces, while also providing us with much to reflect upon for ourselves.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Trio Eidophone

Fun with latex, salt and singing!...

Based on a home made invention from 1885 by Margaret Watts-Hughes, This device is designed to enable a group experience in the physics and physicality of singing, sound and vibration.

Singing into the tubes creates patterns of resonance in the powder the surface, such as those seen and documented by Gallileo, Robert Hooke and Ernst Chladni, as well as ancient peoples believed to have used resonant patterns of sand on drum skins to predict the future. The curious hexagonal storm cloud on Saturn’s north pole is also often attributed to these effects.

Filmed / photographed at Utrophia -
With thanks to Andrew, Steve and Jules for providing their considerable vocal talent