Sound Pollution

I am writing this on the day of the Royal Wedding. Some neighbours are playing amplified music in their garden at such a loud volume that it has penetrated into my study through closed windows. The music is not to my taste and, yet, my brain cannot help but engage with it. This is interfering with my ability to concentrate on what I am writing. I feel invaded, angry and stressed. Such is the power of music.

The more time I spend working with sound and music, the more convinced I am of its power. Although sound healers utilise this power to bring about beneficial results, it needs to be more generally acknowledged that the opposite is equally true: careless, inconsiderate use of sound and music is pollution and, like all pollution, it is harmful.

 An Unsound Journey

This has been brought close to home at the last two Sound Journeys, which both suffered from unwanted music coming from outside the hall. In the case of May’s Sound Journey at Great Missenden, the proximity and scale of the noise pollution from the fun fair forced me to cancel the Sound Journey. This was certainly not something I did lightly, so what made me take that decision?

First of all, I knew that the deep bass, repetitive beats and intermittent sirens would have initiated brain stem responses that would have raised heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature, skin conductance and muscle tension – not what we had an mind for an evening of relaxation. The noise would also have affected the body through the process of entrainment. This is a natural phenomenon whereby a weaker vibratory pattern will change to align with one that is stronger. For instance, brainwaves of students will largely oscillate in harmony with – or entrain with – the lecturer. Likewise, a healthy organ will have its molecules working together in a harmonious relationship with each other and will be of the same pattern. If different sound patterns enter into the organ, the harmonious relationship could be upset. If the foreign sound pattern proves to be stronger than the organ, it can establish a disharmonious pattern in the organ, bone or tissue and this is what we call disease.

Sound is a potent force that communicates directly with the unconscious as well as the conscious body/mind. The intention and performance of the musician, the musical elements of the composition, the frequency range used and the timbre of the instruments are all carriers of information. According to Torkom Saraydarian:

“From whichever centre a piece of music originates, the corresponding centre of the listener will gradually synchronise its vibrations to the originating centre. This is how contamination works.”

So, ultimately, I could not, with any shred of responsibility, invite people on a sound journey, open them up to receiving sound on all levels, with the very real possibility that they would have been wide open to receiving something that would have been harmful.

But what about less extreme cases, or when avoiding the noise is not an option? Is there anything I can do right now to mitigate the effect of the noise from my inconsiderate neighbours? After all, if a vast majority of illnesses are caused by stress, then by stressing about it, I am making myself ill.

In Music and Sound in the Healing Arts, John Bealieu offers two approaches to coping with environment noise. The first method involves voice and body movement. He suggests that we let our voice imitate the sound and let our body by moved by the sound. For example, a car horn suddenly honks and we notice that our body tightens. Our mind is cursing the driver and are emotions are held in. This is similar to touching something hot without letting out a sound. He says, therefore, that instead of holding the sound, jump back from the car, allowing your body to unwind the tension and then allow your voice to make a loud spontaneous “honk”! Its got to be worth a try…

Back of Paiste Gong

Meet The Gongs

Welcome to the Gong Space

Welcome to the gong space
A space of rest and renewal
Of harmony and wholeness
Of being held by sound and healed by sound

Welcome to the gong space
A space of loving acceptance
Of safety and non-judgement
Of letting go and letting be

Welcome to the gong space
A space of unlimited possibility
This is your space for receiving
Whatever it is that you need

© P Tait 2017

Symphonic & Planetary Gongs

There are five gongs in my studio space: a 34” Paiste Symphonic gong and four Paiste Planet gongs: Mercury, Chiron, Nibiru and Uranus. I work intuitively and, depending on what is needed, I will play any combination of these gongs in any order.

Symphonic gongs contain the fullest range of tones of any of the Paiste gongs. My symphonic gong has a warm, gently compelling, feminine energy, which balances the more masculine energy of my Planet gongs.

The Planet gongs were created specifically for Sound Healing work and have been given sound characteristics that evoke the planet they represent.

Mercury is the Divine Messenger of the Gods and Master of Healing. Associated with speech, communication, intellectual prowess and creativity, he supports the throat and thyroid. Mercury comes into his own when we have been denied our right to speak our own truth or think for ourselves, as so many of us have. I have seen clients undergo profound changes after Mercury has played for them, often surprising themselves with their new-found confidence in their own truth and ability to speak up. As a Master of Healing, it is appropriate that Mercury should be a very effective healing gong.

Chiron is the Wounded Healer. He is associated with alchemy, vision, wisdom, compassion and healing. He “stands for the deep karmic wound in the subconscious that we have come in this life to heal¹.” He also brings these wounds to the surface so that they can be healed.

It has been my experience that Mercury and Chiron work together as a team. Mercury goes first and then Chiron will step in if a wound is very deep or undetected. Together they make a deeply powerful pair of healing gongs.

The second pair of gongs are Uranus and Nibiru. These gongs are especially concerned with change and transformation.

The planet Uranus is an ice giant, named for the primordial Greek god of the sky. In astrology, Uranus rules Aquarius and is the harbinger of change. Associated with revolution, liberation and spontaneity, Uranus moves against the flow, inspiring originality, free thinking and discovery. The Uranus gong can also help with problems of the reproductive system. If there is something specific you want to change, Uranus is the gong for you.

Nibiru is the hypothetical tenth planet², also known as Planet X. Some believe that it has a 3,600 year orbit and is about to cross paths with the Earth once more, causing widespread destruction. Others believe that its very existence is a fantasy. Either way, by taking their inspiration from such an enigmatic planet, the master gong makers at Paiste have created a gong like no other.

Some gong players choose not to play Nibiru because of its association with destruction. Yet, for me, this gong acts in a similar way to Shiva, the Cosmic Destroyer, clearing away that which is no longer needed and allowing new consciousness to emerge. At the same time, is it not a gong I approach lightly, but with full composure and respect. As with Uranus, Nibiru is all about change. Here, however, we are looking at deep transformation on the evolutionary or quantum level. This gong resolves genetic and deep soul issues and facilitates our self-exploration and understanding of our true purpose for being on the Earth.

Now is the time of Nibiru, now is the time for us to recognize our timeless connection to our home planet and to heal her ravaged wounds as a transit to healing ourselves.” Acutonics Website

Read a description of the Benefits of Sound Healing with Gongs.

¹Whittaker, Sheila In the Heart of the Gong Space: The Gong as a Spiritual Tool, 2015
²If you include Pluto, which has since been officially downgraded to a dwarf planet.

Didgeridoo

Drone On: The Drone in Sound Healing

The Use of the Drone in Sound Healing and Spiritual Development

(This essay, in slightly different form, was initially written for, and submitted for my Gong Practitioner diploma from the College of Sound Healing.)

In this essay, I will explore the role of the drone in sound healing and in spiritual development, by looking at how the drone manifests in three contrasting musical instruments.

The Didgeridoo

When played with circular breathing, the didgeridoo produces a continuous drone. Ashley Tait calls the didgeridoo his “healing tool¹” and indeed, there are practitioners such Gregg Chapman² who specialise in didgeridoo sound therapy. So, what is it about the didgeridoo that makes its drone so useful to sound healers?

If the didgeridoo is a good one, it will be highly resonant. Dick de Ruiter likens listening to the didgeridoo to “bathing in sound vibrations.³” These sound vibrations can bring parts of the body back into harmony through the principle of forced resonance, whereby the weaker vibration of out of balance cells and organs will entrain to the stronger vibrations of the didgeridoo. When I play my didgeridoo, I can feel my chest, upper thighs and feet vibrating in response. I like to think that the didgeridoo is giving me a heart massage, while, at the same time, gently reminding me to remain grounded.

Another feature of the didgeridoo’s drone that is important to sound healers is that it is rich in harmonics. These high frequency sounds are needed for optimal health. They resonate the upper parts of the body, head, ears and brain. Radiology specialist, Dr Jarrah Ali Al- Tubaikh goes even further, stating that it is the high frequency sounds which produce healing on a cellular level4.

Harmonics also affect consciousness. A good didgeridoo player, like an overtone singer, will continuously modify the shape of their oral cavity, resulting in an ever-changing array of harmonics. This, along with the constant rhythm and monotony of the drone itself, has the tendency to put listeners into a trance state. There will be more on altered states of consciousness later. Here it is enough to mention that the trance state, known to the Australian Aborigines as The Dreamtime, can produce insights and visions, as well as being a precursor to healing.

So, the didgeridoo can be beneficial in sound healing for its ability to re-harmonise and charge the body’s organs and cells and for bringing people into a trance state where spiritual insights and healing may occur.

The Setar

The setar is a long-necked lute from Iran, prevalent in Sufi music. It features two melody strings and two drone strings:  the drone strings are tuned in octaves and provide a fixed tonic through the piece. I have weekly Skype lessons with Master Shahab Azinmehr in Tehran and often I find myself close to tears as he plays. I believe that I am so moved by the setar because its drone, which – along with the nature of Persian classical music itself – intensifies the effect of musical intervals on the listener.

Setar

It is believed by many sound healers that intervals have a predictable effect on the listener. I have read lists of these effects in numerous books and been given similar lists on courses. I am not certain that I agree with such a prescriptive approach, but I do believe that intervals have an effect and that a practitioner or musician can intuitively know which interval is needed for their client or audience and play accordingly.

So, given that we accept that intervals can affect the listener’s feelings, what is it about the setar that produces this effect so deeply in me?

The setar provides both its own melody and accompanying drone, so these share the same tonal quality:  I believe the similarity of the two tones enhances the effect of the interval they produce. In addition, Persian classical music is modal. Therefore, unlike Western music, the tonic does not alter and so the interval is always charged with the same meaning. The continuous drone and the reiteration of this charge has a cumulative effect. Equally, unlike Western music, there is no third note (or more) to dissipate the effect of the intervals. This all goes to produce intervals in their most fundamental and potent state and would explain why I am so moved by this particular instrument.

I also believe that modal music based on a drone affects the way one hears intervals.  Since I began studying the setar, my relationship to intervals has changed. Recently at a tuning fork workshop we were asked to determine whether intervals were consonant or dissonant. Eyebrows were raised when I stated that each interval sounded consonant to me, including the 2nds and 7ths. I am sure it appeared that I did not understand the concept of consonance and dissonance, but after months of hearing these intervals in relation to a fixed drone, they all sounded equally acceptable to my ears. It would have helped that we were using Pythagorean tuning forks tuned to natural intervals, as the setar is, and not to equal tempered tuning. How could intervals that appear in the natural harmonic series not be beautiful and perfect as they are?

Now that I have experienced how it is possible for one’s relationship with intervals to change, I can better begin to understand why Rudolf Steiner links the evolution of human consciousness to humankind’s changing perception of intervals. Steiner holds that music, in essence, is spiritual. He says that “the spiritual element in music is found between the tones [and] lies in the intervals as an inaudible quality.5” I would now like to look at what it is that lies between the tones and its possible effect.

The application of binaural beats is well known in sound healing. This is a phenomenon that occurs when one frequency (i.e. 500Hz) is sent to the left ear and another, slightly higher (or lower) (i.e. 505Hz), is sent to the right ear. The brain “hears” the difference between them – which in this case is a binaural beat of 5Hz – and becomes entrained to that frequency. This causes an altered state of consciousness that depends on the binaural beat frequency: here, at 5Hz, we would expect dominantly Theta brainwaves.

Dameon Michael Keller has written at length on brain entrainment and he has some surprising information about musical intervals, for he alleges that they have the same effect as binaural beats:

If you play any two notes together, you hear the pulsed, beating, third note. The brain of the listener perceives the frequencies whether they are consciously aware or not… This is exactly how binaural beats are produced for brainwave entrainment, but what most people do not realise yet is that those same frequencies are present in every piece of music we listen to6.

So why do we not experience altered states of consciousness whenever we turn on the radio? I think it is partly because Western harmony and instrumental arrangements diminish the effect of the intervals, as discussed above. I also think it is connected to the shorter length of modern pop songs, as it takes approximately ten minutes for brainwave entrainment to take effect. This probably explains why Persian classical pieces are so long. I believe that the altered state of consciousness that results from musical intervals is very much present in Persian classical music. Indeed, Iranians have a word for the state of ecstasy that is the desired result of listening to Persian music: hal. During hal, both the musician and audience are expected to be in an altered state of consciousness: this is an integral part of the musical experience.

There is a further advantage of the drone for the musician and audience. When playing or improvising over a fixed tonic, there are no strictures of harmony, or shifting tonics to watch out for and so, ultimately, as I found with my new appreciation of intervals, no “wrong notes”. Without the necessity of keeping one ear open for the rules of Western harmony, it is easier for the musician to be in a state where they can surrender and allow things to happen. This is an important concept in Persian music where the musician is expected to become an empty vessel and, ideally, will not even be fully aware of what they are playing. According to Master Morteza Varzi “Persian music is one of the most powerful means of spiritual transformation7.” It is precisely because the musician is free to be a channel that this becomes possible.

We have seen, then, in this discussion of the setar and Persian music, that intervals can affect feelings and consciousness and that the drone of the setar can support and intensify this effect. This is beneficial in both sound healing and in raising spiritual consciousness.

The Ichigenkin

The third instrument that I want to explore is the ichigenkin. This is a rare, single-stringed zither from Japan. Like the better known shakuhachi, the ichigenkin comes from the Zen Buddhist tradition and is intended not to be played as a performance instrument but as a tool to teach the student about ultimate reality.

The ichigenkin should be played with the consciousness anchored in the hara, which my teacher, Randy Raine-Reusch, calls the “the ground of silence.” Peter Wilburg goes even further saying:

The Hara is not only a still point of inner silence. It is also the gateway for a descent into silence which leads us into a world of inner sounds or “sounds of silence.8″

Ichigenkin

It took me about two years to experience playing “from the hara”, but, once that happened, I became aware of these sounds of silence that Wilburg refers to. Moreover, I began to experience the inner sensation that I am playing the ichigenkin above what I can only call a continuous drone of silence. My perception of the silence is that it is in continuous flow, dynamically moving forward with the melody line, supporting it, as if it were both a musical and a metaphysical ground. I believe that this “drone of silence” is similar to what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls the “undertone of existence9” that goes on continuously and with which, eventually, all will merge.

Whether the ichigenkin has further lessons in store for me remains to be seen. But it has already taught me to experience the reality of inner silence. No wonder that the ichigenkin is considered a tool for spiritual development. Furthermore, once the ichigenkin player has reached a certain level of spiritual attainment, they are able to transfer this to their audience. Randy Raine-Reusch calls ichigenkin concerts “a meditation in action and non- action, sound and silence and one note and many notes. Audiences gently slip into another world, another reality.10” The other reality of which he speaks is, of course, Ultimate Reality, where the audience members experience action/non-action and sound/silence as the two aspects of vibration from which all things emerge and re-merge.

Bringing it All Together: The Gong

I hope that I have shown how the drones of these three instruments can be of use in sound healing and spiritual development in a wide range of ways. If these effects could be combined into one instrument, it would be an extremely powerful tool for healing and spiritual development. Luckily, we have such an instrument in the gong.

As the didgeridoo is used by sound healers for its resonant qualities and rich harmonics, the gong is known as an instrument of total resonance: its sound encompasses all tones and harmonics, meaning that it is able to entrain any part of the body through forced resonance, as needed. The gong is also a powerful brainwave entrainer, slowing listeners’ brainwaves to Alpha, Theta or even Delta frequencies, bringing them into a meditative, trance or blissful state. Gongs have a fundamental tone, which functions in a similar way to a fixed tonic. The difference tones that cause the effect of binaural beats are also present when two gongs are entrained together. When this happens, these difference tones manifest as extremely low frequencies (ELFs). These are powerful healing agents that can be felt in the physical body and sensed in the subtle bodies. Finally, as the ichigenkin introduces its player to inner silence, so too there is said to be silence at the heart of the gong tone, ready to bring those who can hear it back in tune with their true nature.

Notes

1  Tait, Ashley, An Interview with Ashley Tait in Drury, Ed Sticks and Drones, 2011, ebook location 4378
2  http://www.didgesoundtherapy.co.uk/
3  De Ruiter, Dick The Healing Sounds of Didgeridoo: An Invitation to a Personal Spiritual Journey, 2001, page 29
4  Keller, Dameon, Michael Sounds Great! The Spiritual Science of Sound and Vibration Volume II, 2015
5  Steiner, Rudolf Music: Mystery, Art and the Human Being, 2016
6  Keller, Dameon, Michael, ibid
7  Caton, Margaret, L. Hafez: Erfan and Music as Interpreted by Ostad Morteza Varzi, 2008, page 8
8  Wilburg, Peter The Little Book of Hara, 2011, ebook location 374
9  Khan, Hazrat, Inayat The Music of Life, 1988, page 57
10  Raine-Reusch, Randy, The Zen of One String, http://www.asza.com/zenone.shtml

The Monochord

My monochord¹ is a Feeltone Monolina in A. This is a 34 string monochord that is designed to balance easily and comfortably on the body for sound massage. It also comes with a set of 5 optional bridges which can be set to a pentatonic scale, thus allowing some extra melodic and harmonic possibilities.

I use the monochord for meditation and as a drone accompaniment to vocal improvisation and chanting. It is also one of the most popular instruments in my sound journeys.

¹Technically, a monochord is an instrument with one single string. However, homochords – multi-stringed instruments with all strings tuned to the same pitch – have also come to be known as monochords, particularly in the field of Sound Healing.

The Conch

Of all the many different conch shell trumpets, the one I use the most is the syrinx. Its original owner, a syrinx aruanus sea snail, came from the largest snail species in the world and would have spent its days in the ocean somewhere between Northern Australia and Indonesia.

Gong Master, Don Conreaux, believes that the gong and the conch are “primal instruments that hold within them the secrets of the new age of healing through sound, and warrant a special place in the psyche of today’s researcher and practitioner.”¹ From my experience with the conch so far, I would say he’s on to something. The conch appears to be the Heineken of the sound healing world – it gets to the parts other instruments can’t reach. I certainly wouldn’t use it with everyone, but, when called for, the conch seems to be able to penetrate and dissolve very deeply held blockages like nothing else.

My small Shankha – a sacred blowing conch from the Hindu tradition

The sound of the conch is said to purify the surrounding air and enhances courage, determination, hope and willpower. It is also – like the gong – said to contain within it, the OM, the primal sound of the universe.

¹Magnus Opus of the Gong: Selected Essays Volume 1 by Don Conreaux

Singing Bowls

Singing Bowls

When struck or stroked around the rim, singing bowls produce a sound that is rich in harmonics. This sound has a penetrative effect on the human body, reaching as deep as our bones and cells.

Often called Tibetan or Himalayan bowls, singing bowls are also produced in Buhtan, India, Cambodia, Burma, Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand, Cambodia, Korea and Japan. Although many people believe that singing bowls are Buddhist in origin, it is likely that they pre-date Buddhism. Some, including the Dalai Lama, believe that they originated with a pre-Buddhist sect in Nepal and were used for fire-worship ceremonies. However, the finest bowls are said to have been produced in Tibet between 450 and 350 BCE.

Singing bowl expert, Frank Perry, says that bowls have been used for meditation, healing, ritual and as aids for spiritual practice. Still used for these purposes today, they are also introduced at the start of the Sound Journey to relax body, mind and spirit, ready for the sounds to come.

Bells and Chimes

Bells and chimes are liminal instruments. Partly in the metallic world of their harmonically complex cousins, the gongs and singing bowls, and partly in the world of percussion instruments, bells and chimes are harbingers of change.

In the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hahn, bells of mindfulness are rung to wake people up. “When we hear one of these mindfulness bells ring, we stop whatever we are doing and bring our awareness to our breathing. The ringing bell has called out to us:

LISTEN, LISTEN.
THIS WONDERFUL SOUND BRINGS ME BACK
TO MY TRUE HOME.”¹

I use bells and chimes as part of the grounding or returning to everyday consciousness sequence at the end of a sound healing session. Bells and chimes are an especially effective segue from singing bowls and gongs into more earthy sounds such as seeds, grasses and wooden instruments.

In the following video you can hear tingsha bells, dumbbell chimes, bell shakers, bar chimes, Koshi chimes and Zen bell.

¹ The Community of Interbeing, How to Enjoy Your Practice: The Tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, nd