Sound is everything on Earth. Our breadth, our heartbeat, thoughts are waves – living is sound and it can be perceived through ears, skin, sometimes even through our eyes and taste. Defy the cravings of science for supersonic speed by focusing on the opposite: close your eyes and listen to the auditory vibrations of your own breadth. Our humanness has evolved to capture the limits of sound, yet we also invented tools of artificial intelligence conquering its speed. Technology is the human capabilities extending assistant, which invites a question – are we challenging the humanness by trying to surpass it?
The atmosphere allows for the vibrations to form and travel through the air so we can hear sound. The space is deaf and soundless. Imagine a creature living in the deep Universe, probably it is earless. For what would this human utility serve if not listening and reacting upon the shape of sound – the hums, screams, words, sentences? Are there vibrations somewhere in the Universe? Maybe, but this is the puzzle for the astrologists and physicists to play with. A friend, well-read in neuroscience wrote me: “Even though the centuries of theories turned out to be flawed, it led us closer to the truth”.
We can also hear some reverberations under the water, the waves of ripples? Fire, one of the most essential acquisitions of men also cracks and rumbles. There is so much to be discussed and questioned about sound. Fascinating.
WHAT IS SOUND FOR
To musicians sound is a tool to express themselves, their creativity, mood, emotions, what moves their bodies and their minds. It feeds their indulgent cravings. We would suffer from Dionysian malnutrition if we did not invite frequent joy so easily injected through music into our lives.
Silence has been used as a torture tool. Those unlucky chosen spending prolonged time in an absolute soundless environment express manic craziness, they often talk to themselves or create some noise. My French musician friend wrote me “In the anechoic, real silence, environment, you can only hear your heartbeat and will quickly have a vertigo”. Such a visceral experience sounds to me scary. It can also be depressing. Another friend, an accomplished and hardworking woman living in London shared “Every evening I would come home and basically have complete silence. I felt I needed that to balance the crazy noisiness of work to restore my inner peace. Then I started switching on the jazz radio, and only then I realised how much the silence had been part of my feeling down.” She also included an important point. “I guess, I don’t like silence so much anymore if silence means the absence of noise. But if silence means being with someone and not speaking, like listening to jazz together, I find the idea of that peaceful.” Urban dwellers can perceive silence as “a luxury”, as another friend based in New York confessed. Nature can seem silent compared to the city’s jerking aloud. Another friend in LA nods to my natural longings: “If I’m just in a very quiet place like a national park then it’s peaceful.” I suspect that aside to the green pastures, blue sea, glistening mountains and the fragrant meadows solitude and silence lure us out from the cities.
To many indigenous cultures sound is sacred. The Indian ragas were composed to accompany the day. “As the earth rotates, the music harmonises with changes in light and mood, potentially transforming the listener’s consciousness”, I learned at the Ragas Live Festival organised by the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. Co-running with an aural exhibition titled The World is Sound the visitors can dive deep into the potential of sound. You can experience the annual festival on the podcast by NYC Radio Live. Explore how the ragas feel as I did, it is transforming.
In Africa, ritual dance is accompanied with acoustic rhythms composed to lead the body and the spirit in the right, ‘divine’ direction. The Indians in the remote Andes but also the Native Americans, the Celts and countless island tribes globally explored and used sound for centuries, even millennia.
Sound could have had teased our evolution. Animals are responsive to sound. Dogs are aurally superior to humans. Yet our abilities with sound – the sophisticated human communication beyond words (93% of personal communication is nonverbal including voice, tone, and body language) and creative expression through sound – is what differentiated us from the rest of the living force on Earth. We spurred the evolution of cars to be more quiet, in harmony with their environment and ecologically sound. Constantly, we progress and with it the sound around us changes.
AUDITORY SENSITIVITY & POTENTIAL
I am sharp-eared. If you chew loudly, I will notice and be annoyed. If the air-conditioner hums in full speed, as if I were in a car factory I reach for earplugs. If my stomach rumbles, only my body knows why, I am urged to outsmart it by reaching for a snack or cup of tea to quiet it. I need the right music to tune my mind to writing. How comes that our focus can be so easily thrown into rippling waters if the noise around is uncomfortable?
These trained in mindfulness meditation can resist the outer as well as the inner ramblings of consciousness. There is sound even there where we are not aware of it. Our subconscious mind spins its own mantras liberally. Independent on our will, such sound can rule over our experience as it manifests in our attitudes. Luckily, we have choices, mostly. Playing music that is in tune with your yearning or immersing yourself into the meditative sound bath of the vibrations cascading from the Tibetan singing bowls enlightens and heals. Once I succumbed to the healing power of the steady smoothness of sound emitted by tapping the metal vessels I wanted more. The bowls are not to be filled with anything but will sate you fully. Many spas and spiritual centres now offer the sound bathing meditation. In New York Naturopathica and Bhagavat Life centre, in Marbella the Buchinger Wilhelmi wellness hotel, Ayurvedic spa in the Maldives by the Four Seasons hotel, the Inner Space centre in London.
Do you play an instrument? Perhaps you understand the feeling of sound better than most of us who do not. Still, I can feel music, and if I connect and meditate over its meaning I know what makes me feel happy, sad, what calms me, or what sounds irritate me in the momental infatuation. I can also enjoy the tapping of a typewriter, it makes me feel productive. Snoring certainly is not a sonata for a pleasant moment to me. Embrace listening to a personally attractive sound and feel the liberty through music.
Cross-sense sound shapes our existence. Some innovative chefs have experimented asking – does food taste better with certain music? Heston Blumenthal in England, Albert Adria in Spain, and other renowned chefs went beyond the background music or silence dilemma of restaurants, proving that food can taste different depending on the sound the diner is immersed in.
Tune your mind to different states of consciousness and creativity through sound
Our thoughts are not silent, we perceive them even when not emitting any noise. Therefore we can say they function as sound and can inspire or distract. “That which is empty, everything is possible.” wrote Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese philosopher resonant in the West and the author of Silence: The power of quiet in a world full of noise. Writers like Dan Brown were inspired by music (his latest book ‘Origin’ was spurred by his brother’s composition), poets create rhythmic sounds of verses, movie directors like Woody Allen ventilate their creative zeal through the music channel too (the octogenarian still plays clarinet in his jazz band), while the stroke of a brush, stencil or any other medium of a painter is in harmony with their inner sounds. They listen and recreate, pour it out! Crafts express sound in their distinct form – through story telling, lyrical or physical acts.
Our sense of hearing has a purpose beyond pure survival. Reducing everything that human body was equipped with to the savage fight or flight mode, evolutional purpose, does not tell the holistic story of sound, I think. Some animals are quick-eared and it assists them to find food or avoid being the prey, yet audition also awakens the left brain by ear-reach. Sound art goes beyond music in contemporary understanding. From MOMA in New York, through Tate Modern in London, Centre Pompidou in Paris to the progressive art galleries in Shanghai sound accompanies the visual exhibitions. The artists express human experience contingent on all of our senses.
The composer of her signature long duration sound known as drone, Eliane Radigue was one of the pioneers in creating site-specific sound installations. Now you can challenge our tendency to left to right hearing and perceive it from above and below as you walk the Rubin Museum’s spiral staircase sextet listening to her work Le corps sonore. Conceived in collaboration with other two sound artists awakens your sonic perception to the exhibition titled The World is Sound (runs until January 8th, 2018). I also joined the Museum’s recent listening challenge, and over seven days broadened my relationship with sound. Music producers like Moby contributed with insight, expertise and soundbites. I realised that sound is an invisible flow of pure reality. Any force is a mass of empowered vibration.
Our savvy ancestors knew that sound can serve as a tool to spiritual influence and practice. Religions use chants and instrumental music to convey the wisdom of enlightened sages and saints. Buddhism uses sound mantras to empower the individual consciousness to liberation from the suffering cycle of rebirths. The Christian choirs move our attention away from the worrisome daily life, while the Islamic muezzins alert regularly the muslim followers to stop working and spiritually pause in the moment of prayer. Sound is powerful.
DEMOCRATISING JOY THROUGH SOUND
ACOUSTIC joy is witnessed without judgement and through personal engagement with the specific sound. Allowing yourself the pleasure from a beautiful sound is free to everyone who is able to listen regardless of their background, class, race. Music is one of the most democratic tools that exists. Unless the listener deprives (but also spares as we all do not like the same music) the audience of the music by using earphones, the sound’s vibrations cannot be stopped outdoors. Anyone within the earshot can take pleasure in the tunes.
Yet, perhaps because we are constantly exposed to noise, silence can be discomforting. Running minds, Vata types in Ayurveda, and hyperactive personas, are more sensitive to quietude than the contemplators (Kapha). Ceasar reportedly said: “Human mind is disturbed the most by that what is not seen.” Yes thoughts, the inner resonances, affect us all, unless we do not cling on them as meditators try not to.
Sound, like visual moments, can be captured more objectively through various devices that the intrepid minds invented. Before that, sound was just the fleeting expression of the moment. Once more rare, transient in its nature, than even the most precious stone on the planet, sound became a commodity with the invention of recording. Now, it’s mostly free online. Ironically, this reality illustrates how change is permanent. Nothing stays the same or is valued as such. Markets change their prices, daily reflecting on the human manipulation of reality. Technology spoiled the objective potential of recordings, we can alter them as easily as we can edit digital photos.
Sound vibrations affect our body. Centring your thoughts through simply focusing on your breadth is a mindfulness practice. The sound of your breadth steadily flowing in and forcefully being flushed out by your involuntary bodily mechanisms can save money for psychotherapy. Stress-relieving, hormone balancing and neural system soothing, neuroscience is knocking sound potential.
LIKE THE MANTRAS AND THE OM of the Buddhist and yogic chants, the vibrations of the sound that we either create through our body or externally change something. The experience of sound dissolving into silence like a gong is meditative, relieves anxiety, dissolves fear, releases bodily and mind’s tensions and directs focus to the pure being. This can feel liberating for most of us, who are entangled in the maze of thoughts, self-doubts, criticisms of others, and other venomous whispers biting in our conscience.
Sound reflects the present moment. If we focus on the sound of our body we can localise pain and weakness. Carl Gustav Jung wrote: “Just as the founder wounds himself, so the healer heals himself.” Our auditory sense distracts us, informs, warns or conducts pleasure from the harmony of the audible sound.
Auditory modality or the perception, memory, and sensation of sound significantly affects our experience. The auditory learners like to hear information in order to memorise it best. The VARK model supports this through research, but there is more. Keeping the past sound for the future recall through notes has for centuries served to recreate sounds and transmit wisdom via musical instruments or chants. There also exist repetitive sounds in nature and in almost any activity on the earth that invade the silence of nothingness.
The enlightening experience that our senses and curiosity explore enriches our lives. The way we are, the pure being of the world, the miracle of spiritual connection with the environment, the whole existence is augmented by or concealed by sound. Being aware of how our perception of sound alters our lives can make everything different. Only a deaf person can describe the difference between the silent existence and life experienced through sounds. I wonder, but I am afraid to learn it myself directly – how would it feel? How would my daily experience change if silence ruled over others pain, if the urban life switched off its decibels, if lovers could not voice their passion and love? Leonardo daVinci cultivated his sensory awareness and in so elevated his experience and creative work above the average person. A good motivation to include listening into your mindful contemplations.
I have included sound in your reading experience on La Muse Blue, my talented friend and pianist Thomas Zaruba composed a song that you can play on the main pages (click on the loudspeaker in the right top corner) when lingering on the page. As I wrote in the introduction to his debut album “In the right proportion silence brings introspection, and sadness is replaced by joy”.