is a manifestation of resonant principles in Nature. It is an
expression of the artist's understanding of natural principles, in all
cases. As such, music can create a great range of effects which express
natural laws we are just beginning to understand.
Between 1982 and 1985, inspired by Dr. John Diamond's book, "Your Body Doesn't Lie", I embarked on a project which resulted in doing an informal kinesthetic arm test on about 200 subjects while listening to music. The test itself is simple, involving putting pressure on the subject's arm as the subject tries to hold it straight out. (Incidentally, there are hazards to this test, so I cannot recommend doing it indiscriminately). Notes were not kept, basically because the results were so uniform, that any departures from the normal were quite memorable. Most of the tests were performed on members of social service clubs and churches around Denver, Colorado, as part of a presentation I worked up which covered how people are affected by music. Early in the project, I prepared a short cassette tape which included examples of several music styles, and took this to all the presentations.
The test tape began with a one-minute section of a Baroque Classical work by Telemann. Then, there was about twenty seconds of "Voodoo Child" by Jimi Hendrix. Neutral selections were represented by a clip of Merle Haggard and some Tamburitzen folk music from Yugoslavia. Each test began with a pre-test, checking strength before any music was played.
With only two exceptions, everyone tested strong on the Telemann piece. With one exception, everyone was weak on the Jimi Hendrix piece. The reaction set in within one-tenth of a second. Interestingly enough, many subjects became angry during the Hendrix piece. Everyone was neutral, meaning the same as the pre-test when no music was playing, during the Merle Haggard piece. At the Tamburitzen selection, results were widely variable. Nobody tested weak, but responses ranged from neutral to extremely strong. After a while, I began to inquire about the ancestry of the test subjects. I noticed there was a slight tendancy for people who had some Slavic background to be among those who tested strong on the Tamburitzen music. This was something which I would have loved to pursue further, but a lack of funding precluded continuing the research along those lines.
The exceptions to the testing are worthy of note. One person who tested weak on classical music was a close friend, who told me that while in elementary school, he had a very strict teacher who demanded her students go limp whenever classical music was played. Looking back on it, this may have been an expression of suppression of the students by their teacher. Out of two hundred subjects, one person tested weak on classical music and strong on Jimi Hendrix. He was a "street person" who was attending meetings of an informal science club in Denver. We had a few conversations as a result of this. He told me he was living under a bridge because he was angry at his father, and wanted to prove to everyone what a bad father this man really was. His greatest desire in life, he said, was to be locked up in a library, to study science all the time. He has not been seen in Denver in several years, and I hope he got better eventually.
which is limited in scope, as in some of the harsh albums available
today in much of the urbanized portions of the planet, shows a limited
understanding of natural principles. The lowest understanding of nature
can be seen in acts of criminal mischief, drug use, and revenge. Music
which revolves around these activities is harsh, grating, and has only
a limited sphere of tools available within its repertoire. In our
present society, this description applies to Death Metal, Rap, and some
Reggae Dub music. When tested on most people, music of this type will
usually weaken them. The only people who test strong on these kinds of
music are generally those who are completely alienated from society and
from good health.
Most music is somewhat neutral in character. It does not create any measurable physical effect on most listeners. Lyrics which accompany the music generally serve to reinforce social patterns and reactive mind scripts. The more people who share a particular script, the more popular the song tends to become. Sometimes this works the other way around, and an especially compelling song becomes popular enough to actually change the scripts of a lot of people. An noteworthy example of this is "Love One Another" by Jesse Colin Young, released in 1966.
Besides lyrical content, three characteristics of music work together to create effects on people. By carefully observing the balance of these characteristics in any piece of music, it is possible to determine for yourself what effect it will tend to have. This method of analysis can replace the crude kinesthetic arm test.
is the first characteristic. We can assume, for purposes of this
discussion, that our physical evolution as a species is a crude
parallel to spiritual evolution. This is a teaching of many spiritual
traditions. If so, it follows that tones which emulate natural
phenomena should feel somewhat comforting to us. This is one of the
reasons why classical music tends to impart strength. All of its
instruments can be traced back to natural Earthly sounds. Woodwinds
emulate wind blowing through reeds. Percussion emulates things falling
on wood or membranes. String instruments, such as violins and harps,
emulate sounds of plants held taut. Brass instruments constitute the
most radical departure from natural sounds found in classical music,
but they can be traced to mineral phenomena and wind in caves.
Now, there are also some synthesized sounds which create good effects. Our explorations in space have shown that all celestial bodies emanate sounds. Many which were recorded by the United States NASA have been cataloged and released to the public by Dr. Jeffry Thompson. The sounds from nearby planets, as picked up by transducers aboard space probes, are similar to sounds generated by synthesizers which are known to be healthy. Many of these sounds resemble Tibetan bowl bells, which are made of special alloys according to ancient traditions.
Another good type of sound is one which has precisely calibrated interval harmonics in thirds, fifths, or sixths. This also can be heard on some of the planetary sound recordings.
Harsh tones in music often come from an attempt to integrate obnoxious acoustical products of technology. Several classical composers even tried to do this in a formal manner, with varying degrees of success. Hoenneger once composed a piece which exemplified train sounds. Varese would use sirens as a recurring motif. And John Cage actually built whole compositions around random noise. The fact that most readers have probably never heard the works of these composers speaks for itself. Now, "heavy metal" has come along, which completely integrates harsh technological noise into its fabric. This form of music was actually invented in 1932 by Antonin Artaud, while he was in an insane asylum. At the time, he called it "Theater of Cruelty", which aptly describes the nature of much of this work. For many of the most popular acts, theatrical trappings actually overshadow the music itself.
Rhythm is extremely important. Dr. Diamond had found that one particular rhythm, found predominantly in "hard rock" music of that time (1975) would always produce a negative effect, even when simply tapped out by itself without other instruments. This rhythm is counted "one-and-TWO pause". It is literally the reverse of the human heartbeat. Think of getting on a carnival ride. Your body is subjected to strange motions and sensations, which are disconcerting but interesting. A few minutes later, it's over. Now imagine getting on that ride, and the operator walks away, leaving you trapped on the ride. (This actually happened to me once.) A long time later, you're going to be in pretty bad shape. That's the effect generated by this negative rhythm. Teenagers like negative rhythms because of the physical thrill, and as long as they also listen to other, more wholesome forms of music, they will usually turn out all right. It is when someone exclusively listens to negative patterns that damage will occur.
Rhythmic patterns have been extensively cataloged and worked out by members of the Yoruba culture of Nigeria. Many other African groups have similar systems, of varying degrees of complexity. In many cultures of that region, rhythm is in itself a spiritual teaching. Natural forces, known generally as Loas, are said to completely take over people who dance intensively to certain rhythms. It is a common practice among many Africans (and some inhabitants of Haiti and Brazil) to take on the character of Loas during rituals. Within the context of these cultures, this has a great therapeutic value. In other cultures, mild varients of these rhythms can be useful to generate effects. Further research on this subject is in progress.
The most technical point of music is the actual melodic sequencing. This is always specific to a culture, and can be seen as a defining point which differentiates one culture from another. The dominance of a certain melodic scheme when transferred from one culture to another can often indicate the extent to which a culture has come to dominate another.
In India, the most highly refined set of tonal sequences on this planet has been developed, called "ragas". This system contains over 80,000 possibilities, many of them precisely classified as to emotion, time of day, and season. As you can imagine, tonal sequencing is an extremely technical study. The possibilities for application to the fields of medicine, architecture, and spirituality are vast.
music, which most readers are probably acquainted with, is based on a
system developed by Pythagoras. In this tightly structured system,
eight tones make up a scale from one harmonic point to another, called
an octave. Each tone is the starting point for seven possible sequences
of intervals between the tones. Later, twelve tones between an octave
were set up, but the basic scheme remains the same. Each tone can have
a certain characteristic, and each sequence of tones can create a
harmonic manifestation in the listener which can enhance a particular
characteristic of life.
By using this system consistently in concerts and on tapes over a number of years, the expression of these characteristics has been observed. There is no ethical way to do any research which completely isolates one characteristic tonal sequence form all others and forces it on a listener. Therefore, the observations are informal, and always subject to modification. When in a concert situation, the audience is always the primary consideration, and their responses to each piece of music are carefully observed in order to determine the best sequence to use at any time.
Bridge between universes
When considering the effects of music, science and spirituality inevitably meet. Whether this becomes an alliance or a collision depends strictly on the viewpoint of the observer. Completely secularized science has certainly not had a good record for itself, having brought our species to the brink of total destruction through toxic waste, radioactivity, and genetic experimentation. Therefore combining the two needs to be tried before we get ourselves into an even worse situation on this planet. One good point about spirituality is that many traditions, having come from extremely diverse origin points, have major points of agreement. For the remainder of this paper, only these points of agreement which transcend a number of traditions will be considered. We are looking at a commonality of practical characteristics, rather than trying to quote specific scriptural passages to prove a point.
spiritual teachings agree there is a material universe and a spiritual
universe. The two operate by completely different sets of laws. In the
material universe, laws have been observed and to some extent codified
as science. These involve the existance of natural forces, matter,
space, and time, and the interplay between these. Operations in the
spiritual universe center more around the simultaneous individuality
and unity of all spirits. Laws which apply in the material universe are
only relevant if a member of the spiritual universe has decided to
agree with these laws.
Many spirits have, and are now embodied as humans, living strictly by the laws of material manifestations. Some spirits in human form move back towards the spiritual universe through study, practice, and devotion. Music can facilitate this process, and has been used for this purpose everywhere in the world. Many teachings say that an archetype is created in the spiritual universe, which then can manifest in the material universe, according to agreed-upon laws. Music is said to be the most directly accessible archetype. This is true because resonance is actually a force of nature in itself. Resonance means that one thing, tuned to another, can vibrate in sympathy across a distance. This is an observed phenomenon in the material universe.
operates in the spiritual universe as well. No other natural force from
the material universe seems to operate in the spiritual realms. In
fact, most traditions which have addressed this problem at all agree
that forces such as gravity, electromagnetism, and conservation of
energy specifically do not apply to the spiritual universe. But
resonance does, and so is the only force which we can agree operates
simultaneously in both universes. Two souls in resonance with each
other will always manage to arrange a meeting, in spite of any material
Many spiritual traditions on this planet are dedicated to the process of creating a resonance between the souls who areparticipating, and the ultimate Source of the whole Universe. Music is almost always a part of these traditions. Harmonious music will invoke vibrations in bodies, which then are transmitted into the spiritual nature of the bodies. So music is actually an interface between the spiritual and material universes. This is why it has such profound effects on people. Music also becomes a doorway through which we can learn to create direct effects on the material universe through the medium of sound.
This article was originally published in Borderlands Magazine.