Music as Medicine

It has been very exciting to create several new pieces of music for the classes that Jody Cassell and I presented under the auspices of the American Dance Festival this Fall. The classes focused on health and wellness through movement and sound. I am studying Kay Gardner’s Music As Medicine audio workshop, and used what I am learning there in creating the sound sketches for these events. The healing potential of sound is studied and used by many people from ancient indigenous cultures to contemporary healing communities- including some HOSPITALS!

Embracing Health Through Movement met for four Tuesdays in a row at the ADF Studios in Durham. Our focus was on using dance movement patterns and sound to promote the growth of neural pathways and shift cellular vibrations on a subtle level. Here are some of the techniques we used:

Laban’s Dance Scales – these are groups of movements that bisect planes and cross mid-lines, thus shaking up habitual movement patterns and creating new neural pathways. These scales work with sequencing and memory, as well. Learning the dimensional scale and parts of the A Scale, challenge and invigorate the central nervous system and the brain of the mover. Both scales are sonically supported by accelerated harmonics, a concept I will explain later. Much deeper and more meditative than aerobics, the dance scales encourage the relaxed and grounded place from which to receive the full benefit of a later aerobics class.

Sounding the Organs and Glands – using the research of Kay Gardner, Barbara Hero, and Hans Cousto- I developed soundscapes for toning at frequencies of health for particular organs. During the first round of classes, we toned the D as an overall cellular entrainment, then the F# for the “high” heart or thymus. (Tarzan beating his chest is the visual metaphor for “thumping the thymus”, an energetic practice that is simple and boosts immunity.) The final week we pinged our pineal glands to open up all the new energy information coming to us each…minute, second…

Peripheral Massage – each week, Jody lead the group in either foot, hand or facial massage to stimulate those places in our bodies where all the nerves end up.

Jin Shin Jyutsu- an energy and meditation technique that involves holding the fingers of each hand for a certain number of breaths and with different intentions. This technique had a profound effect on several participants, who spoke of using it outside of class to help them focus and ground themselves.

Developing the soundscapes was exciting and challenging as Jody and I became clearer in our focus on really deep level healing. As the sound artist, it is important to me that people in the class feel the vibrations of the music as well as hear them. As the movement leader, it is important to Jody that her instructions be heard by the class members. By paying close attention to each other, I could ride the fader, placing the sound underneath Jody’s voice or out into the room when everyone was moving. This worked well and will be refined and developed along with the rest of the program.

The idea for accelerated harmonics comes from listening closely to the timbres of various electronic voices overlayering tones within acoustic spaces. By combining two voices that share some of the same sonic spectrum and manipulating the mix of those voices, certain frequencies can be given a bump at moments during the playing of the soundscape. This manifests like a singing bowl or a beat wave with a kind of throbbing and swelling of the sound as it moves toward decay. The difference between the accelerated harmonics and a beat wave is in the regularity of the swell. Beat waves have a steady back and forth feel, while accelerated harmonics are more like a bump. I envision it working like a balloon being bumped up in a crowd of people in slow motion. The music that I love – jazz and classical – both use this approach to create swells of sound and unusual timbres in the music.

I got a chance to play with this acoustically when one of the dancers brought a singing bowl to class. We were toning the F# for the thymus. As the woodwinds and strings of the soundscape pulsed a slow F# swell, I pulled sound out of the bowl with greater and lesser amplitude. To my ear, it was as if the bowl sound was caught in a sonic net of frequencies from the soundscape. The bowl sound became like the wind in a sail pushing the soundscape frequencies out into the room a bit longer, then letting them drop off. For me, it was a deep sonic ride akin to surfing or skiing. In addition to the primary F# tone, I provided an improvised addition of the fifth above F#, which is recommended by Kay Gardner to provide balance.

So accelerated harmonics is an area I want to explore with my ears using electronic midi instruments in conjunction with acoustic phenomenon in reverberent spaces. Some ways to explore this are to design more sound experiments in the Sun(Ra) Room, record soundscapes in the rooms where I play them (I can’ t believe I have not done this yet, but I haven’t), study and work with harmonics and overtones, study mixing and mastering techniques, use my voice as an accelerator, learn to read a spectrum analyzer, and many more to be discovered.

Here are two examples of the half a dozen music sketches used in the Embracing Health through Movement class in the Fall of 2014. The first one is Eeeeeepineal which can be used for toning the pineal gland on the syllable “eeeee.” The other is called Displacement and was used for the “brain dance” sequence that Jody lead each week as a warm up. This piece has a displaced downbeat due to the phrase being 3.3 measure long. Even with the foreshortened phrase, the repeating loop creates a regular, if unusual, pattern. The dancers feel the piece as “a little off” at first, but the regularity of the repeating loop invites entrainment. That feeling of getting in sync, that click, that ” oh, yeah!”, can be an indicator of new nueral activity. Pretty cool!

We plan to offer the class again in the Spring 2015. I hope to see you there!

“In C” – Long Tones Only

I was pleased to see that a group of local musicians did play “In C” at King’s in Raleigh on November 4, the actual 50th anniversary of the first performance of the piece. I did not make it out to hear it and have heard nothing further about it. The Indy Weekly was supposed to have a review, but that never materialized. I hope it was fabulous! I am disappointed that I was unable to realize the vision of playing “In C” for hours with a large community of musicians and dancers and other artists. I will continue to play around with the pieces and parts of “In C” for the remainder of the year as I think it still has much to teach me.

I am exploring the long tone patterns. The majority of the 53 patterns in the piece contain 8th note runs of varying lengths. The long tone patterns are dominated by whole and half notes, some are even dotted. A dotted whole note gets 12 pulses. Whoa! These notes take up alot of space. There is one quarter note thrown into one of the patterns, but not an 8th note in sight.

There are 8 long tone patterns total and they are parceled throughout the piece to give some breathing room and add sonic interest. Patterns 6 and 8 are the early arrivals, and Patterns 42 and 48 bring up the end. In between come two significant patterns that introduce and contextualize the shift from Ionian mode to Lydian mode with the introduction of the F# into the C tonality. (This is the sound of the tritone which was forbidden in church music due to its tense and dissonant vibration.) Two of the long tone patterns contain the F#- one is a 12 pulse sustained F# and the other is a C-B-G-F# with each note held for four pulses. Playing any of the other long tone patterns against these two patterns engenders a feeling of dread in me. The other patterns are so sweet in their “C”ness that the F# patterns sound intrusive, ominous and unwanted. The F# can create discomfort in a listener.

With this in mind then, how to arrange these long tone patterns into a satisfying interplay? The movement seems to organize itself around introducing, getting used to and then enveloping the tritone tension. (As a side note: a small group of women I met through some Coursera courses on sound and music have been chatting and sharing work on line. It was recently suggested to use the concept of tension-release as a prompt for exploration. This is feeling like an exploration of tension-release to me.) So first to establish the C modality, Patterns 6 and 8 create a simple lulling motion back and forth. For me, there is tension immediately due to the rocking back and forth on the G to F of Pattern 8. While a whole tone is pleasing as it passes, rocking back and forth on it creates some dissonance and tension. At the same time, we are hearing the C-G stabilizing fifth relationship, but even that sounds a bit off to the ear because the C is high and the G lower. Very interesting!

So the introduction of the F# will layer into and heighten an already existing tension. The manner in which the F# is introduced will dictate the quality of this next level of tension created in the piece. When the F# enters with alot of immediate presence, the startle response is triggered. I opted for an accumulation of tension by bringing the F# slowly up into the mix. At almost the same time, another layer of tension is created with the Pulse. I love the voicing of the eighth note C pulse on high strings and a quarter note pulse on the low end. It sounds very cool, and adds alot of tension due to the drive it creates. The floaty feeling of the long tones gets washed away by this incessant pulse.

Once the F# and the Pulse have fully arrived in the mix, the urge is to find some relief from this confluence of dissonance and drive. While the urge could be heightened by layering in the voices in a cacophony of pattern changes, I opted to move toward resolution pretty quickly. There are two phrases that contribute to resolving the tri-tone, the C-B-G-F# with its C root and fifth providing the beginnings of a stable path for the F#. The pattern that brings it home is Pattern 42 with its iteration of the first inversion C Major chord: E-G-C. When that Pattern makes an entrance there is just a feeling of calm and “everything will be alright” that comes into the mix. And, to be honest, even though the F# is left behind in the end, the feeling it engendered still lingers in the sonic landscape. So the tension never quite releases. Hmmmm! What do you hear?