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!

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