What is the difference between hearing and listening? Once sound has entered through our ears, we begin to perceive through various listening modes. As our sight is influenced by psychological principles (known as Gestalt) and forms of illusion, so is our hearing. The perception of space, time, and tone follows certain rules laid down by our sensory system and processed by our brain, while entrainment is a special case of our body and mind being able to synchronize with an external rhythm that can then induce a specific physical or psychological state. Understanding how the potential, limitations, and quirks of our physiological and mental capacities influence our perception of the world through sound will guide us towards concepts that can be applied in cinema.
“Listening begins with being silent.”
– Joachim-Ernst Berendt
Scientists have only recently learned that the particles of an oxygen atom vibrate in a major key and that blades of grass ‘sing.” and diverse cultures reaffirm what the ancients have always known–the world is sound, rhythm, and vibration. New physics and Tantra, cybernetics, Sufism, and the works of Hermann Hesse,reveal the importance of sound in shaping cultural and spiritual life worldwide.
Hans Kayser, Jean Gebser, Sufi Hazrat lnayat Khan, musicians John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar–Terry Riley , Le Monte Young suggest that hearing, rather than seeing, is the key to a more spiritual experience of consciousness and sound in relation to mathematics, logic, sacred geometry, myth, and sexuality is practical as well as theoretical, for developing the ear as an organ of spiritual perception.
Entrainment in sound
In the 17th century a Dutch scientist, Christian Huygens, discovered that two pendulum clocks swinging side by side would enter into a remarkably synchronous rhythm, way beyond their mechanical accuracy. This phenomenon, known as entrainment, has been found so ubiquitous that we hardly notice it. Everything that vibrates in the universe seems to lock in and swing together, like the vertical setting on an old TV matching the station oscillator, and two individual muscle cells from the heart when they approximate one another. Even two people in an involved conversation will have a synchrony in their brain waves, as does the enthralled audience with a charismatic preacher.
So as we react in resonance with the vibrations and fluctuations in our surroundings, it follows that our physiological functioning may be altered by the impact of sound waves, from the digesting activity of our intestines, lungs breathing, heart beating, to the rapid firing of neurons in the brain.
Music has long been used to induce specific states of consciousness through entrainment. Shamanic drumming in the frequency of 4-8Hz induces the theta brain wave, which is characteristic of a deep sleep pattern and trance states. A powerful example of this was used in the magic mushroom sequence of Altered States, which synchronized this intense pulsation with rapid image cuts (3-6 frames each).
The Balinese gamelan orchestra is made of many xylophone-like instruments that are purposefully tuned at slightly different pitches so that they create a beat phenomenon. Not coincidentally, the beats have been found to be in the 4-8Hz range as well, inducing a theta state in the dancers as well as in the audience watching the choreographed drama unfold.
Entrainment can be reflected in the global environment, architecture, and even in our physiology. An electromagnetic field vibrates between the ionosphere and the Earth’s surface at 4-8Hz (called the Schumann resonance), which synchronizes not only with that theta consciousness state of “oneness” and harmony with the universe, but is also said to be mathematically related to many sacred sites such as Stonehenge and the Pyramids.But we can just as likely be invaded by destructive sounds, such as a chalk screech, that can vibrate in our brains like fragile glass on the verge of shattering. This is an international sound phobia, excruciating even at low volume, and the only conjecture of its cause is some form of neurological entrainment.
Loud, low frequencies at around 12Hz that are below hearing level (called infrasonic or subsonic) can cause nausea, very likely due to the resonance in different organs of our digestive system. An entrainment can be very unhealthy for long periods in heavy industrial settings, and a bad mood or illness can result without knowing what the source is at the other extreme of repetitiveness of rhythm, if entrainment goes on too long we become bored or habituated, which will ultimately inhibit the resonance. In music therapy, which depends upon the vital link of a patient to musical rhythm, the iso principle has been developed to counteract this negative effect. Through a gradual change of pace in rhythm, speech, or emotional content, a steady entrainment is achieved that can bring the patient/audience from one physical or emotional state into another. In fact, this is a basic rule of good drama, that things must grow and transform, moving from one level of intensity to another. A classic example in orchestral music is Ravel’s “Bolero,” which builds ever-so-slowly in speed, loudness, timbre, and general emotional expressiveness. Note that this must be a gradual transition to maintain the entrainment, for any abrupt change will induce surprise and a “jump cut” into another reality. If you bring your audience members into an altered state, you as the sound designer must be aware of where you have taken them, and when and how (and if – there is some responsibility here) you are going to bring them back.
We seem to be wired for imposing order on our perceptions, as the brain will pull out patterns from chaos even if none objectively exist. Watching a person walk on screen and putting music to that image, it will seem that their steps are in sync with the music, just because we tend toward entraining sound and image. This natural tendency can be manipulated consciously, working in conjunction or in counterpoint – by pulling our organic system to its limits and then breaking into new realities, like with the intentionally out-of-sync footsteps in Yellow Submarine.
Ptolemy was the first to discover this, quite by accident, way back in 200 AD. He found that flickering sunlight on a spinning spoked wheel produced feelings of euphoria. In the early 1900s, French psychologist Pierre Janet also used flickering lights to reduce patient hysteria, and to induce relaxation.A Prussian physicist and meteorologist known as Heinrich Wilhelm Dove uncovered something we now call “binaural beats” – although at the time he didn’t have the scientific validation to prove his discovery.H.W. Dove found that by playing two differently pitched sounds into each ears, the difference between the two pitches is realized inside the head – a “perceived” pulse or beat, also known as a binaural beat.For example, if you played 400Hz into the left ear, and 410Hz into the right ear, the difference of 10Hz is actually ‘heard’ by the brain.In other words, he found a way of playing a really low frequency directly to the brain. And, as we already know, when the brain is exposed to such frequencies, it will automatically follow them – which will, in turn, bring about the relevant state of mind.
First, there came monaural beats, which acted in a similar way to binaural beats, however have the advantage of not requiring headphones, and use a sine wave pulse to generate a desired frequency. They work in a similar way to binaural beats, yet the beat is audible and not merely perceived.Then, as digital technology improved, 1981 saw the discovery of isochronic tones. This technique involved using fast audio pulses to replicate specific frequencies. So, for a 10 Hz recording, the audio would create 10 tiny pulses every second. In turn, the brain entrained toward that frequency.It has since been proven that isochronic tones are the most potent (non-photic) entrainment method available – and even more powerful when combined with other entrainment methods.
These Techniques where utilised on the TAG Meontological Research Recordings record 2 (1985 ) specifically the track A.A.A Audio Alpha Activity.
Accelerated Audio Alpha Activity was designed as an instrumentation of transformation through applied concentrative technique, AAA is the synthesis of an audio formula, not a musical composition. The formula is composed of music sound syllables and specific vibratory pulses, whose inherent properties encourage a concentrative state opening the psychic fields, and instilling a temporary alteration of consciousness under certain conditions.
The patterning of these mutable syllabic repetitions encourage brain waves to pulse in the Alpha-Theta region. The region of Alpha and Theta are the frequencies associated with dream-like hypnotic states. By producing an Alpha/Theta ganzfield (a specific stabilized stimulus), AAA magnifies these frequencies, enabling them to take predominance in all areas of the brain (areas which are normally utilising a variety of frequencies associated with day to day consciousness), the most profound effect occurs when Alpha and Theta take precedence in the visual cortex, for this reason we recommend the use of both headphones (to enhance the Alpha stereo patterning) and the simultaneous use of loudspeakers (to enhance physiological vibratory transmission, sit near to speaker, increase bass response and volume). We also suggest the simultaneous use of either stroboscope or Dream-machine, flickering/flashing between 7–13 pulses per second, this will encourage Alpha in the visual cortex when eyes are closed, though simply closing the eyes will enhance the experience, Alpha response increases with closed eyes (although we leave it to the listener to find their own maximum concentrative form). Listeners may also experience audio hallucinations created by the rejuxtaposition of the syllabic repetitions, the nature of which differs between individuals, the phonetic alterations also have no language barrier, though their source is the English language.
The techniques employed by TAGC in the construction of AAA are drawn from both occult and scientific sources. In recent years science has been concerned to find out whether restriction of awareness to a repetitive stimulus results in expanding inner perception, a paradox of “Change through Repetition”.
Experiments show that when a person is subjected to a short cyclic repetition of
external stimulus, the subject loses contact with the outside world and simultaneously establishes contact with his inner world. The achievement of this inner concentrative state has been practised by Indian Tantrikas for centuries and recent scientific investigations have revealed this practice to be a direct method of inducing a ‘High Alpha State’. During the practice of Kundalini Yoga, attention is focussed in a state of ‘One-Pointedness’ by means or repetitive stimulus, it is repetition of sounds that ultimately incur the creative Alpha state. In consequence, experts conclude that meditation is neither ‘esoteric’ or ‘Mysterious’, but is a ‘practical technique’ which uses experiential knowledge based on the actual mechanisms of the nervous system and hence is within the scope of practical applied technology.
Grey Walter and colleagues perform experiments using EEG (Picture Post 26 March 1950). In The Living Brain, Walter describes how this research analysed human subjects’ response to stroboscopic light. While epileptic subjects experienced mild seizures, non-epileptics reported seeing vivid visual hallucinations and feeling strong emotions, such as pleasure or discomfort. EEG records for each subject revealed that the brain’s electrical activity, especially the alpha rhythm, was affected by these visual and emotional experiences.
When the first edition of The Living Brain was published in 1953, ‘brainwashing’ was just beginning to become a household word. Ten years later, in the preface to the 1963 edition of his book, Walter again felt it necessary to address his readers’ scruples, this time evidently in response to public furor over brainwashing: “So far brain physiology has never lent itself to evil deeds as physics has done – we do not have to drive people insane or experience insanity to win understanding of brain action…. But with increasing understanding comes increasing power, and there are some who already see in our tentative essays the means for effective thought-control…. To all such we say, as to politicians, preachers, and psychiatrists: let only those whose hands are clean busy themselves with brain-washing.” (Walter 1963 xxi)
Despite this rather enigmatic disavowal, Walter’s name deserves a place in the history of mind control discourse. The content of his experiments, and his interpretation of them in The Living Brain, became instrumental in debates about the relationship between brain physiology and the mind. The same year as the reissue of Walter’s book, Scottish psychiatrist JAC Brown published his own contribution to this discourse, Techniques of Persuasion. From Propaganda to Brainwashing. Brown’s book sought to debunk many of the most histrionic claims about the dangers of mind control. He singled out for particular scrutiny Aldous Huxley’s warnings, in The Devils of Loudon (1952), about the existence of “new and previously undreamed of devices for exciting mobs.” Among the techniques that Huxley cited in that book, and then again in Brave New World Revisited (1958), was the strategic use of rhythmically flashing lights to condition subjects, in ways akin to the experiments described by Walter. Echoing the claims of psychiatrist William Sargant, Huxley argued that the use of such techniques was a sure sign that “Today the art of mind control is in the process of becoming a science.” (Huxley 1958, P.38
Bryon Gysin 1957 Carl Van Vechten.
Fascinated by Walter’s stroboscopic studies,Bryon Gysin and William Burroughs adopted them as a model for a process of breaking open conventional patterns of thought, language, and behavior. If – to paraphrase Walter – no one’s hands could any longer be considered “clean,” then Burroughs & Gysin and his acolytes made this fact the starting point of a cultural project dedicated to exploring the possibilities of de-conditioning and of counter-brainwashing. In this way the Cold War brain sciences, of which Walter was a foremost representative, opened up not simply new possibilities of control, but also, paradoxically, of slipping all controls.