Sound Walk

On our sound walk, Will and I ventured over to the hill near the Davis Center Tunnel entrance on Main Street. While we were there we were very observant of the level of wind. The hill acted as a natural wind tunnel in that it focused the wind down towards Main Street from the Catholic Center near Redstone Campus. We discussed the idea that wind isn’t actually heard, it’s the motion caused by the wind that we then in turn perceive as audible signs of the presence of wind. A human beings “microphone” is deep within the ear so it is sheltered from the wind but the microphone used in my iPhone is almost directly exposed to the wind. It is then in turn heard as an overarching white noise in the recordings. Fortunately in reality, we humans are able to filter that out.

Assignment 4

Meditation is by nature, a connection between mind and body. As the mind consciously directs its intentions towards one goal, you can begin to lose the connection, or awareness, of your body. The brain is the primary processing unit of sensory reception, aural reception included and therefore, it is logical to conclude that different sounds can evoke slightly different mental states, and in turn lead to different states of meditation. The effect of rhythmic, and resonate sound can induce states far more conducive to spiritual experiences when meditating due to altered areas on activity in the neural cortex, mantras being a practical example. Mantras, sounds considered to create transformation, are a pinpoint of many Buddhist meditation rituals and even extend into other religions such as the Om in Hinduism. There are other methods of entering altered states of consciousness that are slightly less pure, but regardless, music certainly impacts these chemically altered states in an equally intricate manner.

The superior link is awfully long, so you aren’t obligated to listen to the whole thing, however I would recommend everyone trying to meditate to it! This sound is of Buddhist and Hindu mantras recited by spiritual figures within the respective religions. The distant, steady, consistent noise exemplified through the reciting of Buddhist or Hindu text is a rhythmic sound conducive to meditation which would intensify the spiritual feelings felt during a meditative state of mind. Another aspect of these sounds that my research won’t touch upon is the meaning of the words. These are holy words being presented in a state that promotes meditation, making them very, very powerful.

Rhythm, Meditation and the Mind

I believe my original topic choice may have been slightly too concise. The immense library of human knowledge encompasses most things, but not everything. While there is an extensive amount of research of the neurophysiology of the brain, there is less research geared specifically to the neurophysiology of meditation and an even more selective amount of research dedicated to the neurophysiology of meditation in the community of Buddhist chanting. There is however, data on the effects of rhythm alone. This has lead me to the conclusion that it may be to my benefit to expand my sonic community to all meditators. Buddhist Samatha meditation will be included in this group, as well as transcendental meditation and other various genres of meditation. I will simply study the neurophysiological effects and their conscious repercussions of repetitive rhythmic sound during meditation.
The relationship of sound and meditation first came to my attention while reading The Auditory Visual iPod by Michael Bull. In this reading he uses first person accounts to reveal the mystical power an iPod can exert over human perception of a city. IPod users, myself being one, feel that these music devices detach one from the typical feelings of an environment and transport them to a mental state dependent on the auditory input. This began a train of thought which traveled down the tracks of, “If music can cause the brain to synchronize its perception with the music involuntarily, what would happen if one were to intentionally synchronize themselves with music?” After taking this thought and running with it, I can across a few independent accounts of the effects of rhythm on neurophysiology. For example, Buddhist monks have used mantras, sounds that invoke change, for meditative purposes for hundreds if not thousands of years, and the rhythmic drumming in dance music can spur physiological changes in respiration rate and heart rate (Carrington 2005, Vaitl et al. 2005).
I should begin by defining and providing outside information on the lucrative word meditation. There is no exact medical definition for meditation because there are so many different methods of meditation, there are however some characteristics that are almost universal among meditative states. An increase in alpha and theta waves in an electroencephalogram (EEG) reading is common in most meditative states although the exact significance has yet to be determined (Cahn et al. 2006). Some of the universal traits of meditation aren’t in physiological measures but more in conscious feelings. People who meditate often report a less acute sense of time and 3D orientation, as well as an increased feeling of attention. These combinations of feelings are often associated with spirituality (Amen 2005). Meditation can be more easily described as a self-initiated altered state of consciousness which results in mental clarity, usually in the form of increased attention around a specified thought, sound, object or image.
Specific regions of the brain control various functions. A normal method for dividing the brain into various regions is through the use of four lobes. These lobes are: the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe. There generalized functions are, respectively: cognition and motor function, the sense of touch and body positioning, auditory perception, and visual perception. Within these general lobes are hundreds of unique areas responsible for more differentiated tasks. These unique areas within a certain lobe may work with another region of a separate lobe, or the same lobe, to form a system. And jammed within all of these systems and gray matter is the conscious. This rough schematic just scrawled before you only alludes to the intricacy of the most complex organ in the known universe. But what is trying to be demonstrated here is that no one region of the brain is the culprit for meditation, the brain is incredibly plastic. However studies have presented various findings which suggest that during meditation there is increased neural activity in the prefrontal cortex, a subdivision of the frontal lobe, as well as in the temporal lobe, the section of the brain associated with auditory perception (Amen 2005). It is reasonable to conclude that stimulation of the temporal lobe through auditory perception might alter a meditative state. These alterations will be further investigated on not just a neurophysiological level, but also on a spiritual and humanistic level. Meditation does possess a transcendental or spiritual connotation and it is one that shall be further examined within a scientific and spiritual lens with respect to audition.
Amen, Daniel G. Making a Good Brain Great. New York: Harmony, 2005. Print.

Dr. Daniel G. Amen M.D. is a psychiatrist who treats neurological problems through both a scientific and a holistic approach. Using modern technology, he studies meditation and measureable neurological changes that occur in various areas of the brain. He then analyzes these changes and assesses possible psychological impacts. This book was written for the everyday person who wishes to improve their physical wellbeing via improvements of the brain both psychological and physiologically. This fits within the realm of relativity because it answers my question of the neurological effects of meditation.

Cahn, B. R., & Polich, J. (2006). Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies. Psychological Bulletin, 132(2), 180-211. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.180

Rael Cahn is currently a resident physician of UC Irvine, but he has a long, decorated past in psychiatry where he focused on the neurophysiology of the meditative state. John Polich is a neuroimaging researcher associated with the Scripps institute. This article is a peer reviewed journal article of a study performed on the neurophysiological effects of mediation. This article also discusses methods of meditation that include Buddhist Samatha meditation which focuses on breathing awareness. This fits inside my bubble of research because the study examines the neurophysiological responses elicited by rhythmic sounds during meditation.

Carrington, Patricia, PhD. “Impact of Sound on Emotions.” Mastering the Practice of EFT and Meditation. N.p., 2005. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.

Dr. Patricia Carrington is a doctor of psychology at Princeton University where focuses on stress management and self-development. This includes the study of meditation and the various effects sensory stimulation can have on the meditative process. This article was written for anyone who meditates, the language is understandable and there is a section of the article providing instructions to try some of the meditative techniques suggested. This article fits into the scope of the project by confirming that sounds have a neurological effect on meditation.

Levenson, R. W., Ekman, P., & Ricard, M. (2012). Meditation and the startle response: A case study. Emotion, 12(3), 650-658. doi:10.1037/a0027472

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk with forty years of experience meditating. Robert Levenson is a professor of psychology at UC Berkley whose research encompasses behavioral neuroscience and the relationship between psychological and physiological responses. The above article is case study of one individual meaning it is a presentation of data and conclusions drawn from a very specific study. This journal article appears to have been written for other scholars, and other experimenters who may wish to replicate the experiment, although that may prove difficult due to the existence of only one subject. This fits within my study by proving insight into the effects of sounds on meditation as well as supporting these claims with quantifiable scientific evidence.

Vaitl, D., Birbaumer, N., Gruzelier, J., Jamieson, G. A., Kotchoubey, B., Kübler, A., . . . Weiss, T. (2005). Psychobiology of Altered States of Consciousness. Psychological Bulletin, 131(1), 98-127. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.1.98

This article was released under the certification of the American Psychological Association, the APA, meaning that all of the contributing authors are members of the APA. Like many of my other sources, this is a peer reviewed journal article which entails that this is collaborative study meaning multiple external sources have been applied as well as some original research. From this article I was able to obtain associations between physiological changes in neural areas and the corresponding conscious reaction. This included specifics on the effects of rhythmic sounds and movement.

Lazy Sunday: 10 Recordings

What better to document aurally then the legendary lazy Sunday? Everyone knows what a lazy Sunday entails; sleeping in, having a big breakfast, meandering through trivial tasks, relaxing and snacking. When I close my eyes and allow my imagination to brainstorm on these ideas, visual images spring to existence, enticing scents cause my nostrils to flare, but my auditory imagination remains rather limited. I recorded a few sounds and captured some soundscapes which I often encounter on these wonderful lazy Sunday’s. The sounds proceed chronologically throughout the day allowing for the listener to build a soundscape of my day that not only is very diverse in its sounds but also spans a segment of time.

I began with the boiling of my kettle and the pouring of a mug of tea. Listening to this recording casually would provide the most practical. The ferocious bubbling followed by the ring of the kettle bell proceeds the pouring of a liquid which one can easily assume to be boiling water.

I then recorded a few second of a John Coltrane and the flipping of a page in my Biology textbook because who doesn’t love jazz music while they are studying. Chion’s three modes of listening can be applied here as well. Because John Coltrane doesn’t always have words to accompany his beautiful notes, semantic listening reveals very little on the noise but casual and reduced listening are both rather informative in this situation. Casual listening allows for us to associate unique sounds to specific instruments and the reduced listening tells us about the quality of the notes released by these instruments.

After I aurally sampled a random 45 second period in the Grundel (the Harris-Millis dining complex), I began to think about Karin Bijsterveld’s theory on how we as a modernized and industrialized society listen to machines. When I was directly listening in the Grundel I felt as if it were a relatively quiet day, but when I went back and listened to the recording I heard this infernal hum of massive kitchen appliances. Once I was aware of the never ending drawl of the kitchen, it was all I could hear, it almost became deafening yet the more time I spent in the Grundel, the quieter the roar became until I hardly noticed anything. The human ear is an incredible machine with an equally amazing processing unit, its ability to acclimate to constant stimulus is fascinating.

Watching TV is primarily a visual task, so listening to an audio recording of me watching television seemed like an interesting approach to mapping a soundscape of a lazy Sunday. Casual and semantic listening work hand in hand here to provide grounds for identification of the television shows heard in the background.

Deviating slightly from the theme of a lazy Sunday, I actually did something semi productive in completing a load of laundry. The laundry room is another example of human ears adapting to the audio environment and almost canceling out the sounds of machines. There are however, sounds which permeate everything. The awful, squealing beep of the laundry machine, from a reduced listening perspective, is just a high enough pitch to always trigger the stimulation levels necessary to induce hearing.

Redstone dining is the perfect meal for a lazy Sunday, and therefore the associated sounds make up a section of the soundscape of a lazy Sunday. The pager system for food delivery at Redstone produces an annoying beeping that always hovers in the dining hall. I once asked an employee of the dining hall what the beeping pagers mean to them, and there response was very in line with the ideas of Murray Schafer. The employee said to me, “You always hear the pagers, but eventually you don’t hear them, you know what I mean?” This reminded me of his opening line, “We have no ear lids. We are condemned to listen. But this does not mean our ears are always open” (Schafer 25).

A true Sunday always has some variety of sports to watch and today was a hockey day. My roommate and I watched the Bruins battle the Sabres, and I took a small audio sample of the game in which semantic listening can be applied to gather meaning from the phonemes and morphemes that make up the English language.

Having recently been sick, I still had a slight cough interrupting my lazy Sunday. I set up my microphone and waited until I had to cough. This noise I made is identified easily via casual listening and by mixing reduced and casual listening, one may, with the right set of skills, be able to deduce a rough estimate of my size based on the sound of my cough.

The pilgrimage to the water fountain down the hall from me happens at least five time a day a recording had to be included. This was one of my favorite recordings because it captured a conversation I had at the watering hole, a very common event when replenishing my water supplies. Because this is such an average sound for me, I felt it had to be included in my soundscape of a lazy Sunday.

My final sound was of my friends and I just hanging out and munching on some crackers and cheese. I have a lot of social interactions on Sunday’s so I figured a little bit of dialogue, no matter how random, should be included in the soundscape. It also opens the perfect window for semantic listening to be applied.

Sunday Morning Tea

Coltrane and Page Flipping

2:15 in the Grundel

Sunday Afternoon TV Relaxation

Laundry on Sunday Night

Picking Up an Order at Redstone

Bruins vs Sabres


Filling Up My Waterbottle

Crackers and Cheese

Works Cited

Bijsterveld, Karin. “Listening to Machines: Industrial Noise, Hearing Loss and the Cultural Meaning of Sound.” The Sound Studies Reader (2012): 152-64. Text.

Chion, Michel. “The Three Listening Modes.” The Sound Studies Reader (2012): 48-53. Text.

Schafer, Murray. “Open Ears.” Thinking About Sound (n.d.): 25-39. Web.

Frederick Douglass Soundscape

As I read The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, I kept imagining a ten part History Channel documentary as the ideal way to capture this story in film. An omniscient narrator whose voice rumbles with obscure analogies would clarify feelings and events before and after scenes of importance in the narrative. I will delve into detail in a select few scenes in the proceeding paragraphs.

The film would begin with narrator reading the introductory paragraph of the book leading into a scenic country side in Maryland, where Douglass was born (Douglass 1). The sound of horse hooves dragging through muck covered forest roads would ease itself into the soundscape from the left while a gust of wind crept through the willow trees, causing their depressed branches to cry out and moan as the long leaves tickled each other. The narrators bellowing voice would stand unattested as the dominant noise seeing as there is no infernal hum of combustion engines. The camera, 1080p of course, would glide in from above the trees to under their cooling branches while the first paragraph was read.

Frederick Douglass, when he was a lad on Colonel Lloyd’s plantation, often retrieved Master Daniel Lloyd’s birds when he went hunting (Douglass 16). The next scene would begin with a small, black boy’s face in the center; his fingers plunged deep within his ear canals, his faced winced as he braces for an unforeseen event. There is no noise as the camera fixates on his face, until a dull, deep pop resonates. At this point the camera would snap to a different perspective revealing a young, black slave and a wealthy man holding a shotgun. As the camera bounces out, sounds fly in. The wind moving the tall, dry grass creates an almost silent, yet still noticeably audible crackle. There are no animal noises immediately after the gun shot until the dull thud of the bird carcass cascades down into the grass. From that point on the unharmed pheasants squalls’ overwhelm the soundscape with the deep, rhythmic flush providing a consistent backdrop for Master Daniel Lloyd to snap, “Boy! Fetch that bird over yonder. Hurry now, we ain’t got all day.” As the crying birds escape auditory range, young Frederick’s bare, callused feet tattering through the tall dry grass formulate an outline for his scratchy broken English to respond with, “Yessir.”

Another scene I have painted, in my mind, a beautiful soundscape for is when Douglass was driving the cart of unbroken oven through the woods, before the crash and the wiping. As Douglass leads the ox into the woods, the scene would begin with the sound that startled the oxen, leading to the race through the woods (Douglass 35). In the text the sound is never specified, therefore my imagination takes over. Before I can determine the frightful sound I must paint the basic soundscape. The most noticeable may be the powerful panting of the two monstrous oxen. The two creatures would be heaving in sync so I imagine there breathes to coincide with their steps, resulting in a continuous, flat huffing acting like a simple bass line. There then are the actual sounds resulting from these behemoths walking. There steps would fall in a 4:4 whereas the panting would fall in a 2:4. These steps would resemble the snap of a snare drum on the densely packed mud trail. The wooden cartwheels would clatter as they bounced off rocks and roots making a wide variety of noises adding to the so far gentle soundscape. Douglass could be heard breathing and whispering, “Aye, aye, easy,” whenever the road became wobbly. All of a sudden I imagine an old dead tree which had been keeled over on a small branch suddenly gave way. All of a sudden the previously rhythmic, interrelated soundscape is interrupted by the ferocious snapping of wooden limbs and the thunderous impact of the old tree into the ground below. This causes the oxen to release whatever noise oxen are inclined to release when startled, and then begin to level small trees which pop like bones. Fragile, youthful branches tear off nearby trees as the cart screams through the woods and the moist branches whoosh through bushes and shrubbery. The peaceful symphony has now become an unpredictable, raging orchestra of so many sounds that you can’t distinguish each noise happening at a given moment.