Blog Archives

Music, Meditation, and the Skull as a Sound Chamber

The ancient Tibetan metaphysical texts state that all sound is music, all music is mantra, and mantra is the essence of all sound. Through the use of ritual and mantric power, the Tibetans use sound to effect a specific change in the individual and the environment.

Mantra is a pattern of sound or sound vibration that is based upon primordial sound structures. By their sheer inherent potency and disciplined execution, these concentrated essential energies bring about direct spiritual phenomenon.

— From the liner notes for Cho-ga, Tantric & Ritual Music of Tibet (Teldec, 1974, LP)

When I was in college I worked at a small music store, often doing 10-hour days with no managerial supervision. This meant that for four years I was privy to an intense engagement with a wide range of music on a daily basis, including everything from Edith Piaf to Throbbing Gristle, and some of the more obscure pleasures in between.  Faced with my own predilections, as well as those of the regular customers, I became interested in deleting my preferences, or more importantly, my distaste for certain types of music.

When you work in an environment like that, it’s easy to become a smug connoisseur. While I won’t claim to have avoided that arrogance altogether, I did pursue a program to erase my preferences by using some of the insights I gained from my academic focus on ritual and cognitive philosophy.  After four years’ worth of 10-hour shifts, if you’re too picky about what you listen to, you’ll quickly go insane or become a raging asshole.

Each day while driving to work or school, I would randomly choose a radio station by spinning the dial and letting it land wherever it wanted. Then I would enjoy whatever music I encountered. I would enjoy it even if I hated it, and during commercials, because I was brainwashing myself and wasn’t interested in letting others brainwash me, I would turn the dial between stations and listen to white noise. White noise also replaced the station if I landed on talk radio during the random spin. Again, I was interested in brainwashing myself, not letting others do it to me, and this experiment was not about learning to enjoy propaganda but opening up my musical preferences.

When I described the experiment to my collegiate advisor, he warned me that I was playing with fire and could end up erasing preferences that were crucial for having a self-identity in society.  However, I knew that initiation, even self-initiation, is a dance with a purifying flame, so I ignored all warnings and continued on.
Read the rest of this entry