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Entering the Great Sound Current
and Riding the Wave

by Susan Alexjander, M.A.

© Karin Bauer

 

Keynote speech given at Goddard College, Plainfield, Vermont at Health Arts & Sciences Graduation, July, 2001

Tilting

It's no news that we are in and planetary transition here, tilting a bit. Does it feel sometimes like you are standing in the midst of a swirling mass of vibratory activity, with no time to sort it all out? Does a mountain top seem more and more attractive? But, not really, because the world is a fascinating, exciting, happening place - sometimes fearful - but all the same, we want it all. We don't want to miss anything However,. that stimulation problem is major... what chaos! How do we ground it all?

Druid King

In Druid times the people let the king do it. That was his job. Celtic kings, as far as we know, gathered their tribe around them in a circle and stood in the middle with their arms reaching to the heavens, feet far apart, rooted to the ground. They may have even worn a crown, like an antenna. They were the grounding cords for sky and earth energy and held those vibrations steady for the health of their tribe. After the event everybody could leave and go home, feeling safe in the chalice of this protective ritual.

Today in the West our Druid king is nowhere to be found. In fact, we banned him to extinction, because nobody any longer believes in that kind of necessity in our culture. But we know, deep down, that we are desperate for balance. We want to engage, to participate, but we're confused..... tilting through life from one "should" to the other. So, how do we find balance? As it turns out, we can take heart because we do have resources.....and an excellent teacher; the universe. Balance is intrinsic to it...built -in.

We all know a bit about Yin and Yang, opposites etc. but looking a little more scientifically, we see that our Earth has been balancing for billions of years, perfectly poised between gravity and expansion. If there were more gravity, our planet would be too dense, like old dead Mars, unable to manufacture even a molecule of life. If too much electromagnetic activity were taking place, Earth would look like gaseous Jupiter... nothing solid at all...no rocks, nothing. In the larger universe, our Milky Way is in breathtaking balance. After the initial excitement of the Big Bang, someone figured out that if the Universe were expanding just a little more...a trillionth of a trillionth of a second faster, it would eventually fly apart. Any less and it would implode. Imagine the intelligence then, in that balanced state of being!!!!!

As physicist Brian Swimme so beautifully puts it, "The universe goes forth on the edge of a knife." And, on a more personal level, our bodies are perfectly poised between the micro and macro worlds....it is the same number of octaves inward to the molecules as it is to the outer solar system, using the power of l0. So, balance is our birthright. This balanced tension is what we love...being on the edge. Bovine, idle lounging is really foreign to our nature.

The Breath

There is one way we're already in perfect balance without even thinking...we breathe. Let's look at that for a moment, especially since humans and animals may not be the only beings who breathe. The sun, our sun, has many sounds. But one of them is a kind of purring...a pulsing that sounds like a huge Lion breathing. The Earth, it's been discovered, also has a pulsing thing happening that no one has yet figured out. One theory is that there is something like a piston....up and down....inside the earth, that is like the breath, a heartbeat.

Silvia Nakkach tells an incredible story about a trip down the Amazon River when suddenly all sound stopped dead, as if a presence had just stepped into the forest. From this vast silence came the sound of....inhaling and exhaling, like a collective, vast sigh. Animals? No. A native later told her it was a common event...the sound of the plants! So, I'm suggesting that we extend this breath to more parameters than just our human selves, to our sun, earth and all its creatures. We're all in this balancing act together.

A Musical Consciousness...From the Breath

So, you say, well, we're breathing - just like our teacher taught us - in and out, and we're still not feeling balanced. My guess is, it's not working because we are trying to balance from an old way of thinking. But we are close, very close! Because it's just one small step to making the segue, the intimate connection, from the breath to the world of waves and vibration; to the gestalt of a musical consciousness. And I'm going to suggest that from a musical, or better yet - vibrational consciousness - we can enter into another way of perceiving the world which leads to balance. This consciousness will help us to discriminate, to choose what it is we want to nourish. But, here we must take careful, baby steps. This discrimination , this consciousness, this new kind of thinking/feeling doesn't depend on the little mind. It doesn't depend on old stories. It isn't trapped in lineage, or what should be.

It is our Buddha Mind we need now....that fullness of what we already are. Remember that wonderful story about the Buddha, whose aura was three miles wide? People would approach him and not know he was there, and from three miles out strange things would begin to happen. They'd fall down laughing, or break down sobbing. It's that mind! Beneath all of our academic, accomplished intelligence is that huge reservoir of pre-mind thinking and heart......that place of infinite possibilities where we can go to make our choices. So how do we feel out those choices, and why should we bother in the first place?

An Urgent Need to Engage

Everything that is alive has an urgent need to engage; to respond. This involvement is at the center of the creative universe.....indeed, according to Brian Swimme, the vitality of the universe depends upon our capacity to engage with it. Its adventure, its story of ongoing creativity, depends on our ability to respond to everything around us. Looking at the world through a musical filter, as a musical metaphor, can help us not only to engage with everything around us, but to invoke a special kind of consciousness....an awareness of deep resonance and relationship. If you are excited about your world, your breath begins to take you deeper and deeper into the mystery. And your breath begins to take on the aspect of deep, deep listening; deep awareness on the intake, and highly conscious output.

We're talking about balancing in the middle of a wave....riding that wave. So active, healthy engagement depends on two things...how you take in the world, and how you put it out. Julia Cameron uses the musical metaphor of a wave and says it this way: "I am both the listener and the song. I both receive energy and extend energy, with a rhythm as melodic and as natural as breathing." (Blessings) We all know you can't do one or the other to excess. Too much input without output and you explode or get depressed. Too much output without incoming energy and you burn-out. The balance has to be just right. Natural, as she says.

So, here we are, riding a waveform. In, and out. Balancing with all our might. Body and soul depend upon it. We're standing in that Celtic field, arms raised; feet planted, eyes shut tight, pointing to the heavens. And we've left our stories about how it should all be back in the hut...we're completely open to the new; to the fullness of being. ..engaged!! What do we feel? What do we hear? What is the nature of this offering that calls us to a vibratory world? What are these angels?

The Mystery--Vibrating Worlds

I'd like to look closer for a moment at the mysterious world we're being asked to attend to... this vibrating stuff which is so intimately in our lives. No one would dispute that sound is all around us. Many of you are already deeply involved with it. But if anyone has any doubts about the fact that we're in a complete sea of vibration, let's look at the latest (not yet proved) theory in physics....string theory. String theory says that the smallest possible component of "reality" is a vibrating string, or bundle of them intertwined. The fascinating thing that comes out of this theory is the notion that the matter created, such as a positron or an electron, depends upon the way that the string is vibrating.

To put it another way, top ranking physicists all over the planet are saying that our material world is vibrated into existence. Could we say, sung? The image that comes to me from this is that of a giant harp, tuning the material world. Another way of looking at vibration is that it's the glue that holds all that vast space together...the space between atomic particles. We're mostly space in this world, and the density is an illusion due to forces, or vibratory events. Of course poets have known this forever. My favorite quote here is from Rumi: "All day and night, music. A quiet, bright reedsong. If it fades, we fade". (Quatrains) And T.S. Eliot, not quite so delicately says: "You are the music while the music lasts." (Wasteland)

We are vibration. No exceptions. But it's not only sound and music. Colors, shapes, movements, fragrances, thoughts, all have vibratory make-up. Electromagnetic events are just as 'musical' as sound. Colors sing, I hope you would all agree. All of you already work intimately with some kind of vibration, as healers and teachers. It's clear that sound and ALL vibration, then, must intimately be connected to health and well-being. But concentrating on audible vibrations tonight, how can we think about sound? Where does it fit...what's its Rasa; its fragrance, its essence?

Sound Essence and Universal Sound Current

Virtually every culture on the planet has a creation myth that involves sound, and in no case is it ever created by man. It is always God/Goddess-given. The sound, offered by the deities, is then the instrument for material and spiritual creation. Remember Orpheus with his lyre? And who is to say that those ancient ones didn't actually do all the sound magic that the legends say? We can't ever know. The world of tone rides between "the worlds." It is neither spiritual, nor material. A mystery beyond compare, which takes us deeply into memory, emotion, movement and transformation. And consciousness itself is often equated with sound. There are many excellent books available that can lead you further into this topic.

I'd also like to talk about something really exciting that is not often mentioned. There seems to be a universal sound-current on this planet, and probably beyond, that literally holds the chalice of health for all beings. We all participate in it; are entwined with it, "like root and flower, forever flowing in and out of form," as soundworker Molly Scott has said. We are all instruments for this energy. Bernie Krause, sound designer and recorder, has traveled all over the world capturing the last natural soundscapes on the planet. Not an easy job anymore.... there aren't many left. But he has noticed a very peculiar and fascinating fact.... there is a definite sonic niche occupied by each forest creature, from insect to jaguar.

By taking recordings that print out frequency spectrums (frequency and amplitude over about 10 seconds of time), Krause can see on the printout just where and when the animal sounds, and each creature takes great care to find an unoccupied space so that it can be heard. But beyond that, there seems to be a mysterious concern for the whole. If one creature stops vocalizing, another will immediately join the chorus to keep that audio bio-spectrum intact. It goes way beyond the interests of each individual creature. The entire region is working as one being. And this is one way our ancestors traveled around territories...by knowing the voices of the forest. R. Sundhara Barrable has also found that whenever an ecosystem loses a certain species, it will do whatever it can to replace that sound. Our planet, then, is nourished by this fabric of sounds in ways we cannot imagine.

Nature Sound Current

Here is a description of a concert I long to attend. Marius Schneider describes an aboriginal nature concert in which the instruments are the voices and bodies of the people, as they imitate all the sounds around them...the wind, trees, animals, water. The chorus of prima sounds grows and becomes a beautiful concert...the sounds of life. Imagine if we could do this in our culture...if we could honor this bio-fabric of sound? How healthy this would be for us! We might even begin to believe that we are those sounds, and they are us. Much could be said on this subject of pure, raw Sound and vibration, but actually composed music is also wonderful as a metaphor for life.

There is always great debate as to where music came from and why. No one knows. But like life, it is born, goes through a process of relationships and changes, and dies. And speaking scientifically, it literally mirrors the essence of nature itself in its chaos patterns and mathematics. For instance, the same mathematical formula that defines the ebb and flow of music has been discovered to exist widely in nature; the flow of a river, beating of a heart, wobbling of the earth's axis. This is more than just simple pulse, because the rhythms closely resemble irregular patterns of coastlines, clouds and mountain ranges etc. This is the way we like our music...not too regular; not too chaotic. Just right...a balance.

The brain must, then, on some level, perceive its reality as a musical, complex landscape. And turning this around, the music we hear must feel like our earthly home. No wonder we love it! And we haven't even begun to explore rhythms....how our bodies adore to imitate all the rhythms of the earth, and as we shall hear in a moment, maybe even some cosmic ones. The point of all this is that we are musical beings. In many many ways we can't even imagine...connected into all of creation, and vital to it. It nourishes us and we nourish it. We each hold a resonance that is special and important. Back to our Druid king. Hopefully we're beginning to get a better feeling for that sound current he's in touch with. We'll never know what he heard, but I'd like to explore some possible sounds he may have heard with his Buddha Ears: earthly and non.

Listening Samples

Inner Earth - Kookoon. Traumton Music, Berlin. #3

Sinopah - Annea Lockwood's World Rhythms (l997) Pulsar; Vela X #1

Transformations - Hildegard Westerkamp's Beneath the Forest Floor (1992) Raven's call - drumbeat of the forest #5

Medicine Songs Ballad of Twisted Hair - David Carson. cassette only Cricket songs (beginning)

Isn't it fascinating that through modern technology with all its problems, we might perhaps be getting closer, with our 21st century ears, to the ancients' soundscapes?! But we still haven't explored our King's ability to ground it; to work with the wave.

Self-Knowledge

If we are musical beings, then the entire vibrational world is available to us. How do we begin to take it in in a healthy way? Our health depends on the choices we make; how we involve with it, and that begins at home, with self-knowledge. Now obviously ego/mind is going to be involved here for awhile, and that's perfect. We can use it to categorize, and as a tool for exploration.

Deep Listening - The Intake

First, listen deeply into your own musical landscape. Who are you? How do you sound? What rings your chimes? What angels do you need to feed your devotion? To discover just how unique you are, take a poll among your friends to see how many of them like exactly the same kinds of music you do. The trick here is the word "exactly." It might come as a shock to you that you have an impossible task before you. No one will quite match up....almost, very very close possibly, but not exactly. Maybe everything fits except that country western station you sometimes dial up....which you might not admit to anybody. Also, watch how you listen to music. Do you listen with your mind, your physical body, your emotions.....? Probably a combination of all three. But careful analysis will help explain why your friend who was sitting right next to you in the audience last night, seemed to have heard a completely different concert. I, for instance, never hear words to songs unless I know the music very, very well. I'm too hooked on the instruments. My daughter is just the opposite. Don't make the mistake of believing that you are NOT musical, just because you don't sing or play an instrument. If you speak your own language fluently, your ear is perfectly tuned.

Another way to explore your own musical being is to discover your chaos factor. How far out there - sound-wise - do you like to go? What sound realities are you comfortable with? New Age music which never changes does not relax me. It does the opposite - makes me tense and eventually angry. I have to have more stimulation. So get to know yourself, first. Next time you hear an interesting sound, like "CLANG," follow it and see what reality it takes you to.

But most importantly, open your ears. As my wonderful teacher and friend Alloudin Mathieu says, "Listen to the next sound as though your life depended on it." To engage, to be involved with anything demands deep, deep listening. And here's where we need Buddha Mind. Ego mind is just not powerful enough for this stage of the game. Be open. Not the sitting duck "open," waiting for the next blast, but like a lioness. Like a warrior, she waits, alert in the grass; alert for the slightest movement. She's expectantly aware and ready, but also relaxed. Nothing escapes her. You can believe the next sound she hears may be life or death for her family. So get your antennae out there; clear your ears. Engage in the mystery The richness of our sound-world is staggering! So get out there and listen! A really practical way to listen is to actually make a sound map while you are sitting down. Draw everything around you that you hear. Go on sound walks; put your ear to the ground and listen. But the most important thing is just to be the sounds and rhythms that you already are. You are tuning and refining yourself.

Sensitivities

Discover that musical being inside. So, this is the Deep Listening, intake part of the wave. The danger here is that you begin to hear everything; your sensitivities heighten. So protect yourself; carry earplugs; have lots of magnesium, essential fatty acids and maybe even ginko in your system to strengthen your nervous system. Because the goal is not to shut down so you don't hear your clanging environment, but to allow everything to arise so that choices can be made. Let the unwanted sounds simply slip away, without tension.

Conscious Contributions - The Output

The second part of the wave that we need for our health is the output. Remember, you are not only the listener, but you are also the song. A contribution is called for. Remember that bio-ecosystem in the forest? The most obvious way to exhale your joyful harmonies is through sound itself....engaging in musical activities. Many people develop sound practices; something they do around chanting or toning, just for the joy of it. But there's really a more basic thing at work here, and you don't need audible sound to do it. When you become an excellent listener, a vibration sleuth, when you participate with your entire heart in this dance, you develop into a master tuner. Naturally. You can't help it. You become like a little Merlin of the vibrational world. You begin to tune everything and everyone, beautifully. You read resonance maps, making adjustments as you go. You cause worlds to flow with harmony around you, just because you are paying attention to what is needed! What's needed over here? Is this living room in harmony? Do I really want that black and red couch next to the purple and yellow lampshade? Hmmm...yes, I believe I do. They sing together.

What's wrong with Michael today? Does he need some input from me...? Etc. Everyone does this all the time anyway, but when you're conscious of it as a creative act, things can flow. Teachers are especially good at this. Is Johnny over there in the horn section out of tune? He's going to crash the whole performance. Suzy in the front row is sagging....her music is causing this section to go flat. So, what do you do in that case, as a master tuner? You put energy where it's needed! You pull up Suzy's vibrations and damp down Johnny for the time being. Remember the most marvelous teacher you ever had? Why were they so memorable? Because they created harmony....a space where everything was in resonance so things, information, ideas, community feelings, could flow. You recognized this as a profound love.

Grounding the Vibrations

So, where does the Grounding Skill come in? As a master tuner you begin to make choices with an open heart, because that is the tone that begins to sound the loudest for you. And it's this heart tone that is the one that every other tone is in tune with. It is the ground of being; the Coeur De Lion. Any conscious decision is grounded if you can see it with your heart and in relationship to everything else, and that's what harmony is. Remember, these decisions are not based on ego-mind, but on deep faith, love for the mystery and your new-found skill in listening with your whole being. ENGAGE! (one last story) So you follow this Great Tone River, floating, like the lightest of guides, in a playful way, adjusting here and there. And you have adventures. But, delicious as this sounds, it's not all about you. You must touch the world. Engaging with others is crucial to the way the universe works.

Brian Swimme in his lecture series, Canticle To The Cosmos, puts it this way: In the early universe there was a process that is still going on. Dr. Swimme's example was that of the birth of our sun. In the beginning, there was a huge cloud of "stuff"....gases; hydrogen, oxygen and other things. Just waiting. What it contained was....potential. Sooner or later, along came music. That's what physicist, Dr. Swimme calls density waves....music. And these chords, these waves probably created by an exploding star nearby, interacted 4.5 billion years ago with the gases, the potential, and out popped the sun! Now, there is something about that process that is vital to the continuation of the creative universe.

Your interaction, as a being and the vibrations you put out, will influence another being. Not only that, but those beings depend on you for that! Because it is the nature of reality, that your music may activate something completely hidden to another person, that will reveal a new reality for them. They may not even have known that potential was within them! So, by being in balance at the center of the wave, you are letting incoming waves of music pass through you to activate potential, and putting it out - a totally free gift with NO strings attached - for others surfers to grab onto. Where their ride takes them is unknown, of course, and actually none of your business. But this is deep participation!! Core connection.

So, here's the lioness again....in a state of incredible focused awareness. Remember the physics lesson? That's how we like our world to be, going forth with an edge of wonder. She waits, and in a split second, she acts. For us this process may take seconds, or years, in the case of certain actions. But this state of being is life. This state is joy...mysterious.

Can we begin again to feel the power and awe of that Druid king; that master tuner; that Axis Mundi? He, then, is not just standing still. He's participating in a tremendous translation of energy; a transformation for his people; for the health of the planet. ...and believe me, he is listening with all his heart...connecting in. He's grounding just because he's Listening! We no longer have our king; our champion. But we don't need him. For now, somehow, in this time, we have all we need available to us to be our own master tuner.

The power belongs to everyone; not just the elite and it's what we are being asked to do.. to become new humans. We need a new language for this. The King's story is now our collective story, and it's already happening every day. Of course it will take practice, especially to find the little mind something to do, but it's also fun. Our beautiful earth and sun are calling to us; can you hear them? Can you hear the beating of the earth's heart, the purring of the Lion sun?

Listen deeply. They will show up.

If you choose to, respond with your gifts, and the soundest love you can ground. It shouldn't be hard, for you are the Axis Mundi, the loving ground of being. "The temple bell stops but the sound keeps ringing out of the flowers." (Basho, l7thC Japan)

 

Susan Alexjander Composer/sound designer, educator, performer, radio producer.

Susan Alexjander holds a Masters degree from San Jose State University in Music Composition and Theory. She has taught at the university level (San Jose State and Goddard College) and is currently an adjunct faculty member of Union Institute in Sacramento, California. Her compositions have been performed throughout the United States, including collaborations with dance companies and film. She is director of Science & The Arts, a company which furthers scientific research into the 'musical' universe of frequency, honors a holistic, vibrationally connected vision of creation, and supports outreach through lecturing, writing and composition.

Sequencia is internationally known for its pioneering work with the molecular frequencies of DNA rendered into sound. It has been featured on CNN, BBC Radio, Wisconsin Public Radio, and has been on exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Museum of Santa Barbara. and Universal Concepts Gallery in Manhattan, New York.

Awards include a Fellowship from the Alden B. Dow Creativity Center in Midland, Michigan, to explore the geometry of the mineral kingdom as musical data, and a Leighton Studios Composer's Residency in Banff, Canada.

She performs and lectures throughout the Bay Area and programs for non-commercial radio stations KUSP Santa Cruz and KPFA, Berkeley (Morning Concerts '90-'94).

http://www.oursounduniverse.com/

Reprinted by expressed permission of the author

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