An Audience of One

Sound healing, intent, receptivity and magic

A 6 minute read

I have always been interested in how music and sound affects an audience, except that my experience has mostly been to large audiences, where the faces are often hidden from view by the blinding lights on stage. If music can move thousands at a concert, what imapct could it have if you were one on one, concentrating entirely on the energy and mood of the person in front of you? What magic could you create with an audience of one?

I have just completed a short four-day course in sound healing with Aurelio from Svaram. When I first cam across him, it was as a musical instrument maker. His gongs, chimes, percussion instruments and stones are amongst the most resonant, beautiful sound-making instruments I have ever come across.

I subsequently found out he is a healer, and as I continue my investigations into music and medicine, it was a gift to see this short course coming up when I was free.

Sound healing and music therapy are not the same thing. Music therapy is frequently understood in a Western context as related to psychology - most music therapy training in the West involves psychological frameworks, and most music therapists are qualified psychologists.

This has never made much sense to me. I understand music, and by extension, sound as a magical, mystical practice that brings together performance, ritual, art and communication, and the formalised Western context has little room for magic or mysticism.

And so it was with great excitement that I discovered, over the period of these four short days, what sound healing is, and what role it can play.

Waiting for the audience to lie down at Aurelio's Sound Bath

First, a word about sonic experiences. I am having ever deeper experiences through sound here. My first was at a sound bath, Aurelio’s immersive concert where the audience lie on the ground and are ‘washed’ by the musicians with their instruments. Over the course of an hour, I went in and out of dreaming, and woke up at the end of the session deeply refreshed and calm.

The next, deeper level was at the Tibetan bowls workshop with Michael Ormiston in London, where I was taken into a delicious state of vivid lucidity by the sound of Tibetan singing bowls, those magical musical instruments that make the warmest, most enveloping sounds you will ever hear.

Now, at this course, we were taught the basics of the relationship between sound and healing.

Intent and Receptivity

The two most important elements of any healing session, or any sound or music session for that matter, are the intent of the performer, and the receptivity of the listener. Sound is merely the carrier of your consciousness - if your intent is focussed and sensitive, and the audience is open, it is almost impossible not to have the desired effect.

What a perfect framework for understanding music! It explains so much to me - why I find so much pop music depressing, for example. It is because the intent is cynical - to make money - and the receptivity is manufactured - through a carefully calculated, huge marketing spend.

It also explains why I think the Necks are the best band on the planet - their intent is never anything less than the desire to explore what is possible on stage, and to make something entirely new that pushes their creativity to its limit and beyond.

When I was a reviewer - a pointless exercise - I scored the record on one thing alone: how sincere the artists were. Without realising it, I was reproducing Aurelio’s framework for understanding sound - I knew that my own receptivity would change from day to day, so I stopped reviewing based on whether I liked a record, and started to think instead about what the artists actually wanted from the record in the first place.

One day was spent on theory of harmonics in an Indian context - the role of sound in creation and life itself. One day was spent on massage - understanding the five elements (earth, water, air, fire, ether) as touch. And one day was spent on practical sessions, using volunteers from the course.

This was the most remarkable part of the course - in all three practical sessions, the participants ‘went under’ straight away, and at the end of the session had the most blissed out look on their faces, as if they had just emerged from the deepest sleep of their lives, all in the space of a twenty minute session. Sometimes we used Tibetan bowls, sometimes strings or voice. When asked to describe what they felt, they described not the sound itself, but the emotions that we were directing towards them: love, warmth, caring.

Performing to a large audience now holds little interest for me - the next stage in my life as a musician is to understand what it really is to perform for just one person. I can’t wait to see where this takes me next.

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