I was watching a movie in a seminar about Rumi last Fall semester, struggling to stay awake as always when in a three hour long class at night with the lights off, when something caught my ear. The film was a documentary about the role of music in Sufi practice and a particular Turkish sheikh – whose name I unfortunately forgot – was being interviewed about the vibrations of music. Although I can’t remember exactly what he said, the general impression was something like:
[quote style=”1″]All things in this world vibrate. Drums vibrate when you beat on them just as your voice box vibrates as you sing. Even atoms vibrate and spin, creating inaudible music as they take part in creation.[/quote]
The general idea of this message really caught me off guard. It suddenly made all the music I loved seem like much more than music; instead they became gateways to my soul. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes, in the exact right conditions, certain songs have extreme power over us. For instance, when I saw mewithoutyou last Friday the opening band – Buried Beds – closed their set with every member of the band playing a simple beat on a drum. The rhythm became so strong it simple washed over me and I felt very open, in some way, as if the music was freeing me.
Music has long been used in religious practice for precisely this reason, as a way to induce trances; however, as this article by Michael Graziano – a professor of neuroscience at Princeton and a devout atheist points out – music can lead to a certain type of spiritual state regardless of how religious you actually are. So, what is this power music has over us? How can music, and simple repetition, lead to people entering ecstatic trances as in the video below? Really, except for the whole sitting thing,the participants don’t look all that different from someone really feeling the music at any concert, do they?
What about music does this to us? Do the vibrations in music really make us more attuned to the vibrations of creation? Is there simply something about our brains that allows us to process music as more than just a sum of its parts? If Michael Graziano can’t supply us with an answer, I suppose this will remain an unsolved mystery for now.
Are there any songs you feel particularly connected to? Have you ever had a soulful experience from music? Leave your response in the comments – I’d love to hear!
Photo credit at Shankar Ramani.