Spiritual Music

The Vibrations of Music

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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?

Music seemingly always has that effect on us – across all types of people and all genres of sound. We all have that one song or band or style that somehow moves beyond simply being instrumentation into being something much more powerful. For instance, one night I was driving to my mom’s house to get dinner and I was emotionally drained by various things stressing me out at school. As I was moving north up the Turnpike I caught an amazing sunset just as this song started playing.

Suddenly, everything melted away and I felt completely centered. This feeling of being perfectly at ease – this trance – lasted for a good thirty minutes as the rest of the album played.

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.

6 thoughts on “The Vibrations of Music”

  1. First of all, I love the new logo!

    But as for the music, I totally agree that music has a strange power over us. It’s why I love to see live music…there is something about live music that makes it so much more…real? Organic? I don’t know the right word exactly, but live music just feels genuinely…genuine.

    Certain artists have had really strong effects on me. Circa Survive tops the list, especially the album Blue Sky Noise. But other bands like Dispatch have pulled it off as well, just leaving me mesmerized and perplexed at how something so awesome could exist.

    I feel like the structure of the beat plays a large role, which is why electronic music tends to put me in trance (no pun intended) more often than many other types of music.

    1. Thanks, Mike! All credit for the logo goes to Jen.
      I definitely agree about the structure of the beats being important. Usually extremely rhythmic music gets through to me, but I know people who can get just as absorbed in purely orchestral music. Live music definitely does have much more of a pull, though. I once heard someone say that live music – no matter what it is – is always fun to experience, and I couldn’t agree more.

      I still have to listen to Blue Sky Noise… Maybe I’ll do that now.

  2. I love the idea that everything is vibration – what a great way to think about the universe.

    Like you, music plays a huge role in my life. I listen to music when cooking, driving, basically anytime I’m not reading or talking to others (well, sometimes when I’m talking to others too).

    Any music can move me but two pieces that always do are Ai Du by Ali Farka Toure and Ry Cooder and almost any of Mozart’s horn concertos.

    Love the new look of your blog, by the way!

    1. I wonder if some people are just more prone to being moved by music than others. Thanks for sharing what moves you though, Letizia. I’ve never heard Ai Du or really any of Mozart’s horn concertos, so I’ll have to make sure to check them out.
      And thanks! It’s still a work in progress, but hopefully I’ll finish working on the layout soon.

    1. Mhmm, definitely. I suppose the idea isn’t all that different from poetry, in that ideally the rhythm of words and the sound of them will help to impart more meaning than simply the words themselves… Although I’m sure you know much more about that than I do :)

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