There’s ancient wisdom in music. Can that knowledge carry us onward?
Everyone has experienced the healing powers of music. I find myself coming back to the solo work of Big Thief’s frontperson, Adrianne Lenker, whenever I’m feeling soft. There are breakup playlists, protest playlists, best friend playlists, sexy playlists, you name it. Music will always be an invaluable tool for humans and will continue to be. I found myself wondering how musicians are considering this power they have, the power to help people heal. I’m inspired by creators that are considering wellness in the context of the modern-day: the hyper-digital, uber-productive, fast-paced, social media-driven solutions-oriented society.
So, today I present to you a few deliberate ways music is invested in humanity, from promoting our health to responding to the ills of today.
I feel I have to start with Grimes x Endel. I have my qualms with Grimes, companies sponsored by Amazon, and Elon Musk, but that won’t stop me from sharing this wild collaboration. Wild is actually the wrong word because, in this project, Grimes and an AI create lullabies to help put you or your baby to sleep. What I admire most about this project is the shared goal of the artist, tech company, and sleep scientists to create something that benefits human wellbeing. The AI generates soundscapes designed to improve sleep based on your heart rate, time of day, and motion, all backed by the neuroscience of music and sound, and the science of sleep. This is accompanied by vocals and music by Grimes, all in a gorgeous app. My thinking is, if we’re going to carry around the little computer all day long, we might as well have some really beautiful and fun apps on there that improve our lives! I am inspired by this project that brings together science and art so seamlessly.
This next project seems quite silly on the surface but is powerful nonetheless. RZA, leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, released an album of cosmically-inspired guided meditations, sponsored by TAZO Tea. RZA’s approach to meditation and the timbre of his voice definitely swelled calm and confidence in me. The meditation EP by such an important figure in hip hop challenges derogatory stereotypes about the genre, with his bold vulnerability and willingness to share his belief in Zen philosophy. RZA states, in an interview with Hypebeast, that one reason he chose to work with TAZO was because of the late founder’s ambition to better the world with his tea blends. The collaboration between these two can only mean a more mindful future, with good tea and chill times. I love what RZA says on the second track,
“My approach to life has been to find order in chaos. I think of myself as the sun at the center of the universe. And in my solar system, I’m surrounded by distractions…They feel like they have an impact, but remember, you are the sun. You have the power to put all that peripheral shit on notice.”
He shares very plainly how mindfulness has benefited him on the final track,
“Before Wu-Tang was Wu-Tang, I walked all over Staten Island…Those walks in [Staten Island] built wisdom in me, and they revealed to me what I wanted to do and what I could do, and most importantly, what I should do. How to take on the obstacle or avoid a trap? How to build Wu-Tang? How to launch a label? How to create music not only for the children of my generation, but even the children of future generations. I want you to find wisdom in your walk.”
“Chill beats to study to” may not seem like wellness on the surface, but the rise of lofi hip hop is marked in these last few years, I believe, because of a desperate need for that chill vibe. We’re recovering from a year of lockdowns and grief when our living rooms became offices and yoga studios when friendships moved to facetime and family chats to Zoom. Our lives are increasingly being moved online. With the worries and woes of additional surveillance, Facebook ads, clickbait, a lack of trustworthy news sources…there is a need for relaxing spaces on our devices. “Chill beats to study to,” and the lofi hip hop/RnB playlists like it, provide a space where you’re not alone in your labors or your relaxation (another fun playlist genre I’ve found is “dark academia,” for the more classical, romantic and slightly spooky type of chill vibe). Whether you’re writing an essay, reading a new book, soldering circuits, or carving a spoon, you’re in it with a group of others focusing their efforts, too. Like group meditation, or jogging with a buddy, there is solidarity in these shared playlists, and the challenge to keep pace with others. While writing this article, I am one of 38,682 people tuned into lofi hip hop radio, a Youtube stream that has been live since February 22nd, 2020.
The last thing I want to talk about is Hertz frequencies and music, and the prevalence of compilations of them in new age healing albums. Specific sounds are shown to have health benefits by interacting beneficially with brainwaves and are used in therapies today, such as stroke recovery programs and dementia treatment. It has not been proven whether specific frequencies are the key, despite all of the talk on alternative health forums. But the knowledge that music heals is ancient, and examples can be found across cultures in trance ceremonies, drum circles, spiritual chants and choirs, all striving to put the body and mind in a state markedly different from day-to-day life, to facilitate spiritual experience and healing. I listened to a full hour of sound and music at 417hz while writing…and I cannot report any changes. Whether the claims about the miracle-making 528hz and others are true or not I can’t say, but I hope to see more research in the mainstream and collaboration between musicians and scientists in the future.
Technology is not just bits and bots and gigs and gadgets. Technology is, according to Merriam Webster, the practical application of knowledge. I bring these projects to light because they are the creations of intelligent artists using their powers to bring health and goodness to the world. I believe that we can find answers to our woes in the past, present, and future. It is the combination of complex, mechanical technology and the innate wisdom of our bodies and spirits that can further the healing powers of music.
There are piles and piles of research on music and wellness. If you feel like digging into them, here a few places to get started:
Healing Through Music: Harvard Health Blog
The Neurochemistry of Music
“I Spent 3 Days at Camp TAZO with RZA”
Scientific study on ASMR
Scientific study on binaural beats
Scientific study on low-frequency exposure for sleep and pain
Scientific study on bone cells and low-frequency sounds
Scientific study on singing bowls
AARP Blog on Music Therapy
Quora question on 528hz healing DNA
The science behind Endel
Audible Blog on Sound Baths
Why is Music so Healing? on Psychology Today
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