A third major branch of the Mindlab is experience design. We design experiences aimed to foster insight, delight and healing. This project ranges from exploring novel bio- and neurofeedback algorithms to designing multi-sensory, embodied experiences to creating and curating wholesome relational spaces. An example of experience design is PerSonar, an immersive audio-haptic chanting experience.
PerSonar – Becoming sound
“It is that infinitely huge object, which is the object that goes with the word OM. There is a feeling of stretching, as if the attention had to get bigger and bigger, to contain the whole” (Gurjar,et al. 2009)
PerSonar is an applied artistic research collaboration at the intersection of art, science and technology. It explores the connection between mind and body through the medium of sound. The name PerSonar is derived from the latin word personare which means “sounding through” which is also the basis for the word persona. In the project we integrate ancient wisdom derived from Hinduism and Buddhism with modern science and technology. In this transdisciplinary endeavor we combine knowledge and principles from sound design, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy and astronomy to design an immersive audio-haptic experience generated by the vibrations of the human voice and enhanced by technological means. The PerSonar experience can range from feelings of relaxation and a clear, peaceful state of mind to feelings of oneness and bliss. The ultimate goal of the experience is to enable practitioners to dissolve their mundane identity and “become sound”.
Why this project?
We are currently living in a VUCA-world which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. The rapidly increasing pace of modern society takes a larger and larger toll on our health and happiness. Psychological stress creates large amounts of health problems which can be observed on a global scale. Record levels of depression and burnout attest to growing problems in the way we live and work. Our attention spans are decreasing steadily. The ability to concentrate and consciously relax on a psychophysical level grows more and more important to create and sustain health and well-being. Practicing meditation has been associated with increased levels of attention and many other health benefits. Vocalisation is an active meditation method which can support relaxation and well-being. With the PerSonar project we want to explore and further the use of sound resonance as a healing modality.
Vocalisation as a healing modality
Vocalisation has been used for healing in various wisdom traditions, e.g. Hinduism and Daoism. In Hinduism, the meditation on and chanting of the syllable OM is called Pranava yoga and its practice and effects are outlined in the Upanishads, the Bhgavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras. In Daoism the use of the six healing sounds is described and applied for various health conditions (Chia, 2009). The somatic marker hypothesis as well as the Buddhist theory of samskaras hypothesise that all our emotional memories are stored within the cells of our body (Damasio, 2006; Hart, 1987). The vibrational use of our own voice as a harmonising instrument can have several benefits:
While chanting, body and mind begin to resonate with the frequency of the voice, helping to integrate and feel the body as a whole.
Using inner vibration we can not only sense where parts of our body are rigid or stuck but also revitalise their natural vibration. This can enable practitioners to get in contact with their emotions and release old, dysfunctional patterns.
Chanting naturally prolongs the exhalation which activates our parasympathetic nervous system and thus enables a psychophysiological state of relaxation.
Vocalisation strengthens embodied self-awareness which plays a major role in health and well-being.
Psychologically, chanting can free the mind from its constant doing, chasing away errant thoughts and elevating us to an altered state of awareness (Gurjar & Ladhake, 2008)
Due to the self-reflective and participatory nature of PerSonar the practitioners can choose the level of depth of their individual experience.
Planetary cosmic sound frequencies
We are surrounded by frequencies and cycles of all sorts, some natural, some human-made. Surrounding yourself with natural sounds such as forest sounds or waterfalls has shown to benefit our health and levels of relaxation. One natural cycle that always surrounds us is the earth’s movement around the sun which shapes the four seasons and takes one year to complete. To determine the frequency of this cycle we have to go through some preliminary steps:
1 year = 365 days = 315569259747 seconds
1 Hertz (Hz) = one cycle per second
To determine the frequency of the Earth year in Hz we can then simply calculate:
1 / 315569259747 seconds = 3,1689 x 10-8Hz
We can then transpose this frequency into the audible range by moving 32 octaves up:
3,1689 x 10-8Hz * 232 = 136.097Hz
The resulting note is 31.38cent lower than our western C# (with A=440Hz). In Indian music this tone is known as sadja, the father of the others, the root note of the Sitar and Tanpura (Cousto, 1992). Furthermore it is chanted as OM in ancient wisdom traditions.
The same calculation can be done with any cycle, e.g. the sideric moon cycle (full moon to full moon) which gives us 210.42Hz or even the spectral colors of elements and molecules.
These frequencies of the earth year and the sideric moon cycle form the base of the PerSonar experience. We use the planetary frequencies as a meditational anchor to tune the chanting, similar to tuning a radio we tune our minds to a naturally occurring frequency .
In the yoga sutras Patanjali states that repeated chanting of OM with dedication and purpose can lead to union. This union can be interpreted in many ways, union of mind and body, inner and outer or of Atman (individual, person, self) and Brahman (absolute, god, universe). Categories and distinctions fall away until there is only (the perception of) sound. Buddhism is also critical of the concept of an inherently existing self that is separate and different from the world at large.
Western philosophy and neuroscience have come to similar conclusions, namely that the subject-object distinction is ultimately artificial and might be overcome (e.g. Metzinger, 2003). These philosophical analyses, however, have mainly remained on a purely theoretical, abstract level. In Buddhism it is stated that this theoretical understanding of the reality of no-self (annata) is relatively easy. To understand the truth of no-self in an experiential way, however, is much harder. This experiential understanding is said to have large implications for one’s level of well-being as it , according to Buddhism, removes the most persistent illusion. PerSonar is an attempt to design a truly immersive experience that may give participants a small glimpse into the experience of no-self and becoming sound.
Chia, M. (2009). The six healing sounds: Taoist techniques for balancing chi. Destiny Books.
Cousto, H. (1992). Die Oktave: Das Urgesetz der Harmonie; [Planeten, Töne, Farben, Kräfte innerer Schwingungen] (4. Aufl). Simon & Leutner.
Damasio, A. R. (2006). Descartes’ error: Emotion, reason and the human brain (rev. ed. with a new preface). Vintage.
Hart, W. (1987). The art of living: Vipassana meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka (1st ed). Harper & Row.
Gurjar, A. A., Ladhake, S. A., & Thakare, A. P. (2009). Analysis Of Acoustic of “OM” Chant To Study It’s Effect on Nervous System. IJCSNS, 9(1), 363.
Gurjar, A. A., & Ladhake, S. A. (2008). Time-frequency analysis of chanting Sanskrit divine sound “OM” mantra. International Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, 8(8), 170-175.
Metzinger, T. (2003). Being no one: The self-model theory of subjectivity (1st Mit Pr). The MIT Press.