Power of Harmonics & Chanting
An Interview with Jonathan Goldman
by Sita Murti
SM: Sound seems to be anew and upcoming approach to healing. Can you tell us about it?
JSG: In the last decade, there has been increasing awareness of the uses of sound and music as therapeutic modalities. I’ve attended and lectured at newly formed societies that are focused on merging science and the arts, particularly music. However, this use of sound and music to heal and transform actually dates back thousands of years, perhaps to the first uses of music itself. In the ancient Mystery School of Egypt, Athens and Rome, for example, sound was understood to be the fundamental creative force of the universe. You find knowledge of this in the sacred texts of different traditions. For example, in the book of Genesis, it is written “And the Lord said ‘Let there be light'” and in the Gospel according to St. John, is the statement “In the Beginning was the word”- the creation of the universe occurring through sound. This may seem like mythic fancies of a primitive culture until you see the “Cymatics” works of Dr. Hans Jenny, M.D.
SM: Jenny was a medical doctor and scientist who experimented with observing the effects of sound upon shape and form, wasn’t he?
JSG: Yes, Jenny spent year photographing different substances such as plastics, liquids and pastes that were exposed to different sound frequencies. His photographs are quite extraordinary, showing quite organic and geometric looking forms that were created solely through the power of sound vibrations. One look at these pictures and you begin to realize that perhaps the ancients were quite advanced in their thinking because Jenny’s experiments show proof that sound creates form. The ancient mystics such as Pythagoras believed that everything was in a state of vibration and this vibration could be perceived and understood as audible sound waves.
SM: That seems very much in alignment with modern scientists.
JSG: It is. The concept of healing with sound follows this thought. Every organ, bone, tissue and other part of the body is believed to give off frequency. When we are in a state of perfect health, we are like this wonderful orchestra that is performing a piece that is a “Suite of the Self.” However, if some portion of the body becomes out of alignment and begins to vibrate differently, this is perceived as a disease. If we continue our analogy, it is as though the third violinist has lost their sheet music and is playing out of harmony and out of rhythm. If we were somehow able to find the proper vibratory resonance, and cause that which was vibrating out of alignment to begin to vibrate to its correct frequency, a state of health could be restored. It would be like giving our violin player back their music.
SM: And sound can do this?
JSG: That is the primary focus of many scientists working in this area. It also seems to be an explanation for many of the ancient traditions that have used sound for healing and transformation – particularly those traditions that used mantras, chants, and tonal frequencies. The scientists seem to be more interested in working with machinery that can do this. I am most fascinated with the use of our own very organic and natural sound instrument – the human voice – as a vehicle for healing and self-transformation.
SM: Your book, Healing Sounds: The Power Of Harmonics focuses on sound healing, but it explores a fascinating aspect of the human voice, the ability to create two or more notes simultaneously.
JSG: Yes, this is called “vocal Harmonics” or “multiple overtones.” It is a very powerful and ancient esoteric technique that has been employed in various shamanic and spiritual traditions, including Mongolian shamanism and Tibetan Buddhism. It also has been used in various magical schools that probably date back to ancient Egypt, if not before.
SM: What exactly are harmonics?
JSG: Harmonics, or overtones, are a phenomenon of sound that occurs whenever sound is created. All sounds that are produced are not single tones, but mixtures of pure tone frequencies or harmonics. There is a fundamental tone as well as overtones which make up the spectrum of sound. These harmonics are geometric multiples of the fundamental, meaning that if the fundamental frequency is 100 cycles per second, and the next overtone vibrates twice as fast, at 200 cycles per second, and the next overtone vibrates 3 times as fast, at 300 cycles per second and so on. Harmonics are responsible for the tone color or the timbre of different instruments and our voices. Just as you can hold a prism to white light and refract the different colors of the rainbow, it is possible to learn how to use your voice to break up these harmonics into specific sound frequencies.
SM: Your book examines the use of harmonics in shamanic and spiritual traditions, as well as in their application in scientific and medical arenas. What is so special about these “vocal harmonics”?
JSG: From a spiritual aspect, harmonics may resonate different etheric centers and subtle bodies and fields and invoke specific deities and energy forms. From a more scientific and physiological viewpoint, harmonics seem to be frequencies that affect the nervous system and the brain. As Dr. Alfred Tomatis, M.D., indicates, high frequency sounds may actually charge the brain. They are extraordinary tools for relaxation and may hold a major key to the use of sound for healing and transformation.
SM: Healing Sounds also has a number of chapters which give instructions to readers on how to create vocal harmonics and use them for healing and meditation. Can readers actually learn this material from a book?
JSG: Yes, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve also created a tape to accompany the book which is helpful to those who actually want to hear examples of the material described, though it certainly is not necessary. And of course, I teach workshops on vocal harmonics focusing on Mongolian “Hoomi” style of double voice singing, and have recently begun to teach sacred Tibetan Overtone Chanting. But the exercises and techniques in the book were designed to work on their own and enable readers to gain the ability to create vocal harmonics themselves. These exercises are easy to follow and safe to use. And they are also a great deal of fun.
SM: Besides Healing Sounds, you have a new recording called Gateways: Men’s Drumming and Chanting that has been very well received. Are there vocal harmonics on this recording?
JSG: Yes, there are examples of vocal harmonics on this recording, but Gateway’s was not specifically designed for that purpose. Gateways was created as a sonic environment to be used for sacred rituals for men, and contains chants from six different traditions, including Hindu, Tibetan, Native American, Mayan, Hebrew, and Islamic. Interestingly enough, women and children seem to like it as well. Before Gateway’s I created Dolphin Dreams, which was designed as a sonic environment for birth and features the sound of the ocean, heart beat, choral voices and dolphins. Dolphin Dreams is an excellent example of sonic entertainment – the ability of sound to affect our heart beat, respiration and brain waves. There are frequencies on this recording which I am convinced have therapeutic effects, including an Om sound that is phased at 7.8 cycles per second, the Schumann resonance, a heart beat pulsed at about 48 beats per minute, choral voices singing wordless melody that incorporates the “Ur” (primordial) song, and of course the sounds of dolphins. While women have utilized this for the birthing experience, some of its biggest fans are men.
But getting back to your question about “vocal Harmonics” on Gateways, as I said there are a number of different pieces on there that employ conscious creation of harmonics, including “Om Mani Padme Hum,” which utilizes the Tibetan “Deep Voice” and Kodosh / Allahu,” a combined Hebrew and Islamic chant that utilizes some “Hoomi” or Mongolian overtone chanting styles. However, it is not the focus of this recording, which was to utilize chants and drumming that could be immediately learned through listening to Gateways. I felt that such a recording would benefit and accelerate transformational work in men’s groups and reports thus far indicate that this is true.
I believe it is very important for men to be in an environment of cooperation, not competition. And this seems to happen when men drum and chant together. You can’t compete and make sound together. It just doesn’t work. You can observe the same thing happening in any musical situation. If you’ve got a band whose members are competing with each other, the music falls apart. This is particularly true of drumming and chanting together in groups. There can be very positive and beneficial results. Feelings of camaraderie and friendship. And of course, getting in touch with that aspect of our essence that is connected with the Divine. It makes you feel positive and worthwhile and really improves self-esteem. You no longer feel isolated and alone. Suddenly that connection with yourself and others can become apparent. It can be quite a mystical and beneficial experience.
SM: Are the beneficial results from “vocal Harmonics”?
JSG: On a purely physiological level, harmonics can be an extraordinary tool for enhanced meditation and relaxation, which naturally helps reduce stress, one of the primary causes of imbalances and disease. The therapeutic affects of relaxation and meditation include lowered heart rate, respiration, and brain wave activity, which seems to alleviate many different medical problems including heart disease, stroke and imbalances of the immunological system response.
On a subtler level, when we learn about harmonics and consciously gain the ability to hear them and create them, we open to a whole new level of sound. We can resonate portions of the body and perhaps the brain that have never been stimulated in the matter before. We make new connections in ourselves, to ourselves, and to others. As I mentioned before, Dr. Tomatis believes that high frequency sounds charge and energize the brain. Along with this, it may be possible that vocal harmonics actually vibrate portions of the brain and may create new neurological connections. What an exciting concept! It may be that the ancient traditions that have utilized harmonics as transformational tools for countless centuries actually had an intuitive understanding of this and we are just now beginning to explore these concepts in the light of science.
I am particularly fascinated with this possibility of resonating the brain with harmonics. I know of people who are doing this work now with some interesting results, but this is all anecdotal information. I hope that some day soon we may be able to verify this phenomenon. There are so many extraordinary implications in the field of health and education if this work with harmonics and the brain does become validated.
On an even more esoteric level, I believe that there are many different vibrational changes on this planet. Things seem to be speeding up and sometimes it’s quite hard to catch up with this quickening without becoming really imbalanced. Through sound and particularly harmonics, we can learn to operate effectively at higher vibrational levels. This may take the form of enhanced meditation, new neurological connections and processes, physical resonance or something else all together – the changing of our vibratory fields. I believe that as we progress in our knowledge of science and spirituality we may find that this concept of changing our vibrational rates is the key to transformation. Keeping up with shifts in the personal and planetary vibrations will become more and more important and necessary for our well-being in these times. And sound, particularly harmonics, may be the most effective tool we have yet to find for this process.