Tami Simon: You're listening to "Insights at the Edge." Today my guest is Joshua Leeds. Joshua is a sound researcher, music producer, and educator. He's one of the few published authorities in the emerging fields of psychoacoustics and bioacoustics. He's the author of The Power of Sound and Sonic Alchemy, and has worked in collaboration with Sounds True to create the music programs, produced in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Weil, called Deep Calm and Relax and De-Stress. He's also created a music program with Sounds True called Through a Dog's Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion. Currently, Joshua, in partnership with Lisa Spector and Sounds True, is working to release Goodnight, Baby: Music to Soothe Your Infant to Sleep, which is to be released in the fall of 2011.
In this episode of "Insights at the Edge," Joshua and I spoke about sound as a nutrient to the nervous system, and the three primary elements of sound—tone, tempo, and pattern—that Joshua uses when he psychoacoustically arranges music. We also discussed the groundbreaking work of sound researcher Alfred Tomatis, and then finally how Joshua applies his work in psychoacoustics to creating music that is calming for our best friends, our canine companions. Here's my conversation with Joshua Leeds.
Joshua, through your work, I was introduced to this sentence: "Sound is a nutrient for the nervous system." I'd love for you to talk a little bit about that. I can imagine sound being difficult or harsh or jarring to the nervous system, but how can it be a nutrient for the nervous system?
Joshua Leeds: That's a wonderful question to begin. I must attribute that sentence to my main mentor in the study of psychoacoustics, Dr. Alfred Tomatis. He was a French ear, nose, and throat surgeon who passed away in 2001 at the ripe old age of 80 or 81 years old. He was the first one—after 50 years of exploration from both the physiological vantage point and then later into the psychological vantage point of the effect of music and sound on the nervous system—who, in the course of his research, came to understand that sound coming into the unborn child through the mother's nervous system was every bit as important, from his vantage point, to the growth and neuro-development of the unborn child as the food that was coming to the baby through the umbilicus. Hence it was from that foundation that he began to consider that sound was actually a nutrient to the nervous system, just in the same way as food is a nutrient to us coming in through the gastronomical system.
TS: Now, just to go slowly here for a moment, can you tell me a little bit more about the research of Dr. Alfred Tomatis? I think that's the way you said it. What was he researching?
JL: Yes, it's a funny name. It's spelled "T-o-m-a-t-i-s," and some people pronounce it here in America "To-mah-tis." Other people pronounce it "To-ma-TIS," and actually, in France, it's "To-ma-TI," I believe.
His research actually has formed the foundation of modern-day sound therapy. When I say that, I mean that his understanding of the role of the middle ear in the function of the nervous system in general, as being key, was something that nobody else has ever really focused upon. Interestingly enough, in the middle ear, which is about the size of maybe the last section on your pinkie finger (very small, less than half of an inch). There are three tiny bones. We all learn about those when we're in junior high school in a physiology class: the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. There are actually, in addition to the three tiny bones, two even smaller muscles.
It was upon these muscles that Tomatis began to focus his attention, because he became aware that essentially these two little, little muscles are amongst the first that are actually functioning in the unborn child, and perhaps the last to stop functioning when we die. These two tiny muscles, their function is basically to counter-lever these three bones of the middle ear, and to essentially tune up our hearing to be able to take in a full spectrum of frequency, or at times to become completely flaccid and loose if there is a fast, loud sound that is coming in, to try to protect the eardrum, which comes right after these three tiny bones.
What he became aware of was another function [of these muscles], on essentially a psychological level. If we didn't like what we were hearing and there was no way to get away from it, then these muscles would serve the same function in protecting the nervous system, so to speak, from sounds that were psychologically irritating to us—let's say the sound of a critical parent, or the sound of a teacher or of a sibling, or of some other kind of noise that was so grating to us on a deep, internal level, and that we had no other way of actually being able to get away from. In other words, it was like an on-board sampler that could say, "Oh, the sound of my angry father! I have no way of being able to get away from that, but what I can do is I can 'tune it out.'"
This is the way that we're all basically equipped, with this mechanism to be able to tune out offending sounds to us. Through this psychological process that then caused a physiological process to take place, [it was Tomatis' awareness that] in effect what was happening was that we were essentially—out of our childhood experiences living in the noisy world around us—on a certain level, losing a lot of frequencies that as adults we actually needed to have, and that it was no longer necessary to have tuned those sounds out any longer.
He created ways of being able to, like a clicker for an automatic garage door, hit the clicker—to be able to reopen up our ability to take in a full spectrum of sound, which has been proven to be actually a very important function. He developed the technologies for being able to do that, which have then been inserted into sound therapies that have been used both with people who have got neuro-developmental issues—anywhere from pervasive developmental delays or in the autistic spectrum—on up to people who are just saying, "I feel like there's something that takes place in my life here where I am not taking it in. What is the effect of not taking in a full spectrum of frequency? I desire to be able to do that."
TS: So, given this, if I want to provide my middle ear, those two muscles, with sound that is nutritious, sound that will help the middle ear open to a full range of sounds, what do I do? What's nutritious?
JL: Well, what he does is basically two things: It's called "filtering" and "gating" of sound. Briefly, "filtering" means that he essentially—his original sound therapy (there are various programs now), was done only by a trained therapist, a therapeutic professional. You would come in and you would listen, for two weeks and for two hours a day, to soundtracks through headphones, and it was mostly Mozart. He filtered the music, whereby he took out, over a progressive period of time, the lowest 8,000 hertz of sound. Now that would mean that something that would have a full spectrum of sound—that might sound like "da, ba-bum, ba-pum!"—[would be filtered] out gradually, over the course of, let's say, 15 days of listening. It would end up sounding, by the time that you removed the bottom 8,000 hertz and you only hear the highest sibilance of sound, that same phrase would now sound like "fft, ff-fft, ff-fft!" You would only be hearing the highest frequencies, and everything underneath that would be lost.
What Tomatis believes is that the highest frequencies of sound basically charge the nervous system, whereas the lowest frequencies of sound tend to discharge the nervous system. He basically was putting the auditory system into a training, whereby the muscles of the middle ear were being trained to essentially take in only the mid-range and the highest frequencies of sound, and then going through a reverse process of adding in the other frequencies of sound. It was retraining the two middle ears to take in a full spectrum of sound.
At the same time, he was doing something to strengthen the muscles of the ear. In doing that, he was using a process called "gating," where essentially he was creating random sonic events in the soundtrack that would cause the listener to stay in the space of active listening, as opposed to passive hearing. If we can't find a pattern in a series of sound events that we're listening to, then what happens is our ears stay very tuned. They stay on a kind of high alert. [For] the two tiny muscles of the middle ear, it's as if we're sending them to the gym! They're actively working out, because they're constantly scanning, as does the whole nervous system when it can't find a pattern. It constantly scans when it can't find a pattern. On an auditory level, what happens is we go from active listening to passive hearing. What Tomatis was doing was creating soundtracks that would keep our ears in a state of active listening. What that did was literally like sending the inner ear to the gym. It was strengthening the muscles.
Between the combination of feeding a diet of very high-frequency sound and at the same time working those two tiny muscles by keeping them in the state of active listening, it had the effect of essentially retraining the middle ear to be able to take in the full spectrum of sound.
TS: Now Joshua, I know you work with intentional music, putting together psychoacoustically arranged music that will have beneficial effects on the listener. How has this work that you've been describing, of Tomatis, informed what you do? Which of these ideas do you incorporate into the music that you arrange?
JL: I actually am about 25 years into this work at this point, and I came into it as a composer in Hollywood who was desperately looking to flee that arena. I just couldn't relate to the use of my love of music and sound to be placed underneath screeching tires and shooting guns and most of the media that was coming out of—and still does come out of—Hollywood. As I began my search and my own process of self-education in terms of what it is that creates meaningful and efficient and beautiful (to the best account that we can bring) psychoacoustic soundtracks, I've ended up coming to the conclusion that there are three primary elements. They all really have either been reinforced or greatly informed by what it is that I've learned through the work of Dr. Tomatis. That is what I call "tone," "tempo," and "pattern."
"Tone" has to do with resonance. Are the sounds that we're listening to high sounds or are they low sounds? Through the work of Tomatis, I've come to understand that the high sounds, as I've mentioned a little bit earlier, charge, energize, arouse the nervous system, while the lower sounds tend to discharge the nervous system. So when we look at how sounds are used, whether in an orchestral environment or any form of orchestration—whether rap music or country music, it doesn't matter—when we look at the way that sounds are used, you can see that the high sounds tend, like in pop music, to charge the nervous system.
TS: Now, Joshua, just to be clear, what do you mean by "charge" and "discharge" the nervous system?
JL: I would say "energize," so when we talk about charging, we mean that it arouses the nervous system, it juices the nervous system. The low sounds—due to the fact that, in the cochlea, you have to go through the first 80 percent of that little spiral that has got all of the cilia (hair cells) before you get to the 20 percent that can process low sounds. So if you inundate the nervous system with a lot of low sounds, it essentially fatigues the nervous system.
Now, in some cases, that's good! We want to use it for that. In other cases, we're going, "Now, wait. Do we want to be essentially arousing the nervous system? Do we want to be exciting the nervous system, feeding the nervous system, or do we want to be chilling out the nervous system?" Based upon that, you're going to choose from where in the spectrum, between high and low frequencies, you're going to pick your sound sources, and that has to do with tone. That has to do with resonance.
Tomatis used Mozart, which is primarily high-end frequency. It's mostly high frequency. His music—by the time that you take out the 8,000 hertz of sound, the Mozart music could still stand up. You could still hear that "fft, ff-fft, ff-fft!" and understand that that actually related to "bum, ba-bum, ba-bam!" whereas when you try to filter Beethoven, who wrote so much mid-range music, there was nothing left. Mozart was picked because so much of his music uses high frequencies already. He wrote in the high registers of sound.
TS: I just want to be clear about this. When the nervous system is aroused, that means that I have more energy, I have a sense of vitality. When it's discharged through these lower sounds, is that the same as relaxing?
JL: Yes. Think of the left-hand side of the spectrum as sleep, and we think of the right-hand side of the spectrum as being completely alive, high-beta, awake, alert, energized. [Because of] the lowness the sounds and the predominance of the sounds and the period of time that you listen to the sounds, low frequencies will discharge the nervous system until basically you just want to go to sleep.
Again, this is a physiological function of how much energy is being used up in the middle ear to be able to process the sound. If I'm sending a lot of low frequencies, the way that sound moves, it's like a hitchhiker, and it hits the first cilia cell in the inner ear, and that cell goes, "Nope! Not mine! Pass it on!" and it goes to the next one: "Nope! Not mine! Pass it on!" Well, you have to go through about 12,000 of those transactions before you hit the last 20 percent of the inner ear, in which they go, "Oh, that's mine! I'll take it!" That one particular hair cell, that cilium that happens to be attuned to that particular frequency, its job is to go, "I'll take that frequency, and I'm now going to convert that into an electrochemical signal and then send it up one of many different auditory pathways into the brain." You are essentially fatiguing the first 80 percent of your auditory processing when you send a large predominance of bass frequencies through the auditory system.
TS: OK, so I think I have a sense of what you mean by "tone."
JL: Right, so with "tone," we're talking about high or low. Do we want to charge, or do we want to discharge? There are times when we very much want to discharge the nervous system. We want to slow down the nervous system. We want to soothe the nervous system. When I do an album that's designed for people that need sleep, I'm not going to use a lot of high frequencies. I'm going to be writing and rearranging in the mid-range down to the low end.
The second category that has been informed by my work with Tomatis is in the realm of tempo, and that is about whether we're working at 120 beats per minute or 80 beats per minute. Are we going higher or lower in terms of our tempo? I'm not necessarily talking about the rhythm, because there can be many different rhythms within the tempo of, let's say, 80 beats per minute. We can have salsa rhythms that are at 80 beats per minute, we could have straight 4/4, or we could even have waltz rhythms at 3/4 tempo. The tempo just really corresponds to how many clicks per minute we have. As we know, through the process of entrainment, the nervous system is set up to basically speed up or slow down based upon either an external or an internal periodic force. It's a wonderful thing. We notice it by people who tap their feet when they're listening to music, but that's just the tip of the iceberg, because really what's going on is that the tempo, through entrainment, is influencing every single organ in the torso. I'm not going to (unless you want me to) go into the physiological basis for that. What we do know is that the entire nervous system will respond to a periodic rhythm, internally or externally. All of our organs entrain with each other. When they get out of sync with each other, we have a real big problem.
TS: OK, and then the third component of the intentional music?
JL: The third component is that I use—in all of my psychoacoustic work and as part and parcel of everything that I do professionally in the psychoacoustic realm—is directly from Dr. Tomatis, and that is about the role of pattern identification. Briefly, pattern identification is the process where our brain is a pattern-seeking machine. It's an ecological function. Even though it's got this tremendous amount of synaptic neurological and neuronic ability, the fact is that we can find how easily, when we multitask, we become over the top. We become too distracted. We have this tremendous capacity, but really our capacity is to focus on something, get the pattern, and then move off it, focus on something else, and then move off it. If, in this conversation, you were trying to focus on three or four other things, chances are that you would not be able to keep up with our conversation, even with your greatly increased brain power!
What that means is that the brain is a pattern-seeking machine. It looks to immediately establish the pattern, and on an auditory level, what that means is we go "I'm in active listening right now with Tami Simon," and then, at a given point, I go into passive hearing with you and I go into active listening with something else, and then into passive hearing. As soon as I figure out the pattern, then the brain automatically toggles it over from taking so much of my attention into having it really just in the background processing now.
So the abilities to work with melody and with harmony and with rhythm, and with random sonic events within a soundtrack, are based upon whether or not we want somebody to be in a state where they are actively tuned in to what is on that soundtrack—meaning that we are holding their attention. We kind of have them captive. They can't really go anywhere else with their attention unless they just want to completely tune the whole thing out. Or, in the state of many events where we want to be in the soothing end of the spectrum of the nervous system, we actually don't want people to be in active listening, but we actually want them to be in passive hearing.
When you mix and match tone, tempo, and pattern, you're like a sonic alchemist. You're just there working in the laboratory with resonance (which is tone), with entrainment (which is about tempo and rhythm), and with pattern (which is about whether you want to be in a state of active listening or passive hearing). These become the three criteria that we use in the development of intentional soundtracks. When you break it down and you listen to anybody who is working in this field—whether they're consciously saying "I am working in psychoacoustically designed soundtracks" or they're just somebody who naturally understands how to do this, whether they're a speaker or they're a singer—you will find that the same three elements across the board can be found: tone, tempo, and pattern. I attribute all of my understanding of all of these elements specifically right down (he's my main man!) to Dr. Alfred Tomatis.
TS: I want to listen to a track from Deep Calm. This is a Schubert composition that you have psychoacoustically arranged. Could you introduce it for us, Joshua? Just tell us a little bit about how these three elements—tone, tempo, and pattern—informed you in the creation of this Schubert arrangement.
JL: Great! What our listeners will find when they listen to this is that this is done by a piano trio: piano, oboe, and cello. I started this album, entitled Deep Calm, with this piece because I actually wanted to meet the listener where they were. Now, of course, how do I know where people are who got this album, when I'm not in their living room and I don't know what their day is like before they put it on? But I could imagine that, if they're reaching for an album called Deep Calm, they're coming out of a place where they really are saying, "Rather than taking a drink, or in addition to a martini or a glass of wine, I also, on an auditory level, want to affect my nervous system, and I want to bring myself into as deep a level of calmness as I can."
One of the things that we do in psychoacoustically designed soundtracks is that we try to imagine where a listener will be, and we want to meet them there, as opposed to, say, if they're at a high beta and I come in at an alpha level or a theta level, it's not going to do me any good. We're going to miss. So I look to meet them at a level where I can imagine some spectrum of where they're going to be, and then from there, like a sonic escort, we're going to either head down towards soothing and more calming tone, tempo, and pattern, or we're going to head up, if we're looking to energize the nervous system. So I started the album off with this piece.
Maybe what I'll do is, after we play a little bit of it, then I'll explain why I picked this piece, and what are the elements of this piece that are important to me.
TS: Perfect! Let's listen.
TS: Well, Joshua, with that taste of this piece, tell us a little bit about how you put this together, what you were thinking.
JL: Great! What a great question! I work with classical music because not only is it drop-dead gorgeous—to me, the use of beauty is a calming balm and a peaceful balm, and it reminds us of our own deepest harmony, what we are reflecting from the outside and bringing in. It helps to remind us of the harmony of the world, even though sometimes things do get pretty dissonant. I use the classical music, in addition to its beauty, because, for the most part, the form of classical music is very easy to find. In this piece, I would say certainly within the first 16 bars of this—within the first 30 seconds or 45 seconds—the nervous system, the brain has already said, "Oh, I get it! I get the pattern of this!" Therefore, in our pattern consideration, there's nothing that's going to pop out. There's nothing that's going to cause us to go, "What's that?"
The minute we go, "What's that?" is an indication that we've gone into, once again, active listening. The active listening function is [this]: Imagine, from our reptilian brain, a lazy lizard on a rock in the sun. If you do something that all of a sudden catches its attention, it flips over, and it goes, "Wait a second! Can I really lay here on my back in the sun, or do I need to be alert?" This whole process of active listening comes out of that survival mechanism of "what do I need to be aware of here in my environment?"
Well, in picking music that has got a form, where you just go, "I recognize the form of it. There's nothing that's going to jump out at me. There's nothing that's going to grab my attention," it allows us to immediately go from active listening into passive hearing. That's what we wanted to do here in Deep Calm in the selection of the 12 pieces on this album. Every one of them is progressively becoming simpler and simpler in their arrangements, they're becoming slower in their tempo, and they are all very easy in their pattern.
Then, in terms of my pick of this particular piece, this Schubart serenade, I picked it because of the complexity of the orchestration, with the three different instruments. The oboe is high. I figured, if somebody's just come in after a long day of work, and they've been on the freeway getting home in rush hour traffic, and they now really want to seriously chill out, I'm going to meet them, try to imagine where they might be. Chances are they're still pretty much in a beta state, and high instruments are going to pretty much match that beta state of being. So I used an oboe in this particular piece. The cello is mid-range, and it helps to be able to bring in the lower frequencies. The use of the piano, the accompaniment underneath the melody line, is entraining. For the most part, the pianist is keeping an ongoing, periodic, regular rhythm.
Therefore, between all of those elements, we've got our tone (the high tone through the oboe), we've got our tempo, (which is being established through the left hand of the pianist in the arrangement), and we've got our pattern identification whereby we have created something that is very easily identifiable. Therefore, it falls into the category of passive hearing.
TS: Now, when I hear a phrase like, "This music has been psychoacoustically arranged," it sounds very scientific. I wonder if there is any scientific proof that this music creates a relaxation response in people.
JL: Well, there is scientific evidence (and when we say "scientific," then we're talking about where there have been clinical studies). There have been a lot clinical studies of Dr. Tomatis' work.
By the way, Tomatis' work is very controversial, because he actually came in with concepts that went completely against the grain of what was traditionally thought about the function of the inner ear, and so the work of Tomatis engenders a lot of heat. There are people that just go, "You know what? The science of Tomatis is all wrong." But it is undeniable that sound therapies that have now been used with over a million people have a very highly regarded effect.
In many instances, people can't necessarily say why it is that certain things work, but they're saying it is undeniable that something is taking place here, even in the clinical research (of which there has been a great deal, and there is plenty on the horizon and plenty that is currently being done) around Tomatis' theories of high and low, of the effect of pattern identification, of the difference between active listening and passive hearing, the study of what has taken place with the music that I have provided here with the Deep Calm album and for some of the other albums that I've had the privilege of producing with Sounds True. There have been clinical studies of these things done in schools in Colorado. There was a clinical study that was done recently at Loma Linda University in the last two or three years for the effect of this kind of simple sound arrangement in terms of sleep. They have all tested out to show that this concept of tone, tempo, and pattern is very efficacious. Is it the end-all, and are they the only clinical studies, and is there a need for further studies? The answer to that is no, they are not the only studies. Is there need for additional study? Yes. Can the same studies be duplicated? That is in process.
TS: You're using this interesting phrase, "simple sound." What do you mean by that?
JL: It's a term that I use. What it stems from is my belief, through my years of study, that when you have an overwhelmed nervous system, the ability to tolerate sensory input is diminished. When we think about, back in the day, when people would get really sick, they would always have them in a very quiet, dark room. They were basically saying, "It's taking everything this person has to be able to hold on, and they don't have a whole lot of juice left over to be spending on processing sensory information."
As somebody who started out in sound, what I think now is that we're really dealing with frequency, we're dealing with vibration. All of our five sensory organs located here in the head—our eyes, our nose, our mouth, the touch (which is skin, body-wise), and our auditory—are all based on frequency, even though it's not the same frequencies for all of the different systems, because clearly light is very different from sound. Nonetheless, all of our sensory organs are sampling frequency, and there is a cost to the nervous system for the degree of stimulation that we can handle. There have been times where you can say, "Boy, that was just too much for me! That didn't feel good to me!" Somebody else could say, "Wow! That's so exciting! I love that!" The amount of stimulation that is designed for a 16-year-old and the amount of stimulation that is designed for an 80-year-old is going to be completely different.
From an auditory vantage point, Tami, what I've determined—since so many of the soundtracks that I have been commissioned to create have been soundtracks for healing and for balance and for well-being—is that if somebody has a chronically overwhelmed nervous system, their ability to take in a lot of complex auditory data is diminished. Therefore, I look to create a diet, so to speak, of sound that is easily assimilable.
That might be the difference between [listening] to eight different timbres of instruments as opposed to just one. That is going to be far more taxing to the nervous system, so sometimes I'll just work with a solo instrument. Maybe it's a piano. Maybe it's a guitar. That's a whole lot easier on the nervous system to take in. It doesn't cost as much to process as [it does] when you have lots of instruments. It's the same thing, then, also with the form of the sound. It's also the same thing, again, with the tempo.
TS: Joshua, what would you think of this: I was spending some time recently with a friend of mine who was working on a project, and he commented, "Oh, I was just listening to a couple of heavy metal bands while I was working on this project, and it gave me just the inspiration I needed"?
JL: Well, I don't know a lot of adults that listen to heavy metal, because [with] their nervous system, that's not what they need in terms of an auditory self-medication. Most people who listen to heavy metal are not even the girls! They're the teenage boys! The teenage girls want to listen to pop music, where there are happy lyrics, and where everything comes out great at the end. Heavy metal has got a lot of distortion in it, and therefore what it would tell me is that, well, you can learn a lot about people by the kind of music that they listen to, and if somebody listens to heavy metal—I'm speaking very generally here, and I'm not passing any judgment. I don't know your friend. What I learn about people when I understand what kind of music they like to listen to, it tells me a lot about what kind of frequencies their nervous system is running on.
If somebody is seeking a lot of distortion on an auditory level, maybe they need that in order to be able to remediate and to chill out too much thought, too much thinking. Somehow, this person, this gentleman has found that, in doing that, it creates a certain effect on their nervous system, and so good for him! He's using an organic substance. Unless he overdoes it and cranks it up and listens to it 18 hours a day nonstop at too loud a volume, he's found an organic means of being able to self-medicate and to be able to create a nervous system state that is conducive to a specific activity.
TS: Yes, which is, I think, your point behind intentional music, that it can direct our nervous system in the direction that we want to go.
JL: Correct. I don't think that any music at this point, right now, can cure cancer, but it certainly can create a nervous system that is conducive to going through cancer treatment. I look at intentional music and sound as the ability to use music and soundtracks in a way that will create an environment that is conducive to the use of additional modalities when needed, and at times it may be, in and of itself, enough.
TS: OK. Let's listen to a second track from Deep Calm. This is the final track. It's a Beethoven composition that you've psychoacoustically arranged, from Deep Calm, which is a release that you have produced in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Weil. This Beethoven composition is the final composition on the release. Tell us just a little bit about it.
JL: What people will find—truthfully, I had to do very little to this composition. Those are my most favorite, the ones that have the intrinsic elements, and basically all I have to do is to say to whomever is doing the recording, "Can we possibly either take something in or out of time, can we make something more rubato, or make it even slower than it actually was written to be?" because I have a specific effect in mind. Really, that's the only thing that I did to this.
This is a long composition. This is a beautiful composition. It's piano only, which means it's very easy on the nervous system. It would be like having a mono diet, where you're only eating one thing. It's just easy to go down. It only costs a nickel for the nervous system to process it, as opposed to costing a dollar for something metaphorically more complex. It costs the nervous system less with simple sound, and so, in this instance, as she plays this piece of music, it's getting progressively slower and slower, because where we want it to leave people by the end of this album is in a state of very, very deep relaxation, hence the title Deep Calm.
TS: OK. Let's give it a listen.
JL: This is Beethoven, and this, again, has to do with this concept of pattern identification. These composers—in that period of time, over those couple hundred years there, from Bach on up—they were plugged into something that is hard to find in our day and age. This was, of course, the "Moonlight Sonata"—very, very famous, one of his most famous. It's the Sonata op. 27, no. 2, and it's already an adagio piece. Adagio means "walking tempo."
You'll notice that, in this piece of music, one of the reasons why I selected it is because, in the left hand of the piano, it's made up of a very steady arpeggio. What I had the pianist who performed this piece—my wonderful colleague, Lisa Spector—do was actually take that left-hand figure and play it probably for double and maybe even for triple the amount of time before she actually brought in the melody on the right hand. What that did was establish a pattern very easily, therefore the nervous system goes from active to passive, and it goes into a very relaxed state because it goes, "I don't need to be alert to this! I don't need to be attentive. I can just let it be in the background. I can just drift away." In addition to that, I also lowered it an octave.
Somebody who is a purist of Beethoven's music might want to say, "Hey! What the heck are you doing with that piece of music?" I'd say, "Well, I'm doing what Beethoven would have done if I had said, 'Hey, listen, Master Beethoven, we need to use this music for this, this, and this. Do you mind if we just lower it down an octave?'" And he'd say, "Sure! Go right ahead!" This is my assumption.
You have to be very careful with classical music, because the classical music people who are trained in conservatories, they're trained that you never touch anything. Even in your interpretation, you have a very narrow range of how much you can change something, because how dare you, as a lowly classical interpreter of music, change a single thing of the greats like Mozart and Bach and Beethoven, Shumann and Schubert, etc. You can't change anything! I'm kind of a heretic when it comes to this, because I have actually studied at a conservatory. I know the drill pretty well, and I believe that these guys would have been among the first ones to line up behind either psychoacoustics or synthesizers or samplers or any of that stuff, because they were so cutting edge as it was!
What I did is, to be able to adhere to the tempo—of course I have it so it's slowing down, and if we'd played that entire eight minutes, I guarantee to you that you and I, your engineer, and most of the people that were listening to this podcast would probably have been snoozing, and that's exactly what we wanted. In addition to that, in terms of the tonality of it, you'll notice I picked a piece of music that stayed very mid-range. Beethoven is a very mid-range guy. Mozart, as I mentioned, is very high-range. Beethoven liked that emotional zone: mid-range, very moody.
TS: As I was listening, the phrase of yours that occurred to me is "sound remedies," that you work with sound remedies, and how someone could turn to a piece of music like we just heard instead of turning to some over-the-counter drug or some other remedy they might be seeking if they wanted to unwind, and that's really part of what you're going for here.
JL: That is exactly what I'm going for! You know, I think a lot about this concept of the ubiquity of music and sound in our culture. It's everywhere. We find it. You know, if we're in our car, people just automatically turn on the radio or turn on the CD player or whatever. It's in the stores. It's in the restaurants. It's everywhere, and how great that our culture loves music! I think that's just great. But what [our culture has done] is it's taken music and made it so ordinary. We notice it more when it's not there than when it's there, and I think that is the concept of "music hunger."
What would it be like if we actually looked at music, at a composition, and we went, "I'm going to look at this as if it were a piece of the best chocolate I could possibly have, and I'm only going to have one piece of chocolate a day" (spoken like a true chocoholic thinking about chocolate)? If we were to consider that, and if one were to say, "You know what, I just had a long day. What piece of music would just be wonderful in shifting my mood, in actually shifting my brain waves, my heart rate, and my breath?" [If one were] to pick one piece or an album's worth of music, and to be able to say, "I'm using this because I love to listen to it, but also what I really love is what it does for me!"
That's really what intentional music is all about, and I think, as we understand more—and we're understanding more by the minute due to neuroscience and due to the advent of the MRI and CAT scans and PET scans. The field of music therapy and sound therapy is growing by leaps and bounds, because as [people] are able to study it more due to these high-tech devices, what they're finding is that [a] number of places in the brain light up in processing music and processing complex sound, [and] if they can understand that, it [will] actually become a model for understanding cognitive function in general. Consequently, the field of intentional music and sound is along for the ride with this tremendous research in music and sound that's being studied by neuroscientists, because they want to understand how the brain works in general, and are using music as the means to do that.
TS: Now Joshua, before we end our conversation, I'm not going to let you go without hearing how you've applied all of this work to psychoacoustically arranging music that will help calm and even curb negative behavior in dogs. Tell me how you got involved in classical music for dogs!
JL: Oh, it's one of those circuitous, serendipitous synchronicities that could only take place in the exciting realm of being on the planet Earth, or some other place of beingness. I wouldn't call it a coincidence. It certainly is a synchronicity. The wonderful pianist that we've been listening to, Lisa Spector, is a Julliard-trained concert pianist who also used to raise guide dogs for the blind. She, in the process of that, could have up to eight puppies—beautiful puppies—that she was raising for the guide dogs, and she would, of course, be practicing with her enormous grand piano. As soon as she would sit down to play, they would all romp in from around the house, and gather and lay underneath her piano.
Lisa, at the time, about eight or nine years ago, was running a music school in Half Moon Bay, California. She came to one of my seminars because she wanted to understand how to use psychoacoustics with some of her neuro-developmentally challenged students. She began to notice some of the same concepts that I was playing and that I was utilizing in relationship to sound therapies for children and for adults who had neuro-developmental issues, and she wondered whether any of those concepts could actually work in relationship to animals, so she approached me. She asked me whether or not I would consider taking these principles and applying them for canine behavioral issues—separation anxiety, different kinds of excitement anxieties that dogs have.
At first, when she approached me, I politely demurred. I just went, "Oh, my God! My entire career is going to go to the dogs!" and every other kind of pun that I could think of. But as I thought about it, I began to think that this could actually be a wonderful opportunity to begin to explore, cross-species, what the effect is of music and sound on the nervous system. Now that it's not just of humans, but of four-leggeds as well, why not take that into agriculture?
I then agreed to go into the studio and cut four hours of music. I insisted that we go into clinical research on it in order to be able to find out what we could find out, and it was during the time that research was going on that I happened to speak with a very lovely human being by the name of Tami Simon, who happens to own and be the founder and the director of Sounds True. Yours truly, "you" being you. When I say "Yours truly," I mean you truly, Tami Simon. And I heard your dog barking in the background!
TS: I remember!
JL: I don't know if you recall the conversation.
TS: I do!
JL: Yes, this was probably back in about 2006, and at that time, we had just come out of clinical research, two years of it, and the results had been extraordinary. And it was such that I decided I would write a book about it, coauthored with Susan Wagner, a veterinary neurologist. When I heard the dog barking in the background, I said, "Tami, do I hear a dog in your office?" You said, "Oh, yes! We're a dog-friendly company. We have 15 dogs here," and you said, "Why do you ask?" And I said, "Well, because you know it's funny, I happen to be working on a dog project, myself."
It was from there we began a wonderful collaboration between Sounds True and my company, Bioacoustic Research, whereby Sounds True ended up publishing the book, Through a Dog's Ear, and then a series of CDs that has followed, which have become a critical success within the professional dog world, and have been sold widely. I believe that the first title that we did with you, Through a Dog's Ear: Music to Calm Your Canine Companion is one of the bestsellers at Sounds True! Is that correct?
TS: I believe that is correct. Now, Joshua, I'm curious. The actual music that you psychoacoustically arranged for dogs: How is it similar to or different from what we have been listening to from Deep Calm? How is it different for dogs than it is for humans?
JL: That is the greatest question in this conversation, because here's the great answer: It's the same! The canine nervous system, it is almost the same—it is so close that I would be using that same Beethoven piece on the dog albums. I would not be using the piece that we played at the top of the show, with the oboe, because I've found that the high instruments did not accomplish what we wanted. They were too charging to the dog's auditory system, which is, of course, more sensitive than our own. What we found in our research is that the canine nervous system, over all of these thousands of years of symbiotic interrelationship with the human nervous system, is very, very close in terms of the effect.
So the exact same concepts of tone, tempo, and pattern apply to the music that we use for the dogs as to the music that we use for the human beings, the difference being that the dogs like it even simpler. The simpler the sound, the slower the sound, the easier on the nervous system, and these dogs go down like that! They just go "boom!" It causes our animals to just go, "I am down for the count! I am going into a calm space here." And that, of course, is a welcome space for the nervous system for dogs that have different kinds of anxiety issues, which, I want to say, one in seven in America exhibit.
TS: Yes. Now listeners, if you're around where your dogs are, you can gather your dogs at this point, because in just a few moments, we'll play a track from Through a Dog's Ear. Before we do, Joshua, what I'd love to know is what your vision is for the music you're creating. I know you're a visionary. I know you have quite a sense of mission about the bioacoustic research you've done. What's your hope for how the music you've created, whether it's for dogs or people, will impact the world?
JL: Oh, I just welcome that inquiry, and I'll briefly answer that. I believe that sound and the way that sound affects the nervous system of everything on this planet is far deeper than most of us realize. Remember, everything is about resonance, and about how one vibration sets another vibration into motion. We are resonant beings. We are all made up of vibration, whether it's animal, mineral, plant. It doesn't matter. We are all moved by vibration, and the auditory vibration is one that is close enough to our nervous system. Sound only travels at 740 miles per hour. We fly at close to that speed! We fly at 600 miles per hour on a commercial jet liner. Sound is what I call a "resident frequency." It's an easy way to change the frequency of human beings, and now what we're finding with animals, and I believe that the same thing holds true with agriculture and with plants.
When I think about vibration and then I think about frequency, they're one and the same. Frequency just is the measurement of vibration. Now look at the frequency world that we live in! We're surrounded by Wi-Fi. We hold cell phones up to our ears on a daily basis, many of us for hours at a time! Everything in frequency is amped up on this planet. So for me, whether it happens to be about beautiful Beethoven, or it happens to be about a pure sine wave tone that happens to correspond to a certain chakra center, or happens to correspond to a certain body center, really where I have arrived, and my mission, really, at this point, is how to create relevant, meaningful, vital utilizations of sound, sound awareness, in this day and age, and of living in the world of 2020, or 2030. What does it mean to live in a frequency world? That's really where I come in at this point in terms of looking for the most extraordinary ways that we can understand how to use frequency in a meaningful, healthy, and life-empowering fashion.
TS: Wonderful! And now, if our listeners have their dogs near them, by the speaker, we'll listen to the first track, "Bach Prelude," from Through a Dog's Ear.
TS: If any of you are listening with a canine companion close by, and your canine has perhaps happily fallen asleep, feel free to send Sounds True a photo. We've actually received several photos from people who have been listening to Through a Dog's Ear with their canine companions, and they show us beautiful photos of their dogs happily fast asleep, so feel free!
Joshua, it's been wonderful to talk to you and hear about what's informed the psychoacoustic arrangements that you've created.
JL: Tami, thank you so much! It's always a pleasure.
TS: Joshua Leeds is the creator of three CDs in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Weil, Deep Calm, Relax and De-Stress, and Increase Vitality, as well as a book-and-CD program through Sounds True called Through a Dog's Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion, and a series of CDs in the Through a Dog's Ear series. Joshua, wonderful to talk to you!
JL: Thank you so much, Tami!
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.