I created this Music as Medicine mix for a friend who was recovering from chemotherapy.
It was intended to be soothing, to be listened to horizontally and, possibly, in a slightly altered state. But above all, it was the music that I would choose to listen to if I needed to retreat to a place of comfort.
As such, it leans very heavily on the album Green by Japanese composer Hiroshi Yoshimura, which was a revelation for me when I first heard it about a year or two ago.
This was music that transported me to the sounds of an imagined tropical rainforest. This is my safe place.
If I am meditating or soothing my children to sleep I will think about - or tell them about - lying down on a soft bed of moss surrounded by the lush green leaves of huge plants and trees. The late afternoon sun is setting behind the gigantic palms and I can just hear the trickle of a stream sliding through the forest.
I have found this paradise intermittently in the rainforests of Bolivia, Colombia, South East Asia and Jamaica. Places where mango, avocados and cocoa are in abundance. Where you can dive into invigorating pools of water beneath shimmering waterfalls. Yoshimura’s album transports me to these places and I hope this mix will too.
The concept of music as medicine is not new. Laraaji, who features on this mix, has long talked about music as medicine. If you ever get the opportunity to see him live, it is a wonderful experience. A newfound friend at one of his concerts described it to me as “beyond music - like a transmission of pure love”.
Another new age musician Steven Halpern talks here about the healing power of music:
“Our body, mind and spirit – our human instrument – has built-in rhythms, such as our heartbeat, the rhythms of our brainwaves, etc. There are certain patterns that relate to higher efficiencies and higher levels of health and well-being. Relaxation is one of the keys to supporting the bodies own innate healing energies. Most music keeps you focused on the external music stimulus – which is great, it’s part of entertainment.
For healing to take place though, we need to go inside, so the music becomes a vehicle to support the healing, rather than an end and goal in itself. Understanding that, it becomes more relevant to speak about the music triggering, and getting the listeners into certain states of consciousness.
Our cells are pre-wired to shift into these higher order functions – this is part of what I seek to do through my music.
This is not just through slow meditation music, this stuff goes back 25,000 years. In modern times we talk about church bells, but the use of Tibetan singing bowls and Japanese temple bowls go way back. There is no sound, no melody, but the tone and resonance shifts ones brainwaves immediately upon hearing it. Our cells are pre-wired to shift into these higher order functions – this is part of what I seek to do through my music.”
The music of ancient Japanese temple bowls is modernised and imitated (and occasionally heard) on the recently-released Kankyō Ongaku – Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 compilation from the wonderful Light in the Attic label. The music of Hiroshi Yoshimura also features.
The term Kankyò Ongaku means environmental music. As Japan descended/ascended into 1980s hypercapitalism, the “records of Kankyò Ongaku were marketed as lifestyle modification tools, a respite from the stresses of the business world and city life”, explains archivist Spencer Doran in the beautiful accompanying book.
Some of the artists took this “lifestyle modification” schtick further than others. For some this was about creating sounds that took the listener back to nature, one artist is even described as using technology to improve on the sounds of nature. Others wanted to modify your brain.
If you listen carefully, you can feel the impact of certain frequencies on the brain and body. Takashi Toyoda’s contribution Snow was written and produced using a scientific method that transposed biofeedback from brain waves into musical notation, according to the original album’s sleevenotes.
I was reminded of that just this week, when Erased Tapes released the beautiful Music for Brainwaves compilation. This uses classical instruments much more than the electronic methods of the Japanese masters but it was created using equally scientific methods.
The liner notes explain: “Music for Brainwaves is a project of art and science in equal parts, a collection of three specially written musical pieces as the result of in-depth detailed research conducted by a team of neuroscientists based at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Using existing theory, extensive research and data, the team has identified key frequencies and oscillations that guide the brain into certain receptive states. It is the first time that research of this kind has been created for public usage, with extensive scientific testing and proven results.”
So, you don’t need to take my word for it. This music isn’t just good, it is scientifically proven to be good for your health.
All this talk of frequencies leads me ultimately to the work of Eliane Radigue, the purest expressionist of minimal electronics that I know. Her Trilogie de la Mort contains three hour-long pieces of electronic tones that gently unfold to reveal her translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This is truly meditative music and requires deep concentration/relaxation/immersion.