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Songs in the Key of Pulse

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

I say this as a former drummer, who knows her way around a steering wheel/ dashboard trap set, and with the utmost humility. Drummers "can actually be smarter than their less rhythmically-focused bandmates." (citation) There- it’s out there. It wasn’t me; Science said it. So, uh, yeah. Researchers are finding that there is an apparent "link between intelligence, good timing and the part of the brain used for problem-solving." (citation) There is a science of rhythm healing, and a few well-known drummers, for instance, Stewart Copeland of The Police, Mickey Hart of Grateful Dead, and Clash drummer, Topper Headon, who are exploring the neuroscience and therapeutic potential of rhythm or whatwe could call the Pulse of the music. Hart is working with a neuroscientist, Adam Gazzaley to develop a treatment for Alzheimer’s patients that harnesses the power that rhythm has to bring people into the present moment. In other words, pulsation, the beat, entrains us to Be Here Now.

A personal story related to this- my father, who passed away a few years ago of complications from Alzheimer’s, was an artist, a musician and a teacher. In his final days, I was grateful to be able to visit during what turned out to be the last week of his life. One thing I noticed as he struggled to find or remember words when speaking with anyone, was that he would slip into speaking in rhythms instead of sentences. He seemed to be able to relate to the tempo and beat of other people’s conversation, along with the highs and lows in their voices. When he couldn’t remember the words to answer back, he would simply talk to them in cadence. It was fascinating to me, because music had been such a part of the fabric of his Being that even when the words failed him, the elements of musical language never did.

A Swedish study suggests, among other things, that when we consciously try to detect and “tap along” with a song, we actually create change in our brains and bring balance between the two lateral parts- “what you see is some serious activity going on in areas of the known as BA47 and BA40-both components of the Brodmann area”. (citation)The Brodmann’s area is known to contain neurological links to higher communication, language acquisition and processing. Drumming and dancing (or moving) puts us in sync with a force larger than us- there is evidence that the pulse in a heartbeat is entrained to the magnetic resonance of the Earth (the Schuman’s Resonance). Our heartbeats are in sync with that of the Earth’s, which is in sync with the Heartbeat of the Universe. Hearing the beat, and naturally moving with it links us intimately between the Earth and All That Is- it helps us to communicate with the celestial power.

You'll be happy to know that becoming the bridge between Heaven and Earth takes only a couple of minutes of drumming a day (wink). Do try these at home to strengthen bones, ease headaches and release tension:

John Weiss- Beating the Heavenly Drum

John Burns- Beating the Earthly Drum

*Update of video- dance free form with these rhythms produced by Project for Gaia; trance dance with throat singing and drums.

*The original video was of Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors, Percussion through the 5 Rhythms, meditation. Roth is a New York based Shaman who uses dance and drum to access higher consciousness and healing. It has either been taken off of YouTube, or is unlisted there, which is unfortunate; if you can find it, it's very much worth doing. It's really fun- try it, fire up those synapses, release some calming endorphins, process that universal language- get your celestial groove on.

“Rumi says, “Dance until you shatter your Self.”


Touching as Hearing- the Sound of the Whole Body in Chinese Medicine:

Michelle Lewis King, an artist and an acupuncturist, thinks of taking the pulse as a “method for touching sound (or touching as listening).” Human touch “bridges self with other”. Her study, The Pulse Project, “attempts to create sonic expressions that are faithful to the complexities and mysteries of human experience and existence.” She has developed a way to take a pulse and produce from its frequencies a kind of song of the person’s health at the moment. I wasn’t able to copy over the sounds she has produced in her research, so if you’d like to listen to them, she has them embedded in the paper linked here: (Pulse Project)

Active and perceptive touch to Lewis means the art of interpreting symptoms in pulse diagnosis as energetic manifestations of a disequilibrium (chaos, digression) that is heard through touch, conceiving of touch as a type of hearing. The lack of harmonic flow in the body’s natural rhythm set by the Heart is revealed through the Pulse, and in her study, further illustrated through sound. Western physicians take the pulse at one level that measures the Heart; but I think Lewis might argue that this kind of pulse is only a composite that doesn’t distinguish among the organ influences what exactly the problem is. Taking a pulse in Chinese medicine is feeling for layers of flows, involving always the fingers, rather than a stethoscope. The tactile approach that traditional Daoist/Chinese physicians have developed over the millennia allows them to feel the various organ flows individually, giving them a much more thorough idea of disease as, or before, it emerges.

In this project, she took the pulses of study participants and matched that information with the Traditional Chinese healing tones to produce a kind of song from the pulse, exploring a new way to diagnose through the actual frequency of the organs. This can be a complex process, so I'll let her explain, “…if the vibrations arriving from the Stomach position form the dominant feature of the pulse, then the tuning will be determined by the frequency that represents the Earth tone as the fundamental tone for the pentatonic scale (roughly 440 Hz, as this forms a “central” tone).” Since any pulse reading also includes vibrations from the the other organ systems, she is able to come up with a composite “melody” that can indicate harmony or disharmony among them. For example, “if a percussive “bowstring” sensation, which ideally belongs to the register of Liver/Gall Bladder waveform expressions, can be felt at the level of 3 beans (which is at the level of the Lung/Large Intestine) instead of the location of 12 beans (the ideal level of the Liver/Gall Bladder pulse), this means a discordant relationship is developing between the Liver and Lung organ networks.”

“Pulse Project (2011 ) is a performance series exploring the social interfaces between self and other, art and science, contemporary western music composition and traditional Chinese medicine Michelle Lewis King, Journal of Sonic Studies, volume 4, nr. 1 (May 2013). (new link)

Also cited:

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