Sound Vibrations & The Brain: New Connections & Paradigms


The composer Karlheinz Stockhausen is aware of the power of vocal vibrations and used the concepts in various works most obviously in Stimmung (1968) for 6 vocalists. Stockhausen does not limit the vibration effect to vocal sounds, he states

“ …each of us is a person with many levels…I have a sexual center, three vital centers, two mental centers, and a supra-personal center. I have become capable of awakening seven different centers in myself …[and can ]…start each center vibrating by deploying something different. I can thus start my sexual center vibrating by way of a certain kind of music. Another kind of music will affect my supra-natural center. There also exists music which penetrates all of the centers-with movements when the appeal is absolutely holy, absolutely religious, and times when the appeal is totally sensuous, totally erotic.. (Stockhausen, p53-55)

We have all experienced the “power of sound” in one or more ways, in movie theaters with Dolby Surround Soundä, at stadium rock concerts, after chanting in all night out-door bonfire frenzies, at airports, or near an ocean. I know of one individual who fainted upon hearing the Walton Violin Concerto at age 13.The brain states brought on by these various listening experiences all have appreciable and distinct physiological manifestations. But one has to be in a receptive state to experience them. Certainly not everyone faints when hearing the Walton Violin Concerto.


The most obvious way to direct vibration to the skull or sonic brain receptors besides vocalizing is with headphones. A glance around any subway car reveals that at headphone listening is now part of our cultural identity. The experience of headphone listening is referred to by R. Murray Schaeffer as “interiorized sound”. He surmises that

“interiorized sound (vibration) removes the individual from this world and elevates him towards higher spheres of existence. When the yogi recites his mantra, he feels the sound surge through his body. His nose rattles. He vibrates with dark, narcotic powers. Similarly, when sound is conducted directly through the skull of the headphone listener, he is no longer regarding events on the acoustic horizon; no longer is he surrounded by a sphere of moving elements. He is the sphere. He is the universe….Headphone listening directs the listener to a new integrity with himself….when he releases the experience by pronouncing Om does he take his place again with humanity.” (Schaeffer p119)

Anyone listening to a walkman in order to block out external stimuli is probably listening at a volume sufficient to create skull vibration. Rock, Dance, Hip Hop, Heavy Metal and other similar musics would theoretically be most effective for blocking the ever-increasing noise of industrialized society, and for vibrating the skull. Additionally, industrial background noise is responsible for masking beneficial vibrations in the environment; (For an extensive study of the history of environmental noise see Schaeffer, R.M. :The Soundscape) while in the not so distant past, humans could be receptive to the most subtle of vibrations, we seem to have become impervious to them. This is one possible explanation for the prevalence of highly amplified music forms today, which evolved through the industrial revolution. Another explanation is that headphone listening is a surrogate for archetypal rituals involving sound, and as stated above, the instinctual need for vibrations.

In addition to creating new listening environments, voluminous music forms also demand a different type of listening. Previously it was possible to differentiate 4 types of musical listening or hearing: (1) passive listening, (2) sensuous listening, (3) emotional listening and (4) perceptive listening. We must add among others: vibrational listening. These types are not mutually exclusive and may be experienced in varying combinations. As the first 4 types can be seen as products of intellectual processes, Vibrational hearing must be seen as supra-rational. It is possible that intellectual hearing was once inseparable from vibrational hearing and it is likely that because of this the ancients were aware of the music in vibrations, and the vibrations in music.

Next: Pythagoras and the “Great Mutation” »

  1. Sound Vibrations & The Brain: New Connections & Paradigms
  2. Chakras
  3. Pythagoras and the “Great Mutation”
  4. Notes, Credits & Resources