It appears to be a form of universal intuition that sound can deeply affect our physiological and emotional states. We see this in the meditative trance state induced by the chants of Buddhist monks. One could claim that far removed from spiritual practice, we can hear that one tune dropped in the club which instantly fills up the dance-floor and forces you to jack your body — although I would say the presence or lack of spirituality here is up for debate. The takeaway is that music is a universal language understood by all. Consider the tired mother singing her baby a lullaby or the high pitched whistle inserted by John Lennon to irritate dogs at the end of ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ – this effect of sound even extends from young to old and even beyond humans as a species. In my own experience I’ve always found a particular piece of music to find solace in while navigating the choppier waters of this life.
One group decided to take this idea to it’s logical extreme – and so it is my pleasure to introduce Marconi Union – a three-piece electronic outfit from Manchester, England. They decided to create music that could confirm our intuition and vindicate the knowledge already attained by experts in the field of sound healing. This desire manifested itself in the group’s 2011 track ‘Weightless’, created in collaboration with the British Academy of Sound Therapy.
When you first listen to ‘Weightless’, you may become conscious of an instant change in your mental and physiological state. This is no coincidence but a premeditated scientifically studied sum of causes. ‘Weightless’ is the result of a set of carefully composed rhythmic structures, non-repeating melody and field recordings engineered to create a lush, sprawling 8-minute musical voyage.
This thoughtful composition has been shown to slow the listener’s heart rate, reduce blood pressure and even lower our levels of cortisol (commonly referred to as the ‘stress hormone’). Leading expert Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson of Mindlab International, the institution which carried out the research, came to the conclusion that listening to ‘Weightless’ could reduce anxiety by up to 65%, in addition to a 35% reduction in the test subjects’ standard physiological resting rates.
When we hear chart hits, being able to predict the next note of a track is the rule rather than the exception. This creates engaging hooks that lodge in our brains and keep you up at night as ‘Baby Shark’ plays on repeat, having infiltrated your very psyche. A quick tip for those suffering from an endlessly looping track in their end is to listen to the song right through to the end… and voila, the glitch in your brain can be fixed: your life is no longer buffering.
You see: our brains are essentially lazy. Our mind is constantly looking for shortcuts and will eventually drift off when we can no longer predict what is coming next in a musical piece. Like the rain following the plough, our bodies react in accordance. Rhythms compel us to act: sometimes the physical urge will give way to the mental and vice-versa, but it stems from our mind’s interpretation of sound. Psychedelic pioneers Funkadelic hit the nail on the head all the way back in 1970 when they urged listeners to “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. So when study participants were listening to tracks such as Weightless, they were instructed to complete puzzles which would increase stress levels. The participants were connected to sensors to allow for measurement of stress indicators, and were played different compositions. ‘Weightless’ emerged as the clear winner — a testament to the power of sound and its mysterious ability to change our state of consciousness.
If you enjoyed this piece, I would recommend listening to Kelly Lee Owen’s eponymous debut LP. Kelly Lee Owen’s relaxed electronica draws from her own time spent working in a lung cancer ward — and her subsequent realisation of the healing power of music. If you do listen to ‘Weightless’, I would love to hear your thoughts! Read more about KLO here, and don’t forget support the artists! 😉