Sound Healing: New Music, New Sound

The sound healing arts, like the musical arts, are undergoing a revolution. Just as there is a new music, there is a new healing. Speaking of the new healing, Dr. Larry Dossey states:

“…The spacetime view of healing and disease tells us that a vital part of the goal of every therapist is to help the client toward a reordering of his world view. We must help him realize that he is a process in spacetime, not an isolated entity who is fragmented from the world of the healthy and who is adrift in flowing time, moving slowly toward extermination. To the extent that we accomplish this task, we are healers.”(1)

For the new healers, the accomplishment of this task is through consciousness. In traditional medicine the focus of health care is on the physical body. Consciousness is no longer accepted.

“Everything is alive. There is nothing in principle, therefore, preventing the use of consciousness as a primary form of therapeutic intervention at all levels of matter – from the subatomic particles through molecules, cells, tissues, organ systems, etc.”(2)

The assumption of this article is that new music is opening the doors to a new way of being – that the experience of listening to new music can alter our world view and change our consciousness and thereby transmute our physical. And furthermore, that this transmutation is necessary for our next step in evolution, as well as living completely in our current reality.

Defining new music is elusive because the listener is the music. When the listener is “in self” and willing to go everywhere, without hesitation, totally involved and multi-dimensional without regard to any preconceived form (including his physical body) then it would be fair to say that all music is new music.

New music by way of the composer, composition, and performance challenges the listener to maintain his sense of self while being involved in a nonlinear multi-dimensional event.

New music is teaching and preparing us for a universe described by Einstein as “an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping transformational events.” John Cage expresses it this way in his Experimental Music Doctrine:

“Urgent, unique, uninformed about history and theory, beyond the imagination, central to a sphere without surface, becoming is unimpeded energetically broadcast. There is no escape from its action. It does not exist as one of a series of discrete steps, but as a transmission in all directions from the field’s center. It is inextricably synchronous with all other sounds, not-sound, which latter, received by other sets that the ear, operate in the same manner.”(3)

Entering new music with our ears – listening – we seek harmony. Not harmony in the tonal sense, but harmony in the original meaning of the word, “to fit together.” We learn to let ourselves fit with and resonate with the sounds. Dissonance means not fitting. Dissonance is an inability to be flexible. It is the root of all disease. The physicist David Bohm speaks of health as the essence of non-obstructed, indivisible, flowing movement of the self’s internal harmony transcribed into the external world. When the internal and external are at odds with each other – dissonant – the result is disease or a break in harmony. In tonal music the appreciator sought the fundamental in the music as a metaphor of spiritual unity, the ending of a journey. In new music one seeks the fundamental in one’s self; the return to the fundamental is anywhere, anytime, and any direction, because the fundamental is everywhere and here.

“Location and times – what is it in me that meets them all, whenever and wherever, and makes me at home? (Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass)

“Wherever we are, whatever we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. The sound of a truck at fifty miles per hour. Static between the stations. Rain.”(4)

This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of new music, that the listener must not only appreciate the sound but give him or herself to the sound. John Cage says that sound:

“…does not view itself as thought, as ought, as needed another sound for its elucidation, as etc.; it has no time for any consideration – it is occupied with the performance of its characteristics: before it has died away it must have made perfectly exact its frequency, its loudness, its length, its overtone structure, the precise morphology of these and of itself.”(5)

Webster’s defines healing as “to make sound” It might be more accurate if we were to say “to become sound.”

Look around! We live in the age of the “nuclear concert,” the sound of which will instantly transmute us into light. Are we prepared to listen?’ I am using nuclear weapons as a very real metaphor for the challenge that faces each of us. This challenge is not so much to do away with the nuclear weapons but to transform ourselves to a level of being equivalent to the power of nuclear reality. Our current form, both physical and mental, is inadequate to understand or even cope with the awesomeness around us. We have to incubate a new form, perhaps a formless reforming form. For new music composers, structuring the formless is the challenge of our time. To create a disappearing structure which captivates the mind to witness beyond itself; to be with the unknown, to merge with the unknown, to become the unknown. We must be willing to face our own death in order to live in a new way.

Along the same lines, Stockhausen has said that he is writing music, not for the apocalypse, but for the post-apocalypse, for the time of reintegration when people would have to be picking up the pieces. Speaking of his composition “Hymmen” as a physical-psychic therapy he talks of catastrophes to come and their relationship to increased consciousness. He sees his music as being on the other side of death, on the other side of these coming catastrophes.

“Well, I hear it this way. You see, becoming conscious is already being on the other side. You see clearly where we are up to and then death isn’t frightening any more. Also a collective death is large groups. Because you feel that our destiny is a universal destiny and not only a terrestrial one…” (6)

New healing views matter as consciousness; therefore the assumption that our physical bodies are solid material which eventually decays and dies is no longer valid.

“All matter belongs to the implicate (internal) order where everything is alive. What we call death is an abstractions.”

Healing is not always comfortable. New-music composers have been severely and unjustly criticized by the traditional medical establishment as well as tonal-classicists. David Tame in his book “The Secret Power of Music – The Transformation of Self and Society Through Musical Energy” devotes a whole chapter to criticizing new music composers for their lack of consciousness:

“Would the reader allow me here to offer an opinion? No proof, no scientific discussion about the pros and cons of the conviction if I find myself with – just a simple gut reaction; that there is something distinctly dangerous to the consciousness in such music (new music) as this. Dangerous in perhaps surprisingly tangible and immediate ways. It is as though there exists a chasm within each of these compositions: a dark, yawning crevasse which, if we allow it to , will gladly swallow up whatever portion of our mind we offer it by the directing of our attention towards it.” (8)

Tame is essentially a man unwilling to change, to let go of his form. A man who does not realize that the very music that he dislikes is challenging him to grow – to become a new person. His is uncomfortable with his music, so he therefore assumes that it has a negative effect on individuals and societies. He wants to go back to a time before the bomb, he wants to “melt” listening to Beethoven. He wants to be spared the pain of transformation. He wants to remain unconscious. Is he that different from you and me?

New music is not a passive experience; it is a way of being. In the words of Boulez:

“Nothing is based on the ‘masterpiece,’ on the closed cycle, on passive contemplation, on purely aesthetic enjoyment. Music is a way of being in the world, it becomes an integral part of existence, is inseparably connected with it; it is an ethical category, no longer merely an aesthetic one.”(9)

In summary, new music is bringing forth necessary changes in our self on both physical and mental levels to be able to live harmoniously in our times and in times to come. We need to listen to and be in touch with the music of our times. New-music composers and musicians need to serve in a very humble way. The days of Beethoven-like power are over. We have to work for and campaign for our audiences – not just for ourselves but for our fellow composers and ultimately for the transformation necessary for a leap in evolution.

A new world is only a new mind!
(William Carlos Williams)


Larry Dossy, Space Time and Medicine (Shamabhala Press 1982) p. 75
Ibid, p. 29
John Cage, Silence (MIT Press, 1971), p. 34
Ibid, p. 40
Ibid, p. 41
Johathan Cott, Stockhause: Conversations with the Composer (Simon and Schuster, 1973) p. 77
Larry Dossy, Space Time and Medicine (Shamabhala Press 1982) p. 90
David Tame, The Secret Power of Music – The Transformation of Self and Society Through Musical Energy (Destiny Books, 1984) p. 56
Michael Nymann, Experimental Music – Cage and Beyond ( Schirmer Books, 1974), p. 23