The Power of Harmonics, Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 2002, Originally published in 1992.
Healing Sounds was really a discovery for me! It was through the DVD that I discovered Jonathan Goldman’s erudite approach to sound healing. The DVD triggered my interest to order Goldman’s two major books, to know more about the theory, while I had seen the practice on the DVD.
Let me be down-to-earth in this review and instead of talking generalities, I would prefer to comment some of the quotes I have taken from the book.
Before I do this, I would like to say that this book is very readable because the author understands to explain quite uncommon things in a clear and easy-to-read diction that initiates the reader in a matter that has been blinded out from our consciousness since centuries.
The author skillfully weaves personal anecdotes in the narration, which makes the matter more lively and interesting to the novice reader—for let us not be delusional on the matter itself: it’s a highly dry and mathematical subject!
I have in fact studied sound theory during my musical studies at university that I had engaged parallel to my law studies, and I remember to have read a thick book written by the German composer Paul Hindemith about harmonics. And I remember that every time when I was reading a few pages of the book, I was beginning to fall asleep!
Not so with Goldman’s book. He manages to provide the utmost necessary of technical information by imbedding it in a larger context of information so that the read never really gets tedious and boring. To begin with, why should you study sound, harmonics and sound healing? If you are not a healer, and if it’s not specifically for self-healing, there is a reason that the author gives, and that I find important. He states:
Sound plays a key role in these times, for sound is helping us adjust to the frequency shifts that are occurring on so many levels./viii
Presently, the huge revolutionary shifts in human consciousness are indeed reflected by a raising energy vibration on the cellular level, as it has been affirmed by many esoteric and scientific authors. This is why it is a good idea to learn more about sound and vibration, in general. The author notes:
Everything is in a state of vibration. Everything is frequency. Sound can change molecular structure. It can create form. We realize the potential of sonic energy; we understand that virtually anything can be accomplished through vibration. Then, the miraculous seems possible./viii
What are harmonics? They are mathematical extrapolations of vibration projected in sound, but sound that most of the time we do not consciously ‘hear’ but perceive as timbre. For example, the special timbre of a trumpet is created by the harmonics of the sound coming out of the trumpet. The same tone played on a piano sounds like ‘piano’ because it has got different overtones than those created by the trumpet. The author explains:
The first harmonic which occurs vibrates twice as fast as that first note, the second harmonic vibrates three times as fast, the fourth harmonic vibrates four times as fast and so on./16
Different instruments will all sound overtones, but specific overtones are most prominent in different instruments. These most prominent overtones are called formants. They are the area of the sound spectrum where the sound energy is most highly concentrated./25
The striking characteristic of harmonics is that they are affecting all vibrations that are in the immediate environment, and they affect most the ones that are mathematically closest related to the one that is the triggering vibration—and therefore are called ‘harmonics’ of it. The author explains:
These notes are not the same and yet they are interrelated. If you were to strike that lowest C on the piano, you would also set into resonance all the other Cs on the piano. They are harmonics of each other./16
Anything that vibrates creates harmonics. Since the universe is composed of nothing but vibrations, everything creates fundamental tones and harmonics, ranging from electrons orbiting around atoms to the planets orbiting around the sun./31
But the author, in accordance with ancient knowledge on the power of correct proportions, sees and evaluates harmonics not only as an important ingredient of musical science, but also of nature in general. He wistfully explains what must baffle the uninitiated reader, but lets the sage nod in agreement:
The entire length of the body can be viewed as adhering to the Golden Section if we first divide the length of the body into the proportions of the Golden Section at the navel. These proportions are then found at the nipple dividing the entire width of the human body if the arms are stretched out. The loin divides the distance from the ground to the nipples in the proportions of the Golden Section. These proportions are found in many other aspects of the body: when the knee divides the entire leg; when the eyebrows divide the head; when the elbow joint divides the entire arm. These proportions of the major sixth (3:5) and minor sixth (5:8) can be found in other bodies, such as those found in the plant, insect and animal kingdoms./35
Now, for the modern reader it is probably not self-evident why sound can be used for healing, even when knowing the theory of harmonics. The author imbeds his explanations within a larger historical and cultural context:
In India, where the art of music has been developed to the point of being a science, there are thousands of scales, called ragas, which are designed to have particular effects on the emotions. The scale which arises from the harmonic series of the first four octaves is known as Raga Saraswati. It is named after Saraswati, the Indian Goddess of both music and science. /29
In different cultures, science and music have not been separated as in the West. The ancient mystery schools of Greece, India, Tibet and Egypt had a vast understanding of the relationship between music and healing, based upon vibration as the basic creative force in the Universe./29
It is important to know that once science and sound were not separated as it is today but sound theory was part of the perennial science traditions, as for example the Hermetic tradition.
In Antiquity, the sage was mathematician in just the same way as he was musician and musical theorist, writer, poet, philosopher and teacher of the youth, and also political theorist, orator, government consultant, astrologer, fortune teller, life consultant and coach—all in one single person! Goldman studied one example of this ancient archetype of the scholar and found it embodied in the Greek mathematician Pythagoras:
Pythagoras believed that the universe was an immense monochord, an instrument with a single string that stretched between the heavens and the earth. The upper end of the string was attached to absolute spirit, while the lower end was connected to absolute matter. Through study of music as an exact science, one could become familiar with the aspects of nature. He applied his law of harmonic intervals to all the phenomena of nature, demonstrating the harmonic relationship within the elements, the planets, and the constellations. /30
To Pythagoras and his students, the Music of the Spheres was more than a metaphor. The Greek master was said to have actually been able to hear the sounds of the planets as they vibrated in the heavens. The relationship between this movement of the heavenly bodies and sound has been hypothesized by scientists for centuries. Recently, scientists using advanced mathematical principles based upon the orbital velocities of the planets have equated different sounds with different planets. Amazingly, they seem to be harmonically related. Perhaps this ancient master had hearing which could perceive these astronomical movements as sound./30
Pythagoras had a school on the island of Crotona where he taught his understandings of the mysteries of the universe. This ancient mystery school operated at three levels of initiation. The first level, the acoustici, learned to recognize and then apply the various musical proportions demonstrated to them through the use of the monochord. The second level, the mathematici, dealt more specifically with knowledge of numbers, as well as individual purification and mental self-control. Before going on to the next level, it was necessary that the disciple be as clear in mind and body as possible for the responsibilities of the sacred information then received. The third and highest level of initiation, the electi, were taught the secret processes of psychic transmutation and of healing with sound and music./31
Goldman’s merit in this book is that he does not only refer to his own admittedly broad experience with sound healing, as a professional sound healer, but that he also quotes important scientific research done on healing with sound, and in general on the effects of sound on the human psyche and on emotions. This enables the reader to follow up from the notes and research the matter more deeply.
For example, he quotes the German scientist Hans Kayser who, in the 1920s, developed a theory of world harmonics. Goldman elaborates:
He believed that through understanding the connection between music and mathematics, it would be possible to create an understanding of the relationship between tone and numbers. Thus qualities (tonal sensations) could be derived from quantities (numbers) and quantities could be derived through qualities./33
According to Kayser, the whole number ratios of musical harmonics corresponds to an underlying framework existing in chemistry, physics, crystallography, astronomy, architecture, spectroanalysis, botany and the study of other natural sciences. The relationship expressed in the periodic table of elements, an understanding of the formation of matter, resembles the overtone structure in music./33
Another example of this excellent reference work of the author, which actually broadens and backs up his own theoretical foundation, is Cymatics and its founder, the Swiss scientist Hans Jenny.
Cymatics is the name which Dr. Jenny gave to his work. The name comes from the Greek kyma, a word which means wave. Cymatics is the study of wave-form phenomena. It is proof positive that sound has the ability of creating form. Once they are exposed to sound waves, the inanimate blobs of liquid, pastes, and other materials in Dr. Jenny’s experiments begin to undulate and move. Slowly as the sound continues to affect them, they begin to take form. No longer shapeless blobs, these forms pulse and vibrate with the sounds that course through them, looking for all the world like living breathing creating. They are, however, not alive, but merely assume the features of life through the extraordinary power of sound. Once the sound is stopped, these shapes cease and the inorganic creations resume their shape as formless blobs./36
Jonathan Goldman also explains that harmonics is not just an intellectual or New Age fancy but has its roots in human evolution, and most probably, from the information we gain from the old myths and sagas, preceded verbal language:
There are legends that before there was a spoken language of words, there was a harmonic language. This language allowed humankind to communicate with all the creations of nature. It utilized the concept of information being encoded on the pure tone frequencies of harmonics. It was different from telepathy in that it used sound but it was similar to telepathy for the thoughts and information were sent on the sound wave and were received by the listener. This may be one of the ways by which dolphins communicate with each other, transmitting three-dimensional holographic thought-forms of sound. /53
And looking in the future, we can speculate that we may enable time-travel through manipulating sound and frequencies, probably through the use of huge powerful quartz crystals that act as energy transducers. The author states:
It is possible that harmonics can actually create an opening or a gateway between different realms of existence./59
Another important body of knowledge on sound and vibration is native wisdom and the author has merit to mention the most basic facts in this context:
The Aboriginal people utilize a form of harmonics in their sacred ceremonies that is not created from the voice but from an instrument. The didjeridu is a hollowed-out tree limb which is blown into to produce a very low fundamental tone as well as very distinct overtones. The sound is very similar to the One Voice Chord of the Tibetan monks./60
The Aborigines believe that before the first Aboriginal people came to this planet, there was a race of supernatural beings called the Wandjina. They were a Dreamtime race and responsible for the creation of the various creatures and forms on the Earth. When the Aboriginal people were created, it was time for the Wandjina to depart. They left these people the didjeridu as a gift. When the didjeridu sounded, it created a sonic field, a sort of interdimensional window, through which the Wandjina could travel to the Aborigines and vice-versa./60
Another important branch of research done by the author is the famous one-voice overtone chanting of Tibetan monks and Mongolian shamans. The author relates his various meetings with overtone-singing Tibetan monks both in the USA and Tibet and references musicological and other research on this important subject that is still considered highly ‘esoteric’ in our own culture. The Gyuto and other monks from Tibet namely chant a bass voice that is entirely unknown to any, even professional, singer in the West.
Scientists formerly stated that it was impossible to produce a sound of less than 150 Hz with the human voice. But these monks prove the contrary. The author relates:
Musicologists later determined that the bass note which the Gyuto monks chant is two octaves below middle C, vibrating at an astounding 75.5 cycles per second. The deepest range of an opera singer is closer to 150 cycles per second, nearly twice as high as the extraordinary bass of these monks./67
In Tibetan tantric chanting the goal of the chanting is to invoke and then unite with a particular deity or being. The monks literally become the gods and goddesses to whom they are praying. It may be that the overtones which are pronounced by the different Tantric Colleges are specific invocations to particular entities./67
The major difference between the Tibetan chanting style and Mongolian / overtone singing is that the Tibetans incorporate the use of sacred text in their chanting while the Mongolians create wordless melodies with their harmonics./68-69
Before Buddhism became the religion of Tibet, the religion of the country was an animistic shamanic practice known as Bon (a Tibetan word meaning to chant). Little information exists about the exact nature of the Bon chanting techniques, but there are indications that it was similar to chanting styles used by Mongolian shamans in which open vowels were used to create harmonics./69
Tibetan chanting employs mantric formulas which make up their sacred texts. These are mantras which are fundamental to their spiritual practices. Each sacred scripture is an invocation to a specific deity or a collection of deities. The chanters visualize these deities while creating a mandala, a circular cosmological painting which they inwardly visualize in archetypal symbols. These mandalas may involve over 150 deities and entities, all in specific placement. This combination of vocalization and visualization allows the monks to become the embodiment of the energies they are invoking. /70
Next, the author expands on the research of French doctor Alfred Tomatis who was already twenty years ago an authority on sound research and healing with sound. The author relates:
Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an otolaryngologist from France who has studied chanting throughout the world, believes that due to the high altitude of Tibet it was necessary to chant in the extremely deep voice in order to create higher overtones./67
Alfred Tomatis … has been working with understanding the functions of the human ear and the importance of listening for forty-five years. He explains the three main functions of the ear: (1) to assume balance (equilibrium, body tone and integration of motor and sensory information); (2) to analyze / and decode movements from outside the body (cochlea) and inside the body (vestibular) so that auditory-vocal control is established; and (3) to charge the brain. Tomatis believes that there are two kinds of sound: (1) sounds which tire and fatigue the listeners, and (2) sounds which charge the listener. In particular, Tomatis found that sounds which contain high frequency harmonics, such as those found in Gregorian chants, are extremely beneficial. It is these high frequencies (around 8000 Hz) which are capable of charging the central nervous system and the cortex of the brain./75
Dr Tomatis believes that one of the basic functions of the ear is to pro-vide, through sound, both a charging of the cortex of the brain and 90-95 per cent of the body’s total charge. The chants of the Gregorians, according to Tomatis, contain all the frequencies of the voice spectrum, roughly 70 cycles per second up to 9000 cycles per second’. These are also the frequencies found in the One Voice Chord of the Tibetan monks, as well as in many of the hoomi or vocal harmonic techniques discussed in this book./76
Tomatis himself manages with a small amount of sleep, less than four hours a night. He attributes this to his listening to sounds which are rich in high harmonics./76
The Tomatis Effect states that the voice can only create and duplicate those sounds which the ear is able to hear. This means that until you are able to hear various overtones, you will not be able to create them in your voice. Further, as you begin to hear the various aspects of the sound spectrum, not only does your hearing change, but your voice as well. Therefore, as we begin to listen actively and open our ears up to harmonics, we are not only charging the cortex of the brain and energizing ourselves, but we are also able to actually change the quality of our voice./77
According to Dr Alfred Tomatis, nearly all the cranial nerves lead to the ear. In particular, the ear is understood to be neurologically involved with the optic and the oculomotor nerves, and therefore is interrelated with the process of vision and movement. The ear is also related to the vagus, or tenth cranial nerve. This nerve affects the larynx, the bronchi, the heart and the gastro-intestinal tract and thus our voice, our breathing, our heart rate and our digestion are affected by the ear. Is it any wonder then that on a purely physiological level listening to the soothing music created by the sacred sounds of vocal harmonics can and will help create states of deep relaxation and meditation?/79
Goldman also teaches conflict resolution effected through empathic listening that is completely immersed in sound, and distinguishes it from mere hearing. He points out that the activity of active listening leads to deep understanding:
Listening is an active activity, as opposed to hearing which may be understood as a passive activity. Listening involves really using our ears as an organ of consciousness. Listening involves really using our ears as an organ of consciousness. When we hear, we do not discriminate between the sounds around us. We may be unaware of them. This is why sitting in silence / allows us to empower listening. There are many levels of listening. The first level involves this enormous step of going above the passiveness of hearing into the activeness of actually listening and becoming aware of the multitude of sounds that surround us. Through listening we can begin to open up to sound. /81-82
That all life is coded in sound, we know from ancient times, but it has been completely disregarded in modern science until very recently. Now, based on this ancient understanding of the human body as a resonance emitter and receiver, we can indeed develop from this insight a genuine healing approach that Goldman traces out as a mapping of frequencies:
Every organ, bone, tissue and other part of the body has a healthy resonant frequency. When that frequency alters, that part of the body vibrates out of harmony and this is what is termed disease. If it were possible to determine the correct resonant frequency for a healthy organ and then project it into that part which is diseased, the organ should return to its normal frequency and a healing should occur./90
In this understanding of the human body as a creator of sound and light, the pineal gland plays a very important role as it has been seen by various researchers, such as Manly P. Hall:
Research by scientists such as Robert Beck suggest that the pineal is an organic device which is tuned towards magnetic north to give both humans and animals their sense of direction. Other scientists believe that the pineal is a bioluminescent organ which has the ability to create light./106
I highly recommend the present book especially for neophytes in sound theory and sound healing, as the author understands to carefully introduce in the matter, always alternating theory and practical advice or personal experience so as to make the reading lively and interesting.