By Una Meistere
“When we lose ourselves in sound, the observer in us disappears, and we can experience sounds that mould and tune the body and the mind through harmonics and sound symmetry, balance, ratios and aesthetics. We become one with sound; it’s a non-dual state,” says Alexandre Tannous. He is one of the most respected sound researchers of our day and also the founder of the SoundMind Collective.
Born in Lebanon and having emigrated with his family to the United States in 1989, Tannous holds four degrees in music: music theory, composition, music education and ethnomusicology. He has taught at Columbia University and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities, institutions and museums, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art and others. The world premiere performance of his orchestral composition Métamorphose, which he conducted himself at Carnegie Hall in 1995, received a standing ovation.
As an ethnomusicologist, Tannous has conducted fieldwork for seventeen years in more than forty countries around the world and has facilitated sound meditation for over 20,000 people. For more than two decades he has been researching the therapeutic and esoteric properties of sound from three different perspectives – Western scientific, Eastern philosophical and shamanic societal beliefs – to gain a deeper understanding of how, and to what extent, sound has been used to affect human consciousness. “It’s THE most powerful tool! Sound has served humanity probably more than any other tool,” he says.
This search has led Tannous to the intersection of art, science, philosophy and spirituality. His ethnomusicological approach entails a social-scientific study of sound use in several traditional contexts – religious, spiritual, holistic, cultural – for various purposes and occasions in entertainment, worship, meditation and rituals of healing and trance. Consequently, his approach in researching, understanding, experiencing, transmitting and working with sound has always been based on a multidisciplinary approach.
Q: You founded the SoundMind Collective in 2014. At the beginning, there were just six of you, but now during the Covid-19 pandemic your team has grown to 39 members. The goal of the SoundMind Collective is to support people in how they respond to the virus (or whatever else is going on) and, instead of pushing it away, to surrender, allow, accept, trust the process and just do their best. In short, you wish to assist the community in preserving resonance within. The content on SoundMind Collective’s website – guided meditations, sound meditations, etc. – is all available for free. As it states: “We are here, honored and ready to serve.” Looking back on your own personal story, at which moment does a person decide that he is ready to serve and feels this need to give back?
Human beings want to share, we like to be in groups. We like communities of all sorts. And I feel that community is the ultimate harmony. This harmony is inspired by the harmonic series, which is what I’ve been studying. It’s what we hear when we play the instruments used in any form of sound therapy – nowadays they call it sound healing, sound bath and all of that. I don’t encourage people to use these terms, because they don’t really explain what goes on. I call it sound meditation, which is not a term that I coined, but I like to use it because it explains what the experience is about. Basically, human beings come from harmony and everything they create is reassert and preserve this harmony.
This is not only my opinion and something I firmly believe in; it’s something I’ve observed throughout my entire life and in my fieldwork in more than forty countries, where I’ve studied how people use sound and music in various ways and what they try to achieve with it.
What is the point of it all?
Why is sound used in shamanism?
Why is sound used in Eastern philosophies, in chants and prayers, in the mantra systems and sutra systems?
Why do we love music?
What I believe is happening here is a reawakening of the inner harmony to align the self with the logos – the place where the concept of God comes from and the universal ordering principle, which I’ll talk about in more detail later on. It’s an immensely important doctrine that most people don’t know about.
Human beings come from harmony and everything they create is reassert and preserve this harmony.
In the meantime, we’ve been separated from it by a variety of things through negative entrainment. People are not aware to what extent we’re constantly being entrained by what I call the overall diet.
Anything that affects us is considered to be entrainment: what we eat, what we read on all formats, what we listen to (news, music, etc.), what we watch (films, documentaries, news), the places we visit, the people around us, the smells – all of these things entrain us.
We become a product of what our consciousness is exposed to.
“Energy flows where attention goes, and energy flows where intention goes.”
When people focus their attention, the energy, the time on good, guess what happens?
Good prevails. This happens all the time.
So instead of focusing on negativity, focusing on the virus and the chaos in the world, it’s better to focus on positivity and equanimity, since it doesn’t help to react to it, because this is where the trauma comes in.
It’s not a virus or incident that creates trauma; it’s how we react to the event. That’s how we create what people call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. Why?
Because something within us no longer feels at ease, is lacking harmony, is lacking resonance, is focused on anxiety, fear, panic, uncertainty, scarcity. We drag a negative, old memory into the present, and then it becomes a filter, a lens through which we experience things.
I study reality, I study how reality comes into being. What is the body and the organs’ role in the creation of this reality, specifically the heart, the endocrine system, the brain and all of its parts? What happens when the individual is impacted by something negative? What happens when the individual is manipulated through negative entrainment thanks to the media and politicians?
I grew up during fourteen years of war in Beirut, Lebanon. The war started when I was nine. I know what it feels like, how the experience can impact an individual. And I know that when people pay too much attention to politics and terrifying things, they become more divided. They become more panicked, afraid and full of anxiety.
Instead of falling into fear and other unhealthy states of mind, how can we counteract the evil agenda that manipulates and divides people? People fall into reptilian brain behavior when they are afraid.
Our brain has three essential layers. The reptilian brain, the innermost part of the brain, is the one that controls the fight-or-flight response as well as the necessary things in the body such as heart rate, digestion, balance and motor skills. It’s always running; it doesn’t need your permission or your attention or your focus to function.
The next layer is the mammalian brain, where the limbic system lies, which is responsible for feelings and emotions.
And the last layer, the largest one, is the neocortex, which is involved in discernment, logic, reasoning and attention, among many other things. Our problem nowadays is a hardware problem – we’re being affected and entrained negatively to succumb to a state of fear and self-preservation, and this is a reptilian brain behavior.
Traumatic experiences cause us to lose agency, to loose inner faculties and lose personal sovereignty. We become isolated, in pain and suffering, and we lose harmony and resonance. When people collectively suffer from all of this, communities fall apart.
So, the SoundMind Collective, of which I’m the principal founder, came together in an effort to preserve harmony. We started as a small group of six friends who came together to study sound, spirituality and consciousness and to do studies and create experiences.
Our problem nowadays is a hardware problem – we’re being affected and entrained negatively to succumb to a state of fear and self-preservation, and this is a reptilian brain behavior.
At the beginning of the quarantine, I realized that it would be great to make this collective bigger and to include more practitioners and providers to nurture, serve and preserve communities by creating serious, free content that anyone may use. I had a meeting with the original members, and they loved the idea. Then I started inviting like-minded friends and advanced students of mine who work with integrity and rigor, who have a lot of experience and who work in a multidisciplinary way.
It’s important to note that practitioners and facilitators – but also gurus, shamans, presidents, conductors, etc. – are often subject to ego inflation if they’re not careful with how they handle the power that they command due to the position they hold. Humans beings are not always and thoroughly taught how to handle power, and they often abuse it.
We can see this happening so clearly and widely these days. Some outcomes of ego inflation are: spiritual materialism, spiritual bypassing, messianism, pathological altruism, etc. This is not a judgment but rather an observation. It is simply the human condition, and we need to deeply understand it so we don’t fall for the hindrances that the ego creates, especially in spiritual, therapeutic and healing work. We need to learn how to handle power, how to handle energy. At the end, it’s all about energy management.
I’ve always been a proponent of these ideas, transmitting them to others, and we in the SoundMind Collective promote these ideals and lead by example.
We need to learn how to handle power, how to handle energy. At the end, it’s all about energy management.
So that’s a long answer to your short question. It’s very important to contextualize things so that we understand what we need to learn, and know about what we don’t know. We must also trust the process and surrender, allow, trust and accept. This is the mantra I give to my clients – SATA. I believe that if something hard is happening, that’s because we need to learn something that cannot be learned in any other way.
By the way, if you hear me jumping around from one thing to another in my answers, zooming in and out, expanding and connecting things… please know that I’m not meandering, rambling, being verbose or getting lost. I do this on purpose to create a bigger context suitable to dealing with something as rich as sound and exposing its richness, to show you how the dots connect, to apply the syncretism and synthesis needed to understand its power and value, and to take a multidisciplinary approach to understand sound and its connection and impact on consciousness and spirituality. I use this style purposely to communicate the magic and to share my life’s work with people.
Q: In our everyday life, we’re used to thinking of sound as something we hear. But in fact our bodies and even our bones experience sound. Especially if it goes below the threshold of human hearing, which is 20 Hz. For example, when I listen to your sound meditations, I feel like the sound travels almost physically through my whole body.
As we know, sound can affect heart rate and the vagus nerve and can cross the blood/brain barrier.
What’s happening is almost an alchemical transformation. As you’ve said, sound is the most powerful tool. But do we understand this tool completely? And what is the role of the facilitator and what is the role of the receiver during a sound meditation? Can I be just a listener who is guided by sound and you, or must I be an active participant? And what does it mean to participate?
Both parties, the facilitator and the receiver, have an important role to play. First of all, thank you for using the term ‘facilitator’ and not the commonly used term ‘sound healer’. I favour terms such as ‘facilitator’ or ‘practitioner.’
The sound practitioner does not heal; what he or she is doing is very important and contributes to the healing, but ultimately, it’s the active participation of the individual being in the sound meditation that creates the healing. The application of judicious, attentive, intentional and deep listening is what’s needed.
The most important thing is to listen – listen and pay attention. It’s okay if the mind wanders; just bring it back to deep listening. The point is not to stop the barrage of thoughts – that’s impossible. Pay attention, and even pay attention to how you, the person, is paying attention to things. It’s very important to do that, to recognize the generator of this reality: the mind.
When we ground this generator that’s constantly creating thoughts and get it to pay attention to what’s going on in our mind, then deep realizations take place.
What’s being affected is the brain, the mind, and the way consciousness is being transduced. It’s very hard for us to understand the true role of the brain, or, as Dennis McKenna calls it, the three-pound universe. The brain is the most incomprehensible object to our knowledge.
The most important thing is to listen – listen and pay attention.
Sound tremendously affects this process, and because it does so, it’s very important to promote an active participation so that the individual has a different experience that’s going to inform him or her about who they are, what reality is, how reality can be different, how it feels to exist without the mental chatter that normally does not turn off unless we go to sleep.
People very often have a hard time falling asleep because of this mental chatter; that’s how insomnia takes place. It’s very important to put the emphasis on the receiver during the sound meditation, to give him/her the tools, and to guide the receiver in how to meditate most effectively in the presence of sound or music. Equally important is to pay attention to what is changing within them.
You can read the full interview here: https://arterritory.com/en/spiriterritory_by-arterritory/spiriterritory_by-arterritory/25382-for_me_sound_is_the_ultimate_art/