John St. Claire
Mar 8, 2023
A literary review
Timbre is the term used to describe the harmonic content of a tone and is the most basic and quickly processed building block of music (Tervaniemi et al., 1997). The quality of timbre is based upon the regular physical overtone series present above the lowest fundamental pitch. Unlike other musical instruments, the gong is non-linear and does not follow this harmonic pattern (Benton, 2020). It also produces combination tones which are not heard but are synthesized by the ear, therefore the perception of the sound is subjective as it produces both outer and an inner sounds (Benton, 2020).
Studies using brain imaging have determined that tonal information is processed in the right auditory cortex whereas speech tends to be processed in the left auditory cortex (Zatorre, 2001). The right side of the brain is associated with unconscious and intuitive processes while the left is relegated to the linear and logical.
The average human body makes almost 4 million new cells every second (Sender, 2021) while at the same time each of other 30 trillion cells (Sender, 2016) are coordinating hundreds of thousands of additional biophysical processes every second; and that’s just the physical body, not the mental and emotional experience. Plus, only 10% of our cells contain human DNA, 90% of the cells in our body are other organisms (Hind, 2010). Humans are too complicated to understand themselves (Peterson, 2019).
Since we create the world we believe exists based upon our language (Froerer, 2018) shifting activity to the right side of the brain, and attenuating left brain activity, may allow for new insights and understandings that are outside of linear logic and language. Within the brain, vibration hypothetically enhances flow of cerebrospinal fluid and speeds removal of metabolic waste (Karkkainen 2006). Since the gong is non-linear it stands to reason that it may also entrain non-linear cognitive process by means of resonance. Perhaps Beethoven was correct when he said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.”
Using fMRI, scientists learned that isolated musical timbres (sounds outside of a musical context) are related to sensorimotor and paralimbic activation, and less associated with cognitive functions. (Wallmark, Z. 2018). Actual music listening is primarily associated with activity in prefrontal and reward areas (Wallmark, Z. 2018).
Humans are pattern recognition machines and the mind is constantly looking for patterns to provide context and meaning (Watanabe, 1985). The gong defies any regular pattern, and at some point the mind gives up and lets go of the search. I’ve had a chronically stressed woman tell me after 10 minutes with the gong, “That was the first time in my life that I’ve never had any thoughts in my mind.” This feeling was a tremendous relief to her.