Sorrow, Comfort, & Joy
It is known that when the heart contracts, it sends out a pressure wave of blood through the aorta... When the pressure wave front hits the aortic bifurcation, there is a reflected wave that travels back up the aorta in the reverse direction. Bentov discovered an unusual internal feedback loop between the aortic bifurcation and the heart which, during deep meditation, regulated the cycles of pumping activity as well as the rhythmic activity of breathing. When the pressure wave coming from the heart reached the aortic bifurcation, a signal was sent to the heart to initiate its next beat at the precise moment that the reflected wave front reached the aortic valve. This meant that there would be a wave front simultaneously coming and going at the same point. When the timing of the pressure pulses traveling down the aorta coincides or is in phase with the reflected pressure pulses, a standing wave is achieved. This wave activity coincides with a frequency of about seven Hertz (Gerber).
Although this is seemingly pretty far removed from the discussion of the expression of "comfort" or singing a lullaby, what I find interesting is the fact that the standing wave is the frequency of about 7 Hz, which is the same frequency as found in the dream state of theta waves: "One of the earliest discoveries made about the EEG was that certain wave frequencies... occur more often than others. These frequencies were labeled with Greek letters such as: delta waves (less than 4 Hz), theta waves (4-7 Hz), alpha waves (8-13 Hz), and beta waves (greater than 13 Hz). Alpha waves are the most common rhythm in the normal awake adult EEG and are associated with a state of relaxation. Beta waves are the next most common and are associated with alert or excited states. Theta waves are not common to the normal awake adult EEG but they are the predominant rhythm in young children. Delta waves are also not common to the normal adult EEG but they do occur during certain stages of sleep" (Grings & Dawson, pg.19). What is interesting is that theta waves are predominant in children, but not in awake adults. What is even more interesting is that the average rate of vibrato seems to coincide with the theta wave. Voice scientist Johann Sundberg found in a study that vibrato rates range "between 5.5 and 7.7 Hz, mean 6.9 Hz" and that "the emotional involvement of the singer may increase the vibrato rate" (Sundberg, 1995, pg. 41). The following is an excerpt from his study:
I found some further support for this speculation by comparing two recordings of the same professional operatic baritone singer that I had stored in the lab archive. In one he sang sequences of sustained vowels and in the other he sang a song... The mean vibrato rate for the sustained tones averaged to 5.4 Hz... while that from the real performance of a song averaged to 6.2 Hz or about 15% higher... the hypothesis that emotional involvement influences vibrato rate seems worthwhile to analyze more thoroughly in the future. The results may shed some light on the physiological origin and the communicative function of the vibrato (Sundberg, 1995, pg. 41).
Sundberg also found that "there are rather narrow limits for the rate and extent of an acceptable vibrato. A rate slower than 5 undulations per second tends to sound unacceptably slow, and vibrato rates exceeding 8 undulations per second tend to sound nervous" (Sundberg, 1995, pg.50). This would indicate that a vibrato that coincides with the normal awake state (alpha waves) would agitate rather than soothe, and that a vibrato that approaches the delta wave range would be resisted by the hearer.
Vibrato has been explained as an enhancement of a physiological rhythm that is already present in the normal adult. Another paper in voice science discusses this: "... even in straight tone there is threshold tremor ... this could be due to the effect of the central nervous system (CNS). According to Titze, the CNS produces a collection of tremor frequencies in the 4-7 Hz range and this might be thought of as low frequency noise produced by muscle contraction. Titze suggests that vocal vibrato may be a cultivated tremor produced from the CNS. .. Emotional arousal often stimulates an increase in vocal intensity and physical energy levels, plus heightened awareness of vocal quality and its relationship to text. This may, in turn, influence the CNS, allowing the emergence of an appropriate vibrato" (Light).
Vibrato is a topic of interest even to some who are outside the field of voice. George Leonard writes about the phenomenology of rhythm in "The Silent Pulse." In the following excerpt, he makes the connection between vibrato and the theta-state:
The "dangerously sensual" quality of vibrato might be explained by the fact that its rate of vibration, about seven pulsations a second, precisely matches the theta-wave state of the brain. This state is associated with the twilight zone between waking and sleeping, in which the customary censorship of the conscious mind is absent. Vivid hypnogogic images (from the Greek hypnos, "sleep," plus agogos, "leading") pop into the mind spontaneously, as if from nowhere. The waking dreamer, in fact, sometimes seems to have access to all the wells of memory and creation, perhaps to some sort of group consciousness. Elmer and Alyce Green of the Menninger Foundation have reported a number of extraordinary psychic experiences during the theta state. They also point to the classic examples of creative artists and scientists who have received inspiration through this kind of imagery -- William Blake, John Milton, Samuel Coleridge, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jean Cocteau -- and to Pincare’s well-known description of a vision he beheld as he lay in bed awaiting sleep: mathematical ideas dancing in the clouds before him, and colliding and combining into what he recognized as the first set of Fuchsian functions, the solution to a problem he had long been struggling to solve.
The powerful musical vibrato might have the effect of capturing the rhythm in our own brains, thus creating the condition of reverie in which mysteries are revealed. Listening to music, especially the slow, sustained passages that allow the full development of vibrato, I have sometimes been "drawn into a spell." Could it be that the "enchantment" of music has a rhythmic, physiological basis? In any case, vibrato represents the spontaneous and the emotional rather than the rigid and the rational -- a threat to any repressive age, a joy and a beacon to the creative (Leonard).
Leonard refers to studies reported on by Elmer and Alyce Green, who were not actually studying the effects of vibrato, or even the act of singing at all. But the data on brain-wave activity is relevant to this paper: "Kasamatsu and Hirai studied the brain-wave activity of Japanese Zen monks, a few of whom were regarded by their fellow monks as masters of zazen (the Zen Buddhist way of meditation). They found that (a) as the subject began to turn his attention inward, long trains of alpha rhythm appeared, (b) as time passed the dominant frequency of the alpha pattern began to decrease toward the alpha-theta border region (8 Hz), and (c) some subjects (those considered most accomplished at reaching a state of deep meditation) produced long trains of theta waves. When in this state of meditative consciousness, Zen masters are said to be in a state of ‘knowing’ rather than ‘thinking’" (Green & Green). Similar phenomena was found in other parts of the world: "In India, Anand, Chhina, and Singh studied people practicing a yoga way of meditating. They observed that the meditative state could be intensely focused, or closely controlled, so that it could not be disrupted with flashing lights, sounding gongs, vibrations, or the touch of a hot glass test tube. In other words, the state of inner concentration was profoundly detached from sensory stimulation. These researchers also noted that during such deep-meditation periods, theta waves were appearing in the occipital brain records" (Green & Green).
Besides the use of vibrato to possibly induce the theta state, Indian music theory offers that "[ascending fourths] represent a ‘passive principle’: they all express moonlight, beauty, peace" (Danielou, pg. 45). According to Danielou, "Each of these series [referring to series of fourths, fifths and thirds] is based upon a particular type of ratio, and the notes of each series are seen to correspond to a definite type of emotion. Here there is a direct connection between intervals, determined by physical laws, and the emotions they arouse or express" (Danielou, pg. 44), implying that the ratio of each interval has a specific physiological effect. Perhaps, then, the movement of a melodic fourth (or even the movement harmonically from the tonic to the sub-dominant) would induce a more relaxed state because of that ratio. Next Page
© Copyright 1997 Verlene Schermer
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