Guided meditation is a practice where the listener is guided through a sonic experience in order to achieve various results, usually in the form of finding peace or comfort. The instructor during these guided meditations may ask you to control your breathing, let go of unwanted thoughts, or focus on your visualization/ imagination, and may use other sound ques to provide additional avenues to achieve that.
I was inspired to make a sonic piece that explored the concept of guided music – but rather using vocals to guide someone along a journey, I wanted to play around with sound affect theory. Through cognitive routes, our emotions, memories, or bodily movements react to the sounds we are exposed to. This piece is an example of inductive reasoning, where the listener is presented sound data of a shower, leading the listener to create the meaningful association of ‘shower thoughts’ through the additional sounds overlaid.
These shower thoughts were inspired by the current COVID-19 pandemic, where most of the population in the UK is practicing social distancing and self-isolation. The background noise of water whilst in the shower gives us time to be alone with our thoughts. Perhaps you are winning an argument in your head, you’re worried about bills, or thinking casually about what you will do socially after the pandemic. Share your journey in the comments below.
The true goal of this piece is to take the listener on a journey, to allow them to make their own way throughout the piece, without being guided by vocals. Instead, the sound of the running shower sets the stage and the listener’s imagination can take the journey, make associations, and have cognitive reactions from there.
Social distancing is crucial at this time, as it is now mandated during the pandemic. We can only leave the house for essentials, which includes one daily exercise. This week I put my fitbit and facemask on to take a nice, spring walk outside. During my walk, I recorded the birds chirping and cars driving around.
My main goal this week is to discover the difference between noise and sound. Through using the recordings of the cars driving and birds chirping, I will try to analyse the differences between noise and sound.
Why differentiate noise vs sound?
Though these words seem interchangeable, I want to bring consistency to my research – to determine which word is more fitting for the sonic experiences I create. In order to dissect my sonic experiences (or philosophically analyse them), I need to establish the proper vocabulary to convey my abstract ideas.
Noise and sound, the similarities
Noise and sound affects (music affects) human memory, emotion, and responses. The study of this phenonema is known as psychoacoustics, where psychological and physiological responses to noise or sound (from music, speech, etc.) are explored (Platz et al 1995). With psychoacoustics research, noise or sound affect our perceptions of the world, altering our understanding of depth, speed, and motion. Likewise, noise or sound evokes a direct cognitive response from our memories, which also links to our emotions. For instance, hearing a dog bark may associate with a past memory where you were bit by a dog, resulting in the dog bark to launch the feeling of fear.
Another term closely related to psychoacoustics is affect theory, where ‘affect’ relates to the feelings or responses from the body when introduced to different stimuli. Specifically, a stimulus that makes an organism think a certain way (Laszlo 1968). Affect theory embodies different stimuli like lights, images, literature, and includes exploration of music, sound, and noise.
Noise and sound, the differences
Sound carries information, not just the emotional or cognitive reminders described in psychoacoustics, but physical information. These physical milestones include notes, intensity, timbre, etc. (Platz et al 1995) and can easily be replicated by measuring wavelength and frequency. This suggests that pitch, or the notes that create sound, establish order and consistency, whilst noise is disorderly due to the lack of pitch, remaining inconsistent.
Yet, this does not mean noise has to be unpleasant due to causing disorder. There are inconsistent noises that exist that are soft and easy on the ear, like turning the page of a book or hearing distant walking down the street. At the same time, there are jarring, unnerving, loud noises, like a crying baby.
Thought provoking quotes defining noise and sound from various music aesthetics, acoustic noise, waveform theories, etc.
“If we define sound as anything we can hear, then noise is the kind of sound that is disorderly” (Levarie 1977).
“Noise appears to be the sensory equivalent of dirt. Where dirt, as anthropologists say, is matter out of place, noise is sense out of place—or in a word, nonsense.¹ It is a manifestation of the disorder of the world, of its entropic tendencies. And since noise is undefinable, it cannot define” (Coessens, Kathleen 2019).
“For a sound to be hearable by human ears, its fluctuation must be relatively rapid: at least fifteen times per second the pressure must rise and fall” (Evans 2005).
Noise can be defined subjectively as unwanted sound, sound not desired by the recipient… Noise is part of the environment in which we live. To determine the severity of noise as an environmental concern, some criterion has to be chosen. Health is a logical criterion because it covers all the effects upon the organism, rather than merely the absence of disease. For our purposes, we consider health as a quantitative measure of physical, emotional, and social well-being” (Bragdon 1971).
Selecting the recordings for PhD research
Noise and sound are seemingly limitless to record in any outdoor setting. Yet, I decided analysing birds chirping and cars driving for a few reasons. Primarily, both were easy to capture, but, more importantly, both carry features or characteristics that relate to concepts I have explored in my research. Through birds chirping and cars driving, I can bring my research to life, using real world experiences to differentiate between noise and sound.
Features and characteristics of bird vs car recordings
Usual sound heard daily
Can also be defined as ‘bird song’
Often used in meditation recordings, relaxation music
Associated with the animal
Can be tuned out or ignored
Emotions evoked (examples): peace, calm
Usual sound heard daily
Can be tuned out or ignored, droning
Can be alarming with horn honk, squeaky breaks, etc.
Introduction to exploring sonic textures using everyday objects:
After talking with my PhD advisors about my current research, we decided the next course of action would be to create some sonic textures to pair with what I have learned so far. After recording the sonic textures and compiling them together, I then compared the noise/sound to different areas of recent research focus, including sonic affect theory, western meditation practices, drone music, music association, and more.
The process of discovery:
Since the University facilities are not available, travel is not advised, and we are all in self-isolation from the pandemic, I decided to record sounds and noises made using everyday objects in my home. Some of the tools I used include spoons, bottle caps, computer mouse, keys, pens, and doors. After recording, I compiled the sounds/ noises together using Audacity.
Asking the questions:
My research has led me to explore sonic textures on my own, along with endless rabbit holes of definitions, philosophers, musicians, and theories. Through exploration of different subjects and categories, I am left with many questions unanswered. Likewise, I am left with a lack of knowing how to view or explain my current research. I think this is normal with the PhD process. Afterall, a PhD usually consist of exploring an area of research that is currently lacking in a particular field. The end result usually introduces new terms with definitions and a new way of viewing the field of study, offering a new direction for future researchers to build from.
As I am listening to the noises created from everyday object, I ask myself:
What is the difference between noise and sound?
When everyday objects stand alone as a sole instrument, would they make noise or sound?
When these objects come together to create rhythm, or other musical structures, how would I define this noise/sound?
Is music comprised of sound or of noise?
How would I define the music I am creating with these everyday objects?
How do binaural beats fit into this definition?
The way I view and explain my research to others will depend on the terms and definitions I use. After all, the languages we use are the building blocks to understanding the world around us.
Taking a term used in everyday vocabulary might be hard to re-create. However, using the associations with words could potentially give a better understanding to the research topics I am trying to share with the community.
Music is the same way, or even sounds/ noise. We associate a song to a past memory. We even use noise to associate with emergencies, like fire-alarms and police sirens. Music, noise, or sound provoke nearly the same response as language through these associations. Likewise, music communicates with us and can prep us for internal or external experiences.
Though it is still early in my research, I find myself using the word ‘sonic texture’ as a way to define the music I am creating now. My goal is to play around with sounds/ noise in various ways and find the sound/noise that would mesh with the binaural beat music I intend to create later in my research. In the future, I also plan to explore more of sound vs noise and come up with some theories of my own. Finally, I hope to come to some answers from to the questions posed above.
The sonic texture experience from everyday objects:
After listening to the sonic experience I have compiled using the everyday objects from my home, I am very excited and keen to use keys, bottle caps, or spoons in my future music.
I would like these to be overlaid with tribal drums and have developed some interesting beats in my mind that I can’t wait to develop. However, the keys, bottle caps, or spoons would help keep a beat rather than create a melody. I feel these sounds/ noises are strong enough to hold a beat but would loose charm or structure if performing a melody. I think this is because the sounds/ noises they make, though slightly similar to wind chimes, have less predictability or peaceful pitch. By using them as the beat-keepers, it gives a level of predictability and would make it easier for the listener to appreciate the music instead of constantly searching for where the spoon, bottle caps or key noises/sounds would go in the piece.
Other sounds/ noises like the door closing, I could use as a non-verbal way of allowing the listener to enter or exit the musical piece, much like the way someone enters or exists a room. I feel that it would be fun to create music that guides the listener on a journey. Maybe a journey of leaving the room, picking up the keys, and going for a drive? Likewise, I plan on making verbal guided music. Perhaps I could compare the verbal guides to the sound or noise assumption guides and see how the listener is sonically affected.
It’s official. I have completed my first 6 months as a PhD student!
What a journey it has been so far and plenty of lessons learned. Don’t get me wrong, normal day-to-day life still went on, but the PhD journey brings a splash of nuance that has transformed my world.
Going through the process of getting accepted into a UK university is challenging, but possible. The most important thing to do is find the right researcher/ university match. After sending out some proposals, I landed a great opportunity where I connected with the staff, felt a great flow of ideas, and immersed myself in a creative environment.
Let’s look at the past 6 months and see where my PhD took me…
The first major hurdle of my PhD was getting my proposal to reflect my research goals in a concise way.
Starting with the proposal, I sat down with my advisors to come up with a version that best suited my interests. After 5 drafts and multiple meetings, I landed a proposal that really felt achievable and possible. Little did I know that this would not be the end-all-be-all proposal, though. What I learned through the process of self-editing is that my proposal and research will be constantly evolving.
As I chip away at the stone of my PhD research, my proposal will shape into a unique form all its own. By the time I am ready to present my work in 3ish years, the proposal will have transformed to be nothing like what I first submitted.
Editing proposals is called a ‘working proposal’ and if you’re considering doctoral studies, get ready for the changes that will come from sharing ideas and diving into your research. My advice here would be to remain open-minded and adaptable. It is not always easy listening to feedback or taking on criticism or suggestions, but your advisors are here to help you succeed and want you to complete your course. Likewise, your research can bunny trail you into areas you never considered but find interesting. This leads me to warn you that it is important to find passion in what you are doing. If your proposal begins to lose it’s shine within the years of your research, you can hit the reset button in some way to help bring that spark back. Of course I am speaking from an arts degree, things might be more rigid in other fields, but I would like to remain optimistic.
My proposal from October 2019 focused on meditation and music but by March 2020 transformed to focus on the reactions one has when listening to binaural beats. I have researched areas in art therapy, music theory, religion, etc. and keep finding new terms to explore.
The second biggest hurdle of my doctoral studies is accepting the commute for what it is, a long and unproductive journey.
I made the choice to continue living where I am at in the UK and stay with my same employer instead of moving closer to my university. This choice seemed easier at first. Afterall, when I lived in America I would drive an hour to work and didn’t mind.
However, this commute to university has grown to be more daunting. At first I was pretty exited about getting work done on the train, practice my language lessons on Duolingo, catching up on sleep, etc. There are plenty of things to do on the train and it is a great opportunity for ‘me’ time.
So, what went wrong? Public transport is a godsend when you do not have a car but you are confined to the timetables and schedules. If a train is running late, so are you.
My commute, one-way, is 2.5 hours. I usually take the route with 2 connections and each time I travel I have to request a seat. Bookings for these trains are always high in demand and the trains are so full it is incredibly uncomfortable getting my laptop out to work or even relax. The space is already small on a train, but when people are standing around you during a long commute it is hard to get in a bubble mode and focus on other things.
November was rough for me…. Really rough. There was a huge rainstorm and flooding occurred at one of my connecting stations. I waited 3 hours, then 4, then 5, but I began to develop an intense migraine and had to find a hotel to crash in. I suffer from migraines and used to get them about 3 times a week. Since managing my anxiety, I get them less, but this whole chaos from the trains really left me internally freaking out. Luckily it is all in the past now and I am grateful for having the ability to problem solve under pressure.
November taught me I need to plan as best as I can for the commutes and come up with ways to feel comfortable and relax on the train. My solution is to listen to music using a meditation music app and bring a sleep mask so I can block out the world and step into my own space.
Each time I would go to campus I would fill my days with meeting my advisors and then spending time at Starbucks or the library.
I was sitting in Starbucks, immersed in my computer screen, when all the sudden I needed to take a sip of my matcha tea latte. I like to practice the art of focus when I drink my matcha. This is a technique I picked up in CBT to help with my anxiety. Essentially, I pick up the cup, feel the cup, look at the tea, smell the tea, and really put myself in the moment with my drink. Whilst doing this, I scanned the Starbucks lobby and saw tables and tables of students chatting and smiling faces. It dawned on me that I am really lacking in the university experience if I am not socializing.
How does an adult make friends? I still do not know how to answer that question… but what I came up with seems to be working. I decided to do two things, become a student rep for my fellow doctoral students and to start a doctoral student society.
Being a student rep and creating a new society on campus gives me more responsibility but these opportunities would not exist if I was not a university student. So far, the balance has been fine. I do not feel overwhelmed by the roles of being a uni student, a rep, and a society organizer. Let’s see if this feeling lasts!
Stepping outside of the research world and working on my artistic side of my PhD is what January was all about. I’m still at beginner level with music production, but I am exited to see how my music shapes itself over the next few years.
Right now I am keeping it basic, using music samples and mashing them together to generate binaural beat music.
I have also worked on my branding, building my website and Youtube channel, Instragram, Facebook, Etsy, and Fiverr. All of these are linked in the footer of my website!
It is time to explore my campus and enjoy my time whilst I am there. I am usually a serious person and I need to remind myself to relax and soak up the world around me.
I have made an effort to stay at various hotels near my campus and walk to different parks and locations to get a sense of my surroundings. This gives me more time to be on campus and puts me off having to commute back home right away.
Taking photos really helps with looking at my environment. I take the time to lift my camera up and look for what I find to be pleasant or inspiring. I really appreciate having this hobby and always look forward to sharing my photos with others.
I am in the full swing of research, writing, and reviewing. I have been consistent with meeting my advisors on a monthly basis and think the routine is what is keeping me on track. I am prepping for my research review and believe the content I have generated so far will help reassure the university I can achieve my doctorate.
Throughout the process I have learned the importance of writing things down, making a goals list, and holding myself accountable. Though this is a huge part of PhD study, it has helped in my personal and professional life.
My current career has me working from home a lot more and my PhD skills have taught me how to remain productive when working alone. Likewise, my personal life has transformed as well. I journal regularly and write down my goals.
Journaling stands out this month because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am officially in self-isolation and going through my journal is helping me stay on track. Not only do I write my goals, but I write lists of affirmations, express my gratitude, and come up with ideas to propel me towards the future. My journal is essentially a hub for my dreams and has become a space that brings me joy and hope.
Reviewing my doctorate research after this 6-month mark has been rewarding. My PhD might seem separate from my day-to-day life, but the reality is this experience has impacted many areas. From problem solving to goal setting, my PhD is really setting me up for success.
As of now, I wouldn’t change anything over these past 6 months and really value the experience so far. I liked sitting down to write this and I think I will have to write more about my experiences. Check back to my blog, I plan on posting more!
If you have any questions about the PhD process feel free to send them my way, maybe I will blog about it 😊
Children displaying bad behaviors in school seems to be be an ongoing crisis in school districts across the United States. Most recently I heard about Philadelphia school district teacher troubles, where 50% of test scores in math, science, and English, do not pass proficiency (NBC10). Bad behavior impacts the child’s ability to learn and concentrate, but the teachers are also pushed to their emotional limits when dealing with these issues.
Roughly 500 teachers in the Philadelphia school district were surveyed about their working conditions and student behaviors. 59% of teachers have considered leaving their profession entirely due to the stresses caused from their jobs (NBC10).
To put into perspective, here are some quotes from the teachers:
“I have high school kids who read at a kindergarten level”
“Chaos. I can describe it as students running around in school like a pack of wolves all day long.”
How can this problem be solved? Some suggest more funding to schools, other suggest smaller class sizes, but a new method coming to light is bringing meditation to the classroom.
Methods of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness are working their way into classrooms through a program called FY (For Youth Meditation Program) or similar. These practices are theorized to help students with their anger, stress, or anxiety, through mindfully paying attention. This can be done through various techniques which include breathing, thought focus, sound focus, and other forms.
The claimed benefits from youth meditation include:
Reduction in stress and anxiety
Improves focus and concentration
Improves quality of sleep
With a list like this, it seems like meditation might be the miracle cure American school districts need.
However, not all schools have picked up on this “miracle cure.” As this is a new practice in schools, there lacks scientific support that meditation would be beneficial to children with behavioral issues.
I found a dissertation, which includes case studies, from Sara King at UCLA that puts this question of whether or not meditation is beneficial to the test. The document goes to say that meditation is a form of intervention for these troubled students. King’s goal is to determine the effeteness of this practice. Yet, King’s findings concluded that is is questionable that meditation or yoga is suitable for students k-12. Likewise, school districts are inconsistent with the definition of student well-being and perhaps there are different interventions suitable for different school contexts.
What I found most interesting about King’s dissertation is the interviews she had with the students participating in meditation intervention.
For instance, “Paulina referred to the ability of the practices to bring about a “peaceful mood” and is the only one to specifically describe using the practices to “focus” and “not get distracted” before a test. She also used the phrase “…inside I feel like everything is going smoothly,” and states that she is able to “breathe normally” to refer to her experience after engaging in the breath work practices.” P52
However, another student interviewed has a different response, ” Aliyah, stated that the FY program has not helped her for the worse or the better, and that she just feels “normal”. It is worth it to mention that during my interviews with Aliyah and Waheeda, I got the impression that they both seemed to feel as though they had normal levels of stress in their lives; both of them had no difficulties socially with their peers, family members or teachers; there was no reported history or trauma, and they both described themselves as motivated, academically successful students prior to the FY intervention. Aliyah and Waheeda both spoke of the FY practices as helpful, but neither of them indicated that participating in FY had a particularly transformative impact.” P55
What do I take away from all of this?
I feel that meditation is a tool that can assist with alleviating stress or anxiety. But just like any other tool, you have to want to use it in order to get the job done. Though some students from the case study did not have reported high levels of stress, those reported to have high stress seemed to benefit from the experience.
Meditation is only a band aide to some children dealing with deeper complexities in their lives. For instance, unstable home environments may cause students to have poor behaviors and emotions. Meditation, though can help take away some stress, is not the cure for their unchosen lifestyles.
I do not think it should be mandatory for all students to participate in meditation practices. If students are behaving poorly then maybe incorporating some class wide mindfulness could benefit, but I think targeting detention rooms would be more impactful. I know there are schools specifically targeting children in detention, changing the standard practices of detention to provoke a change in student attitude. I have not found any studies to confirm the effectiveness on this and will update if I find anything new.
I think, however, stress-management should be incorporated in classes such as health or physical education. That way students who are not currently suffering from high stress have the opportunity to learn healthy coping mechanisms if something would happen to change. Meditation and mindfulness could be incorporated alongside other tools to be taught in the stress-management course.
Though, this is all completely my opinion of meditation in schools, I think it is a great step forward. Trying something new like meditation to see if student behaviors change could work out well in the long run. Not only does it seem to help students with their stress, but the teachers might want to stay at their jobs too!