Jonathan Goldman, a 'sound healer', asks me to stand with my back to a wall, eyes shut, while he makes loud, strange noises directed at various parts of my body. As he chants in front of me like a Buddhist monk, I start to feel some odd sensations: an echoing hum in the bones and, finally, what feels like a small explosion in the centre of my forehead. I open my eyes and Mr Goldman is squatting on the floor shouting into my feet. Surprisingly, the headache that has accompanied me all day has gone.

Twelve years ago Mr Goldman, a bespectacled New Yorker, abandoned the life of a rock musician and disc jockey to concentrate on vocal harmonics. These he put to the service of a new therapy that is causing a flutter in New Age circles. Sound healing, says Mr Goldman, can cure headaches and migraine and help people to relax.

Rhythmic, monotonous noise, he points out, has been important in almost all cultures and lists Gregorian chants, the wail of the Sufis, the call of the muezzin, the song of the rabbi, Mongolian overtones and Tibetan chanting. In more developed societies, however, these communal vocal sessions have largely been abandoned, sometimes with unfortunate results.

In his book, Human Sounds, he recounts how a group of French Benedictine monks abandoned their six hours of daily chanting to free themselves for more 'useful' activities. They quickly became fatigued and depressed. One doctor blamed their vegetarian diet, but the addition of meat did not restore them. A French specialist in otolaryngology, Dr Alfred Tomatis, then advised them to return to their chanting. They did so, and regained their former energy.

Dr Tomatis, a supporter of sound healing, has been studying the human ear for 45 years. He spends four hours a day listening to music 'rich in high harmonic frequencies' and believes that is why he only needs four hours' sleep at night. Jonathan Goldman insists that do-it-yourself 'sounding' or chanting is equally effective when practised for 15 minutes a day. Dr Tomatis's theory is that the ear is involved in 'recharging' the brain with energy for daily life. To do this it has to hear 'all the frequencies of the voice spectrum, roughly 70 cycles per second to 9,000 cycles per second'. These frequencies can be heard in Gregorian chants, the 'one voice chord' of the Tibetan monks and the throat chants still found in Eastern Europe.

Dr Tomatis believes that the major therapeutic effect of sound occurs through the vibration of the bones, which amplifies sound and makes the cranium resonate; this in in turn stimulates the stapes bone of the inner ear. Dr Tomatis says this bone holds the key to stimulating the brain.

Mr Goldman believes that during sound healing, a process called 'entrainment' occurs, when the rhythms of the body - heartbeat, respiration and brainwaves - change to synchronise with those of a more 'powerful' body - in this case the healer. The process, he says, is similar to hypnotism, where the subject relaxes to the soporific tones of the hypnotist. In this way harmonic sounds relieve headaches by helping to relax the blood vessels of the skull.

Mr Goldman has set up a sound healing centre in New York to train people in vocal harmonics and is about to establish a second in Mexico. He says sound healing cannot produce miracles, although he has had 'some remarkable results'. He is still very excited about a report, from the New York Times in February 1988, that high frequency sound waves can 'make, break or rearrange molecules and levitate objects in mid-air'.

He tells an anecdote about Stockhausen, who composed a piece called 'Stimmung', consisting of one chord lasting 74 minutes. It took the singers six months to learn precisely how to hit first the ninth harmonic, then the 10th, right up to the 24th. The piece was sung 100 times by the singers. Stockhausen reported: 'It is a wonderful piece to learn . . . you become conscious of the different parts of the skull as you sing. If you met the singers you would see how they have changed as human beings . . . they are transformed.'

'Healing Sounds', by Jonathan Goldman (Element, pounds 8.99). A tape, 'Healing Sounds', is available at pounds 11.45, including p & p, from Rainbow Express, 4 Malden Road, London W3 6SU (081-992 5987).

Comments