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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sound Mind

Essendo cosi è necessario che la bellezza sia una natura come quella della virtù, figure e voci; perché noi non chiameremo qualunque di questi tre bello,se non fosse in tutti e tre comune definizione della bellezza.
Marsilio Ficino, Il libro dell'amore
It's the bleak midseason, and many of us are suffering from Blue Martian Disease, the main symptom of which is loudly anguishing about things of zero importance. We need harmony, serenity! We need to know upon whom Hamlet Au next plans to bestow his ample self!
OK, we don't really need to know that last one, but the other two are essential. Here's an idea.
On a crowded, rather untidy sim, Miso Susanowa has created an oasis of sound and harmony, where every flower sings its own microchord, and as you walk among them, they fill your mind like perfume. She sat on a magic mushroom, a sort of Yoko Ono thing going on, but less hard-faced, and with leggings. I swooped my cam among the tinkling bells, a breeze of harmonics.
Miso Susanowa: Some of those notes aren't being played, they are the harmonics your own brain is making between the notes actually being played. It is truly interactive audio; even if you are still and look in one direction, you will hear the sound field sweep back and forth depending on which harmonics are resonating.
  Miso's RL career in visual art and music began back in the 1970's; she's been a performance artist, composer, sound engineer, and informal IT teacher. In 1995 she set up a website that helped women (especially preteen girls) to learn to write HTML. She is an 'oldbie' in terms of digital art: she started doing digital drawings as long ago as 1982, on a UNIX system. In 1995 she participated in some early virtual worlds, so that her arrival in Second Life in 2008 offered a very different learning curve to the one many of us experienced.  She has an impressive portfolio of work with galleries and art collectives like UWA and Caerleon, and has collaborated with some of SL's biggest names; she's recently been featured in Spanish art magazine Arte y Parte. Starting with her 'Angelic Clocks' and most recently with the atmospheric Solstice tree, shown in InWorldz in December, which included her composition The Longest Night, sound has dominated her artistic output. Her first experience in SL was a silent one, mostly rollerskating, but without the sound element it failed to pull her in; before long she'd imported a rollerblade sound, just to make the experience more complete.

Miso Susanowa: When I was 5 I stole my dad's tape recorder to tape the wheels of my schoolbus because I liked the rhythms. Sometimes you think, wow, it's so quiet, but if you focus in, the world is not silent, ever. Audio is our second most acute sense after smell, before vision. It gives a person a sense of place and depth that far surpasses sight. So to me, all this talk of "immersion" when all you have is mostly graphics is not immersion. 
The place seemed to be brimming with vibrations, like a swarm of sounds, the way a gong makes you feel, like a resonating congregation of noise developing around us.
Miso Susanowa: It will entrain your brain to alpha state in 10 minutes. It's a simple and well known effect but it requires pure sine waves which are a BITCH to loop - it took me two weeks to do it without pops. The corpus callosum will try to sync your brain to the waves and your heart will attempt to match the yogin's beat, which is about 68-72BPM, a "restful state". People paint with paint; I have audio synesthesia. Shapes, colors, lighting, texture will trigger songs, music in my head - it can be aggravating!
  Across the garden is the Temple of the Radiant Moon, used by Reikian healers and meditation groups. No advertising; people just find their way to Miso's  temple, to bathe in the sounds.  From the textures and artwork it's easy to see she's made a study of world faiths ancient and modern, and has tried to blend cultures, drawing from them the aspects of the moon.  Two deep, mellow sounds boom out of the Temple even before you enter the door, the Earth Tone and the Heart Drum. It's a sound that seems to sneak into your bones. Add to these Japanese taiko drum, Tibetan Throat Singers and a Gregorian chant, and you have a  menu for deep meditation. 
Miso Susanowa: This is applied research, not mysticism! Hospitals use ultrasound for bone knitting and muscle relaxing and healing. Consciousness is based on electrical signals, which are waves: so is your blood flow. Over 20 years, I've tried to ferret out what I could about the "secret healing tones of the Lyre of Hermes Trismegistus" etc., or how the Tibetans can hypnotize people with a drawing. I've closely followed the work of  modern researchers like Pauline Olivera. Online life is overstimulating. These tones help fight that online feeling of I SHOULD BE DOING SOMETHING, but a word of warning - such pure tones can be contraindicated. They are here to use, but if you are tense, uptight, a cup of coffee isn't gonna be good for you, yes? Well, these sine waves affect the brain, so need to be used with caution.
  Back outside, the sounds diminished, and she led the way to her third sound zone. She had me click on the sun above her head. Excerpts from a 22 minute composition of Miso's, based on the radio frequencies of each planets,  filled the air, and I cammed in until my avatar filled half the screen. The exquisitely accurate planets revolved around me, playing their tunes. I wondered what it meant to Miso to be able to influence people so much. 
  A victim of abuse as a child, Miso's struggled with feelings of self worth all her life. These sounds have helped her over the years, and it's her desire to share them with other people who are hurting.
 Miso Susanowa: The Code of Silence is the most deadening thing there is and I defy it, I talk about what is distasteful or uncomfortable for people because it's real. It's important to get beyond the mind that can be twisted up. This is nothing new. My tools are just different. I learned science and even computers as a left brain strengthener, to help me not be overwhelmed. It isn't natural to me to be a geek, I use it to help me not drown. It's a discipline, a mental yoga, and it's saved my life more than a few times...

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