Strange music is everywhere. A hand rubbing the sides of a tub emits otherworldly space whale flatulence (Try it sometime). Hissing olive oil in the pan begs for bok choi and shrimp. Rain filled shoes squeak and squawk sending maritime echoes down the hall. Dolphins sing. Roaches buzz. It’s all out there, all the time.
Our experience of life is an experience of vibrations. Everything vibrates at its own frequency. Many of these sound vibrations fall either far above or far below our ability to directly perceive them. In these cases, it’s up to geniuses like David Rosenboom to ferret out ways for us to gain access. On his recently rereleased Brainwave Music (EM Records), we are treated to the sounds of our brains thinking. This reissue is a set of music originally recorded in 1971, 1972 and 1974, but given its tonality and structure, it sounds oddly timeless.
Although there are other instruments on the album, it’s the brainwave sounds that capture the listener first. The system Rosenboom uses relies on what is known as biofeedback. Biofeedback is a collection of thoughtwaves and physical responses to various stimuli. As our mind processes information, our brainwaves change. The waves can be measured and it turns out that they vibrate at different frequencies. Rosenboom uses an interface between the brain and a synthesizer to generate the tones. As the performer phases through various states of mind, they are made manifest in the real world.
Once we get past the novelty of how this music was generated, we are simply left with the sound. The overriding quality is the almighty drone. Drones are a big part of most non-Western music. The Western world does, however, have drone. Bluegrass music is rife with it. It’s there in work songs, mountain music, and even rears its leveling head in jazz.
The drone is our natural state. It’s a steady stream that reveals itself in our biological rhythms. Listen to your heart at the doctor’s office. Feel the whoosh of blood pass through your inner ear during meditation. These subtle, yet vital hums move us on our way through life and connect us to it.
Drones are all around. Who doesn’t get tranqued out listening to the ocean or a waterfall? Most of the tracks on Brainwave Music are awash is spacey warblings. The sound tinkles, pulses, and gurgles with bliss-inducing shimmers. Rosenboom also makes use of some minimalist piano and ethereal vocals to great effect. As an added bonus to this reissue, there is an additional 17 minutes of live material from a 1972 experimental music festival. So if you feel the pull and power of the drone, then this disk is an essential listen.
Given that our experience of life is truly an interaction with sound, it behooves us to open our ears a bit wider and learn to accept a broader sonic palette. Artists like David Rosenboom provide us with pathways in. It’s up to us to take the first step.