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The Mystery of Sound

by Meggan Brummer(more info)

listed in sound and music, originally published in issue 149 - July 2008

Stretching sound is music
– Sri Sri Ravi Shankar,
Founder, Art of Living Foundation.

Is Sound just something we hear with one of our five senses, or could it have a far more extraordinary role – nothing less than the primordial creative source from which all life has manifested. For just a few moments, drop everything you know about sound and consider this – everything and anything, from spiral galaxies to sub-atomic particles, are really just vibrating structures, generating pressure waves, the basis of Sound.

Tuning Fork

Existence is Vibration

Everything in the Universe has a vibration (frequency) – our physical bodies, every flower, plant, tree and mineral have their own specific vibration. The fact that everything is in a state of vibration means that everything is creating sound – even a rock makes a sound, it’s just that it is too subtle to be heard by the human ear, which is generally capable of hearing frequencies between 15 Hz to 20,000 Hz. Every cell type, organ and system in every living organism also has its own specific vibration, as does every thought, emotion, colour and sound.

The vibrations of these objects cause compression waves which move away from the object as sound. However, for a sound to be heard, the wave must cause another object to vibrate too. It is all about vibrations.

Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, inspired by a conversation with his mother who told him dogs don’t bark at people who give off “good vibrations,” proceeded to pen that famous song. Recorded back in 1966 using a Theremin; a strange instrument played by moving his hand across an electric field to produce sound, Wilson brought a whole new 1960s-style awareness to the phenomenon of ‘vibrations’.

So what exactly are vibrations? Vibrations are the motions of disturbance, and because they are not matter, many can occupy the same space at the same time. This is why if you listen carefully at a concert, you can distinguish the sounds of the different instruments, as their vibrations or sound waves are unaffected by the other waves that are passing through the same space simultaneously.

Another phenomenon of vibration, or sound, is sympathetic vibration, which creates resonance. This occurs when two objects have identical vibrations. The energy transferred from one of the objects via sound pressure waves causes the other, identical object to vibrate ‘in sympathy,’ simply because it has the same frequency. The two resonate as one.

Now imagine a rock. There is a certain amount of static friction (the resistive force caused by gravity) which keeps it in any one place. If the rock and where it sits are subjected to vibration, although they themselves have different vibrations, sympathetic vibrations can be established so they begin to move relative to one another. With relative motion, static friction is no longer in effect, and dynamic friction is often less, allowing the rock to move more easily.

Understanding this principle of sympathetic vibration and its harnessing, as did the ancients, gives us clues as to how stones up to six tonnes in weight from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire were ‘transported’ some 250km to Stonehenge. The same goes for the 2.3 million stones up to 60-80 tonnes each that were quarried and transported over 500 miles to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. (I am not the only person who always found those 100,000+ slaves and 22 years construction estimates deeply unconvincing!)

The Very First Sound

What was the first sound? There are two main contenders, although perhaps they are one and the same sound. Let us start with the Big Bang. (The phrase itself was originally coined by the theory doubters to make it sound ridiculous; unfortunately for them, the name and the theory stuck).

Now, if what we call sound is really just the vibrations of energy being transported via the atoms in matter, what happens when there is no matter, such as the vacuum in space?

With no matter to transport the vibrations – what happened to the sound of the Big Bang? It is a bit like those trees falling in empty forests or the sound of one hand clapping. Something’s missing. Well, when the vibration of ‘sound’ can’t make itself heard, it just says ‘no worries – if you can’t hear me I’ll manifest as a ‘soundless sound’ – better known to us as heat.’

With that in mind, in 2003 John Cramer of the University of Washington examined data claimed by NASA to be the heat radiation left over from the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago. Cramer’s analysis included transforming the heat footprint back into sound. Playing back the sound, he immediately came to a beautiful conclusion – that the first sound was not so much a Big Bang but more of a Big Hum. It does not then take a quantum leap to suggest that the Big Hum was in fact the first and biggest AUM – the sound that manifested the universe.

And if Sound is the Alpha, it is the Omega too. Professor Adam Burrows of the University of Arizona recently reported that milliseconds before a giant star dies, it hums a note around ‘middle C’.

“It was so unexpected that we kept re-checking and re-testing our results,” says Burrows. “But we are now certain this phenomenon we were seeing was sound waves.”

Harmonic Law

In 1967, Swiss scientist Hans Jenny published the first of his painstaking studies on the transmission of sound, Cymatics: The Study of Wave Phenomena. Using his own invention, a tonoscope, he observed how sound vibrations created geometric shapes. Quartz sand was spread over a drum membrane which was then vibrated by various sounds. A low frequency sound created a basic circle surrounded by rings, and higher frequencies increased the number of concentric rings around the central circle and the complexity of their shapes, to the point where tetrahedrons, mandalas and other sacred forms could be seen.

Basically, each different frequency causes beautiful and precise geometric patterns to be formed, and gradually changing the frequency causes the pattern to change. Combining several different frequencies creates increasingly complex patterns, and rotational and spiralling movements produce shapes and forms identical in appearance to our own galaxies and solar systems. How beautiful is that!

“The more one studies these things, the more one realizes that sound is the creative principle.” concluded Jenny. “Sound must be regarded as primordial. No single phenomenal category can be claimed as the aboriginal principle. We cannot say, in the beginning was number, or in the beginning was symmetry, etc. By using them in description we approach the heart of the matter, but they are not themselves the creative power. This power is inherent in tone, in sound.”

However, the theory that sound can create matter is far from a new idea. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam – all the mainstream Holy scriptures refer to the ‘Heavenly Music’ or the ‘Music of the Spheres’ that created, maintains, and will ultimately dissolve the universe.

Da Dai Li Gi, from the Ancient Chinese Book of Customs, writes “One must examine the sounds to understand the tones; one must understand the tones to understand the music. He who understands music can penetrate the customs (laws) and he who knows both customs (laws) and the music possesses the secret of life”.

AUM or OM – A Sacred Sound

Now let us consider the other contender for the first sound. According to St John, “In the beginning was the word.” [John 1:1]. This claim has all but become a cliché, its profound meaning masked by excessive overuse. I certainly must have heard it hundreds of times before I ever really stopped to wonder what St John was alluding to.

Today, these six words fill me with wonder. Could it be that the very first step towards manifestation taken by the creative source was a sound? Evolution has designed our hearing to cope with the moment by moment flood of information-bearing vibrations, but could sound really be the very genesis of the universe and everything in it? Was the ‘Word’ some kind of Divine procreative vibration?

When the sound of AUM is sung into Hans Jenny’s tonoscope, the vibrations created by the sound produce distinct geometric shapes often associated with ‘sacredness’, such as the hexagon, upon which the Egyptian matrix named the Flower of Life is based.

Islam also uses this ‘sacred geometry’ to express the image of God, just as those hymns to sacred geometry, Gothic cathedrals, are physical representations of specific energy vibrations.

The Hopi and Navajo Shamans also understood this deeper origin of sound and would utter words onto sand to create patterns. Similarly, Hindu and Buddhist Mandalas, whose elaborate geometries are used to alter states of consciousness, were first created in sand by ‘sound waves’ made by speaking the names of the Deities, creating the ‘vibration of God’.

More recently, modern science has identified these geometric rhythms and shapes at the very core of atomic structures. When Andrew Gladzewski carried out research into atomic patterns, plants, crystals and harmonics in music, he concluded that “Atoms are actually harmonic resonators, proving that physical reality is actually governed by geometric arrays based on sound frequencies.” The case for sound, particularly Aum, as the creative source, is growing stronger.

Aum, is chanted by making first the sound of ‘au’ (pronounced ‘or’) for the first two thirds of the sound and then ‘m’ for the final third of the sound. It creates an invigorating and energizing effect in the body and a calming, stillness in the mind.

An entire Indian text called the Maandookyopanishad, from the Upanishads, is devoted to the explanation of this sound/word. Aum is considered to be the Supreme name for God, yet is it not unique to The Hindus or Buddhists. Variations of Aum are at the heart of many cultures and religions, as in the Hebrew word Shalom, meaning Peace, Hum from the Zoroastrians, Amin, and of course – the Christian Amen.

Rishi Vidhyardhar, Senior Art of Living Teacher, says “Of all such sounds, it is only when speaking AUM that the tongue touches neither the top nor bottom of the mouth. AUM – the perfect sound, is constantly there, and when heard in deep meditation, it sounds like a continuous vibration, that comes from silence, is sustained by silence and returns to silence”.

The AUM mantra is said to encompass the whole of the universe – the ‘A’ sound represents the Waking, Conscious or Gross World, the ‘U’ sound represents the Dreaming, Unconscious and Subtle Realm, the ‘M’ sound is the Deep Sleep, Subconscious or Causal Planes out of which the gross and subtle emerge. The fourth state is Silence, or Absolute Reality.

Other representations of the components of AUM are found in the Trimurti, with ‘A’ denoting Brahma, the Creator, with the power to create the Universe, ‘U’ denotes Vishnu, the Maintainer, with the power to preserve the Universe and ‘M’ denotes Shiva, the Destroyer, with the power to dissolve the Universe.

The Internal Music – Healing Sounds

Our physical bodies emit a sound, and for the whole ‘orchestra’ of our body to play in harmony, each cell should be in tune with the Life Force, the ultimate vibration in nature that never changes or needs tuning.

If the frequency of a single cell in one of our body organs deviates from its normal vibration, it will eventually have an effect on the whole organ, and consequently the whole body. This vibration deviation in the DNA of a body cell first takes place as an imbalance in the magneto-electric field within the frequencies associated with our thoughts and emotions, most often as a result of stress. Hence the medical world concurs that most illness is very much psychosomatic – originates in our psyche (mind) and manifests in our somatic (body).

As a foetus in our mother’s womb, we eat nothing. There is no air, no sunlight and yet we are in bliss. The reason being, that there we are in contact with the inner wondrous Sound, the source of all love, bliss and power. After our birth, we are disconnected from this vibration, and we cry at the first contact with the outer world.

The human has a multidimensional anatomy – mind, intellect, memory, ego and self, existing in parallel with the physical body and the breath. However, as we grow older, stress, together with inharmonious lifestyle choices, (including poor and toxic diets), further disturbs the natural frequencies and rhythms of our bodies. By far the most effective method of realignment I have experienced is the ‘Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique through which one is guided by following certain rhythms of sounds, given to the world by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living. This natural process re-establishes our natural mental, physical and emotional rhythms and frequencies and, in so doing, purges the system of stress toxins and balances our whole being. The first time I did it, I remember feeling that I had been, at last, put back in touch with my own song.

In conclusion, it is clear that all things on the surface of existence seem separate from one another, but beneath the surface, all things in the universe are linked together, by ‘sound’. As they get closer to each other, and in the innermost plane, they all become one. Such is the mystery and the majesty of AUM, the sacred sound of creation. Chant it every day of your life!


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About Meggan Brummer

Meggan Brummer (BA Hons) is a health writer, Hatha Yoga and Meditation Teacher, teacher of The Art of Living courses for the International Art of Living Foundation (, singer and traveller. Having taught yoga in Africa and Asia, Meggan now lives and teaches in Sydney, Australia. Although she specializes in Yoga and Ayurveda, Meggan is dedicated to exploring and sharing the myriad of alternative ways in which we can live happier and healthier lives through her writing. She can be contacted on


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