Sound has power. There's the ancient story of the trumpets bringing down Jericho. There's also a written report by a Westerner who watched as a group of Tibetans levitated a massive rock up a sheer cliff by rhythmically sounding their giant Tibetan horns. According to this report, the Tibetans no longer knew the principles and advanced applications upon which their ritual was based except that its remaining instructions handed down over the ages and thus diluted were still sufficient for rudimentary rock levitation via sound. How the great pyramids were erected, their huge blocks shaped and set so precisely, has been the subject of endless discussions. This usually includes the admission that even with the latest in modern techniques and machinery, we'd be hard-pressed to duplicate this feat. Certain commentators have suggested that the original builders knew how to reverse gravity and that sound played a role in reducing the weight of their building blocks such that they could be manipulated by hand.

Modern science uses ultra sound in the medical field and there's very interesting evidence to suggest that the Aztecs and Mayans used sound vessels to induce meditative and trance states of consciousness. Reader drblue hipped me to the work of Don Wright of Entheosound who rediscovered these vessels and now produces his own based on the original blueprint [above]. Drblue owns a set and is a modern-day hypnotist, techno-shaman and trance facilitator in New Mexico who will shortly contribute a piece on psycho physiology and audio trance training.

This is a really fascinating subject. Meditators, athletes and drug users are all familiar with various states of consciousness wherein ordinary perception alters. Time might slow down. Vision could become all-inclusive. Profound emotions bearing no relation to everyday feelings might arise, spontaneous knowledge or insights present themselves like an instantaneous 'download'. The Italian tarantella tradition, Haitian Voodoun, Moroccan trance drumming and the Sufi zikr are but a few examples for how music and sound have been used over the ages to access some of these states.

One could -- successfully I believe -- argue that some of the audiophile impulse and the associated culture of music listening has a similar (albeit often unconscious) motif. Unlike the recording engineer's audio-as-truth approach, many music lovers are not primarily concerned over how closely playback mimics the life experience. Rather, they are interested in how powerfully the playback stimulates emotional responses of a sort that suggest introspection, transportation, feeling overwhelmed by beauty and majesty, entering 'the zone' or any personal variant thereof.

When we attempt to talk about audio in semi-objective terms, it's necessary to divorce our auditory perceptions from any of these self-induced altered perceptions - even though they might be at the heart of what makes listening to music so compelling and why one should be interested in this hobby to begin with. If you sympathize with this notion, you'll appreciate the peculiar position a reviewer finds himself in who does so as well. Our kind will have some form of personal discipline, developed knack or natural affinity to allow music listening to become a portal for internal journeys. The exact shape, feel, content and destination of these journeys will vary with each session and likely be under little control or volition except for the listener's ability to put him- or herself in the psychic place where transportation happens more often than not.

You could call this music as meditation or music to induce soft states of hypnosis. Only those who've never had such experiences will call them imaginary as though to suggest they weren't real. In fact, the whole realm of mysticism, profound love and spiritual ecstasy could be dubbed imaginary since onlookers can never partake in them. However, that shouldn't suggest that the one having the experience isn't having it nor that it means little to him. Naturally, certain questions arise in the context of audio reviewing or commentary when we consider the implications:
  • Should semi-reliable, open-destination exploits of consciousness and feeling be part of the consideration?
  • If not, how to separate purely auditory data from getting mixed up in other psycho-physical responses?
  • If yes, how to determine what responsibility for the experiences goes to the facilitating hardware and what goes to the listener?

The so-called placebo effect demonstrates nicely that even when what is believed to be a facilitating agent is purely imaginary, the result needn't be. People can get cured from a sugar pill which they believe to be medicine. But how is a music listener supposed to determine the actual contributions various hardware has on the arising of good trips, their potency and transport factor? It's easiest of course to dismiss this entire dimension. Focus instead on the quantifiable sonic attributes which different listeners could and would agree upon if present. Many would indeed argue that this is the proper definition for a solidly composed audio review - this and nothing more.

Alas, those who champion the notion of the audio system as a dimensional portal -- a context in which altered states of perception are invited, facilitated and enjoyed -- might argue that the truly essential information remains neglected by such an approach. They'd argue that it's all nice and good to learn about the space ship but we also need to learn whether it actually flies and to where it can take us.

The caricature of that kind of review is the one in which the writer describes his feelings in poetic ways. It can nearly feel pornographic. The guy clearly had a good time but you weren't there. It was his personal experience. Why are you watching him writhing? The caricature of the other kind of review is the musty test score - a C for bass, an A for midrange and an A- for treble. Most reviews do a little of both which is probably the most useful compromise but in the end -- if music is approached as a medium for shifts in consciousness -- the art of audio reviewing is still in its infancy about developing standards and universal descriptors for it. I  personally look very much forward to Drblue's tackling of this subject which, in his case, will benefit from his extended experiences with clients who provide a priceless data pool for information that goes beyond the purely personal into one that is more universally shared.

Seeing that both Drblue and Don Wright live in New Mexico, you can bet that the blowing of these Mayan whistles is sometime soon in my future. I'll report back to you with whatever experiences I may have with them. As Don shares on his site, the secret of these vessels is not in how they sound. It's in what they do to the one who plays them. Doesn't the same hold true for what's important about audio and what isn't?