In the 1960s, Steven Halpern began experimenting with music for de-stressing, relaxation and meditation. Friends, colleagues and fans pleaded for recordings but the record industry could not understand the unique style. They thought chakras were some kind chocolate.
Finally, in 1975, Steven recorded Spectrum Suite, a first in New Age healing music. The album to date, now titled Chakra Suite, has sold over 700,000 copies. Since its inception the genre has exploded with hundreds of musicians contributing. Steven Halpern is an internationally acclaimed composer, recording artist, author, researcher and sound healer.
Steven's music is recommended by physicians and therapists for use in hospitals, hospices, healing clinics, yoga and massage centers, homes and businesses around the world. In a recent telephone interview with Steven I learned much about the history, composition, intent behind and emergence of the field of New Age music.
I welcomed Steven and thanked him for agreeing to the interview.
Steven: My pleasure. I've been looking forward to this.
Diana: I have some questions for you, and please feel free to embellish upon my questions in any way that fits for you. With the recording of Spectrum Suite in 1975, you are often said to be the father of contemporary healing music. What influences brought you to compose in this unique genre?
Steven: The end of 1960, I began to experience meditating at a redwood grove and that essentially initiated me into the industry of what I call healing music. I played this music in meditation groups and in concerts starting in the end of 1969. People always asked me where they could get music like that and since there was no place, they asked me if I could make them a personal copy. So, I did that and it got very quickly to be that there were way too many requests.
After being encouraged by Dr. Stanley Krippner and Dr. John Lilly, world famous scientists and researchers, to objectively and scientifically research the phenomenal responses that people were subjectively reporting, I went back into graduate school, did some landmark research studying the effects if this new music on consciousness and healing, comparing it to the most relaxing classical music.
In a nutshell, what we found blew away the best classical music. In terms of relaxation, what I was composing was much more relaxing and healing. We had biofeedback studies to support that and to demonstrate that. However, there was no way to get the music onto recording in the early 70s because the technology for record duplication was in control of the major record companies.
That all changed, the end of 1974 when the first independent recording company and record plant opened in the San Francisco area. I was in their studio on January 4, 1975 and recorded my first album, and suddenly found that I had started the first independent, New Age record label out of necessity.
The other thing that happened was that this made it easier to respond to people who said they were always looking for music to help them meditate, and relax and to support them in doing yoga. Many albums might have one song that was good for that, or a couple of songs, but you couldn't just put on the entire album as a soundtrack for these kind of spiritual life style activities. A lot of people like myself are high-stressed, type-A individuals, and we were looking for something that would be effective, enjoyable, inexpensive and legal.
Healing music was just what the doctor ordered. It turns out, as I discovered as I really got into the research, for thousands of years mankind has understood the healing powers of music. But for the last five hundred years that's fallen by the wayside as music for entertainment really pushed the therapeutic uses of sound and music into the background.
What I saw when I brought my first album into stores was that there was an audience looking for music that nurtured body, mind, spirit that wasn't just looking for music for entertainment. My initial album that dealt with balancing the chakras as a very profound yet simple psycho-technology for enhancing coherence, getting people into an alpha brainwave state and really assisting bodies in healing themselves, kicked off the entire field that became known as New Age, and the sub-genre has always been healing music.
Diana: That's a wonderful history of your development of this field.
Steven: If I may just add a quick note here. I had been a professional jazz musician, in to world rhythm and blues. I had a strong background in improvisation and playing with very powerful rhythms. What was so unique about this new music was it did not have any central rhythmic core, unlike most all other music at the time. Indeed, this is part of the secret that allows listeners to let go of preconceived modalities of responding to music. And with some of the other things I developed in my approach to composing music went beyond the traditional forms and rules of classical, pop and jazz composition. And just followed my muse followed the music into a more free, flowing context. And, that's part of what people respond to when they respond to the music, that the intention is there to consciously create a soundtrack that resonates at a higher frequency and serves at a higher level of bringing harmony and peace to body, mind, spirit.
Diana: Excellent. Just a few years ago you re-mastered Spectrum Suite into Chakra Suite. Why was it important to do that?
Steven: Two reasons, one, even though we recorded on the best analog equipment of the day, everything is now on CD. When the master tape was first transferred to the digital format we used the state of the art. Well, the state of the art has gotten so much better. And when I heard how much better we could make my existing recording, I was guided not to re-record it but to re-master the music. And, it sounds even more luminous and the notes have a three dimensional quality to them that really, really is state of the art now.
The other thing was that in 1999, as yoga became so popular around the country, more people understood the concept of what chakras are. It was time to change the title to reflect that. Actually, the very first title, in 1975, was Chakra Suite, but people didn't know what they were and stores wouldn't take it. They thought it was some flavor of chocolate or something else. Then, 25 years later, with Spectrum Suite, even though I was talking about electromagnetic spectrum and relating colors and sounds and chakras (the 7 vital energy centers of the body), it was time to get a more descriptive and accurate title and cover. That's what we brought forth, and interestingly sales have gone up about 800% since the title shifted to reflect the change in culture.
Diana: Amazing. I can testify that it is very powerful in its healing qualities.
In recent months and in months ahead, you have been and will soon be a presenter at a number of sound healing conferences. Is the field suddenly expanding? If so, do you have an explanation for why?
Steven: Yes and yes. The field is expanding and there are several factors: As with any rapidly expanding field, there are people who really know what they are doing and there are people who don't. There are people just jumping on the bandwagon leading to this concept as the flavor of the month. That's one aspect.
On the other hand, there's many, many people who've taken workshops and who are having experiences in their own lives who are bringing in some aspect of sound and music into their massage, into their body work practice, into their psychological counseling, and they're looking for more information because there's been nothing in the traditional college or any school curriculum that teaches how valuable sound and music can be in respect to health and healing.
So, in other words, it's an idea who's time has come. As more and more people get involved and open up to the concept then more people say, 'let's put together a conference' rather than just have one workshop on sound in the whole weekend.
That's how I got started. I was that one person who was talking about the healing power of sound and music and had the field pretty much to myself for 10 years. Many people have been inspired by that and have started doing their own work. Now there's many other individuals who are doing workshops on sound and healing and writing books.
For people who in the Bay Area knew my first book, "Tuning the Human Instrument" from 1977, and my best seller in 1985, "Sound Health," many things people are writing now were found, sometimes word for word, in those earlier books. It's really a great feeling to see how many more people are tuning in to this concept of this most ancient of the healing arts.
Diana: How is the upcoming San Francisco conference, Globe Sound Healing Conference, http://www.SoundHealingCenter.com, unique and what will your topic be?
Steven: My topic has been "Uncovering and sharing some secrets of sound healing." In fact, that's been the name of my workshops, or some variations of that, for about 15 years.
Part of the unique aspect for people in Northern California is that this is local. It’s also sponsored by the Globe Institute and their affiliated sound healing curriculum. This is one of the only degree-granted, accredited organizations, if not the only one, in the country. They are bringing together a number of speakers who are leaders in the field. Particularly for those of us who live in the Bay Area, it's an incredible opportunity to see and hear and meet people who are doing some leading edge research, advancing the field, as well as just rehashing what other people have come up with and repackaging things.
In San Francisco, the real deal will be in attendance. There will be opportunity to interact and ask questions. It's like taking a college semester program all in one weekend with all the guest faculty. It's really an extraordinary opportunity.
Diana: Do you have anything to say about the research they speak of in the publicity materials regarding physiological responses to music and sound?
Steven: I'm not sure which research you're talking about. There's a lot of research starting to come out. The important reality is understanding that there has been so little current research because it takes money. There are a lot of people who don't want you to know how effective and powerful the right music and the right sounds can be. For instance, if you have a headache and it's caused by stress, my approach is to decrease the stress and relax the body with sound and music and the headache goes away. Well, the pharmaceutical industry would rather you take one of their pills, so they are not going to fund research on the healing properties of music.
Most of the music and sound healers I know are not independently wealthy so they have a hard problem. Because of the economy, there aren't a lot of grants available.
So there's been much less contemporary research. In fact, when I did my research in the early 70s, there were no studies using biofeedback. That is, galvanic skin response and brain wave monitoring and kirlian photography activity —photographing the aura as it responds to music. I put that concept on the map. I was the first one to do that, and to date there are still very few studies that have really involved some of the leading edge of quantum physics and consciousness as my research did 30 years ago.
The Bay Area was a hot bed of progressive scientists. I had a chance to interact directly with them as well as people on the East Coast and around the world that really got me positioned to take the best of the music world, interface it with the early pioneers in quantum science and quantum physics.
Now, whether you've seen "What the Bleep" or "The Secret," what we're all talking about is resonance and entrainment, which is a major aspect of the law of attraction. What "The Secret" is talking about. Hopefully, as a result of conferences like this, we'll see more research. But in the meantime people have used sound for healing, archeologists and musicologists tell us, for over 2500 years. So, why wait for someone to study music in a laboratory when you yourself can validate the beneficial properties in your own life?
The important part is to choose the correct music. A lot of people have read the little article on the Mozart Effect and think that any Mozart music played by anyone is going to have the same effect. Not only do they get dumber instead of smarter, they find that that's kind of a red herring. Quality in music counts. You have to make wise choices. You have to educate yourself as a consumer of music.
Learning how to orchestrate your own instrument is a skill. It's learned by experience. We do a lot of things intuitively, but many people mistake liking music for arbitrarily saying that's the same thing as delivering therapeutic and beneficial doses of healing just because you like something.
Diana: In your music you have so many albums directed for specific issues. Did you create the music intuitively? How did you know which music was going to help in the area, for instance, for quitting smoking, or relaxation for massage, or for caregivers?
Steven: Well, let me clarify 2 things. I am not claiming, nor should anyone be making claims that any music will cure or heal a specific disease. What I've always put forth is that the music assists self-healing. The modality that I focus on is evoking the relaxation response. It's a measurable, predictable and demonstrable phenomenon. The easiest markers are breathing deeply and slowly. Right away you know if you listen to music with a fast beat you won't be able to breathe slowly and you know that it is not going to be useful for healing. As Dr. Herbert Benson pointed out, the relaxation response is fundamental to most all other healing outcomes.
So that's the first way that I decide. If the music is not relaxing to me, I don’t put it out in the world. I test it. and test it then with other people, and only when I get confirmation on all other levels does one of my albums get released into the market place.
Now, the albums that you were mentioning are a specific sub-genre of music and subliminal affirmations. These target individual outcomes and goals, because the scripting, the words that I write and speak, again I use the relaxed state, as the individual is most receptive to positive input and the words go directly into the subconscious mind. Even though your conscious ear doesn't hear the words, your subconscious mind does and responds accordingly. It's the most effective way of getting positive input into our consciousness, because sometimes if you hear the words, your intellect and rational mind will resist that input. Then there's a cognitive dissonance that goes on and you don’t get the results you want.
I've been involved in research with subliminal audio programs for over 30 years and its clear that its much more than just a placebo effect. I've tested the same music with 3 different scripts. In fact, the most dramatic one was using the same piece of music, a 5 minute song on piano that I would have, in one case music to put people to sleep, and in another case music to wake people up. In fact, I recorded in the studio in Palo Alto in the 1980s, so it's a local story. The engineer didn't mark down what we recorded. It was the same piece of music and just said subliminals, and the tapes got scrambled. I didn't know which piece was which. I locked him in the control room, played the music and watched his coffee consumption. When he was listening to the music that turned out to be the music with the affirmation to encourage sleep, he was up to his third cup of coffee before the song was over, and that was the response. He didn't know which was which.
People say, 'Well, how do you know it works?' When it works on you that's great, but when it works on somebody else who doesn't know the music that's playing and has exactly the kind of reactions that are specified in the scripting, the way to explain that is somehow that music and words are affecting the listener. We believe that is certainly part of what we'll call a quantum consciousness field experience.
So the effect happens on many levels, but, again, as a practical individual, I am less concerned about exactly how something may work, rather I'm interested in if it does work. If it works, that is the most important thing. Then we'll fill in the theories afterwards.
I came up with a lot of theories in my graduate work and over the first 15 years of my career. Most of those still seem very appropriate but now we have the language of quantum physics to expand and to help clarify what I was talking about in terms of listening to get in the space between the notes. Deepak Chopra and Wayne Dyer are calling this getting in the gap, and quantum physicists are saying this is how we tune into the field of universal consciousness.
So, we're all using the same concept, maybe slightly changing the words. But when you listen deeply; when you stop using music just as background and really focus on the spaces and listen interactively, where you give your total and conscious energy and attention to receive the intentionality and energetic orchestration that the composer and recording artist has put forth; that’s when you can really pick up on the healing powers to the max.
The audio of this portion of the interview is posted on SpiritLinksNewsletter.org http://www.spiritlinksnewsletter.org . Don't miss Steven's comments on the profound impact of James Brown on music, dance and culture, and the influence of the Beatles on our society and music.
Read "Reflections on James Brown, the Groove and the Zone" in the email newsletter archives (January 2007) on Steven Halpern's InnerPeaceMusic.com http://www.innerpeacemusic.com .
Steven is updating his 1982 CD on assisting drivers in being more alert yet relaxed while driving. The new project, Mindful Driving ™ , currently in beta testing, "includes positive affirmations that are intended to create safer drivers, reduce road rage and make your overall driving experience safer and more enjoyable." Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Diana deRegnier is a freelance writer and syndicated columnist for United Press International ReligionandSpirituality.com, AmericanChronicle.com and SpiritLinksNewsletter.org. Her articles appear in numerous internet and print publications around the world. © Diana deRegnier 2008