Saturday, January 12, 2013

Power of Sound

I found the below narrative on Stonehenge quite fascinating in that it postulates that the ancient monolith was based on a magical auditory illusion. The power of sound is very well understood in Hinduism in that Pranava (Aum) is the primal sound that existed before the creation and the sound that stays after the pralaya (dissolution of the Universe) -- the natharupa - the Form of sound, of the Supreme Luminance. The Om mantra is venerated as Brahman in the form of word (akshara) and sound (sabda). 

What of the nature of sound at Arunachala? This is a subject I hope to explore in more depth later on this blog Arunachala Mystic. 

For the time being, I reproduce below the above cited Stonehenge article. 

Stonehenge Based on Auditory Illusion 
Stonehenge was built in several stages, with the lintelled stone circle constructed around 2,500 BC. The site was originally a burial ground, but may also have been a place for healing. 

In 2009 a music expert at Huddersfield University, used a full-scale replica of Stonehenge and computer analyses to show that repetitive drum beats and chanting would have resonated loudly between the standing stones. 

Two flutes playing the same continuous note sets up a pattern of interference that apparently echoes the layout of Stonehenge. The Neolithic builders of Stonehenge were inspired by "auditory illusions" when they drew up blueprints for the ancient monument, a researcher claims. The radical proposal follows a series of experiments by a US scientist who claims the positions of the standing stones match patterns in sound waves created by a pair of musical instruments. 

The researcher further hypothesised that the layout of the stones corresponded to the regular spacing of loud and quiet sounds created by acoustic interference when two instruments played the same note continuously. 

In Neolithic times, the nature of sound waves – and their ability to reinforce and cancel each other out – would have been mysterious enough to verge on the magical. Quiet patches created by acoustic interference could have led to the "auditory illusion" that invisible objects stood between a listener and the instruments being played, he added. 

To investigate whether instruments could create such auditory illusions, researchers rigged two flutes to an air pump so they played the same note continuously. Walking around them in a circle, the volume rose, fell and rose again as the sound waves interfered with each other. The researcher commented, "What I found unexpected was how I experienced those regions of quiet. It felt like I was being sheltered from the sound. As if something was protecting me. It gave me a feeling of peace and quiet." 

To follow up, volunteers were recruited and blindfolded and led in a circle around the instruments. Each participant was asked to sketch out the shape of any obstruction they thought lay between them and the flutes. Some drew circles of pillars, and one volunteer added lintels, a striking feature of the Stonehenge monument. 

"If these people in the past were dancing in a circle around two pipers and were experiencing the loud and soft and loud and soft regions that happen when an interference pattern is set up, they would have felt there were these massive objects arranged in a ring. It would have been a completely baffling experience, and anything that was mysterious in the past was considered to be magic and supernatural. 

I think that was what motivated them to build the actual structure that matched this virtual impression. It was like a vision that they received from the other world. The design of Stonehenge matches this interference pattern auditory illusion." 

It's not a complete structure now but there is a portion of the ring that still has the big megaliths arranged in the circle. If you have a sound source in the middle of Stonehenge, and you walk around the outside of the big stones, what you experience is alternating loud and soft, loud and soft, loud and soft as you alternately pass by the gaps and the stone, the gaps and the stone. So the stones of Stonehenge cast acoustic shadows that mimic an interference pattern." 

Researchers postulate that their findings are not mere coincidence and say local legend offers some support for this thesis. Some megaliths are known as pipers' stones, while stories tell of walls of air forming an invisible tower, and two magical pipers that enticed maidens to dance in a circle before they turned to stone.

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