24 April, 2010

Musopathy

The Background

The power of sound has fascinated millions over centuries. Certain types of music have been known to reduce  stress, depression, headache etc while other kinds make the opposite happen. Unless one realises that music-mechanics supersede the individual artist  or even the genre of music (classical, pop, jazz etc) that is being heard/rendered the field of  Music Therapy would be consigned to quasi or pseudo scientific alternative (or at best complementary) medicine. On the other hand, if more fundamental laws of physics that are the building blocks of even the highest level of music are objectively studied, the incredibly  precise though complex relationships between music and health could be quantifiably understood and tapped into. 

The need of the hour is quality research in several areas by distinguished specialists and institutions with as much scientific rigour as seen in allopathy. The scientific study and development of this area, which I termed as Musopathy (a la allopathy, homeopathy etc), can have an enormous positive impact on humanity. It is clearly distinct from the fairly subjective Music Therapy that is offered by several Universities across the planet today. In other words, Musopathy is a de-culturalised and de-regionalised objective approach to address auro-neural and hormonal responses and health issues but through measurable musical factors in a scientific manner, document the stats and analyse them to conclusively prove or disprove a number of claims and postulates such as Royal Raymond Rife’s thoughts on the relationship between certain frequencies and cancer in 1930s. It’s only gradually becoming apparent to mainstream medical scholars even at institutions like NIH (in USA) that human brains are more sensitive to musical pitches than other primates.

Music Therapy in recent times

As most of us know, music is increasingly being used by scientists and doctors all over the world as complementary or alternative therapy for dealing with hypertension, depression, physiotherapy or even speech therapy for stroke victims. Leading medical names keen about music include Virginia Apgar, (the obstetrician famous for Apgar score), Rene Laennec, (inventor of the stethoscope), Dr Richard Bing and Dr Eugene Braunwald (renowned cardiologist), to mention a few. 

Music-medicine relationship in ancient times

Musical associations of medical professionals dates back as far as the ancient Indian and Greek eras and can be traced to modern times as well. Apollo, the god of healing in the Greek mythology is seen with a lyre and Aesculapius who was Apollo’s son has been associated with flute. Indians have believed that ragas like Amrtavarshini or Meghmalhar could bring rain, Deepakam could light up lamps and those like Neelambari could combat insomnia. We also have stories of composers such as Oottukkadu Venkata Kavi, Tyagaraja and Muttuswami Dikshitar being called upon to cure patients with their music.

Experiments in modern times

Studies were conducted on the effect of music on plant growth by leading Universities such as Harvard in 1970s that noted that Indian Classical Music was the best catalyst for plant growth. (For more information on this, read Sidney Sheldon's Stars Shine Down!!). In the late 1990s, a San Diego based University claimed that students performed better in exams after listening to Mozart.

In the beginning of the new millennium, Jane Hanson, on behalf of BBC, looked at the cutting-edge research and application of music in clinical medicine which included the University of North Texas, USA, Beth Abraham hospital in New York and select doctors and musicians in Mysore, India. An audio of her experiences is available at:
In Chennai, India, the Raga Research Center led by violinist Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan claimed that cattle that heard the raga Anandabhairavi produced more milk. Some studies suggest that regular concert listening increases lifespan or that heavy weight music  makes high intensity workouts more enjoyable 

Limitations and scope

However, althese need deeper investigation as they are mostly subjective approaches based on regional cultural exposures. For example, a study in New York would not include music from India or Africa and vice-versa to ensure the scientific validity of all these claims beyond doubt. Nor do they go to absolute yardsticks like volume levels, tempo of music or the combination of notes that are responsible for specific responses.  And beat effect of music (2 sounds of microscopically unaligned pitches) have not been documented sufficiently either.  But their limitations notwithstanding, the fundamental truth cannot be disputed – the power of sound. 

Sound has immense power and potency. In fact, some scientists have even experimented with limited success in creating new acoustic weapons, which emit frequencies that may impair, harm, or kill.  Theorists such as Benjamin Boretz consider some of the results of psychoacoustics to be meaningful only in a musical context

But how well has it been tapped in the area of medicine? How well has its power been studied? No doubt that there are studies based on Music-psychology and there has also been an attempt to get to a broader picture by studying musical syntax (though it has been confined to Western systems which includes harmony). Music psychology focuses on several areas, including music performance, composition, education, criticism and therapy is only one of them. It also investigates human attitude, skill, performance, intelligence, creativity, and social behavior.

Specifically coming to the therapeutic side, there is a lot of scope to extend organized research with systematic exactitude.  Mere sentimental or culture-centric musical ideas, with intentions however sound (pun intended), can never replace the rigour of science. That is why, Music Therapy (the way it is approached now) hovers somewhere between quack medicine and quasi-science.  

There is a complete absence of standardisation as every country has a different approach to Music Therapy based on the music that is practiced there.  In India, Music Therapy is about research using certain ragas. In the West, it is about composers like Mozart and in Africa, it is about native percussion.  There is no scientific manner in which anyone can explain why certain ragas or certain composers like Mozart have particular impact on human beings, animals or plants. 

Musopathy

Ruminating over all these, I came up with Musopathy to de-culturalise and de-regionise music and take it to its fundamental roots, based on laws of physics using standard, measurable and repeatable factors like combinations of frequencies, tempo, decibel levels and beat-impact. For obvious reasons, I will not be able to share all the details of psychoacoustics involved here. I will just give some highlights and advantages below:  
  • Musopathy is a quantifiable approach that combines music and medicine in absolute terms. 
  • It eliminates region, religion, culture, language etc and the subjectivity associated with these, which dominate the subject of Music Therapy. In other words, it will convert the quasi-scientific music-therapy into a serious study as sound as biochemical medicine. 
  • Musopathy promises empirical auro-neuro-solutions and opens up newer areas of studies such as neuro-physics
  • Musopathy has great potential to offer viable alternatives with far lesser side effects for several ailments where chemical cures dominate today.
To summarise, this is an area that has not been fully explored but if extensive work is carried out with a combination of vision, experience and scientific precision, it can blaze a trail of its own for the benefit of mankind. It is heartening to see leading lights of the scientific and academic world with whom I have discussed this stating that this is a cutting-edge approach to the subject. I have promised myself that I will get to formal research on this as soon as time permits and I find the right collaborators and support.

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