Sound Body – Hidden Language
A CAMPFIRE crackles.
BECCA: We went camping a couple weekends ago and it was a very quiet place. I think it was in the evening and we were all sitting around the fire, and one of the kids made a comment. They said, “It’s too quiet here.” And I said, “That’s the purpose of this.” It’s just to get away and it’s okay to sit and stare at the fire and, you know, be quiet. It makes you think — sometimes you can actually think when you don’t have noise around and it feels good or you don’t have to think. You can just stare at the fire and not have to think about anything, but I do wish, I wish that in our culture we would welcome silence more than what we do.
CAMPFIRE continues. Then SILENCE.
INTRO MUSIC begins.
SCOTT: You’re listening to Hidden Language — a podcast about tuning into place, bodies, and time and discovering the unexpected ways their stories can be told. I’m Scott Lunsford.
JAY: And I’m Jay Varner. Today, Scott wraps up his two-part series on the language of massage, listening to sounds — and silence — as therapy.
INTRO MUSIC fades.
SCHAFER’S “MINIWANKA” begins.
SCOTT: While I was thinking through this episode, I learned that a composer I admire died in August 2021. His name is R. Murray Schafer, and I came to him through my interest in sound and in soundscapes and in an academic field called sound studies. And so I think it’s appropriate — and quite frankly, unexpected — that I use this second part about massage and sound as a way to commemorate Shafer and his work. Now, Schafer was not only a composer, he was very concerned about noise and had written quite a bit about histories of noise and sounds and on becoming in tune with listening, with deep purposeful listening. Back in the mid-1970s, he published a book called The Tuning of the World and then later, re-released it as The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World. And in it, he writes about clairaudience — or clear hearing, alluding to the ability to listen deeply, to have exceptional hearing ability. And he developed a system called “ear cleaning” — ways to help us listen more intently, to be able to hone into particular sounds within a robust soundscape filled with all kinds of competing sounds.
So, today, then, I’m returning to Becca McKinney, a massage therapist, and it’s a conversation I had with her about other aspects of massage therapy. If you tuned in to Episode 5 of Hidden Language, you heard us talk about the literacies of massage — for example, the hands reading the body as a kind of text. At the time, I also asked her about music and sounds of the massage room, and she got into some interesting cultural ideas that we explore in sound studies, and certainly something Murray Schafer was concerned about through his life. We began with how she decides the kinds of music she chooses to play in the room to help clients slip into the mood for taking in the massage experience. For her, music plays a double purpose.
BECCA: With the music it has to be a tune that’s unfamiliar to people because it can, in a sense, it can become distracting if they hear the tune, and then I’ve actually had people go, “Is that a tune — is that — I recognize that . . . .” And they’re focused then on the music instead of being present for the massage itself. And it’s not really bothersome, but I really want them to be able to be fully relaxed and focused on the massage therapy and staying calm and then not being distracted by certain sounds or music, and so I try to be very selective with it being more of just a background noise. And the reason I like to have it as noise, though, is if a loud motorcycle goes by, you know, on the road beside me, they don’t focus on that so it kind of creates this background that hides other sounds or that kind of, over, you know it’s a cover-up for sounds that are outside of the building but it also creates a relaxing environment as well.
SCOTT: Like many of us do, she chooses or collects music as playlists that do something specific. You know, we might create playlists that help us exercise — and even those songs might be different from each other: playlists that are better for cardio, say,
Some fast-paced, CARDIO MUSIC plays.
versus a playlist that helps us do yoga.
Slow it down with some MEDITATION MUSIC.
You might have favorite songs that you study with or work to.
CLASSICAL MUSIC plays.
Maybe your favorite road trip music.
Speed it up with ROCK MUSIC.
And Becca has had this one playlist that she plays all the time.
And back to some relaxing SPA MUSIC.
BECCA: I do. It’s my favorite one, yeah. It’s from iTunes and I googled “relaxing massage music” and that was when that came up and I’ve listened to it and as I’ve played it in here I have found, I kind of done a little bit of experimenting myself with music, and this particular one tends to be the most relaxing I found for people. I have people that fall asleep during it or snore but whenever I’ve had other music, I don’t know, they seem to stay awake more or focus on it especially if it’s a guitar — which I have found interesting. So if I have a stringed instrument, people talk more about that instead of having a piano which I found interesting too.
SCOTT: Some kinds of music, like guitar plucking — and that’s nothing against the guitar — but that particular sound can pull clients from the presence that Becca was talking about earlier: being present for the massage and not thinking about other things.
BECCA: So they’ll ask more questions about a guitar, like “Where did you find this music? or “You know what CD is this?” And it’s cool that they’re interested in that they enjoy it but they pick it out more than having the piano as the background music. Not many people ask about the piano tunes. They just relax into it so I don’t know what it is about the guitar or the picking that seems to be more of a distraction and I guess perks people’s interest a little bit more so than the piano — or piques their interest rather.
SCOTT: So, music, then can be distracting, just as other sounds in and outside the room during the experience that Becca tries to mitigate. Even silence. In fact, I had asked her at one time if clients ever asked for a silent room — that maybe they don’t want music, just the ambient sound of the room itself and maybe even the street outside.
BECCA: And sometimes the walls will have a certain vibration like when the air cuts on you can hear things vibrating and, again, if there’s a lot of vehicle that goes by and I’ll actually have some people jump if it is silent and a really loud vehicle goes by on Main Street even though it’s, you know, this is a pretty well-insulated building, you can definitely hear it, and so I’m trying to mute out those sounds when I played music, but yes silence can also be a distraction for sure.
So, you had asked me before if I think, that if I wonder, why people don’t request a silent room and why maybe people prefer music because I found here that clients generally like to listen to music you know, just kind of some kind of background noise, and I’ve thought about it and I kind of pondered why maybe people don’t feel relaxed in silence or wouldn’t feel like they can be comfortable in silence and my theory is that I just — I really believe that our society and culture is filled with noise, whether it be direct you know, having conversations, being on the phone at our jobs at our desks, or having background noise, I mean if you walk to any stores there’s music playing, and in our cars there’s music playing, at home there’s kids talking, there’s always noise. And so I think that our brains, our synapses, are accustomed to that, so that when we finally have silence, we don’t know how to handle it. We get really uncomfortable, it feels awkward because we’re not used to it and our brains are not used to that. And so it kind of makes me sad because I think that if we go into more of the Eastern culture and philosophies, they feel really comfortable in silence and that’s where they go to get away and for a break and we seem to be drawn to noise which fascinates me — unintentionally and sometimes intentionally, but I kind of want to do some kind of experiment with that and just see why are you even in my own life, get accustomed to seeing it sitting in silence and feeling comfortable with it, because I think even as a massage therapist who loves, you know, quiet and, still, I have three kids at home, and I have clients that like to talk, which is okay, and, I know, and I have a constant noise in my own life but just to be able to train my brain to sit in silence because I think that is such a powerful thing to do for ourselves and it’s a gift to ourselves that we just don’t think about doing. And I do wish more people would feel relaxed and comfortable with sitting in silence.
And this is coming from a talker, you know, I am such a talker, and I love, I love music but it just . . . no matter how much of a talker or an extrovert or a people person or a musician, all of us need some silence in our lives. I really do think that, you know . . . this is sad — even at night, I have to have a fan running for white noise, even when I go to sleep, I can’t sleep in silence, I can’t sleep in silence, so that’s something maybe we should all work on is just taking a minute and and then increasing that minute to two minutes a day and giving that to ourselves because we just don’t have that at all in our culture.
SCOTT: You’ve been listening to Hidden Language. Music for this episode was provided by Inaequalis, Blear Moon, Scott Holmes Music, Edoy, Doctor Turtle, and Lobo Loco. You also heard a piece by Murray Shafer called Miniwaka, performed by proyectoeLe [pro-YEC-toh-eh-leh] and a bit of Mozart performed by the Moscow All-Union Radio Orchestra. Our own theme music is written and performed by Jay Varner. And thanks to Max Lunsford for his help on some of the foley sounds we created for this episode. For a list of all episodes, transcripts, and show notes, be sure to visit hiddenlanguagepodcast.com. And if you enjoy this podcast, please spread the word using whatever language you see fit.
OUTRO MUSIC ends.
Murray Schafer’s film, “Listen,” is available through the National Film Board of Canada’s YouTube channel. His book The Soundscape, was re-released in 1994 by Destiny Books.
And a plug for our cross-podcast colleagues at Phantom Power, who recently released a two-part series on Murray Schafer.
Schafer’s Miniwaka provided through Bandcamp.com, performed by proyectoeLe. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Other music was provided by the following artists through Freemusicarchive.org:
“Duckin’ and Divin’,” by Inaequalis, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
“Arctic Fog,” by Blear Moon, CC BY-NC 4.0
Symphony No.40, Third Movement (Mozart), by Moscow All-Union Radio Orchestra, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US
“Road Trip,” Scott Holmes Music, CC BY-NC 4.0
“Leaving,” Edoy, CC BY 4.0
“The Circles I Went Round In,” Doctor Turtle, CC BY 4.0
“I’m What You’d Be Without Her,” Doctor Turtle, CC BY 4.0
“Drake Meditation Spirit” by Lobo Loco, CC BY-SA 4.0