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For me, sound is the ultimate art

Una Meistere

29.01.2021

A conversation with ethnomusicologist, sound researcher and sound therapist Alexandre Tannous

“When we lose ourselves in sound, the observer in us disappears, and we can experience sounds that mould and tune the body and the mind through harmonics and sound symmetry, balance, ratios and aesthetics. We become one with sound; it’s a nondual state,” says Alexandre Tannous. He is one of the most respected sound researchers of our day and also the founder of the SoundMind Collective.

Born in Lebanon and having emigrated with his family to the United States in 1989, Tannous holds four degrees in music: music theory, composition, music education and ethnomusicology. He has taught at Columbia University and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities, institutions and museums, including the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Rubin Museum of Art and others. The world premiere performance of his orchestral composition Métamorphose, which he conducted himself at Carnegie Hall in 1995, received a standing ovation.

As an ethnomusicologist, Tannous has conducted fieldwork for seventeen years in more than forty countries around the world and has facilitated sound meditation for over 20,000 people. For more than two decades he has been researching the therapeutic and esoteric properties of sound from three different perspectives – Western scientific, Eastern philosophical and shamanic societal beliefs – to gain a deeper understanding of how, and to what extent, sound has been used to affect human consciousness. “It’s THE most powerful tool! Sound has served humanity probably more than any other tool,” he says.

This search has led Tannous to the intersection of art, science, philosophy and spirituality. His ethnomusicological approach entails a social-scientific study of sound use in several traditional contexts – religious, spiritual, holistic, cultural – for various purposes and occasions in entertainment, worship, meditation and rituals of healing and trance. Consequently, his approach in researching, understanding, experiencing, transmitting and working with sound has always been based on a multidisciplinary approach.

Inspired by his findings, Tannous designed a protocol for an integrated experience he calls Sound Meditation, in which he shares findings from his research and raises awareness about how specifically designed sound can help us disconnect from habitual patterns. Among the traditional instruments he uses for this experience are gongs, bells, singing bowls, shruti box, handpans, etc. “Sound is a dimension – that’s the way I perceive it,” he says and is convinced that sound is one of the most powerful tools one can use to change perceptions of reality, consciousness and what it means to be human and alive.

“Tannous is one of the most brilliant people I know and a veritable living library of wisdom when it comes to all things resonant,” exclaims Dennis McKenna. I can only agree with him. An ethnopharmacologist, thinker and the founder of the McKenna Academy of Natural Philosophy, McKenna also helped make this interview with Tannous possible. (Tannous is also one of the founding members of the McKenna Academy).

Our conversation with Tannous took place via Zoom. We spoke for about two hours, and I am not exaggerating when I say that he is one of the most inspiring people I have ever had a chance to talk with. His voice exudes an almost spatial peace, humbleness and kindness, and one can only deeply admire his wisdom and knowledge. “It’s my curiosity and my endeavours, along with a serious intention to explore deep spirituality, that got me where I am,” says Tannous. “I remain an apprentice and student of life.”

You founded the SoundMind Collective in 2014. At the beginning, there were just six of you, but now during the Covid-19 pandemic your team has grown to 39 members. The goal of the SoundMind Collective is to support people in how they respond to the virus (or whatever else is going on) and, instead of pushing it away, to surrender, allow, accept, trust the process and just do their best. In short, you wish to assist the community in preserving resonance within. The content on SoundMind Collective’s website – guided meditations, sound meditations, etc. – is all available for free. As it states: “We are here, honoured and ready to serve.” Looking back on your own personal story, at which moment does a person decide that he is ready to serve and feels this need to give back?

Human beings want to share, we like to be in groups. We like communities of all sorts. And I feel that community is the ultimate harmony. This harmony is inspired by the harmonic series, which is what I’ve been studying. It’s what we hear when we play the instruments used in any form of sound therapy – nowadays they call it sound healing, sound bath and all of that. I don’t encourage people to use these terms, because they don’t really explain what goes on. I call it sound meditation, which is not a term that I coined, but I like to use it because it explains what the experience is about. Basically, human beings come from harmony and everything they create is to reassert and preserve this harmony.

This is not only my opinion and something I firmly believe in; it’s something I’ve observed throughout my entire life and in my fieldwork in more than forty countries, where I’ve studied how people use sound and music in various ways and what they try to achieve with it. What is the point of it all? Why is sound used in shamanism? Why is sound used in Eastern philosophies, in chants and prayers, in the mantra systems and sutra systems?

Why do we love music? What I believe is happening here is a reawakening of the inner harmony to align the self with the logos – the place where the concept of God comes from and the universal ordering principle, which I’ll talk about in more detail later on. It’s an immensely important doctrine that most people don’t know about.

Human beings come from harmony and everything they create is to reassert and preserve this harmony.

In the meantime, we’ve been separated from it by a variety of things through negative entrainment. People are not aware to what extent we’re constantly being entrained by what I call the overall diet. Anything that affects us is considered to be entrainment: what we eat, what we read on all formats, what we listen to (news, music, etc.), what we watch (films, documentaries, news), the places we visit, the people around us, the smells – all of these things entrain us. We become a product of what our consciousness is exposed to. “Energy flows where attention goes, and energy flows where intention goes.”

When people focus their attention, their energy, their time on good, guess what happens? Good prevails. This happens all the time. So instead of focusing on negativity, focusing on the virus and the chaos in the world, it’s better to focus on positivity and equanimity, since it doesn’t help to react to it, because this is where the trauma comes in. It’s not a virus or incident that creates trauma; it’s how we react to the event. That’s how we create what people call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I call it Post-Traumatic Stress Injury. Why? Because something within us no longer feels at ease, is lacking harmony, is lacking resonance, is focused on anxiety, fear, panic, uncertainty, scarcity. We drag a negative, old memory into the present, and then it becomes a filter, a lens through which we experience things.

I study reality, I study how reality comes into being. What is the body and the organs’ role in the creation of this reality, specifically the heart, the endocrine system, the brain and all of its parts? What happens when the individual is impacted by something negative? What happens when the individual is manipulated through negative entrainment thanks to the media and politicians?

I grew up during fourteen years of war in Beirut, Lebanon. The war started when I was nine. I know what it feels like, how the experience can impact an individual. And I know that when people pay too much attention to politics and terrifying things, they become more divided. They become more panicked, afraid and full of anxiety.

Instead of falling into fear and other unhealthy states of mind, how can we counteract the evil agenda that manipulates and divides people? People fall into reptilian brain behaviour when they are afraid. Our brain has three essential layers. The reptilian brain, the innermost part of the brain, is the one that controls the fight-or-flight response as well as the necessary things in the body such as heart rate, digestion, balance and motor skills. It’s always running; it doesn’t need your permission or your attention or your focus to function. The next layer is the mammalian brain, where the limbic system lies, which is responsible for feelings and emotions. And the last layer, the largest one, is the neocortex, which is involved in discernment, logic, reasoning and attention, among many other things. Our problem nowadays is a hardware problem – we’re being affected and entrained negatively to succumb to a state of fear and self-preservation, and this is a reptilian brain behaviour.

Traumatic experiences cause us to lose agency, to lose inner faculties and lose personal sovereignty. We become isolated, in pain and suffering, and we lose harmony and resonance. When people collectively suffer from all of this, communities fall apart. So, the SoundMind Collective, of which I’m the principal founder, came together in an effort to preserve harmony. We started as a small group of six friends who came together to study sound, spirituality and consciousness and to do studies and create experiences.

Our problem nowadays is a hardware problem – we’re being affected and entrained negatively to succumb to a state of fear and self-preservation, and this is a reptilian brain behaviour.

At the beginning of the quarantine, I realised that it would be great to make this collective bigger and to include more practitioners and providers to nurture, serve and preserve communities by creating serious, free content that anyone may use. I had a meeting with the original members, and they loved the idea. Then I started inviting like-minded friends and advanced students of mine who work with integrity and rigour, who have a lot of experience and who work in a multidisciplinary way.

It’s important to note that practitioners and facilitators – but also gurus, shamans, presidents, conductors, etc. – are often subject to ego inflation if they’re not careful with how they handle the power that they command due to the position they hold. Humans beings are not always and thoroughly taught how to handle power, and they often abuse it. We can see this happening so clearly and widely these days. Some outcomes of ego inflation are: spiritual materialism, spiritual bypassing, messianism, pathological altruism, etc. This is not a judgment but rather an observation. It is simply the human condition, and we need to deeply understand it so we don’t fall for the hindrances that the ego creates, especially in spiritual, therapeutic and healing work. We need to learn how to handle power, how to handle energy. At the end, it’s all about energy management. I’ve always been a proponent of these ideas, transmitting them to others, and we in the SoundMind Collective promote these ideals and lead by example.

We need to learn how to handle power, how to handle energy. At the end, it’s all about energy management.

So that’s a long answer to your short question. It’s very important to contextualise things so that we understand what we need to learn, and know about what we don’t know. We must also trust the process and surrender, allow, trust and accept. This is the mantra I give to my clients – SATA. I believe that if something hard is happening, that’s because we need to learn something that cannot be learned in any other way.

By the way, if you hear me jumping around from one thing to another in my answers, zooming in and out, expanding and connecting things… please know that I’m not meandering, rambling, being verbose or getting lost. I do this on purpose to create a bigger context suitable to dealing with something as rich as sound and exposing its richness, to show you how the dots connect, to apply the syncretism and synthesis needed to understand its power and value, and to take a multidisciplinary approach to understand sound and its connection and impact on consciousness and spirituality. I use this style purposely to communicate the magic and to share my life’s work with people.

You’re interested in the intersection of sound, spirituality, philosophy and consciousness. What does it mean to be a sound researcher, and how does one come to a vocation like that?

What does it mean to be a sound researcher? That’s a good question. Well, I’m someone who has been studying music since I was very young. And I completed four degrees at university over a period of twelve years, studying different aspects of music. I studied music theory, composition, performance, conducting, music education and ethnomusicology. Naturally, when you end up learning a lot about something as profound as music, you realise that you’re barely scratching the surface and there’s so much more to learn. It’s no accident that music is the most popular art – there are many reasons for that.

And so my desire, passion and curiosity kept on growing, because there was still so much to learn about music. I had a strong sense of intuition within me, and about twenty-one years ago I started to research the therapeutic and the esoteric properties of sound. I started little by little, because I was following this thread of where music’s power comes from. I had studied music from a variety of different angles, had done fieldwork and had experienced music as a composer, a conductor and a musician singing and playing different instruments and different musical styles, different periods, and from different cultures. But that only led me to realise that there was something else to explore, and to learn about. Something big! And this is when I started studying the origins of harmony, the harmonic series and the different harmonic systems.

The best approach to studying something as profound as music is to take a syncretic approach, to do synthesis, to connect the dots. And that’s why I became a sound researcher. Unfortunately, I don’t perform anymore the music I used to perform – classical and jazz and non-Western music as well. I don’t perform on the instruments I used to play. I don’t conduct anymore. I don’t compose contemporary classical music and film scores anymore. Of course, I miss all of that, but what I’m doing now is even more important to me – understanding where all of this magic comes from.

The best approach to studying something as profound as music is to take a syncretic approach, to do synthesis, to connect the dots. And that’s why I became a sound researcher.

A sound researcher is someone who studies sound, its properties, benefits and its effects on consciousness. To understand all of this, I believe one must take a multidisciplinary approach, and that’s why I’m interested in the intersection of philosophy, art, science and consciousness.

Logos in Greek philosophy and theology is a very complex, enormously rich and fascinating doctrine from where the idea of God comes from. It’s the universal ordering principal, the divine reason implicit in the cosmos, ordering it and giving it form and meaning. It is the word, the discourse, the ultimate system, universal language, mediation…

The Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists – who should be called Neo-Pythagoreans – told us that the logos is not made of mathematics. Mathematics is the universal, a very precise and accurate language that we use to understand, measure, experience and transmit it. The logos is expressed in fields, phenomena, systems, balance, symmetry, ratios, energy and visual patterns, frequencies, processes, relationship, aesthetics, order, harmony… We experience it as music, sound, sacred geometry, mathematical constants, fractals, tessellation patterns, psychedelic visual patterns…

The philosopher and theorist Ervin László describes the logos as an informational software that is holographic.

I believe that the most impactful, indispensable and useful aspect of logos to humans seems to be sound (music and harmony included), and to be specific, it’s the harmonic series – the blueprint of sound. The reason why this is so is because we’re dealing with acoustics – physics that impact our consciousness, in the form of entrainment, more than anything else. So it’s not surprising to find music in all kinds of traditional contexts: religious, spiritual, secular, for various purposes and occasions in entertainment, meditation, worship, rituals of healing, possession, trance, etc.

While the ancient Greeks wrote a lot about it, the doctrine of logos can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, and in particular to Thoth as the patron god of speech, writing, wisdom, astronomy, mathematics, music, medicine and magic. Thoth was later called Hermes by the Hellenised Egyptians (the Hermetic philosophers), who saw in him the same principle of Gnostic revelation and logos that the early Christians saw in Christ. In the Corpus Hermetica, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, we find explicit references to logos as the ordering principle, as the “son of God” and the “shepherd of mankind”.

The first sentence in the Gospel of John, in the New Testament, states the following: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The “Word” here is the logos.

The experiences I create during my sound meditation are art, and I can easily describe myself as a sound artist, but I do it differently than the general sound artists out there. While there are a lot of great sound artists, sound is tricky, because the more you know about it, the more your understanding changes, expands and grows. I’ve been studying this for a very, very long time, and I’m barely scratching the surface. I’m now fully aware of the magnitude of what I still don’t know, as I keep learning new things every day, every week.

The ultimate point of the sound meditation is to focus so much on listening to the sound to the point where you lose yourself, you lose the “I” – the one that’s labelling, the one that’s judging – you lose the “monkey mind”, you lose the mental chatter and you become one with the sound. The point here is to focus your mind through the auditory sense on the sensory experience but not on your thoughts about the sensory experience, and certainly not on superfluous, unrelated, tangent thoughts. Every art form wants you to achieve this, for example, when you stand in front of a sculpture, in front of a painting or a drawing, when you’re watching a dance performance or a poetry reading, or any form of art really – it wants to distract you from being yourself, give you a break from being yourself; it wants to bring something new to you, to inspire you, to impact you positively, to bring something that might resonate with you, to ponder in a new way, to be entirely in the present, etc.

For me, sound is the ultimate art that takes you to a place where you become one with the art, where there is no more you. And if you go deeper than this, you go into a place of nothingness.

For me, sound is the ultimate art that takes you to a place where you become one with the art, where there is no more you. And if you go deeper than this, you go into a place of nothingness. You lose the art, you lose the sound, you become everything and nothing at all. This is called a hypnagogic state, which is a state that lies between wakefulness and sleep, where your mind is awake but there are no thoughts. Maya, as it’s called in Buddhism, is the illusion that the mind creates from an infatuation with the material world. The only way to stop Maya is to stop the incessive thinking of the mind, to still it, and this is why it’s important to have a meditation or mindfulness practice.

I believe that there are three different forms of reality: 1– the mathematical reality, 2 – the mental reality, 3 – the 3D physical reality. Sound is an immense power that can shape things. It’s no accident that all religions, and Eastern philosophies, tell you that sound is God. That’s the first thing you learn about whether you read the Old Testament or the New Testament. That first sentence in the New Testament communicates to us that Christ is the Word, the logos. This also refers to Christ as consciousness being one with the logos.

Sound is an immense power that can shape things. It’s no accident that all religions, and Eastern philosophies, tell you that sound is God.

When we do our work as best as we can by doing good toward the self, toward all sentient beings and toward nature and evolving spiritually, we realise that the universe and the self are one. One becomes fully self-aware, self-actualised, self-realised, one with the logos, the true nature of the universe, just like the Hermetic maxim “as above, so below; as within so without”.

The Old Testament begins with Genesis. To the non-initiate, Genesis seems to be communicating how God created everything – the world, the universe – in six days and rested on the seventh day, which became the Shabbat. “On the first day God said: let there be light and there was light…” The hidden message is that there’s a connection between speaking, saying and creating. You become God when you learn how to create with your words. In Buddhism, the universe was created with the primordial Aum (and not Om). When we pronounce Aum, the vocal tract goes from wide open to closed and goes through all the vowels. When I open and close the vocal tract, varying the size and shape of the buccal cavity to bring out the harmonics in my voice, when done correctly, it instantaneously creates a deep meditative state. So Aum is pointing the finger toward the harmonic series.

As we’re having this dialogue, we’re actually creating reality through speaking; we’re using words. What are words? They’re syllables consisting of consonants and vowels. The simplest enunciations of letters are the vowels, which are created by the vocal cords and amplified in the vocal tract, which can take on a different shape and size. These vowels can be altered, and we can use different parts of the mouth, such as the teeth, lips, tongue, soft palette or the uvula to create variations on these vowels. Take e, for example. When we pronounce the letters p, c or g, it’s e plus something different in front of it, either the tongue or the smacking of the lips and so on. We truly create reality as we speak it. It’s very important for me as a sound researcher to look into these things.

In Ancient Egypt they tell us that the world was sung into being. Aboriginal peoples in Australia say that the world was created with two songs. In the West the universe was created with the Big Bang. It’s all sound, you see! People are aware to what extent the laws of physics rule the universe, but they’re not aware to what extent the laws of acoustics rule consciousness. That’s why religions use sound and music. And I believe that what’s ultimately doing the work in shamanic ceremonies is sound, not the sacrament, which often consists of psychedelics. I cannot convince a lot of people with this, because there’s a lot to catch up on. There’s a lot to know and to understand. But what I’m beginning to realise now is that, in the end, sound is what creates everything.

People are aware to what extent the laws of physics rule the universe, but they’re not aware to what extent the laws of acoustics rule consciousness.

What is the fabric of reality? What do we do with all these different concepts and philosophies? What are the shamans talking about, what is quantum physics talking about, and what are the Gnostics, the Hermeticists, the Neoplatonists, the Pythagoreans, the mystery schools, anthroposophy, theosophy and alchemy teaching us? I think they’re all trying to talk about the very same thing, which is huge and immensely complex. But each one uses its own way of describing things. They’re basically all different cosmological models. This is very important to understand, and that’s why I encourage people to be super careful when they take shamanism out of its context. The story changes and becomes something else – it becomes disempowering, it becomes non-spiritual. I’m talking about the ayahuasca experience or the iboga experience, or any experience with substances used as sacraments. We’re immensely grateful to the indigenous people who kept these traditions and practices alive, even though they were decimated by religions, especially Christianity. We’re now realising that these are very important medicines. So it’s important for us to understand these rituals deeply and with scrutiny, but not take for granted what shamans tell us about what’s going on without us figuring out what they’re trying to communicate.

We need to understand what this is all about. How does it align with what the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Taoists, the quantum physicists are talking about? There’s a far bigger story there that’s very complex, but we take things literally, and by doing so and by taking them out of context, we lose sight of what the work is truly about. When we look outside of us, that’s no longer spirituality. So I highly encourage people to make a spiritual experience out of the shamanic experience, which means keeping it inside and not projecting it outwards, not saying ahh, the plant teachers and plant spirits are at work. The ultimate point for us is to realise that there’s no outer reality the way we see it and experience it. As the Vedanta schools tell us, tát tvam ási, or “you’re all of that”. That’s the ultimate point in all of these spiritual realms, sects, practices, religions and alchemy – that you’re everything you’re experiencing. While this is very hard to comprehend, it’s ultimately the most important thing. Anything short of this would be a waste of time and metabolic energy.

The ultimate point for us is to realise that there’s no outer reality the way we see it and experience it. As the Vedanta schools tell us, tát tvam ási, or “you’re all of that”.

We know that psychedelics stimulate neuroplasticity and help make new synapses. Might sound meditation using gongs, singing bowls and so on do the same? Or in different worlds could the breakthrough be possible without psychedelics, only with music?

The benefits are not exactly the same. One of the common benefits of working with psychedelics and working with sound is the fact that both disconnect the individual from the mental reality, from the monkey mind. It’s what sound does, and when I say sound, that also includes music when it’s used for this purpose. I use instruments such as gongs, singing bowls, discs, bells, chimes, etc. to induce a transcendental, meditative state in the mind of the listener, and what makes this possible is the fact that these instruments have a harmonic-rich sound. Harmonics give us the tone colour, the timbre that distinguishes your voice from mine. So there’s a colouring to sound. Most of the time, the harmonics are concealed by the dominance of the fundamental tone, or the fundamental frequency. But when we use instruments such as gongs, singing bowls and so on, we hear these harmonics at a clearly audible level, which changes everything.

I use instruments such as gongs, singing bowls, discs, bells, chimes, etc. to induce a transcendental, meditative state in the mind of the listener, and what makes this possible is the fact that these instruments have a harmonic-rich sound.

It’s not easy at all to make these instruments. You need the right proportions of specific metals – copper and tin – to create the alloy. One can also get audible harmonics in instruments by making them in a specific way from plant material. Anywhere you go in the world you find people using sound as a therapeutic modality, and invariably they use such instruments. Basically, we’re subjecting our consciousness to unadulterated harmony – pure mathematical ratios. The human intuitive intelligence is amazing!

Harmony, in the Western world, has been quantised by tempering the distance between the musical intervals, and this became known as equal temperament, which changed the mathematics of the octave. There are many books written about this phenomenon, and the best one is How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, and Why You Should Care. Non-Western musical cultures have not adopted equal temperament and still deal with a harmonic system that’s closer to just intonation, to pure harmony. This is found in Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Armenian and Central Asian classical musics, among many others. These harmonic systems have been around for who knows how long, and when you go deep into them, you realise that they’re not just about music; they’re sophisticated systems for mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, energetic maintenance and essential for the unravelling of human consciousness. Why? You’re listening to pure harmony, you’re reharmonising yourself; you’re vibrating sympathetically with this harmony, bringing yourself into a state of resonance and alignment with the logos. That’s why music is important for us. It entrains us positively. It evokes feelings, emotions, thoughts. It distracts us from the unhealthy cognitive loops.

Returning to your question, sound can definitely induce an altered state; but it does so in a different way. Ultimately, psychedelics are compounds, chemicals – regardless of whether we take them in plant form or as compounds synthesised in a lab. The difference between the two is that in plants you have a very wide range of different compounds and the right balance between them. This is what I believe shamans are referring to when they talk about a plant’s spirit – it is what changes in you and how you experience reality differently when you ingest the plant. Well, the spirit is inside you, it’s not outside. I’m not saying plants are not intelligent; they are tremendously intelligent, and we’re just starting to begin to understand the complexity that plants have. They’re far more intelligent than we can conceive and perceive. But this complexity is not what’s healing us; plants don’t have an agenda.

Humans frequently anthropomorphise things, which means ascribing human traits to things that are not human. It’s a human tendency to make the mountain be God, to make the sun be God, to make the plant be the teacher, because we’ve lost who we are, what we are, and we’re often disempowered. But there’s a bigger truth behind it. The truth is that when we take chemicals, they alter the way we perceive reality. If we consume caffeine or sugar, if we drink alcohol, if we smoke marijuana, all of these things we take alter our consciousness by altering our neurochemistry. We run on chemicals, and there are three categories of chemicals: neurotransmitters (the most important ones), hormones and enzymes. The entire body is a very sophisticated, biological machine that runs on chemicals and electricity.

The truth is that when we take chemicals, they alter the way we perceive reality. If we consume caffeine or sugar, if we drink alcohol, if we smoke marijuana, all of these things we take alter our consciousness by altering our neurochemistry.

When we take chemicals in medications or otherwise, when we take compounds, when we consume plants, there’s an alteration of consciousness. When we listen to music and sound, there’s also an alteration of consciousness, but in a different way. Ideally, one should combine the two, and that’s what shamanism is about. The kykeon that was consumed in Ancient Greece as part of the Eleusinian Mysteries was most likely a psychedelic. In ancient Persia they took haoma, another psychedelic, and in ancient India they took soma. Rituals that altered human consciousness were highly relied on in order to understand consciousness, to understand reality outside of the mind. What psychedelic means in ancient Greek is ‘manifesting the mind’, ‘revealing the soul’. It means we’re creating a reality, experiencing reality differently than the consensual reality that the normal human body experiences while running on the normal flow of chemicals.

It seems that when we snap out of the unhealthy baseline, when we alter our consciousness, we have a better understanding of what consciousness is. In the same way that you might try to explain to a fish what water is. This is something that Terence McKenna and others have often stated. It’s hard to explain to a fish what water is, because it’s in it all the time. Fish do not perceive water the way humans perceive water. You have to do something to the water – colour it, release bubbles or take the fish out of the water and plunge it back in – then the fish will start to understand that there’s something called water and that it’s imperceptible. This is what consciousness is interested in doing – knowing what it doesn’t know.

You’ve had a huge amount of experience exploring different shamanic traditions in many parts of the world. What is shamanism? Where do shamans take us? What happens during a shamanic ceremony?

I believe that shamanism is a sophisticated art, a practice, a philosophy of using psychedelics, sound and music, with lots of attention paid to set and setting, in order to understand what’s going on. The problem is that what we’re trying to understand is so complex, convoluted and abstruse that it accommodates an infinite number of ways of talking about it.

Depending on where shamans come from – in the Amazon Basin alone there are about eighty different tribes that use ayahuasca as their sacrament – they all have their different ways of talking about what they believe is going on. Each tribe has their own cosmological model. And in a way, they’re all right, based on how much they know about what’s going on. But once you start to know more, you realise that the shamans in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America are talking about different things. This should tell us that the ultimate story is far more complex than what anyone can understand. It’s immensely important not to take things out of context; we need to connect the dots, to take a multidisciplinary and syncretic approach. We shouldn’t throw away our sciences and our knowledge about Hermeticism and Gnosticism and Eastern philosophies and all of these, because they ought to all be connected in order to see what this is all about, in order to understand consciousness.

With thorough and rigorous spiritual practice and a healthy use of these substances and sound, the mindset is what needs to be changed. The mindset is not only intentions; it’s intentions,  attention, will, awareness, curiosity, presence of mind, logic, discernment, reasoning, intuition, imagination, inspiration and passion.

We each bring different faculties, or agencies, to any experience, and we use them to different levels and degrees in order to understand who’s having the experience. Who am I? What am I? These are the biggest questions we can ask. This is where the individual doing the work over many, many years eventually realises that he or she is the one with the logos; the true nature of the self and of the universe is that they are one. That’s what the ultimate truth seems to be.

It’s very important to take a thorough and rigorous approach and really understand what consciousness is about. How important is the experience? What does sound do when we’re exposed to music? Why did the Sufis use music? Why is sound and music used in the church, in the mosque and in the Jewish temple? Why are there mantra and sutra systems? Why are sound and music used in all shamanic experiences, regardless of whether a psychedelic is used or not? What’s really doing the work? These are questions that I’m very interested in and ones that I ask all the time.

There’s a belief that ayahuasca is what does the work, but you can’t really separate the plant from the icaros (medicinal songs) that accompany it. If you do, it becomes something totally different.

Yes, that’s true! Shipibo shamans – the Shipibo are a tribe in the Amazon Basin known for their use and mastery of ayahuasca – they tell you that the icaro is the one that does the work through ayahuasca. You can create healing with the icaro by itself but not ayahuasca by itself. There you go. In the end, your consciousness is impacted through the physics of sound.

What acoustics do to the human body on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic – the way acoustics entrain the body changes everything. It changes the way people feel, it impacts their neurochemistry, the vagus nerve, the brainwave cycles, shifting the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic. Everything in the body changes when we’re impacted by music and sound. Humans everywhere in the world create and use instruments that emit harmonic overtones at clearly audible levels, because by playing these instruments you awaken the person’s consciousness, you subject the person to pure harmony. You basically shift the noise-to-signal ratio. That’s what’s going on.

What acoustics do to the human body on all levels – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and energetic – the way acoustics entrain the body changes everything.

What I study is how to understand and fine-tune the tools that we use. How to label things in a different way, to connect the dots differently, to use knowledge as the ultimate power to demystify the nature of being. And most importantly, to tap into the inner divine, the inner teaching, the inner healing capacity we have within us as archetypes, and to tap into gnosis. Gnosis is embodied knowledge, experiential knowledge, knowledge of the heart, non-intellectual knowledge.

That’s the ultimate point of spirituality. Everything is inside. If we look outside, if we project them, exteriorise them, externalise them, if we anthropomorphise things, then we lose something. It’s very important for us now to have an empowering experience and not an experience that’s going to make things more complex and less demystified.

In our everyday life, we’re used to thinking of sound as something we hear. But in fact our bodies and even our bones experience sound. Especially if it goes below the threshold of human hearing, which is 20 Hz. For example, when I listen to your sound meditations, I feel like the sound travels almost physically through my whole body. As we know, sound can affect heart rate and the vagus nerve and can cross the blood/brain barrier. What’s happening is almost an alchemical transformation. As you’ve said, sound is the most powerful tool. But do we understand this tool completely? And what is the role of the facilitator and what is the role of the receiver during a sound meditation? Can I be just a listener who is guided by sound and you, or must I be an active participant? And what does it mean to participate?

Very good questions. Both parties, the facilitator and the receiver, have an important role to play. First of all, thank you for using the term ‘facilitator’ and not the commonly used term ‘sound healer’. I favour terms such as ‘facilitator’ or ‘practitioner.’ The sound practitioner does not heal; what he or she is doing is very important and contributes to the healing, but ultimately, it’s the active participation of the individual being in the sound meditation that creates the healing. The application of judicious, attentive, intentional and deep listening is what’s needed.

The most important thing is to listen – listen and pay attention. It’s okay if the mind wanders; just bring it back to deep listening. The point is not to stop the barrage of thoughts – that’s impossible. Pay attention, and even pay attention to how you, the person, is paying attention to things. It’s very important to do that, to recognise the generator of this reality: the mind. When we ground this generator that’s constantly creating thoughts and get it to pay attention to what’s going on in our mind, then deep realisations take place. What’s being affected is the brain, the mind, and the way consciousness is being transduced. It’s very hard for us to understand the true role of the brain, or, as Dennis McKenna calls it, the three-pound universe. The brain is the most incomprehensible object to our knowledge.

The most important thing is to listen – listen and pay attention.

Sound tremendously affects this process, and because it does so, it’s very important to promote an active participation so that the individual has a different experience that’s going to inform him or her about who they are, what reality is, how reality can be different, how it feels to exist without the mental chatter that normally does not turn off unless we go to sleep. People very often have a hard time falling asleep because of this mental chatter; that’s how insomnia takes place. It’s very important to put the emphasis on the receiver during the sound meditation, to give him/her the tools, and to guide the receiver in how to meditate most effectively in the presence of sound or music. Equally important is to pay attention to what is changing within them.

You’ve said that all of your tracks were made in a single take. You enter a meditative state, and then you start playing music. Is this a conscious process, or do you become a mediator who gets information directly from the field, translating it into sound?

It’s both, but it’s mostly getting into the space where I become a conduit. And this is where I rely a lot on intuition, imagination and inspiration. These are very important faculties not only to me as a practitioner, but to every person – to bring something different from what we normally are, to use the body as a tuning fork, as an instrument to transduce consciousness differently. Rudolf Steiner, whom I studied a lot and still do, extensively promoted the use of these three faculties: inspiration, imagination and intuition. He also wrote a book by the same title.

Yes, eventually I start doing things in an intuitive way, not in an intellectual way. But my intellect is nevertheless involved. I’m not saying there’s absolutely no intellect, but I start to focus on things that can allow me to act in a way that goes beyond what I already know, what I’ve been educated, trained and entrained.

Parental imprinting is a way of impacting children with how to handle reality, and an education is a way of sculpting the mind: do this, don’t do that, this exists, this doesn’t exist. In a way, education can be an indoctrination. We start doing things in a specific, customary way because someone told us so. It’s very important to tap into intuitive intelligence. This is where creativity comes from. Wonderful art, inventions, creativity, everything comes from intuitive intelligence. Look at technology, how much of it emulates the system we come from. The internet is inspired by the mycelium; downloading and uploading is inspired by the cloud, the cloud is the morphogenetic field.

It’s very important to tap into intuitive intelligence. This is where creativity comes from. Wonderful art, inventions, creativity, everything comes from intuitive intelligence.

As Rupert Sheldrake states.

Exactly. That this is the cloud. It’s very important to understand nature and our connection to nature. This is why there was natural philosophy. But science seems to have lost so much of its connection to nature, so much of its connection to spirituality. It became reductionist, material and aspiritual.

Humans are encoded with the need to study and to be one with nature, because then we learn about what nature is for us. Nature, the ultimate feminine archetype, the mother, the one who nurtures us to understand who we are. What are we to nature, what is nature to us? Where is God, and what is God? That’s what natural philosophy aimed for us to understand.

Humans are encoded with the need to study and to be one with nature, because then we learn about what nature is for us.

Unfortunately, science now is so far away from what natural philosophy promoted, but there’s a great interest in bringing things back to that. Sheldrake’s work is one example, the McKennas’ work (especially Dennis’) is another, the McKenna Academy, biomimicry, biocentrism. Robert Lanza’s work on the concept that the universe is a product of our consciousness, and not the other way around. This is what Eastern philosophies have been talking about all the time. There’s an increasing interest in science to bring the meta back to physics. Because that’s what happened – we took the meta out of physics. We followed more what Aristotle was promoting, and less so Plato and Socrates. Socrates was their teacher. Plato was more connected to spirituality, to the invisible aspect of reality. Aristotle was more into the material world.

There’s an increasing interest in science to bring the meta back to physics. Because that’s what happened – we took the meta out of physics. We followed more what Aristotle was promoting, and less so Plato and Socrates.

I believe that what’s going on in the world right now is a consciousness crisis. Again, for us to understand what’s going on, we need to pay thorough attention what it is that we’ve been missing for a long time. What is it that we lost, that led to this chaos happening in the world? If it’s happening, and it’s happening for a reason – for us to learn something that cannot be learned in any other way. Surrender, allow and trust the process, pay attention to what needs to be learned, and act in an intuitive way.

A little over 100 years ago, in his lecture “The Ahrimanic Deception” in Zurich in 1919, Rudolf Steiner spoke about Ahrimanic (the destructive spirit) forces, which were growing stronger and stronger in the world. He said: “For modern education we need these illusions of a mathematical nature about the universe, we must acquire them, but we must know that they are illusions. We need a new science, one that is illuminated by the Spirit. But men must have the courage for such a new science.” Do you think we – in this age of AI and scientific materialism – are ready for it now, more than 100 years later? Do we have this courage now? Could this transition to Homo luminous, about which the Andean shamans are speaking, happen? Is this what is happening now?

I believe so, yes. This is what’s happening according to what I believe from thorough studies and observations. We’re now facing the ultimate obstacle and the thing that’s going to teach us so much, which is what Zoroastrianism called Ahriman and which Steiner talked a lot about. Ahriman is considered the evil twin of Christ’s consciousness.

Zoroastrianism talked about Ahriman and that at some point in the future human consciousness was going to be tempted by creating an alliance with a carbon-based consciousness. That’s technology. I believe Ahriman has been strongly manifesting itself for the past couple of decades in the misuse of technology, more recently in artificial intelligence, and in the past few decades in transhumanism, mindless technological advancement and scientific materialism, among other things. This is where we can witness the unfolding, the unravelling, of Ahriman. I believe that Ahriman is part of what human consciousness needs to go through for us to understand something that cannot be understood in any other way, because suffering can have the potential of making us better. Suffering can give us the opportunity to learn something that’s impossible for us to learn.

Zoroastrianism talked about Ahriman and that at some point in the future human consciousness was going to be tempted by creating an alliance with a carbon-based consciousness. That’s technology.

In a way, it’s going on right now – people are suffering, they’re isolated, they’re quarantined, they’re in a state of lockdown. But they’re also isolated from the nonsensical stuff, from pop culture, from unnecessary things. I’m not saying this is all easy, because there’s also trauma and people are in a state of despair, of anxiety, of fear. But when people go inside, they discover all sorts of gems and treasures. And that’s why it’s important to go inside in style [laughs], and to know how to handle this period of isolation. And, again, to trust the process. Why? Because there’s something very important for us to learn.

Already more than a hundred years ago Steiner warned us about the misuse of technology. And here we are, look at what technology has done. Like so many things in technology, we invent things and have good intentions – for example, the internet, social media, Google, etc. – but our ignorance and unawareness gets us to a point where we find the reptilian brain to be winning. What is the reptilian brain about? It’s about keeping the body alive and safe. It regulates flight or fight, digestion, motor skills, balance… Our attachment to money, power and safety is also the reptilian brain.

We’ve been misusing technology. Look at social media, for example, which was created to bring people together. But now we’re realising how much people are being abused by companies deeply interested in collecting data points on them, which are then used to customise things and bombard people with all sorts of advertisements to sell them stuff, most likely stuff they don’t need and will never use. People then work very hard to make a lot of money to buy things they don’t need. By doing that, they’re not doing what humans want to do, which is demystify the nature of being. Who are we? Why are we in the human experience? Where do we come from? Where do we take it from here? What is love about? What happens when we die? These are the most important questions that we very rarely ask. We’re in a state of chaos. And what’s chaos? It’s a lot of noise.

We’re in a state of chaos. And what’s chaos? It’s a lot of noise.

But in the end, human consciousness is trying to learn something different, and there’s a struggle going on. We need to be more lucid, attentive, equanimous and grounded. This is why spirituality is very important. Meditation, mindfulness, contemplation, introspection, ways of handling our consciousness differently in order to gain more lucidity, more grounding to quiet and shift the noise-to-signal ratio, to understand what we must do at three seconds to midnight. Where did we go wrong? How can we get to this point in our evolution? How can we do things in a more creative, intuitive, inspired way, differently than before? I make a conscious choice every day to spend my time on understanding a variety of different things, the human condition, not taking sides, not falling into reptilian brain behaviour, acting from the heart, learning not to misuse my own faculties. As I said in the beginning, something has been encouraging us to stay in the reptilian brain, and this is increasing. Look at how much fear and threat there is everywhere in the world. This is the opposite of what we need to do.

For us to wake up, we really need to come to a dead end, because only then will we resort to doing things and handling things differently.

For us to wake up, we really need to come to a dead end, because only then will we resort to doing things and handling things differently; only then will we realise that, yeah, we’ve become very smart and very accomplished, but we’ve lost a lot of very essential things along the way. These things that I’m talking about are severing our connection with nature. And we need to move from being apart from nature to being a part of nature once again.

Once again, it’s all about energy management – that’s the most important thing that human beings need to learn. What do you do with energy? Everything is energy. Money is energy exchange – the worth of work. Money is a system of allocating natural resources. Our obsession with profit, which we prioritised over consciousness, got us into this mess.

Our obsession with profit, which we prioritised over consciousness, got us into this mess.

The Egyptians said that this universe was sung into being. Aboriginal people say that the universe was created with two songs, that sound came before light. Meanwhile, Western culture somehow disempowered sound. In the 16th century, the West created a tuning system that we still follow today, called equal temperament, which essentially divides the musical octave into twelve equidistant half steps. In North America, Africans were forbidden to play drums because the colonialists considered the sound of the drum to be the sound of the devil. Could we say that this, in some way, was the point where our separation from nature began?

To expand more on what you just said, Westerners were threatened by these instruments, such as the drums that Africans played in North America during slavery. Why? Because they didn’t understand what was going on. The Africans behaved differently, they danced in a “crazy” way, they went into altered states. What caused them to go into an altered state of consciousness is very complex, but basically there are three aspects involved: the driving, polyrhythmic texture (in which you have two or more interlocking rhythms played simultaneously); the dancing, which is a state of sympathetic resonance expressed through body movement; and the audible harmonics coming out of the drum membranes. All drums have membranes made from animal hide stretched over a wooden frame of sorts, and this skin is secured with ropes, wooden pegs, threads, glue… When one plays these drums, a significant degree of harmonics come out of the membrane and contribute to the other two aspects, which furthers the participants’ trance state. Given that the Western colonialists had never experienced anything like this, were not familiar with it, and did not understand what it was about, they felt threatened by the difference of behaviour. So they simply banned it!

Given the important question you asked, I’d like to take the opportunity to briefly touch on a strange but worthy concept that the ancients talked a lot about, which is a parasitic force that infects the human mind. It was called by different names. The Gnostics called it the archons, the Native Americans called it wetiko (there’s a wonderful book on this by Paul Levy called Dispelling Wetiko), Arabian culture called it the jinn, in Kabbalah it was called Satan, in Sufism it was called Shaitan, Sri Aurobindo called it hostile forces, the Hawaiian shamans called it E’epe, Castaneda called it the flyers and the predators, in esoteric Christianity it was called the General Law, and in Hermeticism it was called the Lords of Destiny.

I’m deeply interested in understanding what this parasite force is truly about. The way the Gnostics described it – and they were the most thorough in their description – they defined it as inorganic, interdimensional beings, a force that increases the likelihood or presents us the opportunity to be misguided by our own faculties, by our own agency and intellect. Something by which we fall into reptilian brain behaviour and thus we create harm, we create evil, we create negativity, and we become addicted to these. We start to suffer, and we cause suffering. We create things that are not good for the individual or for the collective. Because this parasite feeds off the low vibrational energy that we create. And take a look at the whole world – it’s been stuck in this state, and it’s increasing. I do give great attention to something like this, even though it sounds quite sci-fi and psychedelic. But, yeah, maybe there is such a thing as parasitic energy.

If people think this is far-fetched, they most likely are not aware of what parasites do in nature and to what extent they are diabolically intelligent and manipulative. Just research them! The ultimate expert on this topic is a wonderful scientist named Robert Sapolsky. You can read his books, especially Behave, and check out his YouTube videos. There’s also an excellent TED Talk on parasites by Ed Yong, a science journalist.

I was recently in Mexico over the holidays and went to an area called Celestun, which is known for its expansive estuary and as a place where you can get a close up to the famous pink flamingos. Flamingos are not born pink; they become pink because of what they eat. Their diet mostly consists of tiny shrimp infected by a parasite. This tiny shrimp is translucent and cannot be seen in water. But a tapeworm parasite infects the shrimp, draining them of their nutrients, castrating them, making them live longer, making them live in groups, and turning them bright red. As a result, the tiny shrimp are eaten by the flamingos. Why? Because the parasite needs to get to the host, which is the flamingo, in order to reproduce. The parasite manipulates the shrimp by taking over certain parts of its brain and using it to get to the flamingo. Does the shrimp know it’s being manipulated by the parasite? Most likely not.

Toxoplasmosis gondii is another parasite, and when it infects a rodent, a mouse or a rat, it takes over its brain and makes the rodent follow the scent of a cat’s pee. Instead of going in the opposite direction, the rodent starts following the cat and then eventually gets eaten by the cat. Why? Toxoplasmosis needs to return to that cat, which is the host. There are dozens and dozens of similar examples of what parasites do. Is the rat or the mouse aware that it’s infected by parasites and it’s being manipulated? Of course not. Let’s keep in mind that rodents are mammals, whose brains behave in a similar way to ours. It’s quite feasible that we may be infected by a parasite and not know it. Can we be sure that this energetic parasite that various groups from around the world are talking about doesn’t exist? No, we can’t.

Look at what happens to a computer when it’s infected by a virus. Is the intelligent MacBook Pro aware of the virus? No! What happens then? How would you confirm its existence, and how can you get rid of it? Well, you need to restart from a USB flash drive, from a CD, a DVD, from an external hard drive and use utility software to clean out the thing that’s causing the malfunction, the virus, or reinstall the operating system. This means that the brain cannot be operating, because it’s being infected by a virus. The advanced MacBook Pro computer cannot fix itself, because its brain is infected, and as sophisticated as it is, it cannot even detect that it’s being controlled by a virus.

These are things I pay attention to and which I’m interested in studying and understanding so I know something about what we don’t know. I believe that the fundamental problem in our consciousness now is a hardware problem, and the “hardware” here is the heart, the brain and its different parts and layers, and other organs in the body. We’re misusing our brains, we’re falling into reptilian brain behaviour, one that’s obsessed with more power, more money, more safety. And the more danger and threats we live through, the more we’re likely to fall into this reptilian brain behaviour. What does that do to human beings? We lose community, people become separated and isolated, and they start holding on to things to stay alive. When they become isolated, they lose the power of the group and societies fall apart. We need to be more discerning of the consequences of this misguided perception.

It’s quite feasible that we may be infected by a parasite and not know it. Can we be sure that this energetic parasite that various groups from around the world are talking about doesn’t exist? No, we can’t.

What is the fundamental problem in the world? These are things I study and have been researching for a long time, because I’m trying to help people. It’s important for me to understand what goes wrong, how and why. I’d like to be of service in an effective, thorough and rigorous way, but I also have to watch what I do and how so I don’t become messianic. The pitfall here is mishandling power. As you know, ego inflation is very, very tricky to deal with, as well as all the things that come out of it, such as spiritual bypassing, spiritual materialism, pathological altruism, so on and so forth.

There are many sound therapies available nowadays. YouTube is full of options, many of them created by AI. As we know, sound can be used as a weapon as well. How does one choose, how does one avoid the potential traps? Can we overdose on sound meditation?

It’s important for people to become interested in sound, but the problem is that so many things on the internet, especially on YouTube, about sound are inaccurate. There are a lot of unconfirmed rumours and wishful thinking. There’s a lot of disinformation and misinformation as well. People have to be really careful.

People often become driven by their passion, driven by their limited knowledge, and as I said earlier, when we don’t know enough, there’s a different kind of truth that comes out than when we know more. It’s important to learn a lot, to experience, but to not let it go to our heads and make us masters and healers too quickly. We need to remain humble, discerning, rigorous and authentic. It’s also very important to be sceptical – not doubtful, but sceptical. Sceptical communicates a genuine interest in gaining knowledge, the truth and fine-tuning the truth. Upgrading it, evolving it and expanding it to a deeper level.

If you observe what has been happening over the past twenty to thirty years, so many people are becoming interested in meditation, yoga, mindfulness, eating better, sound, breathwork, psychedelics research, shamanism, etc. We’re displaying various signs of going inwards; by rejecting these inefficient systems, becoming gnostics, we’re trying to understand who we are, and that can eventually bring about something new, bring about Homo luminous – the new human with a different form of consciousness.

It’s very important to be sceptical – not doubtful, but sceptical. Sceptical communicates a genuine interest in gaining knowledge, the truth and fine-tuning the truth. Upgrading it, evolving it and expanding it to a deeper level.

We’re realising that our world is predominantly being run by people who are mishandling power. Even when they’re doing the best they can, they simply don’t know enough to actually do good. That’s because they suffer from a certain level of unawareness, even ignorance, and they’re mostly operating from the reptilian brain. The body, or the hardware, creates the operating system – if I can make such an analogy. There’s a connection between what the hardware is doing, how it’s working, and the operating system, which is our consciousness. And that’s why it’s important to work with the brain with equal balance, to know and to understand what is the function of the reptilian brain, the mammalian brain, the limbic system, the neocortex and the heart. It’s important to not take the heart out of the equation, because that’s the most important part. That’s where compassion, empathy, kindness, love, concern, humanism, humility resides.

Yes, I am hopeful that we’re headed towards better days. We need to re-establish the balance between the inner feminine and the masculine.

Filmed by Jeremy Morris in 2015 and edited by James Reed in 2016. www.soundmeditation.com

A sound meditation with Alexandre Tannous: soundmeditation.com/soundcloud-recordings/