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Alexis Neumann

Summer Institute In the Arts and Humanities 2016

16 August 2016

Spiritual Vinyl Spectrographs

Perceptions of sound transform with cultural, environmental, and religious tendencies of

people. As we migrate through spaces both mentally and physically our perceptions and

relationship with sound changes as well. Music and sound is a vital part of religious activity

because it fosters community, is engaging emotionally, and is often utilized as a form of worship

because it draws religious practitioners deeper to their souls, spirit, god, or energies. I wanted to

visually represent the irreverent, yet mystifying impact of these religious sounds with paint.

Music is affected by cultural and environmental factors and this creates religious sounds

with specific acoustic characteristics. An archetypal example of this observation is in Tibetan

buddhism where the local conditions with air pressure and noise interference make their music

very tonally rich and enchanting. Their connection with their natural environment existing so

high up in the mountains of Tibet produces an acoustically chaste environment for clear tones of

falling pitches as opposed to more Western centered ideas of tonal melodies and rhythms. The

actual shift of timbre and tone color is considered to be the melodic change that evokes the

language and substance of the chant.

However, with the advent of recordings many of these minute changes in tone or timbre

are not easily registered on recording software and the significances, messages or connotations of

the piece can often be changed or arguably lost. Acoustic experiences, especially spiritual

acoustic experiences, have an intersectionality with a metaphysical spirit or energy that is not so
much seen, as felt. Sound also being an experience that humans cant physically see with their

own eyes has a similar bedrock of belief that is vital for religious experiences. One can not see

sound, just like one can not see a God yet many people still perceive that it is there. As Paul

Westermeyer states in his essay Music and Spirituality: Reflections from a Western Christian

Perspective music itself comprehends the same embrace: what is perceived as intangible or

immaterial sound consists of physical vibrations heard through material bodies that pulsate. This

double paradox lies at the heart of music and spirituality for Christianity. Susan Palo Cherwien

summarizes this concept when she says that singing hymns to worship God . . . unites body with

spirit. This unification may inspire a person to think about their world and their comprehension

of their body with a sense of perplexing bewilderment. One is engaging with these physical

vibrations all while still connecting spiritually to the sound produced by these vibrations. This is

comparable to the perplexing phenomenon of how the body and brain hears and translates

vibrations through the air into our perception of sound.

There is another element of concurrent absorption with the present sound. Music happens

instantly, we can remember things in our memories; however it is never physically heard outside

of our ears again. This fleeting, mystical incident inspires a relationship with time that

encourages more thoughtfulness into our mind and body. Music creates a connecting wave

linking past, present and future time in a beautiful way that captivates our spiritual selves. There

is a stream of energy and life, heard but also felt and perceived. I was inspired by Lisa Parks

piece EunoiaII (2014) in her visualization of intangible emotions and perceptions of the mind

and body. Through EEG sensors tracking her brain wave activity she displayed with metallic

pools of water the vibrations that materialized from her thoughts. The transient nature of the
water sculptures captured an instant in time of a very real human experience. This same

phenomenon occurs when we connect to music and sound spiritually.

My scheme or venture into making inanimate vibrations visual on a canvas began with

the concept of making a physical, painted spectrograph. A spectrograph is the visual

representation of the spectrum of frequencies in a sound or song. These are done almost solely on

computers with software; however, I wanted to obscure the relationship we have with sound to

encompass the spiritualistic and emotive tendencies of feeling that these vibrations of sounds in

our bodies. In order to do so I built a contraption to essentially paint the levels of frequencies in a

spiritual song or tonal sequence. I mapped out the level of frequencies in each song and assigned

high to low frequencies a specific color, amount, and viscosity of paint based on these findings. I

chose to use influential religious artwork as my inspiration for my color schemes of my vinyl

spiritual spectrographs. For example with Christianity, popular religious artwork is filled with

pictures of Jesus, Mary, God, angels and other Christian images so the color scheme that is

popular has many shades of red, brown, black, cream, white, blue and purple. Comparatively, the

color scheme of Islam with a focus on more abstract artwork focuses on shades of blue,

turquoise, gold, brown, black and white. After matching my paint to the color palette of the

depicted religion I then filled the test tubes with the specific colors and amounts of paint and

placed them over the spinning record player with a drilled hole in the bottom of the test tube to

drip out paint onto the circulating vinyl records.

I chose a wide variety of songs from many different religions around the world including

Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Islam because I wanted to highlight

many religions to encourage respect and appreciation of the beauty and thoughtfulness of each
religion. I created eight spiritual vinyl spectrographs; however, due to lack of time I was

unfortunately not able to include all religions but I did not purposely intend to exclude any. For

my vinyl depicting Hinduism I chose the song Om Jai Jagadish Hare sung by Anuradha a popular

Hindu singer who has sang over 5000 songs because this is a traditional Hindu song composed in

1870 sung to the deity Vishnu. The prayer symbolizes a continuity and strength throughout

Indian Hinduism post-independence as well as after independence was achieved. It is a widely

beloved prayer and song and is known to be a staple song of every household. I mapped out the

frequencies of this prayer and there were an overwhelmingly large amount of lower frequencies

from various drone sounds and lower tones so I measured the orange, red, and yellow colors to

the specific amount of lower frequencies and made the consistency thinner so that they would

bleed together more. I wanted them to bleed together more to embody the solidity and spirit that

Hinduism holds in Indian culture as well as visualizing the feeling of grounding one gets from

listening to lower drone sounds and lower tones. The higher frequencies were more distinct so I

used the light green and blue color to capture the striking nature of the bell like tones. There is a

more piercing melody to Indian, and more specifically, Hindu music and making the viscosity of

the paint thicker produced more poignant drops to symbolize the sounds heard in the song.

I chose to create two vinyl canvases for Christianity one being a more traditional choral

piece of the Hallelujah chorus sung by Andre Rieu and the Harlem Gospel Choir and Amazing

Grace sung by Judy Collins. These two drastically different pieces have wildly independent

meanings and implications within the broader religion of Christianity. The Hallelujah chorus is

centuries old and has been used in a very wide array of settings. I chose this particular piece

because it not only encompasses traditional styles of a full orchestra, choir, and conductor, but it
also incorporates a gospel choir, a large part of choral Christian music. I chose to make all of the

colors, white, black, blue, brown, with the exception of red very thin because I wanted them to

bleed together a lot. This is because Christianity has a large influence in American society even

though we claim to have a complete separation of church and state. There is also the reasoning

that this piece has a large choir comprised of many voices, a very dynamic orchestra and an

engagingly wide range of harmonies, chords, and tonal structures. I saved the blood red color and

made it especially thick to highlight the few high frequencies that are traditionally present at the

end of a large orchestral movement such as this one. It encompasses the reverence and

magnitude of God and I wanted to show that in precise droplets of blood red paint. In contrast,

I chose Amazing Grace by Judy Collins to embody a segment of Christianity known for more

non-traditional ways and for having a more intimate relationship with their God. I wanted to

have a piece sung by one singer to have a more delicate vinyl with fewer paint colors because

there were less frequencies produced. This is similar to the Om Frequency 528 Hz vinyl because

it is also comprised of only three colors because there are much less frequencies than a

traditional religious composition.

I created a vinyl record visualizing the Jewish song Hava Nagila by Israeli Folk Group

because it is an iconic, well-known, and popular song in Jewish heritage. My vinyl embodying

Islam was the song Allahu by a Malaysian band Raihan. Muslim devotional music has mixed

emotions because there are more traditional views on how one should worship Allah and if music

is inherently sinful, but there are still many of the Islamic faith who engage in worship music to

their god. The Great Compassion Mantra by Ani Choying Drolma is the song I chose for

Buddhism because it is arguably the religions most popular and well-known mantra and chant.
The Great Compassion Mantra has a very large amount of lower sustained frequencies due to the

nature of a chant so the vinyl had a very peaceful, calming sensation when viewed. The canvas

conveying Sikhism was of the song Pati Tore Malini by Puratan Singh that argues on a basic

level against idol worship and to focus on spirituality in the Sikh religion.

This idea of having a negative view veneration of idols lead to a reflection of my process

of creating my project. Throughout various religions there is an apprehension towards idols or

religious icons for a multitude of reasons, monetarily, commercially, but also the focus on

worldly creations of the human. Having a more spiritualistic experience of creating encouraged

me to create without worry of the future, my mind was on the flow of energy, in my case in the

droplets of paint onto the vinyl records. But this didnt come until after a lot of frustration trying

to work through ideas solely in my head and not really getting my hands into the mix. My ideas

were rooted in self-automation, coding, pump mechanisms, and a lot of other things that I am not

even remotely familiar with, but was trying to control to have something that I consider to be a

very intimate experience, creating my own artistic expression. Imagining this mystical

contraption in my head hindered my actual creating because I wanted to portray these

mysterious, fantastical, beautiful aspects of religion that I personally find so compelling but in

doing so I was glued to an icon in a way, a machine that I only imagined but had to go through a

lot of mental and physical hurdles to actually create. After a lot of failure and overly complicated

ideas I ended taping test tubes filled with paint to my arm, sucking up paint through a straw to

get it into my test tubes when I ran out of pipets thus getting mouthfuls of paint and still not

being able to wash off paint from my body and couch.

As one researching and studying comparative religion and spiritualities I love the

mystifying power of the world, of forces, and of human nature. In utilizing this almost charming

bafflement of humans and their spiritual capabilities my project grew into not only visualizing

religious sound but also visualizing the moments of experiencing and feeling religious sounds

and its beauty. Harnessing things that I have a hard time comprehending like sound waves or

frequencies and visualizing these in a religious music perspective helps me to not only

understand, but also to appreciate the beauty in these spiritual, exquisite vibrations.