Therapeutic Listening

Thanks Daniel @hamildad for taking my earlier post in Field Recording and running with it here.

The Electronic Meditation article is very good, interesting and I am aware of this sort of thing but its good to get more detail. I suppose I wanted to find something that clearly described the linking of mindfulness and sound listening and/or field recording. Why do modern mindfulness techniques privilege the breath over listening? Especially if deep listening can have the same effect?
I have been searching online from this article though and its helping me think a lot more about this. Clearly there is a logical lineage somewhere to be drawn from some of the therapeutic music discussed. Drone, ideas of deep listening, ambient soundscapes, through to transcendental musics and ‘new-age’ sounds. Perhaps not always in style but certainly a link in its meditative qualities and ability to alleviate stress. Similarly you can draw a line from Indian and Hindu mysticism through to La Monte Young and even Spaceman 3.

Interesting to read others comments and follow train of peoples thoughts. From where I began at the start of this year - of making these field recordings which grew into a form of therapeutic listening, was all the more significant because it occurred it the functional brutal concrete space of a car-park. That made it more powerful to me. At this time of year the temperature is never above 5 degrees C. so its a cold place to sit with car windows open - its not a place to linger. If I had I purposely went into a ‘scenic place’ and sought out a place to record I doubt I would have had half the benefit. Field recording in ugly places, that’s an idea!

I am going to keep doing my car-park recordings because the low temperature seems to add something to the process, what will happen when the weather gets warmer? Will the sounds captured be any different?
I have made three hours of recordings in this place and not once heard any bird song!

The quietest place in America article is interesting, it made me think about Estonia. Estonia is said to be the best country for natural sounds (certainly in Europe), there is much aural freedom from sound pollution. Check out Estonian Strings, the pure field recording by Jez Riley French…
Its a real beauty.


Oh Mr. Byrne and Dr. Diamond. I’m so sorry you were misled.

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Regarding aural diagnosis of the health of our environment:

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Thinking more about this analog vs. digital thing. Since we’re talking about therapeutic effects (not merely sound) perhaps I shouldn’t dismiss it so quickly. Sound waves do things to matter at a molecular level. I can’t rule out the possibility that inaudible differences may have varying effects at a molecular level.

So, who has a scanning tunneling microscope we could use for testing? :wink:

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cool, thank you :slight_smile:
'This is why listening to biophony –sounds generated by living organisms, like crickets at night, birds singing at dawn, dogs howling at the moon…- trigger us on an emotional level; although we may not comprehend their language, we react instinctively to their expressive communications.-
Fabio Di Santo

more digital citations we may or may not agree with…

'jazz, blues, rock and roll have possibilities?
-a.ginsberg asks

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I was mislead in the past to believe analog purists who presented factual and non-factual info to “prove” their point. I eventually left that thinking behind.

I needed evidence and the idea that “digital audio is comprised of 0s & 1s…ergo unnatural” was not enough to persuade me…don’t get me wrong! I’m still willing to change my mind but there are two things I’d need to be convinced otherwise:

  • quantitative data linking presence or absence of therapeutic benefits to the sound format/sample rate/compression algo applied to the signal path

  • a logical argument based on the data

So far, both are missing here (and elsewhere online when the subject is raised). This may come across as cynical but I pick my battles. If the underpinning or implication of an idea runs counter to my observation/experience/intuition I’m not usually willing to spend time entertaining the thought necessary to prove it’s validity.

The mere possibility that it could be true is not sufficiently intriguing to impel me to test further.


Totally agree. However, if I owned a scanning tunneling microscope, I might feel differently. :smiley:


this is quite interesting

feel like I’ve seen research on the topic in the past and will look into it further


I don’t think this is mentioned above but in possible defense of what Byrne is saying, or at least interesting, I read this recently:

“File compression format found to alter timbre of music causing loss of some emotional context”

For many years, I did field recording to gather sounds to integrate into works. More and more (such as with the piece I posted on the Field Recording page recently), I do it to focus and just for pure pleasure. I build up an archive of these recordings but the primary goal is to sit with headphones and nice mics in an inspiring space and give myself the excuse to listen and nothing else (which then leads to breathing more slowly and evenly too)


Lossy compression is lossy, for sure. Uncompressed digital audio (or losslessly compressed digital audio) at 44khz sampling rate should be indistinguishable to the ear from analog audio.

That being said, I listen to a lot of streaming audio all the time. Compressed, digital audio. I have a feeling that if the difference were very noticeable, well, it’d bother me. Pretty subjective thing to say, but there are thousands of hours of listening behind it.

I still want to buy a record player. Mostly for the tactile art object thing that records are.


So, bit of a tangent - apologies. I want to also say something on ‘therapeutic listening’, but this is already a long post…

I work for a company that makes DACs - really good ones! And by ‘really good’ I mean on paper they have 23/24 bits of accuracy. Thats ~140dB, one part in 10^7, or < 1uV noise on typical studio signals. What’s interesting, though, is that the industry derives those numbers by looking at noise & distortion of sinewaves only. Music is a lot different to test tones! It’s quite probable that a lot of ‘16 bit’ CD reproduction equipment (especially > 10 yrs old) has nowhere near that performance when reproducing full-range music. My hypothesis is that there’s a lot of ‘bad digital’ out there in the wild.

There are very subtle differences between one really, really good audio DAC & the next, but in my opinion this is mainly down to design of antialias filter. So a lot of the thinking behind high sample rate recording/playback is to do with antialias filters which don’t fall off a cliff sharply at 22kHz, screwing up the transient response. Wish I was more qualitively familiar with these effects, but I have no data or strong views on whether high samplerate is/isn’t a waste of time. When spec-ing speakers, though, I think importance of clean transient response tends to be underestimated, hence why NS10s are still widely used despite their weird-looking frequency plots…

A really interesting experiment with mp3 audio is to rip an mp3, line it back up with the original wav in a DAW, flip the phase of one, then fine-tune the gain & delay until you get maximum cancellation between the two, then listen to the residual. You should find (as I did) that a 320 kbps mp3 ripped with lame can be an incredibly faithful reproduction of the same information in the wav file (depending to some extent on program material). Residual should be over 60dB down for a good quality mp3! I, for one, would struggle to A/B/X compare my 320kbps mp3s with the original CD (though my listening equipment now is far cleaner on paper than last time I played this game!)


I love speaker discussions. It’s where the difference between data and experience becomes obvious, where physiology and psychology intrude on the acoustic and electronic science.

If it’s hard to A/B/X this, I can’t imagine that it’d be any easier to identify “bad digital” by ear…

I’m well aware of MP3 distortions. I thought by ‘bad digital’ you were referring to CD players with less than ideal antialiasing filters.

MP3s can be awful. (few MP3s are at 320kbps)

I love this little demo of what MP3 compression does to your music:

More thinking older CD players with poorly performing DACs - if I’ve been informed correctly, much of what’s out there really doesn’t have 16 bit THD+N (total harmonic distortion plus noise). I don’t hold a strong view either way, having never personally performed any decent listening tests or lab measurements. The 16-bit to 1 bit listening test is another interesting one though, which can be reliably set up using a high performance computer soundcard, along with all the dithering options.

I’d estimate 16 bit / 44.1khz is just enough to sound really transparent. It’s not so unreasonable to want one’s music playback equipment to perform a whole order of magnitude (3 bits) better than the A/B/X (i.e conscious perception) limit! Depends if you subscribe to the philosophy of over-engineering as opposed to cost-engineering. I do quite a bit of prototyping work, so my instincts tend toward over-engineering where practical!

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I agree given today’s tech. When all this was standardized it would have been more of a stretch.

But with standards come economies of scale. I’m not convinced it’s worth orders of magnitude more cost for a niche product. At least, not for my own ears and pocketbook.

I get lots of therapeutic benefit from the music I listen to, and a lot of it comes from Spotify.

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curious again about any degradation of ‘therapeutic benefit’ which could result from deliberately:

  • bitcrushing
  • downsampling
  • applying ‘non-causal’ filters (i.e FIR filters which cause pre-ringing on transients)

to an audio stream playing through any decent quality modern audio interface such as the focusrite scarletts, delta1010 or similar. Especially on high fidelity acoustic recordings. Not exactly possible to be scientific about this - but would be interesting to just use oneself as a guineapig & get a feel for the order of magnitude of the effects.

To take an extreme example, I’ll bet anyone 20 bucks that bitcrushing a favourite orchestral piece to 8 bit is not exactly going to enhance the listening experience or subsequent feelings of well-being…


“enhance the listening experience” is pretty different from “subsequent feelings of well-being”. In other words, I doubt people listen to Merzbow for feelings of well-being. But there can be therapeutic benefits from contemplating darker emotions…

That being said, it sounds like an interesting experiment!



i read some discussion about brainwave sync actually working better with headphones, in that the transducers emit the electromagnetic radiation in addition to the mechanical sound waves.

have any of you committed to brainwave entrainment as a ritual or daily practice?


I’ve attempted it, but did not find the tones helpful as opposed to more traditional meditation in silence, or with other soothing sounds such as flowing water, rain, waves, or even just a fan or other source of white/pink noise. I also prefer Robert Rich and other sleep/space musicians for this purpose. Then again, maybe I’m doing it wrong?