Ciaran calculating the wavelength of a bass note, during a research trip to St Alban's Abbey

Ciaran calculating the wavelength of a bass note, during a research trip to St Alban's Abbey

To put any claims about infrasound to the test, I needed to make an experiment that would pass muster. So I called in Richard Lord and Dan Simmons – acoustic experts from the National Physical Laboratory – for help. I also called on the services of Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist who is renowned for his skeptical but open-minded, scientific enquiries into seemingly paranormal phenomena. Richard introduced us to Ciaran O’Keeffe, one of his doctorate students, who had an interest in scientific studies of paranormal phenomena. Ciaran is also a musician.

In the Purcell Room, we played to full houses. Our two concerts there were identical in every way, except in the placement of infrasound. If infrasound was present in a piece in one of our two concerts, it would be absent in that piece in the other concert. To mask the infrasound, we mixed it with audible sound, from electronics and live piano. Video artist Ravi Deepres added some beautiful visuals to the mix.

The psychologists went to a great deal of trouble to ensure they didn’t spill the beans about the placement of the infrasound – even accidentally. Ciaran controlled the generator – and I remember Richard locking him in a cupboard, with the controls, from early in the morning to long after the concert was over (I think Ciaran was used to such indignities, being one of Richard’s students). This counterbalancing and ‘blind testing’, coupled with our sample of over 750 subjects, enabled us to isolate and thus account for any effects of suggestion. We gave the audience a questionnaire to log their emotional state and report any strange sensations. According to the psychologists’ analysis, infrasound does make you feel strange, even when you’re unaware of its presence. Reports included a sense of presence, shivers down the spine, feelings of pressure and other strange accounts.

To find out more about the experimental setup and our findings, see the archived website (from 2002-03).

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