Infrasonic – haunted music?

Introduction (including mp3 of original music)

Musical motives

The experiment

The infrasonic pipe

Books about the experiment

Postscript: deep weirdness or hot air?


An early acoustic test at NPL

An early acoustic test at NPL

Infrasonic (aka Soundless Music) was a carefully controlled psychological experiment, in the form of two back-to-back concerts. These concerts were highly unusual because some of the music was laced with infrasound (i.e.extreme bass sound, below 20Hz in frequency).

This concert/experiment has attracted worldwide media interest. It’s also inspired many other artists and cognitive scientists to delve into the murky world of extreme bass sound.

Original music

She Goes Back Underwater (2003)- one of my original pieces for the concert and experiment. This version is for electronics only. There is another version for piano and electronics.

NB There is no infrasound in this recording! We had to build a special generator to make live infrasonic notes during our concert. Any infrasound played through the pipe was cued in on a separate channel to the ones you’re hearing in this recording. There are some very low frequencies in this composition (which I included to mask any infrasound). But they’re not quite in the infrasonic region. Even if I had included infrasonic notes in this piece, it’s unlikely they would survive the mp3 compression process and any filtering by your computer soundcard, amps and loudspeakers (unless you have a very special set-up – in which case, sorry to disappoint!).

Setting up the experiment

I initiated and led Infrasonic,  project which was awarded funding from the SciArt Consortium. To delve into the curious world of infrasound, I put together a team of experimental psychologists, acoustic consultants, composers, a visual artist and a pianist. Our aim was explore some tantalising claims about infrasound and put them under scientific scrutiny. Of particular interest were its reputed emotional effects. Infrasound is used in sacred music, for instance during cathedral organ recitals, and there is debate about why it’s used. Some people say it adds a sense of awe to the music – it puts a shiver down your spine. Others say that giant infrasonic organ pipes are nothing more than ‘an expensive way to make a draught’. Stranger still, infrasound has also been detected at some ostensibly haunted sites (see Vic Tandy, 1998) where it may also be making people feel very uneasy.

According to Tandy, even when infrasound comes from a mundane source, such as a faulty ceiling fan, it can give people such strange sensations, it might lead them to think they’ve been haunted. This was enough information to encourage us all to unleash infrasound on an audience.

Setting up a dry-run of the experiment. This open rehearsal took place at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Photo: Dan Simmons, NPL

Setting up a dry-run of the experiment. This open rehearsal took place at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Photo: Dan Simmons, NPL