Human Stress Provoked By Digitized Recordings

By John Diamond, M.D. ( )

Music can be one of the great therapies. Throughout recorded history in all parts of the world, music has been used as therapy. In fact, of all factors that have been investigated, probably none enhances the Life Energy and reduces stress more effectively than music.[1] Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the fact that at the age of 70, when some 50 percent of American males are already dead, some 80 percent of musical conductors are still alive, healthy, and productive. The tremendous therapeutic power of music has always been recognized, and it has been the subject of many discourses, from the time of Pythagoras to Moses Maimonides and beyond.[2] To me, as to Pythagoras, music is not mere entertainment or amusement (the absence of the muse), but therapy. It is one of the most potent modalities that exists for actuating what the Greeks called thymos, what Hippocrates called the vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power that exists within us all: Life Energy.

There are still many cultures in which there has been no divorce between music and healing. For example, in many so-called primitive societies, the healing shaman is nearly always a musician, and music and incantation are as important as all the other aspects of his profession. The only vestige we see of this in our society is the use of music in religious ceremonies, a custom which dates back to a time before the separation in our society of medicine and religion. Thus throughout the centuries and today, over and above the usual satisfaction or the more physical enjoyment we may derive from music, there is another quality, and it is this other quality, this Life Energy enhancing quality to which I have devoted a major part of my research over the years.

I have tested many thousands of phonograph recordings made over a period of more than eighty years, and have found that almost most examples have been therapeutic, often highly so.[3] In 1979 this changed. I suddenly found that I was not achieving the same therapeutic results as before, that playing records of the same compositions to the same patients was producing a completely contrary effect! Instead of their stress being reduced and their Life Energy being actuated, the opposite was occurring! For instance, music that I had long used to promote sleep now seemed to be actually aggravating the insomnia. I found in one case that instead of the music helping a patient withdraw from tranquilizers, it seemed to increase his need for them. Special tapes for businesspeople to use during their rest periods seemed suddenly to increase rather than reduce their stress. These findings were very alarming.

When I investigated these and many other paradoxical phenomena, I found that in all cases they were related to the use of digital recordings. These were vinyl records (and later CDs) made from digital masters.[4] When I substituted analog versions of the same work, sometimes even with the same performers, the positive therapeutic effects were again obtained. There seemed to me little doubt that something was “wrong” with the digital process. Apparently the digital recording technique not only did not enhance Life Energy and reduce stress, but it was actually untherapeutic; that is, it imposed a stress and reduced Life Energy. Through some mechanism, some severely detrimental effect on the Acupuncture Emotional System, the digital process was somehow reversing the therapeutic effects of the music!

In a number of instances I had analog and digital performances that we could easily compare. One was of Zubin Mehta conducting Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto.” The digital performance (on London) had a stress-inducing effect whereas the old analog performance (on Vox) did not. Also the early LP transfers of Caruso and McCormack were Life Energy enhancing whereas the digital versions had the opposite effect although these were records of the same performance. The only difference was the digitalization process. And this was apparent even though the original recordings had been made nearly seventy years earlier. Other examples were the Japanese Denon PCM recordings of various Czech performers whose earlier versions were on the Supraphon label. They were the same performers and the same works. The only difference appeared to be the digital process. These findings were made in about 1980. I have made literally many thousands in the years since.

If you play a digital recording, it will be found that the digital effect has stressed the subject. Something has happened. Some stress has been introduced, which is now manifest in a negative response. Perhaps even more striking are the differences in stress effects found in a recording session in which digital and analog recordings were made simultaneously.[5] Similar effects are also apparent when the human speaking voice is recorded using a digital process.[6]

This effect obviously is due neither to the performer nor to the composer, since other recordings, analog, of the same performer and the same composer do not have this effect. In fact, they are therapeutic; that is, they reduce stress and enhance Life Energy. There is a factor involved in the digital technique which is causing this stress. At some level the ear perceives a signal that it recognizes as unnatural and alarming. This instantly causes a stress reaction.

Many audiophiles and engineers state that they have noticed that they can discern something vaguely “wrong” with the digital recording process but cannot quite pinpoint the problem. While we certainly enjoy the benefits of this major technological breakthrough, there are other effects still to be considered.

I have conducted my research both by myself and with others under double blind testing standards on many occasions, and the results tend to be about the same. I wish to emphasize that for accurate research there are many variables that must be controlled, many more than I can elaborate upon in this short presentation. Furthermore, as I have previously stated, for accurate interpretation I look at every possible variable not just at one superficial level. (It is only when all the variables are accurately controlled and testing is carried out at all levels and parameters that the findings are meaningful.)

What if my findings are correct? For many years now, nearly all recordings of otherwise therapeutic music have been made using the digital process. The implications of this, both for today and for our future, are very disturbing. If the major therapeutic recording artists of today are recorded for posterity using the present digital technique their efforts will be valueless for us and for future generations. No more will we be able to call upon the therapeutic powers, the true healing powers, of the musicians of our day as we have called upon the musicians of the past. This will mark the end of the therapeutic era of recorded music. The great technological advance of being able to bring the greatest performers into our homes for true entertainment, and, much more important, to raise our Life Energy, will have been destroyed.

When a man comes home stressed after a day’s work and puts on a record of a Schubert piano sonata to help him re-energize, the opposite will occur. He will become more stressed, and he will learn over a period of time that music does not help him to relax as he had expected. Or a person, who as part of his religious pursuit, plays a record of the Bach “B Minor Mass” will perhaps recognize that he is further removed from his goal, and that instead of serenity, instead of holiness, instead of a feeling of life enhancement, the opposite has occurred. The music has become untherapeutic, contrary to its true nature. It is no longer Music! We must remember that nearly always these negatives are unconscious, the more powerful for being so. If we were conscious of them, we would not permit them.

We will then cease to regard music as being what it can be: one of the great therapies. Our recorded musical heritage will still satisfy the brain but will do nothing for the rest of the listener. Our true recorded musical heritage will have come to an end.

Postscript, May 2003

About two years ago, I was contacted by several of the major recording and electronic companies who said that they never forgot my address to the Audio Engineering Society in 1980. They said that they knew then that I was right with what I had presented about the negative effects of the digital process, but unfortunately it was released anyhow. They asked me to help in finding a solution to what they were now calling “digital fatigue.” Over the years I have tried many methods but all without success—until now.

In 1980, I had only digitally recorded and/or mastered vinyl LPs to examine. The arrival of CDs a few years later increased the problem. As with LPs, but more so, the stress leads after a time (different for each individual) to a reversal of the listener’s usual ethical and medical standards of belief. The effects of this profound change, which I have now investigated for over twenty-five years, are, I believe, a very important etiological factor in the increase in childhood and adolescent disturbances (witness the soaring rate of Ritalin use), and the escalating violence in our society.

Especially when we recall that the digital process is no longer confined to recorded music but is now affecting us nearly all day: TV, radio, telephones etc. It is we who have become digitalized!

Increasingly over the years, music lovers are turning against digital; feeling what I first demonstrated nearly a quarter century ago, they are resisting them—proclaiming that it doesn’t sound like, feel like, analog. Cold, no heart; that is to say, untherapeutic.

(We must remember that a generation has probably rarely heard non-digital music—for it is now so pervasive in concerts halls as “digital reinforcement” as well.)

I write this not only as a music lover, and a believer in the therapeutic power of music, but even more as a doctor gravely concerned with the increasing amount of disturbance in our society, especially in the children. The very essence of Music is the expression of peace, of comfort—of love. And this digital has destroyed, even reversed!

My wife and I once attended a concert by Mel Torme. We were thrilled. I especially so when he played Gene Krupa’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” drum solo. We had, we believed, a wonderful time, coming out of Carnegie Hall so smiling and happy. And then I was nearly killed. My wife just managed to pull me back as I was walking right into a fast moving car. Why?, I wondered. I’m not usually that careless, that unthinking. Could it have been to do with the concert?

Next day I questioned a number of friends who had also been there. Each of them had a similar experience. One man, normally very clear thinking, was so confused it took him a long time to find his parked car. One couple decided after the concert to stay at a city hotel, rather than drive an hour and half home—as they always did after a classical concert at Carnegie Hall—because they felt so “exhausted.” Another couple got into a violent argument—with fists—within fifteen minutes of the last note. And two strict vegetarians ate hamburgers! All the time wondering why. It was so against their principles, yet they felt compelled to.

Surely, I wondered, this could not be due to Mel Torme. None of his records I have examined (all analog) had any serious negative effect. It must be the sound amplification system! So I went to Carnegie Hall and asked about their sound equipment. They were very proud to show me the banks of digital delay apparatus. And to point out the loudspeakers in the columns and pillars throughout the hall to convey this digital magic into the unsuspecting audience.

Perhaps everyone doesn’t have these negative experiences. Not every couple fights after a digital movie, and the telephone is still used for love-talk.

But the negativity, the incipient hatred, has been imposed on the unconscious. And we must always remember that all of our motivations, all of our decisions, arise from the unconscious—of which, of course, we are unaware. How loving, really, was that phone conversation? You can’t remember—even if you were alive back then—how different it would have been. How different it was to hear Mel Torme back then. How differently we felt, and thought, and acted. How different was the world pre-digital.

You know you have so many CD’s. You know that virtually all music today is digital—even “live” because of digital sound “enhancement.” You know that all TV is digital, all wireless, all phones, all computers, all movies, all DVD’s. You know that we live in a digital world. All communication, over any distance is digital. We are totally enmeshed in a digital environment. All this you know—and have readily accepted, embraced: “It’s so convenient.”

But just suppose that all I’ve been proclaiming and demonstrating for over twenty-five years is right. Just suppose that digital sound is a major negative force attacking our very civilization. Just suppose I’ve been right all along that digital has an extremely harmful effect on us. That it reverses our moral judgment—at an unconscious, subtle but all-pervasive level. That it produces in us, deep down, a reversal of our most precious beliefs. That we then believe, I stress at an unconscious level, that hate is “good” and love is “bad,” that health is “bad” and disease is “good.” Of course, most of the time we consciously override this unconscious negativity—but always?

Consider the ever-escalating hatred and insanity in the world. Could it be related, in part, to the digital environment? Bowling for Columbine should have been entitled Listening at Columbine. And consider that it is in the digital environment that all major decisions are made—including those for war or peace. And you know that none are made for peace. Digital will cause us to believe that war is “good” and peace is “bad.”

World leaders and corporate executives are no different than children in their susceptibility to digital sound. And I’ve seen many times how their hatred of life has been reduced by turning off the digital. Be completely quiet, be free of digital—and think. What if I’m right? And, if so, what does it auger for the future?

And it need not be so. There are other digital systems which do not cause this unconscious reversal. But we will never get them until we become aware.

Postcript 2006

As you can imagine, over the years I have made many, many attempts to overcome the digital problem. At last, several years ago I found a very simple electronic solution.

Unfortunately, I have not made contact with anyone in the audio industry that wants to assist to take it further. So many of them will admit to “digital fatigue” but apparently are too fatigued to work to overcome it!

Consider this example. A very senior executive in a recording company did finally agree to have it demonstrated – if I would arrange transport for him. And then at the last minute canceled, saying he had to spend time with his mother!

The digital problem is Real. After all this time what I found in the unconscious is gradually coming up to consciousness. And it can be overcome. But who wants it to be? Probably none of those listening to it all day – they are too affected by it.

[1] John Diamond, M.D., Your Body Doesn’t Lie, New York: Warner Books, 1980.

[2] See John Diamond, M.D., “The Therapeutic Power of Music,” in Scott Shannon, ed., Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Therapies in Mental Health, San Diego: Academy Press, 2001.

[3] I define “therapeutic” as that which enhances Life Energy and thus reduces vulnerability to stress. The three possible values for a stimulus are: (1) therapeutic, (2) non-therapeutic, or neutral, and (3) untherapeutic.

[4] I then realized that the digital records that I had in my private collection went unused. I seemed to play them once and then put them aside. I had been reluctant to play them again in response to some stress-provoking factor that I felt.

[5] Haydn “Symphony Number 100,” Vanguard recording VA25000. One side is digital and the other is analog.

[6] Note that after a certain period of exposure to the digital signal, the subject will be so reversed that there will be a paradoxical false pseudo-positive response, which can totally invalidate the results of the untrained tester.

Liv Singh Khalsa

About Liv Singh Khalsa

Billboard Reviewed and Top 10 Charting, Grammy Nominated, 2 time NAMA Award Winner, Keyboard Magazine Album of the Year Winner producer & engineer Liv Singh Khalsa.
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