by Jerry Vigil
It was science that gave us the technology to record music. Science also gave us the building blocks for radio transmitters and receivers. Science has given us digital audio, turning Mozart into ones and zeros, and making the drastic manipulation of audio via computers commonplace throughout the industry. Meanwhile, outside our industry, science has also made some quantum leaps in the study of sound and its effects on the human brain. At the Whole Brain Learning Institute in Encinitas, California, various sounds have been used to open doorways to the subconscious mind and link the left and right hemispheres of the brain, thus giving incoming information a better chance of stronger impact. The sounds are tools that have been used to help build self confidence, increase learning capacity, and many other things with dramatic results. It is ironic that this research in sound has been going on for years, and it is only now being directly applied to radio, the medium of sound. The sounds are called "Brainspeak" sounds, and they're part of the Maximum Impact production library from FirstCom.
To better understand the Brainspeak sounds, a little knowledge of the work at the Whole Brain Learning Institute is in order. Research at the Institute is focused closely on the science of learning, as is suggested by the name. Learning is the process of receiving information and retaining it for future use. The technology in this field is so advanced that we are now able to designate certain areas of the brain as responsible for various emotions, sensations, and skills such as learning or retention. Further experiments revealed that certain sounds "spoke" to certain areas of the brain.
How are the sounds being used at the Institute? We've all seen the late night 30 minute commercials pushing tapes that promise to help you lose weight, stop smoking, or be a millionaire. The tapes have soft music or ocean waves with "affirmations" recorded beneath the level of the music or waves so they are not heard by the conscious mind, but supposedly are heard by the subconscious mind. The affirmations are statements such as, "I won't eat Twinkies anymore," or whatever the producer decides needs to be there. The soft music or the ocean waves are sounds intended to relax the listener which, studies show, make the subject more receptive to suggestion. At the Whole Brain Learning Institute, the Brainspeak sounds are used to "escort" messages to the subconscious, in much the same way the basic ocean wave sounds do, only with greater selectivity and overall better results. It is at this subconscious level that people can learn or relearn things with greater retention. Extensive research was done to determine that certain sounds were best for speaking to one area of the brain, and other sounds worked better as "escorts" to other areas of the brain. It is the sounds that the Institute found most effective in the area of learning and retention that FirstCom selected for their library.
The 15 CD library comes with an optional 16th disk, the Brainspeak disk. Brainspeak sounds are used throughout the library, but it is this 16th disk that contains only the Brainspeak sounds and sound patterns acquired from the Institute. We spoke with Jim Long of FirstCom for more details on this disk. "Our producer working on this, Ken Nelson, has 10 two-hour R-DAT's full of these various sounds, and he has information about what those sounds do, what (areas of the brain) those sounds stimulate. Our basic emphasis is on retention. We wanted to stimulate short and long term memory development with the sounds we have chosen. That narrowed it down to about two or three hundred sounds, and those sounds are being manipulated by us in various samplings and things like that, to make up the Brainspeak disk."
Many of the sounds are synthetic and many are organic in nature. One such organic sound is the sound of dolphins singing, slowed down 64 times. It is not how the sound "sounded" to the conscious mind that made it a Brainspeak sound, but how the sound affected the brain. Therefore, the Brainspeak sounds are not necessarily loud, powerful stabs and stagers or pulsating synthesizer beds. They are not production work parts as we know them, but audio tools that have been and are presently used to stimulate certain areas of the brain/mind.
So back to "radio. Let's say you have this Brainspeak disk. You now have sounds that can spark the attention of the subconscious mind. How do you use them? Do you take advantage of the possibilities of including subliminal messages in the sounds, or do you just use them as you would any other bed. The question of the legality of subliminal advertising comes to mind. We spoke with Roger Holberg, Commission Attorney for the FCC. We asked if there is any regulation prohibiting subliminal advertising on radio. "There is no formal regulation. It's more a matter of policy," stated Mr. Holberg. So what if someone were to put a subliminal message in the sound and air it? Mr. Holberg continued, "The use of subliminal advertising is inherently deceptive and is therefore inconsistent with the responsibilities of the licensee." We then asked about using audible messages with the sounds, and Mr. Holberg replied, "I would not think it would violate our definition of subliminal advertising." While Jim Long states that audible messages mixed with the sounds is an effective way of using the sounds, the possibilities of subliminal advertising or station promotion are hard to ignore. The bottom line here is that while the sounds are scientifically proven to be effective at escorting subliminal messages, you risk your station's license if you get caught; but, you're safe if you use audible messages with the sounds.
Another consideration with the sounds is the frequencies of which they are comprised of and the rolloff of the frequencies above 16kHz on the FM band. If frequencies above 16kHz must be heard in order to have the desired effect, will some of the effect be lost? "We have some concerns about that," said Jim. "We're choosing the ones that we believe will pass and pass effectively. I'll be the first to admit that using the sounds in this context is an experiment. They haven't been used this way before."
Regardless of whether or not the sounds will work as well on the air as they do in the lab, one thing can be said for the concept: It is difficult to dismiss this effort at reaching the subconscious mind of the listener, knowing how powerful the subconscious mind is; and even if the sounds only enhance retention in the slightest, the net result is positive. It will be difficult to measure results, if they can be measured. You'll either "believe" the sounds work for you, or you won't; and if this whole Brainspeak package sounds to you like a bunch of brain-gaga, Jim offers this: "I perfectly understand that response. What I instructed the company to do is simply make this promise in writing: If it doesn't do all we say it'll do, send it back."
Armed with a Masters in Psychology, a long and successful career in the making of radio production music and jingles, and work in the area of brain/mind technology since the early 70's, Jim has apparently made the first step towards combining the science of the subconscious mind with the production room. "This information is more likely to be used by today's producers with their MIDI setups in radio stations, than it is to be used by guys in the programming department....We get so caught up in the latest equipment and the technology, and we're not using the brain/mind technology that's available," says Jim.
We have to agree that application of this science on a deliberate level is new, however, we all probably use this technology daily without knowing it. Why do you pick one piece of music for a promo over another piece? Many times it is because the music "feels" right. That feeling is a right brain experience. There may well be "sounds" in that particular piece of music that speak to your subconscious mind or excite certain areas of your brain. This activity on a subconscious level reaches the conscious level with a message of, "this music works best. It feels right." What we have all called our "gut instinct" is most likely our right brain and subconscious mind. This could also explain why some production libraries sell better than others.
The 16th Brainspeak disk is being offered by FirstCom on a format/market exclusive basis and is targeted for release in early September. The rest of the package is non-exclusive. We asked for a sample of the pure Brainspeak sounds to play for our sub-scribers. A short montage of Brainspeak sounds is on this month's Cassette. For more information on Maximum Impact, contact FirstCom at (800) 858-8880. For more information on Brainspeak and the research conducted in this area, contact the Whole Brain Learning Institute at (800) 437-5646. Some of the information used for this article was taken from a paper prepared by the late Dr. John-David and presented to the 16th Annual Conference of American Association for Music Therapy, held in March of last year in Boston. The Whole Brain Learning Institute recently changed its name from the John-David Learning Institute. Dr. John-David died recently en route to Cairo to record more sounds for his work.