THE TOMATIS METHOD AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE
by Robert Rickover
Tone, pitch, rhythm, harmony – these are among the many terms that can describe the condition of our bodies as well as the quality of sounds we make and hear. Our language is permeated with words and expressions that suggest a deep primal connection between sound and body. It was F. Matthias Alexander’s desire to improve his voice which led to the far reaching discoveries we now know as the Alexander Technique.
Some fifty years after Alexander’s pioneering work, a French medical doctor, Alfred Tomatis, began investigating the cause of hearing difficulties in his patients. His studies have led to a number of revolutionary new discoveries about previously unknown functions of the ear and the therapeutic effects of sound. He also developed a practical method of enhancing listening skills.
Both Alexander and Tomatis were initially interested in improving sound quality; one with its production, the other with its reception. Today, both the Alexander Technique and the Tomatis Method are recognized as having an extraordinarily wide range of beneficial effects – physical, mental and even spiritual – which extend well beyond the original motivation of their developers.
Their inherent transformation power springs in large measure from their being based on close, practical observations of our relationship with sound, one of the most fundamental aspects of our existence. We live in a veritable “sea of sound”, with our brain receiving far more stimuli, both external and internal, from our ears that from any other organ.
“The ear builds, organizes and nourishes the nervous system” says Dr. Tomatis. He believes the human ear’s primary function is to transform sound energy into an electrical cortical charge which the brain then distributes throughout the body, toning up the entire neuromuscular system.
His method consists of a sensory stimulation program in which the individual listens to electronically modified and filtered sounds through headsets. The content is either music (Mozart and Gregorian chants primarily), the mother’s voice, or the individual’s own voice. The sound is modified by a device called the Electronic Ear. By means of filters, amplifiers and a sophisticated gating mechanism the sound is reshaped and presented to the ears in rapidly alternating forms.
Dr. Tomatis’ early investigations led to the discovery that the human voice can only produce sounds which the ears can hear. The two organs are part of the same neurological loop and a change in the response of one shows up immediately in the other. This has been repeatedly verified by medical investigators and has been named the “Tomatis Effect” by the French Academy of Science and Medicine.
This discovery is very significant for students of the Alexander Technique because it suggests that Alexander’s work on himself in front of the mirror may have been at least as important in its effect on his capacity to listen as it was on his ability to speak.
Reinforcing this hypothesis is Dr. Tomatis’ finding that in order to hear very high pitched sounds, our body must adopt what he calls a “listening posture”
I am interested in creating a body architecture generated by the most basic and fundamental structure: “the inherent jiggling of all things.”
If our skin and body geometry would change depending on our neural activity just as in the case of cephalopods in the ocean, how different our interactions and movement process could be if we realize the innate vibrations and interconnections inside and out.
My end goal would be to fabricate a soft structure similar to a skin that could simulate this electrochemical/emotional mechanism.
I have been trying to start by drawing one of these “chromatophores structures” in one joint of the body and see the results of a malleable electric human anatomy.
one of multiple: http://alpha.editor.p5js.org/dg2881/sketches/SyC3h-3qe
I also took this code and with the help of Or Fleisher I modified it: https://pmneila.github.io/jsexp/grayscott/
We arrived, seduced by the idea of infinite possibilities,
intrigued by the dimensions we might perceive while creating a path.
We posed a question: How would you move in space if you were able to see or perceive the invisible interconnections (frequencies/vibrations)around you? What kind of path would you create?
We thought: This could be a study on human frequencies, a speculative anatomy.
First step: Place six speakers in a room. Position them in a certain manner that will delimit space in x,y,z axis. Play different sounds representing invisible frequencies around us carrying data.
What pathways did you see?
* Static: No physical movement or shift in space, possibly due to blindfolds and multiple inputs of constant sounds- with no rules or guides to follow. However, it is interesting to notice that no physical displacement can occur parallel to a possible internal movement or thought process – Therefore how could we trace the pathway of thoughts (doubt, fear, curiosity etc.) inside our brains and bodies as we remain static in space?
* Random: Once the first participant felt comfortable to explore physical space, there seemed to be an intention to find a beat/rhythm and follow it or disrupt it. However, the multiplicity of sounds/volumes, we believe made the participant pose a question: whether to create “order” or follow “chaos” in movement. In other words, a tension between linear and random path making.
* Circular/Smoothness: or an intention of roundness, as the first participant explored space. Her arms stretched and her body expanded in an attempt to reach a sound source. At the same time, she tried to find more stability and familiarity, thus she placed her body closer to the walls. This path involved exploring the limits, touching them with movement.
*Linear: There seemed to be a contraction or push and pull as she attempted to find smoothness or roundness in her movement but found herself pushed and constrained into a linear path by the various points of sounds.
The second person to experience our piece, probably due to the previous reference, entered space with confidence. However, when blindfolded we noticed how a limitation or barrier in her intended path had emerged. It is interesting to notice that a pathway might have several points of decision-making or detours that determine orientation/force/goal. Therefore a pathway might be described as a learning process.
This second experience generated a pathway that we believe followed a triangle wave or a non-sinusoidal waveform. A periodic, linear and continuous function. A triangle wave contains only odd harmonics, demonstrating odd symmetry.
The pathway created in this case followed a specific upbeat, almost like a synthesizer of various sounds, generating a visual sound by a punctuated sharp linear movement on y-axis, counterpoint.
This was followed by a crawling movement, transforming the high peaks on y axis to a now constant low position on y axis and a malleable x axis exploration, almost noisy.
Which ones did you predict and design for?
Our main goal was to question a possible volume or dimensionality generated by the interaction of movement/presence and sound/frequencies. Therefore we predicted and designed delimitations in space by means of sound that we expected could generate points of constraint.
We predicted a fundamental linear path that would trace the limit points in-between the six sound sources, creating a constant movement which we hoped in turn to draw a perspective.
We specifically placed the speakers in different x y and z coordinates so that the possible pathway enabled a perspective by enlarging or extending space by a sensation of distance (the relation of two figures in the same plane, such that pairs of corresponding points lie on concurrent lines, and corresponding lines meet in collinear points.)
We also predicted a random spatial distribution as movement perceived sound.
Which were surprises?
Our experimental approach called for surprises, however, we did not expect pathways “off boundaries” or exit points. We imagined the speakers, placed in specific positions in space, serving as barriers or total delimitations of space. We did predict users approaching or having the desire to explore the source of a sound, but we were surprised to see pathways expanding to a non-audible territory or invisible to the Kinect.
Moreover, we expected more cautious and reserved movements guided by the augmentation of the hearing sense as we cut the sense of sight. Thus it was surprising to see a freer movement, smooth and expansive.
A very pleasant surprise was seeing users move in the x, y and z axis; we hoped for dimensionality but we did not know exactly how it would look like.
What design choices did you make to influence the pathways people would take?
Our design choices responded to:
An assigned space: the classroom scenario.
Our specific goal: to render visible the interconnections in space by means of movement and dimensionality,
The strongest design choice we made was to disable the sense of sight and augment the sense of audition. This choice resulted as an answer to a question we asked ourselves: How would you move in space if you were able to perceive the interconnections (frequencies/vibrations)? What would your path be?
We predicted that the Kinect had to be positioned at a higher altitude with an angle, in order to sense and trace the movement of the head/torso as a complete element in space. We were not interested in limbs or displaceable joints.
Once we determined the possible range of the Kinect, we decided the x,y and z locations of the audio sources, predicting a linear movement on multiple axis.
We also asked ourselves, how does a choreography of existing frequencies around us might look like? Therefore we prototyped the idea of having multiple devices in space receiving and emitting frequencies we can trace and make visible as patterns or paths of movement.
What if frequencies have a certain weight or other unexpected means of perception? This question informed our design choices regarding stroke weight and audio file selection.
What choices were not made? left to chance?
We did not calculate the time for each track playing from a different source. We thought about having the sounds on a loop but then we decided to let them play and see what happens when randomly some stop and others continue playing. We thought that could be an interesting thread to a pathway.
We invited a volunteer to experience our piece but we did not provide any explanation or rules, and it was interesting to notice that a person is more likely to expect rules or directions once blindfolded. In a way taking the element of vision is giving yourself to chance.
What did people feel interacting with your piece? How big was the difference between what you intended and what actually happened?
NatGeo: The brain is full of Manhattan-like grids (Ed Yong) – 03/29/2012
Choros / 2011 / 13 min / HD / Stereo (Directed by Michael Langan and Terah Maher)
The Acrobatic Cardinal Points (Cosac Naify) – 2013
NY Times: Mysterious Rite of Reproduction (NATALIA V. OSIPOVA) Jun. 20, 2016
ScienceAlert: Scientists have confirmed a brand new phase of matter: time crystals (Fiona MacDonald) – Feb. 1, 2017