Itzhak Perlman Appears on Sesame Street and Poignantly Shows Kids How to Play the Violin and Push Through Life’s Limits (1981)

I always champion anything that will improve the lives of people with disabilities and put it on the front burner. - Itzhak Perlman

At its best, the Internet expands our horizons, introducing us to new interests and perspectives, forging connections and creating empathy.

The educational children's series Sesame Street was doing all that decades earlier.

Witness this brief clip from 1981, starring violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman and a six-year-old student from the Manhattan School of Music.

For many child—and perhaps adult—viewers, this excerpt presented their first significant encounter with classical musical and/or disability.




The little girl scampers up the steps to the stage as Perlman, who relies on crutches and a motorized scooter to get around, follows behind, heaving a sigh of relief as he lowers himself into his seat.

Already the point has been made that what is easy to the point of unconsciousness for some presents a challenge for others.

Then each takes a turn on their violin.

Perlman’s skills are, of course, unparalleled, and the young girl’s seem pretty exceptional, too, particularly to those of us who never managed to get the hang of an instrument. (She began lessons at 3, and told the Suzuki Association of the Americas that her Sesame Street appearance with Perlman was the “highlight of [her] professional career.”)

In the nearly 40 years since this episode first aired, public awareness of disability and accessibility has become more nuanced, a development Perlman discussed in a 2014 interview with the Wall Street Journal, below.

Having resented the way early features about him invariably showcased his disability, he found that he missed the opportunity to advocate for others when mentions dropped off.

Transparency coupled with celebrity provides him with a mighty platform. Here he is speaking in the East Room of the White House in 2015, on the day that President Obama honored him with the Medal of Freedom:

And his collaborations with Sesame Street have continued throughout the decadesincluding performances of "You Can Clean Almost Anything" (to the tune of Bach’s Partita for Solo Violin), "Put Down the Duckie," Pagliacci's Vesti la giubba (backing up Placido Flamingo), and Beethoven's Minuet in G, below.

Read more of Perlman’s thoughts on disability, and enroll in his Master Class here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities by Roger Livingston Scaife (1920). Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Ram Dass (RIP) Offers Wisdom on Confronting Aging and Dying

After his dismissal from Harvard for researching LSD with Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert left the U.S. for India in 1967. He devoted himself to the teachings of Hindu teacher Neem Karoli Baba and returned to the States a permanently changed man, with a new name and a message he first spread via the collaboratively-edited and illustrated 1971 classic Be Here Now.

In the “philosophically misty, stubbornly resonant Buddhist-Hindu-Christian mash-up,” writes David Marchese at The New York Times, Ram Dass “extolled the now-commonplace, then-novel (to Western hippies, at least) idea that paying deep attention to the present moment—that is, mindfulness—is the best path to a meaningful life.” We’ve grown so used to hearing this by now that we’ve likely become a little numb to it, even if we’ve bought into the premise and the practice of meditation.




Ram Dass discovered that mindful awareness was not part of any self-improvement project but a way of being ordinary and abandoning excess self-concern. “The more your awareness is expanded, the more it becomes just a natural part of your life, like eating or sleeping or going to the toilet” he says in the excerpt above from a talk he gave on “Conscious Aging” in 1992. “If you’re full of ego, if you’re full of yourself, you’re doing it out of righteousness to prove you’re a good person.”

To really open ourselves up to reality, we must be willing to put desire aside and become “irrelevant.” That’s a tough ask in a culture that values few things more highly than fame, youth, and beauty and fears nothing more than aging, loss, and death. Our culture “denigrates non-youth,” Ram Dass wrote in 2017, and thus stigmatizes and ignores a natural process everyone must all endure if they live long enough.

[W]hat I realized many years ago was I went into training to be a kind of elder, or social philosopher, or find a role that would be comfortable as I became irrelevant in the youth market. Now I’ve seen in interviewing old people that the minute you cling to something that was a moment ago, you suffer. You suffer when you have your face lifted to be who you wish you were then, for a little longer, because you know it’s temporary.

The minute you pit yourself against nature, the minute you pit yourself with your mind against change, you are asking for suffering.

Older adults are projected to outnumber children in the next decade or so, with a healthcare system designed to extract maximum profit for the minimal amount of care. The denial of aging and death creates “a very cruel culture,” Ram Dass writes, “and the bizarre situation is that as the demographic changes, and the baby boomers come along and get old, what you have is an aging society and a youth mythology”—a recipe for mass suffering if there ever was one.

We can and should, Ram Dass believed, advocate for better social policy. But to change our collective approach to aging and death, we must also, individually, confront our own fears of mortality, no matter how old we are at the moment. The spiritual teacher and writer, who passed away yesterday at age 88, confronted death for decades and helped students do the same with books like 2001’s Still Here: Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying and his series of talks on “Conscious Aging,” which you can hear in full further up.

“Recorded at the Conscious Aging conference sponsored by the Omega Institute in 1992,” notes the Ram Dass Love Serve Remember Foundation, the conference “was the first of its kind on aging. Ram Dass had just turned sixty.” He begins his first talk with a joke about purchasing his first senior citizen ticket and says he felt like a teenager until he hit fifty. But joking aside, he learned early that really living in the present means facing aging and death in all its forms.

Ram Dass met aging with wisdom, humor, and compassion, as you can see in the recent video above. As we remember his life, we can also turn to decades of his teaching to learn how to become kinder to ourselves and others (a distinction without a real difference, he argued), as we all face the inevitable together.

Related Content:

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Bertrand Russell’s Advice For How (Not) to Grow Old: “Make Your Interests Gradually Wider and More Impersonal”

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Dementia

Photo by Abhisek Sarda, via Wikimedia Commons

I tend to be somewhat skeptical of scientific research that focuses solely on what practices like meditation do to the greyish-pinkish-white stuff inside our skulls. Humans are too complex to be treated like brains in vats. Holistic disciplines like meditation and yoga emphasize the union of mind and body, and neuroscientists have shown how mental and emotional health is as tied to the functioning of our circulatory systems and microbiomes as it is to proper brain function.

On the other hand, there’s no denying the importance of brain health, given that it’s the one organ we may never be able to replace. While we may have grown accustomed to, and maybe even weary of, seeing mindfulness under the scanner, the neuroscience of yoga hasn’t received nearly as much press. This is changing for several reasons. Most prominently, “yoga has particularly gained traction as a research area of interest in its promising potential of therapy to combat the alarming increase in age-related neurogenerative diseases.”




So notes a systemic review of the current literature on yoga and brain health published in the journal Brain Plasticity this past November. The authors surveyed 11 different studies, all of which preserved the typical Hatha yoga mix of postures, meditation, and breathing exercises in their methodology. Each study also “used brain-imaging techniques such as MRI, functional MRI or single-photon emission computerized tomography” to assess physical brain changes, reports Science Daily.

The survey authors define yoga as “the most popular form of complementary therapy practiced by more than 13 million adults,” as well as an ancient practice that “dates back over 2000 years to ancient India.” Whether one does yoga in more spiritual or more secular contexts, its “acute and intervention effects on cognition are evident” across the entire range of studies. The research confirms much of what we might expect—yoga has a positive effect on mood, demonstrating “the potential to improve anxiety, depression, stress and overall mental health.”

The survey also showed consistent findings we might not have expected. Despite the typically slow pace of a Hatha yoga routine, all the studies found evidence that “yoga enhances many of the same brain structures and functions that benefit from aerobic exercise,” as Science Daily points out. “From these 11 studies, we identified some brain regions that consistently come up, and they are surprisingly not very different from what we see with exercise research,” says lead author Neha Gotha, kinesiology and community health professor at the University of Illinois.

Gotha identifies one of those benefits as an increase in the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain that tends to shrink with age and “the structure that is first affected in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” Other regions affected include the amygdala, which contributes to emotional regulation, and the prefrontal cortex, which is “essential to planning, decision-making, multitasking, thinking about your options and picking the right option,” says study co-author Jessica Damoiseaux, psychology professor at Wayne State University.

“Yoga is not aerobic in nature," says Gotha, "so there must be other mechanisms leading to these brain changes. So far we don’t have the evidence to identify what those mechanisms are.”  The effects, however, aren’t only similar to those of more vigorous exercise; in some cases, yoga seemed even more effective. Nicole McDermott at Greatist explains that in one study Gotha conducted with 30 female colleagues, “reaction times were shorter and accuracy was greater after the yoga session compared to 20 minutes of a treadmill.” Even more surprisingly, “jogging resulted in nearly the same cognitive performance as the baseline testing when the women didn’t exercise at all.”

These results should be seen as provisional and preliminary. “We need more rigorous and well-controlled intervention studies to confirm these initial findings,” Damoiseaux cautions. But they may contribute to growing evidence of the “mind-body connection” yoga helps foster. Better mood and lowered stress tend to improve brain health overall. Other studies support these conclusions, such as research showing how yoga practice over time enlarges the somatosensory cortex, which contains a “mental map” of the body and promotes greater self-awareness.

No doubt we’ll see many more studies on yoga and brain function in the coming years. For the time being, the science strongly suggests that when we hit the yoga mat to limber up and de-stress, we’re also helping to proof our brains against debilitating effects of aging like memory loss and cognitive decline. Read Gotha and Damoiseaux's full survey of the neuroscience of yoga here.

via Science Daily

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Bicycles Can Revolutionize Our Lives: Case Studies from the United States, Netherlands, China & Britain

A two- (and three- and one-) wheeled revolution is upon us. Dubbed “micro-mobility” by start-up marketers and influencers, the trend incorporates all sorts of personal means of transport. While the buzz may hover around electric scooters and skateboards, the faithful bicycle still leads the pack, as it has for over a hundred years. And advocates—who bike as their primary means of exercise, commuting, and running daily errands—are challenging the orthodoxies of car culture.

As an avid cyclist myself, who bikes as often as I can for groceries and other errands, I will admit to a strong bias in their favor. But even I’ve been challenged and surprised by what I've learned from biking advocates like Liz Canning, producer and narrator of a new documentary film, Motherload, a portrait of the many people who have chosen to use cargo bikes instead of cars for nearly everything.




The film is remarkable for the ordinariness of its subjects. As one cargo cyclist, Brent Patterson of Buffalo, New York, says, “I’m not an athlete. I’m not superhuman. I’m just a completely normal person like you.” The Patterson family “sold its car,” notes Outside magazine, “and travels by cargo bike year-round, even in snowstorms.” Another cargo cyclist in the film, Emily Finch, “carts all six of her kiddos around on two wheels.” We see cargo cyclists around the world, using bikes as emergency transport haulers and daily grocery-getters.

Most of the Americans profiled live in bike-friendly communities like Marin County, California or Portland, Oregon. But others, like the Pattersons, do not, “and not all are as comfortably off as Canning,” who retired as a commercial filmmaker to raise her kids in bike-friendly Fairfax, CA. “Some had to sell their car or take out a no-interest loan in order to afford a cargo bike.” No one seems to have regretted the decision.

Readers who hail from, or have lived in, places in the world where bike-reliance is the norm may scoff at the presumed novelty of the idea in Canning’s film. But at one time, even the Netherlands—home of the ubiquitous Bakfiets—was almost as car-centric as most of the U.S., as American Dan Kois writes in a New Yorker essay about how he learned to become bike commuter in the Netherlands.

I had assumed that Dutch people’s adeptness at biking was the result of generations of incessant cycling. In fact, after the Second World War, the Netherlands had, like the U.S., become dominated by cars. Cycling paths were overtaken by roads, and neighborhoods in Amsterdam were razed to make room for highways. Between 1950 and 1970, the number of cars in the country exploded from about a hundred thousand to nearly two and a half million. During that same period, bike use plummeted; in Amsterdam, the percentage of trips made by bike fell from eighty to twenty.

That all changed when young activists and parents, especially mothers—like the biking mothers in Motherload—began protesting high numbers of traffic deaths. They took to the streets on their bikes, blocking traffic, running for office, and pressuring city officials to make infrastructure and public space safe and accommodating for bikes. Now, there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands, and cars co-exist on roads full of cyclists of all ages and classes, on their way to work, school, and everywhere else.

Dutch drivers “look out for cyclists,” writes Kois. “After all, nearly all of those drivers are cyclists themselves,” using the car for a brief, necessary outing before they get back on their bikes for most everything else. Next to Kois’ first-person account of his few-months-long sojourn through Delft, we have the global testimony of the Bicycle Architecture Biennale, a “showcase of cutting edge and high profile building designs that are facilitating bicycle travel and transforming communities around the world.” The exhibits, writes Karen Wong at David Byrne's Reasons to Be Cheerful, "point the way to a two-wheeled utopia."

BYCS, the group responsible for this well-curated exhibition, come from Amsterdam. The projects they feature, however, are in London and Chongmin and Chengdu, China. The cargo cyclists in Motherload, and the ferocious activism of cyclists in places like New York City, despite tremendous "bikelash," may show Americans they don't need to look abroad to see how bikes could slowly displace cars as Americans' vehicles of choice in some parts of the country. But learning from how other places have reimagined their infrastructure could prove necessary for lasting change.

Many Americans cannot imagine life without their cars, even if they also have garages full of bikes. Some lash out at cyclists as a threat to their way of life. The country is enormous (though we do most driving locally); cars serve as modes of transport—for human, plant, animal, and everything else—and also as escape pods and status symbols. Canning’s film shows us ordinary American men and women getting the gumption to trade some comfort and security for lives of minor adventure and ecological simplicity. (And a good many of them still have cars if they need them.)

We also see, in exhibitions like that previewed in the video above how design principles and policy can help make such choices easier and safer for everyone to make. Canning pointedly frames her argument in Motherload around cycling's radical history. "100 years before the bicycle saved me," she says in the film's official trailer at the top, "it liberated the poor, empowered the suffragettes, and transformed society faster than any invention in human history. It could happen again."

via Outside

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How Leo Tolstoy Learned to Ride a Bike at 67, and Other Tales of Lifelong Learning

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Meditation for Beginners: Buddhist Monks & Teachers Explain the Basics

In the app-rich, nuance-starved culture of late capitalism, we are encouraged to conflate two vastly different concepts: the simple and the easy. Maybe no better example exists than in the marketing of meditation—the selling of an activity that, in essence, requires no specialized equipment or infrastructure. What mediation does require is a good instructor and encouragement. It is simple. But it is not easy. It’s true, you’ll hear teachers ruefully admit, they don’t print this on the brochures for retreat centers: but sustained meditation can be difficult and painful just as well as it can induce serenity, peace, and joy. When we sit down to meditate, we “feel our stuff,” to paraphrase David Byrne.

Next to the host of physical complaints and external stressors clamoring for attention, if we’ve got personal bad vibrations to contend with, they will hamper our ability to accept the present and relax. This is why, historically, those wishing to embark on the Buddhist path would first take ethical precepts, and practice them, before beginning to meditate, under the presumption that doing good (or non-harm) quiets the mind. “It is true that meditation is important in the Buddhist tradition,” writes Tibetan teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche at Lion’s Roar. “But in many ways, ethics and virtue are the foundation of the Buddhist path.”




Of course, there are non-Buddhist meditation traditions. And the mindfulness movement has demonstrated with great success that one can carve most of the religion away from meditation and still derive many short-term benefits from the practice. But to do so is to dispense with thousands of years of experiential wisdom, not only about the difficulties of sustaining a meditation practice over the long term, but also about meditation's inherent simplicity—something those of us inclined to overcomplicate things may need to hear over and over again.

Tibetan teachers like Mingyur (and teachers from every Buddhist lineage) are generally happy to expound upon the simplicity and joy of mediation, with the good nature we might expect of those who spend their lives letting go of regrets and fears. Sometimes their messages are packaged for easier consumption, which is a fine way to get a taste of something before you decide to explore it further. But the point remains, as Mingyur says in the video at the top from The Jakarta Poet, that “meditation is completely natural.” It is not a product and doesn't require any accessories or subscriptions.

It is also not an altered state of consciousness or a nihilist escape. It is allowing ourselves to experience what is happening inside and all around us moment by moment by tuning into our awareness. We can do this anywhere, at any time, for any length of time, as the monk further up tells us. “Even three seconds, two seconds, while you’re walking, while you’re having coffee and tea, while you’re having a meeting… you can meditate.” Really? Yes, since meditation is not a vacation from your life but an intensified experiencing of it (even the meetings).

We get a celebrity endorsement above from the man who plays the angriest man on television, Gordon Ramsay. The chef takes a break from his abusive kitchen rages to meet with a Thai monk, who says of his decision to enter the monastery, “I’ve been to many different places, I’d traveled around, but the one place I hadn’t looked at was my mind.” Westerners may hear this and think of far out states—and there are plenty of those to be found in Buddhist texts, but not much talk of them among Buddhist teachers. Generally, the word “mind” has a far more expansive range here than the firing of synapses: it includes movement of the stomach lining, the tension of the sinews, and the beating of the heart.

One of the most tragic misunderstandings of meditation casts it as a mental discipline, splitting mind and body as Western thought is wont to do for centuries now. But the awareness cultivated in meditation is awareness of everything: the senses, the body, the breath, the space around us, our cognition and emotion. Every Buddhist tradition and secular offshoot has its way of teaching students what to do with their often-ignored bodies while they meditate. The differences between them are mostly slight, and you’ll find a good guided introduction to beginning meditation focused on the body just above, led by Mingyur Rinpoche.

The happiness one can derive from a meditation practice does arrive, according to meditators worldwide, but it is not a solitary achievement, Buddhist teachers say, a prize claimed for oneself like a profit windfall. It is, rather, the result of more compassion, and hence of more humility, better relationships, and less self-involvement; the result of stripping away rather than acquiring. Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who left a career in cellular genetics in his twenties to study and practice in the Himalayas, hasn’t shied away from marketing as a way to teach people to meditate. But he is also upfront about the importance of ethics to beginning mediation.

In addition to being a “confidante of the Dalai Lama,” notes Business Insider, Ricard is also “a viral TED Talk speaker, and a bestselling author.” His message is the importance of compassion—not as a goal to achieve some time in the future, but as the very place to start. “There’s nothing mysterious” about it, he says in an interview on Business Insider’s podcast. He then goes on to describe the basic practices of “Metta, ”among other things a way of training oneself to have kind and loving intentions for others in an ever-widening circle outward. In the video above, Ricard talks about the practice, and the science, of compassion at Google.

Many people balk at this kind of sentimental stuff, even from a man Google describes as “the world’s best bridge between modern science and ancient wisdom.” But if we can hear anything in the ancient wisdom distilled by these Buddhist teachers, perhaps it’s a simple idea fast-meditation apps and utilitarian programs generally skip. No, you do not need to put on robes, become a monk or nun, or take on a set of ancient traditions, beliefs, or rituals. But as American Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says below, “if you want to learn to be wise and present, the first step is to refrain from harming yourself or others.”

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Happens To Your Body & Brain If You Don’t Get Sleep? Neuroscientist Matthew Walker Explains

As an insomniac in a morning person’s world, I wince at sleep news, especially from Matthew Walker, neuroscientist, Berkeley professor, and author of Why We Sleep. Something of a “sleep evangelist,” as Berkeley News calls him (he prefers "sleep diplomat"), Walker has taken his message on the road—or the 21st century equivalent: the TED Talk stages and animated explainer videos.

One such video has Walker saying that “sleep when you’re dead” is “mortally unwise advice… short sleep predicts a shorter life.” Or as he elaborates in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.”




Yeesh. Does he lay it on thick? Nope, he's got the evidence and wants to scare us straight. It's a psychological tactic that hasn’t always worked so well, although next to “sleep or die” sermons, there’s good news: sleep, when harnessed properly (yes, somewhere in the area of 8 hours a night) can also be a “superpower." Sleep does “wonderfully good things… for your brain and for your body,” boosting memory, concentration, and immunity, just for starters.

But back to the bad....

In the Tech Insider video above, Walker delivers the grim facts. As he frequently points out, most of us need to hear it. Sleep deprivation is a serious epidemic—brought on by a complex of socio-economic-politico-technological factors you can probably imagine. See Walker’s comparisons (to the brain as an email inbox and a sewage system) animated, and learn about how lack of sleep contributes to a 24% increase in heart attacks and numerous forms of cancer. (The World Health Organization has recently “classified nighttime shift work as a probable carcinogen.”)

On the upside, rarely is health science so unambiguous. If nutritionists could only give us such clear-cut advice. Whether we'd take it is another question. Learn more about the multiple, and sometimes fatal, consequences of sleep deprivation in the animated TED-Ed video above.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

The Therapeutic Benefits of Ambient Music: Science Shows How It Eases Chronic Anxiety, Physical Pain, and ICU-Related Trauma

“In forty years of medical practice,” wrote Dr. Oliver Sacks near the end of his famous career, “I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical ‘therapy’ to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens.” The comment might not surprise us, coming from such an unorthodox thinker as Sacks. But we might be surprised by the considerable amount of traditional scientific research linking music and mental health.

Sixty years ago, when Sacks was still in medical school, avant-garde jazz bandleader Sun Ra had a very Sacks-like experience when he played for an audience of patients in a mental hospital, and inspired a catatonic woman who hadn’t spoken for years to stand up and say ‘Do you call that music?’” The gig, booked by his manager, constituted a fringe experiment in alternative medicine at the time, not a serious subject of study among medical doctors and neuroscientists.

How things have changed in the last half-century.




Several recent studies, for example, have linked drumming, the oldest and most universal form of music-making, to reduced anxiety, pain relief, improved mood, and improved learning skills in kids with autism. Listening to and playing jazz and other forms of syncopated music, have been shown in study after study to promote creativity, enhance math skills, and support mental and emotional well-being.

But what about ambient music, a genre often characterized by its lack of syncopation, and almost certain to feature as background music in guided meditation and stress reduction recordings; in slow, relaxing yoga videos; and thousands of YouTube videos promoting supposedly stress-reducing frequencies and stereo effects? Ambient seems purpose-built to combat tension and dis-ease, and in a sense, it was.

Brian Eno, the artist who named the genre and often gets credit for its invention, wrote in the liner notes to Ambient 1: Music for Airports, “[this record is] designed to induce calm and space to think.” Whether he meant to make a scientific claim or only an artistic statement of purpose, research has validated his inferences about the salutary effects of long, slow, atmospheric music.

Noisey Associate Editor Ryan Bassil, a longtime sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks, found the statement to be true in his own life, as he explains in the video above (illustrated by Nathan Cowdry). Music from ambient composers like Eno, William Bassinski, and Fennesz helped him “ground” himself during extremely anxious moments, bringing him back into sensory contact with the present.

When Bassil looked into the reasons why ambient music had such a calming effect on his over-stimulated nervous system, he found research from artist and academic Luke Jaaniste, who described an “ambient mode,” a “pervasive all-around field, without anything being prioritized into foreground and background.” Immersion in this space, writes Bassil, “can help the listener put aside what’s on their mind and use their senses to focus on their surroundings.”

We may not—and should not—ask music to be a useful tool, but ambient has shown itself particularly so when treating serious neurological and psychological conditions. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. John Tully of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience traces the form back to Bach and Chopin, and especially Erik Satie, who “was the first to express the idea of music specifically as background sound,” and who had no qualms about music serving a specialized purpose.

The purpose of what we broadly call ambient has evolved and changed as classical, minimalist avant-garde, and electronic musicians have penned compositions for very different audiences. But no matter the intent, or where we draw the genre boundaries, all kinds of atmospheric, instrumental music has the therapeutic power not only to reduce anxiety, but also to ease pain in surgical patients and reduce agitation in those suffering with dementia.

When he performed with his group Darkroom at the Critical Care Unit at University College London Hospital, writer and psychologist Charles Fernyhough found out that ambient music had significant benefits for patients trapped in what he calls “a suburb of hell”: the ICU. Stays in intensive care units correlate closely with later PTSD and what was once called “ICU psychosis” in the midst of traumatic emergency room experiences. Sedation turns out to be a major culprit. But music, especially ambient music, brought patients back to themselves.

Hear the 2016 Darkroom performance at the University College London Hospital ICU further up, and read more about Fernyhough’s research and performance at Aeon. The science of how and why ambient works the way it does is hardly settled. Where Fernyhough found that patients benefited from a lack of predictability and an ability to “escape the present moment,” Bassil’s research and experience uncovered the opposite—a sense of safe predictability and enhanced sensory awareness.

Physiological responses from person to person will vary, as will their tastes. “One person’s easy listening is another’s aural poison,” Fernyhough admits. But for a significant number of people suffering severe anxiety and trauma, the droning, minimal, wordless soundscapes of ambient are more effective than any medication.

Related Content:

The “True” Story Of How Brian Eno Invented Ambient Music

The 50 Best Ambient Albums of All Time: A Playlist Curated by Pitchfork

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The Health Benefits of Drumming: Less Stress, Lower Blood Pressure, Pain Relief, and Altered States of Consciousness

Why Do Sad People Like to Listen to Sad Music? Psychologists Answer the Question in Two Studies

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

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