This is a special post. It’s actually a companion piece to my most recent collaboration. For that reason, I’m giving everyone access to the initial collaboration post (sit back and enjoy long and utterly fascinating read!).
Here’s the short version: my friend Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm has a history not unlike my own. She was an active lobbyist in DC, working for a pacifist Quaker organization, when her health took a mysterious tumble. She gradually had to stop working and became mostly bedbound. Specialists were flummoxed (or worse). Eventually, she was diagnosed with ME/CFS, POTS, and Chronic Lyme. She exhausted every medical option her insurance would allow but remained very ill.
Then her story took an unexpected turn. In spite of her deep skepticism, a friend convinced her to attend a weekend conference with a Qigong master. During the retreat, she had to lay on the floor, because her POTS made sitting up nearly impossible. Her sore throat made speaking quite painful as well. Then, a stunning breakthrough: The master spoke a few words & waved his hands over her back. Her sinuses cracked open, she stood up, she danced around the room. The effect lasted three full days.
Afterward, she had to learn more. So she studied with shamans of various traditions for years, became a Reiki practitioner, and learned to incorporate Celtic sound healing into her work (schedule a remote healing session with her here; currently, she accepts skill trades and small donations in exchange for healing, so it won’t break the bank!). She now lives in the desert, in Joshua Tree, CA, and her symptoms have all improved dramatically. She credits medicine (antivirals), a change in climate (dry air with no mold), and energy healing.
Kaeley performing on her gorgeous desert property.
We spoke for a long time over Zoom. Twice! I asked her about her sound healing work, and I learned that–according to certain traditions–the body has different energy centers, or “chakras.” Each chakra is associated with different frequencies. And playing those frequencies can be helpful in energy work.
I should admit here that I don’t really understand energy work, and I can’t personally vouch for it. The VA has been promoting Reiki to help veterans with PTSD, but the relatively few, mostly low-quality studies we have on it suggest it’s no different than a placebo. That does not mean I think it’s worthless; if living with a chronic illness has taught me nothing else, it’s that science has limits.
In the ’90s, many doctors still considered ME/CFS to be “a fashionable form of hypochondria,” and treated patients like time-wasting malingerers. Until 1982, when MRI scans definitively showed the damage it does to myelin in the brain, many doctors dismissed MS as a purely psychological problem. Physicians and the general public alike once believed epilepsy was a form of demonic possession, among other falsehoods; but myths about the condition decreased significantly in the 1930s, when newly invented EEGs showed erratic brainwaves occuring during a seizure. Even setting aside reactions to specific diseases, women in general, especially women of color and overweight women, still frequently have their pain and their chronic symptoms doubted & dismissed by doctors (and ME/CFS predominantly affects women).
The scientific method is the best process we’ve come up with for determining what’s real and what isn’t, but sometimes it’s not executed very well, and other times it just isn’t executed at all. That ought to inspire humility. But in healthcare, it seems to do the opposite. Often, doctors are quick to dismiss what they don’t understand, especially if it’s associated with Eastern ideas. Meditation has been improving lives for thousands of years, and we now have countless studies confirming its tremendous health benefits, but when it first caught on in America in the ’60s, mainstream medicine laughed. In fact, a Harvard professor who attempted to research it early on had to wait until dark before running any studies, just to avoid being lectured by his peers. To put it simply: new ideas are absurd until they aren’t.
Mount two old metronomes on the same wooden board, and watch as their swinging pendulums gradually synchronize. This is called entrainment, and it works in humans too. Put a high speed dance track on the stereo, and notice how your breathing and heart rate increase with the tempo of the music. Put on some Enya, and notice your breaths getting slower. You can even entrain your brain! Play oscillating white noise at a specific frequency, and it can help you fall asleep. Play it at a slower frequency, and it can help you get into deep sleep more quickly. Under the right conditions, your brainwaves will synchronize with what you’re hearing. I really don’t know much about chakras, but it’s clear that different audible frequencies affect us in different ways.
A delightful drone machine!
In the Celtic healing tradition, the heart chakra is associated with 341.3 Hz. I have (and love) an electric shruti box, which is just an analog synthesizer with three tunable oscillators. So I tuned it to the heart chakra, put up a mic, recorded a few minutes of drone, and sent it off to Kaeley. She played back my recording while improvising & looping her vocals and playing a specially tuned piano; she recorded this on her phone and sent it back to me. I threw her recording into my computer and played with it for a while. Honestly, it was lovely as it was, I just wanted to see where I could take it. She told me how much she loved listening to Imogen Heap create sonic architectures with her voice, so I tried to embellish Kaeley’s vocals and give them a little extra space.
Imogen Heap in her video for “Hide and Seek.”
When we talked about the specifics of how she approaches the music, Kaeley explained that there is no formula to it. Her mentors always encouraged her to just follow her intuition. That’s generally how I approach making music, too. Even in Top 40 pop tunes, there’s no perfect formula. If there was, no artist would be a one-hit wonder, every pop star would stay successful forever. But music is mysterious. As much as some people would like it to be, it’s not predictable, and it’s not rational.
Listeners often respond the most to artists who are vulnerable, who sing from the heart, and it makes total sense that the same would hold true for sound healing. Kaeley sounds very connected to her heart on this track, it feels very direct, like music is just naturally flowing out of her. I honestly don’t know if it affected my chakra or not, or if I even have a chakra (still learning & considering!), but I sure like letting the music wash over me.
If you enjoy the tune(s), or if you simply care about her story, head over to her Patreon and consider joining. She makes beautiful music, and you can access it for very little.
Speaking of putting out music, my single, “Astering,” comes out on digital and cassette on November 5th–that’s Friday! I just posted the preorder on Bandcamp, and if you pay now, you can get a lovely blue, limited edition cassingle for $5. Comes with a lyric sheet and a star chart. After Thursday, it’s $7. We only pressed 50 of them, and after that, they’re gone!
Of course, if you would rather wait until the end of the week, I certainly won’t mind, because it’s Bandcamp Friday! That means Bandcamp waives all their fees and gives every penny to the artists. Such an amazing platform for music!