Effects of Infrasound

Quiet-List message from Susan Hardenbergh:


By Jonathan Amos, BBC News Online science staff, in Salford

People who experience a sense of spirituality in church may be reacting to the extreme bass sound produced by some organ pipes. Many churches and cathedrals have organ pipes that are so long they emit infrasound which at a frequency lower than 20 Hertz is largely inaudible to the human ear. But in a controlled experiment in which infrasound was pumped into a concert hall, UK scientists found they could instil strange feelings in the audience at will. These included an extreme sense of sorrow, coldness, anxiety and even shivers down the spine.

Infrasound has become the subject of intense study in recent years. Researchers have found that some animals, such as elephants, can communicate with low-frequency calls. Infrasound can be detected at volca-noes and may provide a way to predict eruptions. And recent work by some of the scientists involved in this latest study found that hauntings - the feeling that something or someone else unseen is in a room or building - may also be explained by the presence of infrasound.

To test the impact on an audience of extreme bass notes from an organ pipe, researchers constructed a seven-metre-long "infrasonic cannon" which they placed at the back of the Purcell Room, a concert hall in South London. They then invited 750 people to report their feelings after listening to pieces of contemporary music, intermittently laced with sound from the cannon, played at 17 Hz at levels of 6-8 decibels.

The results showed that odd sensations in the audience increased by an average of 22% when the extreme bass was present. "It has been suggested that because some organ pipes in churches and cathedrals produce infrasound this could lead to people having weird experiences which they attribute to God," said Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from University of Hertfordshire. "Some of the experiences in our audience included 'shivering on my wrist', 'an odd feeling in my stomach', 'increased heart rate', 'feeling very anxious', and 'a sudden memory of emotional loss'.

"This was an experiment done under controlled conditions and it shows infrasound does have an impact, and that has implications... in a religious context and some of the unusual experiences people may be having in certain churches." Sarah Angliss, an engineer and composer in charge of the project, added: "Organ players have been adding infrasound to the mix for 500 years so maybe we're not the first generation to be 'addicted to bass'." Details of the organ infrasound study are being presented to the British Association's annual science festival, which this year is in Salford, Greater Manchester.

- BA Science Festival

- BA Science Festival

Dr. Richard Wiseman - R.Wiseman@herts.ac.uk

Sarah Angliss Bio:

- Ban bOOmcars

Sound suggestions:
During an interview at "The Environmental Variety Hour" of Icicle Networks Radio, California (June 18, 2003), Hans Schmid suggested to the show host to make a positive contribution by frequently announcing: "Please keep the volume at room-level, in consideration of your neighbours."

We urge everybody to demand a choice of music or silence while on hold on the telephone.

Petition your Council to declare your city, town or village a QUIET PLACE, and post signs in prominent spots.

Right to Quiet Society Newsletter, Fall 2003
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