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Archive for the ‘bluegrass circle’ Category

Dean Radin, PhD is an accomplished bluegrass banjo and fiddle player.

Dr. Radin is also Senior Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Psychology at Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, CA). Dr. Radin began his academic career after earning a degree in electrical engineering, magna cum laude with senior honors in physics, from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), a masters degree in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

For a decade Dr. Radin worked on advanced telecommunications R&D at AT&T Bell Laboratories and GTE Laboratories. For over two decades Dr. Radin has been engaged in consciousness research. Before joining the research staff at IONS, Dr. Radin held appointments at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, and three Silicon Valley think-tanks, including SRI International, where he worked on a classified program investigating psychic phenomena for the US government.

Dr. Radin has presented over a hundred invited lectures in venues including Cambridge, Harvard, Stanford and Princeton Universities, Google headquarters, DARPA, and the US Navy.

I excerpted the following discussion from :

David Jay Brown and Rebecca McCLen Novick interview Dean Radin:

David: What do you think are some of the most important implications of parapsychological research?

Dean: I kind of get stuck on implications, because from a scientific point of view, in a sense, it’s extremely mundane. The history of science shows that for a long time scientists have a good sense of what they think the world is like, and then somebody comes up with a nutty idea and revolutionizes everything. There’s great chaos, and then it settles back down. It goes through these cycles over and over again, and the speed with which those cycles are changing are getting shorter and shorter. What used to take centuries, became decades, and now takes like six months.

The direction that science in general seems to be moving is perfectly compatible with the idea that there is some kind deep interconnection between things. There’s a quickly growing interest in religion and science, and the two are probably not incompatible, but, perhaps, are two sides of the same coin. I mean, they’re different obviously, but they may not need to be as different as people have thought. So where does it fit in?

One time I gave a talk where I was suggesting the topic of psychic phenomena as the middle ground between science and religion. This was because it addresses a lot of the phenomena that give religion it’s power– namely things that look supernatural, therefore can’t be us, and must be from some higher place or something. Yet all our research suggests that the cause of all this is people. It’s not disembodied entities doing it; it’s us doing it.

If you follow the logic out– especially with Eastern ideas, and even some Western notions about how reality is created– and if it truly is the result of an interaction between observation and some formless stuff out there, then parapsychological phenomena is just the tip of the iceberg. The evidence almost suggests that a solipsistic view of the world might be right, that we are engaged in continuous creation by virtue of our observation.

Jessica: What’s your sense of how music might influence the development of these kinds of abilities?

Dean: Well, the line of research came out of the observation that creative people generally have a much higher belief in psychic phenomena; correlations are very high, like .6, .7, or .8. Given the observation, empirical tests were done with different kinds of creative people to see who would be better in a telepathy test. It turns out that musicians are best, especially early-trained musicians. We know from other research that their corpus callosum is different from most other people’s.

If you’re an early-trained, string musician in particular, where one hand is doing something complicated, and the other hand is doing something even more complicated, the hemispheres need to talk to each other at a much higher frequency or facility, than in a person who is not trained to do complicated things with both hands, listen to the music, analyze it, do pitch intonation, and lots of other things. The brain is very fully engaged.

Jessica: So it’s a capacity for simultaneity?

Dean: Or a hemispheral integration of a higher order than is usual.

David: You know there’s culturally-created differences too in how brains respond to music. PET scans were done with American and Japanese musicians, and they found that Japanese musicians used their left hemisphere when they were performing more than American musicians, who used their right hemispheres more.

Dean: No, I didn’t know that. I do know that the musicians who are trained to read music are different than musicians who are learned by ear.

David: Their training is such that their brains actually get wired or programmed differently?

Dean: That’s right.

David: There’s more left hemisphere activity in people who were trained to read music?

Dean: That’s right, because it becomes another language. I was trained as a classical violinist, and played for many years. More recently I’ve switched into the banjo, because it’s just more fun. When I play the violin, or the banjo, I can not speak. I become aphasic. What it feels like internally is that whatever brain mechanism is used for language articulation is exactly the same mechanism for articulating music.
So it’s not surprising to me that some brain areas begin to specialize in these ways. There’s something perhaps we don’t know, but maybe for somebody to be perceived as good psychic in a lab test, where we’re asking them to articulate, they have to have this strange combination of perhaps right-brain intuitive who-knows-what, and a very fast connection to the other side so they can articulate it.

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devil with fiddle
I attended a song circle last weekend at at the Canalway Lodge in the Cleveland Metroparks’ Ohio and Erie Canal reservation. Hank Mallory, an Interpreter at the reservation was our host. Hank is also a caver who used to work at Mammoth and who picks a pretty good flattop when the mood strikes him.

I run hot and cold on open song circles. There are usually lots and lots of really shiny, cheap guitars that absolutely cannot and will not go in tune. But you can never tell who is going to show up and you can never tell what type of tunes they will bring with them. I always enjoy the opprotunity to meet and listen to acoustic musicians. This session was no exception.

There was one fellow who showed up and introduced himself as “Gary ‘The Guitar Guy’ from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” – I’ve seen him around and heard him play several times. Gary has stenciled “This Machine Recycles” on the front of his guitar.

I’m a great admirer of the iconic Woody Guthrie series of “This Machine Kills Fascists” photos. They speak loud and clear about the man, his music and the historical framework in which he practiced his art. The one photograph in particular I’m looking at now has Woody standing with a slot-head classical slung low over his shoulder with his weight on one side of his hip, a harp and rack around his neck and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. He is lean and mean and staring confrontationally right into the camera lens; “This Machine Kills Fascists” is hand printed across the front of both bouts of his ax. He looks like nothing less than some deranged gun slinger – Billy the Kid with a six string pistol.

The photo is startling and arresting. Whatever else you think you might know about “folk music” you know that you‘re going to at least have to take this man very seriously. There is absolutely no question in my mind that That Machine would in fact Kill Fascists or just about anything else that moved.

But, as Lou Reed reminds us, “…those were different times…”

“Gary ‘The Guitar Guy’ from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” also brought a made-in-China 5 string banjo with him. He tuned it like a guitar and strummed it with a flatpick “like Pete Seeger”. He lectured the circle about how “in Colonial America if you played forbidden scales on your lap dulcimer you would be burned at the stake as a witch”.

That was news to me. I regret that I don’t have the rigorous academic background of scholarship and historical prospective provided by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but evidently we were to take from this that the members of the colonial Dulcimer Star Chamber were barely one step removed from contemporary Christians or gun owners. Oh, wait… Well, anyway, I bet they didn’t even use the blue bin for their glass and aluminum.

It takes all kinds, I guess. But that’s what makes circles endlessly fascinating.

I had the great good fortune to learn to play in oldtime and bluegrass circles. Beyond chops, you pick up a real good sense of “jam manners” real quick. The great advantage is that when a given circle becomes too much “artiest oriented” or just plain dumb (“Hey…let’s play Rocky Top…”), you can always move on to the next circle. Or the next. Or the next. I’ve spent lots of festivals floating through the parking lots for hours on end.

The bluegrassers don’t suffer fools gladly, and I have seen plenty of people shouldered right out of a circle; the oldtimers don’t have any problem at all with “putting it in the case” until the participation in a given circle improves dramatically – usually by subtraction. But generally those are extreme responses to severe and aggressive ill-mannered assholery.

A silly old lady autoharp player stepped right up into the middle of a circle at a Pennsylvania oldtime festival I attended several years ago. She couldn’t play a lick but insisted that the “authentic” American folk tradition evolved from autoharp repertoire. She hadn’t learned banjo/fiddle tunes or if she knew them they were in her own “correct” key. That circle dissolved in under twenty seconds.

Circles are ephemeral and have their own “vibe” – very literally their own vibration. The best ones feel like some sort of reptilian, pre-verbal mental telepathy; everybody on the same wavelength communicating simultaneously and with absolute clarity with every other member.

Two years ago I played fiddle in a 3:00 AM circle at Clifftop with Mike Seeger at the center. The circle was better than 100 people around and we played in pitch darkness. That circle was a perfect and complete self-contained universe. We played some crooked version of Shaking Down the Acorns on and on and on for thirty minutes or longer until my psyche was lost in pulse and drone and completely absorbed within the group.

The pulse and drone open you up to all sorts of influences and I think the fiddle’s role in this kind of traditional dance music is one of the reasons the fiddle is known as the “devil’s box”. I honestly believe this is when competent oldtime musicians with an inclination toward that sort of thing can begin to call spirits.

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