DR: I want to go deeper into this question of computer-generated, or electronically-generated rhythms in music. If there was a computer-generated rhythm that was in a relaxed part of the spectrum, 60 or less beats per minute, is there still something adverse physiologically about that?
SH: Let me say this. It's like the difference between organic and pesticide-laden vegetables. Most people don't get sick when they eat vegetables bought at a Safeway or a regular store. I do. It's the same with rhythms. The effects are subtle. Most of the drum machines and the extreme precision of computer-based rhythms are not what the organic beat of the heart resonates to. Our heartbeats are fairly steady, but there are slight speedings-up and slowings-down that give it that organic, full-of-life feeling. That's what makes music feel warm. To many people, most computer music sounds cold and sterile.
DR: How much pop music drumming on the radio is human, and how much is electronic?
SH: I don't know for certain about pop, but in disco and Euro-rock it's virtually 100 percent computer or drum machine. In fact, the rise of disco led to the demise of many drummers, because it was much easier to take a little box on stage with you, hit a button and have the rhythm you want, and not have to deal with the drummer, his personality, his ego, and a big drum set. There have been some studies on the effect of disco rhythm on heartbeat and psychology, and it doesn't produce very positive results. But there is not a great deal of research on the subject, in part because there is very little money available to do such research.
I'm not saying that all drum machines are bad. In fact, the most recent generation of them is building in algorithms to create more of a human feel. There are some that are labeled "human-feel computers." As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather go out and get a real human if I want to feel human. That's my orientation. I also understand that there may be a generational aspect to this, as well as an urban versus suburban aspect. In other words, if you grew up in an urban environment and you're under 25 years of age, you've been exposed to a great deal more harsh rhythms, machine rhythms, and your nervous system may be attuned to a different aesthetic. Tim Leary suggested that this is the reason why many youngsters can seem to do okay with that kind of music. Of course, when you're young you can put most anything into your body and survive. You can listen to loud music and not have it ruin your hearing as quickly as those of us who are over 45. If we go to a rock concert, our ears typically will be ringing for days. The apparatus in the ear is no longer as flexible. Most people don't realize that rock concerts back in the 1960s, or the even louder concerts going on now, can cause cumulative, irreversible hearing loss. It is occurring in, shall we say, unheard of proportions.
DR: How has your music been used in healing arts settings?
SH: In many different ways, starting during my graduate research with the first placement of my music in hospitals, in preoperative and postoperative recovery wards, in surgery rooms while people were undergoing operations, and in health clinics. Some of my first research was done in waiting rooms, where I would just set up my tape recorder and play some of the music I had been recording. Within a few minutes, babies stopped crying, mothers stopped yelling at children, people stopped fighting because the doctor was running late. I did this at the clinic of Dr. Irving Oyle, one of the pioneer figures in holistic health. He came out of his room and said, "What it going on here? I've never seen anything like this." He looked at me and said, "Who are you? Come over here, we need to talk." We became good friends, and he became my faculty adviser and mentor, and we were off and running with that. He had never seen such an effect from any kind of music. But the kind of music I was playing, which was basically Spectrum Suite, had never been done before.