What does death sound like?
October 13, 2008
“A truck rear ended my car and I died instantly. All the traffic was at a stand still and a truck not paying attention to traffic, blasted into the rear end of my car. Not wearing a safety belt, I was thrown against the windshield and all of a sudden I was in this white silver light. A man’s voice, whom I couldn’t see, said to me “You can either come with us now, or you can go back.” The next thing I knew, I was back in my injured body. the music started pouring through me like Niagara Falls…”
In the film ‘Touching the Void’ as Joe Simpson descends the mountain close to death and in the grip of delirium, he realises he is about to die because he is plagued with the sound of “Brown Girl in th Rain” going round and round in his head; “I was so pissed off… because i realised I was going to die to Boney M”. This post explores the audio experience before and during death – an event of importance perhaps, but little researched. Descriptions seem to have some commonality across cultures but of course come from either survivors of Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and therefore compromised by memory and suggestion or from religious/cultural texts – compromised by cultural values but perhaps a store of a cultural memory of death…
Raymond Moody, a researcher in Near Death Experience and author of the bestselling ‘Life After Life’ (1975) relates the experiences of several NDE witnesses who describe the common audio experience of dying as an initial painful noise eventually followed by beautiful harmonious music: “an uncomfortable noise, a loud ringing or buzzing…” which later transforms into “harmonious music akin to the sound of wind chimes” (Vicki Umipeg ) and “I heard what seemed like millions of little golden bells ringing, tinkling; they rang and rang. Many times since, I’ve heard those bells in the middle of the night. Next I heard humming and then a choir singing. The singing got louder and louder, and it was in a minor key. It was beautiful and in perfect harmony. I also heard stringed instruments.” (George Richie). “What impressed me the most in that experience was the music, or should I rather say, the sound current I heard while on the Other Side. This incredible sound was harmonious, majestic, and serene and at the same time quite powerful, as if it was the Universe itself breathing” (Gilles Bèdard). Melvin Morse in ‘Closer to the Light‘ relates the experience of an elven year old child “…suddenly I heard a whooshing sound in my ears. I felt like you feel when you go over a bump in a car going real fast, and you feel your stomach drop out. I heard a buzzing sound in my ears.”
At least fifty percent of people – from a study conducted in the USA – hear recognisable music during an NDE and describe it as “music with a beautiful, floating sound”. When asked to compare the music to a selection of existing genres they identified ‘New Age’ style synthesised music as nearest to what they had heard “Some people burst into tears when they recognise the music of their NDEs” (1). The New Age musician Steve Roach had an NDE after a bike accident and described the sound during an NDE as “the most intensely beautiful music you could ever imagine”. Consequently Roach dedicated the rest of his life to re-creating the music releasing (amongst many others) the ‘Structures from Silence’ album “Many people contact me after hearing my recordings to tell me that they’ve heard the exact same music during their NDEs” he says.
In contrast, The Bardo Thodol (“Tibetan book of the dead”) describes the experience of death in vivid, earthy terms, filled with spoken messages, music and sound; it is said that as the soul departs the body “the departed hears alarming and frightening sounds; Roaring, thundering and a whistling like the wind”
“From the midst of that radiance, the natural sound of Reality, reverberating like a thousand thunders simultaneously sounding, will come. That is the natural sound of thine own real self.Be not daunted thereby, nor terrified, nor awed. The body, which thou hast now is called the thought-body of propensities. Since thou hast not a material body of flesh and blood, whatever may come,-sounds, lights, or rays,-are, all three, unable to harm thee: thou art incapable of dying. It is quite sufficient for thee to know that these apparitions are thine own thought-forms. Recognize this to be the Bardo.”
similarly the ancient Egyptians describe death as “thunder and rushing of the air-space all around”:
“The soul of Osiris walks with wind into the temples of gods. He sets sail in the boat of the morning sun. He comes to port at eventide. He twists and twines through star-studded waters, the sound of his oars the ssh-sssh of wind. The sun beats on and on like a tireless heart.”
“The river quakes with the sound of his voice. Air escaping from his nose. Breathe deep. The wind a sigh from his mother.”
The christian tradition has less to say about sound in the process of dying but describes Heaven in musical terms.
“There will be choirs of white robed children singing with the voices of cherubs, there will be choirs of patriarchs and prophets and choirs of apostles.Anthem will follow anthem and chorus, chorus. David will be there wioth his harp. gabriel will be there with his trumpet. Congregations will join congregation and the sceptre of eternity will beat time to the music (Rev:142-3) The throne area of God our Father is a vast area with room for a choir of a million voices, and room for an orchestra of a million musicians. The musical instruments of heaven are more varied and capable than any on earth. At the grand convocations, the audience also each has a harp to add to the musical worship of God our Father. Don’t worry about having to learn the harp in heaven, everyone does it. At the grand convocations, there are millions upon millions in the stands and an upraised stage area”
- Bardo thodol Trans Evan Wentz
- (1)Dr Joel Funk, professor of psychology at Plymouth State College