Witness to change: Vipassana meditation and experiential sound

Plan Author

  • Lysha Smith, 2018

Fields of Concentration

  • Sound Studies

Related Fields

Sample Courses

  • Course: Studies in Composition: Materials and Design
  • Course: Art as Spiritual Discipline: The Musical Traditions of North India and Turkey
  • Tutorial: Sound Design
  • Tutorial: Sacred Sound: Readings and Workshops

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • Christopher Cox, Amherst College


I have created four immersive Experiential Sound installation pieces and a body of electronic music compositions, which represent the largest portions of my Plan. A Plan paper provides the philosophical underpinnings for the installation and electronic music pieces. In this paper I explore the disciplines of Deep Listening and Vipassana meditation, drawing parallels between these two practices before finally articulating their synthesis in Experiential Sound. I hope to offer an inclusive inquiry into approaching sound in a new way, one that helps us to better understand the human experience.


In our contemporary world, especially in the West, there seems to be a fixation on what we can see and touch. Increasingly, we seem to overvalue the apparent reality that presents itself to our eyes. Much of the world has forgotten how to truly listen, and thus how to fully experience sound. In his book The World is Sound: Nada Brahma, the late musician and philosopher Joachim-Ernest Berendt speaks to this point, proposing that we have become fixated on that which we can see—what he called “ocular hypertrophy,” and have lost our ability to grasp all that is happening all around us. In turn we have become overly preoccupied with the apparent reality—the solidity and dualistic characteristics of the world.

This installation is an approximation of the workings of the mind during a silent meditation retreat of 30 days. For this piece I created a ten-channel speaker array, consisting of eight speakers installed along the ceiling and two sub-woofers on the floor. The sounds themselves were assembled and arranged in Ableton Live. Many of the sounds are from field recordings I have amassed over time, while others are sampled from various online sources. To enact the spatialization of sound around the room I created an iOS app in the Lemur programming environment. This allowed me to precisely program the various movements, effects, and dynamics of sound in the space. Much of this was done in an improvisational manner, as opposed to deliberate automation. As the project came into form, I relied more and more on fine tuned automation within Ableton.


I remember the clarity that came when I understood the questions. I was inspired by my passion for sound and my dedication to Vipassana meditation. I found the installation work really interesting, and the electronic music compositions.

The Plan process has been a journey in which I have discovered a new place of clarity from which to articulate my vision and an understanding of how it stands in relation to other modes of art and sound production. I have also learned the value in expressing myself beyond the confines of sound art and electronic music composition, through singing, grappling with formal music theory, and improvisation. Finally, I have uncovered many new questions that I will undoubtedly continue to pursue an understanding of—most especially how to become more skilled at articulating how I see the world, and how to best deploy the virtues I came into this world with.