The Gong Time Machine
Gongs do many amazing things, but perhaps one of their most fascinating effects is their ability to change time.
Yes, a gong can be a time travel machine. People who relax or meditate deeply with the gong sometimes report past events that have been repressed flash into the present consciousness. Others say they have caught glimpses from “past lives” or karmic impressions that come up when the Gong is played.
Such experiences may be attributed to the clearing of the subconsciousness during the gong relaxation – a type of lucid dreaming or self-induced hypnosis. And as the gong also activates the sixth chakra, a heightened sense of intuition may present such insights to the listener.
Whether such experiences are “believable” or not, there is a specific scientific phenomenon that occurs when the Gong is played that does change our perception of time.
The concept of subjective time, how we perceive the passage of time, has a long history that dates back to the Greek philosophers. According to Dr. Dan Lloyd, a professor of philosophy and neuroscience and co-editor of Subjective Time: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Temporality, this study of how experiences change how we perceive time became fully established in the nineteenth century.
A dull lecture can stretch our experience of time out, while something like a rollercoaster ride can make it seem like time accelerated. You may have had the experience of taking a week-long vacation that was full of new experiences and it felt like you were gone much longer than a week. Or if you ever have had an accident, time can slow down considerably.
So what does this have to do with the Gong?
Music and how it is structured has been well researched as to how we perceive time (Frontiers in Psychology, 2013: 4:417, Syliviie Droit-Volet). According to one researcher, the effect of music on time estimation is due to the perceptual expectancies that listeners develop when they hear a piece of music. The way musical accents are patterned through time leads listeners to anticipate the timing and nature of incoming events. They thus judge time to be shorter when these events occur earlier in the piece than expected, and longer when they occur later. This finding highlights the influence exerted by musical structures (pitch and rhythmic structure) on attention during the estimation of musical time.
Notice that time in music is perceived “to be shorter when events occur earlier in the piece than expected.” The structure of Gong playing is generally nothing like playing music in the usual sense. There is a high degree, maybe an absolute degree, of the “unexpected” when the gong is played and heard.
While a traditional piece of music has a structure in its journey of expected rhythms and phrasing, this is usually not true when the gong is played. The rhythm and volume change frequently and unexpectedly with no previous roadmap to follow in its execution.
The usual sense of time progression in music is abandoned when the gong is played, giving the listener the experience of many starts, stops, and re-directions. In other words, like a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs that seems to go very fast in your mind.
Time does fly and seems shortened when you listen to the Gong. Listeners often remark that a gong session is much shorter than it was. Unless of course the Gong was played badly – and that can make time seem much longer than it was!
In a 2017 journal article (“The Perception and Organization of Time in Music”) Maja Marijan makes the important point that how time is experienced subjectively in music depends on the familiarity, or predictability, of the music structure in the listener’s mind.
If we know how classical or rock or even jazz music progresses through time, we anticipate where the journey is taking us and when it may end.
With the Gong, there is very little sense of sound markers since we are not playing music as such but are creating a spontaneous experience of sound moving through time with the various rhythms and percussion sequences.
When will the gong session end? As a listener, you will likely only be able to anticipate one or two minutes before it does end, as perhaps the volume lessens, and the rhythm slows.
Yet even a softer volume or slower rhythm is not a guaranteed sound marker as the gong player may simply use it as a transition to go into a completely new direction by intuitively accelerating the rhythm or increasing the volume again.
When you do not know when and how something is going to end, be it music or life, you have two choices: try to make it end (hence the discomfort some people experience when hearing the gong for the first time) or surrender and enjoy the ride.
When we enjoy an experience of music, or perhaps more accurately as regards the Gong, the experience of sound moving through time, our experience of time seems shortened because we are caught up in the moment and wish it would keep continuing.
When a Gong is played well, it does become a time machine – or at least a way to shorten our subjective experience of time, so it seems as if that 30-minute gong relaxation is over in 10 minutes.
Time can fly when you hear the Gong!
Want to know about the Gong and how to play it?
Or enhance your playing?
This month there are online courses for both beginners and experienced gong players: