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Noise, Fog and Effortless Meditation

by Michael Joly


I used to design professional analog audio noise reduction systems. Now I'm making noise reduction for your mind.

Sound has led me here. I’ve worked with sound for over 40 years as a designer of professional audio products.

Professionally I came up in a time of magnetic tape and optical film soundtrack recording. Tape and optical recording had more background noise compared to modern digital recording. Noise reduction systems were used to reduce hiss and crackle and improve the clarity of recorded music and voices.

From 1980 to 1994 I designed analog noise reduction systems, primarily for motion picture use. I spent thousands of hours listening to sounds decay into the haze of tape and optical soundtrack noise. One cannot do this deep attentive listening, and be thinking, at the same time. One is either thinking, or listening, but not both at the same time. As a result of this work I got really good at being aware of something decay into nothing, without any thoughts clouding my awareness of the present moment.

I discovered this kind of attentive, thought-free listening is a powerfully transformative meditation practice. Recent advances in the areas of digital memory, loudspeakers and battery longevity make it possible for me to take what I've learned about listening-as-meditation, and create products designed to help people free themselves from the shackles of their unwanted thoughts. Why?

Because I’m deeply interested in “emerging consciousness”. And by consciousness, I simply mean "being aware that you are aware". This is quite likely an evolutionary step forward for humans — an evolutionary step that can take us beyond the limitations of the egoic, thought-bound mind which is the root cause of all human suffering. I’m particularly interested in how sound and listening together can provide an expanded portal to stillness, awareness and, as the Buddhist’s would say, “right relationships”. Because all of these aspects are contained in sound and silence.

My way of effortless, meditative listening really began a long time ago with dense fog, a large flat rock and fog signals.

When I was five years old my dad worked for "EB", the Electric Boat division of General Dynamics, a builder of nuclear submarines. He took a temporary assignment at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire to do some repairs on a US Navy sub. I don’t recall the class of sub or the name of the boat he worked on. Big man. Big boat. That much I remember.

There was a large, flat, oval boulder in the backyard of our rented house and I loved to play a solo game of “submarine”. I’d stand on that rock-as-sub and just be there — neither issuing, nor following orders. Just being on a submarine rock. It was surrounded by cattails, fog and fog signals.

Before I learned the words "fog" and "fog signal", before I had thoughts about fog or fog signals, I experienced fog and fog signals. I experienced the deep, still, mystery of a blanketing fog so thick our house 50 feet away was practically invisible while standing on the deck of my submarine.

Standing on that rock was about being aware of the sounds around me. The sound of fog signals in the distance … the mourning, booming, two tone blast-and-grunt of the mighty Diaphone Signal Co. FT2 fog signal and the lighter, higher-pitched ship horn toots. All of them announcing their presence in and around the entrance to the Piscataqua River and the ports of Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, Maine.

These were functional sounds for seafaring men and transcendent sounds for a boy of five. The sounds of these fog signals articulated presences beyond what could be seen. They pointed to spaciousness beyond the boundaries of the home I could barely see.

In retrospect, I realize these fog signals were a lovely demonstration of form emerging from formlessness, then dissolving into formless again. First, the still silence of a dense fog surrounding my submarine rock. Then a fog signal blast emerging from stillness. A short echo, then fog signal decaying into stillness again, only to be repeated every ten or twenty seconds.

Often multiple, overlapping fog signals would combine to create a slowly evolving and ever-changing ambient music — years before Brian Eno popularized the use of multiple asynchronous tape loops to create his landmark “Music for Airports”. Inspired by my listening experience in the fog more than 50 years ago and my more recent research into sound and consciousness, the proprietary New Origin Wavetones™ in my new product, N.O.W. create a unique N.O.W. Moment™ each and every second they are heard.

This is one of my earliest memories—hearing fog signals with no thoughts. I simply was aware of the alternating silence and sound, stillness then manifestation.

One could say I’ve been quite happily lost in the fog of stillness speaking ever since. And effortlessly meditating for years — just by listening attentively to sound.

With this blog, my new company HEAR NOW SYSTEMS and our first product, N.O.W., I’ll introduce you to an easier, faster, and more sustainable way to be still, be at peace and become more essentially you.

Just listen for a change™.

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