The Power of Sound

The power of sound is an oft discussed topic at 5 Points Music Sanctuary. Supporters of 5 Points may know the story of Founder/Executive Director Tyler Godsey’s two children getting to hear their mother say “I love you” for the first time after they received their cochlear implants. The power of sound in that moment was its ability to convey love from one person to another. The beauty of our mission “to pursue the power of sound in all its glory” is that the power of sound can mean so many things to so many different people.

The differences in what we seek from “the power of sound” in the music we experience at concerts and festivals is what makes these events such  incredibly fun and diverse experiences. But, if we look beyond music when we talk about the power of sound we can discover a whole different world that is influenced and changed by the power of sound in more ways than most of us know.

For instance, this article by Maria Popova details the power of sound in how it relates to the growth of certain types of mushrooms. She cites multiple studies, and master-mycologist Paul Stamets, as she details the positive impact certain low frequency sounds have on the growth of mushrooms. Paul Stamets hypothesizes there may be an evolutionary reason for this. Low frequency sounds, like the rumble of thunder, often precede a storm. Storms typically bring with them an abundance of water, creating ideal conditions for mushrooms to spread their spores and grow. Another thing we often see in storms is lightning strikes. It has been shown that, 

“The 50,000 volts of electricity a log incurs when struck by lightning greatly stimulates the yield of the shiitake mushrooms growing on it. “

To these fungi, the power of sound is found in its ability to convey to the mycelium, a root like structure found on fungus and an integral building block and connective tissue present in all types of fungus, instructions on how to react to changes in the environment so that they can make the most of ideal growing or spore releasing conditions.

Paul Stamets by Dusty Yao-Stamets 

The power of sound extends far beyond this great blue marble that we call Earth. Astronomers typically rely on deducing facts about our universe from things they see with incredibly high powered telescopes that allow them to peer back in time and gain valuable clues about how our universe was formed and what else is out there. This is not an option for an astronomer who does not have the use of their vision, so the latest development involves a technique called sonification. Sonification is “the use of non-speech audio to convey information or perceptualize data.”  

An article on details how astronomers are using sonification of data to break down barriers and increase their understanding of the Universe.

“For astronomers who are sighted, the Universe is full of visual wonders. From shimmering planets to sparkling galaxies, the cosmos is spectacularly beautiful. But those who are blind or visually impaired cannot share that experience. So astronomers have been developing alternative ways to convey scientific information, such as using 3D printing to represent exploding stars, and sound to describe the collision of neutron stars.”

Through the use of sonification, astronomers can experience the wonder and beauty of our universe through audio representations of the data we have about it. Sonification is possible with all types of data, not just that about our universe. The Data-Driven DJ project by Brian Foo used sonification of data and algorithms to create music out of data about things like income inequality on the NYC subway, seizures, and even air quality data from Beijing. NASA recently released an audio clip that “represents actual sound waves emanating from the enormous black hole at the center of the Perseus galaxy cluster.”


Sonification of data can sometimes be necessary to better understand the data, but we can also look at it as an inclusive tool for presenting data that breaks down barriers to participation in many fields by not restricting viewing and understanding of the data to only those people who have the use of their sight. 

The article continues on to discuss how this sort of inclusive practice isn’t just good for accessibility reasons, looking at data in new and different ways can help lead to new discoveries that may not have been possible using traditional methods.

“The work demonstrates that efforts to boost inclusivity and accessibility can have wider benefits. This is true not only in astronomy; sonification has also yielded discoveries in other fields that might otherwise not have been made. Research funders and publishers need to take note, and support interdisciplinary efforts that are simultaneously more innovative and inclusive.”

The power of sound can mean many things to many different people. When you’re attending a concert or festival, the power of sound can have many meanings. The power of sound combined with the energy of the band and the audience can create those apex moments that keep us chasing live music. 

The power of sound can also sometimes be a negative thing, especially when our hearing is concerned. The sound level at many concerts and live events is so high that listening to it for extended periods of time without the proper protection can damage your hearing permanently. The CDC and OSHA recommend limiting occupational noise exposure to 85 decibels over the course of 8 hours. While concerts are typically shorter than 8 hours, the decibel levels can range from 80 decibels all the way up to 120 decibels, which can negatively impact or impair your hearing without proper protection.

This is why selling high quality hearing protection and giving away free earplugs at all of our shows is such a big part of our mission at 5 Points Music Sanctuary. We know how important music is to every one of our supporters and we want them to be able to keep enjoying music for years to come without damaging their hearing. Make sure you are protecting your hearing with high quality ear plugs, such as the EarPeace MusicPro available in our store. It is also important to get your hearing checked regularly so you can catch potential hearing loss in its path. You can get a free hearing screening at any of our shows that feature an appearance from the Roanoke Valley Speech and Hearing Center Mobile Hearing Test Unit