Lyz Cooper is a sound therapist, researcher, and founder and principal of the British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST). She is a published author of two successful books – ‘Sounding the Mind of God’ (O Books) and ‘What is Sound Healing?’ (Watkins) – and is a member of many forward thinking organizations including The Royal Society for Public Health, the National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing, the New NHS Alliance, and the International Institute for Complementary Therapists to name a few. Her compositions are carefully crafted using studied techniques and listeners have reported becoming pain free, deeply relaxed and uplifted. Lyz also consulted with Marconi Union to help create their track ‘Weightless’, dubbed 'the most relaxing song ever'. Adding to her list of accomplishments, Lyz is co-founder and director of the Therapeutic Sound Association – the first representing body of therapeutic sound in the world, and one of the original board members of the Global Listening Centre, an international organisation dedicated to promoting the importance of listening.
We had a chance to ask Lyz a few questions about the start of her journey into sound therapy, memorable experiences, hardships and more:
Can you tell us a bit about the British Academy of Sound Therapy and how it got started?
Lyz: I’ve been interested in complementary medicine since the early 80’s and tried different approaches but none of them really felt like the one for me. I was also working in a busy career in advertising which paid the bills. In the mid 90’s I burnt out and had to leave my job. I got myself better using traditional sounds of the voice (toning and overtoning) and the long relaxing tones of the Himlayan singing bowls. I was hooked! Wanting to study to be a sound therapist and understand how and why these ancient techniques worked so well I contacted a leading body for complementary medicine to see if they had a training school on their books. After much searching they drew a blank, there was nowhere to train. I travelled, researched and developed effective techniques based on the ancient use of sound for healing using 21st century science to gain a greater understanding of what is going on in the brain when we listen to sound and music. 7 years later in 2000 there was still no registered school so I formed The British Academy of Sound Therapy - the first school to offer recognised qualifications in sound therapy.
As well as training we also conduct research, working with companies such as Radox, Deezer and Foreo. Our latest development, LifeSonics is a branch of the Academy that focuses on music as medicine. We compose bespoke music for improving health and wellbeing based on neuroscience and our research at the academy.
Was there a stand-out experience with music that made you want to explore the therapeutic/relaxing world of sound?
Lyz: Getting myself better firstly, and secondly there was a woman that I practiced on in the early days when I was finding my way with sound therapy. She’d had a spinal injury and as a result lost the feeling in her feet. 5 minutes into a Himlayan bowl treatment I saw tears rolling down her cheeks - at the end of the session she said she’d started getting pins and needles in her feet for the first time since the accident 8 years previously. There have been so many more stand out experiences since, but these really stick out. My journey with sound at times has been really hard. There were times when I questioned what I was doing - when people didn’t get it and when it was so hard financially but I carried on because of experiences such as this.
Do you have a first pronounced memory of music?
Lyz: My dad dancing to Acker Bilk when I was about 3 years old.
Do you have a most meaningful memory of music?
Lyz: There are so many memories, I found it really hard to choose. I got married in northern Lapland - a place that is close to my heart. My Sami friends sang traditional ‘Joik’ songs and drummed for us the night before our wedding. It was magical - 13 of my family and friends were in a wooden lodge under the Northern Lights with Reindeer grazing outside. This was a chance for me to share something of myself and my work with my family that they don’t usually see.
Is there a relaxing sound that you enjoy the most?
Lyz: The wind in the desert.
Is there a sound that surprisingly relaxes you?
Lyz: I like ‘dark’ sounds. I found some clips of planet sounds in an Nasa archive and included them in one of my LifeSonics music medicine programmes. Some people told me it was like being in a haunted house but I found the sounds profoundly relaxing!
Is there a particular production process/ritual you like to follow?
Lyz: Therapy and music go hand in hand. The music that I write and the creative process brings stuff up - it can be random memories from childhood or something that happened on the way to the studio. In the morning before work my producer and I spend time talking and listening to each other. It may sound indulgent but it is an important part of our process - we’ve tried to work without our morning ‘therapy’ session but the creative process does not flow as well. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised being a sound therapist myself, but the power of this medium never ceases to amaze me - it’s incredibly humbling.
What instruments do you like to incorporate in a relaxing/meditative piece?
Lyz: I like to bring ancient and modern together. I have a collection of weird and wonderful instruments from all over the world and I try to fuse the ‘world’ instruments with electronic and nature sounds. I use the gong, Himlayan singing bowls, tampura, monochord, voice, jaw harp, whirly tubes - anything that shakes rattles or rolls!
Do you have a favorite key or frequency range to write relaxing music in?
Lyz: I don’t have a favourite key although a few of my pieces recently have been in G. I’m not ‘musical’ in the conventional sense. I don’t play the piano or read music so I create sonic ‘mood boards’ by recording sounds, searching for samples and singing into my phone. My producer helps me to bring it all together.
Do you think that beat focused music can be as relaxing as ambient pieces or do you find they serve different purposes?
Lyz: Yes absolutely, rhythmic music can be relaxing through the entrainment principle. Repeated rhythms over time induce trance.
What impact do you hope your music will have on its listeners?
Lyz: I hope that it will help people to improve their health and wellbeing. If people sleep better, feel less anxious or are lifted up from a low-mood state I feel that I have done my job.
Aside from music, what other ways do you take care of your own health and well-being?
Lyz: I like to go for walks with my dogs and husband. Nature is a great healer and people are too. Getting together with your friends for a really good laugh is great medicine.
Anything else that you’d like to mention?
Lyz: I’m really happy to be part of this growing community and love what the team at Subpac are creating. Creating a platform where like-minds can share their work is so valuable. Thanks guys!