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Ex-rocker discovers secrets of tranquility

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: {J}

Most of us who feel the need to relax at the end of a stressful day or week will probably open a bottle of wine or head to the pub for a beer. On those nights we find it difficult to sleep, there are always little pills to help us.

These short-term measures, however, don’t tackle the underlying problems of stress or insomnia. But Australian composer and musician, John B Levine, who is coming to Galway next month, promises that he has a better solution – one that doesn’t involve taking chemicals. Instead, it’s about listening to a certain type of music known as Alphamusic, which alters our brainwaves to create a calmer, more relaxed state. It’s like meditation, he says, but it’s easier to fit it into your life.

John, who now lives in England, originally trained as an electronic engineer, but always had a passion for music.

“I loved music since aged six when I got a plastic saxophone,” he says. “I wanted to make music and to make people happy.”

John also loved science and electronics and, to satisfy his parents’ wishes, he did an electronics degree, although he subsequently fulfilled his desire to have “music as a profession and electronics as a hobby”, when he trained in classical music composition at the University of Sydney. He then spent several successful years working in commercial music, playing with bands like INXS and Midnight Oil and writing jingles for advertising agents Saatchi and Saatchi and Coca-Cola.

Then his life changed.

“My father started dying slowly of stress-related illness. He had diverticulitis, diabetes, a couple of heart attacks and a stroke and he died at the age of 58. The doctors said it was stress related, but nothing we did or gave him could help.”

John had studied meditation and was taught how people’s brain waves slow down as they go into a deeper meditative state.

“With my science background that made sense,” he says. “I used try to explain it to my father, who was in Intensive Care but by then it was too late.”

His father’s death led him towards wondering whether the techniques used for meditation could be adapted for music. And by that he doesn’t mean what passes for the ‘relaxation music’ you hear in many spas and massage parlours. In fact, he is scathing about it.

“I heard New Age ‘relaxation’ music and it made me cry, it was so bad! It made me angry.”

He singles out CDs that contain whale and dolphin ‘music’ for special ire. He finds it unbelievable that these can be regarded as the basis for ‘relaxation’.

“Whales talk to whales and dolphins talk to dolphins. Their communication is not for relaxing people.”

As part of his music degree, John had studied the psychology of music and the physiology of hearing. With this expertise in analysing music, he listened to ‘new age music’ with a technical ear.

“I analysed why it didn’t work, melodically, rhythmically and production wise . . . and bored my friends about it. They told me to stop talking and do something.”

So he did – with caution – he didn’t want to add to what he describes as ‘noise pollution’ by producing bland CDs.

John had a recording studio in Australia where he wrote his music for TV commercials. It was there he conducted experiments to see what relaxing music should sound like.

“As a composer, you don’t start writing music before you know what your aim is, so I had to choose my aim.

“In my head I saw images of a PowerPoint presentation I’d had at meditation classes of brain waves slowing down. I wanted to do that.”

After experimentation, John established patterns of musical sound that invited the brain to settle into an Alpha state.

Alpha waves were discovered by German neurologist Hans Berger in the early 1900s and John explains that they occur when our brain is in a relaxed state.

The Alpha state is calmer than the Beta state, which occurs when we are awake and involves excitable peaks and troughs. If we continually emit Beta brainwaves, then we cannot unwind.

Brainwaves change a person’s hormonal balance, he explains, and different hormones affect the body in various ways. For instance when you are continually in the Beta state, you get stressed and your immune system goes down.

Beta waves in the brain cause the release of cortisol in response to stress. This diverts blood away from the parts of the body that aren’t required for ‘fight or flight’. And since the stomach and many parts of the brain are not required for this, their energy supply is diminished, leading to other problems – everything from digestion to concentration.

John claims that’s where his music can help. He says the unique sound pictures he paints, bring listeners to alpha state of relaxation within four minutes. As a Westerner, he opted to use instruments his listeners would be familiar with. So for his CDs, he plays a Steinway concert grand.

In the past 25 years, he has recorded nearly 30 albums, some designed to aid sleep and some to help people concentrate.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past

Judy Murphy



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Ruby ready to rock again and Bob is worth a big flutter in Gold Cup

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 06-Mar-2013

New edge to Galway hurling championship title pursuit

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Archive News

A battle of talent and the ability to pull in public votes

Bernie Ni Fhlatharta



Date Published: 11-Mar-2013

Here is a question. And there is no holiday or grand prize for getting the answer. But can anyone name the people who have won The Voice of Ireland and what has become of them?

Over across the water in the UK they have The X Factor and while I hate the concept of it, it has produced a few stars even though they don’t last long in the whole scheme of things.

But The Voice of Ireland seems to generate false excitement with the winner ending up become more anonymous than they already were. And it is costing families a fortune in the process.

While the programme is a ratings winner, strangely, it has resulted in those getting through to the final stages investing huge amounts of money in the hope that they will receive enough votes to get through to the next stages.

So, suddenly, it is not about the voice or the talent involved, it is all about votes and who the participants can convince to pledge their support for them. So it is obvious that talent goes out the window.

It means that someone with half a talent could realistically win the whole thing if they generated enough support behind them. From now on, the judges will be taken out of the equation and it will be left to the public to generate income for some phone operator.

Those who get through to the live performances have to engage in a massive publicity campaign in an effort to win votes which makes this whole effort a pure sham. It is no longer about their ability and just an effort to win appeal.

While the initial process does involve some vetting of the acts, now it becomes a general election type exercise in which the most popular will win the competition and the judges will have no say whatsoever.

It is a bit like the recent Eurosong in which the judging panel across the country voted for their favourite song, which incidentally was the best of a very bad lot, but then this was overturned by the public who chose a relatively crap song to represent us.

But again, this was all down to convincing the public about who to vote for rather than having any bearing on the quality on offer. There are times that genuine talent becomes overlooked because of the need to extract money from the voting public.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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