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Symphony of the Dead

Floating separate to your physical body. A bright light, travel through a tunnel. These are the well-known markers of the near-death experience (NDE), the mysterious phenomenon that occurs to some 10-15% of people who flirt with death. But while the visual aspects of the NDE are quite well known, not so many are familiar with the auditory aspects of the experience: buzzing sounds, the ‘tinkling of bells’, rushing wind, angelic singing and beautiful symphonies.

One person that has become more familiar with the sounds of the near-death experience is Melbourne artist Saskia Moore. Over recent years, Moore has been working on a sonic art project titled ‘Dead Symphony’: researching, traveling and talking to scientists, doctors, people of religion, and in particular NDErs themselves, in order to document and try and reconstruct the sounds heard during a near-death experience. So what do we hear as we die?

It’s a digital, synthetic sound – that’s how a lot of people describe it. Very beautiful, often like a choral sound but with sustained notes. Some said it was melodic, almost like chimes but not like church bells and not religious.

It has a cascading pattern, almost like a vibraphone duelling with itself in an endless pattern.

One listener told of ‘a hum of electricity…silenced by a crack.’

…Transcribing this music has been an interesting process, devising ways and means to talk with non-musical people to describe, hum, and even at times colour and draw the sounds.

What I have heard and transcribed is a profound similarity of sonic atmospheres people hear during a NDE – it’s wild, fascinating and the stuff of goosebumps.

I read many books, documented people’s accounts of their Near Death Experiences and spoke with many scientists, doctors, people of religion, spiritualists and quantum mechanists.

In a short breath in time, my perspective of death has changed irrevocably. And in equal breath I remain wholly fascinated, confused and curious about it.

In the video above, Moore notes that one of the most fascinating things to her has been the commonalities of the sounds and melodies across NDE reports from people of all different ages, from all over the globe.

You can find listen to a sonic sample from Dead Symphony online, or if you’re in Melbourne you can attend a performance of Moore’s piece in the round at Arts Centre Melbourne from the 7th-10th of August.

Also, if the topic interests you, then definitely check out my essay “Her Sweet Murmur” from our Darklore anthology series (a PDF version can be found on the website under the ‘Samples’ section).

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