Let the spirit move you -- but not too much

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What do ghetto-blasting superfreaks who retrofit their hoopties with massive subwoofers have in common with the most avid of churchgoers? More than either camp is prepared to admit, most likely: according to a study by British acousticians, "people who experience a sense of spirituality in church may be reacting to the extreme bass sound produced by some organ pipes." Turns out that inaudibly low but exceedingly loud sounds (AKA infrasound, or anything below 20 Hz) can have profound effects on unsuspecting listeners — be they kneeling at the altar or pimpin' in the passenger seat. They can range from the euphoric (overwhelming joy) to the downright disturbing ("an extreme sense of loss" and "shivers down the spine"), effects exploited by church organists for the last half-millenium to help congregations feel the spirit — or at least give them a little nudge. Nudge too hard, though, and you could make more than just the spirit move: "The brown note, according to urban legend, is an infrasonic frequency that causes humans to lose control of their bowels due to resonance." Could there any truth to the brown note legend? Take your chances on Sunday morning and find out for yourself.

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August 23, 2006 - 9:50am
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