riley wong (they/them)
170 bpm. binaural isochronic tonal embeddings. alpha and beta waves ranging between 8 hz and 27 hz. i’m working on a brainwave entrainment playlist for a client preparing for a marathon. click and drag the track into the eeg music visualizer and hit play. the fast-paced beats pulse through my headphones, subdued electronic house music layered with rising tones. i can’t help but bob my head left and right to the beat, watching the waveforms dancing in sync while the imaging software shows the spatial activation of my sensorimotor cortex. deadline’s tomorrow and i should be ready to export this tracklist soon.
Auditory beat stimulation (ABS) is a novel neuromodulatory technique that has been shown to induce electrophysiological effects that can be used to modulate cognition, reduce anxiety levels, and enhance mood states.
The resonance between the two frequencies is interpreted by the listener as a third sound. This third frequency prompts brain cells to begin firing at the same frequency — a process called “entrainment.” The process of brainwave synchronization typically takes about 10 minutes, reducing over time as new neural pathways are formed.
dreary and drizzling out. i get up to stretch off the drowsiness and pace around my home office. originally shared between me and m—, one of the rooms served as our studio workspace, the other our bedroom.
one half of the office is crammed with electronic music gear: midi keyboards, sequencers, analog synths; physical instruments: an acoustic and electric guitar, violin, tenor saxophone; and audiovisual equipment: speaker set, projector, nests of cables. the other half has been recently emptied, marks of oil paint and splashes of watercolor overflown around blank rectangular silhouettes where her canvases used to sit.
for my day job, i produce at neurabeats, a neurawave subsidiary and music studio that specializes in soundwave therapy. i create and curate customized tracklists with specific beats per minute, musical frequencies, and harmonic oscillations to stimulate energy, attune to neural rhythms, and activate brain states for enhancing mood, memory, and other cognitive functions.
NeuraBeats Brainwave Generation Music. Binaural beats and isochronic tones featuring gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves for promoting concentration, meditation, and relaxation. Can be used for study, work, focus, creativity, memory, sleep, relaxation, love, and healing. Subscribe monthly to receive customized playlists for brain states on demand, catering to the many phases of life.
the room's a mess of plant and machine.
plants line the windowsills: english ivies crawling up the frame, golden pothos drooping down from above, strings of pearls raining down alongside them. mugwort budding up in terra cotta pots. the room’s a mess of plant and machine.
m— used to hop around from city to city, running the art residency and teaching fellowship circuit, an excuse to travel the world. one day she left and didn’t come back.
we met two summers ago at a dinner party, hosted by our friends kajmire and senna. kaj works as a journalist, conducting interviews and field reporting alongside gpt-11, a generative language model, to co-write investigative pieces on geopolitics and media. they write down the key pieces of information, feed it into the machine, and it outputs long-form paragraphics, publication-ready. senna’s a children’s book illustrator and herbalist, just recently moved from boston to live in a co-op together with kaj.
we’re in the kitchen together, mulling wine with star anise and orange slices. i sneak a slice to eat as m— chats with me about her creative process. it’s like cooking without a recipe, she says to me. with a recipe, there’s a rigidity to it. you start out with a specific set of ingredients. you buy each ingredient. you chop it up in exact amounts and follow each step precisely to make your final dish. it’s like a checklist. like a game of sudoku.
like a jazz solo, like multiplying numbers, like life springing forth from the earth
when i make dinner, i walk into the kitchen and i ask myself, what can i create with what’s available? i combine things around me and the flavors emerge tasting good. like a jazz solo, like multiplying numbers, like life springing forth from the earth,
when m— talks to me i feel like i’m bathing in sunlight. she’s warm and exuberant and i can only smile and feel energized.
i ask for her number, we should collaborate on a show sometime, i can do music if you do visuals, and our conversation continues for the next two years.
i brew an herbal tea, part of my nighttime routine. mugwort, calendula, lavender. getting ready for bed, i set up the sound bath machine for my weekly dream therapy.
the machine produces sounds at specific frequencies for lucid dream induction, allowing me to explore my personal mindspace, ask and answer questions my subconscious may or may not be ready to reveal. the technology is still nascent, but i’ve been able to get early access through work as a beta tester. studies show that the risks are low, and the therapeutic effects seem promising.
m— was skeptical when i first broached the idea. i don’t want to sleep surrounded by a bunch of devices. isn’t our home cluttered enough with all your gear?
i want a break. i mean, from the electronics. i think.
why do you still need therapy, aren’t i enough for you?
it’s not like that, i replied.
i made the order shortly after she left. there was extra space in the bedroom anyway.
NeuraWave Lucid Dream Therapy Machine | User Manual IMPORTANT SAFEGUARDS When using electrical appliances, basic safety precautions should always be followed to reduce the risk of fire, electric shock, and/or injury to persons, including the following: 1. Read all instructions before use. 2. To protect against electric shock, do not immerse cord or plug in water or other liquids. 3. The use of an accessory not recommended by the appliance manufacturer for use with this appliance may result in fire, electric shock, or injury to persons. 4. Unplug from outlet when not in use and before cleaning. Allow to cool before putting on or taking off parts, and before cleaning or storage. 5. Do not use outdoors or for commercial purposes. For household use only. 6. Do not use appliance for anything other than its intended use. 7. Children should not play with the appliance. 8. Do not disconnect appliance from power while in use. THIS UNIT IS FOR HOUSEHOLD USE ONLY. TABLE OF CONTENTS Important Safeguards 2 Diagram of Parts 3 Getting Started 5 Control and Features 7 Brainwave Entrainment 11 Neurofeedback 13 Astral Projection 17 Memory Reenactment Therapy 19 Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis 23 Oneiromancy, Tarot, and Divination 29 Lucid Dream Induction and Safety Tips 31 Troubleshooting 37 Service and Maintenance 41 Warranty 43
the room swims in a rich dark purple, ambient and dimming. chamomile vapor releases slowly around me as i lie in bed and close my eyes. my body is soft, seeping deeply into the memory foam mattress. waves of sound begin to wash over me.
the slow hum of alternating frequencies at 432 hz and 6 hz build up slowly, inducing a state of sleepy theta waves as my body relaxes. i do a head-to-toe body scan, releasing tension throughout each area of my body, letting go of any passing thoughts. cleansing.
guided by the mystic hums, my body enters and cycles through the four stages of sleep over the course of the next hour: relaxed alpha, light sleep theta, deep delta, rem-sleep beta.
In Stage 1, the brain produces high amplitude theta waves, which are very slow brain waves. If you awaken someone during this stage, they might report that they were not really asleep.
Stage 2 is the second stage of sleep and lasts for approximately 20 minutes. The brain begins to produce bursts of rapid, rhythmic brain wave activity known as sleep spindles. Body temperature starts to decrease and heart rate begins to slow.
Deep, slow brain waves known as delta waves begin to emerge during stage 3 sleep. This stage is also sometimes referred to as delta sleep. It also acts as a transitional period between a light sleep and a very deep sleep.
Most dreaming occurs during the fourth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is characterized by eye movement, increased respiration rate, and increased brain activity. Dreaming occurs due to increased brain activity, and voluntary muscles become immobilized.
a golden staircase in the midst of a teal gradient expanse. i ascend the upward spiral, and with each step my body attunes to the celestial vibrations of my surroundings. the stairs continue until my mind reaches the alpha-theta activation pattern needed to continue to the next stage of the dream. to achieve a state of relaxed awareness, piano music plays lightly in the background. the music gets louder or softer to encourage my state of being to move towards the right brainwave patterns. as i relax into my setting, the musical notes crescendo slowly. by the time i reach the top of the gilded spiral, i am surrounded by a pleasant and simple melody. my mind is ready.
the staircase opens up to a long hallway, red velvet carpet with gold edges, lined with banana leaf trees. jungle foliage, emerald green, lush and vibrant. as i walk down the hallway, harmonies layer on to the piano song, glissandos up and down, running over and under one another, ebbing and flowing.
at the end of the hall, two doors glisten, pink quartz. they open just as i arrive and i enter into a room with an endless glass floor. directly ahead, a white and gold chaise lounge and matching marble table greet me. the music quiets down as i approach. i sit, facing a tarot deck, and pull a card. a minor arcana in a major key.
Three of Swords (Upright)
One of the most iconic images in the tarot, the Three of Swords displays a floating heart that is pierced by three swords. Above it, there are heavy clouds. There is also a heavy downpour in the background. The symbolism is pretty opaque, and the emotional effect that it has is immediate. The heart is the seat of warmth, affection, and spirit, and the three swords indicate the power to harm, cause pain, and create suffering to what it pierces. This is an image of grief, loss, and literally heartbreak.
we met two summers ago at a dinner party, hosted by our friends kajmire and senna. i’m chatting by the wooden apothecary counter with senna, her hands busied with mortar and pestle as she crushes for me an herbal blend of mugwort, calendula, and lavender for nighttime brewing. various plant stains paint her materia medica, healing materials, a spiral-bound book of notes and drawings she pages with two fingers.
COMMON MUGWORT. Artemisia vulgaris. Mugwort is a tall perennial that can reach up to 3 feet in height with pinnate leaves that are downy and silvery-gray on the undersides. Mugwort has a long history of use as an herb of dreaming, helping to bring about lucid and pleasant dreams.
senna advises, reading aloud, one teaspoon per cup of hot water, steep for ten to fifteen minutes, thursday and saturday nights. looking up and adjusting her glasses, i probably wouldn’t mix it with weed or it’ll dilute most of the effects, and it’ll help with recall if you set an alarm for an hour before you normally wake up.
i nod, only half listening, the other half trying to think of an excuse to talk to m— again. she’s in the living room, past the kitchen island, the home an open concept. partygoers are scattered around the space: a few dots lined up outside the half bathroom; some clinking around the kitchen, snacking while they prep figs with goat cheese and balsamic; others folded around the couches chattering aimlessly. m—’s laughter echoes across the room.
The cocktail party effect is the phenomenon of the brain's ability to focus one's auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out a range of other stimuli, as when a partygoer can focus on a single conversation in a noisy room.
i’m feeling two-wines-in tipsy, the commotion of the living room carrying throughout the first floor apartment. i’m trying to focus on senna’s words, but the dim lighting is making audio processing harder. someone’s favorite song comes on and they turn up the music. the room gets louder and louder. i nod, half smiling, straining to hear.
meanwhile, senna’s telling me a story about her last trip to joshua tree. how they sat in a circle staring at the campfire, inducing a collective hallucination in the midst of a sunset desert. about twe--y minutes into it, i noticed mys--f ent--ing this trance-like state and i ev--tually started to hear music. ev-n just the sound of my breath, th- crackling o- the fire, all a p-rt of this bigger mel-dy. the world ar--nd us an orchestr-tion of many souls, growing loud-r and louder until it w-s all i c--ld hear. a majestic chaos.
Hypnagogia is the transitional state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep. The opposite is hypnopompia, the transitional state that occurs before waking up.
thunder rumbles outside the window. the storms are supposed to last all week.
eating a 3d printed tv dinner and taking inventory of my current client list for work:
ruth. 27. grad student at columbia, phd in physics. adhd and seeking sounds for focused energy. 16 hz beta wave induction for active thinking interspersed with 14 hz sensorimotor rhythm waves for relaxed thought, layered over a smooth downtempo backing track. five playlists for ten hours each, $320 commission.
ishita. 42. clerk at the stop n shop on myrtle ave. dealing with anxiety, depression, and chronic fatigue. solfeggio tones at 396 hz and 852 hz for cleansing and regrounding. underneath, light classical piano. one eight hour playlist, $40 commission.
The 852 Hz frequency helps to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, making it ideal when nervousness or anxiety is bringing you down. It also aids in awakening intuition and inner strength.
charley. recent divorce, newly single parent. seeking sounds for emotional healing. 174 hz and 528 hz for pain relief, repair, and transformation. ambient with water and nature soundscapes. two playlists for 6 hours each, $440 commission. i dig through some of my personal playlists to save myself some time.
going through them, i find myself distracted by my feelings. i know i’m not supposed to but i can’t help but open up my old messages. when m— was in nairobi for her teaching residency last winter, seven hours ahead, i’d send her a good morning text before i went to bed.
good morning m— :-) i’m missing you a lot ... wish i could just scoop you into my arms and tell you i love you<3 i hope you have a really wonderful day tomorrow!
attached, a music clip: soft and joyful marimba tones layered above a cocktail of alpha waves and solfeggio frequencies, for serotonin and oxytocin activation. a neuro-audio equivalent of a good night kiss.
The frequency of 639 Hz helps balance emotions and elevate the mood. It also promotes communication, love, and understanding, and brings harmony into interpersonal relationships.
out of the corner of my eye, the vines along the window begin to slither and writhe.
CONED ALERT: There may be outages in your area due to thunderstorms. Let us know if your power goes out. Report an outage at conEd.com/ReportMyOutage. We’ll continue to send you updates via text as restorations progress. Please stay away from downed wires. Reply STOP to cancel msgs. Reply HELP for help.
we met two summers ago at a dinner party, hosted by our friends kajmire and senna. we’re seated across from each other and i’ve been laughing a little too hard at her jokes, leaning forward and smiling into her eyes. she can tell and seems to be into it. i pass her a small plate of the figs with balsamic and her fingers brush mine in exchange, intentionally accidental.
she tells me of her travels, how she’s been riding the winds around the world. sometimes towards a new opportunity, other times away from herself. a pull here, a push there. attract, repel. she takes me sightseeing through her stories: how taiwan has a lot of convenience stores, new zealand a lot of sheep, how the midnight sun never sets in alaska summer.
as she’s talking to me, a snake coils up from underneath the table. a shiny black ribbon with long yellow stripes lining its sides and back, wrapping around her torso. i look around, and no one seems to notice. m— hesitates mid-sentence, self-conscious, as she mistakes my broken eye contact as a loss of interest. the snake circles around her neck, a serpent helix spiraling upwards. the tendril of a pea plant climbing towards the light.
The transmutation of the life-death-rebirth cycle is exemplified by the shedding of Snake’s skin. Snakes regenerate from the inside out by shedding old, uncomfortable layers that no longer serve them. The symbology of the two snakes intertwining around a sword represents healing.
It is the energy of wholeness, cosmic consciousness, and the ability to experience anything willingly and without resistance. It is the knowledge that all things are equal in creation, that poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, transmuted and transformed.
it’s been heat all week. my glass of ice water sweats profusely.
we’ve spent the week packing together, putting her things in boxes, divvying up our record collection for the third time. i turn the paper green ravel album in my hands. on the back, a dusk-lit description of prélude à la nuit: a warm sonorous mist... the effect of an atmosphere in which everything evaporates. i put it in my stay pile.
she was supposed to move out yesterday, but with the heat wave, we kept delaying. we got another coned alert today about the power cutting out, the grid overloaded from everyone else in the neighborhood blasting ac. the heat and humidity kept building and building over the week as we packed. it should finally break after today, with rains predicted overnight releasing us from the feverish heat, and each other. m— would leave early in the morning, between the scatters of the storms.
Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse. The growing risk of overlapping heat waves and power failures poses a severe threat that major American cities are not prepared for. A combined blackout and heat wave would expose at least two-thirds of residents in major cities to heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
as the orange-pink skies settle into nighttime blues, we pull out the dozen pack of tealight candles. m— lights one, and we take turns holding up the rest of the wicks to that first flame. the little fires cast our hands aglow in orange heat. our faces glisten with sweat on sweat. discomfort lingers in the air.
the last few months had been on again, off again, full of tearful goodbyes and passionate reunions. we knew it wasn’t working out, but we couldn’t let each other go. fight, make up. conflict, resolution. tension, release. the same song looping in changing keys, variations on a repeating theme. no matter how hard we tried, it never seemed to be enough, somehow always bringing out the worst in each other. tumultuous and turbulent, a dissonant third frequency arising between the two of us.
for the past week i’ve been sleeping on the couch. it’s the least i can do, with her opting to move out and me seeing through the end of our lease for the summer. a modern yellow sleeper, with the backs pushed down. firm, supportive, with sinuous spring suspension.
feeling tired. finished cleaning up the broken glass from a fight earlier today and ready to turn in for the night. i’m curled into the cushions when i feel the pressure of her body sitting down next to me. i look up and the firelight dances in her pleading eyes. do you want to come to bed tonight?
i don’t think that’s a good idea, i reply.
but it’s our last night...
this is the part where i say yes or no. she blows out a single candle as if making a birthday wish and at once the room goes black.
thunder breaks. the rain is pounding. i roll over in the memory foam bed.