The Sound of the Hebrides: Immersive Sound Treatments for Deep Relaxation

We recently worked with Open Ear Music & Swell to develop bespoke sound treatments that are coming to selected ishga spa partners. Used alongside massage, they offer an immersive experience to transport you to the tranquility of the Hebrides. Read on to discover more about our collaboration.

“Water symbolizes many things connected with healing. Pouring forth from within the depths of the earth, it represents life and regeneration”

Wilbert M. Gesler, Healing Places


Why have we developed sound treatments?

‘ishga’ is derived from the gaelic word for water - ‘uisge’. Water is an appropriate place for us to start in this description of Swell’s ishga Sound Treatments project. Water is central to ishga’s range of skincare products, which are created using hand-harvested seaweed from around the shores of the Hebridean Islands in the outermost reaches of north west Scotland. ishga have developed a unique way to process the seaweed, extractingvitamins, minerals, amino acids, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids, combining them with local spring water to harvest over 86 vitamins and minerals creating a truly unique range of organic skincare with the most remarkable anti-aging, hydrating and skin-renewing properties.

The Hebrides are a key component to what makes ishga so special - the islands natural beauty. On one side they are battered by the might of the Atlantic ocean where the ferocious power of water can be felt in its full devastating effect, on the other the island naturally gives shelter, forming golden sands, beautiful landscapes and clear and calm bays and beaches as a result.

‘The ocean is our heartbeat, a source of infinite abundance with the ability to heal and rejuvenate.'

When Swell started working with ishga, we knew it would be crucial to ensure the sounds of the ocean would be at the heart of the project. The task was to harness the power of sound and translate into a range of therapeutic sound ‘treatments’ that can be used to accompany the application of the ishga skincare - focussing mainly on the delivery as massage treatments within spa environments where ishga is used throughout the world. Swell worked to enhance the spa treatments by creating unique compositions that were based on sounds that are at the core of ishga. These were -

  1. The natural sounds of water: the Ocean, the beaches and the seaweed habitat
  2. The musical traditions and instruments found in the Hebrides: Gaelic instruments and traditional folk songs

The above sounds were collected and then applied using Swell’s unique approach to therapeutic sound, with a combination of Sound Therapy, Music Composition and Biophillia to ensure ishga Sound Treatments would be transportative, calming and relaxing.


How were the sound treatments developed?

Stage 1: Recording on the Hebrides

Swell's first port of call was a trip to the islands. Over the course of three days, they traveled the length and breadth of the islands, recording dozens of water and other natural environmental sounds and working with a range of local musicians to record key Gaelic instruments.

The team captured the calm lapping waves on Shawbost, the gentle protected sanctuary of the remote Bosta Beach, the fierce unrelenting barrage of waves on Dalmore, the tranquil seaweed habitat around The Braighe. We were amazed by the natural beauty of the landscape, much flatter and more barren than the forested hills of the mainland, and the many subtle differences in the soundscape day by day, hour by hour as the interchangeable weather offered all four seasons within a day. 

They recorded the pipes, whistles, flutes with James MacKenzie, clarsach withMàiri Macleod,fiddle with Jane Hepburn, and the ethereal voice of resident Katie Mackenzie, setting up a makeshift recording studio in an apartment in Stornoway. The musicians played a combination of traditional gaelic songs, their own compositions and single notes/chords from their instruments, which could be manipulated in the Swell Studio back in London. 

Stage 2: Production in the Swell Studio

The recordings went back to the Swell Studio and got to work. The project was divided into two: ishga Music and ishga Sound Treatments. ishga Music is a compilation album/extended playlist of music that represents ishga, that can be used as background music for any ishga massage. It needed to be relaxing, non-intrusive and would transport the listener to the beauty of the Hebrides over the course of their massage. Water recordings were underlaid to each track, bringing the sound of the Hebrides directly into the spa experience, and mixed solo instrumentals created by musicians, traditional Gaelic songs and Swell's own compositions to create over an hours worth of bespoke music, that can be played as part of a Curated Playlist on the Swell app.

 Beach Hebrides girl walking sunset ishga skincare

What do sound treatments do?

ishga Sound Treatments were conceived as 30, 60 and 90 min longform compositions that were based on a therapeutic sound ‘journey’ similar to a Sound Bath or Gong Bath. As main drivers of the ishga experience, a bespoke massage was developed to accompany the composition, designed to give a deeper sense of relaxation but also to unlock a state of consciousness within the listener where they can find inner calm, clarity and objective sense of purpose. Following the treatment, a person will feel cleansed - literally bathed in sound, and rejuvenated from the experience.

Sound Therapy is a way sound can be harnessed to induce a deep state of relaxation for the listener. Whilst a sound therapist typically uses traditional ‘healing instruments’ such as gongs or himalayan singing bowls, Swell have developed techniques where other sounds can be used and when manipulated using Sound Therapy techniques, can achieve the same results - lowering brain wave state, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering blood pressure and heart rate and inducing an altered - or dream-like - state of consciousness. A listener receiving these sounds may experience the loss of sense of time, the dissolvement of their ego, the reduction of stress caused by their everyday conscious ‘thinking’ brain.

All music was composed using either the traditional gaelic B flat or pentatonic scales, and tuned to 432Hz, which is slightly lower than the classic Western tuning, driving a slightly deeper and richer feeling to the overall sound. We used a combination of the natural field recordings that we captured and samples of the instruments, that were able to be played in the chromatic scale and processed through a combination of analogue and digital effects, delays, reverbs to ensure their sounds soothing - quite a challenge for an instrument such as the bagpipes!

The three ishga Sound Treatments were mixed to give the best sense of space, with the intention of capturing the vast expanse and pastoral beauty of the islands.

“We absolutely love the ishga Sound Treatments. Therapists have commented on how they really help with the massage flow and speed. The balance is great, the waves sounds are a definite favourite for meditative purposes!”

- Natalie Rodgers, Head of Training, ishga


Look out for more news about sound treatments coming to selected ishga spa partners soon.