Music as a ‘universal language’

How music is a ‘universal language’ probably depends on how you define ‘universal’.

Humans can hear air vibrations from about 20 hz (cycles/sec) to about 20,000 hz. Much depends on the acuity of hearing one was born with, how many super-loud concerts one has attended or jack-hammers one has operated. And, audio acuity naturally declines with age.

Bats, do their sonar squeak in the range of approximately 14,000 to well over 100,000 Hz — their ‘basso profundo’ is well above our highest sopranos.

This is just to remind us out of the gate that human music is — well — human. To other species, or intelligent aliens, our music could make absolutely no sense at all — if they can even hear/sense it

But even within the human family, there is less ‘universality’ than one might suppose. We’ve all experienced being powerfully moved by a piece of music, meanwhile the person next to us is bored silly.

I’m certainly no expert on non-Western music, but I’ve listened to a fair amount of it. There are a few things that seem universal:

  • Octave equivalence. Namely, ‘C’ in any octave is still the ‘same note’ somehow.
  • The primacy of the perfect fifth. If there is any interval used in a piece of music besides the unison & octave, it is the perfect fifth.
  • Periodicity. Music almost always has a ‘beat’ of some kind.

All else seems to be learned, as part of one’s [musical] culture. But so is language. We all share a common vocal apparatus, but using it to communicate is entirely learned and culture/language specific.

Posted in Sacred Music Theory | 8,552 Comments

The Utility of Violence and War

(In response to a friend’s comment “Don’t we have to have nuclear weapons?”)

The history of humanity is the long sad history of violence and revenge.

The first tools of violence were certainly just fists, then we graduated to rocks, then spears, than crossbows, then guns, then tanks, then napalm, then nuclear weapons.

All that has happened is that technology has made violence that much more efficient.

And we are stuck in a mentality of ‘revenge’, except that the tools of revenge keep escalating. You hit me with your fist, I respond with a rock, then you come back later with a spear, etc.

Gandhi said “The problem with eye for an eye is that pretty soon the whole world is blind.” That is true as far as it goes, except that the technology for putting out eyes just keeps getting “better”—instead of just one at a time, now we can put out the eyes of whole nations in just seconds with marvelous modern efficiency.

The problem with nuclear weapons is that they have grown so terrible that it’s virtually impossible not to be your own collateral damage. But don’t suppose that means the end of the line for the development of death technology—we’ll just contrive other means of mass destruction that are more “focused.” How it would have pleased Hitler to find a virus that attacked Jews and left “Aryans” unscathed.

Revenge and technology are just too hideous a combination. I suppose rolling back technology would be one solution, but the same technology that brings us nuclear weapons also brings us antibiotics. No, it seems to me that if we are to survive as a species we have to learn some other way of dealing with each other besides violence and revenge.

When you say, “We have to have nuclear weapons,” I have to ask myself—do we? “They” have them, so we “have to” have them? Isn’t that just one more cycle of the Circle of Death (vs. Nature’s “Circle of Life”)?

At one time slavery was regarded as acceptable and even ‘natural’ throughout the Western world. That is not so any more. To be sure slavery is still a problem (e.g. human trafficking), but at least there is a consensus in society that this is Not Good. Our collective minds can change… ever so slowly, but they can change.

We have wars not just because the leaders want wars, but because the population as a whole wants them too. A contemporary political candidate who wanted to legalize slavery would get nowhere.

And by the way, the US defense budget is as large as the defense budgets of the rest of the world combined. Why? Of whom are we so afraid? And why? If we stopped meddling in their business, might we need less military? Who made us ‘policeman’ of the world—and what kind of a job have we been doing: look how much better off Iraq is after “Iraqi Freedom” (are they? Do they really have more freedom now? And at what price?). And what are we doing about Darfur? And countless other places on the planet in which hideous things are happening. (Hint: if they don’t have oil, we don’t seem to be unduly concerned.)

I don’t have some nice silver bullet answer. But it seems to me that the place to start is to question the ‘glory’ and ‘efficacy’ of war.

I’m not saying do nothing, I’m suggesting that the real battleground is the human heart, our hideous consensus that war and violence are ‘necessary’ and ‘glorious’, and that war accomplishes anything more than making the recipient of our aggression all the more determined to exact revenge. They attack us, we attack them back, they attack us back, and round and round—forever?

Is this the best we can do?

Posted in Metaphysics | 11,531 Comments

Music as a ‘Representational’ Art Form

Arguably most of the visual arts down through the ages have been ‘representational’ — that is, the artwork depicts something recognizable by most people (in their cultural context).

Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” is instantly recognizable as a woman:

Mona Lisa

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” is recognizable as a night sky (amazingly enough!):

Starry Night

In Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” we still recognize women:

Les Demoiselles

And there is also visual Art in which nothing is recognizable — e.g. Mondrian:

Composition II In Red

(It’s worth pointing out that the vast majority of visual art pieces in the history of Art from cave paintings to the present day are recognizably representational. I point that out not as a ‘value judgement’ about abstract art, simply as an observation.)

Music as an art form has been described as ‘not representational’ — and it certainly is not obvious how Music can be ‘representational’ when we are thinking about visual Art. But I argue that it is ‘representational’ in a certain sense…

In the representational Art examples above, what has been represented are Objects. ‘Things’ we observe in our world: ‘real’ & ‘objective’ women, stars in the night sky, etc. But the observable objects in ‘representational Art’ are always material objects — Matter (in the physics sense of that word) and we now know that Matter and Energy are two sides of the same coin (see Einstein and e = mc2).

‘Matter’ is about ‘stasis’, whereas ‘energy’ is about ‘change’.

Of course material objects change over time, but energy is what makes change happen.

Obviously, a static art form (that is, not changing in the time domain) such as painting or sculpture is going to find it challenging to represent ‘change’. But music most definitely unfolds in the time domain, and so it is a prime candidate for representing “change/energy”.

For example, gravity is a force/energy that exerts a profound influence on all of us. So ‘falling’ is an ever present ‘change’ in our day-to-day lives. When something falls, it moves from high to low. Musically we might represent a continuously accelerating free-fall something like this (note that the number of notes per beat continually increases) :

Falling Notes

(Click here to hear this played.)

Whereas a controlled descent would sound something like this:

(Click here to hear this played.)

And here is an example of acceleration/deacceleration:

(Click here to hear this played—the repeat repeated 3 times.)

Slow tempo pieces relax and lower our mental energy, faster tempo pieces increase our mental energy.

These few examples are just the barest beginnings of how I hope to show that music represents ‘change/energy’ (whereas the static visual arts generally represent objects) as a partial explanation of how music affects us the way it does.

I am not saying that effective visual art pieces (e.g. Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) are successful merely because they have a representational dimension. After all, there is no lack of boring representational Art. (Or boring music.) Rather, I argue that the visual artist uses Representation to help him/her achieve their effect—and so do composers. But visual artists are using a static medium to represent static objects (or at least static snapshots of moving objects), whereas composers are representing change & energy itself. They both have a ‘representational’ dimension, just different sides of the matter/energy coin.

(Hint: ‘representational’ which I am discussing in this article, and ‘correspondence’ in the esoteric sense are virtually synonymous… more on that later.)

Posted in Meta Music, Sacred Number Theory | 9,170 Comments

Jakob Boehme (Böhme), ‘Wrath’, and the Uses of Music

Jakob Böhme

Jakob Böhme (1575 – 1624) was a Christian (Lutheran!) German mystic and theologian. By trade he was a shoemaker, but inspired by visions he wrote numerous theosophical volumes that were important influences on John Milton, Ludwig Tieck, Novalis, William Blake, Schelling Schopenhauer and Hegel.

Böhme’s theosophical system is enormous, so in this blog entry I only consider one concept of his. One central idea is that there are two principles infusing human life: love and wrath. Wrath is of course the discordant, divisive and destructive principle whose most virulent incarnations are Satan and his demons, but Wrath takes hold in this world through human beings, who represent the battleground between the realm of darkness and Wrath below, and the realm of light and Love above.

So, according to Böhme, our divine purpose is to transmute this wrathful energy into Love.

According to Böhme, one way to effect this transmutation is through prayer, which is not simply petitionary, but rather a communication between the Divine and the human–a manifestation of the divine in the human world. As in Buddhist and other teachings, this transmutation is accomplished by direct contact with all the stress of human life.

But Music also has the power to transform Wrath into Peace. Perhaps it is going too far to say that music can go the full distance of transforming Wrath into Love, but even defusing Wrath into Peace is a big step in the right direction.

Posted in Meta Music | Tagged , | 7,968 Comments

New Music: ‘Zeus’

Here is a piece based on the musico-numerological representation of the name ‘Zeus’, for glass armonica, violin, cello, claves & finger cymbals. The ‘Zeus’ musico-numerological sygil is played by the glass armonica.

Zeus (pdf of score)

Zeus (mp3, duration 1:15)

A previous blog explains the musico-numerology.

‘Zeus’ is the Greek name, for which the corresponding Roman name is ‘Jupiter’. So in the score the ‘Zeus’ sygil is marked by the ‘Jupiter’ astrological symbol. Naturally the ‘Zeus’ sygil appears 7 times (the mystical/mythical number of completion).

Posted in Music | Tagged | 8,591 Comments

“Babel”

I wonder if Babel did a much more thorough number on Humanity than I previously imagined.

It’s bad enough that Humanity has been split into English, Swahili, Etruscan, and so on. But even we who all supposedly speak English seem to be separated by virtually impenetrable language barriers. I speak what I think is plain English to my friend, and he doesn’t understand a word of it. I listen to someone else speaking to me, and I recognize the vocabulary and syntax as English, but what they say makes no sense to me at all.

Folks who study such things tell me that when humans communicate with each other, words account for about 7%, tone of voice accounts for about 38%, and body language accounts for about 55%. That’s about 7% for the head, 38% for the heart, and 55% for the rest.

Maybe I should try listening with my entire body instead of just the top 3 inches.

Posted in Metaphysics | 2,413 Comments

Number Bases for Musical Gematria & Numerology

From a numerological point of view, it doesn’t matter whether we represent seven as ‘seven’ (English), ’7′ (Arabic numerals), ‘VII’ (Roman numerals) or ‘ε’ (ancient Greece).

For some purposes (as we shall see shortly) it might be more convenient/transparent to use number bases other than the usual base 10, e.g. base 7, or base 12. After all, the only reason we use base 10 is because our species happens to have 10 fingers. If we had 7 or 12 fingers, we would counting using base 7 or 12 instead!

But first, to recap, when we use base 10 (what we are all used to) that means there are 10 digits available: 0 through 9. When we start counting, we keep going, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9… and when we run out we increment the position to the left and start over … 10, 11, etc.

So in base 7, for example, we only have the digits 0-6. So we proceed as before, except that we run out of digits at 6, and have to increment the position to the left sooner: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 20, … 63, 64, 65, 66, 100, 101, 102…

For bases larger than 10 we need additional ‘digits’, so we start using the letters of the alphabet. So counting in base 12 we have: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, 10, 11, … 19, 1A, 1B, 20,…

(A more thorough explanation of number bases can be found here)

And here is a chart of 1 through 26 in bases 10, 7 and 12 (and the letters of the alphabet):

Base 10 Base 7 Base 12
A 1 1 1
B 2 2 2
C 3 3 3
D 4 4 4
E 5 5 5
F 6 6 6
G 7 10 7
H 8 11 8
I 9 12 9
J 10 13 A
K 11 14 B
L 12 15 10
M 13 16 11
N 14 20 12
O 15 21 13
P 16 22 14
Q 17 23 15
R 18 24 16
S 19 25 17
T 20 26 18
U 21 30 19
V 22 31 1A
W 23 32 1B
X 24 33 20
Y 25 34 21
Z 26 35 22

In contexts where we are writing numbers with different bases, we use subscripts to indicate the bases, e.g. 66610 = 16417 = 47612.

Now we are ready for a musical application. Let’s suppose we would like to use Sacred Music Theory to express ‘Zeus’ as a musical gesture.

‘Zeus’ = 26+5+21+19 = 7110 = 1317

I chose base 7 because there are seven notes in the diatonic scale (we’re counting from 0):

Numbered C major Scale

so the musical gesture for “Zeus” would be:

Musi-Numerological Gesture for "Zeus"

And on the principle of ‘octave equivalence‘ we also have

Zeus Musical Gesture 2

and so on.

See a piece called ‘Zeus’ (for glass armonica, violin, cello, finger cymbals and clave) that uses the Zeus musical-gesture.

Posted in Musical Gematria & Numerology, Sacred Number Theory | 10,628 Comments

“Permanence”

I open a journal I wrote ten years ago.
I recognize the handwriting, but who the hell wrote this drivel?
I write in my journal today…
Will the so-called ‘me’ who may read this a decade from now
Have the same reaction?
Will he recognize the “today-me” AT ALL?

I wonder if God has a journal:
“What did I write just a few thousand years ago? Let’s see…”
She opens it to Leviticus:
“I recognize My handwriting, but who the hell wrote this drivel?”

I know the Scripture about “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever”
But is that true in any sense I am capable of comprehending?

In some manner I can’t fathom, the “me” that began as one fertilized egg,
A single Pristine Cell, fully pregnant with all the possibilities of Life
Will be the same “me” that draws his last breath as a decrepit old man,
With a bad knee, bad gas, gray hair and dementia,
Incapable of controlling his bowels.
Or remembering his own name.
What do my Pristine Fertilized First Cell, and my Dying Old Man have in common?

What is this mirage called ‘permanence’?
Like a man in the desert dying of thirst,
I keep crawling towards that shimmering vision of “unchanging water”
And it keeps turning into dry sand in my mouth.

A couple centuries from now I’ll be gone.
Everyone I know will be gone.
Everyone and Everything alive with me right now
—every tree, every blade of grass, every animal and insect,
The birds I hear singing, this cat purring on my lap,
Me listening to the birds while I feel my cat’s soft fur under my fingers
—ALL of us will be gone.

Like waves on the ocean
One wave of Life washes up on the beach in the moonlight
And recedes back into the unfathomable fathoms,
Making room for the next wave that arises from the Deep.

Forever.

Posted in Metaphysics | 10,996 Comments

Musings about a “Poetic Theology”

“God is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere.”
—Hermes Trismegistus, “thrice-great Hermes”, Book of the 24 Philosophers.

“The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the center of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination loses itself in that thought.”
—Pascal

In a dream/semi-asleep state I hear this lecture/have this inner dialog:

We tend to view the world as if thought is in our own minds and not out in the kosmos. But what if it is the other way around? The ‘ground’ locus of thought is actually the kosmos, or better—God, and WE are relatively inanimate? The Newtonian view (not necessarily Newton’s!) is that WE have freedom in our thought, and the world is completely mechanical.

Gurdjieff teaches that we are ‘mechanical’, and that one of the goals of his exercises and teachings is to regain our freedom.

We think we have choice, but do we? When I look at all the ‘choices’ I have made in the course of my life, if I tally up my genetic inheritance and the sum total of all my life experiences up to that point, in hindsight my choices are in fact rather inevitable. In the practical world of computers there are some calculations that take a while to compute—just because it may take months for the computer to compute the solution (and there are problems that take that long) doesn’t mean that each calculation isn’t completely determined. When we ‘deliberate’ over a Life choice, perhaps it is a similar process—it is simply taking a while for our inner ‘computer’ to compute how our unique combination of Nature and Nurture expresses itself in some new context.

A principle of the science of salesmanship is that people make decisions on an ‘emotional’ basis, and then come up with ‘reasons’ after the fact to justify their choice. It may be true that on commodities like gas that we simply choose the lowest price, or some other objective feature. But for the major and important decisions: those are based on emotion or some other primal and subconscious action. Closely watch your inner self, or reflect on a major choice after the fact, and see if this isn’t so.

In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I wake up in the morning, and I’m thinking about getting up, and as I’m deliberating that choice in my conscious mind when some deep impulse seizes me and I get up even as my conscious mind is still debating the question!

Maybe I’m not so self-sufficient and ”sovereign’ over my own life after all. Maybe I’m just an expression of Something much larger than myself.

One of the teachings of Rohr et al is that a more advanced stage of spiritual growth is the ability to hold paradoxes. What if we extend that ad infinitum—what if God is actually in love with paradox? I mean really in love with paradox? Maybe S/he wants to enjoy paradox Herself. To experience both His native infiniteness—and profound finiteness? To experience both eternal existence—and death? To know All—and simultaneously the time-consuming and sometimes painful experience of learning? To be all-powerful—and experience the utter helplessness of being a new-born baby? To experience the kosmos in its totality—and from a fragile infinitely small perspective? To experience Heaven—and hell?

Isn’t that what the story of Jesus’ incarnation tells us? The pre-existing Logos becomes a baby born into poverty in the middle of nowhere? What if we are all incarnations of the pre-existing Logos? It’s just that Jesus was completely clear about His ‘true identity’ in His whole being, and we’re not. The Logos saw that we weren’t ‘getting it’ so She came to show us—to show the other incarnations of Herself—how it is, and how it’s done! As best as could be explained to our (still) primitive minds.

What if God wants to ‘experience’ not only Her “I am the same yesterday, today, and forever”-ness, but also the ‘heroic quest?’ As each of us He descends/is incarnated into Hades (our individual lives) with all its struggles. Will we find our way back to the Light? (In this way She can also experience Failure.)

And what if God wants to ‘experience’ humanity’s heroic quest’—as a species? Humanity began in the depths of Hades—the Hades of ignorance, bigotry, cruelty, avarice, etc. Will we as a species find our way back to the Light?

(So He as each one of us experiences Individuality. As a member of our species She experiences community and Many-ness.)

This can all also be extended to all living things. She incarnates Himself as every living thing to experience being a bird, and a bug, and a flower—the whole range of degrees of consciousness.

Hmm, wild musings. Not entirely coherent. And certainly not new. But it seems to me that left-brain syllogistic ‘systematic theologies’ just don’t work—what might a right-brain metaphorical (mythical?) theology look like instead? A ‘poetic theology’ instead of a ‘systematic’ one?

Posted in Metaphysics | 6,186 Comments

“The Lip of Insanity”

I have lived on the lip of insanity,
Wanting to know reasons,
Knocking on a door.
It opens.
I’ve been knocking from the inside.

–Rumi

Posted in Metaphysics | 7,915 Comments