Maps to Worlds of Music and Sound
Sound Possibilities exist all around us just waiting to be realized. One way to generate new directions is to collect, compare and contrast a variety of maps. Even ancient maps can reveal surprising insights. For example, the images currently embedded in the header at the top of these Blog Pages and Posts are each in their own way a kind of map. In some cases the map illustrates certain properties in music or sound. In other cases it is the reverse and music and sound are generating some kind of information about the physical, mental or spiritual properties of the world.
The Divine Monochord of Robert Fludd, (16th C.), pictured in the Sound Possibilities Logo above suggests that the science of sound and the art of music provide a conduit for energy and information to pass back and forth between the physical and spiritual realms of existence through the medium of vibration and harmonic resonance. Expressing the relationship of Microcosm/Macrocosm, “as above, so below”, is one of the most ancient uses of music and sound. It has been practiced by shamans in tribal societies, found in the sacred chants of both eastern and western religious practices, and continues to be explored by all kinds of music practitioners today. Links to more information on the other four ‘maps’ in the header are listed below.
Cymatics sound-forms of Hans Jenny
Sri Yantra figure of interpenetrating triangles
64 hexagrams of the I-Ching
By considering it from a variety of perspectives, music becomes a many-faceted, multi-purpose tool, the Swiss Army Knife of art forms. We may be looking at architecture as frozen music, (or at music as architecture unfolding through time). Mathematical and proportional properties of music and harmony can be illustrated by exploring the principles of sacred geometry in the neoplatonic elaborations of the teachings of Pythagoras, in the Harmony of the Worlds by the astronomer Johannes Kepler, or by learning about the physics of the harmonic series of overtones and the variations of scales and modes of tuning employed around the world at different times in history.
Music and the Brain/Mind
In recent studies on the brain/mind relationship we are beginning to conceive of the mind as the ‘social organ’ through which we share an ever shifting flow of information and energy with others and how the mind may be using the brain to create itself. Not only does this present sound possibilities for the practicing musician (improving our skills and technique through the mindfulness developed in insight meditation for example) but opens up new models for performance and audience interaction as well – both for a concert setting or as applied in music therapy.
Some physical functions of the brain, memory and learning for example, have now been found to occur throughout the body, not just within the space between our ears. We also have the capacity to acquire new neurons in our prefrontal cortex throughout life, not just when we are young as once believed. These neurons begin their life as specially modified cells created in bone marrow and migrate through the endocrine system to the brain! Electrical energy, electromagnetism, light and sound waves all have measurable effects on our brains and nervous systems, stimulating or relaxing the sympathetic and para-sympathetic pathways that involve the brain as well as muscles and nerves throughout the body. These connections can then in turn regulate the flow of a variety of enzymes, hormones and chemicals produced naturally in the brain.
These and other recent developments are beginning to reveal some of the gateways that music and sound have utilized for centuries to access various levels of our innermost being. Until now however that knowledge was largely intuitive and not generally available. As mapping of the brain/mind develops, we may begin to see significant changes introduced into music schools and music therapy departments around the world as everyone realizes the sound possibilities this kind of knowledge offers.
Music and Sound as Metaphors
Another way in which music informs us has to do with its unique ability to model certain ideas and concepts and present them to us directly. This programmatic capability has of course been used by composers for centuries. Bach’s fugues and concertos are pure expressions of mathematical proportions, while Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite paints musical scenes of natural landscapes and Stravinsky’s Firebird or Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scherezade are orchestral re-tellings of legends and folktales. But even without the involvement of the composer’s imagination, the fundamental relativity inherent in the elements of music reflects the underlying natural laws of the physics of sound. The theoretical underpinnings of music arise from the very same templates used in physics, astronomy and cosmology, mathematics and chemistry. In some cultures it is not at all unusual to see the elements of music assigned the same roles and relationships attributed to members of a family. So music, like these other systems, is a multi-leveled language well suited for expressing all kinds of things occurring in the natural (and so-called supernatural ) world.
Multi-dimensionality of Notes and Intervals
For example, a note of music has a few inherent properties of its own, it’s frequency, a few harmonics lending it a certain ‘color’ perhaps related to the physical properties of the instrument on which it is sounded. But the same note without being changed in any way will acquire a whole range of different qualities when we place it within the context of a musical interval, a chord, or as one of a series of notes in a melody. The function of the note changes depending on the harmonic context we find it in, its position in a scale, it may be a third now, and a fifth later, it may be the root in one case, and a leading tone in another, and so forth.
Music of Life
Everywhere in music we find principles at work like this, universals, with obvious parallels to life. We seek harmony in our relationships, we feel beat, certain skills are instrumental to achieving success, we take a classical approach to some things, in other cases we improvise, in the other direction we just as often identify things in music, as in life as being cool, hot, rad, punk, rockin’ and so on. The old joke about what Beethoven did after he died and was buried; he started de-composing. Puns are funny because a word is suddenly encountered in a different context altering it’s meaning. Sound Possibilities then are the potentialities that exist all around us in everything, even within ourselves, but may never be recognized until we suddenly recognize them in a different context.
“One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” – Paul Simon
For a more ‘right-brain’ approach to what Sound Possibilities is all about you might enjoy reading “The Divine Musical Comedy, A Musical Theory of Nearly Everything”—>