Welcome! This is a forum for ongoing discussions about music and sound, how they have been regarded and used over the ages and around the world. We will explore ancient traditions along with historical and contemporary insights, seeking an integral understanding of the many different roles music and sound play in our lives. We encourage everyone, with or without musical experience to bring your ideas to the table. Teachers, artists, computer programmers, doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs, physicists, astrologers, atheists and priests, there may be something of interest here for all of you.
Sound Possibilities encourages and promotes the role music and sound can play in the reintegration of science and religion, cross-cultural relations, re-energizing education, music therapy, the soundscape and architectonics of urban development and architecture, and the overall well-being of our world.
These Introduction pages are provided to stimulate and encourage new ways to think about music in the world as well as to give you the information necessary to get the most out of the wide variety of material you will find here, and how it all relates to the musical experience. If you are a new visitor, you might also find the Welcome Page useful. For a somewhat more light-hearted and right-brain introduction, I also recommend this post: The Divine Musical Comedy, a Musical Theory for Nearly Everything.
Music is a powerful tool. My father was a woodworker and I learned from him that we should always use the proper tool appropriate to the task at hand, and furthermore know how to use it properly. It is not at all unusual when beginning a new project to encounter the need for a new tool, so trips to the hardware store were frequent. Sound Possibilities is the hardware store of ideas involving the use of sound and music as tools for building a better world. Hopefully you will find new tools here you can use, and will also share with us discoveries from the workshop of your own musical experience.
There is great mystery and profound beauty in music. It is a vast subject and has been explored, explained and experienced in so many ways through the ages. There are theories concerning the structure of music, ideas about performance, styles and genres of music, the physics of sound, the sciences of psycho-acoustics and neuropsychology exploring how music affects the brain revealing a new understanding of the mind, all this and so much more. Some of the most ancient ideas on music and sound continue to exert a powerful influence on our culture even after undergoing countless revisions in light of new discoveries.
Sound Possibilities approaches music and sound from the multiple perspectives of art, science, history, spirituality, music in nature and it’s relation to language, healing, education and entertainment. It is a physical phenomenon involving harmonic overtones, frequencies and sound waves moving through various materials, and it is also a cultural device used for the preservation and transmission of collective ideals and values. It is a bridge between physical reality and the empyrean realms of the spirit. It can heal our bodies, our hearts and minds. It can organize societies and just as easily provoke revolutions. It is being used to treat autism and a host of mental and physical maladies, to enhance intelligence and cognitive skills, and as a speculative blueprint for the architecture of time and space. But it can also be used, openly or subliminally, to influence and manipulate behaviors in ways we may not even recognize. In the marketplace, in the broadcast media, and in its broad commercial appeal it is used every day to promote everything from breakfast cereal to sexual attitudes, from brands of beer to political candidates. We have no earlids to shut out what we choose. But we can cultivate the way we listen.
We don’t know how it does all these things, but we have volumes of documentation dating back to ancient Vedic manuscripts and Chinese treatises involving the I-Ching which offer very sophisticated explanations. We have Pythagorean and Neoplatonist interpretations of harmonic correspondences relating number symbolism and tone to the cells of plants and organs in the human body. We know from experience that even unintentionally, music can impart powerful influences on us. Imagine what we might be able to accomplish if we understood any of these theories well enough to apply music in a truly conscious and intentional way!
Songs and Folk Music as Seeds or Memes
Being a guitarist and songwriter for over 40 years, I have sought to use the medium of sound and music for capturing large ideas and crafting them down into convenient easy-to-carry packages. Music is especially well-suited for this somehow. It seems to have the capacity to transmit something as complex and magnificent as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, but is just as capable at conveying a mother’s love to her baby through a simple lullaby. I consider songs to be almost magical vessels or seed-crystals, a kind of bardic technology used for the propagation and cross-fertilization of ideas (memes). The study of folk music has revealed it to also be a very effective vehicle for transmitting values across the generations, accompanying the migrations of entire civilizations, adapting and absorbing new influences but somehow still managing to preserve something of the old.
“Words make us think thoughts, music makes us feel feelings, songs make us feel thoughts.” – Yip Harburg (songwriter, “Hey Buddy Can You Spare a Dime” and “Over the Rainbow”.)
Emerging Techniques of Bardic Technology
As much as I enjoy writing and singing songs in the folk-based tradition I grew up with, I came to discover that there are so many fascinating ‘alternative’ applications for music and sound, both in the past and others just emerging now. These are driven in part by advances in digital technology and research in neuroscience mapping brain activity. But another major source comes from a renewed appreciation for ancient traditions. New studies in archaeology, anthropology and mythology are revising our definitions of intelligence, creativity, and capacities for divergent and critical thinking skills. By removing the filters of our own cultural bias we are recognizing amazing capabilities in ancient societies who practiced their traditions in an entirely different cultural and social context.
Music and Literacy
In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, (Penguin, 1998) Lawrence Shlain shows how written language and the increasing importance placed on literacy facilitated a fundamental shift in ancient cultures from matriarchal oral traditions to patriarchal literary traditions and the subsequent political, academic and economic institutions this shift led us to. This dominance of western linear thinking is finally beginning to show signs of wearing thin as our societies become increasingly diverse while at the same time technology is rapidly making powerful forms of multi-media communications more accessible to greater numbers of people. While we may never return to a true oral culture, or even suggest that would be desirable, the values of literacy are beginning to share the stage with values learned, developed and shared through the new technologies of an ‘aural’ culture that began with broadcast radio and the recording studio in the early 20th century and now include television, motion-pictures, video, streaming digital audio and video on the internet, instant messaging, smart phones and social networking applications. As this trend continues, we can expect a multitude of sound possibilities to appear in education, communications and the arts.
Towards an Integral Understanding of Music and Sound
For several years I have been compiling information from many fields of study, from archaeology to astronomy, from psychology to physics, from history to mathematics, all relating in some way to music or sound. The main Sound Possibilities Website (temporarily under revision) was conceived as a way to organize and make accessible this ever-expanding and very diverse collection of ideas as a kind of interdisciplinary research library. Unlike a textbook where we proceed from beginning to end, a website can be explored and navigated according to one’s interests, discovering meaningful connections by following any number of different pathways or branches. So I came up with five Primary Topics which serve as broad categories for organizing the various articles. But visitors are encouraged to blaze their own trail using the embedded links (text, graphics, audio, video) which interconnect all the material in all kinds of ways. As the website grows with the continual addition of new content, these interconnections will multiply allowing new discoveries with every visit.
The five Primary Topics in the main Sound Possibilities Website (currently under revision) are:
Music in Nature – Cycles of time, seasons, biorhythms, bird-songs, whale-songs, electromagnetic fields of the Earth, planetary motions and the music of the spheres. Music History – Classical musical development, musical instruments of the world, musical forms, composers, music in mythology, Pythagorean and Neo-Platonist theories, ethnomusicology, etc… Music in Society – Folk music, jazz, popular music, recording, radio, media, digital revolution, electronic music, psycho-acoustics in architecture, the soundscape. Science of Sound – Physics of sound, the electromagnetic spectrum, frequency and wavelengths, color and music, mathematics and music, harmonic overtone series, etc. Healing Music – neuropsychology and music, mapping the brain, music therapy, accutonics, guided imagery, music and meditation.
Once the Main Sound Possibilities Website is done being remodeled, there will be links between this Forum and the Main Website. In the meantime, feel free to join in a conversation here on the Forum anytime and leave a comment or reply at the bottom of a Post. You can also check a box to indicate you want to know when someone comments or replies to your comment, and then you’ll receive an email notification to follow-up.
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