MUSIC & CULTURES JOURNAL ENTRY SEPT 14 2017
Touching on Vibrations and (Really) Early Music
Through our discussions this week, we are exploring the Big Picture, and starting with the origins and roots of many philosophies, and how they have come to influence the creation and evolution of sound, and hence, music.
What is music? Music is not just a sound, it is a collection of vibrations, and once we explore this, we will be begin to understand that vibrations occur at many different levels in the Kosmos, at some levels or frequencies that we cannot even hear, whether very low or very high, and that some frequencies or pitches which can be heard, are either pleasant or unpleasant to the human ear.
It is interesting to consider that a vibration could have initially caused the Big Bang, that 'music' could be the reason we are all here.
An experiment using microscopic molecules identified that when placed on a smooth surface (glass or metal, with no friction) the particles would gravitate together and collect, when the plate was vibrated. It seemed the molecules would want to 'connect' on some level, almost to share the sound together. In this act of connecting, the molecules of time have shifted and grown and developed and split in to many organisms.
In Science, this has been deeply explored and analyzed, determining that vibration causes energy to accumulate and thus causes movement, sound, and even light. "A light wave itself is not "light vibrating," the light itself is vibrations in the electric and magnetic field."
What is a pleasant sound? This is not easily defined, as we all have our unique tastes and preferences. However, just as there are varieties of frequencies, there are also different influences that can determine our level of enjoyment or appreciation for different types of music. These influences can be found within DNA, or within a specific culture, or region.
We all seem to gravitate towards what we know, or what we have been brought up with, raised to believe in.
Regional cultures mixed slowly, through natural curiosity about what is on the other side of the mountain, or across that body of water, then, the need for exploration to find food, and then for trade. When cultures met one another, they interwove and became connected by creating the next generation of humans, and music was one of the things that was passed along, therefore intermingling various sounds, instruments, and styles.
How fortunate we are, that music could cross borders and be accepted, listened to, performed, and appreciated within different cultures! There is a prevalent mix of musical styles and sounds from the Eastern world, combining with the African continent and that of the Mediterranean areas of the European Continent, with similar strains of sound that cross one another, in particular between Greek, Turkish, and Indian music.
It is important to recognize that through the passage of time, music was developed in very simple forms, for the most part unplanned, and with very simple means. The earliest instruments were uncomplicated, but early on, drew from the vibrational qualities of sound, thereby using strings that could vibrate and chambers that the sound could resonate in or through. A simple flute, for instance, could make beautiful and soul striking sounds, which made us feel sad, introspective, happy, or full of a divine being, as the case may have been.
The earliest flute (Paleolithic period) is said to have been dated to approximately 43,000 to 35,000 years ago, found in the Hohle Fels cave in Germany near the Polish border. It is made apparently of bone, with five finger holes. It is suggested that even then, the sounds of this flute could have served to bond the different groups of humans that would have lived in this time, and would have encountered one another searching for food. Nature not only provided us with the earliest inspiration to make sounds, but also provided the materials with which we could make the instruments... each discovery made a new sound, a new combination of sounds. It stands to reason that in addition to making tools that contributed to their own survival, that they would eventually strive to make something that could provide them with a pleasing sound, perhaps on purpose, perhaps quite by accident.
In exploring vibrations and how a sound can unite us, we listened to various examples of instruments and compositions in the class, ranging from atonal compositions that were derived by computers that could analyze and break down Fractals, to Indian and Middle Eastern sounds created on the Sitar and primitive flute, to the Classical sounds of Purcell's Dido and Aneas.
The Fractal illustrations and the theory of their inherent splitting and reproduction that we were introduced to was interesting - a similar form or shape that is repeated and then scaled over each iteration begins to create a larger version of itself. Inevitably, the pattern results in a few very distinctive motifs, among them, the 'beetle' motif, which appears regularly in the patterns.
Nature is the central, grounding element for mankind ~ it inspires us to create, to live and breathe in harmony with her, to build, and to grow. The elements themselves combine and forge our desires, and for aeons nature has been the source of inspiration for divine compositions in word, sound, and dance. Our ancestors danced to invoke the rains, the harvest, to worship the moon and the stars, and to attract each other. The music that followed, spoke to all of these things; to desire, to ethereal connections, supporting prayer & meditation and even bringing us to altered states of consciousness, a universal language.
"Dido's Lament", which is said to be one of the primary compositions that can evoke profound sadness in us. When I heard this music in class, I was moved; first to goosebumps and then to tears. In another exercise, our class also found the common, underlying drone in a piece, and we all hummed this note together. I found this to be an extremely moving phenomenon ~ it's no wonder we could all easily find the proper note and hum it together ~ we are here because we enjoy making music, together.