Friday, May 30, 2014

How we become what we listen to

I conducted an interesting test years ago. While working with students around North America and Europe I would ask them to lie on the floor in a quiet, darkened room and hum the tone of celestial unity. I was surprised when I noticed that in North America the tone was generally B natural, 60 cycles, while in Europe it was G sharp, 50 cycles. They were humming the sound made by electricity in their particular part of the world - the sound that a light bulb gives off etc. Somehow we carry a memory imprint of this sound with us. We're never oblivious to the environment around us, even if we're not paying attention.
That anecdote comes from a talk given by sound ecologist and composer R. Murray Schafer at Hirosaki University, Japan in 2005. Evidence of how we carry sound imprints meshes with my post Research proves audiences become what they listen to. This contingency continues into Jonathan Harvey's observation that "Energy is oscillation, largely. And when we say we are stirred by a piece of music, we’re excited, we are moved, and so on, we’re talking as if we are like a tuning fork which has been struck by some music, and it’s continued to vibrate for some time". Which leads on to the teachings of Sufi master and musician Hazrat Inayat Khan on the centrality of vibrations. Mysticism meets straight science in the header image which shows how mains hum (the early small sine wave) becomes submerged in the music (the later, larger envelope) on a recording. As reported in a 2006 post, one of the more extreme examples of audible mains hum can be heard on the track 5 of Naxos recording of Sir Malcolm Arnold's Dances. My header quote comes from Jesse G.L. Stewart's recently published R. Murray Schafer and the Plot to Save the Planet. This seems to have slipped under the review radar, possibly because it is self-published; all I can say is that those who follow my overgrown paths should read it or live in darkness - the book is available as a free download from the author's website.

Illustration of mains hum comes from analysis of a 1978 recording by folk musician Graham Foster. No review samples involved in this post. Any copyrighted material on is included as "fair use", for the purpose of critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.

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