Last year, during a Human Origami movement workshop, the son of one of the participants added vocals to the soundscape. This was a spontaneous offering on his part and I was delighted. I tend to favor the bright and shiny high end of the spectrum with bells, chimes, vibes, etc. Matthew’s voice is deep, gravily and provided a beautiful balance to the scape. His voice became an integral part of the larger Nested Soundscape.
On a recent trip to NYC, Trudie and I went to the Rubin Museum in Chelsea to listen to their exhibit The World is Sound. It was an interesting and moving exhibition pointing to sound as the alpha and omega of existence! Yes, WoW! The Rubin is a museum devoted to artifacts and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, so the installations included The Collective Om, which was a long loop of voices sounding Om. (Later we were delighted to find out that our hosts, Winnie and Phil Richmond, old friends of Trudie’s, had been among the Oming voices.) Le Corps Sonore presented ambient waves of sound that enveloped the spiral staircase at the Rubin. Here is a short sample going down the staircase:
I particularly loved the soundlings that are part of this section of the exhibit:
The human voice and spoken language played a large part in many of the sound offerings, so I listened intently to each one. One piece distorted the sound of spoken words, rendering them meaningless, but not before imprinting a verbal message that remained in my brain as the words failed. I am particularly interested in exploring the second question in my own sound work.
But the most amazing sound I heard that day was in a room on the fourth floor that held a reconstructed altar from a Tibetan monastery. A recording of chanting Tibetan monks plays in the room. As soon as I entered the room, I heard Matthew’s voice. The same gutteral resonance and shades of overtones that Matthew brought to the soundscape were permeating the room. I made a short recording, and have coupled it with an excerpt from Matthew’s accompaniment to illustrate:
It is amazing how we do not know who lives and loves among us!
Although our post Moogfest event was altered due to lack of electricity, iBoD did regale our audience with an acoustic improv for about a half hour. Eleanor and I played the tank bells, while Jim played his horn and Susanne played Native American flute.
Towards the end, it was suggested that Eleanor and I get two of the smaller tank top bells going like singing bowls, while Jim and Susanne improvised over them. The harmonics were so dense that we had a lot of fluttering beats moving in and out, which I loved. You will hear traffic creating Doppler effects, chattering people and birds, and the beating of some very big wings!
Here is that improv which I named Cosmic Iron Butterfly:
Nature’s Chord is an organizational framework for all frequencies, AND any periodic reoccurrence can be converted to frequencies and studied as this patterned relationship. In his book The Cosmic Octave, Hans Cousto, the maverick mathematician and scientist, demonstrates the formula for converting any periodic function to an audible frequency. He explains that “The period of oscillation and its frequency stand in a relation of inverse proportionality, thus period = 1/frequency and frequency = 1/period. The reciprocal value of a period of time represents its frequency…” You find the reciprocal value of a given period by dividing the number into one. This value is then multiplied by 2 until the number reaches the audible frequency range. Then you can find the tonal correspondence to the periodic function that you just converted.
For example, the speed of light is 186,000 miles per 1 second. “Miles per second” is a dead giveaway that this measurement is a periodic function. (Actually almost any measurement would qualify.) 1/186000 = 0.000005376344086 x 2 to the 25th power = 180.4 hz which is F#/185 hz (-3.6 discrepancy). So the tone for the speed of light is F#. Cousto converts time periods (days, years, etc), planetary orbits, distances between the stars into frequencies. The mathematics point to a potential resonant frequency for any periodic function.
In a recent blog post on The Law of the Octave, I pointed out that our Universe is held together and moved along by vibrations. Even a cursory reading of contemporary quantum physics supports this idea. Nature’s Chord allows access to and influence upon the vibrational Universe. As a painter of sound, a lover of diversity, and a harmonic healer, this is one exciting discovery. This is a way to sonify and present information, bring the resonant frequencies of relationships into harmony, and generally engage with the overall vibration of any situation.
So, I am looking around for periodic data to sonify using the Law of the Octave and Nature’s Chord/Scale. In 11th Harmonic, I used the reveletory research that Dr. Anthony Holland presented in his TED talk on the use of the 11th harmonic in “disrupting ” the cellular structure of tumors. Of course, the frequencies he is dealing with are super high electrical frequencies. When we apply the Law of The Octave, the electrical frequencies can be converted into audible frequencies. Then through the template of Nature’s Chord, we discover that the 11th harmonic is the fifth above the Fundamental Frequency in the fourth harmonic octave. So the 11th Harmonic soundscape begins with those long spacious intervals. I chose four whole tone tetrachords and then paired them with the fifth in the fourth octave. Within the first four octaves of Nature’s Chord lies two more fifths and the third and flatted seventh. When you start swinging these intervals around, more tetrachordal relationships emerge. It is a firework of harmonics when moving quickly, then a luxurious web of sound swaying in the breeze at slower paces. Here is a little excerpt of 11th Harmonic as played on April 4th to reset the time fractal and disrupt the stuck energy behind war and violence.
And, sure enough, Trump bombed Syria. (And the butterfly flaps its wings.) The 11th Harmonic disrupts and moves the energy without any particular outcome except dislodging and moving the energy. (Which is why Dr. Holland does not say the 11th harmonic “cures” cancer. It disrupts the integrity of the cancer cells.) And, at the same time, Nature’s Chord and the Acoustic Scale express beautiful, harmonious sonic relationships, within which the change is happening. That is the vibe! As these magical relationships are expressed with open-hearted loving intentions, entrainment happens and the vibration rises up. And, it happens in mysterious ways. Entrainment is alot like God, like Love.
While I was writing this post, Trudie asked, “Did you know that the Hindu creation myth says that the world was created through sound?” No, I did not! Research revealed several Hindu creation myths – hooray for multiple potential beginnings without needing one to be right! Here is one of the creation stories from Hindu mythology.
Before this time began, there was no heaven, no earth and no space between. A vast dark ocean washed upon the shores of nothingness and licked the edges of the night. A giant cobra floated on the waters. Asleep within its endless coils lay the Lord Vishnu. He was watched over by the mighty serpent.
Everything was so peaceful and silent that Vishnu slept undisturbed by dreams or motion. From the depths a humming sound began to tremble, Aum. It grew and spread, filling the emptiness and throbbing with energy.
Aum, or Om
The night had ended, Vishnu awoke.
History is, in part, the periodic oscillation of humanity falling asleep into the larger, darker dream and then awakening into the light of self-awareness. We are riding the wave of an awakening time right now. Pay attention to what and to whom you give your attention. Our moment -to -moment awareness is our most valuable currency. Do not squander it on guilt and sacrifice. Do not squander it on exploiting and manipulating others. DO, yes, DO give your attention to all that is in your present moment. Give it to the joy, beauty, harmony, pain, suffering and dissonance that is within each moment of our existence. Breathe. Wait for instructions. Remember vibration. Dance and sing, move and vocalize however you are able. (In the head works, too)
The Law of the Octave is the first step in understanding how the frequencies of the Universe are vibrationally organized. The fact that any frequency, doubled or halved, is a re-expression of the original frequency suggests the beginning of some kind of fractal movement. We have a place to return to and begin again; a place that comes around again later. The next step in understanding how frequencies are organized involves adding the fundamental frequency to itself over and over again. This creates a beautiful and repetitive frequency pattern that expands The Law of the Octave into what is often referred to as Nature’s Chord.
Nature’s Chord is the same as the Harmonic Overtone series, which I have written about before. To get a really good idea how alchemical these tones are, you have to know their history. A long ago deep listener named Pythagoras was walking through town and heard the clanging hammers of metalsmiths. Then he really listened to the clanging and realized he was hearing high pitches when the small hammers were used and lower pitches when the large hammers were used. Then he tightened a string and noticed that dividing the string in particular ratio relationships created these beautiful harmonics.
With the string tightened to a particular tone when plucked – lets say an A (at 220 Hz), Pythagoras discovered that vibrating half the string gave an octave higher version of the same tone A (now at 440 Hz). When 2/3 of the string was vibrated the tone will be E, which is the fifth interval from A and vibrates at 660 Hz – 220+220+220. When the next 220 gets added, we are back at the octave. Simply amazing!
And on it goes, each iteration of the initial frequency, reveals another harmonic. After the A octave at 800 Hz comes the C# at 1100 Hz – this is a third above the fundamental tone. The Harmonic Overtone series has risen three octaves so far, and in that span has revealed the root chord structure for any music – the fundamental frequency, the third and the fifth. So, in our example, the A Major chord has been revealed through the harmonics inherent in the note we call A: A C# E.
Another overtone that comes out in the third octave is the flatted seventh. So, along with the root chord, we also get a nod to the seventh and its place in the most beautiful chord structures. The fourth octave reveals most of the remaining diatonic tones from the second, to the raised fourth, to the natural seventh. All of the tones we know in our most familiar musics are laid out in the first four octaves of the Harmonic Overtone series. The number of overtones per octave doubles with each successive octave, so the next octave after the fourth octave would have 16 overtones and the next 32. At these levels the harmonics are so varied, close together, and difficult to hear that discrete pitches disappear into a percussive wash of sound.
The amazing relevance of this chord to everythingyou hear is difficult to comprehend on first pass. The Law of the Octave and Nature’s Chord are undeniably present and absolutely inscrutable – wherever there is atmosphere, Nature’s Chord exists in potential. It is a preset pattern that awaits a disturbance to set it in motion. The disturbance moves the atmosphere and Nature’s Chord presents this disturbance to our ears in a beautiful harmonic package. The harmonic framework springs forth from the primary tones of all the sounds you hear. Each sound is characterized by the amount of and the “mix” of harmonics. Nature’s Chord is easily heard in strings, pipes, the voice – anything that can support a standing wave vibration and thus maintain a pitch. The mix gets less melodic when the waves are less harmonic and more dense. It is Nature’s Chord that renders what is known as timbre. Timbre is the “color” of sound and as easily recognized as red, blue, green, a knock on the door, your lover’s voice.
Recently, I was studying voices on a sonogram and saw the overtone series in each person’s speaking voice. Most everyone has a fundamental tone around which their vocal inflection patterns dance. Here is a photo of a voice in the key of F:
The bottom line is F, the next line up is the re-expressed octave F, the next line is C the fifth overtone for F, the next the octave again and so on. Look in the upper right corner and you can see the “pitch bin” for where the cursor is pointing: F F C – Nature’s Chord made flesh!
All of this information has me wanting to explore the power of Nature’s Chord. Several contemporary classical music composers have used this chord as a theme for compositions. Terry Riley’s In C is composed of the prominent notes from the harmonic overtone series of the tone C. John Adam’s Sila the Breath of the World is built on the overtone series of Bb. Moondog, a NYC street composer, was fascinated with the overtone series and used it in his piece called Creation. Here is what he had to say about the overtone series in an interview:
How could you send a message that would never be destructible? Only in sound waves. Waves are indestructible. Wherever there’s a planet that has atmosphere, these overtones could be heard. Scientists are looking in telescopes and microscopes and they don’t realize that this is here, right here. The secret is all around us and nobody recognizes it.
I am exploring tones and harmonics and octaves and fractals, oh my! Last year, I developed a piece for the Human Origami workshops based on the disruptive power of the 11th harmonic. I am expanding that piece and putting it into the iBoD repertoire. Invoking the Law of the Octave, the disruptive 11th Harmonic stirs the energy wherever a tone and its fifth are played. And the further apart they are, the closer you can get to that four octave span that produces the 11th harmonic, the more powerful the vibe!
So here is an early version of 11th Harmonic – the first in a series of works inspired by Nature’s Chord!
To form an octave is to double or halve a given frequency.The Cosmic Octave Cousto
When asked what one piece of information represented the most important knowledge humans possess, Richard Feynman, the remarkable mathemetician/physicist, replied:
Everything is made of atoms.
Indeed! What an amazing discovery! While the atomic structure and molecular composition vary from one object to the next, from one human to the next, from one star to the next, still – Everything is made of atoms!
But wait! There is more! Atoms are comprised of electrons that orbit a nucleus. And atoms are primarily “empty” space. Yet this moving, spacious world of Everything appears to human beings as material form. Even our earth suits have an animate integrity. What holds all of this together? Within these “building blocks” lies a deeper cohesion, a durational measurement, a simple, but pervasive infrastructure for all of Creation – the oscillation.
An initiating gesture, rising to a peak, falling past the midline to trough, and rising back to the midline beginning – motion across/around a central axis – a cycle, one complete oscillation. (The actual measurement is from peak to peak = one cycle) Put a bunch of oscillations together in a periodic sequence, and you have frequency. Frequencies, along with resonance, consonance, dissonance, hold the world together AND move us through our experiences. While our reality appears solid and stable, it is actually in constant flux driven by frequency oscillations. Oscillations are the pervasive movement pattern that weaves together what we call “reality”. From the quantum, to the electromagnetic, to the world of form, all of existence is waving at and through us. If this is true, then frequency is a portal into and through all of existence. And this portal is accessible and useful due to the Law of the Octave.
A vibrational frequency is known through a measurement called hertz. Hertz expresses the number of oscillations per second. One oscillation per second is 1 Hz, twenty-five oscillations per second is 25 Hz, and so on. Vibrational frequencies reveal the world to us through our senses. Everything we hear, vibrates at 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz, which is the audible spectrum. Everything we see is vibrating between 400 Trillion Hz and 750 Trillion Hz, which is the visible spectrum of the electro-magnetic field. The entire electro-magnetic field is a vibrational gift basket of frequency bandwidths that give us telegraph, radio, television, mobile phones, internet, and the electricity to power it all. And then when we go deep into the building blocks of matter, what do we get? – more oscillations.
According to the Law of the Octave – every frequency is entangled with its half and its double. Any known frequency can be calibrated as an audible frequency or visual frequency or x-ray frequency, simply by dividing higher frequencies by 2 and multiplying lower frequencies by 2. In the book The Cosmic Octave, Hans Cousto argues that the octave is a unit of measurement that can be useful in understanding and working with our very existence. Using a simple mathematical formula, Cousto converts all manner of measureable phenomenon to audible tones. (More on that in a future post.)
The audible frequency range demonstrates clearly how The Law of Octave works. A frequency of 440 Hz is the infamous Concert A- multiply 440 x 2 and 880 is also an A tone. The frequency is higher, denser, more oscillations per second, but it is the same expression as the 440 – it also is an A. Divide 440 by 2 and you have 220 Hz – also an expression of an A note. This suggests a repetitive pattern that is renewed each time it doubles or halves. This is a moment of return, an opportunity to begin again. I am wondering about The Law of the Octave as a jumping off point in the design of all kinds of fractals (mostly sound fractals).
And this is just the beginning, as there are other factors informing my fractal understanding, including Nature’s Chord, the Golden Mean, and Fibonacci numbers.
For now, The Law of the Octave and its relationship to the movements of the Universe are enough to ponder.
A dear friend and former academic colleague, Dr. Rin Porter, writes a blog about retirement. This is a recent post, and one of my favorites. She compares and contrasts the sounds of rural and urban living along with the mind stories these sounds evoke. An interesting and insightful exercise!
IBoD was on hiatus in October, while Jim and Eleanor explored the USA from NC to CO, and I wanted to get a new piece going for us to play. So I looked through my project files and found Bandit, one of my early tunes (finished, with shape and of a shorter length (5 to 10 minutes.) Bandit has a playful and an ominous energy, which provides the structure for the piece. The ominous energy moves in, and the playful energy bursts through each time. The Theme in G is the more upbeat and whimsical sense while Theme in A feels anxious. Here is the original Bandit:
Just listening to that again illustrates how much richness the cohorts could bring to this tune. IBoD playing with this piece would expand it into a soundscape (evolving, less formal structure, looong- can run from 20 minutes to an hour or more.) Two themes emerged from Bandit along with variations on each of them. Then there are several longer looping sections for soloing statements. This soundscape is like Undulatus, busier and beat-driven, so it is more challenging to play along with. How can IBoD improve our listening and responsive playing with this piece? I have some ideas, and I will pose this question to my cohorts.
I don’t want us to be a “tight” band. (Even the word makes me uncomfortable) I want us to listen, accompany and support each other and the soundscape. I want our focus to be the integrity of the harmonics we are stirring up in relation to the soundscape. My approach in the past has been to throw the scape at them and regale them to PLAY! For this piece I am planning something more methodical. First, we can focus on the two themes and how they vary. We can spend some time just playing the themes however we are able. We will focus on coming up with longer solo statements. Then focus on trading short statements and call and response. And we will practice listening and rhythm exercises.
The answer to the question of how we can improve our listening and responsive playing is to engage each other and the soundscape in a deep, sonic intimacy.
You will hear the results at a future soncert!
While we won’t be playing Bandit here, iBoD will offer up shimmering harmonics and sonic mysteries this Tuesday, December 6 at The Carrack Modern Art on Main Street in Durham. We are fortunate to be playing for the first night of Tom Whiteside’s exhibit WHATWASFILM, which will be showing at the gallery for the next few weeks. We will start playing between 6:30 and 7 pm till 8. Do come.