The World is Sound @ The Rubin Museum

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!

Sleep Deprivation

Our granddaughter, Jahniya, recently told us she is having trouble sleeping. Her mind races and she feels tired, but can’t sleep, so she listens to music or podcasts. I told her that she probably shouldn’t listen to anything before sleep as that could be keeping her awake. We talked about breathing deeply, running energy, and meditating as ways to relax and fall to sleep.  After we spoke, I remembered the power of “yes, do” over “no, don’t”, and decided to create a soundscape for Jahniya to listen to before sleep.

I am familiar with some of the popular music that she likes, so I listened to a few songs and zeroed in on a Bb major scale as the tonal color for her dreamscape. Using the piano keyboard as a template, the Bb major scale uses all of the black keys and the B and F. The tonality of the song she likes is in the piece, but it is cropped and stretched and layered with no words except “Good Night, Jahniya. We love you” spoken by Gigi at the very end. I hummed softly over one short section near the end of the scape.

Several weeks later and the soundscape is recorded. I had to experiment with the voicings to get the blend and definition I wanted. Then once recorded, I shape the dynamics, movement and placement of melodic statements through automation in Ableton Live. Since Jahniya will listen to this through earbuds, I mixed primarily through headphones, although I did listen through the QSC for perspective. Trudie listened to it and gave me some feedback, which I used to make the final soundscape mix in Audacity.

I ended up cutting the sound file in two parts and moving the end to the beginning. There is a part of the scape that is more energized and excited, as our brains are when we are teens (and hopefully beyond). That part happened closer to the end. I wanted to meet the brain where it is at and then accompany it to calm and sleep. Moving that section to the beginning made more sense.

The soundscape comes with instructions:

Listen to this soundscape as you fall asleep or anytime you want to relax. Listen to the scape as if it were a painting rather than a song. Notice the harmonic layering of the voices. Feel how it envelopes you like an ocean of sound. Notice how the voices move in and out and around in what seems to be your head. Let the swells reverberate through you bringing calm and peace. Let the soundscape gentle you to sleep.

With love, Juju and Gigi

Follow-up:

Jahniya was able to improve her sleep and successfully finish her first year of high school. Plus she used her experience to create a school project about sleep deprivation among teenagers with suggested solutions!

She is the future!

Apres Moogfest Improvisation in the Soundgarden

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:

Moogfest and iBoD in the Soundgarden

Yes, it is that time of year again! Moogfest is here next week, and my schedule is already full of conflicts and overlap. There is a whole theme on spatialisation of sound, which I am extremely interested in. This year I am going to get to the Presbyterian Church for some performances, give Suzanne Ciani events more attention, and volunteer for the sleep concert. (I CAN still pull an allnighter!!) Also looking forward to hearing Ladyfingers set at Arcana on Friday night. Oh, yeah, and meeting Gerhard Behles and thanking him for Ableton Live.

iBod will play our annual post-Moogfest event at the Soundgarden at Central Park School on Sunday evening, May 21. We are excited to bring much new material, and some old favorites. And, once again, we will play Adrift in a Sea of Bells while Eleanor Mills brings all the harmonics out of the bells. Here are some excerpts from our last session as a “sneak preview”:


Bring your own chair, or use the wall or steps around the stage for seating. This is kaleidoscope music.  It moves through space-time and shifts form in unconventional ways. For the best listening experience, relax the ear and the mind, ground in the breath and feet, and allow the vibrations to move your body.

Big thanks to the cohorts – Susanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough!

The Gift of Nature’s Chord 

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)

Allow the awakening to unfold!

The Acoustic Scale

So my adventures in harmonics continues with a foray into Dr. Michael Hewitt’s book, Musical Scales of the World. (This book is a wonderful resource. Carnatic Water Music is based on an Indian Carnatic scale from the book.) Hewitt includes scales from India, Thailand, Africa, Greece, and Eastern Europe in the eight chapters of the book. My favorite chapter is entitled Synthetic Scales and Modes, which is made up of invented and found scales.  In this chapter Hewitt discusses the Acoustic Scale, so named because it is based on the harmonic overtones that are present in the atmosphere of any room. (See post on Nature’s Chord at http://wp.me/p5yJTY-iH)        WoW! Just WoW.

So the Acoustic Scale is made up of the overtones from the first four octaves of the harmonic series. This scale mixes the raised fourth of the Lydian mode and the flatted seventh of the Mixolydian mode. According to Hewitt:

The acoustic scale is also sometimes called the Lydian dominant scale, due to the prominent dominant seventh chord on the first degree (C E G Bb). The presence of this chord can give Lydian dominant music a powerful sense of unresolved dominant tension. When persistently denied resolution, this tension can be harnessed to create a powerfully expressive force.

The scale is also referred to as Bartok’s scale as it was the basis for many of his compositions. The scale came into favor with contemporary classical music composers of the late 19th, early 20th Century as they moved away from the major/minor pallette of the Common Practice era. I am excited to see this scale identified. It is the scale of TRIC (Terry Riley’s In C). From here on, I will refer to this as Nature’s Scale, so as not to forget that this is a pattern of intervalic relationships that exists in the atmosphere and is imbedded in every sound we hear.

Nature’s Chord

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.

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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 everything you 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!