Monday, May 21, 2012

Music Monday :“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.”(Pythagoras)

With regard to humming...from time to time I've come across articles about "The Hum", a mysterious sound heard by many people in different parts of the world, intermittently over many years. One example:

From Humdingers a 2004 article in The Guardian, by Mark Pilkington

It's described as a low, modulated drone that sounds like an idling diesel engine or a distant aircraft. It starts and stops abruptly and is sometimes accompanied by headaches, nausea or other physical discomfort.

It has been heard in Bristol, Birmingham, Hertfordshire and Strathclyde; in Taos, New Mexico and Kokomo, Indiana; as well as in Canada, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Typically, fewer than 5% of people can hear it; older women seem most likely to be affected. As well as innumerable sleepless nights, hums have been linked to at least three suicides in the UK.

The most frequently blamed sources are the extremely low frequency (ELF) signals used to communicate with submarines, typically at about 76Hz. There are ELF transmitters in Michigan and Wisconsin in the US, and on Russia's Kola Peninsula. The first hum reports, however, predate ELF technology: in the 1940s, residents in Belgravia, London, blamed a hum on a radio transmitter in the Russian embassy basement.

Other hums have been attributed to gas pipes, seismic activity, mating fish and underground military bases. Only one has been conclusively identified: in 2003, a low hum in Kokomo, Indiana was traced to industrial fans in a factory..............

As this post is headed "Music Monday" one might ask what does the mysterious and rather unmusical Hum have to do with music? Answer: not a lot, but I thought it interesting, and though unconnected to the rest of this post, the air of mystery continues....

In searching for information on The Hum I stumbled on something else, more or less musical:
The Devil's Chord or Devil's Interval. It's a musical phenomenon thought dangerous enough to have been supressed by the Church in the Middle Ages. It consists of a musical interval spanning three whole tones, like the diminished fifth or augmented fourth. This interval, the gap between two notes played in succession or simultaneously, was branded Diabolus in Musica or the Devil's Interval by medieval musicians.
From BBC website
On the surface there might appear to be no link between Black Sabbath, Wagner's Gotterdammerung, West Side Story and the theme tune to the Simpsons. But all of them rely heavily on tritones, a musical interval that spans three whole tones, like the diminished fifth or augmented fourth. This interval, the gap between two notes played in succession or simultaneously, was branded Diabolus in Musica or the Devil's Interval by medieval musicians. A rich mythology has grown up around it. Many believe that the Church wanted to eradicate the sounds from its music because it invoked sexual feelings, or that it was genuinely the work of the Devil.

Rock producer Bob Ezrin: "It apparently was the sound used to call up the beast. There is something very sexual about the tritone. In the Middle Ages when people were ignorant and scared, when they heard something like that and felt that reaction in their body they thought 'uh oh, here come the Devil'."

It all sounds a little like the plot of a far-fetched Da Vinci Code sequel. But Professor John Deathridge, King Edward professor of music at King's College London, says the tritone had been consistently linked to evil. "In medieval theology you have to have some way of presenting the devil. Or if someone in the Roman Catholic Church wanted to portray the crucifixion, it is sometimes used there."
A 10 minute video explanation is embedded below. Being a music theory numbskull I found this confusing at times. Interest was sparked mainly because the guys explain that tones opposite one another when the 12 tones are placed in a circle are the most dissonant - as in astrological oppositions? Almost, but in astrology oppositions can be balancing too. The explanation, generally, kept reminding me of astrological of the spheres and all that?

For more interesting detail on this astrological link see Don Robertson's website, and in particular his piece: "The Duochord", where diagrams help explain the astrological link I've clumsily described. I'm wary of copyright, so will not risk borrowing the images.
Mr Robertson writes:
One day I was reading a book by Corinne Heline about music and its spiritual effects when I noticed that there was a diagram in the book that explained how the twelve notes of the musical chromatic scale corresponded with the twelve signs of the astrological zodiac. At that time I was interested in astrology and I thought this was an interesting concept. The way she explained it, the notes were placed counter-clockwise on the circle of the zodiac as follows: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C#, D#, F#, G#, A#. I don’t know where she learned this, but it was very interesting. It was the 7-note major scale (the white keys of the keyboard), followed by the 5-note pentatonic scale (the black keys of the keyboard): the two most powerful scales in the music.
He goes on to describe how he drew trines and squares and discovered that their harmonious or dissonant relationship in music and in astrology are very similar.

More examples of how the Devil's Chord sounds, on guitar:

“Maria”, the song in West Side Story contains the tritone interval in the syllables “Ma-ri” at the beginning of the song.


DC said...

Interesting. I read that drumming can affect 14 different parts of the brain....those involved with non-rational thought processes. I know it's not exactly the point your blog is aiming for, but I couldn't help but to be reminded of the drones of soft rhythmic drumming and how it affects the human brain in a sort of hidden or inner-created tone, that apparently we as humans seem to have the ability to create in our own brain.
Here's a link
(sorry the html wouldn't show the link properly)

Wisewebwoman said...

Haydn in his Masses uses this to advantage, the most sexual of all religious oratorios, IMO.

As to drumming, I am using it in the finale of my play, many drums, very angry.


Anonymous said...

GP: Great post, T. Have 3 observations:

1. West Side story`s composer, L. Bernstein, was my pupil (!) when I was a ski instructor. Until I found out that he was gay and I preferred to go with lady-pupils.

2. My big dog grumbled when we listened to the guitar devil`s harmonies. Tried 4 times, at the last go he accepted and stopped complaining. (dog`s ears hear amplified, apparently up to 10x of what humans do).

3. Music of the spheres: There is a lot undiscovered there. Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion in the 15th century, mentions it in his writings. And all over India and the Middle East (un-expurgated by the Catholic Church I guess), spiritual music with various (and richer) tone scales is commonly practiced. The links to astrology should not surprise as the latter responds to rytm and it`s own cycles. Who is to imperfect to grasp all that are we, human beings. Poor , lost soles in an otherwise great universe.

Twilight said...

DC ~~ Thanks for the link. Yes, I'd read something similar and considered adding mention of it in the post, but didn't want it to drag on - realising that blog-readers (and I) have a limited attention span groomed by much reading online. :-)

I've often wondered whether the rhythm of our human heartbeat is responsible for this strange connection between drumming, and other rhythmic sounds, and emotional response.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Hmmm - I've never seen Masses and sexual used in the same sentence before, WWW. ;-)

Hope your finale drums are triumphant, if angry. ;-)

Twilight said...

Anonymous/Gian Paul ~~ Thanks.
Oh dear, GP - but gays do need to ski too....

Interesting to read of your dog's reaction - please apologise to him for any discomfort. :-)

Much undiscovered - yes! There could be something VERY important waiting to be discovered in this "sphere". I dare say we, as a race, are not ready for it yet.
Too greedy, careless and ignorant.

anyjazz said...

Interesting post. Discovering connections between otherwise unrelated subjects. Some of the greatest discoveries or achievements have resulted merely from the assembly of familiar elements unrelated up to then. glycerin and nitric acid, yeast and malt, Lennon and McCartney, electricity and a carbon filament.

One can‘t help but wonder, what else have we been overlooking?

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~ The ancients were kind of aware of the linkage, but like so much else the topic was buried, classed as heretical no doubt by the RC church, and later religious bodies.

LOL! Including Lennon & McCartney was inspirational! :-)

R J Adams said...

And I thought that hum was just my tinnitus. Lennon and McCartney were definitely related - they were both "Leverpoodlians".


Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~~ Hmmm - had to think for a moment to connect to the soapy "Leverpudlian" reference.