Even though the range of midi format is considered limited, I can hear a social potential in our music that's far from realized in my experience of life.
(Midis are neat. They're compact enough to zip over the Internet like simple graphics. You can save a feast of them onto a single diskette.)
Be it a midi, MPEG, an analogue recording, or your significant other
singing in the next room, I hope you're listening to something nice as
you read my words.)
Our systems of music: sublime human invention
It's a tiny percentage of us who can compose music on paper --for whom notation represents music --first "heard" in the imagination or picked out on instruments. For everyone else, music represents memories or interprets musical notation (unless we make use of a digital program which creates notation automatically).
By comparison, our near-universal experience with text is that it represents speech --first spoken or imagined. We "hear" the words as we read and write them --perhaps speaking aloud.
Otherwise, the analogy between speech and music is pretty good.
* Both musical notation and the written word have made us the cultural creature that we are (or realized the creature we potentially always were).
* Notation and text both shade into a medium of expression quite apart from speech and single-voiced music --especially when mixed with such items as graphics, footnotes, and hyper-links.
* Text and musical notation can transcend "this mortal coil" of noise and confusion. They can stand alone --without a specific/real recipient --eventually without even their mortal author. (Our words and music then become "spore", conveying some of that earlier spore which constituted one's "self".)
One telling distinction, however, is that language/prose is almost always sequential (books, plays --save for early Greek plays) --and seldom chorused. (Exception: I once heard a fetching "beat" era production which did just that.)
Maybe speech should be commonly chorused --and be tonal as well.
We've all experienced walking through a social gathering --perhaps somewhat somnambulant from the late hour. The chatter about us tends to blend. If spirited, thoughtful, friendly, and familiar --it might have sounded more at "polyphony" than cacophony.
I keep returning to my conviction that our normal speech wants of more musicality.
Music has changed (understatement :-)))
Greek philosophers worried about their society/culture when that happened.
We should at least wonder of the social effects.
And what would those Greeks have made of our complex, multi-part compositions? While the ancients knew tonality, song, single instruments, and chorused voices in melody, the experience of multivoiced ("polyphonic") music, harmony, counterpoint, key signature transposition and such that we hear today is the result of inspired human creativity. (It can be convincingly argued that all human inventiveness is basically programmed into our DNA --the stages of our development being triggered by cultural circumstances --as in: "it's time to invent the aeroplane now".)
So: we "made up" modern music(!) -- instead of our having mainly inherited it (like language constructions) from a forgotten antiquity. What's more, this occurred late in history and is well documented --as partly the cause and the result of the Renaissance.
Perhaps music has much more to do with who we are, where we're going, and where we could be going --than we've so far troubled to popularly imagine.
Music seems (to me) the best of our arts --at being able to address and structure our emotional lives in a fashion that's free of petty encumbrances. Philosophy and life as we live it doesn't seem nearly so advanced.
Could it be that the creative/"dream-time" portions of our minds sense that we've stalled? Is music an emergent language which is pacing our logical development --as it gets up to the task of addressing a new stage of spiritual (ie: interconnected) culture? Might our music be attempting a "work-around" --of our stubborn "logical" minds? Should we have had such a work-around going for us all the while?
I think it's worth considering this concept --as a candidate for the "silver bullet" our society so much needs.
I want to witness anthropologists/etiologists Merlin Stone's and Rianne Eisler's laments of a distant, nearly forgotten human prehistory --and commentaries on the aboriginal experience of life like Robert Lawlor's "Voices of the First Day".)
Wish I had their depth and articulate delivery --to get it across here --all that's at play within my imagination.
Others, better fitted out for the task, are thinking about such possibilities. It was a major theme of the (John Williams scored) science fiction movie: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" --which in turn was part of the inspiration for the appearances at:
I was recently delighted to find closely allied thoughts (mainly about meter and poetry, but music as well) at:
You might have to look up a few words in the first 3 pages of what's to be read there --but please stay with it. The article smoothes out into strikingly excellent, clear, original thoughts on the nature of our humanity, consciousness and cognition, and how our social potential might be far better realized.
I'll try to get my own thoughts more in order, then contact the names at these two sites.
Julian Jaynes wrote a popular book about the origins of consciousness and culture --which was my acquaintance with the notion of a "Homeric transition" from the protocultural "dream state" --to the rational world of discourse and recorded history. Jaynes represented it to us as a shift between a "left" and "right" brained mode for the seat of our consciousness --but also that the earlier consciousness remains within us as sort of an oracle. He feels it's more of a synthesis now --that which we call consciousness --
--but I think we're but barely conscious: well short of integrating the components of our mental resources.
Does that other entity wander inside of us --much as humans were supposed to have once wandered the Earth during the "dream time"? At some point there was a transition (gradual --distributed --surely). We became rational creatures, largely forgetting --and dismissing-- who we once were.
One can imagine that transition to have been the result of a world being over-run by assholes --those ones who swept down out of the frigid north/Steppes --to subdue the Earth's pastoral civilizations. Apologists might imagine it to have been an adaptive "by-pass" of a dead-end mode of Human existence --for the sake of human development and survival.
Then again: might it have all simply been scheduled by our DNA?
If you share in a general sense of alienation and sense a lack of social/societal fulfillment, then try sharing also in my suspicion that our music --as it's evolved within us from "Dionysian" times, might be a cultural "bypass" in the making: a more direct connection between the substance of you and me; a new sense of communal culture.
When it's complete (enough), will there be another transition? Will it be the final synthesis?
While music does seem an expression of that neglected dream-creature within, the structure of polyphonic music can only be supported by our logical consciousness, so we might optimistically look toward music as at least a product, possibly the basis, for a whole-brained era of humanity.
I'd like to see more music --such phenomena as organizational bands and thematic songs, in association with our social and religious movements. This was much more common just 2 generations ago. I believe it would produce much more social coherency than is today's experience.
It's a happy thought that, from the native language of an inner dream-self, we'd find the bypass we seem to need. I can't imagine how it would develop into a system of communications with "formal content" (dictionaries, grammar, and such), but such definitions and meanings would most likely only be comprehensible within that new system of meaning and expression.
Do I "talk like a fish"?
Perhaps a musician or linguist reading this can contribute better thoughts on such matters --or suggest links to similar discussions at his/her web site.
(I posted the above thoughts some while ago and, as yet, no one has stepped up to bat. By default then, I'll take a few swings.)
Some (spoken) languages are "tonal" or "sing-song", and not just casually so. The "same" word at a high pitch might be totally unrelated in meaning to its utterance at a low pitch. Necessarily, the people of such cultures have developed "an ear" for pitch --and are found to excel, on average, the "perfect pitch" of professional western musicians. Why we're able to distinguish pitch at all is a fascinating question --which implies that we have an excellent metronome/clock in our minds.
I wonder if all language is tonal, whether we know it or not --and if we speak things to one-another that we're not "consciously" aware of (in the "consecutive thought" portion of our brain). Might the "other hemisphere" (re: Julian Jaynes': "Origin of Consciousness In the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind") have a separate agenda --which we unwittingly communicate and serve? If so: then what of music?!
Grolier Encyclopedia: "Down to the present day, debate continues as to whether music is fundamentally a means for the expression of ideas, experiences, and feelings; or, rather, a distinct system or way of thinking in its own right, through which such elements as ideas and feelings can pass." (Allan Schindler)
Microsoft Encarta article (uncredited by MS and slightly re-edited here): "Tuning Systems, Musical: Theoretical or practical systems for determining the correct tuning for the intervals of a scale."
"Because some leeway exists within which the ear recognizes two notes as a given interval, cultural concepts of "correct" pitch and intervals vary; for example, intervals of 200 cents, 204 cents, and 182 cents are all heard as whole steps (1200 cents equals one octave)."
"In strongly concordant intervals, the sound-wave frequencies of the upper and lower notes form simple mathematical ratios, such as 2:1 (octave), 5:4 (major third), and 3:2 (fifth). This last ratio, the "pure" or "natural" fifth, is the basis of Pythagorean tuning, used in ancient Greece, ancient China, medieval Islamic countries, and medieval Europe. Tuning a series of fifths, beginning on F, produces the seven notes of the C-major scale, F C G D A E B, then the five notes F# C# G# D# A#, and finally E# and B# (theoretically identical with F and C, hence the term circle of fifths for this series). The Pythagorean B#, however, is slightly higher than the initial C, making the system unusable on fretted and keyboard instruments. Moreover, the thirds, sharper than the natural third, are strongly dissonant. The system works best for unharmonized melodies, sung or played on a violin or other instrument of adjustable pitch." (And see more below.)
The author is describing a "Diatonic" scale of pure music, but one or the other of us seems confused about its nature. As I understand it: that the "next" C note doesn't land squarely on the "C" of Bach's "well tempered clavier" system bespeaks modern, not ancient compromise with the truth.
Grolier Encyclopedia: "Beginning about 1700, the desire of composers to modulate among all the keys led to the dominance of "equal temperament," in which the octave is divided into twelve equal semitones, instead of the slightly varying intervals of the earlier "just" intonation. (In justly tuned instruments, such now-identical pitches as F/ and EÄ were sounded as different notes.) Equal temperament causes intervals such as the fifth and the third to sound slightly out of tune and to throb with "beats," an acoustical interference pattern. Modern-day listeners have adjusted to this small discrepancy in return for a greatly broadened harmonic palette." (by: David Wright)
Bach standardized what had been the long practice of tuning instruments such that 12 evenly spaced notes could be made to span an octave --and serve passably for transposing a piece of music from one "key signature" to another. While the sounding of chords based upon any one of those 12 notes doesn't come out true --per assumptions about people not being able to discern small differences in frequency, they still work and are, in any event, equally skewed. This industrialization of music and tuning made it possible for artists and composers to move just themselves (or their compositions) from nation to nation, without having to drag along their own peculiar piano or harpsichord.
While the ancients seem to have been bereft of the rich polyphonic music we enjoy today, what they did hear was grippingly pure. Does it make a difference? Would the world be a different/better place if we made and listened instead to Diatonic music?
From Jowett's and Zimmerman's commentary on Plato's Republic: "The harmony of the soul and body, and of the parts of the soul with one another, a harmony 'fairer than that of musical notes,' is the true Hellenic mode of conceiving the perfection of human nature."
Plato, Book-III: "--as we reject varieties of harmony, we shall also reject the many-stringed, variously shaped instruments which give utterance to them, and in particular the flute, which is more complex than any of them. The lyre and the harp may be permitted in the town, and the Pan's-pipe in the fields. Thus we have made a purgation of music, and will now make a purgation of metres. These should be like the harmonies, simple and suitable to the occasion. There are four notes of the tetrachord, and there are three ratios of metre, 3/2, 2/2, 2/1, which have all their characteristics, and the feet have different characteristics as well as the rhythms."
The ancients sure thought so. Here we see music as central to social design (not that we necessarily grant wholesale approval of Plato's objectives).
Ibidem: "Other artists as well as poets should be warned against meanness or unseemliness. Sculpture and painting equally with music must conform to the law of simplicity. He who violates it cannot be allowed to work in our city, and to corrupt the taste of our citizens. For our guardians must grow up, not amid images of deformity which will gradually poison and corrupt their souls, but in a land of health and beauty where they will drink in from every object sweet and harmonious influences."
"The passionate disposition when it has too much gymnastic is hardened and brutalized, the gentle or philosophic temper which has too much music becomes enervated. While a man is allowing music to pour like water through the funnel of his ears, the edge of his soul gradually wears away, and the passionate or spirited element is melted out of him. Too little spirit is easily exhausted; too much quickly passes into nervous irritability. So, again, the athlete by feeding and training has his courage doubled, but he soon grows stupid; he is like a wild beast, ready to do everything by blows and nothing by counsel or policy. There are two principles in man, reason and passion, and to these, not to the soul and body, the two arts of music and gymnastic correspond. He who mingles them in harmonious concord is the true musician, --he shall be the presiding genius of our State."
Book-IV: "The care of the governors should be directed to preserve music and gymnastic from innovation; alter the songs of a country, Damon says, and you will soon end by altering its laws. The change appears innocent at first, and begins in play; but the evil soon becomes serious, working secretly upon the characters of individuals, then upon social and commercial relations, and lastly upon the institutions of a state; and there is ruin and confusion everywhere.
Microsoft continued: "In just intonation, some intervals are derived from pure fifths and others from pure thirds. Mostly a theoretical system, it produces euphonious chords but has serious disadvantages, including an important out-of-tune fifth (D-A)."
"From early times, these ideal scales were tempered, or slightly adjusted, when fretted and keyboard instruments were to be used. In mean-tone temperament, popular during the baroque era (roughly 1650-1750), several series of four minutely flattened fifths result in pure major thirds in the most commonly used parts of the C-major scale. One seldom used interval (D#-G#), called the wolf, is always out of tune. Except for special effects, musical modulation (change of key) is limited to keys closely related to C major. As late 18th century musical styles developed, musicians became more interested in equal temperament, a system that was adopted only gradually --by 1800 in Germany and by 1850 in England. In equal temperament all fifths are slightly flattened equally, so that B# is in tune with C as the circle of fifths is completed. The major third is somewhat sharp, within acceptable limits, and modulation to all keys is possible." ("Tuning Systems, Musical." Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. © 1993-2000)
Encarta's "Greek Language": "From the Ionic dialect developed the Attic, the standard form of classical Greek. It was the language of Athens and the surrounding district of Attica and differed from the other Ionic forms chiefly in its contraction of vowels. Because of the political supremacy of Athens during and after the 5th century BC and the dominant role of Athenian art, philosophy, and drama, the Attic dialect superseded all others and became the chief literary language. Its influence was enhanced through its use by the greatest contemporary intellects, including the playwrights Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, the orator Demosthenes, Plato, and the historians Thucydides and Xenophon."
"With the conquests of Alexander the Great and the extension of Macedonian rule in the 4th century BC, a shift of population from Greece proper to the Greek settlements in the Middle East occurred. In this period, known as the Hellenistic, the Attic dialect, spoken by the educated classes as well as by the merchants and many emigrants, became the language common to all the Middle East. As the Greeks mixed with other peoples, linguistic changes took place, Attic became the foundation of a new form of Greek, Koine, which spread throughout all areas of Greek influence. Koine was the language of the court and of literature and commerce throughout the Hellenistic empires."
"Koine soon became differentiated into two groups, literary Koine and the vernacular, or popular, tongue. The literary language was spoken and used by the educated upper classes, who until the Roman conquest maintained a vigorous and independent intellectual and artistic life and, while not forgetful of the great writers of earlier times, developed the language to meet their own needs, especially those of abstract thought on the fields of philosophy, grammar, and the social and physical sciences. At the same time the language was simplified by elimination of many irregular or unusual grammatical forms, and changes of pronunciation took place. The musical quality of pure Athenian Attic was lost; vowel values began to be leveled out and diphthongs to have a single sound." ("Greek Language." Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2001. © 1993-2000)
There's fertile ground for us 'twixt music and language, me thinks.
I wonder if, like early Greek, original (aboriginal) languages were commonly tonal --as some remain today (all Chinese and many Tibeto-Burman languages). Riane Eisler has regaled our imaginations with a lovely mythology of a lost once-upon-a-time place in Crete --an ancient Mycenaean culture of "partnership" and peace, as she and others have reinterpreted its surviving artifacts.
Their language was only deciphered in 1952 --known to us as "Linear B script" --and it proved a precursor of early Greek dialects mentioned above. How musical and "lyric" might Mycenaean daily speech have been? If we awakened the music in our voices, might it be a factor for peace in the world?
(by ABC inventor: Chris Walshaw)