Tuesday, September 02, 2008



Laika in Ithaca turned us on to NY’s Radiolab podcast – a series that deals with music and psychology and language, ie: the way words have a direct relation to music. One segment looks at the research of University of California psychologist Diana Deutch on musical language, aka words and languages that end up sounding like perfectly pitched songs.

Ever heard your loops sing back to you? At about minute 5 into the accompanying Live PA “Neuro-Pelvic” you can almost make out the words “I…CAN’T…GET…A…SOUL” crying out from the track. It’s as almost if a phantom has emerged from the twisted code, created through a series of accidental sound manipulation -- and banned from re-animation by the plastic barrier separating it from me.

But is the music getting under our skin anyway? And where in the heavens is it coming from?

Another Radiolab episode examines why some sounds give us pleasure whereas others make us uncomfortable and how some, well…kind of grow on us. Take Stravinsky. One summer audiences protesting in the streets with their ears covered against his clashing ostinati, the next year, he’s lauded as a cultural hero.

The same goes for those generational turning points in which music was the lynchpin, from Rock to Disco to Techno and the accompanying technologies used: from guitars and amps to software and midi controllers. Our parents hate it. A few of us love it. Then bunch of them love it. Then our parents love it. We hate it. We move on, and so on.

In the war between culture and biology, I tend to agree wholeheartedly with the Radiolab producers that culture does, generally win. I think this is why younger generations gravitate toward sounds those who came before them generally are predisposed to hate.

Why that is, according to some neurologists, is because the ears and those neural pathways to the brain become trained with experience. Over time and through cellular will, our brains and bodies accept these new, unfamiliar sounds, and eventually enjoy them. Perhaps we even begin to crave them over time in order to sustain a preferred set of neuro-chemical transactions.

“I think it's much deeper than whether or not we simply 'like a sound'. It’s how it impacts our very biology,” wrote back Larry Delaney, aka my stepdad in recent email exchange on the topic.

Given his role in launching the ginormous success that was The Beatles in the early 60’s, he should know. He confirmed my own belief that music enhances not only the mood around us but…well, us!

Larry Delaney writes:

“I think sound...tones individually or in harmony with other tones, physically vibrate atoms that comprise our being. Tones resonate to when our 'atoms' had not coalesced into our being. Therefore, they are imprinted in our primordial DNA -- our atoms.”

“Atoms are supposedly in a constant state of vibration. I think their constant vibration must cause sounds. Like those magical delicate cymbals in an Indian temple. Atoms must live in a world of sound. A constant state. Maybe it's their sexual pleasure. They carry that with them when they become....us.”

“Your atoms are more newly coalesced into your being than mine. You had more time in the ethers. Your atoms had more time to listen to, or create different universal sounds than my generation…” that which was fed on the likes of Elvis, Buddy Holly, and the like.

And this generation, having gone primarily the direction of electronically-generated sounds, understands that “techno” (meaning technologically manipulated sounds to make music) carries its own language, symbolic imprint or energetic pattern that is mostly defined by the technology used.

That’s the medium. Now the message: the particular style or sound combinations are result of osmosis – years of absorbing a variety of sounds and percussive styles, sounds of nature and filtered through our subconscious.

The output is partially a conscious effort -- but I wonder sometimes if it is more left to
synchromysticism -- a condition in which strange clues from the unknown pop into audible existence.

As music works its way into our personal, cultural and social DNA, manipulated through our use of technology, many of us try to talk about the process behind making electronic “dance” music, what it sounds like, or what genre or subgenre it falls into. We mostly fail miserably at it – for we only scratch the surface of what those atoms are actually doing.

Maybe at this point in our technological and creative evolution, it’s time for us as humans to shut up, listen and let the code phantoms in the machine do all the talking.

But putting us human music makers aside for a moment, let’s go even deeper, into the music of nature, from the way the wind rustles the trees to the way the Hemipterae, or true bugs, call each other to mate.

Maybe all the heavens and all their celestial bodies are ‘tone makers’ who, like a humpback whale, orbited around the universe singing to each other. In other words, a civilization of their own based on elements other than 'carbon based units', unrecognizable to us.

As the entire universe is made up of basic atoms, the same atoms that form our bodies, we are part of a universe made up of tones/songs, or music if you will. A constant chorus of songs that permeate us all...once we learn to listen for their tune.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

exelent!!! thankz alot. enjoying it every bit . also interesting words
good work
everyone should get it!!

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is brilliant!
very well written and very enjoyable!
Thank you


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