These are the opening paragraphs of my chapter from Left Field on the work of the Pavarotti Music Centre.
The Bible says, ‘In the beginning was the word’. Wrong. First
there was the rhythm. From the time of the Big Bang, it is the beat
that gives the cosmos its pulse. All else may be chaos, but it is
there, in mathematical time, something primordial. In one sense,
however, the Bible was right. Man’s first attempt to communicate
involved rhythm, movement and dance which represented the first
language, the first word.
At the time of what Engels called ‘primitive communism’, when
homo sapiens were hunter-gatherers, humans signalled to each other by
beating stick on stick, stone on stone. The first vocal syllables
were whistles and calls based on rhythmic patterns which allowed
human communication to take place.
Rhythm was there, at the start of everything. It was there at the
start of our species and at the start of our individual lives.
Whether or not we evolved from the sea, we all emerged from the
waters of our mothers and water is a perfect transmitter of sound.
Try placing a waterproof watch at one end of a swimming pool. Get
there early in the morning, when no one else is around, and ask a
friend to swim underwater to the far end of the pool and ask them
what they can hear.
Both the heart of the foetus and that of the mother beat to a time
cycle of three/four: dash dash, dum dum, dum dum, dum dum. Mother and
baby are in syncopated rhythm. They have individual rhythms which
meet to form a third. Sounds exterior to the womb may also be heard
and absorbed. Many pregnant women will tell you that they are aware
their babies react to external sounds.
So music and rhythm, or rhythm
and music to be chronologically correct, are central to our lives. It
is a physical and emotional link, both to something in us and beyond
us, linking us to the music of the spheres. Music can move us to extremes of joy or sadness, elation or
depression. Perhaps it is a piece we associate with some event in our
life: when we first kissed, when we went to our first teenage party,
when we first made love. This musical association is strong in all of
us. Perhaps it is with Albinoni’s “Adagio”, Mozart’s
“Clarinet Concerto”, Ali Farka Toure, blues, a song sung by Ella
Fitzgerald or John Lee Hooker, an Indian raga, hip hop or drum and
bass. In all of types of music, we can be emotionally, and even
If you project sound waves at piles of sand, iron filings, water
or mercury, you can create varied patterns, from spirals to grids.
Given the sound conductivity of water and its high level in the human
body, it is hardly surprising that our cells react to sound
vibrations, even those at the far end of the spectrum which we are
unable to hear. With this knowledge, holistic healers place vibrating
forks close to the energy field of the human body and hospitals use
high-pitched sound to shatter kidney and gall stones. Conversely, the
negative side of the use of sound are experiments undertaken by the
US military and other governments, utilizing sound waves as a weapon
of war. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have shown us that music itself can
be a weapon.
It has been argued that the vibrational energies of different
notes affect different areas of the body. For instance, C major
affects the bones, lower back, legs and feet. D major transmits
energy waves to the kidneys and bladder, lymphatic and reproductive
systems and skin and A major is related to pain and pain control.
Perhaps it is for this reason that in ancient Egypt, the
hieroglyph for music was also that for well-being and joy. But what
about music in negative, non-joyful situations, in war? When the
lights go out, leaving hunger and the threat of death, you will still
In 1993 and 1994, I was in cellars in Sarajevo and Mostar. Shells
were exploding, the snipers were at work, but people, particularly
young people, gathered together and, if they could not listen to
music, as there was often no power, they played it. The louder the
shelling, the louder their music. It was an expression of defiance, a
testament to the survival of the one thing that kept them human in an
inhuman situation—the primordial language of rhythm and music which
connected them to their essence.
A young soldier in Mostar visited me after his time on the front
line, a Kalashnikov on one shoulder and a guitar on the other. He
tapped the guitar and told me, ‘A much better weapon’. . . . . .