Saturday 10 June 2017

Music of the Spheres

Adapted from THE BIG SONG,a play by Heathcote Williams and based on an original idea by Roy Hutchins

Instead of the Big Bang, there could have been a Big Song”

When a Tibetan singing bowl is filled with water and it’s struck with a mallet, the water droplets rise up into the air and dance and they make sweet, susurrating sounds as they tumble back down onto the surface.

When certain sounds resonate, material objects as well as spirits can rise. A glass goblet can vibrate sympathetically with a singer’s voice, as can un-dampened piano strings. The glass goblet can shatter. The metal piano strings sing.

Trees sing in the breeze. Strange singing sounds can cross the oceans with their harmonic tremors tracked by seismometers as they travel from Antarctica to Tahiti.

The sounds are like that of laughing monkeys or of barking dogs. But no, they’re icebergs. Singing. The earth is alive with singing.

Sand dunes can behave like tuning forks with their shifting silica grains emitting strange coherent sounds. From the music of the spheres to the four thousand five hundred species of animals which sing.

The Gelada monkeys of Ethiopia sing in choral call-and-response sessions in order to bond with each other.

The monogamous Siamang gibbons of South East Asia perform hour-long duets and they sound like sopranos.

The Indonesian Gibbons sing at sunrise and their songs were so beautiful that ancient Dayak myths speak of the Sun rising in reply. 

Mice produce ultrasonic songs when stimulated by the scent of a female mouse.

Insects sing. Crickets sing in the long grass. Katydids sing. Cicadas sing. Toadfish sing. Male Mexican free-tailed bats sing supersonically as they warn other bats to stay away. 

Gorillas hum while they’re eating to convey their enjoyment. 

Babies hum. They hum to excite themselves with sound. Humming is their first attempt at using sounds to socialize.  

There are comets that sing.The oscillations in the magnetic field around the comet sound like singing.

And as for the music of the spheres, the six visible planets with their elliptical orbits form a six-part harmony motet, while the outer three planets add the rhythm section, with Pluto – the most distant – beating a bass drum.

Back on the ground: the earth itself rings like a bell.

Solar winds interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, causing it to vibrate in sympathy.

Every eleven and a half days, the earth emits a tone some twelve octaves below the lowest detectable note.The Earth is a gigantic, floating, therapeutic, singing pill.

When two black holes collide they produce gravitational waves – these waves can be heard on Earth. The sound has been described as chirping. It sounds like birdsong.

Instead of the Big Bang, there could have been a Big Song.

It’s been said that the poet in all of us is the part that gets most carried away when we listen to birds. No one can know for certain, of course, what it is that birds think.

To the Kaluli people in New Guinea birds aren’t birds but they’re “voices in the forest”. Voices which tell them when certain crops are ready for harvesting.

It’s known that a bird sings for love and that the more complex is its song the more mating success it has. It sings to invite someone to share its home. It sings to defend its territory from predators, but it also sings simply for its own pleasure.

The marsh warbler join together for periods of peaceful singing when they were off-duty, when not bringing food back to the babies.The birds are jamming.They’re sharing new found musical riffs.

Instead of a larynx every bird has got a syrinx which is named after the instrument used by the Greek god Pan who could enchant with his music by playing several sounds at once.

A bird’s syrinx has two sides instead of one. It enables a bird to sing two notes at once; to sing chords and even to sing two songs at once, which can sound even more joyful.

The sublimity of a nightingale had our ancestors attempting to imitate birds’ courtship rituals and their territorial markers because they could see that their songs bore them fruit. 

The Wren produces successive perfect octaves, fifths, and fourths so that their songs sound musical to human listeners. And the notes of its song appear as the opening melody of the second movement of Haydn‘s Symphony number 103, and in the opening of Bach’s fugue in A minor.

Birds are the dinosaurs that survived. We’ve been taught to sing by dinosaurs.

Pre-historic singing began with a wordless chorusing designed to scare away demons.

We sang in echoing caves chosen for their acoustic properties.

Singing synchronized movement in manual labour.

The pyramids and Stonehenge and the beginnings of civilization itself have been sung into place by pre-historic songlines. 

An Amazonian tribe – the Suya people of the Mato Grosso in Brazil – were asked why they sang and they answered: “The Suya sing because they are happy; singing makes us happy. Then they added: “When we stop singing, we will really be finished.”

The Latin word cantare is usually translated “to sing” but its original meaning was “to work magic, to produce magic.”

Hopi legends speak of the Spider Woman who sang the song of creation over the inanimate forms on the earth and brought them to life. 

The Tibetan Om, went half way round the world to morph into the transcendental Amen – the chant which always rounds off an appeal to a higher consciousness.  

In a single vocal chord Edith Piaf could express the sound of suffering humanity. 

To Ella Fitzgerald: “The only thing better than singing is more singing.”

Singing together out of a sense of defiance has helped people in the most extreme situations.
After the words ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ had been sung all over the world, the steel door of his jail cell on Robbin Island was finally prised open and he was released.
When people sing in a choir their heart beats are synchronized, so that the pulse of choir members tends to increase and decrease in unison.

Choirs have a chemistry. In fact they generate one particular chemical, a neuropeptide called oxytocin.It’s generated in the hippocampus and it acts as a neurotransmitter. It’s been present in vertebrates and invertebrates for 700 million years.

The pentatonic scale in music ancient and modern is a direct steal from nature. The South American potoo bird uses it and its pentatonic song was reproduced in that South American instrument, the ocarina. When Cortez, the Spanish conqueror of Peru, heard it he brought it back to Spain for the scale to become the bedrock of modern music. 

When Woody Allen once remarked that Mozart’s 41st Symphony in C Major, K551, “proved the existence of God” he could most happily and most accurately be referring to a nature spirit rather than to a God confined to a Church or a Temple.

(The text of The Big Song was sent to me by a friend who watched the Julie Etchingham film about the Pavarotti Music Centre and then read the 'Music and War' chapter from Left Field

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