Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sculpting time and what it means to be human

Musicians sculpt time,
and in doing so they sculpt reality.

(I am defining "reality" as the perception of the listener.)

Music never really exists in the same way as other art forms.
Sculpture, painting and writing all have a tangible, physical existence,
but only music exists in the present moment;
it is forever changing.

But what is music?

It consists of several complimentary patterns of vibrations.
(Vibration is an oscillation between two states.)

The "beat" or "tempo" is a slower, longer and higher-order cycle of oscillation;
typically four to a measure in western pop music, but many other forms are used.
The cycle of the "beat" usually ranges from 20 to 160 or more beats per minute.

The "melody" is a sequence of higher forms of oscillation,
typically in the range of thousands of beats per second,
which our ears perceive as a series of musical tones.

"Harmony" is a second-order form of oscillation;
it represents the interference pattern of two or more "melodies."

You can visualize a simple physical two-dimensional representation of "harmony" this way:
Toss a pebble into a pond, and watch the ripples move outward.
Then toss two pebbles into the pond at the same time.
Watch how the two sets of ripples intersect with one another,
forming a more complex pattern of interference between the two sets of ripples than the single pebble created.

Think about this little experiment:
The ripples didn't appear all at the same time;
they evolved over time.
The structure of the ripples takes a certain amount of time,
and the structure is never the same at any one time.

So there is a physical dimension to music,
but it's invisible to our eyes,
although our ears can detect the sound waves,
which we perceive as "music."

The key point about this is that the essence of music is the "Delta,"
meaning the change from one state to another.

And so when musicians create music,
they are altering the shape of time.

A very important aspect of this discussion
is that only humans seem to be able to perceive what we call "music."
Music seems to be a common component of every civilization known to man.

My theory is that human civilization came into existence when people learned to make music.
And thus the creation of music makes us more fully human.
I also believe that singing may have predated speaking,
and that the telling of tales, accompanied by beat and melody
was the key component that allowed the earliest civilizations to pass on knowledge
from one generation to the next
and thus gain a competitive advantage over their non-musical brethren.

Think about how much easier it is to remember a series of words,
when you put them to music.
Thus music acts as a carrier for the meanings of words.

Pre-literate societies (before the evolution of writing)
would have had no way to pass on knowledge to their children
without the benefit of music.

Music also acts as a kind of social glue.
If you've ever participated in a jam session, drumming circle or sung in a choir,
then you know the feeling of group cohesion that making music together fosters.

It's not hard to imagine our ancestors
sitting around the campfire at night,
singing and drumming the old tunes,
which told them who they were,
and passed on their belief systems from generation to generation.

To be continued...


obxbill said...

I like this a lot! It sounds like the interlude to a really cool book. I can't wait for the rest of it. Actually, I see this as a documentary on PBS or the Discovery channel.. With a narator speaking while throwing pebbles into a lake and then some sort of graphical depiction of an occiliscope with squiggly lines while music is playing. Then later the dawn of man sitting around a camp fire and evolution takes place and things change, etc, etc, etc.

Very cool!

RunAwayImagination said...

Thanks, man! Comments like yours encourage me to keep working at this stuff.

For too many of my years I've toiled away at meaningless jobs in crowds of faceless bureaucrats.

But now it's exciting to anticipate a long future of writing.

After 60 years, I think I've accumulated enough insights to make for some interesting reading for folks like yourself who are willing to stretch themselves enough to view the world through different eyes.

Wrkinprogress said...

obxbill -- you have quite a talent for coming up with up far-out graphics and illustrations. And NO ONE has a better voice than that dude with the runaway imagination. ;)