Music: Complexity, Simplicity, Positivity

Source & Fluence

Rachel Howard, Tom Osmond

Some find this whole affair vapid, onerous, tiresome, and hopelessly absurd. For many, clubbing is akin to watching a b-flick on endless replay, over and over again, knowing perfectly well how the plot will unfold – a recreational situation that provides, they think, neither for becoming nor development, much less for refinement and perfection.
In their minds, club culture is an escape for those who can think of nothing better to do with their lives. They see it as a refuge for the superficial and immature types – to get drunk, high, loud, and stupid, as a prelude to getting laid (if so fortunate); a wildcard for those individuals who have no prospects more urgent than laying in bed the whole next day, feeling like garbage. This is how clubs are portrayed in popular culture. We may never find a single image in there to the contrary.

The ruins of a theatre in Miletus, an Ancient Greek city now in Aydın Province, Turkey, which is seen as the birthplace of the grid street plan.

The ruins of a theatre in Miletus, an Ancient Greek city now in Aydın Province, Turkey.

Music individualizes us. Unhinged from rigid dictums and stock formulae, it provides a greater diapason for individuation. Its breadth is key to those who score high on the scale of openness to experience. These are persons who are curious, creative, and imaginative. They see all things differently and prefer music that is more complex and novel. Take these elements away from music and it is over for the explorers.

Music as a form of relational consciousness: Odysseus, that brave and shrewd hero of Greek mythology, would never have made it far on his epic journey and back home to Ithaca without his oarsmen rowing in unison, without them singing all along in one voice thrusting the ship straight ahead.

"It is something that is present in us but also in between us, a form of embodied and relational consciousness..."

Others view clubbing in theological categories and in just as uncomplimentary ones – in terms of being stuck in limbo, a gray area between heaven and hell, filled with “crowds, multitudinous and vast”, as Dante would have it describing the first circle of nine in his layered catacombic Inferno. This sorrowful realm is populated by innocent, even virtuous souls. Yet, they are forever lost ones. In some other and much darker optics, it is hell the whole nine yards – as in the words of a character from No Exit, an existentialist play by Sartre. Unable to shield himself from the scrutiny of others, he exclaims in despair, “Hell is other people.” In the presence of the Other, one cannot avoid regarding oneself as an object, because it is always as an object that one appears to the Other. Clubs are full of other people.
This is the kind of feedback one gets when discussing the results of a recent survey aimed at figuring out the demographic nuances of club culture. Giving it the benefit of the doubt, assuming that this survey is not in the business of aligning our life choices with some ulterior self-serving agenda, we should just swallow it as a raw fact that 37 is the age when most people consider it “unseemly” to still be going to clubs – leaving it to our subconsciousness do all the planning for our retirement.

“I sleep by 10 PM. Hitting a club means I’ll have to stay up way past my bedtime...”

To drive it further, the seeds of this outlook begin to germinate around the age of 31. This is reportedly when people get the first itch for staying in instead of going out, succumbing to the comforts of their digs. It is at this point that we drop our initial assumptions and let our thinking slide toward the view that this trend may have not so much to do with coming of age as with the gravitational pull of digital home entertainment – a sponge-soft power of social atomization, alienation, and isolation that has never been stronger. 
In terms of content production and all the technologies involved to deliver it, it is a formidable industry with a zillion-dollar annual turnover that fuels this soft power, making it the hardest of all forces to resist. Getting together face-to-face with friends, let alone meeting strangers in person – if only for the sake of maintaining and enhancing sociality, so central an aspect of our culture and human civilization as a whole – has never been so close to impossibility. These days, the entertainment machinery does not want people out. It needs them inside, apart, all glued to the screens, and endlessly clicking – for more data traffic (or what used to be called “communication”).

"Given all these variations, it is unlikely that a single frequency would have the same effect on all of us, all the time...."

And then, within this 432Hz theory, what are we supposed to do with ourselves?  We are all alike, but not exactly the same when it comes to precise objective analysis. Each person is unique in weight, height, bone density, muscle mass... Our eardrums vibrate differently. We are not exactly the same, even with respect to ourselves: Our heart rate changes from minute to minute depending on whether we are standing up or lying down, moving around or sitting still, stressed or relaxed… The human pulse rate is generally between 40 and 120 beats per minute, which is equivalent to 0.6–2Hz.

Given these corporeal variations, it is unlikely that a single frequency would have the same effect on all of us, all the time. Chances are we each have our own natural frequency scales and music to our own ears, at least for the time being, before our preferences change due to the fluidity of our circumstances.

Frequencies of the Universe

3. Paths to Musical Positivity

Yet, is there anything we can speak of in the affirmative on the subject, without falling into the trap of simplification that belies the suffocating complexity of the issue? We need at least something to take on board in our inquiry into the complex mechanics of music and its immense impact on us.

With the help of new magnetic resonance technology, we now can observe that the way we process music in the brain has something to do with the way the brain handles our memories. The level of our engagement with music correlates with the illumination in the brain area responsible for our flashbacks. The same happens to the segment that processes language and imagery, as well as the part that coordinates our movements. Music somehow helps in the activation of these cognitive and motor faculties.

We may even go as far as to suppose that it is not just poking around in there, but contributes to the development of these faculties.We also know that music – particularly that of the upbeat variety – enhances sociability, induces cooperation, fosters creativity in groups. It also decreases judgmental behavior and inspires the exchange of ideas, stimulates the articulation of original thoughts, and encourages the expression of divergent points of view.

The point that music animates us does not require much of an explanation. Just cast a glance at the dancefloor and move on. Motus vita est! We live in motion …

John Cage "preparing" his piano. What would the adepts of the "miracle" frequency think of this kind of tuning? This technique involves altering the sound by throwing bolts, screws, nails, and other objects on the strings. Or how would they go about locking into 432Hz his famous 4′33″ piece with its score instructing performers not to touch their instruments all through the end? Rhetorical questions...

Music as Language

From thick books with unembellished covers and unromantic titles such as The Linguistic Construction of Reality, we glean that much of what we refer to as reality is, by and large, no more than the language we use to describe it. In the cultural domain, of which music is a part, it is none other than the effect of semantic codification and communication.

The sheer volume of language related to music is mindblowing: In works on music history, in dissertations on music theory, in lectures on music appreciation, in volumes of music criticism, in scientific papers on musical phenomena from different and very remote academic fields, in tutorials on music-making... 

It should come as no surprise that music and language are processed in near-identical functional brain areas. Music also lends itself to the imagination. In fact, Plato thought of music as a mimetic art, in one category with painting and poetry. Try listening to it and you too may see “shimmering, restless waves” in the orchestral illustrations of La Mer, one of Debussy's impressionist masterpieces. 

Intended primarily for listening, music is no less of a source to draw mental pictures from, an object to reflect upon, and a material for verbalization. Just like any cultural form: If it is any good at all, you never pass it in blind silence! 

"From its sinewy orchestral sound, we know it is a symphony. In its dramatic, barely containable expressivity we recognize a particularly artful reflection of the sublime..."

Music is language, just as language is music. And so we find that Human, All Too Human is prefaced with the author's clarification that this book is not just text. Nietzsche has conceived and bequeathed it to us as a musical composition, on a par with the literary one. It cannot be just read. It must also be heard – in the same vein as when you listen to music, particularly classical music, where picturing is key to hearing and appreciation. “If we reject the stories or images attached to music as unmusical, writes Kendall Walton in his essay Listening with Imagination, “we must begin to wonder how much of what we love about music will be left.” 

More resolute is the take of Lawrence Kramer, a composer and pioneering figure in the field of New Musicology that regards music in terms of its social and cultural references; a critical paradigm that closes the divide between music and language and sustains the semantic potentiality of music: “There is and can be no fundamental difference between interpreting a written text and interpreting a work of music – or any other product or practice of culture.

”Every sensory input is a stimulus. Our ears are transducers of sorts: Tickled with air vibrations, the eardrums convert these vibes into nerve impulses for the brain to register them and for our minds to derive some knowledge and attach some meaning to these signals. It is at this point that music emerges as reality.

Here, it pauses for a moment, bereft of words and pictures, where it is picked up by language and imagination to be gradually fulfilled as music, properly speaking – as the “Ah and Oh of the heart”, as Hegel would have it, until it assumes its highest cultural value through a long-winded musicological discourse. There is a process to it:

Drawing on our ability to recognize patterns, we gather that those sounds in our heads are not “noise”, but actually “music”. It is anything but a bone-dry whistling of a lonely fife lamenting the miseries of life. From its sinewy orchestral sound, we know it is a “symphony”. But it unfolds differently from any other symphony, as it unlocks new territories of emotion for us. In its dramatic, barely containable expressivity we recognize a particularly artful reflection of the “sublime”. Just as happy music is the kind of music that makes one happy, sublime music makes one feel sublime. This is how we feel being transported into the spiritual realm of the infinite. We cannot simply guess what it is that we are listening to. Only later do we find out that it is “Beethoven’s Fifth.” More to the point: it is “the world’s most famous symphony.” This explains its effect on us and pleases us in our thinking that the structure of our emotions perfectly reflects that of the world. Paging through Language of the Spirit or some other volume on music, we discover that this symphony has not always been received as sublime. At first, it was taken as a joke. We come to realize how everything about music – perhaps everything in the world – is contingent: Things are so-and-so, but not necessarily so.

Given the entire history of human evolution, the link between music and the brain is a relatively recent discovery. The ancient Egyptians did not think much of the gray matter, except that they viewed it as lumps of goo to purge the first thing in the preparation of pharaohs for their eternal journeys in the afterworld.

Music as Memories

Some theorize that music is nothing other than our memories. In this vein, the way music makes you feel has nothing to do with a piece of music itself, but the atmosphere within which it is encountered. This general atmosphere is then recalled every time one hears this music again (or a similar piece). 

Research has shown that music, especially its melodic component, evokes strong autobiographical memories. It glides you back to the situation where you heard it once.  It is not that emotions are built into music somehow and you simply mirror them in your mind. It is the associations of a piece with your prior emotions that guide your new emotional response. It is all there is to music, they argue. 

Be that as it may, there is no doubt that music affects us through association with other processes. A mild psychological irritant in the background can strip music of all its appeal or even ruin it to the point that the entire genre becomes insufferable. And vice versa: music sounds so much better when we tune into it within a broader spectrum of pleasurable experiences. Music Sounds Better with You, the title of one of the most irresistible dance tracks of all time, speaks for itself. The way to favorably transcend this wonderful sensation would be to recast it into a moment that is perfect in more ways than just one. Hear the tune played on the Sunset Terrace drenched in warm joyful colors, where you are greeted by uninterrupted views into the Aegean; with a glass of chilled wine in hand and your feet in the groove, the beat counting down to the full-moon ritual ahead, mysterious and unforgettable.

In the light of these insights, may we suggest that you never listen to our SC_Music releases in a state of emotional stress? Not even as a sidekick to something trivial in your life, or just to kill the silence with our aural forms. Please reserve them only for special moments. This will suffice insofar as our theory of music-as-memory is concerned. And all the while, we shall be taking care of the music-as-language part – so that music never runs out of your time out of our space!

Music and imagination: Schubert's Symphony No. 1 may strike one as somewhat "bright yellow", while Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 may be seen as "a ball of deep purple light dancing in pitch darkness". Or consider Ritual Incognito EP, the inaugural SC_Music release. The place where it takes you is so tranquil that you may want to give yourself completely to your dreams on the journey... They may even come true before this trip is over.

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