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Metaphor in Music

July 6, 2017


 
 
The metaphor in Music-everything is vibrating, everything has rhythm and a tone. 
I don’t speak Japanese but I have heard that in all the dialects of the Japanese language there are no nouns. Only verbs. This refers to all objects as being in motion.  Or more accurately the energy or “chi” which has taken the form of that object. The chair is “Chair-ing”.  The table is “table-ing”. A similar explanation using modern physics would be “the density of mass is formed by the speed in which the electrons are moving around each particle.” So this implies that everything is made up of energy and it’s density is determined by the speed in which that energy is moving. In acoustic physics we refer to this as “resonant frequency”. All objects have a frequency in which it resonates which is in direct correlation to it‘s density. If a singer can match the exact note of the resonant frequency of a wine glass and sing it loud enough while gradually sharping the note, the glass will shatter because it‘s particles are forced to accelerate to a point in which the glass can no longer handle. Even the densest objects have a resonant frequency. (including humans! Our planet too, I‘ve heard it in the desert). To our human ears, there are frequencies which we readily identify and relate to. Generally it is a slightly wider range than the human voice. 
The speed in which something vibrates is measured in Hertz (hz). If you strike an A440 hz  tuning fork  the tone generated is a vibration of 440 times per second. If you strike an A440 on piano, guitar, flute or wine glass, it is still the same note. That string, reed, or glass is vibrating 440 times per second.  
The difference in sound that we hear between each instrument playing the same note is tone. Tone is in reference to overtones created by the fundamental note which in this case is A440hz. The resonant overtones can differ widely depending upon the density of the material that is creating the note. Different types of wood, metals, glass, plastics, stone, etc all have different density and will allow different notes to vibrate more freely and less freely. Creating what we call a “pure” tone or a less pure tone. Each material has it’s own resonant frequency as well as available overtones.   
This is where it gets interesting- 
There is something called the “overtone series” which refers to the additional notes generated by a “fundamental pure tone”. You hear it in the 

 
 
pulsating effect around a pure tone. In a high quality bell, cymbal or crystal bowl there are many overtones which you can hear as well as the fundamental resonant frequency of that object. Often upon striking , you will hear pulsating waves of overtones before it settles down to a pure fundamental tone such as a C or an A. Strike a bell and listen to how the energy of your strike activates the overtones and as the energy settles  it finds it’s resonant frequency.  Those overtones appear in a series which have been discovered to be a constant no matter what the note. However the entire series of overtones can rarely be heard from a fundamental unless it is a very pure tone at the proper volume in a controlled environment. Each instrument or material of varying densities allows it’s own overtone series combination which gives it it’s own personal voice just as with humans. 
Trying to avoid math is difficult…. The Overtone or “Harmonic“ series- is a series of  decreasing multiples of the fundamental.  I chose to explain this in musical rather than mathematical terms. (the terms octave, fifth, third, flat 7, etc , are terms that notate a note a numerical distance higher than the fundamental). When a single note is struck, we first hear an octave of the fundamental followed by a fifth followed by another octave with major 3rd,5th and flat 7th, then another octave. 9th, ma 3rd, #11, 5th  6th,flated 7th , and major 7th, the next octave reproduces the same order of notes as well. With each of the notes vibrating against each other (each note has it’s own vibrational rate of speed per second ) they create more notes in between each note called partials. To visualize the complexity of a single note I get a visual description of a Christmas tree. The trunk representing the fundamental, the larger lower branches which are further apart representing the lower octaves and fifths. As you move up the tree the branches  (notes) become smaller and closer together  with each branch expanding out to further partial notes with their own additional partials all the way out to it‘s needles and the tiny hairs on each needle. Many of these partials especially in the higher register are out of tune to our western ears but always evident in the sound of any instrument or voice. And they would be missed if removed from our sounds (as with the first electronic music before they figured out the correct algarhythms for the harmonic series).  We refer to these in-between notes as quarter tones. Quarter tone harmony is the basis for Indian and some other middle eastern music. In some ways Indian music is more complex rhythmically and tonally than western music because it has a system based on 24 notes compared to our twelve. Their 

 
 
rhythms are more complex because rhythm comes from the natural beating pulse of two or more opposing resonant frequencies. It is really interesting to consider all the different cultural and individual choices of scales and chords that make up geographical styles of music.   So before I can step away from this mathematically deep rabbit hole, let me say that it is proven that all sound is based on a mathematical equation that is perfect in it’s slight imperfection. As it reaches higher multiples of the fundamental, the numbers become less even and slightly out of tune. This however sounds natural and pleasing to our ears. Any piano tuner knows that the higher register of the piano must be gradually tuned slightly sharp in order to sound in tune. Pythagoras sensed this in all of nature and used the spirals in a nautilus shell to prove his “golden mean” mathematical formula that essentially claimed that  the most pleasing aesthetic balance for anything in art or design should be  slightly off center, slightly less than perfect by 1.6 degrees. All renaissance art was based on this premise and many of the great masterpieces in all idioms can be  analyzed to conform to this. Stepping away from the rabbit hole………… 
 
My definition of rhythm is the combination of two or more vibrational frequencies to create a pattern. It is all about rhythm to me. 
 
EVERYSINGLE  NOTE CONTAINS IT’S OWN COMPLEX HARMONIC SERIES AND COMBINATIONS OF RHYTHMIC VIBRATIONS CREATED BY IT’S OWN  HARMONICS AND PARTIALS. 
 
Within one note you can extract all the notes to create a scale. Within one note you can extract all the rhythms created by the opposing vibrations of each overtone and partial. 
 
Play a single note. Let it speak to you. It will tell you where it wants to go if you let it. When melody comes, it creates a key center-a scale. Now we have notes playing against each other that when played simultaneously create chords. So all the complexities of each single note are now combined  to create a wildly rich sonority of tones and rhythms just by letting them vibrate against each other and become one sound. Within those pulsating sonorities there are many vibrational rhythms. And each instrument with it’s 

 
 
own tonal personality colors the mix.  When we play a melody, accompanied by a Bass line , some chords, a counterpoint and rhythms which can also have a bass line and counter rhythms, the amount of vibrations from each individual sound combined creates a tonal/rhythmic complexity that is nearly impossible to comprehend all at once. Instead we hear it as a whole. What we feel is the musician’s intent coming through, or it can be the inspiration of higher spirits. I believe that thoughts, memories and emotions are vibrationally based as well and are easily triggered through music. We can take all these complex components and organize them in infinite ways that express who we are and tell our stories. With the added components of poetry and voice the combination becomes incredibly potent and human. We are combining and manipulating the very components that make up the universe in a celebration of the marriage of the physical and the spiritual.  And we are able to put ourselves fully inside the environment which music creates and entrain to the vibrations. It purifies, simplifies and strengthens our own vibrational field when we are able to entrain either individually or as a group. Music is the oldest tool of the shaman used for strengthening the tribe as a whole. And it is still the job of a musician to offer that gift to all. We are expressing the higher through the complex combinations of vibrations that the world is made of. Music can be a metaphor for all aspects of humanity as well as all aspects of the physical and spiritual world. It is a very close expression of God in every interpretation of the name. So if everything has a resonant frequency because it is made up of energy moving at different vibrational speeds , my assessment is that music stems from our sensitivity to this natural occurrence in our environment (the chair is chair-ring, the table is table-ing) and a desire to rearrange these vibrations (our physical world)  in an aesthetic order (is our sense of aesthetics  acquired from an intuitive sense of these mathematical vibrations?).   For me the metaphors can be infinite but ultimately it is the representation of the union of the physical and the spiritual.   I may go even further to say that as we create our own reality we have chosen this physical world to take the shape it has simply by moving energy. Music is a prime example of that both in metaphor and in practice. The greatest musicians are magicians of time. We manipulate the speed in which energetic vibrations relate together bending and recreating the speed of those vibrations through their relationships and ultimately creating a non physical environment that is not related to the immediate physical environment and it’s restrictions of momentary time. It no longer matters 

 
 
that the chair is chair-ing and the table is table-ing because our sense of time and space has been altered by the magical combination of vibrational energies we call music

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