There are deeper levels to music than sound itself. On a recent trip to Chichen Itza, I was amazed at the vocal amplification achievable from various corners of the site. The Mayan high priest was once able to conduct speeches to hundreds of people with no microphone technology. This feat was achieved through the use of precise mathematics in the design of the buildings. The Mayan’s Master mathematicians from were able to precisely utilise mathematical proportions to manipulate the direction of vibrational frequencies. More recently, German scientists produced experimental ‘Sonic Canons’ during the second world war in an effort to destroy enemies from the inside. This has since been controversially utilised by US law enforcement, who are able to deter protesters with high range abrasive sonic frequencies.
To talk about reality itself in terms of vibrations is becoming ever more popular within science. The holographic universe theory emerged in the 1990s, and is able to effectively break everything down to the vibrational level. Professor Kostas Skenderis of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton explains: “Imagine that everything you see, feel and hear in three dimensions in fact emanates from a flat two-dimensional field. The idea is similar to that of ordinary holograms where a three-dimensional image is encoded in a two-dimensional surface, such as in the hologram on a credit card. However, this time, the entire universe is encoded.” This mathematical code is provided through a stream of vibrations, which the human brain decodes as ‘reality’. With this in mind, as early as the 1950s, composer John Cage noted:
“Look at this ashtray. It’s a state of vibration. We’re sure of that, and the physicist can prove it to us. But we can’t hear those vibrations… It would be extremely interesting to place it in a little anechoic chamber and listen to it through a suitable sound system. Object would become process; we would discover… the meaning of nature through the music of objects.”
The use of vibrations holds an enormous range of effects on humans. The most noticeable in our every day lives is included in sound waves. Music has found a place in amplifying the emotions in rituals, sports games and of course – raves. The quality of a sound has a direct biological effect, tweaking emotions and even fuelling workouts. Herman von Helmholtz, the nineteenth-century German physicist, proposed that when musical notes aren’t ‘in tune,’ you can hear beating, pulsing, or roughness if they are played at the same time. You can hear this beating if you play the same note on more than one instrument, and if they are ever so slightly different, if they aren’t exactly the same note, you will hear a throbbing or beating that varies in speed depending on how similar they are. Helmholtz maintained that we find this beating, which is a physical phenomenon and not just an aesthetic one, disturbing. Like thinkers of old, Helmholtz was claiming that we have an inherent attraction to balanced music that ultimately adheres to mathematical proportions. Think about this the next time your favourite DJ steps up to the decks.