Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Music in the wind and Pythagorean philosophy
On the Aeolian Harp.
It was observed above, that as action and re-action are equal, the effect is the same, whether the sonorous body strikes air, or the air strikes the sonorous body. In the case of a musical pipe this is plain enough: but it was not so well known, nor could it be so familiarly proved, till of late years, that the air can begin of itself to produce the effect, and fetch music out of a string, as a string fetches music out of the air.
We have now a curious illustration of this fact from the instrument called an Eolian harp. How far the ancients were masters of this experiment, is uncertain: but it has long been known, that the wind would bring musical sounds from the strings of an instrument. In the Jewish Talmud, where we should scarcely expect to find any thing valuable in philosophy, the wind is reported to have brought music out of the harp of David; which, as it is there said, "being every midnight constantly blown upon by the north wind, warbled of itself." (Talmud in Berae, fol.6.)
This of course gives me an excuse to once more mention the behaviour of sound and light waves or any other waves we can think of for that matter, and the guy who explained a lot about it both philosophycly and mathematically.
Pythagoras was a Greek Mathematician born in 569 B.C. who studied math, music, and astronomy.
Pythagoras left Samos in disgust for its ruler Polycrates. He settled in Cretona, a Greek colony in southern Italy. There he founded a movement with religious, political and philosophical goals. To facilitate his movement, he created a school where his followers lived and worked. He had many devoted followers who were called Pythagoreans. They had to adhere to certain strict rules. Obedience, silence, abstinence from food, simplicity in dress and possessions, and the habit of frequent self examination were required of the Pythagoreans. They also believed in immortality and transmigration of souls.
The Pythagorean Theory of Music and Color
To Pythagoras music was one of the dependencies of the divine science of mathematics, and its harmonies were inflexibly controlled by mathematical proportions. The Pythagoreans averred that mathematics demonstrated the exact method by which the good established and maintained its universe. Number therefore preceded harmony, since it was the immutable law that governs all harmonic proportions. After discovering these harmonic ratios, Pythagoras gradually initiated his disciples into this, the supreme arcanum of his Mysteries. He divided the multitudinous parts of creation into a vast number of planes or spheres, to each of which he assigned a tone, a harmonic interval, a number, a name, a color, and a form. He then proceeded to prove the accuracy of his deductions by demonstrating them upon the different planes of intelligence and substance ranging from the most abstract logical premise to the most concrete geometrical solid. From the common agreement of these diversified methods of proof he established the indisputable existence of certain natural laws.
Having once established music as an exact science, Pythagoras applied his newly found law of harmonic intervals to all the phenomena of Nature, even going so far as to demonstrate the harmonic relationship of the planets, constellations, and elements to each other. A notable example of modern corroboration of ancient philosophical reaching is that of the progression of the elements according to harmonic ratios. While making a list of the elements in the ascending order of their atomic weights, John A. Newlands discovered at every eighth element a distinct repetition of properties. This discovery is known as the law of octaves in modern chemistry.
I admit that this is a long artical, but I would feel remiss if I omited Ishi, the last survivor of the Yahi tribe, who befriended the white man in 1911. He was the subject of much study, and was asked about music. Ishi recorded over 60 songs between 1911 and 1914.
According to Ishi, a bow left strung or standing in an upright position, gets tired and sweats. When not in use it should be lying down; no one should step over it; no child should handle it, and no woman should touch it. This brings bad luck and makes it shoot crooked. To expunge such an influence it is necessary to wash the bow in sand and water.
In his judgment, a good bow made a musical note when strung and the string is tapped with the arrow. This was man's first harp, the great grandfather of the pianoforte.
By placing one end of his bow at the corner of his open mouth and tapping the string with an arrow, the Yana could make sweet music. It sounded like an Aeolian harp. To this accompaniment Ishi sang a folk-song telling of a great warrior whose bow was so strong that, dipping his arrow first in fire, then in the ocean, he shot at the sun. As swift as the wind, his arrow flew straight in the round open door of the sun and put out its light. Darkness fell upon the earth and men shivered with cold. To prevent themselves from freezing they grew feathers, and thus our brothers, the birds, were born.