Perceiving Music in a different light

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I was listening to “Blending Quality” by Arts the Beatdoctor on the train today.


There’s statements within the track:

Essentially what happens is you can employ all sorts of combinations to make different colours out of the sound and it had a blending quality…..”

There’s a certain warmth to it, I think that’s one of the things that make it appealing…

Such tiny things will make my mind go off on a tangent and trigger things that I have seen or heard, well this statement in the song made me think about an article I read awhile back when I was living in Canada. The article was about an autistic savant called Daniel Tammet who perceives numbers as complex, multi-dimensional, coloured and textured shapes. Using these shapes he can visualize and remember the digits of the mathematical pi constant as rolling numerical panorama. In the article, “Thinking with Num6ers”, Tammet states:

Although the digits of pi are, mathematically speaking, strictly random, my internal representation of them was anything but – filled with rhythmic strokes and structures of light, colour and personality. From this random assembly of digits I was able to compose something like a visual song that meandered through every contour of my mind, through which I was able to hear the music of the numbers.”

Extraordinarily Tammet is able to perform complex calculations by segmenting and manipulating number shapes in his mind. Just like the syntactic computation in most people’s minds when segmenting and manipulating words and phrases into meaningful sentence, Tammet’s numerical abilities are as rapid, intuitive and unconscious.

I found this enticingly fascinating and such an unusual way of perceiving numbers. I had a conversation last week on Friday , someone was describing to me about a producer of electronic music who creates their music by means of a programming language. This seems to me the opposite to Tammet’s thought processes on numbers however similar at the same time. ‘Opposite’ in a sense that music and what it invokes can be intangible, ambiguous but can be created in a systematic, logical method. ‘Similar’ in a sense that the process for this is unconventional. It proves that we are capable of breaking away of the conventional, conditioned way of thinking.

I know this is slightly off the topic and is loosely connected to what I was thinking but I then went off on a tangent about why do some of us crave music so much and why do I need to be constantly listening to music. I was reading about a neurologist last year, Oliver Sacks who’s recent book “Musicphila: Tales of Music and the Brain” focuses on unusual cases having to do with music’s effects on the mind. There were a few cases mentioned where a person who suffered from Tourette’s syndrome found relief by playing on the drums, cases where music helped patients to recover, music aiding memory and included people suffering from aphasia (the inability to speak) could sometimes sing. There was an interesting question raised in the article “The mind reader” by Susan Kruglinski. The question was “Does the deep-rooted nature of music suggest that it is somehow essential to human survival, or at least to social survival?” In response to this question Sack includes:

This is a big question. I can only say that there is no culture without music. There are almost no individuals without music.”

And in every culture, music forms a social cement for dancing, singing. It’s invariably part of ritual and religion, and then there are things like work songs and martial music."

This makes me think that music could be partly instinctive. I think of music as ordered chaotic rhythmic wavelengths. I think that everything is made up of wavelengths, vibrations and it makes sense to see why we gravitate (crave) to harmonious, rhythmic vibrations. When I think back to thinking about perceiving music in a systematic logical manner as unconventional, it’s not so unconventional because music is made up of sounds, sounds are wavelengths that can be quantified and measured. The physical world is governed by physical law which is logical and quantifiable. Those who have studied music theory read music by symbols i.e. notes which are a small scale of our alphabet cdefgab, beats are also represented by different notes, minim, crotchets, quavers, semiquavers, semibreve..etc.. sounds distinguished between major, minor, treble, bass… how a sound is represented can be symbolized by p “piano” soft, f “forte” loud, hammer on, pull off… etc variations can be represented in different scales… it can go on…

We perceive music as beautiful, intangible, envoking emotion and logic as sterile, concrete and cold. Maybe we need to start steering away from the conventional thought process of segmenting things into logical, systematic and irrational, abstract and then maybe we can compose something extraordinary.
More information on: Daniel Tammet & Oliver Sacks


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