In one of those “Human beings are amazing. You never know what they’re going to discover and/or explore” moments, someone randomly posted a YouTube video to my Facebook wall. Normally this is not something I enjoy or encourage. Not even a little bit truth be told. But in this instance I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not one of their songs or videos or essays or lectures as is usually the case, nor was it some political article skewed one way or the other. Rather it was a strange video explaining why the note we know as “middle A” in Western music is tuned specifically to the frequency of 440 Hertz. I knew this to be true, just as any musician does, amateur or professional, because this is what we are taught in school. The real question is WHY do we never question why that particular frequency was chosen to represent this particular note?
Back in music school when I was a kid just out of high school, all the other students were a few years older than I was — to say the least. I was 17 at the time. I think the youngest person in any of my classes was probably in their early 20s. So there was a lot of learning for me then, both in the classroom and out. I actually believe that I could confidently state that I can recall more of what other students taught me or attempted to teach me during those two years than anything I learned in any particular class. There were many lessons… About romance, the art of music, literature, and life.
One night in particular I remember this guy named Tim who was probably about 25 at the time (though to me he might as well have been 40 — everyone seemed old and very adult to me there) explaining to me how the notes and scales we use in Western music are random when you consider them from a bigger more global viewpoint, especially contrasted with music and scales from other countries. I had honestly never thought of that before. Didn’t even know about it.
How we just assume that there are 12 notes in between C and C, when in fact there are many more, infinitely more in fact. This blew my mind. How our guitars and pianos are actually crafted to ONLY play those 12 notes. We can’t play all those other notes in between those dictated 12 notes even if we wanted to due to the construction of the instruments we play here in the States and in other so-called Western countries. Imagine that…
How we consider C to be the start of our scales. Why? How we usually have 8 notes in a scale. Why? Other countries don’t necessarily limit scales to that. Some have less. Some have more. That all of our music, including what we call Middle C, is based on a random tuning of the note A to the frequency of 440 hertz. I had never thought about musical notes in terms of what frequency they are tuned to… Never got that deep with it. I was 17. Just beginning to peek my head out of the clouds. I did remember learning that electronic tuners, the ones we use to plug our guitars into, were calibrated based on A being set to 440. But I didn’t really know what it meant. I just remembered it as one of those unimportant random facts we pick up along with the way.
Ever since that evening I have gone back to that conversation again and again in my mind… Especially when listening to music from other countries that do not use or rely on the traditional Western 12 notes for their music… wondering about those secret hidden notes between the 12 notes we use. Simply put we go from C to C for example and in between those two Cs there are 10 notes and that’s it. Bear in mind that we have no actual scales that use all 12 notes because it wouldn’t sound like a scale per se. It would just sound like a bunch of notes all run together. Unless someone just plays what we call a “chromatic scale” which literally translates to “play all the notes in between one note and it’s octave (the C higher than Middle C, the C higher than that one, etc…)” What you end up with is the sound of “no discernible scale” because you’re playing ALL the notes available to us. But “available to us” is the key to seeing the magic and mystery in that sentence.
Most of our most common scales have only 8 notes in them actually, 7 really if you don’t count the octave (the C higher than the C you started on). Think Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. That Do represents C. So really there are only 7 notes. Sometimes we’ll veer off of that and add an extra note or 2 in there, such as a 7th, a 2nd or 9th, a 6th. These are all pretty common additions. Depending on how you play it you might be still playing just 8 notes or you might play 9 instead. Sometimes we’ll use more than one of those, let’s say for example the chord Cmin7(9), meaning that we’re adding the 7th and the 9th to the chord in addition to the usual 1st, 3rd, and 5th. On and on. It’s an endless contemplation. And not really pertinent to this post. The main point is that we have for whatever reason limited our music in the West to the above explanations. For better or worse. That’s just how it is.
But deeper than that. We’ve also limited it in terms of WHAT each individual notes ARE exactly. That’s something that most of us don’t think of. Hum something right now to yourself. Just one note. Out loud. Any note. See, here’s the deal. You MAY have hummed a real note (in Western music) OR you may not have. You might have been off a little. Perhaps you were “real close” to humming an A let’s say. That’s what is known as a tone or a frequency in reality, in the study of sound. You hummed a tone really. We don’t know if you hummed an actual “note”. It’s a tonal frequency, but not necessarily a “note” in a strict sense. We’d have no way to know IF we hadn’t chosen specific frequencies to represent the individual notes we use. How would any of us know what an A was unless we specifically decided as a society that the note A was to be represented exactly by the frequency of 440 hertz? We wouldn’t. We’d all be playing slightly different tones or frequencies and calling them “A”. SO at some point 440 was chosen to be “A”.
So… What’s all this lead to? Well the video below says it way better than I could at this point. The main thing to consider is this: What if A isn’t really 440? Hah! In reality it’s NOT. That’s the thing. It’s an illusion that we have all just agreed to agree on. Like almost everything we think we know or believe as humans. That seems to be the pervading theme of the Transcendence Diaries isn’t it? All these illusions that we have agreed to agree on in order to make life more acceptable and sensible to us, to create order out of the chaos. Of course that’s where we get Chaos Theory and Quantum Mechanics, this realization that the actual universe is NOT ordered or sensible, that there is no way to really nail things down as much as we’d like to… not even things that seem relatively stable and solid such as atoms or time or gravity… Ever heard of leap year? It’s mind boggling really.
It’s certainly NOT the year 2013. We know that. My name isn’t really Fishy. We know that too. truth is I have no name. My parents were asked to and one assumes felt compelled to at some point “name their first born son”. So they did. But it isn’t really my name. This isn’t really the United States of America that we live in. Consider the origin of this country, even just it’s name… and you really start to bend over backwards trying to take in all the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Primarily because it’s all randomly man-made. They say Christopher Colombus “discovered America”. But we know in reality that his name was Cristóbal Colón; that the land he “discovered” had already been discovered 10,000 years before and was inhabited by millions of other people; that the name “America” came from the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci who supposedly had “discovered” the land before Colon had. And on and on it goes. That’s just the tip of the iceberg really. So many illusions, just in regards to the name of one country.
Forget about all the other illusions that we agree to agree on. “God” anyone? In the history of humanity we’ve believed in and had over one-thousand “gods” so far. And we’re really just beginning in our evolution. Hell we don’t even know when we started out in our “evolution” or if we even evolved so to speak. I cannot help but entertain the theory that we may just have been created by another species of sentient beings entirely and that we never really “evolved” from fish as some people agree to believe. I mean, that’s the thing isn’t it? It’s all just man-made.
Which beings us back to music. More and more people are beginning to explore this idea of WHY we use the specific frequencies we do for the musical notes that we use to create music in. The video below goes into this. How some frequencies are “healing” and how some may be “harmful”. I’m not sure I could fully get behind believing in this belief system 100%. After all, it is just a belief system. Being true for a person to the degree they believe it to be true and thus dictating their experience. But it is a fascinating thing to explore. What if we did decide to change our entire musical architecture and make the note A 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz? We could easily make that decision. No problem in that decision. The problem would be all the music instruments all over the world would have to be re-tuned and re-calibrated. In other words, we’re so far gone in this belief system, it’s such a rigid system, that there’s no way in hell that collectively enough people will ever allow this decision to be made.
And therein illustrates a damn good example of why so-called conspiracies exist and may just not always be “theories”. One might say that certain conspiracies exist simply due to the fact that the majority of people involved in the decision making process of whatever paradigm or system we are discussing decide that things are fine the way they are and that it would be too much trouble to make things different.
This isn’t to say that WE can’t choose to decide that the note A will from now on be represented by 432 hertz instead of 440 hertz. We can. We can even re-tune all our instruments that way and continue to write all our music like that from now on. Of course no one else would be able to play with us unless they did the same thing. Frankly it’s something I’d like to hear. Changing A would necessitate changing ALL of the frequencies of all the notes in any musical scale we would use from that point on. So every note we play in any given piece of music would have an entirely different sound to it…. Fascinating… I’d love to hear it. So much more. But good for now.
I highly recommend these videos. Check out this one.