The Sound Possibilities Forum is a space for ongoing discussions about music and sound; how they function in the world, in us, and all the many ways music and sound have been used throughout history in different cultures. We will explore ancient traditions along with historical and contemporary insights, seeking an integral understanding of the many different roles music and sound play in our lives.
We encourage everyone, with or without musical experience to bring your ideas to the table. Teachers, artists, computer programmers, doctors, lawyers, indian chiefs, physicists, astrologers, atheists and priests, there may be something of interest here for all. Sound Possibilities encourages and promotes the role music and sound can play in the reintegration of science and religion, cross-cultural relations, re-energizing education, music therapy, the soundscape and architectonics of urban development and architecture, and the overall well-being of our world.
There is great mystery and profound beauty in music. It is a vast subject and has been explored, explained and experienced in many ways through the ages. There are theories concerning the structure of music, ideas about performance, styles and genres of music, the physics of sound, the sciences of psycho-acoustics and neuro-psychology exploring how music affects the brain revealing a new understanding of the mind, all this and so much more. Some of the most ancient ideas on music and sound continue to exert a powerful influence on our culture even after undergoing countless revisions in light of new discoveries.
Sound Possibilities approaches music and sound from the multiple perspectives of art, science, history, spirituality, music in nature and it’s relation to language, healing, education, and entertainment. It is a physical phenomenon involving harmonic overtones, frequencies and sound waves moving through various materials, and it is also a cultural device used for the preservation and transmission of collective ideals and values. It is a bridge between physical reality and the empyrean realms of the spirit. It can heal our bodies, our hearts and minds. It can organize societies and just as easily provoke revolutions. It is being used to treat autism and a host of mental and physical maladies, to enhance intelligence and cognitive skills, and as a speculative blueprint for the architecture of time and space. But it can also be used, openly or subliminally, to influence and manipulate behaviors in ways we may not even recognize. In the marketplace, in the broadcast media, and in its broad commercial appeal it is used every day to promote everything from breakfast cereal to sexual attitudes, from brands of beer to political candidates. We have no earlids to shut out what we choose. But we can cultivate the way we listen.
We don’t know how it does all these things, but we have volumes of documentation dating back to ancient Vedic manuscripts and Chinese treatises involving the I-Ching which offer very sophisticated explanations. We have Pythagorean and Neoplatonist interpretations of harmonic correspondences relating number symbolism and tone to the cells of plants and organs in the human body. We know from experience that even unintentionally, music can impart powerful influences on us. Imagine what we might be able to accomplish if we understood any of these theories well enough to apply music in a truly conscious and intentional way!
Songs and Folk Music as Seeds or Memes
Being a guitarist and songwriter for over 40 years, I have sought to use the medium of sound and music for capturing large ideas and crafting them down into convenient easy-to-carry packages. Music is especially well-suited for this somehow. It seems to have the capacity to transmit something as complex and magnificent as Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, but is just as capable at conveying a mother’s love to her baby through a simple lullaby. I consider songs to be almost magical vessels or seed-crystals, a kind of bardic technology used for the propagation and cross-fertilization of ideas (memes). The study of folk music has revealed it to also be a very effective vehicle for transmitting values across the generations, accompanying the migrations of entire civilizations, adapting and absorbing new influences but somehow still managing to preserve something of the old.
“Words make us think thoughts, music makes us feel feelings, songs make us feel thoughts.” – Yip Harburg (songwriter, “Hey Buddy Can You Spare a Dime” and “Over the Rainbow”.)
Emerging Techniques of Bardic Technology
As much as I enjoy writing and singing songs in the folk-based tradition I grew up with, I came to discover that there are so many fascinating ‘alternative’ applications for music and sound, both in the past and others just emerging now. These are driven in part by advances in digital technology and research in neuroscience mapping brain activity. But another major source comes from a renewed appreciation for ancient traditions. New studies in archaeology, anthropology and mythology are revising our definitions of intelligence, creativity, and capacities for divergent and critical thinking skills. By removing the filters of our own cultural bias we are recognizing amazing capabilities in ancient societies who practiced their traditions in an entirely different cultural and social context.
Music and Literacy
In his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, (Penguin, 1998) Lawrence Shlain suggests that written language and the increasing importance placed on literacy facilitated a fundamental shift in ancient cultures from matriarchal oral traditions to patriarchal literary traditions and the subsequent political, academic and economic institutions this shift led us to. His theories are controversial and much of his biblical scholarship, as well as his expertise on matriarchal cultures quite idiosyncratic, a personal view at best. Nevertheless, he does challenge us to think again about the possible effects a shift from an oral culture to a literate one might cause. This dominance of western linear thinking is finally beginning to show signs of wearing thin as our societies become increasingly diverse while at the same time technology is rapidly making powerful forms of multi-media communications more accessible to greater numbers of people. While we may never return to a true oral culture, or even suggest that would be desirable, the values of literacy are beginning to share the stage with values learned, developed and shared through the new technologies of an ‘aural’ culture that began with broadcast radio and the recording studio in the early 20th century and now include television, motion-pictures, video, streaming digital audio and video on the internet, instant messaging, smart phones, podcasts, and social networking applications. As this trend continues, we can expect a multitude of sound possibilities to appear in education, communications and the arts. Literature has without a doubt revolutionized the way we communicate, the way we think, how we believe, what we believe, and the way we go about understanding. Music and sound are “pre-literate” technologies. The way a human brain processes music and sound is quite different from the way it processes language, especially written language, and to a great extent even spoken language today as much of what we hear spoken today is in the form of scripted “news” in media. In other words, the replacing of oral culture with literature has no doubt had a more profound change on our way of life than we may have yet come to recognize.