Natural Music

Natural Music

Last week when I heard Rupert Sheldrakes talk, I also heard a talk by his wife, Jill Purce. While the theme of the evening was Resonance, Jill comes from a very different place than Rupert. She speaks of herself as bringing sound healing to the west and of using sound in an uncommon way.

Right off the top, she’s the first woman I’ve ever heard doing overtone chanting. Some others in the room had learned as well, making for a very different sound from your typical Kirtan. Deep, throaty resonant sounds you can feel physically. As Jill observed, overtone chanting has an audible geometry – you can hear the overtones.

She spoke of how we have gone silent. In times past, we would sing songs and tell stories while we worked and played. She spoke of how singing makes you happy, even in singing a sad song.

Jill spoke of the evolution of music in the 17th century. The introduction of pianos caused problems with the predominant “Just intonation” of the day. Just Intonation (tuning) uses pure 5th’s and 3rd’s, improving on the earlier Pythagorean scale. But this didn’t hold up for multi-chordal instruments as each scale is relative to it’s base note. Change the scale (base note) and the ratios can break down. (although modern digital instruments could be built to shift tunings for each scale movement)

The result was “equal temperament”, slightly out of tune so the notes were chromatically evenly spaced to be played on the newer pianos. While it dramatically increased the number of scales and chords possible on a single instrument, Jill suggests it detuned from nature. That the chords we know so well from popular music are really all a little discordant.

If you listen to a natural scale, you would probably think it sounds a bit “Asian”. This apparent dissonance is our unfamiliarity with natural overtone sounds, not their naturalness. You may also notice that natural chords resonate more – you can feel them physically even without cranking the bass. (laughs)

Here’s a site that lets you “play” on-line versions of Partch’s instruments, tuned to the Just scale. Some in these examples are more complicated than a simple 12 tone octave though.

Jill also touched on mantra. By taking a standard mantra, you are tuning into the integrity and coherence of the field of all who have used it before you, unbounded by meaning. This connects with what Rupert was describing. She also spoke of the importance of the mantra being taught as it was then imparted by breath and sound. A little like the way transference and shaktipat are described.

An interesting evening all around.

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