Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Practice--Responding to raw frequency

Birds do it, dogs do it, and children do it.  And before humans develop our analytical and rational minds, we also responded to music and sometimes without inhibitions.  Put on some Cuban or Brazilian or really, any type of music then watch what happens to a room full of toddlers.  They don't get out pens and paper, grab music theory books, or pontificate about perfect fifths.  They are the lucky ones who respond to music purely and in an uncomplicated manner.

A few years back, David Rothenberg (a musician/philosopher turned researcher) wondered why birds sing.  Yes, they sing for survival, mating, and defending of territory, but did they also sing for pleasure? Rothenberg leaned towards yes.  More recently, while reading Elena Mannes book The Power of Music--Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song), I learned that Thai elephants can play music and that cockatoos among other creatures can synchronize to the rhythms of human made music.  In fact, I have felt engrossed with Mannes' book, while experiencing goosebumps at time.

Often the hard scientists, the biologists and ornithologists claim that we anthropomorphize when we say that birds or animals enjoy music and find it pleasurable.  "No," they say, "only humans have that capacity."  Basically, to me, these scientists promote this idea that humans stand at the top of all creation and no creatures has more intelligence or abilities than humans.  Humans after all, have rational thought.  Yes, like that's done us a lot of good.  When in fact, it is this rational and critical thought that leads us to feel a great deal of stress.  It's so stressful holding the world together and keeping all the non-humans in balance in aligned with human needs.

So the argument that I keep reading in book after book, is that intuition and feelings are sappy and wrong, and that we must only believe hard scientific facts.  But if we create our reality as in quantum physics, then I create a reality where animals and birds enjoy music along with humans; we chill together.  Yes, just like the original Garden of Eden before rational thought showed up.

The other argument is that humans only listen and play music for pleasure or are the only earth creature that has this unique ability.  Birds only sing to court other birds, to mate, to protect their nest and to defend territory.  They also sing for survival.  Are these scientists telling us that humans don't sing to attract mates, for survival, to spread messages or other reasons than pure pleasure?

Then why do I recall rock musicians writing songs so that they could get laid? Isn't that about attracting mates? And what about those medieval troubadours and court musicians who composed and sang songs to attract unrequited lovers? Some were even successful, until the kings found out.  And are these scientists proposing that early humans before they had language, did not sing certain songs to warn the others about predators or to defend territory? I'm just not buying that they didn't sing for those reasons.

I think it is time for humans to step down from their pedestals and admit we are not superior to the myriad of creatures that exist on the earth.  Watch the following videos and then decide which you prefer, listening to music purely for the frequencies and emotions conveyed or listening to music with your rational and analytical thoughts jamming the signal.  Personally, I think children and non-humans are the lucky ones.  Even as a music journalist I grow tired of critiquing music, of sifting through details, and asking my subjective and sometimes defensive mind, do you like this or not? After all, music is for the heart, not the brain so let's get over ourselves.

The Thai Elephant Orchestra,

BBC documentary Why Birds Sing (6 parts),

Through a Dog's Ear (CBS Early Show),

Zebra Finches playing rock guitar,

Dancing Cockatoo,

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