Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good Vibrations

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about sound and how we respond to different types of sounds. Why is the screech of a crow less appealing than the sweet tweet of a robin? Why is one voice appealing to us and another completely unmoving? Most people would agree that the operatic sounds of Florence Foster Jenkins are less desirable than that of Renata Scotto. But why? Okay, I know, pitch is a factor and consistency in breath production, blah blah blah…yes, I took vocal pedagogy in school. But, let’s compare two other voices. Why would someone love Leontyne Price over Eleanor Steber? Each one of these singers possesses outstanding qualities that put them in leagues way above the average singer, and yet there are still people who prefer Price to Freni. Okay, yes certain voice color and artistic expression is preferable to some and not a factor to others. The arguments could go on forever as to who has the best voice, and trust me, in some circles the arguments are still going on. To me it is like trying to count shades of light.

I have always thought of sound more as vibration than aural aesthetic. What I mean is, I like to feel sound rather than hear it. What I mean by that is, sound vibrations are more pleasing to me than simply listening to singing. When I listen to a singer and I can feel how that sound or vibration moves through their body then I connect to that singer. When I feel what they feel then I connect to them as well. I am not speaking necessarily of emotions derived from the text being sung. I can feel emotion with or without words and we know this well when we listen to symphonic works. I can be moved by the feel of a clarinet as well as a voice. What is that we are feeling? Why does is feel different for every person?

What we are feeling is vibration and energy and every being and object has it and every being and object is completely different. Is this too new-agey? Perhaps. But think for a moment about how sound is energy and has power in almost a magical sort of way. Think of sound as form and that it can affect other forms. What if you could hold sound in your hand or see it on a screen or watch it vibrate through water? Yes, pretty cool, huh? Well, we can. Enter stage left, the character , cymatics.

Cymatics isn’t a new discovery. The mastermind Galileo knew about it. Cymatics is the study of vibrations and their visual effects on particles. In its early study it was done by vibrating a sheet of metal and watching small particles move around according to the frequency of the vibration. I used to watch cymatics and didn’t even know it. I would stand and watch the saw dust move around from the vibration of my Granddaddy’s skill saw and marvel at how it always moved to the same spot. Some of the particles were moving because of the vibrating machine, but there were some that moved on metal because of the high pitch of the saw. It’s pretty cool stuff when you think about it.

Maybe we connect to certain sounds not just through our ears but through the vibrations that those sound make us feel. Or, we connect to those sounds because they vibrate us in a pleasing way. These sounds actually play us. Imagine that by listening to Beethoven that you are actually being stimulated by invisible massage hands. What a thought! I love thinking of sound this way and even more, singing. What if by singing we actually are vibrating people and spreading, oh my, good vibrations? (Sorry for that one, I couldn’t resist.)

Take a look at this clip from Ted: Ideas Worth Spreading. Here creative technologist, Evan Grant, gives us examples of how sound actually vibrates shapes. He states, “Well for me, Cymatics is an almost magical tool. It’s like a looking glass into a hidden world.” I feel he is right. What does each bird look like according to sound? What shape does the robin make? What does the voice of Florence Foster Jenkins look like? What does Rap music look like? How does the look of all these sounds through cymatics compare to the actual enjoyment of that sound. Can I dislike rap music but like the look of the music as art through cymatics? What if Florence Foster Jenkins’ cymatic picture is a brilliant work of art? Most importantly, what if sound is form and it does affect other forms? What does that mean for me as a singer? To me it means that we have the ability to change or alter people with our music. We know this to be true ultimately because we have experienced it at some point in our lives. We remember the first time we were moved by music but we didn’t really know what was happening. But, now we can see it. Our sounds, our words, our sighs, and our exaltations have energy and vibrations that ripple out to others. That is our tsunami of healing magic.

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