The Cosmos Soundtrack

atles-anharmonic2
atles-anharmonic2Foto: Arthur CaravanFragment of the cover of Atles enharmònic (self-produced, 2011), Arthur Caravan’s album that includes a song inspired by Pythagoras.

Music has accompanied humanity throughout history, however, it is not exclusive to humans. We know it exists in the animal world and that it is vital for some species. What is more, there are theories that claim that every element of the universe produces its own music, and it is not an absurd thing to say: it has been proven that outer space is not as quiet as we thought it was and many celestial bodies emit imperceptible sounds to the human ear. Ten years ago, for instance, NASA’s Chandra satellite detected a B flat that was 57 octaves below middle C on a piano emitted by a supermassive black hole. In the 7th century B.C., Pythagoras went even further and claimed that music played a key role in the operation of the universe. Not in vain, people attribute to the Greek philosopher and mathematician the discovery of consonant musical intervals. According to the Pythagorean worldview, planets orbit around a big fire sphere and each one of them emits a different sound. The ones closer to the Earth and the ones that move slower produce lower notes, while the furthest and the fastest ones emit high-pitched notes. Planets were equally separated from each other, just like the notes in a harmonic scale. Therefore, celestial bodies in motion produce a kind of celestial music, imperceptible to humans, which Pythagoreans named «harmony of the spheres» and that matches what we call silence.

The Pythagorean worldview was mistaken, but science is built up on its own mistakes. Pythagoras and his disciples were the first ones to ever conceive planets as spherical mobile bodies and whose ideas were developed in a more rigorous way many centuries later. The idea of a balanced universe has seduced many thinkers throughout history, from the classic Plato and Cicero to the German astronomer Johannes Kepler, who, in the 16th century, set a harmonic system of correlation between celestial bodies based on musical affinity. This theory has also left an imprint in artistic creativity. The best known example is Salvador Dalí’s  The Harmony of the Spheres, exhibited at the Dalí museum in Figueres (Girona). Of course, this concept has had a great influence on the music world. In the United States we can find the Music of the Spheres Society, devoted to the promotion of classical music, philosophy and science. There are also many musicians, like Ian Brown or Mike Oldfield, who have named songs or albums after this expression. A recent case is L’harmonia de les esferes, Arthur Caravan’s song, after which this section about music and science was named, and which was included in their last album, Atles enharmònic (self-produced 2011).

 

 

«It has been proven that outer space is not as quiet as we thought it was and many celestial bodies emit imperceptible sounds to the human ear»

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

«The idea of a balanced universe has seduced many thinkers throughout history and has left an imprint in artistic creativity»

 

 

Atles enharmònic is a work full of musical concepts that are visible in the name of the album itself (enharmonic refers two equal sounds perceived differently depending on the context) and in the title of the songs (Majors i menors [Majors and Minors], Cadència trencada [Broken Beat], L’interval del diable [The Devil’s Interval]). In a recent interview given to La Vanguardia, the lead singer and composer of the band Pau Miquel Soler explained that these musical metaphors are part of a poetic game that impregnates the whole album. It is in this context that the song L’harmonia de les esferes can be completely understood, a song that mixes Pythagorean postulates with the story of two «kinetic lovers» —the planets?—, who are delighted by the magnificence of a perfectly balanced universe. A balance that is also applied to the relation between the instruments of the band and Soler’s nice voice in a song where every element is put together to call up this celestial music and in which love is expressed by means of a simple and effective idea: a song that is answered exactly at the same frequency in a world without distortions. The lyrics of the song achieve their aim with a vitalist principle, which is hard to refute: «when the lived life dies, living kills death». If we retake the Pythagorean view of a sublime cosmos ruled by proportion for a moment, we could set as a hypothesis that the sky is a place where Arthur Caravan’s L’harmonia de les esferes sounds in an impeccable infinite loop. It is a pity that science, more of a killjoy than ever, has demonstrated that the universe soundtrack has taken less melodic roads.

To listen:
Arthur Caravan, 2011. Atles enharmònic. Self-produced. Alcoi.

To read:
Edulque, A., 2010. «L’Univers pitagòric». Digits.

Felip Pineda. Mètode’s editorial staff. University of Valencia.
© Mètode 2013.

 

 

«L’harmonia de les esferes mixes Pythagorean postulates with the story of two “kinetic lovers”, who are delighted by the magnificence of a perfectly balanced universe»

© Mètode 2013

Periodista. Revista Mètode, Universitat de València.