auditory worlds






 “. . . it appears probable that the progenitors of man, either the males or females or both sexes, before acquiring the power of expressing their mutual love in articulate language, endeavored to charm each other with musical notes and rhythm?”  (Darwin 1871:880)[i]





Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy

(Ludwig van Beethoven as reported by Bettina von Arnim in a letter to Goethe, 28 May 1810.)


After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

(Aldous Huxley in “The Rest is Silence” in: Music at Night and Other Essays, 1931)


From soothing the troubled heart to rousing the warrior, music is one of the most powerful and yet least understood influences on our behavior.   It is a bridge between the senses and the spirit.  “All deep things are song,” said Thomas Carlyle, “It seems somehow the very central essence of us, as if all the rest were but wrappages and hulls!”  … from the musical speech of a mother to her newborn to the death chant of the tired warrior,  the music we make resonates with the music of the universe and we become one with it.

MUSIC has extraordinary communicative power (see A&O notes on MUSIC) and in particular when combined with speech.  Different languages aresometimes characterised as mor-or-less musical, but whatver the details, they all exhibit PROSODY — a metacommunicative “musical” quality of speech reflecting its underlying emotionality by means of duration, intensity, frequency, and “smoothness” of change. It can be regarded as an affective component of speech AND in humans, seems to be dominated by the RIGHT cerebral hemisphere (as opposed to the typical propositional language in the LEFT hemisphere).  There are interesting developmental implications:  Find out about “motherese” (from A&O notes on communication).

SOUND, is one of the least understood of the senses.   From sensation (information detected by our sensors) to perception (our interpretation of the meaning of a stimulus) to  consciousness (becoming aware of information) Although often little noticed, it is always present and we are always responding to it.


“And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls And whispered in the sound of silence” Simon & Garfunkel – The Sound Of Silence

“The “Sound of Silence” is a philosophical question that made for one of Simon & Garfunkel’s most enduring songs, but it’s also a subject that can be tested by psychologists. In a paper [recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences], researchers used a series of sonic illusions to show that people perceive silences much as they hear sounds. While the study offers no insight into how our brains might be processing silence, the results suggest that people perceive silence as its own type of “sound,” not just as a gap between noises.” (read “Silence Is a ‘Sound’ You Hear” from the NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/10/science/silence-sound-hear.html

Maya Angelou once commented that “Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” (from Gather Together in My Name).  French composer Claude Debussy famously said something similar, echoed later by the great jazz trumpeter Miles Davis.  (READ the brief essay How the Silence Makes the Music: A brief, incomplete, very quiet guide to the history of music’s negative spaces.” (NYT 2 Oct 2019)




Margaret Fuller on the Power of Music:

“All truth is comprised in music and mathematics.”

By Maria Popova.  At BrainPickings

Aldous Huxley celebrated music as an expression of the “blessedness lying at the heart of things.”

Philosopher Susanne Langer considered it “a laboratory for feeling and time,” whose mysterious power both eclipses and illuminates all the other arts. 

“Without music life would be a mistake,”Nietzsche proclaimed in 1889.

A century later, music actually, literally saved Oliver Sacks’s life. In a very different way, it had once saved Beethoven’s.

While many great writers have composed fervent raptures about the singular power of music, one of the most beautiful and penetrating comes from the forgotten pioneer Margaret Fuller (May 23, 1810–July 19, 1850) — the intellectual epicenter of Transcendentalism, who sparked the women’s emancipation movement with her epoch-making 1845 book Woman in the Nineteenth Century and whom Emerson considered his greatest influence.    Read more

A rough sound was polished until it became a smoother sound, which was polished until it became music,” the poet Mark Strand wrote in his ode to the enchantment of music. Music is the most indescribable of the arts, and that may be what makes it the most powerful — the creative force best capable of giving voice and shape to our most ineffable experiences and most layered longings, of containing them and expanding them at once. It is our supreme language for the exhilaration of being alive.” (quoted by Maria Popova in The Marginalian 6/27/2023)


Look at the American Mathematics Society’s web page of resources on MATHEMATICS  and MUSIC:

“There is geometry in the humming of the strings, there is music in the spacing of the spheres.” — Pythagoras






































·        There is a saying that music can purify the profane … calm the savage breast …

·        There is rich literature of the essentual DUALITIES of CONSCIOUSNESS (broken link)

·         Music such as that of APOLLO or ORPHEUS, the greatest musician in Greek myth has a role in reconciling dualities … as alluded to above by (Yip Harburg — for example,see A&O notes on Sapience and Sentience –but in the sense of legend, may also refer to digital (such as Apollo’s golden lyre) or analog (such as Marsyas’ aulos) (see the contest between Marsyas & Apollo)

·         Music as reconciling force in Catholic Doctrine:  Music as reconciling senses and spirit & restoring wholeness? (broken link) -by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger



















































“If I was not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. … I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin.”

Albert Einstein in the Viereck interview (1929) from Wikiquotes







































        Resonance the key to music, a central metaphor.  Because resonance occurs where ever there are vibrations or waves, the literature of physics on the topic is immense and diverse, embracing the vast spectrum of wave forms at a multitude of levels of organization.

        In accoustics resonance involves the intensification and prolongation of a sound, such as a musical tone, by means of sympathetic vibration.   This is a major metaphor which “resonates”(?) though out our discussions of the transfer of energy (or “meaning”(?)) from an activated instrument (“source”)  to a receiver.    


Is resonance an effective metaphor for communicating the ineffable, or detecting other ways unknown attributes of the environment?

Eugene Delacroix said  that “…painting … [is] no more than the pretext [for a] bridge between the mind of the painter and that of the spectator.” (1850).   This quote recalls Thoreau’s “It takes two to speak the truth– one to speak, and another to hear.” (1849).

“It is said that Verdi sat with a pounding heart and on occasion wept while composing the music for his operas. More than a century later, some listeners show the identical reactions.) Thus, like [any art form, like painting, or] written text in literature, a musical score is the medium through which creative artists communicate with their audience.” (Excerpt from Rauschecker, 2002)

With Verdi in mind, the developmental position that the integrative biology of A&O takes, like all communications, the expression of art may also be an important bridge between different parts of the artist’s  mind.  

Interestingly, resonance (e.g., of brain waves) is recently an important candidate for internal communications between different parts of the brain.

Stochastic resonance refers to the phenomenon of “noise” improving signal quality in non-linear systems (see McDonnell and Abbott  2009))[1]























































musical artists use sound in ways not unlike visual artists use vision –with different patterns controlling the movement of your attention and  different  qualities of sound  evoking specific emotions … like all artists they must know (or learn) …

        what is FIXED and what is FLEXIBLE in our responsiveness to sound?


MUSIC as an extraordinary mode  of communication is obvious– it often “speaks to” elements of feeling not accesible by any other means:  and everyone seems to understand this, but the specifics of what  about music speaks to a unique feeling opens the subject up in very interesting ways.    For example, Specific chords seem to have specific effects  (see   Emotional elements of music by a songwriter)  “In an 1806 treatise, Christian Schubart described D-sharp minor as a key which expresses “feelings of the anxiety of the soul’s deepest distress, of brooding despair, of blackest depression, of the most gloomy condition of the soul.” Schubart concluded with the chilling statement, “If ghosts could speak, their speech would approximate this key.” look in on   http://thelistenersclub.com/2022/12/09/the-ghosts-of-d-sharp-minor-bachs-prelude-and-fugue-bwv-877-and-scriabins-etude-op-8-no-12/





















































NEW SCIENTIST provides provocative interdisciplinary essays involving music:

·       Are animals naturally musical?

·       The illusion of music – don’t believe everything you hear

·       Five Great Auditory illusions

·       Flexible scales and immutable octaves

·       Singing in the brain – music can change the way you think




















































Different senses are processed in different ways: the manner in which information is processed affects cognitive processes. For example, auditory information is perceived in a linear sequence, while much visual information is received simultaneously.  The parts of the brain that process this information apparently does its job in appropriately different ways.  Read the following news release from EurekAlert: [link lost]


Sept 1. 2004.  “For decades scientists have believed that people can only remember an ordered list of about seven items at a time–such as seven grocery items or seven digits of a phone number–but new research from the University of Rochester has shown that this magic number varies depending on whether the language used is spoken or signed. The results in the cover story of the latest issue of Nature Neuroscience have important implications for standardized tests, which often employ ordered-list retention as a measure of a person’s mental aptitude.


“When we hear things, we naturally process them in a series,” says Daphne Bavelier, associate professor of brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester. “When we hear music, for instance, it comes to us second by second, so the part of our brains that processes auditory information has evolved to absorb information in sequence. This means hearing a spoken list, such as numbers in an ATM code, corresponds more closely with what the auditory brain does naturally.” Conversely, visual information comes to us simultaneously as we might see a sunset, clouds and a skyline all at the same time. While the visual processes in the brain can still remember ordered lists, they tend to be less effective at it, recalling an average of five numbers instead of seven.


In the 1960s, cognitive scientists showed that for nearly all speakers of all languages, list retention peaked at around seven items, plus or minus about two. As more languages were tested, a few exceptions were found, such as Chinese, that allows to hold nine items or Welsh that is nearer to five, but in all cases these variations were entirely predictable by the length of time it takes to utter the words in each language.”



        Sand: “For thousands of years, nomads traveling through deserts heard mysterious sounds they thought were made by ghosts or demons. Marco Polo reported that evil spirits ‘at times fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms.’  Today a nonoccult explanation is available: those diverse noises are all acoustic emissions produced by shifting sands.  At least 30 “booming” dunes have been found in deserts and on beaches in Africa, Asia, North America and elsewhere. Listeners have likened the sounds they make to bells, trumpets, pipe organs, foghorns, cannon fire, thunder, low-flying propeller aircraft, the buzzing of telegraph wires, even moaning or humming. Nevertheless, researchers do not agree on just how and why, in many parts of the world, under certain conditions, the sand sings.”  (Franco Nori, Paul Sholtz,  & Michael Bretz, (1997, September). “Booming Sands”, Scientific American, 277(3), 84.   (and see Wikipedia on Singing Sand)

        Outer Space:  57 octaves below b flat:  from a massive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies located 250 million light years from Earth (see NASA on black hole sound waves) and several others: squeekers, moans, and whistles archived recordings at the European Space Agency’s “sounds from space” page.   

        “THE big bang sounded more like a deep hum than a bang, according to an analysis of the radiation left over from the cataclysm.” Read “Forget the big bang, tune into the big hum” by Marcus Chown in New Scientist 01 November 2003 p16 : “Physicist John Cramer of the University of Washington in Seattle has created audio files of the event which can be played on a PC. “The sound is rather like a large jet plane flying 100 feet above your house in the middle of the night,” he says.” and listen at BOOMERanG and the Sound of the Big Bang by John G. Cramer

        Hear a TED talk by Honor Harger about the sounds in space: “a history of the universe in sound” (June 2011)


        Terrestrial “booms”: “Mystery booms: The source of a worldwide sonic enigma” in New Scientist magazine, 23 February 2012 by Kate Ravilious  Magazine issue 2852

“Strange rumbles, whistles and blasts have been reported all over the world for centuries. In the Seneca lake region of New York state, they are called “Seneca guns”; in the Italian Apennines they are described as “brontidi“, which means thunder-like; in Japan they are “yan“; and along the coast of Belgium they are called “mistpouffers” – or fog belches.   //   What is going on? Some of these sounds have obvious explanations: storms, say, or the crash of ocean waves. But in many cases, like North Carolina, nobody knows what’s behind the booms. That hasn’t stopped people proposing a host of explanations. And if some of their theories turn out to be true, it could change our ideas about the extent to which the Earth itself can roar and bellow.”

Even our “bilaterally symmetrical organs” are different:

One Ear is Not Like The Other, Study Finds .  “All ears are not created equal, a new report suggests, even two on the same head. Results published in the current issue of the journal Science indicate that infants process sounds differently through their left ears than they do through the right. The findings could have implications for treating hearing impairments.

It has long been known that different parts of the brain process different kinds of sounds. The left hemisphere, for example, deciphers rapidly changing sounds such as speech, whereas the right hemisphere dominates the processing of tones and musical sounds. But, explains Yvonne Sininger of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles, “no one has looked closely at the role played by the ear in processing auditory signals.” Sininger and co-author Barbara Cone-Wesson of the University of Arizona spent six years evaluating the hearing of newborns before they left the hospital. More than 3,000 babies had their hearing tested using a tiny probe (see image) that measures how much certain sounds are amplified by parts of the ear.

The researchers tested the children’s hearing using two types of noises: sustained tones and a set of rapid clicks, which were timed to imitate speech. “We were intrigued to discover that the clicks triggered more amplification in the baby’s right ear, while the tones induced more amplification in the baby’s left ear,” Sininger remarks. “This parallels how the brain processes speech and music, except the sides are reversed due to the brain’s cross connections.” According to the authors the results indicate that auditory processing begins in the ear, before sounds reach the brain, and could help to improve therapies for hearing-impaired patients. Notes Cone-Wesson: “Sound processing programs for hearing devices could be individualized for each ear to provide the best conditions for hearing speech or music.” —Sarah Graham (from Scientific American.com: http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=0000EC2C-11A4-1142-87D683414B7F4945  September 13, 2004)



NATURE/NURTURE in MUSIC:  Tuesday, January 30, 2018.  The universal language of lullabies and dance songs  Science  Jan. 29, 2018: Poets proclaiming that music is a universal language may have just been proved right. NPR reports that, according to a new study, people can recognize certain types of songs no matter where they come from. Researchers collected examples of lullabies, dance songs, love songs, and healing songs from 30 different regions, and asked people unfamiliar with the language and culture to identify the purpose of the music. Listeners proved particularly good at recognizing the dance songs and lullabies, but were not quite as adept at identifying love songs or healing songs. Because these songs were made for a purpose—like putting a baby to sleep—researchers writing this month in Current Biology say they likely share common universal traits.

·        Form and Function in Human Song.  Samuel A. Mehr, Manvir Singh, Hunter York, Luke GlowackiMax M. Krasnow.    http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(17)31675-5 (2018, in press)






Music was my refuge.  I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.  ~Maya Angelou, Gather Together in My Name


There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.  ~William P. Merrill


Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.  ~Ludwig van Beethoven



2009, 2012, 2017



[i] Darwin quote from the epigraph from a draft of Geoffrey F. Miller’s paper on the “Evolution of Human Music through Sexual Selection” (1999; to be in ML Wallin, B Merker & S Brown (eds.) The Origins of Music, MIT Press.) launches his unrepentant but careful adaptationist approach to music and represents the kind of approach we can take to shed light on the forces that have structured all human art forms.


[1] What Is Stochastic Resonance? Definitions, Misconceptions, Debates, and Its Relevance to Biology  Mark D. McDonnell and Derek Abbott  (2009)  PLoS Comput Biol. 2009 May; 5(5): e1000348.  Published online 2009 May 29. doi:  10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000348  PMCID: PMC2660436