It’s been extremely stormy tonight and the whole house was vibrating. An amazing feeling that got right through my blanket under my skin and it also gave me some uncomfortable dreams, but I also felt very much alive. IT made me think of the elements and the constant drone of sound they add to our lives and how they shape our consciousness, with variations in times and places of the earth. How we all are hard-wired by the sounds that we have grown up with.
I am reading “The soundscapes – the tuning of the world” by Murray Schafer, which just opens new audio-horizons for me.
Here one of the early passages that touched me:
Ears and Clairaudience
We will not argue for the priority of the ear. In the West the ear gave way to the eye as the most important gatherer of information about the time of the Renaissance, with the development of the printing press and perspective painting. One of the most evident testaments of this change is the way in which we have come to imagine God. It was not until the Renaissance that God became portraiture. Previously he had been conceived as sound or vibration. In the Zoroastrian religion, the priest Srosh (representing the genius of hearing) stands between man and the pantheon of the gods, listening for the divine messages, which he transmits to humanity. Samā is the Sufi word for audition or listening. The followers of Jalal-ud-din Rumi worked themselves into a mystical trance by chanting and whirling in slow gyrations. Their dance is thought by some scholars to have represented the solar system, recalling also the deep-rooted mystical belief in an extraterrestrial music, a Music of the Spheres, which the attuned soul may at times hear. But these exceptional powers of hearing, what I have called clairaudience, were not attained effortlessly. The poet Saadi says in one of his lyric poems:
“I will not say, my brothers, what samā is
Before I know who the listener is.”
Before the days of writing, in the days of prophets and epics, the sense of hearing was more vital than the sense of sight. The word of God, the history of the tribe and all other important information was heard, not seen. In parts of the world, the aural sense still tends to predominate.
… rural Africans live largely in a world of sound—a world loaded with direct personal significance for the hearer—whereas the western European lives much more in a visual world which is on the whole indifferent to him. … Sounds lose much of this significance in western Europe, where man often develops, and must develop, a remarkable ability to disregard them. Whereas for Europeans, in general, “seeing is believing,” for rural Africans reality seems to reside far more in what is heard and what is said. … Indeed, one is constrained to believe that the eye is regarded by many Africans less as a receiving organ than as an instrument of the will, the ear being the main receiving organ.
Marshall McLuhan has suggested that since the advent of electric culture we may be moving back to such a state again, and I think he is right. The very emergence of noise pollution as a topic of public concern testifies to the fact that modern man is at last becoming concerned to clean the sludge out of his ears and regain the talent for clairaudience—clean hearing.
A Special Sense
Touch is the most personal of the senses. Hearing and touch meet where the lower frequencies of audible sound pass over to tactile vibrations (at about 20 hertz). Hearing is a way of touching at a distance and the intimacy of the first sense is fused with sociability whenever people gather together to hear something special. Reading that sentence an ethnomusicologist noted: “All the ethnic groups I know well have in common their physical closeness and an incredible sense of rhythm. These two features seem to coexist.”
The sense of hearing cannot be closed off at will. There are no earlids. When we go to sleep, our perception of sound is the last door to close and it is also the first to open when we awaken. These facts have prompted McLuhan to write: “Terror is the normal state of any oral society for in it everything affects everything all the time.”