Monthly Archives: December 2015

Dec 08

Considering the Intervals of the Music of the Spheres

By Lars Rosager | Moral Philosophy

Picture In his gargantuan 1613 work on music theory, El melopeo y maestro, Pietro Cerone attempts to assign musical intervals to the distances between one planet and the next. He begins with the Earth, and, basing the assigned intervals on supposedly accurate distances, proceeds in the following manner: a whole step from the Earth to the Moon, a half step from the Moon to Mercury, another half step (slightly different interval) from Mercury to Venus, a minor third from Venus to the Sun, a whole step from the Sun to Mars, a half step from Mars to Jupiter, and one last half step from Jupiter to Saturn.

Before you lose interest, know that the order of the planets employed above does not reflect distance from the Sun, but, rather, the time the respective planets spend in one cycle around the Zodiac. While the orbits around the Sun are not reflected by this order, the journeys of the planets from a geocentric perspective do conform to the sequence.

Now, modern science has another major point of contention with the statement of Cerone. The mathematical relationships among the orbits of the planets do next to nothing to reflect Cerone’s intervals in terms of distance. However, leaving out the Earth as a starting point, one is able to concede to a certain measure of logic in correspondence between the Seven Acoustic Bodies and the intervals of a heptatonic scale. (NB: See the previous post of this blog for more on the Seven Acoustic Bodies.) Having the shortest journey through Zodiac, the Moon could represent the shortest string. Therefore, the rest of the planets would represent descending intervals. The longer the string, the lower the note. This would be a potential problem, considering that so much astro-mythology deals with the soul’s ascent through the planets and into the afterlife. However, entertaining new ideas on the symbolism of sound, one may see the descending intervals as a journey home. After all, there is a strong sense of return and safety in a melody that descends a given scale, ultimately arriving at the tonic (an octave away from the Moon at the upper limit of the heptatonic scale).

The Moon might be seen as the tonic, the root (root chakra, Mother Moon, home, safety). From there, the time each planet takes to complete one zodiacal cycle might indicate which interval each planet takes: Mercury the second degree, Venus the third, Sun fourth, Mars fifth, Jupiter sixth, Saturn seventh. This proposed correspondence does not reflect measurements of distance or, really, even measurements of time spent traveling the Zodiac.

However, the proposed correspondence is not without sensible connections to the collective mythology of the planets. At the point when the outer planets (sometimes called transpersonal planets) are reached, the interval of an octave would come next. Some have called this plane the Eighth Heaven. Santos Bonacci speaks of Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto’s being on a higher octave. As a brief aside, the intervals assigned to the planets could be major, minor, augmented, or diminished (i.e., Moon to Mercury is a major second, minor second, augmented second, or diminished second, and so on for the other intervals). Such a system finds common ground with the Indian sargam, a parallel to solfeggio systems of the West. For Indian musicians, Sa to Re (Do to Re for Westerners) may imply either a major or minor second.

To summarize, one is slow to leave out the Seven Acoustic Bodies as possible inspirations behind much of music’s attachment to a seven-note scale’s being the theoretical foundation.

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Dec 04

Recomposition: New Takes on Practices of the Siglo de Oro

By Lars Rosager | Music

Picture An awareness of the practice of recomposition is indispensable to understanding the compositional process of the Spanish Golden Age (approx. 1500–1700). The concept of recomposition is simple, yet is made more weighty through observing instances in which secular music is reworked into sacred music, and vice versa.

Often the change made to a secular work was as straightforward as simply replacing the existing text with a religiously inspired text. Slightly more complex, another type of recomposition can be witnessed in examples of popular, folk-inspired music put into more polished form. This exchange between registers, an exchange which may well involve arranging music for various combinations of instruments and voices, implies social mobility. By altering the level of ornamentation and overall finesse inherent in a piece of music, one moves among social strata.

​Vocal music is often arranged for instruments. Less common is the addition of text to an instrumental piece. The sociological repercussions of these practices are debatable; but, considering the fact that the voice is historically given intellectual preference over instruments, adding text to an instrumental piece may be seen as a way to elevate the piece’s status.

I have added a text in Spanish to a plucked-style setting of the zarabanda Gaspar Sanz:

Hállase Dios Zarabanda
Sin una onza de honra.

​Misercordia, coraçón no ha.
​Oh! Válgame.

The sense of formal completion provided by a text is counter-balanced by replacing the plucked-style guitar music with strummed-style chords. From a detailed notation of certain notes on certain strings, I reduce the music to the set of harmonies from which the zarabanda originally stems. Embellishing block chords upon a prescribed rhythmic formula was typical of Spanish folk music from the Golden Age. Please enjoy the sounds, and if you are interested in more meticulously discussing the text I wrote for this piece, or any other related topic, please do not hesitate to comment. Thanks!

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Dec 01

Three-Part Divisions of Range

By Lars Rosager | Music

Picture Voices and instruments have often been divided into three sections of their total range. One example from Western Europe is the vocal range common in renaissance Spain. The low register spanned from G to G, the middle register from the highest G of the low register to the next G up, and the high register from that G up to E a major sixth above. Indian classical music designates the notes below the low tonic of the middle register to be the lower octave. Above the high tonic of the middle register is the high octave. Dividing total range into three parts is a very natural practice.

One might liken the three parts to a plot progression in literature: beginning, middle, end. Perhaps a more dynamic literary realization of the three-part range would be melodic movement beginning in the middle register, moving into the low, and working its way up into the high. Such a melodic outline would be reminiscent of the Divine Comedy of Dante. It is quite possible that other hero’s-journey narratives may be drawn with a three-part division of musical range. Below are a few sound samples of how the three divisions might be made with seven-string guitar and voice. I am interested to hear your comments. Thanks!

In this clip, only the open strings of my guitar are illustrated. The lowest string is round wound. The next four are flat wound. The last two are black nylon. Note the differences in tonal quality (timbre).

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It may be interesting to note that the different string groups are separated by intervals other than a fourth. From the seventh string to the sixth is the interval of a perfect fifth. Then, the flat wound strings, or middle register, are all tuned to perfect fourths apart. From the middle register to the high, one finds a major third. The high-register strings, like those of the middle, are tuned a perfect fourth apart.

Another three-part division is possible on a single string. The reduced range makes unison vocal performance a more feasible task. I view the vocal division in terms of an airy, subtle, forward-placement for the low register; a full-voiced middle register; and, finally, falsetto for the upper reaches.

On one string, the open-string note represents the low register, the frets the middle, and the fretless portion of the fingerboard the upper. One does well to note that my guitar has but ten frets. The upper reaches are fretless.
NB: lower register = low Fa (open string) middle register = So La Ti Do Re (frets) high register = Mi high Fa high So (fretless)

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Dec 01

Acoustic Astrology, Music, and Letters

By Lars Rosager | Moral Philosophy

Picture Electricity. It is a recent development in terms of the history of astrology, music, and writing. So why is it so definitive of these three disciplines? So many astrologers are tied to their software, as are musicians and writers to their electronics. Is the majority not allowing a certain measure of entrapment when it subscribes to gadgets that are supposed to make the practice of astrology, music, and writing easier? One may benefit from a bit of skepticism when one hears that the job is going to be simplified by one or another device. It is likely that, along with the advertised simplification, comes an obstacle to separate the astrologer, musician, or writer from the heart of the practice(s) to which they are drawn.

Astrology, which should never be separated from astronomy, consists, in its purest form, of observing the natural world. Music is an exercise in the physics of sound, not computer programming. Writing, while arguably amplified positively by the gargantuan quantities of information available on the Internet, loses, in my opinion, some of its essence when the expression of one’s own mind is invaded by the countless so-called authorities on one or another subject. Do these three art-sciences change fundamentally as a result of society’s taking electricity for granted?

Especially today, with so much at stake at the global climate talks, I feel artists should reflect upon their own reflections of nature. Where are you going to turn when the power goes out? It is time to decide if your practice will be interrupted or inspired.