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The Secret Power of Music: The Modern – Part II

The Secret Power of Music: The Modern – Part II

Welcome to Part II of this blog discussion on David Tame’s The Secret Power of Music. Part I explained Tame’s main point of the initial part of his book. Namely, that music among the ancients, that philosophies that can be traced up to the present time, was considered an essential part of the source of the universe and a way for the divine to manifest in human beings, and for humans to spread the goodness and harmony of the universe on earth. While Tame’s book covers many aspects and variations of music across world cultures throughout time, it boils down to two conflicting musical conceptions: the divine and ordered nature of music among the ancients up to the 19th century vs. the individualistic and disordered conception and creation of music since then. The second part of Tame’s book drifts from classical music into the experimentalism of the 19th and 20th centuries and ends in discussions of jazz, “computer music,” and rock and roll. While in the end, it is rather obvious that Tame’s affection lies in the divinely inspired music of the ancients, the book in its entirety is worth understanding as it covers a broad swath of musical inventiveness.

Onward from the ancients

Tame moves from ancient China, which regarded music as an expression of “god” into the Middle Ages, Baroque, and Classical music. While he admits creativity and inventiveness throughout these ages, his main point that adheres all is that in each period music continued to be viewed as a means to promote spirituality among mankind as in the Middle Ages and/or at the very least to elevate the nature of humanity.  As for the Middle Ages, music was used by the church to spread Christian ideals. During this time, the Church was the primary means of sustaining “serious music. Tame mentions the use of “plainsong,” is music sung without accompaniment, such as Gregorian chants. The liturgy was used as text for the vocals and thus religious and ideals were taught and reiterated through music. An example of plainsong:

In addition, “organum” developed on top of plainsong with the addition of a second harmonic voice. It was the beginning of polyphonic music and spread quickly throughout Europe, employed religiously in great cathedrals. In this case, the power of music was used to sway congregations toward the ideals of the Catholic church:

Both plainsong and organum inspired the subsequent classical and romantic composers to create out of altruism and ideals of sanctity. Like the ancient Chinese mentioned in Part 1, Western music was meant to inspire a connection between the human world and the greater cosmos or “God.”

Constrained but innovative in the 18th and 19th centuries

Stieler, Joseph Karl: Beethoven with the  Missa solemnis Ölgemälde, 1819

From here Tame briefly covers the music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His main point is that the music of Haydn, Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven were saturated with the goal of spreading “spirituality, joy, and brotherhood.” Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos were replete with divinity in the perfect mathematical harmonies, their gorgeous melodies, and powerful rhythms that mirrored the vibrations of the greater universe. According to Tame, Mozart, as a Free Mason, ensured that Masonic symbolism and spiritual ideals were embedded in his work which culminated in the Magic Flute. Beethoven’s work, which called secular by some, is also renowned as spiritual in nature. His nine symphonies relate to transcendence and his five final string quartets understood to be mystical. Still, throughout the 19th century, the power of music continued to be used for “higher” moral purposes.

However, at the end of the nineteenth century, Tame further explains that the higher purpose of music began to go astray. The beginnings of change were brought on by experiments with technique, not a purposeful harnessing of the power of music for other purposes. Western music, though it had been used for centuries by the Church and for “morality” nevertheless did not have a code requiring musicians to play only certain music, as did the ancients. Therefore, over time, innovations occurred, led by the likes of Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner. Their musical experiments were met with criticism and Tame mentions Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge as a target of tradition. He created alternative parts to sway the critics and only after many decades that his avant-garde work was appreciated. During this time, composers introduced new instruments, increased rhythmic complexity, used tones more freely and modulated freely, though still obeying traditional rules of tonality. Wagner did modulate himself into a freedom from key in his later works as Tame notes.

                                                                                                                      The 20th century unleashes a new understanding: Art for art’s sake                  

The Secret Power of Music undergoes a major shift at this point as it delves into the musical developments of the 20th century. At this point, Tame states that composers no longer created music with a philosophical or moral purpose. But, instead, had different artistic reasons to create. Music was now drifting away from it’s spiritual based moorings and instead focused on the mental, emotional, and even physical elements of human experience. Human intellectualism began to replace the sacred math and spiritual symbolism of the past. Instead of experimenting to improve the quality of their music, the great age of experimentation began, experimenting for its own sake. Tame describes the “vertical” line of music in the past, from human to the heavens, as being replaced with a “horizontal” line from human to human. Here Tame covers one of the first realist composers Mussorgsky (1839-81) who emphasized connecting with the “people,” the real world of mankind. Tame likens him to the 19th century Jack Kerouac, a beat poet who emphasized individualism and a lack of rules. Tchaikovsky is mentioned next as a tortured artist due to his homosexuality (apparently according to Tame) who further expressed the personal emotions of anguish in his music. And, through him, we reach Igor Stravinsky and his Rite of Spring, which is heralded as revolutionary. The main focus when studying this work is academic, which Tame bemoans as lacking any sense of spirituality. At this point, the author seems to be implying that all sense of the “true power” of music has been stripped away.

The caging of music

Unsurprisingly, the book turns to perhaps the most influential 20th-century composer, John Cage (1912- ). Tame describes the power of Cage’s musical efforts – his plethora of produced sounds, his prominence and length of his career, the sub-movements he inspired, and Cage’s own philosophy as the “arch-enemy of spiritual idealism.” Undeniable, Cage took the creation of music to never before considered and unforeseen levels. His first renowned work, Imaginary Landscape No.1 (1939) is a  composition for “for records of constant and variable frequency, large Chinese cymbal and string piano.” This piece marks a great departure from past orchestral compositions in that it was not meant to be played live, rather recorded and broadcast, and it only required four people rather than a full orchestra. The composition is six minutes in duration with one movement. Two performers controlled turntables of variable-speed, one a muted piano, and one a Chinese cymbal at a constant tempo (another variation from music of the past which utilized changes in tempo.)

Cage of course continued to experiment and actively worked to deconstruct musical notions of the past. In the 1942 Credo In Us Cage required the use of a record player that would play a classical piece in tandem with jazz or other contemporary music. The performer was required to lift the needle from time to time, chopping apart the classical piece throughout. During the 1940s, Cage fully introduced the “prepared piano.” These pianos were altered by placing objects inside, resting on strings which included pieces of wood, nuts and bolts and other hardware. For this he is most famously known. Cage also reveled in composing by chance, using dice and alter computer-generated randomness. Cage himself deserves, of course, an entire book, surely have been written.

At this point, I can lend a story of my own. Yes me, the author of this blog. In college I was fortunate enough to witness a performance of a Cage piece at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. My music theory professor brought us there as he knew it could be our only change to ever see Cage speak, as he was there that evening. There are two are distinct moments that I remember. One, Cage recalled a mishap on stage once in which he was too near a massive speaker which suddenly emitted massive feedback and he lost his hearing for a few days. When asked how he felt about the experience, Cage said something akin to: “Wonderful, I got to hear a really really loud sound.” The second moment was during the Q&A when a music student asked Cage if he had any advice for an aspiring composer to which he replied, “You have to love sound. You have to love sound with your whole heart.”  That is the power of music, in all it’s deafening force and all of its allure.

Throughout The Secret Power of Music, it becomes apparent where Tame stands. While his book is an excellent and detailed explanation of the evolution of music, he criticism of revolutionary thought in the 20th century falls a bit flat. While Tame attempts to paint 20th century music as some sort of fall from grace, a tumbling of human morality away from the divine, it is clear that Tame’s own biases shine through.

User Accounts now in use at Shockwave-Sound

Hi all. It’s been a little over 18 years since first came online and started offering royalty-free music, music loops for Flash, music for podcasts and other media, this was back in April of 2000.

Through the years the site has gone through various upgrades and improvements, most notably perhaps in 2005 when we first got ourselves our very first database! Before then, details of orders were just kept offline in Excel documents. 🙂

In 2015 we launched a new look, a more modern presentation.

And now in 2018, we’ve implemented real user accounts for all users, including customers, artists and admins. Until now, all orders placed at were really kind of “guest orders”, meaning that of course, we took down the details of the customer, but we did not connect the order to a “user account”. We have now done this.

If you are a new user/customer, simply create a user account and start using it, just as you would at any other site selling products and services.

If you are an existing customer and you’ve placed one or more orders with us in the past, you should now create a new user account using the email address that you used when you placed your previous orders with us. All your old orders, as long as they match your email address, will be automatically imported into your new user account and you will be able to find all your past orders under “My orders” in the menu on the left-hand side of our site, once you are logged in.

If you have placed orders in the past with a different email address, there is also a possibility to have those orders “re-assigned” to your current user account — however, for this to work, you must have access to open and read that old email address. If you are trying to access orders you placed a long time ago with an email address that you no longer have access to, you need to contact us for assistance.

We hope you’ll enjoy this new functionality. If you experience any problems, just let us know by contacting us.

Sound and Sculpture: Sound and Architecture

Sound and Sculpture: Sound and Architecture

Artists draw inspiration from everything. The entire world around them and the human relationships they have are all sources of experience that provide the meaning they need to express. One powerful source of expression for the visual art is sound and music, the topic of this post. Below are some beautifully intricate creations inspired by the sonic world.

Luke Jerram’s Aeolus

Luke Jerram is a multidisciplinary artist who creates live art projects, sculptures and installations internationally, with over 300 exhibitions worldwide in 43 countries since 1998. His work is impressive in scope and beauty. One piece, Aeolus, was inspired by acoustics and its relationship to light, architecture, and wind. As stated on his website, Jerram’s initial idea for this project was from an interaction he had with a well digger of the Qanat desert in Iran. The well digger gave accounts of the wells singing when wind passed through them. This intriguing story motivated Jerram to explore the interaction of architecture and sound.

Aeolus is a Greek God, the keeper of the winds, and King of the island of Aeolia. He gave Odysseus and his crew a favourable wind to aid in their return to their home in Ithaca and his legacy is clearly an apt name. Jerram calls Aeolus an acoustic wind pavilion. The design of this massive stringed instrument amplifies the sound of shifting wind as well as the visual aspect of the sky as it changes.  Built as a giant aeolian harp, the structure resonates on its own without additional power. According to the wind, strings attached to tubes vibrate which reverberate on skins at the top. These sound waves are sent via the tubes down to the viewers below. Aeolian harp strings are webbed throughout the structure, delicately sensitive to the wind and give an auditory interpretation of the wind in three dimensions to the viewer/listener, which Jerram writes is a “shifting wind map.” Beyond that, the tubes without strings are tuned to the aeolian scale and constantly hum even without wind.

In addition to the acoustic element, Jerram placed a great emphasis on the optical nature of Aeolus. 310 “internally polished stainless steel tubes” are placed so that the viewer can look through them, reflecting the shifting sun. This creates a continuously changing “landscape of light” as the steel tubes magnify and invert the area around the structure. The shifting skylight, acted upon by clouds and the sun, creates a dramatic picture in constant motion. The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research at the University of Southampton and The Acoustics Research Centre at the University of Salford were collaborators.

Dentsu Sound Sculptures

This next mention is a stunning display of sound energy turned into art. Not only inspired by sound, but created by sound, ad agency Dentsu London worked with biochemist-photographer Linden Gledhill and photography Jason Tozer to capture sound displayed in paint. Appropriately, the project was for the Canon PIXMA color printer and the results of the project unique and ultra-vibrant. The concept of placing objects on speakers has been used, through the results in this case with the addition of high speed photography, give a special view into the physics of sound. Here, paint was placed on a cover over a vibrating speaker. While the resulting paint movements were only several cm high, the high speed photography yielded gorgeous colorscapes and unique shapes in this interplay of sound and paint.

In the video “Bringing colour to life” above, Cannon Account Director Rob Zuurbier explains that the project is a celebration of color meant to highlight the “great quality of prints that the Canon Pixma produces.” The goal of the campaign was to revitalize Cannon’s image, so to speak, and this writer would say its quite successful as they were able to create other-worldly shapes using craft and
cutting-edge technology. The video shows a what appears to be a rubber membrane wrapped around a small speaker. Speakers in the video explain that photographs were taken at the incredible speed of 5,400 frames per second. A multitude of colors were used, resulting in some figures having hundreds of shades of color. The technological feat is impressive as they had less than a millimetre of depth to focus on a frame 4-5 feet in diameter.

Water sound sculpture by brusspup

In this demonstration of sonic sculpture, youtube user bruspup uses a speaker, a rubber hose, water, tone generating software producing a 24hz sine wave, and a 24 fps camera to send vibrations to pouring water, resulting in some surprising shapes. Brusspup secures the hose to a speaker simply with duct tape so that the speaker’s vibrations will be transferred to the hose and thus the water Next, he produces a 24Hz sine wave through the speaker and turns on the water.

Towards the end of the video, brusspup demonstrates the 25Hz forward effect and the 23Hz reverse effect, which makes the water appear as if it is either spiralling forward (downward) or in reverse (upwards) while flowing down. This visual is not a result of the sound waves passing through the water, but rather of the camera speed in relation to the Hz produced. In order to achieve the forward effect, one bumps up the Hz of the sound to 25Hz for forward and down to 23Hz for reverse as explained by Dan Nosowitz on All sorts of strange things happen between the interplay of the visual, time, and sound when the camera rate is changed. Sound designers certainly are familiar with the necessity of matching sample rate with video, ensuring that 48Khz audio is used for 48Khz video. Other, the sound and picture very quickly become entirely off. Either way, Brusso’s experiment and demonstration is an efficient and artful way of showing the potential between vibration and sculpture. Another intriguing element is the spiral itself. Perhaps the ratio in its spiral is the same as the mysterious Fibonacci sequence found throughout nature?

Benoit Maubrey: Speaker’s Wall

”An artist’s job is to interpret reality. Instead of using pigment on canvas, you can imagine the air is the canvas and the pigment is the sound, so you’re out there painting canvases.” – Benoit Maubery (

Benoit Maubrey is an American electroacoustic sculptor who combines three-dimensional space with sound across a wide array of the arts including performance, sculpture, dance, sound, and the technological arts. He specializes in manifesting public sculptures, interactive in nature, that use cheap, recycled, and found electronics. The electronics are active which lend to interactivity and a performance element.

An entire book could be written on the intricacies and unique vision of his work, but the focus here is Speaker’s Wall.  

This project was inspired by an art competition in West Berlin in 1987 entitled “Overcoming the Wall by Painting the Wall.”  In the New York Times archives, an article from the Berlin Journal; In Search of a Work of Art to Overcome the Wall by Serge Schemann from 1987 describes the art movements of the time on the West Berlin side protesting the existence of the wall and totalitarianism in general. As stated by German artist Peter Unsicker, the wall is “built by Germans in the East, painted by Germans in the West.” Multitudes of artists at the time were inspired to paint and sculpt on or around the wall, mocking and heavily criticizing the Soviet Union and East German governments. Confronted by this physical presence and the horrors it symbolized, artists mobilized for this 1987 competition and protest festival. Speaker’s Wall won second place and is now part of the permanent collection of Museum Haus at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, Germany. The work is an impressive combination of not only various fields of art but also the politics of the time and its significant messages of freedom vs. captivity. Maubrey’s work certainly captivates attention.

The electroacoustic sculpture uses 1000 recycled loudspeakers, amplifiers, and radios. Incredibly, callers can phone the sculpture and talk through it. During the exhibition, more than 900 calls were made. In addition, at the time it also served as a PA system.  Maubrey has a myriad of similar, but equally original, sculptures listed on his site. Another sculpture that can be physically called is the Speaker’s Monument, exhibited in 1991 in the West Berlin Exhibition, Riga, Lithuania. Maubrey recycles a trashed Stalinist sculpture “Heroes of the Working Class” into a speaker system that accepts calls. The work is covered with loudspeakers, a telephone answering machine and an amplifier. Again this artist meshes art, sound, and live political performance via the callers.

Speaker’s Monument

The artists above demonstrate that sound is not only a powerful medium in and of itself, but its power extends into other art forms with ease.

The Secret Power of Music: The Ancients – Part 1

The Secret Power of Music: The Ancients – Part 1

The “The Secret Power of Music” by David Tame is a wide ranging work that covers the inherent power of music and its origins in the human story. For anyone who marvels at this phenomenon that we call “music,” this is an excellent read. The book is a wide but deep study of the role of music not only in the human sphere, but also its inextricable ties to the cosmos and our natural world itself. The books includes discussions of music and morality, music therapy, sound and color, the origin and effects of jazz and the blues, atoms as harmonic resonators, the physics of OM and more. It is a self-proclaimed “study of the influence of music on man and society, from the time of the ancient civilizations to the present.”

The beauty of this book is that it isn’t simply a history of music, music as entertainment, or its prominence in human cultures, but describes the actual power of music, hence its title. As Tame notes in the “Overture,” (the intro), music’s influence plays on us constantly as it alters our heartbeat, relaxes or tenses us, affects heartbeat and blood pressure, and fills us with a range of emotions. He contrasts historical societies in which people were very conscious of music’s power as compared to today’s materialistic notion that music is not essential, something on the periphery, something in the United States at least to be cut from many school’s curriculum as unnecessary.

Tame begins with fact that ancients believed there was sacred power within sound and music. A main thrust of Pythagoras’s research was to discover the nature of music and he discovered that tones could be reduced and explained through numbers and mathematical ratios – the same as those of the mathematical universe and many of the forms therein. Pythagoras’ concept of music was deeper than the material and the academic, as it reached to and from the cosmos and combined the spiritual with the material. Tame presents the notion that music is a force that creates order out of chaos, helping to achieve a greater universal order. His favorite axiom seems to be “As in music, so in life – ,” raising the belief that civilization is shaped and societies are molded by music and in turn the character of a civilization shapes the music. In addition, as shown on the left, throughout history humans have related the structure of music and its ratios to the natural world. In this case, the Fibonacci sequence which creates this spiral shape matches the ratios of the notes on the scale perfectly.

“Music creates order out of chaos; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony impose compatibility upon the incongruous” ~ Yehundi Menuhin – American Violinist and Composer

Music in the formation of society

Tame uses ancient China as his primary example of how music played a role in civilization building. The Emperor Shun, Shu King, would travel each year throughout the provinces to check on the health and status of each territory. He would not audit books, observe the population, or interview authorities as the most important means to assess the health of his empire. Instead, the Emperor tested the exact pitches of their notes of music, the five notes of the ancient Chinese tonal scale. Eight types of instruments were brought and local songs played so that he could verify that they were all in line with the 5 tones.  To the ancient Chinese, music was the basis of not only civilization, but of everything. The nature of the music reflected the nature of the people and Emperor Shun would use it to determine their health.

Music governs the universe

The reason that music was so vital to Chinese society and philosophy stems from their belief that music held the same powers that governed the entire universe: it was a form of the Primal Sound, called OM. The OM is not audible but a divine Vibration. From here, according to Chinese beliefs, the Primal Sound is broken down into twelve tones with each representing the twelve zodiacs.  In fact, Tame states that astrology itself arose from the influences of the twelve tones and the Cosmic Tone. He goes further to write that the ancient civilized world incorporated the number twelve, which derived its significance from OM/music, further into their daily lives and hence twelve months of the year and the twenty four hours of the day. In true Chinese form, on a side note, these twelves tones were divided into two: six Yang tones and six Ying. Together they created and sustained the entire universe.

OM: The Primal Sound

Tones and music were considered a reflection of the celestial order. The harmony and perfection are maintained by the Cosmic Tone and in parallel the harmony and perfection of human lives and society on earth should be maintained by music. This belief, as referenced by Tame, is rooted in the Chinese text The Spring and Autumn by Lu Bu Ve representing a time between 722 and 479 BC.  Ve writes that music arose through proportion and ratio manifested by “the Great One” who initiated a cosmos of cycles between light and dark, heaven and earth, ending and beginning. All is in coordination: the planets, the seasons.  When all is in coordination on earth, peaceful and perfect, then music can be perfected. Therefore, a province’s “perfect” music proves their health.

The musician as the medium

Perfection is the most important word in ancient Chinese music. Nothing was left to the whim and creativity of the musical performer, as in jazz for example. The musician was viewed as a medium to allow the perfection of the celestial universe shine on earth through music.  According to them, life on earth and music must follow the same logical patterns. Random notes by individuals would create turmoil and uncontrolled chaos. This is why Emperor Shun paid so much attention to the music of his provinces. If one area’s music was wild, out of control, unique, or did not follow traditional rules of structure well then most certainly there must be a serious societal problem!

What would the ancient Chinese think of Western Music today? –

As stated, the tones were aligned with the months of the year, the first six being Yang tones and the second being Ying tones, each having its own key. The musician was responsible for playing according to the musical scale of each month. Staying in harmony ensured health and success and this was not only beholden on the musicians to maintain, but also on rulers.

Music and modes

The next point that Tame explains is how the concept of twelve tones, based on the twelve months, create separate keys for each
month. They changed the root note. This is precisely how Western music moves through the modes and it is based on this musical inventiveness of the Chinese. These are the modes that aspiring musicians learn and practice today, the Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. They are achieved by simply moving the base note and beginning the scale there.  The Chinese only used seven notes of their twelve, which are the seven major notes of today’s scale: Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti.  Interestingly they rarely used the semitones Fa and Si which corresponds to today’s pentatonic scale.

This ancient concept of the embedded nature of music, powered by the Celestial tone, was considered a part of the human character as well. Each of the five notes were related to the five important Chinese virtues of benevolence, propriety, faith, righteousness, and knowledge. Human qualities are aligned with tones and specific types of music have an actual objective effect on humans, a power of music. Tame wraps up his discussion of China by tracing the events that led to civil war and transition to communism in China. In the late 20th century Communist leaders required the populace, including children, to observe a daily routine of “death chants” which called for destruction of capitalism and the western world. Tame writes that the ancients would have seen these death-chants as a means of utilizing the power of the Cosmic Tone and music to create an objective change in the human world. He infers that the disappearance of the ancient Chinese belief in perfection and harmony is reflected in its demise from classical opera of the early 20th century to “death chants.” A similar belief occurred in the 1980s as well, that heavy music “made” teenagers “devil worshippers” and that the music was proof of a sinful society. Tame leaves us with a question at the end of his section on the origins of the Power of Music: we may scoff at the Chinese belief that music is an actual cosmic power because of our scientific and “enlightened” minds today. We know better, that sound is only a vibration, and we are so much wiser today – or, Tame asks, are we?

The beginning section of Tame’s book covered in this post raises some questions. Does music have an ethereal power, or at least a power over human beings, something greater than simply a physical vibration? Today most would say that it is certainly a reflection of society, but can it also influence society? Totalitarian regimes would think so. When did the change occur from valuing traditional “perfection” among the ancients to valuing individualism and improvisation that are explicit in jazz and other forms? Can it be traced to the individualism of the 19th and 20th centuries? Can music only be divine if it mimics the harmony of the universe, or divine if it is uniquely human?