COMPOSERS THOUGHTS ON CRAFT SERIES 1 by Catherine Meeson ©2018
‘Melody conducts the soul, rhythm paces its experience’ CM 2013
I sit here to write, not with an agenda per say; but I penned the idea for this series to share some more philosophical and esoteric thoughts on music as I write the rest of The Call of Oma album, whilst documenting my process with some exclusive email subscriber behind the scenes videos. It will be semi academic in that certain informative works deserve full credit in their contribution to my personal philosophy and practice of music. If you are interested in this part of my journey, sign up here. https://www.catherinemeeson.com/ship-mates/
Melody is something we have been actively making for at least 40, 000 years according to archaeological findings of primitive bone flutes. Our ancestry is saturated with song. Some people speculate that our sense of song evolved from imitation of the birds. Whilst we do not regard bird song as musical melody I myself regard it as a supreme form of melody, a soothing presence for the soul that I could not bare to be without.
In recent eras of known human history, historical records of various cultures share a legacy that goes back at least 5000 years and permeates Egypt, India, China, Greece, Sumeria and the middle East. Beyond that we have traditions of sound and music making in all Indigenous cultures but Australian Aboriginal tribes take the baton for being the oldest known music making culture. This is my assertion. The digeridoo is an extension of the human mouth/ voice and is both a rhythmic and melodic instrument in one. Cultures all over the world have made a diverse collection of melodic instruments in the Aerophone, Idiophone, and Chordophones families and the latest Electrophones.
Our oldest primary form of musical melodic content is of course the human voice. There are also those who speculate our melody making evolved out of early baby vocalise. If you observe young babies when they start sounding you see the pure joy that emerges from improvising and expressing. Then pattern formation sets in with cultural entrainment to the sounds and sonic palette of ones family and culture. We become attuned to, accustomed, we learn, our neural pathways forge connections forming inner harmonies of meaning and resonance. Everything is music you see.
“Music is Master Key to the Universe”. I read that in one of the texts I have studied somewhere in the last 25 years but have not been able to find its source. I used it as my website byline, as its words are absolute truth. Back to Melody.
Bernie Krause has found that within ecosystems and regional biomes, all species occupy an acoustic niche occupying a specific space on the acoustic frequency spectrum (Krause 2013). The activity of the world is conducted by the melodies of its members. The wind plays supreme and haunting tunes upon the bones of time, through the hollows of old trees and abandoned buildings. The sounds of distant space on the edge of awareness, create a total soundscape that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is one fine orchestra of Earth. One of the best books I have ever read that introduced me to a deeper concept of the Soundscape was ‘The Soundscape Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of The World’ (Schafer 1994). His work was later refined by Barry Truax in Acoustic Communication (Truax 2001). I drew heavily upon the field of Acoustic Ecology in my honours degree. Soundscapes are by popular definition the total sound field of a given environment or of a musical composition, the synthesis of everything contained within. In the field of Acoustic Ecology the soundscape becomes a lens for human perception to discern the subtle nuances contained within time, space and place. Soundscapes are a by product of the physical universe and now a common creative pass time of many composer/ sound designers who seek to recreate a sense of time, place and space via sound. This includes music and all its elements. Enough about that.
Our early penchant for song is also a natural outgrowth of vocal utterances whether of imitation or invention, the sphere of human creativity knows no bounds. Our fascination with sound has made us erect grand structures to amplify and produce resonant fields (Debertolis, Coimbra & Eneix 2015; Eneix 2014; Scarre & Lawson 2006). All cultures have chosen and created places for ceremony and sound work, as we knew that the great ‘Way of Sound’ (CM) affects ones state of consciousness (Herbert 2011; Rouget 1985) and indeed matter, on the physical level (Emoto 2007; Jenny 2001, 2006; Reid 2001).
So to me melody, music and sound are all intimately related. I love the ancient Daoist notions of Celestial harmony and the threefold model of Heaven, Earth and humanity as the bridge. Life is a grand composition of time and place. I first came across the notion of the Chinese Logos in David Tames work (Tame 1988, pp. 33–71), not too dissimilar to Christian notions; “No matter how far back in Chinese history we go, we find the same: that the Chinese associated Cosmic Sound with illumined, exalted consciousness. Cosmic sound the vibratory essence of all matter and energy- was in everything and everyone…and it was possible for man to raise his consciousness, to take him closer to the source, to attune himself more perfectly with the One. Spirituality was literally a question of vibration. He who succeeded in harmonizing the discords within his mind, emotions and body could become a more perfect embodiment of Cosmic Sound, an incarnation of the Word”(Tame 1988, p. 49). He goes on to talk about morals, civilisation and rulership in terms of music and sites some great references. I thoroughly recommend the whole book. Philosophy and music were intimately linked in all the ancient world. With philosophers being the fore runners of the knowledge of modern day physics understandings.
“In the viewpoint of the ancient Chinese, the notes of all music contained an essence of transcendent power. A piece of music was an energy formula. Each different piece of music qualified the sacred power of sound in different ways. Each composition exerted specific influences over man, civilization and the world. The particular mystical influences of a piece of music depended on factors such as it’s rhythm, its melodic patterns, and the combination of instruments used. Like other forces of nature, music itself, as a phenomenon, was not biased towards producing either beneficial or destructive effects. The Chinese understood the power within music to be a free energy, which man could use or misuse according to his own free will” (Tame 1988, p. 33).
In the 90’s I experienced many profound insights into sound but at the same time for many years they froze me in my tracks by implication as the responsibility dawned on me. All the subsequent research I have done on sound and music confirmed those experiences, intuitions and communications, and deepened my field of inquiry leading to my field of expertise.
Music the Keynote of Human Evolution (Heline 1986) gives commentary on humanities evolution as a spiritual being/ race in terms of music and sound and pierces the veil of pre history considering the heritage of Lemuria and Atlantis as well as discussing other cultures such as Sumeria and Greece, by implication reminding us we have a forgotten heritage of deep knowledge of many things. This thought is echoed in The Call of Oma, as to previous eras of human civilisation and their decline. The music of a given time and place reflect the culture that compose it.
Confucius had a deep love of music and clearly understood its great power, tragically his main work The Classic of Music was lost to time (Classic of Music 2017; Confucius n.d.), but as with his poetic contemporaries such as Lao Tzu, they understood the deeper strata of relation of all things in the cosmos (Wilson & Tzu 2010) that music so beautifully embodies- the art of relation.
A poetic truth by Catherine Meeson
The key to celestial harmony
Change the song of the system,
It has its movements
Resulting in the conditions of the age
The Earth is a harmonic system
Philosophy and physics aside, what is Melody? What do you hear? That sweet sound only perceptible to your mind, your soul, like a private broadcast from the universe until a composer gives it wings. I only call myself a composer as that is the name for a person who writes whole pieces of music. I guess I am a musician. I am a sound scholar. But I regard what I do more as painting with sound, via electronic technologies and analogue toys. I compose sonic terrains that evoke a sense of place and transmit within them many universes unfolding. It is true. If you think of the smallest unit of digital storage space and what it contains and the fact that it is not even really there but exists somewhere in some abstract space of the mind and frequency ethers, it is not a far stretch to imagine a source for the great mysterium. Well music, before coming into form, exists somewhere too. Some say in the Music if the Spheres. It really is a great mystery and I mostly don’t question it, I just follow it and let it unfurl through my mind/ heart and fingers. I am so grateful for music as the gift of my life. I hope the work I produce can ripple through time nurturing the human soul and inspiring people upon the Great Way.
A traditional definition of Melody is “a succession of notes, varying in pitch, which have an organised and recognizable shape. Melody is ‘horizontal’, i.e the notes are heard consecutively ” (Kennedy 1996, p. 469). For me I have always had to recreate what I hear in my head, or I have just noodled and played till I like the sound of something, whether on guitar, bass or keyboard. I used to record on tape recorders but thanks to technology now the computer. This allows work to unfold, be developed, arranged and come to completion. I really believe we are more midwives to some grand design that seeks expression through us.
Melody as the river of time
Rhythm as the heartbeat
Music as the raft
The Call of Oma album in formation. The Call of Oma was birthed off the back of my play ‘By the Mandate of Heaven’ (2016), again exploring universal notions of harmony contained in oriental philosophy, it just happens you see. I wrote a song called I Am (song of the Earth) which begins with a sound that almost calls out across the universe. This is followed by drums thudding and a cascading descending piano motif which is accompanied by electro orchestral ornamentation weaving a rich tapestry of sound as we descend onto the Earth like the spirit over the waters. This song came to me, it is a composition with words, it is meant to be the Song of the Earth herself, calling out to humanity for presence, right relation and realisation, before all life is doomed by the human race in the 6th great extinction.
There will be 9 songs on the album. 4 are written one is nearly complete, the others yet to come. One off the Atmospherica album revised. A concept album is a big undertaking and I do not yet know if I can pull it off successfully. Time will tell. I can’t write notes on paper, I wish I could. I did learn some Sibelius but I do not have it and it does not have the finer integration of audio engineering and recording technology which is what modern composers like to play with and craft sound. Sibelius can not do automations and tec wizadry. In that regard I guess I am more of an independent producer. I am not a true wizard, just a novice learning the ropes, knowing enough to do what I can do. That is what you hear.
So my session files bar one are all built off the template for I Am (Song of the Earth), I will create a video exploring these for my email subscribers, if interested. Go to the following link to subscribe https://www.catherinemeeson.com/ship-mates/. I aim to integrate thematic authenticity in instrumentation with some points of variation, to add to and augment the soundscape sense of place. Funnily the music dictionary neither has entries for ‘soundscape’ nor ‘concept album’, they need to revise integrating the electronic era and production and conceptual terminology. Oxford University Press are you up to the task?
Melody has the unique capacity to create mood amongst other elements of music such as the interval relationships between notes, dynamics, tempo, instrumentation etc. It is the leading voice of dawn that calls the sun into rising each day. Metaphysically melody is a key to the heart and higher mind, depending upon the instrumentation used. Every instrument has its character, we will explore all this in later blog commentaries.
So returning now to The Call of Oma, it seeks to take the listener back through time with Oma the storyteller, a root race guardian of the north, an ancient clan mother, into the veils of prehistory, back when knowledge was transmitted orally. It seeks to present an alternative version of events and includes the dream world in its bridging of realities. It was performed live on Earth day 2017 in oratory but only 4 songs were presented. I hope that the melodies that are emerging capture your heart/ mind and imagination as they have mine. I cannot say when it will be finished, just that it is in manifestation, then it will need review and editing and further production and mastering. I will then seek your help to fund it’s mastering.
The safest path is solitude,
For the souls sings mysteries to the stars only
Composition is all about atmosphere.
It’s all about atmosphere
And there is no manual to atmosphere
Only primary elements
Film composers do now what the great composers of history did, create works that accompany us through our lives, that forge the cells of memory until our last breath. Till next time on another breath… in spiritus sancti.
On Harmony- is next
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Classic of Music 2017, Wikipedia, viewed 28 February 2018, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Classic_of_Music&oldid=794608732>.
Confucius n.d., ‘Book XV11. Yo Ki or Record of Music (1)’.
Debertolis, P agg.Paolo, Coimbra, DF & Eneix, L, C 2015, ‘Archaeoacoustic Analysis of the Hal Salfieni Hypogeum in Malta’, Journal of Anthropology and Archaeology, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 59–79.
Emoto, M 2007, The Miracle of Water, Atria Books, New York, NY.
Eneix, L, C Ed 2014, Archaeoacoustics- The Archaeology of Sound, The OTS Foundation, Myakka City, Florida.
Heline, C 1986, Music: The Keynote of Human Evolution, New Age Bible and Philosophy Center, Santa Monica,CA.
Herbert, R 2011, Everyday Music Listening- Absorption, Dissociation and Trancing, Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, England.
Jenny, H 2001, Cymatics, 3rd edn, MACROmedia Publishing, Newmarket, NH.
― (dir.) 2006, Cymatics – Bringing Matter to Life with Sound Pt 1-4, MACROmedia Publishing.
Kennedy, M 1996, Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, 4th edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Krause, B 2013, The Great Animal Orchestra – Finding the Origins of Music in the Worlds Wild Places, 1st edn, Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company.
Reid, JS 2001, Egyptian Sonics, Sonic Age Limited, Northumberland, UK.
Rouget, G 1985, Music and Trance- A theory of the Relations between Music and Possession, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, USA.
Scarre, C & Lawson, G 2006, Archaeoacoustics- McDonald Institute Monographs, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, UK.
Schafer, RM 1994, The Soundscape- Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World, Destiny Books, Rochester, Vermont.
Tame, D 1988, The Secret Power of Music- The Transformation of Self and Society Through Musical Energy, 2nd edn, The Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northhamptonshire.
Truax, B 2001, Acoustic Communication, 2nd edn, Ablex Publishing, Westport, CT, U.S.A.
Wilson, WS & Tzu, L 2010, Tao Te Ching- An all New Translation, 1st edn, Kodoshana International Ltd, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo.