October 2001 Editorial
Living in Rhythm
As I said in the introduction to this magazine, the world is in shock. I
cant for the life of me imagine the horror of experiencing the holocaust
in the streets of lower Manhattan. 24,000 gallons of jet fuel burned at over
800°C in each of the two 110-story buildings of the World Trade Center,
melting them from within. What remains are two vacant lots. When my brother-in-law
on the West Coast began to tell his daughter about the events that were happeningbefore
she was to go to school that morningshe interrupted him and asked, Are
we going to die? What sort of onus is that to live under? Is America
now to adopt the practices and mentalities of other strife-ridden countries
by having armed guards on every street corner, in every market, and within
our places of worship? How do we explain this behavior to our young children?
How do we grasp for a glimmer of hope in the cloudy future? Sometimes I dont
envy the future of my son, and that of his children-to-be, and onward. The
world has changed forever and we had better start doing something about itfast.
I dont have the answers, but we definitely have to start at home with
how we raise our children, teach them, nourish and love theminstead
of sweeping them under the collective rug of day care centers, bad nutrition,
broken marriages, poor schools, gangs, mental and physical abuse, and prisons.
How can a teenager possibly reach the end of that path and have a modicum
of sensibility about morals, integrity, self assurance, and a belief in anything
me to propose a small beginning. It has to do with rhythm. Humanitys
rhythm is all out of whack. And we have messed up the rhythm of our own planet.
All life has rhythm, from the revolving galaxies to the tiniest of atoms.
The seasons, the tides, the cycle of day and night, light waves, sound: all
elements of nature have in common the pulse of life. Our first experience
of rhythm is our mothers heartbeat heard from within the womb. We humans
are walking rhythm machines, our own hearts being the core of our pulse. The
blood rushing through our veins and the way we breathe and walk remind us
of our rhythmic connection to the heavens and all things living. To stop the
rhythm would be to stop life itself.
at the dying coral beds of the Great Barrier Reef, the barren and scarred
land of the once-majestic Brazilian rain forests, the melting and diminishing
ice caps. The rhythm for much of the world has either been altered or stopped,
and look at the results. All the planet needs is its rhythm backwho
could ask for anything more?
music, rhythm is the key element, for without it a melody would go nowhere.
It is the distance from one note to another, a forward progression in time.
Life is also a continuing, forward progression in time. In order to heal a
cancer, a broken bone, a depression, or even a headache, one must move forward,
living a life that is mentally, physically, and spiritually creative, stimulating,
and nurturing. To heal thyself is to move forward, not stagnate
in the past.
eighteenth-century philosopher Novalis said that every illness is a
musical problem. Sickness is thus a matter of being out-of-tune with both
oneself and the world, and healing, a question of making whole. We must
be aware of and in-tune with the life-giving rhythms and pulses around us.
Many times we ignore our own natural biorhythms and get out-of-sync with them,
causing disharmony and distress. We can become dislocated from our spirituality,
not letting the rhythm of the Cosmos influence our daily lives. We become
disconnected in the clash of our many faiths.
nature, entrainment occurs when two bodies that are in close proximity
and are vibrating at nearly the same rate eventually lock-in to the same frequency
and vibrate perfectly in tune. It is more efficient to vibrate in unison than
in opposition. In dealing with people it is ultimately far easier and more
productive to relinquish our oppositions and work together. There is certainly
no music in the discord of the Middle East, or in the conflicts
between North and South Korea; no harmony exists in Tibet, Iraq, Afghanistan;
and sadly enough, on its own doorstep, White America cannot be in-tune with
anyone of another color.
I own and play many percussion instruments from around the world which, among
other things, help to remind me of and keep me in touch with the global community.
I am acutely aware of the different world cultures of each drum, and I play
each with deep respect for its peoples and their history. Tablas from India,
a djembe from Ghana, Turkish gongs, multicultural frame drums, Vietnamese
temple blocks, dumbeks from Morocco and Afghanistan, and a Chinese temple
drumeach speaks to me in its individual way. As I play, the rhythmic
undercurrent reinforces and augments my awareness of the omnipresent, life-sustaining
rhythms that are around me. I can feel the pulse and spirit of life within
me at home, at work, and while asleep. That energy is there for all peoples
of the world to lock-in to, to entrain with, and to be in-tune with. It opens
the door for one to be in-sync with the energy within oneself, allowing it
to flow out to others.
music can be a wonderful healing medium, and frequencies are the building
blocks. I have two low F2 gongs which, vibrating at about 86 cycles
per second, are in themselves amazing instruments of healing. F
corresponds to the root chakra in Chinese medicine. After a long, hard day
at work I will go to the gong and stand before it with my eyes closed. Though
I do not have perfect pitch, I can actually hear the F before
striking the gong. The voice of the gong is in the air, and I
can pick it out and sing it before striking. The F is a grounding
tone. It cleanses the body and mind of all the negativity of the day. Once
I do strike the gong, its warm and embracing tone permeates my entire
being. I can almost feel every stressed-out and fragmented cell in my tired
body begin to line up and work together again. The experience is a sonic bath.
also has the power to incite. When I was a teenager in Albuquerque, New Mexico,
I went to a dance at the Masonic Lodge. The band was loud and the crowd, angry.
At one point a fight erupted next to the stage, and one musician savagely
tried to hit people on the head by swinging his solid-body guitar at the lunging
mass. That experience summed up the entire state-of-mind of kids at the time.
Albuquerque was in a very bad way in 1967-68, as was the rest of the country.
I am convinced that had my sister and I continued on in Albuquerque, one of
us would be dead. I was constantly harassed, and many times narrowly escaped
severe beatings. My sister still had her real growing up to do, and
she could have hooked up with a very bad element. I am thankful that my family
relocated to the Northwest.
we first moved I was astounded that I did not get beat up at my new schoolthat
people in the halls actually smiled and said Hi. My school in
New Mexico I regarded as a death camp. It was at the time of the SDS, the
infamous Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the dont trust
anyone over thirty mentality. The Beach Boys had irrevocably dazzled
the minds of teenagers with California visions of blondes, beaches, and surfboards,
making life even harder for kids stuck in the middle of an arid state, surrounded
by miles of dusty mesas haunted by the ghosts of the long-extinct Anasazi.
There seemed to be nothing to do but rumble. I saw serious, hospital-case
fights almost every day, which continued on into the dance halls and clubs.
Aggressive rocknroll only served to fuel pent-up tempers and whip
the kids into fighting frenzies.
later, when my son was in high school, I dropped him off in Hollywood so that
he could see a concert at the Palladium. It was one of those no-seats, stand-or-dance-in-front-of-the-stage
events. When I picked him up, the jacket I had loaned him was torn at the
shoulder. He had been a participating victim of the infamous mosh pit.
It even sounds scary: a packed room, dance hall, or auditorium full
of kids, and a frenzied band. In the middle of this human crush is an open
circle about ten feet across, which only the daring enter. Once inside, it
becomes a combative, slam-dance, free-for-all. Kicks and punches are par for
the course. My son had been bodily picked up and passed horizontally over
the sea of heads before crashing to the floor. 1960s Albuquerque still
exists in different form and expression: it is alive and well in the angry
mosh pits of our youth today.
I have been a part of the collective mass of energy that music can embody. While
I love good ole rocknroll, I also know that some of it can speak
right to the gut and fuel all kinds of imbalances and disturbances, creating
a false sense of heightened importance and omnipotence. Add drugs to a helter-skelter,
Mansonesque frenzy and the combination can be quite formidable. The postures
and costumes of many rock groups leave no room for interpretation; they speak
for themselves. The same mentalities that throw televisions out of twentieth-floor
hotel windows and trash their luxury suites because room service didnt
provide red jellybeans exist on the dance floors as well, and they
react to what they hear. Those attitudes are in the music, and the messages
are loud and clear.
During the terrible years of slavery in America, slaves were prohibited to dance
or play drums. Slave owners thought that any sort of drumming would communicate
secret messages to organize and incite a revolt. They knew of the power of
rhythm and feared it greatly. For a rude awakening, read some of the lyrics
to a lot of rap music. They advocate rape, theft, destruction, and murder,
and the authors and performers of such make a fortune. Maybe rap
is the sounds of the finally-unsilenced drums of the slaves. The slave owners
were afraid for a good reason: they knew what they had done. They were well-aware
of their crimes against humanity. But the drums couldnt be silenced
forever. The revolution is here.
A French scientist who became interested in the connection between frequencies
and sound discovered that a molecule can be broken down into a chain of amino
acids, each possessing its own frequency, which is a vibration measured in
cycles per second. In music, the A above middle C
resonates at 440 cycles per second, therefore any molecule can be translated
into musical terms. The scientist analyzed the frequencies of the amino acid
chain for the molecule prolactin, a milk-inducing hormone, and
notated the resulting melodic pattern. The melody was then played to a group
of cows for eleven minutes every hour for a week. The cows then began to produce
the largest quantity of milk anyone had ever seen, and it was by far the sweetestyielding
the most flavorful cheese anyone had ever tasted.
Imagine the good that can come of this. The healing powers of music, written with
the proper amino acid/melodic relationships, could be wildly phenomenal.
But, consider the potential for evil. In the 1930s the famous Argentinean
tango composer, Carlos Gardèl, composed a tango with a haunting melody
which had a very strange effect on people. Many who heard it became severely
depressed. There was a documented case of someone who jumped out of a window
to his death. The French scientist analyzed the melody and, reversing the
process, determined what chain of amino acids would be created by the melodic
frequencies. The result was a drug that is a known major depressant.
How was Gardèl to know? Imagine the power of musicits powers to soothe,
seduce, and heal. But with knowledge of molecular structures and their frequency
relationships one could conceivably create melodies designed to kill. As of
this writing, the French government has confiscated all of the scientists
research and has prohibited any further work on his part to this end.
Can the same be said for a rhythm? Is there a particular tempo or a groove that
has healing effects? My average natural pulse is about 80 beats per minute,
a little faster than one per second. Would music played at that tempo be beneficial
for me? There are certain tempos that are universally comfortable,
and for whatever reason, they seem to be very natural to play in. Others,
which are faster or more frenetic, can cause an adrenaline rush, agitation,
or excitement. Is the tempo of our mothers heartbeat the most soothing?
Would we do best to conduct our lives at such a pace?
Imagine a rhythm started by one person playing a conga drum at the pace of an average
heartbeat. A neighbor hears the rhythm and joins in, perhaps playing a tambourine.
Another plays along on a tom-tom. Someone else down the street adds to the
rhythm with hand claps. Soon, the entire block is involved in a rhythmic jam
session, pulsing out a groove for the rest of the neighborhood to hear. Others
join in, and the beat travels to outlying areas. Entire communities become
united in one collective rhythm. Like Hands Across America the
country is soon linked coast-to-coast with a national heartbeat. It spreads
across both borders into Mexico and Canada. Via telephone lines and satellite
the beat travels overseas to Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia. The earth pulses
with a unifying world beat. Every country is of one people, vibrating at the
same frequency. Global entrainment. Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the
©2001 Stuart Vail