The Music of Everything
"As the eyes, said I, seem formed for studying astronomy, so do the ears seem formed for harmonious motions: and these seem to be twin sciences to one another, as also the Pythagoreans say". - "Republic", Plato
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1).
Last year in April, at the very beginning of the pandemic, there was an article that circled around the Internet - apparently, the structure of corona virus was made into music (X): "An AI technology named sonification to assign each amino acid a unique note and converted the entire protein into a score. These amino acids tend to curl up into a helix or stretch out into a sheet. Researchers captured these features by altering the duration and volume of the notes." (Listen)
We often use "vibes" as a part of our daily, modern language - but the idea that music, that is, the sound, is the inner language of everything is not entirely new - it spreads across religious, spiritual & philosophical traditions.
Be and It Is
"God, giver of love, the treasure-house of joy
Creator of the two worlds in the one sound Om,
my mind has no light worthy of you,
with which to sing your praise, O Lord!
King of the three worlds and the four ages,
the world glorifies you from beginning to end."
- Madhumalati, Mir Sayyid Manjhan Shattari Rajgiri
The phrase “Be, and it is”, or in Arabic (كن فيكون Kun Fa-Yakūnu) appears in Qur’an several times in order to point towards the self-sufficient, self-generating power of the Divine. The surah called Ya-Sin, says: “When He wills a thing, is only to say to it: Be! and it is”. For this reason, the imperative of the verb “be” (Kun) is loved and meditated upon.
The Divine often, “speaks the world into existence” or "breathes it into existence" (the Divine Breath - Nefes), but perhaps in order to speak, the Divine also needs to “breathe out” His own being from the solitude of “breathing in”. The phonetic resonance of the sound, the word, the breath, is what sets the entire pattern or music in motion.
And while “Kun” is the expression of Divine Will, the externally directed manifestation, the spirit of the sounds of all words, and the inner Essene of every word, every sound, including “Kun” is the “HU”. In Sufi zikr, meditation, as well as breathing exercises, the HU is often repeated, sometimes to the point of putting one in a trance. When it is said, HU sounds like a breath out - pointing towards a bond between the Word, the Sound, and the Breath.
Comparatively, in Hindu cosmology, the primordial, creative sound of everything is “OM”, and because of this, the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent made comparisons between the HU, OM and KUN. Syed Sultan, Bengali Muslim poet & writer, in a manner similar to Rajgiri, says: “From the formless one (nirākāra) was born form (ākāra) in the shape of the syllable ā. Within the syllable ā, the formless one created the syllable u. Within the syllables ā and u originated the syllable ma. Sattva, rajaḥ, and tamaḥ became his very own powers (śakti). When he found himself within himself, the syllable ma arose within the formless. Seeing himself within himself, he was entranced with the love a devotee feels (bhakta bhāva). Seeing his form within the looking-glass, he recognized himself. Within the syllables ā and u he remained engrossed. The syllable ā remained tightly coiled for eternal time. Within the syllables ā and u was the orb (maṇḍala) of the syllable ma. The syllables ma and ā remained within the formidable syllable u. From one emerged two like a pair of archers’ [bows with] bowstrings touching to form a single line. One name remained hidden within the three worlds. It was the quintessential union of the syllables ma and u. One other syllable rests within the three syllables. The triple world arises from this syllable. When the Vedic syllable (vedākṣara) is taken together, the syllable u becomes manifest. When the moon-syllable (candrākṣara) is stolen away, the two become as one. The syllables ā and u become united. Having united, they exclude one syllable The syllables ā and u are of one body, one reflected image. The syllable ā gazed into the syllable u. It reflexively gazed upon the bhāvinī, the female beloved. It saw itself in the form of the syllable u. When it countenanced its own form within itself, it remained in meditation (dheyāna), its sight fixed upon the u. Becoming a spiritual aspirant (sādhaka), it continued to gaze on, as though the bhāvaka, male lover, had drowned in the bhāvinī’s ocean The formless one was engrossed in the absorption of love’s savor. He beheld Nūr Muhammad with pride.”
While “OM” is often taken to resonate with Trimurti - Brahma (The Creator), Vishnu (The Maintainer), and Shiva (The Destroyer), the Sufis translated that into Ahad - Ahmad - Nur Muhammad, or Essence, Intellect, and Soul. Sometimes it is the letter mim and its shape that was used.
The Sufis of Hurufi lineage were deeply invested in meditating upon the sound, but also, the shape and form of the letters, and while they were fairly far from India, as they were mostly in Anatolia and Western Iran, the Sufis of India thought that the letter letter mīm in the name of Muhammad, tells that the mandala of the ma rests within the syllables ā and u.
The sound & music play huge role in spiritual practice of many traditions - for some, it is the goal to become the letter, or the syllable - for example, Buddhist Tantrikas often visualise the syllable of a bodhisattva or deity in a their heart. To become the sound, the sound that often has no semantic meaning, rather is purely phonetic is to remove the mental, conceptual language and allow the Divine to speak.
The Mathematical Language of Music
“The human seed within the female womb breaks down in the space of six days and is converted into milk; in nine more days it is transformed into blood; after twelve days a formless mass of flesh develops, which little by little takes on form until in eighteen days it becomes human. Then, after forty-five days when gestation is completed, the Omnipotent God instils the intellectual soul.” - Gioseffo Zarlino
Western philosophy has long occupied itself with the notion of the “Music of the Spheres” also known as musica universalis. Simplified, it says that the movement of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets, is a form of music. The mathematical relationships are the ones that are creating this music. These energies manifest as numbers, patterns, rhythms, shapes, within a clear proportion.
For others though, it was not just the planets that had the sound. Boethius, besides musica quae in quibusdam constituta est instrumentis (music made by human musicians), and musica universalis, mentions musica humana - the music of the human body. It is not just instrumentalists and composers who create music, nor are only the planets creating music with their movements - it is human body, the organs, and kinetic movements that are music too. More specifically, he defines it as a coaptatio - an ordered relationship between body and soul and between the parts of the body and the parts of the soul.
Many of the Western philosophers, including Pythagoras, who is often considered the father of these ideas in the West, also brought up what one may see as “music of embryology” - speculating on the days before birth & their mathematical, that is musical resonance. For example Pythagoras rationalized two types of birth: "the lesser one of seven months, issuing from the womb on the 21th day after conception, and the greater one often months, issuing on the 274th day.'.
Johannes Kepler believed that one was able to listen to universal music, Boethius agreed with him, although, this universal music was only to be known through Pure Intellect. The music experienced by the senses can reflect this and offer the same inspiration and illumination. Christians who explained the universe in this manner, believed that the motions, patterns, harmonies, as well as intervals were set and ordered by God. This cosmic harmony reflects or imitates the God Himself.
The Human of Harmony
"I think, in the characteristic that myth and music share of both being languages which, in their different ways, transcend articulate expression, while at the same time ― like articulate speech, but unlike painting, requiring a temporal dimension in which to unfold. But this relation to time is of a rather special nature: it is as if music and mythology needed time only in order to deny it. Both, indeed, are instruments for the obliteration of time. Below the level of sounds and rhythms, music acts upon a primitive terrain, which is the physiological time of the listener; this time is irreversible and therefore irredeemably diachronic yet music transmutes the segment devoted to listening to it into a synchronic totality, enclosed within itself. Because of the internal organization of the musical work, the act of listening to it immobilizes passing time; it catches and enfolds it as one catches and enfolds a cloth flapping in the wind. It follows that by listening to music and while we are listening to it, we enter into a kind of immortality."
- "Mythologiques", Claude Lévi Strauss
The quick journey around the world showed how different peoples saw and resonated with the idea of music as the language or form of everything. It also showed how mathematics, geometry and music are deeply connected. That’s perhaps why no other form of art is as addictive - for as Strauss says, “we enter into a kind of immortality” through it - we bring emotions, feelings, images from the realm of pure Imagination even if we just daydream listening to our favourite music.
Everything makes a sound - even a sleeping human makes one or two. It is everywhere, and the “leftover” of everything. And as it is everywhere - perhaps, from us, it is asked or demanded, that we lend an ear, so we may hear the music. Only like that, are we able to dance in harmony, and to have beautiful, resonating movements. For only when we hear the music and move to the rhythm, are we dancing - until that point, it is but random movement.
Links Linktree "Mythologiques", Levi Strauss "Muhammad Avatara", Ayesha A Irani