We Are Alive


 In the July 30, 2012 issue of The New Yorker there is an interesting profile of rocker Bruce Springsteen.  Interesting to me for something “wingman” guitarist Steve Van Zandt said.  Back in the day one was judged by how well he was able to duplicate play from the radio – “cord for cord, note for note.”

  “Bruce was never good at it.  He had a weird ear.  He would hear different chords, but he could never hear the right chords.  When you have that ability or inability, you immediately become more original.  Well, in the long run, guess what: in the long run, original wins.”

  OK big deal you say.  Well, Pythagoras found, more than 2500 years ago, that there is a mathematic correlation to music that pleases.  Vibrating strings of different lengths, but in certain ratios make sounds good to hear while other relationships will be dissonant. 

  Subsequent observations of the universe led him and his followers to wonder – if musical harmony could be described by numbers, why not the whole universe – a “harmony of spheres”?  An almost contemporaneous biography of Pythagoras held that elevated minds such as his could audibly perceive the music made by the regular motions of heavenly bodies.

   No question that math does an excellent job at describing the cosmos with such things as the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci Numbers being found in wide and disparate corners of it.  And through the ages, artists and musicians of all stripes have attempted to tease out methods of their employment that might yield grand success.

  To no avail.  “History has shown however, that the artists who have produced works of lasting value are precisely those who have broken away from academic precepts.”*  Duh again. OK.  But what is truly amazing to think about are these relationships on the grandest of scales. 

  Einstein showed that without the presence of matter or energy in the universe, there would be no space-time warp.  No gravity.  No harmony.  No dissonance.  No originality.  Perfection. Boring.  But, of course, not to worry.  There are inclusions, imperfections, noise.  As the Springsteen article is entitled: “We Are Alive”.

*Golden Ratio, Mario Livio

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