Where is sound, without the ear to hear it? In silence shall it be found? O Lord, you are the omnipresent sound in space, the hidden essence of all the elements and senses. O Krishna, from your blessed flute arose the sacred sound which gave birth to the world, and it continues to hum in every light and life in the whole of Nature. Truly, Lord, I hear it clearly in your voice and it echoes in the pulsating roar of the ocean's tides, in the beating of my heart. My eyes, O Govinda, see this melodious sound in your many arms and mouths, the flashes from your mellifluous speech. In you, Lord, is every evocative sound and yet your entranced silence envelops me and transports me to the threshold of Non-Being, where the haunting melody of the spheres fades. And yet the echoed sound of your sacred word reverberates in my soul and guides me in the voidness of solitude.
Many melodic clues to the mystery of sound are revealed in the poetry of cosmic myths. As Quetzalcoatl created the world by uttering the word 'Earth', so Aditi crooned to her Seven Sons and the gandharvas personified the manifold sounds in Nature. With flute and lyre and musical voice the gods have rendered the sacred power manifest and its harmony conveys their fidelity in its flow and cadence and tonality. The law of creation is a rapturous melody which weaves in and through all forms like the Sacred Word as Dharma. It is rather like what physicists call a sine wave, a pure tone which is the basic building block of sound. Any series of waves can be reduced to simple sine waves and those that make up a musical note are each an overtone or harmonic of the fundamental note, while the frequency of each harmonic is a multiple of the fundamental frequency. In perfectly mathematical relationships the Law of the One Sound flows and weaves around its central keynote which is the Kung, the tamboura, that proceeds, accompanies and lingers on when the last musical formation is finished.
Pythagoras taught that the world had been called forth out of Chaos by sound or harmony and constructed according to the principles of proportion. His teachings suggested that the seven planets which rule the destiny of mortals have a harmonious motion with intervals that correspond to musical diastems. He taught that the motion of celestial bodies produced these tones and that their various speeds are in the same ratio as musical concordances, producing altogether a perfect harmony. The sound of the slower planets was thought to be deep, that of the quicker a higher pitch, all reaching the hearer at the same time so as to produce a harmonious effect. Of this music H. P. Blavatsky wrote that it is "the sweetest melody, which is inaudible to us, only by reason of the greatness of the sound, which our ears are incapable of hearing". It was said to be in the 'inner ears' of the newborn and indistinguishable from silence, an idea which baffled Aristotle who did not seem to possess an intuitive 'feeling' either for music or for transcendental paradox.
The mystery of sound obtrudes itself upon the imagination of thinking man, for it surrounds him and he cannot help but sense its immense power. Some tribes thought that the noise made from a spear entering an animal or an enemy was itself the death-dealing power just as the power of a waterfall or a tiger was in its roar. One of the most common ideas found in cultures everywhere was that music and speech came from the gods and sound was a magical power to be wielded for good or evil. It was probably with this in mind that Egyptian generals used trumpets and drumbeats to excite their soldiers and the Greeks beat their spears against their shields, shouting in repeated roars in an effort to strike terror into the hearts of their adversaries. And they were often successful, scattering the enemy in just the same way that a formidable band of Highland pipers attempts to intimidate the enemy while inspiring their own troops. Roman emperors understood the powerful impact of sound on crowds and employed noise-makers to stand in their midst in order to whip up emotional fervour. Reacting strongly to the free and, sometimes wild uses of sound favoured by classical civilizations, the Christian church placed severe limits upon its ecclesiastical use. In the sixth century Pope Gregory I ordained that only certain tonal progressions were permissible, a tenet that eventually led to the development of Western classical music. But ancient drums still stirred the blood, and the voices of men still emitted the tones of primordial longings, of fears and laments and rejoicing.
Sound-making is an activity vital to human life and man is its most accomplished producer. With animals he shares a multitude of meaningful acoustical signals such as those which trigger a specific result because of fixed associations between such signals and events or objects in the environment. The uniquely human traits of communication involve using basic sounds to construct new acoustic entities, syntactical capacity and the sequential organization of sounds. One of the critical factors about communicated sound is that it rapidly fades, demanding that the hearer focus his attention upon it. Furthermore, the speaker internalizes his own communiqué which may involve semantic associations between patterns that are remote in time and space. All these factors are linked up with the sense of hearing which is the crucial key to all communication, and together they represent an enormously critical step in the thinking process.
The complexities of hearing sound are marvellous and its importance is dramatically illustrated when one tries to imagine how to describe a sound to someone who is deaf. The human nervous system is like an Aeolian harp which responds variously to the impact of vital force. It is said that "if these nerve vibrations are made intense enough and brought into vibratory relation with an astral element, the result is sound". Even from a strictly physical perspective the process is scarcely less awesome. During the course of activity involving the outer, middle and inner ear, sound-waves are gathered and converted into mechanical energy, hydraulic pressure waves and finally electrical impulses which can be transmitted to the brain through a total of thirty thousand nerve fibres. The number of fibres a sound requires in this transmission gives the brain a gauge of its intensity. Psycho-acoustic studies indicate that there is no absolute physiologic threshold of hearing and the brain has a distinct memory centre which begins to accumulate sounds at birth. Thus, the thinking process can tap a vast reservoir of symbols of sounds which have induced different reactions in various parts of the brain. If one thinks of this together with the fact that a man's ear can hear one quadrillionth of a watt of sound and his memory can associate remote or abstract concepts of time and place through sound, something of the enormous complexity and mystery which surround the human experience and expression of sound is suggested.
Sir Francis Bacon wrote that "sound is one of the subtlest pieces of Nature", and indeed it does reveal in its tone and rhythm and pitch a great deal about the inner condition of its maker. Few would doubt that the tiger's roar expressed a formidable desire to assuage its hunger or attract a mate, but less forthright sometimes are the clues in human speech that reveal the inner state. The acoustic properties of emotive sound are many and they may indicate anything from openness and confidence to neurosis and even psychosis. The sharp voice which on a graph is shown to rise an octave and sharply fall is a signal of extreme emotional stress. There are recognizable patterns which typify such things as mental ambivalence, fear, guilt or self-pity. Autistic speech can be a self-directed acoustic game that involves a distortion of rhythm, intensity, pitch, tone, speed, shape and orderliness as well as a shuffling of phonemes and morphemes. Tone reveals so much more than mere words. The etymology of the word points to 'stretch' or 'strain', and indeed the term is used in such contexts as when people speak of muscle tone. But the strength, fibre and tension of the voice display a hidden undercurrent, a vibration which cannot lie. Thus it is said that breathing and vocalizing will always reflect the emotions. The real character of things is often referred to in terms of tone, as though after one had stripped away all the sights and manners and words there was still this vibration of truth to be reckoned with.
The power which drives the mechanism of speech in the human body is breath. The lungs, rib cage and muscles act as a pump, pushing the air along through the vibratory element in the larynx. Respiration takes place because of the need for oxygen. It enables a gaseous interchange to take place between the organism and the environment so that oxygen can be absorbed and carbon dioxide eliminated. During normal breathing respiration is under the control of the medulla oblongata. Simple rudimentary sounds (which can be combinations in speech) may also be under the control of the medulla oblongata, breathed out, as it were, with no conscious effort. Purposeful breathing, however, must be under the control of the cerebral cortex, which is brought fully into play in the production of audible symbols. The breath pushing through the larynx vibrates the vocal folds, which are long, smooth bands of muscle tissue that can contract, expand, tense up or relax. They can be separated or drawn together, remaining widely separated during normal breathing, allowing the air to pass out freely through the nose and mouth. When they are drawn together, pressure builds up below them so as to blow the folds apart. Pitch is controlled through tension in the folds and power by the breath itself. The sound which is thus produced is not a pure tone but a fundamental as well as several harmonics. The cavities in the head and mouth further influence the character of the sound by acting as resonators which contributes musical quality.
When an individual is relaxed, as in sleep, the inhalation and exhalation of breath are equal. But during speech the inhalation time drops to a quarter or half a second, while that of exhalation remains at three to four seconds' duration. Speech requires a steady pressure of air which is constantly under the control of the will. It renders the normally passive act of exhalation highly active, drawing upon the energy of the sound vibration initiated by a blast of air. The whole process is a microcosmic marvel.
It is in perfect correspondence with the Great Breath which breathed forth the ineffable Word that became the progenitor of the cosmos. The breath issues from what the Greeks call πνευμων (pneumon or lungs), taken from the word for 'spirit' πνευα. Thus the breath of life fills this organ and is pumped out to that point where the generator of sound (the laryngeal generator) receives it and passes it on to a series of resonators. Immediately upon emerging from the larynx, the sound is differentiated into a tonic and harmonics just as the one Logos becomes the Seven. The cavities further this process, adding the overtones and undertones of shape and form and colour.
The development of human vocalization begins even before birth. The syntactical capacity to organize sound-making in terms of environmental cues exists in the intra-uterine state. But the birth cry of the newborn infant marks the beginning of an increasingly modified expression of this innate ability. This first cry is intense, long and quavering. Not possessing the rhythmic quality of later crying, it seems to display the shock of emergence from the passage of its birth. This sounding of the first vowel sound a grows more steady in early infancy. It comprises ninety percent of the sounds made by babies during their first few days of life and it is followed by u,i,e,oo, etc., and finally a few consonants. At two months of life ninety-eight percent of the consonantal sounds come from the back of the throat, but with time the process moves forward and by two years of age seventy-seven percent of the consonantal sounds are produced in the front of the mouth. The newborn vocalizes with the mouth open, producing a 'tonal' sound which only later takes on the rhythm of laughter or crying. After the vowel sounds are manifested, the baby begins to demonstrate a tailing sound produced by a top of the palate interruption of air. Next babbling begins where the mouth interrupts the air stream and the infant delights all within hearing with its "daa daa" and "bai bai".
All human societies regulate the production of these sounds and, significantly, often forbid them and enforce silence in emotionally disturbed situations such as funerals. Outbursts of sound like banging, razzberries, applause or laughter are permitted at certain times and relieve tension created by strong emotions. The highly stylized lamentations practised by many people in the world seem to lack spontaneity and indeed are meant to be controlled manifestations of the deepest and most refined essence of grief expressible by individuals. When such lamentations are finished and the crying and tearing of hair is done, life must go on and be met with measured acceptance and a responsible taking of oneself in hand. The orderly sequential emission of meaningful acoustical signals that is speech requires social experience which is far beyond what is available to a child. Even in adolescence, speech is often a combination of simple reflexive as well as purposefully verbal patterns of sound-making. An effective, mature speaker is one who can say what he wants and needs to say at the appropriate time to the appropriate listener. This clearly requires a high level of mastery over thoughts as well as breath and bodily movement.
Learning to speak requires learning new sounds and abandoning the original reflexive sounds of infancy. Onomatopoeic sounds continue to be used in words associated with strong emotions that condition the thinking process. Societies generally expect that mature individuals will express themselves within the rules of cognitive patterns which are made possible by the sustained assertion of reason over emotion. One recognizes how interwoven is the relationship between mind and body in this process when one learns that brain lesions can impair adult inhibitions against the production of baby sounds like lalling and babbling. Mentally disturbed adults often revert to making these baby sounds as they withdraw from a positive identification with society. Their unwillingness or inability to continue to assume a responsible position in relation to others is thus marked by a regression in vocalization to that state of unaccountability enjoyed by little children.
The first vowel a is said to be "the single homogeneous sound that awakens and vivifies all the molecules in the universe into action". This is the beginning sound of the Word, Verbum or Logos which is referred to in the opening lines of the Gospel according to John. The Greek language has but one word for 'vowel' and 'voice' while sound and speech spoken of in the Puranas can be collated with the Gnostic Vowels' as well as the Voices' of Thunders and Angels in the Book of Revelations. In the Hindu tradition, the names answering to Parabrahm, to Brahm, and Manu (the first thinking Man) are composed of one-vowelled, three-vowelled and seven-vowelled sounds, and the seven heavens themselves sound each vowel as the seven names of the seven angelic hierarchies are pronounced. Thus the sevenfold Logos differentiated into the seven creative potencies or vowels, the sounding of which created all on earth. In man this is mirrored in the relative harmonics whereby the different vowel sounds are uttered. A rich supply of fundamentals and harmonics is produced at the larynx generator and certain frequencies of sound-waves correspond closely to the natural resonant characteristics of humans. In this way the vowels escape from the oral cavity with few or no accompanying friction noises.
The human echo of the Sacred Word recapitulates the cosmic emanation carried forth by sound. The a sound is a central vowel produced with the oral cavity in the most relaxed position possible. The u sound, however, involves greater complexity. The tongue is drawn back towards the roof of the mouth and the anterior cavity increases in size while the back cavity decreases. Because the aperture between the cavities is decreased in size to its smallest point, the u represents the limit of the vowel sound where the air tract is most constricted. Further constriction would lead to the realm of consonants. The breath continues its exhalation through the utterance of all possible sounds, the tongue and cavities of the mouth shaping and moulding its every nuance. And finally, the lips close upon the last vibrating hum of the m and the Sacred Verbum has run its course. The process has moved from the back of the throat forward to the lips, where it ends almost as though the oral cavity itself was the cosmic arena.
In the strictest sense of the word, sound is a compressional wave that produces a sensation in the human ear. This definition is limited to frequencies ranging from twenty to fifteen thousand cycles per second, or a total of more than nine octaves. Below and above this sonic range are the infrasonic and ultrasonic cycles utilized by other forms of life. All sound is created when anything moves. As the motion differs, so does the sound; the more rapid the vibration, the higher the pitch. If a vibration is too slow or fast, humans simply cannot hear it, but in every case it involves something striking something else. The energy of motion moves from the striking thing into the thing it strikes, setting up a series of compressional waves. Passing from one group of particles to the next, the velocity of sound is a property of the density and elasticity of the medium through which it moves. Frequency is a property of the vibrating source, and the wavelength in the medium is determined by frequency and velocity of propagation. The propagation of a compressional wave through a medium is a process of converting energy back and forth between the kinetic and potential of the particles in the medium as the wave progresses. Sound-waves from a point source form wave-fronts which are spheres, and the energy of the wave will be distributed over the surface of the sphere but it is also capable of being reflected, refracted and otherwise redirected or absorbed by temperature changes and obstructing bodies. In a pristine void one may imagine great globular beads of sound issuing forth like a three-dimensional helix extending out into space from a single, pure vibrating source. But with the establishment of the material world in all its myriad forms, sound is endlessly modified and mixed into the cacophony of particularized life.
When sound is diffracted, the secondary waves radiate from the obstacle as though it were the source of sound. This fact could serve to suggest to the intuitive that the source of sound is not to be found in an obvious, external material. Arcane Knowledge suggests that "the waves and undulations of science are all produced by atoms propelling their molecules into activity from within". Sound is merely a repercussion on our plane, one of a whole range of physical phenomena, which proceeds from the primary Akasha, which itself proceeds from Chaos (the primary aspect of Mulaprakriti, the first abstract idea one can form of Parabrahm). If there were no Akashic essence within every atom, there would be no sound, because it is the vibrating, noumenal sounding-board of Nature in all its seven differentiations. This essence on all planes is expressed in and through the Seven Sons of the Logos who are potencies (vowels) of sound, creators of all forms in the world.
Sound is said to exist in air, but could air exist if there were no etheric medium to buoy up its molecules? Of the elements, sound is related to Akasha, touch to air, colour to fire, taste to water and smell to earth. In the Puranic description of an Elemental Pralaya, one gets a sense of the ontological position of sound in the scheme of things. Parasara tells Maitreya that Fire first withers the worlds and hells, followed by Water which swallows the Earth (smell). With an inundation, the rudimentary elements of the universe are locked up and destroyed, leaving an ethereal condition which is seized upon by Wind. All form (the cause of manifest light) is destroyed, to become air which spreads over darkened space. Air, accompanied by sound (which is the source of Ether), extends everywhere until the Ether seizes upon cohesion (sparsa - touch), its rudimentary property, through loss of which air is destroyed. Then Akasha, whose characteristic property and rudiment is sound (the Word), occupies the whole of space. Then the origin of the elements devours sound and the Hosts of Dhyan Chohans are merged into their Primal Element, which in turn is disintegrated by Universal Mind, the Divine Source of sound. Thus, it is said, "were the seven forms of Prakriti reckoned from Mahat to earth [and] so these seven successively re-enter into each other".
The Vishnu Parana teaches that sound (being a characteristic of Akasha) generates air, the property of which is touch which (by friction) becomes productive of light and colour. For members of the First Race the sense of touch was related to the power of their atoms to vibrate in unison with external atoms. This sense then differentiated into the other senses in subsequent Races, but in its original expression it demonstrated a perfect harmony between the initial utterance of the Sacred Word and the vesture of the incipient human race. This was a pristine reflection of the birth cry beginning with the effortless and relaxed pronunciation of the a. The Light of the Logoic Keynote was manifesting on the plane of the objective universe. The 'melodious heaven of Sound' (Kwan-Yin-Tien) was opening its doors. Thus Akasha corresponds with time and space, the creative potency of soul which has seven qualities and seven musical notes. It is first-born of the Unmanifest Logos and mother of the manifest. In its highest expression it gives forth Mahat but it is also Vach who, together with Brahmā(Prajapati), calls into being the work of creation as "the melodious cow who milked forth sustenance and water".
As the first product of higher Akasha, Mahat is no other than the Logos whose first property is Buddhi. He is the 'Creator', the Divine Mind in action and "the cause of all things". As such, he is the inner boundary of the universe while matter is the outer. He is the Pasyanti Vach whose cosmic intonation is potentially echoed in the Vaikhari Vach level of objective speech. This is why sound is such a tremendous power, a mighty force that can raise mountains as well as the dead. It is capable of attracting together all the elements in terms of what have been called "interetheric forces". Every sound in the visible world awakens its correlate in the invisible and arouses a force. Such can be awakened by the tone, pitch and rhythm of speech so as to produce good or bad results. In ancient times "no student was ever allowed to recite historical, religious, or any real events in so many unmistakable words, lest the powers connected with the event should be once more attracted". These important cosmological events were narrated only during times of Initiation and recorded in corresponding symbols drawn out of the mind of the Initiate himself.
To pronounce a word is to evoke a thought and make of it a living presence,. "The magnetic potency of human speech is the commencement of every manifestation of the Occult World." This is why evocations in magical rituals not only define a being but place it under the influence of one of the potencies manifest through the Word. Things are, therefore, that which the Word makes them while they are being named. "The Word (Verbum) or, the speech of every man is, quite unconsciously to himself, a blessing or a curse." It has been suggested that this is why our ignorance about the properties of ideation and matter is often fatal to us. It is said that the speech of men on earth can only reach the gods when they have learnt the language of then; respective elements. Masters of Wisdom speak of the semi-intelligent Forces who communicate with them by means of sounds and colours in correlation with their vibrations. They teach that sound, is the most potent of all magical agents "and the first of the keys which opens the door of communication between Mortals and the Immortals ". Sound is the prime vibration manifest in the incessant task of transformation involving the compounding and dissociation of atoms and molecules throughout manifest existence. The Sacred Word intones the endlessly cycling power of Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva, as forms emerge, are preserved and finally disintegrate during a great cycle of Nada Brahman. During a pristine Ray of Brahmāthis Divine Resonance upholds and pervades the entire process of evolution on all its seven times seven levels. This Sacred Syllable, this "best of all essences", is the pure breath of Spirit which breathes through the untainted heart of one who speaks its tones with the voice of his inmost soul.
Nada Brahman, the Divine Resonance, is omnipresent and the death of a sentient creature only indicates a transformation of energy or a change of the mode and locus of its manifestation. "Continually appearing and disappearing, it transforms itself again and again, covered from time to time with a veil of matter called its visible manifestation." Thus the baby's cry heralds a rebirth of the Sacred Word and throughout a lifetime its intonation will swell out and reach the full extent of the vowel-sounding, expressive of the preserving power of the u. Consonants will play their critical role in shaping, stopping and directing the breath into ordered expressions of growing cognitive awareness, but in the end the dissolving powers of Lord Shiva will seal the lips. It could be said that this is perfectly reflected in the kinetic and potential oscillation of every compressional sound-wave and that the great Races of mankind, from the First to the Seventh, are but expressions of the progressive intonation of this Divine Verbum. From the middle Third through the Fifth Race the preservative power of its middle syllable is most evident, but the knowers of all three at all points of a great Round bring the beginning into the end and the end into the beginning, and thus release a flood of Akashic melody, the music of the spheres. With each new beginning the opportunity to consciously join the Army of the Voice and unlock the mystery of sound and speech presents itself.
The keynote is always there in the heart of every atom and it can become the basic melodic chord of one's every thought and word. Like a lovely tune played into the breeze for an hour or two, one's life can leave behind it the sweetness of a haunting and rare harmony, awakening in others a responsive note, a chord struck from the music of the spheres.
Hermes, March 1981