JOY, Part 2: Sound

by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |

While visual pleasure may move us with or without associated meaning, sound can affect us on a different level. For sound may seem simpler than the complex features of a face or landscape, yet one tone may actually be rung by a chorus of vibrating under- and overtones that climb into our brains in ways no ordinary language can describe—and may thrill, embrace or torture us with a neurophysical energy that no one can deny. The vibrations of a beloved human voice can give us joy and sadness at the same time. But two harmonious tones, or even three, moving together or at rest, can arouse a sensuous state of love–an immediate blissful moment when all voices melt into a canopy of sound and time waits for every outside listening ear to rejoice with them. For the eagerly receptive ears, like acoustics of enclosing space, are full partners in raising vocal music to a cosmic union.

During our vacation in the Apennine Mountains of Tuscany we stayed two nights at a Bed and Breakfast in a renovated stone walled two-story house, hundreds of years old. A shiny black cloth guitar case leaned against a whitewashed wall in the downstairs dining room beneath the high dark wood ceiling supported by eight-inch beams. I asked the proprietress Paola if I could play, and she welcomed me to the instrument. I pulled out a shiny Spanish guitar with a bold tone that filled the solid stone room. After one song she praised my sound and told me she had bought the guitar for her son, but he quit playing at 16 and turned to learning a more moneymaking trade. As I proceeded to explore the soaring soundscape with my voice and the strings Paola’s rapt listening helped me to find the tones to fill up, sing to and satisfy every corner of the living space.

When music comes together with well-shaped space, the tonal resonance is a communion of strings, instruments and people with emotional attunement as foundation. Such an atmospheric love can also arise between people when appreciation unites their hearts and minds. The colors of such moments are joyous, and they echo forward into time, seeking to link participants and audience in intimate relations. The beauty of tonal harmony, like emotional attunement, calls us to return to those who’ve stirred our hearts with their pure expression in the hope of repeating those precious moments that resonated from our unfathomable core to the highest overtones in our imagination. But can we actually insure that life will reliably imitate such sublime art again?

JOY, Part 2: Sound

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