Harmonic attunement

Everything in the world has spirit which is released by its sound -Oscar Fischinger

Some members of the Pythagorean school believed that the orbits of the planets, sun, moon, and stars create a harmonic symphony of inaudible sounds, a theory they called Music of the Spheres.[1] They believed harmonic sound to be the language of peace. On this page, discover how music and sound frequencies have the potential to foster social and cosmic cohesion.

Musical harmony

Harmony is a pleasing combination of complementary and contrasting elements of sound. The Greek word it comes from harmos, which means the joining and agreement of sounds. Pythagoras has been celebrated for transmitting to the West how harmony works mathematically and discovered that whole number ratios of sound frequencies such as 2:1, 3:2, and 4:3 are harmonious or pleasing to the ear.[2] When assigning numbers to sound, we describe their ratios as either discordant or harmonious. The former is associated with unusualness and irregularity, and the latter with naturality and balance.

The Pythagoreans had no scientific tools to measure neurons in the brain activated by sound frequency, but they could feel and observe the effects; they intuited that music could bring a group of individuals to the same wavelength. It may be surprising to know how long humans have engaged in music as a group bonding activity. Archeologists have concluded that Neanderthals played music before they even started talking. In 1995, archeologists found evidence that Neanderthals carved sophisticated flutes out of cave bear femurs over 50,000 years ago. These flutes had four finger holes corresponding to four different pitches that match the traditional Do, Re, Mi (diatonic) scale. The pitches match so well that contemporary music can be played on this instrument that existed before Homo Sapiens did.[3] Some scientists guess the flutes primarily made sounds for hunting or war calls. Darwin offered a more romantic reason and theorized that Neanderthals played music for love and courting.[4] They could just as well have used musical instruments to put their babies to sleep. Perhaps they gazed up at the Milky Way and played their flutes to connect with the stars, or they imitated the sounds of nature: the birds, the insects, the streams, and the wind of their world.

Physiological harmony

Laurel Trainor, a neuroscience specialist in music on the brain, explains that the harmonic patterns of sound mirror our nervous system’s layout.[5] Dissonant music demands more from our brains than harmonic music because it does not correspond to how our nervous system flows. Although if your parents listened to untraditional harmonies of musique concrète or experimental music of Schoenberg and Boulez when you were a baby, your physiological patterns have adapted to those musical patterns; As an adult musique concrète or experimental music may be equally if not more pleasing emotionally and physiologically to you as Stravinsky. Trainor notes that culture also trains our ears and brains. She explains that even if we can learn to adapt to a vast range of musical structures, universal sound combinations of consonance and dissonance, soothing on the brain, body, and emotions, exist across cultures.


Harmonic affinity and Sonic entrainment

Sound consists of waves of vibrations through a medium, usually air. These vibrations can transmit patterned activity to other media, which, for example, is how tuning instruments work. If a piano tuner strikes an A-pitched tuning fork, it vibrates at 440 cycles per second. If a nearby piano in another room is tuned to this A, then the A string in the second piano will start vibrating by itself at 440 cycles per second in response to the resonating waves emitted by the fork in the next room.[6]  Physicist, mathematician, and astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) did a similar experiment with grandfather clocks. He set several clocks in motion at different times. When he returned the next day, all the pendulums had synchronized to the largest clock. 

According to some members of the Pythagorean school, all living things are affected by a ‘harmonic affinity’ where vibrations communicate more deeply than words.[7]  Harmonic affinity is when the vibrations of living entities near one another synchronize. For example, crowd behavior is affected by harmonic affinity. This may explain why joining the crowd at a music concert affects both body and mind. As you enter the stadium and hear the music, your pupils dilate, you feel excited, and quickly your vibrations synchronize with those of the rest of the crowd and the musicians. Cognitive neuroscientist Jessica Grahn observed that individuals’ brain waves synchronize when listening to a concert.[8] Analyzing electroencephalography (EEG) data from concert-goers,  she found that when listening to live music in a group, the audience’s brains synchronized with the band members’ brains. The closer the listeners’ brain patterns mirrored the band members, the more they enjoyed the music. In other words, the audience and the band were harmonically attuned. However, harmonic attunement did not occur while listening to recordings of music.  The study also found that individuals have an override switch to tune out if they do not emotionally flow with the group: if they do not enjoy the music, their brain waves will not synchronize. 

Sound synchronization can promote getting along with others because it involves emotions that impact our prosocial behavior, such as empathy and compassion. Empathy refers to emotional empathy where a person absorbs one another’s feelings and exhibits concern to improve others’ experiences.[9/10] Another way to get people physically on the same wavelength is through a process called sonic entrainment. Sound healer Jonathan Goldman applies the term sonic entrainment to explain how people can synchronize mental and bodily patterns through their vibrations over time. Bio-rhythmic patterns, such as feeling hungry, sleepy, sexually excited, or rejuvenated, synchronize between intimate people who live together.[11]  Recent neurological studies reveal that people unconsciously mimic expressions, postures, and even vocalizations from the person with whom they are socializing.[12] A study between roommates revealed that a “phonetic convergence” occurs among the roommates over a short period. If a person relates or ‘clicks’ with another person, their speech rate, pitch, and intonation patterns synchronize with that person. It doesn’t take very long for this to happen; if two people are attracted to one another, their voices begin to resonate at similar frequencies within a short conversation. [13]   

Now that you have discovered how we may be affecting our partners, strangers, and even large crowds with sound frequencies, you may be wondering which person or thing has more influential vibrations over other entities. In Kosmorganica, we believe the frequency combination that touches the most entities will dominate other vibrations. This vibrational frequency is dynamic and contextual, and therefore there is no one solution. However, In Kosmorganica, the universal aesthetic, which we claim is harmony based on natural proportions, will be the one that speaks loudest to most living things. Therefore, most entities will attune to those combinations of frequencies. We conclude that the minimal drone sound most common in ancient spiritual ceremonies and Kosmorganic art is the sound of unification and peace. Read more on sound healing and the drone.

[1] Jonathan Goldman, Chakra Frequencies: Tantra Of Sound, (Rochester, Vt. : Destiny Books, 2011),16.

[2] Jonathan Goldman, Healing sounds; The power of harmonics (Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press, 2002), 29.

[3] Jelle Atema, “Musical Origins and the Stone Age Evolution of Flutes,” Acoustics Today, Summer issue, 2012.

[4] Ausim S. Azizi, “Brain to music to brain!” Neuroscience Letters 459, no. 1, 31 (July 2009),1-2.

[5] Laurel Trainor, “Science & Music: The neural roots of music,” Nature London 453, no. 7195 (January 01, 2008), 598-599.

[6] Atema, “Musical Origins and the Stone Age Evolution of Flutes.”

[7] Richard Lawlor, “Pythagorean Number as Form, Color, Light,” in Homage to Pythagoras (Thames and Hudson, 1989),187-209.

[8]  Jamil Zaki, The War For Kindness: building empathy in a fractured world (New York: Crown Publishing, 2021), 4.

[9] Zaki, The War For Kindness: building empathy in a fractured world, 13.

[10]  Sonic entrainment is a term sound healer, Dr. Jonathan Goldman coined in 1989 to describe how all entities in the universe vibrate and affect one another and how sound can change our brain and nervous system. Goldman, Chakra Frequencies: Tantra Of Sound, 21-22.

[11] Goldman, Chakra Frequencies: Tantra Of Sound, 46

[12] Eliska Prochazkova, and Mariska E. Kret, “Connecting minds and sharing emotions through mimicry: A neurocognitive model of emotional contagion,” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 80 (September 01, 2017), 99-114.

[13]Jennifer Pardo, Rachel Gibbons, Alexandra Suppes, and Robert M. Krauss, “Phonetic convergence in college roommates, ” Journal of Phonetics 40, no. 1 (January 01, 2012), 190-197.