Music and the Power of Sound: The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness

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Music has always been esteemed for its power to speak directly to our higher consciousness, a power founded in the purity of simple harmonic ratios. In this book, Alain Danielou traces the development of musical scales and tuning from their origins in both China and India, through their merging in ancient Greece, and on to the development of the Western traditions of modal and polyphonic music. Understanding these potent harmonic relationships offers a way for today’s musicians to transcend the limitations of overly rationalistic music by drawing on its metaphysical roots.




Alain Daniélou is known first of all for his musical semantics based not on notes but on intervals, hence not on punctual sounds but on the articulation of one note onto another to form an interval and then on the articulation of intervals one upon another. In this book of articles and studies brought together, some of them being unpublished before, he used his approach to further some other ideas.

The basic principle is that an interval is the ratio produced by the frequencies of the two notes that define that interval. He tested and identified the psycho-mental effects of these intervals on listeners and connected them to three numerical elements appearing in such ratios (basically 2, 3 and 5).

But he further brings into his approach an important inspiration from the old Sanskrit approach of music. We have to note here he assumes that this Vedic tradition is the oldest human musical tradition, is the basic and sole because only possible musical approach, and it has been kept in later Hinduist music. We can see here he is totally unaware of the fact that Sumerian music is at least one thousand if not one and a half thousand years older.

Vedic music is not the original form of music. He also forgets that Hinduism is an old approach in India and he does not consider at all the Buddhist approach. All his symbolism with an ever present God as a creator would have to be challenged in the Buddhist understanding that there is no god and the world is not seen as created. Yet his symbolic approach that brings together musical notes, geometrical shapes, colors, animals, planets, basic elements, etc., … and gods, is interesting if we let the divine elements out of a modern assimilation.

The book is a lot more interesting when he shows how an interval has to go through an acoustic trip from the ear up into the brain and the mind to be interpreted and felt. Then his formal approach can lead to a new question he does not ask: are the effects of the intervals what they are because of the correspondence between the functional structures of these intervals and the brain cells that process the acoustic stimuli, and the stimuli of other senses?

And further on, that could lead to the question: are the formal structural characteristics of sounds in agreement or disagreement with the same in a building (like in a church) that has perfect acoustics? In other words Danielou’s agreement with the deistic and altogether rather purely experiential approach of the Hinduistic school limits his vision of his subject. What’s more, that blocks him totally against any form of music posterior to let’s say the romantics or at the latest Debussy.

He rejects all music composed over the last hundred years that does not follow the basic musical principles from the Renaissance to the Impressionistic era. In fact he states that all Vedic vision of music is the acme of music and he rejects the western principles of harmony that triumphed at the end of the 15th century. There is not much left then except going back to an exiled Tibetan monastery in some lost Himalayan mountain. I don’t think anyone wants to be that regressive. It could have been a marvelous book with a little distantiation from his hinduistic absolute reference.


One thought on “Music and the Power of Sound: The Influence of Tuning and Interval on Consciousness

  1. I developed an interest in this “secular researcher” music expert’s book via references to it from the early ’90s-present footnote references in several anti-rock juvenile literature advice books, as THE expert music criticism book. Er, nope, though Jeff Godwin What’s Wrong With Christian Rock?, Frank Garlock Music in the Balance by Frank Garlock & Kurt Woetzel, Eric Holmberg’s HELL’S BELLS video Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock n Roll – Original Classic, and other outsider music writers suggest it when they quote this book as high-expert standing.

    Other than chapters “The Ancient Music: the Wisdom of China” (pp. 33-71), “The Ancient Music: the Wisdom of India” (pp. 170-186), “Assessment: the Physics of the Om” and “Appendix 6. The Mystery of the Pythagoras’ Comma,” –I have no opinion of those sections, since they’re out of my vinyl junkie interests/experience– there isn’t much to recommend this weird book trying to hang its arguments on Eastern Mysticism, unless you lean towards the idea that “After the dissemination of Jazz, which was definitely ‘put through’ by the Dark Forces, a very marked decline in sexual morals became noticeable.” (p. 194 here, though quoted from Cyril Scott’s MUSIC AND ITS SECRET INFLUENCE book, 1933, the 1958 edition Music: Its Secret Influence Throughout the Ages), and the idea that members of the Great White Brotherhood communicated between England/Europe with the adepts sitting in the Indian subcontinent telepathically. Chapter, “Coda: The Ancient Wisdom Revisited: The Modern Esoteric Viewpoint” (beginning p. 255) brings out the Theosophical Society ideas about those Victorian/Edwardian “new age” ideas in some detail.

    You also get (even more whoppers):

    Rock Music Kills Plants (the Colorado Women’s College/Temple Buell College story about undergraduate Dorothy Retallack’s bio class experiments The Sound of Music and Plants,, also references that also seem to have been sourced from THE SECRET LIFE OF PLANTS by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird).

    Pastor Bob Larson. The Rock Music Hard Boils Eggs–Larson invented this urban legend when he updated his ROCK ‘N’ ROLL THE DEVIL’S DIVERSION 1966 book and retitled it as THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED in 1973+. Also the attribution that Larson was an ex-rock musician (see the “Further Reading” section, page 290, suggesting Larson’s THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED juvenile advice literature classic The day music died), though in 1984, checking out Larson’s recording history was nowhere nearly as easy as with 2010+ google (note: all private press self-published kitsch religious/outsider music releases on Lp, 1966+).

    David A. Noebel, THE MARXIST MINSTRELS book The Marxist Minstrels: A Handbook on Communist Subversion of Music, also on page 290. It’s ODD that Larson and Noebel’s books would rate a mention from this UK writer, since those works were a rarity outside the U.S. Christian-related niche book markets.

    This is an odd book, strangely argued for the most part, and like Cyril Scott’s weird book picked up enthusiastically to support the idea that any 20th century music that is not (European, er, Germanic) lite music is eeevil, instead of just of bad/low/trash taste. I believe it got reference/sales traction due to a strange alliance with Eric Holmberg’s 1989 rock-paranoia documentary, HELL’S BELLS, Jeff Godwin’s casting around for references supporting his WHAT’S WRONG WITH CHRISTIAN ROCK? 1990 book (that really did not like Amy Grant’s bubblegum CCM discography), Frank Garlock’s extensive footnoting in his MUSIC IN THE BALANCE 1992 teaching kit book, and subsequent juvenile advice books about eeevil pop music since, using “jazz” and “rock” as code.

    If your tastes run to a certain twilight-zone “non-fiction” flavor about the sociology of toxic commercial pop music, this is an odd read, and South Park offensive in places. It’s a kitsch philosophy book about eeevil jazz music by psychic race association and post-romantic period lite classical music, not something to be read seriously as reference.

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