I remember in college walking down the hallways of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall and hearing the ethnomusicology majors practicing their bizarre semi-tones. These “notes in between the notes” left me fascinated and a little unsettled. I preferred my more easily digested 12-tone scales, based comfortably around middle-A being tuned to the frequency of 440hz.
But according to an interesting article in The Daily Beast, it turns out that’s a relatively recent standardization of Western music, and – according to musical conspiracy theories (yes, there really is such a thing) – was propagated by the Nazis in order to move people towards “greater aggression, psycho social agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illness.”
“According to true believers, music would generate positive healing energy if A were tuned to 432 Hz. This tuning, they claim, is more aligned with the cosmos and the natural world. ‘The number 432 is also reflected in ratios of the Sun, Earth, and the moon as well as the precession of the equinoxes, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Stonehenge, the Sri Yantra among many other sacred sites,’ explains author Elina St-Onge.”
Okay, so that’s a little out there.
But I do love thinking that sound, pitch, and music has such a profound power over our moods, thoughts, and physical well-being. It makes sense after all as this episode of Radiolab points out. Pitch is just a wave traveling through the air, bouncing against our molecules, which are primarily made of water.
So now comes the true test. Take a listen to two samples. One tuned to A=432hz and the other tuned to A=440hz.
Which one do you prefer?