James Zhang


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Is it possible to create music without a beat or rhythm?

If I define music as the language of emotions through sounds, then what would "music" sound like if it had no beat or rhythm? And if it does need some sort of beat or rhythm, then why is it necessary to have a beat/rhythm to create music?

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    Jul 31 2012: Lindsay and Natasha, is nice to find you both here....
    The clasical definition of music is..."The harmony of the created"....rhytm, compas, time, beat, melody are the minor parts not the whole....also means the education of the spirit in silence and sound and the relation between vacuum and full....the whispers from the muses (mousike)...that we can hear with the spirit (spiros) inner fire, will or if you want...an altered state of mind.
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      Aug 1 2012: So the rhythm, compas, time, beat,melody, etc. they're just some techniques or parts that create different numerous different effects. So like, they're cool and all, but none of them are really necessary for "music."
      • Aug 1 2012: The word 'melody' derived from Greek ' melos' meaning 'limb'
        ( of the body ). Music , motion, dance once were undivided performance.
        Altered state of consciousness has a lot to do with rhythm , it's one of the most important parts of shaman's repertoire, i guess, for a good reason.
        When we experience 'something' , listening to music, we usually don't call it an altered state of consciousness , but in away it is :)
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    Jul 31 2012: In my opinion as a musician, it is possible, and in some cases, it is desirable. In my case, I often find a difficulty with music in that to truly experience it, I have to surrender control of my emotions to the composers and performers. There are times when that is difficult for me to accomplish, and when I am not in control of what music I am being exposed to at any one given time, I can even feel emotionally violated. One way that I have found to help surrender to the music is when there is no perceptible rhythm and beat at the beginning of the piece of music, and this static structure gradually leads to more rhythmically organized structures. This transition to rhythm and tempo, however, are not required to define the organized sound as music. Think about a harmonic structure or progression that gradually changes through time by changing in its orchestration. Say the strings are gradually performing a diminuendo on a single chordal structure with no vibrato and no rhythm or beat implied. As they gradually fade away, a new chordal structure is coming into perception between the oboe, clarinet and bassoon performing a slowly changing crescendo. The texture and chordal structure perceived by the listener gradually change, but if performed slowly and skillfully enough, there is no perceived sense of rhythm or beat. The perceived volume will not necessarily change and there won't be perceivable rhythm. This process could continue for an indefinite period of time with an infinite combination of chordal progression and orchestral texture. Melody would be almost imperceptible here. This shifting between variable degrees of dissonance and consonance would be a musical experience creating tension and release without a sense of rhythm or beat.
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      Jul 31 2012: hmm, I'm kinda curious about listening to a song that has no perceivable tempo/beat/rhythm, and see if there are any cool effects that we've never heard of. Like what if a movie used an entire soundtrack of no such tempo?
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      Jul 31 2012: Eric,

      Nice to meet you and love this very informed analysis of what I think is present in the pieces David Hamilton shared with us.

      I hope you are a teacher..you have explained this so beautifully.!!!
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        Aug 1 2012: Lindsay,

        Thanks for your uplifting comment. I was a music teacher for a few years, but my interpersonal skills were lacking so I changed paths. Life is an interesting journey.
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          Aug 1 2012: Eric ..there are many ways to teach..you have a great gift .you have taught us right here with your post and there are many other ways your valuable and unique insights can be shared.

          Keep teaching!!!
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    Jul 30 2012: Most dictionaries (EVERY one I checked) say rhythm and/or beat are essential parts of music. You ask why? My guess is the life long dependence on repetitive, predictable, unchanging time sequencing of perceptible events is begun in the womb with the beating of Mom's heart.
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      Jul 30 2012: Hmm... Beats and rhythm have correlation to our heart beat, you say. So then if a baby in the womb were to listen to rhythms and beat a lot, would the baby grow up to be a musical person?
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        Jul 31 2012: I have no idea about that James. I do have an uneasy feeling about introducing excessive exposure to rhythms other than Mom's heart to the unborn. I think God's purposes and design are best left unaltered.
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          Jul 31 2012: you're right, we don't want to overdo things to the point of damage
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      Jul 31 2012: Edward,

      Undeniably true especially in what we are taught and unaccustomed to in western music. Undeniably presnt in most indigenous music.

      Of course the natural rhythms of the heart and our breathing or even sounds we love to hear train our ear at least to look for and appreciate these repeating patterns..

      I grew up in a tradition of singing western classical music..mostly sacred music so it was quite a leap for me to "surrender" to the possibility that something could be "music" without rhythm. Now that I have allowed myself to do that, I find I have an aversion to repetitions that are two frequent or two simple or which stand out too much..even in classics like Beethoven's Ninth.
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        Jul 31 2012: I recall one "musical" work which consisted of a solitary person sitting at a piano playing nothing for an hour, complete silence in the venue. The audience sat quietly while the "musician" turned blank page after blank page until finally standing to bow. I cannot find a published definition of the word "music" that does not mention rhythm and/or beat. I guess the common usage of the word has evolved but the dictionaries have not. I wonder what the definition of rhythmless music would be.
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          Jul 31 2012: That sounds like John Cage's famous work 4' 33" ( the duration of the piece


          The "music" was from the ambient noise in the room..people coughing, shuffling feet, giggling etc, in awkward response to the unexpected situation A lot of his later musical explorations were on this idea of ambient music. and about his exploration of silence in his spiritual journey.

          I always feel presumptuous interpreting John Cage for anyone else as he is so far beyond almost everyone else..ad therefore a stratosphere beyond my humble grasp but what I got about this phase of his music is that sounds around us all the time evoke emotion & memory and affect mood..which are the things we look to music to do.

          The sound of lapping water is just magical and hymnody to me restful and calming. What is Hayden Water Music about if not that? Thunder evokes edgy waiting for something .

          Doesn't music refer to these ambient sounds which evoke emotions and moods?

          If music imitating these sounds to evoke the mood of the "original" is music, isn't the thing itself also music if it the source of the connection between that sound and that emotional response expressed in the music?

          Isn't the form of music we prefer culturally determined by culture rather than determined by any universal or fixed idea of what is music and what is sound?
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        Jul 31 2012: You make a forceful argument for rhythmless music, Lindsay. As an art visigoth I must not enter that part of the debate. I will watch from a semantic perspective on the sidelines to learn the new definition of the word "music".
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    Aug 1 2012: Dear James,
    Interesting question, and interesting comments already! Personally, I don't feel that music needs to have a specific beat or rhythm. I hear music all the time in the gardens from nature, the birds, the beautiful sound of cascading water, etc.

    Music: Gk: mousike: any art presided over by the Muses:
    Muse:" to become absorbed in thought; to turn something over in the mind meditatively and often inconclusively; to think or say reflectively; ponder; a state of deep thought dreamy abstraction"

    I think/feel that to answer your question..."Is it possible to create music without a beat or rhythm?"...it totally depends on our personal perception of music, and what definition we are embracing.....yes?
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      Aug 2 2012: Hmm, you're right, music is a very subjective thing, so just like the other arts, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
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    Jul 31 2012: In the UK in 2000, as part of the millennium celebrations, some music was created with a repetition perion of 1000 years. I haven't been able to find a link to it, so I don't know whether it is still playing.
  • Jul 31 2012: Check out here

    I love this piece , because it is short, if it lasted longer , most likely i wouldn't : )
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      Jul 31 2012: Ohhhh!!! How Great Natasha!!! Not only rightto the heart of James Question but fits right in with the exchnage James & I have been enjoying on John Cage whose music actually was a realization of this idea of non repetitition. Schoenberg, who is mentioned in the piece, was a mentor of Cage's..in fcat e told Cage not to pursue acareer in music as he lacked the instinct and talent for it.

      Obviously, Rickard would not be a John Cage fan.

      The resulting piece I think is very beautiful and haunting and proves the poinnt, for me, that rhymtn and repetition are not the cornerstone of music or musical expereience. It's jus what we have been trained to apprecuate wen we listen only with our ears.

      Thank you so much for this link!!!

      So what is your sense about whether music requires rhythmn? or repetition?
      • Jul 31 2012: Hi, Lindsay !
        Happy to see you here :)
        Re :So what is your sense about whether music requires rhythm? or repetition?

        I'm afraid, yes, i mean, to enjoy the music i need a tune to fallow.
        " the ugliest' music is not at all ugly, it's simply a kind of event horizon, it requires a different way of listening , totally non cerebral.
        Our mind creates patterns and enjoys re-cognition. Music is much more subtle realm, than intellectual cognition, but at a deep root level , i guess, it's pretty much the same process.
        Is it possible to be ' at the moment ", at the moment of each sound ? A sound is hanging in the air for a fraction of a second and has its own value, taste, colour, texture if you like , 'isness' of it's own. The moment has gone and it vanishes without a trace as if it has never been and the next is here to be heard ; it is a sound without past and future, there is no continuity here ,no ' story ' or.... maybe there is ?
        I remember when i was listening to it for the first time i had an idea that that piece of music could serve as a soundtrack for a new-born-baby home video :) How does a baby hear the world from inside out ? When the world is fresh and new and full of laud sounds ...no pattern to match, no prior passage to be repeated ...Something like that, maybe :)
        What do you think ?
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          Jul 31 2012: Natasha,

          Thnaks for your thoughts on this..

          I like your thought that o a new born of any culture what we call "music" is sound without the acculturation to prevalent musical styles.

          Now that I have allowed myself to travel outside the box my cultural prefernces and musical training pre dispose me to, in particular my exploration of John Cae of Solfreggio frequencies, of he tine and resonance part of all music, I find a preference away from repetition of rhythms, sequences. musical phrases.. The piece in the TED segment you shared is pleasing to me.

          In song, in chanting words, or creating a musical setting for poetry..a natural rhythm that carries the words best is discoverable. Every written or spoken phrase has a tone and rhythm that reveals the meaning of the phrase, conveys that. That rhythm required by the libretto is different to me than what we are speaking of here as the rhythm of music and whether music needs rhythm.

          But for music alone, without libretto, rhythm per se and repetition are not essential to my enjoyment of it.
      • Jul 31 2012: Lindsay !

        My preferences in music is not an issue, forget about it ! :)
        What i am trying to tell is my experience with ' ugliest' piece of music : sound is a kind of information field of its own. I suggest that a new born baby doesn't discriminate between different kind of information, it perceives the world ' holistically'. A sound stands for shape, colour texture and what not ; i am synesthetic, i know how it goes. And maybe what was mathematically elaborated ' music' is actually the way new born babies hear the world they were born into a couple of minutes/ seconds/ days ago.It is not random , it is highly ordered but has no pattern to be recognized, for they have no mental patterns yet ; 'tabula rasa ' kind of music .
        I guess, i failed to get my idea across in my first post, not sure I've managed now, sorry for that :)
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          Jul 31 2012: Natasha,

          I got your point.

          .you aksed what I thought.

          .I was speaking to my view that culture determines musical preference in general and that for westerners that means expecting music to have repeating patterns and rhythms.

          As a synesthete you are blessed to not have any boxes that constrain your experience. Your gift would override any cultural bias.

          The rest of us have to work harder at that!!!

          Just curious do you see color in response to music and if so what color was the Rickard piece as compared to say a classical piece you enjoy? Perhaps your gift offers insights to the question we are all addressing here.
      • Aug 1 2012: Lindsay !
        Maybe i am only sightly synesthetic, a kind of 'a bit blessed' : )
        I got to know the term a couple of years ago, before i haven't even questioned it, i thought it was perfectly normal . Numbers have colours, they sound and shaped differently ; everything stands for everything else, i mean any bit of information has an exact correspondence in different domains.Mentally I can enter this 'mix' by will, though i am sure , subconsciously we all inhabit it always. Maybe real 'big' synesthetes always perceive the whole mix at once 24/ 7 , and it must be very disturbing :)

        Rickard piece sounds like a combination of questions, there are no answers heard, as if it is not the point or maybe question is the answer. It starts with' 2' , dark grey, moving flat metal pieces fallowed by a question, which is a very diluted ' 1' , it is still not transparent ' but pale cream/pink and it doesn't move , ' 1' never does. Sometimes questions sound like dark/light green, it's ' 4' and it's a liquid , it's always moving. There is no '9' '8' '3' ' 5' and a lot of light and dark blue( 7) with a tiny dots of black (2 ) in it, and pale almost 'mute ' pink ( a kind of ' 1' ) ; shapes are vertical lines, mainly. It's music of curiosity without any kind of fear. A question is the answer as if 'what is it ?' and 'Aha !' are not divided.

        ' 1' is the most dense number , it's unpenetratable wight- creamish and mute, or maybe it has a sound, but it's very 'haevy' and soothing. It's ' Ying'
        The most ' Yang ' music i have ever heard is Mozart, there is no ' 1' in it, the music is icy, blue and '7'. Imagine a frozen water, it reflects all the colours, it plays with them on the surface but doesn't take them inside and remains crystal clear.

        I really love Rickard piece and as i said it reminds me a new born baby, but i wouldn't call it a music, it's a kind of 'experiense'.

        Sounds a bit crazy : ) Thanks for reading !
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          Aug 1 2012: Natasha,

          A fascinating and poetic and enigmatic tour of the Ricard piece. I would love to hear you compare on the same basis to which e of the Cage pieces for altered piano..say "Dream". Your unique gift may e away of penetrating rhythms or waves that are present in the piece but which we do not recognize because we have a different "language" of rhythm.

          It almost gave me chil;s that you expereience the piece as questions which may be the answers..Valentin Tomberg, a key refeernce in my conemplative practice, always taught that asking the right question is the key to kwoning and understanding. Asking questions which do not contain any hint of what we think he answer is. ( ie without hypothesis..quite the opposite of our usual scientific method and in fact the method Hawking has used so productively)

          Maybe as Jaime hints below, because this bit of math transferred to music is about the fundamental rhythm of the universe in some way..you see a thematic rhythm in it that is about questions.

          Wish you me Jaime and lal the other wonderful posters here could sit around my outdoor fireplace down on the point to night and explore this further together with words and music.

          Also, I think it would be great if you posted some of what you have said here at the comment section on he talk to offset the idea that this ugly music.
      • Aug 1 2012: Thanks for invitation ,Lindsay !!!
        Maybe some day... :)
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      Jul 31 2012: Natasha...math are the order of universe...music is the expression of universal order.
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      Aug 1 2012: What the heck, this video is exactly my question lol, nice find
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        Aug 1 2012: James..you hadn't seen the video????
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        Aug 1 2012: james..if there is a way to link this to the conversation at the video that would be soo great..maybe admin can help you do that!!!

        I think we are having a fascinating conversation here..lots of great posts and posters. One of my favorites so far.
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          Aug 1 2012: Hmm, that should definitely be something cool...

          Maybe have #trending comments referring to the discussion, and we could search for the queries instead, like how Google+ and Twitter does it...

          I've definitely enjoyed our conversation as well :)
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      Aug 1 2012: Interesting piece,it reminds me of those old sixties or was it late 50's suspense movies scores that was in vogue for awhile but if i was to describe it as best as i can,every three notes was an opening that never finished so it started again trying to find the fourth from a different angle.

      Sound and eventually verbal sound which progressed to human song is a layered data signal that can be stretched,pulled,expanded and offset,i suppose that's why certain peoples voices makes us cringe or other languages that at first sounds like the most horrible sound a human can ever make until one begins to wrap their tongues around individual words.

      My people before the advent of the european and the written word sometimes during ritual greeting ceremonies between the tribes transferred history data via a low monotonous repetitive chant,neither song nor talking and not rap but a blend.

      These days it's the visual cacophony that is polluting the natural greens and browns and beige's that is written inside us to the point where our cities don't feel like cities,well to me it doesn't.
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        Aug 1 2012: wow that is a provocative tantalizing and fully packed post Ken!!!!

        So could you say more about how that relates ot the Rickard piece and your experience of it?

        Was it the greens beige and brown "that lives in us"?

        I also enjoyed your reference to chants.
      • Aug 1 2012: Ken !

        May i ask you, who are your " people before the advent of the european and the written word....."
        I am in search for what was lost, my gut feeling tells me that we've lost a treasure and now are searching for meaning to put together fragments of 'knowledge' to understand what it all is about.
        Can you tell more about "ritual greeting ceremonies between the tribes transferred history data via a low monotonous repetitive chant,neither song nor talking and not rap but a blend."
        Sounds like magic or QM :)

        Thank you !
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          Aug 2 2012: Nah not magic but a oral history and histories.

          I'm a Maori from New Zealand, but i wouldn't advise settling here as we're in for a roller coaster of a time,A quiet one amongst us felt so strongly about what she saw she actually uploaded it back in 98, the vision of what she saw once she was drawn to the place she received it.

          We don't like to talk about them publicly, it's not something we do,it would dishonor them and what they are,so for me seeing what i saw when i read what she said through the person she asked to tell it, told me this was one of ours.very rare but karen took a bit of creative license when she describes how we live simple lives in the country,back in 98 i can understand that 95% of us didn't have a computer as, well we didn't have the system in place that we have now and well back then somethings you just didn't need and the fact that we are at the bottom of the world on two small islands,what does one expect.


          You're right natasha somethings get lost or forgotten,somethings speak of things that at best modern man puts them down to legends of legends that has no physical proof that those things or places or people existed

          Somethings i've been told don't apply anymore,certain traditions have been lifted due to the change in our views,modern society and attitude and the gender roles,somethings are for those amongst us that see things and others that feel things,some have both,some people can have it passed onto them,they are the satchels of knowledge that you won't find written anywhere,they won't write it down for you or come online or stand in front of a camera.I suppose if one wanted to talk to one of them,i mean, really talk to them, then one would have to have a little bit of what they have within themselves,bugger that, once you walk down that road you don't belong to yourself.
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          Aug 2 2012: I realized that the explanation i used in my previous post on the ritual passing of oral history was wrong,they are songs,it's hard to explain,they are chants,so you chant the history,place names,names of rivers,names of mountains and hills,the names of the tribes that live there.A map for visitors,new chants means things have changed but the place names don't.It goes deeper than that but that is as good and short as i can get in english.
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          Aug 3 2012: The funny thing is is that a few of us think the signal happened in 2008,i remember the night when watching the local news and how the three gorges area was struck by an earthquake and how the authorities were worried about a possible dyke collapse that could endanger lives.

          The Abo's,they're old,older than the rest of us in a continuous cultural line,they hunted kangaroos where there is now coral reefs, where my genetic lines were somewhere,probably china.
      • Aug 2 2012: And that is a real magic ! :)
        They rekindle their connection with the earth by a song about everything, you've mentioned. Interesting, how do the names of rivers, mountains and hills sound like? Sounds are full of meaning, they vibrate, it's tuning to the Whole, i guess. We erroneously think , that we live IN the environment, no, we ARE the environment , and your ancestors knew that, or to be more precise they felt/lived that knowing.

        Thanks for the link, I've read the article and hope I understand you " We don't like to talk about them publicly, it's not something we do,it would dishonor them and what they are..."Even truly benevolent western people are bad mediators, the loss in translation is inevitable, i don't mean language, it's deeper, it's a different mindset And what is worth telling is not quite languagable, it's always the case :).
        All this 'cultural exchange ' stuff is a social trick , a form without a substance. You are so right, one "have to have a little bit of what they have within themselves ..." But strangely enough, it's not only possible, but inevitable when the thin layer of ' identity ' ( all this cultural, social, ego noise.. ) is removed, that what is left has the power to resonate, without our mind's understanding... for it is not necessary. I would like just to watch what is left of the ' old ways ', like a fly on the wall, not seen, not heard, just to be there.
        Indigenous Australian art , Cave paintings are a revelations, really !

        Ken, thank you very much for your response !
      • Aug 3 2012: Ken !
        Maybe you've heard about the mystery of a 'Mungo Man', who died roughly 60,000 ( !!!) years ago, by the shores of Lake Mungo in south-eastern NSW Australia.


        So, who came from where remains a mystery, we can make our educated guesses, but most likely we'll never get to know.

        Reading about the Aboriginal History I've found this :

        "There was no concept of owning land as you were tied to the land by your spiritual links and what the land could provide for you."
        It explains why they communicated ' landscapes ' not words; ' the land i live on is me' kind of a concept. So your description is quite accurate :)

        Thanks !
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    Jul 31 2012: I was trying to think of something close to what you describe, because i think it is nearly impossible to do well. The first example I thought of was the Gorrillaz song "Hong Kong". The guzheng and lyricist would couple in a very odd but beautiful way without any background rythm... I don't know if she's still technically on a predictable pattern though, they certainly lay one over her, but it almost sounds forced.

    If you haven't heard it the studio version is a bit cleaner, but this is the version I love http://youtu.be/whJ2nPeqtVU

    The Mars Volta do some incredibly interesting and extremely creative beat and rhythm structures, that I've never heard before... but the still have them.


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      Jul 31 2012: David,

      Nice to meet you and thank you for these very interesting offerings on whether music requires rhythmn and repetition.

      I loved the "Hong Kong" piece..Thanks so much for introducing us to that. I am not a musician so my response is really visceral and intuitive. The creative tension/dialectic between the improv and pentatonic scale on the chinese zither and the more traditional structure and sound of the vocal and remaining accompaniment is very interesting and complex. The two waves of distinct sound, tone and pattern coming together create a third independent wave, a third voice sort of like what happens when I sing into the face of my frame drum. The drums voice and mine are still separate and distinguishable but there seems to a third voice in there somewhere.

      I see that at work as well in visceral eyes where even though each "voice" does have rhythm and repetition the tension between them creates a third voice that cancels out the others. I don't like the tone of the piece at all..bu tif the intent was to convey chaos and confusion..I may have gotten it. ( not sure)

      What do you make of it? Why does this work to sort of cancel out rhythm when it is actually present in each voice.?
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        Jul 31 2012: There is something about "Hong Kong". It just gives me daggers up my spine it's beautiful. Writing this actually made me do a bit of web searching... and left me quite frustrated. Zeng Zhen, is the gu-zheng player, for the song, so I decided to look her up... Nothing.

        Gu-zheng pop stars... nothing... I figured it just wasn't used in American music, but apparently it's not that popular anymore. That led me to a tangential thought about how fewer men value talent in a meaningful sexual way than women. Every time I watch that video, I always think "She is one of the sexiest women on earth. If more men thought like that though... She'd be rich and popular...

        Gu-zheng might be a really great instrument for soloing and intentionally "missing" notes though. Most great jazz soloists do that. Jazz is really the only music to explore this idea in any depth really, as Lisa Simpson says "you have to listen to the notes she's not playing"

        As most people including Moe Sizzlak would respond though "I can do that from outside". Louis Armstrong always went off on great solo's... What was I talking about... Oh yeah, The Mars Volta.

        They're a really strange group actually. The tone of almost all their music is very dark, jarring, and confusing. Viscera Eyes is easier to get into than the 32 minute long opera that is "Cassandra Gemini", but it's still a bit off. They have a few songs which are easier on the ears, but not many.

        I still consider them one of the most unique experiments modern music however, despite never producing a song that I think the masses could tolerate, and for good reason.

        Their lead singer Cedric, did something really weird and interesting, but a bit too postmodern for my taste... He switches between spanish and english, and write songs, based on how he thinks the words sound with the music... There is no coherent narative. Gutsy, but maybe a bit too much so.
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          Jul 31 2012: You might enjoy orchid ensemble, a vancouver ensemble lead by a woman of pure genius. Their music is not an example of non rhythmic music but it a mastery of a modern sound deeply rooted in ancient chinese traditons and even some ancient songs.

          My good freind Larry Blunefeld, well known jazz historian and journalist curates our island jazz festival which affords famous musicians a chance to collaborate and explore new territory. Larry has brought several explorations of jazz on ancient Chinese instruments which are just fascinating. Last year we had jazz n bamboo flute.

          I would love to here a panel of musicians who have "gone there"..using traditional Chinese tones, instruments in modern settings talk about what their search is about,what they are finding.
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        Jul 31 2012: Omar, the writer and guitarist... has some of the best finger dexterity on the planet... but he simply isn't interested in repeating himself often enough to create the catchy hits... and again, too his own discredit, in my humble opinion...

        Finally, however, we get to the saving grace, Jon Theodore, in my humble opinion... The Jimi Hendrix of drumming... Possibly the greatest who ever lived. Every song The Mars Volta writes, moves from salsa dance beats, to hard metal... time signatures go from 4 4 to 6 8 to 16 17 to 3 4 and back again, and the transitions on drums are like butter. Jon Theodore was the first drummer to make me ignore the guitarist.

        Unfortunately they kicked him out of the band after the 3rd or 4th album... and the whole thing fell apart, just as they were really getting a fan base. I'm not really a musician, I just play instruments for fun when I'm bored. I dig the weird interplay of happy salsa dance beats with heavy metal guitar rifts, but it's definately an aquired taste, and it's not very everyone.

        Sometimes unique is just unique, not particularly good... I've always been on the razors edge about TMV. Tool has a really great drummer and plays with time signatures a lot too.

        Since I'm talking about creative music, I might as well mention one of my favorite bands of the last 20 years, "Explosions in the Sky"... If you haven't heard them, it's a modern take on classical music, and it's amazing. The best album to check out is "The Earth is Not A Cold Dead Place"... Whole thing is fantastic.

        Tool http://youtu.be/_z2O289Jemo

        Explosions http://youtu.be/JzIK5FaC38w

        I'll have to check out what you reccomended to me while I wrote this incredibly long response. I could talk about music all day.
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    Jul 30 2012: John Cage....
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      Jul 30 2012: That's some good stuff, I just listened to "Dream" :)
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        Jul 31 2012: James,

        you are an adventuresome spirit.

        There is a TED video of Clara McFadden singing from one of Cage's unique scores. which has no musical notation..only modulation and pitch..http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/claron_mcfadden_singing_the_primal_mystery.html

        There is something very fundamental about music that John Cage "got" and opened us up to. I do music with Headstart kids here on my island (kids under 5). I have done John Cage notation with them and had them sing from that and invited them to do John Cage notation for me to sing. They totally get it. It is very basic..almost indwelling.

        Cage also used percussion in a fascinating uncoventionall almost non rhythmic way..Dream is one of his pieces for modified piano ( I believe) the first of which was done for a dance performance..Daughters of the Lonesome Isle is a wonderful recording of these pieces and his amazing work for toy pianp. "In a Landscape" is a lovely one.

        I am a trained singer but not a musician..no formal or substantive training in music other than voice.
        I think what Cage's work is pointing to is frequency and pitch and its actual physical power ( eg the solfreggio frequencies)

        What feeds us is the hymnody of life itself..the random interplay of the sounds that surround us. Here on my island every moment is a one time never to be experienced again a rhythmic symphony of bird song, the hum of a lobster boat tending traps, wind in the giant old trees in my forest, the water lapping the rocks on the shore,trucks making their way to the dock, distant voice, the cry of my geese, the call of gulls.. Completely random, no rhythm or pitch but deeply soul satisfying, deeply resonant.

        I spent a year completely immersed in John Cage ..a worthwhile journey on so many fronts
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          Jul 31 2012: Thanks!

          John Cage's music is very different indeed. While there still is some kind of beat or tempo, he changes it up very often, and he uses really strange combinations of pitches. Daughters of the Lonesome Isle seems really paranoid-sounding, I dunno, hard to describe.

          Then for In a Landscape, there were a lot of parts that sounded like etudes, but then he kinda just (maybe purposefully) threw some keys off the rhythm. And again, he uses some really weird combinations of pitches or notes. Like you can't simply describe the mood because a certain notes throw the mood off.

          Yeah you're right, it does kinda seem like he's giving us the sounds of "life" itself.

          Back in middle school, I've learned to play the Viola and took private lessons. However, I never really "listened" to the music at the time, I just played notes and thought the music was good if I can play the song without messing up. But now, to me, music is more about reading the moods of it, and playing accordingly to the moods. I've listened to a lot of hip hop (underground), which is very focused on the beats. So a rapper is not as concerned about the pitches as they are about following the beat and rhythms.

          Here's one, I think you may or may not like: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLPIbkOqVPs&feature=player_embedded

          It's very "soulful" and I tend to like the songs that portray a lot of emotion.
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          Jul 31 2012: Just watched the tedtalk vid.

          Dang, while I thought the song was really weird to me, I did get what she was talking about (I think). The words didn't mean much to me, other than a way to convey the sound itself (though I don't know Russian and some other foreign languages myself). The music notes or pitch level was more like a fast fourier transform scale, rather than the traditional treble clef or alto clef notes, etc. And what was really interesting was that there were color highlights or dotted lines. I think that was the most interesting part of these music notes. To me the colors themselves were defining the emotion or mood you need to convey when these notes are being played. Same with dotted lines or others.

          While I'm not entirely sure what to think about the song itself, but to me this was a very good showcase of the language of music as opposed to the traditional music notes.
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        Jul 31 2012: James.

        To tell you the truth , and I hope without offending as I am throughly enjoying our exchange,.I did have trouble iwth that one..that whole "sound" the tone, the rhymns, the repetition doesn't feel like music to me..doesn't feel like "life" to me.

        Did you see Music Insinct: The Scence of Song? (http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/the-music-instinct-science-and-song/)..it's a fascinanting exploration of the physical connection to us of resonance itself.

        I have also seen that at work with my headstart kids. E flat is one of the most beautiful notes in our library of notes. I had my kids copy my tone on e flat asking them to listen to each other to try to hear everyone elses note. When it converged into that perfect blend their eyes lit up and their faces showed pure wonder. It was a physical and spiritual experience.on some kind of universal plane.

        I sing for hospice. We sing acapella. Blend and tone are critical..control is critical as we sing in very intimate spaces..often standing around the bed of a person dying in their own home. So the quality of he tone is important. One of the warm ups we have done to try and achieve that perfect blend is to have the group tone on e flat and take turns walking around inside our circle. There is a clear physical reaction.

        Sound is more than what we hear with our ears. It is more complex than that.
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          Jul 31 2012: No offense taken!

          I agree, there certainly is something very different about not having a particular tempo or rhythm to the song... Perhaps Edward was right, and that there is some correlation between "life" and "beat." And some songs maybe just don't feel "alive" without some kind of tempo or beat.

          At the same time, there are beats and songs made entirely programmatically with computers or algorithms, and that doesn't feel "alive" either. It feels very artificial. Like it's missing the human element to it, which is turns me off to those kinds of songs.

          I have not seen that video, and it'll be hard to fit it into my time since it's 2 hours long. I'll have to reserve like a weekend or something to check it out :)

          Your story of the E flat note is very intriguing... Why is it that we are fascinated by certain notes as opposed to others? Hmm... Oh and it's always nice to see kids be inspired by something. Kids can be great teachers!

          "Sound is more than what we hear with our ears." Couldn't agree more with this! How does Beethoven, a deaf person, become a composer and make some really great music? Looking at his other senses, I find it hard to believe that he smelled sound, tasted sound, or saw sound. So that leaves touch. He had to have in the most literal sense, "felt" the sound, just as we feel vibrations of strong bass sounds in a concert. A friend of mine also created a touch medium for sound using jello and hooking it up to a radio receiver. You can actually feel the sound from the frequencies very clearly. It was pretty cool
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    Aug 6 2012: That's what I want you to know James, not only do you understand the language of machines you are also a communicator and interested in ideas. The whole world sees the stories that come out of Hollywood and the Sci-fi stories. There is always crossover of ideas. I have two titanium cages in the top of my neck since I had spinal surgery in March but for me I would never accept the idea of a man/machine hybrid. Many of the technological advances seem to arrive in times of war but I still think Hiroshima and Nagasaki. You are learning and learning means making mistakes. It is about taking appropriate responsibility and not letting your potential get crushed by others. All your threads seem to be along the lines of what would we lose if we made machines too much like humans. We do not yet understand what the human body is all about, we know the physical stuff that can be seen with x-rays and M.R.I. s and C.T.s. We do not fully understand the interaction between humans and environment. I think I read somewhere recently about a reaction that occurs as negative and positive when observed and as a wave when no-one is looking. Love to know what that was about - do you know? Another book Portnoy 'Wait: The Useful Art of Procrastination'. What's wrong with questioning the concept of supply and demand especially when it has to do with energy supply.
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      Aug 6 2012: Thanks! I'm very fascinated with communication and the different ways people (and animals) can communicate, and computers is just another outlet of communication that has a bajillion more possibilities.

      I think humans and machines are a very interesting subject. Machines brings a new perspective on how we look at humans. All those sci-fi movies of having machines who can think, have dreams, emotions (I, Robot), would never happen any time soon, if at all. When Japan can create machines that look just like a human by model, we start questioning, what the real differences are between human and machine. What makes human human? What makes an artwork or online texts "human?" I mean, we start realizing we're just as mechanical (though on a more complex and biological level) as machines. But the thing is, we have conceivable thoughts and emotions, which we don't really know how they work or why we think of things like these, or why certain things evoke certain emotions.

      I don't really know about that positive/negative thing. But, like when you see a dead animal on a street, it would evoke some negative responses. And when you see baby animals running around, it would evoke positive responses. At least that's what I think you're talking about? I dunno lol

      His "supply and demand" definitions were much more technical, like it has to be a quantitative measurement, etc. I had to explain to him next day what I really meant by it, and so he's like, ok I guess. He understood the analogy I was making at least anyways.
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        Aug 6 2012: O.K. sometimes progress happens when we as individuals are doing something else. Do you havve access to MSN thru Google. Mars Rover Curiosity has successfully landed on Mars. Usain Bolt has just set a new world record and keeps posing like Athena the warrior goddess. O.K. onwards and upwards but given we don't yet know all there is to know about humans and animals do we really want to be introducing new unknowns into the mix. Another story on MSN is about the swarms of bees around an airport. To bees the aircraft wings look like giant flower petals, one bee communicates with the others in a waggle dance that involves movements and pheromones. The bees then swarm. Humans owe so much to bees and the honey they make. What about some more useful flowers like lavender amongst all the food crops, stop the swarms. How many people are going to be able to go for a holiday on Mars and what is the cost to the planet we already have. Remember the book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Research, yes, evidence, yes, evaluation before action when the costs are unknown.
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          Aug 6 2012: I mean, we may never know 100% how animals/humans work, but reality moves on. We need research and greater understanding of things for the long-term, but we need to fulfill short-term priorities before that. But atm, I believe thinkers have their place, and I want a society where thinkers can become a profession, because these guys are innovation generators and they save massive amounts of time in coming up with some of the best solutions.

          I bet a lot of cool discoveries and research were a result of accidents.
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    Aug 6 2012: Hi James. My son loves Japanese Manga and is often online and globally questing on White Knight Chronicles II. It has been great for him to speak to some other people about some of his issues. I'll post a picture of the two of us on my Profile, with his permission as I will need his help to do it. As a parent I am trying to encourage him whilst protecting him from what he does not need to know about yet, it's not easy. Anyway I wanted to tell you about an audio essay in music before this conversation closes. The group I was talking about before The Art of Noise, their Influences album covers their work from 1983 to 2010. I particularly like their line 'because the heart has reasons that reason will never know'. I so want you to stay in whatever educational field you have chosen. My son is starting engineering in September and A level Maths. I love the ideas of Fibonacci but do not have the mathematical literacy to communicate in Maths language.
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      Aug 6 2012: Ah i c. I'm quite a manga/anime fan myself. I'm currently up-to-date on One Piece and Naruto and I probably will keep reading One Piece until it finishes, which will be when I'm like 30 lol. Some of these are the best stories I've ever read/watched. I could recommend Gungrave and Shin Angyo Onshi, if you and your son ever get the chance to.

      I've studied in Computational Media, and we've learned things like Fibonacci and other computer algorithms, as well as programming, and the Big O notation for measuring the efficiencies of space complex and time complex. But unlike other CS guys, I learned more about Media itself. Marshall Macluhan, who is like the most hard-to-understand guy I know, has very interesting theories on Media itself, if you can get past his writing style -_-. So, I'm like jack-of-all-trades in terms of technicalities, but I think my true strength is in abstract concepts and I'm better at generalizations because I can look past the technicalities. I get criticized a lot by my engineer/cs friends for completely butchering some definitions like Supply and Demand lol.

      But yeah, thanks! I'll do my best. And good luck to your son in Math. I'm good at math, but only to a certain level haha

      "because the heart has reasons that reason will never know"
      That's a good line indeed
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    Aug 6 2012: Would like to suggest the word harmonics Using the analogy of a wind chime. When the wind blows gently the random and chaotic notes make beautiful melodies. When the wind blows more strongly it becomes harsh and discordant. You can see on You tube what happens to wind turbines at sea when the wind is too strong. The blades spin too quickly and the turbines catch fire. Be great if we could all have some sort of wind generators built into our houses but it would need some sort of filter to reduce dust and pollen. Of course all these ideas are already out there, it is like doing a giant literature review of evidenced scientificially explored knowledge, looking for crossovers from other subjects while retaining a tight enough focus to produce academic papers to inspire others.
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    Aug 6 2012: Another word for it is harmonics. If you think about wind chimes. When the wind blows too strongly they crash and bash together and the notes are discordant and chaotic. When the wind blows gently and the metal of the chimes is of sufficent quality the random combination produces really beautiful melodies. There is no beat or rhtym to the wind. You may have seen the stories on You tube about the wind farms located out in the North Sea off the coast of the U.K. When the wind was too strong the blades spun too fast and the turbines caught fire. Wind turbines are a good idea if they are robust enough to cope with the elements. Tidal power is very rhythmic and some people find sitting by the seaside very soothing. I think the idea should be used in hospitals to calm anxious and stressed people, plus a few seagulls just so people don't entirely slip into a trance. In the U.S.A. I think the terms you might be familiar with are elevator music and mall music. The music is pleasant but not discordant and people are calmed but sometimes too trance like to make useful decisions.
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      Aug 6 2012: some of the stuff I listen to are chill elevator music, I guess you could classify it as such lol
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        Aug 6 2012: I picked up a 3 CD collection of world music in my local £1 shop the other day. It had music from Europe/Asia, Americas and Africa. It did not have music from Australasia so I am upset because I grew up in N.Z. Some of the Maori music is lovely and we've already talked about Aboriginal flute music. Again Maori music is voice and percussion because that is what is most readily available in that environment, it's not all about the haka (war dance), see if you can look at the Poi dances etc. I managed to get my real time Profile partly updated so you can see who I am. I have a teenage son just a bit younger than you. Speculating with another conversation as to whether TED has a virus as I had trouble updating my profile and the other person also has problems with 'thumbs up' not registering ?
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          Aug 6 2012: Hmm, perhaps it's the internet connection. Is creating a comment also taking a while as well? It could be that when you're sending requests to the Ted servers, the Ted servers aren't receiving them. This could be due to your internet connection, or it could just be something's up with their servers.

          Oh does your son go on Ted forums? I'd imagine the guy is raised in a "culturally-sophisticated" environment, since you're very knowledgeable on so many ethnic cultures.
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    Aug 4 2012: You could also think of our thoughts as music. Have you ever heard a Welsh Male Voice Choir. What about what I believe is known as Barber Shop singing. It is possible to make all sorts of clicks and whistles with the human voice, like the human 'beat boxes'. For beautiful music to do with breathing you might like to listen to Paul Simon's Graceland album. For an essay in non rhythmic music you might like to try a group called 'The Art of Noise', yes they are from the U.K.
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      Aug 5 2012: Hmm breathing...

      Could we classify 2 different kinds of music: breathing/non-breathing? Like when I think of breathing, I think of Yo Yo Ma's cello, and other very "vocal" kinds of songs. Then you have the clicks, beat, drums, the clicks and stuff.

      Nonetheless, breathing is a very interesting way to view music, and I feel like a lot of our music have "breaths."

      I checked out Welsh Male Voice Choir on youtube, it's pretty cool to see all these guys together singing like that. I really admire that :)

      I'll add that essay on my to-do list lol
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    Aug 3 2012: James did you know whales sing and their song travels across the ocean. Dolphins like to play with us but they are like the puppies of the ocean. Whales are sentient it is just we do not know how to understand them. It is wrong for whalemeat to be fished in the quantities it is because whales are a finite resource and the last thing we need is for them to become extinct because we do not yet know what their role is in the eco-system of the ocean. It is about balance as I said. Yin and yang. Ocean and land mass. That is part of the reason why I am concerned about China getting to the moon. The moon influences the tides and the physical shape of the earth. Altering the moon and earth balance could be catastrophic as volcanoes will be reactivated and the tectonic plates will shift. It is all about balance.
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      Aug 3 2012: Yeah you're right, the excessive hunting of whales will no doubt throw off a balance.

      There was a post on the previous thread about whale songs. I think it's really cool how they can do that. It makes sense because they're large creatures and need to communicate in long distances.

      Dolphins seem to have higher pitches as opposed to the large bass that whales have.
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    Aug 3 2012: Hello James Zhang. Told you that you were important. You are a thinker. Music replicates what we hear in ourselves the pulses of our individual lives, our hearts. Singing is just an expression of the movement of air in and out of our bodies you try Say A and smile and feel your body draw in oxygen. Frown and say Ah and feel the lungs contract and expel the air from your body. As the lady with the aboriginal man as an icon has said people use what they know to create sounds. Firstly with their own voices and bodies e.g drumming and playing wind instruments., Lower notes always carry further than higher notes, can be heard longer distances. For a while young people hear a greater range of notes than mature adults. They can hear the crickets in the grass when older people can't. That is why it is so important to educate young people and not make them work as child labour or exploit them with inappropriate images too soon. The effectiveness of the natural filter of the parent has been removed and what society has replaced it with is not always as supportive and effective as it intended.
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      Aug 3 2012: " Singing is just an expression of the movement of air in and out of our bodies you try Say A and smile and feel your body draw in oxygen."

      Hmm, that's an interesting definition... Air is a pretty good conductor of sound, then what if we tried to sing in water? Sound is supposed to travel better in water, since the molecules are closer together and more susceptible to collide with one another. Wait, another random thought. Do Dolphins sing under water?

      I agree, lower notes do carry farther. Lower notes have longer periods, just like Radio Waves.

      One reason for the child's greater range of notes is probably because as you grow older, your ear drums deteriorate.
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    Jul 31 2012: Would it be correct to say that if a metronome can be set to coincide with some repeating time feature of a musical work then that music has a rhythm and/or a beat?
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      Aug 1 2012: hmm... maybe, I'm really throwing the definitions of rhythm/beat/tempo very loosely...

      Yeah, I think you're right, a beat is some kind of repetitive thing that controls the pacing of the music.
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    Jul 31 2012: Hmm, those are very interesting indeed. I can hear a lot of gradual tempo changes. A lot of music I hear just follow one tempo throughout the entire song, but changing the tempo can produce an interesting effect as well, though I'm not sure if anyone has fully explored the effects of this...
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    Jul 30 2012: Whale song
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      Jul 30 2012: nice!
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      Jul 31 2012: http://youtu.be/6_pnlYYHO1g

      "The Whale Song" Has a rythm and beat... Very dischordant at times, but they're there... but If you're going to introduce someone to Modest Mouse, you should probably start with something a bit more pleasant, like "Ocean Breathes Salty"


      Oh wait, you meant whales talking to each other...
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      Aug 1 2012: Lawren,

      And warblers sing the same song..

      Paul Sullivan, a well known musician who has scored music with recordings of whales, wolves and birds and other natural wild life "songs" was composing on his synthesizer many years ago when synthesizers were very new. He was working on a composition to go with the humpback whale song and somehow accidentally turned up the speed and recognized it as the song of the warbler..it was identical..just a different speed. The warbler and the whale sing the same song. Both songs what we would call "arrhythmic" . Boggles the mind and delight the haert..and says quite a bit about "song" and music . ( ps my details on this may be slightly off in how he discovered that..I'll look for his account and repost if I find it in time.)