In Awe With the Eternal Sound of Nature

Posted on
14 October 2020

By Tandin Wangdi


Science and Innovation

WWF Bhutan

The chirping of birds at the break of dawn heralds the start of a new day. While urban folks are deep in slumber, chimneys in far-flung villages exude wisps of smoke announcing that people are up already. How contrasting is the way of life between the two communities, the so called urbanites and the rural inhabitants. But the chirping of birds will remain the same as long as shrubs and trees grow in these two places. The sound of nature is imbedded in the multitude of elements that constitute our world. From the gushing streams of the Himalayas to the meandering rivers of the Amazon, from the roar of the Amur Tiger to the screeching primates of Madagascar, nature’s orchestra reverberates with its original composition and creative ingenuity.  

The origin of music, in the modern sense, can be traced back to 4000 BCE when Egyptians created harps and flutes. By 2500 BCE early form of the trumpet was developed by the Danes. The guitar, which inspired creation of the violin, was created in 1500 BCE by the Hittites.  In 600 BCE Pythagorus, the famous mathematician well known for his discovery of the Pythagorus Theorem, developed the octave scale. Aristotle wrote on the music theory scientifically and brought about the method of notation in 350 BCE. Boethius in 521 BCE brought the Greek system of notation to western Europe and wrote on the idea of the opera. After the fall of the Roman Empire, most of the music was commissioned by the church. In 600 CE Pope Gregory built the Schola Centarum, the first music school in Europe. With the dawn of the Renaissance in 1465, printing press was first used to print music and enabled composers to organize their pieces. The writings of Boethius, one of the influential Roman philosophers of the 6thcentury, were republished in Italian in 1490.  The onset of the Renaissance was the beginning of the golden age of music which showcased some of the greatest musical minds ever produced in the west. 

In South Asia musical culture has been traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Although very little is known, certain musical instruments such as the bow-shaped harp and variety of drums have been identified from the small terra-cotta figures and among pictographs on seals. The iconic dancing girl statue of the period has been suggested to represents a temple dancer similar to those found much later in Hindu culture. Scholars of history and human civilizations believe that the coming of the Aryans, a semi-nomadic tribesman, from the northwest in the first half of the 2ndmillennium BEC wiped out the Indus Valley Civilization. 

The origin of Indian classical music goes back to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of Hinduism. Vedic traditions and Hinduism has a primeval influence on Indian classical music. The two popular forms of classical music influenced by Hinduism are the Kirtan, a musical form of narration or shared recitation of spiritual or religious ideas and Bhajan, song with religious theme or spiritual ideas. Interestingly, Buddhism does not have strong affiliation to music in the similar manner other than some form of music associated with rituals and prayers.   
Our world is filled with innumerable sounds of nature. People living close to nature perceive a wider range of natural sounds than those of us living in urban societies where music has evolved dramatically due to advances in sound technology, and the traffic noise in cities contribute to the loathsome urban din. Music in its pure form is intrinsic to every culture and is associated with emotional, cultural and cognitive nature of human mind. The universal appeal of music irrespective of which part of the world you come from is the magic that bring different societies together through its beats and rhythms plucking the human cord.

In nature, the most complex acoustic displays, next to Homo sapiens, is exhibited by the singing humpback whale found in all major oceans and seas around the world. Birds, on the other hand, sing with such intense melody that Luis Baptisa, leading expert on bird song, has drawn fascinating parallels between bird songs and human music in the use of rhythmic variations, pitch relationships and combination of notes. Deep in the woods the lone whistling note of a Hill Partridge combined with the rhythmic call of barking deer awakens the sleepy forest to life.  Passing by woods on   a mid-summer night, the hooting of an owl chilled with gusts of wind that pull down broken branches at your feet with dripping drops of rain produce such haunting impression that linger in your mind for days. Away from the woods, the tranquil flow of mountain streams and the deafening clap of thunder, the whistling breeze on forest trees and the sweeping gale on hillsides are all but a glimpse of the creative range of nature’s octaves.How can one surmise to recreate such amazing sounds of nature?  Osho Rajneesh mesmerized by nature once remarked that nature is so creative that it can never be recreated. Humans can only imitate nature but never recreate it. 

Imagine the world without sound. Our life would then be a huge silence! We would miss all the wonders of nature’s sonic masterpieces and inspirations that lie therein. Some may, however, argue that life would have adapted that way. Music has often been associated with the peak of human emotion that we call love. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino of Illyriaremarks, “If music be the food of love, play on”. Although the lovelorn Duke muses that the excess of music might cure his obsession with love, the strong bond between love and music is obvious. Music plays an important part in Shakespeare’s plays and often carries the plot. Perhaps, he did believe music to be “the food of love”. Irrespective of universal acceptance of the statement, one thing is certain, if two lovers like the same form of music they are drawn closer when the music plays. Armando Menezes in his poem ‘The Train’ compares the earth to a violin and the train to its bow. The sound created by the motion of the train is what he relates to music. It is interesting to note that the train imagery is also allegorical to our journey of life - stopping by stations briefly and then carrying on as individuals bound for our ultimate destination. We are but just a tiny bit of nature’s prodigious creation. In nature we rely and in nature we live, and yet we often forget nature in the midst of our hectic day-to-day life. Can’t we all be a little more conscious and a little more caring? Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, ‘If we can ground ourselves, become one with the Earth and treat her with care, she will nourish us and heal our bodies and mind’.