The following post is an edited version of the third of four chapters from my honours thesis, originally written in 2013. The thesis as a whole acts as a kind of “how to” guide for composing in a few different styles, each of which somewhat removes human aspects of music composition, at the same time exploring ideas of musical universals – those aspects of music that seem to be ubiquitous across all cultures or even found to be in common across different species! This chapter details one method of musical data sonification, which I used in order to create musical representations of the orbits of planets around distant stars.
Chapter 3: Biomusic, Music in Nature and Musica Universalis
“Universals are rooted in nature, but have effects in culture” (Leman, 2003, unpaginated)
Given that music can exist in numerical data, and in the sounds produced by animals, naturally occurring patterns can also hold musical information, and could have had profound impact upon the creation of early music. Natural patterns such as the rhythms of heartbeats, the natural walking pace of an individual, the night/day cycle and the changing of seasons are all examples of patterns that hold potential musical information and are all intrinsic parts of life.
Biomusic here differs from zoömusic in that it refers to sounds, pitches or rhythms created biologically, but without an intended aesthetic aspect. While the ‘voices’ of many animals used for mating calls are widely considered to have an intended aesthetic aspect, other sounds that are purely functional or biological come under the heading of biomusic.
Musica Universalis is an archaic philosophical concept relating the movements of celestial bodies – the Sun, the Moon, and the planets – to a form of music. This ‘music’ is of course not audible, but rather it can be described in the same terms as music – through mathematical and harmonic principles. The implications of this have historically been thought of as astrological rather than purely mathematical (Kepler, 1997). The harmonically described motions of celestial bodies (the rotations, orbits and resonances with other objects) are yet another example of patterns in nature which contain musical information that can be used in compositions.