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Music and the passions part 6

After quite an interruption we're continuing here with a reflexion on the power of music to move us... In this section, about sound itself, we've come to the question of volume and how it too is a way in which music has a link with our passions...


          If the pitch of a sound is due to the frequency of its vibrations, the volume of a sound is due to the intensity of those vibrations, and so with the strength of the movement that produces the sound: the harder something is struck, the louder the sound produced. Distance is also relevant to the volume of a sound as it is heard: the closer I am to a sound-producing movement, the louder the sound is for me. The intensity of the vibrations diminishes over distance: the sound of low-flying aircraft is deafening, but we don’t hear at all the sound of aircraft flying at thirty-five thousand feet above us. Loud sounds therefore, denote both strength or violence of movement and also a proximity that is potentially dangerous for me, given the strength of the movement. Quiet sounds, on the contrary, have a character that is to do with both gentleness of touch, of contact, and with intimacy – a proximity that is not dangerous. These two aspects of the type of contact – violent or gentle – that affects the volume of a sound, and of the distance between the source of that sound and the hearer, will have a particular role to play in the artist’s use of volume when it comes to playing on the emotions of the listener through music, since, as we saw above, distance between myself and the desired object is precisely where the passions play a role.

          We notice in passing that it is these aspects of pitch and volume, essentially of matter and of distance and position, that are at the foundation of acoustics, thanks to architecture. The resonating qualities of a particular matter, such as stone, and stone given a particular form, combined with the distance between and the relative positions of the source of a sound and the hearer, mean that no sound is heard in exactly the same way in the architectural space, and that these aspects can be manipulated for the maximum reception of pitch and volume.