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The Microcosm of Music

JOURNALIST: What is dissonance?

PETER HÜBNER: Dissonance – like disharmony – is recognised spontaneously by the plain human being. The sound physically disturbs him, he physically feels unwell. Fundamentally, what the listener perceives as dissonance, is also part of the har­moni­cal, but in the mi­cro­cosm of mu­sic, this part is pushed far away by na­ture into the hardly au­di­ble and right into the in­au­dible.

Each tone fundamentally consists of many, theoretically of a boundless number of tones. The unpractised listener thinks that he only hears one tone, and the practised listener can hear more tones – meaning a kind of sound. In our electronic age, with the help of special technical equipment, quite a number of tones can be filtered out of this so-called one tone, and amplified – so they really exist and are not just imaginary.

These tones in a tone are usually called overtones. And all these tones relate to each other in certain mathematical ratios. As a rule, one assumes that the ratios are made up of whole numbers, i.e. 1:2:3:4:5:6 etc.. From these ratios then follow the intervals, i.e. the distance of the tones to each other, and the numbers the frequency and/or pitch proportions.

The first to investigate these ratios in the microcosm of music in our cultural area, was the great physician, musicologist and mathematician Pythagoras 2500 ago.

The first impression that is given with the insight into the microcosm of music, is that one tone consists of many tones, that, in reality, it is a chord where the distance of the tones – taking the fundamental tone as a starting-point – becomes closer and closer, and that, in general, starting from the fundamental tone, they become quieter and quieter, until you no longer hear anything.

So, if i.e., you play a tone on the piano, then, in reality, you hear many tones on this side, and these tones swinging in one after the other, and their volume proportions give us the impression of tone colour.

If, i.e., with the help of electronic equipment, I stretch the proc­ess of the pi­ano swing­ing in, we get the im­pres­sion that it is a dif­fer­ent in­stru­ment – for in­stance, a wood­wind in­stru­ment or, with fur­ther stretching, a string in­stru­ment or, with even fur­ther stretching, a brass in­stru­ment.

As al­ready said, these are sort of the ini­tial in­ac­cu­rate im­pres­sions which we gain with the in­sight into the mi­cro­cosm of mu­sic. Upon closer ex­ami­na­tion, we also come across a di­ver­sity of modu­la­tions be­tween the dif­fer­ent tones of the mi­cro­cosm of mu­sic and, of course, proc­esses of swing­ing out.

In a way, it is like with the atom – where, first of all. we think we are dealing with a particle, and upon closer examination find out that these “particles” are composed of further particles, and that these “particles” are again composed of different particles etc. etc.. In the end, one doesn’t speak so much of particles any longer, but of spatial and temporal structures, and then of spatial time structures etc., etc..

When you have reached these levels of observation in the microcosm of music, then you realise that the initial insight into this sounding field of creation – with that fundamental tone and the overtones – were still very inaccurate after all, well – almost deceptions.

Today’s official insight into the microcosm of music, as it exists at music academies, is extremely limited, and in physics, for example, might be compared to the mechanical age.

Therefore, it is only understandable that official experts show no special interest in the microcosm of music, as this can only develop from a profound insight into this harmonical field of creation. In comparison, official experts would have to advance into the field of nuclear physics – not to mention the sub-nuclear fields.

Well, that was a short digression into the possibilities which the music experts are provided with, but with a little more insight into the microcosm of music one can indeed realise that the outlying areas of the microcosm of music, i.e. the tonal areas which are further away from the fundamental tone present themselves subjectively to us more and more as dissonances, whilst we feel that everything close to the fun­da­men­tal tone is a consonance or harmonious.

But the subjective feeling of perception of dissonance or con­so­nance depends on quite a number of other factors. It would take too long to explain them at this point.

The existence of dissonance makes perfect sense, because it increases the listener’s alertness.

JOURNALIST: I would like to come back to the old question: “What is disharmonical music?”

PETER HÜBNER: Disharmonical music is music which in its elements but also as a whole is perceived by the plain healthy human being as acoustic to his ear, brain, organism and ultimately also from an holistic point of view as physically and spontaneously unpleasant.

And as already said earlier, this phenomenon of unpleasant feeling is based on the fact that the biological systems and therefore also the human being himself are harmonically structured, the biological processes run harmonically and these organ structures automatically reject everything that does not correspond to its natural harmonical framework.

One can educate oneself and/or be educated to be seemingly insensitive or tough – as we also know it from swimmers who, in the winter when there is snow, swim in rivers or from smokers, alcoholics and drug consumers.
But just as the organism normally and naturally, spontaneously rejects the bitter cold and accordingly nicotine, alcohol and drugs, it rejects the structure of disharmony which is foreign to its nature..

JOURNALIST: You talked about dissonance and disharmony ...

PETER HÜBNER: It is very important, to differentiate between dissonance and disharmony. Dissonance is correctly described as the rejection of the natural volume conditions of overtones, and disharmony is sensibly described as the disregard of the harmonical, of the naturally harmonious from the side of the modern avant-garde music creators, as well as the modern interpreters of classical music.

With the avant-garde group, the disregard mainly stands out tonally, and the simple listener spontaneously perceives their music, as out of tune. And with the modern interpreters of classical music the disregard of the harmonical mainly stands out rhythmically. However, both more or less applies for the whole industry of light music – from so-called folk-music to rock and pop music.

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