Musical Musings

The busyness of living had taken over the days, and I felt a little soulful pondering and meandering was in order. I listened to an uplifting album of Anoushka Shankar as I went about the chores in the home after a long week of deadlines, and never-ending demands on my time physically and emotionally.

The children gave me indulgent looks, and nodded approvingly. They had been telling me to get my head out into the clouds for some time now.

I peeked out the window and saw a breeze flutter though the pine tree outside, and resisted no more. I picked up the beautiful children’s book, A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray, Illustrated by Tricia Tusa.

Fresh from reading Musicophilia – Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks, I found myself analyzing the music in our lives. In Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks writes about musicians who don’t read music, but get to listen to the music in their heads as they read the sheets. I imagined the neurons in their brains reacting like those little piano keys – bobbing up and down.

Who remembers Tom & Jerry Piano Concerto? Here it is for those of you requiring a refresher.

The music teachers at our school had been blessed by the muses themselves. I remember many a morning assembly being mesmerized by our piano teacher’s musical notes wafting from her swift hands flying across the piano. The band master and the Indian music teachers were just as talented and gifted. 

How could one man teach the saxophone and the bugle, just as marvelously as the drums?

How could one person teach the harmonium, sitar and the tabla? 

I have always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument. It is probably why I never tire of seeing Anoushka Shankar’s hand leap up and down the sitar producing marvelous music. The harp player must be harnessing a power of the gods, and no wonder the goddess of learning in Hindu mythology holds the Veena.

I sat by the rose bushes reading. A gentle breeze accompanied the birdsong outside. I watched mesmerized as the breeze rippled through the luscious pines generating green soothing waves. Well, I may not know how to play a musical instrument, but I am lucky indeed to be able to enjoy the music.

I opened the book, A Violin for Elva, and was soon so happy with the choice of book. The book talks of Elva listening to music wherever she went. She imagines herself playing the violin, and asks her parents for one, but she doesn’t get one. She goes about imagining her toothbrush, tennis racket and anything else to be her violin. The whimsical illustrations are a joy to behold.

Life passes her by, and in her working years, the faint whiff of her love of music is there, but she is too busy in the busyness of living. 

Finally, after her years of working, she gets herself a violin to teach herself, but finds it very hard. She then goes for music lessons and when she gives her first concert, the sense of accomplishment, the much-delayed gratification she receives is amazing. It is also a reminder to those of us waiting to do what we love that though it is never too late to take up what we love. It is also pointless to let life pass us by. 

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 

Annie Dillard

Elva’s story reminded me of Mary Oliver’s essay on the three distinct selves within each of us:

  • The Child Self
  • The Social Self &
  • The Eternal Self.

Though in the essay, Mary Oliver, refers to the Eternal Self as the artistic self, I like to interpret it as the Creative self. 

  • The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 
  • The second self is the social self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executer. 
  • Then, there is the third self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. This is the self that needs nurturing.

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.”

Mary Oliver

It was a chastening thought to enjoy those things that sustain us, and in doing so make our lives meaningful and joyful.

What would you like to nurture?

Musings: Whally Mousical

 I was reading to the son’s classroom. I had planned out two little sections – one from the Tale of Despereaux and the other a true story of a pod of whales saved from the iced in waters of Siberia. The theme linking the two was music. I started, and the little musicians looked thrilled. I was too.

As I turned to the start of Chapter 4 in which the little mouse who was different finally understands what that honey-sweet sound was. I felt like Despereaux myself as I read about how little Despereaux felt a welling in his heart for the music, and how he slowly forgot where he was, or what he was doing. Slowly, he inched out from his hole, listening, mesmerized to the king playing music. As I read it out aloud to the children, I wanted to stifle a laugh, for a childhood memory peeked out of its deep hole the same way that Despereaux did. 

“And he discovered, finally, the source of the honey-sweet sound.

The sound was music.

The sound was King Phillip playing his guitar and singing for his daughter, the Princess Pea, every night before she fell asleep.

Hidden in a hole in the wall of the princess’s bedroom, the mouse listened with all his heart. The sound of the King’s music made Despereaux’s soul grow large and light inside of him.

Oh,” he said, “it sounds like heaven. It smells like honey.” 

Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux

We lived in the chilly mountainsides, and often times, the cold outside attracted rats and mice into the warm house. Several times, when music was playing in the old tape recorder, we would notice a mouse peeping cautiously and just listening. Curious as to what the noises meant maybe, but maybe not. One of the family would shriek, and the pater would at first try to quieten us down saying it was just a little mouse enjoying some music – so what, or something to that effect, only to have a somewhat more hysterical reaction. 

Almost reluctantly would ensue a hilarious game of hockey sticks against furniture trying to get the mouse. Mice are as nimble as well, mice, and humans are – how do I put this kindly? Clumsy. Well-fed humans have several disadvantages stacked against them as they go about the mouse chase:

* Leaning back in the chair after a good meal listening to music in the background has made them soporific, so while the hockey stick is meant to be a tool, it is often used as prop against which to lean on to catch a breath

* They lack the right motive to catch a mouse. The human’s motive is to see if they can tumble in another gulab jamun into the tummy before bed. The mouse’s is to get to the hole

* Crowd sentiment is hard to gauge. The mouse chaser is in the tough spot of being a warrior and a saviour. While the shrieking indicated that something must be done, if something were done, the shriekers would be devastated and clamor for animal rights. So, the mouse chaser has to diplomatically chase the mouse, but not harm it in anyway.

 By the end of this jolly game of mouse chasing, the furniture has received several whacks from the hockey stick, and the mouse has strolled into its hole, while the music lilts on from the tape recorder. Which takes me to the curious scenario of mice in kings courts. I wonder how a mouse must’ve been treated in the king’s court. Would the musicians stop playing, while the commotion continued, or would they lilt on? The shriekers would be more, and therefore the motive higher. Would the courtiers gallantly prove their loyalty to the king by mouse chasing themselves, or let the warriors go for it?

They say a mouse’s brain is closest in structure to the human brain, so is that why we enjoy music together? 

New Items: Lab Rats Listen to Mozart and Become Maze Busters

So Mozart turns rats into maze-busters. But does it have a similar effect on humans?

I suppose The Pied Piper of Hamelin knew what he was doing. 

The story of the effect of Classical Music on Whales is equally mesmerizing. From the book, The Symphony of Whales, By Steve Schuch

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once the icebreaker ship, Moskva, had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…

Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Some musings are whally mousical, and all the more whimsical for it. The children seemed to enjoy the reading too. Their wondrous brain did not once question why a mouse liked music or how whales, mice and humans liked the same kind of music. 

Coming Soon: Musicophilia

Is Earthly Music Universal?

“What is this? Australian music? I thought we were in Africa! “, said the little fellow peering into the dashboard up by the driver’s seat.

“Yes- my young man! We have moved on from the plains of the Masai Mara to the deserts of Australia. Traveling the world during lockdown. Feel adventure in your veins!”

He rolled his eyes. His teenage sister has taught him well. 

“Remarkable isn’t it? How we are able to traverse the world in an instant these days? In the years of Ibn Batuta or Marco Polo, I suppose you had to wait to shimmy your way into the audiences of the explorers to get a glimpse of a world other than your own. “

marcopolo

We had taken a drive to catch the fall colors in the nearby mountains, and I was seated in the front-seat clasping the task of deejay dearly. I am usually entrusted with this important task only after several rules have been put in place.

🎼 You are allowed one Carnatic music not more than 7 minutes long (I do have a bone to pick with Carnatic musicians who take up my allotted 7 minute slot with one line)

🎵 Instrumental – cannot be slow, slow music. (Drivers got to stay awake.)

🥁 Everyone’s got to get a chance at their music

🎻 No weird music

“Yet…just look at us swiping away and traveling the world 🌍 with YouTube music? Lockdown or no lockdown. How remarkable music is no? Transports you straight out of this world into another world altogether!” I said. The husband and children gave me looks of amused tolerance that they seem to reserve for holidays and trips. Indulgence, sure, but also a joy in seeing my whimsy rise to the surface. 

The brilliant Youtube recommendations engine stood on the side panting and scratching its head trying to figure out what to recommend next based on my list of songs. Ahh! That happy feeling you get when you stump an AI algorithm is truly priceless. Scottish bagpipers marched down the dales of Scottish highlands with their music; middle eastern belly dancers flexed their tummies with grace and agility; shepherds tended to their livestock with Bulgarian folk dance music; and royal court musicians of Turkish sultans from the past bravely set forth their music to the unwittingly pulled in audience in the car. 

“Ummm – what music is this?”, said the son when I played the Bulgarian folk song, Izlel e delyo haydutin, By Valya Balkanska.

This, my dear, is what the universe would hear if ever anyone intercepts Voyager on its space voyages, and finds a way to extract the music within. It is part of the Golden Record. It is now hurtling through space making  our earthly music universal. ”

Laniakea

“Please! Appa – what is this? I am happy to see Amma this happy I suppose, but this is too much. Can we have some, like, normal, music? “ asked the teenaged daughter. 

“What?! If I may remind everyone in this car, this coming from one who is constantly the one asking me to try new types of music. Who is forever berating me for listening to toiyan-toiyan music (instrumental music)? Amma jazz it up a bit! Shall I create a playlist for you with my favorites so you can listen to it? – huh?! “

She gave into a high pitched laugh, and said, “Yes I meant different genres as in rock, jazz, country, pop, not bagpipes, bongo drums, and what is this now?! Doesn’t sound like an instrument at all!”

“That’s because it isn’t”, I said happily. “We are listening to whale songs now.”

“Okay…that’s it! All deejay rights revoked for some time now. Whale songs! Pass me that phone!”

“Nope!”

And to this musical, lyrical bickering, was added the sounds of harmony, resulting in an orchestra of noises. The trees, that night, as they passed their messages to one another, rustled in excitement. How long since they had heard natural sounds of whales?

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November Gifts

When the colder regions of the United States start rejoicing in the beautiful colors of Fall in October, California is still reeling with hot summers’ last gasp. Wildfires, and heat waves sound alarms of summer fading out. We are almost there, we pant to each other, as the withered flowers cling to their stems, and dust settles adamantly on cars and rooftops. Parched rivers, dried up lakes and dusty trails with wildfire warnings are the norm. Then suddenly, as though, there is a secret message that Halloweens cannot be during a hot spree, the days become nippier in the evening.

Elsewhere in the colder regions of the United States, it is the Octobers that are splendid, but for us here in the Bay area in California, November is the month of brilliant fall colors. A splendid sight that I had not fully seen in my initial years – in the unseeing way in which I rushed from one spot to another, in the unending rush to and from my job. Post the autumnal equinox, the sunsets became a rarity as it would be dark by the time I left the office and got out of the train. But over the years, I have noticed the colors with more appreciation every passing year. 

This year,  as I set out on walks on clear November days, I feel the gratitude for a less rushed commute and I sometimes get the feeling that all of this wells up within me to burst forth into the myriad colors in the universe I see around me. As I stood last week, first under an oak tree, then a sycamore tree, and then a large maple tree, a gingko tree and a willow tree (it’s hard to stop once you start!), I felt a sense of liberation in the air. The leaves were maturing, and some of them were letting go of their own volition.  (A lesson the occupant of the highest office in the nation can learn from if only he took the time to stand under a tree.) 

I stood there for a few minutes without rushing about my walk, and quietly reluctantly, when I moved away, I reflected on the gifts:

🍁 The music 🎶 🎵 🎼 of the wind rustling through the trees, to the accompaniment of chirping birds, and tittering squirrels, is music enough, and a soft lesson of symphony.

🍁 Watching a yellow, orange and red world bathed in the November light with the leaves fluttering down at their own pace is an unhurried lesson in pace.

🍁 Every now and then, a blue jay flies down from its perch, a couple of little yellow thrushes swoop in joy, while the melodious blackbirds and the nimble hummingbird go about their day. I can rejoice in the glorious feeling of the heart soaring with the birds. A lesson of hope and joy.

🍁  I see the younger gingko trees in our neighborhood already brilliantly yellow, but gingko trees apparently wait and coordinate among themselves to shed their leaves in unison. The older gingko tree isn’t quite there yet. It is working its way through the green leaves and slowly turning to yellow. The splendid yellow young ones are waiting patiently. A lesson in gracious patience.

🍁 How could I forget the squirrels with their final nut collection drive? A lesson of work while stopping to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor.

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November is also the month of celebrations. Hot on the heels of Halloween when the adults find the child in themselves, comes Deepavali, the beautiful festival of lights indicating the victory of light over darkness, good over evil etc, and then just before pulling gracefully into the zone of gratitude and thanksgiving, I get to celebrate my birthday.

What isn’t to love about November? It is a time for hot tea, butter toasts, fall colors, the sounds of pattering rain, the warmth of a sweater, and all the wonderful things of Hygge.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Magic of Story-Telling

“Stop being a Jellyfish!” said the husband.
“I knew you were going to say that – you are such an open book yourself!” said I.

We both giggled like children at our own pathetic joke. T’was the time for hulking men with or without mustaches and serious women to quack like ducks, twirl like fairies, flex those non-existent abs, and find that little teeny bit of whimsy that adulthood so expertly hides away beneath the layers. Halloween was here.

 

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T’is the time people astound you with their imagination. Who doesn’t like having 3 spidermen knocking on your door all at once? Or to see the twin toddlers dressed as Nemo & Dory? The super-heroes and ninjas cowering behind their larger siblings in Vampire clothing, or the witches cackling hard?

There is something so uniquely beautiful about Halloween – the one festival where we can display our idiosyncrasies with grace, be accepted for whatever we are. You want to be a skeleton? That should be fine. Here is some candy for you. Really, buddy? You want to go out in the world in that costume? Well, if this appeals to you, then I suppose you deserve some candy anyway!

How many times in our lives do we get that kind of universal approval?

The husband and I were very proud of our last minute Halloween costumes: an open book & a jellyfish.

The little fairy lights I had taped into place made the jellyfish glow, and I received many compliments – I must say I glowed all evening with the praise, though I did credit the Internet with it.

When people asked me where I got the inspiration from, I replied truthfully that I have always wondered what it must be like to live under the sea, and they invariably laughed at my answer.

But it’s true. Every trip to the aquarium rekindles the magic of another world – right here with us. Reading Gerald Durrell’s essay about scuba diving is enthralling.

I have often wondered how we would have adapted if we had evolved under the ocean. Would we have figured out the laws and physics of the Universe to the extent we have, or would the medium have made little difference in understanding. The Octopus’s evolution to have more neurons than us is truly astounding.

Quanta Magazine: What shape is the universe? Closed or Flat?

It is why I like reading about the intelligence of dolphins and whales: the fact that they have epics the sounds bits of which are roughly the equivalent of our Iliad is amazing. Quote from Carl Sagan’s essay on Whale song:

If the songs of the humpback whale are enunciated as a tonal language, the total information content, the number of bits of information in such songs, is some 10 to the power of 6 bits, about the same as the information content of the Iliad or the Odyssey.

What must their epics say? For all our anthropological worldview, I wonder whether humans figure in them at all. That will be a fine thing to hear – a Dr Dolittle who finally translates a Whale Epic, only to find their world far richer than our own.

Keena_drawing
Art work by Daughter

I recently re-read the Voyages of Dr Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. I must say I thoroughly enjoyed visualizing myself sailing the seas with his motley group – either by skimming along like a porpoise, or better yet by getting a place inside the giant snail’s back as it sailed along smoothly churning the ocean as it went.

Swimming with Dolphins

We are all children of stories. We need epics and tales of fantasy. Our very own imaginations need an outlet, and Halloween gives us just that. I know my enthusiasm rubs off on the children as they go about planning their costumes. While I am out with a big smile on my face, a number of people give me an indulgent smile as if to say “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”

Mary Oliver gently reminds me to react with this nugget of wisdom:

“You must not ever stop being whimsical. And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.” 

― Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Privately, I am happy that our inner child never really leaves us.

Authors:

The Swirling Kaleidoscope

In a fit of inspiration, we planned a whirl wind of a trip to India and UAE. The grandparents, aunts and uncles were unduly enthusiastic, and we were welcomed with joy everywhere. The past month is a beautiful blur of family and friends, multiple cities, delicious foods, tropical fruits, flora and fauna like seen nowhere in the United States, and national forests. 🌳

I have tried explaining India to my colleagues and friends in the United States who have never visited. How does one capture the pure joy of peacocks dancing in the rain, the unease of the stray dogs barking and chasing you as your make your way to the ATM around the corner on the same day? (I did not stop to take pictures of the stray dogs chasing us – self preservation is a dear thing.)

It is difficult to capture the pulse of the buzzing populations, the incessant sounds of the chaotic traffic in cities, the mosquito bites, the sweat from the heat, the beautiful rains, the warmth of the people you know, the helpfulness of those you don’t, the colors and fashions like nowhere else, the birds, flowers, stray dogs, cows, street vendors, disappearing footpaths, haphazard constructions, the quintessential maids, the eateries, the clothes line, the flooring, the beautiful national forests and through it all, the keen and heightened senses required to be aware of the ever-present dangers in highly populated areas.

How does one explain the ubiquitous presence of religions – the call of the masjids, the church bells, the sounds of the temples? The paradox of freedom in a culture that is still quite demanding in its expectations of behaviors in its populace.

The varieties of music – traditional music to start off the days, the filmy beats to take one through the rest of the day: whether one asks for it or not!

It really is Incredible India.

If we stirred out into the urban areas, I quickly yearned for the quiet of home. If I was home, I was exhorted to go out, since there was so much to do, so many people to meet, and so little time. Even so, I did not do as much as I wanted to. Did not meet as many people as I wanted to.

Indian cities are a kaleidoscope of swift whirling colors, its countrysides a different kaleidoscope altogether but equally vibrant.

Consequently, back on the flight to our home in the United States, I realize I have had little time to slow down, read and rest. As the flight drones on, I nap, read, watch a movie, eat, stretch; rinse; and repeat; thrice only to see the flight blink back at me that there are 2 more hours to land. A grim reminder as to how very far away I live . My heart literally stretched across the entire span of the globe.

I cannot help thinking of Virginia Woolf’s saying on Women:
As a woman I have no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.

Too short, too fast and too little, but just enough to make me smile fondly.

Classical Whale Symphony

Soft instrumental music was lilting in the background, and the sun’s watery rays were streaking in through the recently rain-washed window-panes. It was a beautiful week-end morning, and the kitchen was bursting with activity. The children were helping by putting away the dishes as noisily as possible. I was making a mess of things by changing the menu nimbly depending on what my refrigerator had. (Grocery shopping had taken a backseat the past few days and rations were thin on the ground)

The children were giggling about something when the teenage daughter said to hearty nods from her little brother. “By the way, what is this blasted toing-toing music you are listening to?”

“Melodious and uplifting for the soul, my dears. Classical Instrumental Music. Changes the way neurons interact.”

She shook her head, “Changes the way my nerves react!”and changed it to something that made my eardrums pick up the dishes and bang them viciously inside my head, while she chatted. Teenagers, I tell you!

“Whales like Classical Music.” , I said weakly.

“Well, I’m not a whale am I?” said she giving me a fish-like look- not the fishy look, the glassy gleam. I saw the piscean divergence in the gene and agreed. Though she could be, given her favorite doodles are themes under the sea

Art work by the Daughter:

Ever since I read in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos about Whale Songs, I have been enamored with the language of music, and the myths of the whales.

Quote from Cosmos by Carl Sagan on the Humpback Whale songs:
These vocalizations are complex. If the songs of the humpback whale are enunciated as a tonal language, the total information content, the number of bits of information in such songs, is some 10 to the power of 6 bits, about the same as the information content of the Iliad or the Odyssey.

I was naturally was attracted to the book, The Symphony of Whales by Steve Shuch. It is based on a true story in a village near the Arctic circle. The onset of Winter had been swift, and a pod of whales found themselves iced in near Siberia. Unable to get out in time, the whole pod faced death in the iced-in waters.

symphony_of_whales

According to the book, a child, Glashka, who had always been blessed with the ability to hear Whale song heard them over the sound of the snowy storm. That night, they came to her in her dreams, and she knew they must be in trouble.

The next morning her father gathered the villagers and off they went to a sound over 30 miles away by dog sleigh looking for the pod of whales. It was true. The whales were in trouble. The pod had not anticipated the icing in of the waters so quickly, and were facing death. The villagers from all the neighboring villages started chipping at the ice to cut through the blocks of ice, so that the whales could surface and breathe.

“Look!”, said Glashka’s grandmother. “See how the whales are taking turns, how they give the younger ones extra time for air.”

The village elders had also radioed for help. A ship, an icebreaker, Moskva, was on its way to help.

The story, is based on a real incident that happened in the narrow Senyavina Straits of Siberia. Over 3000 beluga whales had been trapped by the rapidly freezing waters in 1984-1985. For seven weeks, the people of the Chukchi peninsula, and the crew of the Moskva risked their lives to save the whales.

The story does not end there. Once Moskva had cleared the way, the whales had to follow the ship out into the open seas, but they were reluctant to do so. The crew tried playing whale song to lure them. While they reacted to the music, they were not assured of human intent, and were still scared of the engine sound. They lurked in the waters.  Then they tried Classical Instrumental Music.

“The crew found some classical music. First, the sweet sounds of violin and violas, next the deeper notes of the cellos and, deepest of all, the string basses…and way up high, a solo violin…
Everyone fell silent as the music carried over the waters.”

That had done the trick. The ship’s engines started and the whales slowly followed the icebreaker out into the open ocean.

Would this heartwarming episode make it into Whale Song? That humans can be helpful too? I don’t know, but I do hope it makes it into our myths – maybe as one embracing a humane side to humans.

Dum inter homines sumus, colamus humanitatem – Seneca

As long as we are human, let us be humane

Read also:

Cosmic Nature of Living

Weaving The Sequins of Time

New York Times Archived Article on the Incident

The Cry of Natural Symphonies

Regular readers of this blog know what a pesky cricket I can be when it comes to babbling about nature. If I see one of those news articles about hippos dwindling in number, I grieve.  The day I saw a ninety foot tree logged in our neighborhood, I grieved. I had seen the number of birds that roosted in the tree every evening as dusk fell, and I felt that we lost out on all that natural chitter for no good reason.

I moon about hills and flop around pictures of beautiful Mother Earth and all that in spite of negligible botanical and zoological knowledge. Ducks and Canadian Geese I will bucket as one, hippos and rhinos I draw about the same (one with a horn and one without).

I am also one for natural sounds – I like to listen to the cascading brook or the patter of the rain. I like to be able to say, “Coo! Did you hear that blue kingfisher? Easily distinguishable by that rich guttural sonic burst.” So, one can readily imagine why I picked up a book called ‘The Animal Orchestra’ by Bernie Krause. I must say the book was a revelation of sorts.

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Most of us have an idea about the damage we are wreaking on Earth. We are aware of over population, we are aware of shocking deforestation and we are aware of global warming. What this book gives us is another perspective to the problems that face Earth.

Bernie Krause is a musician who has since turned to recording the natural sounds around him. He has recorded the forest areas before and after selective logging operations, he has dipped his receivers into a coral reef to hear the natural sounds, he has recorded in the depths of the rain forest, and the great barren deserts and the frozen tundra.

I have written about Biophony before with a link to Bernie Krause’s recording on NPR before: https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2015/01/14/cacophony-for-biophony-socialization-for/

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Birds
Birds

What Bernie Krause finds with his recordings is that the human touch affects biophony in unimaginable ways. You can hear some of his recordings at thegreatanimalorchestra.com. Even if unable to read the book, please try to listen to some of the sound tracks on the site. It makes for an enriching experience.

There are a number of passages in the book that I can go back to re-read any number of times. One such passage is the one where he refers to a beaver recording. In a remote lake in Minnesota, some wardens of the preserve, blew up a beaver dam killing most of the beaver young and females. The recording was taken later that evening, and describes the sounds of the grieving beaver male. He says that to date it is the most heart-rending sound he has ever heard made. A poignant sadness to it that the most heart-rending human music cannot even come close to.

Or of the time he describes the sonic variances between the sounds of orcas in captivity and the sounds of the pod from which the orcas were captured in the wild. The ones in the wild were always “filled with energy and vitality”. While the captive vocalizations were “palpably lethargic and slow”.

He talks off a recording he took where a logging company resorted to selective logging i.e. deliberately taking a few trees here and there so as to not disturb the ecosystem much. However, the sounds recorded before the logging operation and after have perceptibly changed. The pictures taken later show a fairly decent rebound of the wilderness, but the biophonic recordings  give us a different perspective – the more disturbing and truthful perspective. Though the area looked wild enough, the great natural symphony never bounced back.

From a BBC program titled ‘A Small Slice of Tranquillity‘: There were certain sounds such as breathing, footsteps, a heartbeat, birdsong, crickets, lapping waves, and flowing streams that people described as tranquil. Researchers demonstrated that such sounds stimulate the limbic system in the brain, resulting in the release of endorphins and a feeling of serenity. The program says that tranquillity is an elemental acoustic foundation upon which we can rest our mental processes.

By definition a tranquil area is one that is this many miles from the nearest road, away from the sonic boom of aircraft etc. In the 1960s UK had more than 40 tranquil areas, now there are less than 5.

Bernie Krause concluded that  the book on a note that I cannot help agreeing with. He says that he is asked almost at the end of every lecture what we can do to help preserve our remaining natural environments. He says: “It’s easy: leave them alone and stop the inveterate consumption of useless products that none of us need.”

The Noetic Touch to the Poetic Muse

A Version of this article appeared in India Currents Mar 2017 issue titled ‘Muse, Tweens & Teens’

The husband may not be able to carry a tune to get the car parked, but you can’t fault him with lyrics. In fact, he once won a singing competition.  The judges pleaded with him to not sing, but to simply recite the beautiful words in the song, and their team sailed home with the cup (or whatever it is these college competitions have the budget to give).  He won it solely on the strength of his lyrics. For being able to appreciate the beauty of the poetry in the lyrics. The husband’s Antakshiri prize is rather like Bertie Wooster’s Scripture prize, and is much bandied about in our home.

It is also the husband who stops a song from lilting and mesmerizing and repeats the words – his eyes shining with the hidden meaning in the rhythmic poetic delights of the verse. I must admit some of the songs have such a beautiful lyrical quality about them, that had he not stopped and replayed them, I would have been completely lost in the melody of the piece. When your breath produces a rainbow or the mists clear to reveal your innermost thoughts or whatever it is, it makes you smile a little at the metaphor. Things you would not ordinarily stop to think and appreciate.


முன் அந்திச் சாரல் நீ
முன் ஜென்மத் தேடல் நீ
நான் தூங்கும் நேரத்தில்
தொலைதூரத்தில் வரும் பாடல் நீ
பூ பூத்த சாலை நீ
புலராத காலை நீ
விடிந்தாலும் தூக்கத்தில்
விழி ஓரத்தில்
வரும் கனவு நீ..

Incidentally, the guy who waxes lyrical at hidden meanings in poetic songs is also the guy who listens to ‘Why this kolaveri kolaveri dee?’ and introduced me to what is known as ‘Gaana’ songs. Viz. stuff that makes you want to sit down and pull out each strand of hair one at a time.

One day the daughter set out to make me listen to some of the songs that their generation listens to. You know the cool stuff?  So, we did, and I was wondering when the husband who usually listens with her, will stop the song to appreciate and discern inner meanings and things, but he did not find the need to:

Won’t you have a cup of coffee with me? We used to drink coffee together, but don’t anymore. I miss you when I drink coffee these days.

There was no hidden meaning – could the coffee refer to life? But still there was no building on the coffee theme. Hardly the kind of stuff that needs the brain cells to stir.

“Are there any other songs that we can listen to – you know where it is not a guy yearning for a girl, or vice-versa”, I asked. “Or with those wonderful hidden meanings like in poems?”

The daughter shook the head. “Well, teenagers mostly listen to stuff about love”, she said rolling her eyes. “Especially famous songs ma – it is like you are just talking with a guitar strumming in the background.”, said the daughter scornfully.

poetic_lyrics

I am not a teenager anymore, so I can’t say whether the teens today are happy with the fare laid out in front of them, but I would have liked some variety. Sure, it is the time for the stirrings of the teenage hormones and what-not, but that is not the only awakening one finds in the teenage body and mind is it?

It is also the time for confusion about life and career choices, the time when it truly feels like you can tap into your reserves and see how well you can perform in that game, or how competitive you can get on that track. It is the time the mind is grappling trigonometry and unraveling the beautiful complexity of organic chemistry, the time you are surprised at the lucidity with which artists can tap into their inner stamina and creativity and unleash things on canvas or on stage. It is the time for broadening of our intellectual horizons, and the time to goof off and make questionable choices with friends. It is the time you freak out after lighting candles on the Ouija board.

https://nourishncherish.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/friggatriskaidekaphobia/

It is the time you read Dostoevsky and ponder upon life. It is the time you make fun of soppy love stories, but secretly hope for your own Prince Charming one day. It is a time of intense moral learnings and the time when crushes are a part of life.

You know how we see these caricatures in cartoons, with an abnormal potato sized head tottering on pea sized bodies? It seems the song industry is like that when it comes to love. Sure love is a potent force, but is all love of the sexual kind? Surely not. Why not write a beautiful song about friendship, why not write about abrasive teachers and the camaraderie that goes on with the children while dealing with it? Or a funny song about goofing off PE.

Teenage angst is a whole package, it does not just mean broken hearts and tears when people fall apart. If song lyrics are stuck in teen brains all day long, why not give it some work and smile inwardly when you get that hard metaphor?

Here is a call to all you smart teenagers, pre-teens out there. Dazzle us with your breadth and depth of your making sense of the world. For as adults, we still don’t know, but most of us have given in to the familiarity of routine and the rigmarole of paying bills. What we need is the thirst and energy of youth, and that you can gift to us with your poetic lyrics, your songs and your view of the troubled world.

How do you solve a problem like Maria?
 How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
 How do you find a word that means Maria?
 A flibbertigibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!

Many a thing you know you'd like to tell her
 Many a thing she ought to understand
 But how do you make her stay
 And listen to all you say
 How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Castor Oil, Running and Other Things

In a moment of weakness the husband and I signed up for a half marathon together. The fact that it was on my birthday was the clincher. Every time I participate in a running event, I love to see the placards that the folks use to encourage the runners. This time did not disappoint either. In fact, given that the course hugged the coastline for the most part, we had a fun run on the whole. There was music throughout the course. African drums, a senior citizen band, piano, bagpipes – you name it. Every mile there was something to look forward to. The Big Sur half marathon was truly a gift for the ears, eyes, heart and mind.

Picture from : http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/
Picture from : http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/

Image Courtesy: http://www.bigsurhalfmarathon.org/

The incident I am about to relate happened after the Mt. Whitney hike but before the half marathon. It is important to get the chronological order right for what I am about to relate stalled the half-marathon practice for a good three weeks. It was about the time that Indian families around the globe were navigating chaos in their kitchens while celebrating Diwali. But there was a chaos of another kind in our household. The little fellow had fallen ill and was kept home from school. As the fever subsided, he started complaining of stomach pains. He was ill and his pain induced sympathy in the onlooker (there was probably about 86% pain and 14% drama, but all the same).

One day after a stern morning at the Doctors and a particularly lethargic pharmacy visit, I walked into the house dazed and stopped in my tracks. I must also mention that I had not really slept well in days. At first, I thought it was a hallucination I was having. There, in front of me were two grown men (father and grandfather) and a lady (grandma) baring their stomachs and massaging castor oil into it. Not only that, they were smacking their lips like it was tasty business and rolling their heads like they were in a spa and getting a first rate massage from a fantastic masseuse. “Err..” I managed to say after a moment of stunned silence, when the tummy-rubbing adults turned to me, nodded and went about their belly business again. A moment later, I think the husband realized that the scene before me was not normal, and told me that they had decided to try the placebo effect with the toddler in pain. They told him that if he rubbed a little bit of castor oil on his stomach, he would feel much better, and the fellow was resisting – great big tears rolling down his cheeks, looking miserable. So, they decided to go in for a demonstration of sorts.

The daughter sometimes shows wisdom beyond her years and had refused flat. She was peeking at the scene from a safe distance, lest she be pulled in. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. Our laughing was so infectious that the son forgot his misery for a shining few minutes and reluctantly smiled too. It was beautiful to see.

Let me yank you back to the half-marathon now. It was around the eighth mile that I began having misgivings about the race. Till then, it was music, running, and coastal views. But around 8th or maybe the 9th mile, the mind started playing its little tricks on me. What was I thinking?  Music? I could have listened to some of that at home. Running: wouldn’t a 3 mile run have done the trick? Coastal views? I could have driven here with a picnic basket and so on. The husband, who was running with me, was his usual effervescent self and I urged him to go ahead because I was developing a knee grind. I ran on a little slower than usual when I saw a person with a board that said,

What seemed like a good idea 4 months ago, doesn’t seem so brilliant now, does it?

That placard did for me what castor oil did to the tummy ache. I burst out laughing, and suddenly, there was a certain energy in my stride, a determination in my gaze. The husband slowed down to join me and we ran on together determined to make the best of it.

Happy Thanksgiving Folks and Laugh. Laugh as heartily as you can.

P.S: The son is fine now