Wednesday, April 01, 2009

What is Verdi A432?

UPDATE POSTED THURSDAY MORNING...A COMPLETION FROM YESTERDAY AS I WRAP UP MY EXPERIENCE WITH A432 TUNING ON 2 OF MY FLUTES...there is a "Part Two" marker where I picked back up if you already read the first part.

(NOTE: long read ahead...but it's cool stuff, really!)

Before I even begin, let me tell you I'm such a novice on this topic that I profess to not 'get' the overwhelming scientific and numeric calculations that are a part of tuning musical instruments. However, there are some "Cliff Notes"-type of observations that I hope I can put in layman's terms for you, because I now know enough to know I really really really am intrigued and rather excited about my short experience thus far with tuning to A432. Too, you will soon see this goes waaaay beyond just sheer numbers, ways that can potentially impact any and all of us at any time. Or not, since the 'accepted' world of music ain't changin' anytime soon...

Basically, this is a crash course in music and how it's tuned.

I will also set aside the native flute for the moment except for aside mentions...while a deeply spiritual and honored instrument through the ages up through today, the Native American flute originally had no 'tuning' insofar as scales, etc. That was a decidedly Western modification since the overwhelming majority of music is set to precise scales, tunings, etc. A true native instrument that is 'Grandfather' tuned can at first be strange to hear, but if you allow the concept of tuning to leave your brain and just 'be' with the aboriginal energy, you will gain a much deeper appreciation of things truly spiritual and raw.

I am not going to crunch through the history of tuning musical instruments, but I will say that within that topic are things a) political, b) scientific, and c) spiritual. Mention 'classical music' and even the most novice think of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach (all of 'em!), and many others, of which Verdi fits in (ever heard of the opera "AIDA"?!). Throughout Europe going back a couple of centuries was quite the blossoming of those classical greats and many more...being a church organist was akin to being royalty to some degree, and governments often commissioned musical works, be they operas, symphonies, etc...the world of classical music was VERY serious business, and highly competitive at the same time.

Modern classical instruments have come a long way in their mechanical evolution, and how instruments are tuned has, as well. If you've been to any theater involving an orchestra, you know they have the 'first chair' provide the tuning note, followed by a cacophany of notes being played by all as they make the final adjustments to their instruments before the conductor comes out. Even barroom bands have to check their strings and chords (as well as electrical connections) so that they are all in synch. But what are they tuning to, exactly? Who determines the 'accepted' value? Let me back the bus up a second so we're all on the same page...

Basic Science 101: everything has vibrational energy. Even rocks...they're made of atoms, each of which has electrons whirling in orbits around them (and more)...the point is that just because it looks big, hard, and never moves doesn't mean it is lifeless. To the contrary, it is full of energy, only we humans can't perceive it. ALL of life is full of such energy and movement. Vibrations are inescapable, no matter what and where and when...just not always identifiable. There are vibrations in the universe, vibrations within the earth, vibrations from wind, especially interacting with other objects ( the flute...air hitting a cutting edge and creating oscillating waves, plain and simple). And all that energy comes in waves of all shapes, durations, etc. If you apply the time factor to those vibrations, those waves that machines can measure the 'period' of, you get ideas of 'oscillations per second' or whatever terms and units you need to use. We can quantify such vibrations, and that's exactly what is done in the world of music.

Each musical note has it's own unique vibrational frequency...with most instruments you can adjust the 'pitch' up or down to match a 'standard'. The lower the note, the lower the frequency, The higher the note, the higher the frequency. Frequency is simply oscillations per unit of time, which for musical purposes is notated as Hz or 'hertz' in cycles per second. The title above uses A432, which is short for "A below middle C tuned to 432 Hz". Hold this thought...

Pianos ain't what they used to be, having gone through myriad modifications through the past few centuries. And so I now cut through a forest of details to the likes of Mozart and Verdi who wrote their music with "A" set at 430/432 and the C below at 256, aka 'scientific pitch'. In 1884 Verdi petitioned the Italian music commission to adopt A432 as the orchestral standard...why, you ask? What was played in Venice was not what was played in Moscow, not what was played in Paris, not what was played in Vienna, and was not what was played in London, not necessarily. "A" was tuned to anything from 420 to 470, which truly changed the overall harmonies and 'sound' of given works. Nothing was standard. And it makes a noticeable difference not only on the ears but for singers' voices, for example.

I once again will skip the mountainous information on who pressed for which tuning where. Suffice it to say there has been a long-running battle and a lot of political strong-arming to raise the pitch to A440 because it 'brightens' the sound, regardless of other deeper, underlying physics of the lower tuning. Politics. Always been a part of this ol' world, and always will be, folded in with a significant dose of Ego. To try and convey this all to you in a nutshell would be like having a picnic in hell. In 1917 a U.S. musicians federation tried to adopt A440...and in WWII, Germany's Goebbels pressed for it in 1939. Even in 1953 the International Standardizing Organization met and passed a resolution to use A440...alas, as was done in prior conventions, they did not invite any of the major musicians opposing standardizing A440, and many conveniently ignored it...and to this day still do, though A440 is what the significant body of all music is all about. Watch American Idol and listen to songs pitched to A440. Go to church and sing a hymn played with A440. Put on a CD of Bob Dylan classics and listen to songs set at...well, I don't know whattheheck his voice was music was set to...

You still with me? Now, if you want to keep the comparison at its most basic level, do you realize what this hullabaloo is all about? In terms of outright pitch, it's something on the order of a quarter tone...not even a half the pitch inbetween playing C and then the black key to the right, the tone inbetween those two notes. If you're thinking, "HUH??? THAT'S IT???" you would be justified. HOWEVER....this is where the cool stuff kicks in. It goes way beyond just a quartertone...

I will often use the expression that most humans sleepwalk through Life. Truly. They are like droids that go through daily motions and activities, participate in repetitive thoughts and behaviors and reactions as they always have, CLUELESS to matters spiritual and what's going on around them not only at higher and lower levels but at their very level. Heck, if you didn't move, many would run over you in a grocery store aisle because they have no perception of what's going on more than 6 inches outside of their body...

-------------- PART TWO --------------

You know the expression "you are what you eat"? In exactly the same way you are what you think, what you believe, what you do (which is tied in to what you think)...until you reach some moment or experience that jostles you to make your choice to change any of those paradigms within your inner 'structure'. I mentioned at the start that this A432 issue is one that is political, scientific, and spiritual (or whatever term you wish to insert that covers sensory and metaphysical aspects).

This is where I'm in a me, this is the crux of what I 'experienced', as you'll soon read. This is where the 'spiritual' aspect comes into play, cosmic vibrations, alpha brain waves, important numbers to ancient civilizations, why the number "
432" is significant. The pickle is that for the majority of this information....I simply can't adequately explain yet due to its newness. At the same time, I have this deep, deep 'knowingness' that while I can't explain it, I 'understand' and accept it, or at least the effects of it.

Bach's A440 tuning suspposedly touches only 8 of the the full twelve scale octaval overtones, where the A432 tuning incorporates the full 12 octaval overtones (ke
ep this thought handy for later). Mozart and Verdi (and others) often chose to tune to A430-432 (sometimes down to A426) because they intrinsically knew that this 'scientific tuning' (C=256) yielded the richest sounds for their works (thanks to harmonics and overtone production). Their push for A432 (or at least keeping the lower tunings) in particular also has significant root structure in several aspects of nature, ancient civilizations, and things celestial.

You've at least heard of alpha and beta brain waves...alpha is more in the subconscious realm, extremely powerful in the 'work' it can do;
the tone of alpa waves are somewhere between 7.2 and 8 Hz, with 8 being an accepted value simply for mathmatical purposes. Too, the earth itself is said to resonate at 8Hz (Schumann resonance). One important application of alpha waves are what martial arts experts and top athletes are able to harness, mentally, as they perform seemingly super-human feats. The vast majority of us empower only beta waves (14-40Hz).

Even going back before the Greeks, scientists have found musical instruments tuned to 432Hz as well as harmonics of that tuning (144Hz, for example) in drums sealed in tombs thousands of year BC. Many instruments from ancient Greece are tuned to 432; f
rom the Eluesenian Mysteries Orpheus, the god of Music, Death, and Rebirth, used instruments tuned to 432. Even if this doesn't mean much of anything to you, 432 is clearly not a random number. it had a distinct purpose that through written and etched accounts involved spiritual celebrations and connections with the gods and heavens, spanning myriad cultures and civilizations.

Many ancient temples use the 8/432 in their calculations, as well. With 8 being a 'root', 432 is both (54x8) as well as (72x3). One of the great pyramids is built
with a sea-level base of 432 of their Earath-Units. In the Teotihuacan, Mexico complex of Toltec temples used ther T-Units and built the great Pyramid of the Sun with a base circumference of 864 (2x432). Each side is 216 T-Units, which is half of 432. Legend has it the Toltecs were given these numbers by "Shaman Wizards" from the spiritual realm. (ref)

Now, you want to talk about getting left in the dust in the first couple of
paragraphs, try digesting Keppler's Harmony of the World as he explains the 'music' that exists in the heavens (written ~400 years ago!). Remember, music/notes are expressed numerically, and 432 ends up being a significant number (432 and it's multiples and derivatives). He and others have gone into extensive detailed calculations of orbits and timing and zodiacal/star-field influences, and come up with ancient tuning frequencies that involve the harmonics of 432 and 144 (i.e., for the latter, the speed of light is 144,000 miles per second). Admittedly, this is by far my most fuzzy area, but I am comfortable accepting the ideology of cosmic harmonics.

Take a deep breath. If you are a person sensitive and open to knowledge and information that most of mainstream society doesn't talk about, then the above makes sense. Not everyone can or wants to see or understand such 'unknowns', and that's their ch
oice as they journey through their Life. I reiterate that a lot of the numeric calculation 'stuff' goes over my head, but I've learned enough to know when I run across something that speaks solidly to my Truth. But let me put this into real-world terms of today. Let me tell you my experience Monday afternoon...

I had a batch of flutes just sitting in early-stage hexagonal form waiting for tuning and sanding. My flute friend Mike had pressed me on Verdi tuning and I did a lot of research to understand it as best I could. Finding a chart with all the frequencies I needed took a bit of digging, but I found a chart I'm comfortable with, which is a diagram of how James Furia (A432 proponent) tunes his keyboard (click to enlarge):

And now I bring the Native American style flute into the picture. Tuning a flute begins with establishing the fundamental, the key of the flute. You hone and craft the flue and sound hole and adjust the length of the bore until you are at the best possible sound (oh, if it were that simple!!!) In this case, I tuned the fundamental to the most appropriate note which was E324. There are inexpensive little portable meters you can use (Korg, etc.) as well as on-line tuners, which I've been opting to use. Sparing you the details, you get multiple types of data on the tuning screen, of which I simply use the Hz numbers jumping around. I made my adjustments to bring it up to that E324 I was aiming for (much more difficult to bring the pitch down than take it up, FYI).

NOTE: the NA flute ain't no orchestral instrument, in that pitch can fluctuate some with humidity and don't see a Quilted maple clarinet, for example, because it would require constant adjustment to lock in an exact tone...that's why almost exclusively Ebony and Blackwood are used given their consistent properties (and consistently expensive price, too!!!) With that said, knowing it's impossible to lock in on the exact Hz, "close" seems to be just fine...

Once I had the fundamental set, the playing barrel still had no holes yet. At this point I can drill just about any scale known to man if I wanted to. Remember not to confuse Verdi TUNING with a SCALE of any sort. This article is all about and ONLY about the vibration of notes, not what the musical intervals are between notes. I took that low E (in a gorgeous tan, shimmery Papua New Guinea Walnut, I might add!) and used the same minor pentatonic scaling I use with my regular flutes. Back and forth I went between the machines on the deck and the tuner on the computer, until I had matched the frequencies as best I could.

And then it happened. I went out on the back deck, overlooking woods, and took the flute for a serious test drive. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew what I'd already learned had to smack of some serious truths. Mind open, empty as I could get it. As I type, I'm balking...I can't put into words what I heard and felt. Too, I've always been rather sentient to vibrational energy, heard and unheard, seen and unseen.

The fullness and purity of the tones was overwhelming, and I'm hear to tell you those harmonics/overtones were popping out like Orville Redenbacher's popcorn in a warehouse fire. I've tuned many, many flutes on that deck in the same way under the same conditions, and I'd never heard such 'returns' from the woods and bouncing off the back of the house. The other thing I noticed was I didn't want to put the flute down. I kept testing all kinds of styles and techniques...and the notes above the octave were effortless to play and spot-on. I went in the house and put the flute on a nearby rack, went and grabbed something else to sand, and then would pick the flute up and play. I sat on the sofa with Mercy and just played. Later that evening I laid down on the bed and played it. What I'd read about the A432 tuning making you feel more at peace and in harmony, with richer more harmonic sounds, it was all true for me, as well. As I wrote in a flute forum, "I've been to the Mountain and seen it for myself."

The next step was odd in that I thought I'd record a sound sample with it. Admittedly, I still have some issues with high quality recording since I lost my computer tower last laptop has a lousy sound card, so I record through a digital device and then import into Adobe Audition 1.5 software for editing. This is how I make sound samples when customers want to hear a flute, or how I cut audition tapes for acting gigs sometimes. I use a bathroom as it's quiet and has that nice bright tone due to the hard surfaces. And so I recorded a softer, slow song with it, downloaded it...and though the spectral analysis had the peak sound waaaay below the 'red line', it was unusable due to the distortions that flute created in the recording device, thanks to the hard, bouncy surfaces...sounded great to my ear, but that set-up wreaked havoc for recording, and no other flute has ever done that. All that to say it convinced me all the more that there is truly something different about that "simple little ol' quartertone" drop, and I'm excited about exploring it further.

The next day I was salvaging one of my deeper Half-Pipes from a cosmetic mistake, a Red Cedar F#, and whipped it out in A432. Same result. The only 'drawback' is that unless you are playing with other instruments tuned to A432, such a flute is a solo instrument as it would be out of tune with A440 instruments.

Taking the spiritual angle one step further, I am intrigued and already convinced that in the growing world of sound/music therapy, healing through vibrational energy, that there is much to be gained by continuing to study and observe the effect A432 has on healing and recovery. Per the NA flute, I'm taking an already strongly spiritually based instrument and applying ancient healing principles into it's voicing/tuning...and what I experienced that Monday afternoon was synergy at its best. The whole exceeded the sum of the parts.


Thanks for your patience and interest. I'll be posting pics of that first flute when it's finished...already made the block, too, which is an unusual 'ram/goat' of sorts...and I'll explain why then!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your experience. This helps me in my 432 expanding database.