Many people the world over question and wonder why the sounds of the beautiful ballads of yesteryear are slowly disappearing from radio play sheets all over the world. They have been replaced by a tsunami of meaningless cacophonies running to a cannonade of industrial rhythms and utterly meaningless dross for lyrics.A huge audience of over sixties all over the world have little to listen to that might still speak of sentiment, innocence and the expression of feeling in melody that once brought, if not a tear to one’s eye, a recognisance of human feelings outside the binary machine mindedness that now seems to run so much of our world.The ballad, the folk song, the cultural narrative, that explored human feelings is no more celebrated in the world of western music and the great personalities of voice and style have all but died out. The great ballads that signified standards of melody and lyric are all but gone from the ear. These songs are sung for records no more.
It all came to an end with the advent of music that emulated the dissonance of road traffic and the factory floor. Music with more and more dissolute discordant percussive threads and less coherence connecting melody with lyric, became the order of the day. The apotheosis of calmer more reflective norms followed in a rush and became the order of the popular musical way of things. The body and not the mind became the transcendent resolve of broadcast offerings. What they call the ‘beat box’ in the industry had arrived.
But why did this happen. Is it simply progress. What brought about this tirade and the subsequent loss of sanity, form and shape in natural popular music norms so quickly. The experts say that that the greatest thrust of it, all took just a single decade to happen. That decade was between the middle nineteen fifties and nineteen sixties.
I believe it happened so fast and with such seeming fury because the English speakers, the world’s richest most influential ethno/cultural group that identified the Occidental personality most, the Celtic-Anglo-Saxon cartel, was changing quantumly and hardening up in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s to merge with the powerful dictates of a rapidly emerging industrial social format, especially in the USA. The entire psychological base of the Euro-Caucasoids was firming up and being de-sensitised in terms of human empathetic resolves. This happened with a storm force of artificially produced mental imperatives that required less orientation towards ‘people minded-ness’ and more orientation towards ‘systemic machine minded-ness’.
The greatest influence in modern music, the music of African Americans, has always been true and gloriously natural fare. The human spirit in torture, shame and contrived out of its natural context in Africa, was turned into Spirituals, Soul, Blues and later Jazz, as the negro social lament turned the wretchedness the white Euro Caucasian had visited on them into the triumphant under-base of most of North America’s best and most meaningful music to this day. It was of course a natural palliative that arose from an inner protest at the degradation visited on the human spirit in enslavement. All this was to become one of the greatest cultural treasures of an entire species. It was all based on the natural beat of body rhythms and no synthetic tempo, or timbre, entered the paradigm. Not so with the Euro Caucasoids. They were to go synthetic. Their modern musical inspirational centre, mostly euro-folk and country music narratives, was to become something artificial and insidious. Rock, Punk, Metal, Heavy Metal, Grunge, and more recently Hip hop, Techno etc. The synthesised machine beat had truly arrived.
Of course it all may be seen as progress. As the development of new ways of perceiving and developing the audio art forms. The real question is – was it natural change or something more contrived, more artificial and pernicious at root.
Is there a single propulsion root to it all, or is it just a natural change of tastes commensurate with changing social trends. Could there be a physiological organic root to it and if so what could that root be. Recent research may point to a clue. The answer may well lie in the womb itself. It all could begin in the central atrium that admits all life, literally and physically.
A look at the female womb with a new life in it will clearly show that the baby is set cosseted in a warm tightness of soft tissue and water. We were all taught at school that sound travels better in water than in air. In fact it travels about fifteen times faster in a solid medium and about five times faster in a liquid medium, than in air, dependent on temperature. Current research into the inter-uterine influence and post-natal influences of sound on living things provides very interesting reading. Some great research was done by Giselle Whitwell on this theme, I quote:
I observed that lullabies were relegated to the past: young mothers no longer knew this folk song tradition. Michel Odent, M.D., believes that women have a profound need to sing to their babies but that the medicalization of birth has upset this process. In the past, women all over the world have sung lullabies to their babies. These were very important because as we now know the fetus is having first language lessons in the womb. The inflections of the mother tongue are conveyed not only through speech but most importantly through song. The singing voice has a richer frequency range than speech. In fact, studies in other disciplines such as linguistics and musicology (e.g., David Whitwell, 1993) point out that there was a time when speech was song and therefore singing is the older of the two.
Few young Occidental mothers know how to sing a lullaby now. I don’t know if they will recognise one if it is played to them. That is assuming that they will actually listen to it anyway. Giselle Whitwell goes on to discuss the subject at length in her fascinating paper: The importance of Prenatal Sound and Music.:
“Babies born of deaf mothers miss these important first lessons in language development. French pioneer Dr. Alfred Tomatis mentions being intrigued by the fact that song birds hatched by silent foster mothers can’t sing. What the baby learns in utero are the intonational patterns of sound and the frequencies of a language in his/her particular culture. Frequency is the level of pitch measured in Hertz (Hz.) This range varies between 16 to 20,000 Hz. There is very little distortion of the mother’s voice as heard by the fetus whereas other external voices sound more muffled, especially in the higher frequencies. According to Rubel (1984), the fetus is responsive first to lower frequencies and then to higher ones. Verny and others have noted that babies have a preference for stories, rhymes, and poems first heard in the womb. When the mother reads out loud, the sound is received by her baby in part via bone conduction. Dr. Henry Truby, Emeritus Professor of Pediatrics and Linguistics at the University of Miami, points out that after the sixth month, the fetus moves in rhythm to the mother’s speech and that spectrographs of the first cry of an abortus at 28 weeks could be matched with his mother’s. The elements of music, namely tonal pitch, timbre, intensity and rhythm, are also elements used in speaking a language. For this reason, music prepares the ear, body and brain to listen to, integrate and produce language sounds. Music can thus be considered a pre-linguistic language which is nourishing and stimulating to the whole human being, affecting body, emotions, intellect, and developing an internal sense of beauty, sustaining and awakening the qualities in us that are wordless and otherwise inexpressible.
The research of Polverini-Rey (1992) seems to indicate that prenates exposed to lullabies in utero were calmed by the stimulus. The famous British violinist Yehudi Menuhin believes that his own musical talent was partly due to the fact that his parents were always singing and playing music before he was born.
The sound environment of the womb is very rich. There are various interpretations as to the noise level, ranging between 30 to 96 dB. (decibel being a measure of sound intensity or loudness). A whisper can register 30 dB., a normal conversation is about 60 dB. and rush hour traffic can average about 70 dB. On the other hand, shouted conversations and motorcycles reach about 100 dB. Rock music has been measured as 115 dB. and the pain threshold begins at 125 dB. Recent research with hydrophones have revealed that the womb is something comparable to what we experience in our environment between 50 and 60 dB. Uterine sounds form a “sound carpet” over which the mother’s voice in particular appears very distinct and to which the prenate gives special attention, because it is so different from its own amniotic environment. These sounds are of major importance because they establish the first patterns of communication and bonding. Some researchers have discovered that newborns become calmer and more self-regulated when exposed to intrauterine sound. The soothing sounds of the ocean and water are probably reminiscent of the fluid environment in which we began life. Tomatis suggests that the maternal heart beat, respiration and intestinal gurgling all form the source for our collective attraction to the sound of surf and may have to do with our inborn sense of rhythm. Prenatal sounds form an important developmental component in prenatal life, because they provide a foundation for later learning and behaviour. With foetal sound stimulation the brain functions at a higher level of organisation.
The ear first appears in the 3rd week of gestation and it becomes functional by the 16th week. The foetus begins active listening by the 24th week. We know from ultrasound observations that the foetus hears and responds to a sound pulse starting at about 16 weeks of age and this is even before the ear construction is complete. The cochlear structures of the ear appear to function by the 20th week and mature synapses have been found between the 24th and 28th weeks. For this reason most formal programs of prenatal stimulation are usually designed to begin during the third trimester. It is clear that the sense of hearing is probably the most developed of all the senses before birth.
Four-month-old foetuses can respond in very specific ways to sound; if exposed to loud music their heart beat will accelerate. A Japanese study of pregnant women living near the Osaka airport had smaller babies and an inflated incidence of prematurity – arguably related to the environment of incessant loud noise. Chronic noise can also be associated with birth defects. There is a report from a mother who was in her 7th month of pregnancy when she visited the zoo. In the lion’s enclosure, the animals were in the process of being fed. The roar of one lion would set off another lion and the sound was so intense she had to leave the scene, as the foetus reacted with a strong kick and left her feeling ill. Many years later, when the child was 7 years of age, it was found that he had a hearing deficiency in the lower-middle range. This child also reacts with fear when viewing TV programs of lions and related animals. There are numerous reports about mothers having to leave war movies and concerts because the auditory stimulus caused the foetus to become hyperactive.
Alfred Tomatis notes that the ear is “the Rome of the body” because almost all cranial nerves lead to it and therefore it is considered our most primary sense organ. Embryonically, according to him, the skin is differentiated ear, and we listen with our whole body.
In order to better understand the role of music in its elements of rhythm and melody, we must briefly clarify the two parts of the inner ear. These are the vestibular system and the cochlea. The vestibular system controls balance and body movements, including the integration of movements which make up the rhythm of music-making the vestibular system the more archaic. And according to Paul Madaule (1984) “it is in fact because of the vestibular system that music seems to have an impact on the body.” At around 4 ½ to 6 weeks gestational age the vestibular and the cochlear systems become differentiated, at 7 ½ the auditory ossicles start to grow, and at 4 ½ months the ear of the fetus is already adult-like in shape and size.
The cochlear system enables the transformation of acoustic vibrations into nervous influx, thus allowing the perception of melodies which carry higher frequencies. Knowing this, one can have a better understanding of the intimate relationship and unity of rhythm and melody. George Gershwin expressed this nicely: “Music sets up a certain vibration which unquestionably results in a physical reaction.” With this in mind, we should choose for early music stimulation melodies and rhythms that are simple.
Tomatis has a unique view of the function of the human ear going beyond what is traditionally assumed. He regards it as neither an instrument solely for hearing and listening, nor an organ for the maintenance of equilibrium and verticality. For him the ear is primarily a generator of energy for the brain, intended to give a cortical charge which is then distributed throughout the body “with the view to toning up the whole system and imparting greater dynamism to the human being” (Gilmor & Madaule, 1984, p. 6). Hence the importance of right sound stimulation which will lead to vocal expression, listening, and thinking. Sound, music and human development are intricately interwoven.”1
The late thirties was an age of burgeoning industrialisation as never previously experienced by humanity. All this provided a powerful schematic, both socially and environmentally, that could and indeed would condition minds to ways and means not scheduled for the human personality in the natural way of things up till then. The vast majority of people farmed and fished for a living and lived quiet lives in rural ways, where human resources were a premium. Life was hard, but the difficulties had to be shared for the sake of survival and this forged strong emotional bonds between people and the family sense was constantly marshalled for cracks and very soon resolved and repaired. This began with the womb. With the mother’s lullaby. In other words with song and melody.
Industrialisation and urbanisation changed all that. People moved from the rural straights to cities and urban environments in their thousands. The run had begun. The run that is taking us from the warmth of the human heart and giving us instead the cold, mindless, meaningless dross of hard wired systems. Human kind seems to have started its walk to become no more than an organic biological machine, serving the robotic behests of perhaps some extra terrestrial synthetic alien beings, for all that it mattered.
You can see from the above how profoundly babies might be influenced in the sound modulating womb environment. Can you imagine the influence of heavy metal, or punk rock (or whatever tirades so called modern music culture might have in store) will have on an infant in the womb. What a fiendish preparation for a new life. That will be someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister-to-be, when born.
As more and more mothers-to-be were employed in the impersonal factory lines, manufacturing modules and lived in uncongenial home environments, newborns might well have had their minds pre-conditioned more concussively and percussively here. In Europe they would do this with the sonic background of a World War. The day to day living process in this cacophony would affect the child in the womb and familiarise it with the sharp discordant tones of road traffic and industrial machines, even ballistic explosions, within the cosseted pre-natal environment, where sound is amplified through the amniotic fluid. Later in the post birth, neonatal period and early childhood, when the brain cells are growing fastest and enlivened neuronal networks are being set down, they could be further re-conditioned by the sounds of war, road traffic and the modern hard and heavy rhythmic beats of road hammers, drills and other machines. The background sound quantum of contemporary life, thrown at us from every direction, could well have reflected in later life on the tastes that decided musical enjoyment.
Those pregnant during these years were to produce progeny that would be in their teens and twenties in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s just when the complexion of modern pop music has shown the beginning of the drastic change from its previous quieter more reflective studied format, to the much more enforced and belligerent instrumental sounds of rock and pop. And so perhaps the rising quantum of force in societal living paradigms in the 30’s and 40’s translated itself in and through the womb into a mental hook that reflected it in an extra-uterine empathy with this more impersonal force. Music and words in song could never again reflect a quieter more thoughtful premise in life and living. No more the poem and the lyrical word in melody. A breed that blushes at symmetries in pitch and tone will also recoil at sentiment and erudite meaning in words. Hearts of stone, writing dead letter futures. Meaningless droll dumbed down lyrics would become the order of the day when the instrument supplanted the voice and thus the lyric. Musical composition would become the bit-stream expressed by fingers on computer keyboards and the heartbeat in the human chest would become the clock in computers. The machine mind had arrived. Human kind in the northern climes of our planet began to move as the machine. It would get worse with time for many, as the industrialisation of social formats continued. The earlier sound formats that reflected the music of far yester-years would have no inner metaphor concomitant with the sounds heard during the inter-uterine period, when impressions are exceptionally strongly retained and formatted, as circuits set down as neuronal tracks. The most powerful conditioning psycho/biologically happens in the womb. It may thus well be that we are all set in the gel that dictates our tastes in music by the time we are seven years old.
A pointer to the power of this effect is the fact that the musical instrument took over from the voice. Modern Jazz forms as distinct from the more humanly empathetic traditional form at its inception and orchestral music with explosive beats overwhelmed the entertainment industry. Words in music thus took a beating. Lyrics have to be listened to and picked out. The young were the first to lose out. They were far less likely to extrapolate meaning in a musical work with lyrics. The interest value shown about anything in and by the young mind can be measured in nano seconds. Words have little depth of meaning at an early stage in childhood when a vocabulary is being learned. It takes time for the human personality to grow and mature into the deeper meanings espoused by this vocabulary. Time that provides not just the blacks and whites of things, but also myriads of shades of grey. The subtleties that make up the whole answer and story to any question.
Modern life allows less for subtleties. For individualised well studied depth and clear thinking on matters that effect the human soul. There is often simply no time for this, with the pace of life many of us are required to lead. Modern life is geared more for so called scientific certainties and system driven imperatives. This is more so for the young, as their age related inherent lack of experience gives them a distinct handicap over and above all this disadvantage, in resolving values. They of course usually fail to recognise this loss of perspective. Something pop industry moguls count on where music is concerned. Throw the little punter, be they little in mind or body, the most ill-contrived sound excrement. Dress it up as the latest thing, the more bizarre the better, and sell it with as much media hype as possible. The ‘fledgling follies’ will lap it up and swallow any detritus and come back for dessert. You then sell them more of the same garbage, this time with a bit of cream on the top.
The Artists & Repertoire Managers of Record Companies had to have a way that quick exchanges in artists could be made to keep the ball rolling. Quality is rare and much more expensive. It also thinks for itself tends to be intelligent and is likely to have difficult and greedy agents. Easy availability and thus quantity mattered and not quality, and every sound and any sound that was different from the previous ones could be made the ‘in sound’. In this way there would be a constant stream of new faces recognisant with new sounds. They did not even need to play the musical instruments. New technology could make a goose sound good and everything could be done by proxy with the public never being aware that it was all humbug. All façade. A front. The group ‘The Monkeys’ exemplified this in the 1960’s. There were of course a few quality artists that were the genuine article. A thin skeleton that gave the whole façade some credibility.
As I have said, the new paying punter had to come predominantly from the young, the immature, mostly musically naive. The younger the better. You could sell them anything. Of course everyone is entitled to have their own taste in music without patronization and some jumped up so and so dictating tastes. But the vast majority came from non musical backgrounds and simply did not have the musical sense or erudition to question anything. The evident trash that came out as ‘pop’ could not then be questioned and dismissed as rubbish. Again one man’s trash is another’s Mozart. The punter did not know enough about music to make the judgment. It might fit somewhere in some social augury in the mind’s eye of the individual. A caucus that would not question the musical quantums laid out for them. “You could make them like anything provided you hyped it up enough”, Brian Epstein the Manager of ‘The Beatles’ is once said to have said. This all meant that the crucial weapon to achieve this would be the disc jockeys and more pertinently the schedule arrangers of the main radio networks. They chose what was to be played. In effect they dictated public taste. The commercial music lobby concentrated their guns on them, a relative few people and locked them into their own creations of public musical taste. This was further locked into particular kinds of social stratifications and the pop Guru was invented to account for it all and give it a blessing or hype it up as a respectable art form.
The whole thing was a sham from start to finish, with the shareholders of record companies the final pseudo arbitrators of taste. In fact, in ultimate irony, almost all large record Companies are owned by Conglomerates that have nothing to do with music.
Of course as I have said, taste is a very personal thing and everyone has a right to exercise it in their own way, without being held to judgment as to its veracity and aesthetic, or other, quality. But no-one’s taste should be manipulated such that it conforms to commercial interest. Commercial interests that have no sense of responsibility for keeping up standards in art or art forms. No one should be manipulated by teams of clever behavioural psychologists, and greedy unscrupulous money Moguls with irises writ large with dollar and pound signs. Be a fly on the wall at one of their board meetings and you will need to wear a protective helmet from the dulcet tones of humbug. I remember walking into a school class of 24 Beatle haircuts one week, after the first Beatle’s tour of the USA. Only one student differed. Such could be the power of public notice through the media. Such is the power open to the manipulators of public taste. Don’t we know it.
It is the strangest thing that the audience age range of the 60–90 group, who are by far the richest and the most fiscally stable of all societal groups in the Occident, of all age groups, is the least catered for by the music industry – for their tastes in music. It is they that can most afford to buy the music. The odd radio programme might give in to their behests, once in a while, under some nostalgic format or the other. 40 year old records will be dusted down and played. Is there no entrepreneur with a brain the size of a pea who can see that, in most western countries, the market for music based on the formative years of the over 60’s is nearly 40–50% of population. I had to go to Sri Lanka to find any radio station playing the melodies of yesteryear on a regular basis. The Commercial Service of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and GOLD FM – a private commercial station also broadcasting on the island paradise, had the most beautiful formats for melodies of yesteryear I had heard after listening extensively all over the planet.. It was bizarre. A nation so different in its culture, both social and religious, but here, in this island so far away from the English speaking world, day after day, night after night, were played the songs of a bygone era, in the relevant English medium without apology and with grace and enthusiasm, as I say, by several of the main radio broadcasters there. It was bizarre.
So what of the older generation and their scope for enjoying the music they love. There surely is a fortune to be made, especially through the auspices of the internet, where elderly people can buy the songs and singers of yesteryear through the simple press of a few buttons. Admittedly not many older people are computer literate enough to pick out, hear and order music over the internet. I maintain that there are enough out there to bring about a huge revival in the old ways of song, if things are simplified, through commercial products that enable more people with less technical knowledge outlooks to do this simply. The technology will be soon available in every home with a TV set to do this, without resort to the complexities of a computer. Something alas many older people resist. One great thing all this will do is to kill off the record companies and open a world of talent out there directly to the public. You will be able to make your own personal choice of what you want to listen to without being dictated to by someone else’s whims or measures of what you should hear. You will be able to order your favourite songs by title and choose to hear however many artists you want, singing a portion of the song, to enable you to decide which one to buy on a download, or a posted CD. All done from your own home and TV set.
A strange and utterly bizarre situation prevails. No-one seems to want the opportunities and perhaps fortune that awaits anyone with the business erudition to see that there is a market three times the size of the current pop music market for anyone who will record or put out, be it on the internet or elsewhere, newly recorded songs of yesteryear, or indeed new ones, sung as was done in the styles back then, by voices of and musicians of real talent recorded on contemporary recording equipment. The old nostalgic fare laid down decades ago comes set in a gel of old technology and the quality of voice and accompaniment leave much to be desired, when heard on present day audio equipment.
Why then will no one take up the challenge. It seems perhaps an entire generation is programmed. Programmed and formatted in the womb to miss the point. through no fault of their own. Could most leaders of media taste all over the Occidental world have hardened up psycho mentally to and through the concussive and percussive exploding bolts of industrial machine sounds they heard in their mothers’ wombs. It may well prove to be so. They were either conceived too late or conceived in the wrong social situations. Conceived too late to be able to appreciate the full and almost transcendental power and meaning of lyrics, expressed to make an intelligent point in music and song. They were conceived too late or conceived in the wrong social situations. through no fault of their own.
The crucial point is that the power of brain formatting when young enough can lead the way extremely powerfully for future perceptions and actions. Some might call this progress. This power is not usually recognised and much that is good and sociably valuable for the greater good of us all is thus tacitly discarded and thrown away.
Out there, somewhere in the cold metal shelves of song libraries, are still songs on fragile scratched master cutting discs, black discs and clouding silvered CDs, for those among you whose birth logistics and lineages might have had the good fortune to miss situations that are changing humankind into machine minded robots. Your mind sense might have been lucky enough to have retained a stronger sentimental sense of things and thus the music of the past. Songs where lyrics actually meant something. And were not just the meaningless indices accompanying the banal mechanised beats of road drills and steam hammers. More an industrial cacophony suitable for the factory floor as I have said.
Hear them while you still can, these songs of yester-year. Treasure them while you still have a heart-sense to appreciate them. To the religious, a sentimental heart would be a gift you have in the soul. Fewer and fewer radio broadcasts will feature these songs or singers, as things are, till one day the squeaks and grunts of transistors and diodes and the booms and thuds of the rhythms of machine noises maybe the only lullaby a baby will ever hear.
© Nigel Kerner 2010
1 ‘The Importance of Prenatal Sound and Music’ Whitwell, Giselle E. Rmt Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health, Vol. 13, No. 3/4, Spring 1999