All music is based on relations between sounds, and a careful study of the numbers by which these relations are ruled brings us immediately into the almost forgotten science of musical symbolism… We expel the heavenly element from music when we obliterate the possibilities of contacts with spiritual forces by disfiguring the intervals. –Alain Danielou
Percussionist Jonathan Haas likes to say he counts for a living. The mathematical relationships in every aspect of music have fired the imaginations of ancient cultures everywhere. Mozart’s music, for example, is infused with the numerological traditions of the Freemasons. The Chinese ascribed mystical import to many numbers: (1) for The One Tone, (2/octave) for the T’ai Chi, the primal differentiation of The One; (3/perfect fifth) the Trinity of Yin/Yang/Union, (5) pentatonic scales, (7) the seven notes of a major scale, and (12) the Twelve Tones of the Zodiac in the chromatic scale.
One of the obvious truths every musical mathematical numerological person encounters is the simple fact that the perfection of numbers is never absolutely reflected in music or nature. The planetary alignments and conjunctions Kepler and others studied always turn out to be a little off from harmonic perfection. Pythagoras discovered the “comma” difference between twelve perfect fifths and an octave. The number twelve, which in the Pythagorean, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek and Chaldean cosmological systems all represented the universe itself, was never the harmonic returning point the ancients wished it would be. 12 fifths do not equal an octave. Three major thirds do not equal an octave. Four fifths minus a third do not equal an octave. To the early Christians, this was proof of original sin, or our fall from grace. Eve took one bite from that apple and wham! The cosmic/musical order was out of whack forever. The Hindu music theorists held that if the universe were perfect and harmonies were flawless, the universe would collapse from its own perfect symmetry into the Void. So these mathematical kinks kept the universe alive! Bach embraced tuning compromises close to our modern-day 12-eq system as a way of trying to imitate the perfection of God’s heavenly realms. The world isn’t perfect, the great numerological composer thought, but we can imitate heavenly perfection by stretching and squeezing the tunings of our instruments to more closely imitate Divine Impeccability. In ancient times, music was an algebra of metaphysical abstractions. Alain Danielou, in his book Music and the Power of Sound (page 8), sees these commas in an entirely different light : “The fifths form a spiral whose sounds, coiled around themselves, can never meet. For us, this limitless spiral can be the narrow gate that will allow us to escape from the appearance of a closed universe, to travel to other worlds and explore their secrets. Only by respecting these subtle differences can the edifice of sounds become one of the ways of spiritual realization.”
When it comes to the number 53, my numerologist friends can be a bit stumped at first. There are few obvious spiritual traditions that have explored the spiritual significance of that number (except maybe this guy, who thinks a “53-name” can be bad luck: https://www.lucky-name-numerology.com/numerology-meanings-18.htm ). Unlike numbers like 3, 5, 7 and 12, 53 is a bit of a tabula rasa in this realm. Some numerologists talk about the combining of the numbers 5 and 3 to create angelic energies. And strangely enough, the ancient Chaldeans and others stopped their compound-number numerology at 52! I like the idea that 53 is relatively unexplored territory, even for numerologists.
My friend John Saceli is a numerological trickster. I asked him about the significance of 53-eq and he had a hard time at first, before coming up with this: “Well, let’s see: 5 is feminine, Venus number. 3 is synthesis, fusion. 53 is an 8, prosperity, sidewise infinity. So 53 note music is creative sex with infinity bringing prosperity to all. Took awhile, but you finally broke through. (Italians will understand this music first).”
Music is the soul of geometry. –Paul Claudel
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