Friday, November 30, 2007

Music and the Dance of Creativity

A link to this video can be found at

A link to this video can be found at

As a composer, I create things for a living. Some people say "oh, I'm not creative." I say "everybody's creative!". The above video is of me chatting with one of my favorite musicians, Jack Semple, about some of the ideas that surround this blog entry, and the ideas I explore in my book.

Creativity is the one thing each and every one of us do every moment of our lives: our conversations are unscripted, our actions unchoreographed, it's all one big creative improvisation. And the process of chance, choice, and circumstance that moves our universe from the big bang to the enfolded end is, at its root, a creative process as well.

Here are two things I have been saying with this project: "life is any process that becomes interested in what happens next"; and "that which ceases to change ceases to exist". In a previous blog entry called "How to Make a Universe" we imagined starting from quantum indeterminacy, selecting a starting point and a successive series of quantum frames which become the line of time for a particular universe. Keeping in mind that for our universe, each quantum frame is a particular "now" that is one planck length away from the next, we can see how the patterns in the Information that becomes our Reality can have groupings and interactions, and places that those resulting interference patterns and shapes begin and end. Whether we're talking about vibrating superstrings, memes, or life itself, the moment that something stops changing/vibrating/interacting as we move from one quantum frame to the next, the thing that is represented by those motions ceases to become part of the timeline being created: which brings to mind an eternal dance of creativity, both at the quantum level and out here at the physical level as we navigate on our fourth dimensional line of time through the fifth dimensional probability space available to us, which is curled up down at the planck length for each successive "now".

In his wonderful and enlightening book, "This is Your Brain on Music", Daniel Levitin (as a neuroscientist and former rock musician/engineer/producer) reveals some startling things about the dance of information that is encoded into music. According to Daniel, in the majority of the world's languages, the verb "to sing" also means "to dance" - which shows us how intimately tied together music and the physical expression of emotion are for we human beings. He also reveals that scans of neural activity in people who are listening to, performing, or even composing music reveal that this is not a primarily-right-brain function as many had surmised: in fact, activities involving music appear to trigger activity in almost all parts of the brain that have been studied in Dr. Levitin's research.

As a composer, of course, I admit to a strong bias towards any research that shows how magical and fully engaging music can be, and any time that I am asked to create a piece of music I marvel at music's power to connect emotions across space and time, to entrain people's heartbeat or breath, to cause them to move in a joyful way or become agitated and fearful. All of this ties in to the ideas that we have been talking about here: we are all patterns in time and space, memes and spimes that are interacting to create life as we know it.

We are also part of really big picture memes, which are patterns in the highest dimensions that have caused our universe as it exists to be the one that we're in, and saying this is not necessarily invoking higher spiritual powers: it is a simple statement of fact to say that our universe exists as one out of many possible universes within the multiverse, and the patterns that organized the information that became our reality are part of the creativity, the grouping and symmetry, that is innate within any pattern, be that random or guided.

There's a great Google Tech Talks video featuring Dr. Stuart Hameroff, who says that modern consciousness research has been exploring how every instant that the brain interacts and processes the incoming data from the external world can be thought of as a "frame" of consciousness, and this is being referred to by researchers as a "bing". According to their studies the average human being is operating at somewhere between 30 and 90 "bings" per second. In my field, this seems significant because the lowest note on a piano is at 28 cycles per second, and video in North America historically has been shown at 29.97 frames per second: both numbers being just on the bottom edge of that "bings per second" range. In other words, for human beings any repetitive pattern that is above 30 cycles per second tends to be perceived as being continuous (musical notes and quantum frames of time, for instance), and vibrations or patterns that repeat more slowly than that begin to be perceived as individual events.

In Imagining the Tenth Dimension, we're playing with ways of visualizing reality that encourage us to think about the really big picture of the underlying structures and patterns that contribute to the universe we live in. In terms of memes as being ideas that are connected across time and space, music is one of the most powerful and flexible tools we have at our disposal for helping us to see how it all fits together in the dance of vibrations and patterns that are part of our beautiful and creative universe. This is probably why one of the reviewers for my book described it as a "strangely 'musical' way of imagining superimposed dimensions".

Whether we're talking about quantum physics or creativity, it all seems to keep centering on our role as conscious observers: our "bings per second" rate shows why, for us, everything above about 30 cycles per second begins to blur together into continuous waves, while everything slower than that dividing line is perceived as individual events. In musical terms, sliding through those more and more separated events would take us through rhythms, note durations, phrases, repeating structures within a composition, entire musical pieces, the other times that same musical piece was performed, the other times in history that elements from within the piece were used, and the connections that those elements have to the big-picture memes that give those elements their emotional or physical connection, again and again throughout the history of our world.

To sing is to dance, to be alive is to be creative, and our universe itself is a creative process. There is a sliding scale of vibrations that can exist within our universe --with the fastest wavelength possible being at the planck length and the slowest being the single cycle from the big bang to the end of the universe-- and with our consciousness right at the center point of that set of vibrations.

Now, here is a version of one of the 26 songs attached to this project which explores that idea: "Big Bang to Entropy". A previous blog lists the lyrics: this is a new version of the song performed by Ron Scott. While our consciousness tends to think of vibrations slower than 30 cycles per second as individual events, it's fun (and perhaps mind-blowing) to also think about expanding our perception to think of those much longer repeating patterns as also being notes and songs, that we really could hear if only we slowed down and expanded our conscious perception of the universe.

Enjoy the journey,

Rob Bryanton

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