Article by Gerry Vassilatos
HE listened and closed his eyes as the rolling waves of sound poured over and through his being. Thrilling, intoxicating, the hysteria of heaven, the enthralled and frightening flight of angels. Electrifying. Messaien’s organ music signalled messages of meaning, titanic foghorns ululating among dimly perceived near-worlds. Olivier Messaien, master composer of musical expressionism, used the ground thrumming tones of great Parisian cathedral organs to evoke sensations which may only be called otherworldly. Masterfully macabre. Black foundations, blue pillars, and rainbow ceilings.
Sound, rhythm, and space. Ultra-chromatic chord frames, rising like rock walls from the black depths. And immense stellar crystallizations, radiating tonal perfumes through deep and black radiant space. Lovely and lyrically swooping melodies, the flight of birds through delicate limbs. And melodic lines, reaching up toward unknown depths of space, each had their foundation in ultrabass tones of rooted depth. The basso profunda of Messaien are the critical foundations, the strong vertical pillars of an immense architecture which extends beyond performance walls. He scoured the deep and unreachable roots of worlds to hold his musical cathedrals together. Such majesty and grandeur of sound! Rich in the intelligence which flooded and made the world, the musical currents and the atmosphere of tones. Fluidic music and meaning.
The most fundamental signals which permeate this world are inaudible. They not only surpass our hearing, but they undergird our being. Natural infrasounds rumble through experience daily. There manifestations are fortunately infrequent and incoherent. Infrasound is inaudible to human hearing, being of pitch below 15 cycles per second. The bottom human limit. The plynth. The foundation. Infrasound is not heard, it is felt. Infrasound holds a terrible secret in its silent roar.
Infrasound produces varied physiological sensations which begin as vague “irritations”. At certain pitch, infrasound produces physical pressure. At specific low intensity, fear and disorientation. Nazi propaganda engineers methodically used infrasound to stir up the hostilities of crowds who were gathered to hear their madman. The results are historical nightmares.
At a very specific pitch, infrasound explodes matter. At others, infrasound incapacitates and kills. Organisms rupture in its blast. Sea creatures use this power to stun and kill prey.
The swelling bass tones of the cathedral seem as though they can burst the very pillars which uphold the ancient vaults. Stained glass windows have been known to erupt in a shower of colored fragments from the organ’s basso profunda. Impulsed ultrabass tones…thunder. Somewhere in the almost inaudible roll of these basement sounds there was a devastating and fearful power.