Music and Everything —
A Brief History of the Cosmic Octave
Text by Fritz Dobetzberger
Music combines two different frequency bands: tempo and tones. Tones are audible frequencies in the range of about 20 to 20 000 Hz and these tones are played at a certain tempo, for example at 60 bpm (beats per minute), which would be once per second (1 Hz).
For the artistic union of the two areas tempi and tones the term music is common. What is still missing is a catchy, generally used term for the art of combining all harmonic vibration ranges: For the connection of astronomical cycles or molecular frequencies with music and colors and other ranges. Hans Cousto recognized the formula for this in 1978.
What happened so far (until 1978)
All or almost all music cultures are based on scales that gradate the spectrum between one and twice the audio frequency. There is a natural reason for this: a tone that has a certain frequency resonates at double the frequency. This is illustrated by the vibrating string of a musical instrument: not only does it oscillate back and forth along its entire length, but the two halves also oscillate back and forth within themselves, and the three thirds, four quarters, five fifths, and so on. The halving can be seen most clearly. Nature alone produces twice the frequency (or half the wavelength), it proportions itself.
In occidental culture the ratio of 1 to 2 is called 'Octave', according to the seventh scale, the eighth tone is then the octave tone (lat. octō 'eight'). The octave tone is so closely related to the fundamental frequency that it is given the same name. The scale A, B,C, D, E, F, G and A forms the basis of modern music notation.
Different musical cultures differ in the way in which a spectrum is graded from one frequency to double frequency in five-, twelve- or differently graduated scales, in church or blues scales, Greek, Arabic, Indian, Chinese scales and so on and so forth.
Frequency doubling is also decisive in the spectrum of musical tempos. Twice as fast tempos are noted as whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth notes, etc.
The application of the ratio of 1:2 as the basis of music is a paradigm, a way of thinking for the (almost) entire cultural area of music. If the boundaries of this space are crossed and expanded, a new, expanded paradigm emerges.
In those days :)
In the autumn of 1978, the Swiss mathematician and music researcher Hans Cousto realized that the octave - the doubling of fequencies - could serve to artfully combine all possible vibration ranges beyond music.
How and where did Cousto come up with his idea, in which milieu? As a contemporary witness, I take the liberty of telling the following from my point of view. At that time we were a flat-sharing community in Munich, directly at the English Garden near the Monopteros in the old town house Riedlstraße 7: three floors, open doors; toilets in the half-floor; washbasins in the stairwell; common clothes shelves in the anteroom. The society called us hippies.
We travelled, especially to India, and got to know other cultures. We became interested in universal contexts, certainly inspired by Hermann Hesse's Nobel Prize-winning novel "The Glass Bead Game", in which he describes a language of signs and formulas in which mathematics and music have an equal part and which makes it possible to combine astronomical and musical formulas and to bring mathematics, architecture, art and music to a common denominator.
As musicians, painters and mathematicians, we were interested in measurement systems and harmonics. Because basic measurements such as the meter were mostly derived from nature, we wanted to know the origin of the 440 Hz chamber tone, which was established in Europe as the official tuning tone in 1939 (as we now know without a specified reference to a natural constant).
Since October 2nd, 1978 we have been using cosmic tunes. On this day, Cousto found and ate magic mushrooms, Psilocybe semilanceat in the English Garden. Thereupon he heard and saw in a vision how the planets of the solar system give a concert in a light show of rainbow colours. This led him to an eye-opener. Cousto took his pocket calculator and 'octavated' the rotation frequency of the earth. The formula is quite simple:
A rotation of the earth around its own axis takes a day with 24 hours each, 60 minutes each, 60 seconds each, i.e. 86400 seconds. At the calculator:
24 x 60 x 60 = 86400.
The reciprocal of time is frequency:
1 : 86400 = 0.000 011 574 Hz. This inaudibly low frequency was doubled by Cousto until an audible tone frequency was calculated: 25 doublings, i.e. 25 octaves, result in 388.36 Hz.
Next, he determined the octave frequency of the Earth's solar orbit. The frequency of 1 time per year is 32 octaves higher a tone with 136.10 times per second (Hz.)
I remember Cousto presenting us the octave frequencies of the earth, the moon and the planets as numbers on paper in the small room in the attic and telling us how he came up with them. Inspired by the genius of his idea, we wanted to hear these sound frequencies naturally. Since we didn't have any synthesizers or tone generators at that time, we had tuning forks made.
As one of the first experiences with the tuning fork we noticed in comparisons with record recordings and later at concerts that Indian master musicians tune their sitar very precisely to the earth-year-tone C# 136.10 Hz. The astonishing thing about it is that they tune this fundamental intuitively, without using tuning forks, without having frequency numbers ready.
That the Indian basic tone, called Sadja, father of all other tones, corresponds to the octave frequency of the earth year, did not surprise us too much, since the calculations are based on the natural octave law. What is astonishing for our occidental culture, however, is how the Indians come to this tone without knowing the numbers.
For me, the following experience was like looking through a keyhole: One day I tuned an Indian sitar with the Earth Year Tuning Fork so precisely that all other strings resonated after striking the lowest sounding string. Late at night we sat in a small circle in the room where the well tuned sitar stood. We were all in a completely relaxed mood - and heard how the sitar strings resonated and accompanied the sound of our sometimes spoken words!
Indian masters do not seem ostensibly to seek a certain tone frequency but to swing by themselves in a meditative serenity in this tone. According to my experience with the sitar resonating to the sound of the words, the mood is a relaxed and cordial one, with - I suppose - a low brainwave frequency, similar to awakening after a deep sleep, even before the onset of the usual hustle and bustle.
The violet end of the rainbow has about twice the frequency of the red end. The light spectrum therefore comprises one octave. This makes it possible to see a color as a higher octave of a tone (or any other frequency). So a tone A with 440 Hz is many octaves over the audible range a light frequency that we see as yellow-orange. Twelve-tone scale and twelve-color circle are similar, both divide the octave space into 12 steps.
Accordingly, we first colored the piano keyboard of Michael Samay, pianist and close friend of the house. His brother Martin designed the first rudimentary colour notes, which Johannes Paul, also a Riedlhaus communarde, and I perfected over the years to the diagramm-like colour notes. In 1993 our book "Farbmusik - Leitfaden für eine kombinierte Farben- und Musiklehre" (ColorMusic - Guide to Combining Color and Music Teaching) was published by Simon+Leutner Verlag in Berlin.
Cousto tells his story
How it came to the first handwritten, photocopied and hand-sewn booklet „Farbton Tonfarbe und die Kosmische Oktave“ (Realting Sound To Colors And The Cosmic Octave) and to his printed books afterwards; how his mushroom trip developed into an industrial standard, Cousto told in his lecture at the anniversary celebration "40 Years Cosmic Octave", which took place on October 2, 2018 in the Berlin KitKat-Club. It was a party arranged by Ananto (Mystic Rose) and organized by Klangwirkstoff Records and Hans Cousto. DJs and live music by B. Ashra, Akasha Project and many others, as well as visuals, art performances and lectures by Hans Cousto and Norbert Böhm designed the celebration.
40 Years Cosmic Octave
„Die Geschichte und Möglichkeiten der Kosmischen Oktave“
(The History and Possibilities of the Cosmic Octave)
Lecture by Hans Cousto (in German with automatic subtitles
Video by Tristans Transit
Bordering on genius
Designating the idea of the Cosmic Octave as bordering on genius is appropriate because now the octave unites all vibrational ranges beyond the borders of the audible range. Cousto has thus created a new paradigm. At the party for the 40th anniversary of the Cosmic Octave, the philosopher and harmonian Norbert Böhm presented a once again extended view of the world.
Norbert Böhm from Brandenburg near Berlin is a friend of Hans Cousto and has been familiar with the theme of the Cosmic Octave for 20 years. For almost 10 years he has been working on his 900-page masterpiece "Stimmfibel zur Sphärenmusik" ("Tuning Primer for Sphere Music"), which will be published as a book in 2019 to mark the 400th birthday of Kepler's World Harmony.
Norbert Böhm expands the field of the Cosmic Octave. While Cousto calculated stable sound frequencies from the stable planetary orbital frequencies, Norbert Böhm takes a close look at the planetary orbit. Because a planet does not orbit the sun in a circle but in an ellipse, it is sometimes faster and sometimes slower, which can be represented as a variable audio frequency.*1
Eternal and Now
The two methods of Hans Cousto and Norbert Böhm represent two dual views of one and the same fact. From a long, 'eternal' perspective we measure the frequency of repetitions per unit of time. The earth orbits the sun once a year. Several octaves higher is that with 136.10 times per second (Hz) a certain audible frequency, which can serve as a tuning tone.
From the point of view of the momentary now, however, the inner life of an elliptical wave becomes clear. Depending on which point of the wave the planet is currently 'surfing' on, its orbit speed changes. Norbert Böhm has calculated the corresponding increasing and decreasing pitches.
When around January 3rd the earth is closest to the sun on its orbit, it has its highest speed with the octav-tone of 140,8 Hz. It is slowest around July 5th with 131.7 Hz. At medium speed around April 3rd and October 6th, the audio frequency is 136.1 Hz. That is a transition from a bluish to a greenish turquoise analogue in color..
At the anniversary party on October 2nd, a world premiere took place during the informative and exciting lecture by Norbert Böhm: Steffen Günther, musician at Planetary Cymatic Resonance, made Böhm's planetary 'ellipse tones' audible. Because - as mentioned at the beginning of the first of the two videos - Ludwig van Beethoven already knew: "Music is higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy".
40 Years Cosmic Octave
„Die Sphärenmusik vom Himmel holen“
(Get the music of the spheres from heaven)
Lecture by Norbert Böhm (in German with automatic subtitles).
Video by Tristans Transit
*1 To be precise, the solar orbit of a planet resembles an elliptical spiral, since the sun in its galaxy itself moves forward in an orbit (while it is orbited by its planets).
Translated from German with the help of www.DeepL.com/Translator and Michael Kobler.