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No. 107: Sep-Oct 1996

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Organ Music

Your doctor is understandably concerned if he finds your heartbeat is irregular. But it turns out that the healthy heart does not beat steadily and precisely like a metronome. In fact, the intervals between normal heartbeats vary in a curious fashion: in a simple, direct way, they can be converted to musical notes. When these notes (derived from heartbeat intervals) are heard, the sound is pleasant and intriguing to the ear -- almost music -- and certainly far from being random noise. In fact, a new CD entitled: Heartsongs: Musical Mappings of the Heartbeat, by Z. Davis, records the "music" derived from the digital tape recordings of the heartbeats of 15 people. Recording venue: Harvard Medical School's Beth Israel Hospital!

This whole business raises some "interesting" speculations for R.M. May.

"We could equally have ended up with boring sameness, or even dissonant jangle. The authors speculate that musical composition may involve, to some degree, 'the recreation by the mind of the body's own naturally complex rhythms and frequencies. Perhaps what the ear and the brain perceive as pleasing or interesting are variations in pitch that resonate with or replicate the body's own complex (fractal) variability and scaling.'"

(May, Robert M.; "Now That's What You Call Chamber Music," Nature, 381:659, 1996)

Cross reference. See under PSYCHOLOGY a tidbit about Mozart and the golden section.

From Science Frontiers #107, SEP-OCT 1996. 1996-2000 William R. Corliss